A Journal of the Irrepressible

Archive for February, 2009

Bebot for iPhone

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Damn, I love my iPhone, even though I barely use it to make or receive phone calls. One of the coolest things ever is Bebot, a powerful musical synthesizer for iPhone. Yeah, the iPhone is a musical instrument (and not just a synth – check out the Ocarina app, and consider making your next home recording using Gigbaby, a awesome 4-track recorder that’ll set you back, oh, a couple bucks).

Bebot is crazy, but don’t take my word for it. Check out this video from keyboard wiz Jordan Rudess.

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Written by Brian

February 26th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Posted in music, the marvelous

As Newspapers Implode, the Need for Journalism Expands

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death of newspaperI like Steven A. Smith’s take on the need for a debate among journalists about the future of journalism as newspapers die a (not so) slow and horrible death. Smith is the former editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review (a newspaper I love to hate for its conservative editorial page and lack of attention to agriculture as anything but an end product for restaurant reviews).

As Smith points out, the newspaper industry’s “central debate ought not to be about saving newspapers and, in fact, that hasn’t even been an open question for some time. The American newspaper as we have come to know it in the post-war era is not going to survive.”

Publishers who continue to argue their papers are strong despite massive cuts in newsroom staff, are twisting the truth in order to save their businesses. They talk about the migration to niche products, to smaller, leaner papers and efficient websites. Saving journalism isn’t part of their agenda. To be fair, especially in the current marketplace, they can’t save both. They always will default to the money side, they have no choice. So a niche website devoted to golf may generate revenue for the business. But it will not serve citizens who rely on journalists to reveal civic truths.

As a former indie publisher, I’m intrigued and hopeful that Smith sees a possibility “for a single journalist, operating on her own, to cover a legislature somewhere in a format as crude as a newsletter or pamphlet and generate enough from her efforts to make a modest living.”

Dubious, but hopeful. A model here might be Cockburn and St. Clair’s CounterPunch, which  charges for a print addition of its free web content (and asks for donations to support its web publishing).

In any case, we can’t let publishers ruin the business and calling of journalism: “take back the page!” is Smith’s rallying cry: journalists “ought not to be allowed to kill the vital public-service journalism that serves citizens. It’s time to stop debating the obvious. It’s time for journalists to take back the debate and save themselves.”

See also: Newspaper Death Watch.

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Written by Brian

February 26th, 2009 at 5:31 pm

On gardening: The theft of all your labours


Beware - gardening may be a thief of your labor!Doing a semi-decadal book purge recently, I found an old letter tucked inside a book. The letter was sent to Permeable Press some time in the mid-90s. There’s no return address on the envelope, and the letter itself lacks either a salutation or a sign off. It’s completely anonymous, in other words. The postmark lacks any means of identifying where it came from, too, as it’s just a red ink-stamp circle indicating that “52 cents” was paid to get the letter moving–meaning it didn’t come from the U.S. So perhaps it came from Australia or South Africa? This impression is compounded by the author’s spelling of the word “labours,” in the British manner. In any case, the letter is quite odd. It’s gardening advice, sort of, so I thought I’d share it as the time to till is fast upon us.

The letter is addressed to Permeable Press. Note that I, as Permeable Press, never published anything about gardening, so this letter is doubly odd to me, which is why I saved it all these years.

Here’s the letter in total:

Do not be jealous or in anyway envious of your neighbors flower or vegetable gardens. What they have may be a sign of a problem. A flower garden may be a sign of depression and a sign of a severe drinking problem. A vegetable garden may be a sign of a cry baby, a person who whines about everything. Any attempt by you to have such a garden, may not work out as you planned.

Growing a garden (this is very hard work for some people) may lead to the theft of all your labours. Very little produce comes of it.

Growing fruits and vegetables indoors is not a good idea because they don’t taste right.

But, if you want to try, here are some tips. The seeds you buy may not grow properly at all. Water is much better to start plants in (if you have to).

Seeds come from the plants themselves. Examples: Cut up potatoes are the seed for this vegetable. The dried leaves from the carrots are the seeds for this vegetable.

“Old maids” are the best at growing gardens. They don’t mind digging in the dirt or doing hard physical labour.

Fruit trees are best left in orchards.

Good luck with your project.

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Written by Brian

February 22nd, 2009 at 1:58 pm

You Are Being There

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In a recent series of experiments (reported by Machines Like Us), volunteers read sentences describing everyday actions. The statements were expressed in either first- (“I am…”), second- (“You are…”) or third-person (“He is…”). Volunteers then looked at pictures and had to indicate whether the images matched the sentences they had read. The pictures were presented in either an internal (i.e. as though the volunteer was performing the event him/herself) or external (i.e. as though the volunteer was observing the event) perspective.

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicate that we use different perspectives, depending on which pronouns are used. When the volunteers read statements that began, “You are…” they pictured the scene through their own eyes. However, when they read statements explicitly describing someone else (for example, sentences that began, “He is…”) then they tended to view the scene from an outsider’s perspective. Even more interesting was what the results revealed about first-person statements (sentences that began, “I am…”). The perspective used while imagining these actions depended on the amount of information provided — the volunteers who read only one first-person sentence viewed the scene from their point of view while the volunteers who read three first-person sentences saw the scene from an outsider’s perspective.

The researchers note that “these results provide the first evidence that in all cases readers mentally simulate described objects and events, but only embody an actor’s perspective when directly addressed as the subject of a sentence.” The authors suggest that when we read second-person statements (“You are…”), there is a greater sense of “being there” and this makes it easier to place ourselves in the scene being described, imagining it from our point of view.

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Written by Brian

February 20th, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Rapid burst of flowering plants set stage for other species

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A new University of Florida study based on DNA analysis from living flowering plants shows that the ancestors of most modern trees diversified extremely rapidly 90 million years ago, ultimately leading to the formation of forests that supported similar evolutionary bursts in animals and other plants.

This burst of speciation over a 5-million-year span was one of three major radiations of flowering plants, known as angiosperms. The study focuses on diversification in the rosid clade, a group with a common ancestor that now accounts for one-third of the world’s flowering plants. The forests that resulted provided the habitat that supported later evolutionary diversifications for amphibians, ants, placental mammals and ferns.

“Shortly after the angiosperm-dominated forests diversified, we see this amazing diversification in other lineages, so they basically set the habitat for all kinds of new things to arise,” said Pamela Soltis, study co-author and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. “Associated with some of the subsequent radiations is even the diversification of the primates.”  Read more…

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Written by Brian

February 20th, 2009 at 12:26 pm


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review by Brian Charles Clark

Imagine everyone in the world goes suddenly, inexplicably blind – what would you do? More importantly, how would your government and social services agencies react?

That’s the premise of Blindness, the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago. Originally published in Portuguese, the novel was widely translated and critically acclaimed. The film version’s reception has been entirely different.

Considered an unfilmable novel, the movie Blindness has been roundly panned by both viewers and critics alike. In fact, though, the film is brilliant in all respects. Don McKellar (Last Night) has done a great job of adapting the novel; his screenplay is true to the original while nicely condensing the novel long-winded philosophical digressions. Director Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) pushes hard on the action, never letting the film sag into didactic maundering, the way the novel does. The photography is stark and beautiful and the acting wonderful – no mean accomplishment, that, as all the parts are played by sighted actors.

Read more at Curled Up with a Good DVD…

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Written by Brian

February 20th, 2009 at 9:59 am

Posted in film, literature, reviews

Rad Whales at Burbia

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Burbia (living life on the edge… of the patio) has a cool image gallery going. I really like the yard sign with the Valentine’s hear that says, “I know you slept with Frank. Keep the flowers. I’ll keep the house.” But this yard whale is irrepressible.

yad whale from burbia dot com

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Written by Brian

February 18th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Posted in landscape, photography

Reading on the Web

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readingI just read a great piece by Mandy Brown about reading. While most designers, PR and marketing people and others are pushing site design toward those who scan and search, Brown is thinking about how to make space for readers.

As a reader, I love that. As a designer and PR person pushing pixels around in favor of scanners and searchers, I’m given pause and something to think about.

Despite the ubiquity of reading on the web, readers remain a neglected audience. Much of our talk about web design revolves around a sense of movement: users are thought to be finding, searching, skimming, looking. We measure how frequently they click but not how long they stay on the page. We concern ourselves with their travel and participation—how they move from page to page, who they talk to when they get there—but forget the needs of those whose purpose is to be still. Readers flourish when they have space—some distance from the hubbub of the crowds—and as web designers, there is yet much we can do to help them carve out that space.

Puck says, check it out here. And check out Mandy Brown’s site, this is a working library, too.

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Written by Brian

February 18th, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Cool Q-Burns Remix of Youssou N’Dour

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stream a Q-Burns Abstract Message remixQ-Burns Abstract Message is one of my favorite remix artists. He recently did a mix of Youssou N’Dour’s “Wake Up,” which you can stream or download here. I really like the on-page player; if you create an account and log in, you can post comments which show up on the player’s timeline. Q-Burns writes that the N’Dour remix project is

part of a campaign spearheaded by IntraHealth OPEN, a non-profit organization focusing on open source technology and how it can be used to advance health care in Africa.

Q-Burns is one of eight artists who contributed mixes to the project. Check ‘em all out here.

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Written by Brian

February 16th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

The Book of Dead Philosophers

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review by Brian Charles Clark

The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley, review by Brian Charles ClarkSimon Critchley admits up front that writing about how philosophers died is, well, odd, and that reading about such things is perhaps even odder. Then again, there are lots of good reasons to write and read about death. It’s inevitable, after all, the one truly irremediable cipher confronting each of us. We know nothing about death (though plenty about how it gets caused), or would say so if we were truly honest about the limits of our cognitive abilities.

And of course we’re fascinated with ciphers, mad to construe their hidden meanings and to make sense out of what, so often, is a devastation for those of us who go on living.

Besides, philosophers are especially good at dying. Not all of them, of course, but the good deaths (the ones that fascinate, the ones that cause the brow to crinkle, the ones that cause us to splutter, wave the storyteller away and take drink with a secret, hidden smile lurking on our lips) tend to be remembered, to be passed on down the line of storytellers. A good death becomes a point of imaginative departure. Here are snippets from Critchley’s wonderful vignettes on my three favorite philosophers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

February 12th, 2009 at 9:49 pm