Tuesday, July 27

i want you guys to understand i'm a little baked right now

Beyond the statistical noise of a few people bent on rendering their technofestishism as obtuse and deliberately anti-consensus as possible, will there ever exist the type (nevermind degree) of nostalgia for the CD that exists for the record and the record player? I've long had doubts about this, but now that the act of putting a CD in a CD player has begun to feel like an act of archaic quietude or maybe like its own kind of symbolic re-enactment, they ring a little less true.

I know it hasn't got the tactile satisfactions of playing a tape, or the sheer cultural resonance and beauty of the turntable. But there is one thing that a CD shares with the older, more hallowed media: It is a commitment. It is not simply a choice, but a choice with consequences.

There's a weightlessness, literal and figurative, to the modern playlist and the conceptual space of all the software on which it lives. The CD, early in its life, gestured towards the possibility of a huge, random-access library of songs. Later on, in the early days of massively distributed internet copyright violation, burned CDs and mixes pushed us a considerably distance this way. None-the-less, in the era of the CD, where the rubber really hit the road was the moment when a person took a disc out of some container and put it in a player and jabbed at PLAY until the opening notes of the first track came spilling out. There it is, a document on a piece of plastic. And you put it in, and you are going to listen to this document. Not some other one when your mind wanders a few seconds later, this one. And you might play the game where you swap tracks and discs every few minutes. For a while. Sooner or later, the mature listener puts something on and just goes where it is going.

I think a lot of us have stopped listening the way we learned to listen back in jr. high and highschool, when we got into Nirvana or Weezer or whatever. When we got turned on to Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones and rock and roll was suddenly the most incredible thing that we had ever experienced because we hadn't had sex yet. When we first started listening to something by Bob Dylan or Neil Young over and over again and staring off into space. Those of us who haven't stopped because we find it easiest to listen to the same 27 songs from highschool on some godawful pseudo-local station have stopped because the rest of our choices are just as easy. They aren't commitments. They weigh nothing, we're seldom forced to engage with them, and so they come to mean less and less.

Anyway I'm sitting here with the newest disc from a band I've kept up with for years now, and reflecting that, for all we've gained, there's something to be regretted here. Doc Watson, at his set on Saturday, told stories about listening to 78 records as a kid, the Delmore Brothers live on the radio, all that kind of thing. We talk a lot of elaborate crap about the folk process, but there's an entire technological question here. And here we are, not just moving from the age of one substrate, one artefact, to another, but leaving (perhaps forever) the era of such artefacts. Thumb drives and hard drives and your GMail account and your friend's iPod all blur into blobs of a substance known as storage, porous and barely differentiated. Where we are at, if you think of it a certain way, we are at the end of a chain that must have started with scratchings in the dirt and ended with a tacky-looking little shiny plastic disc.

Monday, July 12

Despite all...

Some other oracles did not fare so well in the World Cup. The animals at the Chemnitz Zoo in Germany were wrong on all of Germany's group-stage games, with Leon the porcupine picking Australia, Petty the pygmy hippopotamus spurning Serbia's apple-topped pile of hay, and Anton the tamarin eating a raisin representing Ghana. Mani the Parakeet of Singapore picked the Netherlands to win the final.

Paul (octopus)

...it is sometimes a beautiful world.

Sunday, July 4


Friday, July 2

...which is to say not so much that, say, computers are complicated, but just that even a simple, middle-of-the-road operation in any field of interest tends to unpack itself into a fairly boggling cloud of ideas, constraints, dependencies, and associations, if you subject it to much scrutiny. And I suppose that you don't really know what you know before you start to think about conveying it.

Thursday, July 1

nerd density

I started this entry by typing

  mv 1 essayattempt
  head -1 essayattempt > 1
  vim 1

I'd been trying for about an hour to write an entry explaining a command I'd been writing to replace some text in files. Or rather, I'd been trying to write a longer piece that seemed natural when I realized I had been assuming on the one hand that my reader might not understand HTML, and on the other that my reader could pretty much grasp a one-liner.

The first almost-working version of my one-liner looked like this (nerds may immediately recognize that it is a bit silly):

find . -type f -print0 -regextype posix-extended -regex '\./[0-9]{4}/[0-9]{1,2}/[0-9]{1,2}.*' | xargs -0 -n 1 grep '<h3>'

Here are three different commands, two kinds of output redirection, two dialects of regular expressions, a couple or three basic Unix filesystem concepts, and the perpetual nuisance of shell quoting mechanisms. If you don't know what any of that means, you shouldn't feel bad, because I just failed spectacularly at figuring out how I would explain it to you.

What I thought was roughly: ok, can I make this whole process I'm engaged in comprehensible to a casual user of desktop computers? Someone who maybe runs Windows to browse the web and work with a few local documents? Can I actually explain what I'm trying to do and why these are the tools I'm using, without assuming too much or lapsing into a version of Bad Popular Press Science Writing?

I expected that I'd fail in the attempt, but I was surprised by how hard it turned out to be. To give an example, I started writing a plain English description of what an HTML tag is, and found myself trying to articulate, on one hand, the idea of a "text file", and on the other what it is that we usually mean by "semantics".

There's a remarkable depth to things.