Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah


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I was turned onto Neal Stephenson a few years ago when there were still bookstores around where you could purchase books made of paper right there on the spot. An emo salesgirl recommended that I check out Cryptonomicon. It is still one of the best books I can remember reading, and I have been a Stephenson fan ever since. When Anathem came out a ways back (I think they were shutting down all the bookstores by then), I deliberated too much and too long about reading it, so it passed me by at the time. The thing about Stephenson is that after his first few books, he became a seriously prolific writer, and all of his books are brick sized, 1000-page things, so you have to have commitment.

Anathem is set in a world where the thinkers are cloistered off in monastic societies, while the rest of the world lives glued to their cellphones eating bad food with chemicals that give them a sense of well being, and they shop in strip malls and hang out in casinos and movie theaters. It fairly resembles our world, minus the actual smart people. The ascetics live in sequestered orders devoted to various intellectual disciplines and pursuits wearing nothing but a robe with a rope tie and a magic rubber ball. They spend their time thinking about important shit, and discussing it with each other, while outside in the real world the rest of the shit seems to be falling apart. It’s like college, but you don’t graduate and become a lawyer. The two worlds don’t mix except for ten days every year, and even then the serious monks won’t come out unless it’s the turn of a decade or a century. Of course the wonderful separation of these two worlds can’t be maintained because dramatic license dictates that conflict is fun. So our hero smart guy monk sets out to save the world, both of them.

I read the little quotes inside the front cover of the book from all the people claiming to have read Anathem, and I couldn’t figure our what they were saying. And of course I rely on those comments and reviews to form my opinion. If the Dallas Morning News says my book is a “dazzling tour de force,” I know what I hold in my hands. Despite the cryptic blurbs, Anathem is thought provoking writing of a rather enviable brilliant mind. While I realize that sounds just like the printed praise that the publisher put in there because maybe they were worried people would need reassurance to read 1,000 pages of paper with words on it, but it is my actual impression. Stephenson is always good for an education in his books, and Anathem contains a dictionary (because he makes up his own words) and a few appendices that give good tutorials in spatial geometry, quantum mechanics, string theory (or whatever the latest is in the whole what the hell are we really doing here question) and the history of philosophy. I always feel stupid when I read Stephenson, which is hard for the inventor of the internet to admit, but Neal doesn’t really ridicule us for it, but rather inspires us to broaden our understanding of our world. And he helps to school us as well. Despite the seeming headiness of his writing, he also has ability to describe and convey emotional experiences that are heightened by his ignition of our minds. It’s like porn for the cognitive, except without the porn. It is an experience that I can’t quite describe, save to say that you have to have it to understand.

I Am a Vape Tweeker

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If you missed Jazzy Redd’s classic, I Am A Dope Fiend, perhaps all of what follows will have less impact, but I doubt it. I just think Jazzy Redd was way before his time—you know, because rap and hip hop is all so new. It was introduced to me while under heavy sedation at a nightmare Course in Miracles retreat where the facilitator felt that repeated listening to Jazzy Redd’s song could create real transformation. In any case, I have a confession to make. I am a vape tweeker.

Yes, I said it. I don’t mean that I am vaping all the time. I am just constantly trying to find the right vaporizing device and e-liquid to help me quit smoking. Now, for those unaware, vaping is a term used for the act of inhaling vapor from an electronic device that heats a liquid with nicotine in it so you can fool yourself into thinking that you aren’t inhaling dangerous carcinogens into your lungs. Well, that isn’t quite the truth. E-liquid doesn’t contain the cancer causing chemicals that Big Tobacco still uses to treat their tobacco. All it has in it is nicotine, glycerine (either vegetable or propylene glycol, the stuff in antifreeze that makes it less toxic), and god knows what else to create the plethora of flavorings available. You are still inhaling something other than the wonderful blend of atmospheric chemicals natural to the air in your home town. That can’t be good for you. But the argument is that is can’t be worse than smoking a cigarette, and of course smoking these days is a sign that you are completely insane. I admit it. I have not quit smoking yet; after all these years, after fatherhood, after the turn at the ninth hole for the back nine of life. So I decided to try this vaping thing, because denying myself pleasure is just not my cup of tea. Quitting smoking without all the trouble of actually quitting smoking. Sounds good, sign me up.

So a couple of years ago I bought an e-cigarette and some e-liquid. Not bad, but I found it hard to switch over completely, so I joined a forum online for fellow vapors and ex-smokers, so I could get more information and support. I discovered that there is more to know about this vaping thing than I ever care to want to know, but in the quest for the perfect drag I educated myself as best I could. I had to basically learn OHM’s law to discover how to vape properly, at least in theory. In practice, it was an obsessive quest to find the right device, the right atomizers, the right tanks, the right liquid. I started with the basic e-cig. I quickly upgraded to a 3.7 volt device, then had to try a thing with a tank on it because I was always refilling the cartridges with liquid from a dropper. Finally, because of course none of that felt like a stupid Camel cigarette, you know, with all the wonderful effects of oxygen deprivation I was going for, I purchased a “variable voltage bottom beeder box mod” known as the MonkeyBoxx. I tried tobacco flavors, fruit flavors, dessert flavors and candy flavors. And then I got pissed off and just chain smoked for a year.

Recently I decided to try it again. I had a lung thing happen to me. The idea of worrying about my next breath hit me while I was struggling for air one night. I glimpsed a life filled with daily, chronic, real panic about my next breath. My son saw a guy with emphysema on one of those great American Cancer Society ads and asked me what his problem was. I thought that somehow I might have not explored this vaping thing enough. I got the band back together. Shopped around for a better rig, a juice that I could live with as an All Day Vape (as they say in the vape tweek handbook). Atomic Cinnacide. Creme Brulée. Coffee and Cream. Vanilla Chai Latte. Honeysuckle. Black Cherry Marshmallow. Rice Krispy Treats. I am smoking Rice Krispy Treats. Excuse me, vaping. I am vaping Rice Krispy Treats. Stay tuned.

Filter Bubbles: The new media conspiracy


A filter bubble. Another term I am still not sure if I have the space in my brain to store, or more simply the desire to do so. I mean I have other things more pressing, like who will be on Cee Lo’s team this season on The Voice, or what to do with the rest of my life. But when I learned what Eli Pariser on the Ted Talk about filter bubbles had to say about them, it made me perk up. I was not surprised, because as inventor of the internet (if you missed that post, read it here), I had anticipated this. While Pariser tries to inspire us, I prefer to focus on how despicable the internet really is, along with conventional media, which at this point are merging in ways that are more pathetic than innovative (also see my last rant on Hashtag Culture). Pariser’s lead-in was that Facebook founder and prepubescent billionaire Mark Zuckerberg stated that the news feed on Facebook is important (which by the way is supposed to be like a really important cultural question, like asking Kissinger to explain what to do about Syria), he replied by stating that “a squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” And there it is right there—the central problem in American culture succinctly placed before me by the guy who is basically responsible for one of the largest nodes of the internet at present. Poor Africa. It’s always trotted out to remind us that there are larger, far more significant problems in the world. People are starving in Africa. People are dying in Africa. But dude, a squirrel just died on my front door. My friends need to know about this. And in a sense, this billionaire punk with obvious anti-social disorders who has re-invented the way we socialize with each other, is right.

The Facebook feed is apparently censored based on your clicking habits. Read more feed posts from liberal friends, and all of a sudden your conservative friends no longer appear in your feed. Perhaps that is why I don’t hear much from Tucker Carlson anymore, and why I am constantly seeing posts from my feminist blogger friend. The same applies to search, on Google, which is the one of the only other nodes in the internet. The search results you receive are essentially targeted based on your habits, just to give you results you will be comfortable with. Google used to actually give you information, back before it became a bellwether for the Nasdaq. Now it’s just a bunch of crap paid for by marketing douchebags who use Adwords.

The question is what do we want. Are we happy reading updates from our friends—looking at their children’s christening photos, reading the comedy of their Dilbert-esque lives, trading recipes, music videos—or do you want to see the people dying in Africa, or Detroit. Filter bubbles are nothing new. They’re just getting bigger and more conspiratorial, and nefarious. The irony is that I discovered this on my Facebook feed from my cousin, and the video is hosted on Google’s YouTube. Seems to be a matter of what we make matter. The algorithm will respond.

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