Thursday, July 26, 2012

Writerly writing, coderly code

When I try to show my brother a good song, he sometimes rolls his eyes.

"That's easy. It's just the same three chords over and over."

This is the kind of thing that a classical guitarist like my brother might be expected to say. People who lecture in music theory typically don't drive home listening to Britney Spears.

It's the same for every kind of art. There are two classes of successful artists: those who enjoy fame and respect among the critics and theorists, and the proletarian underlings that the normals listen to.

In literature, these two classes are commonly termed "writerly writers" and "readerly writers."

Yeah that's great James. Thanks a lot.
There are guys like Stephen King, whose stories you know from the myriad movies derived from them even if you've never picked up a book, and there are guys like James Joyce, who you need a master's degree, a handle on Greek mythology, and a primer on Irish dialects to even begin to misunderstand.

I think both categories are cool. There's a lot of snarky back-and-forth between the camps, but I think they're both good for what they're good for. It only starts to be a problem when your career expectations align with one camp and your body of work belongs to the other. This happens sometimes. How badly does Madonna want to be seen as a serious artist? How badly did Plato want to be king?

The greater the respect you can command, the smaller the number of people who are able to give it to you. In a modern ideational universe with so many narrow caves to passionately explore, the most severely elite are often appreciated by almost no one but themselves. Daniel W. VanArsdale has never seen a dime for his godlike understanding and collection of chain letters. The best graphic designer I know makes website backgrounds that actually stir one's soul. They're original. They're painstakingly well composed. It's designerly design. How it stacks up against a default WordPress template when it comes to moving product, I don't know. He has a day-job at Kinko's.

I like interesting stuff, myself. I write programs in prolog. I read a lot of anarcho-taoist-individualist philosophy. But I have yet to be cold-called by a prolog recruiter, or put on the anarcho-taoist-individualist philosophy lecture circuit.

It bothers me that I can't find a prolog interpreter for my android phone. Maybe someone started building one, but shelved so they could turn their attentions towards the world's ever more dire need for mind-blowing million-download apps like the Big Fart Button. Which is really what this post about: farting may be the key that could unlock my life. If you want success, start farting. That's what I've decided. (Hat tip, Levi Self.)

Your deep thoughts can't get you your beach house in Bora Bora. In fact, the deeper your thoughts, the less far they can take you. Fart buttons can take you to the moon.

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind, but if you have goals involving Davos, a mind with much integrity will steer you towards things pedestrian.

I'm trying to learn to do this.

Someday, maybe, when I've sold enough funnel cakes, I can work machine ethics.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why I am not a warlock, for Domi.

In the early 1990s, I knew enough about computers to write a batch file, get a directory listing, or make a simple game in QBASIC. In other words, I was powerful enough to overwhelm the security of every computer network in town. I was 13.

"This is too much power for one person."

My first exploit was in the computer lab. Ms. Keel's class. Eighth grade. I shut down the network and got class cancelled.

My second great triumph involved running a password cracker on the Novell network in my freshman keyboarding class. I deleted a student from the network. He couldn't log in and do his classwork. To my surprise and horror, the teacher freaked out and screamed at the student, and he cried. It was his fault, she said, and he had somehow "deleted himself." Poor kid. I still resent the half-literate and emotionally two-years-old hicks that people trust their children to in that town. Teachers can suck.

Later I started doing websites. I'd look around on web servers for unprotected directories with encrypted password files and run CRACKERJACK.EXE on them with a 300,000-word wordlist I'd gotten from usenet. It took all night. I actually took root permissions on established silicon valley companies. Shockingly, people's work was often on the same network as the company website. I had everything. I got caught (genius elite hacker I was, I defaced a website by adding Weezer lyrics to the boilerplate), and got a talking-to, and held off on the high crime for a while.

In college, in the early 2000s, I did make a sort of reprise. Actually, that's a lie. I tried, but my cousin pulled it off. The cult I was a part of was having big splits and an internal civil war over child molestation and stuff like that. My dad (a higher-up in the cult) was a kind of whistle-blower, and he got royally shit on by the cadre of leaders. People were also being mean to me about my wikipedia edits about the stuff. Priests were calling me and saying I shouldn't talk about sexual improprieties in the denomination because I should have some sort of "family pride." I was pissed. I wanted into all their email accounts (by this time lots of people had email addresses). I tried some stuff and failed. Then my cousin (and perpetual co-conspirator) pulled it off. He hacked's (a big national internet provider and issuer of email addresses at the time) email passwords. All of them, in fact.

There was a moment, then, when an amazing amount of power was available to me. We had millions of people's email addresses. How many insider trading tips did we have? How many church secrets? How many politicians could we ruin?

This time, and later, I said "no."

It wasn't about the law. I was completely out of my mind, and thought I could get away with just about anything.

It was about not wanting to cry all the time.

From Macbeth to Faust to Dorian Grey, we have all of these parables about devil's bargains and selling your soul for power in messing with the occult. Me and Levi liked that metaphor for what we might become as hackers. We called our all-knowing hypothetical selves "warlocks" (a term that probably makes most people think of role playing games, but as a kids whose parents told them that those nighttime noises might just in fact be being made be demons, had a totally different, terrifying, sold-your-soul connotation).

I was afraid of what the information would do to me.

Anyone who's broken into an ex girlfriend's email account knows pain. People are horrible, yourself probably included.

("I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. " -  Blaise Pascal)

I knew my teenage mind couldn't handle the truth. I did suspect that the polite world was a fiction, and that the truth of people's thoughts would be so existentially gut-wrenching as to make one question if Goodness and Love themselves were myths, but I wanted this to remain only a suspicion. The hope that things are not so makes life worth living.

So I backed off.

I have an awesome friend who wants to become a warlock now. I understand her motivations.

 I warn you, but I bless your endeavor.

Just don't tell me what you find over there.

An argument in poems.

With Dr. Jim LaPeyre.

An impromptu short story, for Paindancer.

Story for Paindancer

On the Evitability of the Emergence of Omohundro's Basic AI Drives

Ev It Ability