Around here, you have to write like you are being chased by a pack of wild dogs, stopping only to pee, and often there is not time for that.

Shoutout LA is running a feature on me. I was recommended by a fellow member of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

Currently reading: Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov 📚 One of the only books of his that I haven’t yet read. The evil mirth is still there.

500 Words - Counter Narrative #4

So Sorry, Nature, for Our Thoughtlessness

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

Before I was Uploaded into this failing device, Russia was winning the Disaster. Places there that were cold became warm enough to grow wheat and rice and then bananas. Crazy. That’s when American politicians had something at stake. They were losing the world when Russian was winning the Disaster. It was almost too late.

Here in California, and in Louisiana, and a place they once called Florida but later took the family name of a despot, the lowlands went entirely under water. Homes drifted away. Cities vanished. You wouldn’t think the Disaster would be so wet. But there you are.

There are places that I’ve known all my life, the high ground you would say, that have not been high ground for years. There are tops of mountains that I would climb that later you could get to with a boat. When you got there, and you killed the engine or listened to the sails luffing in the wind, what would you do? At the top of a former mountain, there is not much to do. It is only a bump reaching for the sky.

I offer another Polaroid. Just as casual as the last one. Camera aimed, click, moving on. The image means more to me now than it did when I clicked. Years ago, before I was Uploaded, we had to flee as the water closed in. Refugees from the weather. That image, even in its banality, depicts a lost world. I can never go back there.

Strange that the Disaster came so slowly. It was not slow in its final stages, but to our minds it was one day melting into another, one day monitoring air quality with a personal app, sensibly staying indoors when the fires came, sniffing the air for purity, checking the temperature and being smart about not going out when it was hotter than we could manage. The next day, just like that, the mountains disappeared, or so it seemed. We accepted the lines as they moved. The orb blared in the sky, the water got closer, children chalked the levels against locked stores, wading through the liquid streets with rubber boots and laughing like it was all a game. It was to them. Not until we realized that the mountains were not majestic did we realize what vision was stolen from us. You could reach the top of a former mountain in a sailboat, listen to the wind, and wonder what happened.

And yet (you ask me with disbelief) you offer me a picture of cactus on a hill?

Well. I am an Uploader. Memories are all I’ve got. But you, you have a chance. You can do something. You can walk on the paths that remain. You can reach down and scoop up some dirt and stick out your tongue and taste it if you wanted to.

Look, when the American politicians banned cars, it was an excellent decision. Internal combustion damaged human health and many ecosystems of the Earth beyond repair. We let highways vivisect cities. We let roads cut through life. Human dependency on oil was a bad breakup that took a hundred years to end. I was seduced, just like you. I owned cars. I worked for an oil company in my youth. We’ve all been there, seduced and abused, then blamed by our tormentor. I’m asking because it’s the Solstice and the year is ending: Don’t blame yourself.

If you can, in the next few days, walk along a dirt path. Feel the earth under you. Lift some with your hands and let it flow through. It’s still there for you, in physical space, and you are in corporal form. Banal and extraordinary at once.

Civilization has been hard on nature. We humans have extracted, sliced and diced, and we’ve messed with the Mother. So stop for a moment. Say, sorry. Apologize for what we’ve done. We’ll make it up to you, maybe you can say something like that. We can fix this. End the abusive relationship.

There will be a restitution payment to nature. It’s coming, and I can tell you it will cost a lot, more than you’d like to pay. But there you are.

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Future of Food - Episode 24

The new episode of The Future of Food is about how restaurants will survive during the pandemic. I’m asking questions about texting in your order and delivery apps. Turns out that the delivery apps take a sizable percentage of the order – the restaurant never sees that money.

I’m at the buy fancy pencils based purely on the aesthetics of the box phase of quarantine.

Austin Klein writes about the comfort a pencil brings.

From Daring Fireball and The Washington Post

Justice Department Charges Zoom With Suppressing U.S. Calls About Tiananmen Square, at Behest of China

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday.

Phone banking to Georgia

Spent part of the afternoon today calling voters in Georgia to ask them to send in their mail-in ballots. Mostly easy, sometimes hard. Meaning: Most people were kind and thanked me for volunteering. Some had already sent in their ballots. Only one person responded by cursing me out.

When it got difficult, I thought about Stacey Abrams. Inspiration. This is a testament to the power of people to lead movements.

500 Words - Counter Narrative #3

Out of Body

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

I would play the piano for my children to help them fall asleep. In the old house we had a concert grand, an indulgence, but since I knew how to play and could afford one, well, there it was. I liked Satie. The physical world is not possible for me now. Not just because I am Uploaded, a consciousness without corporal form, because of what we have all surrendered. Look back to the last post. That’s what you see when you look at me. A glow that flickers when I speak. My children say I never stop talking, claiming that something’s wrong with the unit. So they say, but I am unaware of any issues. I continue to speak, write, and share these stories with you.

My situation, being an Uploader, strange as it is, is not unique. There are many like me. We can’t speak with each other because we are all connected only to our close contacts. I am connected to my children and my wife, and only when they are near. I radiate consciousness just a meter. My field of influence. A meter. A larger field would cost more and I already cost my children and wife enough. A parent’s guilt. Our best bandwidth is behind us, and yet we only want more.

Today’s post is about something that I can never have again. I miss food that is pulsing with life. The Polaroid I share with you was a casual image, made with no thought. I had just had an espresso, swallowed over the sink with fast pleasure, and I made that, what I show in the Polaroid, my usual breakfast. I ate it. It meant little. And yet what I would give to experience something like that now, again, just once.

Real food was a casualty of the Disaster. Farming became too toxic. When things are made without human intervention, well, you know. The result isn’t tasteless but sweeps past life, omits it. There is no hand of Whatever, God if you like, Gaia, the Mother, or love. When you manufacture food, you get a commodity. Remember the love of someone making you a meal? Or even the self-love of making one for yourself? Even if consumed alone, you felt something.

Look at that casual Polaroid. The rank carelessness of it comes back to me, arranged on a plate, eaten quickly, and also a pang of loss for the pleasure of eating something that once bloomed in a field, or walked, or could swim in the sea, or could fly. You don’t think about that. You just eat.

If I had the chance, I would never take food for granted again. I hope with the Reversal we’ll have a second chance. The Reversal cannot come soon enough for me.

Schreiben mit der Hand ist Denken auf Papier.

500 Words - Counter Narrative #2

He Won’t Stop Talking

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

——

The four of them gathered to have a look at the container unit. It was a vintage model, on a stand, sleek for the time. Looking old now. Their attention was divided. They were here to talk about the unit and instead they stole glances at each other. They hadn’t been together for months.

“Some kind of problem,” said the daughter, the eldest. “Nobody knows how to fix it.” True. It was made a long time ago. She liked to check things out. She liked to take things to their conclusion. She was telling the others that there were no manuals online anymore. Also true. “It’s like an 8-track tape going around to the beginning again.”

“Eight what?” The youngest son always asked more questions than the others.

“Tapes,” said his older sister. “For music.” He looked at her blankly.

The voice kept on, cutting through their dialogue, telling a story about Thanksgiving dinners his mother made, and after she died the meals the caretaker made, and then the caretaker left town and nobody knew where he was now, maybe India because he had a wife from India, an endless unfolding of stories; they must have had a beginning, a middle, and an end sometime, but now they were chained together in an unstoppable assault. He would not stop talking. The curse of parallel processing. Even while posting. While recording. While thinking as he was now. While watching them through his eye orbits.

“Hate to say it, but we can’t get anything done.” It was the son closest in age to the daughter. They were just a few years apart. From the same mother. This son was the maker of things. Of the four, the maker son understood how the mechanism was malfunctioning because he had the closest relationship to this kind of machine. He was also the most diplomatic and gentlemanly. He was trying to be careful as he spoke, glancing at the eye orbits, unsure if they could really see. If they were functioning. They were. They were watching them unblinkingly. “It won’t stop,” he said, then corrected himself. “He won’t stop.” The diplomat. “It’s impossible to think in here.” He was using the pod the most because it had a good studio. “Somebody has to occupy the pod or they will seize it.”

“Or squatters,” my daughter said.

“Or squatters,” agreed the maker. “It will be taken from us somehow.”

The youngest son looked to them. “Why will it be taken from us?”

“Because we must use everything.” That from the fourth, the other son, very quiet. He was a little younger than the daughter. He hardly said a word. When they gathered, which wasn’t often, months would pass between gatherings. Sometimes they would forget he was there. “Usefulness.” The word hung in the air. “I think we should power down. He’s on repeat. All the old stuff. Nothing new. Over and over.”

The other three looked at him with quiet shock. It was their father. Well, not really, but something like. The essence. Maybe not anymore. “It’s crystalline memory,” the eldest said. “It’s meaningful.”

The youngest: “We’re lucky they don’t come and fine us for wasting power. These units just keep going. Nobody can stop them.” Evidently he had done a little of his own research. “His stories are all hooked together.” Tangled like a net catching memories. Then he felt bad. Gazing through its orbits, the unit noted how he looked at his bare feet, breaking contact with the others. The youngest didn’t want to appear cold, but he had heard all these stories so many times before. Did they all really need to hear them again?

The eldest spoke. The daughter. “Maybe let’s let him go through this whatever he’s doing. Polaroids. Does anyone know what those are?”

The maker son knew. “They are images. Pictures you made with a camera.” Maybe he had used an SX-70 sometime.

“I’ve heard of those,” said the youngest son. “Cameras.” They were around when he was a boy. He had seen one on a shelf.

The orbits clicked. They all saw it.

“It’s listening,” the daughter said, a little spooked.

It was waiting to hear what they would decide about it.

I’ve published a few books.

The Angel Playbook: An Essential Guide for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors

Available in Kindle and audiobook editions.

Powerful Online Message Delivery: Free and Low-Cost Platforms for Creative Companies and Individuals

Content management for creators. Kindle edition.

Chronicle of a Startup Town: Los Angeles

Available in Kindle and paperback editions.

Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups

Available in Kindle, audio book, and paperback editions.

Cats Jumping on the Couch

My youngest son, who is eight, publishes a magazine every three months. It started as a pandemic project with some drawings he made and photos he was taking of the cat. Then I showed him how to use Pages and he was off and running. Very proud of him for the creative work and for sticking with it.

via The NY Times

I’ve been wondering about this for a while. And it seems now we have the answer. A microwave attack.

“ The most probable cause of a series of mysterious afflictions that sickened American spies and diplomats abroad in the past several years was radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that includes microwaves, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has concluded in a report.”

🐈 portrait 📷

500 Words - The Counter Narrative #1

This is the start of a series of posts, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

——

The Future Is on Repeat

This story, and the ones that will follow, have been locked inside me for a long time. As I tell each one, it vanishes like a dream. It’s a strange phenomenon, but it means that all these stories, published here one by one, are becoming yours. I lose them.

As you read each word, there is a pop of light and it is transferred to you. Please take care of my stories. And time is short: I can sense this in the way I hear my children talking about me and what they will do.

Let me start. In the dawn of 2030, I came across a box of Polaroid film with eight images in it and I realized these were the last eight images I ever made. For reasons that will become clear. Not because of a battery problem, because an SX-70 ingeniously has the battery in the film. Not because the film was old, and it was old. You will see how the colors have shifted. Polaroid was like that. Part of the charm.

Each film plate is a memory of something I feared losing those many years ago. I have posted the first image. Look at the sparkling water. There were times you could walk along a pathway and see fresh water coming up from the ground. You could drink it if you wanted to, but that would be crazy. Drink in that image, I should say. There will be seven more like it.

I made these images, however casual or haphazardly composed by squinting through an optical viewfinder, because they are documents of lost or vanishing things. If they seem melancholy to you, don’t worry, the Reversal is coming. Just read to the end and you will see. At the time, however, when these images were made, no one had heard of the Reversal. We were on repeat. The future was on repeat.

Many of you will not remember when water was freely available. Water, in its very transparency, in its nothingness, was easy to take for granted. Then it stopped, as many other things did.

I hear my children and I feel the urge to write faster and talk faster. Will that frighten you? I can parallel process several stories at once but that is because of certain hardware that I have available to me you may lack. Sorry. I only want you to think about water. How it can go everywhere. Think of the life of something transparent but not weightless, powerful and gentle. If you can help me out here, just close your eyes for a moment and think something nice about water.

Thank you. I’m glad you tried that.

Next time I will share another photograph.

Your Data Is Already Stolen

Today would be a good day to steal your data. We are all online in a shopping frenzy and your credit or debit card is heating up from overuse. Your head is already spinning, so I’m glad you’re taking a break to read this. Maybe you’ve already made a mistake that allowed hackers to get your info.

Relax. Your data is already stolen.

The bad guys already have your credit card info, social security numbers, mother’s maiden name, your phone numbers (obviously — all those junk texts explain that) and home address.

Perhaps you’re doing some soul searching right now, wondering why and where you screwed up. Well, let’s track back. You probably don’t use the same password for everything, right? You might even use a password handler like RememBear or Dashlane. Good for you. Keep it up. Won’t help. Because it’s not all your fault.

As Brian Krebs pointed out in a blog about the Marriott data breach, anything you put on line will eventually get hacked, leaked, lost, or misplaced.

I use Anthem as my health insurance carrier. They were hacked. My social security number, along with those of 37.5 million other Anthem clients, went into the wrong hands. Anthem used my social security number as my ID number. Dumb, right? I went along with it. Dumber, yes? I dumbly logged in day after day using my social security number until Anthem got hacked and changed to a different log in system. The Writer’s Guild still uses my social as a log in. Lesson learned? Uh ...

I was in the Starwood Hotels rewards program. After Marriott bought Starwood, I learned, along with hundreds of millions of others, that my data had been hacked from the Starwood Hotel reservation system. The bad guys may have some of my credit card info. I’m still in the Marriott rewards program. I can only hope that Marriott has hardened their systems. But maybe not.

The data insecurity of the Internet is not your fault but you can do something about it. When Marriott asks for your passport number to “make reservations easier” you can just say no. If a site asks to put your credit card “on file” you can wonder if that’s necessary.

Every time I log in, create an account, or register, I question if these nice people really need all that information. Instagram needs my age? Why? They are obviously going to do some marketing with that information, probably marketing that I won’t enjoy receiving. (“Hey, you’re old. How about a casket?”)

We trade ease of use for security all the time. Before you do, a neuron should ping in your brain and trigger the question “why?” Face ID is a really cool feature on an iPhone. Apple says the facial recognition data will never leave my phone. But what if it does? I can’t change my face like I may change a password.

Every once in a while, I like to see if any of the emails I use have been compromised in a data breach. Dashlane, the password manager, will check for you if you have a premium subscription. You can check for free on haveibeenpwned.com. Today, I discovered that the email I use often has been compromised in breaches of bitly, the link shortening service, the graphic design tool Canva, Drizly, the alcohol delivery service, Edmondo, the education networking platform, Forbes, Lumin PDF, and Wattpad. I picture myself a few months ago guzzling Japanese whisky ordered from Drizly, posting Canva graphics on my socials, checking my Edmondo profile and writing a story for Wattpad and somehow, because the Hakushu 12 Year Old was so good, opening myself up to a breach. The wave of guilt I would feel would only be mitigated by having another glass.

Let’s get real. The real mistake I made, or anybody makes, is in trusting a company to safeguard your data. The lesson is to give them as little of it as you can.

Liner Notes to Coltrane’s Giant Steps

Listening to music from the 1950s and 60s on my iPad is a wonderful thing to be able to do, but I also miss liner notes from albums. The Lee Friedlander photographs and notes, often enough, by Nat Hentoff.

Miles encouraged Coltrane and also stimulated his harmonic thinking. In terms of writing as well, John feels he’s learned from Miles to make sure that a song “is in the right tempo to be its most effective. He also made me go further into trying different modes in my writing.” After two years with Miles, there was a period in 1957 with Thelonious Monk that Coltrane found unusually challenging. “I always had to be alert with Monk,” he once said, “because if you didn’t keep aware all the time of what was going on, you’d suddenly feel as if you’d stepped into an empty elevator shaft.”

Another view of our morning hike in Malibu.

Will I Be Replaced Soon

A leading edge question about AI is how soon will it replace human thinking and creating. How long, people want to know, before I am replaced by a machine that never complains, doesn’t need breaks, and never expects a raise in pay.

When it comes to interacting with our everyday digital devices, machine thinking has already replaced human thinking. We allow machine intelligence to navigate the road for us, spell check us, choose how we spend our time, and recommend movies and books. How long before it is creating for us? Writing for us? Composing for us? Making paintings?

Maybe longer than you think.

Look at journalism. Bots already write weather reports and report on sports scores. Since 2017, the Associated Press has been using computer vision AI to label incoming photographs so editors can work faster. The system isn’t totally independent, though. It required editors to supervise and train it.

There’s a project in the UK called RADAR that semi-automatically creates news articles. It still needs human help as well. Six journalists give it government data sets and help the program decide what is newsworthy about them. A story about aging could have localized stats included.

We’re at the stage right now where AI can automate only about 15 percent of a reporter’s job and nine percent of an editor’s job. Humans are still ahead of bots when it comes to working with sources, making choices about what goes in and what stays out of a story, and the broad area of guesswork and genius we call creativity.

It’s a different story in generative art and audio. Bots are able to learn how to create visual art if they are trained on existing examples made by humans. And if you’ve played around at all with Garage Band lately, you’ll find that the machine can do a lot of your creative thinking for you, choosing instruments and even genres for you to work in. You don’t need to know your way around a piano to instantly get the value of Garage Band’s arpeggio builder. You can sound like Philip Glass in about a minute.

Machines already help me with my writing when I need to remember things, connect storylines, and remain consistent in my storytelling. I am a devoted user of Scrivener. It’s of great value for me to have a table of contents that updates depending on what stage of writing I’m in. With long-form projects, like the novel I’m working on, I cross-reference facts across all chapters. With short-form projects, like podcasts edits, I use Scrivener to help me divide up interview transcripts into segments so that I can build the storyline.

Planning long-form fiction in the digital world is a pleasure. I still write in notebooks. I like pencils. But there is something about seeing the whole picture that the digital environment delivers that I can’t resist. If you want to go deeper into this, Granthika is an app designed to be your extra brain when working on longform fiction.

Polaroid Stock Tests

I’m working on a project that uses the old SX-70 Polaroid look. If anybody remembers that, please tell me what you remember about it. In past projects, a long time ago, I used SX-70 film in a pinhole camera with a Polaroid back. And I used an SX-70 in a couple of shoots and it was awesome. This is the first time I’ve tried to simulate the look in the digital world.

Today’s walk in Charmlee Park. Usually wildflowers at this time of year but since there’s been no rain we have this landscape instead. Compelling in its own way.

EXT. KITCHEN - DAY Outside, the pandemic rages. Inside, members of the pod prepare the next batch.

Celebrating the very air today. air quality

Have been reading: Intimations by Zadie Smith 📚