Computers in/as art, Seeing as a Singularity - Links, May and June 2023

We made it up to three non-working lamps in the house, and re-wiring them can’t be that hard, right? I have had a lot of trouble finding the supplies online, though - Amazon must have them but the search terms eluded me. Anyway I found Grand Brass Lamp Parts which was perfect, and the search terms are set wire with molded polarized plug and lamp holders. They have a knowledge base/faq section that tells you the names of the parts you need and other good details. Despite the items being reliable, UL-listed stuff, their prices are lower than amazon. Overall great, except that they don’t own a world-eating order fulfillment empire, so their fast shipping is expensive.

Here is A Tapestry of Time and Terrain - a really beautiful geological map of the USA (a North America version is also available with different colors). The colors in this map were chosen in a rainbow order of time, which is unusual as far as I know. Except for the Pennsylvanian brown in the USA version, maybe to mark the period of coal deposition? You can see the “vast depression in the earth’s crust, centered under the state of Michigan” (which remains a sick burn).

Speaking of pretty things, I ran across a couple of lovely articles on the history of computers in art and design. The first one, by Amy Goodchild, is a review of early techniques of computer-assisted art, starting with cool patterns people made on oscilloscope screens, and touching on computer-randomized dance, computer automation of physical sculpture, and many more concepts. It’s great to see how early some ideas were tried. Looking forward to the followups that will go into the 70s and beyond.

The second article, by Docubyte, shows dozens of early computers in really glorious detail, an ecstasy of industrial design with knobs and panels and blinkenlights.

Semi-relatedly, apparently you can absolutely pimp out your old iPod with better battery, storage, connectivity, case, operating system, all kinds of stuff - found via a helpful MeFi thread on how to consume music in a way that doesn’t suck

We had computer-assisted art, so continuing on that theme of greater possibilities of humans + tools or humans + humans, here’s a nice statement of a hunch that I had as a teenager:

The joke version goes thus: I believe in a supreme being, in that I think beinghood is closed under union, thus the set of all beings has a superema (a maximal element).

Larger Selves by D. R. MacIver

As a teenager I thought about this kind of thing a lot for a while, for instance I rephrased renowned deity Jesus’s “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” as “God is what happens when two or three are gathered together.” That seemed a little glib, but I went with it for a while. I was reading Hofstadter and relishing the word “emergent.” I remember explaining it to some adult, and they rephrased it as “oh, it’s like all of creation singing together” and at that point, the glibness level overwhelmed me and I abandoned the thought. But I’m glad to know that someone is having interesting, related ideas, and developing them farther than I ever did!

When you’ve got structures of information flow that are much larger than small friend groups, for instance churches or corporations or governments, they are hard to comprehend or hold to account. So much so that some people date the putative Singularity not to some moment in a decade or two when Artificial Intelligence closes a loop, but back to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Here is a great article by Henry Farrell that argues this point and also touches on Large Language Models and oppression. (When you look at the header image, RLHF is Reinforcement Learning with Human Feedback, a fine-tuning step they do to large language models).

The article also mentions Seeing Like a State, so Farrell joins MacIver in the club of people who have read that book and then written articles that I really appreciate. The book is rumored to be a slog, but maybe I have to read it sometime.

OK, I’m done with segues, here’s what else has been on my mind:

Take a look at your smoke detectors. Do they look yellowed? They are too old. They stop working as well after ten years, even if you keep replacing the battery. Also, you can now get detectors that detect smoldering fires WAY better than traditional ones. I realized that the previous occupants of my house didn’t replace the detectors at their 10 year mark, so most of mine are 20 years old! I’ve started replacing them with dual-detector (photo & ion) models.

Let’s Learn Everything is a podcast I just discovered that’s been a delight. I consume a lot of nonfiction-as-entertainment, and this is fresh and nice! (via)

I don’t know enough on Physics to know if this is actually a big new idea or not, but it does seem very correct to me - Assembly Theory, about path-dependency in the history of phenomena

I read Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and found it to be a little on the intense side of what I normally like, but still worthwhile.

I also read Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki and found it really moving. Would recommend it, although look up its trigger warnings.

It’s hurricane season, so Tropical Tidbits has started releasing videos again - if you’re vaguely curious about meteorology, they’re very watchable and you can glean things.

My computer’s wifi broke out of the blue, didn’t work after rebooting and powering off. Taking my laptop apart, removing and reinstalling the wifi card did the trick though! There’s no trick like an old trick.

Dwarf Metal music exists and is worth experiencing once!