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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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January 24, 2009

The Obama tax rebate explained

James Surowiecki has a piece in the New Yorker that finally got me to understand why Obama is including a tax rebate in his stimulus package. It’s not the mere pandering to the Republicans that I thought it was. It actually sounds pretty smart.

And while you’re there, you might as well read Atul Gawande’s argument for building our health care system on what we have, rather than sweeping it all away and beginning fresh.

Then finish it all off with the dessert wine of Mariana Cook’s 1996 interview with Barack and Michelle Obama, in which the future president expresses love’s swing of mystery and familiarity. Just in case you weren’t gushy enough about the two of them.

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January 12, 2009

The history of the brain

Can anyone point to a good history of the brain that goes through the various ways we’ve thought about it, particularly in the West, from Aristotle thinking it was designed to cool the blood, up through our modern idea that it’s an information processor?

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January 6, 2009

Vague research question: Atoms vs. bits

How far back does the “atoms vs. bits” idea go? Did anyone talk about it before Nicholas Negroponte in “Being Digital“?

Some specifications of what I’m looking for:

– It has to be actual bits, i.e., binary units of information. So, no fair tracing it back to Plato’s Cave.

– I’m not asking about Negroponte’s particular idea in “Being Digital,” which contrasted economies built on atoms with ones built on bits. I’m actually interested in the sense that there are two semi-equivalent realities, one built of atoms and one built of bits.

– I’m not looking for “Its are bits” physicists who say the universe is made of information. I’m looking for the idea that bits are different from atoms, but deserve to be on a roughly equal footing…at least to the extent that the phrase “atoms vs. bits” makes sense the way “atoms vs. weekends” does not.

Any pointers, corrections, or exasperated sighs are gratefully accepted.

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October 21, 2008

New issue of my (free) newsletter: JOHO, Oct 18, 2008

Contents

Exiting info:
As we exit the Information Age, we can begin to see how our idea of information has shaped our view of who we are.

The future from
1978:
What a 1978 anthology predicts about the future of the computer tells us a lot about the remarkable turn matters have taken.

A software idea: Text from audio: Anyone care to write software that would make it much easier to edit spoken audio?

Bogus Contest: Name that software!

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Last Thursday, I had a discussion with Charlie Nesson and Aaron Shaw at the Berkman Center about the first article in this issue. You can see some clips of the conversation here:

1
2 [Note: In this I misspeak and say info is noise; I meant to say that noise is info. I just noticed my error. Oops.]
3
4
5

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September 24, 2008

Information breeds control

A stray and obvious thought?

If you look at the issue of privacy at social networking sites in terms of information, as outside observers such as parents and governments frequently do, you come up with proposals to enable users to control their information.

But sites like Facebook aren’t about information. They’re about self, others, and the connections among them. Likewise Flickr isn’t about info; it’s about sharing photos.

If the issue gets phrased in terms of info, then the field tilts towards assuming privacy as the good and publicness as the threat, with control over info as the bulwark. But, within the participant’s frame, publicness is taken as the good and privacy as fear-based or selfish.

This is a case where an information-based view misses the phenomenon and can lead to bad policy decisions.

Also, our kids will think we’re dorks.

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August 5, 2008

We and information

David Reed has posted a reminder that communications is only understandable from the top of the stack down. It is about the we, not the individual acts, much less only about how messages get passed. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone involved from the beginning in the protocols of Internet message-passing .

From my little corner, what David says is a good example of why considering the Net only or primarily as an information medium is insufficient (although obviously information theory is crucial at various layers of the stack).

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June 24, 2008

Babbage’s Noise pReboot podcast

Nicole Simone interviewed me about what I’ll be talking about at ReBoot. It’s posted here.

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June 18, 2008

History of index cards, part whatever

Kevin Kelly has a terrific piece about edge-notched cards. They’re interesting to me because I’ve been working on a piece that’s part of a piece, that may be part of some other piece that uses the history of the punch card as a way to trace the emergence of modern information. Edge-notched cards have an interesting place because the notches both indicate data and are used as a physical mechanism for sorting.

Kevin’s post was prompted by Alex Wright’s terrific article recalling Paul Otlet as a network pioneer.

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June 2, 2008

Borgmann’s information

I’m just finishing reading Albert Borgmann’s Holding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium, a work about information, the Net, and philosophy, published in 1999. It’s terrific.

I particularly liked his synthetic view of information throughout the ages, starting with “natural information,” through writing, printing, and the modern age’s idea. He is enthusiastic, but certainly not evangelical. Throughout, he reminds us how deeply human experience is embedded in flesh.

Borgmann is a good writer. He takes care to keep his readers interested, which may sound obvious but is totally non-obvious to most philosophers. If only.

I wish I had read this book earlier.

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