Category Archives: Essays and other experiments

Essays and other experiments

Bootstrapping Complexity on Amazon

I completely forgot to mention this here. But it is definitely still worth mentioning: My remix of Kevin Kelly’s book Out of Control has been published as a kindle ebook on Amazon.

Kevin Kelly contacted me last summer to hear if I’d be willing to have the remix published for the Kindle, and I said I’d be thrilled. I did want to make some smaller, cosmetic changes to the text – but being away travelling, I didn’t have the time to do so. Maybe some other time.

Full disclosure: I won’t make a penny off this remix being on Amazon. All the money will go to Kevin Kelly who did write the whole thing. I merely rearranged some of the words.

Bootstrapping complexity

So, last week I posted my remix of Kevin Kelly’s book “Out of Control”. And soon after putting the remix online, I sent a note with a link to Kevin Kelly to make him aware of the remix, hoping that he would approve.

He did approve. Much more than I expected. And it didn’t take him long to reply:

I LOVE the remix! I wish you had been my editor. There is only one thing missing from this fantastic remix – a better title. I was never happen with the book’s title and now that it is more focused, the need is even greater. What would you call it?

Whoa! Initially, I hadn’t considered changing the title as I wanted to make it as clear as possible where the material came from. Good titles are notoriously difficult to find, and I’m sure that Kevin has thought quite a bit about this one.

Considering the remix as a new whole work, I found that it was the notion of bootstrapping and self-organization that had kept me reading the book initially: the recurring patterns of self-sustaining systems, which I knew were to be summed up at the end of the book. What appealed to me was the fact that the book not only describes self-organisation but also invites further experimentation.

So I picked my title with that in mind: “Bootstrapping Complexity” plays on the fact that the book not only describes how complexity comes about but also how complex a venture self-organization really is. In this way, the title meant to signal a positive empowerment to explore self-organization – both by reading the book and by experimenting on the basis of the book.

I’ve updated the remix with the new title. The new PDF version is here.

Out of control – remixed

This summer, I read Kevin Kelly‘s book Out of Control. It is a fascinating book full of fascinating ideas reaching across the board from artificial intelligence, evolution, biology, ecology, robotics and more to explore complexity, cybernetics and self-organising systems in an accessible and engaging way.

But as I read the book, I also found it suffering from a number of frustrating flaws: Not only is it way too long-winded, it is also almost completely void of meta-text to help the reader understand what Kelly is trying to do with his book (having read the book, I’m still wondering).

Indeed, reading the book I got the feeling that Kelly was trying to combine several different books into one: There is a fascinating study of self-sustaining systems. But there is also a sort of business-book take on network economy. And an extended meditation on evolution and postdarwinism.

I’m sure that to Kelly, all of these things are tightly interconnected. But he doesn’t explain these interrelations very well to the reader. His central argument is that as technology becomes ever more complex, it becomes more akin to biological systems (eco-systems, vivisystems, interdependent and co-evolving organisms). But because the individual chapters are set up as essays on their own, there is often little to tie these wildly different ideas together.

I would have preferred a much shorter book, more narrowly focused on the idea of self-organising systems. The whole text of the original book is easily available online at Kelly’s own website, so I thought: Why not remix the online text to make such a book?

So I did.

I’ve put my remix up here. The PDF version is available here. Comments are most welcome.

Does design equal quality ?

Following the INDEX conference, I got to thinking a bit more about how the designers posited design as an unquestionable good to be used to solve the many problems of the 21st century.

But what is good design? How do you know when you’ve found it?

Well, this summer I read Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and he discusses that exact question with regards to technology: What makes good technology? What is quality – not only in design and technology – but in all fields of use and application of such? And how do we come to appreciate it?

Pirsig’s book was a big “cult classic” in the 1970s, and some consider it to be the most widely read philosophy book ever. It seeks to find the answers to the questions above both in Western philosophy, represented by the logic of the motorcycle, and in Eastern mysticism, represented through the Zen Buddhism also mentioned in the title.

But today I suspect that only a few members of my generation have come across the book, and even less have been convinced by Pirsig’s style of narration.

For while I really liked some of his insights, I was frustrated by the way they’d been hidden within a 400 page auto-biographical narrative which at times confused rather than illuminated the main points around the nature of quality and the influence of technology on our lives.

So I set out to remix the book to highlight the questions of technology, quality, and design and the interrelations between them. I found an on-line version of the book and turned 400 pages into around 60, which I have gently formatted and made available in html.

I find the way we relate to technology and design fascinating, and I hope that this remix will help to show some of the ways we think and imagine technology and quality. Please have a read and add your comments.

Added old writings

I just went through some of my old stuff, and came across my old articles for the University of Copenhagen Institute of Anthropology magazine known as “Den Vilde Tanke” – which is the Danish translation of the French La Pensée Sauvage.

I helped with the layout, editing and writing for most of my first 3 years at university, and I’ve added the articles I wrote to the Writings page. All the articles are in Danish, of course – so sorry to get your hopes up if you aren’t proficient in that language. 🙂

Musings on the nature of religion

Following the recent discussion of anthropology and religion, I dug out one of my old anthropology essays which I did at the end of my first year at university – now almost 5 years ago.

It was called “The Meaning of Life – A critical essay” and as I reread it, with some vague memory of it containing some interesting analysis, I found that it really was quite bad: Besides being just as pretentious as the title suggests, it was poorly structured, with bad argumentation and use of empirical data, and a very sloppy and uncritical approach to the theoretical sources used.

Basically, it sucked. But it was quite a worthwhile read, because it gave me a chance to compare how I’ve developed these basic skills of academia over the past 5 years. I mean, it would truly be awful to find out that I wrote better stuff back then, than I do now. But on the other hand, the essay did contain a uncompromising wonder and naïve interest that you simply don’t see often enough in academia.

So I took that old essay (written in Danish) and pulled it apart, and translated the bits into a sort of dialogue touching upon the same topics, but without trying to be more than superficially academic. It gives a sense of connection through time – to a younger self. To argue with yourself and compare notes. To revisit that old argument and use the dialogue form to ask all the questions that you still wonder about, but more or less have pushed aside. I can only recommend visiting your earlier academic self and negotiate your experience with your arguments of earlier times. It gives a sense of perspective, and probably brings you closer to what brought you to academia in the first place.

Don’t know about the answers, though.

Quixotic Email

After having mucked with this “mystory” assignment for ages, including tackling the dreaded browser compatibility issue, I’ve finally decided that enough is enough – and that it is time to show it off.

The project is called Qmail, and as the attached “about” page states, it is “a remix, rehash or remake of my life as Don Quijote in the form of a webmail interface.” – whatever that might mean.

Feel free to explore it here.

– And please contact me regarding any issues, questions and mind burps you might have regarding the site.

The Ideal University?

Over at the Apophenia Blog the local resident, Danah, is pondering how she would spend a billion dollars to design a university. If you had the money and the opportunity, how would you design your dream institution of higher education?

I think this is a fascinating question, and one that more people should consider. It is not enough to simply complain about how education works today, but also offer constructive (though maybe rather idealistic) ideas and input.

I wrote an article about the problems of the Danish university system, though it was turned down by the one newspaper I ended up sending it to. To me, the central problem of education is that we have divided up into three seperate sections that hardly seem to be coordinated or even share the goals.

In Denmark, we have the basic school from age 6 to 15 or 16 (ten years). Then we have the Gymnasium (or some other “youth education”) – age ~15-16 to 19-20 (3 years), and on top of that the university or some other “professional training” which can take anywhere from 3 to 10 years, depending on how you prioritize your time.

My article was inspired by another couple of articles which had discussed both the basic shool and the gymnasium, and I meant to follow up on that and discuss the problems of Danish education and the Danish university system in particular.

I was quite inspired by the American writer and anarchist, Paul Goodman whose book Compulsory Miseducation I had just read. The book was originally published in 1964, even before the student rebellion of the late 60’s, but even so, Goodman’s arguments seem fresh and inspired even today. His main point is exactly that you can’t divide education into different institutions and sectors, because the way these institutions educate, form and even raise children will affect their further path through the system.

His solutions generally work toward making school less like school and more like real life. If you are sheltered away from everything until you’re 20 or 30 – how much would you know about anything apart from studying?

This situation may be very special in Denmark with our generous SU-system (free, tax-paid grants for all students for up to 6 years of study), but the general basis remains.

Here‘s my article, and here‘s one of the articles which inspired it – both are in Danish.

Essays, he says

I’ve just finished my third of four essays. Leaving me with just one. Of course, since I haven’t actually turned any of the first three in yet (they’re not due until the 13th of May), there’s still ample room and chance for improvement.

Therefore, I’ve made the three essays I’ve finished available in .pdf-format. Helpful comments, criticism and the odd bit of slander are all welcomed at: lloydinho (at) gmail (dot) com.

Montage, Ethnography and Representations of Post-socialist Realities – is mess but a constructive one at that. It is a rather hopeful and curious attempt at examining the cinematic principle of montage in ethnographic representations through a montage of its own.
It is written for my Images, Text and Fieldwork course which has a regional focus on post-socialist Siberia and Mongolia, so the ethnography are based on those regions.

Technology and Western Perception of Time – is also overly ambitious, but is at least stuffed with interested facts about the history of western perception of time. It is a Longue Durée view at how time technologies and measurement have influenced western everyday perception of time. In 10 pages or less. Argh.

Credit or Debit? – is a short essay analyzing the history and impact of plastic cards on consumer culture. Pretty straight forward, really. Both of these essays are for my Technologies of Everyday Life course

It may be noted that true to form, all of these essays are slightly longer than they ought to be, mostly because whenever I delve into something interesting I would like to write rather wide-spanning analyses combining all sorts of interesting stuff than merely the short elements suggested by my lecturers. It feels like I’m trying to write the synopsis for a book everytime I begin on an essay.

Not good, I know, I promise to do better on my last one which is due on the 16th of may. It’s for my high brow Perception, Knowledge and Cognition course, and plan to “Discuss to what extent, and in what ways, language may structure our perception of the world”. Now, the world is relatively big, so I’ve decided to just focus on computers, programming languages and the differences of perception between programmers and ordinary computer users. Sounds good, no?