Archive for the ‘Server Farm’ Category


October 3, 2006

He decided that he would be a literacy volunteer. He knew there was a literacy program at the gray dragon community center in his old college neighborhood. He knew it because he had been down there in college for a used clothing sale that he had gone on while trying to hit on a girl. And another girl that he knew in college had volunteered there. He always thought that was because of her Catholic upbringing though. Then there was yet another girl he knew in college who had volunteered there. This girl was something of a hipster. He had seen her at his dealer’s house one night when he was there to buy pot. But he had also seen her around campus. One day he had seen her in the campus coffee shop, and she was in her pajamas. She was going on about the little kids that she tutored over at the gray dragon freaking out because she was in her pajamas. They couldn’t believe they were actually her pajamas. “No way! They just look like pajamas. You don’t really sleep in them.” “Yes, I really do sleep in them.”

That was a memory, those pajamas, that if he were still plugging in he could register it, put it in a drawer in his mind, and he would keep taking it out of the drawer to look at it at least once a day until he got a chance to plug in again. That way he could be reasonably sure that it would make its way into the memnoscape. But now it just floated up away into the mists of forgetting.

The next Saturday morning he went down there just to check the place out. He told himself that he could just walk in and sign up, though he knew he was too chickenshit for that. He’s gotta do something, though. He’s got to at least *show up*. Woody Allen said that 90% of life is just showing up. Didn’t he? in Side Effects, maybe?

He did show up at the entrance to the gray dragon at about 10:30. The entrance-way of the stone building, a little foyer, was in shadow, much darker than the bright autumn morning. Outside it was crisp, despite the brief rain from early in the morning. In the lobby it was muggy. And perhaps the clouds, though they were light enough not to make the sky gloomy, can reach inside the building to gloom it up. Steve wandered farther into the lobby. Nobody much was around. There were students around outside, that much he noticed. They were around, like walking around the neighborhood. Not necessarily around like hanging out in the lobby of this building. Or anywhere near the building. A fair amount of them were wearing sweaters. That’s what he noticed.

He inspected the the bulletin boards. Nothing about signing up for literacy volunteering there. There was an office at the end of the little hall there, setting up a little corner, a twist, a little jog to the hall/lobby. And he saw some one eating a lunch or a snack or something in the _back_ of the office. It was at this point that he chickened out. He looked at the bulletin board some more, and then left.

He walked back outside. The only thing assuaging his disappointment and disgust in himself, holding down his self respect, like a barely-large enough stone that holds down a fluttering tarp int eh wind, was his just-right-then formulated plan of calling them up later in the week. He told himself this would be a more official ‘channel’, the channel that he should have gone through in the first place.  As he was telling himself this, running along a parallel track in his mind, which he noticed but refused to acknowledge, was the logic that questioned why the phone would be any more of an official channel. After all, the phone would ring in that very same office, disturbing that very same fat person eating their potato salad out of a tupperware box in a back corner while listening to talk radio.

Later that same week that he dug up from the net the phone number and called them up to ask if they have a volunteer literacy tutor program. The woman who answered tells him that they have enough tutors for the number of students they have now. Registration for their next term is in a month. Depending on how many students sign up, they may need more tutors at that time. He should probably check back then.


You’ve got to be kidding

September 24, 2006

Novels and movies – shit, there wasn’t anything new there for him. Nothing he could add to what he was already doing that might help him. He would just keep on reading and watching, like same as he ever had.

Underneath novels and movies was another entry on the list, with a question mark –


Blogs – refuge of those interested in experimental rhetoric, or political discussion, or narcissicm.

He actually had been reading blogs for some period of time before this. After a while he tired of them. They were so vacuous, like a spider web. Reading them was like mining through mountains of shit, until you found a vein of ore, something half-worth reading.

From what he had read of blogs, was it possible through them to satisfy his craving for authentic experiences? Highly doubtful. He would have better luck in fiction. Was there some other plug-in function for which they could compensate? Could they boost his empathy? With the amount of vitriol and poor rhetoric, not likely.

He rummaged around for a pen, and drew a line through the word “blogs?”.

“Memory Intake” was the first main item on the list. What was next? “empathy exercise”. There was nothing under it. Stephen rested his elbows on the bed, his jaw on his hands, stuck the pen in his mouth, and thought. He rested his cheek on one hand and with the other wrote underneath, “volunteering”.

A part of his mind stopped dead in its tracks. You have got to be fucking kidding. We just aren’t the kind of person that volunteers. We’re too selfish.

Well maybe that needs to change. Maybe that is what needs to change.

What? what the fuck are you talking about? Since when did we talk about changing? We’re trying to maintain the status quo here. We’re trying to replace stuff that we’ve been missing.

Dude, wake up. Wake the fuck up. Since when did we talk about changing? Since we talked about giving up fucking pluggin in, that’s when, asshole.

All right. Point taken. But that change was forced on us. We’re trying to mitigate the negative effects of it, no? Forced on us by a natural progression of our own nature, our own inner dialectic. *This is a natural progression.* Let’s not mess with this natural progression by trying to force a change of direction which is contrary to our basic nature.

By definition, since I thought of it, it’s part of my natural inner progressions.

No, that’s specious and you know it’s specious.

Whatever. And since you speak of an inner dialectic, we must swing to the antithesis of what we now are, musn’t we?

You make assumptions about the structure of the dialectic. I can see I’m not going to win this argument.


Let me just repeat that this is a bad idea. It’s against our basic nature.

Yeah, whatever. I’m the decider. I’ve decided. We’re doing it.

novels and movies

September 9, 2006

Thinking of novels… Stephen had read a group of three novels by Samuel Beckett – Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable – that came closest to answering the question that all novels should ask, that pointed the way for other novels to follow. They started out innocently enough, describing a scene, characters, even a plot. But very soon they descended to the core of things, cutting through all the bullshit to the bare terror of simple existence. Burning through appearances, surfaces, burning it all away in fact, to get at the core questions, to get at essences.

Those core questions – were they what he was really searching for, when he was searching for authentic, overpowering experiences in the mnemoscape? The confluence of detail and emotion, which, he now realized, he had been pedantically preaching to himself in a boring inner drone – wasn’t that like a soporific, an opiate, a distraction, a Debordian spectacle, something to really divert him from frightening basic realities? And these basic realities, the true truths, were found, stumbled over, in between the corners of sense data, peeking out through the interstices of the Buddhist psycho-physical elements, the sannas and other khandhas. The edge of an elbow moving over a stair banister, with a whisper of cloth behind it – a perception such as this cracks, and empty chaos screams out from behind it. Detailed, perhaps – can you call one single detail ‘detailed’? Emotion-filled – well, there is no emotion before the veil is torn away – but once it is, how would you describe the emotion that follows? Elated terror?

And for movies – why did The Fast Runner spring to mind? It seemed to have a conventional plot, a plot, in fact, out of myth. So how could this represent authentic experience? Maybe because it was so authentically of another culture – made, even financed, by native Innuit. So much so that it was twenty minutes into the movie before Stephen formed any idea of what the fuck was going on. Except for the fact that he could tell it was shot on video, Stephen could easily convince himself that what was being depicted could have happened the year before, or 1000 years ago, and it would have happened the same way, and looked exactly the same.

But then was this film really – uh, ugh, I’m sorry to use the word – “existential”? Wasn’t it sheer novelty that temporarily knocks your head an inch off its steel track? Did it really reveal anything basic, essential, or did it just make you think a little, and only to think, “Hunh. That was wierd.”

The novelty of its different culture – did it make Stephen question his own values, or did it just provide an overly convincing escape, the way George Lucas aspired to do, providing a convincing Heidegerrian thrownness of the world, as in the world we are thrown into, a set of assumptions already made and therefore that never need to be explained.

You want a real movie – a movie that evokes that elated terror – how about Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels. It has a plot, but pure existence bursts out of it. Such as the scene in which the mute and the girl who doesn’t seem to realize he loves her search in vain for her “Johnny”, through empty stadiums and through time-lapsed anxiety.


July 27, 2006

As he arrived at his apartment, he decided he would look again at the list he had made up when he started his journal, the list of plug in benefits that he would have to find some compensation for. He pushed open the door, stepped in from the hall and paused. He stared out into the gloom of the room. The blond color of the hardwood floor seemed to rise up from the boards in order to choke him. He let the keys become heavy dangling in his hand as he gently shoved the heavy wooden door shut,over the uneven bulking door sill. This is where the Brian DePalma camera would rush up into his face from across the room. But nothing happened. He dropped his keys on the mail table next to the door.

He went to his bedroom. There was the journal, on the nightstand next to the bed. Sublimating off of it was the smell of leather, the memory of a farm which has been bottled, and the cap has been left off. It was the same leather smell that chokes you when you go into a western wear clothing store, but here it just made him wonder where it was coming from until he realized oh yea, its the book.

He toppled forward onto the bed, lying on his stomach, reaching out across to the nightstand which was on the other side away from the door. A breeze blew in from the window slightly open above the head of the twin bed. He stretched out to grab the journal and, propping himself on his elbows, he opened the book on the bed and looked down into it.

He opened to the first page, where he had listed the functions or benefits of plugging in that he thought he would have to find some replacement or substitute for: memory recording, the first entry, had been crossed out with the words “this journal” next to it. Next was a list:

  • memory intake
  • empathy exercise

Underneath that he had written some ideas, repeating the entries from above in an expanded list:

  • memory intake
    • novels
    • movies?

Of course he often compared the perfect memory, for which he searched in every plug in, to the perfect novel. He thought that novels could come closest to recreating the total mental engagement of memory surfing. Movies, on the other hand, didn’t quite cut it. They seemed artificial to him. While watching them he could always step outside of them, as it were. Only occasionally and in a roundabout way did a movie have something of the same impact of a book. If he were still thinking about a movie days after seeing it, then he had to admit that it had snuck up on him, and it represented genuine experience.


July 25, 2006

George finally noticed that all is not well with Stephen. George had been been into the middle of the room while telling his stories. Now that came to a break in his breathless, interminable narrative, he glanced at Stephen – he glanced, but then held the glance. Stephen did not look good. He wasn’t holding his latte anymore – his hands were in his pockets. He sat slumped so that his waist was at the edge of his chair. That can’t be comfortable, thought George. His face was droopy. George noticed an uneven shave. The hair was unkempt, the eyes red-rimmed. George almost thought he could see a yellow crust along the edges of the inside of the eyes.

“Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

“Wha, me? Yeah, I’m ok.” Stephen darted his eyes back at George, suspecting he suspected. But what could he suspect? What have I done wrong? I mean, aside from lying. Why am I lying anyhow? Is it so wrong? It is wrong enough to me that I want to keep it a secret? I no longer remember why it must be secret, but I cannot betray myself, whatever self it was of mine that thought it dangerous enough to hide. What can he suspect? Fuck him. He can accuse me of no crime. He can only be offended, and end our friendship, our little association. To call it a friendship. Friends with this little gnome! Fuck him.

Ok, I’m getting a little carried away. I got to pull myself back into this conversation, or he will suspect something. What does he suspect? He examined George more closely. George was a rising column of smoke. George’s eyes were two marbles rolling on top of a sliding wooden board. “I’m just tired,” Stephen said. “It’s been a long day.”

George remained silent and still for a few more moments. “Okay,” he finally said. George accepted Steve’s or reticence. “Maybe you should head home and get some sleep?”

Stephen put his lower lip between his teeth. He thought for a second. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe I should.” He pulled his waist to the back of the chair, pulled his feet in so his knees formed right angles, and put his hands on them. He turned to George to say goodbye. George was staring at him. Obviously the room of George’s mind had been painted with doubt. “Well, I’ll see you.” Stephen said as he picked up his bag.

“See you later. Take care.” George continued to stare, swiveling his head to follow Stephen out the door.

Steve stopped outside, once the door had closed behind him, and took a breath. “Well, that went really fuckin’ well,” he said out loud. He started trudging back toward the train station. Looks like I need to rethink this charade strategy. I’m obviously not very good at it. Ah, what to do, what to do.

Plugin recap part 3

July 23, 2006

“OK, so I was saying how the first two memories weren’t connected, there was no ‘pivot’?”

Steve brought his cup up to his lips, scowled slightly in reflex as he took a sip, and nodded as he licked foam off his lips. He looked George in the eyes.

“Well there was a transition to this next memory. Children. Children were the fulcrum against which the lever turns. The …corner, around which the memory journey turns. The …baton, passed from one relay runner to the next. Children are the passkey, the seal that you press into the clay to open the ancient trick door and move from one stone chamber to the next in the buried tomb. Yeah, this was one of those memories where you feel like you’re going deeper into a labyrinth, like you’re being allowed to see more of the secret that you never suspected and the beginning of which was just revealed to you.”

“I know what you mean. It feels like a part of a long chain leading to some secret mystery, like the initiations of an ancient Greek religion, or like the steps of a complex mathematical theorem. It feels like a step from link to another in the middle of a long chain – but I’ve only ever had that feeling between two memories – the series is never longer than that.”

“Yeah, it’s unfortunate.” George nodded wistfully, putting enough front and back motion into it that he looked a little like a rooster. “So, in this transition. I seemed to move out of the teacher and into one of the young children in the class, leaping from one body to another like a panther ghost of possession. And then the world dissolves and reforms, like the reflection in a pond reacting to a nearby splash by shimmering out of coherence and then back in again, but the reflected image has been replaced by another.

“And I find myself feeling ..a bit of whimsy. I’m a slightly younger child, a toddler, and I’m on the back of a black stuffed animal, an ant, and in a shallow pit of plastic red balls. I lean forward, moving my hands across the black felt on top of the head, cupping the curve of the head in my hands, then grabbing the drooping, passive antennae, made simply of strips of felt, and raising my hands to let the strips run through my fists. Then I roll off to drop myself into the plastic balls, squealing with delight. I have a vague sense of another stuffed animal nearby, a ladybug with its cloth blanket wings twisted and draped over its head.

“And then that seemed to fade, like the light after a very strong flash in your eyes, and I began to seep into another memory. I was sitting at a table, a kitchen table of blond wood. I was looking down at my pale arms, placed resting deliberately straight out in front of me ending in fists trying not to be clenched. I was incandescent with rage. I could feel the anger building up in a gigantic wave from somewhere behind the small of my back. A wave growing fast enough to be stop-motion, massive before it strikes the inside of my forehead. And strikes, and strikes. A wave that doesn’t crash, but keeps growing, streaming from a source inexhaustible. This anger was so overwhelming I could do nothing to express it: no lashing out, no growling, I could only sit there and let it wash over me, and stare at my hands on the kitchen table. Eventually I did get up, I could only move in a straight line, past the person at whom I was angry, out the side door of the kitchen into an alley next to the house. I turned toward the street and went walking in the cool evening air.”

Plug in recap, continued

July 20, 2006

“Okay. in the next one  I was a kindergarten teacher. The press-board bookshelves. The low tables, child-sized chairs stacked in leaning towers along the wall. Differently colored carpets overlapping each other to cover the entire floor. The children gathered into a group sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor as I carried a book from my desk in the corner of the room.

“Wait. what was the transition?”

“The transition. Right. Let me see… .I don’t remember specifically. It was so distinct from the other one, there was no transition to speak of. If I can’t remember it perhaps there was none at all. There was definitely none of the kind where some particular idea of sense data acts a pivot, around which your entire consciousness turns, rounding a corner into another street, as it were. I think it must have been one of those where one memory ends, and you almost come completely out of the session – you find yourself looking at the cover of the berth, and start to notice the small tears in the vinyl coverings of the cushioned interior, then you sink back into the swirling numbness before a new memory begins. I think I remember that happening tonight, though it may not have been between these two memories.”

“Okay. Anyway.”

“Right. Anyway. I start reading the book. And it’s in some Scandinavian language. You know, all these freaky vowels with slashes through them and dots here and there. And I can hear myself reading it. I was really fascinated by the sound of it. And seeing the words while hearing myself read it gave me some clues into what might be the structure of it. There were three sentences, one right after the other, which were each a single word – but the word was at least eight syllables long. And the first six or so syllables were the same each time, just the end of the word – the last two to four syllables – was different. So, obviously, an inflected language. But besides stuff like that, I had no idea what I was saying, or rather what this person was reading.

“So this was a big contrast to the other memory. This was purely sensory. It had no associated thoughts – no abstractions hanging off of or above it. Just sights, sounds,”


“Yeah, I guess so. The carpet. The book.”

“Oh. Have you read Saul Bellow?” George shook his head with a half-interested smile. “I think it was in Humboldt’s Gift, he has a line about the ‘cloud of gases that collect above any group of small children’ or something like that.”

“Oh.” George kept his smile while his face fell half way. “I don’t remember anything like that in this memory.”

Plug in recap

July 12, 2006

“So, how was it tonight”, George asked.

Pathetic, thought Steve. “How was it tonight?” Pathetic. A sour expression crawled up the back of Steve’s face. Everything about this man sickens me this evening. Everything about this place we’re in sickens me. Everything about me sickens me this evening. “How Was it tonight?” It was pointless. It was a lie. It wasn’t. It didn’t exist. How was it. Jesus.

Steve shrugged, and looked away. “I don’t know. It was rough.” He sighed. “I don’t know if I can describe it. It was difficult. I felt like I was flying through fog. I didn’t feel like I could grab hold of any memories. Like if I reached out to what looked like a good one, and my hand would go through it, like a wisp of cloud,” Steve looked past George at nothing. “Coiling in turbulence around my wrist, and dissolving before it reached my elbow.”

Another sigh. “I’m tired too. Somehow it was exhausting. I don’t think I have the energy to really talk about it, to be honest.”

George nodded. “Well, can I tell you about what I saw? You don’t mind?” Steve raised his fingers and tipped his head, an assent. “I actually had a pretty good night.”

“One of the first ones, I was like a big shot in some office. There was a lot of vague interaction with a lot of people who were really serious, earnest is the word I want. I could feel a lot of pressure, a lot stress, and it actually felt like it had built up over several weeks – like I had just come in at the tail end of it, or in the middle of it, but the stress had that kind of _flavor_, you know, that it was something that had built up over several weeks. And I remember thinking, as me, in the berth, not as the guy in the memory, ‘wow this guy thinks he’s hot shit.’ And at the end of it somehow it became apparent that the business was rubber stamps.”

Steve’s eyebrows went up. “Ok?”

“Rubber stamps?”

“I’m sure at one time they wre important.”

“Okay. At one time. Since the memory servers were in operation?”

“Okay, there’s your stress then. The market’s gotta be shrinking.”

“Well, yeah, you’re right. I guess that’s true. That would explain the stress. I just thought it was funny that he though he was such hot shit, that everybody was so earnest, over rubber stamps. Anyway. That one wasn’t a lot of detail. I had a general idea of the features of the office, but it was mostly situational: relationships and plans. I didn’t even have a good sense of what the other people in the office looked like. But I was very clear on what their relationship was to me, or the guy whose memory it was.”


June 30, 2006

Stephen closed the book and set it down on his lap. His head fell onto the back of the chair, and he was looked up at the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. What was he going to tell George? He didn’t want to think about it. A buzzing cloud gathered at the back of his head. He closed his eyes. “I’ll just rest here for another twenty minutes or so.” It had after all been a pretty long day. He wound up checking the time every two or three minutes and didn’t rest very well at all.

After arriving at the cafe, Steve got his coffee and only as he walked away from the counter did he start to look for George. George was a little gnome of a man that Steve had met while taking language classes at one of the foreign cultural centers downtown. George seemed to be a perpetual student. He was always taking continuing education or craft classes somewhere. The language class, which Steve had attended for about two years, was on roughly a quarter schedule, and at the end of each term the teacher took all the students to eat ethnic food. It was at one of these that they had each discovered in the other someone with whom he could discuss the films of Tarkovsky.

George later invited Steve to go see a showing of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. He couldn’t think of anyone else who would be willing to see it. They went for coffe afterward and wound up talking about plugging in. Steve waxed on about his theory of the perfect memory, and George was constructively sympathetic. They clicked. So now it had become their habit to meet for coffee about once a week or so, after plugging in, to discuss some of the memories they had encountered.

And there he was. Steve quickly spotted his thin shoulders, craggy face with the round scrivener’s glasses below the cropped gray hair laureling his head, and the white curly hair poking out of the sleeves of his jersey. For a moment the rest of the room dropped away and George seemed to tower at the other end of an arena, an unexpected unfair rock monster opponent in a canyon level of some first person shooter deathmatch. Steve suddenly felt that trying to keep up this conversation was going to be like firing a mortar again and again at a moving target – sight, do the trig, adjust elevation, drop in the round. And then run for cover. This friendly talk was going to be frantically exhausting.

Steve pulled out a chair and readjusted it. The steel back, spraypainted black, was cool to the touch. A little unexpected since it looked a bit like charcoal next to the blond wood of the seat. The noise and movement of the rest of cafe, in which Stephen’s attenting had been swimming during his search, again disappeared as Stephen concentrated on George and what he was about to say.

“So how was it this evening?” The words escaped from George’s mouth like sprites in a 2D video game, tumbling over his slightly crooked teeth and dodging through the scissoring lips that randomly openedher and there along the width of his mouth. His eyes looked up suddenly at Stephen as if just realizing a secret.

Stephen was having none of it. Or he wanted to have none of it. Or he wanted to look like he was having none of it. He puckered his lips into an unbloomed rose and shoved it to the side of his face. He looked away, and feigned interest in a woman customer on the other side of the shop, who was gathering up her bicycle paraphernalia to leave.

to the bookstore

June 28, 2006

Stephen stood there in the pool of light for a several minutes. Well, what now? After plugging in he usually met George for coffee. He would need to go hang out somewhere for about forty, forty-five minutes, in order to show up when George expected him.

He drifted toward the doorway to the stairs that led down to the street – a sad little maw, depressed with its drooping rust stains. The staircase was brightly lit, though eerie shadows webbed the the inaccessible weed-ridden areas beneath the tracks on either side of it. He pushed through the grimy turnstile. The cement floor within these stations always looked like it was wet. Out on the street, it was the dark of the early autumn evening. After the switch off of daylight saving time onto standard time it got dark early. He looked up and down the street. He headed toward the retail street, the “high street”, he briefly thought.

He turned toward the bookstore, and started walking. He walked through minutes of empty thought. No ego chased logic across his mind like ripples on a pond. Noting swelled up from deeper memories or dreams. There was just a projection of the street onto his awareness, like a film strip projected onto a white sheet. Recording only, no commenting. The traffic on the street. The trixies walking in pairs and threes down the sidewalk. The buildings, standing bulwark against the dark behind them, lit by their own advertisements.

He walked out of this mist of clarity through the double doors of the bookstore. They were heay, wooden, almost medieval. It was always hard to tell who should hold the door for whom when two people simultaneously open one of the inner and outer pairs of doors. A difficult but transient social transaction to negotiate.

He circuited the store, trying to decide what shelves to look at. Technical books having to do with his job. Pulp paperbacks. Fiction/literature. A thought struck him. Maybe he can use this time to get the benefits of plugging in … in some other way. Memory intake. Reading. What would be a good set of books to read? For empathy, perhaps the lives of the saints. Oral histories. Biographies. Fiction presented problems, but it would be closer to the subjective detail of memories. Autobiographies, maybe. Memoirs.

He walked over to the religion section, and after a few minutes finds an edition of Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints. He starts flipping through it. Hmmm. Not a lot of, uh ,impact. Most of the entries were short summaries – a few paragraphs, no more. Nuns who founded schools. A Norse king who was killed by his pagan enemies in the midst of his bloody proselytization. The terse style is at times enjoyably droll, and Stephen gets a dim sense of the centuries of history between Rome and the Renaissance, centuries that are seldom mentioned, because nothing relevant to todayseems to have happened in them. But that’s all there is – echoes of history. The book never hits him with any emotional impact. There was no empathy.