Saturday, April 30, 2011

How Writers Build the Brand

Tony Perottet (via The Awl) talks about some of the great antics performed by writers to sell more books:

Hemingway set the modern gold standard for inventive self-branding, burnishing his image with photo ops from safaris, fishing trips and war zones. But he also posed for beer ads. In 1951, Hem endorsed Ballantine Ale in a double-page spread in Life magazine, complete with a shot of him looking manly in his Havana abode. ... Even Vladimir Nabokov had an eye for self-marketing, subtly suggesting to photo editors that they feature him as a lepidopterist prancing about the forests in cap, shorts and long socks. (“Some fascinating photos might be also taken of me, a burly but agile man, stalking a rarity or sweeping it into my net from a flowerhead,” he enthused.) Across the pond, the Bloomsbury set regularly posed for fashion shoots in British Vogue in the 1920s. The frumpy Virginia Woolf even went on a “Pretty Woman”-style shopping expedition at French couture houses in London with the magazine’s fashion editor in 1925.

But the tradition of self-promotion predates the camera by millenniums. In 440 B.C. or so, a first-time Greek author named Herodotus paid for his own book tour around the Aegean. His big break came during the Olympic Games, when he stood up in the temple of Zeus and declaimed his “Histories” to the wealthy, influential crowd. In the 12th century, the clergyman Gerald of Wales organized his own book party in Oxford, hoping to appeal to college audiences. According to “The Oxford Book of Oxford,” edited by Jan Morris, he invited scholars to his lodgings, where he plied them with good food and ale for three days, along with long recitations of his golden prose. But they got off easy compared with those invited to the “Funeral Supper” of the 18th-century French bon vivant Grimod de la Reynière, held to promote his opus “Reflections on Pleasure.” The guests’ curiosity turned to horror when they found themselves locked in a candlelit hall with a catafalque for a dining table, and were served an endless meal by black-robed waiters while Grimod insulted them as an audience watched from the balcony. When the diners were finally released at 7 a.m., they spread word that Grimod was mad — and his book quickly went through three ­printings.

Sean Thackrey 2009 Cassiopeia Clone 115

Several months ago, BRS favorite wine maker Sean Thackrey offered a set of "experimental" white label wines that he'd recently bottled in small quantities. I had to try all three: first up, Cassiopeia (clone 115) a single vinyard, single clone Pinot Noir from grapes grown in the Wentzel Vineyard in the Anderson Valley. It's very unusual to do this little blending--usually there's some kind of defect or peculiarity to balance out--but the result is really exciting.

This wine calls up a very specific sense memory for me. It's a Fourth of July snowcone--the one where you had the vendor squirt some of each flavor onto the same cone, resulting in a mix of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and lemon-lime. This wine is the adults only version of that snowcone. It's not sugary or overly fruity. Instead, it's very clear and vivid, both in appearance and in flavor, with a wonderful fragrance and mouthfeel. Possibly oversaturated for some Pinot drinkers, but it should only improve in composition over time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding


I'm sure we'll be seeing more of these two nice young people sooner or later.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Christopher Brosius makes an invisible scent

  2. Ezra Klein: Barack Obama "is a moderate Republican of the early 1990's"

  3. Glenn O'Brien interviewed over at A Continuous Lean

Monday, April 25, 2011

Big Thinking

Before Francis Crick died, in 2004, he gave Eagleman some advice. “Look,” he said. “The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.”

David Eagleman is the Francis Crick type of scientist, working on (lots of) big ideas, using as many different techniques as are needed to find the big answers: how does the brain deal with time? Why does it seem to pass at different rates depending on emotions and other factors? Can someone have a good sense of time?

It was while they were there that Eno told Eagleman the story that inspired the drumming study.

“I was working with Larry Mullen, Jr., on one of the U2 albums,” Eno told me. “ ‘All That You Don’t Leave Behind,’ or whatever it’s called.” Mullen was playing drums over a recording of the band and a click track—a computer-generated beat that was meant to keep all the overdubbed parts in synch. In this case, however, Mullen thought that the click track was slightly off: it was a fraction of a beat behind the rest of the band. “I said, ‘No, that can’t be so, Larry,’ ” Eno recalled. “ ‘We’ve all worked to that track, so it must be right.’ But he said, ‘Sorry, I just can’t play to it.’ ”

Eno eventually adjusted the click to Mullen’s satisfaction, but he was just humoring him. It was only later, after the drummer had left, that Eno checked the original track again and realized that Mullen was right: the click was off by six milliseconds. “The thing is,” Eno told me, “when we were adjusting it I once had it two milliseconds to the wrong side of the beat, and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to come back a bit.’ Which I think is absolutely staggering.”
All of this is from Burkhart Bilger's profile of Eagleman in The New Yorker. Eagleman comes across as brilliant, but an extreme workaholic--I wonder what his grad students are like.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ezra Klein is Scared

...of Michelle Bachmann's on-air comments about the debt ceiling. He's right to be frightened--failure to raise the debt ceiling will blow a hole in the US economy like nothing you'd believe.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Also, his expression at 1:45 is priceless.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I'm off to drink a gallon of milk and eat a spoonfull of cinnamon.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Repair Week

Ted, my physical therapist said tonight, "It looks like all of your neck and shoulder muscles went on strike at the same time," after he'd spent the better part of an hour disentangling them from one another. I woke up at 3:30 AM a couple of nights ago with throbbing, shooting pain down my arm, the result of stress, overwork and unusual sleeping positions. Now, I'm getting my act together. Brian, my mechanic, got the starter on my car replaced in record time, after the old one finally gave up the ghost a couple of days after I'd had all the fluids in the car replaced. The old fluids came out mixed with something nasty that looked like tar, and possibly was. Taxes are up next. This promises to be equally fun.

Marcin Jakubowski's Civilization Starter Kit

50 open source devices with open source designs that can rebuild civilization.

Links for Later

  1. A management consultant with a philosophy PhD talks smack about MBA's, and rightly so

  2. Trying to biohack your way to a melamine detector. Compare to this list of existing methods

  3. The new Humble Bundle is out. Go pick one up

  4. Views from a Hudson River mansion

  5. Brad Feld on building tech communities in smaller cities

  6. Regular expression generator

  7. Someday, you will buy an Alex Stoddard photo for big money

  8. Is Barack Obama really that bad at negotiating?

  9. Is a weekend with Tim Ferriss worth $10,000?

  10. Library glamour shots

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Bridgewater Principles

Kevin Roose takes a look at Ray Dalio, who built hedge fund giant Bridgewater "like a cult" that favors "radical transparency" over "kindness and empathy." Would you choose to work there? More: Dalio's Principles online.

Google vs. Facebook

Chris Dixon has a good strategic rundown on how Google should face off against Facebook.

Where's Barack?

Paul Krugman notes the strange absence of the man we elected in '08:

More broadly, Mr. Obama is conspicuously failing to mount any kind of challenge to the philosophy now dominating Washington discussion — a philosophy that says the poor must accept big cuts in Medicaid and food stamps; the middle class must accept big cuts in Medicare (actually a dismantling of the whole program); and corporations and the rich must accept big cuts in the taxes they have to pay. Shared sacrifice! I’m not exaggerating. The House budget proposal that was unveiled last week — and was praised as “bold” and “serious” by all of Washington’s Very Serious People — includes savage cuts in Medicaid and other programs that help the neediest, which would among other things deprive 34 million Americans of health insurance. It includes a plan to privatize and defund Medicare that would leave many if not most seniors unable to afford health care. And it includes a plan to sharply cut taxes on corporations and to bring the tax rate on high earners down to its lowest level since 1931. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center puts the revenue loss from these tax cuts at $2.9 trillion over the next decade. House Republicans claim that the tax cuts can be made “revenue neutral” by “broadening the tax base” — that is, by closing loopholes and ending exemptions. But you’d need to close a lot of loopholes to close a $3 trillion gap; for example, even completely eliminating one of the biggest exemptions, the mortgage interest deduction, wouldn’t come close. And G.O.P. leaders have not, of course, called for anything that drastic. I haven’t seen them name any significant exemptions they would end.

You might have expected the president’s team not just to reject this proposal, but to see it as a big fat political target. But while the G.O.P. proposal has drawn fire from a number of Democrats — including a harsh condemnation from Senator Max Baucus, a centrist who has often worked with Republicans — the White House response was a statement from the press secretary expressing mild disapproval.

What’s going on here? Despite the ferocious opposition he has faced since the day he took office, Mr. Obama is clearly still clinging to his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend America’s partisan differences. And his political strategists seem to believe that he can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise.

But if you ask me, I’d say that the nation wants — and more important, the nation needs — a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing. 

Now, a few years ago, the Agonist published a short post that no one really listened to, which said, essentially, that our current President had no fight in him, that he'd rather cave every time than fight, and that he was no friend of the liberal netroots. Most of us said that this was nonsense. It looks like we should have believed him.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Biodigital Jazz

Josh Nimoy describes his work on Tron: Legacy. Perlin noise generating isosurfaces, exponential functions used to animate slurpy graphics, and similar mathematical/computer graphical goodness abounds. Beautiful work.

(via core 77)

Self Help

Maria Bustillos takes a ramble through David Foster Wallace's self-help library, part of a 300 book collection of heavily annotated books in repository at the University of Texas. If you take Bustillos's gloss on the self-help books, it tells a very sad story indeed. It's also definitively the story of Hal Incandenza from Infinite Jest. The question is, though, how much of this is also DFW's story? It's tempting to say that it's exactly his story, what with the depression, the substance abuse, the florid displays of brilliance in DFW's life. The opposite is also true: it may just be his story (as we'd like to tell it), and not his life.

Wallace's notes in Bradshaw On: The Family and especially in Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child reveal a person who felt himself to be messed up totally and permanently. He felt particularly nailed and revealed to himself by the latter book, one in which he blames his mother for quite a lot of his suffering. To say that Wallace took The Drama of the Gifted Child to heart is to put it very mildly indeed. He returned to it over and over again; his notes were made at many different times, in wildly differing sizes and styles of penmanship, states of mind. Here are the markers I could more or less identify:

Red sharpie, thin Pink, thinner, like a faded red Rolling Writer? Blue thinner Rolling Writer-type Pencil Dark blue felt-tip, thin Black fine felt-tip Furious blue Sharpie, a thick one Black ball-point

This is another book that made a big splash when it appeared; Wallace's copy is an eighteenth printing, from 1993. The thesis of The Drama of the Gifted Child is that particularly high-achieving children are damaged because their mothers did not allow them to be themselves, but instead through their own insecurities gave their children the impression that only achievement could win them love. That any deviation from right behavior was unlovable, that they would be rejected unless they performed well.

So Alice Miller says the gifted child has to perform all the time, perform even to himself, and is thereby sundered from himself profoundly. "Narcissistically disturbed" is her phrase of choice for this condition. Because the child doesn't feel free to own his feelings candidly, but instead must censor and control himself ceaselessly and let only the good things about himself become manifest, all the bad feelings like jealousy, rage, envy, are driven underground and fester there and make the child secretly, existentially miserable, and in a special way, "divided" in rather the way R.D. Laing describes in The Divided Self. Miller's gifted child splits into two: one is the grandiose child, who is a super-achieving, obedient, reliable and "good" child, and the other a depressed child who never was loved, never was allowed to be a child, who was forced to perform and excel from such an early age that he has become irrecoverably lost to himself.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Sometimes it Wiggles, Sometimes it Jumps

Kevin Dowd and colleagues do some Excel and Matlab work to come up with the fact that, assuming normality, a 25-sigma event like the ones claimed to have happened in August 2007 to several of the world's largest financial companies should occur less than once in the entire history of the universe given its apparent age. So, if Kevin Viniar's claim is that a 30% decline on several days running is a >25-sigma event according to Goldman Sach's models, then the models are wrong with a certainty approaching p=1. This is the way a financial economist would look at it, anyway. An experimental psychologist or other scientist would instead say that Something Happened in August of 2007 that was not caused by random chance. Something Happens all the time in experimental science, or at least we hope it does. The distribution moves because something moved it further than can be explained by the white noise of all of the small motive causes that make everything jitter around to form a statistical distribution. Getting overly excited about which statistical distribution it is misses the point. The probability that Something really big is going to Happen again is not dependent on the shape of the distribution, and is not calculable within the distribution. It's dependent on when the conditions are right for Something to Happen again, and relovate the distribution somewhere else. That's what a "25-sigma" event tells you.