I found myself in an odd place a few nights ago: I was flying at 40,000 feet from Chicago to Austin in a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, and I was listening to this season’s first night of Major League Baseball. How did I do this, you might ask. Nope, didn’t leave my cell phone’s 3G on. I purchased Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi for the price of $8, and at 1 mbps I was set to go. You wouldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the flight. It was pure fun. Much of this must have had something to do with the fact that ever since 9/11 I’d associated air travel with inconvenience. I’d even assumed that in-flight Wi-Fi would be unwieldy. For, previously I’d heard that Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi hovered around 1 mbps, and being a literature guy even way back in high school when we covered such things in my computer science class (which means that I’d spend those nights reading Lord of the Rings rather than about bandwidth in my computer science textbook), this seemed like an inordinately small amount of bandwidth. Hence my elation when the sounds of summer were back and I was enjoying Major League Baseball by the time the beverage cart came around, with no bandwidth problems to speak of.
This was one of the ads on my NYTimes.com edition today. Upon first glance it appears to be a simple ad for an e-book by Amy Harmon called Asperger Love, but the New York Times masthead and the words "Byliner Original" suggest that the Asperger Love is an in-house publication. And that's just what it is: an "e-single" written by a NYTimes journalist, packaged for Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, and hosted on a partner site, Byliner.com.
There’s an odd thing happening in Austin’s older neighborhoods: people are moving in, tearing down whatever 1930s homes they find on their lots, and in these spaces constructing decidedly modern dwellings. The subsequent structure stands out on its block like you wouldn’t believe. There’s such a disparity between the neighborhood’s older ranch homes and these new structures of corrugated metal and cantilevered edges. It’s a contrast between the standout and the ubiquitous, and the standout wins the eye every time. To make things more interesting: the locals I’ve asked hate these new structures, while those of us who’ve moved here recently tend to find them more inviting. I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Although I see and understand the detriment one might perceive in continuity’s disruption, isn’t such materialistic continuity exactly what Austinites are constantly going out of their way to subvert? What gives? Aren’t we all supposed to applaud when something immaterial keeps Austin weird? Coming at the issue from a different angle, I’m a fairly serious student of architecture, and so for me it’s always refreshing to see tasteful structures going up (no matter what the situation, really). To this end I think architecture in its purist form encourages balance and harmony, and building a mansion amidst cottages (just for irony’s sake, I guess) is arrogant and misguided.
In researching and writing my last blog posting, which sought to explore the possible dangers associated with the expurgation of the literary classics we use in the school setting, I found myself digging a little deeper into a story from a couple of years ago that I was only vaguely familiar with. In that last posting, I focused upon the ways in which e-books were, by the nature of the medium, particularly susceptible to modification and/or censorship. But these concerns are not ones we should only ascribe to the digital; I wanted to demonstrate that modification of canonical works for the purpose of “protecting” people from any content that might be unpleasant to the modern reader’s sensibilities can and does happen with our “old-fashioned” paper textbooks, too.
As gifs begin to occupy more and more space in internet discourse, I’ve been contemplating the various ways they reinvent older media forms. New media theory tells us this is an inevitable historical trajectory; it is not just a characteristic of post-broadcast media but embedded in mediation as an ideological concept. What I find particularly interesting about gifs is not just how they remediate the television shows, films, Youtube videos, and memes from which they derive meaning, but also how they relate to a much older form of media: silent film. And in such a reading, the overlap between the production of fame and celebrity in the silent film tradition and in current gif discourse is remarkable—and worth discussing.
Few things will make a body more aware of its need of personal space than being in Austin during SXSW. At the height of the music festival, sixth street is a throbbing mass of bodies; most are hurting from the night before; many are pierced and tattooed; and all are in search of further sensory stimulation. Prominence and/or density of bodies are signal features of large scale cultural gatherings like SXSW. Consequently, advertising at these sorts of events often becomes embodied in visually arresting and sometimes ethically questionable ways. This post examines two advertising schemes that came to my attention this SXSW, and thinks about the stakes--rhetorical and otherwise--of confusing bodies with commercial products.
This week’s New Yorker cover features a rendering of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, and I thought the occasion merited some meditation on what the museum means to us today. It’s an odd shaped building, and I can’t think of one that’s been built like it sense. Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House, pictured below and opened in April 2008, is a great example of how contemporary architects are still designing buildings for the arts in brave new ways. (That fantastic structure mimics a Norwegian glacier melting into the sea, and many of its smart features work to invite all of Oslo, not just the operatic elite, to inhabit within and without.) But no structure for the arts built since 1960 has been as original as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. Opened on 21 October 1959, the Guggenheim Museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s last masterpiece. It was (more or less) commissioned in 1943, but the project took Wright 15 years and over 700 sketches to complete. Such revision is unusual for a Wright project, of course – most of his designs were completed in a matter of hours. (I suspect he was always thinking about his projects, and thus when the time came to get his ideas down on paper for clients there wasn’t much work to do.) What’s so unique about the Guggenheim Museum is that it’s a descending spiral. This design has two benefits: visitors can effortlessly enjoy the museum’s exhibit as they casually descend a ramp and, more importantly, the changing diameter of the spiral always allows for natural lighting at the art. Form follows function.
Remember these things? It's hard to believe that kids are still learning to shape their letters according to handwriting diagrams like this one. In the first world where type is the dominant mode of textual presentation, one has to wonder how often kids will encounter a squiggly 'f' as it's drawn above or a lower case 'k' that looks like a capital R?
The chart looks to us like an anachronism, especially next the digital text of this blog post. We're prompted to ask whether kids should be taught to write a script that is rapidly fading from the textual universe? Is handwriting a skill that is worth acquiring in an era when written communication mainly occurs through digital media, without the assistance of pen or paper?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the breaking news that there might be an Apple iWatch on the horizon. For those of you who missed the post, I surmised that the device would be a useless accessory. We got the iPad for those moments between our iPhones and our iMacs (as Steve Jobs famously put it during the latter product’s initial announcement). Presumably we got the iPad Mini for those moments between our iPad and our iPhone, whatever those moments might be. And now we’ll have an iWatch for the moments between our iPhones and our….wait, what?! The idea of the possibility of this much interactivity strikes me as bizarre. The internet’s great and it makes my life easier, etc., but I’m the kind of guy who uses his iPhone as an alarm clock but waits to read emails from students until after a cup of coffee. Know what I mean? The idea of spending the first ten minutes of my waking day getting caught up on what happened in my work life while I was sleeping strikes me as a terrible way to live. And wouldn’t you get an iWatch to do just this? Wouldn’t you get an iWatch to get caught up on work when you should really be doing something else? All these new Apple products are starting to remind me of a lesson I learned in middle school: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can cram an iOS onto your wrist doesn’t mean you should.
Educators and everyday people alike have spent (at least) the last half of a decade in a state of ever-increasing turgidity as they speculate as to all of the amazing feats the e-reader (usually, “e-reader” means “iPad” in the popular discourse, so I might use both terms below) will achieve in the context of public education. It is almost assumed that replacing every student’s bulky, quickly-dated paper textbooks with sleek, capability-rich e-readers is an unequivocally good, nay, downright imperative educational initiative.