Monday, April 30, 2007

Found poem in spam

There's something haunting about this AI-generated spam text from the supposed

Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow.

Had he found her.

More stood on the overlooking stone balconies.

I'm not a doll. The process really must be seen to be believed.

This covers the eventuality that more than one form may be placed in
a document.

Osobenno menja dobili 3 programmy moduli v kotoryh nehoteli kompilirovat'sja.

Here we re-adjust our size if the font changes.

However, it actually contains only half of the string representation
of a GUID, apparently because it was sized for characters but
contains wide characters.

Move to the recycle bin - Moves the files to the recycle bin. It's
now possible to nest "group" items such as TTBGroupItem.

Somewhere a spambot with the soul of a poet struggles blindly toward sentience.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Soundtrack for Cleaning Party

Saturday was a gargantuan cleaning party: boy, did we clean. And dance. In our house cleaning and dancing go together.

Picture Noah and Aviva rushing about, plucking toys and books from the floor and darting to dump them in their proper containers, then pausing to run in circles shouting and then leap onto me for a series of complicated jitterbug-like maneuvers in which their slippers almost touch the ceiling.

Aviva and Noah designed the soundtrack on Real Rhapsody (I know, I know, as a good copyleftist I shouldn't be using a DRM'd service, I feel the EFF frowning at me as I type, but I like the interface, and the convenience of listening to what I want and knowing that the artists are getting paid). It's a good representation of their musical eclecticism:

After an intermission, a second list was chosen (some selections, clearly, for the humor value of the titles):

(Note that this latter "Union Maid" was actually played several times in succession to allow time for an improvisational interpretive dance in which Aviva was the Union Maid, Noah was the Company Goons, and I was the Owning Classes.)

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Friday, April 20, 2007

"Grameen vs Kiva?"

An email exchange with Pär on microfinance:

Hey Ben!

I was just browsing and Karen pointed out that you'd referenced the Grameen Foundation in Other Cities. I was curious how you feel about the former in contrast to the latter. My uninformed gut reaction is that Kiva could probably become a much more viral phenomenon than Grameen, leading to more loans to people who need it.

On the other hand, I am uneasy about how the loan money gets distributed, and why. Going down the list of these people who want to borrow money, what will catch people's eyes? If your chance of getting a loan depends on your ability to appealing to the average American lenders... What does that mean? Pictures of the pathetic-yet-heartwarming or the rough-yet-honest? Whole Foods style neohippie semantics? I am pretty sure that I would rather a NGO distribute the funds.

As with virtually everything these days, I am torn and unable to come up with an opinion either way. I guess I approve of the initiative. At the end of the day my aesthetic qualms pale in importance to getting some of these people a better life.

But I am very curious how you feel.


(My answer after the cut...)

Click here to continue reading ""Grameen vs Kiva?""
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Monday, April 9, 2007

Aviva on Safety

Talking about a friend serving in Afghanistan:

Aviva: Does he have kids?

Ben: No.

Aviva: Well that's not safe.

Ben: Why?

Aviva: Because if he dies it can't go on.

Ben: What can't go on?

Aviva: That kind of person -- that grow of relation. But if he had kids, it could go on.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Rapid-fire Reading

I'll be reading on April 11th with a bunch of other Washington DC area SF writers including R. R. Angell, Tom Doyle, David Edelman, Nan Fry, Craig Gidney, Nancy Jane Moore, Constance Warner, Cecil Washington, and maybe Stephanie Dray.

Reaching for the Future: a science fiction rapid-fire reading

Wednesday, April 11th 7:30 p.m.
at the Tenley Interim Branch
of the DC Public Library


4200 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
(very close to the Tenleytown Metro Station on the red line.)


If you're in town, hope to see you there.

Thanks to Nancy Jane Moore for organizing this!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007


So that art project that Ethan Ham and I did has shipped!

It's the first in a series of art objects produced by The Present Group, which says it's "like a mutual-fund that produces art instead of profits".

Ethan created a robot that trolled Flickr looking for his face. In the process, it found a number of "faces" that we wouldn't call faces. I wrote a series of interconnected stories based on those images.

So, stories about faces that only a robot can see.

There's a signed, limited edition of eighty handmade book-boxy things that subscribers to The Present Group got (you can still get one as a back issue). I signed 'em. With this special archival pen. It was a weird feeling, since I'm used to art that you make as many as you can of, not art that you constrain to a specific number of instances.

You can see what the book looks like here. (Keep clicking on it and it will unfold itself).

And the text of the stories I wrote is online here. (You have to click the little >> at the upper right to go to the next page).

The little green box with a line in it on each picture, shows where the robot found a face.

They also recorded me reading the stories, interviewed me and Ethan, comissioned a critical essay on the work, collected links to related works of art, and made sure the physical object will last for a century.

The audio and the text are CC'd, so you can redistribute them freely (and remix the audio), noncommercially and with attribution.

These people go all out.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007


My grandmother, Jeanne Freeman Smith, died this morning.

I didn't quite make it to see her off while she was still alive, but I sat by her body with my mom and dad for a while. She looked very peaceful and relaxed.

She was beautiful, loving, warm, sweet, sensible, and very deep. I took my kids to see her last week, and she was so delighted with them -- she was good at delighting in things, and people.

She went very fast -- the hospice lady, who was with her at the end, thought that it might take days of struggle, instead of under an hour. But I think Jeanne, where others fight the end, said: "Oh... my train is here! Goodbye! Goodbye!"

(My mom was telling family stories at her bedside, and after one about how Grandma Jeanne had as usual prevailed with sweetness and mild persuasion over Grandpa Charlie's hotheaded insistence on something, I asked: "Did she always get her way?" and Mom thought a little bit and said, "well, she was so good at accepting things, that when she didn't get her way, it became her way.")

I was very lucky to have her for a grandmother, and that she stuck around so long. She was ninety-six.

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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Blogging the Struggle, part 2

I'm usually reluctant to blog about the actual content of what I'm writing, and all the more so with this novel: it's such a huge undertaking, so difficult to fit all in my head at once, that the fear of premature input from outside is even greater than usual.

Still, as I noted before, I think I may have swung too much in the direction of hermetic seclusion, closing myself off to outside support; so, following up on the toe I have already dipped in these waters, I thought I'd blog a little about the content as well as the process of the book.

Some of you may know that for a while I was vacillating between writing a core-SF novel set in the far future, and a semi-autobiographical literary book, perhaps in the nature of a roman a clef of high school. At one point -- perhaps at Worldcon in Anaheim? -- someone suggested unifying them, and the idea grew on me.

The book is organized around a seminal text, core to my experience as a young geek -- namely, the Howard the Duck Star-Wars parody issue, with Man-Thing as Chewbacca. The comic -- one I pored over until only shreds remained -- plays the role in my own internal soul-cosmogony of Proust's madeleines, or the graffiti tags and streetball games of Lethem's 1970s Brooklyn in Fortress of Solitude. The novel thus takes place on two levels; as a retelling of that issue of the comic, re-imagined as Strossian hard science fiction (is there a more posthuman character in the Marvel canon than Howard, or "Siob" as I have renamed him here?) and as the tale of my own readings and rereadings of the comic itself, and the events surrounding those piquant years -- in particular, in exactingly accurate recountings of the sensory experience of reading the Howard the Duck Star-Wars parody issue, in a kind of Warhol/Cremaster esthetic of slow time.

I'm excited about this as a postmodernist epic. What figure better exemplifies late twentieth century anomie (and my own precariously poised relation to existence) than the duck "trapped in a world he never made"? And what better way to continue the metafictional explorations of the zeppelin story than to imagine the real me, able by a quirk of fate to not merely read about, but also travel to the world of the Stan Lee's feathered Portnoy? And what more fittingly tragic evocation of my own dread and terror at mortality, than my own ultimate immolation at the hands of Man-Thing -- "for whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing's touch?"

In other news, does anyone else find April Fools' day a really cognitively demanding holiday?

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