Jaron Lanier said something interesting about optimism

A few years ago I read Jaron Lanier’s book “You are Not a Gadget,” and I felt like I was listening to someone with a rich understanding of technology take a fairly critical view of it – a position not as many people were arguing at the time. Lanier is fully entrenched in Silicon Valley and big-tech, but he is also a thoughtful voice who often questions the less scrupulous ways internet technology is “helping” us. When Google and Facebook let their profits take precedence over their ethics, Lanier counters with accessible arguments of why the ethics matter more. In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the “Too Embarrassed to Ask” podcast, Jaron said something that jumped out at me for the way it subverted common thinking about criticism, and its relationship to optimism & pessimism. When criticism is poorly expressed, it’s just complaining, or being mean, or being …

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More Trips to the Record Store

Part 1. One of the first rules of writing is knowing your audience. I think this rule was established before the internet existed, because in 2018 when I publish a blog post, my audience is Google’s search algorithms. It’s dirty knowledge that I wish wasn’t true, and it keeps me from publishing posts more often. If someone like myself (someone without oodles of readers) wants what they’re writing to be found, we have to game the machine – this far in, I should have already mentioned: Wimbledon, Demi Lovato, Hailey Baldwin, and Mamma Mia 2, because that’s what people searched for last week. But I tuned out of Wimbledon after Federer lost, I haven’t even seen Mamma Mia 1, and who is Hailey Baldwin? I kind of know my audience, if my audience is the algorithms, but I don’t like my audience. Not liking your audience can make a person …

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Tom Wolfe Captured American Life from the Center of the Carnival and We’re All Better Because of It

The USA lost an icon today. Tom Wolfe wrote the pants off of every subject he touched, and he will be missed. But that’s what writing is for, right? He is gone, but his work remains. I devoured as much of his writing as I could when I was studying for my B.A. degree. What I got in return wasn’t just a lesson in style or syntax, but a portrait of American history that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. From NASA to Nascar, Ken Kesey’s quest for the far-out and Charlotte Simmons’ prelude to #MeToo, Wolfe seemed to have a line on everything that happened in the half-century he spent writing. I hope that my generation can come up with a Wolfe of its own – someone who will thread the needle between all the cultural movements happening right now, and instead of illustrating only the divisions, find something …

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This diagram of a packet-switching network appears in the 1974 paper by Vint Cerf

What’s troubling Vint Cerf? Five-hundred year old WordPerfect files and a fifty-year trip to the cosmos, that’s what.

Vint Cerf has a problem: the star Alpha Centauri is too far away. He wants to get a good look at it, but at 4.37 light years from the sun, it might take a while. He’s not too worried, though, because he’s designing an interplanetary internet with Google. On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Mr. Cerf described the outer-space-net and some other personal projects to an assembly at Georgetown University, part of the National Medals Foundation’s “An Evening With” series. Mr. Cerf has been awarded more medals than he probably knows what to do with. I guess that happens when you get credit for inventing the internet – in 1974, Cerf and Robert Kahn co-authored a paper for the IEEE titled “A protocol for packet network intercommunication.” Forty-some years later, four billion humans are piggybacking their idea into five billion daily YouTube views, a three-hundred-billion dollar digital advertising market, and a …

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Should You Read This Book? “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”

According to Seth Godin, there are two scarce elements in our economy: trust and attention. I’m going to try and help with that by offering my trustworthy opinion on whether you should give your attention to this book by Dan Roam. If the title of the book, “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures“ doesn’t immediately pique your interest, it might not be for you. It’s pretty straightforward: this is a book about how to convey ideas with pictures. So why should you trust my opinion? Because I’m on the internet! …If that’s not enough, a few weeks ago I was on a podcast where I interviewed a startup in the data visualization industry, so turning ideas into pictures is fresh on my mind. In my free time, I’m a photographer and a writer, and I suppose I’ve read a handful of other books with pictures. (“Charlotte’s Web,” “Sin City,” …

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A realistic stock photo of a beautiful beach

A very brief history of stock photography: from fake studio models to authentic backyard scenes

When a brand chooses a stock photograph to represent their desired public image, they’re faced with a “style” problem. The brilliant artist Chuck Close summarized the problem of photographic style like this: “Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It’s the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style.” Having a signature style is the essence of branding. When a marketing department develops creative ads for their brand, they want to distill their style into an image, while showing off the best qualities of their products or services. Companies rely on stock photography to shape their image, because as Close pointed out, finding a signature style with photography is difficult. Creative stock photographs are shot by freelance artists and can be bought from online agencies like Getty, Alamy, Shutterstock and more. In the …

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If you want to know about SEO, I’ve always been the wrong person to ask

What do I know about SEO?   I started this blog, “Brian Writing,” ten years ago as an assignment in my undergraduate English program. I’ve continued writing posts occasionally since then, sometimes more frequently than others. In all that time, I have never tried doing anything about my blog’s SEO – the one thing that might help people actually find me. I always assumed the internet elves that live behind the digital curtain would take care of it for me. That’s all changing, now! This week I watched a course on Lynda.com called SEO Foundations, taught by instructor David Booth. For anyone who enjoys writing a blog but has never gotten into the messy details of finding an audience for it, learning about SEO is critical. I recommend checking out the course or finding other ways to learn about SEO. In a nutshell, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is way to …

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Wolf Alice performing at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC

The Music I Listened To in 2017: (#24-1)

I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 full-time workweeks – and captured all the data with Last.fm. The ranking is ordered by how many times I listened to a song by the artist, with #1 claiming the most listens. My top 50-25 artists were published in the last post. So here, without further ado, are the rest of them. My #24-1 most listened artists of 2017: 24. Anderson .Paak .Paak may have crept into the top 50% of my artists this year on the strength of his NPR Tiny Desk concert alone. I probably watched it 30 times this year. His record ‘Malibu’ is great too. 23. Jon Hopkins Surreal soundscapes that thrive on simplicity. Hopkins can have an impact as strong as an artist who goes five times as loud because of the clarity of his compositions. 22. Eric Satie When I …

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The Music I Listened to in 2017 (#50-25)

A long while ago, the painter Paul Gauguin wrote: “To be an honest critic, one must not love.” So maybe writing this post makes me dishonest, but I’ll take the risk: I’ve put together a list of the top 50 musicians that I loved in 2017. This is the time of year when all the critics start listing things. The top ten this and the top twenty that. I listened to Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2017’ podcast a few days ago and caught the bug. I’m going to borrow their format, but they can keep their judgments and assumptions about how the newest things matter the most. Unlike them, there is nothing timely about these rankings. Many of the artists had nothing to do with the year 2017. Look for the zeitgeist somewhere else. I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 …

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Two Ideas

“Have more than one idea on the go at any given time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I can choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.” – Geoff Dyer I read Geoff Dyer’s book “Paris, Trance” over the weekend, and came away with a great deal of respect for his writing. Some books you pick up and read a few pages of and think they aren’t going to be great, then 24 hours later you turn the last page and realize you haven’t put the thing down since you started and it’s over. The effect is all the more pronounced when you took a chance on a low Amazon rating (I really can’t comprehend why it only has …

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