I love just about every answer that Martin Rees gives in this wide-ranging interview.
Monday, December 26th, 2022
Tuesday, October 11th, 2022
There’s a repeated catchphrase used throughout Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet: ignorance is our ammunition.
There are certainly situations where knowledge is regrettable. The somewhat-silly thought experiment of Roko’s basilisk is one example. Once you have knowledge of it, you can’t un-know it, and so you become complicit.
Or, to use another example, I think it was Jason who told me that if you want to make someone’s life miserable, just teach them about typography. Then they’ll see all the terrible kerning out there in the world and they won’t be able to un-see it.
I sometimes wish I could un-learn all I’ve learned about cryptobollocks (I realise that the term “cryptocurrency” is the more widely-used phrase, but it’s so inaccurate I’d rather use a clearer term).
I sometimes wish I could go back to having the same understanding of cryptobollocks as most people: some weird new-fangled technology thing that has something to do with “the blockchain.”
But I delved too deep. I wanted to figure out why seemingly-smart people were getting breathlessly excited about something that sounds fairly ludicrous. Yet the more I learned, the more ludicrous it became. Bitcoin and its ilk are even worse than the occassional headlines and horror stories would have you believe.
The reason I have such a visceral reaction to crypto projects isn’t just that they’re irresponsibly designed and usually don’t achieve what they promise. It’s also that the thing they promise sounds like a fucking nightmare.
Or, as Simon responded to someone wondering why there was so much crypto hate:
We hate it because we understand it.
I have yet to encounter a crypto project that isn’t a Ponzi scheme. I don’t mean like a Ponzi scheme. I mean they’re literally Ponzi schemes: zero-sum racing to the bottom built entirely on the greater fool theory. The only difference between traditional Ponzi schemes and those built on crypto is that crypto isn’t regulated. Yet.
I recently read The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, a novel with the collapse of a Ponzi scheme at its heart. In the aftermath of the scheme’s collapse, there are inevitable questions like “How could you not know?” The narrator answers that question:
It’s possible to both know and not know something.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
Saturday, October 2nd, 2021
This speculative version of the internet archive invites you to see how websites will look in 2046.
Friday, July 30th, 2021
How do you keep knowledge alive over centuries? Stuff that seems big enough for a group of people to worry about at the time, but not so big it makes world news. Not the information that gets in all the textbooks, but just the stuff that makes the world gently tick over.
Saturday, July 24th, 2021
The World Wide Web at its best is a mechanism for people to share what they know, almost always for free, and to find one’s community no matter where you are in the world.
Saturday, July 3rd, 2021
A terrific piece by Jonathan Zittrain on bitrot and online digital preservation:
Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.
Saturday, June 19th, 2021
Wait a minute. There is no real difference between the dataome—our externalized world of books and computers and machines and robots and cloud servers—and us. That means the dataome is a genuine alternative living system here on the planet. It’s dependent on us, but we’re dependent on it too. And for me that was nerve-wracking. You get to the point of looking at it and going, Wow, the alien world is here, and it’s right under our nose, and we’re interacting with it constantly.
I like this Long Now view of our dataome:
We are constantly exchanging information that enables us to build a library for survival on this planet. It’s proven an incredibly successful approach to survival. If I can remember what happened 1,000 years ago, that may inform me for success today.
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
In 1990, the science fiction writer Douglas Adams produced a “fantasy documentary” for the BBC called Hyperland. It’s a magnificent paleo-futuristic artifact, rich in sideways predictions about the technologies of tomorrow.
I remember coming across a repeating loop of this documentary playing in a dusty corner of a Smithsonian museum in Washington DC. Douglas Adams wasn’t credited but I recognised his voice.
Hyperland aired on the BBC a full year before the World Wide Web. It is a prophecy waylaid in time: the technology it predicts is not the Web. It’s what William Gibson might call a “stub,” evidence of a dead node in the timeline, a three-point turn where history took a pause and backed out before heading elsewhere.
Here, Claire L. Evans uses Adams’s documentary as an opening to dive into the history of hypertext starting with Bush’s Memex, Nelson’s Xanadu and Engelbart’s oNLine System. But then she describes some lesser-known hypertext systems…
In 1985, the students at Brown who encountered Intermedia had never seen anything like it before in their lives. The system laid a world of information at their fingertips, saved them hours at the library, and helped them work through tangles of thought.
Monday, October 8th, 2018
A profile of Mark Graham and the team at the Internet Archive.
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018
It feels a little strange to refer to Going Offline as “my” book. I may have written most of the words in it, but it was only thanks to the work of others that they ended up being the right words in the right order in the right format.
I’ve included acknowledgements in the book, but I thought it would be good to reproduce them here in the form of hypertext…
Everyone should experience the joy of working with Katel LeDû and Lisa Maria Martin. From the first discussions right up until the final last-minute tweaks, they were unflaggingly fun to collaborate with. Thank you, Katel, for turning my idea into reality. Thank you, Lisa Maria, for turning my initial mush of words into a far more coherent mush of words.
Jake Archibald and Amber Wilson were the best of technical editors. Jake literally wrote the spec on service workers so I knew I could rely on him to let me know whenever I made any factual missteps. Meanwhile Amber kept me on the straight and narrow, letting me know whenever the writing was becoming unclear. Thank you both for being so generous with your time.
Thanks to my fellow Clearlefty Danielle Huntrods for giving me feedback as the book developed.
Finally, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has ever taken the time to write on their website about their experiences with service workers. Lyza Gardner, Ire Aderinokun, Una Kravets, Mariko Kosaka, Jason Grigsby, Ethan Marcotte, Mike Riethmuller, and others inspired me with their generosity. Thank you to everyone who’s making the web better through such kind acts of openness. To quote the original motto of the World Wide Web project, let’s share what we know.
Sunday, April 22nd, 2018
An interesting piece by Jessica Kerr that draws lessons from the histories of art and science and applies them to software development.
This was an interesting point about the cognitive load of getting your head around an existing system compared to creating your own:
And just because I’ve spent most of last year thinking about how to effectively communicate—in book form—relatively complex ideas clearly and simply, this part really stood out for me:
When you do have a decent mental model of a system, sharing that with others is hard. You don’t know how much you know.
Friday, January 26th, 2018
Off-site backups of humanity’s knowledge and culture, stored in different media (including pyramidal crystals) placed in near-Earth orbit, the moon, and Mars.
We are developing specialized next-generation devices that we call Archs™ (pronounced “Arks”), which are designed to hold and transmit large amounts of data over long periods of time in extreme environments, including outer space and on the surfaces of other planetary bodies.
Our goal is to collect and curate important data sets and to install them on Archs™ that will be delivered to as many locations as possible for safekeeping.
To increase the chances that Archs™ will be found in the future, we aim for durability and massive redundancy across a broad diversity of locations and materials – a strategy that nature itself has successfully employed.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
That library was a Pandorica of fabulous, interwoven randomness, as rich as plum cake. Push a seed of curiosity in between any two books and it would grow, overnight, into a rainforest hot with monkeys and jaguars and blowpipes and clouds. The room was full, and my head was full. What a magical system to place around a penniless girl.
Wednesday, January 11th, 2017
A good range of answers for this year’s question, overlapping a bit with 2011’s What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?
Monday, September 14th, 2015
John expands on just one part of his superbly dense and entertaining dConstruct talk.
Tuesday, January 20th, 2015
A profile of the wonderful Internet Archive.
No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.
Brewster Kahle is my hero.
Kahle is a digital utopian attempting to stave off a digital dystopia. He views the Web as a giant library, and doesn’t think it ought to belong to a corporation, or that anyone should have to go through a portal owned by a corporation in order to read it. “We are building a library that is us,” he says, “and it is ours.”
Saturday, September 13th, 2014
The text of Mandy’s astounding dConstruct talk.
Thursday, August 14th, 2014
How computers work:
One day, a man name Alan Turing found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Out popped a genie, and Turing wished for infinite wishes. Then we killed him for being gay, but we still have the wishes.
Then we networked computers together:
The network is ultimately not doing a favor for those in power, even if they think they’ve mastered it for now. It increases their power a bit, it increases the power of individuals immeasurably. We just have to learn to live in the age of networks.
We are all nodes in many networks. This is a beautiful description of how one of those networks operates.
Friday, May 16th, 2014
I guess it goes without saying at this point, but this piece from Frank is beautiful and thought-provoking.
This part in particular touched on some things I’ve been thinking about lately:
Design’s golden calf is simplicity. Speaking as someone who sees, makes, and uses design each and every day, I am tired of simple things. Simple things are weak. They are limited. They are boring. What I truly want is clarity. Give me clear and evident things over simple things. Make me things that presume and honor my intelligence. Shun seamlessness. It is another false token. Make me things that are full of seams, because if you give me a seam and I pull the thread, I get to see how the whole world is stitched together. Give me some credit. Show me you trust me.
Monday, July 2nd, 2012
Vannevar Bush’s original 1945 motherlode of hypertext.