• "Parametric models indicate how a change to one component of a structure causes ripples of changes through all the other connected elements, mapped across structural loads but also environmental characteristics, financial models and construction sequencing. FC Barcelona's activity is also clearly parametric in this sense. It cannot be understood through sensors tracking individuals but only through assembling the whole into one harmonious, interdependent system: the symphony and orchestra, rather than the midfield string section, or Lionel Messi as the first violinist." A brilliant article from Max; finally, he's written his long-promised article on 'realtime sports graphics' and it's really excellent: insightful about football and data visualisation alike. Top stuff.

21st-century camouflage

29 June 2012

Max has finally written the brilliant article about real-time data visualisation, and especially football, that has always felt like it’s been in him. It’s in Domus, and it’s really, really good.

This leapt out at me, with a quick thought about nowness:

Playing with a totaalvoetbal sense of selforganisation and improvisation, the team’s so-called constant, rapid interchanges — with their midfielders often playing twice as many passes as the opposition’s over 90 minutes — has developed into a genre of its own: “tiki-taka”. Barça have proved notoriously difficult to beat, and analyse. Tactical intentions are disguised within the whirling patterns of play.

(emphasis mine)

It serves as a reminder of the special power to be gained from resisting analysis, of being unreadable. Resisting being quantified makes you unpredictable.

Or, rather, resisting being quantified makes you unpredictable to systems that make predictions based on facts. Not to a canny manager with as much a nose for talent as for a spreadsheet, maybe, but to a machine or prediction algorithm.

This is the camouflage of the 21st century: making ourselves invisible to computer senses.

I don’t say “making ourselves invisible to the machines”, because poetic as it is, I want to be very specific that this is about hiding from the senses machines use. And not to “robot eyes”, either, because the senses machines have aren’t necessarily sight or hearing. Indeed, computer vision is partly a function of optics, but it’s also a function of mathematics, of all manner of prediction, often of things like neural networks that are working out where things might be in a sequence of images. Most data-analysis and prediction doesn’t even rely on a thing we’d recognise as a “sense”, and yet it’s how your activities are identified in your bank account compared to those of a stranger who’s stolen your debit card. Isn’t that a sense?

The camouflage of the 21st century is to resist interpretation, to fail to make mechanical sense: through strange and complex plays and tactics, or clothes and makeup, or a particularly ugly t-shirt. And, as new forms of prediction – human, digital, and (most-likely) human-digital hybrids – emerge, we’ll no doubt continue to invent new forms of disguise.

  • Valve really are incredible; just watching the UI and technology for this in action is a little jawdropping. (Also, one for my friends who work in After Effects/3D prototyping and video…)
  • "If you ever needed a thorough introduction to the series or the new stuff in Final Showdown, look no further. What top American VF player LA Akira teaches in his appearance on UltraChanTV is more than spectacular. More than 4 hours of video goodness fit for beginners as well as more advanced players." So. Much. Virtua. Fighter. (That tip about holding G+P for both blocks and auto throw escapes is a useful one. Throw escapes got so much easier!)
  • Excellent slides from Paul with some super-solid points, and a few tools I'd not encountered (Papertrail, notably).
  • "My interest in materials… is like my interest in tools. What can be made with this? What can this do that other materials cannot? Materials with special properties are cool because they can open new possibilities in manufacturing, design, or even behavior. Additionally, they’re such an amazing cultural artifact. Where and how something gets made says so much about us as people, as a species, even. In a beautiful fabric, the simplest thing can be magic."
  • "Another common hack I use is to hire people on oDesk and other freelancing sites for various tasks. There is no programatic way to shift my Amazon Wishlist to my local library. I could spend hours figuring it out, do it manually or just pay someone $1 in the Philippines to do it for me. Typically the latter option is the most efficient for all kinds of tasks. I experimented with having an hourly admin in Texas reply to all my email. Unfortunately the higher cost of having someone speak English natively outweighs the efficiency of not having to touch email today. The calculus will change over time." SteveC on outsourcing tiny tasks.
  • "I’ve just released a little Mac app I’ve been working on for a while. It’s called Satellite Eyes. It’s pretty simple. It just sits in your menu tray, and changes your desktop wallpaper to the satellite image or map view from overhead." I've had a preview build for a while, and this is just lovely. Well done, Tom.

Links & notes for this month