All posts made in Jan. 2002:

Hey, new Upsideclown. "And later, when skin is pressed hard on skin and skin barely grazes skin all in one, she chews my lip and I bite her neck and it's like the first second of the expansion of the universe, my sphere of perception doubling and redoubling, seeing colours you'd never even be able to comprehend --"

I'm looking in today's fresh Upsideclown, looking and doing the polka (hop, step, step). Please enjoy: Person to person.

Extremely sick Something Awful children's books [via Bifurcated Rivets]. Eugh.

Polka steps: "The basic polka step consists of a preparatory hop followed by a chasse done first to the left and then to the right. [...] It is generally danced to a quick, quick, slow rhythm". Required reading, for tomorrow.

Name Spaces As Tools for Integrating the Operating System. I've a feeling this would be very rewarding if I could just read the entire thing. Filed here for later reference (under future filesystem concepts).

More music: So I finally bought The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs [at], after seeing the whole thing live just over a year ago. And I'm stunned because after an incredibly stressful day at work, and despite this being on CD and not live, Stephin Merritt's voice is still incredible, the tones in the music still carry me away, it still makes me laugh, and I'm feeling that little rush that comes with great music roughly every 4 seconds. I've been timing it. Aaah. Happiness.

Current listening: la reveancha del tango by gotan project [at] is tango meets dance. Cutting edge music, great rhythm, cool unexpected beats. It'll be huge. Also listening: Melody A.M. by Royksopp [at], which I saw recommended all over the place and never got round to hearing. But then I did, and it's excellent. Late night music.

AlterSlash, cool automatic Slashdot digest [via MeFi].

Slow Wave dream diary comic.

The video to Star Guitar by the Chemical Brothers synchronises the view from a train to the music. Wonderful. How about something like that as an MP3 player visualiser plugin? Surely it would be possibly. Enough with those flames already.

Currently browsing mail-order catalogues with Google and being blown away by the sheer breadth of fine products available from Carol Wrights Gifts. Some of my favourites, and remember these are all from a single catalogue: the well-dressed goose ($19.99 for goose, $12.99 for three months of costumes); cushions that look like Genuine Suede; cockrings ($9.99 for two!).

We need sweet babies, platitudes and calm music. The Architecture for the New Millennium.

How to calculate principal components, using the NIPALS Algorithm. (Principal component analysis is a statistical technique for reducing the number of variables needed to describe a thing. Once the most important components - or dimensions - have been established, the things can be clustered in principal component space.)

Excluding this post, this weblog has so far had 1397 posts using 12,527 distinct words (from a total of 138,214 counted words). Just in case you wanted to, y'know, know.

A couple of other experiments like Stewart's pi-digit training one: Bringing up a child to believe numbers can be sorted into prime or otherwise more or less instantaneously; Plugging a wireless ethernet card into a baby's brain and seeing if it grows up with a native TCP/IP stack. Both depend on the brain being better at finding and extending patterns than we're capable when mature. Corresponding thought: Given the second experiment, what would HTML with a native speaker's grammar look like? Headfuck.

Inspired by a reader who mentioned this offhand, I've been trying to find out about Roland Barthes and hypertext. I can tell that finding out more would be fruitful, it's just difficult to know where to start (so hints and tips welcome).

Resources to read further include: Hypertext and Critical Theory, part of a book; Hypertext Defined, full of great looking links and an interesting hypertext-as-trails definition (and somebody called Landow to investigate. The name rings a bell); and links to other Barthes/hypertext resources. (And then of course I grep my inbox and find "We need a web equivalent of Barthes' S/Z", from the Usual Suspect, which evidently didn't trigger me in the way it should have the first time round.) Topics to pursue: the Writerly Text, Semiotics, Critical Theory.

So many branches to check. Given I can't dedicate large chunks of contiguous time to this, I need a good way of organising research of complex topics like this, such that I can pick up where I left off, and efficiently file/rate good resources. A card-index could help.

Ah, and while I remember, these good links have been going round the office recently. If you're doing any www design for the blind, or just want to rack up some good karma, try using this screenreader simulation. Actually, try it anyway. It might well change the way you think.

Additionally, there's a list of screenreaders which you may or may not find useful, and as part of the UK government accessibility guidelines, a series of checkboxes for universal access you can use to make sure all bases are covered (complete guidelines listed here -- very useful).

Criteria for optimal web design: hard statistics on page layout and architecture. Especially interesting is this study on where people expect to find e-commerce components.

Picked up via either blackbeltjones or ia/ or maybe even webgraphics: all good IA/design weblogs I've been reading recently.

There are some good photos, and what's more really informative critique at photoSIG. The photo browse interface is handy.

You know you've grown up when you watch Prime Minister's Questions to see whether the statistics your mate provided make it into an answer. Update: No, not today. Oh well, maybe another time.

Red-filter concept | Okay, you know those kids' books where there's a secret message hidden in the picture, and the way to see it is by using a red plastic filter that changes the colours so the message is visible? How about showing the football scores on tele like that, so one person can be watching a film or a soap or something, and somebody else can check the latest goals whenever they want by holding the special glasses up.

I love having really bright, really helpful friends. I've been trying to place a particular idea I heard in physics ages ago - about fundamental equations being derived from the difference between the information in a system and the total possible information (or carrying capacity of that system). It seemed like a fruitful metaphor for all kinds of things, and an interesting way of thinking. But I couldn't remember what it was. So, I mailed a string-theory theoretical physicist friend of mine (Stephen Morris) who came through with the goods, and then some. Our conversation. Wonderful.

It turns out the thing I was thinking of was a combination of Principal of Least Action and, in particular, the concept of Fisher Information. Fascinating. Oh, and here's the original New Scientist article [in the Wayback Machine].

Levitated has loads of beautiful generated art, some in Flash. Worth a very long browse. [via haddock]


Intel's Ease of Use Initiative (complete with Flash gallery) doesn't appear to present easy to use computers at all, or even radically different ideas -- just ones in different boxes. How disappointing.

Courting contempt online: Newspapers aren't allowed to publish information about a defendant's previous convictions during another trial. But a judge has ruled that internet archives are different. "This information was carried in newspaper reports at the time of the trials, which could routinely be accessed by anyone who looked in paper archives contained in public libraries. This would not raise an issue of contempt. But the trial judge took a different view of the internet archive, ruling that online information was, in effect, published anew every time someone accessed it."

The law is strange. I understood that the text of the law was open to interpretation based on common sense, and that's what precedent was. But currently law appears to be more about obeying the letters and not the spirit. Like, the not-prisoners-of-war in Cuba, the various privacy infringements around the world because new technology wasn't covered in them. Law isn't something you get out of because the words don't cover your exact situation! Not a contract where the objective is to screw the other party! It's a joint understanding of right and wrong. Gah. We need more intelligent judges with a stronger sense of honour (and the incentives in place to make this so), and a more powerful legal system.

Unreliable Facts: because everything you read on the internet is true. Class.

Some thoughts about games | We've had in the past single player games, multi-player games where you can effect your environment (MUDs), multi-player limited-interaction games (like Quake), and all kinds of game. What would be better if these could be linked together, a fractal game, so the opengame could be played on all the different levels.

There could be a shared map, that's no problem, which means we could have a common universe on a single scale. But to share scales..

If we had a common taxonomy of objects in the universe. Maybe this wouldn't be too hard, since internally we do seem to have limits of complexity between abstraction layers, and so humanity as a whole will have imposed layers on society rather than having a continuum of levels to play on (I talk about abstraction layers my concept-easy language notes). So we have an object hierarchy of playable units in the universe, or maybe several hierarchies designed by different people, different opengames.

As a quick example, a unit could be a city, and many cities could compose a country. A city is composed of units too, people and houses and businesses and all the rest.

For each unit an archetype has to be declared which would have: a number of properties, or attributes (like, wealth; happiness). It would have logical outlets, which is how it affects the layer above; and inlets where it can draw on levels below for its behaviour. And it has defaults. So you hook together all your archetypes.

A game slots in at any unit level and exports properties to the levels around it.

Now you can play your game at any level. Imagine playing Civilisation 2, and you snap down to a level like The Sims where you hunt around until you find a person who could potentially be a genius. You help them out, make sure they're on the correct career track, at which point your SimCity level game, if it has the right levels of industry to foster this intelligence, makes use of a chaos-theory outlet (small changes, big effects), or an emergent-property outlet, and suddenly your Civilisation 2 city invents pyramids, or weapons, and you win the game.

Or perhaps instead you have a distributed artificial life program running on your computer feeding off the spare processor cycles. The food supply and demand are exported by the game as market properties, and on another level your computer would exist as a planet in an interstellar trading game like Elite.

And it gets better. Imagine having an archetype for individual people. People, citizens, could play their game if they wanted to through digital tele say. The win state for this game would be the same as real life -- happiness, money, reproduction. There are various properties exported to the next level up, and so on, and so on, until we get to national government where the win state for the game is declared to be to maximise the number of wins at the citizen level. We might find that banning handguns, say, would achieve win state at government level even though nobody at the individual level would demand it.

[Alarmingly, I was also thinking about games, one year ago today. Loops within loops.]

This is a really clever idea: Link Feedback tracks people linking to you and delivers a list of those people back to you, using only a invisible gif and a little javascript. The two portions -- one, collecting info on a central server where the application runs; two, delivering information to each visitor with javascript -- have been around for a while, but this is the first time I've seen them in use together, and in such a good way too. I wonder what else could be gathering and provided on a per-visitor basis? And since the server is central, is there an application which utilises this as an advantage, to distribute information too? Hm.

2002 Symposium: Mars on Earth: Life on Mars is on in Milton Keynes tomorrow. I'm going along.

How to use Samba and Mac OS X. Handy.

The music of Wild Palms. Great series, great music. If only they'd release it on dvd.

How about this: Small cars that run on tracks around a city, automatically routing themselves direct to your destination. It's happening with ULTra, and it's being built in Cardiff. That's very cool.

I wrote at Upsideclown about this kind of thing a while back: Gifts, contracts, and whispers. And a post in my weblog too, about packet-switching transportation, based on the fact that we know loads about routing from the internet so why not apply that knowledge elsewhere?

"Most viable theories of memory require some form of synaptic modification dependent on the correlation of pre-and postsynaptic neuronal firing (which we will denote as the Hebb Hypothesis)".

Or to put it another way, storing a memory has a physical effect in your brain. Or, as I saw this morning on the tube when I read about the Hebb Hypothesis (however briefly), anything that I experience, mentally, anything I think is represented by, is caused by, is immediately preceded by, is actually a physical occurrence in my head. The structure of my brain, the synapses. Connections, holistic structure, all there, a self-organising machine. And then I realised [cogs turning, the machine reconfiguring itself], as I stared at the sign stickered to the window: What I see I'm absorbing into my life. It isn't just the photons hitting my eyes, my very act of me considering the object, of recognising those photos, of having this thought, of of seeing the sign (although I don't even remember what it said) -- that in itself is physical activity in my brain! This thought made flesh!

I froze and stared at the floor, aware as never before that experiences - immediate comprehensive experiences - have to be internalised, have to be made physical if I am to think them. An experience is indistinguishable from the physical structure of my brain. The two are the same! What I am is the structure, there is no other!

And that's why I froze, considering that thought. Aware that that thought was actually a tumult of ripples and switches, writing reality, sat stock still trying not to internalise but to consider the physical apparition of the consideration, like staring into a mirror if I myself was a mirror, reflection of infinite extent, tumbling. Dizzy. I felt nauseous.

Nauseous, and trapped. My brain as a machine, constantly altering its own structure, complicating itself, evolving in real time, but it's not that my thoughts are reflected in physical changes, it's that I am that physical representation, there is no other. I'm not writing out to disk. I'm not running a program on top of this machine. I am the machine. I am the reality of my brain. What is this feeling?

Outside the feeling of claustrophobia hadn't lifted. I looked up at the blue sky and the buildings and understood what I was seeing what the physical alteration in my machine. Suddenly everything reversed, my brain turned inside-out and instead of clouds and windows I saw the patterns of my brain -- an inverted sphere, the whole universe of my perception as solid brain, and a hole inside, a gap in this solid the exact shape of my old brain, vacant, and me, reflected by the universe inside it, a hologram.

The complexity shocks me. Look at evolution, the growth of complexity from the universe, the emergence of life. We understand a little physics, but look at life. And look at how complicated the brain is!

My brain is an ecosystem, it must be. Nature has used every level of complexity in the crafting of the brain. The only way to increase efficiency for the same energy is to increase complexity, and so the structure of the brain is fractal. It's not built on top of reality, like computer chips, operating in some knowable limit, it is reality, it inherits reality, it can use all the complexity of reality for free.

So why shouldn't it use life? And doesn't life occur wherever it can? And doesn't life occurring in a niche alter that niche fundamentally? And doesn't nature, to optimise to the maximum, make use of whatever is in that niche, to increase complexity?

There are other lives in my brain, operating on some emergent level I can't even consider, and they interact and think and comprehend much as I do living in the patterns of my mind. And they're part of me, and ecosystem whose sum total is my behaviour, my thoughts. A cascade of social change; I see your face. A population crash; I die.

Two things. First, on the way to the tube station this morning I saw a lorry, and finger-written in the grime on the back was "I wish my girl was this dirty".

Second, I'm currently listening to All Together Now by The Farm.

God, I can feel my hands, I can feel my face. I can feel the universe reflected inside my, distorted and rendered, and it fills me. I'm full of life. I'm churning, altering, rippling, expanding, folding, twisting, inverting, bursting with life. I am the totality of reality, I cover all. The universe is inside me, bursting with potential.

Take a breath. Hold it. Feel it. And feel that feeling.

Oh my. Oh my, oh my. The Transformers Adult Fanfiction Archive. More than meets the eye, indeed.

Oh, wow, Legobot Headquarters tells you how to make honest-to-goodness transforming robots out of Lego. Including (and this is the bloody good bit): Optimus Prime, who actually changes between a lorry and a 'bot. My favourite bit: "Also, I would have made his feet completely blue just like the original but I didn't have enough blue pieces". I bet the Decepticons nicked 'em.

One of the really strange things about the www is the way I can comment about a product (in this case, Creo's Six Degrees), and a few days later they respond to my comments in their weblog. Maybe we're going through a period where the hierarchy of supplied and consumer is a lot flatter than it has been. Although I'm still not sure what they're saying -- Sherlock (Apple's Mac OS search engine) isn't part of the filesystem, and nor will Six Degrees be. Until there are alternative ways of accessing documents on the folder level we're still stuck in a clunky metaphor.

This is good, governmental transparency or something: Live Webcasting of Parliament (UK) on the www. Shame it's so utterly boring and not very well indexed, but it's good to know I can pop my head in every so often.

There's a brilliant fresh Upsideclown today, from Dan: Civil Engineering. Wonderful stuff.

The 1971 Sears Catalog, from the years before time began when fire-breathing lizards in ugly pastel bell-bottoms still roamed the Earth [via Fark].

New skin! This weblog has been redesigned. Not that you'd notice, because it's not the default skin yet. I'd like it to be, but I wouldn't mind a little feedback before it goes completely live. If you don't mind, could you look at this same page with the camera skin, and let me know if you find any bugs? Thanks.

Search 5 years of AOL Instant Messager Logs using Googol. Better check it now though, the aimsearch is only going to be around till Monday [via The Register].

Make your own O'Reilly book cover [via MeFi, three]. Could be used for humorous intent, if you're one of those people steadily buying the entire O'Reilly library. Could not be if you're not a hardened geekatroid. I admit, I 'm making a note of the url.

The Battle for Your Mind: "Persuasion and Brainwashing Techniques Being Used On The Public Today. Reformatted for WWW display" [via MeFi, two]. Extremely fascinating techniques being discussed. I've noticed analagous patterns being used in sermons by priests in regular churches. It would be interesting to see how they correspond with man-management/motivational manuals.

Top piece from McSweeney's: On the Implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor [via MeFi, one].

There's been a bit of a pause since last time, but Upsideclone resumes with a cracking piece today from Giles Turnbull. The Twisted World of Advertising, fresh today. Brilliant.

(ps. Come write with us! Submission info at the bottom of the 'clone page.)

ADSL plus audiogalaxy is currently rocking my world, nay rumbling my very gestalt matrix to it's very roots. (If you're using Mac OS X, Sputnix is the way to go.) Remind me - and I mean this, remind me - to post a list of my favourite songs from years back. I'm rediscovering the music I loved when I was eight years old. Oh, happy night.

This is a truly special, special resource. Listen to telephone ringtones and engaged tones for literally hundreds of countries from around the world with BT International Calling Guide. Stunning [via the UpMyStreet Development and Implementation Manager, if you can believe that].

The filesystem sucks. Or rather, the filesystem doesn't suck, but it's not good enough to usefully interact with documents -- that's why iTunes and iPhoto implement their own document libraries. Of course there are so many other useful ways to look at your documents. Decent, live, dynamic search functions would help. As would something like Autonomy built in to the OS, or versioning, or something else other than having documents in one place only with no way of figuring out what they are other than a name. Anyway, rant over.

Six Degrees from Creo is a piece of software that says it'll add [a very small part of] this missing functionality to your filesystem. Macfixit explained it thus: "It is constantly working in the background building and recording relationships among your files. So for example, if a friend (we'll call her Sally) mails you a jpeg as an email attachment, it will store this relationship. Suppose you move the file from the email attachment field and place it in a folder in your Documents folder. Now suppose that weeks later you want to see that file but can't remember where you stored it. You don't even recall its name. All you can remember is that Sally sent it to you. You can launch Six Degrees, type in Sally, and it will show all files that are related to Sally. From the list, you will likely recognize the file you are looking for.

It's not perfect. It's not integrated. It's just a fancy search engine. But it's a start, and that's good enough.

This is a test of the BlogScript [by Tim Conner] post-to-Blogger script running on Mac OS X.

This isn't the kind of thing I'd usually say. I don't know these people outside the headlines; I don't know anything about their lives. But Gordon Brown looked so completely, unashamedly, tell-the-world-ly happy when his baby was born -- and when his baby was ill I really felt for him. Now their baby dies and I can never understand what they're feeling, but it's so unfair, so sad. What a horrible world. What a life. Sigh.

The dumbest girls in the world. A sudden moment of existential insight, on the bus.

So, what's Apple's next big thing? Here's my guess.

It's a 2Ghz G5 Powermac, but utilising expertise from the iPod and the Cube it's an odd shape (a sphere), extremely small (about the size of an orange), and has no screen, no keyboard, and no ports. Instead all communication is done via Airport or through the conductive metal surface, which is also how it gets its power. The great thing is, put two of these G5 Spheres next to each other and they automagically start a clustered parallel computer. Need more computing power? Just add more PowerSpheres to the crate!

Naturally you can have as many screens as you want. The peeloff display now comes as standard - it's a tablet LCD with hardware PDF rendering (Quartz) to the screen, and pen input with Apple InkWell technology - communicating with the Appleseed cluster via Airport (the cluster itself is rackmounted in slim crates of spheres in your basement. Like a marketstall). With an interface like this, and the voice input, and the wireless linkup with your PDA/ MP3 device/ iPhoto aka the PowerPod, you shouldn't need a keyboard or a mouse, but if you do that's no problem. But the mouse will only have one button and will hurt your hand. And they haven't ported Photoshop yet.

Oh, and Steve Jobs is going to walk onto stage with a Gigawire port on his spine. I can't wait!

Could Apple really be about to announce a PDA on Monday? Videos and pictures to be found here: Announcing the iWalk. Pretty. Doesn't look very fake. But not a very wise business move, surely?

Good archive of Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages [via Girlhacker's Random Log]. Scripting links about Mac OS X, of course. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Good. Focussed.

I want the Senseboard Virtual Keyboard. Type with no keys. (And it looks ace.)

Hey, cool. The 1901 England and Wales census is online. Unfortunately the 'site itself is down from too much demand, but still.

Principals of design: Never replace a human process with an automatic one.

An example | A new security feature on some cars is the ability to unlock the driver's door only. Of course before central locking this was a feature that came from free, but the introduction of an automatic process to replace manually unlocking/locking all the doors individually dominated the entire domain -- and now all the smaller human processes have to be reimplemented.

Another example | My mum's house has a large gate at the front, for the car. It used to always be open but since we got a new dog it had to be kept closed. Deciding opening and closing the gate was tedious, my mum had a remote-controlled gate opener installed.

Now the thing with gates is: People know how to use them. You open the gate, a gap appears. You close the gate, the gap goes. The gate opener was a level on the hinge side of the gate, with a button. The button had to be on the same side as the hinge, because of wires. So now there's no lever on the normal side of the gate; when people push the gate it doesn't open; the button (button!) to open the gate is on the opposite side of the gate to the one expected. Talk about cognitive friction! Of course, nobody knew how to use the gate, would force it open against the piston, and it broke. (A sign pointing to the button didn't work. "Reading" simple isn't in the "open gate" workflow, no matter what way you look at it.)

The gate is fixed. Next to the gate is a short run of fence which is converted into a pedestrian gate. Unfortunately this means that there's now a gate for people which looks like a fence, which has a lever to open right next to where the main gate lever should be. People are even more confused. The gate is broken again.

A broken gate hangs open a little. So the gardener, having the dogs outside all day, propped the gate closed. Now my mum comes back, presses the remote control, the gate attempts to open, jams against the pole and breaks.

Broken gate. The mechanism can be turned off, so we do that and use a piece of old rope as a temporary latch to hold it closed (people understand rope). But to hold it open so it doesn't swing into cars... When there was no piston the gate could swing all the way back and be held open by the hedge. But the piston restricts the amount the gate can open, so the gate is be propped open halfway by a bright orange traffic cone.

And we still don't have a remote controlled gate.

So why the problem with the gate? A human process was replaced by an automatic one -- but the automatic solution can never cover the whole domain so we end up introducing cognitive friction into unrelated processes (opening the driver's door individually; using the gate as a person not a car), which the solution has to be extended to allow for.

Better solutions for both of these examples would be to leave the human process untouched and augment the system with automation. The gate should be able to be controlled manually or by remote control. Not doing this is always going to lead to trouble of the unexpected kind.

Happy new year 02002 comrades. Let this be the year we change the world.

For the better, I mean. For the better.