Archives: Oddversational

I wrote some of this to someone who I met who asserted that Björk was her savior. It allowed me the opportunity to put some old thoughts into words. First, if you don’t know Björk’s pluto, watch this:

It’s an iffy recording of a good performance. If you already love this song you know everything about what I’m going to write here. If you don’t, but you want to, get the album Homogenic, put on some headphones, turn the volume way up, call up the pluto track, and listen with a vulnerable brain…

I can’t claim Björk as my savior – but I can say that there was a moment which I can still remember when her music became completely necessary for me. It’s not that I dismissed it earlier, it’s just that it was only music, sort of in the background, interesting in a kind of detached, intellectual way.

Then one night I was frustrated with some mess in life, and knocking about aimlessly in my apartment with Homogenic on a bit too loud, and pluto comes on. You know how that one goes. Few words, and much pained keening.

As it went on in that middle bit, where the ratcheting tense rhythm is cranking tighter, tighter, and her voice is just moaning in a grating key with more pressure, and more pressure… it might have been the mood I was in, or the music being too loud, or maybe both, but it was making me feel real rage. I really couldn’t think in actions, I was just irritated to the point of rage by the noise of the song and her voice and then, just when the whole thing was on the edge of unbearable, her anguished keen flips into this incredible squeak of delight.

It was like the back of my head flipped open at that squeak, and the fury I was feeling spread out into the space all around me as joy.

It seemed to me then that rage was just joy in a state of confinement, and you need to find a way to pop the pressure on it to let it out into the world. I was sort of ecstatic the rest of that night, due entirely to that one song.

I realized that Björk doesn’t actually make songs – she orchestrates emotional experience. I still turn to pluto for release when I can’t work myself out of an emotional corner alone.

Pluto is the god of death, and death is the conversion of flesh into ideal. Life is a ratchet of frustration, tightening only and never loosening unless you can find a way to just snap. That may seem horrible, but it isn’t. There are ways to snap beautifully, and spend all the energy stored in frustration in an explosion of joy. Snap the right way, and the explosion can be self sustaining, like nuclear fire. This song showed me how to die/change/be otherwise, when you need to, with a spastic blaze of grace.

What does it do to you?

Just throwing a few notes together here so I don’t lose track of them, but you’ll probably find them interesting as well.

After my previous post titled Printcasting I was contacted via comments by Dan Pacheco, who has founded a company actually called Printcasting that does a bit of what I was going on about in that post. I took a look through his company’s site over the weekend and it’s neat – so here’s some more info about it.

Printcasting – people-powered magazines

The basics are laid out in more detail here, but the main points as they appear to me:

  • The Printcasting site provides an automated method for aggregating RSS feeds from any source into articles laid out in an automated fashion for printing, alongside ads.
  • In addition, the site provides the ability to view the periodical online in a sort of page flipping fiew, and these can be distributed via a small variety of web based widgets.
  • You do not have to make a magazine just to contribute articles. If you set your blog up with an RSS feed that delivers full posts, you can hook up your feed to Printcasting’s service and anyone on the service who is making a magazine can include your posts as articles in their publications.
  • You do not need to provide your own content to make a magazine. You can use any of the registered RSS feeds to fill your magazine with content. You can also just do it all with your own content if you want, but you don’t have to.
  • As an advertiser, you just set your ad up with the Printcasting service, and it is automatically placed in the magazines created by users. You do not have to do any negotiating. Ad placement will eventually cost a small fee, but at the moment I believe it is free.
  • As a publisher, you do not need to solicit ads, they will be automatically placed in your magazine for you by the service.
  • There is a plan to share revenue from ad placements with publishers.
  • From what I can see, there is no built in step to automatically print your magazine, that is, I think, left up to you to arrange yourself once it is produced.

That seems to be the basics. Dig into the site for more detail. To me, the strength of this model seems to be the automated assembly, pretty hands off and helpful in creating newsletters and local interest small run, leaflet like periodicals. It doesn’t look like a newsstand magazine, it looks more like a newsletter, and the automated layouts are pretty basic and vanilla. It doesn’t look like you have much control over what the ads you accept look like or how they are placed, it all follows a basic set of templated looks that will not wow anyone in a graphic design way. But it is a quick, cheap, uncomplicated way to assemble information of interest to narrowly targeted groups into an easily distributable, printable format.

Another company that requires more upfront effort and design skill on your part, but produces a magazine that looks pretty much like the kind you see at newsstands, is MagCloud:

From their About Us:

MagCloud enables you to publish your own magazines. All you have to do is upload a PDF and we’ll take care of the rest: printing, mailing, subscription management, and more.
How much does it cost?

It costs you nothing to publish a magazine on MagCloud. To buy a magazine costs 20¢ per page, plus shipping. For example, a 20-page magazine would be four bucks plus shipping. And you can make money! You set your issue price and all proceeds above the base price go to you.
How are they printed?

MagCloud uses HP Indigo technology, so every issue is custom-printed when it’s ordered. Printing on demand means no big print runs, which means no pre-publishing expense. Magazines are brilliant full color on 80lb paper with saddle-stitched covers. They look awesome.
What do I need to do to participate?

You’ll need a PayPal account or major credit card to buy magazines, and publishers will need a PayPal account so we can pay you earnings. To create a magazine, you’ll need to upload a PDF, which means you’ll have to create your magazine in a program that outputs high-res PDFs like Adobe® InDesign.

During our Beta orders must be sent to a US shipping address.

This is a pretty cool looking POD magazine publishing service, which is capable of producing what appear to be really slick periodicals.

MagCloud looks like a real magazine. It doesn’t aggregate content for you, you have to do all the content and layout work, and produce a high res, quality PDF to send them, but from there they enable POD magazine sales, apparently worldwide, or at least that is the intent. The Beta seems limited to the US. You don’t seem to have to pay to set one up, your buyers pay per issue at a 20 cent per page plus whatever profit margin you tack on rate when they order one, and it looks like MagCloud will pass on your cut via paypal. MagCloud takes the orders, does the printing and mailing. All you do is all the layout and creation work, and upload files to the service. MagCloud does not help you find advertisers or in any other way subsidize your effort.

MagCloud doesn’t look like it gives you a fully readable online option, but it does provide a preview page flipper thing. Click the “show preview” button on this sample to see one.

I think MagCloud is an HP initiative pointed at selling the POD presses to many local print shops, but as a result it seems to set up a really classy looking POD magazine solution.

I wonder what comics pages would look like in one of these things?

The above two services are geared toward putting digital content onto a printed page. This next one looks like it is being used to put printed content into a slick digital presentation, and to serve as an online platform for native digital publications formatted in magazine fashion:

Issuu

From their About Us:

Issuu makes your publications look good

Issuu turns your documents into beautiful online publications. Publish to an audience of millions and get your message across to anyone, anywhere. It only takes a minute and it’s free.

Features and benefits

* Upload your documents and we turn them into professional online publications.
* Enjoy the best reading experience online (fullscreen with crisp vector graphics).
* Explore a living library with the web’s most interesting publications.
* Post/embed your publications anywhere online (Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, etc.)
* Get a high rank on Google and receive detailed statistics about your readers.
* Create a custom viewer design and integrate your publications on your website.

This looks really astonishingly slick. It might be a great way to make your POD MagCloud zine readable online as well. It has tools that allow embedding. For example, here is a back issue of Juxtapoz from their library:

There are many, many layers of POD/online publishing possibilities available, and more being born every day it seems. If you want to make beautiful things in both the virtual and real worlds, you have even less excuses not to do it. The tools to enable you are quite literally tumbling out of thin air into your lap.

Hat tips: to Dan Pacheco for Printcasting, Andrew Sullivan for MagCloud and Rick Evans for Issuu

Great discussion of Print on Demand is often had at Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel Forum.

I spent some time yesterday sitting at a sidewalk table in front of a coffee shop, browsing online with an xo, the first generation OLPC.

olpc

I picked this one up this past November during the annual Give One Get One program. I’ve always thought this thing looked neat. In reality, the physical machine is very cool, but the OS on it, a GUI called Sugar over a custom Linux distro, is just awful. Supposedly designed not so much as an OS, but as a learning facilitating platform, the academics behind that atrocity literally tossed everything the western world has learned about computer interface design over the last 30 years and made up a new, arbitrary and very, very awkward interface themselves. It is seriously terrible. I defy you, as a new user, to write a simple text document, save it, close it, then find it again. I dare you. I’ll check back in on your progress in a couple of hours.

So extremely disappointed, I put the poor little machine aside for a while, and have only recently started carrying it around again and testing it’s ability to connect to wifi spots around the city. As a simple web browsing netbook, it’s actually not that bad. The custom browser is very, very simplified, lacking many things that would make life easier, but it is functional and its simplicity has the unintended virtue of focusing your attention. No series of 5 tabs loading different things simultaneously to juggle. Its eBook mode, with the backlight of the screen turned off, so you are reading a surface like Amazon’s Kindle is easily the killer feature of this machine. I can’t exaggerate how pleasant it is to read things in this manner. It is very, very nice. With the backlight off, the battery life also significantly improves.

But, sitting out in front of the coffee shop yesterday, and unexpected but interesting feature of the xo came to light – something like 7 or 8 complete strangers passing by stopped to ask me what this little computer was, and where did I get it! Some of these strangers were quite attractive!

I’m beginning to think the real killer feature of this little, green, rabbit-eared adorable button of a computer is it’s ability to stand in for a puppy or a baby as an accessory to attract strangers of the opposite sex in public places.

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It was a beautiful, bleak, sort of empty book.

My overall impression is that it wasn’t about characters or plot so much, though both of those elements were there. Character moreso than plot, which was really deliberately thin. It was about a mood, and about the way words sound in your head.

I haven’t read any other of McCarthy’s books, so I don’t know to what extent this is true of his work in general, but The Road really was an extended sort of echoing of dying words in the reader’s mind. It sort of felt like a tunnel of consciousness, like the only way you have to perceive the world is through the noise a word makes inside your skull when you’ve read it, and after you’ve read it, as it decays quickly away like a spent atom, you are lonlier than before you knew there was such a noise.

I may suffer from a lack of empathy, but I didn’t feel sorrow for the collection of vagabonds and cannibals desultorily winding down their empty existences in these pages. I felt more of a sadness coming to realize that the only way we know the world is through stories we tell ourselves, the only way we understand it is through the stories other people tell us, but ultimately the stories go away and there’s not much for the mind outside of stories.

I wouldn’t say it was depressing. Starkly meditative, maybe. I wonder if the film adaptation will be so deliberative.

Some thoughts around a theme.

I read somewhere once, and it strikes me as very true but seldom recognized, is that publishing on the web isn’t really “publishing”, it’s “broadcasting”, and different expectations determine it’s success.

In a series of brief ruminative posts, comics writer, novelist, blogger, and general internet scourge Warren Ellis has been toying with concepts around an idea called the papernet. This is something like a notion to lay out versions of web content so it can be printed as something like a onesheet or tabloid, and distributed by enthusiasts in the physical world on paper, like the broadsheets of the enlightenment era.

He also has been anticipating 2009 as the Year of Print On Demand (POD). Two fantastic emanations from his sporadic mental exercise:

  1. A message board thread full of detailed and useful recountings of various peoples experiences with POD press production.
  2. A concept he has give the place holder name of ROTOR, which is sort of a set of rules to structure a group blog which will update frequently enough with enough content to keep a significant audience, and which is arranged so as to allow longform work to accrue in daily bursts until complete, at which time it would be printed POD under a group branded imprint and sold as a physical object.

Looking at this ROTOR post in the context of his recent run of papernet tagged thoughts, I’m thinking the kernel here is trying to work out how a POD model could be dovetailed with serial online publication to produce a new publishing model outside of the withering traditional one. The proposed structure seems to be reaching for something like what fiction anthologies or fiction magazines once were, a churning, lively forum to get shorter works by many authors in front of readers and nurture careers. The difference is that the authors themselves become responsible for the mechanics of publication, for enforcing their own deadlines and professional discipline. I’m thinking the concept serves authors best when seen in that light, as a machine made of rules designed to grow disciplined professional writers. Your chances of success within it increase the more frequently you write, the more preparation you’ve done and the more of your piece you have in the can before publication begins.

And, since nobody has figured out a way to make good money off of stuff like this online alone, the POD goal at the end adds a potential revenue stream as a carrot.

All of this can be seen as an instance of a larger movement, of which other obsessions of mine, such as Make and Craft magazines, Instructables, Etsy, the resurgence of a craftsman’s ethic with a 21st Century flavor. It’s another outgrowth of empowering amateurs.

It’s the new old way of making culture.

Neal Stephenson said in an interview last year:

“Hey kids, don’t listen to your friends who try to tell you that it’s all about bits and bytes. Information technology will only get you so far. Making things in the physical world is where it’s at.”

All of this has led me to a rough concept that, at the moment, I’m calling Printcasting. At a first pass, printcasting is:

  • Simultaneous multiple format serialization
  • Blog style daily posting
  • Audio podcast reading of daily posting
  • Cumulative audio podcast of whole work to date, updated daily
  • A weekly one-sheet printable zine compiling that week’s updates
  • Final Project ebook for sale
  • Final Project complete audiobook – probably free
  • Final Project Print On Demand physical book

Jared Axelrod, who did something like this under the title 365 Tomorrows, upon reading Warren Ellis’ ROTOR thoughts posted this advice:

First off, we’d finish all the content before we started. This is the major problem we ran into our first year, and why so many similar projects crash and burn… And we’ll pre-load those suckers, so the site updates itself. Because when the site starts up, we don’t want to focus on it.

Instead, we want to focus on the 5 POD books we’ll be making with this content. Contacting illustrators, adding extra material, designing a visual look for all 5 books. Make them real works of art in their own right. In other words, make them worth buying. That’s not going to be difficult, but it is going to take time, so we might as well start on that as soon as possible. Plus, we’ll also be busy creating content for the next year. So, you know, the more the site can do without us watching it, the better.

This seems like solid advice, so I’m adopting it as a printcasting ethic. Don’t start printcasting until you have the full piece written/produced. Load it all and let it automatically update itself reliably and regularly. Spend the rest of your time while it is printcasting sorting your final, physical, purchasable products into the best objects they can be.

So what am I reaching for in jumbling all these references together in a post? Not sure. I don’t want to lose track of these trains of thought, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing here online and here in the world. It’s something about writing and something about drawing and something about small scale broadcasting and maybe there is something in all this for me.

If that turns out to be true, whatever form it takes, it’ll show up here.

Just finished Cyberabad Days, it was much much better than I anticipated, and I had high expectations already.

Although this was a short story collection, and although the short stories were scattered through the years predating and postdating the year 2047, which was the year the associated novel River of Gods was set, the stories were so dense, and circled around several linchpin events (the damming of the Ganges, the adoption by different subcontinental nations of the US sponsored Hamilton Acts, the advent of genetic Brahmans) that the whole collection takes on the feel of a full second novel. It was easily that layered and rewarding, and actually advanced the narrative past that of the novel that spawned it.

Well, well worth it. I haven’t read near future science fiction this complete and natural seeming since Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars colonization books.

Now, I’m moving on to The Road. Want to read that before the film comes out. In between I’m reading a book called Schuyler’s Monster, which is an autobiographical memoir of a father learning how to raise a daughter who can’t use language. This is a really good book, well written and compelling in an everyday life kind of way.

After that, I must decide – back to Infinite Jest in an attempt to plow through to the end, or start a project I want to complete this year: reading all of Thomas Pynchon in chronological order. I’ll probably do Jest first, just to get it out of the way.

Trying to get words around what I dislike so much about Infinite Jest – it seems largely pointless. A jumble of excruciatingly long sentences with no destination in sight. There is definitely a lot of world building going on, and that’s something I usually respond well to. Footnotes that lead to greater depth of setting and character, a detailed fictional history built in and around the familiar. It’s actually a bit science fictional in several ways. But somehow all of this seems to be in the service of crude, unimaginative satire. That’s a shame, because the characters aren’t, for the most part, simplistic, and the quality of observation in the author’s voice is many times profound. But somehow, in this book, it all seems squandered on tarted up teenage angst and insecure sniggering mockery. I’m about 100 pages in and I just had to set it aside because it was making me tired and bored. I’ve been told it becomes worth the effort after 200 pages or so, and I’m likely to at least push through that far, but I’m not convinced any attraction to the text at that point wont simply be evidence of a kind of Stockholm Syndrome taking effect.

My old physics book club is coming back to life, thanks to a referral to a new meeting place I got from one of the members. I’m really excited about getting this going again. Check out our club’s meetup page:

Reading Physics in LA

We’ll be reading Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe:

The Elegant Universe

We’re going to be meeting this time (and hopefully for the foreseeable future) at the Echo Park gallery of Machine Project. If you don’t know what that is, from their website:

When we opened Machine Project, we liked the idea that a space could be a machine for producing culture. We feed in ideas, people, resources, and through the social and philosophical mechanism that is machine project we produce art, experiences, and ways to understand the world. We view what we do as an alternative to the traditional art space, which serves primarily as a container for art produced externally. But you know, we also teach electronics and computers and such so it’s not surprising that people get confused. Even we’re confused.

I really like that as a mission statement. A gallery not to contain art produced in the outside world, but to serve as an engine to produce art and experience that will spill out into the the outside world.

In earlier posts in this blog I talk a lot about the idea of empowered amateurs as an engine for wealth creation, and wealth in the wider sense of richness of lived experience more than in the limited sense of monetizable material objects. The Physics club has always been something in that vein, an attempt by amateurs with access to books and each other to bootstrap up a better understanding of the more complicated aspects of this science.

Machine Project as an organization has also always been something in that vein as well, and I think we’ll fit in well there.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, you should sign up for the meetup and come read. It’s free! If you don’t live in LA but are interested in reading along, sign up and participate in our discussion board.

Carlsbad - The Flower Fields 05

No child can outlast me. I have the inexorable dedication of purpose that nature has only otherwise granted to glaciers and the withering sands of the Sahara.

East Side Foodies Need Men!

The pool here is strangely coffin shaped. Otherwise the ambiance is very life affirming.

A sure fire gift: Winter Wet Suit.

And, a brief, improvised dramatic performance via Facebook:

Yousha: Yousha is restless.

Oddbill: Me too – lets go punch some strangers.

Yousha: Haha that’s exactly what I feel like doing…how did u know? I shoulda came for a drink but I was working : (

Oddbill: Maybe it’s good you didn’t, the both of us punchy, it would have ended up like an old west saloon. Someone would have gone through the plate glass window.

Lien: Ok. William I don’t know you, but that is the funniest comment I have read in long time. kick some booty Yousha!

Oddbill: If you want, Lien, you can start punching them from the Bay Area and head south, Yousha & I will swing and bludgeon our way north, and wherever we meet up, we’ll get a drink there.

Yousha: Bill-we are fun drunks. We would punch people and then run away laughing : )
Lien-the word ‘booty’ is even funnier than Bill’s comment. Yes! We’ll meet in Pismo Beach!

Oddbill: All the clams we can eat!

Yousha: Don’t make me take off my stiletto…someone might end up with it in their skull around the central valley area!

Oddbill: Whoever gets the stiletto heel to the skull, I’d like to see him explain THAT to his wife when he gets home.

Yousha: LMAO, he’ll have some splainin’ to do!

Oddbill: “Honest Honey – two crazy people from Los Angeles came punching their way up the coast looking for clams!” “Tell it to my lawyer, dear.”

Lien: the word booty makes every conversation better, more interesting and in one-on-one combat, a hell of a lot more fun. Stilettos also add to the je ne sais quoi.

Yousha: Well I’ll resort to using my arse, stilettos, and clam shells to throw at and punch people with!

Lien: Thats the fighting spirit!

Fight on, good readers. Fight on.

180 Degrees

What are these things? Photo-sketches, I guess.

I’m going to ramble about a book for a little bit. A few days ago I started reading Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s madhouse of a semi-satirical epic. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this book, but frankly I’m not enjoying the experience of reading it. I’m something like a hundred pages and several multi-page endnotes into a thousand page commitment, and so far I’ll be damned if I could say with any confidence who anybody is or what is happening. It’s not that the prose is opaque, it’s more that the segments about wildly different and unrelated characters jump threads from one to another with seemingly arbitrary whimsy, and each of these threads consists mainly of incredibly long-winded rambling descriptive passages that just give you nothing to hang anything on.

World-building in a novel is a plus for me, and this one certainly has that. It may be that nothing much concrete has happened because there is a lot of world-building groundwork to lay. I’m giving it the benefit of good recommendations and plowing forward in the hope that this is what is going on. But another annoyance here is that the world-building is largely satirical, which almost automatically makes me less than interested. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the cleverness of satire, it’s that satire tends to counter my ability to intellectually invest in any of the characters or arguments the book might advance. It’s as though the pose of disdain required for satire causes me to take the author himself less than seriously, and I guess mockery comes easily, and suggests shallowness.

Not that I think this book is callow. From all I’ve heard it is profound and moving. I just haven’t come across the profundity yet, and I’m very far from moved. It is really a chore to pick up again. This is definately a case, I think, of an author’s style working against his intelligence as far as my engagement with the piece is concerned.

Thomas Pynchon is another one who I’ve been unable to penetrate as a result of the fog of his style. I’ve got two of his books lined up to try tackling again after DFWs. I must be feeling masochistic.

An interesting side-note to this: When I’m reading a book that is either amazing or confounding, I’ll usually Google around looking for people’s opinions to see if they help me figure out where I stand in relation to the piece. It’s usually eye-opening, there are usually facts or observations I did not know of that deepen my understanding. So, though it’s early for it, I did this for Infinite Jest and found a couple of blogs that people set up to journal their reading of this book.

A little later, unrelated to this book, I came across a couple of blogs journaling readings of the equally challenging idiosyncratic comic book epic Cerebus by Dave Sim.

The idea of blogging your way through a reading of a large, difficult book is interesting. Sort of like a critical seminar of one. I imagine it must really help to assemble a lasting understanding.