Imagine A Quote From ‘Phonogram’ or ‘Soul Music’ Here

[Editor’s Note: This blog entry is an edited and modified version of a portion of this week’s newsletter, so if you received that, feel free to skip this.]

Coheed & Cambria – [The Velourium Camper III: Al the Killer]— We’ll be doing a thing, this week, that I used to do in the old days, back when LiveJournal was a thing. I took the “Current Music” tag pretty seriously, back then, you see, and I would pretty much always be listening to a rather large playlist on random/shuffle, and whenever the song changed I would. (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – [I Put a Spell on You]). Note it. Voilà.

So we’re going to do that, this time around.

I also bought myself a copy of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, for my birthday. That’ll become pertinent, later, but for now it’s just coincident that there have been a great many articles and thinkpieces about machine intelligence, this week, including some more fun pronouncements about “killer robots” from Hawking, Musk, and now Steve Wozniak. (Nine Inch Nails – 3 Ghosts I). It’s difficult, at times like these, to not just print out things I’ve said on a sandwich board and wander around with a megaphone, screaming like some kind of prophet of not-doom.



That kind of thing.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – [What a Wonderful World]— I think what makes this all the worse is that I’m really stoked about this “Teaching-Robots-Jazz” idea, and that makes the glaring failures of imagination in re: change and adaptation all the worse, in the end.

Likely none of this is helped by the fact that I finally saw Ex Machina (Kirsten got me a copy for my birthday; coinciding), and it was almost exactly the film I would have made. Almost.

Weezer – [The World Has Turned and Left Me Here]— One thing about doing the music notation is, you can see how often I pause to do something else while I’m writing these.

So let’s cut to it and, talk about Divination.

Radiohead – [Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)]— Divination is best understood as a process of gaining information from the conjunction of symbolically meaningful signs, omens, or portents. The flight of birds, the coil and overlap and colour of intestines of certain animals at particular times of day, the way three coins or sticks or leaves fall, in relation to each other. Divinatory practices are languages with grammars, and those languages have dialects and those dialects have slang, and each one means something in its larger context, yes, but also has something very specific to say about the kind of thing it is and what it can do. Dr Karen Gregory has some really interesting and useful thoughts on divination and its place in sociological history.

Divination can be used to talk about the future, or the past, or the present. Carl Jung believed that all we were doing in divination was using a psychologically potent symbol system to tell us things we already knew, in a method that we’d actually listen to and understand. Or at least that’s what he most often claimed in public.

Patsy Cline – [Sweet Dreams]— Jung was a Tarot and I Ching kind of guy. Liked the cards and coins and sticks, and thought that the more resonant and primal the better for the purpose of understanding what the unconscious knew but couldn’t directly say. (Aesop Rock – [Coffee] Good idea…). So we’re talking about resonance. Emotional resonance, mental resonance, things that hit you right in your gut, things that engage intellectuality, sure, but aim for your feels. So let’s talk about music.

The hidden track on this song, for instance, makes me think about things going on this week (month, year, century, epoch) that I don’t want to raise my blood pressure about, right now, so we’re skipping it and going to…

Avenue Q Original Cast – [Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist]— …Be confronted with the exact same thing, in a tauntingly humourous context. Hm.

Welp. Still, I wanted to make a point so here it is: Divination, scrying, applied synchronicity, pronoia, directed apophenia, it all comes down to the determination of patterns from seemingly unconnected instances. Drawing pictures in clouds, and then living your life by what they have to say. Like that one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Childish Gambino – Unnecessary (ft. Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul) {prod. Childish Gambino}— Put it down to confirmation bias if it fits, but the longer you live your life in this way, the more things start to take on that kind of “Fertility of Meaning.” Our experiences conform to our expectations, regardless of the sources of either.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – [Shoggoths Away]—Now Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie introduced the word “Phonomancy,” to the wider world in their groundbreaking Phonogram series, but if you’re still unfamiliar, just know that it’s a word that means what it says on the label: Magick via sound. (Mike Geier – [12oz Mouse Jazz Theme]). It’s most often specifically used to mean magick via music, and this is where the whole thing comes together.

Electric Hellfire Club – [Whores of Babylon]— The basic idea behind Phonomantic Divination is really pretty simple: Open the music player of your preference, load all of your music into it, repeatedly click Shuffle/Random while thinking of a question, then listen to whatever songs play, relating them to you and each other. I do mine in the style of a tarot Celtic Cross, which requires 10 Songs, and I tend to listen to each song all the way through, before moving on.

µ-Ziq – Gruber’s Mandolin—If you’re unfamiliar with the tarot, the Celtic cross looks like this:

And I tend to think of each position as:

1) Me As I See Myself:

2) Immediate Influence:

3) Goal:

4) Recent Past:

5) Further Past:

6) Near Future:

7) Me As Others See Me:

8) Further Future:

9) Emotional/Mental State:

10) Ultimate Outcome:

The Chemical Brothers – [Block Rockin’ Beats]— I like this format because it more easily puts everything in an individual and intercontextual significance, but you should use whatever feels most comfortable to you.

You could throw shuffles on three open instances of your music player six times and do an I Ching thing. You could assign each song a value and then do complicated math to get rune values. You could write down lyrics on paper, burn that paper, and read the smoke. Whatever. After all, this is about finding a symbolic system with emotional resonance to you and using it to probe the depths of your psyche.

Flogging Molly – [May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)]— Or it’s about using ancient mystical secrets and new technologies to tell you about the shape of the future. Whichever.

All I know is, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to map divinatory practices onto my DVD collection, for years, and I still haven’t sorted it out. Honestly, it’s a large portion of why I want Netflix to institute a feature where they give you a (pseudo)randomly selected episode or movie from your lists and preferences and maybe even its algorithmic discernments about your tastes. I also think it could really be the last nail in the Traditional-TV-vs-Netflix/Hulu/Etc competition, because it’d effectively replicate channel surfing.

That’d be really nice.

Brianna Olson uses Twitter for what looks like a kind of divination, very often. She’ll get a word or phrase or concept in her head, and plug it into the search function, and retweet what comes out. Fascinating process.

Nine Inch Nails – [Closer]— Final thoughts: Kirsten bought me Ex Machina for my birthday, I bought myself a copy of Extraordinary Machine, and I still think Carl Jung would’ve really loved Twitter.

Until next time.

Short Sci-Fi Story: Search Engine

“Search Engine” by Bram E. Gieben. This is what it feels like to be a professional blogger sometimes:

Half-heartedly, he scans his feeds for new information, walking his regular beats. The robot nurseries are quiet. The heliotronic mother-brains have just upgraded the consciousness models of sub-beta appliances to include the new FreeWill2.3 subroutines. The story will break next week, as people begin to argue sentient rights with their toasters and microwaves. For now, the nurseries’ PR departments are as dumb and empty as the newly-awakened machines. Besides, nobody wants to know about the nurseries. They don’t see the end of the curve the nurseries represent.

Humanity has built its own replacements. Here, at least, Vinnie is ahead of the curve. He knows what the AIs are planning, but nobody wants to listen: to get people to read his stories about the nurseries, he has to hashtag them as conspiracy theories, speculative memes. The truth is too unpalatable.

Over on the Worthing Media sites, he spawns a search daemon to whittle down stories about the honey-smuggling trade into something approaching a summary. He taps out a subdued Op-Ed about the latest attempts to clone a queen, and posts it to the mailbox of the Memesphere news page. It only takes three seconds for the automated e-rejection to ping his mailserver. He sighs his rattling, smoke-ravaged sigh again. If he is going to make any credit this week, he needs to tip the chemical balance back into his favour.

Full Story: Weaponizer: “Search Engine” by Bram E. Gieben

You’re not competing with the average blog – you’re competing with the best blogs

Josh Marshall

Above: Josh Marshall, not your average blogger

David Eaves examines many “old media” myths, most importantly this one: “The average blog is not very good – so how can we rely on blogs for media?”

The problem being that no one – not old media, not other bloggers, not anyone – is competing with “the average blogger.” Because no one reads the average blogger. Everyone’s competing with the most popular bloggers. Some of those aren’t very professional (like Drudge, who despite his protests to the contrary, is a blogger), some are (like the Talking Points Memo family).

So there’re a couple take aways from this:

If you’re from “old media,” forget about how bad most blogs are and think about the good ones.

If you’re a blogger, don’t just do marginally better than “the average blog” and think you’re doing a good job. Aim to be as good as not just the best blogs, but the best media in general.

Eaves: Why Old Media and Social Media Don’t Get Along

Blogs are not businesses

Sleazy salesperson

David Risley writes at Problogger:

I’ve been quite direct about the fact that blogs are not businesses. I believe that so many bloggers get so hung up on their medium that they haven’t stepped back to look at the big picture. A blog is a promotional medium and a communications platform. And in order to really monetize a blog, you have to ask the question: To what end?

What is your real product? What is the thing that you can provide to others in exchange for some of their money? […]

Most bloggers today operate in a dream world of made-up business rules. They try to make money with their blogs when they have nothing to sell. They’ll try to monetize the eyeballs only by littering the blog up with banner ads to sell other people’s stuff. It doesn’t take long for most bloggers to realize what a freaking difficult way to monetize a blog that is!

So many bloggers seem to think of their blog as a newspaper. Newspapers are monetized by ads. Guess what? Newspapers are disappearing left and right last time I checked. The model is limited and broken. So, why try to perpetuate it in a completely different medium?

No, the REAL answer to full-time incomes from blogs is to answer that question: What is my product? And if you don’t have one, you need to create one.

Problogger: Poor Bloggers Focus Too Much On Blog Posts

(Thanks Aaron)

This sounds about right. It’s possible to make money from advertising on a blog – maybe even a living (in the journalism world, The West Seattle Blog is apparently doing well). But it’s damn hard. Selling a product or service is also very hard, but it’s far more realistic than selling advertising.

By the looks of it, Risley is in the “info product” business. Technically, this means selling any non-fiction or instructional content be a book, DVD, or e-book. Generally this means selling short high priced e-books (say, $100 for a 10 page PDF). I’m certainly not accusing Risley of this (the free e-book on his site is quite good, though I can’t speak to his paid products), but be warned: if you start to go down the “info product” rabbit hole, you’re going to find a greasey business full of hucksters who despise their marks. Not everyone in this business is sleazey, and there are plenty of good products out there.. But I can sum up at least 80% of the info products out there: they’re just explanations about how you can make money selling info products. But you’ll have to buy the next, more expensive info product to find out more. Hit up a torrent site, and you can find gigs of this trash.

ANYWAY. Info products are ultimately content, and I’m cynical right now about the future of selling content as a business model. But there’s probably good, honest money to be made here. Think about it – everything from The Economist special reports to Vice guides are “info products.” (That’s not an endorsement of either organization or their products, just examples).

I’m slightly more bullish on the prospects of selling services. That’s what I’ll be doing here at Mediapunk. (Though I do hope to come up with some “info products” [*gag*] to sell). There’s even potential for news organizations to move into this business in the future. To use The Economist as an example again, they have their Intelligence Unit that does business intelligence research for corporations. (See Future journalism business models: research and explanation services).

There’s plenty of other things you can sell – physical products, software, subscription services. But although “starting a business and using your blog to promote it” is fine advice, it’s far easier said than done.

Journalists and bloggers: “create assets” instead of “writing stories”

future reporter

This advice is geared towards journalists, but could be applied all bloggers. It sound “biz speaky,” but I think this guy is correct. This sort of thinking could probably be applied elsewhere as well:

Look first toward creating evergreen assets that readers will continue searching for years in the future. These pieces should be written with search engine optimization in mind, and be stored at unique, easy-to-link URLs that are prominently featured in your site’s navigation.

In 1995, I wrote a short series of one-page tutorials on statistics that continue to be read by a couple thousand people each day. Those assets helped subsidize the next websites that I started, by paying their hosting fees and for some start-up equipment (laptops, cameras, etc.) I’d recommend that any journalist looking to establish himself or herself online start by identifying evergreen assets that he or she could create: how-to articles; sharp, concise explainers of complicated issues, smart guides to popular destinations, etc. Take what you know from your favorite beat and dive in.

Don’t fall into the trap of looking for popular search engine bait. How many people in two years will be looking for the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno posts that so many folks wrote last week? The most valuable assets have enduring value.

Online Journalism Review: Build a better journalism career by shifting your focus from writing stories to creating assets

I found this via Jay Rosen, who notes that when he writes his longer PressThink articles he tries to make them enduring assets and cites this as a specific example.

I might cite my biopunk article as an example of an asset.

(Photo by Repórter do Futuro / CC BY 2.0)

Update: Check out this PDF guide to creating “flagship content” – I like the term “flagship content” better than “asset.”

The rise and fall of South Korea’s most popular economic pundit


Until the day he was outed, the most influential commentator on South Korea’s economy lived the life of a nobody. Park Dae-Sung owned a small apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Seoul and freelanced part-time at a telecom company. Thirty years old, he still hoped to earn a four-year degree in economics. In the mornings, he would bicycle to the public library to study for the university entrance exam. His standard uniform was slacks, loafers, and wrinkle-free button-down shirts, as though he were going to work in an office. But with his slightly chubby moon face, glasses, and neatly parted hair, he easily blended in among the rows of students. While they worked through school assignments, he immersed himself in the text of his chosen profession.

In the evenings, Park would go online, frittering away the hours like millions of other geeks. He often played the simulation game Capitalism II, where he’d assume the role of a blue-chip investor, closing million-dollar deals and speculating on skyscrapers. Nothing that he did earned him any attention.

Then, in March 2008, Park opened an account on South Korea’s popular Daum Agora forum. Here, he decided, he would call himself Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom, and write exclusively on economics, drawing on both public reports and his years in the stacks poring over Adam Smith and Joseph Stiglitz. Affecting the effortless command of a seasoned investor, he strove to project the authority that had eluded him in real life. The world economy is in the midst of collapse, he warned, so pay your debts and stock up on noodles and drinkable water. He made pronouncements on when to buy or sell a home, exchange Korean won for dollars, and pull out of the financial markets altogether.

Wired: The Troubles of Korea’s Influential Economic Pundit

See also:

Christian Science Monitor: Financial blogger’s arrest tests Korea’s progress on human rights

Korea Times: Foreigners Puzzled Over Minerva’s Arrest

zero hedge
Also of interest:

New York Magazine’s article on Zero Hedge and Matt Taibbi’s response.

David Simon: Dead-Wrong Dinosaur

I caught some of David Simon’s testimony to the Senate on the radio the other day. It was like nails on a chalk board for me – listening to the same dead wrong arguments over and over again.

Ryan Tate says some of the things I wanted to shout through the radio:

I found this argument odd, because as a newspaper reporter who spent a few years covering a town much like Baltimore — Oakland, California — I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residents newspapermen often refer to as “gadflies” — deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived.

Gawker: David Simon: Dead-Wrong Dinosaur

Memo to newspaper journalists: “online news” doesn’t begin and end with Matt Drudge, and newspaper subscription never paid your salary.

How to Blog Like a Journalist

1. Content is Storytelling
2. What is the Conflict?
3. What’s your Angle?
4. Write thoughtful and strategic headlines.
5. The importance of the sub-headline.
6. A good lede needs a compelling hook.
7. Quoting Sources

Full Story: Max Gladwell

(via Danielle Hatfield)

Technoccult SEO: Veteran WordPress advice from Klintron

I just did a guest post over at Justin Boland’s Pizza SEO:

I’ve been blogging since the dark ages of 1999. My oldest and most popular blog is Technoccult, which I’ve been doing since 2001. My most important tips are non-technical and platform independent, and I’m presenting them first. The second part of this article covers WordPress tweaks and plugins, which is what Justin actually asked me to write about.

If you don’t read any of the hints, just keep this in mind: Do everything you can to make reading your blog easy, and avoid annoying your readers. Write a good blog, retain your readership, and it will grow. Your readers will e-mail and IM your URL. They will link to you on their blogs. They will link to you on social media services. That’s how you build traffic. Search engines are always making changes in how they rank stuff, so question SEO wizardry and focus on reader experience.

Full Story: Pizza SEO

Update: I’ve started a Portland SEO consulting practice.

The Ethics of Hate Mail: Should Bloggers Post Email Correspondence Without Permission?

“Melanie Kroll probably doesn’t appreciate the irony of her situation. She was fired this week from her job at 1-800-Flowers.com, a floral delivery service, after a death threat was sent to popular science blogger PZ Myers from her work email address. The irony stems from the fact that she most likely heard about Myers only because the Catholic League had attempted to get him terminated from his job at the university where he teaches.

Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, had published a controversial blog post on July 8 titled ‘IT’S A FRACKIN’ CRACKER!’ The cracker in this instance was referring to a Eucharist – a small wafer considered by Catholics to be the body of Christ – that had been smuggled uneaten out of a church by a Florida man. The incident caused public outrage from some Catholics and after the Catholic League condemned the action the man received multiple death threats. He finally succumbed to the pressure and returned the wafer to the church.

Myers is a vocal atheist and his blog post expressed incredulity and anger that a person would be harassed in such a way over what Myers considered a…well, cracker. At the end of the post he called his readers to action. ‘Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?’ he wrote. ‘There’s no way I can personally get them – my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure – but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare.’

Eventually Myers’s writing reached Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, and in his typical fashion he went on the attack. The Catholic organization sent out a press release encouraging Catholics to email the president of the University of Minnesota and demand that action be taken. But Myers received a large number of emails as well, many of which were vitriolic and hateful. A few of those threatened the blogger with physical violence or even death. Citing a disclaimer on his blog that he has the right to reprint any emails that threatened violence, he posted two such messages on July 13, making sure to include the addresses and other identifying information of those who sent them.”

(via Bloggasm)

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