March 2015

  • Every few weeks it occurs to me that I haven’t checked Tumbler lately. I open the app, check out my stream, and invariably find something within seconds that’s great. Recently that took the form of this Yohji Yamamoto interview, where the conversation centers on fashion. But Yamamoto addresses tradition and conservatism in a fascinating and broadly applicable way:

    I simply cannot stand people’s tendency to become conservative. There’s always a move back to established conventions, otherwise upcoming waves would be soon categorized as common sense. Even the term avant-garde – avant-garde is now just a tiny fashion category. It became so cheap and pretentious. I hate it. But still, I strongly believe in the avant-garde spirit: to voice opposition to traditional values. It is not just a youthful sentiment; I live my life by it. Rebellion. You will only be able to oppose something and find something of your own after traveling the long road of tradition.

    This follows on from yesterday’s post on Albert Wenger’s definition of knowledge as “information that is reproduced by humans over time.” Together Wenger and Yamamoto have me wondering:

    What happens in eras when tradition and conservatism become the counter-culture? As Yamamoto points out, the genuine rebel is someone who has traveled “the long road of tradition.” At some point, a majority will have grown up in a time of counter-cultural rebellion. They’ll lack the experience, the “long road” of tradition. For them, the counter-culture is the tradition.

    I think those are times when conservatism or traditionalism become particularly valuable. I’m speaking in terms of cultural value, rather than the political meaning of those words.

    At some point, rebellion and the counter-culture risks obliterating knowledge. It risks suffocating a culture’s ability to “reproduce the information” about its past that can lead to an informed future.

    And this is why cultural conservation is valuable, because times of rebellion inevitably lead to times of peace. And those times call for craftsmen and builders more than iconoclasts.

  • Knowledge

    Albert Wenger writes:

    As our son reminded me the other day, the classical definition of knowledge, going as far back as Plato, are statements that are justified, true and believed. Each of those criteria though is problematic and lacks a clear meaning, despite the best efforts in epistemology. I have become enamored with a completely different approach that considers knowledge as the subset of information that is reproduced by humans over time.

    I agree with Joseph McBrayer that there are such things as moral facts. That said, Wenger’s idea of knowledge as “information we reproduce over time” is a really elegant approach.

    We generally agree on the idea of moral facts, of knowledge about the nature of human life that is objectivity true. This is why the United Nations can produce something like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But whether we’re conscious to the basis for human rights, in this instance, is an example of where Wenger’s knowledge-reproduction comes in.

    It might be a moral fact that we’re created equal, but our consciousness to it in any given time, place, and culture varies dramatically. Why? Because our knowledge of the moral facts that support the notion of equality might not have been “information reproduced over time.”

    Knowledge isn’t simply discovered and then perpetually passed along through time. Lots of knowledge becomes lost, and lots gets suppressed, etc. Wenger’s definition addresses this with precision.

  • Meerkat, more thoughts

    Since starting with Meerkat last week I’ve been using the service pretty extensively. I get the push notifications for friends and those I follow, and I tune in to a good number of them.

    I’m sure that won’t scale as the platform grows, but it’s fun for now and pretty fascinating. Some of the things Meerkat has let me be a part of in the past week:

    • friends on spring break drinking at Texas A&M in College Station, interviewing people about their favorite beers;
    • a 600+ person livestream from a wine bar in San Francisco that raised $1,000 toward a Charity:Water well for an African community;
    • Matt Mazzeo live streaming from Los Angeles in Runyon Canyon about a nonprofit cause and bringing me a view of the city on a Saturday morning;
    • joining some friends at a restaurant in Chicago and getting to be a wallflower listening in on their conversation and feeling a part of it;
    • watching the sun set on the Pacific from Venice Beach in Los Angeles

    Meerkat feels much more intimate, much more meaningful than other social media. It makes most podcasts feel either overproduced or stale.

    The experience tends to really suffer when streaming over mobile data. This could effectively kill Meerkat in its infancy, especially in its most potentially powerful use cases of streaming a concert, protest, revolution, etc.

    On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine an option to toggle between streaming audio/video could both expand Meerkat’s use cases and serve as a short term hack to solve low connectivity problems.

    In terms of monetization, it’s fascinating to think about “standard” live-and-it’s-gone Meerkat, and then a “subscription Meerkat” for professionals that lets them save/archive a certain number of streams per week.

  • Amazon Prime Now

    Amazon Prime Now

    Amazon Prime Now has been on my radar for a few weeks, and I had occasion to use it for the first time last night. Similar to Amazon Fresh, it’s a super rapid Amazon service that offers a limited selection from the Amazon catalogue for delivery in as little as an hour.

    Amazon Prime Now and Amazon Fresh differ somewhat, but are similar in that both are very limited geographically to just a few places, and even within Manhattan only a few zip codes. Mine happens to be one of them. Two other key differences: Amazon Prime Now minimum delivery order totals are $15 or more, whereas Amazon Fresh requires $50 or more in spending. Amazon Fresh is basically the grocery store, whereas Prime Now is everything from dried and preserved foods to video games and widgets.

    I ordered $18 worth of food like cereal, pretzels, noodles, etc. on Amazon Prime Now and accepted Amazon’s recommended $5 tip for the courier who would deliver the stuff. I ordered a bit past 7:30pm. Within about an hour I received a text notification. Less than 10 seconds after seeing that notification my doorbell rang, and the courier handed me my Amazon Prime Now order. I’ll be a repeat customer.

  • Selma

    President Obama delivered an extraordinary speech on Selma:

    Ben Casnocha describes this speech as “one of the best … on the American creed.” If speeches still moved Americans in the way they did a century or more ago, we would remember this one.

  • Bedrock culture

    Anne Snyder writing in Humane Pursuits with great insight that culture is our bedrock:

    I was on an airplane flying home to Houston a couple weeks back, and a guy who looked roughly like me in life stage, dress, and carriage struck up a conversation. He learned I was a writer by trade, learned I was interested in issues of class and inequality, and immediately launched this missile:

    “You know what makes all of us who we are, what shapes our lens on the world and expands or limits our life possibilities?
    Culture. Not skin colour, not money. In this country today, the cultures that form us are the cultures that define our futures.”

    My head snapped to attention. Here was someone thinking along more supple lines than the usual inequality voices.

    An example of culture as bedrock is how thoroughly the cultural concept of the Protestant Work Ethic still shapes American attitudes, despite Protestantism itself having evolved in fundamental ways.

    This reminds me of the concept of “diversity of thought,” which a friend of mine introduced me to years ago. In short, the concept that diversity can be a bedrock concept if it’s rooted in the strategic sense of one’s thought processes rather than the tactical sense of politics or appearance.

    I think of both culture and diversity as “ways of being,” and I think that’s also what Anne Snyder’s airline neighbor is speaking to.

  • Peace, the only duty

    When visiting my childhood home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania earlier this week I made a chance discovery. I was helping hang a print and went looking in the cellar for the hammer and nails. When downstairs a pile caught my eye. In it I discovered my grandfather’s Penn State 1948-49 junior year academic book. It’s still in decent condition nearly 65 years after graduation and 15 years after his death. It’s a treasure to me for a host of reasons.

    It also contains, as far as I can tell from a few DuckDuckGo searches, 19 of my grandfather’s poems. Little things he wrote as a 21 year-old who had seen a stint between high school and college in World War II’s Army Air Corps:

    The beating, beating, beating
    Of waves upon the wall,
    The loudly quiet ocean;
    I hear its tempting call.

    It calls me from monotony,
    From life’s dull, drab routine,
    With all its savage drumming
    And with its silver sheen.

    It calls me to a better life,
    Where all about is beauty —
    The sun, the sea, the stars,
    Peace, the only duty.

    13 Oct 1949

    This was written about five years before he bought his 30′ Tahiti ketch SKOAL and sailed across the Pacific. The photo with this post captures SKOAL on June 22, 1955 in the Pacific not far from Isla Isabela shorter after they had transited the Panama Canal.

    He had that “better life” with SKOAL under the sun, sea, and stars before shipwrecking in a storm in French Marquesas at Ua Huka’s Hane Bay.

  • Recovering the best

    I caught a Megabus from Philadelphia to New York earlier today. Glancing at Northern Jersey’s industrialized landscape at one point reminded my of a post I saved recently: “On Ugliness and the Hatred of New Building:”

    History shows us that people don’t object to new housing per se, they object when the houses are less beautiful than the natural landscape they have devoured.

    I like Graeco-Roman. I like Spanish Revival. I like Art Deco. I like modernism. I like architecture that’s rooted in tradition, but more to the point of the linked post I like architecture that evokes beauty and consideration. It continues:

    What seems like negative and entrenched NIMBYism is at heart an inarticulate, disguised but understandable plea for grace, elegance and a touch of grandeur.

    The answer isn’t to build replicas of Georgian crescents, let alone rows of canal-side Gothic palaces (any more than it would be an idea for someone who loved the English language to begin addressing strangers in Shakespearean dialect). The answer is to create housing developments in the best architectural idiom of our times, places like – for example – the exceptional Accordia housing scheme in the suburbs of Cambridge (to which, unsurprisingly, no one objected).

    Solving the housing crisis requires that we get better at grasping the nature of the problem we’re facing: the issue isn’t stubborn selfishness. It’s a longing for beauty. Crack that, and no one will mind the felled trees too much, and mortgages will come down too.

    Nostalgia often gets a bad rap, especially in architecture where it often becomes synonymous with drippy or indulgent sentamentalism. 

    What we forget about nostalgia is that at heart it’s a desire to recover the best parts of the past. Not every moment. But the most remarkable moments. 

    That spirit should guide our architecture too. Recovering the best aspects.

  • Meerkat

    About 48 hours ago I saw a reference to Meerkat somewhere on Twitter and grabbed the app. Meerkat is built atop Twitter and let’s anyone stream live video. Viewers from Twitter can start a conversation on your Meerkat stream that exists on Twitter. When you’re done your Meerkat stream you can save the video to your device if you want to upload it to YouTube, otherwise it’s gone.

    Since installing it I’ve gotten a bunch of push notifications for live streams from people on Twitter I’m following. Super interesting service, something that could be revolutionary for Twitter if acquired and integrated. Twitter stream is snackable, but it’s content is typically nutrient rich.

    Meerkat seems to contribute the missing element, which is to bring live streaming into the same place as text. It’s dead simple to Meerkat unselfconsciously, versus something like Livestream or recording a short Twitter video. It feels like it’s got longer legs than Snapchat in terms of live conversation and co-viewership.

    A recent example: I followed Musa Tariq on Twitter at some point, and then Meerkat let me know he was streaming so I tuned in. A spontaneous Twitter follow led through Meerkat to a more personal connection in the form of a short streaming session from Southern Pacific Brewing and later with Marvin Chow riffing on Meerkat where 150+ were watching. Fun.

    Too early to say where Meerkat goes, but it feels like it’s got incredible potential, especially in being able to schedule a Meerkat and create personal programming for friends and followers. It could also disrupt podcasts in an unexpected way, which are still so cumbersome to create. Still thinking through what that looks like.

    Here’s a screenshot from a Meerkat I did from Hudson Yards:

  • In many ways my experience of student broadcasting at Penn State was a life-defining one. I’ve stayed involved with the Penn State Alumni Association’s Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group because I want to be able to enhance the experiences of the next generations of students.

    A part of what made my experience so meaningful was being able to run the station with a sense of the people and events that came before me. The lessons of the successes, challenges, and failures of the past half century helped root my experience. At the time we took historical memory that was largely oral and personal and enshrined it in the station’s physical plant at the central studio and at the office. We hoped that by encountering that history upon entering and leaving the station, it would become a firmer part of the station’s institutional DNA and contribute meaningfully to the student experience.

    We learned in 2013 that the student broadcasters at The LION 90.7fm would be moving into a new, comprehensive broadcasting space as part of the HUB-Robeson Center’s 2015 expansion. The grand opening of that new broadcasting space is happening today.

    One of the things we knew we could contribute from the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group was the perpetuation of the history, albeit in a shorter and more traditional way. So we commissioned a small plaque and worked with the student leadership to have it placed in a place of prominence in the new space.

    I hope this plaque can function for many years to defeat some of the corrosive effects of transience and the attendant loss of perspective and memory that often alienates people from enjoying a meaningful sense of place.