Saturday, December 27, 2008

What the hell?

Just got this in my inbox, subject line "A biased ultra-positivist's thoughts." WTF? Weirdest spam evar?

Aren't you looking for someone who understands you? If not, there is no
need to read further as it shows that people who think just like you
already surround you.

You must aim to coerce others to adopt your views.
Or does it appeal to you more to nourish foolishness?

I was trying to marry someone this year as there would have been tax advantages.
They told me they'd only consider marriage for love.
They had no enthusiasm for collaboration.

They think the most wonderful thing is to find what you love to do. They're lying to themselves.
A few per cent of today's employment level would be enough to live comfortably.

People ask how I survive as I work only from time to time.
I question why they compensate talented deluders by donating to the movie industry.
Why do they hunger after motorized transport and single family homes?
Is it not self-evident that they delight in traveling only as long as
it's well-respected by the masses?

They're assured that people can't change. Yet when young, they dreamt about
immortality, ideal relationships, and perfect worlds. We are still that immature.
We'll build a society based on rational thinking.

Don't reply to this message as we won't read it. Use the best internet search
engine to search these words.

arrogant teenage intelligence inexperienced students
light philosophy strategy ideology logic
pure general enclave design insecure
terrestrial solitary personality intolerant defiance
salutation social spiritual art traits
indoctrination Borg substantive monomania clandestine

For best results, search for 3 terms at a time. Hence, there are
a very large number of search possibilities, so only the determined will not give up.

Very strange. Some sort of Google adwords revenue scam? Get people to search those words, get cash from associated ads? Seems like it could be successful. Message is weird enough to not get pegged as typical spam, and it preys on some pretty basic human insecurities. Robots harvesting ad value from loneliness. Great. Welcome to century 21. Welcome to the Network Economy.

Sympathy For the Worthless

Freezer Logo
Originally uploaded by choo_choo_pictures
A picture of an old freezer I found rotting away behind my Father's house. I like to find beauty in Junk. Gives me hope.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till its gone?
-Joni Mitchell

The above two lines hold a large truth elegantly. In the text below, I belabor the same point. Needlessly, selfishly, and in a most narcissistic manner. But narcissism is the nature of the Internet Medium, I once heard, so I suppose it can't be helped.


Human perception has a cruel flaw. It only sees clearly what is already receding from it. Youth, for example. Or, to name another totally hypothetical example, the kindness, grace, and basic decency of the human being whose door you are walking out of for the last time. When they were present the image was a muddle. Too near the sensor to be resolved, lost in the noise and reflection of everyday existence.

And then they are gone, and everything is thrown into stark relief, as if rimmed by the sharp-angled light of the dying evening sun.


There are things in your life now. Things you aren't seeing. Things you won't see until, god forbid, you lose them.

Try to appreciate those things, ok? Do it for me. For Christmas.

Or be left like me, trying to soften the edges of the brittle comfort of the company of digital bits with a six-pack and a Richard Buckner CD.

And knowing that this is likely to be the basic state of my existence from here on out, until Oblivion finds me, tells me that all these moments I think I have stolen from her she has really just lent me, in her infinite kindness. And that now, of course, she must take them back.

And suddenly, as I lose them, I know what I have lost.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Well, we've made it to the heart of the dark time, friends. It only gets lighter from here.

Of course, it'll keep getting colder until February sometime.

Take care out there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Special Holiday Episode of Anti-Capitalist Sockpuppets

Has been brought to you by Toshiba

Happy Holidays comrades.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chicken Blog!

Tonight I decided to try this recipe for roasted chicken from big shot chef Thomas Keller. It is a very simple recipe, just sprinkle some kosher salt on a chicken and roast at high heat.

I got a chicken:

I set my oven to 450 F, as called for in the recipe, and washed, salted and trussed my chicken.

And then I stuck the chicken into the hot, hot oven. Far too hot, it turns out. Clouds of smoke started to fill my apartment about 20 minutes into the cook time. I opened all the windows (chilly!) turned on the exhaust fan in my bathroom and over the stove, backed the heat down to 400 and continued on, fearful I was making charcoal.

But, when I took the chicken out of the oven it was a nice golden color:

I basted and let rest, as per instructions, now fearful that my reduced heat would have left the interior of the chicken raw. I started my carving by removing the wings and eating, as recommended by Keller. They were delicious! Crispy and salty and perfectly chicken flavored. I cut off a leg quarter and then one breast. The meat was fully cooked and dripping moist. Absolutely perfect. Here's my plate:

Not pretty I know, but hey it was just me. I was so hungry for more of this chicken that I basically skeletonized half the bird looking to find more meat without cutting into my dinner for tomorrow. I have a picture of that, but it is kind of gross.

All and all, I recommend this recipe, but I would suggest cleaning your oven and pans fully and turning on a fan before you get started. The chicken is worth the trouble though. This is one of those simple dishes that develops the flavor of a single ingredient perfectly. Very nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Take Three

Ok, its all that but it is also not that.

What Agrippa shows is the process of transition. The single electric light in the rural village, the car and the mule side by side. The automatic pistol, already decades old when discovered by a little boy in an attic in the middle of the 20th century, but of a design still in use as the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close.

Just like the Mid-Century public works project bridge in the middle of the 2008 Ohio cornfield, under the shadow of the stark-white blades of the Wind Turbine farm.

So often it seems, we forget transition. We imagine the past as having occurred in neat periods, like scenes in a movie. 1931 Depression! (Fade-to-Black) 1941 War! (Fade-to-Black) 1950 Conformity! (Fade-to-Black) 1969! Revolution (Fade-to-Black) etc...

Any good history or fiction will explode this view, remind us that we in fact live in an unending messy transition as technologies, social forms, aesthetic schools wax and wane - hybridize and bleed into each other. Agrippa just happens to remind me of that particularly well (and Gibson's Novels and short stories do a similar job for the future).

So the fact that the Floppy Disk Agrippa is now embedded in that transition in a whole new way - as a once cutting-edge piece of digital art now recovered and emulated by later technology is interesting

Or maybe its all interesting. Or maybe I should stop writing about this now.

Take Two

On my thoughts on the Agrippa web-site I just blogged about.

Agrippa, as a poem, is powerful to me for the same reason that much of Gibson's work is powerful to me, because it complicates the Past and the Future in interesting ways. When I was a boy, I had a notion of the past as Agrarian and static - and the future as dazzling and Aerospace themed. I don't know if I can wholly blame the pop-culture industry for this, but it does seem to me that the notion of what the Past and the Future were to look like got sort of stuck in the collective imagination of the Mass-Media for awhile there as well. Feeding us images of year 2000 flying cars well into the early 1990s. Or at least, so it seemed to my very young self at the time.

The past Gibson talks about in Agrippa is rural, but explicitly technological. Old cars and concrete feature prominently - as does an encounter, apparently drawn from Gibson's own childhood, between a young boy and a long forgotten Colt M1911 found among dusty old packages. The automatic pistol as ancient artifact, as the ancestral sword.

Reading Agrippa gives me the same feeling I had when, on one of my first long bicycle rides here in Northwest Ohio, I rode across a crumbling concrete bridge. On its side I saw stamped the diamond insignia with the letters WPA and the year: 1940. A low bridge, crossing nothing more than a drainage ditch, and at the same time a quiet testament to the Great Depression and the attempts to alleviate it. Suddenly, I was overcome with the awareness of the depth and complexity of the past and the many ways it is, as Faulkner said, not even past.

And now the self-destructing floppy disk version of Agrippa, has itself become a similar artifact. A strange reflection.

How am I just learning of this now

There is a whole site hosted by UC Santa Barbra devoted solely to William Gibson's poem Agrippa(A Book of the Dead).

For a Gibson-phile like me this is fascinating on two levels. First there is the role of a site like this in paying fan-boyish homage to Gibson, who seems himself to be a downright otaku in many ways. Second, there is the almost archeological work needed to resurrect the digital form of Gibson's work (which was packaged as a "self-destructing" file on a floppy disk as a comment on text and memory) from the distance past of 1992. The futuristic "hack" of the early 90s is now a museum piece.

The Future of Film Criticism

A blog post over at the Institute for the Future of the Book raises some interesting ideas about film criticism and new technology. Basically it asks the question: "why don't we use video technology to do film criticism? Wouldn't this be superior to trying to talk about film in print, a totally different medium in which we have to somehow translate the moving images and sounds we are talking about into words before we begin to analyze them?"

I'm not a film critic, but some of my friends are, so I post this here for their consideration. It sounds like a good idea to me, but what the heck do I know?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Narrative and Simulation

I can't help but notice that, as I watch the little evolutionary simulation I just posted about, I seem to get invested in the success or failure of the little animated car the algorithm generates. I cheer for it as it makes it over the little bumps and ridges of its simulated environment, and feel disappointed when it flips over and the simulation ends in failure.

So, out of the simulation, I construct a sort of narrative. My colleague Dave suggested that this is a common feature of human interactions with simulation in a conversation we had a week or so ago. For Dave, if I understand his argument correctly, this suggests that authors who argue that the simulation has superseded the narrative as a form (N. Katherine Hayles, for example) aren't quite correct.

Here's the thing though, I may indeed build a narrative out of the interactions I observe between the simulated car and its 2d environment, but that narrative is completely without agency. The algorithm doesn't care what I think, it just evolves the best solution to the problem based on the results of its trial and error process. Granted, the simulations we see today are based on the assumptions embraced by their creators - on the implicit narratives in their heads. The designer of my example had a story of car and some terrain and a desired outcome (car travels across terrain) in mind when he/she wrote the simulation.

That's all true today, but the question is: will it be true tomorrow? Will we see simulations feeding simulations? Will the "man in the loop" (to use the term of the mid-century Strategic Air Command) be finally displaced?

I don't think it is possible to answer that question. Certainly there are some very smart people invested in "Strong AI" (there is pretty good evidence the folks at Google are heavily committed to this project) and all that entails. It is also true, however, that very smart folks have been working on this project for decades with little to show for their efforts.

It seems to me at least possible, however, that simulation may some day be firmly in command. That Tomorrow Google may count the fall of every sparrow, just as Yesterday God did. If that is the case, the very idea of human agency may prove to be a brief historical aberration, a few short centuries of what will surely seem to be madness by the beings inhabiting the later regime.

What will human beings do in such a world - if any should survive? The same as we have always done. Create narratives about the inexplicable world around us.

Around the Web

A few quick things I wanted to share with my friends and blog readers (and those categories are pretty much one and the same).

A great article by David Neiwert on his blog Orcincus (the best liberal blog you aren't reading) on George W. Bush, "Sundown Suburbs," White Privilege, and persistent racial inequality in the United States.

Wikipedia is not a kitten (a funny bit of vandalism to a wikipedia policy page - long since deleted)

Try independent, listener funded, internet radio site Soma FM for a wide variety of streaming music options. The Xmas in Frisco stream is good seasonal fun.

And finally, this little flash application uses genetic algorithms to solve a simple problem by repeated trial and error right before your eyes. Interesting and a little ominous. As the machines get faster, how much supposedly "uniquely human" creativity will they be able to replicate, simply by brute-forcing problems? Forget Foucault - that right there might be the "end of man."