The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Greg Linch § Matching cuts / 2014-09-16 18:18:15
Inque § Matching cuts / 2014-09-05 13:27:23
Gavin Craig § Matching cuts / 2014-08-31 16:33:56
Tim Maly § Sooo / 2014-08-27 01:35:19
Matt § Sooo / 2014-08-25 02:10:30
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-25 00:49:38
Robin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:47:35
Doug § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:40:50
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:23:13
Gavin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:10:44

I think we found the Snarkmarket clubhouse
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This 3D-printed “room” — really more of an architectural sculpture, as you’ll see — was designed by Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger. They call it a (the?) Digital Grotesque, and in its totality, it’s pretty astounding –

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– but it was the close-ups, in the video, of the object’s various twisting crenelated modules that made my jaw drop. Beautiful.

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That gaze
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Alan Shepard waits to become the first American in space, Cape Canaveral, 1961.

Alan Shepard waits to become the first American in space, Cape Canaveral, 1961.

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Hide the switch and shut the light
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From the hands that made…
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I really like trailer #2 for The Boxtrolls here–specifically the fact that it’s basically an advertisement for human hands. (Penumbra readers know Mat Mittelbrand is all over this.)

Oh and speaking of animation, have you seen the Bravest Warriors? Highly snackable video popcorn. Tons of fun.

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Masters of their environment
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“Mushrooms don’t rely on a stray breeze to spread their spores; they generate their own air currents instead.” Well gosh. Look at that.

We’re finally going to have to give up the old notion that humans are nature’s great tool-users. Plenty of other species use tools; most of them just don’t look anything like ours, even though they’re arguably more powerful.

Overheard in the Mushroom Kingdom: “What do you mean humans can’t generate their own air currents? Jeez, that’s just… sad.”

Video via the always-entertaining Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics.

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Disguise detection
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Here’s a puzzle for you. This is a picture of a person wearing one of those creepy super-detailed silicone face masks:

Now, if you point a camera at this guy and pipe the feed into a face-recognition algorithm, it will say, yep! That’s a face! But what if you don’t want it to? What if you want to be able to differentiate between real faces and fake ones? How would you do it? I mean, those masks are pretty good.

The solution — and code to implement it (!) — is right here.

(Don’t miss the fairly surreal YouTube video at the end. That is pure 2013 right there.)

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Flux
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Frank Chimero has just posted a new essay, wonderfully wrought and lucidly written. For me, the most important part is right in the middle, in Frank’s conscription of flux into our nascent UX lexicon. He bolsters it with a bunch of examples, all terrific and/or delightful and/or revelatory.

If interfaces can be low flux (like this very web page!) or high flux (like this one), Frank is most interested in the middle of the range. I’m inclined to agree with him, and not only because this description –

… Medium level flux is assistive and descriptive animation, and restructuring content based on sensors. It clarifies interactivity by allowing elements to respond to that interaction and other, measured conditions.

– is so appealing. “Restructuring content based on sensors”! Ah! I love it precisely because I don’t know — and I’d argue that we, broadly, collectively, don’t know — what it means yet. We are living in the moment when we get to find out.

Frank is good at this — the naming of things. Remember steadfast and hot-swap?

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The ghost is the machine
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A glorious rant from Nick Harkaway on embodied cognition:

Because NO, NO, NO, you are not a ghost driving a machine. You are not a tiny green homunculus sitting at the controls of a steampunk automaton. You are not Spock trapped in a body that wants to be Kirk. You are not dual, you are not refined intellect riding gross matter like an unruly mustang. You are not Ariel carried by Caliban.

What are you, then? Please, allow Nick to explain.

What’s the difference between cognition and consciousness, anyway? Do brain scientists and/or philosophers of mind draw a sharp distinction? I think I like the word “cognition” about 10X better than “consciousness.” Consciousness feels flat, passive; a thing that is. Cognition feels sharp, active; a thing that does.

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Combing the number line
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There’s been a lot of news in the world of primes this year; a breakthrough paper-out-of-nowhere from Yitang Zhang on the distribution of twin primes (like 3 and 5, or 9929 and 9931) kicked off a season of super-productive work by mathematicians all across the world. I won’t attempt to summarize that work here, because I don’t understand it well enough to explain, and because Erica Klarreich has already done it with great vigor and clarity.

Her piece is actually about (at least) two pretty fascinating things:

  • these recent advances in the mathematics of primes, and
  • the contrast between the lone genius model and a more collaborative approach — both of which have proven effective here.

On the collaborative front, doesn’t this sound fun?

For the mathematicians working on this step [of the complicated collaborative process], the ground kept shifting underfoot. Their task changed every time the mathematicians working on the other two steps managed to reduce the number of teeth the comb would require. “The rules of the game were changing on a day-to-day basis,” Sutherland said. “While I was sleeping, people in Europe would post new bounds. Sometimes, I would run downstairs at 2 a.m. with an idea to post.”

More fun that tearing your hair out in your grim shadowed math-cave, for sure.

Finally, it’s worth reading this piece just to learn what the phrase “de facto admissible-comb czar” means.

Link via Trivium, reliably math-y and fascinating.

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A Palimpsest of Code

I don’t know enough to assert one way or another whether the Google Books ruling is ultimately a “good” or a “bad” decision. What I do know is that it is fascinating.

US District Judge Denny Chin’s decision is, to my mind, far more interesting than a legal ruling has any right to be. I say this because at the core of the legal decision is a mind-twisting idea:

The display of snippets of text for search is similar to the display of thumbnail images of photographs for search or small images of concert posters for reference to past events, as the snippets help users locate books and determine whether they may be of interest. Google Books thus uses words for a different purpose — it uses snippets of text to act as pointers directing users to a broad selection of books.

Similarly, Google Books is also transformative in the sense that it has transformed book text into data for purposes of substantive research, including data mining and text mining in new areas, thereby opening up new fields of research. Words in books are being used in a way they have not been used before. Google Books has created something new in the use of book the frequency of words and trends in their usage provide substantive information.

Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read book. Instead, it “adds value to the original” and allows for “the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.” Hence, the use is transformative.

Think about that: turning text, already one form of “data”, into another form of data is “highly transformative”. It’s a translation of sorts, but if translation is a kind of chemical reaction, then the source material here is both reactant and catalyst, the thing being changed and the thing left untouched.

It’s as if on a printed page you have letters and words functioning one way, and then underneath it, as a kind of a trace, is an  entirely separate code system that contains meaning temporarily invisible to the reader. It’s a palimpsest of code!

Now, here’s what I’m wondering: What are the narrative possibilities of a text that is always operating in two, mutually incompatible but still comprehensible languages — as if a printed page or a section of text always has hovering just above or below a holographic page of code? What might a book look like or do if it put itself forth in two distinct ways, as always both prose and programming language, narrative and the database?

In a sense, we have something like an analogous precedent. You could, if you wanted to, read Ulysses utterly unaware of the sprawling network of references, focusing on the ostensible narrative. “Underneath” — or perhaps more accurately, alongside — is another sign system of meaning, working its way “invisibly” through the text. Diving into that set of code opens and up and eluciates the text in no end of rich, meaningful ways, situating the novel in both its aesthetic and ideological context.

Can we do that with code? What I do not mean is an executable hidden in the margins, opening up a game or a movie about the book. Instead I’m talking about bits of meaning, marked out in inconspicuous ways that only reveal themselves if the interpreter approaches them in the right “language” — patterns, repetitions, cadences, or rhythms, only readable by the machine but full of human possibility.

Imagine a novel about a musician that reveals its off-kilter time signature through measured instances of the word “beat”, or a text about the immigrant experience that ran unseen contradictory interpretations of key moments backwards through a narrative.

Have we been going at the connections between literature and code all wrong? Should we instead be focusing on an interrelationship between the two that is as constitutive as it is invisible, unreadable?

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