This will all be gone by this time tomorrow.
Josh Examines Reader Manipulation in Story-Telling I'm thinking about this infernal thing too, but from a slightly different angle. I'm upset about how the nature of story telling is so reader-specific. The story needs to back-fill, explain, slow-down, speed-up, and generally cater to the reader in an almost grovelling and pathetic manner. Some books are dedicated entirely to developing a character. Others entirely to explaining something that happened or will happen during the course of the story's plot. In most of those remaining, that aren't entirely one thing or the other, whenever you see a new concept, the plot stops, and the narrator explains, patiently and thoroughly, where this new concept came from, why it is being injected into the story here, and hopefully by the end you'll understand that it was an essential element. The good books will do this without you noticing, so that by the end you are completely surprised by something that, in hindsight, you can see was the only possible outcome, considering the literary devices the author used to plant the outcome. Writing manuals and teachers will tell you if you want to do something unexpected in the 3rd chapter, the reason for it's appearance needs to be in chapter 1. Chapter 2 is preparing you for chapter 4, etc. If there's a gun in chapter 1, most people, because they know that the story is their bitch, that it will be used in the final chapter.
These ploys are most obvious in popular fiction, and on TV. The cliff-hanger before a commercial, the set-up, punchline, laughter cycle of every sitcom. You have to speed through parts that are not immediately interesting, and take your time with scenes that require heavy emotional investment. However, they play an even bigger role in great fiction.
Great fiction needs to do all of this in a completely new way each time it is done. A great author is like an adaptive virus, absorbing all the gimmicks from past authors, seeing that they're now spiteful in the eyes of readers, and trying to get his RNA into the reader some other way, with tinier and tinier needles.
The thing, the paradox that is eating me, is that the reader knows about this game and even relies upon it. When the reader doesn't want to be mentally challenged, and is just trying to relax after a tough day in the office, the convention of easy-to-see-through reader-manipulations is welcome. It absolutely necessary even. It's what makes us want to read something easy, as a form of rest rather than challenging and new. If the reader becomes bored with the game, he'll call it out and condemn you, however, if he finds the game too difficult to decipher, meaning that the author is trying something new, the reader will call him presumptuous and purposefully, and needlessly, enigmatic.
So, is pulp fiction the answer? Admit that you're writing to a formula and just get it over with? At least then you're free to unleash your energies upon more rewarding ends. I don't know, I have to think about it. Shakespeare wrote to a formula, and is proof that there's much more to a story than plot.
It's clear to me from writing this that I know not that of which I speak. I'm speaking out against the very foundation of story-telling, those skills that if a writer lacks, is no writer at all. So it would be very easy to say that anyone who complains about the need for those skills is clearly just upset that they do not have them themselves. And I would be able to produce no evidence to the contrary. Maybe this is how the world will make us crazy, because we cannot tell if we are upset about something that is wrong with the system, or merely upset about the fact that we do not have the talent to compete in this environment.
I'm on a new internet diet where I can only work on internet projects every other day. On alternate days, I stay off the internet and work on my book. So far, I am happy to report a 5% increase in my morale.
Chomsky wins case for Turkish publisher More evidence that Noam will be the name of my firstborn son. This guy is more interesting the more I learn about him. I'm assuming at some point that I'll start taking his words a little less easily, but right now I'm in sponge mode.
First Segway Transporters Fetch Big Bids on Amazon Wanna buy a self-balancing scooter for $60,000, or finance me for two years where I don't have to work? The choice should be obvious.
On my book days, I take my new laptop down to a coffee shop, usually Bauhaus, and am one of those lamos working on a laptop, and sipping a coffee in the otherwise dark room. Last time I got more done than I have in the last month since I've been down from California.
Rumor is that there's a new Zeitgeist only a couple blocks from my house now, so I'm going to try that one tonight. They have the best mochas. Unsweetened. Add your own brown sugar. Tasty.
KEXP.org The best.
Happy Birthday, Melanie
Introduction to CSS Layout I have to admit that I'm often tempted to redesign everything in CSS, removing all the tables and replacing it with this cleaner, happier, more in vogue code. However, whenever I read articles about why everyone should start using CSS instead of tables, the reasons just seem so lame to me that I view the author as someone who is clearly not thinking straight. How can I take advice from a loon? For example, in this article, which does have nice instructions I have to admit, his logic is all backwards!
Take a look at the examples of code that he uses for the page with a top banner and three columns. The table-based code is about half as long as the CSS-based code. Already, I'm a little skeptical of something that he says isn't complicating things but multiplies it instead.
His main argument for abandoning tables is "HTML is intended to structurally organize the content of a document so that it's clear what the conceptual relationship is between various portions of a document. The markup language is NOT intended to define the display of the document, although display and structure are often tightly connected." Okay, HTML may have been originally intended to structurally organize the content of a document, and not control its presentation, but at some point that intention changed. That's why we have bold, italic, and font tags. That's why our browsers have adapted to this new, possibly less ideal, but more practical, practice of mixing display and content. Also, I think the principle of separating structure and presentation in this way is largely a web designer's dream, and not really anybody else's. With the use of databases and templates that are applied on the fly, using Graymatter, or Movable Type, or HTML::Template, or Mason or any of the other templating systems available, structure and presentation are already separated! We keep our content in a database and our templates in a template directory, and we too can redesign on the fly. If we wanted to create a version of our site that was accessible to cell phones, we would just create a new template for that use. And we can do that without compromising the display of any of our templates that are intended for web browsers. That's why I think the CSS-movement is one largely funded and deemed cool by the web designers, and not necessarily by the web developers who use perl and other server-side languages to develop sites.
"What you give up in absolute control over layout in every browser you gain back in increased accessibility and more useful documents." I disagree. You're giving up absolute control over layout in every browser (and why would you want to give this up for anything?) for increased accessibility for a handful of rarely used appliances (like palm devices and cellphones) and documents that are usually rendered useless, or at least broken by as many browsers as not.
He says we should stop using tables because (among other things) "you interfere with other less capable browsers and internet devices from retrieving your content". The percentage of people using these less capable (presumably really really old) browsers aren't going to suffer any more from tables than they will with CSS, and internet devices are a much smaller percentage of people than those who use non-CSS-compliant browsers.
"The fact is that CSS layout will not currently allow you to do everything you can do with tables." So true.
Anyway, I'm not switching to CSS-based designs until that 25% turns to 5%. I might play around with it, but for the most part, it's just not worth it. Same thing with developing things in flash, same with dhtml, same with java applets, same with anything that comes in vogue and has all the web designers scrambling to learn something new, dreaming of a world where everyone complied with the new standards, where nobody ever took the lazy or easy route out, and where the best outcome is reserved for those who upgrade their browsers on the first day anything new is released, and require them to shut out a percentage of their audience that may not be as excited about w3c as they are.
That said, I know that most of my sites aren't perfect, and I reserve the right to shut out anyone whom I do not have the time to cater to.
The Economist: Zipping, as any computer buff knows, enables you to compress a file so that it can be stored efficiently, or sent quickly over the Internet. But Emanuele Caglioti and his colleagues at the University of Rome-La Sapienza have found a more esoteric use for it. Using zipped files, they can identify the authors of documents and reconstruct the family trees of languages.
They say they can determine the language of a string of text by the patterns discovered in the string as it is compressed. Also, they can even slightly predict the authorship of a string of text by the same technique. As soon as I start looking, I see computers playing with text everywhere, interpreting language, studying it.
What fascinates me is what is hinted at at the bottom of the article. Studying more than language, studying DNA, music, digital video. How much of the world can be compressed into a recipe of patterns? Isn't the beauty of everything dependant on repetition, and the development of shapes through slight modifications of a base set of material? From the quantum mechanics level, to language, to art and music, patterns seem to be the fundamental building block. At least from one perspective. I suppose that if you study anything or try hard enough, you can reduce everything to any single thing you want. Everything is in some way related to patterns. Everything is in some way related to politics. Everything is in some way related to sex. Every direction ends in a starting point.
Scores of Bodies Strewn at Site of Crematory (via metafilter) Apparently the furnace broke and for who knows how long bodies have not been cremated and have instead been strewn about, dropped into the lake, buried in the backyard. First thing I thought when reading this is, how beautiful. The physical space and horror that hundreds of dead bodies creates (especially when you incorporate the sentimentality of lost loved ones, and the simplest of excuses (the furnace broke)), it's very inspiring. Sure, it's horrible, and it could probably cause severe emotional disturbance in oneself to know that your beloved child is at the bottom of a pile of long dead corpses, but mortality itself, this is what resonates most with us. We were built to appreciate this story.
I'm collecting pictures today.
This is a picture of an onion, as you probably noticed, and I would love to somehow take ownership of it but it comes from Visions of Science and is but one of many beautiful images.
A mirror project photo of me through the lens of an SUV, avoiding the taunting glances of mannequins.
One from the latest show at Foster/White Gallery.
La la la.
Press Release: JFA Development and Diary-x.com have reached a strategic agreement after meeting at Six Arms for a beer and hamburger after work one day. I've agreed to help improve the site in exchange for an undisclosed amount of cash money. Now that's what I call negotiating! Coming soon to diary-x, everything you could ever dream of and more.
Restrain is possibly one of the most difficult verbs given to nouns. We are a people of action, we do not actively do nothing. For example, there's the old "don't look now, but there's someone you know doing a weird dance behind you back" which you always have to peer at. I've been trying to stop biting my nails now, actively, for several months now, and I've gotten no closer. Sick. In the same way, I've been trying to restrain from taking on new projects, and just letting them die down, but in fact I've started on two new projects that are bigger than the ones I would've probably taken up should I have not tried to resist. It's the diet syndrome. To resist is the best way to break your will and force yourself to the extreme.
I had a sensation a few years ago of where I would consciously try to "be a better person" in a conscious way. I would go to sleep each night reviewing my actions and seeing where I went wrong. I would wake up each morning promising that I would do nothing "wrong" that day. It only became too apparent too quickly, however, that since I was so conscious of it, I would feel weak from the effort and fall much harder. Lie like a thief. Gossip like a prince. Be generally selfish and greedy like a baby. Does this happen to anyone else?
Design Your Own Language: this is a project I've been daydreaming about on and off for the last couple weeks and it's not even one of the two that I've started. I daydream about inventing my own language, a constructed language that is designed to be written, which follows the rules of art, putting beauty as high as utility, and which is specifically designed to express a certain kind of thing. I mentioned it before here. Since then, K has also decided to create a language, although a visual one rather than a written one. She has already begun compiling hers. I have not. However, I am researching other constructed languages and here's what I've found so far:
The 16 Rules of Esperanto. Esperanto is the most successful of the constructed languages, and is actually known by an estimated 2 million people world-wide (although it's mostly a guess and the figure ranges by advocates and opponents between 8 million and 500,000). It is based largely on European romantic languages, and so has a pretty nice aesthetic to it, however because it is a living language, it is also somewhat static. Or, rather, it'll continue to be developed as any other language develops... somewhat slowly, and in an unknown direction. You cannot improve upon it very easily since there is no core-committee of Esperanto who dictates proper usage. Not that they care. Another thing is that it isn't a cultureally-unbiased language. That's a criticism I found that has been made by other constructed languages, not necessarily my own. I hadn't yet decided if I wanted a culturally independant language although it does seem to make it more mathematically correct somehow.
Loglan and Lojban. These are both languages that started from the same movement around 1955, and are designed with the assumption that language itself can effect the thoughts of those who speak it. Meaning that if a language is designed to promote logical and abstract thinking, the speaker will think more logically and abstract. This is the Whorf Hypothesis, which is somewhat debatable.
In addition, these two languages follow mathematical principles and are designed to help computers learn how to interpret language. The more logical a language, the easier it will be for computers to translate it, and therefore the easier it will be for computers to gain all kinds of super-powers. For example, imagine being able to type an entry, and have a perl script that automatically summarized what the entry was about. Or imagine being able to use a special syntax in your entry that says,
There are other constructed languages, I realize, some 279 listed in that one place in fact. Almost enough to make you feel like the world is already saturated with a level of constructed languages, and yet before today I had only heard of Esperanto, Klingon, and maybe one of Tolkien's languages. I have to believe that someone else has already started what I would like to do, it's just a matter of finding them. I'm not in the market for a several decade project, especially one that seems as futile as this, unless I really think I can contribute something that would be more successful, and more beautiful, than anything anyone has done already. Quite presumptuous. And that's why I'm only daydreaming at this point. I could get lost in it though, it's such an interesting pursuit.
A Language Maker: a software application that helps you create your own language (I haven't tested it).
Top 10 Model Languages: a list someone has created of his 10 favorite constructed languages. A log of them already look familiar to me.
My heart just jumped. I'm listening to kexp at work and a song came on by a band that I haven't heard in maybe 8 years. The last time I heard this band, The Cranes, or at least the freshest memory I have of it, was when I was driving with my father to a breakfast restruant by the beach on some Sunday morning during the summer before he realized he had cancer. I had an older tape of theirs playing and he was telling me "your musical tastes have gotten really strange." So I took out the tape and put in the Beatles. For some reason, that memory really hit me hard. That band, if you know them, has this really eerie female singer on it, and some of the emotions of that time in my life have chrystallized within it. I've been thinking about him a lot lately, I think it's just one of those cycles that I go through every couple years. Do you find that your brain returns to certain themes on a several-year cycle? The most prominent cycle I'm aware of myself is the investigative cycle. I'm currently in one at the moment, reading a lot about linguistics, propoganda, and now about half-way through Universe in a Nutshell, Hawkings new book that is trying its best to confuse me.
I'm aware of my tendency to try and find my personal TOE (Theory of Everything) when most likely one doesn't exist, aware enough that I am a little miffed at how entangled this process is, and wish there was a better way to go about it. Yes, the problem is in the process, not the goal itself. One assumes that cause and effect are somewhat at work in ones own self, that, given certain beliefs, certain fundamental changes will begin infiltrating one's fundamental army of habits and perceptions to an extent that he will not need to forcefully alter his own actions, he'll just naturally respond to his conscience's new beliefs in the appropriate way subconsciously. For example, to take a simple, if fallible, example, if all of a sudden I came into the knowledge that suger would cause me to die in 3 years if I continued consuming it at the rate I currently am, one would hope that this new knowledge would automatically turn off my preference for deserts, sweet snacks, and carbonated beverages, among other things. It is ridiculous to assume that I'd have to put the same amount of effort into quitting sweets with this knowledge as I would have without it. Knowledge can infiltrate our habits and change us, from the inside out. Right? Otherwise we would never change, since it seems like I have almost no skill at changing myself through sheer effort alone. There is trickery involved. I have to trick myself into believing something new, and then that belief is responsible for changing me.
In this vein I'm curious how my recent studies will effect me. Will they make me a more negative person, because I believe all sorts of conspiracty theories with the government might actually be true? Will I lose some of my self-centered megalomania as I ponder quantum mechanics more and find my place in a world of tiny and huge things? How did Jesus change in the Garden of Gesthemane? How does a person face-to-face with death change? How can one gain the benefits of change as a result of crisis without the crisis itself? Is it possible (and if it was, would it be beneficial) to manufacture crisises merely for their perspective-changing pay-off? I guess this is a little what Fight Club was about. It's why I'd pay for a revelation, why I'd die for a change, why I don't believe any of the hype about leisure leading to anything but a dull pit of despair. Strangely enough, I remember overhearing a conversation between my mom and dad when I was younger where they talked about how my sister and I's lives were a little too easy... that great people never emerge from lives without conflict and trauma. So they beat us with a stick every night for the next three years.
If only life were so simple.
Do you wonder sometimes if the most healthy approach to living is a suicidal one? Do you wonder if by constantly protecting our self-interest and our own safety we are cutting out a huge chunk of opportunity and experience that could otherwise be at our fingertips? For example, we guard our own opinions religiously. People almost always refuse to engage old debates with an open mind. Do you think there is a God? When is the last time you thought about that seriously? Do you like carrots? Are you fond of the government? Do you ever wear a hat? Is your career path still interesting to you? Are you getting old? Is marriage really for you? Can you spare any change? Maybe you can actually. Maybe it's just the thing you need to do. Open your mouth and let all the bugs fly in. Blow all the pollen off your flower. Stick your neck under the ax. What's the worst that could happen, you could lose your head? Anyway, my point is, maybe I would find the world a lot more diverse if I acted against my own self interest. Because that way I find just how far I have edged away from the cliff in fear of falling over. Maybe that cliff is a mile away now, and yet I still stay fanatically close to the ground, growling at anyone who pulls me away. Self destruction has always had an appeal for me. There's something saintly about it, something beautiful. I'm going to do myself a favor and try to harm myself within the next 24 hours.
See you then, or maybe never.
nervousness.org. There are still a few things that need to be done, like I need to finish the first product that will be for sale, and there are still a few things I need to do with people's suggestions from beta testing but here's the scoop.
Products: We're creating small books, that will live inside cd jewel cases, where the small booklet usually lives, and where the cd usually goes will still be a cd but it will be filled with our sound experiments, readings, and other nonsense. We're about half way done with this, but we have all the content now, it just needs to be packaged up. If you sign up on the site, I'll let you know when it goes up for sale. See an example.
Objects: These are things you create, they can be anything, and you can create a page for it so that other people can sign up to receive it. You'll mail it to the first person that asks for it, and they'll mail it to the second, until the number of people that you want to recieve it have received it, and the last person mails it back to you. There is no restriction on the type of object that can be sent through the mail, it's only limited by your own imagination. Right now there's only one object, but a few of you are helping me with others, and if any of you have a good idea and want to run it by me first, email me. (But really, you don't need to have me approve anything) See an example.
The Exchange: You can set up one-to-one exchanges where you will give something to anybody that gives you something else. After you sign up, you'll have a people page where you can say things like "If you send me..." then "I will send you..." type exchanges. This is still a work in progress since it's really pretty simple right now. See an example.
Questions & Answers: Just like I have on this site, you too can have a Questions and Answers page. This was left over from Buster Cafe, but I thought it was a good idea so I moved it over. I might just make Buster Cafe redirect to Nervousness eventually. See an example.
Feedback. I would love to hear any opinions on this new site, good and bad. If you have any advice or ideas on how to improve it, or if it's confusing, please let me know, or leave a comment here. There are still a few bugs too, so let me know about those too.
Thanks again weirdos. I'm going to finish that product now.
Rick, Jim, and I have finally finished fiddling with our first little book (and accompanying CD), fab! We've been working on it for a long time and are not really sure if anyone's going to pay the controversial and scary $5 for it.
Since I know most of you better than the people at Nervous Industries, I wanted to offer it to you guys first. We only made about 20 or so books & CDs for the first printing, and will be making more next weekend if they run out. I've probably spent 10 hours at Kinko's making just these 20, plus about 3 hours in front of my computer recording the CDs (it's 20 minutes long), but I'm pretty sure things will start going faster with the next round. (Or else I've signed my own coffin)
Will you humor me? I promise it won't suck that bad. You can buy Nervous Industries debut product here:
In a couple days I'll be emailing the 400+ members of the site (trying to justify asking for money in this land of the free), so act fast! Hahaha.