Content tagged Butler
How do birds die, I wonder?
Does it feel unnatural to them without
the flutter of wings? Death is not gentle.
No one dies gliding down on soft currents.
It will not take you in your home,
you shall be removed from it. Hence birds,
only sensing weight, levity forgotten.
I think of this too much and lose my stomach.
I should be capturing my youth enjoying
music, all our souls singing out,
streams of gorgeous women, glittering smiles
and brave eyes ready to dance and forget,
cauliflower with parmesan, the smell of magnolias,
the succulent crimson juice torn
from beneath the skin of a plum.
But I arrive home and recognize only weariness in myself.
I seek a long drink and some place to rest my head,
tired of these huge thoughts which so clearly will not fit.
And I remember days my heart ran with the wind,
crashed with the waves, set with the sun.
about the soul of my generation.
I often feel I'm just growing
acquainted with them before
I decide there is no soul,
no essence. Never was.
Souls are just peculiarities, after all.
And I had to give up on undecidable
problems some years back.
The unknowable held my head
underwater until I relented, suffocating.
But I've been baring and burying bits
of my soul since I've been here.
I lost some to a splinter. And the hand
I squeezed as it was removed piece by piece.
I bared it to a pastor who I doubt understood
why I found myself so insufficient.
I left some with a drunk girl who taught
me compassion, a faithful girl who taught me
guilt, one made of tornadoes who forced me
to take a chance and another still who
showed me what it feels like to make
a home inside someone else.
I squandered some on drugs. Drugs which
stole from me both time and memory.
Crashing around inside my brain in
endless chemical nuptials.
I spread this thing in bits, countless bits,
scattered on platters, fragments
littered along buses, planes, cars, trains,
in terminals and ports not of this world.
My soul is in all these places, hidden
or in plain view. I can't tell you
what it means. Or if there's meaning,
anyway. I only know that's how it happened.
Here I am. Where to next?
Today I'm posting a piece I started a few weeks ago. I'm still not quite pleased with it (it seems a bit over the top) but I probably never will be. I think I'll just call it "Words".
I remember having words and
never knowing whence they came.
I often stumbled into them, embarassing myself
before greater edifices to literature.
Though I had no hope of greatness, of poetry,
I miss that corpus into which I could pour:
childish thoughts and old desperation,
longings and abstract hopes for things
I even still cannot name.
Where did my words all run off to?
I used to fit into them so nicely.
A bit of my foot in this one, a leg in that one.
Even a nice place for my fingers to keep me
from grasping at everything, insatiable.
I wore them around proudly, pointing to each
in turn and saying, "Look! Here. This is who I am."
But these days I am naked and scared to venture outdoors.
I still run into words sometimes.
A few in the sink with the dirty dishes,
others left in a coat pocket with a crumpled bill.
Yet it is only by accident we are in the same place.
My words are on fire and that's how I've been.
PS: You should all pay some attention to the new albums "Gorilla Manor" by the Local Natives and "Tourist History" by Two Door Cinema Club. They're helpful, also good for the spring season. Cheers.
PPS: Special thanks to Don Gerz and Max Kelley for accidentally providing motivational material to keep blogging.
I can only see another in you and
how she must wind up in 10 years,
though I barely knew her.
So you have a husband, two daughters.
Biscuits in a cafe on a cool Sunday.
A man seemingly earnest, invested.
Is this what becomes of us?
I remember it differently.
Lazy promises I made myself
about who we each would be.
Please, let us remain ever becoming.
We starry-eyed symbols analysts,
The world turns under our feet
out of balance, again.
It used to drift in from across the hall
in citrus hues and lilting arpeggios.
There was no exhaustion and sleep
was restful. We woke up, dogwood
blossoms falling from our lips,
sun streaming through the windows.
Sundays there was french toast
and the wind was always behind us.
Camellias and magnolias filled
our home and we moved about as though
buoyed by hummingbird wings.
But now there is no hall there.
So then there are no harmonies,
no gentle crescendos.
Once suffused by sweet melody,
we dim. Stars go out.
And just like that, the words all slipped
from my mouth to the floor.
I wish I had something more to tell you.
I don't. The music has stopped.
I bombed a math quiz today. I mean, actually bombed. As in I think I got a zero.
Guess it's time to go re-read the sections and redo the homework.
I wrote a poem recently about how progress is deceptive because it doesn't feel like progress. It feels like plodding along. But I was mostly just trying to convince myself.
I don't think I really believe it.
I keep thinking to myself, "you've got a year or two to really excel.
If you can't manage that, you'll be an average person. Forever."
I have difficulty ascertaining whether or not my level of stress
or ambition, for that matter, is appropriate.
Something I accidentally wrote on the bus ride home:
I never know why we put up with each other.
The mystery of your flared temper or my
sudden detachment. But we keep blowing along,
buoyed by unseen currents and dancing
in dwindling circles. I sometimes wish,
might I cut the chase and stand in the center?
But we are opposed magnets in a small room,
unable to meet each other, unable to rest.
Hell with it. Here's some good sad bastard music just because.
I want the biggest hug I have inside me to swallow you up,
Like the reals swallow the rationals.
I don't want to go back to the beginning,
I'd rather see forward to understand where
I'm going. The whence question is
imprecise and leads me down paths,
many with thorns,
and only more imprecise questions.
The waters remain muddy so I climb the ladder out
until I find myself in clouds, fluffy and inarticulate.
Floating amid a mass of almost fluid abstractions,
they leak rain all over my parade.
I want to be more than you,
I lost sight of God just over a distant moon.
I hope I didn't offend him, my absent-mindedness
is often misperceived. But his opinion is not my concern.
I must be ever mindful that even if I find him and think
God is everywhere, that my invention is my own and is fractal
...or homoiconic. I cannot trust myself.
I rode the solar winds further up to get a better view
but everything was opaque, only more black boxes. I
couldn't fathom how to measure the cardinality so I
counted off an Aleph One, resolved to return
once I was the wiser. Higher still then until I saw it.
Our patchwork universe was being held together by holes.
Dark holes which pulled at us as the drain does the droplets.
And this was too much for me.
I know my monkey brain is too small.
And then I saw you. I remembered, "A ha.
I''ve left my sphere." And I looked back
and saw it. I'm not sure how long it will last.
It didn't look like much. Small and dirty and ignorant.
But I saw a quiet room on a sunday flooded with light and you.
Maybe it will be enough.
I lived fully and well,
spending time perched in
dogwoods and chairs to
try and learn the lessons
of machines, men and dogs
in their cacophonous chorus.
I am not opposed to it.
I eventually did settle
with my own thoughts
after years of combat.
I knew rebellion, fought
a long war and nurtured
a false hope. Thankfully
in the end my carapace
had been punctured.
I am not opposed to it
though I am weary of the
dignity and the chase.
Who are we to be so presumptuous?
Who are we to assume that in our
affairs we should be entitled to
the presentation, if not the
substance, for all our days?
I am not opposed to it
though nod to a fear and
hubris that is hard-argued
as judgment. Still, if for
a year I loved and loved well
then I need not keep those
cherished ones waiting.
I am not opposed to it.
I recognized early that time was
my valued asset and treated
it accordingly. I fought for
ground in a society enamored
with the ephemeral. I won.
Mistakes were made, the wrong
losses suffered and less than
the best gains accomplished.
But in the end, I stand by my time.
There is a dim luminescence
on the edge of the world
drawing close. I hardly
see it's call but hear my
heart rise on approach.
The things unnamed we
can't contain, powerless
we act in vain. The systems
built stay brittle, break
when under stress they
cannot take. The deeper
message anathema to our
It may come for ill or gain
and is not my place to complain,
I know not what instruction awaits
so idly move at pleasant gait.
I hope the best for all of us,
for meritocracies in which to trust,
but utopia has no need of randomness
with which the universe is enamored.
The glamor and gore of that
midnight show I will not see
and will not know. I'll laugh
a good deal as I go but it
speeds like a star's falling.
If we find whatever defines
the space where interaction
takes it's place and emerging
from names is a trace
of self I shan't be surprised.
PS: I discovered that the Sussman quote at The Feyerabend Project was sourced from this paper. It may give some insight into all this.
from the flipping plate,
recorded here for your
your frolicking scrutiny.
But I can't help wondering
what I missed which fell in the sea,
and what shore those words
finally washed upon. Mostly,
I wish they were here.
a lonely state. Filled with that beauty
which could only belong to abject desolation.
They tell me it is the fastest
growing county in the state. And here
I can more clearly pick out:
the howling on the wind,
the tracks of my pursuers,
and the flock that will follow.
What is it, I wonder, that draws us
together in our loneliness? Is it some
incomprehensible wonder at an unceasing
orderless motion? I no longer search
the skies for a conductor. My search more often
turns inward. And there, clockwork reigns.
A silent oscillation between misanthropy
and optimism. A confusion at the whispered words
of justice. And no sense whatsoever
of how through it all a warm hearth is found.
By chance I left Neruda at home, whom
Yevtushenko reminded me of. By chance I found
that slumbering desire to be everyone, sense
everything, and connect with the ineffable essence
of the world. And though I may never
make peace with this curse of oneness I
am confident that there lies in wait for me
some richness to call mine that shall not fade.
But I am also unsure any of us
are deserving of such a future when
our capacity for insular obstinance,
our apparent lack of stewardship,
or our bottomless apathy, mindless consumerism,
moral ambivalence, and
petty categorical divisions
into imagined communities.
What will it take to stimulate interest
and invoke participation in the human
cause? Or shall we continue on as an inert
public, a chemical cesspool acting out the
steps of a process written long ago?
I was never brilliant, only distracted.
Ever present in an ill-defined elsewhere.
But I was born into a decomposing country.
And if this Eden is decaying into wasteland
I must ask myself: What was the time of death?
And is it too late for the surgeon's blade or the
pastor's cross to return life to a forsaken land?
I have no certainties about our salvation,
or our chances of salvation. Perhaps the end
will come like a burst of fire from the furnace.
Perhaps we will be swallowed as though in a swell
of the ocean. Perhaps there will be opportunity for
escape, to foreign lands or a more profitable future.
But avoiding the dystopian concerns too few. And the earnest
simplicity of obliviousness will lead untold numbers to oblivion.
There are good stories to be told here though
this may not have been an era of the brave and the
decent. I do not contend that we should not be reproached.
Still, an ending befitting our gluttony is to be resisted.
|Yeasayer - Sunrise|
|Found at skreemr.com|
I also just sort of got this poem in my head while brushing my teeth. This is a draft. What do you think? What would you call it?
As though expecting to hear a proclamation,
any moment now, "Poetry is no longer recognized
as one of the forms of art. You lot may
go on about your business." No more need:
to try to compress the world into words,
as if we could capture what fleets from us
in a phrase given the proper amount of
pressure. It is true that one should write
a poem only under incredible duress.
That way should we ever be caught,
stuffing the universe into a handbasket,
we might appear less greedy.
And less foolish.
Finally, I'm going to be out of town for a week. I'll be back next Wednesday. See you guys then!
straining in the fog of an early morning.
Fearful but not yet unhinged,
we are waiting to spin in
an endless dance. Advance
and retreat, feints and
confessions. That the art of existence
is still an area of active research.
That the domain and range of man are
still a combative struggle. To be
simply is not so simple. Thoreau
deceived at least one. But
perhaps in a short time
we will not falter in
our waltz with death
and instead laugh,
like children do.
I sought in my sinew some struggle,
some measure of resistance, against
what even in youth I recognized as
the turmoils of a Jagannath. But my
vertebrae were not as strong as I
expected. Or dreaded maturation
has weakened once well-formed
resolve to fling my body
under the crushing, undulating
wheels of the chariot.
Youth, I know not what became of you.
Lakes and cities, a fiery rebellion.
Always aware of a justice without touch or name.
You walked with me through the mud caked
ruins behind the trees of the subdivision
and sought out with me a refuge from the
savages in the weeds of back roads and trails.
You were there when the infection poured
out from the skin of my back like mineral water
from the mountain. You were there for
escapes to beaches and oceans whose splendor
seemed to swallow all that I knew.
But that was another world.
These days only the vaguest memories remain.
Flickering images whose sources cannot be pinned
down, absent of references or citations. Only a feeling
and a thought which, I know, as Milosz has said are
"too much for the meager word".
How is it that I am nostalgic for what I cannot recall
of my own life? A great sadness wells up within me.
As though what cannot be remembered did not occur.
I know that to be a fallacy, but in my weakness must
hope that in some eternal memory that beauty
and difficulty which I suffered does persevere.
10 days? 10 DAYS? Where have I been? Busy I suppose. And in case you noticed the server being down, it turns out the router it sits behind decided to go crazy...which is almost comforting. /*This entry dedicated to Raganwald, XKCD, Radiohead, and Amazon.com for keeping me occupied and away from you guys for so long.*/ So, what's been going on?
First, I actually wrote something today. It's been a while since that happened and it felt good. It's not fantastic but it's a start and maybe I'll be able to polish it up some in the future. I don't know that it was inspired by the following Milosz quote, but the quote resounds particularly with me today so I'm shoving it in your face anyway.
"There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness where one can speak seriously about serious things." - Czeslaw Milosz, Second Space, 4. I Apologize (pg. 49)
And here's the as yet untitled poem, please file naming suggestions below:
How surprised was I to learn that the dichotomy was not that of good and evil, as expected.
Rather, torn between shame and the frivolity of a bottomless awe.
Bound mesmerized to the spectacle of the world and all the marvelous constructions within it.
I found myself vertiginous, perhaps self-aware, but certainly unsure how to contribute to so great a vista.
As though asked to add new colors to the horizon, or change the sound of the ocean on a starry night.
That task is too monumental for me, I said. But awe is not enough, my immense wonder is insufficient.
Still, it is better to make public a frivolous and joyous etonnement than to admit
to the truth: That every man is a thunderclap receding into the distance, and silence.
Second, on Friday we had the best video game tournament in probably 10 months or so, IMHO. I actually did well in Melee with Zelda/Sheik. Semifinals well. The small atmosphere and various special appearances made the evening though. Derin and Pete were both able to come and I had lost touch with Derin so that was particularly awesome.
Third, the new Radiohead album is out and it's outstanding. What's more outstanding is that Radiohead are releasing and self-distributing the album as a download via their website and you decide what to pay them for it. That actually might not be more outstanding than the album itself which could be the best thing since OK Computer. More to come but I really like it and the early favorites are Reckoner and Jigsaw Falling Into Place followed by Nude and All I Need. I'm still pretty skeptical about the last track, Videotape. There's a live acoustic version on Youtube that just sounds better to my ears.
Fourth, I figured if I'm really going to take a year off to self-study and see if learn more/better/faster/stronger/etc that I'd better come up with a sort of reading list. Thank goodness for Amazon.com wishlists. I figured I might as well include a bunch of the stuff from my earlier book lists as well. The Computer Science stuff is thither.
That's all for now. More later.
I realized recently that there's a Milosz poem I never threw up here that I really wished I had. It's titled Diary of a Naturalist and taken out of his work From The Rising of The Sun.
My generation was lost. Cities too. And nations.
But all this a little later. Meanwhile, in the window, a swallow
Performs its rite of the second. That boy, does he already suspect
That beauty is always elsewhere and always delusive?
Now he sees his homeland. At the time of the second mowing.
Roads winding uphill and down. Pine groves. Lakes.
An overcast sky with one slanting ray.
And everywhere men with scythes, in shirts of unbleached linen
And the dark-blue trousers that were common in the province.
He sees what I see even now. Oh but he was clever,
Attentive, as if things were instantly changed by memory.
Riding in a cart, he looked back to retain as much as possible.
Which means he knew what was needed for some ultimate moment
When he would compose from fragments a world perfect at last.
Isn't that nice? Here's one I wrote that just sort of flew out this afternoon:
The world is not chaos or justice,
Mere good and bad happening all round.
Swept under the rug in our wake,
Dust returning to dust, in clumps at that.
We do not like to go quietly, or alone.
But what of the unquantifiable interim?
Ah, qualified not quantified: Rich, peerless,
Are there stories greater than our own?
Certainly not with more twists, turns, surprises.
Still, here I am, trying to understand how:
I have become trapped like a fly in amber.
Like those who have come before me, now
Teachers, who sought after explications for the
Milieu of an era, the abstract of an age.
I'm not sure what I think but I may be warming up to it. Now that that's out of the way.
Top 5 Books I couldn't live without:
Unattainable Earth by Czeslaw Milosz
Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
The Success of Open Source by Steven Weber
The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig
Selected Essays by Jerzy Kosinski
The Blue Octavo Notebooks by Franz Kafka
The Trial by Frans Kafka
Tender is the Night OR The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Of late, I've also really been enjoying reading Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston. If you're considering ever starting your own company or if you'd just be edified by reading about people succeeding outside the system/convention and innovating I'd highly recommend picking it up. There's also a book called Coders at Work in progress at the same publisher by a different author. That book is composed of interviews with some of the world's premiere programmers and it may find it's way onto the can't live without list. At least, I expect it will.
As my last point today, I'd like to congratulate Electronic Arts. They have successfully made the first good skateboarding video game in years. This is a huge thing for me because I love skateboarding games because I'm a big skate nerd and it's taken way too long for someone to best Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Honestly, what happened to you Neversoft? Anyway, I highly endorse EA Blackbox's new game skate. It's amazz-z-zing. I might need to end up getting one more game console after all. Alright, more later folks.
Without meaning to be a burden, encouragement would be a good thing for me right now. If you have any lying around and are interested, feel free to pass it my way.
I have in mind a future,
Perhaps in Chicago, then Montana,
Or maybe the white sands of the
beaches of my youth.
But the desire for home is an illusion,
Found in people not in places,
The trinkets I call thoughts are
only treasure if they're shared.
How can I swear myself
to safely guard your things,
and always maintain interest
in the head from which thought springs?
For my love is the attent
of the brook that babbles beyond
your lips. But in a world
ever warming, how can I promise
the well won't run dry?
Am I a dam holding
water which once broken
sends old currents back
to sea? That water
needed to return to
that amorphous oblivion.
It's vitality left
I want to sound the bell,
Shout til my throat's gone,
Raise a little hell.
But there's no answer to the call
That will echo back to me
Because only time will tell
So I just have to wait and see.
And I want to be subversive,
Yeah I want to go against the grain,
Strike a few nerves and maybe
Cause a little pain.
But I get the sense that all of
That would simply be in vain,
Like a character on camera
Trying to escape the frame.
And though I don't know
What in days to come
Will still remain,
I'm waiting for it like
The dry earth waits
To greet the rain.
For I don't stand in the road
Looking out upon the fork.
I stand in amber fields of grain
Writing a cartographer's report.
Rather than traversing a garden
Full of forking paths,
I'll travel through the weeds
And meet you in the aftermath.
Gor was Jim's ancestor. It's hard to say how distant an ancestor but it is fair to say that it was distant enough that Gor had no concept of ancestry. Nor a concept of concepts for that matter. I mention Gor here only to note that beyond this there is virtually nothing I can tell you about him. If anyone should know about Gor one would think it should be Jim. But Gor's very name was unknown to him. Prehistory is odd that way. If our protagonist had known of his ancestor it is almost certain that he would want to know all about him but his notion of his ancestor was as vague as Gor's notion of notions. If there is such a thing as Posthistory perhaps it will weave these threads together better.
Jim's antisocial behavior stemmed from something that had grown in the back of his head as a child. He wasn't sure what it was but it would occasionally throb due to some change in...who knows what. Perhaps the air pressure. When it throbbed in this way it induced a discomfort in Jim so profound that he withdrew from whatever environ he was currently inhabiting and when there was nowhere to withdraw to physically, he drew inward. Over the years Jim began to associate the discomfort with things. Naturally, any creature that has a certain level of mental function where language is concerned at some point tries to find a sign for the things that matter in his experience of reality. In the case of his discomfort, Jim was gradually associating the sensation with untruth which is neither truth nor lie nor half-truth. In fact, this idea of untruth itself might be more fairly called discontinuity. Jim like most of his kind was a very simple creature though and there were many discontinuities that were suppressed in his weaker moments or, in his ineptitude, missed altogether.
There are considerable difficulties to being an "intelligent" being with a short lifespan. For one, the preoccupation with death is incredibly wasteful. It wastes time, thought, energy. I'm pretty sure it just wastes except potentially at the moment of it's acceptance but then this is speculation on my part. If I wasn't immortal my speculation might be wasteful too. Once you're immortal and time isn't a limited resource though the capacity to waste time goes out the window with it's scarcity. At any rate, Gor didn't have to worry about a lot of this. Some cosmic mercy bestowed him with an utter lack of time with which to ponder anything so great, abstracted, and ominous as death. He had more immediate concerns. Jim though had all too much time on his hands, not that he wasted great swaths of it pondering some sort of end. Jim did ponder a great deal on the order of things though which after some schooling led him to the door of history. Jim, being a clever sort, regarded history in the right way. Some presumably great creatures had introduced to the notion of history several hundred years prior the notion of progress and the two blended quite naturally in the minds of most. Jim however saw that the notion of progress was a hypothesis designed to fit the data. Things were getting more complex and that complexity was the face of progress. But of course entropy would take care of eroding the past to give it a nice exponential decline all the way back to the x-axis of prehistory. History never learned to be itself in high school but it got straight As on all of it's memetics tests.
One of the difficulties with intelligent mortality is the tendency to miss long term trends, particularly cycles. The preoccupation with the immediate is so great that local distortions and occurrences seem much more than they are. Most parents forget by the time they choose to raise children that diversity and difference is important. At a certain age in the cycle, notions of progress and community give way to the pursuit of easy living in walled gardens. Children oftentimes miss this aim of the parents and see them as callous and evil only to themselves lose interest in the great struggle years later. And so trends ebb and flow in our Always On society but the changes are too slow and enormous to be seen like tidal waves under the ocean rather than obelisks in the desert. The complexity has grown such that we can no longer distinguish right from wrong or progress from decline, obsessed though we be with such undertakings. And now that we are at last acknowledging the idea of healthiness in method we are trying to discover the healthy way to do everything. Healthy living, healthy relationships, healthy innovation and markets, healthy production and consumption (we call that sustainability). But our concept of health is trapped inside the confines of our mortality. A southern belle's ideas about the necessity of a certain etiquette differ hugely from those of a New Yorker and neither is healthier for their biases, nor does either know a healthier living. So, here we are at the beginning of the 21st century and we've begun to understand everything about how little we know.
We're beginning to understand how life works and biology functions. We're beginning to understand what makes materials act the way they do and what fundamental forces hold sway in the universe. And somewhere some scientist realized that the entire universe and all of time, history and prehistory and posthistory alike, were technically equivalent to a computation in which atoms and energy were data sets and changes over time were the results of functions fed into functions. So it was that Jim rose one morning and climbed the ladder of abstraction, stepping above the past, present, and future into a darkness in which he said, "It must be so. It has already been computed who knows how many times. Our iteration is uncounted and uncountable. We will solve for the mystery of existence once again. And if by grace our knowledge grows fast enough we might escape the tangles of our chaos before it crashes down over us. If only we could sharpen the edges of old glyphs or dull the background noise of the present. Alas, we are mired in the modern and mystified by the moth-eaten. The earth is a muddy, muddy place."
I remember when I cooked you salmon and we made love, in my bedroom.
And so this is life. Rich, more than we are able to absorb in all it's facets, too rich for us.
Rich, beyond comprehension. Full, beyond belief. My cup overfloweth. And I know not what to do.
And drift about the evening air like mist upon the breeze,
I don't remember time or place where I've been more at ease,
The world usually seems clearer the closer man is to his knees.
I find it hard to try to tell what path did lead me here,
Though always seek companion who might like to lend their ear,
And through dark fears in younger years persevered to present day,
But perhaps should have left more warnings for others along the way.
If foreign lands with beckoning sands have grounded in my mind,
Then perhaps discoveries lie in wait more forward than behind,
But putting the past aside is difficult for what might be derived
is a succulent fruit, of knowledge to boot, waiting to be tried.
Temptation though to puzzle out what meanings there may lay
is better left for when I rise upon an older and wiser day.
And until then my unseen friend I raise my glass and say,
Godspeed to all of us. Into the tunnel. Light the way.
I feel I should explain a bit about why the events of May 1st were so important, why it was as I called it "a watershed day". Since I wrote that piece this afternoon the events covered have been very much in my thoughts and I've discussed them with a number of friends of mine, some technically inclined, some not. There were two events. The first being Dell's decision to offer Ubuntu preinstalled on select computers of theirs. This is a huge victory for Open Source Software generally and also Linux particularly. It's a larger victory for the Open Source Production Model because it stands as evidence that such a production model can compete with that of proprietary vendors such as Microsoft, Apple, etc. That I consider to be (significantly) less important than the second event of the day. That is, the HD-DVD scandal. Or the cyber riot. Whatever it should be called. Those of you who know how much I trumpet on about Open Source and Linux should understand what a large claim that is for me. It's more important that a ton of people revolted online against a standard than that Dell said they would sell (Ubuntu) Linux computers. And I've been predicting that Linux on the Desktop thing for a good year now. A year's expectations fulfilled but secondary to some arbitrary online screaming fit? Yes. Part of that is because I was expecting the Linux thing to happen sooner or later. I'm glad it was sooner but not shocked. I figured Linux would be about ready by now it would just take a company with the guts to try it. I can say I'm half-surprised (but pleasantly) that the company was Dell. The revolt was much more important though and showed us much much more about the dynamics of online communities and power structures.
First, by way of introduction to the problem space, I'd like to clear up what could be an easy misconception. What essentially happened was a 16 byte code (09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c1) that protects HD-DVDs from being pirated, played on unsupported platforms (such as Linux), being ripped, etc. was leaked onto the internet. A piece of legislation protecting the code called the DMCA was passed in 1998 which extends the protections of copyright and makes it illegal to produce or spread methods of circumventing or infringing copyright. So, the code is not protected speech. My posting it here even is illegal. (It should be noted that some feel the very existence of the code and the resulting inability to play HD-DVDs on Linux or back them up is a consumer rights violation. Legally, this assertion is not ungrounded but until the DMCA is repealed it is irrelevant. The DMCA for its part has faced much derision and opposition since its inception for many reasons, vagueness high among them. If I informed you that you could circumvent copyright and reproduce a book with a copier, paper and ink, I could be in violation of the DMCA, for example.) The Movie Companies whose copyrights are protected by this code are of course upset that the safety of their product is now jeopardized by piracy. The code leaked out onto the web in February and the movie companies began sending out cease and desist letters so that sites would take it down. Then, on May 1st people started noticing. Three sites in particular which all derive their content (information) from their users formed the center of it all. Slashdot, Digg, and Wikipedia. Slashdot and Digg are user-generated technology news sites and Wikipedia is, of course, the online encyclopedia we all know and love. When Wikipedia and Digg started trying to censor the code (Slashdot didn't) from their sites people started noticing and rebelled in extraordinary fashion. Within 48 hours the number of hits when the code was searched for on Google went from under 1,000 to over a million. Digg and Wikipedia were swarmed with people trying to propagate the code in dozens of forms (such as masquerading it as lottery numbers, an IP address, or even a picture of stripes where the colors' hex values spelled out the code). Digg was the center of the controversy and simply could not control the number of users forcing the information onto the site through stories, diggs (votes that increase a story's visibility on the main page), and comments. Wikipedia had more success by locking the entry for HD-DVD and did a number of other things to prevent the spread but still had it's forums inundated with the code.
The important fact wasn't that people spread the code and lashed out\fought back against what they perceive as draconian intellectual property regimes and corporations (that happened for regular old DVDs with DeCSS in 1999) but that these sites, the icons of the Social Web or Web 2.0, were at the mercy of their userbases.
The amazing promise of the Open Source revolution has been the efficiency and power of it's production models. That's what enabled a few thousand volunteers and about a thousand dollars a month to compete with Encyclopedia Britannica through Wikipedia. That's what enabled a rag tag bunch of software developers from round the globe compete with Microsoft and Apple through Linux. While it's clear that the Open Source Model has definite advantages its limitations and drawbacks are somewhat less studied and, perhaps due only to lack of experience and evidence, less clear. We remain uncertain what can benefit from "going open," we remain uncertain about exactly how the power structures work, and we remain uncertain about exactly who is in control. It's the difference between the interactions and activities of hierarchies and bureaucracies (which we understand so well) and those of networks. The importance of such knowledge and it's relevance in the coming century has been demonstrated by our need to understand the dynamics of networked organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. For the most part, our bureaucracies have trouble stopping them even with considerably greater resources due to networks decentralized nature. It's as though there's no point to attack. What is particularly significant about the events of May 1st is that Wikipedia and Digg are not equal in their openness. Specifically, digg was unable to control it's users and Wikipedia was. This seems to imply that digg is more open than Wikipedia. Wikipedia however is promoted as more open than Digg and is designed with openness in mind. Digg's openness was, at least to some extent, accidental. Wikipedia has had to deal with more cyber-vandalism of this sort and so it was better equipped for the task. However, the same tools and methods of control that allowed them to prevent vandalism of entries enabled them to censor as well. Everything on Wikipedia is under an Open Source legal license (the GFDL). Digg's content is protected in no such way but it has fewer restrictions and administrative tools to control submissions and content. This is in part interesting because some people have suggested that Digg took advantage of its userbase to aggregate news content but this implies a control that is completely lacking. The suggestion at face value does seem a bit ridiculous when you consider that Wikipedia is doing precisely the same thing until you consider that Digg is a for-profit venture and grosses about $3 million annually. What's interesting about that suggestion is that it agrees with what we might imagine to be the case. Digg allows people to submit the news which people do because they enjoy it and Digg profits from it. But it's not that simple. Digg provides a platform on which people can author and vote on content and they profit from being an attention center of the web. Attention is becoming economically valuable. When companies use Google's AdSense they are essentially trying to buy attention. The web has made the reproduction of content an exercise in attention economics. All content, all video, audio, images, and text can be reproduced and distributed (effectively) for free. The scarcity has become one of time, one of attention. Hence the attention is the valuable thing. Sites on the web which get the most traffic are directly linked to the highest advertising profits. Digg gets the importance of attention and the users get the platform. That's a very important distinction so I'm going to repeat it once more. The users don't get the content, they get the platform. The essential defining element of any open source media, maybe any open source thing (so far as I can puzzle out) is that the users get the platform. The product, whether it's software, media, or otherwise is not what the users get. The users get the toolset that leads to the product and they (as the community) control the resulting product but that control is coincidental. As Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) said, "The big secret of course is that Wikipedia is not really about an encyclopedia, it's just a big game of nomic." The whole point is having control of the rules of the game. To this extent, I'm skeptical even of the claim that Wikipedia is more or less open than Digg. While Wikipedia locked entries from editing, the forums were still swamped with the Code they were trying to Censor. Moreover, as Jimmy Wales stated the rules could be changed at any time. While the platform has more controls and different power structures than Digg it still belongs to the users.
There have been numerous responses to the Code Frenzy over the last few days. One interesting reaction cited the entire movement as dumb because this sort of mass civil disobedience wasn't legal and wouldn't change the law or the decisions of the Content Corporations to use it and to use encryption. While those are all valid points I think they generally eschew the interesting aspects of this event in terms of hierarchies and networks clashing as social-organizational structures. Another reaction takes on the view of the necessary incentive to get people to spread sensitive information or participate in this sort of viral protest movement. Another still criticized Wikipedia for even trying to censor the number as it's effort would obviously be futile. The most interesting part is still Digg folding to it's user base. Businessweek had a cover story on Digg in August of last year and while Digg may make $3 million annually it's esteemed value is closer to 200 million dollars. Here's a 200 million dollar icon of the web being forced, more or less, to decide to work with or against their user base (which is the source of their power) and deciding to surrender to the whims of that user base even when that stance clearly flies in the face of the law and places them at odds with far more established and wealthy firms (the entire movie industry).
The Conclusion\Why it matters:
So, really, why such a big fuss about a little code and some cyber disobedience? Why the emphasis on new organizational structures? It is largely, for me, personal. I wrote this because these moments remind me of the little subtleties that I forget make Open Source special as an organizational form. I wrote this because I feel like I have a better understanding of makes something, anything, not just software, open than I did before the events of May 1st. But I'm also writing it because there's a direct connection between Economic\Material Progress and Innovation. New goods produce new profits and creativity is, I'm pretty sure, king. Google isn't open source but they've done the next closest thing. They've tried to foster good relations with their userbase and they allow their employees twenty percent time to work on what they want. That twenty percent time is motivating for people to produce. We all want to do what we want. I think that's a huge part of why Google's on top. They've found a way to make work not so worklike and in so doing increased the productivity of their workers. Eric Raymond once wrote that Enjoyment predicts Efficiency and I think that's a much more profound statement than he may have realized when he wrote it. If that's true and if, as I believe, Open Source fosters more enjoyment from it's participants than other methods of organizing production then it is a more efficient method of production than any other in existence. Open Production Models harness this enjoyment through voluntary selection of labor and many other motivating factors which I believe cause it to be potentially the most innovative organizational mode in existence. What's really fantastic is that I think it fixes a lot of the Spiritual Decay (which flies in the face of Material Progress) that Capitalism (depending on your view) has brought about. Finally, I think it's self-empowering and educating which ties into both the enjoyment and spiritual repair bits and also seems to foster a sort of social capital when many sociologists are concerned that our social capital is deteriorating, all the while providing public goods and services and reinvigorating the idea of a commons. Even if it just raises human efficiency in production and creativity, I'd say we can't ask for much better than that.
PS: I've underestimated the excellence of Radiohead's Kid A.
PPS: Sorry this wasn't a short entry like I promised.
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