Links on the Art of Techology

I have a collection of links that I'd like to share with you. I hope you enjoy and find them as enlightening as I have. Some of these are dated but, I've been milling through them for a while and I feel like they're worth sharing. In three parts:

Computer Programming and Hacking

There's a long tradition of computer scientists and eminent developers thinking about their software development as an Art. Donald Knuth's major work is called "The Art of Computer Programming," and literate programing is fundamentally an artistic rather than a technical idea. The idea of the "lazy programmer" from the Perl world has some obvious artistic implications (hell, Perl's license is called the "Artistic License"), and the Extreme Programing (XP)/Agile Programming world is very much about addressing programming as creative challenge rather than a purely technical challenge.

I particularly like the contrast of the first two articles with the third. While I'm not sure it's particularly conclusive in the brief overview and with such a small sample, the insights about the ways that programmers approach problems is pretty useful. Makes me want to get the book.

I may not be a programmer in the conventional sense (or even any of the unconventional senses that I'm aware of) but there are two things that I know for sure. First: functional programming makes sense to me in a way that nothing else ever really has, and secondly that I am fascinated by the different ways that people use and manage projects with Git.

I think functional program makes sense to me because little blocks that "do something" matches the way my brain is shaped in some useful way. Every introduction to object oriented programming I've ever experienced starts with like 50 pages (or equivalent) of crud about data structures and types . Which I'm sure make sense if you know what's coming next, but if you're a programing n00b: less than helpful.

Also, regarding the use of git: it's fascinating how many different ways and different work-flows people manage to squeeze out of software like this! What he's doing makes sense, a lot of sense on paper, but most people don't publish long-running branches in such an organized manner. Sure there are "vendor branches" for release maintenance, but branches in git tend to be much more ad hoc from what I've seen. Anyway, good one for the file.

I've been looking over weppy for the past few weeks, along with the bindings for a couple of weird databases (of the NoSQL variety, loosely), as part of a brief attempt to learn how to think like a web-developer. (It's hard more on this later.) I find myself both incredibly enchanted with the prospect of some of these frameworks (particularly the python ones), and yet at the same time very unsure of what they represent in terms of the Internet. Frameworks aren't going anywhere, and I think by some measure they are "getting better," I do think they make it awfully easy to avoid putting in the time to "get it right," which might not matter most of the time, but when it does oh boy, does it.

Academia, Anthropology, Literature

I wrote a series of articles on the future of publishing and I found myself returning again and again to these two essays as a source of inspiration, and I haven't quite gotten them out of my head.

I'm not sure if I agree with this consensus, but it seems pretty clear that multi-media websites, twitter, and "blogs" (by some definition of the term) are acceptable replacements for journalistic publishing (newspapers, magazines). These essays, engage literary publishing, and force (particularly the second) us to think about the economics of booksellers, including branding, brick and mortar shops, which I think is incredibly important.

In the piece on Cyborg Anthropology, Amber Case discusses looks at the Singularity from a much less technical perspective. In a lot of ways this reminds me of my post on the Dark Singularity from a few months back. The singularity is, of course ultimately a cyborg problem.

Aaron Swartz's piece on the academy... I don't know that he's wrong, exactly, but I think I would avoid being as unilateral as he is. On the one had disciplines exist mostly to organize education not research, and if I were going to make a conjecture: we see more disciplanarity and sub-disciplining in fields with substantive funding outside of the academy. Doctors, lawyers, psychologists, biologists, chemists, have teeny-tiny little sub-fields; and by contrast you see a lot more interdisciplinary activity in the academic study of anthropology, literature, mathematics, and, say musicology. Interesting, nonetheless.

The Industry of Technology

Two posts here from James Governor of RedMonk that have guided (at least topically) my thinking in a couple of areas recently. This is particularly noticeable if you look over the recent archives. The first addresses Flash and the business of advancing the platform of the web. My trepidation with regards to flash is mostly the same as my trepidation with regards to all web technology. When you get down to it, my grumbling all goes back to the fact that the web is developing into this thing that is all about media rich software, and less about hypertext, which is where my heart has always been. My argument keeps going back to "take the applications off of the web as we know it, and use a platform that (like GTK+ or QT) that's designed for applications, and create a hypertext experience that really works." But it's nice to have articles like this one to pull my head out of (or into?) the clouds to remind me (and us?) what's really going on in the industry.

This is an old one from the same source, about the new "patronage economy" which in many ways defines what's going on at RedMonk. I particularly enjoy how Governor contrasts the New Patronage with other popular web 2.0-era business models. I do worry, looking at this in retrospect about the ways in which such patronages are stable even when the economy is in the crapper (as it were.) I'm not sure if there's an answer to that one yet, but we'll see. I guess my questions, at this juncture are: first, does patronage-type-relationships give "start ups" another funding option which is more stable than venture capital. Second, doesn't the kind of organization and work that's funded by these patronages subvert the kind of work that they depend upon (i.e. big high-margin businesses?)

That's all I have at the moment. If you have links or thoughts to share, I'd live to see them!

Of Dialectical Futurism

A while back, lets say, in August or so [1], I redid the design of this site and added a new subtitle: "Dialectical Futurism." The dweeby, philosophy geek in me really enjoys this, just as an idea. As it's sat at the top of the page, I've also thought more and more that the subtitle is actually a pretty good summary of what I'm trying to accomplish here. This post is an attempt to do two things:

1. Concisely summarize my "blogging project" and thus explain what dialectical futurism means.

2. To do a bit of a status update on the blog, as a sort of "self report," of what I think seems to be working and what doesn't.

Part One: What "Dialectical Futurism" Meas In Practice.

It's always risky, I think for a self-claimed "Science Fiction" writer, to declare themselves a "Futurist" of any sort. Because of the genre's link to the future, I think there the danger that people might think that we're putting forth our stories as works of prediction.

While I think my interest in futurism comes from a similar place as the interests that drive my fiction, the practice of futurism (in the form of this blog) and the practice of fiction are very different. Ultimately, both are historical endeavors and futurism is tends to be much more tightly focused on the recent history. At least for me.

Dialectical futurism, is about a conversation between me, and the past, and me and the possible future, it's an attempt to synthesize a pragmatic view of what will happen, with an optimistic view of what I would like to happen. It's about putting all of the topics I blog about like Open Source, Free Software, Cooperative structure, Economics, and the "New Media" in conversation with each other and seeing what kind of cool innovative things happen.

Part Two: The Status of the Project

The project of being a writer is one of constant self improvement, I think. One thing that I didn't mention in that post is that no matter how awesome you are as a writer, you're always trying to get better at writing. There's always some improvement to make, some short-falling in your ability to communicate that you're working at improving.

I have the sense that I am getting better, if that's a meaningful judgment. One improves as a writer, I'm convinced, by writing, and writing a lot, and as I write a bunch for this site and a bunch for work, and a bunch for other projects, I think I'm starting to get better. Also, I get a lot of feedback from coworkers on my writing, which I think has been helpful. Editors are a good thing indeed.

I think I've gotten better at figuring out how to write good blog entries--it still takes time, but I get into the grove more quickly. I'm getting better feedback, and I'm reasonably happy with where the traffic is. I mean, there's always room for improvement, but things are headed in the right direction.

My short term goals are two fold:

  1. To focus my energies on reading and improving my background knowledge in a number of areas. I want to be more contextually grounded in existing conversations regarding economics, anthropology, and cyborg-related materials.
  2. To spend a lot more time on fiction writing. This means developing new habits, adjusting priorities, and spending some serious time making fiction projects work. So there.

We'll see how this goes, and thanks as always for reading and putting up with me.

[1]I'm just guessing here. I could go back and check, but August sounds right.

Building the Argument

I was talking to my grandmother (Hi!) last week, as I do most weeks, and we discussed the blog. She's been a regular reader of the site for many years, and lately, we've enjoyed digging a little deeper into some of the things that I've written about here. She said, I think of the Owning Bits, and I agree, that it sort of seemed that I was building something... more.

But of course.

I don't know that I've connected all of the dots, either in my head or on the blog, but I think that the things I've been blogging about for the last year or so are all conected, interwoven, and illuminate incredibly interesting features of each other when considered as a whole. There is "something building" here. To recap, so that we're on the same page, the nexus of subjects that I've been milling over are:

  • Free Software and Open Source Software Development.

I'm interested in how communities form around these projects, how work is accomplished, both technically, and organizationally. I'm interested in how innovation happens or is stifled. How the communities are maintained, started, and lead. From a social and economic perspective there's something fundamentally unique happening in this domain, and I'd like to learn a lot more about what those things are.

This topic and area of thought have taken a backseat to other questions more recently, but I think it's fundamentally the core question that I'm trying to address at the moment. I think that I'm going to be making a larger point of addressing open source methodologies in the coming weeks and months as part of an attempt to pull things back together. I think.

I started writing about the IT industry because I found itreally difficult to think about Free Software without really knowing about the context of free software. One really needs to understand the entire ecosystem in order to really make sense of what open source means (and doesn't mean.) Particularly in this day and age. Initially I was particularly interested in the Oracle/Sun Merger, and the flap around the ownership of MySQL; but since then, I think I've branched out a little bit more.

I've tried very hard to not frame the discussion about the IT industry and open source as a "community" versus "enterprise" discussion, or as being "free" versus "non-free," or worse "free" versus "commercial." These are unhelpful lenses, as Free Software and Open Source are incredibly commercial, and incredibly enterprise-centric phenomena, once you get past the initial "what do you mean there's no cost or company behind this thing."

In the same way that thinking about the IT Industry provides much needed context for properly understanding why "open source communities" exist and persist: thinking about how we actually use technology, how we relate to techno-social phenomena, and how these relationships, interfaces, and work-flows are changing. Both in changing response to technology, and changing the technology itself. It's all important, and I think the very small observations are as useful as the very large observations.

In some respects, certainly insofar as I've formulated the Cyborg Institute, the "cyborg" moment can really be seen as the framing domain, but that doesn't strike me a distinction that is particularly worth making.

Interestingly, my discussion of cooperatives and corporate organization began as a "pro-queer rejection of gay marriage," but I've used it as an opportunity to think about the health care issue, as a starting point in my thinking regarding EconomyFail-2008/09. The economics of open source and Free Software are fascinating, and very real and quite important, and I found myself saying about six months ago that I wished I knew more about economics. Economics was one of those overly quantitative things in college that I just totally avoided because I was a hippie (basically.)

While it could be that my roots are showing, more recently I've come to believe that it's really difficult to understand any social or political phenomena without thinking about the underlying economics. While clearly I have opinions, and I'm not a consummate economic social scientist, I do think that thinking about the economics of a situation is incredibly important.

I've been blogging for a long time. And I'm a writer. And I want to write and publish fiction as a part of my "career," such as it is. As you might imagine these factors make me incredibly interested in the future of publishing of "content," and of the entire nexus of issues that relate to the notion of "new media."

Creative Commons shows us that there has been some crossover between ideas that originated in the "open source" world with "content" (writ large.) The future of publishing and media is a cyborg issue, an ultimately techno-social phenomena, and thinking about the technology. that underpins the new media is really important. And of course, understanding the economic context of the industry that's built around content is crucial.

So what's this all building to? Should I write some sort of monograph on the subject? Is there anyone out there who might want to fund a grad student on to do research on these subjects in a few years?

The problem my work here so far--to my mind--is that while I'm pretty interested in the analysis that I've been able to construct, I'm not terribly satisfied with my background, and with the way that I've been largely unable to cite my intellectual heritage for my ideas and thoughts. I never studied this stuff in school, I have a number of books of criticism, potentially relevant philosophy, and important books in Anthropology (which seems to fit my interests and perspectives pretty well.) I'm pretty good at figuring things out, but I'm acutely aware of a lacking in my work of reference, methodology, and structure. As well as of any sort of empirical practice.

So maybe that's my project for the next year, or the next few months at any rate: increase rigor, read more, consider new texts, pay more attention to citations, and develop some system for doing more empirical work.

We'll see how this goes. I'd certainly appreciate feedback here. Thanks!

Interview with Ted Jackson

  • Who are you? What do you?

    I'm a grad student at Washington University until the end of this school year when I will have hopefully finished and defended my dissertation on Hermann Hesse. In general, I'm really interested in modernism specifically, but I'll take an intellectual stab at about anything written from 1890 to the present. Despite being a humanist, I'm a bit of a computer geek: I'm writing my dissertation in LaTeX and a religious Lifehacker reader. I don't really do code, though, apart from the occasional Automator action or Applescript.

    Someday I would like to have a real job and maybe another cat or, dare I say, a first kid? I love a good book, but usually something that is a balance between complicated/dry and entertaining. I can tolerate a lot of craziness in a book, but let's face it, Ulysses is incredible though not exactly fun reading.

    I'm an avid knitter and sometimes spinner. I learned when I was about 6 or 7 from my great aunt, had a long hiatus, and started again in about 2004 with a pair of really loose socks. I also have a bin of worms in my apartment that compost food for me. Oh, and I love my cat, Dot.

  • Merino vs. Blue-faced Leicester?


  • Lets talk about technology: What kind of technology do you use, and what's the coolest thing that technology enables for you? What about your technology do you find frustrating?

    I'm a total mac person, but I dabble in open-source things. My favorite ability at the moment is to be able to sync bookmarks and notes to my computer and iphone via Evernote. I'm hoping I don't tire of it. I'm very forgetful, so knowing what's on my grocery list at any given time is awesome. I've even got a notebook of knitting ideas and patterns on there.

    I find Twitter completely frustrating, yet I find myself tweeting all the time. I've tried about 5 different clients, but none of them hide the messages I've already read and keep them hidden between computer and phone. Then there are those folks who write drivel constantly, but I can't unfollow them because I'm afraid they'd be offended. The worst, though, is that people think it's an acceptable form of news reporting.

  • Favorite book you've read in the last year? Runners up?

    My favorite book for the last couple years has been Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I'm thinking about reading it again, that's how much I liked it! I tried and got through 3/4ths of Crime and Punishment this summer, but have since abandoned it. Right now I'm reading Smilla's Sense of Snow.

  • Favorite Website?

    icanhazchezburgur although my browser says that I visit Ravelry more often!

  • What do you think was the most important event of the last 15 years?

    It's really hard to even begin to answer this question, but I suppose I have to give it a shot. I'd say it is probably the proliferation of wireless phones. Especially with the ability to take pictures and send text messages internationally, hostile leaders and regimes can no longer squelch the voices of their people. Honestly, in 1994 I never imagined myself owning a cell phone, let alone one that would be able to let me surf the internet or send email. For that matter, even when I was in college, email attachments were problematic: I also wouldn't have imagined me writing my dissertation in a city five hours away from my advisor.

  • The next 10?

    This will be us as a society learning to deal with this technology, especially for the type of people not used to teaching themselves to use new technology. Some people, like my parents, are slowly adapting to a digital lifestyle and are even fascinated with new gadgets without being pressured by people like me. I never considered myself a computer person, though, but rather one who could read the instruction manual. So much of the new technology assumes the user has a basic grammar of what it means to interact with a machine. Graphics replace text menus, and all of a sudden squares and triangles are essential instead of quick references. What this also means is that people like my grandparents may soon be completely left in the dark. I find it laughable that stacks of paper phone books still show up on my building's doorstep, but my grandparents would have no idea of how to find a phone number, even if they had a computer.

  • One thing that you're most looking forward to in the next year?

    I'm very excited about finishing my dissertation and to finally become what my family refers to as "Dr. Ted".

  • One thing that you wish you could learn?

    I would really like to be good at yoga, enough to give me exercise in the winter time and relaxation in the summer. I always feel like I will have to spend a fortune on lessons or classes. I've tried watching tapes, but I need someone to bend my legs and put my feet where they are supposed to go.

  • Hegel vs. Heidegger?

    Hegel wins in my book because I use his dialectic all the time. Sadly, I don't know much about Heidegger at all.

  • Where can we find more about you/your projects?

Interview, Rich Russell

I had this idea a few weeks ago, that to break things up during a particularly hectic part of my life--finishing a book, traveling, singing, and so forth--that I'd talk to some of the cool people I know on the Internet and elsewhere, and conduct a little interview series where I'd get to introduce you to some of the really interesting people that I've met in my travels thusfar, and ask them some questions about what they do, what they're interested in and up to in the world.

The first entry in this series is by my friend Rich Russell who has a rather and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

  • Who are you? What do you?

    I was supposed to be a Rachel. So when mom regained consciousness and dad told her he had named me Richard, you can imagine her initial confusion. And then when my sister was born and I, who liked to sometimes pretend to be a girl when I was little (it was the eighties, after all; what of it?), was confronted by this actual Rachel, you can imagine how threatened I felt; there could be only one Rachel in our house, after all, and the jig was up for me. Rachel is dead; long live Rachel! So robbed of my infant identity, I later became a teacher, like my mom, which was either flattering identification with her or an attempt at character annexation, I can't decide which.

  • Handmade or Store bought?


  • *Really?*

    Well, unless I have to sew it, carpenter it, cobble it, tan it, cure it, or cook it myself; in which case, store bought.

  • Lets talk about technology: What kind of technology do you use, and what's the coolest thing that technology enables for you? What about your technology do you find frustrating?

    I'm teaching a few classes online this semester, so it's nice to be able to work with students who might not otherwise be able to attend school, due to their hectic family and/or work schedules. (We use the Blackboard Learning System, in case you're looking for shameless plugs that might generate ad revenue: "Blackboard Learning System, connecting students with their teachers and their futures.")

    And my sister lives out in L.A. now, so it's nice that we can video chat once a week over coffee; there's an added saccharin intimacy established by the video element. Because it's not real togetherness, is it? It's a kind of ersatz togetherness between my sister and me, the ersatz Rachel. E.M. Forster, in Howard's End, compels us to, "Only connect!" I don't know what that means anymore, though, when I'm teaching online or talking to my sister over Skype. Even when the wireless has a strong connection, I think, "This isn't what Forster meant at all." He meant that there would be nothing between human beings -- and other beings -- except ourselves. I feel, in some ways, here has risen the connection that repels. We believe we are closer; we believe we are connected, unless Comcast is being a fuck-up. But, like my one student who says he has taken so many of his classes online at this point that he's afraid to enter a real classroom and interact synchronously with fleshy classmates, have we lost the ability to be intimate? What does 'intimate' even mean anymore?... (But I love my iPhone. But I realize that is a manufactured desire.)

  • Favorite Post-structuralist/Post-modernist? Who are the runners up?

    I was going to go with "Freddie" Jameson, because I loved what we read of him when I read him back in a Post-modernism course at the New School with Professor Joshua Gaylord (lol gay lord) in 2002. Or Roland Barthes; but I'm sure a lot of people will go with R.B. So I think I'll choose Angela Carter instead, especially for her novel The Passion of New Eve, which still haunts me nine years after I first read it; some of the most sublime moments in all of literature. Runners-up: Muriel Spark, Laurence Sterne. (Miss Congeniality: Russell Edson.)

  • The single scariest thing about the future?

    The future is neither good nor bad.

  • Favorite Website?

    I subscribe to The Atlantic but still find myself spending a lot of time on

  • What do you think was the most important event of the last 15 years? What's going to be the most important thing about the next 10 years?

    9/11/99; I had been living in New York for about three weeks then. I was about to fall in love. It would be like a holocaust. (This is all about me, after all, isn't it? Or did you mean for humankind in general? Yes, I suppose that's what you must've meant; well...) In ten years, the most important thing for humankind (and not just me) will be to see what we have done to this planet. This feels like a lame response, because it's so chic right now to care about the planet (I've always cared!), but I am curious to see. Will there be sulfur aerosol sprays diffused into the atmosphere like in Blade Runner? Will there be flying cars like we've been promised there would be flying cars ever since The Jetsons? (FYI: I think we're past wanting flying cars, aren't we? I'd be more happy for some high-speed rail.) Will I ever get to see a narwhal?

  • One thing that you wish you could learn?

    I would like to read all of Proust. Because I have masochistic tendencies. And I like small buttery sponge cakes.

  • Edmund Spenser or John Milton?

    Milton, hands down. I never did make it through all of The Faerie Queene(lol faerie queene). That old Spenserian scheme drives me coo-coo after awhile; I do believe it is the rhythm of madness.

  • Where can we find more about you/your projects?

    I blog and am rarjr on twitter.

the future of universities

One element that has been largely missing from my ongoing rambling analysis of economies, corporations, co-ops, and institutions has been higher education and universities. Of course Universities are institutions, and function in many ways like large corporations, but, nostalgia notwithstanding, I don't think it's really possible to exempt Universities or dismiss them from this conversation.

Oh, and, there was this rather interesting--but remarkably mundane--article that I clipped recently about that addressed where universities are "going" in the next decade or two. I say mundane, because I think the "look there's new technology that's changing the rules game" is crappy futurism, and really fails to get at the core of what kinds of developments we may expect to see in the coming years.

Nevertheless... Shall we begin? I think so:

  • The expansion of university in the last 60 years, or so, has been fueled by the GI-Bill and the expansion of the student-loan industry. With the "population bubble" changing, and the credit market changing, universities will have to change. How they change is of course up in the air.
  • There aren't many alternatives to "liberal arts/general education" post-secondary education for people who don't want, need, or have the preparation for that kind of education at age 18. While I'm a big proponent (and product of) a liberal arts education, there are many paths to becoming a well rounded and well educated adult, and they don't all lead through traditional-four-year college educations (or equivalents, particularly at age 18.)
  • Technology is changing higher education and scholarship, already, with all likelihood faster than technology has been and is changing other aspects of our culture (publishing, media production, civic engagement, etc.). Like all of these developments of culture, however, the changes in higher education are probably not as revolutionary as the article suggests.
  • There will probably always be a way in which degree granting institutions will be a "useful" part of our society, but I think "The College," will probably change significantly, but I think forthcoming changes probably have less to do with education and the classroom, and more to do with the evolving role of the faculty.
  • As part of the decline of tenure-systems, I expect that eventually we'll see a greater separation (but not total disconnect) between the institutions which employ and sponsor scholarship, and the institutions that educate students.
  • It strikes me that most of the systems that universities use to convey education online (Blackboard, moodle, etc.,) are hopelessly flawed. Either by virtue of being difficult and "gawky" to use, or because they're proprietary systems, or that they're not designed for the task at hand, all of the systems that I'm aware of are as much roadblocks to the adoption of new technology in education as anything else.
  • Although quality information (effectively presented, even) is increasingly available online for free, what makes this information valuable in the university setting, including interactivity, feedback on progress, individual attention, validation and certification of mastery, are all of the things that universities (particularly "research"-grade institutions) perform least successfully at.
  • We've been seeing research and popular press stuff on the phenomena of "prolonged adolescence," where young people tend to have a period of several years post-graduation where they have to figure out "what next," sometimes there's graduate school, sometimes there's odd jobs. I've become convinced that in an effort to help fill the gap between "vocational education" and "liberal arts/gen ed." we've gotten to the point where we ask people who are 18 (and don't have a clue what they want to do with their lives, for the most part) to make decisions about their careers that are pretty absurd. Other kinds of educational options should exist, that might help resolve this issue.

Interestingly these thoughts didn't have very much to do with technology. I guess I mostly feel that the changes in technology are secondary to the larger economic forces likely to affect universities in the coming years. Unless the singularity comes first.

Your thoughts, as always, are more than welcome.

free and open terminology

As, I'm sure many of you know, language and "what we call things" in the free software/open source world is a huge thing. Some people will probably get mad for my use of the slash in the previous sentence. This post, is mostly for my own good, as an experiment (and for future reference) to see where I stand on various word-choice questions in this area. I'm going to organize the post as a series of (brief) reflections a couple of key words.

Free Software

I think free software, addresses and represents the core of what this whole mess is about. Free software--as an idea--addresses the communities, the "hacking spirit," the ideological goals, the political and philosophical elements of the community.

It's also horribly confusing in English, and no matter how often we say "free as in speech" or "free as in freedom," it's not really going to get better. I think, also, "libre" is a poor use of the English language, and I cringe a lot when I read it. I've taken, when possible to refer to "ideas about software freedom" and "the movement for software freedom," which works as long as you don't need to refer to a specific piece of software.

In those cases, I often cave and say "open source software" because it open source is a more clear adjective. I also think that open source describes "the thing" and the "process" more clearly, and that's an advantage. I dislike that open source, means "not scary to big businesses," and disregards the fact that this (free/open source) software is better/more valuable than proprietary/closed software because it is free and open source not simply because it happens to be better in quality.


I tend to say GNU/Linux, because--at least in my use cases--the kernel isn't nearly as important to how I think about my operating system as all the tools that surround them, and if the next big thing in the Unix-like (open source) operating system was a Debian or Arch-like system with GNU parts around the FreeBSD kernel or the Solaris kernel, I'm there.

I switched from OS X to GNU/Linux mostly because I wanted: better package management and (oddly enough) to be able to run an X11 desktop. The truth was, I was basically running a GNU(ish) system around Darwin (OS X's kernel), anyway.

The Obvious and the Novel

I've been working a bit--rather a lot, actually--on getting myself ready to apply for graduate school (again) in a year to eighteen months, and one of the things that I'm trying to get figured out is the "why" question. Why go? Why bother? Questions like that. For starters, I hope to have some of the youthful angst regarding education knackered by the time I go back, and second, I think I'll be able to make the most of the experience. This post speaks to one part of this challenge: about what research is productive and worthwhile (that is, novel and original), and what research is by contrast merely an explanation of the obvious.

This is all predicated on the assumption that there's some sort of qualitative divide between the kind of causal observation and theoretical work that is what I do, (already), and "real work," productive work that productively contributes to a discourse. (Too young for impostor syndrome? unlikely!) Now this might be a ill conceived separation but, nevertheless the thought is on my mind.

The trains of thought:

  • There's some fundamental difference between blagging and productive "knowledge production." Blogging is a practice that doesn't lead to systematic investigation, and thus, while interesting and a productive tool for the development of my thinking, it's a lousy end in and of itself.

    As I wrote that above paragraph, I remember that it resonated with a thought I've had about this website (in it's previous iterations) many years ago. Interesting.

  • Fiction writing has (and continues) to be the most satisfying output of this impulse that I've been able to have thus far. While I do worry that my fiction isn't novel enough, that's a technical (eg. plot, setting, character) issue rather than a theoretical (eg. the science, and historiography) concern.

    Fiction writing also has a long publication cycle. My blog posts, from inception to posting, aren't particularly time intensive. Fiction, even/especially short stories require a bunch of extra time, and being able to immerse myself in a collection of ideas for a long time has a bunch of benefit.

    Also, there's a credential issue that I rather enjoy with-regards to Science Fiction. There's no degree that I could possibly want. I mean, sure, there are popular fiction writing programs, but that's not a requirement, and I suspect that I'll (try) to go to viable paradise sometime in the 2010s (or Clarion if I am somehow, ever, able to spare 6 grand and the ability to take 6 weeks off of my life), these would just be "for me," and there's nothing other that the quality of my work and the merit of my ideas that are between me and acceptance as a science fiction writer. That's really comforting, somehow.

  • Most of us read literature of some sort, and talk about literary texts of one stripe or another, but I don't think that these activities necessarily make most of us literary critics. The art and project of literary criticism is something more. The difference between reading and talking about a text and practicing literary criticism is an issue of methodology. One of the chief reasons I want to go back to school is to develop an additional methodological tool kit, because my current one is a bit lacking. I'm pretty convinced that the difference between "thinking/doing cool things" and "doing/thinking important things," is largely an issue of methodology.

While I don't think this would short circuit the gradschool plans, but I think working to develop some sort of more rigorous methodological companion to the blogging process that goes beyond the general "so folks, I was thinking about foo so I'm going to tell you a story" (did I just give away my formula? Eep!)