All posts made in May. 2002:

The project I've been working on for the past six months has just gone live. And... breathe.

Word of the week (and meme currently entering the second wave) is rhizome (and it's partner rhizomic).

"We're tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They've made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics": instead, it's the rhizome, the interconnectedness. That article, by the way, is part of Mus(e)ings on Deleuze & Guattari, a collection of short essays tramplings on a fundamental metaphor set that underlies everything. From strata in rhizomes to positive ontologies (the this-ness of the is-ness), every single one is worth more than just a read. (Thanks Mr Sweeney.)

In Mrs Blackmoor's class there was an edutainment table. One particular item was a pencil with a piece of card sellotaped to it. On one side was drawn a bird, on the other a cage. Spinning the pencil you'd see a bird in a cage. Entertaining. Informational. One afternoon class assembly, and this is when I was five years old (maybe four) by the way, Mrs Blackmoor announced that the toy had been destroyed - the pencil had slipped out - and the culprit should step forward. No one stepped forward. If they didn't (she said) the whole class would be in trouble. We all felt terrible. Still nobody came forward. We couldn't believe nobody would tell the truth about what they'd done.

A while later I realised that I had broken the toy, that same day, not long before.

This is the first time I remember remembering that I'd forgotten.

A year earlier I looked at the word "making" and realised that it didn't have the letter "e" in it, despite the spelling of the word "make" and the rule of putting "ing" on the end of doing-words. This is the first time I remember noticing. It was in the wendyhouse and there was a girl there too (she'd started school earlier than me, but had been off sick for a few weeks. When she turned up I introduced her to the dinnerladies who already knew her, and this was my most embarassing incident for many years). The word was written in large print on a piece of paper on the wall, to the left of the door (inside), at eye height. I stared at it. And noticed.

Whisper the Songs of Silence, a Wired article on the Lowercase music movement (includes MP3s). Very quiet, very subtle, very beautiful. Shades of Audium.

Score one for the UK Goverment. The new E-Minister has a weblog [article here]. (The E-Minister is responsible for UK industry activity on the internet, as opposed to the E-Envoy who takes care of how the government makes use of it. The E-Minister has historically been a bit useless, where-as the E-Envoy has been good and his office clued-up and forward looking.)

My new favourite internet radio station: cliqhop idm at SomaFM. Now, if only someone would create a streaming-MP3 to radio broadcast gateway, and a device to let me tune in. I've a feeling I'm going to have to write something to capture the stream during the night and upload to my iPod first thing when I wake up for that morning commute.

One more thing: What would a remake of Tron look like, within the metaphor set of swarm computing (distributed control system, emit and accept, no centralised master controller, small pieces loosely joined)?

That's it. I've tried to assemble some kind of narrative to the concepts covered at the conference in Emerging Tech conference roundup, a full-writeup of the common themes from my rough notes. There's oh-so-much not covered but that's bound to happen, and to be honest 5000 words is quite enough already. If you want to know what I mean by secret properties, query versus hierarchy and the rich loam in which social software is built, you might find it worth a read.

Ted Nelson (who coined the term "hypertext") appears to have wiped his old homepage (thereby demonstrating one of the failings of a web without journaling). Fortunately, it's archived at the Wayback Machine, and there are the beginnings of a new one elsewhere [thanks juerg for telling me about this].

Word of the day is haecceity: "Literally, this-ness" (Definition at, and coordinate terms at Wordnet).

Stephen Wolfram is about to release A New Kind of Science, a book he's been writing for 10 years, that recasts science and the behaviour of the universe into cellular automaton; computational algorithms instead of formula. The story is told in The Man Who Cracked The Code To Everything.

(I have my own concerns about this book. I don't believe it's possible to crack the universe into discrete systems in some well encapsulated hierarchy. Abstration layers and emergence boundaries are abstractions as much as the other models we have. Just as we've found chaos at the edge of ordered behaviour, I've a feeling we'll find places where micro behaviour influences macro behaviour in some way that completely ignores our concepts of scales, maybe in the brain. And it won't be possible to model these behaviours, not in a system any smaller than the universe itself.)

The UK Government's pro-euro campaign has started. A vote probably by the end of 2003. Blair finally making pro comments. A new Conservative pro-Europe faction started. Wicked.

I had to: Random emerging tech notes, generated each hit from my conference notes. Because my notes aren't random and incomprehensible enough.

I'm getting a little excited here -- it's 50/50 the coffee and the sessions I think. I'm finding I'm developing a kind of grand theme to bring out of the conference. Yesterday was about metaphors to apply to the present day, emergence, cities, and so on. I ended up with a starting point: the secret properties of current successful technologies. Today has been about reinterpreting yesterday's sessions and today's new sessions in the light of that: what are the secret properties? And more importantly, how can we ensure a rich environment so these secret properties are there (given we can't automatically produce these ad hoc processes)? But today was more than that: there were also games (a form of secret property I've not thought about for a while); biology and swarms as tools for the future of computing giving new metaphors. How can these help to improve the quality of the rich environment (or "loam" as Jones termed it [he's also keeping a good stream of notes on his weblog]). So that's the context my ETcon notes should be read in. That's the narrative of the last two days.

I'm talking, IMing, listening and Googling so much at the moment that interpretation and perculating (the most important thing) have been put on hold for the moment. Each new piece of information is being filed with a short association in stream of consciousness notes, trying to externalise and backup this knowledge. They're not going to make an enormous amount of sense at the moment I'm afraid, but I'm hoping that [using them] by the end of this conference I'll have built up a coherent view of exactly what this is all about -- emerging technology.

On the fly notes about Stephen Johnson talking about weblogs and emergence, from the Emerging Tech Conference: emergence.txt. (More stuff in the ETCon directory -- mostly comments from me interspersed with stuff the real people are saying.)

Highlight of the trip so far has to be Audium. It's a 70 minute sound performance in a pitch dark theatre, a mixture of abstract and found noises moving in the space all around, part recorded, part improvised. The lights went down gradually and as they did I gradually moved into a state where the samples were solid, I couldn't tell what size I was or my orientation; the hallucinations were vivid (a like-being-there marching band, an abstract microscopic soundscape like Tron). At one point during the second act I felt as though I was plummetting for what seemed like forever. At another point I was close to tears. At others I didn't completely realise how visual my thoughts were, only coming to later and being aware of where I was. (Previously any visualisations I've had have been from outside looking in, almost isometric, like a tele infront of me. By the end of this piece they surrounded me. Not something I watched, but my environment. My dreams have probably been changed forever.) At the end I swear I was in a tent on the African savannah at night, contemplating the [unspecified in my head] events of the day [being, that which had taken place over the last two acts], as the lights came up. And I'm now aware of the tiniest things, a distant humming, the chugging and clicking on my hard drive, the rippling reflection of the ceiling fan on three keys of my keyboard. Spectacular. (In a non-spectacle way obviously; there was nothing to see.)

Okay so here's my Spider-Man review, four things: The first half of this movie is thinly veiled male pubescance wanking discovery. Actually, it's not veiled at all -- there's discovery anxiety, awkwardness, loneliness, the lot. It's the male analogue of the Buffy as feminine sexuality awakening fable. The second half is a mixture of the American Current Situation [as backdrop] and masturbatory wish fulfillment [from the first half]. Thirdly, acting: Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker manages to stand to attention and look like a stone frog in any emotional scene. He manages to pull off just that right amount of fumbling geek to teen having first wank ratio -- sorry, sorry, teen discovering spider-web ducts in wrists ratio.

Fourth thing. Coates is going to absolutely love his movie, in a really unhealthy way.

Also: Apparently this movie captures the 2002 zeigeist perfectly (and I wish I had the link to support this...), "with great power comes great responsibility" and all that. Yeah, that I can see. But mainly in the teen dream, grow up, be a hero, get the girl and save the world kind of way. And on a separate note, remind me to tell my Spider-Man costume story one day.

Two new articles at Upsideclown and one at Upsideclone since I last updated. Sound Advice by myself and Market Stall are this week's offerings at the 'clown. But at the 'clone: Spambot by Ned is truly superb. Read it.

(Here's something I wasn't expecting: branding on product packaging in San Francisco is less brash, less busy, less in-your-face than it is in England. In fact, signage as a whole appears more permanent and more confident to stand on its own. The overall effect is to reduce the invasiveness of advertising. Peculiar.)

Right, I'm off to San Francisco for a couple of weeks. If you're going to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, drop me a mail; we'll hook up. And as for the rest of you, keep your hands out of my silver drawer.

Revolution in Prague: "Czech students publicly demonstrated near Vaclav square in the center of Prague, commemorating Czech students who had dared to demonstrate against Nazi occupation 50 years earlier. Despite the non-confrontational theme, police violently broke up the demonstration, brutally beating the students. Fotos of the events emerged and public outrage followed. The national television eventually had to show pictures of the clubbing. This triggered growing mass demonstrations on Vaclav Square in central Prague" ...which demanded the resignation of the Communist government.

Quick definition of terms:

  • Push is a way of syndicating content across the www, in that the server sends content to the client when it's updated for the client to view later.
  • Lazy evaluation is a computing method where you don't do anything computationally intensive until you really have to. For example, you could have an expression like x times y and then later the result of that gets divided by y. With lazy evaluation you'd do a little bit of optimisation and end up with x, not having to do all the maths inbetween.

So how about lazy evaluation of push?

Let's pretend that we have a push network: Weblog posts are packaged up as individual resources (probably xml documents) and stored on the server as normal. From there they're sent along a route which could involve upstreaming to a cloud (Radio Userland), or going through the centralised blog posting server (eg Blogger), and from there to a central post clearing house. Registered services would pick up either the entire resource or just the titles or links, and use it for various purposes: Linking ranking engines (Blogdex; Daypop); search engines; clustering and analysis tools; research; novel UIs; asynchronous RPCs; aggregation and favourites syndication; up-flow publishing; topic sorted weblog-driven magazines. The whole flow. End to end.

The problem is, this is quite inefficient. I'm not objecting to the centralised nature of bits of this, that's quite alright, but just to the amount of information being sent around.

How about, instead, each time a resource would flow on to the next stage, the resource stays where it way originally and we pretend that it happened? Instead of sending the actual resource, you send an expression, which if evaluated, would result in that resource. For most posts, this would be a URI plus an XQuery [or similar] on that location. These are upstreamed, aggregated, and so on, until the final step where something actual needs to happen.

At that point, the topic sorted weblog-driven magazine performs its series of custom XQueries on the resources. In the push (content syndication) world, those resources would have to be held locally. But in this world, the expressions are downstreamed back towards the resource, and each step in the stream aggregates and optimises the queries, storing the results of the expressions as they're streamed back, until finally the resource itself is fetched back to the final system.

I think I've just had a glimpse of what Level 2 of the www is going to be about. And why TBL said "where, in general, you won't be able to expect to get an answer in finite time".

(So something that comes along with this is routing of messages/queries in a similar way to SOAP -- but there's the resource, www-as-database, four-basic-verbs, XML aspects of REST. And the REST/SOAP debates are fascinating. But a different story entirely.)

Exceptional Finnish disco dancing video lesson [mpeg; thanks Warrem]. Wow, that man is smooooth. (And what's the music that kicks in about half way through? Anybody know?)