Let us begin.

Brain switched on fully this morning.

Woken by, like a bell ringing backward from tomorrow, this headline – heralding the terrible, wonderful material future:

Fullerene Super-Armour

Let’s have that again.

Fullerene Super-Armour

Along with the rollicking arphid-blistered-rollercoaster of a ride that’s been “Shaping Things”, I’m getting just-enough medicinal futureshock to crank the year into the gear.

Wikipedia: we really haute to know better

Evidence is building that Nicholas Carr’s argument against peer-production of knowledge by amateurs is dead-on.

Today’s Guardian rounds up a panel of experts to score the wikipedia entries against their deep domain knowledge in their somewhat-pointedly-titled “Can you trust Wikipedia”

It’s broadly good news for the free, open and amateur with scores in the 6’s and 7’s out of 10, with one 5 for the article on ‘encyclopedias’ as judged by an ex-editor of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Could the harnessing of “collective intelligence” not just be the wishful thinking of venerable west-coast technohippies, but something that could help humankind out of the beginnings of what may turn out to be it’s most difficult century, a.k.a. The Grim Meathook Future?

Maybe, maybe…

Until – we get to a 0 out of 10.

It’s from Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue:

“Broadly speaking, it’s inaccurate and unclear. It talks about haute couture and then lists a large number of ready-to-wear designers. As a very, very broad-sweep description there are a few correct facts included, but every value judgment it makes is wrong.”

We’re so HOSED!!!

“In our wiki”

I had a  random friday afternoon thoughtfart while listening to Paul Morley/Strictly Kev’s 1hr remix of ‘raiding the 20th century’.

Listening to Morley‘s* cultural history of the cut-up on top of Kev’s sonic critique made me think how cool it would be to hear Melvyn Bragg and the "In our time" gang’s thursday morning ruminations on, for instance, Machiavelli – cut-and-pasted over mashed-up madrigals.

Putting this fancy to one side for one minute… it made me think of other superlayered participatory critique and knowledge construction – the Wikipedia.

If there were a transcript of "In our time" (is there?) why couldn’t that be munged with wikipedia like Stefan did with BBC news… and what if then new nodes were being formed by Melvyn, his guests and his audience – together, for everyone, every week, and cross-referenced to a unique culutral contextual product – the audio broadcast.

The mp3 of "In our time"  sliding into the public domain and onto the internet archive’s servers, every thursday rippling through the nöösphere reinvigorating the debate in the wikipedia, renewing collective knowledge.

"In Our Time" is great ‘campfire’ stuff – you have The Melv as the semi-naive interlocutor and trusted guide, the experts as authority to be understood and questioned… but it’s only 30 minutes and 4 people… what about scaling it way out into the wikinow?

How good would that be??!!!!

Of course a first step, a sheltered cove, would be to set up "In Our time" with their own wiki for Neal Stephenson Baroque Cycle / Pepys diary style annotations of the transcript and mp3..

The Melv’s own multimedia mash’d up many-to-many mp3 meme machine.

Update: over the weekend, Matt Biddulph showed another example of how powerful mixing BBC web content with web-wide systems might be: with del.icio.us tags extending BBC Radio3’s content. Fantastic stuff.

p.s. from a Bio of Morley found at pulp.net:
earns a farthing every time Charlie’s Angels, Full Throttle is shown or
trailed, owing to his contribution as a member of the Art of Noise to
Firestarter by the Prodigy, which features a sample of the Art of
Noise’s Beat Box, used in the film. The pennies are mounting up."

The Sim of Achilles

From GameGirlAdvance:

"The interesting thing about war games is that the default state of a
war game is peace. Think about it: what if you started up a multiplayer
game of WarCraft III
and none of the players built
anything but workers and buildings? The natural state of the world is
for the races of WarCraft to peacefully coexist (although you would
eventually run out of resources), and this tranquility is shattered by
player actions.

So the way you make a peace game is to create a world where the
default state is conflict, and the player must act to calm the violence
through a variety of means. That’s the trick: you’ve got to show peace
as something that’s challenging to achieve, not a default state."

I’m currently reading "The Shield of Achilles" by Phillip Bobbit, which certainly underlines that last sentence of the quote.

Neal loves Bees

Also from the Slashdot interview of Neal Stephenson, looks like he’s been following the axons:

As _Snow Crash_ was originally designed as an interactive game, and such landmarks as _Myst_ have regenerated as (usually bad) novels, do you see the arrival of a truly multimedia story, delivered simultaneously in multiple media, anytime soon? By whom, specifically or generally?


It has already happened in the form of the I Love Bees alternate reality game, which, as many of you must know, is a promotional campaign for Halo 2. I know the people who did it, but I have lost track of what I promised not to reveal publicly, and so will shut up for now.

Still no axons gone hot in Helsinki, AFAIK…

Authority and autonomy

Martin Wattenburg, IBM Research
Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Lots being written at the moment about the authority of Wikipedia, after aspersions were cast recently by a journalist.

I don’t have anything to add other than the suggestion that both critics and it’s rather stung-sounding supporters are confusing authority with autonomy, in the principia cybernetica sense: “Self-asserting capacity of living systems to maintain their identity through the active compensation of deformations”

At DIS2004, Martin Wattenburg gave an impressive demonstration of this using a real-time java visualisation of the wikipedia: HistoryFlow, which I’ve written about here before.

Focussing on controversial subjects, Martin visually demonstrated the self-regulation, recovery from attack and consensus- generation the system manages in a remarkably short, you might say, biological time frame.

After seeing it illustrated with HistoryFlow, I don’t think that the harshest of critics could doubt the wikipedia‘s resilience and self-moderation.

It’s “authority” though might be a different matter.

The wikipedia’s structural strength and resilience confered by its form, also condemns it to be being in the constant flux of the wikinow – and that immediately erodes it’s ‘authority’ in traditional terms or perhaps ‘timelessness’ would be a better word.

As Liz Lawley comments on Joi Ito’s post (the comments are where the action is on that post, btw):

“while the back-and-forth of community editing may, over time, result in information with significant balance and validity, there’s also the very real potential of an unsuspecting user coming across an article during a pendulum swing. With print reference sources, that back-and-forth occurs as well, but it’s typically invisible to the end-user, who always receives the post-debate version.”

Another correspondent further down in the comments remarks:

“Encyclopedias are supposed to give information seekers correct information at any given time, not prove that they are self-repairing knowledge-building processes.”

Authority is a slippery, socially-constructed thing conferred over time, and the most authoratitive texts in our language once only had the authority most dubiously viewed by an establishement, that conferred by the dilligence of volunteers, just like the wikipedia.

This from Simon Winchester’s “The Surgeon of Crowthorne”:

“The undertaking of the scheme, he [Dean Trench] said, was beyond the ability of any one man. To peruse all of English literature – and to comb the London and New York newspapers, and the most literate of the magazine and journals – must be instead ‘the combined action of many’. It would be necessary to recruit a team – moreover, a huge team, one probably comprising hundreds and hundreds of unpaid amateurs, all of them working as volunteers.

The audience murmured with surprise. Such an idea, obvious though it may sound today, had never been put forward before.

But then, some members said as the meeting was breaking up, it did have some merit. It had a rough, rather democratic appeal to it. It was an idea consonant with Trench’s underlying thought, that any grand new dicitoonary ought to be itself a democratic product, a book that demonstrated the primacy of individual freedoms, of the idea that one could use words freely, as one liked, without hard and fast rules of lexicial conduct.

Any such dictionary certainly should not be an absolutist, autocratic product, such as the French had in mind: the English, who had raised eccentricity and ill-organisation to a high art, and placed the scatterbrain on a pedestal, loathed such Middle European things such as rules and conventions and dictatorships. They abhorred the idea of diktats – about the language, for heaven’s sake – emanating from some secretive body of unaccountable immortals. Yes, nodded a number of members of the Philological Society, as they gathered up their astrakhan coats and white silk scarves and top-hats that night and strolled out into the yellowish November fog; Dean Trench’s notion of calling for volunteers was a good one, a worthy and really rather noble idea.”

Jimmy Wales, of the wikipedia gave some talks yesterday in London, and if anyone has notes if would be very grateful if they could point me to them.

Connections, 2


As I was watching James Burke passionately explain the interconnectedness of everything, I was reminded of my friend and psychoactive-substance-made-hominid, Matt Webb.

In this epic post, Webb lays claim to being the auteur of the first BBC factual documentary series (or holomemetic thoughtgift injectionseeds) that they commission after we all collapse into the supercontext of the singularity.

“our cities are unfolded instances of the hippocampus, as a game of Ludo or, rather, Stuck in the Mud is the first and second and n-order unfolding of the game rules + social behaviour + history. Surfaces, ha!”

Ouch! Brilliant!

UPDATE: gordon bennett. loads of comments about this essentially flippant little post.

Since moving to typepad I’ve notice that posting a blog entry is more like handing in your homework, at a particularly strict school run by ascetic ex-Jesuits expelled from the order for their extremism. All I’ve had a re comments telling me (and matt webb) off for our self-indulgence and lack of intellectual rigour.

Newsflash – this is a personal site, it is ALL self-indulgence. Moreover, I have the intellectual rigour of a frisbee. Anyway – I have removed the “recent comments” feature from the sidebar in the hope of redcuing the ‘pile-on’ that happens.

Racoons, Rudy Rucker and Fiction Suits

Reflecting on Nokia Lifeblog, Jeremy Bushnell’s Raccoon blog quotes Rudy Rucker in Mondo2000:

“I want to have my life’s work on a CD with an access system that can call up any part of it, key on it with a cursor, and then go out into my journals, see what was happening, or get into my essays, see what I was doing then or find other stories that used a particular item and have it all be totally seamless … I’m trying to merge my life with my fiction and essentially create a word model of my consciousness.”

Two related Grant Morrison quotes on merging with fiction:

“As you read, the complete human archive – films and diaries and paintings and newspapers, recipes and family photos, abstracted to strings of ones and zeroes – is undergoing a steady, discreet conversion into digital data. Our entire cultural record, available in every home, via the telephone, direct to the screen, making History as convenient as the local 24-hour cornershop.

I submit that, just as the sailing ships of the Mediterranean empires opened the doors to the New World, just as space shuttles ferry our astronauts to the foothills of the infinite, so are our computers prototype time travel engines. The technology may be gumming a rusk but steps to develop the undefiled landscapes of our foremothers and fathers are already being taken. A computer, a digital camera, a modem, some Photoshop packages: all you’ll need to plan your own holiday in All Our Yesterdays. Think of Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump’, schmoozing LBJ, Lennon and Bobby Kennedy. Think of the young Dennis Hopper shanghaied into a car ad by his older, more cynical self. Think, above all, of the potential ;wearing our own cut-and-pasted images like spacesuits, we can freefall into the picture libraries of the past and party with the dead.”source


“Not ALL of our fictions are becoming realities, only those memetically-engineered to do so by experts like myself and Snoop Dogg.”source

It’s up to you, New York, New York

Rodcorp, on Calvino, on New York as a story-machine:

“Occasionally I decide spontaneously to set totally imaginary stories in New York, a city in which I have lived only a few months in my life: who knows why, perhaps because New York is the simplest city, at least for me, the epitome of a city, an kind of prototype of a city, as far as its topography, its visual appearance, its society is concerned. Whereas Paris has huge depth, so much behind it, so many meanings.”

Calvino’s so cool. Rodcorp rocks.

» Rodcorp: If in a continuous city a traveler