July 2013 Articles

If there is a writer who is able to describe the temporal aspects of life, it is Cheri Lucas Rowlands. A several month old post of hers popped up in my morning news reading and it reflects beautifully — as does much of her writing — on the veil between life and time.

In addition to being a computer visionary who invented the mouse, “Dr. Engelbart was one of the first to realize the accelerating power of computers and the impact they would have on society. In a presentation at a conference in Philadelphia in February 1960, he described the industrial process of continually shrinking the size of computer circuits that would later be referred to as ‘Moore’s Law,’ after the Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.”


In 1998, Drew Greenblatt bought Marlin Steel, a small manufacturing company “that specialized in a single product: wire bagel baskets, which bagel stores use to display their wares. Marlin had the market to itself.”

“Within five years of buying Marlin, Greenblatt was getting killed. Chinese factories suddenly started making bagel baskets. Marlin sold its baskets for $12 apiece and with 36 baskets to equip a typical bagel shop made $450 when a company added a location. Chinese factories were selling baskets for $6 each. Marlin’s customers were switching to save $200 a store. And Marlin would never be able to match its Chinese competitors on price. ‘My steel was costing me $7 a basket,’ says Greenblatt. ‘We were going to go extinct.’”

“Many people seem to feel that if the market can’t offer them a brilliant job, there’s not much point looking….”

A plan for peace in gangland.

I wish this had appeared in the LA Times instead of the New York Times (seems more logical that the local media would write such a story). None the less, a terrific story and perspective on gang violence, progress, and the community of South Los Angles and Watts.

“It was a nearly perfect afternoon – cloudless, the sun warm on my shoulders, food in my garden and in my refrigerator, my bills paid – when I bent to tug free a head of new garlic to throw in with the potatoes and chard I’d planned for dinner, and my back seized up. It would be days before I could stand upright, let alone work in the garden, without pain.

“I wasn’t thinking of it, though it seems my body was: the seemingly insignificant run-in I’d had with the police the night before. For a black man any encounter with the police is tense, and that tension had found its way into my muscles, if not my mind.”

“More than 60 years ago, the famous American psychologist B.F. Skinner demonstrated that unpredictable rewards created obsessive behavior in lab rats. The rats would click and click and click again on a bar, hoping to trigger a random reward….Still, random reward structures are built, sometimes unintentionally, into many of the technologies we use everyday.”

“Across the United States, natural darkness is an endangered resource. East of the Mississippi, it is already extinct; even in the West, night sky connoisseurs admit that it’s quicker to find true darkness by flying to Alice Springs, Australia, than traveling to anywhere in the Lower Forty-eight.”

“The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“‘It’s here’ was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

“The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.

“‘O.K.,’ he said finally on that fall day in 2005, ‘let’s make a plan.’”

It’s easy to slow down time; never stop learning.

“…It takes time to learn new tasks and to encode them in your memory. And when you are learning about the world for the first time, you are forming a fairly steady stream of new memories of events, places and people.

“When, as an adult, you look back at your childhood experiences, they appear to unfold in slow motion probably because the sheer number of them gives you the impression that they must have taken forever to acquire. So when you recall the summer vacation when you first learned to swim or row a boat, it feels endless.”

Musings on writing, writer’s block and the temporal aspects of writing and archiving writing on the web.

On Facebook, Las Vegas slot machines, and the “Machine Zone”. A terrific long-form article.

“I know the hypnosis, as I’m sure you do, too. You start clicking through photos of your friends of friends and next thing you know an hour has gone by. It’s oddly soothing, but unsatisfying. Once the spell is broken, I feel like I’ve just wasted a bunch of time. But while it’s happening, I’m caught inside the machine, a human animated GIF: I. Just. Cannot. Stop…

“My own intuition is that this is not love. It’s something much more technologically specific…’the machine zone.’…

“What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop….

“When we get wrapped up in a repetitive task on our computers, I think we can enter some softer version of the machine zone. Obviously, if you’re engaged in banter with friends or messaging your mom on Facebook, you’re not in that zone. If you’re reading actively and writing poems on Twitter, you’re not in that zone. If you’re making art on Tumblr, you’re not in that zone. The machine zone is anti-social, and it’s characterized by a lack of human connection. You might be looking at people when you look through photos, but your interactions with their digital presences are mechanical, repetitive, and reinforced by computerized feedback.”