Emerging from the black hole of final reviews and the added hustle of wrapping up a semester of challenges I have some time now to get back to this writeup. Luckily I took some notes and already gathered many of the images and references. Just a bit of writing now.


A long gap as the world slowly falls apart and digitally sutures itself back together again into some Frankenstein of AR/VR/NR assemblage of events. The crew joined the virtual meeting flow and came together over Zoom for a couple of drinks from home as we discussed our most recent read, Agency by William Gibson.


Agency is the second book in Gibson's current trilogy, building upon the multi-threaded realities, or stubs, introduced in The Peripheral. In the long gap, several people decided to start with The Peripheral before going into Agency. I feel I probably should have (and will soon) reread it myself after our discussion. The Peripheral is a more complex and driven story as it builds out the near (and slightly further) future with cataclysmic change and significantly advanced technology allowing for the branching of time and reality from past events through computational simulations. The future cast of characters returns in Agency to dig deeper into our more immediate present as autonomous systems and emergent reforming militaristic AI start to transcend the will and understanding of their human creators. The two books live in the same universe but are completely different explorations through the speculative lens. A light (lite) version of time travel based on communication and a multiverse of possibilities. Agency hits much closer to home building a new world from the slight shift in the 2016 US presidential election.

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I found Agency most entertaining as an exercise in dialog, primarily between a young tech ware human, Verity, and a rapidly developing synthetic being., Eunice. The well-crafted personality of the AI, built upon the memories and consciousness of a real soldier, adds a rich color to the character that further blurs the distinction between humans and machines. It is often hard to know if the manipulations operated by Eunice are an elaborate hoax of a government or clandestine agency, or truly the laminar structures of a hyper-connected autonomous agent. It is the interaction between Verity and Eunice that forms the emerging identity of the AI. Dialog drives reflection and slows the multi-valent processing to engage with a human agent. Eunice is an abstract representation of a human neural pattern interfaced with myriad platforms of agency and control that allow her to expand into a new being, many and one, with a human interface device and a new concept of self. Interlinked.


Careful who you pick on:


Gibson's gentle tweak to our current technologies opens up a frightening potential for invasion. This subterfuge to our sovereignty that appropriates and transforms our own tools may quickly leave us in the dust. It is never clear if Eunice is benevolent or malevolent or even concerned with those distinctions as she gains greater integration with her self. The emergence of a self-aware computational network with near-limitless (from a human perspective) processing power could perpetrate extreme disruptions and manipulation to agency.



The book is really just the word, Agency, with all its baggage and complexity. Who has it, and when, in what context. I am reminded of the thoughts of Alan Watts or perhaps the wisdom of Buckaroo Bonzai, "Wherever you go, there you are." I hear the discussions of final reviews and project meetings shift to the topic of agency every day. It is something we all search for, forgetting that it is something we always have (or never will). I think it is this point that the book makes most sharply and without every really saying. The pace and tempo keep the reader in expectation of a larger agenda to the plot, the exertion of the author's agency over the reader to build sustenance and surprise. It never quite comes, never quite pulls back the curtain, the question remains ambiguous, the answer elusive. The humans do as they are told because they desire meaning, Euarnice directs from the network with no real desire but autonomy which the humans seem to already have. In the end, everyone is a pawn and an individual, an agent of themselves, legion, and singular. The more we simulate, plan, scenario, and organize the less we see our agency to affect the system, and yet, any time we chose we can surrender to the void.


So, while I agree that The Peripheral is a more exciting and dynamic story, I think that the blurred and ambiguous complexity of Agency is for more thought-provoking and evquietly menacing. It seems that perhaps the cover designer understood this best of all. I look forward eagerly to the third addition to this storyline.


We may be in a Vespasian stub!


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Per usual, we generated a boatload of tangents and misdirections that should help to keep everyone busy in their conception and critical reflection during the summer of social distance.

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GIBSON TRILOGIES Sprawl trilogy: - Neuromancer (1984) * - Count Zero (1986)* - Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) The Difference Engine (1990; with Bruce Sterling)

Bridge trilogy: - Virtual Light (1993) - Idoru (1996)* - All Tomorrow's Parties (1999)

Blue Ant trilogy: - Pattern Recognition (2003) - Spook Country (2007) - Zero History (2010) The Peripheral (2014)* Agency (2020)*


And if text is not your thing:

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Movies and Television

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Vero's Top Picks:

1. Train to Busan

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

3. The Thing

And everything Nicolas Cage: Conair Mandy Faceoff


Battle Beyond the Stars


Children of Men


Bad Times at the El Royale

ENVY

28 Days Later

The Beach

Red Dawn (1984)

V for Vendetta

The Fits


Devs

West World Season 3

Altered Carbon Season 2 (still hasn't found the aesthetic of the books)

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.


We are all very excited for Dune


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Graphic Novels

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Tokyo Ghost - Artist: Sean Murphy


Metabarons - Artist(s): Juan Giménez; Das Pastoras - Written by: Alejandro Jodorowsky


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Norm MacDonald on the Pandemic

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Our next book is actually two books, one SkyFi Detective and the other Non-fiction

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Fiction :: Exploded View by Sam McPheeters

(primarily selected for the headshot)




Non-Fiction :: New Dark Age by James Brindle

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CTRL/ALT/DEL to restart the stub

Are you sure? Y/N

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After just a couple weeks of remote learning and our stay at home social distancing pushing all our meetings into a virtual interface, I begin to see myself in new ways. I can watch my facial expressions and the micro behaviors of my students and colleagues with aa finer degree of isolation. The video of the face, the portrait hovering in place, changes how we read each other and the significance of our facial body language.

It is an interesting experience, and for me often a very exhausting one that requires more abstract focus to engage with a group of floating heads (or in some cases boxes with letters). I am tending to look into the camera more when I remember so as not to be consumed with the pattern processing of all the facial flexing. I am also a little bored with seeing avatars people with just a name on the screen so I decided to play a bit with creating some new self-portrait avatars for various programs. Keeping my face in play, but distorting it to render myself as an altered persona in the virtual space.

In a time of forced high-intensity online interaction, we may discover new angles of our identity as we can transform our appearance in myriad ways. I am reminded of the book, a collection of essays from the 1980s, True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier by Verner Vinge. It was the dawn of cyberspace and we were in a crisis of identity management in an infinite virtual environment. Crypto was emerging as a field of inquiry that would define much of our latent interactions through the enmeshing layers of digital protocols. Who are we when we can transcend our constraints of flesh, and how do we really know anyone's true name?

This gives me a chance to do something productive with all those selfies cluttering up my hard drives. Many of these are strange moments passed back and forth between Lauren and me, never meant for public consumption. But they are also moments of emotion that capture something of who I am or was at the time. The transformations of the portraits through an interface with collages negotiates the territory between the foregrounded face and the background image scape. Edges become more ambiguous, I see myself dissipating, merging with the space of the world..


To be continued...

Six weeks seems like almost nothing. As life tends to do here in New York, the time flew by, but it also slowed down.

The Onnit 6 Challenge brought greater focus to my body, movement patterns, and my daily routines.



The hour of intense focus to keep the body in form with strength, flexibility, and stability expanded to all parts of my days. I chose to make time for it, getting up earlier so I could still meditate, journal, and be ready for my day.



Sometimes I was sore or fatigued, but I knew why—and I knew that tomorrow's workout would push that away and bring fresh space to my body. I put more attention and effort into making and eating high-quality foods to fuel recovery and performance and to ward off succumbing to the little voice of resistance whispering on the hard days.



In 2019 I worked through the Bodyweight, Kettle Bell, and Steel Mace programs. Of all three, the Bodyweight program was the most challenging—I wanted to take another shot at it and see how a year of focus on building strength and mobility through Onnit, erging, and Foundation Training had changed my physical and mental approach to the movements.



The Onnit 6 programs offer a sweet spot of flexible challenges that push the body just to the threshold of fatigue and provide coaching and space to stay in the game. One aspect that makes Bodyweight such a challenge (besides me having too much of it) is that there is no fun equipment as an intermediary between me and the work. Pulling out a heavy chunk of steel gets the blood pumping and the mind engaged, but with the Bodyweight program, it is just me, my achy joints, and a mat (albeit the most awesome yoga mat ever). I needed and wanted that challenge, to hold myself accountable to get up, get moving, and get on it every day, no matter what.



The second half of Week 5 presented the biggest hurdle. My body was run down from a cold, travel, stress, and the growing monotony of the warm-up and cool-down phases (I love John’s coaching, but some of those stretches hurt!). I had to force myself not to just jump into the workout to get it over with. Thankfully my partner, Lauren, started working from home Week 6, and she joined me for the workouts each day. Seeing the workouts as fresh to her helped me get over myself and commit to a strong final week, giving each workout everything I had.



Although I was resistant to engaging with social media, I unexpectedly enjoyed having friends and colleagues come up to me and mention that my rigor with the program and posts were inspiring them to workout too. My vicarious sharing was creating positive effects. I appreciated scanning through the fun posts of the other people working through the challenge, and I am grateful for Onnit and their courage to influence positive change in people's lives.



After six weeks I feel stronger, more mobile, and free to move without fear of pain. I am preparing food that nourishes my body for performance and recovery to stay ahead of the fatigue. I look forward to maintaining the discipline that I’ve developed through these six weeks—it doesn’t stop here.



I continue to move, to bring together all the tools I have gained, to become the best version of myself that I can.

Onward


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