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November 2004

Thinking in the body

And as if that weren't enough excitement for one night, there's this from Anne Galloway:

If Derrida were a verb, then that's what happened to Webb the other night. Brilliant. And now he's got a question:

"The way Derrida operates inside language instead of over it, I want a philosophy (or rather, a way of doing philosophy) which is of embodiment (embodiment of all kinds, including the nonhuman) instead of happening over it. Where can I find that? What can I do? Where can I start?"

My quick answer? There's always The Phenomenology of Perception. But The Body in Pain really made me think about when language fails, and Dangerous Emotions is a hell of a read. And, really, to do philosophy is to live life.

Everything is a sample

The Pinocchio Theory on DJ Spooky:

Everything is a sample, everything is waiting to be sampled; and everything is renewed when it is sampled, broken down, reconstructed and recontextualized. If architecture is, as they say, frozen music, then -- Miller says -- music is liquid architecture. Music fills and reconfigures space, puts it into motion. All that is solid melts into software -- actually, into free software or shareware. I found Paul Miller's lecture exhilarating, as it envisioned -- but also pragmatically demonstrated, in brief -- the utopian potentialities of postmodern culture. Remix/Remodel. Deform in order to Transform.

This brief post (a reaction to 'an excellent lecture/demonstration tonight by Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky') is highly interesting: thus, DJ Spooky 'so thoroughly registers and reflects upon what it means to live in our 21st century network culture. Miller speaks to and for a world in which everything is hybrid, everything is continually being transformed and "remediated" '.

Search engines

blinkx 2.0 is out - with added Smart Folders: 'Smart Folders are intelligent folders that automatically update their content as new information becomes available based on the ideas contained within the content of those files'.

Greg Linden writes: 'A couple weeks ago, Findory launched search history for web, news, and blog search. As I've said before, search history is not personalized search. This week, Findory took our first step toward true personalized web search. In subtle and small ways, we are starting to modify web search results based on your history at ... Please keep in mind these are our first, early, baby steps. The changes are small, infrequent, and subtle. Findory need to learn to walk before it can run. Over time, Findory will better understand how to help people find what they need and the changes will become larger and more frequent.'

PubSub has relaunched: 'PubSub is a matching service that instantly notifies you when new content is created that matches your subscription. Using a proprietary Matching Engine, PubSub is able to read millions of data sources on your behalf and notify you instantly whenever a match is made. The heart of the PubSub service is a powerful, proprietary Matching Engine that makes it possible, for the first time, to match millions of search queries against thousands of new pieces of information every second. Traditional search stores data and then allows you to find documents within that store of data. PubSub operates by first storing your subscription query, and then watching for new information that matches it. Your query will be checked against every piece of new information passing through our Matching Engine. Today, PubSub reads over 6.4 million weblogs, more than 50,000 internet newsgroups and all SEC (EDGAR) filings. In the coming months, we'll be adding many more streams of data, so stay tuned!'

via John Battelle

On the shoulders of giants

'Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web. Just as with Google Web Search, Google Scholar orders your search results by how relevant they are to your query, so the most useful references should appear at the top of the page. This relevance ranking takes into account the full text of each article as well as the article's author, the publication in which the article appeared and how often it has been cited in scholarly literature. Google Scholar also automatically analyzes and extracts citations and presents them as separate results, even if the documents they refer to are not online. This means your search results may include citations of older works and seminal articles that appear only in books or other offline publications. Please let us know if you have suggestions, questions or comments about Google Scholar. We recognize the debt we owe to all those in academia whose work has made Google itself a reality and we hope to make Google Scholar as useful to this community as possible. We believe everyone should have a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants.'

via Matt Webb

Reviews: ResourceShelf & SearchEngineWatch (via John Battelle)

St Rad of Wary


'How St Rad found enlightenment and denounced 16.7 million colours', by St Mo of No

St Rad was once a very colourful character: he spoke and talked like a film star. When he walked into a room, everything stopped. Friends and strangers both hung on his every word. His character was so great he could wear colourful shoes, clothes and dye and change his hair at will. Before his vision, St Rad could have talked birds from the trees, girls from the convent and men into battle. He wore the most ludicrously stylish outfits with such confidence everyone he met was completely convinced by him. All this had made St Rad a rich and celebrated man: whatever he wanted, he had.

One day, I was lucky enough to be with St Rad when we visited a friend with little or no possessions at his small flat in Walcot Heights. We were offered some drink and sat down to watch TV, and then the transformation occurred. The screen was black and white, no colour: while watching the football game, you couldn’t tell who was on whose team. Such shock and the taste of cheap, barely alcoholic beer forced Rad to make excuses and leave. I followed, apologising to our friend (now Brother Fortnight), who was surprised and upset for this was his special night in. On leaving, I could only see a speck in the distance: Rad was running. He ran all nine miles home. When I got there, rubbish bags were on the lawn full of all his worldly things. He sat in what is now our sacred home, surrounded by nothing but a cardboard box and his shorts, tee shirt and running shoes. There was a noise outside. I turned and watched the neighbours rifling through the rubbish bags. They were excited, laughing at first and then started to fight over stuff by the end. It was then I saw for myself the vision of St Rad: everything around him was black, white and shades of grey. He sat exhausted, the colour of his clothes was dripping in sweat from his body. I collected his sweat and put it in a bottle, now a sacred relic. I then sat down to wash his feet and it was then I noticed the stigmata on his feet. St Rad was now destined to run for the world in black and white and I was to follow him.

Ray Ward (2004)

Ray's installation in the heart of Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) was a temporary shrine in honour of the little known mystic, St Rad of Wary. To find out more about him, 'see relics, taste holy water or even join the order (no pressure)', we visited the shrine last Saturday and our earthly progress is recorded in this Flickr set. Ray told us that this article in Harper's Magazine, 'The numbing of the American mind: culture as anesthetic', by Thomas de Zengotita, 'seemed to touch on many of my ideas for St Rad'.

Swayed by the aura of evident holiness, our senses lulled by the effect of the holy water and overwhelmed by the playing from the altar of 'Like a Puppet on a String' (slowed so much that a visiting child thought Sandie Shaw a man), we joined the order …  I suppose we should now be running, too …

10 x 10

Every hour, 10x10 collects the 100 words and pictures that matter most on a global scale, and presents them as a single image, taken to encapsulate that moment in time. … 10x10 is ever-changing, ever-growing, quietly observing the ways in which we live. It records our wars and crises, our triumphs and tragedies, our mistakes and milestones. When we make history, or at least the headlines, 10x10 takes note and remembers.

Each hour is presented as a picture postcard window, composed of 100 different frames, each of which holds the image of a single moment in time. Clicking on a single frame allows us to peer a bit deeper into the story that lies behind the image. In this way, we can dart in and out of the news, understanding both the individual stories and the ways in which they relate to each other.

10x10 runs with no human intervention, autonomously observing what a handful of leading international news sources are saying and showing. 10x10 makes no comment on news media bias, or lack thereof. It has no politics, nor any secret agenda; it simply shows what it finds.

Great design. Interesting idea.

Open Networks, Metcalfe's & Reed's Law

Ross Mayfield introduces me to these laws:

Network effects drive adoption on a single platform as the network value grows according to Metcalfe's law's measure of the number of nodes. … But I continue to wonder if Metcalfe's Law is an adequate measure of network value when the network is a platform and the network is open. …

Now open value added services are being spliced in such as Flickr for photos and for social bookmarks. … The value of the network grows in something closer to Reed's Law of group forming. Flickr and represent different groups, where what is spliced in is not just the value of the original authors activities, but their participation in the group and options for interactions with others. For example, they can with almost zero effort, copy to amplify a bookmark. Search costs for better bookmarks are reduced because of collective activity in these separate groups.

Rockism, Modernism & Post-Modernism

Facsinating post on AIGA Design Forum. Some pickings:

An article appeared in the New York Times recently on an issue I've long found fascinating: Rockism. The word comes from the British music press in the early 80s. It demonizes a conservative and Romantic ideology of authenticity often encountered in rock and pop music. Here are some of the core tenets of the “rockist”:

* Rock music should be bass, drums, guitars.
* It's about artists and songs, not about production.
* A good artist 'keeps it real'.
* Some artists are more 'real' than others.
* Good songs are timeless.
* At some point in the past they “got music right”.
* Music has value to the extent that it's one person emoting sincerely.
* Although the real is very important, the real is today absent (metaphysics).

… is there a form of “rockism” in design? Is there an appeal to authenticity? I think there is. How many times have you heard designers say they design with pencil and paper rather than a computer? Isn't that just like those 1980s rock bands who wouldn't use synthesizers, or painters who think that video artists aren't 'real' artists?

Rick Poynor recently described, at the Design Observer blog, a “difficult month” at London's Design Museum:

“At the end of September, James Dyson, design entrepreneur and inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, accused the museum of ‘ruining its reputation’ and ‘neglecting its purpose’ and resigned as chairman of the board of trustees. He claimed the place was ‘no longer true to its original vision’ and lambasted it for becoming a ‘style showcase’. His company website spells out his own engineering-led conception of the design process in no uncertain terms: ‘design’ means how something works, not how it looks – the design should evolve from the function.’”

But the form-follows-function argument is a Modernist one, not a Postmodernist one. It fails to take account of the following:

  1. We live in an increasingly post-industrial consumer society, a 'society of spectacle'. It's not enough for things just to be functional; they have to be funky too. Sure, a vacuum cleaner must suck up dust efficiently—must 'function'—but it must also look funky. Dyson's did, and that's a big part of why it became a consumer success story. In cultural terms, you could say that Dyson is listening enough to the Bauhaus, but not enough to the Surrealists.
  2. Functionality, in a post-protestant culture, is a moral value in itself, and makes a covert appeal to authenticity. What's functional is good to the extent that we value the utilitarian, the empirical, the pragmatic. These are core metaphysical values in protestant and post-protestant cultures. The value of things working is all tied up with the value of work, the 'work ethic'. Values like decoration and aestheticism are seen as 'Catholic', indulgent, feminine, subjective.

… Functionality is also an aesthetic value. When people say design is about 'what works', we should ask 'What works where?' and remind them that one of the locations where design has to do its work is the human soul, a place we need Blake, Freud and Dali, not Newton, Brunel and Brockmann, to explain. And if that's a somewhat 'rockist' argument for expanding the definition of functionality into non-rockist areas, well, shoot me. Preferably with a non-functionalist gun.

That Lancet Report

Still too busy to write what I want about this, but Daniel Davies has an excellent piece at Crooked Timber, Lancet roundup and literature review:

The bottom line is that the Lancet study was a good piece of science, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. Its results (and in particular, its central 98,000 estimate) are not the last word on the subject, but then nothing is in statistics. There is a very real issue here, and any pro-war person who thinks that we went to war to save the Iraqis ought to be thinking very hard about whether we made things worse rather than better (see this from Marc Mulholland, and a very honourable mention for the Economist). It is notable how very few people who have rubbished the Lancet study have shown the slightest interest in getting any more accurate estimates; often you learn a lot about people from observing the way that they protect themselves from news they suspect will disconcert them.

Double-Tongued Word Wrester

Grant Barrett, Editor and Administrator of Double-Tongued Word Wrester, writes:

Double-Tongued Word Wrester records words as they enter and leave the English language. It focuses upon slang, jargon, and other niche categories which include new, foreign, hybrid, archaic, obsolete, and rare words. Special attention is paid to the lending and borrowing of words between the various Englishes and other languages, even where a word is not a fully naturalized citizen in its new language.

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