All posts made in May. 2004:

00:43, Sunday 30 May., 2004

I want to read the Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, but there are 1,565 pages and I have too much else to read. At a page a day it would take a little over four years, but be manageable.

So I knocked this up: Day-by-day Da Vinci. There's an RSS feed to subscribe to which carries a new page every day (and some recent ones too). You can read along with me or start from page 1 whenever you like. It's only the text, but Good Enough I think. I'm hoping to find some hidden gems.

(The British Library have digitised the Notebooks and put them online, if you'd like a better look.)


A weblog by Matt Webb, CEO of BERG, makers of BERG Cloud and Little Printer.

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17:33, Saturday 29 May.

A few weeks ago I had a really tasty yellow split-pea and ginger soup from a deli. Pretty smooth, didn't taste like there were many other vegetables in there. Anybody have a good recipe?

16:51, Monday 17 May.

Ran across this today:

The Bartholdi Statue of Liberty.--The corner-stone of the Bartholdie Statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World," given by France to the United States, was laid at Bedloe's Island, in New York Harbour, on August 4th. The pedestal proper will be 114 feet high, and will stand on a high terrace of the island. The height of the statue from its base up to the top of the torch is 151 feet. In the course of his oration Mr. William Allan Butler said: "It is proposed, as I understand, that the torth shall receive its illuminating power from an electric light. This wonderful gift of science to mankind is the crowning result of the electric researches and experiments which Franklin initiated by the bold and simple and successful methods which placed him in the front rank of experimental philosophers, and secured for him the congratulations of the French King. Franklin believed in the sincerity of the French people, he attested the vast and inestimable worth of their aid, and declared over his own honet hand that they 'expected no return but that of gratitude and friendship, and these,' he adds, 'I hope may be everlasting.' These words, which he wrote to Robert R. Livingstones more than a century ago, are the groundwork of the thoughts I have briefly and imperfectly expressed to-day. The hand that wrote them is in the dust, but the sentiments they embody and the wish they breathe are imperishable and will be perpetuated in the enduring monument for which this solid resting-place is preparing. And when, from the beacon which crowns it, shall shine forth the electric light, the consumate fruit of labours in which Franklin was the pioneer, wrought out to perfection by patient toilers who followed in the path in which he led, it will be indeed a fit emblem of the torch of Freedom, kindled by a celestial spark, guarded and kept alive by historic service, and at last lifted up to the safe and serene height--a light to lighten the world."

The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review (London), August 30 1884, Notes.

20:44, Saturday 15 May.

I pour the tiny green spheres into the phone socket, gently from my hand, funneling them with a folded leaflet. It's for takeaway pizza, stuffed through our letterbox. Of course I can't see that small, but I know the simulations. They touch the copper and fold into the metal matrix, singing bits and bytes as they dissolve. There's the scent of yeast in the air.

My self-assembly furniture arrived yesterday, a dense rich Oxo cube, wrapped in plastic. I like to touch it on my tongue, it feels tingly like a 9v battery, but softer and rough like dog's paws. Before I went to bed I crumbled it into a pot of yoghurt, the universal food+substrate for nanobots.

In the morning I had a new dining table, thinly crusted with dead robots, who, having bred, spun and weaved the table, have taped out. They're like the crumbs of burnt toast, a faint smell of something being too hot. Of wires touching and fusing.

Surfers for porn are the renewable resource of the internet. Horny, they classify images for resale, perform massively distributed OCR in the name of Captcha, each proving he isn't automated but also, accidentally, imbuing a bot spammer with the fractional humanity they need to start an email account, or maybe contributing, unknowingly, to Project Gutenburg. I have my own site of free pix. Bandwidth is cheap. To enter, the surfer gives me a few cycles of CPU. I use it to prime huge numbers. I sell the factors to security agencies, to help them break encryption. It pays for the bandwidth, it pays for my electricity too. Horny surfers drive massive windfarms. They are the power for our engines, a Pacific current.

When I cry it's because I can see the birds playing in the sky. It must tickle your chest, to slide down along a thermal gradient, balancing your wings on the isobars.

If we were inside a computer, we would take the matter that surrounded us and disassemble it into ones and zeros, and then we'd remake it into a TCP/IP stack. It would be spaceflight. Ping would be reflectivity, and we'd send probes and measure how many cycles passed before they came back. And sometimes they wouldn't. What grand experiments would we run to find the topology of our universe? How would we discover that traffic was routed?

A threadfish crawls out my eye, from the tearduct, drinking the salty water of my tear. As the tear falls down my face the thread's body starts to dry, pulled downwards and now exposed to the air. Its tail rips my skin a little as it's whipped out. It starts to die. In the mirror I see the necks of a dozen of its siblings, hiding their faces in the bead of blood which has swelled there. Drinking. I suck the tear in my mouth, quickly, before the thread shrivels completely.

Poor thing.

I vomit turps. It stings like crazy, but all I can think of is the walls I've splashed and the paint running onto the carpet. I try to hold it in, but it burns and a gash opens up inside my oesophagus. It touches the embedded fireworks and my chest erupts, my ribs fold outwards automatically, reverse and the wheels sprout, catching me as I fall onto my back, and already I'm accelerating through a series of bursts of emotions and lessons, each internal burst of thrust being registered by my kinesthetic senses and associated with facts from school, all drilled it at different rates of change of speed.

My memory crashes. There's the taste of lemon juice when I push the back of my tongue onto the back of my throat, a hole there dripping citric acid, a homonculus inside who will live forever.

The rib-truck accelerates faster. We need to find yoghurt, to rebuild. And all I can hear is whalesong.

Not long now.

09:09, Tuesday 4 May.

New teeth 'could soon be grown': research for tests on humans within two years after successful research on mice. Stem cells, the so-called master cells, would be programmed to develop into teeth and then transplanted into the patient's jaw where the gap is. It is thought it would then take two months for the tooth to fully develop. But it could be five years before the technology is widely available to the general public.

Five years. Let's say ten. A decade! That's nothing! Okay, it's 1994, the www is just taking off: by 2004 we'll be using the www for paying bills, replacing encyclopaedias, socialising. It's turning into a new and indispensible medium (or at least a step on the way to another one).

Right, it's 2004. In ten years we'll have cheap and disposable teeth grown in bulk in vats. What then? They'd be good as studs for soccer boots I imagine. Better for the grass than metal when they snap. Maybe for solid brushes for cleaning trains. Teeth are biodegradable, plus they warm nicely, and aren't too hard or soft. Could pavement slabs be tooth substrates, continuously growing? How about molars for keyboard keys? With engraved holograms in the enamel to say which letter each is. Actually, if they can implant jewelry onto the eyeball membrane, why can't they hologram my teeth today? What else? Combs. Necklaces. In sheets, to line the inside of food mixers to act as an abrasive surface for peeling potatoes. Hollowed out, to replace the little plastic sheaths on ethernet plugs.

21:07, Monday 3 May.

Step 19. Arboreal mammals

In the last few steps, the idea of a niche has developed as an ecologically-based component of selection. A niche is a place to live and a way to surface with respect to food, water, protection, and any other needs of organisms. A rule of evolutionary biology is that, given a niche, members of a taxon will evolve to compete for that niche. So that, given a forest, which emerges from the evolution of trees and plants, arboreal animals including mammals will evolve to occupy that niche. They could be climbing or flying mammals, finding food in the niche as fruit eaters, leaf eaters, insectivores, or predators of other arboreal animals. Living in the trees places certain requirements on a species, such as location of the eyes for stereoscopic vision, grasping hands, feet, and tail, and use of the tail for balance. And so, from the emergence of forests and the presence of stem mammals, the arboreal mammals emerged: they are insectivores, bats, and prosimians. The selection principle was survival in the forest ecosystem.

p34, The Emergence of Everything, Harold Morowitz

We are arboreal animals. Just as we used to live in the ocean, we began to live in the tree. To move into the tree, we can't see it as a bush of branches, a tangle, we have to be able to meet it on its own terms. To treat the tree as a first class object, we must have visible its self-similarity. The buds that appear on sun-facing tips over time must be as real and contiguous as the face of a cube. We have to move with it and let it move us as simply as a lever. We have to become enmeshed. We fit into its hollows, an embrace: the tree has shaped us.

This is a metaphor to live by at a level below Lakoff's. Just as we see a face in colondee, and obscured objects are still the same object, our mind filling-in, we preferentially filter for tree-behaviour. Our minds are formed that way.

We see roots, branches, repetition. We can climb through abstraction layers. We feel precarious balancing on precarious stacks. I bet our complexity exchange limit on the number of nested clauses in language is the same as the number of branches we needed to navigate between trunk landmarks. (Or at least, that was the limit of our working memory before the language cascade took over.)

To comprehend the forest, we believe contradictory things. Trees are like all trees, and can all be treated the same - the spectacular view - but every tree is different because it affords different fruit, different climbing.

We impose the forest on everything we encounter. We immediately search for striations to climb like ladders, to get a better view from the top of the abstraction canopy. We follow lines of flight of logic like running along branches, swinging on vines of intuition. I imagine the newly-arboreal primate, looking at a rock and a fist and simultaneously seeing their sameness and unique properties.

It's what makes us human, but it also constrains us. We're too keen to see only abstractions (what the thing affords, how the thing responds). We're industrial. We like mass production. We're not good at differences, at altering our behaviour to conform with context, or microsurface. We habituate. We force the world to be shaped like us. We see only surfaces, we're always on the outside of the universe.

So we envy the dog, a mammal from the plains. The dog manages to see past the spectacular world of surfaces and what objects look like, into the world of objects practicing with one another. The dog lets its consciousness inhabit the landscape. No cognition or reaction, just being and becoming, following trains of thought, navigating meshworks.

The dog can't abstract, it's not arboreal. Abstraction is pointers, separating the sign and the signified. Humans point; dogs stare at the tip of your finger. Instead, the dog imposes sameness by using scent markers, by adding to the complexity of the world, not bashing it into shape. The scent markers aren't signs to be read, they're maximally complex, not a reductive symbol, they're first-class citizens in a world already composed of scent. So the dog travels along the surfaces of the world, embedded, always with the grain, a craftsmanlike life. The dog is our shamen.

On the other hand, we have nothing in common with the whale. In a world with only one surface, the whale lives in a world of intensities. No landmarks, only gradients, tendencies. And no time or space as temporary surface-condensations flutter, are stretched and folded, evaporate. The whale is a thoroughly Deleuzian animal.

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The 8 latest posts are named Cricket and pixel cityscapes, How any of the Big 3 could own connected products, Pricing hardware and changing business models, Orbits and hardware, BERG Cloud press, Testing, Facebook should make a camera, and Instagram for webpages.
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