A jet of hot water at 88°-93°C (190°-200°F) passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a seven-gram (.25 oz) cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee. Done right, the result is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml (one oz) of pure sensorial pleasure.
Growing up in a village outside of Shanghai with no running water or electricity, Qi Lu (pronounced: chee loo) had no idea that one day he would have a corner office at one of the world’s biggest technology companies. As the President of Online Services at Microsoft, Lu has made a drastic journey to the top thanks to what his colleagues call “Qi Time.”
“During college, the amount of time I spent sleeping really started to bother me,” Lu explained to me. “There are so many books I can read and so many things to learn. It feels like, for humans, 20% of our time is wasted [during sleep] in the sense that you’re not putting that time towards a purpose that you care about.”
Although he admits it wasn’t easy, Lu has engineered his body to function on four hours of sleep a night thanks to an unusual regimen that ranges from timed cold showers to daily three-mile runs.
Driven by an unusual hunger to do more, Lu’s sleeping schedule has added an extra day’s worth of work time per week, which aggregates to nearly two months of productivity latched on to every calendar year. And he did it while still in college.
“It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them.”—The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
By: Peter Diamandis/Singularity University June 27, 2012
During the last two decades, we have witnessed a technological acceleration unlike anything the world has ever seen. Exponential progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, and synthetic biology, among many others, put us on track to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have had in the previous 200 years. We will soon have the capability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.
But it won’t happen without your help. While accelerating technology is an awesome force, it’s not enough to bring on a golden age. However, three additional forces are emerging—and this is exactly where you come in.
The second of these forces is the rise of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) innovator. No longer content with hot rods and homebrew computers, DIYers (working both in small teams or collectively, via crowdsourcing) have made major contributions to fields like healthcare, energy, education, water, and freedom—areas that were once the sole province of large corporations and governments. This means that whatever challenges we face in the world—climate change, AIDS in Africa, energy poverty—more than ever before, we are now empowered to individually help solve these problems. And it’s our ability to do so, this newfound power of the maverick DIYer, that is the second of our four forces.
The same technologies that enabled the rise of the DIY Innovator have also created wealth much faster than ever before. Tech entrepreneurs such as Jeff Skoll (eBay), Elon Musk (PayPal), Bill Gates (Microsoft) became billionaires by reinventing industries before the age of 35. Maintaining their appetite for the big and bold, they are now turning their attention and considerable resources toward bettering the world, becoming a new breed of philanthropist—technophilanthropists—and, as such, yet another force for abundance.
Perhaps the most significant change of the next decade will be the dramatic increase in worldwide connectivity via the Internet. The online community is projected to grow from 2 billion people in 2010 to 5 billion by 2020. Three billion new minds are about to join the global brain trust. What will they dream? What will they discover? What will they invent? These are minds that the rest of society has never had access to before, and their collective economic and creative boost becomes our final force: the power of “the rising billion.”
We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity.
They say you’ve never really seen a Bruce Springsteen concert until you’ve seen one in Europe, so some friends and I threw financial sanity to the winds and went to follow him around Spain and France. In Madrid, for example, we were rewarded with a show that lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes, possibly the longest Springsteen concert on record and one of the best. But what really fascinated me were the crowds.
Springsteen crowds in the U.S. are hitting their AARP years, or deep into them. In Europe, the fans are much younger. The passion among the American devotees is frenzied, bordering on cultish. The intensity of the European audiences is two standard deviations higher. The Europeans produce an outpouring of noise and movement that sometimes overshadows what’s happening onstage.
Here were audiences in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula singing word for word about Highway 9 or Greasy Lake or some other exotic locale on the Jersey Shore. They held up signs requesting songs from the deepest and most distinctly American recesses of Springsteen’s repertoire.
The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”
Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.? How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about? How is it they can be so enraptured at the mere mention of the Meadowlands or the Stone Pony, an Asbury Park, N.J., nightclub?
My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.
We carry this need for paracosms into adulthood. It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes. Millions of people around the world are ferociously attached to Tupac Shakur’s version of Compton or J.K. Rowling’s version of a British boarding school or Downton Abbey’s or Brideshead Revisited’s version of an Edwardian estate.
Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.
Over the years, Springsteen built his own paracosm, with its own collection of tramps, factory closings, tortured Catholic overtones and moments of rapturous escape. This construction project took an act of commitment.
The most interesting moment of Springsteen’s career came after the success of “Born to Run.” It would have been natural to build on that album’s success, to repeat its lush, wall-of-sound style, to build outward from his New Jersey base and broaden his appeal. Instead, Springsteen went deeper into his roots and created “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” which is more localized, more lonely and more spare.
That must have seemed like a commercially insane decision at the time. But a more easily accessible Springsteen, removed from his soul roots, his childhood obsessions and the oft-repeated idiom of cars and highways, would have been diluted. Instead, he processed new issues in the language of his old tradition, and now you’ve got young adults filling stadiums, knowing every word to songs written 20 years before they were born, about places they’ll never see.
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
(Maybe this is why younger rock bands can’t fill stadiums year after year, while the more geographically defined older bands like U2, Springsteen and the Beach Boys can.)
The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
The great Nora Ephron passed away yesterday, aged 71, following a battle with leukemia that began in 2006. She had many strings to her bow, but most notably wrote the screenplays to some of the best loved films ever to grace the big screen, many of which she also directed and produced. She wrote the following lists — of things she won’t and will miss — in 2010 and used them to close her book, I Remember Nothing. (Source: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections)
What I Won’t Miss
Dry skin Bad dinners like the one we went to last night E-mail Technology in general My closet Washing my hair Bras Funerals Illness everywhere Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism Polls Fox TV The collapse of the dollar Bar mitzvahs Mammograms Dead flowers The sound of the vacuum cleaner Bills E-mail. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it. Small print Panels on Women in Film Taking off makeup every night
What I Will Miss
My kids Nick Spring Fall Waffles The concept of waffles Bacon A walk in the park The idea of a walk in the park The park Shakespeare in the Park The bed Reading in bed Fireworks Laughs The view out the window Twinkle lights Butter Dinner at home just the two of us Dinner with friends Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives Paris Next year in Istanbul Pride and Prejudice The Christmas tree Thanksgiving dinner One for the table The dogwood Taking a bath Coming over the bridge to Manhattan Pie
Football—aka soccer—began to benefit from organisation in 1863, when a man named Ebenezer Morley collated rules in his home overlooking the stretch of the Thames on which the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge was already an annual fixture. The game took the best part of a century to conquer the world, and then along came satellite television, which has extended football’s rule to almost every corner while increasing its intensity. The World Cup is said to engage more people than the Olympic Games or any other event. If you walk into a village in Africa, you will see a child in a Barcelona or Real Madrid shirt.
Football is universal in every way. Unlike basketball or weightlifting, it can be played to a high standard by people of every shape and size. It appeals to both sexes (notably in the United States) and does not rely, like golf or tennis or equestrianism or most other sports, on pricey equipment or particular terrain. A scrap of wasteland and a ball fashioned from rags will do; with these basics, any child can aspire to the artistry of Lionel Messi. This is not romantic twaddle but the actual origin of some great players of the past, including the supreme figure of Pelé.
If boxing, say, can rival football for simplicity, football has the obvious superiority of not being essentially violent. Its beauty is summed up by a small man evading, even mastering, those who would try to impose their cynical power on him. If you watch sequences of Diego Maradona in action (search for “Diego Maradona Ultimate Best of—Part 1” and be patient), you see the ultimate victory of skill over force.
Though meritocratic, football can be very cruel because scoring is low and margins narrow. Google “Champions League final 1999” and share the explosive joy of 50,000 people as their team—which has played poorly and is losing deservedly after 90 minutes (Manchester United)—scores twice in the short time allowed for stoppages to overcome a team that has played well (Bayern Munich). One of United’s players, Gary Neville, found the mot juste: “supernatural”. Note the Bayern players. Several are prone, lifeless, as if downed by arrows of fate. One of the most experienced, Stefan Effenberg, was reluctant even to talk about it five years later.
Being the fairest and unfairest of all games helps to make football the most morally interesting. It does not make it the most admirable, and the passions it has unleashed have led to, among other tragedies, the crushing to death of 39 supporters before the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus in 1985. That the greatest game, like most great civilisations, has blood on its hands may diminish its pride, but not its scale and scope. It is the game that has everything.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Inside Google’s secretive X laboratory, known for inventing self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses, a small group of researchers began working several years ago on a simulation of the human brain.
There Google scientists created one of the largest neural networks for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors, which they turned loose on the Internet to learn on its own.
Presented with 10 million digital images found in YouTube videos, what did Google’s brain do? What millions of humans do with YouTube: looked for cats.
The neural network taught itself to recognize cats, which is actually no frivolous activity. This week the researchers will present the results of their work at a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Google scientists and programmers will note that while it is hardly news that the Internet is full of cat videos, the simulation nevertheless surprised them. It performed far better than any previous effort by roughly doubling its accuracy in recognizing objects in a challenging list of 20,000 distinct items.
The research is representative of a new generation of computer science that is exploiting the falling cost of computing and the availability of huge clusters of computers in giant data centers. It is leading to significant advances in areas as diverse as machine vision and perception, speech recognition and language translation.
Although some of the computer science ideas that the researchers are using are not new, the sheer scale of the software simulations is leading to learning systems that were not previously possible. And Google researchers are not alone in exploiting the techniques, which are referred to as “deep learning” models. Last year Microsoft scientists presented research showing that the techniques could be applied equally well to build computer systems to understand human speech.
“This is the hottest thing in the speech recognition field these days,” said Yann LeCun, a computer scientist who specializes in machine learning at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.
And then, of course, there are the cats.
To find them, the Google research team, led by the Stanford University computer scientist Andrew Y. Ng and the Google fellow Jeff Dean, used an array of 16,000 processors to create a neural network with more than one billion connections. They then fed it random thumbnails of images, one each extracted from 10 million YouTube videos.
The videos were selected randomly and that in itself is an interesting comment on what interests humans in the Internet age. However, the research is also striking. That is because the software-based neural network created by the researchers appeared to closely mirror theories developed by biologists that suggest individual neurons are trained inside the brain to detect significant objects.
Currently much commercial machine vision technology is done by having humans “supervise” the learning process by labeling specific features. In the Google research, the machine was given no help in identifying features.
“The idea is that instead of having teams of researchers trying to find out how to find edges, you instead throw a ton of data at the algorithm and you let the data speak and have the software automatically learn from the data,” Dr. Ng said.
“We never told it during the training, ‘This is a cat,’ ” said Dr. Dean, who originally helped Google design the software that lets it easily break programs into many tasks that can be computed simultaneously. “It basically invented the concept of a cat. We probably have other ones that are side views of cats.”
The Google brain assembled a dreamlike digital image of a cat by employing a hierarchy of memory locations to successively cull out general features after being exposed to millions of images. The scientists said, however, that it appeared they had developed a cybernetic cousin to what takes place in the brain’s visual cortex.
Neuroscientists have discussed the possibility of what they call the “grandmother neuron,” specialized cells in the brain that fire when they are exposed repeatedly or “trained” to recognize a particular face of an individual.
“You learn to identify a friend through repetition,” said Gary Bradski, a neuroscientist at Industrial Perception, in Palo Alto, Calif.
While the scientists were struck by the parallel emergence of the cat images, as well as human faces and body parts in specific memory regions of their computer model, Dr. Ng said he was cautious about drawing parallels between his software system and biological life.
“A loose and frankly awful analogy is that our numerical parameters correspond to synapses,” said Dr. Ng. He noted that one difference was that despite the immense computing capacity that the scientists used, it was still dwarfed by the number of connections found in the brain.
“It is worth noting that our network is still tiny compared to the human visual cortex, which is a million times larger in terms of the number of neurons and synapses,” the researchers wrote.
Despite being dwarfed by the immense scale of biological brains, the Google research provides new evidence that existing machine learning algorithms improve greatly as the machines are given access to large pools of data.
“The Stanford/Google paper pushes the envelope on the size and scale of neural networks by an order of magnitude over previous efforts,” said David A. Bader, executive director of high-performance computing at the Georgia Tech College of Computing. He said that rapid increases in computer technology would close the gap within a relatively short period of time: “The scale of modeling the full human visual cortex may be within reach before the end of the decade.”
Google scientists said that the research project had now moved out of the Google X laboratory and was being pursued in the division that houses the company’s search business and related services. Potential applications include improvements to image search, speech recognition and machine language translation.
Despite their success, the Google researchers remained cautious about whether they had hit upon the holy grail of machines that can teach themselves.
“It’d be fantastic if it turns out that all we need to do is take current algorithms and run them bigger, but my gut feeling is that we still don’t quite have the right algorithm yet,” said Dr. Ng.
I stand up. I start walking. I’m still reading. My secondary senses go into overdrive to keep me on track (you know, like Daredevil). My mind divides: I’m both here and not-here, in the reality and in the fiction at the same time. The world scrolls by around the edges of the page, the margins outside the margins—furniture, stairs, pets, children. I keep a weather eye on all that, but I’m still reading, I’m still taking in sentences. I’m navigating by memory and peripheral vision, eyes down, course-correcting as needed.
Then I’m safe at my destination without once having broken contact with the fiction. It’s satisfying. I feel like I got away with something. Screw you, Aslan, I’m stayin’ in Narnia.
Though it’s a slippery slope from there. Once you master the basic skill, it’s tempting to take it to the office. I do. That’s familiar turf too, though there’s a new element, namely my co-workers. They probably think it’s odd. Eccentric even. Bah! It’s worth it. By reading and walking at the same time I’ve got uninterrupted access to the page. It’s like broadband, it’s always on.
Now reading and walking outside—I’ve seen it called readwalking—that’s a different proposition. I do it, but it depends on where I am. Marilynne Robinson lives in Iowa City, where I imagine (I’ve never been there) you can find dog-walking paths that are relatively free of foot traffic. I live in New York City, where the sidewalks are crowded, and there are already a lot of people bombing along them with their heads down because they’re texting. My favorite part is when two texters meet head-to-head and they both look up and stare at each other blankly, neither one budging, like the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax in Dr. Seuss.
I try to be a little more considerate than that. But once in a while I get off the subway at a crucial juncture in a novel, and I just cannot wait till I’m in my office to find out what happens next. I have to squinch out a few sentences in between. I just have to.
My first move is to clamp the book under one arm, inside-out, at my current page, like a running-back with a football, so I can whip it out at a moment’s notice.
Then I pick my spots. Short bursts is the approach. You look for a stretch of open sidewalk, maybe a half a block, you hastily memorize the major obstacles, and then you glance down at the book. You’re speed-reading here—you don’t so much run your eye over the page as grab the next few sentences all at once. Then the book goes back under the arm. You look up again and digest the words as you walk. You check your location and bearing, like a submarine, and you prepare to dive again.
Strangers look at you a bit funny, but come on—they’re strangers. Not like the characters you’re reading about. Sure, they may be fictional, but they’re not strangers. They matter.
In extreme cases I’ve even been known to draft off the backs of other pedestrians, the way cyclists do in a crowded peloton. I pick a target who looks like a fine upstanding citizen, with somewhere to be and a tolerant view of humanity. I find I can follow the person at a discreet, respectful distance, keeping his or her feet at the upper edge of my peripheral vision, and use them to lead me around fire hydrants and sidewalk café chairs and people hailing taxis, like a seeing-eye dog.
It’s foolish, of course. I know it is. It’s the opposite of being a flâneur: I’m not practicing what Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye,” feasting on the rich details of the world around me as if it were a novel. I’m doing the opposite. I’m not a flâneur, I’m a lecteur: I’m opting out of life’s rich pageant in favor of literature’s rich pageant. I can only imagine the serendipitous encounters I’m missing out on, the interesting cloud formations, the fleeting eye contacts, the fine architectural details, the noteworthy trees, the changing seasons, all the chance beauty that’s passing me by while I walk and read. But sometimes life just isn’t as interesting as art.
Of course the other thing I miss is sightings of my fellow lecteurs, charging along the pavement, nose in a book, steering by feel. But I know they’re there. We pass like ships in the night—mon semblable, mon frère. But there’s a kinship between us nonetheless. We’ve made the same choice. They too have chosen art over life, looking weird over looking normal, the printed page over the blank, uninteresting, unreadable faces of the crowd. They’ve opted out of it all.
If you write a song in C with an E minor in it, you should probably think very hard if you want to put a chord that is anything other than an A minor chord or an F major chord. 93% of the time one of these two chords came next.
During superfast reactions, the best-performing experts in sport, and in life, instinctively know when to pause, if only for a split-second. The same is true over longer periods: some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punchline of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical. We get some of it from trial and error or by watching experts, but we also can learn from observing toddlers and even animals. There is both an art and a science to managing delay.
A tennis court, baseline to baseline, is 78ft long. First serves are launched at well over 100mph. Some volleys come even faster. That means a player returning a shot has just 400 to 500 milliseconds from when the ball leaves their opponent’s racket until it hits his or her own. Just half a second.
Hitting a tennis ball at this speed is a paradoxical act. On one hand, it is a largely unconscious physical reaction. It has to be, given the speed of the ball. There is not enough time to consider spin or angle. Conscious contemplation takes at least half a second, so anyone who even tries to think about how to return a shot will end up helplessly watching the ball fly by.
On the other hand, tennis involves a range of sophisticated and creative responses. Ideally, a player should react to both the placement and trajectory of an incoming ball. The position and movement of an opponent are also crucial. Great tennis returners respond to the information cascade of an incoming ball as if they had taken time to process it consciously, even though we know that is not possible.
Professional tennis players are no faster than we are at pure visual reaction time. Imagine that you and Novak Djokovic are playing a video game. We can measure visual reaction time by having both of you simply press a button when you first see the ball leave an opponent’s racket. Both of you would take about 200 milliseconds. Most people are about that fast, and no one is much faster.
That means virtually anyone who can see a distance of 78ft can react visually to any tennis serve or shot in plenty of time. As even the slowest video gamer can attest, if all you have to do is “see” and then press a button to swing — if you don’t even have to get off the sofa — anyone could return a professional-speed serve.
In real tennis, the difficulty arises in the second stage of the service return. The remaining period of, say, 300 milliseconds is the time players have to react physically – to adjust themselves to what they know about the ball’s flight and then try to hit it how and where they’d like.
Having just 300 milliseconds to hit a ball is a serious problem for most of us. Amateurs cannot move to the correct spot and produce a swing with accuracy or power in 300 milliseconds. Most of us can barely adjust our rackets by a few inches. Many solid professionals cannot do much more.
Even Djokovic does not successfully return every shot. But for most returns, he has plenty of time. He is so skilled and practised that he can produce near-instantaneous muscle contractions to move his body and execute a swing in perhaps 100 milliseconds. For him, the physical part of hitting the ball is almost as easy as pressing a button.
Djokovic’s physical speed frees up time for him to prepare during the phase tennis coaches call “ball identification”. This is when he absorbs the crush of data generated after the ball leaves his opponent’s racket. He splits up the time available during a return shot; because he is so fast, he has extra time to gather and process information. Finally, at the last possible instant, he commits to his choice and swings. He can sandwich a lot of preparing between seeing and hitting.
Because Djokovic needs less time to hit, he has more time to gather and process information. He sees, prepares and, finally, only after he has processed as much information as possible, he hits. His preconscious time management and his extraordinary ability to delay enable him to stretch out a split-second and pack in a sequence of interpretation and action that would take most of us much longer.
A finished basement can be a beautiful thing. With the right accoutrements and enough effort, what might otherwise be a damp, empty space lined with concrete can be turned into a cozy playroom, or a den, or an office and gym. Properly planned, the basement can become an integral part of a household, even a kind of engine that powers it from below.
The same is true for the far larger basement that all of us share: that vast space that exists under our feet wherever we go, out of sight and out of mind. Those of us who are city-dwellers already keep a lot of stuff down there—subway stations, sewer pipes, electrical lines—but as our cities grow more cramped, and real estate on the surface grows more valuable, the possibility that it can be used more inventively is starting to attract attention from planners around the world.
“It used to be, ‘How high can you go up into the sky?’” said Susie Kim, of the Boston-based urban design firm Koetter Kim & Associates. “Now it’s a matter of, ‘How low can you go and still be economically viable?’”
A cadre of engineers who specialize in tunneling and excavation say that we have barely begun to take advantage of the underground’s versatility. The underground is the next great frontier, they say, and figuring out how best to use it should be a priority as we look ahead to the shape our civilization will take.
“We have so much room underground,” said Sam Ariaratnam, a professor at Arizona State University and the chairman of the International Society for Trenchless Technology. “That underground real estate—people need to start looking at it. And they are starting to look at it.”
It took three weeks, a small forest’s worth of paperwork, hours on the phone with customer service agents, a crash course in starting a small business, and a road trip to the Los Angeles County clerk’s office (which is not, in fact, in Los Angeles). But we made it: Our Kickstarter page went live just moments ago. If you have the inclination and resources, we’d love your support, whether it’s $5 or $1,000. The incentives are sweet—stickers, tote bags, a personalized message from James Deen, and magazines too. We’d appreciate any help spreading the word via social media, too. And if you’ve emailed us about contributing in other ways, keep your eyes out for an email later today about how you can get involved.
We are so, so grateful for all the support you’ve shown us thus far. Now the fun part begins, and we can’t do it without you.
What happens to our books when we die? Many books disappear before we do, of course; they fall apart, or we put them out on the stoop for scavengers. A book like this one, however — a text that is still read and reprinted, that has played a notable role in the 20th-century imagination, and then a copy of the text that played an especially interesting role — is likely to be passed down carefully as long as we can preserve and recognize it. Like the Bibles some families use to record their histories, it traces a chain of readers through time.
The Harvard English professor Leah Price, in her recent book How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, mentions that often the very condition of a book changing hands is death: “One measure of the value that readers attach to books (as opposed to, say, newspapers) is that they enter circulation only against the owners’ will.” This is particularly true of “association copies,” the collector’s term for books signed by the author to a significant person, or books owned and perhaps annotated by someone of note, which can become a kind of talisman: “Borrowing the logic of the saint’s relic, association copies invest the object with value borrowed from the identities of its human users. And like the saint, the previous owner must be dead.”
Whenever serious readers die, their heirs face the task of dispersing their books. But few of us like to think about what will happen to our own libraries. Will our children value our books (and will they have shelf space for them)? Will they be bought by a serious research library, or draw bids at Christie’s? Not unless we are famous, or they are first editions. Perhaps they will re-enter circulation at a used bookstore, sold for pennies and resold for a few dollars: it’s pleasant to imagine them released back into the sea of books, to be caught afresh by a new reader. Of course, this may be something of a fantasy; even New York’s Strand, with its “18 miles of books,” turns down many offerings these days. (They did accept the huge annotated collection of novelist David Markson after his death in 2010, however, and the treasure hunt for his books sparked a fascinating discussion among his fans.)
As Price’s book suggests, the question of what to do with books that outlive their owners has only been a common problem since the mid-19th century, when the steam-powered press and the advent of cheap paper caused a vast expansion of the book market. Before that, few families would have had the problem of a surfeit of books. Now, though, we may be reaching the end of the 150-year-old print boom, and with it a transformation in the way we have shared books, reader after reader and life after life.
In the age of the e-book, the paper book faces two possible and antithetical fates. It may become something to be discarded, as with the books that libraries scan and cannibalize. (In the introduction to another book, Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, Price mentions the severed book spines that hang on the wall at Google, “like taxidermists’ trophies.”) Alternatively, it may become a special object to be preserved and traded. My grandfather’s copy of War of the Worlds obviously falls into the second category — but very few of the millions of books published since the mid-19th century are ones you’d want to own. If Amazon has a “long tail” of obscure but occasionally purchased titles, the tail that goes back 150 years is near endless and thin as thread.
Meanwhile, the kind of “serial” book sharing (as Price describes it) that occurs over time is giving way to simultaneous, “synchronous” sharing. With the Kindle, you can see what thousands of other Kindle readers are highlighting in the book you’re reading — a fairly astonishing innovation. But the passage of books from hand to hand, gathering inscriptions along the way, is not part of the e-book economy. Will your grandchild inherit your Kindle books? No one knows, but given password protection and the speed at which data becomes obsolete, that seems highly unlikely.
Still, as far as posterity goes, the e-book system has some genuine superiorities over the old economy. Annotations exist in the cloud, so if your house burns down they are preserved. Your marginalia is accessible to more than just someone who holds the volume itself — biographers of the future will surely appreciate not having to count on a generous widow bequeathing them their subject’s reading copy. With e-books, there’s no need to fight over a single physical library copy; no trees need be cut down; unsold books need not be pulped; you don’t need to lug books from apartment to apartment; pages will never be dotted with mildew.
But what do we lose as we bid farewell to what may turn out to have been a brief period in which common people owned physical books? I think of my own already excessive book collection, with its books that I have loved and worked on (as an editor and translator) and received as presents. Though I hope someone in the generation after mine will love living with them too, it doesn’t really matter to me: I won’t be there to see it.
But when I think of sorting through the boxes of my grandmother’s books — even the ones we couldn’t keep, or didn’t want — and what we found there, I am grateful not to have been handed her Amazon password instead. Among all the gifts of the electronic age, one of the most paradoxical might be to illuminate something we are beginning to trade away: the particular history, visible and invisible, that can be passed down through the vessel of an old book, inscribed by the hands and the minds of readers who are gone.
Ron moved from London to Los Angeles to open Doc Johnson. Packaging he had seen in Europe he reproduced in America. “We were still light-years behind the Europeans,” he says, but now Doc Johnson named and packed its vibrators like any other piece of merchandise. The business grew. In two years’ time it expanded from 1,500 square feet to a new property of 33,000 square feet. He tapped into distribution networks like Sturman’s, flooding the American market with more and more adult novelties. When X-rated DVDs appeared in adult bookstores in the ’90s, and VHS tapes vanished, fresh retail space opened up. “And that,” says Ron, “is when the business really took off.”
Neither Chad nor Ron can explain what sells and what doesn’t. The company doesn’t do demographic research. Autumn is strong for sex toy sales; summer is slow. Purple vibrators sell well; orange vibrators do not. Classic eight-inch dongs are always a favorite, and the new transsexual Wendy Williams casting—well, the jury is still out on that, but if Howard Stern mentions your Pocket Rocket on his radio program, you’ve got a winner.
Each year Doc Johnson removes as many as 300 items from its catalog and adds that many more. Most sex toys are designed and manufactured in China, where they get knocked off just as Louis Vuitton handbags do. Ron, however, is proud that much of his company’s product is American made, boldfacing the claim across packaging. About 25 percent of Doc Johnson’s items ship from China, but every product poured with rubber or silicone is made in North Hollywood—ironed for smoothness, powdered for feel, woven with hair for effect. “It’s our bread and butter,” says Ron. He’s worried that Chad may not share his attachment to American products after he retires. Ron grew up in Cleveland in the 1950s when it was an industrial town, a node of auto manufacturing. “My grandfather worked in the real shmatte trade,” he says, “selling grease rags to Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers. The pressure to move to China today is immense. But I hope Chad will come to think as I do over time.”
For those of us who first saw “Blade Runner” in theaters, the first nighttime street scene –Harrison Ford, as the blade runner Deckard, wandering through acid rain in a wrecked, neon-lit downtown Los Angeles–is forever etched in our brains. The street life of the future is chaotic, a babel of advertising slogans–”a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies!”–music and images such as a smiling geisha on a gigantic screen. Scurrying through the rain and smoke are a lot of Asians. Neon signs in fake kanji advertise shops and services. Deckard fights his way through the crowd to order a bowl of ramen from a Japanese at an outdoor stall, only to have his meal interrupted by two heavily armored policemen who take him away in a flying car. One of the cops, played by Edward James Olmos, speaks a strange hybrid language (actually mostly Hungarian) that the Japanese noodle vendor interprets. These elements add up to a dystopian Los Angeles, one inhabited by humanoid “replicants” as well as the human drones of a sinister controlling industry, the Tyrell Corporation.
The process of bringing this world to life was detailed last Thursday night at Bonhams & Butterfield. A panel discussion benefitting the Los Angeles Conservancy brought ”Blade Runner” conceptual designer Syd Mead and producer Michael Deeley together, along with Frances Anderton of KCRW’s ”DnA,” to discuss the film’s design. Mead was hired to create the overall look of the film, a role that got larger as the production design grew more detailed. It helped that Ridley Scott got his start as a designer and spent years directing commercials. It was Scott who encouraged Mead to keep dressing the street on Warner’s backlot until it reached its ultimate state of visual overload.
At some point during pre-production, what was supposed to be a generic city became Los Angeles and a decision was made to go Asian rather than Latino. The resulting look combines elements of Hong Kong and Tokyo in the 1960′s, when both cities boasted acres of lively neon but hadn’t yet attained their present levels of opulence. (For me, a childhood resident of both cities, the downtown of “Blade Runner” actually inspires nostalgia–murderous androids, acid rain and wrecked infrastructure notwithstanding.)
Significantly, the film introduced many viewers to the architectural highlights of Los Angeles. The Tyrell Corporation occupies a Mayan pyramid whose interior resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. The Million Dollar Theater, a Broadway movie palace, is a prominent part of the downtown street scene. The police station is located in Union Station, a 1939 Mission/Art Deco gem. Deckard travels by car through the Second Street Tunnel. He hunts replicants in the Bradbury Building, a 1893 cast iron masterpiece whose use in this strange future–rain pouring through its broken skylight–is nothing short of inspired.
As Michael Deeley reminded us, “Blade Runner” had an unsuccessful theatrical run, becoming a hit only after it was released on video. Nevertheless, its title soon entered the vocabulary as a pejorative for a certain urban atmosphere. In 1990, my boyfriend used to complain that the Beverly Connection–then brand-new–was too ”bladerunner.” (He had a point: that mall aged so ungracefully that it received a major renovation four years ago and now looks completely different.) In time, “Blade Runner” became a classic not only for its design but for its skillful adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Many consider it one of the best science fiction films of all time.
It’s hard to believe nearly three decades have passed since its release–and that 2019 is just around the corner. Mead suggested that the film’s vision of the future influenced positive change in Los Angeles. Whether or not it did, no one can deny that downtown has been transformed in the years since ”Blade Runner” came out. After years of new construction–including major public buildings such as the Disney Concert Hall, Staples Center and Our Lady of Angels Cathedral–loft renovation and burgeoning residential population, it’s safe to say downtown Los Angeles won’t look like it does in “Blade Runner” nine years from now. On the downside, we still don’t have flying cars. But on the upside (along with the aforementioned), the Bradbury Building has been restored to its original glory, having undergone a major renovation in 1991.
Rich girls are hot because their moms are hot. But they’re also insane because their dads are inbred sociopaths with Nazi fetishes. All of this makes dating one for a short period of time an excitingly weird mixture of prescription pills, naps, crazy arguments, depressing music, room service, therapists, tattoos that cost more than cars, jet lag, and guestlists. It’s gonna be fun!
They won’t stick around forever, however, as they’re genetically pre-disposed to breed among their own kind. But as long as you understand you’ll never be anything more than just a stopgap to them, you’re in with a shout.
MEETING THEM This is all about timing. There’s a point in every rich girl’s life where they stop accepting daddy’s handouts and start nicking it from his wallet instead. This is when you strike. This is your brief window of opportunity.
The first step is identifying the bars/clubs that these girls frequent. One of a rich girl’s favorite activities is to go and look at other rich-people-who-are-pretending-to-be-poor playing in bands. A good way to find these is to check your local listings for who’s playing in your area, cross-reference band names with the internet, and look out for names like Charlie or Rupert or Frederick. That’s where you’ll find gold.
WINNING THEM You have nothing to offer a rich girl other than being slightly less fortunate than they are, so wave your pedestrian lifestyle around as though it was an alternative lifestyle choice. You’ve gotta play it like Basquiat or Leo in Titanic; wear fingerless gloves, squint a lot, and say things like “Mister, I meet a lotta people with money, but whadda they got to show for it?” Obviously saying something like that while looking another human being in the eye with a straight face is gonna be pretty difficult, but you’ll get used to it. Just bear in mind her entire concept of rebellion will be gleaned from Dickens’s novels and James Franco’s Twitter.
The urban equivalent of this is equally potent: Get some lines in your eyebrows, claim to be a small-time coke dealer, wear a lot of Stone Island, and basically inhabit all of her parents’ nightmares. At the very worst, her dad will probably attempt to pay you off. If he does, shout, “I don’t need your money!” and then steal his iPod.
HER HOUSE Yes, her flat isn’t shit. Get over it. The most important rule here is to never EVER ask how much her place is costing her. I know it’s fun to work out in your head how many times more expensive it is than your own rent, or to figure out how many hours you would have to work to pay the rent for just one month (approx 500, BTW) but don’t. a) Her parents are paying for it and she has no fucking idea, and b) Just fucking be cool. Act like you’re so accustomed to this kind of luxury that you haven’t even noticed she’s using a remote control to operate the curtains. Just shut up, sit back.
THE HELP Unless you’re a horrible, horrible human being, dating a girl with a maid is gonna make you feel like the worst person on Earth; like the conscientious son of a plantation owner. Every ounce of your being is going to want to take your own plate over to the sink or say things like, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”
But you know when a lion rips apart a gazelle in a nature documentary and the announcer says something like, “although horrifying to us, this is just par for the course in the wild”? Think about it like that. And if you’re still upset about it, just remember that the Filipino maid you feel so sorry for lives in a bigger house than you (the outhouse at your girlfriend’s).
MOMS Firstly, you’re gonna want to sleep with her mom because her mom is going to look THE EXACT OPPOSITE to your mom. She will smell like whatever frankincense smells like. However, she will understand what you are straight away; which is just “a phase.” She might even regale you both with a story about how she once dated a “punk rocker with a motorcycle” before “meeting daddy,” which is essentially a nice way of saying “Lily is marrying Sebastian, and your days are numbered, dickhead.”
DADS The dad is worse. He understands all your disgusting urges because he lives on a diet of anal sex with Polish women that get delivered to his hotel. The other problem with dads is that rich girls and their fathers flirt to the point of obscenity. This may make you feel weird, but imagine how much it fucks up these two weirdos.
FRIENDS Two things. Number one: Compared to her school friends, your mates are gonna look like House of Pain. Number two: She won’t be hanging out with her school friends any more, she’ll be hanging out with a touring collective of models, drug dealers, guys who own guitars, guys who own clubs, alternative pop stars in their early teens, and really old guys who used to know Joe Strummer. You will hate them. Your own friends will try very, very hard to screw all the models, though.
DRUGS Rich girls have been taking drugs since they were three. If you don’t think you can be outdrunk, out Xanaxed, out coked, out speeded, out everythinged by a 16-year-old, you’re wrong. Heath Ledger, John Belushi, River Phoenix—I guarantee they all died trying to match rich girls. No normal person, raised on shit weed and wine, can compete with a person built from neurosis, privilege, pressure, and those slimming pills made from ground-up Chinese babies.
IMPORTANT! Remember, part of them WANTS to get caught. So when they’re racking up lines on a Subway sneeze guard and it seems like it would be funny to join in, don’t! They’re gonna get bailed. And you’re not.
SEX Well, the first thing to know about all rich girls is that they lost their virginity at a terrifyingly young age. This means that they’re all mad. The reason they all have sex so young is that they all want to be models and are surrounded by scumbags who’ve had their morality exploded by Mexican Adderall and are used to getting what they want to the point of psychosis. Basically, these young, beautiful women have been fucked up. And that means you’ll probably have to have threesomes and put up with her walking around with only a bra on while her male Swedish friends talk about their literary projects. Speaking of which…
PRETENSION You’re also going to have to put up with this. You’re going to have to put up with your rich girl reading Knut Hamsun on her roof deck. And she’ll know male models, and Jesus, have you any idea how desperate those guys are to let the world know how stupid they aren’t? These people never ever grow out of this, so you’re stuck, I’m afraid.
POLITICS At some point in the relationship, despite her bohemian pretensions and transgressive art project, you’ll realize that she is a Republican. Listen out for telltale opinions like, “Well, I don’t see why I should have to give away all my money to other people,” and “Daddy didn’t go on food stamps, he went out and started a company/formed Duran Duran.”
RUINING YOU Yes, it’s going to destroy you. You might not quit school or your job, but you’ll become so bad at it that it’ll probably quit you. Unsustainable drug habit? Yep! Ditch all your old friends? But of course! Start wearing $6,000 denim jackets? WHO WOULDN’T?
THE BREAKUP You knew it was coming from day one. But God, you don’t wanna give up on this. You’ll cry and bitch and get addicted to heroin, but you’ll never be able to convince her to stay. Her type don’t care too much about people. Her family buy land; yours plough it. Sorry man, now you have to date someone who doesn’t even have a linen closet.
A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.
Will It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, that’s my answer.
Moderator [pause] You’re saying—
Moderator Let’s talk about—
Start off easy. First get rid of the two noisemakers.
Will Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!
The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter’s off.
And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.
The fact-dump that’s coming now serves several purposes. It backs up his argument, it reveals him to be exceptional (what normal person has these stats at their fingertips?), but mostly it’s musical. This is the allegro.
And you—sorority girl—yeah—just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about?! Yosemite?!!!
[Cell-phone cameras are everywhere— people are tweeting and texting away.]
Now we slow down and get a glimpse into his pain. The oratorical technique is called “floating opposites”— we did, we didn’t, we did, we didn’t… But rhythmically you don’t want this to be too on the money. You’re not just testing the human ear anymore; you want people to hear what he’s saying.
We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
To resolve a melody, you have to end on either the tonic or the dominant. (Try humming “Mary Had a Little Lamb” right now, but leave off “snow.” You’ll feel like you need to sneeze.) So Will ends where he started. Then, just to acknowledge that he just sang an aria— which is unusual in the course of a normal conversation—he turns to the moderator who’d been needling him and casually asks…