The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World

By Michael W. Harris

Nostalgia Bomb for my generation. [image found on web, not mine]
I always love seeing the looks I get when I tell people that I have schoolwork COMPUTER files dating back to sixth grade. Now, for some that would not be that remarkable, but for me, sixth grade was 1992-93. The first web browser only went public in 1991. The first version of Windows was released in 1985. And the ubiquitous Apple IIe that was the first computer in my elementary school lab was released in 1983.

These files of mine are not things I created at school, though. They are Word and Excel documents I made at home for school projects. Papers, reports, etc. The odd personal or Boy Scouts project files are also included, but most are school reports. More importantly, though, is that they are still saved and with a little work could be made accessible again (currently the file formats are no longer readable with the newest versions of Office, but there are ways of migrating them). And this is not theoretical. The files are not stored on obsolete media. Yes, they were first saved on 3 ½ inch floppies, but from there they were first migrated en masse to a 100MB (mega…not giga) Zip Disk in 1999 and from there ported to a 128MB jump drive in the early 2000s. And today these files live both on my 200GB microSD card that is my main data archive, with a back-up stored on a 5TB external hard drive (these drives are named “The Library” and “The Matrix of Gallifrey” respectively). Continue reading “The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World”

Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival

By Michael W. Harris

I love technology. Let me get that out of the way and established. I can build you a computer, install the OS, and get it on-line and running in just a few days. Need a home theatre system installed but don’t know a coax from HDMI? I can help you with that. Want multiple game consoles running into a single receiver with the ability to record to a PC for streaming your sick [Insert Current Popular Battle Royale Game Here] rounds? I can even get that sorted for you.

This is all to say that I am unafraid and embrace the tech…despite the fact that my most recent game consoles are the PlayStation 2 and the NES and SNES Classics. I have also ditched the home built PCs for a Surface, and my home theatre setup is now a lowly 2.1 system (when I used to have a full 7.1) with a regular TV instead of a projector. And in a sign of what is to come, that system still has a CD player and turntable hooked up.

In many ways, as the technology has gotten easier and less complex to use and install, I have scaled back my own setups—though multiple moves in just three years after living in the same place for seven also has a way of forcing one to scale back. But, in that same time, I have also been drawn to two decidedly older and analog hobbies, or maybe fascinations is a better term: pens (or stationary products in general and fountain pens more precisely) and gins.

I have already talked about the latter at some length, so I will largely set gin aside for now. So instead, let’s talk about the former: pens and paper. Continue reading “Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival”

Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill

By Michael W. Harris

In 1999 the Wachowskis burst into the cultural zeitgeist with the anime inspired The Matrix—a “heady, post-modern, what is real, how do we know we are alive or just simulations, bullet time fight, genre defying, how the hell did two relative unknowns do THAT” kind of film.

It was kind of popular.

They followed that up with two sequels that doubled down on the philosophy, fight choreography, and green tint aesthetic, yet also failed to connect with audiences in the same way, though still made truckloads of money for Warner Bros. The Wachowskis have yet to have a true hit film since then, but have directed, written, and produced a string of films (and TV) that while all finding a small, niche audience, have failed to match that earlier success for some reason. In this post want to look at a mighty handful of these and hopefully make the case for at least some of them finding a broader audience.

Note: I am leaving Cloud Atlas out for right now as I will be taking a deeper dive into it as part of my hauntology series, however know that I believe Cloud Atlas to be worth your time.

So with all of that out of the way, let us plug back into the world of the Wachowskis, with all of their philosophy, wire-fu fights, and stylization within an inch of their life production design. Continue reading “Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill”

The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”

By Michael W. Harris

Jackson Brown is one of those artists who has the tendency to drift in and out of my playlists without much thought. His songs will simmer in the background for weeks or months before exploding to dominate my listening for a solid month. His easy acoustic melodies and plaintive voice paired with an equally longing piano is the perfect companion to certain moods.

In many ways, it is a perfect fit for feeling of mono no aware that I wrote about almost two years ago. There is a wistful sadness to many of his songs, especially the ones I gravitate towards, that captures the peaceful resignation to the inevitable passing of all things. Not a rage against the dying of the light, but an acceptance, nigh an embrace of it, that is at the heart of mono no aware and much of Japanese thought.

For me, nothing captures this feeling in the work of Browne more so than a pair of couplets in his 1976 song “The Pretender,” off the album of the same name:

“Out into the cool of the evening strolls the Pretender,
He knows all his hopes and dreams begin an end there.”

And:

“Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender.
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender.”

The resignation found in these lines, the walking into the night, knowing that it holds all of his ends and beginnings in equal measure, the giving into the forces that would beat him down into submission and compliance…it is a deep, cynical view of the world, jaded even, that is the darker tinge of mono no aware. It is not the peaceful acceptance of the Japanese mold, but a more Western resignation. Not full of rage, but contains a simmering resentment none-the-less. But it also does not detract from the other wistful qualities of the song.

So, if these lines are about a submission to something, it begs the question: a submission to what? Continue reading “The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender””

How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein

By Michael W. Harris

I hit two major milestones recently that have finally forced me to change my mentality with my weight loss. 1) I have logged into the phone app I have used to track my food and exercise for 700 consecutive days. Which is just kind of unreal when I step back and think about it. And 2) I finally hit the mid-180s, which, while still not my quote ideal weight unquote, seems like it should be where I stop and seriously work on maintaining instead of losing. And while losing over 200 pounds was a challenge, I firmly believe that maintaining where I am and looking ahead to the next 700 days will be even harder. But let’s back up a bit first and talk about how I got here because that seems to be the question I get. And for that, we will have to go back further than 700 days. Let’s go back to 2013-2014 and when I made the first major change to finally get my health under control.

Warning: this post gets a bit “real” at times. Continue reading “How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein”

…six months later

By Michael W. Harris

I have become quite adept at putting on a happy face. Like so many, when things get bad you rarely want to talk about it openly, especially to family and co-workers. Friends are a different matter, but being thousands of miles away from those nearest and dearest to me, and having only fleeting contact with them, I started lying to them as well about how rough things were during my first six months in Virginia. A difficulty that I barely hint at in my previous essay.

But, I think I turned a corner in early March and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that a few things have became clear to me. 1) I completely withdrew into myself soon after moving to Virginia. 2) In doing so I had created an emotional barrier around myself as a protection measure. And 3) both of these things combined were preventing me from both embracing my new job and area, and also from properly healing. Continue reading “…six months later”

William of Gin

By Michael W. Harris

In September of 2017 I accepted a job at the College of William & Mary and had just two weeks to uproot my entire life and move across the country. I had spent the past decade living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and was now moving to the lower Chesapeake Bay and Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Virginia. I had been to Virginia only once before, during my elementary school field trip to Washington, D.C., and my only memory of the state is almost being left behind at Jamestown when I spent too long in the gift shop looking at books.

I was a nerd from a young age.

My life seems to be a pattern of sudden change. While some live in a state of constant flux, mine seems to have long periods of stability punctuated with moments of rupture. Though, in retrospect, this change was possibly telegraphed. I had become restless in Colorado, and the physical changes my body was undergoing—I had recently decided to get healthy and dropped a considerably amount of weight—mirrored a larger change in my personality as I was struggling to figure out the direction I wanted my life to go. I had made the leap from professor to librarian, and by the fall of 2017 I was in the final semester of my library degree. However, there was still no sign that the permanent temporary status of my job at the University of Colorado would ever change.

So it was, when I returned to Colorado after spending a month in Wyoming doing the requisite internship for my library degree, that I decided to hit the job market hard and truly begin my new career in earnest. Not long after that I was packing up my apartment, including an inordinate number of bottles of gin leftover from my 37th birthday party, and began the three-day drive to Virginia and the College of William & Mary. Continue reading “William of Gin”

Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media

By Michael W. Harris

Sad Matt Smith is Sad

It was around the time when Matt Smith was leaving the TARDIS in the epic three-part “The [blank] of the Doctor” episodes that I began to realize that it was sort of pointless to endlessly theorize. In those episodes, there were so many aspects and moving parts that Steven Moffat had to pay off, not to mention the longstanding issue of how many regenerations Time Lords had, plus the epic reveal of the “War Doctor,” that the creeping sensation of inevitable let down began to sink in. In the months in between “The Name…” and “The Day…” my friends and I had numerous conversations about what we thought was going on and where it was going to lead. For my own part, I injested classic episodes of Doctor Who in order to track down the sources of Whovian lore that Moffat was pulling on. And for all of the hints that he laid out in “The Name,” and for all of the awesome fan service found in “The Day,” the final installment, “The Time of the Doctor,” just sort of limped along and barely paid any of it off. A problem that was compounded by the Peter Capaldi era and its hints of some awesome meta story of how Capaldi had appeared in early parts of the Who franchise. And as I sat in the theatre watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it hit me: I need to relearn how to just enjoy my favorite media properties. This isn’t to say I will stop writing about and analyzing what has already come, not by a long shot. It means that I will try to stop speculating about what might come next. Continue reading “Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media”

On Blogs and Craft Beer: Modern Approaches to “Jobs”

By Michael W. Harris

How do we judge meaning and fulfillment in our lives? How do we judge success? Is it some measure of your personal life? Is it something to do with professional recognition? These are very personal metrics and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For most it is probably a combination of feeling happy with both work and personal life, that precarious “work-life balance” which is a buzzword of so many HR emails.

A recent article in 1843 Magazine (published by The Economist) talks about the rise of the craft/artisanal industry and how much of it is being fueled by white-collar workers fleeing from office drone jobs. There is a lot to chew on in the article, but the trend seems to be the convergence of many factors in modern society: the rise of automation which is driving the rise of more boutique items that fit with a part of society’s growing preference for handmade, locally sourced, and sustainable goods; the desire to control your own labor and thus personal fulfillment in your work (the end result of a late-capitalist moving towards a post-capitalist economy); and a growing dissatisfaction with the economic opportunities available among the younger generation. Continue reading “On Blogs and Craft Beer: Modern Approaches to “Jobs””

Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films

By Michael W. Harris

I really wanted to love Pacific Rim. Like, unabashedly, giggling like a little kid at a silly joke, deliriously love it. And the trailers set me up for such a love! I mean, the plot was something that two eight-year-olds playing with their toys would dream up on a weekend: giant robots fighting giant monsters. It was a live action anime. It was every nerdy “what if” conversation you would have as an undergrad when you finally found “your people.” And that line from the trailer was perfectly hammy yet earnest: “WE ARE CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE!”

So what happened? Why didn’t I have that complete rush of joy when I left the theatre? I liked it, sure. I even enjoyed it. But the giddiness I felt at the first trailer didn’t materialize. And the “apocalypse” speech fell flat. It was too short and didn’t earn its tag line, like “TODAY IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!” did during the summer of 1996. And I think that is a good point of comparison, as I view both films similarly as to what I wanted: a fun, goofy, science fiction romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is what Independence Day is and what I thought Pacific Rim was going to be. So where did PacRim go wrong where ID4 went right? Well, the latter went for broke with the goofy one-liners and tongue in cheek remarks, whereas the former played it too safe and didn’t lean into its silly, kids playing with toys premise. Continue reading “Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films”