Happy, Merry, JollyDaniel Radosh
My gift to you: Wild Christmas by Huckapoo!
Be back in January...
My gift to you: Wild Christmas by Huckapoo!
Be back in January...
I've complained in the past about the inadequacies of collaborative filtering. A while back I heard an NPR segment on a radically different approach to predicting musical tastes, the Music Genome Project, and now it seems they've got a streaming music player up and running. Pandora starts by asking you to enter a song or artist you like (it works best with a song, I've found, unless all your artist's songs sound the same) then analyzing its content: instrumentation, melody, mood, vocals, rhythm, etc. It then plays songs with similar elements. You can then tweak a station by giving songs the thumbs up or down. And you can enter new songs or artists into an existing station (though apparently it just gives you songs that match any of your suggestions, it doesn't try to match them all). As Jason notes it's far from perfect, but it's also far better than, say, what Amazon thinks you'll like based on albums you've already rated.
It did pretty good on my own cruel test. For starters, it did not, unlike everyone else, give me a blank look when I told it that my absolute favorite band in the whole world is Huckapoo. Nope, Pandora just smiled politely and created a playlist of songs with "pop rock qualities, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetative melodic phrasing and major key tonality." That's the nicest thing anybody's said about Huckapoo since, well, ever. It started me off with Letters to Cleo and Kari Kimmel before moving on to Zetta Bytes and Sister Hazel, at which point I told it that if I'd wanted nothing more than B-grade Huckapoo wannabes I'd buy a Disney Mix Stick. It took the hint and surprised me with a nice Ronnie Spector song I didn't know (You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory), some Liz Phair, and a couple of artists I'd never heard of but quite enjoyed: Sarah Harmer and Sanawon. Who needs satellite radio?
You can listen to my stations using the share menu and my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
My pal Jake notes that its archive of world music is limited, however. (The FAQ confirms this)
This site is being upgraded. Temporary glitches are inevitable. Please excuse them.
From what I can tell, though, writer Kurt Eichenwald gets it exactly right. While no one with any web savvy will be very surprised by his findings, we haven't actually seen them reported out so thoroughly before, and that counts for a lot. The only thing I wondered about was this graf: "A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money."
At first I thought it was odd that experts could be unfamiliar with teen cam sites — they must have better spam filters than I do. But it actually sas that they do know of them, just not of their "evolution." What that means, however, is left unclear.
That's a minor point, though. What I really want to say is that the most impressive element of this story is Eichenwald's online essay describing his reporting methods in detail, including red flags that were raised and how they were checked and rules that were bent and why. Regardless of whether you agree with the Times' decisions, the essay is a great step forward for transparency. Can you imagine how differently an article by, let's say, oh, Peter Landesman, would have been received if it had been accompanied by such a sidebar.
Submit the worst possible caption for this week's New Yorker cartoon. Click here for last week's results. Click here for an introduction and "rules" to this contest. Click here for amplification of those rules. Click here for contest index.
You can do better starter captions:
"Don't worry, in my other bag I packed the cat."
"Oh great, now all my underwear is soaking wet. That's your problem, you never fucking think these things through. Jesus fucking Christ."
"Ha! You are so lucky airport security didn't check your suitcase. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would have been! It is indeed a relief that more than four years after the tragic events of 9/11, it is so easy to sneak goldfish bombs onto a plane. Now that the test run was successful, you will detonate the fish on the return flight. Allahu Akbar!"
Update: Results after the jump.
Is there something in the air? James Surowiecki's Slate article on the problem with nearly perfect videogame graphics makes a point that was almost the lede of my New Yorker True Crime story. From my first draft:
"In the 2003 novel Lucky Wander Boy, by D.B. Weiss, the videogame-obsessed narrator explains the difference between the arcade machines of his youth and contemporary games in terms of Marshall McLuhan’s theory of cool and hot media. 'In cool games,' such as Pac-Man, 'the sketchy visual detail forces us to fill in the blanks, and in so doing we bind ourselves to the game world.' Today’s hot games, however, 'do all the work, premasticating the images.' They are too real."
This is not, I should say, an argument I entirely agree with. There's something to it, of course, but I think the real problem is that as developers have focused on making graphics more realistic, they've largely forgotten to make innovative games. Surowiecki points out that "one solution is to abandon, or at least be less concerned with, the quest for realism. The Grand Theft Auto games, after all, have clumsy controls, don't look especially great, and have fantastical plots. But they're amazingly well-designed and offer gamers a kind of freedom that hasn't been seen before. That ends up being more than enough to create an engaging world." I would add that even if GTA had much more realistic graphics, with characters approaching the uncanny valley, they'd still be engrossing, and people would not have trouble binding to the world because of the just-missed realism. For that matter, the tennis players in Top Spin are as zombie-creepy as game characters come, but play for five minutes and you'll be just as hooked as if you were moving a four-pixel white bar. And to the extent that they are more realistic and less creepy than their predecessors in Virtua Tennis, the game is better, not worse.
TMFTML is absolutely right about Mickey's excuse, but I think I've got a pretty rock solid one: Ride With the Devil, Hulk, and two-thirds of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
XM Satellite Radio has just done the one thing that could get me to go with them over Sirius and Howard Stern: signed Bob Dylan to host a show.
I can't imagine how much money they're putting in Bob's pocket for this venture, but I'm willing to bet that the real appeal for him is that he won't have to do much work. I can't imagine that he'll go into a studio or anything. Most likely he'll come up with a list of songs each week -- or maybe even a master list from which an XM lackey can draw as necessary -- and then pre-record a handful of rambling "essays" to run between them. (Insert inevitable joke about confusing Bob's voice with poor reception here).
Still: Bob Dylan's personal playlist. It's hard to argue with that. Howard, of course, is doing some real work for his paycheck: programming a second 24-hour channel in addition to doing his daily show. Frankly, most of what I've heard about for the spin-off channel sounds silly, but I'm willing to wager anything that his own show is going to be spellbinding. What you'd never know from that New York cover story that reduced him to fart and dick jokes is that Howard is one of the most original entertainers of our generation. Jeff Jarvis got it right in The Nation last year:
One of the best nights at the theater I've had in a long time was this summer's Fringe Festival performance of my pal Gersh Kuntzman's SUV: The Musical!
Apparently other folks agreed, because the show has been picked up for a limited Off-off Broadway run, Thursdays through Saturdays in January. This is a very funny show that skewers macho SUV owners, meek environmentalists, suburban motherhood, and teen rebellion all at once. Plus, the music and choreography are top-notch.
The cast will be workshopping new versions of the songs this Friday at Joanna Parson's Happy Hour Salon if you'd like a preview, but really you should just trust me on this: get your tickets for January now.
At the New Yorker holiday party last week, a slightly tipsy editor let me in on the secret that governs whether freelance pitches are accepted or not: it's one big behavioral reinforcement experiment. "We reward you just enough to keep you pressing the lever," he said.
I guess someone sensed that, nine and a half months since I last got something in the magazine, my lever paw was getting tired, because this week I finally got another thumbs up. In the new issue: Cyber City (headline most definitely not my idea), in which professional tour guides road test the new video game, True Crime: New York City. New Yorkers will appreciate the screengrab above after reading the article. That's Marcus with George M. Cohan.
You might remember that I did a little research for this game in early 2004. When I wrote the New Yorker piece I made sure to shoehorn in a parenthetical disclosure, but it was taken out by the editors. I don't know exactly why, but I guess it was a combination of things. First, It was one of those awkward sentences that draws more attention to the disclaimer than is warranted. Second, not much attention was warranted because I pretty clearly have no stake in the game's success. And finally, I learned that practically none of the research I did actually ended up in the game. All that stuff they wanted to do with unique non-player characters turned out to be too time consuming (and I guess, though Activision didn't say so, expensive).
In case you're wondering, I haven't yet played much of the game other than for the purpose of exploring virtual Manhattan. That part is definitely fun, but the rest of it is, I think, geared to gamers who are more hardcore than myself. There's a lot going on and I just can't see myself devoting the kind of time and energy that it apparently requires to really get into it. On the other hand, I owe Rockstar an apology for this post. The Warriors game is pretty great, at least the few levels I've gotten through. Yes, it's largely a brawling game, but it's not only that (it's also a mugging, stealing, and smashing stuff up game) and each level is a pretty decent sized open arena that nicely evokes 1979 New York. The acting (they got most of the original performers, which I guess isn't a surprise) and script are very true to the spirit of the movie too.
Lazy morning starter caption: "Mark my words, there's something not right about that Peter Braunstein."
Update: Results after the jump.
Page Six has a scoop:
"When Daniel Radosh needed to find a publisher for Rapture Ready! — about the pop culture of the religious right — it probably didn't hurt that Frank McCourt, author of mega-selling "Angela's Ashes," had taught him English during his 30 years in New York's public schools."
When calling this item to my attention, Chris Tennant politely noted that he'd had no idea I'd spent 30 years in school and asked if it was special ed.
What a surprise! The liberal media loves The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The sarcasm, for those of you who don't follow the conservative media organs (especially the conservative Christian ones) is necessary because for nearly a year now the religious right has been predicting (hoping for, in a way) outrage among the secular elite at the possibility of Christian allegory being marketed to America's children. Such a response never seemed remotely possible to me, if only because it was pretty clear that everyone, devout or not, loves the Narnia books, so why wouldn't they love the movie too? But conservative evangelicals have utterly convinced themselves that the rest of us mock Left Behind and cringe at The Passion of the Christ not because of their own faults but because we hate Christianity. These people really thought that liberals (as if liberals were setting the moral agenda in this country anyway) would not possibly embrace a Christian story because we are on a mission to destroy Christianity.
There was never any evidence for this. A recent cover story in the National Review attempted to find some in a claim (unsupported) that early notes on a Narnia script asked if Aslan had to die. Even if true this hardly means such a note was likely to be accepted, or reflected more than one dumb exec's opinion. Besides it probably had less to do with intentionally removing the Christian content than with attempting the ruin the movie in general (there is more concrete evidence that an early script transferred the opening scenes to modern day Los Angeles and replaced Turkish delight with hot dogs).
Personal reason #12 the new Galleycat is better than the old Galleycat.
Then: "hypocritical clubbiness"
Now: "very juicy"
Also, the actual announcement promised "a picaresque investigative account...," which I take to mean that when my investigations fail to turn anything up, I can paper them over with attitude.
Two events worth noting at the Fairfield, Connecticut Borders Books next week. On December 10th, come meet Sandra Lee, author of Semi-Homemade Cooking. In the words of one Amazon reviewer, "Lee basically takes overprocessed, ridiculously expensive premade foods and arranges them into new combinations, adding the odd badly made homemade garnish or ingredient to her typical hopeless mishmash of precooked overprocessed chemical-laden garbage. She presents this as some kind of new method of cooking, when in fact it's just a combination of mental laziness and indifference to real flavour and nutrition."
Which brings us to the December 14th event.
By the way, my sources tell me that the youngest member of Huckapoo, P.J. Bardot, has just turned 15. Here's the most recent picture of her available, by special request from John Derbyshire.
Francis is embracing open source. Secure in the knowledge (as well he should be) that everyone will want to own copies of The Holy Tango of Literature, and to give copies to all their friends for the holidays (fuck you, O'Reilly), if they only have a chance to read the book first, he is offering the entire text for free online and as an e-book. It's a good strategy for a book like this. I hope it works.
And don't forget the Holy Tango of Music, also free for the taking.
Predictably, the latest conservative meme regarding false stories being planted in Iraqi newspapers is, in the words of one officer-turned-pundit, "The U.S. Army trying to place stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that would be wrong, but when we're at war, and we are certainly at war with insurgents and terrorists, you do what you legitimately can and this is legitimate."
The problem with this distinction is that it is explicitly contradicted in the much hyped National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. According to that document, one of the "conditions on the ground in Iraq" that is necessary for victory is the "continued support of the American people." If you buy both arguments, you'd pretty much have to support planting false stories in American papers as well as Iraqi ones. Which, if you think about it, is how we got into this mess in the first place.
"Excuse me, but the customer waiting for attention in your establishment takes priority over the one calling on the phone. That's just basic service sector etiquette."
"You know, they make 'em cordless now."
"I'll bet you hate having to answer the phone here. You really shouldn't have named the joint Ho West."
"Hey, there's a Negro sitting at this counter."
And the bad caption I'll actually submit this week on the theory that it has a chance to win: "Let her use a damn ball of string like anybody else."
Update: Results after the jump.
No turning back now. After a fairly stressful couple of weeks, I have just sold my book to Scribner. Among the many exciting things about this is that I'm now sharing an editor with my high school English teacher.
Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Strange Pop Culture of the Religious Right (assuming the title sticks) will be out in the year 2008. No one knows the day or hour.
[Update: The new, more accurate subtitle is Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. The pub date is April 8.]