Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Twitter makes for sound bite conversations.

No surprise, but Twitter is good for updates, for pointers, and for questions with simple answers. It is horrible for conversation. Here are specific tweets which require more than 140 characters to reply to.

# Elliot Ronen ElliotRonen

@RichGibson And if I'm teaching Shakespeare? Or music composition? Or political studies? Does no physics make everything I say untrue? 27 minutes ago via TweetDeck in reply to RichGibson

(note on format: this is a tweet from @ElliotRonen, to me)

Elliot, my tweet said "But not knowing basic physics means you can't tell the truth about many things." I am seriously confused that you would interpret 'many things' to mean 'everything.'

I believe that it is possible for a teacher to construct a lesson which is true without knowing any physics. But like in war, no plan survives contact with the students. They ask questions. Further, without any physics you lack the ability to understand the context of a large number of things.

1. Shakespeare - At first I thought Shakespeare was largely 'physics safe,' but then the questions started to bubble up.  Examples: the histories are deeply concerned with war. "Commentators point out that during the course of these conflicts, the cult of militarism changed dramatically and traditional notions of chivalric warfare declined, partly as a result of early modern developments in armaments."

The development of armaments, the conduct of wars, the limitations on travel, why castles were very good defenses and how the development of siege warfare changed that are all questions with a physics component.

2. Music composition - I don't think you can get very far in music composition without using physics.   I have many examples, but I am going to assume that you just misspoke when you included music in your list.

3. Political Studies: The requirement to understand physics in order to understand Political Studies seems, well, self evident.  War, terrorism, nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, the Strategic Defense Initiative, Nuclear winter, civil defense, global warming, scientific policy, 'Winning the Future' - all of these require some understanding of physics.  See Physics for Future Presidents, the popular version, or go to the UC Berkeley course page.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Proposal for an open cloud delicious alternative

The news is out that Yahoo is going to close This hurts me at a deep level. I was early enough on the delicious train that I have my first name as my delicious login.

We need an open cloud. I have thoughts about what that means - peer to peer, distributed hash tables, caching, etc. And replicating delicious seems like a great project to test out the idea. Delicious links are intrinsically open, so you don't have to deal with privacy issues on the reading side.


Anyone want to work on it? Email me,

So...on to my rant.

For various reasons I didn't use it much over the last seven years. (yes, seven years). I only have a bit over 1,000 links.

But those 1,000 links are important to me. And the piece of web infrastructure which delicious provides is important.

OTOH, the social aspect of delicious became less valuable as it grew. Sadly we have not yet figured out a very effective way of filtering out the ordinary wankers which doesn't also sanitize our news of the exceptional. To be all current meme, we want tools to hide the white swans and expose the black swans as soon as even a hint of them appears.

But we don't have that. For the first little while, early 2004, Delicious did that. But it did that service because only interesting people had adopted early.

It will require someone more clever than I to solve that problem. Fortunately there are clever people out there.

But in the meantime, the basic function of allowing us to save our own links to 'Delicious' for our own research and use, and to publish for people who actually want to follow us, is useful.

Major and minor players who made, or attempted to make, their fortunes aggregating user generated content have repeatedly demonstrated a callous disregard for those users.

People put their creative effort into generating content, and then one day after being more or less responsible about providing exports and notice and all the data is gone.

Yahoo did it with GeoCities, and now with Delicious, and Google is regularly guilty.

Right now I am utterly disgusted at Google Groups. Each time I log in it seems that a new feature is being removed.

Now they are disabling 'pages and files' from Google Groups. They announced it Sept 22, and 'in Feb 2011' you will no longer be able to access this content.

How kind of them to provide such notice.

I sort of expect it of Yahoo, since they have been completely unable to keep from turning everything they touch into mush, but for Google to kill content after 5 months strikes me as deeply disturbing.

Have they run out of disk space?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Try 2: Capturing personal and shared spaces with explorable gigapixel imagery.

(This is an extension of the abstract for a proposed session in the
upcoming Personal Archiving conference, Feb 24-25, at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. This is a work in progress, which I intend to extend)

Explorable images, GigaPans, allow us to capture details of the spaces in which we live our lives in ways which are currently lost.

The world is the stage upon which we live our lives, the studio or workshop where we allow our imaginations to erupt into physical or virtual form, and the museum where we keep the artifacts which we have gathered as evidence of our existence.

(I split the post because there are numerous embedded GigaPans and I don't want them crashing my regular blog)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Capturing personal and shared spaces with explorable gigapixel imagery.

An abstract proposal for a session in the upcoming Personal Archiving conference, Feb 24-25, at the Internet Archive in San Francisco.

See this extended version of this content.

I am currently working on highlighting particularly relevant examples. For example, here
are gigapans of the Inoperable art gallery in Vienna.

The Poster For Tomorrow project had an exhibit 'The Pencil is mightier' which was in 24 locations world wide to celebrate Global Human Rights Day, December 10th 2009.  It included a display of posters by the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, and I GigaPanned some of the posters - I wanted to go back and capture more images, but the exhibit was up for a limited time.  I guess that illustrates the importance of capturing context of transient events!

Here is how the Long Now museum looked about three years ago.

The Monochrom office is almost the perfect example of a space in continuous transition, brimming with details which can be missed by any but the closest examination.

Here are images from the exhibit "Fifty years of Italian Fashion" from December 2009 in the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna.

We seldom document the places where we work. Maybe a few photos, but most of us have few records of the places we spend so much of our time. Here is what the Global Connections Lab looked like right before we moved. This is where the Gigapan was developed, including a gigapan of gigapans - prototypes and beta units.

The abstract:

Explorable images, GigaPans, allow us to capture details of the spaces in which we live our lives in ways which are currently lost.

The world is the stage upon which we live our lives, the studio or workshop where we allow our imaginations to erupt into physical or virtual form, and the museum where we keep the artifacts which we have gathered as evidence of our existence.

And we attempt to capture that experience of space. We take pictures, we write diaries, take videos, but all of these forms lose the key context of our spaces. In many ways we live our lives the way a museum exhibit or a piece of theatre is created, viewed, and cleared away.

A well curated museum exhibit or a finely directed theatrical work create physical, emotional, and cognitive spaces where an audience is able to expand their minds, and experience reality in new ways.

But a curated exhibit or a theatrical extravaganza are transitory experiences. After an exhibit is over, or the curtain falls, there are a few artifacts left behind: a museum catalog, posters, reviews, some photographs, perhaps a web site, or a video. But ultimately the artifacts are returned to their permanent homes, the walls are repainted, the set is struck, and the space becomes again a blank canvas, an empty stage, a tablula rosa ready for the next show.

Most of these forms of archiving our experiences: of life or museumship or theatre lose the context required to make sense of the whole. A museum catalog may have images of every piece in an exhibit, but it loses the context of the full creation. And a photograph catches just the smallest bit of our experience.

Using explorable gigapixel images we can capture more detail about a space, and the context of that space. In this talk I will present a number of examples of GigaPan images used to capture more or less transient spaces, from museum and art gallery exhibits, to work spaces, and temporary events. I will also offer a suggested starting point for a conversation about developing best practices for capturing explorable images which show the context of the spaces in which we live.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grace as an emergent property of complex systems

Grace means many things to theologically minded people. But what it means to me is the tremendous amount which has been given to me for no other reason than that I have been gifted. 'Blessed' with Grace.

We can do nothing to deserve these things, other than, imho, call them 'Grace' (or some other term) and just accept them.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so say some folks, but that is absurd. I have all sorts of free lunches, and we all do, and we did nothing to deserve them.


This is not a matter of theology, of how various groups interpret 'Grace' but of my personal view that we get so much for free.

This is true at so many levels. How many of you paid the R&D cost of developing the language which you think in? None? Right. We get language for free. But this was not actually free, it represents an enormous amount of genius work by generations and generations of people - mostly in prehistory, but still they still deserve props.

And none of us did anything, none of us _can_ do anything, sufficient so that we can 'deserve' being able to read Shakespeare, or listen to Bach. And we sure as hell did nothing to allow us to deserve the fruits of the tortured genius of Beethoven.

But that is all old news. And as Kevin Kelly notes, 'Technology is anything created after we were born.' The stuff which is older than we are is simply accepted as being our due.

And moving up, I did nothing to deserve Gutenberg. But I did perhaps a tiny amount to 'deserve' HTTP - I was writing and evangelizing non-hypercard pre-http hypertext systems before HTTP, and everything I said was right (though mostly in truth I underestimated the true power!) but I did not actually do anything to deserve a global network of, let us be honest, effectively magic.

And yes, I understand how each element in the protocol stack works (more or less :-) and it was all created by clever people, not by magicians, but that does not change the fact that for all intents and purposes, we are living in a magical time.

I'm leaving out the deep 'magic' of our basic existence. What did you do to deserve your self awareness?

When you look deeply at things, I think all you see are free lunches piled on top of free lunches. The ability to stand on the train wrecks of giants to see just a glimpse over the fence of universal ignorance.

The world may be flat, and small, but it is still bigger and more amazing than anything we could have done to deserve the world we have.

And I choose to call this undeserved bounty 'Grace,' intentionally using strongly overloaded language from religion because it does not actually matter whether God exists, and cares about us, and gave us these undeserved gifts. Personally I believe that these moments of grace, defined more or less as benefits we do not deserve (and perhaps what you could classify, as an economist, as positive externalities) are an actual specific emergent property of complex systems.

So I posit that 'Grace,' defined as benefits we did nothing to deserve, is actually an emergent property of complex systems.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The illusion of the moment, frozen in time

Photographs are a single instant, captured. Without the context of surrounding time. We all know that.

And there are lots of examples to support this. I just went down a wikipedia data search spiral looking at some of the iconic images from my lifetime. Mostly they are sort of depressing.

But the world is big and time is long.

And this photo is, as the kids say, just covered in win! I could say we have some serious winkakke going on with this image.

There is so so much win in this photograph. First, it is a completely unmanipulated image. The shutter opened. And photos came through the lens and hit the sensor, and then the sensor closed. First Tobias walked across the 'set' carrying an ipad which was running a persistance of vision application. Then he kneeled down, and I painted him with the red light from my head lamp. And finally the three of us bent over, and I pushed the remote flash trigger, and the soft box on the right fired at its' lowest setting. The paper is against the window, and you can see, through the course of the long exposure the gobo effect of the venetian blinds and the window frame. I love that the paper is all scarred up, and taped together on the bottom, and that the lights are in the picture and the whole roll of paper with the light stands, and the cluster of cables on the right. just win win win.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't judge a book by it's cover. Not.

'You don't judge a book by it's cover' is a cliche.   Cliches can reflect truth, but usually they are the sign of a lazy writer, and it is almost always useful to assume the cliche is false.  In the case of people the cliche is poor advice in both the literal and metaphoric sense.

In the literal case, book covers are carefully crafted by professional book designers.  These people work very hard to create a cover which will attract the audience which the author, publisher, and designers believe will want to read that book.

And at the metaphorical level, especially with people, we all make many choices about how we are going to present ourselves.

To exclusively judge a book, or a person, by their 'cover' is short sighted.  But to ignore the cover is to intentionally ignore key elements of design and self presentation.

Or am I guilty of 'judging a book by it's cover?'

I think the real point is to not make judgments about people based on things which are not relevant.   And especially to not make pejorative judgments based on things which are outside of our ability to control.

Frank Zappa said"Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, don't kid yourself." So should we ignore the uniforms we each choose? Or just consider that any particular uniform or presentation provides information, but that it is not all of the information?