In Search of a Better Backpack, Review of The North Face Electra


Despite being labeled for “Women,” I recommend The North Face Electra backpack for anyone needing a compact, EDC bag that can accommodate a 10.5″ tablet. This is my new work bag that carries the things that I need daily without incurring too much added weight.


In a previous blog post, I wrote praise for the Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Gas Mask Bag reproduction, because it is a good everyday bag for carrying an iPad mini, notebook, lunch, and thermos. It is still a good bag, but I sold my iPad Mini after I got Apple’s new 10.5″ iPad Pro, which would not fit in the Mark VII without the removal of the supporting material stitched through the center of the bag. As you can see in the photo above, TNF Electra is slightly larger than the Mark VII. The Mark VII has just shy of 6L capacity whereas the TNF Electra has 12L capacity.

I use the TNF Electra to carry the same, essential things as I used the Mark VII to carry, but the difference between the kits is the iPad upgrade from mini to Pro. Above, you can see the various pockets that differentiate the TNF Electra. It has a padded tablet sleeve in the main zippered compartment, the front flap has a Napoleon-style pocket that I use to hold my cellphone, a small zippered compartment in the lower left for change, keys, or another small item, and a slightly larger zippered compartment at the top of the back beneath the grab handle that holds all of my small, regular use items like hand sanitizer, eye drops, pen, pocket knife, etc.


The TNF Electra weighs the same as a Jansport Superbreak–12 oz. However, the Superbreak has more than double the capacity–25L. The difference between the two packs is that the Electra has a smaller surface area against the back, and it has more substantial padding in the back and around the tablet sleeve. The Superbreak has thin back padding and no laptop/tablet sleeve. The TNF Electra’s zippers are more subtantial YKK brand than what Jansport uses on the current Superbreak packs.


The TNF Electra features “Women-specific back panel and shoulder straps.” These have worked fine for me, too. The pack rides high on my back, which I prefer to a pack that is lower, because it allows my back to breathe more and remain cool on my long walks to-and-from work.


The TNF Electra that I have is black heather and burnt coral metallic (it reminds me of Apple’s Rose Gold). Y liked my bag so much that we got her one in dark eggplant purple dark/amaranth purple.

I like the TNF Electra, because it holds just what I need, is lightweight and compact, and helps me stay cool on my daily long walks.

While its labeling and colors might signify its use by a specific gender, I think its better to focus on one’s needs than on the social signifiers made into a tool–in this case–a useful bag.

Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Satchel Review, an Excellent Everyday Carry EDC Bag Inspired by Indiana Jones


A bag is a form of technology that helps us move our things from place to place so that we can get our daily work done. Every bag has affordances and constraints. Unfortunately, I find myself running up against what I see as unbalanced trade-offs in these affordances and constraints for my particular circumstances.

I don’t begrudge a tool’s constraints. In fact, these constraints can be quite liberating. For example, Thomas Lux, my former poetry professor at Georgia Tech, would purposefully give his students specific constraints for a week’s assignment: there can be only so many words, there can be only so many lines, there must be the color green, etc. He explained that these constraints open up possibilities that would not have existed had he not instructed us to create a new work of poetry based around these constraints. Put another way, while affordances are the explicitly designed ways and interfaces for using a technology, constraints can open up new, unforseen possibilities along the lines of William Gibson’s important observation: “the street finds its own use for things.”


Of the bags that I do own, I’ve unstitched a lot of the fluff on my small Timbuk2 messenger, and I’ve unriveted and cut the unnecessary branding and features of my STM Aero 13 backpack. I’ve made them more usable for me, but I come to realize that I didn’t like how large they are for everyday use. Certainly, if I’m going to the store for groceries, a larger bag is better (my stock Jansport Super Break II is usually deployed for these missions), but I’m thinking about the gear that I carry everyday.


So, my bag problem came to be one about just the needed size for the things that I carry everyday. I should explain that these are the things that I carry to and from work. This is about a 2 mile round trip walk. This makes weight and comfort a prime consideration. Also, as I think is true for many instructors, if a large enough bag is available, I tended to bring a lot of work home with me in the form of books and stacks of papers. However, my interaction with this material often was simply via osmosis instead of material-in-hand engagement. I would carry things home with an intention of using the materials and then returning them to campus later, but this often didn’t happen. Life gets in the way (or simply exhaustion–probably from lugging 10 pounds of student work a mile down Court Street), and the books and papers would be returned via a return trip to be used ultimately on campus. Thus, I wanted an EDC bag that would obviate the possiblity of using it for carrying these kinds of materials. Also, I thought that this change might turn me to using my tech gear in a new way–digitizing and scanning only the most important and pressing work to carry home on a device or upload to the cloud.

2010-08-28 - Christmas 1982 2

As you’re probably familiar with, the character Indiana Jones made famous the anachronistic British Mk VII gas mask bag (the bag did not yet exist during the period of the first three Indy films). When I was a kid, my cousin Amie and her folks gave me one of my most precious gifts–a Dukes of Hazard shoulder bag. I wore it everywhere and it always contained my most essential kit–toys, candy, and a leather whip. Yes, I fancied this bag as my Indy bag. When its strap broke, I tied my best knot to keep on adventuring with it. Looking through old photos like the one above when I received it, I was reminded about how much I liked its size and simplicity.

FullSizeRender (4)

In my searches, a name kept popping up: Magnoli Clothiers. It is an outfit based in New Zealand that specializes in making clothing and prop reproductions from film and television (and other bespoke tailoring services, too). Many folks online–especially in forums discussing Indiana Jones–recommended their reproduction of Indy’s bag called the British Mk VII Satchel. I figured that its low cost justified trying it out. Also, I liked that it didn’t include a shoulder strap. Magnoli Clothiers offers an add-on leather strap, which would make the Mk VII satchel match Indy’s customized look (the original Mk VII bag has a built-in canvas shoulder strap). For me, however, I decided to get a 55″ Rothco General Purpose Nylon Strap. It is adjustable and has metal hooks on either end to mate with the customized metal rings on either side of Magnoli Clothiers’ Mk VII satchel.

The British Mk VII satchel measures about 11″ x 11″ x 3″. It has a number of compartments. The front-most pocket holds an Apple iPad Mini 4 with Smart Cover and a Muji A5 notebook. The large middle compartment is open at the bottom, but there is a divider making the left side slightly larger than the right. I put my 16 oz. Zojirushi thermos on the right and my lunch/supper fixings (usually MREs) on the left. Rolling about in the bottom of this compartment, I leave my pens, pencils, pocket knife, flashlight, eye drops, and Advil. In the back of the back against your body are two small pockets–my phone goes into one of these and my business cards in the other. Sewn between these pockets is a small pouch that holds a 1 oz. hand sanitizer bottle perfectly.


Over the past two weeks, I’ve been having great success with the British Mk VII satchel. Its affordances (It carries my essential things to and from work) and its constraints (Its smaller volume made me change my workflow to be honest with my carry-home workload and essentially carry less to and from work) have worked out very positively for me. I’m curious about how it will hold up in the long term, but its already received bumps and brushes on the street, train, and campus without any appreciable wear. If you are looking for a small bag for essentials, drink, food, and personal electronics, I highly recommend the British Mk VII satchel.


Intel NUC 6I5SYH Hardware Review, BIOS Update, and Fedora 25 Installation Guide

Before Thanksgiving 2016, I purchased an Intel NUC 6I5SYH ($319.99 on sale at Microcenter, late-November 2016) to serve as my new home desktop computer. This review/guide is based on my initial setup of the 6I5SYH.

The Intel NUC 6I5SYH is a small form factor (SFF) bare-bones personal computer from Intel’s “Next Unit of Computing” line.

The 6I5SYH includes an enclosure (approximately 4 1/2″ wide x 4 3/8″ deep x 2″ tall), motherboard with a soldered i5-6260U CPU (Skylake, or 6th-gen architecture–1.9GHz up to 2.8GHz Turbo, Dual Core, 4MB cache, 15W TDP), wall-mount power adapter with multi-country AC plugs, and VESA mount bracket.

The 6I5SYH’s motherboard supports the i5’s integrated Iris 540 graphics over a built-in HDMI 1.4b or Mini DisplayPort 1.2, and it includes 2x USB 3.o ports (back), 2x USB 3.0 ports (front and one supports charging), 2x USB 2.0 headers (on motherboard), IR sensor, Intel 10/100/1000Mbps ethernet, Intel Wireless-AC 8260 M.2 (802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, and Intel Wireless Display 6.0), headphone/microphone jack (front, or 7.1 surround sound via HDMI and Mini DisplayPort/back), and SDXC slot with UHS-I support (left side).

The 6I5SYH requires the user to supply a hard drive or SSD, and RAM. For permanent storage, it has internal support for an M.2 SSD card (22×42 or 22×80) and SATA3 2.5″ HDD/SSD (up to 9.5mm thick). For memory, it supports dual-channel DDR4 SODIMMs (1.2V, 2133MHz, 32GB maximum) across two internal slots.

For my 6I5SYH’s RAM, I installed one Crucial 8GB DDR4 2400 BL SODIMM ($44.99 on sale at Micro Center, late-November 2016), and for its SSD, I installed a Silicon Power S60 240GB SATA3 SSD ($67.99 on sale on Amazon, December 2015). Excluding the costs of a monitor, keyboard, and trackball, this system cost $432.97.

After first assembling the 6I5SYH with its RAM and SSD, I booted it and went into the BIOS (press F2 at the boot/Intel screen) to check its BIOS version. Based on everything that I had read about this and past Intel NUCs, it is always advisable to have the most up-to-date BIOS installed. Sure enough, it reported having BIOS 0045, and a newer BIOS had been released (0054) according to the Intel Download Center page for the 6I5SYH.

I downloaded the new BIOS binary file to a FAT-formatted USB flash drive on my Mac, inserted the USB flash drive into a front USB port on the NUC, pressed F7 to update BIOS, and followed the prompts. After confirming the BIOS had updated, I turned the 6I5SYH off by holding down the power button on its top plate.

Next, I used the Fedora Media Writer for Mac OS X to create a bootable USB flash drive of Fedora 25 Workstation using the same flash drive that I had used to flash the 6I5SYH’s BIOS.

After the media creation was completed, I inserted my Fedora 25 bootable USB flash drive into a front USB port of the 6I5SYH, powered it on, pressed F10 for the boot menu, and followed the prompts. If you need an installation guide for Fedora 25 check out the Fedora Documentation here, or if you need a screenshot walkthrough of installing Fedora 25, check out this guide.

After installing Fedora 25 with full disk encryption, I installed updates and began installing additional software. The guides here and here offer great advice (there are others for “what to do after installing fedora 24” that have useful info, too) on what to install and configure after a fresh installation of Fedora. Some that I recommend include Gnome Tweak Tool (available within Software app), Yum Extender (DNF) (available within Software app), VeraCrypt, and VLC. Remember to install RPM Fusion free and nonfree repositories–directions here, too.

So far, Fedora 25 has performed wonderfully on the 6I5SYH! Out of the box, the graphics, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB ports, and SD card reader have worked without error. I am using a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter to connect the 6I5SYH to a less expensive VGA-input LCD monitor. I am watching 1080p Rogue One trailers without a hiccup, and I listen to Beastie Boy MP3s while doing work in GIMP or LibreOffice. I have not yet fully tested virtualization or emulation (consoles or vintage computing)–these are my next steps.

The 6I5SYH is snappy about doing work, and it is quiet nearly always except when it first boots up (and the fans spin up high momentarily). For the features, size, and price, I highly recommend the 6I5SYH as a desktop replacement that runs Fedora 25 and common Linux programs quite well!

Working Bibliography for Digital Fabrication Module of “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” at City Tech

This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.
This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.

I’m an NEH Fellow for City Tech’s “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” project. It brings together faculty from across the college to design humanities-course modules and a new course proposal that brings the six modules together. I am contributing to the Digital Fabrication Module of the course curriculum that the team will develop.

I put together the following bibliography of Science Fiction, critical work, video games, and software as part of my contribution to the project and the upcoming curricular work. Following my bibliography, I have included the preliminary viewings and readings for this module (which were selected before I joined the project as a fellow) for those interested in learning more about these topics.

Working Bibliography

Fiction: 3D Printing (chronological)

Heinlein, Robert A. “Waldo.” Astounding Science Fiction Aug. 1942: 9-53.

Smith, George O. “Identity.” Astounding Science Fiction Nov. 1945. 145-180.

Russell, Eric F. “Hobbyist.” Astounding Science Fiction Sept. 1947: 33-61.

Sheckley, Robert. “The Necessary Thing.” Galaxy Science Fiction June 1955. 55-66.

Clarke, Arthur C. The City and the Stars. Harcourt Brace/SFBC, 1956.

Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Bantam Spectra, 1995.

Gibson, William. All Tomorrow’s Parties. Viking Press, 1999.

Brin, David. Kiln People. Tor, 2002.

Marusek, David. Counting Heads. Tor, 2005. [expansion of his novella We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy, 1995].

Doctorow, Cory. “Printcrime.” Nature vol. 439 (12 Jan. 2006): 242.

Sterling, Bruce. “Kiosk.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Jan. 2007: 68-113.

Doctorow, Cory. Makers. HarperVoyager, 2009.

Stross, Charles. Rule 34. Ace Books, 2011.

Hamilton, Peter F. Great North Road, Macmillan UK, 2012.

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

Newman, Emma. Planetfall. Roc, 2015.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. Orbit, 2015.


Fiction: Fractals (chronological)

Langford, David. “Blit.” Interzone Sept./Oct. 1988: 40-42.

Rucker, Rudy. “As Above, So Below.” in The Microverse. Ed. Byron Preiss. Bantam Spectra, 1989. 334-340.

Shiner, Lewis. “Fractal Geometry.” in The Edges of Things. WSFA Press, 1991. 59.

Anthony, Piers. Fractal Mode. Ace/Putnam, 1992. [second novel in his Mode series].

Di Filippo, Paul. “Fractal Paisleys.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May 1992: 72-106.

Charnock, Graham. “On the Shores of a Fractal Sea.” in New Worlds 3. Ed. David Garnett. Gollancz, 1993. 125-136.

Luckett, Dave. “The Patternmaker.” in The Patternmaker: Nine Science Fiction Stories. Ed. Lucy Sussex. Omnibus Books, 1994. 3-18.

Pickover, Clifford A. Chaos in Wonderland: Visual Adventures in a Fractal World. St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Turzillo, Mary A. “The Mandelbrot Dragon.” in The Ultimate Dragon. Eds. Keith DeCandido, John Betancourt, and Byron Preiss. Dell, 1995. 167-172.

Williamson, Jack. “The Fractal Man.” 1996. in At the Human Limit. Haffner Press, 2011. 187-204.

Leisner, William. “Gods, Fate, and Fractals.” in Strange New Worlds II. Eds. Dean Wesley Smith, John J. Ordover, and Paula M. Block. Pocket Books, 1999. 166-183.

Thompson, Douglas. Ultrameta: A Fractal Novel. Eibonvale Press, 2009.

Patrice, Helen. “Mandelbrot Universe.” Dreams & Nightmares no. 92 (May 2012): n.p.

Strasser, Dirk. “The Mandelbrot Bet.” in Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction. Eds. Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Tor, 2014. 365-378.


Non-Fiction (chronological)

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge UP, 1961.

Rucker, Rudy. “In Search of a Beautiful 3D Mandelbrot Set.” 5-14 Sept. 1988 (revised 24 Sept. 2009).

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Thurs, Daniel Patrick. “Tiny Tech, Transcendent Tech: Nanotechnology, Science Fiction, and the Limits of Modern Science Talk.” Science Communication vol. 29, no. 1 (Sept. 2007): 65-95.


Video Games (chronological)

Rescue on Fractalus!,! and


No Man’s Sky,



KPT Bryce 1.0 (1994), and and and

The Mandelbrot Set in HTML5 Canvas and Javascript,

Julia Map,


Paul Lutus, The Mandelbrot Set,



Preliminary Viewings

NOVA, “Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension,”

Benoit Mandelbrot TED Talk, Fractals and the Art of Roughness,


Preliminary Readings

Devlin, Keith. The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible. W. H. Freeman, 1998. 188-220.

Flake, Gary. The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation. MIT Press, 1998. 59- 110.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. W.H. Freeman, 1983. 4- 38.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension. W.H. Freeman, 1977.

Samuel, Nina. ed. The Islands of Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking. Bard Graduate Center, 2012.18-56.


How to Build a Cardboard-Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B Computer with a 7″ Touchscreen LCD Display with Some Thoughts on Pedagogy

My Cardboard Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B with 7″ Touchscreen Display and wireless keyboard.

This guide demonstrates how to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, connect the Raspberry Pi to a 7″ Touchscreen LCD, and integrate the computer and touchscreen in a cardboard box (which doubles as a case and storage for battery, keyboard, and cables).

I got interested in the Raspberry Pi, because it has many capabilities for learning: kitting out a computer, installing a Linux-based operating system, programming interactive software, and building with electronics. In particular, I am interested in how the Raspberry Pi can be used to create interactive software and be a platform for digital storytelling (which figures into one of the upcoming classes that I will be teaching at City Tech–ENG 3760 Digital Storytelling).

My haul from Tinkersphere.

Instead of buying my kit online, I wanted to shop local to get started. Originally, I considered going to Microcenter, which is near where I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the touchscreen display that I wanted. Instead, Y and I took a train into Manhattan and visited Tinkersphere where one of their helpful staff guided me to the things on my digital grocery list. I purchased Tinkersphere’s pre-made Raspberry Pi 2 kit, a 7″ Touchscreen LCD display, a battery pack (in retrospect, I should have purchased two of these, which I will discuss below), and a mono speaker with 1/8″ plug.

Tinkersphere's Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit contents.
Contents of Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit.

Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit includes all of the basic equipment needed to begin working with this tiny computing platform. The kit is built around the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, HDMI port, ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface (CSI), display interface (DSI), micro SD card slot, and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics core. Additionally, the kit includes a wireless keyboard/trackpad, USB wifi adapter, 8GB micro SD card with NOOBS (the easy to use Raspbian installer), USB micro SD card reader, breadboard, wires, and 5v power supply.

To begin the setup, we should orient ourselves with the Raspberry Pi. This is the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer viewed from the top and the bottom:

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.
Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.


Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.
Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

The first thing that we need to do is insert the micro SD card with a copy of NOOBS pre-copied. If you need a copy of NOOBS for your own micro SD card, you can download it from here and follow the instructions here for formatting and copying the files from a Mac or PC to the micro SD card. The Raspberry Pi’s micro SD card slot is located on the bottom side of its circuit board. A micro SD card goes in only one way which allows you to press it in. If correct, the card should “click” and stay as seen in the photos below.


Insert the micro SD card like this.
Insert the micro SD card like this.


Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a "click."
Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a “click.”


The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.
The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to a display (such as a TV) with HDMI, and plug in the wifi adapter and wireless keyboard into two available USB ports. Alternatively, you can connect the Raspberry Pi to the Internet via ethernet and to a wired keyboard and mouse. Then, connect it to the 5v power supply. As soon as it is plugged in, the Raspberry Pi is turned on and operational. It will begin to boot from the micro SD card’s NOOBS installer, which will guide you through the process of installing Raspbian. See the images below to see what this looks like and what choices you should make for a basic installation.

NB: While we could have connected the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi before beginning the installation, the current version of NOOBS would not detect and use the touchscreen display. It is necessary for Raspbian to be installed and updated before the 7″ Touchscreen Display will be recognized and used as the Raspberry Pi 2’s primary display.


NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.
NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.


The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.
The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.


The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven't already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.
The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven’t already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.


The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.
The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

After rebooting following the installation, the raspi-config tool launches. This program gives the user easy access to many configuration options for the Raspberry Pi including how it should boot (automatically login and load xwindows, or boot to a command prompt login), and if you would like to overclock the Raspberry Pi for additional performance (use this option with caution–you will likely want to add heat sinks and increased ventilation if you overclock the system). I configured my Raspberry Pi to operate at normal speed and to boot to the command line with login.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.
After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.

The default login for the Raspberry Pi is username “pi” and password “raspberry”. Type each of these credentials in when asked followed by pressing the Enter key. Then, you will find yourself at the command line interface (CLI).

Raspbian's CLI.
Raspbian’s CLI.

After logging in, you have a Linux command prompt (here is a list of helpful file system commands).

Before setting up the 7″ Touchscreen Display, we need to update Raspbian. To do this, first type: “sudo apt-get update”. If prompted to install anything because it will take a certain amount of space, simply type “y” and press “Enter”.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian's CLI.
Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian’s CLI.

To explain what this command means, “sudo” runs a command as superuser, or the user that is all powerful on a linux system. The command that you want to run as superuser is “apt-get,” which is a package manager, or a manager of software packages that run on your Raspberry Pi. “update” is a modifier for “apt-get,” and its purpose is to tell “apt-get” to update its index of available software packages with what is stored on the remote software repository (where your Raspberry Pi is downloading its software from).

After the update operation completes and you return to the command prompt, type: “sudo apt-get upgrade”. Similarly, agree to the prompts with “y” and “Enter”. The “upgrade” modifier to “apt-get” tells it to upgrade the software based on what it learned when updating its index with the previous command. Thus, when you run these two commands, you should run the update command first (learn) and the upgrade command second (act on what was learned).

To launch into Raspbian’s X11, type “startx”. Inside X11 or xwindows, you will find many of the GUI-based software that really makes the Raspberry Pi sing: Scratch, Python, Mathematica, and more. If you have never used X11, it works a lot like Windows 95/98 except that the Start Menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom and “Start” is replaced by “Menu.” Some quick launch apps are directly available to be launched with a single click from the start bar (such as Terminal, the Epiphany web browser, and Wolfram Mathematica) while all of the installed X11 programs are available from the “Menu.” Below are images of the Raspbian desktop and navigating through some of the default programs available.

To easily install additional software, you can install the Synaptic Package Manager, which simplifies finding and installing software packages by wrapping package management in an easy-to-use GUI. From inside X11, open Terminal and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic”. This will install Synaptic, which you can open by clicking on Menu > Preferences > Synaptic Package Manager (more info on this and other Raspberry Pi stuff on Neil Black’s website).

When you done browsing around, you can click on the and choose to shut down. After a few moments, your display should show a blank screen and the activity lights on the back of the Raspberry Pi (red and green) should only be showing a solid red. At that point, unplug the micro USB 5v power adapter. If you are ready to install the 7″ Touchscreen Display, unplug the HDMI cable, too.

In the images below, I demonstrate how to assemble the 7″ Touchscreen Display and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. I followed the excellent instructions available on the official Raspberry Pi website, which also details how to install the Matchbox virtual keyboard for using the touchscreen without a keyboard.

To begin connecting the 7" Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.
To begin connecting the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.


Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.
Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.


Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.
Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.


Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.
Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.


Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.
Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.


Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card...
Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card… the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations--the other two involve USB.
…to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations–the other two involve USB.


This is the rear of the 7" Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.
This is the rear of the 7″ Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.


This is the front of the 7" Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.
This is the front of the 7″ Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.


This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7" Touchscreen Display.
This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7″ Touchscreen Display.


Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.
Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.


To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7" Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.
To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7″ Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

Of course, you can use the Raspberry Pi with or without a case depending on your needs. I used the Suntory cardboard box from Japan for practical reasons (thinking: William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things”–it’s a good size, on-hand, and looks cool) and research reasons (thinking about my work on proto-cyberpunk and the hidden nature of computing, which is an idea explored in my previous blog post about the poster that I created for the 13th annual City Tech Poster Session).

I have run the computer and touchscreen from the 5v battery that I purchased from Tinkersphere, but I get a graphics warning that the Raspberry Pi is under voltage (a rainbow pattern square persists in the upper right corner of the display whether in the CLI or xwindows). I might get a second battery to run the display alone, which would help me troubleshoot if the battery that I have now is actually outputting enough voltage and amperage needed by the Raspberry Pi alone. In the meantime, I am running everything at my desk with the 5v power adapter, which provides ample power for the Raspberry Pi and 7″ Touchscreen Display.

In the future, I would like to use the Raspberry Pi in a writing or technical communication course. There are many ways to leverage the technology: problem solving, writing about process, creating technical documents such as reports and instructions, using the Raspberry Pi as a writing/multimodal composing platform, digital storytelling with tools that come with the Raspberry Pi, and more. These ideas are built only around the Raspberry Pi and its software. A whole other universe of possibilities opens up when you begin building circuits and integrating the Raspberry Pi into a larger project.

The basic cost of entry with the platform is $30 for the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B and a few dollars for an 8GB micro SD card. If you have access to a display with HDMI, a USB keyboard and mouse, and ethernet-based Internet access, you can get started with Raspberry Pi almost immediately. For a future grant application, I am imagining a proposal to purchase the basic needed equipment to use Raspberry Pi in an existing computer lab. I can bring the kits to each class where students can use them on different assignments that meet the outcomes for that course but in an engaging and challenging way that I think they would enjoy and would be beneficial to them in ways beyond the immediate needs of the class.

On this last point, I am thinking of working with digital technology in an a way many of my students will not have had a chance to before, feeling a sense of accomplishment, learning from one another on team-based projects, experiencing a sense of discovery with a computing platform that they might not have used before, and of course, communicating through the process of discovery in different ways and to different audiences. This might be something that you’re interested in, too. Drop me a line if you are!

The Debut of the Apple Disk II, Ambiguous Terminology, and the Effects of Memory: Digging Deeper into an Anecdote from Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms

The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.
The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.

Matthew Kirschenbaum constructs a compelling and interesting argument in his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008). He argues that while new media and computer software might seem ephemeral and intangible, it has in fact physicality, a many-layered history, and emerging archaeological protocols (developed by Kirschenbaum and many others).

However, one section titled “Coda: CTRL-D, CTRL-Z” attracted my attention, because its use of the term “recover” in a story about the debut of the Apple Disk II seemed to imply computer disk data recovery instead of what historically happened, which was the manual rewriting of the software that had been accidentally overwritten during a botched disk copy operation.

Kirschenbaum uses the story of Steve Wozniak and Randy Wigginton’s development of software to control the reading and writing of data to Apple’s Disk II, which was based on Shugart’s 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive, before its unveiling at the 1978 CES in Las Vegas to establish an analogy: “Nowadays we toggle the CTRL-D and CTRL-Z shortcuts, deleting content and undoing the act at a whim. Gone and then back again, the keyboard-chorded Fort and Da of contemporary knowledge work” (Kirschenbaum 69). The idea is that computer facilitate a kind of gone and back again play as described by Freud. Of course, the keyboard shortcuts that he refers to are not universal across platforms or software, but the concept is pervasive. Nevertheless, my focus is not on that concept per se but instead on the Apple Disk II debut anecdote, the terminology surrounding what actually happened, and how that relates to the kinds of work that we do in new media archaeology.

After introducing the story of the Apple Disk II’s debut at CES, Kirschenbaum cites a passage from Steven Weyhrich’s Apple II History website:

“When they got to Las Vegas they helped to set up the booth, and then returned to working on the disk drive. They stayed up all night, and by six in the morning they had a functioning demonstration disk. Randy suggested making a copy of the disk, so they would have a backup if something went wrong. They copied the disk, track by track. When they were done, they found that they had copied the blank disk on top of their working demo! By 7:30 am they had recovered the lost information and went on to display the new disk drive at the show.” (Weyhrich par. 13, qtd. in Kirschenbaum 69).

First, it should be noted that Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to describe the way that the “lost information” was brought back from the brink of the overwritten disk. Then, Kirschenbaum reads Weyhrich’s account above in the following way:

“Thus the disk handling routines that took the nascent personal computer industry by storm were accidentally overwritten on the very morning of their public debut–but recovered and restored again almost as quickly by those who had intimate knowledge of the disk’s low-level formatting and geometry” (Kirschenbaum 69).

Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to refer to the software Wozniak and Wigginton had lost during the bad copy operation. Kirschenbaum borrows Weyhrich’s “recovered” and adds “restored” to describe the final state of the software on Wozniak and Wigginton’s floppy disks for use on the CES show floor. When I first read Kirschenbaum’s book, his reading seemed unncessarily ambiguous. On the one hand, Kirschenbaum does not directly say that the two Apple engineers used their knowledge of controlling the disk drive and reading low-level information on the floppy disks to “recover” the lost data–i.e., use the drive and disk technology to salvage, rescue, or retrieve what remains on the disk but otherwise might seem lost to someone with less advanced knowledge. On the other hand, Kirschenbaum’s reading of the incident–“recovered and restored again almost as quickly”–is implicitly aligned with his own project of the physicality of data stored on new media storage devices. One could mistakenly believe that Wozniak and Wigginton had restored the lost data from the overwritten floppy disk.

Steven Wozniak writes about this episode in his autobiography, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (2006). Before turning to Wozniak’s later recall of this event in 1978, I would like to look at the two sources that Weyhrich cites on the passage that Kirschenbaum cites in his argument.

Weyhrich’s first of two footnotes on his passage points to page 168 of Gregg Williams and Rob Moore’s 1985 interview with Steve Wozniak titled, “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III” in the January 1985 issue of Byte magazine. In the interview, Wozniak tells them:

“We worked all night the day before we had to show it [the disk drive] at CES. At about six in the morning it was ready to demonstrate. Randy thought we ought to back it up, so we copied the disk, track by track. When we were done, he looked down at them in his hands and said, “Oh, no! I wrote on the wrong one!” We managed to recover it and actually demonstrated it at CES” (Williams and Moore 168).

In this primary source, we see Wozniak using  the term “recover” to indicate that they were able to get the demonstration operational in time for CES that day, but what form the “recovery” took place is not explained. Was it data recovery in the technical sense or data recovery in the hard work sense of re-writing the code?

Weyrich’s second footnote on his passage points to Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s “Fire In The Valley, Part Two (Book Excerpt)” in the January 1985 issue of A+ Magazine. While I have been unable to find a copy of this magazine, I did refer to the book that this excerpt was taken from: Freiberger and Swaine’s Fire in the Valley (1984). On page 286, they write in regard to Wozniak and Wigginton’s disk dilemma at CES:

“Wigginton and Woz arrived in Las Vegas the evening before the event. They helped set up the booth that night and went back to work on the drive and the demo program. They planned to have it done when the show opened in the morning even if they had to go without sleep. Staying up all night is no novelty in Las Vegas, and that’s what they did, taking periodic breaks from programming to inspect the craps tables. Wigginton, 17, was elated when he won $35 at craps, but a little later back in the room, his spirits were dashed when he accidentally erased a disk they had been working on. Woz patiently helped him reconstruct all the information. They tried to take a nap at 7:30 that morning, but both were too keyed up” (Freiberger and Swaine 286).

Unlike Wozniak’s “recover” in the Williams and Moore interview above, Freiberger and Swaine use the term “reconstruct” in their narrative about the pre-CES development of the Disk II demonstration software. Unlike the term recover, which means to regain what is lost, reconstruct means to build something again that has been destroyed. Freiberger and Swaine’s selection of this term seems more accurate when considering what Wozniak says about this episode in his autobiography:

“We set up in our booth and worked until about 6 a.m., finally getting everything working. At that point I did one very smart thing. I was so tired and wanted some sleep but knew it was worth backing up our one good floppy disk, with all the right data. . . . But when I finished this backup, I looked at the two unlabeled floppy disks and got a sinking feeling that I’d followed a rote pattern but accidentally copied the bad floppy to the good one, erasing all the good data. A quick test determined that this is what happened. You do things like that when you are extremely tired. So my smart idea had led to a dumb and unfortunate result. . . . We went back to the Villa Roma motel and slept. At about 10 a.m. I woke up and got to work. I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing. The code was all in my head, anyways. I managed to get the good program reestablished by noon and took it to our booth. There we attached the floppy and started showing it” (Wozniak and Smith 218-219).

In this account, Wozniak says that he is responsible for overwriting the good disk with the bad (as opposed to what he said to Williams and Moore for the 1985 Byte magazine interview), but most important is the terms that he uses to describe how he made things right: “I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing.” He “reestablished” the program by reentering “the code . . . in [his] head” into the computer that they had on-hand. Wozniak’s word choice and description makes it clearer than in his earlier interview that he had to remake the program from memory instead of attempting to “recover” it from the overwritten media itself. While, it might have been theoretically possible for someone as well versed in the mechanism that by that point he had had a significant hand in redesigning from the original Shugart drive mechanism and controller card and of course his development with Wigginton of the software that controlled the hardware to read and write floppy disks in the Apple Disk II system (computer-controller card-disk drive), Wozniak, who reports throughout his autobiography as an engineer who works things out in head meticulously before putting his designs into hardware or software, took the easiest path to the solution of this new media problem: write out the software again from memory.

Memory, of course, is another tricky element of this story. It was my memory of Wozniak’s exploits that drew me to this passage in Kirschenbaum’s book. My memory of Kirschenbaum’s argument informed the way that I interpreted what I thought Kirschenbaum meant by using this episode as a way of making his Fort-Da computer analogy. Kirschenbaum’s memory of the episode as it had been interpreted secondhand in Weyhrich’s history of the Apple II informed how he applied it to his argument. Wozniak’s own memory is illustrated as pliable through the subtle differences in his story as evidenced in the 1985 Byte magazine interview and twenty-one years later in his 2006 autobiography.

Ultimately, the episode as I read it in Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms was caught in an ambiguous use of language. The use of certain terms to describe the work that we do in new media–in its development, implementation, or daily use–relies on the terminology that we use to describe the work that is done to others–lay audience or otherwise. Due to the kind of ambiguity illustrated here, we have to strive to select terms that accurately and explicitly describe what it is we are talking about. Of course, primary and secondary accounts contribute to the possibility of ambiguity, confusion, or inaccuracy. Sometimes, we have to dig more deeply through the layers of new media history to uncover the fact that illuminates the other layers or triangulate between differing accounts to establish a best educated guess about the topic at hand.

Works Cited

Freiberger, Paul and Michael Swaine. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Weyhrich, Steven. “The Disk II.” Apple II History. Apple II History, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Williams, Gregg, and Rob Moore. “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III”, Byte, Jan 1985: 167-180. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Wozniak, Steve and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006. Print.

Demos Chiang, Chiang Kai-shek’s Great Grandson, on the Cost of Social Media

Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.
Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.

In a interview with Demos Yu-bou Chiang (蔣友柏), who is Chiang Kai-shek’s great grandson and  founder of the Taiwan design firm DEM Inc. (橙果設計), the interviewer asks if he uses social media:

Q:你有 Facebook 或 Line 等社交通訊軟件嗎?

不開,很累,真的很累,而且 Facebook 商業行為太嚴重。我的手機是 4G 可以上網,但所有通訊軟件 、Line 都不使用,只用簡訊。我不喜歡人家可以免費找到我。

Y’s translation into English:

Q: Do you have Facebook or Line accounts, or any kind of social media apps?

A: I don’t use it. It is too much work. Facebook has too much commercial activity. I have a 4G cellphone to get online, but I don’t use the communicating apps like Line except for text messaging. I don’t like it that people can find [or reach] me for free.

There are three parts of Chiang’s response that I would like to discuss.

First, he observes that social media takes “too much work.” This is one of the reasons why I deleted my Facebook account a few years ago. It seemed like I was putting in a lot of time and labor on the Facebook website and mobile app. On the one hand, I wanted to connect with others, create conversation, and share my goings-on while enjoying the goings-on of others. However, it increasingly seemed to me to take a considerable amount of effort to keep up with the information and conversations taking place there. Jennifer Pan goes into the issue of labor that sustains social media networks in her Jacobin article, “The Labor of Social Media.”

Chiang laments that there is “too much commercial activity” on social media. This can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, there is a lot of advertising on social media, which is a kind of commercial activity. On the other hand, people use social media as a platform to publicize their work or seek support for their work on social media (another form of advertising). While social media opens new ways of supporting otherwise unfunded projects (such as with Patreon or Kickstarter), the number of such projects that one sees on a daily basis can be overwhelming and seemingly unsustainable.

Another aspect of Chiang’s lament is the unseen commercial activity of tracking and personal information. Social media platforms make money in part through targeting advertising to its users by selling targeted and detailed access to its advertising partners. The more information that a social network can get about its users and the more meaningful that information can be made for the purposes of advertising mean that the social network can potentially make more money by selling a higher value to advertisers.

Finally, the third issue that Chiang takes with social media is that he says, “people can find me for free.” This is important point that I hadn’t really considered when I left Facebook and other social media platforms a few years ago. For Chiang, he is a business person whose time is valuable. Even deflecting questions or offers takes away from his focus and time, which is time and focus he could apply to other endeavors. Social media at its core is about connecting people together. Social media makes it easier for one person to contact another person. Some networks, such as LinkedIn, place monetized barriers in the way of too easy contact, but others, such as Twitter, make contact for public accounts extremely easy. By not being on social media, Chiang places the ultimate old-school barrier to others bothering him, stealing his focus, or taking away his time. Making it so that others cannot simply find you “for free” protects your time and attention so that you can apply yourself to the work and living that matters the most to you.

Chiang’s three points are useful for thinking about what the costs of social media are for you. It involves our labor, out information is bought and sold, and others want to monopolize our time. Consider these things when you sign-up or configure your social media accounts to protect yourself and maximize its value to yourself.

Living in the Present with Vintage Computers, and Reading the Past as a Netrunner: On Reading William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties

Having just finished William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) and thus concluding his Bridge Trilogy, I cannot say with anything resembling certainty that I have read or not read these novels before. As I said when I began writing a few notes on my blog about Virtual Light and Idoru, I have a creepy feeling of having been in these novels before, of having read them sometime and some place. If I have encountered these novels directly before, the memory source for those encounters is locked away in some inaccessible part of my memory. Anyways, if I did read them before and there should be some memory, I am hopeful that it is still there and simply inaccessible to my mind’s eye in the present and not eradicated by some biological injury.

Despite my memory’s misgivings and uncertainty, I can certainly say that I enjoyed this vision of the future/present/near past illustrated in the fast and sharp language Gibson lays down in these three novels. In All Tomorrow’s Parties, we experience Laney’s virtuosity as a netrunner who builds alliances/buys alliances that out maneuvers the 0.001%er Harwood. Laney’s ability as a psychopharmacologically enhanced cyborg who can see the flows of data, understands what we have all just recently learned about the power of metadata, and seizes the accreting eddies and currents of information, narrative, and inevitability leading to something bigger, powerful, and otherwise unseen–an undertow of history.

Laney as netrunner seems an analog of what we have all become in one way or another. We manage our flows of information with RSS feed aggregators, news readers, the Facebook wall, the Twitter feed, the timeline, hashtags, tagging, Friend lists, Google+ Circles, subscriptions, etc. Before all of this, there was talk in the magazines about creating intelligent agents–small programs that would scour the Internet for the information and news that we would like to learn more about (perhaps through keywords and other coded instructions)–that helped manage what we read and saw while also managing our precious pre-broadband bandwidth.

It is worth noting that in both cases, watching the firehose of feed data now or harvesting news bits with intelligent agents, all data written by someone for the info consumption of others is a practice of historic preservation, archivization, observing what has come before. Taken one step further, none of us experience the present due to our biological senses and cognition systems that delay our experiencing the world beyond ourselves. Thus, the netrunner (and ourselves as modern netizens) are a further step away–observer experiences, reports multimodally over the Internet, we experience the multimodal report. To go further on this point or digress on the transformation of these experiences by the media and modal channels involved would likely cover several volumes, so I will end the digression here.

There are times when I feel like Laney must have felt in his dank cardboard hovel in the Japanese train station. Surrounded by his own filth and barely holding on to life with a ritual of cough syrup and sugars to keep his body barely operational but well enough that he could remain plugged into the data feed via his VR eye goggles. Trying to keep up what is going on in the world, going on with family and friends, going on professionally via the numerous and multiplying channels of social and broadcast media is daunting. It is a burden–a heavy one at that. Any attempt that I make at streamlining, modulating, organizing, and taming these never ceasing feeds of information makes me feel overwhelmed, lacking control, and otherwise wasted. My own compulsion to try to keep up, to interact, and to communicate in kind leaves me feeling dread over joy more often than not.

At least in Laney’s case in All Tomorrow’s Parties, he is working toward a goal of swinging the nodal point away from Harwood and towards something different, perhaps altruistic and thus the many Rei Toei’s are born of nanotech assemblers in the many Lucky Dragon establishments.

Another interesting image for me and my work as a researcher of our shared digital culture is the Bad Sector shop on the San Francisco side of the bridge. Chevette finds Tessa outside the Bad Sector shop working on her tiny video drone, God’s Little Toy (an increasingly ubiquitous and problematic technology today ranging from privacy violation to public safety in the air and on the ground). Later, Rydell goes to the Bad Sector to obtain two cables for Rei Toei’s holographic projector. Inside the Bad Sector shop, Gibson describes its Jurassic technologies–lingering on audio recording media going back to the beginning and vintage personal computers–particularly those encased in beige. Of course, the shop’s name refers to a bad sector on computer readable magnetic media–a physically unreadable or damaged location on the media platter–floppy or hard disk.

For media archivists, the bad sector is like a burned or rotted page in an ancient manuscript. There is the possibility that the data might exist copied by the manipulations of digital technology far more quickly than that by a human scribe, but if no copy or backup exists, the bad sector–depending on the type of magnetic media, its data density, etc–could leave some information permanently inaccessible. Although, I can imagine a bad sector can, in some very particular circumstances, tell us things about how technology-as-culture was developed and continues to develop (the physicality of drive mechanisms, error correction algorithms, the application of scientific principles to avoid physical destruction of the drive media, the deformities or problems with a given writer’s computer setup, how that writer’s computer influenced the development of cultural works–lost drafts, overwritten work, etc.). So, the bad sector can be seen as a loss on the one hand and potentially a gain for understanding on the other.

My office at City Tech (and the previous labs of vintage computer that I have built up, sold off, donated over the years beginning at my childhood home in Brunswick, GA, my flea market booth at Duke’s Y’all Come Flea Market in Darien, GA, my home in Norcross, GA, the Special Collections of Georgia Tech’s Library Archives, and now my college in Brooklyn, NY) is kind of like the Bad Sector on the bridge. It is cobbled together. It is incomplete. It is bricolage. It is pieced and held together with equal parts ingenuity and duct tape. Unlike the Bad Sector in All Tomorrow’s Parties, it is mine and not something bought and sold by off-bridge investors. Like the bridge in the novel, my vintage/retro computing lab is a community effort–I get and give, others get and give. I work on it and at it to remember where we have come from and to reflect on how our past innovations inform and continue to speak to our current digital culture. I want its archive to provide testimony about who we were and who we have become as human beings and thinking organisms. It is part of my research and pedagogy.

William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties) is an impressive vision. My deja vu or amnesia–depending on your point of view–about the novels might say more about how much like the present some themes and images in Gibson’s novels speak to the way things were and are in the real world.

What Do We Call Their Union: On Reading William Gibson’s Idoru

Continuing with William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, I read Idoru (1996) this past Sunday.

My sense of deja vu was as pronounced as when I read Virtual Light, but I still cannot bring myself to say with absolute certainty that I had read these books before. I tend to believe that my triangulation of these narratives from conference going and secondary literature reading have implanted the seeds of these novels in my memory–with roots long, but stem and leaves stunted–almost translucent.

Idoru circles the entertainment-industrial complex’s creation of celebrity, fandom’s eclipsing of the actual cultural production of celebrity, personal metadata and its uses for surveillance and control, and another trajectory of emergent AI/personality construct–in this case the idoru, Rei Toei.

Rei Toei is like a more advanced version of the vocaloid, Hatsune Miku. Her entrance into the real world might be more aligned today with 3D printing technologies and robotics like Danny Choo’s Smart Doll (though, I’m sure Mr. Choo would do equally interesting and exciting things if he got his hands on a packet of self-assembling nanomachines described in the novel). Or, in 2009, a Japanese man married Nene Anegasaki, a character from the Nintendo DS game Love Plus (Telegraph story, BoingBoing video). These bonds are so strong that in 2012, a Japanese groom and his bridge destroyed his Nintendo DS and Love Plus game cartridge, which held his saved game data with (again) Nene Anegasaki (Kotaku story, Twitter post).

I recalled David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (2008), which explores how humanity’s relationships with its technologies–especially those anthropomorphized or imbued with human qualities–has and continues to change over time.

In regard to Rez’s desire to wed Rei Toei, on the one hand, the union is of celebrity–albeit two forms of it: a human male musician and an AI construct gendered female and given form holographically (machinery and bandwidth permitting). What should we call this sameness?

On the other hand, it is a union of biological and technical, human and computer, human and technology, human and entertainment, human and the Other. What should we call this difference?

However, the wedding of human-AI construct seems pedestrian, a reinscription of heteronormativity. It is a capitulation to heteronormative culture instead of an embrace of the newness, the otherness, the differentness brought about by human-technology co-evolution (thinking of Bruce Mazlish’s The Forth Discontinuity).

Considering its heteronormative trajectory, what is Rez and Rei Toei’s marriage produce? Seems like there’s talk about some kind of becoming or emergence. This brings to mind arguments like Leo Bersani’s in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” or Christine Overall’s in Why Have Children? It should go without saying that a child need not be the result of a union/marriage/partnership, but if we follow the heteronormative logic of Rez and Rei Toei marriage, what might their desire be–merging, emergence, becoming, creating?

Regardless, I welcome these new developments, their possibilities, and how we account for them with language. But, I hope that the new is unshackled from simply repeating what has come before.

Déjà vu or Reality: On Reading William Gibson’s Virtual Light

Over the weekend, I began reading William Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” beginning with his novel, Virtual Light (1993).

Reading the novel, I had a tremendous sense of déjà vu that was impossible to shake. I asked myself these questions in response to this strange feeling that persisted during the hours of reading and after:

Have I read this before? This is entirely possible. I used to have copies of the Bridge Trilogy novels, but I sold them before moving to Liverpool for graduate school. As I look back on my blog–or am reminded of things I have wrote about on my blog when I occasionally receive and respond to a comment on something long forgotten–I have read a number of things that I cannot now recall in my memory.

Have I read so much secondary literature about it that I feel as if I have read it? This is definitely a possibility, because I read through a lot of secondary literature on Gibson’s oeuvre as I was writing my dissertation and in preparing for my research trip to the University of California, Riverside Library in 2012. In academia, I have found myself circling works through the secondary literature. I learn bits and pieces through summary and arguments that I then piece together in my mind as a kind of jigsaw puzzle version of the work in question. You triangulate the narrative and characters from that data that you have. Of course, this is not the same as having read the real thing, but it is akin to how we know about some Greek dramas and ancient philosophies–the surviving references instead of the thing itself.

Are there so many aspects of the present (or recent past) like those we encounter in Virtual Light that I feel as if the novel mirrors the present? Besides the image of the bridge and its bricolage/assemblage/community, Virtual Light has augmented reality, navigation systems, cracking car computer/communication system, SWATTING (of a kind), armed drones, an erased Middle Class, a San Francisco dependent upon the service industry, and a security-industrial complex. I recently read Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown (1992), which seems to figure into the novel by anecdote and theme (differentiating hackers/merry pranksters from hackers/criminalization). The connection between the themes of his over two-decade old novel and the present is strong. Maybe it should be required reading for contemporary security analysts.

So, have I read it before? I’m still not sure, but I’m left with a strange feeling about the novel and the present.