Enso 2015-07-04/01

Enso 2015-07-04/01 was created in Photoshop using a Mac Book Pro track pad. Photoshop is not just about airbrushing products and models.

Word of the Day: “Reification”

Today’s word is ‘reification’ — suggested by Sid Arthur of Northern India, via the Marxists’ use of the German word Verdinglichung: ‘thing making.’

This concept is at the hub of Western civilisation, Capitalism, and those mechanisms visible within Capitalist states to repel threats from within the system by subsuming those threats, commercialising them, removing their thorns, and flogging artificially-sweetened, carefully-smoothed, mass-produced versions (cf. Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction).

Naturally — we all do this, all the time, of course: the ability to conceptualise, codify, nominate have for centuries been the measure of both a society, and its individual members.

A reified thing is a thing made at once more of a thing, and less of a thing: it becomes an exemplar of the superset the reification ascribes it, a chain in a link of concepts, a neuron linked to the network of neurons that represent that concept in the brain. In so doing, the uniqueness of the reified thing becomes less relevant — in naming the thing, we use distinct attributes to define it, and inevitably use those attributes to spot further exemplars.

There are thousands of well-written accounts of reification and the materialisation of abstract ideals, usually for the detriment of those ideals, and although many of these reports, investigations, and experiments have themselves been subsumed by the system which they observed, it seems to me that the internet is bringing to the mainstream media the story of those who attempt to avoid reification, partially, temporarily, for a short time each day, or every day as the core of their life.


In a way, the ancient practices and teachings of Judaism are living on through the Vipassana, Mindfulness, Buddhist stuff of the past few years — but that’s just collected reification.

Reification of women by a male-dominated society that perceived the gender difference as a threat to their material, intellectual, and philosophical equilibrium. Viz, The Sex Symbol.

Other favourites, to cf with Focault’s description of ‘reverse discourse': The Jew, The Homo, The Black, The Paki, The Scotsman, The Taff, The City Gent.

See also: objectification.

Architechting Distributed Systems: the bleedin’ obvious

Distributed systems were a big deal when I was reading Intelligent Systems at the graduate research centre for cognitive science at the University of Sussex — there were tutorials, seminars, lectures, books: I would not be surprised if there were courses devoted to it, there was certainly active research devoted to it.

I remember thinking that would be a great way to spend time — making computers interact in an intelligent manner — and so I am grateful that although I could not afford to live on a research grant, I have made my living helping computers inter-communicate.

Of course I would be much happier if I and my family could live comfortably whilst I research the interaction of sensitive, independent agents creating music, but I would not know where to start getting the funding.

I find it strange that distributed systems are still, in 2014, 14 years after my MSc, distributed systems are still so rare: and that’s also 14 years after Fielding’s seminal Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures.

The way I learnt it, the way that seems most natural to me, and the way I practice, is to have every agent (in the academic language of 14 years ago), every component system, be a sub-class of one base class, one prototype that implements (specifically: hosts implementations of) basic needs, or requirements — such as transport protocols, generic data-description languages, and basic engineering such as self-installation of all required software dependencies, libraries, headers, binaries, update management/version control.

This is not an academic point, nor a nicety that can be dispensed with in favour of ‘the interesting work’ — on the contrary, the base-class is clichéd kick start, the fabled boostraps by which your work will metaphorically raise  itself.

Knowing which components to use — which version of which flavour of which OS, which virtual machine provisioner, which indexing strategy to use, which thread technique to use in processing massive archives —  these things can come from either study/research, experience/practice, or as an evolution of other practices. With relation to the latter case, study will show has experience already has, that clinging to legacy technology is no more productive than clinging to a past life, but that’s a whole different post, and probably for FaceTube.

JavaScript Poster Text

A year or so ago, I wrote some client-side JavaScript to allow allow input text to flow around images — it worked perfectly, and was optimized through a server-side process that produced a mask map from the image, which could be sent as JSON with the choice of image being mapped. Whilst optimised, it was non-dynamic — there were no uploads of user-supplied images, nor any provision in the client to analayse such images, tough that would be only a few lines of code. The purpose of the project was to allow users to create their own type-wrapped postcards, and that worked perfectly.

The next version of the library will have a version that allows not the wrapping of text to an image, but the automated sizing of text such that every line is fully justified (flush from margin to margin), with lines of less characters generally using bigger font sizes to till the line.

The user will be able to enter text with or without manual line breaks, and real-time editing should be supported.

It should be easy to program all of this within a day, perhaps two. My only concern would be cross-platform DOM manipulation, because I have used MooTools, jQuery and such libraries for so long now, that my DOM API is rusty. Then again, there are few places where node creation is actually necessary, so it will not be long-winded enough to justify use of any library.

Day two

Cards - 2013-10-22_14.46.35This morning I managed to tweak the existing e-card code to automatically scale free text, preserving line breaks. This afternoon, I should break it away from the input UI.


On ‘Han-shan, Nanzen-ji’

From a lofty summit
The panorama extends forever
I sit alone unknown
The lone moon lights Cold Spring
The moon isn’t in the Spring
The moon is in the sky
I sing this solitary song
But the song isn’t zen.

Han-shan, Nanzen-ji

Can I ask about this? Or rather, can I ask about it and get a reply?

I’ve never been very ‘good’ with poetry, despite having a good “Bachelors” degree in English. What am I supposed to take from the poem? That might sound like silly, naive question, considering I mentioned having graduated in this subject, and should surely know full well that one is not intended by any one to take anything from a text. But, I mean: are not at least some (I’d like to call them ‘great’) authors aware of this when writing, and so make the writing more than a stream of ego, a stream of consciousness or self-consciousness? Might not these authors construct their work with the complexity of linguistic expression in mind, and so form their work in such a way as to attempt to clarify the inherent vagueness of linguistic communication?

Seems to me that this poem does intend to cause an effect.

It opens gently, depicting a tranquil and removed scene in restrained tone, but with evocative nouns — the first action is not until the third of eight lines, a quarter of the way into the poem, and that action comes from the verb ‘sit,’ which is almost as passive as it gets. Then a distinct and attention-grabbing images:

The lone moon lights Cold Spring

The capitalisation of Cold Spring makes it read as a proper name, presumably a place name (if it were to refer to a person, it would be the introduction of a mechanism so-far unused in the poem, and would make the former imagery seem redundant). A place name composed of two descriptors: one of time, and one of feeling, both that match the imagery of the previous lines, all of which suggests this is the name of place in which the poem is set, from whose tense we can ascertain is the present moment, and whose location is either the place Cold Spring, or a place like the depicted place the reader has visited and recalls, or a cold place in the spring, which thanks to Ana happens to be there here and now for many of us.  Or a place that has the attributes listed, in the imagination of a generous, ‘open’ reader.

Then this nonsense:

The moon isn’t in the Spring

Reading this reminded me of Hakuin’s scalding commentaries on the Heart Sutra. What utter rot, to say that the moon is not in a season! But then I recall the narrator mentioned Cold Spring, so presume this lines inherent meaning is just a statement of the bleeding obvious (to use the Basil Fawlty-like vernacular): that the moon is not in the town. This irks me: the poet made work for that, and I imagine that was intentional, as my next thought, after ‘the moon is obviously not in the town’, I thought, ‘the moon is in the sky, obviously’. My feeling of being ‘irked’ was naturally somewhat mitigated by the next line, for its obviousness:

The moon is in the sky

I was at this point in my initial reading at once irked and soothed — and soothed by that which irked me. This poet is clever — though I am not sure I actually ‘like’ clever.

I sing this solitary song
But the song isn’t zen.

By the time I reached this final couplet, I felt resolved on my reading of the poem — the postulation of a thing that is and is not: just as the moon itself is not in the world, but its light is; the song is a product of that here termed ‘zen’, the singing is not itself ‘zen.’

I wonder if there is any point addressing directly the imagery?

Having written all this, I’m not sure I really want a reply — I’ve had enough of this poem. Perhaps I will come back to it, or perhaps it is as ephemeral as the moment it depicts? Still don’t like poetry.

Rotary Control for MooTools

Knob control for MooTools

Yesterday I wrote, and today extended, a rotary control for MooTools, with WIA-ARIA compliance and keyboard controls to augment the mouse ragging of Logic-type controls.

It’s on GitHub


NYT, Edward White, on Barthes’ Empire of SIgns

IF Japan did not exist, Barthes would have had to invent it – not that Japan does exist in ”The Empire of Signs,” for Barthes is careful to point out that he is not analyzing the real Japan but rather one of his own devising. In this fictive Japan, there is no terrible innerness as in the West, no soul, no God, no fate, no ego, no grandeur, no metaphysics, no ”pro-motional fever” and finally no meaning.

In Barthes’s Japan, Zen is all-important, especially for ”that loss of meaning Zen calls a satori.” If ”S/Z” is an examination of the stink of personality and the baneful yearning for transcendence that has corrupted the West, then ”The Empire of Signs” is its antidote: a study of a hypothetical society where things possess an innocence. For instance, in Japan, Barthes declares that ”sexuality is in sex, not elsewhere; in the United States, it is the contrary; sex is everywhere, except in sexuality.” Similarly, the famous flower arranging of Japan is an art not concerned with symbolism but with gesture; there the point of a gift is not what it contains but the exquisite package that encloses it; and the Bunraku puppet theater is superb because of its reserve, its avoidance of the hysteria of the Western theater, its delegation of ”the whole cuisine of emotion” to the speaker who sits to one side of the stage. Barthes contrasts the attitudes of the Western theater and the Japanese: ”The voice: real stake of our modernity, special substance of language, which we try to make triumph everywhere. Quite the contrary, Bunraku has a limited notion of the voice; it does not suppress the voice, but assigns it a very clearly defined, essentially trivial function.”

— Edward White, NYT 1982