ten recent good things

Deb Chachra’s book, How Infrastructure Works.

I think of these two systems, time and mapping, as the infrastructure for infrastructure. Their growth in extent and precision has paralleled and enabled the infrastructural networks that rely on them.

Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Flights.

The world is ready to be overturned – it’s only a convention that the floor is beneath our feet, while the ceiling is overhead, the body no longer belongs just to itself, but is instead a part of a live chain, a section of a living circle.

Episode 9 of Shōgun.

Accepting death isn’t surrender. Flowers are only flowers because they fall.

Jaqueline Novak’s Netflix special, Get On Your Knees.

I do have a sort of poetic sensibility I like to warn people about at the top of the show because I know it can be trying at times. I can’t help myself. Yeah, I used to write poetry in college. Like many, I gave it up. I grew tired. I grew tired of being in a constant state of enchantment. You know, just so many hours spent curled in windowsills, just the muscles cramping, the eyes drying out from all that wonderment, just… Every night seeing the moon as if for the first goddamn time. I just wanted to grow accustomed to the moon, you know? I wanted to take moonlight for granted, like other girls.

Ted Gioia on the MacGuffin, What Is Really Inside the Briefcase in ‘Pulp Fiction’?

The fun is in the pursuit, not its final object. But consider the unsettling implication: Hollywood heroes are really chasing nothing.

Robin Rendle, Longboarding.

Onboarding is the interface. All of it. Not just a check list or a flow or big dumb modals with fancy illustrations in them. Onboarding is every moment in the application. So every moment should be cared for.

Heather Cox Richardson, April 12, 2024.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, a federal fort built on an artificial island in Charleston Harbor. … Over the next four years, the Civil War would take more than 620,000 lives and cost the United States more than $5 billion. By 1865, two-thirds of the assessed value of southern wealth had evaporated; two-fifths of the livestock— horses and draft animals for tilling fields as well as pigs and sheep for food— were dead. Over half the region’s farm machinery had been destroyed, most factories were burned, and railroads were gone, either destroyed or worn out. But by the end of the conflagration, the institution of human enslavement as the central labor system for the American South was destroyed.

Amanda Petrusich, Maggie Rogers’s Journey from Viral Fame to Religious Studies.

Headlines are overblown by design, but her audience’s devotion—something akin to worship—was real. The tumult of the Trump Administration and the pandemic meant that Rogers’s fans, like everyone, were increasingly desperate for moral guidance. But Rogers was, too. “I was looking for answers, just the same as everybody else,” she said. “It was really jarring—people asking me for advice on suicide, or to perform marriages. I started to realize that there was this functional misalignment with the work that I had trained to do and the work that I was being asked to perform.”

Rosencrans Baldwin, Stillness.

Phones ping. Pots clatter. Every day has its heartbeats and hydraulics, and so do I. But to sit with them, feel them in my chest and know them better—a feeling of freedom grips me.

Brooks Reitz, A sauce for anything/everything.

Tonnato is a sauce made from canned tuna, lemon, olive oil, anchovies, and mayonnaise. It doesn’t jump off the page when you read “tuna sauce,” but it way overdelivers on the plate. It comes together in the food processor in minutes and should be deployed liberally on anything: raw veggies, hard boiled eggs, and grilled chicken being a few of my favorite vehicles.

r.i.p. richard serra

Richard Serra died this week. Coverage: Artsy, Artnet, NYT (Kimmelman), NYT (Smith).

Here’s Kimmelman on experiencing Serra’s “elliptical mazes of twisted Cor-Ten steel.”

I always found them to be serious fun. They concentrate the mind, stirring fear and anticipation, changing inch by inch, step by step. Serra magically transforms folded, tilting walls of rolled steel into what can almost resemble planes of melted wax. Passages, like caves or canyons, narrow and looming, suddenly open onto clearings.

Google Photos is getting pretty good – here’s a screenshot of the first bit of search results from all the Serras I’ve snapped over the years…

Richard Serra search in my Google Photos

The experience of disappearing into his mazes turned Serra’s sculptures into something remarkably human, almost in spite of their materials, their scale. This short piece from SFMOMA about the installation of his piece Sequence is a great reminder of how Serra’s sculptures bumped up against notions of time, decay, civic infrastructure, personal boundaries and visual perception.

pong wars, electoral college edition

I really love watching the random math of Pong Wars play out, but it felt like it needed some actual stakes. So I updated it for 2024.

2024 pong wars

torturing poets

Of course The New York Times sought out actual poets who would comment on the title of the upcoming Taylor Swift album, “The Tortured Poets Department.” Some loved it! Some were worried about the whole “tortured” typecasting thing! And one even likened Taylor to Wordsworth!

But this 35 word sentence towards the end of the piece floored me.

Some hoped that Ms. Swift’s next era would increase interest in American poetry, a precarious market for academics in real-life poetry departments — usually subsumed by English departments, which themselves face existential threats — across the country.

There’s a lot going on here. It kicks off with the classic indefinite subject (“Some”), and then pins a massive subordinate clause on “hoped” and then twists and turns through…the politics of academia?

My brain hurt trying to deconstruct it all, so I did what any diehard Swift fan / long lost English major would do: I went to Chat GPT and asked it to diagram this sentence.

Alas, GPT-4 was sort of cantankerous, and while it did a lovely job explaining different parts of grammar, it wasn’t terribly helpful in actually drawing anything.

While I can’t draw this visually here, imagine the main clause as the top line of your diagram, with each additional element branching off below it according to its function in the sentence. Each level of the diagram would represent a different layer of complexity within the sentence, from the main clause at the top to the most detailed modifiers and descriptive elements at the bottom.

OK! Yes! That’s what I was imagining!

For actual diagramming, drawing software or a pen and paper would be best to accurately represent these relationships visually.

Oh…OK, sure.

Thank goodness for the marketplace of ideas, because it turns out that Bard is an excellent sentence diagrammer. It spat out an ASCII representation of the sentence diagram in Reed-Kellogg format (full text here, image pasted below), as well as a very detailed description of what’s going on in this sentence.

Sentence Diagram

  • Main Clause: The main clause of the sentence is “Some hoped,” which establishes the basic subject-verb relationship. “Some” acts as the indefinite subject, and “hoped” is the past tense verb.
  • Subordinate Clause: The clause “that Ms. Swift’s next era would increase interest in American poetry” modifies the verb “hoped.” It functions as an adverbial clause, providing more context about the object of hope.
    • Subject: “Ms. Swift’s next era” acts as the subject of the subordinate clause. The possessive construction “Ms. Swift’s” indicates ownership of the “era.”
    • Verb: “Would increase” is the modal verb combined with the base verb “increase,” expressing a conditional possibility.
    • Object: “Interest in American poetry” is the direct object of the verb “increase.” The prepositional phrase “in American poetry” clarifies what is being increased.
  • Appositive Phrase: The phrase “a precarious market for academics in real-life poetry departments” serves as an appositive to “American poetry,” providing additional information and clarification about its nature.
    • Adjective: “Precarious” modifies “market,” describing its uncertain and unstable nature.
    • Prepositional Phrase: “For academics in real-life poetry departments” clarifies who is affected by the precariousness of the market.
      • Preposition: “For” indicates the beneficiaries or recipients of the precarious market.
      • Noun Phrase: “Academics in real-life poetry departments” specifies the group facing the precarious market conditions.
        • Noun: “Academics” refers to the people working in the field.
        • Prepositional Phrase: “In real-life poetry departments” restricts the type of academics to those specifically associated with poetry departments, excluding theoretical or purely literary-focused academics.
  • Participial Phrase: The phrase “usually subsumed by English departments” modifies “poetry departments,” providing further context about their status.
    • Participle: “Subsumed” is the past participle of the verb “subsume,” indicating an action that has already happened.
    • Prepositional Phrase: “By English departments” clarifies who is doing the subsuming.
  • Relative Clause: The clause “which themselves face existential threats” modifies “English departments,” adding another layer of information.
    • Subject: “English departments” acts as the subject of the relative clause.
    • Verb: “Face” is the present tense verb indicating an ongoing situation.
    • Object: “Existential threats” is the direct object of the verb “face.”
    • Reflexive Pronoun: “Themselves” emphasizes that the English departments are facing the threats directly.
  • Adverbial Phrase: The phrase “across the country” modifies the verb “increase,” specifying the geographical scope of the potential rise in interest.

I hope this more detailed explanation clarifies the sentence’s structure and the relationships between its parts!

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, tortured poets. April 19. Can’t wait.

bobby koons

Somehow I missed Andy Baio’s post from May of last year, The Unhinged Miniature World of Bobby Fingers. As usual I’m late to this party.

If you haven’t seen them before, Bobby Fingers makes elaborate 1:9 scale dioramas depicting embarrassing moments in the lives of famous men, showing off his talents in model-making with a range of techniques from Bronze Age wax casting to modern 3D laser scanning.

But I discovered Mr. Fingers’ work today, thanks to Kevin Kelly’s tip in Recomendo, who calls them “Dada YouTube.”

His long videos are masterpieces of meticulous art craftsmanship, elaborate prank puzzles, indie music, deadpan comedy, all disguised as one of the best maker tutorials I’ve ever seen. It is very hard to describe their obsessive weirdness and elegant absurdity.

Drunk Mel Gibson Arrest Diorama is the best place to start, but Michael Jackson on Fire Diorama deserves a spot in the contemporary canon alongside Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons

books finished, jan 2024

I’ve been reading a lot; here’s a ranked list of books I finished in January, with one pertient highlight pulled from each. Thank God for Readwise or I probably wouldn’t remember a thing.

The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality, by William Eggington

The soul or consciousness, in fact, is nothing but the unity of a sense of self over time, the bare fact that to perceive and then to articulate our perceptions something must connect from this very instant to another, and another after that. This connecting of disparate slices of space-time is a necessary condition of the possibility of knowing anything at all, but it is not itself a thing in space and time, a thing that survives our existence on Earth.

Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being, by Neil Theise

You are this body, and you are these molecules, and you are these atoms, and you are these quantum entities, and you are the quantum foam, and you are the energetic field of space-time, and, ultimately, you are the fundamental awareness out of which all these emerge, Planck moment by Planck moment. This very body and mind, this very heart and soul is the transcendent reality. It was never somewhere else, something we had to reach for or travel to; it was just this body in just this moment.

The Lights: Poems by Ben Lerner

Stop, I interrupted, just stop for a second, John, and listen. Listen to the wind in the birches, a stream of alephs, the room tone of the forest, sirens in the distance, folk music, unnecessary but sufficient. I personally need cities at night, clear glass pavement, impurities, writing paper, all forming together an immense patchwork curtain. I’m listening now, John, Jack, Josh, Josiah, James. Tell me what you need.

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond Productivity Culture, by Jenny Odell

The world is ending – but which world? Consider that many worlds have ended, just as many worlds have been born and are about to be born. Consider that there is nothing a priori about any of them. Just as a thought experiment, imagine that you were not born at the end of time, but actually at the exact right time, that you might grow up to be, as the poet Chen Chen writes, “a season from the planet / of planet-sized storms.” Hallucinate a scenario, hallucinate yourself in it. Then tell me what you see.

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America, by Heather Cox Richardson

The fundamental story of America is the constant struggle of all Americans, from all races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities, to make the belief that we are all created equal and have a right to have a say in our democracy come true. We are always in the process of creating “a more perfect union.”

Psych: The Story of the Human Mind, by Paul Bloom

Why would language make us better at thinking about other minds? The obvious theory is that engaging in linguistic communication conveys more and more information about the minds of other people. But a more radical theory is that it’s the structure of language that does the trick.70 The syntax of language allows for a superior understanding of how the world is seen by others.

The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism, by Kyle Chayka

How do you find a way to live the life that you are born with and stake out a space for yourself in the tumultuous present?