My last post about H1N1 was perhaps a little alarmist (when is it not a world-threatening call for revolution with me, anyway?) so on the other hand, maybe I've had enough seriousness for the time being.
And after all, even in epoch of ever-increasing velocity, we are still hurrying up to wait. Is it a pandemic? Still, no one knows. So, in the meantime, it seems like a great opportunity to pause and tell stories, and maybe show each other our scars.
BLDGBLOG had what you might call an "outbreak" of thoughts regarding pandemics and architecture, disaster preparedness, paranoia, and modeling on his ever-fascinating blog. Since the news is all "viral", these days, and now I've got the Twitterized CDC turned up to blast on my own home page waiting for the new hot item, we are left with even more waiting time (can I "nudge" the CDC?) for which such pre-post disaster planning is perfect.
Diaster preparedness, especially with biological vectors, makes me nervous. I already said I don't trust FEMA at all because they are a politicized entity, unlike the CDC, which is largely run by scientists and doctors. But have you seen who CDC is following on Twitter? FEMA!
Besides FEMA's unique problems of mismanagement and bureaucratic horror, a seperate pandemic phenomenon from which we have yet to recover, it is hard to trust any government entity in times of bio/eco-systemic threat. The threat is so total, and control so difficult to maintain over something microscopic or molecular "terrorizing" our enviroment and our precious bodily fluids, that government tends to revert to what it does best--total control.
Remember: governments are forms of control, and while they are built with plenty of homages to individual rights (most of the time) this is like asking a hammer to only hammer nails. Sure, I'll only hit the nails! I'm a hammer, after all. But, I only know how to hammer, so could you please hold the nail in place for me? Thanks. WHACK! Hey, I was trying to hit the nail; why did you have your hand so close to it, anyway?
To prevent disease from spreading, you have to get pretty damn totalitarian about it. The government of Mexico is handing out face masks. What if they handed out head scarves? Or arm bands? Sure, they're surgical facemasks, because we are under the regime of medicine these days rather than religion (ask Canguilhem about it sometime), but after all, they can't actually stop a virus. They just make everyone remember hygeine, instituting a regime of hygeine, beginning with the face. Why not an arm band with a biohazard symbol? Or sew yellow biohazards to all of our clothes? After all, we are all hazardous to one another--and this is a National Emergency, with emphasis on the National.
BLDGBLOG suggests possible changes to architecture and design to minimize our exposure. In Oregon, it is law to have signs in restaurant bathrooms reminding employees to wash their hands. If you are sick, you are by law not allowed to come to work. Always remember--you are in a State of Health, as required by law. Designers, architects, writers--those who shape our world will be conscripted into working for the State of Health... after all, what side are you on?
There is the fear of the other, naturally--those undesirables who will be blamed for the outbreak. Too close to their animals, perhaps (if you know what we mean). Disgusting! But isn't the other really ourselves? We are all potential sources of infection. Perhaps we should be wearing rubber gloves when we use the restrooms, or sterilizing our bodies upon leaving or entering the house. Minimize contact with others, and with yourself. Touching is how you transmit microscopic death. Do not seek that little death, because the microscopic death will always undermine, infect, and soil the purity we hold so dear.
You are the contanimation to the National Health. Thankfully, Big Doctor is diagnosing you. (And Big Pharma is ready to dispense your medication).
Like I said, they are only doing what they can. At least in this scenario, I don't think we could blame the government for not doing enough. The only question will be if what they are doing has an effect.
But it is a bit eerie, isn't it? Quarantines, tissue samples, genetics, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. A biological, eco-systemic crisis kind of rolls all our distopian, totalitarian architypes into one big sterile, latex-wrapped fascisti of syringes, doesn't it? And we are all forced to play along, because, well, fuck--we don't want to get the bug.
The problem, it seems, is that the State is nothing at all like an organism, and unable to function like one. It's immune system is all a big metaphor. It only has soldiers to deploy in the streets, not doctors. It can't distribute T-cells to communities, but it can shut down the circulatory system. It can't practice good, natural hygeine, but it can purge its skin with powerful poisons, anti-biologic substances representing a vast anticathexis of self-system loathing as wide and bare as the entire epidermis. The State views it's membership, the human species, as bureaucratic taxonomy. Homo sapiens, the reasonable fellow. Surely we will understand while there are mandatory tests, martial law, and quarantines--for the General/Generic Good.
It's okay though, go ahead and swab me. I understand. I hate getting sick, too. I just wish we thought with a bit more species-mind sometimes. Like maybe we were all a giant working network of ecosystems, who could be smart enough to think for ourselves, rather than being told what to do. A little bit more about the goose and the gander, rather than the state and the nation. Until then--please @CDC, tell me what to do!
Ah well, nothing new really.
But I've developed my own outbreak preparedness kit. Looks a little something like this:
I think it's more effective than a mask.
Not to be alarmist, but even if you are not normally interested in these sorts of semi-apocalyptic world events, you may want to pay attention, at least until there is some real idea of how big this is going to spread. Unfortunately, because of the way rumors spread about these sorts of things, and the really, truly unbelievable USELESSNESS of the major media on this issue, we probably won't know what's really happening until its over, and by that time it will be too late for the people who will be the casualties.
The media is providing this, generally, as the story:
"Some people, we don't really know how many, are like, pig-sick, or something. California, Kansas, Texas, New York, Mexico. Maybe some other places? Some disease researcher types think it might be serious."
Twitter and Wikipedia, on the other hand, are much better, but still not the magic media bullet. @timoreilly passed on this Google map of current outbreaks. This is not really that informative, but contextualizes the current status well.
He also passed on this posting, by a former flu researcher, Terry Jones, that while not providing that much in the way of new, breaking information, cuts away A WHOLE LOT of the bullshit.
As far as the exact, current state of things, (not including the late-breaking news reports that are more "late" than anything else, not to mention conflictual) I've found the often-updating Wikipedia page about the current outbreak to be the best summation, because it lists all the info on one page, with sources.
Terry Jones is also Twittering at @terrycojones. The current Twitter tags for the epidemic seem to be #H1N1 (which in itself is much more factual information than any media report) and #swineflu.
Here are some of the most important facts about epidemics in general, pulled from Terry Jones' blog posting, which I feel deserve repeating:
"The current virus is already known to be resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine, though oseltamivir is still effective."
"If you ask virologists what the probability is that there will be another pandemic, they’ll tell you it’s 1.0. It’s just a matter of time until it happens. it’s like a non-zero probability state in a Markov process.When it does happen, what you do in the first phase is critically important."
"The current WHO standard influenza test kit is not very useful in identifying this strain. They have issued instructions warning against false negatives."
"The acting-director of the CDC has already said: “There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely.” That is a remarkably candid statement. I think it’s very clear that the cat is out of the bag. The question is how bad is it going to be. That’s impossible to tell right now, because we do not know what the virus will look like in the future, after it has had time to mutate and adapt inside humans.:
"The new virus has been popping up in various places in the US in the last days. I expect it will go global in the next couple of days, maximum."
"Instead of peaks in just the very young and the very old, there was a W shape, with a huge number of young and healthy people who would not normally die from influenza. There are various conjectures as to the cause of this. The current virus is also killing young and healthy adults."
"The social breakdown in a pandemic is extraordinary."
"History dictates that you should probably not believe anything any politician says about pandemic influenza. There has been a strong tendency to downplay risks. All sorts of factors are at work in communicating with the public. You can be sure that everything officially said by the WHO or CDC has been very carefully vetted and considered. There’s no particular reason to believe anything else you hear, either :-)" [emphasis mine]
"In conclusion, I’d say that the thing is largely out of our hands for the time being. We’re going to have to wait and see what happens, and make our best guesses along the way."
Facemasks don't prevent viruses. But, they do prevent spittle, fluids, and that sort of thing, which transmit viruses.
While I implicitly do not trust governments or leaders, I do trust the CDC and the WHO. They are run by scientists, by and large. If the CDC or the WHO approves a vaccine or a certain procedure, I would take it/follow it. I've done a little bit of reading about the spread of outbreaks, and it is most often that one person who slips past quarantine spreads the virus to a new location. You may hate needles, or believe some conspiracy about vaccines, but in taking the risk upon yourself by refusing treatment, you are putting the entire population you may contact at risk. Sorry--I know, but its how biology works. Put the species before yourself, this one time.
However, that being said, I do not trust FEMA in the slightest. Not that we are at that point--but just to juxtapose, while CDC is run by scientists and doctors, FEMA is run by politicians and Blackwater types, who would totally doom a portion (especially an "undesirable" portion) of the population to save themselves. Or at least, they would have their heads so far up their gold-bricking grafting asses as to not know hand sanitizer from napalm. I don't know how much has changed since the previous administration, but if that agency is anything like what it was in 2005-7, I would dodge those criminals. CDC are the folks who are going to save our asses, whereas FEMA are the ones hoarding virgins in the Dr. Strangelove mine-shaft bunkers. The really sad part about some conspiracy theories is that some are true. Remember I said that.
Okay--enough scaremongering for now. Really though: just pay attention, listen up, and don't believe rumors unless you get the facts from someone trustworthy. In lieu of that, cover your mouth, and wash your damn hands.
The brainchild of American publisher Jason Epstein, the Espresso was a star attraction at the London Book Fair this week, where it was on display to interested publishers. Hordes were present to watch it click and whirr into action, printing over 100 pages a minute, clamping them into place, then binding, guillotining and spitting out the (warm as toast) finished article. The quality of the paperback was beyond dispute: the text clear, unsmudged and justified, the paper thick, the jacket smart, if initially a little tacky to the touch.
Described as an "ATM for books" by its US proprietor On Demand Books, Espresso machines have already been established in the US, Canada and Australia, and in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, but the Charing Cross Road machine is the first to be set up in a UK bookstore. It cost Blackwell some $175,000, but the bookseller believes it will make this back in a year. "I do think this is going to change the book business," said Phill Jamieson, Blackwell head of marketing. "It has the potential to be the biggest change since Gutenberg and we certainly hope it will be. And it's not just for us – it gives the ability to small independent bookshops to compete with anybody."[/snip]
Says $175,000... I know large, top of the line digital presses are somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000-20,000 depending on finishing options. This machine is, in essence, ALL the finishing options. That price is before per-impression costs, service, and in the case of marketed books, the associated fees.
Still, introduction is the first step to acceptance, and lowering prices. In the end, localizing production lowers costs as well. And hell, I'd pay a premium to avoid the dreaded Amazon.
I love this sort of stuff (even when it doesn't involve shadowy Internet well-knowns). Literature is archaeology, man. And it's like we're digging through a city (well, maybe a hamlet) wiped clean by the sandstorms only a month ago. Is that a toothbrush? Maybe it's a shamanic scepter! Nah, maybe just a toothbrush.
But as our French Philosopher Phriends would remind us, the archaeology of truth is the sandstorm itself. None of this theology of the book! It's the Internet, after all. We all love the fact that it's okay that we make it up as we go along.
I'm pretty good at the making stuff up part. I have a degree in philosophy. The rule of philosophical scholarship is that you can make a dead guy say anything you want--you just have to manipulate the puppet strings. These puppet strings can be quotes taken almost of of context, the abstracts of papers somebody else wrote about someone else, or if you're of Zizek-stature (or first-year undergraduate) the mere name-drop may suffice.
Unfortunately, I also have these interests in stuff. Stuff makes me think. This means I can't quarantine my bullshit into academic papers alone--unfortunately for me, these reinterpretations, quotations, appropriations, and exhaltations are constantly circulating in my head, driving me slowly, but surely, to a state of being entirely boring. Unfortunately for you, I have a blog, which you seem to be reading. Hmm. I wonder what will happen next...
So, let's play the game.
WHAT DID BRUCE STERLING REALLY MEAN WHEN HE SAID THOSE THINGS?
What did he say anyway? Well, no one really knows for sure (this is going to be so easy).
Always start with the text.
"The clearest symbol of poverty is dependence on ‘connections’ like the Internet, Skype and texting. ‘Poor folk love their cellphones!’ (Sterling) said.”
"connectivity will be an indicator of poverty rather than an indicator of wealth," (note taken by Rohde).
The internet is poverty? Cellphones are poverty? What is he saying? These things GO AGAINST EVERYTHING MY INTERNET MARKETER TOLD ME!!!
Here is some actual Sterling text. From his short story (architectural fiction, no less) "White Fungus":
"Cell phones are the emblems of poverty."
Interesting enough. Would probably make some liberal cell phone users nervous.
But look at this--"symbol of poverty", "indicator of poverty", "emblem of poverty". Are we noticing a trend here? Call the semioticians!
Also of note: the quote from "White Fungus" is placed, in its original context, with the phrase "computers are not sources of wealth."
So what do we have here? We have wealth and poverty opposed. We have "source" as a flow of wealth, whatever wealth might be. We have "connectivity" as a given, of some sort. We have poor people with cell phones. And we have symbols, emblems, and indicators.
Wealth and poverty, the meaning of which these statements seem to circulate, have different applications. They are material concepts, but social as well. Generally involving value, the value may flucuate. Are we talking about social value? Are we talking about material value? Or are we talking about material value derived from social value? Or the other way around? What sort of poverty do cell-phones represent, and of what sort of wealth are computers not the source? Who is poor, and who is rich as a result?
The Twitter-phobic Internet folk have interpreted the point as purely social in message, and therefore at root, idealistic. We spend a lot of time on our cell phones, and therefore the precious, bourgeois "free-time" in which we would otherwise pursue such worthwhile, humanistic goals such as good, honest fire-side conversation, staring whistfully at clouds, and playing polo, suffers as result. It is an ironic musing worthy of a minor scenario of the Odyssey: through our frantic attempts at universal communication, a female cell-phone beast eats our ears, eyes, and mouth. Odysseus sails away on a plank, born on the gentle breeze of Athena's brain waves, thankful he never signed up for the cursed free internet-service.
If anybody is losing anything of value, it's happening materially. Material, of course, extends into the consciousnesses and compound consciousnesses of people, in less than solid, i.e. symbolic forms. But just because we assume a loss of something that never existed, like "true, meaningful conversation", does not mean we can declare a robber. Because somebody kicked over your invisible dandelion wine is not a cause for blows. If you're not talking to other human beings in a meaningful way, that's your problem, buddy.
We've written up the Internet to be some grand form of communication. It certainly is a form of communication (by way of good old fashioned reading and writing) but how grand is it? Those singularity morons aside, what exactly do we expect from the Internet, and how has it either surpassed or fallen short of our goals? These sorts of material questions deserve attention. So put down that pen and paper, junior Thoreau. Turn up your headphones, and let's dance.
Communication, as a flow of symbols throughout our conscious perceptions of the world, are not strictly the material facts of life, but they are the way we understand them, as the capacities of our sentience dictates. In addition to providing a smooth flow of sensation in the way we would hope between the ideally closed confines of our mind and the cold, cold world, they also get a bit tangled in the intermedium, the interpretive membrane of flesh. Is what you feel what's really there? Is what's there what you really feel? How sure are you that you feel what you feel? In these tossing seas, in which there is no Ithika, there is as much agonism between every drop of water as there is undifferentiatedness in the silence of drowning. Don't worry, we're pretty good swimmers. And maybe the gods do exist; you never know.
So we can worry about the hubris of the "real world" at the same time as we kick and thrash in the liquid of our minds. But you best not forget strictly material world--or else you will find yourself floating face down. The interfaces between the worlds of consciousness and the hard rock that may in fact be out there is important, but only important when we have a bit of each in both hands. Think about the world, but also world about the think. Right? Right?
In other words, cell phones: what do they do for us, and how do they work? What they do for us only goes so far as we know how they do it. Otherwise we're just plugged into our own sensory feedback loop. There are clear benefits of communication that don't require a list. But how do they work?
Poorly. And I'm not just talking about signal strength. Look at the material models for our high-tech communication networks. It's full of "pay as you go" reverse indentured servitude, credit/fee contract scams, and monopolies. I pay over a hundred dollars in "connection fees" per month to stay networked in the way I find useful. WTF? That's more than my car insurance. I could set up my own telegraph station a hundred years ago for less, probably. What future is this?
Not to speak of the hardware itself. Dropped calls, bad operating systems, bricked phones on their way to the e-waste fields of China. App stores? Fart programs? Are we serious?
Materially, (in the strict sense), we are all slaves. When I build a transistor radio set, perhaps I'm connected. But with a cell phone, I've mortgaged my flow of information.
This is the ongoing rebuilding of the credit economy. Housing collapsed--wait for the information infrastructure. People can't pay their data bills, and drop off the network. The content begins to shrink. There is a rush to "flip" domain names, but nobody is reading anyway. Eventually, land lines shut down, or are taken over by the government because they the tubes are too big to fail. It's not dot-com VC sink holes, its the crash of information itself.
So in a class sense, we are the texting, twittering, blogging poor, the proceeds of ill-gotten AdSense all being eaten by the Company to pay for our web hosting fees. If you advertise, you are basically sharecropping.
And I haven't even mentioned the fact that a cell phone will not make anything edible, does not cure a single disease, or reclaim a single molecule of CO2. All it does is call people! We'd be better off giving every person a good pocket knife than a RAZR.
Is ubiquitous connectivity useless then? A tool of the oppressing class to profit off our work, and nothing else? Should we burn the factories, and shove our clogs into Web 2.0?
Is there no benefit for the poor having cell phones? What about teenagers? I think it is safe to say there is a benefit. When I was trying to find an apartment and a job at the same time, with no mailing address or reliable internet connection, my cheap, free-with-contract cell phone was my only link to the material world. It was my access, and the only one I had--not to community or SMS, but to anything. Access is good--because then you can use it however you want and make it as utile as you wish, even if it is for mostly LOLing. In this world when few material things are concrete these days (think of rural Africa, where a cell phone connection is more likely than a water and sewage line) this shard of access is the only thing many can depend on--and we are rapidly re-organizing our material lives around this anchor. The problem is that we are kept poor by these anchors, because someone else is dolling out the rope.
The material use of a tool or object is a certain sort of value, and the control of that object, via less-material pathways such as "contracts", "property", and "debt" is another sort of value. I believe a bearded man other than myself wrote something about that once. Along with the rise of Access as a new axis in our material lives, other sorts of value appears, connected in different ways. There are various sorts of social value, with different amounts of relative worth.
For example, cell phones are status symbols, by which we judge relative wealth. Just like cars, before people decided they'd rather drive electric flat-screen TVs than new SUVs. The cell-phone is a commodity as well as a tool, and there are certain values of having a certain connectness; being able to say "you can always reach me on my blackberry" has a value in addition to anything that might be said in the email. And this is before you cover the damn thing in pink rhinestones.
But the act of communication, can be a commodity, as much as it is the use of a tool. Lots of people buy into the idea of communication more than they actually communicate. My Loyal Internet Marketers for one. (Yes, I have about twenty or so. They all follow me on Twitter. The best part is, they are just as useful whether I read them or not! And they are free! If one quits, s/he is replaced by two more!)
There is a certain idea of the Internet going around, one which you might be familiar with. It is a familiar story (though not perhaps as familiar as The Odyssey), and one much loved, especially in this country. It is a love story--Demos, our perennial hero, falls in love with Techne, and they decide to start a family. Because they believe their love is so perfect, they decide to adopt a child: Kratia. Kratia, unfortunately, is not a child, but a dark spirit from way back. Because of their love, Demos and Techne were blinded to the spells of Kratia, and did not see it in its true form. They thought, oh, its only a kid, give it a cell phone, and it will be fine. But then when the monthly bill came back...
We think that technology, somehow, is the final proof of democracy. We've merged our belief in the destiny of capitalism and freemarkets with our sleepy trust in democracy to maintain a fair balance of power. These two great tastes actually don't taste like anything together, but in fact continuing doing what they do best--democracy consolidates the power of the people into commodity leaders, away from the economy where it belongs; and technology continues to evolve like a tool, according to the actions of those who wield it.
As our economy gets more technologically rigorous, the powers that control the economy also control more technology. In the interest of maintaining this power, they use the tools they have at hand, lulling Demos to sleep with Techne's sweet songs.
Don't know those lullabys? Ever heard of American Idol? Vote early, vote often--the true democrat's popularity contest. How about the Obama SMS network? Feel connected? Feel like one of the people? Yes we can? How much do you get charged per text message?
The technology of the Internet has given democracy its return to populism, all right. You feel more like Demos when you're with Techne, don't you? You are so in love with her, you can't even remember who you were before. But don't blame Techne. She's under the spell too. It's the product of your love, that demon, bastard spawn that crawled off into the dark woods when you two were busy humming little love songs... Power... what gave birth to evil itself...
Anyway, that's enough with the stories. But wait, one more:
"The Internet — we used to call it a ‘commons’. Yet it was nothing like any earlier commons: in a true commons, people relate directly to one another, convivially, commensally. Whereas when they train themselves, alone, silently, on a screen, manifesting ideas and tools created and stored by others, they do not have to be social beings. They can owe the rest of the human race no bond of allegiance." - Sterling, in "White Fungus"
Did the true commons ever exist outside of the Arendtian notion of the agora, and those other high-minded Greeks and liberal humanists? Sure, we commune all the time. But humanity is not a commune--never was. There were always tools, people, and power. The relations shift around, but the players stay the same.
So what is worth? Where does the true value lie? Not in any particular person or tool, certainly. It's in the relationships between them. The pathways that guide certain people to use certain tools for certain goals. The path of a hammer to hit a nail; the text message to offer a friend a job; the processing of information to sort out a story--a story that might teach someone how to use a tool better. The objects, and even the people are mere symbols, emblems, and indicators of power and potential power. The symbols only have the value we give them, as we use them to mediate between ourselves and the world. Cellphones are emblems of our poverty. Computers don't make value (unless your desktop is at Moody's). And here we are, back in the beginning--people and symbols, symbols of people, people symbolizing tools, and tools symbolizing people.
Poverty--who is poor here? I suppose in the end, everyone with a cell-phone. They are the least common denomenator of Access these days. So we're all poor, in the respect of technology. Only some of us more than others, and and some of us, decidedly more materially than others. But maybe some day, a cheap, open-source free access to the networks will be devised... and then we can all be the salt of the earth. After looking at the bailout packages, I would rather we were all equally poor, frankly.
What does Bruce Sterling think? Hell if I know! Shit, that guy is crazy. Every read any of his stuff about global warming?
It is really an amazing machine. It's made by Stahl, I presume, in or around the mid-70s. All solid-state electronics, but mostly mechanical. There are a zillion things to adjust in order to make it work right. I'm only now, after using it for a year and a half, starting to get the hang of it. Still, folding pieces of paper, relatively easy with fingers, is kind of a hard task at high speed. There are more modern folders on the market, but even this machine is better designed than a lot modern bindery equipment. If our tape-spine printer breaks, there is nothing for it but to send it back to the factory, because all the electronics are sealed in plastic. But this folder, if something breaks, you can rig it back together with flashlights, duct tape, wire, and rubber bands (seriously). It's all designed in-line. By this, I mean the paper takes a straight path, and the machinery comes to meet it. My digital press is filled with crap, because the designer felt the need to flip the paper around all crazy like one of those moving ball machines that used to be in airports. (Whatever happened to those?) That means there are thousands of parts to break. It's like they built it one piece at a time. Okay, now the papers comes out of here... what do we do now? Uhh, train a penguin to carry it up a hill, put it on the roller skate, and then let it fly through the ring of fire to set the toner. Good idea! Not Stahl. This is good, German engineering.
Because I am the sort of nerd who finds this stuff facinating, I will give you a guided tour of how to fold a piece of paper, 6000 times an hour. If you don't find this stuff fascinating, you might want to skip to the gift shop now.
The paper begins here, in a giant stack. Each sheet must go through the folder separately, to get a clean fold. Compressed air is used both to blow air through the stack to seperate the sheets, and as suction to pull each sheet off. The compressor is on the floor to the right. As the paper goes through, the table raises automatically. There is a mechanical lever resting on the top sheet to tell the table when it is as the right height.
Each hose is carrying a flow of air to different sides of the sheet. Each one is adjusted individually to get the right amount of air to lift the top sheet, and only the top sheet. This is a tough part to balance. The metal wheel is suction, and it rotates to pull the top sheet off to the feeder belt, which begins at the top left of the picture. The suction starts and stops rapidly, to pull the sheet forward but not suck it up around the wheel. This timing and suction are also adjusted manually.
Here we are from the other direction. The belt pulls the paper forward, straightening it as it goes. The thing suspended near the gold piece of christmas garland is the counter. It's an old electronic eye, wired to a counter unit, which you'll see in a minute. Every person that sees the machine asks if the chirstmas garland is necessary. It is. It is exactly the right weight to keep the paper from popping up in that gap. The gray cord not connected to the counter, leading off to the bottom right, is the double detector. It is a flap of metal set (manually, of course) at a certain height to let only one piece of paper through. If two go through, the flap lifts, activating a switch to stop the machine. Two sheets will sometimes go through, and just get a messed up fold. Other times it will jam. The florescent light is because the bulb in the electric eye unit burnt out. No problem! Bring in a desk lamp.
The paper goes through the feed belt towards the folding panels. I don't know what they're actually called. Racks, panels, I don't know. They are the diagonal pieces extending upward and downward, which you saw in the first view. Wait, let me give you a closer look:
Yes, that. There are two there, parallel to each other, and another two extending downward below. In between them all are the rollers, about where the big shiny wheel is. The blue bar extending across the panel is the stop bar. You pull it up or down the panel, depending on where you want the fold. If you want it six inches in from the leading edge of the sheet, you set it six inches up. The leading sheet with shoot into the panel from the feed belt, and bounce against the stop bar. The bounce will cause the sheet to bend where it is not supported, which because of the panel and the feed belt, will be exactly six inches in from the edge of the sheet, and also right at the:
Rollers! It's a bit difficult to see, but there are a mess of rollers, very close together. They have small grooves, parallel to the axis of the roller. After the sheet bounces in the fold panel (which is pulled back to the left in this view), the bend in the sheet catches in these interlocking grooves, and is creased, nice and clean. In this action the rollers catch the sheet and drag it back out of the panel, taking it on its way.
The rollers are set up in a pattern like this, each spinning an opposite way, very much like gears. Since there are total of four panels, there can be up to four folds per sheet. After the first fold, the sheet can be pulled into the next panel, where it is folded again, just as if the first fold never occurred. You have to set the stop bars correctly to get the pattern you want. Or, if you only want one fold, you can fold down deflector bars to keep the sheet from entering the panel, and just continuing on its merry way through the rollers. The first fold would actually be creased by the rollers marked (2) and the unmarked roller between it and (1), in this diagram. Then it would go into the second panel, and the next crease would be made between rollers (2) and (3). Get it? No? Me neither, not for awhile.
These are the bottom panels. The job I was folding while I took these pictures was a pamphlet with a letter fold, which opened with two overlapping flaps, like a mini booklet. After the first fold, I had to send it down to the bottom panels to give it a second fold in the same direction. If it was a Z-fold, it would've gone to another top panel. That's why this machine is so crazy--the piece of paper never flips over. It is shuffling up and down, with the last fold becoming the new leading edge.
Here's a crude diagram. All the same sheet of paper, at different stages. Red is the first fold, blue is the second, green is finished. It's still complicated, I know. I think there should be a whole branch of publishing geometry, handling everything from N-up pages on a sheet, to rotation for binding, to folding (I don't even understand a gate fold, really), to dividing up parent sheets, to proper rotation for cutting and face trimming. The who I work with, who taught me this stuff, most of them have never taken calculus, or advanced algebra or trig. But they can convert fractions to decimal so fast, and when I couldn't understand the difference between a tumble and a work-and-turn, they just shrugged. Hell, I can explain the four fundamental principles of Kantian space, but I still have to draw a diagram before I start cutting a sheet of 8-up letterhead. It's a lot of spirals, let me just say that.
Anyway, back to folding. I love this diagram, and stare into it's magical gnostic lines while I'm hypnotized by the rhythmic clacking of the sheets hitting the stop bars. I just reminds you to set the stopper to keep the panel from catching on the rollers when the deflector plate is in place. You can also see two knobs for adjusting the gaps between the rollers (the purpose of the back diagram shown earlier). These also have to be adjusted manually. If you have them set wide, like for a thick stock, and then try to run something thin through it, the rollers won't catch it and it will just get stuck in the panel.
This is the counter. It is supposed to have a break (the LED screen) that will pause the flow of sheets every hundred, or two hundred, or whatever it is set at. This doesn't work right now, so I just watch the main counter, and stop the flow every hundred, so I can pull them off and rubber band them, or whatever. This counter unit is as big as my head. I've never been so fortunate as to look inside, but I bet there are some pretty awesome components inside: tubes and such. We inquired, and a new one costs $2500. I don't know if that's for a brand new solid state counter system, or if that's just how much replacement manufacturing equipment costs these days. They always try and get you on stuff like that.
This is the control panel... displaying sideways, for some reason I don't understand. Anyway, from the top we have air flow, feeder table controls, start/stop the flow of the feeder, and then the flow control (the two silver knobs) and table up or down. These buttons are a lot of fun to push.
And, here we are at the end. All the folded sheets come off on a conveyor belt, also manually operated. Finished, folded product!
You might notice the other piece behind the folder, that looks a lot like it. That is the right angle, which can replace the conveyor at the end. It goes on at a... right angle! It is for folding... right angles! After the initial four possible folds, you can send the sheet through for ANOTHER four folds, at ninety degrees. You have to replace the exit rollers with score bars, because by that point the folded sheets will be getting pretty thick, and you need to score it a bit to get it to fold again. Especially since the grain of the sheet was probably heading the direction for the first set of folds, and folding across the grain can get ugly. I can't really think of any typical project in which you'd want to do eight folds, because it is not a map fold--it would end up looking like an accordion folded again the other way. Sometimes we fold 11 x 17 sheets in half, and then letter fold those (so one fold, and then an additional two at the right angle). But that's just about it.
Anyway, if you're still with me, thanks for getting to know the Stahl folder! Being the nerd that I am, I really enjoyed learning how to use it, because such an interesting and amazingly simply yet complex mechanical process never occurred to me, despite all the folded paper I have seen in my life. Maybe you also derived a similar bit of perverse bindery pleasure out of it. I like paper products a lot (why I enjoy printing and bindery work more than the average manufacturing experience) and this is why. It's working with your hands, using your head, and in the end if you do it right, you actually end up with a useable product with quite a bit of craftsmanship imparted to it.
If you are anything more than joking about taking pictures, you have a camera that is not a cell phone. However, when I'm not carrying my camera, and I want to take a snapshot, the camera on my phone works in a pinch. (Except for the lack of macro focus. I like taking pictures of tiny things.)
The best part about it, in my opinion, is the color. It seems they've upped the reds and blues a bit, which is probably best for the inside shots most people would take with a phone. One of my favorite things about a Polaroid camera is the reds and blues. They come out so bright and luminous. There were these shots, of course lost to time now, of some friends of mine on a bright summer day in a field during college. In real life the colors were amplified and extended by a... shall we say, not exactly a photo-chemical process... but also the Polaroids came out amazing. The trees, the blue Iowa skies, the flushed young faces smiling, dilating eyes hiding expanding consciousnesses....
But anyway, the iPhone captures a sort of saturated color with its regular settings that is as close to the Polaroid's color magic as anything I've seen. I haven't tried printing any shots from the iPhone... but that would introduce a whole different set of variables anyway.
When I was out for a walk yesterday, I caught an amazing Oregon sunset, shining up over the hills and reflecting off the recently past clouds. Many flowering trees are blooming now, and the color in the city was pretty amazing. No camera with me, but I had my phone.
Check it out!
(Click for big!)
I find the camera works best if I frame it sort of like a Polaroid as well. Close target for the focus, plus a nice background. Polaroids are great for portraits, after all. Landscapes and macro (unless you're Ansel Adams), forget it.
With those weird new condo-thingies in the back, it kind of looks Dr. Seuss-ish.
From Mt. Tabor. Downtown PDX. The stream of lights in the center is Hawthorne. Buildings on the hill are OHSU.
One of the reservoirs at Mt Tabor. The blues are a little too saturated (the sun had set a little too much by this point), but look at the range of reds. From the reflection, to the clear sky, to the clouds, to the street light.
Blurry 'cause the wind is blowin'.
McSweeney's did a feature making fun of Twitter.
The thing that really pisses me off about it is that it was so incredibly obvious they were going to do so; I should have posted something myself about "OMG, can't you just imagine how weak the McSweeney's piece about Twitter is going to be, once they finally get around do it?" And then I could have lovingly patted myself on the back once they did.
I have a lot of gripes with McSweeney's, many of which I admit are formed directly in the jealousy centers of my ego. But some are actually valid, and perhaps interesting to others. Such as the fact that they take obvious material and somehow twist it into the most obvious ironic hipster-esque literature-simple overhand knot.
Take this piece, which I might have read on April 1 in the "Internet Age" section of the Des Moines Register, or some such place.
Here is a list of the pop culture references in the piece:
"I can has ____"
Here are the list of classic writer's mentioned in the piece, so we could know it was actually ironic:
The latin name of a tree frog?
Conclusions draw about Twitter:
You write shorter
You may say things that are not true
You ignore real people while you Twitter
You're spelling is probably bad or non-existent
You hypelink stupid pictures
Wow. Very good. These comparisons and conclusions made a hilarous point that wasn't entirely obvious.
The part of this that is really depressing is, these people have a well-reknowned print journal, and what they choose to print are stupid jokes fit only for late night TV, which have already been told in 140 characters or less, about a thousand times by anyone who knows what Twitter is. This does not bode well for us.
I will give credit to the end of the piece, which was shaped in the form of an "Internet Age Syllabus". They marked the grade gamut as from "A" to "A----". Now, a send-up of the decline of our education system, that's funny!
No, not Urban Small Game Management!
The point of the article is that some 500,000 people or thereabout (in the USA) can under some measure of statistics be said to be considered "professional" bloggers, as in, making a substantial amount of money through clicks, freelance writing, or advertising and product placement.
None of which is really news to anyone who read the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 report. (Oh you didn't? Ah--you must be the sort who reads the WSJ.)
Apart from the notable fact that the revenue model is still ad-based, with the EXCEPTION of the click-through (which is the selling of access, not of media proper--an important difference discussed elsewhere) this is really not such big news. I mean, maybe there are half a million Urban Small Game wardens in the country. Who knows? Who cares? I mean, when I see a small herd of cats making their way through my backyard, even I think of how easy it would be to pull out my knife and get a little bit of fresh meat to send to market. You see? Blogging is the sort of horrible urge to kill family pets that we just don't need to think about, unless we're hungry. (what?)
This part caught my eye.
"And with millions of human-hours now going into writing and recording opinion, we have to wonder whether being the blogging capital of the world will help America compete in the global economy. Maybe all this self-criticism will propel us forward by putting us on the right track and helping us choose the right products. Maybe it will create a resurgence in the art of writing and writing courses. Or serve as a safety net for out of work professionals in the crisis. But for how long can nearly 500,000 people who are gradually replacing whole swaths of journalists survive with no worker protections, no enforced ethics codes, limited standards, and, for most, no formal training? Even the "Wild West" eventually became just the "West.""
"Survival" is not really a problem. Blogging is easy enough that people are most likely transferring in and out of the ranks all the time--even those who earn money at it. Nor am I really concerned about "training" or "standards". These seem like old-school journalist complaints. Although I'm always in favor of more quality to writing, it is also true that it is difficult to teach good writing, and especially for a medium constantly evolving (as opposed to pap format journalism, which is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to teach, if you don't include good spelling.)
"Worker protections", on the other hand... interesting. Bloggers certainly seem capable of achieving a certain social standing, winning entrance to events and contact with sources via the fedora'd glamour of any old school reporter. And reputation among peers is also an easily gained trait for the worthy.
But these are all social, shifting categories, and as such, are about as structurally sound as the legs of the neighbor's cat underneath my lawn mower. (Sorry--I don't know what the deal is. I actually like cats. But I caught the neighborhood cat in my garage the other day. What was he up to in there? Cat's are so shifty. It could be anything!)
What sort of protections do bloggers need? Well, in essence they are free-lance writers. In my brief free-lance (for pay) experience, you kind of get the shaft. No benefits, complicated, crappy tax categories (damn you, 1099 MISC!), and generally, all the freedom of a poorly-constructed tower on a cliff, facing down the army of uninterested editors on one side, and the sea of poverty on the other. Not to say you can't be successful, or even wildly so, but it isn't exactly a entry-level job.
Not that writing ever was. But I suppose what is crucial here, is that on the one hand we are Evolving Towards a New Definition of Digital Literature and Journalism to Change the Face of Human Culture, and on the other hand, the people doing so are materially under the same professional model as the local shaman. As long as the magic is working, you are golden. But if your glimmer starts to fade through no fault of your own, you are just a crazy guy living in a dilapidated hut in the woods. And man, if the wrong kind of state religion happens its way into your town, then may Ba'al help you.
So, then what? An international consortium of independent bloggers? Nah. Sounds too much like just another blog badge. Cool little gif, but no real content there. Maybe a union? I like what I've been hearing about the Freelancer's Union--not much more than a way to transfer benefits around at this point, but it's a good start, especially for this day and age when more than 17 million workers are being forced into freelance and part-time.
But what unites blogging specifically? Actually, a lot of things. Hyperlinks, for one. Very few blogs owe their readership to their original content alone. It's a network of links, blog rolls, reposts, and comments. As you have noticed, if you read or write any number of blogs, there tend to be certain circles developing (some heady philosophy types might call them strata, but we'll leave that alone for the present). Bruce Sterling picks up something, Warren Ellis reposts it conjoined with a naughty picture, BLDGBLOG posts on it perhaps independently with more commentary, it makes the RT Twitter rounds, Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy provides Marxist interpretation, and eventually BoingBoing throws it out to the masses, after which we find out it was originally from Coilhouse or somewhere. And some eager reader of all of these consumes it multiple times, enjoying them all, and feels like he's part of some ethereal community. In addition, some of these people behind the blogs actually know each other in the real world! Almost like we all work together, seperately, but together. Right guys? Right?
But Unionized--what exactly would that mean? Sure, there are some professional relationships here, but are bloggers going to take to the picket lines? Perhaps surprisingly, yes. It's kind of amazing to me, after a short life-time of witnessing mass indecision and stagnancy in the real world, how quickly people will jump on a righteous cause via the Internet. Any call for support of open-Internet intiatives, rejection and boycott of censorship or DMCA malfiance, or general attention to the plight of well-meaning, legally shaky artists are remarkably well-spread and widely backed. Of course, all issues do not succeed (because it is the real world) but often they do. It's an incredibly anti-authoritarian, libertarian Internet by the looks of it, which I couldn't be more happy about.
There are organizations out there like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which act sort of like an Internet ACLU, knowing all the facts and case law, and advising individuals who are feeling the electronic boot upon their throats. But this is a defensive posture, albeit it worthy and entirely necessary. Other similar opt-in digital entities like Creative Commons also help bloggers certify their material and protect it with the sort of adaptable, flexible control that a medium like the Internet requires.
These are all good things, on the technical and digital/material end. But what about the other material side of things? What is the going rate for blogger advertising? Should the average blogger have better options than the rate AdSense provides? Have you seen what sort of a chunk PayPal takes out of credit card transactions? Why are most bloggers treated like consumers when it comes to the financial side of blogging? Are their other options than these?
I think we could get something going fairly easily. Start with an International--a general resource about publishing to the Internet for pay. Then, we set up Locals. A new, more useful version of the Web Ring. Upon application and admission, with the qualifications being something along the lines of a similarity in content, subject, revenue model, or whatever seems like a good strategy for developing a bloc of content providers, we could make collective bargaining a possibility. This could set up a distributed method for cleaning out unsavory advertising partners, setting up standards for pay and distribution of ads, and also providing an in-route for those getting into the field, and support for those already there.
The great part about it is that it would work well for both the large and the small sites. Even if 75% of the traffic for a Local is through 5% of the sites, there is no loss for larger sites taking on smaller sites, because traffic does not come into the Union unilaterally, but from the wide spread of the Internet. The sea of potential access is limitless--and this access is the commodity of the Internet.
However, here's the rub. This is a Union of workers--that is, not a chamber of commerce. The writers are the one's who are members, not their blogs. The difficulty is that many writers are now not only the one's in control of their blogs, but are, in effect, synonymous with them. How does "Joe's Blog" compare with any one of the zillion corporate blogs, which any number of people may be responsible for writing and publishing? Or with any other independent writer/publisher of music, photos, video, or anything else?
This is the brilliance of it. Everybody already knows who they are similar to, who does similar work, and produces similar products in similar payment schemes. You are already in a network; it is simply loose, shifting, and not-necessarily-organized. These people are your locality (if anyone calls it a hyper-locality, I'll spit at you). You get on board with them and set the standard for what you do, based on what you do. If you write travel blogs for Travel-Borg.com or whatever, get together with the food bloggers for Food-Puzzz.org. If you release exclusive mix tapes of hot club tracks, get together with the 78rpm audio archivers. If you post hilarious musings about the state of culture and listen to the echoes of your own voice bounce off those cold, cold concrete walls, well, you have your own problems--but probably someone else does too. Get together, and set up a standard for ad placement that doesn't squeeze the margins of your site like a torture device.
The true benefit of collective bargaining, and why it should be nothing less than a fundamental right of all workers, is that a worker does not have to struggle to fit themselves to a category in order to gain any sort of power or protection in his/her labor. The workers who work together can organize themselves, and decide what they need. Everybody works with somebody, and all of us work together. You utilize the power of the whole to set up the right conditions for the smaller groups and the individuals, with the base of the pillar always built first. Blogs have been moving along this route already. All blogs are part of the blogosphere, but individuals have made them what they are, in conjunction and with the support of their seperate, interlocking networks.
One of the amazing features of the Internet, in my opinion, is how it organizes itself. The only thing is, "it" does not exist. It is actually a lot of people with different lives, interests, and backgrounds, who somehow have been able to organize themselves without any centralization. It's easy, because the Internet is so easily re-writeable and malliable. (Infrastructure aside, but that is a topic for a seperate-but-not-quite-unrelated set of ideas...)
So I have a good feeling about the future of blog "worker protections". It won't happen by itself--but certain things have a way of happening, even despite the vertical power interests who might seek to prevent it.
So on the way there, just keep fighting that good fight, Internet folks.
I knew from the first week of use, that once they created voice control for the iPhone, the Internet (and by ironic reverse-engineering, computers) would be going audio. Why? Because it is a pain in the ass to take it out of your pocket--that's why. It brings so much of the digital world to the palm of your hand. Now they just have to put it in your brain, and obviously, the easiest way to do that after visual language is auditory language. Computers are coming out of the lab, and marching a slow, steady conquering path across our desks, up our fingers, down our throats, and around our spinal columns.
Next up: Google Endocrine--hungry? need to contact a willing sexual partner? Looking for the best attack response or the quickest escape route? Log in to Google Endocrine, and let our servers match your hormone secretions with our database of geo-locatable emotional triggers. What you want, before your slow-ass consciousness figures it out.
Oh yeah, and I guess you can twitter with your brain now, too. So, see? There you go.
(As usual, I believe all will expand upon your significant and definite click upon their displayed surface.)
Aren't the angles in this view incredible? Some of the best architectural art is the unintended, in my opinion.
This is Act Two of the scene sketches by Robert Wilson for the opera, The Civil Wars. It was up at the MOMA. More about that later, perhaps.
After a long day of activity, the flower was near the end of its life.
This is actually in Connecticut. It's the Heublein Tower. As I remarked at the time, if we didn't have the sort of crazy rich men who liked to build towers on top of hillsides for no good reason, then we might not have culture at all. At least until the Internet.
I didn't take many pictures this trip, so this is probably all that would interest you folks. Except--I do have some pictures of an abandoned college in the Harlem Valley, but those are on the "real" digital camera, so they're going to wait for another post and perhaps some proper editing.
Except the hipster is the joker, and Polaroid instant film is the what's dead.
I'm in New York for the week. If you only follow my blog feed than
you've probably only said to yourself, "Hmm... No rants from that Adam
for a bit, maybe he finally got that drink he so desperately needed.".
Or perhaps you follow none of these things, and have been continuing
to discover my "Greek Animals" post through Image Search just as you
have for the past year and a half, and my actual Internet prescence
means nothing to you. If that is the case, enjoy the goat and dog
pictures, strangers caught in the eddies of the tubes!
I've been missing blogging, and I am filled with various ideas for
when I return to the proximity of a real keyboard. Most are possibly
quite-long essays. At least one I hope will make it to the
Brutalitarians' online pages, which means fewer of you will read it in
the long run. I always hesitate a bit to put good stuff there, because
I like when people read my stuff (maybe you do too?) but perhaps we
can steadily build up a readership for The Brutalitarian as well. I
know--it would certainly help if it had an RSS feed. But there doesn't
seem to be a good method of syndicating Google Sites. Because of this
I've been considering experimenting with Word Press (for the Brute
Press side of things) but yet to make the move because of the hassle
of switching DNS and such things. But this is all very uninteresting
to you; just take away the promise of interesting writing to come, in
some format or another, about such fun things as Czech novels and
film, machines and human bodies, narratives and modern dance, and
angry cartoon squids. Also some pictures, perhaps.
NYC is looking good for the most part. Conspicuously more vacant
retail space than 2 years ago, and conspicuously similar amounts of
vacant gazes. A lot of stares at my hair--maybe I was too used to
Portland. Megan and I have been loving the subway and eating too much
expensive food, and generally wandering around between places and
events with no responsibilities in the way NYC will let one do, so
that this drifting phemnomenal consumption feels as if it has
aesthetic purpose rather than the soft, fleshy sensualist absorption
of a floating sea sponge. An interesting thing about the Porifera is
that anything too big to be absorbed through the skin must be eaten
and expelled through the same orifice.
But the food has been delicious. Also some good and not so good
performances, used books, public transportation, and the fun of
dressing nicely without people feeling the need to ask what the
occasion is. All in all--New York City. I totally remember why we
moved to Portland, but also I've been acquainted with a fact; I will
live in this city again. I hope to live in many more cities around the
world (there is an informal list), and I am not a New Yorker by any
sense of definition. But this city catches up with you in a way I
haven't fully understood yet, and I know I'll be living here again in
There's probably a metaphor related to an idea for a very short story
idea I had while riding the subway some years ago, which would help
explain this pull. But it involves cyborgs and synth-pop, so I'll
leave it alone for right now.
Caffeine, on the other hand, pulls you way back, and then hands you a pair of Zeiss binoculars. Of course, stimulants can also make complete shit flow out of the pen without stopping for air. But if you really hit that stride, pages will fly by, which, with a bit of proper editing, can be absolutely brilliant. You can write about anything all stimmed up, and it will all read like the truest words ever spoken. Whether they actually are or not is something to look at later. But despite the bullshit that might occur, you also have a good chance of describing something in a way you never would have thought about without your corneas vibrating.
So coffee, and writing about coffee: good good good. But I had this problem with the five "classic" cups of coffee described--none of them were mine. Coffee, as a stimulant, is directly tied to your sense of conscious lucidity (a reason for its effect on writing, in my opinion) and as such, consumption of it is tied to other cycles of the consciousness throughout the day--eating schedule, sleeping cycles, Circadian rhthym, etc. Benjamin Obler, the author of the piece, seems to be a strictly 8:00-22:00, person, or thereabouts. I am not. I lead this strange (not so strange, in this day and age, really) double life (okay, more of a 1.5x life) in which I work a day job with a shifting schedule, and also write at night. In addition, my partner works a night shift on a 4-on-3-off cycle, so between our strange overlaps of homelife, and the grinding sleep-transmission clutch-popping of the weekends, I don't know if I've eaten a dinner that wasn't at least half breakfast in the past year and a half, ranging anywhere from 16:00 to 4:00 local.
But I love the idea--because each cup of coffee does have a certain character to it, related to time, place, activity, quantity of day light, and of course, the ever-important current level of conscious wheel-spinning. So, I'm going to write my own favorite five cups, in no particular order. Does this count as a literary remix? A re-do? A reset? I don't know. But I'm going to get to it before my introduction totally dwarfs my actual piece.
The Worker's Cup
There are at least ten ways to avoid this cup, all of which are significantly kinder to the beverage, as if there was somewhere an avatar of the drink like a minor goddess, lounging a small marble coupola, scowling into her bronzen bowl, Clash of the Titans-style view-screen of reflective black liquid at anything packed into a round metal tin, or (shudders with greco-indignation) "pre-ground". One could brew it at home, drop past the local coffee shop, or even go through the Starbucks drive-through, if necessary. But no--instead, as you hit the snooze button for the fourth time, you doomed yourself to both the goddess' ire and the horrible grittiness of the "shop cup".
The urn looks professional enough, clad in stainless steel. But one must remember--it is called an urn for a reason. The plastic lid seals the process from eyes that would be really better off not knowing that the same guy who always turns in his forms sloppily-written and smeared also was in charge of rinsing the pot the night before. Hopefully no one has found your mug in its hiding place behind your computer tower and your speaker, because the same rusted sediment in the bottom which you face every day is the only standard of hygiene you can rely on.
But the coffee--oh the coffee--from its watery lows to its highs of 5W20 viscosity, is really what matters here. If you think you would be better off without this ghastly morning ritual, the morning someone forgot to order more coffee should be the only proof you need of this process' spastic veracity. This cup is the source of the grit you keep in your teeth all day as you selflessly shoulder your boss' load; it is the fire burning caustic holes in the retaining walls of your stomach so you do not fall asleep and catch your face in the press; it is the antidote to the zombification that would otherwise see your co-workers colliding into each other with all the slow-moving deadly force of boxcars in the yard, just waiting to pierce men through and amputate limbs. This horrible excuse for coffee is the single thread between insanity and insanity wrapped in a straight-jacket.
And why? If the stimulant content is mixed, the quality and taste all over the map, and the consistency spelled "conk-cyst-an-sea", what does this cup have to offer to us poor working souls?
Heat. Pure, roof-of-mouth scalding, fresh-from-the-fissure-in-the-earth heat. If you burn three layers of skin off of the tongue, you are probably able to drink at least three cups of the swill while tasting next to nothing. The heat will open up the pores of your mind like hot water loosening the feathers out of a chicken carcass. You'll be ready to belch wooden-puppets from your entrails as if you were Monstro himself. So go, pour yourself another cup, and get those bile-dripping, flaming puppets dancing across your workspace, because you know you're going to be here for at least another eight hours. And this is why I will pray to this goddess until the day I die (or quit my day job).
The Apocalypse Cup
This cup, in many ways, is the opposite of the worker's cup. Rather than symbolizing an every day collision with the horrible routines of life, this cup is the conscious description of the breaking with the routine. In this way it isn't, as you might of thought, a cup to end all cups, the drinking of which will cause the fabric of the universe to rip and fray from the seams. No angelic wheels, vials, or whores of Babylon here. (Though if you are able to brew this sort of cup, let me know what roast and seep method, so far my experiments are getting me nowhere.) This is more akin to the literal meaning of apocalypse: that sort of textual encounter that reveals eschatological and cosmic knowledge through its symbolism and historic descriptions.
How, you ask, does a cup of coffee manage this? Well, it has to do with the context of the consumption. The previous cup is one marked by the daily return to the place of work, and all the unsavory connotations of that particular point in your experiential space-time. This cup is taken at a totally different time and place--one that we don't dread, so much as do not expect, and are always a little bit awed by result.
The sip of good coffee provides a point of reflection--a pause in which the mind accelerates. From the entrance of the aroma into the nose, until the point at which the caffeine actually reaches the brain, the mind is re-acquainting itself with the experience of accelerated thought via the stimulant. There is a pause, as the mind relishes the empty space between sensations at the base rate, before it picks up and tunes in to the new time signature. Similar to when you slow down a tape, and then realize how awfully long the pause is between tracks--like minutes. This is what your brain is doing with time-space in those first minutes.
What is a shame is that this period of acceleration is normally occupied by other things, so there isn't much noticed. For instance, you are waking up, or making breakfast, or talking with friends, or reading the Internet before it is time to get down to work. The distraction takes away from the lengthening of time's harmonic period, and you miss the opportunity for consciousness-bending experience.
Not as if this is the place where all the missing god particles fly out of the space between space in the delicious black liquid, negatizing your concepts and turning your signifiers inside out as it will be in the end. No, that's salvia divnorum.(Actually the experience is somewhat akin... but let's turn away from that for now.) Nor is it a zone for optimal creativity, as I am apt to call certain opportunities for gnosis in everyday life.
But if you are doing the right sort of thing, you might feel a sensation of change. This normally happens to me when I am heading out of the house for a three AM drive, or going on a walk in a deserted area, and I decide to quickly drink a cup of coffee to highten the perceptions a bit, or gain a little bit of wakefulness. Or, even when I'm getting ready for a night of drinking, and I get a double shot of espresso to carry me through. As I set out on this mini-adventure, whatever it is, ready to see what there is to see in the world about me, I get the sense that things are changing. I'm not presented with anything specific, but all of a sudden I realize things seem a bit brighter, music sounds a bit better, and I can speak a bit more directly. The world has a large possibility of change all the time, and if you get out a bit, you can realize it. Not so much the end of the world, as looking outside your interior monologue, and seeing there was a world around you the whole time. Like Enoch visiting the houses of the winds and stars. Or something like that, but coffee. It's awesome.
The Bezerker Cup
There are certain times, friends--certain times that call for certain measures. There are occasions when you need a little extra something, a little bit of a performance boost. And I'm not talking about Official Bezerker Corps Blood-Washed PCP Cough Drops, now with MDMA! Oh wait, yes I am. There are times when you need these, so you can rip the heads off goblins as you make your way to the throne room, wielding your 55-gallon revolvers.
But there are other times that are not those times, like when you have a job interview, a class presentation, or an important meeting in which you are going to say things to people that they do not want to hear to get them to agree to do something they don't want to do. In these times, even a little edge can totally make the different.
In grad school, every single time I was going to lead seminar discussion, half an hour before I would go around the corner to the coffee shop, which was such a coffee shop so that I was assured of the quality of their brew. I would get, what is not really an official coffee drink, but which goes by various "street" terms in the dark, student infested coffee shops of large towns, maybe even your own. They don't have it on the menu--oh no. You have to whisper it quietly to the barista, so the kids sipping they're caramel mocha crap don't hear you. Ask for a "red eye", or maybe a "depth charge", or an "all-nighter". What it is: a double shot of espresso dumped into a large coffee. No cream. No sugar.
It's delicious, by the way. But it also does not have any of the milk products, the fat of which counteracts and slows the stimulant, in my opinion. Nor any of the sugar; Red Bull may give you wings, but only for about twenty minutes, because half the rush is sugar. I would be able to drink most of this beverage in the thirty minutes before class, having the last bit as something to sip on while speaking. The rush is strong, fast, and continuous, totally pulling me through a three-hour session.
Now, you can't be chugging coffee all day and expect a bezerker cup to have the proper effect. You have to plan ahead. The heat is a factor, as I've said before. The warmth of a large cup of coffee (talking 16-20oz here, I'm not sure what the corporates are selling you as a large these days) will set the proper core temperature for full coffee absorption. This is why you need both the coffee and the espresso. And if you are the sort that right now is thinking to yourself, "that's nothing, I regularly drink a quadruple shot of espresso and then take a nap!" then heaven help you, because your heart is going to explode... RIGHT NOW. Did that scare you? Stop drinking too much espresso.
This cup is perhaps the most proper, judicious, and social use of coffee, and it is why I love it. It is harnessing that stimulus rush for a good cause, being, conversing. There are no awkward pauses, no stammering for a word, no leading down a illogical pathway only to have to turn around and come back. Of course, you have to watch your speed (I was told three times while presenting on Heidegger to slow the f--- down) but on the other hand, I had no problem getting through my eight to ten pages of notes for my opening statement (okay, I also have a consumption problem in no way related to caffeine). If you want to try this in a non-pressure situation, try grabbing a friend with whom you have a similar, properly technical interest, and treat him/her to coffee. By the end of two hours, you'll have a business plan in an industry that hasn't been invented yet. Just don't name it then. Sit on that one for awhile.
The Mistake Cup
Man, I hate this cup. I love it too. There are times when one has to sleep. I am well aware of the need for sleep, thanks to my bizarre, shifting labyrinth of a daily schedule, as already discussed. Because of this schedule, opportunities for uninterrupted sleep are visable ahead of time. Okay: get home from work, sleep for four hours, wake up, have dinner, and write until 5:00, see Megan, sleep for three more, and then wake up. Ready, break.
Until Megan says, upon me arriving home from work, tired as shit from only sleeping four and a half the night before, "hey, want to make some coffee in the french press?" Shit. "Oh, I was going to, but... fuck yeah, I want some coffee from the french press!" And my carefully planned world falls apart.
I'm a sucker for coffee from the press. We have three machines: drip, Bialetti stove top espresso, and the press. I can't afford the espresso machine I really want, so for now I rent the skills of the local barista when needed. The Bialetti is alright--it makes great coffee, but there is always a little taste of aluminum there, and I don't like milk. The drip is solid. I have a good gold filter, and when making a full pot it doesn't let me down. It also stays warm without reheating, which the press won't do. And I love the press. It's so tasty, thick, and lucious. So I save it for special occasions: bezerkers, apocalypses, and the like. Megan drinks her coffee in small portions, mixed half with foamed milk, because caffeine hits her really strong.
I would like to get into turkish/greek coffee. Almost bought one of the little copper pots when I was is Greece, but I've never learned how to make it, so I didn't want to just get one without some idea of what I was doing. Also, I like that sort of coffee only sometimes; for me, coffee is a beverage, and I like to drink it, not just sip. But a good, Greek coffee... the oh-so-bitter sludge in the bottom just daring you to take one more sip....
You see, this is the problem. I love coffee, and I love making coffee--the aroma in the air at the mere idea of a brew, the warm look of the beans in the jar on the shelf, the way they sound falling into the grinder, healthy just-green light roast, or the dark roast burnt so dark the beans look as if they will explode into dust if they clatter onto the hard stone of the counter, the purr of the grinder when you know those lovely granules are just the right combination of substance and powder, the steam filling the kitchen while you try not to watch so the process will hurry, and finally--the swoosh of hot coffee filling that good stoneware mug, blowing off a bit of magical steam across the top of the perfectly dark liquid like spray off the ocean.
Not to mention the first sip. How can you turn that down? Tell me: how? And so, I write for five hours, watch a film, get four hours of sleep, and then feel like crap the next day at work. Until I have a cup of coffee.
The Writer's Cup
Here it is--the cup, which for me, is the raison de etre. It is almost mystical. Shit, it is mystical; it's almost actual mana from heaven, with a legion of seraphim presenting a signed scroll of authenticity.
I like to sleep first. This makes sure I'm actually rested, not just propped up with stimulant. A two-hour nap at least normally fits the bill. As I wake, my body still desperately struggling for something, anything to set its internal clock by, I go about the business of making the coffee. If it is going to be a night of writing, I go for the pot. An afternoon, or only five hours, I do the press. Sometimes, if I really want it to go well, I do a cup in the press as a teaser while the pot brews.
The coffee is always sensational. If it isn't, and I've somehow screwed it up, I throw it out and start again. No sense being hasty and starting on the wrong foot. While I drink the first cup, I read. Typically I read something along the lines of what I plan to write, to get my head in the right place, and to get the word factory tuned. Not too close, because that will screw it up. But in the neighborhood, something that might form a good harmony.
About the time of the second cup is when I start. The second cup is drunk pretty steadily, keeping me occupied while I think, and giving me something warm to sip. By the third cup it is cooling off most of the way before it gets finished, because I've picked up the pace and can't get my fingers off the keys or my attention away. I often leave about 3/4 of an inch in the bottom of the cup, over top of which I pour my refills. A refill or a bathroom break every hour or so provides good thinking opportunities. By the time the auto-off has taken effect on the pot warmer, I've either finished the pot or don't need anymore.
It isn't magical, however. It doesn't always work. Sometimes the writing just won't come, because its like that. I also don't do the coffee all the time. I started this little piece on two cups in the morning, and I am finishing it now at night, when I'm desperately wanting a cup (especially after thinking about coffee so much) but avoiding it so I can get up and go to work tomorrow. (Tomorrow's sleep schedule is going to include some major shifting, so I want to make sure I fairly baseline so the stim can do its work.) Can you tell a difference in my writing between the intro and the first two cups as opposed to the last two? Maybe I'm a bit wittier and quick-moving in the beginning, but all my essays seem to slow the pace at the end, as I put the thing to bed.
Other than this essay, I can think of only one piece in which I've written about coffee specifically. It is a piece about a diner, involving a character very aware of the things around him, but not aware of himself. The narrator's omniscient description of his first sip of coffee is quite good, I think. I don't think I put much of it in this essay, which is good. I've recently discovered myself repeating myself. Self-plagarism--not good if it happens without you wanting it. When I wrote that bit in the story (it is a short story, by the way) I wrote it while drinking a fresh cup of coffee. This worked pretty well. I think you have to have memories of things if you want to be able to describe them. Even for speculative writing--the only way to understand an idea is to present it in terms of things that make sense (either explicitly, or surrepticiously). The trick is presenting the memories as if they are not your own, because that memory is something you already have, and words are something different. It would be difficult to write about anything else while doing it, for practical reasons as well as thematic. You could take notes perhaps, but actually composing while running a mile or meeting a future lover would be difficult. In addition, coffee-drinking, in the way that I think of it, which you might have gotten a bit of a taste of over the course of the last couple thousand words, is an experience of presence, because it alters the way one experiences everything. Not by much, of course, but still in a way to which the mind reacts and can sense. As one feels this sort of a change in perception, one might be inclined to attempt to describe it, to make sense of it. Or, one could just try and go along with it, and enjoy it. I suppose it depends on what one finds enjoyable. Here I am, finishing an essay about writing and coffee, so I suppose you already know what I think.