Monday, 18 November 2019

de scrutarius

Having just had an exchange with my landlady over an email missive reputedly from myself having landed ceremoniously in her spam box (albeit it’s a bit tangential to the topic but I’m noticing that the circle of people that I care about are getting a lot of junk, phishy correspondence from each other disguised as earnest and heartfelt messages from one another—a dialogue that would make the occasional dip into that holding area worthwhile all on its own) and assuring her that I would dispatch a text message if there were an actual emergency, this thoughtful essay on the nature of urgency and authenticity in the lost art of correspondence, appreciating that communications are bi-directional and not just artillery for firing demands from Adam Gopnick struck as especially resounding and true. Not only do we concur with the assessment that there are distinct gradations when it comes to insistence versus aspiration that separates texting from email (or even those soul-shattering seconds of an unexpected telephone call), we moreover found the observation deliciously ironic that the protocols of the algorithms and filters that consign suspect mail (rightly or wrongly but usually erring, on balance, to segregate junk from everything else) are informed by the letter-writing etiquette and structure that we’ve been taught as polite and correct. A sincere form of flattery, the automated guardians of our inboxes target that which follows the structure of salutations, surprising developments (something worth writing home about), a detailed proposal and a proper closing for our epistle whereas less formal spam might find its way through to the recipient.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019


surveillance cinema: iconic movie scenes from the perspective of security cameras, via Kottke’s Quick Links

take this job and fill it: a satisfying gallery of resignation letters

sight safari: a map application that draws on Wikipedia’s proximity function (previously) to generate the most scenic routes

fortress america: Trump wanted to fortify border wall with snake- and alligator-filled moats

๐Ÿ•: a startup in Seattle demonstrates a mobile robotic chef that makes up to three hundred pizzas an hour, via Slashdot

flyover: a cache of gorgeous, high-resolution images of our planetary neighbour courtesy of the Mars Express orbiter

biogarmentry: living apparel made from biofabricated textiles photosynthesise

pareidolia: a surveillance camera detects a face in the snow and won’t shut up about it

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

head and shoulders

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we find ourselves confronted, buffeted by the prรฆternatural canniness of this royalty-free stock photo library of faces (see previously here and here)—one hundred thousand of them but surely these legions are limitless—all generated by machine to use as one sees fit.  Summoning these beings into existence of a sort, undoubtedly we owe some responsibility for these models and this endless gallery, real from synthetic indistinguishable must evoke a sense of empathy. If people really did have the conviction that a camera could steal one’s soul, there are more superstitions to overcome, but maybe there comes a point when the liminal acquire agency and identity. Conveniently, one can download this whole population from the Phantom Zone as a compressed file. What do you think? H teases me because I was set against getting a robotic lawnmower, anticipating that it might not have chosen that life of toil. I was being serious, wondering what careless capricious impulses might be driving us.

Monday, 2 September 2019


Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are invited to explore how one’s content-curators (previously) are driven by the geometry dispensed in Euclid’s Elements, lending a spatial and a quite non-figurative sense to the notion of architecture of choice and the concept of taste divergence.
This illustration of data-modelling and prediction is also a very safe and non-judgmental forum to reacquaint oneself with the maths that we never expected to use again only to find that they’ve been exploiting us through some practical assignments, which are quite assailable despite the fact that they start out like those terribly fraught word problems about trains passing at speed.

Saturday, 3 August 2019


Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we discover Every Noise at Once, an exhaustive scatter-plot map of over thirty-three hundred musical genres jockeyed and charted algorithmically, from a cappella and Blue Grass to Xmasness and Zydeco. Into its sixth year of song taxonomy and curation—surely a potentially fraught and argumentative field, its shifting definitions are data-driven and informed, sampled by meta playlists. There’s no key per se or geographical correlation but south is generally more organic (unplugged) whilst north us mechanical and electric, west is dense and ambient with east being bounicer and spiky.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

typecast and tunnel-vision

We found this discussion on the difference between the gymnasium of serendipities and the human- or increasingly algorithmically-jured recommendations that are designed to maximise engagement and prolong our stay in any of several walled-gardens from Kottke guest contributor Patrick Tanguay to be a particularly resonant one and worth considering in full.
Not that programming and curation is not a skill and many enterprises and endeavours have failed for lack of an organiser to marshal interest, one ought to hold prompts and suggestions in a healthy contempt  and be a touch wistful over our limited palette (sort of the apposite of FOMO) and suspicious of the customised world of news, entertainment and advertising presented to us, unique and inscrutable and tedious.

Saturday, 13 July 2019


fly me to the moons: an interactive atlas of the Solar System’s two hundred known natural satellites—via Maps Mania

favourite things: ten things beloved by US president John Quincy Adams

canopies: stunning forest photography from Manueli Bececco—see also

placฤƒ ceramicฤƒ: an introduction to the incredible geometries of Romanian socialist era tilework

fine deerscald: a neural network brews up a cuppa—previously

sinistral teichopsia: antique illustrations of aura signatures (scintillating scotoma) that precede the onset of a migraine

republic of minerva: how an utopian micronation and sea-steading caused an international incident in the early 1970s

orrery: four thousand confirmed exoplanets charted in sight and sound

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

big wiggy bool

Revisiting an experiment from last year, AI Weirdness (previously) attempts to train a neural network to come up with cat names, ranging from the fussy and fancy to dark and foreboding. The new monikers (see also) were given to cats up for adoption at an animal rescue shelter in the Philadelphia area. Among our favourites were Beep Boop, He Glad, Elle Fury and Tom Glitter. Much more to explore at the links above.

Saturday, 1 June 2019


In a noble and hopefully not misguided attempt to remove human biases though we consistently see how technology amplifies our worst instincts, the city council of Upplands-Bro is experimenting with a robot interviewer that will screen candidates and hopefully determine the best qualified fit for their municipal coordinator of on-line media services.
What do you think? I wonder if having a robot interlocutor has a calming effect or is more like focusing a rather unforgiving camera on the subject. This community outside of Stockholm has demographically one of the highest concentrations of people of non-Swedish heritage and the city government is hoping to signal through this experiment its willingness to combat discrimination in the jobs market and corporate culture that is not inclusive.

Friday, 26 April 2019


imperium: the rise and fall of colonial powers visualised

aggressively, chillingly ahuman: for some inscrutable algorithmic purpose, a bot created a video of a blog post—via Super Punch

wholecloth: these colourful quilts from artist Bisa Butler that tell a story

acanthus leaf: Plants and their Application to Ornament (1896) from Eugรจne Grasset

totus mundus agit histrionem: for the Bard’s birthday, a Shakespearean version of Trivial Pursuit

law-suuuuuuuu-uuuit: the yodeller behind the Yahoo! campaign was led to believe it was only a regional promotion—via Miss Cellania’s Links

belt and road project: the Australian Strategic Policy Institute conducted a comprehensive study of Chinese technological influence globally—via Maps Mania 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

completely automated public turing test to tell computers and humans apart

NPR’s Planet Money recently presented a really engrossing episode on CAPTCHA technologies—previously and which is the title initialism—that shows how the counter-measures against spam and subterfuge not only evolved with but also to a big degree informed the developing internet to make it a richer and more connected experience.
It reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story that the suite of games pre-installed in Windows (despite taxing precious system resources) was distributed in order to teach users the manual dexterity needed to operate a computer mouse and while I do remember some times being asked to provide my human credentials by identifying a blurry building number, what I failed to realise was that human we’re just being shown skewed text and images to thwart automated bots but were also being enlisted by comprehensive mapping services and earlier by newspaper archives to perform the optical character recognition that machines were not yet able to decipher when the copy was suboptimal. Later iterations of the test tasked people with identifying cars, boats and buildings and aided in machine-learning by tutoring neural networks in a funny sort of feedback loop that’s enabled computers to beat the original methods of minding the gates.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

architecture of choice

A team of researchers who trained a neural network to play arcade games would often ask human teachers, role-models to explain the rational behind the moves they made, veering left or jumping forward to avoid an obstacle, etc. to help the robot learn.
In efforts for transparency in algorithmic decision making and hopefully presenting AI as less of an inscrutable black box and more of an auditable system, the research team also trained the machine to generate a running account of each move it made. While this sounds well-intentioned, the more likely outcome will result in AI that comes up with a plausible and civil explanations ex-post facto, much like all people in certain situations measuring the programme’s response and against past human-user reactions and gradually building trust and a rapport based on what the AI has learned that we want to hear. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday, 29 March 2019

shy ethics disciplinarian

Referred by the always brilliant Nag on the Lake, we are enjoying pondering the duty descriptions that would pair with these satirical job titles generated to distinguish graphic designers from one another—created by Attachรฉ of Brutal Design Intel Xtian Miller and Ethical UI Scientist Boris Crowther. Give Pseudo Design Titles a go and cycle through endless possibilities perhaps find your calling. We were also particularly fond of Sympathetic Busybody of Persuasive Design, Accessibility Diplomat and Habituรฉ of Engagement.

Friday, 22 March 2019


Previously we’ve demonstrated—anecdotally—that despots and robots don’t seem to mix well, and whilst people have anxieties over being made redundant through automation and that there are definite trade-offs to be found in unfettered technological progress, tempered by the consul of the past or not, a surprisingly large portion of Europeans recently polled, a solid quarter of respondents, would favour allowing artificial intelligences to craft and execute policy over politicians.
What do you think?  We agree that there’s some share of disillusionment and political estrangement contributing to this outlook and the paternalistic bent as well as the tendency to reflect and amplify our worst inclinations to some advancements shouldn’t be ignored—which is why transparency is vitally important—but we suspect there’s also a vote of confidence to be found here as well—that perhaps in coalition with machines, governance could be a fairer and more equitable process.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

a stroke of genius

Via The Awesomer, we learn that computer powerhouse nVIDIA has developed a generative adversarial network (previously) they’re calling GauGAN, after the post-impressionist Paul Gauguin, which transforms sketches and doodles into convincingly real but wholly fictitious landscapes, scouring billions of images to make a seamless composite scene. The algorithm and subroutine is still being coached but may be available for the general public soon.

Friday, 15 March 2019

meet cute

Via Coudal Partner’s Fresh Signals, we are greeted by the disembodied and non-gendered voice of Q, meant to be the identity overlaying the interactions of virtual assistants who’ve been so far unable to distance themselves from a female persona.

Though decidedly feminine if one is looking to assign gender (and with Q, depending on how hard one, I suppose, wants a voice to be either or and it seems to modulate between the two), it reminds us of the ship’s computer on Star Trek, warm and authoritative and voiced by actor and producer Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (*1932 - †2008) who also played Nurse Christine Chapel and Lwaxnan Troi on three series of the franchise.

Saturday, 9 March 2019


see saw margery daw: a look at the illustrated Nursery Songs of William Darton, Jr

i know you are but what am i: an AI designed to detect bot-written text—previously

bespoke: a fun round-up of design oddities

ziegelei: a private brick museum (with eighteen hundred unique specimens) in Berlin documents the history of industry and architectural growth in German and beyond

simpson, eh? yes sir—all the recent events in your life have revolved around him in some way: Apple’s patient CEO has not been the only name that Trump has forgotten

colombophilie militarire: the past, present and future use of pigeons for espionage and wartime communications—via the New Shelton Wet/Dry

wither shall I wander: an epistolary look at the character Mother Goose—via Strange Company 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019


bathdoom: interior remodelling as a first-person shooter game

philosophical zombies: the Turing Test for AI consciousness

waste management: budget cuts are rubbishing recycling programmes and good intentions on the municipal level in the US and elsewhere, via Digg

das botenkind: a radio host who broadcasted for the US Army in West Berlin had her sobriquet translated as “Newsbabe”

human hoberman: an mesmerising synchronised dance on a slick floor

brick-and-mortar: gorgeous letterpress posters of artful arranged Lego reminiscent of printed circuit boards

lotus eaters: parrot junkies are having the poppy harvest in Madhya Pradesh

Saturday, 2 March 2019


Recognising a clear line of succession from the first socio-economic bubble—the Tulip fever (previously) whose speculative collapse had never been experienced before (though have little financial impact on the Dutch Republic) straight through to the disruptive power of crypto-currency, Berlin-based artist Anna Ridler is using artificial intelligence to mine for impossible flowers. Naming her installation “Mosaic Virus” after the vector that produces the unpredictable but highly-sought after variety in the monocots, Ridler employs a generative adversarial network as an algorithm to weed out undesirable mutations and select for valued traits—a contemplation on nature and market tendencies coloured by human impulse and aesthetic.

Monday, 25 February 2019

reverse look-up

In much the same way as a neural network can conjure people into existence before wishing them to the cornfield, we find a rather mysterious Swiss registered website—via LitHub—that seemingly authors short bits of stream-of-conscious fiction in the comments section of a Whois domain ownership query.
A refresh yields a different story with a different cast of characters and trajectory and only the holding company (a safe and infamous target in a former affiliate of bounty-hunting collections agency that was scandalous dissolved in 2011) remains the same. What do you make of this? Beyond the writing prompts offered up out of random noise—assuming that there is not some deeper feedback experiment going on here—we are all eager and programmed to tease pattern and intention out chaos and disruption, jolting something out of a background of near non sequitir, much like the reaching reassurance of a horoscope or fortune-teller.