Symbol Clash

Reading William Gibson always brings out the ‘postmodern’ in me. Because Spook Country is set in the present day and incorporates existing technologies it was difficult to distinguish between the actual, the possible, and the improbable. This proved particularly disappointing when I learned, from an interview with Gibson on NPR, that “locative art” wasn’t yet a reality. Three dimensional recreations of actual events, such as the death of River Phoenix, located on the street in Los Angeles where it actually happened, broadcast from a server, and accessible only to those wearing the proper headgear, are, alas, still a fiction.

That splash of reality in no way discourages me from indulging in my own technological flights of fancy. Nor do these flights of fancy necessarily have any direct connection to the source. It’s just that Gibson’s writing brings out my childish fascination for ‘whiz bang’ gadgets and my adult sensibilities, tinged as they are with postmodern irony.

And so it was that I conceived the idea to unearth my old Kaypro 2 computer and rebuild it as a symbolic manifestation of the baby boomer generation’s triumph over technological obsolescence . Think of the possibilities. Think of the irony! This clunky, 1980’s metal box, a little gray around the temples, transformed into a state-of-the-art processing wonder. Here is postmodern double-coding at its best.

Paradise Thwarted

And yet oft times such high flying ideas will rapidly lose altitude. I am reminded of the iconic Reese’ s Peanut Butter Cup advertising campaign that depicts the clash of chocolate and peanut butter. Hardly a postmodern pairing, the peanut butter and chocolate found themselves in a peaceful, non-ironic coexistence. In the case of the Kaypro however, the clash was between postmodernity and nostalgistic purity.

Each of these concepts has its own moral imperative and its own standard bearers. Unfortunately for me, one of the “champions of nostalgia” is currently in possession of the Kaypro and wishes to honor the memory of its halcyon days by leaving it in its original, primitive, and unusable state. From this traditionalist perspective, my attempts to “give the Kaypro new meaning” only serve to confound the machine’s current function as a memory receptacle. It is a sad day when devotion to old memories interferes with the creation of new ones.

Once Upon an iPhone

In a ‘Norman Rockwellesque’ vision of America; innocent and replete with small town intimacy and wholesome family values, you might imagine ‘Grandma’ or ‘Grandpa’ sitting in front of the fireplace on a quiet evening, reading a story to a hushed circle of spellbound grandchildren.
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Take a 50 year leap forward to the present with me and see how technology has spawned a ‘future’ that is surprisingly more Rockwellian than Orwellian. If I had not been so mesmerized by the scene I might have grabbed my camera so you could see this for yourselves and, I suppose I could have asked the participants to pose for a reenactment, but that would have looked contrived.

Setting the Scene:

It is the summer of 2007. Grandma has rented a house by the beach and invited the family to join her for a week of sun, fun, and relaxation. The house is equipped with wireless internet access and the dining room table is ‘computer central’ with one Macbook (mine) and one Macbook Pro (grandma’s).

Players:

A, definitely non-1950’s, Grandmother, one son (myself), one daughter-in-law (my wife), three grandchildren, and a girlfriend of one of the aforesaid grandchildren. The age range for the grandchildren is 15 to 20. You can extrapolate everyone else’s ages from there.

Scene:

It is early evening and everyone is back from the beach and getting ready to go out to dinner. My wife and I are the last to come downstairs and are greeted by this tableau at the dining room table. Grandma is seated in front of her computer screen and is reading out loud. She is surrounded by grandchildren, all of whom are listening with rapt attention while looking over grandma’s shoulder to see the screen from when comes the source of her story.

Grandma is not reading “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. She is reading, from the New York Times online, David Pogue’s review of Apple’s new iPhone. Continue reading Once Upon an iPhone

Contemplations on a Dissertation Pt 2: Throw it Away?

Speaking at a CCT conference session designed to provide advice on how to turn dissertations into publications Markus Geisler strode to the front of the room brandishing a copy of his dissertation before summarily dumping it into the trash. The first step, he said, is to “throw the dissertation away”. He recommended starting fresh with a few of the most important concepts from the dissertation, but not to be tied to the actual text.

I liked the idea so much that I decided to apply it. I wasn’t deterred by the fact that my dissertation wasn’t yet completed.

And, truth be told, I didn’t really throw anything away. However, in the time honored tradition of adapting things to one’s own purposes, I decided to “metaphorically” throw away what I had already written by pretending that it didn’t exist.

I did this because I had recently found myself lost in the maze of my own writing. I knew, in my head, before I sat down at the keyboard, what I wanted to talk about, but once I opened the document, I was sucked into what was already there. Being tied to what was already written limited my options. I was using the existing text as a reference for where I wanted to go next. I constantly felt the need to connect the next set of ideas with those previously expressed. I realize the importance of transitions and building bridges between related concepts, but without having all the essential ideas in place, I found myself building bridges to nowhere.
Continue reading Contemplations on a Dissertation Pt 2: Throw it Away?

Persistent History: I Post Therefore I Am

“An increasing amount of our social interaction with other people (and people-like agents) will be occurring online. Visualizations of these interactions can have a huge impact on how legible these social environments are, what behaviors they encourage, and how appealing they are.�

Judith Donath, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, makes this observation in a visually rich tome entitled Elsewhere Mapping.
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She goes on to suggest “A Conversation Mapping can construct a rendering of each participant from the history of that person’s interactions in the environment. Such a depiction is meaningful: it can help make each person stand out as an individual. Persistent history is the information world’s version of a body.�

I love this last statement! It offers a very interesting explanation for the popularity of a wide range of online behavior. If virtual existence is important to me, and I’m convinced that my continued online existence is contingent upon the creation of a persistent and significant online presence, I will do everything I can to make that happen. Continue reading Persistent History: I Post Therefore I Am

Wal-Mart and the Vlasic Pickles

What is intriguing about this story is the way that Wal-mart, the largest company in the history of the world, according to Charles Fishman in his recent book The Wal-Mart Effect, is fundamentally changing the topology of the marketplace. The story of the gallon jar of Vlasic pickles is a case in point.
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As Fishman relates the story, the Wal-mart pickle buyer wanted to make a ‘statement’ with pickles. Vlasic agreed to sell Wal-Mart a one gallon jar of pickles that they could sell at $2.97. Accustomed to buying considerably smaller jars of similarly priced specialty pickles at the supermarket, Wal-Mart shoppers began buying the gallon jars at a rate of 200,000 per week. Continue reading Wal-Mart and the Vlasic Pickles

Flex-Time for Cows

    Lest you think this has turned into an agriculture site, this isn’t really about the cows. It isn’t really about enlightened farming practices either although the sight of proactive cows in charge of their own milking schedules was really cool.
  • Scene One: Bucolic Farm Scene
  • Child with freckles and dungaree coveralls sits in the barn in the early morning. He/She is humming to him/herself while sitting on a small wooden stool and milking a contented cow; squirting milk into a metal bucket.

  • Scene Two: Industrial Blight
  • Smoke belches in the dark gray sky that could be any time of day. Cows are penned in cages, standing miserably in their own excrement and unable to move. They are fed hormone laden slop and hooked up to machines that suck all the milk out of them.

  • Scene Three: Age of Convergence
  • Cows line up lazily outside the milking area when they feel like being milked. One at a time they walk into the milking area and the Lely automatic milking machine opens its gate. The cow lopes in where it can feed on alfalfa rich food and have its udders cleaned before the automatic computer guidance system connects the milking cups.
    The results: less mastitis, more milk, happier cows and an interesting reflection of our changing views on work, society, and self-determination.
    Continue reading Flex-Time for Cows

    Batman’s Utility Belt: Open Source meets Mass Customization

    “Mass Customization is the ability of a company to meet each customer’s requirements-to prepare on a mass basis individually designed products, services, programs, and communications.”(Keller & Kotler 2006) Examples of mass customization include shoes and clothing made to size, custom blended cosmetics, and choose-your-own-topping pizza. This differs from the more traditional practice of providing product features that certain groups of customers seem to be asking for. In the more traditional approach features are included in some portion of a mass production run. In the mass customization approach a menu of potential features is offered and the customer can choose from that menu. The end product is the sum of standard and individually selected features. This might be specially sized clothing, different sized shoes for each foot, or a front door in blue with brushed nickel hardware. Continue reading Batman’s Utility Belt: Open Source meets Mass Customization

    Googlethink

    Yesterday I downloaded the most recent build of Parallels Desktop for Mac. All went well until I tried to reinstall the new version of Parallels Tool. Then the screen went black. I shut down Parallels and restarted Windows. I heard the spooky XP start up chime but the Windows desktop was still black. I checked the User’s Manual. I went online to Parallels’ website. No luck. Then I decided to “Google” the problem.
    Continue reading Googlethink

    More Bite: More Shifting Paradigms

    It used to be, when it came to being old and having dentures, keeping those suckers in your mouth while munching on solid food was pretty much the height of expectations. Well guess what these old folks want to do now! kiss.png
    So if 30 is the new 50 then, by extension, 40 must be the new 60. I won’t ask where the old 30 and 40 disappeared to except to quote Wordsworth, or Brian Wilson; “The Child is the Father of the Man”.
    Continue reading More Bite: More Shifting Paradigms

    OED and the Wikipedia: Time and Technology

    In The Long Tail Chris Anderson describes the process behind the creation of the Wikipedia as “tapping the collective wisdom of millions of amateur experts, semi-experts, and just regular folks who thought they knew something.” “This is not” says Anderson, “the way encyclopedias are supposed to be made.” This is, however, the way the Oxford English Dictionary was made. Check it out in the Wikipedia!
    Continue reading OED and the Wikipedia: Time and Technology