Archive for February, 2010

Upside-down celebrity pictures

February 26, 2010

There is an entire site’s worth of these. A LOT of people spent time doing this.

Old Clint

Barbara Schoneberger

Reese Witherspoon

Complete explanation of the Iraq war in 7 seconds

February 26, 2010

Saw it on Cynical-C

Has anyone been reading Elif Batuman’s stuff in the New Yorker blog?

February 26, 2010

Is good. As the drama queen financial bloggers always like to say by way of commentary… offered without commentary:

Here (for intro)




There. I’m going out to buy her book this weekend, though I must continue my (fun) slog through Asimov’s Foundation trilogy before I can open it.

Great article on the Exile, Ames and Taibbi

February 25, 2010

Vanity Fair has a twisted article on the twisted paper that was the Exile. Matt Taibbi is honestly the best former Mongolian basketball player there is in the political reporting arena today. His main contribution to the article is throwing coffee in the reporter’s face for disliking his book. The rest of the article is great too. If you like it, Mark Ames and many of the rest, exiled from Russia, are in the U.S. putting the paper online as

Year’s oddest book title finalists announced

February 24, 2010

Britain’s auspicious Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year has six finalists:

  • Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
  • Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
  • Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots
  •  The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
  • What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?

A public vote will decide the winner this March. The victor will join the ranks of such prior winners as Bombproof Your Horse, Developments in Dairy Cow Breeding: New Opportunities to Widen the Use of Straw, and How to Avoid Huge Ships. I like that the judge for this award ensures the books are properly published (not just self-published online, etc), and that he tries to stray from books that were purposely titled to get into the running.

Book/lit news

February 23, 2010
  • Only as good as your sources: Recently published Hiroshima bombing book marred by imposter who claimed to have been on a plane, was source on at least 30 pages (Washington Post)
  • If you follow these simple but completely contradictory rules, I guarantee you will have a best-selling novels within two weeks. Just kidding, you still can’t write. The Guardian gets some big names to offer rules for writing, in two articles. One, Two. (saw it on Monkey See blog).
  • Two books on changing times in China, China 2.0 (equals good) and China’s Megatrends (equals “feeble attempt,” “creepy reading”) (Bloomberg News). I’m much more interested in Iran’s youth/technology situation right now, but the best place to find info on that is not a book
  • Neil Gaiman learns he loves Alabama and can’t understand why publishers have kept him away for 20 years (Neil’s Blog)
  • This is from last week, so won’t even bother finding a link to it, but did you see Cameron’s talking about writing an Avatar prequel book. Would go much more in-depth, and sounds like it sets the scene for a three-movie arc.
  • An interview with Margaret Atwood (Buffalo News)

Puppy haters

February 23, 2010

9 Iowa state senators and 22 state house reprezentors hate fluffy puppies. Just FYI regarding one of the biggest puppy mill states in the country.

Olympic Coast claims to be Avatar planet… oh noes.

February 23, 2010

Being Twilight’s home isn’t enough? Now they want to be Pandora? ‘Cause it’s green and mossy? Awareness campaigns are now under way to remind us that the Hoh Rainforest is also Dagobah, Endor and the real inspiration for Deliverance. Tell me again, what’s wrong with tourism based on nature, hiking and maybe a sasquatch shop?

There is precedence for this working, with a town in Iowa claiming to be Captain Kirk’s future birthplace and gaining both Trekkie and Trekker support (and creating a healthy tourism industry of people stopping to look at a small Star Trek ship then going to McDonald’s). However, in that case, Kirk was supposed to be from Iowa anyway. I’ll stick with the trees and camping, thanks.

Book store/book journalist drama

February 23, 2010

Funny dust-up in the  Seattle bookstore blogosphere wherein one bookstore owner is interviewed about Elliott Bay’s moving to the neighborhood and feces-throwing comments ensue.

The Stranger’s literature journalist starts posting and ranting  against the blog, which is bad form. You get your say when you buy your ink by the barrel; no need to go after a local blog with “Oh, and another thing, you spelled Barnes & Noble wrong.”

The winner is Kris, who aside from having a rad bookstore, makes the most sense. People act apologetic for the blog’s treatment of him, saying clips pulled from a long interview misrepresent him, but you should talk to the guy… just mention something like binding and see what kind of a fire you start. Dude knows his publishing and books.

For the record, I’m not one of the comment posters.

Textbooks your prof. can edit? Creepy

February 22, 2010

Not that a textbook is sacrosanct, but it is an authored work. Should your third-year associate professor be able to change the facts presented in a book created by, let’s face it, someone who knows more? According to the NY Times, Macmillan says yes.

While many publishers have offered customized print textbooks for years — allowing instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content from other publications or their own writing — DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher.

Profs get to create their syllabus, they choose what chapters to present and they can always present their own content. I may be a nerd—I strongly suspect this—but I’ve usually thought of a textbook as a second source beyond my professor. Some have written their own textbooks, and that’s great too, but I went in to every semester aware I could be taking a course from a tenured nut job. At least I’d have a second, professionally reviewed opinion. It’s not a wiki, and when a prof ‘updates’ it’s unlikely the only readers, the prof’s students, are going to have the knowledge base to challenge it. That’s why they are in the class.

Rewriting isn’t unheard of. When you read an article written by “Associated Press,” you are likely reading something originally published in a different newspaper, and the newspaper you are reading has (basically) rights to edit the article as it sees fit. On the whole there isn’t much editing, beyond maybe tinkering with a lede or editing a type-o, but it’s an accepted practice. So maybe I’m overreacting—I don’t think I am, but maybe.

Off the top of my head here are two fixes, neither of which solves the problem:

  1. A notice about the manner in which the professor has edited
  2. The text the professor edits is in a different color

Ralph Steadman’s The Joke’s Over tells the best

February 16, 2010

“Don’t write, Ralph. You’ll bring shame on your family.” HST.

A recent impulse buy was The Joke’s Over, Ralph Steadman’s account of his 35 years as Hunter S. Thompson’s best friend and most forgiving enemy. In past trips I had a healthy fear of treading through (what I believed to be) a non-writer’s lengthy book. I found my fears justified early into the book—it is somewhat uneven and often repetitious. But the middle portion settles into a pretty solid style, to be jarred apart by a messy ending that I would guess was written first.

That’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that Steadman has more to say, good and bad, about Thompson than anyone on the planet. And Steadman’s take on Thompson is very different from how Thompson chose to have himself perceived. For somewhat silently putting up with Thompson’s evil treatment for so long, while adding significantly to each stage of the twisted legend, Steadman deserves his long-delayed podium. Thompson ridiculed Steadman’s writing and his interests, and almost categorically ignored his non-gonzo artistic works. But Hunter also let him in on his deepest fears, and in his own way ensured Steadman knew he was his most ancient and trusted friend. This strikes me as an honest memoir, and one that sets important facts straight while adding color to the famous parts of Hunter’s life.

Steadman shows off his own brand of bad behavior. And the times Hunter’s greatness reflect through Steadman are the best parts. Steadman’s quotation of a sticky note left on an Owl Creek cabinet is the best passage in the book:

“…To show man the best that is in him; not the most appealing or the most amusing or even the most realistic – but the best, which is rare and common and understood by all of us in all our different ways … to include all the others – the meanest, the cheapest, the most cowardly – as a background and a foreground for something better … to dig in the old scum that covers us all and find something that might be a tool for a man who would use it to fashion his self-respect in a world where all those tools are buried or broken or illegal … and finally to tell it as it is, trying to see it all and especially the best, for to miss that part is to shovel shit on men who were born in quicksand and find no novelty in the heave and smell of doom.”

Hunter enjoyed showing the best. For himself that included a non-existent gun safety record. Steadman indulges in the many times Hunter nearly ended him.

February 16, 2010

Tech gadabout Paul Carr offers an entertaining, cynical perspective on the publishing industry and the MacMillan/Kindle pricing clash in particular. That it’s spewed out by the blogger to meet his 1000-word-a-week contractual obligation while he’s far behind on his book deadline adds to the charm. May his e-book be overpriced and his harcover book come with limited edition embossed bookmarks. Just kidding.

For the first time in the UK since 1997, and ever in the US, publishers are able to set ¿ and enforce- their own prices on ebooks. And they will; not to make a fair return on ebooks but rather to cripple their sales in order to protect early hardback book sales. They’ve admitted as much themselves, saying that prices will start high on hardback release, before dropping steadily over time.

The idea that this benefits anyone, least of all authors, is laughable. Every day, thousands more book lovers move to ebooks. These are people who devour books, and who are attracted by the convenience of getting new releases delivered instantly. Yes, there’s a chance that they’ll keep buying hardback books if ebooks go up in price. But now they’ve already invested in ereaders so there’s even more of a chance that they’ll simply turn to piracy to get their fix. It’s like if record labels had tried to encourage people to keep buying CDs by raising the price of mp3 downloads (or slapping restrictive DRM on them). All that would likely have done is drive even more people to Limewire.

Also, here’s another quote pulled out completely out of context because I like it better that way:

Much like the monarchy, Macmillan started life in Britain even though it’s now controlled by Germans.

Real Good Moments in Journalism

February 16, 2010

The New York Times announces the appearance of plagiarism in its ranks.

February 12, 2010

I didn’t have time to link this earlier in the week, but this enlightening op-ed, “Sucking the Quileute Dry,” summarizes the reason I constantly gripe about the Twilight fad. I actually didn’t know about the Nordstrom commercialization of Quileute ‘art’. You should see how poor the tribes of the Washington Coast are–they don’t need this. And if a cash-producing, Twilight-borne plague must fall on my favorite corner of the world, I would hope the Quileute and the other original residents could catch more than grief.

Love in the Time of Jurrasic Park: ‘mixing’ is plagiarism

February 12, 2010

The NY Times features an article on a 17-year-old German girl whose book has taken the country by Eragon-style storm, only to find herself caught in a plagiarism scandal. Helene Hegemann’s “Axolotl Roadkill” is on a best-seller list and is up for an award. This despite the fact that she was apparently caught making money by pulling portions of her book from other authors without their knowledge or permission. She prefers to call it “mixing.”

For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.

On Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category. And a member of the jury said Thursday that the panel had been aware of the plagiarism charges before they made their final selection.

She apparently made no effort to tell the reader she was sampling (different from when a DJ samples, which is A. a performance, and B. easy to see as sampling). After the fact, when caught, she had her excuses. And people are willing to take the excuses because she comes from a youth culture they are too old for but yearn to get jiggy with, and, in the hallowed words of Will Smith, “Parents just don’t understand.” The prize jury member quoted by NYTimes believes the plagiarism to be part of the concept of the book. Perhaps, but on the other hand, no. I guess I’ll submit my Nobel application for Love in the Time of Jurassic Park. I think her better argument would have been her book is satire. But rising consensus in Germany is that I am incorrect.

And here’s teh rationalization:

“There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

It’s all been said, it’s all been done. We might as well give up and copy almost entire pages from other authors, the authentic way. She’s young and a hipster; she must be right.

Axe Cop is my hero

February 10, 2010

By now everyone knows the hero of the masses who is Axe Cop. Axe Cop is what happens when a professional comic book designer hangs out with his five-year-old brother over Christmas–the five-year-old starts telling a story and the older brother listens, laughs, and starts drawing it. It’s the type of comic I haven’t seen since Calvin and Hobbes, and it makes me think maybe Bill Watterson pulled plotlines from playground conversations. (Sidenote–recent newspaper interview from reclusive Watterson here). Who knows, maybe Axe Cop’s the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.Axe Cop Shirt "Freeze" Black - Click Image to Close

A phrase you never hear: cautiously pessimistic

February 10, 2010

One market commentator (John Hussman) joked that he was “cautiously pessimistic” and I LOL’d like I hadn’t LOL’d all day.

One of the biggest BS financial catch phrases out there is “I’m cautiously optimistic.” It’s how people get to say, “I don’t actually know what’s going to happen but I’m going to opine anyway.” On television, you never hear finance talking heads say “I don’t know,” even if it’s about the weather two months from now. They have an opinion, albeit a “cautious” one. And they are prudent either way. The reason it’s always “optimistic” is simple: pessimists are by definition anticapitalist freedom haters not good television. The commentator is saying “I don’t know what the hell’s going to happen, but I’m a winner.”

Game|Life: Literary Classics that should be Videogames

February 9, 2010

Inspired by Electronic Arts’ new Dante’s Inferno videogame, Wired bloggers Game|Life suggest 10 other books that would make good videogames. Most are inspired: A Farewell to Arms would make an awesome Grand Theft/Call of Duty comeptitor and Kafka’s The Metamorphsis would be a fun Atari game. Some ideas are less so: Huckelberry Finn? I seem to remember a Tom Sawyer Nintendo game that was no fun, and they want to add a Toobin’-style sequence to it (equals bad). My suggestion is that literary tomes must be simplified, Disneyfied, actionized and explodizationized. It can’t just be War and Peace… that’s boring as a videogame: there’s plot. It must be Battletoads: War and Peace. Ernest Hemingway’s Punch Out. Or even Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, so long as the sensibility is cut out.

On profane literature and evolving tastes in censorship

February 9, 2010

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, an interesting opinion piece by NYU history professor Jonathan Zimmerman:

But all great literature offends someone. I can easily understand why Huck Finn makes African Americans uncomfortable (and I would hope it would make whites a bit nervous, too).

But I can’t understand why we need to shield our kids from these bad feelings. Why, oh why, must everybody feel good? Literature should make us squirm and sweat, because that’s when we really start to learn about the world, which is a messy and disquieting place.

So go ahead, get angry at these books. Yell, scream, and even curse if you want. Just don’t deny kids the same experience.

“Nervous” is not a strong enough word, as it should make all people sickened by the human proclivity for meanness, violence and hate, but I agree with the sentiment.

Barry Ritholtz on ‘bookonomics’

February 8, 2010

You hear the same complaints from musicians and authors–no one makes art for the money. For major label artists, the pay starts out bad and only gets better after a gold record or two. For indie label artists, I’ve heard the money only comes from touring. Try splitting $200-$500 a show among five people.

I’ve heard it’s similar for authors, though I’ve talked to far fewer writers with contracts (aside from professors). And apparently even when you write the best book on the bailouts and the bad behavior that preceded them, you don’t make much. Barry breaks it down here.