Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio – Technoccult interview

Mika Vainio

Pan Sonic, originally known as Panasonic until the electronics company made them change their name, was a collaboration between Finnish electronic musicians Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen. The pair recently announced that their new album Gravitoni, now available from Blast First Petite, will be their last. Mika spoke with me by phone about the reason for the split, the new album, and his plans for the future.

Klint Finley: I guess I’ll start with, just to get it out of the way, the announcement has been put out that Pan Sonic has split up, so was this an amicable split?

Well, let’s say that we don’t have any plans to start again, but maybe we do one day. It’s still open, but I don’t think, at least for a couple years, we will not do it.
Pan Sonic

So are you willing to talk anymore about the reasons behind the split or do you want to leave it at that?

Yeah, why not. There has been no argument or bad spirit or anything like that. It’s just that after, we’ve been doing this for over 15 years, it’s time to stop and concentrate on our own solo things.

So is that what you’re going to be concentrating on now, solo work?

Yes. Solo work, then I work with a couple of other people also. There are lots of projects going on.

Will Jari Lehtinen still be working with you and/or Ilpo?

Not really, not for a long time actually.

Pan Sonic Gravitoni

What can listeners expect from the new Pan Sonic album?

Compared to the one before, it’s more minimal and basic. We kind of wanted to go back to the old style, minimal tracks with quite strong sounds.

Are there any guest artists on it or is it only you and Ilpo?

It’s only me and Ilpo this time, yes. It’s quite basic.

Did you collaborate long distance on this album, with you working in Berlin and him working in Finland, or did you get together in the studio to work on it?

No, we were working here in my studio in Berlin.

Pan Sonic is known for recording live instead of using overdubs and sequencers. Has that changed at all?

Well, since the last album before this new one we’ve been using multitrack, so we’re doing overdubs now.

Have you experimented with using software – like software synthesizers or sequencing – or are you still using only hardware?

I’m using only hardware. I don’t really want to do any computer thing. I think it would change my whole approach to the music. It feels quite boring for me, I don’t want to go for that.
Pan Sonic live

The record business has been going through a lot of transitions lately through music piracy through the Internet and there’s also the economic crash that makes it harder for people who might want to pay for music to actually pay for music. Has than been affecting you at all? Do you have any thoughts on that?

No it’s not affecting me that much, I think it’s only a problem of the record labels and big major artists. But for smaller artists and people like me we get very little money from the record sales altogether. The main source is playing live, that’s where the income is coming from. And I possibly think the music is available on the net because there are a lot of people, for example in South America, who could not afford to buy any CDs but this way they can hear the music, the music is available.

Mika playing live at In Touch Festival, Minsk. 2009-02-28

So you say most of your money comes from playing live, so will be touring solo to support your new work?

Yes, and I’ve been doing different things also. I’ve been working with a dance company making music for them. And I do sound installations too from time to time, so there’s income coming from that also.

Can you tell us about some of your sound installations?

Yes, sure. I would like to do them more often now that Pan Sonic is over, if I have more time. My last piece was in Brussels in November. It contained 6 off-tune radios. And I created the sound in the gallery with these radios.

Do you have any advice for new experimental musicians who are just starting out?

I would say they should just trust themselves and not think too much about what others think.

More Info

Video interview with Mika from Brainwashed.com. Mika talks about the history of Pan Sonic.

Unofficial Pan Sonic site from Phinnweb. Most complete resource for everything Pan Sonic.

Mika Vainio page from his booking agent. Watch here for tour dates.

Justin Landers of The Steven Lasombras – Technoccult interview

Steven Lasombras

Front: Justin Landers Back: Ben Blanding. Photo by Tony Vu.

Justin Landers is Portland based artist and musician who records and performs under the name The Steven Lasombras. His new EP A Diamond Eye Shines in Failing Light was released today on To the Neck Recordings. You can download the EP for free here or buy it here. Disclosure: I’m opening at the CD release show 4/30/10.

Klint Finley: What’s the meaning of the name Steven Lasombras?

Justin Landers: Oh Jesus… Should have seen that one coming! “Steven Lasombra” was a fictional character in a long-running Vampire: The Dark Ages campaign. When I originally started recording songs I labeled them Steven Lasombra Recordings, right around when a lot of “The” bands were getting big (The Strokes, The White Stripes, etc. etc.) so taking the name The Steven Lasombras was a really satisfying goof. I always meant to change it when I found a better name, but after a couple years it became a thing where nothing else fit.

Basically, it started out as a really stupid in-joke.

So he was one of your characters or one from a published series of books?

Sighh… it was my first character.

C’mon, do you think SPIN is going to be any easier on you?

“LOL”! It’s true.

How would you describe The Steven Lasombras to someone who’d never heard your music?

I would say I write and illustrate stories in the form of “songs”, and that they usually end up big and loud and dark, with lots of different parts. And I would feel like a pretentious ass. But that’s the quickest way to put it.

You’re also a visual artist. How has that impacted your approach to making music?

I have no training as a musician or anything, all my training is in visual arts. So I approach recording in the same way I would a painting – begin with the initial idea (whether it’s a half-finished story, imagery from a dream or a movie, a phrase, something from “real life”), then flesh it out and heap on as much detail as I can.

Moving forward, the visual element will be a bigger part of it. I’ve always made all the accompanying artwork for SLs releases but the new thing I’m working on which should be finished by the end of the year) is a bit more involved, the visual and sound elements are equally important. In that way, The SLs should become less of a “band” and more… I don’t know, something else.

That probably answers my next question – You spent some time last year studying wayang kulit in Indonesia, will that find its way into your work?

YES, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The new EP is a transition between my way of working before going there and the way I’m going about it now. The next project I mentioned definitely has some elements of wayang, especially in the visual side. I started compiling ideas for a wayang show to try here, but I am not sure if that’s ever going to happen. Not only would it be insanely expensive, I was a severely mediocre dalang.

A Diamond Eye Shines In Failing Light

So The Steven Lasombras is just you in the studio, and you work with various musicians for live shows, is that right?

Correct. The live line-up has shuffled a bit, mostly between friends or relatives who I’d played with in other bands (my brother Alex, our cousin Chris Ryan, who I played with in Animal Beard, Jevon Cutler from Chevron and Animal Beard, Michael Ferguson, Ben Blanding…) and who I was comfortable giving orders to. Since I’ve been back, everyone’s schedules were hectic enough that I just ended up playing alone live, and I think that’s been reasonably successful. With a guitar/bass/drums band the songs come across as a little more straightforward, the one-man versions pull them to a slightly weirder place.

How long have you been performing and recording under the name?

I believe the earliest four-track recordings date back to 2001 and the first proper live performance was March of 2006.

We don’t play live too often since a lot of the songs are tricky to learn. The parts themselves are simple enough (I think), but getting them practiced to a point of being really presentable is a challenge, especially when everyone has a job/school/wife/whatever.

(I should find some unemployed believers and then get comfortable giving them orders.)

It shouldn’t be that hard to find unemployed musicians in Portland.

How did you get your first gig?

First gig was by request! It was the release party for the Dragging An Ox Through Water record “Rebukes!”

Brian Mumford is actually one of the first people who really seemed to like the SLs stuff when he heard it, going back to like 2003. He had a CD-R label for a while called Publisher’s Clearinghaus that put out an Animal Beard record. He was going to put out another SLs record in 2004 but the project folded or he lost interest or something… He was really nice about it, though. He apologized to me for years.

Steven Lasombras

Left: Justin Landers. Right: Alex Landers. Photo by Tony Vu.

So were you passing recordings around to friends or actively seeking local labels?

Just to friends, and barely that! At that time Chris Ryan was still living in Eugene and was friends with Brian and the other guys in (the sadly now-defunct) Chevron, I believe that’s how he heard it, probably by accident. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve been comfortable actively sharing this music with people outside of my immediate circle of friends. That might be a mental thing on my part, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m much better now and know what I’m trying to do.

When were you in Animal Beard? Was that before The Steven Lasombras?

Yes! Animal Beard started when Chris was still living in Eugene, during my two terms at U of O, late 2000. That also started as a bedroom four-track recording project, but… in more of an indie-rock style. Chris wrote perfect little pop songs and then sang them in a bizarre, often kind of ugly way. I played bass with him, when he was in town Jim Edwards played drums and keyboard (often at the same time)… We played a lot and made some really nice recordings that just fell flat. We played a fair amount, the line-up changed (added upright bass and Brian Mumford on theremin) but people just didn’t know what to do with us. To this day, I still think Animal Beard was solid gold and everyone else was crazy.

There’s an Animal Beard full-length that’s 99.9% finished that I think I’ll be able to put out this summer. It’s weird and lovely.

Was that your first band? You said you don’t have any training as a musician, how did you get started?

I bought a bass in 2000, I think because I thought it would easy to teach myself. Outside of aimless “jamming” with friends I think Animal Beard might have been the first “band” situation, where we were focused on writing and making something good.

Was bass easy to teach yourself?

It definitely was! I mean, it’s not easy to play *well*, but it’s not too hard to figure out.

Resilient communities with Jeremy O’Leary – the Technoccult Interview

Jeremy O'Leary

(Photo by Audrey Eschright / CC)

Jeremy O’Leary is a steering committee member of the Multnomah Food Initiative and was an initial organizer of the City of Portland Peak Oil Taskforce. He’s a member of Portland Peak Oil, Transition PDX, and the Portland Permaculture Guild. He’s a contributor to the online publication The Dirt and maintains his own blog Biohabit. You can view his presentation on “20 Minute Neighborhoods and Emergency Response” here.

Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?

Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.

One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.

Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:

Why a Food Initiative?

Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.

It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:

Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.

One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.

Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.

More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.

MFI Goal Framework - Graphic 3-11

How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?

It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.

Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?

This may seem like an aside but it is related….

In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.

Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.

As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.

Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”

Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”

My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.

It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?

I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.

Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.

I think resilience is an example of what folks want.

Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?

On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.

Rainwater cistern

(Above: an example of a rainwater cistern at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver)

What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience – whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?

I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.

If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.

You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.

More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.

It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?

At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.

Columbia Ecovillage

(Above: The Columbia Ecovillage)

Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?

As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.

In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.

People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?

Yes, for this I would refer folks with what Leonard Barrett has been doing – Permaculture for Renters.

Container Food Forest

Above: Image from the Permaculture for Renters post Create a Container Food Forest

So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?

Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.

What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?

Quite a bit fits inside. I would point to books by John Jeavons such as How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I would also point to materials by Toby Hemenway such as The Self-Reliance Myth.

I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?

Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.

Revolution – history and praxis. Technoccult interviews Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash is an armchair activist and disaffected leftist. His past political activity has ranged from blockading logging roads with Wild Rockies Earth First to coordinating a state campaign for Nader in 2000, with lots of other stops along the way. He mostly organizes Discordian bullshit now, because when he fucks up, no forests get cut down and no one goes to jail. He blogs occasionally at Dysnomia and Shut Up You Are An Idiot. You can read his open letter to Obama-haters here and his follow-up here.

Klint Finley: I suppose you should start by defining what you mean when you say “revolution.”

Johnny Brainwash: Well, it’s one of those slippery words, like freedom or democracy, that gets used a lot of different ways. I’m assuming here a political and social aspect, and really focusing on what are sometimes called “social revolutions” or “the Great Revolutions.”

The basic definition for me is a rapid and fundamental change in not only political leadership, but also economic and social relations.

So the American Revolution or the various colored revolutions (like Georgia’s Rose Revolution) don’t make the cut, but the French or Russian Revolutions do.

Johnny Brainwash

True Story: Johnny Brainwash and his compatriots once, while in jail, went on a hunger strike because the guards wouldn’t feed them. It worked.

What made you decide to study the revolutions and their history?

I was an Earth First! activist in the 90s, and had been involved in various other causes as well. We talked a lot about revolution, but never had a solid foundation to build on. It was always based on the world as we thought it ought to be, but rarely took into account the world as it is.

When I bailed on that type of activism, I went back to school to finish my history degree with the pretty clear intention of learning how it had actually worked in the past. I’m drawing especially on a poli-sci class called “Political Violence and Revolutions,” but also on a broad range of other sources I’ve encountered both in school and out.

What are the essential conditions required for a revolution to take place?

Surprisingly, revolutions don’t typically happen when things are bad and getting worse. The classic phrase is “the miserable don’t rebel.” Revolution usually happens when things are getting better but not as fast as people expect, or when things were getting better and have now taken a dive. The key is the gap between reality and expectations. Obamanauts, I’m looking at you.

Also, a very important caveat: anything that meets this standard of revolution has happened in a society that is entering the modern world- typically transitioning from agrarian to industrial economy, and from rural to urban. So to some extent, social revolution belongs to the past. The models I’ll be talking about give us some good ideas of what’s important and what to look for, but I wouldn’t expect them to play out the same way today except in narrow circumstances.

Iranian Revolution

Protesters in Tehran, 1979

Well then, what models are you going to talk about?

I’m drawing pretty heavily on Samuel P. Huntington here, so let me warn you that he’s a bad man. He did a lot of this work in the 70’s on behalf of the military dictatorship of Brazil, helping them forestall a revolution. But that meant he had to get his hands dirty with the details of history, and he’s always insightful, even when serving the dark side.

Huntington basically divided revolutions into two categories, eastern and western. The names are unfortunate, so don’t be fooled- there’s no real geography involved. It’s just that one is modeled on China and the other on France.

Eastern revolutions we can cover quickly and dismiss, since they’re not terribly relevant to our situation. These are the classic guerrilla uprisings, like we saw in China, Cuba or Nicaragua. They involve a revolutionary actor building its strength in the countryside until it’s strong enough to take cities, and ultimately to take the capital. Very exciting, but not likely to happen in our society.

Much more interesting is the western model, such as France, Russia or Iran. Typically this involves a long period of troubles or unrest, leading to the collapse of the ruling elite. Then others can step in to pick up the pieces. There’s typically a struggle at this point, and if the military or another faction of the old elite come out on top, you don’t get real social change. If a group with a different power base and a different agenda end up in power, however, you’ve got a revolution on your hands.

So that’s why you say the American Revolution and the “color revolutions” don’t count? Because the new powers were old elites?

Essentially, yes. The American Revolution, for instance, may have made some huge localized differences, such as in upland New England, but the big landowners were still big landowners, the wealthy merchants were still wealthy merchants, and the slaves were still slaves. Representative government wasn’t a big change, and no big changes occurred (on the large scale) in who was represented. We could say that a lot of big changes followed, but if it takes 150 years, it ain’t a revolution.

Policemen and flowers

What about the Velvet Revolution?

I’m torn about how to view the various post-Soviet changes. A lot of them ended up with party bosses still in charge, but Czechoslovakia was a clearer change. There was a shift from state capitalism to market capitalism, but I’m not too clear on how much social change occurred.

What many of those post-Soviet changes had in common is that the waters are muddied by the absorption of the former communist states into the Western institutions such as NATO, the EU, etc.

Why do you say an eastern revolution unlikely to take place?

A couple of reasons. For one, the traditional model requires a large agrarian base, and all the angry farmers in the US just don’t add up to enough people anymore. More important is the simple question of military power. The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.

I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.

Are there means by which groups can engineer revolutions?

Um… maybe. Like I said at the outset, the social revolutions are all a product of the transition to an industrial urbanized society. So we can reason by analogy, but there are limits to how far that goes.

I would say it’s important to look at Huntington’s western model and see how much we would be relying on stepping into a political vacuum. In that case, it’s a matter of organizing ourselves today for something that might not happen for a long time, and pursuing goals short of revolution in the meantime.

You can’t rely on calling up your friends in a moment of crisis. By the time the crisis occurs, you want to have a large network that is ready to go. The only way I know how to do that is to organize today for the things that are in our reach and don’t frighten people away from us. As the crisis approaches, we can ask for more.

Sooner or later, the choice may be stark enough that people will have to choose.


Are there any countries that are close enough to collapse to have a revolution? Mexico, for example?

Mexico is interesting. Close to collapse, sure, maybe. But who would step in to fill the vacuum? Maybe the Zapatista networks could carve out a region in the south, but I don’t know if there’s a strong enough revolutionary movement to succeed nationwide. The worst case is that the drug cartels end up ruling big chunks of the north.

Pakistan, now, that’s a whole ‘nother question. They’re still in the transition to urban and industrial, their government is in pretty bad shape, and there’s a revolutionary movement already taking power in some places the government can’t hold. It’s not the kind of revolution I’d want, but it’s certainly revolutionary.

10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

Above: photo from 10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

What revolutions have been the most successful overall – the ones you’d most like to see emulated?

I’m careful about saying I’d like to see any of them emulated- the Terror was a logical outcome of the French Revolution, and similar outcomes can be seen in nearly every example. As an old lefty, I’m inclined to point out Nicaragua as a revolutionary state that had less of that sort of atrocity than most, but we never got a chance to see how things would play out there.

In general, revolution is always violent and bloody, and the violence is often indiscriminate. The older I get and the more I learn about history, the harder it is to close my eyes to mass murder. On the other hand, leaving our society as it is amounts to closing our eyes to massive indiscriminate violence as well.

I would like to spend more time learning about how the relatively bloodless colored revolutions work, knowing that they only happened with support from outside powers (like the US) and served only to bring those countries into the western institutions. But the use of civil society as an organizing principle might be of some use in making future revolutions less vicious.

Rose Revolution

Above: Demonstration at the Mayor’s Office, Freedom Square, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2003

Are you suggesting that radicals might be better off working within civil society to bring about change gradually rather than revolutionarily?

I think the choice of whether to commit revolution or not isn’t necessarily in our hands. It depends on material conditions. I suppose at some point we could work on bringing about a collapse, but trying that before we build the strength to exploit the collapse would be silly.

To me, the argument between revolution and reform is old baggage we need to get rid of. We don’t know what the world will do around us, so we should be prepared for whatever awaits. If we start organizing and find we’re strong enough when a vacuum occurs, then great, we’ve got a revolution. If we start organizing and find that the vacuum never happens, then we’d better do what we can with what we’ve got.

Demanding revolutionary action or none at all is simply hubris.

What do you think radically minded activists can do to make a difference in their communities or the world?

Well, I keep using the word “organize,” and I’m not sure it’s one people really get. We’re mostly stuck in the “activism” paradigm, which is very individualistic and focuses on people getting to express themselves. It’s egotistical in that the goal is for the activist to feel fulfilled, rather than to achieve anything concrete.

Real organizing means you have to work with people you might not have a beer with otherwise, and focus on what’s important to them instead of you. It means building an organization or a network that is capable of responding to events instead of building ad hoc groups for every issue.

If you’re thinking of revolutionary change, it means recruiting people who are not as revolutionary as you, and helping them become radicalized as their expectations of Obama are continually dashed.

It also means leadership, organization and discipline, three things that are anathema to many radicals with roots in the old “new left.”

Anti-fur activists

Above: anti-fur activists

Can you point to any good examples of the type of organizing you’d like to see more of?

I’ve got a knee-jerk reaction to say the teabaggers, but without Fox News on your side, you can’t get the coverage that they did. And besides, it’s not like they’re winning or anything.

I have a hard time pointing to much that I like from the aughts, but in the 90s, the two most effective movements (and therefore those worth studying, if not necessarily emulating) were the anti-abortion crowd and the anti-fur people.

More broadly, I would set political baggage aside and study how the modern conservative movement went from the political wilderness in 1960 to the Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush years that reshaped an awful lot of how the country is run. They had a genuine grassroots, combined with a slick political operation that invented a lot of our modern techniques of mass politics.

Do you have any other messages for would-be organizers before we sign off?

Be patient. You can build something that can fit into the flow of events, but no one can simply grab the world by the collar and issue demands. You need time to build, and you need time to understand. A good dose of humility helps as well- you’re not the messiah, and you’re not the only one trying to do good.

Finally, just stay grounded in the world. It’s good to have lots of theories, but nothing gets done until you’ve got some dirt under your nails.

Remembering Mac Tonnies

Mac Tonnies


Mac Tonnies was a ufologist, the author of After the Martian Apocalypse and The Cryptoterrestrials, and the blogger behind Posthuman Blues. He died on October 19th, 2009 due to heart complications.

The Cryptoterrestrials was released posthumously on March 15th, 2010. Fortunately, Mac gave numerous interviews on the subject of his book prior to his death, including this one with the Ballardian and an interview on Coast to Coast AM.

Since his death, a dedicated community of friends and readers has been working to preserve his legacy. Blazingbetta (aka Sarah Multiverse) has started a Mac Tonnies tribute site, and Capn Marrrk has been hard at work archiving Posthuman Blues. I talked to both of them via instant message.


Above: Blazingbetta

Klint Finley: How did you discover Mac and his work?

Blazingbetta: I met Mac through Twitter. He was a friend of a transhumanist friend of mine, and I noticed he got retweeted a lot. I just started checking out his feed, which often led to his website.

I went ahead and introduced myself to him one day, once I had added myself to be a follower. He added me back and pretty much from that point we were conversing weekly. Our mutual friend told me he was a writer, so I did a bit of digging, and came to know what kind of stuff he wrote about.

Did you ever get to meet him in person?

No, but we had plans to meet. I live in Toronto, Canada, and he kept mentioning through the summer that he was planning to come to Halifax, I think, to shoot a TV series on the paranormal in November, and we were going to try to fit in a visit while he was up here. Unfortunately, he passed away in October.

I never got to meet him either. I really regret that.

I totally regret it, too! He would have loved Toronto, and said often he always wanted to visit. besides that, he seemed like a really fun guy to spend time with!

Can I ask how you came to know him?

It was one of two places, I can’t remember which: either the sTaRe group blog or the Cabal blog aggregator that grew out of sTaRe.

Both our blogs were on Cabal. But I think we may have originally ‘met’ through sTaRe. Either way, around 2003-2004.

Cool. Wow, that’s a long time…! I wasn’t that familiar with paranormal/ufo stuff when I first met him, I visited his site mostly because he had such an eye for design… but then I got to know what kind of stuff he researched, and then I was impressed by how level-headed he was about the whole thing.

twin women in tubes

Above: Mac’s final “women in tubes” find.

Do you have a particular favorite post his or link that he found?

I could hardly pick a favourite… I love his photography, he had a great eye for beauty, for details… I like his really old science fiction cover art, and of course his obsession for women in tubes… I love his architecture and design posts, oh my god his whole site was amazing… One that I guess stands out was that we had a thing going for a while with the triceracopter, we both couldn’t believe how awesome it was, and laughed about it for weeks, so that might be my favourite.

He’d come up with these scenarios that the triceracopter was good for. He had me in stitches all the time.


So what made you decide to start a tribute site?

A couple reasons, I guess. In the first place, I guess I wanted to preserve the sense of community that had developed as a result of his death. You see, I had met many people through Twitter just as a result of sharing condolences and updating people on what we knew of the situation (no one really knew what had happened, and it was kinda crazy the first week or two) I had seen these people on Twitter through mac’s retweets, but I began to seriously talk to them only after his passing.

It struck me that so many of these people that I had met were creative or artistic in some way.

So on the one hand, I thought that creating a site just for fan art would be a fun way to commemorate the special person he was.

When I suggested that, people picked up on it right away, and i thought, well if people like the idea and want to remember this special time, maybe we could even put the art into print for ourselves to have a lasting piece I guess I was thinking that a site like this would also help with the grieving process.

Also, Mac’s lasting impact seemed, for most people, to be his sense of joy and imagination… he just seemed to inspire people.

So I thought, when his final book comes out, let’s all be imaginative with him. I knew once I had the book in my hands, I would be illustrating to it, and I thought others would have fun doing that, too. I guess that’s how it REALLY started in my head… just a way to have fun with our last message from mac…and once I got thinking about it, i realized it might be healing for people, too.

You’re planning on compiling material there into a book?

It’s a possibility, and I make that clear in my first or second post there. The idea is not to create something to make money off of, it is more to just take the images/words and create a commemorative picture book or something. It’s pretty easy to get things in print nowadays. I guess it’s still only an idea, because its hard to say what the site will become, if anything. If it becomes a place where people do indeed post illustrations, photography, poetry, and other kinds of design like I first envisioned, then I think that would work really well as a big coffee-table book. If it turns out that people just want to share links to other sites and cool books that Mac would’ve liked, then that doesn’t translate so well. But whatever, we’ll take it as it goes.

So you’re taking a kind of hands off approach in terms of how it develops?

I guess so. I don’t really see myself as a blog owner here, just a facilitator. I like to facilitate great ideas. And this, I think, is a great idea. But it’s not up to me. I can’t force people to create; they have to do that out of their own hearts.

I personally would love to have a big book of images of creativity inspired by Mac… doesn’t that sound awesome?!

It does sound awesome. I’d also like to maybe do something with audio. I played a Halloween show not long after he died and used some sample of his voice as a tribute. But I’d like to do something more.

Aw, that sounds amazing. See, I would love to have something like that on the site, but it doesn’t translate well into a coffee table book.

Well, maybe if enough people contribute we could have a CD that could be a companion to the book or be packaged with it or whatever.

That would be so awesome. I would do it.

See, this is what I love. Collaborating and trying to think creatively. That’s what Mac was ALL about.

Grey with Mac Tonnies button

Above: Alien with a Mac Tonnies button, by isoban.

I really like the alien with a Mac Tonnies button that’s been posted there.

Isn’t that awesome?! Its kind of an ongoing joke around twitter lately. Lately, as in the last number of months.

What do you think it is about Mac and his work that people find so alluring?

A couple things. First, he was incredibly optimistic, even in the face of ignorance and dismissal that he would have encountered all the time. He was a trooper, and encouraged others to be.

Second, he was a fresh breath of reasonability. He took a “problem” or issue that has been around for decades and tried to cut through the mysticism and secrecy, whatever, and tried to get down to points that we could not only use, but that might help people or just be fun to know.

I think we are starving for this kind of a direct approach, in our day in age, and Mac provided it, without any hint of arrogance.

Lastly, and most of all, probably, his legacy is lasting because he was full of joy and wonderment and his unbounded enthusiasm about what our world and universe had to offer us was truly contagious. and lasting.

Have you read The Cryptoterrestrials yet?

I’ll be honest. I have not read The Cryptoterrestrials yet. In the first place, it is not available on Canadian sites yet, and his publisher suggested to me that I wait a bit for it to come out on The Book Depository website, which offers free worldwide shipping

In the second place, I am still gearing myself up to read it. I have barely been able to visit his site, Posthuman Blues, without becoming emotional, and just last night was the first time since his passing that I could bring myself to watch a video of him and hear his voice.

To receive his last message is honestly going to be one of the harder things I’ll ever have to do.

Sounds weird to feel this way about an internet friend, but he seriously broke down any kind of barriers with his outgoing personality and that smile

I understand. When I read that it was out I felt sad all over again. I haven’t read it yet either.

Totally. It brings back every bit of the loss. Because a conversation goes two-ways. That’s just how we function. So to only be able to be part of half of that seems wrong, even scary. But Mac’s friends are pushing through, you know? And being unbelievably open and honest about how they’re feeling. I admire them all.

Mac Tonnies and Cap'n Marrrk

Left: Mac Tonnies. Right: Cap’n Marrrk

Klint Finley: How did you meet Mac?

Cap’n Marrrrk says: I first met Mac through Bsti Natosi’s Chapel Perilous, which I went seeking after reading R.A.W.’s Prometheus Rising…but there was no relation between Bsti’s site and R.A.W. I stuck around anyway.

And this goes way back in Internet years before 2000.

And you guys met in person as well right?

Yeah we met twice…

Mac started PostHuman Blues in 2003, but he was posting at Chapel Perilous before then or at least commenting there.

Then after following him for a few years he told me he was coming to Saint Louis, which was great because he only lived a state away. He was the first person from the Internet, that I had met in person. He came to town with his girlfriend, who was a local, and we had a brief lunch at a Thai Pizza Place.

The first visit was very brief, only lunch. Then the second one, was dinner at the same Thai place, then we went to a performance of choreographed by his girlfriend.

You’ve been working with his parents on archiving his online work. How’s that coming along? Will it be hosted in the same place or somewhere else?

So, when it was discovered he died the first think I thought of, as did many, “What will happen to PHB and Mactonnies.com?” No one had any answers, so I just grabbed everything. The story is, Mac had a recurring charge on his credit card, but no one really knew what it was attached to. His parents picked up the charge, and I don’t think they’ll let it lapse, but maybe if they know his work is safe, we can save them some money.

As far as hosting it goes, Doctor Menlo offered up some space. But just last week, I bought some hosting and I’m going to host my own site there. But they’ve given me 150 gigs. So I can host it at my space.

Hosting is dirt cheap these days.

What I discussed with his parents was to leave it all on line, and let people take from it what they want or need in a fair use basis. I don’t think Mac would have wanted to lock down his writing. And I’m not really worried about plagerism. His works and ideas are very selective.

There’s been an amazing community of people spring up around Mac since his death. I was just talking to Blazingbetta about the tribute site she started. What do you think it is about Mac and his work that was affected people so much?

Mac was (I don’t like saying “was”) earnest in his desire to stay neutral, and had a curiosity which was infective. He also didn’t take himself too seriously, and had a very dry sense of humor about himself.

Mac was also very vulnerable. And in me, I felt protective and extreme sympathy towards what I saw as his difficulty in living in Kansas City. Because he was way to smart, and way to weird for that town.

As you can see, Mac had a wide range of interests. So he had an ability to draw people in. And through Macs passing I’ve met several people with whom I’m very sympatico.

mac tonnies morbid tombstone

Above: a fake tombstone Mac generated in 2004

HipGnosis – the Technoccult interview

Eric Young - HipGnosis

HipGnosis is the recording name of the Des Moines based electronic musician Eric Young. In addition to producing, Eric also DJs the Glitch.fm online radio show Between Zero and One every Wednesday from 10PM-12AM (CST).

Klint Finley: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?

HipGnosis: Wow. Hmm. Experimental, psychedelic, electronic dance music combined w/ elements of hip-hop, classical, and plain weirdness.

I was classically trained, though I don’t play any “traditional instruments” any longer. Now I play a computer.

So you’re a Gnostic bishop, are you not?

Indeed. Consecrated in the lineage thru Tau Allen Greenfield (who is of Doinel lineage.) Also I have a chartered Memphis-Misraim lodge, though I have yet to find people in physical proximity to get the lodge very active. It’s currently a research/study lodge, primarily, with work done online at the moment.

How does your experience of Gnosticism effect your work?

Glad you put it that way. With a name like “HipGnosis” people often assume i am a Gnostic Christian (which is quite far from the truth.)

I am of a rather interesting strain of Gnosticism that probably shouldn’t be capitalized. I consider my own strain to be an innate sense of the divine within (and ANYONE can be that kind of gnostic), but also I am what I call “chemo-gnostic” as I am definitely not afraid to talk about the effects of chemicals/entheogens on my spirituality (again for lack of a better term).

I am very much of the 23-current, which when embracing chaos as much as I do, kind of creates its own inherent divinity maybe. Formerly a TOPY member, Discordian, and general chaos magick weirdo. The
Discordian side is NECESSARY so I don’t take anything too siriusly.

Eric Young - Hip Gnosis

I know you use binaural beats and other methods to enhance your music by making it consciousness altering. Can you describe some of the methods you use?

Well, much of my music is a sort of “hypersigil” imbued with specific frequencies designed to induce altered states. When combined with psychedelics, it can be intense. I have done much research on cymatics/sound healing/binaurual tones.

I started making acid house as the first electonic music i did, and binaurals were first introduced to that music. I am heavily influenced by Coil, who also did much work w/ frequencies to transmit information/altered states-specific qualities. Psychic TV is an early influence as well, which was less about traditional sound-mind altering, but more about raw feeling/energy.

And as a raver since the early 90’s UK hardcore/jungle/garage, “techno” and old-school “trance” play huge roles in the type of vibe i try to get across. Pure butt-shaking, mind-quaking funk. Also heavily effected by hip-hop and breakbeat/sample culture, that kind of cut-n-paste mentality carried over.

But what, more specifically, do you do to make your music mind altering? Or is that a secret?

Semi-secret. Much of it is energetically imbued, but as far as technical wizardry goes: binaural tone generation and specific frequencies mixed in at nearly sub-liminal levels.

I’m afraid that’s *about* all i can say to that. I do a lot of my music when in trance states, so honestly SOME of my method is not even known to me.

Do the binaural effects carry over to MP3s or other lossy formats?

Yeah binaurals can carry over to mp3, since binaural tones are not actually tones that can be *heard*, as much as just perceived on a consciousness level. With binauruals, you have 2 tones, slightly offset by a small amount.

Say if you’re going for a 7Hz brainwave state you can put one tone at say 50 Hz and another at 43 Hz. You modulate the two together, and your brain actually picks up the *difference* between the two and matches that difference. In this case 7Hz.

In addition to the mind altering aspects of your music, is there any magical intent behind any of your works?

Very much so, but I’m afraid if i said anything about that it might negate the effects. I assure you it is nothing less than the upheaval of all societal norms, though.

I understand you make your living making music and doing mixing and mastering. About what percentage of your income comes from actually making music?

Not much, as I have given a lot of it away free. I get paid for gigs, but I’m not exactly greedy, so i don’t gouge people on fees. I actually make my “living” (if you can call it that), from disability. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 19, and after several years of constantly being in and out of the hospital I was put on disability.

It has allowed me to make music, which is a form of therapy in and of itself I feel. Perhaps part of my sickness (aside from being morally opposed to most of western culture’s ideals) was the inability to express myself due to having to work 50+ hrs a week in order to survive. Unable to finish school due to mounting mental health issues and a distinct sickness of the soul, and also being trained in mostly just music and philosophy/comparative religion, i am not qualified for much beyond this.

I have tried nearly every type of job under the sun – from corporate sales/HR, to debt collection, to telemarketing, to bar-tending. I seem to fail at living a normal life.

I currently live on approximately $400/month from disability and whatever little extra I can make from playing out and sales of music. Mixing/mastering work is few and far between, even at the EXTREMELY low prices I charge. I am both blessed and cursed by my illness, I am fully aware.

Well, that answer my question about how viable mastering is as a career path for musicians…

Ha. Yeah. It’s not a career path, but more of an “odd jobs” path.

Eric Young HipGnosis live

What software and equipment do you use to produce your music?

These days I use Ableton Live for nearly everything, as it has proven to be the most versatile and functional tool for my particular style.

Hardware-wise, I’m using a Hercules DeeJay Trim 4&6 audio interface for live performance (since i can use it with MIDI-control vinyl/turntables and also with Ableton). For controllers, i use an M-Audio X-Session Pro for the mixing side and keyboard controllers such asAxiom 49 and (soon) an APC-20.

You were doing some music production in a Linux environment a while back. How was that?

I was experimenting w/ open-source audio software, and honestly, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Yeah, there’s really nothing in Ableton’s class yet. Did you try Freewheeling though? I’ve been curious about that app.

Yeah, it has some interesting features, it was one of them that i played with a lot, as well as BEAST and Hydrogen. It sucks that each one is its own entity, though, and VST support is not exactly awesome with Linux.

Did you try LMMS?

Yeah, and was fairly disappointed with LMMS. partly because in order to make music with that stuff it would require configuring an admittedly screwy Linux Audio set-up (with less-than-optimum real-time audio driver support).

So you caused sort of a stir on Twitter a couple months ago with your commentary about DJ Shadow’s new online store. What exactly was it that set you off?

Hahaha oh boy, DJ Shadow…. Well, he was very much a hero of mine, and one of the main reasons why i decided to go into audio production. He also was an independent music icon, who sold his soul to Universal Music Group.

He published a (self-admitted) old-man, anti-technology rant about piracy and how it’s ruining the music industry (read: MAJOR LABEL MUSIC INDUSTRY, of which he is now a part.) He waited a couple days
for it to spread around the net… and BAM, he announces his new web-site where (*gasp*) you can buy all his MP3s!

He then proceeded to suck UMG’s dick and talk about how they “have it set up so any MAJOR LABEL artist can now sell their own MP3s too!” They being Universal, coz you know they’re so awesome and all.

Now, DJ Shadow made his career on ILLEGALLY sampling other people’s music for his records. All of his music is samples and he holds a Guinness record for the first completely sample-created album, with no “original” sounds. He was sued and his first few releases were taken off the shelves, because he didn’t list or license any sample material. And he could only release those things (due to money) on independent labels because
a major label would have made him license the stuff. His early releases were vinyl-only.

I just think he’s being entirely hypocritical.

Eric Young HipGnosis live

So are you working on anything new that you want to plug before we finish up?

Well, I am currently working on a bunch of remixes for various people (official, not bootlegs) and getting ready to buckle down to begin this new production collab project called “The Blac Thumb” and subsequent live performance set-up. It’s going to be a wonky, funk-glitch-dub-hop project. Think 60’s-70’s psychedelic jazz-funk but whomped and glitched out. It will be headnoddingly, buttmovingly awesome.

Who are you collaborating with on that?

A young producer called iLford Brimley. I’m also beginning a collab w/ MusSck (of Daly City/Glitch Hop Temple/Car Crash Sets). And likely collabing with Mindelixir (a dubstep producer extraordinaire, who is making a lot of waves in the SE). I am playing a Winter Music Conference event March 27th in Miami, where I will be meeting him for the 1st time in person.

The Philosophy of Punk Rock Mathematics – Technoccult interviews Tom Henderson

Tom Henderson - Mathpunk

Tom Henderson, aka Mathpunk on Twitter, is a mathematics lecturer at Portland State University and an improve comedian with the group The Light Finger Five. He edits mathpunk.net and is co-host of the podcast Math for Primates (with scientist and professional weightlifter graduate student and competitive weight lifter Nick Horton). He received the Pandora Award (Bronze) from Chris DiBona, Open Source Program Manager for Google, for his participation in the game Superstruct.

Klint Finley: What does it mean to be a (or, rather THE) “mathpunk”?

Tom Henderson: Ha! Okay. When I was maybe 20 years old, my high school girlfriend was telling me about a punk band called “Green Dave.” I told her that I found punk to be totally unimpressive, because it was a musical genre that, near as I could tell, was founded upon not knowing how to play your instrument.

She set me straight. The point of punk, she said, was that ANYone could get the experience of being in a band, of performing in front of peers, of expressing yourself, without there being a prerequisite to participate.

This blew my mind, and it was that conversation that turned me from a nascent douchebag into a self-aware poser.

Later, a girlfriend who had honest-to-god Southern California punk credibility — this was the time that The Offspring was getting radio play so, what, she was probably most deep in the hardcore scene? — got me interested in the music, and explained to me that punks could be astronomers or Shakespeare devotees with no clash. (Pardon the pun.)

So, these things are tucked into my brain. Later, I move to Portland. I move to Portland with the extensive plan of “take math classes until head blows up, or degree achieved.”

This is the first serious long-term plan I’ve ever had. I figure, Shit, I’m a guy with long term plans now? I need to re-roll my character sheet. I start with appearance (self-aware poser), and ramp up the mathematical angle, to cobble together a philosophy of punk rock mathematics.

It is this:

1) People use the average Joe’s poor mathematics as a way to control, exploit, and numerically fuck him over.

2) Mathematics is the subject in which, regardless of what the authorities tell you is true, you can verify every last iota of truth, with a minimum of equipment.

Therefore, if you are concerned with the empowerment of everyday people, and you believe that it’s probably a good idea to be skeptical of authority you could do worse than to develop your skills at being able to talk math in such a way that anyone can ask questions, can express curiosity, can imagine applying it in the most weird-ass off-the-wall ways possible.

This does not entirely mesh well with the actual practice of learning mathematics, because that is mostly time spent alone or in small groups being very very confused almost all the time, but it’s still the bullseye I keep in mind.

You know, it dovetails with the improv comedy thing… In improv, I’m guided entirely by audience reaction. It’s possible to improvise toward interest in a mathematical discussion in roughly the same way.

In a nutshell, what is the problem with math education in the US?

I have no idea. Let me instead describe the attitude that students have that is problematic, and you can reconstruct what must be wrong with it from that angle.

“Show me the steps.”

Many students want teachers to “show me the steps.”

They want a sequence of steps that they can perform that will give them an answer. This is not unreasonable; they know that their performance on exams, and therefore their performance on the All-Seeing Grade Point Average, is largely determined by being able to Do The Steps.

But “The Steps” are cargo cult mathematics.

The Steps are seeing the sorts of symbols that count as “right”, and trying to replicate that dance of steps. It turns out that the easiest thing in the world is to look at a student’s work, and tell the difference between “Knows what’s going on, made mistakes and dozed off” vs. “Can memorize steps, has no idea what’s going on.”

Now, the way that I explain mathematics, it sort of looks like I’m torturing the poor bastards. I handwave. I refer to certain groupings of symbols as “Alphabet soup” and write it down as a wild scribble with one or two symbols around it.

Because I’m trying to avoid showing The Steps and instead show them enough of The Idea that they can reconstruct what the steps MUST be.

Many students want to know the formulas, so that they can float them on top of their short-term memory, ace the exam, and then skim them off. Why do they want to know that?

Probably because, for their entire mathematical careers, math has been a sequence of Steps, and if they get them wrong, they get red pen, bad grades, No No No Look What You Did. Plus, bonus, there is no apparent relevance of these algorithms other than To Get The Answer.

What’s wrong with math education in the US? What’s wrong is, Whatever it is that makes my students uninterested in learning any more math than is required to minimize feeling stupid.

So that we’re clear, lots of my students are totally awakened to the interesting weirdnesses of mathematics. But, it takes some doing, and I can’t do it by myself. Hence the podcasts and the lunatic twitter stream and the plans for TV shows and online games and godknowswhat else.

I’m trying to get across that if you are highly motivating, if you have a high degree of fire and “Fuck yeah!” and “What, that’s impossible, but true!”, you can get students to express interest in theorems named after dead Hungarians.

I’ve always been “bad at math” (and things I see as related: chemistry, physics, mechanics, etc.) Is there any hope for me (for example, have I just had bad math education in the past?), or is it an unchangeable function of how my brain works?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? And I’m totally unqualified to answer it because I’m “good at math.” I tell students that “Math will wait for you until you are ready.”

One of the best Einstein quotes in this regard is the one where he says, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s that I stay with the problem longer.”

Well, have you had students who have been able to turn that around? Go from being “bad at math” to being really into it?


Let me tell you a theory about math knowledge. A mathematical concept can be expressed in symbols (algebra), in pictures (geometry and diagrams), verbally, and numerically. This is a common theory; my additional spin is that math knowledge also exists as a performative concept. Like, the way that I direct the attention of the students (“If you ignore this alphabet soup for a minute, you can see it’s really just a product of two things…”) Or, the way I will use physicality. Like, the other week, I climbed onto the chair and then onto the desk while I was trying to explain slope.

ANYway, the theory goes that you don’t understand a mathematical concept until you understand it in TWO modalities. I do very well with visual knowledge, so my notes of understanding are full of color and pictures and mindmaps and arrows linking concepts, and I highlight the holy hell out of math books. However, I don’t believe I KNOW a concept until I can explain it verbally, because I can barely understand anything if someone just talks it at me.

First swipe is through my best modality, second swipe is through my worst modality. The whole “learning style” thing may be overstated, but it remains true that getting students to understand things in a variety of modalities seems like the way to go.

Maybe they don’t get the picture. So you ask them many verbal questions. (Questions, not explanations, 99% of the time.)

I don’t know if you saw the article I posted here at Technoccult a few weeks back, but it looks like the whole “learning style” thing is complete bunk.

Which makes sense, I mean who really “learns best” by having someone lecture at them for hours or reading a book with no illustrations anything?

There may be some people who CAN learn that way but I don’t know if anyone really learns best that way.

But yeah, multiple modalities always seems like a good way to go.

Sure, maybe. But as a teacher I have to do something, and those somethings may as well be grouped by, “What things do I need to prepare? Should I work out a lot of pictures, a lot of numerical ‘recall this fact…’, a strong narrative for the problem at hand?”

You know? It’s like… all this shit is imaginary.

invisible pink unicorn

Mathematics is like unicorn anatomy. You imagine this thing, and it doesn’t exist, yet it still comes with facts. I know how many legs a unicorn has.

So, if you’re trying to imagine a thing that doesn’t exist you can use multiple modalities like tweezers — “The thing isn’t a picture, but here’s what a picture of it would be like. It’s not a verbal thing, but here’s the best we’ve got.” The real thing is the underlying Platonic concept.

Post-Platonic? Now I wanna go make Xeroxes of Plato with his eyes X’d out. Thanks, punk-rock atemporality!

Whoa, tangent.

Let me expand briefly on one thing I know is wrong, and I hope that a networked learning environment can fix.

Networked learning might — might! — solve the example problem. Students need familiar examples, but what is familiar is different to different students. I’m hoping that we can teach the web to send people the right example.

Math for Primates

You’re the co-host of the podcast Math for Primates. What’s the purpose of the podcast, and who is your target audience?

Math for Primates started from the concept that there are certain things that humans are always interested in. Really, they like other humans. That’s the best thing. The internet used to just be a box with text, but once there was a critical mass of social information on it, it was a box with people inside! We love looking into boxes that have people in ’em!

So, the concept I pitched to Nick was, “Let’s talk about math from the platform of ‘Math that humans are likely to want to know, because it’s about other humans'”

Social conflict. Sex. Beauty.

It gives us an excuse to talk extensively about game theory. And, game theory is a key place to teach humans mathematics, because we seem to have some optimized “cheat detection” in our brains.

Let me give you an example, it’s something like, uh…

There are four face-down cards on a table. There is a rule: “If the number showing is even, then the back of the card MUST have a vowel.”

Now, given an E, 3, 8, D, what is the smallest number of cards you need to flip over to verify that the rule is being followed?

Maybe I fucked up the puzzle. But, anyway, the answer as I’ve phrased it is NOT E and 3.

You need to make sure that 8 has a vowel on the back, and you need to make sure that D does NOT have an even number on the back.

Everyone gets this wrong, basically. Well, non-mathematicians always do, and I’m pretty sure I got it wrong because I get every answer wrong on the first try. Punk as fuck.

Now, if you ask the same people a logically equivalent question: “You see four people. Two are drinking beer and two are drinking coke. Whose IDs do you have to check?”

No one says you have to check the ID of the coke drinker. Because who cares how old they are? If it’s the same puzzle, but phrased as a problem of possible social cheating, we nail it.

Wow. That’s interesting.

This is interesting to us. We think it’s fascinating that, given just a change of context, people can do logic puzzles more effectively.

So! We believe that if we put the context of mathematics into social situations, and maybe some other human-centered situations (like, we want to talk about group theory, but we will try and make it about “Symmetry” because that’s something that human eyes will pluck right out).

I have to say, that your podcast has made Game Theory seem a lot more approachable to me. I used to think of it as something that was mathematical and scary. And I guess it’s still mathematical, but it seems entirely approachable and not scary.


The thing about math is, you can only answer yes/no questions. How many questions in life are really just yes/no and not “it depends”? Very few. So, the problems that we can attack in mathematics must be very simple indeed.

It’s just that they have a large number of component parts sometimes, because we are trying to build a complex and nuanced model out of stuff that is so simple that it admits a “yes/no” answer, always.

We are talking about putting together an entire mathematical text starting from game theory as the first principles.

Start with relatively simple social games that we can understand. Simplify them until they admit mathematical analysis. Now, introduce the minimal set of tools to solve this problem.

That’d be great. Because what still scares me away game theory is knowing that most texts are still probably going to be incomprehensible to me.

They may well be. Don’t get me wrong, the learning curve is always steep. I tell my students, “You say you’re bad at math, but the truth is, HUMANS are bad at math.”

It takes a lot of quiet reflection to make any of it make sense.

So, our target audience is, humans. But, only humans who are willing to be surprised and confused, and who think that paradox is something to be explored rather than fled.

But not necessarily humans who already have a strong background in math.

Heavens no. We have been referred to as taking the “Beavis and Butt-Head approach to higher mathematics.” And we are very proud of that. This was coming from someone who hope to have on the show soon, with a doctorate in mathematics and a grown-up job and everything.

Superstruct Threats

On to something completely different… Can you tell us a little about superstructing and how you got involved with it?

Deep cleansing breath.


Superstructing means to build upon something that is already there, right? To extend a structure, build on top of existing structures.

But, when Jane McGonigal and the Institute for the Future use it, they mean something pretty precise: “Superstructing: A new way of working together, at extreme scales, supported by game platforms and mechanics.””

“Extreme scale” means that an individual working alone for 5 minutes should be able to contribute to a project. But it also means that in principle you might be taking on some enormous problem space to explore collaboratively. And you’ll need hundreds of person-hours. The game platforms and mechanics provide the support. If you define some huge problem… ok, what do you do?

The designer of a good and superstruct-y game-for-good will have clear missions, things that you can do, ways to compete and cooperate. For points, for gear, for social status, whatever. The idea is that you can use game mechanics to extend human capabilities so that they are able to achieve goals that previously it would take a whole institution to do but you do it in such a way that you can also extend the power of extant institutions with the networked abilities of social primates.

The individuals form a network and get stronger. The institutions get large numbers of humans thinking and sharing and communicating, and get smarter. You’ve superstructed, built on what is there.

How I got involved: I’ve been wrestling with knowledge management for years. I have several linear feet of journals full of mindmaps, but, y’know, you can’t grep dead trees. Back when I was trying to use a file cabinet for knowledge management (ha ha ha ha) I tucked the printout of an NPR transcript (ha ha ha) into a file marked “Ludology”, because I was getting interested in play and games. It included an interview with performance and games researcher, Jane McGonigal. I’m pretty sure that this must have been after ILoveBees, the ARG she designed for the Halo launch.

Anyway, serendipity led me to clean out the hideous file cabinet, I see the Ludology file, I check to see what this McGonigal person is up to, and I find her New Yorker talk.


I suddenly felt totally okay about playing EverQuest for three years and stacking up pizza boxes to my sternum, because, hell, there are lots of ways of getting in worse trouble living off Hollywood Blvd when you’re 23.

“Ah ha! I was doing research on early gameplay and networked collaboration! How wise of me!” And, lo and behold, she was starting a new game called Superstruct.
I played the game, drank the Kool-Aid, got the t-shirt. (I’m wearing it now, in fact.)

So what did you do as part of Superstruct?

I wanted to simultaneously win the game, and help it realize the potential I saw in Jane’s Big Idea. The first problem was that the interface was very bad. It would log you out constantly, it was hard to search, it was hard to keep track of what you had done so that you could nurture it.

It was totally gorgeous, the design was beautiful, but the functionality was not what the really hardcore lunatic Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals (SEHIs) needed in order to shine. Filter failure, basically.

I remember taking a look at it from time to time and giving up within minutes of hitting the site. I couldn’t figure out how the hell to participate.

Right, that’s because when Global Extinction Awareness System released the report, it woke up a swarm of No Future assholes who did their best to disrupt the site. (Possibly government operatives were involved; one storyline got a researcher in jail due to the riots after the report came out. [No one was arrested in real life – .ed])

So, I decided that the interface itself was like our first boss fight. In-game, there was a story line of all the shenanigans that dedicated hackers and griefers can do…

So, obviously, the SEHIs needed to save the project by duplicating efforts on more resilient networks. I did not have the technical skills necessary to do exciting things, so what I did was tried to locate anyone who might help the interface be improved, and do the best social engineering I could manage.

Foundation (who is in Portland) wrote a screen-scraper that would relog in as often as necessary, so he could scrape the site and get interesting information.

He was able to use this tool to send mass messages; I suggested that what we needed was to wake up the SEHIs who were clearly interested but maybe turned off by the site.

So, we identified all SEHIs who had a minimal amount of activity (“Has joined a superstructure”) and sent them a “secret” message. Basically, we told them how bad ass they were (“You are the CORE SEHIs”), and where they could find additional off-site resources.

That’s the thing that I was really proud of. The project wouldn’t be good without lots of active people, and we did what we could to try and maintain excitement and intrigue in the face of a somewhat boring “There are no RSS feeds!” obstacle.

I also delivered an address from Open Source Scientists which people liked a lot. That was fun. I felt like people weren’t bringing their A game, so I basically told everyone, “I’m offering a resource as a prize for you to do something, and I think I will win this game even if I give you that prize.” It was cocky and snarky, and I got to show off my alarmingly large forehead.

What I really wanted to do was some data visualization so that we could reduce redundancies. Lots of people had really great solutions, but some of those solutions were duplicated.

I envisioned hundreds of superstructures circling each other like marine organisms, infecting and eating and mating with each other. Alas, I did not have the skills, nor the data. So as to remedy that I’m teaching myself Python and regular expressions for the next data analysis project that arrives.

Once I know what I don’t know about social network analysis and random graph theory and data mining, I’ll have a clear path toward datamancy: being able to convert information on what people are doing into game-able decision points.

Really, I just want to be able to look at people doing cool interesting things collaboratively, through a lens of computation, make a pretty picture, and strategize from there.

Maybe it will even work!

Sounds good. I think we can call it a wrap unless you have more…

Just one more thing. Tell everyone to go sign up for Evoke!


Will do! I think I’ll give Evoke a shot this time.

From what I can tell, it’s got the secret sauce from Superstruct, packaged in a way that will make a jillion times more clear how to participate. (Jillion being a technical math term.) And, it’s about resilience, entrepreneurship, and helping other primates — it’s what the world needs!

How many zillions in a jillion?

A jillion is a squintillion with a zillion zeroes at the end. Glad I could clarify that.

Interview with Author Sue Lange

“At one time or another Sue Lange has been one of the following (pretty much in this order): child, student, potato picker, first chair flautist, librarian, last chair flautist, babysitter, newspaper deliverer, apple picker, form cutter, drama club treasurer, track and field timer, Ponderosa Steak House salad server (before the salad bar days, of course), disco dance instructor, waitress, wire harness assembler, usher, Baskin-Robbins ice cream dipper, volleyball team captain, biology club treasurer, circuit board checker, form reader, day camp counselor, tutor, stock room attendant, nurse aide, chemistry technician, senior chemistry technician, right fielder, Plant Laboratory Supervisor–non-radiological, house sitter, first base, receptionist, stage manager, data input technician, actor, bookkeeper, vocalist, typesetter, songwriter, recording artist, home builder, viticulturist, Digital Production Manager, orchardist, and Applescripter. Lately she’s been writing.”

TiamatsVision– For those unfamiliar with your work, tell us a bit about yourself.

Sue Lange– Well I started out as a child, and then I grew up. After that terrifying experience I moved to New York City and discovered who I really was. Turns out I was musician so I started a band. Crabby Lady was the last incarnation. I stripped the music from my lyrics and published my story as science fiction (“Tritcheon Hash”). That went over like a lead balloon so I tried again (“We, Robots”). Blowing my modicum of success with the second book all of out of proportion gave me the nerve to try it once more, hence my third book, “The Textile Planet”.

TiamatsVision– How did the idea for Book View Café come about and what was involved in putting the site together?

Sue Lange– A number of people on the SF-FFW Yahoo group (women writers of speculative fiction) started yakking about offering fiction for free online to create some buzz for our work. We read stuff like Cory Doctorow’s manifesto on the subject and got inspired. Never one for talk without action, Sarah Zettel grew tired of our ranting and said, “Let’s do it.” A bunch of us got eager and jumped on the band wagon, and voila, BVC is born.

TiamatsVision– What do you see happening with Book View Café in the future?

Sue Lange– I think we’re going to become a publisher. We’re going to have a model in place for publishing Internet fiction and making money at it. We’ll know how to make it, serve it, promote it, and sell it. We’ll have a handful of formidable partners that will be able to distribute our product in the myriad formats out there. We’ll have content in Internet formats, ebooks, print books, and podcasts. Wherever there is content, we will be there.

TiamatsVision– Tell us about your current project titled “The Textile Planet”, which is available on Book View Cafe.

Sue Lange“The Textile Planet” is a rather long-winded tale of speculative fiction. Because it was so overwritten, I decided it would be perfect for adding even more content to in the form of links to back story and little playlets and stuff like that. It could go on forever with bits added here and there as I see, and perhaps the audience sees, fit. Underneath it all though, there is a story. It follows corporate stooge, Marla Gershe, as she foments revolution in her day job. The consequences of her foolish action follow her eventually to the ends of the universe.

TiamatsVision– What inspired you to write it?

Sue Lange– Three day gigs: my job at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, my job at IEEE Communications Society, and a weird little part-time thing I did on the NYC textile exchange. The first two jobs were and are hectic at times and very inspiring when considering revolution. I’m sure there are many people out there who have also at some point in their life fantasized about tipping the in basket over the side of the desk and pulling the emergency switch. They can relate to those moments that inspired this story.
The third job was just plain bizarre and inspirational for anyone writing spec fic. It pretty much provided the setting and circumstances of the story.

TiamatsVision– The main story centers on the textile industry and fashion. Is this something you’ve always been interested in?

Sue Lange– No, but that textile exchange job gave me a slit of a window into how it works from soup to nuts. The textile exchange itself consists of little offices in the Chelsea section of NYC. The Seventh Ave./30th Street area. Around Penn Station actually. There’s no fancy building or big sculpture to let you know something big is going on. The only evidence of its existence is that you’ll see racks of raw mink rolling around the dirty streets at odd hours. Surrealistic. You look at one of these racks and wonder what the value is. Thousands of dollars? Hundreds only maybe, until they’re stitched into a coat? That and the fact that 7th Avenue was renamed Fashion Ave. are the only indicators of the industry. There are a lot of wholesalers in the area selling fabric and notions by the ton to the trade only. So there’s that.

My gigmaster sold shop towels from Russia where they were cheap to make. All day long he moved Russian shop towels from one buyer to the next. He was quite successful at it. He had a bunch of other businesses here and there as well. I had been working for him for about three days when he asked me if I wanted to be a plant manager for a textile concern of his down in Georgia. I ask you, would you take a position that someone is so desperate to fill they’re asking strangers? I’ve spent long hours imagining the horror that place down there must be and “The Textile Planet” resulted from that. I did some research for it, but fabrication based on my imaginations is so much more fun. In the end there’s not much basis in reality in the book. Especially when we get to the ends of the Universe, but I guess that’s obvious.

TiamatsVision– What made you decide to make this a multimedia project?

Sue Lange– I wanted to cut out some stuff that was making the action drag. Instead of just cutting it out, though, I used it for clickable content. The radio play is just more of the same dialogue illustrating that Marla is having a bad day. It just never ends, so I had some friends in for dinner and we recorded the various conversations that had been cut out, added some sound effects and background patter and there you are. Multimedia content.

TiamatsVision– Do you plan to do more multimedia projects in the future?

Sue Lange– Depends on how this one works out. If people are interested in it. I love doing it, but I don’t know if it enhances a person’s enjoyment of the material. The story really stands on it’s own, but I like adding sound effects. Instead of describing what someone is hearing, maybe it’s better to give them an example. But does anyone really care what a home-made version of a Santana song without percussion would sound like? I mean, just thinking about it is pretty funny, considering Santana’s lineup was about 75% drums et al. But if someone is not familiar with Santana’s music, they might not get just how bad it would be. If you’ve listened to the recording you know how bad it is. And having been part of lots of DIY music projects, I know how funny it can get. It’s worth a cheap joke.

TiamatsVision– What are some of your interests other than writing?

Sue Lange– Music, obviously. I love movies. I’m writing a piece on Lina Wertmuller’s “Love and Anarchy” for the Aqueduct Press, 2008 wrapup. I just learned to ride horses a couple of years ago. I do organic farming, have a peach orchard and do vegetables and my signature garlic every year. And I love to perform. Sing, dance, pass gas. It’s all good.

TiamatsVision- What else have you written and are there other projects you’re currently working on?

Sue Lange– My first published book was “Tritcheon Hash”, about a hapless space age pilot that has to visit Earth and see if a partnership with the inhabitants there will be a win-win situation. “We, Robots” is about a hapless domestic robot that learns what it means to be human. “The Textile Planet” is about a hapless worker in the textile industry. And my next project is called “The Perpetual Motion Club” which is about a hapless teenager that gets hung up on a basketball star and perpetual motion phenomena.

TiamatsVision– If people want to read more of your work or purchase your books where do they go?

Sue LangeAmazon of course. “We, Robots” is cheaper at the publisher’s website (http://www.aqueductpress.com/orders.html). My blog on the subject (usually) of The Singularity Theory is at http://scusteister.livejournal.com. My website is kinda fun: http://www.suelangetheauthor.com and I have a couple of stories up at bookviewcafe.com for free. Some of my other stories have been published on the Internet. Can’t remember exactly where right now. A lot of the sites have vanished. The current issue of Premonitions, a UK magazine, has my story Jump”. A dark story, not like me at all.

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