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24 February 2008 to 25 October 2007
You were eating pieces of cereal, I was rounding up the ones that got away from you. I leaned over to brush a few closer, and you looked at me, reached up, and put one in my mouth. Not your first gift to me, by any means, but maybe the first you picked yourself. And so nowhere near the first time I am thankful in your presence, but maybe the first thanks to go simply between us, not everywhere around us.
between inmity and outstarting
these hurt feeders pray for us to freeze
and glacial promise melts into alluvial years

[and in pencil on the back of the page, in a different hand]  

our upflung tears (re)fill the lakes of the moon

1. Nightwish: "Amaranth"
2. Nightwish: "Last of the Wilds"
3. Deathspell Omega: "Bread of Bitterness"
4. Rotting Christ: "Enuma Elish"
5. In This Moment: "Beautiful Tragedy"
6. Dir en grey: "CLEVER SLEAZOID"
7. Wolves in the Throne Room: "Dea Artio"
8. Jesu: "Stanlow"
9. Jesu: "Storm Comin' On"
10. Asrai: "Sour Ground"
11. Secrets of the Moon: "Confessions"
12. Dark Tranquillity: "Misery's Crown"  

13. Tori Amos: "Bouncing Off Clouds"
14. Tori Amos: "Secret Spell"
15. Low: "Murderer"
16. Runrig: "Clash of the Ash"
17. Manic Street Preachers: "Autumnsong"
18. Jimmy Eat World: "Chase This Light"
19. Maxïmo Park: "Girls Who Play Guitars"
20. Parts & Labor: "Brighter Days"
21. Paramore: "That's What You Get"
22. Radiohead: "All I Need"
23. Amiina: "Seoul"  

24. OLIVIA: "Stars shining out"
25. Damone: "Revolution!"
26. L’Arc~en~Ciel: "Seventh Heaven"
27. FINE LINES: "Spin Into Love"
28. Manic Street Preachers: "Boxes & Lists"
29. Editors: "Bones"
30. Epica: "Fools of Damnation (The Embrace That Smothers, Part IX)"
31. Eyes of Eden: "Sleeping Minds"
32. Bat for Lashes: "Prescilla"
33. Camera Obscura: "Alaska"
34. Sigur Rós: "Hliómalind"
35. Amon Tobin: "The Killer's Vanilla"
36. Candlemass: "Clearsight"
37. Dimmu Borgir: "The Conspiracy Unfolds"
38. Diary of Dreams: "hypo)crypticK(al"
39. Ulrich Schnauss: "Medusa"
40. Samael: "Suspended Time"
41. Sirenia: "Sundown"
42. Tarja: "Die Alive"
43. Helloween: "As Long as I Fall"  

44. Life Without Buildings: "The Leanover"  


The Best of 2007 (The War Against Silence)  

This Scrabble variant occurred to me in the shower this morning: instead of working with 7 tiles at a time, drawn blindly, you get to pick your tiles. You still use the blind draw to determine who goes first, but then you spread out all the tiles face up, and the players take turns picking one tile each until they're all distributed. You each keep your tiles face-up in front of you for the whole game, so there's no mystery about who has what, and nobody needs to try to keep track of what's left. Each turn, then, you can use anything you have in front of you. No exchanging tiles, obviously, since they're all distributed, and you can't use more than 7 in any one turn. Bingos are way too easy in this version, so no bonus points for them.  

I haven't tried this, but it sounds intriguing. In play it seems like it would be kind of the Chess version of Scrabble, much more about planning and board-position. Plus the tile-draw at the beginning evokes trading-card-game deck-building. Or being picked for teams in elementary school, although in this case you're always a captain, so it shouldn't be as traumatic. Presumably the opening rounds of the draw would be amenable to analysis, if not optimization, but chess openings are fairly exhaustively explored and it doesn't seem to ruin the fun, so I think that's probably fine.  


This discussion led me to one more rule: The first word by each player must use only 1-point tiles. This makes the first move more clearly a strategic one, rather than just an exercise in playing the highest-scoring word you can make in a vaccuum.
Not a lot of activity on my discussion board recently, or really ever, but at my urging Ryan Allaer just posted a really good report from his music observation-post in Japan, so if you've stopped checking vF, now would be a good time to briefly start again!
The New England Revolution lost the 2007 MLS Cup final yesterday, 2-1. They made it to the final and lost last year, too. And the year before that. And in 2002, as well, when I was there in person to see it. Four times, and each time it makes me feel terrible. I want to be able to change the world and make the losses not have occurred, and barring that I want to not have to interact with any other human being for about a week. The premise, I think, is that the potential joy of winning, or actually the present-value of the future joy of one day possibly winning, outweighs the pain of losing, no matter how many times multiplied. Maybe this math works, but don't ask me to check it from experience until next season is underway.  

The MLS Cup is not yet a media circus on the scale of the championships of more-established domestic sports, but I still don't expect to care about the halftime show. This year, though, it was a brief live performance by Jimmy Eat World. Only little bits were shown on the TV broadcast, but that was enough to make me happy, even if the Revolution hadn't been leading at halftime.  

A day later, the Revs loss is no longer as numbing or present, but it is still a source of pain. But Chase This Light, the new Jimmy Eat World album, is wonderful. It was wonderful last week, it's wonderful this week. For some reason I can't rationally identify, it sings to me of Winter in a glittery, embracing, light-and-hope-drenched way. It makes me love frailty more, and love more.  

By the next time the Revolution try to win a championship, my daughter will be old enough to understand, if not the event, then what it does to me. She will learn to care about things that can hurt her, or she won't. This will be her decision, not mine.  

But she can already dance. She can already see what these songs do to me. Music does not compete. Chase This Light does not defeat Clarity or Futures, never mind Odinist or American Doll Posse or Send Away the Tigers. Loss is not required. It is possible to love everything more than everything else. I give her a world in which this is true, and this time I don't have to wish I could change anything, because this truth is already true here.
There are no dead-ends in data. Everything connects to something, and if anybody tells you otherwise, you should suspect them of hoping you won't figure out the connection they've omitted.  

But we have suffered, for most of humanity's life with data, without good tools for really recognizing the connectivity of all things. We have cut down trees of wood and used them to make trees of data. Trees are full of dead-ends, of narrower and narrower branches. Books are mostly trees. Documents are usually trees. Spreadsheets tend to be trees. Speeches are trees. Trees say "We built 5 solar-power plants this year", and you either trust them, or else you break off the end of the branch and go looking for some other tree this branch could have come from. Trees are ways of telling stories that yearn constantly to end, of telling stories you can circumscribe, and saw through, and burn.  

And stories you can cut down and burn are Evil's favorite medium. Selective partial information is ignorance's fastest friend. They built 5 solar plants, they say. Is that right? And how big were they? And where? And why did they say "we built", past-tense, not "we are now running"? And how many of last year's 5 did they close this year? And how many shoddy coal plants did they bolt together elsewhere, while the PR people were shining the sun in our eyes? There are statements, and then there are facts, and then there is Truth; and Truth is always tied up in the connections.  

Not that we haven't ever tried to fix this, of course. Indices help. Footnotes help. Dictionaries and encyclopedias and catalogs help. Librarians help. Archivists and critics and contrarians and journalists help. Anything helps that lets assertions carry their context, and makes conclusions act always also as beginnings. Human diligence can weave the branches back together a little, knit the trees back into a semblance of the original web of knowledge. But it takes so much effort just to keep from losing what we already knew, effort stolen from time to learn new things, from making connections we didn't already throw away.  

The Web helps, too, by giving us in some big ways the best tools for connection that we've ever had. Now your assertions can be packaged with their context, at least loosely and sometimes, if you make the effort. Now unsupported conclusions can be, if nothing else, terms for the next Google or Wikipedia search. This is more than we had before. It is a little harder for Evil to hide now, harder to lie and get away with it, harder to control the angle from which you don't see the half-truth's frayed ends.  

But these are all still ultimately tenuous triumphs of constant human vigilance. The machines don't care what we say. The machines do not fact-check or cross-reference, of their own volition, and only barely help us when we try to do the work ourselves. The Web ought to be a web, a graph, but mostly it's just more trees. Mostly, any direction you crawl, you keep ending up on the narrowest branches, listening for the crack. All the paths of Truth may exist somewhere, but that doesn't mean you can follow them from any particular here to any specific there.  

And even if linking were thoroughly ubiquitous, and most of the Web weren't SQL dumps occasionally fogged in by tag clouds, this would still be far from enough. The links alone are nowhere near enough, and believing they are is selling out this revolution before it has deposed anything, before it has done much more than make some posters. It is not enough for individual assertions to carry their context. It is not enough for our vocabulary of connection to be reduced to "see also", even if that temporarily seems like an expansion. It is not enough to link the self-aggrandizing press-release about solar plants to the company's web site, and hope you can find their SEC filings under Investor Relations somewhere. It is not enough to link the press-release to the filings, or for your blog-post about their operations in China to make Digg for six hours, or to take down one company or expose one lie. We've built a system that fountains half-truths at an unprecedented speed, and it is nowhere near enough to complete the half-truths one at a time.  

The real revolution in information consists of two fundamental changes, neither of which have really begun yet in anything like the pervasive way they must:  

1. The standard tools and methods for representing and presenting information must understand that everything connects, that "information" is mostly, or maybe exactly, those connections. As easy as it once became to print a document, and easier than it has become to put up web-pages and query-forms and database results-lists, it must become to describe and create and share and augment sets of data in which every connection, from every point in every direction, is inherently present and plainly evident. Not better tools for making links, tools that understand that the links are already inextricably everywhere.  

2. The standard tools for exploring and consuming and analyzing connected information must move far beyond dealing with the connections one at a time. It is not enough to look up the company that built those plants. It is not enough to look up each of their yearly financial reports, one by one, for however many years you have patience to click. It's time to let the machines actually help us. They've been sitting around mostly wasting their time ever since toasters started flying, and we can't afford that any more. We need to be able to ask "What are the breakdowns of spending by plant-type for all companies that have built solar plants?", and have the machines go do all the clicking and collating and collecting. Otherwise our fancy digital web-pages might as well be illuminated manuscripts in bibliographers' crypts for all the good they do us. Linked pages must give way to linked data even more sweepingly and transformationally than shelved documents have given way to linked pages.  

And because we can't afford to wait until machines learn to understand human languages, we will have to begin by speaking to them like machines, like we aren't just hoping they'll magically become us. We will have to shift some of our attention, at least some of us some of the time, from writing sentences to binding fields to actually modeling data, and to modeling the tools for modeling data. From Google to Wikipedia to Freebase, from search terms to query languages to exploration languages, from multimedia to interactive to semantic, from commerce to community to evolving insight. We have not freed ourselves from the tyranny of expertise, we've freed expertise from the obscurity of stacks. Escaping from trees is not escaping from structure, it is freeing structure. It is bringing alive what has been petrified.  

There are no dead-ends in knowledge. Everything we know connects, by definition. We connect it by knowing. We connect. This is what we do, and thus what we must do better, and what we must train and allow our tools to help us do, and the only way Truth ever defeats Evil. Connecting matters. Truths, tools, links, schemata, graph alignment, ontology, semantics, inference: these things matter. The internet matters. This is why the internet matters.
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