The Importance of Play

I still am not entirely clear on the relationship between play and creativity, but I do know that I place a probably inappropriate amount of importance in play — perhaps because my own childhood, and indeed adulthood, was so filled with daydreaming and playing (in various forms). A New York Times article by Tom Bartlett does a nice job of summing up various positions in recent research and giving a nod to the grand master on the topic: Lev Vygotsky.

Seen Them in Print

Every week our daughter comes home with a list of spelling words. Eight of them are for everyone and three of them are “challenge” words. (Eight plus three seems ingrained in us — I’m reminded of the old DOS filename convention for some odd reason.) The relationship between the regular spelling words and the challenge words is for another post — sometimes the challenge words seem easier to us — but last week’s list of words caught our attention:

Raisin, straight, entertain, complain.

Display, roadway, payment, anyway.

Straight and entertain are hard words. We knew Lily had gotten them right on the diagnostic spelling test her class is given at the beginning of every week which includes the upcoming words.

“How did you know how to spell those words?” my wife asked.

“I had seen them in print, momma,” she replied.

Update: my wife remembers them because they invented the following sentences: The raisin stood up straight and said, “entertain me. Do not complain.” and The display on the roadway said to make the payment anyway.

On Inundation

There is an absolutely terrific essay by Mark Harris on (in) GQ entitled “The Day the Movies Died.” His analysis rings true, and his prose is an absolute delight to read. His argument is that Hollywood has essentially been overtaken by marketers and that those marketers only want to sell established brands. A brand here is defined as something you have already bought (into), thus the job of the marketer is noticeable easier: they do not have to pitch you an unknown entity, only that you need more of what you already have.

I am not doing the essay justice in summing it up this way: I laughed out loud at several points and I also shook my head in sad recognition at others: the triumph of marketing is not only at the movies. Arguably, we can see it in other institutions as well.

What I do want to think about a bit more is something that one of the folks Harris interviewed mentioned, and that is the idea that we are all immersed in such a noisome environment that reaching us, or us reaching out, is very, very difficult. Here’s what Scott Stuber said in full:

“Listen, the obligation of anyone in those studio jobs is to help their company make a profit,” says Scott Stuber, who served as Universal’s president of production before leaving in 2005 to become a producer. “When things are going well, sometimes you’re willing to reach a little bit more; you’ll say, once in a while, ‘We’re just going to do this movie because we believe in it.’ But when they’re not going so well… it gets difficult. There’s just not as much money out there as there used to be, and we’re all inundated with so much noise now that it’s hard to cut through every weekend for consumers’ attention.”

Inundated. We read and hear that term, or another just like it, a lot these days. We are drowning or overwhelmed. Typically, what overwhelms us is information and/or connectivity. There is, if one follows the various sources of punditry, just too much happening: too many tweets, too many Facebook updates, too many posts in our RSS feeds, too many emails in our inboxes, too many shows on television, too many books coming out.

I think I have finally arrived at a response: stop complaining.

First, the world has always felt like this, so far as I can tell both from reading historical accounts and from doing oral history. Human beings appear designed to feel overwhelmed by whatever environment in which they find themselves. Even peasant farmers dragging a plow behind a horse feel overwhelmed by the number of variables that they have to keep in mind in hopes that they will produce enough of a crop to feed their family over the upcoming winter.

Are you worried about feeding your family over the upcoming winter?

No, you’re not.

And almost by some form of reductio ad absurdum, you are not overwhelmed. (Yes, I know, the peasant was supposed to be operating in parallel, not in contrast. I decided to make things harder for us “moderns.”)

Second, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff going on. You have to choose. I don’t regard the exercising of choice as problematic. I regard it as a state of advanced civilization that has enabled me not to worry about feeding my family over the upcoming winter.

Interface Object

Adam Greenfield has a lovely essay dissecting Nokia’s current problem as he understands it from his experiences with the company. In the middle of it, discussing how Nokia was essentially blind-sided by the iPhone revolution, he notes:

These are precisely the skills you need if you’re interested in dominating a global market in commodity communication devices, as Nokia did for the fourteen years of the Jorma Ollila era. But the company utterly failed to anticipate, understand or organize itself to deal with the critical thing that happened at the cusp of the Ollila-Kalasvuo transition. This was that you could no longer think of mobile phones as communication devices. You had to conceive of them as interface objects through which users would experience content and command functionality that ultimately lived on the network. (That grandeur and disproprotionate benefit would accrue to those who did understand this shift was underlined by Apple’s launch of its astonishingly successful iPhone in late June of 2007, just over a year after Kallasvuo ascended to the CEOship.)

The notion of an interface object grabbed my attention. The idea that one interacts through such an object with information, data, etc. is fascinating. I don’t think it’s true that the objects have to live on the network: a lot of the data I manipulate/access on my iPhone is not on the network per se but synced from the network onto my phone: addresses, appointments, e-mail, books, etc.

Two Promising Video Library Apps

I have discovered nothing so far that does for video, and audio for that matter, what Lightroom does for photography. Aperture can handle video files, but I don’t think it’s quite what the doctor ordered. Er, the professor.

There are two applications mentioned in a recent thread at Ars Technica that look promising: Usher and Clipstart. Usher looks more sophisticated, but both apps probably deserve a test drive. They are approximately the same price: Usher is $35 and Clipstart $29.

Dear Mardi Gras

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dear Faquetaigue Mardi Gras “ers”

Greetings from Treme, an HBO television series set in New Orleans and south Louisiana that is now filming it’s second season of episodes. For our Mardi Gras episode this year, we are working with Joel Savoy to capture an aspect of your Cajun Mardi Gras. Our show is devoted to music of all kinds and we are honored that Joel and you will allow us to restage parts of your Faquetaigue Mardi Gras for our show. We have understood that this is a very special celebration amongst musicians and friends. We will not use the name Faquetaigue or indicate the area of the celebration at Joel’s request. We will work under Joel’s and your guidance to make it as authentic as we can.

We would love for you to join us in recreating the celebratory feeling and unique aspects of your Courir. We are looking for about 100 participants able to come early on Saturday, March 12 dressed in their Courir costume. We realize this is taking your time and your knowledge of your Courir and imparting it to us. We very much appreciate that. For those of you that would like to participate in this undertaking, we would love to offer each of you a small thanks in the form of a check of $121.50 dollars, which is our rate for what we called “extra actors” who come in costume or with costume.

Should you decide to participate, Joel will send you some follow up information from us that will help familiarize you with our filming process. I would also ask if you are able, to send me via email at your name and the name of family and friend participants and the best phone number to contact you on. If you prefer you may also just let Joel know and he will get the information to us. This is coming to you from Joel as he is coordinating this event with us and with our gratitude.

Many thanks to you all. With your help, we hope to show an audience across the country an aspect of our history that makes south Louisiana unique.

With all regard,
Virginia McCollam
Treme – HBO
New Orleans

Syntax Highlighting in Word

I am working on my paper for the computational folkloristics panel at AFS this year. My goal is to apply some of the network theory and visualization methods I learned at the NEH Institute on Networks and Networking in the Humanities do the intellectual history of folklore studies. I thought an interesting phenemonenon to tackle would be the emergence of performance studies as a paradigm. That is, what does a paradigm shift look like from the point of view of a network? What did it look like in folklore studies?

To do this work I am interacting with JSTOR’s *Data for Research* program, and I am trying to keep notes as I go. Because this will eventually be something I want to share with others, I am keeping my notes in Word — if only because I can control the presentation much more readily. For the XML with which I am working to be more readable, it could use some syntax highlighting, a feature I count on in my text editor, Textmate, but which is not available in Word … unless, of course, you happen upon on-line sites which will do the work for you.

One such site is [ToHTML]( [PlanetB]( will also do some syntax highlighting.

Word Wrapping in vim

It has taken some research, but I was unable ever to accomplish in emacs I have been able to pull off successfully, and in short order, in vim. To be sure, it’s not my doing but the work of others that I have cobbled together here, but what it provides is the kind of word wrapping to which most of us have become accustomed in GUIs. You will need to place the following in your .vimrc file in your home directory:

:set wrap
:set linebreak
:set nolist  " list disables linebreak
:set textwidth=0
:set wrapmargin=0
:set formatoptions+=l