The Parking Lot Movie

Through the magic of Netflix I came across this amazing documentary last weekend.  The Parking Lot Movie is a 79-minute meditation on capitalism, sociology, management, class war, and of course, cars.

The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, VA, is staffed by unlikely attendants — graduate students in philosophy and theology, for example — which gives them and this movie a wonderfully entertaining lens through wjich to watch the collision of low-paying service sector jobs, higher education and spoiled undergrads who park their parents’ BMWs in the lot and try to skirt a $0.40 parking charge.

As a bonus gem, there are some songs by parking lot attendant, bluesy folksinger and UVA law student Mark Schottinger:

Update: Smitten by these songs, I emailed Mark Schottinger to find out if more of his music is available somewhere:

  1. The Parking Lot Movie Soundtrack has the two songs from the film, but unfortunately not the full version of Hellbound (iTunes)
  2. Three songs on Dawn of Man Productions.
  3. There’s an album on Bandcamp — my opinion, this one doesn’t sound as good as the other stuff.
  4. YouTube, search for Mark Schottinger (also see YouTube video above).

What a Year

I relish the chance to reflect on an ending year, but the past few months have been insanely busy.  So without further ado, while it’s still January, here is my 2010 in a sentence: I left AOL, gave up coffee, took a trip around the world with my family, Germany nearly almost won the World Cup, I dropped my son off for his freshman year at college, and started a new job.  And that’s just  June-September, I’m not really sure what happened in the first half of the year, and the last few months are a blur.  The trip was, of course, the best part.  Here are some photos of Siegburg, Venice, Padua, Delhi, Agra, Ko Samui, Bangkok, and Hong Kong:

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Seth Godin, Linchpin

I just finished reading Seth Godin’s latest opus with the “calling all weasels” title Linchpin – Are You Indispensable?

Life is short, so I usually steer clear of so-called business books, but I’d heard much about Godin and watched some of his videos and was intrigued.  So I held my nose and started reading.  It turns out, this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s a book about karma (though that word doesn’t appear).  And it may just turn weasels into artists, which is what Godin is entreating his readers to become.  He’s not suggesting that we drag Excel into the trash and use only Photoshop, but rather that we approach our work as art.  Do what you love, or failing that, love what you do.

So what is art?  According to Godin, art is something that challenges the status quo, that demonstrates insight.  It is doing not just labor, but emotional labor, at work.  It is being generous with your domain knowledge.  It is connecting with and touching people.  All of this sounds like an obvious good idea, at least for us sentimentalists.  But it’s difficult, and as Godin points out, we’re hard-wired not to be artists, but to be compliant and play it safe.  Near the end of the book are a couple of Venn diagrams that show these intersections:

dignity & generosity & humanity = Indispensable

conformity & compliance & obedience = Surrender

Told you it was a book about karma.  And as a bonus, there’s a great bibliography, too, listing lots of interesting books and grouped by topics such as “Gifts and Art”, “Sociology and Economics”, “Education”, “Programming and Productivity”, “Science and the Brain”, “Wisdom”.

For a business book, Linchpin is pretty damn great.  Recommended.

My favorite 2.6% of the day

My new favorite run takes me through 4.5 miles of the open space near my house, has about 700 feet of ascents according to my trusty Garmin Forerunner, and takes me about 38 minutes on a good day.  There’s nothing like running under a Colorado sky on a sunny December day.  Those 38 minutes are my favorite 2.6% of the whole day.

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Carrying the Fire

This summer, I picked up a copy of Mike Collins’s memoir Carrying the Fire at the Barnes & Noble in Melbourne, which is on Florida’s “Space Coast”. I’m a sucker for books about local happenings, even more so when there’s an adventure or geeky angle (or both, as with this book).

I just finished the book and recommend it highly to anyone interested in flying or America’s space program or Apollo in particular. Collins tells the story of America’s ambitious race to the moon from a personal perspective, and there’s lots of test pilot talk throughout the book.

Book Usage

I collect books. Once I bought the entire stock of the university library’s annual used book sale, which took two trips with a pickup truck to haul away to our house. OK, that wasn’t smart because we still had three or four moves ahead of us before we settled into our present house.

Now I mostly buy books from Softpro, a real, physical, local, independent computer bookstore. I still buy far too many of them, and keep having to give some away, and add new bookshelves to accommodate them all.

Here are two real problems with having so many books:

Problem One – There are some real gems that I never see, they’re lost among the thousands of books on my shelves. I need a way to remind me to consider the gems every once in a while.

Problem Two – Some books you just don’t need. Stuff like “Implementing SOA with J2EE”. Much better to use that space for an Erlang book or “Gödel, Escher, Bach”.

Both of these problems could be solved with some kind of coating on the books that registered touch and, after six, twelve or eighteen months of a book not being touched again, there would appear a bright yellow, orange or red dot on the spine. The dot would be a reminder to look at the book and either recycle itdonate it to the library, or rediscover it as a gem.

Of course, on a Kindle sorted by “most recent” you get the same effect, but come on, it’s just not the same as standing in front of a real live bookshelf.

Education Snapshot … Overheard

My daughter today (high schooler, Colorado):

“In Science we’re doing exactly what we did in middle school, but at a more basic level”

My niece (middle school, California) is having a furlough day today (meaning, school is closed because teachers are on one of their scheduled unpaid leave days).  Also, her school gets brand new textbooks every year, whether they’re needed or not, because it’s in the budget — and furlough days?

Siri iPhone App – First Look

Siri is a new iPhone app that takes spoken input like “coffee places near here” and shows you a list of coffee places near your location with distance, directions, etc.  You can also enter a query by tapping on a type of location you’re looking for, but that’s boring.  I haven’t tried some of the more ambitious queries from the company’s demo video, stuff like “get me a table for two at a romantic restaurant near work at 7pm next Thursday”.  For the simple queries I’ve tried, it works well and is surprisingly fast, considering it has to recognize speech (done by uploading the recorded text to a server) before it can process the query.  The technology is interesting, using context awareness and service delegation.  See Siri’s About Technology page for more info.

For the “coffee places near here” example, I have only a small criticism: Culligan Water is not a coffee place, and my favorite, the Tattered Cover bookstore’s cafe, which is about a mile away, isn’t on the list.  Not a big deal, I’m sure it’ll improve by improving query formulation to map “coffee places” to additional terms, or delegating to services with better data.


Book Review: What Would Google Do?

I expect one of two things from a business book: an eye-opening new perspective that I would never have stumbled on myself, or a concise summary of insights that might occur to me if I had more free time to ruminate on the subject and lots of yellow pads and pens with me at all times.  Most business books disappoint in both categories and amount to 200-400 pages of fluff that might have been worth a read as a 2000-word magazine article when there’s nothing good on TV.

Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? is the first business book I’ve read in a long time that’s not actually a slog to read.  It doesn’t deliver any stunning new perspectives, but it’s a worthwhile and readable summary of insights and lessons gleaned from observing not only Google, but also Facebook, Flickr and other successes of the Web era.  Jarvis presents the lessons in a breezy narrative style and doesn’t dwell on them unnecessarily, which is a nice change from most biz books that put each simple concept through a taffy machine to stretch it to fifty mind-numbing pages.  There are lessons about platforms, openness, speed, elegant organization and their implications for the Web and other industries.

I won’t bore my huge and dedicated audience by rehashing a lot of stuff from the book.  Instead, I’ll humbly suggest that if you’re shopping for a business book that won’t put you into a boredom coma on your next flight, get WWGD.

The book: What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis.  (Amazon.  A Kindle edition is available)