Patronizing Fraternalizing

Hohn Hohn Hohn (by Orin Optiglot)

I’m so proud of the little guy. My brother Patrick, you see, has set out from the nest and (always one to imitate me) has traveled overseas. He set out for Ireland yesterday, hoping to find a job when he gets there… just fly over, then wing it. If that happens to sound familiar to any of you, than yes, it’s because I did something much like that in February 2006 with the continent of Australia.

He’s got his own blog now to provide convenient updates to those of us who chose to remain in the homeland (what’s that? Why yes, matter of fact *I* had one of those too). He also has a Twitter account for brief updates. Of course, I couldn’t have had one of those in 2006. But now, present day, who else keeps one? Oh, little ol’ me, is all.

He planned this pretty darn well, you know. Saved up money working as a chef and going to college for free. Has the chef skills, which are actually in-demand and employable, as opposed to… my exploration skills. He’s even managed to go to Europe twice already—without me that is—once, before I even had a passport. So I give him a lot of credit for figuring it all out.

Here’s to figuring out how to book a plane ticket, oh brother of mine!

Eulogy for a Fish Friend

We lost a fish friend today:
Eulogy for a Fish Friend (by Orin Optiglot)

This was T-1000; always the fastest, fattest, hungriest, excitable little freshwater figure-eight pufferfish this side of my heart. He stopped eating five days ago, and despite our best efforts… well, that was that. We had him more than a year (which is a record for fish-keeping, at least for Lynae). He is survived by his former tankmate, Crackers.

There will be a small ceremony tomorrow organized by family and friends, to be held at the Presidio Pet Cemetery in San Francisco. He will be buried with many small seashells, shiny beads and baubles—as we imagine his last wishes likely may have been.

(Credit for this artist’s sketch goes to Rhiannon, one of the bereaved.)

Accelerator

There was a sudden realization I had tonight while doing the dishes, about the last four books I’ve read:

Now, these books all have something in common. I’ll give you a hint: it’s a technological post-human meta-rapture of near-infinite to infinite progress beyond the boundary of which no predictions made before could possibly hold true after. Not that that might ever stop anyone from guessing about… The Singularity. If you’ve never heard of it, apologies — you’ve been missing out on one of the more optimistic ideas about the human condition ever dreamed. Which is why I love reading books about it, no matter how impossibly inaccurate the predictions.

The idea of the singularity is based on a the idea that the paradigm-shifting points in history are getting closer and closer together: 13 billion years is the age of the universe, 5 billion for the solar system, 1 billion for complex multi-cellular life, 125 million for mammals, 1 million for humans, 50,000 for fire, 10,000 for agriculture, through all of human civilization and on to the recent awareness of Moore’s law and beyond. And, if such tendencies continue (as tendencies do), eventually a point will be reached that change happens so fast as to be… almost impossibly fast. Fascinatingly powerful idea, right?

If you’re interested in the whole mysticism of it, Terrence McKenna thought of it as a “singularity of novelty” and had all sorts of ideas like how shamanism was a probable agent of evolution. “History is the shockwave of the eschaton,” stuff like that. There’s a collaboration he did in the early 90’s with an electronic band by the name Shaman that’s quite good:

Now, as to the dish-washing revelation. Seems to me that when something is fascinating to you (and this certainly is for yours truly), the reason that’s so is usually important. Y’see, seems to me that this whole business revolves around the idea of amplification, Law of Accelerating Returns, logarithmic time and all that—acceleration (…we have title). I realize I’m being overly down-home-cowboy with my words here, if only to avoid being all highfalutin’ about philosophy; but allow me this observation:

If one’s favored worldview predicates a faster, better, more transcendent society based on the likelihood that change is not only a constant, but one that has an exponential attached to it, it follows that one should build one’s own life to be faster, better, and more transcendent to hasten along that society.

A mighty fine sup’sition on the often finicky follow-throughs of a life lived for the future, if I do say so. A more folksy way to summarize it might be: “if you find yourself talking the talk, you better walk the walk.” Why has it seemed that my life is proceeding so slowly, then? Why do appointments get pushed back, why do things stay on my to-do lists so long, how do I go weeks without a major paradigm shift? I guess I need to accelerate things. To that end, and to close things out, I wish to make a few announcements. So here goes… a few important things:

  • while I’m not going back to college, I’m going to go to some college; most likely for a summer program
  • I semi-officially work for Lynae now, as Her Man Friday (mailing clerk, webmonkey, gopher, dishes-cleaning attaché, motivational speaker)
  • I plan to start volunteering so as to get me more out of the house, and into the life of the city
  • Lynae and I are looking for a house — her Dad is looking to get property in San Francisco and we’re looking to keep living here, so it seems a good fit
  • there’s one other important thing, which can best be announced by looking at this picture of Lynae’s left hand:

New Ring (by Orin Optiglot)

We’re planning to get married sometime in 2010.

40 Days in the Twilderness

Let me say this: an important part of modern life, with its bizarrely effective cures for modern-imposed lonliness, is staying in touch with friends, family, acquaintances, and persons of interest. And as might be expected, a big part of my modern life is spent on the Twitters—reading, writing, following links, meeting new people, generally feeling special about my place in the world. And damn, does it seem like it takes up a lot of time.

Which is why I’m giving it up. Not forever, please! Just for the holiday season. Yes, the season of Lent. I checked, and it doesn’t say you have to be Catholic or even Christian; you just have to give something up. Do you disagree? I hereby challenge you to give up your disagreement for Lent. This is just something people do nowadays to prove something to themselves. I’ve got something to prove: I don’t need Twitter to amuse me, to keep me informed, to fill up all the little nooks and crannies of my days. I don’t need it. I just enjoy it. Several times a day, every day.

Lent is only 40 days without. Besides, I discovered something in the course of actually reading the Wikipedia entry… Sundays don’t count! If they did, it’d be 46 days! Ha ha! Loophole!

Dinner Conversation

Preface: over dinner of Buffalo burgers, my girlfriend and I talk internet and art, like we apparently sometimes do. I only get to write down this conversation because I (very non-surreptitiously) recorded it on my marvelous new toy, the Zoom H2. It was kinda fun. I leave you to your own conclusions.


L: It’s gonna be really weird if LiveJournal goes away. At the same time that I don’t use it a lot anymore, I do use it for my BPAL stuff. I’ll have to figure out a new system for that. But more importantly, I don’t know who I’d really be right now if I didn’t have LiveJournal. I made four, five entries a day, for years.

O: If you look at the web as an ecology, when a niche becomes vacant, something comes in to replace it.

L: No, I know that. But you felt the same way about Consumating. You were really sad when Consumating was gone.

O: I did. I did.

L: But this is kind of like… it’s kinda like if your mostest favoritest author died, or if… no it’s like if your hometown closed up shop and everybody left, and all the houses got torn down, even though you hadn’t been there in years. It’s kinda like that to me. The idea of not having LiveJournal to come back to…

O: You know what I was thinking about yesterday? I was actually thinking about dominant art forms—and the idea that there can be a dominant art form. You know, we had renaissance painters in the 1600s, and that was really new, that was the thing. The late 1800s, Victorians, poets were the rock stars. For most of the 20th century, since the 20s, movies have been the dominant art form. Absolutely. We build these huge monuments to them in every town, sometimes ten to a town. We have millions and millions of dollars of our economy tied up in this art form. The people who are involved—actors, directors—they’re huge celebrities, important role models for the rest of the culture. But I was thinking, you know, that particular dominant art form is getting a little played out at this point. The “golden age” was what, 60 years ago? What would be the next dominant art form? It would probably be somewhere on the web. I said, hmm… well, Flickr‘s certainly an art form. Twitter‘s kind of an art form, 140 characters worth…

L: I don’t think it’s an “art.” But, yeah.

O: It certainly is; it’s a form of expression. I don’t think you can paint it otherwise. It’s something humans make that’s different from one other.

L: Not everybody who Twitters is doing it for art, though. That’s what I was trying to say.

O: Whether you do it for “art” or not isn’t really important. I don’t think that Hollywood does it for aaaart. They do it for money a lotta the time. That doesn’t mean it’s not an artistic expression in itself. And I think one of the big things that’s new really is programming. It’s not even… not necessarily what is made, not the art that people do, not the actual pictures on Flickr, or the entries on LiveJournal, it’s how you can actually make that. It’s the website itself. It’s designing that kind of community. It’s designing the interaction. Are websites then going to be the dominant art form? Are programmers going to be our poets? (Is code poetry?)

L: Well, that’s the thing. When you think about LiveJournal, it’s not anything without the software. That’s why LiveJournal isn’t as good now is because they changed their junk. I don’t know if that’s the “software,” but… the… program.

O: That’s right.

L: If we didn’t have the feature where we could friend other people, or see who’s friended you, for example, how would that change the community? How would it change the community if there weren’t communities where everybody could post?

O: When Etsy changes something and you now have a new feature that you never had before, that changes how everyone interacts.

L: So… you get that we have stats on our shops now, right?

O: I get it, I don’t get why it’s important.

L: That’s a big huge deal. You know where your shoppers are coming from. You actually know what markets you should be targeting. Before that… let’s say I put advertising on Modish. Even though I can use my (outdated) Shorty thing, and then I can see how many people clicked on that link… after they click on the link, I don’t know where they went in my shop, I don’t know what they looked at. I don’t know who those people are. For anybody who not using it, they can put up advertising and have no idea how many people are coming from that ad. They can say, “I put an ad on Etsy and my hearts went up 10% that month,” but that’s all they know. And they can’t necessarily correlate that with say, bringing in 50 new visitors, and getting 25 new hearts, and say therefore “this is a good ad.”

O: You can say, everybody who clicked on this ad stayed here about 30 seconds, everybody who clicked on this ad stayed two minutes. This ad’s better.

L: Right. It’s really quite… amazing. Remember I was just talking about having the shop link on Panopoly.org. It’s just so much better. Doing Google searches to see who links to your Etsy shop is incredibly difficult. You’d have to do a search for every single item in your shop.

O: There’s this idea in web media that you wanna build the “best of brand.” Ok, well Etsy has a lot of people. But because of the nature of the internet, you can probably keep the software secret but if the idea behind it actually works you can’t keep that a secret. You could describe Etsy in a paragraph, pay some smart people, and in maybe a month you could have a website that functioned quite the same. You could copy it. So why should these people stick with Etsy, why is this the best? What makes one movie better than another movie in the same genre? The art of it.

Pulling a Switch

Ha! You didn’t even notice it, but something has definitely changed. GLOT is different. Believe it or not, you’re not reading this the same place as you would’ve been last week.

Server’s changed. After the seamless file copy from the old to the new, the nameserver pointers repropagate, and no one’s the wiser. Like *that*.

It’s their own dumb fault. I’d been hosting homepie.org with Lunarpages for four years and had few problems. Of course this year I’m a little strapped for cash, but since they were running a discount on hosting for two years, I was planning on taking them up on it (long-term planning, y’see?). $118 is a chunk o’ change, but this internet thing is important to me. So I asked for it as a gift. In fact, I asked my host if there was some sort of “gifting page” I could send people to. By way of response, they charged my card the $118. Oops.

Long story medium, I got it back, then a couple days later had an unannounced auto-renewal at the normal $95 yearly rate, canceled my service, canceled my card, had the charge go through anyways, negotiated the lengthy cancellation process, had to accept paying them for the domain fee… somewhere along the way a friendly girl named Lynae suggested that I just pack up and put all my stuff on her server. She’s using nowhere near the “unlimited space” or “unlimited bandwidth” provided for in her hosting plan, and she’s not quitting the internet anytime soon. So yeah. We’re just that much closer now. It’s even better than sharing a bedroom, I say. Wasn’t even that hard. Like pulling a switch.

Welcome to the new, cheaper, more convenient, same old Glot.

A Brief Demonstration

It’s sad that some beautiful things last but a short time. That does mean you don’t have to wait around for them to finish, though.

I like old records. I’ve pontificated at length before. This particular wonderful ol’ dusty gem is an ephemeral release designed to promote—of all the things to promote on a record—a new way of recording records. Yes, it is a Demonstration Record for Phase 4 Stereo. That’s it’s name, pretty much. Inside the folding cover there’s a lengthy explanation as to what “Phase 4 Stereo” is, and how it differs from the previous three phases. It goes on and on about how great the Phase 4 is, and the compilers seemed to have gone out of their way to find music that’s dynamic and at times dare-I-say-it “zany.” However, I choose to keep this explanation brief; partly because it fits the title and partly because the record itself isn’t that long (all of 25 minutes : 38 seconds). Moving on: samples!

Colonel Bogey

Granada

Tiger Rag

You Are My Lucky Star


Pretty neat, if you ask me. But you might be asking: Why the demonstration? Why now? That Winterhalter nonsense he blogged about last month was justified for four paragraphs before a name even got dropped… Well, there is good reason. Two days ago a little late Christmas present slipped through and I’m now the proud owner of a pristinely aftermarket Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. The thing is simple, and amazing, and simply amazing. If I could leave that as my review I would. But as a sort of placeholder—and a fine demonstration of it’s ease of use—here are the 10 tracks from this ephemeral and exotic throwback sensation beautifully presented in convenient downloadable ID3-tagged MP3 (all recorded, transferred, cleaned up, and encoded in little more than an hour).

Just a Demonstration (by Orin Optiglot)

  1. Johnny Keating’s Kombo – Colonel Bogey
  2. Ted Heath and his Music – Johnny One Note
  3. Los Machucambos – Granada
  4. International “Pop” All-Stars – The Poor People of Paris
  5. Stanley Black and his Orchestra – Caravan
  6. Eric Rogers and his Orchestra – Tiger Rag
  7. Rudi Bohn and his Band – Mack the Knife
  8. Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra – My Old Kentucky Home
  9. Ronnie Aldrich and his Two Pianos – Unforgettable
  10. Werner Müller and his Orchestra – You Are My Lucky Star

The iPhone Question

Well, I’ve already violated one of my rules. I said I was gonna call it an iThing—but now I’ve gone and named the beast.

See, even though it was the unlikeliest gift in the world, even though I specifically asked not to be given one, I’m still somehow feverishly tapping this out thumbprint by thumbprint at this very minute… on an iPhone. Which, of course, gives you some idea of the time involved, but that’s not really my point. My point is this: it’s absolutely bizarre.

There are many things I could write about: my surprise, my well-meaning reticence, my amazed gratitude, my quick and unplanned attachment, or perhaps the many ways it’s already changed my actions, the dissonance of having a status symbol when I’ve not earned its status, or how (in the past) I always’ve had a white one but could only get the 8GB in black so settled for a white case. I think they’re interesting stories, but maybe you had to be there.

The question is one I’ve never asked before. I wanna know, from those of you who still read this neglected yet beloved multi-spectral personal monolith, is it a good idea to write a lot of short stuff? I mean, would that get annoying? It’s obvious to me now that there exists the technology to blog about what you eat for every meal, every day, for the rest of your life. But maybe I could blog glot from the woods, or during a parade, or maybe in bed next to my exhausted girlfriend while on a mind-bogglingly extended multi-family Christmas? It’s just a pattern I’d like to pursue, and knowing me it’s possible that brevity could (at some point) be abandoned. I just want opinions. It’s the age-old question, really: to blog, or not to blog?

Oops I meant glot.

This Year’s Birthday Theme

My birthday falls exactly 12 days before Christmas. Yes, there’s a song; no, nobody sings it. Although there are certainly worse calender dates (like February 29th, or Christmas itself), the placement has always been problematic. But I made a discovery the birthday before I went to college: the present season goes better if I have a theme.

Two years after that I was going to Australia. Excellent year as far as “stuff I’m definitely gonna use,” and made me happy. I think a theme is called for this year. Considering my current state of unemployment, and the protracted lack of funds which that implies, this year I want:

to maintain my quality of life!

Yes, that’s right. Sometimes it’s just nice not to have to sacrifice the enjoyable things. Things like:

Eulogy for Crichton

Michael Crichton, my favorite childhood author, has died. He is survived by his fans’ love (and blood relatives, I suppose). I’ll never forget the postulated intelligent bacteria in “Sphere,” caught in a human machine, which it concludes is a test meant for itself. And no, I’ll never forget the bit in “Next” where he fictionalizes one of his critics then makes him a gay baby-pedophile with a micropenis. You weren’t always easy to love, Crichton; you took unpopular scientific positions and had odd tastes, but you made me strong with wonder. Anyone who’s had a dinosaur named after them (Crichtonsaurus) has done good in my book. Resquiscat in pace, artifex celebrus.

In the course of looking up his many writings, I came across a remarkably prescient speech Crichton wrote in 1993 entitled “Mediasaurus.” In it he criticizes what we would now call “Old Media,” and predicts its downfall to the internet. It contains this charmingly dated yet quite correct analysis of modern media:

Once Al Gore gets the fiber optic highways in place, and the information capacity of the country is where it ought to be, I will be able, for example, to view any public meeting of Congress over the Net. And I will have artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, downloading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page, or a nightly news show, that addresses my interests. I’ll have the twelve top stories that I want, I’ll have short summaries available, and I’ll be able to double-click for more detail. How will Peter Jennings or MacNeil-Lehrer or a newspaper compete with that?

His perception was, by and large, that big media companies had devolved so much they could never survive the coming revolution. He predicted they had ten years left, max. Politically, he always seemed the intelligent, thoughtful, and informed contrarian—an endearingly rare combination. That quality seemed centered on his insights into how uncivil American culture, and by extension the media, had become. But he was inextricably a part of that media. He never tried to escape it. Quoted from a follow-up interview 15 years later:

The truth is, we live in an age of astonishing conformity. I grew up in the 1950s, supposedly the heyday of conformity, but there was much more freedom of opinion back then. And as a result, you knew that your neighbors might hold different views from you on politics or religion. Today, the notion that men of good will can disagree has disappeared. Can you imagine! Today, if I disagree with you, you conclude there is something wrong with me. This is a childish, parochial view. And of course stupefyingly intolerant. It’s truly anti-American. Much of it can be laid at the feet of the environmental movement, which has unfortunately frequently been led by ill-educated and intolerant spokespersons—often with no more than a high-school education, sometimes not even that. Or they are lawyers trained to win at any cost and to say anything about their opponents to win. But you find the same intolerant tone around considerations of defense, taxation, free markets, universal medical care, and so on. There’s plenty of zealotry to go around.

Now, did you catch that? The careful contrarian will always be willing, even eager to perpetrate paradoxical (yet valid) criticism. And I respect him for both calling out boogiemen and acting as a boogieman at times. I respect that he was so intelligent that he recognized the necessity for it. Or maybe I love that he was smart enough to understand it yet dumb enough to do it himself. No one should be too perfect.

He was good at a kind of writing that sells books and makes entertaining movies—that can’t be underestimated and will surely be remembered. However, I’m sure many will remember him for the contrarianism. Maybe that’s what’s needed or maybe not. But I, I will remember him for the gift of imagination (quite literally). The following passage in Sphere was one of the most illuminating things I read in my young life. I think you’ll understand why:

On your planet you have an animal called a bear. It is a large animal, sometimes larger than you, and it is clever and has ingenuity, and it has a brain as large as yours. But the bear differs from you in one important way. It cannot perform the activity you call imagining. It cannot make mental images of how reality might be. It cannot envision what you call the past and what you call the future. This special ability of imagination is what has made your species as great as it is. Nothing else. It is not your ape nature, not your tool-using nature, not language or your violence or your caring for young or your social groupings. It is none of these things, which are all found in other animals. Your greatness lies in imagination.

The ability to imagine is the largest part of what you call intelligence. You think the ability to imagine is merely a useful step on the way to solving a problem or making something happen. But imagining it is what makes it happen.

This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not choose to control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you—the ability to imagine.