From Thomas West’s Thinking Like Einstein:
Long ago, Socrates described some second thoughts he had about the new and questionable technology called a “book”. He thought it had several weaknesses. A book could not adjust what it was saying, as a living person would, to what would be appropriate for certain listeners or specific times or places. In addition, a book could not be interactive, as in a conversation or dialogue between persons. And finally, according to Socrates, in a book the written words “seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you just the same thing forever.”
[Socrates then went on to say, “It’s been five weeks since the book was introduced, and I don’t see that many people using it – books are so over.”]
Quote of the week, Bonus Edition: Socrates on the “book”
In both his art and his life, the sculptor Gaston Lachaise was famously devoted to his muse, Isabel.
Lachaise was working in Paris in 1901 when he first saw Isabel Nagle, a married woman on vacation from the United States. He later recalled that the moment he laid eyes on her, Isabel “immediately became the primary inspiration which awakened my vision….“
The sincere young artist appeared at her door every day until she agreed to let him draw her portrait. By the time she returned home to the U.S., Isabel loved Gaston too.
Lachaise could not bear to lose Isabel so he gave up his friends and family, learned to speak English and followed her to the U.S. with $30 in his pocket. There, he ultimately persuaded her to divorce her husband and marry him.
Gaston and Isabel seem to have had a grand time together. Isabel’s first husband was a conservative businessman in strict Boston society. Gaston took her away from Boston to romp nude in the remote woods of Maine. They swam and frolicked in the phosphorescent sea at night. They wrote bad love poetry to each other (as is every couple’s right). A sample from Gaston:
I sing my hymn to you, Mostly, Isabel inspired Lachaise to sculpt an endless stream of monuments to muliebrity. His statues gloried in her ample belly, powerful haunches and pendulous breasts.
You the goddess for whom I searched,
Whom I express in my every work,
Have made me a God,
You inspire my every moment.
Years later he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening….” It must have been somewhere along that wider road that he started sculpting Isabel opened like some giant fecund orchid.
I used to think Lachaise’s art was pretty uncomplicated. Then I read that Isabel was in reality just five feet, two inches tall and weighed a mere 110 pounds. Whoa.
Oliver Sacks once wrote, "the world isn’t given to us– we make it with our nervous systems.” In art as in love, what we bring to and invest in the object of our affection plays a significant role in the reality we perceive.
Lachaise did not simply copy Isabel as nature created her. She was his focal object for distilling the abstract shapes and contours of eros. Isabel seems to have transported Lachaise to something much bigger than himself. Willa Cather defined happiness as “being dissolved into something complete and great.” As far as I can tell, Lachaise was a very happy guy.
ARTISTS IN LOVE, part ten
Financial blog Wise Bread has come up with a practical way to make your flight experience a little less crazymaking - just fly out of a smaller airport:
This isn’t an option for everyone, but when it is, take it. It’s worth the extra $20, $20, or $50 to fly from an airport with shorter security lines and more accessible airline agents. Think of it as paying youself for the time you save because you don’t have to arrive as early or stand in line as long. Plus, flights from smaller airports are more likely to be on time than flights from major airports.
Actually, the one time I did this I had the most awesome flight of my life, I kid you not. What are some other ways you’ve found to ease the irritants of air travel these days? Thoughts in the comments.Headaches, Begone!: 5 Tips for Making Airline Travel Easier [Wise Bread]
Travel: Choose a smaller airport to make your flight more pleasant
Don’t watch this documentary unless you are ready to quit your job. It’s about the joys and woes of long-term traveling. It’s impossible to watch this fun film and not confront the fact that you are here instead of there, out on the road, soaking up the mysteries of the world, with all-you-can-eat $3 dinners and $5 rooms, backpacking around the world for a year, as the filmmaker himself did. This kind of vagabonding is more a state of mind than a state of motion. Something weird happens when you travel longer than 10 days, and that wonderful transformation (which no one can explain to their family when they return) is what this superbly written, fabulously edited, deeply personal and wonderfully likeable documentary is all about.
This film explores the mellow subculture of (mostly) young people who trek along an invisible international traveler’s circuit. There’s a kind of endless distributed global party going on every day of the year (plainly visible here), and to join it all you need is a ticket to any country and the address of the local hostel. I was part of this mind-set for many years and boy, does this film nail the peculiar delights of perpetual cheap travel. Not just the highs (everyday is Saturday, each new person an instant best friend), but also the lows (always saying goodbye, and loss of connection).
This DVD won’t give you the how-to specifics of vagabonding. For that I recommend First-Time Around the World. A Map for Saturday works best as an orientation course, offering inspiration on why to tackle this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It’s the next best thing to having a good friend come back and tell you what really happens when you find yourself at the other end of the road.
A Map for Saturday
2006, 90 min.
$15 ($20 with shipping), DVD
Available from the filmmakers’ website
Filmmaker Brook keeps track of his expenses for one day in Laos. He starts out with his $5 room shared with fellow traveler Kym.
You have to get used to the squatty potties in Asia. The bucket of water on the side is used to flush the toilet.
A game of beach volley ball on the sands in Thailand. Hanging around for weeks sipping cold beers at sunset is part of the plan.
A Map for Saturday
This post is an ode to Google Scholar (GS). GS has a major advantage against expensive institution only academic search engines in that is free, which makes services indispensable to independent scholars wishing to get some access to research literature when they don’t have an institutional subscription. However, even though I personally have institutional access to indexing services like Web of Science and Scopus, I still prefer GS for the majority of my searches, and in this post I will explain why.
GS is not alone if offering free academic article indexing for a wide range of sources. This post lists a bunch of free and paid services. Microsoft live academic has a very similar system, using a slick interface, which has the advantage of providing paper abstracts where available upfront, and before both these appeared, Citesteer provided something similar. I prefer GS over these and other systems I have tried. In my limited testing, I found the MS live search and Citesteer to give a much smaller set of results to GS. For ease and speed of use I prefer the simplicity of the Google design over the paid alternatives.
GS is largely disliked by librarians, as Google is very cagey about what there index consists and their citation index is probably not to be trusted for serious reporting. GS gives citation counts, which might not always be exactly accurate, for most purposes an exact total isn’t necessary, as it serves as good measure of the importance and influence of a book or paper, and allows easy access to those references that cite it. By default, when you click to see articles that cite a particular article, the index is presented with the most highly cited articles first, which makes it very easy to see the important and influential articles in a field.
As Jose suggested in a previous post, one way to assess the productivitveness of reference managers is by how many clicks it takes to get what you want. GS is about as productive in this regard as I could imagine any reference indexer to be. Because it is free, there is no login and you don’t have to be on a university network to access search results or enter in passwords, or have your session time out like some other services. This means GS is always available. If you set up the preferences on GS you can setup a link to your reference manager of choice for an instant export. As I now use Zotero, this means it’s a one click operation to get a reference into my database, with no dialog prompts.
GS has the advantage that it often indexes PDF’s for the article, which may not be available by other means. If there is a link for your search result of “View as HTML” you know the link GS provides is for the PDF, otherwise it normally links to the abstract via various publishers websites or other indexing services. If there is a link at the side “all X versions”, this means there are various other places in which that article is indexed. If that X is a high number, it is likely that one of the other links will be the PDF, which is useful to check if the frontpage GS link doesn’t link to a PDF, or if the PDF that GS links to is missing. If the reference is a book, it will often link to the Google Book site entry for that book, which is handy.
For easier access to full text articles which GS doesn’t index, I use the OpenURL referrer firefox extension, which can work out your OpenURL referrer for your institution, and adds a link to GS search results. Google offers this service itself for many American libraries - just check the GS preferences page. If you click the link this service adds, it will use the OpenURL system to work out if your library has access to the full text version of the article on the publishers website or other indexing service, and take you to it. It also should show if you have the reference in your library.
One advantage and disadvantage of GS is that it includes many articles that wouldn’t get included in other indexing services. One nice advantage is that it gives you access to books and articles in a single search. The articles GS indexes includes manuscripts in preparation and working papers. This means you can access articles not accessible by other means. However, this means you don’t get the benefits of peer review, but I think the benefits of getting recent papers outweighs this disadvantage. Another problem is that GS will sometimes export reference data which isn’t properly formatted, or missing fields. This will unsurprisingly occur for unpublished papers, but for regular papers it doesn’t happen regularly enough to be a major problem for me. GS gives the index source underneath the link to the reference, so you can figure out whether the exported reference will have the full information, and you can check other sources if GS shows them to be available.
While GS is useful for the reasons outlined above, the best feature of GS is the search. GS uses the Google simplicity of search principle. There is a just one search box, with no fields. There is a link to an advanced search field which allows you to limit searches by year, by publication, and author. This may seem very limited compared to other services. For further information on these options see the GS help page. However, with GS I don’t use advanced searches, apart from the occasion “author:”, as the power of GS is that you don’t need to. I typically put a few uncommon words from the title and the most uncommon author name, and the vast majority of the time I get what I am looking for. One feature of Google search syntax that you might not know is that if you string words together by dashes it is equivalent to a search string. e.g. “war is peace” is the same as war-is-peace. Doing this for a few words from the title of the reference you are looking for ensures a high success rate.
The ease and speed of searching is enhanced for me with other tools that make instant search easier. I use a keyboard launcher, Slickrun, which means I can execute searches from a command line accessible via a hotkey. Other keyboard launchers can provide a similar service, or you can use the keyword feature of Firefox. The means that whenever I see a reference, such as in a PDF article, I copy the reference, type my GS keyword, paste the search term, and a second later my GS search term is loading. An alternative method is to use the firefox extension Conquery . This means I can select text in the browser (e.g. name of an article) and send the text as a search term to google scholar. I also have an AutoHotKey command which will instantly launch selected text as a GS search.
The speed and ease of which I can access to references has changed the way I work. Its quicker for me to get a reference via a GS search then it is to find a stored copy in my own reference manager, and I can’t ask for much more that that from a reference indexing service.
Quicker references with Google Scholar
Do you eat the best thing first or save the best for last? Most people fall into one of these two categories and according to Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating there is a simple economic explanation. The people who eat the best thing first tend to have grown up as younger children from large families. The people who save the best for last are more often first borns. Need I say more?
Mindless Eating, by the way, masquerades as a diet book but it’s really about research design! Highly recommended.
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.
Available from Amazon
Manufactured by Nelles Maps
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.
Powered by ScribeFire.
Did Jesus complain? Did Jesus complain?
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
2007, 288 pages
Available from Amazon
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
“I don’t need an A-plus. I’m happy with an A.”
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.
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?)
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.
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 WebAbsolutely 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
What I DidI 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.
My friend Scott recently posted an elegant appraisal of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House.
As if to mock or confirm Dickens, reality puts forth its case.