September 24th, 2009


Our Own Meadow

It would be rather neat to make a computer mapping application that would perform spatial distortions to provide a worldview more like our inner representations of things - things of high importance, in our mental maps, tend to be larger than things of no importance to us - the area of CMU campus, for example, is larger than the area across forbes of equal depth, and drawing a map of the city creates a fisheye-like distortion around various places. It's not a perfect fisheye - it's hierarchial. Making an app that did justice to the way we think of these things would be a fascinating adventure, although perhaps it would not be that great to use that map too much - our brain already provides that lens, and doubling its power is unlikely to be good for our sense of geography.

The uncanny valley is a well-known effect. I recently noticed that it is not substantially different, from a subjective standpoint, from seeing someone who looks a lot like someone one knows/knew. Seeing what's almost a familiar face with a few things off evokes a pinch of that same horror of wrongness of a mannequin.


When URLs Collide

There is something visceral and horrible at seeing a car hit a human body and then seeing that body topple to the ground. The last time I saw this, it stuck in my mind for a few days. Maybe it will depart more quickly this time. I was heading over to take pictures of the idiots at Beta-Theta-Pi (same boozehounds who have made fools of themselves numerous times over the years I've been here) who were trying to mock the G20 protests when I saw the accident.

I think many of the times I've been most passionate in political arguments have been when I've argued with people who held positions I once strongly held and have since rejected. This extends well beyond libertarianism, into a variety of individual positions as well as former ideas. Behind my feet is a graveyard of ideas - it may add a bit of spice to my feelings when I so argue that perhaps I am trying to reassure myself that the many changes I've been through are not in fact random, and the example of people my age moving towards positions I once had feels like a tiny counterintuition pushing against that. Maybe. Perhaps this means I am not a good enough relativist :P

When it comes to applied, software-for-end-users computer stuff, I have long been passionate about annotation. Part of this is the continuation of an admiration for Vannevar Bush's ideas about information in society - I feel that core human potential in information is best studied beginning with his ideas. The ability to take any piece of information, any object, any topic on the internet and share one's thoughts, starting a discussion, rating, categorising, etc, is something we need to become better thinkers, both individually and collectively. It is not enough to rely on content providers for this - they often lack the means, they desire too much control, and the deepest forms of collaboration are not possible by their hand. Examining this individually,

  • We cannot expect people providing snippets of content on the web, on twitter, on their own site or some shared one, to produce systems for comment and collaboration for the entire public. Unless shared content platforms become very sophisticated and very easy, this is too much a burden, particularly given the social obligations of a forum host (content takedown, spam, etc). Some content platforms are lightly enabled for this kind of thing (like Youtube or slashdot), but it's not good enough.
  • They insist on control in order to serve their own interests - with some, they offer content producers control that should not be given for annotation/comment/discussion (Google/Youtube should absolutely prohibit uploaders to turn off these things, although more ideally a platform should make it impossible in principle to block such things), with some they actively censor mention of competitors, and with others they snip out things they dislike
  • They are incapable of giving us the depth of what we want. An annotation rich environment would let anyone comment on anything, rate anything, start discussions on anything, and it would also let people filter what they see by their friends, by communities, or by trusted moderators (or promoters). A given piece of content could and should have a number of separate annotation pads (some private-personal, some private-shared, some public), and similar with the other kinds of content. Because of the complexity of getting this done, we would like to see a single architecture to do this (ideally one that is distributed but offers strong notions of identity/community/moderator/channels).
How might we prototype such a system? Livejournal, plus some client-side hacks, might do the trick for most of what we'd like.Collapse )

⸘The Port Authority has twitter‽ That's pretty cool.