Tuesday, March 18, 2008


A few years ago, I noticed that the state of my desktop correlated pretty well with the state of my mind. Following the model described in the "Dataclypse" post, my thoughts reached a peak level of chaos and then snapped into a new mode, clearing out most of the remaining debris. Occasional screenshots of my desktop seemed to mirror this, but with so little data and the limits of my subjective interpretation, it's hard to tell. Here are a few:

Winter 2006. I think I had just gone through a fit of reorganization. Melancholy.

Spring 2007. Slightly more cluttered, reaching the end of college.

From my notes:

As I reorganize I rearticulate my space, my self. I dump everything out onto the desktop and then send the files to different folders. It's a process of evisceration followed by containment. Many of my creative processes follow this model. I create on a large scale, then rework the raw materials into something that makes sense to other people. When working with a desktop I create a datacloud in which the background image is central, visually and conceptually.
Taken today:

I am currently researching automation of desktop screenshots in Ubuntu/Gnome. I don't know whose leg that is.

Friday, March 14, 2008


As you can probably tell from my previous post, I have very mixed feelings about where technology is going and how fast it is going there. I formed this blog with the intent of putting a restraint on my pessimism by focusing on the past, so I will do my best to refrain from blasting recent developments.

One of my favorite things about SciFi is that no matter what kinds of insane speculative technology take hold, the human narrative continues. I find that very comforting. One aspect of my adventure into the world of book scanning that I failed to mention is that while most of the scanners were wealthy-looking individuals, two were a couple with kids. Two running around, one in utero. I can imagine that the extra cash they get from scanning helps them get by if they live anywhere near this area. The cost of living is ridiculous.

Thinking about them, the ideological frustration and technological pessimism that resulted in my last post begin to lose lose their edges.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Last weekend I got up early to go to a huge book sale held at a local high school cafeteria. I picked up some neat computer books and magazines. What disturbed me, though, was something I had never seen at a book sale before.

I might be out of the loop on this, but I was boggled to find that 5 or 6 people were scanning mass amounts of books using bar code readers hooked up to PDA's. My first thought was that they were associated with the book sale, but then I realized something sleazy was going on. They were playing the middleman by sifting through as many books as possible to find valuable ones they could mark up online. In other words, they were flipping books at a high school book sale.

One guy asked a scanner, "Hey, are you scanning those to mark them up?" The scanner ignored him and quickly moved on. I occasionally took a moment from my browsing to watch the scanners. They looked up at me nervously. The guilt I thought I saw on their faces could have just as easily been the addled state of mind brought on by hours of fast-paced scanning. One guy even had a cell earpiece on for additional connectivity.

This phenomenon disgusts me for a few reasons. First, flipping in any setting is an unnecessary and dismal step in commerce. It's no better than ticket scalping.

Second, the scanners are a leech on the community event of a book sale. They are there solely to rip people off. There is pleasure of searching and finding books with knowledge value in mind, not market value. Scanners destroy the aesthetics and mechanics that allow this search to happen.

Instead of being found by someone at the book sale, the books end up in an online marketplace where discovering a book is about as exciting as executing a Google search. All the scanners are interested in is jacking up the price, so the people actually interested in books get screwed. When all transactions migrate online, the "magical find" of the physical marketplace is replaced by credit cards and flashy Web2.0 interfaces.

There have always been people who have drawn on their knowledge of books to find the ones with high market value. Technology, as it often does, has scaled this situation to the extreme and created WiFi Vultures that skeletize book sales with unprecedented efficiency.

On my way out, I asked one of the cashiers "Do you have a policy on the cyborgs with the scanners?"

"They get here at 6:30AM," he shrugged.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Slowing Down

"I need a Virtual Break" NYTimes Article. Restraint proposed rationally.

I've come up with a few methods for removing myself from the virtual, but they were much too large-scale and complex to be easily implemented. When the year 2000 came around, I fantasized about committing cyber suicide by putting salt on the family computer's motherboard.

Choosing a day of the week to stay away from computers and other electronic devices seems much more reasonable.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


During a phone conversation a few years ago, my friend Alan coined the term "dataclypse" to describe the habit my computers had developed of exploding once a year. This was probably not a matter of poorly chosen equipment or bad luck. It was a symptom of my tendency to overload and subsequently destroy any technology I regularly worked with.

At the time, most of my creative work was done entirely on the computer. On average, I had 5 audio files opened in Audacity, a few files open in Reason for sequencing, some OpenOffice documents for editing, and an instance of Firefox with 40+ tabs open. For a modern computer that probably isn't too heavy a load, but my computer wasn't exactly up-to-date. I remember several instances of critical data loss due to the way I treated computers.

I also performed maintenance and repair in a slapshod manner. On one occasion I lost 30GB of data when I accidentally reformatted the wrong partition. Since I had no organizational method, I threw out as much data as possible in order to keep the dataclypse at bay. I allowed my artistic materials to become a jumbled mess because I focused on a "final product" that would emerge from the chaos. Each project led up to its own micro-dataclypse in which the relevant working materials became lost in a sea of files or deleted completely. Because of this, a lot of things have slipped through the cracks that might have proved useful in the future.

I work in a relaxed and chaotic manner. There is no changing that, which is probably a good thing, because the work I do is dependent upon the chaotic environments in which it is created. But setting up technology to automate backups and keep my working environment somewhat stable in the long run might deter future dataclypses. It will take some effort to set up, but I believe that it is possible to use some basic techniques to immerse myself in creative pursuits while retaining data for personal and historical purposes.

Implementing a fancy organizational system is not something I'm likely to follow through on any time soon. I bought Getting Things Done a few years ago but I never got around to reading it. After listening to a talk by Jason Scott on archiving, I've decided that the best method is to throw everything onto a huge external hard drive with no thought about organization whatsoever. Hopefully whatever storage format the data I collect ends up on will be readable by weirdo historians of the future so that scans of Byte magazine and my incoherent ramblings will be available to generations to come.