Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Photo by Will Conley

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Facebook for Beginners" Gently Leads New Users Through the Maze

Facebook for Beginners ( is a new blog of mini-lessons for people new to Facebook. It's "to-the-point and caffeine-free."

In writing for Facebook for Beginners, I try to keep posts as short and sweet as possible. I want to help new users overcome their fears and just wade into it one random step at a time. Facebook can be very intimidating, especially for someone for whom the Internet is a foreign land of scary Porn and Codes and Viruses and Stalkers.

New users often have a lot of random, elementary, or seemingly unimportant questions, such as:
Can I delete this email I got from Facebook?

How can I send a message to all of my Facebook friends at once?

What's a wall?

But in fact it's those types of odd questions which, if brushed off and left unanswered, can linger in the mind and get in the way of learning. Facebook for Beginners is designed to answer those odd questions so new users can become veterans as soon as possible.

Every post is a random definition, how-to, or informational tidbit about using Facebook. (Don't worry, articles can also be searched or browsed via archive and tag cloud, all organized-like.)

You most certainly know someone you can direct to that blog. Is it your dad? Your grandmother? A co-worker who has stopped scoffing whenever you mention Facebook and is now curious about it? Someone from Alpha Centauri who has never seen one of our primitive human laptops?

When you figure out who that is, direct them to

Monday, August 8, 2011

In which I review a book that correctly claims America is a religion, but is also pure trash.

Americanism: The Fourth Great Western ReligionAmericanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion by David Gelernter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book speaks the truth about the fact that America should be thought of as a religion first and foremost. The problem with the book is that it is written from the perspective of a devout neoconservative Americanist who feels at liberty to browbeat the reader into worshiping as he does. I couldn't finish this book, because despite the author's obvious intelligence, it was full of willfully ignorant calls to blind faith. In short, the author is correct in his basic assumptions, but he is a typical piece-of-shit death worshiper.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Man and Nature: A Calculus Beyond My Understanding


I stand on the front walk to my house and look around. I am seeing certain things as if for the first time, and I am awestruck:

Telephone lines (or are they power lines?) slung between tall, slender, unadorned, wooden totems, strictly for the purpose of transmitting information (or energy) all along the little street.

Metal antennae attached to rooftops. A satellite dish.

All of these comprise the infovascular system (if I may) of our species -- an extension of our bodies, as Leonardo da Vinci would have said. I say they are an extension of our minds -- not an alien, unnatural blight on the landscape, but an inevitable result of the advent of the frontal lobe in humans.

Chimneys spring from rooftops as well, venting whatever we cannot use and do not want in our houses. I do not normally see these, rather taking them for granted a hair shy of one hundred percent of the time. They are cowlicks on the structures we have built for ourselves in our image. Two windows and a door make a face. Buildings are large cloaks which we can move around in. Very roomy.

I look up at the birds. The swallows with their pointed wingtips beat the air faster than a fish beats water with fins but slower than an electron orbits a nucleus. They trawl for unseen airborne insects. I imagine these birds closing off their windpipes and throats, catching as many insects as they can -- their flight patterns governed by a calculus far beyond my human understanding -- until the sensation of insect bodies, lodged in saliva, accumulates enough to warrant, ahem, swallowing.

The birds flock together, but individually you can see them ruminating. "Should I follow now? How about now? Yes, now. I will join my familiars. I am my own bird. I miss my familiars. I am my own bird, for my attention wanes." They flit from tree to tree. They fly over my head.

They land on a telephone line. Or power line. Unlike me, they do not question it. The wire is part of their real, natural world.

The antennae and bricks of the buildings are hard -- much harder than tree bark, about as hard as very old rock -- belong here too.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Space Shuttle: Our Tower of Babel

I find myself genuinely mournful of the space shuttle program. I was born in 1980; the program launched in 1981. It was always there for me.

Space travel will continue, but the space shuttle program was more than that. It was a symbol of something strident and hopeful.

The space shuttle program, in my mind's eye, was the white spaceplane, the NASA logo, the American flag emblazoned on spacesuits filled with heroes. My heroes.

The space shuttle program was the televised launches. The countdown, the ignition, the launch, the blinding blaze of rockets, the disappearing of a handful of astronauts into the heavens.

The space shuttle program was our Tower of Babel. We built it for science, yes, but really we built it to reach God.

I was in first grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded before it could even reach low orbit. It blew up right there before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people. A teacher had been on-board. A television was wheeled into the classroom so we could watch the coverage. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Lindsay, crying a little and holding a tissue to her face.

Now, as I read the New York Times coverage of the last launch taking place this very moment, I am surprised to find myself crying a little. I will never go up in a space shuttle. I never knew it mattered to me until now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Stories, Origins, Disagreement, God, and Other Things

The following was written in real time on Twitter.

The sculptor Auguste Rodin left masses of rough, untouched stone intact on his finely carved sculptures -- to remind us where it came from.
Will Conley

To agree is beside the point. Just to be is the point.
Will Conley

We can meet on the mountain -- the greater substance from which our lives spring -- and compare what we made from it.
Will Conley

We are each given a stone from the same mountain. We each chisel something different. We sometimes mistake our sculptures for the mountain.
Will Conley

Stories within stories. Facts bending like wheat in the winds of imagination. Consciousness was here first.
Will Conley

God is about unity. That's all he was ever for. He is just as real as any of your imaginings.
Will Conley

When the rain comes down, it touches the whole town. That is the story we all inhabit, and it belongs to a being greater than ourselves.
Will Conley

Those who allow others to have their stories, differ though they might, are brave.
Will Conley

When we demand that others think the way we do, it is like trying to force others into our homes with us.
Will Conley

When we violently disagree with each other's stories, our violence is derived from the terror of being alone in our private stories.
Will Conley

Some of our stories are similar. When we recognize that, we cling to each other, craving familiarity and the end of loneliness.
Will Conley

A life can go through many stages, each beginning and ending with a spectacular coup against the ego, taking place where cameras cannot go.
Will Conley

To change your mind is a great adventure. You will struggle, bleed, fail and try again. To change your mind is to die and be reborn.
Will Conley

When our stories fail us, we grieve. When we, in such uncommon cases, expatriate to new stories, we suffer.
Will Conley

There is nothing wrong with stories, just as there is nothing wrong with a rose in a windstorm. We choose destruction over loss of identity.
Will Conley

We may discuss alternate stories with civil tongues, but when the shit hits the fan, we revert to our fondest stories, facts be damned.
Will Conley

Our stories are more important to us than mere facts. We readily bend or replace facts that do not serve our stories. All of us do this.
Will Conley

Our veins are filled with stories. We breathe and eat stories. When someone threatens to supplant our stories with new stories, we resist.
44 minutes ago

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heart Spasms

Just had a physical heart spasm. At least I think it was. Don't nobody panic, it's over. Yes, I should quit smoking. No, I don't have health insurance, and no this is not a "wake-up call" for me.

OK, yes it is a wake-up call. And maybe I will quit those goddamn cigarettes. But I don't think those things are all that are bothering my heart.



People and their opinions.

My heroes dying and being replaced by humans.

The maddening questions: Am I wrong about this or that? Seriously, am I wrong, when I think and see and say and do things? Am I just making shit up?

Are all of the windows between me and the outside world mere paintings? Did I paint the scenes to trick my mind's eye? To fend off the darkness, the isolation of being trapped inside a human?

These questions bother me a lot. My breath grows shallow. There is a wailing in the distance. I drown it out with music. When I turn off the music, the wailing is closer. I turn the music back on.

Give us this day our daily chemicals, so that we might live in peace with the shadows.
I think they call it creeping panic.

There is no redeeming positive message in this post. It's just me and my abuse of a keyboard.
Changes need to be made.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some Unpremeditated Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence

Will any android ever achieve the grace and fluidity of the human organism--not just in physicality but in the electro-chemo-mechanical functions known as thought and emotion? Certainly they can approximate or mimic the human organism--but can they ever achieve the almost water-like nature of a human? Hmm, maybe that is the key to perfect AI: liquid crystality.

I once perused a book called The Society of Mind by cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky. There he talked about how all of the simple functions--push and pull, move and stop, and so on--work in concert to behave in unpredictable and creative ways. Perhaps the key to AI is determining the simplest functional substances that can work together.

A corallary to the "society" concept of the individual mind is that of the group. A giant anthill was once pumped full of cement, allowed to dry, and then excavated. The scientists discovered a complex "metropolis" of highways and biways, ventilation and waste management systems, incubation rooms, and so on--all seemingly designed by a single architect. No one ant knew what was going on on the macrocosm, but by God the thing worked as a whole, and each ant did his mighty little part.

That is how human civilization works, as well. Of course. What else but compartmentation and an invisible "hive mind" can account for the fact that we all know as individuals what the collective should do, but the collective doesn't seem to give a damn what our puny individual thoughts are. No matter how influential an individual, the whole will move in ways much more similar to a flock of birds or a weather system: unpredictable, fluid.

There it is again: fluidity. So an organism of artificial intelligence must be fluid, no? How can we create an artificial human that thinks, feels, and moves with such grace as that normally afforded to humans--or to animals--or to the way a forest grows up and self-regulates and achieves homeostasis?

Perhaps it is time to re-engineer the very concept of intelligence. Why not a stone have intelligence? Why not a mote of dust? Our galaxy is in itself seemingly "of some design"--the way it spirals, pirouettes--like a ballerina, or a dolphin at Sea World. Why not every level of existence be afforded some "intelligence"? Not only will this go a long way towards improving our understanding and respect and empathy for the world around us, but it could help to redefine the quest for a perfect AI.

Maybe we should redefine what it means to be intelligent before we try to create a robotic being that, for all intents and purposes, is a human being in a very real way. Instead of trying to create an artificial homo sapiens sapiens, why not create an artificially intelligent substance or fluid? Maybe it has already been done. Maybe we are surrounded by artificial intelligence already. Orville and Wilbur Wright created an airplane that captures air currents and manipulates air pressures in such a way as to create lift. The human arms cannot do that--and yet the seemingly unconscious airplane wing is impressive and awe-inspiring just the same.

Back to ants: I saw an article in Popular Science recently about real-world "zombies"--or beings whose brains have been compromised by some outside force. There is a fungus that attaches itself to an ant's cranium, injects it with chemical "commands", rides the ant to an ideal location for the fungus to reproduce, and then boom: the fungus bursts out of the poor ant's skull having been incubated therein, in just the right place for its spores to take flight and find more ants to use for procreation.

Pretty gruesome stuff, but besides that, what can we learn from that? What can we learn about the cooperative nature of "intelligence"? Certainly a fungus is not intelligent like a human. But that does not mean it is "lower" than a human (unless we are talking about actual spatial relationships, in which case, sure, yes, it is physically lower towards the ground.) Instead, the fungus is intelligent like a fungus.

We must meet intelligence on its own terms, not on the arbitrary narcissistic terms we set out for ourselves. Yes, it is natural to see the world in terms of what we can most immediately relate to--out own human incarnations, in this case--but why not expand the very definition of the self? Why not say, "Yes, that stone is me, that ant is me, that fungus is me, that galaxy is me." Of course, we don't have to mean this in every literal sense, but perhaps if we simply imagine it to be true for a moment, we can empathize with beings that can help us to increase our understanding of Things.

Fluidity. Self. Cooperation. Unconscious organization giving rise to consciousness. Emergent properties. All of these concepts and more must be applied to artificial intelligence--not just mechanics, electrodes, and software. Why limit ourselves? Perhaps the great breakthrough in artificial intelligence will come not from a tinkerer, not from a scientist, but from a jack of all trades--or a society of jacks of all trades.
These are some of my unpremeditated thoughts on artificial intelligence.

"Giant Wave" by Mark Mallman

Monday, March 14, 2011

I am looking forward to buying this little number.

It's a stand-alone portable PA with inputs for a mic, three instruments and a CD/iPod. All the reviews say it's a steal.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I ordered this microphone.

It's a Blue Microphones enCORE 100 Dynamic Vocal Mic. It directly competes with the Shure SM58, the reigning champion of all-around live vocal mics.

I have used the Shure on many stages, but have never used a Blue. According to all the reviews I have read, listened to or watched online, the Blue e100 is comparable or better than the Shure in almost all respects--and it is currently $20 cheaper. The price is unlisted in shopping search results as per retailer terms of service with Blue Mics, but authorized dealers like zZounds and American Musical Supply will privately tell you via shopping cart or email that it costs $79 before shipping. The Shure mic is running at $99 these days.

The reviewer in the video below places the Blue e100 ahead of the SM58 in every category: durability, sensitivity, frequency response, feedback rejection, overall sound purity, even "sexiness."
The only category in which the SM58 dominated was in reducing noise caused by handling the mic while in use. Shure sure makes a solid microphone.

Note: The reviewer sells only Blue live vocal mics on his website--a conflict of interest as far as journalistic integrity goes, but trust me when I say this man echos everything else I have seen. He probably only sells Blue because it's the best for the money.

I'm excited to get mine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Immoral and Base Form of Love (A One-Minute Valentine's Day Song)

Send this song to your romantic partner as a belated Valentine's Day message. She or he will forgive you for being a forgetful, insensitive, selfish jerk. Guaranteed.*

Will_Conley_-_An_Immoral_and_Base_Form_of_Love.mp3 Listen on Posterous
*Guarantee void where you live.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Murder of Crows (Or, Hello, My Name Is Jimmy Stewart and This is My Alfred Hitchcock Life)


Is it crow season, or what? The phrase "a murder of crows", which means a group of crows, seems to be popping up all over the Internet this early March 2011. Enjoy the photographic and verbal evidence:
  1. Look at my Facebook friend the spoken word artist Bao Phi's photo of one of said murders of crows.
  2. Read this article by my Twitter friend and ad man Jim Mitchem, and be sure to see the photo at the bottom of the post.
  3. Check out the Twitter search for a murder of crows.
I took the following short video clip of a group of birds of some kind--I'm not sure if it's a murder of crows, but they're definitely birds, which I know from paying attention in biology class as well as by dint of having a pulse and at least one functioning eyeball in conjunction with an adequately reliable visual cortex--a few days ago out my front window (not my Rear Window) before noticing the crow meme that seems to be taking the Internet by stealth:

VID01192.mp4 Watch on Posterous

Happy spring to you all. May the crows signal the coming snowmelt. Look out for homicidal ravens.

A Murder of Crows (Or, Hello, My Name Is Jimmy Stewart and This is My Alfred Hitchcock Life)


Is it crow season, or what? The phrase "a murder of crows", which means a group of crows, seems to be popping up all over the Internet this early March 2011. Enjoy the beautiful photographic and verbal evidence:

  1. Look at my Facebook friend the spoken word artist Bao Phi's photo of one of said murders of crows.
  2. Read this article by my Twitter friend and ad man Jim Mitchem, and be sure to see the photo at the bottom of the post.
  3. Check out the Twitter search for a murder of crows.

I took the following short video clip of a group of birds of some kind--I'm not sure if it's a murder of crows, but they're definitely birds, which I know from paying attention in biology class as well as by dint of having a pulse and at least one functioning eyeball in conjunction with an adequately reliable visual cortex--a few days ago out my front window (not my Rear Window) before noticing the crow meme that seems to be taking the Internet by stealth:


VID01192.mp4 Watch on Posterous


Happy spring to you all. May the crows signal the coming snowmelt. Look out for homicidal ravens.

Posted via email from Will Conley's Random Things

Will Evans asks, and unintentionally answers, "Where are our Byrons? Where are our modern Shelleys?"

My Twitter connection @semanticwill (real name Will Evans) wrote a blog post in 2010 entitled "Whispers," the opening lines of which I quote:

"Oh, I quite realize no one here will read this, at least not in its entirety. I have resigned myself to this reality, and perhaps the motivation for posting so very little in recent weeks. But once in a while it’s worth testing the waters."

I started reading the post silently to myself, but before I could do so "in its entirety," I reached for my old cheap microphone. I recorded it in my own voice. After listening to the recording and noticing the terrible "pops" the old cheap microphone caused, I walked out of the house, bought a new cheap microphone at a Rite-Aid, and recorded it again. This is the result.
I strongly urge you to listen to the whole post and read it here.

Whispers_2.mp3 Listen on Posterous

Monday, February 28, 2011

And How She Never Hurt a Goddamned Soul

I'm in the basement
Some basement
Daylight floods in
Through windows in high casements

Place is kind of a wreck:
Plaster coming off the walls
Salting the dingy gray carpets

Turns out I'm the one wrecking the place.
I take a sladgehammer to the walls
A crowbar to a raised platform
Revealing cockroaches the size of cats.

Someone else enters the room
And suddenly I'm thinking up excuses.

Now I'm in a crooked cabin in the woods
Wee hours, starlight, place is a wreck
Unmade bed takes up most of the living room
TV blaring

Turns out I'm not the one wrecked the place:
Some dude swats the love of my life,
Killing her.

He stuffs her in a cardboard box and rolls her
Down the hill,
I chase after,
She comes to rest against the neighbor's front door.

And now I'm running
As the sun smashes the horizon
Filling the world with golden light

And I'm thinking about her long brown hair
And how good she looked in a dress
And how she never hurt a goddamned soul.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Wit and Wisdom of John Kilduff of "Let's Paint" Fame

You're watching "Let's Paint, Exercise and Blend Drinks" here, on Time Warner Cable here. I'm your host John Kilduff, let's take another caller." - John Kilduff

John Kilduff runs on a treadmill non-stop while blending drinks, painting, taking abusive phone calls and, perhaps most important, doling out words of wisdom which he makes up on-the-fly. This is California public access television at its finest. The following are some of the deepest, Jack Handy-est utterances of John Kilduff from the video below.

You know, when you're running, and doing a lot of exercise, it's good to eat healthy, and concern yourself with healthy kinda things.

What we like to do is just get some paint on the canvas, alright?

We stretch, too, you know. Before you do this, you wanna stretch. Stretch your body before you get into this kinda position.

Don't kill yourself.

Shoot it out, man, shoot it out.

We're trying to make this a little happier place, ah? Okay.

When the day is done, you know when you're waking up in the morning, it's nice and peaceful? Let's try to get that in our real lives.

We'll just cut you off if there's any sense that there's something going on. Hello callertwentyfivewhereyoucallingfromwhatsyourname.

We're figuring it out. Sometimes I like to enter the process without knowing what the hell I'm doing.

You know, we're human. We always, we're all bound to, like, make some mistakes in our lives. So uh...okay, let's not get into that.

You know, you don't need ice cream when you make a blended drink. You don't need milk. You could just, you know, try...try things with ice. Maybe a little milk might not hurt, but you know what? What the hell. Let's try that.

You just hold on, man, hold on.

So let's put a banana in there. And I don't know if this is gonna taste good or nothin'. But I'm gonna do it anyway, you know what I'm saying?

Okay, let's not forget about painting, alright?

Okay, I think what we're going to do is let this ferment for a few minutes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Exploring My Neighborhood: America's Credit Union Museum

A few days ago I visited America's Credit Union Museum, located a few blocks from my home. The museum is a house built around the turn of 20th century and used as headquarters for the first credit union in the United States. Apparently, some lawyer opened the credit union in 1907 with a little help and advice from a Canadian credit union pioneer and a local priest.

The lawyer ran the operation in the evenings for no pay. The idea was to pool money from local working class community members and use the pool as a small loan fund. The idea worked like a charm clear through the Great Depression, during which three thousand banks failed but not one single solitary credit union failed.
I entered the museum during normal hours through an unlocked door, but nobody was there to greet me. The whole place was just wide open and unattended for any bum to wander into. I even had to flip a couple of light switches. I had ithe place all to myself and took full advantage of my time there, exploring every room and inspecting every exhibit.

It's a pretty nice museum stocked with period pieces like a piano, antique cash register, and the original desk and chairs at which the nice lawyer dude met with loan applicants. Many of the original documents legally recognizing the credit union are framed on the walls, along with plenty of placards humanizing the history of credit unions in the States.

Pretty momentous stuff if you're a complete and total nerd for niche historical museums. I enjoyed haunting the house all alone with my camera. Have a look at the photos if that's your cuppa joe. I threw in a map, too.

You're most welcome.


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