Friday, December 28, 2007

Ah ... so the world economic crisis is already hurting the UK.
Damn! BldgBlog is so good. Now I remember why I don't read it.

I can't cope with something this awesome in such high doses ...

Update : and I certainly can't handle another architecture blog

And robot grace
CSS Textwrap is clever
Things don't look good for Pakistan
Been commenting on the future of Microsoft and the home "device swarm" over at Gaping Void today. (Scroll down)

Then Adrian revived the subject in comments on Smart Disorganized.

"Device Swarm" joins "Yasn-as-platform" as a convenient label.

Update : and some posts at platform wars

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why do people keep saying this stuff?

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has condemned the killers of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as "cowards afraid of democracy".

It was a "tragic hour" for Pakistan but terrorists must not be allowed to "win there, here or anywhere", he added.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the apparent suicide bombing a "senseless attack".

Seriously, it's kind of embarrassing, isn't it? The Bhutto assassination is very sad for her family and probably heralds a lot of trouble. Bhutto was meant to be a popular secular politician who could bolster Musharraf in the forthcoming elections. Now, her supporters are accusing Musharraf of deliberate negligence if not active involvement, and worry that he'll call off the elections.

If he does, attempts by the West to build a proverbial shining democratic beacon in Pakistan go into remission. If he doesn't, who is likely to win? Will the secular groups spend so much time quarreling with each other that more fundamentalist Islamic groups benefit?

Whatever. The assassination was undoubtedly the work of careful planning and concerted effort by groups who had a definite goal of what they want to happen as a result of this. Do these political speeches give any indication that the politicians really have a grasp on the situation here? Do we really think that the people who killed Bhutto were "cowards"? Or "afraid" of democracy (rather than just out to sabotage it)? Or that the act was "senseless"?

How can you win any kind of fight, when you keep insisting to yourself and everyone else that the enemy is "irrational" and acting without motive or strategy? Just for once I'd like to hear a politician get up and say "Damn! We were beaten this time. Better pull our socks up before the next round." Just for once I'd like to imagine a media who wouldn't dive in and punish such an admission as a "gaffe" and start a witch-hunt against the offending politician.
CrowdSpirit crowdsources hardware development.

(hat tip 4h4r0n)
I'm fascinated by

Look at all the Dance Dance mats (including football), video glasses, PC cameras, etc.

Update: USB gloves?

Update 2 : USB incense burner, Flipping Book!
Nostalgia ... my first computer!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

US city sues UK defence company for bribery. Bravo!
For various reasons, I've never been very happy with my MPhil thesis. Looking back on it now, I tend to feel that it had lot of interesting ideas and ambition, but wasn't really a very good bit of scientific research.

That's partly because "Artificial Life" (or any kind of computer modeling) lives in a gray area between science and "philosophy". It's not quite "science" in the sense at looking at evidence from the world. Yet seems more than "conceptual analysis". It's fun to surf between the two very different worlds with their different requirements and notions of rigour, but easy to fall into the trap of doing neither well. (Especially for me, in those days. :-) )

Nevertheless, that's not the reason that the thesis wasn't online. It was because I only had it in Postscript format which is not all that common outside academia. But now, thanks to I have it available as a PDF.

Quite an impressive online conversion given that there were some horribly heavy bitmap diagrams in there. That first blank page was there in the original postscript. Not the fault of the conversion.
Added BldgBlog and OrangeCone to my "following" blogroll. BldgBlog is so darned good and I never remember to read it regularly. Now, I hope I will.

Update : OrangeCone just linked a Midified Roombas video

Update 2 : And this is even more fun. Roomba controlled by MacBook accelerometers.

Thinking about that for a second. One interesting thing you see repeatedly is the transformation of a recording technology into a user interface : for example, vinyl records used to be a music storage device. Then DJs discovered scratching and turned them into a manipulable instrument. Now you can even hook turntables up to a computer and use one record as an interface to scratch an entirely unrelated MP3.

Pen and paper is likely going the same way with tablets and Livescribes etc. (And arguably the typewriter became the computer keyboard and printer)

Now here's a guy turning a laptop into an input device for a robot. Daft? Sure. Any dafter than scratching records?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, happy new year and all that ... back soon

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have to say I'm liking my blogs more and more now we have keyword tagging.

I know Blogger was late with this feature, but I'm starting to find that it changes how I think about my blogs. I feel far more confident writing for the "long term" in the blog. In the past I considered ThoughtStorms for anything long lived, and blogs for the ephemeral. These days, really ephemeral stuff goes on Twitter. I'll use blogs for quite serious essays and more focussed stuff. And while ThoughtStorms is meant to be for the longer term stuff, it has, of course, got quite out of date.

I may be revisiting what I said over on ThoughtStorms:WikiLog referencing Bill Seitz, and in many debates with Chris Dent and Eugene Eric Kim.

Briefly I've been saying that you can't merge wikis (which have semantically meaningful "pagenames" as their addresses) with blogs (which have semantically meaningless dates as their addresses) or "purpled" paragraphs (which have semantically meaningless codes) as their addresses, because working in wiki requires the fluent link-making that semantically meaningful pagenames give you and you don't have.

Well, I still think that's kind of true ... but it's also damned useful to have ways of bringing together stuff that you've put on wikis and blogs. (And twitter). Perhaps we can't dismiss the attempts to produce hybrids so easily.

Maybe tagging can help. After all tagging doesn't give a unique ID, but tags are a) semantically meaningful, and b) exist in both worlds (on blogs, and as "CategoryCategory") in wiki.

Update : Interesting to see Chris Dent experimenting with something new.
Human Slinky
I'm grabbing some free-as-in-beer samples from Zenhiser.

Writing that statement on intellectual property has really got me thinking over the last week or so. I need to write a lot more about that.

I also need to write about another thing that's come up that's pretty disturbing. But neither are 1 minute blog-posts, so will have to come back to them later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interesting presentation on commodotization in IT.
I shouldn't be, but I'm mildly irritated by this discussion.

So I should stop feeling irritated and make a point. Guess I'm just a hardcore fundamentalist on this issue : People have no moral rights over information just because they happen to be the ones who created it.

As far as I'm concerned, everything I create (software, music, writing) you may take and change (or not), republish anywhere with or without attribution - not because I'm very decently giving these rights to you (I am, categorically not offering them), but because they were never mine to bestow or deny in the first place.

Again : in my mind, I never had any moral rights over the works after they were produced, and you never had any moral responsibilities to consult me about what you do with them.

Actually there is one obvious inconsistency with my behaviour. I release my software under the GPL which relies on copyright restrictions to protect freedom from those who may be tempted to take the work I produced and close it. This is a purely pragmatic move. I regard the existence of copyright law which underpins the GPL as unfortunate, and I would far rather that it didn't exist and that there was no need for a GPL. But, as it does, I will try to use it pragmatically to a) enhance freedom and b) draw attention to the issue.

Also I guess there is another area where I do recognise some moral rights. That is if you take something I created and distort it in such a way as to deliberately mislead people about what I said. If, for example, you took this blog-post, changed some of the words to make it sound like I was in favour of restrictions of freedom, then I feel I would have moral reasons for complaint.

We can, perhaps, give an "exculpation" to the photographer who's feelings were hurt. But we should never grant her "reason" or accept some line like "oh, it would have been OK if they'd asked permission, that's what they ought to have done, that would have been the right thing to do, it's a question of respect". This tacitly accepts a whole framework of "creators' rights" over information that we should be resisting.

But yeah, I'm a fundamentalist ... :-)

Update : Burning Bird is right about some of the sexism though.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lambda the Ultimate : Idioms for Composing Games with EToys

my emphasis
BTW : there already seems to be a ... but not in use.

I'll start reading "Composing Thoughts" though.
OK, here's a short essay I've been writing on Jacques Attali's "Noise" and particularly what he calls "composing". It wasn't written for this blog, so the style may sound a bit odd.

However, it does explain the new name and header graphic.

Attali takes a look at the "political economy" of music and makes the bold claim that music "heralds" or prefigures new "codes" (modes of organization) of political / economic life. The claim is explained (reasonably, I think) by appealing that music has, for the historical period Attali discusses, tended to be far more "virtual" or less material than other trades. Hence, if a new economic code is starting to become available, the musician is less weighed down by physical paraphernalia from adopting it.

Undoubtedly Attali's thesis is open to debate. But there are several aspects I find compelling. Of particular interest is the short, final chapter in which he tries to diagnose the future from the musical developments of his times. (The late 70s.) In this chapter, Attali foresees a code he calls "composing" in which a break is made with the preceding epoch of mechanical (mass) reproduction of music. "Composing" is a, perhaps utopian, vision of a code wherein music ceases to be based on an economic division of labour between musician and audience, but is made by individuals for purposes of self-expression. Attali took "free jazz" as an indicator of this. An area where he also saw a rebellion of musicians against studios, record labels and any other intermediaries that provided the economic context for musical production.

Surveying his times, Attali also noted "there is a resurgence in the production of popular music using traditional instruments, which are handmade by the musicians themselves - a resurgence of music for immediate enjoyment ... music is no longer made to be represented or stockpiled, but for participation in collective play, in an ongoing quest for new, immediate communication, without ritual and always unstable"

He was not wholly deterministic in his historicism. The utopia could be waylaid. He worried : "should we read this emergence as the herald of a liberation from exchange value, or only of the emplacement of a new trap for music and its consumers, that of automanipulation? The answer to these questions, I think, depends on the radicality of the experiment. Inducing people to compose using predefined instruments cannot lead to a mode of production different from that authorized by those instruments"

People must create their own instruments to create their own music. Not all new technologies are emancipatory. His fear is embodied by a kind of karaoke : recorded "instrumentals" of popular songs for the buyer to sing over. Here is a new product which gives the user a false sense of individual creation and expressivity; it includes the user in the production of music, but keeps the user on the tramlines dictated by the manufacturer.

Had the book been written ten years later, with an eye on the developments in the late 1970s and 1980s, the analysis could perhaps have been impressed by a number of technological and cultural developments; in particular :

- Cheap cassette recorders enabled the first wave of civil disobedience against industrial mass-commercialization of music through "home taping", while allowing listeners to start discovering a more curatorial relationship with music through making their own mix-tapes.

- Hip-hop appropriated the record turntable and converted it into a new musical instrument entirely.

- By the mid-80s, the digital sampler encouraged musicians and non-musicians to treat other musical recordings as a resource to be picked-up, (re)mixed and matched and repurposed. (Often, it should be stressed, while explicitly referencing or "citing" the earlier sources.)

I would argue that sampling (and subsequent repurposings of music, video, electronic equipment etc.) corroborates Attali's predictions of a break-down between musician and (non-musician) audience, and the creation of new instruments - even if not in the way he intended. And it further succeeds in heralding the wider political economic shifts that were to come with the growth of the world-wide web in the succeeding years.

Jazz musicians invent ideas as self-expression, but will then borrow and elaborate on the ideas of their co-performers. "Trading" licks is perhaps a misnomer; the situation is closer to reciprocal gift-giving. The sample-based electronic dance culture that started in the 1980s is similarly concerned with opportunistic borrowings and repurposings of other people's ideas. And, if the musicians sometimes hope to get rich, the scene is nevertheless a teeming, but largely under-funded ecology of pirate radio, underground clubs, indie record labels and MP3 swapping, where most participants are in it for fun. (And a little fame.)

In another passage from the last chapter of Noise, Attali has a fascinating claim. He sees that a new technology is necessary for a new code, and while he still thinks music is premonitory he also imagines that the recording of personal images and a kind of personal "television" is going to be the natural development of "composing". He concludes : "The new instrument thus emerging will find its real usage only in the production, by the consumer himself, of the final object, the movie made from virgin film. The consumer, completing the mutation that began with the tape-recorder and photography, will thus become a producer and will derive at least as much of his satisfaction from the manufacturing process itself as from the object he produces. He will institute the spectacle of himself as the supreme usage."

Unsurprisingly, Attali missed on the technical detail, but the similarity between "institute the spectacle of himself as the supreme usage" and the evolution of the web with millions of blogs and tens of millions of personal home-pages on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook (complete with photo-galleries, embedded video etc.) is striking.

I would like to say that "composing" can be more tightly defined as a combination of these elements :

1) spontaneous creation for the purpose of self-expression (and desire to create, desire to gift, even to show off)

2) opportunistic appropriation and repurposing of these creations as raw material for further creation and further self-expression (compare response videos, parodies on YouTube etc.)

3) making your own instruments (often also via appropriation and repurposing - not only "sampling" other instruments, but hip-hop repurposing the turn-table, “circuit-benders” using other electronics to create new sounds)

4) breaking down the economic distinctions between musician and non-musician / performer and audience / star and fan / zone of production and zone of consumption

Composing should be contrasted with a planned production of music through co-ordinated division of labour, well defined roles and property rights.

This new political-economic mode is, of course, now widely acknowledged and researched under such names as "peer-production" or "the architecture of participation". It is usually associated with the increased visibility of the Free Software movement in the 90s or "blogging" in the 00s (bloggers are great opportunistic "samplers" and "citers" of other online resources). But it is clearly of a continuity with these earlier musical activities.

And looking outward, it is increasingly invading more "serious" parts of the economy. Companies are today exhorted to learn how to turn their customers into co-creators of their products and services. John Hagel and John Seely Brown talk about "Pull Platforms" in which the organization of any kind of production is increasingly driven by the consumer opportunistically pulling products through the manufacturing process. The end game here could be Bruce Sterling's "Spimes" (objects which don't exist until someone decides she wants one.)

However, as the economy shifts in this direction, we also encounter variations on the threat that Attali warns of. The karaoke that produces the appearance of free expression but keeps the audience well within the existing boundaries : simulacra of participation such as "reality" TV that gives the audience a limited voting role and MMORPGs / virtual worlds whose "architecture of participation" is abusive; or similarly cavalier orchestrators of participation like Facebook who encourage you to contribute your social connections only to blatantly resell them to advertisers.

Anyway, that's the rough outline. To re-iterate "composing" is personal production, largely motivated by self-expression, but plugged into a web which makes accessing and appropriating other people's creations easy. That situation occurred with improvised music about 40-50 years ago. with digital sampling about 20 years ago (and so changed the shape of music). It was only 5 - 10 years later in the mid-90s that it started making it's effects felt in software development as Free Software went mainstream. By the 00s it had become a challenge to mainstream media of all kinds (blogs vs. journalists, MySpace, YouTube vs. television, file-sharing vs. pushed distribution channels)

It is coming to the manufacturing of physical stuff too.

Global process networks are getting more flexible; OEMs are flourishing. Johnny Chung Lee demonstrates impressive inventions that can be made at home by repurposing the Wiimote. (Of course this is because more of our stuff is now "software" wrapped around generic computers and input / output devices.)

If those trends continue, and I think they will, we will see more generic building blocks for technology (DIY powertools with multiple drill-bits), more small scale, small run, user pulled, "desktop" manufacturing mash-ups.

All of this is "composing" in Attali's sense ... and that seems to be what this blog is about (and sometimes *doing*) so it's a suitable name
OK ... the reinvention of the blog formerly known as "blahsploitation" continues apace.

I toyed with some crazy names like "Carnival vs. Lent : One man can declare war on the entire world ... and win" and "Carnival vs. Lent : Man's new dialogue with nature" ... before finally opting for the more sober "Composing" and the Gaping Void quote. I've still kept "Carnival's quarrel with Lent" in the header graphic though ...

er ... all this probably doesn't make much sense at the moment, does it?

It will if you've read the final chapter of Jacques Attali's "Noise" or at least, my interpretation of it.

Update : now here

If you missed it : why I decided to change.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Could Iraq finally be recovering? Becoming a success?
Just looking at Twitter going crazy with discussions of Knol ... no idea what it *is* or means yet, but I can't help being reminded yet again ...

This stuff has become our religion ...

Our own pantheon or daemonology. You remember that bit at the end of Neuromancer where Wintermute and all the giant AIs merged or broke up or something and all went off to become Papa Legba and the other Voodoo god-saints?

That happened!

That's exactly how we treat Google and Facebook and Amazon and Microsoft today. They are our daemonology. The supplicate them when we want stuff, and bitch about them when they don't give us what they want. We threaten, idly, to switch our allegience.

But we let them ride us. Put their logos on our t-shirts, let them dictact our file-formats and our work practice and our conversation.

This is another side to the "enchantment" of the world through ubicomp. Omniscient, omnipresent intelligences who we turn to whenever we need to get stuff done.
... name change ...
Yeah, OK, I'm legendarily lazy and disorganized. That's why I only just

a) got some important bureaucracy done today, which I may tell you about soon


b) finally got a copy of the paper I gave at the Wittgenstein Symposium in August up on the web.

It's basically an introduction to Netocracy with hints about tying it in with social network analysis. But not fully developed. Nevertheless, I think it's worth reading if you're interested in knowing more about why I'm a "left netocrat". At least, about the netocrat side. I still have to write my left-wing take on the whole thing.

Oh, and it's in Word ... don't blame me, that's what they asked for ... (oh, all right, blame me then, because I should get round to putting it in HTML and other neutral formats too ... what was that about lazy and disorganized again?)
Great talk by Hans Rosling of GapMinder.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Black is the new ... huh????!!!!

Don't worry, just playing here ... blahsploitation is in transition ... but this isn't what's coming next ... still have to work that out ...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Yeah! Livescribe looks great! I really hope this isn't going to be vapour-ware.

(hat-tip Kaunda)

Update : reading more about this, it's very much what I want. Way more than a Kindle, or iPhone or some kind of sub-laptop. I'd like to see how good the pattern recognition is, in practice, of course, but I'd be willing write Java(!) to play around with this.

Update 2: But I'm a bit confused ... how exactly is it different from a FLY Pentop? Just marketed at a different age group?

Update 3 : OK, so the difference seems to be the LiveScribe is slimmer, and has some cool applications for recording synchronized sound and writing.
Widgety Goodness
Clearly Black is the new .... well, you know what I mean.



Vista, and even the new Windows Media Player has a kind of black Vista look on the XP machine at work.

You can do it on Ning

Apart from the Microsoft stuff, I guess this is all the fault of Adobe and Flash 9, Flex 3 etc. Or maybe it's because of these shiny "wet-looking" LCD screens on laptops (even I've got one now) where black looks pretty damned good.

Guess *this* is the new style that some people are going to try to associate with "web 3.0". Poor Jason Fried.