RL160 - Gidgets and Gasmos

This week, Merlin and John talk about

  • John’s iCloud storage is full (Technology)
  • John’s eel story from Outward Bounds (Subscriptions are eels)
  • Homeless have different priorities (Politics)
  • The long arc of the universe pulls towards justice (Humanities)
  • 2015-June: John’s new key fab for his office building (Currents)
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality in its early stages (Technology)
  • 2015-June: John has a possum in the house (Currents)

The problem: ”How can a cloud be full?”, referring to John’s iCloud storage being almost full which sounds strange to him

The show title refers to being on the cusp to a new era, not realizing how old you look with your backpack of gidgets and gasmos.

John had to get some gerbil chew from the grocery store across the street to feed all the gerbils inside his now completely archaic computing device. It still looks very modern, because the design was so much ahead of its time. Merlin has two Apple devices at his house right now that won’t turn on at all and they look like something from Star Trek.

Merlin thinks about how many things are becoming more externalized. Way back you would have a pocket watch in your pocket and a billfold in your jacket and you might have keys, but very few of your items were external. Merlin never goes anywhere without a jacket and a backpack. Even if it is 80 degrees in the morning, his child will always have a jacket with her. You can always take it off.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John’s iCloud storage is full (RL160)

John’s extremely modern phone has recently started to engage him in conversations about how his iCloud is almost full. How can a cloud be full? It rains when it gets full! Clouds can get very big before you can describe them as full. But John’s phone insists that it is time for him to either upgrade to a plan, which is basically attaching some additional eels to your neck, or the alternative is to go to Apple / Menu.Details / Bitcoin / Eels and they will walk you through a very easy process where you can manage your content in the sense that each app and deliverable has a content management capability which enables you to not know at all anything about how much space things are using or how their operating system adjudicates. They show you some colored bars that indicate how full your cloud is. The biggest one of these bars is something you can do nothing about nor can you understand it and the other bars are similarly opaque. John would actually prefer to manage his content, as they say, and not have the phone be full of secret contracts and full of end user agreements that give away all his information to Chelsea Manning. He would prefer to just go in there, see what is there and cull the things he does not want. They present it as a simple process by just following the little arrow from Apple Care to Apple Dontcare and yet John would need a computer-maths degree from a community college and one year of free time where he had nothing better to do than to sit and figure out how to delete what he can delete from his phone. In summary: It just works.

Both Merlin and John resist resignation and John doesn’t want to make decisions from a place of resignation. This entire eel-based economy is an economy predicated on resignation. They give you the appearance of a choice where one of the choices is non-functioning and the other choice is to upgrade and pay on a monthly basis. Of course you can go down this trap street with dead ends on every turn like that scene in Animal House and it will redirect you back. Eventually your phone stops working or your computer stops working and you resignedly pay for the hope that a bigger cloud will get you back in the game. John sees an eel with a cheeky smilie and this remora just wants to attach himself to John's neck vain. It is the same as putting special ATMs in casinos that are not only very costly, but that will also provide cash advances and stuff. When you are in the headiness of gambling, you are not making a note of every $100 or $500 that you are taking out, but it feels sustaining to keep gambling. The same is true with the eels: A solution is presented to attach an eel to anywhere it can suck enough blood and if it is not working, they will just give you yet another eel. Eels are small and John hesitates to call them leeches, because that is such an pejorative term. They are properly remora! John’s resistance is not against any one particular eel, but to the idea of having eels on him at all. Even if that eel looks like something out of 17 deleted minutes from 2001 Space Odyssey, even if it is a Kubrickian eel: John doesn’t want it on him.

Homeless have different priorities (RL160)

For years people said that homelessness is an easy problem, because you can solve it just by building shelters. Have you ever been in a homeless shelter? It is not a great place to be! When someone tries to do something really novel, like actually setting people up and giving them a place to live, it is called cheating, because you can’t actually help them! People hear Merlin joke about how much poop there is in the streets of San Francisco. Nobody poops on the street because they want do, but because they have no other place to go! People might have mental health issues, but they are not crazy. The problems homeless people have who try and get a job are: Where do you get clothes? Where do you get a shower? And how do you get your 5 shopping carts looked after? It is virtually impossible and people don’t think about this little mundane and extremely sad detail, but for the homeless this is daily life and there are so many steps between their situation and providing for themselves in this studio apartment.

A number of times John prioritized straightening out his file of envelopes. He has a closet full of stationary, vintage envelopes, colored typing paper, nice folders, heavy card stock and then all of the vintage postcards. It is all unused and he is stockpiling it in the hope that he will one day return to mailed correspondence where he will sit down with his cursive typewriter and write heartfelt letters on scented stationary from 19th century France. John has spent a lot of time with this material. It gives him great pleasure and he has prioritized it over other things like working on his book, working on his new album or getting some exercise. He is very aware of a major problem that we never really think about: One of the primary problems for people with mental health issues is prioritization. It is easy to say that they need to secure their necessities before they worry about their five shopping carts full of Taco Bell cups, but the person will resist you because you have no idea how important those Taco Bell cups are for them! That little switch is something that John personally experiences all the time. He could very easily see himself suffering a series of defeats while he cannot understand the next step that for some people is always so clear, but for John is covered with vines. In our culture in particular, as soon as you start to treat homelessness, address the criminal justice system or deal with income inequality, you are always pushed down until you reach the point where the other person says that it would not be fair because that person has not done anything to deserve food and shelter. That is a Kobayashi Maru, meaning that this game does not work in the way it seems and if you actually follow the steps needed to win it, you will by definition be cheating! There is someone over here working hard and still barely making it, because we are living in a meritocracy. Providing an apartment and three squares a day for a homeless person feels unfair, because this other hard-working person is barely achieving that for themselves. That is the point where you have to tell the homeless person to live in the bushes because that is what they deserve. Addressing that cognitive struggle in our culture is hard because no-one knows where that lesson originates: If you don’t work, you deserve to be pushed out of the village, wander the dessert and die. The standard for being able to stay at even the lowest level is so much higher than it has ever been. You can’t live in the city unless you are really working hard!

Merlin met a really nice guy and his girlfriend at they regular comic meet-up in San Francisco. They were about to move to town from Atlanta and Merlin wanted all the words coming out of his mouth to be ”Welcome! I hope you enjoy it here”, but all he can think of is a series of sighs, like ”It is the worst, it is terrible! Don’t come here, because it is bad! It is really bad! If you don’t think it is bad, you are the problem. It is like living inside a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. It is disintegrating around us like in the movie Snowpiercer and if you don’t see that, you are in a different part of the train. Look at the shit storm that everybody in this town is living through!”, which comes out as ”Congratulations on the move, I hope the new job works out for you!” Merlin doesn’t want to be that guy. For example, Twitter has this really nice building in Tenderloin, a part of town that wants to fancy up because it is where Twitter is. That area around 6th and the market, between the Civic Center, west of Civic Center is pretty gross. Merlin finds it very strange that some of the folks who are the most fortunate walk straight past some of the grittiest stuff every day. He had to be in the area recently for WWDC and he was shocked walking out of the Civic Center BART. It is gross and desperate like something from a Science Fiction dystopia. "Welcome my friend from Atlanta!" In every dystopian movie there is clear separation between the Haves and the Havenots, there is always a metaphorical wall. There is a train where you have to make it through several armored doors to get to the front. What is amazing about San Francisco and Seattle is that in the main complex of the city, those walls are all in people’s minds. You come down in your skinny pants and you go across the street to get an $11 coffee beverage that was pooped out of a monkeys butt. Then you go back across the street into the lobby without even noticing the economic carnage that you had to literally step over to get the monkey poop coffee.

The long arc of the universe pulls towards justice (RL160)

John sympathizes with young rich people who are embracing a radical ideology. A lot of millennial kids with a lot of opportunity are channeling their frustration into ideologies. Those are not the most self-reflective people, but it really does feel like something is going to happen. John doesn’t want it to be a violent revolution, though. Looking back on the last 200 years, it is not too hard to say that Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mother Theresa had much better long-term results from their practice than the revolutions of 1917, 1848 or even1968. John wants everybody to hear and see and get engaged and make a difference, but as somebody who is trying to do that, he knows it is not easy! One barometer that tells Merlin how good he can feel about the culture is how much he is constantly reminded of the horrible scene in the movie Brazil where everybody picks a dish just by the number. Bob Hoskins keeps coming to John in his dreams. He referenced Brazil in a political conversation the other day and was just greeted with blank stares. Have we come that far? It is really appalling that this movie is as relevant today as it was in 1986, because it seems impossible that this movie would make more sense over time. One of the great quotes from Martin Luther King is that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice". Over the last several years, people on the left have questioned this with a lot of cynicism. In the case of Seattle, we are on the brink of something amazing happening and John wonders why not everyone can see that? Things are heading towards a liberal utopia and we just have to get the implementation details right. Ultimately, John has a historian’s view on things: If you look at that arc in any historical context you chose, you will see that it is absolutely true and it bends towards justice. The cynicism comes from people who can only see 5 years on either side or who are only responding to how they are feeling right now or to what’s politically expedient to say. Of course we are making progress! Everything we have ever said as human beings has been a progression toward something that we never talk about or try to define.

There are a lot of people who believe that that progression is a kingdom after death, or to personally ascend, or to climb through reincarnation, or a ladder of enlightenment. We never talk about what we have been through as a species and the progression we have already made. We see the destruction we have wrought and we can see ourselves as a kind of vermin or plague on earth like any kind of parasite: At first you don’t notice it and then there is some discoloration on your arm and then pretty soon you can see the destruction and your hair falls out. If you did a time lapse of the earth over the last 50.000 years, you wouldn't have noticed human beings in it, despite them being around for a long time. Just recently have we reached the level of parasitic overpopulation where we are starting to kill the host. At the same time we have done such incredible things, have built such an incredible hive and have conceived of such incredible notions. We invented the idea of Zero as far as we know! There is no Zero in nature. Inventing something like that is impressive work! Leaving aside Valhalla and Heaven where we will be reunited with your ancestors, we never stop and think about our goal for humanity that is generations long, other than just build, build, build. We are finally at a place where we can talk about this, because human history until now was primarily about staying alive, beating back nature and persist. Rich Guy in 900 AD says ”My family is going to survive now. How do I consolidate power and money to myself so I can protect my tribe?” Only through the nascent power of the internet are we able to see through the broad sweep of time. Only now do we have the ability to start making plans for ourselves and our cities. This whole sustainability movement is a long term game! You have to make sacrifices and play a role in an ultimate goal that you are just one of millions of participants in. That is very exciting and it could be very uniting.

What is the magnet that pulls the long arc of the universe towards justice? In retrospect, what has succeeded most of the time was reducing our sense of who is "The Other". If there is anything that has ever gotten better about people, it is realizing that there really isn’t such thing as an "Other". We needed that world view back in 900 AD when tribes needed to keep their castle going. Now think about where we were about 2 years ago, let alone 10 years ago! Who is allowed to love each other publicly has changed dramatically! Starting to realize that there are a lot more of that kind of people than what you thought helps a lot. It is not really just 1 out of 10 or less, but it could be a lot more than that and it could be a lot more complicated than that. Just by the virtue of being exposed to those people, you also realize that they are not monsters and that they might deserve to be human beings. You see that they are just people and that you are the monster. During the last 2 years a lot of things made Merlin realize that he is the real monster here! All these other people who are impinging on the thing he likes to announce are not the problem, but the problem is that he is not paying enough attention to those he thinks are "The Other", and what kind of case they have. How sad is it that they even have to make a case!

John had a couple of really conservative friends in High School. They loved Jack Kemp and they were young republicans with a sharp edged ideology which made them feel superior and cool, particularly when they contrasted themselves against the soft and wasteful liberalism. These were a couple of John’s really close friends. They shared a taste in music and comedy, they enjoyed each others company and they enjoyed arguing about politics. They had a quote they used to defeat John in arguments when he would start to talk too much about collective action or collective thinking. Surely, one of them had seen it on a bumper sticker once and they would now just throw it in John’s face when John was spinning a story where there race was just a construct, which in 1985 wasn’t as popularly known. Those guys would sneer at John and go ”One planet, one people, please!” and John was like ”Yeah, actually!”

Merlin sometimes feels that liberals can be insufferable. They think it would be a great day when all our schools have all the money they need and the Airforce has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber. First of all: That is too long for a bumper sticker and they would have to edit that down. ”One planet, one people, please!” has been edited down to ”Coexist!”, together with all the little symbols, which is such a perfect summary of what is annoying about liberals: They are using all these different symbols to form an English word and they are fucking with all of these very important symbols of different people and fates to make a font that they can put on their suburban.

2015-June: John’s new key fab for his office building (RL160)

John got a key fab from his office manager which is the new way going forward to enter and exit the building. The key fab is built in such a way that the only way to carry it is on your keyring. You can’t slip it in your wallet and it is small enough to get lost if you didn’t put it somewhere, so John has no choice but to put it on his keys. It is made of this putty-colored plastic that all of the IBM PC:s are made of and now John has this thing on his keys that looks like a tag they put on them in lost on found, or like a piece of evidence. John does curate the look of his keys! He is not just some person with a bunch of dumb keys, but he has a little tooled leather flap with a little kitten on it and he arranges his keys in the order that he prefers to find them. One of the keys has a little bit of red tape on it and one of the keys is branded Seattle Seahawks. There are a couple of older, nice classic looking heavy style keys that he is very proud of, and new he has this fucking dingus putty on here. He understands that it is meant to make his life better and that it is part of the modernization project. Merlin has two keys: House key. Office key. It took him 48 years to get down to this point. If he needs to have the car key, he will grab the car key. Not having it on there all the time also means he will drive less. Merlin doesn’t have a boat and stuff. Freedom is fewer keys! Every key you get is another thing you have to take care of. John remembers when he was in his 20:s, living in the minivan. He had zero keys, not even a key to the minivan he was living in. At one point he got a key to the house in case he really need it, but he wasn't supposed to abuse it. Then he got a job and got a key to his work. Then he became the assistant manager at the news stand and they gave him a different key. Then his mom moved to town and he had a key to her house. He didn’t get a car in Seattle until he was about 30 years old, but then he had a key to that. At a certain point in the early Long Winters tour days, he had so many keys! With this giant ass wallet with all the currencies of the world in it and the huge ring of keys he looked like a superintendent. He was probably wearing a hat saying ”King Ropes Sheridan Wyoming” or ”Marvin’s gas and go”. He did not have a hat saying ”Tight women loosened here”, although he had a thing that said Chick Magnet on it, because he believes in truth in advertising. His keyring has been really good: Office keys, house keys and now he has a fucking dingus on it. It has only been on it for about an hour because John put it on there as he was waiting for Merlin to call him, but it sticks out at an angle. What is he supposed to do? Carry it on a rope around his neck? It will give him cancer! Everything wants to be the center of everything now, it is like hegemony!

Virtual reality and augmented reality in its early stages (RL160)

The other day John went to meet a guy who runs a company that is building out VR and AR technologies. He went to their shop and put on an Oculus headset and was ushered into a virtual reality universe, given several tours of different virtual realities, trying on a couple of different headsets including the one made out of cardboard and some others where you slip your big Nokia phone into a slot and all of a sudden it functions as a VR. The state of this technology is very new. It felt better than the Money for Nothing video, but still: Let’s not call this reality! There was some incredible footage shot with 360 degree cameras out of a helicopter over beautiful Iceland and you can turn your head, look around this place and explore the environment. From a gaming standpoint, from a demo or job training standpoint or from a touristic standpoint, this stuff is very interesting, but really it is AR where we live. That is going to be our universe! All our iPads and our backpack full of Gidgets and Gazmos is all leading to a point where we will have a constant ebb and flow between reality and the augmentation of it in the glasses which we are all going to wear. You ar going to look at the lock on your door and it is going to open, because it is going to recognize you. As you walk around, you can activate the local archives to find out when this building was built and when the addition was put on. When you are really bored on the bus, you can bring up some infotainment, but you will always be able to look through it in order to make sure that nobody steps on your foot and nobody takes you by surprise. This in and out of reality will be the new reality and it is tantalizing to look at it in its germinating stage. The endless possibilities of it are truly an evolutionary possibility. We cannot know because it would be like being a lizard and imagining having warm blood. Our minds are going to work so differently and our life is going to be so different.

Just the thought to put on a headset and be in a different world will always be alien to John, but it won’t be to his kid. Our generation will be mocked and derided because we bridged the gap between a purely mechanical and a virtual world. The generation before us went out and worked on their cars on a Saturday, we have spent our whole lives playing Myst, and the next generation is going to be able to conjure all data at once. We will look like loonies because we could have done it sooner or better or something. We will be seen with our electric cars, but we didn’t quite get it yet and spent all this time using our little phones as phones. This is the connective tissue era where nothing we are doing is actually elegant. Cruising down the strip in a 1957 Chevy was so much more elegant than sitting on Facebook on a Saturday night posting huffy, indigent messages. On our good days we are going to be best remembered for not getting in the way too much of incredibly obvious things. Grandpa is most appreciated for that time when he found a way of standing less and less exactly in the way of progress. Standing there with your iPad that doesn’t work because your cloud is full, shaking it and going ”I just need to upgrade my operating system”.

2015-June: John has a possum in the house (RL160)

John is now in the process of getting rid of the possum in his house by putting some possum traps in the basement and in the attic. So far, the possum has avoided them, but it has also not been around and John has not heard him. He is trying to imagine the possum as he arrives, sees the trap, smells the bait in the dark and wonders that something new is here that smells good. Where does he go in his possum mind? Right now he is going back outside and is not falling for it. Hopefully John doesn’t have the smart possum. For example, if you would cross a possum with a crow, you would get some serious problems! What would need to happen in the possum community in order for them to achieve what the crow community has been doing for years? They would have to learn the ability to share information with other members of the tribe. Possums are solitary and their lack of social connection prevents them from becoming as smart as the crows. Merlin wants the possum lab and the crow lab to be in different states and not even have each other’s phone number. Think about if someone gets fired and wants to cause a little trouble. If they would introduce a virus that makes possums social and when this jar would fall into this petri dish, all of a sudden possums would be congregating and you will hear conversations in your attic about you and how funny it is that you think that trap works. When you come out of your house, they will just be standing there on your porch looking at you. They are not scared, but they just wanted you to know that they are here! They are pulling the crow move on John! "I’m here, I see you, John!"

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