Art, Biology, Cybernetics, ecology, History, music theory, systems theory

communication +1, 3(1): Afterlives of Systems (2014) (pdf)


“Under the impression of today’s global crisis and the rise of ecological thinking, confronted with smart, ubiquitous technosystems and the impression of interconnectedness, there appears a new urge to excavate the remnants of the past. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies.

The nine contributions ask how these debates and affective states survive and live on in today’s discussions of media ecologies, environmentalism, object-oriented philosophies, computer simulations, performative art, and communication technologies. In this sense, they take the renaissance of systems thinking in the late 20th and early 21st Century as an effect of various system crisis and explore new media technologies as stabilizing ‘cures’ against the dystopian future scenarios that emerged after World War II. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies.”

Anthropology, Bacteria, Farming, History, Medicine, Nature, PDF, Society

‘Darwinian Gastronomy: why we use spices’ (1999) Sherman and Billing

“An early attempt to use statistical analysis of cookbooks to reveal deeper patterns about what we eat and why. The paper theorizes that there is an evolutionary benefit to eating spices: “by cleansing food of pathogens before consumption, spice users contribute to the health, longevity and fitness of themselves, their families and their guests.” There is more disease in the tropics and this is also where most spices are added to food, or so the paper seems to argues. Personally I think the argument runs the risk of putting the horse behind the carriage. Spices predominately grow in tropical areas and it makes sense to expect that this is where they eat them most.”


Anthropology, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Education, History, Medicine, Neural Networks, Optics, PDF, Science

The Optics of Ibn Al-Haytham, Books I–III: On Direct Vision (c1028-38)

“This is the first English translation of first three out of the 7 volumes of the fundamental work on optics by the medieval Arab scientist Ibn al-Haitham or Alhazen (965–c1039). His book exerted a great influence upon science through Vitelo, Roger Bacon, Peckham and Kepler. Alhazen investigated many particular cases of reflection and refraction, and drew attention to the light-ray’s property of retracing its path when reversed. He was the first to give a detailed description of the human eye and to study binocular vision. Certain ophthalmological terms originated from the Latin translation of Alhazen’s Arabic text, e.g. retina and cornea. The Book of Optics (Kitāb al-Manāẓir, كتاب المناظر) presented experimentally founded arguments against the widely held extramission theory of vision (as held by Euclid in his Optica) and in favour of intromission theory, as supported by thinkers such as Aristotle, the now accepted model that vision takes place by light entering the eye.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Capitalism, Commons, Economy, History, Society

Mediterranean Containerization

“Over at least the last five millennia, certain commodities have been defining features of Mediterranean economies and have moved around all or part of the region in comparatively large quantities. Olive oil and wine are perhaps the most famous, but to these we can add metals, cereals, salt, textiles, stone, fish products or indeed certain classes of people (tourists, slaves, economic migrants). The massive advantages of maritime travel, in terms of speed and cargo capacity, have long knitted together otherwise quite distant Mediterranean coasts and have encouraged unusual patterns of economic codependence (e.g., Braudel 1972; Broodbank 2013; Horden and Purcell 2000), as well as wider flows into, out of, or through the basin. Even a cursory glance at the physical appearance of Mediterranean trade goods, or the way they are treated in documentary sources, also makes it clear that, for thousands of years, they have been standardized, marked and packaged in ways that adapt them for long-range transactions and position them for certain kinds of producer, distributor and consumer.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Biology, History, Media, Science, Social intelligence, Society

Mapping Intel­lec­tual Migra­tion Net­works

“We’re starting out to do some­thing which is called cul­tural sci­ence where we’re in a very sim­ilar tra­jec­tory as sys­tems biology for example,” said Schich, now an asso­ciate pro­fessor in arts and tech­nology at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Dallas. “As data sets about birth and death loca­tions grow, the approach will be able to reveal an even more com­plete pic­ture of his­tory. In the next five to 10 years, we’ll have con­sid­er­ably larger amounts of data and then we can do more and better, address more questions.”


Archeology, Commons, Education, History, Media, Society

Paper Knowledge : Toward a Media History of Documents (Gitelman 2014)

“Paper Knowledge is a book about the mundane: the library card, the promissory note, the movie ticket, the PDF (Portable Document Format). It is a media history of the document. Drawing examples from the 1870s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and today, Lisa Gitelman thinks across the media that the document form has come to inhabit over the last 150 years, including letterpress printing, typing and carbon paper, mimeograph, microfilm, offset printing, photocopying, and scanning. Whether examining late nineteenth century commercial, or “job” printing, or the Xerox machine and the role of reproduction in our understanding of the document, Gitelman reveals a keen eye for vernacular uses of technology. She tells nuanced, anecdote-filled stories of the waning of old technologies and the emergence of new. Along the way, she discusses documentary matters such as the relation between twentieth-century technological innovation and the management of paper, and the interdependence of computer programming and documentation. Paper Knowledge is destined to set a new agenda for media studies.”


Algorithm, Analog Computing, Brain, Code, Cybernetics, Download, History, Interface, Logic, Mathematics, Memory

From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the Mind’s Machine (1991)

“Vannevar Bush, the engineer who designed the world’s most powerful analog computer, envisioned the development of a new kind of computing machine he called Memex. For many computer and information scientists, Bush’s Memex has been the prototype for a machine to help people think. This volume, which the editors have divided into sections on the creation, extension, and legacy of the Memex, combines seven essays by Bush with eleven others by others that set his ideas within a variety of contexts. The essays by Bush range chronologically from the early “The Inscrutable Thirties” (1933), “Memorandum Regarding Memex” (1941), and “As We May Think” (1945), to “Memex II” (1959), “Science Pauses” (1967), “Memex Revisited” (1967), and a passage from “Of Inventions and Inventors” (1970). Bush’s essays are surrounded by four chapters that place his changing plans for the Memex within his career and within information technology before digital computing. The contributors include Larry Owens, Colin Burke, Douglas C. Engelbart, Theodor H. Nelson, Linda C. Smith, Norman Meyrowitz, Tim Oren, Gregory Crane, and Randall H. Trigg.”

Memex animation