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Sky Dance

Sky Dance

This timelapse video shows the two minutes of darkness caused by the total solar eclipse in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands on March 20, 2015
Song: The 126ers – Water Lily

Watch highlights from the solar eclipse as seen from Newquay in Cornwall, from Svalbard in Norway and the Faroe Islands.

Professor Brian Cox, Dara O’Briain and Liz Bonnin bring us coverage of the solar eclipse from

Another Jump Point

Another Jump Point

It’s really been a rough several months. I haven’t been writing here. Either my writing is offline, part of an eventual project waiting for the right ending, or else it’s therapeutic writing that really no-one else should see.

I’ve been personally challenged in a number of ways, and have learned several more *very* difficult but very valuable lessons. I’ve had to rearrange my priorities and go back to basics on some skills that I haven’t had to focus on in quite some time.

While I can’t get into the circumstances, I CAN jot down a few things that have lowered my stress level, improved my health, and helped me to accept and release things that I do not have the power to improve, heal or enhance.

  • Be calm. Be just as calm as you can, no matter what.
  • Do not get cornered. Do not allow yourself to be pushed into a defensive stance.
  • Remember: The Dunning-Kruger Effect – not your problem or your responsibility to fix. Don’t internalize.
  • Keep rereading this and just practice, practice, practice, even if the need for it continues to be infuriating at some level: How to Deal with Impossible People
Love Letter

Love Letter

Darling Sweetheart,

You are my avid fellow feeling. My affection curiously clings to your passionate wish.
My liking yearns to your heart. You are my wistful sympathy: my tender liking.
Yours beautifully,

Even with such a designer as Turing, it takes more than imitation-games of consciousness to write a love letter.

Still, isn’t there something about this letter that suggests our own, often inarticulate, longings?

*In this instance, MADAM preferred to call herself M.U.C. (Manchester University Computer). I know how she feels.

(Thanks to John for calling my attention to this bit of sweetness).

Virus News!

Virus News!

You have got to read this article on the virus at Discover!

How did I miss this before????

Unintelligent Design
A monstrous discovery suggests that viruses, long regarded as lowly evolutionary latecomers, may have been the precursors of all life on Earth
by Charles Siebert, Photography by Jörg Brockmann
From the March 2006 issue, published online March 15, 2006

Now the viruses appear to present a creation story of their own: a stirring, topsy-turvy, and decidedly unintelligent design wherein life arose more by reckless accident than original intent, through an accumulation of genetic accounting errors committed by hordes of mindless, microscopic replication machines. Our descent from apes is the least of it. With the discovery of Mimi, scientists are close to ascribing to viruses the last role that anyone would have conceived for them: that of life’s prime mover. …

The discovery of Mimivirus lends weight to one of the more compelling theories discussed at Les Treilles. Back when the three domains of life were emerging, a large DNA virus very much like Mimi may have made its way inside a bacterium or an archaean and, rather than killing it, harmlessly persisted there. The eukaryotic cell nucleus and large, complex DNA viruses like Mimi share a compelling number of biological traits. They both replicate in the cell cytoplasm, and on doing so, each uses the same machinery within the cytoplasm to form a new membrane around itself. They both have certain enzymes for capping messenger RNA, and they both have linear chromosomes rather than the circular ones typically found in a bacterium.

“If this is true,” Forterre has said of the viral-nucleus hypothesis, “then we are all basically descended from viruses.”

Claverie says, “That’s quite a big jump in our thinking about viruses—to go from their not even being organisms to being all life’s ancestor.” …

“The general public thinks genetic diversity is us and birds and plants and animals and that viruses are just HIV and the flu. But most of the genetic material on this planet is viruses. No question about it. They and their ability to interact with organisms and move genetic material around are the major players in driving speciation, in determining how organisms even become what they are.”

We have been looking for our designer in all the wrong places. It seems we owe our existence to viruses, the least of semiliving forms, and about the only thing they have in common with any sort of theological prime mover is their omnipresence and invisibility. Once again, viruses have altered the way that we view them and, by extension, ourselves. As it turns out, they are not the little breakaway shards of our biology—we are, of theirs.

So it’s not only language…. I’ve been thinking along these lines for a long, long time. It’s so fun to see that I haven’t been the only one. Maybe there’s a contagion-effect among minds, too?

This is very, very exciting scientific research.

Please comment if you know of any new developments!

Speaking at SemTech

Speaking at SemTech

I’ll be speaking at the Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, June 17, 2009!

I'm Speaking at SemTech 2009

Messy Folksonomies: The Uses of Metanoise for Better Organizational Collaboration

This presentation will consider the uses of bottom-up, co-evolving folksonomies for better communication and collaboration across disciplinary lines.

For reasons of efficiency, semantic technologies often focus on terminological control. However, where several types of discourse exist within the same organization, a layer of bottom-up vocabulary provides a space for the change and difference that is always part of language. Language, like life, thrives on the border between order and chaos, and even the noisiest and most undifferentiated meta labels can serve a function.

Update 2-18: Actually, it looks like I’m not actually speaking after all. My proposal was accepted by the conference, but my support funding didn’t come through. Oh, well. Maybe next year.

Buy John’s Book

Buy John’s Book

I have been seriously remiss in my intellectual (and wifely) support! I haven’t even urged you to buy, read, and comment on hubby’s book – The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (Bradford Books, MIT Press)!

Preview The Allure of Machinic Life at Google Books.


I’m a little annoyed about the title, since I preferred “The Lure of Machinic Life” to “The Allure of Machinic Life.” However, the absolutely wonderful bit on me me me in the acknowledgments almost makes up for it. The book cover is extra-special, too, because it features a suggestive artwork by our friend Joseph Nechvatal.

John Johnston
John Johnston
The book is a philosophically-minded constructive analysis that answers Heidegger’s critique of technology in subtle and completely unexpected ways. It builds on the understandings of such thinkers as Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard and Kittler, but it’s also a very original tour through areas of research that haven’t been connected or critiqued from this kind of perspective. It’s worth the read if only for the interpretive history of research on (and ideas about) artificial life.

I’m biased, but I’m also a pretty good critical reader – and this book is fantastic. I think it’s been mislabeled by the marketing people, so I’m afraid that it won’t be read – and that would really be a shame.

“John Johnston is to be applauded for his engaging and eminently readable assessment of the new, interdisciplinary sciences aimed at designing and building complex, life-like, intelligent machines. Cybernetics, information theory, chaos theory, artificial life, autopoiesis, connectionism, embodied autonomous agents—it’s all here!”
—Mark Bedau, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Reed College, and Editor-in-Chief, Artificial Life

In The Allure of Machinic Life, John Johnston examines new forms of nascent life that emerge through technical interactions within human-constructed environments—”machinic life”—in the sciences of cybernetics, artificial life, and artificial intelligence. With the development of such research initiatives as the evolution of digital organisms, computer immune systems, artificial protocells, evolutionary robotics, and swarm systems, Johnston argues, machinic life has achieved a complexity and autonomy worthy of study in its own right.

Drawing on the publications of scientists as well as a range of work in contemporary philosophy and cultural theory, but always with the primary focus on the “objects at hand”—the machines, programs, and processes that constitute machinic life—Johnston shows how they come about, how they operate, and how they are already changing. This understanding is a necessary first step, he further argues, that must precede speculation about the meaning and cultural implications of these new forms of life.

Developing the concept of the “computational assemblage” (a machine and its associated discourse) as a framework to identify both resemblances and differences in form and function, Johnston offers a conceptual history of each of the three sciences. He considers the new theory of machines proposed by cybernetics from several perspectives, including Lacanian psychoanalysis and “machinic philosophy.” He examines the history of the new science of artificial life and its relation to theories of evolution, emergence, and complex adaptive systems (as illustrated by a series of experiments carried out on various software platforms). He describes the history of artificial intelligence as a series of unfolding conceptual conflicts—decodings and recodings—leading to a “new AI” that is strongly influenced by artificial life. Finally, in examining the role played by neuroscience in several contemporary research initiatives, he shows how further success in the building of intelligent machines will most likely result from progress in our understanding of how the human brain actually works.

Language is not only a virus (grin) but also an essential bit of the block of the discourse network that co-evolves with technological change and human action to give rise to the computational assemblage; or, machinic life is always already within you (and without you) but here are some of the details.

Now – go forth and buy many copies, and tell all thine friends (and thine enemies as well) to read and discuss.

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