Pretentiousness done right

God bless Janet Malcolm.

What books are on your nightstand?

I take it you mean the imaginary Doric column that supports a teetering pile of current and old books that the interviewee wants to bring to the reader’s attention. My actual nightstand is a small wood table with a box of Kleenex, a two-year-old Garnet Hill catalog and a cough drop on it. When I go to bed I bring with me the book I am reading during the day. Right now it is the British edition of Sally Rooney’s brilliant, enigmatic new novel, “Normal People.”

How do you organize your books?

I organize them by genre. The largest section is fiction, which I alphabetize. I also alphabetize poetry. The other sections — biography, autobiography, theater, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, classical literature, literary criticism, art, photography, books by friends — are not alphabetized. I can find my way around them. I have been doing a lot of rereading in recent years. Why have a large library and not use it? Why keep books, if you are not going to read them more than once? For the décor? The answer isn’t entirely no. A book-lined room looks nice.

Naked Security

The “Naked Security” blogs published by Sophos remind me how vigilant online publishers – and all organizations, really – have to be to protect their content, their data, even their names. Indeed, the word “vigilance” needs to at the top of our whiteboard every day – and never erased.

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I saw that almost no small-cap companies in the exploration and mining business had online presences. This was a good business opportunity. I knew my way around the Internet – coming from Stanford, you had to be – but hadn’t created websites myself. I found a couple of partners who did, and we found a bunch of clients right away.

The first order of business was registering URLs for each client. This typically involved registering four or five: client.com, client.net, clientresources.com, clientresources.net, and clientinvesting.com, for instance. We wanted to make sure that we covered the bases, so to speak. We would use the main URL and make sure that the others “pointed to” the main one.

For a couple of years, on the Internet there was the equivalent of the 19th-century American land rush. Promoters, IT whizzes, managers, communications pros, publishers, inventors, entrepreneurs – everybody, it seemed to me – were staking out their claims to URLs, in essence buying names and making them their own. Whether or not these names were used for actual websites, for some it was just as important that their competitors *didn’t* have these names.

I have a spreadsheet to make sure that I never forget to re-register the “stable” of URLs I own or manage (a few dozen). Two times I missed a deadline; I lost one URL (this still bugs me, as you can imagine) and miracle of miracles I got the other one back.

Forgetfuless is one way to lose control of your URL. Having it stolen is another. The other day Sophos blogger John E Dunn published an article called “US gov issues emergency directive after wave of domain hijacking attacks.”

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued an emergency directive tightening DNS security after a recent wave of domain hijacking attacks targeting government websites. …

Domain hijacking has been a persistent issue in the commercial world for years, a prime example of which would be the attack that disrupted parts of Craigslist in November 2014.

In that incident, as in every successful every domain hijacking attack, the attackers took over the account used to manage the domains at the registrar, in this case, Network Solutions.

The objective is to change the records so that instead of pointing to the IP address of the correct website it sends visitors to one controlled by the attackers.

This change could have been made using impersonation to persuade the registrar to change the domain settings or by stealing the admin credentials used to manage these remotely. …

Dunn recommends that you verify your company’s IP addresses and “change passwords on all accounts used to manage domain records.” Read his entire post for a longer list of important safeguard measures.

Free at Last

United States copyright law was changed repeatedly in the last century to grant copyright extensions to entire classes of works of literature and entertainment. This meant that such work could not be referenced at length in works of scholarship without incurring substantial permission fees; it also meant that lots of books were much more expensive than they would have been otherwise.

As of yesterday, the copyright on many thousands of works had expired. This is very good news.

“The drought is over,” proclaims Duke Law School’s Center for the Public Domain, highlighting some of the works which are now available royalty-free, by authors from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Kahlil Gibran, PG Wodehouse to DH Lawrence, Edith Wharton to ee cummings. It’s not only books: copyright in the US is also expiring on a host of films, paintings and music.

“The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw,” the center’s director Jennifer Jenkins told the Smithsonian. The magazine predicted that the release’s impact on culture and creativity could be huge, because “we have never seen such a mass entry into the public domain in the digital age”. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, told the Smithsonian: “We have shortchanged a generation. The 20th century is largely missing from the internet.”

The expiration means anyone can publish an edition, to take one example, of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links. That novel, alongside thousands of other books, will become part of the repository of texts on sites such as the Internet Archive and Google Books. Writers will be able to use it as inspiration, creating new works or sequels based on it. Students will be able to quote freely from it; theatre producers will be able to adapt it.

As an editor, I have been very concerned about the viability of book and magazine publishing. And I know that several publishers do benefit from having a robust backlist. That said, overall these restrictions have stymied the publication of creative and academic work for many decades.

 

“The Personal Essay”

From the wonderful Atrios:

Generally, when any part of education rewards students for being confessional, you are going to attract/reward students who are comfortable with the genre of personal confession. It’s a weird thing to ask of students, and a weird thing to prioritize so highly. People convinced that The Kids Today (which means kids in elite universities because that’s all anybody ever really talks about in our elite media) are narcissistic twerps might start with this particular entry hurdle as a reason why.

My university doesn’t require such nonsense.

10% and “the crisis in knowledge”

Writes Jonathan Mayhew:

Knowledge is under attack from several fronts at once. In science itself, it is due to corporate corruption and the inherent bias toward interesting but possibly false results. There was that paper about how most scientific findings are false. 

In social science, there is a replicability crisis in social psychology and various forms of p-hacking and statistical overstatements. Then there are entire fields that just don’t seem that rigorous in the first place, the typical things people look down on like management studies and education. Economics is corrupt because of its upholding of the economic status quo.  The humanities have their own well-known problems.

What all these things have in common is that institutions are self-perpetuating, and that there are greater incentives for various stake-holders in having the system we have than in having a system guaranteed to produce a better variety of knowledge. Sturgeon’s Law would say that only 10% of everything is going to be of value, so in order to have the 10%, we need to reconcile ourselves to the 90% of crap.  We can’t just cut out the 90% because then we wouldn’t have enough critical mass to even keep going institutionally.

“Pedagogy of Delinquency”

From my friend Clarissa:

There are several foundational principles to the pedagogy of delinquency.

  1. Respect.

These are kids who value respect like nothing else in the world because it’s so rare in their world. Respect yourself, respect them, and accept nothing but respect towards yourself. There can be no comments on their attire, no requests to remove sunglasses, hoodies, head-wear, jewelry, headphones, etc. No comments on tats or piercings. Don’t try to impose authority until you have earned it. Don’t raise your voice even if you are at MOMA with them and they are swinging on the chandeliers (true story). Be serious, professional, do not condescend. Don’t show emotion because these are kids from emotionally chaotic environments who see exhibitions of strong emotion (whether negative or positive) as threatening. Inform yourself about their culture before beginning to teach. There are certain words and phrases, certain gestures, etc that are out of the question. Speak at a lower volume than you usually would but don’t mumble.

2. Teaching persona.

The best way to go, especially if you are not very experienced, is the most buttoned-up persona you can muster. If you have a naturally giggly, smiley, bubbly persona, can it. This is not a crowd that is well-disposed to respect a class clown. No degree of familiarity is OK. Forget that you have a first name. In a Latino classroom, use usted. In the English-speaking classroom, it’s Mr and Ms. …If you are a middle-aged college professor with a bunch of degrees from fancy schools, don’t pretend to be somebody else. Be who you are. These kids can see through a fake in a second because it’s their survival skill. …

3. The past does not exist.

Nobody’s past gets discussed or mentioned or alluded to in the classroom. …

4. Trust and responsibility.

Since the past doesn’t exist, everybody in the classroom is an upstanding individual with a stellar reputation. …

I honestly never smiled less in my entire life than in that classroom. And I taught exactly like I would a group of graduate students at an Ivy League school.

“We Agree …”

“We agree much more than you think.” This was Niels Bohr‘s kind way of indicating profound disagreement with a colleague’s point of view.  The genial physicist knew that the literal truth of that statement – after all, all scientists would agree on basic mathematical principles, for example – would camouflage his rebuke and foster a continued, friendly dialogue.

Bohr was perhaps the greatest scientific and collaborator mentor of the twentieth century. Although his talks were notoriously digressive and hard to follow, his spoken manner was otherwise congenial, drawing talent to his laboratories and conferences. People responded well to him. The phrase “we agree” is an excellent way to indicate that your relationship with someone is important. A lot can be accomplished on that basis alone.