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Back soon

Rightreading is on medical leave and will be back soon.

Cuss-o-meter calls us clean

But fie! What does that frothy mewling crook-pated ratsbane know about cussing?

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?


Free cellphone ringtones technique

miles davis, by thomas christensen

This is off topic from my usual subject areas, but I haven’t seen this technique suggested anywhere else, and I thought I would share it since it’s so easy and produces good results.

Since I sometimes travel overseas, I wanted to get an unlocked quad-band cellphone that I could use abroad by switching simm chips, rather than pay the outrageous fees for overseas calls of the U.S. cellular providers. Other countries offer such chips on a pay-as-you-go basis without locking you in to a long-term commitment I purchased the phone from cellularblowout.com

I already had a usb cable that fit the phone. It took me a while to realize that the simm card is not also a memory card. Once I got past that bit of dimness I installed a memory card (I happened to have one the right size), which enabled me to drag files to the phone’s memory using Windows Explorer.

I wanted to use “So What” by Miles Davis as my main ringtone. But I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of audio editing to create a sound file that would be the right length. Like most recent phones, mine can play MP3s as sounds. It occurred to me that the little sample sound snippets that amazon.com offers on its CD pages are just about right. So it was just a matter of activating the Freecorder toolbar (for me it doesn’t work well on Firefox — I think it conflicts with some other toolbar — so I use Internet Explorer). I set Freecorder to record and amazon to play, and voila.

At that point it’s just a matter of saving the file and dragging it to the phone’s memory card.


Image of Miles made in Adobe Illustrator by me (see the gallery)



dirt for filling in a swimming pool

Rightreading is a little worn out. This is about 10 of the 120 cubic yards of dirt that he is using to fill in his swimming pool.

I think I’ll be back blogging tomorrow.

The need for editorial direction

Web 2.0 experiments with open content are showing the value of moderated forums. Democracy is great, but chaos isn’t necessarily so hot.

Once upon a time tech types used to track stories on Digg.com. When a post got promoted to Digg’s front page it would bring your site a huge amount of traffic. The web economy is a numbers game — the more views you get the more likelihood of getting links, clicks on ads, subscriptions, and so on. Therefore, getting on the Digg front page was valuable. And when something is valuable, people will figure out ways to improve their chances of getting it.

What happened at Digg was that a clique of “power users” gained control of the system for their mutual benefit. The voted up each other’s stories, and voted down those of others. As a result, Digg became less useful to regular users. It no longer has the influence it once had. It is said that Digg blacklisted stories from some sites and manually killed others. Finally, last week, Digg announced fundamental changes to its algorithm.

Occasionally you will see stories in the upcoming section with 100+ Diggs – this is evidence of our promotion algorithm hard at work. One of the keys to getting a story promoted is diversity in Digging activity. When the algorithm gets the diversity it needs, it will promote a story from the Upcoming section to the home page. This way, the system knows a large variety of people will be into the story.

In other words, Digg is counting some votes as worth more than others (shades of Animal Farm). Similarly, Google once counted a link as a link in figuring page rank. Now they use a complicated formula for determining the value of links, and they further moderate page rank with several other factors. Finally, with Wikipedia we have seen problems caused by ineffectual refereeing of stories, which has led to the creation of Citizendium, a sort of refereed version of Wikipedia, which frequently has more reliable content.

And that’s why we need editors. Without some directing vision a publishing company is nothing but a random house.


RELATED: Digg Demonstrates The Failure Of Completely Open Collaborative Networks

Friday Roundup / Duly Quoted

Sorry I’ve fallen behind in answering e-mail and comments. I’ll try to catch up this weekend — according to the weather forecasts it will be a good one for staying inside. — tom

If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….
– William Butler Yeats

Duly Quoted

  • “A publishing house is defined by the vision of the publisher. . . . If a publisher becomes corporate, then the house assumes a new identity.” — Walter Mosley

Death of the Novel: A Literary Crossword

Click for larger version (pdf format). Commentary below.

death of the novel: literary crossword puzzle

A daughter got me doing crosswords over the holidays. One thing that struck me was that the persona of the puzzle maker emerges pretty clearly from the puzzle — and many come across as, well, unhip, for want of a better word.

With my usual arrogance I figured I could do better. And I soon got my comeupance, because I found constructing the puzzle difficult.

Most crosswords today follow rules originally established by Simon & Schuster:

  • No orphan letters (all letters must function in both down and across words)
  • No two-letter words
  • The puzzle must be diagonally symmetrical (A black square at top left must be echoed by a black square in the inverse position at bottom right, for example)
  • Not too many black squares (fewer than one sixth of total, says Sam Bellotto, Jr.)
  • Most puzzles are 15 x 15, although bigger puzzles are seen, especially in weekend papers

There are also aesthetic factors:

  • A pleasing puzzle pattern
  • Trend toward theme puzzles, meaning a handful of related words, both down and across
  • Not too many grotesqueries (obscure acronyms, names, archaisms, foreign words, etc.)

I did three versions of this puzzle before settling on this one. The first two were just too ugly. This one is better, although I wish I had managed to use more of my theme words. And I did have to resort to a couple of unappealing words.

I think the puzzle will be fairly easy for anyone with a passing familiarity with world literature. Maybe it would have been better with more oblique clues. Feedback welcomed.


Solution to the puzzle is here (pdf format).


Off the grid

Sorry to have had a lull in posting just when things were getting interesting. I thought I would have occasional access to the internet over the holidays, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I will take a few days to regroup, and return with my usual daily posts no later than Monday, Jan. 7.


photo by Anne Christensen

3,778 overdue books returned

And they were 126 years overdue. The books were taken by Chile from Peru during the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific. The Guardian reports:

Nivia Palma, national director of libraries, archives and museums in Chile, presented the books to Peruvian officials at a ceremony, calling the act a “concrete expression of our deep commitment to building a relationship of brotherhood and cooperation between our countries.”

Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde thanked Chile for returning the books, and said the two neighbours must work to strengthen their friendship.

Does this mean the two countries are putting their disputes about pisco behind them?

Digital humor

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

Carnage in the book world

That’s what Carole Cadwalladr, in the Guardian, is calling this year’s Frankfut Book Fair. Sounds about right (except that it misses the boredom element that is never quite absent at Frankfurt), and this is the best report from the fair that I’ve read so far. Click the excerpt to read the full article.

Visit the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest literary marketplace, and you might think publishing is only vaguely about writers – next to the carousing, the deals, and the piled-up ‘product’. And then, there’s the fabulous gossip, this year centring on the shenanigans at PFD, Britain’s most prestigious – and troubled – literary agency . . .

Typographic humor


via Veer: The Skinny

Seven rules for winning a MacArthur

To see your genius rewarded, follow these seven guidelines.

Bottom line: “All the rules suggest that the perfect MacArthur genius is still out there: a one-named Berkeley professor who choreographs interpretative jazz dances about how genetically modified food will destroy humanity.”

Desert Garden, Huntington

desert garden huntington

Light posting while I’m on the road, but just now I have an internet connection and a few moments to use it. Here’s a photo from a bright sunlit day at the Huntington Gardens.

Scene of the crime

poor carol

Victim and perp: broken ankle and the dirty mango what done it.

When Carol told the person at the hospital that she broke her ankle slipping on a mango on the sidewalk outside the Asian Art Museum the hospital person said “Well, that’s random.”

nasty mango

I can’t wait to get to the end of this post!

snappy walkerIt won’t come as a huge surprise to many people to learn that people are walking 10 percent faster than they were a decade ago. Where have things especially speeded up? Well, in Singapore people are walking 20-30 percent faster than they used to, and Singaporeans count as the world’s fastest walkers, according to a newly released study by Richard Wiseman. (Second-fastest, surprisingly, was Copenhagen. See all the results here.)

A previous study found that “as people move faster they become less likely to help others, and also tend to have higher rates of coronary heart disease.”

(The image is from Merida, and it’s cheating — they don’t walk fast there.)

I Want to Take You Higher

sfmoma rotunda

That’s what Sly Stone sang back in the day. Well — boom shaka laka laka boom shaka laka laka — it turns out he wasn’t just on something, he was also onto something. At least, that’s what researchers at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management maintain.

Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing (hmmm) there, says that recent studies have shown that “when a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly. They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

I don’t know. I can see it for the SFMOMA rotunda, shown above. But what about the Oracle Arena, where I watched the Warriors defeat the Mavs, shown below? It’s got a pretty high ceiling. I suppose in a sense you could say the Dubs fans were thinking abstractly, but doesn’t that sense become itself so abstract as to be useless?

oracle arena

An Economist Writes on Love

The letter to the Financial Times went like this:

Dear Economist,

I’m looking for ”the one”. Is he out there?


Ruth, Barcelona

And the answer, from Tim Hartford, the “Undercover Economist”:

Dear Ruth,

It might help if we understand which elements of marriage are common to many potential husbands, and which are unique to ”the one”.

First, marriage offers economies of scale in production, particularly production of children. Husband and wife can each specialise in different skills, according to their comparative advantage. I fail to see why you cannot realise these economies of scale with almost anyone. Second, there are economies of scale in consumption. One garden will do, so will one kitchen.

The real question, then, is whether you can stand the person you marry enough to enjoy these efficiencies. Here, economics had little to say until a recent breakthrough by the economists Michele Belot and Marco Francesconi. They examined data from a speed-dating company, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that women like tall, rich, well-educated men. Men like slim, educated women who do not smoke.

The more intriguing finding emerged when pickings were scarce. Women ”ticked” about 10 per cent of men as worthy of further investigation, regardless of the quality of a particular crop. If the men were short and poor, then the women lowered their standards, and still picked 10 per cent. The men, too, abandoned unrealistic ambitions. They ”ticked” about a quarter of the women, regardless of quality. This happened even though each could have a complimentary speed date another time if he or she found no one they liked.

My conclusion: even when there is little to be lost from maintaining standards, people are very quick to lower them. My advice: do likewise.


How to Moonwalk

moonwalkStep-by step-instructions here.

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Some rights reserved 2018 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via rightreading.com/contact.htm.