All posts made the week commencing Sunday 23 Feb., 2003:

I still don't know what it means to be in London.

The present encodes the past. London as a city of reused parts, of pieces accidentally left. But that bits of it are old isn't what defines it.

The cross marks in curbstones, indicators of which stonemason cut it, or of a parallel city. A turf war we can't understand, conducted between invisible forces with the power to engrave rock with their fingers.

London worn smooth, channels carved by flows of people.

Except it's not worn smooth. Not all over. I'd say London is constantly renewed, or in flux, or changing. But it's not. Not really.

It's not a city of contrasts. Ancient tradition doesn't sit next to futurist corporation. Skyscraper is shaped into something this fits, and ancient is internalised by the Now.

And it's wrong to talk of Londoners as a shoal or as ants. In each face, again, the present encodes the past. I see people I recognise around Hammersmith. Not because we share a routine, just they're around. People move in small circles.

But sometimes they don't.

People aren't especially different. They aren't especially the same. London isn't ancient, or modern, or even a contrast of the two. It isn't bustling, isn't urban and unforgiving. It's not tangled. The tiny hidden Londons aren't nestled or hiding. They're just between things, waiting for people to look closer.

London's not a village. But it's not overwhelming with the mass of humanity. It's not a beehive, and it doesn't feel like it's an infinite expanse of little boxes full of people. It doesn't sprawl. London sits easy with itself.

When I cross the city, I'm not swimming through concrete and I'm not wading through an urban landscape. I'm not lost. But I am travelling, London does change from place to place.

This is all I can say about London:

There's no one thing that defines London. London is an ecology; forests, tundra, rolling hills with still lakes, rocky coasts with crashing waves. Jungles, deserts.

There is no average London. I can't say that every piece is joined to every other -- every piece is joined to some. It's irreducible. Self-sustaining. Eternal. A maximally complex meshwork, and that complexity includes both noisy and barren areas, meshed together across both space and time.

London has achieved the climax state.

And we walk this city. There's no way to make generalisations, except sometimes. There's no way to know how complex or simple a place will be, except sometimes. There's no way to extrapolate, except sometimes. You get to know London, and it gets to know you. Sort of.

London right Now is just London. The most perfect, most complex, the social Hebb-reflection of humanity's reality. The is-london. The archetype that other cities - including past and future Londons - are just slices of.

I'm off to Balham for the afternoon.

I asked a while back 'What Is Ergodic Literature'. Rogue Semiotics has the answer, and gives examples: "'Ergodic' is being used here to mean literature where 'nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text'. In other words, literature where the reader is either encouraged or forced to actively participate in the progress of the text. In The Unfortunates, famously, the 'novel' is a sheaf of 32 sections in a box. The reader is instructed to shuffle them into any order desired before reading".

Heavily linked and informative interview with Benjamin Fry, maker of beautiful genetic code visualisations (among other things) [via HyDeSign].

Swarm Intelligence: An Interview with Eric Bonabeau. On his learning how ants use pheromones: "Listening to this story was an epiphany, not only because I finally understood how ants were able to so efficiently raid my sandwich during these distressing picnics of my childhood, but also because I saw a powerful computing metaphor. Indeed, by discovering the shortest path to a food source, the ants collectively solve an optimization problem using emergent computation" [via cityofsound]. Nothing revolutionary, but good origin story. See also: How swarm intelligence helped Air Liquide.

Two words:

  • Valorization: "Act or process of attempting to give an arbitrary market value or price to a commodity by governmental interference, as by maintaining a purchasing fund, making loans to producers to enable them to hold their products, etc".
  • Retronym: "A word or phrase created because an existing term that was once used alone needs to be distinguished from a term referring to a new development, as acoustic guitar in contrast to electric guitar or analog watch in contrast to digital watch" [thanks Andrew].

Words as memebullets. Somebody who understands an idea well enough to collapse it into a word which will open up in a similar way in your own head. That's okay for the above words. But some words aren't tightly clustered concepts. They're smeared out over your entire worldview. That is, as Andrew said [in conversation] last night, it isn't enough just to hear and understand the words "paradigm shift". You have the idea first, you notice a commonality, you identify something, and then when you hear the word it fits into a pre-existing gap. Then you really understand it.

This would close the scripting loop on Mac OS X and give the kind of apps people are trying to build right now a decent foundation. Traditional applications can accept commands; they should allow apps to hook into their events too. Paul Mison: Mac OS X needs an AppleEvents pubsubhub.

The Washington Post on [tech] Innovations that Reinvent the Wheel points to ActiveWords, a Windows user interface addition. You can type words from anywhere (so no menus) and these words are commands to "launch programs, jump to websites, send email, substitute text, and more".

Sounds like a cross between LaunchBar for Mac OS X and Jef Raskin's 'Command' key from The Humane Interface: "to invoke a command you press and hold a Command key, and while holding it type the command. The command appears in transparent text as you type". Commands are universal, and primarily used for basic interface tasks (copying, swapping characters). In Raskin's The Humane Interface, I believe commands were intended to be sold in sets by vendors, and activated not only be typing but selecting too (and hitting Command).

Interestingly, Raskin's ideas are based on the idea that keystrokes are quicker than the mouse. Bruce Tognazzini contends that the mouse is faster overall because while deciding which command to type is a high-level cognitive task, using the mouse is a low-level, boring, task, during which the user can think about other things. A tiny productivity gain, each time.

The complete Usenet traffic in 1992 comprised 343,945,617 words (that's about 940,000 words daily). Sort by use to get the top 1000 words on Usenet. Frequency for each word is also given. (And, yes, it's roughly a power-law distribution. About 2.2, except for the high ranks where it breaks down.)


I'm looking for comparisons, different media types. Books, the www, spoken.