Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The future of the book 

The future of the book - a song
And a website. There's a video but also pictures and the transcript of the video'd on the page.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Meme - describe your perfect library 

From Kim du Toit, who borrowed it from Tam.

Which [type of] book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

-- Fantasy. I want to focus on character and plot, not on what the world is like. Something set in MY world (21st century Earth) or in history is much, much more accessible. I can then get fascinated by the setting (and even learn stuff) rather than figure out the rules, the governments, how the magic works, and what the invented laws of physics are.

Exceptions include mythology and epic poetry, generally centuries old but modern can be good, too. And I count Lord of the Rings as epic mythology.

If you could bring three [fictional] characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

-- Dirk Struan (or Ian Dunross) for dinner on Victoria Peak (with chop sticks of course - I've eaten with chop sticks since I was 6. It's all about face. To talk business and Hong Kong history. From James Clavell's Tai-Pan and Noble House.
-- Shane, for shooting lessons. From Jack Schaeffer's Shane (never seen the movie, so I've no idea if he's so cool in the movie)
-- Lazarus Long for, um, cuddling. Homesteading if I got to spend a few years with him. From Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love.
-- Ooh, can I pick one more? John Galt, to live in Galt's Gulch a few years and see if I can cut it there. From Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

-- Anything by Jane Austen. Go ahead, call me uncultured.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

-- Sigh. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I've flipped through, read summaries, read the famous excerpts, but never the book itself.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

-- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I'd read a few other books by him, like White Jacket, and some of his poetry. But I went to find a nice copy of Moby Dick when I was like 23, and flipped through and realized I hadn't read it. I kind of freaked out because I hadn't realized it was as long as it was. So instead of the nice but imposing hardback I'd intended to get, I got the cheapest paperback they had. Soon as I got home, I folded it open and broke the spine. Then it wasn't scary anymore. I read it and loved it.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

-- Ancient Greek.

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

-- Cryptononicon, by Neal Stephenson.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

-- The existence of book tourism.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

-- Let's start with a room that's actually big enough to hold the library I have now. There's a part of the room devoted to properly caring and protecting old manuscripts, and I have a Gutenberg Bible as well as a (nonexistant but identical) copy of the Book of Kells. Everything is signed. Everything modern is inscribed. I have every book ever written on combat stress and trauma and killology (I'm in the process of accumulated. I've never spent more than $100 on an otherwise unremarkable book before). I have every book my grandfather read and wrote marginalia in. I have a book from every country that I've ever visited, that *I* purchased (and remember purchasing, even if it didn't happen - magic fairy, remember) - and each of these books was published in said country and makes for perfect souvenirs as well as insight into their home's culture. I have two copies of every book that has monetary value (one to preserve for the next generation of readers, one for me to read now). Oh, and I have complete runs of the X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Kabuki, Power Pack, Generation X, Gen 13, Dawn, and all related miniseries).

Rough thoughts on on Blink 

These are just my quick thoughts on Blink. Yes, the book has been out for ages, but I had to read it for a psych class, and write a response paper, and I wanted to share some rough thoughts.

It seems to me the book says that you can make accurate quick judgements except when you can't. Compare the judgement of the kouros to the shooting of Diallo. All these people had gut instincts that a particular kouros (a kind of ancient Greek statue) was a forgery, the museum wouldn't listen, until finally it did, and gut instincts were proven right. A bunch of police officers were facing off with Amidou Diallo at night with poor visibility, he put his hand in his pocket and took out something, and they fired their guns, expecting an attack and preemptively shooting to stop (and ultimately kill). He was reaching for a wallet, and he meant them no harm, and their quick instinct to shoot was wrong. Gut instinct was wrong. If the book were simply observing these quick judgements, that would be one thing, but I feel like the book is encouraging quick judgement without adequate support for why quick judgments are better than longer judgements. Actually, I feel like the book isn't really suggesting anything at all (but I feel that way about a lot of pop psych books).

What kind of decisions can be made rapidly? Not decisions we would call instinctual, like face reading or determining a proper course of self defense. Not decisions requiring education, like identifying kouroses (koura?) or predicting tennis matches. People well trained in Greek art can identify forgeries, and tennis experts can predict the outcome of tennis matches, but the rest of us can't. Gladwell doesn't offer rules for when blink decisions can happen accurately.

A quick decision requires context, and I don't think Gladwell gives that proper attention. Of course the self-selected tennis coach can predict double faults (and though Gladwell doesn't say, I assume most of the rest of us can't). That's what he does! He does tennis! He's buried in tennis. Show me a bedroom with an automatic rifle in it. If we're in Switzerland, then we're seeing a typical house. If we're in DC, the rifle is probably in the city illegally. Walk through my house, and you'll find an opium pipe (legal disclaimer: it was inherited from a family member who collected Asian antiques and imported when the importation of ivory was legal). Am I a druggie or do I have a family that collects antiques and ivory?

When talking about thin slices, the tiny bit of information used to make quick decisions, I'm never sure whether he advocates face to face first impressions or "Scan the Apartment or House" first impressions in terms of getting to know someone.

He talks about the problems of presidential elections, calling it the "Warren Harding Problem." How much data should be available to the electorate? A lot has been made of the debate between Nixon and Kennedy - people who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy did better, while people who heard the debate on radio thought Nixon did better. Gladwell got so close to the question, "Does presidential performance correlate with how much the public knows about the president?" but never actually asks it. I'd love to know. Have presidents gotten less intelligent since the advent of TV? Have they gotten worse as leaders? They seem to have gotten more attractive, more handsome. But where's the data?

I guess my biggest problem with this book is that is *is* a pop psych book. I can come up with a million counter examples and anecdotes that go against the book's premise but since I don't have access to the theories the book is built on, IO have nothing to argue against. I just wonder whether there IS something to argue against. Gladwell didn't do any studies; he merely pulled them together.

There's nothing wrong with reducing complexity, but there's the risk of leaving behind impotant data. We're coming into an age where we can handle more data better and faster. Gladwell doesn't seem to anticipate the huge influx of data that is coming. How do we decide which data are important and which aren't? And what's the definition of we: media, individuals, psychologists, voters, consumers?

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