21 December 2008

Related to your searches

As you can see, Google has finally data-mined my deepest interests with pinpoint accuracy.

Of course, none of this matters as the internet has been won.

07 November 2008

Can you stomach the success?

I'm reminded of New Year's Eve 2000: As midnight edged closer it became crushingly obvious to everyone that the symbolic rollover wasn't going to effect much practical change at all, and the mood quickly turned sour.

I think I prefer this present iteration of the theme, actually; watching the trainwrecks is strangely soothing. Why, look over there, that's the same "citizen-soldier" who was one of the few to get an interview with John Bolton, two years ago.

28 April 2008

Ugh, what is it about Austrians.

The closest thing to prefiguring this would be Seidl's Dog Days from 2001. For all the times that film was called smutty and "ruthlessly nihilistic," apparently he didn't go far enough. One critic who thought otherwise said:

In the end, I think Ulrich Seidl belongs to a different school altogether. He’s the Austrian Todd Solondz. He’s telling us yet again that life in the suburbs is pretty boring and mean and meaningless and frankly I don’t believe him.

Always believe the voice of moderation, right?

26 April 2008

We accept the fundamentalists' view of their religions as being the most accurate, because we want to nail down what religions are, and their versions are black and white, we can understand them, even if we understand them only to disagree, even violently so.

"...idealistic people often become misanthropic when they are let down two or three times."

...recently we have seen how certain movements in the Christian right have embraced counter-cultural forms of style found among skaters, punks, goth, and hard rock for very conservative ends. Where many of these movements are implicitly forms of critique of cultural hypocrisy and capitalist consummerism, these semiotic codes instead get redirected to the most normalizing, conformist, reactionary ends.

I think I'm going to call that last one the 'Rage For the Machine' effect. It might just be the inevitable end station of commodified dissent.

Lost in Translation is on. It looks like it would have been mind-blowing in 1996 at the latest.

Stereo illusions

Via the other person who thought he was clever by playing on "Memex," I finally found Ted Nelson's Way Out of the Box (temporarily down, see Google's cached copy). It's an informed rant against the predominant desktop metaphor that's staring you in the face at this very moment:

But these ideas have a plausible air that has set like concrete into a seeming reality. Macintosh and Windows look alike, therefore that must be reality, right? Wrong. Apple and Windows are like Ford and Chevrolet (or perhaps Tweedledum and Tweedledee), who in their co-imitation create a stereo illusion that seems like reality.

So if Douglas Engelbart is Moses and Xerox PARC Judaism, then the Mac would slot neatly in as Catholicism—it's always had icons and a pope—and the PC as Protestantism, together creating an illusion of a deeper truth where there's really only memetic mutation.

Whereas Ted Nelson is like Diagoras chopping up an image of Hercules to boil his turnips, which would explain why I'm so fond of him. In particular, I love his insight about interface design:

One result is office software that's incredibly clumsy, with slow, pedestrian operations. Think how long it takes to open and name a file and a new directory. Whereas video-game software is lithe, quick, vivid.

Why is this?

Very simple. Guys who design video games *love to play video games*. Whereas nobody who designs office software seems to care about using it, let alone hopes to use it at warp speed.

(I've been waiting six years for someone to make an interface based on Bullfrog's excellent game Dungeon Keeper 2, which is just about the only real-time strategy I can stand.)

Contrast with Wordie Errata's comment on the state of hyperfiction:

At least since HyperCard debuted in the late 80s people have been talking about how electronic media enable "new forms of storytelling." That phrase (along with "non-linear") has introduced so much plotless tech-wanking, so much storytelling that wasn't so much new as simply unbearable, that I tend to become hyper critical whenever I hear it.

Aw, I think he just made Chris Klimas cry.

25 April 2008

Is it real or is it Memex

Going on a tangent about that piece of art which gave rise to some sentences you don't often see, I wound up on the Dimensions blog, reading:

The internet age has elevated the non-event, the fantastic, to the status of the real. Not surprisingly, performance art has thrived in this environment. Shvarts' formal ingenuity speaks for itself.

And then just the next day on the (unrelated) Wordie Errata blog:

Slice is told through two fake intertwined blogs. I'm so up to my eyeballs in what I think are real blogs that this just seemed like more of the same; I couldn't really tell the difference between it and the tripe you come across on LiveJournal et. al. every day.

What I think are real blogs.

Given this, what can I do other than declare this blog decidedly not real? This is not my beautiful blog! I am not keeping it real in any shape or form! I have been faking it from the very first post! Turn off your computer now!

19 April 2008

But concept art was not dead

Aliza Shvarts, an art major at Yale, issued a press release that she's due to present a project consisting of the blood and potential 1-2 weeks gestated embryos expelled when taking abortifacients after artificially inseminating herself.

Brilliantly, she now says she didn't do any tests to confirm whether or not there were actual embryos present. Judging from the reactions, this is one of the most successful instances of denying catharsis for artistic effect in a long time.

To really drive the nail in further, consider that embryos this early in gestation are likely to be too small to be reliably detected, so even if there is an exhibit of blood and someone buys it (for a hefty sum, I can only hope) to have it examined, there will be no definitive last word in the matter. She has not only succeeded in getting attention, she has succeeded in making pretty much everyone afraid, desperately screaming things like "GAME OVER" to make the bad thoughts go away.

Via Bitch PhD. There's a blog of the 'Dimensions' journal.

16 April 2008

Drugs are behind some of our greatest art

The army of pharamaceutical-fundamentalists marching under the banner of just say no to drugs must be stopped. After all, hasn't the taking — or abuse, as these fundamentalists would have it — of mind-altering substances been an essential help to all truly great artists, even if it sometimes made them seem desperately unhappy and drove them to the brink of destruction?

Will this unreasonable denying the glory of being totally zonked out of your head not end until the art that defines our culture has become bland, boring and completely alienated from the truth that becomes evident when you drop acid?

It's a great tribute to our age that a scientist can still be greeted with more adulation than a pop princess.

Observe the context: They're Dr. Who fans.

15 April 2008

Can an interactive web site produce false memories?

The interactive demo was more likely to produce false memories of the product -- potential buyers who thought the camera could do things it can't.

Via Hack Real.

...movies which celebrate the same lifestyle of surface, built on a foundation of violence...

Music to my ears, of course.

Say, could this have been the inspiration for the Voldemort for president campaign?

14 April 2008

Speaking of cultivation in tubes

Breaking: In vitro meat.

For the next couple of days, I'm probably going to walk around muttering "tubemeat" to myself while giggling like a madman.

At long last, after combining this interview with this review, I've realized what it would take to enjoy the Matrix trilogy: You have to be Catholic.

(The one true interpretation is of course the Marxist one. In fact, the blissful ending resembles nothing so much as the obligatory socialist utopia at the end of a sixties Chinese film.)

11 April 2008


Watch as freelance comic adventurer extraordinaire, Ryan Estrada, releases new portmanteaux (¿Que?) into Korean.

I think this is one of the most subtly strange and wonderful things I've seen on the net all year.

10 April 2008

Tibet and so on

Proving that false dichotomies are not exclusive to the right, your friendly local chapter of diehard communists may present you with the choice that you're either with Beijing all the way or you want Tibet to revert to the old feudalism.

On the bright side, I'm better off for having discovered Beijing Newspeak, Imagethief and the lovely expression volunteer security. (via)

And wouldn't you know it, the Chinese are crying about the lies of the liberal media (in this case, CNN).

08 April 2008

Sticky love notes

I've seen not one but two instances of Post-it® love notes today. Is this some sort of alternative Valentine's sponsored by 3M?

(Although this would appear to be the month of the Post-it, it'll be two more years before it turns 30.)

04 April 2008

Don't blame me

...I voted for the atheist apocalypse.

Those are clearly Dawkins and someone familiar as the harbingers of science and reason, but I completely fail to recognize progress and equality.

 —no, wait, I mean—

29 March 2008

Ban Ki-moon apparently denounces Geert Wilders' film about how the Quran is a recipe for TERRORFASCISTONAZISM (pulled by Network Solutions, then pulled from LiveLeak, now hosted on Google Video).

It really is little more than a PowerPoint presentation with video clips in it, really. There's also little to distinguish it from your average piece of internet paranoia: It's remarkable mostly for the sheer amount of shit it's managed to stir up, being protested by entities as diverse as the UN Secretary-General, Afghanistan, the World Council of Churches and Slovenia. There's also this report of a cute campaign to "smother it in apologies."

The backlash against all this makes supporting the video the internet-hip thing to do. This should be good news, if it means that blasphemy becomes a thing to be cherished and protected: Unfortunately, you can always count on people's exceptionalism to make them think that it's only okay to blaspheme against that one religion with the scary towelheads in it. After all, Jesus is such a universally good guy, it's not like anyone would ever even need to blaspheme against him. Me, I can only hope this will usher in an age of comprehensively desecrating all that's holy; given enough blasphemers, threats become futile.

Lastly, let's not forget who wears the pants in this relationship: If the question of insulting Islam became big enough, OPEC would only have to threaten to cut everyone off and there would be no shortage of Western governments willing to hand over the blasphemer's head on a silver platter. And don't get me started on the several thousand volunteer hostages we've placed in Central Asia for easy access.

02 September 2007

Long-distance umbrage in the Gossip Age

Iran protests the Swedish local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda printing a Muhammed charicature by one Lars Vilks who saw the opportunity to troll a dead horse. This made The Kabul Times yesterday, resulting in mildly photogenic demonstrations.

N.A. has a circulation of 63 900 if I'm reading this right, and looks to be located in the Swedish equivalent of flyover country. Someone must have been actively relaying the item for it to make The Kabul Times. The reason this hasn't been plastered all over by the SUPPORT DENMARK!!! crowd would appear to be that the artist can't draw for shit.

In fantastically related news, also from yesterday, someone successfully trolled the Shaolin monks by posting (yes, on the internet) that a ninja once totally flipped out and kicked their arses.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Chinese kung fu, is demanding an apology from an Internet user who said its monks had once been beaten in unarmed combat by a Japanese ninja, Chinese media reported on Friday.

"The so-called defeat is purely fabricated, and we demand the Internet user to apologise to the whole nation for the wrongs he or she did," the Beijing News said, citing a notice announced by a lawyer for the Shaolin monks.

Beijing News doesn't seem to be online, unfortunately. Still, if this is true it paints a picture of a shrinking world where everyone's rapidly becoming like roommates that have spent far too long together, or where—to quote David Whiteland—any number of people can disagree with each other regardless of the distance between them. It's the new chaos effect: wave a pen in Scandinavia and something catches fire in Central Asia.

Now if only someone could trick Muslim fundies into drawing charicatures of Shaolin monks, the circle would be complete.

19 August 2007

Genetic fatalism

The Extended Phenotype, p. 13:

The important point is that there is no general reason for expecting genetic influences to be any more irreversible than environmental ones. What did genes do to deserve their sinister, juggernaut-like reputation? [...] Why are genes thought to be so much more fixed and inescapable in their effects than television, nuns, or books?

Apparently there seems to be a sort of prurient attraction, an irresistible itch towards viewing genes as Threads of Destiny weaved by the norns of fate. Scientology exploits the ease with which you can combine scientific trappings and superstition: but this rise of the popular superstition of genetic fatalism is potentially much worse.

We can see it already beginning to hurt people in this LA Times story, U.S. military practices genetic discrimination in denying benefits, detailing how the US military, exempt from the usual genetic-discimination laws, treat genes that give a small increase in the risk of disease as an inescapable fate, a preexisting condition.

But Nunes said the armed forces' disability policy was flawed by a fundamental misunderstanding about the biology of inherited diseases.

This is a chilling reminder of how much more justified superstition can seem when it adopts a superficial appearance of being rooted in scientific results.

18 August 2007

Enemies of Scientism

Enemies of Reason pt. 1 is out. It has an excellent soundbite where an astrologer's response to bringing up swapping people's horoscopes is I think what you're up to here is mischief. Ooh-la-la. Remember: scrutiny equals mischief.

Next he says: I just don't believe in the experiment, Richard. It's that simple. (Magical thinking? He can make everything uncomfortable go away by simply not believing in it?)

In defense of his livelihood the Observer astrologer responds (via):

For scientism, however, personal experience is not admissible. Everything must be subject to randomised, controlled double-blind trials, just like medical drugs - 'drugs that work' as Dawkins insists.
Scientism, of course, hates meaning. It prefers to view humanity as a random accident, isolated in a cosmos of 'indifferent vastness' - the legacy of the post-Copernican enlightenment that Dawkins claims is now being 'betrayed'. The opposing view, that the world has soul and purpose, that humanity and the cosmos are linked, is to be found not, as he and others claim, in the dogma of religion, but in art and in the depth psychology of Freud and Jung that Dawkins holds in contempt.

What a brilliantly straightforward demonstration of 'meaning' used to signify unwarranted self-importance on the part of humanity.

Hmm, scientism. There's a blemish of a word.

The first quote for the 'overzealous' sense of scientism in OED is Shaw's 1921 Back to Metuselah, running through FA Hayek to the welcoming embrace of people feeling miffed at their bread-and-butter getting questioned.

Huston Smith: Scientism adds to science two corrollaries: first, that the scientific method is, if not the only reliable method of getting at the truth, then at least the most reliable method; and second, that the things science deals with—material entities—are the most fundamental things that exist. You know, material entities, like beams of light. Or perhaps he's using "material" in the sense of not imaginary.

This is from GR Peterson's Demarcation and the Scientistic Fallacy:

Thus, scientism would not be said to occur in the proper discouse of metaphysics and theology, not because these disciplines do not make claims about the ultimate nature of knowledge and reality (they do) but because making such claims is part of the proper function of these disciplines, which are not commonly understood to be among the sciences.

Ahh, I think I get it now. This is about people who are sore because they're afraid that their cushy little gravy-train of never getting questioned might run out of steam.


17 August 2007

Humility in spam

Concluding this three-part series on drawing lessons from scummy internet baiting, we have a tactic I just culled from the end of a bit of comment spam:

(Please feel free to delete this post if you don't want it on your blog. Thanks for the informative blog and opportunity to post.)

I should feel free to delete it? Wow, I think I just might take you up on that incredibly generous offer.

What do you even file this under? Spamming them with kindness? Correctly predicting that people who read it will instantly be filled with a desire to delete it, cheekily granting a permission that isn't theirs to grant?

Perhaps superficial humility, appearing humble simply to throw people off with the unexpected attitude, mixed with the psych! of saying that you can go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway. If in marketing you don't want people getting defensive, in spam you often don't want people getting offensive when they're able to delete your message.

Interestingly, this demonstrates that the technique of killing them with kindness—commonly presumed to be invariably angelic—is readily adopted by spammer scum.

16 August 2007

Don't worry me

Reading up on e-mail fraud, aka. phishing, I found this illuminating paper by M Jakobsson: The Human Factor in Phishing [PDF], which has this juicy tidbit relevant to general psychology:

Subjects did not like that this website said phishing attack in progress in three different locations. Some commented that phishing is too obscure a term for a financial institution to use in their communications – the phrase identity theft was offered as a plausible substitute. In Tsow et al. [44], it was established that if the focus on security was downplayed, then there was a significant increase in trust (p < 0.022).

So if you try to alert people that there's reason to be worried, they'll only be all too happy to shoot the messenger. Negativity and fear is judged on the basis of superficial association with things that look worrisome, not on what is genuinely detrimental or fearsome — in the words of the paper, People judge relevance before authenticity.

Which is to say, no other reason than that they don't like what they hear.

Further on:

This highlights why phishers often have higher click-through rates than legitimate providers of advertisements: Fraudsters can offer much nicer enticements than legitimate service providers, as they are not tied to their word.

About Markus Jakobsson.

15 August 2007

A better world with spam

...no, I'm not talking about MAKING.VISIBILITY.FA$T, I mean that a lot of psychological fallacies that used to be difficult to talk about can now be readily illustrated, due to the increasing number of people who've seen some amount of spam in their inbox.

For instance, have you ever received spam with a sender's address that was similar to the name of someone you knew? This is a deliberate exploitation of apophenia, people's tendency to promiscuously connect the dots with little justification. The spammer only has to come close, the recipient will walk the rest of the way.

We have phishing, where people are deceived into going to a site similar to one where they may have a subscription and fooled into entering their password — ie, conning, giving off a superficial look of genuinity in the manner of the stereotypical used-car dealer who says you can trust me, I'm a Christian.

We have spam that inserts a block of text specifically designed to make it seem more relevant, mimicking the superficial form of genuine content. This might serve as an illustration of cargo-cult science, scientology etc. that only mimics the surface of real research.

Last but not least, people are much more likely to believe something that reaffirms them: witness the tenacity of comment spam that says Great post! Here are some links you might like, the omnipresent marketing technique You have already won! and of course the widespread ILOVEYOU e-mail worm that dashed romantic hopes and wasted man-weeks across the world.

14 August 2007


It would seem the mind abhors a vacuum. Shortly after I'd invented the farcical example of a dodecahedron-shaped earth, I found myself thinking that, surely, major rivers would form along its edges.

Immediately on thinking that, I was almost revolted with myself for my capacity to come up with useless Time Cube-grade nonsense. So why did I think it? Apparently having inflicted the concept of a dodecahedron earth on myself wasn't enough; maybe the concept was simply too bare that it could be put to rest. Like some sort of obsessive-compulsive toymaker, my mind simply had to sew some ridiculous tassels on to the already ludicrous idea of the dodecahedron to really give it the style it deserved.

I'm not sure what category to chalk this up under. I'd like to say it's something like reducing uncertainty, but Uncertainty reduction is taken, it's apparently a part of social communication theory.

Of course, there is such a thing as being too complex to be commonly understood as well. It'd appear that there's an optimum level of complication that makes for a good yarn for most people. If The Magical Number Seven is to be believed, you'd expect the upper bound on this to be somewhere around seven "major features" — but of course, this raises the question: how do you define what's a major feature?

13 August 2007

Huge silly controversies

Flat Earth vs. spherical Earth is often used as an example of opposing viewpoints. However, a lot of popular propositions are all of them so far off the mark, they could just as well be debates on whether the shape of the earth is flat or pyramidal.

Once a conflict between absurdities becomes a big thing, it can be difficult to make people see beyond the spectacular clash of horrible idea against awful idea. Take hypertext visionary Ted Nelson, who under the heading "The huge silly controversy" says I see almost no difference between the Macintosh and the PC. Stunning and unheard of? Exactly. Seeing beyond this particular conflict is perhaps especially difficult because computers are things that you buy — if no alternative is available off-the-shelf this is the same, to a consumer, as no alternatives being conceivable. The mouse and the clicking and the icons is simply the way of things. Invented, you say? But it's so natural! It's what everyone does!

When two sides of the same coin become the only viable currency like this, people tend to see everything in terms of it, leading to some very strange categorization. Returning to the hypothetical case of flat earth vs. pyramidal earth, say you came to a debate panel — perfectly balanced with equal time for 'flat' and 'pyramid' views — and said the world was round. To someone who primarily kept the farcical conflict in mind, the first thing they'd say would probably be, Oh, right, you think it's like a flat disc? I'll chalk you up with the flat-earth side, then.

It's as if, once a side or two has become sufficiently elaborated, people are painted into a corner, having severe trouble backing up to a position where they can approach something without preconceptions or singing vikings, where they'll let you order something that doesn't have any spam in it.

What I have in mind in particular is the assumption that not carrying the card of a religion is like not wearing a caste mark. You have to wonder if this is for the benefit of people so they know which stereotype to apply to you.

If you want a mark for effort, you can approach the pyramidal-earth people and try to convince them that it's sort of like a pyramid... with more sides. You know, like a dodecahedron, only with lots and lots of sides? If you succeed in doing anything other than disgust or confuse them, you'll then see the flat-earthers chalking up a victory against the now fragmented pyramid-earthers while ridiculing the minority position of a dodecahedumb-earth.

11 August 2007

Containing multitudes

I just had a really kooky thought. This was spurred by having my concept of genetic information straightened out.

The upshot is, the technical sense of 'information' is reduction of uncertainty, and this leads to some counterintuitive results. Eg., if you have two notes with the exact same thing written on them, you might be tempted to say that this is more information, but that's not the technical sense: technically, once you've read a sentence, reading it again contains nothing new, hence no 'information'. That is, 'information' is measured by how much it informs.

When we take this application of information theory to genetics and turn it back on informatics, we get some wonderfully strange results: after all, when you learn something you gain information, yes? Now, in meme-type theories, you tend to think of one mind as one organism, because that's nice and intuitive. But, the human mind is able to contain far more uncertainty than any single organism's genes. Wouldn't this make the human mind more like a species?

More astute wackiness ensues when we consider that the information in a genotype typically increases under selection pressure. Information in a mind increases while learning; hence, studying becomes the meme-equivalent to selection pressure.

Yes, you are reading Blogger, home of half the crackpot theories in the universe. But still, it amuses me to think of exams as extinction events.

07 August 2007


The relation of Unspeak™ to advertising slogans and such seemed like it should be obvious, but I couldn't put my finger on it until I read apenwarr's old post about IBMesethe strange language involving "paradigm shifts" and "issues" and "core competencies".

Why are these two examples interesting? Because I finally found the common theme: "non-arguability." [...] It's not that you don't argue with it because everyone agrees; it's that you can't argue with it because the person making the statement wins by default.

[...] But sales - and by extension, people hacking - is different. In that case, you're messing with someone's emotions with the goal of getting them to agree with you and eventually do something for you (eg. buy your stuff). And the biggest barrier to sales is (ironically?) defensiveness: the feeling that someone is trying to sell you something. Being non-controversial helps avoid making people defensive.

This would be a type of framing, then, akin to winning by default because you're playing on home ground and your local supporters won't let anyone else on the field.

Non-arguability appears to be one step up on the ladder from what was the previous state-of-the-art of advertising, knowing common criticisms of advertising and preempting them in the manner of: You might ask yourself, why does a famous celebrity like me go on TV to tell you about the wonders of Pro-Vital™? Why, it's because you'll do anything for money, of course. But the real answer is preempted by following up with The answer is, Pro-Vital™ really is that good!

With this higher-level defensiveness, you usually can't just shoot it down with well-timed snappy truth. Someone trying to take the non-arguable proposition apart to expose it as a load of old toss, no matter if it actually is, will come off as negative, pessimistic, a hair-splitting naysayer who wants to argue about Those Things That Everyone Knows. You'll want to watch out. That could mean he's not only a hair-splitter, but a... reductionist.

More on this later, maybe.

06 August 2007

Genetic cybernetic

So I took Dawkins' own advice, and read The Extended Phenotype.

What struck me afterwards was that the influence from artificial-intelligence types is obvious enough that he could almost have called it animal cybernetics. I mean, apart from the bit where everyone would make horrible jokes about bionic badgers and things.

This is perhaps to be expected from the analogy of parasites pulling levers to manipulate their hosts: after all, the word "cybernetics" comes from concepts of piloting. The difference between cybernetics and the extended phenotype would perhaps be that the extended phenotype is concerned with drawing the shortest lines between genes and behavior. The feedback from behavior to genes is through differential survival, so the feedback loop wouldn't be tight enough, nor the causality tightly enough connected, that we can talk about cybernetic systems proper.

...or maybe we can, if we talk about cybernetic systems on the level of an entire genome and up. Apparently there's something called Schmalhausen's cybernetic approach.

He was the first to propose an evolutionary scenario of interaction of the main components of biosphere, from the subcellular level to the biocoenotic one. Evolution and speciation are considered in this scenario as a cybernetic cycle of regulated processes with direct and feed back

(I'm guessing that last bit would be direction and feedback.)

There's also this, which sounds intriguing, and this which I haven't the faintest idea what is but it sounds totally sci-fi.

eg., biocybernetics seems to be the study of regulatory processes within the organism.