Monthly Archives: April 2002

Sorry to keep harping back to this, but it seems to be a nodal-point right now.

Here’s Cory Doctorow:

“The amazing thing about evolved solutions is that they’re typically counter-intuitive. The Santa Fe institute will recommend that town planners reduce the number of lanes on certain roads (rather than building alternate routes) in order to reduce traffic congestion. Southwest Airlines’ jets fly seemingly nonsensical routes (“Announcing the arrival of Southwest Airlines flight 432 from Denver, continuing on to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orlando”). Autonomous cellular towers will choose spectrum via a complex negotiation that will not only be non-deterministic, but also utterly unpredictable.

I think this points to a world that is not human-readable. We will be surrounded by autonomous systems that pursue optimization by zigging and zagging in ways that we can’t make any sense of, at least not without serious and determined study (just as now, a compiled binary is nearly opaque to human comprehension). What a strange world that will be — our virus and anti-virus software will collaborate across networks to modify themselves and their behavior; our spamfilters will collaborate in much the same way; search-engine results based on network analysis (like Google) will grow even more magical and defy comprehension even further.”

What are our responsibilities as workers in the “meaning-construction industries”? Should we just wave our hands up and say “these things defy comprehension”?

I think not. It’s Clarke’s 3rd Law again. It’s not magic, just sufficiently-advanced technology.

If there’s one thing we as a species feel perpetually compelled to do, it’s explain things to ourselves and others. We’ll figure it out.

» Cory Doctorow on Fruit Flies and Evolving Technology

… gets off to a flying start:

“This whole Vanity Fair culture, beginning with Didion or Wolfe, and ending with Sedaris or Eggers, has run its course. We’ve grown sick of living in a vacuum and struggling to remain detached. It’s no fun to read magazines through squinty, knowing smirks. We realize that detachment is a booby prize. We want to engage, meaningfully, in the stuff of life.

In comes science. And with it, comes good, old-fashioned, innocent awe. Science is not the force that corrupts our nature – it is the open-minded wonder that returns us to it. It is being welcomed back into the culture of narcissism because we’ve finally grown tired enough of ourselves to care about something real. We ache to let go of our postured pretentiousness and surrender to that sensation a kid gets at the Epcot Center or planetarium.

The jaw drops, the eyes widen, the mind opens.”

» entry for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Reyner Banham was and is one of my heroes. Why? Why should you care? What the hell does he have to do with what we do?

Well, here’s a snippet from the publishers blurb about a new book on his work and theories:

“Trained in mechanical engineering and art history, he was convinced that technology was making society not only more exciting but more democratic.”

This is going to get bought as soon as possible…

» The MIT Press – Reyner Banham:
Historian of the Immediate Future by Nigel Whiteley

Tim O’Reilly’s says in his “Inventing the future” article [found via Mattw, Dan] is that:

“So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn’t until much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call “the alpha geeks,” the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they “roll their own” when existing products don’t give them what they need.

The alpha geeks are often a few years ahead of their time. They see the potential in existing technology, and push the envelope to get a little (or a lot) more out of it than its original creators intended. They are comfortable with new tools, and good at combining them to get unexpected results.”

The same sort of phenomenon is reported back from the front by those who study teens and young people’s use of media and technology.

Apple’s “Rip, Burn, Mix” refrain resonates with this attitude to media. We’ve talked about it’s technological equivalent, “Wombling” here before too.

We’re about to see the first generation of kids who entered secondary education when the Web broke (’95) leave college and enter the workplace. Won’t be too long before Homo Technophobis is in decline, and rapidly being replaced with Homo Infovorous (sorry for lousy latin).

Many jokes at the Baltimore ASIS conference about our generation and below “harnessing A.D.D.”… Been thinking about that since I read some William Gibson over the new year..

Will we as a profession/community of practice have to switch gears from “don’t make me think!” to “get the hell out of the way!”.

How do we do that? What will the design challenges be? Is it even likely to be a problem? What the hell am I talking about? Nurse Rached? Is that you?

» Tim O’Reilly “Inventing The Future”
» Interview with Tim O’Reilly by Steve Gilmour expanding on this article which includes this nice snippet:

“The hackers are already treating the Internet as this global data resource and they’re building Web services however they have to,” O’Reilly said. If a Web services interface is not available, they’ll use good old-fashioned screen-scraping. “They’ll download the page, figure out what data they want, and throw away the rest … sort of unauthorized, brute-force Web services.”

It’s what Tim likes to call the architecture of unintended consequences. “The original Internet made it possible for people to build independent services without knowing each other, without having to enter into a contract,” O’Reilly recalled.”

The Financial Times have aggregated their weekly Tuesday supplement “Creative Business” at a sensible URL at last.

It can be found at

It’s usually pretty focussed around the marketing industry and media ownership but alongside all that good general “landscape” stuff is the odd snippet about digital/interactive/network stuff that is revealing, e.g. this report on how next-generation mobile operators are trying to figure out how to charge people for forwarding multimedia messages around the “edge” of the network, to avoid a napsteresque fileswapping-free-lunch festival on 3g phones.

» Financial Times: Creative Business