Keeping Your Eye on the Prize
It's so easy to get bogged down in details and become 'distracted til death'. The notion that 'God is in the details' must only be applicable to art.
On my way up to Groningen this morning (late due to rail work) to meet a fresh class of Minerva (media) students I thought about what was wrong with their education and what I could do about it. (What hubris!)
With my own recent attention to CNBC and the 'Global Economic Meltdown' it was logical to consider 'the economy of the media' and whether or not 'the media were economical'; and to arrive at the conclusion that media students should pay less attention to categories such as 'film', 'video' and 'photography' and more attention to the play of these media on their minds -- both individual and collective. How? By paying attention to 'their attention' and by watching the markets (markets being the best indicator of collective impulses).
Here's my list of study themes for this year's class:
The day turned out to be a non-stop talk-a-thon. First a few hours with the Minerva students, then with Roger, Steffy and Jente over the deplorable state of the Media-GN website, then with Georges, Johan, Martin Meeldijk and Jente over Media-GN policy. Around 7:30 PM Martin, Jente and I retired to 'Diamant' for tofu and more talk.
From this last sesssion, one item really stands out. While talking about global information Martin told the story of a friend of his whose life philosophy consisted of putting his 'attention' on about 30 friends and nothing more. No television news. No newspaper stories of trouble in Africa. Martin said his friend is the happiest person he's ever met.
Obviously it's time for a new options matrix:
Think Global___Act Local
Orders, Purchases, and Arrivals
Martin Luiken from the Guide Group Groningen called with the Dutch educational price for the 'bumped up Wall Street II' powerbook that Steve Jobs annouced last Tuesday. I ordered one (14.1 inch screen, 233 Mhz G3 processor, 512 K backside cache, 160 MB RAM, 2 Gig HD, 20 x CD, ethernet, 56K modem...) Whoa!
At the moment I'm working on a 68040 Duo 280c with at tiny screen, 12 meg of RAM and a 14.4 modem so the new machine will represent a SIGNIFICANT upgrade for me. Hope it won't take too long to arrive (it may take a few weeks). As usual, once I've made the decision to buy something I want instant gratification...
The 'Nationaal Spoorwegen' (Dutch train net) has lousy customer service. In order to renew my NS (1st class 'OV') card today I had to pick up the cash from my bank and stand in line at the Rotterdam CS. Carrying such a huge chunk of change in my pocket around Rotterdam made me incredibly nervous.
Matt Neuberg's 'Frontier: The Ultimate Guide' (which I ordered from Amazon on the 3rd of August) arrived today.
Received a very nice email from Govert Grosvelt from the Mondriaan Foundation. Apparently one of the directors of KEMA Nuclear has visited the exhibition in Wageningen and made some remarks to Govert about my work there. I've added Govert's mail to Criticality (in Physics and Art) IV
Consumption vs. Investment I
André Bacard in his FAQ about Offhore Investing defines an investor as:
An investor is a person who puts money into an enterprise or product (an investment) which he believes will increase in value. For example, investors purchase bonds, stocks and real estate to make a profit. Investment is the opposite of consumption. Consumers buy automobiles, clothes, and other items which decrease in value.
Investors profit from the consumption of others. Which raises the (general) question whether artists should be considered as investors or consumers?
I think that Guernsey (like the 'Isle of Man') has a great flag for an offshore tax haven.
Two Examples of Intelligence
128 Years Old (Longevity)
Loes reports that the Dutch television news ran an item yesterday evening on a 128 year old man living in India. Apparently the venerable gentlemen retired on a pension in 1938. A keyword search at hotBot did not turn up any hits. Neither did a search of sci.life-extension through dejaNews. Perhaps you are more successful. I'm very interested in this story and would appreciate pointers from Alamut readers.
By serendipity the search for 'india' at sci.life-extension did turn up a hit on turtle longevity which led me to another interesting thread (the search results contained a reference to a paper published by a researcher at an *Indian* university). As I mentioned in an entry last month on Galapagos tortoises (04.08.98) I'm interested in the extreme longevity of turtles and tortoises.
As a matter of fact, one of my proposals for the exhibition in Wageningen was a 'longevity capsule' or 'wunderkammer' containing very long living biological specimens. At the time I did a considerable amount of research into examples of human, zoological and plant longevity and even started an (unpublished) web site (Sidus singularis: the lonely star) to catalogue this collection. I plan to eventually fold this data into Alamut.
While looking through my archive of the 'dead media' list last night, I found an interesting group of messages from Bruce Sterling about Riviére's 'fin de siecle' shadow theatre which took place at the 'Chat Noir' in Montmartre at the end of the last century. Somehow it seemed relevant to the discussion that Mark, Jouke and I are having about our proposal for the 'Stadsdeelkantoor' in Amsterdam Noord so I uploaded it to Alamut:
Here's a list of the objects and ideas that I've recently come across and that seem related or connected (in my mind) to that project:
Woke up this morning thinking about the art of political incorrectness and a book that I'd seen once on 'Race Science'. I discovered (having completely forgotten!) that davidkremers, Jouke and myself have discussed this topic at some length last year on the capeW mailing list:
Race Science and the Other or 'Can We Be Artistic Racists?'
Racism presents a damn slippery slope for the 'licensed' artist and it's easy to get (as Jouke then aptly put it): 'Gene/Meme Deep in the Hoopla'. But I'm still convinced that difference is mankind's greatest engine and that a 'healthy respect' towards the 'other' is better than either 'tolerance' or 'acceptance' in the long run.
Mark's bottles have become famous (as Food for Thought)
Alamut's virtual domain host was down most of yesterday. No reason has been given for the service interruption.
The files that I uploaded yesterday were inaccessable due to my own error. Case counts with unix and while my html contained upper and lower case letters, my filenames were being rendered in lower case. (By accident I'd set Frontier's user.html.prefs.lowercasefilenames to true.)
Did You Know...
...that Dr. Seth Shostak, one of the founders of SCAN (now Media-GN), is the public programs scientist at the SETI Institute? (SETI stands for the 'Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence') I didn't. In an interview on the Contact-the movie page Dr. Shostak says that the 1950's television broadcasts of 'I Love Lucy' have now travelled about 40 light years in space and can be received by about 100 of our neighboring stars.
Science Week (a free weekly digest of the news of science) summarizes a recent essay by James Lovelock entitled 'A Proposal for a Permanent Record of Our Civilization' that was published in Science 8 May 1998 (280:832). Lovelock, who is definitely an optimist as far as the continuation of life of the planet is concerned (see A Dose of Nuclear Radiation) here reveals some pessimism concerning the survival of our own civilization which could easily drown in its data junk:
Imagine a survivor of a failed civilization with only a tattered book on aromatherapy for guidance in arresting a
cholera epidemic. Yet, such a book would more likely be found amid the debris than a comprehensible medical text.
Media are civilization's genes and man's attempt at beating ephemerality through long-lived media created the pyramids yesterday just as it fuels Lovelock's concerns today. Think of Danny Hillis' 'Millenium Clock' project. Think of my own 'Nuclear Garden' in which the primary 'plant' has a half-life of 4.47 billion years...
Take me away from all this death.
It's Labor Day in the US and the European markets seem to be making a big rally (attributed by the commentators to Alan Greenspan's calming words and hints of an interest rate drop in the speech he gave over the weekend.)
Renee Kool and I will be speaking with a class of AV students at the Art Academy of Breda today.
Metasystem Transition Theory at Principia Cybernetica Web:
A list of Jakob Nielson's 'Alert Box' articles on user centered web design:
Consumption vs. Investment II
On the train up to Groningen this morning I had a chance to review the study proposals of our MFA students. (Each student is required to submit a proposal for a thesis and a final project at the end of their first year.)
Martina Nussbaum, who has been developing an interesting project in which the art reveals itself only when the audience stands still, made the following observation about the relationship between the audience and the work of art in her notes:
Ik vind de beschouwer uiteindelijk een belangrijk onderdeel van het vertonen van het werk. Hoe trek je een beschouwer nog, terwijl de beschouwer meer en meer een soort consumptiegedrag vertoont terwijl deze door een expositie loopt? Snelle kunst, of media kunst, en graag een kort filmpje of video... De overkill aan images, die in snelle frequenties draaien...
Translation: "I believe that the viewer plays an important role in the showing of the work. How do you involve viewers when they behave more and more like consumers as they walk through the exhibition? Fast art or media art and yes please, a short film or video... An overkill of images, turning over faster and faster..."
My question: How do you turn an audience of consumers into an audience of investors? Looking back at André Bacard's definition of 'investor' (05.09.98):
An investor is a person who puts money into an enterprise or product which he or she believes will increase in value.
It's interesting to note that both investment and consumption involve payment. The difference lies in intention.
If we replace the word 'money' with the word 'attention' we arrive at:
An investor is a person who puts ATTENTION into an enterprise or product which he or she believes will increase in value.
The investor in art acts to increase their wealth. The consumer of art acts to lose some of it.
Unsafe software and file transfers from the net and between the users of local machines has resulted in the 'autostart' worm infecting quite a few machines at Media-GN. The news of the re-release of a number of Apple Script Trojan Horses (and, according to Arthur, even a Java virus!) warrants precaution and perhaps a fresh look at the concept of software disease. It is important to consider that not all viruses are malignant. It could be fruitful to explore the idea of the benign germ.
The daysAlive Server that I wrote in August starts service at Media-GN.
I had an extremely pleasant dinner with Mike Tyler. It was refreshing that we didn't talk about Media-GN or the exhibition in Wageningen.
The Alamut Project is 6 months old.
Renée Kool and I began our discussion of 'the artist's website.'
I had a meeting with Petri Leijdekkers and Ton Mars about the upcoming exhibition of the painting program and our own new media MFA in the Groninger Museum.
The media are saying that Ken Starr's report will be released to the internet tomorrow. It's starting to look like Mr. Clinton will be impeached. CNN and CNBC are having a feeding frenzy.
Henry Neeter writes in the BusinessNet Bulletin:
Phillips gaat in de VS de grootste reclamecampagne ooit beginnen onder het motto 'lets make things better'. Het aandeel verliest NLG 1,60 op NLG 124,80.
Translation: Phillips has starting in the U.S. the largest advertising campaign in history with the motto 'lets make things better'. The stock dropped Hfl. 1.60 to Hfl. 124.80...
This has been a busy week for teaching. Tuesday in Breda, Wednesday and Thursday in Groningen and today again in Breda.
Today's group was much bigger than Tuesday's--the rather small AV class somewhat overwhelmed by the addition of a large group of graphic design students. The discussion was lively and challenging and some very good questions were asked. One of the things discussed was the 'Open Society and its Media'.
'The Open Society and its Media' is a presentation about Project Xanadu by Mark Miller, Dean Tribble, Ravi Pandya and Marc Stiegler. I received it in photocopy form at the first Bionomics Conference in San Francisco (Oct. 8/9 1993) and I myself have made at least 100 copies of it over the years to pass on to others. It is a document that I return to again and again to both understand and explain the ideology of hypermedia.
One of most striking ideas that I found in reading the text this time around was that of 'the literature.' 'The Literature' is the docuverse, the universe of all documents, the sum total of all the text, images, sounds, films etc. that have ever been part of the system, (i.e. all versions, both past and present).
Email is just the special case where you establish a canonical point in the literature, for each person, a place others link to in order to send that person a message. That person simply has a link detector there saying, "Show me all the new things that are attached here." This generalizes to treating any shared point of interest in the literature as in some sense, a mailbox, or a meeting room for further conversation or conferencing about a topic. Canonical documents become meeting places. Should two disjoint discussions about the same topic spontaneously form in two places, anyone who notices can just make a link between them. The link detectors of each community will then inform them of the existence of the other.
Consumption vs. Investment III
I rode back from the school with Jules and he and Ada took me out for dinner at a very good fish restaurant in Dordrecht.
Over dinner I mentioned Martina's project, my interest in the difference between investors and consumers, and the question: 'How do you turn an audience of consumers into an audience of investors?' Ada had an answer: 'By using a guide.'
Great answer! I'd forgotten about guides. Jouke and I engaged once in an elaborate discussion about art and guides in our Food Chain Suite (August 1993). Back then I wrote:
The Michelin Guide is our examplar... replacement of the human guide with text intel. On the POS. side they allowed the user/visitor to consult or not, at home or on the road, didn't require a tip for good service etc. (allowing a degree of freedom) Could be read as an imaginative guide/a virtual guide. On the NEG. side they didn't interact/joke modify/play sexy in real time adjusting to the situation/sitcom/context...
Michelin Guides were vehicular guides... Michelin Guides were created for the glove compartment of the automobile. Remember Henry Ford 'invented' the theme park to add value to his automobile. The Michelin Guide added value to the theme park. To touring.
Guides (both the quick and the dead) add value to work of art.
Here's a two year old mail thread (in which I received a lesson in economics from one of the authors of Gorbachev's 'glasnost'
and Jouke contemplates markets for misanthropists and hypochondriacs):
The Difference Between Singapore and Spangen
Waiting for a train to Amsterdam this morning, I watch some local folks on a bench eat french fries. Finished eating, they allow the greasy paper their food was wrapped in to fall to the ground. A foreign businessman (Oriental) sitting next to them smokes a cigarette. He gets up, walks to the garbage can and flicks his ash into it.
Reflections on Introverts to Capital Markets
Macintouch has posted the html to yesterday's New York Times website hack. Make sure you check out the source code for the hacker's 'invisible' comments.
Interesting to note that a few weeks ago there were no commercial products to mirror alamut from my hard drive to a host server. Now suddenly there are two: Anarchie 4.0 and the upcoming version of Retrospect (4.1). A question of 'ask and ye shall receive'?
Does democracy require technology? More Dead Media: Info Tech of Ancient Democracy. JK and MM: Is this relevant for the project in Amsterdam North?
Started posting yesterday to the 'Art Academy of 21st Century' mailing list. This list has been set up by Margo Slomp as part of our work for Minerva 200.
Went to the Groninger Museum to talk with Mark Wilson about the upcoming presentation of the MFA programs in the museum (as part of the Minerva 200 celebration).
Pauline arranged to get me a copy of Philip Greenspun's 'Database backed Websites, the thinking person's guide to web publishing'. I started to read it on the train home. Very smart.
The september Wired finally reached the newsstand here! I picked one up on my way to Wageningen this morning. A strike somewhere had delayed its appearance. The issue features a picture of Steve Wosniak ('Woz') on the cover and contains a number of articles related to education -- nothing really earth shattering.
When is an Exhibition Not an Exhibition?
The board of 'Beelden op de Berg' organized a 'final meeting' this afternoon for the St(*)rboretum exhibition and invited the various sponsors and officials. Mike and I were there, David couldn't make it (his father is very ill). The meeting consisted of a number of speeches and a walk through the garden ending at the information kiosk.
Later a dinner was organized for the 25-30 volunteers who had manned the kiosk during the summer. Many of the volunteers had questions concerning the way the volunteer program had been set up. As men and women on the spot they were forced to field many questions (and complaints) from the public which they had no answers for. It was often (to paraphrase Joseph Beuys) a question of explaining 'pictures to dead hare'. Visitors came to the park expecting a 'sculpture exhibition' and given those expectations were severly disappointed.
For people who live on expectations, to face up to their realisation is something of an ordeal.
Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (1938)
I think that many of the board members of 'Beelden op de Berg' were disappointed that the national press did not cover the exhibition. I suspect that they needed verification by others that what David, Mike and I had done was 'interesting'.
It is only because we are ill informed that anything surprises us; and we are disappointed because we expect that for which we have not provided.
Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden (1871)
What did I see on that last walk through the arboretum Belmonte?
Woke up with a stiff neck and feeling slightly feverish. The flu season has started early this year already paying visits to a few of my friends. To defend myself I got some extra sleep and started hourly treatments of Nisyleen (a homeopathic medicine).
Between naps and spoonfuls of medicine television taught me some things. I learned that Clinton's testimony to the Grand Jury will be aired Monday at 13:00 CET and that the Russians are converting their money into vodka as a hedge against inflation.
CNN and CNBC are today portraying the Russian situation as particularly bad. The Russian banks have begun to print more money. Western analysts compare the printing of extra money to the taking of cocaine: once the banks start it won't be easy for them to stop. And the result could be a wave of hyper-inflation.
One of the most well known examples of hyperinflation in the 20th century took place in Germany after World War I. As Jack Weatherford explains in his book 'The History of Money':
In less than two years, the cost of a German postage stamp increased from 20 pfennigs to 500 billion marks. Lenders charged interest rates of 35 percent a day. At the end of the war it had cost roughly 4 marks to buy a U.S. dollar; by July 1922 the cost had risen to 493 marks. By New Years Day 1923 the mark had dropped to 17,792 to a dollar. By November 15, 1923, at the height of the inflation, it required 4.2 trillion (4,200,000,000,000) marks to buy one dollar. An American penny had the value of 42 billion (42,000,000,000) marks. An item that could be purchased for one mark at the end of the war cost 726 billion marks by 1923.
Bolivia in 1984 and 1985 also suffered from a period of hyperinflation. Over these two years the peso devalued between 2 and 3 percent an hour. Farmers bringing produce to market could not afford to take their earnings for the day home again -- by the following week last week's earnings had become virtually worthless.
At the height of Bolivian inflation, employers paid workers in stacks of bills, bundled in the familiar wads and bricks. On payday, a university professor in Sucre, for example, would expect to receive a stack of bills about half a meter or nineteen inches in length; a secretary might receive a stack of only half that. As soon as the employee received the cash, he or she would dash off to convert the money into commodities such as food, clothing, or electronic goods -- anything that would maintain its value and might be used by the family or resold. Even families without electricity would eagerly buy a high-prestige item such as a CD player, since it would retain its resale value long after the wad of cash would have lost all value.
Jack Weatherford, The History of Money
I've been hearing so many good things about the Palm III organizer that I've begun to want one. In this last year or two this technology has really been heating up. A little net research has revealed that 3Com will be introducing a new palm model (code named 'Razor') in November. I'm going to try and be patient and wait for it rather than buy the current Palm III. I'm sure that my new powerbook (that should arrive this week) will assuage my new object lust for a bit.
Slightly lower on the technology scale I bought two 'buckwheat husk' pillows today to appease my sore neck.
Attended a Virtual Platform meeting at the Design Institute this morning. Afterwards I paid a visit to my favorite 'remaindered' book store at the Muntplein and discovered 3 copies of Aaron Lynch's book on memetics, 'Thought Contagion' for Hfl. 16.95 each. I bought one.
Is today or tomorrow the first day of the 'Fall'? The sun shines, the terraces are full. Met with Mark Madel and Jouke Kleerebezem at Café De Jaren to discuss our plans for the 'Stadsdeelkantoor'.
Our new theory teacher, Douwe Draaisma, gave an introductory talk this evening for the MFA and staff of Media-GN. Douwe lectures in the history of psychology at the Groningen University and is the author of the 'Metaphor Machine'. His work investigates the (historical) use of metaphors to describe the functions of our brain.
This evening's talk was divided into three parts:
I was especially interested to learn more about the anatomical atlas of Vesalius (1534). Thom Puckey used this atlas as the basis for his design of a shelter for the 'Abri' project (1992-1993).
Came home and saw that the Dow had closed up about 250 points. Reason: Alan Greenspan has indicated that it's time to lower interest rates. The Fed meets next Tuesday (Sept. 29) to vote on this.
Suffering the usual Groningen hangover and headache I spent most of the day re-reading Vernor Vinge's seminal book, The Peace War, first published in 1984. This, (like his earlier short story 'True Names') is surprisingly prophetic: anticipating the war machine's shift towards non-lethal warfare and the technological power shift from larger to smaller players. Does Toffler read Vinge?
What remains science fiction in 'The Peace War' is the 'bobble': a physical bubble of stasis or frozen time. At the end of the novel the inventor, Paul Naismith becomes the first person to consciously decide to 'drop out' for a while using his invention:
Finally Naismith spoke. "Strange. I think I've done penance for blindly giving them the bobble in the first place. I have accomplished everything I dreamed of all these years since the Peace Authority destroyed the world... And yet -- Wili, I'm going to drop out, fifty years at least."
"Paul! Why?" It was said now, and Wili couldn't keep the pain from his voice.
"Many reasons. Many good reasons." Naismith leaned forward intently. "I'm very old, Wili. I think you'll see many of my generation go. We know the bioscience people in stasis at Scripps have ways of helping us."
The Dow closed down about 150 points. Reason: News of a billion-dollar-bail-out of a hedge fund fuels concern of more weakness and exposure in the financial sector. Yesterday's gains are today's losses. CNBC reports that inflation in Russia for the first 21 days of September averages about 3 percent a day.
Rotterdam: 4:30 AM, Vancouver: 19:30 PM
The little clock in my control strip set to Vancouver time finally motivated me to call my brother Mark this morning and catch up on the news from home. The news: My mom is okay but in slow decline, my young nephew cycles between brilliance and depression, my brother Guy's father in law suddenly dropped dead (in the kitchen) from a heart attack.
I'm going to spend the day in Breda at a meeting to discuss the national MFA policy. CNBC reports the Nikkei and the Hang Seng down. Looks like it will be another 'bloody' day for the European exchanges.
Went to Stroom in the Hague yesterday evening for the opening of a presentation by Jan van Grunsven and Arno van de Mark entitled 'Limited Quotes'. Both title and presentation were cryptic--something to do with the completion of their project '301 STEPS (Daylight/Tungsten)' on the Schenkkade? Can someone explain this to me please?
It was a great to finally get to an opening at Stroom. Chatted with Joke Robaard, Moniek Toebosch and Rudy Luyters. Rudy's into bees and beekeeping. Incredibly enthused, couldn't stop talking about it. One thing he said really struck me.
Book knowledge (written instruction of beekeeping) is inadequate. You must have a teacher.
Red and Green
The 'middle of the road' socialist Gerhard Schröder beat the christian democrat Helmut Kohl in the election in Germany yesterday and commentators today are predicting a coalition government of the socialists and the greens. The greens are much more radical in their demands, calling for the tripling of gasoline prices and a stop to all production of nuclear energy.
The German market seems to be adopting a policy of 'wait and see'. Come to think of it, I wonder where the Netherlands gets its power from?
The Death by Media Exhibition
All past and present MFA students and instructors at Media-GN are invited to submit animations for the Death by Media exhibition next month in the Groninger Museum. Information and submission details about the exhibition are to be found here.
Alan Greenspan lowered the lending rate 25 basis points yesterday evening ending an extraordinary amount of 'Fed watch' and market speculation. Over the last 24 hours I'd say that CNBC's various journalists, experts and commentators have used the words 'Greenspan' and 'interest rates' AT LEAST once every five minutes. Talk about 'paying attention'.
Order out of Chaos
Have been reading (with much interest) Janet Murray's book, 'Hamlet on the Holodeck, the future of narrative in cyberspace'.
Under the heading, 'Digital Structures of Complexity' Murray contrasts two early visions of hypertext, Vannevar Bush's seminal 1945 essay 'As We May Think' published in Atlantic Monthly and Ted Nelson's lifetime labor of love (begun in the early 60's!), the electronic publishing system Xanadu.
Murray sees Bush as an American pioneer, taming the growing wilderness of information, attempting to bring order to its chaos. She cites Bush imaging his idea of a hyperlinked microfiche based system called 'memex':
The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the crusades. He has dozens of pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item... Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.
And his trails do not fade.
On the other hand, Murray sees Nelson's attempt to control chaos as a love affair with an 'unsolvable labyrinth', a quixotic quest:
He sees associational organization as a model of his own creative and distractable consciousness, which he describes as a form of 'hummingbird mind'
Where do these visions of hypermedia and hypertext come from? In "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" Eric Raymond provides heuristics (rules of thumb) for successful software development. Rule Number 1: 'Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch.' So what's worrying Vannevar Bush, David Gelernter and Ted Nelson? Do 'the masses' need hypertext? Or do these visions reflect the suffering of bright men with Attention Deficiency Disorder? Hummingbird mind?
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