Sex, Drugs and Bunnies with Antlers

I just finished reading Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards*. The sex and drugs parts weren’t surprising, but it is amazing how little money a band as popular as Luna made—they weren’t as big as the Beatles but they had a loyal following and several solid albums. The power law in action…

It was interesting finding out more about the band and the stories behind some of the songs but the best part was learning about Wolpertingers, bunnies with antlers that live in Germany. I grew up in San Antonio and we are very proud of our jackalopes (there are a couple of them at the great Hall of Horns) and I had no idea about other antlered bunnies.

Central Texas was settled by Germans, so maybe they brought this idea over with them and it got picked up as a local custom? Wikipedia says the idea of a jackalope came from a couple of brothers in Wyoming who had studied taxidermy. I still like my idea about German settlers though, so I should go update the Wikipedia page to make it official…

Up next, a couple more gardening books.

* It was probably unrealistic to expect Dean to mention the time we saw them getting coffee at Jo’s the morning after seeing them in Austin. He did mention their last shows at the Bowery Ballroom but forgot to mention seeing me there too.

Thoughts About The Future Of The Internet

I finished The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It the night before OneWebDay. It’s a good fit since OneWebDay is about broadening awareness of web issues and deepening a culture of participation and the book identifies both actions as key to keeping the Internet healthy.

“Today‚Äôs consumer information technology is careening at breakneck pace, and most see no need to begin steering it. […] Internet users enjoy its benefits while seeing its operation as a mystery, something they could not possibly hope to affect.” (from paragraph 40 of the Conclusion)

When I was reading I also noticed similarities between how the book talks about the benefits of the Internet and how Mozillians have been talking about the same thing.

Jonathan Zittrain talks about the benefits of the Internet using the term generativity and he describes five features of a generative system:

  • Leverage
  • Adaptability
  • Ease of mastery
  • Accessibility
  • Transferability

There are certainly differences between this list and the way other people have been describing things, but the common elements are clear: the Internet is a global public resource and people need to get involved to keep it that way.


Pluto Correctness

I recently finished reading two books that had Pluto in them (one had a little, one had a lot).

When is a Planet Not a Planet?: The Story of Pluto felt like an article that had been stretched into a small book by using lots of photos and illustrations. A pretty book, but it didn’t have anything new in it for me (to be fair to the book, I spent a big chunk of time in graduate school writing a paper about Pluto’s so-called demotion).

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is supposed to be one of Philip K. Dick’s best books, so I was curious to read it. For Pluto, it’s just mentioned as a place where a ship crash lands. For the rest of the book, it was like the other things I’ve read by him—it had a lot of sci-fi elements but was really about people’s perceptions of their world. Weird and interesting.


To round out the Pluto references, my daughter started pre-school recently and I was fascinated to see that the teachers had crossed Pluto out of the solar system material they had (wanting to stay up to date, but not getting around to buying a new planet puzzle yet).

It’s a really interesting time right now—the change in status is new enough that a lot of old information is still out there, but it’s been long enough that younger kids have grown up only knowing that Pluto used to be a planet. It’s a paradigm shift in action with the new generation simply accepting the new status as normal while any disagreements among older generations start to fade away.

Up next: The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It.

Gardens and Math

Although it’s been half a year since my last post about a book, I have managed to read a couple of things since then (I just haven’t had the time to write about them). To catch up on things, here’s some quick mini-posts:

Second Nature: Lots of interesting stuff in here, especially the Why Mow? chapter. One part stuck with me that talked about how it used to be a point of pride to organize homes for consumption as people were moving off of farms. Now emphasis is shifting back to organizing homes for at least some production. And there is a lot you can produce without turning a house into a farm — you can produce food, water, dirt, energy

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel: Just like the book on infinity, this book is less about math than it is about our experience of the world. In short, the world is a weird place. While I was reading, I kept thinking of the second best line from Ghostbusters: I’ve seen shit that would turn you white (this clip is notable for also having the best line from the movie).

Up next: When is a Planet Not a Planet?: The Story of Pluto.

Me and Mr. Chicken (Or Not Just a Bunch of Abstract Math-Class Vomitus on Transfinite Set Theory)

Surprisingly I just finished reading David Foster Wallace’s book about infinity, Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞*. Like his other books a lot of it is over my head but it’s fun to read anyway. He could be talking about math, tennis, lobsters or tennis and it will be an interesting experience.

I don’t have much to say about the math bits**, instead I wanted to talk about the story of Mr. Chicken (you can go read it online on pages 15-17 of the book starting at “This latest thought may or may not be accompanied…” through “…the concrete business of the real workaday world—from the unhinged.” [plus footnote number 8]). This provides a perfect explanation of why I dislike flying so much.

In my experience people tend to call a fear of flying irrational based on the statistics involved in flying versus driving. If I understand the Mr. Chicken story correctly, it is the people who are unfazed by flying who are not being rational (or rather, they are the ones who are able to cut off the abstract thinking process in order to go about their business).

In my case, I am being rational but the process of thinking through the statistics and justifications goes on forever without end and that ends up causing logistical issues in real life. Or to bring it back to Mr. Chicken, I’m not reassured by having flown successfully before since there’s no reason that past experience with flying will have anything to do with my next flight***.

Anyway, it was a good book.

This book seems to lead in to another book in the Great Discovery Series about Gödel. I’d like to read that soon, but up next I’m going to read a book by Michael Pollan.

* There’s been a lot of hanging out on the couch with baby asleep in my arms time over the past three weeks (I had forgotten that babies are a lot less active than toddlers).

** One of his examples about infinity cleared up a question I’ve had ever since plotting low-resolution graphics for the Apple II on graph paper in our middle school computer class. Back then you took a piece of graph paper and used that to select the pixels you would draw on the screen. If you drew a right triangle on the graph paper, the long diagonal line would have the same number of pixels in it as the shorter line running below it. That seemed odd to me since the diagonal line is longer than the other line (see the Pythagorean Theorem).

Low resolution right triangle
Low resolution right triangle

DFW explains that although the lines are different lengths, they both have the same number of points (they both have an infinite number of points that match up in a one-to-one correspondence). In the book he uses the example of drawing a series of vertical lines through the triangle to show that there’s one point on the longer line for every one point on the shorter line (pages 37-38 in the paperback I was reading). The low-resolution pixels show the same thing just using big chunky points.

*** Investment advice almost always features something along these lines with the words “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results”.

Fiat Libellus

I just finished reading A Canticle for Leibowitz. I came across a reference to it recently that referred to it as a classic of science fiction and I hadn’t heard of it so I wanted to see what it was about. It was good, so go read it.

There was a fair amount of Latin in it (some of it was translated and some wasn’t) so this would have seemed to be a perfect excuse to apply the skills I picked up in college when I received a Latin major. I made a half-hearted attempt to translate some of it, but mostly didn’t bother. Maybe I was being lazy or maybe I thought that after being out of school for more than ten years I wouldn’t be able to translate any more?

This reminds me of when my family went to France when I was twelve or so. We were at a museum to see the Bayeux Tapestry, sort of a long graphic novel of the Norman invasion of 1066, and I was trying to get my dad to read the Latin text on it. I had remembered that he had mentioned before that he had taken some Latin courses in school, so I just assumed he could translate it if he wanted to. After nagging him a bit about this, I noticed that there was an English mum up ahead of us translating the text to her two kids. Pretty soon all of us were trailing behind her trying to listen in to what she was saying.

Anyway, the title of this post is my little attempt to make a Latin joke referencing the book. Now that everyone has had a good laugh, I’ll tell you that it’s my attempt to say ‘Let there be a blog post’. Not sure if libellus is right here. Maybe I should have coined the new Latin word bloggus? The Vatican may have an answer to this since they apparently are keeping the language up to date.

Up next, I still want to read some more David Foster Wallace (either the book about infinity or the book with the piece about cruises) but I have some other books I might read first. I think the issue is moot for now though since I’ll probably not be doing any reading for a bit with #2 due to show up any day now.

So They Have Pancakes In Hell, Huh?

I just finished Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. When the English translation came out a few years ago I meant to pick it up, but then never did. Back then I was going through a period where I was reading as much of Murakami’s work as I could find, but then I got burnt out and couldn’t read any more. The same thing also happened when I read several of Salmon Rushdie’s books — it felt like I was reading the same thing over and over.

It’s not that the books are reusing the same plots, it’s more that the details that make up the story seem to keep coming up. For instance, in Kafka on the Shore and the Murakami short story I recently read there are characters in both that are very meticulous about how they handle pencils. Also in all of his books, inevitably there will come a point where the main character will cook a simple meal at home and eat it with a beer.

A page from A Wind Up Bird Chronicle from Evan

These are not complaints, but it does explain why I’m reading this book now and not a few years ago. I’m glad I got around to reading it since I enjoyed it — there’s strange stuff, interesting characters and good writing. Even if some of the bits and pieces do get reused, that’s OK (write what you know, after all) but I’ll just remember to read other stuff between Murakami books next time.

Up next, a pile of magazines that have been building up recently, including a New Yorker short story collection.

More: I forgot to mention that the library in this book reminds me of the Magnes Museum in Berkeley (the history of the building, the location, the layout). I also ended up reading one more thing by Murakami in the pile of magazines I went through recently (an excerpt from his book about running that was in a recent fiction issue of the New Yorker). OK, so that’s it for Murakami for now. Up next, A Canticle for Leibowitz.