Listen to the Festival of New French Writing: E.L. Doctorow and Olivier Rolin

The Festival of New French Writing is happening at NYU’s law school this weekend. On Thursday  E.L. Doctorow and Olivier Rolin were in a conversation moderated by Benjamin Anastas. Anastas was filling in for Sam Tanenhaus, who no-showed the event. And though he tried to control the discussion, he couldn’t do much as an unprepared replacement to adapt to Doctorow’s palpable disgust with the topic of politics in writing. Rolin took his questions with good humor, but it would have been best if he could have redirected the discussion. Unfortunately, for the audience, he didn’t.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-02-27

  • What if making the web more valuable means making it advertising-free? #
  • Finished “U and I” by Baker, keep getting distracted from Bellow. #
  • Don’t like the Strand, but like Moleskine, and Strand is the place to buy the notebooks. #
  • Visualize Obama’s State of the Union using Wordle: #
  • I don’t think they grant degrees, but there is still #
  • Netherland Wins Pen/Faulkner Award The Pulitzer is next, mark my word #
  • Anyone going to the Festival of New French Writing? #
  • Zoë Heller in NYTimes: “The point of fiction is…to engage with people whose politics or points of view are unpleasant or contradictory.” #
  • E.L. Doctorow at NYU tonight. in reply to luxlotus #
  • Sitting next to Doctorow. #
  • They’re doing translation on the fly for the panelists and moderator through radioed earphones. Fancy! #
  • Somehow, the conversation at the table next to mine has revolved for 10 minutes around the same question: “Have you smoked with your kids?” #
  • “Publishers sell writers instead of books.” –Philip Gourevitch speaking the sad truth at NYU right now. #
  • Bernard-Henri Lévy just arrived with his entourage–only a French intellectual would. Will post the panel discussion on my website later. #

Who’s reading your blog in Google Reader?

Someone once said that weblogs contain a gold mine of information about your users, and it’s true. Between your logs and software like Google Analytics, you can find out where your users IP addresses are located, what keywords they searched for to find your site, how they arrived on it, how long they stayed, how many pages they viewed, what kind of browser they used, and much more. However, these are all characteristics of your users. When it comes to finding out exactly who your users are, you’re generally out of luck. 

But if a user is coming to your site by clicking on a link in Google Reader, it’s quite possible that you can find out who they are—sort of. I don’t often look at my own weblogs, but in doing so for the first time in months, I found something curious about visits coming from Google Reader. If you look at referring URLs from Google Reader, they should look similar to this: That number in there is a user id of the person from whose Google Reader account the visit originated. Take that number and put it into this URL and you’ll get that person’s shared items page, if they have one: (I intentionally made those numbers non-functioning in my examples.) Now, you’ll have a little more information: whatever public name the person has given herself and her shared items. Note that the number in these URLs is, apparently, different than the one use for public profile pages on Google. You people say you value privacy on the Internet, after all.

Engaging the unpleasant

Today’s New York Times features a profile of Zoë Heller in which she says: “The point of fiction is not to offer up moral avatars, but to engage with people whose politics or points of view are unpleasant or contradictory.” It’s uncomfortable, but true; this is exactly what good fiction does. I think the first time I really felt this effect was during my freshman year of college when I read Lolita and found myself enthralled by HH’s prose and disgusted by his actions. Do you agree with Heller? Disagree? Comment.

Capitola Book Cafe launching memberships

The Capitola Book Cafe is launching a membership program similar to the one used by Kepler’s.

The Book Cafe is instituting a membership program, in which they’re asking their customers to pay an annual fee in five levels from $25 to $250. Those fees will entitle them to a number of benefits — free food and drink, shopping sprees, tickets to events and other discounts — but they’re also needed to keep the Book Cafe in business.

Unfortunately, it looks like this membership program will, like Kepler’s, offer no accountability or provide donors—that’s what they are, not members—any insight into how the bookstore is using their contributions, which is a shame.

Visualize President Obama’s State of the Union address

State of the Union

Perhaps, you’re watching President Obama’s address on with Facebook Live or reading it faster than Obama can speak. Well, I dumped the text into Wordle, played with the colors and styles a bit, and produced the above word cloud. If Obama left any doubt about the themes of his speech, this visualization reinforces them, though “energy” seems a bit small. Click the above image for the full-size version.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-02-20

  • “We are all failed youths.” –John Updike #
  • The PPT slide from the Kindle 2 launch that Amazon didn’t want you to see: #
  • SF4 bricked my Xbox with the red ring after only one match. Now I wait for Microsoft’s border repair center to turn it around. . . . #
  • “…the management consultant [is] the personification of the sellout.” –Louis Menand in The New Yorker #
  • NYU occupation: I agree with fulfilling financial aid and making library public. Opening endowment is stupid: #
  • The McEwan profile in this week’s NYer is good, but Menand’s review of the Barthelme bio is better; neither article is available online. #
  • Is it just me or the did the #NYU occupation last about as long as students’ iPod and cell phone batteries? #
  • Love Jeter’s response to A-Rod’s blaming his missteps on not having gone to college: “Never went, man.” #

Moneyball comes to the NBA

I feel like every time Michael Lewis talks about Moneyball, someone asks him if Billy Beane’s approach to fielding a team based on statistical analysis has taken hold in other sports. Although people have calculated win shares in basketball based on other statistics, i.e. through regressions, no one has really told a Moneyball-like story of the sport. That is, until today when Lewis himself published an article about Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets in the New York Times Magazine. It’s highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Moneyball.

Public, private, or pay?

When we post information online we often have the option to make it public or private. We can choose to share with some, everyone, or no one. My Flickr photos, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my Google Reader shared items–all of them involve making that choice. Well, how about offering another option? You want to see my Facebook page and we’re not friends? You’ll have to pay me $5. Want to read my Twitter feed? That’ll be $1. Just an idea, a modest one, from this morning’s train ride.

The missing slide from Amazon’s Kindle 2 launch: longevity comparison

Amazon Kindle Longevity Comparison

I’ll buy a Kindle once Amazon’s device can win in a longevity comparison with a traditional book. As you can see from the PowerPoint slide above, it still has a long way to go, as the Kindle lasts about 14 months, while the 1766 edition of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet has lasted 243 years and counting. In the meantime, you can pre-order the new Kindle 2; just don’t expect it to last more that two years.

Booksmith beats the odds

The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a story about the recent success of Booksmith on Haight in San Francisco.Preveen Madan and Christin Evans acquired the store in 2007,

Evans said they think of their staff as “book concierges,” gently nudging browsing shoppers toward books they might not have considered. They group books in unusual categories on shelves. A recent favorite is “Long Dead Writers – Read Them Before You Meet Them.”

That’s something that most bookstores don’t do. And it’s not a bad thing if their edit or selection of books is strong. However, most stores depend on the books selling themselves, which, in the absence of such a selection, will never work.