All posts made in Nov. 2003:

On raelity bites: "Sanskrit is a language sans exceptions to the degree that conjugation is not unlike running a compiler." I want to know more.

William Mitchell talked last night at Tate Modern. I've put online my notes on Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. It's always good to hear someone with such a coherent worldview -- you get the impression that you could say anything to him and he'd have a good opinion about it. On the subject of those structuring principles, they reminded me a lot of cybernetics (there was a lot of talk of 'control systems'), but specifically the 1970s cybernetics: biological systems, dynamic processes. It was the vocabulary I think.

Mitchell's basic argument was that there's a constant process of fragmentation (a village watering hole is fragmented by waterpipes and bottles) and recombination (bathing, fragmented, recombines in the domestic space into bathrooms) (very D&G) -- this process is happening again with wireless technology: as technology gets smaller it'll stop influencing architecture and become invisible. At that point cities, buildings, can stop being built around machines and instead be built for basic human needs.

A couple of things that really got me: Cyberspace bleeding into the physical world (complementing the physical world bleeding into cyberspace), the undermining of physical distance (which is why distance has been redefined), and the new ethics that come out of this. The new ethics fascinates me, and I'm disappointed Mitchell didn't talk more about this.

(Coherent worldviews: I got a similar feeling listening to Charles Jencks talk on The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. What most struck me about Jencks was that although he'd spent 15 years creating a garden and encoding all kinds of messages into it, he didn't do it ironically, nor was he really defensive about it: he'd done it, and if you liked it, good, but if not that's fine too. Self confident without being imposing; admirable.)

Anyway, I've got a question.

I'm really interested in the sort of stuff Mitchell was talking about. The architecture and urban design isn't something I have a personal handle on/ ability to do, but: the ethics, the cybernetics, the philosophy, dynamic processes; also [and from elsewhere] anthropology, sociology, group dynamics (small group processes), systems theory, ludology, metaphors, semiotics and linguistics, virtual worlds, cyberculture, cognitive psychology (okay, that's because a friend keeps showing me cool things), and therefore all the rest: ubicomp, transhuman stuff. 1950s to right now. The literary theory, cyborg theory and so on is at the periphery of my understanding but I want to know more. I tend to be interested in underlying principles, I'm a synthesist by nature - physical human/cognitive/social reasons for design - I want to know more about people in cyberspace, how people are influenced by operating online, all of Anne Galloway's course on Social Studies of Information & Technology is right there.

My question: Where can I do a year's masters in this, in London? Research and writing. All hints and pointers welcome. Thanks.

Oh yes, that was what I forgot to say. In the early 01970s the Americans ran an experiment on the Moon on second-order cybernetics and autopoeisis. Could the Moon create itself using positive feedback? Could it create order and reverse entropy? It could. The factories built and left to operate in that closed environment (that's why the last landing was in '972) used goal setting algorithms from Simon and Boyd; they riffed from Wiener to Bateson, threw in some early Dawkins and ended up with an ecology of highly competitive self-optimising machines that created and re-created themselves out of lunar ylem, evolving their efficiency, mental capacity, social order. That took twenty years to exhaust. Two decades for the Moon to morph into a self-consuming, self-creating planet-species. The net mass stayed the same, of course, the orbit didn't alter, of course we didn't notice. Then ten years to achieve primary consciousness. Then a year to achieve recombinant symbolic processing: higher consciousness, human-level. Then a week - a week - for the Moon to remodel itself from the inside; it took just one of the urfactories to hit the accelerator cascade to design a better self, which designed a better self, which designed a better, more capable, smaller, visciously reproductive self - "a wavefront that converts raw inanimate matter into mechanisms for further expansion. It will leave in its ever-growing wake a more subtle world, with less action and more thought" (source) - and at the old surface: it stopped. Battles, civilisations, philosophies fought out inside at the resolution of superstrings; pure thought and philosophical dispute isomorphic with physical transformation, the ultimate expression of the Hebb hypothesis. Finally, after a day, peace, and a single mind emerged. A sentient Moon; a Moon refined and as deep as it is possible for a volume of space to be. It proclaimed its love to Cruithne. It waited an eternity; a second, maybe a little more. Maybe if it had waited more! Maybe if it had put itself into suspension until the Earth had also hit the singularity, until Cruithne too had cascaded to the omega point! Maybe then we could have had a community of yleminds, spatial manifold expressing love for spatial manifold, a meshing of topologies, a beauty unsurpassed and eleven dimensional. But the Moon didn't wait, and of course it received no reply. After a further 100ms - a colossal time, nearly ten times longer than light takes to cross the Moon itself, but the massively reentrant meshwork was churning - it died. A broken heart. This happened last night, a little over 30 years after NASA's experiment began.

On fake weblogs (mentioned yesterday): there's a well-linked discussion on clone blogs at MeFi [thanks Paul M], and Porn sites hiding behind blogs [thanks to a few people, Paul was the first] appears to figure it out. The fake weblogs use the referrer spam to increase the Google rank for the whole domain, which is a porn site. Shame. There's some interesting potential in auto-generated weblogs with small human involvement. I wonder if you could use the Bayesian systems that work on figuring out spam email to look at everything being linked on Blogdex, and train it to post only things you would want to post anyway. You could have a more-or-less "original" weblog by training the network to rank higher less-or-more popular links.

Curious. Sites that spam referrer logs with the addresses of fake weblogs. Said fake weblogs appear to be auto-generated from press release news feeds (topic based) and some have permalinks set to the current date and time. Links are hidden from the browser status bar. There's a blogroll with popular weblogs listed, and a list of referrer urls -- at least some of these don't appear to be genuine: are they paid adverts? The whois information doesn't turn up anything useful, other than they're all registered and hosted with the same company. Maybe it's a controlled experiment to see what topics get enough interest to autogenerate and spam with; maybe it's a way of spamming the blog search tools. Anyone know more?

Fake weblogs:;;;;;

Mind-churning post on The Mechanics of Trust [via As Above] at Terra Nova, about mucking around with zeroth nature in virtual worlds: "But what about manipulating trust on the interaction level instead of the mechanics level? "Transformed Social Interaction" is an emerging concept in VR research that recognizes that we do not have to be constrained by the physical constraints of interaction in a virtual reality precisely because everyone sees their own version of reality. So we could implement non-zero-sum gaze very easily (where avatar A maintains eye contact with avatars B, C and D all at the same time). And we know from the psych literature that eye contact enhances learning, persuasion and attraction. So what if we tweaked eye contact in groups to be non-zero sum for 50% of the times when someone speaks? Could we enhance the overall trust in a world?" Now that hits a whole load of my keywords.

Read Transformed Social Interaction: Decoupling Representation from Behavior and Form in Collaborative Virtual Environment [pdf].

Matt Haughey asks why information is still externalised onto pieces of paper. (But paper receipts are primary keys to a distributed database. Maybe it gives robustness, or a sense of ownership. Instead of getting rid of the paper-ness and centralising, how could we keep the distributed aspect and find new ways of managing these keys?)