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by Matt Mazur

25 Jun 2009

I think if you look up “train wreck” in any dictionary, there will be a picture of this. What happened to Lara Flynn Boyle?!

by Tommy Marx

25 Jun 2009

The first time I heard “Marlene on the Wall” playing on the radio, I fell in love with Suzanne Vega. The song was catchy, her voice was soft yet defiant, and the image of a Marlene Dietrich poster passing judgment on a woman searching for love stayed with me long after the song finished playing. Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut was one of the best albums of the year, with tracks like “Cracking” (“my heart is broken; it is worn out at the knees”), “Small Blue Thing”, and the devastating “The Queen and the Soldier”. But none of the three singles A&M released from the album charted on The Billboard Hot 100.

Surprisingly, neither did “Left of Center”, her enigmatic but hypnotic contribution to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.

So I was happily surprised when, a couple years later, “Luka” became a major hit, spending three months in the Top 40 and peaking at #3. Finally, other people were discovering what a phenomenal talent Vega was. The Solitude Standing CD peaked at #11 on The Billboard 200 chart, and she was poised to become a major star.

by Lara Killian

24 Jun 2009

It’s that time of year again - time to take stock of what you’ve been waiting to read, the books you’ve been hearing about, that stockpile on your bookshelf, possibly a holdover from holiday gift giving (I won’t ask which year). Or perhaps your reading slate is clean and you’re looking for advice? 

I’m interested in where people get ideas for what to read next. So when it comes to summer reading lists - who do you get reading advice from?

Do you look to traditional newspaper sources? The Boston Globe has some recommendations.

Do you ask your local librarian for a little help? The New York public libraries website has lists for all ages.

People who’ve already demonstrated an ability for creating new literature might be a good source for titles new as well as old. So do you consult what your favorite author will be reading? The Philadelphia Examiner asked several local authors what they’ll be reading this summer.

In a similar feature, the magazine School Library Journal highlights authors of young adult and children’s literature, asking for their recommendations.

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National Public Radio recently talked to Nancy Pearl, librarian and writer of the Book Lust series of reading recommendation books (not to mention the model for the Librarian Action Figure. I am not making this up). Pearl is something of a guru in the library world when it comes to reading recommendations. 

And people who listened to the NPR program left messages with their own recommendations. So are those random folk who call into a radio program about books a good source for new reads?

Perhaps when all else fails, you check out what Oprah has to say on the subject?

There’s no shortage of suggestions out there. Naturally they’re not created equal. Do you have a preferred source to share? 

by PopMatters Staff

24 Jun 2009

The Herbaliser Band
Session 2
(!K7)
Releasing: 4 August 2009 (US) / 3 August 2009 (UK)

SONG LIST
01 Mr Chombee Has the Flaw
02 Geddim!
03 AM Prelude
04 Another Mother
05 Blackwater Drive
06 MS Prelude
07 Moon Sequence
08 Amores Bongo
09 CC Prelude
10 Theme From Control Centre
11 Stranded on Earth

The Herbaliser Band
“Geddim!” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

24 Jun 2009

Reading this Wired article by Fred Vogelstein about the supposed war between Facebook and Google that’s coming, I found myself becoming increasingly irritated and skeptical. Though actually, truth be told, I turned against the article in the second paragraph:

Originally Google had considered acquiring Facebook—a prospect that held no interest for Facebook’s executives—but an investment was another enticing option, aligning the Internet’s two most important companies. Facebook was more than a fast-growing social network. It was, potentially, an enormous source of personal data. Internet users behaved differently on Facebook than anywhere else online: They used their real names, connected with their real friends, linked to their real email addresses, and shared their real thoughts, tastes, and news. Google, on the other hand, knew relatively little about most of its users other than their search histories and some browsing activity.


Never mind that the “a prospect that held no interest for Facebook’s executives” aside seems like a suck-up (like much of the article, in fact). I don’t see why you’d minimize the marketing significance of “search histories and some browsing activity” and act like that was nothing. That seems like a pretty good way to get at what a specific person is interested in, certainly more reliable than what one tells friends. Data can hardly get more personal and granular. On Facebook, users have every interest in lying or exaggerating about their preferences to signal various commitments and so on. They are hardly sharing their “real thoughts and tastes” in every instance. But when they do Google searches, they actually are interested in getting the information; there is not point of pretense. So having that record of what actually gets searched allows Google to spy much further into the individual user’s psyche. That seems for more “real,” for marketers’ purposes, than the fact that Facebook functions as a database for all that other “real” information. Facebook is a performative space; the Google search window is not.

And the idea that people want to rely entirely on their friends for information is a little strange too. Consider this insane statement: “For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline.” The nice thing about the internet is that it allows us to connect to a broader context than the little world of our friends. Why would anyone want to retract that? Yes, the need to filter information becomes more and more paramount, but Google’s algorithms are useful precisely because they are not parochial. I’ll take the “the cold mathematics of a Google search” over the limited scope of the people I know who are into time-killing on the internet. So I reject utterly the emotional logic of this: “Want to see what some anonymous schmuck thought about the Battlestar Galactica finale? Check out Google. Want to see what your friends had to say? Try Facebook Search.” If I care what my friends think, I’ll ask them; I won’t stalk them over it on the internet. And lots of people I don’t know who comment on culture are not “schmucks.” They are critics. “Why settle for articles about the Chrysler bankruptcy that the Google News algorithm recommends when you can read what your friends suggest?” Because lots of people out there are far more informed than my friends are about the subject, and my friends are likely to all share the same bias.

Built into this social-search idea as well is this annoying presumption that no one can generate an interest in something without a friend already being interested in it. Whatever happened to autonomous curiosity? Isn’t that the essence of “surfing” the web, anyway? Maybe I’m weird, but my “social graph,” as Zuckerberg likes to call his customers’ co-opted personal lives, is not my primary source of information. Often, the internet itself is, via a variety of blogs, news feeds, and yes, Google searches. The “social graph” is more a primary source for what is being gossiped about; it would be terrible if that constituted the horizons of what I learned about the world. But then, I’m a nitwit who can’t figure out the point of Twitter, so take my opinion for what it’s worth. I haven’t made the leap to making personal, private queries of my friends in a public commercial forum. I guess I am perhaps different from a lot of people in that I am generally less interested in the minutia of my friends lives than what is happening in the world at large. I spend next to no time on Facebook, but an absurd amount of time reading econoblogs. (This reflects my disdain for human-interest stories in the newspaper—as well as crime logs and such—and my preference for the Financial Times.)

Vogelstein acknowledges that Facebook’s business plan ultimately involves collecting personal data to sell targeted ads, and that its customers are intensely creeped out by this particular use of the “social graph.” Facebook promises users a safe place to conduct social business, but that safety feels violated when the information exchanged is sold to marketers. Google makes no such implied promise to its users, so it can seem less intrusive when it, say, mines people’s emails for keywords to serve ads. Ultimately, Facebook doesn’t really do anything but aggregate information; it’s only leverage on users is the data it has collected on them. Then it holds that data hostage and hopes users are too lazy to recreate the network elsewhere. Once a platform is devised that allows the contours of one’s social network to become portable, Facebook is finished. My money is on Google for that.

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