Friday, October 30, 2009

Congressional 140

Congressional 140 aggregates tweets from members of Congress who use Twitter, and provides a snapshot of what's on their minds.  Here's something  from the "about" page:

From Reagan's diary to Truman's journal, Lincoln's notes, and Kennedy's scribbling we are fascinated with the inner most thoughts of our national leaders during times of intense political discourse and national change. We look towards the unvarnished, un-spinned, raw, and truthful thoughts of the elected officials we have chosen to represent us in our American Republic as having more interpretive value then the highly sanitized speeches, releases, and talking points that strip away substance in favor of non-offensiveness. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baker's Anthologist

I'm reading Nicholson Baker's "The Anthologist". Although he's one of my favorite writers, I have trouble with the cutesiness Baker occasionally indulges in -  e.g. in the Story of Nory (never got past the first 10 pages) and, to some extent, in the Anthologist's protagonist Paul Chowder, who says things like "I hope to gimbleflap" and "God, I wish I was a canoe." Some people find that sort of thing  "amiably whimsical", while others find it more or less, offputting. I'm in the latter camp, though I'm glad I resisted the urge to hurl the Anthologist with great force after the first 30 pages....I'm now on page 169, and enjoying it more, and there are certainly some wonderful Baker moments.

When my Anthologist arrived from Amazon, I discovered that I'd inadvertently ordered two copies.  I don't rate this among Baker's best books,  and don't particularly want to give the extra copy to a friend as an introduction to Baker. However, if you think you'd like to read the book, send your mailing address to petter at gmail dot com and I'll mail it to you (anywhere in the world). My little tribute to St.Nich.  I only have one extra copy, so first come first serve...  Sorry, it's been spoken for!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Excellent use of "costive"

The word "costive" was new to me - I was very delighted to discover it in this context: 

from Intermezzo:
His opening Scriabin selections were cleverly juxtaposed so that he was able to run them together without any breaks. Unfortunately, this served mainly to expose the limitations in his expressive range, bathing everything in the same rhapsodic impressionistic gloss. His posture - head flung back, costive grimace - seemed more a substitute for real engagement than an expression of it. 

Google document viewer

You can use Google Docs Viewer to generate a link for viewing documents online without leaving your browser. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ebooks libraries

A proposal from founder David Rothman;  How e-Books Could Smarten Up Kids and Stretch Library Dollars: A National Plan
(excerpt)...But suppose a well-stocked national digital library system existed for Americans of different ages, along with the means to encourage schoolchildren and others to use it. Among those benefiting:
Students at small colleges without big budgets for either paper or electronic books.
Workers who want to upgrade job skills.
The elderly. In the future many baby boomers may face challenges of their own -- the inability to drive to the public library or read books of normal type size.
People in cash-strapped library and school districts.

With cost-savings in mind, a city council member in Los Angeles is already advocating e-books. "I just believe that with technology moving forward, we could save a great deal of money in not having to buy thousands of books each year when they could be made available online," a news account quotes Councilman Bernard Parks. He's off on some details, but yes, if nothing else, libraries shell out big bucks to store and manage paper collections. "E" could automate plenty.

Writers and publishers who are suffering from slumping book sales and could well stand a little economic stimulus, in the spirit of the old Federal Writers Project.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New York Times custom feeds

Check out the new New York Times Custom Feeds tool. An easy to use interface for creating keyword RSS feeds.

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

I missed this one when it originally appeared in The Onion, but delighted to discover it in Steven Johnson's anthology "Best Technology Writing of 2009".

NYT most frequently looked up words

From Nieman Journalism Lab

Bookserver - disrtributed lending and vending over the Internet


The widespread success of digital reading devices has proven that the world is ready to read books on screens.

As the audience for digital books grows, we can evolve from an environment of single devices connected to single sources into a distributed system where readers can find books from sources across the Web to read on whatever device they have. Publishers are creating digital versions of their popular books, and the library community is creating digital archives of their printed collections. BookServer is an open system to find, buy, or borrow these books, just like we use an open system to find Web sites.

The BookServer is a growing open architecture for vending and lending digital books over the Internet. Built on open catalog and open book formats, the BookServer model allows a wide network of publishers, booksellers, libraries, and even authors to make their catalogs of books available directly to readers through their laptops, phones, netbooks, or dedicated reading devices. BookServer facilitates pay transactions, borrowing books from libraries, and downloading free, publicly accessible books.

Who Benefits?

Authors find wider distribution for their work.
Publishers both big and small can distribute books directly to readers.
Book sellers find new and larger audiences for their products.
Device makers can offer access to millions of books instantly.
Libraries can continue to loan books in the way that patrons expect.
Readers get universal access to all knowledge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Law.Gov "is an effort to create a report documenting exactly what it would take to create a distributed registry and repository of all primary legal materials in the United States.

By primary legal materials, we mean all materials that have the force of law and are part of the law-making process, including: briefs and opinions from the judiciary; reports, hearings, and laws from the legislative branch; and regulations, audits, grants, and other materials from the executive branch. Creating the system from open source software building blocks will allow states and municipalities to make their materials available as well."

I can help you

nice poster, via the Radical Patron

Motoko Rich on digital loans, and ebooks and the brain

Motoko Rich discusses the implications of ebook loans for libraries and a panel of experts* in the New York Times Room for Debate ask whether the brain likes ebooks.

*Alan Liu, English professor
Sandra Aamodt, author, “Welcome to Your Brain”
Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development
David Gelernter, computer scientist
Gloria Mark, professor of informatics

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Complete Review

If you're looking for a quick run-down of reviews of a new book, e.g. Ishiguro's short-story collection Nocturnes, The Complete Review is a very handy site. Here's an index of all the books currently under review at the Complete Review. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Article to video

Apropos of my my recent post about the transition from books to vooks and, ultimately, perhaps, the demise of text, I stumbled across something called the Article Video Robot. It takes tired old text and converts it to vibrant, compelling video. To try it out, I entered the text of a recent post here at Knowbodies about Wanting to want. See the ghastly end-product here.  Of course, some might object, what can you expect, with "garbage in, garbage out"? So I tried again with a bit of real poetry...Larkin's The Trees.   It didn't fare much better however...same lurid backdrop, same clumsy hybrid of spoken and written text, and same bass thumping in the background (Jaco P?). Sample it here (love that final message: "Philip Larkin is an 'Expert Author'  and a well known expert in the Arts-and-Entertainment field.")

To be fair, these "article to video" services are not intended for bloggers or  poets, but for article marketers (Article marketing - a genre new to me - "is a type of advertising in which businesses write short articles related to their respective industry").  But it's interesting to note that there are many such services - (just search for "article to video", e.g.,,  and they all seem to share the conviction that showing/telling is a more effective way of  getting a message across than writing. Is that necessarily true? Google seems to think so, and there is also a very compelling SEO rationale for marketers favoring video over text, explained with great urgency here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marcel and you

If you're the sensitive, introspective kind of person who has answers to questions like "When and where were you happiest" and "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?," you can fill out the same  questionnaire that Marcel Proust responded to when he was 14 and 20, and see how you measure up. Questions like those were all the rage in 19th century Parisian salons - as they are on Facebook today -  and during the past 16 years Vanity Fair has been "asking some of the most celebrated figures of our times to respond to this set of probing personal queries as a way of taking their psychic measure."  I despise questions like that, and am far too out of touch with myself to respond with any sincerity,  but gritted my teeth and forced my way through...and found that my responses most resemble those given by Allen Ginsberg, followed by Bill O'Reilly. ?


This is quite amazing...a taste of things to come

Sketch2Photo: Internet Image Montage from Tao Chen on Vimeo.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Compare state data with Datamasher

From the "about" page:
How do the States Compare? Mash up some government data to find out!
The Federal Government produces an immeasurable amount of data each day. DataMasher helps citizens have a little fun with those data by creating mashups to visualize them in different ways and see how states compare on important issues. Users can combine different data sets in interesting ways and create their own custom rankings of the states. Want to learn more? Watch this brief screencast.

Google translate

Google translate is an amazing suite of tools. Check out the resources here or read this recent article at Pandia for an overview. Note the neat drop down I've added to this page under "Translate this page!" in red over on the right.

Google squared, squared

Google squared was reviewed here a while ago, but today Google announced several important improvementsto the service. I built a square for "Norwegian American organizations" - not perfect, but still quite impressive! Try a search for something that lends itself to tabular presentation, e.g. "British composers," "marsupials," or "astronomers"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Want to be a respected scientist?

Although my publication in LRB was not everything I hoped it would be, it did nudge the old "perhaps I'm not just anybody, after all" nerve and whet my appetite for more recognition. With that in mind, I was very happy to stumble upon MIT's (no less!) Automatic CS Paper Generator. All you do is enter your own name along with the name of your co-scientists and MIT takes care of the content. Print it out as a handsome looking pdf, and off it goes to your favorite scientific journal for peer review. Ingenious, and what a time-saver!!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Swiss RapidShare is Pirate Bay for ebooks?

"Will books be Napsterized?" Randall Stross discusses an anticipated boom in e-book piracy that will accompany an anticipated boom in ebooks, and looks at the leading ebooks file-sharing site, Switzerland's RapidShare. I wonder - since this is a Swiss company - is there some way one could Napsterize the pharmaceutical industry? I keep thinking what a terrible shame it is that a great and noble idea like the Health Impact Fund doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

New Literary History of the United States

Harvard University Press has published  A New Literary History of the United States edited by Werner Sollors and Greil Marcus. This is not a conventional history of U.S. literature, but U.S. history as reflected in its literature, and much of its subject matter has been selected for historical significance rather than literary merit alone. A snippet from the WSJ review: “In this thousand-page's clear that nothing remains of the boundaries that traditionally separated literature, history and popular culture. The book comprises more than 200 essays on American life...In snapshots of a few thousand words each, the entries...put on display the exploring, tinkering and risk-taking that have contributed to the invention of America.. Major media reviews are gathered here, and this cool website provides generous samples from the book. Looks absolutely fascinating, and 3.7 pounds and 1128 pages for $32.97 from Amazon, that's got to be a bargain!

10 best reference sites

Best Free Reference Web Sites 2009, Eleventh Annual List, RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) 
This is an annual series initiated under the auspices of the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of ALA to recognize outstanding reference sites on the World Wide Web. View selection criteria.

Among the winners: (for complete list and more info on each site, visit the ALA page)

Title: The American Presidency Project

Title: BBC Country Profiles
Title: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Title: English Short Title Catalog
Title: ePodunk (TM)

Title: Lexicool

Saturday, October 3, 2009

MLA Language Map

A useful tool from MLA for anyone interested in distribution of languages in the U.S.: The MLA Language Map and its Data Center provide information about more than 47,000,000 people in the United States who speak languages other than English at home.

The Data Center now includes information from the 2005 American Community Survey, allowing for comparison between 2005 and 2000 data for 30 languages at national, regional, and state levels.

I checked Urdu, Scandinavian Languages, and German, and was surprised to find that the highest density by far for all three languages was in Los Angeles county?!

LRB and me

It would be churlish of me to complain about how a letter from little old me was published in the London Review of Books (my family and I, uncles and aunts included, have been out celebrating for days) but let me let you be the judge of LRB's editorial handiwork:

Here's what I wrote:

Mission possible

Michael Wood's wicked review of Mayer-Schonberger's Delete (LRB, 24 September) is great fun, and his description of the human predicament in the "digital age" - and other ages - is memorable: "Remembering things we would rather forget, and being remembered for them." Department of Homeland Security willing (probably not), there may now be a digital remedy for that problem; a team of scientists at the University of Washington have developed an intriguing system called "Vanish," that causes digital communications to self-destruct after a specified period of time. Needless to say, the implications could be enormous. Last I checked, the UW press release was still at

and here's what LRB published:

Digital Remedy

From Petter Næss

Michael Wood’s description of the human predicament in the ‘digital age’ – and other ages – is striking: ‘Remembering things we would rather forget and being remembered for them’ (LRB, 24 September). Department of Homeland Security willing (it probably won’t be), there may now be a digital remedy for that problem; a team of scientists at the University of Washington have developed an intriguing system called Vanish that causes digital communications to self-destruct after a specified period of time. Needless to say, the implications could be enormous. The last time I checked, the press release was still at http://

Was that necessary? "Striking" instead of "memorable" (it's about memory, get it?)? Is "(It_probably_won't_be_!)" an improvement on "(probably not)"? (come to think of it, just plain (not) would have been best.) "The last time I checked" is certainly more awkward than "Last I checked", but perhaps easier to understand for some readers. Oh well, move on. Gift horse. Mouth.

Gadzooks! Vooks! So long text!

Just as some of us were finally reconciling ourselves to the idea of ebooks, along come vooks! How could one not see them coming? The debate about -and resistance to - ebooks has pretty much been about their capacity to render linear text, with enthusiasts persuasively pointing out that they can not only do that but many other things we like to do with text as well - index, annotate, share, update, etc. But how quaint and cloistered that discussion now seems, given that human nature will surely not settle for text when it can have multimedia...will it? Vooks are currently a hybrid of text and video - one commenter at Amazon said the videos “add to the [book] experience in a big way.” Yeah right, in the same way that video added in a big way to silent movie captions...