The zidi retweet #6

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1. On January 1, Xenomorph Records released over 200 minutes of music, including tracks from various experimental artists like Scott Lawlor, Cousin Silas and Oneirich. The compilation is named New Year’s Darkness and is available on a pay-what-you-like basis on Bandcamp. Listen here.

2. The Mothman (shudder), Bessie, Momo and Chupacabra: A Cryptozoological Map of the United States.

3. Some fish get a condition that is similar to the bends. A reusable device would help fisherman release them safely.

4. “It was not until I took part in a performance of the Bach B Minor Mass in 1983 that I came to question the desirability of having a degree of perfect pitch. The so-called early music revival was in full swing at that time and as soon the rehearsal started I realized that this performance of Bach’s masterpiece was, to my ears, in Bb minor. I was going to have to mentally transpose every note down by a semitone. In such complex, often chromatic and swiftly-moving music, the concentration involved in transposing was overbearing.”

5. How did Neversink, New York meet its end? It sunk.

6. “Crickets are surprisingly nutritious. Per hundred grams, they contain nearly the same amount of protein as ground beef and the same amount of iron as spinach, and more vitamin B12 than salmon. In light of the glaring resource-intensiveness and environmental impact of raising traditional meats, crickets have piqued people’s interest because they are so efficient: Pound for pound, the bugs need far less water and feed than chickens and cows. The market now includes competing cricket-protein bars, cricket-based snack chips (“Chirps”), and cricket flour for baking; chefs are offering items such as cricket tacos on menus.”

7. “They’re Watching You Read”.

8. “Devoid of shoppers for years, Bangkok’s New World shopping center is losing the thousands of fish that have more recently called the condemned mall home. An estimated 3,000 fish, brought to the roofless, flooded building a decade ago by nearby vendors in hopes of controlling a burgeoning mosquito population, are being removed by Bangkok Metropolitan Administration staff.”

9. “It may seem like a wasteful act of reckless pollution, but there is a deeper purpose behind this odd method of disposal. Each subway car will be left on the ocean floor, to be assimilated into the ecosystem. Over time, every surface will be covered in life, creating an artificial coral reef system.”

10. American Idol’s Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips wants out of his contract with “the oppressive, fatally conflicted 19 Entertainment, Inc.” His complaint–filed last week with the State of California Labor Commissioner–reads as equal parts procedural vaudeville and artistic caterwauling, often within the same sentence: “Petitioner, after achieving substantial success as a recording artist, frequently requested that Respondent secure for him various improvements to the terms of the Recording Agreement, a typical event in the life of a rising star.” Something tells us that these depositions won’t be as fun as Pharrell’s, but the claim is still young.

11. Jerry A. Coyne–among many others–reports that Andrew Sullivan will retire from blogging. (Didn’t we go through this once already?) Sullivan’s transition from uneasy conservative to heckling contrarian should have been fascinating to watch, but the religious longform, gated content and sometimes deafening pitch of his rhetorical voice became off-putting. I’d like to say that we’ll miss him, but he’ll be back. As to any stress-related health issues, we wish him a prompt and full recovery.

–C.E. Alexander would gladly offer up Book of Constants for an artificial coral reef. In the Caribbean, preferably. But really anywhere.

Assumptions: first, Bachman Lake is the Pacific Ocean and, second, the sky is made of ghosts.

In that case, yes, this photograph makes sense.  Citation below.metapth66707_xl_01003-00214_01

[Love Field], Photograph, n.d.; ( : accessed January 21, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Dallas Municipal Archives , Dallas, Texas.

The zidi retweet #5: our favorite stories of 2014

C.E. Alexander counts down our top 25 favorite stories of the year.

#25 ‘Like’ Is, Like, Totally Cool, Linguist Says

First, the case needs to be mostly closed. See our previous remarks about chaos in Ukraine, the Israel-Gaza conflict or the current Ebola outbreak. Otherwise news, essays, studies, videos and graphics were all eligible. Continue reading

The year’s best TNR articles

393px-Walter_Lippmann_1914This morning I took to Twitter and promised an end to the New Republic retweets, concluding: “at this point most of us are only talking past everyone else.” Even if that was the right comment, it was the wrong medium.

This is what I might have said: the conservative end of our political spectrum has long declared TNR’s editorial positions irrelevant and offers little comment about the particulars of employee relations. TNR’s more progressive observers believe the shake-up to be only the most recent and notable skirmish between #longread and #clickbait, between print and digital. And while the departing editors chide New Republic ownership for terrible lapses in decorum and management, Hughes replied by exceeding the informal 500-word maximum by sixty percent, and not saying anything at all. In Twitterspeak, each side is talking past all others.

As someone who has worked for the same small business for twenty years–who has listened to the owners struggle with the ideas of continuance and cashing out, who has witnessed first-hand the difficulties of valuing a company, offering it for sale–I can only add that TNR’s frustrations are par for the course. Especially now that it has outlived those who wrote its mission statement.

Hopefully that does not sound detached. While corporate continuance problems are inevitable, they are not without their casualties. I have rather enjoyed getting to know the essayists at TNR and will miss seeing so many excellent writers under the same masthead: Anne Applebaum, Jonathan Chait, Noam Scheiber, Isaac Chotiner and Julia Ioffe. For an introduction to some of my favorite pieces, keep reading below the fold. No doubt some of these will show up on Zidi’s year-end list for best new articles. For now we offer only a few:
Continue reading

The zidi retweet #4

On March 2, 2004, the European Space Agency launched a space probe with robotic lander toward comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. On November 12, 2014 the lander touched down, experiencing a malfunction in its anchoring harpoons and suffering at least two unceremonious bounces (the mass of the robot is 220 pounds, but the weight at the moment of touchdown was half an ounce). Much is undetermined yet at least this much is clear: the lander (named Philae) is secure and functional enough to have started sending images back home.

Some observers have pointed out that ESA’s achievement is only technically a first, that robotic probes have landed on asteroids twice before. True. But the interactive map of Philae’s decade-long, Matrix-speed, four billion-mile pursuit is much cooler.

Contrary to our last several tweets, we haven’t only been watching comets this month. Here are the other stories that caught our attention:

1. “Kip Thorne looks into the black hole he helped create and thinks, Why, of course. That’s what it would do.”

2. The dog suicide bridge near Dumbarton, Scotland might not be haunted after all. It smells strongly of milk, which can disrupt a dog’s senses.

3. The latest successful Kickstarter campaign: a hand-held DNA discovery system named miniPCR.

4. “You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.”

5. Beautiful images of the Fallstreak Hole in Victoria.

6. “Descriptions differed greatly across individuals and included: (a) huge deformations of one’s own face (reported by 66% of the fifty participants); (b) a parent’s face with traits changed (18%), of whom 8% were still alive and 10% were deceased; (c) an unknown person (28%); (d) an archetypal face, such as that of an old woman, a child, or a portrait of an ancestor (28%); (e) an animal face such as that of a cat, pig, or lion (18%); (f ) fantastical and monstrous beings (48%).”

7. “If Strangers Talked to Everybody like They Talk to Writers.”

8. Lev Zhurbin conducts 11 New York subway musicians via Skype.

9. An iTunes glitch added a ten-second, static-only track to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. The song briefly sat at the top of iTunes’ Canadian charts. Don DeLillo, author of White Noise, reviewed the white noise.

10. With apologies to your boss, NASA has a Soundcloud page.

11. A border agent loses his right to own guns after committing a nonviolent felony. Can he sell the weapons instead of merely surrendering them? The U.S. Supreme Court will decide.

12. What is it like to judge the Man Booker prize? It sounds intimidating, frankly.

–C.E. Alexander is the author of four short stories and might have seen a Fallstreak Hole in McKinney, Texas, although that might also have been the spicy food talking. Kindle Unlimited users can read his short story Book of Constants for free, here.

The zidi retweet #3

Maybe it’s that those of us in Dallas and the surrounding areas have been watching the news nonstop, but these stories absolutely crooned. Without any more ado, our top tweets of the last month:

1. Easily my favorite: Ultramarathoner Reza Baluchi set out to run the perimeter of the Bermuda Triangle in a 3mm-thick plastic sphere, armed only with a hammock, bottled water, protein bars, fishing gear and a satellite phone. After 70 nautical miles he inadvertently set off his distress beacon and the U.S. Coast Guard picked him up. The idea was to raise awareness for his Plant Unity nonprofit. Visit his website to learn more.

2. “Failures of the Electric Comet Model.”

3. “In April 2003 we formed a charitable group to remake an authentic, playable version of the famous Gold Lyre of Ur which dates from 2,550 BC.”

4. “The Krakatoa explosion registered 172 decibels at 100 miles from the source. This is so astonishingly loud, that it’s inching up against the limits of what we mean by sound.”

5. “The anonymous literary salon in a Brooklyn bar.”

6. Pharrell’s deposition…

7. …which was only slightly funnier than Robin Thicke’s deposition.

8. “CrossFit’s injury rate is about 3 injuries per thousand hours of training. That’s higher than college cross-country or swimming, but lower than lacrosse, field hockey or basketball.”

9. File this one under NSA_mission_creep: “The total would have been $7.9 sextillion. That’s equal to a stack of $100 bills (if that many actually existed) so high that it would go back and forth to the sun 28,769 times.”

–C.E. Alexander is the author of four short stories and zero peer-reviewed articles (unless you count Amazon reader reviews of Book of Constants).

The zidi retweet #2

It’s not like the bad news slowed to a crawl after last month’s retweet. Perhaps this should become a monthly feature: a brief respite from war, war drums, Ebola outbreak and new Apple products. Here were some of our favorite articles we filed under Other News:

1. The interactive, one-billion-pixel view of Mars, as taken by the Curiosity rover.

2. We have mixed feelings about the “Go to Give it Up” lawsuit. We love Pharrell Williams, love Marvin Gaye, do not love Robin Thicke, but–above all else–music plagiarism is a blurred line.

3. Does Saturn repeatedly create and destroy small moons?

4. An unexpected crash in the market for nude celebrity selfies reveals just how deeply the hacker community has cut. Read this one with a stiff drink.

5. Amazon pays $1 billion for Twitch, a social media site for watching others play video games. And here we are in North Texas wringing our hands about a $60 million football stadium.

6. “I’ve met countless news consumers like that woman in Florida, trapped in a luxury high-rise, surrounded by information they refuse to access or consider.”

7. When this hoax-band actually released an album, their Wikipedia hoax-page kept the same URL and bio.

8. “If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the chance you will be correct? A: 25%? B: 50%? C: 60%? Or D: 25%?”

9. For those of us living in the U.S. border states, there are familiar scenes at Spain’s land border with Morocco.

10. What We See When We Read.

C.E. Alexander is the author of four short stories and a short story anthology. Book of Constants is currently free, here.

What does the iOS 7 agreement say, exactly?

sepia phone

by C.E. Alexander

If you have an iPhone, chances are you operate it with iOS 7. And if you do, you have already agreed to the iOS 7 licensing terms. It’s not as Orwellian as you might fear: the addition of Siri introduced some creepy verbiage about contact information, and Apple makes no warranty whatsoever regarding the performance of iOS 7. And as for 2(d), which requires the user to store only those songs and images for which he or she holds the copyright? If we’re reading it right, it prohibits one of the only things we intend to do with our smart phones in the first place.

But otherwise none of the language is terribly inventive or alarming. Those of us who regularly execute contracts will not be surprised by anything here: don’t use the operating system to break the law. Don’t copy it or reverse-engineer it. Don’t sue Apple for more than $250. Don’t call if it malfunctions. If you disagree with any of these terms, go get a refund on your phone.

For those who would still rather be sure, we have taken the basic outline of the license, stripped away the legalese, and refitted the structure with something a bit more lightweight. The activists in the crowd are encouraged to discuss paragraph 4(c) with Apple directly. How can the user possibly agree on behalf of one contact in their address book, not to mention all of them? It’s an onerous, ridiculous, and vague provision. And it’s way too late for most of us to get a refund. Continue reading

Everything that rises must diverge.

Earlier in the day our kids invited me to join an action figure battle. My son began with a screaming frog that would build an army with only its voice. One soldier at a time, one shrill call at a time. My daughter formed a small battalion of medics. Insurmountable as a whole, you see, because if any one character was wounded, the others would step in at once and heal. That easy. My base was equally postmodern: an Iron Can controlled remotely by Iron Man. A Lego scout cruiser that launched into dubstep drive instead of warp drive. An energy shield powered by dice. Then I watched Divergent with my wife.

It is difficult to say which setting was more contrived: the five social divisions as detailed in the film, or the three-way brawl as created from scratch by two children and their space opera-geek father. As a writer and proud dad I would like to claim that our afternoon offered more preposterous rules and counter-intuition, but that might not be true.

For those readers not familiar with the Divergent plot, try one of these reviews (for example, Claudia Puig’s takedown for USA Today: “ironically for a film about non-conformity, it adheres to the playbook rather slavishly”). The only point we will add is the entirety of the dystopia: characters no longer carry wallets, amuse themselves with cell phones or check out hardbodies online. The Erudites are so tied up with thinking–and the Abnegations so occupied handing out food, the Candors so busy being candid–that a quick round of Xbox is out of the question.

Tattoos being the one exception. In the future there will be ink but no viral cat videos. And good riddance.

That the viewer spends so much time silently questioning logistics is unfortunate, because there is a great story inside the implausible totalitarianism and teen angst gone supernova (research opportunity: the number of viewers aged twenty and up who walked out when Tori said “You don’t fit into a category, they can’t control you”). If it takes a cast of beautiful Caucasians to offer up a YA metaphor for the caste system, so be it. Contrary to expectations, Shailene Woodley does not simply remove a pair of eyeglasses to reveal that—voila—Tris has been gorgeous all along. And rarely is a team of soldiers or law enforcement officials so open on the subject of fear. Indeed, in Divergent, the mark of successful warrior is one who does not shed her phobias too quickly or easily.

It is a familiar, engaging tale of resistance, done almost right. And that is why the viewer takes the repeated missteps so personally. The five-faction system is not just a house of cards, but an inverted pyramid of cards, glued together only by focus-group, age-specific symbolism (the plot owes its very existence to the fact that teenagers delight in stereotyping, but cannot stand being stereotyped in return). It is so regimented the narrative practically halts itself. Among our many questions: Once Tris chooses a faction, she chooses forever? And can never again see her parents? By law? If she fails in her training she will be cast out, forced to eat scraps from the street? And how exactly does that help stabilize the regime?

One more: why would an Abnegation ever marry another Abnegation?

The film tries to preempt our cross-examination of why? why? and why?. Enter the over-thinking Erudite, who faults human nature and our struggle for sovereignty: “The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will.” But is the state-sponsored Aptitude Test not an official effort to quantify human nature into the five broad categories? And is the Choosing Ceremony not an official endorsement of independent will? If the answers to both questions are yes, then why are we here again?

There are two sequels in the works, and—though I have not read the books—it is a safe bet that the third film will see the entire system collapse. If so, credit the humble laws of gravity, not the end result of great character development and storytelling. If there is a message to writers here it is this: build us a new world. But live in it before we do. Walk around, kick the tires, have a Diet Coke. You just might find you filled the place with tripping hazards.

A great humble

This weekend we heard an interesting discussion on A Way With Words. A caller disputed the word humbled in certain first-person uses, particularly when a notable celebrity or authority is thanking a wide audience for an award. Martha Barnette sided with the caller: the word is disingenuous, even immodest in that context. Use of the word honored constitutes better diction and does not imply relative positions between the award recipient and audience.

Grant Barrett disagreed, stating that the use of humbled in this context is decades old (as is the complaint), and that a general dismissal of the word is unfair. What of those cases when recipients “are genuinely brought down low?” He continued: “They’re not up there preening. It’s part of the social glue that’s necessary to express that you’re worthy of the honor.”

It’s interesting that the in- and out-of-studio disagreement fell along the same gender lines, because we passed the debate onto another couple, who reported identical battle lines: the husband agreeing with Barrett, the wife with Barnette. Listen here. The discussion starts at 17:44. We all know that two data points create a trend and three are cause for an article. If we can get another couple or two to chime up in the comments, we might just get T-shirts printed up.