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Some fieldnotes you feel like writing-up right away.

cybersutra #1

June 23rd, 2004

aphorisms for the digital age

principle: the perfect is the enemy of the good.
– beware feature creep
– heed the 80/20 rule
– dilute! dilute! OK?

– explain how this is particular to the digital age.

desolation wilderness: the sun is but a morning star

June 17th, 2004

it rained as i walked in but, thanks to the canopy, i was not wet.
according to notches inside the door i was 4’1″ my first summer here.
stowed under this cabin, my old PCs remind me that even when the nearest phone was miles away i’d hike down to jack in.

hanging for hours, looking out over Fallen Leaf Lake,
in a glass phone booth that is no longer there.
i will always love Ma Bell the way i imagine freight hopping bums of old
loved the Union and Central Pacific (for their might and reach.)

dateline ramona

June 16th, 2004

what brings me back to ramona after all these years? it’s so different than it was in 1993 when i first moved here.

photo of street sign 15th and Ramona, San Francisco, CA

and different than it was in 1995 which, as you’ll see if you google “webheads on ramona street” and read the rolling stone article, was when ramona’s 15 minutes of fame went down. but my connection here goes far beyond that. it is wired into walls and across roofs..

photo of telecommunications plumbing

so it might well be this lovely punchdown block that brings me back

photo of desks with many computersphoto of punchdown block (telecommunicationa plumbing)

in 1994 a fire gutted this victorian. all the wiring had to be redone, and rick, aka mister 3-D, offered to do the telco wiring for the new owner for free. he put ethernet right in the walls, jacks in every room. ever since the building has been part of the ramona empire. it has been in the family, inhabited, like more than a dozen apartments in the neighborhood, by folks connected to this place through cyborganic. say what you will about cyborganic as a community, we were always proud of our wiring.

photo fridge covered with magnets and clippings photo close-up of fridge magnets

perhaps i am drawn back to visit the city by this fridge, by its magnets, poetry and clippings. postcards and new surprises alongside the eternal huey newton. huey has been sitting in that wicker chair, in that photo torn from a newspaper, on this fridge, since humans first returned here after the great fire.

magnet says photo close-up of fridge magnets and clippings

if you look closely you’ll notice a set of square, electricity-themed magnets in pastel colors with such pithy questions as “What is your kilowatt-hour rate?” these were sent around 1997 to educate consumers about the deregulation of california’s electricty markets (ha ha), but might also work as pick-up lines.

photo of foamy coffeemaybe it’s the frothy coffee that brings me back, or the note from aunt caroline (visible to the left of huey) which came with the whisker and admonishes: “…don’t shove this in the back of a drawer, foam wildly, foam madly, foam everything.”

of course geeky artifacts of days past also have their draw.

for example, the specimen below, brought by pauline to a party where the price of admission was an item from a failed dotcom, has to be one of the most vacuous paragraphs of marketing jargon ever written. it is reported to be genuine, that is, written in earnest, though i can’t imagine how.

Jargon Graph

a thousand points of failure

May 28th, 2004

“A thousand points of light? Is that some kind of eastern thing?”

He got 100 cool points for this witty quoting from The Big Lebowski, but then lost them for not getting the reference to the first President Bush. Points of light had been big, a meme right up there with kinder, gentler.

“Don’t you remember 1989?”, I ask. “A thousand points of light?”

“It sounds familiar,” he says tentatively.

It all sounds familiar, I’ll grant you. With him, I was less generous.

“Well, nevermind, you won’t get the joke unless it does more than ring a bell. You’d have to know something of the context.”

“You could explain it, instead of pouting, perhaps?”

Okay, this was charming. Evenness of temperament with backbone. This was mastery of another kind. But he was still wrong. I couldn’t explain without pouting.

“It’s not a joke anymore when you have to explain. It’s a lesson. I don’t want to play teacher now. I want to be a comedian. You know, like Lenny Bruce.”

There are a thousand points of failure in any conversation. I had found one. And I wouldn’t let go.

In a classroom, in the daylight, for an old friend, I could’ve explained my thousand points of failure quip. Could’ve explained my satire of dismantling public infrastructure to rely instead on individual charity for the social safety net as akin to engineering in as many points of failure as possible.

Not that I don’t respect the power of individuals to make a difference. Each point is a possibility of failure, not a promise of it. But moving social welfare out of the public sphere, off the slate of collective, national priorities is a major shift in course. In an age where everything important is handled by experts, what are we to make of the importance of jobs left to domestics? Left to the private, household economy (oikos)? Apparently, that tending the young, old, sick, and poor are below-the-line, after-profit, expenses.

It seems disingenuous to forget that New Deal reforms, not Rockefeller-style philanthropy, saved the free world from the depression. At least that’s the story I got growing up. Sure, laissez-faire capitalism, the Satanic Mills, 18-hour workdays, unfettered monopolies, and all that, had threatened democracy. But Upton Sinclair, labor unions, and FDR’s reforms restored the balance, making the world safe again for unprecedented economic growth.

Today, when “unions” and “welfare-state” are dirty words to so many, I wonder how effectively a charity-net of a thousand points of light can weather the vicissitudes of boom and bust.

green fuse force

May 26th, 2004

Monday I got a jolt of the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Work and pages offline to me so long I feared them lost were suddenly back again. With digital, it’s always a switch, flick on | flick off. Even when you’re the flicker, the change is sudden.

One of the works lost to me was my cyborganic manifesto, the other was my masters thesis. I had digital and paper copies of the thesis, but nothing of the manifesto. Yet I grinned widely in the moment I realized it was gone. What does it mean when you lose your manifestos? What falls away is always. And is near.

Green fuse force drove a little further today with the re-activation of my pirates website and all this changed my identity in a rather literal, aka textual, way. I made a new .sig file.
<>..............[current project]
<>..........[old work]
<>....[blog as scrapbook, an experiment]

untimely ripped

May 24th, 2004

It was some time ago now that I was untimely ripped from the grid and nearly disappearred entirely from the web. No big loss to most, to be sure, but a bit of a jolt to me.

In April a friend I met in November googled me and all he found was my filmmaker page at — a site that’s actually down today, amusingly enough — and some Wayback Machine pages.

“Jenny Cool, are you out there?,” his subject line read.

I wasn’t.

The rupture was neither complete, nor unexpected. In many ways it was delightful to see my “return from the field” mirrored by this retreat from the net, and especially the web, where for years it would’ve been easy to locate me with a single i’m-feeling-lucky click.

But it was also unsettling. Web death I thought. No, not some kind of mass-scribbling √† la Blair Newman removing all his Well postings in an act of virtual suicide followed, weeks later, with his suicide IRL (Rheingold’s account). It was nevertheless, partially the result of deliberate neglect.

It was a letting go, a retreat from a decade of wired-weirdness and weird-wiredness.

Not that anyone was watching at this point in the long good-bye. It took about four months for anyone to ping me with the news that I had disappeared from view.

Cyborganic ported to a new server about a year ago. Trusty boxes xanadu and erewhon went offline at 11:59 PM on Friday May 23, 2003. Now the switchover went pretty damn smoothly, all praise to Cybotech, but my entire web directory remained .tgz somewhere invisible and unknown to me, my efforts to reach it thwarted by disconnection.

The untimely rippage of another box from its rack at Hurricane Electric knocked out and voilà, web silence.

And’s that’s right about the time I started writing here with no clear plan, but a deep, intransitive need to transmit. Better send out something on my frequencies lest web death feedback IRL.


May 24th, 2004

From: Jeremy Douglass

Date: April 18, 2004 4:44:40 PM PDT
Subject: Jenny Cool, are you out there?

Dear Jenny,
Had a really hard time tracking you down. Only found three live links, all of which were out of date:

...all of them seem to list these defunct contact points:

...and the best lead that I could find was using the WayBack machine on your dead coolstudios site:

which listed your email as I checked:

...but it looked empty. Still, I'll give it a shot.

Jeremy Douglass

Co-chair, "Narr@tive: Digital Storytelling" UC Graduate Conference
Department of English
University of California Santa Barbara

Fri Apr 23 14:47:53 PDT 2004

April 28th, 2004

seems to be fixed now.

just to provide you with a momento of the occasion:

Now atsa bigga mailbox!:
oz:~ % ls -la /var/mail/cool
-rw——- 1 cool mail 512033527 Apr 23 14:18 /var/mail/cool

What time is it?
oz:~ % date
Fri Apr 23 14:47:53 PDT 2004
oz:~ % uptime
2:47PM up 4 days, 20:48, 6 users, load averages: 1.48, 1.33, 0.96

Okay, let’s compress that mailbox. here goes!

oz:~ % top -u
pid: 31321; load averages: 1.28, 1.25, 0.91 up 4+20:47:49 14:46:54
269 processes: 3 running, 259 sleeping, 7 zombie
CPU states: 56.2% user, 0.0% nice, 18.2% system, 1.6% interrupt, 24.0% idle
Mem: 285M Active, 85M Inact, 114M Wired, 15M Cache, 61M Buf, 992K Free
Swap: 2048M Total, 206M Used, 1842M Free, 10% Inuse, 8K In, 432K Out

29330 3004 64 0 18396K 17304K CPU1 1 14:17 97.66% 97.66% imapsd
29503 1001 44 0 2232K 1348K CPU0 0 1:18 11.13% 11.13% top
2634 1001 -2 0 4064K 2640K getblk 0 0:43 9.47% 9.47% imapsd
31295 1004 2 0 2836K 1752K select 1 0:01 3.04% 1.81% imapsd
31296 1004 2 0 2828K 1748K select 1 0:00 0.41% 0.24% imapsd
54412 80 2 0 15364K 4416K sbwait 0 0:10 0.05% 0.05% httpd
29108 12345 10 0 2392K 1540K nanslp 0 0:00 0.05% 0.05% smtpd
31178 80 2 0 10788K 3184K sbwait 1 0:00 0.05% 0.05% httpd
31261 80 2 0 10772K 3120K sbwait 1 0:00 0.06% 0.05% httpd
175 0 2 0 1164K 540K select 1 8:21 0.00% 0.00% master
117 0 2 0 964K 460K select 1 4:16 0.00% 0.00% syslogd
559 0 10 0 912K 224K nanslp 1 4:05 0.00% 0.00% svscan
22021 0 -6 0 1004K 292K piperd 1 2:49 0.00% 0.00% cronolo
552 0 2 0 18204K 7916K select 1 2:44 0.00% 0.00% perl
75083 12345 2 0 2328K 1824K select 1 1:55 0.00% 0.00% qmgr
22013 0 2 0 10756K 2328K select 1 1:54 0.00% 0.00% httpd
22032 80 2 0 21072K 12820K sbwait 1 0:54 0.00% 0.00% httpd

Okay, all done. It got a LOT smaller!

oz:~ % ls -la /var/mail/cool
-rw——- 1 cool mail 436178 Apr 23 15:29 /var/mail/cool

Which means you had this much trash (in kB):

512,033,527k – 436,178k = 511,597,349k = about 500 Gb!



derivative products

April 26th, 2004

This wasn’t my first experience with the radical new forms of sociality and peculiar new subjectivities made possible by digital technologies. I’d seen something like this before. As a college student in 1987 I worked building phone bridges for a company, PDQ Phone, that hosted telephone chat lines–e.g. the Love line, Fantasy Line, B & D Line, Transgender Line, Foot Fetish Line, Large and Lovely Line. These were essentially different phone numbers that paying customers (almost always men) could call to talk to women and one another. The key innovation, however, was that the women didn’t work for the company and were not paid professionals. A few individual women were simply given free access to “courtesy lines” and these amateurs kept whole bridges of paying customers on the line. In a sense, PDQ was selling these people to each other, not just the female volunteers to the male customers, but the audience to itself. These were party lines, not private one-on-one chats. Everyone chatted together as a group around the designated topic of the line. As such they were also telecommunities both similar to and rather different from those that sprang up via the Internet.

Did the PDQ product line constitute new publics, or new markets? At that time I couldn’t have asked such a question and I can not answer it yet, but the theme of consumer/citizen has been central to my thinking since that time.

PDQ was founded by an MIT grad who saw opportunity in the telecommunications deregulation of the1980s. Around the time it became possible legally for new companies to offer telecommunications services (networked products), it became possible technically and economically. The functionality of analog telephone exchanges that used to take up entire buildings could now be replicated in computer hardware and software. With digital technology PDQ could advertise local phone numbers in New York and across New England that were operated from their offices in Kendall Square. I quickly saw the strange and extraordinary potential of the digital lines that went into service in the summer of 1988.

In a quarter the space taken by the analog equipment to host 8 lines with a total of 64 callers, a single operator sitting at a computer with headphones could moderate dozens of lines and hundreds of callers across a widely expanded geographic region. At the time computer networks were revolutionizing the economy with derivative products (futures, options) and 24/7 capital flows. I couldn’t help notice the parallels to the extraordinary telephonic “derivative products” that digital telephony made possible for PDQ. For example, the voyeuristic “Bedroom”, where paying customers called in to listen to two people having “phone sex,” something permitted on only two of the other party lines. The exhibitionists “in the Bedroom” would call an unpublished courtesy number and could communicate only with each other. They could not hear their audience. Paying customers however, could talk to each other as they listened in. Watching the moderators of these lines deal with troublemakers and the various social issues that came up was instructive to me years later in relation to the Internet.