General

My favorite things of 2009

Here’s a list of things from 2009 that I particularly liked. The list has no order to it. And so:

Leica M9 — A full-frame camera that not only is not an intimidating SLR but also comes from the greatest line of cameras—the Leica M series—but is also a gorgeous rangefinder, but also gives you access to the best glass in the world. In short, it’s my dream camera—the one that leaves me short of breath and utterly destroys my syntax when I attempt to write about it.

New York Yankees — There’s something about this team that I really liked more than any Yankee team since the 2001 group that lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Teixera, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, Melky, Burnett, a beautiful new stadium, and the Core Four! What fun they made October and November.

Albert Stash — A laptop bag with a handle that you can actually use to carry it for long periods of time—score!

A Gate at the Stairs — Lorrie Moore’s first novel in I don’t know how long is ambitious and acutely observed and flawed and wonderful. It made me relive, for the first time in years, one of the most intensely felt periods of my life. It reminded me what it felt like then. Can I ask any more of a novel, of a work of art?

Changing My Mind — Many of the essays in this collection by Zadie Smith have appeared in the New York Review, the Guardian, and the New Yorker, but reading them in sequence gives you a greater appreciation for the intellect and wit behind them. Smith’s new essay on David Foster Wallace alone is worth the price of admission.

Too Big to Fail — Andrew Ross Sorkin set out to write a book structured like the film Crash and as thrilling as the business classic Barbarians at the Gate. I haven’t seen Crash, but his book is every bit as thrilling as Barbarians and full of choice quotes and anecdotes from the people at the top of the financial world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at Gagosian Gallery — I walked across town in nine inches of snow to see this show. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Sag Harbor — Colson Whitehead’s latest novel should be read on summer evenings on Long Island. Funny and nostalgic with language that is full of vitality and of the 1980s, its effect on me was similar to that of Lorrie Moore’s book, but the world it gave me access to was entirely imaginary—Whitehead’s not mine—and altogether enjoyable. Dag!

Lamy Noto — Okay, so this pen really came out in 2008, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the U.S. until the summer of 2009. A well-designed Lamy for $10? Yes, please.

Dehumanized — Mark Slouka’s essay in the September issue of Harper’s was, perhaps, the most refreshing thing I read all year—someone standing up, for all the right reasons, to the wrongheaded bias toward math and science (and away from the humanities) that has come to pervade everyplace from the university to the corporation to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Ellipse — Imogen Heap’s first album in four years is awesome and her live show is even more awesome. The leadoff track on Ellipse, “First Train Home,” was my favorite song of the year, and I challenge you to not like it.

iPhone 3GS — I’m still using the original 2g version of the iPhone, but this year’s update brings more storage, video capability, and faster speeds. It’s great to have a product that delivers both Apple’s design sense and a large library of applications. (The Macs I’ve used for the past 15 years have always delivered the former but never the latter.) Listening to baseball games wherever I am? Check. NPR shows on demand? Check. The New York Times in a format that’s easier to browse than NYTimes.com? Double check. Now, if only it was available on a network other than AT&T.

Panasonic GF-1 — It’s no M9, but it’s sort of a poor man’s, i.e. my, rangefinder. When paired with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s the closest thing to a great compact camera that I’ve ever used. See sample photos from others here.

Unibody MacBook Pros — These things look solid!

Range — Was this San Francisco restaurant new in 2009? I don’t know, but it’s good.

The President — Our country got a new one in January, and it was a glorious moment. The man can play basketball and speak and write in complete sentences, and he seems to have a genuine intellect and conscience and sense of ambivalence.

San Francisco Panorama — A very well-done one-time newspaper for a city that has no good regular publication.

Economic Recovery — The Dow and I are both lower than we once were, but we’re certainly better off than we were a year ago.

Cape Cod — I had never been before this year and now I hope that there won’t be a year when I don’t go there.

Empire State of Mind — Maybe this isn’t a new anthem for New York but Jay-Z’s new single is certainly fun. Sinatra needs a break now and then, anyway.

Some things that I haven’t yet gotten around to that came out this year but that I think I might like when I do: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Wild Things by Dave Eggers and Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson’s film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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What is poetry good for?

I just read (and enjoyed) Ian McEwan’s story, “The Use of Poetry,” in the New Yorker at the recommendation of T-Rex Tragedies, who cited this passage, which must make you laugh:

She said goodbye politely enough and went on her way, but Beard walked after her and asked if she was free the next day, or the day after that, or at the weekend. No, no, and no. Then he said brightly, “How about ever?,” and she laughed pleasantly, genuinely amused by his persistence, and seemed on the point of changing her mind. But she said, “There’s always never? Can you make never?,” to which he replied, “I’m not free,” and she laughed again and made a sweet little mock punch to his lapel with a child-size fist and walked off, leaving him with the impression that he still had a chance, that she had a sense of humor, that he might wear her down.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-27

  • RT @parisreview: A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. -Don DeLillo #
  • "…ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith." –Zadie Smith #
  • David Brooks on the importance of the emotional education that comes from art: http://s.nyt.com/u/Csa #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-20

  • "..the promise is of infinite knowledge but what’s delivered is infinite information, and the two are hardly the same." http://bit.ly/1ivcM9 #
  • Excellent suggestion from @lmcintire for a late dinner after missing Sushi Zone by one minute: Chow. Had forgotten it after years away. in reply to lmcintire #
  • Wait, you want to replay the match, but if a similar call had affected its outcome in your favor you wouldn't want to? #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-06

  • "I support children wearing helmets on their bicycles—there's just a certain nostalgia for when they didn't. When we didn't." #
  • Gold isn't a safe investment; it's a bubble: http://bit.ly/3Rhjni #
  • "Note to Joe West: home plate is the white thing in the ground in front of the catcher. It is 17 inches wide." http://bit.ly/1QFkyY #
  • Huge cheers for Pettitte—awesome! #
  • Now begin five months of waiting for baseball season to start again. #WhatIDoInWinter #
  • Greenspan suggested that housing collapse was supply and demand. To solve, he said, govt should buy and burn houses. #TooBigToFail #
  • Parade! http://www.myfoxny.com #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-30

  • "…the drive to uniqueness and authenticity is what we have in common." [Just an attempt to justify absence of shared experience?] #
  • Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we need it #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-23

  • http://bit.ly/3qCaYLWe "…the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us…." #
  • "…independence is not the essential quality of a mind or personality." #
  • Platon: Immediately after McCain announced his presidental bid, he celebrated in the limo by listening to Abba's "Dancing Queen." #tnyfest #
  • Platon: Mos Def's motto: "Trust few. Fear none. Love all." #tnyfest #
  • Karl Rove to Platon during a shoot: "If you're photographing me, you don't need any advice. You've already made it." #tnyfest #
  • Platon: Immediately after McCain announced his presidential bid, he celebrated in the limo by listening to Abba's "Dancing Queen." #tnyfest #
  • Platon: "I just use the camera as a vehicle to connect with people and experience things." #tnyfest #
  • Listen to Bon Iver's set from last night at the New Yorker Festival #tnyfest including a couple unreleased songs: http://bit.ly/1lyeV6 #
  • Platon: "I shoot film. Digital is rubbish." #tnyfest #
  • No publicists or media types seem to have noted that Obama was reading "Be Quiet, Be Heard" during the campaign http://bit.ly/2VaIjS #
  • Lots of new books out this week: The Tyranny of Email, Too Big to Fail, What the Dog Saw, Super Freakonomics…. #
  • Why is @mcnallyjackson not displaying the Andrew Sorkin book on the first floor? That should be a no-brainer! in reply to mcnallyjackson #
  • Read up on the BN Nook. When will there be an e-reader with real, built-in, professional fonts? #

The most popular independent bookstores in America (on Twitter)

NFI Research has compiled a list of the independent bookstores with the most Twitter followers. Powell’s of Portland comes in first, by far, with 9,880 followers as of October 13, 2009. New York stores dominate the list, and only one Bay Area store, Booksmith, even makes an appearance on it. This is a sharp reversal of the state of things earlier this decade when notable stores, such as Coliseum and Gotham, were closing in New York, while Cody’s and Book Passage were expanding in San Francisco. A revival of indie bookstores has taken place in New York over the past couple years with successful openings of Idlewild, Greenlight, and Word, among others.

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What was Barack Obama reading during the campaign? “Be Quiet, Be Heard”

Screen shot 2009-10-18 at 6.59.56 PM

According to New Yorker photographer Platon, President Obama had the book Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion by Susan and Peter Glaser on his desk during the campaign last year when Platon shot Obama for the magazine.

platon

Platon delivered this nugget during his talk at the New Yorker Festival this afternoon. Of course, there were several others, as well. When he shot Bill Clinton for Esquire towards the end of Clinton’s Presidency, Platon told Clinton, “Show me the love!” Clinton’s advisers frantically attempted to tell him to not show Platon anything. The President responded, “Shut up. Shut up. I know what he’s talking about,” before delivering the pose that landed on the cover of Esquire. When P.Diddy arrived at Platon’s studio, he told him to cut the Miles Davis record that Platon had on the stereo and put in one of Diddy’s own records. Vladimir Putin is a huge Beatles fan. The three things that Michael Bloomberg said he could not do without on a desert island are “Salma Hayek. Salma Hayek. And Salma Hayek.” One of Platon’s photos helped compel Colin Powell to endorse Obama for President.

MP3 of Platon on snooping through Obama’s desk

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Run This Town (New York Yankees Version)

Before the Yankees game on Friday night, the stadium’s PA played a special Yankees version of the Jay-Z song “Run This Town.” Is it just bad or is it so bad it’s good?

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Listen to Bon Iver at the New Yorker Festival, or how bad is the iPhone’s microphone?


I saw Sasha Frere-Jones interview Justin Vernon of Bon Iver as part of the New Yorker Festival last night. After the interview, Vernon played a brief solo set of the following songs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my MiniDisc recorder with me, and I have yet to acquire a Tascam DR-1. So, I recorded the set with my iPhone, which sounds just about as awful as you would expect. Listen via the player below or download his set here. I’m not sure I got the title of the second song correct, and I couldn’t fine the lyrics online anywhere.

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  1. Hazelton
  2. Miss You Can’t (Real title? YouTube)
  3. Flume
  4. Hayward

I have to admit that I wasn’t as taken by Bon Iver’s album as most people I know were. However, I’ll certainly give it another chance after hearing him live. What I found fascinating was how Vernon talked about moving back to Wisconsin and doesn’t really have any interest in living anywhere else. Even after making several declarations of allegiance to the place that I’m from, I’ve left it three times this decade. And even though I intended to return each time, I still always left hoping that I would come back and never leave again. Vernon’s comments about place aren’t anything new, but given my personal history and my recent reading of Wendell Berry’s essay “A Native Hill,” hearing someone consciously commit himself to the place where he’s from, even as his work is expanding the possibility to be elsewhere, was valuable. Berry returned to Kentucky after studying at Stanford and moving to Manhattan, and he writes about his home, “Before, it had been mine by coincidence or accident; now it was mine by choice.”

It’s often bothered me than I don’t know many people who lived away from their hometowns after college and then returned to them. And I think Berry and Vernon are getting at something that I haven’t heard much among the young professional set—the value in having your geography be a set place that you serve rather than a place that simply serves your ambition. For Vernon, returning home to write the Bon Iver record For Emma, Forever Ago made geography almost invisible; place became a given, not a distraction. The artistic freedom that allowed Vernon to write a record unlike any other could only come from geographic restriction. And you can really only limit yourself to a place and know you’re not leaving if you love it, if you commit to and are responsible for it. Back to Berry: “…I never doubted that the world was more important to me than [New York]; and the world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place I was fated by birth to know better than any other.”

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Can you still watch football?

Much has been made recently about the link between NFL careers and brain damage. The New York Times has run an excellent series on the subject and Malcolm Gladwell just penned an essay equating football with dog fighting in the New Yorker. I expect that he’ll rehash much of its content for his New Yorker Festival talk today. The main point is that now that we know something about the risks to the brain of playing football, watching the game should not be a morally neutral act, just as watching dog fighting should not be one either.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-09

  • Paraphrasing M. Stewart:If political parties funded poly sci depts the way corps fund b-schools, we would consider their research propaganda #
  • This is what Condé Nast got for hiring snake oil salesman–uh, I mean, consul….?! http://bit.ly/40KPfh #
  • Are you joking?! The consultants pulled the oldest trick in the book on Condé–profit analysis. Where's that skew graph? http://bit.ly/ZXLkV #
  • Big sandwich for @joshto at the Parisi Bakery! #
  • "As bright, insecure, and self-loving youngsters determined to win…their careers had peaked when they gained admission into The Firm." #
  • "…corporations turn to strategy when they can't justify their existence in any other way…." #
  • The Economist: "Business schools need to make more room for people who are willing to bite the hands that feed them." http://bit.ly/2sEXv7 #
  • "The so-called soft skills are…the proper focus of an education…. But these skills inevitably accumulate by indirection…." #
  • How come no one suggests that the endowment had grown too large? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/education/09harvard.html #

The Management Myth reviewed in the Journal

Philip Delves Broughton, whose book on HBS I wrote about last fall, reviewed Matthew Stewart’s The Management Myth in the Wall Street Journal a couple months back. I’m currently enjoying Stewart’s skewering of business theory after having read his Atlantic article that spawned the book a few months ago. His thesis—that management theory is a false science—should be studied by anyone who has ever thought of employing SWOT, Five Forces, the BCG matrix, or any other fallacious framework.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-02

  • What's the point of watching TV if a hilarious show like Parks and Recreation is up for cancellation after only eight episodes? #
  • How did he expect to get the Olympics without healthcare…or healthcare without the Olympics…ugh. #

Using all five forces

I’ve frequently doubted the effectiveness of business frameworks as they’re used in companies and schools. However, I have realized that frameworks are very good at doing one thing: they allow people to pretend that decisions that should be subjective, political, and emotional are actually objective, technical, and quantitative.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-25

  • MA should put Atul Gawande in Kennedy's vacant Senate seat. Brilliant! http://bit.ly/1dmohE #
  • Just read Evan Ratliff's 2005 NYer piece, "The Zombie Hunters"–good stuff: http://rickyopaterny.com/shorturl/zh #
  • RT @lmcintire IKEA bookshelf, how does it feel do [sic] get totally owned? That's what I thought. [How does it feel to get sic'd?] #
  • …et al, I'm warning you, @ChrisButterick is going to be in town next weekend. Beware. #
  • "…a critic is nothing without an authoritative posture…against which an opposing outlook or proposition can be tested." -C. Ozick #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-18

  • That's just Roger being Roger: http://bit.ly/16Qvi1 #
  • US doctors overwhelmingly want a public option or single payer: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/reprint/NEJMp0907876.pdf #
  • When will pubs realize that subscription fees for apps suck? Make us pay a larger one-time fee rather than a small, incremental fee forever. #
  • Condé Nast hired McKinsey to help them cut costs. This can't be good for my beloved @NewYorkerDotCom http://bit.ly/37Rb2F #McKinseyFAIL #
  • I'm surprised that Doug Glanville didn't mention the athlete most recently cited for having kept it real: LeBron James. http://bit.ly/PHWxJ #
  • Just saw the film Botany of Desire based on Michael Pollan's excellent book. Wondering when the long tail concept will come to food. #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-11

  • The issues with using Adobe CS3 with Snow Leopard: http://bit.ly/NfiE6 #
  • Ugh. I started reading the @NYTimes in high school because I didn't want to read about California! http://cnt.to/hDo (via @paidcontent) #
  • Screening of the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers film version of Where the Wild Things Are in SF on 9/30 http://bit.ly/qfFXD #
  • Police checkpoint on 19th heading south. Stay away–big traffic headache. #
  • Picked up a signed copy of the new Lorrie Moore novel from @greenappleguy tonight. You should do the same! #
  • People in Cole overheard my trying to remember yesterday's dinner, "I didn't have dinner. Nothing @CafeGratitude could count as dinner." #
  • RT @mistahmoogle: @ricky_o, I told the Jiggaman to use the patented Ricky O. "Sup!" on his new song. http://blip.fm/~cxmda #
  • RT @Emdashes: The NYer Festival schedule is up! http://bit.ly/mxK5T #
  • Four tickets for $3 each, Lincecum scratched from his scheduled start, Giants loss. I guess you get what you pay for. #
  • Forget the new iPods, this is the product announced today that I'll pine for: http://bit.ly/mEeNt #
  • RT @vincelin: judy gave birth at 9:55 am to 7 lb 6 ounce vince jr. #