VACUUM

for 19 August 1996. Updated every MONDAY.

 

 

Real Real Reader Mail! Whip us a
witty line and show the world you
love to Suck. We reserve the right
to mangle all mail according to
our whims. Let us know if you're
ashamed of Sucking and we'll
change your name to Repressed.

 

Last week brought us much praise
but little on which to graze, so
this column is a little sparse.
Make some shit up and send it our
way, real quick-like, or next
time, we'll just post our personal
email, and you'll be sorry.

First, let's take a trip down
memory lane to E. L. Skinner's
July 23rd article, Fear and
Coding
. Spencer E. Ante, Editor of
The Annex at PC World, writes:

 
[]

Dear Suck Inc.,

OK, shit makes great fertilizer,
but it doesn't make good food.

It's time to fess up, boys & girls.
If you're going to rip us off, you
might as well give us some credit.

It seems that Suck's original
editorial mission is no longer
good enough; now you've gone and
pilfered the annex's original
insight into our confused,
Manichaean culture.

Allow me to quote from the editor's
letter of our premiere issue,
which launched late in October of
last year:

Our editorial mission here at the
annex is best summed up by the two
words nestled underneath our logo:
humanizing technology. You see, we
feel the current media coverage of
the "technological revolution" is
way off the mark. Too extremist.
Too simplistic. Either you love
technology or you hate it. Not us.
We suspect there are people out
there who identify neither with
the messianic cheerleading of the
techno-elite, nor the obscurantist
ravings of the Unabomber crowd. We
suspect there are a lot of people
out there who are ambivalent.

This is what E.L. Skinner wrote in
"Fear and Coding," an otherwise
solid Suck piece.

In these millenial times, the
wizened neo-Luddites and the
panting technophiles tend to
monopolize the bandwidth. But
we're here to raise our
multicolored pompoms on behalf of
the silent majority: the
techno-ambivalent.

That's a little too close for
comfort in our book.

Stick to what you do best: Farming
shit, not grifting gold.

all the best,

Spencer E. Ante editor, the annex

 

See, we suspected that there were a
few like you out there. We just
screwed up on the "silent" part.
But, despite the similarities, we
can assure you that references to
ambivalence in the face of
digerati cheerleading are
absolutely pervasive these days.
All in all, it must feel a little
strange, coming out with such a
world-weary mission statement so
early in the game... kind of like
repeatedly donating to a sperm
bank and then walking around, 15
years later, noticing that a lot
of teenagers look just like you.
Self-important illusion, or
realistic observation? We can only
express our condolences, and
assure you that we know just how it
feels.

 
[]

Of E. L. Skinner's To Err is Human,
to Crash, Divine
, Dr. Alan
Kornheiser <ASK_smr@prodigy.com>
writes:

 

Clearly, you have not yet evaluated
the issue from an Uncertainty
Principle viewpoint, or you'd
understand. Consider how many
lines of code there are in a
program, how many transistors
there are in a chip, and the
possible number of interactions.
Sheer statistical uncertainty
ensures that not only will this
crash someday, it will be in a
constant state of collapse. How
indeed is it that these godless
boxes work at all? In fact, they
do not (work godlessly, that is);
computers run entirely by divine
grace.

However, and this is a big caveat,
grace does not come free. The
divine attention must be focused.
The preferred method is a small
blood sacrifice, ranging from a
white mouse for a fax machine all
the way up to a whole ox for a
mainframe. (Don't ask what a LAN
needs!). The sole exception is
copying machines, since enough
blood is usually spilt unjamming
them to ensure compliance.

I can only conclude that you failed
to properly consecrate your
current machine when you installed
it. Remedy this at once, and most
of your problems will go away. Not
all of them, of course... there is
still the question of evil to be
dealt with.

 

We believe in the separation of
church and workplace, so if divine
grace is a prerequisite for a
fully functioning machine, we're
screwed. Indeed, we have noticed
that the most heedless heathens
among us tend to encounter system
errors with astonishing
regularity. We also disagree with
cruelty to small animals,
particularly in a work setting, so
we'll just have to grin and bear
it.

 

Of An Entirely Other Greg's
Passive Agressive, Kelly Amsbry
<kamsbry@earthlink.net> writes:

 

I think that your (as well as the
countless others) take on this
situation misses the mark. The
Internet is not so much headed for
doom as it is set to fail (in the
short run) as it has been
positioned by mainstream media.
There are a great many uses for
all the technology that are quite
revolutionary. There are an
amazing amount of opportunities in
both education and business for
the technologies to be mainstream.
The vast consumer use model is the
one that has potential for
failure. It is true that this
could pull a lot of companies down
at the same time, but I do not
think that we are on the verge of
the next CB as so many
ill-informed have been known to
say. There are too many productive
uses for technology. In the mean
time the hype may die and some of
us may lose our jobs.

 

What we want is some specifics. Of
course there are many great uses
for all the technology, but the
most popular great use for all the
technology seems to be talking
about how there are many great
uses for all the technology.
"Great uses" and "all the
technology" are about as vague as
the notions of "family values" or
"value systems" or "extra value
meals."

We just want some specifics, is
that so wrong? And skip the part
about kinder, gentler optical
drives, wouldja?

 

Nathan Root <nlroot@ltx.com>
writes:

 

Nice to read your essay this
morning man, although I must admit
I don't feel like working
anymore... I have one of those
"dream jobs"- fresh out of
college, making more money than my
mother, programming in Java.

But it all sucks. As someone who's
been riding the web since Mosaic
first soiled its diapers, I can
tell it's not going to last. TV is
so easy in comparison to the web.
Point, click, veg-out as opposed
to point, click, fill out a form
to win a free t-shirt, try all the
search engines for "sex AND Traci
Lords" (when you know she's on
Cinemax in full-motion color),
correct your spelling mistrakes
and try again, etc etc etc...

It's all so goddamned depressing.
The only chance the web has of
survival into the next century is
if NBC starts to broadcast
MustSeeTV over it.

 

Now and then we feel sort of funny
about things, too. But then Mommy
calls, Mommy dearest, who has 20
years of work experience and twice
the capability and raw brainpower
of her little darling, and we have
to tell her we're making more than
she is. Needless to say, she's not
quite as keen on hearing about the
little annoyances that make our
jobs short of perfect. But,
knowing us as well as she does,
she wisely advises us to save as
much as we can and cut the
bitching, pronto.

So, you can (as we often do) spend
your time complaining about your
cushy job just because you're not
quite sure about the future of the
medium, but don't be surprised
when you suddenly feel like some
pasty old monarch stuffing
chocolates in his face all day and
whining to the peasants in the
street below about how the new
silk pillows the duke brought from
Spain are chafing his tender ass.

 
[]

Braddog's Zero Baud, The New
Criticism Sucks
, seemed to stimulate the
most interesting reader responses.
Michael Carlin <inacar@aol.com>
writes:

 

Today's column was fucking
brilliant, luv. I used to rankle
when people would sneer and turn
their noses up at 'pop culture',
like so many intellectually
overfed europeans who think
anything not 300 years old is
lacking in value. All art and most
expression is 'pop culture', at
least to the inhabitants of this
here zeitgeist we call 'the
present.' Hell, even Mozart worked
for money. Unfortunately, today's
video denizens revel in the medium
of referential knowledge, where
movies are scratchy, aimless
bundlings of so-called 'inventive'
dialogue and are chock full of
(not always so) obscure allusions.
These people need to take 'totally
80's' out of their CD players and
quit renting 'The Brady Bunch'
movie or 'Pulp Fiction'. So much
of what's out there for our media
consumption is like this, and
we're headed for an implosion when
the cute refernces start running
thin, and the Tarantino movies
start referring to each other.

 

It's true, you can only reminisce
about the Superfriends (or the
song "Reminiscing" for that
matter) so many times before it
gets painfully boring. It's a
distinctly postcollegiate grasp
at straws: you wake up after four
years of bliss, spent consuming
mass quantities of alcohol under
the guise of "higher learning,"
and, having experienced very
little in life beyond childhood
and the playpen of the teen years,
look to your peers and realize you
have very little in common,
outside of bad TV, mindless toys,
and sugary cereals.

Most awaken from this mindset
eventually, though, only falling
back on flaccid references in
times of desperation - the
half-empty cocktail party before
that Vodka Collins kicks in, those
minutes in the lobby with the
receptionist before that
interview, or, uh, those hours
before deadline. After all,
dreaming up exciting new metaphors
without pop cultural references in
them is about as easy as
reinventing the Hostess Snoball.

Yet, we might as well take
advantage of the window of time in
which we can safely fall back on
shared references as a quick and
dirty solution - sooner than we
think, a new generation of fucks
will burst in and start nudging
each other knowingly about Power
Rangers' theme songs. So turn to
cheap analysis in times of need,
just remember that you may be
bursting with fruit flavor and
able to leap the capital T in a
single bound, but weak Schoolhouse
Rock puns and obscure pop lit
references are not an Infinite
Jest.

 

Anu <anukirk@ix.netcom.com>
writes:

 

Perhaps Michiko Kakutani is missing
the point...

Much of the old-school criticism
really doesn't help one cut to the
core decision of modern media:
"Should I buy this?"

Old-school crit has its merits,
including deep, thoughtful
analysis for those who happen to
have the deep knowledge required
to appreciate the many layers of
oh, say, DIE HARD III or a Donna
Tartt novel.

But it suffers from an inability to
convey the big picture - I'm sick
of four-star Rolling Stone reviews
for records full of carefully
crafted layers of meaning and
literary references which have
songs which , while clearly
achieving lofty artistic goals,
are boring as hell, and, well,
SUCK. The old school remains mired
in the scientific PROOF of a
work's worth -- they JUSTIFY it
for you.

The new crit is all about FAITH.
It's a joke - if you HAVE to
explain it, it's not funny. Beavis
and Butthead are compelling
because they are Manichean -
everything's either "cool" or it
"sucks". In today's 256 (dithered)
gray world full of nuanced issues
such as a woman aborting one of
two twins, Mac vs. Windows, or
Dole and Clinton, it's nice having
a simple(tons) choice.

Look, "Finnegan's Wake" is a
literary masterpiece. But it
certainly doesn't provide a
pleasant "reading experience" for
most people.

Meaning is BETTER than effect?
Kakutani's gotta be nuts. All
great works of art are valued
SOLELY for their effect on people.
No one stands around explaining
why something is beautiful. How
about records? Gosh, I guess I've
been listening to music for the
wrong reasons. Forget about all
that feeling crap. I should be
dissecting the lyrics, analyzing
the cover art, and talking about
chord progressions.

Just because something is Art
doesn't mean it's going to be
Entertainment. Kakutani, like most
of the old school, STILL doesn't
understand that. And his article
shows that he's just ANOTHER
graduate of the old school, who
has neither the time nor the
inclination to look beyond his own
little world and understand that
there is a DIFFERENT culture out
there, not better or worse, just
NEWER.

I'm bemused by his wild rantings
about the non-existant "typical
Gen Xer". God, how long do we have
to listen to this endless stream
of invective about how worthless
we all are?

I could go on and on with my
old-school style of criticism of
his article, matching point for
point, footnoting, documenting,
RESEARCHING...

But hey, I've got a 12-hour a day
job that barely pays me enough to
survive out here in L.A., so I'll
save everyone some on-line time...

"That thing that that dude wrote?
It SUCKED!"

 

Our experience is that usually
people read the first graf and
then leave the page, but you must
have skipped right to the pull
quote before launching into your
letter. That's fine with us, but
if you insist on taking up these
issues with Michiko Kakutani,
perhap you should rethink your
stance on "research." For
instance, you might want to bone
up on actual Kakutani-penned
pieces and opinions. Just so you
don't look too ridiculous. Hint:
that's Ms. Kakutani...

 
[]

Thursday's Hit and Run, Jim Harper
of Apple Computer
<harper1@applelink.apple.com>
writes:

 

Regarding your comments about 25
million Macs:

A week ago, Apple proudly announced
they had shipped their 25
millionth Macintosh, making the
dubious claim that "since Macs are
shared by several users on
average, there are now more than
60 million Mac users in the
world." We doubt people are lining
up at the Salvation Army to get
their mitts on that slothful old
Mac Classic.

The 60 million users is a
conservative estimate. We agree
with you - most of those "Mac
Classics" are indeed retired, so
we didn't include any of the
older, black and white Macs in the
60 million number. 90% of the 25
million Macs that have been
shipped are very capable color
Macs that are still in use.

 

Thanks for the clarification. We
can hardly complain - many of us
have very capable color Macs at
home; it's our roommates that
can't seem to accomplish
anything.

 

courtesy of
Polly Esther
and you