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Burning Man was better in 1992 - Tactical Ninja

Sep. 10th, 2012

09:36 am - Burning Man was better in 1992

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This weekend I got gripped by the Making Stuff bug again - this time the project is so dorky I'm not even going to tell you what it is till it's finished. But it is branching out into a new area for me, so I'm documenting it with photos and all will be revealed eventually if I'm not too embarrassed to show you.

But I can show you this:




I didn't make this, grist did. It's the light part of the lamp installation we are collaborating on for our downstairs hallway. While it looks kind of pink there, you can see in the reflection that it's actually a bunch of different coloured LEDs, programmed with an arduino to colour-change in a variety of patterns according to how we want our downstairs disco hallway to be lit. Each little square will go inside one of the lamps I made. Remember this?



And then they'll be hung amongst these:



And it will be pretty! This project is nearing completion and I'm looking forward to seeing it all done. And I bet you anything you like, the only part of it that other people will find interesting will be the arduino/LED/electronics part of it. Such is the nature of my social group.

I struggle with this every now and then. It's a weird thing and I suspect a lot of it is internal - after all, art is art is art, right? Creativity is creativity. But I'm not like a lot of the people I know, in that I'm not endlessly fascinated by electronics. I would rather cover my hands in glue and paint and scabby bits making something analogue than mess about with code and soldering wires. Not that there's anything wrong with coding and soldering, far from it. Lots of people make really cool things this way, and I think it's neat. But I'm something of a plebeian in that I think if you've seen one giant tesla coil that plays lightning music, you've seen them all, and I get bored with that sort of thing pretty quickly. And I'm sorry Happy, the mitochondrion is very cool and I do get that it's incredibly complex and satisfying to have made such a thing, but what I like about it is when you do contact with it. Without your skill doing contact and bringing it to life, it's just a shiny stick to me.

Sometimes I feel as if there's something lacking in my psyche because of this. Mostly I think it's because I'm surrounded by people who get off on tech, so my view is skewed to think that being a tech geek is the norm, or something. But if I'm completely honest, that's one of the reasons I don't get involved in things like maker spaces (even though I could have done with a lathe for 5 minutes this weekend). I've never been to one* so I'm probably judging from ignorance here - but everyone I know who's involved in them is a tech geek, and when I picture this I picture a bunch of mostly men standing around having conversations about things I don't understand and am not really interested in, while I go off by myself and splash around with glue and nails. And then I produce my masterpiece and someone says "Needs more LEDs and lasers."

I know this is an unfair view and I have no right to think this without having tried it out. But I've spent enough of my life being excluded because I'm different, that I now have a fairly large chip on my shoulder about anything I view as elitism - I guess the unfair part is where I assume that maker spaces are likely to be elitist. But hey - this is a small town and it's always the same people involved in these things, you know? And some of those people are deeply involved in things that are elitist, and I'm chickenshit at heart. I'm not interested in putting myself forward to be told I can't be in the club. I'd rather keep cleaning paint stains out of the carpet making stuff in my lounge, where nobody judges my things based on whether or not it involves getting a PhD to understand how it works.

* You know, the fact that I've never been asked to one tells me that perhaps this is not all just in my mind.

"Get over yourself Tats, geez!"

Yeah, it's not like I don't tell myself that every time I see someone talking about how TED has jumped the shark because now it's accessible to more than just a small group of smart people. I grin because 2-3 years ago, the very same people who are doing that now were all over TED as the best thing ever. But it's only good until it becomes mainstream, then it's not good enough any more. I know that now every person and their dog thinks they have an idea worth sharing, finding the actually good ideas has got a whole lot harder. One now has to apply a filter to TED. But I think it's a bit *ahem* privileged to expect to not have to apply a filter, frankly. Welcome to the rest of the world, where you mostly get fed dross and can't easily insulate yourself from the bullshit by hiding away with a select group of people. If you want to change the world, you have to be in it, and that involves accepting that the more accessible something is, the harder you have to work to maintain the quality.

There's probably a Sociological Theory to be applied here, eh? Some smart fuck came up with it and I'm not saying anything new. If this is the case, point me at it - I'm keen to know. But if you combine my working class background with my history of exclusion because I'm different* and then add a healthy mix of having one foot in both camps**, you get an inability to articulate exactly what it is that gets up my nose about the way people tend to denigrate things once they get popular - but I know it does get up my nose. I understand the logic behind it but it still annoys me. This is my attempt to figure out what's up with that. I think it's because in part, when people talk about the level of ignorance, lack of discernment, or plain thickness of the general population, it feels as if they are talking about me. And I want to yell "Not everyone who doesn't have access to your resources/education/clubhouse is stupid, you know!" But I can also see the evidence that people acting in large groups do behave more stupidly, and mass production often reduces quality. Should we only produce good stuff for the elite then?

So I guess the frustration I feel when I see this attitude among my friends is a combination of two things:

1. Cognitive dissonance - I'm a libertarian as an individual but I understand enough about how things work to be somewhat of a socialist when it comes to policy. This form of elitism is a similar individual-vs-population issue I think.

2. Part of me doesn't want to be left out of the club. I feel like an interloper, as if someone dressed me up as an intellectual but I'm actually a ditch digger that reads a lot, and I'm waiting to be told I don't belong and to piss off.

I don't know if I'll ever get over that second one tbh.

* Spent most of my life thinking 'different' means 'not good enough' and I still have this inner struggle on a regular basis.
** That would be the Outside camp and the Inside one. I am surrounded by the sort of people who are in a position to criticise TED and back it with smart arguments, yet I'm also someone who thinks that the concept of bringing knowledge to the masses is a fundamentally good one - after all, I'm one of the masses, you know?


Huh. That went somewhere I wasn't expecting. I guess I have feelings about this.

Comments:

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From:ferrouswheel
Date:September 9th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC)
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"You know, the fact that I've never been asked to one tells me that perhaps this is not all just in my mind."

I haven't either! I would just go there if I wanted to, and see what it's like before prejudging them. Why would anyone get an invite?

Also, my whole opinion about TED changed when the lab leader from Hong Kong (you know the one) continuously went on about it, ran the HK event, and invited TED people to the office all the time. My assessment was that the people who went to TED and talked about stuff were not the people that did the hard work, but the people who are good at marketing and networking and have $10k to spend on a conference.

Now we have one in our backyard: http://tedxtearo.co.nz/ - next it'll be TEDxPlumCafe.

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From:tatjna
Date:September 9th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
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"I haven't either! I would just go there if I wanted to, and see what it's like before prejudging them. Why would anyone get an invite?"

You read the bit where I said I'm basically chickenshit and feel like I don't belong, right?

And the bit where I said "Get over yourself Tats"?

I suspect the opportunity to make money from things changes the dynamic of many a good idea, eh? Shame about that capitalism.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:September 10th, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
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Jez: have you read this? http://www.electricsheepcomix.com/almostguy/
It is completely awesome in and of itself, but also directly relevant. :)
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From:vernacularity
Date:September 10th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
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shiny!
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From:richdrich
Date:September 10th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
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the people who went to TED and talked about stuff were not the people that did the hard work, but the people who are good at marketing and networking and have $10k to spend on a conference

That has been my experience, not with TED but with stuff in general. Mind you, I could probably get more recognition if I actually wanted to give up my spare time and stand in a room with a group of blokes balancing a plate of food and a glass of wine in one hand while discussing repository architecture or whatever. Life's too short.
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From:rantydave
Date:September 9th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)

Maybe you just don't like electronics?

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The nerds would like to be able to dance.

The nerds wish they had cool clothes with wings and sparkly bits.

The nerds would go dance with the girl with cool clothes except they're a bit fat, wear glasses, can't dance for shit and if it comes to actual talking ... well ... the current state of the art in $5 or less microcontrollers is just not going to cut it.

So they feel pretty isolated, part of some underclass of not-cool people and more-or-less have to mix with the other people who know about arduinii and particle accelerators and giant tesla coils that play music. And also due to some freak of genetics or upbringing almost every single one of these people is male. Which sucks, as you might imagine (does "Bachelor of Engineering" have an ironic ring to it yet?)

So, yeah, I guess I'm saying that the light goes both ways through the glass.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 9th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Maybe you just don't like electronics?

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I sort of see a thing that you did there but I have no idea what DIP stands for, so if that's part of it, it went right over my head.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 9th, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Maybe you just don't like electronics?

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I found your comment mostly incomprehensible through and through tbh. I'm not sure what that says about this so-called social divide and what supposed side of it I'm on.

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From:richdrich
Date:September 10th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)

Re: Maybe you just don't like electronics?

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Yes, but is the reason you don't get a prototype shop to build the boards for you (at probably less than you've spent on tools, dead chips, cursing, etc) part of the need for the artist to have manual input in order for it to be art?
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From:Will Marshall
Date:September 9th, 2012 11:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Maybe you just don't like electronics?

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Of course, the nerds can achieve all these things if they're willing to confront their own fears, break down a few barriers and spend a handful of years trying and failing at things before getting good enough at them to pass as human.

Nerdiness doesn't necessarily mean a lack of coolness, although we do tend to put the two in opposition by default for some reason.
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From:prelley
Date:September 9th, 2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
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I have no idea what TED is... I think I need to look it up
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From:tatjna
Date:September 9th, 2012 11:21 pm (UTC)
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It's a platform for people to share their ideas with the world. It has the tagline "Ideas worth sharing." The format is a 20-minute talk in which participants pitch whatever idea they have, with (I assume) the aim of brevity bringing clarity.

I don't know a lot about it other than that, except that some really cool vids have come out of TED and it has become immensely popular and attracted the attention of those who see it as a vehicle for advertising money - resulting in a perceived loss of quality to the talks as more and more speakers get on the platform.

It's worth a google, and I think the concept is pretty cool personally.
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From:richdrich
Date:September 10th, 2012 01:18 am (UTC)
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I'm a libertarian as an individual but I understand enough about how things work to be somewhat of a socialist when it comes to policy


My reconciliation of these goes as follows:
- we don't want to live in Somalia (or other lawless zone where governance has collapsed. Detroit, maybe)
- there is a tendency for some people in any society to not play nicely
- the authoritarian response to this is a top-down restriction of liberties (stop people having drugs, because some can't handle them and will misbehave to the detriment of themselves and the community)
- socialism (or anarcho-syndicalism) provides an alternative framework in which people can be supported to better handle their lives with less curtailment of liberties (help people understand that too much drug use might interfere with them achieving their other life goals. Oh, and have a society where those goals might mean something)

Kind of.


Edited at 2012-09-10 01:46 am (UTC)
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From:adam_0oo
Date:September 10th, 2012 01:24 am (UTC)
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Great makin stuff maked!
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From:wildilocks
Date:September 10th, 2012 02:04 am (UTC)
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I've never been asked to a maker space either - have been to one simply because Jeremy had workmate heavily involved in one. I think it's the kind of thing that is indeed male dominated (so it's more likely a gender thing than a not-nerdy-enough thing) but if you asked about such things you're not likely to be be rebuffed.

Also, I do recall you giving a Nerdnite talk about Sheep Geekery not so long ago, so afaiac you are in The Club, and are a True Nerd. So there.
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From:thatgirljj
Date:September 10th, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)
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I feel ya. I too have an affinity for making actual things with actual materials that don't require electricity and blinky. Especially if I have an idea for a particularly elegant approach to make blinky that relies on the material technology with relatively simple blinky. And then everyone is like "meh, I have a coat too, whatever." Which kind of makes me want to pound them in the head with their fancy lasers.
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From:rivet
Date:September 10th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
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2. Part of me doesn't want to be left out of the club. I feel like an interloper, as if someone dressed me up as an intellectual but I'm actually a ditch digger that reads a lot, and I'm waiting to be told I don't belong and to piss off.

I don't know if I'll ever get over that second one tbh.


I still struggle with it. That's abundantly clear now that I'm back in a university, putting my name onto grant applications next to people with dozens of publications.
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From:rivet
Date:September 10th, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)

stories I can't let go of

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We tell ourselves stories all the time to make sense of the world around us and our place in it. They change over time and experience, but some are quite sticky. Rather than letting go of them, we pile things on top of them. Then they whisper to us at night, so we pile more things on top of them.

Sometimes, for me, the answer is to dig them back up and spend time with them. To ask 'what's great about this story?' rather than 'why the @@%#! won't you die?' Some of those stories protect me from failure by keeping me from believing in the possibility of unfettered success.
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