In terms of the Long Now, welcome to the Holocene, the most recent (and current) interglacial period. Let's see, and we also call this period the Anthropogene, the era in which mankind's activities became a "new telluric force which in power and universality may be compared to the greater forces of earth". (Homo sapiens sapiens's diaspora had occurred millennia before the beginning of the Holocene, 13,000 years ago, but without much impact. The story of how mankind hit tipping points to begin the geometric progression is fascinating: I rate Guns, Germs and Steel (by Jared Diamond) very highly indeed; the history of humanity, hows and whys from first principles.)
The endpoint of this: the noösphere: Perpectives of Humanity, a complete joining of humanity and the ecology, where the moral imperitive to protect the planetary community grows to take personal significance. In other words, the future.
An aside: I love the way enormous surrounding constructs have such modest names. The Holocene, "Recent Whole". The Local Group (more pictures), our Milky Way and a few dozen galaxy neighbours, a volume of space 60 billion, billion miles across (about 10 million light years). And I've just discovered that this cluster is also referred to as a condensation, as in "a small local cluster of galaxies that condensed out of the general expansion of the Universe". Out of the scattered, cooling ylem I guess. Just perfect.
Tonight's way of passing the time on the coach journey: Transformers Volume 2 DVD (original series, including the classic Arrival From Cybertron trilogy). For some not so light background reading, try the Transformers Chronology, which unfortunately manages to consistently mispell 'Unicron', the moon-sized planet-eating (and still transforming!) robot in the movie, impressively voiced by Orson Welles. Not to be confused with the Transformers Adult Fanfiction Archive, which is very entertaining, extremely dirty, but probably not in continuity so (alas) must be disregarded by any serious connoisseur.
Advice for Conversational UIs: Top 10 Best Practices for Voice User Interface Design. These points are really good, and not all voice specific -- steer the user away from phrases that are less likely to parse; have a fallback from natural language to directed prompts [thanks Phil].
strange loops: a vision, experience: "i thought i had dropped my filters and was seeing the same underlying meaning in any media i experienced". A witness to the deep structure under the surface, a perpendicular view of the world seen in terms of common systems, aspects. Read. (Reality, right now, seems structured just to be described by linguistics, computing, evolution, information. We've modelled our perceptions of the universe in terms of cross-phenomenon systemic rules, in terms of behaviour of these complex creations built once-removed from mud and water.)
My questions are too easy! Thanks to you, O Reader, I now know that evolved elements pressed into service in some other context are exaptations. Exaptive features are the illustration of the feedback look between ourselves and our environment, something that says that our form in the landscape changes the adaptive landscape itself. And this is what science is based on, and education, and progress -- the fact that a feature can fortuitously bridge you to a new niche that would have otherwise been inaccessible. It's a good excuse too, if these unpredictable abilities can arise, to do whatever you can and do it as well as possible, be that research or weblogs. The key is new thinking, and pushing back boundaries. Progess as exploration. Bootstrapping from heat regulation to self-powered flight. Civilisation is the exaptive feature that was the solution to having arms too short to pick fleas off your own back. (Thanks Dan, Alex Robinson and Kevan for filling in my blanks.)
Prague, 1989 | The year of revolutions saw a half dozen East European countries overthrow their communist governments. I've written about Czechoslovakia, and one of the best resources I found was the Radio Free Europe Ten Years After special. A long series of essays, explanations, retrospectives and personal accounts from this confusing time, and audio clips too -- hearing the chants of protestors in Wenceslas Square witnessing their first days of freedom is truly special.
Anyway, so there's currently a lot of fuss about the mooting of removing the phrase "under god" from the American Pledge of Allegiance, although Matt Haughey points out that this was only added in 1954 under the communist scare. What price we pay to defend our culture? By how much exactly have we really won?
In 1999, again in Prague, Gorbacev responded to Thatcher's gloating in a ceremony to mark a decade since the revolution: "Gorbachev reminded Thatcher that it was the communists who saw everything in black and white, through ideological blinders, and he questioned whether she had not stumbled down the same path".
Czech President Vaclav Havel: "If I posed myself the question: what triumphed over what or who triumphed over whom 10 years ago, then I wouldn't answer that it was the victory of one ideology over another, of one state over another state, or of one superpower over another. But I say certain values triumphed. Freedom triumphed over oppression. Respect for human dignity triumphed over humiliation. Respect for human rights triumphed over disdain for human rights. But it was one small battle in an unending chain of battles, because the war continues".
There's a word that means a feature that has evolved for a particular purpose which is then used for another since it's there. Like: feathers originally evolving as a heat regulation device, then being used to glide too/instead. Those features are an example of a [what] feature? Do you know? Tell me.
A small departure for Upsideclown today. It's a true story of Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the revolution of 1989, the so-called Listopadove udalosti, the November events: "Three hours from now, the death of Martin Smid will trigger a revolution that before the end of the year will free Czechoslovakia".
Upsideclown #203 is one of mine and up today: Listopad, Prague 1989. (For more: I'll be publishing references here in the next week or so.)
I was somewhere between the Bevington Road and North Parade junctions walking north up Banbury Road when I first thought of the word "upsideclown", and by the time I crossed to Woodstock Road (probably via either Lathbury or Staverton) I was still laughing at the visual pun. Who knows why. Too much revision maybe. Anyway so I bought the domain and recruited my friends over the next week or so, as a way of keeping contact with one-another primarily. Something to do. That was just over 200 articles ago, and we launched exactly two years ago today. Two years of polemic, personal writing, explanation, nonsense and culture.
So what are we doing to celebrate? This: Whelk.
File this under community, distributed discussions, and building trails though weblog-space: Thread the needle [via JOHO], a project to provide an easy way of linking together posts across many weblogs in the same discussion, and to start and respond to threads. Well thought-out for maximum inclusion. I hope it gets built.
See also. Movable Type's Trackback implements smart weblog post permalinks that can record and process other weblog posts that point to them (MT call it "pinging". I'm not sure about the terminology). This sounds promising: "We've also developed a tool that will display a threaded view of the entries involved in a discussion across multiple blogs whose participants are using TrackBack. This will be a stand-alone tool, not contained in the Movable Type distribution. We should be releasing it soon". And the other applications they mention are also cool. The implementation method makes me a little uneasy though, from an architecture point of view, but I can't quite place my finger on why.
Ftrain.com: Waiting for the Bang [via haddock]. Beautifully written serious piece. I was having a rant about the extremists, having found my first warblog (if you don't know, don't ask. If you knew, you'd be upset) a few days ago. The question: what to do? Argue back? Ignore? This Ftrain piece was especially apt -- I've had a feeling for a while that there's a new social structure, a new philosophy being built, and every time we discuss or consider or question we're adding to it. And in ten years time or so we'll see what all these anti-globalisationists and liberals have in common; we'll be able to articulate our concerns about capitalism for the first time having created the language; we'll be able to rebuild the system.
My main distrust: Of belief systems that don't encourage being questioned.
New weblog search engine, Semant-O-Matic, uses a fuzzy search technique called latent semantic indexing. It uses patterns of word proximity to know to look for the phrase "Lord of the Rings" if the user searches for "hobbits" (more information). Having attempted to write a search engine with far too much matrix algebra in myself I know this is really hard, which makes it all the more impressive that Semant-O-Matic works so well.
Fresh Upsideclown: "The atmosphere in the changing rooms was subdued as the young captain strode through from the showers. The white fluffy towel clung tightly to his slim hips as he wandered through the men, leaning to touch the heads or stroke the shoulders of some of them. Conversation had been minimal since the team had come back, and this touch of man to man was the closest contact that they could have."
If you've been following England's fortunes in the World Cup, you might well enjoy Upsideclown #202, from George: Two Lions (DB/DS). Steamy.
Governments on the www. Comprehensive database of links (17,000) to government institution websites worldwide.
Beginners' guide to UK geography. Useful, well laid out, accessible. Learn how parishes, local authorities and all the rest fit into the UK. (Hey, and get this. I knew that wards made up local authorities, but I didn't know that wards are the building blocks of administrative regions. That's a bridge between local (councillors, councils) and national (MPs, constituencies) government. This excites me more than you might imagine.)
Upsideclown issue 200. It's an achievement. Nearly two years ago (anniversary approaching fast), I wouldn't have thought we'd make it this far -- a 'site for the seven of us to put up writing. No editorial policy. No theme. Just the rota. Two hundred pieces! It'd be easier to write a list of the things that haven't been covered than the things that have. The greatest satisfaction I get: a bunch of people are writing who wouldn't usually write; words are being published that wouldn't usually be seen. And I love it.
Yet... It's #200 and Neil's leaving us. With this: "I falter, suddenly unable to understand my own intentions to throw away the fulfillment of everything I dreamed of as a boy, whose whispering paranoias and unspoken sadness were crushed beneath the weight of your flat chest on mine; our bodies were hot, glued together with mingled sweat, and the inch of air between our eloquent gazes thick with our mingled breath".
Neil's last Upsideclown: Cockfosters. I'll miss his writing.
New Upsideclone: "The history-howitzer nearest me slams back into its recoil shielding. Good technicians swarm around it. Check the grammar, clean the swarf of punctuation from around the muzzle, and press the small of their backs into the velvet bulwarks to heave it back to the edge of the battlement". Superb new piece by Matt Jones: The end of history.
Go to Girls Are Pretty, every single day, and you will be told what to do [cheers Es].
In the list of signs that the universe has bounced off the surface of maximal expansion and our fall is now accelerating towards the primodial monobloc, this email from Dan Brickley on www-archive is pretty bloody high up: MOO, IRC and the Web.
Given that a MOO is basically a map populated with objects that you can interact with, usually by using a command-line type interface. And given RDF is used for describing graphs with resources (or objects) for nodes. And given all interfaces are the same anyway [see my notes], because traversing an interface is just like moving from node to node on a map or a graph. And given all of that, and that in the ylem it's all the same anyway...
Dan Brickley crosses the streams and shadows a traditional MOO and an IRC channel together, two alternative interfaces on the same map. An IRC bot on the channel appears as a non-player character in the MOO. And he talks about activating traditional MOO objects with an XML feed so that a MOO calendar proxies his www calendar. And presumably, so RSS feeds illuminate other objects by acting as datasources.
We're all riding the same alarmingly whitecapping memewave here. See my post a couple of days ago about weblog avatars in IM/MOO-space (which I dubbed the "IMvironment", unaware that Yahoo! had already coined that term). And see blackbeltjones's post on the same, with more comments about weblogs. And recall that at Chatbot++ at XCom/Take It Outside (now with links and assorted media) Edd Dumbill was linking IRC bots with RDF graphs, and the W3C are interested in the bot-to-www angle. And the London.pm bots maillist is a locus for a lot of this IRC/bot/RSS activity. Oh, and Jabber.
You know, when the N-verse collapsed to the (N-1)-verse just now, I'm pretty sure I felt it.
Design Issues for the World Wide Web, Architectural and philosophical point, by Tim Berners-Lee. Fascinating essays covering the recent evolution and the future of the www.
Listen up, this is the important bit. You'll have read all over the place about the watering down of civil liberties in the UK, most recently that the laws to allow an enormous number of organisations (including the Post Office and the Food Standards Agency) access to your browsing and email bits are going to be rubber-stamped in a few days time.
What the articles generally haven't said is where to get authoritative information, how to explain what's happening in easy language, and what to do about it. Stand does all three. Yes, it's important that you understand the issues and do something about it. But more important is that the word gets out and that url gets into the hands of journalists and opinion-formers.
Part of the Take It Outside hangover: I was saying I'd like to loop back 20 years and reimplement MUDs using Instant Messaging. So I hacked up a primative interface to explore Cal's London tube map station-by-station via AIM. You can't access it I'm afraid, you'll just have to trust me that it feels surprisingly claustrophobic when you're lost, and very vivid. So what next?
In Iain M Bank's Culture novels (good scifi) the ships are enormous AIs, massively intelligent. They communicate using proxy avatars, being that appear to be people but are actually shells proxying the ship's presence and intellect to the human scale.
Weblogs (internet services more generally) should be represented as avatars hanging around the IMvironment, near the tube stations the authors are physically located. Speaking to them, you should be able to pass notes to the weblog author, query the avatar for a RSS feed rendered as in-game speech, and ask questions which are piped through the weblog search engine. The avatar acts as a memory holding pen for communication to/from the author, and can expand beyond just an alternative interface to a companion of sorts. A know-all buddy. Simpler avators would be like talking mice you (as character) could carry around in your pockets. They'd tell you of latest posts to the weblogs they represent, and pipe up to your questions.
Dan's a pretty sick puppy in Upsideclown #198: "All of which is completely lost on the boy I've been chatting to for the last thirty minutes, if by 'chatting' you understand, 'sitting next to, making intermittent eye contact, smiling whenever he gurgles something apparently meant to be a witticism and letting him feel my tits'".
The Ibizan book of the Dead, a World Cup Summer of an Upsideclown, fresh today. And one that's potentially going to be blocked by over-zealous corporate email filters, so when you join the list to get articles straight to your inbox every Monday and Thursday (by sending the word subscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org) make sure you join from a personal email address, won't you?
Will be at XCom2002 today. Looking forward to seeing the man who wrote Chuckie Egg. Am also taking part in a roundtable at the Take It Outside fringe, on the subject of Instant Messaging bots. Basically, a series of smart pre-programmed replies if the moderator asks his questions with the correct syntax, extensively padded with Eliza-templated responses and randomly selected faux teen neologisms.
(I'm kind of regretting not watching the England/Argentina game, given apparently it was quite exciting and England won and everything. But I did have some exceptional cheesecake for dessert instead.)
I want all search in the same interface. I should be able to send a search query to an IM buddy and it search Google (okay, so that bit's done), eg "wsdl yahoogroups" which using the cleverness of I Feel Lucky gives me the homepage of the WSDL mail list. Now when I type "binding -soap" in the same IM interface it should use that query to search the WSDL Yahoogroup archives, using the search engine attached to that page. My knowledge of where best to search, plus consistent UI.
Unfortunate mishap with Dead Man's Switch, a piece of Windows software to automate embarrassment-saving tasks from beyond the grave: "I went on vacation, and forgot all about the switch," said Kenny LaGuardia, a Web designer from Los Angeles. "When I returned home, the program had posted, 'So I guess I'm dead' messages to all the newslists I subscribe to, and destroyed all my adult entertainment files." (Quote from Dead Men Tell No Passwords at Wired.)
Links to share:
Both the above links are stolen from Bifurcated Rivets, which gives you some idea how good it is.
Browse your referrer logs? Have your own website? Then you're being targeted by Data Shaping Solutions Viral Marketing. Buy a campaign from them, and they'll spoof a referrer to your website so you'll see a clickable link to the customer in your logs. Advantages include not losing your account for being a spammer because the advertising isn't by email, and a robust technique the details of which can only be revealed if you contact them. "More and more people have their personal website with access to daily site statistics. Typically, internet services of any kind are good candidates for this type of advertising."
Christ. How long before my logs are as full of spam as my inbox? I've seen a few unusual corporate looking 'sites in there already. Is this form of advertising common? What's worse: Guess where I found the viral marketing link. Standard advertising loop. Find a trusted place; pretend to be part of that place and exploit the trust people have in it; support that medium and make it reliant on advertising; reduce expenditure so that place does nothing but the bare minumum to support advertising; more on to another trusted place.
Two www browser surprises today. I downloaded Mozilla 1.0 for Mac OS X, a piece of software which previously has been slow and flakey with a dodgy UI. Somewhere in the previous few milestones it's become extremely fast, stable, and with as consistent and usable an interface as any other Mac app. It's a monumental achievement for this browser/platform to have been open source and have reached version 1.0 today, but even more impressive is how polished and solid it is. That's surprise number one.
Next. I stumbled upon StumbleUpon.com, a collaborative filtering system for finding new websites. Any 'site you're on you can thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Based on your interests (checkboxes in a categories list) these recommendations are used to suggest places for people with similar interests to go. Or you can click Stumble to go to a randomly selected 'site yourself. Surprise two follows. As a Mac user, I'm not very used to software, or browser extensions, or especially browser toolbars installing. But this one worked. Out the box. With Mozilla. It just worked. Hey, there's a whole new platform here! (And I'm using StumbleUpon too. It looks good. Their design is polite, and they don't ask me to register.)
Public Lettering in London [via ben hammersley]. Large public lettering found on a walk through London, with fine very large downloadable images. There's something about the internet that encourages finding the beauty in what surrounds us, in a way that concentrates on the usually overlooked much more than traditional media. I've not idea why that is, but it's a good thing.
Reboot conference, boingboing provides keynote coverage: "The computer industry did not create the personal computer; it was created by people in their 20s who wanted a tool of their own. The Internet was created for the most part by people in their 20s, not the phone company."
My favourite line: "Doug Engelbart said: In 1950 -- 1950 -- he was 25 years old. He drove to his engineering office every day through the largest fruit orchard in the world, now known as Silicon Valley, when he hit upon the idea of using computers to solve problems. Seems obvious, but in 1950, the world's entire RAM was 1K."
The paper Engelbart would write is Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, essentially a project proposal/mission statement for the computer. Incredible. Read it now.
See also: Information Management: A Proposal -- the original understated proposal for what would become the World Wide Web.
"Each one is the size of the grain of rice, a dense cage of lasers and smoke holding in suspension eight single human neurons grown in zero gravity. Engram bullets. That's what they look like, if you look very carefully. I was working at the Rutherford Applied Linguistics Laboratory in 1989 during the construction of the first artificial engram"...
Fresh Upsideclown (one of mine) today: Engram bullets.