Friday, August 13, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Best Magazine Articles

Here's an excellent list of the greatest magazine articles of all time. I'm a huge fan of long form journalism, so this is right up my alley. Here's what I've read off of this list:

****** David Foster Wallace, "Federer As Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

***** David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

****** Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966.

** John Hersey, "Hiroshima." The New Yorker, August 31, 1946.

** John Updike, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." The New Yorker, October 22, 1960. About Ted Williams career framed by his last game. I read it every opening day without fail.

** Norman Mailer, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket." Esquire, November 1960.

** Tom Wolfe, "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" Esquire, March 1965.

****** Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966.

*** Hunter Thompson, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." Scanlan's Monthly, June 1970.

* Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Rolling Stone. Part I: November 11, 1971; Part II: November 25, 1971.

*** Richard Ben Cramer, "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" Esquire, June 1986.

* David Foster Wallace, "Ticket to the Fair." Harper's Magazine, July 1994.

** David Foster Wallace, "Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise." Harper's Magazine, January 1996.

*** David Foster Wallace, "The String Theory." Esquire, July 1996.

** David Foster Wallace, "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage." Harper's Magazine, April 2001. A tome to the politics of language.

***** David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

****** David Foster Wallace, "Federer As Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

** Gene Weingarten, "Pearls Before Breakfast." The Washington Post, Magazine, April 8, 2007. Joshua Bell is one of the world's greatest violinists. His instrument of choice is a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius. If he played it for spare change, incognito, outside a bustling Metro stop in Washington, would anyone notice?

* David Grann, "The Chameleon: The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin." The New Yorker, August 11, 2008.

** Michael Lewis, "The End." Portfolio, November 11, 2008. Breaks down supposedly complex economic cause and effect into very engaging, easily understood analysis. Real life characters as interesting and entertaining as the best fiction. A must.

** Michael Lewis, "Wall Street on the Tundra." Vanity Fair, April 2009. It's an in depth analysis of the financial collapse of Iceland. Excellent. There are some great one liners (this isn't actually one of them, but it'll give you the idea): "This in a country the size of Kentucky, but with fewer citizens than greater Peoria, Illinois. Peoria, Illinois, doesn’t have global financial institutions, or a university devoting itself to training many hundreds of financiers, or its own currency. And yet the world was taking Iceland seriously."

* Michael Lewis, "The Man Who Crashed the World." Vanity Fair, August 2009. About the collapse of AIG.

* Matt Taibbi, "Wall Street's Bailout Hustle." Rolling Stone, February 17, 2010.

* Michael Hastings, "The Runaway General." Rolling Stone, June 22, 2010. An entertaining read and because of impact it had on Army leadership it has become historically important.

I couldn't possibly recommend one of these pieces over another, so just start at the top and work your way down - this is great beach reading. Also, I know that there are more than a few all-time-greats missing from this list, so I'll have to give it some thought and write an update.

Also, I just realized how many of my posts contain the journalism tag. It looks like I've already written about several of the items on this list. Nice.

(via Kottke)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


There's nothing too remarkable about this dialogue between Gail Collins and David Brooks, but I really liked this little snippet from Collins:
Racially, the country is moving up to the next step and it would be silly to imagine we’d get there without conflict. In the future, the great divide is going to be class, post-racial class. Poor people are stuck, while everybody else moves up, whether they’re black, white or Hispanic. Not sure that’s something to brag about, but there we are.
I would argue that the "great divide" that Collins' speaks of has always existed. The problem is that there is absolutely no appropriate place in Western Society to discuss "class." Public discourse on race ranges from ignorant polemics to pseudointellectual fluff, but at least people discuss it. Talk about class and you're labeled a socialist or something. Lame. Anyway, this was something that one of my favorite professors said once and I never forgot it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Decision

Everyone's justifiably sick of talking about Lebron's idiotic television spectacle by now but the ESPN Ombudsman offers an interesting take. It's nice to read a thoughtful and original perspective that's not an emotional diatribe against contemporary sport, Lebron James, and where we went wrong as a society. There are many ways that we can read the news and watch television, either as a lazy, passive consumer of infotainment or as an active, intellectually curious citizen of the world. It's easy to see this dichotomy play out with regard to mainstream media, but this article reminds us that the foundational tenets of journalism operate in the realm of sports and entertainment as well (or at least they should).

Thanks to Brad for sending me the article (this post is just my email response to him).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Please wait until I've been dead for 100 years

Apparently Samuel Langhorne Clemens (pen name: Mark Twain), author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other giants of the American canon, demanded that his autobiography not be released until at least 100 years after his death. Well, since he kicked the bucket in April of 1910, publishers are preparing to release the first volume of his 500,000 word autobiography.

I'm not particulary interested in poring over 5000 pages of Twain's twaddle, but it's really interesting that he would make such a stipulation in his will. Anyway, he was interesting, candid, controversial and funny in his time, so I'm sure that his autobiography will not disappoint.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Banksy Gives Back

The most famous, and elusive, street artist in the world just gave a $320,000 painting to a British band for using their name, Exit Through The Gift Shop, as the title of his new documentary. Banksy apologized for unwittingly "stealing" their name and asked them if they wouldn't mind changing it. Exit Through the Gift Shop (the band) is now known as Brace Yourself. Seems like a fair trade.

Free Stickers from Obey

From the Obey Giant Facebook page:
Obey would like to give you some free Obey Human Rights Campaign stickers!

Send us a self addressed stamped LEGAL envelope to:

Obey Giant Art
C/O I want free stickers please
PO BOX 26897
LA, CA 90026

The Uniqlo Machine

I've been shopping at Uniqlo since I moved to NYC, and it's by far my favorite clothing store. I've often wondered how they produce such great stuff (excellent quality, style and cut) at such low prices (often the same or cheaper than places like H&M or The Gap). The answer, of course, is kaizen.
Uniqlo is a company that prescribes, records, and analyzes every activity undertaken by every employee, from Ahmed’s folding technique to the way advisers return charge cards to customers (Japanese style, with two hands and full eye contact). To some extent, management science is an element of all international companies, but Uniqlo’s obsession is more like a turbocharged version of kaizen, the Japanese concept that translates roughly as the continuous search for perfection. (Kaizen is often invoked in business schools when describing Toyota, though less so recently.) Uniqlo has a relatively flat power structure and encourages employees to suggest ideas for improving productivity. Experimentation, however, must go through the proper channels. There is a poster in every Uniqlo manager’s office outlining the Ten Accountabilities. No. 8 reads, As a store manager, always follow company direction. Do not work in your own way.
The article is interesting throughout. The discussion of Japanese management theory reminded me a lot of NUMMI, an automobile manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA that was a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. If such a partnership sounds odd, that's because it is. Check out one of my favorite episodes of This American Life for a fascinating story.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Meet Shepard Fairey

In the past year, my friend Adam Tracy and I have gotten to meet two of our favorite artists. Last October we got to chill with Chuck Close at his studio on Bond Street. This time, we got to watch Shepard Fairey work on the new mural at Bowery and Houston, then we got to meet him at the opening of his show at Deitch Projects, and then we kicked it at his after party in Chinatown. We also snagged a couple of signed prints.

And some more amazing news. When Adam asked Shep if he was planning to return to Providence anytime soon, he said that he'd be there in August to work on a mural with AS220. Adam's gonna try to get involved with the project somehow. What a weekend.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

I attended a premiere of the Banksy documentary in Williamsburg last night with a certain type of film in mind - I was pretty far off.

I had expected an exploration of the elusive and brilliant street artist, Banksy, including a chronicle of his works, techniques and philosophy. I also hoped for a good dose of my other favorite street artist, Shepard Fairey. Well, I got both, and then a whole lot more.

The film begins with the story of a quirky French immigrant named Thierry Guetta. Thierry is presented as a sort of bumbling fool - the narrator speaks whimsically about his childlike fascination with video cameras and his interviews are (intentionally) edited so that most of his statements devolve into repetitious gibberish. Thierry became obsessed with the street art subculture and began filming the likes of Invader and Shepard Fairey, while the most famous artist of them all, Banksy, remained shrouded in mystery. Through a series of coincidences, Thierry finally meets Banksy and earns his trust. Guetta amasses thousands and thousands of hours of video footage and his subjects reasonably assume that he is planning to create some sort of grand documentary about their work. As it turns out, Guetta is simply insane and has no intention of creating a film, or even using or labeling the footage - it just sits in storage in his garage.

At Banksy's urging, Guetta takes a stab at creating a documentary - the result is an abysmal, unwatchable movie. Banksy tells Guetta not to give up and to continue to pursue a art. Guetta changes his name to Mister Brainwash and embarks on an ambitious program to churn out a career's worth of pop art in just a few short months.

MBW (Mister Brainwash) sells all of his possessions, hires a crew of designers, builders and artists, and directs them in the production of his debut exhibition. He is starting from scratch. Brainwash turns out to be a mad genius of sorts - a master of hype and a savvy businessman, he essentially derives a formula for pop/street art success and executes it with great skill. In just a short time, he has created enough art, and more importantly, buzz, to launch his own highly successful show in LA. MBW blows up, makes a cool million dollars from the sale of his hastily produced art, and earns the ire of Shepard Fairey, Banksy and the rest of the street art scene in the process.

The film begins as a chronicle of the medium, but then flips to a takedown of Mister Brainwash. An interesting twist because the rise of Brainwash calls into question the nature of art, commercialism, pop culture, etc. Is MBW an artist? A savvy businessman? A delusional genius? Or all of the above?

I urge you to check out the film when it comes to your area. The movie is shot with terrific pacing and every interview is useful. Of course, the works on display by Shepard Fairey and Banksy are truly amazing - I have an even deeper admiration for them both.

Also, I waited in line a couple of months ago when Mister Brainwash's ICONS show opened in NYC. I was once the proud owner of two of his signed prints. Now I'm not so sure how I feel about them.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To The Limit

A New York Times blogger is going to be exploring the basics of calculus over the coming weeks. The first installment covers a proof of the approximation we call pi. If you feel like high school and college math passed you by, then take a look at this really simple explanation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day

By Haruki Murakami. It's the best short story I've read in a long while. Head on over to my friend Dustin's blog for the full text.
"...what matters is deciding in your heart to accept another person completely. When you do that, it is always the first time and the last."

Spring Photos

From The Big Picture: Signs of Spring 2010.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm Over Pandora

Although I listen to 6 or more hours of streaming music a day, and Pandora is still the go-to option for millions of users, I just don’t use it anymore. So what do I listen to while I work? Two things.

NPR Music

I love NPR for morning news (it’s my clock radio's default station) and its programming, especially This American Life and The Moth (subscribe to their weekly podcasts - you will not regret it). But if you dig around on their website, you’ll find that they offer dozens of amazing, commercial free stations of nearly every genre.

My pick: KEXP out of Seattle. I catch their morning show when I get in the office, and I might hear anything from Johnny Cash to Metric to Death Cab to KRS One to Sharon Jones. Not only do they feature a fantastic mix of indie and classic rock, but they also have a great catalog of live, in-studio performances.

Why is it better than Pandora?

Well, because Pandora’s catalog is actually quite small and although their predictive algorithm is fascinating (I even wrote about it), I don’t think it’s the best way to find new music. I get my recommendations from some very passionate DJs with years of experience and quirky yet sophisticated tastes. Also, there’s something to be said for the occasional 60 second interlude of banter, which provides a nice bookend for a three or four song set.

How do you listen?

You can go directly to KEXP’s website and begin streaming immediately (go to the Listen Now link on the top left of the page). If you want a change of pace, check out NPR’s music page and find a station that suits your interests.

Side note: I’d also recommend that you download VLC Media Player (an open source alternative to Windows Media Player), and use it stream music. Windows Media Player is terrible. Trust me, this is much better for music, videos, etc.

What if you want to hear a specific song or artist?

Are you not on the Grooveshark train yet? Go there immediately and start streaming artists and albums, or create a profile and share playlists and favorites. It’s fantastic, and if you really miss the suggestion feature of Pandora, then you can click on the radio button and Grooveshark with automatically add some tracks to your playlist.

If you work a desk job like I do, then give NPR Radio and Grooveshark a shot. They might make your day a little bit better.

Also, props to Dustin for turning me on to KEXP.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lost and Found

I was standing on the 4 train this morning listening to This American Life, when the doors opened at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall and a woman rushed by me to exit the train, pulling my iPod from my jacket pocket. I watched helplessly as it slid across the grimy floor, bounced onto the platform for a brief moment and then disappeared onto the tracks below.

I remained calm and thought about the MTA public service bulletins I've seen posted on the walls of subway cars. In effect, they say something like: "If you drop something on the tracks, don't be an idiot and try to get it yourself, just contact an MTA employee and we'll help you retrieve it." Makes perfect sense to me. I always wondered what types of people would jump six feet down onto the tracks under any circumstances. Well, a fellow passenger turned to me and said "You gonna get that?" and pointed to my iPod, which was perched atop a concrete slap directly underneath the edge of the platform. "You mean, jump down there?" I replied. "Yea man, why not?" he said. While the answer seems self evident, I just replied by saying "Um, naaaah."

So anyway, I headed over to the station operator and explained what happened and she sent somebody over to shine a flashlight on my iPod. "There it is. It's in a metal case so it's probably not broken. I drop it all the time" I explained. While my aluminum case nearly doubles the girth of my iPod and cancels out all of the aesthetic appeal of the device, it really has saved it from certain destruction at least a dozen times over the past couple of years. So I'm a very practical nerd, if nothing else.

The MTA employee explained that they are no longer allowed to go onto the tracks to retrieve items, so he would have to contact somebody from the "track services department." (This new policy probably has something to do with this incident from yesterday.) He said it might take a half hour or more before they arrived, so I decided to head over to my office and check back a little bit later. Sure enough, I came back around 11:30am and my iPod was waiting for me at the station booth, completely functional, and still on the same spot of This American Life that I had been listening to when it was ripped from my jacket during my morning commute.

So there you have it, a real life tale of a lost item on the NYC subway tracks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bicycle Routes Come to Google Maps

What better way to test it than to chart a course from Bristol to Providence, RI. You should be able to make the entire journey via the East Bay Bike Path. Voila!

A serious review of the new functionality can be found here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

United States Infrastructure Saddens Me

From the New York Times:
42: The number of high-speed rail lines recently opened or set to open by 2012 in China. By contrast, the United States hopes to build its first high-speed rail line by 2014, an 84-mile route in Florida linking Tampa and Orlando. How fast are the Chinese bullet trains? They average speeds of up to 215 miles an hour. The train that connects Guangzhou, the southern coastal manufacturing center, to Wuhan, in the interior, takes a little more than three hours to travel 664 miles, roughly the distance between Boston and southern Virginia.
I could travel from NYC to Providence in under an hour. Right now, it takes me almost four.

New Yorker Profile: Paul Krugman

A nice feature in the New Yorker begins as a fluff piece but eventually turns into a very lucid examination of contemporary economics. I particularly liked this explanation of "freshwater" versus "saltwater" economists, which I always thought was an interesting and convenient way to divide the field.
To some extent, this difference [micro vs. macro] also maps onto the divide between the “freshwater” and “saltwater” schools of thought in macroeconomics. Freshwater economists—who live near lakes, particularly at the University of Chicago, but also in Rochester and Minneapolis—are more likely to insist that macroeconomics be based on microeconomic foundations, which is to say that one should study large phenomena like recessions and inflation as functions of the behavior of many perfectly rational individuals. A freshwater economist might argue, for instance, that debt-financed government spending to stimulate the economy won’t have a significant effect, because people will realize that they will have to pay off that debt with higher taxes in the future, and so will save more in anticipation, leaving net spending essentially unchanged. Saltwater economists—who are to be found in coastal areas, especially at M.I.T., Harvard, and Berkeley—are more likely to allow that, at this stage of our understanding, it is excusable to study some macro phenomena without giving a complete account of their causal logic. Saltwater types are also more likely to include irrationality or other market imperfections in their models: they believe, for instance, that since it is clearly the case that prices do not fall immediately following a decline in demand but tend to be “sticky,” you should incorporate this fact, even if you haven’t yet got an account of why it should be so. It isn’t that freshwater types believe that actual people are perfectly rational—they just believe that making that assumption enables a more rigorous economics than is possible without it. After all, while there is only one way to be perfectly rational, there are an infinite number of ways to be irrational, and how do you choose? It all begins to look awfully arbitrary.
That last sentence does an excellent job summing up my frustration with the study of economics. Mapping out intersections of supply and demand curves can be satisfying for some, but those results always felt fraudulent to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P. Howard Zinn

I have very few all time favorites. When it comes to movies, television, food, vacations, and music – anything that could be the subject of a top ten list – I can never settle on a number one. However, I have known for over a decade that my favorite book is, and will remain, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. From the first time I read it as a freshman in high school, it changed me.

“History is written by the victors” is a cliché, often said with a sense of resignation and inevitability. Zinn chronicles the history of our nation from the perspective of those that do not typically have a voice – the factory worker, the soldier, the migrant laborer – and in doing so flips American history on its head. Columbus was a scoundrel, the Revolutionary War was fought for the benefit of landowning white men, and American incursions in Latin America were frequent and unjustified – all sacrilegious statements.

Zinn taught me to ask questions that wouldn’t have otherwise crossed my mind. He made me question my government, my education and myself. That is why A People’s History will never be displaced as my number one favorite book.

From the introduction of A People's History:
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott's army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America. And so on, to the limited extent that any one person however he or she strains, can "see" history from the standpoint of others.
In addition to his refreshingly radical viewpoint, Zinn was also a master of primary source material, letting the poor and downtrodden speak for themselves. He used beautiful poems, songs and letters to convey the defiance, heartbreak and resolve of the people’s movements he chronicled.

In college, I had the opportunity to see Mr. Zinn speak. I still remember how eloquent, wise and feisty he was. At 80+ years old, he was not on a farewell tour – he was intent on inspiring the next generation of grassroots activism. After his talk, I had the privilege of shaking his hand and asking him to sign my copy of A People’s History. I told him it was an honor to meet him.

Howard Zinn will always be my favorite author and A People’s History of the United States will always be my favorite book because I know what a profound impact it has had on my life. I’m far from perfect and my development is nowhere near complete, but I value intellectual curiosity and compassion above most other traits. This is what Howard Zinn taught me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Best Music of 2009 According to Music Bloggers

Don't let the indie rock heavy lineup intimidate you - there's some great stuff on there. Why not check out a few albums while you're at work? The streaming interface is excellent.

Here's the stuff I've listened to over the course of the year.

Kid Cudi • Man on the Moon: The End of Day
Monsters Of Folk • Monsters Of Folk
Mos Def • The Ecstatic
The Avett Brothers • I and Love and You
Wilco • Wilco (The Album)
St. Vincent • Actor
Pains of Being Pure at Heart • Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Passion Pit • Manners
Yeah Yeah Yeahs • It's Blitz!
The XX • XX
Dirty Projectors • Bitte Orca
Phoenix • Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Grizzly Bear • Veckatimest
Animal Collective • Merriweather Post Pavilion