All posts made in Jun. 2003:

(New loop starts today.)

(Upsideclown is three years old today.)

One of the odd things about [finding new things online/ cyberspace] is it's hard to make value judgements. I encounter new technologies and think 'hey, that's cool!' because I'm used to, in the real world, all nonlocal things arriving through social baleen before I see them. So somebody shows me a new bar, or book, or political idea and I rank that higher than the bar I just encountered, the book I just saw on the shelf. But there's no passive stumbling online. Or rather, there is, but the mechanisms of presentation by a peer group and consuming through stumbling are identical: the www, email. So I find something online and I think 'hey, that's cool!' because I'm used to not discriminating when something gets presented to me like that. I have to learn that I might be one of the first people to see a thing, and I have to make my own mind up.

By taking advantage of low discrimination habits: I guess that's how advertising works.

By training people to lower their discrimination habits: I guess that's how trusted publishers operate.

I was also going to say that there's less concept of 'local' online, in that search engines let you see all syndication formats and not just one. It's not like the real world where you can't see bars in Paris just by hanging around in bars in London. But then I realised it's my definition of 'local' that's wrong. Semantics can provide distance, different mindsets. It's why it's so difficult to find prior art for social software, because the keywords are all different, a gulf between metaphor sets (that is hopefully now being bridged).


On another note, I just stepped out of the shower and before drying myself looked down and noticed that the sun that was streaming in almost horizontally through the window had caught on the beads of water caught through my pubic hair and they were glinting and shimmering a hundred bright points of light, stars all the colours of the rainbow.

Instead of saying that shouts get less audible with distance, let's define distance as the measure over which shouts get less audible. It's not just physical distances. The Copenhagen Interpretation is the vast distance between the quantum universe and the mechanical universe.

Distance is the half-life of causality. Quantum fluctuations evaporate and disperse in the isness; shouts get diluted in the atmosphere.

Causes have effects which transform and tranform continually, but never disappear. Gregory Bateson says that transformations are conserved. They can just be diluted, or thrown away into the environment. But what if you're on a satellite? This is Geoff Cohen's Lie of Modularity. Your computer code can't pretend the file on disk is nicely abstracted if when the hard drive spins up you get heat, a gyroscopic effect about the axis of rotation which is going to wobble the satellite. The system is the same size as the environment here. There's no room to discard side-effects - the transforms we don't want - away. Ditto code re-use. One person's environment to throw away side-effects is another person's system.

The universe has a good and fair, established solution to the re-use problem: distance. Side-effects are distributed equally. There are a huge number of orders of magnitude between quarks and people -- all of that is distance to mitigate against transformations the universe has so fairly distributed.

Distance is handy. We take it for granted. But now we're building cyberspace, the latest artifact from the virtual world, where feedback loops must be explicitly stated, we have to know what distance actually is and humanity's conception of it.

Meaning is local. It doesn't matter whether you're a kilometer from someone shouting or across the galaxy. In social network depictions it doesn't matter whether you're a friend four hops removed or five. The clustering of files in the 3d representations of the Linux sourcecode: there's meaning when files are very close together, they share a lot of definitions, but if two clusters are apart, it doesn't really matter how far.

Meaning isn't proportional to distance, it's a bell curve. Ray Ozzie said: "When I'm at 'McDonalds', am I in a multi-instance location?"

You are. Place isn't anchored to physical coordinates, any more than distance is. Place is a human concept, it's the size of that meaning curve, the full width at half maximum. Place is the FWHM of the meaning curve.

This is the state of humanity midway through the Holocene, this is how we relate to the isness. When we build new worlds, we shouldn't forget this currency.

There was barter. Then money came along to create barter at a distance. Abstracting bartering. But capitalism gamed money and used it for its own sake: hording, dumping goods; traderoutes, monopolies. Creates money rich and money poor. Could this happen with social exchange? Look at transactional analysis and strokes. If you abstract the stroke barter - ratemypicture et al/ instant messaging - then you create some kind of floating stroke that can move about. Take advantage of it? Amass it, game the system?

Look at something when you're walking, double blink at it/ Your higher brain shuts down until you're there (although you'll "wake" if something needing your attention happens in the meantime)/ Why?/ Maybe people discover that your lifespan is measured by how much of your higher brain you use/ synaptic telomeres/ and they want to preserve it. So: Cultural phase change. It's rude to interrupt people/ Everyone leaves messages/ Talking becomes more like email, IM, completely asynchronous. But this is how to start floating above the time-, space-bound social substrate, how to start abstracting the social exchange, which creates the money-like strokes/ And gives you celebrity.

Imagine a telic version of Chinese Whispers, not in a circle but down a line and back again. Originator asks a question which gets mutated. How does the answer get mutated on the way back?

Instead of a factual question, how about a collaborative one. "Everyone flip a coin. How many people got heads?"

What is the literate analogue of Chinese Whispers? Where is the written word lossy compression and decompression?

We should be able to sink storage piles in the ground. When you move house, you should go down into the basement and stick a giant spike into the earth, hook it up to your network, and the planet acts as a giant hard drive. With a finger, press the soil next to the spike and touch it to your mouth, and it would feel like damp and acidy, like licking a battery. And why do hard drives spin? It's cosmetic, surely, no other reason but that and that alone. Imagine, then, kilometer long stacks driven into the crust, spinning to store petabytes and petabytes, stabilisers for civilisation. There's a chemistry word for this, um: a buffer. They'd be gigantic buffers of knowledge, gyroscopes tying humanity to geology, guarding against collapse, steadying us but actively maintained (human ants scurrying to look after these things that bridge physical scales); part of the planet itself, and on that scale really like only a gentle fine mesh, hanging on by the finger tips, but each tip, to stand up, spinning.

From D&G's A Thousand Plateaus [thanks Theo] so far, I've been most taken with the concepts of territorialization and deterritorialization. I've talked before about push and pull - from queue theory - as alternative ways of exploring a landscape. With pull, the landscape tugs at each step -- progress is blind, as with evolution. Push is goal-directed. D&G take a different cut across this and focus on two opposed dynamics. That is, a blend of push+pull has two different local outcomes (by local, I mean not just the portion that is exploring, but its whole area). These are territorialization (which maps fairly neatly to adaptation, in the simplest case) and deterritorialization, which I find way more interesting.

Exaptation, "from, so to speak, one aptness to another", is: the feathers of birds previously used for retaining heat being turned to flight. Or, (the example in ATP), humanity's move to the steppe allowing the larynx - that once had to be large to make noises to be heard in the forest - to be used for more subtle purposes, like speech. This is deterritorialization (and reterritorialization). It's an object becoming part of the landscape, something being taken for granted, the following iteration of a pull step where feathers also become secondary sexual characteristics, items in myth, duvet filling, figures of speech, quills. Or it's when (in Kuhn) a rogue scientific structure gets internalised and becomes the paradigm.

(Of course, I may have this all wrong. But who cares. ATP is fun(ny). It's laugh-out-loud witty in places. And it's really nice to have things sketched in my head so I don't realise they're appearing until they're there. Even if they are the wrong shape.)

Unsolicited idea. Since BlogRolling already gives you more-or-less a buddy list, there should be a way to set Available and Away messages (or even Currently Listening To). Architecture: Tiny file on your server that can be updated by a standalone app or integrated into a weblogging tool (link the file to the weblog by autodiscovery, like RSS). The file should contain messages for each type, plus an extensible mechanism for filtering/fallthrough (eg, a certain message to appear on the blogrolls belonging to people also listed on your blogroll, and a default message otherwise). The small issue of extra traffic is mitigated (to a degree) by the centralised nature of the BlogRolling (or similar) service.

Some Mac OS X apps.

  • MacMerc's column on More Menu Extras points to tvMenu which shows your local tele in a menu, and can alert you when a selected show is going to start. Nice! Shame it's US only ("A worldwide version is currently being developed" -- XMLTV might be worth a look for that. I use it for my own tiny tele listing app).
  • Acquisition [thanks Tom C] is a Gnutella client with a lovely interface. It works really well with iTunes: when a track's finished downloading, it adds it to your music library, and pops it in the Acquisition playlist so you can find it. Oh, and it's dead easy to use, with subtle hints to show you what's going on, and where.
  • It's difficult to decide on the coolest thing about Ask the DJ [via mrbarrett]. Not only does it automatically figure out BPMs to your tracks, not only does it then magically mix them together, all the while talking nicely with iTunes... But it looks like a CD. Plus the cartoon lady dances when the music's on.

This is why iTunes comes with the OS, isn't it? So that apps it would be nice to work with a music app/library actually do work with a music app/library, because the API is known.

An Introduction to Reverse Polish Notation [kind of via sippey]. The first calculator I ever used was RPN (my dad had an HP one), which was much more in line with how maths was taught at school. The first time I used a conventional calculator (a Casio which was a present to my mum), the button order was very confusing. Some see alsos...

  • Harold Thimbleby's calculator resources [thanks Owen Massey] is a collection of his papers and lectures on calculator history and design. He argues that the interface is needlessly complex, and a modeless interface is a good alternative. There's an implementation of this, as a Mac OS X application.
  • Neville Holmes' Truth and Clarity in Arithmetic (in IEEE Computer, February 2003, but unfortunately available for purchase only if you're not a subscriber) argues for calculators more suited for counting operations, not floating point ones. This is more in line with basic numeracy, he says, and then proposes a different set of keys -- hard to explain here, I wish the pdf was online so I could point to it. (But Holmes has footnotes to his column online.)
  • Gizmodo's top gadgets of 1983 [thanks Tom C].

Enough! Enough!

Reading Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. Notes so far: Journey to the centre; Paradigm breaking days. Also, Real, virtual and making divisions. There are other notes I kind of refer to, too, but they're not together enough to be online. I'm twelve pages in, and have whiplash.

Every so often - and I wish I could bottle those moments because the thought never stays with me for long enough and it's impossible to recollect or summon afterwards so there's no way I can explain it here, even with analogies, so I'm just going to say what the thought is and leave it at that - Every so often it strikes me how splendidly humongous we are, as humans. Those tiny electrons, that crazy quantum shit, those might-as-well-be infinite-resolution fields, all stacking up and stacking up and stacking up: there's some thousand billion [or whatever. Damn, I used to be able to calculate this figure] electrons held apart by fermionic pressure at the end of your finger when you touch something? That much stuff just to make things feel solid? All that complexity, all those levels, and we need this much to be alive. It's not until we get this big that we're conscious. Wow. We're titans!

Oh yes, and the other thing that makes more sense before it's written down:

Imagine the perfectly adapted being as a string of code, a description or whatever you like, and by 'perfectly adapted' I mean to the universe, reality. And we (and by 'we' I mean: stuff; life; the isness of the thisness; the haecce of the haecceity), we're searching the maze of all potential worlds to discover this string, part of the search just by being here. Like a regular expression search: start at the beginning, quarks, fields, bunch o' laws; chuck on a few abstraction layers. Get atoms, molecules, blah blah, boundaries, evolution, reproducers, cells, RNA, DNA, skeletons, dinosaurs. Whoops! Didn't get a match with the perfect being string there, and those mammal things are doing well... backtrack: "So if the beginning of a pattern containing a quantifier succeeds in a way that causes later parts in the pattern to fail, the matching engine backs up and recalculates the beginning part--that's why it's called backtracking" -- do away with the dinosaurs, get a bit simpler, try something else. Hey, but who's to say it won't happen again. A million years hence, galactic ++human society, and nature goes -Uh, this isn't working, and backtracks all the way to bosons and fermions. Build in the selfish reproducer secret properties at that level! Hey, why not? Life would be a lot smaller. It's only maths. It could happen, it could happen.

God damn and I keep remembering things. What's the word for cake mix? We've got the whole cooked-bread continuity: bread, scone, pancake, cake, biscuit, cookie and so on. And on the uncooked side there's dough and batter, (at the least!) both good words. But cake mix is an ugly, lazy word. Just stringing nouns together. Like saying 'bar person' when 'bar keep' and 'bar tend' are both perfectly good, existing words. No sense of history. Cake mix. The mix that makes cake. Rubbish. It must have a real word. Doesn't it?

Downhill (six degrees of weblogs) [via Camworld] looks tailor-made for the Technorati API. And on that sort of thing, The Amazing Baconizer is the coolest pathfinder I've seen for a while.