Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

Giuliani: “I’ve Seen”

Okay this isn’t creative on my part but I just caught the re-run of last week’s Colbert Report in which he describes Giuliani’s campaign as running on “two steel and glass towers,” without which he can’t keep up. And noted that after Giuliani received thunderous applause after only getting out the words “I’ve seen,” – “that’s all he has to say now. That would make a good campaign slogan, actually.”

So they showed this bumper sticker (more or less). I couldn’t find it on http://www.colbertnation.com or by searching Google images, so I thought I’d throw one together.

I’m still not even sure who to support in this election (not least because it isn’t a big deal until THE MIDDLE OF NEXT YEAR), but this was just funny regardless.

Rudy Giuliani ‘08:  “I’ve Seen”

On the Supposed Future

So I’m reading all these books on technology, the digital revolution, the death of the (printed) book, etc. and I had an amusing mental image of what a hardcore futurist (or skeptic) might envision for our future pursuits and organization of knowledge.  It looked more or less like this:

Personal library/office, twentieth century (ca. 1920)

Personal Library ca 1920

Personal library/office, twenty-first century (ca. 2020)

Personal Library ca 2020

I think my favorite part is the five small boxes of records in the back.

Anyway, I think we can all learn something from this.  Like make sure your office has either bookshelves or electrical outlets.  And ideally both.

On Mental Fatigue

Maybe this year is once again catching up with me, but the past week I’ve felt a bit like I’m just grinding my mental gears… wearing away the sharp edges so they feel as though they’re not connecting as well, or slipping a bit now and again.  In other words, not running as smoothly as they should.

I guess what follows is that I’m using a car-repair metaphor to describe my head, which is of course a debatable analogy.  Still, though – despite the fact that I love to think, I really need to stop doing it for awhile.  At least two weeks from now I’ll have that luxury.

On Celebrity Treatment

This is just a quick reflex-response to tonight’s CNN program with A.J. Hammer… according to this afternoon’s program, he will comment at length on Paris Hilton’s upcoming prison sentence, and asks – because she will be going to a prison for “high profile inmates” and already had her sentence reduced – whether celebrities receive preferential and/or better treatment in the U.S. justice system.

I think we don’t need a television program to tell us this.

The answer is YES.  AND FURTHERMORE, NOTHING IN THE WORLD CAN EVER BE TRULY AND COMPLETELY FAIR, EGALITARIAN, OR IMPARTIAL FOR ANYONE, EVER.  IN FACT, THE ONLY TRULY “FAIR” SYSTEM IS THAT OF RANDOM CHANCE, WHICH IS BY ITS NATURE NOT FAIR, IN THE SENSE OF BEING JUST.  MOVING ON.

On “the Mediated Realm”

I’ve said some of this before (or at least tangents to it) but I thought Sven Birkerts says it better. So I’m posting this short excerpt (on a blog, of course, with no small irony) from his collection of essays lamenting what he sees to be the dying experience of reading for pleasure and for deep interaction with the ideas of printed text, The Gutenberg Elegies: the Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Faber & Faber, 2006 [1994]). The link is also with no small irony, to Amazon.com. At least there’s no e-book though!

Anyway, here’s what he has to say about the electronic age and its characteristic mediation of reality:

“The culture-wide adoption of the home computer and the laptop intensified the process [of creating “an ever-thickening scrim between the self and what I think of as the primary world”], enlarging and complicating the mediated realm to the point where a huge part of our population now spends much of the day in front of an illuminated screen, occupied with images and floating bits of text, with people less and less able (or willing) to function at work or at home without their screens. But—and this is important—computers have not made their inroad in a vacuum. The transformation is a total phenomenon. This same time period has seen the extraordinary explosion of cellular telephoning (portable communication) and iPods (portable entertainment), not to mention sleek little devices like the Blackberry (portable wireless computing) and all manner of portable watching screens, telephone cameras, and so on. More and more of us have interposed an active and responsive mesh between the formerly isolated private self and the world. The implications of this are staggering.

“We are very quickly acquiescing ourselves into a reality unlike anything we’ve known before. We are replacing the so-called real with the virtual, substituting the image for the thing, moving about ever more in the zone of simulations. So often we contact not the real thing, but the likeness, the picture, the imitation. And we seem to like it this way.” (“Afterword to the 2006 Edition,” p. 236)

There’s more, of course.  But that kind of says a lot.

I can’t say that I agree with all of hte points and arguments he makes in his book; for example, he seems to wax nostalgic at times for some idealized form of pure reading, one which I might suspect only an extremely conscientious or well-trained reader would recognize.  However, the fact that he is raising these reservations and reflections makes his concerns worth our time.  His project is the opposite, it seems, of Wired magazine and other champions of an optimistic technological future, asking not that we stop progress, but that we think a little more about what we’re doing, not to mention what we’re buying (into).  I think we could always use more of that.

More on a Scholar’s Office

Given how much work I have to get done by this time two weeks and a day from now, I shouldn’t even be writing this down.  But I felt compelled.

Doing more cleaning (see previous post), and now with the promise that I will box up all the professor’s books in the near future, I felt a bit overwhelmed even with one small room full of books and a stack of empty boxes.  So I started with the academic journals – I put like titles together, sorted by issue and date, etc. etc. and only filled two boxes with three runs of journals.  It made such a tiny dent in the total amount of material at hand… not to mention that these journals may not even be kept, as they are somewhat more redundant and have less of a shelf life (it seems) than, say, Max Weber.

Needless to say, I’ll have to come back to the job itself later.  But it got me thinking about just how huge a project it is to organize a library – a personal library, an organizational library, not to mention the utopian ideal of the “universal library” whose plausibility has been reconsidered with the advent of digital storage and Internet and other technology.  And all digital aspects aside, just the weight of all those books.  Even the two boxes of journals I could barely lift.  Imagine how much a library weighs.  Imagine the Library of Congress.  Or even just the small public library down the street.  Or even your own bookshelves, however modest your collection may be.  These books may be said to have some weight in terms of ideas, insights, etc. but speaking just physically, materially, books are heavy stuff.

Anyway, I’m not entirely looking forward to this project, but it’s certainly a lot of inspiration for further pondering.  And I think sometimes we forget about, or just don’t appreciate, the amount of infrastructure which is in place for our convenience (I think I’ve talked a bit about this too at some point).   The laborious processes of cataloguing books, trucking them around, putting in place methods for loaning them out and ensuring their return, is a huge undertaking.  And digital libraries won’t really make things easier – they will just make the challenges different, I think.  Less the physical weight, but no less of a burden of organization and maintaining a useful and accessible collection.

Hot Day

So it’s been a pretty hot day here, and apparently my apartment is on the warm side of the building… or doesn’t get enough breeze, or something.  Anyway I felt worse for Lucy (the rat), since she’s old and covered in fur.  She (and really, none of my other rats) has a penchant for stretch-sleeping, as I call it, but today in particular she looked like she wanted to cool off.  It was one of those “I feel bad but that’s still SO CUTE” moments. : )

Lucy on a Hot Day

Prime Week

So apparently, according to my sleuthing and a prime number calculator, it’s Prime Week!  That is, starting today (51307) and continuing through until next Saturday (51907) and with the exception of Tuesday (51507) and Friday (51807), all of the week’s dates, written in that format, are prime numbers!  Also interesting because this will not hold true for all of next week, i.e. the 52X07s (apparently they are divisible by 3 or 131 or something).  Now to have so many prime numbers in sequence like that – not consecutive exactly, but still a sort of pattern – seems to be a big deal, especially as primes get rarer the larger you go.  So I think this is a noteworthy week!

Even if it’s not official, Happy Prime Week!  (Even my birthday, 51607, is prime – and I’m turning a prime number!)

I love random math

On Blogging in Nature

I was on my way back from the Loop today, and thought it might be fun to “blog” (with noted objections to making the term a verb) on the Midway a bit before going home… mostly because I knew the University wireless network extended out on this grassy plain, but mostly because it would be fun to “blog in nature.”  Insofar as the Midway can be considered “nature,” of course, given that it’s a stretch of grass between the two lanes (well four lanes) of a major boulevard.

Anyway, I thought I would jot down tap down these thoughts.  When I thought about it, “jot down” doesn’t seem to apply to typing.  Tap down, tap out, maybe even flick down (to imply a sort of careless or quick action, versus a studied electronic equivalent of formal composition).  Make sense?

Anyway (again), it seems odd to be using a computer outside, in a problematic incarnation of nature.  First, one can hardly read the screen – I observed someone texting in Millennium Park, by the way, hunched over and squinting to read the screen, while sitting in the bright sunlight.  Odd.  Even in the shade, however, the computer screen (at maximum brightness) is only a dull grey picture of contrasts, legible but not overly so.  And I suspect even if it weren’t so sunny, it would be difficult.  It is, perhaps, the reverse problem of reading paper text in high-sunlight conditions… the white of the paper is blinding, and you get eyestrain just as you would in a very low-light environment.

Second, focusing on the computer – performing the most artificial task of tapping keys which are converted into electricity which appear as the arbitrary symbols of language (characters, words, sentences) but which don’t really materially exist – I almost lose sight of everything else around me.  The grass, the sun, the bird poop on the bench, the people out enjoying the weather, the cars going by.  So focused am I on this plastic and metal tablet that I can feel and hear, but only peripherally experience, the environment.

Third, the “fear factor” – what if a bug crawls into the keyboard?  What if it suddenly starts raining?  What if a bird poops on the speakers?  What if the sun is damaging it as I type?  Is it too cold, or too warm, for the computer?  If you really want to know how vulnerable your computer is, you don’t even need to drop it or pour something on it or hit it with a book – just set it down on the grass and wait for the paranoia.  Or don’t even set it down (mine is safely in my lap) but start thinking about pollen in the air.  It’s funny to think how these oh-so-portable machines are really only portable, or at least what we think of as “safe,” within other artificial/structured environments… even the coffee shop presents worries, with the possibility of spillage, crumb-age, or looking-the-other-way-and-getting-stolen-age.  (See that “What now?” commercial for an example of the latter).

Fourth, its dependence for power.  My battery life is probably about 1.5 hours right now – with the screen at maximum brightness, the wireless card working, and running a couple other things in the background.  Although laptops are obviously more readily weaned off their power cords than desktops, and increasingly so (compare a 9-hour battery on my friend’s 2006 laptop to mine, a 2004, to another’s which is *maybe* 2 hours if you don’t let it do anything), this thing only has so long it can be free of its connection to the “inside” world.  Really, though, laptops are amazing little entities – although I usually have 5 plugs in mine (power, audio to speakers, mouse, internet cable, and printer) it can easily exist without any of them, and without 4 of them indefinitely.  Still, though, once the power is gone it’s a rather useless grey and black box.

And finally, rounding out my top 5 (so to speak), blogging in nature requires a great deal more filtering of outside stimuli.  This is related to the point about visual, but I think more significant.  While there are certainly stimuli at my desk – the other things on the desk, whether the temperature is noticeably uncomfortable, sounds from outside the window, etc. – they seem amplified here, perhaps because there is a slightly different mode of being outside than inside.  The green of the grass, the dandelion pods, the proximity of cars (sometimes quite loud ones), the trains going by, the other people outside playing and running and sitting and biking, the warm sun but rather chilly wind (and their alternating in quick succession), and the fresh-spring smell… perhaps they seem like amplified stimuli because I am consciously noticing them, but nevertheless it makes the whole act of blogging outside seem that much sillier… why bother with the computer when I could just take a nice walk and enjoy these last hours of daylight?

And on that note, I think I’ll get to it.

On Digital History

I might have more on which to reflect on the phenomenon of digital history itself once I write this paper, but for now, I have to offer an enthusiastic word for Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History (Univ of Pennsylvania Press, 2006). Available on the web here. Basically it’s a guideline, how-to book on creating digital archives, historical content, etc. for professional or amateur historians. But the introduction (the only part I’ve read so far) is a thoughtful reflection on the possibilities (and limitations) of digitizing sources – I’m struggling to find a broad enough word, this should do it.

If you’re interested in the importance and implications of the Internet and electronic archiving, whether or not you’re a historian, I recommend at least skimming the first part!

Actually, something quick to add.  As I read more, I’m finding out that there are a number of digital history “disaster” archives being created and/or maintained now – there’s one for 9/11, one for the VTech shooting, and one for what I think is Katrina but may be hurricanes in general (called the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank).  The interesting thing is that they are meant as archives of information – photos, blog entries, personal stories entered as text, videos, news, etc. – but are also meant to be themselves part of the healing process, leaving a record which sounds something along similar lines as the “We shall bear witness” language of Holocaust memory.  (I realize I should qualify that comparison a lot more than I am, but I’ll just note the inadequacy of the analogy and move on.)

Anyway, I’m not sure I can make a paper out of this… but it’s fascinating stuff.  And unfortunately, that blog I found on 4/16 is no longer up (I wish I had saved a copy of the page – but see previous entry) but this is, if not a topic worthy of my historiography paper – or at least not feasible – it’s another fascinating look at the ways in which the electronic/digital/internet universe is a place for very human expressions.