Calling the CRT doctor

The Jeff Bezos Post reports [poss. subscriber-only] on a company called Dotronix that services cathode ray tube (CRT) TV screens in the era of LCD/LED dominance (hat tip E.D.). Dotronix almost failed in the early 2000s but thrives now, by acting as a special consultant to all the museums that have pricy video art from the '60s to the '90s that they are trying to keep functional.

Occasionally the museums' contortions necessary to keep a work "authentic" veer into absurdity:

The throwback vibe is more obvious in [Gretchen] Bender’s 1986 work “Untitled (People With AIDS),” on loan from the Gretchen Bender Estate. The work is a 13-inch television with rabbit ears airing live TV. The screen bears the phrase “People With AIDS.” [Hirshhorn assistant director of exhibit technology Drew] Doucette and his team converted a high-definition signal from a digital antenna outside the museum to a standard-definition signal of a live broadcast that plays on the television. The rabbit ears are basically a prop.

The monitors used to display the art are only part of the conservation equation, Doucette said. As old technologies are left behind, conservators and exhibition specialists must grapple with preserving work in the most stable format, such as digital. Then, as is the case with the Hirshhorn show, they must connect it back to the retro displays. It’s like fitting a square peg in a round hole, and then a round peg in square hole, Doucette said.

From a sometime CRT user, a few observations:

1. My first CRT works came at the tail end of the monitors' availability in stores. (See, e.g., this used Toshiba 13-inch.)

2. The Bezos Post article talks about analog video content that's converted to digital media for preservation purposes and yet must still be ultimately played with analog hardware for that true '80s vibe. Arguably, the content and meaning of the work changed when it left the analog realm; once digitized, it became a Baudrillardian simulacrum. "Basically a prop" is the phrase used by BezosPo to describe the CRT arrangement. Let the artwork go, it's become an empty gesture. Discuss it in words.

3. Exhibiting animated GIFs in 2004-6, when they were presumed to be a dot-com relic, while displaying them on CRTs, which were another, different type of '90s relic, was confusing the issue as much as possible! In my case it wasn't a "statement" so much as a practical solution to showing "digital" work without having a gallerist call every other day to report some new issue with the computer. The DVD-CRT combo just sits there and loops (usually). Some work is impossible to historically contextualize -- you go with what you have.

4. Having said that, any current user of a CRT might have to scour eBay for a screen "ideal for retro gaming" just to keep a show up and running. Or, possibly, to email Dotronix.

internet cable dilemma

Recently had a last mile experience when Comcast stopped providing service to my building because they couldn't access their own utility pole!
Sometime in the dim past, copper TV cable service was installed in the back of my building; Comcast now uses the wires for TV and internet. My cable stretches across three fenced-in backyards to a pole located on property facing an adjacent street. Here's a diagram:

cable diagram

Last week a branch cracked off the Giant Dead Tree (about five stories high) behind Bldg B-2, breaking the cable that extends from the backyard of Bldg B-1 to my building, Bldg A-2. In order to repair the cable, the Comcast technician would have to get the permission of owners or tenants of Bldg B-1 to let him into their backyard so he could climb the pole there. He couldn't get access, so he says, so he gave up and went on to his next job.

Comcast's customer service said the only way I could get the connection restored was to try to convince the residents of Bldg B-1 to give them access to Comcast's pole -- to act as the company's real estate agent, in other words. As if! Comcast was behaving as if it still had a monopoly but FIOS recently came to our neighborhood (via a competitor provider) so I have an alternative to knocking on doors on their behalf.

the earth is flat (this is not Thomas Friedman saying this)

The following press release came via email, for an exhibition at carriage trade gallery, "the earth is flat":

Suspicion, vengeance, and irrationality have become the new norm. As in previous times of radical social change, zealotry and demagoguery surge as faith in the established order recedes. The collective pursuit of democratic ideals, built on Enlightenment principles never quite fulfilled, suffers waves of backlash, resentment built up from centuries of promise and disappointment. Democracy, gamed by the twin forces of privatization and media spectacle, is forced to watch its failures writ large, its susceptibility to rule by personality at last delivering the role of leader as farce.

Retreating further and further from a collective sphere into the digital bantustans of social media, the entity once known as the public concedes to the machinations and experiments of technocrats in the service of youthful billionaires whose unassuming presence distract us from otherwise obvious comparisons to robber barons of the 19th century. Mining not coal or iron but the depths of billions of individual psyches, the growth model of unfettered capitalism turns in on itself, atomizing individuals into dark recesses of a new medieval realm which thrives on irrational fervor, antagonism, and polarization.

Pit against one another and therefore the whole, society gropes backward to a darker, unenlightened past that technology promised to deliver us from. As YouTube's "recommend" algorithms, fueled by contempt and suspicion for empirical inquiry, send us down the rabbit hole of sensation and conspiracy, we're offered proof, once again, that the earth is flat.

The words "the earth is flat" in the last sentence link to a YouTube video of a BBC documentary about people who believe the Earth is literally flat and have meet-and-greet conventions in hotels where they discuss this concept. We're supposed to be horrified that "social media" makes such intellectual devolution possible. Yet the link is another time-waster, inviting us to gawk at weirdos about a subject that doesn't matter. On the other hand, perhaps the weirdos have a point, that believing in the old-style flat earth and getting together to hobknob about it is as worthwhile an activity as watching BBC and clicking YouTube links. Their concept certainly trumps New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's paradoxical, not very well thought out view that the Earth is being made "flat" by globalization (globes are round, aren't they?).

carriage trade and its director Peter Scott have a fine tradition of presenting socially critical art but it's debatable how well served we are by the style of apocalyptic writing above. Let's break it down a bit:

As in previous times of radical social change, zealotry and demagoguery surge as faith in the established order recedes.

Yet how much radical social change are we actually seeing? The established order, as in the old military industrial complex, thrives. Its current project is to get the US into a war with Iran or Russia (both suicidal). Newspapers have receded in influence but propaganda coming from the top still presents a far greater danger than flat-earthers meeting at the Marriott.

Democracy, gamed by the twin forces of privatization and media spectacle, is forced to watch its failures writ large, its susceptibility to rule by personality at last delivering the role of leader as farce.

Yet the confused electorate was not wrong in its desire to "throw the bums out of office," rejecting two horrible candidates the media had decided were inevitable (a Clinton and a Bush). The platform of the supposedly "democratic" party was so compromised and unappealing that a demagogue got in. This has nothing to do with self-reinforcing popular narratives controlled by Silicon Valley.

The second paragraph of the press release is eloquent but shifts the focus to the new robber barons without considering their role in providing cover for, and distraction from, the activities of the old ones (energy, transportation, armaments, finance), and also, doesn't consider what can be done about it -- i.e., not using social media or succumbing to its flighty narratives.

Tales from the other side

You could choose not to use Facebook and smartphones (1) because you are "tech-phobic" or simply "clueless" or "out of it," or (2) as a volitional, political act.
If it's (1) you might get sympathy from users who try to "bring you up to speed." If it's (2) be prepared for ridicule and peer pressure to conform.

Here are a few tales from the "other side" -- the land of Alternative (2):

1. You are in a bar in the East Village and you pull out your flip phone. The woman waiting tables sees it and says "cool -- I wish I could do that." A few months later, you pull out the same phone to check the time and a family member scoffs and says "Scotty, beam me up."

2. You are talking with a fellow blogger who says "I've moved most of my writing over to Facebook -- I have to be on there for professional reasons."

3. Another blogger, the always-excellent Moon of Alabama, considers whether to get a smartphone and says "Nah," opting for a $26 regular cell with numeric keypad (curious what kind of "plan" he has, though).

4. You are traveling to Houston. To get from one place to another in the city, everyone you talk to says "take an Uber." You've heard enough bad things about that exploitative and unsuccessful company that you want no part of it. You find a taxi service on Yelp (on your laptop) that requires no app, just a phone call. The driver says their business model (in Houston and Atlanta) consists of appealing to passengers who don't want to use Uber.

5. A Linuxmusicians user considers a supposedly Snowden-endorsed app that turns a "second phone" into a motion-sensing burglar alarm to protect your "first phone" or laptop from "unexpected guests and unwanted intruders." Say what? Followers of Yasha Levine's "surveillance valley" research know to be wary of apps that "secure" phones when it's the phone itself that's the issue. User asbak makes the case: "Apps and magic fixes cannot solve such problems. Only human behaviour and choices can." But what is the "problem" here? Apparently that a "hostile" can approach you while you are texting away and not paying attention and you need a virtual watchdog to start barking and warn you to stop typing. Having a "second phone" would seem to be doubling the surveillance opportunies but whatever.

6. You've avoided Windows 10 and its monitoring and surveillance regime and moved most of your PC activities to Linux. You still have Skype on W7 for phone calls. Microsoft announces a "no dirty talk on Skype" policy. You can't keep up with the evil.

7. You try to conform to the herd by changing your blog to a "responsive" (mobile-friendly) format. Belatedly you realize that the developer of your theme is such a suckup to the Man he has you loading fonts directly from Google every time someone accesses your blog. And you fell for it. You add "getting a better theme" to your to-do list.

hack movies and the composers who score for them

Back in the day Cracked was a Mad clone but at some point it rebranded itself as a vehicle for feisty thinkpieces.
Here's one about the trials and tribulations of movie composers, written in the form of a "five reasons" listicle. (A format that's one of five causes of mass cognitive impairment and shallowness.)
The article isn't so much an example of the unreliable narrator as it is unreliable tone. Like the Wired piece about seniors in camper villages, it gushes and burbles in a humorous upbeat way about a grim subject: the state of movies and the hack mentality that infects every aspect of production. Hans Zimmer is held up as some kind of paragon, for a sh*tty Batman score that other composers imitate. The feeling you get is that if another Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone came along and wanted to do something offbeat today, he would be stifled by corporate toadies. Also celebrated is the virtual soundtrack, where the composer never leaves his or her computer but makes sweeping orchestral gestures that sound like recycled Max Steiner. Uggh, enough.