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July 30, 2008

Book Repair

A Simple Book Repair Manual. If you're like me, you have a lot of books, some of which are (a) not easily replaceable and (b) in various states of disrepair. (If you're actually like me, you have other issues as well, but we won't go into them at this point.)

[via Lifehacker]

July 29, 2008

Tarantino's Mind


From the oddly named Hungry Man TV, the short film Tarantino's Mind. Nice.

A film buff tells a friend that he's finally broken "the code" - the mystery behind the character & story threads that bleed from one Quentin Tarantino movie or screenplay into the next. His friend is less than impressed. Starring Seu Jorge (The Life Aquatic) and Selton Mello (Tarja Preta). A short film by Brazilian directing duo 300ml.

Sonic Youth Bio

Haven't read it yet, but this looks interesting: David Brown's Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth [amazon link]. From the Huffington Post review:

Browne digs deeply into the band's democratic decision-making process, which gives each distinct personality ample voice. As with any band, tensions do inevitably arise, but disagreements here don't last long. Maybe it's because the members of Sonic Youth are so unwaveringly likable. And they're all characters in their own right: Thurston Moore's continuous joking; Kim Gordon's focused creative input and reserved demeanor; Lee Renaldo's technical prowess; and Steve Shelley's stabilizing influence. It's almost impossible to hate the underachievers now crowned by many as the kings of rock. (Former-Voice critic Robert Christgau called Sonic Youth "the best band in the universe" only a few years ago).

(I feel like I should have heard about this from somewhere way cooler than Huffington Post, but I guess that's my world now.)

[via Huffington Post]

July 24, 2008

Splicing News Stories


MSNBC appears to have unintentionally combined two unrelated news stories (a grizzly attack in Alaska and a woman committing suicide after her home was foreclosed on).

Or there's a very hairy Loan Officer with salmon on his breath somewhere in Alaska.

Silverback: Guerilla Usability Testing on the Mac

Clearleft's Silverback is $49.95 software for the Mac that does screen recording augmented with screen capture for guerilla usability testing. Uses the small Apple remote that came with your Macbook for adding a chapter markers on the fly. There's a thirty-day free trial version available. Features include changing location, size, and transparency of inset video, tracking click locations on screen, and more. (You can also turn off the inset video, which lets Silverback double as a simple app for creating screencasts.)

The program lacks the advanced features you might find in spendier products like Morae—there's no built-in video editing (use iMovie) and no stats tracking, but for quick, on-location work, it's definitely worth $49.95.

Ten percent of profits from registered copies goes to the Save the Gorillas campaign. ("Silverback," "Guerilla usability testing," "Save the Gorillas." Get it?)

Update: Hicksdesign, which created the Silverback icon, posted a series of design sketches showing how the icon evolved from basic concept through hand sketches to final design.

[via Daring Fireball]

Paul Westerberg at 49 cents

Paul Westerberg's selling his new album 49:00 for 49 cents as a single-track mp3. What's not to like? (Well, maybe the slight Amazon weirdness that requires you to use the 1-click button to purchase the album; if you purchase it using one of Amazon's other options, accounting overhead brings the cost closer to a dollar.) Westerberg has a PDF version of the liner notes and other things.

[via Pitchfork: Today]

July 23, 2008

Design Novices vs Experts

Noise Between Stations summarizes (and links to) some research on two practices that separate design experts from novices. Experts tend to problem solve top-down/breadth-first and they reframe difficult problems while novices don't.

Obviously, a novice consciously deciding to switch those two behaviors won't automatically make themselves an expert designer. Both expert practices, for example, probably rely on having a rich repertoire of strategies, skills, and experience. But if nothing else, it suggests things that novices might consciously work toward. (I say all this without having looked at the articles referenced. Hey--breadth first.)

[via Vol. 2: design-management.de]

July 22, 2008

Font Conference

Do you sit around idly wondering what it would be like if fonts gathered as a group to vote on membership to some weird, UN-style council? Then this is the video for you. Sort of predictable (Arial Narrow is ethnocentric; Ransom is holding Courier as hostage; Old English is, well, you get it) but still funny. If you're a font geek.

[via Typophile]

Instruments and Playable Text

Stuart Moulthrop guest edits the Iowa Review Web's issue on Instruments and Playable Text:

Judy Malloy, "Concerto for Narrative Data

John Cayley, "riverIsland QT"

Nick Montfort, "The Purpling"

Shawn Rider, "So Random" and "PiTP"

Elizabeth Knipe, "activeReader"

Stuart Moulthrop, "Under Language"

[via Mark Bernstein]

July 21, 2008

"Fail Fast": Prototyping at Pixar

Michael B. Johnson of Pixar, interviewed by Peter Merholz:

The important take-home point, though, is that Pixar loves their films so much, we make them twice :-).

[...] We’d much rather fail with a bunch of sketches that we did (relatively) quickly and cheaply, than once we’ve modeled, rigged, shaded, animated, and lit the film. “Fail fast,” that’s the mantra. With a team of 10-20 people (director, story artists, editorial staff, production designer and artists, and skeleton production management) you can make, remake, and remake again a movie that once it hits 3D will take an order of magnitude more people to execute. The complexity of the task does not ramp up linearly.

Building things and then taking them apart isn't an error; it's a design strategy. "Measure twice, cut once" is fine when you're sawing a sheet of plywood, but it's a limiting strategy with virtual tools. Find an environment that lets you fail fast.

[via Daring Fireball]

Delia Derbyshire Tapes

BBC News has a short piece—with some audio samples—on a cache of 267 audiotapes made in the 1960s and 1970s by Delia Derbyshire, an early BBC Radiophonic Workshop member and electronic audio pioneer who, among other things, created the theme music for Doctor Who (from a score composed by Ron Grainer). The Doctor Who theme is among the more conventional things the Radiophonic Workshop did; these people were seriously ahead of their time. (According to the archivist working with the tapes, Derbyshire "got a bit disheartened and a bit bored with it all when the synthesizer came along and it all became a little too easy.")

The also BBC has a brief page covering Alchemists of Sound, a BBC TV documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop (including some free clips); Sound on Sound ran an extensive piece on the group, although you can only read the first few thousand words before you're asked to pay for a PDF. (Worth the 99 pence if you're interested—I read the piece in print a couple of months ago.)

Water, Wall, and Thick Latex Paint

Water Leak in Wall

My office on campus yesterday.

Update:: Underdog's immediate comment: Barton Fink.

July 20, 2008

Twitter as Surveillance

Stuart forwarded me this Twitter notification:

Hi, Stuart Selber.

State College Police (StateCollegePD) is now following your updates on Twitter.

Check out State College Police's profile here:


You may follow State College Police as well by clicking on the "follow" button.


StateCollegePD's twitter feed is actually an interesting idea, despite how ominous Twitter's boilerplate email makes it sound. The PD are using the feed for snow emergency notifications, Penn State football traffic alerts, and other things. I'm not sure how tracking Stuart's writing and reviewing schedule fits into that, but I guess they're just being engaged members of the community.

Chris Marker Weblog

Chris Marker: Note from the Era of Imperfect Memory (a weblog and website).

Chrismarker.org is an randomly-compiled, taxonomically naive and hopefully useful archive of ruminations, bibliographic & filmographic notations, untimely meditations, mnemonic minutiae and other glosses on the cinematic, written, photographic and multimedia work of world-citizen & time-traveler Chris Marker.

We welcome contributions in short article form from the global village that Marker helped to map. We also welcome Chris Marker news, links, memorabilia, aphorisms, quotations, images and stray insights. Contributions from animals are welcome too, of course, including but not limited to cats, owls, giraffes, emus and elephants (слоны).

[via Ballardian]

July 19, 2008



SurveillanceSaver for OS X and Windows screensaver that pulls images from 400+ networked surveillance cameras around the world. The programmers call it a "haunting live soap opera." Creative Commons licensed.

[via things magazine]

Translating Reality: Copyediting Quotes from the Web

Virginia Heffernan at the NYT takes on the difficult issue of quoting casual web texts in more formal publications like the New York Times.

Consider another example. To show that Web users are curious about human reproduction, I might quote kavya on Yahoo Answers, word for word: “How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?”

But that makes kavya look like an idiot. Readers might miss the sweet earnestness of his question. Maybe he (or she) is 7 or a native speaker of Hungarian. I should cut the kid a typographical break; that’s not an easy question to ask. The cockamamie diction and syntax of Internet English is, possibly, only incidental to his inquiry. A reporter could paraphrase or revise his question — “How is a baby formed?” — lest readers get blinded to the intent of the question by moronizing typos.

But “How is babby formed?” is funny. And who wants to deny readers a chance to laugh and to get the full flavor of Internet-culture wackiness? It’s flat-out lying to pretend that everyone (or anyone) spells well online.

This is something you've run into if you write about the Web much: Do you preserve spelling errors? Do you correct them in brackets? Do you just paraphrase? When and why? It all comes down to (predictably) rhetorical purpose, tempered by maintaining the validity of your data. As Times editor Daniel Okrent says in Heffernan's piece, we've struggled with this issue for a long time in terms of quoting verbal statements (do you spell out accents to give readers the flavor? do you preserve the "and ... uh ... um"?), and there aren't simple answers. (Not a direct quote.)

[via Fimoculous.com]

Jedi Mind Tricks: Hacking the Technical Interview

Vijay's O'Reilly Ignite presentation covers how to do well in a job interview for a technical position. They're very basic and a little clumsy, but job interviews are generally pretty basic, a little clumsy, and run by people who don't really know or think a lot about interviewing processes, so maybe they work. If nothing else, they might help interviewees avoid hyperventilating during interviews (which, with technical types, seems to be the frequent job interview strategy). (As an aside, most of the techniques reminded me of strategies covered by the car salesman in Palahniuk's Rant.)

There are a dozen things that I would have changed in the presentation and web page—ranging from lack of concrete, visual examples to the use of Courier—but then again, I'm not the audience for this.

[via Lifehacker]

xkcd channels Sokal


Check this xkcd on posturing and grad student susceptibility by discipline. Written (obviously) from a science/engineering perspective, but, yeah, I see the point (and have been that grad student). (And, yeah, I've way exceeded xkcd's estimate.)

[via Benny]

July 18, 2008

Making Faces: Typographer Documentary

YouTube (obviously) has the trailer for Making Faces, a documentary on typographer Joe Rimmer.

[via P22]

July 15, 2008

The Letters of Stanley Kubrick

The Telegraph reprints some of Kubrick's letters.


In pre-production, and casting matters arise, but Kubrick ever has his eye on the money.

November 19, 1962

To James Harris, producer

Thanks very much for the Gene Kelly matter. I think he’ll be a fabulous off-beat choice if we can work things out with him. Please try to create the impression in his mind that we’re very tight on money (we are).

They also have an interview with Christiane Kubrick (+ some video) about the controversy surrounding the release of A Clockwork Orange that's worth a look.

[via Daring Fireball]

July 14, 2008

Back to the One-Way Web

My MovableType installation (which runs this weblog) is having issues with comments, so I've turned them off. Think of it as something like the times when you yell at stupid things on TV safe in the comfort of knowing that the people on screen can't actually hear you. If nothing else, you can picture thousands of spammers yelling impotently about viagra (a pun that was unfortunately accidental).

Useless Fact

Since it works over wifi and not bluetooth, the Remote app on the iPhone will control iTunes on the computer in my office even if I'm in the lab, around 300 feet away. (Possibly useful, I guess, as part of an elaborate prank.)

(BTW, the Remote app has my vote for the most useful development for the iPhone. 3G's irrelevant to me given the fact that I can barely get Edge coverage at my house; the nearest AT&T 3G is two hundred miles away.)



Video of a mesmerizing but seriously creepy flock of birds.

[via Boing Boing]

July 12, 2008

Collaborative Editing

Wikipedia has a Lamest Edit Wars page.

Back in the good old days, people would settle this sort of thing with a gunfight; now they do it by toying with an encyclopedia. Truly, the Wikipedia outlook has changed the way things get done. It has changed them from actually getting done to never getting done. On the other hand, nobody gets shot.

[via Fimoculous.com]

July 11, 2008

How Designers Work

Time-lapse video of Matt Willey laying out an article for Royal Academy magazine, trying out different options as he goes. This would be even better if (a) it had a voiceover explaining Willey's decision processes and (b), as Kottke says, if it were on Vimeo or some other site that had better video ("... sometimes YouTube is like watching a UHF station from 200 miles away with the rabbit ears positioned just so").

Still, cool.

[via kottke.org]

July 09, 2008

Dancing 2008

I linked to an early version of Matt Harding's website several years ago in an earlier incarnation of this weblog, but the current version is even better.

[via The Huffington Post | Raw Feed]

Tracking Shots

laboratory101 has a short history of the tracking shot, complete with YouTube clips. Touch of Evil, Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, The Player (the initial tracking shot of which is itself a history of tracking shots), and of course The Russian Ark (trailer above), which is one 90-minute tracking shot.

Backstage with Type Designers


The Man in Blue asked several type designers to send him samples of their own handwriting. Above is a sample from Nikola Djurek, along with two of his fonts.

[via Drawn!]

July 08, 2008

Style in Technical Documentation


I'm testing out a Shure SM7A microphone (great so far), so I downloaded the product manual from Shure's website. This section reads like something out of Monty Python:


The microphone shall be a moving coil (dynamic) type with a frequency response of 50 to 20,000 Hz. The unit shall have a cardioid polar characteristic. The cancellation at the sides shall be approximately 6 dB and the cancellation at the rear shall be 15 to 20 dB. The microphone shall be low impedance with a rated impedance of 150 ohms for connection to microphone inputs rated at 19 to 300 ohms. The microphone output shall be –57.0 dB where 0 dB = 1 milliwatt per Pascal.

The microphone shall have two switches for controlling the frequency response. The first switch is a Bass Rolloff selector switch. One position of this switch provides a flat low frequency response and the second position provides a gradual low frequency rolloff. The second switch is the Mid-Range Emphasis (presence boost) switch. One position of this switch provides a flat mid-range frequency response and the second position raises the level of the mid-range frequency response. The microphone shall be equipped with an integral swivel assembly suitable for mounting on a stand with a 5/8 in-27 thread.

The overall dimensions shall be 189.7 mm (7.469 in.) in length, 148 mm (5.812 in.) in height, and 96 mm (3.775 in.) in width. The weight of the microphone shall be 765.4 g (1 lb., 11 oz.)

The microphone shall be the Shure Model SM7A or equivalent.

I don't usually read mic spec sheets, so maybe all microphone spec sheets have this odd, declamatory tone to them. (Or maybe most mic spec sheets don't include the product engineer's specs statement—the rest of the manual is traditional user product guide-speak.)

[Note: I was making a spam comment sweet and right after I clicked the "Delete" button, I realized I'd deleted a legitimate comment on this post. Sorry about that.

July 07, 2008

On Getting Better (Very, Very Slowly)

Ira Glass offers earnest advice (Ira Glass is nothing if not earnest) on the painfully slow transition from beginner to expert. (Glass is obviously talking about radio, but this is a process you'll see in nearly any field.)

[via 43 Folders]

July 05, 2008

Off Beat: Piano Phase

Peter Aidu performs Steve Reich's Piano Phase. Normally played by two pianists, "Piano Phase" involves playing the same short melody simultaneously on two pianos so that, over time, one player slides out of phase with the other. Aidu's not the first person to play the piece solo, but it's the first one I've seen on video. (An mp3 of the performance is available at the Internet Archive.)

[via Super Colossal]

July 04, 2008

Imagining Behind the Scenes

Channel 4 has a 65-second tracking shot through a reconstruction of the set of The Shining.

Channel 4 Creative Services, the broadcaster's in-house creative resource, cast people who resembled Kubrick's own crew including his script lady, assistant director and director of production, John Alcott, who also worked on films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange with the director.

Look-a-likes were also found for Duvall, Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance, and the twin girls who appear fleetingly in the film.

[via Daring Fireball]

The Book of Accidents


The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale has 11 pages from The Book of Accidents: Designed for Children (1831), a scared-straight sort of primer for small children on all the ways that they might be killed.

The Bull is a noble looking but ferocious and terrible creature; and when provoked he assumes the air of sullen majesty, and often tears up the ground with his feet and horns. They should be carefully avoided and never teazed [sic] by children. These two boys here seen had been taking a short walk, and were crossing the fields together, when they were pursued and one of them overtaken by the ferocious animal. After taking the poor boy on his horns, he tossed him high into the air, and catching him as he fell, tossed him up a again and thus continued to do until left for dead.

[via metafilter.com]

July 02, 2008

The Street Finds Its Own Uses: Web 2.0 as Literature

Mark Merino provides links to examples of Web 2.0 tech repurposed as (experimental) literature and poetry: Jay Bushman's The Good Captain (Twitter repurposed to repurpose Melville's "Benito Cereno"), Charles Cumming's The 21 Steps (short story as Google Map), and more (including RSS feeds, Netvibes, and Weblogs). Cool.

[via jill/txt]