Adina Levin's weblog. Mostly for conversation about books I've been reading. Other stuff too.

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Monday, January 06, 2003

You'll find new blog entries at the BookBlog's new home.

The new site's on MovableType, with search, categories, integrated comments, and other goodies. This is exciting -- hopefully it will make it easier for people who are interested in some topics but not others to find what they like on the site.

Permalinks will continue to work here, but I've moved the archive to the new site as well.

Please update your blogroll and bookmarks; I'll see you there.

I hate moving in physical space. I remember being 7 or 8, moving houses in Philadelphia, and thinking that one's memories are encoded in the sights and smells of a particular place, and you lose an irretrievable part of your consciousness when you go.

Even moving blog addresses makes me a little sentimental, which is strange.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Compost Bin
Took a major life step today. I set up a green, 3 cubic yard coated-wire mesh compost bin, behind the wood fence that separates the gravel driveway from the side garden and deck. Many of the remaining leaf bags went into the compost bin. The rest of the leaf bags are out for pickup.

It seemed completely absurd to me to put the bags of leaves and clippings at the curb for recycling, and then head off to Home Depot to purchase a similar number of bags of mulch for the garden beds. Hence compost.

I still have no idea how long I will be in Austin. The compost bin might make it harder to sell the house. Might attract bugs and vermin. I might not be here long enough to use the resulting compost.

If worse comes to worse, I can hire a garden person to cart the pile of compost away, and put down a new layer of gravel. $100 max. Non fatal. Reversible.

I bought the house in part because I was tired of avoiding commitments because I don't know what the future holds.

Music: From Jerusalem to Cordoba
I heard these folks tonight at Casa de Luz.

From the promo email:

Music, chants, and texts from Mediterranean sacred traditions.

A musical voyage through history and spirituality.

Catherine Braslavsky, chant, drum, dulcimer;
Joseph Rowe, texts, oud, drums, tampura, mbira, Tibetan bowls.

Hildegard of Bingen, Gregorian chant, Troubadours, Ibn Arabi, Yehuda Halevi,
Judeo-Spanish, and original compositions

Braslavsky's beautiful voice
Musical illustration of cultural influences and differences in Christian, Arabic and Jewish songs from Andalusia
Cross-cultural themes of spiritual openness, in liturgical poetry by Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Ibn Arabi (Sufi)
Meditative atmosphere (also see not-as-good)

High seriousness. The performers strode onto the stage seriously, Rowe ringing a meditation bell. Rowe narrated the performance in * a * serious * performance * voice. There were Judeospanish and Arabic pieces that could have been celebratory. There were Sufi pieces that could have been done with more energy.

Western-european style. The vocals were beautiful, the instrumentals were fine accompaniment; they complemented the singer and created atmosphere without overshadowing the vocals. But the rhythms, phrasing, and tonality were westernized. This isn't a big complaint because it sounded good, and because cultural purity is exactly beside the point.

Uniformly meditative pace. Her specialty is Gregorian chant; he's studied with Hamza El Din, so it stands to reason.

The concert was held in a performance space of Casa de Luz, a local macrobiotic restaurant and community center. The average audience age was about 50; a central-Austin ex-hippie crowd. One can imagine such concerts being held at the estates of monarchs and nobles in Andalusia; this was good American pay-at-the-door democarcy.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Weblog clustering
The reason I get all all excited about weblog clustering is that the "winner-takes-most" aspect of the log scale graph is NOT what is most interesting about weblog networks.

If it were, then the net would be like network television -- a few top broadcasters, and an infinite number of passive viewers.

It's not. The weblog network is a mesh of communities with overlapping and shifting memberships; each subcommunity has its connectors and popular voices.

When we focus on identifying the "most central node" of the network, we turn a world with multiple centers into a hierarchy.

LOTR commentary
On Fellowship and Two Towers by Renee Perlmutter via Dorothea Salo.

Two interesting points about divergence from the books:
  • The book is overflowing with honor; the relevant scenes in the movie were exchanged with something else. In the book, Eomer makes his decision despite "the letter of the law", based on his judgement of Aragorn; Faramir does not hesitate for a second, faced with the temptation of the ring; Aragorn stays loyal to Arwen throughout the books - however tempted he is by Eowyn, he does not flirt with her, hug her, or give her false hope. And Merry and Pippin's resistance and courage...Gimli... the Ents.. all gone comic relief. Comic relief, a more comprehensible fare than honor, for how can persons choose the righteous cause unless they are persuaded or threatened or exiled, unless they have no other choice? They cannot, according to TT the movie. But we, who love the Indo-European epic, may know otherwise.

  • "It has SEXY ELVES. Elves are not supposed to be sexy. Magnificent, blindingly beautiful, frightening maybe; but not sexy."

  • Not to mention this priceless cartoon.

    Friday, January 03, 2003

    Ruta Maya wireless update
    On the subject of blogs reporting local trivia, the folks at Ruta Maya say they probably won't have wireless up and running until after SXSW -- they're working furiously to get their performance space ready for bands and crowds.

    City Blogs
    In a comment on the post below, Howard Greenstein refers to nycbloggers, a site that aggregates New York blogs. I love the map that locates NYC bloggers by proximity to subway stops.

    Relates to a conversation I was having with Peter Merholz about sites for local blogs, which he writes about here. One of Peter's insights is that blogs are a great way to report trivia that gets bypassed by traditional media: "I'd love to know that I ought to avoid the intersection of Sacramento and Oregon because there's a massive pothole."

    The comments to Peterme's post include links to other regional blog sites, including Los Angeles and the UK.

    Thursday, January 02, 2003

    Blog communities
    Ross Mayfield writes about some nifty work by Valdis Krebs to map the network of relationships at Ryze, an online business networking group, and the weblog tribe on Ryze.

    Here's some more analysis that would be really interesting:

    a) identify clusters of blogs -- blogs that share a number of blogroll blogs in common (first filter out the most popular blogs).

    b) use text analysis to identify the topics the clusters have in common by identifying words they use much more frequently than average.

    This would identify groups of New York bloggers, Java bloggers, warbloggers, etc. Groups wouldn't be mutually exclusive; lots of people would belong to more than one cluster. exports blogrolls in RSS and OPML format, so that might be a workable dataset. They have 6915 blogrolls with 108278 links.

    The math to do this is pretty far may not be that far over my head -- so this one goes out to the Lazyweb!

    Got a quick lesson and lots of pointers from Ed Vielmetti -- more neat stuff to learn.

    Wednesday, January 01, 2003

    How people use email
    From a comment to Mitch Kapor's Chandler weblog.


    1. People are more efficient when related messages are grouped together and the groups are in rough priority order.

    2. People want to be able to see all their "to-do" messages -- ones that they need to read, respond to, or act upon -- easily.

    3. (or maybe 2b). When a message has no more pending actions, people want to remove it from their list of "to-do" messages.

    4. People want to execute actions with one or fewer clicks.

    5. Old messages are a valuable resource.

    6. The faster and better a Search tool is, the less important it is to file messaages.

    7. Fuzzy-logic or "scoring" filters are much more accurate than the "sudden death" filters that most email clients now have.

    8. Most people won't customize their own setup, but are usually willing to import customizations that other people have made.

    9. Messages that are to you and only you are usually more important than messages where you're one of many recipients.

    10. Some people (e.g. customer service reps) answer the same questions over and over, but computers are not quite smart enough to be able to figure out which response is appropriate.

    and MORE

    Monday, December 30, 2002

    Vacation Reading #1 - Baudolino
    I took Umberto Eco's Baudolino to Seattle. The plot is like Woody Allen's Zelig set in 12/13th century Italy and Constantinople. An Italian peasant boy with a gift for languages and colorful lies becomes the protege of Frederick Babarossa, and is the behind-the-scenes creator of grail legends, the canonization of Charlemagne, counterfeit relics, and the mysterious letter from the mythical Prester John, king of a fantastic Eastern Kingdom, promising political support for the Byzantine emperor.

    What I liked: lively depiction of the historical period; the beauty and decadence of Constantinople (complete with detailed descriptions of Byzantine recipes, catacombs, and scupltures); the ribald life of Paris students; the crazily shifting politics of 12th c. Italy.

    Where I lost patience:
    * medieval disputation. The characters engage in long philosophical debates on the existence of a vacuum, the dimensions of Solomon's temple, the shape of the earth, with creative logic and little evidence. Eco creates a set of characters with convincingly medieval concerns which lose the attention of this modern reader.
    * kingdom of Prester John. The last third of the narrative tells the story of a pilgrimage beyond the River Sambatyon to the domain of Prester John, inhabited by unicorns, satyrs, giants, and a variety of other medieval monsters. At this point, the story veers off into allegory, shifting the balance between narrative and idea far enough (for me) to lose the human interest.

    Not sure about: a theme of the novel is the relationship between history and fiction, truth and lies. I need to reflect more about the book to decide what I think about Eco's treatment of the theme.

    Vacation Reading #2 - Samurai Boogie
    Hard-boiled detective novel set in contemporary depression Japan, by a British expat. Great atmospheric detail of Tokyo streets and lower-middle-class Japanese life. The theme of surface propriety and underlying corruption adapts wonderfully to a Japanese setting. The gender stereotypes of the genre -- clueless bourgeoises, canny whores -- fit better with Japanese society than with contemporary US.

    My favorite aspect of the book: how Mori the detective draws hidden information by using creative disguises and playing on people's instinctive respect and fear of authority.

    Have you read the book? Have you read the book and lived in Japan? What did you think?

    Weekend Reading #3: The Nanny Diaries
    The Nanny Diaries (you may have read it; I'm probably the last on the planet who hasn't) is written by two ex-nannies to the Manhattan socialite set.

    The novel portrays the struggles of a young nanny who cares for a poor little rich boy who is emotionally abandoned and rigidly programmed by narcissistic parents (the nursery school interviews, latin lessons, the "spatula move" where the mother deflects a hug and keeps the child off her clothing.) The nanny puts up with increasing hours without increasing pay, increasingly baroque shopping errands, and being berated for mistakes like getting the wrong brand of lavender water.

    Subplots: the nanny is caught in the middle of the dad's office affair, and pursues a "Harvard Hottie" of her own.

    The Amazon reviews follow one or more of the following paths:

    • glee at watching the very rich act worse than you and me
    • sympathy with the nanny for caring for Grayer though his parents are nasty people and bad employers
    • lack of sympathy with the nanny for accepting said working conditions
    • sympathy for children who grow up that way
    • appreciation for the novel's satirical comedy
    • disappointment at the unpolished writing style

    I enjoyed the picture of the hellish life under pearls and signed original artwork on the Upper East Side. I enjoyed the catty detail about
    • the absurd programmed lives of wealthy preschoolers

      Tuesday: 4-5pm: Swimming lesson at Asphalt Green, 90th Street and East End Avenue. One emaciated woman in a Chanel swimsuit and five nannies in muumuus all pleading with toddlers to "Get in the water."

    • the absurd lives of wealthy adults
      I'll need you to start assembling the following items for the gift bags: Annick Goutal soap; Piper Heidseick, small bottoe, Morocco leather travel picture frame, red or green; Mont Blanc pen--- small; LAVENDAR WATER

      Have you met Julio? Isn't he a genius? He is the tree [decorating] expert. You should see what he did at the Egglestons-- it was just breathaking

      ...the tower of cashmere sweaters, each one wrapped with tissue and individually stored in its own clear drawer...Each pair of panties, every bra, every stocking is individually packed in a Ziplock baggy and labeled: "Bra, Hanro, white," "Stockings, Fogal, black.
    • The army of paraprofessionals hired to guide the education of toddlers:
      "Do you play the Suzuki tapes?"
      "Only when he takes a bath"
      "Have you been reading to him from the Wall Street Journal? The Economist? The Finanical Times"?
      "What methodology are you following to dress him? And I suppose you are not documenting his choices with him on a closet diagram, nor are you having him translate his color and sizes into the Latin.
    The book isn't great art: I have no complaints about rapid writing, shallow characterization, and minor plot gaps.

    But I also felt like the books played rich people for cheap laughs.

    In contrast to her employers, our heroine has loving parents (schoolteacher and director of association of battered women's shelters); a creative, independent, doting grandma.

    But heartless parenting, relentless schedules, and narcissistic sex lives are characteristics of the downside of American culture at all income levels. The book lets readers get off the hook by attributing these traits to multi-millionaires.

    The nanny is loving and firm and playful with the kids. She also has a lot in common with her employers; she covets designer shoes, drinks too much, spends extra income on clothes and alcohol and then feels stuck in a horrible job for the money.

    The Harvard Hottie works for the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague; he isn't an investment banker. But he's obviously a catch for our young upwardly mobile heroine in the way the restaurant-owning son of a fellow nanny is obviously not.

    The social x-rays who employ our heroine scheme and sneak to get their men; use the men's money for status and luxuries; and then are at constant risk of social decline when their men move on to the next trophy. Our heroine may become as dependent on her HH for money and prestige as her employers.

    Wednesday, December 25, 2002

    I'm heading off to Seattle to spend time with the family. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a happy and peaceful Christmas. For everyone else in countries that take Christmas as a holiday, have a very merry vacation.

    Six months after moving into the house, I finally put mezuzahs on most of the doors (I put a mezuzah by the front door when I moved in). Mezuzahs are small cases holding a scroll of parchment with Torah verses. The custom is to place them on the right side of doorways heading into a room.

    Mezuzot on the doors are supposed to remind you of the presence of God and the commandments. Which sounds like it might be grim, but it isn't, it's joyful. For example, in each room, I tried to think about the different good things I would get to do in the rooms -- hospitality in the front room, cooking tasty food for guests and healthy food for me in the kitchen, study and reading in the library, enjoying the garden on the deck.

    The house has a LOT of doors. The entry way has an outside door and door to the enclosed porch. The kitchen opens onto the dining room and sitting room. The library opens onto the front room and the hall. The bedroom opens onto the hall and the deck. I have never needed this number of mezuzahs before.

    My parents very generously gave me a set of large, beautiful, expensive scrolls, along with a set of trasparent lucite holders with the world's worst industrial design. The bottom of the holders has a plastic plug that screws in, to keep the scroll clean and dry.

    The plug has holes drilled through it that are supposed to align with holes in the case when you rotate it to the right orientation. But the plug is not perforated all the way through. You need to bang a nail through 1/4" of hard plastic, while trying to keep the plug from sliding along the screw treads and misaligning the holes. Or try to drill through the plastic (same problems). Or simply unscrew the plug, put the nail through the holes in the case, and think about spiders nesting in your mezuzah cases.

    The mezuzah case I had put at the front door when I moved in was one that my friend Joan had given me. It was wood that she had carved herself. She had said that it was not protected, and shouldn't be used outdoors, but it was the only one that I thought I had (I actually found another one today), so I put it up temporarily when I moved in. Now it is discolored, and sitting in a closet shelf. Sorry Joan.

    Syndicating comments
    On an experimental MovableType weblog I've been playing with comments syndication. I would love to be able to subscribe to comments when I'm following a conversation, instead of manually pinging the weblog, and would be happy to syndicate comments feeds to others.

    So far the "comments syndication" examples I've seen from Bill Kearney and Phil Ringnalda have involved syndicating all of the comments for a given weblog.

    Instead I'd like to be able to syndicate and subscribe to a single conversation at a time -- isn't that how you particate in blogconversations?

    I'm still futzing with it, will let you know when and if something works.

    Tuesday, December 24, 2002

    Can we own our personal information?
    There's an intriguing article by Kevin Bedell over at the O'Reilly site suggesting that we trademark our personal information. If we get legal protection for our personal data, then we can charge others for using it and restrict others from using it.

    This sounds like an absolutely wonderful idea to me -- I always wondered why other have legal rights to our personal data and we don't.

    I'd love to see this idea batted around the blogosphere, vetted by the friendly lawyers, implemented in the lazyweb.

    weblogs and getting discovered
    follow up to a thread at the Austin bloggers meeting. Somebody at O'Reilly read Mark Pilgrim's blog and offered him a column at Where he wrote this transparently clear introduction to RSS.

    this post made me teary.

    Monday, December 23, 2002

    Politics and LOTR
    According to the New York Times, Viggo Mortenson, who plays Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, wore a "No Blood for Oil" t-shirt on the Charlie Rose talk show to make it clear that the movie wasn't US pro-war propaganda.

    When I watched the movie, I did think about the danger of portraying the enemy as absolute evil at a time when our government is using the meme - er, bluntly, and portraying enemy armies as zombies when we have technology that removes soldiers far from the act of killing.

    I hesitated to post this, since the political interpretations are more boring than the movie. The movie is fun as mythic fantasy; the idea of watching another movie in the series next time this year sounds promising at a time when the year ahead looks uncertain.

    Smart Mobs #2 - community errands list
    One of my favorite anecdotes in the book was about an errands marketplace.

    A group of researchers in Eugene, Oregon experimented with a digital version of the community errands list; in which mobile devices negotiate about sharing tasks such as picking up dry cleaning, buying stamps at the post office, picking up a book at the library.

    This is an academic research project, so it includes wearable computers using game-theory-based agent software to negotiate the exchange of tasks, using a system of points accounting for difficulty and distance.

    The algorithm may be overkill; one can imagine a simpler, pub-sub, hackable version of this whereby people publish their errand list, and others can click off tasks. Perhaps with an Ebay-like reputation system and security levels if the group gets big enough. Might work for a block association or co-housing group or apartment building.

    Smart Mobs #1
    The Smart Mobs in Howard Rheingold's book don't seem so smart.

    Swarms of people with mobile gizmos can mass to overthrow governments and on a smaller scale, co-ordinate dinner, or turnstile jumping, or soccer riots.

    A Smart Mob can take down a government, but can it govern? The Seattle protesters were nimble, but their platforms weren't that coherent (contrary opinions with pointers to cogent sources most welcome).

    What processes for thinking and co-ordination are required to make decentralized action really smart, not just co-ordinated and impulsive?

    Sunday, December 22, 2002

    The Two Towers
    Saw the Two Towers yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot.

    • The split personality of Gollum/Smeagol (even more effective in the movie)
    • The fact that the movie series gives the female characters more character than the books do.
    • Eowyn ought to be senior at Rohan when her brother cousin dies, her brother is exiled, and her father uncle is incapacitated; the book takes the medieval inheritance rules for granted, the movie sympathizes
    • As in the book, the bonding among the male characters (Frodo/Sam, Legolas/Gimli) (In the book, the heterosexual relationships weren't credible at all; they're better in the movie)
    • The New Zealand landscape
    • The ents (though their part is cut in the movie)
    • Characters that get unbearably prissy in the book (Aragorn, Frodo) are more bearable in the movie.
    • The dead marshes ("or Frodo goes down with the dead ones and lights little candles").
    • Creepy Nazgul (though creepier in the 1st movie).Given the good job with Gollum and the Nazgul, I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with Shelob.
    • The various elf-props (in the event of a water-landing, your elf-cloak will serve as a floatation device)
    • The strange and pleasant sensation of remembering events from the book as they happen in the movie
    • Most important -- the sense of being in another world (though the movie can't recapture the feeling of being fourteen years old, with a boring and subjectively miserable life, transported into a rich and complicated alternate universe.)

    Not as good:
    • The episodic pacing is tougher to make work in a movie (as in the book; cuts between moody Mordor-route scenes; complicated Helm's deep battle scenes, Merry/Pippin sublot scenes.)
    • As in the book the dialog has its clunky moments. After the first few minutes, though, I got caught up in the story and didn't notice so much.
    • Sauron/Mordor as Ultimate Evil. As in the book, not credible. The internal struggles of the flawed characters are much more interesting.

    Saturday, December 21, 2002

    Political blogging
    I didn't plan for this weblog to have quite as much political content as it does.

    My personal feelings about these issues come from the fact that my dad is a holocaust refugee. The holocaust was taught in school and I went through a phase of reading everything I could find on the subject when I was twelve and thirteen. I read about people whose world gradually slid from civilized life to dictatorship to utter horror.

    At that time, one of the questions that I had about approaching adulthood was -- if the place that I lived started sliding toward totalitarianism, would I be one of the people who spoke up, or would I be one of the people who kept silent until life became unbearable.

    When the government rounds up immigrants on excuses of incorrect paperwork, and is able to detain them indefinitely without evidence or trial, that rings very loud warning bells for me. When the government proposes systems and institutions to rummage through our private information, sifting for random evidence of wrongdoing, instead of doing careful police work, following up on leads, and getting warrants, I start feeling uneasy and afraid.

    I've had several conversations in the last week with people who prefer blog writing that is original, personal, and from the heart.

    I've been blogging the various government outrages this past week not particularly because I have anything original to say about them, but because this is one small thing that I can do to help make people aware. Also because I feel like I have to speak out, and this is one small place to speak. And because the mainstream media has started picking up on the top blog stories, this is one vote to move a story up the Daypop index, where the reporters who cover the zeitgeist will keep the story in the news.