JULY 1999



Genius mathematician and computer scientist, John von Neumann (1903-1957) was gifted with a true photographic memory (hypermnesia).

Patron Saint of the Month

John von Neumann

Over the prodigious memory of John von Neumann, William Poundstone writes in 'Prisoner's Dilemma' (his study of Von Neumann and the development of game theory and the bomb):

Klara von Neumann claimed that her husband wouldn't remember what he had for lunch but could recall every word of a book read fifteen years ago.

"Herman Goldstine confirms this seemingly hyperbolic statement in his book 'The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann': 'As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover he could do it years later without hesitation. He could also translate it at no diminutation in speed from its original language into English. On one occasion I tested his ability by asking him to tell me how the 'Tale of Two Cities' started. Whereupon, without any pause, he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes.'"

Information Underload

More memory, more information. Ever increasing abundancies.

I remember seeing something somewhere on information underload... oh yeah, in Cosma Rohilla Shalizi's note 'Dealing with Huge Amounts of Information' (external link):

Limits of human attention; filtering; searching; broad-catch; information overload (does it exist?); information underload ("everything I know is wrong!")...



Yes after two weeks of web silence I was starting to worry...

JK's back with a vengence with 'NQPAOFU #13' (external link). He said there was no reason for friends to worry and I guess there is no need for him to explain his absence, we all occasionally lapse into forgetfulness and:

... mood swings between pathology tolerance settings...

But what's his explanation for the surprise agreement between my decision to dedicate this month to 'memoria' and his subtitling the 13th issue: 'A mind is a terrible thing to loose'?

Web Log Attentions

OR what's the other guy's (or girl's) mind...

Besides following JK's Cultural Intelligence Works and NQPAOFU, I've been lurking Heather Anne's and Aaron's 'A Boy And His Basement' (all external links) for the last couple of weeks. I like them. YMMV.

Hey, a guy just walked by playing the bagpipes. Wow. I like that too.


MFA exams next week. Busy reading theses (eight of 'em).

The Best vs. The Good

JK writes:

"Industries don't change the world as a rule: because, why make things excellent? There's no 'market' for excellence. [But] what about the micro-market-niche of one?"

And Loes sends me an excellent aphorism from Voltaire:

"The best is the enemy of the good."

It seems to me like the market-of-one had better both be rich and own a big gun.

Good and Evil

As I mentioned about a month ago (01.06.99), the Brazilian media artist Eduardo Kac plans to publish a piece on 'Good and Evil on the Long Voyage' in a special issue he is editing of CIRCA, the Irish contemporary art magazine. For the occasion Arjen Mulder agreed to rework a short piece he wrote in Dutch last year about the project. The new text is entitled: A Techno-Religious Work of Art.

"I like to think about art and biology in terms of genotype and phenotype. A cell or organism's genetic constitution or genotype is perhaps much more concrete than an art concept, as the genes can be read, measured and re-recorded precisely. In some ways however, genotype and art concept are similar - both depend on a corresponding phenotype or genetic expression to get passed on into the next generation."

My own page on the project requires editing and updating. At least all the images are new (rescanned and uploaded).


Young Johnny

William Poundstone in 'Prisoner's Dilemma', relates another anecdote over the phenomenal photographic memory of John von Neumann (see also 01.07.99):

At the age of six, he was able to exchange jokes with his father in classical Greek. The Neumann family sometimes entertained guests with demonstrations of Johnny's ability to memorise phone books. A guest would select a page and column of the phone book at random. Young Johnny read the column over a few times, then handed the book back to the guest. He could answer any question put to him (who has number such and such?) or recite names, addresses, and numbers in order.


The Excellent is the Enemy of the Good

I believe that:

We have excellent students at Media-GN.

And I think:

Better excellent students and a good school,
than an excellent school and good students...

Even if this means occasional discontent and trouble for the school (see Media-GN's Full Metal Jacket Days: 09.07.98). How else are the schools gonna learn?

Exam week has finally arrived. There will be no updates for the next few days.


Tuesday's and Wednesday's exams went very well. All the candidates passed. This afternoon we held a small graduation ceremony in the courtyard of the presentation space. Touching words, hugs and handshakes. A perfect end to two years of intense work. Congratulations and thank-yous to everyone.


Don't worry. It's okay. It's a natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored...

Slept. Started reading Richard Power's Galatea 2.2. Slept. Went to David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. Slept some more. Anaesthesia mea culpa.

SUNDAY, 11 JULY 1999


Verdict: Cronenberg finally found a story in which he could apply his variety of 'horror carnis' with impunity. Picture this: the future of games = organic gamepods manufactured from mutant/engineered amphibian parts sloting into 'bioports'...

MONDAY, 12 JULY 1999

Aphasia: loss of speech.

Deaf, Dumb and Blind Spot

When is the last time you saw or visited your 'blind spot'? The spot where you can find no words to describe the world. No incantations. The spot where all of your thoughts have deserted you, like friends leaving you suddenly at a party and not telling you where they are going. And there you stand then, on the spot, hours later, bemuddled and surprised.

If thought proceeds by chain reaction then the spot, like the hang-over, is related in size and degree by to the circumstance and the burn rate.

1974: Indira Gandhi visits the spot where a nuclear test has just been conducted.


Corroborant: strengthening medicine, tonic; corroborating fact.

Same As It Ever Was?

JK maxim-ized a while back on NQPAOFU 12: "To learn is to burn." and "History never repeats itself, Gottesdank." OK. This we are going to believe. Now what's the relation between history and memory? Were we ever who we thought we were? Memory-wise or ancient history-wise? From deep within my Helen Keller funk yesterday I conjured up (with the help of my browser) an interesting corroborant, Julian Jaynes, and his book 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind'.

The thesis of Jaynes' book: Until the second millenium B. C., human beings had no subjective consciousness (the following quote is from a review at

"The startling thesis of this book is that, until the second millennium B.C., human beings had no subjective consciousness, but acted on the basis of hallucinated voices. These voices were attributed to the king or the gods; Jaynes hypothesizes that they originated in the right brain hemisphere. His extensive evidence is literary, archaeological, and neurological, and comprises a compelling 475-page argument. It is proposed that bicamerality -- the condition of acting on the command of hallucinated 'divine' voices -- represents a specific stage in the evolution of human civilization, that in fact the ancient ziggurat-building civilizations of the Middle East (and later the Americas) were 'bicameral civilizations.' Such civilizations were rigidly hierarchical, centralized around the 'god-king', whose voice was heard by the citizenry to keep them performing their ordained roles in the absence of conscious volition. The central pyramidal structures, then, served as hallucinatory catalysts for such social control."

According to Jaynes between the Iliad and the Odyssey, an extraordinary singularity occurred and mankind became conscious. If he is correct then human consciousness (self reflection) has only been around for a few millenia (and thus a 70 year old person today would reflect about 2% of the history of human consciousness). If it happened in such a fashion once, it could happen again. Our concepts of self are changing. Could a singularity occur in the near future?

William Calvin writes in The River that Flows Uphill (external link):

"Jaynes thinks that consciousness, and our concept of self, is a rapidly evolving thing. He even thinks that it has changed in the last few centuries since Machiavelli and Shakespeare, believes that great changes will occur in several more centuries. And I tend to agree. But even if I were to accept Jaynes' notion about a hallucinatory bicameral mind of 3,000 years ago developing into the more modern narrator -- which I don't -- I'm left with wondering how much of the prior state of affairs was a consequence of agricultural civilizations starting 6,000 years ago and their high population densities. Did their hunter-gatherer ancestors have modern consciousness in Jaynes' sense? Did the civilized peoples then lose it slaving away in the fields, getting their brains baked? Only to regain the narrator when empires loosened up enough, and travel became freer? Maybe the storytelling tradition flourished as a consequence, and re-established the suppressed indigenous narrator of the hunter-gatherers. As far as I can see, all of his evidence is consistent with such an alternative explanation."

(Not that it means much but it is notable that) the 'Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind' is rated as the top book on human consciousness at Reader's Choice (external link) i.e. before Penrose's 'The Emperor's New Mind', Dennett's 'Consciousness Explained', Pinker's 'How the Mind Works', and Calvin's 'Cerebral Code'.

Helen Keller's Nightmare


Helen Keller (1880-1968) contracted a fever as 19 month old baby which left her deaf and blind for the rest of her life. Under the auspices of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Helen learned to use (sign) language and was able to breach the walls of her sensory prison.

Photo circa 1892.

What if Helen Keller had lost her memory ability as well?

Philip Hilts' book 'Memory's Ghost: The Nature of Memory and the Strange Tale of Mr. M.' (1995) tells the story of Henry M., a patient at MIT's Clinical Research Center for the last 40 years. In the wild neurosurgery days of the 1950's, an attempt was made to cure Mr. M.'s epileptic seizures by operating on his brain and removing his hippocampus (through a silver straw). Since then the man has no memory. Mr. M.'s brain does not retain events that happen to him and thus Mr. M. must live continuously in the present. He can read the same newspaper over and over again as if it were for the first time.

Powers' Power

A line from Richard Power's Galatea 2.2:

"After a while the calender became a minefield."

Could the same thing happen to a (web) journal?

After a while the weblog became a minefield.

To learn is to burn?


It's been hot the last couple of days. So most of the decent bottled water has disappeared from the shelves of the supermarket downstairs. Every summer this happens and each time I think about precariousness of living in the Netherlands, so many people, so little land, so much dependency on a smoothly running infrastructure...

Today's Secret Quote... from the poet W. S. Merwin:

And I moved forward, because you must live forward, which is away from whatever it was that you had, though you think when you have it that it will stay with you forever.

Nuke the Whales

Embedded in the middle of Cosma Shalizi's 'Home Page' (external link) is the following delightful disclaimer:

This website is powered by fossil fuels and contributes directly to global warming and climate change.

Cynical? Don't think so. IT'S SERIOUS HERESY. For further infection see: Thomas Moore's Hoover Institute paper: 'Why Global Warming Would be Good for You' (external link). I do wonder however why Mr. Shalizi has linked Bruce Sterling's Viridian project (external link) to the above statement... Do you have any idea? Btw: Searching for an image of a 'Nuke the Whales' bumper sticker I found quite a few sites with politically incorrect 'taglines' (but no images, unfortunately). Here's another example of the genre:

EARTH FIRST - We'll log the other planets later.

What Makes Today's Heresy So Appealing?

Heresy is determined by interpretation (hermeneutics) and spreads like mononucleosis. A year ago (18.07.99) I mused on Alamut:

What makes the heresy the better memetic carrier? What makes it so attractive? Is it simply the titillation (pleasant excitement) of seeing or hearing something different? The vicarious pleasure? The second-hand thrill at seeing the tables turned?


Quick Answer

Christine Booker provided an answer to yesterday's question by sending me the following link:

What's the connection between: "This website is powered by fossil fuels and contributes directly to global warming and climate change." and the 'Viridians'?

See Viridian Note 70: The Coal Burning Net

Viridian note 70 maintains that everytime you move 10 megabytes of data in or off your computer you burn 5 pounds of coal!

TANSTAAFL (external link)

FRIDAY, 16 JULY 1999

38 Today

It's Jente's birthday. Here's something (external link) that I think she will like (Especially the page on 'Games Lamas Play' which draws parallels between Doom and Vajrayana meditations. For other good stuff be prepared to dig around the site a bit).

Note 73 Refutes Note 70

Christine Booker, maintainer of Rebecca's Pocket (external link), writes again:

Here's a followup to that Viridian Note. (You asked for the connection, so I didn't think to give you the whole thread--sorry. :)

From Viridian Note 73:

"Forbes says 'Your typical PC and its peripherals require about 1,000 watts of power.(...) That kind of usage implies about 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electrical consumption in a year.'

"A normal PC power supply is rated at a maximum capacity of about 200 watts, and a large monitor (17in-19in) is about 100 watts maximum. Typical utilization is about 25% when active, and power consumption can drop by 50% or more when idle. Expected power utilization of a PC based on the (Forbes-estimated) 12 hour week (at 100 watts active) is 4,320,000 joules. I work this out to 1.2 kilowatt hours /week, or 62.4 kilowatt/hours/year.

"In other words, Forbes is off by a factor of 16. We should throw out their figures at this point"

Small, Smaller, Smallest

The world's smallest web server: Seiko's iReady (external link). It seems only a question of time (no pun intended) before Seiko (or Swatch) creates a wristwatch that holds your personal web server. Remember Dick Tracy's watch?


Went to the Intratuin (garden center) yesterday and bought a Pinus nigra nigra, a couple Cytisus, some more pots and trellis material . All to be delivered sometime today...

Life on the Net 2015

Yesterday's web server on a chip made me think again of the following story. In 1993 Bruce Sterling testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance in Washington, DC. Claiming licence as a science fiction writer Sterling used his time to describe a number of incidents from the prospective of one Bob Smith, an NREN network administrator from the year 2015:

I can't conclude my brief remarks today without a mention of a particularly odd development related to wireless computer telecommunications. Because it is now possible to carry out transactions entirely in cyberspace (including financial transactions), many information entrepreneurs in 2015 have simply given up any physical home. Basically, they have become stateless people, 21st-century gypsies.

A recent tragic example of this occurred in the small town of North Zulch, Texas. There, some rural law enforcement officers apprehended a scruffy vagabond on a motorcycle after a high-speed chase. Unfortunately he was killed. A search of his backpack revealed a device the size of a cigarette pack. The police officers, who were not computer literate, accidentally broke the device. This tiny device was actually a privately owned computer bulletin board system with some 15,000 registered users.

Many of the users were wealthy celebrities, and the apparent outlaw biker was actually an extremely popular and nationally known system operator. These 15,000 users were enraged by what they considered the wanton destruction of their electronic community. They pooled their resources and took a terrible vengeance on the small town of North Zulch, which, by contrast, had only 2,000 residents, none of them wealthy or technologically sophisticated. Through a combination of harassing lawsuits and sharp real estate deals, the vengeful board users bankrupted the town. Eventually the entire township was bulldozed flat and purchased for park land by the Nature Conservancy.

Lightning from a clear sky? Think: 'Wearable Web Servers' (WWS) and the 'Clash of Cultures'...

SUNDAY, 18 JULY 1999

Dune Walker

Testing her new shoes, L. and I went for a surprisingly beautiful walk in Rotterdam's relative backyard, the environs of the Hague. Our route: From Den Haag CS through the Haagsche Bosch to Clingendael, from Clingendael to the Vlakte van Waalsdorp, from the Vlakte van Waalsdorp to Meijendel, from Meijendel to De Kieviet in Wassenaar (JK's old stomping ground?). All in all about 12 kms.

For a hot Sunday afternoon in July, we saw surprisingly few people along the way, especially once we got to the dunes. It's easy to forget just how 'wild' and 'remote' the Dutch dunescape can appear at times... Later, over a vegetarian rijsttafel at Sarinah's, L. and I resolve to get out and do this more often.

Speed Test

A useful tool that I found in hidden at the bottom of Rebecca's Pocket (external link) measures your bandwidth speed (external link) by downloading a 500k file.

Here's the results of a few tests of my cable connection:


221 kbps


450.5 kbps


321.9 kbps


451.6 kbps

YM (of course) MV.

MONDAY, 19 JULY 1999

Consumption: Bought even more trellis material at the Intratuin in Rhoon. Looks like I'm committed to 'fencing in' my roof garden.

Today in History

Same day. Different year.


Watched the video of Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket' this evening. L (born in 1971) wanted to know how 'big' Vietnam was:


9.5 years (August 5, 1964 - March 28, 1973)


2.59 million (3.4 million in SE Asia)


58, 202


303, 704


75, 000

All figures above are for U.S. troops. Here are some corresponding stats and casualty figures for the American contingent of Operation Desert Storm (the Gulf War):


less than 2 months (January 17, 1991 - February 28, 1991)


537,000+ (US)


79 in combat + 54 in non-combat (US)


213 (US)

So what about the other side? No one knows for sure but the estimated Iraqi casualties during the Gulf War amounted to more than 85,000 (killed and wounded). And the Vietnamese Government issued a press release in 1995 with what it says are the true Vietnamese casualty counts for the entire war: approximately 2 million civilians in the north and 2 million civilians in the south with military casualties numbering 1.1 million killed and 600,000 wounded (over the full 21 years of war).

By some supreme lapse in our training of the global brain I can't find any online information concerning Chris Burden's North Vietnamese war memorial (the counterpart to Maya Lin's National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington). Does anyone have a catalogue raisonné of Burden's work handy to provide me with the details of this piece (title, year, background info)?

Timeline Get Real

Alamut incoming. Amund Spangen from Norway writes wondering whether Mr. Sterling's timeline 'Life on the Net 2015'(17.07.99)' is realistic:

The people have no real reason to stay where they are if they have a laptop and linux (so they can set up a tcp/ip connection when they want to work somwhere). The only thing people need today is phonelines and a webmail account to connect to the net on ther own. Do you think it will really take 15 years before what Sterling is talking abut gets real?

People could backpack all the time before they get married. Scenario: you buy a bungalow in florida somewhere to have a real life mail address so people you meet on your travel can send you packages and snail mail. You setup your own server with web and email possibilities in a country with good phone lines and good data protection laws and you buy a little appartment in a tax haven so you don't need to pay taxes (think abut all the paper work when you design web sites for 15 different companies based in 9 different countries with different tax and working laws...)

You lend out your appartment to your partners or other friends. You start to backpack until you get a family then you move to an edge city in Colorado or British Columbia or maybe Thailand and work on a net center until your kids have to go to school. You then move to an area with the best school like some private school in California or in Singapore. Could this be true in 5 -10 years?

Mr. Spangen rightly questions the timeframe of Mr. Sterling's prognosis of cultural clash (which in all fairness was written in 1993). He is also right to point out the problems that arise when subject folks to multiple tax laws and jurisdictional paperwork. For more on this see: Douglas Barnes' The Coming Jurisdictional Swamp and Nick Szabo's Multinational Small Business. But-I-wonder is he right in thinking that every young (teenage or 20-something) netizen wants to go full-blown-iterant and 'backpack'? Maybe we should ask Puce, Billie, Elly, Johanna, Stoo, Hannah for their opinion of their net future (all external links of course).


After A While...

..The Weblog Became A Minefield.

Lemonyellow points to NQPAOFU who points to Puce and then says: 'This whole business of reading other people's websites is getting a bit too self-referential.'

Fucking Around With the Art World's Memory

Meanwhile I'm grateful to Lemonyellow for pointing me to a most interesting article in last weekend's NY Times Magazine over John Drewe's masterful forgeries (external link). The mastery? Mr. Drewe didn't actually paint the forgeries (he had someone else do it), he faked the provenance (or the history of ownership) of the forgeries. After all, it's so easy to paint a modern masterpiece. It is much more difficult to create a modern reputation.

Modern art, in particular, seems especially vulnerable to fraud. Its abstractions are sometimes difficult to understand or grasp, and a modern painting is often loved less because of its intrinsic quality -- its beauty, as conventionally understood -- than because of the identity of the painter, its mark of social status.

"There is the line that modern art pretends to be things it's not," says Sandy Nairne, director of national programs for the Tate Gallery. "There is a crossover between the way Drewe perpetrated a con with the cultural view that modern art may be viewed as a con on the public." There is a sense, Nairne says, in which Drewe was simply "making up modern art."

All of which made buyers of modern art the perfect target for Drewe, who counted on his victims' hunger for found treasure. Serious collectors and art experts, among the world's most educated, often cannot fathom the possibility of being rooked, and then once taken, cannot face the humiliation of admitting it. Says Hoving: "When the collector gets what he wants and he's told it isn't real, he says, 'I don't care, to me it's a Renoir."' Even though one forged Giacometti, a 1955 "Nu Debout" Drewe sold to two New York dealers, is obviously lacking in the artist's typical depth of field and manic linearity, one of the dealers maintains, "I still think it's one of the best Giacomettis I've ever seen." As Geraldine Norman puts it, many collectors' interests in art "are reflections of social climbing and romanticism about names, a thousand things that have nothing to do with the surface of the work of art you are looking at."

A forger's chief motivation is typically intellectual gamesmanship. Embittered by the spurning of his own work, he takes satisfaction in suckering the entire art world en masse, then pulling aside the curtain, exposing himself as a renegade genius and the art experts as the frauds and fools.

Van Meegeren

The story of skillful Mr. Drewe reminds me of the story of another master forger (and cultural engineer), Mr. Han van Meegeren and a short piece of fiction (itself not very masterful I'm afraid) that I wrote for a catalogue 12 years ago: The Day of Van Meegeren's Trial.

At the end of the Second World War an unknown Vermeer turned up in the collection of Hermann Göring and its sale was traced back to the Dutch artist, Han van Meegeren. Mr. van Meegeren was arrested as a Nazi collaborator, which at the end of the war was a very serious crime. After two weeks in jail and with a potential death penalty hanging over his head, Van Meegeren claimed that the painting he sold was a forgery and that he had painted it himself. At first no one believed him especially when he claimed that he had produced 8 other Vermeers (as well as a few paintings by De Hooch and Hals) several of which were 'kopstukken' or key pieces in the collection of Boymans van Beuningen Museum. Finally he persuaded the police to let him paint a new Vermeer. He was locked in a room with six witnesses and a police guard. In two months he produced his ninth painting "Young Christ" in the style of Vermeer.

Han van Meegeren
Deer. 1921.

Van Meegeren was judged (both then and today) an anti modernist third-rate artist. His most popular work, a sketch of one of Princess Juliana's deer, was (and is still) widely reproduced as a poster and greeting card in the Netherlands. How could such an artist paint Vermeers? The answer should be obvious by now. By shrewdly providing the 'hungry' art experts and collectors with precisely what they were looking for.

Nelson Goodman explains in 'Languages of Art' (1976):

"At every time a Van Meegeren was added to the corpus of pictures accepted as Vermeers, the criteria for acceptance were modified thereby; and the mistaking of further Van Meegerens became inevitable. Now, however, not only have the Van Meegerens been subtracted from the precedent-class for Vermeer, but also a precedent-class for Van Meegeren has been established. With these two precedent-classes before us, the characteristic differences become so conspicuous that telling other Van Meegerens from Vermeers offers little difficulty."

Cultural intelligence works, kids.


Ellen, girlfriend of Ignace (study friend of L.) tells me last night over dinner in Amersfoort about a 1997 film by Tom Tykwer, Winterschläfer (Winter Sleepers). Apparently the film features a character who has no long term memory (though I can't find any reference to that specific point online...)

(This month's patron saint is John von Neumann.)

Thought Train - Memory Train

The thought of the iReady, the world's smallest web server, mentioned on the 16th (16.07.99) has certainly spawned a lot of little thoughts both here on Alamut and on NQPAOFU. This morning's ritual tidying period uncovered a paper scrap with a list of iReady associations that I jotted down last Friday as L and I drank coffee in de stad.

Title of SF novel written in 1969 by Philip K. Dick. Refers to ubiquity or omnipresence, being everywhere or in an indefinite number of places at the same time. See also the entry (07.05.99) on the work of Mark Weiser.
The Literature

The sum total of everything ever written, photographed, filmed, recorded etc. by every person who has ever lived. A concept developed by Project Xanadu. In Xanadu each person's email address represents 'a canonical point' in the literature to which you 'link a message or document' rather than 'sending it'. See entry (11.09.98).

North Zulch, Texas

Site of the demise of a nationally known, iReady carrying biker-sysop. For details of this incident see entry Life on the Net 2015 (17.07.99). It was the networks good fortune that the sysop's documents and links were continuously being backed up--even as he was being attacked--by Factoid Servers (29.06.99).

Dr. Wilder Penfield

Canadian neurologist. Developed a revolutionary method of brain surgery in the mid 1930's in which he would open the skull and probe the brain of an anaesthetized but fully conscious patient with an electrode connected to an EEG machine. By talking with his patient as he worked, Penfield was able to find the location of specific memories and cause the patient to relive them at will.

Click Human Click
Manipulation of human behavior by (1) other organisms (Dawkins: Universal Parasitism and the Co-evolution of Extended Phenotypes); (2) by the physical environment (consider the affordances of J. J. Gibson and others) or (3) by ideas (memes). Whether by clicking the screen or probing the world, the behavior so elicited releases memory.
Global Brain
The self-organisation of the web into a global brain? With all the world a stage and the global brain's stories and memories waiting to be activated and recalled from anywhere and at any time? See Telepolis articles by Francis Heylighen (Designing a Nervous System for the Superorganism) and Howard Bloom (The History of the Global Brain). Think: connected intelligence. Profuse linkage is the key.
Enclave Exquise
Last year in Arnhem JK used a Swiki server to create a site where anyone could give any real world object a URL (by making a web page for it, and slapping a sticker with its URL on the object itself). Additionally the Swiki server allowed anyone else to add information to the object (through the object's page in the 'Mirror World'). Imagine sitting at a table in a restaurant and idly keying in the table's URL to read its history...

Pygmalian Prays to Aphrodite

Finished Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2 this morning. Not sure what I think about this, my first and his fifth, novel about a novelist (called Richard Powers) teaching (technically: training) a neural net (in) the classics. The book's heady bricolage of Pygmalian myth, literature, end-of-love story and neurolinguistic philosophy all-powered-by a connection machine provided loads of potential but ultimately failed to engage me (despite all the 'insider' references to living in Limburg and the Dutch language). Since the book and its author are very, very clever, I wonder how come its 'artificial intelligence' didn't work? Is it possible that both book and author have turned too smart to do art? In other words to create a story that itself comes live?

To be fair and give Mr. Powers a second chance (for the man is good), I immediately set out with him again. This time with his earlier, and much thicker, 'The Goldbug Variations'.

Pygmalian Machines (external link).


It's raining today, thank God. I'm tired of all this sunshine.

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...

Apple yesterday announced its new consumer powerbook, the iBook, as well as a new piece of hardware for radio networking, which the folks at Cupertino have dubbed the 'airport'. Good name. I suppose no one in the brick and mortar world ever thought about securing the term...

I Spy with my Little Eye...

...two words that begin with the letter 'M'.

aelstrom. A very bad ocean whirlpool that I became curious about after reading a passage in which Richard Powers compares the 'dispasssionate view' of his AI Galatea to that of human beings:

"Humans have to be schooled in how to describe the maelstrom as if they weren't lost in the middle of it, in their own unbailable open boat."

The word 'maelstrom' is derived from the Dutch 'maalstroom' and the roots 'malen' which means 'to grind' and 'stroom' or 'stream'. The epithet was applied by 16th century Dutch sailors and geographers to the famous whirlpool off the west coast of Norway (between Moskenesoy and Mosken). The word stuck and was soon adopted as a literary metaphor for confusion and chaos. In his tale, A Descent into the Maelstrom (external link), Edgar Allan Poe attributes the extreme violence and horror of the Norwegian Maelstrom to an abyss at its core... (external link to calculate where you would end up if you fell throught the center of the earth. Try it. It's fun.):

"... penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part--the Gulf of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one instance."

Unfortunately, the Global Brain doesn't appear to contain any images (teaching aids) of the Maelstrom. Not yet. Teaching (and re-learning) how to describe it 'from above' is certainly on my new curriculum. (Placeholder here for a link to the 'Art School of the 21st Century' and comments from Jouke and others welcome.)

etastasis. When Changing Place becomes a Place of Change. Movement of infectious microrganisms or malignant cancer cells, usually via blood stream or lymph, from one focus of growth to another part of the body where they set up further foci.

Metastasis. When the Pattern of Change itself becomes stable. Solid state sign: when the lion lies down with the lamb (this doesn't happen very often outside of art; incl. placeholder here for a link to the installation, 'Kiosk de Combat/Safe Haven', Vilnius, 1995-). Fluid media seem to be better equipped to support or afford the emergence of stability out of chaos. I spy with my little eye... salt water and blood. As my bard Melville once wrote, 'Call me Ishmael.':

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim around the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to ship.

Victory, Love, Conquest (19.05.99).

Whale Hunt 1999 (22.05.99).

FRIDAY, 23 JULY 1999

Into the Past! (Memory and Time Travel)

Friend and colleague artist, davidkremers sent me a mail reminding me that last Tuesday (the 20th of July) was the 30th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon landing (4:17 EDT) and first lunar walk (six hours later). Where were you in 1969? I was 13 and was watching tv in my parent's bedroom with the rest of the family. Everyone was excited that history was being made that we were all part of. My mother took a roll of photographs of the television set--literally--12 photographs of a big ugly color television set (she used a flash)... Priceless, inadvertent, conceptual, ART. What I'd do for one of those images now!

The Apollo 11 30th anniversary page (external link).
More NASA images of the flight of Apollo 11 (external link).

Into the Future! (Memory and Time Travel)

davidkremers sent me a mail:

if the past 30 summers have taught me anything, it is that progress is measured not by how far we go, but by how different we become. already that july 20th it seemed as if those momentous events were an awkward rerun in plastic and aluminum foil of the kubrick dream i had watched the summer before.

i knew, even at nine years old, that dreams dreamt in adequate detail are made actual by applying resources. the path to the stars lies not in better aluminum foil. it lies in attaining insight. stanley's stargate tells us so.

perception of the time dimension of space is the most important sculptural problem of our day. gardening is the industrial model for 21st century technology development. my new work has become too complex to translate into the inanimate models of the 20th century. i suspect it is easier to simply transport a small number of travelers through time.

please join me.
space is very limited.
details will be found here.

Thus Sprach Zarathustra...


Saw a new cool toy in town this afternoon: the K2 kickboard (external link). It's from Japan. It's just been released in Europe. As far as I can tell it's not yet available in the USA...

In the big book store I found a book to help me identify that rather mesmerizing shrub that covered the dunes last Sunday (18.07.99). It's called 'Duindoorn' in Dutch, 'Sea Buckthorn' in English and 'Hippophae' in Latin. It is very special (it's a pioneer plant and its berries have medicinal qualities) and I want to grow it myself.

Watched David Fincher's 'Seven' and I was impressed. Favorite scene was when Somerset warns Mills about feeding off his emotions.

SUNDAY, 25 JULY 1999

Last night before falling asleep I read about an incredibly enigmatic cipher (external link) that has tried the minds of this century's greatest codebreakers and has yet to be cracked... (FYI the book was William Poundstone's 'Labyrinths of Reason' and the cipher is 'The Voynich Manuscript')


Computing with leeches (external link).

"The downside of the experimental setup is the leech's nervous system can only survive for about three or four hours after it is hooked up to the computer. Eventually, however, Calabrese said he hopes his work will result in a technology that places neurons on a silicon substrate that "feeds" them.

"The setup would work like the team's current experiment, in that the substrate would stimulate their inputs and read their outputs, but nutrients flowing onto the chip would keep the neurons alive."

Good news: Carver Mead (remember him?) is developing such a silicon 'feed' substrate in his lab at Caltech.

Past Bird Watching...

Glass grinders. A good argument could be developed that the Dutch were the first to successfully prosthetic-ize human beings by extending their eyes. Van Leeuwenhoek broke the optical barrier with his radically improved microscopes of around 1670 and Jan Lippershey, as Michael Porter points out in an article on, is usually credited with making (and widely publicising) the first telescope:

Porter writes:

"It's 1608 in Middelburg, Holland. A spectacle maker, Jan Lippershey, is making glasses in his workshop. Outside, his children are playing with some of his lenses. They line up two lenses about a foot apart. Looking through, they discover the local church steeple appears so much closer that they can actually see the birds nesting under the spire. The excited children show their discovery to their father, and thus the telescope is invented. News spreads across Europe to Galileo, and the rest is history."

Present Bird Watching...

I like to watch.

Therefore I want to own a pair of these: Canon's 10x30 IS image stabilizing binoculars (external link).

Future Bird Watching...

To generalize is to converge. To identify is to distinguish. It appears that an increased convergence of technology will afford us an increased ability to differientiate (information from noise). Michael Porter (birdwatching again) sketches for us the binoculars of the future:

The binoculars of the future will be part of a digital information system. They will not only amplify your seeing but will also make video and sound recordings of your experiences. They will link wirelessly to the personal computer in your pocket, where your birding database resides. The computer, in turn, will be linked by satellite to a world-wide information network.

Your binoculars will also function as a video display device. Ask, "What does the marbled godwit look like?" and a high-resolution video of that species will play in the eyepieces of your binoculars. Your day's video recordings will be your field notes, recorded automatically, and at the end of the day you can gather with other birders and link your personal computers to a large screen to show each other your best video highlights.

Since your binoculars can read out the compass direction and range of what you're viewing, and your personal computer always knows its exact position on the planet, the location of your sightings will record automatically. Data on migration, bird populations, and habitat could be analyzed regionally even as it is being gathered.

Electronic zoom and stabilization will be standard features. Light amplification will let you see even by starlight. Or tune in to different light frequencies: choose infrared to see in complete darkness, or make the still-warm tracks of animals visible; choose ultraviolet to see the flowers and foliage as insects do.

Of course, the binoculars of the future will be rugged and completely waterproof. Solar-cell material will coat their surfaces to provide all the power needed by the electronics. And if you misplace your binoculars, you can ask them to please broadcast their location so you can retrieve them.

These advances are not fantasy. All are presently under development, and some already exist. For example, Leica recently introduced the Geovid 7 x 42 BDA binoculars, with a built-in infrared range finder and electronic compass. It calculates distances up to 5000 feet with an accuracy of about three feet. It's available now, for $6000.

MONDAY, 26 JULY 1999

Sometimes illness can be a sign of health... mon ami.

Today in History

Same day. Different year.

Mr. Melville, My Man

Amazing. I just read somewhere that:

In the first ten years of publication, Moby Dick sold only 2,800 copies, and then averaged about 23 copies per year for the next 27 years, then it was re-discovered.


Temporal Affordances

Sounds terribly mystic but I like it. JK asked whether I knew George Kubler's 'The Shape of Time'. I didn't, so I looked for it. And found this:

[Entrance:] "the moment in the tradition--early, middle, or late--with which . . . biological opportunity coincides. . . . Every position is keyed, as it were, to the action of a certain range of temperaments. When a specific temperament interlocks with a favorable position, the fortunate individual can extract from the situation a wealth of previously unimagined consequences. This achievement may be denied to other persons, as well as to the same person at a different time. Thus every birth can be imagined as set to play on two wheels of fortune, one governing the allotment of its temperament, and the other ruling its entrance into a sequence."

The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), pp. 6-7.

davidkremers considers the 'time of space' in 1999 and writes, "Perception of the time dimension of space is the most important sculptural problem of our day."

Kubler considers the 'space of time' in 1962. (Parallel history: Alan Shepard Jr.'s Freedom 7 flight took place in 1961 and John Glenn's first orbit in Friendship 7 took place in 1962.)

See: affordances.


Susan Sontag defines intelligence as a taste for ideas.

To think is to enjoy. To think is to enjoy exploring diverse possibilites and possible worlds.

Art as a Game

From the NY Times (via Boy and his Basement): Art as a Game, and Games as Art (external link).

If you are as interested in game structures, gaming theory and gaming design as I am, you'll probably hugely appreciate the Re:Play Online Forum (external link), a current event (from July 19 to August 20) directed by Eric Zimmerman and hosted at Eyebeam Atelier. Lots of very interesting participents including, Greg Costikyan (I Have No Words & I Must Design), Chris Crawford (Erasmatazz), Richard Garfield (Magic: The Gathering), Brian Moriarty (genius Infocom author of Wishbringer, Trinity and Beyond Zork), Janet Murray (Hamlet on the Holodeck) etc. etc.

Be there or be square.

Mr. Mendel, My Man

Follow up on Monday's memo on Mr. Melville's whale. Self same shite happened to Monk Mendel. After 10 years paying attention to the peas in his pea garden and writing up his observations:

"... drudgework and rare synthetic ability led him to one of science's greatest insights. He delivered his results to an indifferent regional society in 1865 and published them in its proceedings. Distributed to a hundred scientific communities, his conclusions promptly sank like an oil-slicked bird, lost until 1990, when independent researchers reannounced them.

Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations.

Meanwhile, Monk Mendel's meat merrily mouldered...


Definition of an Interface: A Linking Language.

Weblog - Me Too - Meta

I don't know what to think about this damned weblog business. I don't like the term. Or the connotation. Or the discussion that seems to be emerging from within and without the pages of the 'webloggers'. It's rapidly becoming a scene and I've never liked (or been good at) scenes.

On the other hand (as L. is especially fond of saying), I do read and admire individual 'weblogs' on a daily basis. Some for the links (Honeyguide immediately springs to mind). Some for the commentary and the links. I especially find the combination of links and journal deadly*. Tastes vary. I like to know what smart and honest people are reading and thinking. I like it when people express imagination (and their world view) rather than spew sarcasm and cynicism. YMMV.

That this is all happening right now is logical. It's one of those small step - big step things, part of the Neo Cambrian Evolutionary Explosion which is the web. Remember, HTTP is just 7 years old. Sites and browsers are 6. And at that age, life for human beings changes, it's time to go to school and meet other kids.

How does Alamut fit in? In many respects it doesn't. Not everyone likes it. Too personal, too obscure, not weblog enough (Camworld, for example, doesn't consider it a log enough to include in his master list**). Then again, I don't do Alamut in order to fit in. Alamut is a launch and learn system. It's a balancing act between a private notebook and a public performance in today's 'Web at 7' world. I'm aware that people are looking at its pages but I don't want to do it or shape it any differently because of that fact. Alamut is evolving and I'm evolving with it.

*A friend of Peter Merholz ( has a site,, which very nicely separates journal from log on a single page. I like it.

**Whoops! I just looked and saw that Cameron HAS added Alamut to his weblog list. How's that for synchronicity? Thanks.

FRIDAY, 30 JULY 1999


Yesterday was a brilliant day for collecting things. The magic started with my walking right into a case of books at the public library (my mind, as usual, everywhere but where it should be). Focusing, I found myself staring at a perfectly pristine hardcover copy of 'Great Days' by Donald Barthleme (external link). And saw that it was for sale! All the books in the case were for sale at 2 Dutch guilders each (less than a dollar) which, I don't have to tell you, is dirt cheap for any book. Of course I grabbed it. Two books further along the shelf was a hardcover copy of Flann O'Brien's 'A Hard Life'. I grabbed it too. Eight books further along was Robert Coover's 'Pricksongs and Descants' and Thomas Pynchon's 'The Crying of Lot 49'. Grabbed and grabbed. 'What the hell was going on?', I wondered. What's the library doing?

The answer: People in Rotterdam don't read books. And the exceptional few who do don't like postmodern English fiction. The library was tired of storing it. So what do I do? I save postmodern fiction's honor by providing 11 fine examples of it with a new home.

A little context to explain the miraculousness of the aforementioned incident: Just two days ago I made a milk run to the English Book Exchange in Amsterdam with a list of authors in my hand. I'm reading fiction now, and I need to stock up. On the list were William Gaddis, William Gass, William Vollmann, Robert Coover, Flann O'Brien, and Donald Barthleme. I'd searched all bookstores in Rotterdam and The Hague for them but with no luck. Amsterdam, through the auspices of the Book Exchange were able to offer me 3 books by Barthleme: 'Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts', 'Snow White' and 'The King' as well as 1 book by O'Brien: 'The Third Policeman'. End of explanation.

Dalkey Archive Press (external link)


Following my success at the library I decided to collect some new communications technology and went into the local outlet of the post-national telephone company* to buy a caller ID box (to assist the answering machine in screening the calls) and a cordless phone. Later back in the SOHO the new caller ID box refused to work. After 'playing with it' for a couple of hours and collecting about a hour of phone support it turned out that I need to update the software on my ISDN switchboard (Surprise! Surprise! I bought that switchboard EXACTLY a year ago this day) and to do that I need to connect the switchboard to a PC (read carefully now: NOT a Macintosh). Which is going to be a hassle. Phone support said that under the year long warranty I could simpy replace the switchboard with a newer one and newer software. But the post-national telephone company's outlet store had by this time closed and the warranty had just run out. Hell. I should have known...

*The Primafoon store of the KPN.


No More Sunshine Please

It's simply too hot to work.
Take me away from all this Dutch sunshine.
I yearn for rain (06.05.99).
Or what about a little snow? (14.04.99).

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First created: 1/7/99; 23:43:42 CET
Last modified: 10/2/00; 18:24:11 CET