computer love

There is a wonderful Twitch channel called OldTimeyComputerShow that just plays... old timey computer shows (via Carolyn Petit). I only just found out about it, but I feel like I’ve watched a day’s worth of programming already. All of these videos have been available on places like Youtube and the Internet Archive, but the consistency of the stream and randomness of the content is part of the joy. Just as I think I'm getting tired of it, something wonderful will pop up like an elderly woman demonstrating how she programs in Basic to chart her knitting:

The aesthetics, the sound effects—all of it is so calming and cozy. I even have it playing in the background while I write this newsletter. I just looked up the current episode, which is "Internet Power — Discover the World of Online Entertainment," and learned Andy Baio was the one who uploaded this in 2008.

My favorites are the 80s shows with The Soul of a New Machine/Halt and Catch Fire vibes like Computer Chronicles and Computers in Control:

The other day, it was playing a 90s British videogame show called GamesMaster with a set that looks equal parts Harry Potter and Apple's 1984 commercial. The participants play classic videogames like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, but toward the end it got weird. A contestant was set up at what looked to be a classic arcade station, but when he shot with a gun controller, the reactions happened on a studio set with actors. They were dressed up like cowboys in a Wild West saloon and would pretend to die when shot at. Hard to explain, but it was better than Westworld.

I'm glad the channel wasn't around when I was writing my book because I might have watched it all day and rationalized to myself that I was doing "research."

I wrote a list of my favorite books about “cyberspace” for Electric Literature. The anthology “Technicolor” is the newest to me, and if you are in any way interested in these subjects you need this book. I was highlighting and underling the hell out of it (one of my underlines.)

One book I wouldn’t quite recommend, but found fascinating for the moment in time it represents is Microserfs. I was reading it a few weeks ago and found myself in awe of how contemporary it sounded. Change the references from “The Gap monoculture” to “Everlane monoculture” and update a few tiny other things and you have, basically, a novel about “millennial culture.” Hmm… how utterly strange that an upper middle class white Gen Xer could sound like upper middle class white millennials. The thing is, it isn’t quite timeless so much as it is apolitical. There’s enough blank space in the novel to insert your own politics, even your own moment in time. Five years ago, Douglas Coupland praised Uber for its efficiency in a breezy piece for the Financial Times (an “artist in residence in Paris at the Google Cultural Institute” read his bio.) Those who might have expected more of a Douglas Rushkoff-style take had mistaken the vagueness in his books for a mirror image of their beliefs.

Well, that’s all from me tonight. I gotta get back to my OldTimeyComputerShow.

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Thanks for reading.

android krav maga take 2

Lately when I'm pacing around the house, stewing over the gravity of how fucked up this moment is and how radically different the world is going to look like on the other side of it and how angry and sad and afraid I feel about all of this— I'll do a sort of standing crunch on one leg to snap out of it and think of other things.

I'm not sure how to explain it better than by what I visualize when I'm doing it: I am *grabbing* a monster by the shoulders and *punching* him in the nose with my knee. Yes, very cool of me. I look extremely cool doing this, I'm sure. But, it does help to refocus.

I have only a vague notion of picking this move up in a Krav Maga class, which I haven't attended in five years.

Then, I remember my very good plan for a start-up, which I genuinely do wish existed, which might be the only ethical use of technology in the age of the coronavirus.

I wrote about this earlier — and I still wish I could get investors on the phone with my pitch, which would be:

"In ordinary times, it would be like an android brothel, except the androids are krav maga instructors in a grand martial arts emporium. But in this time of social distancing, you will order an android krava maga instructor that will arrive in a box. And you can practice with it in the privacy and comfort of your own home. The product is designed deliver routine to its users who no longer have access to traditional gym envioronments. Furthermore, it will instill a sense of purpose to those, in present times, overwhelmed with malaise and despair. If a user should stick to their practice through the quarantines and stay-at-home orders, they will emerge fully equip to physically defend themselves against any threat. These threats could be human, animal, mechanical, even paranormal. Look, have you seen those Boston Dynamics videos? These are no ordinary times. We have to prepare ourselves in the event that the robot dogs go rogue."

Welp, it's just too bad that Silicon Valley is too sexist to respect my genius, since this is obviously my calling.

Meanwhile, the other day, I was reading something and came across a letter to the editor from Michael Moorcock, which he signed along with his location "Bastrop, Texas." There's always been a certain kind of British person who moves to and thrives in LA, but I love that Moorcock seems to be straight up vibing with Texas. It just makes sense that he would end up around Austin. Not LA, not Santa Fe, not Vegas. There was a brief but interesting profile of him recently the San Antonio Current. And earlier this interview in Texas Monthly where he explains:

"I wanted to live in a community where there were few or no other Brits, where I could learn not only what people thought but why they thought it, to understand about American politics and social ideas. These means I’m as much inclined to hang out with so-called rednecks as with intellectuals...I wanted to move somewhere which had its own strong mythology and Texas has that in bucket-loads. The landscape lends itself to a very distinctive mythology which has, of course, influenced much of the world."

Then I read some books I didn’t like very much, until finally I picked up The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing. I still haven’t even read the Golden Notebook, so I guess I should get on that, but this one is really good for this moment. It’s structurally interesting, readable, full of exposition in the form of complaints about an apocalypse so vaguely described she could be talking about the coronavirus or the Blitz, and full on rage toward the “ruling classes” (my jam). There were a few elements that I wasn’t fully on board with, and other things that were mysterious to me that might reveal themselves in rereading. I loved reading it but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite books. But it’s nice to not hate everything about this week.

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Thanks for reading.

piano and the wind

It's late, so I'll start with some wallowing music: Asleep by The Smiths. Over the top lyrically, maybe, and canceled for good reason, but that lonely piano set against the howling wind sounds to me like being in one's home late at night.

The feeling that things are happening elsewhere, but all is still and quiet here.

I realize now how strange it is to be at home late at night. To be aware of it, I mean. It should be familiar, but I guess I am not here that much in these hours after all, or if I am, I'm too tired to think about what I'm doing. Or, if not that, I am working.

I'm not writing much these days, which is another thing I'm normally doing at my computer late at night. I have to access joy to write and my sense of joy is really blunted these days. Now my time at my computer feels purposeless and unstructured and a little desperate, all while set to wallowing music — sort of like it was in college.

I wrote this piece about Lynn Hershman Leeson's films for Filmmaker magazine. I'm really proud of that essay. If you're a WoMaN ArTiSt who has ever wondered why you bother (who hasn't!), you really owe it to yourself to watch Conceiving Ada.

I finally rewatched Contagion. Kinda glad I watched it as far along as we are in the pandemic for all the points of comparison. It's such a good film. Love the frenetic pacing heightened by the Cliff Martinez soundtrack. That moment when Matt Damon finds the digital camera is simply devastating. And now we just need Jennifer Ehle to save us all.

This would be a good time to read books I expect I won't like very much but feel would be useful to be familiar with, because I have trouble really loving and connecting with what I'm encountering lately. It’s not the books, it’s me (and the state of the world.)

But I have thought about rereading Falling Out of Cars by Jeff Noon because I'm thinking about it a lot. It's about a virus, yes, so technically pandemic literature, but more than that, the part that resonates is how media is depicted as fractured and confusing. The effect of the virus is that people's communication and comprehension breaks down. The maddening sense of isolation is strong. It's just a straight up beautiful novel that wouldn’t diminish or feel off-key with the intensity and sadness of these times.

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Thanks for reading.

quarantine reading

A few publishers have kindly offered free and discounted ebooks through the quarantine:

Archipelago Books has thirty free ebooks from Witold Gombrowicz, Musil, and others. I downloaded Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (“Fifteen years prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, we watch as these girls try on their parents’ preconceptions and attitudes, transforming the lycée into a microcosm of the country’s mounting racial tensions and violence...”)

Haymarket Books has ten free ebooks including How We Get Free edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

Verso has five free ebooks, including Peter Frase's Four Futures, which would be pretty great to read right now. All the other ebooks are 80% off. You should grab Playing the Whore and Being Numerous. They are also publishing fiction now, including fascinating work like Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval and Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth.

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Two books I read this week that I really loved include Disfigured by Amanda Leduc and Temporary by Hilary Leichter. And I've got an advanced copy of Sara Hendren's What Can a Body Do? that is extraordinary. Look out for it/preorder.

Here are several other books I've picked up in recent weeks:

Including: They are Already Here by Sarah Scoles, Mem by Bethany C. Morrow, The Dollmaker by Nina Allen, Black Forest by Valérie Mréjen, The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell, Sharks, Death, Surfers by Melissa McCarthy, and Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera.

I normally don't list what I'm reading or about to read here, but I'm making an exception in case anyone is set to do a last run at the bookstore of their choice and would like some ideas.

Right now, with delivery drivers and postal workers around the country overwhelmed with packages, while terrified they are at risk of COVID-19 infection, I can't 100% recommend purchasing physical books. If your local bookstore offers curbside pickup (which they might need to phase out soon) that works, but otherwise please consider ebooks and audiobooks. You can purchase digital editions through various independent stores with services like Kobo and Libro.fm. (That also goes for my book! Get the ebook! The physical copy isn't going anywhere.) Really, the best thing you can do right now is purchase gift cards from the places in your neighborhood that you want to stick around.

I'm not sure what the next day looks like, let alone how we'll get through this crisis, or how long it will take; but there are small changes we can all make to keep things from getting worse.

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Thanks for reading.

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quarantine lurking

The book launched last week and I think it went pretty well! I was thrilled to see this review in Esquire that breaks down all of its many parts while assessing the book as a whole. And the most wonderful thing happened after the launch at Books are Magic. I had barely checked my phone all night. When I finally did, I noticed I was mentioned in a tweet from Krish Raghav, a writer/illustrator in China:

It was in reference to his piece that was published that day, “Quarantine Cooking: Finding Relief from Coronavirus Anxiety in the Kitchen,” which I read on the train ride back. (The link on The New Yorker website appears to be broken at the moment, but here’s a link to a link.)

The comic is about using the internet to exchange recipes and find community in this solitary pursuit at a time when sharing a meal with friends is not possible. Everyone in the kitchen has "overabundance of time and a scarcity of ingredients.” It is really beautifully written and illustrated.

I paused on this panel and took a screenshot: 

The next morning, I looked back at the tweet where I was mentioned and I saw it appeared after an image of the panel that I paused on—the panel with the text "We often think of the Chinese web as just a battleground - censors and dissidents locked in conflict. But parts of it are also homey and comforting. This is one of those - capturing a generation's boredom, loneliness, creativity and desire for connection amid anxiety and panic."

I don’t have words for the incredible feeling when I saw the book mentioned this way; that the book might have been even a tiny bit of inspiration for another work that I admire a great deal. Mostly it felt freeing: finally, after all this time, it is not just my friends who know the book exists—it can now find its way and find its people.

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The next newsletter edition will be more of a traditional update with some of the books I’ve been reading and some thoughts about the show Devs (I have a lot of *thoughts*), but since you’ve made it this far, please consider picking up a copy or requesting a book from the library.

Thanks for reading.

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