This newsletter is going on winter holiday until January. In the meantime, let’s have a roundup!
Big thanks to everyone who is coming along for the journey as I build Subconscious, a tool for thought. I appreciate the creative and thoughtful emails you have sent me in response!
Here are a baker’s dozen of popular posts from the newsletter this year:
Why did the web take over desktop and not mobile? What blue-green algae has to say about disruption.
Building a second subconscious. What is Subconscious up to?
Aggregators aren’t open-ended. How internet business models have broken the evolutionary loop of technology.
Composability with others tools. Protocols produce creative combinatorial explosions.
Self-organizing ideas. The goal of Subconscious is to generate self-organizing ideas.
Network intersubjectives. “The structure of a network itself, more than the regulations which govern its use, significantly determines what people can and cannot do.”
Weird Web3 energy. The unpredictable emergent behaviors of thousands of entangled distributed complex adaptive systems that no one controls.
Unconscious R&D. How to be creative: capture, organize, synthesize.
If headers did not exist it would be necessary to invent them. What do DNA and the internet have in common?
Wiki as a commons. How do wikis manage the commons without tragedy?
Building new weblike things. The web is an open ecosystem. How might we create more ecosystems like this?
Notes are conversations across time. Using Cybernetic Conversation Theory to connect our past and future selves.
Open-ended tools for infinite games. “If it is in equilibrium, it must be dead!”
Combinatorial innovation and technological progress in the very long run. “Once you successfully combine two components, the resulting new idea becomes a component you can combine with others. That turns out to have a startling implication: combinatorial processes grow slowly until they explode.”
Virgil Abloh: Free-game. “I will continue to open doors for those that come from the fringe and help them be awarded opportunities usually left for the center.”
Virgil Alboh lecture at Harvard GSD, . “A shoe isn't a shoe to me. I'm not approaching it as a shoe. I was looking at a shoe as an object. That’s where sneaker culture had gone. Shoes just sit above kids’ beds. They sit in boxes.”
A prehistory of DAOs (Other Internet)
Gentle, a personal history. What it’s like to write a little tool to solve an obscure problem, and then watch it quietly grow into an important piece of infrastructure.
Formality considered harmful (Frank Shipman and Catherine Marshall, Xerox PARC)
No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering (Frederick Brooks, 1987)
Backchannel (Ink and Switch)
Peritext (Ink and Switch)
Cultural revolution in whale songs (Nature). “Such a revolutionary change is unprecedented in animal cultural vocal traditions.”
Working offgrid (100 Rabbits). I think we’re going to collectively discover that assuming always-online makes exactly as much sense as assuming always-functioning supply chains.
Oblique Strategies Dice (Boot Boyz)
Market-protocol fit (Other Internet)
UCAN: authorizing users without a backend (Fission.codes)
Identifying molecules as biosignatures with assembly theory and mass spectrometry (Nature). "The search for alien life is hard because we do not know what signatures are unique to life. We show why complex molecules found in high abundance are universal biosignatures and demonstrate the first measure of molecular complexity"
Living Things Are Not (20th Century) Machines (Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution)
A surprisingly large part of the value of search engines is just Wikipedia. Wikipedia articles appear in 67%-84% of all search engine results.
Web Development History. The play-by-play of how the web got to now.
Books I’ve been grateful to this year.
Designing an Internet, Clark. A history of internet infrastructure through design decisions.
Design Cybernetics, Fischer, Herr, Ed. Instigated a number of creative breakthroughs while building Subconscious.
The New Media Reader, Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort. The tools for thought bible I never knew existed.
Grand Transitions, Smil. What makes our modern world possible? Four grand transitions in population, agriculture, energy, and economics.
Thinking with Type, Lupton. Wonderful intro to typography. Deserves a place next to Bringhurst’s classic “The Elements of Typographic Style”.
Crafting Interpreters, Nystrom. Was very helpful during development of a live-as-you-type recursive-descent parser for Subtext.
Space 1.8, Nala Sinephro
Promises, Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders
Alternate Moon Cycles, Rob Mazurek
Forfolks, Jeff Parker
EARS, Kaitlin Aurelia Smith
The Expanding Universe, Laurie Spiegel
Cant de la Sibil·la (feat. Holly Herndon)
Plankton, Ryuichi Sakamoto
The Generativist’s Question: How could the decentralized local interactions of heterogeneous autonomous agents generate the given regularity?
The lesson of cybernetics is never do anything until you know the result of your last action.
Warren S McCulloch
If you desire to see, learn how to act.
Heinz von Foerster
A fundamental mistake that urban planners made, Jacobs claims, was to infer functional order from the duplication and regimentation of building forms: that is, from purely visual order. Most complex systems, on the contrary, do not display a surface regularity; their order must be sought at a deeper level.
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State
The invention of printing, though ingenious, compared with the invention of letters is no great matter.
Hobbes, 1651 (in print)
Living systems are perhaps best characterized as systems that dynamically avoid attractors.
Life improves the closed system's capacity to sustain life. Life - all life - is in the service of life.
Life on every favorable planet.
And universes wherever they may be favorable?
Prigogine postulates it.
Everything interpenetrates everything
And the interrelation of all with all according to Chardin
is increasingly greater.
Increasingly inadequate to think as individuals.
Everything is deeply intertwingled.
See you in the new year!