Week 27, a contemporaneous record
I’m composing this Saturday evening, because on Sunday morning, we’re headed out to the olive grove with two friends. On the way, we’ll stop at the Donut Farm in Oakland to acquire one (1) donut each. The Donut Farm is definitely vegan, possibly anarchist, and while they are best known for their elaborately frosted offerings, their real triumph is their plain crusty brown donut, the best of its type I’ve ever had.
It is good to begin your day with a plain crusty brown donut.
Please, mark your calendar for Sunday, August 4, at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. BST. On that day, at that hour, I will offer a live reading of my all-time favorite novella. It will take a few hours; it will be a nice thing to tune into on a Sunday.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to tell you ahead of time which novella it is. Possibly, I will not.
The classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is newly available on Netflix, so I’ve been rewatching it with Kathryn, finding myself newly stunned by the graphic design of the show’s fictional readouts and displays, which are the source of this week’s art. I apologize for the wild strobing (but not really).
You can browse a gallery of gifs here. I’m desperate to know more about who created these and how they approached the task; I’ve engaged in medium-deep googling on the matter and come up empty-handed.
Designer of fictional displays, wherever you are: the style and sheer ~vibe~ of these images is astonishing. I bow down.
Last week, I spent an afternoon in a beautiful room in San Francisco with about a hundred other people, most of them connected somehow to the work of Silicon Valley. Together, we listened to a series of panels convened around questions of internet speech.
It was, by far, the most tech-centric gathering I’ve attended in years. And anyway, back when I worked at a tech company, I was enmeshed in the earnest design/media nerd-o-shere, not the world of tech and capital. This room was very tech and capital.
Here’s one observation, which I hope will be useful both to (a) readers of this newsletter who find themselves in rooms like this often, and (b) readers of this newsletter who absolutely do not.
My central impression of the afternoon didn’t have anything at all to do with speech; it was inescapably about money.
There was at least one panel which I’m pretty sure was composed entirely of millionaires. It reminded me of the Apple keynotes with their veteran executives who radiate, even more than pride or excitement, a kind of deep comfort.
There’s a metaphorical duck—you might have encountered it before—who is calm on the surface but paddling furiously below. For me, this kind of Silicon Valley character offers the mirror image: on the surface, they are churning—solving! hard! problems!—but below, there’s a well of calm and security. After all… they’re already rich!
There was, in that beautiful room, sincere curiosity and concern about the future, particularly the political future. There was also a sense of, well, whatever happens, I’m going to be fine. Which… is true.
Over the past fifteen years, a LOT of money has been collected all over the world and condensed into one rather small place, and Silicon Valley now probably needs to be understood primarily as a nexus of, not technology, but wealth. How does that wealth influence and distort the digital products and services I use every day? By extension, how does it influence and distort… me??
People! I am SO ready for a wealth tax!
I’ve recommended this book before, and I thought of it again several times while sitting in that beautiful room in San Francisco: Age of Fracture by Daniel T. Rodgers, a history, rigorous and readable, of the massive cultural shift that happened in America in the 1970s and 1980s and laid out the intellectual landscape we’re still sorta stuck in today.
The shift occurred along many dimensions, and Rodgers devotes a chapter to each—it’s a wonderfully modular, “random access” book.
I was born in December 1979. A year later, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. When I encountered Age of Fracture, only a few years ago, it felt like wiping my fogged-up glasses and seeing clearly, for the first time, the world around me. Ohhh… so THIS is where I’ve been living all along.
For all the smarts and success of the people in that beautiful room in San Francisco, I think there were also a lot of glasses still fogged. Age of Fracture would help.
Here’s a line I overheard that afternoon, gently paraphrased:
In the near future, people will pay for services designed to help them filter and navigate a news environment that has been intentionally polluted—a sky dark with chaff.
That sounds pretty plausible, unfortunately. Any time I dip into my spam folder, I realize again, with shock, what a wild environment email has been for a long time now—almost biological in its balance of opportunistic pathogens against churning defense systems. You can detect just a hint of that in news today; it’s possible it will get much worse. Yikes.
The classic video game Prince of Persia is thirty years old this week, and I want to take the opportunity to recommend its creator Jordan Mechner’s books, The Making of Prince of Persia and The Making of Karateka, which together comprise his journal entries from 1982 to 1990 or so.
As the journal opens, he’s 17, and he’s about to move to San Francisco to make a video game for the Apple II.
I mean COME ON.
The books are very nerdy and really truly not for everyone, but, if you’re interested in video games, Bay Area history, the creative process, and/or how things begin, they are SUCH a treat. Goofy in the way only a contemporaneous record can be.
FEBRUARY 7, 1982. There was an article in Creative Computing about generating pseudo-random numbers—just what I need for Deathbounce!
Mechner offers two volumes; personally, I thought The Making of Prince of Persia was great but The Making of Karateka was magical. In Karateka, he’s younger. Nothing is certain. It’s wonderful.
If you pop over to this recent newsletter from Alan Jacobs and scroll down to read the section about “three minds,” you will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.
At one end of our little town’s main street, there’s a building that used to be a mill but is now a laboratory, a workshop, and a school, all in one. Its proprietor is Deb Chachra, and if you sat across the street spying, you’d see a steady stream of visitors: many from the island, yes, but even more from abroad, and they’ve made great voyages just to be here, to find this building, to bring news to Deb and receive news in return. She is a great node, a vital hub—and if we don’t always hear from her, it’s just because the visits never cease.
We just heard from her.
These emails seem to be… growing. I’ll send a shorter one soon.
I’m sending this on Sunday morning, which means I’m about to GET A PLAIN CRUSTY BROWN DONUT
June 2019, Oakland