WorldCat Identities: Publication Timelines

Publication Timeline Image

WorldCat Identities is a experimental project by the OCLC that connects to their WorldCat catalogue of libary holdings. Identities presents you with a cloud of authors (identities):

Word Cloud Image

If you click on an author you get publication information about the author, including a publication timeline like the one for Marx above. You can also connect to WorldCat and find a copy of the book near you by giving a postal code, for example.

Texto Digital: a-writings

Image of Text Animation

Humanist posted an announcement for a new issue of the Brazilian journal Text Digital that includes some interesting animated experiments (like the image above) including a series a-writing by Gerard Dalmon. The address “To the reader” starts with,

To weave, write and inscribe thoughts on the digital medium is the purpose of this journal that reaches its fifth number with a somewhat different content. It is the first time we publish an issue with more creative than theoretic interventions.

Fluxus Portal

Diagram of Fluxus

I was down in Chicago for the MLA convention and visited the Art Institute of Chicago. Besides the spectacular collection, they had a small display of materials related to Fluxus – a conceptual art group of the 1960s that is still going (depending on who you believe.) Fluxus was influenced by John Cage and included artists like Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Pack. Fluxus believed in “intermedia” – the confrontation of media. The Wikipedia entry summarizes their philosophy:

  1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
  2. Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found & everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
  3. Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  4. Fluxus is fun. Humour has always been an important element in Fluxus.

I picked up a strange book by a Fluxus poet, Emmet Williams, A Flexible History of Fluxus Facts & Fictions that contains digitally remastered kunstfibels or art inventions. It is a inventive history of Fluxus that is itself annotated art, but also, as Williams explains, a primer (another sense of “fibel”.) For a contemporary sense of Fluxus see the  Fluxus Portal from which the diagram above comes. Diagramming their history and influences is one feature of the exhibit that attracted me. Fluxus founder Macunias was diagramming the flow of their history back in 1966. See Visualising Art History.

Ian Hacking: analogue bodies and digital minds

The Cartesian vision fulfilled: analogue bodies and digital minds is an essay in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (2005, v. 30, n. 2) by Ian Hacking that first argues that despite the dislike for the Cartesian mind-body split in philosophy there is a degree to which Western culture is acting as if the body was analogue and the mind digital. Our metaphors, our representations, our sciences are Cartesian. Medicine treats the body as a messy mechanism, cognitive science treats the mind like a computer. Here is the abstract:

Current intellectual wisdom, abetted by philosophers of all stripes, teaches that the Cartesian philosophy is both wrong and dead. This wisdom will be overtaken by events. Present and future technologies – ranging from organ transplants to information coding – will increasingly make us revert to Descartes’s picture of two absolutely distinct types of domains, the mental and the physical, which nevertheless constantly interact. We as humans are constituted in both domains, and also must inhabit them. This is less a matter of facts – for what a person is, is never simply a matter of fact – than of how we will come to conceive of ourselves in the light of the facts that will press in upon us.

What is impressive and distracting about the essay (and what makes it accessible) is that he takes us on a tour of contemporary media culture from Japanese entertainment robots, manga, to Stelarc. It is only at the end that he makes his second move, which is to declare, without giving us a similar tour, that the representation of the mind as digital is “dated”.

Minds, on the other hand, we represent as information processors. And in this age we represent the processing of information by sequences of binary digital operations. Here I am less confident of the metaphor, which I find a bit dated. (p. 164)

He concludes by talking about Antonio Damasio’s theory which is that, “A human being is a neurologically nested triad of mind, brain and body.” (p. 165) The science that is showing the importance of the body to emotion and emotion to mind “leaves the digital mind in the dust.” (p. 165) Hardly. I find it hard to believe that science will give up on trying to formally model the mind as a method for testing hypotheses and understanding.

The Stanford Facebook Class

Matt pointed me to a Stanford class on Facebook web site: Home The Stanford Facebook Class: Persuasive Apps & Metrics. Here is a quote from the home page explaining the interest of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab in Facebook,

In 2007 the most effective persuasive technology has been Facebook. People in our lab have researched persuasive technology since 1993, and we’ve found the fastest path to insight is studying what’s working best in the real world. Today’s Facebook experience has so many elements of persuasion, so we’ve decided to dive in deep. Our goal is to understand the psychology of Facebook. This page gives an initial overview of our project.

As a course it is impressive (see especially the speakers they lined up), but I found the press more interesting as they analyzed the phenomenon. Tim Oren in his blog entry, Facebook Apps: Playing the Viral Lottery writes the following,

 You’re better off thinking of a Facebook app as a virtual form of social stroke, a sort of networked take on what we called New Games once upon a time. “Here, have a hug, pass it on.” Indeed, among the most successful of the Stanford apps were hugs, kisses, send Love, and a pillow fight. There were more complex games and multi-user projects, but those were the teams that found they needed to simplify and/or restart with a new application to attract an audience. The summary learnings of the class were simple and to the point: Start simple, go viral, then deepen the engagement – before attempting to monetize. Watch your metrics and learn fast – teams were iterating versions on 12 to 48 hour schedules.

This doesn’t bode well for analytical widgets that are complex, but it is great to see there is still room for the small student team to do something that gets traction.

Doris Lessing’s acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize for Literature

My friend Laurence pointed me to Doris Lessing’s acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize for Literature in which she compares the hunger for books in Africa to the excess we have.

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution.

I want to give all sorts of glib answers to Lessing. I could say that those who spend hours on the web are reading too. I want to say that the nostalgia for books reminds me of the nostalgia for an oral life before books one finds in Plato’s Phaedrus. But these quibbles miss the point. There is a hunger for books in many places and a waste of books in our places. Or, the point is a question to us all,

“Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.”

The web is not that space. It is a chattering noisy public space with endless distractions, not unlike our libraries stuffed with the excess we cannot grasp. The space of writing may be near the webrary, but not too close. Those who are far from webraries – those who hunger for just part of a book with a glass of water shame us.

That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is – we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities?

I think it is that girl and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us.

Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians

Nick Carr, in his blog Rough Type, has a post, Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians, where he sets out to calculate the amount of electricity consumed by a Second Life avatar, which ends up being the amount consumed by the average Brazilian. The comments are fascinating as people debate his math and Second Life folk corrent the calculations about servers (vs. CPUs) used. The point still stands that the average internet user is consuming a lot of electricity – not only does her PC consume, but the servers she connects to (Second Life, Google …) are consuming electricity. Is this ecologically sustainable? Is the use of energy when computing hidden from us because we don’t have exhaust coming out of our PCs (the green-house gases come out of the coal-fired electricity plants far from us)?

Instacalc Online Calculator

Screen Shot of Instacalc

Instacalc Online Calculator is a neat online sharable application by Kalid Azad of (which has some nice explanations of things like Ruby on Rails). It gives you electric math paper, not cells the way a spreadsheet does. It evaluates in real time and handles all sorts of everyday things you need to calculate like currency conversion. You can share a calculation like the budget for a workshop by sending a link so others can create variant versions. While I’m not sure how I would use it, I like the simplicity of it. What would a text analysis enabled version look like? Here is a tinyURL sample link to a Instacalc sheet with what text handling I could find. Here is the embedded object. Go ahead and edit in it live!