Category Archives: ideas

“…the anatomical blueprint of some alien and crab-like creature.”

I came across these alien geometrical graphics via Bibliodyssey (oh how I can wander that blog for days and days):

They’re plans for fortresses.

Such complexes of fortifications, said Austerlitz, concluding his remarks that day in the Antwerp Glove Market as he rose from the table and slung his rucksack over his shoulder, show us how, unlike birds, for instance, who keep building the same nest over thousands of years, we tend to forge ahead with our projects far beyond any reasonable bounds. Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings, listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size — the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lock-keeper’s lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children’s bothy in the garden — are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which in itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz


Merging virtual and real with handphones

I once saw a HP ad where a boy, armed with a handheld console with a camera, runs around a city playing a game on the handheld. The locations in the game correspond to the boy’s current real-world location, but with obstacles and challenges. So an innocent looking alley in the real world turns into a deathtrap in the game world, with a virtual boulder coming down towards you (like in Raiders of the Lost Ark)

I love the idea of blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, and I thought then: “why do you need a separate device? Almost everyone already carries a camera handphone these days.”

Wish some Singaporeans followed up on this idea before the Scots did.

“It’s about using a camera phone as a magic wand,” said Dr Mark Wright of the Division of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh who came up with the idea.

At the heart of Spellbinder, as the project is known, is a database of all the places that participants have added data to. People query it by taking a snap of a location with their phone then using multimedia text messages to send it to Spellbinder.

Dr Wright said powerful image-matching algorithms are used to analyse the image that can deal with snaps of the same place being taken under different lighting conditions or orientations.

Once Spellbinder has worked out the location of an image it consults the database and sends back an image with the extras added to it. (read full article)

(from Networked Performance)

Ingmar Bergman R.I.P.

The end of an era. From the Guardian film blog:

Was Bergman in touch with the European mind of his generation? Perhaps he simply was the mind of his generation. Of the great post-war directors, he was the one who shouldered the burden of moral questions: is there a God? Is there a God who is exists, but is absent? Should we behave as if God exists, if we suspect he doesn’t? If he is merely absent for some unknowable millennial span, then how should we interpret this indifference, or this rebuke? And why, finally, does anything exist at all?

The past and future of hedgehogs and foxes

Tetlock (see earlier post) spurred me to track down a copy of Isaiah Berlin’s Russian Thinkers so I could zap a copy of “The Fox and The Hedgehog”.

The bulk of the essay examines Tolstoy’s particular philosophy of history, explains why it is self-contradictory and shows how that peculiar dilemma plays out in War and Peace. The definitions of the fox and the hedgehog are dealt with swiftly in the first page.

Berlin asserts that Tolstoy (at least while he was writing War and Peace) saw history as a fox, but wanted desperately to have a hedgehog’s explanation for history. Before postmodernism caught on, Tolstoy allegedly recognised that historians’ accounts of history were severely lacking because they privileged political interpretations of events and attributed success and failure to the actions of “great men” — politicians, generals etc — or to abstract ideas like “power” and zeitgeist. He saw that history, constructed out of the actions of all individuals, was unfathomably diverse. Berlin observes that the best parts of War and Peace consist of Tolstoy’s depictions of his individual characters. However, this did not stop Tolstoy from seeking some kind of unifying concept that would explain all of history, mostly by tearing down all the other grand pseudo-scientific theories of history e.g. historical dialectism.

Somewhat romantically in my opinion, Berlin sees this as some kind of deep inner struggle for truth. But Tolstoy never managed to articulate a coherent positive theory of his own it seems. Perhaps there isn’t one. The closest you might get is when:

something is perceived; there is a vision, or at least a glimpse, a moment of revelation which in some sense explains and reconciles, a theodicy, a justification of what exists and happens, as well as its elucidation.


What made the hedgehog/fox concept last? I thought the essay was almost a century old, but I was mistaken. Berlin wrote “The Hedgehog and the Fox” only recently in 1953. So is it just the momentum of academics and management gurus? Or is there something innately universal or timeless about that concept?

To what extent is the longevity of an idea tied to its media? Ideas need media (video formats, image files, books etc) to propagate. If ideas are viruses, media are the vectors. How do you preserve ideas?

Libraries and museums, though culturally significant now, don’t seem to work well in the very long term. For example, they’re susceptible to fire and, by virtue of the fact that they are in cities, vulnerable to sacking and destruction (e.g. the fabled Library of Alexandria, the National Museum of Iraq in more recent times). That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have them. These institutions inspire new works, new expressions of ideas. But that still leaves us with the problem of how to store cultural artifacts.

Most preservation appears to be serendipitous, like how you can only see footage of old Singapore in commercial work: Saint Jack (see earlier post), Ring of Fury, SBC drama serials etc. There was no deliberate decision to preserve. In a similar vein, I recall researchers discussing how porn distribution might hold important lessons for preserving digital art. Not so surprising when you consider that large numbers of items that that we now consider “historically significant” were uncovered from rubbish dumps like those at Oxyrhynchus. Makes you wonder what archaeologists hundreds of years from now will conclude from our cultural detritus.

TED – videos of ideas and lectures online

TED (Technology.Entertainment.Design), a well-known ideas conference, has made videos of its 2007 talks available online and downloadable into your media device of choice. Sponsored by BMW, high profile and polished, which somehow makes me wonder how much of the content is hollow posturing and how much is actually worth listening to. Wish I had time to find out.