All posts made in Aug. 2002:

Users of Alcatel USD ADSL modems and Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar): I recommend Antonio Strijdom's Getting onto BT Openworld with Mac OS X which covers the tricky process of updating the drivers, and even makes the new files available for download. Also simpler to follow than other instructions online. (You may have come here because I fixed Tom Coates' computer, hello!)

Most wonderful true story at Upsideclone today by Giles Turnbull: The old lady and the whelk. (It's about Whelk, the Upsideclown book, for context.)

The purpose of Ellen Feiss is to flip out and kill people.

The Syd Mead Project [via blackbeltjones]. Retro futurist paintings gallery, with nostalgic faded-photo-style palette.

The Spring Desktop looks interesting. Your desktop is your canvas on which live representations of real things, like people and places. Each Object carries with it its own behaviour; the example on the front page is of an application displaying a 'Download Latest Version' method, another is of dragging a file to a person to AIM is to them. But the Spring Developers page is more interesting. A Spring Object is simply a folder with its behaviour contained within. And the actions will be based on existing standards and methods. It's at an early stage, but still -- one to watch.

History is a struggle over who owns the identity abstraction, the Me-Proxy, it's a tug of war between people and corporations. My identity reference can be my email address, my TV, my eyes reading a book. How close is that proxy of me to me? Can it be taken away? Replicated, exchanged, bought and sold? Created? Broadcast to? Who controls access?

"We think there are ways to interface with the complex flows of electronic data that run through our cities so that they can be experienced as an enriching contrast to other, more 'earthly' phenomenon": Altavistas [via Play with the Machine]. Layers and layers of hypertexted data underlying Heathrow, London, and a hypothesised town of the future that takes this complex as its very foundation. Beautiful. Real-life slices through the dataverse.

Software Engineering Issues for Uniquitous Computing. Read about the common features in the paper: Transparent interaction; Context-awareness; Automated capture [via Nooface, which is particularly good at the moment].

The large crates you see on ships, that lorries and trains are designed around, are the fundamental unit of cargo shipping, and are relatively new. "Just as the Net and deregulated telephony spelled the death of distance for telecommunications, containers spelled the death of distance for manufacturing". This 1999 Wired article on the Port of Singapore tracks what they call The 20-Ton Packet, because if you think about it the transportation network is just a collection of pipes and routes shuttling standard containers round and round [reminded of this by Anil].

(I wrote an Upsideclown a while back about a London built around this kind of routing metaphor: Gifts, contracts, and whispers.)

The headline is promising: Viewers question reality TV. Could it be that a mere television programme is teaching humanity that we all have our own reality, that there is no absolute truth? Alas, no. Viewers still "look for 'moments of truth' that reveal a person's real nature", and thus betray their continuing belief in an underlying objective, independent universe.

The original Euro symbol was a mathematical construction, all measurements and curves. However, this posed a typographic problem: "Had the Eurocrats consulted a typeface expert, they would not have failed to learn the difference between a character's graph and its ductus. In a letter - and that's what the Euro sign is intended to be - its skeletal shape (graph) and actual form (ductus) are two different things".

There are some good quotes in Jürgen Siebert's article The Euro: From Logo to Letter. Here's another one: "Width, breadth of stroke and style are not elements of the A-ness of an A".

Micro-management of the symbol made it difficult to adopt -- how to make this sign have the same feel as another type, the correct shape, size, weight, contrast, serif? The highlight of the article is about 75% of the way down, a comparison of the newly designed Euro letter in context against uppercase numerals in nine different faces. The art of typography is to become invisible, and it's impressive seeing that evolution.

Question: I seem to remember an article saying Google were going to start supporting searching on Dublin Core metatags. Can you remember anything about this or do you have a url? Please mail me if you do. Much appreciated.

If you use Mac OS X, you're comfortable mucking around with really dirty scripts, and you want to change your smtp server for every time you change location, try autosmtp what I just wrote in a fit of utter geekness. Filthy, dirty script.

(Can I just point out that I would never be able to do anything like this on Windows or Mac OS Classic. But because Mac OS X and the unix underpinnings are so tightly bolted together, I can use Perl (which is easy, and I know from making websites) to bolt together all the bits I only slightly know, and still make my day-to-day gui existence easier. This is what an OS should be like.)

The 50 sexiest cartoon babes, with commentry [via Fark]. Redheads are a common theme, although the red hair being attached to a human body isn't.

Mac OS X Hints is your best source for little known hacks and features.

Yes, I'm now running Mac OS X 10.2. And in bigger news, yesterday I finally lost my installing-an-OS-in-Starbucks virginity. I'm not a proud man.

The www is an oral medium (actually, an oral medium hybrid, but I'll come back to that): The fastest you can hear about a page on the www is the fastest people can carry the message by telling each other.

This is even more true of email, before spam, and more evident too. The fastest information can travel is the fastest you can receive the email and forward it or a version of it to someone else.

There are two large hybrid parts in the nature of the www.

  • The message has been split into the message itself (the webpage) and a reference to the message (its address). The importance of this addressability abstraction should not be underestimated -- it means that the message itself is mutable in transit, that the webpage can change according to feedback, even while the reference to the page (the address) is being communicated through the oral part of the medium. The message, the webpage, is therefore unique, and this means the www is more like geography. In the physical world, there are directions (the address) and the place (the webpage). Since there's only one unique place, it changes according to who has followed the directions. Just like a webpage.
  • The message itself (the webpage) can carry more message references (addresses). Whereas in speech making this kind of explicit reference is hard, footnotes and references are common in the written word (implicit references, that is, hints and allegations, are easy in speech but comparatively hard in writing if, as on the www, you don't know your audience and have to rely on the implicit references being understood). The written character of the medium also means there is time-binding: the message can alter over time, gather more wisdom (and addresses), take feedback and so on.

There's a different abstraction point in email. The message and message reference are once more combined so that when you forward a message you take a copy of it and send it on. This is oral. However, the break is between the person and the reference to the person (you, and your email address). Because of this break, people-references can be gathered in a way people themselves can't -- the relationship is similar between your television and you. Your television is a reference for you, the viewer. That these addresses are independent of you gives email the aspect of a broadcast medium, hence spam.

I've deliberately not mentioned anything about webpage being person-proxies because I think that's an abstraction point too far. The nature of the www is independent of the means the webpage addresses are communicated.

A few further throw-away points:

  • The www is like a world-enveloping library crowded with people. A book is a webpage, and when you open it you step inside it, through a wormhole to another aisle somewhere else in the library. You can only talk to the people in the same aisle as yourself. There are ghosts of previous visitors. You can write in the books, and write your own books.
  • Email is like a rich oral society with people chattering and gossiping. Towering overhead are giant megaphones which shout messages that may or may not be applicable to you. Incidentally, his is much how I imagine China.
  • What sort of medium is IM, currently, in this way of thinking?
  • What kind of medium might 3G be, in this way of thinking, and what kind of applications does that make you think of?

(Yes, I'm currently reading Understanding Media (Marshall McLuhan, 1964), so apologies to all the media studies students out there for getting everything wrong as I undoubtedly have. Any pointers towards understanding the various media on the internet would be very welcome.)

Apologies in advance for the sudden dive in taste, but I have to pass on the fad mentioned in Maria McErlane's column in The Sunday Times: "My favourite gossip of the evening, though, was speculation about celebrity anal bleaching. (Apparently one can now have the skin around the rectum bleached to make it, er, more socially acceptable.) I just love the idea of a Hollywood husband saying: 'Oh darling, you need your roots doing'".

Coming soon in Hello magazine, a do-it-yourself celebrity glamour guide involving a bottle of Domestos and one of: a hand-mirror, or a very trusted friend with steady hands.

Awesome, unwitting, portraits of pedestrians at Marble Arch, London: "None of the photographs have been set up but are all snapshots of pedestrians who happened to walk into the frame of the camera" [via Frownland].

Another 3G application: Collaborative filtering of locations. Your handset relays your location to a central server, which: runs your location through a Geographic Information System to find the properties you've been in; matches the properties against a business directory to see which commercial places (pubs, shops, cinemas, museums, tourist attractions) you've visited. Using the following pieces of information:

  • what public places you visited
  • the frequency and times of your visits to that town (to find out whether it's your home town, work town, or weekend visit)
  • your previous behaviour, visits and frequency of visits
  • a business directory joining together pub and shop chains and demographic details

...then you can compare that information against the same set of information for everybody else using the same service, and in particular against people who have the same kind of visits/interests as you, and use it to suggest: People like you also visited....

Imagine. You visit a new town for the first time, stop in at a cafe that looks nice, and hang around in a couple of little bookshops. Based on your behaviour so far, and the kind of places people like you enjoyed when they went to that town for a weekend, your phone recommends a small photography exhibition down a sidestreet you would otherwise have missed. Refine the suggestions by reporting back whether you had fun.

Ah, and I completely missed the one year birthday of Upsideclone. As Above does the 'clone anniversary hightlights.

Kevan points out (by email) that with your 3G handset acting as a Conversational TiVo there'd be a lot of uncomfortable "Is that thing on?" going on. Okay, so: you're in a group of people, all with your handsets out. The handsets talk via Bluetooth to register interest in a conversation. A group is determined by looking at the various phone addressbooks, and comparing volumes of components of the conversation. To listen to something that happened on your own recording, you need approval from other members of the group.

Or another solution. A gizmo strapped to your neck over your voicebox has three modes of vibration which subtly alter your voice: one mode for public, one for private, one for this group only. You can alter which mode with a simple switch. The recording device extracts and understands this vibration mode before allowing playback and uses it for Digital Rights Management, ie a device will refuse to play speech that has a "private" voice watermark imprinted.

There are more 3G applications in the Interconnected archives.

3G mobile killer app: Conversational TiVo. Taking advantage of the always-on and high-bandwidth nature of the 3G network, the cellphone keeps a rolling recording of the last 24 hours of audio. At any moment you can jump back in and listen to that name you were told ten minutes ago; archive a speech and email it as an mp3; do voice-to-text on that taxi phone number somebody mentioned earlier this evening; find out exactly what you were talking about in the pub at 10.30 last night.

In the www architecture corner, this email from Roy Fielding to Tim Berners-Lee on URIs and resources is view-changing. Fielding's position is that a URI is an opaque reference to a resource and a web page is just one representation of that resource. It's a shift away from Berners-Lee's position that a URI is an identifier for a document, and that document comprises the resource itself. This small change in metaphor gives quite a good lever for understanding and building things on the www, and leads almost directly to the REST architecture.

Teledyne Water Pik Family Oral Irrigator WP-30, a review [via Memepool]. My sides very nearly split.

I love the Froy Marriage Test.

I very very much want to visit Diggerland.

New in notes: A fairly incoherant and rushed rant about patents, trying to figure out why patents used to be okay but in the world of software make no sense at all. Including some rather convoluted mushroom metaphor.

The Naked Face [via kottke]: lengthy, readable, article on facial expressions being tied to emotions. Two main surprises for me were that expressions are universal and very finely grained, and that exercising the muscles involved in certain faces can cause the emotions they represent (I wonder what the evolutionary pressures behind these two points are). Also: the face-reading abilities of Tomkins and the subject of microexpressions.

What Can Be Patented: Any person who "invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent".

ActiveBuddy's Patent Win Riles IM Bot Developers. Oho. So ActiveBuddy, commercial Instant Messaging 'bot agency, now have Patent 6,430,602 on (among other things): running a bot on an IM network to talk to really people; loadbalancing the processing; using the IM channel to form a simple kind of authentication to the www; having a presentation layer to use the same back-end to talk to many IM systems.

I find it difficult to dispute the patent because within the rules of the system that granted the patent, everything is fine. But a system that grants a patent that consists of well-understood components and patterns previously practiced and obvious, a system that does that has to be wrong. I've built IM bots. I admire ActiveBuddy's services, and I admire their scripting language. It's clever. But it's not revolutionary. It's been done before. Hell, I've done a lot of it before, and I'm just another not-very-good Perl hacker. All they've done is facade it with agency-speak and move it into the commerical arena.

And here's what fucking riles me. Their USP, the thing they and they alone have, the thing they really should be protected -- it's got fuck all to do with the technology. It's about their sales team, their PR machine, their position in the sector. They're doing very well. If I had the funding, I could start a company tomorrow to do what they do and quite possibly do it better. But I wouldn't beat them because they're established, and you don't need a patent to protect that. You just need to carry on working hard. Looks like they want to sit back.

Just read, non-fiction: Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst (at, with good reviews). Best anything, bar everything, about typography I've every read. Typeface history, classification, fine-grained style-guide, book design, font choice, all with spectacular detail, explanations, in an exceptionally easy to read book (high recommendations also come from a friend who knows far more about this kind of thing than me). I'm now looking at the type around me thinking: hm, rationalist axis, hm, why did they choose that, what does it mean. Seriously, any book which suggests that picking an American typeface for a Mexican book is insensitive, or using a ligature invented only in the last thousand years for an Ancient Greek history is stupid -- any book that talks about that is worth reading.

Just read, fiction: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (at It's an incredible book, highly recommended, fulfilling my need for human focussed sci-fi completely. Without spoilers: The best thing about the book is that if it was a film the story would be obvious, but it's so well written, so well paced, the rhythm picks you and echoes of story elements combine to move you forward and suspend disbelief completely. One of those books that stopped me talking for a while. (I'm told that this isn't just a fluke and that Orson Scott Card is a fine author, kdickian but with a more social perspective.)

In depth critique of Starship Troopers - book and film - covering the politics of both. The novel's been attacked for being too right wing, this critique argues against that. (Anyone who's talked to me about work recently knows about my Technical Implementation/ Mobile Infantry parallels. I'm taken with the idea of being a domain expert wielded by someone else. The chain of command protects you from dealing with unreasonable requests from external sources and lets you get on with your job, while it guarantees you'll be allowed to do the Right Thing and trusts you to make your own domain choices.)

A duck quacks in English, but a French duck says "coin coin". More animals, more languages at Sounds of the World's Animals. Worth it entirely for the recording of a zebra which has to be the bizarrest noise I've heard.

Mac OS X User Experience developer's site [via scribot]. Interesting, especially for the Windows/Mac OS X differences. (The Human Interface Guidelines are also there for download as a PDF. The metaphors chapter especially is worth a read, to see the level of consistency Apple place on nouns/verbs and interface actions.)

Great photos at [via prolific], mainly of the out-and-about variety. Click the photos for galleries.

Bitterly funny, Get Your Exx On: "I wonder what would happen if you literally had to fill up your gas tanks with the bones of killed and raped people in order to make your car run?" (If you've ever said the www would never produce as good and biting satire as the golden age, read now.)

Armadillo Aerospace is "a small research and development team working on computer-controlled hydrogen peroxide rocket vehicles, with an eye towards X-Prize class vehicle development in the coming years", and led (bizarrely) by John Carmack who created first-person shooters Doom and Quake. We live in a world of super-geniuses who can turn their hand to anything, from video games to rocket science. Ultra weird. Very 2003. It's a good job Carmack isn't eeevil. (Or maybe he is. We'll find out when all the geeks lift off to their secret spacestation and start bombarding the earth with contagious bacteria to wipe out the weak of Humanity RC1, to make them submit to the Golden Masters.)

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, both past and recent [via As Above]. Superb.

See also: The Antique Vibrator Museum. Hand cranked? Crikey. But alas no vibrator electric chairs as used by doctors.

First mention of Y2K problem on Usenet, and also a very funny anecdote about how two engineers coped with a similar problem in around 1980.

Time-binding: " In 1921, Alfred Korzybski, a mathematician and scientist, classified Life with precise and accurate operational definitions of plants, animals, and humans. He defined the plants as energy-binders, the animals as space-binders, and we humans as time-binders".

Three things. One! Time-binding is what makes humans unique. Time is what we operate in. It's the axis that gives us our power. All other axis are symmetric; actions and behaviour are symmetric across physical location. Two! The theory of time-binding can produce a system of ethics, a morality that can scale up to global levels. Three! Korzybski, after defined time-binding, developed general semantics, a philosophy based on modern science that understands implicitly the important of language, knowledge and time.

Why Systems Fail and Problems Sprout Anew, a review of the book Systemantics, including John Gall's Basic Systems Axioms. (I'd like to read the book, especially if it has anything to say about human and automatic processes, and how to replace systems.)

See also: Ray Ozzie's essay Why?, from the creator of massively popular collaborative software on why such software is desirable. Along the way he hits social dynamics and how to construct incentives to encourage participation in the collaborative space (and the software is all about replacing, or augmenting, ad-hoc processes with automatic ones. Extrememly hard). I like what he calls the OHIO principal: "if information must be entered in two places, it won't be" [Only Handle Information Once].

It occurs to me that the shift from one-to-one data entry/retrieval (traditional software) to collaborative software is bigger than it might first appear. The fact that the information has to be shared, sorted and merged means that the information entered has to be regarded as a form of input, that is, something that changes the behaviour of the computer, instructions. Usually only the mouse and keyboard are used for input, and the documents don't constitute behaviour-changing instructions on their own -- but collaborative software changes this and suddenly the computer becomes a high bandwidth input/output device, rather than just a recording machine. That shift from low to high bandwidth input makes the software hard to build, even without the social dynamic.

This is a Magazine is a magazine, on the www (requires Flash). It's brilliant, and beautiful.

I'm not sure how politically correct today's Upsideclown is, but it's certainly an interesting image. Victor wants to Beat the Mongol: "Running against children with various strains of palsy posed very few problems".

Can I just point out that Upsideclone's rejuvenation begins today?, that there are some great articles lined up over the next six weeks, and that up first is a piece by RavenBlack [who also has a book]: New today at the 'clone is An Arm And A Leg. I like.

Noncommand User Interfaces, by Jakob Nielsen. A view (from 1993) of future developments in UI. Section 4 outlines twelve dimensions interfaces could expand.

I'd not thought about the input bandwidth issue: the computer takes low bandwidth input (a mouse gives you only screen coordinates and type of click) and disproportionately high bandwidth output (video, sound). Is this a bad thing, do we need high bandwidth input too? Not sure. It's the informational equivalent of a lever, a small and precise movement scaling up to a much larger effect. Or a magical word of command, Let There Be Light. Such a small effort (a hand gesture, a phrase, a raised staff) to part the sea. Maybe that's why technology feels so much like magic, because the universe is by default a proportionate place and it's the application of science that gives us levers and commands, informational and otherwise. If it wasn't magical, it would be harder.

(It almost goes without saying that I'm already feeling unsure about Sunday's post on science and objective/subjective reality. What is objective reality anyway? Does it make sense to stand outside the system and say that different cultures have different impressions of the "truth"? Is a pun on maths any less encoded than an audio recording of a greeting from the head of the UN? I'd quite like someone to reverse-engineer my gut beliefs and point me to what to read so I know how to defend them. That'd be far easier.)

Here's what I don't like about [what little I understand about] the feminist angle on science:

(Intermission. Point 1! By science I mean the scientific method, at least for now. Point 2! The feminist pov is that science is a cultural phenomenon and cannot be presumed to be universal, like morality, or linguistic metaphors.)

I don't like the fact that the argument for total subjectivity is itself universal. Systems (and feminist philosophy is such a system) always operate within limits, so: If there are two objective entities, the amount a subject understanding is going to differ from the objective truth is going to be different for each.

Or rather, because it makes no sense to talk about "objective truth", and "amount of difference in understanding", let's say it like this.

If a number of cultures each have an interpretation of roughly the same event/entity/thing, we can measure how much these interpretations vary by seeing how much they overlap. By overlap, I mean swapped between cultures without interpretation or translation given that a mutually understood encoding system already exists.

(For example, if the encoding system is technology based on levers, paper and metal, and the concepts of reading and writing, the cultural phenomenon could be the printing press, as exhibited in China and Europe. I've deliberately chosen an example with a difficult to express "objective truth", because there might not even be one.)

So my assertation: For two events, and for each of a number of cultures each having a subjective understanding of both of these things, the difference in understanding will vary.

I'm just making that assertation, I can't back it up. But I tend to trust this feeling, because rules (like feminist interpretations) tend to have a more-or-lessness about them applied to different things.

So, where is this going? Firstly, that cultures tend to move towards the subjective centre rather than away from it over time. This is because a culture isn't a single thing, but a shifting collection of cultures which evolve towards mutual understanding (cultures which can't understand and make use of the economies of scale of development of other cultures die out).

Secondly, that the scientific method is closer than other methodologies for understanding of reality (or rather, moving closer to the centre of subjective understanding), and this is because it's closer to the way the universe actually works (cause and effect, habits, etc). Or at least, it's closer within the limits that humanity operates (outside chaotic systems, importantly), and therefore it's a local attractor for similar cultures.

Thirdly, what comes out of the scientific method is more likely to be closer to the centre of subjective understanding than that which doesn't, because the scientific method demands a formalised coherence of ideas that isn't demanded in other branches of knowledge, and so the entire system is tugged towards the centre. (And the common points, such as mathematics, are more "fundamental" (central) than the far points, such as meteorology and the nature of time.)

Fourthly, that if we're trying to communicate with other cultures it's best to use minimally encoded puns on science rather than speech recording, because one makes use of more-likely overlap and the other doesn't.

(And this whole discussion launches out of the collision between Edward Tufte's joke redesign of the Pioneer plaque [via kottke] (see also the Pioneer spacecraft mission description), and the Feminism and the scientific method thread on Barbelith.)

(Also. Keep in mind I've never studied feminism. Or the scientific method. I'm attempting to express my discomfort with the Barbelith thread; saying that science isn't independent of its culture I can agree with, saying that's it's no more independent than any other belief system makes me post lengthy ill-informed counter-points. Like this.)

You ever get a feeling that humanity is on the verge of an enormous, defining change? That's because we're approaching the singularity.

Photostrip art project. Laugh out loud cleverness. (Link pinched from one of the UK webloggers, but I can't for the life of me remember who to credit. So, go to the Recently Updated UK Weblogs page and visit a random 'site, won't you?)

Sexy Losers, webcomic [via scribot]. Filthy, sick, graphic, funny. Three years of exceptional archives.

Famous UK landmarks, made out of food (food mainly from tins with tomato sauce).

Upsideclown Party photos are now online, by David Brophy (of which this is my favourite); by Tom Coates; by Paul Mison.

There's now an RSS feed of this weblog [xml], the latest posts are syndicated. So if you're using an RSS reader, aggregate away.

Question for those who know RSS/RDF: How do I join each post to the URIs it talks about? I can make the addresses and so on machine readable, I just need to know how to mark them up.

Simply awesome Royksopp music video (track: Remind Me) [Real video]. 1980s infographic heaven. Inspirational. (Also. I'd heard rumors the album Melody AM had been re-released and re-produced but I didn't realise how much dancier this track would sound. It's still great music, but it's somehow less euro-urban, less London. The best place to listen to Royksopp is loud mp3s on crowded streets -- I don't know whether that's still true.)

(Another Also. While I don't like buying singles (but buy albums), I would certainly pay five of your english quids for a high-quality mpg music video that I liked. And forget about losing money because it's being shared: only a select few people have the bandwidth to idly swap enormous videos, and they're going to be the ones spreading the word. Any music execs listening?)