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<nettime-ann> print "soapbox"; fanzine
monroy-lopez on Tue, 2 Dec 2008 20:23:50 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime-ann> print "soapbox"; fanzine


.
ey,

i'm sending a zine that was put out last summer. it's been cold days
here in rotterdam, so it's fitting.

backchannel if you want a snailmail hardcopy. they're gifts.
they include the complete version of this text.

the code that was written to make these zines is a gift, too (if that
makes any sense). it's available at this email's domain.

best,
ivan

====

print "soapbox";
this text deals with two things: code and self-publishing. 
self-publishing can be almost anything -- handmade snail mail spam. the 
focus of the essay is on zine culture of the 1980s and 1990s. the 
utopian print of those years was an afterthought of consumer computing. 
leaving it at that is boring. let's reverse that: does utopian print 
think of consumer computing? i will attempt to tackle that question by 
way of code. can code be utopian? is code self-publishing?


code
i think of code as consumer text. its purpose is to give us the illusion 
of agency regarding the technologies upon which we have come to depend. 
if the internet was invented so that banks could erase their end-user 
support department, then we can always daydream about the promises of 
free software.

in this essay, code is the textual aspect of computer technology that 
may be loaded up on a text editor and easily changed. i'm consciously 
avoiding any discussion on the subject of text editors -- jot down your 
edits on a piece of paper and then write them to newfile with echo. 
what's important to me is that this be easily accomplished. with enough 
time and energy, anyone could write interesting code. the best project 
would be if my grandmother took the time to re-write the linux kernel 
from scratch, and if she kept a record of her reflections about code. as 
much as i like pierre menard, this is not feasible.  the processes of 
code should be manageable without the need of resorting to too much 
external technical support. this means that code is relative. what's 
code for some will not be code for others.

when it comes down to it, this means that code is text written in one of 
the computer languages. code is the active practice of altering 
half-understood text files. code are the static characters that silently 
stare back at you, and that will not even you give the illusion that 
you're double-guessing a machine. it's always evident that someone else 
was there before you, and that that person was sloppy. it's just a 
matter of playing along and locating those three characters in a text 
file that will make all the difference on whether your computer can 
display postscript or whether it will keep that as a secret to itself. 
the code is as flawed as the coder.

binary. a piece of binary would be code as long as it's isomorphic to 
something that is not binary, and as long as the isomorphism is 
manageable for consumers like us. again, it's a question of it not 
getting too out of hand. i should be able to predict the changes in the 
binary by editing the nonbinary, or similar. though i will not speak 
about things like data flow programming, i wonder how much of this essay 
is extensible. what would it mean to start editing pd patches in vim?

zines
seldom does the small press have any real political weight. it's very 
nice when it does, but most of the time it's just poetry by way of 
fragile, limited, utopian a4s. the small press may be weak, but this is 
no reason to get rid of it. likewise for code. a lot of free software 
activism may be hot air, but this is no reason to ban floss practices. 
the code of free software is poetry way beyond high brow computer 
science. some people have pointed to its infinite reproducibility. some 
parts of this essay deal with its glitches.

there are two things that interest me about the zines of the 1980s and 
the 1990s. not all utopian publishing is like this, and it's not my 
intention to define exactly what happened in those publications. it's 
more like i want to see how these tendencies could evolve:

     A zines were media whose design was self-explanatory
     B zines were media used to dissent and critique

B is a rephrasing of underground, and A is a rephrasing of diy. A means 
that zines wore their design on their jacket. i'm using `design' in a 
perhaps idiosyncratic way that includes not only layout but also 
manufacture and distribution. in their manufacture, there was little or 
no professionalization, and their distribution was at times more like a 
conversation rather than a monologue. the next two sections go into more 
detail about A.

diy
these days i tend to seek disconnection rather than connection, but back 
then the design of some zines went the other way around. sometimes 
connection was pursued as a goal by itself. address listings were 
ubiquitous. three of the sources i consulted took care to include them. 
factsheet five's `the world of zines', v.vale's `zines!', and fred 
wright's `personality on parade' all have them. open karel marten's 
drukwerk on page 18 and imagine that these listings are typeset with the 
selectric's 6 pt classified news bold.

part of the strength of this type of design lay on its minimality. page 
0322 of ovo (in its open office remediation) had as much weight as 
anything else.  for me, the poetry of zines lies in this unassuming 
quality. they were transitory. there was no intention of permanence or 
institution. for good zines, it was always a good time to leave.

there's no need for depression in seeing zines as concocted by 
xerox-parc, adobe and apple. a theory regarding this should be written, 
based on fiction as well as fact. it should stress that zines were a 
tactical appropriation of the digital white cube office of the 1990s. in 
this, there's an intersection with code. code is the tactical 
appropriation of computational household appliances.

crap hound
both photocopiers and photocopies may be used as publishing tools. more 
than other media, photocopies invite photocopying. their learning curve 
is small.  xerox collages are self-explanatory, and anyone can do them.

the zine ovo of the late 1980s approached this in an interesting way. it 
described itself as ``a magazine published on an irregular basis 
introducing new works into the public domain.'' in this respect, it's 
now available not only in pdf format, but also in open office ``source.''

another zine that thought of itself as a tool was crap hound. it was 
originally published by sean tejaratchi between 1994 and 1998. it was 
taken up again in 2005. tejaratchi's original intentions were entirely 
pragmatic. it was to be merely an ``encyclopedia of clipart'':

``i was getting paid corporate wages at adidas [...] and i wanted to do 
something worthwhile with my earnings [...] if i was going to do a zine, 
i wanted it to be something useful and relevant. i started calling it 
clip art, but it's changed--my motives are now officially different.''

the zine functions as a catalogue of re-usable clip art samples. it's 
also a collection of collages that sample someone's floatsam of found 
black and white imagery. it even functioned as a pre-digital 
distribution medium for fonts:

``i've been making fonts for a while, and i've been putting a few in 
each issue of crap hound [...] [they] are a throwback to dover books. 
not everyone wants to use a computer. there's nothing wrong with 
scissors and glue sticks.''

dissent
it's nice to write about zines in the past tense. there's the 
possibility that there will be some nostalgia in the resulting text. 
it's like some time has passed since factsheet five became no more. in 
the short text `the society of the unspectacular', this passage of time 
has meant an acute growth in self-mediation. in relation to that essay, 
in this section i want to speak about point B of the previous `zines' 
section, namely zines as a medium for dissent and critique:

     B zines were media used to dissent and critique

i have an affinity for paranoia -- it may be an artistic practice. it's 
a constant struggle in my head to keep hatred at bay. in `society of 
unspectacular' there's a `current excess' of self-mediation and what's 
getting shown in those media are four things: xenophobia, racism, 
hatred, and paranoia. i couldn't agree more. it's a natural side effect 
of open channels.  and at least hate may be a productive aspect of dissent.

one danger that kluitenberg sees in paranoia is that it may lead to 
disinformation. i think that disinformation and confusion may be tools. 
the stuff regarding 9/11 that he mentions was actually orchestrated by a 
small group digital tree huggers as a countermeasure. kluitenberg's 
arguments can easily be morphed into dialing the police because the 
self-mediating neighbours are too loud. the paranoia can also turn into 
insomnia, and in some nights i wasn't able to sleep thinking that 
`society of unspectacular' was being used to close down some sort of 
poetic medium in some place somewhere.

in other more delicate situations paranoia is just common sense. 
sometimes it may be better to fall prey to its apparent paralysis and 
disappear. hopefully disapperance is still possible.

less polemically, i would add the possibility of readership to 
kluitenberg's analysis. ten years ago, the adage was that only 0.1% of 
zines were any good.  i like some of the stuff in the zine ovo a lot. 
some of the stuff in it makes me cringe. the crap hound zine is based on 
the premise of sorting through the crap. in general, i think that in the 
`current excess', filtering dissent is an interesting design problem. 
like zines and the small press did, how can design articulate dissent? 
how can design help to read through the `current excess'?

i think that it's naive to link `public discourse breakdown' and 
self-mediation. media or no media, agency has a natural tendency to 
remove itself from the public sphere. for many years, the radical 
aspects of the left to right gradient have known that in order to gain 
some agency, they have to position themselves outside of the domain of 
visibility. in this they're not even innovating. when it comes to 
decision making, the faces of those whose opinions really matter are 
most of the time unknown.

temp slave
i have no idea how to start articulating an answer to the question of 
the previous section, but the zine can't end here. a good way of 
carrying on may be to look into a text from the zine `temp slave'.

it may be said that one of the premises of that zine was a tactical 
approach to temporary, odd jobs. from it, i will take the cue for the 
tactical approach to coding of the next sections. the text at hand is 
called `temporary insanity.' it proposes detailed, cold, detached 
classification as a way to not go crazy inside a white cubicle:

``emotionless action and emotionless reaction is the solitary buffer 
between your sanity and your soul [...] if you forget this principle, 
you begin to revel in the act and the outcome of the organizational 
process.''

post-its get stacked according to ``the laws of diffracted light as 
exhibited by the rainbow''; productivity is increased by meticulously 
re-organizing the file cabinets; the filesystem of the computer is 
cleaned and the temporary worker hides behind the monitor playing the 
version of tetris that was found; etc.

the text ends on a sad note. the temporary worker forgets the principle 
of dettachment s/he spoke about, and tries to see some sense in the 
inventory.  it's fitting that the arbitrariness of the encoding starts 
to manifest in front of the computer:

``you despise the random pattern of stars and have done away with the 
frivolity of screen savers. the screen of your computer terminal is 
clear and black.''

a few lines after the temporary worker has a temporary crash. likewise, 
this would be a good point for my computer to crash.

print matter
i would hope that all of this has at this point the reader 
re-considering what print matter is or could be. for the rest of the 
text, print matter is something that manifests itself through or inside 
of computers. among other things, this means that print matter is no 
longer fixed. it becomes harder and harder to say that you will set 
something on paper.

let's imagine the following situation. there's a hypothetic perl script 
S that when run prints the following to standard output: ``hello 
world!'' for me that script is print matter. what i mean to stress with 
the example is the fluid, variable, unstable form of print matter. print 
matter is text that at some point in time manifests itself on or through 
the computer in some way.

this is not as strange as it seems. a similar transformation happens 
every time a browser renders an html document. under this light, dynamic 
pages are work that exploits the variable nature of a script's output.

these are easy arguments. print is re-mediated by digital media or 
whatever.  to that i would add that some aspects of digital media are 
re-mediations of print. let's briefly look at perl.

print function
the idea of print that i'm trying to push feels very natural, at least 
to me.  this is the reason why i'm surprised to see how much in common 
it has with the usual print functions of the computer languages.

the perlfunc man page says that `print prints a string or a list of 
strings.' that is, print and strings are intimately tied in perl. with 
regards to strings, the introductory book `learning perl' says that 
strings are sequences of characters, typically plucked from the ascii 32 
to ascii 126 range. this means that printing in perl is very often made 
up of the same thing that text is made of.

but then there are things that we would have never thought of printing 
had it not been for the print function. browsing through the index we 
get at least two ideas, printing time and printing databases:

     3.8. printing a date
     11.11. printing data structures
     print function, 29
         databases records and, 227

perhaps more interesting is the possibility for a text to be empty, and 
for there to still be printing. printing and text can be null. null is 
as natural as whatever: trees, squirrels, bees, and null: ``the shortest 
possible string has no characters'' (learning perl, page 22).

but basically the idea of print in perl is to show the world your stuff, 
much like print matter is used. in print culture, this happens on paper, 
most of the time. likewise, in perl there's a standard medium for print 
namely the so-called `standard output'. this often means an aggregation 
of linebreaks: a terminal.

something else should be written about text processing: reading a file 
backwards by line or paragraph, trailing a growing file, randomizing all 
lines.

knuth
the previous sections have been dealing with what could be called 
generative printing. as such, this zine has been describing itself. this 
zine contains within itself a description of its syntax. the 
specification is included in the cover price. this zine is syntax at the 
level of the code that has been written, and at the level of the 
pseudocode that you're reading.

if knuth talks about those books that precisely describe how they're 
made, then this project isn't one of them. this zine belongs to the set 
of books that sort of precisely describe how they're made. knuth's books 
are probably very pretty, but i don't know whether they're accessible 
outside of his cult. besides, there's little value in a precise 
description. the code is as precise as i would like to get, and everyday 
we work with chunks of code that aren't always entirely, precisely 
understood. for what it's worth, this zine and its code are available 
from ivan at textzi dot net

syntax tactics
in order to start coding, consumers don't need to wait for a standards 
body to come up with syntax. if we're already coding, i don't see why we 
shouldn't start writing our own syntax. this means that there's room for 
both [i] syntax that's functional from an engineer's point of view [ii] 
syntax that's not functional from an engineer's point of view.

on the one hand, [ii] above means code that's on the verge of 
pseudocode. it also means that we can start looking for computations 
outside of computers. on the city like socialfiction did, or at a temp 
job like tempslave did. this also means that the languages will 
proliferate. how far will the incompatibilities get?

functional code is being used to typeset this. perhaps i should have 
gone up one level further, and written a functional syntax expressly for 
this publication. i wonder whether this is possible or meaningful. for 
starters, what publication requires its own software? the only examples 
that i can think of are knuth and the original indymedia of seattle.

this project should include an open call for pseudocode, pseudosyntax, 
pseudospecifications that still needs to be written. on the bright side, 
it includes its own description, sort of; a possible .walk font 
specification; and something else, really.
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