Category Archives: technology

A bit from Suarez at Long Now

I really recommend a listen to Daniel Suarez’ talk at the Long Now Foundation, which I missed when it was first posted. Here’s an eye-opening bit from the transcript:

Many of you have Bluetooth devices in your car but you may not know about the TPMS system; this is the tire pressure monitoring system. It was federally mandated by the 2001 TREAD Act. That’s right. You all remember voting for this, right? It says that any car manufactured up to 2007 has to have wireless nozzle pressure measurement devices that communicate with the computer onboard the car to see that your tires are safely inflated. Now, they have to have a unique I.D. so that the computer knows your tires from the car next to you and of course, it is an open standard and makes it very simple to track the unique identity of an automobile; but of course, to do that you would have to have devices scanning. Fortunately, such scanners have started to spring up at choke points throughout modern cities. These are privately owned scanners with the data being gathered and stored again because it’s cheap to store data, vast amounts of data. This data can be piled up along with your financial transactions and anything else and bots can go through it to find persons of interest or they just find patterns or even just to sell you stuff. I’ll give you an example of just a few such devices as a BlueSweep scanner and a BlueSweep scanner is a device that able to identify all bluetooth devices within its radius, identify what their capabilities are, and what exploits they might be vulnerable to. A BlueSniper can do this up to a kilometer away. Let’s go a little further down the wall. There’s the Bluesnarfer you were all expecting. Now Bluesnarfer can use an exploit and given to it by a Bluesweeper to steal your address book, your text messages, your calendar, your pictures of your kitties, and bluetooth car whisperer can push advertising into your car speakers through your car’s bluetooth system. Now more worrisome, it could also be used to hook into your car bluetooth phone system to eavesdrop on conversations in the car. Now, if you combine that with something like the TPMS system or any future open standard device, you could pretty much track a car and listen to its occupants as they move throughout the city at any point in the future or at the moment it’s happening. Now, so you’re walking through this gauntlet of scanning activity with all the wireless devices and again, I’m sure we were all aware of this, and then there’s of course financial transactions every time we buy stuff with a debit card or a credit card. Who, what, where, and when? Combine that with visual data and all of the other points that tell us who was there with you, where you were going can be used to tell some very interesting stories. So it’s a great constellation of information being gathered on us at all times and then of course privately owned devices Hoovering up all these information. So this is the world you live in right now. Who knows what it will be like 10 years from now?

Did Gertrude Stein invent the Web?

I’ve been reading the Marcus and Sollors A New Literary History of America article by article, and this morning came athwart Daniel Albright’s on Gertrude Stein (“1903: Gertrude Stein moves to Paris, and neither is ever the same again”), in which is quoted this bit from Stein’s Three Lives:

…there was a constant recurring and beginning there was a marked direction in the direction of being in the present although naturally I had been accustomed to past present and future, and why, because the composition forming around me was a prolonged present… I created then a prolonged present naturally I knew nothing of a continuous present but it came naturally to me to make one.

Hmmm, I thought, how very like the Web in which we live more than a century later.

Albright ends his article with this food for thought, quoting an unknown-to-me

peculiar piece from Jonathan Swift called A Compleat Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738), full of passages such as this:

Neverout. Miss, what spells b double uzzard?
Miss. Buzzard in your teeth, Mr. Neverout.
Lady Smart. Now you are up, Mr. Neverout, will you do the the favour to do me the kindness to take off the tea-kettle?
Lord Sparkish. I wonder what makes these bells ring.

If Gertrude Stein had never been born, this would seem a freakish and incomprehensible text. It still seems freakish and incomprehensible, but as an anticipation of Stein it is made familiar, assimilated into a canon that she caused to exist.

Hmmm, I thought again, how very like the Web in which we live more than a century later…

The Technium

It’ll take 3:50 of your time to watch this from Kevin Kelly:

This interests me on several dimensions: as a mode of presentation (obviously, if EVERYthing was in this format it would get old fast… but it does focus the mind if it’s novel, and the visual effects do nudge one to hear the message more clearly than if it’s just spoken, or just straight text), for its content (some of his assertions are arguable –but which ones for you? And it’s short enough to be an effective stimulus material for teaching, a good model), for its potential remixability (wouldn’t it be FUN to have a class pick out particular segments to expand upon, annotate, produce new remixes of? What’s the technology package necessary to do that?)

(via Phillip Torrone, who chooses the last 30 seconds for his focused attention… but I view it in the context of my current reading of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, about which I’ll have stuff to write real soon now.)

Cory on Paige M. Gutenborg

Cory Doctorow’s half-formed thoughts on one future for bookselling in this morning’s BoingBoing are worth a closer look if you’ve just clicked past the posting without reading it. He mentions the Harvard Bookstore’s Espresso book printer, which I visited and patronized myself a few weeks ago:
Paige M. Gutenborg
…but it’s what he says about its implementation that caught my eye:

At the Harvard Bookstore, they have someone who spends the day mousing around on Google Book Search, looking for weird and cool titles in the public domain to print and shelve around the store, as suggestions for the sort of thing you might have printed for yourself. This is a purely curatorial role, the classic thing that a great retailer does, and it’s one of the most exciting bookstore sections I’ve browsed in years. And even so, there’s lots of room for improvement: Google Books produces the blandest, most boring covers for its PD books, and there’s plenty of room for stores to add value with their own covers, with customer-supplied covers (the gift possibilities are bottomless), and so on. I can even imagine the profs across the street producing annotated versions — say, a treatise on Alice in Wonderland with reproductions of ten different editions’ illustrations and selling them through the store’s printer and shelf-space, restoring the ancient bookseller/book-publisher role.

Prophetic or what?

Cleaning up the Desktop led me to this image
Harry Grant Dart 1911
(see larger)
a Harry Grant Dart cartoon snagged from Paleofuture (who got it from Life 1911). Note that the multimedia User is pointing with his left hand to “Son Willie” on the menu, and that a real-time image of Son Willie’s doings is projected (other choices are “The Office”, “Golf Matches”, “Aeroplane Races”, “Theatres”, “Tennis” and so on), and that the sign to the left says “International Wireless Home News Service Events As They Transpire Accurately Recorded”

Some thoughts about the evolution of computing

There’s no doubt that a lot of my life revolves around this machine, before which I spend several hours a day. I’ve been riding this pony since 1992 (when I started building a Gopher presence, soon after I started work as a reference librarian at W&L), or maybe since 1989 when I started playing with HyperCard, or perhaps since 1984 when I bought my first microcomputer (a TI-Pro, still in the barn), or maybe 1979 when I started to play with SYMAP (making maps of demographic data from the Hungarian census of 1900), or maybe 1962 when I first started working with punch cards (as research assistant to Bob Textor in cross-cultural studies). At each of those junctures I had some idea of where I was heading, but the destinations kept changing as new possibilities emerged.
I seem to be in another spate of thinking about the ways the Web is/has been evolving, in the proximal contexts of Licklider‘s Libraries of the Future [1965] (which I’m reading at Gardner’s instigation) and the impending visit of friends with three home-schooled kids (for whom my question is: where does The Computer fit in what they’re doing?)… and reflecting on the many ways in which my life has been tangled up with computers. For at least 45 years I’ve seen them as essential tools for things I needed to do, though generally my imagination has outrun my technical capabilities, and I’ve relied upon the multiple kindnesses of others to assist with practicalities and realize my imaginings. There’s a looooong history of books and articles and Web resources that I’ve been influenced by, and an equally convoluted history of apps I’ve experimented with as I’ve worked at making sense of the potentials. Wish I could reconstruct all the steps…
I started library school in January 1991 with the question What will microcomputers do to libraries? but I certainly didn’t foresee that the most profound effect would be to distribute the end-user’s experience in most information transactions –to make the physical library mostly irrelevant to seeking answers, to enmesh the user in networks composed of nodes that might be on different continents, to make multimedia an everyday experience, and to proffer tools that make the user an active contributor to the construction of distributed knowledge. Two of today’s cases in point:

Harper’s release of 150+ years of full text archive exposes a glorious trove, and the possibility of gathering up David Halberstam’s contributions to the magazine adds a great deal to a resource like Christopher Lydon’s program recorded two days after Halberstam’s death


I discover that others who are reading Eco’s Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana have established a Wiki-based annotation project for the book.

At the moment I’m eagerly awaiting the imminent arrival of Dave Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (publishing tomorrow), listening to Weinberger’s Radio Open Source appearance, keeping an eye on Weinberger’s blog around the book, and still savoring a two-hour podcast of Weinberger’s Social Media Cluster talk of last week.

My Man Bruce

I’m slightly surprised not to have seen much reference to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant this year. I listened to it today and (as usual) found bits of it apposite and provocative. Some good lines even if one doesn’t entirely agree, and/or hadn’t had occasion to think of it that way –a lot to chew on, follow up, explore in more detail. He’s a luvvim/hateim speaker, like Garrison Keillor in that respect (my spouse can’t abide GK, and knows it’s him within ONE syllable, and OFF goes the radio).

Here’s another way to experience Bruce (8:15, and worth it as an Example), and it (as object, and as Example) will make even more SENSE once you’ve listened to the soundbites below:

So on to the SXSW soundbites:

1. broadband eats everything …the old line guys are trying to live on artificial scarcity, pile up the DRM… (0:18)

2. the native Internet generation cares nothing for the proprieties of 20th century media (0:13)

3. you pitch Google and Wikipedia together, and it’s kind of game over for the 80s (0:32)

4. Reformulating the Four Worlds model to reflect new realities: (2:05)

First: global market world (make it in Shenzhen, ship it to…)
Second: governance at all levels
Third: commons-based peer production a new thing, growing fast with profound effects on general population
Fourth: disorder, parts of the world just falling off that don’t have any of this (fastest-growing part of the planet)

5. commons-based peer production more powerful than people give it credit for (0:30)

6. things that are businesses stop being businesses …CraigsList, the profession of journalism and the Global Precariate(1:39)

7. a new world of laptop gypsies, vulnerable to charlatans, ripoff artists, dunderheads, lynch mobs (0:19)

8. on artistic qualities: repurposing of Harry Potter characters, pastiche: Sow’s Ears aren’t Silk (0:48)

9. mashups in vogue, but a raw source of creativity? no musical staying power, pastiche, epiphenomenon (1:08)

10. Lev Manovich’s ‘Soft Cinema’, and powerful compositing tools in people’s hands (1:47)

11. need a new form of media criticism (0:50)

12. using the term ‘blog’…a passing thing? (0:08)

13. style of discourse: Dig This! (0:28)

14. spam as semiotic pollution, machine-generated robbery and gibberish (0:36)

15. broadcast tv as evil medium that debases (1:58)

16. conventional businesses melting like the Arctic (0:46)

There’s more… Go to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant for the link to the whole thing.