Digital sundials

I like sundials. There’s something primal about how they turn time back into a personal relationship between you and the sun. Everything has been so thoroughly digitized and stylized these days, it’s easy to forget where our basic notions of time come from. So it is both cool and oddly disturbing to see that someone has built a digital sundial. There are no moving parts or electricity. Just set it up and off you go.

The basic idea is straightforward: as the sun moves through the sky, its rays form a slightly different angle with the ground minute by minute. Imagine standing at the bottom of a deep well and seeing the sun pass overhead and then disappear within a few minutes. You can think of a tiny narrow channel carved into a plate of metal as something like a well, but it is also like a pixel that will only light up at a certain time of day. Now it’s a simple step to build a clock image out of an array of well-tuned sunlight pixels. Read the patent to see how it works in detail, if you like. Also, don’t miss the pretty pictures.

You know, it is close to Christmas.

Iron Man novelizing

Here’s one that’s been around for a while, but I only heard about it this week: NaNoWriMo. What is it? NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, of course, but it’s already over. Every November 1st since 1999, a bunch of well-intentioned would-be writers give themselves 30 days to write a 50,000 word minimum (around 175 page) novel. I hear you saying “Word count!? That’s all there is to it? Just come up with 50,000 words and you’re a winner?” Well, yes, that IS all there is to it, but then again, it’s not like you win a big cash prize. What you win is a purple “WINNER” label next to your name and the warm glow of satisfaction. But people take it pretty seriously all the same, and the results are posted online. Wanna read some novels? Here are several hundred to choose from.

I was impressed with the guidelines for the site. Do you think bad prose will be the result of a 50,000 word forced march? So do they:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

If your end result is too dreadful to contemplate, perhaps you should sign up for (wait for it) … NaNoEdMo: National Novel Editing Month.

Calvin and Hobbes über alles

What does an artist owe you? Bill Watterson spent ten years drawing the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and then he abruptly stopped. Do you deserve more from him? What does it mean for someone to sell out? Watterson steadfastly refuses to cash in his creation with anything other than sales of books of the strip itself, despite the fact that he’s sitting on a potential gold mine. No other comics artist has a problem with paraphernalia sales. Do you respect Watterson more now that you know this, or does it really matter?

Ultimately, your opinion doesn’t matter to Bill Watterson. He’s disappeared from sight. Here’s an investigative report from scenic Chagrin Falls, Ohio in which the author tries (unsuccessfully) to track down Bill Watterson: clevescene.com | Missing! Bill Watterson.
It sounds like the father of Calvin and Hobbes has checked out for good and is on the verge of a Salinger-like crackup. His intentions sound noble but… what happens if you start to think that “selling out” means any interaction with other human beings? First you don’t want to be the media’s whore, then you won’t be anyone’s whore, then you stop shaking hands. We’re all selling out all the time. Stop selling out and you stop living. Saints and fascists occasionally impress, but mostly they’re really really boring. [via MetaFilter]

Nick Denton’s fabulous timing

Nick Denton knows how to work the web in a way that evaded hundreds of erstwhile startups. He’s the man behind certified web successes Gawker (a dishy New York blog), Gizmodo (a geeky gadget blog), and now Fleshbot (a naughty blog; beware that last link!). What he’s done right is get the appropriate scale and medium. The medium is a blog, and the scale is one (or very few) paid staff. Pick the topic well, hire some good writers, and you can get yourself quite a readership. As a result, Denton is the focus of the first real post dot-com-apocalypse next-big-thing buzz. Even though he isn’t really making any money yet. When even the New York Times joined in the buzz, Denton got positively nostalgic for his days of obscurity. He says

Honestly, I liked the recession better. No one cared about blogs except for the under-employed lunatics who wrote them, and their under-employed friends. There was all the time in the world, to find under-appreciated writers, and develop an audience.

As he points out a bit later, crash or no crash, Americans are just naturally exuberant. For instance: Federal law and good sense may prohibit me from calling this the start of something Really Big, but just between you, me, and the hard drive, this is the start of something REALLY BIG.

By the way, to give you a taste of the bitchy tone that’s served Gawker so well, read what Gawker has to say about the Times article.