January 28th, 2012

endless memory

I can barely remember yesterday.

January 28th, 2012

the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century

George Orwell wrote a short essay on his favourite pub…

My favourite public-house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.

Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of “regulars” who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.

If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its “atmosphere.”

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece —everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.

Read further here. There’s an interesting note at the end.

January 18th, 2012

google brain visualized

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1 from kingcosmonaut3000 on Vimeo.

Very neat. Via kottke:

This is mesmerizing: using Google Image Search and starting with a transparent image, this video cycles through each subsequent related image, over 2900 in all.

It gets more interesting the longer it goes on. It’s like watching a visualisation of the neural connections of a cyborg. Or something.

January 18th, 2012

caroline prisse

Dutch artist Caroline Prisse.

January 8th, 2012

the impracticality of infinite information

I discovered the pictured device — a note-taking machine invented by one Vincentius Placcius — via a nice opinion piece on the BBC website about how we have dealt with information overload up until today.

In 1689 a professor at the University of Hamburg with a passion for new technologies, unveiled a device for managing information overload – a purpose-built mahogany cabinet designed to hold and organise several thousand hand-written notes taken by an individual reader from the books they were reading.

Along the back of the cabinet were narrow vertical posts, each headed by a letter of the alphabet. Running the length of each post was a sequence of brass plates engraved with alphabetised headings designed to capture topics of particular interest to the reader, each heading furnished with a metal hook, to which slips of paper containing information extracted from the owner’s reading were to be attached, ready to be retrieved for re-use at a moment’s notice.

It is not clear whether this rather cumbersome piece of equipment caught on (though apparently the philosopher Leibniz owned one) but the impetus behind it is obvious.

Sounds like a glorious object, no matter how impractical… I want one.

The danger today is rather that we are reluctant to let go of any information garnered from however recondite a source. Every historian knows that no narrative will be intelligible to a reader if it includes all the detail the author amassed in the course of their research. A clear thread has to be teased from the mass of available evidence, to focus, direct and ultimately give meaning to what has been assembled for analysis. Daring to discard is as crucial as safe-guarding, for effective knowledge management and transmission today.

There is all too little danger of the knowledge currently accumulating in floods – multiply-owned, stored and captured – being lost. Rather, if we are going to make sense for posterity of today’s information-saturated present, one of the things we will have to learn to do is decide how to prune the evidence, and ultimately, what to forget.


Addendum: Here’s an interesting article about the Belgian intellectual of the early 20th century Paul Otlet, and his approach to the same problem. Thanks Arnaudt!

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