Category Archives: entanglement

Didja say where you got it? (a propos of Appropriation)

If I still had a classroom to work in, I’d devote several classes (hell, why not a whole course? …though under which rubrics I ain’t sure…) to the issues discussed in the Plagiarism episode of Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge, featuring interviews with Jonathan Lethem, DJ Spooky [That Subliminal Kid], Judge Richard Posner, and Malcolm Gladwell. The hour of talk and examples is absolute must listening for those whose lives are entangled with teaching-and-learning.

I’ll also remind you of a posting from almost a year ago, pointing to Christopher Lydon’s interview with Jonathan Lethem, and (if Harper’s will let non-subscribers see it) to Lethem’s article The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism (Harper’s, Feb 2007).

Just a few teasers from the WPR show:

“Art comes not out of the void, but out of chaos” (1:35)
Barthes to Twain to Emerson to Lethem (1:55)
“the software that we use to edit is just as much a part of the artwork, you know?” (1:00)
“it’s like playing with respect for the history of things” (0:55)

Grand jeté

The Glossary of Ballet may turn out to be a fruitful source of imagery.

Patrick Lambe is really onto something over at Green Chameleon, and it fits remarkably with my Pirouettes thread. Today’s post points to and quotes wittily from The Interstitial Library and Uncyclopedia, and I’ll reproduce a couple of bits here to tempt you to read Green Chameleon further:

We contend that every reader is an amateur librarian, with a mental library organized according to a private cataloguing system that is never identical with that prescribed by the AACR2R (the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Revised). Since every system of organization highlights some kinds of information and obscures others, we contend that these idiosyncratic catalogues have advantages—advantages that could be shared.

We do not consider the “authoritative” taxonomies of the Library of Congress (or Barnes & Noble) to be superior to private ones. We are suspicious of taxonomies that appear self-evident, unbiased, objective. All taxonomies are interpretations. All interpretations are valuations. We ask, how does a given taxonomy, which is always a reduction and a generalization, come to be associated with objective or ideal categories of knowledge? We contend that the question of what matters and what does not is a political and philosophical one that should be open to the input of individual readers.

(that one is from Interstitial Library, and the next is Patrick Lambe himself)

Taxonomies and category systems are filters. They render certain things visible and help ensure those things are preserved. The things in between, not captured in our official categories, are ignored, and hence easily forgotten and lost.

If they are there but not seen, then we need strategies for seeing them – or for bumping into them. These strategies need to directly counter the mechanisms we use for rendering this stuff invisible. We need inversionary mechanisms.

…To counter the invisibilising effects of limited taxonomies, we need interstitial categorisation systems, that deliberately break sensible rules, and bring stuff together on idiosyncratic principles. Individuals do this all the time, so we simply need to be able to see their idiosyncracies.

Of Twitteration

In 23 years of entanglement with microcomputers (and 45 with computing in general) I’ve often been at the point of wondering “now what’s this going to do for/to me? How’s it going to fit into/transform what I do?”, and I’m there again, thinking about where Twitter fits in my digital evolution.

Twitter seems to assume that its users enjoy pervasive computing (with an extension to mobile appliances that I have no truck with), and a gaggle of like-minded friends. It also assumes (as does IM) that one can tolerate being “interrupt-driven”…

For me, Twitter offers a welcome level of granularity/resolution that fits into my use of the blogworld by offering instantaneous whazzup?, where blog postings are usually more carefully constructed –sort of a bitbucket, into which to tuck the passing thought or interest that I might want to be able to get back to, or eventually fit into an emerging chronotope.

Like Tagging, the primary use for me is as a tool to manage my OWN infoverse, and it’s only secondarily Social. It’s interesting to be able to look back at whatwhens (and I’ve experimented with a variety of them, currently including an autolog.txt Notepad doc on my desktop), to manage one’s own process, and perhaps to build, gradually, a Legacy …though for whom I’m not sure. All this seems a bit solopsistic: it’s for me, for my own appreciation and shifting purposes. If others happen to find it, or think it interesting to follow because they know/knew me in some sense, and have some interest in what I’m up to, so much the better.

There aren’t a lot of people I’m aware of being interested in following the microactivities of, and indeed one can only sustain such attention for a small number. Ron and Bryan are two I’m tracking now, but others might be added, just as I’ve added blogs to my RSS stable (and shed blogs too, of course).

In a few days I’ll be offline for a week-long yoga retreat, and it’ll be interesting to see if Twitter still seems to have resonance for me when I return.

In a deeper or maybe broader sense, as a Phenomenon and an act in the unfolding of Social Computing, danah boyd sees it more clearly than anybody else I’ve read so far:

You write whatever you damn well please and it spams all of the people who agreed to be your friends. The biggest strength AND weakness of Twitter is that it works through your IM client (or Twitterrific) as well as your phone. This means that all of the tech people who spend far too much time bored on their laptops are spamming people at a constant rate. Ah, procrastination devices. If you follow all of your friends on your mobile, you’re in for a hellish (and very expensive) experience.

…I think it’s funny to watch my tech geek friends adopt a social tech. They can’t imagine life without their fingers attached to a keyboard or where they didn’t have all-you-can-eat phone plans. More importantly, the vast majority of their friends are tech geeks too. And their social world is relatively structurally continuous. For most 20/30-somethings, this isn’t so. Work and social are generally separated and there are different friend groups that must be balanced in different ways.

…Like with bulletins, it’s pretty ostentatious to think that your notes are worth pushing to others en masse. It takes a certain kind of personality to think that this kind of spamming is socially appropriate and desirable. Sure, we all love to have a sense of what’s going on, but this is push technology at its most extreme. You’re pushing your views into the attention of others (until they turn it or you off).

(from apophenia)

Addendum: Kathy Sierra’s graph and TwitterVision are essential extensions of the discussion…

Stepping in the same river

I spent the weekend walking around Boston and Cambridge, revisiting old haunts and enjoying the leading edge of what will eventually turn into Spring. Among the locales I visited were Harvard’s Agassiz Museum (nowadays it’s called “Natural History”) and Peabody Museum of Anthropology, both of which I frequented at several points in my young and not-so-young life. Many of my favorites were still in place, and I could trace the distant origins of later fascinations. The stuffed animals were pretty startling because I remembered expressions and postures very exactly. Even the basic smells of the place are pretty much the same as they were when I first knew them about !! 60 !! years ago… Amongst the ornithological specimens I found illustrations for

Auk! that’s no puffin I know
Can’t pronounce “guillemot”
...can't pronounce 'guillemot'
That’s a murre
...that's a murre

(Hark back to mid-2006 for other “That’s amore” variants)

Another bit of resonance was the ceiling-hung skeleton of a Right Whale which I can remember being especially impressed by as a child:

business end of a baleen whale

…which was (doubtless) the source of the image I used to retail to classes of students as an analogy for the search process: you take in a LOT of information and sort through it as a baleen whale sieves krill, keeping the tasty bits…

Another image, from a later date, is provided by the Pirarucu


…the namesake of the Collaborative Information Management tool I was working on in Summer 2002 –a scheme that was Ahead of Its Time.

Cautionary Tales?

Things connect. Sometimes the linkages are obscure, or tolerably tendentious, or simply risible, or maybe they’re just co-incidental. And I suppose sometimes their Moment hasn’t come, and the nascent dots aren’t connected. The last few days have brought onto the stage several threads for which I’m seeking the Nexus. A prize to the reader who can construct it from these bits, each of which can be read as a sort of Cautionary Tale

Digression: Hillaire Belloc was not, perhaps, a very nice fellow, but his Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and Cautionary Tales for Children were staples of my own youth. Consider:

The Dromedary

The Dromedary is a cheerful bird:
I cannot say the same about the Kurd.

The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As “Slimy skin,” or “Polly-wog,”
Or likewise “Ugly James,”
Or “Gap-a-grin,” or “Toad-gone-wrong,”
Or “Bill Bandy-knees”:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

(end Digression)

The candidates for interconnection: Amédé Ardoin, Thomas Midgely, and Harlan Ellison. Not exactly household words, but all have re-crossed my path lately, so I’m sporting with their possible interlinkage.

Amédé Ardoin came up this morning via Old Blue Bus, one of the music blogs I follow. The link to Two Step de Eunice will probably disappear in a few days, so listen while you can. The specific point of interest of the moment is the Tale of his death, which seems to have several variants:

Ardoin’s death remains shrouded in mystery. One report has him being brutally beaten after wiping his brow with a handkerchief handed to him by the daughter of a white farm owner. According to McGee, Ardoin was poisoned by a jealous fiddler. More recent studies have concluded that Ardoin died of venereal disease at the Pineville Mental Institution.
Craig Harris, All Music Guide)

A cousin of renowned black Creole accordionist Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, he crossed racial boundaries by performing with noted Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. However, he stepped too far when at a dance around 1941 he wiped away sweat with a handkerchief offered by a white female. Suffering a terrible beating after the dance, he eventually died of his wounds, emotional and physical, at Pineville on November 3, 1942.

Thomas Midgley, inventor of (1) tetraethyl lead AND (2) freon, came up in an answer to a friend’s email question about global warming. Both inventions transformed the technologies they were developed for (the internal combustion engine, and refrigeration) in the short run, and both of which turned out to be really really really BAD things in the long run. Bits of the story are available here and here and here and here. The story of Midgley’s death (strangled in a device of his own cleverness, contrived to solve the problem of his own physical limitations) makes the karmic point more obvious, if karmic points ever really work that way. But the other spin on Midgley’s work is that our civilization owes a very great deal to the efficiency of the gasoline engine (said efficiency absolutely based upon the high compression engine design that tetraethyl lead enabled) and to the possibility of cooling buildings and refrigerating food –indeed, our civilization is simply unthinkable without those two elements (the same story could be told with any number of other essential technologies). To be sure, our cleverness has found substitutes for both tetraethyl lead and freon, but not exactly “just in time”, and the substitutes themselves are iffy too (e.g., MTBE which succeeded tetraethyl lead as an antiknock compound, and is now being replaced by something else because of its toxicities).

And the third came up because I’ve been reading in Harlan Ellison’s anthologies Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) and exploring who Harlan Ellison was/is and what he’s done. The two anthologies enjoy a reputation as ground-breaking collections –see James Schellenberg’s review as an example. The missing third anthology is the subject of a long-running soap opera which (among other things) provoked Christopher Priest’s The Book on the Edge of Forever –see Amazon reviewers’ comments for more on “a fascinating account of one of the most famous non-books ever not-published”, and note that “Ellison has been severely criticized for neither publishing the volume nor returning control of the stories to their authors, some of whom have since died.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in various corners of the realm of “speculative fiction” (see Wikipedia and a Wikipedia portal, and explore The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and ISFDB Wiki).