Lust Affirmed

Oh, baby! Turns out that my geeky desire will be fulfilled when the iWorks package arrives today: according to MacInTouch, Pages saves files in an XML-=compliant format. W00t!

That outburst reminds me of a tired joke I heard at last summer’s Lilly educational technology conference, to which I thought of an alternate answer, viz.:

Q: What’s the difference between God and a technologist?
A: God doesn’t think he’s [sic] a technologist.

I realized, “And God sometimes answers prayers. . . .”

No There There

Here’s another time I think Dave Winer got it just right: “[T]here is no ‘the’ blogging community. So many people think they grok the wholeness of it, but are only looking at a small part.” We see this in big-media representations of blogging (over-simplified to “cats and politics” or “teenagers and dweebs”), but also in the recurrent effort to define blogging; most characterizations and definitions end up excluding [atypical, hence especially interesting] examples in order to establish an authorized, conventional set of data.

I would probably say that “the blogging community” exists, but is so thin an entity that once you nget past “sometime in the past year I’ve posted an entry in a weblog” there isn’t much “common” held by the community. It’s like “the community of English-speakers” — vast, and utterly diverse.

Generalizations about Blogaria fall into the same trap that besets moaning about A-lists and power laws. Sure — columnists and pundits can gaze bemusedly at the head and tail of the curve, at Glenn Reynolds and Josh Marshall, at “My Three Kitties” and “What I Had For Breakfast.” Yes, the closer one is to the “power” of the power law, the more you resemble the big media, the more familiar the star trip, the less interactivity possible. But Blogaria has a longer, thicker, more varied and intellectually richer tail than print and broadcast publishing. The elbow of the power law provides the sweet spot for online communication, and bloggers hit that elbow in so many different ways that they wind up defeating the noblest and best efforts to define, to characterize “the blogging community.”

(By the way, in this weird world I almost didn’t post this, in order to avoid the possible conclusion that I’m currying favor with Dave Winer by concurring with him twice in recent memory. After deliberating for a few seconds about how absurd the situation is, I went ahead because I thought the point was worth making. Often enough when I disagree with Dave (and that’s often enough, by all means), I doubt that there’s much to be gained by calling attention to the fact — and I can rest assured that plenty of other people have already ignited their flame-throwers. So, Dave, if the fact that I’m agreeing with you again inclines you to think more favorably about me, be sure to remember a topic on which we’ve argued, and factor that in.)

Don’t Blog Like My. . . .

Lately my days have filled up with obligations and infinitesimal gaps between them, so that there’s little productive to do in the cracks. I find myself getting to bed, weary and conscious that I’ll have to get up early next morning, and blogging has fallen off my radar altogether. I feel like Tom and Ray Magliozzi saying, “You’ve wasted another perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk. . . .”

I should acknowledge right away that some of the errands and obligations are my own doing, so I can’t moan at the world. Tonight, for instance, I voluntarily watched Road to Perdition. The family was suffering from Netflix Constipation: you know, the time when you have all three movies out, and you really want to see them, but just now you’d like something else, but you can’t get something else from Netflix till you return one of the three, which you can’t, because now isn’t the moment to watch those three movies, and so on. I had sent for three relatively somber movies, because (at the time) Margaret was away and Pippa had just been on a comedy spree; I felt I was clear to watch a couple serious flicks without upsetting anyone. But (as John Belushi used to say) “No – o – o – o – o – o. . . .” I got sidetracked for a couple of days, and Margaret came home, and she usually doesn’t like heavy movies as much as she likes light movies, and that goes double when her endocrine system is playing malignant games with her mood. So Road to Perdition, Gangs of New York, and Donnie Darko sat on the dining room table, waiting for someone to have mercy, watch them and send them back to their DVD homes. Pippa sat at the dining room table, thinking that those DVDs could be Austin Powers or Batman, if only Dad would send them back to Netflix so her choices could come. And of course, any day I could simply have mailed them back, and put them back into the queue for a later date — but that would be giving up.

Anyway, my notions about marriage have to wait another day.

Idea Shelf

This morning, I realized one aspect of Jürgen Habermas’s philosophy of communicative action that really bothers me. Habermas suggests that the tacit “intent to communicate” that every communicative action implies, obliges us to interpret those communications in concord with the latent intent. As I was doing my sit-ups this morning (sit-ups coming back easier than stationary-biking, my mind was clearer), I tried to connect Habermas to the general points I’ve tried to make about signifying practices in general; Habermasian arguments tend to play well among biblical scholars, so I’d do well to have a riposte in view.

What dawned on me is that Habermas tends to define signifying in terms of speaking/writing — to define all signifying in terms of verbal communication. Now, he doesn’t exclude non-verbal communication, but the thrust of his argument treats non-verbal communication as though it were a less-precise version of verbal communication, or a failed (or flawed) attempt at verbal communication. This tendency has bothered me from the time that I began to observe ways that ASL required that I think about hermeneutics in very different ways; this morning, it occurred to me that when a Habermasian approach treats the case of verbal communication as normative, it bootlegs in a variety of suppositions about interpretation that don’t necessarily apply to non-verbal communication. If I’m right in supposing that all we do signifies, and that we can’t control signification, then one can’t simply hold up verbal communication as paradigmatic. . . .too sleepy to finish. . . .

What Might Have Been

I fully intended to wrap up my musings about Christian marriage this evening, and to talk more about identity and ceremony — but Joi phoned me up to siphon me into his podcast on Self-Esteem.

I am, of course, sympathetic to Chris Locke’s bombastic denunciations of self-esteem as a cultural idol — though Joi wanted to explore the specific effects of a subject’s sense of his or her possibilities. What I know about this topic ran out after about forty-five seconds of conversation, but instead of hanging up on Joi, I grasped desperately for vaguely sensible angles on the topic. I don’t have the heart to listen tonight.

With BlogWalk Chicago coming up this weekend, and David Isenberg’s intriguing-looking Freedom To Connect get-together beckoning to me from the end of March, we may be in for even more hectic days than I anticipated.


My day’s crowded, so I’ll settle for quick links to (a) Helenann Hartley’s blog, where she reports that her examiners have recommended that she be awarded the Ph.D. (or “D.Phil., as they call it at Oxford) from Oxford (or “Oxon.”, as they call it when they give you a “D.Phil.”).

Congratulations, Helenann! W00t!

And (b) I’m fascinated by the suggestion being bruited about that DigID involve something called “Ceremonies” — Eric called my attention to it (showing that he teaches me not only about more than just hip-hop — but hey, dude, I’m not as “ancient” as all that), Kim “Laws of Digital Identity” Cameron invokes it, and Carl Ellison devised it in consultation with Jesse Walker (mp3 of Kim interviewing Carl here).

I’m fascinated, but the interview and blogposts give only a vague sketch of what a “ceremony” might mean in this context. It sounds promising — but I await further details before adding a vote-yes or vote-no tag to my links.

Acontextual Recommendation

Mac OS X users: I love Camera Helper, the one-trick memory-card downloader from Script Software. Since I prefer not to use iPhoto (its incomprehensible mandatory file storage system puts me off — I don’t dislike the interface or tools), Camera Helper saves me the multi-step work of detecting, downloading, and deleting image files from my camera. It doesn’t do anything else, but it’s handy to let Camera Helper do these errands.

Self Portrait


Originally uploaded by AKMA.

Pippa gave me this self-portrait yesterday evening, executed to correspond to one that Nate made long ago. Nate’s portrait included a frame with plastic toys glued on around the image; Pippa noticed the other day that they made a vaguely facial pattern themselves, picking up and reinforcing the depiction of Nate’s face. Evidently the idea of “eyes” on the frame stuck with her, as this features googly-eyes all around the frame, and Pippa’s eyes are likewise googly.

Field Trip

Jacqueline Kennedy

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

This afternoon, Philippa and I rolled down to the Field Museum to take in the Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit. Pippa is an avid student of biographies, and earlier she devoted particular attention to First Ladies. You may remember her Jackie Kennedy balloon at right (included a matching Jack on the reverse of the balloon). When she took out the library books on Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the librarian asked her whether she was going to the exhibit at the Field Museum. We hadn’t been aware that there would be such a thing, so the question became a provocation for this afternoon’s Field trip (so to speak).

We made it to the Field just in time for our 1:30 ticket pick-up (note of advice: Buy tickets in advance online. We coasted past a line that would have lasted a half-hour or so of standing in a winding queue near the chilly vestibule), though the signage for parking at the Field leaves a tremendous amount to be desired. We thus took a scenic tour of the promontory on which the museum, aquarium, and planetarium are situated, only eventually finding our way to the parking garage. Tickets for special exhibits such as this are exorbitant, though if you make it a doubleheader (“Jackie Kennedy and Machu Picchu! Such a deal!”) you save a lot over the cost of separate visits. We didn’t have the time and energy for that, so we contented ourselves with offering our organ donations to get into just the Jackie Kennedy exhibit, then wandering around the rest of the museum as Pippa’s spirit moved her.

The Kennedy exhibit touched me more than I anticipated. I have almost no interest in fashion history, so the array of hats and dresses blurred before my eyes. The letters, films, and memos, however, bespoke a personage of remarkable brilliance of a sort that has to a great extent faded from public awareness, to our impoverishment. Be it granted that the exhibit set out to cast Ms. Kennedy [Onassis] (and Jack) in the best possible light — the discourse of Presidency that the Kennedys enacted diverges sharply from recent presidencies, even though particular policy mistakes may fairly be compared back and forth. The overwhelming impression from the artifacts assembled here pointed toward a literacy and depth I have missed for decades.

In this context, Jacqueline’s cultural alertness, multi-lingual fluency, remarkable taste (not only in clothing, but the arts in general) evoked in me a pang of unexpected nostalgia, but even more profound admiration of this extraordinarily articulate, elegant, accomplished woman.

Her life of privilege certainly made possible opportunities and achievements to which she’d never have access had she been born with similar gifts in rural Appalachia. At the same time, the braying golden asses to whom the Tutor so relentlessly directs our attention represent only one of the fruits of aristocracy; and given the benefits of privilege, Jacqueline Kennedy seems not only not to have wasted them, but rather to have extended herself to make her advantages into benefits for everyone, the true noblesse exemplified by the philanthropists who hang around at GiftHub).

All that being said, boy! there were a lotta dresses. Pippa examined them carefully, read the descriptions (with designer, occasions on which JBK wore the dress, critical analysis of the design), attended to the film clips, soaked up the whole display. When we got home and she told Margaret what we’d seen, she freely supplied details and recounted anecdotes as though she’d been there.

Afterward, we strolled at length through the natural history displays (she gleefully spotted a family of moose, whom she associated with Margaret’s father, and of geese, which she claimed as her own totemic creatures). She surveyed the owls that her great-grandfather loved to etch, and studied the informational panels dedicated to Sue, the Field’s unique Tyrannosaurus Rex, with all the intensity that I used to indulge at the Peabody Museum.

Hidden Wisdom

After Jim McGee said such a kind thing about my Law of [Non-]Simplification, I have to spread around some of my new organizational-theory whuffie, pointing it at Merlin Mann. You may think Mann has all the whuffie anyone could need, with countless tech hipsters eating out of his folders, but as I was drowning myself in an RSS subscription backlog, I spotted a gem of a comment from him.

In response to a story about Apple picking up the tab for a reservation he and some friends made, Merlin notes that “Things like this make me feel they’ve got elves all over making smart micro-decisions. . . .” That’s it — “smart microdecisions”; that expresses in two words what I have always aimed at in administrative functioning. When you make smart microdecisions as an administrator, experience suggests to me that other people start making smart microdecisions, too. The administrative ecosystem begins to work in your favor, good sense starts showing up at the roots, and the tree flourishes. Now I have a phrase for it — thanks, Merlin.

Back To

I haven’t complained about my exercise regimen lately — for a subtly important reason. While Margaret was home in December, I fell out of the habit of exercising. Unfortunately, the internal somatic good-will built up by my commitment to health, vigor, and ascetical self-discipline did not carry me over through the holidays, so I lost much of the ground I had gained by the fall’s grueling exertions. Beginning today, I hope that I will resume regular enough exercise that I may end up complaining about it online again.

In the meantime, often as I have disagreed with Dave“Formerly Time’s Shadow, Now Groundhog Day” Rogers in the past, he makes some very strong points in response to David Weinberger on the world-liness of the web. (Speaking of Dave’s blog’s name, Pippa doesn’t remember having seen Groundhog Day, which means that in the near future we have the prospect of a delightful movie-watching evening.)

[Later:] And Jeff Ward, too.

Things to Figure Out

Relative to the Seabury site redesign, I just visited two of our site authors who use PCs, and discovered (to my dismay) that Explorer doesn’t like our two-column layout or the character entity (⊕) that I used as a dingbat . I now have to figure out what went wrong with the dimensions of the columns such that the left hand column gets pushed to the bottom, and I have to replace the character entities with some other thingy (I s’pose either a GIF or a plus sign).

I also want to be able to share with them the joys of newsreaders and blog entry clients, but I don’t know the best (and the free) PC applications in those categories. It looks as though Jeneane is having a good time with Qumana — I’ll investigate that for starters. It was very cool to be able to show them that Feedster already knew about Seabury’s RSS feed.

But first I have to fix the columns, sigh.