Monday April 19, 2021

On the floor of the hallway is a disco ball. At the end of the hall is a mirror. And the disco ball is not a disco ball; it’s a light projector. In the evening we dance. After the dance party, I retreat to the basement and listen to The Modern Folk’s Primitive Future / Lyran Group, a tape released last month from Eiderdown Records.

A track in and I remove the tape and replace it with Herbie Hancock’s Sound-System. When, a few tracks in, the latter album shifts frequencies and goes smooth jazz, I intervene again as DJ and swap in Healing Sounds by Dr. Christopher Hills & the University of the Trees Choir. As José David Saldívar argues in Border Matters, nation-states can be reimagined. Or as Raffi sings, “The more we get together / Together, together / The more we get together / The happier we’ll be.” It is with Raffi in mind that I attend an event: a series of “microtalks” hosted by a friend. Passcode to enter and we’re there. One participant asks “Can AI detect a new designer at Prada?” and shares his findings. Companies like Heuritec apply algorithms to “predict” new fashions. The Jacquard Loom is a kind of computer: a difference engine. Big data comes to fashion and biology. Properties and classes. “Zen koans for robo-cars.” Fluidity and nonbinarism allow for evasion of the predictors. The Ones Who Are Driven By Data. Expert Systems for the Design of Decisions. Blur the categories; Drive AI Crazy. Next up, a discussion of “Alchemical Chess.” The mysteries of the game’s origin in 6th century India. Chaturanga becomes Shatranj in 7th century Persia. The speaker wonders, though, what came before, like the ancient Greek game Petteia, mentioned by Plato, who claimed it came from Egypt, or the “Han Cosmic Board,” as described by Donald J. Harper. Think about the Lo Shu “magic square,” and the SATOR square, and the yantras. The latter means “machine” or “contraption.”

Sunday November 10, 2019

New objects arrive into the lifeworld, gifts from friends and family, well-wishing from near and afar. Some are even hand-crafted — a granny squares knit blanket, an alphabet book, a stuffed creature — made with care specifically for our daughter. These objects return me to the place in my memory palace featuring Sadie Plant’s book Zeros + Ones, a book from the future somehow released in the past, ahead of its time. It’s a steampunk biography about Lord Byron and his wife Annabella’s only child, the nineteenth century mathematician Ada Lovelace. The book focuses especially on the cause for Lovelace’s fame, her encounters with the engineer Charles Babbage’s early computer, the Difference Engine. Lovelace was the first person to recognize the full potential of computing machines, designing and publishing the first algorithm intended to be used by such a machine, thus in a sense making her the first computer programmer. Her biography follows Babbage in calling her the “Enchantress of Numbers.” I read Plant’s book decades ago. What would I find in it if I read it again today? Would I find it frustrating? Perhaps even a bit frightening? Or would I find something worth retrieving — a major or minor arcana? Perhaps the Queen of Wands? Where did Babbage and Lovelace stand, and to what extent did their work contribute, with regard to empire? Byron certainly wasn’t the most admirable character. I prefer different stories, different rabbit holes, bunnies chewing on carrots.