Monday, May 14, 2007

John Cage doing what he does best...

thanks to WFMU'g blog
and to BoingBoing

"III. Communication" (excerpt) by John Cage

What if I ask thirty-two questions?
What if I stop asking now and then?
Will that make things clear?
Is communication something made clear?
What is communication?
Music, what does it communicate?
Is what's clear to me clear to you?
Is music just sounds?
Then what does it communicate?
Is a truck passing by music?
If I can see it, do I have to hear it too?
If I don't hear it, does it still communicate?
If while I see it I can't hear it, but hear something else, say an egg-beater, because I'm
inside looking out, does the truck communicate or the egg-beater, which communicates?
Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck
passing by a music school?
Are the people inside the school musical and the ones outside unmusical?
What if the ones inside can't hear very well, would that change my question?
Do you know what I mean when I say inside the school?
Are sounds just sounds or are they Beethoven?
People aren't sounds, are they?
Is there such a thing as silence?
Even if I get away from people, do I still have to listen to something?
Say I'm off in the woods, do I have to listen to a stream babbling?
Is there always something to hear, never any peace and quiet?
If my head is full of harmony, melody, and rhythm, what happens to
me when the telephone rings, to my peace and quiet, I mean?
And if it was European harmony, melody, and rhythm in my head, what has happened
to the history of, say, Javanese music, with respect, that is to say, to my head?
Are we getting anywhere asking questions?
Where are we going?
Is this the twenty-eighth question?
Are there any important questions?
"How do you cautiously proceed in dualistic terms?"
Do I have two more questions?
And, now, do I have none?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

In defense of print encyclopedias...

Thanks to boingBoing..
If I may play the devils advocate, in this age of free online information, I believe it is a good exercise to try and think of ways to market the bound editions of a reputable encyclopedia. I have a few points, some more serious than others, but valid none the less. Feel free to chime in with any others you can think of

1.) Wikipedia is far more elitist than a print edition encyclopedia. No everyone in the world has access to electricity , much less a computer or internet connection. We like to think the internet is ubiquitous, however the number of internet users for Jan '07 totaled only 747 million worldwide (Comscore '07) or around 11% of the world's population. This leaves a whopping 89%, the overwhelming majority of which are impoverished , "unwired" and unable to access the "totality of human knowledge" available online. For these poor, the bound print editions of the encyclopedias are absolutely necessary for furthering knowledge and bettering their situations. The cost of encyclopedias is dropping rapidly, plus the market is already flooded with print editions they are easily accessible in used book and thrift stores as well as through old fashioned yard sales.

This leads into my next point of...
2.) Ownership of knowledge. What happens if the power goes out? You can't read wikipedia by candlelight. What if an earthquake destroys Wikipedia's servers? Print editions not only are more rugged, but also can be utilized more independently. What you are paying for with a print encyclopedia is dependable knowledge that is personally available to you independent of facilitating entities. In short, ownership of the knowledge. Just think about it. Once you buy the print encyclopedia, barring physical destruction of the object itself, there is no person or entity that comes between you and the knowledge contained within the volumes.
Now think about Wikipedia. First once must purchase a computer from a vendor who must sell you the correct software and hardware for access to the internet. Next one must have a physical connection to the internet. Mostly this is done via a cable of some sort. Next one must have access to electricity to run the computer. One must also have a bank account that allows one to purchase internet service from a provider. The provider must have the correct software and hardware to allow your computer to access remote servers on a network. Finally, Wikipedia must have all of these things plus some more to be able to deliver content to you at your desk. Miss any one of these steps (say the above mentioned power outage that prevents you from accessing your computer) and the online repository of knowledge becomes about as useful as tits on a boar hog.

3.) The encyclopedia guarantees named, qualified sources for the information contained within. Say what you want about experts, scholars, and peer-reviewed literature, but the fact is that these people have a much deeper understanding of their subject areas than any of us. That is what you are paying for when you buy a set of encyclopedias - qualified, reliable, and scholarly sources.
Wikipedia can only make a broad assertion that it is edited by "tens of thousands of regular editors - everyone from expert scholars to casual readers." (Wikipedia, 07) There is no guarantee that article about "The Standard model of Particle Physics" was edited last by a noteworthy scholar in the area, or by Steve, the guy who sold you your coffee this morning.

4.) The heavy volumes of the set encourage young and old alike to tone their bodies as well as their minds. A computer only encourages lethargy which has been cited as a causal factor in obesity.

5.) When was the last time you could use a computer to sit on in order to boost children up to see over the table.

6.) Print Encyclopedias accommodate users with ES (Electrosensativity). The World Health Organization recognizes ES as real condition where exposure to electrical fields can have a wide range of adverse effects for certain people. The symptoms can run the gamut from skin rashes, fatigue, and headaches, to dizziness, memory loss, and respiratory illness. Sweden is the only country to recognize the effects of ES - 230,000 people are registered as suffering from it (or 2.5% of the population).
The biggest offender of triggering ES symptoms is by far computers and computer monitors. One can avoid the sufferings of this sometimes disabling disease by purchasing a print version of an encyclopedia. (, 07)

7.) The dangers of centralized knowledge. The widely printed and distributed sets of encyclopedias are knowledge sources in and of themselves. Relying on knowledge that is stored in far away places shifts the power structures that accompany that knowledge and make it far more valuable. As people increasingly rely on these systems, they become dependent upon them for guidance and inquiry. Sure they say that it can be edited by anyone, but who knows what is really going on? It is much easier to control information when it is located in a centralized source than when it is distributed amongst the masses in a semi-random fashion. The profit model behind print encyclopedias ensure that market forces even out the information and keep the company in check. Wikipedia has no real profit motive. When there is no profit motive, there must be some alternative agenda driving this knowledge, and in that vacuum lies the roots of fascism.

8.) The long publishing times and extensive peer reviewing prevents premature social commentary and knee-jerk reactions from entering into the academic sphere. By its nature, academia is a slow and thoughtful process that seeks to establish enduring truth. Put another way, wikipedia simply responds to too much by becoming an information repository for EVERY idea and point of an annoying friend who changes viewpoints on a whim but never stops for a moment to think anything over. Many things need time to be fleshed out and booted around the academic sphere before a stable state emerges. Wikipedia leaves no time for this academic mediation instead acting like an impulsive two year old at a toy store fighting for his mother's attention.
VA tech brings up this point. In the week following (and even up until now) the page on the massacre has been changed, edited, and reworked almost to the point that anything put up there is by default unreliable as it is based on partial evidence. The function of a legitimate scholarly encyclopedia is to be an authority on subjects, not to be an ad-hoc news/tabloid agency. We have Matt Drudge and Fark for that. accessed 4/24/07

Comscore press release "Worldwide Internet Audience has Grown 10 Percent in Last Year, According to comScore Networks" accessed 4/24/07

Wikipedia "About" accessed 4/24/07

check out the original blog post at the Man from Porlock blog

When collaboration doesnt work

I was going through some of the links tonight when I came across the "Mass Poetry" and the "Mass Fiction" sites that Mat had posted. Following the links I was brought to two simple websites asking for my contribution to an epic work of literature...and even better, the work is composed entirely of contributions from visitors to the site. How lucky I am to be a part of something so groundbreaking and important?

So, I'm usually game for these type of things so I play along with the sites. The poetry site simply asks you to type a line that may or may not rhyme or compliment a given line from the larger poem. The fiction site shows you the story created so far and then asks for a contribution. Both of these sites seem to embody the heart and soul of the Web 2.0 phenomenon...wild, unbridled creative power fused with the fabled "wisdom of the masses". Surely in short time these works would rival the best authors and poets of western literature, right?

As I read over the "mass poem" and the "mass fiction", all I could think about was - this is a piece of mass-crap! Surely, a thousand monkeys working on a thousand typewriters for a thousand years could produce something much better. The poem is filled with immature scatter-brained jabber that alternates between extremely banal (yabadabadoo, i love you/rain rain go away, come again another day/because it is my shoe) and extremely crude (poopstreaks). At times it seems as though the poem is a kind of AOL chatroom circa 1997, filled with rants, outbursts, and 1337.

The fiction is much worse. The major difference in the fiction section is a visitor can see the story (the last 1000 words or so) before they make their post. Also the visitor can post much more text than on the poem page. The "story" - if one can call it that - looks like an anonymous un-moderated message board. Websites, bad ascii-art, and nonsense litter the narrative. Needless to say, it will not be up for a Newberry award.

So why is it this bad?? Could it be that the site was hit by a hoard of middle school boys just before I got there? Shouldn't these site profit from the precision and reliability of other social sites such as, flickr, and wikipedia?

The way I see it, there are a few explanations for what is going on:

1.) The site is completely anonymous. I know they meant for it to be that way, but a major reason why social sites succeed is accountability. Usually users must register with the site to participate. Simple as this may sounds and easy as it is to register for free, this in itself deters the vast majority of people who may come by and hit-and-run (or more accurately "post-and-run"). Also once someone has an identity at a site, they are much more careful about what they post.

2.) Context and direction. There is no central concept or theme that unites people who visit this site. If the site were one promoting canine neutering, the visitors to the site would all have a common thread between them and therefore the story might be about topics central to the subject matter (Bob Barker and "the Price is Right" for example). The collaborative effort this site promotes is akin to putting Wayne Gretzky, Florence Nightingale, and a trained dolphin into a pool and making them answer the question "Where's the beef?" The point is, no matter what they come up with the answer is still meaningless because the original scenario lacks context and direction.

3.) The last explanation is that these sites are "real" and "true" in a sense that no other site on the web really is. These sites are unmoderated, uncensored, and completely open to anything people want to put on them. In a sense the products on these pages are as raw and real as it gets on the web. These nonsense thoughts represent what people really do/say/think on the web at any given moment. This is the id to wikipedia's superego, the Oscar to Myspace's Felix. This type of anti-romantic sentiment is captured in one of my favorite quotes from Vonnegut. Vonnegut, in a speech to the graduating class of Bennington College, said:

Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on inside.

The Internet is our new temple...sites like these are what is really going...

just my 2 cents,

p.s. make sure to check out some of the other stuff on the host site ( The guess the dictator or Sit-com character page is refreshingly amusing...
check out the original post on the Man from Porlock blog