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not even a force quit will save me now

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Because I’m a Very Important Person, I now have a Very Minor Admistrative Role where I work.

It sucks. You can tell it does because I have to work with spreadsheets.

The only thing that makes working with spreadsheets a tiny bit better is being able to work with them using OpenOffice, because it serves a miniscule slice of anarchotechnist utopianism into the tedious number crunching.

But…. I just worked on a sheet for an hour and a half only to have the fucking thing lock up, and lock up like nothing ever ever does on my Mac. Lock up such that I can’t even force quit it, such that it bungs up other running programs, such that I have to restart the computer. So using open source software, in this case, feels just like it used to feel to work on a Windows machine. So I redid the damn thing in MS Excel, another hour and a half.

Please source us open source stuff that works, please! We want to use it and feel pure and happy, fair tradey and politically potent as we tap away at rosters and registers!

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January 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Posted in open

to eee or not to eee

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From a constructivist manifesto by Mayakovsky cited in Barrett Watten’s The Constructivist Moment:

What are the fundamental requirements for beginning poetic labor?

[…]

Fourth: Equipment. The business equipment and tools of the trade  Pen, pencil, typewriter, telephone, a suit for visits to the doss-house, a bicycle for riding to editorial offices, a well-arranged table.

I am trying to decide whether or not to buy an eee tomorrow. (Adam Kotsko went through the same ordeal a few days ago…)  I’ve tried out IT’s when she’s not looking, and I do like the damn thing, even though, sure, they keys are tiny and my fingers are very very long. But first of all I have an ancient (but apparently still value-retaining) gift card for an electronics store that may or may not survive the first month of the new year… I’m not sure how much is on it, but it should at least be enough to knock a fifth or a third off of the price. I want the barest-bones model they carry…. Aside from the light weight and narrow dimensions of the thing (it takes up the same amount of space, reportedly, as the hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Ivory Tower of Self-Denial that I carry around with me everywhere I go) it’s the open-source minimalism that makes me crave owning one. I tried to install Linux on one of my own old machines (a superlight Dell with a crapped out battery) but gave up once I realized how complicated the drivers would be to acquire and orient.  But using the eee would, I’m sure, feel like I was using a computer from the minimalist, rationalized future, like a  govt. issued intellectual sidearm stocked with freeware and political-correctness. And if it didn’t, I would make it feel so by sheer force of delusional will.

But on the other hand, the very program (Macjournal) that I’m writing this post in – and which I know use for all sorts of notetaking and record-keeping and personal journaling and blogging – obviously I won’t have on the new machine. And it won’t effortlessly sync with my other machines via (the incredibly expensive) .mac thing. I write my lectures and do my course prep and keep research notes in Circus Ponies Notebook, and I’m thinking about using Scrivener for book type projects. Not to mention iTunes, and the difficulty of marking papers the way I like to in OpenOffice.Argghh! Mac lock-in! Proprietary formats! It really is a problem, though. The deal breaker, maybe.

I’ve always, since I was a kid, been a materials and means fetishist. I suspect that many of us in this business one way or another are the same way, had the same start. The four color pens, the trapper-keeper inserts, later filofax things, pdas, and now my iPhone and potentially the eee. If this is the case, it’s actually a cheering thought – the idea that we write because we like to play with the tools, that the tools exists therefore we should use them with enthusiasm to make something good… We’re all of us constructivists from the start. Figuring out what it should mean that this is the case, aside from buying a new computer with a utopian (if locked down) operating system, is another matter but worth considering….

This isn’t a start at that consideration, but it is worth noting: at various times when I’ve considered giving up blogging, one of the leading thoughts contra is the consideration of what then my computer will be good for if it’s scaled back to simple email reception and word processing and light surfing. The Macbook would, in other, feel broken, out of work, if I didn’t blog. See? The tool forces the tool-use when the tool is owned by someone like me.

Another post entirely should be devoted to the other major purchase I am planning for my last days in the land of the free: gonna buy a pair of jeans, my first in oh several decades. Hmmmm….. It feels like such a bad idea now that I put it in html. I haven’t worn jeans in approximately, well, since I was a young boy. Another post, another post. Who knew I’d veer into a bizarre form of (self-referential) fashion blogging.

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January 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

Posted in me, open, simplicity

wtf? where’s my gmail?

with 4 comments

So there seems to be some sort of massive gmail outage going on. Tomorrow we’ll perhaps hear about the billions and trillions of dollars worth of damage this has done. But of course, the financial figures miss so much, as they always do. All the bitchy gossip that will go unsaid. Lovers aiming to chat across oceans will have to take the night off or find another way. Baby pictures will rest on hard drives, unable to travel for another night. Think of the lost hours of trying and trying to open the millions of accounts.

I’ve been meaning to write a post for awhile about the increasingly significant role played by entities that we might call quasi-utilities. Mostly web-based, these free or almost free services come to seem like a kind of human right, an automatic endowment that we receive simply for being alive. We feel entitled to decent email access (once we’re on the web in the first place of course), free chat, free books (albeit not in paper form). We feels ourselves to possess the right to look at the photographs of friends and family. Maps, likewise, guide us from place to place without apparent cost. Of late, even scaled down versions of expensive programs like Microsoft Word have been added to Google’s pseudo-public empire.

We don’t notice the advertisements, though we do see them. We are familiar with the model from television which was perhaps the first of the quasi-utilities.

In a sense – and much to their dismay, from a profit-making angle, newspapers have evolved in this direction as well. I pay for a subscription to the IHT, because I like newsprint and it’s page for page probably one of the better papers in the world, but I don’t really need it to keep up with the NYT, which is right there waiting for me anytime I like and for free. Reading the papers for anyone who came of age just after I did has perhaps always seemed like something that you ought to be able to do for free, if you want to do it in the first place. When you scroll through the news on your computer or your phone it is easy to have the sense that you live in a world in which content is below and beyond value at once, something there for the taking. And of course the entire sector of media capitalists have never been panicked by anything like they have been by the dawning sense that music and tv programs and films too exist as non-commodities, items to be freely shared rather than bought and sold.

Now, there’s lots to be said about this. It is important to remind ourselves at the getgo that the publicness of the services and information provided by google and similar corporations only appears to be a public utility rather than a private business. Administrators at some libraries, thankfully, are beginning to catch on to the fact that google’s book scanning business is in fact a business – is not a frictionless gift to the world in the utopian form of “every book, every page, any time or way you like.”

That said, that said – what is perhaps the point to take away from these for-profit services is that they bring to the public a taste of the free and easy that comes of efficient public provisioning. They are, that is to say, advertisements in and of themselves for a healthy public sphere. Learning to get something for nothing (even if it’s not nothing, in the end, for now) is exactly the mentality that we’d be best served to foster. The web makes it easy, but perhaps it might best be visualized as what they called a “gateway drug” when I was a kid. (I don’t know if the phrase is still current – but the idea was that the true danger of pot, in its happy non-dangerousness, was that it readied kids to try more dangerous, destructive “hard” drugs.) It’s not a long leap from free and well-designed email to free and smoothly working public wifi. And from public wifi, it’s a longer leap, though not all that long, to nationalized health care. A bit further yet to media, housing stock, and all the rest. After all, who today would pay for an email account?

Two points to be addressed in future posts. One: the pernicious lies that are told about GDP destruction through the market dominance of public, not-for-profit entities. (The BBC comes to mind on this point… All those ads that could be run but aren’t – the international page views that the fucking Guardian could be garnering if not for the BBC’s site….) Yes, public entities do in fact reduce GDP – the takeaway from this fact is that there is something wrong with GDP as a yardstick of civic health, not that cash should be sliced away from the “public monopoly.” Two: It wouldn’t take much effort for us to offer the argument that any sort of user tax on ISP customers for downloads would, sure, be a fine idea but only if the proceeds were pooled into some sort of state support for artists rather than bottom-line fattener for media companies. We download free; the artists are paid by the state; Sony finds a way to fuck itself for trying. Nuff said. Three: and this is more complicated. I’d like to take a long look at the functionalist design aesthetic of google and its many sites as an impersonation of the aesthetic practices of an as-yet-impossible regime of use-value centered provisioning. The design of the google sites, despite the occassional burst of disneyland coloring, is rather amazing… The blandest thing there is on the internet is also the most popular thing. Something there to think about, don’t you think?

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August 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

the fourth box

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Being by nature a top-downer, a statist, I give some thought, but not enough thought, to the various strands of open-source, quasi-anarchistic social and political thought that’s been bubbling up during the last decade or so.

(More material from Benkler, who, to his credit, makes just about everything he does available for free on his site… In fact, you can download the whole of his book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, which I’ve not yet read but which has been sitting in my “to be read” folder for far too long now and needs to be gotten to.)

During the video above (from the usually rather abominable TED conference), Benkler throws the following powerpoint slide up on the screen:

 

Now, the most important box is the one in the upper right-hand corner. It’s the one that Benkler claims is new, a recent development that emerges with the rise of open source software and the like. Of course he’s wrong about it being new – there have always been decentralized, non-market based economies and arrangements. Borrowing your neighbor’s ladder, giving gifts, barn-raising, communal living arrangements, self-starting communal farming – you get the picture, these things have always been with us. 

Still, we know what he means. We understand that Linux and p2p filesharing do represent a sort of giant exception to the hegemony of market-based exchanged, and that they distinctly exhibit signs of aspects of human nature that we always knew were there but which the conventional economists and political thinkers would have us believe are not and never were. 

And further, we understand what Benkler means when he opposes this fourth box not only to market-based models of economic organization but also to non-market versions, in particular that of the NGO and the government. No, if there ever was a reasons to develop an allergy to the state, that time is now, when it is ever more clear that the primary purpose of government has devolved into PR flacking and material facilitation for the military-industrial complex and oil companies, soft selling neo-liberal “reform,” and the policing of borders when convenient to corporate interests and the co-signatories to economic treaties that permit the movement of capital but not its creators.

But still, my allergy to the state is met and matched by a far more profound allergy to those (mostly the same guys as above, strangely enough) who wish to do in the state. Techno-anarchism, even when as eloquently presented by the likes of Benkler, seems in general to serve as a political outlet most appropriate to testosterone-addled tech bunnies who need neither stable work nor health care nor really much to do with the public sphere at all. Open-source politics could well be an efficient and free distributor of many things, including information, information, and information. But when it gets to the stuff that lies outside of the so-called “information economy” – when it comes to the relatively minor items like a roof over your head or food on the table or a stable income, I’ll be damned if I can see how non-market social-sharing systems are going to help a whole lot. For these open systems are mostly cash and resource poor unless they sell themselves back into the market, and then the game is fixed anyway.

So I remain a statist. But still…. I can’t help but feel that there is something to this open-source argument. In fact, tonight, I am wondering if the something in question is what is produced when the two boxes on the right, the government box and the social sharing and exchange box, are aufhebunged together into a tight little ball.

In short, while it is clear why one would want to overcome the state as it is, it is not clear that the state (or am I talking about the government – I’m not sure – but “government” certainly doesn’t sound like the right word in this case and maybe that is part of the issue) couldn’t itself be re-conceived as itself a sort of open source project, a medium of social sharing and exchange. Dare I say that it might even be rebranded – and in the wake of rebranding, reworked or replaced – as what Benkler might call a platform that facilitates just such a stance as he describes.

Another phrase to describe the result, I think, would be democratic socialism.

But lots of questions remain. Should our conception of the state follow the lead of Linux (which developed its own open system completely independently of its un-open competitor, Microsoft’s OS) or is it a case more parallel to that of the Mozilla foundation, which inherited itself from the for-profit Netscape Corporation. Of course, this only draws us back into one of the oldest and most persistent debates in the development of Marxist political theory, the one that centered on the viability of the bourgeois state apparatus for transformation into a socialist state. And further, am I simply talking about a new nomenclature (a new marketing campaign) to describe what we already know, or would the synthesis of the two boxes result in the generation of new approaches and demands?

More to think about, for sure. But for now, I’ll post and get it over with for the night….

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April 30, 2008 at 12:57 am

Posted in open, socialism