“The trouble with you, Ballantyne said, i that you have always had a hunger for stories. The life tragically cut short is a story, and the life satisfactorily completed is a story, as is the life of the insomniac who is lulled to sleep by sweet music. You have never been willing to face the fact that life is not a story, that the poets and novelists and playwrights have been lying to us since the dawn of creation and pandering to our fears and desires.”
via Goldberg: Variations by Gabriel Josipovici
Posted: July 28th, 2010
Categories: Feedback Loops
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Many people will die unrelated deaths of old age on the morning of the Apocalypse.
Posted: July 28th, 2010
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Building the Shasta Dam, June 1942.
via Captured: America in Color: 1939-1943
(found via The (S)wine Sketchbook)
Posted: July 26th, 2010
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I’m trying to do less technological speculation that I used to, because frankly, it burns me out. You can spend ten times the speculation for each moment spent actually using technology. Instead, I’m spending my time actually geeking around with tech, which is much more rewarding, personally.
But this needs mention, because it seems like a big deal. And not only that, but it is an interesting demonstration of how technology builds into an object of culture.
Specifically, today’s exemptions [to the DMCA by the US Copyright Office] include the following:
Permission for cell phone owners to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers or “jailbreak” their device
Permission to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws
Permission for college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos
Permission to enable an e-book’s read-aloud function or use a screen reader with the e-book, even when built-in access controls prevent this
Permission for computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced
I have this strange tendency (curse?) to find elements of the dialectic everywhere. I think this is why I’ve always been drawn to philosophy; once I absorb a theoretical mind-set, it’s like colored lenses. I see it everywhere, and all shapes conform to the pattern. As long as you remember that it’s all relative, this is rather helpful. Different patterns apply, and each one is only as good as it helps you make sense of what’s going on.
Lately, I’ve been stumbling through a difficult translation (that I found free for use online) of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. In the first sections, his critique of idealism comes through as a dialectic itself, between the unitary idealism of the Hegelian dialectics, and the dissolution of Adorno’s own negative dialectics, which I can sense looming over the horizon.
To simplify, relatively, this pattern at work–there is a tendency for us to understand diverse attributes as part of a whole: to categorize them, and lump them together as part of an overall, unifying pattern or category. And contrarily, there are parts of the pattern that will fracture and dissolve this consistency and unity. The unifying force will attempt to ignore the dissolving force, and the dissolving force will strike back again. This is a constant process.
This ruling doesn’t seem to say specifically that Apple can’t still make jailbreaking violate their TOS, in others words, it doesn’t mean that Apple “must provide” jailbreaking, more or less. It can still be “Apple Illegal” if not legally illegal.
Apple has a fragile, if beautiful castle with the iPhone. The unique conditions that have formed
it’s success involve the categorical assumption of the unity of this castle, which are made from various walls:
1. Apps make up the core of the unique iPhone user experience.
2. The only apps on the phone come from the App Store.
3. Apple has sole discretion as to what apps are in the Store.
4. iTunes software is the only way to access the Store.
5. The iPhone tech experience is linked to the network strength.
6. The network strength is a level terrain, defined by AT&T.
7. The cost of the iPhone is a level terrain, defined by Apple & AT&T.
8. Any technical problems or successes with the phone are fixed within these bounds: AT&T, Apple, App Store.
All of this comes together to make the “iPhone Product”, which has been a clear success. The simplicity and unity of this system is it attraction for many consumers.
But while none of these are explicitly destroyed by the Copyright Office’s ruling, the threat of legal action for anyone attempting to make in-roads to breeching these walls was de facto mortar holding the bricks together. The dissolving forces that might break down these walls of the iPhone castle were displaced, marginalized as “criminal”, or at least, “liable”. Thus, the legal mortar strengthened the walls, and increased the unity by ignoring any attempt at dissolution. This mortar was just rendered non-existent.
And this is where we veer into speculative terms. Because it is so easy to see an opportunity for dissolution, and then speculate that the dissolution will occur, even though this is strictly fantasy until it actually takes place. And we can only say that the unity is no longer existant when it is no longer unified, because our impression of unity as vulnerable is only as unified as the vulnerabilities are already existant and exploited. In other words, you can’t walk through a castle wall until it’s already tumbled down.
But the mortar is crumbling. These eight walls that I outlined above are now subject to question, and not just by technological speculators, but by actual groups and companies with interest in breaking them down. The new lack of legal constraints on all of these areas could be a big motivator for someone to start exploiting these weaknesses. An alternative App Store is an obvious suggestion. Jailbroken app stores already exist, but now they don’t have to live in the shadow territory. They could be legitimate. More interesting would be jailbroken service providers. Rather than figuring out how to put your phone on T-Mobile yourself–which never really presented much legal hazard to the consumer previously, but rather was just technologically daunting–T-Mobile could provide a jailbreaking service. We’ll have to see which providers want to confront Apple in this way. But what with the widespread use of the iPhone, and widespread interest in alternative service providers, there will no doubt be a market sweet spot for this. Maybe Cricket, or some other regional provider with nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Now that it is deemed not-illegal, this opens the arena up to anyone who might want to get a piece of the iPhone pie, and now has a taste for it that the biggest risk of legal action is now a non-issue.
The onus to speculation is not on the shoulders of this author, but on the wide world of developers, businesses, consumers, and their unity, as a force of dissolution, as a whole. To quote from the announcement:
“…modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses.”
The legal regime of copyright has recognized the right of dissolution to exist, and this is, already, a threat to the unity of the concept. In the same way that philosophy of revolt does not create revolt, but it sure goes a long way into creating cracks in the walls. The castle of the iPhone was built on non-interoperability, and hence, singularity, uniqueness, universality, and market dominance. The Copyright Office has rejected Apple’s legal right to stipulate such a conception of a device, at least with the implicit backing of the legal regime. The dissolution has not so much been allowed, as a means for preventing the erosion has been removed. An Alternative App Store would be just the beginning. This would decrease reliance on iTunes, which is the gateway to not only the App Store, but the iTunes Store. This would allow other operating systems and software to potentially function smoother with iPhone syncing. This would open the door to other operating systems operating on Apple’s hardware. Whether any of this happens, or is even any better than the iPhone is hard to say. But it is leveling the technological playing field, and opening up the castle. The iPhone will not be the thing that is was originally; it will be like any other computer. No doubt many people will purchase it on its merits, and the fact that it remains singular, non-interoperable, and controlled, in the same way many people choose to purchase Mac computers. But the unique market dominance will disappear. The unity of the concept, from a legal point of view, is gone.
My simplification of Adorno is simply a tool for understanding the pattern. The philosophy is only a pattern for understanding the combined unity and dissolution of the world, for reducing the complicated world of the material to systems of ideas we can understand, and hopefully, use to our benefit. The unity of simplification and the corresponding dividing and dissolution of complexity that rebells against our attempts to capture and understand is the motion of the dialectic. The iPhone has tripped over a step in the dialectic–all things that are built, will eventually fall. Whether or not the unity of the concept that is this crazy commodity will fall because of this, or because of other factors of dissolution remain to be seen, but at least ideally, the pattern is breaking down. An antenna fails, software is cracked. A few stones come loose. A few more customers decide to push. I make no claims as to what is ethical, or what outcome will be best. But wearing these glasses, I can see a certain pattern here.
Posted: July 26th, 2010
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If I may, a bit of military-industrial-punk.
Military-industrial-punk? Why yes. Why would I link the military-industrial complex–the domain of imperialism, violence, multinational corporations, pork barrel spending, secrecy, and often world-threatening technology–to punk: the realm of anti-authoritarianism, anarchy, DIY culture, and a shoddy, tattooed knuckle-grip onto material possesions at best?
Well, because the world is filled with problems. Some problems are small, like how to have fun when all the music on the radio is catatonia-inducing commercial crap and all the kids in your school think athletic prowess is the only personal trait worth celebrating. Other problems are relatively big, like how to figure out what your opposing superpower is up to when their terrain spans a continent bristling with fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missiles, and they have just gotten the Bomb. Problems are relative of course, but what is not relative to the problems is their solution. A solution fits the problem. Not as the two Aristotalean halves of a perfect hermaphrodite, but as the imperfect succession of larvae to pupae. The dialectic in play: from the problem develops the solution.
Solutions are often messy, don’t fit quite right, and barely hang on to the problem like the loose fibers of duct tape holding your (my) van’s headlight in place. And yet, they fix the problem. The headlight is no longer broken. The problem is not gone, but it is resolved.
Although we could debate the definition of True-Punk endlessly (and some would like to), this dialectic is the essence of the term, to me. Something born to fit the place and time; something that is not the missing piece, but fits so well that you can’t dig it out, and then after a week, you think, well okay, I’ll just wait for it to scab over and fall off. Punk as a reaction to disco, to rock, to new wave, steampunk as a history that didn’t exist but fetishistic elements of culture desperately wish could have, ____-punk as the new fusion that was just primed to develop from two or more component elements and so did, like a blossoming bacterial bloom on a plate of sugar water in the sun, whether those elements are short loud guitar chords and cheep beer, cheap black mall gear and disaffected teens, technology and victorian mystique, tattoos and porn, or, in this case, the Cold War, the 1950s, and the U2 spy plane.
Despite the common political understanding of the military-industrial complex, it isn’t all billion dollar contracts and guys in suits patting each other on the back. Of course, when you have the entire resources of a superpower to throw at the unsolvable problem of having to share the world with other superpowers, limited oversight if any, and a culture of secrecy and supreme purpose, you will no doubt end up with this shadow world we know and loath. But it doesn’t necessarily start that way.
Consider, the Skunk Works. Run by Clarence Johnson, “one of the most talented and prolific aircraft design engineers in the history of aviation,” it only gained its renown through results. Johnson’s own management strategy, emphasizing 100% commitment, open (internally) communication, and minimal company size wouldn’t be that alien to many makers and other driven punks of today. He built himself up from nothing, as he did the company, with tenacity, toughness, and moreover, skill applied at the right moment.
While attending grade school in Michigan, he was ridiculed for his name, Clarence. Some boys started calling him “Clara”. One morning while waiting in line to get into a classroom, one boy started with the normal routine of calling him “Clara”. Johnson tripped him so hard the boy broke a leg.
That’s only an anecdote. More historical episodes are him leading the team that built the P-38, and the P-80, America’s first operational jet fighter.
But even after these projects, and joining the Advanced Development Projects section at Lockheed, it was still, for lack of a better word, punk.
The first ADP offices were nearly uninhabitable; the stench from a nearby plastic factory was so vile that one of the engineers began answering the intra-Lockheed “house” phone “Skonk Works!” Big Barnsmell’s Skonk Works — spelled with an “o” — was where Kickapoo Joy Juice was brewed in Al Capp’s comic strip L’il Abner. When the name “leaked” out, Lockheed ordered it changed to “Skunk Works” to avoid potential legal trouble over use of a copyrighted term. The term rapidly circulated throughout the aerospace community, and became a common nickname for research and development offices; however, reference to “The Skunk Works” means the Lockheed ADP shop. Here, the F-104 Starfighter and the secret reconnaissance planes U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird were developed.
The U-2 might be the most punk of all warplanes ever built. In the 1950s, surveillance aircraft were converted bombers, and vulnerable to the enemy as a bomber would be. What is the DIY solution to enemy fighters, radar, and anti-aircraft defenses? Well, just fly higher than they could reach. If a plane could fly over 70,000 feet, the military figured, then it would sidestep those problems. Well, okay. Let’s build an aircraft that can fly to the edge of space.
So Johnson designed an extremely light aircraft with glider wings, a single engine, and at first, no landing gear at all. The military didn’t like it. But someone saw potential in it: Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography, and he took it directly to the CIA, who would see the value in it.
The first flight of the aircraft occurred at Area 51 (which Johnson built) when under a high-speed taxi run, the aircraft took off on its own, because of how much lift the wings generated. Despite this, the aircraft was notoriously difficult to fly, because the controls were designed to function at the target altitude of 70,000 feet, where the air is very thin, so low-altitude landing required good strength to manipulate the controls. It is very susceptible to crosswinds, and so on landing another pilot chases the plane on the ground in a performance model car, giving advice on conditions. Additionally, at 70,000 feet the plane must fly at its maximum speed to hold its altitude, which at that air pressure, is only ten knots over stall speed. And if all of this wasn’t difficult enough, the thing only has two wheels on an axis, like a bicycle. It has wing wheels which are attached by the ground crew before take off, and drop off as it rises into the air. The wing tips are reinforced with titanium to protect them during landing.
The plane can carry a variety of sensing equipment, both photography cameras that can focus to a resolution of 2.5 feet from an altitude of 60,000, and other over-the-horizon sensors. And yet, it has used an off the shelf Sony video camera to give the pilot a downward view during flight and landing.
It’s record is far from perfect. There have been a number of operational accidents, and the aircraft has been shot down several times, notably over Russia in the Francis Gary Powers incident during which the existence of the U-2 was recognized by the world, but also over Cuba and China. Of 19 aircraft, 11 were lost to accidents and enemy action.
But still, the plane has been operational for 54 years, and is still in active duty today. It uncovered the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba that precipitated the Cuban missile crisis. In 1977 it’s cameras were turned skyward, to monitor the cosmic microwave background. It still has the altitude record for single-engine aircraft. And even today, it is used in Afghanistan with cameras that can detect changes in mud pathways that might belie the presence of IEDs.
The U-2 is punk, because it is a niche creation, and so purposefully niche that it has been around for over 50 years. It is not the mainstream, and it does not have the power to shock and awe. But it does it’s job, as it was designed to do, hanging on to the cutting edge between problem and solution. It’s troublesome, unstable, and featherweight. But it permeates, it remains, and it is as much a part of the intelligence terrain as a scar is part of the skin. It took a simple fix–carefully treading over the defensive airspace ceiling–and made it a career. It’s a skateboard. It’s a scratched 45. The thing is the goddamned Ramones–more than half of its members dead, been in some crappy movies, and still more rock and roll than most of the shit out there. It started from nothing, just a small group of people trying to solve a problem, and became a household name. From a military-industrial complex punk perspective, anyway.
One has to admire these sorts of chapters, these sidebars to the rest of the story, which give the entirety context and meaning. If it wasn’t for instances of ingenuity and success-through-danger like the U-2, the military wouldn’t have license to be the sprawling the behemoth that it is. If it wasn’t for pilots willing to renounce the military and be civilian CIA operatives flying in pressurized power-gliders at the edge of the envelope, a mere ten knots from stalling and dropping into sudden SAM death over enemy lines, then we wouldn’t have had the monolithic sides of the Cold War. Without this kind of intelligence stunt, we’d be in no position to critique the insanity of our leaders, taking us to the brink of destruction. What would the world have been like without the Cuban Missile Crisis? Maybe the US would have found out about the missiles some other way. But you can’t beat a clear picture taken from 70,000 feet. Some photographs that change the world are taken from the front lines, but this was taken from the edge of space.
If I were to prescribe punk for the rest of society, it would take this form.
[My sources for all of the historical information are from Wikipedia:
Lockheed U-2; Clarence Johnson; Skunk Works]
Posted: July 26th, 2010
Tags: death drive
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Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet engine from a shot-down U-2 (Cuba 1962). Location: Museum in Havana, Cuba.
via Wikimedia Commons.
“On 27 October 1962, in flight from McCoy AFB, a U-2 was shot down over Cuba by two SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross.”
Posted: July 23rd, 2010
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Working together is a form of prognostication. Learning is time travel.
Posted: July 20th, 2010
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NEED A WARMER OVER HERE. THANK YOU
Posted: July 19th, 2010
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I’ve recently been reading A Pattern Language, a series of described patterns for improving city planning, architecture, and social structures. I’ve been taking copious notes as I read, and hope to write some sort of more lengthy critique, response, and modern reformulation of the ideas in the book.
But just a little comparison, between the idealistic tone of the book, and the odd surreality of the actual world.
In the pattern section, “Old People Everywhere”, the authors of A Pattern Language make the case for integrating older residents with the rest of the the age range, in such ways:
We therefore need a way of taking care of old people which provides for the full range of their needs:
1. It must allow them to stay in the neighborhood they know best–hence some old people in every neighborhood.
2. It must allow old people to be together, yet in groups small enough not to isolate them from the younger people in the neighborhood.
3. It must allow those old people who are independent to live independently, without losing the benefits of community.
4. It must allow those who need nursing care or prepared meals, to get it, without having to go to nursing homes far from the neighborhood.
And so on, similarly. Integration, scalability, support, independence. These are common themes in A Pattern Language. All good.
But contrast it to this recent feature on BLDGBLOG, which, to make a reduction by way of analogy, is kind of “A Pattern Language” of the fortean, forgotten, and unconscious infrastructure of cities.
One particular detail that stands out is also the first they mention: “New York City has given pedestrians more time to cross at more than 400 intersections in an effort to make streets safer for older residents.”
While most adults average four feet per second when crossing the street, older residents manage only three, transportation experts say. So signals have been retimed at intersections like Broadway and 72nd Street, where pedestrians now have 29 seconds to cross, four more than before.
Introducing time-delay into city services by splicing an extra stretch of the present into New York’s infrastructure, this is a temporal re-engineering of urban space: a longer stroll across the street with friends, no longer having to run to avoid that yellow light, becomes experiential evidence that a subtle though highly deliberate retuning of time in the city has occurred.
I’m also reminded of the fake bus stop that was added outside a hospital in Germany so as to calm—and, frankly, to trap—Alzheimer’s patients who had wandered out onto the street: “The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.” Does decoy infrastructure, similar to these bus stops, already play a role in New York City—and, if not, will it—for the psychiatric well-being of elderly residents? What unexpected forms might these well-camouflaged psychological props take?
Interesting how city planning for the elderly takes a much more surreptitious form in the real world, then the positive inclusion of A Pattern Language‘s intentional communities. Sort of a Big Brother as the boy scout helping the elderly cross the street. A matter of subtle persuasion in altered street light timings, and disguise as helpful trap. Not that these aren’t good additions. In NYC I often remarked to myself how dangerous it was that people who move slowly across intersections were often left in the street as the light changed to green. And the fake bus stop, while sounding a little cruel and misleading, is much more friendly than say, posting guards.
So, not to say that A Pattern Language is overly idealistic and positive, but it is interesting how real cities are much more tuned to the unseen and the unconscious than free choice and consensus.
Posted: July 19th, 2010
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DJ Rupture continues to curate some of the most interesting tracks from around the world.
I’ve listened to this track, named “unknown sixteen minute Palestinian drum machine party stomp”, about ten times now.
I love this sort of thing. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. We crank this shit up when we drive my crappy mini-van around Portland, and really weird out the “Keep Portland Weird” people.
Now, before I say I don’t love it just because it’s exotic, let me say I do love it because it’s exotic. It is so refreshing to hear something a bit different than all the typical remixes of the typical tracks. I listen to a lot of weird things, and this isn’t even that strange. This is not so much better than “typical” tracks; it is just not the same. I love not understanding the words. What am I missing, the deep poetry of American music? The subtly of crunk lyrics? I’d rather just hear sound. Raw, loud, sound that is new, different and unheard.
But at the same time, it isn’t exotic at all. If you listen to this, you hear the exact same thing you hear in Western club bangers. A heavily rhythmic, repetitive pattern, stretched as long as possible, with just enough mixing up of the particular pattern to keep you listening for the changes. Every thirty seconds or minute, the dude repeats into a verbal hook, to remind you what you are listening to, and to add another pattern to it. And then back again, to the same pattern you started with, dropping the beat, whether on a synthesizer or double reed instrument. Cause really, what’s the difference?
You just turn it up loud, and nod your head.
Actually, maybe I like it the most because it’s sixteen minutes long.
Posted: July 16th, 2010
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Reading the latest Bookforum, I happened across Michael Schaffer’s review of Richard Florida’s new book, The Great Reset: with a overly long sub-title marked out by a colon to display just exactly how non-fiction this book is, after the catchy short title. Here’s a link to the review, but you have to register with Bookforum.com (though it is free to do so).
I hate titles with sub-titles. I’ve harbored this hatred since I started to realize just how necessary they were to write a proper academic paper in grad school. You need to write something kind of catchy and short for the title, but you also have to tell the reader what the paper is ACTUALLY about, because they are naturally too impatient to read the abstract or the introduction. I stopped doing this, and just left a catchy title. Naturally, the one, perhaps two people who read my paper would ask me, “don’t you want to have a sub-title, so I know what this is about?” And although I didn’t, they wanted a sub-title for a reason. Because with an article or a book that has a sub-title, the person picking it up knows right away whether or not they should be expected to agree with the thesis from the get go, and can either put down the manuscript, or read on, accordingly.
As it turns out, the only people who read books with sub-titles such as, “: how the Internet is ruining this new, younger, more attractive generation”, or “: the coming biological conspiracy”, or “: the end of any non-subtitle titling in our time” are the people who are ready to either argue for or against the point made in the sub-title. It’s like adding a sticker to the cover of a book, saying, “hey! Are you semi-informed, willing to accept anecdotal evidence as causal fact, and most importantly, consider yourself intellectual and opinionated? Then why not try, Non-Fiction: As Advertised in the Huffington Post!!!”
But while my repulsion at the compulsive colon-izing of titles into shit-strewn streams of senseless sub-advertisement may have you fooled into believing that current titling practices are my real beef; no, in fact, I think the book ITSELF actually sounds like a load of crap. I only digress to explain how I could guess this without actually reading it.
I could guess this without reading the book, simply because books with sub-titles don’t have to be read. It is all right there. In the sub-title, as I have just complained. In Florida’s sub-title, “How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity”, I can tell that there is no point in reading the anecdotal evidence he’s pulled together about how he sees America’s future in the way we’re recovering from the “crash”. How? Because we haven’t recovered yet! Anyone telling you about the “current new way of doing X” is full of shit, because there is no way to predict the future, let alone predict the future historical conception of this present time period. That is what he is attempting to sell the reader in this sub-title. He is sub-titling us, while we’re still writing the book. And I’m not buying.
The funny part is, I actually agree with his few, repetitive points. As Michael Schaffer puts it (who I assume has read past the sub-title):
The basics: Economies that foster arty, bohemian types, good. Public policy that props up outmoded manufacturing work, bad. Hooray for immigration, tolerance, diversity, and employers who seek to harness the creative energies of even the lowliest janitor. Boo to spending tax money on stadium megaprojects, deus ex machina factory schemes, and failing auto companies. Better to lure experimental theaters, WiFi-enabled coffeehouses, and graphic-design concerns.
As anyone cogent and breathing at this point of time could tell you, yes, this stuff is generally occurring right now. There are plenty of people who share this opinion and are living its lifestyle. Briefly–me, you, and everyone we know. I’m writing via open-sourced self-publishing software, and you’re reading it, yes? But does that mean that we have stumbled upon a narrative of history here? Is my bamboo, locally screenprinted T-Shirt and your tech startup THE NEW WAY OF THE FUTURE/I MEAN THE NEW WAY OF NOW? Of course not. This is just something that is happening. We could be walking towards the edge of a cliff. Our pants could be on fire. We could all die in a methane-induced hyper-tsunami. Maybe. The point is, we don’t know. This may be the grand narrative of 2008-20??, or it might be a minor footnote. It might be the punchline of a joke. But who knows for sure? Richard Florida’s sub-title.
What really gets me about this, and is the reason that I take the time to write about it, is that this sub-titular declaration of a undeclarable though potentially positive history is the same grain of utopian, anti-historical thinking that is woefully endemic to this particular strain of post-20th century hopefully-not-quite-so-capitalism. The same people who point wild-eyed towards “new consumption patterns that are less centered around houses and cars, new forms of infrastructure that once again speed the movement of people, goods, and ideas, and a radically altered and much denser economic landscape that will provide the springboard for a whole new way of life and drive the development of new industries and jobs,” are the same people who can search for an example of the same recently written up in the New York Times, and with a ctrl-C and a hyperlink, declare Q.E.D., click “submit” on the History of The Human Race, and sit back and surf the Internet on their iPad while they wait for Obama to personally deliver their new locally-produced electric bicycle. It is nothing short of blindly utopian. In the same spirit as those intellectuals of the 18th and 19th century, who had a few epiphanies over the classic histories and then led a bunch of settlers into a malaria-infested swamp, these subtitle: utopians are treating history as a deductive science. If car-centered capitalism led to pollution and failed companies, then bike-centered capitalism leads to sustainability and profits! From the specific to the general, by way of good faith and positive thinking.
Now, it’s not quite as bad as someone leading a group of settlers into a malaria-infested swamp because an angel with a bunch of really excellent golden plates said to do so. But the result is the same. I could create my own deductive logical statement about that. But this deductive utopianism–and now I risk generalizing via my own logical negativism–is a real problem we can’t seem to get over. Less McMansion, less SUVs, more sharing of ideas, more change, new innovating industries: these are all good things. And yet, we have no strategy or plan for these good things, other than the common belief that these are all good things. What exactly is that “economic landscape”, that will be the “springboard”? What do these utopian generalizations actually look like? Maybe Florida gets to it in his book, but I seriously doubt it. If he did, then that would be the sub-title, and not the generalizations, “new ways of living”, and “post-crash prosperity”. If we really stumbled blindly away from our LCD screens and headfirst into a new way of living and post-crash prosperity, out of GLOBAL SYSTEMIC ECONOPOCALYSE, we wouldn’t have to read books about it. We’d already be doing it. But instead, like everything else “new”, “innovative”, and “game-changing”, we’re just talking about it.
Anyone to whom you pose the question: “what does this post-urban, web 2.0, economy of the commons look like?” will invariably respond with either more generalizations, “Green-living”, “user-focused”, and “crowd-sourcing”, or more anecdotal specific examples, like “Amsterdam’s bike lanes”, “The Twitter hive-mind”, and “Wikipedia”, which might as well be abstract categories, for how much motive intellectual currency the terms actually carry. Have you ever bought a bicycle with Like buttons? Or put the hive-mind in your gas tank? Or went grocery shopping on Wikipedia? I’m not saying that there is no business plan or profitability to these things–I’m saying that they haven’t been organized in terms of an actual economy. The old capitalist would ask about profitability, because that is how they fit it into their economy. But how do you fit it into any economy, other than a generalized solipsistic success, only in terms of itself? Wikipedia is a great encyclopedia. But it is a shitty phone book. Twitter is a great way to meet new people. But it is a crappy way of organizing people. Facebook has some benefits (probably), but do they warrant the amount of electricity sucked up by their data centers? This is not about pushing tools to do more than they were designed to do. This is about assembling a toolbox with any sort of complexity, completeness, and fungibility. If you are going to build a house, you have to have some money; or so the conventional capitalist economy dicatates. With this money, you can buy the tools you need but don’t have, get materials, and if needed, hire help. If you don’t have enough money, you can work to get it, or otherwise make exchanges in order to get the materials and help you need. You can make exchanges to coordinate the resources necessary for a complex task. But how would Twitter help you build a house? How does Twitter serve as a tool in any sort of economy? For example:what do you do if you need someone in your local area to drive you to the airport? Advertise on Twitter, and hope for a response? What if your follower list isn’t big enough to get one? Hope that someone developed a third-party ride-sharing app? Or postpone your trip while you develop one yourself? Some social network that is. Sounds like I’m still better off with a Yellow Pages and cab fare.
What I see when I look at this Now world, is a period without history. This is a time when people are doing a lot of different things, but without any idea of what it is good for, or how it will connect to anything else. Everyone’s got themselves a sub-title, but no one is writing or reading any books. Tossr: earn coupons by taking out your neighbors garbage. FriendShare: reducing your childhood social awkwardness. Fckr: the crowd-sourced third-wave feminism porn-alternative. Yeah, sure, but what does any of this mean? What is the shelf-life of any of this? Is this our modern replacement for manifest destiny? Say what you want about grand narratives–at least they know what time they’re getting up tomorrow. Reserving a ZipCar does not count as a plan for the future.
Look, I’m as much of a slacker as the rest of us. But we need to reject the easiness of sub-titles. We need to stop giving people the option of only looking at the cover and feeling as if they’ve learned something. And we need to stop taking that option ourselves, especially when it comes to what we planning on doing about all the very real problems that we claim to have so many potential, proof-of-concept solutions for. We have all these great tools, and yet we’re not building anything. At least nothing too big to sell on Etsy, take to Burning Man, to fund on Kickstarter, or hype on TED. We are not building anything that is not a generalized sub-title for what might one day be an okay idea. We make so many things, and yet nothing infrastructural, nothing systemic. We need to drop the commodified, response video, Internet-meme, micro-payment mentality. The railroad barons did not get rich by customizing their smart phones. We need to make a plan. We need to write the full book. Knowing us, we can make it a plan that will be okay if we only carry halfway to completion, before we get distracted by all of our other projects. You can do that, you know. Plan big, plan structured, but plan in steps. It’s better than pretending that our lack of plan is the plan. I’m no time traveler, but I have a feeling of what that would look like in hindsight. Kind of like a gulf full of oil.
Posted: July 16th, 2010
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You may very well have tried the “I Write Like” website, which given a sample of your writing, “analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers,” giving you a little ego boost for those who need comparison or categorization for their writing, not to mention an HTML widget stating the same.
I won’t give you a link to the site, not because I think you can easily find it on your own, because if you couldn’t tell from my snide writing style, I’m mad at the site.
While it compared exerpts of my recent post about Gawker to Poe, and my recent short story, “The Passenger List” to Joyce, after putting in selections from my current novel in progress, from TEN VERY DIFFERENT PARTS, the site gave me a single comparison.
Okay, one part it found to be similar to Stephen King, but after nine punches to the stomach, that was like a finger flick to the forehead.
I was horrified all day. I repressed it immediately. It took me the rest of the day to even be able to admit that it was bothering me, let alone think about why. Why, exactly, a trifling website such as this, a poor excuse for a Facebook quiz, with absolutely no human input or even a description of its algorithm and rubric, might be making me desire to delete all 100K words of my in-progress work.
And now I lie back on the couch, to lay bare my sub-conscious to you, analyzing public.
First – a bit about me and “influences”. I have no influences. This is, of course, not to say that I am not influenced; language is a construct, culture is a vast scaffold, etc. There is only so many books a writer can read, and naturally, the words s/he create will be informed by those s/he has consumed. But I purposefully steer clear from “influential” writers, because I don’t desire to be influenced. I want to write things that are new, in a way that no one has heard before, to break tangentially off from the orbit of the major planets, and see what the limits of the imagination are. As much as that might be possible. I have never read Proust, only read one or two things of Borges, not touched Hammett or Chandler, and when finding something I really like, such as Pynchon, Grass, Sebald, or Melville, I often worry about returning there too often, perhaps reading only one work and moving on. Just enough to taste, but not enough to complete the all-too-human mind-meld that will result if I absorb an entire body of work. Instead, I seek out those writers whom I’ve never heard mentioned, or seem as if they might be influential, and yet somehow are largely ignored. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Gabriel Josipovici, László Krasznahorkai, and so on, and so forth. I particularly like the ones from Eastern Europe. If I stumble over the name, I am far less likely to play the name-checking game, and even forget what it is completely. I focus on the book, not the author.
And so, in the effort to have no influences, I strive not to be influenced. I think about my writing, and worry that it is too much like X, or far too similar to Y, or would the reader think in his/her mind, “oh, he must be a reader of Z”? I think about not having a “canonical” voice in my writing. There is not capital-L, Literature here. There is only the story. The words on the page are the sum of their parts. You are not walking into a famous architectural monument here. Instead, you are wandering into a dense woods, hopefully lost, and probably unfamiliar with the area and forests in general. Despite that, if the walk is still enjoyable, and you wander out the other side and onto a road without twisting your ankle or being hit by a speeding car on your emergence, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
Needless to say, I’m unpublished.
Second – because I want to choke myself to death when writing cover letters, because I want to blow air bubbles into my veins when I’m forced to “compare this work to other marketable fiction”, and because I would rather not write at all than aim to fit my production into some well-sold “literary category”, I’ve pretty much stopped sending out my work. It would be stupid to claim that I don’t care if my work is read, because first of all, I’m writing on my personal web site right now, and second, I do in fact write, so enough is said right there. But if getting read requires all of the above, which I wouldn’t dignify by calling it “whoring”, then, well, that’s the state of the work. It kills me that I would waste time doing that thankless task of “submitting”, which I hate, when all of those limited hours in the day could be spent actually writing. That’s the way my personal economy is balancing itself. The need to be read does not out-weigh the pain of publishing, and so I continue to write and not publish.
Not that I don’t harbor a secret (or not so secret) resentment against those who do publish. Sure, I’d like to be paid for doing what I like to do. I’d like to have people read my work, and tell me that they like it. Hell, they could tell me that they hate it, so long as they read it long enough to say so. And besides being an writer, I’m also a egotist–I think my writing is a lot better than a lot of writing out there, and the fact that I do not submit to submitting my work feels like a rationalization for capitulation. Maybe submitting is only so hard for me because my writing really isn’t worth publishing, and I neurotically re-assign the pain of necessary rejection into the pain of applying. Maybe those people who publish a memoirs of working at Starbucks or a book of short stories about the trials of a college internship in a foreign country ARE really better than me, and my disgust and contempt and resentment is a mask for my own feelings about myself.
And there’s no author I hate more than Dan Brown.
Third – Dan Brown is, by far, the worst writer in the English language. Now of course, that’s not entirely accurate. There is much writing that is worse, lurking underneath the surface of the English language. There is, of course, the Internet, of which you may have heard. Furthermore, there is plenty of actually published writing that is worse than his. But you see, I am beset by a long-standing animosity towards Dan Brown, stemming from several causes. I first read THAT book, that disgustingly-many-uninterrupted-weeks-on-the-NYT-best-seller-list-made-into-blockbuster-film-starring-Tom-Hanks book, as a Religious Studies major, so that I could respond and rebuke all the people who asked me what I thought of THAT book and did I not think it was overwhelmingly excellent, as soon as they found out I was a Religious Studies major. Well, as it turns out, he butchered history at his convenience in order to stitch together an adventure novel. The adventure novel being the second reason for my hatred. It is so formulaic of an adventure novel, I almost felt dry, freezer-burnt feeling of an overly air-conditioned theater as I read. Aging intellectual turned action hero saves world and gets attractive girl, far his junior. This I might be able to bear, if only every common literary device and trite trope didn’t fall over itself in jingoistic support for the cause. There are: exactly three story arcs (if I’m remembering correctly, it was like seven years ago), the quintessential ugly bad guy, the British traitor, the French converted authority figure. The text flows with stupid and demeaning metaphors. The bullshit gnostic philosophy is overwhelming. The complete lack of challenging emotions, ideas, linguistic constructions, or vocabulary make me feel as if the prose is a drunk TV hitting on me at a bar, and the page-turning cliff-hanger, at the end of EVERY GODDAMN CHAPTER becomes so expected that the real excitement might be the lack of one. The choke point of all of this being, despite how long we could go on critiquing, that this is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to the reading public as a whole. And hence, this is why it was so popular.
So is Dan Brown the worst writer in the English language, or the best? The very fact that I’ve arrived at this question is my point of frustration. Why must it be a balance between “popular” fiction and “challenging” fiction? It is this very dichotomy that I find myself up against, all the time. Should I strive to make my writing more publishable, or to be true to my writerly instincts? What does the latter even mean, given that my writerly instincts are both telling me that I desire to be published, and that I should murder the thought of being published, if this is what is required of me? Dan Brown is the embodiment of a horrible feedback loop in my personality–the feedback loop that pushes me to rebel against the majority, by increasing the desire to rebel as my rebellion is marginalized.
A rebellion which was, in this novel I’m writing, always already happening.
Fourth – Already occurring, because it was my writing of course, and so this feedback loop of resisting influence and resisting popularity and thereby giving rise to stress and thereby increasing the resistance, is all part of my writing process. Naturally. But that said, I was looking to really engage this of the course of this particular writing process. The novel I’m writing is about America, and its view of itself, and our sense of what to view ourself means, from a daily standpoint, and a historical standpoint. And because this is America, the land of Dan Brown on the best-seller list, this novel is not going to be written the way that I, the uninfluenced literary supremacist, would ordinarily think that it ought to be. I have written among my early notes, “this is the story about people who do not read.” What this means, is that it is not going to be a work of elegance, of self-conscious reflection and thorough critique. This work is not going to have a high vocabulary. This work is not going to be well-read, of influenced by great literary voices. This work is going to watch an average amount of television a day. It is going to live an average distance from one, or perhaps two malls. It is not going to strive to be published, let alone strive to do anything great at all. It is not going to get all deep on its own literary-inclined web site. It is going to watch porn. And lie about doing it.
This is a premise that the voice is dictated by the subject material, more than the audience or author. In other words, a careful section of narrator, based on what s/he is narrating. And so far,I seem to be doing pretty well with it in my novel, even if it’s coming out a little lengthy. It is clearly not a Dan Brown book. (Even though a section rife with profanity and sex managed to trigger the I Write Like daemon into still making the comparison. I don’t think Dan Brown ever implements the “C-word”. But maybe it’s all in the spirit of the text.) I still like the book, even if I am a little butt-hurt at the comparison. Perhaps then, this comparison tells me I’m on the right track. If my vocabulary and writing style sounds like something that the majority of Americans would like, then maybe I am capturing the inner-voice of the majority of Americans. Or at least, I’m capturing a majority of any particular American. Maybe, by channeling some computer algorithmically parallel version of Dan Brown into a book about Dan Brown’s readership, I’m actually exactly where I need to be.
Maybe I’ve learned to stop worrying, and be influenced by Dan Brown.
Fifth – So what does this say about influence, then? What does this say about the “writerly voice”? Does this mean that if one’s work “write’s like” Melville, then one is writing about a world filled with Melville’s? We do know, after all, that Ahab IS Melville, in many post-modern, meta-fictional ways. Just like any narrator is the author to a certain degree. But ought it to be? Is the world that we should be writing into existence a world of Melville’s, or a world of Pynchon’s, or a world of Adam Rothstein’s? By “faking” a narration that is not our own, are we being untrue to ourselves as writers? By adopting our “own” voice, are we not being creative enough? Should we be trying to portray the world as our conceptions of it dictate, or trying to cross those conceptions, or adopt the conceptions of others? Should we build the world in our image, in someone else’s, or in any particular image at all?
I don’t think I’ve found my writerly “voice”. There are definitely voices I slip into easily, from time to time. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, I’m sure you can tell. But there are different voices, that I pull out for different sorts of writing. There is my theoretical, explain-the-philosophy voice; my sardonic, cultural-critique/screw-the-bozos voice; my post-religious-studies post-hippie SF speculation voice; my cheap-dealing, underhandedly-poetic voice; my graven, eschatological, descriptive fiction narrators voice; my manic, can’t-write-fast-enough-to-stop-the-pain voice. Or maybe you can’t tell the difference between these voices, and they all sound the same to you. But I think of them differently, and use them like a set of tools, each for a particular writing job, as necessary. Maybe each one is built from several different influences, or maybe each tends towards a particular and different influence. I’m not sure this answers the question of what a narration or a voice “ought” to be, but it certainly seems more complicated than just the phrasing of the question.
So it very well could be that my novel in progress is using my Dan Brown voice, to feed my writerly feedback loops, to make something that is not anything like a Dan Brown novel.
Lastly – So have we learned that, in the end, the secret of the “I Write Like” website is human love? No. This is no fucking Dan Brown novel, and that website is still a piece of shit. Though I have to say that M was right, when we we’re talking about my lament yesterday. She suggested that the power of these sorts of comparison tools is like a Tarot reading. It isn’t the result that it gives, but it is how you respond to the results it gives, as if the results were real. Throughout the eight or nine months I’ve been working on this novel, I’ve had a lot of introspection and doubt, but none quite like this. I really went through the depths on this one. I was, actually, for about five seconds, about to delete the whole thing yesterday (though that might have been the cold medication speaking more than any particular real emotion). And now I feel a lot better about it. Hell, I might actually dig up a copy of a Dan Brown book, and look for often used vocabulary and metaphors, to make my book even more Dan Brown like!
Fuck no I won’t. I’d be happy if I never saw another used copy of The Di Vinci Code for the rest of my life. I’m going to need a stiff pour Stendhal or Pessoa just to be able to walk into a bookstore again.
[PS. And for this essay, because I must, the sections analyze to: 1 - Nabokov; 2 - Margaret Atwood; 3 - Steven King (though by going back and inflating the prose with some pretentious metaphors and similes I managed to turn it into Dan Brown); 4 - HP Lovecraft (???); 5 - Steven King; 6 - Dan Brown. The entire thing: Dan Brown. It's a slippery slope.]
Posted: July 14th, 2010
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CPSC Notice 7/8/10
PDi Communications Recalls Televisions Installed in Healthcare Facilities Due to Fire Hazard – A capacitor on the television’s power supply board can fail, posing a fire hazard. PDi Communications has received one report of an incident involving a flame in February 2010. No injuries have been reported.
It was a list of ingredients. It faded from vision as the thin text bent and blurred within its printed box. Now it was back. Gelatin. Glycerin. Polyethylene glycol. These were inactive ingredients. Where was…. He turned the small cardboard box over in his hand.
It was the remote control. He turned it over in his hand. There was a way these things were to point if they were have the desired effect. He mashed the buttons. No, that won’t work. One at a time. The noise got louder.
FIND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR WITH OUR NEW CAREERS KIT YES RIGHT NOW, TELL THEM ENOUGH WITH THE GRIND, THE COMMUTE, THE OFFICE POLITICS, AND BE YOUR OWN BOSS, WORK FROM HOME, MAKE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS A WEEK….
The cardboard box. There it was, in the other hand. Take two as needed, not to exceed twelve in a twenty-four hour period. If you consume more than three alcoholic drinks per day, consult your physician. The ingredients, the ingredients. Was there acetaminophen in this? Or was it the food coloring allergy? What was that smell? Plastic? Fire? Where was the phone?
The colored lines on the screen grew further apart. Waves, escaping the electromagnetic belts that ought to keep them where they were. They bent out into the room, across the white tile floor. There was foggy mist in the air, no peripheral vision. Or was it… smoke?
The screen burst into flames.
For information about this series, please see the introductory post.
Posted: July 14th, 2010
, CPSC Micro-fiction
Tags: death drive
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“What is laxly said, is badly thought.” – Adorno
Posted: July 12th, 2010
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I’ve written before about The Orwell Diaries, (somewhat whimsically) which are republishing George Orwell’s diaries sixty years after he wrote them.
Right now, the diaries are in the period of World War Two after France has fallen, but before the Battle of Britain has begun.
Another site, http://xplanes.tumblr.com/, is doing a Battle of Britain retrospective on the same sort of time line right now. They are covering the early history of the Luftwaffe, as a prelude to the Battle itself.
Between the two of these, it is a very interesting sense of history. Previously, we’ve read history as a summation, an analysis, and a critical engagement. This means we can reflect back upon an entire period of history from a vantage point of general awareness. But what blogs and the wide-spread use of syndicated publishing that allows you to take small chunks over a long period of time have introduced, is the ability to experience well-documented history at the same rate it occurred.
I was looking back at the economic crisis of the last couple years, and recalling how now we remember these particular instances of “historic event”. We remember (or I do, because I was reading the economic news every day) the near bankruptcy of Bear Sterns, the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and AIG, the fall of Lehman Brothers, the -1000 point Dow day. But these all occurred over the course of 9+ months. Now it’s one blip–the economic meltdown. When it happened, however, there were days and weeks of “nothing” in between that are now evaporated from the general historical picture.
But the RSS-history of X planes and the Orwell Diaries re-introduce these days of “nothing”, which now we can see, are anything but nothing. They are days filled with hope, doubt, criticism, speculation in the face of no new news, predictions, and general rehashing of facts to fill the void. Orwell himself has discussed possibilities ranging from the invasion of Britain on the part of the Nazis, to a peace treaty, to war on the West African coast. We know that these are just speculations, but during the time it happened, speculation was as good as fact.
Think of the BP Oil Disaster. We are in Day 84 now. We might remember the fire, the first signs of leak, the constant revising of the figures, the failure of one method after another. But will we remember the days of waiting, the worry, the speculation of worst and worster case scenarios, the inability to do anything but wait for BP to fix it? How do you analyze that part of history, the slowness of time, in any other way than reliving every day, hour, and moment? Is that important to analyze, or can it be left out? Is anybody recording the camera feeds from the bottom of the ocean? Or is that video just spilling out into time, to dilute and flow away, into an oily mess we will never be able to gather up again?
When I’ve talked about atemporality, I’ve often emphasized the “immediate” nature of the perception of time. History and the world of facts are immediately apparent, and the phenomenological reduction explodes like a collapsing supernova to encompass all awareness. History becomes the entire world as we perceive it, and then our entire perception is historical. All perception, and thus the entire world is encompassed throughout our historical sense.
But it is important to remember that the “instantaneous” aspect of history develops from reducing the span of awareness to particular moments, and then concentrating these moments. In the same way that “fast motioning” a film is not done by increasing the frame rate, but by decreasing the total number of frames. By taking out the frames where “nothing” is happening, our mind perceives that the action is occurring faster, or, “all at once”. In order to trick the mind into believing that it has “total awareness” it must leave things out, or also convince itself that the missing pieces are not important. “Waiting” become irrelevant, if there are other things to do while waiting.
Time is not changing between “slow” and “instantaneous”. What changes is our minds and what we have to work with. Orwell would meditate on the current situation, while we would consider new situation after new situation after new situation. He has time to reduce having already a reduced about of information, whereas we have an infinite amount of information to reduce, already having a reduced amount of time. Is specific analysis any better than generic comparison? What is better, to try and focus the brain to remember something, or to look it up immediately? Does one serve us better, either through results or through pain of practice?
As with any theory of perception, it is important to recognize not only what we are perceiving, but what we are not perceiving. The gaps and the missing information are not just “the cutting room floor”, that which was edited out on purpose and could be archived and one day re-released as the “unedited cut”. That is the action that happens between frames, what is not captured, which depending on how you look at it, may or may not have ever actually happened. Perception is not an illusionists trick, or a special effect. It is a metaphysical category. It is a grounding concept in how we can say that anything exists.
And so, in the modernist era, the “now” was the point of contention. This was the kernel of metaphysical being for so many theories of reality and existence. But in the atemporal era, “now” is stretching to encompass all of history. So what is our kernel? Accessibility? Immediacy, whether now, past, or future? The span of the immediately accessible network?
It’s interesting to speculate about the “dark networks”. Those data that are only accessible to those who look for them, and not in the analysis of the generic network. Information pertaining to a secret history? Or an irrelevant history? How would one know?
What didn’t Orwell write in his diaries? What sort of thoughts did we think that might have been important that we will never think of again?
One more: “90% of company data is written once and never read again.”
What is the unconscious in our current perception of history? Will these dreams ever surface, or will we forget them forever? And what, in an atemporal world, does forever mean? What does “infinite” mean in an unmeasured world?
Posted: July 12th, 2010
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These are excellent. They are artwork, and so I could show you a screen shot, and you could see what they looked like. But they are also websites, so it would be like looking at a photo of a sculpture.
And Click here.
Supposedly they work best in Safari or Chrome.
I can’t find out very much about the artist, except that his name is Andrey Yazev.
These remind me of the Stainless Steel kinetic ball toys. Machines which we can clearly see how they function, and yet have no purpose but to entertain. These sites are kind of like that, but for the age of the cloud. We click and drag, re-size and select all day long, but this is sort of way of “getting it out”. Just play with it. Like the satisfaction of clicking a bunch of times on a blank screen. Nothing at all, just cliclickliklciklickcicklick. A basket woven from bands of ten-fingered catharsis.
Also interesting: having to have the right browser to view a piece of art.
And one more fact: by hitting CTRL-U, you can see how he made his artwork. Cool.
via Zaq Mosher
Posted: July 9th, 2010
Categories: Feedback Loops
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“I want to be able to call in airstrikes at safeway.” [yes, yes GOD yes!]
Posted: July 8th, 2010
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“The most delightful is the youth of the first beard growth.” – Homer
Posted: July 7th, 2010
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I read this memo to the Gawker staff this morning, via Tim Carmody. It’s long, so let me just share a few choice parts. Basically, they are patting themselves on the back for continuing to generate a lot of traffic, and reviewing some of the key click-generating stories. Here are a few:
iPhone 4 Loses Reception When You Hold It By The Antenna Band? Constantly updated (60+times), incorporating readers into submitting their problems and being a part of of a community-sourced movement to determine whether or not there was a problem or not paid off. Hitting the topic early and hard also helped to make us definitive on this, so anyone who mentioned the issue had to mention/link us. http://gizmodo.com/5571171
Watch the Apple Keynote’s Network Meltdown: Everyone loves to see someone flop, and to break this out early was smart. http://gizmodo.com/5557458
Looks like our entry into the top 25 was that silly cat video. What I will say about that: It never hurts to pick up a viral video a day or two after it’s come out; you can’t assume your readers have already seen it. Give it the right headline, and send virals to facebook automatically. Always helps. http://jezebel.com/5564433/
Sarah Palin’s breast implants was our next highest story. This worked for a couple of reasons: We were the first big-big site to grab it off of a smaller site (Wonkette), which helped us claim it. We also wisely (given that Jez isn’t really about analyzing someone’s boobs) distanced ourselves from the piece by chuckling about what the other idiots were saying. But we still inserted our own takeaway (probs not fake). Took all of 20 minutes to write it, photo time included. http://jezebel.com/5558324/
The Lohan porn-star script: Why’d it work? A straight-up scoop. Scored a document that, while ostensibly “just a script,” has a tabloidian interest factor (ie, it’s Lohan’s next movie). http://jezebel.com/5571979/
Explainer about mass extinction – everybody loves learning about the end of the world: http://io9.com/5558871/
A good headline works wonders: http://io9.com/5557894/
So does snark, occasionally: http://io9.com/5576076/
Other stories of note included popular topics such as the iPad, the vuvuzela, and App Store porn.
Now I have to figure out how to say what I want to say about it. This is difficult.
I could just say that I’m shocked and appalled at how low-brow this content is, but then I’d be saying that I had the irrational belief that the common english-language mind might shoot for something higher than schadenfreude and cat videos.
I could say that I thought the BLOGOSPHERE was a little more intellectual than Sarah Palin’s tits and the least-scientific-experiment-ever that was the iPhone 4′s antenna issue coverage on Gizmodo. But then I would have to admit to being a utopian that thought the Internet was more than a crowd-sourced breast grope.
Or, I could complain that major media has taken over the Internet as a whole, and what was a quick news source is now awash in headlines and celebrity. But that story was really more 2005.
All of these thoughts share in common an optimistic hope for the Internet, as if this medium that allows people from all over the world to meet and share information instantaneously would somehow mean that they would be interested in something different than when they share information locally and slow. Which, I don’t believe. I’m a firm believer in the human race, and the ever widening gutter that is our minds.
But what I think I’m trying to say, in my sink hole of disappointment, collapsing in on itself due to tectonic shifts stemming from the ever-widening rift valley of the Gawker Media Offal Pit, is that I feel like I’ve been violated by the biggest, smelly, dripping RT ever.
There is a propensity on the Internet to REPEAT the same shit, over and over. Regardless of whether it is crap or not. There are linkbacks, retweets, share aggregators, Like buttons, email feeds, auto-erotic-syndication, and etc. The Internet has become an echo chamber, as people try to utilize as many social networks as possible to make their echo the loudest, to share it first, to share it the most, to always be sharing the best shares they can possibly share.
And Gawker is proud to be perching on the top of the shit heap. They are the noise itself, to which all the noise leads back to. Look at the comments, despite the story itself. They updated a story over 60 times, the were the first with the meme, they didn’t break the stories, but they pushed them to the point where other people were FORCED to link to them. Each one of these little shares, these RTs, these links, generates a click, which in turn might generate another click. It’s not that it’s a popularity contest. It’s a population contest. These assholes are trying to increase the population of the Gawker-saved by simply breeding the other religions off the face of the earth. Gawkers sites are the Catholic/Mormon/Orthodox Jews of the Internet, knowing that they will be saved because even if their religion isn’t the best, they’ve banned condoms, and so they’ll win in the end, even if we have to eat each other because the farms fields are overflowing in human waste.
Which is fine, in my opinion. I’m happy to let someone else’s choices ruin the world while I sit back in my own self righteous judgement. Only if it doesn’t affect me personally.
But then I look at these stories, and I realize I was aware of EVERY SINGLE ONE. I have seen a link to all of this shit in my Twitter feed, in my Reader Shared items, and elsewhere. I even clicked on some of it. I’m infected. Now these Internet-Mormon’s are pissing in my beer, watering it down to 2.3%.
I don’t expect much from the Internet, I really don’t. Except for one thing: diversity. That’s what it’s good for. There is no club to join, no place to go, no cred to have for any of it. If you like something, you can do it. There’s all kinds of weird shit here, and its awesome. Check it out. That’s why when I see such a power force of hegemony in operation on the Internet, in a way that I can’t simply ignore because its damn spawn is running all over my Twitter feed, it pisses me off.
This is the one personal belief I have about sub-culture. It’s that if you think you’ve found your sub-culture 4eva, you’re doing it wrong. Niches can be as hegemonic as kultur kampf. Contrary to the way we typically think about it, sub-culture is a way of convincing yourself NOT to try something new, and NOT to investigate interesting and different things. Joining a sub-culture says, “I am only comfortable like this, and that’s why I’m invested in it specifically.” Which is not bad in and of itself. Sometimes its nice to belong, and there are benefits to having a loyal group of similarly interested friends. Especially if what you like is drugs, hippie music, and vegetarian food (definitely NOT speaking from experience here) because then a lot of other people won’t like you.
But, you have to try new things. You have to see what else is out there. Maybe you join a sub-culture in high school, maybe a different one in college. Maybe after that nothing, or you drop in on a few others, being that “non-hardcore” newbie guy for a while. Maybe you find one that you like. Maybe you find one you like, but it’s got the wrong people in it. No big deal. Try something else. The great thing about culture these days, is that there is so much of it. And you can find it all on the Internet. Did I mention the Internet already?
So, to get back to trashing Gawker, what I see when I read any of their sites is a couple of Metal/Hardcore/Punk aficionados standing around playing the “Have you heard?” game. The game goes like this:
Metal1: Have you heard the new BlackStag Death?
Metal2: No. Have you heard of Fire Fuck Zepplin?
Metal1: Maybe, I can’t remember. Have you hear of Decumstompator?
Metal2: Is that the band with the guy from DevilSuck?
Metal1: No, its got the guy from Black Planet Rocket March.
Metal2: Oh. Have you heard the new GawkerMediaEmpire 7″?
You get the idea. They think they are talking about music, but they are talking about talking about music. They are talking about themselves. When I hear this game going on, I wish the participants would just start pissing on each other, because it would amount to the same thing, and be more entertaining for me. At least for a while.
And that is how I feel about Gawker. You know, yeah, I was a little interested in the iPhone signal issues. I thought the vuvuzela thing was a little funny, even though I didn’t watch a World Cup game. And if Lindsay Lohan was in a film with a lot of sex and violence, I might see it. I like metal and hardcore music. But when it’s this sort of crap, all the time, not just from one site but now from the entire Internet/room at the party, I feel like unfollowing everyone, and taking a bottle of whiskey to the other room and putting on Boston, really really loud, just to prove a point. Which I have done before. You heard Foreplay/Longtime? Yeah? Well now you’re going to hear it again, and really loud.
And so to conclude: Thanks Gawker, for ruining the western world of the Internet with your breeder religion, death metal subculture. I mean, I already avoid Utah, but now your thousand kids are all grown up and moved to my town, and they dislike you too, but they still vote distinctly more to the right and make the bars close at 2AM. So, thanks for that. Assholes.
Posted: July 7th, 2010
Comments: 1 Comment
Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . ), 1946-66
Marcel Duchamp, American (born France)
Mixed media assemblage: (exterior) wooden door, iron nails, bricks, and stucco; (interior) bricks, velvet, wood, parchment over an armature of lead, steel, brass, synthetic putties and adhesives, aluminum sheet, welded steel-wire screen, and wood; Peg-Board, hair, oil paint, plastic, steel binder clips, plastic clothespins, twigs, leaves, glass, plywood, brass piano hinge, nails, screws, cotton, collotype prints, acrylic varnish, chalk, graphite, paper, cardboard, tape, pen ink, electric light fixtures, gas lamp (Bec Auer type), foam rubber, cork, electric motor, cookie tin, and linoleum
7 feet 11 1/2 inches x 70 inches (242.6 x 177.8 cm)
via the Philadelphia Museum of Art
[This is how a materials list should read. "Other mixed media" is a total cop out.
Also: Marcel Duchamp wrote a manual on how to install the work, before it was moved. I can't embed it, but the Philadelphia Museum has a flash viewer to look at the manual here. Unfortunately you can't read the text at that level, and it is out of print. I'd like to get my hands on that document. Art that is instructions on how to make art.]
Posted: July 6th, 2010
Categories: Feedback Loops
Comments: No Comments