Over and under, place and space.

These pictures have been getting at me a lot recently. They’re the beautiful work of a person with an incredible talent and something to say.

They express freedom in its most pure form, being beholden to no-one, having minimal to nil costs(time, money, spoons, social, etc) on most of the things you want to do.

There are only two ways to have this kind of freedom- to stop caring about what demands society places on you, as these people have done, and to drag the entirety of society along with you.

The first requires massive social costs- many people suddenly get cut off from you, you lose the availability of many advantages of society(the safety net, small as it is, among other things).

The second, typically, requires massive amounts of money- You need to drag the law along with you, and the only way to do that is money. This is a moral anathema to me, and anyone who’d conceivably choose the second route.

But I don’t think I could do the first- I’m too attached to my privilege, and as much as I feel chafed by society and the obligations it provides upon me, I’ll never have little enough to lose to completely drop it all and go bumming for a few years.

But nonetheless, I do feel chafed, And I think this leads to a bit of my obsession with post-geographical stuff that’s appearing- the 100 things movements, and related life!minimalist trends- Often borrowing from a trend of ultralight backpacking, a movement that I’ve hung on the edges of for a good 5+ years. *

I alos have, for lack of a better word, a train** station kink. They fascinate me, And I’d guess that a good 10%+ of my photos are of train stations.

Possibly this because I spend a lot of dead time with a camera on them, and also because they are eminently photographable, with long lines stretching into the distance and everyone from lawyers to migrating students on their platforms.

But I find that freedom ins imbued in these places- walking through kings cross yesterday, I hear an announcement for the train on the opposite platform to mine, and nearly ended up on a trip to Edinburgh instead of leeds.

A third prong of this is my interesting in the Internet as an anit-geographical technology. time difference aside, I can walk into an internet cafe in bejing and be in the same place as a person in san francisco.

We both occupy two fundementaly similar places- The physical cafe, and the digital “cloud”, a fictional, fundamentally otherworldly place straight out of plato.

If you’re decently read on internet!philosophy, you should be getting the patented digital dualism alarm bells going off right now.

We don’t occupy two spaces, of course. It just means that our understanding of place is completely maladjusted for a world with fast communication.

I’ve got a thing coming about that, but not yet. Probaly more writing to get my thoughts in order.

Anyway, back to freedom. I hope that these technologies serve to sever some of the ties society places on us, by making some previously nessecary ties unessecary(as the train loosened ties to place ), and by making some unessecary ones go away by virtue of assisting in the destruction of the system that perpetuates them.

*There’s a whole thing on nomadism that’s really cool and I want to talk about it, maybe tomorrow, As i seem to be on a blogging binge.

**not just train stations. I also like bus stations, underground stations, airposts and ports. It’s a transport thing.

Code is art

Let’s start this with this: I’m not an “artist”. I hope never to be. I’ll talk about that, sometime.

Next, let’s have a quote. Everyone likes quotes.

I have often felt that programming is an art form,
whose real value can only be appreciated
by another versed in the same arcane art;
there are lovely gems and brilliant coups
hidden from human view and admiration, sometimes forever,
by the very nature of the process.
You can learn a lot about an individual
just by reading through his code,
even in hexadecimal.
–Ed Nather, the story of mell.

If you’ve hung around hacker culture for any period of time, you know where this is going.

Lots of people talk about “code as art”, but what they’re talking about is the product of code. “computational art”, web design, glitch art, etc. is obviously art. It’s accepted. Cool.

Less accepted is the idea that the text file itself is art. “Protocols as art” would be a joke. “API design” got me laughed at by “designers” once once.

Now, art isn’t to do with complexity. Something can be massively complex(in conception and design) and not be art, or simple and be art. Facebook isn’t art. A childs stick figure can be art.

People arguing for plumbing to be art can stop right there. Plumbing is a complex and massivley useful and I have tremendous respect for plumbers(my father is essentially a glorified plumber). But, with very few exceptions, plumbing isn’t art. This isn’t something to be ashamed of- It’s still bloody cool. “Art” isn’t anything to be proud of.

Code is art. Why? Because it has context. Every piece has had a holy war fought over it, and “better code” isn’t determined solely by its mathematical perfection, or the speed it runs.

It’s about the “ideology” of the code. When you write in one language as opposed to another, you embed tacit assumptions about where it will be used, who will read it and what computers it will run on. When designing an API or protocol, you create either a walled garden, or a open platform.

These seem “silly”, technical considerations, until you realize that these all effect the people using your code.

If code only runs on OSX, you block out the vast majority of the people on the planet, preferring the elite to the masses

When you build something as a walled garden, you embed your philosophical views on beauty into your platform(Preferring a manicured lawn to the dark, messy forest).

If code only runs on “up to date computers” or depends on an expensive operating system, you just ignored all of the global south.

These are the philosophical, political and aesthetic arguments that are being had all over the world, from the squats of Madrid, to the streets of bejing, to the oval office.

And If you can’t read code, You’ll never see them. The computer will be a black box, that does stuff or doesn’t. Simply using facebook or status.net doesn’t show you the mess of people coded into each function. It’s implicit in the way people indent and the style of for-each they write.

This isn’t to say that everyone should read code. Not everyone should understand the oddesy. Not everyone should try to understand how the curve on this oriental vase says so much about the time it was in.

But they shouldn’t write it off just because they don’t understand it.

Code is art, not because of the pretty pictures it makes, but because of what it says about the author, from stumbling newbie to master hacker.

I’m not in Egham next year, 2.0

So. This one’s happy news. I’m not in Egham because next year because I’m not at royal Holloway ever again. I’m not even studying physics.

Because I just accepted an offer to study at Goldsmiths, University of London. To study “creative computing”. Or, as I prefer to call it “making weird shit with computers”.

I’ll miss all of my Egham friends, but I’m only really an hour away, so we’ll still(hopefully) see each other quite often.

Anyhow: Which am I actually doing? What is goldsmiths? Why is creative computing?

credit thisthinghere on reddit

Goldsmiths is the only university to have a multi-part, national-broadcast documentary about how pretentious and fucking stupid it’s students are. There’s a tag where people on tumblr take the piss out of its hipsters.

It has no science courses, apart from the department of computing(which I’m going to be a part of).

It’s pretty heavily political, though it has some reputation for not having the most subtle thinking in the area.

It’s in “real” London, at least compared to Egham, which is to say zone 2(or 3-4 story London), and is 2 train stops from tech city, which should be awesome.

Depending on who you ask, This means it’ll either be a personal hellhole or a dream.

Creative computing is essentially making weird shit with computers- it concentrates on real-world projects, and real-time processing of AV/etc, and interactive stuff(It used to be quite heavily VideoGames oriented, but they’ve just launched a separate course for that. so hopefully that will drop out. because it’s boring.)

This may mean some more bots, it may mean some more websites. There will certainly be some Internet of things stuff in the near future, before September, And I have some notes on protocol design for that that’ll go out soon. There will hopefully also be some algorithmically-generated physical stuff before then.

Questions? Mourning my presence in Egham? Congratulations? tweet me.

On code, art and processing.

I’ve been playing with processing a bit of late- It looks like I may be required to use it in the future, it’s famous for doing “art coding”, and it’s a good start in the java/c family of languages.

I have to confess that I dislike it, massively.

when I come across a language as much-hyped as processing(everyone from rAndom international to universities touts it as the best thing since HTML5), I expected to fall in love. It’s what happened with rails, and it’s what happened when I picked up vim for the first time. It’s what happened the first time I ran and apt-get, and the first time I learnt how to draw from the elbow. These tools just make sense- They’re built by people who are already using inferior tools.

Processing makes sense too, but in a different way. It’s really good at making “computational art”.

Computational art like what?

Pretty pictures is the answer*. Your first program isn’t “hello world” – It’s to draw a straight line. It’s one line of code. The next one draws a circle. Then some stuff interacting with the mouse.

Great- It takes a good couple of days to get to there in python, maybe a day in Mathematica, the language I’d say is closest to programming in concept and implementation. But you lose a lot. You don’t learn any of the basics- What’s a string? A list? An array?

You get taught to define functions in the third program, like most introductions. But they’re not introduced as functions- you just get told “write this, and stuff here will run once, and stuff here will run every time you click the mouse”(processing calls some functions like “setup” or “mousePressed” automatically).

Fine, you get the picture- People aren’t being taught the surrounding infrastructure. They’re being taught to make pretty pictures, using it like photoshop where you press keys instead of move a mouse, and also you can make stuff move.

My problem with this isn’t the ease- I’m all in favor of people having an easy time learning to code- Most of us make our choices of languages and frameworks on ease of use, with speed of execution and other benefits often looked over for “But I already know LAMP”.

My problem is the lack of understanding that accompanies a work made with processing.

A painter or writer, when using a technique or trope, knows exactly where it originated, who’s used it, and all of it’s connotations. It has context. Using that technique makes the art what it is.

Processing has context too. it’s no better or worse than the context of python, rails, or a fountain pen.

But people using processing(in the vast majority of cases) don’t understand that context. They’re making things appear and they look cool and Computational-arty.

And that context is important. When you use software, you make an ideological choice. It’s coded by people with an ideology and a political axe to grind, in response to packages that came before it that failed in certain ways. It’s coded to preserve or destroy power structures. It’s coded to be beautiful, or quick, or hacky.

It’s not just the pictures it draws. It’s the entire stack used to create the picture.

If you think that the context surrounding and tools used for art don’t matter, you weren’t listening when the world accepted a urinal as great art. If you think code is neutral, then you’re forgetting the millions of people who’ve worked on it, from the first transistor to your text editor.

Don’t use processing. Or if you must, know where it fits in to the system.

*And I say this in a non-derogatory way.

Fuck art. Just make stuff.

Whelp. I’m not exactly the first to say “fuck art”, but I’d like to think I’ve got something to bring to it.

Let’s start with what I’m “fucking”. What is art? I used to have a nice, liberal definition of art*. Until I realized it didn’t work. Because when you call everything art then it becomes meaningless- We’ve got plenty of words for everything, and art is a stupid word for everything, is only because of the egos it stokes.

So, how’s this for a definition of art(I think it’s the one that most people, really, mean). “art is stuff made by an artist, with an aesthetic function.”.

There’s two conditions here- First, let’s look at the concept of a artist which I’ve introduced. An artist can’t be someone who makes art, because circular logic. to be an artist is to self-define as an artist, to choose to accept that label.

People who do this tend to think their work is good enough to be art. In other words, they have a desire to split their own work off from the rest of creation: say this is special.

That takes the work of an ego. Sorry, but it does. It’s a comfort blanket to cling to. Comfort blankets are cool, and making stuff to back up your own psyche is important to some people. But it’s not a distinction the outside world should regard as important.

Now, For an aesthetic function. Heh. This is, I think, what really annoys me about the “art world”- They hold this above all else, and believe that if it has a non-aesthetic purpose then it is less beautiful.

Here’s an interesting thing though- A thing doesn’t need an aesthetic purpose to be beautiful. engineering has no aesthetic purpose, but a gearbox can be the most beautiful thing in the world. fractals have no purpose at all- They just are. But fractals are some of the most beautiful things on this planet. Same for landscapes and the entire natural world.

An aesthetic function is not required for beauty. In fact, even if you have no aesthetic function, If you make things well, they will have a beauty to them.

At the end of the day, Art is another word used to divide me from the rest of the world, and one based on the creator and their intention, not the work itself. This disconnect has led much modern art to separate itself from the real world in search of aesthetic purity.

Fundamentally, to urge the person on the street to “make good art”, is to suggest that what they’re doing at the moment is not art. That it is somehow lesser.

Stop making art. Make cool stuff.

*”if you can ask ‘is it art’ about it than it’s art”. Yes. I’m embarrassed too.

Some tumblr accessability fixes

So, tumblr updated their UI, and it’s great, and sometime when I have time I’ll tell you why it’s great, but it threw accessability under the buss for colourblind people- here’s a quick bookmarklet yo fix that Fix buttons

Drag and drop it to your bookmarks bar, click it each time you need to change the buttons


A lot of what I piss around with is, at the very least inter-disciplinary. And I don’t like it.

Disciplines fundamentally depend on a now-defunct principal- You have an upper bound on your knowledge. While this is (in the strictest sense) still true, it no longer mattered- because out personal, meat-space knowledge does not place limits on what we can make, understand or analyze.

Few programmers I know work without a meta-cortex of documentation and stack overflow to hand, and no modern humanities scholar or artist works in a vacuum- They depend on slightly less meta metacortices of books and reference photos, jstor and Google images.

sure- a base is needed- No interface is completely intuitive, and we never will make one that is. We all need to learn how to put together a Google query, ask hackers a question and get an answer, or have a grounding in basic politics.

But that base is comparatively tiny- We learn it by college, pretty much. From then on we work on a project by project basis, reading the papers and books we need for each project. We never use an encyclopedic knowledge of the castles of medieval england or geometric sans-serif fonts.

We don’t know. We learn. but we learn so fast that there’s no real difference from knowing.

All this goes in a roundabout way to bring me back to disciplines. All of the best work, artistically, commercially an politically is cross discipline.

Artists are growing their own monstrous biologies with some test tubes and a few PDFs.

Modern interaction design is a bastard of graphics, programming and sociology.

Programmers became librarians for OWS and librarians become programmers to fight local austerity.

Hackers are, I think leading this change- Computer science is the best documented of the disciplines out there and this means that a significant proportion of the current crop of developers have non-compSi degrees and specializations.

Fundamentally, extending access to expert information has made experts unnecessary, and our modern multi- or inter-disciplinary work is just a patch. We need to put effort into learning how to learn, then get people to make things with the knowledge that’s out there.

*bastardization of @ntlk- I don’t know. I Google.

Remembering in a digital age

Something I’ve been interested in of late are souvenirs, and specifically, getting rid of them- This interest was sparked by a graph on booktwo.org showing the lifetime of a book- or a common, simplified lifetime of a book. It resonated with some feelings I’d been having about physical objects, and having to cart them around as I moved.

The bit that interests me is the association of physical objects with places and times- It’s a subject that’s well written about- Cornelia flunkes inkheart contains my favourite example-

If you take a book with you on a journey [...] an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. and forever after you only have to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place what it smelt like, the ice-cream you ate while you where reading it … yes, books are like flypapers. Memories cling to them better than anything else.

We keep the majority of books around not because they’re useful, but because they remind us of places, times and people. Obviously there’s a certain extent that we carry them around as reference or because we feel that we’re middle class, educated, and privileged and as such should have a library. But, for me at least, It’s because they remind us.

Books, and more generally souvenirs, serve to trigger happy, or occasional important, memories- And the when we edit our libraries and collections, we’re actually curating the the set of memories wit think about most, and as such the people we are.

In this context, the middle class, privileged, educated actions of showing of your libraries, choosing art for your walls and mantelpieces, is actually showing off who we are- Something we knew before, even if only subconsciously, when we judged people based on their bookshelves.

People have made interesting inroads in doing the same things with ebooks, and by people, I’m speaking about James brindle again- his bookcubes are an interesting step, but not one in the right direction- RIGs newspaper club, or rather what people use it for- “things our friends have written on the internet”, or 738 are both attempts to pysicalize memmory, to have a physical representation of the good times we shared.

But, to me these are almost grotesque- Memory is, at it’s heart, data. And there’s no reason that the trigger has physical- in fact, It seems ugly, hacky, that they are. It’s not the pages of the book that trigger* -It’s the text. The text is just as abstract as memory. Why are we tied to a heavy, awkward book?

The answer, In fact, Is we don’t, and we’re realizing this- we’re becoming less tied to them. Our triggers are becoming more abstract, photos and snippets of text stored in the “clouds” of various social networks, as magnetic anomalies on spinning glass platters.

There are obvious, and well talked about, dangers with this- If our collections of triggers map up who we are, as I argued above, we are literally selling our souls to use these platforms- Obviously, that’s why social networks find this data so valuable- If you can produce even a (even a poor) model of a person from their memories, then you know what they’re likely to want to buy, and how to sell it to them.

Some of the advantages are just as obvious- massively redundancy, portability, analytics, ease of sharing, etcetera- all the standard advantages of computers/the cloud. But some are less tangible- the ideological purity of memories being now completely abstract, and the physical infrastructure that hold them being interchangeable.(The theory(cough:ideology) of the singularity is this taken to it’s furthest implications- even our bodies are interchangeable, not just the physical triggers and the silicone part of the metacortex)

It should be noted that this isn’t the first attempt to split memory off from the random triggers- To personally comodify it. Since the 14th century, “commonplace books” have been, well, commonplace- A book in which you note what you find inspiring and useful, be it shopping lists or sketches. An obvious close relative of this is the diary, through which people seem to speak after they have gone- a very literal example of a persons triggers and memories forming the person.

Bringing the same methods- life logging, up to date, we see that the big war being fought in the social media sphere is over pictures- Instagram made a billion, as the joke goes, on showing everyone what everyone else had for lunch. But a picture is more than that- it’s the easiest media for a person to parse, save video, because it’s the closest we come to what we see through our eyes. Instagram was simply a stream of images- Places, people, things frozen in time, often in amber(filters). It was a case of “I’m here” “I’m doing this, with these people”- triggers in their purest form. Uploaded, made virtual, and still sat there five or fifty years in the future to remind us what an awesome time we had. No wonder it’s the one that’s been the catalyst for some of the most successful social networks of their times(flikr, facebook, instagram).

But it’s still not perfect- It’s a record of where we are in the physical world**- the interesting things that go on are more than the physical. I want to record what I’m thinking, not what I’m doing. This is what I’m currently trying to do with my tumblr- produce as closer image of my head at a given point as I can- and then I’ve got a near-perfect set of triggers for any day I care to remember, and I’m in fact a long way to offloading my memory- as if my inbox doesn’t already do that for me. My metacortex will be a real thing, not a concept to argue about.

So, yeah, That’s where I am, what I’m trying to do about our inferior memory systems. It’s not a solution, it’s an experiment, an awkward flap in what I hope will be the right direction.If you think it’s cool, or disagree, or just want feel like it, talk to me about it.

*except in rare cases-my copy of day of the triffids got soaked when a wave swamped the cockpit of our boat in the channel tunnel- feeling those pages brings back the memories, reading another non-spoilt copy brings back memories of re-reading it in English class

**While an instagram account that posts shots of my desk 1/3 of the time would be a fun project, It’s not an inspiring story to follow

So, I’m not in egham next year.

I (probably) won’t be in egham next year- I fucked up my exams and have to resit next summer, so in the meantime, I’m probably going to be either

Fifty shades: The real dammage.

So, Apparently when who-the-heck wrote her fifty shades rant about a couple of weeks ago, the subject is was passe. And I’ve still got a half articulated opinion on the matter, so I’m going to go for the hipster defence and insist that I’m dragging this corpse up to shoot it again out of irony.

Yeah. Irony. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, I’ve read the first book in parts, mainly in the form of various dramatic readings and snarky commentaries online. I’m patchier on the seccond two, but have skimmed them enough to know the general outline. This isn’t an uninformed opinion, but it I must confess that the surrounding history, statistics and opinions on the web have had more of an effect. Not because I’ve read more, but because they make a more compelling case.

So, Fifty shades and surrounding debacle was interesting- I fist heard about it about 4 months ago, when the mary sue, and someone at ORGcon mentioned that a piece of fanfic had had its serial numbers filed off and was doing the rounds on kindle. I was expecting a few hundred thousand copies “licenced” to kindles, and a bit of a disturbance on tumblr arguing about whether it was a sell out. I was wrong on a couple of counts- over twenty million copies have been “licenced” and sold in paper form. It’s the best selling book on amazon. And tumblr couldn’t care a bit about the selling out. And something I didn’t expect has happened- It exploded the feminist community.

The second one is easy to explain- Tumblr doesn’t care because it was twilight fic. And tumblr is obviously so much above twilight.

The first is a bit more interesting- Porn doesn’t really have a good track record of selling. Sure, there’s romance novels, but they’re not in the harry potter sales bracket. The simple reason is that the chattering classes make up most of the market, and when you go to book club, then it’s simply not done to say that you’re reading “the island of passion”. And you’d better be reading the guardian when you’re on the sofa with your husband and 2.3 kids.

But with a kindle, there’s no cover. You could be reading the latest pop-philosophy tome or you could be reading the most depraved porn you can imagine.

not that fifty shades is particularly depraved. It’s drier than reading Wikipedia.

and surprise surprise, People like reading porn.

When It’s been read by enough people, It gains a certain sheen of respectability- somehow it morphs from badly written porn to a beautiful romance with deep, conflicted characters who are so messed up they engage in beautifully written kinky sex that illustrates their conflict perfectly. And once it’s there, It’s edgy and bold to take it to book club. And then you get harry potter levels of sales.

The third one is a bit weird- Some feminists insist it’s an abusive relationship(it is) and should be condemned because of that(it should) and some insisting that these people where simply kink hating(maybe some) patriarchal (really?)infiltrators (realllly?) who trumpeted the achievement of getting porn into more womens hands (tbf, this was good. But not good porn)

The problem is, as in most cases, there’s a little bit of truth on each side- It’s a (really) badly written book about what is essentially an abusive relationship. It’s also probably one of the most read pieces of porn in the world, and more people reading porn and finding out what they like is great.

But if you think that fifty shades is really helping sexually liberate people by getting them reading interesting, kinky, then you’re sorely mistaken- It reads as a how-not-to for erotic writing and BDSM writing in particular- I wasn’t exaggerating when I say I’ve been more aroused reading Wikipedia. The Sex scenes read like a sad puppy was given poor thesaurus, in which “sex” has been substituted for “talkies”, and told to use it as much as possible(thanks Alice). The rest of it seems to be the emails read by the court as Anastasia sues grey in response to his abuse. And when you read something like that, you run a mile from that genre, and never return. People are getting their first real tastes of self published works, of fan fiction, and of erotica, and it’s confirming all the stereotypes. This kills any hopes we may have had of new technologies extending the reach of the brilliant creative writing that’s going on on the web right now. Or at least kills it in the short term.

This is the real fault of fifty shades- Not being porn (that’s great), not cataloguing an abusive relationship in a positive light (that’s terrible. But there’s a hell of a lot worse we let through in the name of free speech(and we should)), nor even being a horrific piece or writing,but the effect it has on real, brilliant, hardworking writers who happen not to have won the publisher lottery.

Finally, Like many, I’m going to end this on suggestions of something decent to read instead. Try Geist on archive of our own if you’re looking for kink. For that matter, try anything else highly rated in the archive of our own explicit tag. Try literotica, or any of the thousands of tumblr porn rec blogs and most of all try google. But don’t read fifty shades unless you want Something to laugh at. And my immortal does better for that.