Reading some, thinking less

I’m going through some old drafts and whatever seems worth posting I’ll just edit for clarity and post – I’m deleting the too rambly stuff. The post below if from 2017 as far as I can tell…

David Greabers essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs is a good read, and now he has a book out on the same topic. Going back to the anti-globalisation movement of twenty years hence, one strand of the movement was the anti-commercialisation of public space in the form of advertising, and coming from that I still find advertising to be one of the most wasteful activities a professional creative could engage in. It’s a zero-sum game (you’re competing for consumer resources) and the amount of brain-time it takes from those creating it and us being exposed to it is staggering. Much of Internet today is ad-driven, as are traditional media, but if you view the cost of advertising as a regressive tax on consumers, we’re still the ones paying for it. (of course, on a global scale that tax is shifted onto western markets, so might be construed as being strategically progressive – it would be intersting to see those numbers)

I’m going through all the open tabs on my phone and dumping some relevant articles here for myself and posterity. Let’s see if the Article 13 passes within the EU and if I’ll get a bill for linking them. The Cracked Labs article in particular is extensive and worth a read if you want to get a sense the scale of pervasive surveillance online. If GDPR did nothing else, it gave a sense of how much of traffic is one form of tracking or other.

As Internet has become ubiquituous in my life, I’m becoming more and more resentful of it. I’m not sure it it’s just cause I missed the gravy train and am not one of the people pushing cyber-blockchain-mccuffins for millions of moneys, or if I’m just bitter that the net isn’t the online playground I remember from aeons yore – nostalgia is a powerful drug, and I miss having my own shacks and corners online, and I miss the feeling that if I wanted to I could probbaly read up on how all of it works in a couple of days.

The Gibsonian view of cyberspace as an all-encompassing anarchic network of free agents has become reality, except that most of those agents are acting on behalf of old/new money and what room there is for actualisation of human potential has cameras and microphones mounted on the wall.

Canadian researchers have even successfully calculated emotional states such as confidence, nervousness, sadness, and tiredness by analyzing typing patterns on a computer keyboard.

Cracked Labs: Wolfie Cristl: Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life

What Ganon does is pick suppliers he’ll never know to ship products he’ll never touch. All his effort goes into creating ads to capture prospective customers, and then optimizing a digital environment that encourages them to buy whatever piece of crap he’s put in front of them.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal: The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed

Watching movies #1

I have a backlog of movies I’ve “been meaning to watch” and I’m going to use my newfound filmmaking ambitions to consciously watch as many of them as possible. In that vein, let’s list a few:

In pursuit of silence, by Patrick Shen, is a documentary which tries to nail down the idea of silence and its place in our modern lives. The first half starts out building a mood – showing land and cityscapes, getting some quotes from people who’ve though about the topic – and the second half delves more into the science of it. John Cages 4’33 features prominently, but it’s the long pauses and silences which make the film.

All interviewees are presented with their own voiceover over footage when they’re not speaking, which gives a nice effect of inner thought. Sometimes what is said are platitudes, and the parts which deal with the science (health effects of noise pollution, for example) feel a bit tacked on – as if Shen didn’t want the film to become too abstract and added a rep from Virgin Airlines to speak about jet noise in order to ground the topic more – but all in all it’s a strong movie which caused me to still my breathing and speak quieter.

It brought home something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is how I totally suck at being by myself or unoccupied (to the point of causing me anxiety) and probably would benefit from taking up meditation or walks in the forrest.

Tura the teenager has gotten into horror movies – mostly fast paced zombie flicks – so we’re subjecting ourselves to the highs and lows of the genre. We put The Mist on (by Frank Darabont) but bailed after fifteen minutes – what a hot mess. Characters who change mood on a dime, poor dialogue, campy acting. I’d mistaken the movie for the 2017 series which apparently is better – and even though it’s supposed to end with a dramatic twist, no twist is worth sitting through this thing. Perhaps it was well received because it served the American audience an allegory for 9/11?

We switched to Monsters (by Gareth Edwards), and although the mood and world building is nice the setup is inexplicable – there are planes flying in the world, so why can’t Samantha just take a flight home to the States? And how come Andrew the photographer “has been waiting for this three years” just to “get a shot” when there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of footage of the monsters on the evening news? Towards the end it gets a bit too on the nose, but it’s well acted and worth a gander.

I read 30 days of night (by Steve Niles) not long after it came out, and now we watched the movie. Tura approved although it “wasn’t that scary” – plenty of gore, but as usual in horror plenty of stupid moves and last-stands which we could do without. I have a weak spot for movies which don’t mind killing pets or kids – bonus if a protagonist does it – so the movie has that going for it. Carter was well played, and the makeup and special effects were nice.

We finished the evening with The Shining (Stanley Kubrick / Diane Johnson) which Sara realized she hadn’t seen yet. It’s a brilliant movie still, and has lost none of it’s impact since I first saw it. Halloranns death is still senseless, and with the buildup of his arrival taking so long it’s the closest to comedy it comes. As I’m writing this Tura is going to bed and is complaining that the movie was too scary. Well, she shouldn’t have complained about the timidity of the previous scary movies I guess. Now let’s hope that she manages to fall asleep…

Getting older, with people.

So, I’m 40 now: my time halfway served and I’m nowhere where I thought I’d be when I was a kid. I’m in a good place though; Irrespective of the current depression and the resulting mental miasma, I have a loving girlfriend, a job and my deadlifts are getting better. Also, just a this summer I experienced my first surprise party! Sara had pulled together family and friends – some I hadn’t seen in a long time – to show up at our allotment cabin and celebrate my birthday. It took me a while to process and I was honestly out of words, but it brightened my week and the urge I’d had previously to flee the city was gone.

As anyone with a birthday near a national holiday can affirm, childhood trauma of overseen birthdays is a thing – I still remember my birthday cake melting abandoned because the kindergarten teachers hurried us out to celebrate midsummer. So I wasn’t looking forward to the hosting a party anywhere near my actual birthday since it usually doesn’t work with peoples plans.

Sara managed to arrange a surprise and got all these people together to make me happy, and it feels nice to be reminded of that I’m not as alone as I sometimes feel. It feels real nice.

Moving on from Facebook

I was never enthusiastic about Facebook to begin with, so there’s no sense of regret now that I’m exiting the platform. My text-file with site passwords is 978 lines long, so Facebook will join the ranks of all other forums and apps I’ve used over the years.

I’ve been online for 25 years by now, and when Facebook came along it was a platform much like another – a “find my classmates” with some added functions. So you get suggestions, you add people to it, and then you wake up one day and suddenly there are tons of people who have never known the Internet to be anything but websites like these. And even thought Facebook wasn’t all that innovative or new, it was at the right place at the right time to create a critical mass of users which has allowed it to ensconce itself in our browsers and cellphones – as well as in the public mind.

It’s become more difficult to get out since there’s no one service which can offer the same functions as Facebook, but out I’m going – if for no other reason than to rediscover what the web can still become beyond the walled gardens of the big five corporations. (Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft & Amazon).

I remember when Facebook announced that they were allowing personalized sub-domains, and I set the alarm to wake me at the hour so that I could register – much like having a low user number on Slashdot used to mean something, I figured that having my own url on Facebook would allow me to control the set and setting of my home on the platform. Over the years it’s become abundantly clear that it’s a dysfunctional home, and it’s time to vacate.

Eight years ago I was ruminating on what had become of Hotline & KDX, and if I can say it myself I quite like what I wrote (You can read the post here) so allow me a self-quote:

For a time I nourished the idea that I should be logged in somewhere at all times. By running my own server, I could be online and present at a place where others could see me, and often I would log in to servers or join an IRC channel just to be somewhere while I slept. Even though you are not conscious of your surroundings when you sleep, you still exist; And it felt important to think of myself as existing online, not only to me, but as a proof of the possibilities that the net embodied.

I’ve never changed my password to Facebook over the years. Ever since I signed up it was NotReallyInteresting. It’s time to do good on the flippancy with which I set up that password, and quit.

Thanks for having me!

Sara and I often listen to spoken word when going to bed. Laurie Andersons Heart of a Dog is a recurring theme, but mostly it’s podcasts: We’ve gone through P2 Fågel and Klassiska Podden a couple of times, and the weekly Quirks and Quarks is in rotation as well. I’ve been listening to Q&Q for a couple of years, and enjoy the formulaic setup of the show – brief interviews with interesting scientists and related professionals, all hosted by the affable Bob McDonald. Despite some jarring choices in sound design, it’s pleasant enough to fall asleep to and the segments short enough that you might learn something before drifting off – do lobsters feel pain? Is there a sugar conspiracy?

Because the show is so formulaic, I was curious what it would sound like if we’d only hear the welcome and thanks of guests on the show. The idea is that there is content even in this – by Bobs tempo, timbre and accentuation – and I’m curious to hear what non-listeners hear in the exchanges.

So here are all the guests introduced by Bob McDonald at Quirks and Quarks the first half of 2018. I’ve excluded segments where people aren’t introduced (cold opens and collages), and normalized the audio. There’s no noise reduction for the different sources, and I’ve kept the intervals between Bob and the guests as is – silence is another signal, after all.

Perhaps the idea is all nonsense, but I found it to be interesting nonsense nonetheless. This was a much quicker exercise than other found audio stuff I’ve done – like Appropriate Christmas – but at least I can check one experiment off my list of silly things to try.

On the pill again

The intervals between my depressive periods grows ever shorter – maybe my brains is getting bored with me. Whatever the reason, I’m back on the SSRI train. When I was younger I could always count on my downs to be followed by a few manic days of productivity, and so the trade-off seemed worthwhile. Now it’s just a flat greyness interspersed with lethargy and despair, so I’m medicating.

I’m in good company though. According to Socialstyrelsen (National board of health and welfare) there were 603603 people 20 years or older who bought at least one treatment of SSRI during 2017 (all medication stats are searcheable) and given a total population of 10 million, let’s assume that one in every ten adults are on antidepressants (this doesn’t take into account ADHD medication, anti-psychotic or sleeping aids – which adds another 1.1 million users for all age groups). Sign of our times, over-diagnosis or something in the water?

It’s a good thing that depression and other psychological problems are becoming less of a taboo and social stigma – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it concurs with #metoo and reflections on toxic masculinity – but the flipside is that we’re becoming used to explaining away personality with pathology. What can be said to be my “real self” if it’s not an amalgamation of my traumas, quirks and mood? I have no problem with using drugs to change myself – better life through chemistry – but in the end it becomes similar to hedonism: There is no center towards which you’re aligning your ambitions except the one you choose, and that is endlessly malleable. “Let there be pleasure on Earth; let it begin with me”

Having said that, SSRI offers me a respite, and I’m looking forwards to taking a long vacation both metaphorically, but also literally, from work. I’ll finish up some projects at KKV before summer, celebrate my 40th birthday somehow, and then I’m off from all responsibilities and will hopefully relax for a few weeks.

Walking like a cowboy

Occasionally you remember a pivotal point from your past and it stops you for a second – what if I’d stayed with my wife? What if I’d moved to Copenhagen for that job? What if I had finished my degree? — and if you look over your shoulder you imagine the thread of life which has led to this point, and there’s most often no way to unspool it, to make undone done decisions. So perhaps you start to chew over what you’ve done, and perhaps you regret obviously poor decisions, but mostly there’s a nostalgia for all the things that could have been. I could have been a kosmonaut, as it were.

There’s no control group for a sample size of one so there’s nothing but speculation and nostalgia guiding these thoughts, but humans are quite good at that so we might end up looking in the mirror wondering how all these years just happened to us. Occasionally you make an active decision which severs even the possibility of winding the thread back. You burn a bridge, you chose one partner over another, you punch your boss in his stupid face. Or as in my case, you get a vasectomy.

Mind you, there’s no sense of nostalgia on my part for my ability to have kids. I’ve never wanted children of my own, and the few times a lover would comment on being late I would promise myself that if it turned out to be a false alarm I would never again I let it come to that. I can only remember one instance in my life when I entertained the thought that having a kid might be good – I imagined having a daughter, teaching her how to knee assholes in the balls (a teaching moment à la Face/Off) — but the notion dissolved within seconds; it’s just not for me.

So I’m not sentimental about a life as a father that now will never be fulfilled, but deciding to go under the knife was more of a reminder of past decisions and an examination of how I’ve ended up where I am. And like so many other people, there’s a realisation that most choices I’ve done didn’t feel like such at the time – I’ve been surfing on mood, circumstance and the happenstance of meeting some people and not others. If I hadn’t run into a friend outside the grocer I wouldn’t have known about the job I’ve now had for going on four years; Had I known that HFF was an art school rather than a straight photography-one I probably wouldn’t have applied and never moved to Gothenburg. And pertinent to the issue at hand: If the biological lottery would have thrown the dice differently, I might have become a father at any point during my slutty years – the unperceived decision here would be the one to have unprotected sex.

Turning away from examining the past, looking towards the post-40 years of my life, what stays with me is that life is full of decisions to be made and that perhaps I should become more aware of those choices and actively make them rather than go with the flow. What do I want to be when I grow up?

On a more practical note, for those of you considering the procedure, here’s my experience:

I had my coin purse cut at two places, the vas pulled out, cut, cauterized and tied into a knot at the ends. It was preceded by two local anaesthetic injections not unlike those you get at the dentist. It numbs the skin, but does nothing for whatever pain you feel on the inside of your body – as a result there was pain like what you’d get if my fictitious kid had kneed you. It’s unpleasant, but not unbearable.

During the procedure I had a distinct feeling of dissociation. I remember thinking “boy am I glad it’s not me lying on a gurney getting my balls sliced”. Last minute panic maybe?

I got antibiotics to mitigate the risk of infection, but no prescription painkillers. With the assistance of my lovely girlfriend I got a cab home and spent the day on the couch with some frozen peas to numb the area, and some gin to numb my mind. I had hoped to go to work the next day, but resigned myself to shuffling around the apartment when I wasn’t on my back.

It’s been five days and I’m almost back to walking like a normal person, albeit a bit slower. I’m wearing tight underwear to avoid any dangling mishaps, and my usually beautiful scrotum is bruised and swelled, but there’s only an occasional dull pain.

All in all, it was far easier and less painful than I’d thought. Granted, there can always be mishaps and Internet forums are full of people who’ve had complications, but so far everything seems on track. My doc did say that my balls were relatively easy to navigate, which I imagine could affect the healing time and post-op complications. I’ll be back in the gym next weekend, although I’ll refrain from heavy lifts to begin with.

If you’re a guy and don’t want kids (or have enough of them already) do yourself and your lady friends a favour and get snipped. Compared to a woman tying her tubes or carrying the stress of an abortion (or god forbid, an unwanted child) it’s not that big a deal.

Taking back the net, one grouch at a time

Let’s start with a bad metaphor and see how far we can stretch it:

I’m in Bali with the family right now, and a couple of days ago we all got food poisoning at a restaurant and spent the next couple of days like so many broken McFlurry dispensers. We haven’t been back there since, and limit our dinners to places we’ve come to trust by trial and error. Now imagine if we’d banked all our money with that one restaurant at the beginning of our stay, and only had vouchers to eat there. We could use the vouchers somewhere else, but they’d be worth half the amount if they were worth anything, and if we ate at any one restaurant more than once, that first restaurant would buy them up and either close shop or have them serve their food.

I’m going to try to convince you that Google/Alphabet is that restaurant, and that occasional catastrophic diarrhea is what you put up with in order to eat at their table.

Tim O’Reilly of computer book publishing fame recently published his book WTF? and interspersed between the name-dropping and a light-Randian critique of ineffectual systems, there’s a genuine interest in understanding how things work, what problems those things are trying to solve, and how better to solve them.

A paragraph in the closing chapter might serve as an example:

Even when a dark future seems to be staring us in the face, though, we lack the courage to do what must be done. Despite our best efforts, most of the time we fail to respond to potentially catastrophic consequences of changes that are already well under way. And despite the lessons of history, we haven’t yet made the hard choices to fundamentally restructure our economy.
Instead, we argue over which of the failed recipes of the past we will try again. Political leaders and policy makers could learn a lot from Jeff Bezos.
[owner of Amazon]

My recurring question while reading was “who are these ‘we’ that you’re referring to?” It might be that Tim has a genuine belief that all humans are aware of the same problems and frame them similarly, but are too distracted by old ideas to see clearly, even though I don’t get that feeling from reading the book. But many of the conclusions in the book refer to a nebulous ‘we’ and misses the point that there really isn’t a ‘we’ more than as a species. Snakes in suits seems relevant here; some people have a really odd sense of what constitutes “success” or “progress.”

Uber is mentioned copiously and much is done of the gig-economy (Airbnb, Mechanical Turk, et al) as the next big thing. Not necessarily a good thing, but a thing which is rising on its own merits. By all means, let’s not throw the clone out with the amniotic fluid and let’s learn why some of these services (or ‘platforms’ which is the word of the day) offer which ‘we’ can harness for our own means. But let’s not forget that you have to decide who ‘we’ are that are doing this. We’re a multitude, and progress is a struggle of competing ideas, not merely a linear progression of inventions only hampered by incumbent powers.

Fred Turner put my thoughts together better than I can in an interview over at Logic:

About ten years back, I spent a lot of time inside Google. What I saw there was an interesting loop. It started with, “Don’t be evil.” So then the question became, “Okay, what’s good?” Well, information is good. Information empowers people. So providing information is good. Okay, great. Who provides information? Oh, right: Google provides information. So you end up in this loop where what’s good for people is what’s good for Google, and vice versa. And that is a challenging space to live in.

He continues:

So I think that engineers, at Facebook and other firms, have been a bit baffled when they’ve been told that the systems they’ve built—systems that are clearly working very well and whose effectiveness is measured by the profits they generate, so everything looks ethical and “good” in the Google sense—are corrupting the public sphere.

And this is where we come back to the original shitty metaphor: As long as financial profitability – or the anticipation thereof – is the metric by which a service platform can continue to operate, by virtue of the market that platform will dominate that sphere and gobble up other services which might serve the purpose better but might not be as profitable. It’s not that other services are not profitable, it’s them not being the most profitable – which should tell you that the point of the service isn’t the service, but the bottom line. And in the case of Google (and Facebook, and Twitter, and Apple, and…) the more services they offer the bigger their market share and value, and the more difficult it is to offer an alternative: In addition to market dominance stemming from huge stacks of money, their ever increasing user base fuels an ever larget market share, and on it goes. It’s a natural monopoly, and it’s not a good thing when there’s no public oversight or accountable governance.

This doesn’t even touch on the resulting negative consequences of one company hoarding all our data; corporate data mining, private censorship, arbitrary non-democratic rules, commercialization of our attention, fake news and propaganda, echo chamber discourse, stifling innovation and price dumping against competing services. All the entreprebro assholes disrupting stuff because it’s their God given (and VC driven) right, those are just the garnish on the shit sandwich we’re eating so that we can sync our calendars across devices and not have to input the destination into our GPS. Not that those things aren’t convenient, but in my view they’re not worth the the indigestion.

Tim uses some astrophysical metaphors as well:

When making sense of the future, think in terms of gravitational cores, not hard boundaries. Just as the sun’s gravity well reaches out beyond the orbit of Pluto and encompasses not just the planets in the ecliptic but comets and planetoids with eccentric orbits, so too the forces shaping the future all have a gravitational core and a gradually attenuating influence. And just as the solar system has multiple gravitational subsystems, where the draw of the local giant keeps its own satellites in tow while all still partake in the larger dance, these interpenetrating trends influence each other and converge.

So I’ll add my own:

How about viewing Google as a black hole. You’re in a stable orbit around it, and through clever engineering you manage to siphon off enough energy to keep your orbit and have some extra energy to spare. You’ll never end up like those suckers who fall in. But all those suckers who fell in increased the mass of the black hole gradually, and you didn’t even notice the moment when you passed the event horizon yourself. You still feel like you’re in a stable orbit, but for the outside world you’ve disappeared beyond the event horizon – and should they ever want to get in touch with you again, they have to go there to.

So there you have Google in a nutshell: You’re accelerating down a gravity well, shitting brown water, asking Echo for movie recommendations.

Here’s how this might get sorted: In fifty years time, many of those alive today will be dead. New young people, seeing the stupid shit we’re doing today, will come up with other solutions. Hopefully they will realize that you can’t be unfucked, and refuse to give up their data in the first place.

Another solution might be to require interoperability between all systems with more than n number of users and subsidize migration tools for services. But it’s easier just to wait for people to die and the relevancy of their data with them.

Body in as-in condition. Eye lenses 40 y/o, other parts exchanged

The photos in this post are from a new dinner-guest set I did recently. You can see them on the main homepage.

Next year I’m turning 40, and I’ve been gingerly anticipating the much talked about crisis which should precipitate right about this (arbitrary) time of life. Or maybe it’s not that arbitrary: we’re creatures of pattern-finding after all, and once we see a pattern we imbue it with meaning. So ten fingers, ten years, something meaningful has to happen every decade so why not a crisis.

The most obvious manifestation of male age-related chrisis would be an “oh no, what am I doing with my life, I ought to get a motorcycle or some other external manifestation of movement and direction”. A couple of years ago, while I was permanently unemployed freelancing and had little daily routine, I didn’t feel this as much – today, when I’ve had the same job on going on four years, been in a stable relationship for eight, and have set a new low in personal productivity, a motorcycle seems a fit.

Or at least a metaphorical motorcycle. In my case the motorcycle has manifested as a light body dysmorphia and a feeling that I ought to better myself and do something with my life. Be a positive force in society, engage politically, write a book. Create an app?

The body dysmorphia is an odd thing. It started out as a general “let’s get fitter” feeling, moved towards “ok, lets focus on powerlifting and get strong”, took a detour past “I look like flabby going on fat in the vacation pictures”, and I’m now entertaining ideas of labelling all food in the house with a calory count and amino-composition. Beginning as an offhand joke about looking better in holiday snaps, I’ve now internalised an unhealthly self-image and it’s a habit as difficult to give up as smoking.

As I recall, I wasn’t as preoccupied by my looks when I kept my mind occupied, so perhaps it’s just a symptom of not getting enough creative work done. If the sum of our quirks is constant, it’s only because we understand some quirks to be endearing or part of our personality and drive, that we distinguish between feeling fine and “not ourselves”.

(I shouldn’t exaggerate the body dysmorphia part – I’m not starving myself or call myself names in the mirror or somesuch. It’s a difference in degree though, not essense, so perhaps body dysmorphlight?)

In the spirit of seeing all problems as rationally solvable (even if the means might be irrational) I’m trying to come up with ways to occupy my obviously wandering mind. (I have computer games and Netflix, but that tends to exacerbate the malaise – especially in combination with my periodic depression.) There’s plenty of creative work to be done at work, but I don’t have the time to do it since administration takes up my days. The art projects I have going on have all become long to-do lists, and as much as I enjoy creating those it’s demoralising when you can’t cross stuff out every once in a while. The biohacking lab I’ve been trying to start hasn’t gathered traction and we’ve yet to do anything productive.

Maybe it’s not another project I need (“I ought to play the piano”, “I ought to read all the books”) but a a sounder approach to life in general? Oh dear, that sounds like another kind of midlife crisis symptom, doesn’t it? I have been looking at meditation retreats, so maybe it’s not a hobby I need to find but “myself”? Oh dear.

Or maybe reasserting control over my everyday life and tidying up is exactly what I need to get priorities straight? Perhaps I could just fix all this with a long weekend cleaning up, tossing books I’ll never read, arranging our bills in a spreadsheet and finally settling on how to sync my calendars between computers and phone? Too much in my life is just running along, so grabbing my LAN by the balls, fixing a proper NAS backup and deleting old files might be just the spring cleaning my mind needs?

Come to think of it, the time I feel most relaxed is when the apartment has just been vacuumed and tidied and I can make tea without having to navigate dirty dishes. So if I start there, and do some pullups in between, perhaps this spring can start out a bit more harmonious? Ok? Ok! Let’s start by creating a todo-list…

Me write pretty one day

Thanks to Anna Ganslandt I was next in line for a “artists writing relay” which Kultur i Väst organized. The theme of the project was “honestly speaking” [ärligt talat] and I wrote about my latest project counting sand grains, and the impossibility of not creating meaning. If you’d care to read it (in Swedish) you can do so here: Apparently my text was so good that I killed the project, since my essay will be the last in the relay. More likely the project didn’t get the traction they were hoping for and they scrapped it, but still.