Tag Archives: digital

I’m through the Digital looking-glass

I think I’ve ‘got’ for the first time what the “DIGITAL” thing is.

I’ve been searching to find the meaning of the phrase “digital transformation”, which I assumed encompassed a change from ‘analogue’ to ‘digital’. I finally understood yesterday – that’s not what it’s really about.

The transformation happened slowly to me, over most of my life. My first programming was planned on paper then character boxes were filled-in with a graphite pencil on cards. They were shipped by road to a punch machine that punched the binary codes onto the cards which were then were fed into a computer by operators I never saw. A week later I got some printout back, usually telling me what had gone wrong.

Soon after arriving at university, I had access to GEORGE 3’s Multiple On-line Programming system: a terminal. I used a line editor to create a card-image file which was stored on disk then later submitted to the batch queue. Undergraduates were only allocated space to store one program at a time. There wasn’t room to keep things permanently on-line because of the price of disk space. Some of the research students still walked around with boxes of cards. It was easy to copy a card-stack on one of the card punches and keep it in a safe place. They could probably store more code that way.

I’ve been mostly digital since the 1970s but I saw my digital world as a binary virtualisation of a physical medium. I moved very slowly from dependence on physical to online-only artifacts which had always been representations of digital data.

I realised yesterday that most people have only recently moved their business objects: files, documents, photographs, drawings, 3D-models and social network connection information into the digital realm – from atoms to bits. That frees those objects from their bindings at a single, fixed physical location, leaving them to roam in more than the 3 dimensions of our visualisable reality. This paradigm shift has suddenly hit many without warning, like a revolution, whereas I experienced it as a series of small increments. I’ve been greatly underestimating how disorienting it has been for other industries to reluctantly release their tight grip on physical objects and how worrying it may be for those still facing the cultural adjustment.

I remembered the other day that I used to jump off a shed roof at 5 years old. I could see the spot where I would land. I can’t imagine throwing myself out of a plane into free-fall and that’s why there are ‘digital coaches’. My empathy has been retrieved from an old backup tape. I’m sorry if my lack of understanding ever inconvenienced anyone.

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My First Algorave

@algobbz

On Saturday night I went to ‘Algorave Birmingham’, curated  by Antonio Roberts at Vivid Projects. I said I might write ‘a review’ but I’m not going to, because I wouldn’t know how. This is ‘a reaction’ – a digital feedback loop, an emission from the event horizon (should have worn my ‘Big Bang’ T-Shirt – the noughties Brum band, not the nerd show.)

My background is information technology. My current work is writing. I use the word ‘work’ in the artistic sense: something I spend my time on but may never get paid for. Themes recur. Are science and art actually different things? Is maths real or a model? Is software any different to magic, existing only outside the physical realm and communicating via intermediary objects?

Q: How much can you strip away from music and it still exist as an idea: melody, scales, pitch?

I came to Algorave via my functional programming experiments. I’m trying to learn Clojure, a member of the Lisp family of languages but with added time-travel. It messes with whether time is a wave or a set of discrete steps that can be retraced. Not real time, obviously but the model of time our software deals with. Time travel outside of the magical realm would be crazy-talk.

Dance music is often first. Drum machines. I got really frustrated the first time I saw how hard it was to programme beats. Where was the programmatic interface? Sampling, pitch-shifting, the ‘sound’ being manipulated by code. Digits being manipulated by digits, like the higher order functions of functional programming. I wondered a few weeks ago if processors had got fast enough to generate live noises. They have. A Raspberry Pi has http://sonic-pI noti.net/http://sonic-pi.net/. From there I discovered Clojure has, via ‘Overtone’ on ‘SuperCollider’ http://sam.aaron.name/, which resonates with my theory of a super-massive idea colider to mash-up memes.

Algorave Birmingham presented live coders generating sound and visuals. At times I felt that the graphics were pulsing to the beats but I don’t know if that really happened. I saw two pixelated women on the screen typing on ‘real’ laptops and a live drummer on digital drums. Virtuality virtuosos. I had a chat about how to make a hit record and forgot the name of the Kaiser Chiefs but remembered Black Wire who were the first band with a drum machine that I actually liked, because it didn’t sound mechanical, then The Kills who insisted everything was analogue, but now I’m looping.

A: I enjoyed the pulsing white noise. Software can do things that aren’t possible in Reality.

A Last Look Through the Analogue Window

After a day in Frome, Somerset and an overnight stay nearby we had a whole day to get home. The book of National Trusting was consulted and I stuck the virtual pin in ‘Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Village’.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock/

As a photographer (isn’t everyone now), I was aware that Henry Fox Talbot had played an important part in the early development of photography. Later we learned that our man Fox had lost the race to bring the first photographic process to market, to Loius Daguerre. Talbot’s process developed ideas from John Herschel (son of William) and Thomas Wedgewood (yes, Lunar Society babs, son of Josiah.) Science was a popular hand-me-down in the top British society families.

The key break-through made by Talbot was the development of a viable process for the production of a negative image, allowing reproduction of images. The oldest negative in existence is this photograph of a window in Fox Talbot’s family home.

Latticed_window_at_lacock_abbey_1835

Fox Talbot is believed to have become interested in photography because he had little artistic talent and felt left out when the rest of his family were sketching. He wanted to automate the artistic process. In later life he gave up photography because he realised that others were still able to produce better images than him. His daughters all became talented watercolourists each with noticeably different personal style. A room in the house is dedicated to their paintings. The Abbey was sold during the Reformation but in an unusual act of good taste, the new owner left the ground floor in its original state and converted only the nun’s living quarters into an unusual family home, without major disruption to the original architecture.

Access to the upper floor was by guided tour. We moved quickly but as I passed the famous window I just had to take a grab-shot with my phone camera, in DIGITAL.

SAMSUNG

During the tour of the museum, as I looked at the collection of old cameras, I realised that the inheritance line of printing from analogue, negative images that started in 1835 has ended for mainstream photography. Only art can keep it alive.