Science news headlines from 1926 to 1932 at the Science News Letter archive. The Weekly Summary of Current Science. It's odd how much research and interest there is in cathode rays -- from outside the era it almost seems like the television sprang fully formed, but every tiny increase was greeted with headlines; the psychological effects of colour over black and white hyped.
Headline Haikus, updated daily [thanks Duncan G]: "The outlook for the/ holiday retail season/ is now fairly bleak".
There are 13 colour types listed in Horse Coat Color Genetics [cheers Es]. The article discusses how various genes interact to produce the different coat and mane colour combinations and how these are inherited.
Philosophy Research Papers on Cognitive Architecture, "about the hypothesis that human cognitive processes employ a language of thought (LOT)--a system of mental representation which supports syntactically complex mental symbols, physically realized in brains". And in particular, this essay: How To Be a Meaning Holist. A quick definition: "Meaning holists hold, roughly, that each representation in a linguistic or mental system depends semantically on every other representation in the system".
Now here's a cute top 10: The Defining Moments in Digital Culture [via Sore Eyes]. The earliest moment is 1996, so we're not talking ultimate cause here, more individual events representing waves of cultural properties (um, so not even proximate causes then) of recent history. Entertaining. And I'm not sure how far this can be traced back - from Steal These Graphics and View Source to the listings in the early computer magazines and the distribution of the source code of Unix - but the idea that all this stuff is only bytes afterall, you don't need an expensive factory to manipulate them, and as such anyone can do it, so share the code and teach your peers. That's pretty defining.
Tom Coates of Plasticbag is embroiled in heated discussion about using inbound links and warblogging, especially: What opportunities are there for political expression on the www apart from stating an opinion?; what opportunities does an inbound link provide, in this context? Unfortunately, from the warblogging (as loosely defined as that is) or right wing (as loosely defined as that is) perspective, this has been taken to mean stifling of freedom of speech and refusal to engage in an argument, made all the worse by the non-too-complimentary characteristics Tom's post associated with warblogs and the particular inbound links to be blocked/redirected -- in fact, it looks like an attack followed by a censorship of debate. And so the inbound links continue. All of which makes me think... Given the traffic plasticbag.org must be experiencing in this exchange, what if pop-up ads were put on the weblog and a message: Each time you visit this site, you add 5 cents to my Un-American Activities Fund. What then?
On my mind. Old photographs. How on earth people coped. Cub Scouts brainwashing. Seeing your faces on other people. How much time goes by in 20 years. In fourteen. The perfect expression, tranquil with the is-ness of now, the mark of a life I want to lead. A goal, right there on film.
Listening: Everything we've ever stolen/ Has been lost returned or broken/ No more dragons left to slay/ Every mistake I've ever made/ Has been rehashed and then replayed/ As I got lost along the way.
Sunflowers, and so happy I could cry. (Did cry.) Bom bom bom, ba da dum, bom bom. Or the other way round.
Telling somebody the other day what I actually did when I lived half my life online, I realised that my experience of the www is almost exclusively social. In the last ten minutes, I've laughed with happiness at an unexpected email, and been moved by Tom's everyday story of Saturday, skies and beauty. This rambling, undirected story is about as far from a pub conversation or earnest late night chat as you can get, but it's closer to the real, deep Tom than either of those. That this medium encourages stories that touch is wonderful. And maybe that's my cathedral, right there.
Every so often I find myself returning to the ideas from the ETCON Biological Computing session. There's a particular snippet in my notes: "a language where you can't label anything else. all you can do is emit and accept, so you emit stuff, and if something roughly can deal with it, it accepts it. wow!"
Emit and accept. To force the paradigm, Geoff Cohen was talking about a computer language where names and labels were outlawed. Instead processes would listen for data, and emit when they needed to. In much the same way as enzymes have protein shaped holes in them actually. On a very simple level, this method of dealing with data is good because it removes the dependancy of an earlier programme having to know about a later one to put it in the pipeline.
Two more becauses, while I think of them. A. Pipelines are what people do: that's what the industrial process is, chunking and containing, ditto science and writing (as opposed to speach). But nature doesn't work with pipelines, or nor need computers. B, and if I can get back on to queue theory for a moment, ah, hang on:
BEGIN:TANGENT From the safety of a clearly labeled tangent, back on to queue theory. It strikes me that push and pull queues are a really fundamental aspect of artificial versus natural systems. Push feels difficult to point at because it's completely coherant with how our society works. Resources are dug up then they're assembled then they're put in shops they're sold to people. Push is advertising, is inventories and warehouses, is running out of oil, money. Pull on the other hand... pull is feedback, of making use of what's available and competing, a society. It's ascetic, operating on available resources. Push is rules; Pull is incentive fields. Pull is the robustness principle. But because artificial systems can't afford to have undirected development, push is the only way to go. The maxim is: go one step, look where you need to go, do another step. The pull maxim would be: see what's around (all of it), and do something with it; repeat. Not very directed. With expensive raw materials, push is the only way to make a car. But when the parts are duplicable for zero cost, and when there isn't an end product, pull is the way to go. Whereas... Data is free to copy. And technological progress doesn't have an end-state. Pull is the future. END:TANGENT
The ideas of biological computing make a lot of sense where lots of things need to happen to data. My email is, in order: weeded for spam once, filed and/or archived, collected, spamchecked again, read, responded to. It's a tedious pipeline to set up. What if, instead, all the bots to do the work had email shaped indentations in them, to make the email stick so the bot could go to work? Now Ben Hammersley has a much better example of a system that really needs emit and collect (we were talking offline on Thursday), but I'll let him talk about that when he's ready.
But what I really started all of this to say is that the conversation moved on to: what would the abstraction layers of an emit-and-collect paradigm www browser be? Tough. You'd have to type something in on the keyboard, and the string would go into the datapool. All the various processes with URI-specific glue would copy the string, do their bit, then autorelease. One of these processes would say, Hey it's a URI, then make a network connection, GET the resource at the URI and emit a copy of that back out into the pool. The HTML glue of the parser would stick to the resource while it was understood and transformed into a version that can be rendered to the screen. And a browser window (or whatever) would pick up the rendered page, and display it. But that needn't be all -- other URI processes could copy the string for a history list, or an intelligent proxying system. And no bit of the system needs to know about any other. Emit and collect.
Various Natural Language Parsing methods work in a similar way. Even if systems aren't rewritten like this, it's an interesting way to imagine the network. A fun exercise.
The interconnectedness of visual interactive systems, from the memex to Windows.
The reviewer's guide for Windows Chicago, what become Windows 95. A heady mix of usability propaganda and excited technological, ahem, innovations. Start menu! Sliders! And OLE2 is, bizarrely, massively highlighted for a background technology -- you can really see that at the time it looked like Apple's System series and OpenDoc were the future. The GUI Gallery has more screen shots of OSs past.
New Upsideclown: "Every fellow with a feeling for the feminine has their first diaphragm moment. When the finger comes into contact with a strange creature, suckling at the cervix. How this offspring of Harawayan cyborg and Hellenic cuisine is dealt with is a decision that will echo down the ages. Abject fear is not acceptable. This is the 21st Century. People have their eyeballs pierced with their own steel-shod scrotums, for God's sake".
I'm desperately hoping that Dan isn't telling us all a very personal story. Diaphragmatic, fresh today.
The camgirl phenomenon... Salon's 2001 article, Candy from strangers sets out the stand for mid-teen girls and their gift-giving followers. It's a pretty dismal picture, but Power undressing has a more positive spin. After describing the pattern of wish-lists and the more photogenic and, uh, exhibitionist girls receiving the most gifts, the article goes on:
"Men have been exploiting and objectifying women in cyberspace for years. What's new is that the Camgirls have taken control of this process and cut out the middleman. So the line between victim and perpetrator is blurred. [...] The Camgirl phenomenon presents a challenge to traditional feminist interpretations of girl culture - the assumption that young women are the innocent victims of an exploitative entertainment industry. But this kind of analysis no longer works in the postmodern world". And interestingly: "Like the rest of us, [camgirls] are living in a society where we are defined not by what we do, but by what we consume".
I'd like to know more about the camgirl community -- is it in fact a community at all? What mechanisms do they use to share knowledge? Do informal traffic-transactions take place? How does flesh-flashing fit in to the spectrum, and what other camgirl types are there: completely subscription, no nudity, IRC-only, more or less journal based? And how about sites specifically for the audience? (For bonus marks, what would these questions be applied to weblogs, and how about the answers?)
Current reading: An essay on typography (1931), Eric Gill's rant on typography and industrial England (review; at Amazon.co.uk). Long excerpts follow, but they're worth it, I promise. From the chapter "Time and Place".
"The world is not yet clothed in garments which befit it; in architecture, furniture and clothes, we are still using and wearing things which have no real relations to the spirit which move our life.
"Now the chief and, though we betray our personal predilectation by saying so, the most monstrous characteristic of our time is that the methods of manufacture which we emply and of which we are proud are such as make it impossible for the ordinary workman to be an artist, that is to say a responsible workman, a man responsible not merely for doing which he is told but responsible also for the intellectual quality of what his deeds effect. That the ordinary workman should or could be an arist, could be a man whom we could trust with any sort of responsibility for the work he does, or proud of anything but that kind of craftmanship which means skill and attention as a machine operator (and that responsibility is purely a moral one) is an idea now widely held to be ridiculous; and the widespreadness of this opinion proves my point as well as I could wish. When I say no ordinary workman is an artist, no one will say I am lying; on the contrary, everyone will say: Of course not.
"Such is the state of affair, and its consequences should be obvious. That they are not is the cause of the muddle in which manufacture is at present to be found. For in a world in which all workmen but a few survivals from pre-industrial times, a number so small as to be now quite negligable, are as irresponsible as hammers and chisels & tools of transport, it should be obvious that certain kinds of work which were the products proper to men for whom work was the natural expression of their intellectual convictions, needs & sympathies, as it was of those who bought it, are no longer either natural or desirable. If you are going to employ men to build a wall, and if those men are to be treated simple as tools, it is imbecility to make such a design for your wall as depends upon your having masons who are artists."
Well, and, I'd say three things. Firstly, my call for cathedrals is almost a century too late, and Eric Gill was marking the passing of spirituality from art and technology in 1931. Secondly, an item created must be true to itself, one that is fit for its purpose, appropriate to its manufacture, environment, gestalt, and so forth, all of which is completely right and true. I agree. But these aren't my points. The third:
That what Gill is struggling with is the role of man in a newly industrial world. And I'm thinking...
Every person had become used to operating within the machine, coherant with industry. And this was an unstable situation -- from the Industrial Revolution onward society was comprised in the main of people absolved of responsibility and accustomed to leaving the big picture to those in charge. It was primed for single individuals to take hold of the entire system and corrupt it completely, cf Hitler and the Holocaust.
There was a social lag, an alternative way for people to work in society was in place without the corresponding checks and balances. So nobody said "hang on, you can't do that, stop it", they just assumed somebody else was looking after that.
Incidentally. Twice in the last two days I've looked at the menubar-equivalent searching for the time instead of looking at my phone (not wearing a watch). First, the page header of the newspaper. Second, next to the barcode on the back of a book.
Although I've not yet read anything that defines my London, and even though if you ask me I can't articulate what it is about London I feel is most fundamental (and believe me I've tried), whether it's the pulsing flow of people, or the honeycombness of every room, or the fact horizons - social and geographical - are claustrophobic, like in the early days of the universe before the timecones had merged or more like the planet of the Little Prince, although I don't know this I do know that this property of the city is psychogeographical in nature, and what I want to know is: Where are the songlines of the internet? Where's the poetry? We build so much, but the spirituality is inherited from another age. This soul we have is inappropriate to the age of hypertext.
Look. This isn't a collection of computers. This isn't IP and RDF. I'm talking network layer eight. I'm looking into a mirror and seeing the world. Our limbic systems can hook like velcro in a dimension where distance isn't there. We're being held aloft by the strongest stratum the rhizome of humanity has ever created, and where are our monuments? Who is working our miracles? Give me fairy tales, give me myth. Pride. Wonder. Awe. So give us visions. Let us construct cathedrals.
My dentist hypnotised me today, very strange. It's possible that the large number of personal recommendations he gets is due to post-hypnotic suggestion.
Another Mac OS X app: iStorm is an ultra-simple tool to collaborate over your local network, based on Apple's zero-configuration network protocol, Rendezvous.
The shoutability thread continues with two comments [by email]:
"Isn't posting a message on a blog sort of like a shouted equivalent of email? Many people can "wander into range of the message" without being targetted by the speaker". --Tyrethali Ansrath
"This suggests that mailing lists are shoutable?" --Clay Shirky
It comes down to what my definition of a message being shoutable was: that somebody new could listen in without the system being changes. And yes, I admit, I'd forgotten about mailing lists. Which just goes to show that metaphors don't really work and the concept of "shouting" doesn't map across to email very well.
Still interesting though. A mailing list introduces a new break point, that of instead of transmitting a message to a recipient, it's instead transmitted to a recipient reference. The reference is what allows a list of actual recipients, processings, adding and changing without altering the system. It adds the extra axis that allows the email's original recipient list to be divorced from the distance of the shout. It's yet another referencing or abstraction point in the chain: The email address being a me reference allows addresses to be collected, duplicated and sold. Adding a reference to the email address allows a number of addresses to be bundled up under a single mailing list. All the references appear to be going to one direction here, away from the listener. On the web the references go away from the speaker: web page addresses (URLs) are the equivalent of email addresses. The uber-aggregators, weblogs, are the equivalent of mailing lists.
Which brings me on to Tyrethali's point. A weblog does indeed strike me as a shouting medium, and even more it feels like an evolution of the mailist list. Okay, but first, here's where I'm coming from:
I'm thinking about how media transform. Television was radio with pictures until it understood the new properties of the medium and became true to itself. Maybe: A mailing list was just like an email with lots of people in the To header until it found its true form and became -- well, what? And here's where I'm thinking weblog. A weblog extends the idea that the recipient list is mutable and makes the big change that a listener is by default outside the shouting range. A way of testing this would be to see whether very early weblog entries were much like round-robin emails.
Although that's not really true. The direction (the axis goes from speaker to listener) of references is opposite for email and the www. As an aside: I wonder whether it's possible to look at a medium and systematically derive where other abstraction points could be and what properties they might have?
Ben Hammersley on meme hubs: "If we can use the same theories to think about meme propagation as we can about viral epidemics, in that the propagation follows a scale-free network, I think we can add another level to it: transformational hubs. A node that transforms the medium in which the meme is propagating will immediately become a hub. If I write about a web-meme in a newspaper, it changes the medium, and the newspaper becomes a hub". More of a wormhole I think, because media aren't completely different but just very far apart. Think intercontinental airports and disease spread.
From Real Hacking Rules!, a speech given at Def Con 10, the hacker's conference: "But the game of building and cracking security, managing multiple identities, and obsessing over solving puzzles is played now on a ten-dimensional chess board. Morphing boundaries at every level of organizational structure have created a new game. In essence, hacking is a way of thinking about complex systems. It includes the skills required to cobble together seemingly disparate pieces of a puzzle in order to understand the system; whether modules of code or pieces of a bigger societal puzzle, hackers intuitively grasp and look for the bigger picture that makes sense of the parts. So defined, hacking is a high calling. [...] In addition to computer hackers, forensic accountants (whistleblowers, really), investigative journalists ("conspiracy theorists"), even shamans are hackers because hacking means hacking both the system and the mind that made it. [...] It is abstract thinking at the highest level, practical knowledge of what's likely, or might, or must be true, if this little piece is true, informed by an intuition so tutored over time it looks like magic". Yes.
"Browsing the books on a million subjects I learn paragraph snippets about the metaphor of money through the ages, the domestication of the sunflower, the role of smell in Roman law. The mention of smell highlights the only sense that remains, the musky scent of pages turned by my fingers, and more than ever I have the sensation of meandering through a Palace of Memory". There's a new Upsideclown up today, one of mine: Trees of Knowledge, of words, ideas and the British Museum.
So I was banging on about properties of media the other day and mooted something called shoutability claiming that talking had this property and email didn't. Reader Stefano Artesi rightly called me on this: "Think of sending a message to every address in your contact list. Or, like spambots do, you grab addresses on the net and send to them. What did you mean?"
Okay, I'm kind of new to media studies so this is all by gut feeling, but I'll try and explain what I mean.
"Shoutability" has two facets.
The first is that a single message can be effortlessly sent to more than one person. This isn't the same as duplicating a message and sending again, because the message could change -- it must be the *same* message being broadcast. Email, it seems to me, sends a message once for each person on the distribution list. Whereas shouting itself, or television, the message is transmitted once regardless of how many receivers there are.
Secondly it feels that the broadcast itself has to be independent of the listeners, such that the range is specified in distance or volume. This has two effects, both of which fall under the property of shoutability for me:
This last is what shoutability really comes down to. The ability for an extra listener to receive the same message as other listeners without changing the existing system at all.
Queue theory and the National Health Service; the application thereof as a way of reducing waiting list times. There are two types of ways of moving people through a queue: push, and pull.
"In a push system, transferring patients from one step of the process to the next is the responsibility of the earlier part of the process. They will 'push' the patient to the next stage. For instance, GPs 'push' urgent referrals to cancer units. Cancer units 'push' patients requiring specialist radiotherapy to cancer centres. [...] The trouble is that patient flow stops when it reaches a bottleneck where queues and waiting lists (backlog) build up."
Bottlenecks come in two varieties, process and functional. The two tricks to reducing waiting list are to redesign the process such that both push and pull are present in the system - I'll get to that in a second - and that bottlenecks aren't caused by inspectors. Needing people to inspect forms is a process bottleneck and not in the critical path. So what's pull?
"In a pull system, the bottleneck governs the rate that patients flow through the whole process. In this system it is the responsibility of the later parts of the process to pull patients towards them by asking for the work when they have the capacity to do it. [...] One non-healthcare example of a pull system is the use of chevrons on motorways. The rule is to keep two chevrons between you and the car in front. Therefore all cars go at the rate of the slowest car but if that car speeds up so will the whole system."
So pull is a way of making sure that your queue goes as fast as the bottleneck (ie, that the bottleneck itself isn't causing more bottlenecks, for instance shortage of beds at other previously fine stages of the process), and ensuring that any speed-ups you make to the process immediately cascade and are felt everywhere.
So far so good. This information, by the way, is taken from the NHS Modernising Agency Improvement Guides. They're PDFs. The particular document I've been referring to is Managing Capacity and Demand [HTML version], by Paul Zollinger Read, a leading light in NHS queue theory. (Thanks Andrew for pointing me that way.) In that document you'll also find a dice game to model queue systems, examples and ideas on how to change your systems.
Where it gets interesting is where push/pull is put into practice. Have a look at another Modernising Agency document: Improving the flow of emergency admissions [HTML version].
The traditional process to get people out of hospital is push based. Once they've had their treatment, they're lie in a bed until they're fit enough to go home. At that point they're pushed into a discharge lounge (another area of the hospital) to hang around for a couple of days before they go home. Beds in wards, incidentally, are an enormous bottleneck and always running out.
"Redbridge Hospital (Redbridge Health Care NHS Trust) changed its working philosophy to a 'pull' rather than 'push' system where staff working in the discharge lounge proactivity recruit new patients. Use of the lounge increased by 50% freeing up beds in the wards more quickly."
These are important and serious numbers, affecting throughput of patients (and increasing care) without spending more money -- just changing the process. The story behind this:
There was previously no incentive for nurses to move patients to the discharge lounge. The wards are full, so moving relatively healthy patients who require little work out frees up beds that are immediately going to be filled with still-sick high maintenance, high work patients. So in the traditional process there's an actual incentive for the nurses to tighten the bottleneck and slow the process.
Pull stops this. It's the duty of the discharge lounge nurses to move people away from the functional bottleneck and free up valuable resources. The bottleneck instead becomes the number of nurses available which is a fixable problem by employing more nurses. And that's the magic of queue theory.
Now there are applications here, outside the health industry I'm sure of it. And one day I'll figure out what they are.
Nice statistic in this BBC News article on the Nigeria money-moving scam (you've probably received the spams -- you'll get a cut of the how-ever-many million dollars if you send only a little money over to help pay the bribes to get the cash out of Africa): "NCIS estimates that up to five Americans are sitting in hotel lobbies in London everyday waiting to meet people connected with this con".
I'm trying to make the parse trees of sentences in the game of today that I'm playing that I'm writing when drawn aesthetically pleasing. It's not very readable however.
Japanese companies have implemented the Personal Area Network, using the body's conductivity to make a network between devices (PDA, phone), and person to person. IBM's PAN was six years ago, but it's still a good idea. The devil's in the details, however. Does it restrict itself to a transport layer, allowing any application to pair over it? The Bluetooth handshaking protocol would seem useful here. Does it maintain security from the ground up? And of course, for the really useful applications (like giving a select group of people - medical personel say - privy to only certain pieces of information without your countersignature), this is only one piece of the jigsaw -- we still require a massive government-funded Public Key Infrastructure to back this up (and in the UK's case to support electronic service delivery by central and local government, if they're going to meet the 2005 deadline of all services being available online).
The Semantic Web and RDF explained in haiku. "'The Semantic Web'/ takes up many syllables/ but I struggle on".
Splendid. Stepford Lives just now on Channel 4, described far too briefly in The Observer here. Think: Low key photography, stills changing on the screen only every second or two, images recollecting suburbia and product catalogues. The voiceover narrates the normal days of a handful of people, the extremes understated - a drawbridge outside Ted Baker being accidentally activated by a mobile phone, a woman leaving her family to live in a show home - interspersed with oh-so-believably statistics: "23% of all rice cakes are eaten by people with low self-esteem" (quoted in today's Guardian). Think suburban Blue Jam. Think: the infographic music videos we've seen recently. Think of the vivid, visual nature of radio, hinted by the almost hypnotic suggestics of the images. (Radio, I tell you, is an ascendant media, more coherent with the memebulletry of the writing and the interconnectedness of this age than television, which attempts to ignore the bullet, pretend the viewer is in the programme, and confuse the map with the territory.) Wonderful.
In other news today I bought a pair of trousers, a shirt, a tshirt, a jumper and a new pair of trainers that, when I'd cleaned my ankle at home, fortunately fit on both feet, the right shoe untested earlier because of the blood from my blistered foot from my long walk from the tube strike on my sock [while] in the shop. The cd I meant to buy I didn't. I forgot.
Here are some ways messages can be communicated from person to person: speaking; in a book; by Instant Message; on the www; email; television; geography. How do these differ? Ignoring what sort of encoding these different media types contain (the book contains the written word), consider just the nature of the medium.
So you see I'm trying to understand what the differences in media are, starting by trying to identify different properties. Firstly, I need a need a word. There's a point of no return for a message, beyond which it's in my brain and understood, a helter-skelter from just after my ears and just inside my eyes to my mental processing centres. It isn't understanding, and it isn't hearing, it's the process of internalising.
Secondly I'm wondering whether all these properties can be expressed in terms of abstraction points. Between the message being internal to person A and being internal to person B, at what points can it be deflected, edited, duplicated, referenced, delayed? In speaking this abstraction point is used once, sound allows a certain kind of broadcast, but that's it. With other media types it's more varied.
Tele has two big points. Initially the message is constructed outside the brain before being transmitted, so many people can work on it. Secondly, a piece of equipment called a television set acts as a proxy for you (and your household), an ear into electromagnetic sounds and pictures, to negate distance. This dimension doesn't have the concept of distance which means that the broadcast tower and all television sets effectively exist at the same point, inside a singularity, so the broadcast can't discriminate between different sets. It does however have the concept of direction, so transmission is one-way.
Geography (and the www) is interesting. A reference to a location can be spread and communicated independently of the location itself. There are even map shops! And that place (or website) can change all the time. Dereferencing the map or the url can reveal a constantly changing database driven 'site, or a geocache.
"A miniature replica of a guillotine which he made for his father when he was 15 has pride of place in a glass box. A pair of spectacles which he keeps in the coffin-basket belonged to one of his victims. But on top of the box - bizarrely - is a "Billy the Bass" singing fish". The executioner's tale. And they say exposure to violence doesn't desensitise a person.
14 Principles of Polite Apps. All based on an interesting premise: "To our human minds, computers behave less like rocks and trees than they do like humans, so we unconsciously treat them like people, even when we '... believe it is not reasonable to do so.' In other words, humans have special instincts that tell them how to behave around other sentient beings, and as soon as any object exhibits sufficient cognitive friction, those instincts kick in and we react as though we were interacting with another sentient human being. This reaction is unconscious and unavoidable".