Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
As observant readers will have noticed, this issue of TWD spans two months, rather than the usual one (although the most recent issue was also a two-monther, and a bit late to boot, as is this one). I apologize for the delay, but my MS has made my vision very unreliable lately, making getting anything done quite difficult. On a good day, my visual field resembles an old analog TV with bad reception: constant visual “noise” and fluctuating sharpness. On a bad day it’s all that plus flashing lights at the edges and big patches of fog or (my fave) total blackness drifting across my field of view. My eye-hand coordination has also decreased to the point where I make constant typos even with my new two-finger hunt-and-peck.
To be honest, I might very well stop writing these columns if we weren’t so dependent on the small income from donations and subscriptions. Nah, I kid. Sort of.
Onward. The easiest way for me to read something, oddly enough, is to take off my glasses (I am very myopic) and hold the material about four inches from my eyes. This does not work well with computers, but it’s great with my little old Simple Nook reader, especially if I’m lying in bed. The Nook also makes it easy to read very long books that would test the strength of my wrists (which isn’t great) in even paperback editions.
So lately I’ve been reading The Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, which is a ginormous (580 pages) novel about a writer, also named Joshua Cohen, who is ghostwriting the autobiography of a tech billionaire, also named Joshua Cohen (who is clearly modeled on Steve Jobs, though this Cohen has developed something very like Google). The name thing is the least consequential part of the book (and the Cohen-Jobs figure is, thankfully, referred to as “the Principal” throughout).
Reviewers seem a bit flummoxed, especially by the long mid-section consisting of transcripts of Cohen’s interviews with the Principal about the origins and development of the company and the technology (“algys,” i.e., algorithms) behind it. Enough of them are puzzled by such terms as “octalfortied” to make me wonder if they find some of the tech jargon (and Principal’s neologisms, such as “cur” for “curious”) off-putting and annoying. But there’s this thing called Google for that, and the middle section actually does a good job of filling out the Jobs/Principal figure as a weirdo wunderkind naif swept along by both the implacable world of venture capital and the moronic inferno of the internet.
Parts of this are very funny, including pages of Cohen’s manuscript complete with large blocks of struck-through text punctuated by the author’s all-caps-swearing frustrated rages. There’s a very sharp bit about a ludicrously pointless (but entirely plausible) home backup server concocted and marketed to take advantage of the Y2K panic, and the brilliant but doomed engineer named Moe, from Goa, who is forced by the VCs to debase his talents by supervising its development. It’s also a nice touch that the climactic scene of the book takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair and involves a thug apparently inspired by Julian Assange. And what’s not to like in a book that sends a clueless sorta-Steve-Jobs into a backroom poker game to fleece (under the guidance of Moe) Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck?
Cohen (the non-fictional one) has been compared to Pynchon, and The Book of Numbers did remind me of Gravity’s Rainbow in its form as a bizarre and confounding odyssey, but it’s far better than Pynchon’s own stab at exploring the internet in 2013, Bleeding Edge, which was a painfully prolonged damp squib reeking of geezer.
Elsewhere in culture news, we finally caught up with the first season of Mr Robot, an odd but fascinating series that somehow landed on the USA cable network. I think it’s a great show, but that may be in part because it makes jokes about Raspberry Pi and denigrates KDE as the desktop environment of choice for homicidal losers. I hate KDE almost as much as I hate eggplant. Ugh. Anyway, the catch to this show is that it’s hard to be sure that what you see is actually happening (Elliot, the protagonist and first-person narrator, tends to hallucinate), but it’s a fun ride.
Also very good (actually very, very good) is Humans, a British/US series that ran recently on AMC. You can catch up with the first season on Google, iTunes, yadda yadda.
So there’s that. Our internet still does not, and probably never will, operate in a credible fashion. (For several hours this morning we were running at a blinding 5 b/s. That’s five bits per second, kids. Slower than having your computer turned off.)
As always, and as I mentioned above, we are dependent on the kindness of readers, so please donate or subscribe if you can. And now, on with the show….
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Well, that was fun. It rained here for 23 out of the 31 days in July. And this wasn’t a gentle drizzle; it was usually torrential downpours that flooded roads and knocked out power in our area, which may have had something to do with the fact that our landline telephone stopped working on July 2nd, stayed out for eight days, and hasn’t really worked right ever since then. Oddly enough, the DSL internet on our phone line kinda worked some of that time, albeit at sub-modem speeds (23 kb/s, way too slow to be useful). But after much sturm und drang with Frontier (who bought up Verizon’s rural accounts several years ago), we finally got it fixed. Sortof. Yay.
The very next day our refrigerator died. No kidding. Unfortunately, that happened right after our weekly grocery-shopping trip. We only shop once a week because the nearest real supermarket is a 30-mile round trip, and we tend to accumulate staples (butter, milk, frozen vegetables, frozen chicken, etc.) whenever we can. So this ruined at least $200 of food. It took another ten days and $200+ to get it fixed.
And then … the phone died again. This time you could get a dial tone, but it was hard to hear it over the crashing static. DSL speeds dropped to 1.6 kb/s, too slow even to send a short email. This is where we are now; the phone is utterly unusable and the internet is a bad, useless joke. I’m gonna have to wait and hope for a fast period to post this update — oddly enough, every so often, usually for ten minutes or so late at night, we’d get 290 kb/s, an actual usable speed. It’s almost as if they (Frontier) were doing it on purpose. Oh wait, there’s a lawsuit in West Virginia alleging exactly that. The comments on that article are a window on Frontier’s business practices.
The real problem with Frontier is that they have no competition out here (there is no cable TV or internet, satellite internet is way too expensive, and even local dialup is famously unreliable). It’s not the infrastructure; we never had these problems with Verizon. And the fact that it sometimes runs at usable speeds means that the “problem” is way upstream of us. They’ve apparently oversold their antiquated network and would rather spend money on lobbyists than improving service.
Onward. I would have updated this site earlier (during the brief periods when we had internet), but on top of all this I’m having some truly bizarre visual problems, mostly in my right eye. I’m used to the flashes of light, eye pain and periods of extreme fuzziness common to multiple sclerosis, but this is like having an LED billboard at the right edge of my vision, one that moves and ripples and tilts in a disturbingly psychedelic fashion.
So this issue is way late, for which I am sorry.
As always, we depend to an alarming degree on your continued support and donations, which can be directed here.
And now, on with the show….
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Just under the line again. It’s spooky, isn’t it? Especially because in real life I’m pathologically early for everything. I used to show up at my job every day at least 1/2 hour before my shift started.
Thanks again to all the folks who have subscribed or contributed over the past few months. It’s been a huge help.
As usual, we seem to have skipped spring again this year and plunged straight into summer, with all its attendant horrors. I hate summer. Hate. We went for a walk down our road one evening about a week ago. (Actually, Kathy walks and I sort of hobble/shuffle along.) Just as we turned around to go back, I saw one of the local honor students driving his daddy’s pickup down the middle of the road at us at an insane speed. So I stepped off the side of the road to play it safe, lost my balance (quelle surprise), and landed face down in a drainage ditch, which happened to lie close to, and directly downhill from, a pig pen (with real pigs). I am never going outside again.
Then again, indoors has its own problems. We don’t watch a lot of TV around here, certainly nowhere near the national average of twelve hours a day or whatever (more like six hours a week, in fact), but I’ve noticed that there seems to be some sort of grand conspiracy afoot to prevent me from even approaching a proper patriotic level of grazing in the Vast Wasteland. No sooner do I start watching a show by myself (i.e., a show Kathy shuns) than said show is cancelled. Abruptly and with no hope of return.
It happened recently with an NBC show called Allegiance, which centered on a young CIA analyst who discovers that his parents are evil Russkie spies. It was, I’ll admit, a howlingly silly show, but it grew on me, right up to when they cancelled it after only five, yes five (of 13), episodes. This being the internet age, they let you watch the remaining episodes of the season online, but it still stings.
Not that this hasn’t happened before; a few years ago I was watching a sci-fi thing called The Event, which was not only very silly but occasionally completely incomprehensible. It finished its first season with a truly shocking cliffhanger. And was then cancelled. Before that there was some weird thing about aliens in a Florida swamp. Cancelled. And some time-travel dinosaur thing I barely remember. Kaput. C’mon, guys, if I can suspend my disbelief to watch your shows, at least wrap up the story line before you kick me to the curb. Right now I’m watching (on NBC — yes, I’m a slow learner) American Odyssey, which I think is kinda a blend of Homeland, Three Days of the Condor, The Bourne Identity and Homer’s Odyssey. It’s OK, but I try not to be too enthusiastic or look directly at the screen so they won’t notice me watching and cancel it.
Speaking of TV, how is it that the simpering soap opera Downton Abbey grinds on for six years, i.e., at least 40 episodes, while the brilliant Wolf Hall is crammed into only six episodes by the BBC? The two books by Hilary Mantel on which it is based (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) together top 1000 pages. They could easily have gone with 12 episodes, maybe even two seasons, and had far fewer viewers looking stuff up on Wikipedia trying to follow it. As is, it was like watching a long trailer for a wonderful series that will never be made. But the idiotic Game of Thrones is bulletproof. Oh well, I was halfway through Wolf Hall (the book) when the series started, so I guess I’ll just finish reading the books.
Elsewhere in the Vast Wasteland, I was not a huge David Letterman fan for the last ten years or so (although I will say that the show was far better on NBC), but I was quite sad when he closed up shop. End of an era, blah blah, but true. He really was the last great broadcaster, the end of a line that stretched back to Dave Garroway (whom I, obviously, only vaguely remember). Conan’s too frantic and arch, “the Jimmys” are utter ciphers, and Stephen Colbert seems too tightly wound, a really bad choice to succeed Dave. But I am often wrong, so there’s that.
Once again, your support is always deeply appreciated, and is most conveniently accomplished by subscribing.
And now, on with the show…