Scorpio Season: A New Talk Show

My friend Lisa (@niftynei) and I decided to start a talk show. It’s called Scorpio Season, since we’re both scorpios. You can subscribe to it as a podcast, or watch/listen it on YouTube. At the moment the video version is just the two of us as talking heads, but we might throw in some graphics in future episodes.

Scorpio Season is a show about everything… in alphabetical order. Since we both have a lot of random little interests that are all over the place, we figured it would be a good, discordian disorganization scheme for our improv ramblings.

The first three episodes, A-C are up.

The first two episodes featured A for Astrology and Aesthetics, and B for beefs, bitcoin, and Biden/Bernie. If we get to 26 episodes, we’ll cycle back to A. As you might guess, in the most recent one, there’s a lot of C for Coronovirus here, but also C for Cartoons.

The next episode is D: for David Deutsch, Doja Cat, and Dark Age. That will be up soon.

Pandemic Dashboard: 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series State of the Pandemic

I’m starting a new blogchain to track the COVID-19 pandemic, in a new, modular, block-based format. Each part will be a variable number of tweet-sized status assessments in titled blocks, coded red/green/yellow, like so:

Flattening the Curve

The innumeracy of the initial versions has given way to an appreciation of the actual level to which the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, but no actual solution.

I call this format a blocktrace dashboard: a dashboard in the form of a blogchain of blocktraces evolving across parts. For this first dashboard, I have 15 status blocks, most of which I think I’ll be tracking for a while. But most updates will probably be 3-4 blocks. If you want to make your own blocktrace dashboard to track the pandemic (or anything else), scroll to the bottom for the how-to. It’s really easy in WordPress.

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Domestic Cozy: 12

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Domestic Cozy

Ever since the coronavirus crisis broke out, multiple people have been telling me I “called it” with this domestic cozy blogchain. I didn’t. What I did call out is a longer-term soft trend caused by unrelated forces — social, cultural, and economic — that happens to be eerily well-harmonized with the necessary hard response to a pandemic. We’re entering an enforced condition of what I call hard cozy, which is acting like a strong tailwind for the domestic cozy trend already underway. This picture popped into my head thinking about our current state (I’m also reminded of my 2014 post, Demons by Candlelight).

Enforced or voluntary, soft or hard, one way or another a vast fraction of humanity is suddenly being forced to discover The Great Indoors.

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Plot Economics

For the fourth time in my adult memory, humanity has collectively, visibly lost the plot at a global level. My criteria are fairly restrictive: The dotcom bust and the 2007 crash don’t make my list for instance, and neither do previous recent epidemics like SARS or Ebola. Global narrative collapse is a fairly severe condition, but apparently no longer as rare as it once was. Here’s my shortlist:

  1. Fall of Berlin Wall (1989, I was 14)
  2. 9/11 (2001, I was 27)
  3. Trump election (2016, I was 42)
  4. Coronavirus (2020, I am 45)

It always seems to happen relatively suddenly (but is not always entirely black-swan-level unanticipated; it is typically a gray swan), and in each of the first three cases, by my estimate, it took humanity 1-2 years to reorient. I expect this one will take about 18 months, unless a bigger gray or black swan eats this one (one I’m watching out for is Trump losing in 2020 and refusing to honor the electoral verdict). We will find the plot again after the first vaccines are administered at a large scale, presumably during the 2021 southern hemisphere flu season. We will learn how effective the vaccines are, and the markets will decide how to reprice modern pandemic risks correctly.

So what do we do in the meantime?

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A Text Renaissance

There is a renaissance underway in online text as a medium. The Four Horsemen of this emerging Textopia are:

  1. Roam, a hypertext publishing platform best understood as a medium for composing conspiracy theories and extended universes.
  2. Substack, a careful and thorough ground-up neoclassical reconstruction of the age-old email newsletter.
  3. Static websites, built out of frameworks like Jekyll or Gatsby (full disclosure: a consulting client).
  4. And finally, Threaded Twitter, a user-pioneered hack-turned-supported feature that has wonderfully revitalized the platform.

I want to take a stab at lightly theorizing this renaissance. And also speculating, in light of this renaissance, about what might be the eighth and penultimate death of blogging. And the future of books. So it’s going to be a sprawling, messy hot take on the State of Textual Media. Or at least a simmering take, since I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a year on the backburner.

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Weirding Diary: 11

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Weirding Diary

We’re barely seven weeks into 2020, and it’s already the weirdest year in my living memory. We’ve been through: Australia on fire, a near-war between the US and Iran, a sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing impeachment theater, a primary election mess in the US caused by a Bad App, Actual Brexit,™ and now we have the snowballing Covid-19/SARS-CoV-2/coronovirus crisis (revealing that officials can’t even agree on a name) driving an entire empire into some sort of lockdown, and slowly starting to freeze up global supply chains. All these stories were decades in the making, and none of them is even close to over yet.

Danielle Baskin wins the Q12020 Weirding Way award for coming up with these N95 masks with your lower face printed on them, to allow facial recognition based phone unlocking to work in a world full of coronoviruses and smoke from Australia burning. A whole new meaning to “put on your happy face.”

View image on Twitter

Lenin reportedly said, “there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen.” Every week in 2020 so far has been one of those decade-weeks. All you can do is put on your happy-smile N95 mask.

I haven’t updated this blogchain since last September, so let’s do a quick reorientation. In fact, let’s step back a bit beyond that, and talk about strategies for mapping and sense-making the weirding.

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Domestic Cozy: 11

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Domestic Cozy

A couple of media mentions to kick off the new year for this blogchain.

First, TANK magazine decided to devote an entire issue to “cosy” vibes (damn the brits and their weird spellings) in the zeitgeist, and I think I can claim some inspiration credit. There’s an extended interview with me in the issue, which you can read online here (the interview uses the American cozy spelling). It’s actually a pretty good overview of the blogchain so far.

Second, a few weeks ago, Rebecca Jennings had an essay out on Vox featuring domestic cozy (I supplied a couple of quotes). It’s the first deep dive I’ve seen so far in mainstream media, though I’m aware of a couple more in the pipeline. I should note though, that Jessica Stillman at Inc gets credit for being first to pick up on the trend back in May last year with a quick mention. Anyhow, looks like the domestic cozy geiger counter is starting to tiktok faster.

Jennings flagged a couple of new indexable items within the trend I wasn’t aware of. There is apparently a hashtag on TikTok called #cottagecore which looks very domestic cozy. And there’s a “drink at home” apertif brand called Haus (with a domain name 😆). I have this idea that bitter, rather than the more obvious sweet, is likely the flavor of domestic cozy, and Haus has a bitter clove offering described as “Bitter Clove is darker, with warm spices like clove and ginger and a touch of bitter.” This is basically a toddy turned into an apertif.

Writing this blogchain has been a fun exercise in drip inception over viral. If premium mediocre was a meme I launched into the world with a big bang, domestic cozy is a meme I’ve launched by sort of doping the water supply. I think there’s still time for me to turn Evil Cult Leader.

MJD 58,889

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Captain's Log

I’ve been trying to make up the simplest, most banal definitions of concepts that interest me lately, and seeing how far I can get with them. One I just made up is: a narrative is a road in time, and a story is a particular journey taken along that road. As an example, premium mediocre is a superhighway of a narrative that connected 2007 to 2015, and many of us living lives in Blue America during that period were living out particular stories within that narrative. That narrative is being extended out to 2020 and beyond, but is struggling now. It is no longer a well-maintained, heavily trafficked 8-lane superhighway. It is slowly turning into a poorly maintained one-lane rural dirt road that is permanently backed up. You need personal off-roading capabilities — read wealth — to stick to the premium mediocre road, or you have to get on a different road.

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How To See Voids

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this keynote, Sarah Perry explores how to see voids in the environment. You can also read her essay on the topic, Meaning as Ambiguity (published after this talk).

MJD 58,866

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Captain's Log

An idea can leak to the extent it has a name that is meaningful within a larger context. A name is, in a sense, a key that unlocks the significance of the contents of the interior of the named idea in terms of signifiers that exist in the exterior environment. But a name also binds and reshapes a new idea to forms that already exist, via metaphor, symmetries, isomorphisms, or rhymes. What one might call idea-socialization mechanisms.

In the Rick and Morty multiverse, our universe is “Dimension C-137 on the Central Finite Curve”. The logic of the vaguely topological sounding pseudomath name appears to have eluded fans so far. It is a name that only makes sense at the multiverse level, where the context of reference is a plurality of universes. Our universe wouldn’t even need a meaningless number without a multiverse reference context. But a number is a rather empty context in a sense: one that contains nothing but reference pointers to subordinate universes. It’s a pure addressing layer, with all actual content and structure, including distinguishable Ricks and Mortys, existing at the leaf level. The alphanumeric designator vaguely suggests two dimensions, and “central finite curve” suggests some sort of manifold within a higher-dimensional space of possibilities (Reddit suspects it is the subset of realities where Ricks exist).

The same kind of logic also applies to our own non-fictional universe. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the address of our home galaxy acquire a new level of named referencing. The Milky Way is no longer just part of the “local group” and “Virgo supercluster” (now an appendage). We are now part of the larger Laniakea supercluster, which puts us in some meaningful patterns of weirdly synchronized galactic rotations created by large-scale structures of hydrogen and dark matter apparently.

To go from meaningless reference number to meaningful name is to have an idea leak from its original container and enter into a condition of entanglement with neighboring realities. The synchronization of galactic rotations within the Laniakea supercluster, due to large-scale structure, is a leakage of the idea of the Milky Way galaxy, a sort of broader smearing of its identity. And with it, a smearing of your identity.

You, individually, are rotating in synchronization with galaxies 120 million lightyears away.

If you, like me, once wrote down your full cosmic address as a kid, with your name on the first line and “Virgo Supercluster” as the last line, that address now has a new last line, and it actually says something meaningful about you: how you are rotating.