- November’s delivered a barrel of memes: a distorted copy of a copy of a copy of Novembers past. Only warmer.
- Saw the Rhetcomp Ryan Gosling panels and had to ask around the office, “Who is this Ryan Gosling?” Somebody told me he was in a few movies and he is widely regarded as a sex symbol, a hunk.
- I’m reading the new Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes. The opening section is a somber stroll through the early years during which K. longed for someone to talk to (before he discovered the magic of humor). Reflecting on his science-minded older brother, Bernard, K. said, “He was a boring bully. Never hit me, but he would talk and talk about science until my sister and I were bored shitless.”
- I like the idea, boring bully. Not to make too little of other sorts of bullying, but reading this got me daydreaming about how it would sound to say, “You’re bullying me with boredom.”
- Just like everyone but me knows all about Ryan Gosling, I suppose everyone already knows the boring bully line. Those who’ve been bullied by this method chuckle politely if nervously, swallow their yawns, and notice oh my it’s getting late.
- The pepper spray cop meme is much more visually gripping than the Ryan Gosling frivolity, hunk or no. An image dominates, the whole world is watching, and its elements are vaulted into new relations with famous paintings, Mr. Rogers, the U.S. Constitution, and, well, “everything” (viz. “spray everything” meme). Notably, few among the “everything” have been non-humans. There’s The Ugly Duckling, the baby seal and other sympathetic creatures, but few objects, few door closers, etc. Yet, anyway. Or I am to them as I was to Gosling.
tagged me with the book meme, so I figured I may as well get on with
proliferating it. It’s the p. 123 meme, the one where you pick up the nearest
book of more than 123 pages, flip to page 123, jump over the first five
sentences, and then post the next three. My selection:
Where’d they come from, sir?
Those things aren’t wild out here, are they?
No, not wild.
This comes from
Pride of Baghdad, a graphic novella based on a true story about a pride
of lions freed from the Baghdad zoo on the first night of the air strikes in
2003. I borrowed it yesterday and then read it this morning before everyone
(other than Is.) was awake. It was written by Brian Vaughn (Y: The Last Man
and Ex Machina) and drawn by Niko Henrichon, and the build-up and
presentation are terrific, right in line with Vaughn’s other stuff.
The last piece of the meme requires that I tag five others (chain-letter
style, the last person to break the meme, so I hear, spontaneously combusted).
Because I’m curious what they’re reading these days, let me try
Matthew. Media Ecologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.
Here, then, are those five little-knowns:
- Sources of deep-seated anxiety: clipping Yoki’s toenails (how much can I
take off?), mowing the lawn when there’s a possibility that small creatures
are lurking in there, and maneuvering in spaces like unfinished attics or
low-ceiling basements where the exposed ends of nails are just
millimeters from my head.
- I subscribe to the RSS feeds of seven del.icio.us.ers.
- In elementary school, one year was especially loaded with U.S. geography.
We could draw each of the fifty states for extra credit. I planned to do
all fifty, of course. I took to my dad’s drafting table (the surveying
business back then was stationed in two front rooms of the house). Alabama.
But damn!, Alabama has some some crazy jags in the SW corner. I skipped
to Colorado. Moved on to Utah and Wyoming, and, in a flurry of ambition,
finished with Nevada. Call it my Euclidean stage. Extra credit: +5.
- Despite being elected in a landslide as senior class pres late last
century (i.e., nobody else ran), I took no part in planning the most recent
reunion (didn’t attend, either). Soon thereafter, I noticed the neighbors
around here had "Impeach" signs stuck in their front lawns. How did they
- Exam preparation has taught me finally how to read (by which I mean
there’s most certainly been a phase transition in recent months). Regrettably
this transformation has come at the expense of drinking beer.
Over the weekend I finished up Connie Willis’ 1996 novel Bellwether.
It was the between-semesters pleasure-read I made space for. I overheard
M. chatting about it one
day this spring; decided it’d be worth a quick read if it made both of their
lists. And so reading lists spread.
Basically, Bellwether is the story of a diffusion researcher, Sandra
Foster, and her work on fads. Foster is concerned with hair-bobbing and,
as well, with other inexplicable flare-ups of activity. She maps the
flashes of pop anomaly in space and time, works to discern the forces figuring
into the genesis and spread of fads, runs statistics to trace patterns and
trends. Each sub-chapter leads off with a blurb on a specific
fad–coonskin caps, mah-jongg, diorama wigs–and the narrative is laced with
allusions to Robert Browning’s
Pippa Passes. I was familiar enough with the Pied Piper of Hamelin; in
fact, reading Bellwether reminded me of an encounter with P.P. when I was young:
Mom had a hair appointment in Rosebush and it was the only kids book (only one I
remember, anyway) in the waiting area. Read and read and read that story.
The references to Pippa Passes were unfamiliar and something of a pleasant
surprise. Pippa, as framed second-hand in the novel, is an elusive,
fantastic figure–one who influences others from the obscure periphery, whose
passing song carries from a distance and leaves its mark without Pippa
full-knowing. In this sense, Pippa mirrors the annoying office assistant,
Flip, who unwittingly proliferates fads while fumbling through her duties as an
office assistant at HiTek, the lab where Foster works. And a third
mirroring: the bellwether itself, as an exceptional looks-like-a-sheep,
smells-like-a-sheep leader who impacts the herd without much cognizance of her
I don’t think I’ve ruined it yet–for those who haven’t read this one.
S. mentioned recently that she finished Doomsday Book by Willis;
Bellwether is the first I’ve picked up, but I look forward to reading more
of her stuff, perhaps during a future between-semesters break (now that my
summer course on genre theory has officially started–today).
Here’s just one more keeper on research-mapping models from
B’wether. There’s a place mid-way through where Foster is at a
friend’s house for a birthday party. The friend’s kid, Peyton, is in her room as
a punishment, and Foster goes in to use the telephone–a conversation with her
rancher friend who ends up providing the sheep herd for research. Rather
than skulking through the punishment, young Peyton appears to be doodling, but
instead she’s line-charting–with a series of squiggles–her Barbie’s
predilection for this or that (shopping, riding mopeds, dating) because
"everybody’s doing it."
It was a map, in spite of what Peyton had said. A combination map and
diagram and picture, with an amazing amount of information packed onto one page:
location, time elapsed, outfits worn. An amazing amount of data.
And it intersected in interesting ways, the lines crossing and recrossing to
form elaborate intersections, radical red changing to lavender and orange in
overlay. Barbie only rode her moped in the lower half of the picture, and
there was a knot of stars in one corner. A statistical anomaly?
I wondered if a diagram-map-story like this would work for my twenties data.
I’d tried maps and statistical charts and computational models, but never all
three together, color-coded for date and vector and incidence. If I put it
all together, what kinds of patterns would emerge? (122)
When I read
Chuck’s entry this morning, I turned to the 123rd page of four different
books, three of which I had slated to read from throughout the day today (yah,
bring on the meme police bc I didn’t follow the rules). Well, that’s
one way to get to the 123rd page: start there. Fifth sentences of each
went like this:
No. 1: "In other words, over the course of ages or over the course of an
individual’s biography, the ‘life’ of the work resides in the history of
individual reading-events, lived-through experiences, which may have a
continuity, but which may also be discontinuous with only a varying ‘family’
No. 2: "He generously agreed" (123).
No. 3: "So we analyzed the discourse itself, finding the revealing words, the
signature expressions, the tell-tale grammatical forms" (123).
No. 4: "Lately, however, he had been avoiding the popular discos and the hottest
The books, differently ordered: Bruner’s Acts of Meaning, Barabasi’s
Linked, Watts’ Six Degrees, and Louise Rosenblatt’s The Reader,
The Text, the Poem.
And nicely enough, the juxtapositions got me thinking about a few things. Now
that I’ve read all day long, I’ll leave notes here about two of them.
Watts and Barabasi open their books on network theory with anecdotes about
vulnerability. Watts starts with the "cascading failure" of the power grid
in the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1996; Barabasi begins with the
upheaval of Mafiaboy’s efforts to incapacitate Yahoo with a hack-load of "ghost"
queries. Watts shifts into a narrative on the formative days of his
research project at Cornell; Barabasi gives us an example of network robustness
in the dissemination of early Christianity a la the apostle Paul. Watts:
emergence and "How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior?"
Konigsberg Bridges. And then, together, Erdos and Euler, Milgram,
graphs, as if surfing tandem on scroll waves. Almost.
Notably absent from Watts’ accounting for the premise of six degrees is
Karinthy’s short story from 1929, "Chains" or "Lancszemek." Last night,
after my first class session involving Linked with 205ers, I was rooting
around the web for way to get my hands on a copy of "Chains." Didn’t find
much. I mean there are plenty of references to it, but I didn’t find much
of anything beyond references, mentions. Barabasi’s notes tell us that he
doesn’t think it’s ever been translated from Hungarian into English. I’m
just curious whether, as Barabasi speculates, the degrees of separation idea
stemmed from the fiction of Karinthy. He evens supposes that Erdos and
Renyi might have read the story and found, in it, a sufficiently sticky
premise to stimulate their later mathematical work. I wouldn’t say it
diminishes Watts’ project or points to a gap in his research, but
it does leave me wondering about "Chains."
In the footsteps of
What time did you get up this morning? 6:40 a.m.
Diamonds or pearls? Pass.
What was the last film you saw at the cinema? A Series of Unfortunate Events
What is your favorite TV show? Family Guy
What did you have for breakfast? Two coffees, toast and eggs (would’ve done
PB&J on toast, but we’re low on J).
What is your middle name? Norton (after maternal gram’s maiden name)
Favorite cuisine? Berbere sauce on injera. Where’s my mail order of berbere
powder? I placed it nearly two weeks ago!
What foods do you dislike? Eggplant
What is your favorite flavor? Vanilla.
What is your favorite CD at the moment? Velvet Underground and Nico.
What kind of car do you drive? Mostly hoofing it these days. Honda Element
when it’s available.
Favorite sandwich? French–aguacate, jamon, turkey, tomato, mayo, mustard on
wheat. Hmm. Or ruebens. Ruebens are tasty. And bratwurst–if you’d call it
What characteristic do you despise? Bossiness and arrogance are tied.
Favorite item of clothing? Grey sweatshirt.
If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
What color is your bathroom? Caramel? Something tannish.
Favorite brand of clothing? If it fits, I’m thrilled.
Where would you retire to? Huatulco or Xalapa.
Favorite time of the day? Now.
What was your most memorable birthday? I can’t remember.
Where were you born? Michigan. What, are you trying to find out my password?
Favorite sport to watch? Basketball.
What laundry detergent do you buy? Um, is that for washing clothes?
When is your birthday? Fifth of May, ’74.
Are you a morning person or a night person? Switches around, depending on
What is your shoe size? 14
Do you have any pets? None. And it’s very disheartening. Next question.
Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with your family & friends?
Miss you much, and sorry I haven’t called lately.
What did you want to be when you were little? A tomato farmer.
What are you doing today? Reading, tracing themes, contemplating a shower.
If there was one thing you could do right now, $ is no object, what would you
do? Open a restaurant and declare myself head chef.
If you only had a few days left on earth, what would you do? Panic. What the