Some really great quotes I read today

The first, from Graham Harman’s ‘Circus Philosophicus’, from the final chapter ‘The Sleeping Zebra’, pp.65-66:

“Latour was in a listening mood, and politely allowed me to expound on the recent mutation of the critic into the full-fledged troll: that despicable stock character of the unmonitored salt flats of the internet. My thesis was that the troll is the new successor to past figures of anti-philosophy: the sophist, the pedant, and the Inquisitor, among others. I argued that the troll is the degenerate form of the critic, untethered from any commitment of his own, and unleashed on the world to doubt and critique whatever one might doubt and critique rather than what truly deserves refutation.”

And the second, remarkably close to Harman et al.’s project in OOO and Speculative Realism, is the following quote from the introduction to Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Great Derangement’, pp.12:

“When a people can no longer agree even on the basic objective facts of their political existence, the equation changes; real decisions, even in the approximate direction of righteousness, eventually become impossible.”

Presented without comment #29

Why women don’t like appearing on TV‘ by Suzanne Moore at The Guardian.

Women, if I have to generalise, are very good at faking some things but not always the things that matter. We want to be liked and are fearful of being judged on our looks. There is a freedom in ageing, trust me, but the media needs fresh meat.

Why, though, are we so afraid of being unlovable and ignorant when every day men ooze these qualities in serious discussions? When I was editing, I would often ask women who I knew had expertise to write for me but they would need so much encouragement that often, yes, I would use a less good man simply to meet a deadline. A man who was prepared to fake it.

We say “no” when we should say “yes” because we don’t feel worth it, we don’t feel we can cover every base. This is a problem of political discourse. You can’t go on Question Time and say, “I am not really sure about the euro”, even though no one is really sure about the euro. Or “Actually, NHS funding is not my area” when you are up against politicians who have had teams briefing them. Your job, as I was told aeons ago when booked to appear on Question Time, is to “represent the average mum”, which I screwed up badly by asking that Myra Hindley be released and all drugs be legalised, while sitting next to David Trimble.

10 Things I Hate About Skyrim‘ by Tim Rogers at

Skyrim begins most of its proverbial sentences with the names of characters in its made-up dialects. The loading-screen flavor text often catches my eye. The above example is particularly fantastic. It reads:

Kodlak Whitemane is the Harbinger of the Companions. He does not give orders, [yet] his word is highly respected both inside Jorrvaskr and through all the nine Holds.

First of all—what? Second of all: okay.

“Kodlak”: a made-up first name in some made-up dialect that is trying to sound Nordic.

“Whitemane”: two familiar words to English speakers, combined into one word. We immediately have the impression of this man having a full head of white hair. Maybe he does. Or . . . maybe he’s a she? (With a name like “Kodlak”?)

“Harbinger of the Companions”: the two capitalized words in this phrase are words we may have encountered before if we’ve ever read a book or leafed through one. A “Harbinger” is something that signals something is coming. A “Companion” is a person or thing that one enjoys being with and escorts or chaperones from place to place. However, as these words are capitalized, a little switch flips in the first-timer’s brain, prompting him to expect these words, in this imaginary world, to represent foreign concepts. Maybe a “Harbinger” is what they call a “Master Elite Warrior”, and the “Companions” are a group of Really Tough Dudes who kill anyone that looks at their shoes. It could be possible that a Harbinger is what citizens of the land of Skyrim call a messenger or an oracle, and the Companions are people who like hanging out with people, though the unfamiliarity of a name like “Kodlak” coupled with a pseudo-familiar name like “Whitemane” persuades us to expect the extraordinary. So it is that writing begins to trick us.

In which I don’t try to write like a man‘ by Margaret Robertson at Lookspring.

 General internet rough-and-tumble doesn’t phase me. I’m secretly delighted that the 4th Google result for my name is ‘Margaret Robertson is full of shit’. It amuses me enough that I’ve bought, even if I haven’t quite figured out what to do with it yet. I think, on the whole, I can make my peace with being called a cunt for what I write, but I find it more daunting to be called a cunt for just having one.

History Repeats – Facebook is the new AOL‘ by Jay Baer at

People kvetch about Google and it’s online hegemony. But Google is Urkel compared to Facebook in terms of possession of data. And data = power because data = relevancy.

Imagine if when you went to Google to do a search, you saw a pop-up box that said “To search, first please enter your name; high school; relationship status; favorite movies; birthday; lists all your friends and relatives; and upload some photos of that time you were drunk and did something stupid.”

That’s essentially how Facebook works. Except we GAVE them all that information. They didn’t even have to ask.

Presented without comment #28

But how do we get from “that was a bad idea” to “Reed Hastings doesn’t understand what business he’s in?”  When internet commentators see odd behavior that they don’t understand, why do they assume that the most parsimonious explanation is that management must be a bunch of drooling morons?
I mean, Reed Hastings did manage to build this rather large and successful business that killed off one of the most successful retail operations of its day.  It’s possible that he just sort of did this by accident.  But is this really the most likely explanation?  That he didn’t understand the first thing about how people watched movies, or how to run a business?
The Deepening Paradox‘ by Karl Schroeder at
So are we alone? Well, there is one other possibility, at this point. I’ve lately been trumpeting my revision of Clarke’s Law (which originally said ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’). My revision says that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Nature. (Astute readers will recognize this as a refinement and further advancement of my argument in Permanence.) Basically, either advanced alien civilizations don’t exist, or we can’t see them because they are indistinguishable from natural systems. I vote for the latter.
Why Cyber-Bullying Rhetoric Misses the Mark‘ by Danah Boyd at the NYTimes.
“At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.”

My Laptop

Those following along on twitter and Facebook will probably already be aware of the ongoing saga of my somewhat hobbled laptop. For the rest of you, about a month or so ago now my Laptop started malfunctioning, with the likely culprit (or so I thought at the time) some faulty screen part, as the screen was still operational but without the backlight coming on it was nearly impossible to see.

I took it apart, this being my second Toshiba laptop I’ve disassembled, and it was much like the first, but I’d forgotten enough that when confounded sufficiently enough I thought to search for an online guide. And what do you know, there’s a disassembly guide for just about every Toshiba laptop out there. Here’s mine, incidentally. We’ll come back to that in a minute, but suffice to say there didn’t seem to be any loose wires or shonky connections that I could find easily causing the screen to go dark, leaving the rest of the PC running normally.

So I considered alternatives. I thought about going down the apple fanatic route and buying a wireless keyboard for my iPad, or even just adjusting to typing on a glass-screen but I tried the latter for a while and it was less than satisfactory. I also heard reports from people who’d tried the keyboard+iPad technique – in particular Simon Ferrari – but he was emphatic that it was not an ideal solution. I could see his point – switching between apps is a nuisance on the iPad and in terms of formatting or looking up citations you can add that to something that can’t really be done without investing in some rather expensive apps.

So I started hunting for a new laptop. I considered buying a cheap replacement, also contemplated taking an old laptop of my parents’ when they bought a new one (though they were pretty uncertain about whether this would actually happen or not), and finally, earlier this week I asked my housemate if I could try taking apart and fixing his also broken (Toshiba) laptop which had stopped receiving power a few months previous.

So I started disassembling it (following another guide from the same site) and the process struck me as, again, remarkably similar to taking apart my own laptop, despite the fact that they were entirely different models bought 12-18 months apart. The process was so similar that by the end of it I started to feel like I knew the design methodology of Toshiba laptops, or their “best practice” or something – and I guess maybe I do.

It’s kind of like reverse engineering. In a roundabout way I’m getting a feel for how these machines are put together, but in reverse: each time you start with the keyboard bezel – this little strip of plastic with clips that sits over the keyboard looking snug and neat, hiding away the screws that anchor the keyboard in place. It’s a pretty smooth trick though, and the bezel looks and feels solidly attached. Once the keyboard is unscrewed, it can be lifted up and out of the rest of the case, with a springy connector cable attaching the keyboard to the motherboard, held fast by a neat little lock.

There’s a dozen or so screws on the underside that keep the top half of the case attached to the bottom, so we need to flip over and remove them all. But once those are all out (and there is a lot of them) there’s more of those neat little (serial?) cables connecting to the motherboard – one from the touchpad and another from the strip of buttons – the power button, mute button, etc, etc – which all need to be unlocked similar to the keyboard before they can be detached.

So we can get the top off, but the screen is still attached. Underneath some rubber stoppers are about four screws and once they’re off the plastic casing has more of the bezel-type clips that just pop out with a bit of force. It can be disconcertingly difficult the first time, and I worried about breaking the plastic on a number of occasions while disassembling, but the plastic seems to have quite a bit of bend and warp in it before breaking, it’s pretty remarkable stuff but I imagine not very biodegradable.

I did have a point here somewhere that was larger than just a description of how to take apart a Toshiba laptop. But I guess that’s it – you can adapt these set of steps to disassemble any Toshiba laptop (or so I’ve found) and that reflects something of that company’s design or manufacturing process. Or perhaps there’s a connection to be unveiled between ideal laptop design or expectation and these particular arrangement of technical objects. The screen includes hinges, cables, lighting tubes, power cables and DC to AC power converters; motherboards consist of screws, solder, laser etched rows of circuitry, Intel designed and manufactured CPUs with 45 nanometre transistors, capacitors made somewhere in South-East Asia, power coils assembled and wound by machines on a factory floor; cases moulded from the compacted remains of billion year long extinct plants and animals…

It’s an amazing arrangement of objects, and breaking one of them open to see what’s inside is quite the eye-opening exercise. I have more to say about things like this now that my favoured writing implement (this laptop) is back in action. I’ve been reading Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern and I plan to summarise my thoughts on it soon, and I’ve also been meaning to re-visit my post ‘Rhetorical Questions’ from roughly a year ago which I feel really needs updating. I remember being extremely proud of it at the time, but a year on it feels… anachronistic. It feels like I was writing against something that never eventuated, or perhaps I wasn’t writing against one thing specifically at all. We’ll see soon enough.

Presented without comment #27

We Are All Human Microphones Now‘ by Richard Kim at The Nation.

There’s something inherently pluralistic about the human mic too; it’s almost impossible to demagogue, to interrupt and shout someone down or to hijack the General Assembly for your own sectarian purposes. That’s clearly been a saving grace of this occupation, as the internecine fights over identity and ideology that usually characterize left formations haven’t corrosively bubbled over into blood feuds there—yet. The human mic is also, of course, an egalitarian instrument, and it exudes solidarity over ego. No doubt, a great frenzy erupts when left gods like Michael Moore or Cornel West descend to speak, but many people only hear their words through the human mic, in the horizontal acoustics of the crowd instead of the electrified intimacy of “amplified sound.” Celebrity, charisma, status, even public-speaking ability—they all just matter less over the human microphone.

Australian Political Blog Roll – A Call for Help‘ by Greg Jericho at Grog’s Gamut.

As some of you would know, I am writing a book for Scribe publishers on social media and politics, policy and journalism. As part of the project I thought it worthwhile trying to come up with a list of all Australian political blogs. Such a thing is actually rather difficult to accomplish. The fleeting and fluid nature of the blogosphere means that many blogs come and go, some will will about politics but then drop it as a topic.

Stories and Games (1): Art‘ by Chris Bateman at iHobo.

Can games be art, and should we care either way? Every culture respects some activities and objects as ‘art’, and grants to these a certain esteem that is entirely apart from their practical uses. Art, as Oscar Wilde suggested, is quite useless, but nonetheless great art, good art, and even interesting art attracts a lot of attention, a lot of praise and criticism, and a lot of money. The question of whether games can be art is usually treated in one of two ways – often by presuming either they must be art (Santiago) or they can’t be art (Ebert). In my book Imaginary Games I take another path: the question of whether games can be art is misguided, because all art is a kind of game. To understand why this is so, there’s no better place to start than looking at the relationship between games and stories.

Morozov probes internet’s role in new democracies’ by Marwa Farag for The Stanford Daily.

Morozov began by introducing two perspectives on technology and social change: instrumentalist and ecological.

He summarized the “not particularly intellectually exciting” instrumentalist argument saying, “It all depends on the people. Technology has no impact in itself and it all depends on the human actors.”

In this perspective, the Internet is a neutral tool, an instrument and an amplifier. Morozov used the examples of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, journalist Malcolm Gladwell and New York University professor Clay Shirky to illustrate this position, posing theoretical questions arguing against the instrumentalist position.

Morozov then moved to describe the ecological position, a position he feels is more accurate.

“I’m much closer towards the ecological camp,” he said. “I think of technology tools as having impact and effects that transcend simple usage.”

“The idea is that [the Internet] is more than a tool: It transforms both the environment where politics is made, those who participate in politics and many other keywords in the vocabulary that we use to think about protest and political change,” he added.

He also cited a FirstPost article on a hashtag that trended on Twitter following the detainment of Egyptian-American journalist Mona El Tahawy in the Egyptian Interior Ministry. The article’s headline claimed that #FreeMona resulted in El Tahawy’s release, but Morozov quoted a line from his book to raise concerns with this view.

“If a tree falls in the forest and everyone tweets about it, it may not be the tweets that moved it,” he joked, going on to explain. “The fact that everyone tweets about it does not mean it was Twitter or a hashtag that resulted in that particular outcome. Certainly it was part of the story; but how important it was is something to be studied, not something to be assumed.”