Books in General

Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books

8 January 2019

From BookRiot:

New year, new resolutions, new approach to life! Now might seem like the perfect time for some life-changing magic, and perhaps the time to begin with some tidying up. Maybe even using the Konmari method that everyone seems to be talking about lately.

Marie Kondo’s ‘Konmari’ approach to tidying up has taken the world by storm, with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up published in English in 2014 (it was originally published in Japanese in 2011). A sequel, Spark Joy, was published in 2016, a graphic novel version, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, released in 2017, and a new series on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, began airing in 2019. The main premise of her approach is to discard everything that does not spark joy and you will eventually surround yourself with only things that you love.

I love the idea, and when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the graphic novel version of the book, I was inspired to think about what my life and home would look like if I adopted the Konmari method. But there were some elements to her method that I disagreed with, particularly the ones related to books — actually, in retrospect, only the ones related to books. I think I could adopt her approach in every other part of my life. Probably.

. . . .

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

The criterion for whether or not to keep a book using the Konmari method is whether or not you experience a thrill of pleasure when you touch it — whether the book sparks joy.

. . . .

But for me, there are two parts of this that do not work. Her premise that if you don’t read a book when you first encounter it then it has lost its moment and you will never read it is wrong for me. And you know what book most clearly exemplifies this? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, the very book about this approach. I find that quite amusing, actually. I bought the book in mid-2016. I had just moved to America, and my husband and I were trying to fit everything I had brought with me into his already-established apartment, and I thought the book might help. I read a chapter, then closed the book and didn’t finish it. You might think that the book lost its moment.

. . . .

The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t work for me is her argument that you will not reread. Because I do reread. Maybe not often, and maybe not every single book I own will be reread (and those are ones that I *would* be willing to part with), but I reread enough of my books that this criterion doesn’t work.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Let us start with the premise that PG is not the tidying up type, at least in the manner envisioned by Ms. Kondo.

As he analyzed his tidying or anti-tidying behaviors, he realized that at Casa PG, he unconsciously divides the interior space into common areas and private areas AKA lairs.

The common areas represent spaces where visitors are likely to exist and PG is more prone to tidying behavior around locations like the front door, the living room, spaces a visitor might be able to peer into from the living room, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best example of a lair is PG’s office.

In order to enter PG’s office, a visitor would have to go through the living room, move to a different level of Casa PG and beat PG to the door of his office before he closed it. There is even a lair lock on the door.

On a micro level, PG’s office is approximately rectangular in shape. The door to his office is at one corner of the rectangle and PG’s desk, computer equipment, etc., is at the opposite corner of the rectangle, as far from the door as the size of the office permits. PG spends the most lair time in the deepest part of the office.

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean.

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The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Should PG conduct a scientific audit of the microbiologic residents of his office, he is certain the results would demonstrate that the life forms which flourish in the Sunlight Zone differ substantially from those in The Trenches. Tidying up this exquisitely balanced little world would undoubtedly trigger a microbial mass extinction.

PG has no desire to be held up as an example of the worst sort of the speciesism which is already too prevalent in our society.

As a responsible steward of his office environment, PG hereby pledges to allow life in all its kaleidoscopic beauty to continue to live undisturbed and evolve in peace.

The face

8 January 2019
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The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.

~ St. Jerome

Affect Recognition

8 January 2019

Not exactly about authors and books, but perhaps a writing prompt.

From The Intercept:

Facial recognition has quickly shifted from techno-novelty to fact of life for many, with millions around the world at least willing to put up with their faces scanned by software at the airport, their iPhones, or Facebook’s server farms. But researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute have issued a strong warning against not only ubiquitous facial recognition, but its more sinister cousin: so-called affect recognition, technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that’s because it sort of is.

AI Now’s 2018 report is a 56-page record of how “artificial intelligence” — an umbrella term that includes a myriad of both scientific attempts to simulate human judgment and marketing nonsense — continues to spread without oversight, regulation, or meaningful ethical scrutiny. The report covers a wide expanse of uses and abuses, including instances of racial discrimination, police surveillance, and how trade secrecy laws can hide biased code from an AI-surveilled public. But AI Now, which was established last year to grapple with the social implications of artificial intelligence, expresses in the document particular dread over affect recognition, “a subclass of facial recognition that claims to detect things such as personality, inner feelings, mental health, and ‘worker engagement’ based on images or video of faces.” The thought of your boss watching you through a camera that uses machine learning to constantly assess your mental state is bad enough, while the prospect of police using “affect recognition” to deduce your future criminality based on “micro-expressions” is exponentially worse.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

From Business Insider:

Mark Newman founded HireVue in 2004 as a video interview platform. It saved recruiters time by allowing candidates to record answers to interview questions and upload them to a database where recruiters could easily compare how applicants presented themselves.

Four years ago, HireVue began the next phase of its life with the integration of AI.

HireVue uses a combination of proprietary voice recognition software and licensed facial recognition software in tandem with a ranking algorithm to determine which candidates most resemble the ideal candidate. The ideal candidate is a composite of traits triggered by body language, tone, and key words gathered from analyses of the existing best members of a particular role.

After the algorithm lets the recruiter know which candidates are at the top of the heap, the recruiter can then choose to spend more time going through the answers of these particular applicants and determine who should move onto the next round, usually for an in-person interview.

. . . .

As soon as I saw my face reflected back at me on the screen, I felt uncomfortable.

. . . .

I had 30 seconds to prep my answer, and then a couple minutes to give my response. Most importantly, I was given unlimited tries, as all HireVue users are.

With the unlimited answer feature, you can review your recorded response before moving onto the next question, giving you the chance to decide if you’d like to give it another shot.

I made liberal use of this feature, and the estimated 25-minute application soon stretched into 45 minutes. Larsen told me they experimented with unlimited and limited tries for questions, and said they found that the majority of users preferred unlimited.

. . . .

I came in second place, according to my “Insights Score,” which was 65%. This meant that according to the software, I had 65% of the qualities of the perfect customer service rep.

. . . .

The idea is that the AI helps highlight the top performers so that recruiters can dive in and spend time with the most promising candidates.

Larsen said that he understands that people first hearing about HireVue may find it to be scary or invasive, like something out of “Minority Report,” but he said that it’s a tool to make jobs — for humans — more efficient. “The idea is not to replace recruiters,” he said.

. . . .

The strength of HireVue, however, is also its potential weakness — the AI learns from the employee pool hiring managers choose to feed it. It can then be customized to remove certain biases, such as vocal tics, but that is also dependent on human judgment. Ultimately, the AI is automating how hiring managers already recruit, and if they want to correct for past mistakes, they need to be cognizant of them in the first place.

Larsen said that he and his team will be working on lessening the need for human intervention, refining their AI assessment toward an ideal that may or may not ever exist. In that case, after a candidate submits his or her application, “the algorithm is always right. It would be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No.'”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside – Part 2

7 January 2019

Yesterday, PG posted an item from The Wall Street Journal titled, Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside, that generated a lot of comments and discussion.

Here are the lyrics from the song:

I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (i’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, it’s cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can’t stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it’s cold
Baby, it’s cold outside
Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Baby, It’s Cold Outside lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
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The song won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Here is the song as it appeared in the 1949 movie, Neptune’s Daughter:

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Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside

6 January 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

 My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do—strike a blow against political correctness in the arts and entertainment. All artists are meant to be free and daring. Their job, whether in drama, comedy or music, is to approach the truth—to apprehend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a moment for everyone to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave. Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, noted something I have witnessed: The artist faces a constant sense of defeat. You’re working, you’re trying, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most successful work only comes close. Artists are looking for “the hidden meaning of things.” Their “intuitions” spring from their souls. There is an “unbridgeable gap” between what they produce and “the dazzling perfection” of what they glimpsed in the creative moment. They forge on anyway.

. . . .

At happy gatherings the past two weeks, talk turned to the controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1944 holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know the argument. The song should be pulled from playlists and effectively banned because its lyrics, on close inspection, are somewhat rapey. It’s a song about sexual assault; there’s a clear power imbalance. This argument comes from young writers and activists of the #MeToo movement. Actually, the man in the song hopes to seduce, not rape; the song is flirty and humorous, a spoof of the endless drama between men and women.

From every conversation I witnessed liberal opinion is very much against banning the song, as is conservative opinion.

But companies hate controversy. Radio stations don’t want petitions at Christmastime, no one wants trouble. We’ll be hearing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” less as the years go by. It only takes a few highly focused idiots to kill a song.

. . . .

Political correctness is the enemy of art. Self-censorship is a killer of art. Censorship applied from outside, through organized pressure, is an assassination of art.

We have seen the political correctness of the social-justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living. They do not understand that when you tell people, especially Americans, what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking. They go underground, sometimes to the depths. And it is dark down there.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

5 January 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

We humans take it for granted that plants are our inferiors. But they make earth habitable for us animals, by harnessing the energy of the sun to produce food and by releasing oxygen. That’s not the only trick they have up their leaves. In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the “higher” form of life. It seems we have much to learn from our green companions—about everything from designing buildings to organizing society.

The evolutionary split between animals and plants came nearly half a billion years ago, as life migrated from the oceans to the land. While animals roamed around their new environment, plants rooted themselves in one place. From these diverse strategies stems what Dr. Mancuso considers the most important distinction between the two kingdoms—not whether they move or produce their own food but how individual organisms are internally organized.

Whether they are predator or prey, animals’ survival depends on efficient movement and quick decision-making. And so we have adopted a top-down structure, with a central brain and organs such as heart and lungs to perform other vital functions. Because we can run away from predators, animals can afford to put our cerebral, circulatory, respiratory and other essential eggs in just one or two baskets.

For stationary plants, on the other hand, individual organs would only be “points of weakness,” Dr. Mancuso writes, chinks in their defenses that would leave them vulnerable to predators. So plants hedge their bets by spreading single functions, including such vital ones as respiration and photosynthesis, throughout the whole organism—breathing and creating food with their entire body. Plants may be brainless, but thanks to this simple, decentralized structure they enjoy a “distributed intelligence” that serves them well in meeting the challenges of their environment.

Plants are exceptionally sensitive to their surroundings, constantly monitoring a host of factors, including light, gravity, moisture, oxygen, sound, the presence of other plants and the approach of predators. Recent research conducted in Dr. Mancuso’s laboratory at the University of Florence has shown that at least one plant is capable of learning and remembering: When Mimosa pudica, a tropical native also known as the sensitive plant, is exposed to gentle shaking, it responds at first by closing its leaves. But after seven or eight trials, the plant concludes the vibrations aren’t a real threat and keeps the leaves open—a lesson it can remember for more than 40 days.
. . . .
 Due in part to their distinctive organization, plants have thrived, colonizing every continent and accounting for at least 80% of the world’s biomass. Though plants are ancient they are, Dr. Mancuso writes, “the epitome of modernity: a cooperative, shared structure without any command centers,” which is the ideal melding of durability and innovation. “When you want to design something robust, energetically sustainable, and adaptable to an environment of continuous change,” Dr. Mancuso suggests, “there is nothing better on earth to use as inspiration” than plants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

 

Publishers Weekly Takes Over The Millions

3 January 2019
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From Publishers Weekly:

PWxyz, parent company of Publishers Weekly, has acquired the online magazine the Millions, plus its website TheMillions.com, for an undisclosed price.

The Millions was founded in 2003 by Max Magee and offers coverage of books, arts, and culture aimed at a consumer audience. Magee had been its editor until 2016, when Lydia Kiesling took over the role. Moving forward, Adam Boretz, a longtime editor at PW, who also served at the Millions as Magee’s associate editor, will become editor of the Millions, and will be promoted to senior editor at PW. Kiesling will continue to be involved in various capacities.

Although Magee will no longer be involved with the magazine, the Millions writing and editorial staffs will remain largely unchanged. PW will look to beef up the magazine’s advertising efforts under the direction of PW publisher Cevin Bryerman.

“The Millions has grown over time into a vibrant and necessary project, and in recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the project might live beyond my stewardship,” said Magee. “In Publishers Weekly, the Millions will gain a partner that is devoted to the site’s mission and we hope will make the site a lasting institution. We at the Millions uniformly believe this is a great outcome for the site and for its writers and readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cannot claim to be a frequent visitor to The Millions, but he had no idea that the site sold advertising.  He thought the business plan was Support The Millions by Becoming a Member.

For those who are not familiar with the site, it is a combination of book reviews (Are they the advertising the site sells?) and interviews with people with whom PG is unfamiliar (More paid advertising?).

Laura Adamczyk‘s stories are not for the faint of heart.

Since 2014, when Jeff Jackson and I roamed the AWP Writers Conference together, I’ve read everything he’s written—that I know of, anyway.

In early 2016, during a monthslong relocation to Barcelona, I fell under the spell of three contemporary masters of Spanish-language fiction: Javier Cercas, of Barcelona, Javier Marías, of Madrid, and Álvaro Enrigue, of Mexico and New York. Even now, back in the U.S., I feel with these writers the special connection you get when your reading life and your life-life come close enough to touch.

I met Feroz Rather one verdant summer in Kashmir, almost a decade ago. 

I interview Ottessa Moshfegh at Caffe Vita, in Silverlake, earlier this month.

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago

2 January 2019
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From The New Yorker:

Prophecy is a mug’s game. But then, lately, most of us are mugs. 2018 was a banner year for the art of prediction, which is not to say the science, because there really is no science of prediction. Predictive algorithms start out as historians: they study historical data to detect patterns. Then they become prophets: they devise mathematical formulas that explain the pattern, test the formulas against historical data withheld for the purpose, and use the formulas to make predictions about the future. That’s why Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else are collecting your data to feed to their algorithms: they want to turn your past into your future.

This task, like most things, used to be done by hand. In 1968, the Foreign Policy Association, formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like, technology-wise, fifty years on. “Toward the Year 2018” was edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who had served in the White House as an adviser on science and technology and who ran Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society. It makes for distressing reading at the end of 2018, a year that, a golden anniversary ago, looked positively thrilling.

. . . .

Two things are true about “Toward the Year 2018.” First, most of the machines that people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented. Second, most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968. It’s bad manners to look at past predictions to see if they’ve come true. Still, if history is any guide, today’s futurists have very little credibility. An algorithm would say the same.

Carlos R. DeCarlo, the director of automation research at I.B.M., covered computers in the book, predicting that, in 2018, “machines will do more of man’s work, but will force man to think more logically.” DeCarlo was consistently half right. He correctly anticipated miniature computers (“very small, portable storage units”), but wrongly predicted the coming of a universal language (“very likely a modified and expanded form of English”). One thing he got terribly wrong: he expressed tragically unfounded confidence that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”

Reporting on the future of communication, J. R. Pierce, from Bell Labs, explained that “the Bell System is committed to the provision of a Picturephone service commercially in the early 1970s,” and that, by 2018, face-to-face communication across long distances would be available everywhere: “The transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony.” True! “What all this will do to the world I cannot guess,” Pierce admitted, with becoming modesty. “It seems bound to affect us all.”

. . . .

But the most prescient contributor to “Toward the Year 2018” was the M.I.T. political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, whose research interests included social networks and computer simulation. “By 2018 it will be cheaper to store information in a computer bank than on paper,” Pool wrote. “Tax returns, social security records, census forms, military records, perhaps a criminal record, hospital rec-ords, security clearance files, school transcripts . . . bank statements,credit ratings, job records,” and more would, by 2018, be stored on computers that could communicate with one another over a vast international network. You could find out anything about anyone, without ever leaving your desk. “By 2018 the researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records). That is, he will have the technological capability to do this. Will he have the legal right?” Pool declined to answer that question. “This is not the place to speculate how society will achieve a balance between its desire for knowledge and its desire for privacy,” he insisted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

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