March 16th, 2007

Le New Yourkeur

I love it that there’s a Le Parkour site for New York City! For those not familiar with it, Le Parkour’s an urban sport of running, rolling, jumping, leaping and climbing over buildings and other obstacles in an amazing display of catlike agility, athletic grace, and suicidal daring. This video gives a pretty decent sense of what it looks like, but searching for “parkour” on YouTube will get you plenty of others.

What I like about it - and what inspires a lot of game designers who are working between the digital and the real - is the way they turn the urban environment into a playground. I love the idea of looking at something in the ordinary world and seeing it playfully. Play is in the head, not in the artifacts that we use to play! At the same time, the affordances of everyday objects shape the kinds of play that are possible. I bet Le Parkour in New York looks very different from Le Parkour in Paris or, say, Jacksonville. It would be interesting to take a look at different Le Parkour communities in different places and see how they’ve evolved differently because of the different tools and toys they use to play with.

Reading List 2007 (3/68)

This week’s reading:

Food Politics, Marion Nestle
In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders
Platinum Pohl, Frederick Pohl

Ironically, I was on spring break this week, which ought to have meant lots of wonderful reading. In practice, it meant spending Monday in San Francisco (admittedly, riding around in a convertible and getting a wonderful tan), Tuesday totally jetlagged, Wednesday procrastinating, and yesterday and today frantically doing my midterms from last week. Oy.

On the other hand, what I did manage to read was quite excellent! Food Politics took me about four days to get through, which for me is quite a lot. It’s not only long, but extremely dense. Any book that’s got an entire chapter on the regulation of nutritional supplements says slog. Even if the subject matter is sometimes arcane, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how readable Nestle made it and how well-written the whole thing was. The book takes on the USDA, the FDA, the FTC and the food industry, and looks at the history and the politics that make our nutrition landscape look the way it does. Since I’m working on a major nutrition project, and I also have always struggled with my weight, I found this book to be very compelling. If you weren’t sure why it matters that the USDA rather than NIH produces our country’s health recommendations, read Food Politics. By the time you’re done, you won’t just know why that’s so, but you’ll care a hell of a lot.

George Saunders was perhaps the perfect thing to read next! I’d never read him before, but I rather liked his endlessly caustic, cynical voice ripping our media culture to shreds. My favorite story, “Jon,” features a kid raised from birth to rate products and commercials - a sort of marketing fatted calf. But really, all the stories are equally inventive, and his rant on “Same-ish Sex Marriage” is worth the cover price all by itself.

Finally, I will publicly admit that I’ve been a fool. I’d always avoided Frederick Pohl because I lumped him into the “good science, bad writing” category with people like, oh, Stephen Baxter. Wow, was I wrong! I need to read everything this man has ever written. His grasp of politics, society, human nature, and, yes, writing is impeccable. What I like the most is the unusual settings he chooses for his stories. One’s set inside a maximum-security future prison; another takes place on a luxury island resort. There’s even a time-travel baseball story! To make a long story short, Heechee saga, here I come!

Shabbat Shalom, everyone! I’m going to go pace up and down and wait to get my hands on more Pohl!


One last post before Shabbat: for all those people out there who, like me, need time alone for recharging, I give you NoSo. It’s the social network for people who hate social networking, and a great satire on the expanding social software universe. (”It’s group blogging! For clowns!”)