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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day -5 news roundup.

* Evolution has been demonstrated in laboratory conditions. This is actually a pretty impressive experiment involving 12 separate E. coli colonies over twenty years; after three mutations and 40,000 generations, one of the lines developed the ability to eat citrate. More discussion at Daily Kos.

* Robert Pinsky on the poetics of Zork.

I believe that the poetics of Zork and its modern descendants tell us more about the literary potential of the computer than we could learn from any amount of ambitious literary theorizing. At the beginning of Zork, the player-reader faces a small, empty house, on a barren plain: a visible territory that can be walked over by entering a handful of keyboard commands. But ah! -- after looking under the carpet, and opening the trapdoor, and descending and entering the tunnel: then one sees the world of Zork unfold outward into an immense network of concentric chambers, looping passageways, branching and terraced corridors. The map of this voluminous (if monotonous) universe was itself gigantic. Primitive though this world was, it would become absorbing, even transporting. A successful artist recently said to me, looking back on a time of great psychological stress, "Zork kept me alive."
* Carville floats Al Gore for VP. I think this is a fantastic idea whose excellence is mitigated only by its sheer impossibility.

* Everyone's linking to the J.K. Rowling Harvard speech. I think it's mandatory.

* Kevin "Out of Control" Kelly introduces me to a new term: scenius, the specie of genius devoted to mastery of a cultural scene.
Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or "scenes" can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: "Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius."

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

• Mutual appreciation -- Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
• Rapid exchange of tools and techniques -- As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
• Network effects of success -- When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
• Local tolerance for the novelties -- The local "outside" does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region.
* And even President Bush admits he's been a terrible, terrible president. Well, almost:
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”

Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”.
He's absolutely right, of course—it's his rhetoric that was the problem.