Interconnected

All posts made the week commencing Sunday 1 Dec., 2002:

Soma FM is back! Wicked. Cliqhop, my favourite chilled out internet radio channel, is back in the new year. (Soma's been down during the copyright-royalty disputes.)

London feels on the edge, Unseasonal changes: "And a thought crystallised. London has a pre-war feel to it; not in the sense of rattling trams and fog, but in the sense of people fearing the worst, and knowing that the worst won't happen in Stow-on-the Wold or Motherwell but at a station somewhere on the Victoria line".

It's interesting, how the mood of a city changes. It'd be interesting to read more about Mass Observation, something mentioned in the article, a recording of the voice and everyday life of Britain in 1937, founded by Tom Harrison and Charles Madge.

"Trans-1's creator, IS Bely (1972-), said that he hoped the typeface would illuminate the richness of language, the interconnectedness, the nuance of the web. But instead, Trans-1 reveals language's poverty, its inadequate approximations, how a web is made of holes, how the river of words flows always away from us".

About the Typefaces Not Used in This Edition [pdf] is a wonderful piece of short fiction by Jonathan Safron Foer published in The Guardian's Saturday Review.

Power laws have been coming up a lot recently. They're a property of many of the complex systems around us and basically mean there's a kind of self-similarity across scales. For example: For any given size city in the USA, there are four half its size. Or to put it another way, if there's one city with four million people, there are four with two million, and sixteen with one million inhabitants. Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan is about this, but I've also heard power laws come up in community sizes, and popularity of web sites (for any given website there are ten half as popular as it, say).

This is important because it means there's no typical size of a city, no typical popularity of a website, no typical size of a community. And that means trying to automatically cluster a social space is really very hard.

A quick example: You may have some data about how closely different weblogs are related to one another, and be attempting to see what groups or social clusters they fall into. This is easy if you can say "weblogs related a certain amount we'll class as friends" and everything falls out as neat clusters of friends. However!, if the social clusters obey a power law, these clusters are never going to fall out. In fact whatever scale you look at, there will be a mix of some tight clusters and some small ones you're not sure about. You're never going to be able to say "this is a social cluster, and this is a social cluster too" because there's no typical group archetype you can compare against.

Well, in that case you'd find some other way of doing what you wanted to do if you were fairly sure the social clusters were obeying a power law. Something the book Ubiquity doesn't address is when such power laws occur, but I've done a little experiment and from a first cut it looks like power laws are characteristic of randomly distributed values that come from a scarce resource (raw results). That is, if you have a system where values are unrelated (say, how tall people are), you won't get a power law distribution. But if the values are related (say, if a person chooses to live in San Francisco they can't live in New York), then you're going to get a power law.

Weblog community sizes draw from a scarce resource -- time a person devotes to one social circle is time that can't be spent on another social circle. So I'd expect social clusters in weblog space to obey a power law.

That means there's no typical size or typical type of weblog community. They're all different.

What next? This is just a handy rule of thumb that you'd be better off going elsewhere and finding some alternative to traditional ways of clustering and finding typical communities or typical cities. As to what the alternative is, I have no idea. I'm thinking about it.

I wish I'd know this when I spent two months of my physics dissertation attempting to find typical clusters across quasar spectra. I would've given up and tried something else.

Media definition: "Unlike a channel which is limited to a contiguous physical medium between the sender and a receiver of communications, media include the institutions which determine the nature, programming and form of distribution".

If you wear pulsar-map dog tags, extraterrestrials will always know where to take you home.

(Incidentally, the style of the Interconnected mailouts changes slightly from tonight to fix a few bugs. The urls are now not inline and should work in more mail clients, and they're all fully qualified. The formatting is also tidier.)

Sometimes spam is supremely worth it. Create a government according to your personal values: "Anybody may take the chance to create a government in the state of Bihar (East India) as easily as one can register a company".

The mail points to more details on coexistentialism. It appears that government is divided into two levels -- a meta government to look after the nasty things (defence, police, all the freedom-from issues maybe?) and to regulate the little governments; and any number of competitive non-territory dependent governments that citizens can choose between (socially life-enchancing, freedom-to issues). Odd. And wicked. Designing governments totally trumps social software.

Why is it that, no matter what sort of night club it is, there's always a bloke in a vest and a stupid grin clutching a beer bottle, dancing like a maniac at the bar, completely on his own?

In Metaphors We Compute By, John Lawler lists a few [aforementioned metaphors] (falling into the three categories of Deus Ex Machina; Mathematical Machines; The Pathetic Fallacy):

  • The computer is a servant
  • The computer is a race
  • The computer is a tool
  • The computer is a machine
  • The computer is a workplace
  • The computer is a filing cabinet
  • The computer is a toy

I think Reeves and Nass in The Media Equation (of which more at another time) would say that the computer is a medium containing one or more social actors, which users unconsciously perceive and interact with as being other people.

There's a passage in Babylon by Victor Pelevin (at Amazon.co.uk) on page 116: "As far as I am aware, the most profound revelation ever to visit a human being under the influence of drugs was occasioned by a critical dose of ether. The recipient summoned up the strength to write it down, even though it cost a supreme effort. What he wrote was: 'The universe is permeated by a smell of oil'".

I'm sure this is a reference and I've read it before. Eco maybe? It's bugging me.