Wednesday, July 31, 2002

predictable robots in an unpredictable world

all sorts of interesting things came out at siggraph's emerging technologies session. in anemone of the smart people, michael stroud describes some of these new artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality projects. i was particularly taken by bill smart's comments on "lewis," a photographer robot they presented: "The point isn't how well the robot works, but how well it doesn't. A lot of college students think that because they can write great code, they understand all about computers. A robot is just a computer on wheels. But the real world is very unpredictable. That's what Lewis gets across."

Levity makes the concrete shoes less heavy

just when you think your clients are going to put you over the edge, small and gentle words make you smile...

Sunday, July 28, 2002

viva peru! open source

peru is trying to pass a bill in congress that will make the government software standard open-source. not surprisingly, the long arm of bill gates has intervened, and the us ambassador to peru has sided with microsoft. apparently, gates donated a half million dollars towards putting computers in peruvian schools. here's hoping the peruvians take the money and push the bill through anyway!

Saturday, July 27, 2002


the more i think about it, the more i believe i have a positive contribution to make to robotics. rob - is it too late to change the focus of my dissertation?

robots with grace

thanks to adam for keeping me abreast of new robots, but i'm not sure i feel the same way about this one.

adam writes "I just get so tired of the essentialist assumptions that couple politeness and grace to femaleness. I expect more from people in 2002, and I'm disappointed." this makes him one of the good guys ;) and granted, as a woman, that sort of thinking doesn't just disappoint me, it pisses me off.

but i think that this robot isn't being gender-coded as much as it is being class-coded. a graceful, polite and accomodating robot - be it female or male - is primarily coded to serve its superiors. i don't like it if engineers assume that females are more likely to serve, but there is a long historical (and not necessarily pejorative) tradition of christening new technologies as female. i've always been curious about why predominantly male-driven design and construction produces a "female" machine (a ship, a car, a computer) - it seems to comprise an odd reversal of the biological and mythical (re)productive capabilities of women.

but this is where i start to get uncomfortable: "the robot was made female because [the roboticist] believes women communicate better than men". this assumption is a gross generalisation about both women and men, and we should all rail against that. but we're talking about individuals here, and perhaps this assumption says more about the roboticist than any of us. the problem, as adam pointed out, is the insidiousness of these assumptions, and i would add, the ease with which they are transferred (uncritically) to new technologies.

i choose to believe that this supports my argument that anthropologists and sociologists need to be helping design sociable robots. after all, being sociable involves way more than social etiquette.

Friday, July 26, 2002


while my family lived in ecuador, i left this american private school (which i had been in since grade 5) to attend albert college for grades 10 and half of 11. boarding school struck me as terribly oppressive and i came screaming back, only to have my parents move to canada for my final year of high school. there i attended public school for the first time in my life. after finishing the first year of the international baccalaureate program, i could not get my diploma from that dismal school... still, i graduated from high school at age 16, and promptly went off to university. not surprisingly, i dropped out by christmas so that i would have more time to play. it took me two more years to go back, and now here i am.

nice site

while planning my vacation to cape breton next month, i came across a hotel web site that i really like. we'll be staying at the inverary resort for a few days. with any sort of luck, we'll find some members of the cape breton liberation army during our trip ;)

abandoned architecture and restricted spaces

filtched from, if you are interested in abandoned architecture and the ill-effects of urban sprawl, you'll enjoy also check out infiltration: the zine about going places you aren't supposed to go. and if you continue to travel the web ring, you'll find that people (especially canadians) really like exploring abandoned sanatoriums and drains. be sure to check out DE LIMBURGSE MERGELGROEVEN, drains of my city, smelter, dreamwhip, and access 5. enjoy!

Thursday, July 25, 2002

i wanna build robots

i know this isn't new, but i've been checking out asimo, the new honda robot. "The functions of Honda's humanoid robot are defined as follows: An operational system that autonomously performs typical operations under known circumstances... It is extremely important that through the evolution of hardware we achieve physical autonomy by improving dynamic performance and adaptability to wider variations of working conditions. Also important is the pursuit of studies in artificial intelligence systems, which will provide the solution for improved autonomy. If all these are achieved, the robot will not require the support of a human operator for minute correction operations. In terms of software, we should aim at promoting a social infrastructure where humanoid robots will be widely and easily accepted. This is a particularly significant issue when considering the appearance of the humanoid robot. Honda hopes that the time will come when humanoid robots play an important role in serving us and enriching our lives and society." despite looking like a friendly stormtrooper, asimo is pretty damn cool!

i don't know about you, but i've never been fond of a definition of intelligence or life that only requires that a machine respond to stimuli. i'm convinced that i am much more than a neural net... nonetheless, there appears to be room for anthropologists in finding a place for robots in social life - and that's encouraging to me ;)

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

display space

generally i ignore wired magazine, but i just read the cover story from last month and it got me thinking. well, actually, it's nvidia's Jen-Hsun Huang that did it by saying this: "The Xbox is how the computer will be built in the next 20 years. More semiconductor capacity will go to the user experience. The microprocessor will be dedicated to other things like artificial intelligence. That trend is helpful to us. It's a trend that's inevitable.... Some people say the network is the computer. We believe the display is the computer. Anywhere there's a pixel, that's where we want to be."

The display is the computer... in these playful words I am reminded of ken hillis' excellent chapter "sight and space" from digital sensations, where he discusses the privileging of the visual in virtual reality. "something nonexistent has seemingly been made visible. for those seeking certainty through optics, however, the power of invisibility - and all that remains unavailable to vision - remains undiminished, and the technology may ironically confirm already held anxieties about the invisible realm."

i'm interested in the social-spatial implications of display space - in what becomes visible/invisible. stating that the computer is "about display" certainly draws attention to the interface and user experience, but it equally and effectively black-boxes what generates the display. using huang's example, if the interface is privileged, then things like artificial intelligence are rendered invisible within the cpu. my concern is in where we locate accountability for spaces/objects/ideas that are invisible, yet nonetheless present. this becomes increasingly difficult if the interface is highly visual - since "seeing is believing" and invisible things can easily be claimed to "not exist".

see you soon, my friend

i made a new friend this year that is leaving to south africa for five months and it has just sunk in that i will really miss her. not only will i lose one of my favourite companions, but one of the few allies i have in doing my phd research. that said, i wish her nothing but joy and the successful completion of her dissertation.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

shape-memory devices

according to the ny times, 'shape-memory' alloys are finally going to market. "nitinol's shape memory is a chacteristic of a small family of materials whose molecular arrangement changes sharply with temperature. They can be heated and formed into one shape, then cooled to form a second shape. After that, a material like nitinol will "remember" the higher-temperature shape, and revert to it, when heated past its transition temperature. The shape-memory effect was first noted in 1932 in Sweden in a gold-cadmium alloy. Commercial interest began in 1962, with the accidental discovery of the effect in nickel-titanium, which was being investigated for use in missile nose cones by United States Navy researchers (the word nitinol is derived from nickel-titanium Naval Ordnance Laboratory)."

scientia est potentia

never doubt the authority of the scientific paradigm: the new logo for darpa's information awareness office is brilliant! freemasonry for the digital era...


mark alpert at scientific american reports on the new xybernaut poma - in addition to finding out that wearables aren't always as cool as they seem, he states "My disappointment began when I tried to do something useful with the device." strike one for the cyborg.

Monday, July 22, 2002

power to the bug-people

activist gardeners on a renegade mission to save all the city's unprotected community gardens.

the shape of mercury

i've been doing some research on mercury for a paper i'm writing. mercury is a fascinating element: the only common metal that is liquid at ordinary temperatures, but rarely occurring free in nature, mercury takes the shape of its container. and although its colour is silvery-white, mercury is also reflective, which means that it can take on the appearance of its surroundings.

i'm generally interested in these "mimetic" properties of mercury, and particularly in how mercury changes shape as it flows. virginia tech researchers have simulated the behavior of emulsions as they mix and break into drops, but it's hard to find work on mercury that isn't dedicated to its toxic qualities.

i'll have to get to the library and check out what alchemists thought about mercury - surely they had some ideas on its more magical and playful qualities...

hipster slang and other marvels of the english language

i never wanted to be a hippie, but when i was little my mum told me about the beatniks and i knew i had been born in the wrong era. i've long gotten over my idealistic infatuation with the beat generation, but i'm all over hipster slang these days:

well, crazy, you have just destroyed three thousand of my corpuscles...lady, you're more fun than a hot transfusion, you're really plasma. i think we could swing - if i knew the music.

i'm long gone daddy over one modernistic, switched-on dude who made with a mouthful of hi-fi.

for other word geeks out there, i also recommend the dictionary of depraved english.

Friday, July 19, 2002

absolute diversity?

canadians are being asked once again to allow same-sex marriages. a toronto couple tried to get a marriage license yesterday, but the city clerk could/would not issue one. personally, i couldn't care less who gets married, but when i saw this couple on the news last night, one of them made a comment that echoes in my mind: canadians should support "absolute diversity." okay. but absolute diversity means that a homophobic position is just as valid as a gay/lesbian/bi/trans position - and i don't think that's what he had in mind.

welcome to our new home

the new site is finally up and running! special thanks to craig, john and adam for their helpful suggestions. i'm learning to compromise ;) enjoy!

Thursday, July 18, 2002


man - i just picked up the rheostatics' 1994 introducing happiness and is it ever sweet music to listen to while you work...

hackers can be so cute!

screw hactivism - check out the guys who do it for love here and there.

on love

found this william s. burroughs quote at "I say we are here in human form to learn by the human hieroglyphs of love and suffering. There is no intensity of love or feeling that does not involve the risk of crippling hurt. It is a duty to take this risk, to love and feel without defense or reserve. I speak only for myself."

sounds good, but i always remember my mother telling me that sometimes love isn't enough...

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

nylon hotpants

nylon is "a computer graphics & hardware programming reality" developed by the aesthetics & computation group at mit, and hotpants is the name they gave to their display device. i can imagine all sorts of playful things that could be done with this technology, and little vision/tiny stories is a great start: "LittleVision is the Hotpants display device modified so that it can play 25-seconds of video. We record the video using a webcam and special software developed by Justin Manor. Then the video is compressed and burned directly onto the PIC microcontroller onboard the Hotpants display, making it a self-contained video brick. Tiny Stories is the name we gave to a workshop run by Megan Galbraith, Simon Greenwold, Justin Manor, and James Seo, in which in 1 1/2 hours we had eleven people with no previous exposure to this technology film their own tiny movies and burn them onto bricks they took home." that's fun.

ubicomp 2002

i'd love to participate in the concepts and models for ubiquitous computing workshop at ubicomp 2002... paradigms and metaphors for ubiquitous computing, indeed!

and i have struggled with how (and even if) we can program for the unpredictable and spontaneous (inter)actions of people - maybe the supporting spontaneous interaction in ubiquitous computing settings workshop will have some answers...

a trip to göteborg in september seems prudent ;)

"This is the strongest material that will ever be made."

bold words reported today in the new york times laud the carbon nanotube. "The prospect of a strand that is long, strong and thin conjures dreams of epic engineering like spinning a 22,300-mile-long cable out of nanotubes to tether a satellite in orbit around the earth, and then building an elevator that goes from the ground floor literally into outer space. The present reality is more modest."

of particular interest to me: "At the conference, Dr. Philippe Poulin, a scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, described how nanotubes could be dispersed into a liquid, mixed with polymers and spun into a fiber thinner than a human hair. At present, the nanotube fiber is not as strong as some other artificial fibers like kevlar. But Dr. Poulin said he expected scientists to find ways to strengthen the bonds between individual nanotubes, perhaps by heating the fibers or dipping them in a chemical. The fibers could also find use in tiny machines. Adding electrical charge expands the bonds between carbon atoms, lengthening the fiber by a small fraction. If the nanotube fiber is glued to a strip of another material that does not shrink or expand, the voltage causes the fiber to bend like an archer's bow. "You're making it a muscle," Dr. Poulin said."

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

dresses for voluptuous women

for those of you out there who, like me, cannot comprehend what the hell a size 0 is, but know we couldn't get our arms into it, rejoice!

all you need is a wicked seamstress and these gorgeous dress patterns from the 40s and 50s in order to get you some clothes that were designed precisely for the gal with curves.

kids understand calder

i think that calder would like school children building stabiles for a class project and some of these are brilliant. hats off to cool teachers!

final meal requests

as a firm opponent of capital punishment, i'll admit that i bit back in 2000 when salon ran an article called "Texas' death-row peep show" and wrote that "The state doesn't just hold a record for executions -- it proudly posts online the macabre details of hundreds of convicts' last suppers and final words." i just had to check it out.

true enough, the texas department of criminal justice continues to keep up-to-date records of final meal requests. for two years i have read these records and thought, yeah, i'd ask for that too. or, hell, i wouldn't eat that even if it were my last meal. and i've wondered about the guys who didn't request anything. is there a standard or default execution meal? or do they go hungry?

but sometimes when i've checked out the site, a man has been executed the day before. i read his name, his crime and the final words he spoke. but all i can think about is that we had very similar meals that day. and that maybe, when all is said and done, we are both just people who like enchiladas.

so, when i found this screen saver the other day, i was pleasantly surprised that someone had finally made something beautiful of all this information...

i may be lazy, but john stevenson has been logging some very interesting stuff at lately. be sure to check it out.

Friday, July 12, 2002

what happened to geeks online?

am i the only one who thinks that slashdot used to be more interesting? every day it seems to move closer to wired's tribute to consumer culture...

Thursday, July 11, 2002

horizon zero

hooray for public funding: horizon zero is a brand new web space dedicated to the digital arts and culture of canada.

august 2002
horizon one
write: the literary book as digital form

september 2002
horizon two
mimic: imitators of life: robots, automata and cyborgs (yippee! i can't wait!)

coca kintuy

as the primary social binder in quechua and aymara societies, quite a bit of coca is chewed every day (i used to buy a kilo bag every week at the market). coca has a many thousand-year old andean tradition behind it (far too complex to get into here) - and so if america keeps trying to eradicate coca fields in the andes, there is much more at stake than disrupting illicit drug manufacture and export. recent events in bolivia are heartening...

yo-ho-ho and a server of warez

(i stole that excellent title from david tetzlaff's 2000 article in the world wide web and contemporary cultural theory) because today, the new york times reported on software piracy. nothing new here if you keep up on hacking cultures, although i do find it amusing that warez d00dz are finally getting the type of media respect generally reserved for organised crime syndicates.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

thanks to j. for the link to simone. "Inspired by the game "Simon", this project shows the connection between player and game strongly perturbed. Under the influence of technical accidents, tensions and deflagrations of sound and image, the body is submitted to mutations. This mutant body, incontrolable, allows us to move to another reality, the one of the game itself." very nice.

the inference group

dasher is a zooming interface. link courtesy craig davey.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

the perils of love

if realdolls don't give you enough to think about, there's always wondering how this sort of damage gets done in the first place...

still, this has got to be better than a bunch of creepy white guys visiting south-east asia to partake in carnal pleasures with little girls... (did you know that the age of consent in thailand is 12?)

Monday, July 8, 2002

military games

first, for those of you who think that it would be brilliant to know me intimately: ask jason what kind of temper tantrum i can throw when there is no evaporated milk for my coffee in the morning... sorry love.

second, if certain guys out there have any desire to continue being my friends, they will stop sending me emails about how hot avril lavigne is. she's seventeen and you're old enough to be her father, you pervs!

third, because it's that sort of morning, i recommend checking this out. all i really want to know is who the US army is hoping to recruit this way... it may just be me, but i'd like to see a school of the americas training game. you could go through training, then back to your home country with american support, raise a little hell, and then finish the game several years later in a US court of law...

Saturday, July 6, 2002

avril lavigne

don't particularly like her music but i love skater chicks and she's really cute! plus, she hates britney spears...

i ate too many strawberries yesterday and got a stomach ache.

one of the fondest memories of my undergrad is space moose - a truly offensive but hilarious comic strip written by adam thrasher, a phd student at the university of alberta. space moose attracted a great deal of hate mail despite the fact that libertarian (and american-loving) albertans usually stand behind everyone's right to do or say anything they want. although hard-pressed to choose my favourite, snow white and the semen dwarves, the prof has a boner, and phd in defecation rank right up there. for several years i decided if i could be friends with people based on whether or not they thought that space moose was funny... now i wouldn't be so judgmental, but we're still bound to get on better if the comics also make you piss yourself laughing ;)

Friday, July 5, 2002

mit press

lunch was good: you know you're with friends when you're told that "by the time you're my age, you're going to have permanent marks on your face from that sneer of yours!"

i bought all the strawberries i could carry cuz i have to eat as many as i can before the season is over ;) also stopped at the bookstore on the way home and two hours later i found myself leaving with eleven books... seems that mit press is my new favourite publisher.


my ISP's web server has been down since yesterday afternoon, but i'll continue to log things and post them when i can. never ceases to amaze me that new technologies get so much attention when we haven't figured out how to get a broadband connection to work properly yet! time to get a dedicated space for plsj and run blogger...

the heat is less oppressive today and i'm off to have lunch with a handsome and charming friend. life is good ;)

thanks to julie for passing on a link to the guggenheim cyberatlas exhibit - a bit dated but worth a look!

and to jason for this link. let me know if you try it out...

Thursday, July 4, 2002


three hours with my committee today and i think they managed to get every synapse in my brain firing... absolute pleasure and pain: like the 23rd orgasm in an hour ;) sweet! but am i ever fucking tired and so not-wanting to talk to people!

i managed to create an excellent roadmap of my entire thesis, and will start to flesh out the bits into, maybe, three or four chapters. and there's the burden of publication... we also discussed some sort of multimedia dissertation project which sounds quite promising...

i particularly enjoyed inserting an utterly meaningless map into my paper and listening to them debate what it represented. turns out that circles and lines have no less authority than boxes and arrows ;) but it proved an interesting conversational intro to notions of non-representation and mapping... (although i believe one of my committee members now finds me unacceptably flippant.)

all in all a very good day...

oh yeah - except for the 35 degree weather with humidity pushing it over 40. that still sucks.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

hack mode

happy canada day yesterday. geek that i am, i spent about forty hours this long weekend writing. the bane of the phd student is reading something really good after finishing a piece of writing. so when this happened to me on friday, i decided to rethink and rewrite.
coders claim hack mode as their own, but i believe that it can be experienced during any intense or intricate problem-solving activity.

all i know is that the times i have sat in front of my computer - reading and thinking and typing - for 14-16 hour stretches, have been periods of indescribable pleasure for me.

there is no small element of competition involved: my personal best is 39 hours straight. and there is extraordinary pride taken in 'solving the problem' - in producing a solution. and in somehow building on others' work.

sometimes i really enjoy submitting to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation. and i love being able to make up the rules as i go along. it is a space in which i am genuinely free to move.

but if you're not coding, or more importantly, not surrounded by coders, there is little appreciation for hack mode: priority interrupt is immanent. this degree of immersion can be considered quite offensive and anti-social to others and one shouldn't underestimate people's propensity to breach such boundaries.

i know i'm in hack mode when i suspect i should apologise to the people close to me for becoming so inaccessible, but the immense pleasure derived from my activities seems to far outweigh any harm done, and that renders apology absurd... hence the offensive and anti-social labels ;)

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