reference points

Some reference points:

The point I was making yesterday in discussion with Graham regarding a two-tiered understanding of the nature of law – part “natural” : part “technological” – is largely drawn from my reading of H. L. A. Hart’s late sixties text: “The Concept of Law“.  This very accessible book was completely at odds with existing legal orthodoxies at the time of publication (late 60′s) however, today it is widely regarded as a benchmark and primer for undergrad law students.  It went to print around the same time as McLuhan’s “Understanding Media” and this may give a clue as to why McLuhan never explicitely discusses law in terms of his conception of “media”, as this idea of law as technology would likely have been outside of his understanding of the term “law” (and indeed the contemporary understanding of the idea of law.)


Regarding some of the pitfalls of operating institutions and projects without agreed structures I would refer to this 1970′s pamphlet “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” which maps the rising feminist movement and how its absolute resistance to replicating prior (male) hierarchies actually sowed the seeds of power for the development of hidden & unspoken elites which limited the movements development.

By the way, continuing the discussion on absolute positions, my thoughts regarding this debate in technological culture have formulated a little since yesterday: I would like simply to state that, from my perspective, it is wholly possible to “drill down” and engage at a deep level with cultures of software and technology without constantly beginning from base elements (silicon, electricity) and core principles (the Enlightenment, Linux OS) and that the constant “hammering” of these particular reference points is in danger of being interpreted as simply the same-old high-culture vs. low-culture snobbery-binarism in disguise.

To try and make this argument I would point to the resonant example of sampling culture in Hip-Hop / DJ music where often artists are not musicians in a traditional sense – they do not use (nor would they know how to use) traditional instruments or notation in constructing their music – instead they work from the available and existing musical culture within which they live, allowing this to “flow through them.”  In my experience a similar strategy can be taken to working with existing consumer technologies and that, if this is done with a level of critical awareness, then this approach can actually subvert, rather than replicate, “the system”.

I’m interested to know if other people find this analogy useful?


My final reference to be shared (on a separate subject) was the text I referred to “The Construction of Social Reality” by American philosopher John Searle: In my reading convincing arguements are made here for the material (even biological) consideration of events and factors in the social realm as being objectively “real”. (I have this book in the car.)

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Digitally Detecting Tea Leaves

I have done some experiments to explore means by which I can explore tasseomancy as a site for critiquing the pattern seeking prerogative of knowledge discovery in database (KDD) algorithms by juxtaposing divination alongside them.

The eventual aim is to explore the distillation of experience that occurs exclusive to each system, as I mentioned in my earlier post. This means some experiments into how a database and appropriate tables can be constructed to capture every aspect of the tea seers process and practice. In some ways I am setting this concept up to fail as I believe that something of this process will escape the intense categorisation which is a prerequisite of relational database architectures and their need for normalisation. In so doing maybe this will prompt reflection on how every database system, irrespective of their predictive prowess, is ultimately a modelling that holds more true to set theory logic than the nuances of our lived experiences (and said nuances being elided is not trivial given the faith and belief placed in the predictive power of data mining).

In order to fully explore KDD algorithms I will need a suitably large amount of data. That is unavailable to me at present so I need another area of interaction between the tea reader and the machine with which they will interface. A visual analysis of the tea leaf pattern left in the cup provides a ready pattern for the computer to interpret.

I have settled upon using a webcam and I’m currently exploring two ways of providing the computer a chance to see the tea leaf pattern. One method comes via a snapshot being taken after the tea pattern has been scrutinised by the tasseomancer.

The above photos are rough webcam snaps, exposure modifications will display pattern but it is important that exposure process can be simply automated by code


Another comes via the whole process of tea drinking being recorded via a webcam positioned at the base of the container from which the tea is drank. Doing this necessitated using a glass, which according to most tasseomancy practice is not ideal. However it does provide an interesting perspective on tea leaf reading. (see the video below, which is quite poor quality due to the fact that I am getting to grips with the exposure functions of Linux UVC webcam software)

Webcam Rig used to capture above video

Capturing the duration of the entire tea drinking process is something I would like to do, and also a period of time I would like to analyse. I am struck by the idea that duration is an important aspect of any of these introspective, gnostic (in the Peter J. Carroll sense) practices. This contrasts markedly with the types of temporality at work in the CPU crunching the numbers which determine the patterns discerned by the image analysis algorithms (silicon flip flops and clock times).

Once the software crimps have been ironed out and I get a clearer idea of the registers by which the machine will pattern analyse the tea leaf patterns I hope to engage with the tasseomancy practice in depth. In essence I will be the entity responsible for determining the data architecture which at some future data KDD algorithms will explore and generate new knowledge (defined within KDD discourse as “novel patterns of information – an epistemic shift in what we deem knowledge).

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A little bit of history repeating itself…

We have been talking about the open source, proprietary debate within this lab. Harwood is very clear that we are surrounded by ‘technologies of power’. His recent work takes on a forensic quality asking questions that illuminate current technologies. Where does the energy come from to power our laptops? What is the human cost of the industrial revolution and now the post-industrial out-sourced production base? A framework that for him has manifested as a series of contraptions. Connected to this is the adoption of open source processes and ethical production models, so within this debate PERL runs before FLASH, LINUX before MacOS etc.

Tim Kindberg, also contributing, takes a different line. In essence the design processes and production models are directed towards a successful robust outcome. Still experimental in mode but utllising what works. Harwood’s assertion is of course that the very way in which these technologies are configured ends up directing the outcome.

John O’Shea has been experimenting with a Swan Pedolo as an open source form. This serves to break out of the orthodoxy of open source tropes (LINUX, PERL etc) leading off in a new direction. The vessel becomes a platform in its own right for creative expression and tension. Perhaps what comes out of this is the need for more debate around open source development, that leads us away from familiar territory located around software and hardware. (Simon Poulter)

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Electromagnetical Attunement: Initial Project Ideas

For some of my investigations I was really quite eager to explore the above experiment in the telephone game (or Chinese Whispers as it is known on this side of the pond, for reasons I am still not clear about). My twist on the experiment was to be training the computer’s speech recognition to listen to electro-magnetic vibrations via magnetic pick up mics.

However things have stalled at the first, and crucial, software hurdle. I was attempting to install speech recognition software on ubuntu, which does exist in the form of Julius and Vox-forge. However synaptic package manager was somewhat hamstrung and though I have managed to download the packages from here I am wary about getting sucked into the Linux terminal line (i.e. via DPKG) installation vortex (I suspect my grasping knowledge of code installation hasn’t installed everything from the ubuntu archive).

The hardware end of the project would be relatively easy to cobble together, a quick visit to a music store would suffice. However I really would like to build this electrical stethoscope as described here. I think this is interesting for two reasons, one being my recently kindled interest in biodynamic psychotherapy, and two because this method of attuning to computer hardware is intimately linked to earlier audio debugging methods

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