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E2 and the value of slime

I was attracted to this place by reading about it in a book (Steven Johnson: Emergence. 2002, Penguin Books). The book is about self-organisation, of how under certain conditions a large set of separate and simple elements can organise themselves -- from the bottom up -- into completely new and highly complex structures or systems.

There is a slime mould (Dictyostelium discoideum), an invisible single-cell fungus, which has a curious ability. The individual cells can suddenly aggregate into one large visible and mobile slimy structure. Under different conditions the structure can equally suddenly de-aggregate into separate invisible cells again. In their individual form the cells are completely mindless. In its aggregated form the slimy structure can even be taught to find the shortest route through a maze.

So E2 is like a slime mould? Yes, in some important aspects, according to Steven Johnson. What he refers to is not the occasional “sliminess” of the material that you may read on E2, but rather its self-organising ability. The voting system mysteriously creates a self-organised, quality-conscious editorial body out of tens of thousands of individually irresponsible dimwits, as it were.

We all know that this is hardly an apt description of E2. For one thing, the editors and administrators have always played an important role for “raising the bar”. But it’s quite clear that the voting system and its ability to weed out thistles and set minimal standards is one of the key characteristics of E2, as it stands today. When I first came to E2, I felt like partaking in a great experiment in “emergence” (= Steven Johnson’s term for self-organisation from the bottom up). Today this experimental feeling has perhaps worn off a bit, as I have come to know and appreciate more aspects of E2 than just its self-organising “slime”.

In the node the new e2, dem bones describes a completely “de-slimed” and sanitised E2 structure. Here appointed editors will decide what will be published and what won’t, revamping E2 into something quite similar to an ordinary net magazine or publishing house. There is no question that the quality of the published material will increase. If the editors are expert and demanding, then New E2 may in time become a widely respected source of information, opinion, and literature. Yes, why not give it a try? Someone has said that E2 is essentially half a dozen extremely bright people with very much time on their hands. So the prospects appear to be good.

On the other hand, as an old Anarchist, I’m still impressed by the fact that Old E2 has proved that tens of thousands of irresponsible dimwits are able to collectively metamorphose to a reasonably responsible and reasonably quality-conscious editorial body. Not more than reasonably so, but reasonably nevertheless. What’s more, Old E2 has motivated tens of thousands of irresponsible dimwits like me to write - and to become increasingly better at it.

Is it possible to save some of the virtues of Old E2, while affirming the high aspirations of New E2? I don’t know. But one way would be to separate New E2 and Old E2 into two sealed-off compartments in the database. New E2 would be edited as proposed and become the E2 incarnation that “faces the World” (and in the future maybe even advertisers).

Old E2 could run essentially like it does today, but more as an internal affair. However, the very best Old E2 material could be picked out by New E2 editors and moved to New E2. In this way newbies would still have a non-intimidating place where to start their career. I’m afraid that the editorial procedures of New E2 are going to scare away many a budding, but initially insecure writer. At the same time I understand that this idea may be prohibitively expensive.

One more thing. When I first came to E2, I was not only impressed by its slimy “anarchism in action”, but also by signs of refreshing self-irony, which were displayed all over the place. The hilarious names for the different levels, ending with “God”, is just one example. I understand that the more professional-looking New E2 may seem to need more bureaucratic titles, like “publisher” and “administrator”. But for heavens sake, keeping some of the original self-irony will hardly capsize the New E2 project! I would strongly recommend keeping the “God”-title. For example, the administrators could be Gods, and the editors might be called Godlets or Archangels.

Anyway, if this daylog is not nuked, then under Old E2 rules it will make me a Monk, a sidesplitting title for an inveterate atheist.

Almost two weeks ago I started a new job. As with any workplace, the most important thing is assembling a collection of characters who will be entertaining and unique while still managing to do whatever it is they are being paid to do.

This went to the extreme on me yesterday. Although it was a Friday, the day of the week most known for oddball behavior in the workplace, what I witnessed outside of the building in which I work was something I never imagined seeing in my life. Sure, I've seen and done a lot of crazy things in my life, but this was, as my friend Berhardt Goates would say, "nuts out of space."

A co-worker, who also happens to be a good friend, and who hooked me up with this job in the first place, had come into work wearing a long, flowing white dress made of some kind of magic cottony gauze type fabric. As we were enjoying the pleasures derived from the smoke brought about as a result of setting tobacco on fire, we saw an eagle flying overhead. It had caught a fish in a nearby lake and was bringing it up to its associate, who was perched on top of a telephone pole overlooking some quick vehicle lubrication business.

Now, this was quite an awesome sight in and of itself, two eagles having their lunch and the female being a very effective fisherwoman while the male looked on waiting to eat something nice and tasty. However, the female eagle dropped the fish before it could bring it up to the temporary roost and roast. The eagle decided to head back to the lake to do some more fishing, but my associate would have none of it. She wanted the eagles to get the damned fish, the one they dropped, and she was not taking any rejection of her well-intentioned efforts. So, knowing where the eagle had dropped the fish, my associate yelled at the eagles and pointed to where the fish had been dropped. She was excited and emotional, making curious demands of these two mighty birds, and they were not getting with her program.

That is not where our story ends.

My associate, filled with emotion and a true desire to make herself seen by the eagles, raced across the field where the fish had been dropped. It had been raining, so the grass was wet and there were still drizzles of rain in the air. With her long white "gown" flowing behind her, she ran towards the dropped fish, where she picked the dead fish up and showed it to the eagles, still yelling at them to come and get their dinner.

It should have been enough that she had picked up this dead fish, which was of a size most freshwater fishermen would be darned proud of. Instead, what happened next was that this woman stood in the middle of a rainswept field, her long white cape and robes blowing around her, with a large dead fish in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, her arms outstretched towards the sky, while she called out to these birds who did not know what to make of this unusually strange human being.

As the employees of this quick lube place looked on, she danced back and forth across the field with her fish. Apparently she wanted the eagle to come down, take the fish from her and give her a nice little thank you present. The eagles were perplexed. They probably thought this crazed woman was stealing their dinner and then taunting them with it. You see, eagles do not speak English, which was the language she used to try to communicate with them, and she used some big words which likely led them to greater confusion.

The old masters would have painted this scene and called it, Crazed Woman With Fish. Mr. Horse from the Ren and Stimpy show would have scratched his chin and said, "No sir, I don't like it." Stanley Kubrick would have gone into a decade of complete seclusion were he to have been alive to witness this. It was highly unusual.

As I stood stunned, looking on as crazed woman with fish ran back and forth across that wet field, she came towards me to show me the fish. There she was, standing there, still smoking her cigarette and showing me that this fish needed to be consumed by those eagles and she would not rest until she made it happen. Eventually she came to her senses, dropped the fish in a convenient location for said eagles and went inside.

Inside the building I was then able to witness one co-worker telling someone on the telephone, "He says it is only eight inches." Some time later, the receptionist hung up the phone angrily and told me, "The one part about my job I hate is answering the phone."

Yeah, I love this planet you people have here. It is so entertaining.

I should have known better. It is true, I did dance on the lawn preaching and moralizing at a chauvinistic male eagle. How dare he sit there stoicly and let his woman do all the important work. I couldn't believe he was even too lazy and self-absorbed to come get the stupid fish that I held not fifty feet away from him. I think she should divorce him!

You see, my other job is teaching equal rights philosophy to birds of prey. Not speaking their language makes it difficult, so I'm forced to resort to exaggerated gestures and pantomimes in order to get my points across. It's a tough business, as there is not much demand for this particular position, which I find depressing. Far too many people (and birds) are either ignorant of the need for equal rights among the Aves class or simply don't care. It's just not right. The pay is lousy, too. I'm lucky if I get a fish out of the deal.

Perhaps I should just give up and go home.

I too have started a new job recently, but thankfully none of my coworkers have unnatural fascinations with fish, save perhaps the one who loves anchovies on pizza, but that's an acceptable level of fish, I suppose, and he doesn't try to forcefeed them or show them to anyone else.

Life is a little different from where I left most of you. I'm still no longer a student and not planning on completing my degree at Purdue... waiting until next Christmas when mcc graduates to move to California or whereever he lands a job, and I'll eventually go back to school there.

I'm no longer working my dream job at the newspaper... but that's OK, I think. It was turning into a little bit of a nightmare, as the editor in chief was taking the thing in directions that made it look more like a trashy teen zine or a high school newspaper than a professional arts and entertainment publication. I didn't lose my job so much as they lost their ability to pay me. It wasn't doing as well as they've have liked, and they had to go to a volunteer-only basis, even for the editor in chief. I'm still doing occasional things for them, but not much. If they want me, they know where to find me

Oddly, though, I had a new job just about fall into my lap. I sent out a bunch of resumes over Christmas Break, since I lost my other one just a couple days before vacation. I must have sent off an easy dozen... I only got one response to ONE, at all, ever. They wanted me for an interview as soon as humanly possible once I was back in Lafayette. They actually stayed late into the evening so I could make it that day since I had a midafternoon arrival and a bit of a drive affter that. By the next day they'd hird me.

So now I work for a tech support firm called Touchsupport. We're an "invisible" topside tech support group, that is web hosts contract us out to do their tech support for them, and to the end user we appear to be staff of the individual company. It's mostly done on a bbs style ticket-handling system, which is nice because I'm allowed to make wisecracks about user stupidity out loud without someone on the phone overhearing. It's not a bad job, and it seems a secure and educational chance to pad my resume for the tech sectors of California when we do move. My coworkers are as sarcastic and people-hating as I am, and for the first time in my life I'm working shifts my body agrees with--late morning->evening on some days, evening->midnight others. No early mornings. Ever. I can't belive how much better I'm feeling physically just for that.

It's still a bit scary and overwhelming, as my linux knowledge is about three years out of date, and my confidence in my own computer skills was pretty well shattered a couple years ago when I gave CS up as a major after it defeated me totally. But I'm doing well, my coworkers and bosses have been quite helpful and tolerent of really dumb questions...

I think I'll like it here.


Addendum, on a different note:
I've been asked by several people "what happened?" and why I'm no longer an editor here. That was a decision entirely of my own choosing, and entirely amiable. I realized with some horror that in the year and a half or so since I becamse an editor I had written all of FIVE nodes, and only one that was not a daylog.... at first it was because I really was very busy editing, but it eventually drifted into a lethargy, and I found myself barely ever editing either... so I decided to step back to where I used to be. I want my muse back, I want my writing groove returned. Once I have that back, I'll almost definately step back up to my old position. So that's what I'll be working on here in the near future... the thing that brought me here in the first place... noding.

Oh, I'm totally noding at work now. Since the work is web-based, and the workload totally random, we're allowed to goof off in our free time. Most of the guys are slashdotters or farkers, so I can goof off here all I want... and maybe actually use the time to node.

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