Tag Archives: machine

Review: ‘For Claude Shannon’ Visualizes the Links Between Text and Movement – The New York Times

Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard’s dance, part of the Kitchen’s “From Minimalism Into Algorithm” series, looks like the output of a computer program .

Source: Review: ‘For Claude Shannon’ Visualizes the Links Between Text and Movement – The New York Times

When you walk into the Kitchen to watch “For Claude Shannon,” the work’s four dancers are already onstage, warming up. In addition to the usual limbering, though, they appear to be thinking especially hard, going over something in their heads. According to the program note, that’s exactly what they’re doing: preparing to perform a long and complicated dance they’ve only just learned.

“For Claude Shannon” is named after the mathematical engineer who connected symbolic logic with electronic circuits. Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard have devised a lexicon of 24 movements for arms and legs. Before each performance, a sequence (“one of nearly 30 billion possible sequences”) is generated using the syntactic structure of a sentence by Shannon. The performers, who include Ms. Santoro, have two hours to learn it.

The dance, which had its premiere on Thursday as part of the Kitchen’s “From Minimalism Into Algorithm” series, looks like the output of a fairly simple computer program. In a mechanically even rhythm, arms are raised and lowered semaphorically, feet are extended and retracted, but elbows and knees are rarely bent. Because of the reliance on a small, set vocabulary, the dancers’ orientation — which direction each is facing, in relation to the others — assumes greater importance. The work is not about the steps. The dancers go in and out of unison, revealing a logic. Sometimes they stop, but the sequence continues.

At first, all this occurs in silence. But Greg Beller’s electronic score introduces an airplane hum and static and then random clicks that resolve into a metronomic beat; the beat slowly accelerates, acquires rumbling bass and eventually compounds into a polyrhythmic dance track.

The dance follows a similar process as the performers lock in to the beat and the acceleration imparts some drama and suspense: Will the machine go too fast? Yet, although the dance loosens, it doesn’t break out nearly as far as the music: a few kicks, hops, arabesques. Where the dancers resembled automatons before, now they admit inklings of human individuality. The hips of Marco D’Agostin sway as if he can’t hold them back any longer. The dancers’ faces show strain, a mental effort one might (wrongly) fail to associate with dance. On Ms. Santoro’s face, there’s occasionally a hint of a smile, as if this exercise, which holds a viewer’s attention, gives her pleasure.

King of click: the story of the greatest keyboard ever made | The Verge

King of click: the story of the greatest keyboard ever made | The Verge.

Clicky Keyboards

The first thing you notice about the IBM Model M keyboard, when you finally get your hands on it, is its size. After years of tapping chiclet keys and glass screens on two- and three-pound devices, hefting five pounds of plastic and metal (including a thick steel plate) is slightly intimidating. The second thing is the sound – the solid click that’s turned a standard-issue beige peripheral into one of the computer world’s most prized and useful antiques.

Next year, the Model M turns 30. But to many people, it’s still the only keyboard worth using.

[…]

Looking at a Model M for the first time in years, what was most remarkable about the keyboard was just how unremarkable it looks. The Model M might be a relic of the past, but its DNA remains in almost every keyboard we use today.

[…]

The QWERTY keyboard layout was designed for typewriters in the late 19th century and quickly became universal. But by the time IBM released its first PC in 1981, layout was no longer a simple matter of spaces and capital letters — users now needed special keys to communicate with word processors, terminals, and “microcomputers.” In hindsight, keyboards from the ’70s and ’80s range from familiar to counterintuitive to utterly foreign: in the IBM PC’s original 83-key keyboard — known as the PC / XT — the all-important Shift and Return keys were undersized and pushed to the side, their labels replaced by enigmatic arrows. The entire thing looks like a mess of tiny buttons and inexplicable gaps. In August of 1984, IBM announced the far more palatable PC / AT keyboard. Compared to the previous model, “the AT keyboard is unassailable,” said PC Magazine. The AT couldn’t pass for a present-day keyboard: the function keys are arranged in two rows on the far left instead of along the top, Escape is nestled in the numeric keypad, and Ctrl and Caps Lock have been switched. Even so, it’s cleaner and far more comprehensible than its predecessor to modern eyes.

But IBM wanted something more than merely acceptable. In the early ’80s the company had assembled a 10-person task force to build a better keyboard, informed by experts and users. The design for the previous iteration was done “quickly, expeditiously — not the product of a lot of focus group activity,” says David Bradley, a member of the task force who also happens to be the creator of the now-universal Ctrl+Alt+Delete function. The new group brought in novice computer users to test a friendlier keyboard, making important controls bigger and duplicating commonly used keys like Ctrl and Alt so they could be reached by either hand. Many of the keys were detachable from their bases, letting users swap them around as needed. And the Model M was born.

Introduced in 1985 as part of the IBM 3161 terminal, the Model M was initially called the “IBM Enhanced Keyboard.” A PC-compatible version appeared the following spring, and it officially became standard with the IBM Personal System / 2 in 1987.

[…]

That layout of the Model M has been around so long that today it’s simply taken for granted. But the keyboard’s descendents have jettisoned one of the Model M’s most iconic features — “buckling springs,” a key system introduced in the PC / XT. Unlike mechanical switches that are depressed straight down like plungers, the Model M has springs under each key that contract, snap flat, or “buckle,” and then spring back into place when released. They demand attention in a way that the soft, silent rubber domes in most modern keyboards don’t. This isn’t always a good thing; Model M owners sometimes ruefully post stories of spouses and coworkers who can’t stand the incessant chatter. But fans say the springs’ resistance and their audible “click” make it clear when a keypress is registered, reducing errors. Maybe more importantly, typing on the Model M is a special, tangible experience. Much like on a typewriter, the sharp click gives every letter a physical presence.

[…]

“This is like oil. One day oil will run out. It’ll be a big crash,” says Ermita. For now, though, that crash seems far away. The oldest Model Ms have already lasted 30 years, and Ermita hopes they’ll make it for another 10 or 20 — long enough for at least one more generation to use a piece of computing history.

The Model M is an artifact from a time when high-end computing was still the province of industry, not pleasure. The computer that standardized it, the PS / 2, sold for a minimum of $2,295 (or nearly $5,000 today) and was far less powerful and versatile than any modern smartphone. In the decades since, computers have become exponentially more capable, and drastically cheaper. But in that shift, manufacturers have abandoned the concept of durability and longevity: in an environment where countless third-party companies are ready to sell customers specialty mice and keyboards at bargain basement prices, it’s hard to justify investing more than the bare minimum.

That disposability has made us keenly aware of what we’ve lost, and inspired a passion for hardware that can, well, take a licking and keep on clicking. As one Reddit user recently commented, “Those bastards are the ORIGINAL gaming keyboards. No matter how much you abuse it, you’ll die before it does.”

1981 IBM PC/XT

1984 IBM PC/AT

1985 IBM Model M

2014 Unicomp Ultra Classic

Tesla’s “insane” Model S car could eradicate taxis

Tesla’s “insane” Model S car could eradicate taxis.

tesla-model-s-autopilot-design-dezeen_7

Tesla’s newly launched Model SD electric car could be “summoned” by owners to pick them up autonomously using the car company’s new Autopilot function, potentially eliminating the need for taxi services.

By integrating a number of safety technologies, Tesla‘s Autopilot system could eventually enable its electric cars to drive and collect passengers without anyone at the wheel, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Drivers could command their cars to pick them up using their phones, or by pre-programming a calendar.

“You’ll be able to summon the car and it will come to wherever you are,” explained Musk. “It can even go a step beyond that… if you have your calendar turned on, it’ll meet you there”.

[…]

Under existing regulations, drivers will be able to use the Autopilot mode on private land for a number of functions including self-parking.

“When you get home, you’ll actually be able to just step out of the car and have it park itself in your garage,” said Musk.

The car will be able to steer itself to stay within a lane and change lanes as well as manage its own speed by “reading” road signs. According to Tesla, it will take “several months” for all Autopilot features to be completed and uploaded to the cars.

“Tesla’s Autopilot is a way to relieve drivers of the most boring and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel – but the driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car,” explained a statement released by Tesla.

The vehicle’s safety features, which have enabled its Autopilot functionality, include a forward-looking radar system that can detect potential collision risks even in poor weather conditions.

[…]

A camera located at the front has been programmed to distinguish road features such as traffic lights and safety barriers, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

Twelve sensors have also been positioned around the vehicle to form a “safety cocoon”, which detects hazards in blind spots.

The system can activate a digitally controlled electric braking system and give tactile feedback through the steering wheel, alerting the driver to perceived risks.

In addition to enhanced safety features and Autopilot, the Model SD has managed to match the acceleration performance of the iconic McLaren F1 sports car, reaching 60 miles per hour from a standstill in just 3.2 seconds.

The power is generated from two electric motors, which are located on the front and rear axels respectively. Each motor is digitally and independently controlling torque to the front and rear wheels, making minor adjustments to effectively translate its power to the road without loss of traction and wheel-spinning.

“We’re going to have an option in the settings whereby you’ll actually be able to choose from three settings,” explained Musk. “Normal, sport and insane.”

DEZEEN-Tesla_Wales_May2014_152-SMALL

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class.

The world’s best airline experience, from Singapore to New York.

In 2008, Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class, the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.

The Suites were exclusive to their flagship Airbus A380, and they go beyond flat beds by offering enclosed private cabins with sliding doors that cocoon you in your own little lap of luxury. The interior was designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste and comes along with a plush soft leather armchair hand-stitched by the Italian master craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Perhaps most well-known of all, Singapore Airlines became the first and only commercial airline with a double bed in the sky.

However, the experience came with a hefty price tag. With round-trip tickets costing up to S$23,000 (or US$18,400), it was completely unattainable for most people.

Formerly, the only way for an average person to fly in the Suites was to take out a bank loan. And then I remembered that most of my personal net worth exists in frequent flier miles rather than cash.

So in September 2014, after splurging an colossal amount of miles…

I was booked on Suites Class to New York!


This is my trip in photos.

I arrived at Singapore Changi Airport and proceeded to the Singapore Airlines counters for check-in.

As I joined the line for check-in, I was promptly greeted by a staff.

“Good evening sir, how may I help you?”

A sudden realization hit me and I went “OH NOPE SORRY” and briskly walked away, leaving the lady astonished.

I had almost forgotten that Changi had a luxurious check-in lounge specially for First Class and Suites passengers.

It looks like a hotel lobby, and there’s even a bellhop who carries your luggage.

Soon, I was in possession of The Golden Ticket.

Flying in the Suites also includes an invitation to The Private Room, which the staff was proud to say that it was “higher than first class”.

I arrived at the lounge and was approached by an attendant. “May I escort you to The Private Room?” she asked.

I followed her past what seemed to be 50-60 people in the Business Class lounge. She walked noticeably fast, seemingly afraid that I would be disgusted by the presence of the working class. Here I was transferred to another attendant who walked me through the First Class lounge, and then through a set of automatic sliding double doors before being transferred to yet another attendant.

Finally, after 10 miles of secret passageways and being escorted by 3000 people, I arrived at The Private Room.

Entering the confines of The Private Room, the staff greeted me by name. It’s like they all already knew me before even meeting me.

I wasn’t hungry but I’ve heard rave reviews about the dining room. So I sat down and ordered a glass of champagne and had the Chicken and Mutton Satay plate.

…and the Baked Boston Lobster with Gruyere, Emmenthal and Cheddar.

…and also the U.S. Prime Beef Burger with Foie Gras, Rocket Leaf and Fried Quail Egg. Oh, and a Mango Smoothie too.

Completely stuffed at this point, I realized it was time for boarding.

There was a dedicated jet bridge solely for Suites passengers. Standing at the end of the bridge was a flight attendant ready to greet me.

“Good evening Mr Low!”

I realized that they would address me by whatever title I chose in my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer profile. I instantly regretted not going with President Low or Princess Derek.

I was escorted to my Suite.

I picked the middle suite, which can be merged with the adjacent suite to form a double bed.

“Would you like a glass of Dom Pérignon, sir?” And I replied the only acceptable response to such a question: Yes.

“Sir, would you like a copy of every newspaper we have onboard today?”

At this point, the crew members came out to personally introduce themselves to me. Among them was Zaf, who was the Chief Steward of the flight.

As it turns out, he’s also the guy in the airline’s safety video.

Zaf told me that there were only 3 passengers in the 12 Suites, and joked that I could have a bedroom, dining room and living room if I wanted.

And so I picked my dining room.

Dom Pérignon and Iced Milo in hand, it was time to take off.

I took this time to check out what was provided onboard the flight. Headphones from Bose, for example.

Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, which included a full-sized bottle of cologne.

Everything else was Givenchy: blankets, pillows, slippers and pajamas.

As soon as the plane reached cruising altitude, I was offered another drink.

Seeing that it was almost 1 AM and I was just beginning to indulge in the whole suite experience, I decided to order coffee to stay up.

I don’t know much about coffee, but I do know the Jamaican Blue Mountain costs a ton. A pound of the Blue Mountain beans sells for $120 at Philz Coffee.

So I ordered the Blue Mountain, and was complimented by Zaf. “You have very good taste in coffee, sir.”

Zaf returns with the coffee and tells me about their selection of gourmet coffee, and how the Blue Mountain was “by far the most outstanding”.

I unglamorously gulped down the entire cup at once, while pretending to appreciate the finely-balanced traits of the Blue Mountain.

I asked him to recommend me a tea, and he quickly brought out a cup of TWG’s Paris-Singapore tea.

And then he knelt down next to me as I sampled the tea. He told me about the high quality tea leaves. He told me about the hand-sewn cotton teabags. He told me about the fragant cherry blossoms and red fruits infused into the tea. Somewhere in between, he might have mentioned about the history of coffee trade and the East India Company, but I can’t be sure.

He says that he has been with the airline for 19 years. Within the past 2 or 3 years, he has served Leonardo DiCaprio and Morgan Freeman flying in Suites Class.

I figured since Zaf was so available to recommend me coffee and tea, I asked him, “can you recommend me a movie?”

He picked The Grand Budapest Hotel, a fantastic movie which I thoroughly enjoyed. Off his head, he could name me the actors and talk about how brilliant their performances were in the movie.

“That’s incredible!” I exclaimed. “Are you like a savant of the cinema?”

“I just happened to be someone who likes movies,” he said, modestly.

“I will call you here every time I need a movie recommendation in the future!”

“Uh… okay!” he said, as brightly as he could.

As I settled in, supper service began.

Having stuffed myself with three entrées back in the lounge, I wasn’t particularly hungry so I settled for a 5-course supper.

For appetizer I had the Malossol Caviar with Lobster-Fennel Salad. And after clearing the plate in three bites, I asked for a second plate.

On to my third appetizer, I had the Duck Foie Gras with Shaved Fennel-Orange Salad, Beetroot and Mizuna.

I picked the Fish Noodle Soup for main course.

And Vanilla Bavarois with Raspberry Coulis for dessert.

After supper, I decided to burn off the calories by walking around the plane. I asked the crew if they could give me a guided tour of the A380 and they willingly obliged.

We walked up the front stairs to Business Class, down the length of the upper deck, and back down a spiral staircase to Economy Class. Zaf said he’d love to take me to see the pilots’ cockpit, but the airline has stopped allowing that in recent years due to security concerns.

When I got back to the Suites, the lights were already turned down indicating it was time to sleep.

In the Suites, you don’t just lie on a seat that has gone flat. Instead, you step aside while the Singapore Airlines flight attendants transform your Suite into a bedroom, with a plush mattress on top of a full-sized bed. When the adjacent suite is empty, the dividing partition can be brought down to create a double bed.

Zaf and a stewardess went about making the bed.

I don’t even know how to express this in words.

I probably need a poet to describe how amazing this was.

I jumped into bed squealing like a little girl.

I spent the next hour lounging in all possible positions.

Some people might say this seems to be the loneliest flight ever. And to that, I say this:

And while you’re doing stupid things like that in the Suite, you can use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ button for privacy.

Through the entire flight, the attendants check on you almost every 3 minutes without being intrusive or annoying. They would just briskly walk past you with quick glance.

I paid a visit to the restroom to change into the pajamas provided.

It’s a restroom, what were you expecting?

There’s a seat that folds down that’s actually more comfortable than most Economy Class seats.

And henceforth, I slept. Well, not on the toilet of course.

When I woke up, I saw the clock and my heart sank. A little over 3 hours to Frankfurt. I’d slept for 6 hours, or $6,000 worth of the flight.

So to cheer myself up, I asked for a chocolate and was handsomely rewarded with two.

We landed at Frankfurt for a two hour layover, and the three of us in Suites Class were escorted to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge which had a spa and hot shower.

Getting back on the plane, a new crew was onboard for the flight to New York.

It was 8 in the morning and I decided to begin the day with a Singapore Sling.

For breakfast, I used Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook service.

It allows you to pre-order a specific meal before the flight, which is then specially put onboard the flight for you.

I had the Lobster Thermidor with Buttered Asparagus, Slow-roasted Vine-ripened Tomato, and Saffron rice.

And dessert, which I can’t remember what it was.

When it was time to nap, I didn’t want to trouble the crew for a full double bed, so I opted for a single bed instead.

The partition between the two middle suites slides up to form a wall.

The single bed is plenty spacious on its own.

Waking up, I was immediately presented with the second meal I pre-ordered through Book the Cook.

U.S. Grilled Prime Beef Fillet designed by celebrity chef Alfred Portale.


As we finally landed at New York, a huge problem presented itself — I didn’t want to leave the plane.

I have to say, after being served Dom Pérignon in a double-suite bedroom at 36,000 feet, I’m not sure flying experiences get any better than this.

But eventually I got off the plane, because New York’s not too bad.


 

OMA to create contemporary art gallery for Galeries Lafayette in Paris

OMA to create contemporary art gallery for Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Galeries Lafayette Foundation by OMA

Galeries Lafayette Foundation by OMA

The Galeries Lafayette Foundation will take over all five storeys of an old industrial building in Le Marais – one of Paris’ oldest neighbourhoods – just east of the Centre Pompidou.

Rem Koolhaas’ firm plans to restore the U-shaped building back to its original condition and complement it with a new exhibition tower, which will occupy the existing courtyard.

The tower will feature two sets of motorised levels that can be split up to create a total of four mobile platforms. These will be able to move up and down to align with different floors, allowing exhibitions to extend beyond the gallery walls.

“The mobile floors offer a new curatorial dimension, complementing the traditional use of the preserved structure,” said OMA in a statement.

[…]

“The architectural concept was derived from the need for flexibility – a common requirement for cultural institutions – and from the restrictions applied to the site by the city heritage authorities,” said OMA.

[Criticism] | The Soft-Kill Solution, by Ando Arike | Harper’s Magazine

[Criticism] | The Soft-Kill Solution, by Ando Arike | Harper’s Magazine.

Not long ago, viewers of CBS’s 60 Minutes were treated to an intriguing bit of political theater when, in a story called “The Pentagon’s Ray Gun,” a crowd of what seemed to be angry protesters confronted a Humvee with a sinister-looking dish antenna on its roof. Waving placards that read world peace, love for all, peace not war, and, oddly, hug me, the crowd, in reality, was made up of U.S. soldiers playacting for the camera at a military base in Georgia. Shouting “Go home!” they threw what looked like tennis balls at uniformed comrades, “creating a scenario soldiers might encounter in Iraq,” explained correspondent David Martin: “angry protesters advancing on American troops, who have to choose between backing down or opening fire.” Fortunately — and this was the point of the story — there is now another option, demonstrated when the camera cut to the Humvee, where the “ray gun” operator was lining up the “protesters” in his crosshairs. Martin narrated: “He squeezes off a blast. The first shot hits them like an invisible punch. The protesters regroup, and he fires again, and again. Finally they’ve had enough. The ray gun drives them away with no harm done.” World peace would have to wait.

The story was in essence a twelve-minute Pentagon infomercial. What the “protesters” had come up against was the Active Denial System, a weapon, we were told, that “could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq.” Active denial works like a giant, open-air microwave oven, using a beam of electromagnetic radiation to heat the skin of its targets to 130 degrees and force anyone in its path to flee in pain — but without injury, officials insist, making it one of the few weapons in military history to be promoted as harmless to its targets. The Pentagon claims that 11,000 tests on humans have resulted in but two cases of seconddegree burns, a “safety” record that has put active denial at the forefront of an international arms-development effort involving an astonishing range of technologies: electrical weapons that shock and stun; laser weapons that cause dizziness or temporary blindness; acoustic weapons that deafen and nauseate; chemical weapons that irritate, incapacitate, or sedate; projectile weapons that knock down, bruise, and disable; and an assortment of nets, foams, and sprays that obstruct or immobilize. “Non-lethal” is the Pentagon’s approved term for these weapons, but their manufacturers also use the terms “soft kill,” “less-lethal,” “limited effects,” “low collateral damage,” and “compliance.” The weapons are intended primarily for use against unarmed or primitively armed civilians; they are designed to control crowds, clear buildings and streets, subdue and restrain individuals, and secure borders. The result is what appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population.1

That race began in the Sixties, when the rise of television introduced a new political dynamic to the exercise of state violence best encapsulated by the popular slogan “The whole world is watching.” As communications advances in the years since have increasingly exposed such violence, governments have realized that the public’s perception of injury and bloodshed must be carefully managed. “Even the lawful application of force can be misrepresented to or misunderstood by the public,” warns a 1997 joint report from the Pentagon and the Justice Department. “More than ever, the police and the military must be highly discreet when applying force.”

[…]

In this new era of triage, as democratic institutions and social safety nets are increasingly considered dispensable luxuries, the task of governance will be to lower the political and economic expectations of the masses without inciting full-fledged revolt. Non-lethal weapons promise to enhance what military theorists call “the political utility of force,” allowing dissent to be suppressed inconspicuously.

[…]

When the leveling power of mass communications has increased the ability of protesters to achieve concrete political gains, the Pentagon and federal law-enforcement agencies have responded by developing more media-friendly systems of control. Now, under cover of the “war on terror,” the deployment of these systems on the home front has dramatically escalated, an omen of a new phase in the ongoing class conflict.

[…]

The commission recognized that in riot control, the dilemma facing police was “too much force or too little.” Warning that excessive force “will incite the mob to further violence, as well as kindle seeds of resentment for police that, in turn, could cause a riot to recur,” the commission identified the problem as the lack of a “middle range of physical force.” It saw the solution in “nonlethal control equipment,” and called for an urgent program of research, noting some of the possibilities:

Distinctive marking dyes or odors and the filming of rioters have been recommended both to deter and positively identify persons guilty of illegal acts. Sticky tapes, adhesive blobs, and liquid foam are advocated to immobilize or block rioters. Intensely bright lights and loud distressing sounds capable of creating temporary disability may prove to be useful. Technology will provide still other options.

[…]

The ultimate goal, it seems, is to fight “Military Operations on Urban Terrain” (MOUT), using weapons with a rheostatic capability that, like Star Trek’s “phasers,” will allow military commanders to fine-tune the amount and type of force used in a given situation, and thereby to control opponents’ behavior with the scientific precision of a wellmanaged global production system.

The first significant use of these new weapons, appropriately, was against the fierce anti-globalization demonstrations that began at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999. The largest upsurge of the left since the Sixties, the anti-globalization movement mobilized thousands of separate groups in a campaign against the human and environmental costs of corporate imperialism. Protesters had a new technology of their own to exploit — the Internet, which provided an unprecedented means of organizing and sharing information. More than 40,000 protesters converged on Seattle that November with the widely announced intention of “shutting down the WTO” in order to highlight its predatory “free trade” policies. With mass civil disobedience coordinated by cell phones and laptops, teams trained in nonviolence formed human blockades at strategic locations, snarling traffic, trapping trade delegates in hotels, and barricading conference sites; many thousands more swarmed streets in a “Festival of Resistance,” paralyzing the city’s business district.

Police attacked demonstrators with nearly every non-lethal weapon available to civilian authorities: MK-46 pepper-spray “Riot Extinguishers,” CS and CN grenades, pepper-spray grenades, pepperball launchers, “stinger” rubber-ball grenades, flash-bang concussion grenades, and a variety of blunt-trauma projectiles. But the protesters held their positions, forcing WTO officials to cancel that day’s events

[…]

Galvanized by their victory, protesters targeted economic summits in rapid succession, swarming meetings of the World Economic Forum, the G8, and other gatherings in a dozen major cities. But without Seattle’s advantage of surprise, they faced increasingly elaborate MOUT tactics.

[…]

With the launch of the Global War on Terror, “the gloves were off,” as the White House put it: authorities had free rein to target protesters as potential terrorists.

[…]

The Rand Corporation, for its part, had already anticipated the power of what it called “netwar,” in which networks of “nonstate actors” use “swarming tactics” to overwhelm police and military. As Rand analysts wrote in a 2001 study, Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future, the practitioners of such tactics “are proving very hard to deal with; some are winning. What all have in common is that they operate in small dispersed units that can deploy nimbly” and “know how to swarm and disperse, penetrate and disrupt, as well as elude and evade,” all aided by the quick exchange of information over the Internet.11

Now new tactics were at the ready, and the antiwar movement stalled as protesters found themselves faced with fenced-off “free speech zones”; stockyard-gated “containment pens”; the denial of march permits; mass detentions; media disinformation operations; harassment and detention of legal observers and independent media; police and FBI surveillance; pre-emptive raids on lodgings and meeting places; and growing deployments of non-lethal weapons. Among the more foreboding of these was the presence at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City of two Long Range Acoustic Devices, or LRADs, which use highly focused beams of ear-splitting sound to, as the manufacturer says, “influence behavior.”

[…]

The next hurdle for non-lethality, as Colonel Hymes’s comments suggest, will be the introduction of so-called second-generation non-lethal weapons into everyday policing and crowd control. Although “first-generation” weapons like rubber bullets and pepper spray have gained a certain acceptance, despite their many drawbacks, exotic technologies like the Active Denial System invariably cause public alarm.13 Nevertheless, the trend is now away from chemical and “kinetic” weapons that rely on physical trauma and toward post-kinetic weapons that, as researchers put it, “induce behavioral modification” more discreetly.14 One indication that the public may come to accept these new weapons has been the successful introduction of the Taser — apparently, even the taboo on electroshock can be overcome given the proper political climate.

[…]

Originally sold as an alternative to firearms, the Taser today has become an all-purpose tool for what police call “pain compliance.” Mounting evidence shows that the weapon is routinely used on people who pose little threat: those in handcuffs, in jail cells, in wheelchairs and hospital beds; schoolchildren, pregnant women, the mentally disturbed, the elderly; irate shoppers, obnoxious lawyers, argumentative drivers, nonviolent protesters — in fact, YouTube now has an entire category of videos in which people are Tasered for dubious reasons. In late 2007, public outrage flared briefly over the two most famous such videos — those of college student Andrew Meyer “drive-stunned” at a John Kerry speech, and of a distraught Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, dying after repeated Taser jolts at Vancouver airport — but police and weapon were found blameless in both incidents.15 Strangely, YouTube’s videos may be promoting wider acceptance of the Taser; it appears that many viewers watch them for entertainment.

Flush with success, Taser International is now moving more directly into crowd control. Among its new offerings are a “Shockwave AreaDenial System,” which blankets the area in question with electrified darts, and a wireless Taser projectile with a 100-meter range, helpful for picking off “ringleaders” in unruly crowds. In line with the Pentagon’s growing interest in robotics, the company has also started a joint venture with the iRobot Corporation, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to develop Taser-armed robots; and in France, Taser’s distributor has announced plans for a flying drone that fires stun darts at criminal suspects or rioters.

Second-generation non-lethal weapons already appear to have been tested in the field. In a first in U.S. crowd control, protesters at last September’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh found themselves clutching their ears in pain as a vehicle mounted with an LRAD circled streets emitting a piercing “deterrent tone.” First seen (but not used) at the 2004 Republican Convention, the LRAD has since been used on Iraqi protesters and on pirates off the Somali coast; the Israeli Army has used a similar device against Palestinian protesters that it calls “the Scream,” which reportedly causes overwhelming dizziness and nausea.

[…]

It may be “tactical pharmacology,” finally, that holds the most promise for quelling the unrest stirred by capitalist meltdowns, imperialist wars, and environmental collapse. As JNLWD research director Susan Levine told a reporter in 1999, “We need something besides tear gas, like calmatives, anesthetic agents, that would put people to sleep or in a good mood.” Pentagon interest in “advanced riot-control agents” has long been an open secret

[…]

Penn State’s College of Medicine researchers agreed, contrary to accepted principles of medical ethics, that “the development and use of non-lethal calmative techniques is both achievable and desirable,” and identified a large number of promising drug candidates, including benzodiazepines like Valium, serotonin-reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, and opiate derivatives like morphine, fentanyl, and carfentanyl, the last commonly used by veterinarians to sedate large animals. The only problems they saw were in developing effective delivery vehicles and regulating dosages, but these problems could be solved readily, they recommended, through strategic partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry.16

[…]

such research is prohibited by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by more than 180 nations and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1997. Little more was heard about the Pentagon’s “advanced riot-control agent” program until July 2008, when the Army announced that production was scheduled for its XM1063 “non-lethal personal suppression projectile,” an artillery shell that bursts in midair over its target, scattering 152 canisters over a 100,000-square-foot area, each dispersing a chemical agent as it parachutes down. There are many indications that a calmative, such as fentanyl, is the intended payload — a literal opiate of the masses.

[…]

Schlesinger, who served under Richard Nixon, repeated a familiar argument. If riot-control agents were to be banned, “whether in peace or war,” he said, “we may wind up placing ourselves in the position of the Chinese government in dealing with the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. The failure to use tear gas meant that the government only had recourse to the massive use of firepower to disperse the crowd.”17

[…]

the formulators of our policy of pain compliance feel so limited in their options — confronted by citizens calling for change, their only response is to seek control or death. There are many other possible responses, most of them far better attuned to the democratic ideals they espouse in other contexts. That pain compliance seems to them the best alternative to justice is an indictment not of the dreams of the protesters but of the nightmares of those who would control them.

The Cubicle You Call Hell Was Designed to Set You Free | Design | WIRED

The Cubicle You Call Hell Was Designed to Set You Free | Design | WIRED.

Action Office I promotional image

Action Office II

In 1964, the iconic furniture design company Herman Miller unveiled an office plan unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Called Action Office, it was the brainchild of Robert Propst, who was among the first designers to argue that office work was mental work and that mental effort was tied to environmental enhancement of one’s physical capabilities. Rather than a furniture item or a collection of them, Action Office was a proposition for an altogether new kind of space.

Most office designs at the time were about keeping people in place; Action Office was about movement. Advertisements for the system show workers in constant motion; indeed, the human figures in the images often appear blurred, as if the photographer were unable to capture their lightning speed.

[…]

The items Nelson had designed for Action Office were beautiful, at once homey and utterly modern, nostalgic and forward thinking. His desk surfaces rested on cantilevered die-cast aluminum legs; for the standing desk, a chrome brace doubled as a footrest. A “communications center” with a telephone was acoustically insulated.

There were many idiosyncratic touches. Because Propst had convinced himself that work out of sight was work out of mind, there were no large desk drawers. Instead, there was a movable display surface, from which items could be retrieved and replaced at ease. A standing rolltop desk not only kept workers on their feet but also allowed them to leave work out overnight, securely closed.

Above all, it was colorful: green, bright blue, navy blue, black, and yellow. Like bright magazine advertisements, or the Pop Art of Warhol and Lichtenstein, Action Office proclaimed its allegiance to the new spirit of the age: rich, advanced, potentially liberating.
In this sense, the Action Office that Propst had conceived and Nelson designed might have been the first truly modern idea to enter the office—that is, the first in which the aesthetics of design and progressive ideas about human needs were truly united.

[…]

Despite the rapturous reviews, Action Office didn’t sell. Office managers complained that the entire system was too expensive, because the furniture was made of such quality material. And the space that Action Office created was too vaguely defined, its borders too porous.

The product won a few awards within the industry but otherwise saw little actual adoption in the workplace.

[…]

Propst had run up against a classic problem of design. Office planners and architects tend to imagine that the setup of their own offices should be the way that everyone should work. They pretend that their own subjective methods are objective empirical results.

The failure of the first Action Office on the market might finally have been due to another factor: the cynicism of executives. They had the final say on how their offices looked, since they controlled the bottom line, and the last thing they were going to drop a ton of money on was a set of fancy chairs and desks for their junior and middle managers, let alone the steno pool. And office space was growing at too fast a volume for anyone to be concerned about niceties. Something faster was needed, something more easily reproducible.

[…]

The concept that Propst came to reiterate again and again was that office design needed to be “forgiving.” That is, overly designed and stylized spaces were “unforgiving,” barriers against change, and change was coming into the office one way or another.

Computers were automating more and more processes, allowing office workers to reduce routine tasks to focus more on “tasks of judgment.” What an office design had to do was anticipate these changes as best as it could, through modularity and flexibility. It had to be adaptable, movable. This meant that “design” itself had to be tossed out: anything that made his concept more expensive and less “forgiving” to user needs was against the concept.

[…]

The predilection for beauty of the object was an obstacle in Propst’s eyes; it detracted from the beauty of the office worker’s motion in space.

By the end of 1967, Propst had made significant improvements. The space was smaller; the interlocking walls were mobile, lighter, and made of disposable materials; storage space was raised off the ground.

Action Office II was Propst’s attempt to give form to the office worker’s desire. A “workstation” for the “human performer,” it consisted of three walls, obtusely angled and movable, which an office worker could arrange to create whatever workspace he or she wanted.

The usual desk was accompanied by shelves of varied heights and variable placement, which required constant vertical movement on the part of the worker. Tackboards and pushpin walls allowed for individuation. Intentionally depersonalized, the new Action Office would be a template for any individual to create his or her own ideal work space.

[…]

Steelcase’s 9000 series and Knoll’s Zapf System soon followed.

But the copycat Action Offices were starting to have strange, unforeseen effects on other workplaces. Rather than making them more flexible, they in fact appeared to be making them more regimented.

Douglas Ball, a designer for the rival furniture company Haworth, came up with one of the many knockoff designs for the Canadian company Sunar. Initially excited, he emerged from the completed space utterly depressed. “I went to see the first installation of the Sunar system, a huge government project. The panels were all seventy inches tall, so unless you were six-foot-three you couldn’t look over the top. It was awful—one of the worst installations I’d ever seen,” Ball said. “We thought it was extremely flexible in the plan view, but we had never considered the vertical elevation.”

And it was too late to fix the problem. He had trapped people in giant fabric-wrapped walls, when he had meant, like Propst, to free them.

It turned out that companies had no interest in creating autonomous environments for their “human performers.” Instead, they wanted to stuff as many people in as small a space for as cheaply as possible as quickly as possible.
By 1978, Propst was composing memos on repositioning his design, panicked over the obsession with “easily defined and accountable cost savings.” “Meanwhile, other matters of more profound influence on the real productivity of organizations have slipped into the background,” he worried.

Action Office had been meant for flexibility; instead, a new rigidity set in—though it was wrapped disingenuously in humanistic fabric. Propst’s memos seemed to have no effect. Soon the designs for Action Office in the Herman Miller brochures began to seem more box-like. They were selling what the companies wanted.

[…]

“The dark side of this is that not all organizations are intelligent and progressive,” Propst says. “Lots are run by crass people who can take the same kind of equipment and create hellholes.”

Propst noted that his design proved irrepressibly popular: 40 million employees in America alone worked in 42 different versions of the Action Office. But he failed to note that by that point they were all known by the same name: the cubicle.

NHM | 51n4e

NHM | 51n4e.

NHM is a project for a Dutch National History Museum that does not own a collection and is not planning to build up one.

This strategic choice allows the museum to have an immense flexibility in presenting itself in different media. At the same time the manifestation as a building has the ambitions to stimulate a physical and collective experience which is directly related to a spatial concept for a museum.

The proposal thrives through the contrast of its two parts: an extra-large exhibition space and a compact slab housing all other museum related functions like reception, education, meeting, lingering. The overscaled space takes the absence of a collection as an opportunity and allows the display of potentially any kind of object, from a middle-age coin to the latest windmill model. Different eras, cultures and societies are brought into dialogue. The space in itself is an abstract and absent background. It can be used for separate parallel exhibitions, presentations, concerts and collective events of any scale. Past and present are shown and happening side by side.

The various rooms of different functions in the thin slab become balconies to the internal landscape of the exhibition hall. For whatever activities the NHM is visited, the exhibition of history is always present. Overviewing the space from a distance, one can individually look back and reflect.

Crave’s USB-chargeable vibrator doubles as a necklace pendant

Crave’s USB-chargeable vibrator doubles as a necklace pendant.

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Co-founded by entrepreneur Michael Topolovac and Royal College of Art graduate Ti Chang, Crave created the Vesper vibrator as a design-focused stimulator rather than a novelty item.

“For lack of a better term, the ‘sex toy’ category has historically been overrun by novelty products,” Chang told Dezeen.

The 9.65-centimetre-long vibrator can be worn on a chain around the neck as a metallic pendant, or removed from the chain and kept in a drawer a home.

“In the case of Vesper, I was intrigued to explore, in a fun way, the tension between that what is private and public,” said Chang.

“Not everyone is going to want to wear this out – some women love it as a piece of jewellery with a naughty secret, for others it is a symbol of sexual empowerment to wear their pleasure openly.”

“At the same time we recognise that it is a totally personal decision, so the design of the necklace is intended to be removable,” Chang added.

Designed for external use only, its minimal case includes just one button to turn the device on, change between the three speed options and a pulse setting, and turn it off.

The body and tip of the slim vial-shaped device are made from polished stainless steel, shaped using computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining.

The chain and cap are also made of stainless steel and finished with a choice of silver, rose gold, or 24-karat gold nickel-free plating. An all gold-plated version is also available.

Inside, a small circuit board controls custom-machined and silicone-moulded parts.

The decision to make Vesper USB rechargeable was driven by environmental and convenience considerations.

 

The Oculus Rift Made Me Believe I Could Fly | Science | WIRED

The Oculus Rift Made Me Believe I Could Fly | Science | WIRED.

Birdly is a full-body flight simulator integrating the Oculus Rift.

I was strapped into Birdly, a full-body flight simulator designed to make you forget you’re not a bird. “Press the red buttons and pump your arms to start soaring again,” said Max Rheiner, the Swiss artist responsible for my in-flight experience this week at Swissnex. (Birdly flew here from its birthplace at the Zurich University of the Arts.) The reason that Rheiner could make this simulator now, and not 20 years ago when he first dreamed of helping humans feel like birds, is the arrival of the Oculus Rift. The Rift is the first virtual reality headset with two key features: It’s cheap, and it doesn’t make you want to vomit. Now that there’s a way to provide accurate head-tracking at low enough latency to prevent motion sickness, people who were raised on the promise of virtual reality are starting to experiment.

[…]

At first the designers of Birdly took the dream a bit too literally and used a physics engine to model airflow around virtual wings. But it turns out to be hard for humans to fly like an actual bird, learning to flap their wings at the right angle and catch thermals to spiral up. To simulate the effortlessness of dream flight, Rheiner made the interface more metaphorical and intuitive. By twisting your arm you control the pitch of the wing: Tip up to soar higher, and tip down to dive. Catch the air with one hand to bank. To climb faster, you can vigorously pump both wings. Pistons provide realistic resistance, and a fan is calibrated to make the windspeed match your virtual velocity.

It’s admittedly a bit awkward to climb onto Birdly. You bend over a padded frame, strap on a tight headset and headphones, then hook your hands into wooden wings. But then the screen flips on and you find yourself floating above the city, watching your bird-shadow drifting across the rooftops. If you crane your neck, you can see your brown feathers ruffling in the breeze. After a few seconds, flying feels natural.

[…]

the experience will soon include smells. Rheiner, working with a Dutch fragrance designer, built a rig to emit little pumps of scented alcohol as you fly. But a realistic cityscape has to include hot asphalt and car exhaust, and it’s tricky to deliver a whiff of those that won’t knock you out of the sky.

While Rheiner’s team was aiming for art, there might also be a future in travel and fitness. Imagine spending an afternoon flying through the Grand Canyon—a beautiful trip, and if you need to flap your wings the whole time to stay aloft, a serious work out. Before a walk to your basement can replace a helicopter ride in Hawaii, though, a compendium of detailed 3-D maps would be required. Promisingly, Google Earth sent 20 people to visit Birdly last week.

An interface like Birdly’s could some day be used to fly a real drone in realtime, says Rheiner. You could fly wherever you want and see what’s happening there right now, no mapping necessary.

[…]

A stereoscopic view of Coit Tower, as rendered on the screen of an Oculus Rift. Internal lenses correct the distortion to produce a 3D experience.

A stereoscopic view of Coit Tower, as rendered on the screen of an Oculus Rift. Internal lenses correct the distortion to produce a 3-D experience

An interview with J.G. Ballard and Hans Ulbrich Obrist

A Daily Dose of Architecture: Literary Dose #37.

Hans Ulbrich Obrist: You wrote in the Observer in 1997 a piece on airports and London where you said that, “By comparison with London Airport, London itself seems hopelessly antiquated. London may well be the only world capital—with the possible exception of Moscow—that has gone from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first without experiencing all the possibilities and excitements of the twentieth in any meaningful way.” And you carry on mentioning your admiration for the Hilton Hotel in Heathrow. Can you tell me why that building, and what relationship or dialogue you have in general with architecture or architects?

J.G. Ballard: The Heathrow Hilton designed by Michael Manser is my favourite building in London. It’s part space-age hangar and part high-tech medical centre. It’s clearly a machine, and the spirit of Le Corbusier lives on in its minimal functionalism. It’s a white cathedral, almost a place of worship, the closest to a religious building that you can find in an airport. Inside, it’s a highly theatrical space, dominated by its immense atrium. The building, in effect, is an atrium with a few rooms attached. Most hotels are residential structures, but rightly, the Heathrow Hilton plays down this role, accepting the total transience that is its essence, and instead turns itself into a huge departure lounge, as befits an airport annex. Sitting in its atrium one becomes, briefly, a more advanced kind of human being. Within this remarkable building, one feels no emotions and could never fall in love, or need to. The National Gallery or the Louvre are the complete opposite, and people there are always falling in love.

Hans Ulbrich Obrist: And what is your favourite museum and why? What do you think of the evolutions undertaken by museums in the last few decades? In your view, what role do museums play today? And ideally what do you think their role should be?

J.G. Ballard: I like traditional museums, the less frequented the better. All the changes in the past fifty years have been for the worst. I remember the Louvre in 1949 when it was completely deserted, whereas today it is a theme park where you can enjoy “the Mona Lisa experience.” This isn’t only a matter of funding. Museum directors enjoy being impresarios, guru-figures manipulating the imaginations of the public. Museums shouldn’t be too popular. The experience within the Louvre or the National Gallery should be challenging and unsettling, and take years to absorb. The Italians had the right idea. Most of their paintings were in dimly lit churches, un-clean and difficult to see. As a result, the renaissance endured for centuries.

Airports: The True Cities of the 21st Century – J.G. Ballard

Airports: The True Cities of the 21st Century – J.G. Ballard.

Ballardian: The World of JG Ballard

Airports, designed around the needs of their collaborating technologies, seem to be the only form of public architecture free from the pressures of kitsch and nostalgia. As far as I know, there are no half-timbered terminal buildings or pebble-dashed control towers.

[…]

For the past 35 years I have lived in Shepperton, a suburb not of London but of London’s Heathrow Airport. The Heathrow-tinged land extends for at least 10 miles south and west, a zone of motorways, science parks, and industrial estates, a landscape that most people affect to loathe but that I regard as the most advanced and admirable in the British Isles, and a paradigm of the best that the future offers us.

[…]

I value the benevolent social and architectural influence that a huge transit facility like Heathrow casts on the urban landscape around it. I have learned to like the intricate network of car rental offices, air freight depots, and travel clinics, the light industrial and motel architecture that unvaryingly surrounds every major airport in the world. Together they constitute the reality of our lives, rather than a mythical domain of village greens, cathedrals, and manorial vistas. I welcome the landscape’s transience, alienation, and discontinuities, and its unashamed response to the pressures of speed, disposability, and the instant impulse. Here, under the flight paths, everything is designed for the next five minutes.

By comparison, London itself seems hopelessly antiquated. Its hundreds of miles of gentrified stucco are a hangover from the 19th century that should have been bulldozed decades ago. I have the sense of a city devised as an instrument of political control, like the class system that preserves England from revolution. The labyrinth of districts and boroughs, the endless porticos that once guarded the modest terraced cottages of Victorian clerks, make it clear that London is a place where people know their place.

At an airport like Heathrow the individual is defined not by the tangible ground mortgaged into his soul for the next 40 years, but by the indeterminate flicker of flight numbers trembling on a screen. We are no longer citizens with civic obligations, but passengers for whom all destinations are theoretically open, our lightness of baggage mandated by the system. Airports have become a new kind of discontinuous city whose vast populations are entirely transient, purposeful, and, for the most part, happy. An easy camaraderie rules the departure lounges, along with the virtual abolition of nationality—whether we are Scots or Japanese is far less important than where we are going. I’ve long suspected that people are truly happy and aware of a real purpose to their lives only when they hand over their tickets at the check-in.

I suspect that the airport will be the true city of the 21st century. The great airports are already the suburbs of an invisible world capital, a virtual metropolis whose border towns are named Heathrow, Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Nagoya, a centripetal city whose population forever circles its notional center and will never need to gain access to its dark heart. Mastery of the discontinuities of metropolitan life has always been essential to successful urban dwellers—we know none of our neighbors, and our close friends live equally isolated lives within 50 square miles around us. We work in a district five miles away, shop in another, and see films and plays in a third. Failure to master these discontinuities leaves some ethnic groups at a disadvantage, forced into enclaves that seem to reconstitute mental maps of ancestral villages.

But the modern airport defuses these tensions and offers its passengers the social reassurance of the boarding lounge, an instantly summoned village whose life span is long enough to calm us and short enough not to be a burden. The terminal concourses are the ramblas and agoras of the future city, time-free zones where all the clocks of the world are displayed, an atlas of arrivals and destinations forever updating itself, where briefly we become true world citizens. Air travel may well be the most important civic duty that we discharge today, erasing class and national distinctions and subsuming them within the unitary global culture of the departure lounge.

Richard Aphex, John Cage and the Prepared Piano | Robert Worby

Richard Aphex, John Cage and the Prepared Piano | Robert Worby.

There’s a lot of piano on the Aphex Twin’s album ‘Drukqs’. Often referred to as the Ambient tracks or even the Classical tracks. Extremely pleasant, often slow, with lots of harmonies. Some of the tracks are straight piano – strotha tynhe, avril 14th, father – and some have the piano sound altered, offering metallic rattles, woody clunks and textured thwacks. These are the classic sounds of the ‘Prepared Piano’, an instrument invented, in 1940, by the American Experimental composer John Cage. A piano is ‘prepared’ by placing small, everyday objects in the strings. When Cage first did this the objects were screws, bolts and pieces of ‘weather stripping’ (short strips of felt covered plastic used for draught-proofing windows).

[…]

Cage believed that music should be made of sound and silence – any sounds, not just notes – and the only characteristic common to both sound and silence is duration – length of time. Silence cannot be high or low, loud or quiet, harsh or smooth. Silence is silence – absence of sound – it can last for a short time or a long time and that’s it. Sounds also have duration. All sounds stop (actually Cage discovered two sounds that don’t) and the fact that they stop enables the phenomenon of rhythm. If sounds didn’t stop, it would be extremely difficult to make rhythms. Having decided that rhythm was more important than melody and harmony and that all sounds, not just notes, could be used to make music, Cage began to work with percussion. His group played conventional orchestral instruments – drums, rattles, cymbals etc – and invented a few of their own – automobile brake drums, kitchen utensils, household objects etc.

Most of the strings of a grand piano are usually grouped in threes, the exception to this are the bass notes, where the strings get longer and thicker, which are grouped in twos and, the very low notes, which are single strings. The fact that each note is a tight group of three strings enables small objects placed between the strings to be held in place by the tension in the strings. A screw or a bolt or a pencil rubber will simply stay put when it is inserted into the piano strings. And when such an object is gripped by the strings it changes the sound that is produced when the piano hammer strikes. No longer is there a clear note, with identifiable pitch, there is instead an exotic rattle, ping or thud like an instrument from Africa or the Far East.

[…]

The dance had an African theme and Cage was asked to write music that had a flavour of Africa. So, using only his piano he tried to find scales and groupings of notes that had this kind of sound. He couldn’t do it. The notes were not working. It was notes themselves that were problematic; the piece didn’t need conventional notes, but notes were what a piano produced. “I decided that what was wrong was the piano, not my efforts, because I was conscientious” Cage wrote later. He needed some way of changing the sound of the piano. Cage and seen and heard the results of extended piano techniques devised by his teacher Henry Cowell. These involved plucking strings inside the piano, strumming across the strings and rubbing a darning needle along a string. The effect of these techniques changed the sound of the piano creating interesting harmonics and, what were then, new sounds. Cage tried some of these ideas and then experimented with household objects placed inside the piano. He tried resting a metal pie plate on the strings. It gave an interesting sound but it bounced about. He tried an iron nail inserted into a group of strings but it fell out. He knew he was moving in the right direction. The thread of a woodscrew would hold it in place if it was twisted into the space in a group of strings. Similarly with a bolt. Cage had hit on the right objects. Later he recalled, “I was delighted to notice that by means of a single preparation two different sounds could be produced. One was resonant and open, the other was quiet and muted. The quiet one was heard whenever the soft pedal was used.”

Having prepared his piano he set about composing the piece. This was done relatively quickly. It starts at a furious pace, buzzing and rattling and pinging like a collection of thick tin cans. The rhythm is strident and very clear with a strong pulse. It’s like clockwork, acoustic techo. Music for windup toys. As the pace slows, weird bell-like tones shimmer and resonate like some early 80s digital synthesizer in its gurgling death throes. Cage had hit upon a fabulous new soundworld.

There are many pieces, written by Cage (and others), for prepared piano. The Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48) are a collection of short pieces written with rhythm and durational proportions (phrase lengths, numbers of bars, repeated sections) as the main structural element. Music for Marcel Duchamp was composed in 1947 and was used to accompany part of the experimental film ‘Dreams That Money Can Buy’ by the Dadaist Hans Richter. Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra (1951) completely extends the classical idea of a concerto and the role of the solo instrument against the orchestra.

[…]

What music meant was no longer clear. Melody, harmony and the idea of memorable tunes disappeared. New sounds, dislocated rhythms and dissonance were the ingredients of the new music.

[…]

Nearly sixty years later Richard James was in a BBC studio taking part in a Radio 3 programme called ‘Mixing It’ which no longer exists. His music was being played along with the usual fabulous eclectic mix that this programme offered. One of Cage’s prepared piano pieces was played and Mr Aphex’s ears were drawn to the extraordinary sounds. He enquired about the prepared piano and how it was all done. Many other techno artists would have probably prepared a piano and sampled some of the sounds, but not Richard James, he knew this simply wouldn’t work and that any results of this process would be crass. He bought a grand piano that can be played by computer. It’s called a ‘Diskclavier’ and it’s made by Yamaha. It’s exactly like a straightforward grand piano but the keys can be controlled by a computer via MIDI – the musical instrument digital interface. Richard James cannot read conventional musical notation and he cannot play a keyboard so, in order to make the piano and prepared piano pieces that appear on ‘Drukqs’ he prepared his Diskclavier according to the principles established by John Cage and programmed the playing using a computer. The results are there for all to hear. It’s a real piano on Drukqs, not a sampler or a synthesizer. Richard James has brought the sound of the forties into the 21st century.

What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming? – NYTimes.com

What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming? – NYTimes.com.

The Sanquan factory in Zhengzhou, China, which produces frozen dumplings and frozen glutinous rice balls. Massimo Vitali for The New York Times

‘In Sichuan, we’re eaters,” said Chen Zemin, the world’s first and only frozen-dumpling billionaire. “We have an expression that goes, ‘Even if you have a very poor life, you still have your teeth to please.’ ” He smiled and patted his not insubstantial belly. “I like to eat.”

[…]

Chinese pot stickers and rice balls are traditionally made in enormous batches, in order to justify the effort it takes to knead the dough, roll it out, mix the filling and wrap by hand a morsel that stays fresh for only one day. Because of his medical background, Chen had an idea for how to extend the life span of his spicy-pork won tons and sweet-sesame-paste-filled balls. “As a surgeon, you have to preserve things like organs or blood in a cold environment,” Chen said. “A surgeon’s career cannot be separate from refrigeration. I already knew that cold was the best physical way to preserve.”

[…]

Using mechanical parts harvested from the hospital junk pile, Chen built a two-stage freezer that chilled his glutinous rice balls one by one, quickly enough that large ice crystals didn’t form inside the filling and ruin the texture. His first patent covered a production process for the balls themselves; a second was for the packaging that would protect them from freezer burn. Soon enough, Chen realized that both innovations could be applied to pot stickers, too. And so in 1992, against the advice of his entire family, Chen, then 50, quit his hospital job, rented a small former print shop and started China’s first frozen-food business. He named his fledgling dumpling company Sanquan, which is short for the “Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China” — the 1978 gathering that marked the country’s first steps toward the open market.

[…]

Today, Sanquan has seven factories nationwide. The largest, in which Chen and I were chatting, employs 5,000 workers and produces an astonishing 400 tons of dumplings a day. He showed me the factory floor from a glass-walled skywalk; below us, dozens of workers — in hooded white jumpsuits, white face masks and white galoshes — tended to nearly 100 dumpling machines lined up in rows inside a vast, white-tiled refrigerator. Every few minutes, someone in a pink jumpsuit would wheel a fresh vat of ground pork through the stainless-steel double doors in the corner and use a shovel to top off the giant conical funnel on each dumpling maker. In the far corner, a quality-control inspector in a yellow jumpsuit was dealing with a recalcitrant machine, scooping defective dumplings off the conveyor belt with both hands. At the end of the line, more than 100,000 dumplings an hour rained like beige pebbles into an endless succession of open-mouthed bags.

[…]

An artificial winter has begun to stretch across the country, through its fields and its ports, its logistics hubs and freeways. China had 250 million cubic feet of refrigerated storage capacity in 2007; by 2017, the country is on track to have 20 times that. At five billion cubic feet, China will surpass even the United States, which has led the world in cold storage ever since artificial refrigeration was invented. And even that translates to only 3.7 cubic feet of cold storage per capita, or roughly a third of what Americans currently have — meaning that the Chinese refrigeration boom is only just beginning.

This is not simply transforming how Chinese people grow, distribute and consume food. It also stands to become a formidable new factor in climate change; cooling is already responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of greenhouse-gas pollution. Of all the shifts in lifestyle that threaten the planet right now, perhaps not one is as important as the changing way that Chinese people eat.

In the United States, the first mechanically cooled warehouses opened in Boston in 1881. America’s Chen Zemin was a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur named Clarence Birdseye, who invented a fast-freezing machine in 1924 to replicate the taste of the delicious frozen fish he enjoyed while traveling in Labrador. (Birds Eye brand frozen vegetables still bear his name.) In the 1930s, the African-American refrigeration pioneer Frederick McKinley Jones designed a portable cooling unit for trucks; by the 1950s, pretty much everyone in America had a refrigerator, and Swanson was delighting working wives with a frozen “sumptuous turkey dinner” that “tastes home-cooked.”

[…]

Americans have become so used to associating refrigeration with freshness that soy-milk manufacturers have actually paid extra to have their product displayed in a refrigerated case, despite the fact that it is perfectly shelf-stable. By contrast, the Chinese didn’t build their first refrigerated warehouse until 1955. And even as skyscrapers, shopping malls and high-speed trains have transformed life in China, the refrigerator represents, on an individual level, a significant step forward. Every Chinese person over age 30 whom I spoke to could remember wistfully the moment he got his first home refrigerator, with the exception of those who still don’t have one.

[…]

Leading up to the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing municipal authorities embarked on an ambitious program of “supermarketization,” designed to get meat and vegetables out of the open-air “wet” markets — where food is cooled by standing fans and the occasional hose down from the cold tap — and safely behind sneeze-guards in modern, climate-controlled grocery stores.

[…]

In practical terms, tax breaks, subsidies and preferential access to land has been made available to anyone aspiring to build a refrigerated warehouse. In 2010, the government’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission made expanding the country’s refrigerated and frozen capacity one of the central priorities in its 12th Five-Year National Plan.

[…]

Encouraged by the government’s Five-Year Plan, Chen’s fellow entrepreneurs are building their own cold-storage facilities to gain “face” — similar to the way a wealthy businessman in the United States might buy a football team. “If an independent private guy builds a cold-storage warehouse, the central government notices,” said Tim McLellan, a director at Preferred Freezer Services, an American company that is about to open its third cold-storage facility in China. “Now he has a picture with Premier Li Keqiang or President Xi.” That is true, he said, even if “the design and technology are 30 years old and they have no idea how to run it.”

Despite the expansion in frozen foods and refrigerators, the critical growth area is what’s known in the logistics business as the “cold chain” — the seamless network of temperature-controlled space through which perishable food is supposed to travel on its way from farm to refrigerator. In the United States, at least 70 percent of all the food we eat each year passes through a cold chain. By contrast, in China, less than a quarter of the country’s meat supply is slaughtered, transported, stored or sold under refrigeration. The equivalent number for fruit and vegetables is just 5 percent.

These statistics translate into scenes that would concern most American food-safety inspectors. In Shanghai, for example, one large pork processor has no refrigeration system; instead, it does all its slaughtering at night, when the temperature is slightly cooler, in a massive shed with open sides to allow for a cross breeze. The freshly disemboweled pigs hang for hours in the smoggy air. In Beijing, at the wholesale market that supplies 70 percent of the city’s vegetables, vendors carefully excavate individual, naked stalks of broccoli from trucks packed solid with ice and hay. A middle-aged farmer, bundled up against the cold, told me that he expects to have to throw away a quarter of the truckload — more when the weather is warm — as the ice melts and the vegetables rot faster than they can be sold. And just 20 minutes down the road from Sanquan’s gleaming, automated dumpling freezer, the central Zhengzhou market has mountains of unrefrigerated chicken carcasses, flopping out of plastic crates onto the concrete floor.

[…]

Death rates from dysentery and diarrhea — serious illness is an all-too-common result of consuming bacteria or parasite-laden food — decreased by more than 90 percent from 1900 to 1950. It stands to reason, then, that a similarly seamless, well-regulated cold chain could stop spoiled food from reaching and sickening Chinese eaters. Food safety comes up in the Five-Year Plan as an issue that is “becoming protruding,” to use the distinctive prose of the Communist Party. In the past few years, all the major frozen-food companies — Sanquan, Synear and the General Mills-owned Wanchai Ferry — have been hit with staph-contamination scandals, despite their own modern facilities.

Mike Moriarty, a lead author on the A.T. Kearney report, said food safety was what initially prompted him to research the Chinese cold chain. The multinationals he works with kept complaining that poor handling was threatening their brand reputation in China. His investigations found that, on average, a Chinese person experiences some kind of digestive upset twice a week — a kind of low-level recurring food poisoning, much of which is probably caused by the kind of bacterial growth that could have been prevented by keeping food cold. “Bad bowels,” Moriarty said, “is just part of the drill for being a food consumer in China.”

[…]

In its Development Plan for Cold-Chain Logistics of Agricultural Products, China set itself the five-year goal of reducing the loss rate for vegetables, meat and aquatic products to less than 15 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent by 2015. If the nation hits those targets next year, the effort could save a large part of the more than $32 billion in food now wasted, but at this point, there is quite a way to go. Nearly half of everything that is grown in China rots before it even reaches the retail market.

[…]

For all the food waste that refrigeration might forestall, the uncomfortable fact is that a fully developed cold chain (field precooling stations, slaughterhouses, distribution centers, trucks, grocery stores and domestic refrigerators) requires a lot of energy.

[…]

Calculating the climate-change impact of an expanded Chinese cold chain is extremely complicated. Artificial refrigeration contributes to global greenhouse-gas emissions in two main ways. First, generating the power (whether it be electricity for warehouses or diesel fuel for trucks) that fuels the heat-exchange process, which is at the heart of any cooling system, accounts for about 80 percent of refrigeration’s global-warming impact (measured in tons of CO2) and currently consumes nearly a sixth of global electricity usage.

But the other problem is the refrigerants themselves: the chemicals that are evaporated and condensed by the compressors in order to remove heat and thus produce cold. Some of that refrigerant leaks into the atmosphere as a gas — either a little (roughly 2 percent a year from the most up-to-date domestic refrigerators) or a lot (on average, 15 percent from commercial refrigerated warehouses). In addition, different refrigeration systems use different refrigerants, some of which, like ammonia, have a negligible global-warming impact. But others, like the hydrofluorocarbons that are popular in China, are known as “supergreenhouse gases,” because they are thousands of times more warming than CO2. If current trends in refrigerant usage were to continue, experts project that hydrofluorocarbons would be responsible for nearly half of all global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

To make matters worse, it’s not even clear that refrigeration reduces food waste over the long term. Logically, it would seem that a refrigerator should result in less food waste at home, slowing down the rate at which vegetables rot and milk sours, as well as allowing families to save leftovers. But Susanne Freidberg, a geography professor at Dartmouth College and author of “Fresh: A Perishable History,” says that refrigeration in the United States has tended to merely change when the waste occurs. Americans, too, throw away 40 percent of their food, but nearly half of that waste occurs at the consumer level, meaning in retail locations and at home. “Food waste is a justification for refrigeration,” Freidberg said. “But at the same time, there are studies that show that, over the longer time frame, the cold chain encourages consumers to buy more than they’re going to eat.”

[…]

In U.S. homes, the size of the average domestic refrigerator has increased by almost 20 percent since 1975, leading the food-waste expert Jonathan Bloom to identify what he calls the “full-cupboard effect,” over and above Garnett’s safety-net syndrome. “So many people these days have these massive refrigerators, and there is this sense that we need to keep them well stocked,” he said. “But there’s no way you can eat all that food before it goes bad.” A four-year observational study of Los Angeles-area families carried out by U.C.L.A. social scientists confirmed this tendency to stockpile food in not just one but in multiple refrigerators.

[…]

For most of these families, as for most Americans, Bloom says, home refrigerators simply “serve as cleaner, colder trash bins.”

[…]

By artificially extending the life span of otherwise perishable fruits, vegetables and animal products, refrigeration changes almost everything about how we know and interact with food: how we shop, what we eat and even the definition of the word “fresh.”

Fuchsia Dunlop, a British cook and author who writes about Chinese cuisine, described how she saw traditional food-preservation skills die out over the past two decades, as refrigeration gained ground. “When I first lived in China, in 1994,” she said, “everything was dried, pickled or salted. On sunny days, people would be laying all kinds of vegetables out to dry in the sun, and some of them afterward would be rubbed with salt and put in jars to ferment. Other vegetables would be pickled in brine and preserved neat. In Chengdu, they would hang sausages and pork under the eaves of the old houses to dry, and there were these great clay pickle jars in people’s homes.”

Now, though, most of those old houses have been demolished. In the new, high-rise apartment buildings that have been built in their place, Dunlop told me, “you do have balconies that are enclosed with bars, so sometimes you can see salt meat and salt fish on coat hangers out on them.” But, she said, it’s rare. At the moment that America’s long-lost pickling, salting and smoking traditions are being revived, China’s much richer and more ancient preservation techniques are dying out.

[…]

By removing constraints of proximity and seasonality, refrigeration can change what Chinese farmers produce. I met with plant scientists at the Beijing Vegetable Research Center who are selecting and optimizing the varieties of popular Chinese greens that stand up best to cold storage. If they are successful, the incredible regional variety and specificity of Chinese fruits and vegetables may soon resemble the homogeneous American produce aisle, which is often limited to three tomato varieties and five types of apple for sale, all hardy (and flavorless) enough to endure lengthy journeys and storage under refrigeration.

[…]

Dai Jianjun is the 45-year-old chain-smoking chef of Longjing Caotang, a restaurant on the outskirts of Hangzhou, the scenic capital of Zhejiang province, which serves an entirely locally sourced, anti-industrial cuisine.

[…]

Over the course of two epic meals, separated only by a short paddle on a local lake to catch fish for dinner, Dai fed me dried vegetables and mushrooms, vinegar-pickled radishes, fermented “stinky” tofu and peanuts that six months earlier had been packed into earthenware jars. I visited his on-site bamboo-walled drying shed, where salted silvery fish halves and hunks of pork hung in orderly rows. Between courses, Dai pulled out his iPad to show me a series of videos that demonstrated how radish preservation varies by topography, with hill people drying the vegetable in the sun before salting it and flatlanders working in reverse order. After our boat ride, as the rest of the fishermen beheaded and gutted the catch on a wooden block, the fish boss, who went by the name Mr. Wang, prepared a particularly delicious yellow-mud-preserved duck egg, which, he told me, keeps at room temperature for 30 days.

The rest of the ingredients were harvested or foraged that day. Dai keeps leatherbound purchase diaries documenting the provenance of every chicken, tea leaf, mustard green and black fungus. Several entries are accompanied by photos of a farmer picking or slaughtering the item in question. Not a single thing I was served that day had been refrigerated.

“Tip-of-the-Tongue Syndrome,” Transactive Memory, and How the Internet Is Making Us Smarter | Brain Pickings

“Tip-of-the-Tongue Syndrome,” Transactive Memory, and How the Internet Is Making Us Smarter | Brain Pickings.

Vannevar Bush’s ‘memex’ — short for ‘memory index’ — a primitive vision for a personal hard drive for information storage and management.

“At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive. This book is about the transformation.”

[…]

One of his most fascinating and important points has to do with our outsourcing of memory — or, more specifically, our increasingly deft, search-engine-powered skills of replacing the retention of knowledge in our own brains with the on-demand access to knowledge in the collective brain of the internet. Think, for instance, of those moments when you’re trying to recall the name of a movie but only remember certain fragmentary features — the name of the lead actor, the gist of the plot, a song from the soundtrack. Thompson calls this “tip-of-the-tongue syndrome” and points out that, today, you’ll likely be able to reverse-engineer the name of the movie you don’t remember by plugging into Google what you do remember about it.

[…]

“Tip-of-the-tongue syndrome is an experience so common that cultures worldwide have a phrase for it. Cheyenne Indians call it navonotootse’a, which means “I have lost it on my tongue”; in Korean it’s hyeu kkedu-te mam-dol-da, which has an even more gorgeous translation: “sparkling at the end of my tongue.” The phenomenon generally lasts only a minute or so; your brain eventually makes the connection. But … when faced with a tip-of-the-tongue moment, many of us have begun to rely instead on the Internet to locate information on the fly. If lifelogging … stores “episodic,” or personal, memories, Internet search engines do the same for a different sort of memory: “semantic” memory, or factual knowledge about the world. When you visit Paris and have a wonderful time drinking champagne at a café, your personal experience is an episodic memory. Your ability to remember that Paris is a city and that champagne is an alcoholic beverage — that’s semantic memory.”

[…]

“Writing — the original technology for externalizing information — emerged around five thousand years ago, when Mesopotamian merchants began tallying their wares using etchings on clay tablets. It emerged first as an economic tool. As with photography and the telephone and the computer, newfangled technologies for communication nearly always emerge in the world of commerce. The notion of using them for everyday, personal expression seems wasteful, risible, or debased. Then slowly it becomes merely lavish, what “wealthy people” do; then teenagers take over and the technology becomes common to the point of banality.”

Thompson reminds us of the anecdote, by now itself familiar “to the point of banality,” about Socrates and his admonition that the “technology” of writing would devastate the Greek tradition of debate and dialectic, and would render people incapable of committing anything to memory because “knowledge stored was not really knowledge at all.” He cites Socrates’s parable of the Egyptian god Theuth and how he invented writing, offering it as a gift to the king of Egypt,

“This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

That resistance endured as technology changed shape, across the Middle Ages and past Gutenberg’s revolution, but it wasn’t without counter-resistance: Those who recorded their knowledge in writing and, eventually, collected it in the form of books argued that it expanded the scope of their curiosity and the ideas they were able to ponder, whereas the mere act of rote memorization made no guarantees of deeper understanding.

Ultimately, however, Thompson points out that Socrates was both right and wrong: It’s true that, with some deliberately cultivated exceptions and neurological outliers, few thinkers today rely on pure memorization and can recite extensive passages of text from memory. But what Socrates failed to see was the extraordinary dot-connecting enabled by access to knowledge beyond what our own heads can hold — because, as Amanda Palmer poignantly put it, “we can only connect the dots that we collect,” and the outsourcing of memory has exponentially enlarged our dot-collections.

With this in mind, Thompson offers a blueprint to this newly developed system of knowledge management in which access is critical:

“If you are going to read widely but often read books only once; if you going to tackle the ever-expanding universe of ideas by skimming and glancing as well as reading deeply; then you are going to rely on the semantic-memory version of gisting. By which I mean, you’ll absorb the gist of what you read but rarely retain the specifics. Later, if you want to mull over a detail, you have to be able to refind a book, a passage, a quote, an article, a concept.”

This, he argues, is also how and why libraries were born — the death of the purely oral world and the proliferation of print after Gutenberg placed new demands on organizing and storing human knowledge. And yet storage and organization soon proved to be radically different things:

“The Gutenberg book explosion certainly increased the number of books that libraries acquired, but librarians had no agreed-upon ways to organize them. It was left to the idiosyncrasies of each. A core job of the librarian was thus simply to find the book each patron requested, since nobody else knew where the heck the books were. This created a bottleneck in access to books, one that grew insufferable in the nineteenth century as citizens began swarming into public venues like the British Library. “Complaints about the delays in the delivery of books to readers increased,” as Matthew Battles writes in Library: An Unquiet History, “as did comments about the brusqueness of the staff.” Some patrons were so annoyed by the glacial pace of access that they simply stole books; one was even sentenced to twelve months in prison for the crime. You can understand their frustration. The slow speed was not just a physical nuisance, but a cognitive one.”

The solution came in the late 19th century by way of Melville Dewey, whose decimal system imposed order by creating a taxonomy of book placement, eventually rendering librarians unnecessary — at least in their role as literal book-retrievers. They became, instead, curiosity sherpas who helped patrons decide what to read and carry out comprehensive research. In many ways, they came to resemble the editors and curators who help us navigate the internet today, framing for us what is worth attending to and why.

[…]

“The history of factual memory has been fairly predictable up until now. With each innovation, we’ve outsourced more information, then worked to make searching more efficient. Yet somehow, the Internet age feels different. Quickly pulling up [the answer to a specific esoteric question] on Google seems different from looking up a bit of trivia in an encyclopedia. It’s less like consulting a book than like asking someone a question, consulting a supersmart friend who lurks within our phones.”

And therein lies the magic of the internet — that unprecedented access to humanity’s collective brain. Thompson cites the work of Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner, who first began exploring this notion of collective rather than individual knowledge in the 1980s by observing how partners in long-term relationships often divide and conquer memory tasks in sharing the household’s administrative duties:

“Wegner suspected this division of labor takes place because we have pretty good “metamemory.” We’re aware of our mental strengths and limits, and we’re good at intuiting the abilities of others. Hang around a workmate or a romantic partner long enough and you begin to realize that while you’re terrible at remembering your corporate meeting schedule, or current affairs in Europe, or how big a kilometer is relative to a mile, they’re great at it. So you begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to them, treating them like a notepad or encyclopedia. In many respects, Wegner noted, people are superior to these devices, because what we lose in accuracy we make up in speed.

[…]

Wegner called this phenomenon “transactive” memory: two heads are better than one. We share the work of remembering, Wegner argued, because it makes us collectively smarter — expanding our ability to understand the world around us.”

[…]

This very outsourcing of memory requires that we learn what the machine knows — a kind of meta-knowledge that enables us to retrieve the information when we need it. And, reflecting on Sparrow’s findings, Thomspon points out that this is neither new nor negative:

“We’ve been using transactive memory for millennia with other humans. In everyday life, we are only rarely isolated, and for good reason. For many thinking tasks, we’re dumber and less cognitively nimble if we’re not around other people. Not only has transactive memory not hurt us, it’s allowed us to perform at higher levels, accomplishing acts of reasoning that are impossible for us alone.”

[…]

Outsourcing our memory to machines rather than to other humans, in fact, offers certain advantages by pulling us into a seemingly infinite rabbit hole of indiscriminate discovery:

“In some ways, machines make for better transactive memory buddies than humans. They know more, but they’re not awkward about pushing it in our faces. When you search the Web, you get your answer — but you also get much more. Consider this: If I’m trying to remember what part of Pakistan has experienced many U.S. drone strikes and I ask a colleague who follows foreign affairs, he’ll tell me “Waziristan.” But when I queried this once on the Internet, I got the Wikipedia page on “Drone attacks in Pakistan.” A chart caught my eye showing the astonishing increase of drone attacks (from 1 a year to 122 a year); then I glanced down to read a précis of studies on how Waziristan residents feel about being bombed. (One report suggested they weren’t as opposed as I’d expected, because many hated the Taliban, too.) Obviously, I was procrastinating. But I was also learning more, reinforcing my schematic understanding of Pakistan.”

[…]

“The real challenge of using machines for transactive memory lies in the inscrutability of their mechanics. Transactive memory works best when you have a sense of how your partners’ minds work — where they’re strong, where they’re weak, where their biases lie. I can judge that for people close to me. But it’s harder with digital tools, particularly search engines. You can certainly learn how they work and develop a mental model of Google’s biases. … But search companies are for-profit firms. They guard their algorithms like crown jewels. This makes them different from previous forms of outboard memory. A public library keeps no intentional secrets about its mechanisms; a search engine keeps many. On top of this inscrutability, it’s hard to know what to trust in a world of self-publishing. To rely on networked digital knowledge, you need to look with skeptical eyes. It’s a skill that should be taught with the same urgency we devote to teaching math and writing.

Thompson’s most important point, however, has to do with how outsourcing our knowledge to digital tools actually hampers the very process of creative thought, which relies on our ability to connect existing ideas from our mental pool of resources into new combinations, or what the French polymath Henri Poincaré has famously termed “sudden illuminations.” Without a mental catalog of materials which to mull and let incubate in our fringe consciousness, our capacity for such illuminations is greatly deflated. Thompson writes:

“These eureka moments are familiar to all of us; they’re why we take a shower or go for a walk when we’re stuck on a problem. But this technique works only if we’ve actually got a lot of knowledge about the problem stored in our brains through long study and focus. … You can’t come to a moment of creative insight if you haven’t got any mental fuel. You can’t be googling the info; it’s got to be inside you.”

[…]

“Evidence suggests that when it comes to knowledge we’re interested in — anything that truly excites us and has meaning — we don’t turn off our memory. Certainly, we outsource when the details are dull, as we now do with phone numbers. These are inherently meaningless strings of information, which offer little purchase on the mind. … It makes sense that our transactive brains would hand this stuff off to machines. But when information engages us — when we really care about a subject — the evidence suggests we don’t turn off our memory at all.”

[…]

“In an ideal world, we’d all fit the Renaissance model — we’d be curious about everything, filled with diverse knowledge and thus absorbing all current events and culture like sponges. But this battle is age-old, because it’s ultimately not just technological. It’s cultural and moral and spiritual; “getting young people to care about the hard stuff” is a struggle that goes back centuries and requires constant societal arguments and work. It’s not that our media and technological environment don’t matter, of course. But the vintage of this problem indicates that the solution isn’t merely in the media environment either.”

[…]

“A tool’s most transformative uses generally take us by surprise.”

[…]

“How should you respond when you get powerful new tools for finding answers?

Think of harder questions.”

A Japanese Artist Launches Plants Into Space

A Japanese Artist Launches Plants Into Space.

“Flowers aren’t just beautiful to show on tables,” said Azuma Makoto, a 38-year-old artist based in Tokyo. His latest installation piece, if you could call it that, takes this statement to the extreme. Two botanical objects — “Shiki 1,” a Japanese white pine bonsai suspended from a metal frame, and an untitled arrangement of orchids, hydrangeas, lilies and irises, among other blossoms — were launched into the stratosphere on Tuesday in Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nevada, a site made famous for its hosting of the annual Burning Man festival. ”I wanted to see the movement and beauty of plants and flowers suspended in space,” Makoto explained that morning.

[…]

“The best thing about this project is that space is so foreign to most of us,” says Powell, “so seeing a familiar object like a bouquet of flowers flying above Earth domesticates space, and the idea of traveling into it.”

[…]

He started with an aerial plant tied to a six-rod axis and studiously added peace lilies, poppy seed pods, dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, bromeliads and a meaty burgundy heliconia. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said. The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume. Makoto worked quietly, until the metal rods were covered completely with plants. Then he directed his attention to his bonsai. For this particular project, Makoto chose a 50-year-old pine from his collection of more than 100 specimens, and flew it over from Tokyo in a special box. While readying it for space, he kept it moist and removed a few brown needles with a tweezer.

[…]

Using Styrofoam and a very light metal frame, Powell and his volunteers had created two devices to attach the bonsai and the flowers, which would launch separately. JP’s volunteers and Makoto’s team worked to calibrate still cameras, donated by Fuji Film for this project, and six Go Pro video cameras tied in a ball that would record the trip into the stratosphere and back in 360 degrees. There were two different tracking systems on each device, one a Spot GPS tracker that would help locate the vessel once it fell down back to Earth, and the other that recorded altitude and distance traveled from the launch site. A radio transmitted the data to a computer array in a van. While the crew waited, Makoto took a red carnation, drilled a hole in a crack of the arid, sandy soil and planted it there. It was his nod to the huge red sun that had started to come up.

[…]

Away 101 went to 91,800 feet, traveling up for 100 minutes until the helium balloon burst. It fell for 40 minutes; two parachutes in baskets opened automatically when there was enough air in the atmosphere to soften impact. Away 100, which held the arrangement, made it up to 87,000 feet. Both devices were retrieved about five miles from the launch site. The bonsai and flowers, though, were never found.