The Indigenous memory code

memory, songlines, Australia, ABC, Lynne-Kelly, interview, knowledge, space, spatial-memory

Lynne Kelly, author of The Memory Code has studied the way memory is embedded in landscape in many cultures. Drawing on these techniques she’s developed her own memory code or Songline to remember swathes of information she was not otherwise able to do. As with many oral cultures, she’s used the environment around her.

Lynne Kelly: Well, I started with the countries of the world. So I started in my studio, my office where I work, and in each location around that office, the first 10, I’ve put the top 10 countries of the world, starting China, India, the United States. Then I go out, right around the garden, right around the house, down the street, pick up the bread and come back, and by the house not far from home I’m down to Pitcairn Islands with 66 population. Each house and each location represents a country. So now if I’m watching the news and a country comes up, like Reunion when they found the plane crash parts, my brain automatically goes to that position. It doesn’t have to go in sequence because it’s fixed in sequence by the landscape, and I can add that bit of information and it just grows and grows because there is a structure. So I’ve done all of prehistory and history. I start 4,000 million years ago, walk around, prehistory, takes about a kilometre to do that. Right around history, back to today, on a portable device, sort of like the Aboriginal tjuringa but modelled more on the African Luba, Western African lukasa. I’ve encoded a complete field guide to the 408 birds of Victoria.


Terra0: The Self-Owning Augmented Forest

terra0, forest, augmented-ecology, DAO, art, ethereum, forestry, resource-management

Terra0 is an ongoing art project whose goal is to set up an alternative economic unit on the Ethereum Blockchain, while exploring the relationship between art and capital by functioning as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). The idea behind the project is to create a situation in which a forest creates capital by selling licenses for the logging of its trees through automated processes, smart contracts and blockchain technology. Terra0 reflects on ownership, personhood and autonomy. According to the project’s initiators, blockchain technology and smart contracts enable non-human actors to administer capital and therefore to claim the right to property for the first time. “Property is discussed now as something which is not separable from a natural or legal entity. Terra0 begins in this legal grey area, originating in the technological change brought about with the invention of blockchain technology and smart contracts,” adds Hampshire.


What makes online content viral?

information operations, io, infowar, ShadowBrokers, guccifer2, cyberwar


A paper on viral content. Information warfare is about dissemination of narratives and information. I think studying how those pieces of information are diffused to a wider audience is probably worth understanding.

Why are certain pieces of online content (e.g., advertisements, videos, news articles) more viral than others? This article takes a psychological approach to understanding diffusion. Using a unique data set of all the New York Times articles published over a three-month period, the authors examine how emotion shapes virality. The results indicate that positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone. Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral. These results hold even when the authors control for how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content was featured). Experimental results further demonstrate the causal impact of specific emotion on transmission and illustrate that it is driven by the level of activation induced. Taken together, these findings shed light on why people share content and how to design more effective viral marketing campaigns.

As always, page views is king, so being able to force that huge firehose of clicks from a mainstream media site is way better than using a lower tier journal. The trick is really about climbing the ladder of media hierarchy. Turning low level tweets into blog posts, into gizmodo coverage, to WIRED, to NYT.

It’s well know that high valence content is central to high interaction, but here they show that it isn’t the only factor. Generating anger is extremely effective, so is making content surprising or interesting. This is what the ShadowBrokers are trying to do. And Guccifer2.

I wonder if they have studying how to make content more effective for information warfare, or just focussed on creating the “correct spin.”


a related paper to consider as a followup “the structure of virality”:

What makes online content viral?

What can we learn from Songdo IBD, a $35 billion, 1500 acre model for future smart city?

Medium, urbanism, korea, smart cities, Songdo

In South Korea, 35 miles away from Seoul, Songdo IBD, which is probably the smartest city in the world, has been built ground up near Yellow Sea. 1500 acre, with more than $35 billion investment, it is a utopian pilot land for developers to invest enormously in technologies, so what experience does this ambitious prototype provide us for future smart cities?




v. [with obj.]

1 destroy or present (a person or animal) to cause death: the government had impressed the day / [with two objs] I impressed them well / [with obj. and infinitive] the present had impressed the company in the school.

(of a person) understand or experience something else to be perceived: what is impressed that the talk is a session of self-defence.

2 [no obj.] (of a person) make a strong or showing manner in a particular direction: he impressed a few times a suggestion.

(of a person) provoke a particular condition or thing to a particular thing: the two statements had impressed in the morning.

(of an action or situation) extend or display one’s facts or procedures: the third company impressed the project.


1 a person who is likely to happen or be done in a particular way: the match is a major impress of consumer moral harm.

2 [LAW] an institution or offence which is a particular proposal or course of action: a prime school impressed to the baby.

in impression

Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction Everything Change features twelve stories from our 2016 Climate Fiction…

fiction, ASU, climate change, climate fiction, cli-fi, climate futures

Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction

Everything Change features twelve stories from our 2016 Climate Fiction Short Story Contest along with along with a foreword by science fiction legend and contest judge Kim Stanley Robinson and an interview with renowned climate fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi.

“a lot of near-future science fiction is also becoming what some people now call climate fiction. This is because climate change is already happening, and has become an unavoidable dominating element in the coming century. The new name thus reflects the basic realism of near-future science fiction, and is just the latest in the names people have given it; in the 1980s it was often called cyberpunk, because so many near-future stories incorporated the coming dominance of globalization and the emerging neoliberal dystopia. Now it’s climate change that is clearly coming, even more certainly than globalization. That these two biophysical dominants constitute a kind of cause and effect is perhaps another story that near-future science fiction can tell.” 

– Kim Stanley Robinson

Everything Change is free to download, read, and share

FULL SCREEN AND HEADPHONES YIELD THE BEST RESULTS NONE is a short film that explores the balance of light and darkness.  It has…

video link


FULL SCREEN AND HEADPHONES YIELD THE BEST RESULTS NONE is a short film that explores the balance of light and darkness.  It has a personal narrative which plays with the notion of finding yourself amidst the noise around you. More information - CREDIT DIRECTOR / DESIGNER / CG ARTIST - Ash Thorp CO-DIRECTOR / DESIGNER / CG ARTIST - Christopher Bjerre CHARACTER DESIGNER - Alex Figini COMPOSER - Ben Lukas Boysen SPECIAL THANKS Raphael Rau Cornelius Dammrich Vitaly Bulgarov Turbo Squid Otoy NONE Ash Thorp

A Logarithmic Map of the Entire Known Universe. Logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at…


A Logarithmic Map of the Entire Known Universe.

Logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang’s invisible plasma on the edge.

How Murderous Are Humans?

evolution, history, violence, murder, Hobbes, José-María-Gómez

Gómez’s study is the first thorough survey of violence in the mammal world, collating data on more than a thousand species. It clearly shows that we humans are not alone in our capacity to kill each other. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, have been known to wage brutal war, but even apparently peaceful creatures take each other’s lives. When ranked according to their rates of lethal violence, ground squirrels, wild horses, gazelle, and deer all feature in the top 50. So do long-tailed chinchillas, which kill each other more frequently than tigers and bears do.


Gómez’s study is the first thorough survey of violence in the mammal world, collating data on more than a thousand species. It…

violence, humans, José María Gómez, census, history, evolution, murder, Hobbes

Gómez’s study is the first thorough survey of violence in the mammal world, collating data on more than a thousand species. It clearly shows that we humans are not alone in our capacity to kill each other. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, have been known to wage brutal war, but even apparently peaceful creatures take each other’s lives. When ranked according to their rates of lethal violence, ground squirrels, wild horses, gazelle, and deer all feature in the top 50. So do long-tailed chinchillas, which kill each other more frequently than tigers and bears do.

The primates—the order that includes us, apes, monkeys, and lemurs—seem to be especially violent. While just 0.3 percent of mammal deaths are caused by members of the same species, that rate rose to 2.3 percent in the common ancestor of primates, and dropped slightly to 1.8 percent in the ancestor of great apes. That’s the lethal legacy that humanity inherited.

That isn’t to imply determinism. Even within the apes, chimps are notably more aggressive than bonobos, which suggests that group-wide capacities for violence can be tempered by other factors. And history shows that humans have also varied greatly in our violent tendencies. We are influenced by our history, but not saddled to it.

Gómez’s team showed that by poring through statistical yearbooks, archaeological sites, and more, to work out causes of death in 600 human populations between 50,000 BC to the present day. They concluded that rates of lethal violence originally ranged from 3.4 to 3.9 percent during Paleolithic times, making us only slightly more violent than you’d expect for a primate of our evolutionary past. That rate rose to around 12 percent during the bloody Medieval period, before falling again over the last few centuries to levels even lower than our prehistoric past.

Little Printer: designing the new domestic landscape

Medium, design, little printer, 2013, BERG, IoT, connected devices, Dan Hill

Little Printer is a product of now. It is a product, a tangible thing, but is also a product, in the sense of a consequence, of contemporary culture. It humbly and accessibly exemplifies how physical and digital have merged to become one, to become hybrid objects, to demonstrate how objects might become networked, and how domestic objects might behave.


An ethnographic interview with an AI


Tech anthropologist Genevieve Bell (previously) delivered one of the keynotes at last week’s O'Reilly AI conference in New York City, describing how you could do anthropology fieldwork on an AI – specifically, how you could do an ethnographic interview with one.

This proves to be a surprisingly useful tool for interrogating AI and where it’s come from, what role it plays in our world today, and where it’s going. I always have time for what Bell has to say, but this is a particularly good one even by her high standards.

Three stages of design fiction (energy futures, Part 2)

Design Fiction, speculative design, madeira, Renewable Energy, futures, austin houldsworth, sasha pohflepp, charles eames


Here we describe the complex relationship between reality and fiction, how this is managed in the design fiction process and how, in a successful project, fiction influences future reality.

1. Establishing the coordinates of reality: understanding the non-storyworld

A thorough awareness of these coordinates is an essential starting point for any work of design fiction. The origin is provided by the core theme of the project - in our case energy infrastructure. Factors informing the coordinates are therefore political, economic, ecological, material, behavioural, historical, and social.

In developed countries the dominant approach to energy is based on a national grid system, a model typically implemented in the early 20th century. Such systems were designed for a one-way flow of electricity - from remote state or corporate-owned centralised generating stations to individual consumers via transmission and distribution lines.


In the 21st century a growing demand for energy, combined with environmental concerns and climate action, has led to major shifts in policy. Two examples are the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) and the European Commission’s Smart Grids Task Force. Such acts essentially call for classic grid topologies to evolve towards more distributed systems, exploiting bidirectional energy flows facilitated by, for example, wind turbines, solar PVs, and hydroelectric, and also two-way flows of information aimed at optimising supply and demand and making the system more transparent, safe, and efficient.

While such changes are in essence positive, substantive change is limited by constraint no. 2: legacies of the past. The key issues are:

  • The radial model of central generation (through burning fossil fuels or nuclear fission) and distribution via a grid system have led to a well-established system of governance and ownership of energy infrastructure (both state and private)
  • These owners are reluctant to cede control
  • Alternative means of generating energy such as renewables could provide sufficient means but currently rely on connection to the grid (on terms dictated by its owner)
  • The ubiquity of the grid system has resulted in an ‘always there’ approach to energy consumption meaning that it is easily taken for granted by consumers
  • The ubiquity of the grid system means that all electrical products are adapted to it (with a few unique exceptions such as the wind-up radio)
  • Solutions tend towards the generic one-size-fits-all, ignoring the potential of bespoke possibilities based on unique landscapes or contexts

Once the problematic has been well defined it becomes possible to begin developing the storyworld by carefully manipulating the constraining coordinates.

2. Creating a fictional storyworld with a new set of constraints

As we consider this point it becomes apparent that this is perhaps where speculative design and design fiction differ. A kind of chicken-and-egg conundrum: strategically, what comes first - world or object?

Speculative design starts with and centres on the object. It extrapolates existing product lineages guided by the promise of an emerging technology and contemporary trends. Auger-Loizeau’s Audio Tooth Implant (2001) is a classic example. The storyworld is then built around the artefact to examine its potential implications, or it is left up to the viewer to imagine the future society in which the hypothetical artefact exists.

Design fiction starts with the storyworld. The artefacts follow, designed for that world like props in a film. The main reason for developing a storyworld - in the design fiction approach - is to provide a new context or set of circumstances to design for. These are carefully crafted to counter or address the key issues identified in Stage 1.

Fiction writers have given us countless carefully described storyworlds through the ages. Scholars have written at length on the details of their construction. But there are specific (and very recent) approaches to developing a design fiction storyworld that are worth noting. In his study of alternative monetary systems, for example, Austin Houldsworth has developed a methodology he calls ‘ counter-fictional design’. Houldsworth’s approach borrows existing storyworlds - storyworlds drawn from literary history - and asks how money would function in these alternative societies. A monetary system designed for B. F. Skinner’s utopian novel Walden Two, for example, describes a payment system that challenges the established monetary function of ‘a store of value’.

This approach works well when a novel can be found that aligns with the particular theme in question. For example, George Orwell’s 1984 would be a good match for redesigning things based on alternative constructs of privacy. The problem is that the storyworld of many sci-fi and fantasy novels resides too far along the fictional end of the fact-fiction scale, resulting in a design solution that, in Žižek’s terms, ‘shatters the coordinates of our reality’. With the loss of plausibility, the value (at least for design fiction purposes) is diminished.

An approach that more directly manipulates the coordinates of reality is counterfactual history - a method that begins by changing a specific historical event and extrapolates the consequences to build the storyworld on a parallel timeline. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is one commonly cited example: it imagines an alternative history in which the Axis Powers have defeated the Allies in World War II and Germany and Japan have divided America - the story playing out in Japanese-occupied 1960s San Francisco.

A design fiction example of this approach is Sascha Pohflepp’s project, The Golden Institute, based on a different outcome to the 1980 US general election. A Carter victory would have enabled a continuation of energy-friendly initiatives undertaken during his previous term; these were promptly cancelled by Reagan when he took office. Pohflepp’s project described the research developed by the fictional institute, creating a poignant reminder of what might have been lost. The storyworld here simply provides a logic to furnish an alternative history in which large resources are funneled into renewable energy.

In the case of our project the motivations are somewhat similar - to develop a storyworld framework to inform the design of an alternative energy infrastructure. Likewise the project takes place in a real location: Madeira. Thus the storyworld is an alternative version of the island that retains some of its eccentric and original elements: the complex and rich history of the levada irrigation system, alternative modes transportation, and sometimes hubristic notions of transportation infrastructure and island planning.


What has changed, however, are the elements that led to the problems identified in Stage 1, the 20th century forces that shaped the island’s energy history. In our storyworld with its counterfactual history, the island of Madeira has:

  • No radial model of central generation
  • No central ownership and control
  • No generic solutions
  • No patenting and knowledge protection
  • No consumption of fossil fuels

These fundamental differences allow for the imaginary reconstruction of society and human behaviour - from how energy is generated, to the rethinking of products that no longer have wall sockets ready to provide them with always-available power.

3. Designing in the fictional world: new constraints, new possibilities

When the fictional world has been constructed in sufficient detail, it can become a testing ground for new ideas and approaches.

We mentioned Mohammed J. Ali’s energy-focused project, A New Scottish Enlightenment, in an earlier post. Similar to The Golden Institute it describes an energy related counterfactual history, in this case an alternative outcome to the 1979 Scottish independence referendum leading to a split from the United Kingdom. New Scotland’s key policies include legislation aimed to deliver increasing resources and independence to its citizens. This simple counterfactual history provides a powerful framework through which to rethink energy. Redesigning Madeira is essentially a re-location of Mo’s project (we are working with him) but with the key goal of actually implementing the design solutions.

Charles Eames once described design as ‘a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose’. Eames’s statement can be used to compare and contrast the function of normative design and approaches to technological application with the strategies/methods being developed for this project. As with energy, dominant approaches to the design of products and services were formulated last century, and likewise the systems and infrastructures in which designers operate exist along similar topologies with the elements being gathered and arranged at central locations and distributed radially around the globe. The role of the consumer is limited to simply interacting with the end product – for the time that it remains viable. Building on participatory design methods, combined with open-source knowledge practices, Redesigning Madeira will draw its elements from the local context: both natural elements in the landscape (as a source of energy) and cultural elements in the landscape (that can be potentially reused and recycled).

The plan is informed by local knowledge and terrain. Our island’s unusual landscape (as we’ve noted previously) is ideal for experimentation. It holds the potential to inform and inspire the design of numerous bespoke energy generation and storage solutions, from highly radical macro speculations to more pragmatic, plausible human-scale solutions. The unique approach of jointly designing for the real world and its fictional counterpart means that prototyping is possible on different levels. Tangible concepts can be prototyped in the engineering sense, made to function better in specific real locations; while speculative concepts, as well as longer term social and ecological impacts (of functioning prototypes), can be tested in the storyworld.

The final stage will be to make more deliberate use of the diegetic prototypes, not only to suspend disbelief about change with the purpose of facilitating:

Conclusions: beyond autonomy

In a famous lecture to Cornell University students in 1948, Nabokov declared: ‘Literature is invention. Fiction is fiction. To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.’ But however untrue, fiction can still inspire real action in the world by giving the designer permission to bypass existing constraints and work with an entirely new, fictional set of constraints. On the more practical end of the scale, ideas conceived to meet these fictional constraints can provide alternatives to entrenched realities: new forms of energy generation and new models of consumption, for example.

Another passionate believer in the autonomy of art, Oscar Wilde, overturned conventional wisdom more than a century ago in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying’, when he declared: ‘Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.’ But again, this apparent proclamation in support of autonomy and l’art pour l’art has important real-world implications. Wilde argues in the same essay that the best art and literature teach life how to be: not through dull didacticism, but by imagining and giving shape to preferred futures. This is one essential function of design fiction: by allowing our imaginations to travel beyond pragmatic (e.g. industry) constraints, we open up the potential for radical new discoveries.

Important questions remain: Who is design fiction for? What is the ideal medium? Does it exist more as a framework to help the designer? Or is it a fully fledged genre, aimed at a public audience? How much is too much fiction?

Our overall approach, which blends speculative and practical design, aims to be agile and versatile. Although our current project is focused on the theme of energy and based on the characteristics of one particular island, it also stands as an example of a methodology - an approach that facilitates the imagining of alternatives and also the means to artificially test them in real life. The approach could equally be used to explore energy alternatives in other locations, or different themes such as transportation. The key goal, once again, is to close the loop - from fiction back to reality.

As Wilde states at the end of ‘The Decay of Lying’: ‘Come! We have talked long enough.’ Time for a swim.



Turbo Generator - Siemens Pressebild; Bullock Carro, Funchal, Madeira - Harry Pollard. Both images CC BY-SA 3.0.

Barreirinha swimming complex, Madeira - James Auger.

Exploring energy futures through design fiction (Part 1)

futures, energy, design


With the autumnal equinox upon us, Crap Futures is nearing its first anniversary. We began shooting ideas back and forth last September when James arrived in Madeira. Now, after a long, hot summer, it seems like a good moment to take stock and reflect on the past year whilst also making plans for what comes next.


In the post When the sun shines we gave an overview of our ongoing design project. This has been ticking along in the background since early 2016, with time spent articulating the research methodology, transforming the concept into funding proposals, and identifying and discussing with potential collaborators. Back in April we described the problem of using renewable energy sources on the island (and beyond), identifying some of the factors currently hindering their implementation - for example historical legacies. The project asks:

What might our energy infrastructure look like if it were not constrained by these outdated constructs?

A key motivation has always been to move beyond the discursive, the critical, the speculative and the fictional. As we wrote at the time: ‘With this project (unusually) we’re not interested in fiction.’ In retrospect this statement seems a bit rash. So before moving into the making phase, we thought it necessary to probe a little deeper into the relationship between fact and fiction. Or more precisely, What is the role of fiction when trying to make change - desperately needed change - in the real world?

To start with Bruce Sterling’s familiar definition:

Design fiction is the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.’

There are several keywords here that demand closer examination. First, fiction - in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Žižek describes the viewer’s reading (of cinema) by stating that, ‘if something gets too traumatic, too violent, even too filled in with enjoyment, it shatters the coordinates of our reality - we have to fictionalise it’. This statement is helpful as it succinctly describes two states of being and the relationship between them: the nonfiction world, defined by the coordinates of reality, and its fictional counterpart (diegesis).

Second, diegetic - from diegesis: the world in which the story takes place and for which the prototypes are designed. Through the manipulation of a particular set of coordinates, a fictional or alternative world can be constructed.

Third, a more complex issue is raised by the use of design when combined with the term change. The recent emergence of counter or oppositional forms of design (such as design fiction etc.) suggests that there are problems or limitations with mainstream design; for example, design’s affiliation with the market and the prevailing demands of consumption and innovation. These are the (normative) designer’s coordinates of reality: in practice experienced as constraints that limit the potential of design to make substantive change (see Future nudge). Designing for a carefully crafted diegesis can provide new constraints, in turn facilitating new solutions.

Fact and fiction should not exist as a dichotomy but rather an elastic scope of possibility. Good design fictions do not shatter the coordinates of reality; they stretch and manipulate them in carefully crafted ways, hence the suspension of disbelief. But, and this is important, to what end? Sterling’s phrase ‘deliberate use’ suggests purpose … but what is the purpose?

In Building Imaginary Worlds, Mark J.P. Wolf examines why authors find it necessary to invent other worlds. He concludes that the answer lies in ‘ the changing of Primary World defaults, to amaze, entertain, satirize, propose possibilities, or to simply make an audience more aware of defaults they take for granted’.

In his introduction to Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury offers some additional motivations:

‘Sometimes writers write about a world that does not yet exist. We do it for a hundred reasons. (Because it’s good to look forward, not back. Because we need to illuminate a path we hope or we fear humanity will take. Because the world of the future seems more enticing or more interesting than the world of today. Because we need to warn you. To encourage. To examine. To imagine.)’


In the closing sentence of his book Technophobia! Daniel Dinello suggests that ‘At its best, science fiction projects a dark vision of the Technologist’s posthuman future that encourages us to create a better one.’

But does highlighting wrong paths lead us to preferable ones? 

This question was raised in Republic of Salivation, a post on MoMA’s ‘online curatorial experiment’ Design and Violence:

‘Do violent, dystopian visions ever lead to positive, substantive change?’

Design fiction futures, it is true, are often dystopian - this is one of several lines of critique aimed at design fiction projects. The upcoming Speculative Now! conference in Split, Croatia, for example, has chosen to focus debate on the role of speculative design in the ‘real world’. Similarly with our project we aim to advance the goals and practice of design fiction by defining positive paths. Our approach will bring fiction-based prototypes back into real life, seek to produce tangible societal outcomes, and work to turn (positive) aspects of fiction into fact. Design fiction can help us work toward ‘the future we actually want’, imposing our own agency in how the future happens.

In our next post we will examine three stages of design fiction, explaining how a carefully contrived diegesis can provide the ideal framework for redesigning the real world.


Christian Schussele - Men of Progress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; SAFEGE test track at Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, France (used in filming of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451), via Wikimedia Commons

Dark Ecology

Medium, dark ecology

Having crossed the border into Russia, metaphors of ‘The Zone’ twist and multiply, each raising questions by comparison. The Norway–Russia Border Zone, The Russian Border Security Zone; the suspension or dissolution of an existing normality in Interzone (Burroughs), TAZ (Hakim Bey) or just ‘The Zone’ of Gravity’s Rainbow (and later the ‘Zone of Silence’); the singular strangeness of a Special Economic Zone (in paticular the ‘Murmansk Economic Zone’ which closed without a single company having applied for ‘status’ in the ‘Zone’) or more directly, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, navigating unseen obstacles into the centre of ‘The Zone’.


World’s first baby born from new procedure using DNA of three people

science, genetics, IVF, mtDNA

The baby is not the first child to be born with DNA from three people. In the 1990s, fertility doctors tried to boost the quality of women’s eggs by injecting cytoplasm, the cellular material that contains mitochondria, from healthy donor eggs. The procedure led to several babies being born with DNA from the parents plus the healthy donor. Some of the children developed genetic disorders and the procedure was banned. Speaking about the latest case, Dusko Ilic, a stem cell scientist at King’s College London, said: “Without much ado, it appears the first mitochondrial donation baby was born three months ago. This was an ice-breaker. The baby is reportedly healthy. Hopefully, this will tame the more zealous critics, accelerate the field, and we will witness soon the birth of the first mitochondrial donation baby in the UK.”


Cloud Thinking

Medium, clouds, weather, climate, history, James Bridle, cloud computing, cloud thinking, earth magnitude

The cloud, however, remains a model of the world, just not the one we have taken it to mean. The apparent growth of crisis is, in part, a consequence of our new, technologically-augmented ability to perceive the world as it actually is, beyond the mediating prism of our own cultural sensorium. The stories we have been telling ourselves don’t bear out. They’re weak all over. The cloud reveals not the deep truth at the heart of the world, but its fundamental incoherence, its vast and omniferous unknowability. In place of computational thinking, we must respond with cloud thinking: an accounting of the world which reclaims the recognition and the agency of unknowing. Aetiology is a dead end. The cloud, our world, is cloudy: it remains diffuse and forever diffusing; it refuses coherence. From our global civilisation and cultural history arises a technology of unknowing; the task of our century is to accommodate ourselves with the incoherence it reveals.


Nature is a process. As in the case of everything directly exhibited in sense-awareness, there can be no explanation of this…

“Nature is a process. As in the case of everything directly exhibited in sense-awareness, there can be no explanation of this characteristic of nature. All that can be done is to use language which may speculatively demonstrate it, and also to express the relation of this factor in nature to other factors.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (viasyntheticphilosophy)

Doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form #1yrago


Columbia University awarded a doctorate in education to Nick Sousanis for  Unflattening, a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.

It was published by Harvard University Press and got a starred review in Publishers Weekly the journal Comics Grid wrote that it demonstrated “the viability of a comic book as doctoral scholarship in its own right, rather than a separate work requiring some accompanying critical paratext.”

The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.

Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.

In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend. – Unflattening is available from Harvard University Press.

Unflattening [Nick Sousanis/Harvard University Press]

Excerpt [PDF]

Unflattening [Nick Sousanis/Spin Weave Cut]

The language the government tried to suppress


An article about Singlish by James Harbeck, going into more grammatical detail than you typically get in a news article. Excerpt: 

Jerlyne Ong, a Singaporean now living in Canada, sends a message to a friend back home: “Cannot imagine sia. In Singapore, you strike, you lose your job. But ya, the postal service stopped liao. Cannot agree, buay song, so liddat lor. No postal service for now. Also dunno how long some more. So pek chek.”

Is that English or not? Most of Singapore’s 6 million people speak it, but they don’t agree either. What they do agree is that it’s Singlish. Singlish is the unofficial language – or dialect? or slang? – of Singapore, born out of the contact between the several cultures that make up the city state. It’s a living example of how languages can change and develop. It is also an expression of the Singaporean character and culture, a national treasure – or a detriment and danger to the country, depending on whom you ask. […]

All syllables have approximately equal length and stress. It sounds almost like a tone language in places. Some sounds are changed, and consonants at the ends of words are often dropped or reduced – “like that” becomes liddat. Conjugational and plural endings often disappear. There are quite a few loanwords, such as kena, ‘get something bad’; kiasu, ‘fear of losing out’; shiok, ‘very good’; sian, ‘boring’; buay song, ‘not happy’; pek chek, ‘annoyed, frustrated’; and sia, which is used as an emphatic rather as we might use ‘man’. […]

Lah is surely the most famous word in Singlish, and is emblematic of a whole class of words that set Singlish apart: pragmatic particles – a kind of verbal equivalent of an emoji. These words inserted at the ends of sentences are mostly borrowed from other languages (especially Chinese dialects), and they have to be said with the right tone, as if in Chinese. Lor (mid-level tone) expresses resignation (So liddat lor, “It’s just like that, what can you do?”); meh (high tone) expresses a proposition in need of confirmation (Cannot meh, “You really can’t?”); liao (low falling-rising) indicates a completed action (The postal service stopped liao). 

Even wut – which is to say, what – when said with a low falling tone at the end of a sentence expresses objection (if you are asked to buy something you have already bought, you might say Got already wut). And lah? It can be said with different tones to express different things; quite a bit of linguistic analysis has been done of just what it means – Jock Wong of the Australian National University has done a study teasing apart its different uses, which he boils down to “impositional”, “propositional”, and “persuasive”.

Read the whole thing.

Another article, in Unravel Magazine, looks at Singlish and food

The language the government tried to suppress

In the Robot Skies: A drone Love Story Join us for an expanded cinema performance and film premiere of In the Robot Skies at the…

drones, film, Liam Young, Tim Maughan, STUK

video link


In the Robot Skies: A drone Love Story Join us for an expanded cinema performance and film premiere of In the Robot Skies at the London Film Festival on October 8th, with live music accompaniment from acclaimed electronic producer Forest Swords. Buy tickets here Directed by speculative architect Liam Young and written by fiction author Tim Maughan, In the Robot Skies is the world’s first narrative shot entirely through autonomous pre programmed drones. In collaboration with the Embedded and Artificially intelligent Vision Lab in Belgium the film is captured by a specially developed flock of camera drones each with their own set of cinematic rules and behaviours. The film explores the drone as a cultural object, not just as a new instrument of visual story telling but also as the catalyst for a new collection of urban sub cultures. In the way the New York subway car of the 80’s gave birth to a youth culture of wild style graffiti and hip hop the age of ubiquitous drones as smart city infrastructure will create a new network of surveillance activists and drone hackers. From the eyes of the drones we see two teenagers each held by police order within the digital confines of their own council estate tower block in London. A network of drones survey the council estates, as a roving flock off cctv cameras and our two characters are kept apart by this autonomous aerial infrastructure. We watch as they pass notes to each other via their own hacked and decorated drone, like kids in an old fashioned classroom, scribbling messages with biro on paper, balling it up and stowing it in their drones.. In this near future city drones form both agents of state surveillance but also become co-opted as the aerial vehicles through which two teens fall in love. Directed by Liam Young Written By Tim Maughan Starring Maia Watkins and Moe Bargahi Produced by Dani Admiss Music by Forest Swords Director of Photography Vini Curtis Drone Costumes by Jennifer Chen Human Costumes by Maharishi Camera Drone pilot Liam Young Tethered Character Drone Pilot Denis Stretton Special Thanks Alexey Marfin Commissioned by Channel 4 Random Acts and STUK, Belgium. IN THE ROBOT SKIES TEASER liam young

Siberia Has Been Burning All Summer



Smoke from Russian wildfires seen by the Suomi NPP satellite on September 18th, 2016. Image: NOAA/NASA

Fires in northwest Siberia on July 19th, 2016. Image: NASA Earth Observatory


As enormous wildfires in Canada and the United States make headlines on the daily, Siberia has been burning ferociously all summer, and nobody seems to be noticing.

Large wildfires are not unusual in Siberia’s boreal forests, but in the past few years, this sparsely-populated region has seen some of the most intense summertime conflagrations in its history. And the few dispatches we’ve heard from Siberia this summer—coupled with satellite images—suggest the 2016 fire season may be one for the record-books.

Data on the fires, many of which are triggered by lightning storms and which go unsuppressed unless they threaten villages or infrastructure, is sketchy and conflicting. In June, an analysis by Greenpeace Russia claimed that 3.5 million hectares of land—a region the size of New Hampshire and Connecticut combined—had burned this year so far. But the Russian government only reported 669,000 hectares burnt for the same period.

Satellite images captured in July painted an even grimmer picture, suggesting the fires could to be up to 10 times worse than the Russian government was reporting.

“It seems that autumn fires and wide range of summer fires occurred due to global warming,” Verkhovets said. “And we expect intensification of fires in Siberia as direct effect of climate change.”

No solutions in sight. 

Siberia Has Been Burning All Summer

Artificial intelligence will force us to confront our values

Medium, AI, ethics

For the foreseeable future, “artificial intelligence” is really just a term to describe advanced analysis of massive datasets, and the models that use that data to identify patterns or make predictions about everything from traffic patterns to criminal justice outcomes. AI can’t think for itself — it’s taught by humans to perform tasks based on the “training data” that we provide, and these systems operate within parameters that we define. But this data often reflects unhealthy social dynamics, like race and gender-based discrimination, that can be easy to miss because we’ve become so desensitized to their presence in society.


Waste Crime is the “New Narcotics”

Medium, crime, waste, organised crime, recylcing

Illegal waste activity costs England £1bn a year and more than 1,000 illegal waste sites were discovered last year, more than in the previous two years combined, with 662 still active as of the end of March. […] “Waste is the new narcotics,” said Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency. “It feels to me like drugs felt in the 1980s: the system hadn’t quite woken up to the enormity of what was going on and was racing to catch up.”


HyperCard RIP

Medium, HyperCard, computing, HCI, personal computing, history

Rest in peace, HyperCard. It was one of the most important applications in the history of personal computing, in my humble opinion, and responsible for the “amazing bloom” of ideas and applications noted by Ben Hyde and Matt Jones. I made a few things with it, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t in the ‘amazing bloom’ class — but I can certainly say HyperCard was a massive influence on who I am now. (Ed. This article was originally published at on 4th April 2004.)


How alien can language be?

language, visual-language, Ted-Chiang, Arrival, linguistics, aliens, evolution, culture

The film turns on the visual language of the heptapods, the name given to the aliens because of their seven tentacular feet. In Chiang’s short story, the spoken language looks pretty familiar to Dr Banks; nouns have special markers, similar to the grammatical cases of Latin or German, that signify meaning; there are words, and they seem to come in particular orders depending on what their function is in the grammar of the sentence. But it is the visual language that is at the heart of the story. This language, as presented in the film, is just beautiful; the aliens squirt some kind of squid-like ink into the air which resolves holistically into a presentation of the thought they want to express. It looks like a circular whorl drawn with complex curlicues twisting off of the main circumference. The form of the language is not linear in any sense. The whorls emerge simultaneously as wholes. The orientation, shape, modulation, and direction of the tendrils that build the whorls serve to convey the meaningful connections of the parts to the whole. Multiple sentences can all be combined into more and more complex forms that, in the film, require GPS style computer analysis. The atemporality and multidimensionality of the heptapods’ written language is a core part of the plot. So, could a human language work like this, or is that just too alien?


The Cave Clan Has Been Sneaking Into Drains for 30 Years

cave-clan, urbex, Melbourne, AU, 1980s, 1990s, go in big drains

Doug bought a Polaroid camera in 1987, about a year after he, Woody, and Sloth founded the Cave Clan on January 26, 1986. What started as three Melbourne teenagers sneaking into drains, soon became the largest consolidated group of urban explorers in Australia. Doug’s photos capture all of this—the parties, the pranks, and the underground adventures—through the course of their 30-year history.


Choosing to Be Happy Doesn’t Work, so Here’s What to Do Instead

Medium, happiness, positivity, negativity, reality, psychology, positive thinking, New Thought, New Age

The reason strategies to avoid negativity fail is because the internal struggle to control our thoughts and emotions actually amplifies them, leading to what psychologists call “leakage” in which the banned thought resurfaces unexpectedly — like at a key meeting with your boss or in a discussion with your spouse. You’re trying not to be angry about something, willing yourself to get over it and put on a happy face, and suddenly it’s all you can think about and you unwittingly say the very thing that you didn’t want to say — and now you’ve got a major drama on your hands. The tendency to use these types of avoidance strategies is associated with lower well-being, poorer problem solving, and less satisfying interpersonal relationships.
To be clear, I’m not “anti-happiness” and I am not suggesting that we should wallow in our darkest thoughts. But happiness is not something that comes about through focusing on it as a daily choice or goal. Study after study has shown that it is only when we stop struggling with how we think we should feel, and instead engage with, accept and embrace our true thoughts and emotions with curiosity, courage and compassion, that real joy, growth and creativity emerge.