Here is where I park some of my short writing. Not really my best or worst work, not really anything particularly deep, just internet floatsam.
Mooncakes. Coming from Ancient China, mooncakes are served during the mid autumn festival. A baked confection with soft crumbly thin crust that envelopes a chewy sweet paste either made of red bean or lotus seeds. I'm not particularly fond of them, but I get them as gifts and will mindlessly eat them as snacks. I kind of like the softer crusts of the modern unbaked snow skin mooncakes than the more traditional ones. I once gave some to a friend from Beijing, he told me that mooncakes were very different in his home town.
Currypuffs. A hot currypuff fresh from the wok is one of the finest pleasures in the world. A dry potato and chicken curry is stuffed into a slightly flaky crust to form a dumpling, then deep fried to golden brown crispy perfection. I like the ones that Indians make, the curry has a bit more spice in it and taste quite close to samosa. They used to serve them a lot during events on campus. As a poor student I would be the first in line to grab as many as possible so I could stuff my face with them.
Apam Balik. A fluffy pancake that is covered in butter, nuts and sweet corn, then folded in half. Very nice warm straight from the shallow brass pans that they are cooked in. There is a variety that is thin and crispy. I always thought that it was derived from the the Indian Appam, but legend has it that it originates from South China. One of my friends used to always buy it for tea and I would end up finishing most of it. I kind of miss social eating from before the pandemic, where we could all just sit around and share a meal.
I feel like I spend too much time doomscrolling. Every day, only bad news gets amplified by angry voices. Makes the future look very bleak and hopeless. Before the pandemic I could still do charity and stuff to periodically restore my faith in humanity. But it's a lot more harder to be there in person now. Instead we're kind of isolated in our own spaces and fed a constant stream of bad news. Not healthy to say the least. My friends just ignore the news now, it's too depressing.
Suddenly we are in some weird live action reenactment of several science fiction dystopias and disaster movies at the same time. It's tempting to extrapolate the present into the future. It's tempting to read too many op eds and tweet threads on how the future is just as fucked as the present. It's tempting to read all the propaganda that floods our media. It's tempting to give in to the pervasive feeling of doom. It's really easy to look at the world through the twisted mirror of social media and just give up on people.
The future looks bleak, but if we could predict it wouldn't be a future. As much as we are heading into dystopia, the future is really something that we can never anticipate. On one hand I think that we will always see the worst case scenario. On the other I understand that the worst case scenario is also something that we never expected or planned for. For our allies and enemies, the future is FUBAR. Nobody will be a complete loser or winner, there is no definitive salvation or doom, there's no system or ideology that will save us, we will somehow figure out a way to survive and life will just go on.
How many moments do I give a certain bit of content? How many attention seconds does it get? How long do I look at it? How long do I explore it? How long do I think about it? On a social media platform, I don't really spend a lot of time on it. Within less than a second I decide on whether to ignore something and judge whether it is worthy of a like or retweet. The interface makes me incapable of actually thinking carefully about something or judge it fairly. Due to the speed of judgement, I have to fall back on other shorthands. Is this person someone I know? What type of person is it? I have to judge based on stereotypes, there's no time for nuance. If it's an opposing view, then it's simple to just reject everything they say. I don't have time to think, I have to keep scrolling.
Art suffers from this as well. How many seconds does a piece get on social media? It doesn't matter how many hours you've put into it, it's seen and judged in seconds. In this kind of environment shorthand becomes very important, fanart draws attention because it requires less time to judge if it is good. Something you already like, it's good. Same for attaching a social message to something. It's part of your team, it is good. Draw something original, without any points of reference and then it becomes harder to make an instant judgement. It's not part of your team, it's ambigious, ignore it, no time to think, need to scroll.
When I read a website, I'm often less hostile even in cases where I don't agree with what is being said. Maybe because I'm not being rushed by the interface to create maximum engagement. I have the time to think about what I'm reading and my stand on it. I have time to give the benefit of the doubt, to emphatise, to withhold instant judgement. Maybe our enjoyment of internet content would be more enjoyable if we just gave everyone a few more attention seconds. Read their writing without instantly falling back to shorthands, look at their art like it's in a gallery and worth your time and focus instead drowning it in an infinite scroll. Might be a good thing to consider with web design as well, how do you give your reader the space to be comfortable, hang around and explore?
I recently had to do some work with a small wordpress website. I'm not a web dev by any means, but after a few months I'd gotten used to editing the css and html directly on Neocities. And that's where the problems started. After the no holds barred chaos of Neocities, working on a free Wordpress template feels like a straightjacket. Options, themes and layouts are so limited, I can't just swap out css style sheets as I please, it's difficult to see how elements work and hack them together into some other function. I've had very little experience with a CMS before, and now that I'm working with one it feels really unfamiliar and strange. Makes me appreciate all these sites which are just bits of code hacked together which are somehow functional, aesthetically pleasing and unique.
In all fairness maybe I just have a lot to learn with the new interface. Maybe I'll get used to it and figure things out and this rant will look foolish in the future. But it is an uncomfortable experience to jump from eclectic variety that I'd gotten familiar with to the uniformity of the mainstream internet. It's like the spirit of encouraging experimentation is missing.
Sometimes pop-sci writers will marvel at how out of all the out the infinite possible outcomes, we managed to somehow experience intelligent life on this planet in this vast universe. Nothing short of a miracle. We have hydrogen and water and universal constants that are just right for us to be here. Miraculous. Some people extend this to love as well, out of the 7 Billion or so humans on this planet, you somehow meet the right person. Marvelous. Another string of improbable miracles. Keep on looking towards the future of untold potential and improbable miracles. It's a valid argument, but it carries the viewpoint of having multiple possible futures and us navigating through them at almost random.
The problem with possibility is that it collapses into a single event once it becomes the past. There are no multiple events, just the one that happened. It can't be changed. You can't undo or redo. It has passed. All there is to do is accept and move on. From the only possible outcome to the next only possible outcome to the next next only possible outcome. Looking back instead of looking forwards, it's a straight road of inevitability instead of branches of possibly.
I'm a fatalistic person. While I believe that there are possible courses of action, once something happens it was the inevitable outcome. There's nothing to regret or resent. Only resignation and reaction. No 'what if's or 'could be's. It's an immutable thing of the past. There were no other viable possibilities. I was meant to be.
My friends often tell me that I'm very calm in the face of bad events. One reason is that I'm so negative that I always assume that the outcome will be terrible. But the other is that I realise that nothing could have been done to stop it once it has happened. The past is the only outcome. One can only grieve and move on to the next thing that was meant to be.
I try to not be too negative on this website. Social media is already a stream of bad news and cat videos (and I don't even like cats). This is where I take a break and engage in creative endevours. But some days the paper tigers that control our politics and economies look so daunting and undefeatable. Some days there doesn't seem to be an end to our problems. It's just a series of defeats as things keep getting worse and you're just barely hanging on, pushed to the fringes. Life is exhausting.
I once talked to an old academic from India, and he reminisced about his experiences. "There were so many things we fought for, but in the end was it really worth it?" he asked. Those words just stayed with me. What regrets will I carry? What important things to me now will just not matter in the long run? Is any struggle really worth it in the end? Life just continues on, empires eventually fall, monuments will crumble, good and evil will both be defeated, people will forget, the hills and the seas will outlast human lives.
I'm not sure whether I should be comforted by my insignificance or if I should despair.
I tried googling something recently and all the hits on the first page were basically ads. I think we've reached the point where webpages pumped full of SEO outnumber pages with actual honest advice in search results. It's a worrying trend. The internet was a place to look for more information, and in many ways it was relatively reliable and honest. In some cases it very human and intimate. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. All we're left with is a tangled mess of ads, not bad if you want to buy something, but if you're looking for advice you're probably in the wrong place.
The internet was great while it lasted. But lately I see it disintegrating into a adtech ridden mess. Another loss to the numbing amount of losses that we feel right now. I'd like to google "How to deal with grief" , but the results just bombard me with offers for free e-books in return for my email address and souless copy written for the websites of large organisations.
Recently I've been clearing out my camera SD cards. Deleting all the blurry stuff and selecting what I want to keep. I went through thousands of photos, and I can say that I have about less than 2 handfuls of photos with humans in them. Aside from some work related stuff (Which is also devoid of humans) the rest are mostly deserted cityscapes and night photography. Partly it has been because of lockdowns and I've been avoiding crowded places. But also I'm not too fond of photographing people.
Taking photos of people is kind of awkward. I'd prefer if they were spontaneous and candid, but I can never stand far back enough to get a shot like that. And when I'm with a camera and people don't notice me, it feels like a creep shot. There's no winning in this. But most of the time they seem to react to the camera, and I'm not a fan of capturing really posed photos. I'm not fan of group photos or selfies either. I don't think I've taken a good human photo. People photos are just not my thing, I'm just too uncomfortable photographing them.
When I draw I tend to draw people quite a lot. But that's a solitary activity where I don't have to interact with people and I can be as detached from the real world as I like. Perhaps the people in photographs are too close to reality; creatures of fat and sinew, hair and teeth. It's very hard to capture the beauty in that.
I care about some things. I don't like that the climate is changing into some sort of persistent threat. I don't like that animals are going extinct before we can even discover them. I don't like that poor people have to suffer. I don't like that all of humanity is too short sighted to control a pandemic. This all means caring or empathising in some way with a group of people.
But there are limits to my empathy. I realise that I don't have the emotional energy to care about every injustice in the world. So I intentionally don't extend my empathy to things beyond my small area of interest. Perhaps it may be a bit cruel, but I really can't care about everything and everyone. It is difficult to really care about something, it's not as easy as liking posts and reposting viral messages. It takes real emotional labour to understand other people and be in their shoes. It's hard, exhausting, tiring, it grinds at your soul. Empathy requires investing your time and energy. It's not like pity, where you can shake your head for a while and then go back to laughing at cat videos.
So there are many issues in this world that I don't care about. We live in an age where it is expected that you have to have opinions or speak out about the flavour-of-the-day social issue. It should be acceptable to just not care and not have an opinion. If you can't really treat it with care it deserves, then leave it to people that are really invested in it instead of making empty noise. People have limited emotional energy, we really can't love everyone in the world equally. A bleeding heart eventually stops beating, a candle that lights the way eventually burns out.
I'm not saying that you should not care about anything. But pick a few problems and work hard at them instead of exhausting yourself by spreading yourself superficially thin across every single injustice that you encounter. We do after all live in a world of overwhelming injustice. You are not an unstoppable social justice warrior that knows no death or fear. You are, as all of us are, all too human. So take things slow and make one deliberate step at a time. Care for other, but care within your limits.
This website is one way communication. Like a book. Yes, you occasionally get a comment on your guestbook or someone sends you a message. But for the most part, unless your website is crawling with analytics, it's pretty much a black box. Put something out there, and someone reads it. And that's the extent of your interaction. No hearts or retweets or reblogs or emojis to give you crude real time information to feed your need for attention.
I sometimes get nervous if I put something on social media, since responses are so quick. Put art out there. People like it, judge it or just ignore it. Whatever you get it always leaves you feeling a bit empty. I remember helping a friend with his webcomic, and it was a slog of looking at charts and analytics and struggling to get tiny morsels of attention. But that is the modern artists dilemma in the attention economy. Making a living and getting attention is one and the same. I'm lucky that I have a stable job so I don't have desperately join that scrum at the internet.
Here on Neocities I'm blind. The only metric I have is the views going up, it's not really reliable. Maybe I will get a handfull of likes, which is comforting in its smallness. Maybe number of followers indicates that someone actually enjoys seeing my stuff. But overall I have no idea what is going on behind that veil, for all I know it could just be people hate-reading my stuff. I can't even pander to an audience because I have so little information about who is reading this.
I actually enjoy it. Having a barrier between the audience and creator. It's the same joy you get from putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. Sharing things over the distance of time and space. Carried over by the tides of fate. Not everything has to be conversation. Sometimes it's just nice to listen for while, then leave without saying a word.
It's easier to live in ignorance than to do something. Trying to fix real problems is really daunting. But if you remain uninformed (or misinformed) enough, it looks like there is an easy solution. You might not even have to lift a finger except wait for those people that promise you the easy solution to do something. Nobody wants to listen to experts talk about the challenges and nuances of actually accomplishing a goal. That's a boring struggle, not something that's short thrilling and exciting. We want the easy digested version. Cheap stories, simple fictions, something that can be done on a couch. Reality is hard and soul crushing. Give me entertainment.
I don't want to put down people that want to stay ignorant. I have my own expertise in my fields, but in the end I have my own list of things that I try to be ignorant about, lest the despair of it crushes me. Knowledge and action hurts. Caring about other people hurts. It's not a Hollywood movie with a feel good ending, it's a horrible boring slog. All it leaves you with is more vague uncertainty and unreachable horizons. It feels really good to think that one day a saviour will come and kick the bad guys out and everything will be ok again. It's so tempting to shrug our shoulders, have faith and wait. To do nothing. To be ignorant. It's a tragedy we all share.
It's frighteningly easy to just give up and ignore the harmful systems around us. To push the responsibility to someone else and just wait for a chosen one or some omnipotent God-fearing military to save us all. Learning is not as easy as googling answers or reading tweets. Knowledge needs action before you can truly understand it. The more you know the more shaky and unreliable you realise everything is. How scary the world actually is. Like walking in a dense fog or an unending dark corridor. But a good rule of thumb that you're on the right track is you never exactly know what you are doing and that you never find solutions, only more complex problems.
I like building model kits. But as with everything it's a complicated relationship. If you start with beginner kits they can be rewarding hobby, but as you get more advanced and try different techniques they become a sort of dedicated tedium. I'm not sure how many hours I've spent sanding small pieces of plastic, but it must be significant. So much sanding and more sanding. Humming a tune to yourself while you sand down another part. But I do enjoy it, all the cutting and sanding, all that mindless work that is strangely calming. Even the inevitable bleeding from stray X-acto knife blades has become part of the ritual. Despite it all I actually only enjoy the construction part of it. Possibly the only part that I do enjoy. Painting is required to get the look that I'm going for, but I'm not a fan of it and often I end up procrastinating at that point. Maybe I need an airbrush, because handpainting multiple coats of acrylic paint onto a large area is more tedious than all that sanding.
Maybe my sense of pride is pushing me to achieve a finish like what I see in glossy model kit magazines or twitter. Making the whole ordeal more difficult than it should be. I wouldn't call it masochism, at least masochism is eventful and exciting, but this is like acts of repetition dragged out over long periods of time. Either way, that's what a hobby is. "Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another."
I want to make model kit page for this website so I can show off some of my creations. But that means that I have to actually finish painting a few of them first.
I was thinking about drawing book covers as a creative exercise. Until I realised one thing: I can only recall finishing one novel in the last couple of years. Possibly it's the closure of book stores because of lockdowns, the lack of a disposable income or my preference for short stories and non-fiction, but I haven't actually sat down and read a novel in a long while. I haven't been in the mood for long reads as well, this pandemic seems to have shortened my attention span. Then again I've binged through volumes of terrible and mediocre manga, which I liked for its simple unchallenging content. Maybe that's the actual root of the problem. I've been picking up literary books that I 'should read' instead of trashy novels that would be fun to read with half a brain. Perhaps I should pick up a novel again, if only to just help me focus a bit more.
The last novel I finished was "The weight of our sky" by Hanna Alkaf, which I kind of had to read because someone gave it to me as a birthday present and I was trying to get to the ending. It was quite a scary book, especially since my parents lived through the events depicted in it and pre-pandemic I used to regularly walk the streets that the book was set in. With the themes of racial violence and OCD, I did wonder if it is age appropriate for young adults, then again they are exposed to much worse on the internet I suppose.
I like looking at websites dedicated to 00's nostalgia written by teenagers and early 20 year olds. I can relate to 90's nostalgia, since that was the decade that made up most of my childhood. It makes sense for me to think of that as a simpler, easier, better time. I was child. But 00's nostalgia, that's something else entirely. I was already a teenager/young adult by then. I witnessed how the events of the 00's set up the dystopia that we're living in right now. The terrorism, rise of surveillance states, boybands, wars in the Middle East and Afganistan, oppressive governments getting more oppressive, economic crises, the despair of the after effects Asian financial crisis and the global financial crisis that followed, the slow creep of tech giants, the change in how we communicated and did politics. Some people put 2007/8 with the launch of the iPhone and the Global financial crisis as a sort of event that changed everything, but really that was the result of a slow march through a decade worth of events. (I hardly remember the 10's, they were a complete blur that left me disoreinted and confused)
But 00's nostalgia doesn't bother with any of that. It remembers a simpler time, before all the social media. Geocities websites, Windows XP, Playstation 2, Xbox, flashing gifs, proto-memes, youtube videos, Newgrounds, flash games. Young people reinterpreting the decade based on childhood memories, second hand accounts and whatever media survived. It's like how I think of the 80's as action movies, cartoons and... ok I don't think about the 80's beyond those two things. I'm not complaining though. Let the worse parts of the past be put into history books and entrusted to wise men. Let it be forgotten by the masses. Let them have the comfort of a better time that they can look back to. We often task the younger generation to build a better future, but through their limited perspectives, they also build better, more pleasant pasts as well.
P.S. This unfortunately has two effects: 1) We will keep repeating the same mistakes 2) Kids today will look back at 10's and 20's as the 'simpler times'.
One day I'm going to stop updating this website. It likely won't be anytime soon. But eventually I will run out of things that I want to write about. Or maybe I might become too busy with real life. Or maybe this pandemic will get me. Everything will come to an end, it's just a matter of when.
I've been around long enough to realise that websites have about the lifespan of a dog. People change, society changes, the world changes. I'm not under the illusion that this will be long lasting monument of my greatness. Just a ephemeral gasp of life in the emptiness of universe. I take some comfort in that, something doesn't have to permanent to be meaningful.
I read really fast these days, probably at post-graduate level speeds if I can focus enough. Sometimes I just skim an entire article and get the whole gist of it without reading through the whole thing. Which is strange, because I'm dyslexic. Sometimes I think that it's just a self misdiagnosis, but I still mix up my 6's and 9's (which is a quite dangerous when working on my accounts) and I still sometimes mix up b's and d's, even when I'm using a keyboard. It hasn't been that troublesome lately, for the most part it's only caused minor mistakes that I can live with. An amusing fact about my brain rather than a real disability.
But then I tried to pick up Japanese. Suddenly the things that I stuggled with in early education came back to haunt me. I've been reading kana for 4 years, but I still can't tell さ apart from ち. I don't even dream about telling ツ and シ apart. I just look at the context and guess what letter it is. Which is probably what I've been doing with English all this while, but I've never thought about the actual mechanism before. For some reason, ideograms like kanji are easier for my brain to process. Maybe because there is more to grasp onto than a handful of small lines that are often mirrored. In primary school I remember many times I had to stay back in class because I had so much trouble copying off the board. I wonder how long it's going to take me to get past this hurdle.
The relative anonymity of the internet lets us build personas and experiment. But one thing that is rarely discussed is how it also lets us experience death, or at least the death of your own online persona. Everybody grows up, you change. And as you do so there are parts of you that get left behind. I'm sure most people have felt this before, you leave school and go to college or you stop going to a forum or you slowly stop regularly emailing a friend or the online community that you used imploded. All these small deaths, deaths by a thousand cuts. Cutting and pruning the bonsai that is your online life. I'm kind of glad that my cringey past lives have been swept away by time and the impermanence of the internet, that I got to snuff them out and move on. Death on my own terms.
Honestly that's one of the main draws of the internet for me. That it's not real life, I can put it down one day and walk away with little consequence. That I can just do a painless suicide if I ever get tired of things. If things get too tough there is a way out. You just disappear into the void that you came from. Compared to IRL (or modern surveillance capitalism), it's a nice fantasy isn't it?
Through this pandemic I realised that I'd rarely spent much time to myself, which is ironic since we've all been so isolated. But constant access to gadgets and internet have meant that I hardly had the time to just think through things without distractions. I usually go for very long walks without any internet connection to bother me, which I could hardly do. I didn't have any lectures to attend to where my hands would be idle to do other things. I hardly had the time to sit quietly and get lost in my thoughts without the temptation to check the internet. It really hasn't been healthy. The constant stimulation of content seems to have dulled my creativity. In order to access my own internal world, my daydreams or whatever you would call them, I needed to disconnect and be idle and bored.
When I look back at some of the creative stuff that I had made, I realise that most of it comes from a place of boredom and isolation. Like being alone in a forest or travelling in a different state. I've started walking in circles around my neighbourhood in the middle of the night to get the ideas flowing again. So far it feels a bit better, like I'm in my own brain again and not some augmented cyber hive mind.
I like reading people write about the mundanity of their lives. It reminds me that there are other people out there, half way across the planet,and we are all connected through this marvel called the internet. I don't need to read about your epic activism and struggles, politics or your philosophical insights, just reading about people going about their daily lives or their simple personal scale problems satisfies me. It's refreshing to read about people making small repairs at home, going to the store or doing their homework. The problems in the world are so huge and insurmountable, it's nice to be able to look away from them and remember that this world is filled with the small struggles of people going about their lives. For people shouting out into the void, just remember that there are people in the void listening and your company is quite welcome.
A hundred years from now, what knowledge would we be able to pass down to the people of the future? The closure of Geocities and Yahoo! answers, and now Google limiting access to drives just shows how easily information can just disappear from the internet. Links can be broken and disabled, file types become obsolete, platforms like Flash get discontinued. That's not even counting the uncertainties brought about by our insane political and economic systems. Large scale power disruptions, political instability or simply maintenance costs can take down servers. Makes me wonder how we're going to protect knowledge from coming disasters of the 21st century.
While knowledge is getting more accessible, it's also being cornered into walled gardens. Most science is paywalled by a few large academic publishing corporations, news publishers and magazines are setting up paywalled articles (and like many online publishers could go under and you'd lose all the articles), Disney controls a modern global mythology, Google controls almost all video content on the internet and photos, informative threads and articles have migrated to the almost unsearchable reaches of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There are still a few bastions of accessible free knowledge, but by and large knowledge controlled by corporations is a nightmare scenario that is our current reality. Not only can they shape our views, they can also block access or even censor knowledge. Or as with previous cases they could just delete it if it isn't profitable. And all of this is so dependent on our fossil fueled cheap energy economies that the underlying infrastructure probably can't be kept running without it. Perhaps the cloud is the best way to describe our collective digital information, ephemeral vapors that can disappear in the heat of the sun.
Would future generations be able to search through social media to discover clues to the past? Will they be open and declassified like old colonial records? Or will it be too big and noisy to process without the help of AI or maybe just full of holes because it isn't profitable to keep so much data around? What could we do to transfer knowledge between generations? A hundred years isn't that long a time frame, a human lifetime can fit into it. They could probably ask their elders about the glory days of the old internet. We don't need to carve HTML Rosseta stones and leave them in deserts so that generation can decode our websites. But it might be good to consider backups just in case this house of cards come toppling down.
Modern capitalist society has a cult like obsession with data, to the point where we hoard inordinate amounts of it because of the unproven promise that it's going to solve all our problems. But data is just raw information, knowledge is data with context and interpretation; and wisdom is knowledge being used well. We have so much information, but what are the important lessons that we want people to learn? What is worth learning and worth passing down?
Perhaps most of the wisdom that I have was passed down to me from older people that just took the time to talk to me. Their vast geological knowledge, academic achievements, technical skills or passion for the Beatles didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that they knew how to program mainframes, catch animals or make soap from charcoal. While those made for interesting stories it really wasn’t all that important. But what was important was that they took their experience and acted on it. Perhaps we don't need to worry too much on transferring knowledge in its current existing form to the next generation, but they can probably benefit from us being wise enough to be there for them.
I just finished 'The collapse of western civilisation' by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, it's a science fiction work on the premise of an academician from the Second People's Republic of China in 2393 writing about the how we failed to respond to the current climate crisis. It's a fantastic premise, how would people in the future think about current Western civilisation, which is so impotent in the face of dealing with the crises of our era. There are a lot of good points, though a bit overly academic in their presentation and perspectives. But it really falls flat as a work of science fiction.
The writers never follow up on the premise. I wanted to read about the perspectives of a Neocommunist Chinese woman from 2393, but the writing is just the very western present written in past tense. It is the usual modern complaints about academia, climate change and capitalism, but it barely discusses them from fictional hindsight. The book is way too obsessed with the things that modern academics obsess over, when these things would be as alien to future academics as 18th Century Islamic juriprudence is to western society. The fictional writer is barely a character in the work at all, when their writing should be shaped by the norms, values and zeitgeists of their time. There are hardly any hints of a post-climate crisis society in the writing, it's science fiction without any worldbuilding aside from some brief mentions of the rise of neo communism and some maps of flooded countries.
The end product is, like a lot of climate related literature, a thought provoking but dull read. This subgenre occupies the extremes of being either too simplistically alarmist or too technical and academic, which pushes people toward reading HAARP conspiracy theories or corporate fictions because while they're lacking in truth they have far better storytelling. You end up with some facts and trivia, but nothing that really grips the heart. It's something that will be cited in the future as an example of how Western civilisation collapsed because it couldn't tell the right stories at the right time.
I'm not a fan of philosophy. Or more accurately I'm not a fan of Western philosophy, or at least what it has turned into. I don't mind reading about ideas and theories about life, but the format in which it is delivered is absolutely horrendous. Philosophy texts are just so dense and hard to read. So many just read like miserable depressed men talking in circles and groping for answers. Which is fine if you are trying to figure something out by writing it down, but it makes for a horrible reading experience. Especially if I'm in a hurry and want to get to the point of things. When I was an undergraduate I'd think that maybe I couldn't understand the texts because I was missing out on something important, but now I realise that some of these philosophers are just really bad at writing. If you want to say something, say it in as few words and as clearly as you can. If the wikipedia summary does a better job at explaining your idea than your own text, then you have a writing problem.
I hate the fact that philosophy has become dominated by academia and they've developed such tangled structures of writing. Philosophers that I've met spout jargon and talk in circles, but that seems to be the only thing that they can do. It can impress the inexperienced, but in the end of the day it's just sophistry. Create the illusion of intelligence by being obtuse and impenetrable. It really makes me wonder why we let such joyless people lecture us about life and ethics. And what's worse is when this academic behaviour gets out and is aped by the general public. I see so many subcultures that just keep adding new terms and jargon to the point where outsiders find it impenetrable to understand and the categories have such minor differences that they are mostly redundant. I don't mind learning more about your point of view, but one must stop piling on jargon after a certain level. Like academic philosophers it makes your writing unreadable.
I'd rather read cryptic Buddhist koans, at least they're short.
I'm currently working on a redoing my gallery page (and maybe reorganising the writing page), but these things take time and effort. I need to sit down, read, design and code. It's not social media where you shoot an opinion off without thinking. A website is not instantaneous, it requires deliberation. Things happen slower and they stay up longer, it's the nature of the medium. And I wonder if having a barrier of entry actually makes for better content. Well, at least it creates a different form of content.
It's the same with art and photography. I'm not rushing to meet some crazy daily schedule so my feed always looks full. If I put something up, it's going to stay up in the gallery. People can look at it whenever they want, chronology is not important. So I'm taking my time, letting things which I've pencilled out sit for a while so I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes, enjoying the freedom that comes with having to stop at barriers.
A friend once described herself as a "Sad Millennial", to which I replied that it's redundant since I've never met a happy Millennial. Looking back, so many people have confided in me that they were suffering from some sort of depression or anxiety or a whole grab bag of mental disorders. It makes me wonder if most humans have a mental disorder of some sort, yet are able to perform very well in society and keep up appearances. If that was the case, then mental disorders may just be how a normal brain works. What if sanity is a collective fiction that we've all started to believe as truth? That would explain why people behave so wildly irrationally (and why some economists still believe in a consistantly rational man, despite evidence of the contrary). Maybe if we just accepted universal insanity, we wouldn't be so hard on ourselves and kinder to others.
These thoughts sometimes come into my wandering mind. I don't know whether I should believe it or not. But the scary part is that whenever I share this theory with my friends, they all quietly nod in agreement. Perhaps they are just humoring me, or perhaps they too realise how mentally screwed up we are as a species.
I'm trying to reorganise this website, so lately I've been thinking about web design. Even with rather basic css, there's a lot of designs that can be achieved. Two articles caught my attention recently: Human scale design and How blogs broke the web. A lot of this website is organised into a chronological ordered format. Makes it easy for me to just add another entry on top, but after a while it gets harder for readers to explore it. At its inception 4 or so pages served most of my needs, but as it grows it might be better to move away from a blog design paradigm to one where this website is a thing that should be explored. One where people can take their time to move through rather than "Newest post at the top".
I feel like we are a generation that is lacking in mentors, or at least an understanding of what a mentor should do. Media has programed us to be the hero of our own story, so we don't actually know what to do when it turns out that we are not. When you live your life being told that you are Luke Skywalker, the sudden realisation that you're at best a Yoda or at worst a bystander like Uncle Owen (I had to look his name up on a Wiki), can be devastating. I guess that's what drives people to activism or conspiracy theories in a desperate attempt at heroics.
But it's inevitable that we will soon be past our prime, saddled with so many personal mistakes that we too could be a valuable reference (or cautionary tale) to the younger generation. But what then? What frame of references do we have to do this? Maybe be the cool teacher figure like in Dead Poets Society? Or the mysterious and wise Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid? Are we supposed to die or go missing by the 2nd act like almost every mentor figure in any coming of age story? Or are we the powerful mentors that are always rendered useless when it counts in Shounen manga? While there were so many young heroes to model myself after, I struggle to think of any positive examples of how to be a mentor.
Once your youthful adventures are over, how do you get on with life? And where does the next generation fit into all of this?
I think this is why we are where we are right now. Probably some Gen-Xers and late Boomers are feeling just as lost as me. Giving in to the temptation of playing hero on the internet instead of admitting to their failures and sharing their experience for what it's worth. Makes me thankful for those that actually took the time to help me in the past.
I noticed that a lot of Neocities websites (including this one) are refered to by their webmasters as "my little corner of the internet". It's a bit ironic that in the limitless expanse of the internet, humans are still searching for corners. Like cavemen searching for small caves that they can press their backs against for security. Corners are comforting defensive positions, little private spaces where you don't have to worry about attacks from all sides. It makes sense that we try to invoke this cosy aesthetic when building our personal websites.
Or are we here because we feel cornered?
There's a charm to the dinosaurs of yesteryear. Yes, they are scientifically inaccurate and they very much reflect the predjudices and preconceptions of the era, but they look cool. Aesthetically they are closer to dragons and fantasy than the birds of modern reconstructions, but the kitsch, outlandish speculation and flights of fancy just make them look really interesting. They were like characters, they weren't just carnivores, they were villianous slow pondering Harryhausen or speedy Speilbergian slasher movie monsters. They were the tragically noble herbivores that were gleefully depicted being attacked and eaten. They were Victorian woodcuts of slothy dragons that were too stupid to survive. They were paintings from the 80's with shrink wrapped skin and bulging muscles with occasionally lasers strapped to them. They were Sunday strips in the 90's that sometimes flew F-14s. They were early webcomics that repeated the same panels over and over again.
My point is they looked cool. Modern reconstructions are getting more accurate and we're changing how we view dinosaurs, but as they get closer to the realm of science than fantasy they start to become a bit duller in comparison. This was kind of my thought process when I tried drawing a scientifically inaccurate T. rex . It's sometimes fun to celebrate the kitschy misconceptions of the past than to draw actual animals.
At it's current size this entire website is about 10MB. That's less than 3 pictures in my digital camera's sd card. I'm pretty amazed at what you can get for 10MB if you actually restrain yourself. Recently I've been experimenting with optimising my images and trying to get them as small as possible (1-bit indexed colors are a wonderful trick for black and white art). It makes me think about how wasteful we are with data, my phone can burn through 40MB a day and I hardly do anything on it except message people and occasionally open Twitter.
I'm beginning to wonder how much I can fit into a small space, like a 3.5" floppy disk's 1.44MB. When I was younger I remember being able to save low quality scans of comics on floppies. I'd get an entire chapter in if I was lucky. I wonder what I could do if I actually optimised art and text within those limits?
Like poetry it might be a good exercise to learn how to limit how much space you take up. Take the time to be brief and to the point. Cut out anything unnecessary. New forms of expression might come out of it. There are some examples on Neocities that serve as inspiration, like 10kB Gallery or some of the art by Automatic Llama.
As a society we focus so much on growth, that we take it as a measure of quality. If you're not growing you're not doing it right, more money, more posts, more numbers, more data. Like gigabytes of badly taken HD selfies. Like a cancer growing and filling up so much space. Instead of writing haikus we're like college students trying to fill out a 10 page assignment with whatever rubbish our energy drink addled minds can think of. Doing more with less seems to be out of fashion. Growth without elegance or restraint.
I don't use mobile internet. I don't like to be accessible at all times or bothered when I'm taking a walk or driving. Recently I had to use it for some work related thing, and it feels so weird to have so much information at your fingertips while you are moving about. The constant connection to other human beings, being able to see a persons face on demand, always knowing where you are going, being able to look things up instantaineously. I don't like it. I don't feel human, but like a psychic alien from 70's pulp science fiction magazine. When I'm on the move I like being able to be alone, get lost, let my idle mind wander.
At one point I was teaching English as a second language. Where I'm from, most people pick up English as a second or third language. And one of the hard parts is explaining English pronouns, specifically "he" and "she". You see a lot of East and Southeast Asian languages don't have gendered pronouns. Everybody just makes do with one gender neutral pronoun (In Chinese there is a difference in written pronouns but they all has the same sound). So you get students constantly mixing up he and she, his and her. And sometimes you get questions like "Why do they even bother with gendered pronouns?" To which I actually have no answer.
I sometimes watch with amusement when I see Americans arguing about pronouns and adding more to the list. I had enough trouble teaching two pronouns. It seems to me like they are complicating a system that a lot of people can live without. Why would you constantly add new pronouns when it would be easier to just subtract one and use a single pronoun for everything? Internet savvy Malay language speakers sometimes joke that their pronouns are dia/dia, which is means both he and she and whatever gender in between and beyond. Personally, it seems like a lot less work and a more elegant and inclusive system.
You would think that fixing pronouns and using a single one would lead to a more egalitarion culture. But honestly Asians tend to be sexist even without gendered pronouns. Makes me wonder if fighting over pronouns will lead anywhere. Some people say that words have power, usually the people that say that make a living by peddling their writing. Inflating the importance of words might be in their own interest. While I agree that words shape and constrict the way we think, maybe changing words alone isn't the solution that one might hope for.
This might be a controversial musing, but that's kind of how weird it is to watch foreign culture wars happen. It's strange and alien, and trying to make sense of it from your own personal context can be quite challenging and amusing at the same time.
I originally named this website "Occassionally, Content" as an excuse for a potentially spotty update schedule as well as a reference to my occasional feelings of satiation (I only have 3 settings: Content, exhausted and angry). But recently I've been wondering if I should be making content at all. The word content feels a bit artificial these days, like it is describing some sweetened combination of permitted coloring, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated palm oil injected into a bun of cold soggy white bread. That's what pops into my mind when I hear someone describe themselves as a "Content creator" instead of something more concrete like a writer or artist. Content wants something from you, it's optimised, manipulative and commoditised. I don't want to make content. I hope this website lacks content, instead more fluff, filling or stuffing. The homely, soft and warm stuff that makes you feel content.
On another note I was rather suprised that people actually read what I write on this website. Usually my mindset when writing anything here is "Old man yells at clouds", so I guess thanks for watching me rant into the void.
I miss reading newspapers. They still exist, but the media landscape is so gutted that whatever is left is just a emancipated shadow of what it used to be. There was a ritual to reading newspapers, start at the lifestyle section, TV page first to see what's going to be on, then read the comics, then the columns. I liked the more frivolous ones where the columnists would just share small snippets of their life. Then the reviews of movies or games, then the ads for the movies that were showing in local cinemas, followed by feature articles if they were interesting. Then opinion columns, letters to the editor and world news. Local news was read only if I was bored.
In a newspaper there were all sorts of things that may or may not interest you. It was never tailor made for your target demographic or designed to bombard you with algorithmically guided ads. There was always that serendipitous chance of discovering things that you'd never expected to like. Old media never gave us what we wanted when we wanted it, but it did allow us to explore beyond the stereotypes of market demographics.
I run a dual boot Windows 10/Linux Mint on my laptop, mainly because Windows is an easier interface to use when dealing with media files (at the expense of it constantly tracking my every move) hence a bit more user friendly for work. Linux is for my leisure activities, which mostly revolve around watching video, surfing the net and a bit of light image editing. But having that software separation of mental spaces has really helped during the pandemic and work-from-home. During the worst parts of last years lockdown, everything melted together into a mess of constant work stress with unfinished work constantly reminding me that things needed to be done. Keeping my desktops apart in clear work and leisure spaces helps me to put everything away and shift into a different mental state, it also helps that I need to restart my computer to change states, that tiny hassle created a barrier that sometimes stopped me from crossing back into work mentality when I'm supposed to be resting. I think my productivity has suffered a bit though, I'm booting up Windows less and less these days.
I'm starting to feel like our right to private lives is slowly being eroded. Everything that we say or do is recorded, reported, stored in one way or another. The stress of living in a panopticon really gets to me. People used to be able to have a professional self and other private aspects of their lives, but lately it feels like it's all mushing up together. Your reputation is now attached to your social media, you have to constantly be on your best behaviour and keep your guard up even when communicating with friends. The eye of society is constantly on you. You have to watch yourself and try not to make any bad takes since these things live forever on the internet and everybody keeps receipts.
I guess that's why I want to keep parts of myself hidden from everybody else. Being able to get away and get to know other aspects of your being that you don't want to be associated with your place in society or your livelihood. Ironically I'm writing about this in a public space that everybody can see, but there is a level disassociation from my main identity that allows me to do so. Would I have been so honest if my name and face was attached to these opinions? Probably not. What is it about this world that robs us of our other lives?
One peculiarity that I've come across is that I write better when I'm on my feet and walking. The lack of distractions and being able to let my mind wander lets me think about things clearly and organise my thoughts. Once I'm done walking, I can sit down and type everything out smoothly. At one point I was doing 200words/km. For me writing really is 80% thinking and 20% actually the physical act of writing. This is opposed to sitting in front of my computer where the process of writing feels like trying to wring blood from a stone. I haven't been very productive during the pandemic since my movement has been limited by all the lockdowns. It'll be really nice to be able to go for long care free walks again.
I've known a girl since she was 5 years old, she's 9 now and one of the top students in her grade. Undoubtedly she will keep excelling in the rest of her life. But since she was a dumb kindergartener when I met her, I can only see her as that. Perhaps when she goes to college or establishes a career for herself, I might still not be able to overcome my first impression of her. I honestly do wonder how our parents ever take us seriously. In their minds we must all be drooling babies.
I've been reading a couple of autobiographical manga set in the Showa era (1926-1989) recently (Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "A drifting life" and Shigeru Mizuki's "Showa"), and one of the things that struck me was how massive events (Earthquakes, economic recessions, natural disasters, political upheaval) can just be compressed into a single offhand sentence. Undoubtedly these are life-changing moments for those involved, it may have even looked like the end of the world, but 50-60 years on it is a meaningless footnote to the younger generation. As time marches mercilessly on, all these crises that we live through lose all their context and meaning, only remembered in history books or academia but even then terribly abridged and missing the rawness that the people living through the hardship had felt.
I'm tempted to imagine how the current Coronavirus is going to be described 100 years in the future. It's probably going to be some obscure trivia like the Spanish Flu or the Manchurian Plague (Which I had barely heard of until the pandemic started). But in a way it's a relief to think about how all our pain and anguish can be forgotten and summarised into a dispassionate one liner, just another disaster in a long line of disasters.
Here's my attempt: In 2020 the Covid 19 worldwide pandemic strikes and incapacitates the global economy, triggering recessions all over the globe.
These days I think that "inteligence" is measured by the ability to find the optimal solution, or in other words the "best" solution based on the parameters given. Judging by the amount of resources that you save by being smart, choosing the non-optimal solution is kind of stupid. But I'd argue that it's good to occasionally be stupid and take the longer route, even when the shorter faster path is available. It's probably the even more human thing to do, any AI can find optimal solutions, but humans are always inclined to pick sub-optimal ones for reasons that can't even be explained by randomness.
The problem with optimisation is that it can lead to uniformity, there are only a few optimal solutions to a problem, while non-optimal solutions are almost infinite. What you generate through going through non-optimal "stupid" paths is novelty. Building up dumbness can eventually lead to new solutions (or problems) which you might never have found if you were always trying to follow the "best" options. In a world where everyone is racing to get to the top of a leaderboard, its nice to be able to be stupid and take your own time and go your own way.
Of course this doesn't mean that intelligence is always bad or stupidity is always good. Find a balance and use each when it is appropriate. Just drowning yourself in stupidity is perhaps worse than painting yourself into a corner by being intelligent. Sometimes you need to wander around and be dumb, other times you need to be smart and find your way out of your (perhaps self induced) problems. Do it enough times and you will live an interesting life.
I remember talking to an accountant about my plans for the future, he was surprised that I didn't have a 5 year plan. I explained to him that I don't plan because I think plans don't work, at least in the world where we currently live in. To plan something there has to be some predictability, you have to know the rules of the game to be able to consider your next few steps. The more unpredictable the changes to the game, the more planning gets thrown out the window and you just have to react without knowing what's going to happen next. Which is why I never bothered with a long term plan. If you live in a very predictable system, then great for you. You can anticipate and make plans for the future. But I haven't been able to find that kind of stability, and I'm not sure if I'm suited for it. I've just been doing things that people haven't done before, so nobody knows how it works exactly (or if it will even work out at all).
That talk with the accountant was 5 years ago and I pretty much just went with the flow, surviving multiple crises. It hasn't been easy, I'm reminded of Deng Xiaoping's metaphore of 摸着石头过河, to “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Like trying to cross a rushing river but only being able to feel the loose stones directly in front of you. To survive in a world where you can't anticipate what is going to happen next, I adopted a system of stashing instead of planning. You never know what will be useful in the future, so it helps to just do a wide variety things that might or might not be useful in the future. You don't know what will work, so having a wide net helps. Life is unpredictable. Playing tabletop RPGs and card games in my teens helped me gain the skills to run a business. Learning to draw comics somehow made me good at writing pitches and proposals. Being able to code has helped me on multiple occasions. Trying to learn how to paint led me to gain a large network of activists. Just making friends and talking to people led to opportunities and dead ends that I never saw coming.
Not sure why I'm writing this, just looking back at my choices in life and how I got to where I am.
I have been trained to write well. To carefully plan out thoughts, organise them, choose the right words to express them, edit, edit, edit, then get rejected and go through another round of editing. If you noticed the quality of this page, none of this stuff has any of that. I'm basically just writing stream of thought, with minimal editing. It feels liberating. It's probably why I can do this for fun after a day job that involves a lot of writing. Good writing is a delight to read. But honest writing is refreshing in its own way.
On the 22nd of November 2016 I watched "Death of a Salesman", I wasn't particularly impressed by it. I know this because I wrote it down in a sketchbook/journal. But otherwise I have absolutely no recollection of this event. On the other hand I know that it is a true event that happened because I'm not in the habit of lying to myself. It's a bit strange how we augment our memories with tools; photographs, writing, sketches, websites, social media, all these little things build up into a different self that exists outside us and keeps track of things that we would rather forget. Lately I have been having trouble with memory, but I always get like this when I am overwhelmed with too much to do. Perhaps these tools, while useful to an extent, become a means for pushing ourselves too much. I'm able to talk to people that are not in the room, but that means that they can also bother me about work in the middle of the night. That leads me to depend on more tools and I get swept away in a self reinforcing loop.
What was the point of this little tirade? Honestly I can't remember
Had a couple of hours free before a meeting, so I went for a short walk around the city to do some street photography. The photos weren't all that good. But it was fun to just do photography and not think too hard about the results. Just snapping and moving on, not even checking the LCD until I got back. Street photography is a very self indulgent middle class hobby. But it is a hobby because it is enjoyable to do.
It'll take a while to build the photography gallery. I want to try something new with the CSS so I have to properly gather the code instead of keeping with my current minimalist approach.
I recently visited a friend's art exhibition and he recommended this essay to me by Ursula le Guin. In it le Guin makes a comparison between the narrative of the hunter versus the narrative of a forager. I can't help but make paralels with carrier bags and websites. How we collect things shiny things like buttons, gifs and links and use it to decorate our spaces. The website is a container, much like the the bag or sling of a forager. Like planting gardens, it's a leisurely activity of searching, finding and collecting. Not something as thrilling as the conflict of hunters, who take risks and become the dominant narratives in many cultures.
I wonder if the internet started in a forager phase, where people explored and collected, and transitioned into a hunter phase, where conflict is the main driver of interaction. Will the future of internet culture be one of self appointed heroes in epic struggles against each other (egged on by social media) or will there be spaces for foragers to build their own spaces on the sidelines of the battlefields?
I should be working more on the site and getting more art uploaded, but I've been distracted by surfing Neocities. It's a different experience, actively clicking links and moving around instead of everything being served on a feed. I find myself reading more long form content, appreciating the web design and just clicking around a site to see what happens. Part of me wonders if this is just novelty of finding something new (or the fleeting nostalgia of finding something old), but I guess I'll enjoy it while I can and see how things turn out.
Table of contents:
——————Microblog—————— 1 Small ideas and non sequitars. ———————Updates——————— 2 The routine and mundane. ————Thought stream———— 12 No theme, just as I please. ———————Artblog——————— 62 Where I discuss art. ————
Digital garden———— 95 Where ideas are buried. —————— Long form—————— 128 If I ever get around to it.