Day 197: Improve your signature.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 16.

I did this a long time ago, sort of. I improved my signature into illegibility.


My signature used to look like my name — I mean, one’s signature is supposed to look like one’s name, I get that, but what I mean is that my signed name looked no different than my name when I was just writing it down. That was unacceptable, and so I improved my signature into an illegible scribble. It’s a forceful and manly scribble, but it looks nothing like letters. Occasionally this causes people to look askance at me — but the paperwork all gets filed and the checks all get cashed, so I don’t guess it’s that big a problem.

My signature needed improving in the first place because I can no longer write in cursive. I learned how somewhere during grade school, and then promptly forgot when I was no longer required by my teachers to use it. (Aside: when I took the GRE, I had to copy out an I promise that I didn’t cheat and that I won’t talk to ANYBODY about what was on this test statement in cursive, and it took me twenty minutes, where it would have taken five if I’d been allowed to print it.)

Cursive is an outmoded technology. When you’re writing with a quill and ink, you want to lift the quill as seldom as possible, to avoid smudges and blots and boils and all that sort of thing. That’s not the case with a ball-point pen, though, so why bother? Nostalgic affectation, that’s why.

It’s probably hypocritical of me to dismiss cursive out of hand while also judging people with bad handwriting, but I do it anyway. Cursive might be an outmoded technology, but writing isn’t, or not yet — and people with terrible handwriting are inferior in important ways to those of us with clear, legible handwriting (and those people who write in cursive are either old, hipsters, or fops). For the record: my handwriting is not so good.

Of course, I do more typing than writing, so maybe handwriting is closer to being outmoded than I’m comfortable admitting. Also, just because cursive is outmoded isn’t a good enough reason to dismiss it: listening to music that’s been etched onto big wobbly pieces of plastic is also outmoded, but I still do it occasionally. I just don’t like cursive, and I’m trying to justify my dislike.

I’m not sure I have a point. My signature used to be legible, and then I fixed it, and now it’s not.

Day 156: Redesign an everyday object.

There are two ways this could go — two ways it does go, because this happens all the time — the object in question can become genuinely better or more useful (the iPhone being the best recent example I can think of); it’s far more common, though, for the object to just get more complicated, without becoming any more useful, and often complication makes the object less useful. To wit:

Any idiot design student can take something that works just fine and render it non-functional — and I could have taken that route, no problem: spill-proof glasses which are hollow spheres, energy-saving lamps that don’t turn on, fans with no blades, &c.

I didn’t want to bullshit my way through this task, though; I wanted to do more than “redesign” something: I wanted to reinvent, to revolutionize — and I wanted a technology so old and so ubiquitous that people don’t even think of it as technology anymore.

As an aside: I’ve been using a lot of italics lately, and I’m not sure why. It just feels right, is all. Also I’ve started using longer dashes, and probably nobody cares, but I love dashes — Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is full of dashes, of all sorts of lengths, and they’re one of the many things I love about that novel.

Anyway, about the “everyday object” I chose to radically improve:

I chose rocks.

There’s an old episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and Lisa play rock/paper/scissors — as another aside, I have no idea what that should look like in print — and Bart picks rock, like always, and thinks to himself: “Good old rock; nothing beats that!” — and loses, because, of course, paper beats rock.

Well, not anymore. And that’s not all — except I can’t really tell you what else the New Rock™ does, or what modifications I’ve made, because the patent isn’t filed yet, and I don’t want my brilliant ideas stolen. Rest assured, though, New Rock™ will change your life in ways you can’t imagine: New Rock™ will not only replace your old rocks, it will replace your blender, your kitchen knives, your plunger, your spouse, and your sense of self-worth.

New Rock™: this shit just got real.

Day 134: Hack into a computer network.

Two impossible tasks in a row!

Not than hacking into a computer network is that hard, really: just that it’s beyond me. It’s definitely more beyond me now than it would have been in 2003 or 2004, both because the internet has changed and because I have not at all kept pace with those changes. I can still write a decent algorithm, I just can’t write it in anything except for terse English.

So instead of attempting something impossible and illegal – and while I’m on the subject, have I mentioned before that the Book seems keen on getting me arrested? – I decided to drink a beer, fold towels, and watch The Matrix: Reloaded.

I guess a lot of people were unimpressed by the sequels to The Matrix: certainly Reloaded and Revolutions both have moments that are unnecessary or ridiculous or unnecessarily ridiculous, but there are also some really interesting moments in both films. The fights are more elaborate, which appeals to me: nothing is awesome in quite the way that balletic kung-fu car-chase violence is awesome.

There’s also a lot of exploration of free will, determinism, choice, fate, &c, in Reloaded. A lot of it is very pop-philosophical, and some of it borders on silly, but there are also moments that allow one to engage in actual thought, which is good in a movie, sometimes. Right?

The best scene – the best not-a-fight-scene, I should say – and the best of the whole trilogy, I think, not just in Reloaded – has to be the conversation between Neo and the Architect. I actually used one of the Architect’s speeches – the “as you adequately put it, the problem is choice” bit – as the epigraph to a paper I wrote this semester, on free will in Reformation Europe, with an emphasis on Paradise Lost and Hamlet.

Also I used the word “grok” in that paper, because that’s the sort of ridiculous thing (humanities) academics get to do.

Days 121-122: No Internet Weekend! (part two)

I think this is the one that will change my life. My time away from the internet went something like this:

Don’t get me wrong: I like technology. I don’t want to give up my computer or my phone or the magic of the internet any more than I want to give up indoor plumbing. But just like it’s nice, sometimes, to go live the woods and shit on the ground, it’s also nice to take the occasional break from technology.

For most of my no-internet weekend, though, I was still tied to my laptop: I had a paper to finish, and I was working on it and the various supplemental materials – a shorter, conference-sized version of the paper, a blurb about how I shortened it and why I cut what I did, summaries of everything, an outline, a summary of the outline, a picture of a hedgehog – until about 11:30 Monday morning. Not being on the internet made me much more productive during that last 36 hours (and I was awake for a lot of them), but it didn’t really feel like I was taking a break.

That changed, though, when I finished printing the last of my paper and closed my laptop. I took the rest of Monday – and a fair amount of Tuesday, actually – as a technology Sabbath. It was great. I ignored my laptop, I ignored my phone, I ignored my kitchen appliances. I read a book. I went to bed at a decent hour. I built a house out of old tires.

I think I might do this again, or something like it: one day a week on which I abstain from computer-related technology. No computer, no phone, no TV. A technology sabbath.

And I will blog about it every time, because I’m a smug, insufferable asshole.

Days 121-122: No TV Weekend! (part one)

…except I already don’t watch TV.

Instead, I’m having a no-internet weekend – and not exactly a weekend, because I was too lazy to move yesterday’s task to Monday instead. But two days with no internet, just the same.

That’s right: a full 48 hours of no internet – no twitter, no reddit, no any-of-the-things-on-the-internet-I-read-regularly, no email, no youtube, no zombocom – midnight Saturday to midnight Monday. I’ll do some reading, I might get some writing done; I’ll teach my last class of the semester on Monday, which will mostly involve collecting my students’ final papers. Not going to even think about grading them until Wednesday, though.

Of course, midnight Saturday was something like 8 hours ago – and this is a thing on the internet you’re reading, that was posted sometime around eight o’clock Sunday morning – well into “no internet weekened” – what sort of devilry is this? The devilry of scheduled posts, that’s what. Look on my works, ye mighty…

Tomorrow there will be no post, but there will be two on Tuesday: a damage report from my experiment in Luddism, and the regularly-scheduled post. I suppose it’s possible that I won’t survive the ordeal – or, conversely, that I’ll decide never to come back, and renounce all things electronical. It’s also possible that civilization will come crashing down around us, and industrial/post-industrial technology will already be a thing of the distant, mythical past by Tuesday.

We’ll see. I won’t know if the world ends, though: I get all my news online – so there should be a post here Tuesday either way, because I’ll write it before I find out what amazing/distrubing/catastrophic things happened while I was gone.

Day 94: Avoid all sources of electromagnetic energy.

If I’m avoiding all sources of electromagnetic radiation today, I think I have to stop existing. Right?

Even if I’m just avoiding all man-made sources of electromagnetic radiation, I’m still in trouble, because there are radio waves all around us, all the time, and I’m not about to wear an aluminum-foil suit all day.

Fortunately, the Book only wants me to avoid those things that are “known to the state of California to cause cancer”: high-voltage powerlines, microwave ovens, radio/TV/cell-phone towers, electric blankets, and peacemakers pacemakers. I don’t normally hang out around any of those things, so this was a pretty easy task, I guess?

The pacemakers make me nervous, though – surely they don’t generate much electromagnetic radiation? Surely my cellphone and my laptop – two things I use all the time – generate more? And my phone and computer partake of the great æther of information known as “wifi” – and that wifi stuff can’t be good for me, either, right? I mean “not good for me” in the sense of giving me cancer eventually, because the wifi also allows me to enjoy things like “Hipster Ariel” and Zombocom, and those things are definitely good for me.

Probably I should have avoided using my phone or my laptop or the desktop computer today, just to be on the safe side. How would I have written this post, then? I could have written it yesterday, and just scheduled it to publish today – but that would have been cheating, to have written about doing a thing before doing it but as though I’d already done it. Alternatively, I could have gone without internet-capable technology all day today, written today’s post tomorrow, and scheduled it to be published in the past – that is, today.

I think that would work. I guess it did work, if you’re reading this on the 4th of April, 2011 – the day on which I used no technology and the day before I wrote the post that was published the day before it was written. If you’re reading it at a later date, I guess it doesn’t matter if this post was published before it was written, because both the publishing and the writing happened in your past – and if you’re reading it at all, it means I didn’t collapse the universe by violating the laws of physics. Good job, me!

If you’re not reading this, though, we might have some problems. Someone should double-check that the universe still exists.