Notes on a case of Nicholas Gurewitch

In December 2014 I backed a Kickstarter project by one of my favourite artists, Nick Gurewitch, creator of the Perry Bible Fellowship:

The project is called Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little Death.

This is book about Death’s despair regarding his kid- an affectionate “Little Death” who simply doesn’t have what it takes to carry on the family business.

Dr. Edgar O. Wye is a psychoanalyst who takes Death on as a patient. The book’s rhyming narration will be taken from his case notes.

The book will run about 42-50 pages long, and will be completely illustrated. Graphic novel “frames” will be used on occasion, but this will really be more of a picture book – deliberately similar to the short books of Edward Gorey, but with a character-driven plot. Though it has a pretty high body count, it is in essence a family story.

It’s running slightly late. (About 18 months.) This is mostly due to the painstaking subtractive work required to produce each page: they are created by painting a board with black ink then ‘drawn’ by scratching millions of tiny lines with a scalpel.

Nick and his project were the subjects of a short documentary:

Nick’s just found out that his publisher has folded. It’s not too late to support the project to ensure it appears in a (somewhat) timely manner.

Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ as a musical fractal

Interesting bit of music theory/mathematics by Adam Neely:

Neely takes the notes of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ and speeds them up around 1,000 times according to their relative pitch frequency. In short, each note in the original melody is made up of all the notes within itself, just sped up by different amounts. The result is self-similarity: a musical fractal.

‘All Star’ has been elevated from dorky throwaway tune into first a similarly dorky meme and then a core component of several interesting works. Neil Cicierega’s mashup work is a prime example, to the point where I can’t hear Modest Mouse’s ‘Float On’ without internally singing “Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me…”:

Games that might have been

Babble Imperium:

A couple of years ago someone attempted to make a list of every video game ever made, and put it in a 6.5MB flat file. Like any sensible person, I used it to train a recurrent neural network.

Selected examples:

  • Metal Cat (2001, Sega) (Windows)
  • Spork Demo (?, ?) (VIC-20)
  • Black Mario (1983, Softsice) (Linux/Unix)
  • Soccer Dragon (1987, Ange Software) (Amstrad CPC)
  • Mutant Tycoon (2000, Konami) (GBC)
  • Dick of the King (2007, Activision) (PC-9801)
  • Spork Race (Universe) (1990, Atlus) (Arcade)

The ‘Spork’ franchise sounds like something I’d play, and ‘Black Mario’ seems sufficiently inclusive.

See also these wonderful recipes generated using a predictive text interface:

http://objectdreams.tumblr.com/post/138639267299/recipe-for-greased-casserole-with-slices-of-lemon

And Friends episodes:

How dolphins eat octopus

Joanna Klein for NYT’s Trilobites:

Try having no arms and eating a live octopus that’s crawling around on your head with its tentacles. Failure could mean it’s your last supper. But a population of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Australia has found a way to do it.

“These ones in southwest Australia have worked out: How do we catch them? How do we bite them? And how do we kill them so we can eat them?” said Kate Sprogis, a behavioral ecologist at Murdoch University in Australia who with her colleagues described the behavior in a study published last month in Marine Mammal Science.

The recipe is as follows: Bite off the head. Shake the body. Toss until the arms are tenderized and the suction cups no longer function. Slam the body against the water repeatedly until it breaks into bite-sized pieces. Steps may be varied. Enjoy. The estimated preparation time ranges between one and six minutes.

This is how I eat everything.

A domain of one’s own is important

Audrey Watters:

Students and staff can start to see how digital technologies work – those that underpin the Web and elsewhere. They can think about how these technologies shape the formation of their understanding of the world – how knowledge is formed and shared; how identity is formed and expressed. They can engage with that original purpose of the Web – sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors – by doing meaningful work online, in the public, with other scholars. That they have a space of their own online, along with the support and the tools to think about what that can look like.

It doesn’t have to be a blog. It doesn’t have to be a series of essays presented in reverse chronological order. You don’t have to have comments. You don’t have to have analytics. You can delete things after a while. You can always make edits to what you’ve written. You can use a subdomain. (I do create a new subdomain for each project I’m working on. And while it’s discoverable – ostensibly – this work is not always linked or showcased from the “home page” of my website.) You can license things how you like. You can make some things password-protected. You can still post things elsewhere on the Internet – long rants on Facebook, photos on Instagram, mixes on Soundcloud, and so on. But you can publish stuff on your own site first, and then syndicate it to these other for-profit, ad-based venues. […]

That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there – quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

Medium: $5/mo for nothing

Kieran McCarthy on Medium’s curious ‘offering’:

Medium is offering literally nothing beyond promises:

  • Future “exclusive stories from leading experts” – um, who? On what? And when?
  • Early access to “a new Medium experience” – they are going to revamp their homepage. You’ll get to see it earlier.
  • Personal, offline reading list – you can save stories to a queue.

We can pretty much guarantee Medium that no one outside a few over-paid techies living in SoMa or Palo Alto is going to think that represents good value for $5 a month. The whole idea is doomed to failure.

Michael Stipe on creative work

Oh yes, though sometimes “expansive creative practice” is also what I would call simply having too many ideas. You have to be a great editor in that regard; you have to be an editor of ideas. For me, when some of those ideas are so abstract that they’re literally just a written down thought, you have to take a step back and make choices. You only have this one lifetime—only a certain number of human years—to make things. You have to decide, Which of these ideas am I going to allow myself to focus on? And have I made the right choices? And you hope that you do.

So much of doing creative work is just about making choices, deciding where to direct your energies. I’ve been trying to organize all of my ideas and projects on my computer desktop for the past week. Putting them into folders—folders within folders within folders. Trying to kind of bring it down to what’s valuable enough to actually work to produce into being and then looking at those ideas and saying, “Well that doesn’t work” or “That was a bad idea” or “That was a misstep” or “My God, this is actually kind of brilliant.”

You don’t want to do the same thing forever, even if maybe other people wish you would. So for me, this part of my creative life is really exciting. Deciding where I’m gonna go next is really interesting. You don’t necessarily choose to be constantly working on something, you just have to do it. And I’m very lucky that people are interested in what I have to say or in what I might be making. Still, regardless of that, you just have to follow the impulse where it leads you. You always have to be moving forward.

Michael Stipe

Fran Lebowitz on reading

There’s a great interview with Fran Lebowitz in the New York Times:

When do you read?

Pretty much all the time. Especially if I’m supposed to be doing something else. I was very frequently punished for reading as a child because I was reading when I was supposed to be doing homework. I got in trouble in school for reading, I got in trouble at home for reading. My mother would actually bang on my door and say, “I know you’re reading in there!” In my adult life, I’ve gotten in trouble for reading because I’m not writing when I’m reading. So it’s really rare that reading is unaccompanied by guilt for me. But I’ve learned to live with it. I feel guilty pretty much all the time.

The only time I read without feeling guilty is on a plane, because what else could I possibly be doing?

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I think it might be the word “move” that kind of perplexes me, because that’s a word connected with emotion. I don’t really seek out emotion when reading. The feeling that’s most important to me when reading is that I’m absorbed. I just want to be taken away. I really like being dazzled. That would be nice. The thing I care least about in reading is the story. I just don’t care that much about stories. That may have to do with being older. Tell me a story I don’t know.

But really, I read in order not to be in life. Reading is better than life. Without reading, you’re stuck with life.

I also highly recommend two other Lebowitz interviews.

First, a 1993 piece in The Paris Review (side note: always worth reminding people of this tweet):

You never enjoyed writing?

I used to love to write. As a child I used to write all the time. I loved to write up until the second I got my first professional writing job. It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.

And The Awl from 2012:

I’ve read about other artists and writers who lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic and felt like they had to take a break from their art. While reading your book, I wondered if that might have been the case with you, because the world you described was essentially obliterated.

It is exceptionally charitable that you call these 900 years “a break” but I’ll take that. And yes, it was very shocking to live through. It’s always shocking to young people when their contemporaries die. Even in a war, it’s shocking. I mean, as a soldier. It was shocking, especially because we were the only generation that thought sex was really good, like vitamins. We thought that about drugs too, okay? Sex was really good and the more sex the better. It was helpful. Like now, the way people think of bike riding, which I think is a childish activity. I know people now think the bike is a sign of virtue and I think it’s a toy, but we said sex was good for you and it turned out to it could be bad for you. Really bad. And yeah, people became terrified, of course. People were “terror-stricken” is the term I would use. And because when you look at it in retrospect, like all things you look at in retrospect, it seems very linear. The great thing about history is that it’s in the past and people have time to compile a narrative, but that’s not how it seems when you are living through it.

(NYT piece via Kottke)

Apple acquires Workflow

Apple has acquired Workflow, a popular app for automating iOS actions.

I don’t use Workflow as much as I would like to, but, for some tasks, it saves me a lot of time and energy. I’d like to delve into it more deeply.

Gruber:

This certainly provides ammunition against the argument that Apple no longer cares about power users. For me this is Apple’s most intriguing and exciting acquisition in years.

Gabe Weatherhead is less convinced, highlighting how Apple described the acquisition by giving prominence to Workflow’s accessibility features rather than automation:

I think this is bad news for anyone that relies on Workflow to make iOS useful. If all your eggs are in that one basket then you better hurry up and build a new basket. I’d love to be wrong on this front, but I don’t think automation is a priority for Apple or for iOS. The URL support isn’t just languishing on iOS, Apple has actively killed access to some features in launcher apps. But, who knows. Maybe these three new hires will completely change the Apple culture where Sal couldn’t.[^sarcasm]

(He’s referring to Sal Soghoian, who was Product Manager of Automated Technologies at Apple until they removed the role late last year.)

Whatever happens in the longer term, some predictable changes have been made already:

Terror and territory

The relationship between terror and territory is a crucial one in other ways, too. Think of the recent mass killings that have been carried out by young men — and they are nearly all men — in places like Brussels, Paris, Orlando and Berlin. Even before the blood has dried, there will be speculation about the perpetrator’s nationality. If he holds a passport from a predominantly Muslim nation or was born in such a nation, then the act is usually declared a terrorist act, no matter how weak his religiosity or his links to terrorist networks. The man may drink and have girlfriends, but he will be branded a terrorist. His motives will be assumed to be public and thus political. If, however, he is from Western Europe — like the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who killed 150 in 2015 by downing his plane in the French Alps — then the motive is usually assumed to be private and we will hear about his psychology rather than his politics. If it is terror, then we can see all kinds of exceptional measures brought into force, from detention without trial to the bombing of Islamic State in Syria, as carried out by France after the Paris attacks. If it is “simply” a mass killing, then nothing much happens at all. One of the key differences is the passport. 

—Why Territory? by Ian Kinke, Weapons of Reason issue 4