Delillo on Memory

After posting my recollections of being a Redskins fan yesterday, this quote came to mind, from Americana: “If I could index all the hovering memories which announce themselves so insistently to me, sitting amid the distractions of yet another introspective evening (ship models, books, the last of the brandy), I would compile my index not in terms of good or bad memories, childhood or adult, innocent or guilty, but rather in two very broad and simple categories. Cooperative and uncooperative. Some memories seem content to be isolated units; they slip neatly into the proper slot and give no indication of continuum. Others, the uncooperative, insist on evasion, on camouflage, on dissolving into uninvited images. When I command snow to fall once again on the streets of Old Holly, my father’s hands curled about a shovel, I can’t be sure I’ll get the precise moment I want. A second too soon …

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on Efficiency, Depression, Happiness, and Beer

The Google Ngram viewer charts the incidence of terms in 5.2 million books dating back centuries. It’s a pretty amazing tool. Choosing the words ‘efficiency‘ and ‘depression‘ I graphed their usage over the last 500 years. I found a close correlation between the terms, with both beginning to rise around 1750 and sharply peaking around 1925. As a control variable I also included ‘weather’, which showed little correlation to either efficiency or depression. Something to think about as we continue to make ourselves faster, better, and stronger! ****EDIT**** To avoid being too much of a downer on a Friday, I want to also include my findings on the relationship between happiness and beer. If this doesn’t demonstrate true progress, I don’t know what will – we’ve almost reached equilibrium! I don’t expect to break any ground with these findings, I just wanted to share what is a very fun set …

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Three Books About Computers

I’ve been reading some more essays on software engineering and computer programming lately, from the three following books. Here’s a brief synopsis and some of my thoughts on each: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age – Douglas Rushkoff The back jacket of this book describes Douglas Rushkoff as an author and media theorist – not as a programmer, which should be a yellow flag for anyone coming to this text looking for pragmatic programming advice. That said, he offers an easily digestible summary of trends in internet technology, and where he thinks society as a whole would benefit most if certain standards of thought were subscribed to in the future. Many of his concepts are agreeable, if a little alarmist. (Which is okay, because I think I might be turning into a bit of an alarmist myself.) I think the most important message Rushkoff is trying …

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the Fictionalizations of ‘the Google’

I had a colleague a few years ago who joked about how his aging parents always referred to Google, the search engine, as “the Google,” as if the internet giant had become an entity of such massive, generic proportion that it deserved its own “the..”, like “the city,” or “the ocean,” or “the internet.” The Google. Popular culture has been producing fictionalized narratives about what life at Google might be like, to complement the hordes of reportage documenting the reality of the company. For an account of how it came to be, and an outsider’s view of the founders, Ken Auletta’s non-fiction book “Googled” tells a fascinating story. But the real story of Google is about the people who work there, and what they are trying to accomplish. There are plenty of imaginary guesses as to what that’s like – in ‘The Internship,’ actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn actually …

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on The Facebook Effect

I decided to read David Kirkpatrick’s book, The Facebook Effect, because I wanted to rationalize my somewhat recent decision to ignore a product that has become one of the most widely used in the world, achieved staggering valuations, etc. So here is my rambling reaction to the book, and my latest thoughts on Facebook in general: There are reasons I want to like Facebook. I love sharing photos, reading opinions, and the little dopamine spritz that comes with any online interaction. Mark Zuckerberg even seems like a decent guy, at the very least a champion of my generation in leadership and business acumen. When I go all the way back to 1984 to compare our lives’ paths, starting with his birthday about 3 weeks before my own, it’s impossible not to be awed. Although we probably took the same spelling lessons in 4th grade, and maybe asked similar questions in …

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on Reimagining the Washington Post

When I began my internship with the Washington Post in the Fall of 2008, the election campaign was in full swing, the economy was collapsing, and the Washington Post Company was going broke. Eleven months later, having put in many hours editing images and writing blurbs for the photo desk, I was thanked for my time and sent off to my graduation with nary a job offer or any compensation aside from the ‘Washington Post’ line on my resume. I didn’t quite understand the structure of the organization when I reported to the office on my first day – Where I expected to find a bustling, bright, and raucous newsroom, instead I walked into an unfinished, dark, and quiet chamber full of large glowing screens and rivers of network cable flowing through the uncovered ceiling. As it turned out, the Washington Post newspaper and washingtonpost.com were being run from two …

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on the ‘Tubes’

Now that much of the tactile interaction we have with the internet are completely wireless, it’s easy to forget that the ‘Web’ is actually a giant physical network of cables, wires, tunnels, and tubes. Andrew Blum’s book ‘Tubes’ digs into the physical infrastructure that makes up the internet and illuminates the nooks and crannies where all of our Facebook likes and Netflix Queues are speeding around the globe. What was originally a system of cables used to transmit telegrams and connect telephones has morphed into a data network of immense proportion. Massive and monolithic, switching stations and data centers placed at geographically efficient coordinates quietly store and transmit the exponentially growing glut of information that we create and consume every day. This book is the story of the ‘unsung heroes’ who get their hands dirty connecting all the pipes, dredging out the tunnels, and sailing long voyages to lay the …

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on the Humanities

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asked – “Who ruined the humanities?” The writer’s premise is that students of art and literature are at a disadvantage when studying at a university, where a rigid pedagogy is imposed on works that should be considered personally and at leisure, thus leaving the students with no real benefit upon graduating but having soaked up and learned to reproduce the opinions of professors. The article is rich with opinion and gives an interesting history of literature studies that I didn’t encounter at all during my years of college. He writes: Only a knave would applaud the falling-off in the formal study of books that cultivate empathy, curiosity, aesthetic taste and moral refinement. But the academic study of literature leads to nothing of the sort. Every other academic subject requires specialized knowledge and a mastery of skills and methods. Literature requires only that …

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a Year Without Books, Maybe

Everyone seems to have a theory about how to interact with books, from Kafka and his “frozen sea” to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – “Put down that book you’re using as a shield.” I’m turning 29 next week, which means I’ve got one year left before I’m thirty. Thirty is about five years away from senility and a wheelchair, according to my research. For most of my twenties, I’ve been an impressively compulsive reader. I have a dozen books I’m half-reading at any given time, and I’m on Amazon once a week filling up my shopping cart with more that I don’t buy, or do and don’t have time to read. I hear an interview with an author on NPR and decide their book is exactly what I need to understand my life at this precise moment, or I’m provoked after stumbling on a subject I had never considered before. I download …

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on “The Bug”

For several years, my job has been testing web sites. There’s several ways to describe what I do, the commonest being that I “look for bugs.” I perform a role known formally as ‘Quality Assurance’ on web development projects, and I’ve worked on a variety of sites, like HGTV, the Washington Post, TroopSwap, and Better Medicine. I’m not a programmer by training, but much of the QA process requires logical thinking and familiarity with engineering practices. As someone who majored in English and spent more time reading Shakespeare than learning UNIX commands, my career has been an experiment of patience. Testers are usually outnumbered by coders, so it can be a lonely (and thankless) task. I recently found a novel that lucidly captures the mentality of testers, developers, and anyone who has had to deal with the often infuriating process of creating software. “The Bug” by Ellen Ullman tells the …

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