June 19, 2008

The Short Walk Home

Filed under: analog,flickr — mhoye @ 6:33 pm

I still haven’t sorted out my next Hong Kong set, but as a token apology here’s my walk home from the subway at night. These aren’t HDR-treated or even retouched; one of the many reasons I love this camera is that this is what comes out of it from the default settings.

Walking Home #1

Walking Home #2

Walking Home #3

Walking Home #4

Walking Home #5

Walking Home #6

Walking Home #7

May 11, 2008

Akihabara: Fail

Filed under: analog,awesome,beauty,digital,flickr,future,hate,life,losers,travel,vendetta — mhoye @ 4:41 pm

Context, because it is all about context.

First, a bit of short reading: The Grim Meathook Future, a phrase coined by Joshua Ellis.

The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.

Like they say, read the whole thing.

Second, a well-worn observation, that a common failing of science fiction is to assume that the future looks pretty much like the present, only more so; the first time I remember noticing that was in Larry Niven’s mid-seventies Gil Hamilton series, set centuries in the future, where a planet of thirty billion people is described as largely peaceful and well-regulated, but computers still output their information on paper tape and a few hours of “time on the computer”, singular, is described as an absurdly exorbitant expense.

Those stories don’t age well, as you might imagine; nothing is as hard on science fiction as the future,

Bear with me, here.

Akihabara, or “Akihabara Electric Town”, is Tokyo’s discount-tech district and something of a nerd Mecca. It’s home to a ridiculous number of computer and anime stores, and many shiny technologies are found there; the widgets of the future are reportedly sold there long before finding their way to the Americas, I made my pilgrimage, hoping to get a glimpse what the future would look like.

And I was deeply disappointed. Whatever you might think about what’s coming, it’s crystal clear that the future we go with had better not look like the one I found at Akihabara.

Yesterday's Technology Today

The Japanese do not, I think, have a long cultural tradition of making new stuff. They do have a long tradition of taking ideas and items from elsewhere and making or doing them about as well as they can be made or done, and in Akihabara that particular cultural bent has been focused on nominally inexpensive technology. And everything you could ask for in that was there – racked-up rows of tiny devices, bigger stores holding smaller, more luminous widgets than I’d seen anywhere, lightweight laptops, tiny media players, wildly functional cellphones, you name it. Collector’s boutiques for all things anime, comprehensively stocked to obsessive completion, second-hand electronics stores stocked to the ceiling with retro cool.

Tiny LCDs reflecting off brushed aluminum casings and grim portent as far as the eye can see.

If I were a younger man I might have seen it differently but what I saw, all I could see, was the science fiction of the-present-only-more-so, a huge amount of obsessive effort put to the service of a future destined to age very poorly. Mountains of plastic crap, robot figurines, big-eyed-cartoon-schoolgirl porn and thousands of people expending enormous amounts of time, money, talent and effort in a thousand desperate bids to be not bored. And I don’t think it’s going to age well at all. I sure hope it doesn’t.

Akihabara: Fail

And to nobody’s surprise but mine I’m sure, when presented with the nonrational customer, the rational merchant’s prices don’t toddle downward, no sir. For an ostensibly-discount tech district Akihabara is goddamned expensive, and only got more expensive the more gimmicky stuff became. I’m sorry, you want a hundred and thirty bucks for a one-gig flash drive shaped like a piece of sushi? I’m thinking no. Specifically, I’m thinking no and fuck off. Which brings us to the compare-and-contrast part of today’s entry: Tsukiji

We didn’t get to Tsukiji in time for the morning tuna auctions, so when we got there it the day’s catch was being piled into trucks and sent wherever it goes. The public accessway to watch this process looked terrifyingly-enough like an industrial service entrance that we mistakenly thought it couldn’t possibly be the regular public entrance, so instead we went around the corner to what turned out to be the actual service entrance to try our “luck” there.

I don’t know if that was a mistake per se, but since we were walking around with a four-year-old girl and a nine-month old boy, it certainly was exciting. I wouldn’t really describe the place as child safe, even though they made it out OK, and their mother earned my respect one more time for not flipping out even a little when she clearly (and entirely justifiably, I might add) felt that flipping out was exactly what the situation called for.

Because Tsukiji is, by an order of magnitude or three, the largest fish market and distribution facility in the world. In addition to the several hundred tons of boring old produce that moves around Tsukiji every day, they shift more than two thousand tons of fish in and out of a single building every day in a convulsive spasm of unhinged expiry-date carno-mercantilism, with all the slippery floors, sharp edges and fast-moving machinery it implies.

It Turns Out Tuna Are Huge

And it’s beautiful. The seafood is all vivid colours and shimmering rich texture, alien shapes and odd appendages packed in ice next to huge marbled slabs of tuna. The machinery is corroded and worn, heavy chains greased thick, the air is full of the thump and clank of shifting metal, two stroke engines, the smooth whine of bandsaws and aging brakes.

Tsukiji's Delivery Entrance

Try and imagine that the people from Finding Nemo and Blade Runner decided one sunny morning to collaborate on an elaborate, big-budget snuff film. God, it was beautiful. Oh voice-in-my-head, I love you so; don’t ever change, you embittered, psychotic junkie fuck.

Unlike what I saw at Akihabara, everything I saw at Tsukiji was motion-to-purpose, the blade put to meat meant to feed somebody, not some shiny thing meant to distract. If you only saw pictures of the place you might think the opposite, could easily believe that that Akihabara is the way to go. But you need to see them in person to really feel it, I think; you need to feel the fishmarket rattle and froth around you, to soak in Akihabara’s curious sterility. Nobody at Tsukiji had that terrified otaku inability to look you in the eye or time to wander around slowly deciding what model to buy. The three-foot gaff and four-foot gutting blade in the fishmonger’s stall will never sit idly in a display case, and I saw way more glassy eyes in the store aisles in Electric City than I did packed in ice in the fish market.

While there’s no jihadis or redneck motherfuckers there to throw that occasional horror into the works, at least there’s also not the profound sense that you’re looking at an evolutionary dead end, some cut off island where the animals grow more and more elaborate plumage in response to the lack of real competition. And whatever the future looks like, if all we can muster in response to prospect of the grim meathook future is an exaggerated version of the present, with all that effort put to novelty and trivia, then that will be an enormous failure.

There might be some way to beat that, if we can figure out how to put all that effort towards something meaningful, whatever that turns out to be. But in the meantime, I guess I’d better go learn how to gut a fish.

February 11, 2008

“World Championship”

Filed under: analog,awesome,life,lunacy — mhoye @ 10:51 pm

One of the things used to like about Reseau Des Sports, the French TSN (or the French-Canadian ESPN, to my American readers. “Le Ocho”, you might say) was that unlike TSN, you would occasionally see sports that weren’t hockey, baseball, basketball or football. You might not be aware of this, but it turns out that there are literally dozens of other sports in the world, and they occasionally feature competition. And stranger still, those competitions are often recorded via modern video-capturing apparatus, to be viewed later by interested parties. A wild idea, I know! But true!

So, while using the googles to find something on the youtubes, a phrase originally drafted as “filling my tubes with the yous” and immediately rejected for reasons I think are obvious, I discovered that the internets have been doing That Thing They Do, and that there a surprising number of things in the world that I was not aware you could aspire to be a world champion of.

For instance:

Turns out the world is a pretty big place.

January 29, 2008

Advice For The Comic Book Lover

Filed under: analog,awesome,books,comics — mhoye @ 11:44 pm

A while ago, I wrote about this, saying that “soon, I will be invincible!”

There is now a book in the world called “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, and it is so great. If you have a single comic-book-loving cell in your body, I strongly advise you to pick this book up immediately. It is simple and beautiful, playing in the space between panels that comics can never touch.

“A brief pause ensues, a twitch moment, like the beginning of a gunfight. It’s always chancy, facing down one of these people. No matter who it is, you’re going to be dealing with the end product of a long, improbable story, of a person so strange and powerful that he or she broke the rules of what is ordinarily possible. Whoever you’re facing is guaranteed to be special – an Olympic wrestler, a radioactive freak, the fated son of somebody. They’re winners. Taking a red arrow or a sea horse or the letter G as their symbol, they sally forth to make your life difficult.”

I am telling you: so great.

January 22, 2008

Death Spiral

Filed under: analog — mhoye @ 10:34 am

There’s a thing that can happen to private group health-care plans in the States that’s called an adverse-selection death spiral. Basically, people go to insurance company Foocorp and then get very sick. If Foocorp can’t quite cover the cost of treating their clients, maybe without hurting their stock value, then they raise the rates. Which some people can’t pay, so those people go away, leaving behind the sicker people who need the insurance pretty badly and whose treatement is expensive. And pretty soon Foocorp is in a pretty much irreversible downward spiral, because there’s no way to get out of that cycle.That’s not strictly a health-insurance problem; it’s a special class of risk-management problem. But if you’re looking at the structural of that particular house of cards, swap out illness for insolvency in that model, and you’ll have a pretty good model for the American and world markets, right now.

Except that suddenly, we’re not talking about random private insurance companies, here – we’re talking about all the large financial institutions in the country and, through the magic of networked financial systems and leveraged debt, the rest of the world.

As is typical with these things, once the risk becomes obvious to the professional financiers, the usual two-pronged risk-offloading process gets rolled out – lobbying for government bailouts, and trolling for suckers. The trolling for suckers process has been underway for some time now; that link is just one example of many. The government bailout process is also in play (The Federal Reserve bank cut interest rates this morning down from 4.25% to 3.5% which it’s worth noting is a huge move, and poured a bunch of cheap money into the market a few days ago. Expect more action on that front soon) but it’s really not looking like any of that will be enough.

The first draft of this I wrote a while ago ended with “So don’t expect any of the large institutions that govern these things to actually go out of business, or the people with their hands on the gears might actually suffer anything like unemployment, legal action or even anything as mildly gauche as a lifestyle change. It’s bailouts-a-gogo, no real changes in regulations, and the taxpayer will be the one left holding the bag. Again.” But it’s starting to look worse than I thought and the actual problem, an honest-to-god insolvency problem that a responsible financial apparatus would have strangled in the crib has grown way, way too big to pry apart with the usual levers.

Who would have thought that putting rabid laissez-faire-capitalism ideologues headed up (Jeebus, it’s like some wierd soviet agitprop cartoon) by a bona fide Objectivist at the helm of the American financial apparatus would result in all of this? American markets were closed yesterday, but everywhere else dropped between four and five percent in one day. The knives are apparently out for the people and institutions who’ve made all of this possible, and for the foreseeable future it’s only going to get worse.

Next time somebody tells you how awesome it would be to privatize social security or health care, keep days and weeks like this in mind.

January 11, 2008

A Strong Candidate

Filed under: analog,awesome,lunacy — mhoye @ 3:49 pm

At the moment, my current candidate for “best idea ever” is this: “The Singularity Wars Preenactment Society.”

Organized, obviously, by the Society for Creative Prosochronism.

Where we’re going, we’re going to pretend not to need roads.

January 7, 2008

Guess Who’s Back

Filed under: analog,lunacy — mhoye @ 3:13 pm

So, here we are. Hope you like the look of it, please update your bookmarks accordingly.

I had an OK christmas holiday. It was good to see everyone! Lots of people have kids, now, and it made me a little sad when nobody took my proposal to hook a bunch of them together to make one big one all that seriously.

I had to drive around a lot, too, and I learned that “support” ribbons have supplanted “baby on board” signs as your reliable indicator that the person behind the wheel is a mental defective. Be warned, public.

So happy new year. Let’s get right into it.

Over the next few days, I’m going to make broad generalizations here about a sad state of affairs, which could pass for a bold prediction if you peered at it just so and maybe crossed your eyes a little. In much the same vein if you could picture a man on a ski hill listening to a deafening rumble that might be an oncoming avalanche, he might by a similar metric boldly predict that things will be going downhill soon. Because it might be an avalanche, you see. But he is also a man on a ski hill, a point I can’t emphasize enough and, since it’s my strained example and you’re not the boss of me, I’ll emphasize just that much more. So I’m going abuse a tiny smattering of carefully picked examples, inflate them to cartoonishly distorted proportion and bind them tightly together with thin strands of poorly-scoped narrative. And then I will parade around with them joyously in hand, like some habromaniac economic savant chortling at his fistful of black balloons.

Which is all to say I’m going to be cherrypicking and fearmongering. As literary techniques go this is somewhere between wildly unoriginal and fantastically self-absorbed, but you won’t even notice, because my technique is an arsenal; for example, if I describe it as “walking a tightrope between” wildly unoriginal and fantastically self-absorbed that will cover it all over with a gloss of the risque, an intriguing sheen of the dangeresque so smooth your attention span will glide past on oiled bearings.

I can guarantee you that this is just one of the narcissism-obscuring clubs in my bag, though I’m not sure what sort of shadowy menace stalks the self-deluded novice highwire acts of the world; gravity isn’t known for its subtlety and inflated egos never seem to float gently to earth. Nevertheless, we press on: in tonight’s program, the roles of treacherous escarpment and rock-strewn abyss will be played by a two-foot drop and blue foamy mattress which has, just for the delicate princesses among you, a pea in it somewhere.

Stay tuned.

October 15, 2007

An Infestation

Filed under: analog,weird,work — mhoye @ 2:19 pm

Today’s efforts to make my day just a little bit wierder than it needed to be have been brought about by the infestation of ladybugs in office men’s room.

In truth if you put me on the spot and forced me to choose a particular bug to infest washrooms nearby, that would probably be the one I’d pick. We could do a lot worse, clearly. Nevertheless: bwah?

October 14, 2007

Carbon Paper

Filed under: analog,hate,interfaces,life,lunacy — mhoye @ 8:44 pm

I’m not a libertarian, because libertarians are crazy people, but I’m just a teensy bit more sympathetic to their position right now.

So, a tree fell on my garage, and I need permission from City Hall to rebuild it, which is a little irritating, but not unreasonable. But when I got there to find out what I needed to do to get that permission… wow.

Ever been inside Toronto’s City Hall? It’s like walking into a caricature of a 1970s-vintage bureaucratic nightmare. There’s stacks of paper piled all over the place, some of visibly, physically degrading right in front of you. Brown carpets and brown walls are wrapped around brown cubicles wallpapered with yellowing mimeographed reminders on how to follow obscure processes. Brown desks and brown chairs from the Stalinist Ergonomics school of office furniture are surrounded by the stand-up fans that used to bedeck offices built with no concern for air circulation or general employee well-being, some of them running full-out with a high-pitched hum, others obviously long broken that haven’t been thrown away yet.

I’m absolutely certain that there’s some guy in the bowels of that apparatus who believes that I have his stapler, and could burn down the building. Has to be.

So now I’ve got a quarter-inch-thick stack of carbon paper to fill out. Carbon paper! Some of it five sheets thick! “In quintuplicate”, I swear! What year is this, again? It’s going to take me longer to fill out these forms than it will to actually tear down and rebuild my garage, which I’ve got to tell you, is irritating.

What an artefact, though. Carbon paper is never going to be outdated enough to be considered steampunk, and sensible retrofuturist ideals veto the inclusion of this sort of bureaucratic crap anyway. Maybe as some sort of burnt ceremonial offering to a crawling, belching oligarchic horror? We will press firmly with our ballpoints, applying ink to the carbon paper and casting the scriptures through to even the lowest tier of the fivefold forms in the manner of old, and we will wait in the line at great length, having taken the number that permits our trodding this hallowed path of ancients, and we shall place this offering at the altar of the Bhurocrax, that we may fleetingly gain his strictly-regulated favor.


October 2, 2007

Nuit Plat

Filed under: analog,hate,losers — mhoye @ 1:17 am

Torontonians: I’m not the only person out there who thought Nuit Blanche was pretty boring and a little saddening, am I?

Furriners: “Nuit Blanche” is Toronto’s take on Paris’ Nuits Blanches, a much-imitated overnight public-spaces art and culture festival that the French started in Paris in 2002. Apparently in Paris it’s fantastic, miraculously great. Here, I thought that it was overcrowded, mostly boring, sporadically incomprehensible, thoroughly corporate and surprisingly expensive, but in that sense it was very true to the spirit of this overcrowded, mostly boring and surprisingly expensive corporate city.

There were some rare gems; an old stone bank done up entirely in scaled-up frilly pink lace was kind of neat. All the (you see these all over, in this city) “DIVORCE! $300” take-a-number signs (and one huge billboard) along one stretch of road had been replaced with pitch-perfect “LOBOTOMY! $300” parodies. But there were also a bunch of absolutely opaque, completely incomprehensible performance-art “pieces” and a lot of gimmicky little installations that seemed really intent on conveying some point that their authors hadn’t clearly thought either through or much of.

The rest of it seemed to be composed entirely of keeping art galleries open late. Virtually all of them didn’t even put up anything new. You just got to look at it through a mosh pit full of anonymous thirty-to-fiftysomethings, instead of by yourself.

But the corporate sponsorship! Brand recognition! Yee haw, that was everywhere; anti-art, placed all around the art in equal weight and measure, so that the human soul can remain perfectly unmoved, still between either pole. (Please note, organizers, that the French Nuits Blanches site is shockingly prettier and more elegant than your unusable flash monstrosity, and features one tiny link at the bottom saying “sponsors”, and does not have your disgusting brand-wads snuffled up and horked vigorously over every page.)

Toronto might, in our pedestrian Canadian terms, be a pretty big city but I tell you this: when the time for words has passed, it sure doesn’t know how to act like one. I was hoping for big art and big ideas. I wanted Royal De Luxe and big rabbits and, most of all, scale, but I felt like I was walking around a city that has a bucket of money, pedestrian taste and no soul.

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