I finally had a chance to finish Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, SEVENEVES. It was deeply interesting, combining epic tales of survivalism after a natural disaster wreaks havoc on the entire planet. Definitely a good read. Highly recommended. Some thoughts below – spoiler alert – not a full-on review, but some stuff I thought about while reading the novel.

Continue reading “On SEVENEVES”

historical tweets

A [blog of funny faux-historical tweets](http://historicaltweets.com/) published a book a couple of years ago, and used [one of my photos](http://www.flickr.com/photos/dnorman/867989188/) as the background for a twitter account of a caveman. Pretty cool. They’re going to print again, and the photo’s still in there.


The [book’s available on Amazon.com](http://www.amazon.com/Historical-Tweets-Completely-Unabridged-Ridiculously/dp/034552263X/). I don’t see a penny of sales, but I wouldn’t have seen a penny for that photo anyway…

The Whale and the Reactor: Mythinformation

More notes on Langdon Winner’s *The Whale and the Reactor*, published in 1986. A decade before the internet really began to take off.

Chapter 6 deals with “mythinformation” or the myth that increased access to information via computers and networks leads to increased individual democratic power.

On the great equalizer:

> The computer romantics are also correct in noting that computerization alters relationships of social power and control, although they misrepresent the direction this development is likely to take. Those who stand to benefit most obviously are large transnational corporations. While their “global reach” does not arise solely from the application of information technologies, such organizations are uniquely situated to exploit the efficiency, productivity, command, and control the new electronics make available. Other notable beneficiaries of the systematic use of vast amounts of digitized information are public bureaucracies, intelligence agencies, and an ever-expanding military, organizations that would operate less effectively at their present scale were it not for the use of computer power.

on conservatism rather than revolution in the computer age:

> Current developments in the information age suggest an increase in power by those who already had a great deal of power, an enhanced centralization of control by those already prepared for control, an augmentation of wealth by the already wealthy. Far from demonstrating a revolution in patterns of social and political influence, empirical studies of computers and social change usually show powerful groups adapting computerized methods to retain control.

on political arguments for digitization:

> The political arguments of computer romantics draw upon a number of key assumptions: (1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Taken as separate assertions and in combination, these beliefs provide a woefully distorted picture of the role of electronic systems in social life.

on public participation in politics:

>Public participation in voting has steadily declined as television replaced face-to-face politics of precincts and neighborhoods. **Passive monitoring of electronic news and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take an active part.** If people begin to rely on computerized data bases and telecommunications as a primary means of exercising power, it is conceivable that genuine political knowledge based in first-hand experience would vanish altogether.

on social paralysis by ubiquitous monitoring:

>Confronted with omnipresent, all-seeing data banks, the populace may find passivity and compliance the safest route, avoiding activities that once represented political liberty.

on removing social buffers:

>One consequence of these developments is to pare away the kinds of face-to-face contact that once provided important buffers between individuals and organized power. To an increasing extent, people will become even more susceptible to the influence of employers, news media, advertisers, and national political leaders.

I’m guessing the book read like a breathless fringe manifesto. It’s surprising how accurately Winner’s predictions describe modern society. Passivity and complacency, the illusion of connectedness in the face of isolation, real democracy collapsing under the weight of increased media exposure and ubiquitous monitoring of citizens.


2010-06-03 pulp.jpg

As a kid, I was a voracious reader of science fiction. Anything by Clark. Anything by Asimov. Tolkein. Anything by Heinlein (also, I can’t believe my parents let me read Heinlein as a kid – I’m guessing they’d never read some of the pervier stuff…). And, of course, every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on. Later, I sucked in anything by Greg Bear. Gregory Benford. And on and on…

2010/06/03: Think of a favorite childhood sport, game, or activity. Make a nostalgic photo today. (@muffett68) #ds200

YYCPhotoBook 2009

I was extremely fortunate to have been a part of the fantastic YYCPhotoBook 2009 project. It’s a community-based photography book project, featuring 32 different Calgary photographers ranging from amateurs to high-end professionals. The goal was to show the city from various perspectives, outside the traditional stereotypes and stock-photo views. From start to finish, the project took 4 months – including recruiting the photographers, sourcing photos, editing, designing, and releasing to print. Duncan Kinney did an absolutely amazing job in wrangling the project and pushing it forward, and Connor Turner did an equally fantastic job in putting the book design together.


I love the project for a few reasons. First, it’s a crowdsourced, grassroots community project. I described it at the first project meeting as being more of a community art project than a photography project. It brought together 32 photographers, with 32 different views, perspectives, and styles. The end result is an incredible, beautiful book of photography that is a wonderful representation of the city of Calgary and those who live here.

The other reason I love the project is that it is a non-profit endeavor, raising funds for the Brown Bagging It for Calgary’s Kids charity – a local charity that is devoted to providing healthy meals to underprivileged Calgary kids.

It was truly an honour to have been a part of this project. The photos in the book are amazing, the photographers are inspiring, and the book itself is gorgeous.

If you’d like a copy of the book (for the awesome page 12 photo *cough*, or to support Brown Bagging It for Calgary’s Kids) head over to the Blurb store to get yours now.


the postman delivers

My copy of Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity was delivered in the mail today, thanks to the speedy Amazon.com shipping system. It’s got a fresh, blank Page 61 and I’m looking forward to having it filled up. I also picked up a copy of Technopoly. I decided to not go ahead and buy the other dozen books in my shopping cart in an effort to avoid credit-card-related domestic difficulties…