Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Trying to reach Bernardo Morães

I owe Bernardo a big apology for reasons that he will instantly understand.  After waiting for not months but years to come trailing back, tail between legs, I finally wrote the dreaded email to apologise and explain - only to find that the only email address I have does not work.

If you see this, Bernardo, and we are still on speaking terms, please do drop me a line...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Falsehoods programmers believe

I hope you don't think this is for your benefit, cats and kittens.  I just want to be able to find it again.

I'm in love with these lists of "Falsehoods Programmers Believe About X." In case you haven't had pleasure, I've collected all the ones I know of here. If I missed any, let me know!

Falsehoods programmers believe about names

  • People's names do not change
  • People’s names have an order to them
  • My system will never have to deal with names from China
  • I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it
  • People have names

Falsehoods programmers believe about time

  • The time zone in which a program has to run will never change
  • The system clock will never be set to a time that is in the distant past or the far future
  • One minute on the system clock has exactly the same duration as one minute on any other clock
  • A time stamp of sufficient precision can safely be considered unique
  • The duration of one minute on the system clock would never be more than an hour

More falsehoods programmers believe about time

  • The local time offset (from UTC) will not change during office hours.
  • My software is only used internally/locally, so I don’t have to worry about timezones
  • I can easily maintain a timezone list myself
  • Time passes at the same speed on top of a mountain and at the bottom of a valley
And there's more, future self. The whole thing here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

War has not broken out

You may disagree with me: you may see some thread of sensible presidential policy presentation in Trump's speeches. I'll leave that up to you in the privacy of the voting booth (this is Language Log, not Presidential Election Voting Advice Log). But don't imagine that my horror at the incoherent political ranting of this coarse, repellent, insulting, xenophobic, muskrat-coiffed, narcissistic property developer has to entail disagreement with my friend Mark Liberman about the characteristic features of spontaneous, unplanned monologue, because it doesn't.

Geoff Pullum on the incomparable Language Log, which is, needless to say, still bringing joy into our humdrum little lives after all these years. (No, Geoff, no, Mark, your hard work ain't been in vain for nothing.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

a leopard?

My train from Vermont was late on Saturday, so I arrived at National Sawdust late and dripping with sweat.  Everyone was very nice about it, and Timo Andres sublimely unperturbed.

Afterwards some of us went off somewhere for drinks.  Timo, Ronen and I snag a booth and talk about music, films, books.  At some point I start talking about how much I like silliness, which the British do better in books.  But Americans are good at silly films, I say - look at Bringing Up Baby!

Timo has never seen it.  Ronen might have seen it, or perhaps has a distant memory of possibly seeing it back in the dawn of time.

Moi: Bringing Up Baby? Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn?

TA shakes his head (a good move, since the place is very loud).

I realize that, to someone unfamiliar with the film, the name may be offputting.

Baby is a leopard, I explain.

A what?  says Timo. (As I say, the place is very loud.)

A leopard!  I say more loudly, but still not loudly enough.   A LEOPARD!  A big cat!

You mean-- like a cheetah?


This naturally does not convey the full glorious silliness of the film, but presumably dispels hideous visions of supposedly amusing domestic incidents involving an infant.  And does at least make me feel briefly like Katherine Hepburn announcing the arrival of Baby.

Reminder! Launch party tonight in Brooklyn!

Tuesday August 2 7:00 pm
Reading, book signing, PARTY!!!

Community Bookstore
143 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


For those in or near New York, the following events have been planned to mark the reissue of The Last Samurai:

Saturday July 30 7:30 pm

Helen DeWitt and Timo Andres,
THE LAST SAMURAI, an evening of music and reading
Tickets $20

National Sawdust
80 N 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY

Sunday July 31 5pm and 9pm

Screenings of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai with brief introduction by Helen DeWitt,
book signing after 5pm showing

The Metrograph
6 Ludlow Street
New York, NY

Tuesday August 2 7:00 pm
Reading, book signing, PARTY!!!

Community Bookstore
143 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Hope to see you if you're in town!

I will also be visiting various bookstores to sign copies of the new edition of The Last Samurai; the schedule is roughly as follows:

Monday August 1, NYC

2 pm -- Posman's Books, Chelsea Market
2: 30 pm -- 192 Books
3 pm -- The Strand
3:30 pm -- Three Lives 
4 pm -- McNally Jackson 

Tuesday August 2,  Brooklyn 
Afternoon -- Greenlight Bookstore
6 pm -- Community Bookstore (see above) 

If any other bookstores feel they have been overlooked and would like me to drop by, please contact the New Directions publicist, Mieke Chew (mchew@ndbooks.com).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Publicist says I have NOT committed professional suicide

Profile in New York Magazine by Christian Lorentzen, here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with Ilana Teitelbaum on HuffPo

The Last Samurai did have a somewhat storm-tossed passage to publication.  It's possible if the Internet had flourished in something like its current form things would have gone better.  Back in the day, if Tina Brown was tight with Hillary Clinton, a party for Clinton's New York Senate victory could bump the launch party for the book back to a point when the author was no longer capable of public appearances.  Publicity involved dragging the authorial body here and there so that sentences could emerge from the authorial mouth.  And the events had to be set up by a publicist competing for scarce public space.  So if the author cracked up after the oft-deferred launch party and disappeared, if the publicist was in a miff, people who were excited about the book couldn't set up more congenial ways to talk about it. Couldn't unilaterally find venues independent of the whims of the publicist.

Anyhoo, the whole thing here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My first time: Paris Review video interview series

The Paris Review has commissioned a series of video interviews with authors talking about their first book.  Tom Bean and Luke Poling came up to my cottage in Vermont back in March to talk to me about The Last Samurai; the video is now up here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Last Samurai reissue, news of the day

Over on LitHub, 7 booksellers talk about how to hand-sell The Last Samurai.  If you are not a bookseller you are probably not looking for tips on how to hand-sell The Last Samurai or, indeed, any other book, but -- what's appealing is to have something we so rarely see, a round-up of different responses to a book.  The convention of our review papers is that a book is handed over to a single reviewer; you might get different takes on a book if it is lucky enough to be reviewed in several papers, but for the most part we're invited to collude in the fiction of the magisterial assessment.  We all know, of course, that different readers may have radically different responses to a book, but we rarely see this on display in one place in the literary press.

Note: A big round of applause to Mieke Chew, the publicist at New Directions who came up with this brilliant idea.  

The whole thing here:


Monday, May 30, 2016

Tufte in R

Amazing resource from Lukasz Piwek, here.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

podcast with Scott Gosnell

Scott interviewed me a couple of weeks ago via Skype and courteously sent me the edited podcast before sending it out.  It's embarrassingly clear that one of us needs media coaching, and it isn't Scott. To the untutored ear, I seem to have challenged myself to say 'you know' as many times as possible in the shortest possible time.  (This, unfortunately, can't be fixed by judicious editing.)  Also, being somewhat unnerved by all this real-time verbal interaction, I at one point search for the German term for café au lait and the hapless mind serves up Kremkaffee, when it is, of course, Milchkaffee.

At various points in the interview I can be heard making odd little clucking noises.  I was Skyping from a neighbor's house; my neighbor has an extremely affectionate cat, Frannie, who kept wandering across the keyboard in search of attention.  Well, y'know...

The whole thing here.

PS A commenter has drawn my attention to the fact that this link only goes to an iTunes format. Scott's introductory blogpost, with links to various podcast formats, is here: http://bottlerocketscience.blogspot.com/2016/05/helen-dewitt-is-author-of-last-samurai.html

Saturday, May 21, 2016

frieze questionnaire

frieze sent me a list of 10 questions - you answer as many as you want to, within 800 words.

It's probably a good sign if you could in fact have written 5000 words.  Anyway, here I am trying to be concise: http://www.frieze.com/article/questionnaire-helen-dewitt

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Someone is wrong on the Internet

And by someone I don't mean just anyone, but @EdwardTufte.

Verbs = what things DO, not what they're named.Languages have too many nouns, too few verbs. So why do style guides say cut back on adverbs?

ET is, of course, a god, but...

a god, it would seem, unfamiliar with the fabulous verbs of Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Turkish, Russian and Hungarian.  (I don't suggest that this is a comprehensive list.)  ET! ET! ET! What words have passed the barrier of your, erm, fingers?

Also, I take exception to the claim that a language can have too many nouns.  Czech, I think (but memory may deceive) has a word for the space under a bed.  This is a Rachel Whiteread of a noun; we could, in fact, do with more.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

back on the hamster wheel

Paul Klee's Notebooks Are Now Online. 3900 Pages of Bauhaus Teachings (1921-1931)   HT @openculture HT @EdwardTufte

surprises of the day

Readers of pp will have noticed that it has gone silent for long stretches.  There are too many things I can't talk about.

I realised today that I had fallen into bad habits.  Things turn up in my Twitter feed and I retweet; this is, perhaps, helpful to the people who happen to be checking Twitter at the time, but is not much use to anyone else, and, from a selfish point of view, I have no way of going back to these links later on.

There are blogs I check out every day, but the general point of going to blogs I know I like is that I know I will find the sort of thing I like.  Twitter brings more surprises.  I thought I might start putting some of the surprises on pp.   And someday, who knows, there may not be so many things I can't talk about.

How to Make Mistakes in Python, Mike Pirnat, free download from O'Reilly http://www.oreilly.com/programming/free/files/how-to-make-mistakes-in-python.pdf

A great way to lie to yourself about the quality of your code is to use
   Hungarian Notation. This is where you prefix each variable name
with a little bit of text to indicate what kind of thing it’s supposed to
be. Like many terrible decisions, it can start out innocently enough:
 (Have not finished the book, but this is representative of what I have read so far. Since a writer spends countless hours doing things that looked like a good idea at the time, only to be revealed as idiocy which will take countless hours to fix, it's cheering to read someone who comes clean. Pirnat comes closer, to my mind, to the way a writer thinks; it's interesting that the tone is so different from your typical Paris Review interview.)

A mouse's house may ruin experiments
Environmental factors lie behind many irreproducible rodent experiments.
Sara Reardon, Nature, HT @EdwardTufte

It’s no secret that therapies that look promising in mice rarely work in people. But too often, experimental treatments that succeed in one mouse population do not even work in other mice, suggesting that many rodent studies may be flawed from the start.


(What's interesting, to a writer: why does the word 'rodent' make a sentence funny? '...many rodent studies may be flawed from the start.' So lovely.)

Cory Doctorow "Wealth Inequality is Even Worse in Reputation Economies" http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2016/03/cory-doctorow-wealth-inequality-is-even-worse-in-reputation-economies/   HT @dgwbirch

The story of ‘‘meritocracy’’ – a society that migrates wealth, status, and decision-making power into the hands of the most capable – is seductive. Rich people love the idea of meritocracy, because the alter­native is that their lion’s share is unfair, the product of luck, or, worse, cheating. But many of meritocracy’s losers love it, too. In the words of John Steinbeck, ‘‘Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.’’

(I revise my opinion of John Steinbeck, previously seen as worthy, now, unexpectedly, a wit.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

So lovely

I follow up a link for a job with the New Yorker as Associate Director, Audience Development. Am immediately blasted with a lot of language that would never be permitted in the pages of the, erm, New Yorker except possibly in a quirky little piece on corporatespeak.

  • Collaborate cross-functionally with editors, publishers, product development, and sales & marketing groups to develop and execute data-driven audience-growth plans across all content distribution platforms and maximize customer monetization
  • Develop and experiment with new content executions in emerging distribution platforms
  • Project-manage all audience development touch points and their associated components, from inception to successful completion
  • Measure the performance of audience development initiatives and optimize them according to business goals
  • Identify new growth opportunities and best practices based on emerging digital trends, competitive business intelligence, and consumer insight
  • Manage overall audience development testing strategy—including funnel optimization, distribution channel mix, and headline and image optimization
  • Work closely with digital leadership to determine and meet growth KPIs and insure that they align with revenue strategy
  • Apply SEO initiatives and best practices to the content strategy that will strengthen and optimize both website and keyword rankings

Cross-functionally!? (or possibly ?!)
Customer monetization!?
Content executions!?
Project-manage (wha-? new verb to me, and while there ARE publications that embrace the new, the type of person who would embrace this one would never get a gig as editor at the, erm, New Yorker). Moving right along to the object, Project-manage all audience development touch points. OK, or, as the New Yorker would put it, okay, I take it, having read this text, that there are people out in the world who know what an audience development touch point is, and if you know you can probably swan through "associated components" without driving yourself insane by asking what it would mean for something to be a component of a touch point. If you are such a person you are, I can't help feeling, unlikely to warm to the, erm, New Yorker, let alone subscribe to it. And yet YOU are the person whose job is, I gather, to get more readers AND get them to pay for something you think is a load of bollocks.

It's as if a 3-star restaurant thought it could best be promoted by someone who ate Pedigree Chum in the home.

An agent told me last year he could get me a 6-figure deal on work in progress + rights to The Last Samurai. Had his reach not exceeded his grasp, I would naturally not have been exploring careers at Condé Nast. If I did not have credit card debts that weigh on my mind I would have stopped at "cross-functionally."  Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.

I clicked on Continue, and was asked to complete a profile including a menu on Career Focus. The options:



I selected Entertainment.

And it was at this point, cats and kittens, that I decided to write a blog post instead.