Joho the BlogMay 2012 - Page 3 of 3 - Joho the Blog

May 10, 2012

Awesome James Bridle

I am the lucky fellow who got to have dinner with James Bridle last night. I am a big fan of his brilliance and humor. And of James himself, of course.

I ran into him at the NEXT conference I was at in Berlin. His in fact was the only session I managed to get to. (My schedule got very busy all of a sudden.) And his talk was, well, brilliant. And funny. Two points stick out in particular. First, he talked about “code/spaces,” a notion from a book by Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin. A code/space is an architectural space that shapes itself around the information processing that happens within it. For example, an airport terminal is designed around the computing processes that happen within it; the physical space doesn’t work without the information processes. James is in general fascinated by the Cartesian pituitary glands where the physical and the digital meet. (I am too, but I haven’t pursued it with James’ vigor or anything close to his literary-aesthetic sense.)

Second, James compared software development to fan fiction: People generally base their new ideas on twists on existing applications. Then he urged us to take it to the next level by thinking about software in terms of slash fiction: bringing together two different applications so that they can have hot monkey love, or at least form an innovative hybrid.

Then, at dinner, James told me about one of his earliest projects. a matchbox computer that learns to play “noughts and crosses” (i.e., tic-tac-toe). He explains this in a talk dedicated to upping the game when we use the word “awesome.” I promise you: This is an awesome talk. It’s all written out and well illustrated. Trust me. Awesome.

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May 8, 2012

Newly de-classified diseases

The DSM — the psychiatric tome that lists diagnosable (and thus billable) disorders — is being overhauled. Famously, in an earlier edition, homosexuality stopped being counted as a disease. I have some hopes that some illnesses of the Internet will be formally recognized:

Internet Conceptual Infantilization: Sufferers believe what they read on the Internet simply because it is on the Internet.

Wikiperfectionism: Sufferers engage in pitched battles over small questions to which there is no conceivable right answer. Also known (rarely) as “Disproportioniki.”

Narcissistic Hypothetical Opportunism (“Craig’s Disease”): Sufferers believe more than 50% of Craigslist Missed Connections ads apply to them, even when they refer to someone of a different body type, hair color, race, or time zone.

Blogger’s Phantasm: The unsubstantiated belief, exhibited in a writing style characterized by heightened expression, that a lot of people both read and care about your blog. It’s true, my dawgs!

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May 7, 2012

[everythingismisc] Scaling Japan

MetaFilter popped up a three-year-old post from Derek Sivers about how streeet addresses work in Japan. The system does a background-foreground duck-rabbit Gestalt flip on Western addressing schemes. I’d already heard about it — book-larnin’ because I’ve never been to Japan — but the post got me thinking about how things scale up.

What we would identify by street address, the Japanese identify by house number within a block name. Within a block, the addresses are non-sequential, reflecting instead the order of construction.

I can’t remember where I first read about this (I’m pretty sure I wrote about it in Everything Is Miscellaneous), but it pointed out some of the assumptions and advantages of this systems: it assumes local knowledge, confuses invaders, etc. But my reaction then was the same as when I read Derek’s post this morning: Yeah, but it doesn’t scale. Confusing invaders is a positive outcome of a failure to scale, but getting tourists lost is not. The math just doesn’t work: 4 streets intersected by 4 avenues creates 9 blocks, but add just 2 more streets and 2 more avenues and you’ve enclosed another 16 blocks. So, to navigate a large western city you have to know many many fewer streets and avenues than the number of existing blocks.

But of course I’m wrong. Tokyo hasn’t fallen apart because there are too many blocks to memorize. Clearly the Japanese system does scale.

In part that’s because according to the Wikipedia article on it, blocks are themselves located within a nested set of named regions. So you can pop up the geographic hierarchy to a level where there are fewer entities in order to get a more general location, just as we do with towns, counties, states, countries, solar system, galaxy, the universe.

But even without that, the Japanese system scales in ways that peculiarly mirror how the Net scales. Computers have scaled information in the Western city way: bits are tucked into chunks of memory that have sequential addresses. (At least they did the last time I looked in 1987.) But the Internet moves packets to their destinations much the way a Japanese city’s inhabitants might move inquiring visitors along: You ask someone (who we will call Ms. Router) how to get to a particular place, and Ms. Router sends you in a general direction. After a while you ask another person. Bit by bit you get closer, without anyone having a map of the whole.

At the other end of the stack of abstraction, computers have access to such absurdly large amounts of information either locally or in the cloud — and here namespaces are helpful — that storing the block names and house numbers for all of Tokyo isn’t such a big deal. Point your mobile phone to Google Maps’ Tokyo map if you need proof. With enough memory,we do not need to scale physical addresses by using schemes that reduce it to streeets and avenues. We can keep the arrangement random and just look stuff up. In the same way, we can stock our warehouses in a seemingly random order and rely on our computers to tell us where each item is; this has the advantage of letting us put the most requested items up front, or on the shelves that require humans to do the least bending or stretching.

So, I’m obviously wrong. The Japanese system does scale. It just doesn’t scale in the ways we used when memory spaces were relatively small.

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May 4, 2012

[roflcon] Microfame

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Matt Oswald drew Me Gusta. He’s now an illustrator because of the drawing that made him famous.

Nate Stern is Huh Guy. He was in an AT&T commercial in which he said “Huh.” He submitted it to Reddit. The line in the script was “Say what now?” but they asked him to improvise. Nate says that he went up to Jonathan Zittrain who had put up a picture of the Huh guy during his excellent keynote, and said, “You’re much better looking than the Huh Guy.” JZ said thank you. “And that’s how micro famous I am. I wasn’t recognized by a guy who referenced me in his talk.”

Chris Torres is the Nyan Cat guy.

Paul Vasquez made the Double Rainbow video. “It was a spiritual experience. I need to bring spirituality to humanity.” He wants to “bring people together under the colors of the rainbow.”

Nate says that now you’re famous on the Internet for 1.5 seconds. Chris says that he is never recognized. No one ever knows the people behind the drawings. “Is that frustrating?” asks our host, Mike Rugnetta. “I love it,” Chris replies. He loves seeing the drawing reproduced. “It’s an amazing thing knowing that people love your work.”

Paul says that when Jimmy Kimmel played his video, it exploded. Microsoft wanted to do a video with him. “I’d been a hermit for a long time, and all of a sudden humanity was paying attention to me because I saw this rainbow. You’re not seeing me in it. You see it through my third eye, which is also my camera.” He says the camera didn’t capture the fact that the rainbow was a complete disk, a giant eye. What could have an eye that big? “God could.” A high school flew him out there, performed a play while he sat on a throne. They took him to a lake and he was wondering if he’s supposed to go swimming with high schoolers…and there was the rainbow again. “That’s why I video everything. Otherwise no one would believe it.”

Mike asks about the intersection of Net memes and mainstream media. Paul points to how much mainstream media coverage he’s gotten. “They’ve been kind to me, probably because I’m not in it.”

Chris says that Conan did a parody of it. Time featured it. “It’s mind blowing that mainstream media cover it.” He thinks the mainstrea generally does “get” it, although they’re wrong about other Net phenomena, such as Anonymous.

Nate says that people were suspicious that AT&T was orchestrating the meme. The Reddit upvotes barely beat out the downvotes. But he says that AT&T thinks that it’s popular because people like the commercial.

Matt: “My experience with Me Gusta and the media is zero.” It started on 4chan and became more popular on Reddit. He says he thinks of it as the Internet’s property now.

Nate: We try to figure out why some memes go viral, but there are always another 100 things that had the same factor. It’s more that the Net chooses what to get behind.

Matt says that we should feel a duty to link to stuff that’s cool and that may have taken a lot of work.

Chris: Keep doing what you love.

Paul: That’s why I make videos.

Mike: Is this leading to fewer big projects being created?

Paul: It’s up to us now to produce our art.

Paul: YouTube is people’s memory and Facebook is their consciousness.

Now questions from the audience.

Q: Chris, was there a Pop Tarts lawsuite?
A: No. I’d love to work with them. Nyan flavored Pop Tarts with rainbow-colored filling.

Q: [Scumbag Steve!] Could you spare $20?

Q: What was it like to negotiate with Microsoft, Double RainbowGuy?
A: I never put ads on the Rainbow video. YouTube asked me to, and I said no, it’s a sacred video. I got an agent who negotiated the contract. The offer came from an intern. It was not big money like you think. I could have bought a used car.

Q: Is there something else you’ve created that you think is more worthy than what went viral?
A: Paul: I made a rainbow video — Giant Intense Video — a year earlier and thought it’d go viral. On that one, I am high. I wasn’t on double Rainbow.
Matt: I was working on a comic. I worked really hard on it. It had a narrative. And then a 12-min drawing goes viral.

[ I’m leaving 5 mins early. Posting without re-reading.]

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[roflcon] Syrian memes

I’ve come in late to Ethan Zuckerman’s panel on worldwide memes. I heard the fabulous Brazilian discussion from my spot in the back of the room. Now I have seat and anasqtiesh, a Syrian blogger, is talking about the importance o memes in Syria’s repressive environment.

For example, as soon as Assad used germs as a metaphor for rebels, graphics were posted using germs to make political points. When a government minister said that Europe doesn’t matter, people posted maps without Europe. Likewise with a statement that enabled a duck pun. Assad became “The Duckfather,” etc. Lots of graphics portraying Assad et al. as Chinese to draw the connection about repressive regimes. The debate among Secularists and Islamists is also reflected in memes (including rage face).

Ethan ends it by calling for a Scumbag Assad meme.

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May 3, 2012

Impacted by conflicted

For me, “impacted” refers to an unpleasant dental condition, and cannot be used as a verb. So, given my grammatical self-righteousness on this point, I was chastened to read a column written by William Safire sometime in 1989-1991 (in his anthology In Love with Norma Loquendi) criticizing the use of “conflict” as a verb. He cites a psyhotherapist who says, “Conflicted as a verb is fairly recent.” It had not occurred to me that I need to make an ass of myself about that word as well.

On the other hand, Safire points out that in the sentence “He felt conflicted,” “conflicted” is a predicate adjective — “a past participle used as an adjective after a linking verb” — and thus isn’t being used as a verb. But it is a verb in the sentence “Therapists have to work on resolving what conflicts the patient.”

Since I don’t understand predicate adjectives well enough to be sure I’m right when I denounce someone for misusing a term in a way that no one cares about and does not matter, I will simply have to amp up my sneering tone in order to raise the stakes on pushing back against my criticism.

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