@tejucole’s Rule of Sevens

PEN/Hemingway-winning novelist and photographer and art historian Teju Cole participates in Twitter mostly through his “small fates,” small slices of life (and death), dead-pan reports of the criminal and macabre, usually from his native Nigeria. For example:

There is a politics to these expressions, but it is implicit. The conventions of the self-created genre and the limitations of the Twitter medium mean there’s no room for explicit point-making. When he wants to make a point unmistakably, well, he’s done it twice so it’s a trend: he uses seven tweets in sequence. Today he said: Continue reading

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Phylo: deeper gamification

It’s one thing to assign reward points for the completion of desired tasks. What Phylo does is much more impressive — create a mapping between game tasks and actually meaningful tasks so that completing the game task results in the completion of the actually meaningful task.

Probably a lot of cognitive work (especially repetitive and annoying work) can be reconfigured in this way, but the conversion is not as simple as “break into tasks, give out brownie points, profit.”

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Wireless gaming and driverless cars

Nintendo has had huge success with portable game consoles, having sold over a hundred million Gameboys, and over 150 million Nintendo DSes. But the latest entrants into this market, the Nintendo 3DS and the Playstation Vita, both launched to doom and gloom. When we ask,

Is there a future for portable gaming?

The conventional wisdom increasingly says: “No.” The culprit is mobile gaming — in particular, games on the iPhone and to a lesser extent the iPad and on Android phones. The iPhone generates a case like the following against picking up a portable game console from Nintendo or Sony:

  1. You have to carry a phone regardless. Carrying additional devices is annoying. Using your iPhone for games allows you to carry fewer devices.
  2. Games cost like $1 on iPhone. Games for 3DS and Vita still cost $30 or $40. So instead of buying a 3DS game, you can just buy 30 iPhone games and spend a few minutes with each, or throw out the ones you don’t like, etc. etc.
  3. Quick fun iPhone games are at least a decent substitute for anything you would want to play in a portable / mobile context. When you have time for bigger, meatier game experiences, you can just fire up your home PC / home console or whatever. Portable games consoles fill an in-between niche that’s not very important.

If any of these premises are vulnerable to attack, it is 3. An attack I haven’t seen elsewhere begins from the observation that portable games have always been, and continue to be, much more successful in Japan. I think a majority of Japanese households owned a Nintendo DS. The contrast to America is due at least in part to the different commuter cultures of the two countries. Japanese are more likely to live in cities where they commute by mass transit, are more likely to take trains between cities, etc., whereas Americans drive. A lot. A whole lot. The subway is great for portable gaming, but you shouldn’t try it while you’re driving.

These observations led me to the following crazy blue-sky idea: as self-driving cars become the norm in America, it will open up a whole lot more portable gaming time for people who used to be busy driving. We might then see a major revival of portable gaming in the US, instead of the usually-predicted decline. It depends on a lot of things, but the iPhonification of portable gaming may reverse itself yet.

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Do you need to know your TV to enjoy Family Guy? Why not?

Family Guy frequently makes reference to other TV shows as cultural touchstones. Last week’s episode has a joke about the skin colors of the cast of The Cosby Show. A frequent Family Guy opening gag has the family watching the TV while a parodic version of a real TV show plays. These parodies are often quite negative on the show portrayed. For example, in an episode from Season 2, the family watch a segment from Dharma and Greg, which is portrayed as vapid and stretching a stupid joke. I suspect there is lots of this kind of “intertextuality” in Family Guy, including a self-conscious stance on its position in the dialectic of sit coms about a family with an incompetent dad.

I may be missing a lot of this. I haven’t seen a lot of TV, and when Family Guy makes reference to some canonical show I have usually never seen it (possible exception: Law & Order).

Yet I still really like Family Guy, and in fact I think I like the TV parody segments quite a bit as well. These segments seem to be talking to someone who’s very TV-literate, but because of their negative tone and condescension, they also appeal to the TV-illiterate snob in me. I am left wondering which is the intended meaning / audience.

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Why does Language Log love “prescriptivism”? What does it even mean?

(My theory, which I posted on Metafilter a minute ago. NB I briefly discussed this topic w/ Sarang some time ago. I lost the exchange but he has probably influenced my views. Note also that there is a pretty good Language Log post on this subject.)

There is no prescriptivism. There is no descriptivism. These words don’t describe mutually exclusive opposed positions. If you try to define them rigorously you will not be able to cleanly distinguish them. I think we owe their vernacular ubiquity to the success of Language Log (note that I’m not claiming LL invented them).

“Prescriptivism” in particular is a kind of culture-war tag for a certain family of popular, non-professional language criticism, like “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or “The Elements of Style.” These works are often pedantic, and they often include stylistic pronouncements based on usage errors or false generalizations. Furthermore they often include a more-or-less explicit social conservatism (language was better in the good old days; it is okay to criticize poor people for deviating from Standard English). So the fit isn’t one-to-one, but I think it makes sense to think of “prescriptivism” as a label for a family of populist linguistic-conservate rhetoric.
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Paula Deen’s diabetes and theories of blame

Celeb chef Paula Deen has announced she has Type II diabetes, and become the spokesperson for a major diabetes drug. Apparently the backstory is that her food is extremely unhealthy. Do you buy this moral theory:

Whatever Bourdain’s personal faults, he is right as rain about how sleazy it is for Paula Deen to sponsor medical treatments for an ailment caused — not exclusively, but increasingly — by the same willfully self-destructive lifestyle she also sells on her Food Network shows and in her numerous cookbooks. The increase in type II diabetes incidence and increase in obesity rates is not accidental, and she makes money from both ends of this disease. That’s disgusting. (source)


I’m fat and I’ve never made a single one of Paula Deen’s recipes. Who do I get to blame?

Is the contention seriously that Deen is tricking people into cooking her recipes by claiming that they are healthy? And then profiting by marketing Diabetes drugs to the victims of her nefarious scheme to hide the fact that butter has fat in it.

To be less snarky, I do not believe that a single person in the entire United States watches Deen’s show and thinks, “Wow, that looks like such a healthy meal!” (source)

UPDATE: apparently her deal is building cheeseburgers with donuts or something and calling it traditional southern cuisine. Not sure if this is hyperbole. (FURTHER.)

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Some Games I Actually Played in 2011 (kinda)

At the end of 2010, I posted “10 Games I Actually Played in 2010,” and found it a useful summing-up. I decided to try again this year, but I couldn’t think of 10 Games I Actually Played in 2011. The list below is truncated accordingly. (And even so contains a bit of a fudge — I didn’t actually play Jamestown until 2012, except possibly the tutorial.)

Naturally, a top-10 list is right out. But I did get to play a bunch of excellent games last year. I recommend all of the below basically without reservation. Did I only play great games in 2011? Well no but what’s the point of listing every forgettable iOS skinner box I put a few minutes (or hours) into?

EDIT: added a game I had forgotten — Portal 2.
EDIT EDIT: added Bastion!

EDIT! (March 21): I can’t believe I forgot about the Tactics Ogre remake, a near-perfect game and my favorite last year. I can be kinda scatterbrained.
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Peanut Butter Scruples

Weird shit reminder from Metafilter:

The Peanut Butter Solution is a 1985 Canadian ‘family’ film about a boy who is scared bald trying to sneak into a burned house and cops a hairgrowth recipe from two ghosts. Then things get weird. See for yourself [google video, 90 min]
posted by mannequito (33 comments total) [add to favorites] 20 users marked this as a favorite [!]

When I was growing up, we knew a family that was deep into this movie. I may have been 10 or 11, the family had a daughter a few years older — the kind of age gap where her interest in you is purely oh-a-cute-kid but you can endure or ignore that for a chance to get close to the magic. I remember them calling it “Peanut Butter Scruples” — they may have had a hairy dog named “Scruples” whose fur looked like the magical growth from the movie. All I really remember is the hair, the name, and possibly some peanut butter.

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Greenwald on Paul, Obama and the hell of election seasons

Glenn Greenwald has this long harangue about the dumbness of the politically informed. I used to think Greenwald was shrill(!) and I suppose I still do but I increasingly agree with him, and if one feels onesself to be “in the wilderness” one may sympathize more with the lone voice shouting no matter how shrill.

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.

As Matt Stoller argued in a genuinely brilliant essay on the history of progressivism and the Democratic Party which I cannot recommend highly enough: “the anger [Paul] inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.” Ron Paul’s candidacy is a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception.

I think para 1 is inarguable while para 2 seems like a reach. The conclusion (and a nice litany of Obamian sins):
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Is This A Thing? (Fireworks in your home edition)

Last night at 4AM Steph and I were awoken by an explosive booming, loud as a gunshot but with the flapping aftershock of a fart. Then, a minute later, another. Then another. Somewhat terrified, we peered out the window, and as the next boom went off I saw a constellation of red lights flare briefly in a high window across the back lot. Fireworks.

I don’t actually know that the fireworks were going off inside — in fact, that seems insane. More likely, then, I saw them reflected in the window. Where were they actually? Somewhere on the roofs above me? I live in a nice neighborhood. Nocturnal explosions are a rarity. Yet here someone had loaded up on New Years ordnance, got excited a week early, and set them off somewhere while I was trying to sleep.

Is this a thing?

None of the neighborhood sites are reporting anything; this is not news I guess. Fucking annoying though and I hope it doesn’t become a regular occurrence. I read some messageboard traffic about similar happenings elsewhere.

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