Saturday, July 30, 2011

Holiday Themes

Time was I would post here nearly every day. Not so much anymore, now that I have a place in polite society again, gainfully employed doing something better than supporting the absurdly displaced lust for gadgetry to accelerate our lives.

It is true, though, that chasing after tail the way that IT guys do is good preparation for the insanely busy business of providing meaningful programming for export to Chinese educational tourists, which is what I do now. 24/7/365

It's my birthday though, and I feel positively hung over and wrecked from decompression on this my first day in many weeks with nothing on my schedule. I'm not going to clean the house, and I'm not going shopping unless I let loose some latent desire for new gadgetry. I sure don't want to blog! What a chore . . .

You know, I started my day with the LA Times, which is a new and healthy habit I have along with failing to each much meat and walking the dog for exercise. But there I was, distracted and working against that sense of guilt that I really should flip through the whole thing to find what's happening in the world.

Something about Harvey Milk in there, and I think I really should know if he's dead or alive - I saw the movie - and then glancing at the story there in the Times, I popped my forehead, duh! Of course, remember he was shot dead right there in the movie.

So I lay down the paper, but you know when you've had too much to do and suddenly you find yourself with nothing in particular that must be done right now, the entire mind, body and spirit continuum just lets loose or something and I feel like a really really old man. Or maybe it's just because it's my birthday? And I suddenly am a really old man?

Yesterday on their last day some very sweet Chinese students I'm hosting presented for their final project a look at Bill Gates as one among many "leaders" they could choose to analyze for the leadership qualities they'd come here to burnish. Since we in America now so evidently know so much about leadership the way that the Pied Piper leads little lemmings over the brink, maybe? Leadership! We'll sacrifice the globe for some idea, for chrissakes.

Bill Gates was quoted up on the screen. Stupid stuff like "find yourself on your own time, since no-one's going to pay you to do it." Or "there isn't any summer vacation in real life." He seemed to have a thing against school, you know, as though to listen to music or smell some roses were somehow a sin. And so maybe I sublimated that presentation from those sweet students and watched some music videos as represented by Time online as the best in history.

And you know, I watched a few and realized that everyone else was probably aware of these documents in their time, and I was just a dullard, like Bill Gates, assigning such stuff and nonsense no value. Certainly not enough to watch them through, either the first time or just now. But I think they were worth the investment, to those who invested in them just as Bonaroo might be or so my little-one tells me, though she herself was bored eventually, and hot and sticky and wanting a break.

But still I think I will do nothing. I don't know that Bill Gates has done anything worthwhile for the world, any more than Rupert Murdoch. I don't know why I feel somehow obligated to know the basic facts about what's going on in the world. There's no way to know that much detail and my brain deteriorates, which leaves not all that much for my mind to ride on. There's so much I can't remember, or at least can't call to mind with sufficient alacrity for it to matter if I could.

It must be that my mind does extend into all these little facts which my various smart devices allow me to check. Yes I know the date of Harvey Milk's death as soon as I can type or say the name and pause for facts' return to that little screen.

No doubt now, that Microsoft will soon re-dominate since they have their arsenal of patents and those patents' attorneys to force protection money from the competition, notoriously to the tune of $15 for each Android device. Which is more than Google makes. Which is zilch.

I wonder who's kidding whom? The Grand Narrative of the non-leadership classes would have us believe that government money spent goes down a rat-hole, though it buys us roads and clean water and safety regs. While the money spent on extortion rackets in the name of intellectual property law or real-estate bubble blowing for the sake of even further concentrations of wealth somehow gets to be thought productive!!!???

Yeah, so why bother, right? Why even pay attention at all? Certainly, why pick up the paper with any desire other than to flip to page 3, or where was that sexy music video among the brainy ones?

I know what I need to know, which oughta be enough. But I'm taking a break anyhow, and I don't really feel like going back to edit. So there. Peace out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Biding Time - Happy Independence Day!

This is really strange. I have more work piled up than I can possibly accomplish, but it's July 4, and there is some sort of mandate to take the holiday. Plus I live in this cool California version of small town USA, and they do up July 4th like nobody's business. I've gotta partake. I can do a compare and contrast with my former digs in the New York State version of Dogpatch where they showed similar devotions from a wildly different context.

So I checked up here on my blog-space, biding time from working, and I found this entry languishing. It had been sitting there for well over a month, waiting for me to have a chance to look it over. I just launched the sucker, and what the hell!?

I never do manage to get things written the way they would be written if I had the right ability. Like I have this new friend who knows how to bend those spaghetti balloons into shapes which are almost too amazing to describe. The results are like what Chinese calligraphic painters can do with their brushes, to where a few practiced strokes might channel the particular qi of a cicada, say or a horse, and then even to a Western viewer, they have a kind of verisimilitude, which is nothing in the direction of photographic. That's what these balloons are like. Evocative of a rose, or a sub-machine gun or an elaborate hair-style.

That's the way I'd like to write.

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if we named things not according to their phenotype or genotype, but according to the ecological niche they occupy. Hiking up the mountains yesterday, I was transformed and transfixed by the flowers along the path, regretting mildly that I did not know their names. But I wanted a name for the place they grow in, some demarker for the qi which allows their engenderment there.

Would language then deteriorate, or would we ourselves become that much less insistent that the function of our lives is to assemble as much experience to our Proper Name as we can muster. And then still expire disappointed at what we failed to achieve. Like novelistic mastery of the sort Frantzen credits Wallace with whose ex-post-mortem writings now are the subject of some embalmers art.

What if not to succeed that way were still to leave one rights as an instance of that energy which sometimes erupts in florid recognition, and sometimes simply makes the attempt, which some more idealized instance of the type gets picked for (ho ho)?

You know, I muse now that political rhetoric seems only to target those most susceptible to being sold on a slogan. WalMart shoppers, each of whom now has that precious one-person, one-vote and is feeling kind-of uppity about the privilege. We don't need no stinkin' interpretation!

We just bought an antique lamp, with the confidence to know that simply based on its construction and materials, its value was more than we paid for it. It isn't likely to go down, so why not put money there instead of in a bank account which won't even keep pace with inflation?

Most purchases solve problems; whether decorator problems or shelter problems or transportation problems, they lose their value instantly upon the act of purchase. Not so antiques, especially in the ever-new state of California where only aging gays and lovers of old houses and the WalMart flea-market types seem to be patrolling the aisles. Which is my type? What's my context,. what's my niche?

I think I'd like to see a political rhetoric targeted at thought leaders. Something removed from marketing hype enough so that people recognized their own incompetence to judge, the way we might with antique roadshow questions. We might be amazed, were we to have no reason to mistrust the judgments, at the value revealed.

Something we thought we understood well might be revealed to be a pig in a poke, manipulating our certainties the way that a practiced Chinese peasant does with tourists climbing along the Great Wall.

But I suppose my hope is hopeless. Rhetoric has gone the way of all flesh, toward meaningless and useless exercise of reflex desires. If it moves it must be edible.

Remember when libido was channeled into something like a Corvette? Now I see countless ads which have been reduced to the analog of flesh-shots which subliminally once channeled my desire for goods to enhance my style of life. Typically, they show four different flat-screens, one mobile, one tablet, one desktop size and one big screen.

These are the anything contexts. They can display text or flesh or moving pictures or put you in touch with a friend. You can read a book there, and you can let it flow across the screens, and you can let your mind flow, even, if you were to wish it, while walking in the mountains among wildflowers. There is no signal there. Thank God!

Consider the movement of the word, "technology." It has surpassed words like biology where the ". . . ology" denotes 'the study of.' Techniques for getting things done transmute from the study or even the enactment of those techniques to something which indicates some thing itself. Some item meant to embody something universal about techniques.

It's a thinging or reification like that long since done to "Science" as though that were some disembodied thought process which could be invoked in terms like "Science has long since discovered . . ." Long before that it happened, though from the other direction, to God which represented a striving for a Name for that which cannot and probably should not be named.

Technology is an empty construct, working almost the way that entrepreneurship does, which once quite properly referred to the process by which someone not quite scrupulous would work to relieve you of your hard-earned cash and to provide you instead with something rather more like a pig in a poke. As though technology solves any problems. As though it can be any more than an end in itself, to fascinate endlessly, to distract, to name in place of proper naming.

Rhetoric also once referred to verbal maneuvers apart from their earnest truth value. These were techniques for persuasion, apart from the rightness of the speaker's cause. Our politicians now, need it be said out loud, are the personality equivalents of technology, embodying nothing. There is no distinction among the wax figures, Mormon or lipsticked poker faces, one step from Scientological (properly so-called) batshit.

And this is that which I celebrate, blowing up July 4. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Hooray!!

Swirl of Cacaphony

I owe it to my punster bro that this is the name of a new Ben and Jerry's flavor. Artificially sweetened chocolate - fake cacao, get it? Cacao phoney?? With a twist.

I don't do puns. There's something wrong or right with my language black-box. I am back working though, this time using Chinese on a daily basis.

Since the Chinese has lain dormant for at least 15 years, and since this is a new job in a new state (of mind - California) and since I'm doing things which are somewhat new to me, I do sometimes feel as though I'm navigating a cacaphonic swirl.

I've been issued an iPhone. It works enough better than the Windows Mobile phone (the one I've been trying to talk myself into loving for so long now), that I almost can't credit it. I don't want to like a smartphone that much, but it handles Chinese natively, which is still a little better than I do, and moves seamlessly among tasks. I think they were smart enough to close off "multi-tasking" since you can only look at one thing at a time on a phone, and it keeps its state way better than Windows did, which was always trying to give me my cake and let me eat it too.

The Windows phone would try "intelligently" to decide how much memory I needed, but to a human there was no predicting when a backgrounded app would be closed according to some kind of better judgement, and its state might or might not be kept depending on the talents of the programming staff. At least Apple exercises some control over what will be allowed on their platform.

The one thing I do miss, however, is that Swype way of entering text. It's quicker, and I haven't learned to thumb on a virtual keyboard. But even still, there are limits to the turn of phrase one will attempt on such a tiny platform. I wonder when they'll make one I can dictate to reliably (ouch, turns out there's an app for that!)? Or something which can monitor my nerve endings maybe the way Kinect does my body movements. So I could just waggle my typing fingers, and the phone would take the cue.

'Till then, there can be no question that the language that we use is being lowest-common-denominatored. I've found that when I'm speaking English to someone I've spoken Chinese with, my English has become that kind of simplified that I often wish they'd use with me in Chinese. It's not that hard for a speaker to bring his language to within what can be followed with certainty, and not to do so would be some kind of rude.

And then if I email the same person, I find that I can't even access my native English stylistics, such as they are. I seem only to have a kind of pidgin - clear enough and precise, but lacking in the nuance which I do so enjoy while writing an email to someone I know well enough to skate the edge of sense with. Gentle Reader.

There's lots of celebration of the Twitter now, for the discipline imposed by such a compact package. No possibility to build any context from which the Tweet can be removed.

Once upon a time, we all learned to be careful with our emails since something about the medium prevented the careful tone with which paper letters once were invested. And bosses and colleagues and would-be lovers would take or give offense meaninglessly, because of a context wrongly inferred.

This defines our political discourse now, no?

Discourse is, of course, far too lofty as a description of what passes for it. Grand notions are reduced now to advertising slogans, obliterating all and any hope that opposing sides might be brought toward some kind of respect for the opposing position. At least I find that some familiarity with the origins of a position, and with the experiences of the people that hold it changes a lot about how you regard those people and that position.

Ad hominem becomes the order of the day, and so you match opposing viewpoints against what amount to cartoon caricatures as offered up by what passes for journalism. Photo and video mediated of course.

Our likes and dislikes are generated in the instant, upon first vocal and visual impression. How absurd to accuse the Obama haters of racism, when whatever happened happened in the same instant that we all formed our opinions of Sarah Palin. And I do try and I have to confess that, well, when I really try I can find Glenn Beck likable. I understand where he's coming from. I get Palin. I know they each connect with people who aren't making connections otherwise. Who feel excluded.

But to like someone is not to evaluate their job performance, right? And when someone else makes that mistake, then we hate them too. We generalize. We fill in all the context because the language we use simply isn't rich enough to provide for context.

And I guess that will have to be enough for this re-entry to my little private blogosphere, after a different kind f re-entry to the world of work. I'll end with a visual pun. I came across it during the course of my new work, where it behooves me to stay abreast of developments in Higher Ed.

I've been aware of modern logistics and warehousing operations for a while now, because of my work in IT. Big box distribution stores now use scan codes and robotics to store and retrieve pallets from their precise slots in massive warrens.

The California desert is dense with such places, each one employing very few humans, while the goods are moved from semi-trailer to shelf and back again using artificial intelligence to minimize latency on the shelf where money can't be made. But the shelves are valuable when they can facilitate volume purchase or taking advantage of price fluctuations. It must be a beautiful thing.

And now the University of Chicago, short of space, has built its new library underground, where books are bar-coded and stacked in crates. Robotic retrieval systems can move the crate to where a human can retrieve his written quarry. And it must be a beautiful thing.

But I have to wonder, and don't you? If the word is the thing, then why does it even matter that the physical object be brought to hand? This feels to me like some sort of bizarre and obsolete gold standard, and I feel my context-building prejudice machines resenting all the money spent to fetishize rare objects.

Shouldn't all this robotic intelligence be used to digitize the books before they're lent? Maybe it is and will be, but shouldn't it also and at the same time be made available to anyone anywhere, and not only to the folks at the University of Chicago with library privileges?

I remember when CD jukeboxes were state of the art, because so much data could be made accessible so cheaply. And now they just seem silly up against data stores so massive that the capacity is given away just for the asking. This library would seem the same kind of future obsolete, as new-age and high tech as it is.

I wonder if they will take my advice to call this travesty what it is - the Dead Letters Office from the long gone age of the missive. When people who wrote took upon themselves also the burden to create a context, and when readers were similarly obligated in return.

There is a design field of which I'm newly aware. It's called Ux or usability experience. It's masters design the interfaces between man and machine, and when you think about it, this is a very important business. One wishes that they would go to work someday real soon on the interface sported by the office copier/network printer/scanner/fax machine, but meanwhile these designers have become the analog to what teachers used to do.

They frame your interactions, as on my new iPhone now I'm constantly amazed at the generous gestures built in for my more fluid interactions. It's wordless, this framing, and therefore multi-cultural. Certainly, there's no need for translation, or, um, has it already occurred by the time the user interface is useful? Is the inter-language translation radically redundant by the time a "user" gets the interface?

Let me think here. Is the instrumentation on the user interface really somehow analogous to the role of the teacher? Some kind of formalization and channeling of the moves which might be made. And what of notions of active learning, or engaging the students with one another. Does that just go right out with the Windows?

There must be a difference between digital reality and real reality.