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Month: December 2011

Google Plus versus Facebook: Where things stand today

facebook and google plus logos

Remember the buzz about Google Plus when it launched? It was a nice bump while it lasted. But I think it’s safe to say it hasn’t sustained itself. My #OccupyXmas piece over at Salon.com has had 504 Facebook likes since it went up a day and a half ago. How many Google +1s has it had? 18 — a little over 3 percent as many. I’d say the ball is in Google’s court. They’d better come up with a new feature, or this game is over.

Give the headline writer a raise

Everybody in New York Hates Slate Reporter Who Complained About Indie Bookstores

Stunning, excellent, fabulous

1616 received a starred review yesterday in Publishers Weekly. PW, the most influential of the big four advance review publications (the others are Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Library Journal) reviews about 10,000 books a year, and not too many get stars. In the book publishing industry, starred PW reviews are believed to increase media coverage and bookstore and library orders — we’ll see about that. Meanwhile, here is the review (for which I’m most grateful). The book will be published in March by Counterpoint Press.


 1616: The World in Motion

Thomas Christensen. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $35 (384p) ISBN 978-1-58243-774-3

At the outset, Christensen confesses his lack of academic standing to write history, given his background as a translator (Like Water for Chocolate, with Carol Christensen) and editor and director of publications at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. Nevertheless, he has created a stunning overview of the nascent modern world through a thematic exploration of the year 1616. Christensen interweaves various narratives to describe such trends as the increasing roles of private corporations like the Dutch East India Company and of economics in world politics or the emerging voices of women as writers—such as Dorothy Leigh, whose The Mother’s Blessing had 23 printings—and occasionally powerful participants in statecraft, like Nur Jahan, who aided her husband in ruling the Mughal empire. Juxtaposing concurrent growths in witch hunting and scientific discoveries, Christensen points out that Kepler calculated the laws of planetary motion while also defending his mother, an illiterate herbalist, against witchcraft charges. Careful to include events from around the world, not just Europe and the Americas, Christensen enhances his excellent explications of backgrounds and settings with dozens of fabulous illustrations. Most readers will want an atlas to track the action in 1616’s “world in motion.” (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/12/2011

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Seeking the man behind science’s champion

Since at least the mid-twentieth century there has been a line of Galileo scholarship that has held that Galileo’s problems with the Inquisition should not be viewed as indicating a basic conflict between science and religion but instead as just problems peculiar to Galileo the man, the personality. I think the ultimate motivation for this line of argumentation is the worry of twentieth-century scientists that their work would somehow be seen as godless and communistic.

In some respects this seems the oddest angle to take on Galileo and his work. It is true he never saw himself as undermining religion. His case was more an expression of internal politics within the church itself than any kind of assault on it. Still, the church — let’s just say it — came down squarely on the wrong side of this one, and that reflects badly on it. Nonetheless, the argument continues to this day, as this review of a recent biography indicates.

Color psychology

pantone color swatches

I was thinking the other day about how my color preferences have changed over time, and that got me looking at a few pop psychology websites about color preferences.

The basic problem with these sites is that there are particular hues and then there are their concepts. So if a site asks you to rank your preferences by clicking on color swatches, you might say, “I like red, but I don’t like that red. Whereas if you are asked to quickly name your favorite color without thinking about it and you name red, you are most likely thinking of the concept of redness rather than of a particular hue.

Of course the notion of a favorite color is ultimately absurd. Red would be meaningless without all of the other colors to juxtapose with it. From the designer’s point of view, colors take meaning from how they are used in relation to other elements.

But as a sort of amusing parlor game it can be interesting to wonder about why one’s preferences change. As a child if you asked my favorite color I would have said blue — that’s the color I usually picked when choosing board game tokens, for example. As a young adult I would probably have given you a lecture about color philosophy and how existence precedes essence and why that is relevant to de Saussurian linguistics, but if (quite justifiably) hit over the head and forced to pick I would have said yellow. Now I find myself increasingly drawn to green, and when I go clothes shopping I often wish there were more greens offered (there are few).

I noticed that there is a great deal of disagreement on the various sites about what your color preferences “mean.” According to one representative site, a preference for blue reflects a conservative, reliable, sincere, trusting, and trustworthy personality; a preference for yellow a cheerful, fun, creative, and analytical bent; and a predilection for green a practical, down-to-earth, stable, balanced, compassionate, and calm nature. Sure.

A few years ago I read a couple of erudite books on color in art by John Gage, former head of the Department of History of Art at Cambridge University. Gage looked at color from a variety of different disciplines. I found his surveys interesting, but I find I have retained little of what I read in his books. It’s probably because I favor the wrong colors.

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