Interconnected

All posts made the week commencing Sunday 10 Aug., 2003:

Hypertext 03 is later this month in Nottingham (see the programme). Ted Nelson's keynote looks interesting: "Science is supposedly about reality, not about tradition, conventions or constructs. Yet computer science seems to me wrongly centered around two traditional, conventional constructs: the simulation of hierarchy and the simulation of paper. [...] Hierarchy is wrong and insufficiently general". I'll be there.

Now Samorost is an utterly beautiful interactive thing. Ambient game? Go play. Lovely. Very Park.

Vocal cords... watch and listen to a movie of them working. Shit, and we're impressed when a baby sits up. What about this? Every time you make a noise! That little pink hinge, holding that thing out just so, to modulate that sound, then your tongue moving in your mouth, and your mouth itself changing shape. Wow. Constantly! Then sounds join to get words (whatever words are), and suddenly we're in the area of recombinant grammars. Oh, and air vibrations, and ears, and pattern recognition and meaning and implicature, music!, rhetoric!, and this all being refolded into genes+context. (From outside there's the babble of people talking in a restaurant, food and wine and vocal cords vibrating the tiniest, most constrained and precise sign language there ever was, the block of air in my street a shimmering, shivering foam of talking.)

Via Simon Roberts in email:

"The meaning of a word is not a matter of fact (which is why an argument about it can't be settled by recourse to the dictionary), and it is not a matter of opinion (which is why an argument about it mustn't be unsettled by a refusal to have recourse to the dictionary). The meaning of a word is a human agreement, created within society but incapable of having meaning except to and through individuals. We may find evidence for such agreements, but we can't find proof of them. A language is a body of agreements. Some lapse; others change; new ways form".

(From The State of Language (Ricks).)

"The meaning of a word isn't something that you get from a dictionary, but from how the word is used and the context in which it's put. Everything in our lives is defined in this way. A sound is meaningful because it is different from every other sound. Language becomes a play of differences...

"Context is everything, but context is limitless. At a certain point we agree that we don't need any more context, that I get what you're saying. But there's nothing finally to prevent someone else from saying, Hey, there's a whole larger situation out there that completely changes everything, he's really joking, there are all these other motivations, he's really lying. There's always the possibility that new contextual things can come in.

"In this world today, we are always learning more information about situations. This kind of anxiety is the postmodern condition."

(From an interview with Samuel Delany, on his use of the golden, and why its lack of completeness makes people uneasy.)

On the subject of radio (see yesterday's post), Clay Shirky mailed in with a good way of putting it: "radio allows you to do other things while listening to it, so that a third thing, a thing that comes from the combination of what's on the radio and what's happening in your mind, can occur". And there it is.

If you only read one mind-blowing, prescient essay today on the architecture of the internet, read Karma Vertigo: or Considering The Excessive Responsibilities Placed On Us By The Dawn Of The Information Infrastructure (1994) by Jaron Lanier [via Heckler & Coch]. On democracy, the formative nature of the network design and how abstraction layers are calcified in, and - wonderfully - a vision of the net that encourages a version of the free market that helps everyone, rather than merely interating the old one (this new market emerging from Ted Nelson's ideas). Wow:

"Architecture, alas, is so much more than politics, that it is almost impossible to capture its importance. Architecture will also be a foundation for the language, society, and culture of the future. At first, the design of the network will seem less important than the content that is moved over it. This will be true only for the first generation or two of users. After that it will become apparent that the network's design is like genetic material out of which our culture unfolds, an intimate and pervasive presence, a thing, like the structure of our spoken language, whose influence is too great to be isolated or measured".

Read more of Jaron Lanier's writings.

1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: "A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. Compiled originally by Captain Grose". Utterly filthy. Puts Roger's Profanisaurus to shame.

Gaviotas [via Abstract Dynamics]... a 200 person managed tropical society. "'When we import solutions from the US or Europe,' said Lugari, founder of Gaviotas, 'we also import their problems'" -- so they develop their own (unpatented) technology, from purifying water to generating electricity with windmills. Papanek would be proud.

The future may lie in radio not in television. Two things. Firstly, radio is more in keeping with the sort of media people are consuming today. Contrast tele and film which make a claim to seamlessly replace reality, with books (for example) which can be immersive without having to do so: a book which is twice as long or the typography of which has twice the resolution isn't twice as good. People are increasingly interacting with that latter class: email, IM, www, phone... radio (music, food, gardening, architecture). Add to that the fact that radio sits easily with simultaneous browsing, email, chatting. Secondly, it is indeed key that the technology under radio is changing. Or rather, that radio is deterritorializing from its physical device roots, becoming divorced from the player, and in fact becoming divorced from listening synchronous with broadcast time also (timeshifted listening). You can see this same pattern in music: music is moving away from the storage media, and recommendations away from your immediate social network (uh, your friends) -- you can now discover artists by recommendations from strangers! Radio is becoming audio on demand, coherent with the new media and how we're living our lives. (One of the difficulties with this point of view is that's it's very easy to make bad radio - television without the pictures - as opposed to radio which sets a pace for you (faster or slower), carries you somewhere else, makes you think and imagine things you didn't think you could. Open County is one of my favourites.)

Eigenradio [via muxway] analyses radio stations, pulls out the most statistically significant frequencies, and plays them back at you. Wicked. "The best of the New Music, distilled and de-correlated". (Listen to it for a bit, and every so often you get a burst of recognisable drum loop, or at a longer frequency and hear something more classical. Occassional patterns, solidity, strata, in the noise. So many things like this.)

Exploring Cornell's Digital Library of Kinematics [via wood s lot] (the image library is as beautiful as any cathedral, watching the machines move they're as graceful as any animal) you get a sense of how the engineers must have felt they'd found the secret of how we move/how the universe works. Graceful movements, minimum friction and effort, the correctness of the form: just by choosing appropriate fixed points and shape. What I like most about mechanisms like this is their casual ease at object orientation. The interfaces are the handle and the rod, the internal complexity is hidden. But if you want to extract extra movement (transformed transforms) from the innards of the machinery, you can do that too. Object orientation now (and by that I also mean anything to with the conduit metaphor: the industrial mindset and Fordism, nouns/verbs, cause/effect, declarations of meaning) is cack-handed. APIs are grafted onto the form. The handle, on the other hand, is part of the machine, not an abstraction of it. How on earth did we lose this?