Naming the machinesTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 29

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Not everybody gives their computers, smartphones, or wireless networks distinctive names. You're more likely to see a thousand public networks named "Belkin" or some alphanumeric gibberish than one named after somebody's favorite character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But many, many people do name their machines -- and ever since we slid into the post-PC era, we're more likely to have a bunch of different machines of every different type living together on a network, each needing a name. So, how do you decide what to call them? Do you just pick what strikes your fancy at the moment, or do you have a system?

About three years ago, I asked my friends and followers on Twitter this question and got back some terrific responses. I don't have access to all of their answers, because, well, time makes fools of us all, especially on Twitter. But I think I have the best responses.

Most people who wrote back did have unifying themes for their machines. And sweet Jesus, are those themes nerdy.

  • A lot of people name their computers, networks, and hard drives after characters, places, and objects from Star Wars. Like, a lot of them.
  • Even more of my friends name devices after their favorite books and writers. My favorite of these came from @DigDoug: "All of my machines are named after characters in Don Quixote. My Macbook is Dulcinea, the workhorse is Rocinante." (Note: these systems are also popular among my friends for naming their cats. I don't know what to make of that.)
  • Science- and mythology-inspired names are well-represented. Mathias Crawford's hard drives are named after types of penguins; Alan Benzie went with goddesses: "The names Kali, Isis, Eris, Juno, Lilith & Hera are distributed around whatever devices and drives I have at any time." (When I first read this, I thought these might have been moons of Jupiter, which would both split the difference between science and mythology and would be a super-cool way to name your stuff.)
  • Wi-fi networks might be named for places, funny phrases, or abstract entities, but when it comes to phones or laptops, most people seemed to pick persons' names. Oliver Hulland's hard drives were all named after muppets; Alex Hern named his computer's hard drive and its time capsule backup Marx and Engels, respectively.
  • Some people always stuck with the same system, and sometimes even the same set of names. A new laptop would get the same name as the old laptop, and so forth -- like naming a newborn baby after a dead relative. Other people would retire names with the devices that bore them. They still refer to them by their first names, often with nostalgia and longing.

As for me, I've switched up name systems over the years, mostly as the kinds of devices on my network have changed. I used to just have a desktop PC (unnamed), so I started out by naming external hard drives after writers I liked: Zora, after Zora Neale Hurston, and then Dante. The first router I named, which I still have, is Ezra.

Years later, I named my laptop "Wallace": this is partly for David Foster Wallace, but also so I could yell "where the fuck is Wallace?!?" whenever I couldn't find it.

Without me even realizing it, that double meaning changed everything. My smartphone became "Poot." When I got a tablet, it was "Bodie." My Apple TV was "Wee-Bay," my portable external drive "Stringer." I even named my wi-fi network "D'Angelo" -- so now D'Angelo runs on Ezra, which connects to Dante, if that makes sense.

As soon as it was Wallace and Poot, the rules were established: not just characters from The Wire, but members of the Barksdale crew from the first season of The Wire. No "Bunk," no "Omar," no "Cheese." And when the machines died, their names died with them.

The first one to go, fittingly, was Wallace. I called the new machine "Cutty." I was only able to justify to myself by saying that because he was a replacement machine, it was okay to kick over to Season 3. Likewise, my Fitbit became "Slim Charles."

Now, for some reason, this naming scheme doesn't apply at all to my Kindles. My first one was "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," and its replacement is "Funes the Memorious." I have no explanation for this, other than to say that while all my other devices commingle, the Kindles seem to live in a hermetic world of their own.

Paul's Boutique Minus Paul's BoutiqueTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 29

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

July 25 was probably the 25th anniversary of Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. (Google and a few other sources say the release date was actually June 25, but July 25 is the consensus.) There's a new mural of the group, painted by Danielle Mastrion, at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington, on New York's Lower East Side, where the album cover was shot.

This remix of Paul's Boutique, released a few years ago, has also been recirculating on Twitter and Soundcloud. Caught in the Middle of a Three-Way Mix, by DJ Cheeba, DJ Moneyshot, and DJ Food, recombines the album's original source tracks and a capella verses with audio commentaries and a handful of newer songs.

The remix is fun to listen to, but mostly, it just reminds you that Paul's Boutique sounds amazing because its sampled sources were amazing. Like De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, released the same year, Paul's Boutique lifts tracks that would cost a small mint to borrow from today. (Three Feet High has never had an official digital release because the rights holders still can't sort out the royalties.) The Beatles, The Supremes, The Ramones, Curtis Mayfield, Dylan, Hendrix, Sly, Bernard Hermann, and James Brown (of course) are all there. But mostly, it's a love letter to old-school New York City hip hop: Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy 5, The Sugarhill Gang, The Funky 4 +1, and contemporaries like Run-DMC, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy are the glue that holds the whole project together.

Now, if you know Paul's Boutique well, you can't hear those older songs any more without hearing Paul's Boutique. There's specific moments in those songs that hide there waiting for you to trip over them, like quotations of ancient Greek in an Ezra Pound or TS Eliot poem. Beastie Boys didn't just find a way to make older music sound new; they found a way to invent their own precursors.

It's still wonderful to go back to the roots. In 2012, I found tracks from a handful of playlists and website listings and edited them together to make a Spotify playlist that I called "Paul's Boutique Without Paul's Boutique." It's just the sampled songs, as many of them as I could find, roughly in the order they appear on the album. It's ridiculously fun. I like it better than the three-DJ mix, and I might like it even better than the Beasties' album.

It feels like you're at an amazing party at Adam Yauch's house, the Dust Brothers have control of the record player, and Mike D and Adam Horowitz are watching TV and telling you jokes the whole time. I never want it to end.

The mystery of the Wu-Tang name generatorTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 29

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

You probably know that Donald Glover (actor on Community, writer on 30 Rock) also has a rap career under the stage name Childish Gambino. You may not know that the name "Childish Gambino" comes from a Wu-Tang Name Generator.

That's half of the reason I'm here - I'm dead serious. Like I met RZA and he was like, "you're a cool dude, man - and your name is perfect for you! It's like that computer had a brain!" But yeah, I put my name in a Wu-Tang name generator and it spit out Childish Gambino, and for some reason I just thought that fit.

Now here's where things get a little weird. There are multiple, competing Wu-Tang name generators. (Of course there are.) Most of them seem to work the same way -- they run a script matching your name's characters with a decent-sized database of Wu-sounding words, kind of like a hash. But little differences in the scripts or in the database give you different results.

For instance, at recordstore.com, the "Original Wu Name Generator" (tagline "WE CAN WU YOU!") spits back "Erratic Assassin" (for "Timothy Carmody"), while "Tim Carmody" yields "Well-Liked Assman." These names are both awesome.

But the "Wu-Tang Name Generator" at mess.be ("Become a real Wu warrior, entah ur full name 'n smack da ol' dirty button"), which proprietor Pieter Dom says was made in 2002, is totally different. There, "Timothy Carmody" and "Tim Carmody" return "Shriekin' Wizard" and "Gentlemen Overlord," respectively. Now, while these definitely sound like Wu names, they are definitely The W to the other site's Enter the 36 Chambers.

Here's the weird part: both of these Wu-Tang name generators return the same name for "Donald Glover." It is, of course, "Childish Gambino."

Is it just a quirk that whatever difference crept in affects most names, but not Donald Glover's? Did one of the sites hard-code that result in, to boost its credibility with people who heard the Childish Gambino story? Or is Donald Glover somehow necessarily Childish Gambino, across all possible Wu-accessible worlds, in the same way that "Clifford Smith" is always and only "Method Man," even when he pretends to be an actor?

I don't think we can ever know. But just as Russell Jones was Ol' Dirty Bastard, ODB, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus, and Ason Unique as well as Osirus, I am content to be known by many names under the Wu.

(Dedicated to "Sarkastik Beggar" and "Lesbian Pimp." Via @hoverbird.)

The history of informationTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 29

This timeline of the history of information has some outstanding rabbit-holes: multiple entries on the history of magnetic card readers, Plimpton 322 (a cuneiform tablet called "the most famous original document of Babylonian mathematics"), and a whole series on crimes, forgeries, and hoaxes. The most developed entries and companion essays are on books and the book trade (the proprietor is an antiquarian bookseller), and the whole thing has got a noticeably Western Civ slant, but there's something here for everyone.

This American LearTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 28

This American Life host and radio superpersonality Ira Glass went to see a play and came away more vexed than Claudius walking out of The Mousetrap in Elsinore.

But it's not a one-off thing! Glass says he's been building to this conclusion for a long time, straining like Caliban under Prospero's yoke:

So what's going to happen? Will bespectacled literary nerds have to choose between Chicago's adopted son Ira and our old friend Stratford Billy? That's like Prince Hal having to choose between getting drunk with Falstaff and cleaning up his act for his dad the king!

Be not afraid, gentles -- reporter Lois Beckett is on it, with a retelling of King Lear specially updated for Ira Glass's post-Renaissance storytelling sensibilities. It's This American Lear.

Why don't OKCupid's experiments bother us like Facebook's did?TIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 28

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

OK Cupid's Christian Rudder has responded to the outcry over Facebook's experiments with user emotions by... publishing a list of experiments that the dating site has run on its users, along with their results.

And it's not little stuff either! To test its matching algorithms, OKC has selectively hidden users' profile images, their profile text, and even told pairs of users they were a good match when the algo said they weren't, and vice versa.

In short, Facebook may have hid stuff from you, but OK Cupid might have actually lied to you.

But... nobody's really upset about this. Or if they are, they're mostly just upset (or dryly observing, it's hard to tell) that other people aren't upset.

Why? I have some theories:

  1. It's early yet. It took the Facebook story some time to steep before it really picked up steam.
  2. OKC users are less likely to be troubled by this sort of thing than Facebook users are. And people get more upset when they feel like they personally might have been messed with. Hilary Parker pointed out that non-online daters are less likely to get upset on online daters' behalf: even if you don't actively look down on OKC users (and many do), you might be more likely to think they got what they deserved. OK Cupid has a history of disclosing these kinds of numbers, and there's a laissez-faire attitude towards users gaming accounts for their own purposes.
  3. We trust Facebook in a way we don't trust OKC. Facebook is the safe baby internet, with our real friends and family sending us real messages. OKC is more internet than the internet, with creeps and jerks and catfishers with phony avatars. So Facebook messing with us feels like a bigger betrayal.
  4. OKC's matching algorithm may be at least as opaque as Facebook's news feed, but it's clearer to users that site matches and views are generated using an algorithm. Reportedly, 62 percent of Facebook users weren't aware that Facebook's news feed was filtered by an algorithm at all. (That study has a small sample size, but still, we can infer that lots of Facebook users have no idea.)
  5. The results of OKC's experiments are less troubling. Facebook's study showed that our posting behavior (and maybe our feelings) were pretty susceptible to manipulation without a whole lot of effort. OKC's results seemed more complimentary. Sure, lots of people on dating sites are shallow, and sometimes you may have ended up in longer conversations than you might like with incompatible people, but good matches seem to find a way to connect no matter what OKC tells us! So... the algorithm works and I guess we can trust what they tell us? My head hurts. (Jess Zimmerman adds that part of the Facebook intervention was deliberately designed to cause harm, by making people unhappy, at least as mediated through their posts. The difference here depends on whether you think trying to match you up with someone incompatible might be causing them harm.
  6. The tone of the OKC post is just so darned charming. Rudder is casual, self-deprecating. It's a blog post! Meanwhile, Facebook's "emotional contagion" scholarly paper was chillingly matter-of-fact. In short, the scientism of the thing just creeped us the fuck out.
  7. This is related to the tone issue, but OKC seems to be fairly straightforward about why it performed the experiment: they didn't understand whether or how their matching algorithm was working, and they were trying to figure that out to make it better. Facebook seemed to be testing user's emotional expressions partly to solve a scholarly dispute and partly just to see if they could. And most of the practical justifications folks came up with for the Facebook study were pretty sinister: tricky folks into posting more often, into clicking on ads, into buying stuff. (Really, both experiments are probably a mix of product testing and shooting frogs for kicks, but the perception seems to be different.)
  8. The Facebook study had an added wrinkle in that academics were involved in designing the study and writing it up. This raised all sorts of factual and ethical issues about university institutional review boards and the responsibility of the journal's editors and publishers that don't seem to be relevant here. I mean, maybe SOMEbody should be veryifying that experiments done on human subjects are ethical, whether it's in a university, medical, or government context or not, but it's not like someone may have been asleep at the switch. Here, there is no switch.
  9. Maybe we're all just worn out. Between Facebook, this, Uber ratings, and god knows what, even if you're bothered by this kind of experimentation, it's more difficult to stay angry at any one company. So some people are jaded, some people would rather call attention to broader issues and themes of power, and some people are just tired. There's only so many times you can say "see? THIS! THIS is what I've been telling you about!" or "I can't believe you're surprised by this" before you're just like, ¯\_(?)_/¯.

I don't agree with all of these explanations, and all of them feel a little thin. But maybe for most of us, those little scraps of difference are enough.

Update: Here's a tenth reason that I thought of and then forgot until people brought up variations of it on Twitter: Facebook feels "mandatory" in a way that OKCupid doesn't. It's a bigger company with a bigger reach that plays a bigger part in more people's lives. As Sam Biddle wrote on Twitter, "Facebook is almost a utility at this point. It's like ConEd fucking with us."

The secret rites of MinecraftTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 28

"Minecraft is a game about creation," writes Robin Sloan. "But it is just as much a game about secret knowledge."

There's no official manual, so the game's teeming network of devotees, young and old, proper publishers and web-based wildcats, have worked to create them by the score. Not just guides, but wikis, videos, hints, tricks. The rules can only be discovered by observation, reasoning, and experiment. Like science -- or magic:

Imagine yourself a child. Imagine yourself given one of these books: not merely a story of exploration and adventure, but a manual to such.

Imagine yourself acquiring the keys to a mutable world in which you can explore caves, fight spiders, build castles, ride pigs, blow up mountains, construct aqueducts to carry water to your summer palace... anything.

Imagine yourself a child, in possession of the secret knowledge.

Maybe the most interesting thing about this, Robin writes, is how the game "calls forth" the books -- another kind of magic. Is this a function of how much Minecraft players love the game? Or is that arcane, indirect, networked, bottomless well of knowledge, asking to be impossibly filled, what they love about it?

The future of birthdaysTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 28

Joanne McNeil charts where the internet of things is headed:

You wake up to a jazzy MIDI version of the "Happy Birthday" song. Your smart thermostat and smoke detector are singing in harmony because today is your day. Your fitness tracker is vibrating in an unfamiliar Morse Code. Searching the internet, you come across a question in the support forums about it, explaining it is the preprogrammed birthday greeting silent alarm that you can disable after pairing the device again and updating your settings. Your bathroom scale, toilet, and garage door also welcome you with birthday wishes. Open up the refrigerator to another friendly jingle. Tropicana, Fage, and Sabra Hummus all wish you happy birthday. Now there's an incoming message. It is the "birthday selfie" it snapped when you reached for the orange juice.

Sometimes, our identity-obsessed web services are creepy because they know so much about us, and sometimes they're creepy because they're just so damned shallow.

The new Haruki Murakami novelTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 28

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Slate has an excerpt of Haruki Murakami's new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It's more or less self-contained, a story within a story. But of course, even within the excerpt, those nesting frames start collapsing:

Haida stopped and glanced at the clock on the wall. Then he looked at Tsukuru. He was, of course, Haida the son, but Haida the father had been his same age in this story, and so the two of them began to overlap in Tsukuru's mind. It was an odd sensation, as if the two distinct temporalities had blended into one. Maybe it wasn't the father who had experienced this, but the son. Maybe Haida was just relating it as if his father had experienced it, when in reality he was the one who had. Tsukuru couldn't shake this illusion.

"I just silently accept everything as it is," says another character, Midorikawa. "That's my basic problem, really. I can't erect a decent barrier between subject and object."

There's also magic, death, and jazz, plus a fair bit of discussion about the value of life and imagination. Just a treat.

Old Town Music HallJUL 25

From This Must Be the Place, a lovely short profile of Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California. Old Town shows silent films with live musical accompaniment. Includes a brief tour of the inner workings of the theater's wind-powered pipe organ from 1925.

Clickbaiting the 10 CommandmentsJUL 25

Over at McSweeney's, David Tate imagines more engaging copy for the Ten Commandments, aka you won't believe what God said to this man...

At the Beginning He Had Me Confused, But by Minute Two I Knew That I Shouldn't Have Other Gods.

37 Things in Your Bedroom That You Need to Get Rid of Right Now, Like Adulteresses.

Werner the HerzogJUL 25

Werner The Herzog

Magisterial. (via @moleitau)

Explaining HitlerJUL 25

Explaining Hitler is a 1998 book by Ron Rosenbaum that compiled a number of different theories about why Adolf Hitler was the way he was, updated recently with new information.

Hitler did not escape the bunker in Berlin but, seven decades later, he has managed to escape explanation in ways both frightening and profound. Explaining Hitler is an extraordinary quest, an expedition into the war zone of Hitler theories. This is a passionate, enthralling book that illuminates what Hitler explainers tell us about Hitler, about the explainers, and about ourselves.

Vice recently interviewed Rosenbaum about the book.

Oh my God, there are so many terrible psychological attempts to explain Hitler. I think the subject brings out the worst in talk show psychologists. There's a lot of 'psychopathic narcissism' among those psychologizing Hitler. The examples in my book were two psychoanalysts-one wanted to claim that Hitler became Hitler because he was beaten by his father, and the other psychoanalyst was equally determined to believe that Hitler had a malignant mother who was over-protective. As if everyone who has an over-protective mother or abusive father turns into Hitler. If everyone who has been struck by their father turned into Hitler we would be in a lot more trouble than we are.

Related by not related: Rosenbaum wrote a story in 1971 for Esquire about phone phreaking, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, which inspired the very first partnership between a pair of young future tech titans, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. (via @errolmorris)

A short history of the high fiveJUL 24

For the latest installment of Grantland's 30 for 30 short documentary series, a story on the genesis of the high five and what happened to one of its inventors. This video is chock full of amazing vintage footage of awkward high fives. [Weird aside: The sound on this video is only coming out of the left channel. Is that a subtle homage to the one-handed gesture or a sound mixing boner?]

Do you have a reservation?JUL 24

Alexis Madrigal wonders: when did the idea of the dinner reservation come about?

Reserving a table is not so much an "industrial age bolt-on" as it's a slippage from the older custom of reserving a ROOM in a restaurant. As my book explains, 18th-cy "caterers" [traiteurs] either served clients in their homes or in rooms at the traiteur's, the first self-styled restaurateurs borrowed from cafes in having lots of small tables in one big room. Throughout the nineteenth century, many big city restaurants continued to have both a (very) large public eating room with numerous, small (private) tables AND a number of smaller rooms that could be reserved for more private meals. (Much as some restaurants have special "banquet facilities" or "special occasion" rooms today.)

See also: the first NY Times restaurant review circa 1859.

For sale. Knockoff Jeff Koons. $500.JUL 24

A seller on Chinese b2b site Alibaba is offering stainless steel sculptures of balloon animal dogs in the style of Jeff Koons. For as little as $500, you can get your own knock-off copy of Balloon Dog, which sold for $58 million last year.

Koons dog knockoff

Koons' dog was about 10 feet tall but the seller notes they can make them anywhere from 3 feet tall to almost 100 feet tall. Jiminy. I wonder what these things look like? I bet they aren't nearly as precise as the originals, but you never know. See also: Rex Sorgatz's Uber for Art Forgeries. (via prosthetic knowledge)

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the FutureJUL 24

From a pair of science historians, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, comes The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a book of science fiction about the consequences of climate change.

The year is 2393, and a senior scholar of the Second People's Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.

A menagerie of birds from the futureJUL 24

The Silva Field Guide to Birds of a Parallel Future, featuring several videos of how futuristic birds might move. For instance, here's a deconstructed bird in the shape of a Borg cube:

Botanical space flightJUL 24

Bonsai! In! Spaaaaaaaace!!

Bonsai in space

This image is from Exobiotanica, a project that sent various plants about 100,000 feet into the sky.

Don't Fly Drones HereJUL 24

Drones Nofly Map

From Mapbox, a map of places in the US where it is unsafe or illegal to fly drones. Forbidden areas include near airports and in National Parks. (via @tcarmody)

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