Oh John Carroll

Month: June 2013 (page 1 of 3)

Michael Graczyk wrote a pretty compelling story about his work for the Associated Press. The first line grabs you:

About once every three weeks, I watch someone die.

RSS Recommendation

As a longtime Google Reader user, I’ve spent the past month searching for a new service to replace it. In fact, I’ve probably spent too much time mulling over this. Ultimately, I chose Feed Wrangler. I thought I’d tell you why:

1. Feed Wrangler’s David Smith created his own apps. As someone who primarily browses RSS feeds via phone or tablet, it was important that I wouldn’t change much of my “workflow” when switching. While the apps aren’t perfect, they look sharp and don’t impede my reading. Furthermore, I know who David Smith is. He makes sharp-looking mobile applications, like Check the Weather.

2. Feed Wrangler offers an API. If you know what an API is, you don’t need me to explain this. If you don’t know what an API is, I’ll keep it simple: it’s what allows other developers to create applications that access the information within Feed Wrangler. If you’re a Google Reader user and have accessed the service through anything but the web site, you’re using an app that made use of the Google Reader API. Since the service is fairly new, there aren’t too many applications using Feed Wrangler, but a few are and many more are promising to do so — including my favorite multi-platform RSS app, Reeder.

3. Feed Wrangler isn’t free. I thought it was important to pay for RSS service this time around. Why? Well, Google Reader was an excellent RSS service: it was almost never down, it always delivered the content I subscribed to, it was free and it offered a public API. Pretty much anyone who used RSS used Google Reader. And it shut down, because it wasn’t profitable. There are other factors, of course. Google was probably hoping to push users to Google+, for instance. Ultimately, though, Google Reader would still be available after July 1 if there was a way for Google to make money from it. Feed Wrangler won’t have the most users on July 2nd, but I certainly know it has a better chance of being in business five years from now than Feedly. And even if Feedly can make money off of their service, would I rather pay Feed Wrangler or view Feedly’s ads? Obviously, you know my answer.

4. Easy to import, easy to export. As thousands of Google Reader users flock to new RSS options, easy importing is a must-have feature, and one that many are boasting. But it’s also important for these new services to offer excellent exporting. After all, the ugly truth in all of this is that the best Google Reader alternative may not even exist yet. And if it doesn’t, I want to know that my data not only exists on my computer (via Google Takeout, which you should use by tomorrow if you haven’t already), but is also easily exportable from my current service of choice.

Feed Wrangler fulfills all of these needs, which is why I chose to subscribe to the service for a year. Of course, everyone’s needs are a little different. I, for instance, did not use the Google Reader web site very often, which offered a number of features that you might rely on. If Feed Wrangler doesn’t do the trick for you, I recommend checking out other services I liked but didn’t opt for: Feedbin and Newsblur.

My Starlit Nights Post

I enjoy reading my friend Melissa’s blog, which is called Starlit Nights. My favorite (unofficial) series of hers: the bookshop posts. You can find them collected with other book-related writing here. In short, Melissa likes to visit bookstores while traveling, and she writes about them after the fact.  Naturally, there are plenty of great photos to admire as well.  Some examples: Strand Books, Book Plate and Boulder Bookstore (which, coincidentally, I happened to visit this month). 

Yes, I too tend to seek out such businesses while traveling, and so I decided to write my very own Starlit Nights post about two bookstores I visited in the Bay Area last week.

Don’t worry, Melissa.  This is just a tribute:

I first visited Moe’s Books in Berkeley.

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I have a soft spot for shops like Moe’s.  While there are certainly a few tables that are laid out nicely, Moe’s is all about volume.  It’s right there on the sign.  Four floors of books: something for everyone.  Step right in.

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As you can see, Moe’s certainly cleans up nicely.  But this is not the first thing you see upon entering the store.  Nope, you see what interests me more: the chaos!

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The genius in Moe’s four floors layout is that it manages to become multiple shops all in one.  If you want a quiet space to dive into a potential purchase, Moe’s offers that.

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But if you’re just looking for books that go to the ceiling, you can head upstairs and find that as well.

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I made myself cozy on the third floor and went through the racks.  Unlike Melissa, I’m never wise enough to leave room to pack suitcases, so I usually have to relegate myself to browsing.  But even browsing has its joys, like when you stumble on notes you were never supposed to see.

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I guess Bill Hicks was just spitting too much truth for Josh on the occasion of the big 4-0.

A few days after visiting Moe’s, I made the obligatory stop at City Lights in San Francisco.

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What’s so unique about City Lights is how the area around the store seems fitted to the bookstore, rather than the other way around.  Off to the left there is Jack Kerouac Alley, while up the block is the Beat Museum.

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While Moe’s seemed impressive in its use of space, it has nothing on City Lights, which hardly wastes any wall or floor space.  If a human can conceivably touch a spot, there’s a book there.  Simple as that.

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There are, of course, some decorative touches around the place.  The basement feels even tighter than the main floor.  With no windows, there’s even more wall space to cover.  But the closets must remain free.

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My favorite floor of the shop, though, was at the top.  This is where they store the Beat Literature and the Poetry.  It’s quieter, and airier.  There certainly are a lot of books, but there’s also more space to roam.  City Lights seems to know that only the diehards are trekking up here.  There are places to settle in and kill an afternoon.

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Visiting these shops helped me articulate what it is I like about my local store, The Dusty Bookshelf.  The trip itself was a joy just to be around people and places and buildings again.  There’s too much open space here, at least for my taste.  I like to be surrounded.  But whether I’m in a bookstore in Kansas or San Francisco, I’m entering similar spaces.  The clutter is attractive.  Melissa’s posts often like to highlight excellent curation in the bookstores she visits, but during my trip to the Bay Area, I found joy in crude piles and narrow aisles.

Walter Kirn for New Republic:

I will hide nothing.

But I will conceal everything.

I will be a good American.

A new album from The Dismemberment Plan.  Long time coming, eh?

I scored a 4.

Bad Baseball Is Great Baseball

The Phillies stink this year.  If you follow Major League Baseball, you’re probably aware of this.  As a huge Phillies fan, this should bother me.  And if it continues for years and years, it will probably get old.  But for now, I actually kind of like it.

Bad baseball is great baseball.  You can laugh at, or with, bad baseball.  You can turn off bad baseball and walk away, although you don’t do so as much as you’d think.  

When your baseball team is mostly bad, you learn to love the things that are rarely good.  Dom Brown, for example, had a torrid month of May for the Phillies.  He’s long been expected to be a key player for the team, a player with All-Star potential.  And this year, he’s finally come into his own, it seems.  I’ve loved it, and try to watch all of his at-bats.  His talent is not so good or boundless or consistent to save this team from itself, but that makes it all the more interesting to watch.  Instead of expecting — or worse, needing — him to excel every time he comes to the plate, I can let him surprise me.

Indeed, the best part about bad baseball is not having to worry about good baseball turning bad.  It’s happened.  The good years were good, but they’re done.  And the dirty secret about the good years is that you spend most of them wondering when things will get worse.

I always dreaded that day, but as it turns out, it’s not as bad as I thought.  Go Phils.

Access Memories

(I missed the last two episodes of Mad Men while away on vacation, so I’m a little late to writing about this.  If you’re further behind me, you may want to stop reading now — that is, if you’re the type of viewer who tries to avoid anything and everything.)

I’ve noticed a lot of people have come to hate the flashbacks on Mad Men.  While I never agreed with those critics, I certainly understood their criticism, and imagined myself eventually agreeing with them.  In short, they argued that in addition to becoming boring and/or repetitive, Don’s flashbacks were also unfair.  We didn’t receive this access to any other character, they argued.

I suppose the main reason I never came around to this side was that I never found such flashbacks boring.  I liked the way each season seemed to focus on one particular time in Don’s young life: it was realistic to me that he’d dwell on different moments at different times in his life.  This show isn’t Lost, after all.  But I certainly couldn’t argue much with the idea that we had unfair access to Don.  The best reason I could come up with was, “He’s the main character!”  But that’s not a very interesting blog post, and hypocritical coming from someone who tends to think of Peggy and Sally and Pete as Don’s equals in terms of importance to the story Mad Men is telling.

But the concluding episodes of season six were a good reminder of why we have access to Don and no one else: Don’s a liar.  Sure, everyone on Mad Men has told a lie at some point (many, really), but no one else is so fundamentally untrustworthy when it comes to the story of his life.  Well, except for Bob Benson, but I suspect we all agree that a new character doesn’t enter a story and have the structure re-built to incorporate him.  Bob, as we now know, is a part of Pete’s story.  We don’t have access to Pete’s memories because we’ve learned we can trust what we hear about Pete’s life story.  Viewers don’t need flashbacks when they can trust what they learn from conversation and context.

Don’s flashbacks, then, became not just ways to learn about his past, but ways to learn about his future.  Indeed, they literally burst out of him in the final episode, prompting him to punch a minister and tell a true story during an ad pitch to Hershey’s.  What’s so exciting about these moments — and the final one, when Don brings his children to his childhood home — is how they reflect both a potential change in character and storytelling.  Will season 7 have any flashbacks?  I imagine it won’t, at least so far as Don continues down this more honest path he’s struck out on.  The character is in control, rendering access to memories necessary or unnecessary.

I’m back from vacation, and catching up on links.  Let’s start with a preview of the new Martin Scorsese movie, OK?

My pal Jamie-Lee Josselyn has a great piece in the new issue of Cleaver about her last trip to a cat show.

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