Ask Later slides and notes

26th July 2006 @ 5:14 pm
weblog, Notes, Slides, ask-later and Talks
Notes from my Ask Later talk, One Should Not Think That These Are Two Separate Things, after the jump.

Ask Later #1 overview 

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” – John Muir, from the back of a cartoon book of quotes about existence.

So this talk is kind of about how everything is connected (including the first slide and the last).  Or, at least, that most things I'm interested in and have worked on in the last year or so can be connected using books from my bookshelf.

Steven Johnson's Emergence, about the "connected lives of Brains, Cities, Ants and Software".  Neat!  I like the inside illustration, showing the similarity between a diagram of the brain and a map of Munich from the 1800s.  The book does a good job of explaining the similarities, aside from the superficial likeness, but the superficial likeness is cool enough.

Stigmergy, a related concept to emergence.  Creatures such as termites communicate with each other through modifications to their environment.  Here we see that thousands of fingers at Leicester Square tube have worn away a "you are here" point on the map, even though none of them decided to do so... 

Mitchel Resnick's Turtles, Termites and Trafic Jams, a book about the "decentralised mindset" that introduces the language StarLOGO (a parallel successor to Seymour Papert's LOGO).  The diagram on the top left shows that traffic jams occur in a simple simulation of a radar gun.  The diagram on the bottom left shows that traffic jams emerge even when there is no gun.

Stills from a Zurich insurance ad, which currently shows one of the most coherent visions of the future available in popular media.  The top section is about cars which avoid collisions with each other (next generation sat-nav) and the bottom section is a restaurant which adapts itself to become a boutique and a cafe at different times of the day (changing business models "every 4 hours").

Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, from the Bauhaus in the 30s.  Here talking about generating arcs from pendulums, and then abandoning gravity to create a full circle, "the purest mobile form".  The same quote was used by the printer for a poster describing... 

Schulze and Webb's "Metal Phone", a poisonous (cadmium!) and impractical device, a statement about personalisation, customisation, local manufacture, etc.  Metal Phone melts around 40 degrees C, so it can be melted down with hot air and re-cast in front of your eyes.  Bonkers but fun.

From one mobile phone to many; a map of mobile phone activity in Graz, featured in Mark Magazine's current article about mapping.  On the right, a map of noise activity in Paris, in 2D and in 3D (though the 3D is pretty it doesn't seem to tell you any more).

These maps of city activity are getting more and more common (as common as Google Maps mashups?), the data is opening up.  Here is the OpenStreetMap map of courier activity in London, by me and Steve, also featured in Mark Magazine.

From a book about Harry Beck's famous London Tube Map, and example of typical second album syndrome.  30 years on, Beck was trying to simplify the Circle Line even further, but of course it's difficult to improve upon a classic, and London Underground have found over the years...

Here's my own attempt to redraw the tube.  This version plots contours according to the time to travel.  Another version reorganises the map (dynamically depending on station) to classify each station inside concentric circles of travel time.  Still needs work...

Segueing a little, here's a book called Vehicles by neuroscientist Valentino Braitenburg.  It kind of plots the last 20 or so years of behavioural roboticis and artificial life/intelligence research, but it was written in 1984.  Central themes include things that move look alive, and it plays on our tendency to anthropomorphise behaviours (robot likes the light, robot hates the dark, etc.).  On this page, thresholded behaviours are described as DECISIONS.

Here's a Braitenburg Vehicle inspired simulation package called BEAST, that I helped to write whilst at the University of Leeds.  Even simple robots are expensive to experiment with, especially when group behaviours are important or you want to see the effects of evolved behaviours over thousands of generations.  Hence a simulator. 

This is a page from Maeda @ Media by John Maeda, a book I still find inspiring for its bringing together of crisp and rigourous design with computer code.  Unfortunately this book and the follow-up Creative Code frustratingly contain no code which I find sad.

Here's some of my own work, a collaboration with photographer Clayton Cubitt, inspired to a certain extent by Maeda.  The swirling patterns are generated by my software, which Cubitt chose to suit his tastes and then used to compose shots with his models.  So the poses are a response to the software, and not the other way around as many people think.

Three books in my collection showing how to draw a tree.  One is called How to draw a tree by Bruno Munari, and details a procedural method for drawing trees by hand.  It's lovely.  The top right is from Danny Hillis' Pattern on the Stone, a book which gets to the heart of ideas which are bigger than all of us.  The bottom is from Turtles Termites and Traffic Jams again and shows the difference between branching serially and in parallel.

My own procedural tree environment, reacting to a moving light source to create swirling trunks (or Whipping Trees after the Dandy Warhols song of the same name).  The bottom right illustration is from Ash Dome, a sculpture by artist David Nash.  I saw a similar sketch in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition some time after my own work was finished... I found it both eerie and retrospectively inspiring to find that Nash started his piece in real life in Wales over 20 years ago.

Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai contains quotes and rules from ancient Japan.

Featured in Jim Jarmush's film Ghost Dog, the quotes are peppered throughout. Some are amusing “until the age of forty it is best to gather strength. It is appropriate to have settled down by the age of fifty”.

Also has recommendations about what underwear to take to battle. Badger fur is best apparently, to minimise lice…

From the film Ghost Dog. I love the relationship between the main character and his best friend: Ghost Dog is a samurai hip-hop assassin, working for the mob and receiving his instructions via passenger pigeon. Raymond is a Frech-speaking Haitian ice-cream seller.

Though they share no common language, they bond through shared circumstance and a fascination with cool stuff. “Man I saw this really cool thing… I don’t know why but I thought of you”.

I imagine a samurai hip-hop pigeon-fancying assassin’s email inbox is a bit like a programmer's: when your friends don’t know what your job is, they send you all kinds of weird stuff.

I end with the title of the talk, also from Hagakure… “one should not think that these are two separate things”.

One should not think that these are 20 separate slides.