All posts made in Oct. 2017:

Filtered for things I learned over the weekend


Computers can be trained to see. But they don't necessarily fixate on the features humans see.

Adversarial Machine Learning is a technique to change an image to be recognised as something else, without looking any different to humans.

For example: a panda that - with the right fuzz of pixels added to it - looks to the computer 99.3% like a gibbon.

A hack: adversarial stop signs.

the team was able to create a stop sign that just looks splotchy or faded to human eyes but that was consistently classified by a computer vision system as a Speed Limit 45 sign.

Examples are given.


Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology:

puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally -- plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example.

Things from their own perspective.

A desk telephone, from its own perspective, is constructed to entice (a curve of a handle, buttons that want to be pushed) to feed on sound. To be nourished by sound. And with that consumed energy, to reach out across the world and touch - out of an infinity of destinations and through the tangle - one other. And to breath in relief at this connection, a sigh: another voice.


The Ethics of Mars Exploration, an interview with Lucianne Walkowicz:

it remains a fact that Mars is a place unto its own that has its own history, and what respect do we owe to that history? What rights does that history have?

Which makes me ask this:

Yes I believe there's a human imperative to go to Mars; yes I believe it has to be done in an inclusive way; yes space mustn't be about resource exploitation, a cosmic Gestell; yes potential life on Mars must be preserved.

But also, what Walkowicz said, the land, the land, the land.

I hike, and the land has an intrinsic right to be itself. But I also believe in the human experience of the land, that this is a component of meaning: so, paths? When you walk the trails of the American south west, you come to understand that the trail-makers are poets, giving the land a voice to sing through human experience: effort, surprise, endurance, revelation, breathlessness.

So there should be trails on Mars too.

Which makes me think this:

Who is working to understand this interplay of the subjectivity of the land, and the human gaze, right now? Not necessarily on Mars.

Landscape artists - landscape photographers - do this well.

And that's a process that, for Mars, could start today.

There is Mars exploration via rover right now. The rovers, of course, have cameras. Do they have landscape photographers on the team? Are those artists given reign to look, be, and create?

Why Hasn’t David Hockney Been Given The Keys To The Mars Rover Yet.


A list of interstellar radio messages. That is, ones we've transmitted, not ones we've received.

The first one, from 1962, in Morse code: MIR LENIN SSSR Sent to Venus.

A more recent one, A Simple Response to an Elemental Message, was transmitted in October 2016 and comprised 3,755 crowdsourced responses to the question How will our present, environmental interactions shape the future? It was transmitted towards Polaris and will take 434 years to arrive. (Then another 434 years to hear back.)

The Golden Record is not a radio transmission but a physical item, copies of which were placed on Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977, includes pictures, sounds, music, and greetings in 55 languages including, in Amoy, spoken in southern China, these words:

Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.

Which I hope desperately isn't misinterpreted as offering humanity up for lunch.

Voyager 1 will make a flyby of a star in 40,000 years. Star AC +79 3888 is 17.6 lightyears away, so the earliest we will receive a radio message back is in 40,017.6 years. We should remember to listen out for that. Year 42,034. June.

The Rosetta Project is an archive of all the world's languages by the Long Now Foundation, and is intended to be a code for future civilisations to unlock... what? An archive that we leave behind.

Over the weekend I heard it asked:

Who is keeping an archive of all the messages we send into space, and how will that archive be maintained? We won't receive an answer from the stars, if any, for hundreds or maybe tens of thousands of years.

If, when, we receive a reply saying YES then how will we know what it's a YES about?

My weekend

I spent the weekend at Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn for PWL Camp 2017 -- a 48 hour, 200 person unconference where the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space.

Tons of great conversations. A very open, generous, and talented crowd. My notebook is full but mostly incomprehensible. The above are four things that came up. I'm grateful for having been invited.

The next hardware-ish coffee morning is next Thursday

My Dearest Droogs,

Let's have a hardware-ish coffee morning! Soon!

Thursday 19 October, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club, 100 Leonard St.

I'll be back from my travels, moderately jetlagged, and in no state to conduct linear conversations. So it will be especially important to (a) talk to everyone else who comes (they're always really friendly); and, (b) poke me in the ribs if you see me nodding off.

Usual rules: we don't do intros; everyone talks to everyone else; you order coffee from the counter and please don't forget to pay otherwise the staff get confused; bring a prototype if you have one; actually working with hardware IS NOT A requirement, you just have to be curious. Here's what happened last time.

Might be 5 people, might be 25. If you're a startup and want to ask me about the new R/GA IoT Venture Studio, I am happy to chat.

(Also posted to the coffee morning announce list to which you should subscribe for future updates.)

Filtered for stream of machine consciousness


This is an amazing long essay, well illustrated, about someone who builds an heat sensitive camera. It is peppered with poetic descriptions of what the camera sees.

the air itself glowing

And, looking outside,

the vegetation is not as reflective, so you get the "blackness of space" sky with regular-ish landscapes. It's almost like being on the airless, derelict Earth - preserved under the void after whatever disaster befell it.


I'm Google by Dina Kelberman.

It is:

an ongoing tumblr blog in which batches of images and videos that I cull from the internet are compiled into a long stream-of-consciousness. The batches move seamlessly from one subject to the next based on similarities in form, composition, color, and theme. This results visually in a colorful grid that slowly changes as the viewer scrolls through it. Images of houses being demolished transition into images of buildings on fire, to forest fires, to billowing smoke, to geysers, to bursting fire hydrants, to fire hoses, to spools of thread.


The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces.

Does what it says on the tin.


Here's a system using artificial intelligence to generate human faces.

Worth it for:

  • the gifs seamlessly morphing between faces and emotions, exploring parameter space
  • and, the best bit, the illegal faces. Search for the word illegal to see what the system does when it's asked to generate faces from inputs outside the regular range. The faces are weird patchworks, a computer-native cubism

See also: WaveNet, which makes realistic speech audio also using A.I. It's incredibly realistic, but search for babbling and listen to what the system produces in the absence of any text to process. It's a mess of clicks, hums, and wet mouth noises -- horribly human but with an absence of intelligence. Uncanny.

Filtered for integrity in visual representation


Domino's pizza photos on Instagram are gross deliberately.

Realism. Quote: Imperfectly real. (Not quite sure when the real got relegated.)

Two possibilities for this shift:

Legitimacy in the age of conversation is not communicated via iconic images. I've covered legitimacy previously, in the context of the media:

"People trust us because we've spent years developing a relationship with them. We have been scrutinized and found not evil. Our legitimacy comes from honesty, not from cultural signals or institutions."

Second possibility is that this is the age of photoshop and everything mediated is manipulated. Hard to build trust.

It is also the age of marketing where "greed is good" and "might is right" have been joined by another tyranny: truth is what you can get people to believe.

So there's space for an approach that doesn't (appear to) dress up and doesn't (appear to) convince.

See also: the Instagram trend called the plandid, the planned candid -- where you look totally natural in your posing, like you've been caught in the act and just so happen to look triple-digit-Insta-likes amazing.

Examples are given.


I grew up in the waning years of the Cold War, those happy days where apocalypse was total but distant, rather than continuous, partial, and immediate. The word "DEFCON" is engraved on my soul. Turns out each of the five levels has a code word associated with it too.

  • DEFCON 5, Fade Out. Normal readiness
  • DEFCON 4, Double Take. Above normal readiness
  • DEFCON 3, Round House. Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes
  • DEFCON 2, Fast Pace. Armed Forces ready to deploy and engage in less than 6 hours.
  • DEFCON 1, Cocked Pistol. Nuclear war is imminent / Maximum readiness

From DEFCON on Wikipedia.


The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic, the patina that comes from cycles of screencapping and upload-compression as a picture is shared and shared again, the first non-numeric indicator of viral dissemination.

Wonder how long it'll take for Domino's to adopt this.

Wonder which version of the iPhone will have a computational photography mode to create pre-distressed selfies, for that already-shared look.

See also: this video of the LaserSharp Denim HD Abrasion System which creates identical pre-distressed jeans.

See also: Gudak, the disposable camera app. You get only 24 photos at a time; a roll of film takes three days to develop; the photos are grainy and the light that leaks over them is the colour of summer days that never ended, when you were still young and you still laughed and your life stretched out ahead of you and you could still be anything.

Fun app. Five stars.


This oral history of the CGI visual effects in Terminator 2 is an awesome long read. So much of the use of computers was new, then.

Also awesome for this photo of Robert Patrick, almost naked, covered in a Sharpie grid, being filmed for motion capture.

Robert Patrick played the T-1000, the liquid metal morphing Terminator from the future.

Also, also awesome for the terminology of the engineers and artists:

So, we had what we called RP1 through to RP5. Robert Patrick - RP - that was the actual naming convention.

RP1 is the blob, an amorphous blob. RP2 is a humanoid smooth shape kinda like Silver Surfer. RP3 is a soft, sandblasted guy in a police uniform made out of metal, and RP4 is the sharp detail of the metallic liquid metal police guy, and then RP5 is live action.

Robert Patrick, the actor, the actual dude, gets relegated from his own name.

RP5. Fade Out.