Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

The Author of the Acacia

This Ursula K. Le Guin story is so good!

No known dialect of Ant employs any verbal person except the third person singular and plural and the first person plural. In this text, only the root forms of the verbs are used; so there is no way to decide whether the passage was intended to be an autobiography or a manifesto.

Seeds 14-22

Long are the tunnels. Longer is the untunneled. No tunnel reaches the end of the untunneled. The untunneled goes on farther than we can go in ten days [i.e., forever]. Praise!

The mark translated “Praise!” is half of the customary salutation “Praise the Queen!” or “Long live the Queen!” or “Huzza for the Queen!”—but the word/mark signifying “Queen” has been omitted.

Thanks to Matt Webb for transcribing it from The Compass Rose. You can also listen to Le Guin reading the latter half of the essay (with an additional footnote!) in a 2014 talk.

Link via Hugo Reinert

Networks + New

Here’s the first chapter of Sam Kronick’s 2013 video series Networks + New Towns.

NETWORKS + NEW TOWNS is an extended site study of Jonathan, Minnesota and related areas. The suburban neighborhood of Jonathan was one of the first “totally planned communities” in the Midwest, born during the short-lived “New Town” movement of the late 1960’s. It grew up during an era characterized by great faith in the power of urban planning and the transformative potential of communications technology. This work uses Jonathan as a microcosm to understand the ways that we augment the earth with matter and data in an ongoing pursuit of better living.

The other chapters of the series are all really great.


Self-driving cars: “utterly inevitable”

Mat Honan wrote about the experience of riding in Google’s cute self-driving cars.

“One also suspects that the cars look intentionally nonthreatening. That they very much are not intended to look like [some of Google’s other robots](” Mat Honan / BuzzFeed News
“One also suspects that the cars look intentionally nonthreatening. That they very much are not intended to look like some of Google’s other robots.” Mat Honan / BuzzFeed News

The first time I rode in a fully autonomous car, what really impressed me was when the car saw something that I could not. As I rode down a residential street in Mountain View, the car slowed, for no apparent reason. Yet in the front seat, a laptop showed everything the car could “see.” And up ahead, there was a man, in the street, standing behind a double-parked vehicle. He was concealed from my eyes, but the car detected him. And it slowed down, anticipating that he might step out unexpectedly.

It anticipated this because each and every one of Google robot cars has experienced the totality of everything all its siblings have experienced. Google’s cars have driven a total of 1.2 million miles on the roads. We tend to think of this as combined experience — an aggregate number. But what it really means, effectively, is that every single car has driven that distance, has experienced it. This is a machine that learns. And in addition to that on road time, the cars log, Google said yesterday, 3 million miles every day running scenarios.

This car is a better driver than me, or you, or any of us.

Link via Andy Baio

Why we don’t have much good data on

From Michael Luo’s 2011 series on guns and public safety, this gets at the heart of the political limitations on doing research into the health risks of guns in America.

C.D.C. financing for research on gun violence has not stopped completely, but it is now mostly limited to work in which firearms are only a component.

The centers also ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the N.R.A. as a courtesy, said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the centers.

Invariably, researchers said, whenever their work touches upon firearms, the C.D.C. becomes squeamish. In the end, they said, it is often simply easier to avoid the topic if they want to continue to be in the agency’s good graces.

Emphasis added. I’m curious if these circumstances have changed much in the past 4 years.

Link via southpaw

Adam Gopnik on the Virginia Tech

Max Fisher writes in Vox “this is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings,” quoting from Adam Gopnik in the April 30, 2007 issue of the New Yorker.

The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why. As the police cleared the bodies from the Virginia Tech engineering building, the cell phones rang, in the eccentric varieties of ring tones, as parents kept trying to see if their children were OK.

Gopnik’s Comment piece ends just as strong.

There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun. At some point, that simple truth will register. Until it does, phones will ring for dead children, and parents will be told not to ask why.


On The Media: After

This week’s On The Media was a rerun, but they ran a podcast extra about the Umpqua Community College shooting that’s worth a listen.

MP3 link

Also, here is Michael Luo’s Medium post about his role in provoking Oregon’s state legislature to restrict public access to gun license records.

I had planned to cross-match the data of license holders with other records on criminal convictions. But Oregon officials repeatedly delayed turning over the records, and I wound up focusing instead on the licensing process in North Carolina, where officials released the gun permit data to me right away. I discovered that about 10 percent of permit holders in North Carolina over a five-year period had gone on to commit felonies or misdemeanors. Perhaps more disturbingly, I found that the authorities had failed to revoke the permits of many of those who had been convicted of felonies.

Stone-walling journalists from uncovering these kinds of legislative oversights is dangerous—not just in the rhetorical sense—it is literally endangering citizens.


Jamie xx – Gosh music

I’m feeling this space-themed music video after all of the recent space news and moon gazing.


The video was directed by Erik Wernquist and the photography is credited to “NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio,” which kinda makes me want to track down the original sources.

Link via Synesthesia

My friend almost got eaten by a

I am very glad she was not eaten by a bear.

And then around 10:15, I woke up, suddenly, to a crunching noise. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I opened my eyes to the five inches or so of space between the ground and the vestibule of my tent, and — woah. Four big paws. Interesting. I was still fighting my way out of sleep and halfway processing those paws when I looked up to the wall of my tent, which was lit up from the almost-full moon. And there, silhouetted perfectly against the fabric, was a bear head.

Also, I can’t help but think of this Far Side cartoon (sorry Stasia!).


“This is something we should politicize”

President Obama’s speech is worth watching in its entirety. Starts at 23:18.


We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these mass shootings every few months.

Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response, here at this podium, ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it, we’ve become numb to this.

Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp took up Obama’s challenge.


In Search of Personalized

My friends Taeyoon and Roon have been working on a project called In Search of Personalized Time. Last year they were collaborating remotely, with Taeyoon working on-site at a festival in Seoul coordinating with Roon here in New York on a very different timezone.

It was, as if, we are living in someplace else—in-between New York and Seoul—and doesn’t completely belong to either of those two places.

Similarly, in our perceptions, those conference calls were happening not in New York or Seoul’s local time, but possibly elsewhen—sometime else, that the participants from both places share momentarily.

Perhaps, we could create a time device, that shows your personal time, so that you can interact with it without syncing back with the GMT. Then perhaps, we could network these devices, and think about how to negotiate these personal times from person to person. then perhaps, we could create an alternative time-system, a consensus time, the bottom up approach towards deciding what time it is now.


After showing the piece at LACMA earlier in the year, they participated in the Art Book Fair this past weekend along with Sam Hart, editor of

After syncing the devices to their personal clocks, the volunteers were asked to spend the afternoon on a “scavenger hunt for time,” taking the Art Book Fair as an opportunity to begin new conversations about their sense of lived time and the significance of publication as an act of preserving a particular moment.


Look at your

I recently upgraded my phone and discovered that the new version of iOS was running way too slow on my iPhone 5. But the new San Francisco font sure does look nice. I suffered with a slow ass phone for a few days, and then decided to just burn it all down and reinstall everything from scratch with iOS 8.

It worked! My phone is much faster, and I got rid of dozens of apps that I never use in the process.

As I was deciding which things to re-install, I came across Robin Sloan’s Fish in the (embarrassingly long) list of app store previous downloads. It had been a while, so I tapped through it again. It is still so good! If you have never tried it—and if you have an iPhone, I think it may only work on iPhones—you should absolutely install it.


Or if you haven’t in a while, give it another read.