Lisa: Steve Jobs’ sabotage and Apple’s secret burial

Who remembers the Lisa? The Verge has a nice short documentary on the Lisa: Steve Jobs’ sabotage and Apple’s secret burial. The Lisa, named after Jobs’ daughter and released in 1983, was the first Apple with a graphical user interface. Alas it was too expensive (almost $10K USD at the time) and was eventually superseded by the Macintosh that came out in 1994 despite being technically superior.

The documentary is less about the Lisa than the end of the Lisa including an interview with Bob Cook who sold remaindered and used Lisa’s after they were discontinued thanks to a deal with Apple until Apple decided to bury them all in a landfill in Utah. (Which reminds me of the Atari video game cartridge burial of 1983.) The documentary is also, as every Apple story is, about Steve Jobs and his return to Apple in the late 1990s which led to its turnaround into the successful company it is now. Was it Jobs who wanted to bury the Lisa?

Destroy All Monsters

There has recently been some fuss around the change in the Open Gaming License of Dungeons & Dragons. So here is a nice story about D&D and its history, Destroy All Monsters.

D&D is a game for people who like rules: in order to play even the basic game, you had to make sense of roughly twenty pages of instructions, which cover everything from “Adjusting Ability Scores” (“Magic-users and clerics can reduce their strength scores by 3 points and add 1 to their prime requisite”) to “Who Gets the First Blow?” (“The character with the highest dexterity strikes first”). In fact, as I wandered farther into the cave, and acquired the rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I found that there were rules for everything: … It would be a mistake to think of these rules as an impediment to enjoying the game. Rather, the rules are a necessary condition for enjoying the game, and this is true whether you play by them or not. The rules induct you into the world of D&D; they are the long, difficult scramble from the mouth of the cave to the first point where you can stand up and look around.

Germany lifts ban on Nazi symbols in computer games | CNN

Computer and video games featuring Nazi symbols such as the swastika can now be sold in Germany uncensored after a regulatory body lifted the longstanding ban.

CNN reported back in 2018 that Germany lifts ban on Nazi symbols in computer games. The game that prompted this was the counterfactual Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that imagines the Nazis won WW II. To sell the game in Germany they had to change the symbols like the swastika as it is forbidden to display such symbols of “unconstitutional organizations.” Anyway, Germany has changed its interpretation of the law so that games are now treated as works of art like movies where it is legal to show the symbols.

This shows how difficult it can be to ban hate speech while not censoring the arts. For that matter, how does one deal with ironic hate speech – hate speech masquerading as irony?

Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization

Photo of actor Jack Nicholson and director Milos Foreman on set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Jack Nicholson and director Milos Foreman on set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Whatever the literary strengths of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book has done much to harm both the mentally ill and their communities.

This May the Kule Institute is organizing a hybrid exhibit/symposium on the Institution of Knowledge. We are bringing together a group of artists and thinkers to raise and address questions about institutional structures and knowledge. One question that the small group I’m part of discussed this week as the question of deinstitutionalization and the view, best captured by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that asylums as institutions were sites that did more harm than good. Stephen Eide has a nice article about this, Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization (Quilette, Nov. 14, 2022).

There are a number of aspects to the issue. The first thing to note is that the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health issues didn’t work as imagined. It was not the freeing of an oppressed constituency back to the community where the new drugs could help them integrate and get on with their lives. There wasn’t really a community that wanted them other than the street and many ended up in the very institutions asylums were meant to replace – prisons. Stephen Eide’s book Homelessness in America traces the effects of deinstitutionalization, changes in vagrancy laws, and the “cleaning” up of slums on homelessness leading to the problem as we see it today.

But what about the idea of deinstitutionalization? Important to this idea would be Foucault, changes in psychiatry and how the discipline conceives of the role of medicine (and its institutions), and changes in public policy and what jurisdictions try to do with institutions.

One aspect of the issues that we forget if we think of institutions as bureaucracy is the built presence of institutions. From Jefferson’s design of the campus of the University of Virginia to Olmstead’s asylum landscapes, architects have shaped our imagination and the literal structures of certain types of institutions. This raises the question of what new types of institutions might be in being designed?

The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record – The New York Times

For 4,600 years, a mysterious game slept in the dust of southern Iraq, largely forgotten. The passion of a museum curator and the hunger of young Iraqis for their cultural history may bring it back.

The New York Times has a story on The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record. A curator at the British Museum, Irving Finkel, connected the translation of a tablet with the rules with an ancient board game of which there were copies in museums (see picture above). More recently the game has been reintroduced into Iraq so that people can rediscover their ludic heritage.

The nice thing about the NYTimes article, beside the video of Finkel who has an amazing beard, is that they include a PDF that you can download and print to learn to play the game.

The article and Finkel’s video talk highlight how influential a game can be – how a set of rules can be a meme that helps rediscover a game.

From Bitcoin to Stablecoin: Crypto’s history is a house of cards

The wild beginnings, crazy turns, colorful characters and multiple comebacks of the crypto world

The Washington Post has a nice illustrated history of crypto, From Bitcoin to Stablecoin: Crypto’s history is a house of cards. They use a deck of cards as a visual metaphor and a graph of the ups and downs of crypto. I can’t help thinking that crypto is going to go up again, but when and in what form?

For that matter, where is Ruja Ignatova?

They Did Their Own ‘Research.’ Now What? – The New York Times

In spheres as disparate as medicine and cryptocurrencies, “do your own research,” or DYOR, can quickly shift from rallying cry to scold.

The New York Times has a nice essay by John Herrman on They Did Their Own ‘Research.’ Now What? The essay talks about the loss of trust in authorities and the uses/misuses of DYOR (Do Your Own Research) gestures especially in discussions about cryptocurrencies. DYOR seems to act rhetorically as:

  • Advice that readers should do research before making a decision and not trust authorities (doctors, financial advisors etc).
  • A disclaimer that readers should not blame the author if things don’t turn out right.
  • A scold to or for those who are not committed to whatever it is that is being pushed as based on research. It is a form of research signalling – “I’ve done my research, if you don’t believe me do yours.”
  • A call to join a community of instant researchers who are skeptical of authority. If you DYOR then you can join us.
  • A call to process (of doing your own research) over truth. Enjoy the research process!
  • Become an independent thinker who is not in thrall to authorities.

The article talks about a previous essay about the dangers of doing one’s own research. One can become unreasonably convinced one has found a truth in a “beginner’s bubble”.

DYOR is an attitude, if not quite a practice, that has been adopted by some athletes, musicians, pundits and even politicians to build a sort of outsider credibility. “Do your own research” is an idea central to Joe Rogan’s interview podcast, the most listened to program on Spotify, where external claims of expertise are synonymous with admissions of malice. In its current usage, DYOR is often an appeal to join in, rendered in the language of opting out.

The question is whether reading around is really doing research or whether it is selective listening. What does it mean to DYOR in the area of vaccines? It seems to mean not trusting science and instead listening to all sorts of sympathetic voices.

What does this mean about the research we do in the humanities. Don’t we sometimes focus too much on discourse and not give due weight to the actual science or authority of those we are “questioning”? Haven’t we modelled this critical stance where what matters is that one overturns hierarchy/authority and democratizes the negotiation of truth? Irony, of course, trumps all.

Alas, to many the humanities seem to be another artful conspiracy theory like all the others. DYOR!

The Internet is Made of Demons

The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is is not what you think it is.

Sam Kriss has written a longish review essay on Justin E.H. Smith’s The Internet is Not What You Think It Is with the title The Internet is Made of Demons. In the first part Kriss writes about how the internet is possessing us and training us,

Everything you say online is subject to an instant system of rewards. Every platform comes with metrics; you can precisely quantify how well-received your thoughts are by how many likes or shares or retweets they receive. For almost everyone, the game is difficult to resist: they end up trying to say the things that the machine will like. For all the panic over online censorship, this stuff is far more destructive. You have no free speech—not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself. This might be why so much writing that comes out of the internet is so unbearably dull, cycling between outrage and mockery, begging for clicks, speaking the machine back into its own bowels.

Then Kriss makes the case that the Internet is made of demons – not in a paranoid conspiracy sort of way, but in a historical sense that ideas like the internet often involve demons,

Trithemius invented the internet in a flight of mystical fancy to cover up what he was really doing, which was inventing the internet. Demons disguise themselves as technology, technology disguises itself as demons; both end up being one and the same thing.

In the last section Kriss turns to Justin E.H. Smith’s book and reflects on how the book (unlike the preceding essay “It’s All Over”) are not what the internet expects. The internet, for Smith, likes critical essays that present the internet as a “rupture” – something like the industrial revolution, but for language – while in fact the internet in some form (like demons) has been with us all along. Kriss doesn’t agree. For him the idea of the internet might be old, but what we have now is still a transformation of an old nightmare.

If there are intimations of the internet running throughout history, it might be because it’s a nightmare that has haunted all societies. People have always been aware of the internet: once, it was the loneliness lurking around the edge of the camp, the terrible possibility of a system of signs that doesn’t link people together, but wrenches them apart instead. In the end, what I can’t get away from are the demons. Whenever people imagined the internet, demons were always there.

Replication, Repetition, or Revivification

A short essay I wrote with Stéfan Sinclair on “Recapitulation, Replication, Reanalysis, Repetition, or Revivification” is now up in preprint form. The essay is part of a longer work on “Anatomy of tools: A closer look at ‘textual DH’ methodologies.” The longer work is a set of interventions looking at text tools. These came out of a ADHO SIG-DLS (Digital Literary Studies) workshop that took place in Utrecht in July 2019.

Our intervention at the workshop had the original title “Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation” and concentrated on practices of exploring old tools – a sort of revivification or bringing back to life of zombie tools.

The full paper should be published soon by DHQ.

Inaugural Lord Renwick Memorial Lecture w/ Vint Cerf

From Humanist I learned about the Inaugural Lord Renwick Memorial Lecture w/ Vint Cerf : Digital Policy Alliance : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. This lecture is available also in a text transcript here (PDF). Vint Cerf is one of the pioneers of the Internet and in this lecture he talks about the “five alligators of the Internet. They are 1) Technology, 2) Regulation, 3) Institutions, 4) the Digital Divide, and 5) Digital Preservation.

Under Technology he traces a succinct history of the internet as technology pointing out how important the ALOHAnet project was to the eventual design of the Internet. Under regulation he talked about different levels of regulation and the pros and cons of regulation. Later there are some questions about the issue of anonymity and civil discourse. All said, the talk does a great job of covering the issues facing the internet today.

Here is his answer to a question about  how to put more humanity into the Internet.

The first observation I would make is that civility is a social decision that we either choose or don’t. Creating norms is very important. I think norms are not necessarily backed up by, you know, law enforcement for example, they’re considered societal values, and I fear that openness in the Internet has led to a, let’s say, a diminution, erosion, of civil discourse. I would suggest to you, however, that it’s possibly understandable in the following analog. Those of you who drive cars may, like I do, say things to the other drivers, or about the other drivers, that I would never say face to face, but there’s this windshield separating me from the other drivers, and I feel free to express myself, in ways that I would not if I were face to face. Sometimes I think the computer screen acts a little bit like the windshield of the car and allows us to behave in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise if we were right there with the target of our comments. Somehow we have to infuse back into society the value of civil discourse, and the only way to do that I think is to start very early on in school to introduce children, and their parents, and adults, to the value of civility in terms of making progress in coming together, finding common ground, finding solutions to things, as opposed to simply firing our 45 caliber Internet packets at each other. I really hope that the person asking the question has some ideas for introducing incentives for exactly that behavioral change. I will point out that seatbelts and smoking has possibly some lessons to teach, where we incorporated not only advice but we also said, by the way, if we catch you smoking in this building, there will be consequences, because we said you shouldn’t do it. So, maybe we have to have some kind of social consequence for bad behavior. (p. 13-4)

Later on he talks about license plates following the same analogy of how we behave when driving. Your car gives you some anonymity, but the license plate can be used to identify you if you go too far.