The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Join the fold

Sarah Werner says that to understand this history of bookmaking, you have to understand folding. This was high technology, remember, and a big part of it was all the ways that broad sheets of paper could be made into smaller pages of various sizes. This is where the fancy terminology you’ve heard comes from: folio (folded once), quarto (folded twice), octavo (folded three times), and so on. Anyway, to really impress this upon her students, Sarah decided to present her syllabus as… a quarto.

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The reserve tank

Something about this idea is weird and lovely.


PBS Idea Channel

Who knew? Best channel on YouTube. Nope, don’t argue. It’s pitch perfect.


Valve and post-capitalism

I wish I had more time to do a thorough blogging and blockquoting of this, but alas: I’ll just say that this long post from Valve’s in-house economist is well worth your time if you’re interested in ways people work together—or ways they could work together—in the 21st century. (For the uninitiated: Valve is a hugely successful video game company that is increasingly well-known for its nonhierarchical, almost anarchist management structure.)

In particular, pay attention to the part where Yanis Varoufakis, the author, mentions the Coase theorem Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm. (Thanks, Mintie.) In short, Coase says: We establish firms to create zones where negotiation is no longer necessary. Or, in more technical language: …where transaction costs are lower. Imagine you want 1,000 quantum coils attached to 1,000 Zebulon drives. Instead of going through a whole market-based process and like, selecting the independent coil-attachment specialist with the lowest bid… you could just… tell someone who works for you to attach the coils to the drives. It’s easier. It’s faster. There’s less friction.

But the internet, broadly speaking, lowers transaction costs, right? Suddenly you’ve got, this super-efficient real-time market for coil-attachment services, and it’s like, you sign up and click two buttons and somebody’s coming over on a moped to attach all those coils and you don’t even have to worry about health insurance. That’s awesome, and thus your negotiation-free zone, your little island, gets smaller. This has been happening, over the past few decades, to all companies everywhere—even the very biggest. It’s not just the web that’s small pieces, loosely joined; it’s the whole economy.

There are just tons and tons of internet-based B2B (oh yeah I just typed that) market-makers that are hugely profitable precisely because of Coase’s theory of the firm—because they found a way to lower some transaction cost and shrink the size of those zones, in essence claiming some of that territory for themselves.

But even beyond that, there are ways to lower transaction costs inside a company, too—think of Microsoft Exchange and assure yourself that yes, there are still transaction costs here—and it turns out that’s one of the most interesting implications of Valve’s anarchy. I might write more about this later… in the meantime, read the piece.


Black start

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.

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What is identity?

Provocative arguments here from Rebekah Cox:

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.


And the lights go on

David Lynch:

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!


Thinking out loud in paragraphs

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.

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Not science fiction:

We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.

Not. science. fiction.


What scares us now

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.”


(Via Nav.)