There was that book that began with the line about best of times, worst of times, age of wisdom, douse liberally in raw uncut stupidity, put into a hot oven and bake for 90 minutes. You get the idea.

That book was published in 1859 and was set in 1775. Its now 2020. Things have not appreciably improved.

As a species we’ve been developing a theoretical and practical approach regarding How to Know A Thing for a few thousand years. Its well past time that a gut feeling was acceptable for any decision making process.


A few years ago the buzzword coming out of the IT industry that no one understood but everyone kept talking about anyway was “big data”. Originally meant to refer to having to deal with extremely large amount of data it eventually mutated into analysis of people doing shit for the purpose of figuring out what they’re likely to do before they do it. Primarily this is used by people who sell awful cake to put cake in front of people at the moment they are most likely to want some cake because at that point people are more likely to eat cake no matter how horrible it is.

I worked in big data for some time.

It was a pleasant time for me. My life involved commuting to work on a ferry, working 6 hours, and returning to my island home on the same ferry. I spent the time on the ferry gaining a rich understanding of how difficult drawing is by committing crimes against realism in a small sketchbook. In the evening I would usually enjoy a small bag of popcorn from the ferry’s galley and continue with my pencil driven atrocities against form, shadow, light, and clear observations of all three.

Between my lessons in failure I built dashboards which allowed someone somewhere to slice huge amounts of data into human sized chunks. This involved some fairly complex database work on top of a graph creation package that was depreciated. For those unfamiliar with the usage of the term, it means that the company that wrote the application has washed it hands of it and turned their backs on it.

Still, a small number of developers were involved in producing business intelligence applications for an unknown user base who needed to dip into the mysterious world of Big Data. They merrily churned out requested upgrades, drank their company provided beer on Friday afternoons, and between teriyaki takeout and coffee kept the mill grinding the rough grains of raw data into a more palatable form.

Then six months later the unknown user base that was responsible for looking at all the charts and graphs somehow managed to lose a major customer for their business intelligence business and half the developers were sacked after being forced to listen to management talk at length about how difficult their job is and how agonizing these kinds of decisions were for them.

This included me.

I had suspected for a long time that no one was using our painstakingly crafted software. At least no one in a position to make decisions based on that data was paying any attention. Ignoring data does have consequences. Unfortunately those consequences are usually not felt by the person responsible.


The more idealistic among us continue to hold onto the belief that the Truth Will Set Us Free. By showing reasoned arguments backed by relevant data, those in power will set upon the correct course of action. Being told the truth will uplift the masses and pull them out of ignorance. A single shining thread gives them a way out of the darkness.

Naturally, this is not a thing.

When Prometheus carried the fire down the mountain they kicked him in the nuts and pissed all over the torch.

Bringing truth, or at least facts to the masses doesn’t solve problems. In these degenerate times it feels like a waste of time at best. I’m unsure of the value in continuing to work with data.

Perhaps its just the hope that a more reasonable future will find it. I’ll be dust. But perhaps the stack of information will find its way toward that uncertain future. In one shining moment it will be found and marveled at.

Someone will finally know we weren’t all that fucking stupid.

(Ovid in Exile: Ion Theodorescu-Sion)

Exile was handed down.

We were not stripped of our property nor our employee ID. Our email was not terminated by an indifferent sysadmin gently coaxing the crumbs of their lunch from their luxuriant beard with one hand while the other provided an official ending to the employee’s existence per Management’s pleasure. Instead a gentle and artfully worded decree was distributed.

Those who could live in exile were to do so. The lunch room would fall silent. The coffee pot would sleepily burble to itself no more. Conference rooms would it empty, their Post-It notes and blue scribbled white boards marking a span of time in the past. Those who forgot to wash out the Tupperware their lunch came in would be very, very sorry when they returned.

Only the office manager and one of the bearded syadmins would gently walk through the mausoleum to our shared efforts. The computers would continue to perform their duties even as dust accumulated. They may need a gentle nudge when they stray from the customary operations but otherwise they continue their silent occupation of space.

The office becomes a kind of performance art piece. The Modern Office After Vesuvius. The office manager becomes more of a curator to our office cultural project. Each workstation a small piece of environmental art. A display of personality that the worker as they wish to display it within the highly constrained interaction of the workplace. The clusters of desks and line of offices a stage waiting for the actors to return.

There is the promise of return. In the indeterminate future the space returns to use.  The assumption is that we will resume the daily cycle of rising early, grooming ourselves, traveling to the appropriate location, remaining there for most of the day, then returning home to find a few hours remaining that must be split between the necessities of housework, family life, and then a small sliver of time for one’s personal life.  

I would prefer to remain in exile.

The office does not represent a gain in efficiency. Instead, working from home has been shown to be slightly more productive and provides a considerable amount of worker satisfaction. For people in jobs that require intensive concentration the modern open office is an equally well studied detriment to their productivity.  I’m better off investing in a better office chair and remaining home.   I get more work done this way.  

Exile is removal from the center.  Life on the periphery is thought to be devoid of influence, cut off from culture, seeing opportunities for advancement wither on the vine, a removal from all the pleasures that the center of power and influence offers.  It just smells like vanity.  As they say, don’t threaten me with a good time.  

Retaining proximity doesn’t hold any value for me.  I practice a trade.  I perform my work well, I receive my wages, I go home and live my true life.  Climbing the hierarchy doesn’t interest me.  I can see the shape of the pyramid and have decided that its not worth the climb as the way grows narrow and most will not advance.  I don’t need to be close to the apex, it holds no value for me.  

Fractures like our current plague show different ways of doing things.  I can only hope that those who want a quiet life can remain where they wish.  

 

Panic Buying And You

The shelves are rapidly emptying themselves in the local grocery stores.  Soon the shelves themselves will fade into the ether having suffered an existential crisis.

I am a shelf. I hold things up. What becomes of me when there is nothing to hold? Is there meaning beyond my Sisyphean struggle against the force of gravity in the service of my corporate retail master? I am Atlas on the dole, finding himself without purpose. Is there any reason for my continued existence except as an indication of negative space?

I now only signify a lack. Specifically, of bum fodder.


Faced with the sudden loss of a common commodity we begin to forget. What was the use of it? What was its shape? Why is it lost to our memories? It was present in our minds just a short time ago. The utility seemed certain at the time. There was true utility in this object? Not just vanity and fear placed into our minds by the advertising industry?

Perhaps in the long run this calamity will teach us to give up on certain commodities. Toilet paper. Processed pork products. Scented hand sanitizer.  Cleansing wipes.  Strips of paper to remove the evidence of errant sauces.  Fluids that promise to cover odors with other odors which were designed to invoke the memory of a life that only existed in the imaginings of a punch card operated computing device.  

This feels like a tipping point. We’re being forced to examine the objects we would consider a basic necessity when an endless wave of suburban goblin hordelings armed with shopping carts eliminates its presence from our lives. They have been ripped out of our hands by screaming yellow id of every hordeling and stored in the personal vaults of the detached single family home dweller.  

We must say adieu to these things.  They are lost to us.  

This endless stream of SUV’s leaving the parking lots of Costco with their rear suspension creaking under the weight of the pre-moistened sanitary wipes, frozen chicken taquitos, toaster pastries, cans of lightly pressurized sugar solution, and sundry agri-industrial products must be driven by more than the simple calculation of need.   These products are being acquired in quantities that even the most risk averse chamberlain preparing for a siege would find excessive.  I doubt fear alone is driving these people.  There must be greed and avarice in their hearts.   The desire to possess more than their neighbor.  The pleasure of having three when others will have none.  

The only opportunity for vengeance is in exterminating the value of these things.  Find an alternative.  Share.  Evolve.  Let these degenerates wallow in their garages packed with excess.  An excess of the more ordinary kind.  It only holds value when it means an absence of what is truly needed in another’s home.  Try to fill that absence.  Fuck the goblins.  

 

 

Now is a good time to eat your feelings.

For those feeling a bit bold, nailing them screaming to a bamboo cutting board and slicing them from stern to bow like a writhing eel is always good for a dramatic appetizer. Slide the skin off in one measured pull, feeling it smoothly separate from the flesh. This is not a dish for those with a tender heart or insufficient levels of alcohol in their bloodstream.

Once skinned and gutted, chop into bite size pieces, thread on brass skewers, and grill them over white hot charcoal while basting with a rich, sweet soy based marinade.

Eat quickly feeling the tiny bones crackle against your gums. A single tear will roll down your cheek. Tender and soft.

But never be ashamed of a simple preparation. Baked, broiled, or fried your emotions are always a toothsome treat. Be gentle as you handle the gross output of your neurons being tickled and taunted by glandular secretions.  Touch it with care and tuck it tenderly into its roasting pan.  Then with infinite patience, slide it slowly into the oven or its lively bath of stock or oil. 

Tracking down a loaf of sourdough is worth the effort for a fine dinner time companion to sop up the savory juices.

Be sure to push yourself back from the hearty repast and feel the sliver of nothingness. That flicker of satori.  That momentary fragment of peaceful oblivion before they claw their way back into your consciousness.

 

The Plague Begins

We’ve been banished from the office. 

The glass door has closed behind us as we stand in the hallway clutching our cell phones and rapidly cooling mugs of coffee with clever nerdy slogans on them. We have been cast out of the questionable yet familiar comfort of the khaki world of our semi-open office into the bright mystery of daylight.  

The higher authorities of our organization who dwell in the tall tower two blocks away have read the portents in the excel sheets and see that the birds of the air have more to speak.  They have summoned the corvid thanatologist to observe the patterns the crows are making on the rooftops.  She gazes through the glass and mutters, “flaming fuckballs”.  

The higher authorities blanch and mutter among themselves.  The thanatologist is rewarded with silver and an extra-large soy mocha per the ancient custom and dismissed.

Some time later an email is dispatched.  The doors open, we are herded through them and they close behind us.  

Return to your homes they tell us.  Return to your homes and avoid the unwashed.  Cleanse yourselves.  Seek shelter.  The crows have spread their fine tablecloths upon the high places expecting a feast.  Your labors shall continue as shall your wages.  But be not too enamored of gold for it will not comfort you in your time of isolation.   

Netflix on the other hand will be your friend. 


We return to our homes. 

Whispers of a pestilence from beyond our western shores had been circulating for some time.  There is an easier time when the whispers are distant, now they appear in our own city.  We had heard that the elderly were touched by this disease and very close by.  There just wasn’t enough information, we didn’t know the shape of the thing or its reach.  

There is no guidance beyond being clean.