Best efforts

Cory Doctorow forms an interesting analogy about dealing with the firehose of internet information flow:

There was a time when I could read the whole of Usenet — not just because I was a student looking for an excuse to avoid my assignments, but because Usenet was once tractable, readable by a single determined person. Today, I can’t even keep up with a single high-traffic message-board…. I’ve come to grips with this — with acquiring information on a probabilistic basis, instead of the old, deterministic, cover-to-cover approach I learned in the offline world.

It’s as though there’s a cognitive style built into TCP/IP. Just as the network only does best-effort delivery of packets, not worrying so much about the bits that fall on the floor, TCP/IP users also do best-effort sweeps of the Internet, focusing on learning from the good stuff they find, rather than lamenting the stuff they don’t have time to see.

In a lot of ways, I feel the same. Time was, I could be a completist about what I read and listened to: in college I bought every album released by Chicago (and after the first one, they were conveniently numbered) and I set myself the task of reading all the William Faulkner in print. Now, I am content to cherry-pick an author or a band. I really liked Graham Swift’s Last Orders, but I didn’t like his next book that I picked up, so I’m done.

Il miglior fabbro

Having recently chided a local reviewer, I think it’s appropriate to give some props to another local critic who does a damn fine job: Bob Mondello, who reviews for NPR’s All Things Considered and the Washington City Paper. Consider his recent write-up of two shows that I also viewed, 33 Variations and The Unmentionables.

Compared to my sketches, Mondello sees in sharper, more vivid colors; he chooses his words more precisely (prig, amanuensis, decency) without losing a conversational tone. Writing for both radio and print, he knows how to put a button on the end of a piece. He is one of the writers that I have to avoid reading before I see a show in hopes that I will appreciate a work and express myself without undue influence.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he and I agree on the merits of a lot of shows—these two, for instance. Granted, he has his formulas, but he makes them work (“Original? Well, not entirely.”) for him. His compact yet avuncular style works just as well on the air as on the page.

They live and work among us

In the course of tracking down a reference to a recent presentation he made on API design, I found the birding category of Elliotte Rusty Harold’s Mokka mit Schlag. He found the Western Reef Heron that’s been hanging around in Brooklyn, and thoughtfully included directions to one of the hot spots from the D train Bay-50th St station.

Not worried yet

Via The Morning News: Despite Anita Hamilton’s warnings, I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about the various services that scrape identifying personal information from the web. They do so poor a job of it, it’s not worth taking them seriously. ZoomInfo, for instance, knows of many different David Gorslines. What a career I have had, according to them: I’ve been employed by GFP Inc and by Birding magazine (I contributed one article); manager of an outfit called Stage; assistant director; squad leader (a particularly poorly-scraped page that had references to two different Daves); Member of the Advisory Board of WPA\C (I gave them some money); and, at some time in my life, I was Duke of Burgundy.

New creeps

Andrew Leonard is playing along with a Nigerian 419 scammer with a disturbing new angle: global warming. The correspondence from this crumbum “Zeeshan Ashraf” is alarmingly literate: I noted only one syntactic flaw, and he even managed the tricky affect/effect pair correctly. Still, as Leonard drily notes:

I find it a bit distressing that the original offer[s] of $610,000 for Individual and $950,000 for Corporate involvement have been knocked down to a paltry $250,000 and $500,000. Talk about your bait and switch! Now I’m not at all sure that I want to pursue this any further.

What year is this?

Wow. I reset the background color in my browser to something other than white, so that I could check that a GIF that a graphic artist had sent me actually had a transparent background. And now I find that at least two sites on my blogroll, as well as my bookmarking service Connotea, don’t bother to set white as the background color for their pages. Yuck!

Must try harder

Scott Rosenberg points out that Facebook’s categories of friendship are useful if you’re nineteen years old, but not so much if you’re a grownup. Here are the possible answers to “How do you know [this friend]?”

  • Lived together
  • Worked together
  • From an organization or team
  • Took a course together
  • From a summer / study abroad program
  • Went to school together
  • Traveled together
  • In my family
  • Through a friend
  • Through Facebook
  • Met randomly
  • We hooked up
  • We dated
  • I don’t even know this person

He’s absolutely right: a minute or two of doodling on my desk pad, and I came up with the following additional choices:

  • My neighbor
  • Through church/mosque/synagogue/temple/coven/…
  • We are in the same profession [we might be in the same “organization,” and we might not]
  • [This friend] is my lawyer/clergyman/doctor/accountant/child’s teacher/psychotherapist/taxidermist/…
  • I am [this friend’s] customer
  • [This friend] is my customer

And to be really useful, the information has to be even more specific than that. In my PDA Contacts app, I use one of the user-defined fields to keep track of what theater project I know somebody from. So that if I forget that I know Lori K. because she was the producer for Forum in 2001, my organizer won’t.