Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Approaching Ceres

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory just did something really cool: they plugged images from Dawn's approach to Ceres and generated a 3D video of the spacecraft's approach to the dwarf planet. It's a fascinating short movie with lots of amazing detail. You should watch it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Church at SXSW

I'm so happy that a recording of The Church's electronic show from this year's SXSW show is online. I'm listening to it now and having very pleasant flashbacks to the show I attended in March. Damn these guys are good. And listening to them live gives you a sense for the dynamic kick-ass guitar interplay, Powles' modern-day Bonham-style drumming, and sheer joy of their music. My favorite is their update of You Took (skip ahead to ~21:00).

Related Posts:
You Took

Friday, April 17, 2015

Brock Holt: Too Valuable to Start

Baseball is a funny game. On one hand, it seems very simple. Throw ball, hit ball, catch ball.  But part of the allure of the game is how complex the game actually is under that surface.

This came to mind yet again as I read Over the Monster's article What needs to happen for Brock Holt to play full-time for the Red Sox? The main point of the article is that the same thing that makes Holt valuable to the Sox – his above average versatility – will prevent him from being a starter. As Matt Collins writes:
Last season was his coming out party to the league, and he played almost literally everywhere. He logged 327 innings at third, 264-2/3 in right, 101 at short, 74 at second, 57-2/3 in center, 70-1/3 at first and 60 in left. He joined Denny Hocking as the only players since 1914 to play at least eight games at each position besides pitcher and catcher. One would think that would be enough to earn an everyday role somewhere, but on this team, Holt might be too valuable on the bench to have a consistent spot in the lineup.
This seems counter intuitive until you dive into the logic. As Collins details, in every position on the field, the Sox have better options then Holt at each single position, both as a starter and as a backup, but nobody that's a better option for ALL of the positions. (Catcher and Pitcher excluded, of course, but honestly i'd like to see Holt give those a go as well.) Holt's value as a backup extraordinaire outweighs his value at any single position. Bizarre. But at the end of the day, we're lucky to have a player like him - I have no doubt he'll prove his worth many times over the course of the season.

Cross Posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

Friday, April 3, 2015

You Took

I heard this song for the first time at The Church's amazing show at The Sinclair in Cambridge MA a few weeks ago. Simply amazing. Kilbey's voice is so much richer than it was back in the day. And as good as the studio version is - it rocked incredibly hard on stage. Take it away boys...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Diversity was Necessary

I was astounded by the sublimity of this vision [of social Darwinism in business], whose implications spread far beyond the business sphere. Thinking back to my first discussion with Riley, I wondered if this weren't the answer to the question he’d proposed: How was the Christian to reconcile the existence of evil with the unconditional benignancy of God? Or, alternatively, how did the Taoist reconcile the existence of what was not Tao – which represented an affront to its essential nature, even contradicted it – with the primordial unity of all things in Tao? Was it possible that this was the answer? If so, then on both counts the objections were based on a simple narrowness of view. Once the Great Whole was seen, objections flew away like chaff. Evil, then, was the crucible in which the good was tried and proved. The unnatural was the fever which the body suffered internally to purify itself and become well again. The sores and the corrupt places of the economic world, as of the larger, were where the Tao had sent the legions of its influence, its platelets and leukocytes, its antibodies and white corpuscles, to eradicate diversity’s failed experiments, devouring the excesses of the blood. Diversity was necessary to insure the greatest possible perfection, and if it created a few monstrosities as well, then it all provided  for their destruction by natural selection. That was the miracle! Everything was tending towards the good!

- David Payne, Confessions from a Taoist on Wall Street, p. 577

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Functionaries

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
- Primo Levi

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review of David Mitchell's "The Bone Clocks"

David Mitchell is a smart man. He’s written six novels, and like any good postmodernist, all of them have both small and large connections with each other. (More astute readers than I have found them all – check out this Good Reads review for a summary.) Decrypting these puzzling connections both within and between his books, and pondering what they mean, is a lot of the fun of reading Mitchell. And unlike, say, the puzzles of Christopher Nolan’s films, where amazing characterization –being caught in another’s thoughts and voice IS the meaning – Mitchell strives for more. His last book, The Bone Clocks, just leaves me wondering just what exactly that more is.

The hyper connectedness of his novels hints at some kind of vague spirituality, of a (benevolent?) energy making order out of the universe’s chaos. It’s what seemed to be behind the various reincarnations of the characters in Cloud Atlas, for example. But in TBC the connections are revealed to not be the result of a mysteriously divine process, or even the whims of an obscure deity; rather it’s a shadow society of supernatural beings. And, naturally, there’s a good group and an evil group of these characters. Make no doubt about it, by the 3rd quarter of the book, Mitchell has fully embraced fantasy. At first I thought Mitchell might be writing a parody, but no: the TBC is in earnest, writing about astral battles with the same conviction and energy as the “real world.” He even comes up with his own obscure and confusing terminology (Horologists! Anchorites! Psychosoterica!). And while an author like Thomas Pynchon might play with the genre to make it serve his own purposes, creating an ironic detachment while commenting on the meaning of it all, Mitchell makes it the driving force of his story.

I found this approach to be reductive and unsatisfying, taking away the power of what came before. By reducing the hints of a larger pattern to the universe in favor of good vs. evil, it abdicates the field he set up by reframing it midway through the game. And I write this as a fan of fantasy novels, one who believes that, say , Neil Gaiman or Ursula LeGuin have a lot of meaningful things to say about our world. So fantasy is not in and of itself a bad thing. So why does Mitchell’s fantasy not work for me while others do? I suspect it’s because authors like Gaiman and LeGuin present those elements of their stories from the beginning, and so you’re on constant footing throughout.  But when Mitchell, who has written so insightfully and beautifully about the nature of reality and our perceptions of it, introduces fantastic elements into an interconnected world previously without it, – well, I felt let down. Like he belittled what came before it.  (Which is a funny thing to say about a book like Cloud Atlas that did include SciFi and Fantasy elements, but I felt the two books dealt with it differently.)

Now, all of this isn't to say that TBC is not an excellent book. On the contrary, the novel contains the same furiously addictive prose, the excellent characterization, diving into motivation, seamless weaving of historical events and trends into the plot as the best of his work. I was thoroughly entertained. But by the end of the book, the edge was taken away. In the final section, I never was too concerned with Holly and her children, despite the mounting tension and danger – you just KNEW Marinus would appear and save the day. And my ambivalence of TBC stems from my mourning of that mystery. I’m curious to see if he continues the fantasy in his next book, supposedly “set in the same universe” as The Bone Clocks. Because regardless of what I've written above, he’s still one of the best authors writing today. I can’t wait for more.

Related Reading:
The Theory behind the "Cloud Atlas" Film
The New Language of the Cinema
Belief is Both Prize & Battlefield
Dramatic Taylor Calling

Monday, January 5, 2015

We Alone Among All Species

"We alone among all species have grasped the reality of the living world, seen the beauty of nature, and given value to the individual. We alone have measured the quality of mercy among our own kind. Might we now extend the same concern to the living world that gave us birth?"

- Edward Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence