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20 November 2009


Matins: Is Bob Cringely mad? His vision of the future, "Pictures in Our Heads" — well you can see where he's going. ("And the way we’ll shortly communicate with our devices, I predict, will be through our thoughts.") But it's the beginning of the entry that caught our eye. The power of Mr Cringely's assumption (with which we're ever more inclined to agree), that the iPhone/iTouch is today's seminal device, from which everything in the future will somehow flow, seems to mark a moment.

This seminal role for the iPhone is mainly by chance, I think.  Its success is deserved no more than it is undeserved.  The role could have fallen to Android or WebOS if they had been earlier or even to Windows Mobile if it had been a bit better.  Steve Jobs proved his luck again by dragging his feet just long enough to fall into the sweet spot for a whole new industry.  That’s not to say he can’t still blow it, but he has the advantage for now.

It’s important to understand just how quickly things are changing.  Part of this comes down to the hardware replacement cycle for these devices.  A PC generation is traditionally 18 months long and most of us are unwilling to be more than two generations behind, so we get a new desktop or notebook every 36 months.  Mobile devices don’t last that long, nor are they expected to.  The replacement cycle is 18 months, reinforced by customer contract terms that give us a new device every couple of years in return for staying a loyal customer.  Mobile hardware generations last nine months, and 18 tends to be the maximum time any of us use a single device.

Lauds: Isaac Butler outlines just how very hard it is to apportion praise and blame in the highly collaborative atmosphere of the theatre.

Discerning what was an actor's "responsibility" (or fault, depending) can often be nearly impossible. The words they are speaking are not their own, and the choices they make are guided by someone else. In the meantime, the director's work is shaped by what the actors bring to the performances, by the set design (which she has also helped shaped) etc. etc. and so forth. Everything overlaps on everything else.  My sound design choices for Meg's New Friend are both guided by Mark's input and help shape Mark's vision for what the transitions from scene to scene will look like, which in turn helps shape how the piece feels and how it moves and what its rhythms are, which in turn helps shape the actor's performance.  There's a kind of butterfly-in-China aspect to it, everything affects everything else.  Seldom, for example, will you read a review in which the costume design is discussed in terms of its impact on the actor's performances, yet in almost every show I've ever worked on in any capacity, the costume design is the last piece of the puzzle that helps shape who the character really is.

Mr Butler winds up by pointing out how much easier it is to judge the performance of a classic play, because one of the variables — the text, usually unfamiliar to premiere audiences — is taken out of the problem. (Parabasis; via Arts Journal and the Guardian)

Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses the "Sad State of CEO Replacement."

People have affairs for the same reason that boards love outsiders: the person you know extremely well seldom looks as good as the ones you don’t know as closely.  The inside candidates seem more available-and the social psychology of scarcity shows that we mostly want what we can’t have (case in point:  Stanford Business School.  If everyone could get in, no one would want to go;  because almost no one can get in, everyone wants to go).  Second, we know less about the outsiders, only their image and reputation.  Insiders’ flaws are evident from our close contact with them, so they look less like superheroes.

Most executive search firms-whose economic interests, let’s be clear, are in getting and completing searches, not necessarily in completing searches where the person hired actually is successful and stays for a long time-have little ability or interest in piercing the outsider’s mystique.

Is the typical board of directors a band of masochists in search of a dominator? The minute a self-assertive bully walks in, they tend to submit with rapture. (The Corner Office)

Tierce: Dave Bry is delighted to learn that the Milwaukee M12 2410-20 won a Popular Mechanics rating for Best Small Cordless Drill (or somesuch). Not that he's ever going to use one. (The Awl)

The only time I ever used a cordless drill—one that a contractor once bought, and charged me for, and so then left at my place—I mangled the door to my kid's room so badly, I had to hire a different contractor to come install a new one. I am not to touch machines like that. Why am I reading Popular Mechanics, then? Because they do their thing in a way that's accessible and enjoyable even to stupid sissies those less mechanically inclined.

Sext: Adam Gopnik addresses the evolution of cookbooks, from aides-mémoire intended for professionals to encyclopedias for novices, and beyond. Oakeshott and gender differences are dragged in. The recent fetish for exotic salts is explained.

The salt fetish has, I think, another and a deeper cause: we want to bond with the pro cooks. Most of what pro cooks have that home cooks don’t is what plantation owners used to have: high heat and lots of willing slaves. (The slaves seem happy, anyway, until they escape and write that testimonial, or start that cooking blog.) But the pro cooks also salt a lot more than feels right to an amateur home cook; both the late Bernard Loiseau and the Boston cook Barbara Lynch have confessed that hyper-seasoning, and, in particular, high salting, is a big part of what makes pro cooks’ food taste like pro cooks’ food. But the poor home cook, without hope of an eight-hundred-degree brick oven, and lucky if he can press-gang a ten-year-old into peeling carrots, can still salt hard, and so salt, its varieties and use, becomes a luxury replacement, a sign of seriousness even when you don’t have the real tools of seriousness at hand.

We disagree with a lot of what Mr Gopnik has to say — we did not master the art of French cooking because we thought that it was "an art uniquely worth mastering"; we wanted to cook à la française because we liked the results, and we still do — but it's fun to picture the writer stretched out in bed, reading cooking magazines, turning down the corners of promising pages. (The New Yorker)

Nones: Another winter of discontent for Europe? Yulia Tymoshenko is cooking with gas.

Ukraine announced on Wednesday that it would double the fees that Russia must pay to transport natural gas through Ukrainian territory to the rest of Europe, raising the possibility of a new feud between the countries that could lead to another disruption in the flow of gas this winter. The Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, said the increased revenue would be important for the country, which has been hit hard by the financial crisis. Ms. Tymoshenko, who presented her plan a day before she was to meet Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, said it would ensure stable supplies of gas.

"Ensure stable supplies of gas." Really? (NYT)

Vespers: Our favorite literary couples, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, sits for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We knew the basics:

Mr. Pevear, 66 years old, was born in Waltham, Mass., and initially translated works from French and Italian. His wife was born in Leningrad, Russia, and emigrated to Israel in 1973, where she lived for two years. The couple met in the United States in 1976 and married six years later. They've been translating books together since 1986.

Ms. Volokhonsky provides the first translation of each work, with running commentary on the author's style; her husband works from that draft to render his own version. They then confer and work on that text together. The couple is now finishing a translation of Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago," a novel that won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958.

But it's nice to have a bit of detail. (Who knew that Pasternak's style is "studied"?) (via The Second Pass)

Compline: At NewScientist, a slideshow taken from Christopher Payne's Asylum: Inside the closed World of State Mental Hospitals.

But asylums started out as philanthopic dreams, rather than psychiatric nightmares. The concept was born in the mid-1800s, when socially minded citizens, dismayed by the often dismal lot of the mentally unstable, paid for dozens of institutions to be constructed for their care. By 1880, 139 had been built in the US.

These were often palatial buildings, designed by prestigious architects, with vast landscaped grounds and impressive vistas. They were symbols of civic pride, just as museums and universities are today, and some became fixtures on the tourist trail. This vintage postcard shows part of the extensive gardens of Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.

The show, presumably like Mr Payne's book, ends on a guardedly positive note. (via  The Morning News)

Bon weekend à tous!

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