My Thoughts Exactly

Speechless

A few years ago Wetmechanic Gary Gray and I interviewed my pal Cory Doctorow, the peripatetic author, hep cat, technogeek, futurephiliac, etc, etc, in the lobby of a hotel in Boston. We podcast the interview (in 3 parts) here on Wetmachine. (I’m too lazy to look for the links now, but you know how to use that search tool.) Anyway, Cory’s a good guy to interview because he has lots and lots of interesting things to say and he’s friendly & good natured. But conversations with Cory are half-duplex. (A term that any ancient geeks reading this post will remember. But for you young’uns I’ll explain: in full duplex communications, both ends of a link can send and receive messages. In half-duplex, one party sends and the other party receives. What I’m saying is that Cory is smart and nice and funny and interesting, but he doesn’t listen to a fucking word you say. (Or, in any event, he doesn’t listen to a fucking word *I* say.))

My favorite part of our conversation is where we’re talking about the costs and benefits of societal change, especially change brought about by technological advances. We’re talking about the possible end of the art form known as “the movie” as we know it today. What if digital duplication and peer-to-peer technologies make it economically infeasible for a studio to invest the sums necessary for a “real” movie like those we’ve become accustomed to for three quarters of a century or so (think: Lord of the Rings)? Cory makes the observation that with the Protestant Reformation came the end of the era of great cathedrals: because of the Reformation, no more grand cathedrals will ever be built. Cathedral-making is an art form that died because it had to die. But in exchange for that lost art, Cory says (I’m paraphrasing from memory), we got the Reformation. And then he asks “Was it worth it?”

If you listen closely, you can hear me responding, “that’s an interesting question.” (I know you’re not going to go find and listen to the podcast, but just pretend, OK?) Indeed, I thought it was a very interesting question. I was actually thinking about the costs, in blood and war and terror and murder and rape and rapine and starvation and hatred and blind tribal ignorance, that came with religious wars that accompanied the Reformation. And I was thinking about the mysterious awe-inspiring beauty of the (admittedly somewhat perverse) art form of the cathedral. And I was wondering, for the first time, what might have happened to the art form of the cathedral if the Reformation had never happened. I’m a technophobic & nostalgic guy, after all. I was thinking, “what if ever more and more beautiful cathedrals had been built?”

For Cory, of course, it was a rhetorical question, not a real question, and the answer was “yes”. Yes, losing the art form of the cathedral was an OK price to pay in exchange for the Reformation. Cory didn’t even hear, much less respond to, to my ambivalent response. He just steamrollered right over it. Of course the trade-off was worth it. Of course the new art forms that arise when old art forms are killed are “worth it”. The emergent art forms will offer new and unanticipated beauty and splendid insights into our human condition. So, he said (paraphrasing again), the old art must die so that that new and even more profound art can emerge.

As my 4 long-time readers might guess, I was skeptical about this. For I am given to worrying all the time about the wanton destruction of culture in the name of a bogus and ephemeral “progress”. I’m very skeptical about “progress.”

But then I saw the video embedded below, which I found on Spocko’s website — (and Spocko, in fact, actually discovered it on Cory’s own site Boing Boing). And now I’m starting to think, “Cory was right.” Not because this video is more beautiful and satisfying than (name your favorite movie (or cathedral)). But because this is a new art form. It’s shocking. It’s breathtaking. But it’s not shocking in the elitist “Épater la bourgeoisie” sense. It’s shocking because it’s so entrancing and fun, while at the same time implicitly raising a thousand deep questions (and I don’t even speak Korean). It’s just so unexpected, so friendly, so welcoming and so beautiful that I really can’t find words to respond to it. Sure, it’s just a little music video, and Lord knows a music video is not a new thing. But for now, tonight, this one feels to me like someting really really big. As big as the Iranian revolution on Twitter; or, more precisely, it’s an artistic exploration of the possibilities implicit in that revolution. And a big part of the reason for that is that it’s so human, so un-Godlike, so small.

UPDATE Below the fold, a minor elaboration.
UPDATE 2 On Ultrasaurus, Sarah Allen blogs about this post. I like what she has to say, and am impressed that she went back and actually listened to the interview.

Read More »

Posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Neutrino

Tropic Thunder's “Retard” Problem

Perhaps you’ve been too busy trying to hold onto your mortgage to notice, but there’s been a fair amount of controversy over actor/director Ben Stiller’s comedy “Tropic Thunder”. Apparently some folks have an issue with use of the word “retards”- and the depiction of disabled people- in the film. Understandable…

Read More »

Posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged | 9 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Wireless Mic Follow Up: Turns Out Public Safety Did Get There First

One may logically ask, if I am right about the wireless microphones being such a big problem for public safety, why haven’t the public safety folks complained to the FCC about this?

Answer: turns out they have. But, the public safety folks being quiet and unassuming, failed to make themselves heard.

Allow me to change that. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, a federation of public safety associations, sent a letter to Chairman Martin asking that the FCC address the problem of wireless microphones back on June 30, 2008. i.e., about two weeks before I filed. While I wish I could claim that it was the NPSTC letter that inspired me, I had no idea it was out there until today. My conversations with the public safety guys were all informal and off the record. Still, as always when folks remind me I’m not an engineer (or an economist, or technologist, or any of the other topics on which I chose to share my humble layperson’s opinion), I am rather pleased to find a bunch of actual engineers that agree with me.

Mind you, the NPSTC letter asks the FCC to go a heck of a lot further than I have. NPSTC wants wireless microphones kicked out of the entire 700 MHz band. I, OTOH, think lots of folks can productively use the broadcast white spaces. Still, I do feel compelled to point out that wireless microphones do not have nearly the level of intelligence/sophistication being discussed for interference avoidance for the white spaces devices at issue in 04-186. Perhaps we should require wireless microphones to rely on sensing as well, or require that they consult an online database for possible new users in the band, or require them to acknowledge some sort of “permissive beacon.” Perhaps public safety entities like NPSTC should administer the database or beacon, and we should require wireless microphone users to pay for these services.

I mean, after all, we wouldn’t want to let these devices run around loose, would we? Think of the terrible interference that might cause. Unless these devices can meet the same rigorous standards that Shure and others seek to impose on unlicensed devices in 04-186, I don’t see how we can ask NPSTC to abide by circumstances that they feel place our public safety at risk.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

My life as a literary nobody (an update)

A few months ago I got an email invitation to a big party to be held at a trendy nightclub in New York City to commemorate Salon’s tenth anniversary. This was on account of the articles I’ve written for them over the years (see “stuff John wrote” in the little box on the right), one of which I later found out had been selected as one of the “Best of Salon 2003”. I figured I might get to hobnob with some high-octane literary people, maybe make some connections. You never know what might come of such things. So the big day came a few weeks ago and I drove down to Manhattan for this damn party. Hung around the dark noisy nightclub where I couldn’t see a thing or hear myself think. Didn’t know a soul who was there. I talked to a few people; a few short conversations. I even talked to Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor-in-chief. For about 11.5 seconds, that is, until a literary Somebody came by and Walsh turned away from me (the nobody), and posed with the Somebody for the cameraman with the big tripod that he was lugging all over the place and spazzing into people with. Which I thought was rather rude of her, actually, even though it was a noisy party and that kind of abrupt conversational focus-shift does happen at parties like that. I just stood there like a dork for about 2 minutes waiting to see if Walsh was going to resume the conversation that she left mid-word. Finally I took the hint and mosied along. At least the photographer didn’t offer to take my picture, which is good on account of I still have that bad tooth and I look like crap when I smile. Everybody who was a somebody was dressed in stylish black. I too was wearing a black sweater, but it didn’t count because I was also wearing “cheeno” pants and fake topsider boating shoes that I got at K-Mart in Manahawkin for $14.

It cost me thirty damn dollars to park the car. I missed most a day of work, too, between the going to and the coming from New York. My boss wasn’t too crazy about that. Here’s an account of the only significant connection made.

Inside: some more dead ends and projects that went nowhere.

Read More »

Posted in My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Also tagged , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register