Thursday, October 23, 2008

Maynard Is Scary

Maynard James Keenan is a scary dude. It's not because he's physically imposing or even attempting to be scary, like say a Marilyn Manson or some black metal demon worshiper. In some of these Tool videos from the 90s it's possibly that he was, as Bill Hicks said, "reeeeeallll fucking high", but even taking that into account he's frightening, in the way that nocturnal animals and nightmares are frightening.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

...And These Are My Shoes

I was cleaning out my closet, and i discovered that i have more shoes than i thought.

Not exactly Imelda Marco territory, but still more than i would have guessed. Of course, 5 of these pairs are running shoes, 2 are biking, 1 basketball, and 1 hiking. Next up, my lovely collection of bags (seriously, i have a hiking backpack, 2 hydration packs, a couple of cargo bags, a Chrome bike messenger bag, an UnderArmor backpack, and one actual suitcase). It's amazing how much money you can spend over time and still end up in the same sartorial domain as a physics grad student.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Self Surveillance

I've been reading the book Distracted:The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson (excellent read BTW). There's a section on surveillance that i can't adequately summarize here, but one of the key points is that surveillance is about control. Control, whether it's over your children, employees or citizens is antithetical to trust. Surveillance attempts to make people behave by reminding them that they are being watched, while trust requires the assumption that people will use their best judgement even when nobody is watching.

A meme that i've seen lately trying to escape the primordial ooze of the internet is the idea of self-surveillance. Just to be clear self-surveillance is the process of monitoring one's self, as opposed to surveillance directed outward on the rest of the world (which has been called sousveillance or inverse surveillance). Self-surveillance is basically just a software-assisted form of what calorie counters and budget minders have been doing for ages. However, the ubiquity of the internet, GPS, and other self-sensors make the process simpler and more comprehensive than previously. You can monitor calories and fitness, track your attention, track your sleep while you sleep, and if you're not sleeping you can keep score of, ahem, other things. [I got these examples from FlowingData, an awesome web site for data geeks]

No doubt self-surveillance is about control, and i think there's an element of self-mistrust also (keeping a diet log is often less about keeping precise calorie totals than being honest with yourself). As an avid runner, i've kept track of the distance and duration of my workouts for several years, ostensibly for improvement but i also have to admit that logging a run is as satisfying as checking something off your to-do list. It's very easy to buy into the idea that if you can measure it, you can improve it; and the more you can measure... you see where this is going.

Still there's something unsettling to me about self-surveillance. In part it's the same vague unease that i have with recommendation technology and my concern that trying to discern preferences from behavior limits the serendipitous discoveries. With self-surveillance i'm concerned that monitoring is a way to replace reflection, in the same way that our attempts to manage a flood of information have supplanted deep thought on any particular subject. It's true that keeping a budget can improve one's finances and logging your diet might improve your health. But human beings don't always improve incrementally. Mistakes, accidents, and the occasional delusion seem to be necessary elements in human growth, sort of like how mutations can lead to both harm and evolution.

Of course, another problem with self-surveillance is that it facilitates regular surveillance. Every signal you emanate, every database you update, every link that you establish between disparate sources is a potential channel for the watchers too. That might seem like a strange concern for those of us already exposing so much of our lives on blogs and social networks, but there's a big difference between what we actually do and what we "surface". It seems likely to me that there will be a reaction to self-surveillance that explores the precise technical nature of trust and privacy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek

I'm not a huge Imogen Heap/Frou Frou fan, but this song is amazing (even if it was used in an episode of The OC). This live version is pretty good, but it doesn't have the strangeness of the full-on vocoder version on Speak For Yourself.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Encounter With An Alien

[Had to resort to purchasing a new PC to get back up and running. It's abso-freaking-lutely amazing what you can buy for $500 these days. ]

I came home from the store and found that a hummingbird had flown into my garage and was trying persistently to get to the bush behind the garage through the closed window. I tried to coax it toward the door and i actually got it to perch on the end of a broom handle a couple of times, but it was determined to find a way through the glass.

After a few minutes of furious effort it got tangled in some cobwebs and slid down to the sill. It sat there motionless, except for the flicking of its tounge. To my amazement it allowed me to wrap it in a cotton cloth and pick it up. They are so small and delicate that i wasn't sure that i could get a grip on it without injuring it, but i was able to move it outside and place it in the bush. It sat motionless for several minutes, and then we noticed that it seemed to be suspended by its wings, so we gave it a bit of a perch and it flew away.

I have an uneasy feeling that he or she probably did not fair well from the experience, but i guess i'm glad that it was at least able to fly. I have a strange affection for hummingbirds (for the record it was an Anna's hummingbird, but i'm not sure of the gender). I've had numerous close encounters with hummingbirds over the years-- they have often hovered directly in front of my face for several seconds. Clearly a creature that will bang into a pane of glass until exhaustion has no significant intellect, but there is something both alien and endearing about them.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Demeanors @ Epicentre, Tonight


The Gateway PC that serves as the communal computer at home has become brain damaged. After restoring it twice, i've decided that it probably has a more serious problem than i first thought and it needs to be replaced. I just need to get 11Gb of ITunes downloads transferred off of it first.