Interconnected

All posts made the week commencing Sunday 13 Oct., 2002:

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.

If you use Apple's iCal (or some compatible application) and for some bizarre reason you'd like to read this weblog using it, then subscribe to the Interconnected calendar.

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?)

I've now published the source for both Googlematic and Random Kant. Links can be found on those pages.

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.

And that's why Eichmann's excuse "We were only following orders" is and must be so ridiculed. It's the counter myth of industry that stops Metropolis ever occurring for real.