Pictures: Design Observer’s “Accidental Mysteries”

dilettantish interest in typography and graphic arts led me a long time ago to Design Observer, and two things keep me coming back, strong writing (by Stephen Heller among others), and a regular feature they have called Accidental Mysteries, which is a lightly curated set of images from all over the web. They have their “best of” set up now and they are great (one of street posters is perfect for fans of Found).

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One of the many strange finds from Design Observer’s series, “Accidental Mysteries.”

I was about to write that part of the appeal of the series is its “webishness,” to wit: it would be hard to imagine something like this pre-Internet. But a bit of reflection scotches that, it is just the digital equivalent of a cabinet of curiosities perhaps.

Stories: The Killing, Utopia for Sad Liberals

People keep telling me about “The Killing,” a police procedural mini-series from Denmark, and a hit on British TV. (Also redone in a U.S. version, based in Seattle, our own spot for the school of Northern Crime drama or “Skandi Noir.”)

Not sure I can take it, but Jenny Turner’s take in the LRB Blog makes me want to at least give it a try:

I wonder if this is a deep reason for the popularity of The Killing, and of Skandi noir in general. It enacts a world, a dreampolitik, in which public servants are glamorous, well paid and respected, and dedicated to the point of obsession. This flatters the many viewers who work in the public sector, even the ones who hate their jobs and want to retrain in reiki. And it offers all of us something warm and elegant to look at, like the row of Poulsen lights in the politician’s chilly kitchen. It’s utopia for sad liberals, restrained and minimal. It’s the closest a lot of us ever get to a vision of social hope.

Fish in a Barrel: (Shooting thereof)

Obvious, but still funny, at least if you have spent the last few days with economists on vacation!

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From Piled Higher and Deeper, the “Ph.D comic,” and probably not that far from the reality of how some abstracts get written.

And for good measure, while we are on the topic of scientific abstracts:


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One trashy abstract title? “50 Shades of Gray: Multivariable Analysis of Historic Crop Yields Under Planned Economies”

Anybody have a better one? Start a scientific paper with “50 Shades…”  (I could riff one on the baroque trill, but will spare you.) Happy Winter Solstice.



Electronic Words: eBooks and Libraries, What’s the Price?

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Don’t forget to sign the EULA when you go in the door, please!

Talking about a “war” between libraries and publishers seems perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but here’s an interesting Forbes piece by David Vinjamuri from a marketing and brand perspective about how eBooks fit (or fail to) in the library ecosystem. He talks to both sides, each of which is seeing their mission, legacy, and biz model challenged. At root, what does it mean for libraries to license rather than own eBook content? Who is a reseller, who is a lender, and who is the end-user? (Me, I’m just a humble reader.)

Do libraries increase book sales or cannibalize them?  This is the issue at the heart of the struggle between libraries represented by the American Library Association (whose president is Maureen Sullivan) and the Big Six publishers.

(Vinjamuri shares the remarkable, if hard to verify, factoid that Random House employees all got 5K bonuses courtesy of the “50 Shades” books. Somebody should profit from the hours lost reading that, I suppose. Sir Rushdie has pointed out that it makes Twilight read like War and Peace.)

Back to the Forbes piece: it’s got a good rundown on where things stand today with the big six publishers and eBook policies for libraries, which made me, a library nerd, through and through, more sympathetic to the publishers’ dilemmas.  eBooks remove “friction” from the market, because, among other things, you don’t even have to go to the library to borrow a new eBook. Leads to some head-scratching on the model of a library “owning” something on my behalf and “loaning” it to me free of charge. (Parallels to digital music borrowing don’t seem to shed much light.) If it’s a EULA anyway, is there a loss of the public good if I just sign the EULA with the publisher, and they price it accordingly. (This is more or less what I do with Naxos Music Library, which costs a lot for an annual subscription, but gives me a massive amount of all you can eat classical music, and saves any “per title” cost. With the result that I haven’t bought a physical CD, except one as a gift for a 89 year old, in two years.)

Vinjamuri proposed solution is a “cost per use” approach that could give publishers rational pricing info, but keep eBooks in libraries. Seems like content metering in a certain sense, and would bring a potential infrastructure and perhaps privacy cost (although these already exist to some extent). There is also the question of how a library builds and preserves a collection in an eBook environment? (It is not just this year’s bestsellers that libraries traffic in, but also large amounts of out-of-print and scholarly material that still has a place on the shelves. If eBooks vanish after 26 loans, what does it mean to have an ‘eBook’ collection?)

Also not mentioned is much anticipated, but never quite here, eBook revolution in the college textbook market. This would seem to be a natural use for the format, but some college students and faculty are very resistant.

Word on Writing: Penelope Fitzgerald

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Novelist Penelope Fitzgerald

I have tried, in describing these books of mine, to say something about my life. In my last two novels I have taken a journey outside of myself. Innocence takes place in Italy in the late 1950s. The Beginning of Spring in Moscow in 1913. Most writers, including the greatest, feel the need to do something like this sooner or later. The temptation comes to take what seems almost like a vacation in another country and above all in another time. V. S. Prichett, however, has pointed out that “a professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and become almost nothing.” This is a warning that has to be taken seriously. I can only say that however close I’ve come, by this time, to nothingness, I have remained true to my deepest convictions—I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as a comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it? –British novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, 1916-2000, who published her first novel at age 60. From her book of essays, The Afterlife.

I got Innocence out of the Cambridge Public Library, after liking, but not being terribly engrossed, by another of hers, The Bookshop. One moment in Innocence caught me, as novels sometimes do: all at once I’d made a connection to the book and its characters as vividly as if this story were part of my lived experience and concerned people I had always known. On my list of books I’ll never forget.

Critical Words: Melissa Anderson Takes Care of “Any Day Now”

The gay male weepie is a movie subgenre that’s a little past its sell-by date one would think. But no, Alan Cumming assays a Queens’ (or queen’s) accent to “Any Day Now.” Melissa Anderson of SF Weekly is not impressed.

Any Day Now is homo history repurposed as courtroom soap opera….

But Cumming’s character, saddled with the worst dialogue in the film, is an unholy hybrid of Dolly Levi and pride-parade steering committee member. “Trust me, honey, we can all do with a little extra luck in this crazy world,” Rudy says to Marco before mailing off his demo tape to club owners — a superfluous subplot that allows Cumming to do some actual belting, including a maudlin cover of “I Shall Be Released,” a lyric from which gives this film its title.

The trailer for your delectation. Gay Lifetime Movie Channel, where are thou?

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