My Favorite Floppy of All Time

After at least 15 years of debating whether I should spend money on this, I recently took the plunge and acquired one of my most-desired Prince collectibles.

Part of the reason I decided to actually acquire this disk was that I'd revisited Parker Higgins' great post about how Prince's signature glyph might have been represented in Unicode if it were able. Even better, once I'd shared the photo I'd taken of the disk, Paisley Park's then-head designer Steven Parke, and Chank Diesel, the Minneapolis type designer whose typefaces would later become stalwarts of Prince's packaging design, both jumped into the thread.

I was pretty surprised to see just how much interest there was in this artifact, but it was a great opportunity to bring out some of the fascinating, innovative work that Prince was doing two decades ago, and to note how fun, funny, and resonant it remains to this day.

Let's Do More

I've been trying to do more things that are unfamiliar or slightly out of my comfort zone lately. Here's a quick roundup:

  • I got to participate in Rhizome's venerated Seven on Seven conference, where I teamed up with Kevin McCoy to create monegraph. It's a system that uses the block chain technology which underpins Bitcoin, but puts it to work in service of artists, so that they can verify that a digital work is an original, with a verifiable provenance. I describe the context of the work in A Bitcoin for Digital Art, my first piece for Medium's "The Message" collection, and we also showed it off with a demo at the most improbable of venues, TechCrunch's Disrupt conference. The response overall has been great, as you can tell from the monegraph tumblr.

A Bitcoin for Digital Art

  • The White House's working group on Big Data and Privacy released its report, which is surprisingly thoughtful and appropriately nuanced in its consideration of the issues. As danah so aptly summarized it, "[T]he conversation around the “big data” phenomenon tends to get quickly polarized - it’s good or it’s bad, plain and simple. But it’s never that simple." It's no surprise danah's take was so thoughtful; her Data & Society Research Institute was one of the most valuable contributors to the White House report. In my role on the board of the DSRI, I got to moderate a panel with Kate Crawford, Steven Hodas, Alondra Nelson, and Shamina Singh. The conversation was incredible, and so it's no surprise that our panel was cited in the full report from the White House. You can watch the panel here:

  • Over on The Awl, it's "How to Avoid Raising a Monster" which takes a look at my, uh, parenting style. This includes the question, "Can you ... provide some more examples of when you’ve been especially tempted to do things that wouldn’t be found in any guidebooks on how best to raise a child?"
  • On PolicyMic, a nice piece on 23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World Better for Men includes my least insightful comment ever: "Sex is fun!"
  • Coming up this fall: I'll be speaking at PopTech in October. If you know that conference, you know why I'm geeked out about the opportunity, especially given that John Maeda as host has chosen "rebellion" as the theme for the event.
  • Oh, and Prince finally retweeted one of my tweets, but elided my name and then removed the tweet entirely a brief while later, as he is prone to do. But still, fun for me!
  • And as always, the ThinkUp team has been rocking with a whole range of fun and ridiculous new insights in the app. If you haven't seen ThinkUp lately, you haven't seen it. You should probably sign up and give it a try.

Being Less of a Jerk About Faith

One of my recurrent ruminations of the last decade or so is a bit of reflection on my relationship with religion. To be clear: I don't have one. I know there are no gods, that the supernatural does not exist, and that we should not base morality on mythology.

But I was raised Hindu, my family co-founded our local house of worship, and I was raised with a keen awareness of my family's work to protect religious minorities from oppression. So I was raised with a respect for faith and for religions. It' s a respect that, frankly, I seldom show. I also understand the fundamental human desires that drive people to seek out the ritual, community and reassurance of religions; It's only natural that people would gravitate toward any structure which addresses those needs, even if I feel they are better met through science, government, community and activism.

My reasons for being frustrated with, and unforgiving toward, organized religions are the obvious, even trite, ones. Religions are used as tools of oppression, religion is used to prop up other institutions which are unjust, important values of our secular society in America are being undermined by religious extremists, and I've personally had any number of unkindnesses inflicted upon me by people in the name of their religions.

To be clear, I don't much distinguish between the relative "goodness" or "badness" of any of the major religions. The Abrahamic family of Judaism/Christianity/Islam are pretty much indistinguishable to me, and are perhaps most pervasive in triggering my annoyance due to their inescapable influence on American life. But I'm just as offended by the Hindu extremists in India and by the privilege my own family's benefitted from in being part of that religion's highest caste.

Great, Another Annoying Atheist on the Internet

None of this is so new; Finding an atheist being annoyed with religion on the Internet is as easy as finding cat pictures. What I've been struggling with, instead, is figuring out why the hypocrisy and intolerance and ignorance of the religious bothers me so much more than the hypocrisy and intolerance and ignorance of, well, people in general. I generally love to champion unpopular perspectives, or to advocate for mainstream ideas that are considered gauche or uncool by the cultural elite. More importantly, many of the ideas that are most important to me are far easier to discuss with my friends who have a faith.

Forgiveness and atonement, detachment and grace, kindness and kinship — these ideas are so bound to religion in our culture that many people I talk to get confused when I use them in a secular context. Yet they're ideas that are important enough to me that they preoccupy a lot of my thoughts every day, and a logical response would be to discuss these concepts with those who care about them, regardless of what beliefs they profess.

Reckoning

The tension between my desire to in keeping with values of kindness toward others and the undeniable frustration I feel when confronted with people trying to impose their religious beliefs came to a head again a few months ago when I spoke at the Plywood Presents conference in Atlanta.

It was a great event, very well run, and I was relatively happy with how my talk came out. But the best talk of the event happened the first night, when Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries paid quiet witness to his work with gang members in Los Angeles.

Father Gregory epitomizes the best of belief, a nearly unfathomable well of goodwill toward others. And he spoke earnestly, honestly and uncompromisingly about kinship. I experience these ideas in the context of citizenship rather than faith, but that seems a silly and trivial distinction to focus on. And none of this is peculiar or unique to me; I can see friends who are also non-believers reckon with the same ideas as well.

What, then is my conclusion? I don't yet know. If faith is about comfort in the face of unanswerable questions, then I should at least be comfortable with questions that are merely difficult to answer. Until I know how to be better about my shortcomings here, I'm settling for a placeholder that at least acknowledges I haven't met my expectations for myself. Yet.

Rat On The Tracks

My wife, in addition to being wise and kind, is generally made of sterner stuff than I am. This serves us both well, but the contrast does serve to elucidate some important concepts from time to time.

Living as we do in New York City, subway rides and the occasional rat are both inevitable parts of our experience. It is not at all uncommon to be standing on a subway platform and to see a rodent or two scurrying about on the tracks before a train arrives. It's not a ray of sunshine in anyone's day, but isn't particularly remarkable or traumatic when it happens.

For the first decade or so of our relationship, during those few moments when we were standing together on a subway platform and there was a rat on the tracks, I'd inevitably get an elbow in the ribs. "Hey, look."

Epiphany

The impulse to point out a rat on the tracks is understandable; it's a mildly noteworthy thing to observe, it's kind of boring to kill time on a train platform, and some folks like to observe creepy-crawly things from a distance.

After years of this pattern, I came to see it differently. In this situation, the best case scenario was that I'd see a rat on the tracks, something that I don't enjoy.

That is, if everything went exactly according to plan, and if everyone did their part, the net outcome would be at least one person being a little less comfortable than they were before. This was epiphany.

So, so often, we all are pointing out a rat on the tracks. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. It's not saying "Maybe we can go shoo that rat away." or "Let's tell someone with powerful poisons that we'll regret using!" or "Perhaps we can all sing Ben to it!"

My shorthand, then, for any course of action that will result in slightly less happiness if all goes as intended is "rat on the tracks". Feel free to use the phrase as needed. And if you see a rat on the tracks, you don't actually have to tell anybody.

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