On a family Zoom last week, I found myself blurting “When the pandemic is over, everyone will forget what it was like, what we all went through. They’ll just ask, ‘Well, what have you accomplished in the last years?’”
I was speaking about professional, educational, or artistic accomplishments. I had a hunch that the kind of people who judge us for those things would forget the larger drama of these years, the weight and stress and loneliness and mourning that we all are going through. (And I write this with gratitude for everything I’ve been spared.)
Still, my blurt was probably harsh. I may only have put more stress on my family, being the voice of paranoia and excessive diligence.
Today I’m threading some sounds that have reached me recently.
It started with birds, what sounded like a hundred tiny beaks chirping as fast as they could on my window sill, about an hour before I needed to wake up. Under the lead of an assertive, entrepreneurial leader, they discovered warm air leaking from the side panels of my air conditioner and decided to pile themselves like a pyramid of cannon balls and celebrate with monosyllabic bursts that tested what’s left of my high frequency hearing. The urgency of each cheep – cross-talking each other like a row of machine guns firing at once – suggested they expected some reward of food, maybe a million tiny worms dangling from the beak of their overlord.
At least, that’s what I imagined.
After fifteen minutes or so, once they were sure I was awake, they either moved on to murder someone else’s morning or decided to go silent. I haven’t heard them since.
More often, since last October, we’ve been awakened by an end of days sound that makes our hundred-year-old house in Brooklyn vibrate like a centenarian on four shots of espresso.
Today I’m threading time. (That is, I’m realizing as I write this that these things can be connected.)
First, I saw Catherine Clifford’s piece on CNBC.com: “Why billionaire VC Marc Andreessen schedules every second of his day, including ‘critical’ free time.” Since the 90s, I’ve known Marc Andreessen is one of the smartest people in any room. I wondered if it would help me to schedule every day by the second, the way Marc (or his assistant) reportedly does, with healthy allowances for sleep, movies, and meditation. This weekend, I’ll try it. I already make appointments with myself at work, to force myself to move projects forward, on a much smaller, non-billionaire way. I doubt my schedule needs such a refined precision, though – no need to calibrate my shifts between scheduled activities in seconds.
And I saw Tijim Hubers’ post to the Science Humor group on Facebook: “Today’s date is both a palindrome and an ambigram, which means you can read the date from left to right, from right to left, and also upside down.”
Rest in peace, Harry Dean Stanton. Circa 1988, I worked the ticket booth at The Bottom Line Cabaret on weekends, during the day, while I was at NYU. Stick thin, long-haired little weirdo. One rainy day, the night’s band was loading in. Suddenly, in the little yellow ticket booth, Harry Dean was next to me at the counter. No big production – it was as if he had worked at the club for years. He was singing that night – I was instantly starstruck – but he seemed to want to see the world through my eyes. Maybe he was slightly nervous – wanted to take it all in. Cubbyholes with stacks of tickets, cash drawer. Phone with punch buttons for five lines. He was one of those few famous people who rather than project celebrity uplifted your own humanity. (Among all the other performers at the Bottom Line, Herbie Hancock and Al Kooper also visited me like this. I’ll never forget them – or Harry.)
In this TED video, Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon introduces Duolingo.com, a free online language tutorial site that (in the background) uses your quiz answers to help translate the web. Massive online collaboration.
Along the way, von Ahn explains reCAPTCHA – those two-word “type the mangled words to prove you’re a human” tests found on forms on Facebook, Ticketmaster, and many major sites.
Amazingly, in those tests, one word is from a digital book that computers couldn’t read – the OCR failed. So, when you fill out those reCAPTCHA forms, you’re helping to digitize books. (The other word is truly a test, to cross-check the digital book word.)
The video description:
After re-purposing CAPTCHA so each human-typed response helps digitize books, Luis von Ahn wondered how else to use small contributions by many on the Internet for greater good. In this talk, he shares how his ambitious new project, Duolingo, will help millions learn a new language while translating the Web quickly and accurately — all for free.
Medium.com is in beta launch, allowing posts from friends and family and inviting reader reactions via Twitter sign-ins.
The intro page describes it as a new platform for sharing stories and ideas. It’s longer-form than Twitter and organized into collections, by topic. So far, the design is very readable – gray-on-gray and all text (no ads or images).
I’m thinking it sounds like a giant shared blog, categorized by a core of editors … Like a wiki on human experiences?
With the founders’ track records at Blogger, Twitter, and other sites that revolutionized content generation and sharing, Medium is one to watch.
While it’s great that you can be a one-person media company, it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others. And in many ways, the web is still mimicking print concepts, while not even catching up to it in terms of layout, design, and clarity of experience. …
Medium is designed to allow people to choose the level of contribution they prefer. We know that most people, most of the time, will simply read and view content, which is fine. If they choose, they can click to indicate whether they think something is good, giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it.
Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into ‘collections,’ which are defined by a theme and a template.”
What’s lost is that experience of consuming one publisher’s meal – instead, we stream a mishmash of snacks.
That “page-based content” experience has value – editing and designing a publication is an art – but getting paid for that is more complex than ever. As Battelle enumerates, digital publishing has brought new complexities: Producing content for different screen sizes and content platforms while creating ads that can piggyback on each format and succeed for advertisers.It’s a daunting challenge, but Battelle is hopeful:
So far, we’ve written off magazines as dying, because we can’t figure out how to replicate their core value proposition in the digital world. But I’ve got a strong sense this is changing. Crazy publishing entrepreneurs, and even the big players in media, will sooner rather than later drive solutions that resolve our current dilemma. We’ll develop ads that travel with content, content management systems that allow us to automatically and natively drive our creations into the big platforms, and sensible business rules with the Big Guys that allow independent, groundbreaking publications to flourish again.