HOME

Thomas Scoville

Silicon Follies

Thomas Scoville

The Metrosexual Tarot

Thomas Scoville

The Silicon Valley Tarot

Thomas Scoville

Articles, Essays

Thomas Scoville

INRODUCTION

Welcome. I'm sort of a feral information theorist. My interests have taken me into computer science, cognitive science, economics and entertainment. I've worked for a variety of software companies, R&D think-tanks, media publishing giants, information security outfits and capital management firms. I've written on a number of topics: technology, media, business&finance, food, work, leisure and contemporary culture, for Salon.com, The Wall Street Journal, The San Jose Mercury and others. I wrote a novel about the Silicon Valley, published by Simon&Schuster. NBC and Imagine Television made it into a TV pilot. I invented a popular Internet-era collectible novelty: a simultaneous satire on New Economy and the Tarot. Then I did another one for metrosexuals. Apparently, I can't resist social observation. Or poking fun at kitsch spiritualism. I've got some ancient geek cred: I've been a knowledge engineer, Unix systems programmer and network security engineer, often in the flagrantly indiscreet style of the Hacker (with all the ambivalence toward authority that implies). I still enjoy some favor with the alt.2600/Cypherpunk/Slashdot kids. Mine is an oft-cited perspective in Unix/Linux/Perl culture. Thanks for visiting.

Silicon Follies

In 1998 I had this idea to write a novel about life in the Silicon Valley in the style of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. There was, I thought, a lot of cultural action there; lifestyles, careers, money and class were mutating like crazy, just as they'd done in San Francisco in the 1970s. So, why not chronicle the lives of dot.commers in the same way?: bite-sized, serial portions, twice weekly, in the funny papers – or in this case, on the Web. I pitched the idea to Salon.com, the official company publication of the San Francisco New Media crowd and Silicon Valley, Inc.

I decided to call it Silicon Follies. It was a lot of fun to write. I got a lot of enthusiastic emails while it was running – I was only one or two installments ahead of my audience while I was writing it – and their feedback really fueled the story. Yeah, it was fiction, but much of what I was writing about was actually happening at the time. I just gave it a storyteller's sheen, but it was very much based on my experience and my readers' experiences, too.

It did pretty well for a first effort. A bunch of people read it online, enough to get me a book agent and a New York book deal. It got some really good reviews. It won some editor's awards. It briefly made a couple of regional bestseller lists in geek enclaves around the country. I had a fun little book tour, with a half-dozen stops and some radio interviews. It was swell.

And since my literary agent turned out to be really shrewd, it got optioned as a TV property. In 2001, Ron Howard's Imagine Television actually made an hour-long comedy drama of the same name, with real acting talent like Hart Bochner, Judy Greer, Ethan Embry and Scott Bairstow. Betty Thomas (of Hill Street Blues fame) directed. Now it's floating around in pilot limbo. Maybe someday they'll air it. But I have a copy on DVD. Heh. It's the best party-favor ever.

There was a fair amount of media coverage. Newsweek launched Silicon Follies in the March 18, '99 Cyberscope section. TechWeek did a write-up of Silicon Follies. ZDNN covered it in a piece on Silicon Valley fiction, "Bonfire of the Techno-Vanities." A California law journal covered Silicon Follies. TechWeek did a blurb about the web site of Silicon Follies fictional dot-com, TeraMemory.

Silicon Follies was reviewed by Publisher's Weekly, The San Jose Mercury, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon.com and The Providence Journal, which also featured Follies in their Booknotes section.

Some publishing trivia: The cover art direction came partly from me; it was my idea to have a kind of tongue-in-cheek romance novel feel. The artist did a great job with the concept, I think. And it was interesting to watch him work up the concept. On the way, he rendered a bunch of prototypes. This one was interesting, I think. I actually sort of regret that it didn't go more in this direction.

For those of you interested in the TV pilot, here are some screen caps – video stills – from the Ron Howard production. I've included a little insider commentary as well.

And here's a gratuitous picture of my favorite character, Psychrist.

The Metrosexual Tarot

This is the second of my Tarot-as-ethnography stunts, which I worked on in early 2004. Back in 1999 the success of the Silicon Valley Tarot really took me by surprise, but this time around I sort of meant it. I had the idea that Tarot – as silly, simple-minded, and occult-cliché'd as it might be – could be a good lens through which to view popular culture... which tends to be silly, simple-minded, and generally cliché'd.

At the time, I was reinventing myself at a fairly rapid pace; I'd been through some really horrible personal stuff that put me back to square one in my private life. I was repartnering and trying to find a new home, which meant trying on cities and lifestyles to figure out where I fit in the world. So, for a couple of years I was a one-man lifestyle research skunkworks. There I was, forty-one years old and trying to make sense of the world in the way that people usually do when they're in their 20's.

The whole Metrosexual concept seemed to overlap with/crystallize much of what I'd been discovering on my own, and I wanted to do my own humorous take on what I'd been discovering. I tried as much as I could not to taint my research with what other people were writing about Metrosexualism. Still, there was a ton of overlap with what'd already been written. Mostly, I just tried to add a little graphic atmosphere and pseudo-spooky spiritual humor and spin to it. It's been a lot of fun.

Of course, the rest of the world eventually discovered it, too. There's been a little press, and a ton of Web hits. It started with an entry at the Coolstop site. Then a newswire service picked it up. Then it became USA Today's hot site of the day. Then Putalocura Freakolinks... a Latin American porn site! (Oh, man...) Then it became a Yahoo Pick-of-The-Day (which made me very happy I'd picked the 'unlimited bandwidth' option at my ISP...) A zillion bloggers have picked it up. I've also had a number of radio interviews, mostly outside the USA: Ireland, Australia and the UK. Basically, english-speaking countries with big soccer followings – after all, David Beckham is the proto-metrosexual. I don't think the Metrosexual concept has caught on in the United States in the same way; I'm chalking it up to red-state Republican homophobia and lack of a soccer culture.

My friend Hughes Hall collaborated with me a lot, mostly in the form of color treatments for my cartoony, black-and-white card images. I did the writing, I rendered the basic images, and Hughes added a third dimension with his post-production stylizations. He's pretty good at this stuff, having done all sorts of video editing and graphic post-production work in Hollywood. (Oh, and Hughes does a great photoblog of the Los Angeles scene at Seeingeyeblog.)

Anyway, you can find the Metrosexual Tarot here. Enjoy. I'm not working on it much anymore, as I was startlingly effective at reinventing my personal life, so I'm not really 'in the scene' as much. Maybe I'll pick it up again at some point. Or maybe I'll get a publishing deal. I know, dream on...

The Silicon Valley Tarot

Sometime in early 1998 I had this weird idea for a simultaneous satire on The New Economy/Silicon Valley and The Occult. Couldn't you reinterpret the Tarot in the context of the high tech biz? You know – The Fool becomes The Hacker, The Hierophant becomes The CIO, The Wheel of Fortune becomes The IPO, etc.

I wasn't really an artist, and I didn't know any artists at the time, but I did have the conspicuous example of Dilbert's Scott Adams, who can't draw his way out of a paper bag. So I just doodled the cards myself, scanned them, did the most basic of Web-smithing, and put them up for my colleagues' enjoyment.
I called it the Silicon Valley Tarot, of course.

Okay, I created a monster. Somebody at Associated Press ran a national story and suddenly It was the flavor of the week. It was Netscape's Cool Site of the Day; it was USA Today's Hot Site; The San Jose Tech Museum gave it some sort of award. A number of newspapers, magazines, and trades piled on: The San Francisco Chronicle did a print feature and an online feature. The San Jose Mercury ran a story. ZDTV did a TV segment. . TechWeek did an article. Business Week did a writeup in the March 2000 "Up Front" section. Newsweek did a story. CIO Magazine did a blurb. Information Week did a story around October 1999. Public Radio International covered it in "Beyond Computers." San Jose TV station KNTV did a feature piece in November 1999. I got a publishing deal, with Steve Jackson Games.
Enough, already.

A number of funny stories came out of that experience. Like this one: a conspicuous number of hits early on in the life of the SV Tarot came from Paul Allen's Interval Research, which at the time was supposed to be the breeding ground for any number of Next Big Things. I cautioned them, via a radio interview: “Listen, guys, this is for entertainment purposes only. This is not to be used as a substitute for actual innovation.”

Or this one: I originally approached US Games with the Silicon Valley Tarot. They're the Tarot publisher of record for Planet Earth; they publish a zillion flavors of Tarot decks. I told them I had gotten all this attention and people were burning up the Web site – 200,000 hits a day at the peak. They hit me with all these submission requirements: I had to submit a draft in triplicate, I had to send it registered mail, blah blah blah. Um, no, I said, it's all right up there on the Web. Go have a look. No, they said, not the way we do business, et cetera. So they missed publishing one of the most hotly collected Tarot decks of the late 20th Century. Because they didn't get it.

And I still get email from Silicon Valley consulting companies who use it – some only partly tongue-in-cheek – to make critical business decisions. Which is why it says on the box: “Cheaper than a consultant. Same results.”

Articles, Essays

A New Lease On Life, DC City Paper September 2003. Why I'm a Real Estate dropout.

Odd Jobs, Rhode Island Monthly, January 2002. Survey of unusual occupations in the smallest state. (Here's the original magazine layout.)

The Elements of Style: UNIX as Literature, Performance Computing, September 1998. Cult Unix piece. Probably the most popular geek piece I've written.

Howl.com, Salon.com, March 2000. Anticommercial rant, with apologies to Allen Ginsberg. (This one got around quite a bit, finding its way to a couple of university syllabi and a screenplay. Oh, and check out Bob Martin's clever treatment.)

Martin Luther, Meet Linus Torvalds, Salon.com, November 1998. Historical perspective on Linux. Made a lot of Richard Stallman fans hopping mad.

Silicon Valley, Inc., San Jose Mercury, April 1998. Ruminations on demise of Silicon Valley. Holy Pastry, Salon.com, March 2000. Off-kilter essay on doughnuts and metaphysics. Here's my original vision – wackier and more colorful.

Finding a Way, The Surfer's Journal, August 1999. Text version. Quixotic call for a more humane surf culture.

Open Source Over There, O'Reilly.com, February 1999. Exploring European Open Source trends. Whence the Source, O'Reilly.com, March 1999. Open Source ontology piece.

Hello, Are You Human?, Salon.com, August 2000. Cocktail hour inversion of the Turing test. The Digital Gold Rush (Book review of “The Nudist on the Late Shift"), The Wall Street Journal, August 1999. Page scan of same, complete with WSJ cartoon.

Tinseltown Burning, Rumination on Hollywood and copyright, September 2004.

It's a Bubble, All Right (Book review of "Irrational Exuberance"), Salon.com, May 2000. Should Your Boss Know About Those Visits to the Shrink? (Book review of "Database Nation"), Salon.com, February 2000.

The Essence of Geekdom (Book review of "Geeks"), Salon.com, February 2000 Last Train to Cluesville (Book review of "The Cluetrain Manifesto"), Salon.com, January 2000.

Legends in Their Own Minds (Book review of "High Stakes, No Prisoners", and "Renegades of The Empire"), Salon.com, December 1999.

The Internet Illusion (Book review of "The Control Revolution"), Salon.com, November 1999. Everyman's E-Commerce (Book review of "StrikingItRich.com"), Salon.com, November 1999. A Tournament of Apes (Book review of "The Gorilla Game"), Salon.com, September 1999. The Archaeology of Secrets (Book review of "The Code Book"), commissioned by Salon.com but unpublished, 1999.

E*Scatology, unpublished draft, December 2000. Why the New Economy was the real millennial cult.

Of Greed, Technolibertarianism and Geek Omnipotence (Interview with Paulina Borsook), Salon.com, May 2000. Made Libertarians hopping mad.

An Undying Affection, O'Reilly.com, February 1999. Valentine's Day homage to Unix. Pink Slips and Ham, Dr. Seuss/Dot.bomb eulogy at the South by Southwest Film Festival “Roast the Net” event, March 2001.

Notes on the Second Open Source Summit, Slashdot, June 1999. Biased report on Open Source summit meeting.

Perl and the Crystal Ball, O'Reilly.com, January, 1999. Perl at the Federal Reserve.

Dissolving Boundaries with Qt, O'Reilly.com, April 1999. Profile of Open Source developer.

Slouching Towards Y2K, from “Geek Astrology” column, December 1999.

The Age of Aquarius?, from “Geek Astrology” column, January 2000.

Cosmic Interrupt, from “Geek Astrology” column, February 2000.

Algorithm and Blues, from “Geek Astrology” column, March 2000.

Conflicting Signs, from “Geek Astrology” column, April 2000.

Randomized Thoughts, from “Geek Astrology” column, May 2000.

BOOK 5

Donec vel placerat quam, ut euismod risus. Sed a mi suscipit, elementum sem a, hendrerit velit. Donec at erat magna. Sed dignissim orci nec eleifend egestas. Donec eget mi consequat massa vestibulum laoreet. Mauris et ultrices nulla, malesuada volutpat ante. Fusce ut orci lorem. Donec molestie libero in tempus imperdiet. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis.



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

BOOK 6

Donec vel placerat quam, ut euismod risus. Sed a mi suscipit, elementum sem a, hendrerit velit. Donec at erat magna. Sed dignissim orci nec eleifend egestas. Donec eget mi consequat massa vestibulum laoreet. Mauris et ultrices nulla, malesuada volutpat ante. Fusce ut orci lorem. Donec molestie libero in tempus imperdiet. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis.



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.