All posts made in Jan. 2005:

While we're on self-powered devices, how about a scanner with optical character recognition that ships with a bag of mulch and some baby worms, and when you scan the documents for your computer, it shreds the paper and makes a compost heap, burning off the generated methane for electricity? You'd rip out the pages out of books as you read, feeding them one-by-one to the scanner which would liberate the letters from the ink as it consumed them.

Here's another: A robot the size of a golf ball with sucker feet that strolls round my bath tub, fueling itself with a hair combustion battery, cleaning as it goes, retreating when the water comes and perching on the side until it's safe to return.

Product idea of the day: iPod circuitry printed onto adhesive paper which you peel off its backing and stick round your belly, and specially constructed pills of complex organic compounds that you swallow, and as your liver breaks the chemicals down, they set up transient electromagnetic fields that are picked up by the iPod and played as songs.

Look at the photos at Let's be friends of cute animals being cute with other cute animals (eg, tiger plus piglets) and, for each one, ask yourself: Who would win?

On the semiotcracy. In particular, see the notes on 9929 and the text behind 9931.

1. representation

To discuss things we have to somehow represent them, with words (or whatever). Representation, as a form of translation, is never exact. A transformed system must always be incomplete and make statements the original did not.

But representations are essential because, unlike the originals, they can be manipulated and communicated. This means that one quality of representations worth noting is it's communicability. How long does it take to express it? Is it resiliant to transmission noise? Where it points to physical forms, are those forms ones that are easily picked out by humans, or not?

When we use the representation "conversation," we've decided to grant objecthood to a pattern of communication that exists outside people, that is someone independent from the people who are having it. This makes actions on that representation easier to imagine: a conversation can be enhanced or spoiled. Imagine we didn't have that, and our representation pointed out an individual's pause between hearing and speaking. In a conversation, we'd think of being "tightly looped" (to ourselves) or "highly coupled" (to others) instead. Would this change what we valued in the conversation? Would it alter the thing itself?

2. representation as subjectification, forceful imposition; the impossibility of compromise

Over the weekend we, very briefly, discussed the impossibility of a non-heirarchic society. All decisions would have to be reached by compromise. But imagine two groups, who must understand one another's worldviews in order to critique and negotiate. While you don't need to articulate (therefore represent) your own worldview, another group will attempt. They'll necessarily reduce your worldview in order to understand and examine it. They will misrepresent, because a translated system necessarily misrepresents. This causes conflict.

To be examined, the representation of the other's worldview must exist inside another, in this reduced form.

This is an act of pigeonholing, however. To represent someone is to constain them, they are made to follow your representation, and their freedom is limited. Creating a representation for someone is subjectifying them. Representation is forceful imposition. Representation is power, and hierarchy.

3. representations have their own physics; the emergence of patterns; representation as power, but also representation as constraining

Representations aren't passive, they have inertia and follow their own nature. This is due to the emergent behaviour of many representions existing and interacting simultaneously.

Smaller, simpler representations can be transmitted faster. Robust representions are less likely to mutate with communication. Given two possible representations of the same or similar things (which are mutually exclusive in the same society), the one which spreads faster will win. (This is only to a first order. The more complex representation will win if, perhaps, it's more easily derived from its supporting representations. Representations don't just spread through contact; they can be created simultaneously and independently, cued by the existing pattern.)

Imagine we represent a group of people: "hackers," "women," "conservatives." We've imposed subjecthood on them. When we move through the world, we'll leave traces and deposits that conform to our representation of them. Our representation of "voters" included that high-minded people concerned with affairs of state may vote. It isn't that "women" are excluded from voting, it's that our representation never even contemplated it.

What happens when that-which-is-represented acts in a way that doesn't conform to our representation? (Wanting to vote.) We could alter our representation--but representations treated like that would be encrusted with nuance and detail. They'd be hard to grasp, transmit, and use. A more complex representation would die out, in an ecosystem of competing representations.

So we could alter that which is represented, to prevent it from not conforming. This is the easier alternative, and often what happens. This is how subjectifying constrains freedom. It isn't a conscious process. It's a natural consequence of having things, representations, communication, regulations, and many minds.

A group will always struggle to represent the other, to avoid being represented itself. A represented group will always be constained from breaking out of its representation, and the very stuff of the world will be cast in the shape of this constraint.

It doesn't help to create your own representation. As soon as it's used by others it has its own nature.

4. dasein as the unrepresentable

Perhaps this is what Being In The World is, those moments where everything mundane drops away and there's just Being, Doing: At those moments, what's happening is unrepresentable.

Whenever we Do, we simultaneously represent it. Representation is important. It allows us to discuss thing. It allows us to think about them. More than that, it reduces things so that analogies can be made. Analogies require finding a plane on which two things can be compared, so that we can say: more, less. To find an analogy, construct a line, or a net, or a shape out of some representations. Construct a parallel line, or net, or shape some distance away, out of other representions. Now conclusions from one shape can be carried over to the other.

Without analogy, we wouldn't be able to explore the territory of ideas. Analogy is what gives ideas geography, and with geography we can discover.

But analogy also means we have to compare, and to compare means to reduce one or the other, to make both representations subject to the comparison. Comparison is imposition.

So we always and continuously represent, and in this way we experience everyday life as a series of better/worse events. We draw parallels and experience events as related to other events--in this way we can have habits, and so the mundane emerges.

When you are Being In The World, these moments are unrepresentable and cannot be compared. In pure Dasein/dancing, there are no better or worse moments. There is no time.

5. different classes of representation (tagging is minimal); geeks, as hackers, enjoy folktags because they minimally represent and attempt to impose

Some representations expressly don't attempt to fully represent. It's understood they're partial and just describe some aspect, that they are incomplete, that they are subjective, and that there can be many of them. These minimal representations are less forceful.

Geeks are hackers, and hackers are those who, by their nature, understand representation. They distrust representation of themselves by others just as they attempt to use representation to completely represent everything. Due to this exposure, they see the power of representation. I suspect this is why geeks enjoy folktags: these minimal representations are used in a way that is attached to the speaker. They are incomplete, and attempt to have a small impact.

6. even using representation in public exposes the representation to more forces--reflections on identity and reputation because of expectations of truth or conformity. already the representation is less than authentic

Representation is power, but power has two faces. Nouns are representations. In the virtual worlds, including cyberspace, speaking is action, and speaking is impossibly without nouns. When we don't grant classes use of nouns, or the ability to create nouns, we don't just constrain them, we oppress them. Freedom is being able to represent the world and to discuss it.

We have a powerful drive to represent the world as much as possible, and to make these representations transformable in a robust way. ISBNs for books are transformable through text, speech, and bytes in a code that keeps the essence of the representation intact. Representations like this will prosper in our world of interlocking worlds, and so they emerge. We do this deliberately now, to encompass and label all there is. We have an obligation to enlarge the franchise of representations as much as possible, and this is inevitable because of the physics of representations.

Representation is power.

But representations are subject to many forces. If you create a representation, a text, it reflects on you as a person. If your name is on it, your identity becomes tainted as the author of that representation. If you make an unwelcome suggestion, that's remembered. But also, if a slightly untruthful representation will gain a larger audience than a more truthful one, there's a force to produce the former (again, not a conscious force, but an invisible hand in the ecosystem). Representations, as well as being reduced, and small, and disliking nuance, must conform to their own nature, and you to theirs. Publicly authored representations are therefore inauthentic. The most authentic representations are those that don't ask for an audience, but force themselves on readers, and make no assertations of truth or authorship. These three are the best: spam, graffiti, ambiguous or chance events (divination and lies).

7. the semiotcracy

There is a drive to create representations. There are qualities of representations that make them thrive. There are interactions of representations that create forces. Representations are power, and there is an ethical imperitive to increase the franchise (because of negentropy), while at the same time representations constrain. Representations have their own physics.

We now live in a world where representations are all important. They are our limbs and our eyes; they are our possibilities.

The quality of a representation that makes it easy to handle, discuss, reshape, pass on: this is how semiotcratic it is.

The overwhelming importance of creating representations at this point in time, our world which can only be experienced through them, the resistence to representation, the emergent physics coupled with human nature, the forces we feel from them and on them: this is our direction; this is the semiotcracy.

I just opened a document where I wrote a list of things I had to do urgently today. I remember adding to it yesterday--there was something in my head, and I remember thinking "I'd better make a note of that so I don't forget" and putting it on the list. Looking at it now, the item just says "TODO." I appear to think in macros.

Images from Titan. A sound from Titan. Titan! A probe landed on Titan! That's mighty impressive. The picture I'd really like to see is Saturn-rise. (I did some back of the envelope calculations with a friend back at college. If you were standing on Ganymede, Jupiter would loom 20 times wider than the Moon in the sky, four palm-widths wide (at arm's length). If the world was flat, from London you could see Paris the same size as the Moon, on the horizon. I think those were the figures.)

I do wonder whether the ability to probe has reduced the likelihood of actually visiting (whether it's the Moon, Mars or Titan). Before probes you had to just say, Hey, let's take a ship and go over that ocean to see what's there, and so seeing was isomorphic with bodies moving. It's a shame really, and it feels like it might be true--but does risk and adventure at the cinema put a stop to taking everyday life risks, and does talking stop you doing? Well.

Apple keynote thoughts:

  • I see why Apple are pushing video. My mum got on broadband a few weeks ago, and started sending me low-res video clips of the dogs. Small filesize (comparable to a bunch of high-res photos), and way, way more bang for the buck. I hadn't had the video epiphany, but now video has broken away from cassettes, TV, and having to endure hour long home vids, I think it'll really come of age.
  • Good to see Pages, cut-down DTP app. That's a big gap in software at the moment, and I'm glad to see it filled. I heard a rumour the file format was LaTeX, which - given the power and openness of that markup language - would rock, if true. Here's the thing: There are three parts of Microsoft: Windows, Office, WMA+DRM. Microsoft are positioning to have their DRM and media format become the ethernet of the next 30 years, every "packet" of audio or video will be stamped by that technology. Office, the power is not in what you do with it, but in its potential as a development platform: You can have a plugin that fires events when you change styles, constrains how you use the app, validates data, adds extra functionality... Office is the Office OS. This is massively important. Given those first two, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft turned round tomorrow and published the entire Windows API and let people clone the entire thing. It would take the wind out of the sales of anti-trust efforts, and turn the OS into a commodity that'd leave the way completely open for the real money-spinners. So: Pages has got to be not just a DTP app, but a platform, and that's why the script interface has got to be great, Cocoa has to encourage plugins, the document model has to have events attached to it, and the format has to be extensible, tried and tested. Ditto iCal and Mail. (I'm also pleased Apple feel able to release a DTP/word processing app without matching the niches of traditional apps. What next? A spreadsheet/XML/database/data entry app? A photo editing/vector drawing/Flash anim type app? The traditional silos are breaking down.)
  • Mac Mini, also good. Right price. Now we need a TV interface over Airport Express (to control your media much as Airport Express can control your music), and stacks of hard drives which are just as pretty.
  • I was hoping for some surprises with Tiger. Maybe including Mono and an API bridge, more scripting and syncing, and more frameworks to do--hey, I don't know, fun stuff.
  • I love the iLife and iWork logos. Yum. (Didn't ClarisWorks have a similar shape, although not style?)

It'll be fun to see how these pan out.

Most missed weblog of 2004: Heckler & Coch, last updated 29 August. Come back!

I got the wave messaging active cover for my Nokia 3220 phone. How they market this: Wave messaging is an incredibly fun new way to communicate and make an impression at the same time. Meanwhile, in the illustration, a smiling girl holds her phone in the air and it spells out "FUN". Hm.

It's loads of fun. Everyone I show thinks it's magic. When the cover arrived, ran the application, waved "hello" in the air, and had to show everyone in the office (partly that was my own excitement). In the first photos my arm is really tired.

That night in the pub, I was showing it off--it's a great toy, nobody expects what you're going to do ("What are you doing? Oh, oh, hang on, what does that say? Hey, that's cool! Hey, that's your phone? Give me that."), and so we ended up taking loads of photos. To begin with, just words, like this one of me waving Mind Hacks (which is bound to end up on the book website sooner or later). Then putting arrows on the words to use them as labels. That was entertaining for a good chunk of the evening.

What's weird is that you can't see the waving person's arm move, so the words just hang there in space. What's especially weird - and good - is that this wave messaging works best in pubs. It's dark, so the letters stand out, and you've had a drink, so you aren't tracking the moving phone with your eyes (it doesn't work so well then, you kind of need to look through it, unfocus a little, and beer helps for that). Retrospectively, the people sitting a few tables away would have had the best view. Wave messaging works okay from a metre away, but better from a little more. While we were squinting to make out the messages as my phone got passed around the table, other people in the bar would have been able to see them fine.

Anyway, you can make the words go round corners too which, in a way, makes them look more physical in the photograph. Doing them straight to camera, well, we're used to captions. Having the wave plane as part of the scene is entertaining. Lastly we were just mucking about, not being consistent about the waving. These photos look the best, "Yay" just looks like it's fizzing out, floating off J. like a little cloud: one; two; three. It's DIY Carnivore.

I got the 3220 after coming back from Design Engaged. The active cover came out a few days before christmas (I'd been checking mobile accessory sites addictively for months) and I managed to get one. It was just something I got because I wanted to see how it worked. You take off the default cover from your 3220 (which is just plastic) and put the new one on--that's all. The front of the cover is the same, but the back cover has a row of LEDs down it, and a circuit board on the inside which is connected by a metal strip to four contacts just below the battery (you get a little contacts plug to replace the normal rubber cover that's there). The first time the phone is switched on, it sees it has a new cover and spends a minute downloading (from the chip in the back cover) an application called "Cover Browser." When you run that app, you can see what applications reside on the cover ("Wave Messaging" and a couple of games) and choose which ones to install. They take about 5 minutes each to download and install. Using the application is just like writing a 15 character text message. It's free (some people have asked), and when you hit "Display" the phone starts figuring out how fast it's moving and displays the appropriate line of your message on the LEDs accordingly. You can also save your messages to get to them faster, and make images.

I wasn't expecting to get much more out of this cover than having a gimmick (and to be down with the kids, you know). Actually it's an enormous amount of fun. People want to play with it, write words, "can you see what this says?" There are games that come with the cover (that use the tilt sensor in the cover to pilot sprites around: tilt left to fly anti-clockwise), but the really fun game is the waving itself. People want to pass the phone around, chat about it, take photos.

Some downsides: It just takes too long to open the application and type in a message. It's a long way down in the hierarchy, and the load time is too much for impromptu waving. Also there seems to be a problem with the pre-installed images to wave. I think maybe they scroll slightly every time you wave or something, but they're not as readable as regular text messages. The games could also be a lot better. There's a tilt sensor, so why not having something rolling around on the display? Use the tilt to affect the sprite directly, not as an abstract control mechanism.

Upsides: In terms of fun now and potential later, I buy this completely. Matt Jones refers to this as the mass-market fun of embodied interaction (see also, his Design Engaged presentation), and he's right. Wave messaging is made for social play. But even apart from this, there's an intellectual joy in seeing the world of embodied interaction open up. Using just the sensors in the phone and Bluetooth, you could have a two-player virtual fencing game, using the phones as hilts. Or, with covers like these, put wheels on the back, and have the mobile follow around a radio-reflective ring you wear. Power-ups for my phone. These are toys,

but there's a serious side too. Hanging around in the Trocadero arcade the other day, I was watching kids playing some version of Dance Dance Revolution, and a couple playing a drumming game. My little cousin got some new iToy games for Christmas (he already has some, another cousin had a cheap dance mat last year).

When I wave my phone around and it spells letters in the air, that means it has all kinds of sensors inside it to tell where my hands are and how fast they're moving--it's not that far from a literal point-and-click interface to my TV.

The contention:

Whereas a mouse is a narrowband interface that isn't going to get any more fine-grained (short of yet more buttons) and doesn't conceptually acknowledge the constraints of its use (flat surface, isomorphic with the on-screen cursor), a device that you work with by pointing, or tapping, or glancing has a long way to go: in the future, we'll be making better cameras, smarter computers, better gesture recognition systems and so on. It can become high-bandwidth, and - if you're using your body - go anywhere with you. The important part of the mouse is really the flat surface which pretends to be the screen, afterall, not the puck you hold in your hand. Seeing that potential is exciting.

Now, we have a young generation becoming used to using themselves and the environment as part of the interface (when light-projected keyboards are released, that's another step). We have a middle-aged population that, sooner or later, will have been using a keyboard and mouse for two or three decades and will be seizing up in the fingers and joints.

In 2 or 3 decades, it's not just going to seem absurd and obtusely limited to funnel your whole interaction with a TV (or whatever) through a matrix of keys on a remote control, it's going to be literally painful for many people.

So why not: Use a Dasher-like interface to interact with your TV, waving your whole arm left, right, up or down to navigate through a tunnel of interface decisions? Why should I scroll my iPod with my thumb when I could scroll it on anything, the wall, my chest, etc? When I make a purchase, why type a number when I could drum my signature rhythm? (and Tom C tells me that Halo 2 already has this kind of sign-in procedure; you press your personal special move on the game controller to be recognised.) Even now, why should I have to press Select on my 3220-with-wave-superpower when I could rap it sharply (a nod), and why press Cancel when I could shake it?

We've all been having this realisation for a few years, and that's now long enough for the cheap and low power accelerometers, computer vision systems, and so on (all the assorted technology) to make its way through colleges and labs. It's all hitting the mass market, and there's all this territory out there to explore. Awesome. Tasty.

(I also posted about wave messaging, embodied interaction, affordances, design and the iPod scrollwheel on the Mind Hacks weblog: Waving, not designing.)

As is traditional in the new year, let's play "what will Apple release next week?" (It's their big trade show.) Current rumours are a cheap monitor-less iMac and an office application suite. That's no fun. How about:

The iSAN, easy to use home storage. Plug in into your home network, and put it next to the boiler or the laundry machine, perhaps in the basement. Run a service to do trickle backups to a .Mac service online, providing 1Tb of backup space for a yearly subscription. People have loads of data now. It should integrate with iTunes and your stereo (naturally, like the Elgato eyehome), give your TiVo extra storage, and, in fact, provide extra storage to anything in your house that needs it. Paul chipped in (we were talking a little less than a month ago): You should put your laptop down and have it sync, like your iPod does with iTunes. Ah yes, he's right, so we went with that idea for a bit: and that's iProject, archiving your older, less-used files, and keeping the fresh files on your computer (and of course, because it's all networked, you have access to all your files from anywhere, so long as you're on the internet: if you want to pull up a decade old document, it just takes a little longer: the index is on your laptop, and the file flows over to your from your home iSAN, encrypted).

We also talked about active kitchen tiles you could put down and dance over.

The quake in Sumatra and tsunami have hit so many. This single event travelling on a wave of simultaneity has become a thread joining communities and people, against their will, by happening and consequence. By being joined, we see the true size of the world, which is small. But with each community having some shared quality by which it can be considered together with others, all are placed on a single plane and we can see how far apart they are, and again we see the true size of the world, which is large. Every time an observer looks round the corner, something different. I doubt those involved feel joined. It's like language, or money, or HIV; something - a shared but unshared something - that owns those it touches and forcefully subjectifies them.

This is a multi-headed catastrophe. It resists representation. Maybe all changes are like this. We can only feel its weave, microscopically, along fingers of attempted understanding--bridges made out of stories from people we slightly relate to, that make pictures we can barely make out. My mind slides around and off it, but it sits as a knot in my stomach and doesn't move.

I'm scared it foreshadows. It doesn't feel like a once-in-a-lifetime reconfiguration. When the oceans rise and global warming takes hold, it won't be a slow gradient to a different world, it'll happen like this. The world will be punctured by massively shared encounters, yet each always experienced individually, in parallel, and we'll have to battle against that. This is a modern disaster, a natural fundamentalism, not one that respects our borders, not one that travels the traces of our circuitry.

If you haven't, if you're able, and if you want: Give, give.