Googlism for: matt jones
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“The pieces, played on any node of the board, are ideas. Whenever there’s a link between the node you want to play and another node that has previously been played, you must also come up with a way to link the ideas.

That turns out to be an excellent basis for coming up with new ideas: all you have to do is forge a connection between two concepts. That connection happens in two places: on the board, and in the brains of the participants. This is no mere “put ideas up on a whiteboard” scenario: you’re giving people the opportunity to change the way they think.”

» Brainstorming, and the Glass Bead Game
[via smartmobs]


A piece by Nico Colchester who died, age 49, last week:

“Crunchy systems are those in which small changes have big effects leaving those affected by them in no doubt whether they are up or down, rich or broke, winning or losing, dead or alive. The going was crunchy for Captain Scott as he plodded southwards across the sastrugi. He was either on top of the snow-crust and smiling, or floundering thigh-deep. The farther south he marched the crunchier his predicament became.

Sogginess is comfortable uncertainty. The modern Scott is unsure how deeply he is in it. He can radio for an airlift, or drop in on an American early-warning station for a hot toddy. The richer a society becomes, the soggier its systems get. Light-switches no longer turn on or off: they dim.”

» economist: Crunchiness By Nico Colchester
[thanks Tom]

The Financephalograph

The outboard-brain hits paydirt again. Paul Mison comes up with the goods this time – pointing me to the liquid and pipes simulation of the national economy that I was struggling to find:

“Take a pile of Perspex tubes, a few levers and pulleys and the windscreen-wiper pumps from an old wartime bomber. Add a brilliantly ingenious kind, as bucketful of water, and what do you have/? A computer that can model the flow of money around the nation. If the government raises taxes or the public goes on a spending spree, then this bizarre bit of plumbing shows what happens to the country’s savings and investments. At a quick flick of a switch the strange contraption can reveal the wisdom of increasing government spending or the folly of cutting interest rates. This huge machine, knocked up in a barrage by one-time crocodile hunter Bill Phillips, is now on display at the Science Museum in London. But in the 1950s, the computer model that ran on water was streets ahead of its electronic contemporaries. “

» Megabyte: A liquid computer


is a favourite word of mine, but a frustrating state to be in.

Everything about about socialsoftware tends to flummox: the scale and complexity of interactions, the wide range of theories around social interaction to the details of design, development and sustainable operation.

It’s mindboggling to a poor pixelpusher like me.

Today’s been flummoxing. Spent most of the post-lunch doldrums trying to recuperate from an intense and (I think) valuable brainstorm this morning about the socialsoftware project I’m working on.

Right now I can’t mention much about the detail of what we talked through, but one thing that was brought up that has fascinated me for years was the physical modellling of complex systems that was still in evidence well into the times of widespread digital computation and simulation. I just spent a while trying to find a picture of one of the conrtraptions that economists used to use to model national economies with flows of coloured water running through interconnected pipes of varying diameter, but to no avail. Can anyone point me to something about what I’m attempting to describe?

Anyway, just as I thought I was recovering, a wander through meatball in search of how virtual communities can be encouraged to tip-over into real-life activity leads me to something that genuinely not only flummoxed me, but left me boggled to boot: “Cheap Complex Devices”:

” This is the fact: these books were written not by human hand but by computer program. It’s only natural to wonder, How did it do that? And, Why can’t I? Even if they had been poorly written, the simple fact of their existence would be astonishing enough, and we would admire them as curios, like the dog riding the bicycle. And we would want, naturally, to understand the workings of the programs that conjured them up. One might think that the better the novels the greater the curiosity about the mechanics of their origins, but, paradoxically, in the face of their compelling essence, we cease to care so much about how they got here. Kasparov said that at its best, the chess-playing program called Deep Blue “played like God.” At some point the mechanics of the program become irrelevant and the beauty of the play becomes the thing, as who would claim to understand God’s logic?

No claim of Godhead is made for the “authors” of Bonehead and Bees. But these novels do move us in the way novels are supposed to move us. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They keep us up late night turning pages to see what happens next. We care about the characters in The Bonehead Computer Museum and in Bees, or The Floating Point Error, characters unmistakably human. How are we to understand their provenance? Do we need to? It is to these questions that we now turn our attention.”


If anyone from 3M is reading this…

…I love your products, especially my secret workshop weapon, the giant post-it. However, please could you devote the energies of your research department to devising some whay to make post-it notes stay in the correct positions that they were put in by workshop participants on flipcharts, at least until you have to try and turn them into diagrams.

  • a fixitive spray that would make the post-its grab the paper with a vice like grip until you sprayed it again.
  • a special electromagnetizing wand that activated tiny alloy rods in each note achieving the same effect.
  • make each note secrete a distinct chemical marking on impact with the flipchart: a territorial-pissing that if dislodged, the transplanted motive power and instinct of seacucumber-derived fibres of the displaced post-it can home back in on.

C’mon guys – think brand-extension! New revenue streams! I’m doing your gruddam work for you!!!

The Universal, redux.

This is incredible stuff, found via boingboing:

“I was at a conference in Washington, DC on Friday and Saturday. Participants included some people who are reasonably plugged in to the Washington political process. I was stunned to hear one of these folks sum up the Washington conventional wisdom like this:

“The political dialog today is that the general purpose computer is a threat, not only to copyright but to our entire future.”

Now, that’s a powerful statement. Mr. Felten, who’s blog this features on, goes on to say, quite rightly I believe:

“If I could take just one concept from computer science and magically implant it into the heads of everybody in Washington — I mean really implant it, so that they understood the idea and its importance in the same way that computer scientists do — it would be the role of the general-purpose computer. I would want them to understand, most of all, why there is no such thing as an almost-general-purpose computer.

If you’re designing a computer, you have two choices. Either you make a general-purpose computer that can do everything that every other computer can do; or you make a special-purpose device that can do only an infinitesimally small fraction of all the interesting computations one might want to do. There’s no in-between.”

I’ve stumbled around this exact topic here before… and like Mr. Felten, I’m still struggling with how to make tangible and explainable what would be lost to us all if we don’t defend the notion of the universal machine.

When I was a kid in Thatcher’s Britain of the mid-eighties, there was a societal pressure on parents to buy computers, to understand the new technology, for kids to hack and fiddle and type-in pages and pages of BASIC into their machines in the expectation of playing a poorly-rendered Frogger knock-off, only to be frustrated when a syntax error in line 126 scuppered hours of data entry…

This from the excellent ZXGoldenYears on the ‘year zero’ of 1982:

“Regardless of the belief of parents that computers in their homes would be used for educational purposes, the eventual use that nearly all of them were put to was games. Unlike the rigid forms of genre that were found in the arcades, home computers offered an opportunity to experiment with new ideas. There was an ?anything goes? attitude that was exhilarating and liberating.”

Is that climate possible to recapture? These days, computer games are big, technically complex acts of creation and occasionally have as much, if not more riding on them as Hollywood blockbusters. Computers themselves are complex to operate just at an everyday level of working with applications and documents, let alone creating or coding.

To most people, myself included, they’re pretty much unfathomable.

Give us consoles and consumer electronics and they’re more than satified in the main. There’s a yawning chasm between their user-experience of partially-universal machines and universal machines.

Where am I headed? Well – maybe there’s some ways back to making the potential of the universal plain and making people passionate about protecting that. Above and beyond the education and promotion of the concepts through the skills of visual explainers and storytellers, that is.

Some threads:

  • Rip,mix,burn: the digital hub concept is something, I would say, anecdotally, that real people are starting to get. That media is mutable and can shift around their envirnoment to meet their wishes and needs.
  • Blogging, Journalling and communicating: Steven Johnson (i think quoteing or paraphrasing) said in a speech I heard of his that ‘Technology is whatever was invented after you were 15″. The Under-25s are connecting, communciating and archinving their lives like never before around the globe, using stuff that we think is technology, they think is just ‘stuff’.

So here’s the thing…

  • What about harnessing these behaviours trends with a next generation language, allowing people to combine communication, media and automation in unlimited ways, but that easy to get into and understand like Basic or Logo… BLog-O?

Is this just the web? Ach. Time for the pub. Also – I really have to stop using the word ‘redux’ in as the titles to my posts. Lazy git.

» The Fallacy of the Almost-General-Purpose Computer