Anyone who doubts the possibility of artificial intelligence has clearly never used a Windows operating system. I use Windows 98 both at work and at home, and it handsomely displays all of the qualities required of a sentient creature:
Ability to infer from limited information
One of Windows’ strong suits. If Windows crashes, it infers that I haven’t shut down properly and tells me to do it properly next time. Nobody specified that these inferences must be correct, you know.
Ability to deal with ambiguity
Ambiguity is assumed to be the enemy of the binary machine. Things either exist, or they do not. There can be no inbetween. Windows breathtakingly vaults over this existential problem and embraces ambiguity with haughty ease.
Example: if my Outlook mailbox is full, I cannot send post. If, for instance, I am responding to a calendared meeting request, my action is blocked. So far, so binary. However, the meeting request stays on screen, and cannot be removed, responded to, or otherwise manipulated, because Windows thinks it has already been deleted. Its menus are gloriously empty. It both exists and does not exist, at a stroke throwing millennia of carefully developed syllogistic thought out of the window(s).
Ability to learn
Cunning Windows learns from its users. My work machine had an unhealthy tendency to run out of memory and crash in that stuttering, David-Ginola-falling-down-in-installments manner. I tried to outwit it by installing a memory management program. Windows magnificently responded by learning how to crash the memory management program…for being out of memory.
Ability to show emotion
Surely the easiest aspect of all to demonstrate. Every Windows user will recognise the emotional range that comes out of the box: smugness, holier-than-thou prissiness and eager clumsiness (my home machine is currently starting up with a barrage of error messages after Windows decided to ‘help’ install a new modem. It has now taken to insisting that I reinstall some drivers from my Win 98 CD which aren’t there.) Increasing familiarity with your new friend will reveal unexpected reservoirs of stubborness, bolshiness, faux chumminess and surly secrecy (ever been made to sit there and wait while your PC spends five minutes thinking about something else and not communicating? It’s like being in a relationship…)
Ability to create art
Dr Biswell of Aberdeen tells me that a friend is creating a modern Waste Land out of spam headers. An excellent project, and one that can equally apply to Windows. Windows’ notoriously cryptic error messages are everything but functional. And what is art but that which serves no ‘functional’ purpose? Some of the system’s better efforts even approach a gnomic profundity that suggests one of Nietzsche’s less prolific days (perhaps suffering from a headache after going out in the rain without his umbrella*). Most recently I have been informed, repeatedly, going across my screen in a jaunty diagonal reminiscent of the line of movement in Roy Liechtenstein’s “Blam”, that Canvas does not allow.
On second thoughts, “Canvas does not allow” might just be the title of a late Dali painting. Dammit, it’s better informed on modern art as well as everything else.
* Warning: Philosophy joke. Yes, there are such things. There just aren’t many.
Good background reading from Matt Mower’s Action Journal. I don’t like the Michael Moore-style hectoring tone, but Jude Wanniski’s two memos make for devastating reading, particularly at a time when we’re obsessed with what’s happening right now rather than what happened in order for us to get here.
Where did Saddam come from? Part I
Where did Saddam come from? Part II
I suppose that television reporters, in particular, become a part of the furniture. Gaby Rado, foreign affairs correspondent for Channel 4 News, would typically appear in my sitting room at around quarter past seven most weeknights. In the last few weeks, reporting from Northern Iraq, he had been appearing even more frequently and for longer.
Now, sadly, no longer.
It’s awful when the death of a reporter has a more immediate impact than the death of dozens of people you’d never heard of. Something to do with crossing the line - becoming newsworthy instead of reporting the newsworthy. But Rado deserved to be newsworthy. He broke several important stories from Bosnia and Serbia, and received three awards from Amnesty International for his reporting. He increased and deepened our knowledge of the world.
There is, or there ought to be, more to news reporting than looking good on the breakfast sofa and getting your cues right.
OK, the floors are up. For my sins, though, the clown who laid the plastic matting under the horrible 60s lino tiles stapled it directly into the floorboards. With inch-long wood staples. He must have got through a box of about 1,000. Each one has to wrenched out with pliers. It’s taken me about two hours to remove about 100, and my back now curves the wrong way.
So, time to recuperate and have a quick read of this unpublished paper on Cryptographic Theory and Scientific Networks in the Seventeenth Century (via the marvellous Interconnected). Athanasius Kircher and Gottfried Leibniz. This is what people ought to be writing papers on.
At home, taking up a couple of floors. Easier and more satisfying than it sounds, given that they’re on top of each other, so I’m rewarding myself with a quick check around blogland.
How newspapers are becoming more like blogs (The idea of a Julie Burchill blog makes me retch)
“Police will get new powers to take fingerprints and DNA from anyone they arrest under new Home Office proposals” (via As Above). Oh, that’s alright then.
When not looking for pictures of breakfast babes (SR is catching the plastic NK, if you’re interested), searchers coming here have an intriguing fascination with the phrase “Digging your scene”. Are they actors cast in a revival of ‘Hair’ doing background research, or is there a residual following out there for the Blow Monkeys? I don’t mind, I liked that song.
More beautiful photographs from space, this time via Andy, who seems to be having a post-prandial spurt of posting (hah! see what I did with that?). You must take a look.
There are few things I definitely, absolutely, burningly desire to own. A proper orrery comes just about top of the list.
Orreries are, of course, mechanical models showing the movements of the planets. A well-crafted orrery is truly a beautiful artefact.
There are very few people still making orreries. John Gleave is ‘probably the last orrery maker in England’. Brian Greig is an American who made the machine illustrated. Into the bargain, he looks thoroughly, erm, orrerofacient.
The Grand Illusions site has plenty of goodies besides orreries, and I’ll be returning there soon. For now, take a look at their Stanhopes and these dice, which are simply doing my head in. Is there a mathematician in the house?
The British Politics blog is running a nice feature called ‘Under the Radar’, highlighting the stories that are “Jo Moored” (i.e. quietly reported while everyone is looking the other way).
One such story is this one about ex-Treasury minister and government fixer Geoffrey Robinson not being prosecuted for the cocaine found in his car when he was stopped in December for motoring offences. I was about to describe this as ‘breathtaking’ when I noticed that he also refused to take a breathaliser test.
Perhaps it’s because I’m engaged in reading Jan Morris’ eccentric account of the eccentricities of the British empire, but I’m seeing imperialism everywhere these days.
Britain’s rapid decline over the past century from imperial superpower to charming backwater couldn’t be more vividly illustrated than by the tone of this article about the new Lonely Planet Guide to Britain. The new guide quoted as saying:
“Britain is just getting better and better. The food is getting tastier, the cities more attractive and the rich cultural heritage more accessible.”
Marvellous. Makes you proud and all that. But note, if British cities are getting more attractive it is because they are still deindustrialising. They are having to move away from the raw capitalist imperative that threw them up in the first place (build a factory! build a slum to house the workers we need! build a hospital, some schools, public baths and a small park so they have somewhere to bring up the next generation of workers!). Now, instead, the cities are having to sell themselves as pleasant places to visit and live, part of the Great British service sector.
This interpretation fits perfectly with the assumptions of Independent Strategy, the authors of a report arguing that the US economy is in terminal decline. It’s interesting that their thesis - that we might be approaching the dog days of the American empire - is not just economic in nature. One of the core assumptions seems to be that the rest of the world is so pissed off by the current US administration that scope exists for a multilateral withdrawal of the support the US needs in order to continue to function as it does.
Now, UN member states are not just going to call time on the US’s massive levels of indebtedness. Each player has too much to lose, and it would require the non-US world to broadly agree on a complex course of action with no immediate way forward.
But a loss of spirit, a sense of vitality passing away from the US, a feeling that the zeitgeist has moved away from North America, would affect innumerable small business decisions that would combine to bring the empire down over, say, 30 years.
Undoubtedly I’m reflecting part of a widespread, ill-defined feeling that it’s wrong for the US to act globally in its self-interest, as Britain used to do in its days of empire. But there is always an element that wonders if we aren’t looking at the Empire’s New Clothes. To quote again the Guardian article:
“America relies on the rest of the world to finance its deficits. The rest of the world was happy to do so when the US economy was strong and returns were high, but investors will put their cash elsewhere if America looks weak economically. America borrows hundreds of millions of dollars from the rest of the world each day to cover its savings gap and, under George Bush, US dependence on foreign capital is set to increase.”
George W. Bush’s $75billion war is, in the end, a war bought on the never-never. But ‘never-never’ is always jst a euphemism. Bush may not have to settle up, but his successors will.
“The theory back then was that you were making TV plays, not films, so you had to make them electronically in the studio. But the BBC did allow you two or three days to do location shooting, like shots of people getting in a car, driving somewhere, then getting out of the car, whereupon you’d cut back to the studio. So we said ‘OK, we’ll take those two or three days,’ but we actually managed to nick four days of location shooting altogether. And in those four days we filmed half of what would end up in the final 72-minute piece. I had a young cameraman, Tony Imi, who just put the camera on his shoulder and ran for four days.”
Ken Loach on the filming of Up the Junction, in Loach on Loach, edited by Graham Fuller (Faber & Faber, 1998)
And the result is immensely powerful, particularly for anyone who dismisses Loach as a grim-up-north-realist. ‘Up the Junction’ is a passionate celebration of the spirit of working people - no surprise there - but presented as a giddy whirl of moving cameras, bopping teens and leery, half-heard pub arguments.
In 1965, when Loach made this ‘Wednesday Play’ for the BBC, he was, like most young people interested in film, under the influence of the nouvelle vague, the French new wave. You can still see the influence in 1967’s Poor Cow, with it’s impromptu dialogue and disruptive use of intertitles.
I recall an interview with one of the creator’s of the 90s TV seriesThis Life proudly describing how they chose the radical step of filming conversations from across the street or across a pub, to create a feeling of immediacy. How embarrassing that Loach, that stalwart of worthy social drama, had stylistically preceded them by over 30 years. Then again, in the sixties even the workaday Sidney J. Furie was pulling the same tricks in The Ipcress File.
I haven’t seen the 1967 film version, but comparison will be interesting, particularly as the play has a very loose narrative, concentrating instead on sketching quick portraits of characters making their way in and around Clapham Junction. The ensemble acting and the emotional highpoints provided by music - whether courting couples dancing in a bar or young women singing Beatles hits as they take their washing to the launderette - also prefigure the sentimental community portraits that Mike Leigh has now made his speciality.
With this film and the same year’s devastating Cathy Come Home, Ken Loach not only made a lasting name for himself, but showed the dramatic impact achievable in the previously dubious genre of the TV play. It’s not that challenging social dramas no longer get commissioned - BBC2 shows a couple of gems a year, and even EastEnders can be more genuinely daring than the majority of single plays ever were in the ‘golden age’ of the late sixties and early seventies. But, soaps aside, social drama will never again be prime-time viewing. And Loach, even with his films now regularly released to worldwide acclaim, will never find an audience as large as for those Wednesday Plays.
Like stoppers for wine bottles and accessories for your Leatherman, there are things out there that you never knew you needed until you found them. Such as:
I have plenty of work to do, you know.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the sort of stuff that ends up in this blog, compared to what I imagined I’d use it for. There’s currently a world of difference, and I’d like to close the gap.
That means fewer posts, fewer off-the-cuff “did you see that” posts, more research, which in turn basically means exclusively writing from home. Also, as I mentioned, I do have plenty of work to do, and I’d hate to have this interfere with work.
Sadly, the home broadband connection is still not up (that’s three weeks, if you’re listening, Pipex customer support), so I’m probably going to enter a short, unhelpfully uncommunicative period.
I’ll still be here. I’ll still be posting, and reading. If I’m relatively quiet, that means (amongst other things) I’m working on good stuff for here and elsewhere. If I’m garrulous, it means I’m procrastinating, and I should be chastised accordingly.
What I hope is that … wow, that’s Wilf Lunn’s website that Diamond Geezer is linking to. Wilf Lunn!
Erm. What was I saying?
Just back from the hairdresser. I get charged more and more over time for less and less hair to be cut, but I made the decision several years ago to step up from the bloke’s option (i.e. the 10-minute cut at the barber) to the full-on hour at a proper hairdresser.
Now, this may be related to my realisation that visiting a proper hairdresser involves having an attractive woman running her hands langorously through my hair and massaging my head. It’s such a sensual treat that I wonder if I can just get the hairwash and skip the cut altogether.
Anyway, while I was being attended to I was also being entertained by the salon’s ‘TV station’, broadcasting a mix of pop videos and baffling hair-related infomercials.
It slowly dawned on me that every demonstration referred incessantly to ‘the product’. As in, ’spread the product evenly through the hair’…’apply the product in stages’…’work the product in’.
Of course, by this stage, I had no idea what ‘the product’ was, what it’s made from or what it’s supposed to do. But I wasn’t required to know. It’s a product. That’s all you need to know. Nod when someone offers it to you, or grunt and point if you have evolved that far. It is a product. You are supposed to want it. You are told you want it. That is its only function.
Want Product. Want Product.
Back at reception, I’m guilelessly asked ‘Do you want any products today?’. There’s not even an effort to identify what might be useful to me. There’s just the presumption that, after an hour* of being sold ‘the product’, I feel an overwhelming need to buy ‘it’.
‘It’ could be Peruvian Llama Milk, it could be Blackwater mud, it could be instant coffee. I’m not supposed to know, wonder or care.
Want Product. Want Product.
Still, I did enjoy having my hair shampooed. If only they realised what a great product that is, I’d be sold.
*Or, realistically, after a lifetime of being sold ‘it’.
“I got a letter from a general at the Pentagon when the name change went through and he says it was great to have the employ of the commander of the Autobots in the National Guard.”
Lest any of us fear that the US military have a worldview of the sophistication of Saturday morning cartoons, reassurance comes with the news that a National Guardsman in Ohio has changed his name to Optimus Prime. That’s the big Transformers toy.
I think I’ll go and sit in a darkened room with a copy of Dr. Strangelove, thankyouverymuch.
(via Memestreams, via Ben Hammersley)
It looks as though Peppercoin are not the only people trying to kick-start the old online micropayments business. Centipaid are spreading the word of their arrival at market.
Unlike Peppercoin, which uses a wacky algorithm to approximate all the tiny payments going on and pay out accordingly, Centipaid will track each payment by use of … stamps.
Well, ’stamped’ graphics. I like this, because that’s pretty much the original meaning of stamp, so there’s a conceptual consistency to the enterprise.
I’m not sold on the mechanism, though. Saving graphics to My Documents and then uploading them to pay for stuff? It may be perfectly secure, but I’m not sure it will feel secure to internet punters.
Oh, and it took about 10 seconds of browsing the promo site to work out that their target market is gentlemen browsing the web for, ahem, exclusive artistic photographs, who require methods of secure anonymous micropayments.
So, it’ll probably be a roaring success.
I’m not sure it’s possible for me to say anything about this without going into a rant.
“I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an e-mail address … I’d used e-mail since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of e-mail is plenty for one lifetime.”
That’s Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University, being interviewed (In SiliconValley.com, via OnlineBlog).
He goes on to reveal, uh, his strategy for dealing with email:
‘He only reads and responds to the most recent messages in his inbox, ignoring older messages as soon as he gets distracted by more pressing business.
“This way you can trick some small number of people into thinking you’re prompt,'’ Brin said.’
Terrific. I wish I thought I could get away with doing this.
Our reasonable media, No. 49 in a neverending series.
Front page of the London Metro this morning. Next to a picture of soothing newsreader Trevor MacDonald:
“Trevor’s sympathy for the plight of Iraqi people”
Marvellous. When we need newsreaders to endorse political stories in their role as a TV celebrity then we can be sure we’ve got our priorities right. After all, you couldn’t have a newspaper simply run a story on ‘the plight of the Iraqi people’, could you?
Cast your eyes over to the right (or up and to the right if you’re reading this in the future)* and you’ll see the much-promised lo-tech Forthcoming section v0.1 in all its fuzzy blue-grey glory.
Challenge No. 1 is to keep it reasonably up to date.
Challenge No. 2 is to make it look better.
Challenge No. 3 is to make it into some kind of all-singing all-dancing plug-and-play searchable calendar enabled hyper-semantic Infuzer-style doodah.
Suggestions for 1 & 2 most welcome. We can all quite reasonably forget about 3 for the time being.
Or maybe I should just list it under Forthcoming.
* Obviously you’ll have to use your common sense here. I never did have the hang of the future.
Searching RSS feeds seems to be the other semantic blog-style leap going on at the moment.
There’s Feedster and there’s RSS-search. As usual, if you want to monitor this sort of stuff, your man is Ben Hammersley, the man who wrote the book on RSS.
But really, the thing I’m most interested in right now is this ‘[Google] Search Blogs I Read’ gimmick (see it in action here). Shame it’s written for Radio Userland, and I don’t see any evidence of a Movable Type equivalent to OPML.
Ah, the politics of RSS…
I’m still excited by the prospect of Peter Van Dijck’s Taxomita project.
I’m told it’s going to beta today, so I really ought to sort my server out in preparation.
Spring. Weekends on the beach. No splinters. Multifaceted metadata authoring tools. Can life get any better?*
*Don’t hold me to that, please. And don’t mention the war.
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