The Longest Now


In eternal rhyme: as Cyberiad draws nigh, a tiny Lem shrine
Sunday March 25th 2018, 1:49 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,noetic,poetic justice

Stanislaw Lem‘s Cyberiad is a miracle of 20th century literature, and of translation. I want to preserve parts of two stories here in as many languages as I can find.  Sources wanted for both, if you have a copy in your language:

  • The poems of Trurl’s Electronic Bard, with their exquisite compact wordplay.
  • (to come!) The story How the World Was Saved — where everything beginning with a single letter is destroyed. Douglas Hofstadter’s paean to translation, Le Ton Beau de Marot, touches on the challenges with translating this story.  

(more…)



“‘I participate in contact origami’, The Book”, The Movie
Thursday March 09th 2017, 8:48 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable,noetic

Footprints in a self-similar river. The occasional passing act of will that remains and is amplified downstream, so that at some future moment, perhaps fording at another spot altogether, you discover a print announcing to you alone that you have been there before.

screen-shot-2017-03-09-at-5-33-45-pmA decade ago, I once spent too long creating a stylesheet for a tiny “how-to” template: the numbers in boxes laying out a three-step process, whether to switch fonts, bold, padding, background and border colors. Making the css just right to work on screens of all sizes.

It looked something like this.  >>

In fact, almost exactly like that.  Some things worked, some didn’t.  I tried to add padding to the left of the roman numerals, tried to remove the pixel of whitespace above the bordered boxes, without success.  Should the roman numerals be left-aligned but the boxed text centered?  Since then, scores of similar templates have copied and remixed it, changing text and context but not style.  The color palette I settled on, almost content with it, shows up on hundreds of pages. It would now take a script and many hours to find and tweak each instance of the design.

I run across one myself every few months, and experience river-shock: the sense of seeing something simple you did once that has a quiet, pervasive mark that cannot be undone.  This is quite different from the sense of pride or dismay that comes from seeing the expected result of a major endeavor: a book in someone’s hands, a clinic building in use or in disrepair, a student now teaching others.

Another memory: One week I set about compiling a collection for a museum, a complete series of parts, diagrams and XO laptops: a few boxes full.  I had sent background context by mail, but at the last minute took a fine-tipped sharpie and attached clarifying notes to post-its on each cluster.

Years later, visiting the museum with a friend, I ran across the display as part of a history of computing; the electronics beautifully preserved as I had hoped, as I saw with pride.  And – river shock – a handful of my post-its, with small diagrams and 8pt-font notes to the curator, exactly where I had placed them.  Anyone with access to the materials could have chosen one of each and put them in a box; my handwriting made it seem like my own workdesk, enclosed in perspex and on display.

On occasion a visitor will find one of the historical texts I’ve preserved against linkrot and plagiarism, like the acquiantance checking up on the man trapped in Charles de Gaulle airport, or a friend running across their favorite college essay or spellpoem, and I have a shadow of that frisson.  A passing fancy, created to be found anonymously by others, appearing at least once more in the endless river of daily life.



The Memetic Zoo – Collaborative space where woke creatures share slang
Monday January 23rd 2017, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,noetic,poetic justice

January is gray, and this now is the Ur-Jan, but today for a change was bright.  Thanks to the snain, red lettering, h’rissa and light.

And to you, dear Reader, for truth, presence, and ideas catalysed in telling – rarities that should be commonplaces. And for this box of potential thoughts about thoughts I will think Thursday.

I still have so many things to ask: what you know of supersimultaneity, quantified serendipity, if you feel a cool thrill in the small of your back when a crux or potentiality approaches, foreshadowing and afterimages. Sometimes I wake with the certainty I must pursue such things with all who might answer, before my pulse cools and I file it away as dream residue for review. Next time.

Today drew out instead improvements in preservation and propagation: idiogenics, cryogenic Seed Vaults and Culture Vaults, a vicariant Greenland. Advances in meme propagation as a critical piece of biological development, including RNA and human speech, but countless other innovations besides. Revisited a recurring dream of a summer camp (memezoo!) for animals who have learned to communicate with humans, to demonstrate relevant universalities.  These prodigies & their humans could spend time with the most precocious of their own species, sharing their newfound memetics, solving puzzles together, creating cross-species pidgins and developing contextual slang, to see what emerges // a place where Batyr and Kosik could have met, and Kanzi could build language bridges with more than just his step-sister.

And what is Earth herself but a planet methodically coated by a memetic zoo?  Once we have a more balanced sense of non-human memetics, we may be able to see our own more clearly, in both historical and current context.


techsolidThen Tech Sølidarity met in a converted warehouse, 150 people totally focused on the moment, technologists listening and thinking for over an hour. At most a handful of computers out, checking data or taking notes for the room. But the same narrow cross-section as before, 80% men, 90% white.

We agended aligning national efforts towards: visualizing data for local politics, streamlining calls to city pols; visualizing gerrymandering & voter disempowerment; securing voting machines; coordinating and sustaining responses to alt-facts (like the Guardian’s dangerously wrong WhatsApp bashing); listing things tech design decisions have broken & proposing fixes; devising mottos for technologists (Protect the Vulnerable?); building toolkits for curators and reviewers to ward off vandals and trolls.  And finally, looking for interfaith groups holding similar gatherings of religious leaders, with which we might cross-pollinate.

I worked with the group gathering voting-machine tech & policy wonks who could provide checklists and advice that we could adopt and share with city councils and mayors. We glissed an arpeggio of steps from procurement & policy to auditing & security, which could each be adopted by someone. Only pranksters whispered about blockchain, but agreed we needed a tacky sign to raise whenever the word came up. Next time.


They too agreed not to wait too long before the next, and to endeavour|fail|evolve rather than simply passing on the meme.




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