Books read January 2008, with date finished:
If I had to pick just one to recommend, it'd be Impro.
My super power would be to know the resonant frequency of a thing as soon as look at it, and have the range of movement in my hands such that I could match those frequencies.
For example I would place my hands on the trunk of a cedar and vibrate my palms at resonance. It would swing wildly, only gradually at first. At the opportune time: shove--down it would come. Except that I wouldn't want to.
Bees buzz on the turbulent flow of the air. Fish bumble too, pushing against and off the whorls emergent in the fluid dynamics of the ocean. They slip slide in the low pressure gaps the physics leaves.
Perhaps if I could shiver the surface of my body correctly and variously, I could create micro currents and micro vacuums in the air just touching me, every skin cell tacking into the wind. Then I would swim through them and on them, like stepping stones, like pinball, like progress and careers and love and life, like falling upwards.
SimCity on the OLPC, letting kids dig around with the dynamic system rules. Download Micropolis (its screenname in the open source world), and read more. I'd like this hooked into my todo list to have different districts as different projects, with the attention I give each manifesting as land value.
Visit Deyemon, my mini city which runs online like a simplified SimCity. The more referrer traffic it gets, the higher the population. I can encourage you to visit other URLs to improve its industry, transport network, and so on.
A viral loop is
the steps a user goes through between entering the site to inviting the next set of new users (more). The viral loop leads to: motivated users; growth; mutuality between websites in the ecosystem. By happy coincidence, I'll be speaking on a similar topic at the end of the week.
The OLPC Human Interface Guidelines concentrates not on applications but activities. (Run OLPC without an XO laptop.) cf. Human Interface Guidelines for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.
The Internet of 1996 shows just how much is dependent not on the technology, but on the people making stuff figuring out where the grain is. Once upon a time, the entire Web was mapped in 3D to the continent of antarcti.ca.
Maintain eye contact to feel powerful. Keith Johnstone in Impro has a different view:
breaking eye contact can be high status so long as you don't immediately glance back for a fraction of a second. ... status is established not by staring, but by the reaction to staring. Thus dark glasses raise status because we can't see the submission of the eyes.
Johnstone also says
the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal--it's in adulthood that we're trained to suppress these. Go for it, he says. Right on.
Right. I'm off to Canada.
The chloroplast organelle, which performs photosynthesis in plants, is more complex, structurally, than the mitochondria which use oxygen to turn food molecules into ATP (energy-carrying chemical; an abstract interface) in most eucaryotes. Eucaryotes are cells with a nucleus--cells without a nucleus are procaryotes, which come as eubacteria and archaea.
Mitochondria, themselves, appear to be bacteria captured by procaryotes very early in the evolution of cells with nuclei, and now the two live symbiotically.
Two crazy things:
Life: amazing. (Current reading is ECB2. Lots to learn.)
Anonymous has declared war on the Church of Scientology (more news). I just read this on the internet:
WE SHALL NEVER ASK FOR RANSOM. WE SHALL NEVER YIELD FOR NEGOTIATIONS. THERE ARE NO DEMANDS. THERE ARE NO DESIRES. THERE IS NO FUNDING, NO LEADERSHIP, NO MEMBERSHIP, NO POLITICAL GOAL. ANONYMOUS WISHES TO SEE SCIENTOLOGY FALL, FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN IT WOULD BE AWESOME. PEOPLE DO NOT PROPERLY UNDERSTAND THIS. YET.
On Slashdot, a comment explains:
Memetic warfare. Walk down the street and ask random people "What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word '$cientology'"? If it's "Tom Cruise", the person could still be sucked into the cult. ... When it's "Xenu!", "Scam", "Money", ... the person will never be sucked into the cult. ... At some point - 20%? 50%? 90%? - herd immunity develops.
Anonymous is not an organisation but an ideology that exists as a population. It can't do or think anything itself except metaphorically. Individuals who act in the same way as Anonymous but who have never heard of it can't be described as being part of it. This is an entity that exists as an auto-catalytic set in the social network. There is no leader who can give orders because identity cannot be verified from one instant to the next; there is perhaps a leadership organ. Whereas our society of capitalism and marketing is a control society which attempts to manipulate the network while keeping it computable (that is, conforming to a model held by the control system), Anonymous is a non-computable part of the network. That's what makes it dangerous. A part of the network outside the control structure which is developing self-awareness.
(What strikes me most about the anti-Scientology videos is that individuals are using the same techniques of manipulation and persuasion that Hollywood, advertising and the state have used on the general population. I find this heartening.)
Chinese mathematics, an overview:
a person gains knowledge by analogy, that is, after understanding a particular line of argument they can infer various kinds of similar reasoning ... Whoever can draw inferences about other cases from one instance can generalise ... really knows how to calculate... . To be able to deduce and then generalise.. is the mark of an intelligent person.
If English was written like Chinese:
The yingzi that use a particular radical will form a class of their own--a sort of meaning class. We can consider the entire English language to be divided into 214 meaning categories. For instance, every yingzi that uses the bug radical will have something to do (at least etymologically) with insects or reptiles. However, since the number of radicals is so limited, and because the choice of radical is sometimes quirky, the resulting sets will be rather vague and eccentric.
Humans have 347 different smell receptors. 347 orthogonal odours.
The Molecule of the Month
presents short accounts on selected molecules from the Protein Data Bank. Each installment includes an introduction to the structure and function of the molecule, a discussion of the relevance of the molecule to human health and welfare, and suggestions for how visitors might view these structures and access further details. Plus each is super pretty.
Today I met up with Tom Armitage to see what he's created for a prototype we've been working on together. It shows off a simple pattern I think should (and will be) part of every web app. But before Tom made the proof of concept, I didn't know if it'd work. It does, it's better than I imagined, and I'm totally psyched. There'll be a demo in my talk.
The abstract, for Movement:
We've always had metaphors to understand and design for the Web.
The original conception of the Web was as a library of documents. Our building blocks were derived from spatial ideas: "breadcrumbs," "visits" and "homepages" were used to understand the medium.
Website-as-application was a new and novel metaphor in the late 1990s. The spatial concept of navigation was replaced by concepts derived from tools: buttons performed actions on data.
These metaphors inspire separate but complementary models of the Web. But the Web in 2008 has some entirely new qualities: more than ever it's an ecology of separate but highly interconnected services. Its fiercely competitive, rapid development means differentiating innovations are quickly copied and spread. Attention from users is scarce. The fittest websites survive. In this world, what metaphors can be most successfully wielded?
Matt takes as a starting point interaction and product design, with ideas from cybernetics and Getting Things Done. He offers as a metaphor the concept of the Web as experience. That is, treating a website as a dynamic entity - a flowchart of motivations that both provides a continuously satisfying experience for the user... and helps the website grow.
From seeing what kind of websites this model provokes, we'll see whether it also helps illuminate some of the Web's coming design challenges: the blending of the Web with desktop software and physical devices; the particular concerns of small groups; and what the next movement might bring.
Kevan's zombie simulation reminds me of nothing so much as the formation of galaxies. As the sim starts, the universe is hot and young. The survivors get infected and condense into slower moving matter, which then itself clumps into larger, even slower moving massive objects. Galaxies are zombie hordes of stars, shuffling round the universe converting the free interstellar medium into brainless eating machines.
"Jupiter Space," eh. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) culminates in what is called Jupiter space (the original screenplay has Discovery head for Saturn). This of course means there's also Earth space and Moon space, with all the bits in-between being "outer space." The idea that planets have space hanging off them - different spaces, like different territorial waters - seems quaintly planetcentric now. The viewpoint has shifted such that all the planets are within the very same space, located by Cartesian coordinates on a map of the galaxy. There is just Space. I suppose this is like the university computer network and the military computer network and Ford's computer network all coming together to make a single "the internet."
Perhaps, back in the 1960s, we all used to have our own lives too, but now we're each living the same life but with different parameters. It's a shame. As a metaphor it makes the idea of trying out someone else's life - of judging them - of being in their shoes - seem possible. But it's not, not always. Our individual lives are separated by the desert vacuum of Outer Life. I need rocket-ships, time and bravery to visit your life, to understand you inside your own space. And vice-versa. But it's worth it.
Over at Mind Hacks, Vaughan has been posting some remarkable brain-related news. Some top picks:
My favourite is the ambient panic video, overlaying dreamy suburban visuals on this radio documentary about panic (All In The Mind). It's Adam Curtis meets Lucid Dreams. Watch.
The fancy-legged fellow isn't allowed in the Olympics, as his disadvantaged compensator unfairly advantages him. Huh. Tiger Woods has surgically upgraded his vision to 20/15. There exist Nike Vision contact lenses which selectively enhance colours so golfers can see the ball better on the putting green. In answer to the question how much is too much?, we should let the market decide: all modifications should be allowed until betting exchanges refuse to take wagers on the athlete. The athlete must declare all prosthetics and performance enhancers ahead of time.
Alongside graphics cards, we'll soon have quantum computing chips which will take certain calculations, handed off to them by the CPU, and rifle through parallel universes looking for the answer, super quick. In addition we'll have prediction market co-processors: a petri dish of bacteria specially bred to exhibit the supply/demand curves of perfectly rational economic agents, tucked just behind the battery to the side of the hard-drive. (I wrote a story that mentioned something similar.)
2008 is the year we hit Peak Attention. You can either carry on encountering as much as you do now, giving every input less and less attention every year, or you can start managing it, keeping some back to take long-haul attention flights. What are the consequences of living post-Peak Attention? Nobody will be able to understand anything hard unless they make sacrifices.
The xkcd IRC channel will hit Peak Unique Sentences in 2010 after which being funny is hard because all the good sentences are used up. But just like domain names, this will cause a fluorescence in amusingly spelled cuss words.
Actually having single people who are delegated to understand hard things while other people process trivialities is fine. Thought and understanding are networked, social activities: cognition is distributed [pdf]. For a mass of people to make a decision, they form a decision making organ, which is a particular body formed to that job. It purifies group opinion as the liver purifies blood.
Every time I mention an idea, I'm giving it attention cycles from all you readers. Attention is the bile of the public thinking stomach organ, breaking it down and digesting it, distributing it to the rest of the body public in recombinant forms.
The entities in a group of people aren't only the humans, but the organs made of sub-groups. Like Conway's Life parts that perform different functions. Like Standard Biological Parts stitched end to end. Organisations should be thought of as organs that specialise to think, co-ordinate, propel, introduce novelty, gather food, defend or fight, in a way that self-reinforces: a body.
I am the Noah of hyperlinks.
Products or services that include mental well-being as a feature:
to make this transition as positive and smooth as possible for all concerned.
The World Stress Map shows the boundaries of the tectonic plates. The Pacific plate is large, and the western Pacific a whole load more textured than I expected. All those drowned continents.
Games about something that are actually about something else:
(I love the world and the world loves me.)
I've called this "body-thinking" before: the kind of reading of the world we do non-mentally. Everything we do taps into different motivations, of course (the joy of watching things happen; the joy of putting things away neatly; plain old needing to), but Audiosurf and Endorfun seem different somehow: the ostensible aim of the game is really just an excuse to keep you busy while the real mental pay-off happens.
(I create joyous relationships.)
On the study of the natural laws of exceptions, 'pataphysics:
For some composers, the imagining and realisation of a new and unfamiliar music technology is integral to their music.I also like the Tubaharp.
Two by two! Two by two!
New software pricing models are always worth looking out for. More and more cleanly defined things are sliding towards plain ol' data (not just media. Home fabbing and local, short run manufacture are turning home electricals and clothes into free data plus effort). And because the concept of commercial software is so new (only since Bill Gates invented software-as-property 30 years ago), its business models aren't as entrenched as, say, music, so it'll blaze the way in finding new ways to be sold. Also software has an inherent lightness, which means it's suitable as a testbed for ideas that'll eventually inform how businesses work around open hardware and other forms of data (though of course it won't be directly translated, just as the Web is a testbed for including social ideas in mobile phones and televisions without direct translation). Software pricing models are try-outs for the future, just like social software on the Web.
This follows the model of applications like iPhoto, which has integrated photo book publishing, and of course iTunes with its music store. Linotype FontExplorer X follows the iTunes model but is more interesting in that it gives away superb font management software (something that used to be expensive) and, as its commercial play, bundles access to an online store font (and buying fonts was always somewhat tedious).
Celtx, though, seems to represent something newer than these, something much more mature, considered and integrated as a model:
But what a turnabout! Social software where the software's the commodity and the social comes at a premium!
Where Celtx differs from end-user webapps is that web applications haven't made a great showing with various levels of features for different levels of paying. Flickr offer stats to pro users (and bandwidth), and blogging software has had a tradition of pricing tiers (before Wordpress--who remembers Blogger Pro?), but these are exceptions: in the main webapps are (a) ad supported, and (b) networked: additional pay-for services are offered via non-exclusive affiliate links, with the end provider providing the functionality instead of integrating into the original webapp.
Authenticity and going with the grain:
There's something else that rings true about Celtx, and that's its authenticity. The internet has helped reduce the variable unit price of software close to zero (mod marketing and sales). In part due to improved SDKs, IDEs, and APIs, open source, and the sharing of knowledge on the internet, the barrier to entry and the cost of software development is astoundingly low. It's possible - I don't have figures to back this up - that the cost of developing (or licensing) a web front-end to manage sales, registration and lost licenses for a piece of software like Celtx would exceed its original development costs.
The authenticity comes in because they will charge for what actually costs money per unit, unlike the reproduction of software-as-data: collaboration necessarily involves servers, which somebody has to host, and that costs money. PDF generation involves expertise and money to install, host and scale. And so on.
On top of authenticity is a sense of going with the grain: whereas software is simple to pirate without hard-to-code countermeasures, the use of a service online is just not pirateable. This is the way physical property and consultancy has always been sold, of course - in non-pirateable forms - and paying only for the hard bit is not new. Two interesting twists elsewhere: CentOS is a free Linux distribution, built by the community from Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It's identical but free; with RHEL you pay for support. Perfect for the difference between development and production servers. And with Mint web stats, what you get for purchasing is the latest plug-ins and access to the forum.
So while I agree that the qualities a software pricing methodology must have are, as identified by ASG [pdf], budget predictability, controllability, technological independence, value, flexibility, and simplicity, I'd want to add to that those two above: authenticity (because that provides simplicity and a sense of fairness), and going with the grain (because it's easier, and automatically doesn't promote piracy).
For all this discussion, where do new software pricing models get us? There are a number of areas ripe for a further look.
As a developer who has to pay for his users' storage needs I would very much like to see users learn how to use S3 to store their stuff, so I can focus on writing software and fixing bugs instead of paying to store your stuff.I'm inclined to agree! We already pay for our bandwidth separately, so what if we also paid for our computing resources independently from the webapp, and paid webapps for the service they offered rather than for their infrastructure?
My first job was at the Saturday boy in the local ironmongers and once, cleaning the top storage shelves, I found a price label that'd been there decades. Eric, my boss and one of the best men I have ever had the honour to meet, told me about the way products were priced when he was younger. The iron lawn roller he'd sold had the price cast into the body of the machine itself, because the price was as durable as the manufacturing process used to make it. It's not so simple now.
Continuing from last year's rambling on the Second Second Law of Thermodynamics, I don't mean that entropy doesn't increase. But somehow, as it increases - as disorder increases - it releases some another measure, a measure which can either be thrown away or harnessed and turned into life. You know what I mean? As you shake a packet of cornflakes, it settles down. Think of the decreasing height of the cornflakes in the box as entropy increasing, and that's a decent enough analogy because the level will never spontaneously increase again. But in the process of the height shaking down, the larger cornflakes float to the top! A size sorted gradient of cereal emerges! That's the magic of percolation. Where does that order come from? Perhaps you pay for it with increasing entropy. What if, while you were shaking it, multi cornflake autocatalytic networks evolved that optimised their chance of getting to the top? What do we call this second-order order?
Anyway I was thinking that if my dishes and cutlery were made out of diamond, or something like it but harder, I'd be able to just throw them into the dishwasher instead of having to stack them, because they couldn't break. And then I'd have the washer agitate its contents really vigourously, because then the casserole dishes would float to the top, and the forks to the bottom, and putting stuff away would be an ordered process.
The disadvantage of diamond plates, of course, is that diamond conducts heat too well. If you were holding an ashtray in your hand and you stubbed out a cigarette on it, you'd burn your palm. And you'd be contributing to your chances of getting emphysema and a number of other unpleasant conditions.
I find that certain mental states are good for certain tasks. No caffeine is good for doing my taxes, running and washing up. Walking with no music and being in the shower is good for insights into problems. Coding then beer is good for questions like 'how could this become the case?' and 'what are the implications of it, were it to be the case?' Being hung-over and tired is good for creative writing. Being cross, elated, care-free or cocky is good for new ideas.
The presence machine I put together the other day stubbornly refused to randomly pick its magic number for 2 and a half days (it runs every 5 minutes, and flips a 144 sided coin. If the 100th heads comes up, it uses Twitter to remind you to have a look around). The odds of that are small--less than a penny in the pound. Overnight, however, it did fire, twice. But Twitter appears to reject identical status updates, and so the messages didn't get through.
I've made an update: to keep the messages different, the presence machine will now send out a first line from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, translated by Ursula Le Guin. Sometimes it's not the first line; I'm fickle.
Here's the presence machine. Maybe something will happen soon. Maybe not.
Following on, there's a link to Rod's piece, Abbey Among Oak Trees (Northern Line), 2006, a composite image using, in the place of brushstrokes, long random drawings created on tube trains. The brushstrokes tangle together and tug at one another in a way that it's easy to forget elements always do in any composition (image or text, or code for that matter). Where that tangling is usually a property of something aside what the medium is really about (as colour and texture is for paint, meaning and poetry is for words), Rod's brushstrokes have that as their core and almost only nature.
Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2007, winners. Next year I'm going to enter a photo of a rainforest and claim I just hit on the correct l-system parameters.
SpeedTree is a software component to procedurally generate, light and render vast forests of trees in real-time. What I would give for a slowly panning, generative, Mac desktop background of the Trees of Pangaea, the species mix of which would respond to my shifting continuous partial attention.
VATSIM networks people all over the world to simulate air traffic control together. This is a service provided to people using flight simulator software, via plug-ins. TerraNova have a good thread on this. When Wired covered sim ATC in 2003, they mentioned a curious failure mode:
O'Hare was having four emergencies a night, and they don't get four a month in the real world. They'd call the tower and say, 'Emergency! Engines out.' I know what people are doing: Maybe they need to go eat dinner, so they call in an emergency so they don't have to wait in a holding pattern to land.
Ageing superheroes. Who was I talking about this with? An old folks home for superheroes would need to be stocked with the equivalents of incontinence pants for the special forms of excretions these people have. Like Superman would have leaky heat ray vision the whole time, and everything in-front of him would get mildly toasted. And Green Lantern would have little accidents where the power ring would make manifest glowing greens pairs of slippers and cups of tea. Or I suppose he could just take it off.
Omar Elsayed's website, dessalles.com, is utterly gorgeous: a Google Maps satellite view drifts in the background. I left the window open all day, and it wound up over a handsome desert somewhere. Like being in a hot air balloon, lost and rapt in the baking heat. He also gives a smart response to my question, how to design a sign-in system for a group, switching the focus from authentication to permissions. I like this approach, for a TV that tracks usage for multiple users:
let anyone can use any profile they wish and instead protect the ability to remove content from a specific profile.
Interrupter 1.0 is a
preliminary prototype of a device that interrupts you while you move through the city. I have an ongoing problem with presence - sometimes unable to feel fully in the world for days at a time - and I value highly the moments of coming to or surfacing this device would provoke. So, inspired by Interrupter I've made a presence machine on Twitter: follow it, then every 5 minutes there's a small chance the machine will say 'Look around you.' It should work out as once every 12 hours, more or less [update], and being in the world twice a day ought to be enough for anyone.
With reference to that music video yesterday, I come to a familiar complaint: there should exist an iTunes music visualiser that looks exactly like Michel Gondry's Star Guitar. If someone offered to make that for me, I would find a way to bring it into the world. In this Making Of video, Gondry prototypes Star Guitar using oranges and VHS video cassettes.
allows you to experience the intensity and emotion of your songs in real time, in full color, and in 3D. Songs that give you an adrenaline rush are converted into wild roller coaster rides full of color and motion. Songs that calm you down appear as cool colors against a relaxing sky. (Releases February 2008.)
What I like most about the Fit Song video by Cornelius [thanks] is the sugar cube stop motion animation near the beginning, because it's not just that the sugar cubes are being added to the chain one by one: there's a signal travelling down the chain, which means the entire scene iterates frame-by-frame. This reminds me of Yatima and Paolo, in Greg Egan's Diaspora, attempting to catch up with the Transducer civilisation by chasing successive subtly varying Transducer-made artifacts through nested 5 dimensional universes, where each universe is contained within a Planck-sized singularity hidden in the last. Each artifact looks like a totally non-moving solid, and it's only after they've passed to the 267,904,176,383,054th universe (with no way of getting back) that they realise the artifacts were successive iterations in time of the Transducer civilisation itself, uploaded to a computer, each of the Transducer's moments stretched to eternity in a given universe, existing only as a dynamic entity when skipping across them. Imagine living parallel to time, like that. A stop-motion city: a trillion Londons, side by side in a great circle around the Earth, iterating by a second each time, so you can walk from 1pm Oxford Circus to 2pm Covent Garden by crossing the M25 7,200 times.
(Actually you'd only get 1,460 Londons side by side before you ran out of planet and got back to where you came from. At a second per iteration, that's a little over 24 minutes.)
Here are multiple stencils of a figure, all over a city, that when seen in a certain order become a stop motion animation of someone walking towards you.
The Fit Song video is by the artist Tsujikawa Koichiro, currently showing at Tokyo's Mori art museum.
How about making a stop motion watch. 86,400 watches, side by side. It'd save on moving parts. Or perhaps a clock that only changes when you look at it.
Blogs were a different kind of conversational before permalinks were invented. This was also before categories, and titles, and topic-specific blogs, and professional bloggers. Permalinks and titles encourage us to face outward, to package our ideas in chunks for easy consumption by the reading machine (um, that's you). But I'm sure permalinks weren't that, to begin with. They were more like putting a timestamp in whenever the virtual carriage return lever was pulled.
Here's an Orangina Naturally Juicy commercial, which is aimed at furries. Speaking of which, I learned about a new fetish: financial domination. A financial dominatrix is like a camgirl who hurts you via your wallet. She won't take her clothes off, or answer your questions, but you can pay her $100 because you're a spineless worm with deep pockets. Seems like a good racket. And there's something hilarious about Goddess Hannah's Amazon Wish List.
A related note: the sex singularity is when machines surpass humans in hotness.
Vikram Chandra, The Cult of Authenticity: when an Indian author puts a cow or mentions dharma, are they doing it
to exoticize the Indian landscape to signal their Indianness to the West, in the context of the Western market? Authenticity, as Chandra tells it, is one of those gods that people speak on behalf of constantly, but never speaks for itself. The trinity of these gods that looms largest in the UK is: anti-discrimination; health & safety; security. Is there a word for this general type? And what is the larger system of words that discrimination and its evil twin, political correctness fit into?
Matt Jones wants to scamper between beautiful extremes of pored-over and glanceable information design.
Google have introduced instant messaging chat bots that translate languages. I wonder what the conversational UI is like for these, in group chats?
In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchman (spoilers: cracking interview from March 1988), Ozymandias sits in his Antarctic base and watches dozens of television broadcasts simultaneously, letting patterns float up and predicting the future from the gestalt. ''Just me and the world.' "Browsing" the Web is like "reading" a David Markson novel.
There is both a great tune and a car blowing up in slow motion in the video to Kojak, You Can't Stop It.
All of that aside, I thought I'd switch the design of this weblog to one with more purple, orange and old people in it, based on a design I made for Tom Coates, some 7 years ago.