Right, here’s what I wanted to say when I posted those pictures of those charming gentlemen in the park: while I was there I spent a lot of effort getting through 40ish pages of a rather charming book. I kept sort of uncosciously getting up and trying to go home to “do something,” and then realizing that I fucking well was doing something and I should sit in the park and do it.
I’ve spent the last 6 years or so kind of aggressively on the make, and while ther are a lot of things that on the surface it seems like I have to show for it, I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot better off if I had been a bit more relaxed. I’ve wasted a
lot of creative energy on work and industry-related stuff when I should have done the obvious thing and put the creative energy to use elsewhere.
I’m not totally clear on what to do about this. I still want, eventually, to finish Markov Garden. I even managed to give my efforts a little bump last night by swtiching out the serialization format and saving some space (not enough space, but some). But this feels so much like something that represents being on the make, and I’m tired of being that way.
I’ve been reading this (in a previous edition), and sort of thinking about the idea of some kind of manifesto to more or less determine the putative focus of my actions. I guess my manifesto is that I’m opposed to bad metaphors. That’s a little overwhelming, unfortunately. Scoped so poorly that it’s basically a bad metaphor of its own.
So while this was always already intended as a blog post, I’m actually writing it on an honest-to-got note pad in Laurelhurst Park, which I only discovered recently because I was meeting my sister at Side Street and the 15 was running wonky. Let this be your notice that this oversight has gotten you fucking fired.
At any rate, writing things on paper. I went back to writing my diary in, well, a diary a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t doing very well with it. I recently started regimenting my morning a bit more, however, and I think that things are going to improve.
About that regimentation: initially, feeding the cat was the first thing I did after getting out of bed, but that turned out to be a huge mistake. He started trying to get me up earlier and earlier by jumping on my chest and biting my face. This was corrected by moving his feeding time back a bit, after I’d done some dottering. Shocking how something so devious can be so credulous about some things.
I decided to write in this fashion to get around a real lack of thinking that I’ve been doing lately, which is in dramatic need of correction. Well, not lack of thinking, of course, but maybe lack of correct thinking. I’ve been involved in some sort of plumpe denken, which has been taking a severe toll.
Now, I have been fixing things around the house (at least part way) and writing a new SDK for Temboo, so it’s not like I’m in a coma or something. The pattern is more like after I’m done with that stuff I don’t have an internal life. Instead, I have a bunch of niggling worries, a melodramatic awareness of my backlog of concerns, and then a bunch of self-deprecating. . . I don’t know, things.
So naturally this creates a bit of a death-spiral. I’m trying to combat it by just keeping closer tabs on the tiny details in the tick-mark on a list sort of way, and the aforementioned aggressive regimentation.
And then this, of course. Having a big stretch of empty space here means that I’ve been trying to write about things and then getting caught up in some manner of detail or another and then whatever I was thinking about has slipped too far from me, and it’s just another loss. That sort of builds up until all you can do is push out some maudlin business about how much work everything is. Bogus.
Okay, hopefully that is all over and we can get back to metaphors, which is all I really care about any more (and may, considered carefully, be the only thing about which I’ve ever cared.)
P.S.: Did you want everyone you’ve ever met to know that you’re a colossal asshole? Someone has sorted that right out for you.
I had too much hair, it was keeping my up at night.
So I cut some of it off.
Later I got dressed. This is the latest in an ongoing series called “Joaquin looks like either a settler or a skinhead, depending on when he shaved last.”
So vanity, but also change. I’ve really kind of gotten into a rut in terms of my relationship with time, and I’m looking for excuses to kind of jar myself into shape. Aside from Temboo and yard-work I’m so scattered that I’m better off avoiding doing anything, rather than starting it and then forking off onto some other activity (which form Markov Garden inevitably means stupid distraction-oriented internet use.) I need to figure out some way to make myself feel more monastic. If only I had a bell!
Eventually, things change.
I’ve been at Temboo for over 5 years now. I have had a lot phases over the course of them. Sometimes things were good, and sometimes they were very, very bad. I almost left last week, but was convinced to stay by a gradual shift in my role. Basically I’m going to stop breaking things and start making them.
In my recent post about Temboo’s recent all-hands I mentioned that this was a direction that I needed to go in. At that point it seemed like that was going to mean Markov Garden, and whatever projects with which I decided to follow it up. What’s different about doing programming at work as well is that my mind is already going to be engaged that way. Programming is something where you need not only knowledge, but mindset. It’s a lot easier to write code today if you were doing it yesterday. This will be a good facilitator.
Another good thing that this means for Markov Garden is that I don’t have to feel like it’s a portfolio project. While I don’t think that I found that aspect of it particularly onerous, I’m interested to see what it will feel like to come back to it as just an example of personal expression.
At any rate, that’s what’s going on. It’s pretty crazy, really.
So one of the things that I’ve been working on lately is trying to avoid information overload while still allowing myself the opportunity to discover new things. Part of this process involved spending a couple of hours mapping out a substantial cross-section of the ways in which I send, receive, and store data using the internet. Looking at the visual representation, C said she felt stressed out by the number of things with which I interacted regularly and wondered why.
I said, and continue to believe, that it was because it was a comprehensible representation of the scope of the web. The complexity of my process scaled out to encompass a huge group of people gives a sense of the irreducible complexity, but not one so overwhelming that the mind simply doesn’t acknowledge it.
At this point it’s a Barthean “punctum,” placing it only barely on this side of trauma. On the face of I it, it’s easy to find this a bit overwrought, but I think it bears scrutiny. If you think about, people have always tended to avoid acknowledging the degree to which the world scales beyond them, and the world has never been so far beyond the average person as it is now, but I’m getting ahead of myself (I mean, it is the future.)
In a related development, your uncle Bruce wrote an article for Wired (a magazine that I would love to hate, but the degraded state of our discourse means it’s pretty damn good) about this newfangled “New Aesthetic.” Now I probably should have had more of an idea about this whole phenomenon, but for some reason the package as such was new to me, although I have long been familiar with the products from every day life.
Sterling starts with some effusive praise, and then gets down to the business of complaining. His objections are sound, but I think that there are two things that he says and then doesn’t combine which constitutes a significant oversight. The first observation is that many of the networks that NA celebrates are overtly hostile. No amount of charming glitches, for example, make a police surveillance network like London’s anything other than overt fascism. A lot of negative things that should be called out are instead played down.
The second is that the “8-bit” aspect of NA is complete fucking bullshit, and while he recognizes that, his analysis of it is where things go a bit wrong. Here’s what he says about them:
Finally, retro ’80s graphics are sentimental fluff for modern adults who grew up in front of 1980s game-console machines. Eight-bit graphics are pretty easy to carve out of styrofoam. There’s a low barrier-to-entry in making sculpture from 8-bit, so that you can “rupture the interface between the digital and the physical.” However 8-bit sculptures are a cute, backward-looking rupture.
This makes the whole pixelizing the external world thing seem like something that can be trimmed off, but the pixelization is actually an integral part of the process whereby people allow themselves to ignore the dangers of things like surveillance networks by making them cute. It’s a metaphor that allows someone to form an idea about how a network interacts with the world without being overwhelmed by the experience. Unfortunately, deployment of this metaphor doesn’t just ignore the unpleasant aspects of the things under observation, it actively confuses the viewer. The fact is, we’re already past the pixel-era. The eyes of the network are getting more acute all the time, and the charming pixel metaphor is a willful blindness to that, and a rush to repression.
I kind of want to talk more about this, including the fact that all human error is attributable to inappropriate metaphors, so stay tuned.
So I was in New York last week, visiting the mothership and catching up with all and sundry. Because I hadn’t seen most of these people in at least two years, there was a lot of talking about what everyone was doing. Because I was fairly relaxed (for me) and enjoying myself (again. . .), I think that it’s worth putting stock in the themes that tended to come out in these processes.
Arguably the single most noticeable thing about all these catch-up sessions is that everyone wanted to be reassured that things were good w/ Carolyn. Now in most cases this is attributable to people liking her, but in one or two key instances it was clearly the result of thinking that we are a good combination based on a deep understanding of at least me. That’s pretty cool, and it’s a nice thing to be able to take away from the experience.
There was a lot of ribbing, mostly but not exclusively around the office, about me wanting to move back to New York. Not to throw my hat too far into the ring of the world’s smuggest man competition, but a fair amount of this was wishful thinking. As I said, I enjoyed the visit immensely, but I haven’t forgotten how burnt out I was on soulless yuppie swine when I moved here back in 2008. Properly filtered, the story here is that I am indeed eager for some sort of change of place. The specifics have yet to be worked out (and lord knows there’s plenty of time to think about it), but C and I are looking, in the somewhat distant future, to live elsewhere.
As for me by myself, I spent a lot of time telling people that things were okay, but that I felt like I needed to be working on being the kind of person that makes things. I think this is kind of a big deal, and I’m definitely going to be focusing on it more. In a way, writing a paper is sort of like a very small project, so I guess it stands to reason that I miss doing something that I did constantly at a time that I consider to have been pretty fruitful. Of course, things can run away from you. Markov Garden has been confusing and big in a lot of ways that I didn’t expect, but I think that publishing it will be a major coup that I really need to be looking forward to. And beyond.
At the all-hands, we spent a lot of time talking about connecting people from information and then I, during a brainstorming session about applications, said something to the effect of “Wait, what about filtering?” People sort of paused and scratched their chins, but we didn’t focus on it at all. It isn’t a thing yet. It will be, but for now people are racing ahead to get their faces in front of the fire hose.
I was reminded of this because C sent me a Pinterest invite last night, and for some reason ye olde Booke of the Fayce required me to upgrade to timeline view to blah blah blah and. . . I have to say that the effect is pretty ridiculous. Pinterest is also kind of nuts. It’s front page is just a massive grid of uneven rectangles full of pictures. Also, when you click on one there is no obvious control to go back to the home page. Presumably this is a way to encourage people to do some interacting with something they may have been merely curious about. Not a decision I would have made.
At any rate, not to bag on any particular site/company/whatever, because really the problem is with the zeitgeist. People want shit like that. People want all their email in one massive bucket that they can search using tags. To me that’s totally nuts. I kind of think that containing structures help create a flow that makes things useful. Of course, that can be limit your access to things outside of your extant experience (in fact, I’d say that part of the reason I thought being on Pinterest was a good idea was to encourage myself to look outside my extant structure), but everyone seems to be about searching, and nobody is about sorting. Yet.
I meant to put this picture of Portland institution Beulahland in the previous post.
I’m pretty sure that I’m well enough for Kung Fu tonight, so maybe that will help me get past this overwhelming sense of ennui. The Sifu just got back from Thailand recently, so maybe we’ll just drill. That would probably the best possible thing for me. Nothing quite like kicking for overwhelming ennui, right?
Markov Garden is a little behind. I’m looking through it to find places where I can get it to tell me about itself. The tables mentioned here are a good start, but they’re still pretty overwhelming, and the HTML documents build to display them are literally 50 times the size of the input texts. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker (the tables won’t be part of the published project), but it does mean that figuring out where I can make things more accessible requires a lot of thinking.
Periodically I need to remind myself that this is something that I’m doing in addition to my job/other life concerns/etc. I have been prone to despairing about the fact that I haven’t published the damn thing already, which is clearly about as counterproductive as a thought can be. Here’s the resolution: I’m going to work on it tonight after class, and then after that I’m going to use the parser as-is, regardless of its state, and work on putting some of it up on EC2. Even if things are still a wreck, shifting gears should keep me facile in a way that will make an eventual breakthrough easier than focusing too hard on one thing.
So one of the marvelous things about Portland is that it is full of mini-neighborhoods which invite exploration and provide another facet to the city experience. The bad thing about this is that it’s hard to figure out what they mean for the city in aggregate. I’ve been here for something like a bajillion years now, and I still can’t decide if I like it or not. I suppose that’s pretty damning on the face of it, but I keep finding myself places that I really like, so I don’t want to just condemn the whole business out of hand.
Even my immediate surroundings can be surprising sometimes, although I find them limited in scope. This might be the main problem. While the cafes and bars are nice, nothing about the environment is particularly inspiring. Besides the accidental glory of the inner East Side, Portland is architecturally empty to me. Of course, it’s full of stuff that’s exemplary in various ways, it’s just that those ways don’t amount to much for me. I really miss living in a more vertically-oriented town.
Being sick was pretty brutal. Not last Friday night, but the Friday night previous I had fever dreams which, as far as I can recall, were all about things being set in stone. I was sick and would be unable, at the key moment, to do something to prevent whatever now indelible change my damaged psyche had created as a metaphor for my sufferings. I guess it’s pretty clear what I’m most afraid of these days.
Walking around after I was nominally recovered (which we’re going to put around last Wednesday, although I am still legitimately ill) I felt like there was some clear correspondence between my surroundings and what had been in my head. Everything was chaotic. It creates a fever-like anamorphosis in which you can interact with something about the space (i.e.: you can manipulate the objects which make up the chaos), but there is no way to influence the space itself.
The clever will no doubt suggest that I consider cleaning, and, in the end I shall. Slowly, painstakingly and, like a suicide from another epoch, reminding myself of all of this buttoning and unbuttoning. Because that’s what makes the objects of the chaos accrete into something opaque: the fact that they’ll be back. There is nothing in particular about the state of those shelves that is particularly insane. I imagine everything there could have a reasonable home in something like 15 minutes. But then I’d use something and wonder if where I put it after I cleaned might not be the ideal spot and before I know it I may as well have done nothing at all, because the effort will appear to have been completely wasted.
I’ve always hated this, and I have spent most of my life as a messy person. Because I have had productive and non-productive phases while still being messy it hasn’t ever been something that I’ve thought of as a determining factor, but pathology is insidious like that. I think that my solution has been, as noted in the previous paragraph, to get sick of things and then arrange them and wait for entropy to begin the process again.
Despite how it appears on the face of it, there is more to this than laziness. In particular, there is the fact that I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person who embraces chaos fully. I have, at many times in my life, made reasonable showing at this by not having any options, but the fact is that I’m really kind of delicate at heart, so those times have tended to be pretty telling. Now I’ve worn myself down to the point where I’m wondering what sorts of structures I can set in place to slow the return of entropy. I guess this is the positive side of inertia. It’s actually kind of peaceful.
So since my recent reference to it, I have been hankering to reread “Motifs.” It’s true that I often find myself thinking this, but I often fail to get around to it, plus it’s a pretty rich vein, as evidenced by the fact that I came away with some new stuff this time around.
In the past I have tended to focus on the stuff that can be traced fairly explicitly to “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The consciousness divided between perceiving and obscuring, the shattered shield, that sort of thing. This time I was more caught up in the processes of retrieval and ritual. When I was at Hampshire I sort of dismissed Benjamin in favor of Adorno, and I think that even at NYU, where I (along with everyone else) really embraced Benjamin and sort of understood his cultural turn, stayed leery of the stuff that evoked the past too enthusiastically.
Now that I’m an old man I sort of see where some of what he was getting at has to do with the fact that it’s easier to create your own culture in rituals when you have fewer external factors to deal with. Feeling straitjacketed by circumstance, I wonder if there is some sort of madeleine that I might require as well. There’s something to understanding that there was a nature that one was invoking.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far along that path. Just as you’re about to to say “There did I live” about the “breakers, rolling the images of the sky” you get to the stuff about photography and remember that Benjamin was a sentimental Luddite. Still, it’s good to let yourself get to the pretty part and not focus too much on stuff like “Even though chronology places regularity above permanence, it cannot prevent heterogeneous, conspicuous fragments from remaining within it.”