A Little Metadata Goes a Long Way

And four other intriguing things: playing Nabokov, the Gervais principle, anti-food propaganda, and engineering (what remains of) the Colorado delta.
Harry Ransom Center

1. What even a little tiny bit of metadata can say.

"Mayer and his team showed that participants called public numbers of 'Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more.' The researchers were even surprised that they had real-world results to support a classic nightmare scenario feared by many civil libertarians and privacy activists."


2. Playing Nabokov.

"This article considers different experiences available to the reader of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire by exploring the novel through concepts familiar from videogaming, such as the warp, the glitch, and the Let’s Play, developing particular parallels with the Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. All of these potential modes of experience are comprised in the playerly text, which serves as a conduit linking together a work’s past, present, and future readers."


3. The Gervais Principle: The Office as Management Theory.

"Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves."


4. When food marketing was about getting people not to eat it.

"The Russian economy simply wasn’t equipped both to fight a war and feed its citizens. Young men left the countryside in droves after being conscripted into the army, severely cutting the available labor force and slowing agricultural production. Inflation as a result of the war then made it impossible for the remaining farmers to make a profit on their goods. No one could afford to grow food, and few could afford to buy enough of it. Food then became a prominent subject in Russian propaganda. The Harry Ransom Center is home to the diverse collection of Kuharet’s Russian World War I posters. A surprising number of these prints pertain to food: specifically food that has been personified as evil. Even the act of eating food is portrayed as unpleasant—something that would likely have been incomprehensible to the starving nation."


5. An attempt to ecologically engineer the Colorado delta back into existence.

"On 23 March, operators at the Morelos Dam along the US–Mexico border near Yuma, Arizona, will open the gates and begin releasing water downstream. The goal is to dampen broad swathes of the arid Colorado River delta for the first time in decades, allowing new cottonwood and willow trees to germinate and restore small patches of riparian habitat. The move, which follows bitter international battles over water rights, will mark the first time that the United States and Mexico have put water back into the parched riverbed for environmental purposes. It is both a practical and a symbolic victory for conservationists who have fought to restore what was once 800,000 hectares of lush wetlands, as well as a rare opportunity for ecologists worldwide to watch what happens."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

averse, aversion. To insist on from as the only right preposition after these, in spite of the more general use of to (What cat's averse to fish?—Gray. He had been averse to extreme courses.—Macaulay. Nature has put into man an aversion to misery.—Locke) is one of the pedantries that spring of little knowledge. Although many of the older writers used from (Donne, Walton, Locke), to has also been used since the 17th c. (Walton, Boyle). In modern usage to is much more prevalent. 


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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