In search of a regular feature…

Kevin really hates whatever kind of computer this is. (CC by Leondardr)

Saturdays are a tough day, blogging-wise.  If I’ve gotten up early, it’s to get some shit done so I can avoid work guilt bothering me when I take time to play the Cones of Dunshire with my kids.  So I don’t want to spend a lot of time on blog posts.  Since a big part of it is coming up with what to write, I wanted to add a new feature to Saturday posts.  A couple ideas:

  • Songecdote – a brief discussion of a song and a memory associated with it.  I’m blatantly stealing this from Dan C.
  • Game report – a brief discussion of gaming insights from the week.  (Danger here – I don’t know if I can generate enough to make this interesting every week.)
  • Featured video – A video I like from Youtube or something.  (Danger here – I already do this on Twitter, and the twitter feed gets posted on Sundays)
  • Two minute video rant – (Danger here – I’ll get sunk into editing the fucker and spend way too much time on it.
  • Move the Wednesday photo to Saturday – (Danger here, I’d have to come up with something else for Wednesdays then)
  • Random bullets – five things about the week I’ve not yet mentioned.  (Danger, this falls deep into the rabbit hole of “audience of one” territory.

What say you, dear reader?  Other ideas for my weekend post?

What would you put on a Road Trip playlist?

Family Truckster
The Family Truckster

We’re taking the Great Family Road Trip this summer for two and a half weeks in July, so we can expect to spend plenty of time in the car with the kids.  Consequently, I’m putting together a few playlists — one for us when the kids are watching movies, one for the whole family, etc.

As an artificial barrier, I’m making these playlists no more than 60 minutes.  Just cuz.

What would you put on your Road Trip playlists?

The Ghosts of Travel Agents: Universities, Electracy, and the coming tsunami, part 1

The Ghost of Industries Past
The Ghost of Industries Past

This is the first in a four-part blog series taking a snapshot of the current economic, political, and grammatological situation facing the modern American university system.  In parts two, three, and four, I will focus specifically on pressures from different quarters challenging us to re-imagine what it is we do.  This part serves as a preface and setup for the following posts (which will probably appear once a week).

A note on influences, citations, ideas

Instead of trying to tease out the who, where, and how I got some of the ideas in this piece, I will up-front acknowledge that this is a melange of thoughts from my reading and from around the web, influenced by the following (among others): Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson, Marshall McLuhan, Lawrence Lessig, Donald Norman, Greg Ulmer, Katherine Hayles, Jeff Rice, Steve Krause, Alex Reid, Bradley Dilger, and BoingBoing. Apologies up-front to those I’ve borrowed from but not cited here.

Setting the stage

If you aren’t a regular reader of my blog (or you show up just for the monthly music round ups), you may want to peruse the following posts to set your personal stage for the coming discussion:

The Ghosts of Travel Agents Past

“I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.  A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.”

“You were always a good friend to me.  Thank’ee!”

“You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”

“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob? I — I think I’d rather not.”

“Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread.  Expect the first to-morrow night, when the bell tolls One.  Expect the second on the next night at the same hour.  The third, upon the next night, when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate.  Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!”

It walked backward from him; and at every Step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that, when the apparition reached it, it was wide open.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered.  It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed.  Scrooge tried to say, “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable.  And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the invisible world, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose, he went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep on the instant.

How will the rising age of Electracy affect the university? We inhabit a system built on models of learning and information exchange as practiced in the Literate era.  While we like to imagine ourselves as exploring and building on the lessons of contemporary media, we come up very short, to my mind.  As we develop more and more rigorous ways to digitize pieces of our former workload, universities must re-examine what it is we do and how we understand our relationship to the economies of knowledge and MONEY.  Consider these spirits from the past:

  • Travel agents – This used to be a profession built on booking plane tickets for people.  The Internet destroyed it.  The individuals who survived the Internet Tsunami did so as vacation planners, demonstrating their ability to sort from among vacation choices and providing value by doing that sorting work for people.
  • Stock brokers – This used to be a profession built on registering trades for people.  The Internet destroyed it.  The individuals who survived the Internet Tsunami did so as financial planners, demonstrating their ability to sort from among investment choices and providing value by doing that sorting work for people.
  • Real Estate Agents – This used to be a profession built on listing and finding homes for people.  The Internet destroyed it.  The individuals who survived the Internet Tsunami did so as “full service realtors,” demonstrating their ability to make homes saleable through staging, clever marketing, and aggressive foot leather, then doing that work for people.

How does this scenario translate for the university?

  • University – This used to be a profession built on credentialing and providing information to people.*  The Internet will destroy it.  The institutions who survive the Internet Tsunami will do so as what? We need to demonstrate our ability to help people become effective economic participants in the 21st century economy, able to wield modern information systems skillfully and do that work for people.

Electracy demands a different kind of student, a different kind of educator, and a different institution to house them.  Let’s hope we build find it before the water gets too high.

Read more: Death from Above: Universities, Electracy, and the coming tsunami, part 2


Call to the Lazy Web: Virtual Library Shelf

I’ve often lamented to my classes that the Internet has not yet come up with the electrate equivalent of the library shelf.  Denizens of the library recognize the collectors’ delight in the surprising find, the book that’s near the one we wanted but not directly related to it.  It might be two shelves up, or it might be at the beginning of the aisle.  The new interfaces haven’t found a way to replicate that mode of book browsing yet.

So I hereby issue a call for an interactive library that functions like Google maps, rendering a dynamic collection of available books as if they were shelved.  The user could scroll through the shelves, zoom in and out on particular places, see gaps where checked out books ought to be, etc.  Since this is a fantasy, I’ll also stipulate the books should be rendered in appropriate sizes with spines in the right color.  This could hook into Google Books and allow the user to page through books that pique their interest.

I realize this sounds like a cranky call for old modes.  Why does Teevee need so many durn channels!? but we’ve lost hold of an aesthetic, intuitive mode of discovery as we’ve organized our book collections by keyword and shared-interest algorithms. (I love the “other people who bought this” function on amazon, for instance, but it doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of browsing books at a bookstore.)

On genre fiction, self-publishing, and the Internets

So I’ve mentioned on Twitter (and elsewhere) that Jenny and I are working on a fiction project.  The novel is an historical mystery with a slight paranormal element, aimed at the market who enjoy Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight series.  Right now, we’re not so interested in trying to find a traditional publishing venue, but are trying to think about ways we can get the book out there for people to enjoy once it’s done (we’ve only drafted about 15%, so I may be putting the cart before the finished manuscript).

I’ve considered doing a blog with thrice-weekly posts (or even daily posts?) of 500 or 1000 words, with a pdf of the released content available for free or a pdf of the whole book available for a nominal fee.  I’m interested in the ebook market (like for the kindle) but I’m NOT keen on the Amazon DRM model, so I wouldn’t do that if we were forced to make the book exclusive to that platform.  I’m also interested to set up a Lulu (or similar) POD solution if people want a hard copy.

In my more aggressive ideas, I thought about Timothy Fenriss’ method for choosing the title of his bestseller THE FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK, which was to buy google adspace ads with different titles and track how well each one drives readers to his page.

We’ll also need a few folks to take a look at the mostly done manuscript to identify flaws and gaps.  Of course, we have some folks already, but we’re particularly keen to get it in front of readers who fit the book’s demographic.

What other methods do you think might be a good way to get eyeballs on our writing?

Playlists and other ways to bring your music back

Talking about music with a friend a while back, I got to thinking about what I do to revisit music that has lain fallow in my giant morass of MP3s.* When you have 41.9 days worth of music, it’s easy to forget to listen to an album, here or there.

"Music Droid" cc-licensed by The Smurf
“Music Droid” cc-licensed by The Smurf

So I try a few strategies to bring some of that old enjoyable music back to the fore.  First, I pick one or two “flashback” albums each month to add to my monthly playlist.  Second, I cherry-pick songs for the occasional playlist for my car, or for Avery’s iPod, or for random listening or something.  But this doesn’t seem like enough.

So I’m brainstorming a few ideas here.

Search Phrase Playlists.  I already documented this one.  Rolfe came up with way more ideas than I did.

Edited Search Phrase Playlists – Similar to the above, but driven by a bit more picking and tweaking.  Here’s one I did using the words Angel and Devil:

Angels and Devils
Angels and Devils

And another to the phrase “Say That Again”

Say That Again
Say That Again (Xs for tracks from audiobooks to be removed)

Event Association Lists – start with a song as the seed for the list.  Use word-association techniques to connect it from song to song. Build a playlist from it.  For example, a playlist springing from my friend Nate, bouncing around songs from high school:

  • “Rusty Cage” was my first Soundgarden song, which Nate put on a mix tape for me in sixth or seventh grade.  I listened the heck out of that tape on my safety-yellow Sony sports walkman while I trudged through the snow delivering the free advertising newspaper in my neighborhood.
  • “Sailin” (The Band Dick Tidrow), a goofy ska cover of the Christopher Cross song.  Nate always made sure to bring Mr Dirt Rides Again to parties when he brought CDs (as I remember it, he carried them in a small wooden crate), just so I could sneak over to the stereo and make everyone mad by playing that song.  Runner up from that CD: “Telephone Sal.”
  • “Rotten Apple” (Alice in Chains, from Jar of Flies).   An alt-rock fan, I really liked the grungy metal of AiC’s first two albums, Facelift and Dirt.  So when Jar of Flies came out, Nate and I drove through slushy March rush hour to the nearest Best Buy to buy the album.  Then we complained all the way home about how awful the album was.  In time, I came to like this album the best.
  • “Been Caught Stealin'” (Jane’s Addiction). Shortly thereafter, I bought another AiC EP and brought it to Brandon’s house to show off.  Just before I got to play it, we discovered that the beginning of “Been Caught Stealin” made his dogs bark loudly.  We played that song several times that day.  Poor dog.
  • “Superhero” (Ani DiFranco). Brandon had an eclectic taste in music, and although he isn’t the first person to introduce me to Ani, he is the person I most strongly associate with her work.  I also associate this album (Dilate) with my time as a deejay at the college radio station, where, like Ted (Dr.X) in How I Met Your Mother, no one listened to my show.
  • “China” (Greg Brown) At the radio station, I discovered a variety of music types.  I came to like ska and some of the less hardcore punk music, and I came to discover a whole bunch of folk musicians.  Greg Brown’s “China” was a regular song on my show for months.
  • and so on…

Last Played – If you have had a consistent iTunes library for a long time, you could use the “last played” or “plays” column to bring forth tracks from the depths that you haven’t played yet.  Alas, since I put in a new hard drive on my computer in mid 2010, my “last played” stats are relatively new, with some 11,000 tracks having no ‘last played’ date at all.

Song Name – Alphabetize all your songs by song name and select a random group of ten.  (This could also lead you to interesting “first word” search lists. Here are two such results for me:


Shuffle: Finally, you can take your life in your own hands with full on Shuffle.  I have a dynamic playlist called “Only Music” which excludes audiobooks.

*Unlike the much-ballyhooed Emily (discussed most adroitly on Jonathan Coulton’s blog), my 80GB of mp3s represents a significant investment, of which at least 90% were purchased on CD or more recently from download sites like emusic, Amazon, and occasionally iTunes, and  a significant number of the remaining tracks are audiobooks I’ve borrowed from the library and will delete once I’ve “read” them.  I never got into the napster/limewire thing.

What should I do with all these awesome old paperbacks?

As you very well know, I collect Mike Shayne paperbacks, both because I like the pulpy feel of Halliday’s work, but also for the lurid and hilarious covers.  I also have an extensive collection of John Dickson Carr, Carter Dickson, and Ellery Queen novels I inherited from Peter Christensen when he retired.  Up until now, I’ve stored them in piles in my office.  But I feel like some other kind of display would be more fitting and interesting.

I’ll say up front that I don’t want to rip the covers off the books, so that won’t work.  I would also like to be able to read them at some point, so I don’t really want to attach them too severely to anything.

A couple quick ideas off the top of my head:

  • A row of thin rails along the wall, with books on top of them. Disadvantage — easily tipped over.
  • Some sort of shadowbox arrangement – Disadvantage — would be impossible to make it big enough without breaking the bank.
  • Bookshelf. Disadvantage — where would I put it?

Adventures in reverse-image search

Watching A Miracle on 34th Street last week, I noticed this weird photo framed on Judge Harper’s office wall.  I wondered what it is and whether it’s just some random picture the prop department hung up, or if it’s famous in some way.  So I thought I’d try to find it on the web.  First, here’s the screen-cap of the image in the film:

And to the right here is the crop of the photo that I used in my image search.

First, I tried Google’s TinEye, which searches the web for exact images. It’s looking not at graphical similarity, but at similarity in code.  You can use it to find places where an image has been directly copied and reposted without being re-formatted or re-edited.  Not surprisingly, as I created the image myself with a screen cap, it’s not already on the web.  Oh well.

Next, I tried using words to describe the image to see if I could find it using keywords.  Here are unsuccessful searches I tried:

  • photo rocket launch gun “miracle on 34th street”
  • photo gun rocket world war 2
  • photo gun emplacement world war 2
  • famous photo rocket gun photo world war 2
  • missile rocket launcher world war 2

Next, after a search online for more upload services, I found BYO Image Search Lab.  This one found images with similar color palettes and shapes, but alas, not the image I’m looking at.

So, my tech-savvy friends: where would you go next?



Ada Lovelace Day

Finding Ada
Finding Ada

Ada Lovelace Day is coming up.  Are you ready?

This Ada Lovelace Day on October 7, share your story about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired you to become who you are today. Write a blog post, record a podcast, film a video, draw a comic, or pick any other way to talk about the women who have been guiding lights in your life. Give your heroine the credit she deserves!

I have a tradition of reading a book about a female scientist I hadn’t known about before and posting a discussion of her on Ada Lovelace Day.  I’m ready to go!  Are you?

Your American Menace Number

Old timey newspapers  often referred to the Chinese as the “yellow menace,” a particularly racist and hurtful thing to say about the poor immigrants you’re bringing over in boatloads to build your railroads and then die childless because you wouldn’t let them bring their wives, sisters, or other womenfolk.   The phrase persisted into the modern era as China became a world power and “threatened” the Western way of life.  Terry Gilliam has a very weird sequence about it in Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Check it out:


It popped up again recently in the commercial warning us about the Chinese banking menace:


(As an aside, also check out this other version of the video, with different subtitles.  Here comes another Angry Hitler! )

Anyhow, it appears that the Chinese version of this menace is cultural invasion (we overturned the Soviet Union with blue jeans, we’ll topple China with, ahem, music!).  So they’ve issued a list of 100 songs banned from online posting on the Chinese Internet.  Here it is:

1. “Americano,” Lady Gaga
2. “Anne Frank,” Ivana
3. “Aunt Beat,” New Treasure Island Sport Band
4. “Been In Love,” Andy Hui
5. “Black,” Pak-ho
6. “Bloody Mary,” Lady Gaga
7. “Broken Heart,” Yida Huang
8. “Burning Up (Madonna Cover, Nick Remix),” Britney Spears
9. “Can Understand the Pain,” Spray Brothers
10. “Can’t Keep My Hands Off You,” Simple Plan
11. “Candy,” Ken Hirai
12. “Chinese Girl,” Linzi Xi
13. “Cloudy Sunflower,” Wei Li-an
14. “Cool Kids,” Natalie Walker
15. “Dawn,” Doll
16. “Deadline,” Hins Cheung
17. “E.T. (feat. Kanye West),” Katy Perry
18. “End,” Ivana
19. “Epiphyllum,” Khalil
20. “Face,” Linzi Xi
21. “Feat,” Hins Cheung
22. “Flashback,” Yida Huang
23. “For Love,” Wei Li-an
24. “Forget Forget,” Andy Hui
25. “Freaking Me Out,” Simple Plan
26. “Gently Dancing,” New Treasure Island Sport Band
27. “Glimmer,” Yida Huang
28. “Go! Go!” New Treasure Island Sport Band
29. “Good Night,” Yoga Lin
30. “Good Thing,” Jue Yan
31. “Hair,” Lady Gaga
32. “Happiness Is a Small Matter,” Nian Dong
33. “Happy End,” Nian Dong
34. “He Is a Shanghai Girl,” New Treasure Island Sport Band
35. “Honey and the Bee,” Owl City
36. “How Are You,” Michael Wong
37. “How to Say I Do Not Love You,” Hsiao
38. “Human Cloning,” Hsiao
39. “I Am Silly Woman,” Kary Ng
40. “I Am Sorry,” Linzi Xi
41. “I Know You I Favorites,” Doll
42. “I Want It That Way,” Backstreet Boys
43. “I’m OK,” Spray Brothers
44. “Intro,” Linzi Xi
45. “Judas,” Lady Gaga
46. “Keep,” Yida Huang
47. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” Katy Perry
48. “Loser of the Year,” Simple Plan
49. “Love Language of Words,” Dong Qian Business
50. “Love Love,” Take That
51. “Love Stone Eggs,” Kary Ng
52. “Love Wins Strategy,” Khalil
53. “Lyrics,” Nian Dong
54. “Marry The Night,” Lady Gaga
55. “Mars,” Natalie Walker
56. “Miss Address,” Ivana
57. “Mobei your Broken Heart,” Shawn
58. “Money Song,” New Treasure Island Sport Band
59. “My Dearest,” Mei
60. “Never Had Such a Love,” Andy Hui
61. “No Mushroom Friends,” Khalil
62. “Not the Case Is Not Alone,” Jue Yan
63. “Once Upon a Time in the Sky,” Mai Kuraki
64. “One Day,” Ken Hirai
65. “One Million Kinds of Kisses,” Rachel Liang
66. “P.S. I Love You,” Hins Cheung
67. “Plant Life,” Owl City
68. “Pretty Things,” Take That
69. “R & B,” Ken Hirai
70. “Ranging from the,” Dong Qian Business
71. “Rhapsody,” Hsiao
72. “Run the World (Girls),” Beyoncé
73. “Selfless,” Kary Ng
74. “Sing Forever,” Ken Hirai
75. “Sister Friend,” Rachel Liang
76. “Smiley Face,” Pak-ho
77. “Some People Care About You,” Doll
78. “Sorry That I Loved You,” Nian Dong
79. “Souvenir,” Yoga Lin
80. “Taipei Rainy Sunday,” Michael Wong
81. “Thank You for Your Inspiration,” Jue Yan
82. “The Edge of Glory,” Lady Gaga
83. “The Flood,” Take That
84. “The Real World,” Owl City
85. “There Are Like Tears,” Mei
86. “This is Not Silly,” Doll
87. “Today Should Be Very Happy,” Pak-ho
88. “Treasures,” Spray Brothers
89. “Uptight,” Natalie Walker
90. “Vista,” Ivana
91. “When We Were Young,” Take That
92. “With Forest,” Pak-ho
93. “Woke Up,” Yoga Lin
94. “Yilaomailao,” Doll
95. “Yiyi,” Ella Koon
96. “You,” Hsiao
97. “You Can Only Miss,” Hsiao
98. “You Look at Me,” Mei
99. “You Say I Handsome,” Shawn
100. “You Suck At Love,” Simple Plan (The Ethical Ear)

So, here’s your challenge: search your music library and determine your Menace Number.™  Post it here or on your own blog.  Together, we can make the world a more musical place.  (.25 extra points for each song with the same name but by a different artist.)

My menace number: 0 (+3.5)


Sigh.  I thought this would be a fun exercise, but it was not.  Mostly because (not surprisingly) half the music is Chinese.  So it’s unlikely that I’d have that.  And the rest seem to be from just a couple albums.  If you own Lady Gaga or Simple Plan, you probably have a number in the teens.  Anyhow, here are the tracks I have that got me .25 bonus points each:

Foo Fighters “Bloody Mary”; Ministry “Flashback”; Spider John Koerner “Good Night” and “Intro”; New Found Glory, Sum 41, OutKast, Violent Femmes, Sean Kingston “Intro”; The Killers “When We Were Young”; Candlebox, R.E.M., Radiohead “You”



Search phrase playlists

While writing my post about the music we listened to in March, I sought out the ABBA song of which Blue Oyster Cult had reminded me.   I entered the word abba into iTunes, and it brought up ABBA Gold, Cab Calloway and the Cabbaliers, a movement from the Carmina Burana whose title included the word abbas, and the They Might Be Giants song “Cabbagetown.”

This gave me an idea for dynamically generated playlists.  Try it yourself:

  1. Enter a phrase or word into the iTunes search bar
  2. Tweak the phrase or word to reduce or expand the number of entries in the results playlist until the songs listed can all fit on one CD but also include enough songs to be called a “playlist.”
  3. The list is excluded if it results in more than two songs by the same artist.
  4. Save the results as a playlist.
  5. Optional: post that playlist here.

Turns out this is actually pretty hard. Here are a few attempts from me:


“one girl”

See what you can come up with!



Blood on the Stars

I’ve reached the end of my detective novel covers, so I’ve started featuring covers posted by other people.  Enjoy.

Blood on the Stars
Blood on the Stars, swallace99