Publishing Dialects and Dialectics

So here's a "future of publishing" wrinkle to throw out into the sloppy pool of the Internet:

The eminent Bruce Sterling has written a foreword to a new publication of Zamyatin's We. Not the most interesting publishing event of recent memory, perhaps. But, it's a great book, a classic, one might say. I first read it for a course my first-year of college about concepts of freedom and power. I can't remember what the name of the course was, but I very much remember the book. I love how the main character has a changing relationship to the hair on his arms. I think about this all the time, especially when I'm writing about the body.

So, I'd like to see what Mssr. Sterling has to say about the book. He's been named one of the most visionary and interesting SF writers of our day by any number of visionary and interesting sources, so maybe he has something interesting to say as a prelude to the reading experience of We, a very visionary and interesting book, which in its own way is a foreword to the interestingly visionary genre of SF writing.

So it's been decided. I should definitely read this foreword.

But wait a minute: it's not on the Internet.

I know--one wonders if it is a hoax, because a critically-interesting essay by Bruce Sterling is not available on the Internet. How can we be sure the foreword actually exists? Sure, it's mentioned in an Amazon listing, but lots of fake stuff ends up on Amazon. I guess I could go down to the local book store and buy the book. But I already own a copy of the book, it just doesn't have the foreword. I suppose I could upgrade, but $10 is a lot of money to pay just for the foreword. And plus, then I'd have to carry around duplicate pages I don't need, unless I ripped out the foreword pages and glued them to my copy. I could give my old copy to a library or a friend, but it has all my class notes in the margins, which I want to keep. And plus, it's all dog-eared from use.

You know, this reminds me of a similar situation.

The similar situation is my experience with Adobe's Creative Suite, made by perhaps one of the most neurotically anal retentive Intellectual Property controllers in the world. At work, I have the original version of CS. I know, right? Well, it still works, and it cost a damn pretty penny to buy in the first place A WHOLE EPOCHAL SIX YEARS AGO so my employer is not going to upgrade my work station to the current version, which because they are now up to version 4, would mean buying the new software outright. Meanwhile, while I can work fine on my own computer, all the files that customers send me, created with CS versions 2 through 4, are as completely useless to me as if I had no top-of-the-line graphics editing software at all. I am cut out of the graphics editing community, which as anyone in this community will tell you, is tantamount to being able to work with graphics at all. Artists gotta talk to layout, who gotta talk to publishing, who gotta talk to prepress, who gotta talk to press. Me and my poor CS1 are an island on this tempestuous sea.

So what is the connection here? Besides the fact that I'm poor, and totally behind the current wave of publishing?

The connection, my Internet friends, is the nouned adjective of "Canon". Canonicalness. The state of being akin to the canon.

Zamyatin's book, in addition to being a wonderful element of the human literary record, is in the public domain. [CORRECTION: it is NOT in the public domain, because the copyright was renewed in 1954 by the translator! I can't find info for the original Russian copyright status. Translating throws a wrinkle on the wrinkle, so instead of altering my argument, I'm leaving it how it is, and will let you interpret this additional conundrum of translation yourself. The actual status of Zamyatin's book is not my argument.] The copyright is null and void, because it was written so many years ago. There are various, complicated rules for exactly how a book enters the public domain in various territories and jurisdictions, but basically, it was published so long ago that we as a society have determined that the right of the author to sell the book for cold hard cash has lapsed, and now the book belongs to all of us, or more properly, whomever decides to spend the money printing the words onto paper. The Intellectual Property aspect of the work has joined the idealized world of the literary canon, from which aetherous realm it can be channelled by any press-savvy patron of the arts, and delivered into mine hands.

So, if a work is free, and anyone could potentially download it on the Internet, why would a publisher bother reprinting a new edition, especially when another publisher could do the same thing? Well, there are several reasons. One, is because people still like reading paper books, surprisingly enough! Another is that they might remarket the book for new audiences, or for particular markets, say, on the 75th anniversary of the book. Often for anniversaries, they will remake the book as well, in a special edition with new translations, extra critical material, and really sweet new cover designs. In this particular edition we are discussing, Bruce Sterling's foreword is the new part. Oh, the cover is new too. I'm willing to bet that Creative Suite had more than a small part in the cover design.

But the part of the book that is in the public domain does not include this new material. Bruce Sterling no doubt retains the rights to his foreword, no matter what it is published afore. You cannot reprint the edition of the book precisely, because the design is owned by the publisher. Only the text is canonical, and only this text is in the public domain. We, the literary society, does not own the extra features. We only own the nebulous, ideal, (and strangely, valueless) part of the "work", not the actual book itself. The mind belongs to us, but the body is sold by the publisher.

One might say that this same mind-body philosophy dictates Adobe's view of software. We do not own the Creative Suite itself, or any claim to the power of the program that allows such wonderful graphic editing. We own a license to one particular version of the programming, to use this programming up to the limits of its purposeful publishing in this manner. We own the "printed pages", but the aethereal, ideal qualities of the software is Adobe's trade secret.

In software, as far as I know, there is no public domain. First of all, usable software is pretty much less than fifteen years old. Second, there is the thing called "source code", which drastically separates the usable features from the programming that actually makes it work. A metaphor to a book could be a text that you are not allowed to read, but only allowed to listen to someone else read aloud. Of course, back in the day, all text was read aloud, and remembered, so if you heard a story, you could read it and publish it as well. Programs used to be only "source code", too.

But the point isn't simply about establishing a metaphor. The point is about what it means to establish a philosophy of the relations between authors, publishers, and readers.

Some in the software world view Adobe and other software companies' philosophical position as draconian, and untenable. These "some" prefer to set up different philosophies, such as the GNU public license, and other metaphors, like the "free-as-in-beer" philosophy. Some of these variations are probably the closest software gets to the public domain. Not only are you allowed to use the software, and distribute it as is, you can change it, repackage it, and sell it, if you want. Certain licenses mean that the free aspects have to remain free, no matter how you package it. But in the most free varieties, you can do anything you want. It's yours, and you have no responsibility to anyone else in your use. I've heard the programming described like a spoken language--if you hear somebody say something, you can repeat that language however you like, because this is part of being a free individual. You are responsible for your own use of language, and nobody can impose proscriptions on your speech.

Now, with the caveat that I've probably crossed a bunch of categories in the world of open source software licensing with this last paragraph, let me say that a book is still different. Programming language is similar to written language, and yet different. Firstly, from a pure semiotic standpoint, programming language is a written language (mostly English and general Math-speak), with syntactical variations to allow easy logical functions, and then also codified so that it can be parsed into binary, which is the written language a computer understands. So a programming language is not a language per se (ha!), but local dialect, meant to convey a certain sort of meaning in a localized framework, i.e. the programming and parsing relationship between programmer and computer. So, source code, the "body" of a program, is not actually a proprietary language from a semiotic point of view, any more than a computer kernel is the "brain". In fact, both are textual works, written in a unique language that can be expressed by a computer and programmer alike. But without the technology, the computer, in the middle to transcribe and "read aloud" this special text, the book is unusable. When the computer and the user both read the same language at the same time from their individual perspectives, amazing things happen. This sounds a lot like magic for a reason.

But these program books only seem different, because thus far we've only considered the side of books that are written. We've discussed the programming, but not the parsing and program execution. Naturally, the author has a feeling of filial implications for his/her work. "I made this; it belongs to me." Sure, to an extent. But remember, the reader is involved as well. Without the reader, your novel just becomes a very strange, third-person fantasy diary. The technology by which the reader parses the text must be part of this relationship.

So what about the reader? Well, back in the day, the reader had to make a choice. That is, s/he had to choose to buy a book, and stick with that decision. If you wanted to have a bound copy of words all to your very own, you had to pay somebody to put them there, because books didn't grow on paper. Fair enough for free market philosophy. Of course, the publishing industry was willing to work with the consumer on this. Most people didn't have enough money to buy a new hard-back encyclopedia every year. So, we got cheap paperbacks. Dime novels--an entire genre of fiction based around a particular sandbar in the massive river delta of supply/demand curves. Serials. Pulp. There are certain ways people would buy books, and so, wouldn't you know it, people starting making these particular books. Publishers even began to support the ultimate non-consumerist, socialist revolution in literature--free, public lending libraries--because if literacy was universal, they would still sell a hell of a lot of copies, because not everyone could read the same book all the time. Besides, libraries were a good market for hard-bound copies.

You see, books are in their own way a particular local dilect(ic), (hey! who put that parenthetical there? this isn't a marxist concept!) that communicates between the author and the reader. Publishers, out of necessity, have been the mediator of this. They sell the computers, I mean, the technology, I mean, the books. You might have noticed Adobe gets along pretty well with Apple. That's because Adobe wouldn't be able to sell so much graphics editing software, if there weren't shiny new MacBookPro's just itching to run the software. The necessary technology for forming the semiotic/mechanic dialectic between two material points in a productive relationship functions as a part of the whole. The particular iteration of language used in the process is developed by and for the communicative relationship, always already part of the process. It is not so much a mind and a body developed in Cartesian dual-unity, as a Bergsonian echo of duration between phenomenologically linked network nodes. Shifting back and forth, the sand is already going to be forming a river delta...

Sorry, got carried away. Let's get back to today. In the past, books were published in these ways... etc. But what about today? Does technology require me to purchase a new copy of a book I already own, simply because my curiosity and investment in this particular node within the canon of literature pushes me to want to read Bruce Sterling's foreword to a historical proto-SF novel? Is this the current state of reading technology? Am I so obscure in my interests to be a specialist, or a collector, or some other fetishistic anomaly that would cause me to overbuy this particular literary-material language group, like someone buying a supercomputer to analyze the human genotype, or a collector desperately trying to find a working Atari to play the original Asteroids cartridge? Am I a polyglot by need, or simply because I want to be? Why would I dedicate myself towards communicating in the multiple languages of both "New Canonical Release" and "Old, Dog-Eared Text", basically to communicate the same thing?

This is the era of the iterative web app, of atemporal Internet usage, and of crowd-sourced wikis. I think we can do better than having to make a choice between A and B.

We, the expressively speaking/writing/reading culture of humanity, is very quickly getting used to a new way of communicating. Our nodes of communication are proliferating very rapidly. We are now developing new idioms and syntaxes based completely around the ability to transmit idioms and syntaxes quickly and succinctly. Our technology is engendering new technologies. Our programming languages now form carefully considered Graphical-User-Interfaces, which communicate through meta-data messaging services alive on a hyper-fast, always-on protocol networks, these Interfaces competing to write their own logical search algorithms, tracking the latest in spontaneous cultural generation of slang and communicative semiotic gestures, whether acute or obtuse, as long as they are usable enough to carry meaning within them, among as many people as we can still process a continued conversation, using all of these language tools. Yeah, I just described Twitter's Trending Topics. 140 characters never sounded quite so big, did it?

So the canon is growing, and even more so, canonicalness is growing. Comments, crowd-sourced translations, linkbacks, live search, hashtags. Some of this new communication is important, and some of it is not. But how can you tell what's important, without having some way to access it? Maybe Bruce Sterling's foreword is less than 400 words, and is just some glowing name-check to the idea of SF under totalitarianism. Maybe I don't need to read it at all. But how do I know that? I've followed the link, and come to a dead end. Maybe I click through it in under twenty seconds, but if access is denied, how will I ever know? The canon is shooting itself in the foot. Publishers could not, at one point in history, have said, "well, once universal literacy happens, then we'll start thinking about changing our publishing strategy." A growing canon is an ecosystem. It doesn't simply track a curve, or a timeline to decide the public domain. If somebody wants to join the canon, if somebody has something important to say, they must put it with the canon. And the canon, the realm of the literary, where linguistic worth is not so much a nebulous idea as it is a ever-present, living, conversation in mutated dialect, is something that is shared, and networked. It always has been, and always will. All that's changed is that it no longer needs paper. If one piece of technology changes, then the way we communicate in a language previously dependent on that piece of technology changes, even as we continue to use that technology. You can still own a landline, but you better believe you're going to be calling people on cellphones. I'm not looking for an updated ebook here. I want to read Bruce's foreword on pages, in a book, as a preface to Zamyatin's We, in the same edition I read in college, will all my notes still there. Is that an insane request? Maybe a few years ago. But I'm posting this idea on a cumulative public diary stored on a computer I have never seen, with a public network address, written in syndicated meta-language across any number of syntax parsing programs, updateable instantly from any terminal attached to the same global network. Don't you get it? Blogs ARE insane! You try to tell me what technology is insane. The mind/body distinction is not just dissolved, it's scratching it's head in Intellectual Property court, stymied by legitimately elected political parties comprised of people under thirty. The insanity of the real semiotic mechanisms of human communication are not just some wacky internet theory--they actually are the Internet.

I don't expect publishers to understand. Most of them have their only speaking language in the dialectic of profit, which has been a popular idiom for a while now. However, as ubiquitous as the capitalist language is, and however deeply in conversation it may be with our other technological languages of production, consumption, and communication, "the ability to make money off of something is the tautological reason for its existence" is a relatively new work of literature. Capitalism may be a fact, but it isn't the prime cause of our communicative culture. So, while meanwhile, publishers do such things as DELETE EVERY COPY OF 1984 OFF OF ALL KINDLES WORLDWIDE, in another one of those "I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-parable" moments, I have no doubt that I will one day hold an iterative paperback book in my hands. And even if not that precisely, something else that represents ability of the literary canon, which after all, is no more than the vast tide of cultural communicative forces circulating around a collection of particular nodes, to adapt to the speakers of its collection of dialects and idioms. I can't predict the future. Maybe in some years, nobody will even read Zamyatin anymore. Maybe I won't either. But regardless of the subject matter, language will continue to express itself between creators and consumers, finding new ways to do so, and adopting new languages of expression as they become available. Because this is what communication does. The saw "information wants to be free/expensive" is stuck in the capitalist language. What it should say, and what is the most true tautology of them all, because it DEFINES tautology, is that "communications communicate". They don't want anything, but by sheer fact of their existence, they do what they do. Regardless of through what technology you choose to express communication, it will seek to communicate, or it will fizzle, and other communication will take its place. Just try to make the human race shut up. The amazing part is, through all the noise, little by little we slowly start to make more sense.

Meanwhile, my version of CS still has Adobe's stranglehold all over it. Guess we're lucky that there's more than one slick standard for distopian, proto-SF novels out there. Adobe brings you the new cutting edge standard in SF--Jules Verne, version 2375! Now upgrade from version 2374, only $499! Limited time offer!


But on the other hand...

But in other news, it seems that maybe humans ancestors made it back from the point of being endangered--less that 1000 breeding individuals, during a period of globally dry and cold weather.

Goes to show you, that no matter how pessimistic you might be, life has a way of pressing on.

Though, this should not change our understanding that the individual is always well and thoroughly fucked.

Welcome to Nauru

Okay, this is great. Well, no, actually it's not. It's not at all good for the people of Nauru, but it is a hell of an archetype of colonial and post-colonial modernism. This is literally a story of our age, and it's totally true.

It reads like a classic SF plot, an amalgam of Herbert, Dick, Asimov, etc, incorporating all the cultural-critique sci-fi into one big recipe, kind of like soggy nachos, or some sort of over-supplemented chex mix. It's just so perfect that it's like a modern political economy action figure, with all the play sets and vehicles. It's the post-modern blogger's upside-down airplane stamp. It's a truth that is a fable that is real that is a bedtime story.

It's perfect tragedy. It's a story so hopeless negative, that we might cling to it like a live saver in the middle of the pacific ocean. It's the sort of story colored by sadness, that wins countless awards, and receives standing ovations and tears of joy from the people who never had to feel such pain outside of a story.

It's history. It's current events. It's the future of people we will never know, and the future of all of us.

All right, let me stop trying to tell you what it is, and just let me tell it to you. And remember, this is not based on a true story, but actually is a true story. (All stories are better with Wikipedia links, right?)


Once upon a time (a time that is the ever-present now), there was an island in the Pacific called Nauru. It was/is a small island, of only 8 square miles. It was the smallest sovereign island nation. Let me tell you how it came to be that way.

Sometime in the murky ocean of prehistory, Micronesian and Polynesian people inhabited the island. These happy-go-lucky islanders joined the unstoppable march of history in 1798, when British whalers happened upon the island. You may remember whaling as the original failed energy model; ships sailed the seas looking for these large mammalian oil sacks, spiking them, and then bringing them home to light up the industrial revolution. It was the first time we fucked that old problem of energy up good. Now there are hardly any whales, and we've moved on to fucking up other things.

Whaling, coincidentally enough, kind of fucked up the people of Nauru too. The whalers traded the islanders firearms and alcohol for food. Then, with the firearms, and probably both with and without the alcohol, there was a ten-year Tribal War from 1878 to 1888. Imagine a ten-year war on an 8 square mile island. Can you? Well, the population of the island was reduced from 1400 to 900 during that time.

Luckily, kind of, Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888. Then they got Christianity, which at least was better than ten years of tribal war across 8 square miles of ocean isolated land. Things were pretty much Christian for the next 10-15 years.

Then they had some more bad luck. Phosphate was discovered on the island, which was used to produce explosives and fertilizer back in other places where they had more room to farm and blow up stuff. The phosphate got there because birds had been stopping to expel waste on the island for thousands of years. So these Europeans with land to farm and explode created industrial colonization companies that no doubt scared away most of the birds, first under contract with the Germans from 1906, and then under the British after 1914, when the island was captured by Australia, precipitated by a period of time during which the Europeans were busy blowing stuff up back home at a much faster rate than usual. Imagine the times back then--wars engulfing trenches in flames and poison on the other side of the world, and meanwhile some industrious folks were sailing around the Pacific, capturing little rocks with valuable stuff on it, all the while feeling totally connected to that war somewhere else. They were globalized! Colonialism is crazy!

230 islanders died of influenza in 1921. Fucked by Globalization!

And then, another of these crazy wars happened in and around 1940. The Germans came back and blew up a lot stuff on the island, and then the Japanese came in 1942 and took all the Nauruans away to work for them for free on other islands. The Japanese also brought airplanes, which the Americans promptly came and blew up in 1943, but then left the island alone for the rest of the war because, after all, it was pretty small. The 737 Nauruans who survived their forced business trip came back in 1946 with the British, and everybody tried to get back to work.

In 1968 colonialism was becoming post-colonialism, and Nauru totally became independent. They are lucky they became sovereign when they did, because it is a lot harder now than in 1968. In 1970, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation was formed, so the islanders could strip mine their own island. They spoke mostly English now, though they still have their own native language they continue to use for non-business purposes. Taking over their own island was a good idea, because then they could colonize themselves. In the early 80s Nauru had the highest per capita income in the world.

But there was something about bubbles brewing in the south pacific...

In the mid-80s, it became clear that the island was actually only 8 square miles large, and that the phosphate actually was going to run out. So, they sued the Australians for environmental degradation. After all, they had mined it first, and for way longer, and the environment was, after all, totally fucked. The post-colonizers paid out of court.

But the islanders had to find some other way of making money, because their only resource was gone. Like most other people in the world who have happened into money, they decided to invest. Like most other people in the world who invest, they fucked it up and lost a lot of it.

From a high of 1,300 mil. AUS $ in 1991, the Trust shrank to 138 mil in 2002. They lost their money in the usual ways: bad investment in real estate, bad loans to sports teams, hotels that weren't as profitable as they were supposed to be, and even a musical (YES REALLY A FUCKING MUSICAL) that closed after one night. Their airline, Air Nauru, had its only 737 repossessed in 2005, when other airlines around the world were also fucked. Until 2006, when they got their airplane back, the only way to get to and from the island was by ship. Nauru does not have a seaport, though.

Like true failed investors, they returned to basics. "What," they might have thought, "does Nauru have that other countries don't have?" The answer, it seems, is nothing. "Well, in that case," continues the potential argument, "what does Nauru have that every other country also has?"

The answer, is sovereignty.

When you have honest-to-goodness land, no matter how little, and a seat in the UN, you are somebody. And so, Nauru has managed to get money from those looking to buy a little sovereignty. Starting in the 90s, Nauru opened itself up as a tax haven, by offering passports to foreigners in exchange for a fee. This brought in the usual money laundering crowd, and of course, their money. In those heady days, you could start your own bank for 25K, "no questions asked." In 2001, Nauru agreed to be the "Ellis Island" for immigrants seeking asylum in Australia, (part of the so-called, if you can fucking believe it, the "Pacific Solution" [!!!]) and operated the Nauru Detention Centre in exchange for foreign aid. Between 2002 and 2005, there was a bidding war between Taiwan and China to decide with whom the little island of Nauru would establish diplomatic relations. In 2007, when Australia closed the detention centre, the Nauruan government estimated 10% of the population would be adversely affected by the job losses. Things looked grim. But just recently, reports suggest Nauru has received $50M US for becoming the fourth country to officially recognize the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. It's unclear exactly who paid, but it looks like Sovereignty (TM) is back on the menu.

Sovereignty, which is this smallest of island nations defining trait, and the last lingering effect of colonialism, seems to be the main source of promise for this oval in the ocean. Today, the unemployment rate on Nauru is 90%; and of those 10% who work, 95% are employed by the government. From 1798 until 2009, the story of history has just been one long red carpet for Nauru, leading to one place. Post-colonial countryhood. Nationalism really is the only game in town.

So the moral, dear friends? Well, as tiny Nauru said:

"God bless Nations, Every One!"

Okay. Serious time.

I don't mean to make light of Nauru's ongoing troubles. But there is something about the troubles of an isolated nation most people have probably never heard of somehow resonating so perfectly with the troubles of the entire globe. By reading the story of this little world-corner's microcosm, as it blossoms into a full-blown paradigm of post-colonial woe, those who have never been and will no doubt never go to Nauru, and probably never meet anybody from Nauru, nor met anyone who has ever been or ever will go to Nauru, might just feel a tinge of what one might call, "entertainment". As if we were listening to a tragic story. Because what is a fictional story if not a fully believable world that resonates with our own, that we will never be able to experience other than through the story? This island's problems are no less real than any of the other problems of millions of people we will never hear about. And yet, when we hear the story of this island, it is like we are hearing our own problems read back to us. We polluted our natural spaces with violence, disease, and chaos, and exported war to import natural resources, until we couldn't anymore because they were all gone. Then we turned right back around and funded more wars, to keep that economic heart pumping, to keep forcing blood back into our mouth, to get what sustenance we could. We made a few good investments with our ill-gotten gains, and squandered a lot more on bad investments. And lately, it is all looking like it's going to come crashing down. So what do we do? Build a system that works? No, we turn around and sell what's left of our independence for a few more bucks, like a long-gone junkie. Beg, borrow, and steal, as the saying goes.

It's not as if Nationhood ought to mean more; it's not as if it wasn't already a prostituted use of a society's self-worth; it's not as if selling it off for what you can to feed yourself is any less noble than any other last, lacking spasm of economic juice left to dry out in the spinal cord of our species' cultural body.

It's that after all is said and done, and you've cut the last tree and burnt the last oil, Nationhood is all you have left. The golden ideal is the last thing to sell, because it never was real. After you sell the bricks to your house and the land underneath it, all you have left is the ideal: the cross-stitched "God Bless This House" sampler without a wall to hang it on. After you sell your furniture and clothes, and use up your strength and resolve, all you have left is what your body might mean to someone else. We clearly don't care that prostitutes sell sex--we turn around and buy sex by the ton on the TV. If we could buy sex from a vending machine, we fucking would (any day now). What we look down on is being in the position when you don't have anything left to support your body but the body it's built on. You can't make anything; you can't build anything. When you're truly at the bottom, and when you're truly fucked, the only thing left is to take the last iconic symbol of human existence, which for the prostitute is our culture's ideal of fully exchangeable sex, and take it out to the street and sell a fuck for whatever you can get.

Unfortunately, there is no redemption here. No heart of gold to be laid bare once the body is stripped naked. Nauru is trapped by the rock that once was its chemical mine, and now is the rock it has to make interest payments to buy the jet to fly home to. No matter how degraded the prostitute may be, s/he still has to close the same eyes of the same body to get to sleep every night. Ideals are the basis on which the transaction is accomplished. The end of history may very well such an inversion--when the ideals of history become its bent, tarnished tool. The spear of destiny is the cane we'll use to hobble into our graves. There will be nothing left to tell, except the same story over again.

Actually, there is one step lower. It's when you take what's left out to sell, and there's nobody out there willing to buy.


Mules of Semiotic Capitalism

From the NYT:

“I don’t see other graffiti writers as my competition anymore,” B.N.E. said. “Now I’m going up against the Tommy Hilfigers, Starbucks, Pepsi. You have these billion-dollar companies, and I’ve got to look at their logos every day. Why can’t I put mine up?”

I like to describe Facebook particularly, out of the dearth of social media, as "Acquaintance Spam". Sure, they're people you know--but the feed gives you want more information that you'd ever really want, from people you are socially required to "friend". And my Facebook account (set up ages ago, used primarily as a White Pages) has a funny way of forgetting my email settings, and re-signing me up for notifications. Kind of like AT&T.

So if we are encouraged, socially, to promote ourselves, or to sign up for mailing lists of social advertising, why shouldn't some one desire to be their own brand?

And if you are really designing a brand, you want to do it right. None of this trashy, reality TV, Tia Tequila crap. Start over fresh. Clean lines, contrast. A recognizable, pronounceable acronym. Helvetica Neue. (That's actually his font.) Start local with the street teams, go global, make it viral. In a media culture, you are what you see.

Oh, and hide who you truly are. This is the first step of corporate, non-accountability. If you really want to do guerrila marketing, act like guerrilas. Face masks, omnipresent, anonymous media threats disseminated through your network. Anybody got a problem? Refer them to a spokesperson. Until, of course, Fortune wants an interview.

My only question is this: if this is capitalist marketing nostalgia/mimicking, then where is the surplus value? Where is the profit, derived from the gap between the production cost and the consumption expenditure? If
this is marketing, where/what is the market?

As a good Marxist-Freudian, I'd probably feed you the line about expenditures of the unconscious capital of dreams, and taking surplus off the relations of the production of desire. Yes, yes. We've all read Capitalism and Schizophrenia, to the n-th plateau and back. (You haven't? What are you doing here? Go! Now!)

But maybe this is a flawed iteration of the (now) eternal logic of capitalist production. Maybe, just maybe, there is no profit. Sure, Mssr. BNE gets his own art show, but he could have defaced corporation logos and made a buck without slapping stickers everywhere. What does the brand sell? Who makes what the brand sells? Who buys what the brand sells? Nothing, nobody, and everybody. In the case of Facebook, Facebook scraps off a buck on advertising, just like selling space on the side of a truck, driving nowhere, delivering nothing, using (almost) no fuel. But what was I tempted to buy when I saw that Susie B. from way back when suggested I reconnect with Jimmy H.? I don't know. I was annoyed, but that was it. Was I just... tempted to be... social? Is that a product? Who made it? How do you use it? There are no answers to these questions.

Maybe capitalism has spawned off non-breeding children. These mules of capitalism look like capitalism, act like capitalism, talk like capitalism, but make nothing. Except, that is, more of themselves. Social capital doesn't exist. It is a hand feeding itself. If you're making money off of social capital, you're actually making money off of real capital, while the social just looks on. The mule may pull a load, but what is it as a species? What is it's species-consciousness? Its poch is a bastard; it is a species with an endless generation of one iteration.

Symbols may pull products, but this is only symbols, doing nothing but symboling. All over the place, with each other, replicating, but only ever to the zeroth power, to the infinite extent of n+0. It's an echo, it's a shockwave, it's a whirlpool. It's like trying to map the surface of the ocean. It's the fractalized image of the depth of cultural noise. It's the ambient electro-magnetic sound of the universe, emanating from our own heads and then back again, the simultaneous transmitter and receiver of the static, programming itself into a feedback loop entity of semiotic reality. It's the meaning of $700 billion dollars in the context of the dollar menu.

I'm not about to try and predict the future of capitalism with any certainty (at least not in THIS blog post). But it seems to me pretty obvious that if monetary capitalism was ever to go into decline, if the GDP was ever to flip into steady negatives, and our surplus value was to shrink... (I mean, it can't just go on for ever, can it? Even in a debt-centered, inflationary system?) ...if this ever was to happen, the social, symbolic side of capitalism would continue to grow, as long as there are the machines to do it, that is, the people to consume and produce haphazard, metastasized semiotics. Media may need investment, but the investment in meaning is you and me. It doesn't even need a return to survive. I can keep writing and writing, pasting my name all over the surface of the world, and I have no margins to meet, and no investors to please. You could do the same, and maybe we would read each other's work, or maybe not.

Once the mule is possible, there's no beginning and end. The extent of meaning, it's borders, are negligable if nobody is measuring. There is no compulsion to reproduce and evolve--any re-creation will happen spontaneously, as another instance pops up. There is no linear hierarchy, no temporality, only the fact of existence in expression. Filation becomes mere praxis. There's no piety in praxis. There's only interest or ignorance, and it doesn't matter which. The aesthetics of the rust belt will determine decaying infrastructure's own future use. People will move into libraries, and homes will become archives. All works, all lists, thoughts, and all records will be simultaneously incomplete/complete.

You could ask a mule what it's on earth for... and you could ask a word (or three letters) the same question. Rhetorical questions might as well be the new cold fusion.


IF(mp3=digital, createnewrecord, ctrl+A, Del)

I can't believe what a nerd I am. Look at this post I just wrote, and thought was a good idea! Can you believe the nerdy title I gave it? Wow. Anyway, posting anyway, as an example of the weird analytical stuff I actually think about during the day.

So I did this really stupid thing about a year and a half ago. While working as a karaoke DJ (this wasn’t the stupid part, okay?) I decided to copy over the external hard drive of DJ tunes to my own hard drive. I knew it wouldn’t be the best music of course, but I thought, here’s a chance to get all those classic party songs they put on those monthly mainstream DJ compilations, and well, I just never could turn down an opportunity to make my music collection more encyclopedic.

Big mistake.

Not only did I severely over-estimate the number of “classic party songs” to pure crap, I also forgot to take into account that the guy whose hard drive it was is one of the most unorganized, non-encyclopedic people I’ve ever met. My music library became clogged with unlabeled, mis-labeled, duplicate tracks, most of which I didn’t want anyway, with their titles written in all caps. To the tune of about 200 gigs.
If you are not acquainted with the true depths of my analytical neurosis, let’s just say that such a poorly organized “library” has been a heavy weight bearing on my database soul for the past year and a half.

But never fear dear reader, because I am working through. Little by little, I am making my way through the genres and deleting, re-categorizing, consolidating, stripping, and re-writing the metadata. I first did “alternative”, “punk/hardcore”, “classical”, and “jazz” so at least I could listen to some music without going crazy. I got rid of the “other” and “uncategorized” categories little by little, and eventually consolidated “hip-hop”, “hip hop/rap”, “gangsta rap”, “rap/hip-hop”, and “hip-hop/R&B”. Last night, I finally finished “pop”. The only ones left are “rock/pop” and “rock”, which are large, but by this time I am being brutal with my deletion, so I hope to finish this week. If I don’t immediately recognize the name, it goes. If they have a single song I don’t like, it goes. If they have a single song with a Christmas theme… Ctrl+A, Del.

Throughout this process, I have had much time to lament how horrible the music player programs are at sorting music. I use iTunes primarily (iPhone user). But for sorting purposes, I also tried Songbird, Media Monkey, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. They differ a little bit, but without buying extra modules, there really isn’t any improvement. The best thing one can do is to sort by a metadata category, and just brute force your way through it. Even so-called “duplicate” finders are pretty weak, with no way to qualify how close or far a supposed duplicate might match its pair. And then, they are remarkably proprietary. iTunes is notorious (at least among the people who discuss music library databases online) for not allowing the language of its library files to be touched. There are some Applescripts out there for making some changes, but amazingly, it is very hard to re-organize a music library any other way than through a browser.

Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about the music library, which is different than the actual mp3s on your hard drive. The library is basically a database file, in some derivative of XML, for organizing the track names, numbers, artwork, actual file locations, and other metadata for display through the player’s browser window. There is a re-write process between the file itself and the database (what iTunes calls “organizing”, or maybe “mediaTunes” now?) that will adjust the actual metadata of the mp3 to cohere with the library database.

Now, I know when I say this, the reason it is so is because so few people have the disposition to categorization that I have, but all the same—the databases available for media organization are abysmal. I don’t really see why—it is easy enough to add XML interpretation into a program. Your word processor can probably do it. But I guess in the effort to make media players as “cleanlined” as possible, (i.e. iPod/iTunes-like) these are abandoned in favor of tools that let the program do all the work.

And I’m not interested in trashing the iTunes mentality, because through it all, they’ve still put together an excellent media player. Sure, it’s a bit heavy for a media player program. And it has a tendency to do things “automatically” that really screw up—like losing user-uploaded artwork trying to auto-download it, and we don’t even need to get into the DRM stuff. But as basically a front end for their music store, it is still pretty damn usable for someone like me, who has only bought maybe two things from the iTunes Store ever.

For example, I love the Smart Playlists. This is the sort of functionality I’m talking about. These are basically database queries, where you can define ranges of the metadata variables like “times played” or “date last played”, and insert randomization and total record quantity. I have several personal “radio stations” made from these tools, and they work great. Of course, there is not as much flexibility as I would like. The same thing goes for the Genius function, which is basically a personalization query, based on variables iTunes doesn’t disclose. Of course, you can’t edit this, and for someone with +100 gigs of mp3s and a computer 5 years old, it kind of gums up the works. But it’s the right idea.

The thing I realized, while deleting 50+ copies of duplicate shit-club mixes of Akon’s three biggest songs of 2007, was that despite the hysteria about intellectual property insinuating that a song is infinitely replicable, and a mere collection of digital bits, we still don’t look at our music files as data. There is an aspect of the commodity in every mp3; it takes on more than what it is. An mp3, to a consumer, is purely the music experience, not the possession of data which can create the music experience. My DJ associate with bad file habits thinks to himself, I want this song in my music collection, and adds it in, with no thought of where it will go. When he wants to play the song, he searches for that particular track, and plays it. There is no browsing, no querying, no organization. The more duplicate tracks he has, with different spellings and different data in different categories, the more likely he’ll find an instance of it when he searches for it in the search bar. The entire analytical process is, Want->Get. It’s the purest sort of production/consumption there is.

This is good for record companies, who try to institute the fear that if they can’t make money, then you won’t have any more mp3s. Actually, with DRM, they’re probably right. But it isn’t true—being able to drag and drop an entire collection of mp3s proves the point. An mp3 is only data. Music has long since past the point of expressive performance, and has entered the realm of digital data, along with many other aspects of our life. Now, expressive performance, the actual production and consumption, live within the differences of binary digits.

So what are you going to do? Well, as any database administrator will tell you—stop doing that! That is, having poor data habits. We know to back up our data, and to be careful where we get our data, but now we need to learn to organize it. A well-kept database is a useful database. Only one item of data per variable, each record separate, no duplicates, proper linking conventions. Clean query programming. It’s just what makes sense.

Of course, no 13 year-old just starting their mp3 collection is going to do this. You just throw ‘em in a file as you download them. So instead of instituting my Universal Rules of Epistemological Fortitude, as I would like to do, I instead look to the media players. I want MS Access, with a media player function. I want write combo boxes for my playlists. I want SQL queries in mp3 queries. I want to add IF/THEN statements to my iPhone syncing. Maybe with some top-down redesign of software, we could start treating our mp3s as what they are—valuable data.


Learnx Linux

I did it. I built myself a NAS (network attached storage).

This is something I've wanted to do for over a year. I have all of my files: text, photos, music, stored on an external hard drive. This is a really bad idea. If (or as they say, when) it dies, I will lose everything. There's numerous different "solutions", etc, etc, depending on who's trying to sell you what. I've always wanted to build a home storage server, because 1) I like learning about and tinkering with computers, and 2) it is much, much cheaper and flexible than buying any sort of pre-built thing.

Oh, and I almost forgot: 3) building my own interconnected computer system let's me litter computer parts around the house, string wire everywhere, and stay up late typing obscure things into a computer, giving me a feeling of awesome amateur power somewhere between hacking a friend's Facebook and building your own secret volcano base.

And this is what I've done for like the past three weeks. I made a deal with my work, wherein they would let me take a bunch of old computers, if in exchange I would wipe all the hard drives. No problem. I went through, checked out what worked and what didn't, did a little Killdisk action, some troubleshooting with PuppyLinux, and carted a bunch of stuff down to Free Geek for donation and e-cycling. All of it was around '98 vintage, so nothing very exciting by today's standards, but still totally usable.

I commented during this process that it's amazing how even the rapid pace of computer technology has achieved a certain atemporal stasis. Sure, the cutting edge of tech is rocketing off towards the horizon. But in doing so, it has pulled the plateau along behind it, stretching it out. Pentium III processors, over ten years old, are still totally capable of word processing, surfing the internet, and playing music. Ten year-old technology ten years ago wasn't nearly so good. In pushing the asymptote, we've extended the base.

Which makes for amazing organizations like Free Geek. If you live in PDX and use computers, you need to check it out. The acceleration of the edge has also left all this enormous plateau's worth of tech at a very low dollar value. Often, people are just glad to be rid of it, like in the case of my work giving me a bunch of old computers. In steps Free Geek, who basically does the same thing I did, and then turns around and gives usable computer systems away for free, or almost nothing. You can go down and volunteer, and earn your own computer in almost no time. Or, you can check out the thrift store, and buy the pieces for prices that seem insane.

Despite all the free stuff I got from work, I still had to buy a bunch of pieces to make it work. I got a Dell Dimension L900 out of the deal, on which I'm trying out Ubuntu right now. (Here's the part where I nerd out a bit, so if you're not inclined, you may want to get off here.) I also got an ATI graphics card, a 40 GB hard drive, a CD-ROM, and a SATA controller card which I needed for the NAS, as well as a large aluminum box with plenty of fans. But I had to buy a monitor (before this, I only had a laptop), a new motherboard, a power supply, the SATA hard drives, and a bunch of connectors for the NAS. During the process, I acquired about fifteen cables I didn't need, and probably made the clerks at Free Geek wonder what the hell I was doing, coming in every day after another cable.

But the good news is, all in I've only spent $300, and this includes two brand new 1TB hard drives. I got the motherboard (Athelon XP 1500+) and power supply, which is basically an entire computer sans hard drives, for $40 bucks from Free Geek. The software on the NAS is Openfiler (free!). And now I have 1TB of RAID 1 storage space on my network. I could lose a hard drive completely, and just keep on trucking.

Of course, while the dollar amount is low, and all the resources for learning to do it are free and online, this doesn't mean it's easy. This being my first leap into the world of serious open source software (i.e. NOT necessarily working out of the "box"), there were a lot of snags, some hair pulling, desperate searches on help forums, and still, some unresolved problems. The world of Linux falls into two camps--those who argue in favor of it, and tell you how easy it is, and those who will never try it because they find it incomprehensible. The truth is drastically between the two.

The ultimate requirements for using Linux are having a doggedly analytical personality, real dedication to problem solving, and no expectations. Because then, after you've spent hours re-typing commands correctly, reading incomprehensible and poorly-spelled forums, and re-installing a few times, and you finally get it to work, you feel a rush of gratifying success, and rush online to write a blog post about it. There are the systems that have been designed to work out of the box, but these are almost Playskool systems, capable of going only from A to B (normally, Internet to Browser), and for a computer user who likes any sort of custom set-up, you are going to have to get dirty. I thought I'd download a couple free games to Ubuntu for fun... and then spent several hours learning how to compile GCC libraries. I still haven't got one of them to work. I bought a USB wifi adapter for the Ubuntu system without making sure I was buying one with pre-included drivers on the system... still not working. There were errors compiling the install program of the driver I downloaded, which I still haven't identified. And, my glee in getting the NAS online is tempered by the fact that I can't set up the correct user permissions other than "guest", because as near as I can tell, there is nobody out there who know how the hell LDAP works.

But hey, I have that analytical, glutton-for-syntax-punishment personality, so I guess it's just another Sunday afternoon. What else would I be doing... reading Heidegger? Besides, you aren't going to learn how to do anything unless you dive in and start making mistakes.

The hype about open source is true--the really amazing part about open source is that it is free, community driven, high tech. Software that normally costs thousands of dollars to develop is created, implemented, and serviced in online text-only chat forums between people who often don't speak the same first language. Open source is not about a "success rate", or "adoption percentage", or "uptime", though often these are all pretty good. It's about doing it because you want to, and because you care, and because you can. Craftspeople don't set up assembly lines, they work by hand on the nights and weekends, and don't mind how long it takes. Sure, they could buy their hand-made whatever at the store, but it wouldn't be the same. It's good to see this ethic, which is more about the joy of learning, craft, and experimentation than it is about quantity-based production, is alive and well even in the high tech fields. Just wait until medicine and genetics go open source. Then we'll have some fun.

The purpose of this post is really to hype all the sites and people involved that I have hyperlinked. Because it's really amazing that they spend so much time answering questions and writing FAQs, tracking down bugs, and releasing custom software packages on request. Although I got frustrated and times and still have a lot of work in front of me, without the people working the forums at these sites, I never would have gotten anywhere.

Puppy Linux (a small, and yet very pretty distro of Linux that can run straight from CD or Flash drive. Good for figuring out why a computer won't work right, and will run on almost anything. These guys are really dedicated to the distro, and spend a lot of time on it.)

Ubuntu (All-around awesome beginners Linux distro with LOTS of help in the forums.)

Openfiler (Free NAS and SAN software OS. Got some kinks, but it's still pretty slick.)

KillDisk (Just a free DOS utility. But you gotta love free stuff that does what it promises, every time!)

Free Geek (PDX used-tech shop and non-profit. If/when I am king, I will turn every Best Buy into a Free Geek. There are similar orgs in other cities.)

Thanks everyone, and keep it up!