• "Some rapid prototyping later, alongside the expert developers from the R&D team, I had arrived at the below: an autonomous system capable of delving into the BBC’s media archive in search of certain foley effects, deconstructing the artifice of television back into its constituent parts. Pre-loaded with a particular search term, it spiders the archive, iterating backwards through time for instances of a particular kind of sound effect, downloading the relevant media, and extracting the specific timestamp referenced by the subtitle. It then re-composites them to create a generative collage, structured by chance based on when a particular kind of sound has appeared on-screen." Dan Jones programatically extracting Foley from the BBC archive.
  • "The printing press on its own did not create poetry, but by spreading poetry around it helped to create new poets. The steam engine on its own did not create the industrial revolution. Tools are made by people and when tools call out for revolution they will speak through people." Love this quotation – it's a good article, too.
  • Jessamyn West on the useful things one can do to make one's digital legacy easier on the bereaved. But there's lots more in here too – on how we adopt or inherit both things and identities; on the nonsense some companies expect you to go through; on how history fades in and out as the meaning of 'forever' changes. (Added timeliness: I'm reading Soul of a New Machine at the moment).
  • "Here’s an exercise: The next time you see someone talking about algorithms, replace the term with “God” and ask yourself if the sense changes any. Our supposedly algorithmic culture is not a material phenomenon so much as a devotional one, a supplication made to the computers we have allowed to replace gods in our minds, even as we simultaneously claim that science has made us impervious to religion." Ian Bogost on lazy thinking and simplifications, amongst other things.
  • "WordPerfect was always the best word processor. Because it allowed for insight into its very structure. You could hit a certain key combination and suddenly the screen would split and you’d reveal the codes, the bolds and italics and so forth, that would define your text when it was printed. It was beloved of legal secretaries and journalists alike. Because when you work with words, at the practical, everyday level, the ability to look under the hood is essential. Words are not simple. And WordPerfect acknowledged that." I grew up on WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, and Reveal Codes. Some days, I wonder if it's why I got on with markup so well.
  • "I don't usually do in-depth analyses of my bots, especially one that's probably not gonna break ten followers, but my most recent bot is very personal to me, and the making of it turned out to be much stranger than I expected. It's The Bot of Mormon, "the most correct bot", a text-generating process with a very niche audience but the niche audience includes me, so I'm happy." Great, detailed post from Leonard on making programattic jokes: his explanation of the ongoing struggle to make the bot entertaining is good, and the solution he comes to smart.
  • "A wood and brass sound synthesizer built by Max Kohl after the design by Hemholtz. 39½ x 29 inch mahogany base with turned feet, fitted with 11 small wooden platforms, each marked with a number and the words "aus" [from] and "ein" [to], 10 of the platforms fitted with tuning forks and accompanying brass Helmholtz resonators, the tallest measuring 18½ high, each pair ranging in size according to their graduating frequencies, 11th platform fitted with 1 large horizontal master tuning fork." Oh my.
  • "When I was a child in school, the fact that the laws of nature seemed to be permanent and immutable, compared to the laws of the state, made science most attractive to me. And I recall as a kid in school, a physics experiment—and my also mischievous pleasure that even these overwhelming, secular authorities couldn’t change the direction of a beam of electrons." And it goes from there. Ursula Franklin sounds quite remarkable.

The Shipping Forecast

16 September 2014

Berg is closing.

I worked there from 2009-2011 – employee #1, really. It’s a time and place I am hugely fond of. I learned a lot there.

I wrote something on a train last week after Matt’s post for week 483. I think it was mainly for myself; maybe I’ll publish it sometime. But then I found something better to share.

Warren Ellis’ The Shipping Forecast is a story in this year’s MIT Technology Review SF special, Twelve Tomorrows. On morning.computer, Warren explained his story thus:

When Bruce Sterling commissioned me to write a piece for MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, he had a specific brief: imagine a future where BERG won, and launched the future from the back of their Brutalist gulag in Shoreditch. I dragged Schulze and Webb into the pub — Jones was gone by then, in his constant search for the next new thing, off to Google to direct larger launch facilities — and poured beer into them in an attempt to get them thinking about what was next.

I read the story last Friday morning; I had just got up to it in the collection. Over lunch, sat in the office canteen, I read the story. And this passage stopped me, entirely, in my tracks:

“We were very wonky back then. Everyone else was talking about drones and smart glasses and brain scanners and god knows what else, and we were trying to get washing machines to talk to the world. We got laughed at a lot. ‘Internet fridge’ was the punch line. We put the lamps and the early versions of the senders into people’s houses and people thought we were making toys. It took a while before people got what we were doing.”

“Well, you were inventing a business, right?” Emilija wasn’t sure where this was going and wanted to move it along.

“No,” said Signy, raising a finger. “Same mistake everyone else made. What we were doing was launching political probes into people’s homes.” She looked into her coffee cup and sighed.

“I’m not following,” Emilija said. “Political?”

“The personal is the political. Our social choices are political choices. We didn’t do the things that tech companies were supposed to do. We didn’t move fast and break things. We didn’t disrupt and abandon. We didn’t do moon shots. We created a future by sitting the world down with a cup of tea and a bun and asking it some questions.”

It’s just a story, about fictional companies and people, but reading it in week 483 winded me a bit; made me sit up sharply. And then breathe out, and remember to keep striving to achieve exactly that: a future that’s gentle, human, considered.

Thanks for the story, Warren. Thanks for everything, Berg.