Greg Linch's Commonplace Book

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Edwin Land, Alan Kay, Steve Jobs and other imaginative innovators would later say that they loved to stand at the intersection of the arts and sciences. So did Ada. Her love of both poetry and math primed her to see “great beauty” in a computing machine. She was an exemplar of the era of Romantic science, which was characterized by a lyrical enthusiasm for invention and discovery. It was a period that brought “imaginative intensity and excitement to scientific work,” Richard Holmes wrote in The Age of Wonder. “It was driven by a common ideal of intense, even reckless, personal commitment to discovery.”[vii]

In Jorge Luis Borges’ fable “On Exactitude in Science,” a map made on a scale of one to one replaces the territory it’s supposed to represent. For theorist Jean Baudrillard, that map is a metaphor for postmodern life. On Community, that map represents mass media: the depictions of human experience in pop culture that have become the standards by which our flesh and blood lives are judged.

my experience puzzling over the card, before I knew the code, was a bit like a centering prayer, moving letter by letter, in a way that was much more like viewing a painting than reading a text.

As a reaction to the blurriness and confusion, some people resort to ideological certainty or personal animus to steady themselves. For each person who shifts back and forth between Dylan Farrow and Allen, there are others who, judging from the furious commentary, seem to have made up their minds even before Farrow published her open letter in the Times.

Perhaps, on some level, and in the face of social problems that are ultimately simple cases of gross injustice, we find these murky ethical situations gratifying, as if they offer us an excuse—human existence is just too complicated!—not to try to make meaningful changes in our public life. Or maybe our attempts to get at the truth of an imbroglio, like that involving Farrow and Allen, reflect a frustrated aspiration to retrieve some kind of shared, collective truth, period.

In retrospect, even the celebration of moral relativism by the post-structuralists of the nineteen-nineties was, despite its cloistered classroom quality, a development that took complexity out of literature’s privileged hands and brought it closer to everyday life. In post-structuralism, the person speaking or acting—the “subject”—was immediately suspect, merely an unwitting, unreliable product of social, psychological, cultural, and linguistic forces beyond her control. It was the reader or spectator’s job to cut through the subject’s illusion of integrity and get to the forces that were manipulating her. Sound familiar? Hundreds of thousands of people, often on interminable commenting threads, are trying to “deconstruct” Farrow and Allen in order to put a finger on precisely how one or the other is being manipulated by a third party or by his or her own hidden motives. We are all post-structuralists now.

For all of these reasons I’ve come to view delayed analytics as positive. The turnaround time also imposes a welcome pressure on experimental design. People are more likely to think carefully about how their controls work and how they set up their measurements when there’s no promise of immediate feedback.

At least one scholar connected up typewriter art and pointilism as pointing the way to the idea of pixels on a screen being used to represent everything. 


In other words, the decomposition of images into lots and lots of little marks was a conceptual step towards the pixel. In this telling, typewriter art is not merely an ancestor of ASCII art, but of everything that goes on a screen. The television, the CRT monitor, the iPhone.