January 27, 2000
Jimmy sent me a link to
a potentially amazing new device
(if it really works); this thing stimulates the vestibular system using tiny electromagnetic
fields to simulate the feeling of motion. You could add this to 3D
environments, games, virtual reality simulations, etc. It seems to me that this could
greatly enhance the overall VR experience; virtual
reality has yet to really catch on, but something like this might really be
able to reinvigorate the field.
Paul (Alamut, 26 January entry) talks about
Gregory Bateson's concept of schismogenesis, the tendency for individuals to move apart
through a systematic and divergent interaction (a sort of widening
spiral of repulsive feedback). For example, the classic romantic tragedy: one
person has a fear of commitment, the other a fear of abandonment, and a movement closer
elicits a pulling back, countered by rising panic, leading to further withdrawal, etc.
There are many other variations of this theme, however; including, as Paul mentions,
a sort of inverted schismogenesis "with the signs reversed" (falling in love).
As a result of this, I
interesting survey article by Jeffrey
which discusses his study (search for "schismogenesis") in which he found
that discussions between students would sometimes follow a
course in which both sides took up polarized and divergent positions which
became more complex as the interaction progressed. Bloom
points out that Bateson called this sort
of interaction symmetric, in which the two sides take up antagonistic
points of view. Another sort of interaction involves an active and a
passive participant (i.e., a lecturer and a passive student, or a dominant-submissive
relationship), which Bateson called complementary interactions; the danger here is
that the resultant understanding can be less complex and possibly too rigid or
inflexible. Most interestingly, however, Bloom mentions a third possibility,
engage in processes more characteristic of negotiation ... Although
disagreements and knowledge claim challenges may occur, the process is not competitive.
Rather, participants engage in clarification, justification, elaboration, or further inquiry in response to disagreements and challenges.
This middle ground, which Bateson called "reciprocal", tends
towards optimization rather than either divergence or domination. Like
complementary interactions, understanding is built up into more and more
sophisticated forms, but my feeling is that this sort of process would tend towards
results which accommodate and incorporate the most forces and factors, and lead to
the most surprising and interesting results in the long run. Optimization is often
non-intuitive at first, but is the most likely strategy to produce results which
we perceive as high-quality.
January 24, 2000
Strange new Japanese inventions.
January 19, 2000
A Wired article about Bill
Etra, one of the co-founders of The Kitchen,
a black-box experimental performance space in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
The Kitchen will be hosting a performance on March 15-18
(scroll down) of Love Diamond by
July, with whom I have been working recently. Well worth checking out (both her
performance and The Kitchen in general.)
Finally back in Portland after a week and a half in NYC. It's great to be back.
I like New York, although I have to say it doesn't seem to have quite the same crazy
energy that I loved when I was younger --- my parents used to live in the Village before
I was born (I was actually conceived in a Greenwich Village loft), and we visited
practically every summer when I was growing up. The "new" New York is safer
and more civilized, but there's a bit of that old "anything goes" kind of
feeling that I miss. I think it's hard to sustain that when everything is so damn
expensive in the city.
January 15, 2000
Hung out with the fabulous Farai Chideya
yesterday. Farai is a journalist and author of Don't
Believe The Hype and The
Color of Our Future, books which debunk racial
stereotypes and investigate the future of race relations from the perspective
of young Americans. Farai is currently working hard on the launch of
the women's cable channel and Web site,
Oxygen, and is also working on putting together
an entertainment-related Internet start-up company. She also used to occasionally
co-anchor the ABC News show World
News Now, a lighthearted ultra-late night news program; the first time I
turned on my TV in the middle of the night and saw Farai there I was quite surprised
and delighted. There's something very strange about seeing someone you know
on TV; it doesn't seem normal --- you're used to relating people who host TV shows
as impersonal beings, disconnected from any sort of intimacy, not real
people in a way, but stand-ins or signifiers for people. But seeing Farai felt so manifestly
real it gave me the sense that the television had suddenly become 3-D or something.
She was really there, because of that personal connection.
Jouke has launched www.nqpaofu.com, after an
era of being hosted as a subdiretory of www.ciw.net, which seems to be having major
problems right now. If you have trouble remembering how to spell that, either bookmark
it or just intone: "Notes, Quotes, Provocations, And Other Fair Use" (somehow
I can remember that when the acronym escapes me). His entire weblog is not yet
copied there, but he says eventually it will be.
Speaking of NQPAOFU, Jouke starts the new site off with a discussion of the brilliant
work of the Canadian animator and filmmaker Norman
McLaren, and how it influenced him when he was in his teens.
I first saw McLaren's work when I was in college, and I was also impressed by it;
the scratch-animations (i.e., Blinkity
Blank), his work with movement, music, and
dance (the remarkable Pas de Deux), and his other fascinating animations as well. McLaren worked with
the relationship between the visual, the musical, and time in a unique and interesting way;
showing rhythm and movement in both visual and auditory modalities, and playing with
the resulting interactions in fascinating ways which opened up worlds which still
deserve further exploration.
New York is a city obsessed with success, yet at the same time it seems to be stuck
in various levels of the past in some ways, a past which sometimes hinders the city's
efforts to be a success. There is a palpable preoccupation with
where you fit in to some measure of human worth: how fabulous is your job, how
prestigious was your school, how much money do you make. The incredible economic
pressure of having to make the absurdly high rent
($1300 for a 300 square foot one-room studio, $3000 for a 700 square foot apartment),
prevents success as measured in traditional ways from ever floating too far from
Yet I think it is this very obsession with traditional measures of success that makes it
difficult for New York to really compete equally with the West Coast in terms of
generation of new ideas, new companies, and new industries. Even in the Silicon Valley,
which also has high rents and lots of rich people, it's possible to think of a waiter
in a cafe as a potentially interesting person --- certainly in Portland this is the
case; yet here in New York there seems to be
a stratification, a sort of unconscious class system, a self-contained insularity to
the different groups and subcultures. But this also militates against the sort of free-form
association of people, new ideas, and so forth which is a rich source of new cultural
and new economic forms. In the Valley, people are not judged by their success level
and the schools they went to so much as their ideas and their ability --- and even
failure is considered a badge of honor: among the venture capitalists of Palo Alto it
is apparently presumed that those who think big and fail
are a better risk than those who have never tried anything. It's hard to break into
New York, yet it is New York that is the poorer for it. The barriers to entry are a
bit too high and the barriers to sustainability are as well; too high for its own good.
A city with so many brilliant people ought to be doing better than playing second
fiddle to the output of the Left Coast, but this seems to be a location hampered by its
own preconceptions about the order of things and the best way to get things done.
Having said all that, I will add that there is a lot happening here --- but the city
definitely could be doing better.
January 12, 2000
Susan and I had a wonderful dinner with Heather Anne Halpert and
Tiffany Lee Brown in Williamsburg (the new
trendy part of Brooklyn). We talked about New York, Portland, and Los Angeles;
relationships and hangups; sibling dynamics; work in new media; age and self-confidence; and other subjects.
Heather Anne and Tiffany were both recovering from the flu, but Heather Anne was
delightful as usual (despite her protestations that she is not much for socializing),
and Tiffany was much more up than she thought she might be. She was relieved to be
transitioning to the world of freelance work after having some conflicts in the world of
working as an employee. She is still doing work for the same Internet company:
but now as a freelancer.
January 10, 2000
Went to see a wonderful concert of new music at the Miller
Theatre of the Columbia
University School of the Arts. Eleven works
were performed, all by different contemporary
composers, ranging from the quirky and delightful There Goes My
Hat Again Flying, an improvisational piece by the young composer-performer Tom Chiu, to
the formally complex and darkly beautiful work-in-progress currently titled
Fugitive Star by the accomplished Augusta
Read Thomas. It was just very good luck to be visiting New York
when the Miller Theatre was presenting such a wide variety of work
by different composers all on one day.
The concert was timed to coincide with a conference of the Association
of Performing Arts Presenters, and in addition to the performances, the
director of the Miller Theatre, George Steel, who has been championing new music
at the theatre, was there along with a few other moderators to discuss the work
and have conversations with the composers. The interesting thing was the fact that
these folks, even while trying to promote new music, also seemed to be presuming that
the audience would find the music difficult. They kept asking the audience to "listen
with open ears"; an admirable admonition but it seemed a bit out of place (aren't
they preaching to the converted, at least to that particular group?)
The other thing that struck me was the fact that some of the pieces (though not all)
were traditional in some ways, and the whole thing felt quite highbrow and genteel.
By contrast, in Portland, there was a weekly concert series called
Aural Fixation that ran for a couple of years featuring new music of all sorts,
and it was indeed experimental: abstract electronic music, ambient music, experimental
jazz, classical, and many other formats were presented. The music often
stretched the limits of one's definition of music, yet the atmosphere was quite
informal, the venue ramshackle and funky. This is not to say that I don't like the
studied institutional elegance of the
Miller Theatre. But it was interesting to me that a bunch of
rag-tag musicians in Portland could put on a very impressive selection of work with
virtually no monetary support and with a completely sincere and plain approach.
I loved the concert at Miller Theatre, but sometimes I wonder if the people who
put on these concerts aren't limiting their audience through an
unconscious assumption that this is music meant only for a certain type of
ivory tower intellectual. Even the time they presented it, 4pm, seemed to assure that
only academics (or tourists) would end up seeing it.
January 9, 2000
On vacation in New York City for the week. So far,
one of the more memorable events was seeing a young woman wearing a long
dark coat walking briskly north on a particular street in Manhattan, quite studiously intent on her
trajectory. She seemed familiar... since I am planning to visit
Heather Anne while here, I thought at first
that I was mentally projecting her face onto this unidentified woman, who by the time
I had finished the thought was now quite a ways down the block. However, as I
mulled over the distinguishing features of her quickly receding figure, her hair,
her face, and so forth, I became increasingly convinced that it was not just that I was
daydreaming or imagining things, but it was indeed Heather Anne Halpert, in the flesh,
who had just zoomed past.
By this time, however, she was about a block away and out of range of all but the
most embarrasingly loud shout, so I let her disappear into the distance without
any further exertions.
Later, however, I spoke with her on the phone and verified that she had indeed
been walking on the very street where I was walking, at the specific time when
I was passing through there with some other friends, on the way to brunch.
Went to see an impressive installation
art exhibit of Issey Miyake's work. Among the more
interesting elements were a room filled with fanciful crepe paper clothing attached to
the ceiling by wires, with electric motors that caused them to suddenly dance up and
down at different rates, and a series of works called A-POC
(for "A Piece of Cloth")
which consisted of a variety of elegant dresses and other garments knitted electronically
by computer from tubes of fabric. The outfits could be built to order based
on the specific individual preferences of the customer.
Also saw Sensation
on its second-to-last day at the Brooklyn
Museum of Art. I was not particularly shocked, although I was slightly surprised
to find that the piece which generated the most controversy (or about which
Giuliani decided to generate the most controversy), Chris
Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, was in fact a radiant and
colorful work, hardly something that one might imagine would generate much
of a negative reaction (it provoked nearly none in England when it was first shown).
I might further note that another of Ofili's works in the show has famous jazz artists' names
painted onto balls of elephant dung: this if nothing else should make it rather clear
that it is not particularly meant as a symbol of degradation but,
as he says, more as a reference to the artist's African heritage.
I would agree with the reviews which say the show was somewhat uneven. However, I
greatly enjoyed some work that a subset of people have found either vacuous or
trivial; I felt that the physical presence of Damien
Hirst's preserved and sometimes dissected animals conveyed in a visceral way
(that a mere description cannot) the tremendous weight of our physical relationship with
our bodies and with both life and death. It confronts us directly with the
massive presence of death and in a strange way it also points at the life we're living
by directing attention to the dynamic livingness that goes beyond
just the static arrangement of atoms in our bodies: the swirling pattern of activity
which does not have a strict boundary at our skin.
A similar theme is found in one of the other works I enjoyed a great deal, Marc Quinn's
Self, a sculpture of his head he made out of a refrigerated mass of his own blood. Again,
the subject here is not death so much as it is our limited conceptions of ourselves,
the fact that we think that the stuff inside us is part of us (for example, our blood), yet when
it is removed from our bodies it somehow becomes other, separate, and in some sense, lifeless. This is a sort of artistic or metaphorical reductio ad absurdum
argument that there must be something about life or ourselves which is not captured by
just thinking of who we are as just the position of the body's physical material.
There is also the movement and dynamic interactions of a living system, interactions
which fundamentally reach outside of every organism into and through and back from
January 5, 2000
Jimmy sends me a link to an interesting interactive toy developed at the
MIT Media Lab.
From Slashdot: you can now even
make plans for
your own death online.
Been thinking more about how to create a meta-programming language that would
be infinitely extensible (allowing you to arbitrarily add new programming concepts
and constructs). Right now, programming a computer involves a lot of tedious
and repetitive application of rules and patterns which the programmer must
apply by hand; this meta-language would allow the programmer to explicitly express many
of these rules and patterns so that she could focus on the high-level design rather
than worrying about low-level implementation details. One could easily create
optimization techniques that would allow you to create a simultaneously very fast
and yet very readable program.
A first step in the creation of such a system might be to construct a super-macro
language that would allow one to express not only pattern substitution but also
procedures which could generate code (which could further be passed through the
super-macro language). This language could also interpret and examine the code
to look for patterns (for optimization) or to check for conditions. It would be
far more powerful than existing macro languages, yet this could perhaps be relatively
January 3, 2000
Here we are in "the year 2000" --- as Susan points out, a year which for
some reason seems to always be prefaced with the words "the year".
Will we ever refer to this year as just "2000"? This reminds me of
Heather Anne's comments (December 19th entry):
Murray's cheese shop on Bleeker street has a sign on the awning
that says, "this is MURRAY'S CHEESE SHOP". It always makes me
think how in a couple of years, it will be a quaint affectation to put
"click here" on a button.
But somehow this year seems as though it will never lose its affectation.
Will we always feel compelled to say "I remember that time I stubbed my toe back
in the year 2000"?
Paul mentions (January 1 entry)
that, despite our secret fears, we all made it after all, and we are alive:
"The calculation to the milestone that we all did as childen, 'How old will I be
then?' with its secret question (and hidden fear), 'Will I ever see it?' -- has been
resolved. We made it and are seeing it, you and I." I don't know
if we all did this calculation but I certainly did;
in fact, I recall this very vividly; back in 1971, when my father was 35 and I
was six, I thought --- how old will I be in the year 2000, which seemed to
me to be an impossibly far-off time in The Future. And I was greatly relieved
to realize, after a brief exercise in subtraction, that I would be the same age as my
father was then, 35 (well, I'm still 34 as I type this, but whatever), in the year
2000, and I figured, hey, my dad isn't that old yet, and he still has a lot of
life yet, probably, so I will be able to witness the Future and then some!
As Paul also points out, part of this is the unspoken fear of an early death;
I have to admit feeling a strange combined sense of
mild ecstasy and relief at making it to the 21st Century.
Why relief? The 20th Century is filled with so many terrible mistakes of humanity
committed by practically every group at one time or another that, combined with its
obvious successes, one has to feel somewhat relieved that it is finally over, and
without much in the way of calamity or violence to mark its passing. It's good to have it behind us.
Of course, people were similarly hopeful at the start of the 20th Century, just before
the Titanic sank to start things off.