Skip navigation

About a hundred years ago, Your Humble Narrator had a job at the local community college’s radio station. In addition to initiating an appreciation of jazz, forcing a surface knowledge of classical music, and exercising cut-and-paste mixing skills, the other primary takeaway was an exposure to a relatively large record library of fairly diverse genres. Coupled with a weekly dance music program on WXRT, and my primary musical education, flawed as it was, seemed complete. “Flawed” as in I was more or less immersed in the underground electronic movement that bled over from the ’80s with Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Front Line Assembly, into the ’90s with The Shamen, LaTour, and The Orb, among others.

Among the myriad albums and twelve-inch singles I either duped onto cassettes. mixed into my “Earth Noise” freeform show, or stole outright was the vinyl single for The Creatures’ “Fury Eyes” remixes. The Creatures were an on-again, off-again side project of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the sound of their second long-player Boomerang (1989) hinged on multilayered, organic, percussive sounds that would eventually act as a gateway to other similarly-styled acts in the near future, such as Orbital, Leftfield, and The KLF.

The standout from the “Fury Eyes” twelve-inch (other than a ten-minute remix by Pascal Gabriel, whose name I misread at the time as Peter Gabriel) was a B-side instrumental called “Abstinence:”

Fellow music nerds will recognize the rhythm section of a traditional bluegrass train song. Unlike other traditional American songs that celebrate the railroad in verse, a bluegrass train song will actually attempt to recreate the sound of a rolling and passing train in music; complete with clackety-clacks drummed out on banjo heads and screeching steam whistles simulated by extended draws across fiddle strings. Imitating the inherently percussive sound of a train is additionally challenging when you realize that most bluegrass bands don’t have drummers. True to its near-obsolete status, train songs rarely show up in modern music; Banco de Gaia’s “Last Train To Lhasa” is probably one of the few easily-recognizable electronic train songs:

“Abstinence” haunted me for years afterwards, partly because I had neglected to steal the original vinyl, but mostly from the spooky artistry of Siouxsie and Budgie, taking disparate elements of percussion, flute, and marimba and coalescing them into three-plus minutes of rhythm and sound that could logically go on forever and not even loop once. As Web 1.0 flourished, however, I was able to locate a CD copy of the single on eBay, thus filling another gap in The Concrete Standard at the time. It’s survived every purge I’ve made on my collection for various reasons, and still holds a place among the coveted survivors:

fury eyes front

The obvious counterpoint to this story is that the interregnum between coveting a thing like the “Fury Eyes” single and acquiring it wouldn’t be nearly as drawn-out today as it was for me a hundred years ago. Just now, a Google search for “creatures fury eyes site:blogspot.com” returns at least three hits in the top ten for potential downloads of the single. Whether this “small world effect” is a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective, but also on your equipment. Even if I had remembered to nick the Creatures vinyl back in the day, I wouldn’t have any gear to play it on today, because I no longer own a turntable. So even if I hadn’t picked up the single, I still probably would have resorted to the resources of the internet; co-opting bits and pieces of other people’s libraries into my own.

So, if so many people online are sharing their records with the world, and so many people are taking advantage of the exposure to these libraries, like I was back at the radio station, doesn’t that constitute a crowdsourcing effect? Everyone who downloads music made available by someone else is contributing to the world’s biggest, most diverse, infinite mixtape.

To-day, for lack of a better (or less clever) term, is Your Humble Narrator’s two-year “veganversary.” At this moment, and probably for the remainder of the day, this will trump “blog” as my number one loathed post-millennial Newspeak word.

I chose Cinco de Mayo for an official starting point primarily as a mnemonic device; whenever I’m asked about my relatively uninteresting vegetarian origins, I’m able to rattle off the location (Original Joe’s in downtown San Jose, CA) and the circumstances with mimeographic clarity. But when it comes to recalling the precise date and year, that’s when everything gets all fuzzy, kind of like when your body’s blood sugar starts to crash and you get all cranky and sluggish at around siesta time. Was it New Year’s Eve night or New Year’s Day night? Was it on my birthday or Boom-Boom’s birthday? Was it just some randomly chosen date in the summer, or was it just some randomly chosen date in the winter? (Believe it or not, even in a temperate, desert state like California, there is a discernible difference between the two polar seasons)

So, I just say that my vegetarian career lasted for “about fifteen years,” a number which sounds both impressive and excessive. The other reason for using to-day as a temporal bookmark is that it gives the day slightly more legitimacy than the fake Mexican holiday it shares.

Two years ago, I was still working at GDI, a company flush enough with cash and smart enough in the personnel department to take the connection between happy workers and happy products to a whole new level by providing massive amounts of complimentary food for the staff throughout the workday. I think you already know which company I’m talking about, and I can credit this generous black hole of resources for turning me towards the dark side of veganism. By making the ingredients of their menus freely available, I was given a unique insight as to what I was putting into my body. At a certain point, the barrier between a “mere” vegetarian and “full-fledged” vegan becomes little more than a single act of what might be seen as denial or exclusion, but which I like to interpret as just a different level of choice and free will.

It reminds me of the oft-repeated conversation, which never really happened:

Q: You’re a vegan? So what do you eat?
A: Anything I want.

Last year, I evaluated my choice to date and more or less came to the conclusion that, while I took on the lifestyle as an experiment and gave myself an out at the six-month mark, I had taken it far enough already for it to be a lifelong change. Additional benefits included a hyperawareness of the kinds of food all around me, a transparency of the food that I was eating, and an almost complete dearth of eating out. (barring free lunches at work)

So, what about the long-term benefits? Like Prozac, the larger changes of a lifestyle switch-up like this aren’t always immediately observable. It often takes periodic retrospection for any positive or negative effects to jump out at you; weight loss, clearer skin, more regular regularity, etc. All of these have happened, which is not to say they’ve been permanent changes. Everything you eat is eventually exuded through your skin, moodswings and chemical imbalances can radically alter the volume of food we shovel into our mouths, and gastrointestinal stability is a crapshoot at best. For me, the larger takeaway is what something like vegetarianism or veganism does to your overarching attitude concerning food.

I started as a pragmatic vegetarian, because “Joe’s Special” at Original Joe’s made me so physically sick it convinced me that the change would allow me to live longer, assuming I survived the night. And while I adopted the same stance when I went vegan, I also believe that there is no such thing as a pure pragmatism or pure ethicality when it comes to dietary lifestyles like these. Perusing the myriad food blogs in my newsreader might give you pause, as a number of the vegan bloggers can come across as militant and polarized, but for the most part people will eat what they want, enjoy what they eat, and let any transgressions or screw-ups roll off their backs.

Veganism may be the original green diet, but it’s not my place to say it’s the only way to eat. Because in the long run, food is still just fuel for the body. Comedian Chris Rock put it pretty well (even though he was talking about religion at the time) when he said, “I refuse to believe that on Judgment Day, my diet is going to come into question.” But because food can be both pigeonholed and demonized, it can’t always maintain a single occupation for everyone, and its significance is often multifaceted from person to person. While we all have to eat to live, not all of us live to eat, although the influence of foodies, locavores, and gourmands is certainly helping to bring the pleasurable aspects of food more to the fore.

Eat what you want.

Is ignorance really bliss, or is it just selfishness?

The line between selfishness and selflessness is already a fuzzy one without the wildly inconsistent variable of human opinion as a factor. And as small as we think the world is getting with each burp of new technology, for the most part a majority of our movements and directions are dictated by the range of degrees from an event or object or action we find ourselves from.

When Eyjafjallajökull erupted last month, it apparently brought the industrialized world to a near-standstill, apparently. I say “apparently” because if it hadn’t been for the handful of newsfeeds I monitor at Monkworks, it may as well not have happened at all. I wasn’t scheduled for a European overseas flight at the time, I didn’t have a ticket to Coachella, and I’m not Icelandic. I have no commitments in that part of the world, I have no family or friends in Iceland, and I have no vested interest in airline stock or international travel. Eyjafjallajökull effectively had no effect on me whatsoever.

Now, is this bliss, or selfishness? If I am so far removed from a situation that impacts so many other people in the world that I’m almost unaware of it, to the point where I can effectively say “I don’t care about this,” does that make me ignorant in a stupid way? Does my uninvolvement in a situation that has no hold over me turn me into an enemy, simply because I’m not with the team?

Arizona’s immigration law. Proposition 8. The BP oil spill. All hot-button topics, all relevant, and all polarizing to one extent or another. But the cries of yea or nay that dominate the unavoidable debate almost always drown out the silent and invisible faction of the ones who have no opinion. For one reason or another, (or none at all) there will always be a third side to every issue, involving people who don’t know, don’t care, or have no investment; emotionally, politically, or otherwise.

So, if we do nothing about something we don’t care about, are we guilty of negligence? If we don’t care about something that doesn’t affect us or anyone within our six degrees, does that make us unfeeling to the plight of others? If we don’t involve ourselves in a problem that has no clear solution, are we selfish, self-centered, self-important? How many of us are not furious, not because we’re not paying attention, but because we know we can’t afford to distribute ourselves so thinly?

Just as the world is not always to blame for an individual’s problems, the individual is not always obligated to sacrifice themselves every time the world has a conniption.

On a recent trip to Thrillsville’s local used bookshop after a relatively extended interim, I was drawn towards this U.K. printing of Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai!

dorsai uk

There’s already a copy of Dorsai! in Monkworks’ library (the ninth Ace mass market paperback printing from November of 1986) and while I have yet to reach this “keystone of one of science fiction’s greatest careers” in the chaotic and interminable queue of books lined up waiting to be read before Your Humble Narrator dies, (or goes to prison, whichever comes first) the oddities and idiosyncrasies of the British edition were enough to compel me to add it, OCD-style, to the stacks. Plus, it was only two dollars.

Dorsai! was first published in 1960; originally titled The Genetic General it was culled from a serialized version that appeared in the seminal sci-fi journal Astounding Science Fiction the year before. It’s spawned a half-dozen additional volumes that are collectively known as the Childe Cycle series, although most people just call it the Dorsai series. The rub is that the initial subsequent Dorsai books are actually prequels, with the content taking place before the events of the first book. Therefore, the blurb displayed on the cover of the Sphere edition above, “the third in the Dorsai! trilogy,” is technically correct, it just follows the continuity of the story, and not the publishing history.

This kind of marketing-style indexing raises an interesting question, in addition to wondering how non-American reading habits differ when it comes to taking in a serialized story in order. If, for example, one or more of the Harry Potter or Twilight or Wheel Of Time books were prequels, how would a relative newcomer to the series be advised to approach the stories as a whole? Would they benefit more from reading the series in its internal chronological order and getting all the information from square one? Or would it make more sense to replicate the experience of the readers that had come before, and take the books as they were released by the publisher?

When hopping back and forth between the past and the present and mucking about with the more intricate mechanics of storytelling is done on a larger scale, it’s often referred to as retroactive continuity. Most commonly associated with the comic book industry’s massively unwieldy multiverses, retroactive continuity also shows up in more mainstream venues. One of the more infamous examples is when George Lucas swapped out Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker in the special edition DVD release of Return Of The Jedi with Hayden Christiansen after completing the Star Wars prequels.

The unspoken law of retroactive continuity basically says that the most current truth is the only true truth, all other history is apocrypha. And while this makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, especially when attempting to manage the tangled plot threads and multiple personalities of comic book timestreams, or in an effort to maintain the public’s interest in an aging franchise such as the expanded universes of Star Wars or Star Trek; but at its core, it’s essentially bullshit.

Prequels, in general and in particular, are especially guilty. While the fundamental differences between books and movies is recognized, (with comic books occupying an uncomfortable no-man’s land inbetween) both are methods of storytelling, and storytelling often involves backstory, mystery, and unanswered questions. Just as a good plot twist can make or break a film, so can the withholding of crucial information in a story intensify the eventual reveal. At the same time, no story is perfect, no plot is airtight, and even the most masterful of bards can leave behind inconsistencies in their universe. (The best of the best do it on purpose.) Similar to the real universe, storytellers can create complete, self-contained microcosms with clear beginnings, middles, and endings; and the imperfections in their warp and weft can only add to the richness of the universe as a whole. The complete runs of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly (plus Serenity) come to mind.

But a prequel, in its worst incarnation, seeks to fill in those holes, to solve the leftover mysteries, to add backstory and motivation and Mommy and Daddy issues. Like brunch, another useless invention, prequels can knock the center out of a perfectly well-established universe and suck out the sweet security of the unknown. Prequels can take niche objects of desire, coveted by a select few who “get it,” and turn them into mass media franchises, retconned to suit the tastes of a lower, more common, denominator of audience. While Star Trek is one of the more visible examples of this, a more pervasive franchise is the one grown from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Admittedly, when Herbert was alive he eventually forgot himself and stretched the legitimacy of the sequels beyond the original trilogy; but it took the tapping of world-class hack Kevin J. Anderson as captain of the expanded “Duneverse” to broaden appeal through innumerable prequels, while minimizing risk with his stunted, L. Ron Hubbard-style of bland prose.

The argument can be made that retroactive continuity, prequels, and expanded universes in general are the natural extension of stories that grow too large to be contained by a single format or genre or generation. And while the disparate differences between something like the two sets of Star Wars trilogies can create conflicts between generations, in the long run an overarching goal has been met: what started out as a single story for a single generation now encompasses multiple demographics, genres, and strata. What was once niche now belongs to everyone, which is a far better fate than moldering away in a museum as untouchable gospel.

But at the same time, not all mysteries need to be solved. Not every ending needs to be definitive. Not everything needs to be perfect.

How can we create new content? How can we create our own, original material? What is our impetus for creating content, as opposed to repeating, retweeting, reblogging someone else’s?

We repeat, or at least we think we repeat, and retweet, and reblog, because we take it initially as common courtesy and a shield from accusations of plagiarism; giving an author proper credit for the content we are viralizing, instead of claiming it as our own. We can keep this up for as long as the application or software we’re using insists on flagging the provenance of whatever we stumble upon online and push along to the eyeballs that regularly or occasionally brush across the home pages of our own blogs. But at what point do we stop creating our own content and become exclusively distributors of pre-published content? When does putting down a sentence, stringing together a paragraph, arranging an image, coalescing a concept, or pinning down an idea become too much work for our overstimulated brains, overriding the desire to form our own opinions, to point in our own slightly-north-by-northwest directions, to produce something of our own that is itself, repeatable, retweetable, rebloggable?

This is a somewhat disturbing turn the path of online amateur journalism has taken from its original power shift after stealing the thunder from the big boys. Now, not only can anyone get online, open up their own blog and start creating their own content and make it as freely accessible as any other reputable source; but since there is so much content being produced and so much of it flying between so many nodes at any given time, it almost makes sense to simply cast your net into the stream, see what you catch, and toss the good bits in the direction of your own audience. It’s more cost-effective, less labor-intensive, and the chances of your readers appreciating the redistributed content is just as good (or remote) as if the content was original.

On the other hand, five fingers: maybe this is a good thing. Maybe the encouragement of social media to “share” and “like” things will serve to weed out the true amateurs of the internet, leaving the ones who still produce their own content to bubble up through the charts.

Whether it’s a problem or not, at least the whole bleeding situation has produced one good thing to-day: this post.

As is customary, as well as habit, during dry spells between employment engagements, portions of The Concrete Standard are tossed overboard as ballast in order to keep the lifestyle that Your Humble Narrator has grown accustomed to at Monkworks afloat. For years, my record collection has served a dual purpose as a semi-obsessional focus of interest to stave off post-postmodern schizophrenia, and a nest egg of potential incremental revenue, chunks of which can be broken off and auctioned for liquid capital as needed. In the past, the process of determining the selection of the collection to cull and take to trade has been dependent mostly on the level of attachment I felt towards a certain recording. If the sentiment was of a low enough level, the item could be safely removed and sold, leaving an acceptable remainder behind to satiate my self-imposed bragging rights and library status.

The last time I did something like that was only a few years ago. I just completed the most recent cull, and just in that length of time, my intent has changed dramatically. My intention is no longer to retain an acceptable number of items in The Concrete Standard; my goal now is to deplete it as much as practically possible and bring it as close to zero mass as physical limits allow.

As mildly shocking this decision is to my system, both physically and especially emotionally, there is a concrete justification for it: I’m simply not a part of this world any more; this world of music collecting. Obviously, it’s not because I don’t love music, but rather than the act of record hunting and hoarding no longer gives me the joy or the thrill or the satisfaction it once did.

vinyl 01 vinyl 02 vinyl 04

At Alma Mater, thanks to being surrounded by music all day, collecting grew from a hobby into a lifestyle, and then, because eventually you heard about everyone else’s collection and what they had in it, a competition to build, if not the biggest, but the most diverse, the richest, the most eclectic collection in comparison to your co-workers. My associate Bil, who became a kind of music mentor to me, once stated in his ‘zine that:

“Record buying is not a frivolous luxury, it’s a way of life! These records will keep you sane; don’t get them at your own risk!”

What I fear now is as The Concrete Standard slowly atrophies, making way for the imminent dominance of La Norme Concrète, whither my own sanity, my own mental health, my own emotional integrity? My hope is that the nigh-obsession I fostered for years over the size and shape and content of The Concrete Standard won’t turn into an appendage with nothing to grasp onto; that without something like the security the sheer mass that The Concrete Standard provided, my resulting drive and impetus and passion just firehoses out of an empty end into a vacuum, leaving me an empty shell.

red fantasy

At the shop to-day, patiently waiting for the drone behind the counter to finish tallying up the takes and passes, I busied myself in the vinyl section, browsing through the jazz and reggae and twelve-inch vinyl. Unlike compact discs, which are safely ensconced in their plastic sarcophagi, vinyl records are more often than not housed in cardboard dust jackets, which, ironically, gather all manner of dust and dirt and grime and adhesive residue and pulverized insects and dead skin cells and mold and mildew and just a general layer of yuck as they sit and age. If you’ve ever gone rooting around in the cardboard boxes stored in every American attic, garage, and crawl space, you know the scent this combination of controlled decay can give off; and if you’ve spent any amount of time flipping through stacks in search of something in particular, or perhaps nothing in particular, it can be a kind of ambrosia, a bouquet, a nose.

For the first time, I got the first tiny inklings of that smell starting to affect me in a less that positive manner. It was by no means offensive, but it also had a noticeably diminished effect on my own zeal. That’s when I first thought that I was starting to separate from this microcosm of music nerds, of casual obsession, of post-postmodern hunting and gathering.

This world will carry on, in one way or another, without the presence of a single membership, like mine. The question is, what do I do to fill in the void?

Matching up the contents of La Norme Concrète with the real-world copies of The Concrete Standard is the easy part. The advantage to maintaining a record collection that only exists virtually is that the sentimental factor is greatly reduced in some instances, because one of the greatest dealbreakers when it comes to deciding whether to hang on to something (in addition to the psychic imprint it leaves on the mind and the memory bookmark it inserts into the brain) is, ironically, the packaging, which is often some of the more fleeting and superficial elements of any material object.

Example #1: I still have the box that Jones, my old iPod, came in. It serves no further purpose, because Jones has moved on to better things, but it still sits on my shelf because of the moment in time it’s attached to in my memory; plus the iconic silhouette graphics are still pretty stirring. On the other hand, five fingers: it’s just a cardboard matryoshka that also exists on thousands of other peoples’ shelves (plus landfills and recycling centers) and has been featured in countless of unboxing photoessays on any number of tech-fetish blogs. I’m only a casual design groupie, so there’s no point in hanging on to packaging, no matter how distinctive, that’s already been documented in other, more anal archives. The only practical reason to keep the box that anything comes in is for future transport, and the only other box that I still have that fits that criteria, and gets semi-regular use, is Proteus’ original packaging.

Example #2: At Alma Mater my associates and I were regularly showered with promotional copies of newly-released or soon-to-be-released records. (“Showered” is perhaps an overly optimistic descriptor; more often than not, “begging for” was the operative term) Most of these “promos” came in the requisite jewel cases; identical, plastic, and utterly soul-sucking, but some of the records from specialty labels were a little fancier, most notably the late 90s re-releases from Impulse Records that attempted to recreate the distinctive style of the original vinyl pressings. These often featured gatefold artwork, expanded liner notes, and a paperstock composition that mimicked the feel of an old record jacket. Having items like these in The Concrete Standard made me want to listen to more jazz.

On the other hand, five fingers: as pretty as the packaging is, it’s still just a surface detail; especially if the old adage that says the music is the only thing that really matters turns out to be true.

Dealing with packaging and its influence on minimizing however, takes on a whole new set of issues when coupled with something that is hopelessly obsolete and fatally nostalgic, but at the same time infinitely collectable and an organic foil against the digital artifacts of our post-postmodern world: vinyl.

vinyl

Saddled with the Generation X stigma, I naturally grew up in a world where the audio hierarchy was dominated by the compact cassette, followed closely behind by an already-fading vinyl culture. When the compact disc premiered in 1982, I was presented with a choice of paths; embrace the burgeoning technology or cling to the already-perceived-as-obsolete format. A combination of personal economics and throwback nostalgia pushed me towards the vinyl end, even going so far as to start scrawling “SAVE THE LP” on any available flat surface with a Sharpie. And since every radio station in the country, including the ones run by my high school and community college, still employed massive vinyl libraries to provide their playlists, it was a given that anywhere I went to host a program was guaranteed to have at least two working turntables, allowing me to pick and choose from my own collection and customize the shows I hosted.

In this sense, so-called “obsolete” technology was actually an advantage, because the playback gear had already been grandfathered into the structure, while new technology like CD players either weren’t the rage or hadn’t been installed yet. As far as the current situation is concerned, I no longer have a turntable, I don’t currently host a radio show, and I don’t have the skills to be a DJ. Still, the vinyl contingent of The Concrete Standard is proving to be the most tenacious faction of the three primary formats to rid myself of. For whatever strange reason, the smaller, slicker, more futuristic compact disc seems to have less value than the bulky, fragile, and fusty phonograph record; similar, but not the same as the heightened value the incorporeal mp3 file has over it’s digital hard copy brethren.

Maybe it’s because vinyl is slightly more difficult to replicate digitally that it has more staying power. Or, like everything else, it reminds us of where our collections started, as well as the potential breadth of our collections. In a post-postmodern world that is rapidly duplicating everything from more fragile formats to digital archives, very little is being left behind, but for efficiency’s sake, the most relevant and popular items are being processed first. That leaves several hundred thousand worlds that are still hiding in record shop understock, used bookstore warehouses, and countless other backrooms.

The past has always been the future before the future was new.

Related: Negativland’s “Shiny, Aluminum, Plastic and Digital” essay.

The first of the year started for Your Humble Narrator much like previous firsts of the year; extended periods of concentrated slacking off, a sudden but unexpected release from professional obligations, and a cloying ennui that carries over into the subsequent weeks. This year’s first was decidedly more on the downer side; I had stopped blogging, I was detached and standoffish at work, and the holidays, for all I tried to avoid, contemporize, or at least nontraditionalize, had still left a bad taste in my mind. But in the middle of all this muddle, I still managed to apply the only New Year’s resolution I ever adhere to; minimalization.

It makes a certain kind of sense to take a moment to clear out the extraneous crap we accumulate over a year’s time, but it’s not a practice I or my family have always been amenable to. See, we’re packrats by nature; for whatever reason we hang on to the most insignificant scraps of our personal history, most likely because of the memories, good or bad, that we associate with a particular item. An origami crane from Boom-Boom’s bridal shower, an especially smooth river stone from my hometown in Illinois, a Pikachu piñata from a long-lost birthday; all these have made some kind of psychic fingerprint on the mind that makes them difficult to get rid of. At the same time, they are static objects, they serve no purpose except as memory bookmarks, what little joy they exude is recycled and stale, and they can ultimately hold a person back from moving on in any given aspect of their life.

That’s been the intention at Monkworks for the past week or so, culling out the unnecessary and retaining the essential, a task that is obviously easier said than done. One of the challenges is breaking out of the cycle of thinking that because something has been in one’s possession for so long, it needs to stay regardless. Another, less taxing side of minimalization is examining non-physical objects, like what’s stored on a computer or other devices, as well as reorganizing how we consume information that comes to us through these machines and how much.

For example, this is what my current desktop configuration looks like:

desktop 2010

I have over 70 applications on Proteus, but only use less than a dozen with any regularity. Some of the apps I recently removed from the Dock include Limewire, BitTorrent, Activity Monitor, and the Documents folder icon. Limewire and BitTorrent, while useful programs, are also like gateway drugs; using them led me to more readily accessible and faster resources online. Since Proteus is a first-generation iMac G5, she’s bordering on obsolete, and sometimes huffs and puffs when running particularly heavy applications or loading websites with a lot of geegaws. The Activity Monitor icon allowed me to see how much of her resources were being sucked on, but now I can do the same thing with MenuMeters, which is a lot smaller and fits into the status bar. And any document important enough for me to want to go back to again and again (like the template for my blogs or my CV) is going to be available in Proteus’ “Recent Items” menu.

This setup isn’t much different from the way I usually have it, or even from the way any filesystem I happen to use at work; desktop items and icons at a minimum, and as much of everything else, documents, images, etc., in as close to their proper places as possible. As far as filtering the information that I access via Proteus from the internet, that’s an ongoing project that is slightly out of control at the moment. In addition to online timesucks like Facebook and Twitter, there also exists the mixed blessing of Google Reader, which allows you to aggregate your news and site feeds into a single page. Mixed because while you don’t have to stray far to get your RDA of current events and topical happenings, slow accumulation of feed after feed can make wading through all the noise in search of a signal an all-day task. Just the feeds in my “Food” folder can easily overflow into over a thousand items if I don’t check it every day.

The challenge, as always, is to ask yourself what is essential to you, (information, possessions, etc.) and what, no matter how important it seems, you can live without.

It’s a work in progress, because even though the post-postmodern world has given us the tools to do so, we can’t read everything, we can’t watch everything, we can’t do everything.

If Your Humble Narrator’s physical record collection is called “The Concrete Standard,” and the filesystem of digital copies is “La Norme Concrète,” then what, pray tell, should the parallel collection of compact cassette tapes be dubbed? The very nature of the previous two titles are indicative of the quasi-permanency of each respective format; compact discs and vinyl albums exist in a concrete, hard-copy form, and music files, while not exactly corporeal, still take up space on a hard drive. Cassettes, on the other hand, are inherently temporary; their very structure betrays flimsiness, fragility, and vulnerabilities to the elements.

audio magnetics dan and monique

How did we ever get so latched onto such a crap format?

information terminals darby

The past day and night have been spent elbows-deep in The Concrete Standard’s magnetic evil twin, the Ferrous Oxide Pit Of Despair, or whatever it eventually gets called. The label is a moot point, as these latest action have started a campaign to relegate most of the contents of these shelf-saggers to the local landfill, sooner or later. It’s been a decision a long time coming, and not one without a certain amount of heartache and sentimentality attached to it, but the bottom line is that as much influence these little shells of plastic and papers had on my formative years, they are also keeping me from moving on in a certain sense.

Ironically, getting rid of the Magnetic Black Hole is more problematic than excising items from The Concrete Standard. While compact discs and vinyl are like master tapes, (pardon the mixed metaphors) cassettes are just copies, and their contents are not always readily reproducible if a tape gets eaten or melted or unstrung. The worst and most problematic example at Monkworks is the 500+ airchecks from the Negativland and SubGenius radio shows that air at inconvenient hours of the night here in California. Not only are a majority of these programs unavailable in any other format, (aside from certain niche fans who make them available online) but the sheer volume precludes any possibility of cataloging and organizing them by content, let alone listening to any of them ever again. Currently, there is a selection of shows that have been converted to mp3s, and another selection that have been hacked up and re-edited into “best-of” mixes, (ironically, dubbed onto more cassettes) but for the most part, this is an archive of absurdity that belongs in a museum, never to be touched or heard from again.

And I don’t want to live in a museum.

cd cassette silhouette

To-day I removed at least a hundred extraneous cassettes from the premises; mostly just junk mixes made from bits and pieces of disparate records, straight-from-CD DJ jams, and one-off bootlegs that benefited from onesy-and-twosey listens. Even with such a sizable chunk gone, there still remains an unmanageable amount of items in the Type II Library Of Doom, but at least other minimizing projects have cleared out sufficient closet space to hide some of them away, if only to pretend that they don’t exist for a little while longer.

Of course, I’m never going to get rid of them all, even with my best efforts at minimization and consolidation. There are some things that are too far embedded in my psyche to extricate easily, even when I know that I’ve safely and successfully duplicated and saved them. I’ll hang on to my crumbling collection of WDGC airchecks, now over twenty years old, until they finally snap and disintegrate. Some of my early theme mixes and ad hoc mixes from raiding the various radio stations I’ve done time at will stay for as long as there’s a possibility of an extended road trip in the future with a friendly passenger I want to impress/freak out. And more than one Norelco case with cleverly-cut J-card art will have a spot saved, even if it’s empty.

Old tapeworms die hard.

I’ve used the codename “Your Humble Narrator” for a while now, mostly as a mechanism to distance my own ego from the varying opinions and viewpoints I’ve documented in this forum. More intimate readers will be aware that while I’m no spring chicken, (whatever that is) I’m not a human fossil either, so it’s not beyond my purview to make sweeping declarations on the state of the online union, such as it is. And even though I wasn’t around at the dawn of ARPANET, I did join up at the peak of Web 1.0 and managed to survive the subsequent bursting of the so-called dot-com bubble. So, I may not be a gearhead, I may not know CSS from C++, and I may swear by newbie tools like Mac OS X, LiveJournal, and WYSIWYG interfaces, (at least I know what that is) but I like to think of myself as something of a veteran, which gives me license to talk about what I think I know I’m talking about.

That said, the open forum of the internet is rife with problems. Not just issues of privacy, misinformation, disinformation, bad science, and opinion as policy, but the very exhibitionistic format of literally wearing your heart (or hard drive) on your sleeve when you don your online persona (as in the set of attitudes and values one adopts while online; not to be confused with an online avatar) opens one up to all manner of feedback, retaliatory attacks, and just plain superdickery in response.

To defend ourselves, we have usernames and codenames and nicknames for most of our least-embarrassing online activities. But what about using these shields to guard against ourselves, to keep our own braggadocio in check, to tamp down the inherent post-postmodern human tendency for hubris? Hubris is an unfortunate side effect of being a self-described pillar of the online community, (and we all have, at one point and in one form or another, claimed to be such) an affliction that has spawned countless flamewars, smear campaigns, Photoshopped images, machismo posturing, and streaks of jealous humiliation.

Somehow, as a proactive measure against the ugliness of the internet, and as a reaction to past clusterfucks, Your Humble Narrator emerged as a doppelgänger to act as a forward guard, to put out the things that naturally bubble to the surface of my mind, and eventually to the blank page, without as much of the uncomfortable accountability that often comes with speaking one’s mind. As schizophrenic as this sounds, it wasn’t done with any malicious or self-serving intent; I simply wasn’t comfortable with associating my own boasts, brags, and harebrained ideas with anything but a web-based ego.

For a while, it worked. It gave me the freedom to blog both nonsensically and evocatively without being obligated to stick to a single format or fact-check anything. Eventually, however, it began to affect the structural integrity of my identity in real life and eat away at my own sense of self. It affected my work performance, my interaction with people, exacerbated my depression, and eventually led to my latest sabbatical from blogging, in concordance with other real world happenings.

Not much has changed in the interim, my personality has more or less stabilized, and Your Humble Narrator’s persona is still intact. We all need our shields, we all need our placebos, we all need our cheat codes. We all need to feel we can cast off our earthly bonds, if only for a moment, and float free and invisible.