Early August links: Book stalking, teaching, Playboy's Guide to Lingering, and more

* Makers’ versus Managers’ Schedules:

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

* Rands’ The Book Stalker: Where is it? Everyone has one could well describe me.

* From the department of unintended consequences: “The New Book Banning: Children’s books burn, courtesy of the federal government.” This is because the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) stops the selling of used children’s good produced before 1985, when lead was banned, unless those products conform to the post-1985 standards. Although lead in children’s books hasn’t been shown to be harmful, the books don’t pass muster anyway.

I am generally not an organized political person who writes angry letters to Congresspersons and such, but this might be worth an exception.

(Hat tip to Megan McArdle.)

* A “teach naked” proponent challenges us to stop using computers while we teach:

Mr. Bowen is part of a group of college leaders who haven’t given up on that dream of shaking up college instruction. Even though he is taking computers out of classrooms, he’s not anti-technology. He just thinks they should be used differently—upending the traditional lecture model in the process.

Here’s the kicker, though: The biggest resistance to Mr. Bowen’s ideas has come from students, some of whom have groused about taking a more active role during those 50-minute class periods. The lecture model is pretty comfortable for both students and professors, after all, and so fundamental change may be even harder than it initially seems, whether or not laptops, iPods, or other cool gadgets are thrown into the mix.

This is what I generally shoot for; in classrooms without computers, I never use one, and even when they come with classrooms, I generally use them very little, and mostly as a whiteboard substitute.

* What goes into book jackets: sometimes the answer is “facile stereotypes” or “very little.”

* Edifying editing, from a journal reviewer. Contrast this with my recent post, “Careers—and careerism—in academia and criticism“. Notice this bit from “Edifying editing:”

Ellison finds that the profession has slowed down, doubling the “submission to print” time at major journals. What was unexpected for me was the finding that most of the
slowdown is the number of revisions, not the ‘within round cycle time.’ I hadn’t realized that the interminable wait for a response was common twenty-five years ago. What has changed, Ellison shows, is that we have about doubled the number of rounds. I had thought it was merely deficiencies in my own papers that caused me to revise three, four, even five times. But no, it is a profession-wide phenomenon.

Like most economists, I am personally obsessed with efficiency, and wasted resources offend me in an irrational way. The way economists operate journals is perhaps the most inefficient operation I encounter on a regular basis. It is a fabulous irony that a profession obsessed with efficiency operates its core business in such an inefficient manner. How long do you spend refereeing a paper? Many hours are devoted to reviewing papers. This would be socially efficient if the paper improved in a way commensurate with the time spent, but in fact revising papers using blind referees often makes papers worse. Referees offer specific advice that push papers away from the author’s intent. It is one thing for a referee to say “I do not find this paper compelling because of X” and another thing entirely to say that the referee would rather see a different paper on the same general topic and try to get the author to write it.

Does anyone have data about paper efficiency and the humanities? Searching through Project MUSE, JSTOR, and Google Scholar yields nothing through the criteria I tried.

* I very much like the poem “Playboy’s Guide to Lingering” by Joseph J. Capista, although I can’t decide why; normally the Slate poems leave me high and dry, like the New Yorker’s.

* A review of Thy Neighbor’s Wife from Bill Wasik at The Second Pass; compare to my comments here. I’m not sure I buy this: “Of all the mass utopian notions of the twentieth century, the sexual revolution was both the most spectacularly successful and, in the end, the most thwarted” because it would seem that the “success” part has dominated the “failure” part.

* Hilarious if silly: Vampires Suck. Actually, they don’t. And that’s the problem:

Just as America’s young men are being given deeply erroneous ideas about sex by what they watch on the Web, so, too, are America’s young women receiving troubling misinformation about the male of the species from Twilight. These women are going to be shocked when the sensitive, emotionally available, poetry-writing boys of their dreams expect a bit more from a sleepover than dew-eyed gazes and chaste hugs. The young man, having been schooled in love online, will be expecting extreme bondage and a lesbian three-way.

* State governments are behaving with even less foresight than usual; according to a Salon post quoting the San Jose Mercury News, “In 1980, 17 percent of the state budget went to higher education. By 2007, that had fallen to 10 percent — the same as prisons and parole.” And 2007 predated the current crisis, showing that the trend away from higher education funding is accelerating.

* A variety of research shows that driving while distracted leads to more accidents, and I wouldn’t be surprised if thinking while distracted leads to an inability to consider deep thoughts and inhibits creativity. This is part of the reason I’m suspicious of Tyler Cowen’s argument in Create Your Own Economy that the ceaseless flow of bite-sized information bits is a net positive.

* Fascinating: Japan and Korea’s hidden protectionist measures prevented U.S. car companies from competing in their home markets, and the English-language press largely ignored the story. Compare this to the argument in David Halberstam’s The Reckoning. Maybe the widely held story regarding Detroit’s utter incompetence needs to be substantially revised.

* Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four from Slate’s Farhad Manjoo observes, “The worst thing about this story [of Amazon remotely deleting copies of Orwell’s 1984] isn’t Amazon’s conduct; it’s the company’s technical capabilities.” Indeed. But the main thing he forgets is that our future, like our toilets, is unlikely to be completely paperless: to the extent readers and publishers want to continue distributing books via print, they’ll still be able to. The situation probably isn’t as dire as Manjoo implies, but his warning is very much worth remembering: you don’t want the means of knowledge dissemination in a single company’s hands. It used to be that writers feared churches more than anything else; then it was governments; now it might be companies. Perhaps that’s a microcosm of the overall development of power in our world.

* Speaking of electronic books, Barnes & Noble has demonstrated its capacity to totally miss the boat with its recently announced eBook Reader. Problems: 1) It’s late to the game, with Sony and Amazon having preempted it by years; 2) No e-ink paper—who wants to read books on crappy computer and iPod screens? 3) Lousy device name. “Kindle” and “iPod” are evocative and unique; eBook Reader is not. If a Kindle-like device is coming, maybe Barnes & Noble could stage a dramatic comeback, but I’m not optimistic.

(Also see the WSJ’s article here.)

* Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around? The article argues it’s not evolution; compare this to Geoffrey Miller’s arguments.

* IKEA is not the social or environmental paragon its corporate image makes it out to be.

* Gas and the suburbs.

* The wisdom of Megan McArdle regarding bike commuting.

* Finally, for some foreign affairs: Is Burma attempting to build nuclear weapons?

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