Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cracker Jack

Just a short week ago I had no idea that any of this was even a possibility.

...and then...

I brought home this prize from the Fire Department Holiday Party Gift Exchange:
Because no one was interested in "stealing" it from me -- for a short glorious time I had a squeezable rubber chicken which sorta laid an egg, but the Fire Captain stole it from me -- this was my last chance choice. Not surprisingly I had no idea what it was because I don't watch television, and apparently, don't pay enough attention to my surroundings when searching for plumbing fittings to retrofit into my automata at Home Depot. For those like me, if there are still any, it's a marketing tie-in for what is considered to be the most popular "Reality" TV show on the <SATIRE>Arts and Entertainment Network</SATIRE>.


These guys' faces are plastered across every webpage I visit because their Cracker Jackass in Chief made some cretinous comments about folks who are not exactly like his own family, in an interview in GQ magazine. <SATIRE>When I was a sprout, GQ was the upscaleish Playboy with slightly less exposed flesh and slightly more manly fashion layouts. Now I guess it's just the Cracker Jack Playboy.</SATIRE> Anyway, the brouhaha went viral, A&E promised to ban the miscreant from the show, and Sarah Palin came rushing to the defense of freedom of poorly-thought-out-speech.

Or was it?

I now know more than I ever though possible about duck hunting in Louisiana and, if the CJAinC is actually briefly absented from the program I'm sure his Holiday Bonus Check will reflect the shortfall. So. A masterfully played publicity stunt which also solidified the base constituency, eh what?

As an antidote I went searching for what I would have sworn on a stack of Cracker Jack Bibles was a Tom Lehrer song that turned out to be by the Firesign Theater -- so much of my youth was a haze of culturally confused references -- What Makes America Great?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Epistomology 1

...back in the day when I was in skool, course #1 was the introductory event, now the usual nomenclature is Basket Welding 101, but I'm stuck in the past...anyway...being shut in with a cold and 8" of snow outside for the last few days my mind gets to wandering, I've been meaning to try to get this down for a while so here goes...

I am, from what I glean in the literature, a Pragmatic Instrumentalist with a strictly Mechanist -- causal -- bent.  This means that I only believe things when I see them and can construct some reasonably clear step-by-step explanation for why they are that way.

As an Instrumentalist I believe that we make Hidden Markov Models of reality. Observations are used to develop models that make efficient predictions. But these models may have no deep relationship to that reality.

I know there are difficulties with Causality. So I also make it an article of faith that every Effect has a Cause. However, this does not mean that I believe that every Effect is predictable. Huge numbers of variables, sensitive dependence on conditions, and Heisenberg make that impossible. None the less, statistical and quantum mechanics make pretty good predictions about the distribution of classical and quantum level behaviors. Most pool balls aimed at a pocket go in. Unless I'm the player.

I also know there are difficulties with Objective Observation. Thus I'm willing to posit that a whole buncha folks should observe and explain things in a reasonably similar fashion before I really believe myself. This means that I depend on a fairly stable external 'reality' peopled by others like me. That's a tough row to prove, so lets make it another article of faith.

There are two places this gets dicey.

The first is mass delusion. The second is stuff I can't see ...and maybe third, various combinations of the two... For the latter I have to put my trust in other people who seem to have a grasp of the issue to provide second hand observation and explanation. In triplicate if possible.

For the former we have Engineering.

If someone can build a bridge or skyscraper that survives multiple earthquakes, I tend to believe that they know something about how the world works. When the explanations for these lunar-landers and cell-phones are all stacked together and appear logically congruent then the body of knowledge they are based on is good enough for me. This is the Pragmatic part. As the logo on this blog says: Quomodo Efficat -- Whatever Works.


A set of similar independent Observations equals Evidence. Some Evidence with a plausible Explanation equals an Hypothesis. A large body of replicable Hypotheses equals a Scientific Fact. And a set of Scientific Facts that makes things work equals Truth. Or the best I can get in this life.

I should note here that this is not the way Science actually behaves on the day-to-day scale, there's more social construction at work. But on the aggregate, stuff tends to even out. If this weren't the case we'd have Mach's law instead of Boltzmann's equations.

Then, thanks to Popper, this all has to be couched in a language that makes predictions which can be tested and refuted. "God does (not) exist" is not a good scientific hypothesis. Further, science cannot even address the super-natural because it is just that: not of nature. Once the super-natural impinges on the natural, then we've got a case. I've just never seen it happen.

Of course, there are a huge quantity of observations that don't fit together in this system. Things which are not immediately repeatable, or for which we don't know the replication conditions, or happen so infrequently that we can't repeat them. When these observations can be explained by existing theory we can lump them into what we already know. The recent sighting of the "Bert and Ernie" neutrinos at Antarctica's Ice Cube facility, or the probable Higgs Boson(s), might be good examples.

When they so aren't explicable there's trouble...

Just because someone (believes she) saw something isn't strong enough Evidence to begin developing explanatory hypotheses. First it is impossible to distinguish believes he saw from actually saw.  Then add observational biases, sensory and memory quirks, and just plain errors in the instruments being used and it adds up to Insufficient Evidence.

But... Because someone (believes she) saw something inexplicable is the place every new theory starts. It's the beginning of a Metric S-Ton of work to be done. Unfortunately there are usually many lower-hanging fruits to be selected, so a lot of observations get lost in the skuffle. This is not a good reason to deny their existence, and in fact there is no basis to deny anything until all due-diligence attempts at replication have been exhausted. But it's the way of the (Enlightened) world.

Good examples of the inexplicable might be, witch-doctory, acupuncture, and/or the placebo effect. (To my knowledge I have never experienced any of these working. Usually drugs and techniques that work for other people stop working on me after a couple tries, so I'm even more skeptical than I should be.) Placebos are well documented to the point that they must be accounted for in medical studies. The best explanation I've seen so far is from a natural healer who said, "It just proves how strong an influence the mind has over the body." This is probably both factually and poetically true, but it provides no mechanism nor way to replicate the effect. So we stumble along asserting, often incorrectly it seems from some recent statistical meta-studies, that such-and-such-a-drug(-that-my-company-supplies) is XX% better than a placebo for YY condition.

Or spontaneous cancer remission. It happens. No one knows why. Maybe you had a fever? Your immune system finally kicked in? Hormones? Prayer?  No way to even create a body of evidence because it's so rare. Cracking that nut would be worth a few Nobel Prizes. However, as I said, there are many lower-hanging prizes with higher chances of success.

So it's a Miracle.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Was looking for an animal themed gifting experience and found this. I wonder if she'll appear on every page I visit now? (I'll miss bikini girl though)...


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Local Color XVI -- Domestic

(...not strictly Santa Fe, but close enough...)  

 Cops: Man hit wife with toilet tank lid

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque man is accused of attacking his estranged wife with a toilet tank lid. Police say Arthur Ruiz got into an argument with his wife Wednesday morning when she came to pick up their young kids ages 2, 6 and 8. According to the victim, Ruiz had a party the night before and they were fighting about it. Ruiz then allegedly tossed her phone in the toilet and grabbed the tank lid and hit her, cutting the back of her head. The kids were not hurt.Police also found out Ruiz had teenagers drinking at his party. He was arrested for that, aggravated battery and child abuse.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Drive This Google

this morning's, ok ok, early afternoon's, view from the top of my driveway
I now command my Google Driverless Car to take me to town for lunch...

On the other hand it took just one adventurous adClick to get this image to appear on every web page I visit, so life is not all bad:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Etantdonnes WhateveR™ Manages My Day

Posts are coming hard and fast here...I'm sure it won't last...But...

I recently saw mention of Google Now being the latest must have app. It purports to coalesce all the needs of the busy new economy executive into one convenient package on your device. It's probably a godsend for your typical globe-trotting urban Google Employee™, so I started imagining how it might help me get through a typical day. I couldn't sleep until I got this all down on magnetic bits:

At 7 AM WhateveR™ wakes me to announce that American Airlines flight 2798 is boarding at the Santa Fe Airport. Maybe I can get a glimpse of it taking off...Nope...missed it again...

If I had needed a boarding pass for that flight it wouldn't have been printed because my old printer is attached to a Windows 2000 desktop that doesn't support the Media Transport (With Added DRM!) Protocol. No matter, at 7:38 AM WhateveR™ pings my cell phone with an apology for the failure and offers to print a voucher for the Google Chrome Operating System that won't run on the computer in question because it has less than 1Gb of RAM. It also prints, on the printer at my Fire Station, a coupon for a new printer.

After I get up I check the weather. It is 65˚ and balmy in Sunnyvale, CA. After finding the Change My Location button hidden under the Follow the San Jose Giants ad, I get the options of New York, London, Dubai, Shanghai, and Other. Clicking on Other and navigating the droop-down-menus I find last night's weather for Santa Fe, NM. With a little more poking around I get it to update and admit that it is indeed mostly sunny outside. I change to degrees C with the simple click of the button next to the temperature display.

My friend Ken's birthday is next month. Mine was last week. WhateveR™ hopes I had an
!Awesome Time!

After breakfast WhateveR™ notifies me that there's some traffic on Old Las Vegas Highway and encourages me to drive on out there and have a look. Included is a helpful map:

I check the weather again and find that it is 28˚ F with light snow in El Dorado, KS.

Later I am notified that, in ten minutes, I could be having lunch with the Fire Department in town. A map of Santa Fe Springs, CA is provided. In current traffic it should take 12 hours and 26 minutes to get there. And BTW, while I'm at the Fire Station I should check to see if the guy who was supposed to order new printer toner ever did it and if that little popup window is still popping up up every few seconds? And here's a coupon for toner for my old printer. Click to <CANCEL>. Then enter <QUANTITY>. Would you like to review your purchase? <CONTINUE>.

The appointed time to walk out to the mailbox comes around.

No packages are going to arrive today. One came yesterday but the driver left it in the middle of the driveway and the meter reader ran over it. WhateveR™ is sorry that it only just remembered that.

The walk counts for a good bit of exercise on my monthly cumulative, but the activity total does not include moving my tenant's bicycle out of the way so I can disassemble a portion of the garage storage system in order to verify that I really can't find that part for the kitchen sink that I thought that I still had after WhateveR™ discovered the scanned receipt in myGoogle Documents.

The markets closed mixed. Would you like to login/create a myGoogle Finance account? <CONTINUE>

WhateveR™ reminds me that I could go to dinner at one of four restaurants within 5 miles of Old Las Vegas Highway and that I (still) have no mass transit options for getting there. It does however provide another map:

One of the four offerings (B) closes at 3pm but I cannot convince WhateveR™ of that fact. Nor can I cause it to ignore another of the selections (D) which appears to be a private catering business. So they both show up as options every day around this time.

A fifth possibility is fielded: a Hotel with a four star restaurant in Las Vegas, NV. In current traffic it should only take 9 hours and 14 minutes to get there. Would I like to Change My Location? <YES> <NO> <MORE>

I am then reminded about that Art Opening for which I got an announcement last week. It was yesterday. Also, my latest New Yorker issue is stuck in a Post Office delivery eddy between Kansas City and Albuquerque for which I might have collected ten frequent flier miles on the credit card that I cancelled last year. And, did I receive my weekly sales flier from Bed Bath and Beyond:  <YES> <NO> <MORE>?

After dinner WhateveR™ notices that I have yet to leave the house and offers to broker a car rental for me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

First World Re-Gifting

Been a long time here...lots going on...in my mind...mostly of no interest to the world at large...but...the holiday spirit has taken hold...so...

Amongst the soon-to-be-excruciating deluge of snailmail crap, I recently received a giftalog from worldvisiongifts.org which offered me the chance to send a cute furry bunny rabbit to some un-specified-but-probably-third-world-personage(s) for only $19 (plus, undoubtedly, tax and license) :

Since I am still in the process of recovery from the March loss of my rabbit-companion, Bonbon lil'Bubba Badbunny, I am somewhat sensitive to their presentation in the world.


I'm sure this charity means well. Based on vetting by various online adjudicators they even seem to be doing pretty well  -- OkOk, 53 out of 70 and 3*s is the lowest in their "highly-rated" category on Charity Navigator, but they are after all a "Christian humanitarian organization", and I guess Jimmy Carter would approve, so it can't be all bad.


In the accompanying text is the statement, "Not only is this a way to feed hungry children..." which sorta-kinda sidesteps the actual-fact-of-the-matter that little Kenyatta's gleeful smile here is not the result of having found a life-long companion, but more likely because he/she is looking forward to a nice stew and a pair of furry moccasins.

And pretty much the same, maybe minus the moccasins, goes for happy Maria's piglet too:

This catalog offers me so many ways to share the wealth of sheep, goats, chickens, and partridges in pear trees while never once admitting that most of those pear trees are destined for the killing floors within months if not days of receipt. This is of course the way of the world, and feeding children is a more noble cause then coyotes, but...can't we just face the gdm facts once in a while? Do I really need to abuse the concept of cute mammal companionship to convince little Sally to forgo her next GTA-FuckBall upgrade so some distant, theoretical, Kenyatta can have one decent meal? And some nice shoes?

Maybe that's the only way it will work...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

... finally ...

!!Bed and Beyond Barf Honors Duchamp!!

For the 100th anniversary of his ground-breaking new-media work the latest catalog offers:


I'm not sure exactly what one should buy three of in order to create exactly which look but I have to give them props not due to NYMoMA for the recognition. I couldn't find this Special Look at their online presence, but at least they have other Bicycle Wheel art for the massahs:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Local Color XV -- second world problems

Beaver Causes Internet And Cellphone Outage In New Mexico

06/28/13 01:46 PM EDT AP
(via the HuffPost)

TAOS, N.M. -- Officials have finally identified the culprit behind a 20-hour Internet and cellphone outage last week in northern New Mexico -- an eager beaver.
CenturyLink spokesman David Gonzales told The Associated Press on Friday that a hungry beaver chewed through the fiber line last week. He says the biting evidence was discovered by contractors who worked to repair the outage.
Officials say more than 1,800 Internet users were affected by the blackout. The number of cellphone users without service during that time is still unknown.
CenturyLink owns a fiber-optic cable that runs from Taos to Interstate 25.
The cable carries wireless data for many residents around Taos County.

 I've had a few instances of bunny-driven internet outage, but they were all fairly local...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Currents 2013

The third annual large scale installment of our only non-coyote/sunset art event (instantiated by the master impresarios of Parallel Studios, on a much smaller scale, in 2002) is drawing to a close at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. It is billed as an International New Media Festival and contains work loosely categorized as Installation, Single-channel/Animation, Multimedia Performance, Experimental Documentary, and Web-based. There were partnerships with other venues, galleries and schools, and a number of panel discussions, performances, and presentations. A full listing can be found here:

So...What is New Media then?

The go-to wikipedia has this, somewhat impenetrable, definition:
New media refers to on-demand access to content any time, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation. Another aspect of new media is the real-time generation of new, unregulated content.

Most technologies described as "new media" are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulated, networkable, dense, compressible, and interactive. Some examples may be the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, video games, CD-ROMS, and DVDs. New media does not include television programs, feature films, magazines, books, or paper-based publications unless they contain technologies that enable digital interactivity.
the main definitions come from:
Flew, T. (2002), New Media: An Introduction
Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort, ed (2003), The New Media Reader
In the context of the Currents' categories we have:
  • Installation -- Almost entirely multi-projection or multi-media video with sculptural elements. There was one example of non-digital art, but it did use an electric motor (counting an opening night performance/installation which used electricity only for illumination, there were two), and two more which used digital thingies but no video;
  • Performance -- Theatrical video with sound components, the one un-electric performance/installation on the opening night (plus the sans-digitalis sculptural installation which was mainly a performance as well), and one piece comprising a live performer with user input via video;
  • Single-channel -- Stuff you could see at home, i.e., good old movies, albeit often open ended and/or non-narrative, also including web-based applications.
Notice that there is some disjunction between Wiki and Currents, especially in the non-interactive Single-channel and non-digital Performance aspects. To my mind New Media should include Installation and Performance as conceptualized in the latter 20th century. Thus I would argue with the more narrow Wiki definition but not enough to open the can'o'worms required to edit it.

So lets just call this a Video show.

As such I was fairly disappointed.
Full disclosure: My entry to the show (a tip'o'th'hat to the exactly 100-year-old original New Media work) was declined because, while it was "interactive", it didn't even use electricity. None-the-less I helped install the show (if you liked the lighting, in some places, thanks), and will help dis-install it because, in the larger context of Art Santa Fe, these guys are Doing Gods Work.

Life is Short. Video is Long

While touring the show I began a discussion with a friend who will probably be writing the review-of-record (this posting is to establish a time-stamp on just who has plagiarized whom). She said (something on the order of), "I wish I had the artist(s) standing next to me to explain things." And herein lies the rub...

To appreciate any art one needs some background knowledge. By virtue of growing up in our culture this sort of knowledge is, nearly, innate when viewing, say, representational painting. Portraits and Landscapes automatically make sense, thus we can quickly move on to how much we like the treatment of the subjects. With a little more cultural inculcation one can even have the same appreciation for abstract painting, up to and including (for many of us) the Ab-Exers.

However, Video Installation has a much shorter and diverse history. Most of us don't have the background to appreciate the advances made by a particular piece. (...I am going to be gracious and assume that the artist's themselves know that which they are advancing...).

A corollary of the innate knowledge argument is that we quickly recognize whether we are going to get something out of spending time with an Old Media work. It has a Hook which makes us willing to invest. I will gladly spend minutes standing, or better sitting, in front of Monet's Water Lilies (yeah, yeah, that's just me) or Dali's The Persistence of Memory. And I was once able to spend long periods with Duchamp's Large Glass -- back when I could remember the various after-market commentaries on the Green Box Notes.

So the trouble with New Media then is two fold. To start with, we are not sure what we are looking at; and then, it takes time to figure it out. Some work has a visceral hook and many of us may be willing to invest a moment or two more.  But it often takes longer. Much longer.

Truisms, Not

Video Art has its roots in the 1960s and much of it was originally driven by the hallucinations, culturally and visually, of the period. A number of pieces in the Currents show hark back to this with psychedelic feedback, ever expanding mandalas, and fractally twirling multiple-images. This generally makes me nauseous philosophically, and sometimes physically.

Quite a number of others take a stab at New Media with multiple Old Medias, using many screens, son-et-lumiere, or, often, all of the above. Gratuitously. Many of these installations had headphones, which could easily be ignored, for the son part. Some did not.

There are also projections onto or into stuff. One onto an existing painting. I'm not really clear on why.

There was one swarm driven piece where ants crawled to your outline over a background-still of the ground. OK. Good. I wonder if I could introduce you the 2001 Swarm Development Group?

Then a new human-interface comprised of a 3x6 foot sheet of stretchy material onto which a pattern was projected. When you pushed on the material a piano played. It had one degree of freedom for about 20 sqft of interface. The (probably synthesized) piano sounded quite nice if you like noodle-music.

Another new interface used a head-mounted EEG sensor to control a video projection. Ostensibly. I was not able to get it out of a tight loop alternating a blurry ocean rescue with a slow aerial track of the Manhattan skyline that always stopped just before I could pick out the hotel where I last stayed.

And one video-game installation which purported to produce a psycho-analysis. I could not get myself out of the second room.

Those last two disappointments can certainly be credited to my lack of inner complexity.

But on to the truisms..these were both important absolutes when first established however they now need updating:

The Medium is -- not the entire -- Message
The Personal is -- not always -- the Political

Much of the content, as such, in the show fails in this update phase. Come on folks. We need to move on.

Also: In the interim between leaving school and being canonized, Post Modern jargon doesn't help your cause.

I attended two of the Panels:


Art and the Legacy of Artificial Life

This panel discussion was peopled by friends and was right up my alley so I prepared a manifesto in order to be argumentative. Fortunately all it took was a pointed question to get them to (mostly) agree that the system's behavior, rather than its artifacts, are what is of real interest. Maybe I get a point for being conciliatory. One the other hand, none of the panelists has spoken to me since.

New Media: Arts & Sciences

Presented by the 1st Mile Institute's Scientists/Artists Research Collaboration program, this was a series of video and in-person (plus two skype-presences) talks. Out of 18 video/talks there were: one artist-naturalist who is observing the sky in ways not quite done before, Heliotown; two holographers who use sciency tools to examine the nature of light and perception; and one art/science duo who made a juicy data set it into a pretty swell web page, Wind Map. Otherwise it was cool-visualizations that might have once seen an artistic hand or cool-technology that artists might want to use sometime. So, for the most part, no real collaborations were used in the making of this event.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013



my voice-phone metadata for the last year:

nothing to see here
move along

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Artistic Rendering

Artists use external systems, anything from simple tools to complex human interactions, to bring their ideas into the world. When using a system we provide inputs, turn a crank of some kind, look at what comes out the other end, and then try to intuit its actual behavior. When the behavior is desirable we want to control it to some purpose.  In the Arts this purpose is usually to produce -- render -- a tangible product such as a print, film scene, or musical interlude.

At it's Latin roots the word render means to give or put. This made its way into English meaning as:
  1. Transmit to another (render a verdict);
  2. Create an image (render the model);
  3. Cover a surface (render stucco);
  4. Extract by melting (render lard).
The purpose of most (all?) human activity is to transmit ideas or goods and services, and artistic activity brings the first definition to the fore. In the Media Arts the second definition applies directly to the activity of using a computer to make an end product. However, I submit that this usage, more often than not, devolves to one or both of the last two senses, either covering, resulting in a thin facade, or melting, resulting in schmaltz.

There was an Alternative

In the late 1960s Jack Burnham hypothesized something he called Systems Art (for a start see my Cybernetic Serendipity entry). His ideas were quickly absorbed and diluted in the Conceptual Art wave leaving us with two divergent online definitions of Systems Art.

Wikipedia says:
In systems art the concept and ideas of process related systems and systems theory [c.f Cybernetics] are involved in the work [and] take precedence over traditional aesthetic object related and material concerns.
ArtNet.com (now a defunct link, but from the Grove Dictionary of Art via the Wayback Machine) says:
[Systems art is a] Term loosely applied to art produced by means of a systematic or highly organized approach to an image or concept.

The latter refers to what are called Generative Systems, into which the products of artistic rendering usually fall. The system produces a product and we don't really much care what happens inside the black box. It's all about the Form of what is produced.

The former is more interested in the system's behavior and provenance. What is interesting is the Function of the system itself. In the 1960s interesting behavior was not easy to produce, but in the 2010s we have the capability to create much more complex systems. Systems which have lives of their own.

An Aesthetics of Function rather than Form

With an Aesthetics of Function we consider the qualities of the system's behavior, and by extension into second-order-cybernetics, the quality of the relationship of the observer to the observed -- the artist-viewer's relationship with the art-system.

While there are systems which have no inputs, the entire Universe might be an example, we are more interested in those with the structure described above, where by providing appropriate inputs we can mold the outputs in certain ways:

Input - Process - Output

For artificial systems this requires input sensors, internal cross connections, and output actuators. This usually invokes Art and Technology, by which we usually mean Electronic Technology, which in this century usually means Computer Technology. And this is the medium at the heart of "interactive" New Media art.

I put "interactive" in quotes because it is usually a mis-applied description. Most "interactive" art is better described, at a somewhat lower level of function, as "responsive". In order to clarify this I propose the following continuum of system function and behavior.


A doorbell responds by ringing when we push the button. The old fashioned ding-dong type might even be described as interactive because the button push causes the ding and the release causes the dong, giving us some modicum of control over the proceedings. But the same inputs always produce the same outputs.


Learning to use a tool or play a musical instrument is interactive in the sense that we have to experiment to find the capabilities and interfaces that allow us to use the system. While the ding-dong-bell may fit this description, its state-space -- the number of different conditions it might be in -- is very small and easily explored.  Playing a piano requires the manipulation of a much larger set of states with varying inputs and outputs. The user and the system form a feedback loop which ultimately produces the output, but only the user changes his/her behavior.


If the system changes its behavior as we use it -- generally we like it better when the changes benefit our intentions but it could also be an obstinate SOB -- it is adapting. To do this it needs a large state-space which changes over time and this requires memory. Pushing the interactive tool analogy rather harder than it should be, tuning a guitar while learning to play it might be considered to be adaptive on the part of the guitar. The unfortunate thing is that there are very few examples of adaptive behavior in the arts. Some video games or those films in which one can vote for various outcomes might fit the bill.


If both the system and the user adapt to each other in order to render a result we have the start of collaboration.  I know of no complete examples of this in the artificial art-world.

This set of way-points is ordered by increasing autonomy and independence of control. Responsive systems have very little control over their behavior whereas a collaborative system ideally shares control equally.  Another way to put it is that they are increasingly lifelike. Or Artificial Life Like.

The Musical Analog

Musical production provides better examples of my categories, and in general, has made more progress with both humans and their instruments. Gordon Mumma's Hornpipe (1967), for waldhorn, valvehorn & cybersonics, is an early example of an interactive and adaptive system of performer, instrument, and space.  George Lewis's player algorithms, e.g., "Rainbow Family" (1984), for soloists with multiple interactive computer systems, which he described in such terms as (from my memory of a talk he gave at Mills College in October, 1984), "This guy is sort of a backup player where this other guy really likes to play lead," ventured into the collaborative.

In music we might consider a symphony orchestra to be, ideally, responsive to exactly the requirements of the score and conductor. In reality of course the conductor and players interact and adapt to each other. But in the extreme, consider Stockhausen's use of computers to render his compositions such that he had complete (well, almost) control over all the parameters of pitch, timbre, and time.

A string quartet provides a better example of interaction. Traditionally there is a detailed score under which each player has some autonomy of interpretation, and the ensemble as a whole must interact to produce the result.

A group composition, for instance a popular band developing a song, may cover the ground from interaction to collaboration but probably displays more of the features of adaptation. Each player makes a 'riff' off of the suggested material and all of these inputs are adapted to each other resulting in a more-or-less fixed end product.

A free jazz ensemble -- when they actually listen to each other -- is an example of a collaborative system. Each player makes an equal contribution while interacting with and adapting to the other players.


Learning to use any system is interactive in the sense that we need to probe it and learn from its responses. In this process we are adaptive, so the system as a whole exhibits that property.  However the external system may not learn anything about us. When the system passively adapts in some form we have a master-slave relationship, but also the beginning of a dialog. When the system experiments with us -- hopefully benignly -- and we adapt in turn, then we have at last the beginnings of a true collaboration.

This should be the goal of Artificial Life in the Arts.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Fire

It looks like the Santa Fe fires, Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge, are mostly under control. There are two lightning-starts further up in the Pecos Wilderness to the north and east, Jaroso (on Pecos Baldy) and White's Peak (14 miles Southwest of Cimarron, NM) which seem to be in let-it-burn mode because they are very remote and no structures are threatened. Plus the Silver fire just northeast of Silver City which is still very active. You can see all these on this map:
For some reason InciWeb and NMfireInfo have just ignored White's Peak and are not updating Jaroso very clearly, so that map is the best I can find.

Also here's an interesting video produced by the Colorado Springs Fire Department which shows how they are protecting homes in the path of the Black Forest fire which has whacked over 480 structures and 14,000 acres so far:

Since this blog is a Google production and the video is not on UTub the point and click integration is minimal, so you will just have to follow the link...The Inter-tube-world is now in a three-way polarization war (MicroSlop vs GooglePlex vs Awpple) being fought via the proxies of difficult cross linking and non-integration. But that's Our Modern Life.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fire News

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd & thunder'd

With the sound of a Sikorski chopper headed to Pecos in the background here's some information about our first round of summer fires here in lovely downtown Northern New Mexico...

We have two incidents, each well into a week long. To the West of Santa Fe in the Jemez mountains, the Thompson Ridge fire is at about 4500 acres and moving East towards the Valdes Caldera where the Los Conches fire did its damage two years ago. Just North of Pecos, NM to the East in the Sangres, the Tres Lagunas fire is pushing 8700 acres moving mostly uphill to the North. One can find the latest information, updated once or twice a day, at NMfireinfo.com which also features a twitter sidebar that often links to newer postings. The forest service also maintains a Google Earth map of incidents throughout the entire country at: http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/googleearth.php. But here's the latest maps that I've found posted:

Thompson Ridge from June 3 at 20:51:
For reference here's the Google Map of about the same area,
centered at 35 53 00N 106 36 30W:

View Larger Map

Tres Lagunas from Jun 3 at 21:07, heat map:
and fire progression:
And again, for reference here's the Google Map of about the same area,
centered at 35 43 00N 105 39 00W:

View Larger Map

Hopefully the left hand will not meet up with the right hand.

Friday, May 31, 2013

ABKachina Installed

It took about 10 days of fiddling, starting from here, but I seem to have "finished" the Airplane Barbie Kachina:

And now maybe (part of the name) makes more sense:

The rest of the name can be traced to my friend Brian's vision of the result of my move to New Mexico: Giant Barbie Kachina. So it's kinda too bad that I had to place it just out of the site lines for my uphill neighbor to be able to truly appreciate it.

There are three layers which each move or spin independently. The bottom hair rotates clockwise in the breeze. The middle power-unit spins counter-clockwise with added propellers. And the top plane-hy-bird (with feeder) tacks in the breeze and flaps its wings -- this was the original idea that morphed slightly when Michael and Melody gave me a squirrel-proof bird-feeder partway through my "design" "process".

I would like to point out that exactly zero (0) new materials were purchased in the making of this monstrosity. Much of the metal is recycled or left-over, a few hardware bits and bobs are new-old-stock, and I used about a metric-S.L. of MIG welding wire sticking the bobs to the bits -- especially when kludging the thin galvanized fence posts to the top plate to make the tripod. I also need to add special thanks to Kaahl in the Attic for remembering that I had all those copper-float half-balls left over from The Eightfold Path.

The wind has been going like gang busters all week.Wednesday it blew the thing over and then tore up the plane-hy-bird on re-entry. But it seems to have held up since then...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Local Color XVI

nothing to see here -- keep moving

This seems to have made the national news of the weird so I guess everyone already knows about it...but...I just can't resist...

Police: Driver drove drunk while having sex

Posted at: 05/29/2013 8:45 AM
By: The Associated Press

Luis Briones

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico man is facing multiple charges after police say he was drunkenly having sex with a woman while driving, crashed his car in Albuquerque, then hid from police behind a cactus.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that Luis Briones was found with one shoe on and his shorts on inside-out Monday night after he crashed his Ford Explorer.
In addition, police say the 25-year-old's female passenger was found naked outside the vehicle after being ejected. Authorities say she had deep cuts to her face and head.
Police say after the crash Briones tried to drive away and leave his passenger behind when a witness grabbed his keys from the ignition.
He is charged with aggravated DWI, reckless driving and evading police.
No attorney was listed for him.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

If y'all don't actually believe this could be happening, here's the police report (courtesy of http://i.cdn.turner.com which appears to be some kind of image hosting site...):

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Airplane Barbie Kachina Machine

I visited a metal sculptor during the Eldorado Open Studios last week and decided that I could just weld a buncha dropbin-bits together and install the results in my arroyo as a project for my executors.

Here's the first day's effort:

With some hair added:

More layers are in process.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Local Color XV -- statewide competition

Police: Explosive used to destroy park toilet

CONCHAS, N.M. — State police officers have arrested a man suspected of using an explosive device to blow up a portable toilet at Conchas State Park in northeastern New Mexico.

Forty-two-year-old Todd Parey of Albuquerque was taken into custody Monday. He was booked into the San Miguel County jail on charges of dangerous use of explosives, possession of an explosive device and criminal damage to property.

State police say a search of Parey’s home in Albuquerque turned up bombmaking materials.
Parey allegedly told officers that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

Officers were called to the state park Monday afternoon in response to reports of a large explosion and plumes of black smoke. They found the toilet in pieces. Debris had been blasted more than 30 yards away.

(from the Santa Fe New Mexican: Local news in brief, April 3, 2013)

And just for scale, here's the scene of the crime:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Local Color XIV -- animals in agua fria

Sorry this took so long to get around to posting. I was waiting for the local news to pick it up, but I guess there have been more important stories for Holy Week.

Last Tuesday, March 19, the County Fire Department responded to an illegal burn, reportedly a "buffalo head" on fire. It turned out to be a complete elk carcass. Since elk are not in season the FD turned it over to State Game and Fish.

I have so many questions...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Local Color XIII -- GPS edition

This poor guy tried to make the turn at Canyon and East Palace:

Feb 27, 2013 New Mexican Article

which is not that easy even with my Tundra pickup:

Thanks Google!
He believed what his GPS told him about being able to drive down Canyon Road to get back to civilization. Aside from not really grokking the angles involved, the GPS thought that Canyon was one-way the other way. Had he actually made this turn I think the truck would have become a permanent installation on America's Gallery Row. I award one point to technology in the mind-share game.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lazy Red Foxes

If you've ever tested a mechanical typewriter you know this sentence which contains every letter of the English alphabet:

The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog.

Although the distribution of letters differs somewhat from the language at large they do not appear with equal probability either. Thus the information entropy of the letters is less than the maximum one would expect and this suggests that the sentence may not be a random agglomeration.

Looking a little deeper we can see that there is a certain amount of mutual information in letter sequences, i.e., 'h' is always followed by 'e' in this tiny sample.

It also parses into convenient words when broken at the spaces, and these words are all found in the dictionary. Even more surprisingly the word order matches the language's Syntax perfectly:

Noun-phrase Verb-phrase Object-phrase

Maybe it means something? Hmm, let's just see... Each phrase seems to make sense. Based on an exhaustive search of the corpus of written knowledge, adjectives modify nouns in an appropriate manner and the verb phrase stands up to the same scrutiny. Everything is Semantically copacetic and thus we have a candidate for a meaningful utterance.

Of course in amongst all the rule fitting -- we know it when we see it -- the sentence actually does mean something. It communicates the description of an event that we can easily picture occurring.

Now lets just mess things up a bit. There are 10! (>36 million) possible sequences of these words (actually not quite because the "the" appears twice but I'm not smart enough to figure out that probability). We can reject most of these sequences since only a few remain syntactically and semantically proper. From the reduced set of candidates for meaningfulnesses, consider:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy red dog.

Still makes good sense. Different colored canines are well within the scope of meaningful utterance. However, how about:

The lazy red dog jumps over the quick brown fox.

This makes semantic sense but lacks plausibility. Because we seldom experience a lazy thing getting one over on a quick one, it is hermeneutically surprising. (I would use semiotically here but it is over-over-loaded with other meanings and I've always liked the sound of hermeneutic. I'm also taking the surprise factor from explanations of information entropy that we started with -- low probability and/or completely random occurrences are more surprising to behold because we expect them less.)

Therefore I propose that Hermeneutic Surprise (HS) be added to the set of Information Measures. It is probably one of those things that peaks in the middle of its range. Low HS is meaningful but of little interest: "Apples are red." And high HS may be poetic but meaningless in experience. E.g. the example from my Another Chinese Room post: "The green bunny was elected president of the atomic bomb senate."

The trouble is going to be figuring out how to measure Hermeneutic Surprise...because right now we just know it when we see it...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Games, in Theory

I've finally figured out what it is that annoys me about game theory. It's the -- usually unspoken -- assumptions made when determining what the rational strategy should be.

I started down this road in my AI-Class G-T post here, but I think I can put it in better terms now. Given the Prisoner's Dilemma payouts in that post the presumption is that one should always play Defect because:
  • A. You risk doing serious time if the other player Defects and you don't;
  • B. You could get a reward if you catch the other player Cooperating.
This makes some sense in a one-shot game where you expect to never see the other player again. But if you are playing more than one round -- unless your opponent is Christ-on-the-Cross (and probably even for that first round as well) -- everyone is going to play Defect. This makes the total payout for both players worse than if they had always Cooperated.

Sure. Sure. Maybe you "won" the first round and are ahead by a big six points after the hundredth round at -98 to -104. Big Whoop...Pride goeth before the Fall...

So, why is Defect-Defect assumed to be the rational strategy? It's because each player is afraid that the other player is just as greedy as they believe themselves to be. Afraid and Greedy are strong terms for risk-adverse and advantage-seeking, but there they are in plain daylight. Fear and Greed doth also lead to falling.

I think one can make the same argument for other canonical games:
  • Chicken: Really just P-D with worse outcomes;
  • Stag-Hare: The Hare player is afraid of being abandoned and selects the option which guarantees some self-advantage.
In all cases Cooperation leads to a better outcome for both players over time. In fact Christ-on-the-Cross might really be the best option all around.

So, why do we not Cooperate? My claim is that Fear and Greed are natural responses to evolving in an adverse environment with limited resources. Even single-celled organisms recoil from harmful substances and pursue the useful ones. Scale this up and over-amp it with competition and you get Defection as the rational response. If we had developed in a benign and plentiful environment we might have little need for risk-aversion and advantage-seeking. Perhaps then we would believe that the rational strategy is one which best benefits all the players.

I'm going to carry this even further and posit that all animal life on earth have developed four natural, one might even say knee-jerk, responses in order to survive:
  1. Fear -- Risk aversion;
  2. Greed -- Advantage maximization;
  3. Disgust -- Recoil, e.g., from excrement or dead bodies (probably better represented by its opposite, Desire, but I like to keep things negative whenever possible);
  4. Anger -- Blanking out fear and disgust in order to persevere.
These are what we commonly call emotions. Therefore the so-called rational game strategies are actually emotionally driven.

If only we lived in a world of bunnies and unicorns, eh?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Chinese Room

Searl's Chinese Room thought experiment posits that one could have a program which carries on a conversation in a language unknown to the program's executor, i.e., the thing -- or person -- executing the program has no idea what it is saying, but an external participant can believe that it is having a meaningful conversation. The program passes the Turing Test but doesn't actually have a mind of its own. Proper syntax masks semantic meaning. This is similar to Chalmer's Zombie hypothesis, and they may both use assumptions that beg the actual question of when and where "minds" exist...

But here I propose a slightly different experiment which could separate the men from the machines. I posit that the real issue of meaning in the Searl experiment appears when a new utterance is made; a relationship which has never been expressed in the given language but is nevertheless congruent with (so called) reality. We can easily make nonsense sentences, "The green bunny was elected president of the atomic bomb senate." But it's harder to generate ones that are less poetic.

The Schip Box

Just to keep it simple lets suppose that we have three letters that take the form:
  • A = B * C
Where each letter stands for some physical quantity, e.g., A is Acceleration. We can make triplets like the following which are valid physical laws:
  • F = M * A (Force = Mass * Acceleration)
  • P = I * E (Power = Current * Voltage)
But we can also come up with things like:
  • M = P * I (Mass = Power * Current)
Which is apparently meaningless, or at least incorrect.

Then we build a box which takes each of these triplets and rings a bell if it is a valid relationship and buzzes otherwise. In order to distinguish the two, the box could do an exhaustive search of all knowledge (which I think is the way Google now recognizes pictures of cats). It could get fancier by doing a dimensional analysis of the terms to see if they make any sense before-hand.

Then the question is: How would this box recognize a completely new valid representation that is not found in the knowledge base? This would require understanding what the symbols actually mean in the world, and how they relate, as well as developing experiments to validate them.

Isn't this the crux of the syntactic/semantic mind-matter?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

...more things to worry about...

As if that isn't anxiety inducing enough...
Due to having my inbox "outside the pale" of crap-filtering, I get a hundred of these everyday -- it's scary what-all the Russians want to do:

To: <gpbcid@etantdonnes.com>
From: "Derek Dotson" <peacetimec00@heinemann.com>
Subject: Russian sluts want to cune for you

          Free Registration

Sunday, January 20, 2013

People for the Ethical Treatment
of Autonomous Robots

A conceptual installation (for the moment) comprising my first robot car in a wire cage, much like those seen at shopping-mall animal adoption operations. The car paces back and forth in the cage and responds to peoples' presence in different ways depending on its mood. If you pick it up it will spin its wheels

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Spectacular Simulacra


From the '50s to the 70s there were a number of notable collaborations between artists, scientists, and engineers, many of them inspired by the new field of Cybernetics. They eventually foundered on the Scylla and Charybdis of ego and corporate finance. In the 1970s, independent funding dried up, commercial electronic devices undermined homebrew experimentalists, Conceptual Art -- with what I view as a mis-reading of the meaning of Shannon's Information Theory -- replaced Praxis with Platonism, and Postmodern Critical Theory swept the rest before its mighty incomprehensibility.

Instead of a new sensibility, e.g., Cybernetically based Artificial Life, what we got was MTV.

Now, well into a new millennium, we have a chance to correct this. For the most part the machines we have created are Automata rather than Autonomous beings. We need to relax our desire for control over what we create. We also need to move them out of Simulated virtual environments and Situate them in physical reality. Without the constraints of a grounding rod in the real world they drift on fumes and are unable to cross the syntactic/semantic barrier to understanding.

When machines are autonomous they may no longer be of any use to us. Their behavior and morphology may not be aesthetically interesting. They do not have to explain their motivations or behavior. They can just live their own lives.

Complexity Science, in areas such as self-organization and artificial life, provide inspiration as well as mechanism for this work. And strangely enough it may be artists who are best positioned to accomplish the project -- Where else but in the arts can a robot just relax and not have to assemble widgets or blow things up 24/7? However Art's research arms have atrophied to the point that it might be better to use a new title: Bricoleur.

(And yes, thanks to Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard for suggesting the essay's title.)


A three part essay on this blog:

I also have a timeline of relevant events: Schip's timeline.
And my extended abstract: Ich Bin Un Bricoleur.

Into the Grey Areas

(This is part 3 of 3 of my essay A Spectacular Simulacra. If you haven't been following along, see the abstract and index here.)

Compare and Contrast

Compressorhead -- Ace of Spades

Georgia Tech -- Shimon, robotic marimba player

There are two ways of looking at these pictures:

Frank Popper (1993), Art of the Electronic Age

There is no doubt that this conjunction of the real and the virtual engendered by simulation is at the heart of present research by many technological artists. They consider that 'virtual space', 'virtual environments', or 'virtual realities' in general usher in an entirely new era in art, allowing the participants a multi-sensorial experience never encountered before.

The key words 'artificial intelligence' as an aesthetic problem open up a vast, time-worn discussion of the relationship between man and the machine. Artificial intelligence embraces techniques which enable machines, and in particular computers, to simulate human thought processes, particularly those of memory and deducation [sic].

  Hans Haacke (1967), Untitled Statement
In the past, a sculpture or painting had meaning only at the grace of the viewer. His projections into a piece of marble or canvas with particular configurations provided the programme and made them significant. Without his emotional and intellectual reactions, the material remained nothing but stone and fabric. The systems's programme, on the other hand, is absolutely independent of the viewer's mental participation. It remains autonomous -- aloof from the viewer. As a tree's programme is not touched by the emotions of lovers in its shadow, so the system's programme is untouched by the viewer's feelings and thoughts.

Naturally, also a system releases a gulf of subjective projections in the viewer. These projections, however, can be measured relative to the system's actual programme. Compared to traditional sculpture, it has become a partner of the viewer rather than being subjected to his whims. A system is not imagined; it is real.

In the first video we have a masterpiece of pre-programmed German engineering (not to be stereotypical, but just imagine what the Swiss would do with it, eh?). In the second the machine gets a bit of a chance to decide how it will behave.

In the first quote Popper posits that technology is used to simulate virtual environments for the viewer's delectation. In the second, which is a founding document of Systems Art, Haacke partners the art-system with the viewer in the real world.

So, we can have machines that are either pre-determined Automata or else Autonomous beings. And they can be either virtual or real, i.e., Simulated or Situated in reality. One path gives us total control. The other requires, if not abdication of control, at least collaboration with our materials and creations.

An Autonomous Situation

Art can be ... or could have been ... a research program:
Repetto, Douglas (2010).
Doing It Wrong
(from the 2010 Symposium -- Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering)

Although musical innovators throughout history would have articulated these ideas differently, I believe they shared the central tenets that creative acts require deviations from the norm and that creative progress is born not of optimization but of variance. More explicit contemporary engagement with these ideas leads one to the concept of creative research, of music making with goals and priorities that are different from those of their traditional precursors -- perhaps sonic friction, in addition to ear-pleasing consonances, for example, or "let’s see what happens" rather than "I’m going to tell you a story."

The problem is that most machines, even the of the art variety, are well controlled models. But what is interesting is new behavior, not the recapitulation of what went before. Rather than models we should be building autonomous beings that have lives of their own and behave in new ways. This is a research program.

When a system gets a chance to decide how it will behave we may not perceive the results as aesthetically interesting. From our lofty height we might not recognize it as living. And for now, it doesn't even have to be very complicated. One can make the argument that a thermostat responds to its feelings of being too hot or too cold and adjusts its environment accordingly. Since we have no idea what its internal mental states might be this description is just as valid as the physical explanation of how the sensors and actuators work. (I need to emphasize that I am not anthropomorphizing machines here but rather mechanizing human responses, putting both on a similar level.) Giving machines lives that are of no practical use while not going out of the way to make them attractive, didactic, or transparent allows them to rise through ontological cracks to just being themselves.

In a virtual world where interactivity and intelligence are simulated this can't be done easily. The beauty and curse of simulation is that it can respond in any way we like; we can make up any structure, or none at all. This is our Spectacular Simulacra: It's potentially all noise and no signal. Just like listening to a radio tuned between stations, when there is no signal there is very little to be learned from an interaction. On a large scale, this is a reason that wikipedia is considered unsuitable for academic references. Anyone can edit it to say anything they like, and it may not be corrected -- whatever that means -- quickly or accurately. The US Congress has been a serial offender in this respect.

However systems that are situated in the real world get input that already has structure; the constraints on the system make it work. It is this interaction with the world, the constraints and the underlying materials, that gives us the feedback we need to learn and function. If a machine interacts with a physical environment it has a better chance of grounding its knowledge and jumping the syntactic/semantic fence. As an example, you may use the phrase "fire is hot" in a syntactically correct sentence. But I assert that the only way you will learn the semantic meaning, and dare I say the underlying semiotic relationships, is if I hold your feet to the fire.

[edit, added 1/27/13]
When talking of living machines with minds of their own, the specter of Dr. Frankenstein's Monster appears. What we forget is that the Monster wasn't a monster until after it accidentally killed and was further persecuted for being different. Looking deeper into the question, the fears that Machines Will Enslave Us are rooted in the assumption that those machines will behave as animals (and humans) do. But when creating our artificial life forms we might dispense with the Darwinian necessities of Fear, Disgust, Anger, Greed -- and the rest of the deadly sins upon which modern economics is based -- and instead have them optimize the desire to, e.g., be the best possible musical improviser who knows when to lay back and listen and when to barge right in.

So where do we start?

Is Chaos Theory Postmodern Science?

This is the title of a paper -- which seems to have vanishingly close to zero citations -- by a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies who comes to the unsurprising conclusion that:
Postmodern science does, in fact, exist, and literature just may be it.
Mackey, J. L. (2006).
Is Chaos Theory Postmodern Science?

(in reconstruction: studies in contemporary culture, Jan 24, 2006)

Now, depending on your parser, this is either a tautology or a category error. However, if one reads "Chaos Theory" as Complexity Science, it does contain a kernel of truth. At its roots, Post Modernism is interested in systemic structures. In its branches it deconstructs those systems to find underlying paradigmatic narratives -- assumptions -- which (in)form, and even create, the structures. Complexity Science, rooted in Cybernetics, also takes a systems view. It shares with Post Modernism an interest in how underlying structure gives rise to system wide behavior. Complexity also provides Emergence as a framework for considering that systems may be more than the sum of their parts -- accepting that some phenomenon cannot be subjected to Modernist reduction.

As a counter example to the Mackey, and in more depth, I recommend these two books which look into some of the background and possibilities. (Note that I'm biased as the authors are friends...)

Victoria Alexander posits self-organization as an explanation for the perception that natural phenomenon have goals or develop towards some final purpose (teleology). In chapters 1-4 she "deconstructs" what purpose means and how it might arise from otherwise non-directed mechanisms, both in nature and human artifact. As a bonus, chapter 5 is a (fairly) clear explanation of C.S. Peirce's semiotics...
Alexander, V. N. (2011).
The Biologist's Mistress: Rethinking Self-organization in Art, Literature, and Nature.
Emergent Publications.
From the chapter 1:
What I do share with all teleologists, authentic or so-called, is a deeply felt folk-sense of purposefulness in nature. It is clear to me that many processes and patterns in nature can't be fully explained by Newton's laws or Darwin's mechanism of natural selection. These are processes that are organized in ways that spontaneously create, sustain and further that organization. Although I believe that mechanistic reductionism is inadequate to describe these processes, I don't believe that purposeful events and actions require guidance from the outside -- from divine plans or engineering deities. Nature's purposeful processes are self-organizing and inherently adaptive, which is the essence of what it is to be teleological.

John Johnston provides a history of Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and related fields with an analysis of their significance to modern culture. If you are not Lacanian I would skip chapter 2, but Section III, Machinic Intelligence, is especially relevant to the program outlined here.
Johnston, J. (2008).
The allure of machinic life: cybernetics, artificial life, and the new AI.
MIT Press.
From the preface:
This book explores a single topic: the creation of new forms of "machinic life" in cybernetics, artificial life (ALife), and artificial intelligence (AI). By machinic life I mean the forms of nascent life that have been made to emerge in and through technical interactions in human-constructed environments. Thus the webs of connection that sustain machinic life are material (or virtual) but not directly of the natural world. Although automata such as the eighteenth-century clockwork dolls and other figures can be seen as precursors, the first forms of machinic life appeared in the ‘‘lifelike’’ machines of the cyberneticists and in the early programs and robots of AI. Machinic life, unlike earlier mechanical forms, has a capacity to alter itself and to respond dynamically to changing situations.

Here we are

Self-organization and Artificial Life are areas of Complexity Science that can provide inspiration as well as mechanism. Although some of the original work in these fields may have been more Art than Science -- making grander claims than could be supported in the, as they say, dominant paradigm -- years of more cautious work have produced concrete results. On the other hand there is something to be said for throwing caution to the winds...

Because they have no requirement to make useful artifacts or produce scientifically supported results, artists might be in an ideal position to create these machines. This would also encourage d├ętente in the science-wars, bringing the Humanities and Sciences closer to productive collaboration. But Art has now become identified with Spectacle rather than research, so I propose a new title: Bricoleur.

So far, work in the arts has been done in a sporadic fashion due to confusion about both purposes and methods when using advanced technology and especially computers. Generative Art -- art which emerges from computer programs -- has been conflated with Artificial Life -- programs that have their own behaviors. The following paper skates between the two but seems to come down on the "make pretty things" side.
McCormack, J., & Dorin, A. (2001, January).
Art, emergence, and the computational sublime.

In Proceedings of Second Iteration:
A Conference on Generative Systems in the Electronic Arts.
Melbourne: CEMA (pp. 67-81).

In a design sense, it is possible to make creative systems that exhibit emergent properties beyond the designer's conscious intentions, hence creating an artefact, process, or system that is "more" than was conceived by the designer. This is not unique to computer-based design, but it offers an important glimpse into the possible usefulness of such design techniques -- "letting go of control" as an alternative to the functionalist, user-centred modes of design. Nature can be seen as a complex system that can be loosely transferred to the process of design, with the hope that human poiesis may somehow obtain the elements of physis so revered in the design world. Mimicry of natural processes with a view to emulation, while possibly sufficient for novel design, does not alone necessarily translate as effective methodology for art however.

Whereas this next paper gets us moving in the right direction. It was prompted by an exhibition: Emergence -- Art and Artificial Life (Beall Center for Art and Technology, UCI, December 2009). The author and a handful of other artists have been experimenting with complex systems for some time -- see the end of my timeline for pointers to various work that I've been able to ferret out of the 'net.
Penny, Simon (2009).
Art and Artificial Life a Primer

4.1 An Aesthetics of Behavior
With the access to computing, some artists recognized that here was a technology which permitted the modeling of behavior. Behavior - action in and with respect to the world - was a quality which was now amenable to design and aesthetic decision-making. Artificial Life presented the titillating possibility of computer based behavior which went beyond simple tit-for-tat interaction, beyond hyper-links and look-up tables of pre-programmed responses to possible inputs, even beyond AI based inference -- to quasi-biological conceptions of machines, or groups of machines that adapted to each other and to changes in their environment in potentially unexpected, emergent and ‘creative’ ways.

We have a long way to go...

And it's not going to be easy:
Is Slime Mold Smarter Than a Roomba?
IEEE Spectrum (December 2012)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Perfect Storm

(This is part 2 of 3 of my essay A Spectacular Simulacra. If you haven't been following along, see the abstract and index here.)

So why did our beloved Science and Technology in the Arts seem to die on the vine in the 1970s? (Please note that this section is USA-centric and more polemic than incontestable).


Conceptual Art -- "The dematerialization of the art object" (Lippard) -- subsumed Systems Art and abandoned the object altogether. The focus shifted to social and political critique, helped along by Feminism and Performance. Although, as Shanken points out, the antipathy between Conceptual Art and Technology is illusory, the Art/Tech world lost its steam. The last little dying breaths of collaboration appeared in the Tele-communication movement, where artists working with NASA and others attempted to use newly open satellite communications technologies to connect to and collaborate with each other world-wide.

[edit, added 1/27/13]
Hans Haacke's work is emblematic of, if not pivotal to, this shift into conceptual art practice. Around 1970 he made a rapid change of medium from physical to social systems, which he claims was a natural progression. He also denies that he is a Conceptual Artist -- which may be the ultimate in Conceptualism.  (artist interview in: Grasskamp, W., etal (2004). Hans Haacke. Phaidon.)

Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence were competing endeavors that had common roots (I have overly conflated them). But their strongest link was completely severed by the Minsky/Pappert take down of neural networks. Rather than taking a systems wide view, AI tended to work reductively from the top down with logical and symbolic representations. These however didn't capture the essence of Intelligence, and irrational exuberance was trumped by reality:
Within a generation ... the problem of creating 'artificial intelligence' will substantially be solved.
Minsky (1967), Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall (p. 2)
But by the early 1980s rule based Expert Systems -- which seem to be inherently fragile -- were the main success story.

For an interesting look at where Cybernetics and Systems thinking went (into the social sciences) in 1973, have a look at this conversation between Stewart Brand, Gregory Bateson, and Margaret Mead: For God’s Sake, Margaret.

At the same time the Hippy-Back-to-Nature thing was in full swing. Partially as a reaction to the Military Industrial Complex's complicity in the Vietnam War, Technology became Evil. I find this simplistic even though it is name-dropped in many places. While a certain cohort moved into the hills and became potters, electronic musicians and video artists were well aware of the provenance of their toys, and all the while thought of their work as a perversion thereof.


Maybe we can blame it all on the Nixon Administration? There was a recession in the USA in the early 70's and the money dried up.

As Hans Haacke has shown, the corporate funding model for art-extravaganzas shifted from research oriented -- 9 Evenings -- to blockbusters -- The Treasures of King Tut -- giving the corporations more widely appreciated social capital bang for their buck. Even today, a reviewer can just flat out say, "Most of the public doesn't like modernism" (Acocella, Bride Wars, New Yorker Dec 24, 2012). But our corporate marketing masters figured this out in 1970.

In a similar vein, the 1969 Mansfield Amendment "prohibited military funding of research that lacked a direct or apparent relationship to specific military function" (wikipedia). This cutoff a significant source of support for the more open-ended and unproductive components of Artificial Intelligence, and pushed research into what seemed to be more immediately rewarding areas.


Electronic audio and video tools became commercially available and (mostly) affordable. These tools were largely targeted at traditional uses, e.g., keyboard synths and cinematic effect generators. For sale to the Lowest Common Denominator, they were easy to use for "normative" purposes and difficult for anything else (unless you could hack them). Personal computers became available in the late 70's and followed the same pattern, providing mass appeal applications and games while being reasonably recalcitrant for anything else. What followed was pop music, video games, and CGI movies.

The commodity Art Market did battle with Conceptualism and won. Conceptual Artists thought that if there were no objects to sell, no selling could take place (it's not entirely clear how they were to make an actual living in this system). But the Market quickly figured out how to sell documentation.


With the collapse of independent funding, artists retreated to compartmentalized teaching jobs in academe. There, in the 1980s, Postmodern Critical Theory swept the flotsam aside in a flood of seemingly erudite incomprehensibility:
Voegelin, S. (2010). Listening to noise and silence: Towards a philosophy of sound art. Continuum.

In this sense postmodernism is to modernism the noise of heterogeneity, working outside and across disciplines, squandering its systematic valuation in decadent centrifugality. The postmodern is a radicalization of the modernist understanding of the artwork.
And that's the (cherry picked) Reformed Standard Version talking...It does mean something, but could surely have been expressed more clearly.

It is interesting that, just prior to Le Deluge, the Conceptual theorists embraced the Analytic and dismissed Contenential Philosophy (see Kosuth, (1969) Art After Philosophy), but they often share similar ideas about de-centralized, contingent knowledge -- and occasionally their discursive style. The PoMo Revenge of the Literature Professors lead to the Science Wars which alienated the sciences from the humanities. As a balance -- although the authors willfully ignore the good bits -- see:
Sokal, A., & Bricmont, J. (1999). Fashionable nonsense: Postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science. Picador.

The Result

What we got was MTV, the Roomba vacuum cleaner, and Call of Duty: Black Ops (which BTW has the same number of wiki footnote references as the entire History of Artificial Intelligence).

I know. I know. What about Photoshop, Final Cut, Protools, MaxMSP, yadayada? They all (with the possible exception of MaxMSP) enable harder-faster-deeper production in existing media rather than creating new aesthetic models.

Instead of a new sensibility, e.g., cybernetically based artificial life, we were sucked into a Spectacular Simulacrum.

The Illusion of Control

The real problem is C3: Communications, Command, and Control...

Roy Ascott's Cybernetic Art Matrix

Ascott, R. (1966). Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision. Cybernetica, Journal of the International Association for Cybernetics (Namur), 9.

Fundamentally Cybernetics concerns the idea of the perfectibility of systems; it is concerned in practice with the procurement of effective action by means of self-organising systems. It recognises the idea of the perfectibility of Man, of the possibility of further evolution in the biological and social sphere. In this it shares its optimism with Molecular Biology. Bio-cybernetics, the simulation of living processes, genetic manipulation, the behavioural sciences, automatic environments, together constitute an understanding of the human being which calls for and will in time produce new human values and a new morality.

Salvador Allende's Project Cybersyn

Allende commissioned the British cybernetician Stafford Beer to build a computer system that could be used to manage Chile’s economy. The system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented. It was however used to monitor and divert scab drivers (ironic italics my own) during a trucking strike, but that was more a matter of communication than homeostatic control.

This is the Modernist narrative in a nutshell

From the Industrial Revolution onward we expected not only to understand, but to control all of nature. The meta-narratives of Truth, Progress, and Sovereignty were (a tiny bit) over-optimistic. Post-Modernism questioned these stories without, IMHO, effectively addressing it's own narratives, and, without admitting that there are (un-capitalized) truths that we might know.

Once you peel back the rhetoric I think this is the mistake at the heart of the Science Wars. It was a critique of Technology, but Science got tarred with the same Modernist brush. Most (many, at least a few) scientists do not believe that they know, or even can, know it all (engineers on the other hand...) If we think of our experience as a Hidden Markov Model (...ya,ya I hate to keep referencing wikipedia, but this is a pretty good article...), we may be sovereign over the observations, but they give us only a glimpse of the underlying mechanism. [edit, added 1/27/13] To me this is startlingly similar to Post Modern epistemology and should give us a place to begin repairing the rift.

[edit, added 1/27/13]
The conflation of Science and Engineering has deeply affected the discourse between Art and Science.  It's one thing for artists to work with technology, they have always been early adopters. But working with Scientists is -- or should be -- different. Too many times what is billed as Art/Science Collaboration is either, a) artists getting access to cool sciency toys; or, b) scientists getting access to cool arty presentations. While those are both noble endeavors they have little to do with actual collaboration between the participants.

So, if we can no longer Know and Control, what can we do?

(continue to Part 3: Into the Grey Areas)