Sunday, April 27, 2008

No Shark Jumped; Not Even a Dorsal Fin in Sight

A good way to find out how many of your friends read reddit (or some equivalent site) is to wait for something of yours to appear there. I'm rarely in the limelight, but last week my book PLAI made it to the top-5 of reddit's programming site. The comments are the usual Intenet combination of praise, flames, argument, and randomness. I was tempted to respond to one or two, but decided to preserve my authorial dignity.

I Am Not a Spammer, I Am a Free Man!

Houston is an eccentric city. Its apparent mono-culture actually creates a remarkably strong and flavorful counter-culture, of which there is probably no more delightful manifestation than the Art Car movement.

Two lesser, but even more eccentric, attractions are the Orange Show and Beer Can House. And now, a twofer: the NYT informs us that the former has acquired the latter, melding the city's passion for eccentricity and capitalism. The article contains a key insight about Houston:

Marilyn Oshman, the art patron who founded the Orange Show, said it was no accident Houston played host to such attractions. “One good thing about not having any zoning is you can do stuff,” Ms. Oshman said.

The problem lies in notifying your friends of such events. I sent email to old Houston friends with the title “Orange Show buys Beer Can”, to which one responded:

I deleted this message as spam (but didn't purge) before I noticed that it was from you. I guess "Orange Show buys Beer Can" is more like the title of spam that I get than a typical legitimate message.

When the names of a city's museums trigger spam filters, you know it's doing something right.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who Needs The Onion When You Have Your Eyes?

During my morning news scan, I came across this headline:

Bernanke to give update on the economy

I did a double-take, because I initially parsed it as:

Bernanke to give up on the economy

(It may be Freudian.)

I mentioned this to a colleague, whose said he too read it the same way.

(It must be Freudian.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Woman With Qualities

Have you ever had the experience of reading about an art exhibit in, say, the Wall Street Journal or The Economist? If this week something excellent is opening in Basel, next week it's something else in St. Petersburg—oh, and you really must check out this temporary exhibit in the trendiest new district of London.

Who attends these? Are there people who jump out of their couches and say, “You know, darling, we really must pop over to Basel for the weekend; this new ironic statement about post-modernism sounds so droll!”, and then proceed to buy tickets? Or maybe nobody does, and these reports are really just meant to make the readership jealous. Indeed, I think it's all about promoting the brand: you want your reader to think they're part of a group in which everyone else (but them) gets to jet off to Basel at the drop of a hat—and feels good about being part of such an exclusive club.

Well, no more. I have joined the other side. I read the Economist's report on the Frick Collection's special exhibit on Parmigianino's Antea, and knew this was one I would make. I passed on it on multiple trips to the city the past two months, expecting that Kathi and I would see it over spring break. And we did.

Not only was the exhibit worthwhile, but so was the Frick itself, which I have never visited before. It reminded me most of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, one of my very favorite art museums in the world. In most other countries, the Brera would be a national jewel; in Italy, it seems to be a bit of an also-ran to all but the cognoscenti. In the Brera I had the experience walking into just about every room of saying, “Oh, and that's here too?” The Frick was rather like that.

One of the most important things about reviewers—of books, movies, shoes, computers, bicycles, or any other pieces of art—is not whether they're “good” or “bad”; it's about whether you and they are calibrated. If they get every single review “wrong”, that's much more helpful than doing so only half the time. This is much harder to establish with the Economist, whose book reviews are written by an unattributed team, not by a single person. Likewise, having seen and liked the Antea exhibit doesn't help me much with future art exhibits.

But since I'm not often free to jet off to Basel (they're always troubling me with chores around here), it doesn't much matter.