Nelles Maps

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Nelles Maps are the best foldable maps for travelers I’ve seen. I favor them for six reasons: 1) They come at a good practical scale for traveling, fine enough to show most small rural towns. 2) Each map displays shaded physical relief of mountains, highway numbers and even “places of interest” - which are often not listed in guide books. 3) The maps are printed on both sides to maximize coverage. 4) They are printed in a form that folds neatly into a shoulder bag, with cover. 5) They are reasonably priced. 6) Best of all, Nelles seem to keep them very up to date. I haven’t found any Nelles maps in print that are more than a few years old.

These qualities may seem expected, but most maps of third world countries are uselessly vague. Nelles maps shine in particular for Asia and Africa, and remote places where good maps are hard to find. I know from personal experience they have the best ones (in English) for China (in 3 maps, a North, Central and South), for India, and for the Himalayas as a whole. And they have the only useable map for Papua Maluku (Papua New Guinea) that I’ve been able to find. You may be able to find maps that are better for specific countries, but try Nelles (based in Germany) as your first stop.

–KK

Nelles-Map-sm.jpg
Nelles Maps
$8-$11
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nelles Maps


Nelles Maps

Advice for economics grad students

Because, for whatever reason, I'm nervous about entering a world that plays according to different rules than the corporate one I'm used to, I've taken to reading and bookmarking a lot of "how to succeed in academia" articles. So as I come across good advice (or at least good advice for me), I'll post it here.

In 2005, Matthew Pearson wrote a letter for the new graduate economics students at UC Davis. The letter (PDF) has some advice specific to that program, but there's other good general advice buried in there too.

  • In the first year, it's "about learning that survival is not all about intelligence, nor passion, but commitment." Learning the fundamentals can be grueling, you'll feel like an imposter, but keep going. Pearson says: "Some research in behavioral economics suggests that people are happier with decisions they know are irreversible. Simply putting that decision [to quit] out of the realm of possibility will relieve you of a lot of burden."
  • Although he talks about preliminary exams at one point, the advice can be generalized: "...[I]t is very important to believe that you have it in you to pass." Learn from your mistakes, take your grades as indicators of where you may need to adjust and improve. "Freaking out is a waste of your time and energy."
  • "Begin to develop your strategy to pass early on." He's talking about the prelims here, but I'm thinking in terms of my master's paper I'll have to write. Ideally, my projects over the next few years will feed into the paper, so that the effort to compile, research, and write will be minimal. (My adviser suggested looking for a subject at my workplace; maximize what I already know well.)
  • I really like this bit of advice. He's talking about getting the fundamentals of economics in your bones, but again, I'm expanding its purview:

Develop your intuition. I cannot stress this enough. As I mentioned above about studying for understanding and not merely memorizing, you must believe that the intuition is there and that the material will seem much, much easier once you have grasped it...When you aim for this kind of understanding, however, things become so much clearer.

Often the barrier to true understanding is the nagging sense that you have SO MUCH to study, so you really must move on to the next topic. However, grazing over lots of material gathering cursory familiarity can be, at best, far less productive than studying one thing until you really understand it and do not need to depend on memorized content...[Me: Hmmmm.] Repetition [can be] sufficient for understanding less challenging material, but this is no longer the case.

[Me: In my spring information course, I felt bombarded by so many new concepts--RDF, metadata, ontologies, thesauri--that it wasn't until I was studying for the final that I grokked how they all fit together. Until that time, they were only vocabulary words. Given the pace of the course, and the fact that I was working full-time and taking a second course, there really was no time to do more than keep my head above water. Also, where I'm at now, everything is basic and fundamental. Intuition will only develop for me after I've worked with these things some more.]

  • "Develop your student capital." Learn to ask your classmates, professors, and TAs questions, no matter how silly you might feel. "There is no place for pride when you do not understand."
  • Develop an effective method for dealing with note-taking and note-studying. "Choose something that addresses your weaknesses effectively." (Spoken like a true lifehacker.) Pearson takes notes on looseleaf paper, transfers them to a binder, and then makes his own notes on the other side of the page as he goes through them. A nice system. I'm still working out mine. What I did in the spring worked OK, but didn't encourage revisiting the material and refreshing itself in my mind.
  • Rest effectively--this means time with friends and family, exercising, getting enough sleep. And yes, that means there can be "unproductive rest," as he calls it, like zoning out in front of the teevee.

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Did Jesus complain? Did Jesus complain?
Overheard at the bagel store, when the sassy counter gal was teasing her male co-worker

Surviving 100,000 instant Visitors on a Budget

“Last Sunday I casually wrote a post about the most common pitfalls in photography. I had written the post a long time ago, but I never put it on this site. The story ended up on the front page of Digg, stayed there for nearly 12 hours and was picked up by a bunch of secondary sources, resulting in 100,000 Visitors within a day (most of them within the first 12 hours). Trying to keep my server up and alive, I learned a lot about what it takes to keep the server alive, hence I decided to slide a non photography related post in, hopefully giving everyone who finds themselves in a similar situation some points to consider.”


Surviving 100,000 instant Visitors on a Budget

Defeat the modernity

Sadly the Dutch are turning back:

In cities across the Netherlands, mayors and town councils are closing down shops where marijuana is sold, rolled and smoked.  Municipalities are shuttering the brothels where prostitutes have been allowed to ply their trade legally.  Parliament is considering a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms."  Orthodox Christian members of parliament have introduced a bill that would allow civil officials with moral objections to refuse to perform gay marriages.  And Dutch authorities are trying to curtail the activities of an abortion rights group that assists women in neighboring countries where abortions are illegal.

The very interesting article ascribes these tendencies to growing unease about globalization and immigration.  Here is another shift of opinion:

"In the past, we looked at legal prostitution as a women’s liberation issue; now it’s looked at as exploitation of women and should be stopped,” said de Wolf, sitting in the offices of the medical complex where he works as an HIV-AIDS researcher.

This article can be read as illustrating many different points of view.  I’ll start with two points.  First, people [voters] need to feel they are in control, even if they indulge this preference irrationally.  Second, Europe will sooner become like the United States than vice versa.


Defeat the modernity

Credit card games

I usually forget to sign the back of my credit cards.  Or with one of my cards – the one I use most frequently – the signature rubs off quickly.  Every now and then the card will be rejected because it doesn’t have my signature on it.  Or they will require ID.

I then offer to sign the card, but they never accept this possibility.  Hrrmph.

Could not a thief have signed a previously unsigned card before using it?  In fact I would expect precisely that behavior from a thief.  Wouldn’t a thief take more care to sign than would a lazy, careless card holder?  Upon seeing the unsigned credit card, their estimate of my honesty should go up not down.

I have wondered why it ever makes sense for cards to be signed.  If you sign a card and it is stolen, can they not forge your signature more rather than less easily?  (Imagine signing into one of those signature-reading machines.)  And if merchants were more rational, maybe the signature would carry no positive value in the first place.


Credit card games

Everything is Miscellaneous

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This is a book about authority, order, information and knowledge – the evolution of the latter and the limitations imposed by the former. This hyper-intelligent journey through the history of classification (ex; library card catalogues) and the current climate (ex; tagging) makes an engaging case for the virtues of seemingly counterintuitive “messiness.” The anecdotes are lively, and the range of subjects is satisfying and entertaining: Dewey’s Decimals, our silverware drawers, Hamlet, the Federal Highway Administration, Wikipedia, intertwingularity, our family photo albums, and Darwin. Reading this reminded me how wonderful it is to be witnessing the development of new ways of collaborating and why we should all stay tuned in to see where all of this is headed. Whether you’re a skeptic or a steadfast believer in the great promise and possibility of the digital, these are ideas worth visiting. The “Social Knowing” chapter alone should be mandatory reading for all teachers.

– Steven Leckart

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
2007, 288 pages
$17
Available from Amazon


Sample excerpts:

Imagine two people editing and reediting a Wikipedia article, articulating their differences on the article’s discussion page. They edge toward an article acceptable to both of them through a public negotiation of knowledge and come to a resolution. Yet the page they’ve negotiated may not represent either person’s point of view precisely. The knowing happened not in either one’s brain but in their conversation. The knowledge exists between the contributors. It is knowledge that has no knower. Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge…As people communicate online, that conversation becomes part of a lively, significant, public digital knowledge - rather than chatting for one moment with a small group of friends and colleagues, every person potentially has access to a global audience. Taken together, that conversation also creates a mode of knowing we’ve never had before. Like subjectivity, it is rooted in individual standpoints and passions, which endows the bits with authenticity. But at the same time, these diverse viewpoints help us get past the biases of individuals, just as Wikipedia’s negotiations move articles toward NPOV [neutral point of view]. There has always been a plentitude of personal points of view in our world. Now, though, those POVs are talking with one another, and we can not only listen, we can participate. For 2,500 years, we’ve been told that knowing is our species’ destiny and its calling. Now we can see for ourselves that knowledge isn’t in our heads: It is between us. It emerges from public and social thought and it stays there, because social knowing, like the global conversations that give rise to it, is never finished.

The Greeks assumed that the cosmos is perfectly ordered and arranged; the word cosmos itself means both “all that is” and “beauty.” Pythagoras therefore figured that the distance between the planets must reflect the order and harmony of the universe. But harmony is based on mathematics: Divide a string into the ratios 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, or 5:4, pluck it, and you hear something beautiful. So, Pythagoras reasoned, the heavenly spheres must fall into those ratios. Since they move, they must also make sound as they whir, a sound that must therefore be harmonious and beautiful. We’re not aware of the second because we’ve been hearing it since birth. It’s become background “noise.” Thus did the Greeks deduce that we must all live within an unheard beauty.

Now that everything in the connected world can serve as metadata, knowledge is empowered beyond fathoming. We not only find what we need based on whatever slight traces we have in our hand, we can see connections that would have escaped notice in the first two orders. The power of the miscellaneous comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everything is connected and therefore everything is metadata.


Everything is Miscellaneous

"Callous Complacence"

Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter reproduced this fascinating document from WWI war hero and poet Siegfried Sassoon, denouncing the conduct of the war at great personal risk. It was originally printed in The Times in 1917.

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

The Bandwidth of Books

This Design Observer post about who is reading all those books went over some familiar ground ("explosion of information" = "ignorance about more things") and elicited some good comments. The crux of the post was to answer this question:

Why keep on with the work of traditional publishing when the Internet would seem to provide a much more efficient means for reaching people? What is it about the book, pamphlet and magazine formats that continue to lure publishers onto the rocks of insolvency?

It's a good question. Control of the design and sheer love of the physical object are two compelling reasons. (I really can't imagine Bryan Talbot's eye-popping Alice in Sunderland as multimedia object--it just works and feels so complete as a book.)

One of the more interesting answers was that the authors use their small print runs to trade books back and forth with other authors.

Such books function primarily as a currency within the network of other artists, other publishers, and other designers who share their particular sensibility.

Does this sound like zine fandom or what? Or maybe link exchanges in the blog world? The intent being to create a community and start a conversation among members of a self-chosen tribe.

Perhaps it's also those members of our modern digital media culture looking in the rear view mirror at what's receding into the past. Hence the burst over the last 10 years of books about books and reading (though such objects have always been a part of literate culture, just as the theater and movies abound in stories about backstage dramas).

It all reminds me of an Isaac Asimov essay about the perfect entertainment cassette that would be physically comfortable to hold and use, in any lighting, allowing one to start or stop it at any point, rewind or fast-forward and then return to one's present location immediately, and so on. Of course, this perfect cassette is a book.

It also puts me in mind of the astonishing success of Lulu.com and the craftspeople I see selling handmade paper and blank books. There's still a need for the physically beautiful and tactile in us, which the vaporous digital ether can't compete against. (When the next hurricane comes and takes out my electricity for 5 days, will I pass the time reading an e-book or a real book?)

Hello world!

Instead of deleting the default post when starting a new WordPress blog, why not accept the cheery default title and pronounce this new blog well and truly open for business.

Web Hosting Research

For a variety of reasons, I’ve decided it’s time to find a web host and create my own site. I’ve been bookmarking pages on web hosting providers for a few years and decided it was time go forward.

So, if anyone else is interested, here are some annotated links.

Invoke the Lazy Web

Absolutely nothing wrong with asking the hive mind first. The following links from LifeHacker and Ask Metafilter contain plenty of links, advice, and pointers to plenty of sites you can investigate.

Good webhost? | Ask MetaFilter

Ask Lifehacker Readers: Web hosting provider?

For & Against

A piece of advice I picked up from one site was to Google a hosting provider using the phrase “[provider] sucks” and see what you get back. Using this phrase, DreamHost returns a ton of results, as does GoDaddy, but maybe because they have tons of users? You decide. DreamHost also has its partisans and other review sites.

My del.icio.us links include a few other praises and pans. You can go to review sites, but I found them of little value.

What I Did

I collected up a bunch of names, set the kitchen timer for 1 hour, and surfed around really quick, just trying to catch the vibe of these places. My feeling is that web hosting is now a pretty commodity service, and until you’ve actually gone through the process, you won’t know how the support or uptime actually is. It’s also pretty clear that the provider holds all the cards–they can cancel your service at any time, they tend to be unresponsive when it’s their mistake, and the customer is usually left to clean up the mess. So, go in with your eyes open.

I want to use a WordPress blog, which seems to be included in a script package called Fantastico, so that knocked out a few local contenders.

I looked for a while at DreamHost, since it was recommended to me by a classmate. But I was uneasy with reports of downtime, so rejected them. They certainly offer an attractive package, though.

I narrowed it to three: AN Hosting, A2 Hosting, and InMotion Hosting. These names popped up because I noticed that some of the sites I admire and visit frequently trumpet their wares.

When it came down to making the final decision, they were all pretty similar in their deals and prices. So I basically made a contrarian decision and went with the one that didn’t start with “A.” A silly decision-making heuristic, but there you go. I opted for a year’s contract, so that I can switch to another provider next year if I don’t like their service.

Google Reader

Mike Shea praises Google Reader and then realizes that maybe absorbing so much ephemera of the moment may not be a good thing.

I’ve long used Merlin Mann’s “Probations folder” idea for news feeds, as I find I also like to scarf up new feeds like candy as I surf, only to have a bellyache later in the week when I see 157 new items lying in wait. As a result, I keep my active daily feeds down to an arbitrary number, between 25 and 30. Some of them, like LifeHacker and Marginal Revolution, can drown me in posts in a single day. Others, like PostSecret, only post once a week, so I don’t consider them active. I like to keep the number of inputs to a controllable number; it’s rather like keeping only as many books as you can stuff into a bookcase. To make room for new books, I either toss out old ones or consider whether this new one is really worth keeping.

Like Mike, I also enjoy Google Reader’s “Share” feature, as a quick and dirty way for me to go back to things I want to remember. (Bloglines had the same feature, but it must have been well hidden, as few people used it or referred to it.)

And on a related note: I’ve often thought that, when I become the benevolent dictator of the world, I would remove time limits on news broadcasts. They would last as long as they need to last, be it 10 minutes or 4 hours, depending on how news-busy the day was. Likewise, newspapers would have a weekend edition and maybe 2 or 3 editions during the week, if there was enough news of worth to warrant it. I think the pressure of a daily product that MUST BE PRODUCED leads to poor news judgments being made on the part of editors and publishers and broadcasters. And it leads to the problem Mike Shea touches on: maybe there’s too much news to absorb? How can our 10,000-year-old brains and emotional systems process and cope with all the ideas and feelings this morass of news induces?

I think having a few days off from the news (a news fast, as some call it, or even a Google Reader fast) gives our brains time to sort and judge and evaluate. Otherwise, we’re stunned into a submissive state that only wants more more more input to keep our neural networks tingling and excited, when perhaps we need more more more time to mull, consider, and ponder.

The Sociology of Suicide Notes

From the newsletter that accompanies BBC4 Radio’s Thinking Allowed program, hosted by the ebullient Laurie Taylor:

Whenever the subject of suicide or attempted suicide comes up in conversation I can be relied upon to describe a piece of research on suicide notes that was published some years ago (even though I’ve tried, I can’t find the exact reference any more).

What the researcher had done was collect a large selection of suicide notes written by two classes of people: those who had successfully ended their own life and those who had failed for one reason or another to kill themselves (attempted suicides).

He then submitted these two sets of notes to a computer analysis in the hope that this might throw up some interesting differences in style or subject matter.

As I remember he found clear evidence that the notes written by the ‘attempted suicides’, by people who had not taken quite enough pills, or not sealed the door sufficiently well to prevent noxious gases or fumes escaping, were heavily philosophical in tone. The writers spoke at length of life no longer being worth living, of the meaningless of existence, of the impossibility of optimism.

These were in stark contrast to the suicide notes written by those who had succeeded in killing themselves. These notes tended to be much shorter and much more practical than those provided by attempted suicides. One for example simply said “You’ll find the car keys on top of the sideboard and the will in the top desk drawer.”

There are thousands of other research papers on the subject of suicide. Indeed, it could be argued that sociology first asserted itself as a distinctive subject back in 1897 when Emile Durkheim first tried to formulate a structural and cultural account of its incidence which did not rely upon any psychological understanding of individual desires and motives.

The Hands of an Artist

The Illustration Art blog has two wonderful posts on the great Mort Drucker. This one focuses on how Drucker drew hands, and this one focuses on how he drew and differentiated hair. Tiny tiny things that you don’t notice very much as a casual reader of Mad parodies, but take them away, and the experience lessens.

Artists in Love

David Apatoff has a lovely, heartbreaking post on his Illustration Art blog about a Polish student imprisoned by the Nazis in Auschwitz, how he fell in love with a fellow prisoner, and what became of them. I don’t know where he got the story, but thank the gods that the story still exists.

"My Documents" set as read-only???

I hope I’ve just solved a nasty nasty problem that had me furious at my computer, myself, my life, and my prospects.

I’m working on a new hard drive with a fresh install of Windows XP and have been slowly rebuilding my apps and directories since January.

Recently, while working on a critical document for class, and after several hours of labor, Word absolutely refused to save the file to my hard drive. Had I been thinking, I might have tried saving the file to my second drive or my external drive. But you know how it is. Late at night, tired, and panic tends to cut out my higher self-management skills. It seemed as if the hard drive had suddenly become read-only but that was impossible. It seemed to be working fine otherwise. And it only seemed to happen after I’d been working on a document for about 20 minutes or so. Word otherwise behaved typically (I always avoid the use of the word “normal” with Word.)

Afterward, I ran the XP disk doctor and defrag, and even reinstalled Office 2000. I noticed that Word acted snappier than before. Surely, Shirley, my problems were o’er.

But just a few minutes ago, this infuriating behavior happened again. I printed out the document this time, so I could at least rebuild the document later. And then, because Google is your friend, I searched on “microsoft word not saving my documents!”.

Scanning the results led me to this IBM page from 2004 where we discover that

In Windows XP, Microsoft sets the My Documents folder as read-only…Windows XP no longer cares about the “read” state of directories, only of files. As far as the XP operating system is concerned, security permissions replaced the “read-only” folder attribute.
WTF?? I checked the properties for My Documents, and sure enough, its read-only attribute was set. I turned it off for My Documents and its subdirectories. So I’m now hoping against hope that I’ve seen the last of this problem.

Godamighty, but can Winterson write!

The British novelist Jeanette Winterson has maintained a web presence for many years. (She even went to court to protect other writers’ privileges when some wanker registered jeanettewinterson.com and refused to release it to her. She won her suit and, of course, no one thanked her for her efforts.)

Every month, she posts her latest journalism to the site, a general update column, and a poem she’s read that demands to be shared.

She’s one of Britain’s great culture warriors and, my god, does her passion for art and culture and her disappointment and hatred of the politicians and vulgarians (on both sides of the pond) come through clearly in this month’s selection of writings.

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The Fight For Culture
“It is important to say this, because we are often fed the line that poetry and story-telling are contrived or artificial, and certainly that they are entertainment or luxury goods – in any case, stuff we don’t need. We need playstations and ready-meals of course, and cheap flights to places we don’t want to go, and two cars per family, but art? Now that’s really self-indulgent.”

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The British Library
“I can (just) hear the arguments that not everyone wants opera or experimental theatre, (myself, I do not want war, but I still have to pay for it), but I cannot accept any arguments that jeopardise a prime cultural resource that is in trust for the nation and must be passed on to future generations.”

Jeanette Winterson - Column - March
“What any creative person needs – all they need – is not praise or blame, but an active and grown-up engagement with the process of making things. That process is necessarily experimental, either in part or in the whole, and sometimes things work well, and sometimes less well. Sometimes things work for a big audience, sometimes only for a few. That’s how it is, and I wish, really wish, that we had a mature culture, interested in creativity, that could understand that. “

Don't Fear The Creeper

Datajunkie runs a great series of scans on Steve Ditko’s “Beware the Creeper!” series that he created for DC. I actually remember having the first issue but never knew others followed.

What I like about this post is the casual examination of Ditko’s storytelling style over the series and how it changed when he returned to the character years later. Also, that it’s liberally illustrated with scans from the issues themselves.

I Can See Clearly Now...Except When I Can't

Quixotic is a blog journal I stumbled across recently and it’s morbidly fascinating (and by “morbid,” I mean fascinated by disease. From what I gather in my skim-reads, the blogger is a woman suffering from cancer for many years, who has relocated to Mexico to undergo more aggressive (and what would be non-legal in the US) treatments.

Her post on a tumor that is causing periods of blindness shows, I think, what I find wonderful about her blog: a sense of humor that comes through in her honest voice, pragmatism, and, on her good days, philosophy. I hope she keeps writing about it through it all.