"literature" entries

Four short links: 18 March 2013

Four short links: 18 March 2013

Big Lit Data, 6502 Assembly, Small Startup Analytics, and Javascript Heatmaps

  1. A Quantitative Literary History of 2,958 Nineteenth-Century British Novels: The Semantic Cohort Method (PDF) — This project was simultaneously an experiment in developing quantitative and computational methods for tracing changes in literary language. We wanted to see how far quantifiable features such as word usage could be pushed toward the investigation of literary history. Could we leverage quantitative methods in ways that respect the nuance and complexity we value in the humanities? To this end, we present a second set of results, the techniques and methodological lessons gained in the course of designing and running this project. Even litcrit becoming a data game.
  2. Easy6502get started writing 6502 assembly language. Fun way to get started with low-level coding.
  3. How Analytics Really Work at a Small Startup (Pete Warden) — The key for us is that we’re using the information we get primarily for decision-making (should we build out feature X?) rather than optimization (how can we improve feature X?). Nice rundown of tools and systems he uses, with plug for KissMetrics.
  4. webgl-heatmap (GitHub) — a JavaScript library for high performance heatmap display.

Mark Twain on influence

A letter asking for an introduction meets a meditation on self-reliance.

In 1905 Mark Twain wrestled with the sort of request that many readers here have undoubtedly encountered: a new writer with the most tenuous of connections (her uncle was briefly a neighbor in a Nevada mining town) asks Twain to use his influence to get  her manuscript published.

It never hurts to carry an introduction from a well-regarded intermediary, as long as your introducer can actually speak to the quality of your work. I think of Twain’s anguished reply every time I’m asked to recommend someone or something I don’t know — or am tempted to ask the same favor of someone else.

Twain’s message is ultimately optimistic: don’t simply try to accumulate influence. Instead, come up with a good idea and sell it on its merits. The world will listen.

The full text of Twain’s essay is below, via Project Gutenberg. Read more…

Four short links: 29 June 2010

Four short links: 29 June 2010

Literary Mashups, Hardware+App Store, Wikileaks Criticism, Online Style Guide

  1. The Diary of Samuel Pepys — a remarkable mashup of historical information and literature in modern technology to make the Pepys diaries an experience rather than an object. It includes historical weather, glosses, maps, even an encyclopedia. (prompted by Jon Udell)
  2. The Tonido Plug Server — one of many such wall-wart sized appliances. This caught my eye: CodeLathe, the folks behind Tonido, have developed a web interface and suite of applications. The larger goal is to get developers to build other applications for inclusion in Tonido’s own app store.
  3. Wikileaks Fails “Due Diligence” Review — interesting criticism of Wikileaks from Federation of American Scientists. “Soon enough,” observed Raffi Khatchadourian in a long profile of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in The New Yorker (June 7), “Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most-power without accountability-is encoded in the site’s DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution.” (via Hacker News)
  4. Yahoo Style Guide — a paper book, but also a web site with lots of advice for those writing online.
Seeing Our Culture with Fresh Eyes

Seeing Our Culture with Fresh Eyes

The other day, I read a novel called Prester John, by John Buchan, published in 1910. This story about a Zulu uprising in South Africa as experienced by a young Scottish immigrant is an entertaining read in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling or H. Rider Haggard: adventure in the furthest outposts of the British Empire.

But what makes this book most worth reading today is how many things the author takes for granted that we now know aren’t so, and even find distasteful. The racism of the book is shocking precisely because it is so casual and thoughtless, the innate assumption of white superiority.

Edward R Murrow smokingIt makes me wonder what people a hundred years from now will think of our popular fiction, our popular movies. What do we take for granted that they will find odd, and perhaps even distasteful? You can already see some obvious candidates in things that are still accepted, but barely, like smoking. How curious it is to see a movie in which everyone is puffing on a cigarette – for example, in Good Night and Good Luck, where Edward R. Murrow is shown delivering prime time television news with a cigarette between his fingers.

What will people think of our enormous steak dinners and obese portions of food? That’s on the cusp of changing. What will they think of our profligate use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources? Our assumption that the American way of life will go on forever, just as it is, much as the British thought their empire would go on forever? What about our assumptions about unlimited technological progress? Will science fiction visions of star flight or “the Singularity” seem as quaint as “the White Man’s Burden“?

Above all, what will they think of the appalling amount of waste in our culture? Have you ever walked through a tourist area – say Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – and seen entire stores devoted to schlock, made in developing countries by people who must scratch their heads in wonder at a people so wealthy that they can afford to spend money on things that are so utterly and obviously useless?

But even the stuff that is useful is the product of a world that is as outdated and unnatural as the colonialism of the British Empire. We live in a throwaway culture sustained by sweatshop labor, which has replaced a culture of heirloom products that last generations. And that’s progress? (See Saul Griffith’s thoughts on why owning products that last a lifetime is an important part of going green.)

In this regard, I urge everyone to read Fake Steve Jobs‘ amazing column about the Foxconn employee who committed suicide after losing an iPhone prototype, I’m really thinking maybe I shouldn’t have yelled at that Chinese guy so much. Nat Torkington just quoted this piece in his Four Short Links for today, but the quote he chose is so appropriate to the post I have been writing that I just have to include it:

We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused — what we’re talking about here is our way of life. Our standard of living. You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of millions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can’t even begin to imagine them, people who will do anything to get a life that is a tiny bit better than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.

Not a pretty picture. But sometimes a look in the mirror is a good way to wake up and change your life.

We’re in the middle of a global economic downturn. Many of us imagine that our goal is to get things back to the way they were. I believe it’s an opportunity to imagine a better future, to build an economy that is more robust and more fair than the Ponzi economy of the last fifty years.

Libraries Embrace Urban Lit

Great story in the New York Times on the embrace of urban lit by the Queens Public Library, and others. By the way: most of the young, and many of the old, librarians that i know are not … ur … prim: It's not the kind of literary fare usually associated with the prim image of librarians. But public libraries…