All posts made in Dec. 2004:

Tom Coates' new business cards versus chinese model 18 years old call mona?

Something's changed in blogs and IM. I get the impression that fiction is no longer acceptable. Or rather, obvious fiction and identity play is okay, but fiction-that-could-be-true or less apparent identity play gets categorised as lies or fibbing (dirty words). Faking referral urls to somebody's website used to be a game, now spammers do it. There used to be anger about a person pretending to be someone else in a blog, now it doesn't happen. Maybe this is because the air is clearing on what these media are good for, and with people online more and more they've become quicker and more conversational. Conversation is interactive media and the old message-down-a-conduit model isn't appropriate--could that be the change? Or perhaps it's because we've realised what identity really means online: it's whatever face you choose to apparently invest time and effort in. So although you might be telling fiction on your blog, that's not how it happens online: you don't exist, and your blog is lying. People don't seem to fictionalise over sms either (I see it a little more in email). I wonder whether the same will happen with social networks. We'll get sick of the fakester idea, and realise that whatever identity you have online is real, there's no such thing as a fake if you bless it.

Books can be storytelling devices; journals aren't. They cross sometimes, for novelty, but we keep them apart. Perhaps blogs and IM aren't going to be storytelling media. Perhaps doing so would inhabit some kind of narrative uncanny valley. Perhaps it would be like a person's usual voice being taken over by a telling voice, sitting round a campfire intoning long poems thousands of years ago. Perhaps that means there's no oral culture online.

The opposition campaign in Ukraine is being aided by American branding and mass marketing expertise, and revolution consultants from Belgrade known as the Centre for Non-Violent Resistance: They emerged from the anti-Milosevic student movement, Otpor, meaning resistance. The catchy, single-word branding is important. In Georgia last year, the parallel student movement was Khmara. In Belarus, it was Zubr. In Ukraine, it is Pora, meaning high time. Otpor also had a potent, simple slogan that appeared everywhere in Serbia in 2000 - the two words "gotov je", meaning "he's finished", a reference to Milosevic. A logo of a black-and-white clenched fist completed the masterful marketing. In Ukraine, the equivalent is a ticking clock, also signalling that the Kuchma regime's days are numbered.

The Guardian: US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev.

Mind Hacks, the book, is now available at Amazon UK for dispatch in 3-4 days. That means you can have it this time next week, which gives you more than enough time to read it, wrap it, and give it to someone else. More, including the Hard Sell, at Mind Hacks, the blog. Amaze your friends! Confound your etc!

More finger counting [previously]: RavenBlack suggests [in email] fingercounting like this: Based on the binary method, give each finger four positions (combine on/off the table, and straight/curled), and then tap away. Ignore the little fingers, because they're hard to control, and you can get up to 65,535. Nice one, and way better than 3,124. I'm not convinced I'm dextrous enough but will have to practice. [Oop, I misunderstood RavenBlack's mail, he wouldn't require a table as it's a positional system. Better.]

Andy Losowsky points out an Ancient Chinese counting method that reaches 99,999 (you count in base 10 on 5 fingers), and some intriguing other nuggets [how Bede counted, how the methods infiltrate language]. Go read. A new word too, dactylonomy, for the art of counting on the fingers.

For me there's a sweetspot between being able to count very high and being able to keep your place when you're being distracted and knocked around, when you're on the bus or something. The Chinese method doesn't cut it, I think, you're too likely to think "hang on, did I mean to put my finger there?" and lose count. I don't mind complexity - actually, I like it - but you need to be able to look down and figure out where you are, with certainty, from the position of your hands. That's why I think a different approach is needed. This may be a overlapping cycles approach, but I don't entirely understand. I wonder whether there might be lessons in the Incan calendar and quipus. Maybe in the art of making abacusses? There's something about having two relatively simple sequences that, when coupled, make complex patterns. So long as you can count quickly, I'm happy to have the act of translating a total out of the finger pattern be a somewhat more costly exercise.

Later: If I want a number to be totally represented by the position of my fingers, then I estimate the absolute top limit on this to be 10 billion, or around that order of magnitude. That's the maximum number of states that can be represented by my fingers, assuming 10 states per dimension, and 10 dimensions (10 fingers, 10 points per finger). That's assuming no physical limits on, say, the stretchiness of my fingers, or limits on the complexity of the algorithm, or robustness to mistakes. What it comes down to is: if I need to look down at any point and read the number off, each state has to represent one number. All we're debating now is how to traverse the state space for as long as possible before one of these limits is reached, and that traversal could be bases, or cycles, or whatever.

(I was considering counting my five fingers in steps of 1, 2, 3 and so on. Then each finger has multiple values depending on (a) what the step size is; and, (b) what order it is in the sequence of steps before the sequence loops. My little finger would be "5" at a step size of 1, and "3" at a step size of 3. But then you need a way of encoding the step size into the physical arrangement of the figures, which means it's part of the state space, which means it's just another way of cutting up the state space to traverse it. So although it might get me closer that 10 billion figure, it won't break out of it.)

The question becomes (because finding out the traversal system is an implementation detail): what's the minimum change in the rules of the game to, I don't know, square the size of the state space? Do I need a counting thimble? Or should counting only exist in a dynamic way, each of the fingers having a vector? Or maybe ten dimensions of ten positions isn't the most efficient way of doing it--could the relative positions of my knuckles (left/right, up/down from one-another) be used too?

My record is 3124. I was in St Malo as a kid when binary fell into place for me (it was explained in my Usborne book on computers), and around then I started counting in binary on my fingers. Like this person (who also has a demonstration video) I still do it, and tap-count to pass the time.

A game I play sometimes is to see how high I can count on my fingers. Regular counting gives you 10. I used to just do 5 counting on each hand and get up to 25. My mum has always counted to 12 on one hand (using her thumb to count three segments on four fingers). That's pretty good because it leaves a hand free, and in theory you can get to 143 like this. The Babylonians counted using finger segments, by the way, counting to 12 (with one hand hand), 5 times (with the other), up to 60. Binary gives you 1023 (ten fingers in base 2, so the maximum is 2 to the power of 10 minus 1).

Switching bases is the right thing to do. If you count finger joints, you can get 5 states per finger (3 joints, plus the fingertip, plus the zero or not touching state. For the thumb you use 2 joints and the muscle at the base), which means you can count in base 5.

Each finger becomes a column, with corresponding values for each finger state. You use that hand as an abacus, and the other hand to count along the fingers.

It has the disadvantage of taking both hands, but you can do it without a surface. Using your knuckles means it's hard to lose your place too. The "rest" position is hard to maintain (because it requires not touching fingers), but the binary method has that problem too. It's easier for higher figures.

Like this, I can get up to 5 to the power of 5 minus 1, which is 3124. It doesn't seem possible to keep counting in higher bases (and still be robust to slightly misplacing fingers) so I think I need to find a different strategy to count higher. I'd like to keep it to my hands if possible. Maybe counting in two differently based cycles simultaneously, and using their interaction to reach a higher total? For example, I could use my left hand as a counting board and count in base 20 along it with my right thumb, and in base 19 along it with my right little finger. Then, if they were coupled right, the difference between the two when one was at a fixed point could represent the position in the overall cycle? I don't know, that needs some thinking about.

Update: There's more.

We know a lot, and we spend a long time trying to find how to say what we know. Really all we need to know is try to find how not to say and how to say "this," "that," and to listen to the music in the after the music is gone, and, after a while, to find how not to say at all. What saying is for I don't know, and I know what saying is for. We say to affirm, we say to bring into being, we say to find each other, we say to find our way, and we say to avoid not saying.

Later: I think I say in order to find how not to say.

Families row over home PC access and, in essence, this isn't any different from the arguments a decade or so ago about who gets the tv remote control. Consider it as a resource allocation problem, and there are two solutions. One is that you distribute the resource over space: Instead of arguing over which channel to watch, you have multiple tvs. The other is you distribute the resource over time: You watch one channel now, and use the vcr to record the other. Both of these solutions create opportunities. The space solution means there are multiple tvs in the house which means instead of the tv having to occupy the safe middle-ground, you can have niche tvs. That is, rather than a tv which is semi-portable, semi-big, semi-expensive, etc, you can afford to have one home cinema tv optimised for picture and sound, another tv optimised for portability, another for cheapness and so on. Likewise, the time solution creates opportunities: the vcr stopped the tv from being a single device that existed in everyone's home controlled by the broadcaster, and turned every person into their own scheduler. The intermediation of broadcast allowed video hire, home movies, and now new iterations like dvd rental and pvrs.

(Not forgetting, of course, that gradual iteration to new models often means old problems reemerge. Dvds have good picture quality but no random access, and recordable dvds are only now getting affordable. Digital cameras and broadband are moving into the home movie niche, with distribution done with files and email rather than handing cassettes over.)

What does this mean for the home pc? Let's try and find both time- and space-based solutions.

The time-based solution for resource allocation is difficult: The pc is being used for homework (you can't delay that) or chatting with friends (you can't record and play back chats). Online content and interactivity means you can't save what's on the pc for later, although using an rss aggregator (or other offline reader) could help. When I had a Palm, I used to read the Guardian and the Onion on the tube to work, but that's still one-way. Okay, let's assume that the primary use of the net is for socialising. Synchronous communication (IM, mainly, although messageboards are sometimes synchronous for time-units of a few hours) can move easily onto the mobile, or is there already: text messaging, and I wouldn't be surprised to see text chatrooms for small groups soon. Asynchronous communication (I don't really mean asynchronous, I mean inscribed), like some contexts of messageboards, LiveJournal, blogs, news sites with commenting, and email, these fit into the offline reader model, if there's a way to make comments offline and have them sync to the server later.

Thinking pragmatically for a second, if the weblog comment scripts answered to an API in the same way as the weblog posting scripts answer to posting and editing APIs, you could write an offline commenting system. Using the BlogLines API, you could manage your subscriptions on your desktop pc at any time (when your sister isn't doing her homework), and have the same subs list on your mobile phone.

Okay, this has some way to go as an idea because it depends on standards and people evolving software. The dark side of network effects are in action here. Getting a large group of people to work in the same direction is like trying to start a whirlpool in a bathtub of custard using a teaspoon. You have to embed your development, and so this solution will take time and compromise. I think we'll move in this direction though. It's a software solution, and somebody's bound to try it.

The space-based solution: The problem is that home pcs are expensive. They've got into people's homes because they're so cheap--and you pay more for broadband in a year than you do for an absolutely bottom-of-the-range pc. People can't afford multiple pcs in the home and, besides, don't have the expertise to set up a home network to share the connection (although wireless internet sharing is making this easier).

The thing is, you don't need to share everything. Just as tvs diverged to multiple specialities, you don't need word processing on every computer in the home. You don't need games. You probably don't need a colour screen or a full keyboard. You just need the most common, least able to be time-shifted content: communication again. Email, IM, blogs (well, journals really): this is all done through a web browser. Okay, so you need web browsing round the home.

Here's one easy way to do it: Something that looks like a usb thumb drive slots into the back of the pc. It runs some software which is kind of like internet sharing but does a bit more. It has a bluetooth (or 802.11b, now that's way cheaper) connection to the viewing and input device. This device has a low quality screen and a plug-in keyboard. Other models don't have a screen, they just project on the wall (secret: your house is full of vertical and horizontal surfaces you don't use), perhaps the keyboard is projected too. There's precious little processing power in this device--no Flash games, no movies, no incremental download of pages even. Perhaps the web content is rendered using the internet sharing software. The scenario is that I use a web-based IM client and reply to my email using this device (but mainly: chat), and my connection piggy-backs on the existing internet connection of the home PC, on which somebody else is doing their homeword. If you could make this device for $50, you'd sell millions.

Given you've got a home web browser device, this leads to a second bifurcation. Low quality screens will be used for email and IM. Higher quality screens have plausible deniability ("but I just want to see the screen better and not get a headache!") but actually will be used to browse dirty pictures. This means you have another use: parental filters. Sites like Hotmail and LiveJournal and services like AIM and MSN will be open, everything else is shut down. Unlike existing filters which don't work (the pc is capable of much more), this device is hardware-incapable of rendering difficult sites. The filters are a side-effect, by design almost.

Further business model for the device: Have it show ads in the bottom half of the screen, and let Gmail give them away. The Eudora email client has a sponsored mode, so why not. Or: Sell it as an add-on to the Nintendo DS, or any mobile phone with a sufficient OS and bluetooth. Even though it might be a fully-functional web browser, market it to answer a single need: talk with your friends anytime and anywhere at home, just like Apple made the iPod answer a single need: listen to your music always. The problem for the space-based solution is not money or technology, it's design and business. In which case, I rate this idea ambitiously: 6 months to release from now, 18 months in total to become popular in non-geek families.

If I watch something at prime-time on a commercial tv network, how much do ads cost? Then, divide this by the audience, how much is the advertiser paying to reach me, as an individual?

Second question: What is the advertising revenue for a whole season? Deduct the cost of the season of shows to buy, divide by the audience (in number of individuals). How much does the network earn from me watching their show?

Third question: After production, marketing and other costs, and given the show is already a sunk cost, how much of a show season on DVD is profit?

If anybody has access to the new MSN Messenger 7 beta, could you mail me a screenshot of the nudge in action? In the new features: Users now have the ability to 'nudge' or 'wink' at their contacts in order to get their attention by making a noise and playing an animation. I'm wondering whether it's possible to do this in chatrooms (ie, sending a nudge to a whole group), and whether any of the functionality from Three Degrees has been rolled in (the wink is from there, has the shared jukebox crossed over too?).