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๐Ÿ”  ๐Ÿ’€  ๐Ÿ“ธ  ๐Ÿ˜ญ  ๐Ÿ•ณ๏ธ  ๐Ÿค   ๐ŸŽฌ  ๐Ÿฅ” posts about Kevin Kelly

Free topographical maps

Kevin Kelly tells us how to print out free topographical maps for hiking, camping, etc.

Unthinkable futures

A list of predictions about the unthinkable future by Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno, made in 1993. This one by Eno isn’t half bad:

A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)


Kevin Kelly on a fascinating concept called scenius. As defined by Brian Eno:

Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.

Kelly lists four factors that are important in nuturing scenius:

1. Mutual appreciation โ€” Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
2. Rapid exchange of tools and techniques โ€” As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
3. Network effects of success โ€” When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
4. Local tolerance for the novelties โ€” The local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Kevin Kelly says that people whose fields

Kevin Kelly says that people whose fields have been Turing’d โ€” outsourced in some way to computers โ€” are in general more receptive to then adopting other potentially disruptive technologies.

We have this long list of tasks and occupations that we humans believe only humans can do. Used to be things like using tools, language, painting, playing chess. Now, one by one they get Turing’d. A computer beats them. Does it better.

So far we’ve can check off arithmetic, spelling, flying planes, playing chess, wiring chips, scheduling tasks, welding, etc. All have been Turing’d.

Computer scientists are great to work with, because in general they are completely fearless. They were Turing’d long ago. They grok that many of the tasks they used to do can be done much better by computers. On the other hand, doctors as a rule are loathed to accept new technology because what they do is hard to delegate to computers. Ditto for a lot of biologists.

Short is In. Kevin Kelly collects a

Short is In. Kevin Kelly collects a bunch of short media, including 4-word film reviews, 6-word music reviews, and 7-word wine reviews. To which I would add Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity In Words of Four Letters or Less.

Kevin Kelly has written a thoughtful post

Kevin Kelly has written a thoughtful post about how to make money in a world where the rules are:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

He then lists eight reasons why people pay money for things that could be free, one of which is immediacy:

Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released โ€” or even better, produced โ€” by its creators is a generative asset. Many people go to movie theaters to see films on the opening night, where they will pay a hefty price to see a film that later will be available for free, or almost free, via rental or download. Hardcover books command a premium for their immediacy, disguised as a harder cover. First in line often commands an extra price for the same good.

Kevin Kelly has a rave review of

Kevin Kelly has a rave review of a slide/negative scanning company called Scan Cafe. Here’s how it works: send off your slides and negatives to Scan Cafe, they catalog and send them off to India to be scanned, you go online to choose the which negatives/slides you want final scans of, and in a few weeks, you get your originals and a DVD containing 3000 dpi scans of your photos. Kelly says:

Some people are very concerned about sending their precious originals to India โ€” or anywhere for that matter. They should not be. ScanCafe has a very elaborate tracking and shipping system that would work even if you were shipping jewels. Their scanning facilities in Bangalore (description and photos here) are more organized than you are. I have more trust in this system than I would handing them over to any neighborhood scanner.

True Films

A collection of the best 150 documentaries as determined by Kevin Kelly. Kelly’s got good taste in movies — or at least it jibes with mine — and True Films is a fine guide for those looking to introduce more documentary films into their media diet.

Joined for Life: Abby and Brittany Turn 16

Joined for Life: Abby and Brittany Turn 16 is a documentary about Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined twins who are essentially one physical person with two heads (as well as a few other body parts). From a review of the film by Kevin Kelly: “Endless questions ensue from this documentary about their suburban life. If each girl controls only one arm and one leg, how can they ride a bike? Hit a baseball? Swim? When they drive a car, how do they decide where to turn? And do they get one licence or two? That particular question is answered on their 16th birthday, as this film follows them to the driving test center, where they pass the driving test (both turning the wheel). Their local DMV decides to issue them each one licence.”

A clip from a previous film on the girls is available on YouTube.

PopTech, day 1 wrap-up

Since my internet access has been somewhat spotty at the conference (I’m trying to pay attention and power is hard to come by here so the laptop is closed most of the time), I’m going to do rolling wrap-ups as I go, skipping around and filling in the blanks when I can. Here we go, soundbite-style:

Alex Steffen: Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect…people use less energy when they’re often reminded of how much energy they use. (Perhaps Personal Kyoto could help here as well.) At dinner, we discussed parallels between that and eating. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you’ll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.

Bruce Sterling is the Jesse Jackson of technology. He has this cadence that he gets into, neologism after neologism, stopping just short of suggesting a new word for neologism. Wonderful to experience in person. Perhaps not as upbeat as the Reverend, though.

Bruce also related a story told to him by an engineering professor friend of his. The prof split his class into two groups. The first group, the John Henrys, had to study and learn exclusively from materials available at the library…no internet allowed. The second group, the Baby Hueys, could use only the internet for research and learning…no primary source lookups at the library. After a few weeks, he had to stop this experiment because the John Henrys were lagging so far behind the Baby Hueys that it is was unfair to continue.

Kevin Kelly noted that the web currently has 1 trillion links, 1 quintillion transistors, and 20 exabytes of memory. A single human brain has 1 trillion synapses (links), 1 quintillion neurons (transistors of sorts), and 20 exabytes of memory.

Kelly also said that technology has its own agenda and went on to list what it is that technology might want. One of the things was clean water. You need clean water for industrial manufacturing…so water cleanliness is going to be a big deal in China. In a later talk, Thomas Friedman said, “China needs to go green.”

Hasan Elahi, during his ordeal being mistaken for โ€” what’s the term these days? โ€” an enemy combatant, learned that language translates easier than culture. That is, you can learn how to speak a language fluently way easier than to have the cultural fluency necessary to convince someone you’re a native. In his interrogations, Hasan liberally sprinkled pop culture references in his answers to questions posed by the FBI to help convince them that he was a native. Workers at call centers in India for American companies are not only taught to speak English with an American accent, they also receive training in American geography, history, and pop culture so as to better fool/serve American callers.

“The best laid plans of mice and men turn into a nonlinear system.” โ€” Will Wright, with apologies to Robert Burns.

Speaking of Wright, a couple of Spore trivia bits. The data for a creature in Spore takes up just 3K of memory. And entire world: just 80K. And these worlds are amazingly complex.

Brian Eno: With large groups of people, the sense of shame and the sense of honor that keeps the members of small groups from misbehaving breaks down. The challenge for larger groups is to find ways of making honor and shame matter in a similar respect.

Stewart Brand: “We are terraforming the earth anyway, we might as well do it right.” Stewart also noted that cities are very effective population sinks. When people move to cities, the birthrate drops to the replacement rate (2.1 children per family) and keeps on dropping. Combine that with the fact that by early next year, more people in the world will live in cities than in rural areas, and at some point in the next hundred years, the earth’s population will start to fall.

Brian Eno on The Big Here. Follow-up

Brian Eno on The Big Here. Follow-up to my post on Kevin Kelly’s Big Here quiz. (thx, zach)

The Big Here

Kevin Kelly on an intriguing concept called The Big Here:

You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

Accompanying his post is a 30-question (plus 5 bonus questions) quiz that determines how closely you’re connected to the place in which you live. Taking the quiz as he suggests (without Googling) and then researching the actual answers using the recommendations left by previous quiz takers is a useful, humbling, and instructive exercise.

Even though I live in Manhattan, a place where so much of the surroundings are unnatural and the inhabitants are effectively disconnected from nature, I decided to tackle the quiz and expected to do poorly. And so I did. Here are my results, with commentary. (There are some spoilers below, so if you don’t want to be swayed in your answers, take the quiz first, then come back.)

Answered correctly
1) Point north.
Easy with Manhattan’s grid, although you have to remember that the avenues don’t run directly N/S.

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.
Comes from upstate NY via various aqueducts and tunnels. I’ve seen parts of the old Croton Aqueduct in northern Manhattan.

5) How many feet above sea level are you?
I guessed 30 feet, Google Earth says it’s 36 feet.

9) Before your tribe lived here, what did the previous inhabitants eat and how did they sustain themselves?
A somewhat complicated question — by previous tribe, does it mean the English, the Dutch, the Indians, or the printing company that owned the building I currently live in? — but I basically know how all of those groups lived, more or less.

11) From what direction do storms generally come?

18) Which (if any) geological features in your watershed are, or were, especially respected by your community, or considered sacred, now or in the past?
The skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan wouldn’t be possible without all that bedrock underneath.

19) How many days is the growing season here (from frost to frost)?
180 days. (180 is in the ballpark, but it’s probably a little more given the proximity to the ocean.)

22) Where does the pollution in your air come from?

31) What species once found here are known to have gone extinct?
Passenger pigeons?

Partial credit
2) What time is sunset today?
Within 15 minutes of the actual time.

7) How far do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed? Can you draw the boundaries of yours?
Across the river to New Jersey. (Locate your watershed.) I don’t know enough detail to draw it.

8) Is the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt?
I guessed bedrock, but Manhattan’s bedrock comes to the surface near midtown and points north of there, not further south where I live.

13) How many people live in your watershed?
10 million. (Actual answer is 9.1 million.)

15) Point to where the sun sets on the equinox. How about sunrise on the summer solstice?

20) Name five birds that live here. Which are migratory and which stay put?
Pigeons, hawks, falcons, ducks, sparrows. Ducks migrate. (Turns out that falcons and hawks migrate too.)

21) What was the total rainfall here last year?
50 inches. Average is ~48 inches and last years precip was ~56 inches.

24) What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here?

32) What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude?
Portland, OR; Rome, Tokyo.

Correctness unknown
10) Name five native edible plants in your neighborhood and the season(s) they are available.
Are there plants still native to Greenwich Village? Marijuana? We grow tomatoes in our apartment, does that count?

17) Right here, how deep do you have to drill before you reach water?
500 feet? (Now that I think about it, it’s probably a lot less.)

34) Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine/rainfall/wind and temperature patterns to here.
East coast of Japan? East coasts of southern Africa or South America?

Absolutely wrong / no clue
4) When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water?

6) What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here?

12) Where does your garbage go?
On the curb?

14) Who uses the paper/plastic you recycle from your neighborhood?

16) Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move?

23) If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today?

25) Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years.
I’m assuming Williamsburg hipster, Chelsea queer, and PR flack are not the answers they’re looking for here.

26) What minerals are found in the ground here that are (or were) economically valuable?

27) Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated?

28) After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go?

29) Where is the nearest wilderness? When was the last time a fire burned through it?

30) How many days till the moon is full?
Turns out it was just full.

33) What was the dominant land cover plant here 10,000 years ago?


I answered 9/35 correctly and 9/35 for partial credit. I wonder if I would have done any better if I still lived in rural Wisconsin.

Update: Matt Jones is interested in building a Big Here Tricorder:

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors - location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140’s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here - a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

Fascinating thoughts on the future of science

Fascinating thoughts on the future of science by Kevin Kelly. The sequence of recursive devices and triple blind experiments (“no one, not the subjects or the experimenters, will realize an experiment was going on until later”) were especially interesting.