25 January 2015
Several months ago, I finished the third book in Hannu Rajaniemi's post-human Jean le Flambeur series. It's a monument of fiction of what-will-happen-when-we-can-upload-consciousness that has social cachet for today's various technological anxieties. Fantastical art as commentary on present day. While researching author interviews and secondary sources after-the-fact, I read one of the author's recommended source articles titled "If Uploads Come First", written in 1994 by Robin Hanson. One key dramatic history, revealed near the end of the Rajaniemi trilogy, was that when brain uploads happened humans became dupe-able VM workers for tasks that algorithms couldn't accomplish. What a computer can't achieve, 5K uploaded brains could be sold into slavery to achieve. The problem that computers can't do X is solved by simply having digitized humans do it by the thousands.
A few years ago, a coworker told me about out-sourced personal assistants. These are 3rd-worlders who will sell their time by the penny to organize your life remotely as best as possible. The concept was as fascinating as it was morally ambiguous, but I never took advantage. How to organize such unlimited resources? This I had encountered before--conceptually--with Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Again, not having partook, the MT offers a marketplace of people-who-will-do-anything with people-who-need-anything-done. Think 1000s of addresses to enter for fractions of pennies an address. People have time and need money, and there is work to do that would be too costly to write a computer program for.
Friday was an argument with the boss about whether a large VM containing multiple server instances was more valuable than multiple, smaller VMs of equal summed potential.
21 December 2014
From the article The strangely enduring power of kitsch:
The Czech novelist Milan Kundera made a famous observation. "Kitsch," he wrote, "causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!" Kitsch, in other words, is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this - it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it [emphasis mine]. The kitsch object encourages you to think, "Look at me feeling this - how nice I am and how lovable." That is why Oscar Wilde, referring to one of Dickens's most sickly death-scenes, said that "a man must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell".
22 November 2014
A few weeks back when the movie Ouija was being advertised, I became curious where the word came from. Apparently, ouija (which I grew up pronouncing as wee-gee for some reason and can't not say it like that) has the improbable etymology of either ancient Egyptian for "good luck" or a combination of French "yes" and German "yes".
While scanning the Wikipedia article, I saw that the poet James Merrill wrote a three-part epic apocalyptic poem, generated from ouija board seances, called The Changing Light at Sandover. The three books, published in 1976, 1978, and 1980, span 560 pages. They were published together with a short coda in 1982 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award the next year. My last attempt at long difficult reading, Joyce's Ulysses, failed, but I had to get this. I have not yet started.
Somewhere I saw Sandover compared to T. S. Eliot's apocalyptic 1922 poem The Waste Land so I ordered the Michael North edited version when I ordered Sandover. I've so far read this short, barely 15-page poem three times and have started picking through the 300 pages of reference material including Baudelaire, James Frazier, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. Dedicated to Ezra Pound, it reads like infinitely more accessible Pound. I've read a few sections out loud and felt that added much. One connection that bubbled up while taking in Eliot's bleak imagery was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F# A# Infinity. I listened to this back in July 2010 and may need to revisit.
File under synchrony: since purchasing The Waste Land, I've been barraged by random references to Eliot and Pound.
5 October 2014
Intrigued by the concept of phatic expressions: messages whose only purpose is to confirm the channel is working. The canonical example is when we walk by someone and say "what's up?" No information beyond mutual acknowledgement is communicated. There is a related, nuanced concept called backchannel that represents speaker/listener confirmation. When one person is monologuing, the listener is seldom completely silent. To confirm that the messages are being received (and understood), the listener will nod or punctuate with "yes" or "go on". It's almost impolite not to make such statements, and this ties back into the idea of the phatic as "social grooming".
Moving one level up from phatic, we can see how such statements fit in communication as a whole via Jakobson's functions of language. The framework for these functions are the elements of communication:
Different functions of language will emphasize the different elements in the diagram above. Phatic emphasizes the channel. Here's the diagram amended with Jakobson's functions:
|context||referential||imparting information||It's raining.|
|sender||expressive||expressing feelings or attitudes||It's bloody pissing down again!|
|receiver||conative||influencing behaviour||Wait here till it stops raining!|
|channel||phatic||establishing or maintaining social relationships||Nasty weather again, isn't it?|
|code||metalingual||referring to the nature of the interaction (e.g. genre)||This is the weather forecast.|
|message||poetic||foregrounding textual features||It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.|
13 September 2014
When the Moto 360 came out I was trying to find a reason to get a smart watch. Can't really justify it in any way but that nagging desire will still be there. It'd be nice for notifications while riding the Vespa, and if it stored audio w/out the phone I'd love to use it for jogging music. Or, better yet, if I could just swap my SIM card and stream music.
Our office watched the Apple event (insert joke about Chinese sponsorship and/or U2's corporate sycophancy here) and was unpleasantly shocked at how their watch was both retro-futuristic and cluttered. The Moto 360 looks much nicer: the outside is timeless, and the screens are simple. Others have noted this odd reversal of expectations. How did Apple get it so wrong? Either way, they have enough of a following that the game is on.
Here are some notable articles on the adventure:
- Moto 360 review--Beautiful outside, ugly inside - Concerns about battery life and slow, inefficient processor.
- iFixit cracks open the Moto 360, finds smaller battery than advertised - A non-event that I'm surprised Ars ran with. See Reddit discussion here.
- Not quite hands-on with the Apple Watch, and the questions it doesn't answer - What's the battery life? #SavedYouAClick
- Liveblog: Apple Live Event, September 9, 2014 - Anil Dash and Paul Ford snarking at their best.
Jony Ive: "We've developed an entirely new way for you to connect intimately with others." That's not us making a joke, that's a quote.lol