Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Star Whale

Harnessed beneath the floating future British metropolis, a star whale labored against zero gravity, acting as a gentle, unassuming engine to carry humans toward some uncertain destination. This is a near-spoiler, I suppose, since it gets at the gradually unraveling Smilerpremise of "The Beast Below," the second Dr. Who episode to air this season-- Sat. night on BBC America. For the second consecutive week, I watched, not fully sure whether I would grow bored with Who's kitschy special effects or impatient with the show's fantastical excesses. Yet, like the week before (unlike some), I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Episode Two was well done--well enough that I recommend it: an army of creepy fortune-telling machines (think Zoltar Speaks with extreme mood swings: called "Smilers"), a blaring, flickering civics quiz after which participants have the option to forget or protest (mass, self-selected forgetting preserves the Queen's authority; too much protest dethrones her), and, of course, the city's hefty, bottom-floor host, a schizophrenic giant merciful toward the children but unkind to adults. Enough.

All the more striking in this episode was the unmistakable family resemblance between the star whale and the withering, abused avanc in Mieville's The Scar, that massive underwater creature yoked to Armada as their floating conglomeration of warped hulls and things drifted toward the water's edge.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unplanned Meanderings

Steven Johnson's "The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book" renews questions about what happens when e-readers unexpectedly suffocate text behind no-copy/no-paste barriers. Safe-guarding text against circulation is not new, of course, but Johnson offers a timely reminder of the ways this glass box logic is noxious, lying dormant, going unnoticed until it is revived in this or that text-walling application. There's much to think through in his entry (which is a transcript of a talk Johnson offered at Columbia University), much in the way of commonplace books, motivated filtering, and how it is homophily bias takes hold differently online than in "real-world civic space."

§ § §

Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession. The beauty of Locke's scheme was that it provided just enough order to find snippets when you were looking for them, but at the same time it allowed the main body of the commonplace book to have its own unruly, unplanned meanderings. (para. 5)

"But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession." Here is a line that succinctly captures for me how blogging has always functioned a little bit differently than the kind of "being digital" I experience in Facebook or Twitter. Long-forgotten hunches and emerging obsessions are not so much a function of friendship, sociality, or phatic affirmation as they are a distributed, often faint, read-write memory--a recollection of being (or having been) on the verge of something mind-changing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Trophy Ceremony

College basketball is at long last over for the season. And that can only mean one or more things: we have an official and undisputed winner in the Brick-à-Brack (ID#21100) NCAA tournament pool: Julie Meloni. Given that this is Julie's second EWM Tournament Pick 'Em win in, what?, two or three years, we can either 1) urge her to write a ProfHacker entry on the blood, sweat, and tears it took to out-predict the rest of us or 2) conclude that something statistically suspicious is afoot and impose a three-year Pick 'Em probationary period for this possible (some would say "probable") violation. Okay, so maybe No. 2 is too scornfully anti-congratulatory. Whatever the case, this second championship elevates Julie into Krzyzewskian ranks. Congrats, Julie!

No, I really mean it. I do. Like everyone else you defeated, I'm sincerely "happy" for you.

I don't have much else to say about this NCAA Tournament (read CGB's entry on why college basketball in general comes away a winner after a tournament like this). By the end, I was rooting enthusiastically for Butler. Like this, "Go Bulldogs! Woof! Woof! Woof!" Not really. I mean, I *was* rooting for Butler, but without barking. To be honest, though, I misjudged Duke and Butler as upset specials. Neither of them had even a slim chance in my vision of how things would play out. I had Butler losing to UTEP (first round) and Duke losing to Louisville (second round). Be forewarned: Next season I will keep these hallucinations and blindnesses in mind.