Last night, I posted on my blog this post about statements that have been falsely attributed to some famous person. I got some terrific responses, on the blog, FB, and Twitter, and now a magazine wants me to develop it into a longer essay. So I thought I’d post it here in the hopes of crowd-sourcing the essay. Do you have any experiences with the Wrongly Attributed Statement (WAS)? Any more elaborate or extended thoughts? [click to continue…]

Google Glass and the need for XU Design

by Kieran Healy on May 6, 2013

I was reminded this morning of an old Dotcom Era commercial from IBM. With some helpful prompting on Twitter, I eventually tracked it down. As you can see—pixelated video notwithstanding—IBM had some of the main concepts of Google Glass covered back in 2000, notably the clear presentation of the wearer as a jerk.

One of the standard jobs in software development these days is UX Design. User Experience covers “any aspect of a user’s experience with a given system … addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.” Products like Google Glass make it clear that we should formalize the development process further to include what we can call “Experience of User” or XU Design. The XU Designer’s job will be to assess and tweak how third parties experience the users of your product or service. Is the XU experience intrusive? Is it annoying? Do our product’s XU Metrics all point in the direction of “Christ, what an asshole?” As the XU specialty develops we can trace its history back to phenomena like people loudly using cellphones in public, or people talking to you while wearing headphones, and the various ways norms and tolerances developed for these practices, or failed to develop. Right now, though, it looks like Google Glass is shaping up to be the leading XU Design disaster of our time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to trademark the term XU Design and start a consulting company.

Gilman’s Claustrophobic West

by Lizardbreath on May 6, 2013

As an undiscerning, lowbrow reader, my reactions to books are heavily driven by plot; I expect competent prose, but what I’m usually looking for in genre fiction is a series of engaging events that wraps up neatly with a bow on the end. On the other hand, while both *The Half-Made World* and *The Rise Of Ransom City* are entertainingly written in terms of story and event, the structure of the setting is more interesting than anything that actually happens in either book.

The most obvious thing to be said about *The Half-Made World* and *The Rise Of Ransom City* is that they are fantasy Westerns, centered on a long-term war between the Line and the Gun: industrial totalitarianism against anarchic violence. The fantasy Western is a familiar setting for speculative fiction, from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to Firefly, but Gilman makes it unfamiliar by broadening the setting beyond the stylized frontier/gunman/saloon/dusty cattle-drive world of a TV Western to include a range of other aspects of the nineteenth century American West, and putting those aspects together in a way that is very alien to my sense of what the American West generally represents. [click to continue…]

Bournemouth Books & Coffee

by Maria on May 6, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about being in the south coast of England for a few months and wondered if any CT readers live here, too. It turns out some do!

So to commenters Sean, Billy, Kevin, James and anyone else (?), we have a meet-up. Tomorrow, Tuesday 6th at 1800 in Espresso Kitchen on The Triangle, there’ll be a highly informal gathering of a few people to maybe organise a book club or just have a coffee, cake and chat. It’ll be a BYO Book, i.e. bring one you’re interested in, reading or just can’t get along with for some show and tell.

I’m also bringing a couple I’ve read recently & am done with to see if they can find another home; Hollinghurst’s Stranger’s Child and Mohsin Hamid’s rather wonderful How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Finishing Stranger’s Child was a slog for the last few hundred pages, but the scenery was interesting. And by scenery I mean characters. But it is objectively a very good book, far above the faint praise that it is ‘beautifully written’. Which prompted me to wonder about when you do/don’t bother to finish a difficult book, especially given comments on Corey’s thread that have segued for some into a discussion on Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I gave it the full college try a year ago, and still managed only 200 pages. My efforts were heroic, and my will was strong. But still. Surely there’s more to it just liking or not liking a difficult book that is nonetheless interesting and worth the effort? Or is anything else just rationalisation of personal taste, anyway?

In the new issue of Jacobin

by Corey Robin on May 6, 2013

The latest issue of Jacobin came out the week before last. It’s already generating a lot of discussion and debate. Just a few highlights.

1.  Jonah Birch’s interview with NYU sociologist Vivek Chibber about Chibber’s new book on subaltern studies and postcolonialism theory has pissed a lot of people off.

Here’s Chibber:

A typical maneuver of postcolonial theorists is to say something like this: Marxism relies on abstract, universalizing categories. But for these categories to have traction, reality should look exactly like the abstract descriptions of capital, of workers, of the state, etc. But, say the postcolonial theorists, reality is so much more diverse. Workers wear such colorful clothes; they say prayers while working; capitalists consult astrologers — this doesn’t look like anything what Marx describes in Capital. So it must mean that the categories of capital aren’t really applicable here. The argument ends up being that any departure of concrete reality from the abstract descriptions of theory is a problem for the theory. But this is silly beyond words: it means that you can’t have theory. Why should it matter if capitalists consult astrologers as long as they are driven to make profits? Similarly, it doesn’t matter if workers pray on the shop floor as long as they work. This is all that the theory requires. It doesn’t say that cultural differences will disappear; it says that these differences don’t matter for the spread of capitalism, as long as agents obey the compulsions that capitalist structures place on them. I go to considerable lengths to explain this in the book. [click to continue…]