Highlights from the Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

This was an interesting read and only strengthens my resolve to read most of the things Houellebecq has written.

It required no creativity, no imagination and only the most basic second-rate intellect.

It would be true to say that in the last years of Western civilization it contributed to a general mood of depression bordering on masochism.

Happiness is an intense, all-consuming feeling of joyous fulfillment akin to inebriation, rapture or ecstasy.

The girls who arrived at Big Sur were, for the most part, stupid little WASP bitches, at least half of whom were virgins.

Young, good-looking, famous, desired by women and envied by men, rock stars had risen to the summit of the social order.

In truth, he had always thought of Americans as idiots.

By the end of the first day, it was apparent that Catherine’s personality had aspects of the witch, but also of the lioness, which usually pointed to a career in sales management.

He doesn’t know it yet, but the infinity of childhood is brief.

The vibrations drove the snake wild and it would throw itself against the glass until it knocked itself unconscious.

What had to be endured, he would endure.

She was forty-five years old and her vulva was scrawny and sagged slightly, but she was still a very beautiful woman.

All in all, nature deserved to be wiped out in a holocaust—and man’s mission on earth was probably to do just that.

The ambulance drove off in a howl of sirens. So ended Bruno’s first love.

Though unimpressed by the philosopher’s work, she was struck by his ugliness, which almost amounted to a handicap;

I tell you, I saw women with their legs wide open, wet and up for it, spending the whole evening masturbating because no one would fuck them.

If ever a country were loathsome, that country, specifically, was Brazil.

Tenderness is a deeper instinct than seduction, which is why it is so difficult to give up hope.

All around him human beings were living, breathing, striving for pleasure or trying to develop their personal potential.

Was she masturbating while listening to Brahms?

customarily, after a number of hours, some of them would go into a trance—or pretend to.

He was the first of his generation to see beyond the ridiculous, contradictory and outmoded superstitions it adopted to the fact that New Age thought appealed to a very real suffering symptomatic of psychological, ontological and social breakdown.

He sometimes managed to coax a tit-job out of a girl, but as far as Bruno was concerned there were not nearly enough to go around.

He found in mathematics a happiness both serene and intense.

The broadcast, which lasted three or four hours, probably represents the culmination of the first stage of the great Western technological dream.

Children suffer the world that adults create for them and try their best to adapt to it; in time, usually, they will replicate it.

It has been surprising to note the meekness, resignation, perhaps even secret relief with which humans have consented to their own passing

I love that kid more than anything, but I’ve never even been able to accept his existence.

He wasn’t unhappy; the medication was working, and all desire was dead in him.

He had a sudden premonition that all his life would be like this moment. Emotion would pass him by, sometimes very close.

They would come to be rivals—which was the natural relationship between men. They would be like animals fighting in a cage; and the cage was time.

Their egotism knows no bounds—such is the nature of the individual.

Physical violence, the most perfect manifestation of individuation, was about to reappear.

He felt as though what was between his legs was a piece of oozing, putrefying meat devoured by worms.

Without beauty a girl is unhappy because she has missed her chance to be loved.

His eyes were wide open, but his expression was not one of grief, nor of any recognizable human emotion. His face was filled with abject, animal fear.

Cohen had no illusions about the depths to which the human animal could sink when not constrained by law.

She lost her virginity at the age of thirteen—a remarkable achievement given the time and place.

Oh, there are little moments of depression, of sadness or doubt, but they’re easily dealt with using advances in antidepressants and tranquilizers.

From the point of view of the good of the species, they were a couple of aging human beings of middling genetic value.

Ultimately, a society governed by the pure principles of universal morality could last until the end of the world.

Huxley, he would always remember, had seemed detached about the prospect of his own death, though perhaps he was simply numbed or drugged.

In the midst of nature’s barbarity, human beings sometimes (rarely) succeed in creating small oases warmed by love. Small, exclusive, enclosed spaces governed only by love and shared subjectivity.

After a couple of years of working, sexual desire wanes and people turn their attention to gourmet food and wine.

Metaphysical mutations—that is to say radical, global transformations in the values to which the majority subscribe—are rare in the history of humanity.

The couple quickly realized that the burden of caring for a small child was incompatible with their ideal of personal freedom

This vile, unhappy race, barely different from the apes, which nevertheless carried within it such noble aspirations. Tortured, contradictory, individualistic, quarrelsome and infinitely selfish, it was sometimes capable of extraordinary explosions of violence, but never quite abandoned its belief in love.

Despite the nights they spent together, each remained trapped in individual consciousness and separate flesh

Now and then the wind dies away and the silence is almost total, broken only by cries of pleasure.

Thirty years later he could not come to any other conclusion: women were indisputably better than men. They were gentler, more affectionate, loving and compassionate; they were less prone to violence, selfishness, cruelty or self-centeredness. Moreover, they were more rational, intelligent and hardworking.

Weeks 313-4

Two week notes in one because last week seems to have been too busy to write any.

Rushing through the snow towards Amsterdam

Week 313 was spent in the Netherlands with a somewhat hectic visit. I spent a lot of time at the Hubbub studio and at the Open Coop.

Today's office

And of course the inevitable five (!) visits to the Village who were serving only Coffee Collective coffees when I was there:

Four Coffee Collective filters, too much choice to go around. Nothing in Berlin can touch this.

Today's office

And that Friday was Free Bassel Day in remembrance of our friend who is still imprisoned in a Syrian prison:
#freebassel ing my friend's workplaces

And then it was an ICE back to Berlin already:
Got the sweet upgrade because NS messed up the direct connection

I did manage to get some good writing in those two weeks. First one piece about why levying a tax on data is not a bad idea at all: Taxing data is not crazy. And the week after that about Jaron Lanier who is a crazy person with some interesting ideas: Who owns the future?

TORREON should be about finished by now. And last Friday we also forcibly launched the German incarnation of Politwoops now with an accompanying Twitter account because the SPD chancellor candidate posted something he shouldn’t have.

Also I’m doing another bout of programming education for non-programmers in Amsterdam next week with a course and a meetup. More on that in a bit.

And I finished my Recess! post.

Recess! 7 – Game Gluttony

Dear Niels and Kars,

This week I bought Ultratron and played that a bit. It looks like a solid 2D shooter like I haven’t played in ages. Before that I played bunches of Ridiculous Fishing and Spelunky which Darius Kazemi has kindly translated into HTML5 for us non-Windows users. And that’s only this week. I’m playing so many games right now. The amount of new games being released is also huge. Truly we live in a ludic age.

How different this is from back in the day when I would spend days grinding levels and gold in Final Fantasy on the NES or map out the dungeons of Faria. There simply wasn’t that much to play back then so we made do with what we had. I hear there are still people with such singular dedication to a game, but I can’t imagine it.

How different it is even from my tastes of a couple of years ago where I would play the occasional game but also see over 60 movies a year and a couple of dozen plays. That has changed and not just because of my move to Berlin.

Good games are not only abundant these days, they are cheaper than passive media, easier to get and more engaging. Things that are not interactive have a terribly hard time getting and keeping my attention unless they’re very good or very short. Some stupid people would bemoan the change of our media consumption patterns and imagine that we are losing something essential. I don’t agree. I think we are better off with these more systemically complex and often also more social experiences.

So games replace previous media only once for each person and after they’ve done that they replace each other. I play many games briefly but intensively and then never again (Plague for instance) or sometimes I never manage to get into them at all (I played all of 30 minutes of Swords and Sworcercy). And then new games arrive and it turns out to be hard to get back into the swing, let alone the story of a game you played a week ago. Nothing seems to stick.

Making digital games that we can play over the course of years seems hard. Purely digital forms are too easy to forget and often limited in many ways. Long lasting games need to create widespread alliances in both the physical and the social world so we will keep re-encountering them in different contexts. Minecraft, Joust and Angry Birds come to mind off-hand. That suggests that cracking this question is the way to becoming successful, or is it the other way around?


Not their mothers and fathers

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 22.49.53

A new large scale German drama series has been making the rounds on Twitter this week called ‘Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter’ and it is interesting though flawed. I haven’t seen a production with these production values on German television before and I think we should see more of it.

The series is somewhat schmaltzy (see the screen capture above of bullet casings landing in slow motion on a group portrait) but that is to be expected from a mainstream production.

What I found problematic is the sharp division drawn between the group of five main characters and the other actors in wartime Germany. The main characters are idealized figures who are supposed to symbolize their generation and its moral choices during the war. These choices mostly center on the small evils of oversight, looking away, following orders and opportunism. The real capital letter evils are perpetrated by others, mostly those of another generation, whose appearance and motivations are far more sinister.

I know there are several opinions about this (but I am not alone if I read all the critiques in German papers), but this portrayal to me seems to exceptionalize evil which is probably not the best idea. A more naturalistic and flat treatment of the systems of the war would have been immensely more difficult but also immensely better.

Update: Now that I’ve seen the last episode I would like to discourage anybody from watching this series. Any suspense and pace that was in the first episode was gone by the end. Moreover the writing and drama was absurdly poor by then. I know that properly ending stories is hard, but how a modern dramaturg and script writer signed off on this clusterfuck is beyond me. If this was the last hope for German public broadcasting to be relevant then that hope is in vain and the entire institution should be burnt down as quickly as possible.

Who owns the future?

In Conversation: Jaron Lanier and James Bridle On Who Owns the Future? from The School of Life on Vimeo.

I have just watched the above conversation between Jaron Lanier and James Bridle in Conway Hall organized by the School of Life. The event was to mark the occasion of Lanier’s new book “Who Owns The Future?” (Guardian review) and the conversation focused on some interesting ideas from it. I will probably not read the book itself, but I think the things said in the video above can be taken by themselves and though they are provocative they do not motivate me to give Lanier any money.

The main issue is that Lanier signals some interesting problems (He’s not alone. Om Malik just posted this about Data Darwinism), he makes some terrible comparisons and posits solutions that are wholly unconvincing.


Laniers big idea is that those with the biggest computers on the network (and the largest collection of brains to program those computers) are in danger of becoming the rentiers of big data. They will be able to out-compute everybody else and figure out what Gibson called the ‘order flow’ in his Blue Ant trilogy: the best set of actions given the circumstances.

That is an interesting if not exactly novel idea. It serves as a jumping off point into some outright crazy ideas about intellectual property. Lanier compares the contraction created by the current austerity measures with what is happening in the music industry. This is a ridiculous comparison. Even if it did hold, then whatever is happening is an overdue correction to a situation that was unsustainably overleveraged.

In the same vein he waves around the scarecrow that ‘the economy will shrink’. A notion that will undoubtedly play well with the same audience that is inclined to buy his book. Rhetoric about shrinking economies is almost always a phantom. Economic shrinkage may very well be in our near future and does not necessarily need to be a bad thing.

Lanier’s point that people are forced into an informal economy is valid but it speaks more to the failure of social systems than anything else. The social democratic contract that may be inconceivable for Americans is working quite well in Europe. It may need updating both for changing demographics and the digital age, but I don’t think many people here would trade it for what Lanier is peddling. Like I mentioned in my data tax post, we don’t have the problem of musicians who can’t pay their medical bills.


The proposed solutions are even more problematic (though if you’re so inclined you might term them ‘thought provoking’).

Lanier seems overly influenced by the music industry and by the concept of private copyright. I would assert that the music industry with its track record is not something worth emulating. The sky is not falling in the music industry. They are facing a long overdue re-evaluation of their social contract because their carrier of value has lost its excludability. There are still lost of people making music and thriving.

Lanier seems to roughly comprehend how a just society should work: ‘For society to be democratic, income needs to be distributed in a way that is roughly a bell curve.’ but at the same time he seems to be confused how it should be implemented: ‘Socialism needs to be off the table in the information age.’

The bidirectional reference networks that Lanier proposes that preserve the context and provenance of data sound fantastic. There are however real reasons why we are doing the ‘profoundly dumb thing we are doing’ instead. His network sounds awfully similar to the idea of the semantic web, where everything online will work perfectly if only we would do it The Right Way (which we of course never will).

His solution to ‘Become as aware as possible of how you fit in other people’s computation schemes.’ is a good idea. It is the same algorithmic literacy pointed to in work by Kevin Slavin, Douglas Rushkoff and James Bridle himself.

I’m afraid that Lanier’s rhetoric of a ‘more honest accounting’ will play particularly well in Germany where similar words are already being used to take Google to court. Germany passed a Leistungsschutzrecht (ancillary copyright for publishers) because they figured out that large American companies were making outlandish amounts of money based on the work of large German publishing houses.

The conversation of a fair distribution of wealth in a power-law based networked economy is one we need to have. I doubt though if this particular book is a good starting point for such a conversation. Lanier’s cultural foundations point us towards a solution that is at best unrealistic and tries to extrapolate the problematic private notion of copyright to society as a whole.

The data tax I wrote about yesterday is an approach from a more public point of view. That would focus more on personal data and the revenue generated from such a tax would go into government so it would be subject to democratic controls. Ideas that won’t fly well with Lanier’s Silicon Valley crowd, but maybe that’s all the better.

Taxing data is not crazy

There are some interesting similarities between a recent proposal commissioned by the French government and the book out by Jaron Lanier just now “Who Owns The Future?”

Both analyses signal the dominance of corporate actors in a big data world and both suggest new methods of taxation as a potential solution to the problem. An article over at Forbes explains the commission’s proposal by Nicolas Colin and makes a lot of sense.

The French report has been received with predictable knee-jerk responses across the tech world. It is true that governments have not been very good at regulating the internet. But not regulating the internet is not a solution. We could hope for representation that is competent when it comes to the digital world.

The companies that create the internet should not cry foul. They have a track record of evading taxes more than contributing their fair share back to society.

I’ll tackle Lanier’s position in another post. I just watched the conversation he had with James Bridle in Conway Hall and noticed some errors in Lanier’s ideas: they require a fully functional semantic web, they seem overly informed by private copyright practice and complementarily they take a weak government for granted.

How you would enforce such a law is another question entirely, but it cannot go further off the mark than how large companies manage to evade taxes right now. It may in fact be a lot fairer to tax data at the point of collection/use.

If you don’t bother to read the article above, I can sum it up in two key points below:

Data is hazardous waste material and as such its production and storage should be discouraged (the CO2 tax was given as an example in the Forbes article). Cory Doctorow compared personal data breaches to nuclear disasters, because the fallout is so tremendously hard to contain and control. Whoever collects large amounts of personal data treats the privacy damage caused by breaches as an externality. As such the storage of such data should be discouraged with a tax.

Data is capital and should be taxed as all capital is. Storage, mining and arbitrage using data can generate revenue for sophisticated market actors (those that Lanier terms as those with ‘the biggest computer on the network’). Data is a value adding asset that generates wealth and more data for those who already have it. If we don’t want a situation where a small group of people get richer at the expense of everybody else, we should tax it.

So data is both capital and hazardous. We tax many things with either of those properties so we should definitely tax something that has both.

Week 312

The German police state is up and about

I booked my trip and accommodation in Paris. I’m quite looking forward to see that city again.

On Tuesday we had a big office lunch along with the people from Schnelle Bunte Bilder.

Wednesday we had our weekly German language class.

Language class

And that night I worked late to finish TORREON. A small project that took up way too much time as all small projects do.

That same night I helped a kid in the Netherlands do his maths homework. I think it is standard practice for kids in the Netherlands to share pictures of their homework issues on social media. This time I got caught by one and managed to help the kid out decomposing square roots.

Niels managed to hit another high with his contribution to Recess!. I think it may be about time to create a single serving website for tat serial.

Reading is something I still manage to do quite a lot though I have given up reading articles in Instapaper and have been reading a solid streak of books again. Some friends didn’t agree and they think the solution to this problem lies in craft beer.

On Friday morning we had a meeting with the breakfast gang. My blurb for TNW magazine was published on the open web.

And we closed off the week with a nice game of Citadels.

Citadels. Hail to the king!

Week 311

Last week we were on something of a tear continuously shipping things (it beats continuous integration). As Kars mentioned in the Hubbub weeknotes I was featured in the rather shiny TNW magazine about the subject of gamification. Much to my surprise this issue was filled with blabbering by Gabe Zichermann. It’s not only that we take issue with the way he approaches games, it looks like everything about the man is shameful. You can read unparalleled levels of douchebaggery over at Kevin Slavin and to my dismay even GigaOM is complicit.

To my shame it took me until Friday night to write my second installment of Recess!

I also got in touch with the government of Tempelhof-Schöneberg to procure all building permits for the area which had some disappointing results. More on that later.

Hosting on Heroku with functioning MX records

It seems to be not completely obvious how to host a website on heroku while at the same time also maintaining e-mail delivery. You would think that this is a very common situation and it would be well documented but unfortunately it is not.

We got a DNSimple account because that’s the way that heroku allows naked domains to function. DNSimple sets up the ALIAS record for you rather easily, but what it doesn’t do is warn you if you have both MX and CNAME records on something. What happens is that the CNAME record always takes precedence as a redirect so your e-mails are then routed to proxy.heroku.com. Something that is undesirably and that DNSimple should warn against.

What turns out to be the best solution is to set ALIAS records for both your apex domain and your subdomains (as proposed here). This way you don’t need a CNAME record anymore that can interfere with other settings. Heroku in their documentation advise you to use a CNAME record, so I’m going to ask them if there are any problems with using an ALIAS for all web routing.

The other option would be to purchase another plan for Zerigo which seems to be heroku’s preferred solution for this issue right now. Again this is rather poorly documented and we would have liked to be informed about that before we chose for the DNSimple option.

Update: Heroku replied with the following.

Great question. The ALIAS record, created by DNSimple, is basically a bunch of magic that does a combination of what CNAMEs and A Records do, but does it behind the scenes. You can read more about the ALIAS records here: http://blog.dnsimple.com/zone-apex-naked-domain-alias-that-works/

That said, DNSimple would likely be better quipped to answer a question like this. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use ALIAS records in place of CNAMEs. There might be a slight difference in performance between the two, but I’m not certain enough about that to say for sure.

After which I asked the same question over at DNSimple on their blog. That comment is awaiting moderation and an answer but I’ll post that here as soon as it appears.

Proteus Recensie voor de nrc.next

Hier mijn recensie van Proteus voor de nrc.next een paar weken geleden geplaatst (dit is een fractie van wat Bogost heeft gedaan op Gamasutra maar in Nederland is er geen plek, tijd of geld voor games):

Je kon hem al spelen, maar Proteus van Ed Key is nu eindelijk officieel uit. Proteus is de naam van het willekeurig gegenereerde eiland opgebouwd uit impressionistische pixel-graphics waar je heen gaat. Aangekomen op het strand zie je op het eerste gezicht alleen wat bomen maar als je verder loopt kom je gaandeweg dieren en ook andere dingen tegen zoals torens, standbeelden en stenen. Je aanwezigheid beïnvloedt het eiland. Dat zie je niet alleen, je hoort het vooral in de muziek (gecomponeerd door David Kanaga) en de geluiden die allebei reageren op wat je doet.

Proteus bevat geen echte doelen. Er is geen prestatiedruk en je hoeft je niet bezig te houden met wat je nu ook alweer moet doen zoals in andere spellen. Je loopt gewoon over een eiland en dat alleen al is een bijzonder prettige ervaring.

Tijdens dat lopen is er ook genoeg te doen. Keer op keer ondernam ik een tocht die ik halverwege afbrak omdat ik een groepje dieren achterna ging of naar een adembenemend uitzicht wilde kijken. En elke keer als er een dag of een seizoen voorbij is, verandert Proteus en zijn er weer nieuwe dingen te zien en te doen.

De doelloosheid en eindeloze variëteit van Proteus maken dat je niet uitgekeken raakt. Je kunt er keer op keer terug blijven komen. Proteus is dan ook niet zozeer een spel als wel een serene plek waar je altijd heen kunt.