Art continually escapes definition. It is promiscuous; it absorbs every kind of philosophy, embraces every ideology, exploits…

“Art continually escapes definition. It is promiscuous; it absorbs every kind of philosophy, embraces every ideology, exploits every technology available. It uses every kind of material, from bodies to metal to paint, from sounds to abstract ideas. Every justification for it has a counter-justification. Every rule, every attempt to legislate it, only generates exception.”

 Alison Croggon.Why Art?

Why art? Alison Croggon

overland, australia, arts, cultural funding, economics, politics, culture

In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531 000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7 million jobs. Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.2 According to its own figures, the mining industry is worth $121 billion a year to the Australian economy, only around 25 per cent more than the cultural industries. Mining employs significantly fewer people than the cultural sector: 187  400 directly, and a further 599 680 in support industries.3 The industry receives government assistance – to the tune of $700 million in the last financial year.4 In 2011–12, Australian industry as a whole – including agriculture, food manufacturing and service industries – was given an estimated $17.3 billion in combined assistance (a mixture of direct subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs and regulatory assistance).5 This doesn’t count a further $9.4 billion invested in research and development by the Australian government in the same financial year.6 In contrast, it’s probably safe to say that, when discussing arts funding, we’re talking about around $500 million annually, out of a total tax revenue in 2011–12 of $390 billion7 – that is, about 0.1 per cent of total government expenditure. (Assistance to industry, including research and development, is around 7 per cent.) The Australia Council, the major arts funding body, has a budget this year of $220 million.–212/feature-alison-croggon/

Paleoclimate: The End of the Holocene

climate, global temperature, holocence, data

Recently a group of researchers from Harvard and Oregon State University has published the first global temperature reconstruction for the last 11,000 years – that’s the whole Holocene (Marcott et al. 2013). The results are striking and worthy of further discussion, after the authors have already commented on their results in this blog.

piddock [psychogeophysics]

piddock, mollusc, boring mollucs, martin howse, bioluminescence, gastronomy, shellfish

With a small sample of Piddocks, wrapped in seaweed and chilled to preserve them, we began to investigate the luminiscent properties of the Pholas Dactylus. The eyes must first become accustomed to total darkness for a few minutes and then the dull greenish blue glow of the opened mollusk becomes apparent. The glow is quite strong, clearly illuminating a glass of water and surroundings, and can last perhaps one day. The blue light offers a window into the world of the Piddock, a creature which spends its whole life in darkness, shunning daylight. Hands glow blue after touching the moist body of the Piddock, and if the raw Piddock is placed in the mouth the tongue and breath also glow blue, as indicated by Pliny in ancient Roman writings about the mollusk. The taste of the raw Piddock is equally as indescribable as this strange luminescence; an extreme chemical taste, perhaps stony or mineral, deep and prehistoric, very far from the usually mild seafood experience. All forms of cooking destroy the luminescence, though the raw Piddock can be preserved by freezing.

Necessary and Proportionate

dymaxion, politics, surveillance, law enforcement, intel, civil society, Privicy International

In asking all states to confine themselves to only surveil as a law enforcement tactic, and to in effect do no international intelligence work (for intelligence can clearly not operate within these bound), the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance ask for nothing less than the end of the Westphalian compromise and the creation of a new fundamental theory of geopolitical power and the monopoly on violence.

Necessary and Proportionate

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, human ri

As technologies that facilitate State surveillance of communications advance, States are failing to ensure that laws and regulations related to communications surveillance adhere to international human rights and adequately protect the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This document attempts to explain how international human rights law applies in the current digital environment, particularly in light of the increase in and changes to communications surveillance technologies and techniques. These principles can provide civil society groups, industry, States and others with a framework to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights.

Statement on the Brisbane Drone Shadow

booktwo, James Bridle, drone, QLD, brisbane, Arts Queensland, censorship, ineptitude

I was commissioned by the Brisbane Writers Festival 2013 to undertake an installation at the Queensland State Library. Ultimately, it was impossible for me to complete this work, and in the interest of full disclosure and the public record, the following is an account of what has occurred, to the best of my understanding.

Soylent 1973 vs Soylent 2013

food, soylent, soylent green, sci fi, eating, sensuality, georgina voss

Soylent Green (1973) explores the political dimensions of food substitution, industrialised food production and rapidly growing populations in a way that the coverage of Soylent (2013) has not. Soylent’s invention was borne of Rhinehart’s desire not to have to clean his dishes after he had eaten, and this desire - of a young, employed male in California who finds no pleasure in the purchase, preparation or consumption of food - is not necessarily the desire (or need) of other populations. Abstracting the culture of food into the nutritional qualities of fuel is not just an efficiency process; it imposes a version of reality where eating is no longer a satisfying, social, even sensual activity to be shared with friends and loved ones.

A Scalable Heuristic for Viral Marketing Under the Tipping Model

networks, social network, viral marketing, distribution

In a “tipping” model, each node in a social network, representing an individual, adopts a property or behavior if a certain number of his incoming neighbors currently exhibit the same. In viral marketing, a key problem is to select an initial “seed” set from the network such that the entire network adopts any behavior given to the seed. Here we introduce a method for quickly finding seed sets that scales to very large networks. Our approach finds a set of nodes that guarantees spreading to the entire network under the tipping model. After experimentally evaluating 31 real-world networks, we found that our approach often finds seed sets that are several orders of magnitude smaller than the population size and outperform nodal centrality measures in most cases.

Big programming, small programming

programming, PLT, glow, scale, computing

Programming is complicated. Different programs have different abstraction levels, domains, platforms, longevity, team sizes, etc ad infinitum. There is something fundamentally different between the detailed instructions that goes into, say, computing a checksum and the abstractions when defining the flow of data in any medium-sized system. I think that the divide between coding the details and describing the flow of a program is so large that a programming language could benefit immensely from keeping them conceptually separate. This belief has led me to design a new programming language - Glow - that has this separation at its core.

Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)

typography, spacing, s p a c in g, punctuation, readability, history

Typographers seem eager to dismiss wider spaces as some sort of fad, either something ugly that originated with typewriters, or some sort of Victorian excess that lasted for a few brief decades and quickly petered out. But this is simply not the case. As we will explore presently, the large space following a period was an established convention for English-language publishers (and many others in Europe) in the 1700s, if not before, and it did not truly begin to fade completely until around 1950.

Kafka, Kerouac, and Wozniak had one advantage over us: they worked on machines that did not readily do more than one thing at a…

“Kafka, Kerouac, and Wozniak had one advantage over us: they worked on machines that did not readily do more than one thing at a time, easily yielding to our conflicting desires. And, while distraction was surely available—say, by reading the newspaper, or chatting with friends—there was a crucial difference. Today’s machines don’t just allow distraction; they promote it. The Web calls us constantly, like a carnival barker, and the machines, instead of keeping us on task, make it easy to get drawn in—and even add their own distractions to the mix. In short: we have built a generation of “distraction machines” that make great feats of concentrated effort harder instead of easier.”

The Problem With Multitasking : The New Yorker (viaphotographsonthebrain)

Our Newfound Fear of Risk

Schneier, risk, security, reductionism, perception

Some of this fear results from imperfect risk perception. We’re bad at accurately assessing risk; we tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange, and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar, and common ones. This leads us to believe that violence against police, school shootings, and terrorist attacks are more common and more deadly than they actually are – and that the costs, dangers, and risks of a militarized police, a school system without flexibility, and a surveillance state without privacy are less than they really are.


relearn, constant, OSP, workshop, pedagogy, pattern, free software, design

By and large, graphic design students bring a laptop to school, and create their work using digital software tools. This hard- and software represent a technological and cultural heritage that is seldomly questioned, and a potential that goes unexploited. Using free and open source software and engaging in its culture provides an alternative by making a design practice possible with a more intimate and experimental relation to its toolbox. Beyond the implications for design practice, the culture of free and open source software challenges traditional education paradigms because knowledge is exchanged outside institutional borders, and participants move between roles easily (teacher, student, developer, user). Following from their series of workshops and Print Parties, OSP proposes a summer school experiment. A first try to move across the conventional school model towards a space where the relationship to learning is mediated by graphical software.

Does it Scale?

Adrian Hon, scale, occupy, 2011, politics, business, media

We’ve treated ’scale’ like an unalloyed good for so long that it seems peculiar to question it. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to scale businesses and services up to make more things for more people in more areas; perhaps the strongest is that things usually get cheaper and quicker to provide. The problem is that scale has a cost, and that’s being unable to respond to the wants and needs of unique individuals. Theoretically, that’s not a problem in a free market, but of course, we don’t have a free market, and we certainly don’t have a free market when it comes to politics and media.

Radical Buddhism and the Paradox of Acceptance

Buddhism, Zizek, critique, mindfulness, Marx

Although his critique of Buddhism is somewhat uninformed, Zizek does offer, in his own way, a good insight into the danger of misunderstanding Buddhist practice and the techniques of mindfulness altogether. What fascinates me is that his critique parallels – in the language of cultural theory – the personal wariness that most beginning meditators have about the practice of meditation, especially regarding 1) how mindfulness actually works, 2) what acceptance really means, and 3) how genuine transformation comes about.

Agamben Notes

Agamben, human, animal, ecology, anthropocence

Agamben argues that the boundary which separates the human and the animal is at best a tenuous one. As such, what he means by ‘the open’ is that moment during which the human is reconciled with the animal in the state of what Heidegger terms ‘profound boredom’. Against the backdrop of the ‘anthropological machine’ that produces an anthropocentric history of being, Agamben advances the thesis that the human and the animal are essentially indistinguishable, despite the discursive production of these figures as distinct entities. As a result, the discursive production of the human becomes politicised (what Agamben refers to as ‘bios’, the political life of the human or ‘qualified life’) and it is set in contrast to the anthropocentric definition of nonhuman life as worthless and disposable (as ‘zoe’ or ‘bare-life’)

A Russian enigma

radio, number stations, russian, UVB-76

The radio signal that occupies 4625 kHz has reportedly been broadcasting since the late 1970s. The earliest known recording of it is dated 1982. Ever since curious owners of shortwave radios first discovered the signal, it has broadcast a repeating buzzing noise. Every few years, the buzzer stops, and a Russian voice reads a mixture of numbers and Russian names. A typical message came hours before Christmas day, 1997: “Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4”

They Know Much More Than You Think

NSA, sureveillance, privacy, power, authortarianism

During the past decade, the NSA has secretly worked to gain access to virtually all communications entering, leaving, or going through the country. A key reason, according to the draft of a top secret NSA inspector general’s report leaked by Snowden, is that approximately one third of all international telephone calls in the world enter, leave, or transit the United States. “Most international telephone calls are routed through a small number of switches or ‘chokepoints’ in the international telephone switching system en route to their final destination,” says the report. “The United States is a major crossroads for international switched telephone traffic.” At the same time, according to the 2009 report, virtually all Internet communications in the world pass through the US. For example, the report notes that during 2002, less than one percent of worldwide Internet bandwidth—i.e., the international link between the Internet and computers—“was between two regions that did not include the United States.”

I’m Thinking. Please. Be Quiet.

NYT, silence, noise, monotasking, concentration, attention, Schopenhauer

From the vantage point of our own auditory world, with its jets, jackhammers, HVAC systems, truck traffic, cellphones, horns, decibel-bloated restaurants and gyms on acoustical steroids, Schopenhauer’s mid-19th century complaints sound almost quaint. His biggest gripe of all was the “infernal cracking” of coachmen’s whips. (If you think a snapping line of rawhide’s a problem, buddy, try the Rumbler Siren.) But if noise did shatter thought in the past, has more noise in more places further diffused our cognitive activity?

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

graeber, capital, work, bullshit jobs, cabinet makers frying fish, prodcutivity, capitalism, power

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Frontiers, Fringe and Farmification

Lisa Ma, futurism, design, protoyping, speculative design, futures

Speculative design generates proposals that, rather than problem solving for our current state, which is much of the focus of traditional design, look to digest the large, complex and ambiguous issues related to our futures. It uses rigorous research to first understand and then rewire different information, experts and emerging technologies to turn these complexities into understandable narratives that allow a kind of design for debate. The outcomes intentionally trigger a user to go beyond traditional need, solution, and consumption, and to question, consider, and speculate. In this way changes and findings that would normally seem irrelevant or overwhelming are teased out into scenarios, objects and services. This is achieved by breaking down unfathomable issues and making them more emotionally approachable. The results are ‘cultural prototypes’ in a way.

The End Of The World Isn’t As Likely As Humans Fighting Back

EOTWAWKI, futurism, foresight, scenarios, apocalypse, dystopia

Dystopias make for boring futurism. While it’s certainly true that one can tell a compelling dramatic story about the end of the world, as a mechanism of foresight, apocaphilia is trite at best, counter-productive at worst. Yet world-ending scenarios are easy to find, especially coming from advocates for various social-economic-global changes. As one of those advocates, I’m well aware of the need to avoid taking the easy route of wearing a figurative sign reading The End Is Nigh. We want people to take the risks we describe seriously, so there is an understandable temptation to stretch a challenging forecast to its horrific extremes–but ultimately, it’s a bad idea.

Secret NSA Documents Show How the US Spies on Europe and the UN

UN, NSA, US, surveillance, EU

The classified documents, which SPIEGEL has seen, demonstrate how systematically the Americans target other countries and institutions like the EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and the UN. They show how the NSA infiltrated the Europeans’ internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats. The surveillance is intensive and well-organized – and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.–918625.html


TSA, terrorism, authortarianism, opt-out, convenience

This is how we lose our rights. Not overnight in one fell swoop, but gradually, after getting worn down again and again, and after hundreds of mini-panic-attacks, and with ever-ratcheting procedural changes that effectively invalidate the assurances and safeguards that we’re given. I give up. The terrorists have won. I’m sad and I’m angry, but the perpetual wearing-down works. I won’t be opting out again.

Giant Robotic Mining Trucks Love the Australian Desert

automation, robots, mining, pilbara, australia

In the dusty red earth of Western Australia, robot trucks haul iron ore. The trucks themselves weigh about 500 tons when loaded — they are truly massive. They operate more or less on their own, navigating mining roads connecting the sprawling Pilbara iron mines with a guidance system provided by global positioning satellites, radars and lasers. It’s part of $13 billion mining operation by Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining firms.

Justice in a “Nation of Laws”: The Manning verdict

al jazeera, manning, freedom, security, espionage, terrorism, corruption, justice, corporatism

When Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) was thirteen, the US government announced it had launched “Operation Infinite Justice”. Operation Infinite Justice sought to punish the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks, destroy Al Qaeda, and end the reign of the Taliban. Operation Infinite Justice was renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom” after protests from Islamic scholars, who argued that God, not the US government, was the arbiter of justice. But freedom, it seemed, was something the United States could give and take away. When Manning was fourteen, the Bush administration announced that detainees in Guantanamo did not deserve protection under the Geneva conventions and that torture was justified. When Manning was fifteen, the US invaded Iraq in response to fabricated reports that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. When Manning was sixteen, US soldiers tortured and sodomised prisoners in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. When Manning was seventeen, a movement emerged to prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes. Nothing really came of it. When Manning was nineteen, she joined the army.