About Ryan Tanaka

Ryan Tanaka is a writer, musician and technologist. His ribbonfarm posts explore the nature of ritual, gaming culture, and themes in UI/UX . Follow him on Twitter.

Technopaganism and the Newer Age

Ryan Tanaka is a resident blogger, visiting us from his home turf at http://ryan-writer.com.

Elon Musk, in response to the popularity of HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley, once remarked that Hollywood doesn’t “get” SV culture because it doesn’t understand what Burning Man is all about.

Most of us here have seen the pictures and heard something it, but what exactly is Burning Man, anyway?  Why are pictures of the event posted in the hallways and offices of the Googleplex, and why is it a topic of conversation that comes up over and over among those working in tech?

Burning Man

Photo by Kyle Harmon from Oakland, CA, USA. (Accessed from Wikipedia – 05/10/15)

Beneath the confusion and craziness, Burning Man can be seen as a manifestation of the sentimentality and spirit of the Bay Area, compressed into an intense, week-long ordeal: techies, hippies, individualists, creatives/artists and progressives all living in close proximity, thrown together into an uncontrolled mix. A giant social experiment of sorts, organized into a ceremonial ritual, conducted year after year.

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Let’s Play! Narrative Discovery vs. Expert Guides

Ryan Tanaka is a resident blogger, visiting us from his home turf at http://ryan-writer.com. The latest musical work that inspired this article can be found here. (Animated music video!)

If you’ve been watching South Park’s recent episodes, you might have noticed YouTube commentator PewDiePie making a few cameos here and there near the top corners of your screen.  South Park is typically known for its brutal treatment of celebrity and public figures, but surprisingly, PewDiePie was portrayed in a very favorable light this time around: as the protagonist that saves Christmas and the future of entertainment as a whole.  (No spoilers here, just watch the episode for yourself.)

For those unfamiliar with PewDiePie’s work, most of his videos consist of “Let’s Play” videos, where he literally sits at his computer in his bedroom, playing video games in real-time as he makes commentary and jokes to go along with it.  Most of the dialogue is unscripted and improvised, with him simply reacting to the things that happen on screen.


“What the fuck is that?  What the fuck?” ~[PewDiePie, pretty much every episode]

Regardless of your opinion of PewDiePie himself, Let’s Play videos are more than just a passing fad: it’s arguably the new paradigm of how game commentary will work from here on out.  It has been wholeheartedly embraced by the indie gaming community and the younger generations of our time, even as critics continue to label the medium as being dumbed down and superfluous.  Commentators may occasionally overreact or throw some acting in there for good measure, but the fact that these videos are filmed in real-time helps to keep the experience of it authentic and genuine — something that tends to be missing in today’s sarcasm and irony-ridden cultural environments.  (Personally I prefer watching Markiplier’s channel, just as a matter of personal taste.)  A good portion of game commentaries are admittedly geared towards juvenile and slapstick humor, but there’s something cathartic and reaffirming about watching these videos as they progress through the game at their own pace.

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The Design of Crash-Only Societies

Ryan Tanaka is a resident blogger, visiting us from his home turf at http://ryan-writer.com.  The improv session that inspired this article can be found here.

Blue Screen of Death Windows 8

Crash-only software: it only stops by crashing, and only starts by recovering.  It formalizes Murphy’s Law and creative-destruction into an applicable practice, where the end-of-things and the worst of outcomes are anticipated as something to be expected as a routine occurrence.  When done well, however, it has the potential to make software more reliable, less erratic, faster and easier to use overall.

But there is also a social component to crash-only designs that has yet to be fully explored: the potential for using these ideas to develop practices for building communities and social applications online.  As the worlds of tech, politics, and culture continue to collide, the demand for alternative modes of communication will likely continue to rise.  Crash-only designs hint at possible new approaches toward community and content moderation on the web, expanding the means and methods by which online content and interactions can be organized more effectively and intuitively.

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The Rhythms of Information: Flow-Pacing and Spacetime

Ryan Tanaka is a blogging resident visiting us from ryan-writer.comFor every article that he writes, Ryan also improvises a live musical piece as means of organizing his ideas. (Below, or here.)

“Flow Pacing” is a phrase used in chemical, sewage, and water facilities in order to describe the treatment methods of its contents, often referring to techniques that inject/extract chemicals and materials into its flow.  Flow pacing can be a very interesting challenge for engineers, because in addition to tracking physical dimensions and working with limitations of resources, you also have to take time into consideration when dealing with its problems and potential solutions.  When the flow of content is non-stop and never ending, you don’t really have the luxury of measuring change in terms of absolutes — it must be introduced gradually, as a series of iterations or applications happening over time.


If today’s improv were to be written down in musical notation, it might look something like this.


Chlorine injections that flow too slowly leaves the water tainted; too fast, poisonous.  But the solution is never to dump chemicals into the flow as a one-time event: the process is always ongoing, constant and never-ending, so long as the mechanism itself exists.

I think that it makes a lot of sense to think of the internet in this way, since we already tend to conceptualize information networks as though they were servicing liquids of some sort.  Information “delivery” was an oft-used phrase in technical fields in the past, but due to the increased reliability and consistency of today’s information networks, it’s more common now to conceptualize information as “flowing” from one point to another.  We have increasingly begun to see information as being fluid rather than solid, in other words.

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Ritual and the Productive Community

Ryan Tanaka is a musician, writer, programmer and product manager living in the Los Angeles area. For every article that he writes, Ryan also improvises a musical piece as means of organizing his ideas. (Below, or here.)

Excerpt from my 9th “Angry Birds” String Quartet, based on the Yellow “Accelerating” Bird (Click to hear a sample recording)

In a previous article on my blog, I wrote about the possibility of creating “Sacred Spaces”, highlighting the ingredients necessary for the creation of communities within technological contexts.  Some of the ingredients include: rituals, symbolic gestures, leadership roles, group identities and group histories.  Without these basic elements to help sustain community identities, the prospects of organizations surviving for the long-term can be said to be very bleak, even with economic and/or political support.

Out of all of these ingredients, the idea of ritual can be said to be the most important, since it exists at the heart of all community-based infrastructures.

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