Story from a Dream

In this dream there was a small group of independent scientists working on a kind of mind-reading technology (some variants of this sort of thing are already in development) that enabled humans to understand the thoughts of animals. For the most part, they weren’t finding much of a there there, but then they accidentally pick up prodigy-level sentience from a horse and a donkey who happened to be in the neighborhood. They begin communicating with the creatures through their device, explaining to them what they’re doing and what they’ve found and try to convince the animals to work with them, to further the dialog across species, to help the creatures further develop their own intellectual capabilities, and to contribute overall to humanity and the world. The horse and the donkey are, in short, not interested. They want nothing to do with any of it. They know what they know and they’ve seen what they’ve seen and have made up their minds about people (and the world).

There was no Amy Adams success story in the end. There was no magic moment, no breakthrough, no brilliant insight, only continual stubbornness and persistence on all sides to no avail.


How to Go Viral Mechanically

According to this article in TechCrunch, machine learning will be applied to discover stories with hit potential inside Wattpad. Among the 565 million stories there, new jewels will be discovered by machines that cannot read, cannot think, cannot contextualize, but can formulate like hell along pre-determined spreadsheet equations. It’s the brave old world of search engine optimizations applied to fiction. So don’t worry about needles and haystacks, and let the machine find you. Good luck with that!

Ghost Towns of the Future

I recently watched a little bit of a documentary called ‘Sunderland Til I Die’, about a fairly minor English soccer team but more about its meaning to its home town, a city that was once the thriving home of a major ship-building industry but has since fallen by the wayside, relegated by history just as its soccer team was relegated by poor performance. I know little about the city, the team, the history (or England for that matter) but it struck me as a classic test case of How To Make A Ghost Town. Step One, depend on one single industry. Step Two, wait for that industry to decline.

It’s a tricky business, though, predicting future ghost towns. Before the industry exists, its technology may not even exist, at least not in its future form. People had been building ships for centuries, but not always the kind of ships they later built in Sunderland. You also have to predict the location of the future ghost town – why Sunderland, for example, and not some other city on a river by the sea. Timing is another issue the ghost town prophet needs to consider. Some industries may thrive for centuries, others merely decades or less. Then there is the descent, how long it will take for the town to become its ghostly future self. Will the town revitalize itself, take on some new industry, some new form in order to stave off its destiny? Some cities go through many cycles of re-invention before they eventually fall prey to the inevitable. Some even last for thousands of years.

Test Case: Silicon Valley

Way back in the early 1980’s I was working in a bookstore in San Francisco and at one point was tasked with putting together a computer books section. At that time there were not very many computer books on the market, nor were they in much demand. Most of them concerned MS-DOS or Lotus Notes, Basic and C Programming. There was no Windows or Mac at the time. There were no personal computers. That was all shortly to change. Silicon Valley was still home to some cherry orchards and had not yet become the household word it soon became. I was not interested in computers and I hated that little section in the bookstore. I knew nothing about anything in any of those books and nobody was buying them anyway. It seemed like a total waste of time and resources to bother with.

Fast forward a couple of years and I started teaching myself how to program in Basic and C, and I had bought a little PC (suckered by the Microsoft ads featuring a Charlie Chaplin character) and was doing little things on the command-line, very proud of myself.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had a modem and was hooked up to CompuServe at some insanely low baud rate, waiting hours to download a text file containing instructions on how to make opium from home-grown poppies (asking for a friend!), and then I bought an Atari ST with built-in midi ports and was writing automation tools for computer-generated music composition.

Fast forward a few decades now and you find me working on the top floor of a brand new blue glass building in the heart of Silicon Valley, writing programs in languages that did not exist five years ago for a company everyone in the world knows and uses on a daily basis.

Am I living in a future ghost town? Certainly. No doubt about it. The only question is when.

At some point no one will be building computers or phones with silicon, metal, glass or rare earth minerals. They may be woven into the atoms in cloth or embedded into our bodies as stem cells. Who the hell knows?

At some point no one will be sitting at a keyboard writing software using programming languages. Nerve endings and brain waves will provide all the controls required.

At some point these brilliant campuses with their open floor plans and free cafeterias will be indistinguishable from the abandoned warehouses and shipyards of Sunderland.

When will Silicon Valley become a ghost town in the future? According to the way we act and build and plan every day, the answer is “never”. According to history the outcome is anything but that. From the vantage point of 1981 San Francisco the question would have seemed just weird.

Stories to Not Write

the continuing saga of stories I will never write:

Alternate History of Humanity on a Planet where there is no metal.

Alternate History of Humanity with a Bonobo-like culture.

The Same Five Minutes of the Same Person’s Trivial Activity Set Concurrently in 100 Parallel Universes.

Infinite Futile Time Loop Attempting A Different Hairstyle.

Jack and Jill Successfully Fetch a Pail of Water Without Incident.

Audiobook of Fourteen Bleating Lambs.

Man Gets Sued for Being Sued by Inventor of Lawsuits.

Boy Meets Girl.

A Memoir of Lukewarm Applause.

(thank you very much)




Live Your Best Life Now

It’s a good idea, isn’t it? “Live your best life now”. Live in the moment. Carpe Diem. Be Here Now. Just do it.

Mindfulness (as opposed to bovine acceptance) asks us to focus on the trivial details in front of us as a way to distract ourselves from ourselves.

Meditation asks us to pay no attention to the mind behind the curtain. You can have your thoughts, it tells us, as long as you ignore them.

To be happy, do the things that make you happy. Enough should be enough. Live the dream, be the dream.

It’s all good.

Today I read an article in The Atlantic entitled “what I learned from cancer” and I’m generally happy for the guy who got to finish writing his important book (if we all work on being antiracist all the time we can change the world) and has a little baby at home and is only 37 and is colon-cancer free after one year.

My reality is that it’s hard to focus on “being a creator” when you’re in cancer limbo, waiting for the next bad news, when treatments seem to be working so you’re adapting to the side effects and then the treatments stop working but you still have the side effects, when they remove one tumor only to have another one pop right up, when the fact is that advanced malignant cancer is a living thing that’s really good at doing what it does, adapting and working around whatever is thrown its way. What I’ve learned from cancer is that cancer never stops learning, and that I haven’t stopped learning from it either. The article’s past tense (“What I learned”) doesn’t sit well with me. You think you’re done? As Al Swearengen said on ‘Deadwood’, “making plans is a good way to make God laugh”.


I just finished the new translation of the Odyssey, by Emily Wilson. The Odyssey has always been one of my very favorite books and I loved this version. One thing I liked is how they often describe a person as god-like when they mean impressive or somehow striking, and it made me think about the few people in my life that I would ever have described as godlike. These are not the famous people I have seen, or the geniuses I’ve worked with at various tech companies, but more or less ordinary people I’ve known who somehow, by the way they carry themselves and by their inner nature, struck me as if they could have been inhabited by gods. I think of one person in particular, a woman I knew a long time ago named Olivia, who was inordinately graceful, and who carried herself so calmly and with such dignity that she seemed to me like a queen. In real life she was working as a retail clerk, as was I, in a bookstore, and she was something of a goth girl, into heavy metal and tattoos and at one point sadly hard drugs too, and was not the most brilliant person but artful, sweet and regal. She was my idea of what it might mean to be godlike.

They Live

Years ago I worked for a very Trump-like troll of a man – Lew Lengfeld, late owner of #Booksinc – a narcissistic sociopathic ignoramus who used to spout the darndest nonsense at weekly company meetings, also a spoiled rich brat.

I was managing one of his bookstores in San Francisco. One Christmas season he called me to to tell me that one of my employees had failed to ring up a sale, according to a buddy of his who snitched. Said it was ” a black guy”. I asked for a description because my several black employees all looked very different from one another. One was talk and bald. Another wore dreadlocks. Another was very short and thin. Lew said it doesn’t matter, just fire one of them.

He claimed that our night manager, a Chinese American man, was letting his friends come in with shopping carts and walking out with them full of expensive art books

When told of a long time employee’s cancer his first reaction was to ask who I was going to get to replace her.

Every week for five years I had to sit in a meeting with this turd bucket listening to his fatuous opinions on all sorts of world events.

It was his world and we were just living in it.

People like that. They live.