CPSC Micro-fiction #8

CPSC Notices 5/27/10

Cost Plus Inc. Recalls Tea Glasses Due to Risk of Lead Exposure - The Moroccan tea glasses contain excessive levels of lead in the exterior coloring. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects. No injuries reported.

Buckyballs® High Powered Magnets Sets Recalled by Maxfield and Oberton Due to Violation of Federal Toy Standard - The high powered magnets sets were labeled "Ages 13+" and do not meet the mandatory toy standard F963-08 (effective August 17, 2009) which requires that such powerful magnets are not sold for children under 14. Magnets found by young children can be swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforations or blockages, which can be fatal. The firm has received two reports of children swallowing one or more magnets. No injuries were reported.

Micro-fiction 5/27/10

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
I held the tea cup in my hand. The light stroked over its china curves, it's thin handle. I wouldn't let anyone to touch it. Only the light.
"Should you really be holding it?"
I looked at him. He would ruin this moment.
"Just a few more minutes can't hurt."
"But it's been ten minutes now. And days previous."
"A few minutes more won't kill me."
"Your exposure is already intense at best. We need to run tests. We have to extract some of your bone marrow as soon as you destroy that thing. With the output of that thing, you're brain might already be microwaved leftovers."
"Don't call it, 'that thing'."
I held it up once more, and smiled, as the reflected sunlight beamed off its yellow paint, the intricate details of the design."
"It is beautiful, isn't it?"
He sighed. "Yes, it is beautiful."
I let the tea cup rest lightly in the palm of my hand, and thought of its beauty. I pushed the vision I absorbed from the cup, back out of my mind, up my arms, and into my fingers, where the force of its weight drawn by gravity pressed into my skin. I concentrated, briefly. I pushed back. The tea cup rose out of my hand, a few inches into the air, and spun slowly on an invisible axis in the morning sunlight.

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.


Tubes 2.0

Alright guys, I don't ask you for much.

What am I talking about? I ask you guys to listen to my rants all the time. It's ME that owes YOU. But I'm asking anyway. I'm cashing in on all of those Internet friendships.

You may remember my little tube project? Crazy tubes? Fish-eye pics? Ramblings about the super-ego?

Well, now we're pushing it to the next level.

This little installation, above? 500 tubes. Now we have a former department store turned art space in Salem that is going to let us put in 5000 tubes.

This is the space we are going to fill with tubes, fabric, and other confusing emphemera:

You can already see the tubes that were in the living room, in the new space. They look lonely. They need friends.

The main expense, by far, is the tubes. We've got a Kickstarter to help out, and we need $650. Not too bad, to get a room filled with tubes, right? Right.

There are also some pretty wicked rewards. Some of them, may or may not be filled with candy.

So I think you should help. I think your friends should help. I think you're follower list, your friends feed, and your AIM buddy list should help. All we need are some micro-payments, and our tubes could be your reality.

So thanks in advance. And if you are too lazy to click on the link to the project page, let me re-create our proposal for you here.
The tubes are:

Anarchistic Artistic Augmented Autonomous Balanced Chaotic Collective Distributed Echoed Evolving Experiential Independent Individualistic Instant Interpretative Lateral Liberal Ludic Multiplistic Multivocal Networked Rhizomatic Self-governing Shared Specific Spontaneous Unbiased Work.

Anti-Social Authoritarian Binary Bureaucratic Censoring Centralized Controlled Dendric Disgusting Dualistic Incorporated Invasive Libidinal Mobbed Obligatory Ordered Owned Programmed Pollutant Schematic Segmented Shrieking Sorted Stratified Structured Unified Universal Vertical Violent Product.

Our infection will belong to you.

The installation will open June 2, for one month, at
Project Space
150 Liberty Street
Salem, Oregon

Here are the things we need:
Hot glue
A one-way truck trip
5000 tubes

The Salem Art Association, a non-profit, is giving us $250. With $650, we could cover the rest of the expenses (the tubes are by far the biggest expense, at $800).

YOU can help. And then the tubes are yours.

Please treat things as you would like them to be treated.


CPSC Micro-fiction #7

CPSC Notices 5/25/10

Cummins Power Generation Recalls Portable Generators Due to Fire Hazard - Fuel can leak through the carburetor during normal usage, posing a fire hazard to consumers. The firm has received 25 reports of fuel leakage. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

Chairs Recalled by Brunswick Bowling & Billiards Corporation Due to Fall Hazard - The chair frame can separate from the seating section of the chair, posing a fall hazard to consumers. Brunswick has received one report of frame separation. No injuries have been reported.

Micro-fiction 5/25/10

I smell gasoline.
It's just smells volatile, you know? Like heat, not yet exploded into flame. Like something you've turned your back on, that is falling, but you haven't heard it because it hasn't hit the ground.
Smells like potential.
People think they like the smell of gasoline. Don't know what they like about it. Smells sweet, maybe.
They're not the kind to light fires, though.
You have to love flame for the way it eats, the way it grows, the way the light gets bigger, faster, and hotter, no matter what you do.
I don't set fires.
I just sit in my chair, and I notice things. The way people pass by, the way they speak without caring who hears them. Sounds stupid. Like ignorance, like insolence, like inelegance. Like whatever you try to do is failing, no matter what you do, but it's other people, all around you.
Not that I care.
And so I just notice them.
Still smells like gasoline.
I wonder where it's coming from.

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.


I fear the lateral web

Not too long ago, I re-organized the way that my feeds are linked, to try and make it easier to follow only the parts of my Internet life that one might choose to follow.

This is breaking apart.

Maybe it is because I've had too much coffee today and am unable to focus, but I am getting a healthy dose of THE FEAR from the expanse that is the Internet.

I know that no one cares how I organize my feeds, not really, anyway. They'll follow this particular feed, or not, depending on whatever.

But I have this sense of the Internet really going on forever, and not stopping. Like I'm trying to corral liquid mercury.

I've been experimenting with the Chrome browser extensions, and some of them are pretty cool. I've got my Calendar extension, and my Gmail extension, so my incoming messages and events are popping up with little iPhone-like badges. If I really wanted to get crazy, I could get a Google Voice account and the extension would let me call and send SMS right from my browser. All of this is pretty cool, previews of coming events for a Chrome OS, and a "app-less" computer browser set-up.

Then there are the other javascript goodies, like "email this page", "tweet this page", "search for maps based on addresses on this page" "wikipedia this", etc. All good, fairly functional stuff.

But then there is Sidewiki.

If you've never explored Sidewiki, it is a Google-powered Wiki for EVERY WEB SITE ON THE INTERNET. You open it up along side another page, and you can add editorial marginalia to any web site.

It is designed to be tour-guide notes, perhaps helpful comments. Most sites still have no Sidewiki entry, and those that exist are pretty sparse or obvious.

But I think you can see where this is going.

A lateral internet, comprised of "hidden" marginal notes. Fire up the Borges-Bot--it's time to compose some more conspiracy-inducing strands of the lateral web. Imagine a sprawling web site full of blank pages. With no text they remain largely un-indexed, and take nearly zero hosting space on their own. What function they do have, is to serve as anchors for long Sidewiki explorations. Un-themed, "private invite" chats take place. Links are shared. "Un-searchable" conversations take place, which are of course archived by Google, and used for unknown purposes. Romances and revolutions live and die without ever leaving the Sidewiki.

I had the same feeling about Buzz, to tell you the truth. I don't really use Buzz, but at the same time, I DO. You see, I use Google Reader's "Share" function, serving up shared items from my RSS feeds, and presenting them on a single page, with the ability to comment. But then, in commenting on other's shared items, and reading the comments, I noticed that some are coming from Buzz. You see, with Buzz, you can link in your Reader shared page, so any Shared item is automatically converted into a Buzz. One item is copied to another, making equivalent Internet posts in two different sourced feeds.

You can do the same thing with Twitter: my Twitter feed is copied to my Buzz feed. So, if the rare circumstance occurs where someone is only following me on Buzz and not on Twitter, they can still see all my 140 character wisdom.

But, on Buzz they can comment. So, there might, potentially, be a long conversation based around one of my tweets that no one following my Twitter feed would know about, unless they were also on Buzz. So this is not a simple copy of an item, but a generative spawning of the original item... or at least potentially, in that Buzz has the ability to comment.

Still with me?

All of this creates huge Boolean logic problems, if, like me, you are obsessed with having "one feed to rule them all". How do you funnel all the input formats upward, maintaining each in an OR connection, not missing anything, and not duplicating anything? Especially when each service has a different "favorite", "like", "comment", or "promote" feature? And where is all this data, anyway? Who controls my "liking" of something? We are meant to think it is tied to the original item. But it doesn't.

But where does "comment" exist, exactly, in the nebulous world of Internet services? It's not meta-data, at least not "meta" in relation to the "data" of the Internet. It's side-data, tuned by separate services, and presented along side the overall data of the Internet. Content itself, semiotic aporia that it is, is becoming de-contented by the exo-content. Where is the meta-content? HTML is becoming the meta-content, because rather than the strictly meaningful content, it is the only content universally accessible, by which exo-content is accessed and distributed.

The signified was considered to be the anchor of the signifier, as the real that informed the ideal. But now the signifier informs our understanding of the signified, because we can only interpret the real by deploying our ideal categories. But then next, in this imaginary timeline of logic, the signified exerts control again, by being the signifier for the signifier's signified categories; because only drawn in the material of the signified, can the signifier be extensible or sensible.

Example: we know what dust is (signified). We have an ideal picture of a dry, dirty cloud of particulate, settling on all surfaces (signifier). Because we have an ideal picture of dust (signifier), we are able to say, this is not dust (signified), it is sand. But then, when we reach forward to spell out the difference, we must feel the dust on the ground between our fingers, and compare it to sand, and if we did not have these (signified) we would have no concept of what we meant (signifier). The signified is the substance of signifier, and the signifier is the form of the signified. Then they "act as" the other. The signifier is the substance of the signified, and the signified is the form of the signifier. Not only is the duality between the two important, the position in the metaphysical grammar is important. Because they are different, and yet they flip flop. It's as if your right hand was only not your left because it could sometimes be your left, and by this, it was not always the left. You can only have a left and a right hand if you have both a left and a right hand. Otherwise, it's just a hand.

I know. But aren't you glad we are binary beings? Imagine if we had a third hand? (ps you do: your genitals. A subject for another post.)

Back to the internet: we used to have meta-data: data that told us how to organize our data. Now the data that tells us how to organize data is exo-data: it resides elsewhere, it is only laterally linked, it is sometimes it's own data, and some times the "original" data is the meta-data for the exo-data. In other words, a feature of the relationship between data and exo-data is that sometimes the exo-data is the data and the data is the exo-data. Imagine if "the internet went down", and someone stumbled upon the contents of the Sidewiki server. They would have all of this tangential data, and some understanding of the organization of what it was originally associated with, (it's pretty easy to figure out the relationship between data/group and data/group/subgroup) but some of it would have unknown referents, and some of it would stand on its own, or maybe it wouldn't, but how would you ever know? How can you tell if a comment is a response, or an essay on its own? How can you tell if a reference work is real or made-up, apt or extraneous, if you don't have access to it?

I think the period of time when we have "control of our data and history" will be relatively brief. We'll be back to the days where fires destroyed knowledge forever, where referenced works were unknown, and where knowledge lived and died with single people. Except it won't be fires, but support discontinuing, broken links, and un-archived sites. The amount of data necessary to track all the data is an exponential figure. Storage may be increasing exponentially, but it would have to increase at a rate equal to "amount of data" X "exo-data to make sense of the data". Can it do this? How do we even guess at what these values are? How to we measure the rate of change of these values?

(N+MindFuck)^X. And that's even without all the semiotics ramifications of the sheer fact that I'm trying to express this on a blog, right? WHERE IS THIS POSTING TO? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME? CAN EVERYONE HEAR ME?

But on a consumer level, how the hell is a "social network" supposed to develop across all these servers? The days of Facebook and AIM were pretty simple. You have a friend list, and you can talk to the people on your list. Now there's all this... crap.

Thinking about it this way: I didn't used to have any data backup at home. I had one computer. Then I got a partner. She had a computer. I got a USB hard drive, and started backing up both of our files. But with the extra space, we both ended up with more data than our computers' HDs hold combined. Then, I got a network storage server with more capacity, and do a double back-up, migrating files upwards from the computers to the USB drive, to the NAS. I'm lucky if I can remember the pattern of Boolean settings to make sure I am only over-writing data in the right direction, and still have everything backed up.

I used to really like keeping track of my mp3s meta-data with iTunes. Forget it. Now there's no way iTunes own library database can keep it all in line. I'm lucky if it can still find all of the mp3s, without making duplicate copies to local libraries all over the place.

But most consumers don't even back up their files. They fill a hard drive, and when it crashes, they abandon it. If they can pay someone to do archeology at that point, maybe they do. And then they start over again with a new drive. How are they supposed to navigate these interlocking "social networks", let alone understand the semiotic ramifications of meta-data cum exo-data?

Fuck, I can pontificate about semiotics, but I'm still not sure how to organize my feeds. Does the cloud make it simpler? More complicated? I just deleted my Facebook, because my interest stalled before I figured out all the new settings. Maybe I'll restart when Diaspora comes out. So what will be the lifetime of a social network "data object"? How long will each of us live on Facebook, before the connections become a burden, we pull the plug, and start new?

I fear the lateral web. But I love exo-data.

CPSC Micro-fiction #6

CPSC Notices 5/21/10

Chocolate Soup Recalls Children’s Hooded Sweatshirt Sets with Drawstrings Due to Strangulation Hazard - The sweatshirts have a drawstring through the hood that can pose a strangulation hazard to children. In February 1996, CPSC issued guidelines (pdf) (which were incorporated into an industry voluntary standard in 1997) to help prevent children from strangling or getting entangled on the neck and waist drawstrings in upper garments, such as jackets and sweatshirts. No injuries reported.

HP Expands Recall of Notebook Computer Batteries Due to Fire Hazard - The recalled lithium-ion batteries can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard to consumers. Since the May 2009 recall, HP has received 38 additional reports of batteries that overheated and ruptured resulting in 11 instances of minor personal injury and 31 instances of minor property damage.

Micro-fiction 5/21/10

Your chances of exploding are roughly one in fifteen-hundred.
Used to be far worse.
And one in fifteen-hundred? Yeah, it could be you that bursts into chemical flame while downloading data to your hoodie. But the vast majority of people will enjoy the fabric net, and will live their entire lives comfortably in their e-clothes, until the day they're hit by a bus, die of radiation exposure, or one of the other hundred ways to catch it in this day and age.
We need electricity. The info-blankets in which we shield our naked flesh require energy. Better lithium-ion covering your skin than fissile material, or soaking yourself in gasoline. Chance could be one in a hundred--could be one in ten. They'd still line up outside my shack for a battery swap, and then go off down the street, connected into the network, as they must be. As their employers must. As their friends must. As their sexual partners must.
Without these batteries pressing against their flesh, they would not be human beings. They would be monkeys with sticks. Neanderthals covered in hair. Peasants digging in the mud. Don't believe me? Look it up. Check out the pictures. See? Explosive-free living is as about as fun as dysentery. I said, look it up. It's all there.
You know what, kid? I'm busy. You don't want it, live your life trailing a plug behind you. Standing against the wall. I've got customers here. I'll have another thousand and five-hundred by 3PM.

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.

Let me tell you something, son

"I boldly predict that, in about a decade from now, rather than disappearing completely, our strongest customs and traditions will become stronger."

I'm so used to hearing of (as well as predicting myself) a future in which we are all atemporal, cosmopolitan, jet-packing cultural omnivores, (or, naturally, some syncretism of these) it sounds almost radically prophetic to hear a prediction to the contrary. But hey, if Twitter does anything, it convinces you that your sub-culture actually does rule a dimension of the universe. You are the new scholar, the head of the pack, the crest of the wave, instantly at 140 characters a breath. The internet is a bank of parallel petri dishes, arranged in towering capital capacitors of human-hyrid cannibalism, along the burnt out crust of Zizek's Matrix-esque Desert of the Real, allowing us to live our own epistemological fantasies of truth and correctness, which the real electricity alligns our particles for some sort of nefarious, exo-human machine...

Oh, sorry.

But why shouldn't the Internet, which is often considered to be a folk-force in itself, simply become the repository and conduit for all of the folk-forces that have already existed throughout the history of time? Sure, some people will dodge back and forth, amazing us all with their well-readness, but others will just marinate, assuming most of the "democratic-internet" is backing them with their Tea Party Twitter-ness, or their Bride-Burning reality shows, or alt-sex mercenary conventions, or whatever it happens to be?

This is not to say, "well, if this great E-Democracy doesn't unite us, it will certainly divide us" in a founding-father Patriot/Anti-Patriot QuoteThink Ourosboros. I think it is more indicative of the fact that whatever we think things will be, of course they will be, but at the same time being other things, until we can get it together to sum it up in a snappy quote, and then we realize, "oh but it is actually that" as well. Will traditions come together, or dissolve? Uh, whatever! Yes/no, of course!

I think the operating quote here is not "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold" but "What if the empire never ended?" Not because of the meaning inherent in these sappy quotes, or because the former was uttered by a poet, and the latter composed by a drug-addled mystic/half-employed creative, but because we have reached an age where these quotes mean the same thing, or at least can be referenced together, and this is not merely some half-assed syncretism, but could pass for not only actual rational thought but deft criticism, and is instantly published along with anything else a minute after I just thought about it.

And so, the tough part is going to be remembering which tribe you come from, and figuring out how to quickly through the gang sign, when a group that doesn't exactly seem coherent, but certainly is an Other gang, meets you in the streets. Because despite the cold comfort of a blog, all drain pipes eventually lead to the street. Because a bullet from a gun is the final point of punctuation, because paving stones are the network of last resort, because eventually the electricity will go out, and we'll all wander into the streets, and have to find something to do then.

Trouble, with a capital T. Right here in Internet City.


The Natural Algorithm Hustle

Here is/was my contribution to 48HR Magazine. They did not publish it, though it seemed as if they had some interest. Perhaps because I couldn't reveal my friend's identity, who I met in grad school, it seemed a bit dicey. Anyway, here it is.

My contact is an algorithmic programmer at an wealth management firm in downtown Chicago, the firm managing somewhere in the neighborhood of seven billion dollars. I spoke to him via email, this morning. He was in the "hole", as he called it, as he is most of the time. His name and company are withheld, to keep from violating his non-disclosure agreements. I'll call him Al.

Adam: Tell us where you are right now.

Al: I'm in a small room, approximately ten feet by twenty. There are no windows. It's lit by several lamps. Pretty nicely furnished. Big flat screen TV, comfortable chairs. I'm at a long desk, with five computer monitors. Most of the rest of the space is taken up by the server racks. The room is fairly cold, what with the climate control. We call it the hole, because after spending twelve hours or more in it and coming out, the light can be, well, shocking.

Adam: What is it that you do there?

Al: I design the algorithms that control our trading programs, and watch them function. In other firms, I'm known as a "quant", or a "cruncher". We run our algorithms differently than many firms though; rather than simply doing quantitative analysis of trading markets, we guide our trades by a method we call "fractal market distribution".

Adam: What is fractal market distribution?

Al: Exactly what it says. We distribute our market interests according to fractals.

Adam: Like the well-known patterns, Mandlebrot and Julia sets?

Al: Not those algorithms, but it is essentially the same. Those well-known fractals are graphs of particular algorithms on an imaginary number axis, and zooming in on a particular area. We aren't making a visual pattern, but governing our trading behavior according to the described dimensions of an algorithm.

Adam: How does this differ from the algorithmic trading most firms do?

Al: Most firms take the movement of the markets as the dimensions which their algorithms seek to describe. They analyze the quantitative data of the market in the attempt to predict the market, or at least make trades that make sense according to the data of the market. Our algorithms don't come from quantitative analysis, at least originally. Though of course, we have to find a place of correlation between our algorithms and the market in order to design the trades.

Adam: What do you base your algorithms on, if not market data?

Al: Pretty much any sort of naturally-described motion. Anything that can have data collected on it. Thermodynamics. Virus replication. Quantum physics. The weather patterns. Auto traffic models.

Adam: You make trades based on the weather?

Al: Well, it sounds that way, but not really. Any of these natural phenomena can be described, though not perfectly, with algorithmic modeling. I work with a guy at Cal Tech who specializes in these sorts of complex mathematical models. I take these models that he defines, and then interpret them, finding how they correlate to market data. They aren't microcosms of the market--but generalized patterns of natural motion tend to have corrolaries in other parts of the natural world. Hurricanes don't match market crashes, but pressure shifts on a certain day might be similar to currency fluctuations. The skill is in finding what to apply the algorithm to, and to have the fortitude to see the experiment through.

Adam: And it is successful?

Al: Largely, yes. We tend to do consistently 35% over any particular market in which we do business. This Thursday, we earned 15% on the market crash. In one day. We were using an algorithm based and inspired by bee movement.

Adam: You're referring to Thursday, May 6th, when the Dow had the biggest intraday loss in history, losing over 1000 points before rebounding. You say you made 15% on a single day? Using bees?

Al: Bees are a social entity. Their motion, both in their hives and in their environment, are based upon what are basically social cues, in an insect society. Any sort of panic is a social phenomenon. By studying one, which is easily mappable, you can make conjectures on another. We had an algorithm in place, and it paid off. The computer bought low, and sold higher.

Adam: There is speculation that computer algorithms caused the crash. But you made money on it. Is this moral? Illegal?

Al: Well, I don't know about the morality of it. But most traders use algorithms based on data they've collected, and judgments they've made. They're using math, but their math is still a function of their larger social pattern as human beings. By looking at their algorithms as part of the data, we map them as well. We can guess what their algorithms will do, and when they might pull the plug. Then we can benefit.

Adam: So is this legal?

Al: It's not illegal. The SEC is investigating algorithmic trading, supposedly. But it's just another way of making a decision. Whether it's flipping a coin, or using a multi-processor computer, it's just another tool to make a trade. Maybe they'll try and limit the speed of the trading, to keep it from snowballing. But there is so much money, and so many trades, a panic, or glitch, or whatever you want to call it is impossible to avoid entirely. It's a market. It's a system, and that's how the system works.

Adam: How did you discover this method? Just sitting in front of the computer, trying things until it worked?

Al: The Cal Tech professor and I were working on a project with robots.

Adam: Okay, robots? How are robots related?

Al: There were a bunch of autonomous insect-like robots, programmed to get to the highest point of a terrain. They learned to climb onto each other, to get higher up. They were physically designed to be able to climb each other, but they were not preprogrammed to do so. The key to the programming was that they were not forced to hurry as fast as possible, or they would tumble off of each other as they each tried to climb. Their time axis was extended, so as long as at some point during the experiment, they reached the highest part of the room, they would be considered to have succeeded their programming. They waiting for the opportunity, basically taking turns, and did much better than they would have done if they moved all at the same time.
We figured we were the robots--rather than try and force the our market strategy to succeed at once, we extend our T axis, and keep our various algorithms going. At some point, the opportunity for a natural motion pattern to succeed will make itself available. We don't need to worry about the odds of a crash, or the odds of a sudden sky-rocket. Capital shifts like the robots, and time is irrelevant. We just need to wait with our algorithms, until we can get a leg up, and then we can climb to the top.

Adam: You realize this sounds like a crazy, sci-fi hippie scheme?

Al: Well, we don't really go into a room of quants, mathematicians, drug users, sci-fi authors, or anyone else, and claim to understand the fabric of the universe. We don't. We just found a system, and stick with it, that seems to work. Other people have other systems, and they work. Investment groups hire tons of skilled traders, and that system works for them. This is our system.

Adam: So what other algorithms are you working on?

Al: I'm excited about one based on data collected from Google News. The way interest builds on certain topics, and they become "media headlines", so to speak. The ratios at which they collect, and at what levels they spike, we've found to be significant. We're also been looking into how oil spreads on water, studying data from the BP oil spill. The interaction of large masses of two homogenous, yet different fluids is very interesting. We've also been looking at sex.

Adam: Tell us more about sex.

Al: Watching how singles of various standardized rated levels of attractiveness, among a particular sub-culture, interact over the course of a night at a bar. The conversations, the pairings, and who leaves with whom. If you quantify it, basically you get a hierarchical choice tree. If you rate attractiveness on a level of one to ten, you have a base-ten selection algorithm.

Adam: So you expect people to believe you pretty much make money off Google News?

Al: We don't make money off the news--we make money of the fact of the social existence of news. The same "fact" of people publishing and reading and linking to news is the same fact of buying and selling on the market. That's what makes us money. The market isn't a free market, a state market, an investment market, or any of that. It's just a market--a series of relationships. People buy and sell things as part of society, and what we do is just the mathematical extension. You don't have to believe anything anymore, but regardless of what you do, people will make decisions, and either succeed, or not.

Adam: Anything algorithms based on Twitter?

Al: We tried to model Twitter Trends and re-tweets via the API firehose, but the data just wasn't very interesting. Mostly second-order algorithms. The key is finding something that is complicated enough that it makes a pattern that isn't inherently obvious. Then, you can match it to market data, and find things that improve upon just straight guessing, or market models.

Adam: Any plans for the future with this theory? Or just keep at it?

Al: I'll just keep making money, I guess. It's too bad that we put so much capital into, basically, a mathematics exercise. We can't really apply this to anything else. You can get 35% over market with trading, but what's the point of getting 35% over, say, human movement at a rock concert, or 35% over random chemical reactions? There's only a payoff for beating randomness in the financial markets.


The Harsh Real Estate Market of Creativity

Like most good ideas, someone has done it before.

Just read about this today. Looks like they did a version back in 2008.

This artwork, in the realm of architecture and performance, starts as a massive tower created from lashed together bamboo poles and brings into space representations of complexity and chaos. At its pinnacle, the continually evolving architecture being built from within (no outside scaffolding or support) will cantilever out as far as the bamboo poles network allows, and then will bridge down to the floor.

Theirs moves, I guess. And it is meant to have platforms and walkways, more like a scaffold, where as my tube structure was more to block off space, rather than support movement.

I also like how their piece is justified by the usual artist bullshit, where as I justified mine as a cure for boredom, and a rejection of the super-ego's censorship of crazy/stupid sorta-creative ideas.

Big Bambú is connotative of an autonomous, spontaneous, self-governing, disorganized network responding to itself to better navigate the environment. “It represents me- in that I am who I was, and, I am completely different than I was when I was a little boy.” Doug Starn writes.

Yeah, whatever. Rhizomes and shit. We've all read it on the internet somewhere before. How about you don't "direct a team of 8-13 rock climbers" in something "spontaneous and autonomous" on the roof of the MOMA, and just fill your fuckin' house with tubes, man? Am I right, or am I right?

Anyway, the good news is that the Salem Art Association is letting us (M and myself) fill an old department store with tubes, along with M's sewn cloth monster/plant constructions. I just placed an order for 5000 tubes. As @burnlab said, "That's a lot of hot glue." Yep.

They want us to write an artist statement too. I'm looking forward to it, mostly because I hate artists statements. Rejecting the urge to do something overly sarcastic, about how our structure represents "my authoritarian, oligarchical, well-planned, dogmatic, fascist childhood". THIS IS NOT ART: THIS IS A BUREAUCRATIC DEPARTMENT OF MORAL IMPERATIVES. No. Maybe micro-fiction is the key?

We start construction today. We'll have assistants as well, supposedly. Maybe I'll quote them when their not expecting it, swearing as tubes fall on their heads, and use this as the artist statement. I plan on temporarily unionizing them, at the very least. :)

More info on the opening when we get closer.

Dream Description

Sometimes a dream doesn't seem quite as amazing once you've had a day to think about it, but my dream of the night before last still had some interesting features. Let me run it down for you.

I was at the brand-new "Museum of Cultural Perception" in a major East Coast city. The museum was a lot like a science museum--lots of hands-on exhibits, not meant to demonstrate the bias of cultural perceptions, so much as encourage them. Small myths about sub-cultures, the environment, etc.

The museum culminated around a central hall, with a large domed ceiling, not unlike the Pantheon in Rome. In the center of the hall, there was a massive bonfire burning, with flames lapping the ceiling, and going up through a hole (like the Pantheon). Into this bonfire, the museum goers were throwing the bodies of various mammals, mostly dead or dying. I saw a father encouraging his two children to lift a dead seal carcass to throw into the fire.

I left the museum, and outside was a giant truck fashioned into a Slurpie machine on wheels, with big hoses through which they were dispensing free Slurpie, in some horrible promotional red-green color. The operators were wearing space suits with domed helmets, and were having trouble operating the hoses.

I walked down the block with a friend, and we heard loud explosions, and turned around to see the museum blowing up, in various small blasts of flame and debris, probably twenty or so small localized blasts from all over the facade of the museum. Then I remembered we had left two friends behind in the building, who had wanted to see one last exhibit. We were going to go back to look for them, but before we did, I sent several text messages from my phone to tell anyone who heard about the bombing (because it was definitely a bombing, in my dream-mind) that I was okay.

And, scene.

CPSC Micro-fiction #5

CPSC Notices 5/20/2010

Walmart Recalls General Electric® Coffee Makers Due to Fire Hazard - The coffee maker can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. Walmart has received 83 reports of overheating, smoking, melting, burning and fire, including three reports of minor burn injuries to consumer’s hands, feet and torso. Reports of property damage include a significant kitchen fire and damage to countertops, cabinets and a wall.

Target Recalls Storage Trunks Due to Strangulation Hazard - The lid of the trunk can drop suddenly when released, posing a strangulation hazard to small children opening or reaching into the trunks. CPSC has received two reports of injuries that occurred when the storage trunks’ lids suddenly closed on children, including one report of an 18-month-old girl who reportedly suffered brain damage when the trunk’s lid came down on the back of her neck and pinned her throat against the rim of the trunk.

Micro-fiction 5/20/2010

He made the coffee. He always does. He's so attuned to the vibrations coming through the grinder that he can feel the precise moment when the beans whirring through the blade are the optimal size, when the particulate matter is in the exact concentration of fragment, grains, and dust to best percolate through the filter. Something like that.
He poured the water into the reservoir, pushed the button, black on stainless steel. Then we sat at the kitchen table and didn't look at each other. We looked at the wicker trunk, under the window, the rays of sunlight highlighting the dark gaps between the weave.
"I'm sorry," I finally said. He didn't say anything. The coffee pot clicked, and gurgled. He never says anything. This is my vibration.
"We never should have opened it. We knew, and we did it anyway."
He folded his hands on the table and sighed, but imperceptibly, so I wouldn't see.
"I'll get rid of the trunk. It's all we can do now. It'll be gone by the time you come home."
The coffee was finished. He stood up, and reached for the mugs.
"I never would have thought... inside there..." I started, but couldn't finish.
He handed me a cup. "Be careful. It's hot," he told me.
We both sat quietly, watching the steam rise in the morning sun.

(I'm resisting the urge to provide commentary on these, to explain my motivations for the fiction based on the CPSC notices. The urge is made more intense by the fact that often there are real deaths, injuries, and damage associated with the recalls. I feel I need to phrase the fiction as a response to this distruction, to ensure my literary action is adequate. But of course, this violates the principle of micro-fiction, skirting the "rules", as it were. Anyway, this "need to speak as action" dynamic was in my mind when I wrote this one, and perhaps that says it better than anything.)

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.


CPSC Micro-fiction #4

CPSC Notices 5/17/10

Mall of America Recalls Plush Toy Due to Choking Hazard - Young children can remove and ingest the squirrel's nose, which poses a choking hazard. No injuries reported.

Children's Deaths Prompt Recall of Toy Dart Gun Sets Sold Exclusively at Family Dollar Stores - If a child places the soft, pliable plastic toy dart in his/her mouth, the toy can be inhaled into the throat and prevent the child from breathing. CPSC and Family Dollar have received reports of two asphyxiation deaths involving a 9-year-old boy in Chicago, Ill. and a 10-year-old boy in Milwaukee, Wis.

Micro-fiction 5/17/10

"It's no crime," she said, first time she kissed me.
First time we stuck up that man on the avenue for cash, it was.
Don't matter where it starts, matters where it goes.
Where we were now, I don't know, but I'm not letting her hold me back from where I'm going.
"No more of that Dollar Store shit," I speak to her purple top, cinched tight in the middle how she wore it, always trying to change my mind. "I'm gonna knock off the Mall of America."
"I know," Susan looks at her bare feet. "And that's why I called the cops. You won't make it. They'll kill you."
I raise my Gordy Auto Fire 238, and pull back to cycle the first of eight bright red shells into the chamber.
She has a single tear running down the scar across her nose. "Sarah, I love you," she whispers.
"Love is a crime, " I say.

(The first actual injuries we've covered in this series, and two deaths to boot. Two deaths from a toy gun deserve some memorializing hard-boiled micro-fiction. Yes? No? What's appropriate? More toy guns?)

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.


Two New Short Stories

...are on Brute Press.

Go. Read.

I won't say anything about them, except I was inspired to finally release these to the world by the Supreme Court upholding the indefinite detention of prisoners deemed "sexually dangerous". This obviously means rapists and pedaphiles, but despite these real criminals being dangerous, the court opinion still uses the oblique phrase "sexually dangerous". Dangerous via sexuality? Dangerous to sexuality? Exceptionally dangerous in a sexual way? Or dangerous because their crimes are linked to irrepressible sexual urge? The Supreme Court doesn't make a distinction.

This country is no stranger to locking up "sexually dangerous" people for any of these interpretations of the phrase. Now they can do it beyond a court of law, because folks, the danger here, is of a "sexual" nature.

So in honor of being un-concretely "sexually dangerous", I give these stories (and especially one of them) to the world. Nothing that hasn't been written about before. Maybe nothing you haven't done before. Two stories you haven't read before.

Thinking of the children,


Technological Metastasization


10 Year Cell Phone/Cancer study is inconclusive.

The interesting thing about this is not whether or not cell phones are putting the daemon-seed in your dome-piece, the interesting thing is that it takes TEN YEARS to get an inconclusive study.

What if there was some amazing new piece of technology that just happened to be latently deadly? What if the new retina-control i-EYE-Pads cause measurable blindness over, say, fifteen years of use? That's fifteen years of an amazingly influential piece of technology burrowing into our culture, economy, and our-very-structure-of-language, before we realize we are all going to be blind in another five? Technology moves at such a fast pace, we could kill ourselves off with a hype new gizmo before we can even diagnose ourselves.

And where the hell do you find a control group for this sort of study, anyway? Where do you find a measurable slice of humanity that doesn't use cell phones or isn't around cell phone use for a significant amount of years? Not the third world. The higher Andes? Monks in Tibet? People who have lifestyles and nutrition and genetics totally different from us? Is such a study even possible?

Or is technology so enmeshed into our lives, that it is not even separable from our body systems? Is this like, wondering if having blonde hair makes you live longer, but more like wondering if walking upright makes you live longer? If consciousness drives you crazy? How can we tell if this evolutionary mutation is a good one, or a bad one? Or is there no way to tell?

Can we not predict our health, if we don't even know what product Apple is going to release within a year? What happens to our deductive modeling of our future based on empirical evidence? What happens to science, as progress? Is science just a symbol of our own mutation? Is science a new virus, introducing some unimaginable majority of our current DNA, and therefore, distorting our destiny-as-species based on such anti-progress economics like infection and global pandemics, rather than the scientific method ?

Hari Seldon, where are you?


Interface Me With Speed Please

So, with the ongoing obvious caveat that any sort of blogging on gadgets or technology is probably a waste of your time and no doubt conceitedly wrong-headed if not erroneous on its face...

I've been thinking some more about portable computing interfaces. Nerd alert.

SO, basically, the deal is that I am, like, really excited for the Chrome OS. The more I use Chrome as a browser, the more I realize how superior it is to other browsers simply for that RUSH of SPEED like gunning a V8 on a stretch of western highway, that even the smallest hint of acceleration in this velocity-twisted information economy is like a drug after a couple days of being off the stuff. And accordingly, I'm using more and more web apps. Google Docs? Loads and saves faster than a text editor. Gmail? FUCK Outlook. Never again. Switching between seven windows, fifteen tabs, faster than opening a new Windows Explorer window? Put it all online. I don't care. I'll do anything for that RAW, that FAST, that DATA-RUSH interface high that is instant micro-multi-tasking.

So, the iPad. The future of computing, maybe? According to the media? According to people who like shiny things? I had a new idea about this.

The iPad is the bridge. Many gripes about the possibility of Chrome OS sucking involve the potential lack of native applications. I have no idea if this is true or not, but, let's look at the iPhone OS.

Of the 50 apps I have on my iPhone, 30 of them would have no function if not connected to the network. Of the other 20, 12 are straight-up games, and then 5 more are basically "entertainment related" (a simple program without the need to save much data or interface with other apps). There are 3 stand-alone apps on my iPhone that I have downloaded, that improve the function of my mini-computer without an Internet connection.

Now, if Apple let you really alter the structure of their mini-computers, I might have some more utilities, some need to save data to the device itself. But they have already made it, for almost all intents and purposes, a Network-OS. And we've learned to love it. In fact, our use of the internet as an interface has shifted to take advantage of this relatively light-weight OS, utilizing networks rather than storage space, the cloud rather than OS, html and scripting rather than registry and resources.

Now for the second big part of the iPhone OS: multi-touch. Also, changed our interface to data. I find it absolutely incomprehensible that I can hand an e-coupon pulled up on my iPhone screen to any store clerk in America, and they will pinch and flick as naturally as if they were opening a paper envelope. Have an iPhone? Look at the way you turn the pages of a book. It's a little different now, isn't it?

This was what spurned this thought: this week I was talking to an IT tech in my work's new building. He was using a Fujitsu tablet PC, running Windows 7. So he says, this is the only tablet PC on the market that is multi-touch capable. He had bumped it up with 8gigs of RAM, SSD, etc (though bear in mind that in all these anecdotal examples I'm about to give, its really the SSD making the difference). He showed it to me--pretty slick. Boots from cold in less than 10 seconds. Loads programs as fast as you can click (literally, I watched him do it). Scrolls Microsoft's Earth mapping program, pinch, flick, all that, beautifully. Not like "other" multi-touch phones, that don't quite have that iPhone zip, but exactly the same.

Now the interesting part, is that he says it is best on Microsoft programs. Why? Because Microsoft has designed Windows 7 for multi-touch. I asked him what other companies have multi-touch capable software. No one. Because this is the only tablet PC with multi-touch (I think HP has that media wide-screen desktop thing, don't they? That's a custom, light-weight OS though, I think). He said he uses Explorer as a browser (I know, right?) because it's so seamless. Because it is designed for the interface. Everything else just acts like his finger is a mouse.

So, what I realized is not that any particular OS is going to be the next-new-whatever, but that I continue to see evidence in furtherance of the thesis that it is not any particular functionality that is really driving the usefulness of technology, but the seamlessness of the interface. The seamlessness is the SPEED by which we can interface our data. The quick response of the steering wheel that makes us think we are driving a high performance sports car, even if we are not. We want to feel the pull of the acceleration on our loins, see the speeding white lines of our data as we open and close it at will, flicking it around the roadway. The deep, psychical pull of the modern obsession with speed and acceleration is too deep rooted for us to be post-speed. Control is just too sexy.

iPhone OS taught us to love speed again. It taught us that as long as we're moving fast, we're interfacing our data better. And for the most part, this seems to be correct.

Now, if the Chrome browser is any indication, Chrome OS could be our flying car. We're okay with interfacing all data to the network. We'll adapt for the speed of it. I have no idea if Chrome OS is going to be multi-touch capable or not, but I can tell you that I'm sure developing multi-touch for a OS based on a browser is a lot easier than for Windows 7 and all Microsoft software. Firefox has multi-touch. Does the Chrome browser? I forgot to ask my new IT friend. But how much of a leap will that be?

And you know what the Chrome OS will definitely have that the iPhone OS will not? Moveable walls. It's going to be open-source, or at least open-enough that you can run say, a light-weight Ubuntu partition for all your old-school, mouse-click native apps and games, hard-save data, and private-private-private stuff, and then Chrome OS for your network interface. My IT friend had a couple virtual OS's on his souped-up Fujitsu. Know how long it took him to boot a virtual XP OS? Less than a second. Ubuntu? Less than that.

iPhone OS has made a lot, a lot of money off of its closed nature, because it pulled ahead. It was the innovator, and as such, was showered with gold. But apart from a high-design drink coaster, what is it they are really introducing? Something that they cannot hold by themselves forever. It's only a matter of time before someone else can replicate it, and they will replicate it open-source (whether its Google or not, simply to highlight their competition with Apple) and it will be cheap and fast and easy and will go onto any netbook you can slap a multi-touch screen on. People will buy Apple, because Apple makes very nice coasters. But their lock on the interface can't continue for ever. Nobody can restrain the human impulse for interface speed.

So, as sure as I can be without it actually existing yet, I'm super primed to buy a multi-touch mini tablet as soon as Chrome OS is actually an actually thing.

Next week: back to your regularly scheduled predictions and condemnations about the death of god, the re-birth of sex, anti-capitalist economics, and drug-addled anarchistic metaphysics.


CPSC Micro-fiction #3

CPSC Notices 4/13/10

Children's Sweatshirts Recalled by Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A. Due to Violation of Federal Flammability Standard - The sweatshirts fail to meet federal flammability standards for wearing apparel, posing a risk of burn hazard to consumers. No injuries reported.

Junk Food Clothing Co. Recalls Children's Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings Due to Strangulation Hazard - The hooded sweatshirts have a drawstring at the neck which can pose a strangulation hazard to children. In February 1996, CPSC issued guidelines (pdf) (which were incorporated into an industry voluntary standard in 1997) to help prevent children from strangling or getting entangled on the neck and waist drawstrings in upper garments, such as jackets and sweatshirts. No injuries reported.

Microfiction 5/13/10

His shirt was brown, and my shirt was blue. He pulled up his hood and I pulled up mine and I looked and him and he looked at me. He was an inch taller than I was but I weighed fifteen more pounds. He was an evil little sun of a bitch, and I was the only good one left on the earth. He knew he would attack me and I knew he would too, but he knew I would wait for him to move first and I knew he was impatient. He was the last one left to kill, and I was the last one left to do it. He was the devil child, and I was the murderous kid.
He leaped at me with his hands out stretched, I pulled all my chakra into my fists. He got his hands round my neck and my hands went up into his belly. He twisted his fingers into my flesh like screws, and I pounded against him like iron pistons. His flesh sprung alight, and his skin began to blister. My air disappeared, and the world went dark. He choked me, and I burnt him. He was a raging torch of holy flame, his life turned to ash. I was a stretched out Tartarus, falling into blackness. He was consumed, and I consumed myself. Together we died.

For information about this series, please see the introductory post.

Micro-payment Feudalism

I'm about to propose that micro-payments are a system of capitalist exploitation, the scope and potential of which have not been seen since the days of feudalism.

Ready? Go.

The myth of micro-payments is that the little guy can make money off of what was free, by charging only a small amount for it. Because these payments are in the digital arena, there are basically no raw materials costs, and therefore any payment whatsoever is pure profit.

This is the dream of capitalism: a reduction of labor costs to zero, so that any amount charged is complete surplus value. A money making machine.

But what this forgets is the system of distribution. The system of distribution is fundamental to a market--in fact, it is the oft forgotten twin sibling of production. You cannot sell anything you produce unless it gets to those willing to pay, and so any value of your product is as dependent upon distribution as production.

The market of the Internet is of a feudal land market.

With land as the only material form of wealth, those with land will consolidate their land, using their land to increase the value of their land. In a feudal society, the land is the resource from which anyone lives. Of course, a square mile of land can support more than the people who live on it (i.e. relatively few users per mile) so an ownership class can develop, who are not working the land, but simply owning and coordinating it, providing limited access to their serfs in exchange for the surplus produce.

This changed with the industrial revolution, when a working class could be established that would further the owner-class' capital (value now dissociated from the land) by being paid, as long as profits were still collected. When value was pulled away from the land, and became "materials" or "labor" or "market share", capitalism was invented, because anyone could profit anywhere, as long as they found a way to charge a markup. Anyone could profit, except those working with their hands, of course.

Now that raw materials (at least in terms of media) are becoming valueless, and workers are in oversupply, we're moving back towards that feudalism. If raw materials for media still cost anything, some of that value might trickle back to the workers who are actually making it. But as it is, media is all over the place, and only distributors can make any money off of it. The consolidation of media is taking the place of land ownership, and the micro-payment is the deflationary liquidity by which it is valued. People might pay for some media, but the media with any actual value is the media that is circled tightly around already valuable media. Those with the ability to consolidate many micro-payments are actually making money, while the vast majority of people are working for pennies digging around in the mud compared to those with the distribution networks under their control.

Just because someone can flip you a nickel for doing your media dance does not mean that they aren't going to flip most of their nickels to the naked-on-demand-HD-video-constantly-updated-dance-network. I think there is a belief that because micro-payments are "micro", they will somehow spin straw into gold for the little guy. If anything, by INCREASING the value of money at smaller increments (making these sums liquid to those who can collect on the large scale) they will hurt people trading on small scales, because their fewer transactions will earn them less money. If a penny was all of a sudden the value of a $1 mil., you wouldn't be rich by reaching into the "take a penny" bin. The convenience store would be rich for having 17 cents just sitting on their counter that someone gave them for nothing. It's a type of transactional deflation. Think of it: YouTube starts charging a penny a video watch. At roughly a billion views a day, they make $10 mil. a day. Now, you try charging a dollar per view for your own video. You might have made $10 a day from your 10 video views, except that all those viewers are now going to YouTube for a 99% discount. If you charge the same as YouTube, you are clearing 10 cents, while YouTube is making 10 mil. You might as well make nothing. Micro-payments support capitalists, because it makes consolidation profitable.

We're led to believe that because ANYONE can collect micro-payments, ANYONE can collect a lot of micro-payments. But there is no evidence to support this belief. It is the dream of a minor merchant, hoping to be a lord.

Say you are a photographer, or a writer, or a musician. You produce your media and put it online. You put up a micro-payment system. Maybe you collect enough to keep doing it, to pay for hosting and tech fees. Maybe you even make a bit more, and have enough left over to micro-pay tips to your friends who are doing the same thing. You're basically operating at a digital barter-economy level.

But then, you hit it big. BoingBoing drops your link, the constant unfolding of which is driving they're own "micro-payment" of ad payments per view. Your micropayments sky-rocket. You have surplus wealth. What do you do with it? Distribute it to your friends? Or start your own podcast? Hire some staff writers for your blog? Set up digital-franchises?

Next thing you know, you're being bought out by Gawker Media. You're an editor now, a curator of content. You siphon your friends' media through your big micro-payment mainstream-blog farm, telling yourself its okay you're not paying them, because they each are getting trickle-down micro-payments from your powerful link distribution system. You make or break entertainers, using them to feed the network of links, each one generating a fraction of a cent, with you at the hub. You are the landlord now. How does it feel? Drink the milkshake. Drink it up.

The micro-payment theory of the Internet combines this feudalistic consolidation with a Manifest Destiny view of the infinite characteristic of markets. We could all achieve payment, and make a living, if there were an infinite amount of media consumers, with an infinite amount of nickels to give us. There are a lot of consumers, but they are not infinite. This is a gold rush, a New World. Most of us homesteaders are just going to end up moving back to the city, and working in the factory. None of us are going to strike it rich with micro-payments. The only people who will, will be those in control of the distribution. The big mine owners. Those who can set up the shipping companies. Those selling us the tickets to California. But while the cost of media's raw materials has evaporated, the influx of capital is the same as it ever was. The market is still a market, no matter how small.

So what do micro-payments do for you? Nothing, except re-orient the market so that your work is less valuable, and that those who are already making money can make more. But then again, to some people who are underwater on their mortgages, signing a share-cropping agreement with the bank might seem like a good deal. Or moving back in with mom and dad. Or, you know, like crawling back into the womb.

But, creative media has an advantage over capital. Creativity does not require investment to exist. The economies of entertainment, literature consumption, and media production do not strictly need cash investment--they need mental, attention investment. This is another marketplace that has a different sort of power. There are those who would horde attention as well--but luckily, the human's capacity to supply attention well over-fulfills the demand, and so the consolidation of attention is not as strong as the consolidation of capital. The demand for capital seems pretty near limitless. Maybe by playing this market over the capitalist markets that tend towards exploitation of distribution, we can organize. Attention is the seed of organization, after all--the same process, but different market. Someone is going to control the productive market--will it be those who can consolidate the capital, or those who can organize the attention?

Take away:

A) the myth of micro-payments lie in the idea that they improve market standing for the little guy by increasing "free" to "pure profit" in the digital arena.

B) this is a myth, because micro-payments actually constitute market deflation by consolidating value around pre-existing value mechanisms of distribution and market control.

C) micro-payments, in a void of other material costs (that might trickle back to the actual producers), represent a new feudalism by making cumulative value in distribution the only source of value, and thereby awarding real value only to those who already control value.

D) We're tempted, as always, to participate in the game by a distortion of the way the market actually works, and accordingly, the promise of advance from the bottom up.

E) The good news is that digital media doesn't need capital at all. And attention might be a trumping market.


CPSC Micro-fiction #2

CPSC Notices 5/12/10

Rome Snowboards Recalls Bindings Due to Fall Hazard - The snowboard binding’s base plate can break at cold temperatures, posing a fall hazard to snowboarders. The firm has received 14 reports of base plates breaking. No injuries have been reported.

Remote-Controlled Helicopters Recalled by Imagine Nation Books Due to Fire and Burn Hazards - The rechargeable battery inside the helicopters can overheat, igniting the helicopter and posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. The firm has received 49 reports of the helicopters overheating, including six reports of flames coming from the helicopters, and one report of minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Microfiction 5/12/10

No one would die today. The small helicopter fell out of the sky, in flames. The controls dropped from my hands, and I did not see them land. I flew into the air, as my broken snowboard bindings caught upon the white blanket of snow. I heard a snap, and felt my feet begin to move separately from each other. The helicopter began to fly erratically, not responding to my commands. I sailed down the hill faster, eyes in the sky, watching the helicopter attain its target. The wind picked up as I took off from behind the tree where I waited. I launched the helicopter on its mission, sailing through the air silently, it's deadly package hanging below it. I put down the binoculars, knowing it was time. I looked at the men on the trucks, unaware I was stalking them from up the hill. I pulled the binoculars and the controls to the bomb from my white parka, two black objects against a pure white hillside. I would have to follow the bomb down the hill to stay in range. I had been practicing my snowboarding technique for weeks, preparing for this attack. I took a deep breath, and steeled myself for what I was about to do.

(I forgot to mention that the criteria I'm using for the micro-fiction is less than 250 words. If this gets boring, I might decrease it to 99 words, which for me anyway, is much more of a challenge.

CPSC Micro-fiction #1

CPSC Notices 5/10/12

A) Claire's Recalls Children's Metal Charm Bracelets Due to High Levels of Cadmium

B) The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act's (P&SSAct) State Grant program is now accepting applications for funding from eligible states. The P&SSAct intends to enhance the safety of pools and spas by reducing child drownings and suction entrapment incidents and educating the public on the importance of safety devices and constant supervision of children in and around water. CPSC is the lead agency in implementing and enforcing the Act, which was signed into law in December 2007.

Micro-fiction 5/10/12

I found the letters, each a different shape, just lines really, all bent together. I drew them for father and he thought they were pretty. "You say they spell words?" I showed him how. He went down into his shop and he got out the metals--he melted and smelted and poured and pounded. Then he asked me again to draw the shapes. I did, and he slowly etched them into metal, one each on the clasps, twenty-two in all, and then fastened them into a band. He slipped it around my wrist. "Now you'll always have them with you."
I showed them Europa, and she thought they were neat. We went out by the pool to play while father took a nap. We tossed the bracelet back and forth, so light, so shiny. My letters flew back and forth between us as we sang. I threw them up high, and Europa missed. We could see them sink down below, in the clear water. "I'll get them for you," she said quickly, and dove in the water. I saw her go down. But she never came back up. Neither did the letters. I've forgotten Europa's little face. I still remember the letters though.

Microfiction and Product Death

I have a lot of literary balls in the air right now, so it's time to start committing a few to the Internet, to get them out of the way.

I've been thinking a lot about micro-fiction recently. At first I was against the idea of some sort of gimmicky constraint on the fiction-writing process. But then, after I tried writing a bit of micro-fiction, my perspective changed. The process by which one writes micro-fiction is different than simply writing. The space constraint means that each sentence must be packed full of meaning, taking the reader somewhere very purposefully. Adjectives are deleted, as is repetition. Sentence structure is made as minimal as possible, very efficient. You start discovering ways to hack the grammar, to say more with less. What subjects and objects can be dropped completely? When would simply a verb suffice as a sentence on its own?

A thing I always look at, in any sort of literature, is the assemblage of the writing. Sure, you've written something enjoyable of a certain length, it's a novel. But what does this novel attempt to do? Does it have a goal? Why or why not? What goals should writing have, if not just informative depiction, or entertainment? If it is less than a novel, what is it, and why? With micro-fiction, often the goal is a joke or a riddle. You let on only enough information for the reader to discover the "catch" by the time they get to the last line. Hemingway's "six word story" is one of these (and often the classic example of micro-fiction). The goal of that story is that you "get it", but only at the very end. The Joke formation is a classic trope-goal of human literature. It is like a vector model of motion: you move in one direction, and then another vector sends you in another direction. You thought you got it, but the punch line makes it mean something different, and NOW you "get it". There's nothing wrong with this; except, maybe that it is all do easy to use this as the "goal" when you have only a few words to use.

What else can micro-fiction do? What is worth saying in just a few words?

If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed I have a certain preoccupation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's product recalls. I follow their RSS feed (which is available through the link) with great interest. The interest is macabre--not quite dark, perverted, or Modernist enough to be considered Ballardian, but still there is something quite bizarre about the physical dangers of every day consumer objects. It's kind of like an infomercial coupled with a death announcement. Sharp blades, hazardous chemicals, high voltages, extreme temperatures, pinch and choke points, and deadly stored inertial energy are around us all day long, but normally sealed within lovely consumer design, like a butler with a pistol. The CPSC does fantastic work. We may think to mock the safety-conscious "nerds" who test every day products for any conceivable danger, but the days of caveat emptor have been replaced by strong protections against the profit-seekers. Most recalls come from these elaborate safety laboratories, protecting us from the danger we need never know. And yet, if you search the CPSC's public records, you will find that several product recalls a year do not occur without registered deaths and serious injury being attributed to faulty design, materials, and construction.

A consumer device--something so innocuous and common-place--can also be the symbol of any person's particular death drive. The death we seek out, and pay for, in the form of convenience and good design. Death lurks under all of our desires, the entropy at the end of the joke that is our lives.

Perhaps micro-fiction and consumer-hazard were meant to be together. The short, consumable package, the encased, enclosed, economically-packaged power--and the end result, the final toll, the end of the story. Maybe together, they can find a meaning for each other.

I'm going to write a micro-fiction story inspired by each day's worth of CPSC recalls, and publish them here (amid my other blog rambling). Not every CPSC recall is interesting, and they may not come out every day. Not every story I write will be interesting, either. But at least they will be short and easily consumable. And in some of them, we may just find the product we've been searching for. I'll continue the experiment until I recall it, or until it's made obsolete.



All over the world, mathematicians roam beaches the length of which are infinite....

This means that unless there are an infinite number of mathematicians, each mathematician has an infinite length of coastline to roam.


Users Program Their Own Functionality

Early morning coffee thought:

Perhaps the next big thing ought (dangerous word, that) to be customization of software.

I already wrote a bit about how our interfaces, the means by which we access our data, are tailored to an unreasonable expectation of "the common user", rather than our actual needs or uses of that software.

Think of this as the death of software humanism.

Consider: how much did you pay for the software (I know "app" is "in" now, but indulge my anachronism) that you use the most? $500? (fancy processing suite) $50? (video game) $5? (phone app) $0? (media player)

Your investment ranged from a lot, to nothing. Now: how much would you pay to fix "that one thing you can't stand" about the program? Or, to add that "one feature you really really want?" You might add another $50 to your $500 investment? Or you might pay $2 for something you downloaded free?

Somewhere, the sound of a cash register is waking up a capitalist.

Think about it. Most users probably uses 10% to 50% of the functionality of a given application. Why are they paying for the entire program? Why are the advanced users paying for the support of all the features for users who won't use them? What features are popular, and what features are useful? What new features would engender the need for further features? What features lead users into bad use habits, than then engender the need for new features they never needed to begin with?

The development of software is sadly, a simple timeline. Why is version just another succession? Why aren't there versions 10.4.2.A and 10.4.2.B? The use of the software is actually being limited by its development. Sure, there are support costs, but think how many different version of a software are in use simply because people don't update. M had iTunes 6 until I made her update recently. People are using old versions of software because they don't want to keep track of new releases, and therefore missing out on bug fixes that would improve their use. So there already are multiple versions out there, but the feature set ranges from "crappy" to "less crappy". M didn't update, because she didn't need all the advanced features, like Genius, etc. Okay. So give her the paired down version. If she was using software with only features she liked and wanted, maybe she would be more invested in bug fixes.

Right now, only a few really interested users keep track of new releases. The rest of people click "ok to update" by accident. But if people were given the option to define the sort of program they used, and to control what it could do, they would probably opt for simplicity they could understand. And beginning here, they could expand their use of the software. Once the basic level is mastered, they could experiment with new features.

Of course, the worry is that this will lead to a full menu of options that people don't understand, like the Windows 7 release prelude. What's the difference between Home Professional and Amateur Office Complete Suite? And what about a hundred different paywalls, blocking your ease of mastering the software as it asks you for $5 per new menu you'd like to explore?

The key is not just to nickel and dime software users, anymore than to treat them like an undifferentiated mass. Software use has aspects of a market in it. It is a machine that thrives on masses. iTunes would never have become one of the biggest media player options, if it wasn't free. Many phone apps wouldn't make money at all if the "lite" version wasn't reduced in price. There's a lot of software, like WinRAR, and other utilities, of which only a few people are willing to buy the full version, and the rest are fine to get along with the shareware version. The reason that it is apparently "impossible to sell media" on the web, is that the machinic-masses of the files and the users, combined with the technology, have made this the conditions in which the technology is used. mp3s have gravitated towards nearly free. Adobe Suite has gravitated towards $1,000,000. This is the way software is used, and the way it defines the cost.

Now, the idea is to take the fluid variables beyond the shifting of cost, supply, and demand. Everyone knows this machine is fluid, and always shifting, trying to find its balance. Why is the functionality of software not seen as a similar machine, an interface of people, technology, semiotics, and data, that would benefit from the flexibility of being treated like a dynamic machine?

And of course, it acts like a dynamic machine already. The concept of shareware made its own popularity. Firefox has a large number of add-ons, treating functionality as apps. The concept of an app itself, a program and interface good for one specific task, is a step in this direction. We need to let functionality define itself. We need to let the users program the signs of the interface.

Next up: literature. I will totally re-write the my short story to end the way you want it to. $5 upgrade.


Slug Sex

Yeah, I know, Slug Sex sounds really great.

But it is amazingly sensual. (And I've always hated slugs.) It's like a sweet, sweet, Cronenberg love scene. Hemaphroditic invertebrates defying gravity in a twisting band of hormonal tension, encased in blossoming bands of mating mucus, while their sexual organs swell to encompass their entire bodies, in an act of throbbing, mutual insemination, the ultimate gestalt of sexual being.

Stars divide. The air burns. Rockets fly. Little slugs are made.

Trust me. Just watch it.

If nothing else, the mellifluous vocal tones of David Attenborough should sooth your humors.