Saturday, November 07, 2009
“Why don’t you come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab?”
Tomorrow, thanks to an invite from Kio Stark, I’m going to take an Intro to Electronics class at NYC Resistor. We’ll learn about motors, light bulbs, resistors, switches, buttons, solenoids, batteries, breadboards, transistors, and power supplies.
For as long as I can remember, it’s annoyed me that I don’t understand how electricity works. I’d love to not be nervous about what’s going on behind the light bulb, and to know exactly how complicated it is to install a new light fixture.
Plus I keep getting inspired by all these conductive-thread and battery-based craft projects, like these adorable LED (light-emitting diode) firefly baby booties, these LED false eyelashes, and definitely these burlesque LED pasties (actually I’m bummed I wasn’t the first person to think these up).
I’m looking forward to the NYC Resistor folks pointing me in the right direction. I fully expect them to blow my mind while also making me feel smarter than I actually am. To be honest, I still don’t even know what dark magicks or possibly hopped-up hamsters are at work inside a MakerBot, but these are people who make machines that make things.
I’m excited about learning how to make stuff do stuff. I want to make stuff that does stuff!
Friday, November 06, 2009
Today I had a productive workday, including a long but invigorating meeting in Manhattan that got me out of the house, which is a nice change especially on a brisk, sunny day. I’m again wearing the light, loosely knitted lavender/mauve sweater purchased to go over last night’s sleeveless dress, that just so happens to perfectly match the streak of color in my hair. The streaks were initially bright blue, but whether I dye strands magenta or blue, they always wind up pale purple, which is fine with me. It just means my hair winds up matching a third of everything I own.
A half hour ago I was lying down on the air mattress we’d set up for our guest Brett and hanging out with my bookshelf, listening to the rare quiet. The computer in the living room, the one we call tv.local, went to sleep, and a moment later my desk computer here in the common room fell asleep as well.
When I don’t have pets or other people at home, I become very aware of the hum and breath of the computers. I like the words we use to talk about what they — the physical things — do. They sleep, they wake up, they crash and kernel panic and sometimes die, but usually come back. At night, they make new constellations and night lights. I thought about all the years I’ve lived alone in studio apartments with only my machines. I liked life then, but life is nicer now.
Between the radiators and my new corduroy pants, I was feeling cozy and peaceful and didn’t want to get up from the air mattress. I like feeling like I’m floating on a raft.
Zoning out at the books on the shelves, I remembered one I recently bought at the Brooklyn Book Festival, called “The Good Fairies of New York” by Martin Millar. I had never heard of this guy, and tend to shy away from anything that seems to weird and fanciful, until I remembered how I do actually like weird and fanciful, provided it’s done well. Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction for this book, and most of the jacket copy.
Gaiman writes, “Millar writes like Kurt Vonnegut might have written, if he’d been born fifty years later in a different country and hung around with entirely the wrong sort of people.”
If you read enough good books, or even enough book jackets, you start to realize that reviewers and authors are fond of comparing writers to Vonnegut (gah, would that I ever earned such a comparison) and this comparison can start to feel too eager or easily doled out, but I don’t think it’s true in this case (nor in the case of Nick Harkaway, who also gets compared to Vonnegut sometimes).
I wonder if the way I feel about Vonnegut is something normal for book lovers and publishers alike, and I might deserve to go to literary hell for saying this, as I love Kurt Vonnegut, think he’s a beautiful, amazing writer whose words and ideas were, and will always be, a gift to the world.... I just wish that he wrote about (I feel like such a jerk for what I’m about to say, really)... I just wish he wrote more that… wasn’t painfully to do with World War II. I have a family full of vets. Every holiday is Memorial Day. I must always remember I love his writing, pick it up, or read something new, then remember, oh right, I’m also going to have to absorb the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man, and all the horrors of war, if I’m to read Vonnegut’s funny, insightful, and highly entertaining prose.
Reading Vonnegut-like authors means I get to enjoy the spirit, the humor, the cleverness and warmth, with some, of course, but fewer encounters of man’s inhumanity to man. For this I am both grateful, and a shallow, fuzzy-sweater-wearing, purple-haired fluff-head jerk.
So yeah, anyway, The Good Fairies of New York is, “a story that starts when Morag and Heather, two eighteen-inch fairies with swords and green kilts and badly-dyed hair fly through the window of the worst violinist in New York… and vomit on his carpet.”
It’s going to be some delicious, delicious brain candy. And you know what? I’m super excited to read it.
According to Gaiman, Martin Millar is much better known and loved in the UK and just hasn’t made it to our American radar for whatever reason, most likely because we don’t know what to do with Scottish fairies who like to eat magic mushrooms, or violinists who realize that the Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” is what folk music is all about.
Now, back to floating on my raft with my brain candy at the beginning of the first real weekend I’ve had in months.
LOL, mini-excerpt, page 3:
“What the hell are you?” demanded the squirrel.
“We are fairies,” answered Brannoc, and the squirrel fell on the grass laughing, because the New York squirrels are cynical creatures and do not believe in fairies.
Meanwhile, back on Fourth Street, Dinnie swallowed a mouthful of Mexican beer, scratched his plump chin and strode confidently into his room, convinced he had imagined the whole thing.
Two fairies were sleeping peacefully on his bed. Dinnie was immediately depressed. He knew that he did not have enough money to see a therapist.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Lubalin Now Opens Tonight
Lubalin Now opens tonight! That’s pretty much dominating my world right now. I’m so excited. Hope you can come!
p.s. it’s pronounced \lübe-ˈal-in\
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Books I Have Stolen: Cleopatra, the Story of a Queen, Viking Press 1937
This is the first book I ever stole. I found it in a model home, in a neighborhood we would ultimately move to the summer before my freshman year of high school. Initially I just pulled it off a bookcase to read while I hung around waiting for adults to conduct their business, and returned it before we left. The next time, I snuck it home with me, then replaced it again when we returned from a subsequent meeting, library-style. Finally, when it looked like the meetings were over, and the model home would no longer be accessible, I broke down and took it again, this time with no intention of replacing it.
Until then, I’d never stolen anything in my entire life, except for the one time I took a piece of gum from an open pack at the checkout line in the grocery store when I was five. My mom caught me and I felt a huge, crushing shame that I didn’t care to experience again.
I didn’t feel that with this book. This was a book that needed to be saved. It was so old — and weird! — by modern standards. Titled “Cleopatra,” translated by Bernard Miall, New York: The Viking Press, 1937. I could barely read the cover and spine but I loved the look and feel of it.
The weird part was the story itself. Told from Cleopatra’s point of view, the story opens when she is fourteen years old, childishly aware of her beauty but interested in geography, the ocean, and the art of politics. I’d never read a story told as if it were history, in the first person perspective, about such a notable figure. It’s peppered with quotes from Goethe that say things like, “When a woman takes on some of man’s attributes, she must triumph; for she intensifies her other advantages by an access of energy, the result is a woman as perfect a can be imagined.”
I didn’t feel bad about stealing the book because it was brittle and water-damaged, and nobody was loving it over at the model home. The pages crackled like leaves when you turned the pages. Nobody would notice it was gone. That didn’t seem right.
I feel less guilty in my adulthood knowing that this book isn’t completely out of circulation, and isn’t expensive to buy a copy like this from a rare book dealer, in fact, it costs less than a new hardback would (from anywhere but WalMart, ouch). From the two covers I see on Goodreads, it must have had a least a couple softcover editions. It has no ISBN but is listed with the Library of Congress.
I can’t believe I’ve never wondered when ISBNs started. Huh. Interesting.
I still feel unsettled by weird old books. Whenever people talk about books out of print, but not in the public domain, I think of the books I’ve secretly stolen and loved. Everyone’s worried about what will be lost due to piracy. I worry about what will be lost due to short-sightedness.
It makes me crazy to think that bits of culture, voices from the past, can just disappear without a flutter. Only with books can you hear a voice directly from thousands of years ago. I’m no more comfortable with digitization being in the hands of one single company than anybody else, but I don’t think we should hold off on digitizing whatever we can. I need to educate myself about the archival projects going on around the world, to reassure or worry myself.
Over the years I stole more books for various reasons, and I’m going to post the others, along with detailed photos on flickr, scattered over the course of this month, to think about ideas of book piracy, theft, demand, and preservation.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
We’ve been having long days and late nights around these parts. Brett MacFadden came in yesterday morning from San Francisco to help install Lubalin Now, “The inaugural exhibition in the newly re-located Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography” which is in the new building at 41 Cooper Square. From what I’ve seen of the pieces that will be in the show (including Brett’s work) and the work they’ve done thus far on the installation, it’s going to be super, super cool. The exhibition is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!
I didn’t know this until last night, but Brett and his studio partner Scott Thorpe recently designed/made a book called Hot Type(Chronicle Books). It’s a weighty, mesmerizing envelope containing 30 typographic fabric transfers, iron-ons of words, phrases, and alphabets that reward the urge to get some DIY on. The custom type is different on every sheet, but they all feel like they’re part of the same movement (I’m totally going to refrain from pretending to know how to talk about type).
I can’t wait to have time to do crafty stuff again. I’ve been hanging out with more than a couple unfinished hand-made book and monster projects. Not to mention Expression Engine 2 is finally coming out in the beginning of December. That update has been long in coming, and it’s a big reason (excuse) why I haven’t done my mintjelly overhaul yet. For instance, I bookmark interesting and useful things, but you probably don’t go looking at my Delicious. I need to make that an easier option, rig a better way to place photos, and generally make things more sensical. Hopefully there will be much rejoicing.
Monday, November 02, 2009
but I Work from Home
Warning: not book related and kinda demoralizing.
It’s November 2, and a new, totally out-of-the-blue New York Commuter tax is due. Because I’m a freelancer, I have to pay this tax even though I don’t commute, and even though the cost of riding the subway has already gone up substantially. I work from home as opposed to renting a desk in one of those friendly professional spaces because I don’t make enough to pay “another rent” and aside from working in my pajamas and not showering, the benefit of working from home is saving money on things like commuting, an office-appropriate wardrobe, and lunches that never seem to cost less than $12.
So I keep from going insane by tweeting too much and by going back and forth with other friendly types around the world, who also work alone.
It’s extremely hard to maintain discipline, to take care of 6 clients and the laundry, to not be insulted when I see an ex girlfriend of my husband’s on the way to the grocery store, who assumes and says out loud (because it’s the middle of a Tuesday) that I’m a housewife and not a writerandprogrammer thankyouverymuch, to be physically alone much the time, and that’s all before I have panic attacks about estimated taxes, student loans, and try to work harder still to achieve that ever-elusive feeling of financial stability and independence.
The New York Commuter Tax is extra infuriating, since it was MTA ineptitude and shenanigans that put in bids late for the special fuel that these buses run on, and the result is a $26 million dollar contract for fuel that costs three times what it did the year before. This is just one of their costly mistakes. I love the subway, but man do I hate the MTA.
And there’s nothing, it seems, that anyone can do about it. All we can do is bitch. Then figure out the paperwork, dig up old records, and pay taxes on a day that is not a tax day.
I suppose I could stop worrying and learn to love the bomb. This is the price I pay for caring about where I am, about what I contribute to the world. It’s dear, living here.
Usually I do my best to make everything look easy, near effortless. Sometimes in the middle of my day I pause and think of how amazing my life is, how lucky I am. It’s just… hard.
Earlier today I read an essay by an author whose undergraduate professor left her $75,000 in her will without any explanation. Needless to say, I wept.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Lydia the Tattoed Lady
I don’t (yet) own any of her books, but a couple weeks ago I totally fell in love with Lydia Davis through reading the review of “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $30) in The New Yorker. Then there was the marvelous interview in The Believer, where I felt a nice kindred-spirit-ship (spiritship?) with her over her taste in literature and how she feels about writing. I’m just not used to people liking Beckett for the reasons she likes Beckett. I liked that.
Last week I met another Lydia through an interview, this time in The Rumpus (more weird kinshipness, over the fact that a year ago author and founding editor Stephen Elliott came to my writing workshop (taught by Jonathan Ames), and not long after I was attending a fundraiser for getting The Rumpus started with classmates. Of course, there’s also the connection with Richard Nash, who I’ve been working with on his startup Cursor since he left Soft Skull, and so really it all feels very unreal — the way worlds tend to collide. But I suppose we all make our own tiny worlds.
Lydia Millet’s interview in The Rumpus is just so charming, so intriguing, “I’m full of hope, I have to be. I can’t believe all this loveliness will wink out.” So now I’m dying to read both “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart"and at the very least, “Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories.”
The title of this post is because I have the Groucho Marx song (youtube link) in my head, “she was the most glorious creature under the sun...”
Monday, October 26, 2009
Grumpy IT Guy Responds to Your Articles about Electronic Publishing
Ok, I’m not a guy and I’ve never worked in IT, though I am the default “help me with this computer thing” person to many people in my life. While sometimes I can get a little prickly, I do not embody the stereotype of the “computer person” any more than I embody any other stereotype, but I do get treated in certain ways because of preconceived notions about what I’m like cognitively or emotionally: that we computery types have no feelings, no creativity, no savoir faire, or are somehow antisocial because we choose to spend so much time on the computer. People act like we’d live in a steel box on the moon if we could (actually, that could be cool, depending), but my point is, the whole technology-is-ooky mentality of the publishing, writerly, and book-loving world needs to change. People need to stop acting like they aren’t already using and enjoying the totally non-ooky technology we bring to the world on any given day.
Lately I’ve been reading nothing but articles about the future of publishing and mostly they make me want to barf, but probably for different reasons than it makes everyone else concerned with it want to barf.
It’s true that the coming (or current) obsession in publishing is how to handle a smaller print-book business.
There is an abundance of ignorance, fear of the new, and myopia in these articles, whether it’s WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson saying that Google encourages reader “promiscuity” and that “net neanderthals ... think everything should be free all the time.” So-called learned people disregard updated dictionaries for older ones that don’t know what an airplane is. Agents are preemptively sad about how seeing a book published in an electronic format for the first time won’t have the same awesome fuzzy feeling as holding a newly minted book in hand, even though they are just speculating about what that would entail.
I remember the first time I updated the front page of nationalgeographic.com back in 1998. At the time I was practically a shoeless child, a self-taught HTML programmer, formerly a copy editor — and terrified, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people who might be looking at it right at that exact moment, terrified I’d make a code-breaking typo or upload the wrong file, but I didn’t. That night, I walked home in the dark, proud of the fact that I’d worked a little late, the lights of 17th Street sparkling at me through the tears in my eyes as I walked alone to the metro station. I’d never been so proud of myself, so excited in my entire life. I had found My Thing, a way to encompass Everything.
The sad agent article quotes another article that especially irked me for missing a huge mark without realizing what it was missing. “As Emily Pullen, of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, so aptly points out in a blog post: ‘Creating digital literature and harnessing the medium’s unique capabilities requires a specialized knowledge of programming languages. As such, it is software engineers and computer programmers (the techies) who are best suited to use this new literary medium, not the traditional Writer.’”
For people who are all about language and learning (writers, readers, hello?), you’d think someone having something to do with books would have the idea to talk to one of these mutant “techies” who don’t seem to know what humans want.
Please also note that those two articles in question were published using tools created and developed by people with “specialized knowledge of programming languages” that are designed specifically to allow nontechie “writer” humans to publish their words to the world for free, and to be read for free, yet they clearly take that for granted. It’s as if they associate the old ugly rotating-gif early internet with techies, but now, the Internet, maturing and redesigned (and overrun by ads and business concerns of more people who don’t get it and the type of people who totally caused the first bubble burst), is somehow no longer the domain of techies.
These writers and poo-pooers fail to recognize that the gap between “techie” and “functionally literate in today’s world” is diminishing while the realm of creative programming endeavors continues to grow exponentially. It’s going to be amazing. They’re going to love it! They just need to chill, and stop not paying attention.
They don’t get it.
That’s okay, we’re used to it. I’m starting to sound like the rude IT guy from Saturday Night Live, but seriously folks. Can we stop with the “techies” thing? In my daily experience being called a techie, nerd, or geek is a point of pride, but when it’s said (written) in a disparaging way, it goes too far with the throwing around labels and lumping groups, and makes you sound snobby and ignorant. Some of the smartest, most innovative programmers I know are formally trained journalists and artists.
Meanwhile, I’ve known few, if any writers who had any sense of good visual taste, proper eating or sleeping habits, a clean house, or a decent wardrobe. So stop with the name calling and the finger pointing. I love both writers and programmers, and often, as in my case, they are one and the same person. Get with the program.
Let me blow your mind for a second: there is no such thing as an ebook.
Programming is punctuation, syntax, logic, behavior, and instruction. You think we’re so different? I got into programming soon after being an English major in college. I hated computers until then, they were clunky, ugly, and awful. So why? Because I had a moment of insight that it was the future of publishing, that there was an important connection between the thing which held the words (technology) and the words themselves. I thought that a world where anyone and everyone could create and distribute ideas would be a better place.
It’s not technology that’s lagging now. In this case, it’s human understanding of the potential and permutations of the e-format. Show me an ugly ereader, and I’ll show you the clueless committee that commissioned it. I’ll bet those people don’t really use computers, or the Internet. I bet they also look at books as commodities and don’t know design from daguerreotypes. They probably write their emails in Comic Sans and look at the web in IE6 (yes, those are disses). I have strong suspicions that the ereaders sold by Amazon, B&N, and maybe, poor Sony, are as disappointing and dreary as they are because that’s what’s being brought to the engineers. I’m sure the plan is to lock people into a physical format (remember Betamax?) and then use number of units sold to project customer interest. The ereader is a product of how much (or how little) they were willing to invest, divided by the time in which they wanted to rush it to market. If you knew what “cell phones” in Japan were doing, you’d know that the lameness of the ereaders we’re being presented with is not due to the limitations of technology.
I personally know a good handful of people who have created software that will do amazing things for the written word. They’re philosophers, designers, and book lovers who happen to also be genius programmers. The problem is licensing. What content can be integrated? That’s the hold-up of publishers and copyright law. No good and bad guys here, just a long word problem that needs a solution.
Check out this ereader cheat-sheet, and see if you can think of features you’d like that aren’t included in these products. Me? I think ereaders need a kickstand for when I’m using them for reference while coding, cooking, or sewing handmade books together (I’ve been teaching myself Coptic binding by watching YouTube).
If customers knew what to ask for, they’d demand it. Ereader sellers would scramble to respond. What we’re seeing now is a bunch of shitty first drafts. Humans (all of us puny humans) usually need to see and feel something to form solid ideas about how to improve upon it. Once you hold an ereader it’s easier to evaluate: “this isn’t what I meant. where’s the color? why’s it so heavy? why can’t it do X, Y, and Z?” Any experienced web developer or designer has been there a million times before. Writers have too, but perhaps we need to remind them of the draft and workshopping phase of a piece that evolved from a good idea with a disappointing result, into a creative masterpiece that embodies everything they meant and hoped it would.
To live and breath and make beautiful music together, writers and makers need to form better relationships. Book authors and software authors need to join hands and approach our feuding parents with our forbidden love, and remember not to panic and drink the poisoned Kool-aid.