Archive for July, 2012
More working in public from Matt Webb. These weeknotes of his could be a book some day. Must be.
Specifically though, look at this:
Over the week Matt Jones pointed me at a Wikipedia article about black start. A black start is (and let me quote from the article here) “the process of restoring a power station to operation without relying on the external electric power transmission network.”
Like, let’s say you have a hydroelectric plant. You need falling water to drive the turbines. But how do you open the sluices without a pre-existing supply of electricity?
I mean obviously this is the name of a novel, right? One of the big ones that tries to integrate everything—every system in our world, every feeling. It fails, but the very attempt is what generates yet another feeling—of density, complexity, hubris—without which the integration wouldn’t be complete. The novel would be about a literal black start—in a big city? on a lonely island?—but the writing of the novel would itself also constitute a black start, which would be chronicled. Probably some Cloud Atlas story-within-a-story sort of thing.
To start it’s important to understand what identity isn’t: Identity is not a password, it’s not root access, it’s not your calendar, it’s not your email, it’s not a technical achievement, it’s not your location, it’s not a user account in a system, it’s not your contacts and it’s not a feature.
So, what is identity?
Interjection: I can’t tell whether she’s talking about digital identity or like, identity identity. And I sort of like that ambiguity:
I think in its most basic form, your identity is the product of how you manage your attention and others’ access to that attention. Those areas where your attention is focused assemble to form a set of experiences that shape and influence where you’ll direct future attention. But that attention is interrupted all the time by people, events, things, desires, boredom, weather, etc. and that process of interruption is, largely, contained to physical space because that is a natural gate on access.
Then there’s the phone. The “phone” part of the mobile phone is important not because of the voice communication it enables, but rather from the habit and etiquette that the ringing bell created in society and the direct access it grants to the caller. It’s the promise of instant communication at the cost of having attention interrupted and redirected. The key to unlocking that attention is a semi-random sequence of digits which you can give to someone else to indicate that the person now has permission to interrupt you and to access your attention directly.
It’s well worth reading the rest of the post.
I used to deliver The Wall Street Journal in Los Angeles. I did it to support myself while making “Eraserhead.” I’d pick up my papers at 11:30 at night. I had throws that were particularly fantastic. There was one where I’d release the paper, which would soar with the speed of the car and slam into the front door of this building, triggering its lobby lights—a fantastic experience. Another one I called “The Big Whale.” There was a place, the Fish Shanty, on La Cienega. A big whale’s mouth was the front door you entered through. I’d throw a block before it, and hit the paper directly into the mouth.
This graf made me smile. Like—a really big smile.
And I love the image of the high-speed rolled-up newspaper’s impact triggering the lobby lights. Every morning, the news arrives, thump, and with it, illumination! Thump! Civilization! THUMP! LIFE!
Is there lurking somewhere a New Blogging, some set of new or old-made-new formats that might light up our feed readers again?
My favorite blog these days is M. John Harrison’s. He writes these paragraphs, these apparitions—not articles, not essays, not much more than a few hundred words, but much larger than a tweet. I say “larger,” not “longer,” intentionally there. Harrison’s paragraphs contain more, provoke more.
When you’re writing in English, the space that opens up when you go from 10–30 words to 100–300 is immense. It’s much larger, in fact, that the space that opens up when you go from 100–300 words to 1000–3000. The curve—of density? sophistication? meaning?—slopes sharply there.
And I don’t know about you, but I have a sense for the amount of writing that can be done in a single go—a single flurry of the keys. An idea strikes, or a memory; you bang it out and post it. There’s such pleasure in that. You might say it sounds like a tweet, but personally, I find myself spending more and more time filtering and recomposing my tweets these days—boiling them down both to fit the character limit and, I guess, the limits of attention. A certain kind of blog post—a resolutely unprofessional post, a post that would never pass muster on a Gawker blog!—can actually be much looser, much more casual than a tweet. (You see people sometimes approximating this kind of post with a long litany of tweets; I’m on the fence as to whether that works or not.)
Okay, I think that’s the end of this go. I can feel my fingers slowing down here. Not an article, not an essay, not much more than a few hundred words. (297, actually.) Read Harrison’s paragraph and click around to a few more while you’re at it.
Not science fiction:
We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.
On the subject of the Half-Life games:
“I feel like we’ve gotten away from genuinely scaring the player more than I’d like, and it’s something we need to think about, in addition to broadening the emotional palette we can draw on,” said [Half-Life creator Gabe] Newell in one of my previous interviews with him. I then asked him what’s likely to horrify future players, now so much older than they were when they played the preceding games. “The death of their children,” answered Newell. “The fading of their own abilities.”
I tweeted this earlier today, but it bears repeating here because so many of Snarkmarket’s much-neglected subscribers will enjoy it: Nick Denton had a chat with io9 readers about… nope, not blogs! Not internet media. Not commenting systems. It was about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
So the subject is a surprise, and so is the content. There is some subtle thinking here, and some provocative thinking too. This is my favorite answer—it’s now been simmering in my brain all day:
My father was an economist and I was always interested in history, not the history of great men, but the remorseless tide of history, a history without obvious actors, like Braudel’s Mediterranean. But I say “obvious actors.” The person who writes the books, solves the economic equation, or invents psychohistory: that is an actor. They may be less recognized; but they can have much more influence, they can make a much bigger dent in the world.
I’d contend that an early Nokia engineer — with no good intentions in mind — has done more to alleviate poverty in Africa than an aid worker committed to that end. The road to hell is paved with good intentions; the road to heaven with indifference or entire selfish motivation.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: there’s no point in doing the obvious. You may in fact be doing harm. But with a long enough lever and an understanding of the way the world works, you can move the world.
That’s Seldon’s central idea: that by moving a few thousand scientists to the end of the spiral he can nudge the galaxy onto a different path. And the lever is so long that nobody will even realize what he’s doing. In the modern world, those levers are held by creators (whether they’re writers or entrepreneurs) and not by politicians or even philanthropists.
But there’s plenty more worth reading. Do take a look.
I found this randomly, in a classic web one-link-leads-to-another sort of way, and I’m sorta fascinated by it: a collection of new webcomics all based on old, defunct Bandai arcade games:
Shiftylook exists to excavate the buried treasures of the Namco Bandai group, bringing back to life characters once thought consigned to a lonely oblivion.
The comics are pretty light—
—but the approach is interesting and brave. Call it the Watchmen strategy. Watchmen happened because DC dusted off a bunch of characters it had acquired from Charlton Comics—Nite Owl?!—and handed them over to Alan Moore. Any corporation with moldy old IP can do the same: “Here, we found these characters in a box under the stairs. Can you… do something… with them?”
I’d totally sign up to write a comic based on some weird forgotten video game.
There’s a real big-heartedness to Spike Lee’s answer here to a question from Vulture writer Will Leitch. They’re talking about gentrified Brooklyn, and:
Will Leitch: I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to walk around Cobble Hill now and see wheat-germ places and Pilates.
Spike Lee: That does not bother me. What bothers me is that these kids do not know the street games we grew up with. Stoop ball, stickball, cocolevio, crack the top, down the sewer, Johnny on the pony, red light green light one-two-three. These are New York City street games.
We didn’t play stickball out in the second-ring suburbs of Detroit, but we did play with sticks. We ran in the street until dark and we built forts in the mud down by the creek. Most importantly, we made up new games on the spot.
That’s just about my favorite thing about kids: their willingness to transform anything, instantly, at any time, into a game. And I do mean a game: a system with rules. It can be as simple as I slap your knee, you slap mine but it’s a game.
I was lucky to fall in with a neotenous crew in college, and we spent long afternoons inventing games at Michigan State, too: coming up with new configurations of ground and body and frisbee out on the big quad around the clock tower.
Anyway, Spike Lee shouldn’t lament cocolevio (?!) because it’s in the nature of kids’ culture to change, eventually beyond recognition, but I’m with him when it comes to games in the street. I’m sure there are still some kids playing this way in Cobble Hill, but definitely not as many as before. I mean, there’s just no way, right? There are so many other games already invented for them now—all these other games waiting indoors on bright screens big and small.
Stickball never looked like much fun to me, but you can carry a stick into a sword battle, too. Those were more our style. And at a certain time of day, with the sun low in the sky, a neat lawn could truly become a battlefield. You got tired after just a few tussles, really desperately tired, and maybe your knuckles got a little bloody too, but you had to keep going, had to keep fighting—at least until your mom called you home for dinner.
Snarkmatrix, you know me: I am not a Luddite (no way) and not a techno-triumphalist, either. So I hope you’ll take it not as a nostalgic yawlp but rather a considered statement about the nature of the mind and the body when I say: Raw unselfconscious imagination is the best graphics engine that has ever existed, and the street will forever be the arena in which all the best games are played.
The whole interview with Spike Lee is great and worth a read.
Hello snarkmatrix! This summer, I’m doing a low-key video series where I talk about books between five and 500 years old that are not well-known but still worth reading. I guess you could say I’m digging in my own crates. Here’s the latest installment: