Hypertextuality Feed

"Defining Characteristics of the Posthuman & the Emergent Transition to the Transhuman: a Dystopian Scenario" by Kathryn Cramer

Posthumans communicate electronically. Pay no attention to the geek behind the handle.

A posthuman outnumbers a human: their emergent relationship is often predator and prey.

Humans are single, identifiable individuals. Posthumans are legion; they are multi-headed hydra. When fully developed, they contain multitudes, as many identities as they need.

Posthumans are the heroes of their own stories.

Humans may have several social identities, usually dependent on contexts such as work, parenting, gaming. Posthumans have more.

Humans are cursed with continuous lives; posthumans are not. Posthumans can go underground with a keystroke. Bingo, another identity!

Posthumans are lonely, they are looking for love and companionship and attention. Self-love does not ease the ache for another, more satisfying identity. Perhaps even as a superhero.

Posthumans are disinhibited.

Posthumans are thrill-seekers, enjoying the rush of the group demagogic skydive.

Posthumans live in constant fear of exposure as insignificant meat.

Posthumans argue against the unique identification of moral actors.

To protect them from predation, children are taught in elementary school how to become posthuman when going online. As with many top predators, by adolescence, these proto-posthumans with have learned the role of predator. Social networking plays a major and perhaps even Darwinian role in this socialization.

Posthumans hunt in legions. If no one else will hunt, posthumans become the legion.

Posthumans bear no responsibility for the past. For posthumans, electronic life is an organizing principle imposed on the past, which is chaos.

All the truth posthumans need is available online. And if it isn’t there, they can make something up and put it online.

For a human to seek a human's address and phone number, she looks in the phone book. For a human to seek a posthuman's address and phone number is stalking!

Humans privilege relationships formed in and founded on what they call "real life." Posthumans either deny a distinction between “real life” and online relationships, or disparage the idea that "meatspace" relationships have any privileged meaning.

Posthumans like to watch. They especially like to watch humans and other posthumans fighting.

Posthumans find inflicting pain easier than do humans. Posthuman demagogues easily replicate the results of the Milgram experiment again and again, since posthumans are drawn to such experiences.

Posthuman culture changes at a much more rapid pace than human culture, such that the social protocols of online communities less than five years old are often regarded as ancient and venerable traditions. Still, most bad ideas go back a long way.

Truth is the consensus of posthumans today. Tomorrow's truth will be different. There is no fact outside of constantly-shifting consensus truth.

Humans are limited to no more than 3 or 4 romantic entanglements at a time. Posthumans may pursue 15 or 20 simultaneously; those posthumans augmented by bots can pursue hundreds. For some posthumans, this can prove highly profitable, particularly those who specialize in widows and the elderly.

Posthumans can blogswarm from jail!

The posthuman condition is a happy state for registered sex offenders.

Posthumans have solved the problem of professional ethics: The ethics of posthumans are completely undiscussable. How dare you raise the issue of ethics!

Posthumans are becoming the natural prey of Intelligent Agents, currently in the service of humans and adept at parsing social networks and friends lists. Intelligent Agents perform due diligence.

A posthuman’s HR department already has the posthuman’s Charles Manson fanfic on file; is already aware of the disturbing themes in the posthuman’s Shirley Temple Second Life porn; the posthuman’s Flickr account has already been run by legal. Legal has advised management to let him dig himself in a little deeper.

Posthumans are losing security clearances for unexplained reasons.

Posthumans are now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now posthumans lose their jobs.

Intelligent Agents take over. Truth is the consensus of corporately owned Intelligent Agent systems.

The era of Transhumanity is at hand.

History has ended. Posthumans have no history.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cramer.

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Map of a Universal Dynamic of 21st-Century Greed

I've been working on a research project using Eastgate System's "personal content management tool" Tinderbox to organize my notes. While working with it, I discovered this bit of serendipity that emerged from the "Map View" of the software. I looked at this image and realized that it was a sort of map to the dynamics of private sector 21st century greed. If you click on the image you'll be able to read the labels better.


Secure Computing, Smart Filter, & the Female Breast

MbThis is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter. The image to the right is via the Got BreastMilk? Project.

Following the New York Times story Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter, concerning Secure Computing's product SmartFilter blocking BoingBoing,  I wrote the following letter to Tomo Foote-Lennox, of Secure Computing, who is apparently the guy in charge of deciding what is smut and what isn't. He claims to be a defender of the interests of children:

In an e-mail message to Xeni Jardin, another of Boing Boing's chiefs, Tomo Foote-Lennox, a director of filtering data for Secure Computing, asked why the bloggers were starting a war. "We discussed several ways that you could organize your site so that I could protect the kids and you could distribute all the information you wanted," Mr. Foote-Lennox wrote.

One of the BoingBoing posts that Secure Computing used to justify classifying involved a shot showing a cat attempting to nurse on a woman's breast: Japanese TV show about cat that loves human milk. The image was very blurry and involved less actual nudity than your average shot of an Oscar-night dress. As a very experienced nursing mother, my hunch was that nursing, not an interspecies relationship, nor the expanse of cleavage, was at issue. So I wrote to Secure Computing's Censor-in-Chief to ask about this issue.

Nursing_1Regular readers of this blog are aware that I write with some frequency about breastfeeding issues, and may even be aware that when BBC Radio needed a Representative of American Womanhood to talk about nursing in public, they picked me. I have spent hundreds of hours nursing in public and have nursed on most major airlines and even nursed from the podium while doing public speaking. This is not a political stance, but rather a matter of pure practicality. The BBC pitted me against a man who said over and over that Public nudity is not socially acceptable, in the context of arguing that a nursing mother (Margaret Boyle-White) who refused to stop when confronted by UK police should have been arrested. I was followed on the program by Scottish MP Elaine Smith, who had introduced the bill recently passed at the time of the program making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (Preventing a woman from breastfeeding is already illegal in the State of New York.)

So I wrote the following letter to Foote-Lennox, to try to tease out whether what I suspected was true:

Dear Thom Foote-Lennox:

I am writing to express concern about your remarks concerning BoingBoing in the New York Times. As a long time BoingBoing reader, I am quite certain that it is by no stretch of the imagination a porn site. But I am also a nursing mother, so I am also concerned about what exactly causes you and your company to draw the conclusion the the nursing cat post was porn.

Nursing is not a sexual act. While there exist adults who sexualize children and the activities of children such as nursing, that is not what is going on in that image. The nursing cat seems to me simply a stand-in for a breast pump. Breast engorgement is a real phenomenon and dealing with it is a practical, not a sexual problem.

So what exactly about the nursing cat is sexual?


Kathryn Cramer
Pleasantville, New York

He replied:

We never called it porn.  We have categories for pornography, but we rated this as nudity.  Some of our customers want to limit the viewing of nude pictures in their schools or offices.  We give them the ability to make that choice.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

So a site that, say, depicted public breast feeding would make your list as nudity?


He replied:

Look at our categories on our web site.  Medical diagrams (women nursing cats on television don't count) are rated as nudity if they are explicit, but also as health, educational or consumer information.  Many elementary schools choose to block all nudity, but high schools usually exempt health and education, meaning if it is health or education, you ignore any other category it may have.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

You are aware that in some countries where women are not even allowed to expose their faces in public, it is socially acceptable for women to bare their breasts to feed their infants, yes?


It strikes me when I read his replies that, first of all, my basic intuition is correct. It was exposing the human breast in the context of nursing that was perceived as sexual and inappropriate, not the surreal twist given it by Japanese TV.

Nursey_1When breastfeeding in public for those hundreds of hours (sometimes even in elementary schools [gasp!]; always with at least one child present), I utterly failed to to provide health, educational, and consumer information. Here's voice-over I forgot to give: You know, dear, using breastmillk as eye-drops works as well for clearing up pink-eye as commercial pharmaceuticals! And it works pretty well in clearing up ear infections when used as ear drops as well! I assumed you knew. You did know that, didn't you? Mothers: always remember to educate the public while nursing in public, lest your public nursing be taken as some kind if sexual act!

Secondly: here I am talking to the Internet Censor-in-Chief for the US Military and their overseas contractors and for three countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), and he has this oddly sexualized idea of breastfeeding. He's just this guy, and he's entitled to his personal quirks, but exactly how did this situation evolve to put him in charge of deciding what is sexual and what is not? What is porn and what is not? What he was giving me was distanced by being a description of how software works, but was really very close to the rantings of that strange little man the BBC pitted me against who just kept repeating "nudity is not socially acceptable."

Combining this with questions about the legitimacy of Secure Computing's claims to have found vast quantities of porn on some sites, I conclude that the awarding of these sweeping contracts to them was really quite premature, even if you accept the idea that the military and three whole countries need their Internet censored (which I don't). What exactly qualifies this guy to evaluate what is and is not nudity, porn, inappropriate, etc.? Did he have some special training? Even Justice Potter Stewart was reduced to trying to define porn by saying "I knowing when I see it." Secure Computing offers much more than a definition: multiple categories of inappropriate material, each with their own definition. So just where does this guy Tomo get off telling the world exactly the manner in which the female breast may and may not be displayed on the Internet?

What I think we have here is censorship practiced as a kind of fetishism: Secure Computing employees read the Internet with a dirty mind and then have their way with it based on what they read into what they see.

McDaid on the Boskone Blogging Panel

John McDaid's Boskone trip report has a good write up of the blogging panel I moderated. I was hoping someone would do that, since it was a panel I was proud to have moderated. I thought it went really well: Boskone trip report: Doctorow rips IP a new a-hole, Cramer is the Eye in the Sky

It's always a pleasure to hear Cory Doctorow testify, and he was in great form this weekend for his special guest speech. He excels at expressing intellectual property issues with an sf-writer's eye for the telling moment. Discussing the corporate desire to plug the problem of analog to digital conversion (or, as he puts it, the 'a hole') he imagines a future camcorder that respects IP: a parent is videoing their child's first steps. Child walks in front of the TV, and the image goes black. Yes, the proposals are that dire, and without folks like the EFF out there fighting, this is the future we may well end up with.

Also wonderful was a panel on blogging with Cory, Kathryn Cramer, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Teresa warned that as the military-industrial complex increasingly takes blogging seriously, we can expect to see more "astroturf," or faux-grassroots sentiment being seeded into the blogosphere. And Kathryn provided a case in point of why blogging is worrisome to powers that be: she's increasingly using tools like Google Earth and Flickr to monitor hotspots, and finding that people gravitate to the site and feed her info not seen in the mainstream media. (She also just made the cover of Nature in a piece on mapping for the masses.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF "INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY," see Teresa's new post, What perpetual copyright means to me:

It is right that what’s new and unique in a writer’s work be recognized as peculiarly their own. That’s fine. But copyright is not a statement of inalienable natural right. It’s a social convention, intended to reward (and thus encourage) writers and publishers to produce more books. To pervert it into a claim of perpetual ownership, especially when that claim is being forwarded by large entertainment conglomerates, is the moral equivalent of driving a fence around the commons.

In the comments of that post, Charlie Stross makes a point that I think cannot be made often enough:

The semantic framing of the whole debate fascinates me.

Pet peeve: "pirates" and "piracy". It's a pretty extreme label to pin on a practice which is, on the small scale, about equal to shoplifting, and on a large commercial scale roughly equivalent to any other form of forgery (watches, scent, designer handbags, whatever). But it's an example of how the folks who pin the label on the donkey get to define the debate. Piracy, after all, is a Serious crime, and deserves draconian sentencing (twenty years! life!) ... which is a whole lot harder to argue for in the case of shoplifting. And indeed, the next time the MPAA or RIAA accuse one of their profit centers -- excuse me, infringers -- of shoplifting, it'll be the first.

If people who copy DVDs for their friends are pirates, what then shall we call the entertainment executives who insisted our electronic rights must belong to them even when they had no viable plans for developing these rights in a way that would benefit us? I know who the pirates are.

MEANWHILE, Octavia Butler has died suddenly and unexpectedly. I last Octavia at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, where she was attending the ceremony to induct Philip K. Dick into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I think I took her picture sitting on a bench next to Charlie Brown of LOCUS.  I did not know her well, though I encountered her socially from time to time and  although I know her work.

This is hard for me to think about. I keep bouncing off it to think about somethng else. The manner of her death -- a fall, bleeding in the brain, maybe a stroke -- reminds me of what I'm afraid of. David's mother died of a stroke in November; and I still haven't entirely come down from the ceiling from David's emergency angioplasty a few years ago. My incomprehension in the face of the suddenness of it remind me also of my reaction to the death of SF editor Jenna Felice in early 2001.

CAG's got a blog!

I just discovered this morning that the strange, secretive private intelligence company Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) has a blog. I'm trying to figure out how to stuff it and mount it properly to be hung on my wall.

I have a letter in to UN Legal inquiring about the relationship between MINUSTAH and CAG. The CAG site (including blog) is sitting on a Yahoo server in Sunnyvale, CA, near as I can tell.

Watermarking as a Strategy for Insisting on Corporate "Creators": Is DRM the Killer App for Corporate Authorship?

Ed Felton at Freedom to Tinker has a good post on the problem of digital watermarking, How Watermarks Fail (via BoingBoing), in which he concludes that watermarking schemes (such as Koplar's VEIL technology, discussed in my post VEIL Technology: Four Patents & an Application the other day) are not well suited for Digital Rights Management (preventing unauthorized copying of copyrighted material).

The discussion in the comment section is particularly interesting. Consider this comment, for example:

Let’s imagine a case where Microsoft’s post-Vista OS, codenamed Blacksheep, will only work with video cards that require a watermark in order to play Super-HD video (2048-4096 lines of resolution). Then such videos could be distributed in encrypted form with the watermark embedded. The decryption and watermark detection algorithm could be public; however the encoding/embedding algorithm would be secret.

Users could use the public decryption algorithm to create raw MPEG files with the watermark stripped, but would not be able to play them on commercially available video cards (similar to how video cards are now requiring monitors with HDCP support in order to play HD video). Users would not be able to create new videos with altered watermarks because the algorithm to do that is secret.

If digital watermarking schemes for DRM are put into practice, they may have little effect on the problem of bootleg versions of mega-corporate products. However, as discussed in the comment section, they may be quite effective about keeping digital artistic productions by individuals out of the distribution system: in the end, what DRM may accomplish is forcing individuals to give big corporations a cut for distribution just to get the authorized watermarking.

My experience in the early-mid 90s teaches me that part of the purpose of setting the production standards of early CD-ROMs absurdly high was to promote corporate authorship over individual authorship with the idea that digital products could be authored like film and TV, not like books, thus empowering the executive level and disempowering the actual creators, or rather reconfiguring relations such that executives become part of the creative "team."

Now computers are being sold that allow individuals, and small groups of individuals, to produce works to very high production standards on very low budgets. This also threatens the rise of corporate authorship. So watermark-style DRM may do very little to prevent the "piracy" about which the big media corporations are up in arms, it may be the killer app of corporate authorship.

It needs to be said over and over that in the early '90s, corporations did not own or control most of these digital rights they now claim the right to defend. In large part, these rights were taken, without additional compensation, from the artistic creators. (I know who the real pirates are!)

Transitioning from a world where art is created by individuals to a world where it is "created" by corporate "creative teams" is the second part of an overall stratgey to consolidate corporate control over the revenue that can be extracted from the popular arts; for creating a future in which consumers remain consumers and don't try to horn in on the revenue due to producers of artistic commodities.

(See also Dr. K.)

A Quick Survey of the Blog Manifestos

This is part of an ongoing series on blog methodology.

First, a little more on what I'm up to. I've had a really amazing past four of five months, during which my blogging has undergone some transformations, and I'm preparing to try to bring together what I think I've learned. But first I'm casting around for what other people have articulated along these lines.

On Day One, I searched around for what people had to say about blog methodology. (Wrong question.) On Day Two, I looked at what people said a blog is for. (What en extraordinarily fine navel I have here! Um. Another wrong question.)

In the comments of the second post, though, a reader gave me a list of links to blog manifestos. (And, yes, I should have thought to google blog manifestos myself.) I'm going to go through the list he provided in the order of appearance, and may tack on a few more at the end.


First on his list was Andrew Sullivan's 2002 piece, Why online weblogs are one future for journalism. I had read it before, quite a while back. I don't really think of what I do in this space as journalism, though it is some related creature, and I have received occasional mentoring from real journalists when they thought I was onto something really good. I had filtered out the whole blogging-is-the-future-of-journalism trajectory. But the reader comment caused me to revisit the Sullivan essay, where I do indeed find a highly relevant passage:

I remember trying to fathom some of the complexities of the Florida election nightmare when I got an email from a Florida politics professor explaining every detail imaginable. If I'd been simply reporting the story in the traditional way, I'd have never found this font of information. As it was, I found myself scooping major news outlets on arcane electoral details about chads and voting machines. Peer-to-peer journalism, I realized, had a huge advantage over old-style journalism. It could marshal the knowledge and resources of thousands, rather than the certitudes of the few.

My personal shorthand for this phenomenon is build it and they will come. If I find some really good questions to ask, high class help tends to show up to help find the answers. This is a key piece of my personal blog methodology.

Scoble's Corporate Weblog Manifesto (2003): Heaps of good advice that generalizes nicely from the corporate blog to many other kinds of blogging; but also not exactly what I'm after. (But read it anyway.)

A Norwegian blog manifesto (2004): This seems to have been written as a launching point for a group effort, trying to generalize from what could be learned from American blogs to the Norweigian context. It is interesting for the articulated vision:

What is our goal? A broad, open public sphere that includes amateur online media. A place where all issues are discussed freely, where all views are represented, where for every large media there are ten smaller ones scrutinizing it and keeping it in check. A place where the border between professional punditry and amateur punditry, professional reporting and amateur reporting, is blurred, where it matters more whether you are right than whether you're being paid and have a diploma on your wall.
. . .
This is not a media revolution. There will be no eternal land of milk and honey on the other side, just a more open media community. It will be way short of perfection, but better able to investigate and discuss political issues. These are realistic and moderate goals.

This generated a discussion of whether the involvement of amateurs improves the media.

The Libertarian Blog Manifesto by Russ Stein (2002), for the most part, isn't a manifesto. It is more an expression of enthusiasm for the medium of the blog. But it does have a passage worth quoting:

And blogs are where the power is. Seriously! The future belongs to those who prevail in the political debates on the web. Right now the political ideas that will govern the future are being sharpened & polished on the world's computer networks. And the right basically owns the web. Where in the world wide web is the left? Where are the people who staff the government agencies, the diversity and affirmative action theorists, the Marxists, teachers, socialists, commies, mural painters, greens, tax grabbers, democracy and human rights activists, and the defenders of the ruling establishment? They are no-where! They are fat, happy, stupid, complacent, computer illiterates with nothing but clichés and conventional wisdom to add to the debate, if they could even log on. They do nothing as we busily mock and de-legitimize them on the web.

This passage is an interesting mixed bag: an idealistic statement about the web as a venue for ideas combined with the rhetoric of a mean-spirited intellectual land-grab. The political landscape of the web has changed a bit since then.

Chris Pirillo's 2002 The Blogger's Manifesto is not so much a manifesto as a set of instructions to readers on how he wants them to regard his blogging; it is a literary descendant of the FAQ.

The Blogging Manifesto (2003) from the Aardvark Speaks mostly avoids the real issue of the purpose of blogging and the political implications of the act.

The Poor Man provides his own summary of his sort-of-manifesto, Blog Dogme 2003:

I am laying out the following blogging manifesto/art statement, a list of "do nots" - a Blogma, if you will - which will hopefully improve the quality, enjoyability, and purity of the reading and writing experience.

I'm going to skip the Audioblogging Manifesto, though you might want to listen to it.

And finally, there is Rebecca Blood's 2002 essay Weblog Ethics. Its key passage is:

Let me propose a radical notion: The weblog's greatest strength — its uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice — is also its greatest weakness. News outlets may be ultimately beholden to advertising interests, and reporters may have a strong incentive for remaining on good terms with their sources in order to remain in the loop; but because they are businesses with salaries to pay, advertisers to please, and audiences to attract and hold, professional news organizations have a vested interest in upholding certain standards so that readers keep subscribing and advertisers keep buying. Weblogs, with only minor costs and little hope of significant financial gain, have no such incentives.

It is a widely influential essay. I agree with most of what she has to say but completely disagree with her fourth point: "Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry." The commercial publishing industry has a whole infrastructure devoted to making this possible with print publishing. To pretend that a person with a blog can perform up to this standard without recourse to rewriting, correction, and deletion if foolish, seems to me. But, other than that, a good piece. But it is more a guide to what she feels are best practices, rather then an examination of what this is all for.

I'm sure there have been more manifestos since, but the general impression I'm getting is that while exploring manifestos comes a bit closer to what I'm seeking regarding an explication of blogging methodology, the form of the manifesto also falls short and does not give me what I am looking for.

What shall I try tomorrow?

Blog Methodology

There has been an overarching structure to the diverse things I've been thinking about over the past five months or so. And today, when I was going over my notes and correspondence, trying to impose the unity I feel upon the disorder of my hard drive, it occurred to me to Google "blog methodology," since that's part of what I think this has all been about. It seemed an obvious search term, but I came up with surprisingly few results, and most of those seemed to pertain to the methodology for creating software for blogging, rather than the methodology of the act itself.

The chitchat about Web 2.0 seems more to the point, but again that discussion seems to quicky devolve into advocacy of specific software tools, not a discussion of what we're really trying to do and why we're trying to do it, and how we plan to get there.

Find Hopkin

I got a real kick out of lostfrog.org (as seen on BoingBoing). If I had time on my hands -- which I don't -- my Hopkin Green Frog picture would reveal that Hopkin was the mystery object under Bush's suit jacket.

UPDATE: I gave in to temptation. I was on the phone wishing my mother a happy birthday, and well . . . I've just emailed my contribution. (For this to make any sense, you need to go to lostfrog.org first.)

Dramatica: The Strangeness, Charm, & Spin of Character

I've been exploring the creativity tool and writing program Dramatica. I am working on something, trying to organize and take stock of a large amount of material, and it seemed to me that it would be useful to play with something that would make me focus on plot, since I am taking an assemblage of notes on stuff that really happened and trying to convert them into a smooth narrative that didn't happen. And I didn't want to get snagged on the real story at the expense of the fictional one.

I had expected that Dramatica would be a program designed from a perspective different from my own, but, wow, I had no idea how different it would be. Think of the Scott Meredith plot outline married to the idea that all literature is character-driven; think deep affection for really trashy movies; think terminology so abstract as to make descriptions of the fundamental particles like quarks sound colloquial, homey, down-to-Earth; such terminology deployed in the service of a theory of pulp psychology. And combine this with the faith that these elements can be combined into a Grand Unified Field Theory of Story; throwing out old techniques like motif indexes and replacing them with abstraction; co-opting old words like genre and archetype into entities that can be given numerical values that a computer can understand. The hubris of the enterprise is astonishing.

What the creators of this strange program really seem to want is AI technology. But lacking that, they have tried to hack their way around this absence, creating abstract ways of talking about how characters interact that a less that fully sentient computer can manipulate. The software tries to literalize the notion that literature is character-driven, give the computer an algebra of character that can be solved for plot, or at least story structure. (Or you can work from the other direction, starting with your "story form" -- one of exactly 32,768, no more, no less -- and solving for character.) I am being a little simplistic in my description. So let me assure you that what goes on in this program is much much more complicated than what I have described.

Nonetheless, I will continue to enter information into the program's various screens, since it is extracting from me information about the project that's in my head but is not yet written down. The various directions the program seems to want to take me do not seem to me where I want to go, and I am having difficulty parsing many of they questions it asks, but I'm trying not to let that distract me. Ten years ago or so, in the right context I might have tried to design something along the lines of a program like this, except using my own notions of the dynamics of fiction; as I enter information, I'm trying to recapture for myself how mine might have worked had I had the opportunity to take my thoughts further. But I don't think I would ever have gone so far as to try to define the equivalent of strangeness, charm, and spin for character. And yet I can see its necessity for the realization of their vision. Dramatica also provides an interesting perspective on the models an AI might use to evaluate how people behave and anticipate further actions.

Looking at Surftrail

I got around to calling Mark Bernstein at Eastgate this afternoon to talk about what I had in mind to do with Tinderbox on my blog to regain some internal hypertextuality, and he directed me to Anders Fagerjord's blog Surftrail.

I have poked around enough to know that I need to take a much closer look at what's going on there. Let's all go see, and then talk about it. This is his category archive list . . .

. . . although he calls them indicies, not categories.

CSS Rollover Footnotes?

I have an idea of something I would like to implement here that I suspect can be done with CSS rollovers, but I don't know how to script it. So I'm going to describe it and see if someone out there knows how to do this.

I want to be able to use anchors on certain words or passages on text such that when the mouse is over the text in question, CSS reveals a piece of text which is essentially a footnote positioned on the screen where the cursor is. How do I do this? Also these pseudolinks should be color-defined but should be a different color than regular links. My initial thought is that they would not be clickable.

(Looking around for examples, I've seen various fancy menus using CSS rollovers, but I didn't find anything that worked like this.)

A more advanced version of this might involve such rollovers on clickable links that give a little more info, i.e. a very brief passage or some such, from the place linked to.

Grasping for Hypertextuality

You may be curious why the window to the right has appeared (at first, on its own with no text). I'm trying to figure out how to write an essay/ blog post on what I really want this weblog to do. I have been digging through my old files, finished and unfinsihed hypertextual projects; maybe I'll even find some old notes, but what I said about hypertext back then is much less important to me than what I did. So the pictures are crucial.

The window to the right was a piece of the interface of an unfinished project, stilll under contract to Eastgate. You can tell the vintage from the fact that it's a black & white gif, and it goes with a lot of other cunningly designed black and white gifs. I paid a lot of careful attention to transitions. Also, you may notice that my window is a handy visual metaphor.

I'm going to go back to digging through my archives now, and will post more later.

But I will leave you with this image which I created when thinking about what I wanted a hypertextual node to be:

[I found what I was looking for, so the Note continues. The forsythias were placed directly on the scanner. The salt marshes are on Cape Cod in Brewster. The bird is from Cape Cod, but from elsewhere. I think the sky is from Photoshop and the sky-egg definitely is. I was groping for something here, using imagery from other hypertextual stuff, and trying to sort out the rhetoric.]

OK, I found an important one: a sketch of a node as I envision it conceptually. In 1995 or '96, I had an explanation of the drawing to go with the picture. I remember saying something about nodes as easter eggs. The image of the egg was central to the thematics of it, I remember.

And quilting was important to it, too: assembling meaning from contrasting pasrt, cut into fragments and pieced back together in a different order. (Certainly, we do this when we blog.)

Back when I was in the thick of it, I found myself mostly unable to write conherently about hypertext theory. Others seemed not to share this problem, but my sense of hypertextual structure seemed to me to be preverbal, almost, as though it had more to do with the feel of fabrics on my fingertips or with sensations on my tongue than with critical terminology. I still feel that way. Satisfying hypertextuality is for me a synesthetic experience. (This is why, I think, the name Purple Numbers is such an apt one.)

But, OK, so here I am trying to talk about it. And I feel the need to because there is something deeply unsatisfying to me about linear blogging -- even if we get to make lots of links to news sites and to each other -- that I need to fix. And if I can't articulate, at least to myself, what I want changed, I'm going to have a hard time changing it.

(FYI, pix in this post copyright by Kathryn Cramer. Do not reproduce without permission.)

The Web Though Purple-Colored Glasses

I'm trying to visualize my perfect version of blog hypertextuality and am casting around in a number of directions. I'm trying to figure out how to install something along the lines of Purple Numbers here, but the installation is going to have to wait for a day when Elizabeth is not home sick. My brain is tired enough as it is without help from perl stuff. Meanwhile, via Radio Free Blogistan, I came across a tool called Purple Slurple that asigns purple nubers to individual parapraphs of any web page you designate. Suppose I want to cite this paragraph from the recent New Yorker article on Chalabi:

Similar allegations have been made about ChalabiÅfs Ågde-BaathificationÅh program, a policy he says he devised to bring justice to those in the Sunni ruling class who had been complicit in SaddamÅfs crimes. The Defense Intelligence Agency credits ChalabiÅfs forces with rounding up more than half of the fifty-five Baathists placed on a Most Wanted list by the Pentagon. However, two reliable sourcesÅ\a former American diplomat and a former member of ChalabiÅfs militiaÅ\said that de-Baathification had devolved into the confiscation of Sunni assets, including houses that were expropriated by ChalabiÅfs aides. Newsweek reported that an Iraqi official claimed that half a million dollars allocated for de-Baathification had disappeared. Chalabi denied there was any corruption in the program.

I can feed the URL to PurpleSlurple and it will spit out a New Yorker page with purple numbers allowing me to link to the specific paragraph, not just the page. Neat trick.

UPDATE: Maybe I'm not as brain-dead as I feel. Click on the Purple Numbers links below to see Purple Numbers implemented on a blog without perl and only by tweaking the templates. I'm feeling really pleased with myself. There are, of course, drawbacks to this implementation. For example, incoming links to Purple paragraphs will not show up on Technorati. But nonetheless, I got the full functionality without unwanted visual clutter and without tearing my hair out. Thank you, Matthew A. Schneider.

I'm Tired of Writing on a Roll of Paper Towels

In her Wiscon coverage of Monday at the con, Cheryl Morgan remarks:

The only programming I went to claimed to be a session on blogging technology, but if you had looked in on us you would have assumed that Kathryn Cramer was reading Tarot cards for Bill Humphries.

I took full advantage of Wiscon's spontaneous program item track, signing up two of them myself, the first on blogging and politics, followed on Monday by one on technology and political blogging. In the scene Cheryl describes, I had arranged index cards and torn bits of index cards too represent individual pages in a blog and pages linked to, and the small bits representing subsidiary arguments I would like to include as separate nodes within an individual blog posting.

Most of those reading this probably don't know of my hypertextual past. In the fall of 1993, when I was a grad student in German and Comparative literature at Columbia (following a masters in American Studies and a B.A. in mathematics, also at Columbia) I skipped out for a week and went to Hypertext '93 in Seattle which hit me like a religious conversion. At the time I was writing a dark fantasy hypertext, In Small & Large Pieces, later published by Eastgate Systems. At the end of the semester, I dropped out of grad school and went to work for Eastgate. As far as I know S&L has the distinction of being the most heavily linked of Eastgate's hypertext fictions (by which I mean it has the highest link-to-node ratio). After about a year, a bad adult case of disease Fifth's Disease and a fire in the house I'd been living in Newton, MA knocked the wind out of my sails. After flailing around a bit, I took my computer skills and used them to get a real job (which I hated). But such is my evangelical hypertext past.

So here I am, a little over a year into blogging, having written on the electronic equivalent of a long roll of paper towels for far too long and I want the technological capabilities I enjoyed a decade ago: I want to regain a mode of expression in which I have some considerable technical skill. I feel I've been really up against the limits of the roll of paper towels in such entries as Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. The possibility of subordinate nodes within a post would have made that entry ever so much easier and perhaps much better.

There are two components to the problem I face. The composition end. How do I compose and post a multi-node blog entry as easily as the single-node kind. And, secondly, how do I get people to read it the way I think it should be read. The answer to this first question seems to me to be most easily addressed by a hybrid approach, using both MT and Tinderbox, Eastgate's web heir to the legacy of Storyspace, the tool I used to write S&L. The reading problem is harder, but I have some ideas.

There are also a number of other directions Bill Humphries suggested in our discussions which I need to look into now that I'm home again.

Are there any blogs out there which use multi-node blog entries or extensive in-blog hyertextuality? I'm very curious.

Vision in Perspective

When I sit down to blog, it is to easy to get sucked into quick reactions to news stories. I had a really fascinating experience the other day which I've been meaning to blog, but other things kept getting in the way. So here we go.

About a week ago, I read Oliver Sacks's book An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. One of the seven tales, "To See and Not See" [this link will work only if you have a credit card on file with Amazon],  concerned a blind man named Virgil who had his sight restored in middle age. The surgery worked, but the consequences of restoring his sight were disastrous. It's very Flowers for Algernon; in fact the similarity is so strong that I wonder if Daniel Keyes may have taken his plot from early case histories like this.

Virgil begins as an economically independent massage therapist with a devoted fiancee, and ends as an angry disabled man, unable to work, even blinder than he started out. The case is medically complex, so Sacks doesn't come out and say this, but there is the sinister implication that the demands of sight borrow processing power from the parts of Virgil's brain that control his heart and lungs. (In an earlier case history,  a man whose sight was restored died within two years.)

Nor was Virgil's restoration to sight much like the Biblical scales falling from the eyes of the blind. He had to be taught to see, and it only partly worked.

A few days after reading this, I got a phone call: my friend Deena was in Boston, staying with Sarah Smith. She had picked up a car and was driving it back to Colorado. I immediately invited her to say with me on the return trip. Our house is extremely difficult to find under the best of circumstances. I hadn't seen Deena in about seven years, but I had some faint recollection that she didn't see very well. So I was a bit surprised that she was driving. Despite our best efforts, it took over an hour for us to get her from the center of Pleasantville to my house. When she arrived, she explained that she'd only been driving for a few years, following surgery to correct her vision.

It was only then that I remembered that when I had last seen her, she walked with a blind person's cane. While not entirely blind -- with really thick glasses she had been able to see things that were close -- she had been "legally blind." I remember her making some remark about her vision being "80% imagination."

The story goes that her vision had deteriorated further, and that she had fallen on her head repeatedly. After five or six concussions and some unsuccessful vision therapy, it was decided that she needed surgery to correct her vision. The surgery was successful, but like Virgil, she lacked a lot of the basic skills for seeing.

Most fundamentally, she lacks skills for visual prioritizing. She said that initially she was unable to have a conversation with someone wearing patterned clothing because the patterns were too distracting. Even now, four years after surgery, she finds it difficult to converse in our kitchen because of the intrusive pattern of our 70s wallpaper. (We moved our conversation to the living room).

Perspective remains difficult, though she was able to teach herself how to see it. She bought a digital camera and took pictures of scenes she didn't understand -- a street, sidewalk, and house. She asked people to explain the scenes: How do you tell where the street is? How do you tell the house from the sidewalk? At this she was successful, though she says she still has problems with uphill and downhill.

On the other hand, faces have defeated her. Though she can recognize a generic face, efforts to learn to recognize people by their faces and to tell how people feel by their faces have defeated her, despite some very hard work. She says she used to be able to tell with some precision how people felt by their voices, but she is losing that ability: the demands of trying unsuccessfully to understand by facial expression erodes older coping skills. Also, her inability to recognize faces really upsets people and causes frequent social difficulties.

I have a book of optical illusions around, so I got it out and tried them on her. I would have expected that she could not recognize all the different ways to see the pictures. Instead, she saw what I saw, plus additional botanical images that I didn't see -- seemingly on the basis of small parts of the images that looked a bit like petals or branches.

What she feels she has gained from the surgery is mobility: she can drive, so she can go many more places. But in general she would rather go back to the way she was. Vision does not work for her as well as her older ways of gaining information, but the demands of vision erode these older skills. It reminds me of upgrading a computer operating system to find that one doesn't like it as well as the older system.

I told her she really must write about her experiences trying to learn to see, which I found quite fascinating. This was all especially startling, since I had not really thought of Deena as blind in the first place.

(I do wonder, now that I've written all this down, whether my wandering off into cyberspace from what I intended to blog, as recounted in the very first paragraph, is neurologically similar to Deena becoming distracted by the wallpaper. Perhaps later generations will have better prioritizing skills for this kind of information feed.)

UPDATE: Read Deena's comments on my observations in the comments.

Kathryn Cramer at November  3, 2003 07:35 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


As I understand it, there is a part of the brain that is specifically devoted to recognizing people's faces. People who have this part of the brain damaged in  an accident, say, may have otherwise excellent vision but have great difficulty recognizing even close friends and relatives. It sounds like your friend may not have been able to develop this portion of her brain, if she was visually impaired for so long, or has let it lapse.
  I tend to think that my own ability to recognize faces isn't that great. I find that I often recognize someone not only from their face--for example, I might recognize you because you're slender + have pale blond hair + happen to be carrying a baby, rather than only by your face Actually, my ability in this regard isn't totally lacking, so I probably would recognize your face, but in general I feel my facial recognition software is not as well developed as I would like. If your friend has trouble with this, she might be able to develop a lot of workarounds: if she's losing her ability to recognize voices, there are still height, body shape, gait, distinctive items of clothing or shoes or jewelry, hair color...tattoos can be especially helpful, since they tend to be distinctive.
  I find it slightly odd that your friend is driving, though I can see how it might be relatively easy to just look ahead at taillights. But navigation is part of driving...

Posted by: Robert L at November  3, 2003 07:58 AM

Thanks Kathryn, you've summed this up much better than I ever have.   I have sent you a rough draft of a writeup, please let me know if I have the right email.

There is a website for face blindness--it is a great explanation and you can't imagine how wonderful I felt when I first read it:

Of course, a lot of this was actually realizing that people use faces to recognize other people.  This hadn't dawned on me until 2 years after I had my sight.  I asked Stephanie Strickland, another hypertext poet, how people seemed to be recognizing each other at the hypertext conference we were attending.  The conference did not have name tags, and people hadn't seen each other for a few years. Yet they could call out to each other across the room.  I had had a feeling there was some visual clue, but  I didn't know what.

It is these bases of assumptions that get to me. You never say oh a tree stays where it is all night and doesn't move--that is assumed. You don't say oh, people have different features and you look at the face and can tell who it is, that is assumed. (By the way, no one has yet given me a good explanation of WHAT they look for in a face.  Eyes change, expressions in mouths change.) I would love a detailed explanation of how you use faces to recognize people. 

I have researched the computer IT folks progress in facial recognition, but this is also based on a static picture for the most part, with some complicated algorithms that would take me more than the moment usually alloted for facial recognition.  Ahh...thanks for letting me vent.

Before I could see clearly, I could hear very well. I still can.  I could tell who someone was within a word or two of them speaking. I still can, usually, but the ability has dimmed. I can still listen in a crowded room and pick out voices I know and follow up to about 6 conversations.  I can no longer do this and carry on a conversation at the same time--but I used to be able to.   So my abilities to recognize by hearing have diminished.

Also, I no longer carry a cane and people expect me to recognize them as I can now see.  At first, I tried and faked it, with horrible results.  When I realized it was a problem, I tried very hard to memorize faces and learn people.  Now I am becoming more resigned to not being able to do this.  I do memorize what a person wears for that day and once I meet a person I can tell who they are, as long as they don't put on a sweater or a jacket.

I also look for height, shape, style of walking, hair --hair is very misleading.  I also use contextual conversations--we are in a grocery store but you are talking about work, so I know you from work... But most of these take a few minutes and people often will not take the time I need to recognize them.  I am finally becoming up front about the issue and warning people ahead of time that I will not recognize them. This has lead to a few practical jokes, but for the most part, people are good about it. Most of my friends now come up to me and say "Hi Deena it's so and so."    You could say this is my anti-spam method in person ;)

Posted by: Deena at November  8, 2003 01:35 AM

While I am intrigued and heartened by the track of Deena's abilities, I am skeptical that she belongs behind a wheel. I can imagine too many driving scenarios where her gaps and additional processing time could be lethal to others.

Posted by: David Lubkin at September 13, 2004 12:39 PM

Dawn at the Bird Cathedral

OK: It's 5:28AM and I'm bright-eyed awake. Now I know why my kids woke up at this time yesterday. It's when the birds start chirping and it begins to get light. Because of a nearby rock wall, sound has interesting properties in our back yard, and we have some very tall trees. At dawn at this time of year -- between now and late July -- our back yard becomes a bird cathedral; there is a choir of birds and the patches of bright orange sky through the trees are like stained glass windows.

SO here I am. I've made coffee and switched on one of the ambient space stations available over the cable modem which plays music I won't even notice while concentrating on what I'm doing.

I jot down stuff that was kicking around in my head during the night:

ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW: (1) Is anyone actually running against GWB for the Republican nomination? ANSWER: It's not allowed; gop.com forwards into www.georgewbush.com. Man and party are indistinguishable. (2) Does Santorum have a dog? What kind? Are there any pictures of man and dog on the web? ANSWER: Though Santorum wants his constituents to know that he is deeply concerned about dog breeding, I have found no information available on the web about whether he has a dog.

NEXT, I go to Breaking News at technorati.com to see what other people (mostly to the East of me, given the time) think is important in this morning's news cycle. Technorati is quite handy at this time of day. Topics haven't yet been beaten to death. Also, there are a lot of smart bloggers who have an eye for important stories, but who aren't writers (lowercase 'w'). They either make links without comment, or their comments read like this: Disgraceful and disgusting acts of atrocities are ignored. So technorati.com provides first readers for the slush pile of the morning's news. I'm a morning person.

Speaking of morning people, baby's awake. David brings her to me and goes back to bed. I nurse her and type with one hand.

The moment's top story is from the Independent: The allies' broken promises:

Tony Blair: 'We don't touch it, and the US doesn't touch it'  MTV, 7 March
The reality: Yesterday's draft UN resolution gives total control of Iraq's oil revenues to the US and UK until an Iraqi government is established

etc. Glad someone's keeping track. I've been exploring this general theme of shifting political realities, but have nothing immediate to say -- brief mental flash of the cover of Philip K. Dick's MARTIAN TIMESLIP. I'm not sure what to do with it yet. So I put this shiny infopebble in the bucket and move on down the beach.

The #2 technorati item is a fairly hard-hitting editorial in the Guardian, also on the proposed UN resolution: The new caliphs; US and Britain seek a free hand in Iraq

The new joint draft resolution is in other respects a deeply unsatisfactory document. Common sense again suggests that the UN should be afforded a leading role, as in Afghanistan, in facilitating the creation of a post-Saddam system of governance. Impartial UN mediators would be far better positioned to instil confidence, among Iraqis and in the wider region, in a process that will at best be complex and arduous. The contrary US-British intention to direct political reform via a new legal entity, the "Authority", controlled by them, and with only an advisory, non-executive role for a UN "special coordinator" is ill-conceived and potentially divisive. 

The resolution envisages a similarly tight US-British grip, also for at least one year, on exploitation of and revenue from Iraq's oil once UN controls, specifically the oil-for-food programme, are phased out. The proposed international oversight by a board of absentee luminaries drawn from the UN, IMF and World Bank is no real safeguard against the sort of abuse EU commissioner Poul Nielson warned about yesterday. Nor is it responsible to assume that the 60% of Iraqis who rely on UN-administered food aid will soon be able to do without it. While the US and Britain now - finally - accept their obligations under international law, what this resolution boils down to is legitimisation of an illegal war and of an open-ended occupation. It gives them a free hand in Iraq. What it will give Iraqis is much less clear.

Story #3 is Bush unveils Mid-East trade plan. I check it out. After reading it, I'm still not sure what Bush's plan is, but I have a few sacrcastic thoughts: What does he want to trade it for? To which US corporations does he want to trade it? I click on some of the blog links to see if anyone else understands it, but I find something better at a site called Nurse Ratched's Notebook, which she saw via atriosPresident Bush's Movements and Actions on 9/11 by Allan Wood and Paul Thompson. I skim it. This is real historical reseach, important stuff, a must read. It's full of things I didn't know.  I'll read more later.

Baby Elizabeth gets tired of playing with the toys on the floor by my feet and trying to learn how to crawl and starts to fuss. I turn on the TV and put on an infant stim video: Newton in a bottle: Physics for kids! For children 3 months and up.  I turn off the space music because it competes with the music-only soundtrack of the TV. (The bird have piped down by now, and the sky is between the trees is pale yellow. It's quarter of 7.)
Skimming down technorati, I see various stories I've read already from different sources . . . . Now here's a lurid one! Doctors 'stole brains for research': The brains of thousands of mentally ill people were illegally removed after their deaths. But this is really just a variant on a story I've read before about body parts illegally removed in UK hospitals, yes? Nonetheless, it's going to confirm the worst suspicions of some poor paranoid schizophrenic out there: His doctor really is trying to steal his brain! Whoopee!

Now here's someone who needs his brain removed for examination:

But John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "Without committing to deployment, research on low-yield nuclear weapons is a prudent step to safeguard America from emerging threats and enemies."

Newton in a Bottle ends just as I find out that army ants are a truly ancient species originating over 100 million years ago on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Sunbeams are coming in the window now. I put on Baby Einstein and get a refill on my coffee.

Checking out CNN, I don't find much new . . . except, here's something:    fly fossils in Antarctica. I was wondering about the fossils of Anarctica just the other day, wondering what they might find if all that ice weren't in the way:

The tiny fossil of a fly discovered 300 miles from the South Pole could help scientists figure out what life was like millions of years ago in Antarctica.

Peter just woke up and brought me two books he wants me to read, one about aliens, and the other about jellyfish. So I'll stop here.    

8:43AM: Here's a few things I missed:

Washington Post: Med Students Performing Unauthorized Pelvic Exams on Unconscious Women

When Zahara Heckscher went to George Washington University Hospital last month to have an ovarian cyst removed, she asked her surgeon if medical students would be practicing pelvic exams on her while she was unconscious. She was shocked that the answer was yes.

Medical students, interns and residents at teaching hospitals across the nation routinely learn how to perform such examinations by practicing on patients under anesthesia, medical educators say, and GWU Hospital officials say their program is no exception.

Also from the WP, Seven Nuclear Sites Looted. I took this for an old story, but there are more sites than previously reported.

MEANWHILE, Arthur Hlavaty directs our attention to this marvelous graphic by Edward Tufte: Thinking With Bullets.