Archive for February, 2010

Fri 26 Feb 2010 9:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different

Lincoln and Brady, 150 years ago

This is one of the most famous photographs of Abrahan Lincoln. It’s one of the most famous photographs period. And it was taken here in New York City on February 27, 1860, 150 years ago tomorrow.

Lincoln, campaigning for president and needing to carry New York, was in the city to give a speech. Originally planned for Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, the event was moved to Cooper Union, then a brand new facility. On his way to the speech, Lincoln stopped at the photo studio of Mathew Brady, a celebrity in his day and recognized today as a path-breaker in the art and trade of photography. (His modern-day counterpart might be, say, James Cameron.)

Brady’s studio was at 643 Broadway, on the corner of Bleeker Street. There’s a café there now. I’ve eaten in that café a few times, each time oblivious to the knowledge that in the very spot where I was washing down an overpriced mesclun salad with a glass of white, Matthew freakin’ Brady had photographed Abraham freakin’ Lincoln! New York is such a place!


Mon 22 Feb 2010 10:45 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Holga, Photos

Six Holga photos of Brooklyn in winter

Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building (a.k.a. One Hanson Place), downtown


Fri 19 Feb 2010 6:24 am   //   Posted in: Videos

Kart attack

Here’s a little video of a company trip this week to Grand Prix New York, the indoor go kart track in Mount Kisco.

Wed 17 Feb 2010 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

It’s 2010, and the future is… databases.

Hoverboards have yet to materialize. Space travel is on the outs. Virtual reality, holograms and video phones have failed to impress. You call this 2010?! It’s like the future we were promised never arrived. So what do we have? The fruitful evolution of something utterly boring but immensely useful. Databases.

Databases used to be ponderous and difficult, and had to be accessed with extreme efficiency in mind. Remember the early days of computerized library card catalogs? How slow they were? Now think of all the computing power Facebook expends making sure our updates automatically refresh on our screens. The jump from early databases to realtime social networks is a modern wonder, like trading up from a bicycle to a battleship.

Server farms host giant databases that update instantly and replicate constantly, and that can handle as many queries as all humanity can throw at them. They move massive amounts of data using hardware and software designed to be light, cheap, fast, modular, open and scalable. So much information, organized and dispensed more quickly than a human mind can think to ask for it. Through these technologies we have Google, Facebook, Twitter, Bing, YouTube, Flickr, not to mention the networks that power our telephones and our financial system.

Ten or 15 years ago, I don’t remember anybody predicting that massive databases would be the future of computing. Maybe they did, but we simply ignored them because the idea is so boring and hard to explain. Yet here we are, and we’re just getting started. Programmers and engineers everywhere are working to take all these database components and snap them together. Where are the sources of real-time data? How can you collect and organize that data? What two pieces of data become shockingly useful when married together? How do we make 2 + 2 = 16? If you have an idea, buy a book, learn a coding language and get started. For the first time, there’s computing power to spare.

Mon 15 Feb 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

The dawn of professional gossip

Consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and (as of last week) Google Buzz. Time-wasters, to be sure. But recently, they’ve become a vital part of participation in many work communities. They’re how people keep up with the important personalities in their field—colleagues, competitors and trendsetters. This use—as an online, social component of business—is new. It is distinct from the more popular uses of social networks, like chatting with friends, posting personal photos, playing games and sharing funny videos. This is about work. We need a name for this.

Professional gossip – Real-time information about people in your field, transmitted through online social networks.

In some ways, gossip should be approached with caution. Things can go negative fast and unexpectedly. (Witness yesterday’s bizarre Twitter fight between Sarah Silverman and Steve Case!) There’s a lot of noise and few good ways to filter it. Often we would be better advised to do the work rather than gab about the work we’re doing.

But on balance, gossip is good. People just starting out in a field can follow a few good feeds and gain insight from experts. Actionable business intelligence spreads fast—and the most important facts spread fastest. No longer must ideas simmer for months before bubbling up through the trade press and conferences; they can can be defined, refined and debated as urgently as necessary. And, conveniently, social networks let you curate your own professional gossip channel. This gives you power to influence what other people in your work community are talking about. Given time to build up contacts and clout, you can set the agenda and shape how your peers perceive your business.

We’re all new at this. We’re going to discover some weird things as we blaze this trail. Let’s make it fun!

Thu 11 Feb 2010 8:00 pm   //   Posted in: Technology

Six personal rules of Twitter

Here are some personal guidelines I follow when tweeting at @daryllang:

1. Don’t tweet about Twitter.

Did the first people with typewriters pound out story after story about typewriters?

2. Always build up. Never tear down.

Tweet about things you like, rather than complain about modern life’s myriad inconveniences.

This corresponds to one my personal rules of blogging: Before you hit publish, imagine the person you would least want to read the post reading it back to you aloud, slowly, with a tone of deep disappointment. This check has spared me a lot of trouble.

Related: A worst-case-scenario story about what happens when you whine on Twitter.

3. Tweet like you talk.

You can assume Twitter users come with some basic specialized knowledge — they understand RT means it’s a pickup of somebody else’s tweet, and that the symbols @ and # summon special Twitter functions. But beyond that, Twitter users are real humans who want real human thoughts, not a string of machine-readable code.

4. Only one idea per tweet.

They used to teach us to write one idea per paragraph. (Remember paragraphs?) It’s tempting to try to convey about five thoughts in 140 characters. It’s better to simmer down, wait a few minutes, settle on the one best idea, and tweet only that.

5. Delete bad tweets.

This medium is so ethereal that nobody expects (nor wants) a perfect permanent record of your tweets. If you feel regret, learn new information that changes your opinion, or think of a more effective way to say something, go fix it! You’re the boss of Twitter, Twitter is not the boss of you. And if you ever feel otherwise, take a moment to re-center.

6. Never call yourself a Twitter expert.

It takes 10 years to become an expert in something. Twitter is less than five years old.

Note: I realize that by tweeting a link to this post, I have broken rule number 1. So, um, I hereby grant you permission to break these rules. Whatever!

Wed 10 Feb 2010 9:41 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Videos, Weather

Video: Snow falling in Brooklyn

The snow’s not too bad here—just enough to make the city feel abnormal. Here’s a video I shot on my way to and from work today.

Fri 5 Feb 2010 8:24 pm   //   Posted in: Photos, Planet earth, Travel

Memories of Centralia, Pennsylvania, 2002

Centralia is back in the news today thanks to an AP story about the star-crossed Pennsylvania town’s last days: “Few remain as 1962 Pa. coal town fire still burns.”

I was briefly fascinated with Centralia when I lived in Pennsylvania. I drove there one Saturday to gawk at the smoldering streets take some pictures of the desolate place. I think these muddy old digital camera shots actually do a good job of reflecting the town’s atmosphere of unease and sadness. Here’s a post I published on my blog in 2002, with more pictures below:


Wed 3 Feb 2010 6:46 am   //   Posted in: Movies, TV commericals

Beth Grant’s weird Skittles commercial

Actress Beth Grant delivers the best line in one of my favorite movies, 2001’s Donnie Darko. Here she is with her classic lament: “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”

Now, time travel to present day. Beth Grant has showed up in a Skittles commercial. I love this: