Category Archives: General

Dataspace 7: A Low-Level Encoding

Prelude:
Dataspace 0: Those Memex Dreams Again
Dataspace 1: In Search of a Data Model
Dataspace 2: Revenge of the Data Model
Dataspace 3: It Came From The S-Expressions
Dataspace 4: The Term-inator

I want a Memex. Roughly, I want some kind of personal but shareable information desktop where I can enter very small pieces of data, cluster them into large chunks of data, and – most importantly – point to any of these small pieces of data from any of these chunks.

‘Pointable data’ needs a data model. The data model that I am currently exploring is what I call term-expressions (or T-expressions): a modified S-expression syntax and semantics that allows a list to end with (or even simply be, with no preceding list) a logical term in the Prolog sense.

Up till now we’ve been looking at term-expressions as a thin layer over S-expressions (ie, one reserved symbol, the term marker), and assuming that at a machine level they will use a Lisplike cons cell structure (ie, linked lists).

The architecture of PicoLisp makes a good argument for using cons cells as the only method of storage, as it simplifies memory management, and simplicity may be more important for reliability and security than raw performance.

But if we wanted, we could have quite a dense encoding for term-expressions, based on the old Lisp Machine tricks of CDR coding and tagged pointers. This means we could map term-expressions directly onto sequences of memory cells.

Continue reading Dataspace 7: A Low-Level Encoding

Rogue Dreams and the Singularity Curve

No, my father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.

That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.

You fought in the Clone Wars?

Yes, I was once a Jedi Knight the same as your father.

I wish I’d known him.

He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.

The young man thumbs the plasblade’s stud while the old man smiles, his eyes travelling back to a distant time…

The GALACTIC DEMOCRON shines across a million suns, an interlocking nexus of cultures united in representative politics on its shining capital planet. It has stood for 20,000 solar years, an elegant frozen tableau of 1970s-ish American suburbia protected by its enigmatic and vaguely Asian battle-sages, the KNIGHTS OF WUXIA.  It might stand for a hundred thousand more. But dark winds of change are swirling, amid rumours that the dreaded DARK LORDS OF NU-METAL, last faced a thousand years ago, have returned. Their terrible leader, CHAD NYKYLBACK…

Yes, okay, but how does it actually work? This whole galaxy-falls-to-fascism-in-a-generation thing?

Continue reading Rogue Dreams and the Singularity Curve

Knight Rider and Family-Friendly Armageddon

In 1984 I turned thirteen.

It was a year of political lightning, like 2016 though perhaps slightly less crazy. In New Zealand, the three-term National government of Rob Muldoon – considered “right-wing” at the time, but economically leftist and state-interventionist – had fallen in July to the newly reinvented Labour Party: a hybrid left-right alliance of the charismatic young lawyer David Lange, who would ban nuclear ships from New Zealand, decriminalise homosexuality, and begin land reparations for the indigenous Maori – and the right-libertarian Roger Douglas, who aimed to turn New Zealand into a corporate tax-haven paradise with zero state services or welfare.

The political rhetoric unleashed that year was not kind. Government economic management was Stalinism gone mad, going to crush us all. No, the right wing were insane, going to starve us and hurl the poor and elderly into the streets. *

(* 32 years later, the second one turned out to be correct. )

In the United States of America, a Presidential election year was a referendum on both Ronald Reagan’s right-wing economics and his military adventurism; pop culture was full of nuclear despair. And in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative United Kingdom, George Orwell’s namesake book was echoing everywhere, seized on by both left and right as an allegory of state power and the terrifying future we might or might be hurtling toward because of the new-fangled “microchip“.

Our family belonged to a strict conservative church. I was young for my age, with very little media exposure, but a head full of much weirder ideas. My mother had subscribed to an underground Christian conspiracy zine obsessed with End Times theology, predicting the rise of ‘The Beast’, an evil world dictator with supernatural powers and a giant computer, who would stamp a barcode/microchip on our forehead and then damn our souls to eternity. My brother was obsessed with UFOs, the Roswell cover-up, and extraterrestrial alien infiltration of the US military system. (A meme that would burst into pop culture about ten years later, via The X-Files). That was if the Bomb didn’t drop and burn the whole planet to a cinder.

Three apocalypses for the price of one! Yay.

Continue reading Knight Rider and Family-Friendly Armageddon

On the Theme of Star Wars

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has opened. Initial indications are that it’s what we suspected it would be: a JJ Abrams film.  In other words – to put it somewhat bluntly – a festival of glorious visual storytelling without, in fact, much of a story underneath to tell. This does not surprise me, since ‘Made by JJ Abrams’ is exactly what the label said on the can. I will hold off further critical comment on the specifics until I’ve actually seen the film. But I have some comment on the generalities.

Abrams isn’t alone in being a modern, high-profile 2010s director whose creative output is synonymous with ‘style over substance’.   I’d argue that from the 1990s – from Quentin Tarantino,  in fact –  directors of my generation (Gen X) have  focused largely on recreating the look and feel of films they liked. Without, it feels, understanding how the underlying stories worked, and particularly how they were structured in terms of theme rather than mere plot or even drama.

The films of the 1970s-80s, in other words, aren’t just about what happen – or even how much you care about what happens – but about a deep sense that things in this filmic universe happen for a reason.

Continue reading On the Theme of Star Wars