The Laboratorium
May 2000

On a lighter note


This Tom the Dancing Bug comic is a bit old, but I'm still fond of it. I can feel myself working up to another rant about irony and sincerity and modern culture, but until I get a block of time to actually write it out, I'll let Reuben Bolling have a go instead.

Absurdity in the News


I don't really mean for this to be just another clip-n-comment weblog, but I need to bootstrap myself into action, and most of the bees in my bonnet at the moment are there at the instigation of one thing or another I saw on the web somewhere. ZDNet posted ZDNet posted this piece of yellow journalism yesterday. Like most other news sites that really want to be synergistic portal components in trans-media edutainment news empires, ZDNet is occasionally given to running pieces that tie in with some news "story" introduced by the TV end of the business. This amusing item, about a high-tech executive who was laid off and now moves office furniture for a living and whose $50,000/year salary is too small, by Silicon Valley standards, to allow him to live anywhere except in a homeless shelter. "[W]hat I do is go to places like Compaq and Sun Microsystems and you-name-it and move all these exotic computers and desks and things from one office to another. Then I come back here and play with my laptop 486," says our hero.

There's a saying in my family: "What's most wrong with this picture?" And this story is so iffily attached to reality that I don't know where to begin. Ordinary objections -- live in Oakland, move somewhere reasonable, aren't there better uses of tax money -- don't even seem to apply. I think this is because the article isn't about the real Silicon Valley so much as it is about the imagined Silicon Valley, a place so overwhelmingly defined by ridiculous geekiness and ridiculous paper wealth that the strangest urban legends might pass for credible reportage. There's a backlash in effect right now, so the stories are unflaggingly negative, but they were equally absurd back when they talked about the Valley as the paradisial fountain of endless wealth.

I'm not actually seriously concerned that homeless-in-the-Valley-on-50K stories misrepresent Valley life. Cultures that thrive on their own mythos don't generally concern themselves with the precise nature of that mythos: having and maintaining an outsize reputation at all is the important part. I'm more concerned that this is the level on which any discussion of wealth in this country seems to take place. Especially with our nation's recent fixation on the stock market and the Federal Reserve (about which fixation, more some other time), all considerations of money focus on wealth to the exclusion of poverty; the last time I checked, not everyone was rich yet. The unsubtle critiques of wealth generated by news items like the ZDNet one are doing a fat lot of good for this nation's impoverished homeless. It's the gap between $5,000 and $50,000 that troubles me, not the one between $50,000 and $500,000.

About the Lab


The Laboratorium for Research in Experimental Aesthetics was founded in March of 2000, when I acquired the domain name. I don’t think I understood that “Laboratorium” really was the German (or Dutch or Indonesian) for “laboratory;” it was just a catchy word that captured my sense of the site.

I thought of the Lab as a place for experimentation, culture-jamming, critical thinking, artistic risk-taking, and the creative use of computers. I believe in the promise of redemptive technology, in new wine in old bottles, in unexpected connections, and the profound joy of understanding.

At the time, I’d never heard the term “weblog,” and had no idea that I was writing one. There are definitional issues, of course: by the time I got to the third entry, I’d stopped organizing my posts around links, and even by the end of the first week, the essay format had come to dominate.

It’s been a long journey. I’ve stopped blogging twice, only to start up again; I’ve experimented with XML, mailing lists, wikis, and several iterations of homebrew content management systems; I’ve had dark nights of the soul over trivial issues of hypertext theory. This version should be stable, well, until it isn’t stable any more. Then something else will take its place.

The Laboratorium is powered by Movable Type, as supplemented by John Gruber’s wonderful Markdown and SmartyPants, plus several small plugin-assisted hacks of my own devising. The star icons on my reviews are derived from Mark James’s beautiful Silk icon set, which he has generously made available under a Creative Commons license. The live comment preview uses WMD.


Except as otherwise noted, everything on this site was written by me, James Grimmelmann, and I retain the copyright to it. Anything I have written here is available under a Creative Commons License. The full technical details are encoded in XML in every page here; the full legal version is also available.

In brief, you can do almost anything you like with my words, as long as you follow one simple condition. You can copy my writings, distribute them, stage public readings, translate them into foreign tongues, perform merciless line-by-line MSTings of them, and generally use them as you see fit in the pursuit of your own creative vision. However, you must identify me as the author. (I would appreciate it if your reuse were to link back to the entry you are reusing, but I understand that this may be impossible in some media.)

If you don’t like these terms, write me. I’m happy to consider any other arrangement you’d like to suggest. These are just the terms I’m willing to sign off on for anyone, anytime.

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