Friday, January 24, 2020

"The Longest Book in the World" is no longer "The Blah Story"; John Fish's experiment on artificial self-expression

John Fish’s recent videos (from his gap year from Harvard working in tech in Montreal) seem to indicate an interest in combinations of things, combinatorial algebras, and the like.  Isn’t that what quantum theory is about?

So this leads him into a self-publishing print-on-demand exercise, with Amazon CreateSpace, to prove that any individual can “make” the “longest book in the world”. Making a book is not the same as writing it, which Fish admits and we’ll come back to that.  The video, at this point, does point out the ease of using Create Space as you want to (although it has ended providing its own editorial support – that’s another matter). 

Fish starts out by discussing Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky – linguistic theories (not Chomsky’s super Leftist politics) as to how word combinations give humans the ability to express ideas with mathematical combinations. Compare this to animals – dogs and cats can make a limited repertoire of words or syllables.  (Cetaceans – whales and dolphins, especially orcas, would stimulate a good discussion – why haven’t we deciphered their languages?)

He moves on to "The Blah Story" by Nigel Tomm as the longest on record, until he (John) created one with 12 million words, by writing a program (in Python) to generate grammatically correct sentences from "parts of speech" from finite lists of vocabulary words (for each speech part). OK, if the paragraphs so generated were blog posts, AI would probably consider them "spam".   In foreign languages, this would be harder to do because of verb conjugation, adjective agreement, etc.  (I won't get into possible "pronoun controversies" here.)   He ordered one copy of each volume from Amazon Create Space.  200,000 words would be a long novel, so that would mean about 24 volumes.  He titles it “Duree  (French for “duration” or “time taken”). He stacked them in his apartment as a decoration.  No, he isn’t selling them; he will have a real one soon. As I remember it is to be called “Intentional Attention” (see his April 6 video about Casey Neistat). It sounds like the "real book" will deal with the idea of attention as a currency (comparable to crypto, a kind of virtual blockchain) that could fund a business model (maybe without persistent identifiers, causing so much legal controversy now with CCPA and COPPA?)  I wonder if Fish has a channel (I did not see him at the conference in Philadelphia Aug 31, nor did I see “Economic Invincibility” but they both would have been good choices as speakers – but so would have been Jordan Peterson).  
In fact, my own experience shows it is possible for an Internet self-publisher to have considerable political influence on certain issues without necessarily large analytics or sales volumes or supportive income as by normal accounting records.  This was my case previously, especially with the past issue of gays in the military (in the US – the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy – not to be confused with the transgender policy now) which generated my (controversial) use of the “do ask do tell” wordmark today. But it’s not hard to see why such an individualized “business model” as mine (depending on accumulated personal assets, some of them inherited maybe, and very low cost of operation compared to “real” media companies) would incur questions, as maybe lowballing “real” career journalism and hollowing out normal political activism (leaving it to the polarized extremes).  There is a real big debate today, particularly in the YouTube world, as to the value of independent journalists and political columnists in keeping big media honest.  It was, for example, independent channels that busted big media on the Covington Kids “scandal” and then blew up with “Adpocalypse” last summer.
One other question: could “The Blah Story” or John’s experiment (“I did this and this is what happened” kind of thing, like some of Luke Korns’s videos) make for a subject for a good independent bookstore party?  (See previous post.)
By the way, the first of my three “Do Ask Do Tell” books runs 187,000 words as I remember (about 580 pages in iUniverse, including the roman numerals).  The novel manuscript for “Angel’s Brother” is now about 106,000.  It will probably top out at 115,000 with supplementary materials.
John says he paid back karma points for printing so much (like I used to do at work decades ago, as CYA) by writing an app that raised money to plant trees (late Nov. video).
Adam Driver's character (a school bus driver) writes poems that sound like similar plays on words in the 2016 film "Paterson" (my review).
I can remember that in sixth grade, in December 1954, all of my Christmas presents were books (except one).  A couple of them were about trains.
Picture: Cambridge;  I visited Boston and the Harvard campus (and P-town) in Aug. 2015.  

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