Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pretty Happenin' Degree

Apologies for the quality of the picture. There was a good 300 feet between me and my sister at that moment. But this is Lindsy Lawrence, PhD and I'm proud to call her my sister.

Oh, and she's way smarter than me.

Try Staking Awake for Three Years

Three-Year-Old Boy has Never Slept, Parents Maintain 24-Hour Vigil - Mark Frauenfelder @ BoingBoing

Not to belittle the plight of this boy, but I find the idea that this boy has never slept too far-fetched. If true, serious neurological problems should plague the boy: hallucinations, lack of internal body rhythm, trouble with focus, trouble understanding things, and a litany of other ailments that come from prolonged lack of sleep. I just find the story lacking credibility based on what little information given in both Frauenfelder's post and in the original news story.

Unity '08

Can I just say that I'm pretty damn tired of all the posts on an Obama/Clinton unity ticket? It's just stupid pandering to Clinton supports. Sen. Obama, once he does secure the nomination, should pick who he believes is the best running-mate, not the bloggers and pols out of DC. At least there are a few like George Will who believe Sen. Clinton should pack it up and go home already.

Standing In Love

Fromm on standing in love - Mark Vernon @ Philosophy & Life Blog

This is, quite possibly, the best expression of lasting love that I've seen written. I've always worried about the idea of falling in love because it entails the possibility that such love won't last. As Vernon remarks, this kind of love is a battle against loneliness for one's own ego. Falling in love is as much real love as it is being in love with idea of love. He contrasts this with the idea of standing in love--the point at which love becomes and open love, a love that welcomes everyone in because the issue of faithfulness is never in question. I've experienced this kind of love from some friends of mine who open their house with welcoming arms and let their love shine on you as well. There's no fear of loneliness but only the desire to let their love exist as almost a physical æther.
I do fear falling in love on the basis of the potentiality for my loneliness to return. I don't like loving the idea of being in love since it partially negates the other person, the person you are supposed to show the entirety of your love to. But I still have to risk it if I ever want to arrive at the point of standing in love. It's a sublime love and like anything sublime there's a mix of beauty and horror. Still, I leave myself open to that risk since their's no other path to standing in love.

Friday, May 09, 2008

New Model Army in Camp

One of the things I love about the developmental direction the Internet has taken is the DIY ethos that drives a lot of the innovation. I've written on this before and how disruptive this DIY ethos is. Take a few ideas, some knowledge of coding and suddenly you have a website drawing tens of thousands of people. Of course, for every success story there are hundreds of failures, whether of deployment, content or simple timing. Along with that is the ever-important "who you know" factor that can make or break a struggling site. A post on a few well chosen blogs will go miles to making your site the new 'it' site. My own blog struggles with such need for attention, but the attention, however minimal, is still there.
What the "who you know" factor also means though is that sometimes you end up with a clique of sites that trade links back and forth but rarely branch out on new sites. It's both the advantage and bane of web hubs. Yet, I don't begrudge the nature of web hubs and superhubs. Outlier sites, if they stick around long enough, always increase their chances of finding a few links to the major hubs. It's an instance where persistance pays off. While I keep this blog to help with my own sanity as an outlet for my nonsense, I still look forward to the day that this blog becomes something more than a vanity project.

Captain Nemo

Not quite sure why I'm doing this--for certain this girl annoys the fuck out of me--but, well, here you go. Porn on a Friday night.

Open Container Laws

Parental Fail - The FAIL Blog

Man, if only my parents had given me booze instead of crack when I was that young.

The Paintings are Waiting

Art Transforms Depending on Time of Day - Trend Hunter

Artists Drzach and Suchy have come up with a new art instillation that involves paintings that change under different lighting conditions. While this is a relatively easy feat using different colors as the U.S. military does to test for color blindness, it does go beyond the mere scratch-and-sniff variety of color-changing art. First, the change in image relies on changes in natural lighting. Second, the paintings are in grayscale with a base-backing of white.
It's a perceptual change also. What was once an image of Marilyn Monroe will transform into one of Marilyn Manson. The paintings shown here are obviously from Psycho's famous bathroom killing. By showing how different light can produce a different image, the artists are playing on the properties of light and materials. Naturally this leads to a discussion on the reality of color and whether it is a real property of the object or a subjective experience of the viewer. Color-blind people might see a different image or no image at all while the small percentage of the population (primarily women) who have an extra color rod in their eyes might see something else. And I won't even go into what synethesists might see. Such complex philosophical questions posed by such a simple painting process. This I like.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

It's the Games, Stupid

Yankee Fan Go Home - George Will @ Washington Post

No time for real commentary, but the op-ed is pretty good, or at least amusing. Have a read by one of the best and real conservative writers still out there.

The Doctorow of Steampunk

Steampunk in the New York Times - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

It seems BoingBoing is on the ball about the NYT article on steampunk, but looking at it from an outward-in perspective versus my inward-out one. Still, different opinions make for good arguments.

Some Goodness for the Morning

Video Throwback: Pavement-Cut Your Hair - RCRDLBL

A bit of old fashioned 1990s indie goodness:

Glowing Walls

Wall Paper that Lights Up - Andrew Sullivan

I don't think I've posted about this yet, but if I have then apologies for the double post. Even so, I think it deserves more attention just for the sheer cool factor. Apparently the bottom layer is silver with a couple of other layers on top and a final wallpaper outer layer. The layering allows for the use of the wallpaper in regular applications, but personally I see this kind of tech being more applicable to avant-garde clubs and anterooms of exclusive consulting or advertising firms. Either way, it's wallpaper that lights up! How cool is that?

Smoke Coming from Recording Machines

A Place to Bury Strangers Too Loud for Record Press - Pitchfork

This is the reason why I love this band; so loud they break the recording equipment through pure sound. Not that I expect the production studio to be too pleased about that, but still, way cooler than most bands could hope to achieve. Looking at their tour schedule, their stop in Dallas is at the American Airlines Center, not a small venue by any means. So either they're touring with a major act or their sound is so big no other venue will take them out of fear of causing mass seizures. Again, what other band could provide such sheer noise pleasure?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Commercialization of Steampunk

Steampunk Moves Between Two Worlds - Ruth La Ferla @ NYT

It's hard to define steampunk because much like any kind of punk, it intentionally defies definition. But some trends are apparent, much like with it's originator: cyberpunk. The ethos is based around the questions of humanity in the face of modernity and technology. While there are fashion statements to be made, the real thrust of steampunk is the idea of electric gods made human like Telsa, adventures like Charles Lindburg and dramas like the stories from the Great War. Steampunk reinvents the end of the 19th century as a time when the industrialist was also the genius of the time, when any technology was possible and society had quickly adapted to the radical shifts without much effort.
Sadly, this was not how it happened. Steampunk writers know this, hence the questions of morality and the human spirit. They are the same question we, and the cyberpunk writers, ask now. To make a tenuous historical hypothesis, I think the responses to modernity during the 19th century (a desire to return to a purer time, virulent nationalism and the rise of fascism, or at the very least it antecedents), kept the West in particular from arriving at any real answers. We are confronted with these questions again due to the rise of the Internet and all of its possibilities. The adventurers of steampunk flying airships and discovering impossible lands (Warren Ellis' Planetary should be required reading for both steam and cyberpunks) are translated into virtual adventurers moving between the physical world and the virtual with ease and where actions on one side have consequences on the other.
I do love the steampunk ethos as much as I love the ethos of cyberpunk. Both put these questions of what humanity means during times of great technological change. And both have their responses in characters that aren't quite sure of what is really happening but retain their humanity after great struggles with technology. The style, fashion and romance of both sub-genres, and now sub-cultures, are merely outward representations of these questions. However, as sub-cultures like steampunk gain wider acceptance I fear that the true punk ethos of anarchist reaction to the mainstream will lose itself in the commericalization of the culture. Just as goth, fetish and even punk its were subsumed by consumer culture, so too will steampunk fall before the needs of retail. Honestly, I believe that cyberpunk will remain the only non-commericalized sub-genre for a while due to its futuristic settings and necessary technological advances. Even so, commercialization will infect it as well.
Despite that, I don't think I will really mind such commericalization. It's inevitable in today's world. What I will mind are those who mistake the accessories of steampunk, the fashion and the attitude for the real ethos of steampunk. They, like the poser punks of the 1990s, will actually retard the progress steampunks seeks to accomplish. By ignoring the real questions steampunk poses, they will become another in a long line of fashion charactures. Yes, the fakers will come, because they have money and material desires to meet. But hopefully there will remain the writers and thinkers of steampunk and cyberpunk who look to constantly reinvent the style and shape of their genres.

Coolest Photo of the Day

When Volcanoes Spew Lightning - Annaless Newitz @ i09

This picture comes courtesy of the Chilean volcano that decided, after 9000 years, to get its groove on again. Apparently, this type of ash cloud and eruption are called 'dirty eruptions'. Even so, it looks glorious.


College Student Sexually Assaulted While Crowd Cheers - Jessica @ Feministing

This is one of the biggest reason why the culture of education we have in America is so fucked up right now. This group of men, who should all be charged with aiding and abetting the crime, are really nothing but overgrown boys with a sense of entitlement. And our education system perpetuates this by turning college into an extension of high school, except with fewer rules and punishments for the students. This girl did everything she was supposed to do and still was sexually assaulted and had her assailants cheered on. Of course these student will probably get nothing more than a slap on the wrist, thus negating the seriousness of their crime. And so our system of justice fails another woman, which reflects poorly on us all.

The Zen of FAIL

Sea World Fail - The FAIL Blog

Ah, I am at peace now.

New Model Army on the March

This addendum to my earlier thoughts on the rejection of the Internet in favor of reality is based around the ideas and theories on information management. Essentially, this is a defense of the Web 2.0 mindset and the nascent Web 3.0 that has yet to take any firm shape. What the Web 2.o mindset brings to the interweb is self-sustainment; user-generated content becomes the primary content on the web as does the management of that content. Blogs, social networking sites, microblogs, tagging (whether of online content or of physical space as Google Maps has taken to doing) and the rise of tag clouds all point to an interwibble that further blurs the line between online and offline.
There's a part of William Gibson's latest book Spook Country where the main character is taken into a house and told to don a VR headset. What she sees is a room filled with tags attached to every object and even the space of the room itself. While I don't think the VR goggles are quite practical, I do think the idea of spatial tagging is the culmination of four centuries of philosophical efforts to determine meaning and reference. It does so by radically redefining meaning as being exclusively perceptual. It also confirms Wittgenstein's theory on meaning-as-use as spatial tagging will lead to a spatial tag cloud where the most common meanings of an object will rise to the surface without sacraficing the lesser known meanings.
Blogs and microblogs function in a similar way as individual perspectives are both maintained and then joined by tags and tag clouds that expose mass consensus. Microblogs in particular are one of the most contextual forms of communication yet devised. They can be so contextual that inversely they become completely context-free. Such a paradoxical event is evidence of a new way of thinking scratching at the edges of our minds. Those who wish to avoid it would do well to stay off the intertubes permanently.
Tags and tag clouds are the best means at the moment to manage this deluge of opinions, notes and information. Bloggers that provide tags for each of their posts give their readers a sort of index by which they can search for posts more to the reader's liking. Readers can also add tags to a particular blog through sites like Technorati and Digg, thus taking the information management partially out of the hands of the individual. The tag cloud is perhaps the most critical of information management systems as it is entirely user-run. By placing the definition of online content in the hands of users it allows other users to add to, subtract from or simple learn by looking at the cloud.
What Web 2.0 provides is a self-generating, self-regulating internet. Rather than leave it in the hands of so-called experts, it allows the users, those who are there on the ground, to define and catalog what they see. By doing so, the users make the internet more useful as a tool to perceive the world all while redefining that world. Such paradoxical results are the most exciting part of the Web 2.0 shift and only portend the revolution coming.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tagging Your Laptop

Dell Goes Urban With Mike Ming's Art House Laptops - Jason Chen @ Gizmodo

Yes, it's a gimmick by a multinational corporation, but it's in response to a gimmick by another multinational corporation so it's a wash. Still, I like the cyberpunk styling of the Dell covers far more than the ultra-thin Apple laptop. It's far more personalized than the impersonal nature of Apple designs. More importantly, it puts a graffiti artist's work out in the mainstream. Perhaps it might even inspire other people to try their hand at the art form.

Dance Practice as Fashion

Urban Elf Clothes--Elfenkleid - Trend Hunter

Okay, I'm sorry, but taking a standard theater actor's or dancer's wardrobe and calling 'elf fashion' is just plain fraud. It's as if some designer is sitting behind their sewing machine, twisting their mustache, and thinking How can I make something so simple and already available but call it a different name and make millions? I swear to god, if I see someone coming down the street dressed like this and they aren't going to dance practice I'll cut their Achillies tendons, the both of them. Let's see them pretend to be a dancer then, eh? Slovenly design does not get points in my book.

The Catacombs of Paris

Photos from the Paris Catacombs - David Pescovitz @ BoingBoing

The eerie beauty of the Paris Catacombs is hard to describe. It's the primary reason why large corporate buildings are relegated to the outskirts of the city, as the catacombs are so vast and have weakened the ground above so much that they can't support those kinds of structures. Personally, I think it's a place fertile with stories, much as the underground in London lead to one of Niel Gaiman's first books Neverwhere. This picture, provided by the National Geographic, is only a small reminder of the wonder and history that lie beneath the streets of Paris.

Monday, May 05, 2008

New Model Army

One of the strangest experiences one can have in the 21st century is to talk to someone who distinctly hates the Internet. I've just had that experience and still stand amazed. They speak of implementing subversive anti-cultural actions and yet hate the Internet. They have a DIY modeling site and yet hate the Internet. And they have a MySpace page yet still hate the Internet. I'm genuinely confused.
It's not that in this day and age everyone should use the intertubes. It's not that there's some cultural stigma for being interweb unfriendly. It's that properly subversive action must use disruptive technologies. I'm not here to defend the internet as it is commonly used. I'm here to state unequivocally that the internet is a massively disruptive technology whose true impact has yet come. Politicians from Howard Dean to Sen. Obama have shown us that the internet can bring about true public financing of political campaigns. Banksy and other artists have shown us how memes can spread in viral campaigns. Writers from William Gibson to Warren Ellis have shown us worlds where your internet persona is as real as your physical one.
The disruptive nature of the internet has been discussed well before the internet was about. Hyperrealism and the discussions of spatial relations during the 1950s and 60s argued that we are creating simulated realities built around ideologies of how space is managed and consumed. Supermodernism has taken this discussion even further by detailing how international architecture has shifted to the recreation of other, authentic spaces and the reproduction of the same spaces everywhere we go. The business man who flies from London to Hong Kong will find the same airline food, the same news kiosks in the airports, the same hotels and even the same landmarks. We travel through spaces but no longer create spaces to linger at.
The point is that simulated realities have already been predicted, have already arrived and have already ingrained themselves into our everyday lives. That the internet makes such simulations obvious does nothing to negate the fakery of reality as it is right now. We do not live in the real world. We live in a world whose meaning and shape is determined by the ideologies that inform our perceptions. Soon the division between our physical persona and our online persona will merge and already has for some people.
More than that though, rejection of mainstream culture does not free you from the shackles of modern ideologies. Modernism, postmodernism and supermodernism each show how tied we are to our perceptions and in turn how our perceptions are tied to how we define our world. The problem is, even if we attempt to radically redefine how we perceive and move through reality we are still trapped within the confines of a genre, subculture or some other form of ideology that stems from the original trunk of culture. Moreover, consumerism has already placed itself ahead of such thinking and caters to the desires of even the most radical of subcultures.
You cannot escape culture and ideology. The human mind is not capable of creating a new culture and ideology in a vaccuum. It will always draw from existing culture. Even the most schzophrenic patients have a framework of perceptions limited by exisitng culture. It's as Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus, that which exists outside of this universe might as well not exist at all because we cannot step outside of this universe. No radical break in culture has ever occurred, only radical disruptions.
The internet is a radical disruption. But like most radical disruptions that have come before, its full impact is not felt for decades after the event. The most radcial of disruptions in history all relate to the speed of informaiton. When information makes a dramatic jump in speed the culture around it typcially undergoes a dramatic jump as well. Unlike information though, you cannot expect millions or billions of people to make that jump at the same speed. It must happen generationally as perceptions and ideology shift to catch up.
The last such jump in informational speed happened during the middle of the 19th century. What came out of that was a quickening of technology and a coalescence of the masses that produced virulant nationalism and a contradictory desire to reproduce a 'purer' past of the nation. Two world wars and the desolation of an entire race of people later we finally caught up to the speed that information was traveling at. Now the internet has come and its jump in speed will require an even more radical shift in perception and ideology.
For this person who hates the internet, I'm sorry to say that the perceptual shift will leave them behind. They will be like the scientist still looking for the æther well after Bohr, Maxwell, and Einstein have come and gone. In essence, they will become an outlier, a space far removed from any nodal point. Their defense that they would rather live in the real world is pointless in the face of the cultural shift. They never were in the real world to begin with. I don't consider this person stupid though. Just someone trying to stake out a cultural position that cannot hold.

Constant Change

The Meaning of Obama - Andrew Sullivan
What The Old Farts Don't Get - Andrew Sullivan

I think I would have to side with the Gen-Yer who says that opting out of politics if Sen. Obama doesn't get the nomination is the smart thing to do. I say that because the kind of politics in practice now cannot sustain itself without a new generation to carry things on. If my generation simply says no to that then the older generations will either have to change or suffer a long and agonizing death. To opt out now is not to opt out permanently. To opt out now is to say that I am not willing to participate in a politics that does nothing but destroy. It is to say an eternal No in the Nietzschean sense.
The thing is, now that Sen. Obama has energized the younger generation of voters by appealing to the best in them, that's what they will begin to expect from their politicians. And when those politicans inevitably fail, these younger generations will look for solutions elsewhere. If conservativism was ever to see the rise of a self-sustaining, non-government oriented generation of voters then this is the time. It all depends on if the old politics prevails over the new politics. You'll have a few generations of voters who are pissed and willing to do something about it. We are willing to act, in other words. Whether it's protesting (and I mean real protest, not culturally-accepted protest), organizing new parties or proffering their own candidates of change, these new generations will prevail because time favors us for the moment. The boomers are a dying breed and so is their politics. Unless the boomers accept the inevitability of change then they lessen their voice in the future until they become silent in the face of our generations. And the same will happen to us with time. It's just the way things work is all.

Banging That Same Drum

Street Justice for You and Me - Spencer Ackerman

It seems like every few months or so we get another reminder of the Kafka-like experience of Gitmo. But it's worth reminding people that such an institution still exists, along with the mindset that created it in the first place. Ackerman sums up the problem of Guantanamo Bay and why it still matters:
You would have to be a fool to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt. And you
shouldn’t have to. That’s the point of a justice system — to establish guilt and to vindicate
innocence. Instead we have Guantanamo justice, under which the basic facts of not a single
dispute can be demonstrated compellingly."
It's the issue of innocent until proved guilty that makes Gitmo such a blight on our world image. We have a judicial system, as imperfect as it is, that is intended to deal with these kinds of matters but the Bush administration refuses to use it for those detained at Guantanamo. If, instead, we put these detainees through the judicial system and see how it all shakes out then we can regain some of our moral standing in the world's eyes. And when you are fighting an enemy that can run to any country in the world you need that kind of moral standing to negotiate, pressure and even run military operations in nations that harbor terror suspects.
So until places like Guantanamo are closed and the attitude of indefintely holding suspects without charges is ended, it is worth it to sound like a broken record on the issue. The nation needs that constant reminder or else it disappears from the front pages and even from the news entirely.

More Nazi Analogies

Ben Stein: "science leads you to killing people" - Mark Frauenfelder @ BoingBoing

The stupidity of such statements coming from the likes of Ben Stein is actually staggering. Stein should know better that what the Nazis proffered as science was nothing more than ideology parading as science. But since that is what Stein himself is doing, he can't acknowledge that. Accusing science as leading purely to mass murder is only part of the flimsy argument Stein makes, not to mention the violation of the ancillaries to Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies. Stein consistently shows a misunderstanding of the nature of science (or even what counts as science) all while making a critical strategic error in thinking that by trying to disprove the theories of science he will somehow prove the theories of Intelligent Design. I think it was Richard Feynman who said it best that the only sure way of defeating a theory (or ideology) is to supersede it--to make the theory obsolete by arriving at a better theory that either explains more or does so in a less complicated way or both. But this would require Stein to have a grasp on what science is without letting ideology rule. It's sad to witness the fall of a man of intelligence like Stein. He once had the hard-won respect of my generation and now he has shattered that respect by siding with those who dress up ideology as science.


Merging Fashion and Technology--Vogue: "Let's Get Digital" - Trend Hunter

So this is the post that broke the proverbial camel's back. Of course the people who know me and who I talk to regularly didn't have a problem with me sending it to them. They expect it. We trade links all the time because not all of us regularly read the same blogs. When something of interest comes up I snap off a note to a friend who I think will like it. Sometimes I'll send several posts to one person in a day and sometimes a few days will pass between sharing links. It's just the nature of the world wide wibble.
I probably should have expected a new person to the link club to find my actions strange or overwhelming. But I didn't expect that person to verbally clock me one. That's just frustrating and annoying. It's like trying to help an old lady across the street and then getting beaten with her purse.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Chelsea's Generational Problem

Too Solemn for Her Generation? - Ian Shapira, Washington Post

I have to say, I never felt that Chelsea Clinton was part of my generation. She's only a year older than me, but even so, I think of her as this uber-privileged kid. She's the student who organized the bake-sales for women's shelters, the car-wash for the youth center and spent three summers overseas in various Third World countries 'doing good work'. She'd have a whole cadre of people who hung on her every word and action. And the rest of the student body would have hated her, not because of her work, but because she's using her privilege to advance only her interests. She's boring and while she may have a strong grasp of all the details of policy, she has no head for theory, or rather, she can't see the forest for the trees.
My generation is politically active in a way the previous generations were not. Now with that banal observation out of the way, I can say that Chelsea acts as if she's from the previous generation, from the earliest of the Gen-Xer's or the last of the baby boomers. She Cares Deeply about Important Things and does Good Work, but what the hell does that mean? More importantly, so what? Chelsea comes from a mindset that still believes in American exceptionalism, that merely by being there we can turn things around for a foreign nation. Perhaps it's the cynic in me but sadly, I don't believe in such nonsense.
Contrast Chelsea's experience with that of Sen. Obama's during his time as a community organizer. Yes, the critics will say Sen. Obama was jockeying for a political position and perhaps there is some truth to that, but so what? At least he was consistently on the streets and doing what he could for communities hit upon hard times. It wasn't glamorous or lucrative and it's a difficult path to take to political office. Chelsea, on the other hand, hasn't had to fight for anything in her life. She hasn't had to prove herself and while her support for her mother appears genuine it leaves someone like me feels as if she hasn't shaken off the belief that whatever her parents to must, by virtue, be good. Of course, the rest of my generation has shaken off this belief.
And perhaps that's the key to why Chelsea doesn't appeal to me as a surrogate for her mother. She is a goody-goody as Shapria argues; a goody-goody like a twelve-year-old is, not like someone in their late twenties. And all the talk of how well-spoken she it and how respectful she is only serves to reinforce that image in my mind. I look upon a world beset by problems on all sides and see the complexities in attempting to solve even one of those problems. Not to say that I believe we can't do great good, but I don't believe, as it appears Chelsea does, that our parents can wave a magic wand and everything becomes better. Someone who looks to their parents and atill believes that they can fix all the problems in the world is someone I can't trust because that simply isn't true, even if your parents are a powerful political family.
Chelsea's disconnect from my generation stems from this absolute faith in the abilities of her mother. It's sincere but it's not honest. Again, contrasted against Sen. Obama and his wife and all the negative questions both of them have negotiated to the taboo of asking Chelsea anything too serious and again you see a sheltered twelve-year-old. If Chelsea can't stand on her own and face real political fire then she isn't a trustworthy surrogate but merely a mouthpiece. I, for one, have had enough of mouthpieces.