Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review

High points of the year from a personal perspective:
  1. Taught a freshman biology course at the local community college. Nice to get back into it, hope I did more good than harm. Two thirds of the students would recommend that others take the course, which I'm told is a stellar review, so that's something.
  2. Spent the second half of the year as Chief Marketing Officer of a startup software company.
  3. Traveled a lot for business: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Miami, Toronto, Detroit, Toledo, Munich, Nuremberg. Narrowly avoided being groped & scoped by the TSA.
  4. Recovered some of my long lost German language skills, although the Germans are speaking more English than ever before, about as much as the Dutch were speaking 20 years ago. The Dutch are now almost universally perfectly bilingual.
  5. Met lots of interesting people, and have several prospects for new customers, clients and friends for the coming year.

Quote of the Day

I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty."

-Lily Bollinger
on champagne

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Books of 2010

  1. Steven Brust—Iorich
  2. Robert Skidelsky—Keynes: Return of the Master
  3. Neil Gaiman—Violent Cases
  4. Gregory Maguire—Making Mischief: a Maurice Sendak Appreciation
  5. Malcolm Gladwell—What the Dog Saw
  6. Richard Kadrey—Sandman Slim
  7. Richard Holmes—The Age of Wonder
  8. Robert Crais—The First Rule
  9. Colum McCann—Let the Great World Spin
  10. Matthew B. Crawford—Shop Class as Soulcraft
  11. Larry McMurtry—Literary Life
  12. Vaclav Havel—To the Castle and Back
  13. Sam Sheridan—The Fighter’s Mind
  14. Patti Smith—Just Kids
  15. Josh Waitzkin—The Art of Learning
  16. Mark Lamster—Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens
  17. Chandler Burr—You or Someone Like You (reread)
  18. Chandler Burr—The Emperor of Scent (reread)
  19. Gary Rogowski—The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery
  20. Gregoire Bouillier—The Mystery Guest
  21. Michael Pollan—A Place of My Own
  22. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro—Burning Shadows
  23. John Greenlee & Saxon Holt—The American Meadow Garden
  24. Samuel R Delany—Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand
  25. Stewart Copeland—Strange Things Happen: a Life with the Police, Polo and Pygmies
  26. Robert & Cortney Novogratz—Downtown Chic
  27. Jim Butcher—Changes
  28. Samuel R. Delany—Dhalgren
  29. Ellen Bass—The Human Line
  30. Nassim Nicholas Taleb—“On Robustness and Fragility”
  31. Luca Invernizzi—Ultimate Tropical
  32. Alberto Manguel—A Reading Diary
  33. Lee Child—61 Hours
  34. Peter Greenaway—Prospero’s Books
  35. Alberto Manguel—A History of Reading
  36. Stieg Larsson—The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
  37. Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson—ReWork
  38. Jane Lindskold—Nine Gates
  39. Michael Pollan—Second Nature
  40. Cathryn M. Valente—This is My Letter to the World: the Omikuji Project Year 1
  41. Joseph Campbell—The Hero’s Journey
  42. Ozzy Osbourne—I am Ozzy
  43. Bret Easton Ellis—Imperial Bedrooms
  44. Bob Hicok—Words for Empty and Words for Full
  45. Elizabeth Gilbert—Eat, Pray, Love
  46. Andre Aciman—Call Me by Your Name
  47. Nicholas Basbanes—Editions & Impressions
  48. David Lipsky—Although of Course you End up Becoming Yourself (A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace)
  49. Josh Kilmer-Purcell—Bucolic Plague
  50. Josh Kilmer-Purcell—I am not Myself Right Now
  51. China Mieville—Kraken
  52. Paul Graham—Hackers & Painters
  53. Neal Pollack—Stretch
  54. Neal Pollack—Alternadad
  55. Lawrence & Nancy Goldstein—The Friar and the Cipher
  56. William Gibson—Zero History
  57. Glen Cook—An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat
  58. Garr Reynolds—Presentation Zen
  59. Alex Ross—Listen to This
  60. Alice McMaster Bujold—Cryoburn
  61. Lee Child—Worth Dying For
  62. Steven Johnson—Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
  63. Jim Butcher—Side Jobs
  64. Glen Cook—Gilded Latten Bones
  65. Ricky Martin—Me
  66. Jay LakePinion
  67. Joshua Braff—Peep Show
  68. John McPhee—Conversations with the Archdruid
  69. Eric Chase Anderson—Chuck Dugan is AWOL
  70. Kathe Koja—Under the Poppy
  71. Lev Grossman—The Magicians (reread)
  72. GD Trudeau—40: A Doonesbury Retrospective
  73. Patrick Hennessey—The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

The Year in Reading 2010

Notable books, or a Best Of list, though not all of these were necessarily published this year, out of the 70-odd books newly read over the past twelve months:

Bookending the year in reading, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, which revolved around Philip Petit's tightrope walk across the World Trade Centers and a group of finely drawn characters kicked off the year that ended with Kathe Koja's excellent Under the Poppy.

The next group consists of memoirs by rock stars: Ozzy Osbourne's I Am Ozzy, Stewart Copeland's Strange Things Happen: a Life with the Police, Polo and Pygmies, Ricky Martin's Me, and the best of the group, Patti Smith's Just Kids, about her early life in New York and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. What comes through more than anything is the sweetness and innocence of this part of their lives, and possibly of life in general at the start of the 70's. This was the best non-fiction read of the year.

William Gibson's Zero History was the fiction read of the year. The conclusion of the Pattern Recognition or Blue Ant trilogy, ZH takes the techniques of science fiction and applies them to the immediate past in the context of a search for clothing and designers with very unusual properties. I want me some Gabriel Hounds.

Another great discovery was to flash back to the past with some Samuel R Delany: Dhalgren and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand are the kind of high grade science fiction that seemed to peak in the late 60's. Disorientation through language and imagery, fiercely drawn characters and invetive worlds to explore. That's the stuff.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”

— Bob Dylan

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The river is story, it goes on.

Greer Gilman's parting tale for and about her mother, recently passed.

Elegy for Geek Culture

Patton Oswalt on the death (and inevitable Jean Gray-like resurrection) of geek culture. He hits the high notes of 80's haut-nerd life, and then spirals into a glorious fantasia of otaku:
Since there’s no going back—no reverse on the out-of-control locomotive we’ve created—we’ve got to dump nitro into the engines. We need to get serious, and I’m here to outline my own personal fantasy: We start with lists of the best lists of boobs. Every Beatles song, along with every alternate take, along with every cover version of every one of their songs and every alternate take of every cover version, all on your chewing-gum-sized iPod nano. Goonies vs. Saw. Every book on your Kindle. Every book on Kindle on every Kindle. The Human Centipede done with the cast of The Hills and directed by the Coen brothers.

Possibly the best essay of the year.

Endless Divers

(via boingboing)

Links for Later

1. 100 verses of A Bang on the Ear

2. Mixergy interview with AngelList's Nivi

3. So long, PayGo

4. Bon Iver plays Peter Gabriel's Come Talk to Me. Kelly Deal sez: "YOU PEOPLE AND YOUR GODDAMN BON IVER, I SWEAR TO GOD."

5. A Guide to the Market Oligopoly System (Economic art)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Krugman Critiques Obama

Part of an ongoing series. Paul Krugman is (rightly) angry at how Obama has misplayed his hand over the past two years, leading to needless Democratic losses and hard won accomplishments that could have been more easily, rapidly and frequently won.

Links for Later

1. Molecular biology of the phylotypic bottleneck. More here.

2. Last night, The Invisibles saved my life. (via linkmachinego)

3. A response to Bruce Sterling's Wikileaks/Bradley Manning/Julian Assange piece, "The Blast Shack"

The Future Is Now, Vol. LXXXIV: Village Greens

The Peace Corps reports on the growth of green power generation among remote villages, including solar, water, biofuel and wind generators that power hyperefficient lighting and other low-wattage, high-value appliances.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Wars and Pagan Trees

Obsidian Wings traces the DNA of modern Christmas, by way of Washington crossing the Delaware and a lot of pagan celebrations:
To have a green tree in the house, filled with light, in the darkest and coldest time of year, as we feel the year turn from old to new -- how can that not be numinous? When we decorate with green branches and red berries, this isn't from Christian iconography --

"I remember hearing," said Susan distantly, "that the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently."


(from Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett).

The rising of the sun and the running of the deer, seeing our families and having enough to eat: all of these things are worth celebrating. Such celebrations don't have to be either secular or religious, in the usual sense: they are pagan in the sense of "rustic, countrified, what the common people do". Human, in other words.

So we do have a Yule Tree in our house, and at its top is the sun

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bill

The late, great Bill Hicks would have been 49 today.

Happy Birthday, Bill

The late, great Bill Hicks would have been 49 today.

Links for Later

1. Stem cell cure for baldness in 5 years

2. Borromean rings as a foundation for new forms of matter

3. Talking about spycraft with Jeff Stein: "I hope this spawns more Wikileaks."

4. Anybody with the time on their hands to write a 43-page dress code should be fired

5. How to write like an undergraduate male.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

xkcd: Dammit, Julian

Bradley Manning

How long can a prisoner be kept in solitary confinement without their brains turning to jelly? The US is trying to find out the answer to this question using Wikileaks enabler Bradley Manning as a guinea pig. He's been kept isolated 23 hours a day in the US Marines brig in Virginia. No charges have yet been filed. What's going on in there? Glen Greenwald has some answers.

Time Now and Passing

Boys on the East Side insist on hanging to every passing sleigh, and if the owners protest, volleys of abuse are hurled after them.PA1878
This news item makes me melancholy, as it drives home the moment captured here so vividly happened 132 years ago. Everyone in the passing sleighs, the boys hanging on the sides, the writer of the piece, and everyone who knew them is dead and gone long ago. The sleighs themselves, for that matter, are long gone to dust, and maybe the streets where this happened.

The Year in Film 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Links for Later

1. The ghost town at Cairo, IL

2. Using GPUs for matrix calculation

The Tax Deal

How did he go from being Mr. Hope and Change to being as tough as a wet doily? As Anthony Weiner pointed out yesterday, liberals don't wish he was more ideological, rather that he was more of a pragmatist. The White House doesn't seem to grasp the fact that they're in a fight, whether they like it or not.

What a shameful performance on the part of the President. Absolutely disgraceful.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Cut The Tax Cuts

What Krugman said.

Not Such Wicked Leaks

Umberto Eco in Presseurop on the Wikileaks "scandal": it's a fake scandal filled with empty secrets, and the biggest scandal is that the secrets are empty.
But let’s turn to the more profound significance of what has occurred. Formerly, back in the days of Orwell, every power could be conceived of as a Big Brother watching over its subjects’ every move. The Orwellian prophecy came completely true once the powers that be could monitor every phone call made by the citizen, every hotel he stayed in, every toll road he took and so on and so forth. The citizen became the total victim of the watchful eye of the state. But when it transpires, as it has now, that even the crypts of state secrets are not beyond the hacker’s grasp, the surveillance ceases to work only one-way and becomes circular. The state has its eye on every citizen, but every citizen, or at least every hacker – the citizens’ self-appointed avenger – can pry into the state’s every secret.

How can a power hold up if it can’t even keep its own secrets anymore? It is true, as Georg Simmel once remarked, that a real secret is an empty secret (which can never be unearthed); it is also true that anything known about Berlusconi or Merkel’s character is essentially an empty secret, a secret without a secret, because it’s public domain. But to actually reveal, as WikiLeaks has done, that Hillary Clinton’s secrets were empty secrets amounts to taking away all her power. WikiLeaks didn’t do any harm to Sarkozy or Merkel, but did irreparable damage to Clinton and Obama.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

NASA Discovers Arsenic-Based Life on Earth

Today, NASA announced the discovery of a life form that has arsenic instead of phosphates in its genetic backbone. This is the most biochemically remote lifeform found to date on Earth.

Update: Or maybe not