Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine


Motivation and social networks

The following is an assignment for my class in Interaction and Interface Design at the University of Baltimore. The basic parameters were to find and summarize two articles from the ACM Digital Library on the topic of MobileHCI as an initial step in a larger research project connected to group projects we are working on. My group is working on a mobile application that would incorporate an element of sharing personal progress through a user’s social network. As I have taken on the User Research Lead role in my group, I was particularly looking for articles that dealt with this social component. it's clear that the growth of mobile computing and online social networks have gone hand in hand, and a prominent activity in this domain is the sharing of personal progress of all sorts, from the infamous ‘what I had for lunch’ tweet to games that broadcast players' achievements to publicly tracking one's progress toward personal fitness goals. I am especially interested in the motivations behind this behavior. While the particular search for this exercise may not have been optimal for finding research on this topic, I did turn up a couple of interesting papers touching on it. Here, then, are the summaries:

LibraryThing turns 2

Since I last wrote about it some 21 months ago, LibraryThing, the bibliocentric social software site, has been chugging past major milestones (its first birthday, its 10 millionth book, passing Harvard to become the second-largest "library" in the United States), and each time it has, I've meant to take that as an opportunity do a follow-up post on the service. But each time, I have dragged my heels about actually writing anything, and the moment has passed. Well last week, LT celebrated its second birthday, and I have pledged to myself to mark this anniversary whatever the cost. ...

How low can you go?

The International Theological Commission of the Catholic Church, in a document entitled ""The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised," has upended centuries of (noncanonical) tradition and banished Limbo from Catholic cosmology. For those who haven't read their Dante, Limbo is the spiritual home for infants who died without baptism, as well as for the "virtuous pagans." In the Inferno, Limbo is a reasonably pleasant place (especially compared to the other options) but is still considered part of Hell because those in it are forever denied the presence of God. Apparently, Church theologians did not feel the concept of Limbo was consistent with a just and merciful God, since it denies "eternal happiness" to those with "no personal sin."...

The myth of mastery

Mark Bernstein argues today that "artists need to master everything," specifically that they need to master programming and other technologies. The issue seems to have struck a nerve:

The hope that we can be excused from mastering programming is the child’s plea to the teacher, "Will this be on the exam?" It's the hope that we may be permitted to fail, and that our failure will be overlooked because we're so cute and wonderful. We don't need to master programming (or hardware, or graphic design, or information architecture): we're just artists and either someone will buy us an expert to do the work or they'll simply ignore any shortcomings because we are so intrinsically wonderful.
I understand his bristling at the idea of artists wanting to avoid learning their tools out of either laziness or a sense of entitlement—I have similar feelings toward academics who can't be bothered to figure out how email works—but I still disagree with the basic argument. Certainly any artist (or academic) who wishes to be taken seriously should endeavor to know as much as possible about the tools of his or her trade, but to suggest that anyone could master everything needed for his or her work is to return to the tenacious but naive, Romantic ideal of the solitary artist (or ivory tower intellectual).

I w...

Making Comics

One of the happy fringe benefits of my Wrens trip was shopping in the enormous Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee, where I picked up Scott McCloud's latest: Making Comics (2006). Like its predecessors, Understanding Comics (1993) and Reinventing Comics (2000), Making is a treatise on the art of comics in comics form. Taken together, these three books might well comprise the most significant effort at media criticism since McLuhan....

A cock and bull story

I've been waiting for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story to come out on video—I knew it would never come to our local theater—ever since I heard an NPR story about it months ago. Well it finally did, and we finally rented it last weekend. Very pleasing. I can imagine some being put off by its indulgence in self-referentiality and metafictional bullshit (I'm pretty much a sucker for that sort of thing, but I understand that it annoys people), but given that the source material is one of the most indulgently self-referential pieces of metafictional bullshit in the English language (and I say that in the most laudatory way), I can't imagine the film being any other way. If anything, the film deserves credit for bravely staying the course down to the very end (where the fictional film producers are complaining to the fictional film-makers about the omission of scenes the filming of which occupied a significant portion of the film we just saw). Sometimes the key to comedy is pushing a joke so far past the point where it stops being funny that it starts being funny again.

An ...

One LibraryThing to rule them all...

Sometime early this morning, LibraryThing surpassed 1,000,000 catalog entries (they were at 996,000 before I went to bed). That's pretty remarkable growth for a site that only opened three months ago. I've been doing my small part, having cataloged over 500 of my own books in the couple weeks that I've known about the site. I'm small potatoes, though; there are users with libraries in the thousands (I can only assume they had some pre-existing catalog of their stuff and are taking advantage of the bulk-import feature)....

It's a LibraryThing, you wouldn't understand

Via Diane Greco: it's LibraryThing: social software for your bookshelf. tagging; Flickr-like blog widgets; Amazon-like book reviews; commenting on others' libraries; discussion fora; author pages; RSS feeds; Z39.50 library searching; &c.; &c. This is heroin for book junkies. Of course I signed up right away and have been furiously cataloging my library ever since.

Punk Rock and the Absolute

I'm reading Greil Marcus's Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992 at the moment and finding it difficult to put down. Composed of 15 years of assorted reviews and brief essays loosely organized around the idea of "punk" (for Marcus, this term is capacious enough to include the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Cyndi Lauper alongside the Sex Pistols and the Clash), the book turns into something much more: a sustained critique of an increasingly moribund music industry and the deadened popular tastes that the industry shapes and serves. In the process, Ranters also becomes one of the more lucid treatises on aesthetics I have read....

Happy Bloomsday!

Perhaps my second-favorite holiday (after Groundhog Day). I wish I could say I began the day with a naked swim, or even a fried kidney, but alas, my observances of the 101st Bloomsday have been rather lax (although I did manage to talk to a dean right about 10:00). It is my secret ambition to set up an Appalachian Bloomsday here, but I annually forget these plans until it is too late to do anything about it. Maybe next year.


This weekend, we formally marked the beginning of summer by making our first trip of the season to the Judy Drive-in (in nearby Judy, KY). The Judy is one of the hidden treasures of this area, an authentic drive-in experience (it's been in continuous operation since 1952) plunked down pretty much in the middle of nothing. Making your first visit — becoming "Judified" — is something of a rite of initiation within our circle. We like to arrive early with a couple other families and establish a kind of campsite in the front row (lawn chairs, sleeping bags, coolers, the whole bit). The supplies are kind of a necessity, since making a visit is a significant commitment: the movies don't start until dark, so staying for both features means being out well past midnight during high summer. There's enough room to set up a portacrib, though, so our daughter made her first trip when she was under a month old. This weekend was our son's Judification.



Out of loyalty to my adolescence, I went to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Sunday night. Reading the Hitchhiker's "trilogy" was one of the tests for entry into the inner circle of suburban American teenage geeks in the early 80s. Other tests included: reciting π to an arbitrary number of significant digits (I never got beyond 8), reading Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach (poked around in it in highschool and finally read it through in grad school), intimate knowledge of Monty Python's Flying Circus and/or Doctor Who (I reached moderate proficiency with the former but never did become a Whovian), creating recursive acronyms (OK, this one may be a little obscure, but I remember being both impressed by and jealous of "Bram, the Recursive Acronym Man," whom I met at geek summer camp), and playing Dungeons & Dragons (yup, and the less said about this the better).


Pound Encylopedia

I was very pleasantly surprised to receive my copy of The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia (Tryphonopoulos and Adams, eds. [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005]) today.Ezra Pound Encyclopedia cover Pleasantly because I contributed a few entries (on Pound's critical reception 1908-1920 & 1945-1980, on the essay collection Pavannes and Divagations [1958], and on an obscure prose sketch by Eliot called "Eeldrop and Appleplex" [1917]) to the volume and this copy is my reward for those efforts; surprised because this project has been in the works for a long time (I was first invited to contribute in the fall of 1999 and submitted my draft articles in 2001), and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be published....

Possum and the docuverse

Earlier this week, Jill Walker stated, adapting T.S. Eliot, "Blogging is breathing." That seems like excuse enough for bringing up one of my favorite bits of Eliot criticism. From the same essay ("Tradition and the Individual Talent"), his discussion of the relationship between old and new is particularly relevant in the networked age:

what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is the conformity between the old and the new.
( Eliot, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent,' Rpt. in The Sacred Wood (1920). )
Eliot gets a hard time (some of it deserved) for his apparent stodginess. This essay, in particular, draws fire from fashionable critical camps for its positing of an single, canonical Tradition and its insistence on the "impersonality" of poetic art (which many seem to feel is a smokescreen Eliot put up to discourage critics from delving too deeply into the personal ramifications of his poetry), and I'll grant there are parts of this essay that bother me, too. But really, what Eliot is proposing above is something fairly radical: that "tradition" is at once perfectly whole and complete in itself, but also always in flux, constantly being deformed and reordered by the appearance of new works....

Provincialism the enemy

Careful readers of Donut Age (if they exist outside of my own ego fantasies) may have noticed that I've pretty much avoided posts about current politics ever since the election. I'm not exactly sulking, but after my flurry of outrage last spring, I've made a somewhat conscious decision to back off the current events commentaries. For one thing, there are plenty of political bloggers out there who are more skilled and knowledgeable than I. For another, it's exhausting, mentally and emotionally, to keep up with the seemingly constant parade of outrages being perpetrated these days in the name of "democracy." I have long since reached the saturation point when it comes to these matters. Simply put, it was only making me angry and frustrated to chronicle American stupidity and hypocrisy....

The Eighth Circle

When I read Dante as an undergraduate, I was upset that in the hierarchy of Hell, theft (8th circle, 7th bolgia) ranks as a more serious crime than murder (7th circle, 1st round); seducers (8th circle, 1st bolgia) greater sinners than suicides (7th circle, 2nd round). I went so far as to write a paper that argued that the structure of the Inferno was more political than moral, and that Dante (still living under the shadow of the Dark Ages, poor man) was more concerned with defending the social order than with exposing evil. ...

Their greatest ally

Ever since the War on Terror began, I have been haunted by a passage from Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry. The novel's protagonist/narrator, Henry Smart, is a participant in the Easter Rising and the subsequent insurgency against British rule in Ireland. Fiction though it is, I think it offers tremendous insight into the psychology of a terrorist war, and especially how the occupier plays into the hands of the terrorist:

And the British would hit back; they'd over-react. They always did. Over the next four years, they never let us down. It wasn't that they made bad judgements, got the mood of the country wrong: They never judged at all. They never considered the mood of the country worth judging. They made rebels of thousands of quiet people who'd never thought beyond their garden gates. They were always our greatest ally; we could never have done it without them.
( Doyle, A Star Called Henry (1999), 187-88. )

Modern Bibliomancy

Via bobblog, a game to play with books:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
( )

Pepys's Diary

Pepysdiary re-presents, in blog format or via RSS feed, the words of Samuel Pepys exactly 403 years after the famed British diarist wrote them down. Run by Phil Gyford, an admitted non-expert, the site draws its text from Project Gutenberg and contains internal links, background material, and annotations. I wonder if this is the first remediation of a literary text in weblog format. Anyone know of similar projects?...