• "Let’s say the computers I was working with had been powerful enough for me to do my experiments in real time. I’m not at all sure that I would have made the discovery! Because the condition under which I was working, on a time-share machine, a few seconds of sound might take me nearly two hours. So the time it took, perhaps specifically the time between experiments, I had to think. These were discrete times: I would generate a sample of a sound that was 20 Hz, with a modulating frequency of 20 Hz and a deviation of 100 Hz. Then I would wait. Then I would listen. Then I would increase to another. If I’d had continuous control, I think I probably would have missed it. I could have let the carrier sweep through frequencies that were way too high, and I would have missed the points where they converged to harmonic spectra. That being the case, the fact that I had to sit and wait and think, and listen, and then think about what I heard, “what will be the next step?” greatly enhanced my ability in realizing the discovery." John Chowning on how not having realtime feedback was an asset, rather than a problem.
  • "This course is an advanced seminar in the anthropology of attention. What makes the
    anthropology of attention different from other ways of studying attention (e.g.
    psychology) is that we study it as a social and cultural phenomenon: attention is not just a matter of individual minds selecting objects from environments. Rather, attention is collectively organized and valued. We learn how to pay attention and what to pay
    attention to from other people; other people make technological and media systems to
    intentionally organize collective attention. We learn to value certain kinds of attention
    (e.g. intense focus on work, mindfulness, or multi-tasking) and to criticize others (e.g.
    absent-mindedness, distraction, intense focus on entertainment) in cultural contexts. So, while we will be experimenting with our own attentions throughout this course, we will remember that our attentions are not really our own. No one pays attention alone." This paper sounds brilliant.

Universal currency

26 March 2006

So we watched Shallow Grave tonight. My second time, Alex’s first; I’d largely forgotten it, so enjoyed it afresh. Anyhow, Alex later asked me what I would do if we had a roommate die with a big stack of cash. I suggested calling the authorities immediately, whilst Alex took the next train home with the money.

Then she commented that she liked David’s plan, securing the money in bonds. I suggested buying Apple products. Alex initially, dismissed this, but I explained:

iPods are universal currency. A Shuffle to two Nanos, two Nanos to a big one. We can launder money through them and they almost hold value. Plus, they’re not much bigger than hypothetical £250 notes anyway.

So if you ever see my suitcase explode, and a thousand iPods go flying everywhere, do be respectful; I’m in mourning.