Isn’t it strange?

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, once said, “God is dead,” and he was not excited. He didn’t mean literally, of course. He had no divine insight. It was merely a cultural observation. Our world no longer accepted/accepts the wholesale conception of god as an infallible authority. In Nietzsche’s mind he saw the world without god as a very, very scary place. He continued his statement on god by saying, “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

On Tuesday we discussed the nature of our reality. The lines between virtual and reality blurred (perhaps even disappeared).

Why do the Kimon’s of Immigrant keep humans around? Perhaps they are lonely, but perhaps they are studying our humanity to learn about themselves. They made themselves gods to appear worthy of life.

In our creation of virtual realities we are making ourselves gods. Perhaps we must in order to save ourselves.

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don’t panic

In general, the user need not be aware of how data are encoded and structured inside the application. Indeed, the very purpose of a good application is to shield the user from the ugly technical details. While it is conceivable that a technically astute person who is willing to invest the time and effort could decipher the internal structure of things, this would be an unusual thing to do as there is rarely much advantage to be gained oh really?. The purpose of the application itself is, after all, to make access to and manipulation of the data easier than digging around at the level of bits and bytes who would waste their time with that?.

I find it very strange that  Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar forgot about the scientist in their Habitat.

By tinkering around with the insides of such a program … it may be possible to “cheat”. However, this sort of cheating has the flavor of cheating at solitaire: the consequences adhere to the cheater alone. There is a difference, in that disassembling a game program the world is a puzzle solving exercise in its own right, whereas cheating at solitaire is pointless, but the satisfactions to be gained from either, if any, are entirely personal.

If, however a computer game the world involves multiple players people, then delving into the program’s the world internals can enable one to truly cheat, in the sense that one gains an unfair advantage of the other players people, an advantage moreover of which they may be unaware. Habitat life is such a multiplayer game.

Beware the hackers scientists

When we were designing the software, our “prime directive” was, “The backend shall not assume the validity of anything a player computer tells it.” This is because we needed to protect ourselves against the possibility that a clever user scientist had hacked around with his copy of the frontend program the world to add “custom features” inventions.

Would anyone go to the trouble of disassembling and studying 110k or so of incredibly tight and bizarrely threaded 6502 machine code physics, chemistry, and biology just to tinker? As it turns out, the answer is yes. People did. We were not 100 percent rigorous in following our own rule.

Pesky humans…

It turned out that there were a few features whose implementation was greatly eased by breaking the rules in situations where , in our judgment, the consequences would not be material if some people “cheated” by hacking their own systems. Darned if some people didn’t hack their systems to cheat in exactly these ways.

The problems in creating a new world are immense. It has to be shatter-proof or the users will find a way to break it. Humans have the distinct ability to hack the world in very complicated ways to manipulate it for their own benefit. Of course not all of the hacking in game space is catastrophic, but sometimes it is. Our species obviously has not crashed our system yet, but we might. Something we see as a feature might be a bug that could bring everything tumbling down. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should stop studying the chemistry, physics, and biology lines of code in our world game because it might mean game over. Understanding of the world we live in has always been the motivation for continued investigation in all fields ranging from science, to religion, and philosophy.

Humans, as a species, have recently dedicated immense resources to unraveling this game we call life. The quest for total deconstruction has, arguably, become the main focus of modern life. If we generate an artificial digital ecosystem that can evolve and generate self aware entities would it be like us or would it be us? There is something very Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy  and Inceptioney to the question.

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Welcome to the Uncanny Valley

Time for some mood music.


So, there is this thing called the uncanny valley. It is the eerie phenomenon that occurs when robots become very close to their human counterparts (but are not indistinguishable). Wired   magazine is where I first heard about it via this diagram:

Things that are actually human and clearly not human are fine. It is where they may look, smell, taste, sound, or feel (almost) that our senses start tingling. 

Of course the uncanny extends beyond our engineered company. As we mentioned in passing, Freud (my least favorite psychologist for a variety of reasons) wrote an essay entitled “The Uncanny” which does an excellent job of describing what the uncanny actually is. He defined it as, ” That class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”

Wikipedia has this to say:

Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize.

I attempted to embody the uncanny in my art museum in a suburban neighborhood. It is very clearly [not] a house. It is familiar, every child has drawn it, but at the same time it is completely unknown and foreign.

Volumetric Model

It is like a childhood memory of a house long forgotten.

This is Repliee Q2

File:Repliee Q2.jpg

it is an actroid which looks very much like a human. It falls deep in the pit of the uncanny valley and is too real to be understood as a robot and not real enough to be human.

On the other hand there are characters like this which are clearly not human, yet manage to exhibit an extraordinarily precise emotion. This little robot-man is quite sad and relatable.

I, personally, like things that are uncanny but that is probably just a weird fetish (hence why I designed the most tastefully creepy art museum I could). Perhaps we are slowly desensitizing ourselves to the fear typically developed under uncanny circumstances because everything is so uncanny that we would just live in fear otherwise. If someone visited the future from 100 years ago they would probably just become comatose, not due to shock, but due to fear.

Photo Mar 28, 1 38 35 AM

We have talked about manipulating time frames with comics, augmented reality, and life streaming. People the world round can discover all sorts of things about me through google, facebook, twitter, and this very blog. I am feeding my thoughts and data freely to the world. When people I don’t know very well wish me a happy birthday because it is on facebook (I’m not going to lie) I get a bit creeped out. I even had somebody who I didn’t know wish me a happy birthday in person once. 

We are steadily marching towards an uncanny future. Our memex devices know where we are, what we like, when we need to do things and be places. This is very disconcerting for some people (like the old ones and the anarchists) who are very frightened of things that get too close to their thoughts and mess with their perception of the world.

It Knows!



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concerning emergence

This weekend Radiolab rebroadcast their episode on emergence.

play this while you continue through the post

emergent, adj. and n.

Rising out of a surrounding medium, e.g. water.

That is in process of issuing forth.

Science. That emerges unpredictably as the result of an evolutionary process, spec. in emergent evolution.

Casually or unexpectedly arising; not specially provided for. arch.

Science. An effect produced by a combination of several causes, but not capable of being regarded as the sum of their individual effects. Opposed to resultant.


condominium, n.

Joint rule or sovereignty.

N. Amer. An apartment house in which the units are owned individually, not by a company or co-operative; an apartment in such a building.

holism, n.

A term coined by Gen. J. C. Smuts (1870–1950) to designate the tendency in nature to produce wholes (i.e. bodies or organisms) from the ordered grouping of unit structures.

cosmos, n.

The world or universe as an ordered and harmonious system.

An ordered and harmonious system (of ideas, existences, etc.), e.g. that which constitutes the sum-total of ‘experience’.

Order, harmony: the opposite of chaos.

The whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

Regarded individually ants have very little intelligence, if any at all, but together they are able to achieve incredible things without any central authority.

  In the same way, our neurons are incredibly stupid when examined individually. Taken collectively they are able to produce complex thought through a complex layering of algorithms.

The internet is a meta-network which consists of nodes of human-augmented computing points. These nodes are grouped into websites (ideas/thoughts/condominiums/data space) which link to one-another. The Internet Map illustrates this quite well.

Is the internet already thinking? Is a neuron aware that it is part of a thought? Does it care? Should we care? Can we know?

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my recently acquired love of cartoons

This all began last year in a class called What Makes a Classic taught by the wonderful Dr. Britt. We were working through a list of works that were “classic” or were about what makes something a “classic”. I was particularly concerned with the establishment of new works as classics. Time is always the ultimate judge, but I attempted to discern the rules that time used to judge classics (This was my final essay for the class if you are interested Classics and Standards Essay Short Form).

At the end of the class we moved into new media works, specifically the discussion of the comic book or graphic novel as a serious form of literature and how it can be worthy of preservation. Thus entered Chris Ware into my life, forever shifting my understanding of symbolic communication. He is the author of the, “Literary picturebook,” The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth. This is the outside of the book (I hesitate to even call it the back).

Photo Mar 19, 9 21 59 PM
click it, it will get bigger so you can read it

It is a particularly sad and lonely book in more ways than one. I highly recommend it. You can buy it here.

I did not grow up reading comics and did not understand the cult-like following they had established in our culture. I did see many of the superhero movies (but they really don’t have the same effect of a comic).

In a typical novel all of the text looks pretty much the same.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi. Nam liber tempor cum soluta nobis eleifend option congue nihil imperdiet doming id quod mazim placerat facer possim assum. Typi non habent claritatem insitam; est usus legentis in iis qui facit eorum claritatem. Investigationes demonstraverunt lectores legere me lius quod ii legunt saepius. Claritas est etiam processus dynamicus, qui sequitur mutationem consuetudium lectorum. Mirum est notare quam littera gothica, quam nunc putamus parum claram, anteposuerit litterarum formas humanitatis per seacula quarta decima et quinta decima. Eodem modo typi, qui nunc nobis videntur parum clari, fiant sollemnes in futurum.

You might glance down and read a word, maybe even grab a whole sentence, but it doesn’t really build anticipation. All the anticipation is built into the story itself, which is all fine and dandy, but what if you can build a story with words (like a normal novel) and with images.

There is a clearly a lot more potential in ways to build/read/experience a story.

In most American comics the panels read left to right because we are culturally conditioned to do so, but we are not strictly limited to this arbitrary limitation.

Photo Mar 19, 10 23 39 PM


The book does not even retain a typical story structure. There are no page numbers. There is no strict order. You are free to roam the story, connecting the symbols, interpreting and reinterpreting the text as new discoveries are made. You may even discover connections that were unintended (as literature teachers the world over are wont to do). Though this book is probably the most complex in terms of symbolic integration, there is another comic that I found, oddly enough, on a list of The Classics curated by the staff at The Verge.

It is called Transmetropolitan written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson.

Photo Feb 26, 9 01 04 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 35 21 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 36 09 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 36 59 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 38 48 PMThese are a few selections of pages from the comic. It definitely is not for children and asks some pretty interesting questions covering questions appropriate for a rogue, talented journalist (Jerusalem Spider // the guy in the top hat). The story is set in the not so distant future and confronts what happens when we unfreeze the cryogenically frozen people from the past or upload ourselves onto the web or merge ourselves physically with our digital technology. Science fiction is not all about laser swords and space whores.

We can look at the past and the future in the format of comics. We can move rapidly between these time frames. Chris ware says we will still be lonely humans, ultimately isolated no matter how we connect. Transmetropolitan says that we will wish we were isolated from all those solitary, nasty, brutish, and poor folks who roam our ball of dirt. Scott McCloud (who I found out stole the idea I had today for stories that move in all directions and managed to develop it, at least conceptually, after going back in time a few years…) presents in Time Frames a comic world in which there are multiple futures (could there be multiple pasts…?) and recursive stories or time loops which we are unable to perceive unless we become unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim.

Photo Mar 19, 11 11 20 PM

Or we could read a comic book.


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the end of the upgrade//beginning of growth

I have a love/hate relationship with upgrading. I love the new things it enables me to do/experience but I hate the actual process of doing it. Upgrading computers is expensive and largely a hassle. When I get a new phone it makes me download all of my apps again, sign in again, etc. All of the things are out of date so quickly it sometimes seems worth it at all. It is a question of sustainability on multiple levels. Ecological and financial sustainability are the two major areas of concern, but I think psychological/neurological concerns are also valid. The unceasing newness is enough to drive people mad.

Our technology does not grow, yet. It is introduced to us in installments. In theory our computers were conceived of as evolutionary devices which were able to be upgraded piece by piece as new and better things came along. You can upgrade the RAM or hard drive in your laptop or other components in a desktop computer but that requires intervention that is not always possible.

There are many emerging technologies that are beginning to address this question of synthetic growth. Self healing materials and self assembly are going to start showing up in a phone (very) near you. The programs that run on your device may start to grow too through the use of self-modifying code which will be unique to the user. It could also extend the lifetime of our devices if we have self repairing batteries and screens (or just do away with screens as we know them altogether as Google Glass would like to see happen)

Of course there will always be new generations of technology. Just as all the the other plants and animals of our planet are born, they also die. In the meantime though, they grow and learn and change along with their user to enhance and augment their life in a hyper-individualized way.

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Validation of the time I spend (waste) on reddit

What does it mean to know your meme?

The first criterion is that characters be “good”. Using the Aristotelian definition of “virtue”, good characters are those who successfully fulfill their function – that is, those who successfully formulate thought into action.



The second criterion is that characters be “appropriate” to the actions they perform; that is, that there is a good match between a character’s traits and what they do.

Sorry for all the scrolling…

The third criterion is the idea that characters be “like” reality in the sense that there are causal connections between their thoughts traits and actions.

The fourth criterion is that characters be “consistent ” throughout the whole action; that is, that a character’s traits should not change arbitrarily. The mapping of these criteria to computer-based agents is quite straightforward.

all quotes sourced from Laurel, The Six Elements and the Causal Relations Among Them


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good // bad // lulz

What do Anonymous and hip-hop culture have in common?

The (in)famous hacktivist group Anonymous was born on 4chan and has claimed Guy Fawkes as its figurehead. It is a global collective which has no mission, no allegiance, and holds no punches. The whole idea is that they use the anonymity facilitated by the internet to engage in lulz-worthy activities as well as coordinated hacking efforts (typically with the goal of protecting internet freedom or exposing protected information). They communicate via twitter, youtube, and other social media avenues in order to plan their actions.

Hip-hop culture centers around rapping, DJing, graffiti and breaking (break dancing). Rap can simply a be a chronicle of life spoken over a beat, a simple but powerful dissemination of truth about the life of a disenfranchised population or a crazy song, just for lulz (see:Riff Raff). Graffiti art is very similar. It can be an individualized act of defiance and protest or just some great art, but always shrouded in anonymity due to its illegal nature. Banksy is a fantastic street artist based out of London.

(everyone should watch his movie Exit Through the Gift Shop)

He goes by a pseudonym as almost all street artists and rappers do. It is part of the culture. It serves multiple roles. It can protect their identity or enable acting out a character (Eminem has multiple identities with various personalities). The musicians distribute through youtube, bypassing major record labels. Macklemore is one of the most successful independent artists to date mostly due to his hipster anthem Thrift Shop (now it is too mainstream…no pleasing those hipsters…).

What ties these two? I imagine you have already drawn some parallels related to subversive behavior and distribution methods (social media) but the most important element is that what they say is not nearly as important as how they say it. The medium they use to share and collaborate speaks louder than the actual message. Anonymous and rappers on youtube are saying something about the power of the internet simply by using it to become famous. The same thing goes for graffiti, the power is in creating the mark, not what the mark says or looks like. They are all saying, “Hey, look what we can do. We are doing it and there is no stopping us,” whether for good, bad, or lulz, it makes no difference.

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there are many like it, but this one is mine


It occurred to me today that Mary Poppins bag is the ultimate metaphor for our personal computers, containing within them everything we may need. I finally was able to put this gif together after a prolonged struggle with youtube downloading policies… It turns out that all of the cool plugins that used to allow you to download youtube videos have been prohibited from doing so. Thus, I had to resort to converting the whole thing to a gif and then doing some post production in photoshop.

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