Sparse prose (a sociology of love)

Pager wrote in sparse prose and fought with co-authors who wanted to bog down papers with jargon and technical details. “Devah had this rare ability,” says the Princeton sociologist Mitchell Duneier, “to both do the most rigorous social science, and then to translate those findings so that they would be discussed by people of different political persuasions.”

It was this kind of grounding that led Pager’s work to have such a profound impact on public policy … It was research compelled by moral commitments — racism is evil, poverty steals our gifts — and Pager’s ability to see the best in us, including those among us who have been convicted and caged. Hers was a sociology in the service of the dispossessed, a sociology of love.

Devah Pager: Her Work As A Sociologist Highlighted Racial Injustice In The United States, by Matthew Desmond, New York Times Magazine, 27 December 2018

New work

Fire and Frost,” My essay for David Bollier and Silke Helfrich new anthology, Patterns of Commoning is now up in both English and German. Buy this excellent book now. 

My essay Hidden collections for everyone is up on CLIR’s blog now. It’s about global audiences and some work I’ve done recently through with people in Mexico, the Ukraine, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ghana. The essay is published as an epilogue to Collaboration, Innovation, and Models: Proceedings of the CLIR Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Symposium, released earlier this week.

Dark Matter, which I wrote in 2014 for the Code | Words project, has now been published in an anthology for the project by Museums Etc. Ed Rodley did a tremendous job keeping this project alive, and though I haven’t received my copy yet it looks like a very handsome publication from what I can see online. Proceeds from copies bought through this link will support a scholarship fund for the Museum Computer Network conference. 

Dark Matter has also been published in Luis Mendes’s crowdfunded bilingual (Portuguese/English) anthology Reprogramme. Definitely buy this book.

How Change Happens, my slides explaining the change model behind the Openlab Workshop concept, was featured on the Slideshare home page last week. It’s been viewed in 116 countries so far. 

Dark Matter

The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums

From my essay for the Code | Words project.

Image: Vera Rubin’s rotation curve for galaxy M-31, via “Dark Matter and Galaxy Formation” by Joel R. Primack,

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped in pavement and weedy lots and jump heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonics, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.
— Opening paragraph of Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, 1945. I was writing something this morning and I had a sudden hunger to hear these words in my ears. The forward momentum of them. This book means a lot to me. 
The text message and the exclamation point are made for each other, and I’m glad they finally found each other…They’re both one-note forms of communication, without music, without connotation and atmosphere, but they do have their uses. To me, there’s no more shame in filling text messages with exclamation points, three at a time, if necessary, than there is in using strings of expletives while arguing politics at an Irish pub.
— Walter Kern, on text messages and exclamation points. from Talking (Exclamation) Points, by Aimee Lee Ball, New York Times, published: July 1, 2011
Like a good novel, clean code should clearly expose the tensions in the problem to be solved. It should build those tensions to a climax and then give the reader that ‘Aha! Of course!’ as the issue and the tensions are resolved in the revelation of an obvious solution
— Grady Booch, as quoted in Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship, by Robert C. Martin, page 8

A bit of a forward rush

Every once in a while I get correspondence from someone chiding me for the way I write — in particular the informality. I received one the other day complaining about sentences that begin with “but” or “and”. There is, however, a reason I write this way. You see, the things I write about are very important; they affect lives and the destiny of nations. But despite that, economics can all too easily become dry and boring; it’s just the nature of the subject. And I have to find, every time I write, a way to get past that problem. One thing that helps, I’ve found, is to give the writing a bit of a forward rush, with a kind of sprung or syncopated rhythm, which often involves sentences that are deliberately off center.

More broadly, the inherent stuffiness of the subject demands, almost as compensation, as conversational a tone as I can manage.
Paul Krugman, But, And, Why - New York Times, October 22, 2011

I Love this short piece and the turn of phrase “a bit of a forward rush” from Paul Krugman’s blog about why he uses elastic and informal language in his writing. I get flack for this too, as well as for using exclamation points and smiley faces in my emails.

Standard business language is unnecessarily tedious. If I’m using a smiley face or an exclamation point in my correspondence it’s probably because I’m genuinely excited to be talking with you about whatever it is we’re talking about. 

Reference also If you’re happy and you know it, must I know it too? from Sunday’s NY Times (October 21, 2011), which quotes a bunch of cranky people who don’t like smiley faces very much.