• "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.

  • "I didn’t think I’d ever do a thing this long. I might never again. But it turns out businesses are hard, especially when they involve atoms and even more so if you want to be profitable, legal and have good customer service. Not that much of that is to do with me." In amongst so much of the nonsense of the tech industry in 2014, and East London Technology in 2014, it always makes me happy that Newspaper Club is going so well, and that my friends are doing it.
  • Great interview on the end titles for the Lego Movie, which, unlike the rest of the film, were actual stop motion. From designing in Lego Digital Design, through digital previz, and into manufacture, lots of details shared and cunning insight; motion controller stereoscopic stop motion isn't easy, you know. Very much symptomatic of all the detail throughout the film.
  • "Today I want to talk about these moments when the future falls in our laps, with no warning or consideration about whether we're ready to confront it." This is a great, great talk from Maciej, on the histories of technology, and how culture interferes with work, and how 20th century history complicated most things it touched. Also: the rant in the middle is good. I think this might be my favourite Maciej talk I've read or seen.
  • "We learned that being first is important, but should not be the only factor when determining the viability of a project. If you have an evolved approach to a preexisting concept, you are likely doing something original and the results have a good chance of being meaningful." So, in one sense, it's another physical mirror. But: I like this point, that sometimes, you have to do a thing for yourself to learn about it. And by learning about it, you might ultimately differentiate your own work. As long as you don't claim you were first, there is no shame in doing what other people do. How else do you learn things? Not by other people yelling "OLD!" at you, that's for sure.
  • "Gifsicle is a command-line tool for creating, editing, and getting information about GIF images and animations." Handy.
  • "These three frameworks — objects as portals, objects as subjects, and objects as oracles — propose distinct (yet related) structures for thinking about how connected objects might begin to contain their own narratives, seek their own history, develop their own perspectives, and become storytellers in a multitude of ways." Nice article about the various perspectives on Connected Objects (which namechecks Hello Lamp Post).
  • "I was no boy naturalist, unlike Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri – whose collecting habits earned him the nickname Dr Bug among friends. And yet I vividly remember catching my first tadpole in a Golden Wonder crisp packet, then cradling this sloppy pouch all the way home to a sluiced-out jam jar. When you know Tajiri wanted to make a game to communicate his joy in catching insects as a boy, and look at Pokémon, it is impossible not to feel how powerfully he succeeded." A really lovely piece of games writing, about breeding and trafficking Pokémon as an adult – but, secretly, about the appeal of the series to players of all ages.
  • "…the 808 is such a storied instrument in electronics. It casts a large shadow. There's whole genres based on just the kick or the snare or the cowbell sound. As soon as you turn it on and start working, you hear every single gesture that's happened in electronic music since its advent. It's this crazy machine of history, and it's really hard not to be beholden to it in that way." Daedalus on the history embedded in instruments, as part of an interview about his use of technology for Resident Advisor.
  • This is a great piece of writing from Frank Chimero, if only because the thing it emphasises is not a brutal the-work-above-all-else approach, but a gentle talk on the same idea. And the thing I'm slowly shifting towards in the manner of my work (if not always the practice of it) is a particular kind of quiet gentleness: be kind; work hard; keep going. Gentle is underrated, and gentle is not the same as easy or soft-touch. It has value for all involved. Also: I loved the point where he wrote "you have to earn those words". Yes.
  • This is a great piece of writing from Frank Chimero, if only because the thing it emphasises is not a brutal the-work-above-all-else approach, but a gentle talk on the same idea. And the thing I'm slowly shifting towards in the manner of my work (if not always the practice of it) is a particular kind of quiet gentleness: be kind; work hard; keep going. Gentle is underrated, and gentle is not the same as easy or soft-touch. It has value for all involved. Also: I loved the point where he wrote "you have to earn those words". Yes.