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Miamity, the update

miamity Remember Miamity? Of course you don’t. Back in 2005, Miamity was one of the first wave of Miami omniblogs. It was written by University of Miami student Kyle Munzenrieder (this was in the days before every college student had a blog or three), and had a kind of laid-back nonchalant snark that you’d still miss if you’d read it. (And you can!, thanks to the Wayback Machine, where all other links shall point.)

So, everything was going along just great, until sometime around November 15, 2009. Kyle posted a music video, written and produced largely by members of the Hurricanes, the UM football team, smartly titled Don’t Let Your Ho Go to the 7th Floor, which by all accounts is a downright catchy ode to a gangbang. The song was nothing new, but apparently the blog introduced it to a whole new batch of folks, and all hell proceeded to break loose. Highlights included national coverage, Kyle being summoned to the Dean’s office and leaving in handcuffs, Kyle posting a fake suicide notice on his blog, a front-page story in the Miami Herald (reprinted here), and Kyle being kicked out of school and living in some squalid off-campus apartment, unemployed and dejected. I’d highly recommend to investigate further, which you can do at the articles tagged ‘7th-floor-gate’ at Miamity (although you will not find the original post, which is deleted 4evah), and Critical Miami coverage of Miamity.

But my favorite part of the story jumps to the present, where we find our hero as the only blogger from the early Miami blogging scene to have successfully made the jump to bonafide (read: paid) journalism. He wrote a bit for Ignore Magazine. Sometime in 2008 he was hired by the Miami New Times, and he recently had a music feature published in ultra-glossy Miami Magazine.

I exchanged a couple of e-mails with Kyle recently, and asked him about his ongoing transition from blogging to “straight” journalism:

The major conflict I sometimes have, if only in my head, is that the blogging tends to be a lot more opinionated and off the cuff. Which could cause problems with more traditional journalism. Like, just as an example I’d love to sit down and pick someone like Marco Rubio’s brain, but I doubt with everything I’ve written about him online he’d let me.

You probably can’t catch Kyle on his new blog, because it also apprears abandoned, but you can find him on the twitter. Good show, eh?

Posted: Wednesday July 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


Are they serious? 2 Girls and a Cupcake is a real cupcake store (in Miami!)??? Do these people understand what they’re punning on?



iPhone notes

iphone I’ve had my iPhone less then a week. Here are some observations

Posted: Monday July 27, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


In Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch compares contemporary hip-hop battles to international diplomacy (Jay-Z is the parallel to American hegemony). (via)



A look at the new NPR website. Good enough! (via)



How the home page gets made (via). What’s interesting is that it’s — for now — not tailored to tracked user preferences. The ad you see on this blog are determined in part on the interests Google knows you’ve got, so why not the content of the NYT website homepage? If you’re known to search for clothes, why not push the fashion section? And etc., etc., etc.



The Grateful Dead

I’m not much of a Grateful Dead fan, so it’s hard for me to work up a case for the Grateful Dead being the American band of the 20th century, despite the fact that the case that is there to be made. Let me sketch it, so that others might come along and flesh it out.

The Grateful Dead produced a massive body of work during their heyday, from the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. But their live performances were always much more important then their recorded work; this is the band that re-invented what a concert tour was, and how fans would relate to it. They criss-crossed the nation (and the world), performing hundreds of shows every year, such that anyone with even a passing interest got to see them preform live. And attendance to a Dead concert was not like anything else — it was to be sucked into a world of people seemingly living a lifestyle outside the mainstream. A virtual city of fans followed the band from city to city. To attend a concert was to become immersed in the Grateful Dead; it was never a casual experience.

But the real relevance of their music comes not from the fans deep commitment, but from the music itself. It had a depth that is seldom matched, and a breadth that probably never can be. Consider: the Grateful Dead were a touchstone of the counter-revolution, the massive upheaval of culturally and politically aware music that swept over the country in the late 1960s. They regularly explored the extreme strains of psychedelia, playing LSD-inspired music inspired by the most avant-garde of late-20th century atonal composers. Yet they just as easily embodied the most populist music. And they reached not just forward, but back in time. The Dead may be associated with trippy jams, but they were always equally at home playing protest folk, country, rock, bluegrass, rockabilly, and blues. That, my friends, is just about the full spectrum of 20th century music.

But it’s not just that they played is all — it’s that they made it all sound as though it were coming from the same cloth. Anyone (maybe) can play a punk song followed by a bluegrass song. But to make them sound like they’re the same thing is something else — it’s a gift that the Grateful Dead has not been sufficiently recognized for.

They are a band that is intensely loved by it’s still considerable fan base, but not sufficiently appreciated by the public at large. Perhaps it’s because of the synthesis they brought to all their music — their rock always had a foot in country, and their MOR always had that touch of psychedelia — that made it difficult for them to get consistent radio airplay. But as popular as they remain, it’s not incorrect to call the Dead underrated, because they deserve to be cherished by all Americans as a band that helped tie together our culture, and to make us appreciate that all things exist on a continuum, dude.

Posted: Wednesday July 22, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


If extraterrestrial civilizations are monitoring our TV broadcasts, then this is what they are currently watching. (via)



You should be angry about how much text messages cost, even though it’s only 20 cents per. And now, a telling detail from an article about teen texting habits: when reality shows like American Idol do voting by SMS, the phone companies split the revenue with the TV network! Update: David Pogue.



“This particular ‘nativeass’ was encountered in the Bahamas when Robert asked our taxi driver the one thing all white people ask their Bahamian taxi drivers, ‘Show us the REAL island.’ This request, though not original in the least, always results in some pretty interesting shit.”



Melbourne Theatre Company

The Melbourne Theatre Company’s new building is spectacular. (via)



I told you people about the diet soda. Just drink beer. (via)



The list of 61 essential postmodern reads gives points for: • author is a character • self-contradicting plot • disrupts/plays with form • comments on its own bookishness • plays with language • includes fictional artifacts such as letters • blurs reality and fiction • includes historical falsehoods • overtly references other fictional works • more than 1000/less than 200 pages • postmodern progenitor. Nice, but where is Special Topics in Calamity Physics? (via)



Weekendly clickables XIV

Posted: Monday July 20, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Is the space program a massive waste of money?

space! NicFitKid asks, “Is your beef with the shuttle program, or with manned spaceflight in general?”

Well, I mostly think that both the space shuttle and manned spaceflight the space program in general are super cool, but I do not trust my reasons, with what them (the reasons) hinging entirely too much on little-boy “wow” appeal. Meanwhile, when you look at the costs involved your mind really does reel (even putting aside “you could feed X hungry children” lines of argument, which strike me as naive).

Said reeling is particularly vivid as pertains to the space shuttle program; it was supposed to be a more-cost effective (reused vehicle = recycling) way to get to space, the costs end up averaging out to $1.3 billion per flight.

Same goes for just about everything NASA does, right? You wonder just where the money’s going, and can’t help but think that this could all be done a heck of a lot cheaper. And maybe it can, but probably not without making the program even less safe, and anyway, don’t the costs of all large-scale projects seem impossible to wrap head around? (Maybe not?: quick, how much would you guess that the Hoover Dam cost to build in today’s dollars? Here’s the answer, which I found surprisingly low.)

NASA’s budget over its 50-year history has averaged 1.23% of the federal budget, though it’s been under 1% since the early 1990’s. It’s .55% of the 2009 budget, or about $17.2 billion. In the 1960’s, while the Apollo program was being developed, it spiked to 5.5% of the budget, over $33 billion (these dollar figures are in 2007 dollars).

So, what have we gotten for this money, other than the undeniable fun of watching it all slowly, slowly unfold? Well, precious little actually. There are some scientifically useful things, e.g. the Hubble space telescope. And there is the list of advances that came about as by-products of getting stuff into space. Lots of useful stuff on that list, but it all could — and probably would — have been developed (and much cheaper) outside the context of a space program. Scientific experiments done in space mostly consist of testing the effects of weightlessness on various things. The results are rarely particularly interesting, and in any case almost completely useless to us here on earth.

One day, maybe, we’ll be a space-going civilization. The argument that we should be working towards that holds some water. Yet I wonder if the challenges of going into space wouldn’t be better tackled later, when advances from pure science and other scientific endeavors make them far easier to solve. We weigh the money it would cost to work this stuff out later not just against the money we’re spending now, but against all the missed opportunity cost of what would have otherwise been done with that money. If all we have to show for the difference is the entertainment value of the space program, then it seems difficult to justify rationally.

Update: See also The Economic Value of the Space Program.

Posted: Saturday July 18, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [7]


Amazon must not want people to buy Kindles anymore, because they’ve made it perfectly clear that, among other things, they’ll delete books(!) from your device if they feel the need. So, I guess James Wolcott can relax!



I haven’t read much on TVTropes yet, but apparently lots of people have fun poking around in there. The idea is to take certain re-occurring ideas from our culture and lay them out explicitly, thereby revealing something about ourselves and generally to amuse and enlighten.



Dahlia Lithwick argues that the Republicans are really shooting themselves in the foot with how they’re handling the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. They’re hammering away on her “Wise Latina” comment — a single badly worded sentence from a 2001 speech — instead of her 10 year long record on on the Second Circuit court, where she’s heard 3,000 cases and written 380 opinions. Although the Republicans have agreed that she will almost certainly be confirmed and this is their version of going easy on her, they’re making themselves look like assholes.



Are pretty websites easier to use? The answer requires getting pretty deep into cognitive psychology and the theory of emotions.



There is a lot of useful information in this article about taking photos of concerts, including about breaking into doing it professionally. My advice is that if you want to do it it’s easy with modern digital cameras. Call ahead to see if they’ll let you bring in an SLR, and if so you’re set (crank that exposure compensation waaaaay down). But be aware that having a camera slung over your shoulder is going to impact how you enjoy the show. If it’s a band I love, I stick a compact in my pocket that I can ignore 95% of the time. I snap a few pictures here and there, and it all works out. It’s about figuring out how much you want to be “person” and how much you want to be “photographer,” because the two are slightly different things.



In the spirit of pissing in everyone’s lemonade, Criticism of the Space Shuttle program. (You may also enjoy: Whitey’s on the moon, Gil Scott-Heron.)



Paper scissors rock crack-pipe

paper scissors rock crack pipe ((The Unicorns will go down as the seminal band of the early 2000’s. They embody several of the key tendencies of the best bands of the period (Low-fi irreverence, deconstructed song structures that assemble disparate elements in a hyper-linear fashion while retaining coherency (this idea The Unicorns took farther then anyone else, actually), a blending of genres that was more seamless and, again, irreverent then anything before, the embracing of a thinly-veiled yet potent band mythology, a production approach that consciously eschewed the notion that everything should be made to sound as capital-A Awesome as possible, the ability to fucking ROCK, and irreverence), and they paired a dual-frontman lineup with songwriting that re-examined what the content of song lyrics can be (see also: The Talking Heads, and the entire genere of hip-hop), usually to hilarious/smart effect.) Trust me, I could drone on and on about why I love the Unicorns, but let us rather present three versions of their signature song, I Was Born (A Unicorn):

Exhibit A: Album Version. You can read along with the lyrics here. Note how the shifts in the song do not detract from the overall unity and momentum?

Exhibit B: A much earlier take from an earlier release, featuring the immortal line “… not a dog with wings.”

Exhibit C: A live version, notable for some fleshed out lyrics (like the “If you stop believing in…” part), rocking hard, and generally being smart about playing live.

You’ll notice the “paper scissors rock crack-pipe” refrain in the second version, and that’s really all I need for us to leave the parentheses behind.: )

Pardon the digression. So, for years I didn’t think that Paper Scissors Rock Crack-pipe was a real game, until, the other day, scraping against the bottom barrel of my Podcast playlist, I stumbled across this episode of the highly annoying WNYC program Radiolab. The program plods along, pondering whether the performance of athletes can be predicted as easily as a coin flip (it can’t), until, two-thirds in, the rules of the game are revealed! The crack-pipe is obscured as “the well” and the game is given a goofy name, but it’s unmistakable. So:

Rules: The game is played exactly like standard scissors/paper/rock, with the addition of a fourth option. I recommend playing the crack pipe as a simple extended index finger. The crack pipe beats both rock and scissors, and is beaten by paper. I shut the podcast off before the end, so I have no idea where Krulwich took this after observing that, no, you wouldn’t just always play the crack pipe, because then the other person would just keep playing paper. I assume he observed that this makes the game slightly — but not completely — asymmetrical. Of the four possible plays, there are two stronger (beat two of the other three plays) and two weaker (beat only one of the other three plays) options.

The original game is t best a mildly interesting psychological puzzle. The revised game introduces elements of game theory and generally complicates things.

Or does it? Let’s look at the four possible plays one by one. The crack-pipe is clearly a strong play, since it defeats two other plays. Paper, too, is a strong play, since it also defeats two other plays. Scissors only beats paper, but it’s the only play that beats paper, and based on what you’ve heard you can predict that your opponent will be playing paper pretty often, so scissors remains a strong play. What about rock? Well, poor rock still beats scissors, but we know that the crack-pipe beats scissors too. If you play rationally, it is never advantageous to play rock! And with rock effectively removed from the game, the advantage of paper and the crack-pipe disappears — both now only effectively defeat one other play. The game resolves back into a simple three-option play, crack-pipe having effectively replaced rock in the line up. All we’re left with is a song.

Posted: Tuesday July 14, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Jesus Christ, FINALLY Jay Smooth talks about Michael Jackson. Tying it all back to the relationship between the personal self and the media self, the balance that Jackson never had a chance to get right, that everyone, increasingly, will have to struggle with. Smaaart.



Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, a series of temporary structures that will exist on the Gallery’s lawn in London for the summer. (via)



Over on my tumblr, a brief introduction to PJ Harvey for you kids out there.



Weekendly clickables XIII

Posted: Sunday July 12, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Protests in Iran continue!







An interesting account of how the photo pool worked at the Michael Jackson memorial service.



Last year congress held hearings to the effect that oil price speculation has a lot to do with driving up prices. There is now legislation being passed to limit the practice.



Photography and editing

Prague abbey Ken Rockwell drops another article on “ow to make good photographs,” this one emphasizing composition and urging you to carefully study your image before taking a picture. He has a particularly formalist bent, but the basic idea of thinking and experimenting before shooting is important.

The only way to ensure strong composition is to look through your finder and make it that way before you press the shutter. Move yourself around to change perspective, which moves elements around in your frame. You can change the relative sizes of elements by moving in and zooming out to maintain the same framing. When you do, closer elements just got bigger while distant ones just got smaller.

This is all true, but there’s another phase of thinking and work that takes place after the picture’s been taken that often gets under-appreciated, which is editing. Editing is looking at your photos after they’ve been taken to figure out which ones are the good ones. What happens during editing is just as important as what happens while shooting. Photographers who post 50 photos from a single day just don’t get it, or they’re not trying to make art. You need to do the hard work of finding the one or two images that rise above the rest by a confluence of factors. Forget what you were thinking while you shot the pictures, and forget which ones you thought would turn out the best; invariably, the best pictures are the ones you didn’t give a second thought to while shooting.

My photoblog isn’t really about taking pictures. Most of the photos I’ve posted so far are years old — it’s about looking at old collections of photos with a new perspective. Editing. Take today’s picture, from a trip to Prague in 2002. I enjoyed this photo at the time, but only years later does it stand far above most of the others. Mastering technique and composition is critical to becoming a good photographer, but so is the ability to look at a hundred photos and realize that the best way to represent the whole group is to just show one.

Posted: Thursday July 9, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


I don’t love it with exactly all of my heart, but there is something special about this Dirty Projectors song/video.




So, earlier in my high school career I’d done pretty well at chemistry and AP physics, so in the 12th grade I enrolled in the AP chemistry class. Well. I was out of my depth in a way I’ve seldom been since, and I transferred out of that class after the first week, and been generally humbled the memory of that week since.

I forget the teacher’s name, but there were two funny things that he’d say that have stuck with me. First, when someone got a correct answer, he’d tell them they probably made two mistakes. But even better was his rule that “we don’t answer questions that begin with the word ‘why.’”

Which after you think about it makes perfect sense in chemistry — atoms and molecules do what they do; to get into the reasons is to dive into a realm (particle physics) that is much more technical and difficult than chemistry when it’s understood at all, which often it is not.

But the truth is that “why?” is a funny question anytime. Contemporary psychology shows us that we rarely understand our own motivations for our actions, so even asking “why did you do that?” is an invitation to fabrication.

Well, earlier today Kottke posted Richard Feyman’s explanation for why trains stay on tracks (it ain’t what you think!), and I started clicking around watching all the other Feyman videos on YouTube, until I stumbled across one where the interviewer asks Feyman why magnets attract each other, sending him into a prodigious rant about why we don’t answer questions that begind with the word ‘why’!:

Posted: Tuesday July 7, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


“It is especially important to eat math and science which impinges upon rationality: Evolutionary psychology, heuristics and biases, social psychology, probability theory, decision theory. But these cannot be the only fields you study. The Art must have a purpose other than itself, or it collapses into infinite recursion.”

— From Eliezer Yudkowsky’s twelve virtues of rationality (check out #12 — it makes no rational fucking sense!).



Teach statistics: Arthur Benjamin argues that there is a fundamental re-orientation necessary in the way we teach math. Currently, the classes students take through middle and high school are like a ladder, each one building on the previous, with the ultimate apex being calculus (“the laws of nature are written in the language of calculus”). But for today’s world, what should be at that apex is statistics. Calculus is essential to certain branches of engineering and science, but statistics would be helpful in understanding our information culture for the average person on a day-to-day basis — a society would be improved by having a citizenship that is comfortable with the language of statistics. I love this idea.



Weekendly clickables XII

Posted: Sunday July 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


goths in hot weather

Goths in hot weather. What is there not a blog devoted to the photos of?



Fuck fireworks.



michael jackson spiral

Michael Jackson spiral (via). See also: Michael Jackson street art. Update: The piece is by Kelly Coats.