Database Divination: Classifying The Machinic Gaze Part 1

I was pretty pleased with the video and image results acquired from yesterdays webcam experiments to continue proceeding down this path.


However said path was marred by my creaking Lattitude laptop with Ubuntu Interpid Ibex installed. It proved incredibly hard to get software installed on it, however I did manage to improve the contrast of the images snapped yesterday. By increasing the contrast the pattern is given greater relief, something that will be easy to automate via gimp or image magick.


Adjusted Images which will help computer detect patterns more readily. Final picture remains unadjusted to illustrate the importance of calibrating webcam for consistent white balancing

The ever generous Derek Shaw of SoSlug offered to oversee the upgrading of the Ubuntu software, and in the meantime I cracked ahead with using Graham Harwoods laptop to do the various image software investigations. For a while I got quite involved in finding ready made ways of analysing the motion of the tea leaves as I had detected in video recorded last night. This process has been documented here and it did offer up some nice stills of tea reading from a different perspective. I’ve collated a series of frame grabs of the video from last night (a selection of which I have added here), which have their own bewitching patterns contained within and perhaps offer a totally parallel site for exploring the different patterns seen by computer and human.

However I found that the myriad of options available to catalogue patterns within moving video (and the associated complexity attending each method, including this which at first glance appeared to be relatively pain free in terms of implementation) was taking me too far in one direction. I wanted to return to conceptualising the process of distilling the overall practice of tea leaf reading into a database. Ergo a second bout of tea leaf reading was required.



This time around I was more concerned with engaging with the practice itself rather than proving that the webcam apparatus would hold up. To that end I dove into “Telling Fortunes By Tea Leaves”, a canonical text in tasseomancy dating from 1922. This provided some useful background information, some of which buttressed areas which I was keen to interrogate and some of which make me think again about the suitability of tasseomancy as a scrying practice.

The rhetoric contained within the book follows an established trope in occult & magickal practices, the idea that the subconscious must assert itself (‘self’ is hardly ideal to use here but it will have to suffice) at some point within the ritual. Within tea leaf reading this opportunity for subconsciousness to bubble to the surface occurs when the tea cup, with a small amount of tea remaining in it, is swilled by the left hand and quickly inverted. During this moment the mind must be either completely absent or intensely focused, again this correlates with what previous research into Chaos Magicks ‘Sigil’ projection. Interestingly Cecily Kent (the author) notes that:

“time has no meaning for the subconscious self”

This is interesting for me as I am interested in using the video capture length as data for the computer to add to its database table record of the tea leaf reading experience.

The person gazing at the tea leaves is invited to discern shapes and letters. However it is at this point that tasseomancy differs from the sorts of scrying practices I was initially attracted to: there is a rigid symbolism associated with the symbols detected, in a manner not too dissimilar from other means of fortune telling. This is problematic in that the divination practice suddenly become tied to a fixed symbolic register external to the experience of the practitioner. However it is interesting as the idea of the patterns being codified per some external authority is very pertinent to the broader conception of code, (code as embedded intelligence such as postcodes, code as ordering structures and protocols external to computers) that we have developed within this lab.


Note: Sigil as used herein is not to be confused with the use of Sigil in Perl. I only learnt about this crossover in the context of this lab, but it represents another interesting transfer between the occult and code

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Digitally Detecting Tea Leaves

IĀ have done some experiments to explore means by which I can explore tasseomancy as a site for critiquing the pattern seekingĀ 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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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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