Category Archives: geekery

Bruce Sterling’s Keynote at Augmented Reality Event 2010 (Santa Clara, June 2-3)

The Keynote is a risky gig. The audience thinks it knows all there is to know (after all, it’s a gathering of the ubergeeks of whatever the conference is about), and each individual in the audience is prepared to judge the speaker as not getting it if that individual’s own understanding isn’t foregrounded by the speaker’s remarks. But the speaker is an outsider to the specific geekdom, invited to offer a perspective that (ideally) will make the audience question and rethink something pretty basic about its individual and collective understanding. A tall order, and requiring of the Keynote Speaker a superhuman clarity of perspective and articulation. I’d argue that Bruce Sterling succeeds in this instance, and how he works the magic is worth study.
He’s introduced as “the Prophet of Augmented Reality” and begins with 10 minutes or so of pretty general observations on the AR scene, replete with in-jokes and throwaway lines that establish his cred as an observer of the current state of AR as an industry, and he notes that part of the significant context includes the fact that the Titans of 20th century media are fading fast:

…Newsweek can’t be sold, it’s worth basically nothing, newspapers drying up all over the landscape, TV doesn’t look like TV used to look, movies don’t look like movies used to look…

but around 12:00 his remarks take an analytical turn that suggests that he’s really got something to say:

What is it that you are really doing? You could argue that what you’re really doing is coding apps for early adopters of smartphones, and it’s true that’s where most of your money is, and where the press attention is, and it’s kind of a good way to make your numbers this quarter, but that’s not a very good mission statement for your very young industry.
I think it might be a good idea if you want to think of yourselves as the world’s first pure-play experience designers …and experience design as it currently stands is mostly futuristic hot air…

And then at 13:00 he kicks it into overdrive with an Aux Armes!, and THIS part is really worth your attention:

WHOSE reality really needs to be augmented? Is it really cutting-edge geeks who are eager to have the most advanced hand-held gadgets? You are those people, so of course you think of those people, but are they really the people who need you the most? Whose realtime sensory experience of the world really NEEDS to be redesigned?
I would suggest blind people, people who already have sensory problems. I would suggest foreigners, people who are bewildered in a reality they don’t understand, confused people, people who are mentally ill, handicapped in some way, people who can’t read, people who can’t speak, people who can’t hear…
…think of yourselves not as coders, not as a service business to add a little bit of sparkle to companies that are bigger than you. I think you need to cut yourself your own space, I think you need to consider yourself the torch that lights our steps…
without vision, the people perish, and we really need vision now. We could really seriously do with a good old-fashioned revolutionary Internet boom…
This meeting of yours is a precious opportunity to shape the language of your young industry… It’s your chance to bake a big pie before you start slicing it up and fighting over the crumbs.

You might want to watch the whole thing:

The Augmented Reality Event: Bruce Sterling’s keynote from Ori Inbar on Vimeo.


I’m pretty much a sucker for Doc Searls take on stuff, so I did as he suggests and went to Typealizer and put in oookblog’s URL and here’s what I got back:

ENTP – The Visionaries

The charming and trend savvy type. They are especially attuned to the big picture and anticipate trends. They often have sophisticated language skills and come across as witty and social. At the end of the day, however, they are pragmatic decision makers and have a good analytical abilitity.

They enjoy work that lets them use their cleverness, great communication skills and knack for new exciting ventures. They have to look out not to become quitters, since they easily get bored when the creative exciting start-up phase is over.

Hmmm. Guilty. And slightly preening-of-feathers too.


Sentences like this renew one’s faith in humanity:

Because of parallax, the likelihood of a solar eclipse depends not only on a syzygy’s nodal elongation, but also on whether it occurs north or south of the ecliptic, as was recognized in antiquity.

(See Freeth et al. in Nature, via xefer, where there’s also a link to a 44 page (!) Supplement)

Clerical wit

Most of the biblical allusions one sees on license plates are sanctimonious, sentimental, or just plain soppy, but here’s one that giveth hope, quoted to me by the Rev. George Dole:


…which probably not all of you will parse as 2 Kings 9:20. Getting the sturdy old King James out from its hiding place in the barn to decode, here’s what it says:

the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he driveth furiously

Besides being the soul of wit, George also has the distinction of having been a runner in the race (6 May 1954) in which Roger Bannister first broke 4 minutes.

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.