Social Science is fun.

Latest blog posts below.

About me and resume above.

All views are my own and make no claim to authority, journalistic integrity, or quality regardless of what they might read like, assert, or explain. Proceed at your own risk.

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments please let me know via twitter.

Thanks for visiting.

poovey, haraway, and knorr cetina

The Modern Fact, The Problem of Induction, and Questions of Method by Mary Poovey

Poovey’s text is a Foucauldian genealogy about the reification of the concept of modern fact through British history and the unresolved tension inherent to the definition of the concept. This tension, or what she calls an “epistemological peculiarity” about modern facts underlines their ambiguous nature. Sometimes facts can be considered objective, atomic building blocks removed from context and assumption. On the other hand, fact can be construed precisely as evidence in support of a theory or a hypothesis and can never be freed from context or assumption in support of a theory. Poovey grounds her observations in the vicissitudes of this dichotomy, tracking how the definition has changed from the late 16th century to the first half of the 19th century.

She grounds her genealogy in the double-entry book of the 16th century and its use of the financial proto-fact as a proxy for honesty built on simultaneously “objective” albeit arbitrary data. Similarly, she sketches the creation of disciplinarity to approach this “epistemological peculiarity” through the use of experts in deducing models of reality over induction and observations. Over time, the reliance of models and systems created the building blocks for postmodern knowledge or symbols based on symbols without a referent grounding them. In other words, the abstractions based on systematic knowledge eventually became the objects of these nascent disciplines.

Poovey avoids describing this process as one of a rupture from a previous system of thought, rather her history is one of continuity of thought despite the complexity involved. Further, she avoids relying solely analysis of discourses (“rule governed practices”) in her exercise because a study of the epistemology of fact better lends itself to exploring commonalities within discourses and how their eventual disaggregations came to be. Lastly, Poovey argues by quoting Shapin and Schaffer that “questions of epistemology are also questions of social order.”

Poovey makes a point to distance herself from other Foucauldian scholars that often use historical methods to “unmask” the evils of the past. Instead she offers a historical reading that tries to locate the “field of connotations” contemporary with when the text was created and the subsequent history of (mis)readings of that text, instead of asserting the text was blind or duplicitous about its agenda.

Poovey describes her ambitions for the text as follows:

One of my greatest ambitions for A History if the Modern Fact is that it will encourage others to map the complex history of the relationship between numerical representation and figurative language within that epistemological unit I call the modern fact instead of simply asserting, as I too often do here, both that this relationship existed and that it has been obscured by the history of disciplinarity in whose shadow we work.

What this means for social science can be explained by the four themes Poovey lists at the end of this chapter: reconsidering intersection of politics, governance, and objectivity; becoming aware of the role of belief and faith (whether secular or religious) inherent to knowledge systems and the infrastructures they support; “the elaboration of a nontheological discourse about human motivations or subjectivity;” and the reification of abstract subjects and the effects these manifestations have.

A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century by Donna Haraway

The manifesto sets its intentions by describing the ironic myth Haraway is trying to build to integrate feminism, socialism, and materialism. The image of the cyborg ends up serving this purpose best, given its ambiguous nature, straddling both imagination and reality. Haraway’s fragmented and allusion-filled text is obsessed with liminalities and serves as “an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” In other words, the cyborg is a reminder of our complicity in the creation of boundaries but also our way out of those restraints.

Haraway warns that “the most terrible and perhaps the most promising monsters in cyborg worlds are embodied in non-oedipal narratives with a different logic of repression, which we need to understand for our survival.” Cyborgs are not a panacea, they can become the new forms of our domination; for ”we are living through a movement from an organic industrial society to a polymorphous, information system—from all work to all play, a deadly game.” Haraway goes on to describe the modes of domination cyborg worlds may take.

This article was written in the eighties but it’s oddly prescient; Haraway is eerily on target in the dichotomies she catalogs in her “informatics of domination” and the role the information economy and communications would eventually play in our lives. Similarly, what she calls “the homework economy” or the “feminization of labor” is basically equivalent to the contemporary concepts of the “gig economy” or the “independent contractor model.”

Of course, not all is negative and this passage sets up the transition to the more utopic visions of the cyborg identity:

The permanent partiality of feminist points of view has consequences for our expectations of forms of political organization and participation. We do not need a totality in order to work well. The feminist dream of a common language, like all dreams for a perfectly true language, of perfectly faithful naming of experience, is a totalizing and imperialist one. In that sense, dialectics too is a dream language, longing to resolve contradiction. Perhaps, ironically, we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos. From the point of view of pleasure in these potent and taboo fusions, made inevitable by the social relations of science and technology, there might indeed be a feminist science.

In other words, by attempting to “self-actualize” the feminist movement for all, the movement reproduces forms of domination and control. Haraway suggests that the only way to we might be able to escape from domination is to embrace the fluidity that science and technology suggest and through a superimposed multiplicity of identities (a chimera), forge ahead illegitimately. By embracing the instability inherent to the cyborg identity, Haraway asserts that “this is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.” In other words, the cyborg doesn’t aim to unite, it aims to enrich and diversify through its bastard mutant replication.

Through the metaphor of the cyborg Haraway suggests it becomes possible (if not outright necessary) to escape from the restraint of dualities controlling our society and our bodies. As cyborgs performing social science, it’s our duty, according to Hathaway, to break away from phallogocentric narratives and instead seek and develop the marginal, the imperfect, the insubstantial.

Toward an Understanding of Knowledge Societies: A Dialogue by Karin Knorr Cetina

Knorr Cetina’s approach in this chapter is that of a dialogue to responses to her work. Knorr Cetina states that she “summarized comments made to me about the work I am describing in this book and presented them, along with my responses, in dialogue form.” This isn’t clear from the chapter alone. However, the quote describing her method is included in a transcription note found in the introduction to her book.

The dialogue isn’t exactly combative but it seems that the summarized audience she is speaking for as “reader” is often confused about the nature of her inquiries. Nonetheless, this absence of consensus seems to serve a broader design, as she concludes the chapter by asserting that, “according to [her] model, [the reader and Knorr Cetina] shouldn’t [reach consensus].” Knorr Cetina is thus explaining her broader point about epistemic cultures through the unfolding of this imagined dialogue. The crux of her argument can best be summarized by her perspective on ontology:

For me, ontology is something quite different. It refers to a potentially empirical investigation into the kinds of entities, the forms of being, or the structures of existence in an area. It is an interest that prompts one to look at the way the empirical universe happens to be configured into entities and properties. By not fixing an ontology from the start-by not committing oneself to the thought that the modern world is populated by rational actors, as in rational choice approaches, or by liberal actors, as in political theory, or by systems, as in systems theory-one can see the configuration of several ontologies side by side and investigate their relationship.

Part of the frustration “reader” feels arises from the dynamic, polysemic world of ontologies interacting Knorr Cetina argues for through her piece. To her, knowledge takes local forms from individual dynamics and grows into collective structures, whether as small as individual labs or as massive as High Energy Physics (HEP) experiments. Additionally, the way a knowledge unfolds is wholly dependent on a myriad of historical, environmental, institutional and interpersonal contexts.

“Reader” expresses horror at the implications and seemingly infinite variety this suggests. Nonetheless, Knorr Cetina assures “reader” that knowledge societies are legitimate units of analysis and returns to examples from the HEP world and molecular biology labs to illustrate these differences. For example, according to Knorr Cetina, HEP work often depends on consensus given the size and funding involved with high energy physics problems. As such, summaries of previous work buttress future work, setting the conventions for how constituent labs will operate within large scale HEP experiments and providing a forum for presenting both conclusive results and inconclusive, albeit edifying for the methods involved, results. In contrast, molecular biology labs are much more independent regarding funding and must instead rely on an unstable social bartering system for resource distribution and have a higher likelihood of big personalities dominating the conversation.

The implications for social science are straightforward, especially when working within/among a multitude of disciplinary perspectives. Knorr Cetina suggests through this piece that understanding the different epistemic cultures at play in a complex system should be taken into consideration when attempting to reach consensus. Rather than applying a potentially biased vision of consensus, Knorr Cetina’s piece suggests “variation in the ways agreement, conformity, or stability are reached.”

discipline and punish

Discipline: Docile bodies

Reading Foucault is like going on an archeological dig with an expert paleontologist. He is relentless in providing the reader with historical examples documenting the emergence and evolution of the concept of discipline and how that in turn evolved into a new paradigm of absolute power.

He begins with the example of the soldier and how their use of their bodies evolved over time. Good soldiers used to emerge from sheer will and survival but by the eighteenth century a soldier was a thing to mold, move, and deploy, like a machine.

The manifestations of discipline are first explained in terms of space. Disciplines are forged within an enclosed, partitioned space. Further, as these spaces grow specialization and interchangeability of the constituent pieces develop. Foucault exemplifies these spatial processes through their manifestations in military barracks, monasteries, classrooms, hospitals, and factories.

The manifestations of discipline are then explained in terms of time. A timetable organizes actions temporally and within that timetable rhythms and efficiencies of action can be discovered and perfected. Through these efficiencies an individual’s production is maximized and no effort is wasted. Foucault primarily uses examples from schools and the military in this section including curricular schedules and the logic and evolution of military drills and marches.

The spatial and temporal means of discipline can be further organized. One maximizes efficiency and outcomes by having groups of docile bodies perform training activities in parallel, break their tasks down into component pieces for learning, enact examinations to assess learning outcomes, and subdivide the performance of activities to reflect and reinforce the hierarchy the individuals belong to. This is refined and perfected through repetition, examination, and predictable progress through the ranks. Again, the examples here rely on school and military primarily to make their points.

In sum, these processes form a fractal means of control. Each part of an individual is made to follow a prescribed spatial and temporal rubric, whether the individual be a student, a soldier, a worker, a member of a social group. Moving up the fractal chain of command, individuals, groups, and various units or factions are mobilized, strategized with, and ultimately controlled.

The excerpt sums up most of the chapter from a high-level perspective:

To sum up, it might be said that discipline creates out of the bodies it controls four types of individuality, or rather an individuality that is endowed with four characteristics: it is cellular (by the play of spatial distribution), it is organic (by the coding of activities), it is genetic (by the accumulation of time), it is combinatory (by the composition of forces). And, in doing so, it operates four great techniques: it draws up tables; it prescribes movements; it imposes exercises; lastly, in order to obtain the combination of forces, it arranges ‘tactics’.

The notion of the individual here is counterintuitive to our modern understanding of the term that emphasizes uniqueness. For Foucault, the individualizing process doesn’t respect differences. Instead, the process of “disciplining” the individual turns it into an part that fits inside and operates within a social machine. The individual has no agency or meaning outside this machine; instead, the individual is an object through which power is exercised.

Discipline: The means of correct training

This next chapter deals with the wholesale application of power through the disciplining of the populace. Despite the seemingly insignificant rituals of the individual, disciplinary power accomplishes more than any war tribunal or sovereign could:

These are humble modalities, minor procedures, as compared with the majestic rituals of sovereignty or the great apparatuses of the state. And it is precisely they that were gradually to invade the major forms, altering their mechanisms and imposing their procedures. The legal apparatus was not to escape this scarcely secret invasion. The success of disciplinary power derives no doubt from the use of simple instruments; hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement and their combination in a procedure that is specific to it, the examination.

As such, the normalization of judgement (sovereign or otherwise) occurs through punishment which in part is determined by assessment/examination.

Punishment has many forms and within this power system should be deployed in any way it might be available, whether that be through corporeal means (physical punishment) or symbolic means (loss of rank, ostracization). Further, punishment suggests a there is a “natural order” for the way things are within a power system and as such serves a corrective purpose when it’s deployed. It does this by reinforcing notions about rightness and wrongness and reinforcing hierarchies found within the power system. Punishment as normalization makes thus makes outliers within a social system stand out and provides a means to move them towards the ideal or demote them down (or even out) the social hierarchy.

The exam is the ultimate way to normalize a system of knowledge. Through exams, the individual peacefully yields their power to the sovereign by buying into the power system the sovereign proposes. This is a radical change, since the way sovereign power asserted control before relied on force and might. Now, the individual is understood relative to its peers, can be summarized in a neat table, and can be ranked and analyzed. Prior to the exam this granular level of control was unimaginable.

If people become quantifiable when power consolidates at the level of the body moving through space and time, then a science to best perform and maximize the decisions of power is necessary. As such, the quantification of people and consolidation of power through knowledge of the individual coincides with (one might even say that this process serves as a doula for) the birth of social science. Foucault deals a solid blow to logical empiricist ideals built on positivism and objectivism in social science. His suggestion is that social inferences built on data are built on power systems in the service of a sovereign power of some sort. As such, they can never be purely objective.

Discipline: Panopticism

Foucault contrasts the Eye of Sauron type surveillance as an operating principle with plague abatement procedures in the 17th century and somehow makes Bentham’s Panopticon seem scarier than the plague. This happens through the generalizability of the panopticon to most aspects of society. At first, disciplinary processes serve society in a contingent manner since they are employed to solve a particular social problem whether that be military organization, schooling, hospital administration, or manufacture. Over time, the fruits of discipline create a demand for more discipline and the contingent solution slowly ossifies into society. Ultimately, the state takes control of these disciplinary functions and asserts its power granularly, utilizing the “all-seeing-eye” of the panopticon to perpetually surveil its people.

Though breaking the rules in plague time was a crime punishable by death, the arbitrary power system put in place during the plague had a defined outcome, namely the abatement of the plague. Eventually, the contingent application of discipline (and thus, power) would run its course and community activities could return to “normal.” When it comes to the panopticon, the only “normal” that exists is the normal the sovereign power is curating.

This last quote is especially frightening in its tautology, suggesting how prisons self-perpetuate in this power system:

The practice of placing individuals under ‘observation’ is a natural extension of a justice imbued with disciplinary methods and examination procedures. Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labour, its authorities of surveillance and registration, its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penality? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?

Prison: Complete and austere institutions

I had a much harder time grasping the last chapter. There was something confusing about how Foucault interweaved the discourse on prison/penitentiary best practices with the analysis of the institution itself. In terms of the idea of prisons, Foucault asserts how easy and obvious it is to understand their purpose in that they take our most valuable asset—freedom—and use its removal to apply a correction to our behavior. As such, discourse about prisons was more likely to be about the merits and methods of particular types of punishment than about the abolishment of the institutions themselves. Regardless of the outcome of these discourses, social critics then and now seem to suggest that prisons themselves as institutions are inevitable.

In terms of power, prisons isolate and reinforce hierarchies, they use work as rehabilitation through the control of the bodily means of production, and they determine the time and punishment that is fit for an arbitrary crime. In these three dimensions, prisons have an absolute control over an individual. Given this level of control, wardens and prison administrators have a responsibility to their prisoners, lest they become absolute, arbitrary despots.

Through this responsibility, Foucault suggests that prisons should instead be thought about as penitentiaries (i.e. places to commit penance) and convicts are instead delinquents (i.e. people that can be put on the righteous path). The end goals of penitentiaries and delinquents are to reform and be reformed; the process by which this happens is by absolute discipline under the panopticon of the benevolent judge/warden/administrator.

Foucault’s last suggestion is perhaps the most powerful and damning of the penitentiary power system. By creating delinquents and treatments, systematic punishment creates a concept of crime and criminology. In other words, prisons create prisoners, not solve social woes.

s&i notes

front matter

standards: don’t be encyclopedic, find standards that are interesting and unpack the implications. in terms of RAND i’d imagine this would be the report format and language tied to it.

next week we don’t meet (2/19). The following week (2/26) requires a storyboard. 2/21 she’s available for drop in here b/w 9-12

begin considering the infrastructure for yr paper; start assembling the media clips as well.

homework: bib and standards piece (100 words?)

bib is more on research, theoretical underpinnings of video. annotation describes how piece illuminates work.

kristen checking in for next writing response. email questions, no festering if confused.

bib: approximately ten resources, 2-3 sentences

writing response: focus on question of topic?

definitions of infrastructure

networks, connectivity, wittgenstein’s series of games, a series of broken systems.

wk 6 a good check up, we’ve obfuscated enough, best to talk about what it means now.

other definitions, see if they match up on our own.

systems that enable circulation of goods, knowledge, meaning, people, and power Lockrem and Lugo

material forms that allow for the possibility of exchange over space. they are the physical networks through which goods, ideas, waste, power, people, and finance are trafficked Larkin

material sites and objects that are organized to produce a larger, dispersed yet integrated system for distributing material of value, whether water, electrical currents, or audiovisual signals Parks

a collective term for the subordinate parts of an undertaking; substructural foundation OED

layers of an onion. web, relative. it means something, it’s submerged, communicates something.

it’s infrastructures all the way down.

larkin on infrastructure life in africa:

everyday life plus ambient experience (five senses)

why are standards important

allow moving accross time and space. controls the ebb and flow of innovation; have a constraining role. bring stability. vector for growth; ascii makes everyone opt in. a normalizing influence. set expectations, coverage over space and time, enable modularity. ownership.

susan leigh star passage

. “The power of feminist analysis is to move from the experience of being a nonuser, an outcast or a castaway, to the analysis of the fact of McDonald’s (and by extension, many other technologies) — and implicitly to the fact that ‘it might have been otherwise,’ —there is nothing necessary or inevitable about the presence of such franchises” (38).

making a case for feminist analysis in the analysis of standards; token identities are scratching the surface and privileging the standard-setters. Multiplicities exist and non-majorities are at state of alienation attempting to interact with the network.

“And part of the public stability of a standardized network often involves the private suffering of those who are not standard — who must use the standard network, but who are also non-members of the community of practice” (43).

standards come with a cost; some of us don’t fit within the standards the infrastructure was designed for.

free meels being pb sammies, parent fought to keep 2000 to make the school pb free. needed to acknowledge it.

she is pointing at new ways of seeing possibilities in the world by seeing what the world is like for people that don’t fit standards.

“Similarly, our experiences of enrolment and our encounters with standards are complexly woven and indeterminate. We grow and negotiate new selves, some labelled and some not. Some are unproblematic in their multiplicity; some cause great anguish and the felt need for unification, especially those that claim sovereignty over the entire self” (50).

the nonbinary gender student anecdote and being forced to choose.

interpolation into a network is work and suffering for many.

“Because we are all members of more than one community of practice and thus of many networks, at the moment of action we draw together repertoires mixed from different worlds” (52).

switching between networks and being between networks is painful and interesting.

“This is that which is permanently escaping, subverting, but nevertheless in relationship with the standardized” (39).

the high tension zone that’s full of possibility.

“We are the ones who have done the invisible work of creating a unity of action in the face of a multiplicity of selves, as well as, and at the same time, the invisible work of lending unity to the face of the torturer or of the executive” (29).

symbolism of the standard; putting in a wheelchair ramp as a symbol in a place lacking them.

role of standards as information scientists

what are we losing when we create systems that exclude? challenging interpolation hurts them and us.

digital archivist, special collections


acronym central. shira will try to explain all of them, will go fast.

what are they

standards for digital archives are new; it’s a new field. no right way, definitely some wrong ways.

digital archives: digitized material available online

sorta true. most people in the field refer to material created and managed in digital form.

born digital

digital archives

lives at the intersection of archives, libraries, and digital preservation

holy cow look at this slide:

the lifecycle of digital archives


negotiate appraise, collect. looking at stuff when it’s physical. but what if you get a hard drive or a floppy disk or another floppy disk?

files have complex interdependencies; filesytem, os, the software that created it, video cards that made it. basically it’s hard to tell at a glance. then what about the contextual information, i.e. how did they end up there, who else used them, etc.

our ability to archive is contingent of how much metadata we gather on the onset.


two thirds of a standards trifecta. third one tbd.

standards definition is confusing af.

OAIS get put keep and show stuff.

ISO standard means there’s wide consensus; oais & paimas written for space data; very specific context! (consultative committee for space data systems)

designed to fit ALL formats and systems. routinely fail to meet specific needs of special collections and archives. i.e. digital av material.

born digital material very heterogenous in nature made outside of controlled condition. reminds me of the zappa collection.

i.e. archivist gets call that x died and they want to donate the stuff. can you come get it? negotiating with widX. contents come into a box; “poor sucker” processes it.

a world away from OAIS and PAIMAS. many questions should have been asked that never will be answered.

standards in theory are great but pretty unrealistic in reality. curators wouldn’t be able to say what the standards are. they exist but tend to be ignored.

curators model paperwork on traditional (i.e.) physical material. very difficult to make born digital content pllay nice.

[council on library and information resources book.] (

important doc. check it very often.

takeaway: standards exist but they fail to account for all circusmtances possible circumstances

practitioners come up with standards to fill gaps.


transforming materials into an archivable collection. i.e. packing up physical material and putting in archival boxes.

but what do you do with floppys, cds, or zip drives?

can you say you have ownership of the files until you remove them from the media? nope. you don’t have ownership until the media is out.

all media is ephemeral. it will fail. there’s an imminent threat.

if you lose a hard drive then you lose the files.

keeping things in the original order in physical archives; how do you work with those ideals in born digital?


hundreds of 8 inch floppy disks. don’t have the technology. acquisition process; curators didn’t really know to think about whether we would have access to 8 inch floppy drives.

media that we can access is archived as a disk image. filesystem + files. bit for bit copy. HOW EXCITING OMG. files need to be mounted.

depending of image to be imaged we need different hardware; kryoflux lets floppy logic talk to usb.

write blockers: one way flow of information. write blockers allow for an audit trail. this comes from the law enforcement community.

crimes committed by computers need the audit trail. infrastructure had to be built from scratch so that things would be admissible in a court of law; entire industry rose to meet this need. computer forensics.

digital archivists were like yay! we need all this. of course this raises a bunch of moral questions.

arrangment & intellectual control

going from hot mess hoarder shoebox and milk crate to pretty catalogued metadata.

forensic toolkit, ftk. fbi uses it. bitcurator oss version. ftk is powerful; scary.

search for identifiable information like ssn, cc info, dobs. or if donor requests specific redactions (i.e. “don’t include emails b/w me and my dad”)

ftk/bitcurator helps this process

finding aids: dacs & ead

basically, if you ever encounter an archival guide from the oac like the roberti collection.


dacs and ead have some gaps. they are supposedly content neutral. but born digital doesn’t work! dacs and ead are also supposed to hand in glove they often disagree.

lack of guidance for born digital description leads to finding aids that suck since collection descriptions will vary.

i.e. linear feet to hard drive? number of files? gigs? megs? there’s a ton of variation. finding aid: 8 inch audio cassette. audio space cassette. and eight other ways. lots of others. diminishes usability of collections; very difficult to express quantity, quality, usability of stuff.

also, makes a ton of work.

uc guidelines for born-digital descriptions

hurray, a homebrewed standard! on github.

gives a ton of information. in addition to filelist there’s a ton of metadata in numerous (often redundant but in a good way) formats. sisyphian effort.


i hate the term. it’s better to say files are preservation ready. preservation is ongoing in digital. it’s a misnomer. physical is getting paper ready to sit on shelf for 200+ years.

digital has 3 reqs: bit preservation, accessibility, management. fixed, constant data; available, findable data; timeproof data and all of the above since preservation is an active on-going process.


audit and certification to do this in a trustworthy manner. there’s a way to get certified. two orgs in the world have gotten certified; it’s ridiculous. the standard is used as a benchmark but not used really. aspirational not implementable.

OAIS, PAIMAS, & TDR: the trifecta; get stuff, keep stuff safe. OAIS also focuses on putting stuff and showing stuff. PREMIS, NETS, Dublin core: other standards. keep stuff safe (metadata standards).

standards have yet to catch up.


marc & rda standards made to describe books. not appropriate for hierarchical archival collections. but they’re helpful for discovery!

i.e. susan sontag we have her books but also her papers!

the grid is missing the access x’s because archivists worry about that last! i.e. ndsa levels of preservation doesn’t even have a column for access.

shira is working on getting access in the ndsa.

hooray we finished!

tooltip sez: Fortunately, the charging one has been solved now that we’ve all standardized on mini-USB. Or is it micro-USB?


susan sontag: email folders she didn’t use, then researchers see it and freak out.

method for dupes: let the researchers figure it out. we’ll give them all of them.

donors want to organize stuff; sometimes they have to be discouraged (i.e. leaving all versions of drafts). messy desktops are more interesting than sanitized stuff.

conversations with donors; they think things are a mess. exercise; deduction of arrangement of things based on looking at your colleagues laptop. imagine that exercise. how would you describe what you have to a stranger.

be more choosey

famous people get more crap archived. uc value score: 0-25, five different categories. research value, object value, historical value, quality of documentation (+ one more forgotten one). based on that number that will determine the research workflow.


bitcurator user forum will be here in september. come to it if you’re interested in forensic stuff.

miriam has cards; they do hire; contact!

last half hour: storyboarding

cells and panels represent what the camera sees. great way to plan sequene of shots and take stock of the media we’ll need. a great way to frame the story we want to tell as well.

can submit on paper or print on template. now there’s a storyboarding menu item on the class website.

lots of options. ppt is even good. use clip art or even stick figures; no high expectation of artistical ability.

six shots would be short; 5 to 6 minutes is a lot of time to fill. ideally spell out but if you’re collaging you can summarize.

purely visual or with audio? next milestone includes script but this time you have the option to include some audio and what not.

hands on drawing!

pinterest board of images

the power of science will solve the social!

what does this have to do with a 760pp novel?

vo: gravity’s rainbow straddles science and humanity refusing to absolve either.

cut at 50 seconds in i’ve just been blown away

vo: the rand corporation seriously thinks about serious things and the implications of these serious things.

vo: the pynchon connection is not accidental. he worked in yoyodyne after all.

vo: the atrocities and horror of world war II had to be worth something. the modern think tank was formed from this notion of salvaging the technology and methods of a total war.

project research and development or rand in military speak began in 19– at ____. rand’s golden age corresponds with the emergence of systems analysis and its deployment to social science endeavors in the immediate aftermath of world war II and the bbeginning of the cold war.

systems analysis is an analytical approach to complex problems. rather than interacting with thousands of rapidly moving variables the approach instead aproaches problem solving in terms of systems and the interactions between these systems.

give example of systems analysis, sattelites? nuclear war?

the marriage of the hard and soft sciences gave birth to the public policy professional and eventually the pardee rand school of public policy.


Disclaimer and Reflections on Essays

I did not follow the recommended reading directions for reading Mythology Today first, since Barthes’ essays were too provocative to “ruin” with a long theoretical piece as the starting point. My observations are thus presented in the order I read the pieces (chronologically with the book). Then I try to tie them together theoretically in the end, emphasis on try.

I will begin with a quote from the second to the last paragraph of the “World of Wrestling”:

The grandiloquence is nothing but the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.

Barthes builds to this conclusion after dissecting the physicality, theatricality, and reception of French “amateur” wrestling in addition to defining what this flavor of pugilism is and isn’t.

The contrast wrestling plays to boxing is crucial. Boxing has an end, a clear winner, a goal. Wrestling on the other hand, is pure causality stripped from narrative and context. The excerpt above states this fact in a nearly biblical tone and the conclusion to the essay that follows continues with the religious undertones by describing the transmutation of men to gods while in the ring. And what exactly is godly to Barthes?

Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a justice which is at last intelligible.

Intelligibility and nature are two themes that keep appearing in Barthes’ essays. In “Soap-powders and Detergents” the intelligible forms of detergents are psychoanalyzed in their media representations and their contradictory nature exposed and challenged. For how could abrasives meant for cleaning be simultaneously light, fluffy, and ethereal while remaining stain fighters? The punchline for this essay (Unilever owns both Persil and Omo) slowly begins the process of uncovering the deeper insights Barthes will talk about in “Myth Today.”

The punchline to “Operation Margarine” is very similar to “Soap-powders and Detergents” in the sense that they both nod towards exposing the way “Established Orders” are reinforced. In “Operation Margarine” Barthes describes the process by which airing grievances serve as “inoculations” for further resistance, starting with two examples from the army and one from the church, and ending with advertising’s take on margarine. These examples start as grievances but end asserting the inevitability of an established order and the ultimate foolishness of a true rebellion in resistance to this “natural order”.

Barthes expands in “Myth Today” how bourgeois foster an illusion of camaraderie with the petite bourgeois through their dissemination of bourgeois representations. “The New Citroen” is a moment of apotheosis for that process wherein “the object here is totally prostituted, appropriated: originating from the heaven of Metropolis, the Goddess is in a quarter of an hour mediatized, actualizing through this exorcism the very essence of petite bourgeois advancement.” The New Citroen was the piece that profited most from reading “Myth Today” given Barthes’ exposition on bourgeois/petitee bourgeois dynamics.

Reflections on Myth Today

This piece is a bit confusing given the levels of recursion Barthes demands along with several instances of recycled etymologies like signifier, signified, sign, and signification. Nonetheless, if one keeps in mind the linguistic undertones of the descriptions, “Myth Today” gives social scientists a very useful toolkit for exploring semantic systems and ideologies.

There are strong linguistic undertones to this piece. Barthes lays the foundation for mythical analysis by describing first order semiotic systems, consisting of three dimensions: signifier, signified, and sign. Barthes uses roses representing passion to a basic semiotic system, with rose serving as signifier, passion as signified, and the relationship between these two as the sign.

Barthes describes myth as a second order semiotic system, made from chains of first order symbols and resembling the first order schema. In contrast with the first order dimensions of signifier, signified, and sign, second order dimensions include meaning, concept, and signification. If first order semiotic systems are language, second order semiotic systems are metalanguage, serving a descriptive function to language. Herein begins the recursive move in mythical understanding, since first order symbols are nested within second order symbols and both rely on a very similar three-dimensional relationship.

This three/dimensional relationship at both language/metalanguage levels begins with the binary relationship between signifier and signified or meaning and concept. The third dimension is the relationship between these binaries, whether sign or signification.

Signification takes the binary process between meaning a concept and abstracts it to a naturalistic causal relationship at the metalanguage level. This doesn’t happen at the language level, since the relationship between signifier and signified are already much simpler than between meaning and concept. Why is this the case? First level semiotic systems are at the scope of the sentence and grammar; they are limited in the complexity they can convey given how small a function they play. Second order semiotic system are scoped at a much larger level and can reference our history and experience as social beings. Nevertheless, the relationship between binaries expressed in second order semiotic systems irons out the complexities suggested by this semantic richness. This simplification process happens through the building of a narrative that suggests a naturalistic causality between meaning and concept, in other words, the construction of a myth.

Myth then, hides ideology and the semantic processes that scaffold this ideology. What is then is the motivation behind becoming a “mythologist” and learning all these discursive moves?

The fact that we cannot manage to achieve more than an unstable grasp of reality doubtless gives the measure of our present alienation: we constantly drift between the object and its demystification, powerless to render its wholeness. For if we penetrate the object, we liberate it but we destroy it; and if we acknowledge its full weight, we respect it, but we restore it to a state which is still mystified. It would seem for some time yet always to speak excessively about reality. This is probably because ideologism and its opposite are types of behavior which are still magical, terrorized, blinded and fascinated by the split in the social world. And yet this is what we must seek: a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge.

In other words, mythical processes permeate the fiber of our society in the service of ideologies. However, to be aware of this is to deconstruct the myth and thus remove its power. A powerless myth, though “liberated” is devoid of its discursive power. To understand a myth’s discursive power, then, one is forced to tolerate its “mystified” state thus yielding to the myth’s power again. This cycle, though frustrating, is the only way to grasp the totality of a myth and is the heuristic the mythologist must follows to study myth.

Speaking about myth in these overly general, linguistically rigorous modes hides the value of mythological analysis. Examples do a much better job at explaining these linguistic relationships and the larger implications these processes suggest. As such, the structure of Barthes’ book makes a lot of sense, since he provides a bank of narrative references over the course of the text before explaining the rationale for these examples through “Myth Today.”

My favorite quote from this piece, by far, is the psychoanalysis of the grammar example with the lion:

There is no doubt that if we consulted a real lion, he would maintain that the grammar example is a strongly depoliticized state, he would qualify as fully political the jurisprudence which leads him to claim a pray because he is the strongest, unless we deal with a bourgeois lion who would not fail to mythify his strength by giving it the form of a duty.

This passage almost takes the form of a parable. A “real” lion would see through the artifice of the grammatical example and assert its political nature, lest it were a bourgeois lion. In that case the lion would hide behind mythmaking to reframe its political action as “duty,” fitting it within an ideological framework that supports bourgeois values.

In terms of social science, Barthes’ piece serves as a compass and a reminder. To navigate a complex topic, keeping the language and metalanguage processes of myth in mind assures the researcher will remain on task and not accidentally serve the ideology that is held up by myth. Similarly, Barthes’ warns the researcher to not lose the ideology through the process of deconstructing the semantic process of the discourse altogether. By oscillating between both semantic and ideological registers of a myth a social scientist achieves a more holistic version of truth.

frontier expansion


Taylor describes how the science of interpretation grounding hermeneutical science under a three-part rubric:

There are, to remind ourselves, three characteristics that the object of a science of interpretation has: it must have sense or coherence; this must be distinguishable from its expression; and this sense must be for a subject.

The “hermeneutic cycle” begins when an interpreter is misunderstood. An attempt to gain clarity by explaining context begets the need to explain further context ad infinitum. In defining this hermeneutical science, it becomes easy to encounter recursive cycles of meaning-seeking that loop through these three characteristics to interpret a text.

Logical empiricists sought to break out of this cycle by establishing an ideal of verification that grounded a hermeneutic process in the acquisition of brute empirical data to build the foundations for interpretative processes. For logical empiricists, a theory not grounded in brute empirical data was unverifiable and therefore, invalid. Taylor then uses inconsistencies in the assumptions behind meanings and the embeddedness of these assumptions inside of the empiricism of Political Science to methodically chisel away at the logical empiricists’ claims about brute data and its contribution to verifiability.

Taylor asserts that:

We have to admit that inter-subjective social reality has to be partly defined in terms of meanings; that meanings as subjective are not just causal interaction with a social reality made up of brute data, but that as inter-subjective they are constitutive of this reality.

In other words, meaning, the building block of interpretation, can’t be the result of brute data observed within “objective reality” since meaning itself is bounded and constructed through the actions of people in a society. Though we are losing the ability to “predict” social science outcomes by letting go of the logical empiricists’ processes, by embedding our hermeneutic science with an awareness of this “inter-subjective social reality” we are more at liberty to interpret the world as we see it unfold. Though we lose the predictive ability of the natural sciences, we gain a historical context, which according to Taylor, is a better way to study the science of man.

Taylor concludes:

Thus, in the sciences of man in so far as they are hermeneutical there can be a valid response to ‘I don’t understand’ which takes the form, not only ‘develop your intuitions’, but more radically ‘change yourself’. This puts an end to any aspiration to a value-free or ‘ideology-free’ science of man. A study of the science of man is inseparable from an examination of the options between which men must choose.

In short, by releasing the yoke of brute empirical data, social scientists are better able to study and interpret their reality and possibly gain the insight to do so with other realities.


Tully asserts the importance of centrality of Wittgenstein for understanding critical public philosophy and spends considerable time debunking Habermas’ justificational/validational and Taylor’s interpretative/hermeneutic forms of critical reflection by highlighting their inherent conservatism despite their radical criticism. According to Tully, Habermas and Taylor are but two of many examples that take for granted the assumption “that the only free and rational way of thought and action is one governed by a canonical type of critical reflection.”

Tully’s debunking processes constitute the bulk of this article and the selected passages all come from the last section of the article since it is here that Tully synthesizes the Wittgenstein’s implications towards critical reflection. I particularly enjoy the ancient city metaphor used to describe language games:

Our language games of critical reflection, like our language as a whole, ‘can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses’. The contemporary and historical study of these practices of critical reflection in Western and non-Western societies might be called a ‘genealogy of the critical attitude’.

The implication of this ancient, ever changing language-landscape is that knowledge, interpretation, and critical thinking processes are inherently situated within this place and that regardless of the fancy structure we create to criticize and reflect upon an issue, we are doing so by building on an existing foundation of language games.

As such:

By disengaging from the debate and engaging in this practice of reflecting on two well-known language games of critical reflection, we have come to understand that no type of critical reflection can play the mythical role of founding patriarch of our political life presumed of it in the debate, because any practice of critical reflection is itself already founded in the popular sovereignty of our multiplicity of humdrum ways of acting with words. This conclusion, far from leading to uncritical acceptance of the status quo, enables us to realise that submission to one regime of critical reflection, as the alleged self-certifying guarantor of our freedom, would itself mark the end of our free and critical life.

In short, by committing to parsing language through a singular lens of critical reflection, we are walling ourselves inside the structure of its particular language game and preventing ourselves from enacting its very purpose, that of practicing “a free and critical life.” Tully suggests instead that we ground our critical reflections within Wittgenstein’s truly subversive philosophical critical practice that is inherently distrustful of language and forces us to constantly question the very structures language itself creates. Keeping this in mind is crucial to practicing an unbounded, truly critically insightful comparative social science. Therefore, Tully pithily concludes that:

However, since it is ‘our forms of language’ themselves which lead us into the sorts of misunderstandings we surveyed in this chapter, it always will be necessary to bring along Wittgenstein’s distinctive philosophical practice of critical reflection to test our use and abuse of these languages of critical reflection. For philosophy as Wittgenstein practiced is just this critical attitude – ‘a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language’.


Gadamer argues for clearer hermeneutics of historical thinking. He begins by asserting the problem embedded in within historical objectivism:

In our understanding, which we imagine is so innocent because its results seem so self-evident, the other presents itself so much in terms of our own selves that there is no longer a question of self and other. In relying on its critical method, historical objectivism conceals the fact that historical consciousness is itself situated in the web of historical effects.

The objective view of history subsumes the interpreter’s context at the expense of a stronger truth; by removing the subject from the interpretative process historical objectivism behaves like “statistics, which are such an excellent means of propaganda because they let the ‘facts’ speak and hence simulate an objectivity that in reality depends on the legitimacy of the questions asked.”

In approaching a hermeneutic of historical thinking, Gadamer suggests that it’s useful to know our “horizons” of knowledge and those of the historical texts we are interpreting to gain a more insightful meaning. By “horizons” Gadamer means that the “finite present” is bounded by limitations which frame all forms of knowledge. As such:

If we fail to transpose ourselves into the historical horizon from which the traditionary text speaks, we will misunderstand the significance of what it has to say to us… …when someone thinks historically, he comes to understand the meaning of what has been handed down without necessarily agreeing with it or seeing himself in it.

Understanding, interpretation, and application form the classical basis of hermeneutical thinking and Gadamer suggests that these three processes are inseparable and occur simultaneously in our contemporary understanding of the interpretative process. The applicability of interpretation being inherent to the hermeneutic process reinforces the importance of the agent in realizing the interpretation. Regarding its application to historical thinking, Gadamer states that:

Our thesis is that historical hermeneutics too has a task of application to perform, because it too serves applicable meaning, in that it explicitly and consciously bridges the temporal distance that separates the interpreter from the text and overcomes the alienation of meaning that the text has undergone.

In terms of social science, Gadamer’s thesis dovetails nicely into Taylor’s assertion of the science of man as an inherently historical process. By framing the importance of the agent of interpretation in resolving the “alienation of meaning” texts undergo, Gadamer encourages the exploration of the various subjectivities that intersect when one studies a text. The polysemic nature of this understanding thus supports Tully’s commitment to Wittgenstein’s critical attitude towards understanding and language.

On a purely observational note, the Gadamer text has the best explanation for “hermeneutics” since it grounds the term within its mythological roots by stating how “the interpreter of the divine will who can interpret the oracle’s language is the original model” of this very process. Something about the etymological webs of association this explanation suggests made the term click for me.

Lastly, and tangentially relevant this analysis is engaging further in the etymological language game and being slightly disappointed that “hermeneutic” and “mercurial” are two very similar words that mean very different things.

book review I

introducing: book reviews

I am an aspiring social scientist. I self identify as such and my landing page also says so. I am reading a series of introductory texts over the the next few months to get a grasp of the discipline as a whole and to be better prepared to become a serious academic.

Having worked at a library in my formative years, my method is foolproof: I am systematically working myself through the H call numbers and reading all the books that look interesting and have been published in the last 5 years or so.

The reviews are not so much reviews as they are open notes, running commentary, and rants on things I found interesting in the text.

social science and historical perspectives: society, science, and ways of knowing, by Jack David Eller


Eller sets the tone quickly by identifying what the book is not. This isn’t a methods introduction for a particular science nor is it an exhaustive survey of a particular field. Instead, Eller intends to give the reader a tour of different types of knowledge under the social science umbrella while simultaneously acknowledging the relative youth and ongoing evolution, transformation, and fecundity of these different knowledges.

Features of the Book

Here Eller explained how each chapter on a specific discipline was structured very similarly and began with a list of key organizations and journals followed by a very brief history of the discipline and broad taxonomy of its subfields or dilemmas. The chapter ended with the same broad theme, terrorism, as seen from the lens of the particular discipline and subdisciplines.

List of Key Terms

My favorite term was a succinct definition of post-modernism; here it is verbatim:

the contemporary moment and experience in which “truth” breaks down, “grand narratives” are no longer believed, “progress” is no longer assured if even possible, and in which perspective and subjectivity, emotion and irrationality, images (rather than words), and fragmented and reassembled experiences dominate

In a later discussion with a colleague we agreed the most succinct definition is the following ASCII art:


What is Social Science?

To study the thing we have to define the damn thing. Ugh. What is knowledge? Who makes it? How does it work in a society full of power imbalances and not as coherent as we generally expect it to be? What is teaching? Why is certain knowledge valued more than other knowledge? Who decides what the canon is and how is this not inherently political? Why don’t we have left and right socks when we have left and right shoes? Why are some cartoons always wearing gloves? If Goofy is a dog how come Pluto is also a dog?

Richard Feynman sez it best. If the link is dead google Richard Feynman on pseudoscience.

Historical Thinking

In this chapter I found out I’m kinda Marxist. I was disappointed.

Gang of Four puts it best:

No weak men in the books at home
The strong men who have made the world
History lives on the books at home
The books at home

It's not made by great men (x4)

The past lives on in your front room
The poor still weak the rich still rule
History lives in the books at home
The books at home

It's not made by great men (x4)

The past lives in the books at home
No weak men in the books at home
History lives in the books at home
The books at home

It's not made by great men (x4)

Science of Politics

Surprise surprise, this was very familiar for me. Other than international relations (and not for lack of trying), I’ve engaged directly or indirectly with many of the subdisciplines described in this chapter, especially the quantitative side of things.

In terms of political science’s history, this is where Marx and I part ways.

Economic Outlook

Economics is the most idealistic of the disciplines. I know historically it’s seen as the most cynical but I a lot of idealism in their long-held belief in rational actors. I appreciate Behavioral Economics, introduced later in the chapter, which makes a case for people’s unpredictability.

Irrational actors are where it’s at.

As a data viz nerd I have to give mad props to my man William Playfair for making the first pie chart. With a name like that he should have a game theorist.

Psychological Careers

Being the self-centered creatures we are, a long-term obsession of ours has been understanding how our brain works. It doesn’t seem we have it fully figured out but we’ve come a long way from phrenology.

Julian Jaynes’ notion of the bicameral mind seems fascinating–what if the conception of mind is a recent and prior to that our internal thoughts actually spoke to us and we listened as if they were separate from us? Jaynes argues that schizophrenia is actually a vestige of our earlier bicameral state and further suggests that ancient texts featuring people speaking to gods are examples of this very phenomenon.

The DSM-V totally sounds like a Prince song.

Sociological Imagination

Ibn Khaldun is my man. He predicted the avocado toast conundrum in the 14th century through his concept of asabiyyah.

In short, we start out strong and cohesive but then become obsessed with maintaining our lifestyle and then another strong and cohesive group takes over and then the cycle begins anew.

Of the three predominant theories I like symbolic interactionism best because I’m petty. The other two are macro and, much like economics, assume too much about the intentions of large groups. Functionalism scares me since it states that society’s substructures interact to maintain an equilibrium while conflict theory is obsessed with complaining about the bottom layer of their layer cake getting soggy beneath functionalist layers of privilege.

Symbolic interactionism is more in line with my paranoia about not being able to communicate with anyone ever even when we’re talking in the same language about the same thing. It also asserts that all social action is performed and the nature of the performance varies depending on the situation.

Symbolic interactionism is why multiracial weddings are social minefields for all parties involved.

Anthropological Perspective

It’s time to colonize with research!

Yeah. Classic anthropology was way racist, Sarah Baartman, Ota Benga, Carl Linnaeus’ varieties of human species; it was like if everyone’s least favorite uncles got to teach humanity about people who weren’t them. Here’s Carl’s human varieties, I quote verbatim:

The Americanus: red, choleraic, righteous; black, straight, thick hair; stubborn, zealous, free; painting himself with red lines, and regulated by customs.

The Europeanus: white, sanguine, browny; with abundant, long hair; blue eyes; gentle, acute, inventive; covered with close vestments; and governed by laws.

The Asiaticus: yellow, melancholic, stiff; black hair, dark eyes; severe, haughty, greedy; covered with loose clothing; and ruled by opinions.

The Afer or Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; black, frizzled hair; silky skin, flat nose, tumid lips; females without shame; mammary glands give milk abundantly; crafty, sly, lazy, cunning, lustful, careless; anoints himself with grease; and governed by caprice.

Predictably, this was all very problematic. Franz Boas did his best to disprove the scientific racism endemic to his time.

Physical anthropology in a nutshell.

Geographical Worldview

Wait. They don’t love you like I love you, Maps, wait…

Also, here be dragons. Also early forms of intellectual protection schemes that ended up in shipwrecks because god forbid your secret path to the Indies be discovered.

I see a lot of parallels between information networks and the evolution of geography. At first whomever drew the map or codified the knowledge treated their home base like the center of the universe.

Then the limits of place/knowledge were drawn and redrawn again and again and the warm gooey center was suddenly single pixel a 4K display.

Now the ideas of place and location are in constant flux just like our notions of knowing and understanding are not as static as we had hoped.

My dream of the future city is one where place is moving at a day’s pace, where amenities come to you instead of the other way around. I’m not talking about Amazon Now I’m talking about your condo is suspended above a beach in the evening and by the morning it’s back next to your workplace, if you can afford the perpetual mover’s fees.

I see the commodification of permanence staring us right in the face. Why should beachfronts belong to the same people, can’t we charge a convenience fee for all of us to have the chance at a beachfront view, even for just half an hour a day/week/year?

All the blighted things and peoples can just go away living at the seams of these perpetually moving megastructures, staring and four different walls enveloping them every waking moment, their lives in a perpetual airport terminal, their flight home delayed indefinitely.

In terms of information networks, this shift has already happened. We used to trust our information and spent our time finding what we wanted from sources that we trusted. Today’s information comes directly to us and it’s what has been determined we should want by a source beholden to market interests.

Why wouldn’t the spaces we live in come to resemble the thinking of the agents that shape those spaces?

This is what happens when I take the green line to work 4+ years running.

Social Science and Other Ways of Knowing

Damnit Western European thinking! Why did you have to go and claim everything as your own and describe it relative to your image, values, and thought processes! There’s a wide world out there with ideas as valid and likely as anything you’ve described but now we have to contend with the structures and cultures of knowing you’ve created, as if!

Is truth an inherently Western idea? This really screwed with me, I guess I’ve been colonized more than I let on. At this point I want to hug Richard Feynman and jump off a cliff together in the apotheosis of the I get you bro sentiment he elicited in the pseudoscience video above. Isn’t the search for the truth the entire reason I’m pursuing tertiary education?

In the new book I’m reading the author laments the conventions of social science writing, especially the subjugation of verbs by the almighty nouns that describe all the lofty subjects of our discipline. Maybe he caught me in a vulnerable moment, but I agree with him.

I think that the best social science is not a taxonomy of the way things are but a document of the process of our never-ending becoming. It takes a lot of hubris to state that this is the way things were, are, and will be. I’d much rather live in a world with agents coming and going into their becoming, occasionally stopping to reflect on what they’ve become then continuing into something else.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the big picture of social science and even easier to spend our time building or describing worlds that are/n’t or should/n’t be.

Agency matters. Agency is what populates and shapes those worlds. Let’s focus on the agents and their shaping instead of building ineffable monoliths too nutrient poor to digest.

That’s the social science I want to work in.

fear and loathing in the neighborhood


If Facebook revealed how disappointing the people I knew socially where, Nextdoor has done the same for my neighbors.

In the meatspace, our neighbors are fine. That’s why we chose the neighborhood. It was clean, it has great amenities, and sufficient parking. We feel at peace.

civic engagement

We attended the our Neighborhood Association meeting last Tuesday. It was a packed room and strong emotions were felt, along with a palpable anger and disgust at the way things were being carried out by the bureaucrats present by proxy or in spirit.

Potholes, fast cars, and public safety were the problems most loudly discussed. Bylaws, plans for a not insignificant settlement, and charitable activities were the other items discussed by the NA.

Public safety brought their analytics, using year-to-date figures to report on observed crimes and asserted that the summer is a time for crimes of opportunity. They spoke about bad guys and offered pragmatic strategies for property protection and lamented budgetary realities that denied more exhaustive patroling.

Fast cars and break-ins dominated the q & a and a lady that had been muttering under her breath the whole time walked out in rage.

The local council staffer spoke next redirecting the tar and feathering into a minor beating, surviving the onslaught to face the local masses another day. Skinny suit, pragmatic beard, softly assertive toned and spelling out the issues and the reasons for those issues, knitting the ugly sweater of municipal politics for the public eye.

Apparently the green bollards down Studebaker brought the ire of the homeowners, they deemed the bollards unsightly and a waste of their hard earned money, especially when so many streets needed repaving.

Staffer sez: I know, it sucks, but repaving Studebaker is done in sections and that section was due and monies had been set aside for bollards once repaving came and so in they went.

fictional drinks with public bureaucrat

Tough crowd?

Do you think--

I don't. It helps.

Buy you a drink?

Yes please.


Today is Confusing

commutes & routine

For some of us, doing the same thing every day brings joy. Yes, that’s a Kando word and I’m aware of my opinions about Kando. After moving, I’ve come around to getting rid of clutter too.

surfaces, surfaces, I need surfaces

I can’t read one of the books in my list anymore, I don’t have time to learn Vim. It hurts to know my limits.

I am picturing Michael Caine speaking to Master P.

I have access to so much knowledge and I want to learn it all and the more esoteric the better.

I was reading about diy turntables including corian plynths with alternating aluminum layers, corian platters with alternating lead layers, lathes, and vibration proofing a custom machined electric engine last night.

I followed 40 pages of thread along and at page 40 realized the project was never finished. I think the guy died or at least something kept him from continuing the construction and posting in the forum when it seemed 75% complete.

He also was a terrible speller but that’s neither here nor there.

bait and switch

We are clickbaited professionally because monetization is where it’s at. Am I naive or is monetization missing the point of the internet?

I am naive. Infrastructure is needed for this vector of communication. This isn’t yelling across the street.

No, I’m not naive. We have cell phones and text messaging and we’re not selling things with those mediums of communication. Wait are we?

Is all communication sales? How do I figure? Let me explain.

a cynical model of language

Lost in a word of symbols, the real was pulled from under us sometime around the first meme made its rounds.

Maybe it was when telegraph operators let an inside joke out of the bag or maybe it was when a novice printer mass produced a hilarious typo in a printing press. Maybe it was when the pun was invented which had to be around the time some authority decided there was a right way of saying things and the clown of ages blew raspberries at the pedant of ages and said make me.

Order and subversion, I see their battle playing out all around. But this isn’t cynical this is Deepak Chopra. Let’s work on getting frustrated.

a cynical model of language (really this time)

The word to thought interface is gooey. We overestimate the quality of the connection. Despite the redundancy built in to language what is said and what is heard is rarely in sync. Worst of all, the problem is as old as society.

a new hope (same as the old hope)

Society survives past the miscommunications by sheer scale. Mass produce a people and the normal curve sets the parameters for understanding. Codifying that understanding is a service to that society. Unfortunately codifying seeks permanence and the normal curve is everchanging.

Back to chaos and structure, energy and matter, Lennon and McCartney, absolute compromise and absolute truth, and long lists of incomplete and inaccurate examples.

chick tract manifesto

A man, burdened by the realities of post-modernism goes to his local artisanal coffee shop and requests an audience with his local philosopher.

He inquires: sir, i am overburdened by my reality and i wish to reimagine my world view, please enlighten me.

Philosopher sez: my education only gave me new ways to be burdened, new realities i was previously unaware of, and new problems without solutions–i am swimming the same deep waters as you and while i’m flattered that you’re asking me for help, i have nothing real to offer you.

Man sez: thanks.

Philosopher sez: anytime.

Box Notes


It took me one dedicated day to kill our Evernote productivity plan once and for all. It had reared its ugly head again after a year of reserving its energy for another powergrab.

That green elephant was not going to become part of my workflow

act 1

Redundancy is much too prevalent in this day and age. I have reached the limit of my Outlook corporate installations (10) and I’m nowhere close to having ten devices. I think.

Besides, for something to Just Work (tm) it’s sometimes mandatory to stay within the constraints of whatever default ecosystem one happens to be working with. Enjoying Life the Hard Way(tm) I am scattered across Windows 8, Windows 10, OSX, Arch, and iOS and finding crossplatform solutions for all my bespoke geek frustrations is an excercise in first world problem solving.

Box was not my choice. As with most choices that stick nowadays, it was forced upon me. After more than a year of doodling with it, I’ve grown to appreciate it. Caveats or not, it gets the job done. Besides, corporate could have chosen one of dozens of cloud storage solutions and I would have been fine.

act 2

Box has notes and they work like notes. They have nine colors, lists, and checkmarks. They have rudimentary tables, links, and comments.

Evernote has all that but then I have to do a thing to do a thing. This is a problem for me.

I don’t want to do a thing to do a thing. Doing the thing should be enough.

This is why I lobbied to stay inside our long established ecosystem. We already have Slack, adding another piece would have been too much.

act 3

Productivity has a tendency to become a time waster and deciding how to get things done and how one is to document getting those things done is big business. As big business is wont to do, all these solutions have plans with monthly dollar amounts attached to them. Por qué, though?

Productitivy is an action, not an idea. In the eyes of the big honcho, does it really matter how we construe how we get things done?

Let’s play devil’s advocate. Productivity mavens get a lot of things done and they’re famous for it, they have YouTube channels and fan-people. Tim Ferriss is a role model. People want to be his brand.

I suppose I want a sauna with an assortment of salt-filled buckets in a neat black room near said sauna. But my living spaces are in the triple digits of square footage for the forseeable future and barely so at that. I love achievement as much as the next person but give me a break; I’d be productive too if that was my job. I have the same rant about fit people too.

Productivity isn’t my job. It’s a side effect of my job and it usually happens during condensed timeframes. How is it that being busy makes being busy easier?

Let’s digest. Being busy means I’m doing things and doing lots of things means I’m being productive. Sometimes I have lots of things to do and I end up doing lots of things. But then I don’t have lots of things to do so I don’t do anything. And this is a problem?

Yes, productivity keeps us producing and production is the marrow in society, right? (Note to self, extend this marrow metaphor in a future post.)

act 4

I really have no case against the green elephant. I’m just tired of new things. Gas station food and Cuyana have that in common. They solve the paradox of choice.

Such a funny ailment of our post industrial world, to be paralyzed by freedom. Someone somewhere is rolling over in their grave and smiling, though I’m not certain in what order or where.

The idea and the reality of infinite choice are so different. Amazon and Google and Whole Foods encourage browsing but serendipity, emotions, and limits encourage decisions. Browsing means impressions but the-buck-stopping-here means returns.

Let’s back out of the abstract cul-de-sac. What I mean is this: curation is a fancy word for choice-limiting. Though the process is tied with brand associations and cultural reinforcements the net effect overall is the removal of choice. So much of our obsessive (Millennial) consumer research is in an attempt to limit choice and converge upon The Ideal Version of The Thing I Need(tm) which quite often isn’t anything in particular.

It’s The Feeling(tm). As a recovering hoarder I remember The Feeling(tm). The sense that All Was Right with the world the moment the thing was found and how fleeting that feeling was once the short walk to the car ended and the abstraction of the thing was a reality. Then the thing goes into the pile and on we go.

And on we go is really the main take-away here. On we go, regardless of choice. So let’s forget about the elephant and get productive.


I got rid of the elephant minimized an avenue of choice, decreasing the net amount of decisions I make daily. Nothing was solved but I felt better because I had one less thing to do.

And if I’m being completely honest, doing less but making it seem like more is the whole point.


View all of the posts in the archive, browse the tags, or subscribe to the feed for All Posts.