Thursday, August 30, 2012


Imagine waking up to find that the electricity in your neighborhood is gone. Not just gone - very gone, with an estimated two week period of absolutely no juice. No ifs, buts or anything - it's just gone. And you are now in a position of having to deal with it.

What do you do?

Depending on where you live, the alternative "talking to your neighbors" might be or not be on that list of things to do. Which makes a difference. The same difference that can be seen when comparing the statements "my problem" and "our problem". The former is personal, the latter is political.

Power outage is a situation that could happen. With brutal ramifications for whatever you might be doing right now. Political outrage is also a situation that could happen, with equally brutal ramifications for the local community.

Personal, political.

Who would have thought the dividing line would be as simple as talking to people?

This was inspired by this tweet.

It was a dark and stormy night...

The first line of everything is an excuse. Mostly to continue with whatever that first line has started - a text, a talk, a conversation, a music piece, a heroic epic, a lifelong love commitment, a [something]. Whatever it starts, that first line is not it. It's just the declaration that discourse has begun, and that a proper response is in order.

Beowulf starts out with the word "hwat!", which I can just imagine being used to make the very rambunctious contemporary audiences hark and listen. The function is not so much semantic as social - listen up, everyone!

Everything needs that "hwat!". No matter if it's a blog post, a novel, a twitter conversation, a complicated orchestral piece or an international diplomatic conference. That first statement will always serve as an excuse to keep going, no matter what the keeping and going is about.

Which is why "it was a dark and stormy night" is not such a bad way to go about it. It sure beats that feeling of staring at a blank page not knowing where to go - not having an excuse to continue, as it were.

So. It was a dark and stormy night...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why DRM is a satanic hellspawn that needs to be purged

A scourge has struck the world. This scourge is known as DRM, or Digital Rights Management as it is sometimes called. And it seems to be here to stay.

DRM is not only a scourge. It is also an accepted business practice, and thus something many comes into contact with in everyday life. But it is not the intended victims that are struck the hardest by it; rather, it is the innocent everymen who only try to do the right thing who takes the full brunt of it.

The short definition of DRM would be that it's different ways of making sure copyrights are not infringed. Like, say, by online pirates. These ways can be a CD that can't be played in a computer (and the content thus cannot be converted into MP3's), or a computer game that only works when connected to certain servers (which, in theory, only accepts legit users). The general thrust of it is to build in obstacles into the usability of things, so they can only be used in some ways and not others.

The brutal definition would be that it is about selling intentionally crippled products.

The second biggest problem with DRM is of course that those who are tech savvy can break through the so called protection in about five minutes. And after those five minutes, whatever was supposed to be protected is now up for grabs on the Pirate Bay or wherever. Which is the exact opposite of what the whole purpose of DRM is.

The biggest problem is that these things continue to be broken, even when the purpose for them being broken is nulled. Which means that those honest consumers who want to listen to a CD in their computer can't do that, and that you have to watch those unskippable anti-piracy ads every time you load that DVD into the player.

Those who pirate the movie don't have to put up with such bullshit. And when the pirated version is better that the legit copy, then it's not the pirated version that's the inferior one.

In no other industry would this type of practice be tolerated. What if IKEA sold kitchen tables where one leg was missing, stating that someone might copy the design if they gave you the full version? No one would take that seriously, and the PR department would have to expand rapidly in order to cope with the newfound customer interest. But when it comes to culture, this same course of action is suddenly okay - in fact, it is so okay that no one even notices that no one notices anymore.

The comparison to IKEA won't work if we take it too far, though. Not including a table leg per table would, after all, result in a lot of legs not shipped out, which can be translated into saved money. When it comes to DRM, though, it's not something removed. It's something added. And at a cost, at that. Which is the opposite of saving money, and the one who has to pay for this is you, the consumer. Every time you buy their broken products.

As you can see, DRM is a scourge that needs to be purged. It makes things more expensive than they need to be, they make them harder to use, and they do it without a good reason.

Common sense dictates that we stop this madness at once.  For the benefit of everyone in general, and the honest consumer in particular.

Originally published February 10, 2012


Every period has its word. When electricity was the brand new thing, the use of the word "electric" was at an all time high. Especially as a prefix, electro. It was everywhere!

There's really no need to say that the whole "electro" craze toned down over the years. Electricity has become somewhat of a given, and that something is electric doesn't make it into an object of curiosity as it once were.

Over time, various other words have come to fill the electrifying role of electro. One might say that while electro became that much less important, the need for other buzzwords didn't.

One of the recent ones is "cyber", which thankfully is no longer in frequent use. That quarter century of being around really did put a damper on it. And in those rare cases when it didn't, it is either compensated for in terms of diehard enthusiasm or hardnecked moneymaking ambitions.

Or, as in the case of those talking about tougher measures against cybercrime or hardening our defenses in the ongoing cyberwar - by the discursive lag endemic to all political propaganda. You get a lot further by invoking the cyberghost than by saying that economic fraud and systemic domestic infrastructural weaknesses are problems that needs to be dealt with. And it's too much work to invent a new buzzword when that old one still works.

What I like to do is to replace [buzzword] with the good old electro, just to see what happens. If the sentence still makes sense after it's electrified, then it's probably fluff. (Electrocrime!) If, on the other hand, the sentence runs into semantic difficulties when the buzzword is buzzed out, then you might want to look closer at it. Because it actually tries to say something about the subject matter, rather than just invoking it for your marketable mind's eye.

Thus, looking forward, we are on the constant lookout for new creative solutions to the unique challenges posed by the digital cyberenvironment, and are proud in our resolve to electro electro electro -

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There is no I in writing

Writing is hard.

It all comes down to the difference between what you want to say and what they need to read. And how much of the one you need to sacrifice in order to achieve the other.

Let's say you are angry at something. The natural response is to write about how angry you are at this thing. The less uncertain terms the better, right?

The thing is that the readers don't need to know how angry you are. They rather need to know why you are angry, and they moreover need to read something that will make them just as mad about it as you are.

These are two different texts, and you need to employ different writing techniques in order to write them.

This is what makes writing so hard. Because no matter how angry you might be at something, that text does not care. And the reader won't have a reason to care until the text provides it. Which means that you, the writer, will have to place yourself in the rear view mirror and look straight ahead at the reader.

Do you read me?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alien priorities

There's one thing I've always wondered about Neil Armstrong, and that is how he and Buzz came to the decision that Neil got to go first.

Was it predefined by impersonal procedures, imposed from the bureaucratic context by cold discursive logic?

Was it a team effort among the whole organization, where the discussion rolled back and forth between all those other things that had to be done? How did these discussions go? What did the two have to say about it?

Did they do a rock-paper-scissors on the descent?

These are the kinds of things I think about. Sometimes in greater detail than at other times. Sometimes to the exclusion of other things.

The moon, you say?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Let's friendzone!

There are people in our lives who we talk to. Who we really don't need to talk to. Who we can poke and prod without having a particular reason for doing so. Who know our faces (or avatars) and will wave at us if they see us from a distance. Who just hang around in our social vicinity and shares their random thoughts and impressions with us. Who have accepted us into their lives and like what they've done.

People who, for a variety of reasons, have Friend Zoned us.

There is somewhat of a movement among young confused males to turn the phrase "friend zone" into something pejorative, into something that unthankful females do to nice guys. Which is kind of a shame, for two reasons. The first being that they are wrong, and the second that it's way to useful a term to be wasted on resentful confusion.

Think about it - what other term do we have for people who just exist in a positive way in our general vicinity?

There's somewhat of a shortage of words when it comes to these kinds of things. And here we have a couple of words that's ready to be used, and which furthermore don't need that much of an explanation in order to convey that sense of general friendly coexistence we all know and need.

It would be a waste indeed to let it sink into misuse. So let's go ahead and start using it. Just like that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pattern: Pattern: Pattern: Pattern:

For some time now, I've tweeted somewhat random words combined with a link to a Youtube video (like thus). Which everyone seems to be okay with, for some reason. What's been bugging people is the word "Pattern:" in front of each instance of me doing this.

What does it mean? What's the pattern? What are you up to?

It is, in fact, a really obscure reference. Imagine that you are in a very abandoned library, all dusty and disheveled, and that the tweets are tapes picked up at random with a cryptic inscription on them.

These are the tapes. These are the inscriptions. This is the pattern.

I leave it up to you to either play or not play the tapes. The library is, after all, yours now.

I remember it like this

The thing about history is that it is almost always about strange people. And more often than not, about strange-ass white folks doing the most unexpected things.

Just about everywhere you go, history includes the description of what Europeans was up to a couple of hundred years ago. Not because of the intrinsic interestingness of what these people did, but because of the scale of it. Take anything that is screwed up today, and sure enough the reason for that being screwed up is something these distant Europeans did back in the day. And in order to understand why things are the way they are, one has to take into account the European state of things.

There's no way around this. Just look at any political map of Africa, and note those straight borders between countries. They are that way because some white folks got together and decided that they owned the place. So they took a ruler, drew a straight line and said "to the west of this line is your lands, to the east mine, and as long as you keep out of your part I'll keep to mine".

The notion of asking the locals what they thought about this new order was not present in the heads of those drawing those lines.

So in order to understand why things are as they are, one has to get into the heads of these strange faraway people. No matter that they are long dead and that one might not meet more than a handful actual white people during the course of one's life - one must still understand what they were up to in order to make sense of things.

It is not an unfair thing to say that most of recent history can be described as "and then white folks came and screw things up". Whatever happened before that "and" varies from place to place, but there are undeniable similarities in what happens after "then". And thus, "history" and "white people" come together as a package.

Often a brutal one.

The reverse, however, is not true. White people more often than not do not have to give a damn about what anyone else thinks. They can, if they want to and are curious enough, but it is not necessary in order to make sense of why things are as they are. Rather, it is a disinterested investigation of the peculiar ways of distant cultures, of little consequence for the day to day routine of being.

 That difference is not unimportant. Even though white people sometimes have a hard time understanding why anyone bothers to bring it up.

They are strange and peculiar in that way.

Forgetting, the good kind

Sometimes I get jealous for the strangest of reasons.

One of these is when people say they haven't seen/heard/played something. My mind instantly goes - "hey, I want to be able to do those things for the first time too!"

Because I do. And if I could forget the experience of doing these things (and the related memories), I would. After writing a convincing note saying: "hey, do this thing you've never heard about!"

High up on my list of things to forget would be Lost (as I can't imagine watching it a second time), the Fallout series (that first time was quite an experience), and Godspeed You Black Emperor (twice). And if you for any reason has not experienced these - well, now I'm jealous again.

What would you want to forget, in the good sense of the word?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The love, the situation, the solution

Friends! Enemies! Friends of friends! Enemies of enemies! A Situation has arisen, and your help is needed!

You see, there are two people who are in love. And they make those generic pop songs you hear on the radio pale in comparison. We're talking the real deal here, bona fide true love, straight out of the dictionary of things that are hard to find. If love ever moved mountains, this is what it looks like.

The situation here is that the two lovers are just about as far from each other as it is possible to be on this planet. One is here in Sweden, which is far away to begin with. The other is down in Australia, which (somehow) is even further away.

This is not the way true lovers are supposed to be.

It gets worse, though. It turns out both of them are struggling hard just to make ends meet, and that the economic reality is that love does not move people. Whatever the mountains may have to say about it.

But. There is hope. There is after all you and me. And there is this book they are selling in order to finance the epic journey of love that we all know needs to happen.

So I urge you to buy it. In the name of love.

You can also follow these two lovebirds on Twitter, in order to see how it turns out. Just click here and/or here and you are good to go.

Let's hope they will be good to go too.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The modern troll

I sometimes like to troll my local hardcore nationalists. You know the type - people who adamantly insists that every and all problems that arise without error has its roots in immigration or immigration related issues. Whatever it happens to be, and however much they have to crowbar it.

The biggest fear is that the immigrants will somehow supplant the already existing culture with their own. Or, rather, that the incessant wave of immigrants one day will take over and declare themselves the new rightful rulers of the land. With all kinds of drawbacks for everyone involved - a favorite fear is that medieval sharia will be brutally imposed. Somehow.

It's just as paranoid as it sounds. Which is why I troll them in the first place.

I do this primarily in two ways. The first one is by diving into the concept of modernity and explicate how it all works. That you really can't just replace one culture with another, and that the alienated economic and social conditions that govern the everyday life of the working person serves to discipline just about everyone to accept certain modern values. Because it's not really about traditional culture, but about means and modes of social/physical/political production.

Which, in short, means that the kids of immigrants grow up to be just as cynical and apathetic as native kids, and that the main difference between them is how certain racist elements in society views them. Much to the chagrin of any imagined entity trying to accomplish systematic cultural terraforming.

I also point out that modernity is not a local thing, and that it tends to have taken root in the countries the immigrants come from. More often than not, it is the very reason they are here to begin with, in different ways.

The second way is by drawing their attention to what the young people of today are actually doing. While modernity may not have ended, it has certainly changed. And the kids are the first ones to pick up on this. So while the nationalist breastbeating about the inherent superiority of local culture goes on, the kids do the strangest of things that has no relation at all to any local history whatsoever.

Like, for instance, listen to Hatsune Miku.

Or, more specifically, participation in various worldwide movements that unite people more in terms of ideology or (more often) consumer patterns than ye olde nation state. While loudmouthed political efforts are made to preserve the particular Swedish identity, the young Swedes have become the strangest of people. Kopimists, pirate internationalists, with online as a sixths sense - a far cry from the good ol' traditional down to earth Swede so beloved in the loudmouthed propaganda.

Needless to say, neither of these approaches makes me popular among the more hardcore believers. Which is why I call it trolling. The less hardcore folks, on the other hand, have sometimes come to me some time after my doings and said that I got them to rethink their position. And that the more they rethought this whole issue of national identity, the more they came to the conclusion that it is somewhat of a dead end to defend it. And that the more the concept of modernity permeates their thinking, the more they see that the mess we live in is way more complicated than the traditional "us and them".

And that is why I keep doing it. One troll face at a time.

The question of rape

First off, let us agree that it is wrong to rape people.

Because, you see, if we can't agree on this, then there is a gulf between us so vast that no amount of explaining on your part can bridge it. We are talking cultural rifts on the scale of the Grand Canyon here, and there has got to be pretty substantial rhetorical action going on if you are to make any kind of sense across this distance.

In fact, if we can't agree on this, then go to hell. I will have nothing to do with you or your deranged worldview. I want you as far removed from me and everyone I know physically as we are socially, culturally and psychologically. I want you gone, and mark my words - you will want to be gone.

So I ask you again. Can we agree that it is wrong to rape people?

Don't hesitate too much before you respond.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What do you know?

Let's ask a question. How do you learn things?

One might be tempted to answer along the lines of "studying". But that is just one way of learning. A subcategory of the learning experience, as it were.

The more general mode of learning is to treat things as if they were people. And how does one get to know people? By spending time with them! With time comes familiarity, understanding and a sense of mutual respect.

Studying is one way to spend time with things. But it is not the only way to learn.

Let's go get to know things, shall we?

Borrowing the future: the economics of peak oil

The root of the economic crisis is that people borrow money.

Which, in and of itself, is not that big of a deal. Borrowing money is something that happens just about every minute, and the invention of a system for borrowing money was a big boost for the development of just about any economic sector you can imagine.

In general, the borrowing of money makes it possible to do things. The most notable of these things is the making of more money - which we might unironically call a good investment. More common for the average person, however, is the purchase of large, expensive items, such as houses and cars and such. These are not made to make money, but rather to take funds from the future in order to get something now.

The "future" part is when you pay back the loan. Plus interest.

This arrangement in and of itself is not a cause for crisis. One may object to the principle of interest on religious grounds, but by and large this works. As long as people do that backpaying.

Things become problematic when a significant number of people can't pay back. Which, of course, is what the economic crisis is all about - people not paying back on loans. It is no stretch of any imagination to say that an unpayable loan is a crisis for just about anyone, but one personal crisis does not constitute an economic crisis as we refer to it. Rather, it is the sheer numbers of these people that makes the personal political.

As the numbers of defaultees increased, there was less money to go around. Both for the people why didn't have any of it left to pay that ever present loan, and for the banks who suddenly found itself having lent positively huge amounts of money to a boatload of people who couldn't pay them back. Which is a problem if your business plan is to make money out of people paying interest on past loans. The money just isn't there anymore, and without money - no new loans.

Which means that those people taking loans in order to make money won't be able to do so. Which, in turn, is what the economic crisis is all about. As long as people can use personal debt in order to spur personal profit, economic growth happens. When people can't do that, it doesn't. Which leads to just about all kinds of trouble in a debt-based economy where just about everyone has a mortgage to pay. New investments aren't made, less money is made and even more people default on their loans.

Vicious cycle indeed.

I want you to remember three things out of the above:

1) people borrowing in order to make more money
2) people doing it in order to consume
3) the system that makes this possible

The title mentions peak oil, yet we've only talked loans so far. What gives?

Well, here's the deal. We're facing just about the same problem with our oil supply. It's no secret that there's a finite amount of oil in the world - every well that is pumped dry is one less available in the future. Every barrel of oil we use now is one less to use later.

This works, in part, due to the fact that we use some of the oil to find and extract new oil. As long as this is going on, the rest of us, who use it to move around, grow food, make plastics and on the whole consume it in various ways - can continue to do just that. The supply of new oil is ensured by the supply of current oil, and as long as this reinvestment of oil goes on thing can continue as usual.

In a sense, we borrow from the future in order to make things happen now.

Remember that 123 up above?

What we have going on is 1) people using oil in order to get new oil, 2) people using oil in everyday life and 3) a whole set of economically interdependent pieces that make sure that 1 and 2 can do what they do.

As the supply of oil gets lower and lower, it also means that it gets harder to get to. As the easy wells dries up, one needs to start looking at those well harder to get to. Those at the bottom of the sea or far away in the permafrost. Which translates into a lower ratio of oil returned to oil invested. The harder it is to get the oil out, the more oil you have to use in order to get it out. Which means that things get that much more expensive, and thus we the people have to pay the higher gas price.

It is possible that the hardest wells only get you enough gas to get the drillers back to civilization afterwards. But long before that becomes an issue, things will have become so expensive that most people really can't afford it any more.

And so we have our economic crisis repeat itself. Loaning from the future only works if there is a future there to repay it. If there for some reason is no future left - well, that won't bode well for anyone. Especially not those who are dependent on the future in order to make things happen now.

Which would be us.

Just to make things worse, there are very few things in our society that does not require oil in some direct or indirect way. So as oil becomes ever more expensive, everything else becomes that much more expensive as well. Combine this with what we said about everyone having a mortgage to watch over them - well.

Maybe it is time to borrow from tomorrow and build a better future out of that. There is after all no future in the present.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Violence and computers solve problems

It is sometimes said (with bold type and a very unmistakable sense of moral indignation) that computer games cause violence.

I beg to differ.

It is not computer games that causes violence; it's all those other things we have to deal with on a daily basis. Things that in no uncertain terms teaches us that the answer to the problem is indeed violence, and that a liberal application of it will solve even the most deep seated and culturally interwoven of problems.

Take the not uncommon situation of being bullied in school. There is much to be said about it, but the one surefire way to solve the problem is violence. Either by hitting back - it is common knowledge that the bully tends to find other victims once the exchange of blows is mutual from now on - or by teaming up with others. Use of force or the silent backing of peers who can use force solves problems.

Or take the all-encompassing war on terror. Preemptive strikes, invasions of other countries and a general glorification of all things militaristic - what more do you need in terms of teaching people that the solution to problems is tied up with violence?

Or, why not, the seemingly random acts of brutality shown to Occupy protesters. It would be the easiest thing in the world to set up local institutions for the facilitation of political discussions regarding the future of things. Talking is something the human body can do just about forever without having to stop, and getting the Occupiers to talk politics is not the hardest of challenges. Yet instead, we see that the solution to the problems brought before the world is to beat them over the head with the full force of state power.

Violence, it would seem, solves a whole range of problems. Private, foreign, domestic - on all levels, violence makes problems go away and solutions appear.

It is hard not to conclude that it is rather narrow minded to say that computer games causes violence. It is even harder not to think that, for all intents and purposes, those who make such claims have a rather limited social analysis.

That might be a problem. Let's hope the solution is not given.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Magnet links: How do they work?

Magnet links are as close to magic as one can get.

A magnet link is basically a word. A word of power - and therefore a very long word. It is a word composed of what seems to be random numbers and letters (and a lot of them), and is therefore utterly unreadable to the naked human eye. But through the careful application of computation, these seemingly random strings of symbols can be turned into - well, just about anything, really.

That's the magic of them.

And once you know one of these words (or have it stored somewhere), you can summon up this anything whenever you want. Just utter the word in the correct setting, and the summoning begins.

It used to be a cliché that magicians utter strange, incomprehensible words and magic happened. Now, we take this for granted. Even children can accomplish these feats nowadays - and so they do, every day. Without really thinking about it.

It just goes to show that the world is full of magic.

One word is all it takes.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The world is a Gordian knot

You can start just about anywhere, and you will soon find that this starting point is a thread that will lead you to a complex set of interwoven social and semantic relations that won't easily untangle for anyone.

Not even for the living and breathing persons that happen to call these relations their everyday experience.

The key to this knot is that it is easier to live it than to understand it, and that understanding is secondary to praxis. If you can act in accordance to the implied rules and conventions of the knot, then you can slowly submerge yourself into it, slowly coming to some sort of understanding as you go along.

This does not bode well for the impartial observer. Distant empiricism will only get you so far, and in the end the lack of proximity is what killed the curious kitten.

Or, in other words: the knot will always be there, and if you can't beat it, adapt to it.

That is not to say that there are not attempts to remove it. Bureaucracy and externally imposed authority are very clear attempts at cutting through that indeterminate knot and Get Things Done. Not by adapting to local social and cultural conventions, but by making these adapt to the newly imposed order.

This works very well when there is a functioning state apparatus behind these demands. Even more so when the implied threats inherent to demands of change are backed up with the very real capability of making life very miserable for those who (for whatever social, semantic or cultural reason) fail to adapt.

In the myth, violence is the tool of choice for making the knot go away. The previous order of things will just have to untangle along.

Yet, in practice - as every colonial power knows - things are not as simple as that. Once the new order has been established, and the violence inherent in the system is made invisible, strange adaptations start to happen. People start to meditate upon the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it, and before anyone knows it, new complex interwoven social and cultural behaviors manifest themselves. By skirting around the new order, the old order remains, resists.

Even - especially - when the response to this is to make that invisible violence visible.

Both the distant impartial observer and the equally distant yet brutally partial lawmaker face this knot. I cannot but think that there is a lesson to be learnt here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who wrote the words that keeps your heart pounding?

That might seem like a rhetorical question. Or something an English teacher might come up with to provoke poetic young hearts and minds into action. It might. But it isn't. It's actually a matter of life and death.

Especially if you have a pacemaker.

You see, a pacemaker is a little computer, and computers run on code. Code that can be written, read and rewritten - just like any piece of literature. And just like literature, some dispositions and formulations works better than others.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that one has the possibility to read this code - literally the words that keeps that bleeding heart pounding. Yet if you ask to read these sacred words, you will probably be told that you can't.

Pacemaker software is as a rule closed software, and you are not allowed to read that.

Yet, these are the words that govern your life. If they contain flaws, errors and edge condition failures, it is your life that hangs in the balance. And since life is a tragedy of flaws, errors and edge condition failures, you will want to know about this.

In fact, you will want the whole world to know about this. So that every expert and amateur alike can look upon these words and despair. Before you do.

If there is a case to be made for free and open software, this is it.