I’m currently reading Christopher Alexander’s (et al.) A Pattern Language, so this essay from Erin Kissane was timely — she turns her attention to how these ideas of patterns affecting the spaces we build and live in apply to our online homes as well, and the ways that these spaces haunt us (and we haunt them):
Maybe for you, it didn’t start on Twitter. Maybe was forums or the blogosphere or Reddit. Maybe it was Facebook with terrible people from high school or TikTok with people who hate you for liking a thing, or not liking it enough. But we built the machines around our weird amygdalas and then we went inside them and now the machine is no longer confined to a stack of software + policy + vibes; we carry it in ourselves. We haunt each new place we enter. We can feel this happening in our bodies, which is why touch grass is so accidentally real.
We shape our structures and afterward our structures shape us, but the we of the first clause and the us of the second are not the same.
The secret heart of every panopticon is not the all-seeing-eye, but the confessional.
A great read, and the side anecdote about engineer Vic Tandy‘s linking of 19hz infrasound to ghostly sensations is a rabbit hole worth pursuing!
Lots that I agree with in this post, including this short paragraph that speaks to both the web3 of 2022, but definitely reminds me of what excited me in the early days of learning about the WWW:
People should have ownership and control of their data online. Users should be able to connect to services and then move between them freely without having to ask permission from any big tech companies. Creators should be fairly compensated for their work. Communities and movements should easily be able to form groups and collaborate together to achieve their goals.
Over on Tedium, a nostalgia bomb roundup of 10 image file formats that time forgot. I wouldn’t say that BMP or even TIFF are exactly forgotten, and VRML seems like the odd one out as a text-based markup language (but definitely in the zeitgeist this month with all of the nouveau metaverse talk), but many of these took me back to the good old days. Also I didn’t know that the Truevision TARGA hardware, remarkable for its time in the mid-1980s with millions of colors and alpha channel support, was an internal creation from AT&T (my dad worked for AT&T corporate back then, but all we got at home was the decidedly not-remarkable 2-color Hercules display on our AT&T 6300 PC). JPEG and GIF continue to dominate 30+ years later, but it’s interesting to see what could have been, if only some of these other systems jumped more heavily into file compression…
A love letter from the IEEE Spectrum about the 1980s BBS phenomenon with an emphasis on how BBSes and the FidoNet message system spurred the creation of local social networks between users, the local part mostly being lost on our current global social media platforms.
Working the NY Times crossword, AOL and MSN and Juno and NetZero pop out as weird things to see show up as current-day answers. Granted they make easy crossword fill for the editor, and I guess it’s not that much different than the other archaic jokes and in-references that you’re expected to keep track of (OLEO, OONA, OBI, IBO…), but dotcom-era corporate names just seem more dated than most of the other topical references. The evolution of clues for these answers, though, is pretty interesting, as can be seen here in AOL’s case.
The Quartz folks made this list using a home-grown crossword clue/answer historical lookup tool, which is definitely fun to play with! Hmm, according to this tool, web in the WWW sense didn’t show up until 2000, dotcom didn’t appear until 2001, blogs exploded in 2005, and USENET continues to show up with surprising frequency. Crosswords are weird.
In other insect news, a case of life imitating (well, at least acting similar to) network transmission protocols:
This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.
It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. … A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.
[At the Google X lab] scientists created one of the largest neural networks for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors, which they turned loose on the Internet to learn on its own.
Presented with 10 million digital images found in YouTube videos, what did Google’s brain do? What millions of humans do with YouTube: looked for cats. The neural network taught itself to recognize cats, which is actually no frivolous activity.
Game designer Brian Moriarty delivered quite a talk at the 1997 Game Developers Conference, touching on everything from interaction design, emergent play, community-created art, creativity, self expression, and even an unexpected but interesting tangent about 101 Dalmatians. In hindsight, many of subjects he talks about would become evident over the next decade, from the Sims to Etsy to Minecraft to social networking. From Listen! The Potential of Shared Hallucinations:
Before we can learn, before we can grow, we have to be prepared to listen.
What does it mean, to listen?
The word is commonly understood to mean “attentive hearing.”
It has its etymological origin in the archaic verb, list.
“List!” they used to say. “Ssh! List! The wild boar is outside!”
But the verb “list” also means to tilt something to one side.
When a sea vessel leans to starboard or port, it is said to be listing.
So how did the word “list” turn into the verb “listen?”
Because when we try to hear something, we sometimes cock our heads in the direction of the sound.
So to listen means more than to hear attentively.
The word also implies a change of inclination.
A new slant.
To listen is to put ourselves into a receptive attitude.
A position to be re-aligned.
Also worth reading (the talk is also available for watching as a video in the GDC Vault) if you fondly remember the days of Hypercard, MUDs, and when text adventures reigned supreme on AOL, or if you like crazy 1990s Photoshop anaglyphs…
A fun Boston nightly news clip from 1988 on the outbreak of the Morris worm, one of the first Internet-spreading infections that caught mainstream attention. There’s much to love about this clip: the “part-time virus hunter”, the scenes of MIT’s computer labs, the bizarre (but maybe slyly satirical?) footage of the infamous Atari 2600 ET game inserted, um, I guess to, uh, illustrate something computer-y?
Ars Technica has up a history article on the early web browsers, a rare glimpse into the largely-forgotten software that beat NCSA Mosaic to the punch but didn’t quite make it into pop culture consciousness (seen above is ViolaWWW, notable for early stabs at browsing history, bookmarks, styles, and even embedded scripting — probably also the first web browser I remember using on my Slackware copy of X Windows circa 1994! </old>).
For all of the developments in web technology since 1991, it’s remarkable to see how many UI features and browsing concepts emerged almost immediately and are still with us today.
Screenshot from an interesting project, olduse.net ― Usenet posts reappearing in realtime as they did exactly 30 years ago, a new way of experiencing the history of the early Net. See how things were mere months before the launch of B-News, long before the Great Renaming and the creation of the alt.* hierarchy, and best of all, the introduction of spam is more than a decade away still!
You can use either the browser-based client to poke through the messages, or point your favorite NNTP client to the site and experience it as you would the real Usenet. Nice!
To be filed under “research I like reading about even if I don’t quite understand how it works”, new studies from the University of Oregon into altering and controlling the color of light on the scale of individual photons in fiber optic signalling:
In experiments led by Raymer’s doctoral student Hayden J. McGuinness, researchers used two lasers to create an intense burst of dual-color light, which when focused into the same optical fiber carrying a single photon of a distinct color causes that photon to change to a new color. This occurs through a process known as Bragg scattering, whereby a small amount of energy is exchanged between the laser light and the single photon, causing its color to change. […]
“In the first study, we worked with one photon at a time with two laser bursts to change the energy and color without using hydrogen molecules,” he said. “In the second study, we took advantage of vibrating molecules inside the fiber interacting with different light beams. This is a way of using one strong laser of a particular color and producing many colors, from blue to green to yellow to red to infrared.”
The laser pulse used was 200 picoseconds long. A picosecond is one-trillionth of a second. Combining the produced light colors in such a fiber could create pulses 200,000 times shorter – a femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second).
Duke’s OIT is taking down the Usenet service pioneered by its grad students in 1979, a supremely long-lived Internet resource that helped define modern communication (BBS’s, forums, and P2P software owe much to Usenet and the A news client). Another nail in the venerable medium’s slow, eventual decline.
The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.
At present, there are at least twenty torrents of Chris Marker’s film essays available online. If you want a retrospective, you can have it. But the economy of poor images is about more than just downloads: you can keep the files, watch them again, even reedit or improve them if you think it necessary. And the results circulate. Blurred AVI files of half-forgotten masterpieces are exchanged on semi-secret P2P platforms. Clandestine cell-phone videos smuggled out of museums are broadcast on YouTube. DVDs of artists’ viewing copies are bartered.3 Many works of avant-garde, essayistic, and non-commercial cinema have been resurrected as poor images. Whether they like it or not.
This “creative destruction” began in the ’60s, as did many things that we now both love and regret, and it was initially a spinoff of a project funded by US military agencies. […] Mephistopheles came to Faust in the form of a poodle. After all…in some versions of the story, he cannot enter your house unbidden — you have to invite him in, like a vampire.
“[…] gopher [was] an Edenic protocol of innocence (in comparison to HTML, the protocol of commerce and experience)”
Ars Technica checks in on Gopher, the largely-forgotten pre-www protocol for getting information from servers in a simple, hypertext format. It’s out there still, just like the old BBSes, telnet MUDs / MOOs / MUSHes, Usenet, etc., and still useful in some contexts. Very few contexts, maybe – I can’t imagine there’s much in the way of Gopher pr0n or warez trading to give continued backwater life to the old medium, but hey, 4chan’s /b/ is available through Gopher…
What would things would be like if Gopherspace’s concision won out over HTTP’s ability to cram graphics and ads onto every resource? Sounds like our current mobile web app landscape.
The so-called “Mother of All Demos”, the technology presentation given by Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute, which introduced to the world a number of useful developments: hypertext, the computer mouse, timesharing, email, video conferencing… And this was a bit over forty years ago, just before the ARPANET went online. Pretty amazing times.
Rad, there’s an online ANSI art generator! Relive the glory days of BBSes and dodgy w4r3z nfo files right in your browser. I remember wasting a lot of time back in junior high making colorful DOS menus using ansi.sys and batch files. Better than launching Windows 3.1!
Check it out, make some art: ansi.drastic.net (The drawing program seems to be broken for me under Firefox 3.5.1, but your mileage may vary)
DB: We used to say “pirating.” I mean, the term pirating was used for my early work.
CA: Was it really?
DB: Yeah. For example, when I started, there were no home-recording units. There was no TiVo. There was nothing like that.
CA: I must have been very difficult for you to get that footage.
DB: It was. There was no way to get the footage I needed directly. I had to find people inside the industry who believed in my artwork and were willing to get images out to me. So they called me a “pirateer” of imagery. That had a very romantic sound to it: “Oh, she’s the one who pirated imagery from television.”
Maybe this is the real difference between our generations. In pirating, originally, there was no way to talk back to the media. That’s why I did it. The stuff was coming one way at you, and there was no way to arrest it, stop the action, divert it, alter the vocabulary, or change the syntax.
[Slot machines] are indeed a software chimera, the tail of a serpent attached to the head of a lion. It combines business graphics with the Internet, cinematic memory, remote-control systems – and banking, franchise capitalism at your fingertips.