Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mish-Mash of Interesting Stuff

Some things to mention:
  • My friend SSMW has an idea for how the Pentagon can turn lemons into lemonade vis-à-vis the geographically challenged nature of American youth.
  • I heard about this book coming out later this year which sounded clever: If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse by Ben Yagoda (cool links page, btw). I was trying to remember how I had known of Mr. Yagoda previously, and just a few minutes ago I realized that I had enjoyed his Booknotes interview about his book on Will Rogers.
  • Ann Althouse comments on Condoleezza Rice's top ten favorite songs. I agree that if Condi can cite specific works by Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, and Mussorgsky (remember, the secretary is a concert pianist) that she's cheating by saying "U2 -- Anything".
  • Prof. Althouse and many others are discussing this NYT article by Kevin Kelly about the present and future of Google, book scanning, hyperlinking among books, etc. Here is Mr. Kelly's Wikipedia entry, and here is his blog. Here's my simple take on all that: I know there are details to work out (i.e., some book scanning staff member gets Wells confused with Ellison and a few Googlers end up thinking that the African-American experience of the early 20th Century involved drinking an invisibility potion), but look -- it's gonna be fucking cool. Kelly excerpt: So what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas? Four things: First, works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near-zero audience they usually have now. Far out in the "long tail" of the distribution curve — that extended place of low-to-no sales where most of the books in the world live — digital interlinking will lift the readership of almost any title, no matter how esoteric. Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked. Third, the universal library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority. If you can truly incorporate all texts — past and present, multilingual — on a particular subject, then you can have a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do know and don't know. The white spaces of our collective ignorance are highlighted, while the golden peaks of our knowledge are drawn with completeness. This degree of authority is only rarely achieved in scholarship today, but it will become routine.
  • Here's a neat site, RetroFuture. FAQ excerpt: The Retrofuture is a concept based on a simple question: what happened to all that futuristic stuff which was supposed to change our lives by the year 2000? Stuff like rocket belts, flying cars, food pills and inflatable homes. I think it's interesting that while the concept of the rocket belt was one that the mindset of the 1950s could process, the real miracles of the 21st Century are things like the book scanning and other search-related potential above, which few if any could have mapped out.


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