Paul Ford on Microsoft Buying GitHub

That’s how code happens in 2018. The process used to be the sort of thing people did in slow and ad hoc ways, a few times a year, and only after a lot of infighting over email. Now the same process might happen 10 times a day, and the infighting is right there in the pull requests. Hundreds of people might be working on one code thing or 10 people on 100 code things. GitHub makes that doable. I can’t imagine life without it. I’d much rather tell a newbie to get a GitHub account than suggest she read the git manual. If all companies are becoming software companies, GitHub is a primary enabler.

A truly fun aspect of Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub is that it was announced before Apple Inc.’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This is like when Passover overlaps with Easter in New York City. The WWDC, sacred nerd summit of Appledom, is where they announce things like a new “night mode” for the operating system and try to convince programmers that Apple Watch matters. But GitHub is nerd infrastructure. Huge portions of modern culture—Google’s TensorFlow machine-learning software, for instance, and even other programming languages, such as Mozilla’s Rust—run on code managed there. For Microsoft to trot this out during WWDC is a real thunder-stealer. It’s nice to see global-platform capitalism played with a little verve.

Ford is one of the most consistently entertaining and informed writers on technology — from the inside out. A former Harper's staffer, he's also one of the few writers who can casually and believably drop a Borges reference in a deep-tech piece. (Note: I also dig his podcast.)

Leadership St. Louis 2018-19

I'm honored and grateful to have been selected to be part of the 2018-19 class of Leadership St. Louis. Here's how FOCUS St. Louis describes the program: 

Leadership St. Louis is a highly respected program for established and emerging leaders who have demonstrated a deep commitment to improving the St. Louis region. The 9-month curriculum explores such issues as economic development, racial equity, education, poverty and social services, arts and culture, and the criminal justice system. Participants visit key sites in the bi-state region, engage in face-to-face dialogue with regional decision makers and gain a deeper understanding of leadership approaches that produce results.

I'm impressed with those I've heard from who have completed the program, as well the fellow participants I met at last week's orientation. Should be an exciting nine months.

More Great Listening: Batuman & Sow

The Longform Podcast's new episode with Elif Batuman is fantastic. I've enjoyed her writing for a few years, and in this interview you can just feel her thinking deeply about literature and writing and gender and observing in cities around the world and much more. As interviewer Max Linsky tweeted when sharing the link: "Genuinely, this is the most fun I have had in a long time. It was so fun, in fact, that at one point I stopped and said 'Wow I’m just very happy to be sitting here with you! This is so fun!' And then Elif was very gracious with me and then she said a bunch more brilliant things." It's true. 

I also loved Design Observer's new episode with Aminatou Sow. She was new to me, and I'm clearly late to the game. On being late, though: Really enjoyed Sow's skepticism of the tech press's focus on the young (who wants to peak at 28?), vs. her interest in longevity; she's long thought the ideal age is 63 .

Lucky Podcast: "The Choice"

I don't think I've ever been more moved by an audio story than I was listening to this two-part podcast episode called "The Choice": 

In April of 1992, Nada Rothbart was living happily in Sarajevo, Bosnia, with her husband and two young sons–till the night the Bosnian Civil War broke out on the street in front of her home. By the time they recognized what was happening–it was too late; Nada was trapped with her children, surrounded by tanks and snipers. After 60 days with almost no food, no water, and no power, a surprise ceasefire was announced. Nada put on her shoes, grabbed her children, and walked out the door.

That's just the beginning of this remarkable, harrowing story that contains both the worst and best of what's possible in life. Part 1: online or iTunes. Part 2: online or iTunes.  (H/T to Snap Judgement, where I first heard episode 1.) 

Michael Chabon on Being a Writer + Parent

In an essay for GQ, he provides a decades-later response to an esteemed literary figure's advice not to have kids, if he wanted a serious career as a writer. The piece closes: 

And those four “lost” novels predicted by the great man's theory all those years ago? If I had followed the great man's advice and never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes. If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I'm all right with that. Once they're written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back. Anyway, if, 100 years hence, those books lie moldering and forgotten, I'll never know. That's the problem, in the end, with putting all your chips on posterity: You never stick around long enough to enjoy it.

Cultural Notes: February 2018

Continuing for month two of this recent effort to note the cultural intake of the prior month: 

Read

Watched

  • Get Out (A+)
  • Room (B+)
  • Phantom Thread (A-)
  • 45 Years (A-)

Cultural Notes: January 2018

With a nod to Kottke's monthly "Media Diet" posts, I'm experimenting this year with short monthly recaps of interesting things I've read, watched or listened to. (This is as much for myself, as noting what I took in can help me better recall it.)

Read

Watched

  • The Big Sick (B+)
  • Columbus (A) — Unique and sensitive debut with such lovely and surprising  architecture.
  • The Sopranos, Final Season (A)

Listened To

  • Lomelda, "From Here," — Stumbled on her via Spotify Discover. The last-third build-up gets me singing.  
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on "Discovering America" — On this recent New Yorker Radio Hour interview with David Remnick, Adichie was incisive and funny. Moved me to pick up Americanah, which I'm reading now.
  • Slow Burn — Binged-listened to this podcast about Watergate. Hard to believe.
  • Saint Louis Symphony Concert Family Concert  — First time taking Leo, who looked up with wide eyes at Powell Hall's magnificent ceiling. It was a treat that the special guest was the 442s, friends and collaborators on this Forest Park Forever project. A week since going, Leo's been loudly 'conducting' in the kitchen. 

Abbott Miller on the "Content-Based Studio"

From the intelligent and beautifully made monograph Abbott Miller: Design and Content, which I devoured in early January, here is the designer/writer talking about the firm Design Writing Research, which he co-founded with Ellen Lupton:  

During this time [perhaps mid-1990s], DWR moved from its basis in small print-based projects to exhibitions and publications. We elaborated our position as a hybrid of think thank, publisher, and design studio. The goal was to fuse our work as designers and writers, creating a studio that could generate content and use the unique skill set of designers to focus on projects about art, design, architecture, and ideas. In this notion of the content-based studio there were a number of inspirational precedents, from Charles and Ray Eames to Quentin Fiore and Bernard Rudofsky.

Our original emphasis on language and theory merged with work for clients who came to us not so much for the manifesto-like pronouncements of our mission, but for the thoughtful interplay of design and content in our projects. DWR was a self-consciously literary and conceptual hothouse version of a design studio, undertaking projects that experimented with literary theory and psychoanalysis, leaning heavily on what we saw as the vastly underdeveloped relationship between writing and graphic design. We borrowed from Jacques Derrida an expanded notion of "writing" (écriture), which included all elements of graphic communication, from symbols to spacing. Hence our predilection for mazes of glyphs, our attentiveness to the minutiae of punctuation and our maniacal focus on typography and textural systems.

Tim Carmody on Bill Callahan

With this terrific Kottke.org guest post — "Bill Callahan, the only sad man worth loving" — Carmody had me immediately returning to the handful of albums I own. (As Carmody points out, Callahan's not on Spotify, my own daily streaming service: "This means his legacy risks being eclipsed for a whole cohort of fans. I find this unacceptable.") 

Below, one of the gems Carmody highlights at the post:

When Lapham Played Beethoven for Monk

Thanks to a surprise purchase by my wife, I've been enjoying the new issue of Lapham's Quarterly, which takes music as its cover-to-cover subject. (How that theme was still open to them after several years of publishing is surprising.) 

I've enjoyed reading Lapham for years, but hadn't known that he'd studied piano as a youth, or that he'd spent time in New York City as a young writer waiting (and waiting and waiting) to write about Thelonious Monk. After several months of sharing late-night space in the Five Spot, this happened:

At four AM on a Thursday in late March [1965], the Five Spot’s waiters stacking chairs on tables, Monk stood up from the piano, snapped his fingers, thrust his palm in my direction. “Time to play, man,” he said, “time to hear what you know.” Out front in the back of a Rolls-Royce, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was come to carry Monk home. She did so many mornings, but I never had been around at four AM to see Monk nod to the chauffeur holding open the door. A beautiful woman of uncertain age, wrapped in fur and wearing pearls, the baroness smiled, pointed me toward the seat in front. I can’t now remember if she spoke more than four words in my direction, either in the car or after we arrived at Monk’s apartment on West Sixty-Third Street at Eleventh Avenue.

Monk didn’t mess with preliminaries. Not bothering to remove his hat (that evening a fine English bowler), he pointed to the piano, opened and closed the wooden door of the bathroom directly behind it, seated himself on the toilet to listen to whatever came next. Nellie and the baroness sat upright and attentive on the small blue sofa they shared with a rag doll and a rocking horse. I played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27 in two movements (the first in E minor, the second in E major), run time fourteen minutes if taken at the indicated tempos. I don’t say I played it as well as Lipsky might have played it, but I’d been practicing it six days out of seven for two months, and to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I didn’t miss many notes, never once felt ill at ease or afraid. Monk stepped out of the bathroom, looked me square in the face, said simply, straight, no chaser, “I heard you.”

By then I knew enough to dig what he was saying. It wasn’t the personality of Lewis H. Lapham he heard playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27. He didn’t care who or what I was, clubfooted and white or blue-eyed and black. It wasn’t me or my interpretation, it was the music itself, off the charts beyond good and evil that somehow and if only for the time being I’d managed to reach.

Karl Ove Knausgaard Walks Central Park

For The New Yorker Radio Hour, Joshua Rothman walks Central Park with one of my favorite living writers. I especially loved this bit, which comes after Knausgaard is asked about the differences between the way children and adults go through their days: 

I have four children, and maybe when I spend a summer day with them, it is like nothing. Time is just passing. There's nothing remarkable happening. It's like the world is not attached to me, and I'm not attached to the world anymore. And then I remember the summers when I was a child myself — how important everything was, how attached I was to everything that happened, and how slowly those days evolved, somehow. I find it very easy to underestimate my own children. That I don't see them — that they're just little creatures, not realizing that they have an enormous, huge and independent inner life. Somehow, the task is apparently to be aware of that.