McPhee has built a career on such small detonations of knowledge. His mind is pure curiosity: It aspires to flow into every last corner of the world, especially the places most of us overlook. Literature has always sought transcendence in purportedly trivial subjects — “a world in a grain of sand,” as Blake put it — but few have ever pushed the impulse further than McPhee. He once wrote an entire book about oranges, called, simply, “Oranges” — the literary cousin of Duchamp’s urinal mounted in an art museum. In 1999, McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for his 700-page geology collection, “Annals of the Former World,” which explains for the general reader how all of North America came to exist. (“At any location on earth, as the rock record goes down into time and out into earlier geographies it touches upon tens of hundreds of stories, wherein the face of the earth often changed, changed utterly, and changed again, like the face of a crackling fire.”) He has now published 30 books, all of which are still in print — a series of idiosyncratic tributes to the world that, in aggregate, form a world unto themselves.
McPhee describes himself as “shy to the point of dread.” He is allergic to publicity. Not one of his book jackets has ever carried an author photo. He got word that he won the Pulitzer while he was in the middle of teaching a class, during a break, and he returned and taught the whole second half without mentioning it to his students — they learned about it only afterward, when the hall outside was crowded with photographers, reporters and people waiting to congratulate him. For McPhee’s 80th birthday, friends, family and colleagues arranged a big tribute to his life and work. But McPhee found out about the plan shortly beforehand and squashed it by refusing to go. Bill Bradley, the former basketball star and United States senator who was the subject of McPhee’s first book, “A Sense of Where You Are,” was one of the organizers. “You can’t celebrate somebody who doesn’t want to be celebrated,” he told me.
The Mind of John McPhee – The New York Times
To my knowledge, I’ve never read anything by John McPhee, but I expect that will change soon. This is a wonderful profile of exactly my sort of person: McPhee seems obsessively curious about the fine detail of everything in addition to being very process-driven in his work.
What advice would you give to a designer who’s looking to embark on her or his first type walk?
Look up! But also look down! Take your camera with you, and always, always, take a picture if you see something worthy—it might be gone tomorrow. If it is still there the next day, you can go back with your good camera and lens.
Perambulate. There is no need to go to a particular place. Repeat places—you might see something new each time. Just open your eyes and start reading the city. Books on basic architecture and local history could be good starting points. Most importantly, enjoy it.
On a Type Walk We Will Go | Communication Arts
Designer Elena Veguillas discusses the decline of ‘vernacular lettering’: “lettering on manholes, pipes, posts, etc. They are particular to and enrich each city or area, even if we don’t notice them at first.”
I’m a sucker for technical dives into Spotify’s Discover Weekly, and this is a great one.
In the article, Sophia Ciocca gives three types of recommendation models that are used to generate the playlists. The first is collaborative filtering: crudely, your friends like this, you might like this too. Digging deeper, the mathematical modelling sounds fascinating. The third is raw audio models: analysis of the audio tracks themselves. This is why Release Radar works so well, despite the tracks not having been played many times.
But I didn’t know about the second one, the emphasis Spotify puts on natural language processing, or NLP:
Spotify crawls the web constantly looking for blog posts and other written texts about music, and figures out what people are saying about specific artists and songs — what adjectives and language is frequently used about those songs, and which other artists and songs are also discussed alongside them.
While I don’t know the specifics of how Spotify chooses to then process their scraped data, I can give you an understanding of how the Echo Nest used to work with them. They would bucket them up into what they call “cultural vectors” or “top terms.” Each artist and song had thousands of daily-changing top terms. Each term had a weight associated, which reveals how important the description is (roughly, the probability that someone will describe music as that term.)
Spotify’s Discover Weekly: How machine learning finds your new music
Unlike many others, I’m a fan of the Apple Music UI and implementation. But I’ve not had terrific results with their recommendation engines. The opposite is true for Spotify. It’d be nice to save some money by cancelling one or other of the services, but they do such different things for me that I can’t see that happening any time soon.
“Ev Williams is trying to brute force his way through the problem of publishing and monetization,” said Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl network, which migrated a handful of its sites onto Medium during its publisher partner phase in late 2015 and early 2016. “In doing so, he has upended people’s lives — he has upended good publications.”
“I understand the desire to be agile and to pivot, and to try new things when things aren’t working,” Sicha continued. “But it’s destructive — you can’t try people and things on, then discard them. It’s not how a media company or a publishing company can work.”
Ev Williams Wants To Save Media — Again. But Some Writers And Publishers Are Skeptical.
I have mixed feeling about Medium. I launched a publication for work, and that’s gone brilliantly well; I get mostly interesting things delivered to me in the digest emails; people I follow on other platforms (Twitter, mostly) surface great Medium content.
Increasingly, I read a headline and think “that sounds interesting”, yet I can’t read the article, as it’s for members only. But will I subscribe? No, because I’m not confident that this membership model will exist in 6 months. Something will change. The baby will get thrown out with the bath water. It’s not worth the bother. (I hope I’m wrong.)
The writer Michael Chabon likens the films of Wes Anderson to “scale models” or “boxed assemblages” built from “the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”
These “models” are carefully constructed out of wood and paint, text and image, long tracking shots and carefully framed subjects. Anderson is a meticulous world builder in both visual and thematic construction.
The Life Aquatic was the first Anderson movie I really fell in love with, and as I continue to watch more of them, I find myself pondering just what it is that makes an Anderson film Andersonian. Is it the carefully chosen color schemes or the symmetrical compositions? The recurring themes of family and fracture, of discovery and triumph? Or is it the brief magical flashes of the surreal?
Anderson certainly has a style, and his visual motifs are what I want to explore in this essay.
This is a fascinating look at how to perform machine learning on a data set: in this case, the visual motifs of Wes Anderson films. Nicely presented too. Better on desktop.
I do not believe that there are any exceptions to the rule that big-budget Hollywood action movies today — within which I include many SF and all superhero movies — possess the following traits:
- They’re at least 30 minutes too long;
- Most of that excessive length results from the decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many;
- The decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many stems, in turn, from the catastrophically erroneous belief that raising the stakes — putting a city or (better) a country or (better still) a planet or (even more better) the universe or (best of all) ALL THE UNIVERSES THERE EVER WERE OR EVER COULD BE at risk — will increase viewers’ emotional investment in the story;
- In order to turn the screw of tension ever tighter, some characters will be made to behave in ways wildly inconsistent with what they appear to be throughout most of the movie, while other characters will be pressed towards the absolute extremes of heroism or wickedness.
A plea for The Replicant Edit – Snakes and Ladders
Impossible to disagree. I’m yet to see the new Bladerunner film, to which the rest of the short post is concerned, but Jacobs confirms these traits still apply.
Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up back in the 1970s with such a sweet jacket and bitchin’ mustac— Ok all jokey tropes aside, I got to appear on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire last night as a background extra. (Mild spoilers follow.) This season of the show is set in the 90s, but this episode flashes back to the 70s when Gordon and Donna first meet. My scene takes place during this flashback and is pretty short. Gordon is at a gas station, waiting to use the pay phone. A man (that’s me!) exits the station with a 6-pack of beer, gets into his car, and drives off after Gordon crosses the pavement to the phone. And that was it! But as a big fan of the show — and I refuse to have any chill about this — it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in forever.
My favourite blogger got to be an extra on his favourite TV show.