Quick note about changes to the blog.
I’ve moved everything over from a Movable Type installation to the WordPress platform — something I have put off doing for years. I loved MT in the early years, but upgrades and patching became increasingly onerous, as the community of developers and support dwindled. So, yeah, WordPress.
The irony is that most of the pain of the transition was in ensuring that nothing much changed. The biggest hurdle was ensuring that the permalink structure of MT carried over for archived posts so indexed and internal URLs did not break. So, though the MT-to-WP import worked well, I had to touch every single post to make sure the permalink was correct. Add in various formatting issues and it was pretty hellish.
I got at least one inquiry this year about whether my new job at the city had forbidden me from blogging. That’s absolutely not the case. It was a combination of an increasingly-crufty blog platform, the way Twitter allows you to post an idea without actually fleshing it out, and just the timesuck of getting my feet at the city.
But that’s all fixed now. I fully intend to return Ascent Stage to the mix of way-too-long essays and who-cares ephemera that has characterized it in the past.
Not all the functionality (or design) of the old site is replicated here — and I am not entirely sure I got all the broken internal links. (External linkrot, well, that’s just the way of the Internet.) But it should be fairly stable.
Some reminders of other tendrils on the web:
Also, here’s my really big head on a “personal page”.
For the 2008 recap I thought I’d pair my own narrative of narcissism with some cold hard server metrics to see if people liked reading what I enjoyed writing most last year.
First, here are the posts that I’m most fond of.
Zombiefest – What happens when you have a free weekend, a lot of alcohol, 17 movies spawned from the Night of the Living Dead, and a brother to consume it all with (oh, and a bar that wants you to DJ). Here’s the first part of the results.
Iraqi on the corner – A local tale of hatred with a global context.
Evolving my music genome – What the iTunes Genius music recommendation algorithm to really says about me. (Hint: it says I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.)
The biophony of Trout Lake – Nature’s interweb.
Are you smarter than a student in 1924? – Also, did you know that the South lost the war?
Recursion – Art’s long tradition of picture-in-picture.
Love of Country – An explanation of a big reason I went to Ghana. Still makes me well up a bit.
The Gigglesnort Hotel – The next in a series of posts trying to explain to myself why I am so messed up.
10 Days in Ghana – How I came across a man butchered to death with a machete and other initial thoughts.
An economy of enslavement – Visiting the last places Africans saw before entering New World bondage.
Ghanaian handicraft series – A six-part series on traditional crafts in West Africa and the amazing people who practice them.
Sally Struthers go home – My take on the West’s wrong-headed approach to aid in Africa.
Call of the wild – Why trembling in your tent while a lion roars in the night is not so much different than that one musical passage that gives you the chills.
Rocks and hard places – Of cashew schnapps, faraway families, tribal chiefs and spirits in the material world.
Africa is a way of thinking – Probably my favorite post of the year, if not the most important. To paraphrase a related post, the things I saw in Africa will be with me forever, ineradicable viruses of the imagination.
Tom bo li de say de moi ya, yeah Jambo Jumbo! – How I almost died on safari in Kenya.
Slave to the cliché – If you love Powerpoint, don’t read this. No wait, definitely read this!
But most of all, I missed YOU – It’s a list! On a blog! Has to be good.
The mashability index – Visualizing why certain artists get mixed together more frequently than others. This was fun.
At the end of the world. – Looked forward to this all year and it did not disappoint.
And here’s the top ten most read posts (that were written in 2008) according to the server logs. Clearly I have no sense of my audience. I guess I only like 30% of you.
- How big is the Forbidden City?
- Forbidden City: Revealed on the History Channel
- A happening in China
- Favorite links of 2007 (see, people love lists!)
- Soar with turkeys
- Danger! Animated GIF from the early web! (What the hell?)
- At the end of the world.
- Testing 1-2-3
Thanks for reading, folks.
Seems like there are more first-time visitors to my humble blog than there used to be. This might be a function of my linking Twitter updates to Facebook status, which if you do the math means that a lot of non-geek acquaintances are now alighting on Ascent Stage without a clue in the world what the hell is going on. Welcome, dearest friends!
Thought I’d take a brief moment to explain the name of the blog, something I’ve never rightly done.
You get some hilarious pronunciations and questions, especially when trying to give out the URL over the phone in an interview, say. “A cent, as in one penny?” “Ascent’s ‘tage, like Hermitage?” “Nascent Stage, you mean like an infant?” “ASS-ent stage, what is this porn?”
Simply, an ascent stage is the part of the rocket that goes up as opposed to being the one that breaks for going down. Sadly, in the post-Apollo era this has mostly been the only stage a rocket has. We ain’t landing anywhere with a rocket as long as we have a Shuttle.
Ascent stage refers usually to the upper half of the lunar modules that we put on the moon. The descent stage landed the astronauts (counteracting the moon’s weak gravity); the ascent stage put them back up to link with the Service Module whose rocket would take them home. Simple enough.
But why the name? What I’ve always liked about the concept of an ascent stage (in addition to the space dorkiness) is that it implies progress, upward motion, forward movement. But also a discrete point in time, or phase. There’s also something very slightly sad about it too, because to ascend means you descended at some point and you’re leaving something behind. (In the Apollo case this was the descent stage itself.)
There’s a classic image from the last Apollo mission where they left a camera specifically poised to capture the ascent back up to the orbiting command module — something which had not been done on previous missions. Not sure what it is but there’s something eerie and solemn about the footage that was captured. Two guys in a rickety polygon blasting off from a much more stable looking bottom half, which is now left to decay on the moon forever.
So, that’s kinda the rationale or feeling behind the name itself: progress, ascendancy, upward motion … tinged with mystery, loss, even desolation. My blog.
By the way, I’m considering a redesign. Input welcome. Via CAPCOM, naturally.
It’s taken years, but I finally have backup where I want it. (Oh yes, dear readers! It’s another post about data backup. Recline your chair and prepare for a mind-blowing post.)
My reasons for backing up seem to be changing. Certainly there’s still the raw, precious data. Family photos and video, certain media projects — these things have to be saved for posterity. But increasingly my reasons for wanting a backup are more about state than data. I want to return to the state my machine was in more dearly than I want the data it once contained.
Think of it in more concrete terms. What if you everything in your house — every single physical item — had a double in a storage facility? What if every time you bought anything you bought two and put one in a self-storage bin? Then your house burns down (and all your loved ones are safely vacationing on Maui). You can reconstruct your life from the storage facility, but it will be a massive pain in the ass. The state is all fooked. The effort involved in getting it back to a livable order is overwhelming, basically the same thing as moving — an act which ranks just slightly below death of a spouse in terms of personal stress.
Ideally you’d want a legion of robotic moving specialists to reconstruct your house according to the old plans and place everything back as it once was. A bonus would be the option to redirect the robots as the spirit moved you, but at the very least you’d have an automatic replica. This is the source of my fascination with bootable clones.
The fact is, most of my data is replicable. My iPod and laptop all contain enough of my music library to reconstruct it if the main machine should fail. My calendar is online. Personal mail’s all IMAPped up to the Great Google in the Sky. Work e-mail, replicated from servers. Photos are all on Flickr; video at any number of services. The set of truly precious, non-online-dwelling data is getting smaller and smaller by the day. Basically source files only.
My prediction is that in the near future state is all we will care about. You won’t even think about data being local or remote. But you will care about speed-to-recovery. And that’s all about the little things, how your machine behaves, how your kitchen was organized before the fire.
There are corollary effects of this attitude. Recently to alleviate some of the space pressure of five people in a home we decided to clean up some of the impromptu areas of storage in the house that had persisted since we moved in. You know what I’m talking about. Boxes that never got completely unpacked. Stacks of crap that made do in a guest bedroom only because you didn’t know where else to put it.
I undertook the foolish exercise of building an attic in my garage. I can hardly hammer a nail straight much less build a structurally sound platform. Most of what we moved up there was non-essential: books, college notebooks (wanted to throw away but couldn’t — I’m going to need that Intro to Lit Crit some day,damnit!), winemaking equipment, random crap.
So I got it all up there. Stored. Except it wasn’t really stored — wasn’t really backed-up — unless I knew it was there. And this again is the influence of Google. Unless you can search for it, unless you know precisely how to get it back, you might as well throw it out, delete it. So I took photos of everything up there, where it lay in the attic. And for the books, well, it got a bit geekier as I finally finished cataloging and noting the location of every last volume with the superb Delicious Library.
Do I care about most of that crap up there? No. Do I care that I know the state of that crap. Absolutely. And that’s the thing. If the garage burned down I would be OK. The stuff is replaceable. The index to that data is not.
Maybe I’m overthinking this because my father and brother are in the self-storage business. But I think not. Spring cleaning for me is really spring tagging.
As the Space Shuttle program goes, so goes Ascent Stage. It’s time for a fundamental redesign.
The backend’s been upgraded to MT 4.1 and good things are in store for the user experience too.
I shall endeavor to redo the website for less than the US $1B pledged to make pretty new American rockets. But only slightly less.
Sorry for any bumpiness.
Some housekeeping over here at Ascent Stage mission control. Site-dwellers may have noticed that the micropost area is no more. I staved it off as long as possible, but the little area for one-liners was up against a ticking clock.
You may remember that a while back I switched from a manually-updated area (pain) to one powered by the unstoppable Twitter. Thing is, in the interim with the advent of @reply functionality, Twitter became a two-way communication medium. Suddenly my carefully-crafted bon mots and trenchant insights (yes!) were subject to contamination by my irrepressible urge to respond to people. I knew I had to switch it over.
So what we have now is a running excerpt of everything that happens in my Twitterverse, including responses to people without the original context. Like listening to one half of a phone call. It is remarkably freeing, not having to care about what’s there, just letting it flow. And, as Joi says, it really does kinda threaten blogging as we know it. Microposting is the new posting.
So if you’re on Twitter, you can get it all sans-ramblings of the main blog at twitter.com/johntolva. The Tweetstream is not, as yet, spliced into the main feed. (Feedburner, arghhh!)
Some links for you:
Follow Tweets old school thread style at quotably.com.
Fantastic Mac desktop client (kinda made it all click for me): Twitterific.
Heed little Sisyphus shoveling the mound that never gets any smaller.
Ascent Stage is being upgraded. I’m bound to screw something up. Gloriously.
(If you need something to do in the meanwhile flip through Stick Figures in Peril at Flickr. Always good for a laugh.)
359 links posted in 365 days. I just went back through them all and plucked out the most unusual, thought-provoking, or interesting of the lot. In my opinion, of course. Kinda interesting (depressing?) to note the trends of topics that capture my attention over time.*
(As a sidenote, if you’re not receiving these links in your subscription to Ascent Stage add this feed here. It combines the main posts with the links. For you site-visitors the links are called Marginalia and are over in the right gutter. All links historically live at del.icio.us.)
LEGO robots that build LEGOs. How Skynet began.
How to Speak a Book
Richard Powers on writing fiction by dictation. I knew there was something different about the style of his latest novel.
100 Years of the DJ
From “music waiter” to international superstar. A great audio-annotated timeline.
Vintage Charleston video set to Daft Punk
I enjoy watching this very much. The moves at the end are approximately 60 years ahead of their time.
No ducking foie gras law
Doug Sohn, mastermind behind the greatest hot dog joint in Chicago, takes a stand against an asinine law.
Bratwurst Capital of the World and … the Midwest’s only licensed space launch facility? What the hell?
One Picture, 1,000 Tags
Museums begin to understand the value of user-created descriptive taxonomies. Says the Met: “There’s a huge semantic gap between museums and the public.” Well, yes.
Wrigley Beer Vendors
Trading cards for the most important people in the ballpark. Fantastic.
A fabric-based MIDI controller that is interesting because it raises the possibility of a music score itself acting as the instrument.
How to Turn a Book Into a Picture Frame
Creative. Try matching book themes to photo subjects.
The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel
Hilarious recounting of America’s greatest engineering accomplishment. Viva Maciej.
Forget team-building, shoot an after-work music video
This made my day, maybe my week. Apparently these co-workers did this in one take. Watch ’til the end.
Best Venn diagram ever
So, so true. I am not truly happy right now.
Plot a point between two people. Want to find a bar to meet your mate equidistant from you both? This is your app.
Baseball Geography and Transportation
Alex Reisner explains the impact of changing modes of transportation on player culture and ballpark symmetry. Very well done.
OK, this is currently the most brilliant thing I’ve come across in 2007. Simple, beautiful.
Serial Port: A Brief History of Laptop Music
Serious, thoughtful primer on the laptop as more than just a digital turntable.
Incredible! Why Roger Federer may be the most amazing athlete ever
This is not new, but I never tire of watching it. Kudos to Roddick on his sense of humor too.
Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail
A High Line-type project to convert an abandoned elevated rail line into a linear park through Chicago.
Baby monitor in Illinois picks up live video from NASA mission
See also, how John would be arrested for parental negligence.
If Real Life were like Second Life
Giggle. (Love the away person.)
“The phenomenon whereby people who have little knowledge systematically think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge.” I have an in-law who suffers from this. Or rather, the rest of the family suffers from it.
Thousands of rubber ducks to land on British shores after 15 year journey
Amazing story of bath toys washed overboard in the Pacific that have made their way to the Atlantic.
Bud Light Swear Jar
One of the commercials that didn’t air. By far the funniest. I was crying at “Doesn’t count.”
Man(y) With a Movie Camera
Very cool idea for a “remake” of Vertov’s classic with user-submitted clips.
Watch the World(s)
My god. This is wonderful, gorgeous. Vincent would be proud.
People are reading more in the UK than they were in the 1970s
Interestingly counter-intuitive theory: “Books are ideal to fill gaps in people’s schedules – and with busier lives there are more gaps.”
Hand-fart soloist. (Thank you, Internets. Thank you.)
An entire prison does the Thriller dance
Not sure what to say about this except to wonder how many death threats the choreographer got. Impressive organization.
Barry Bonds surpasses Ty Cobb as the Biggest Asshole in Baseball History
Some contest: “Bonds’ Assholery has been enhanced by illegal drug use. Chemically induced “roid-rage” has artificially inflated his numbers. Ty Cobb established his record fueled by nothing more than bourbon and cold, steely hate.”
Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky
And you thought all English professors did was explain iambic pentameter, eh?
Flickr timeline with Simile
Rob Smart answers my call for a simple timeline view of your Flickr photos. Well done!
Venice charges rude tourists extra
I don’t disagree with this, though it might be nice to have the rudeness quotient work both ways, i.e. a rude shopkeeper discount as well.
Sara and I just got engaged!
Did YOU laser-cut foam core as part of your marriage proposal? No, I didn’t think so.
The immaturity of consumers (or “I want a refund!”)
Glad I am not the only one who thinks that the whining about the iPhone price drop is ridiculous. If you did not think it was worth $600 why did you buy it? (‘Course I’m not going to say no to the $100 rebate.)
x is the new y 2007
Roo Reynolds plots the permutations of x is the new y (e.g., “white is the new black”) based on Google results. Impressive and humorous.
Fellow baldy Darren Shaw creates a Last.fm for playlists.
Seth’s Blog: Thinking about this war
The War on Terror as a marketing problem.
The Virtual And The Far Away
Gorgeously deserted, compellingly human. From my work pal Jeff Berg.
ecards for when you care enough to hit send
Whoa. Millions of songs. Not an iota of rights-management. Your move, Apple.
The Open Workspace Environment: “Where a human becomes a human resource”
Including tips on limiting your odor waft radii, abolishing prairie dogging, comparisons with prison cell square footage, and more.
DOT Unveils Sidewalk Compass Markings
What a great idea. Chicagoans, don’t get your hopes up. The first compass needed by the CTA is to direct it in removing its head from its ass.
Brilliant. Subtracting grime from walls to create art. But be warned: cleaning a wall may get you arrested.
“The half-life of an irregular verb scales as the square root of its usage frequency.”
That is, the more frequently an irregular verb (to be, to have, etc) is used the less likely it is to evolve into a regular verb (e.g., the past tense of “chide” has become “chided” where in the past it was — wait for it — “chode”.
The Moby Quotient
A handy formula to determine “the degree to which artists besmirch their reputations when they lend their music to hawk products or companies.”
The Future of the Music Business
Hint: one genre of music already provides the model.
Make a Mixa
Forget CD’s. Put your next mix on a cassette tape USB drive. Love it!
Using McDonalds’ As Pizza Toppings
And I thought the Goblin Cock was innovative. As described: “a culinary Frankenstein cooked by Bizarro, a crude combination of deliciousness into an artery-jamming fatty Voltron.”
Mark Bernstein’s insights into the software developer as artisan. A good read.
The wisdom of clouds
Cumul.us is a merger of multiple weather feeds, user predictions, and suggestions on what to wear (and buy) to combat the elements. An excellent idea.
This salad container topographic map is genius.
Yes, I would have to say it is.
The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts)
Great exposition on the new e-reader from Amazon that people are ga-ga about.
Japan’s melody roads play music as you drive
This is so great. I have often thought that the sound of changing pavement is a lot like half the stuff in my music library. And that’s a good thing.
Bookmarked so I don’t, you know, forget.
An Open Letter to a Guy I Work With Who Always Comes Into My Office to Tell Me He Sent Me an E-mail Right After He Sends Me an E-mail.
I’d like to append my name to this letter. I HATE when people do this.
Electronic Music Writing Guide
Need to write an electronica review? Here’s your cheat sheet. I particularly like “an arduous slab of Powerbook abstraction.”
The Worst Band Names Of ’07
Worst? I think not! Deny the creativity of this sampling, just try: The Asbestos Tampons, Harmonica Lewinsky, Slut Barf, Coach Said Not To, Bi Furious. And yes, they all have MySpace pages.
Our Dumb World | The Onion
Now an annotated Google Map and Earth layer. A new country is “featured” each week. Hilarious.
You know those computers you see in the movies…
Most of the “fictional interfaces” you see are designed by this guy. What an awesome job to have.
Update:: And here are a few I liked from my stint as Guest Editor of Coudal’s Fresh Signals.
Dopa, funkadelico, scratchare, and suckeroni. Hip Hop Italiano blends American slang and dialect from the bottom of the boot. Viva comic opera.
Zombies vs. Robots, a new comic so conceptually sound it is self-evidently perfect.
Intimate Exchanges is a “multi-play” where two actors make decisions Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style, cycling through 10 characters and 8 different plays. It can be perplexing, but each show is a new experience. Here’s the decision tree.
If you can’t describe it in 17 syllables, perhaps you shouldn’t be drinking it.
This bed sheet with printed rulers should finally give you the data you need to protect your territory.
Underpass as Photoshop. View Layers.
Vader’s labored breathing? Just pausing between sets.
Peter Feigenbaum’s gorgeous model railroad slums.
* Top tags for my links: music, chicago, humor, space, design, art, maps, tools, language, travel, video, visualization, china, secondlife, photography, nasa, google, lego, mashup, ibm, architecture, mac, museum, blog, books, cubs, map, audio, baseball, flickr, ipod, history, web2.0, baby, film, parenting, social, web, gadget, itunes. Yep, that’s pretty much me.
Personal blogging is by definition a bit narcissistic. Compiling a list of your own favorite posts of the year, well, that’s downright solipsistic. But so it is. Here’s the best of this year, in easy-to-digest narrative format.
I started 2007 strong by challenging a MacArthur Genius and getting it handed right back to me. Beaten, I went to Russia and contemplated empire. Not content with the glories of the past, I experienced our glorious future of levitating trains in Shanghai.
Full of the future, I discoursed on how to change the world in the here and now, remembering our human knack for figuring out how to destroy the planet utterly. I started local, though, helping envision a better sewer.
Now enlightened, I was able to pull back into my iPod-shell and dream of random things. Then I took my parents to Italy on a journey that was both wonderful and harrowing and learned how nothing is ever really random. Like Star Wars, just one story in a much larger universe.
But I was too bold. The long arm of the law, aided by border paranoia and Big Business, nearly got me for the love of artisanal fakery.
Nothing left to do at this point but have fun, so thelovelywife and I organized a small get-together.
And that, friends, was 2007.
Here’s last year’s best-of. For god’s sake, is anything improving around here?
Managing hard drive space (yes, settle in folks, this post is pure fun) is a constant problem in my home. Recent smiting from Olympus notwithstanding, keeping up with the onslaught of music, video, photos and work files is a challenge.
Recently I’ve come across a few apps worth mentioning for keeping tabs on just what is bloating my Macs.
I have a Smart Folder set up that only lists files over 100MB. This is useful for pruning big-ass files, the easy marks. But, other than mail archives and video rips this is a small folder indeed.
Enter Grand Perspective.
This (free) app seems like eye candy, but it is a lot more than that. It gives you a visual tapestry of your file system (though it sorta looks like a map of drive clusters, which it is not). Mousing over the map shows you collections of files, grouped by color and outlined together. This is super-useful as it highlights groupings that may be huge even if the individual sizes of the files may be small. For instance, Grand Perspective helped me move nearly 10GB of support files for LiveType onto an external drive. I would never have known all that crap was in there.
A nice complement to Grand Perspective is WhatSize, a more traditional listing of every file on your machine by size. Also free. WhatSize retains folder organization so you can see at a glance what should get the heave-ho.
Lastly, Hazel (US$21.95), an app that I have had in trial mode on my machine for a while but which, like Quicksilver, I needed a kick in the pants to get really using. Hazel is a bit like Smart Folders except that you can set up rules for nearly any kind of file. It can do just about anything to a file, especially in conjunction with Automator actions. For example, Hazel constantly monitors my drive for duplicate files, segregrates PC-only attachments I receive (for purgation in the holy fires of iWork) and automatically prompts me to remove support files when I nuke an app.
While I’m at it I might as well list a few apps that I am very fond of lately. All Mac, unless otherwise noted.
DropCopy – Opens a little wormhole on your desktop for dragging files to other machines. Unlike a folder alias it can have multiple destinations.
iPhone Remote – Access your Mac from your iPhone. You can use it as an iTunes Remote, PervCam remote viewer for the iSight, file browser, or to stream files to.
Coda – Superb single-window web coding app. Dreamweaver cowers in the corner.
Mouseposé – Nifty app that turns your pointer into a spotlight for highlighting things during presentations. Also has a keystroke mode where your typing is highlighted in big letters onscreen.
Flickr Export for iPhoto – If you manage photos in iPhoto and post some to Flickr this is indispensable. You can do everything to the photo pre-upload but geolocate it. Really solid. There’s also an Aperture version.
NetNewsWire – The latest version of this newsreader adds a few great touches like iTunes-style “cover art” for the site your feed is being pulled from and great handling of embedded media and microformats. Also synchs with online version, PC app NewsGator, and an iPhone web app!
Earth Addresser – Yanks all the addresses from OSX Address Book and plots them as a layer on Google Earth. Interesting at-a-glance view of the folks you know.
HandBrake – The latest version of this DVD rip … er, backup program has defaults for AppleTV and the iPod/iPhone. Handy. There is a PC version but it rather blows.
iStat Pro – Puts the dashboard in Dashboard. Highly configurable system status widget.
Dashalytics – If you use Google Analytics to track website traffic, this is a great window into the data. Also a Dashboard widget.
Weather Underground Dashboard Widget – Like the site it is a visual fiasco, but it displays great info. Way better than the default weather widget.
And lastly, apps that I desperately want to like, but just don’t yet. (There’s hope. I went through this with Quicksilver and Hazel.)
Tinderbox – Eastgate’s hypertextual note-taking system-cum-personal CMS. Their Storyspace changed my life. I guess I’m expecting this to do so as well. Perhaps I should set my expectations lower for a piece of software.
Joost – Remind me why I want to watch full-screen TV on my laptop?
iPhoto ’08 – Permit me to step out of the RDF for a moment, but isn’t an Event just a smart folder by date?
Slife – A very cool idea for tracking and visualizing app usage over time, but it is a serious resource hog and supports apps inconsistently.
Now, go be productive.