Access, for the win

The Whole Earth Catalog. Now there’s someone who poured their time, energy, money and personal brand of sanity into a project, and it succeeded. Then the Internet came along and supplanted the entire project.

Yet for years, access to the Whole Earth Catalog itself has been difficult. 55 years on from the first publication of the Catalog, it mostly lives on in the interstices — as a symbol of a vibrant countercultural history and an inspiration for writers, designers, and technologists, but less so as an actual set of catalogs that you can read. The Catalog is not lost media per se — copies can be found in libraries, archives, and personal collections across the world — but accessing its trove of information is no longer as easy as it was in its heyday.

That is, until now.

~ Jacob Kuppermann from,

…and then, that original project rose from the ashes to be something even better.

Sometimes, I find something that warms my dark, frozen, disenchanted, bitter, burnt-out heart. I don’t subscribe to notions like “information wants to be free” but when I see things like this… well, I get a little warm–fuzzy inside.



I don’t collect many souvenirs. Sometimes I buy postcards when I visit places… and then I tape those into my journals. But in a very real sense a lot of what I write in my journals is meant to be a souvenir. Either way, the physical or the notational souvenir, is meant to trigger some memory.

Even institutions built for the express purpose of information preservation have succumbed to the ravages of time, natural disaster or human conquest. The famous library of Alexandria, one of the most important repositories of knowledge in the ancient world, eventually faded into obscurity. Built in the fourth century B.C., the library flourished for some six centuries, an unparalleled center of intellectual pursuit. Alexandria’s archive was said to contain half a million papyrus scrolls — the largest collection of manuscripts in the ancient world — including works by Plato, Aristotle, Homer and Herodotus. By the fifth century A.D., however, the majority of its collections had been stolen or destroyed, and the library fell into disrepair.

~ Adrienne Bernhard from,

Always I’m thinking: Do I really want to add this thing to my pile? There’s a timeframe of only a few decades where any thing, or notation, has the chance to jog my memory. Sometimes I think of taking a photo… and then I think, why? Why this image right here? Maybe it would be better (I continue thinking) to just relax and enjoy the moment. Even the Library at Alexandria’s enormous collection was surely only a minuscule fraction of what humanity had created to that point. Why take a photo? Why make a notation? Why build a web site? :)


Resources and technology

But the deeper reason is that there’s really no such thing as a natural resource. All resources are artificial. They are a product of technology. And economic growth is ultimately driven, not by material resources, but by ideas.

~ Jason Crawford from

A few years ago my thinking shifted. I used to think of something, simply by its existence, as being a “natural resource.” More recently I’ve begun to pay attention to which, and how much, technology has to be added for something to be a resource. Anything in the ground has no special value until someone adds the mining or drilling, the refinement, distribution and so on. That makes it clearer how to evaluate the trade-offs.

It becomes easier to visualize, and realize, that the constraints are not the amount of the natural resource (the raw stuff) but rather that the limits are all the expense, destruction, energy, transformation, and ideas that have to go into making that raw stuff usable. And sometimes, it’s just not the right trade-off to make a something into something useable.


Looping and decay

In contrast to dramatically slowing a recording down and extending its length, artists have also explored the possibilities of repeating short recordings over and over. The history of looping in modern composing is a story of the accidental beauty of technological imperfection and decay.

~ Ahmed Kabil from,

It’s worth the click just for the first photo, which has nothing directly to do with sounds nor music. And then further down you get a photo of a tape loop—the physical device that can play a section of tape forever without interruption. Along the way is a mention of sound art created as very-old [magnetic] audio tape sheds it’s coating. Plus 5 other sound-related shifts in perspective. I read this piece over and over, as if it were itself a tape loop. I see—hear?—several magnificent halls of exploration… which I’m running away from because I do not. need. another. hobby. New genres of music to explore, a full 24hrs [uninterrupted] that I could spend on Beethoven’s 9th, …

I’m a sucker for things which gift me with any shift of perspective. That’s a big part of why I love conversation: Every encounter with another mind is ripe with opportunity for my own growth.


Total control

In Part II of our series, we move out of the 01960s to explore the work of three artists who created their major works during the 01970s and 01980s. We see a shift with these artists to a focus on complete control over the exhibition of their work and meticulously curating the experience the viewer has coupled with a goal of permanence of the artwork in situ.

~ Ahmed Kabil from,

I’ve little to add here, other than to attempt to convey how arresting I find the artwork in the article. The older I get, the more I find myself being delighted into pausing, often at the smallest coincidences. An alignment of trees, the color of the light, or sound traveling long distances or being altered by terrain and structures, are just a few things that catch my attention.



There was, for about 10 years I think, a dedicated Parkour space, called the Chain Store, on Trinity Buoy Wharf. That’s right smack on the Thames, in the Docklands (far eastern) part of London.

I’ve been there several times, and the first time I went there—as I often do wherever I go somewhere new—I took the time to stroll around the surroundings. Around two corners of the building, I found this odd little display. It was sort of like a wooden phone booth—American-style I mean, not the British style—or sort of like a little shed. It had a sign on the little door, in a pinkish or perhaps simply very faded, sort of printing. It was odd. There’s absolutely zero foot traffic at that spot. It’s around the back of a building, facing directly out onto the Thames. (Which at this part, is a huge wide muddy dolorous river with these enormously high wharf sea walls going straight down into the water. i.e., unapproachable by water.) The spot with the sign is off a light-rail transportation, turn the easy-to-miss “other” way on the platform, down those other stairs, hug a huge fence, walk around a traffic circle, down a side street, round a corner between high walls fronting on construction sites . . . out onto the end of a wharf that’s surrounded by “water” . . . you get the idea. Way out nowhere.

Anyway. Little shed. Sign. I open the door. If memory serves, it was literally a shed. With a little phone in it. Looking behind me—seen too many movies, so I’m watching for someone to sneak up behind me while I’m distracted by the phone… Looking behind me I pick it up to listen…


I read the sign again. It has this circular sort of design that looks like an elementary school drawing of the solar system. And says, “Longplayer.” I took a photo, and went back to my wandering the surroundings.


That escalated quickly

The answer from computer science is precise.

~ Stewart Brand from,

‘When to stop’ is an insidiously difficult problem. Which has been solved. Whether or not you want to read that and learn some crazy heuristics, you already know the power of heuristics. They’re great when they work, until they don’t. So many Americans—whose heuristic is to glance left then step off the curb and then glance right—get wacked by cars in parts of London, they paint, “Look right,” in the street.

…which is great. Unless you’re Craig and your heuristic goes: Look left, look right, look left, and then step off. I look left, notice the words on the street, and look right. Then I go to look left, notice the words again… and look right, instead of left… then my brain screams OMGBECKY look left! Then I go to look left, notice the words again… and look right.



Most of us are content to live in a world where time is simply what a clock reads. The interdisciplinary artist Alicia Eggert is not. Through co-opting clocks and forms of commercial signage (billboards, neon signs, inflatable nylon of the kind that animates the air dancers in the parking lots of auto dealerships), Eggert makes conceptual art that invites us to experience the dimensions of time through the language we use to talk about it.

~ Ahmed Kabil from,

Thinking about the nature of time always feels like trying to find the other edge of the Mobius strip. At first, I’m mildly excited to be reminded of such a simple thing. It’s such an interesting thing to think about. I go around and around trying to grasp different time scales, and the entire expanse of time. But soon I realize that I’m really only thinking in circles. Is there a takeaway beyond, “being mindful is good”?

Or does simply performing the awareness of time and the circular thinking, somehow reset—or recenter, or realign?—my thinking? Reset my thinking in the same way that one resets the drum-brakes on your car, by backing-up and then braking firmly causes the drum brakes to adjust their grip on the brake cable.

Also, see other branching from when.


Tick tock

Because we can look back and see that the way time has been measured throughout history has changed, it’s reasonable to imagine when looking forward that it will continue to change – our current use of hours, minutes, weeks and months may be as obscure and forgotten as the nundina, the akhet, or the gesh several millennia from now. The day, the year, and the movements of the other planets in our solar system, on the other hand, aren’t at the whim of the powers that be or of passing cultural trends. The 10,000 Year Clock, therefore, keeps track of these robust and durable units of time. The Clock’s main dial keeps track of the Sun, Moon and stars while The Orrery models our solar system.

~ Austin Brown from,

Immediately before reading the above article, I read something about the eastern Sahara Desert. About a researcher who managed to extract a 50-foot core-sample from a lake bed spanning 11,000 years of seasons. What is now a desert was once a lush paradise.

The projects and updates from the Long Now Foundation always fill me with awe and wonder. They always make me try to imagine 10,000 years from now. And that makes me feel like a slightly better person for having spent some time trying to think bigger-than-myself. But that core sample? …it covered still more. 10,000 years is but a blink in geologic time.


Zoomed way, way out

It’s true that such adaptations are now anachronistic; they have lost their relevance. But the trees have been slow to catch on; a natural consequence of the pace of evolution. For a tree that lives, say, 250 years, 13,000 years represents only 52 generations. In an evolutionary sense, the trees don’t yet realize that the megafauna are gone.

~ Whit Bronaugh from,

There’s an effect in film making which you’ve seen but may not have realized exactly what you were seeing: The dolly zoom shot. “The dolly zoom is a famous technique invented by Alfred Hitchcock for his 1958 film Vertigo. The shot is achieved by simultaneously tracking backwards or forwards while zooming in or out.”

The narrator is too breathless for my tastes, but still, take a few minutes to watch this explanation of the dolly-zoom. You can thank me later:

Ahem. Now, back to my top-quote and what I wanted to say in the first place…

Text-based, disorienting dolly-zoom!


The unimaginable future

It’s an idiosyncrasy to which we are dedicated. It’s nerdy fun, but it has a serious point, too. As our co-founder Stewart Brand points out: the present moment used to be the unimaginable future.

~ Mikl Em from,

I’ll do the nerd stuff first: They take the leading zero in their representation of years so far, they’ve even figured out how to get it into their WordPress blog URLs. No, I’m not doing that. Yes, I am a supporting-member of The Long Now Foundation. And yes, of course I am on the waiting list to visit the clock they’re well-into constructing—in west Texas, I think it is?

I could easily wax obnoxious for a few thousand words rattling off a few things which are today blasé for me. But instead, I’d like you to hit reply and tell me: What’s something your primary-school-aged self would be astounded to learn about you?


Very long-term backup

Then it will remain at rest as the comet orbits the sun for hundreds of millions of years. So somewhere in the solar system, where it is safe but hard to reach, a backup sample of human languages is stored, in case we need one.

~ Kevin Kelly from,

There are several things about this post from the Long Now Foundation which are exceptionally cool. One aspect of doing backups well is to store at least one copy somewhere “offsite.” That is to say, far enough away from what you are backing up, so that it is unlikely that the original and all of the backup copies can be lost due to the same event. Now, this project is partly, (maybe even “mostly,”) a technology demonstration intended to get us to think longer term. But since they’re backing up all of the human languages where’s a cool spot to put an offsite backup?

On a freakin’ comet! The cherry on this hot fudge sundae of awesome is that they put a copy on a freakin’ comet. Humans are awesome.


As slow as possible

St Burchardi church, in the eastern German city of Halberstadt, has played host to the performance since 5 September 02001 (the late composer’s 89th birthday), when it kicked off with 17 months of silence. Cage originally wrote ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) in 01985. Its maiden performance by organist Gerd Zacher lasted 29 minutes, but Cage didn’t specify a maximum, so in accordance with the piece’s title, musical scholars and scholarly musicians since decided to stage a multi-century version, approximating the lifespan of an organ.

~ Stuart Candy from,

Ok, but exactly how slow are they playing it? …the halfway mark is in 02319.


Partly I’m sharing this because it’s just really cool. But also because I like the mission of the Long Now Foundation; I agree [with them] that one of the key ingredients to solving mankind’s challenges is for individuals to be good at thinking long-term. Evolution has given us brains that are crazy-good at short-term—particularly acute, fight/flight type threats real or perceived—problem solving. But to figure out a good course of action day to day that leads to own’s own flourishing over your life is really hard. To begin to mix in what’s good for humanity is whatever-is-larger-than-really level of hard.


Most people are not yet born

[…] recognize that at least in terms of sheer numbers, the current population is easily outweighed by all those who will come after us. In a calculation made by writer Richard Fisher, around 100 billion people have lived and died in the past 50,000 years. But they, together with the 7.7 billion people currently alive, are far outweighed by the estimated 6.75 trillion people who will be born over the next 50,000 years, if this century’s birth rate is maintained (see graphic below). Even in just the next millennium, more than 135 billion people are likely to be born. 

~ Roman Krznaric from,

50,000 years is, of course, somewhat arbitrary. But it’s a good estimate of the span so far of recognizably-like-current-us human history. It’s obvious that today, most people are already dead. It’s those trillion yet to come that warp the brain and create perspective.

This article from The Long Now Foundation has 6 good examples of explicit ways to think long-term, rather than short-term.


The clock of the Long Now

There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years.

~ Kevin Kelly from,

The Long Now Foundation was started in 01996. They always include the leading zero in years as just another subtle way to get one to think long-term. I can’t say for sure that I’ve been following them since they started, but it’s got to be darn close. I will be going to Texas, (and to Nevada if I live long enough to see the second clock built,) to visit.

The 10,000-year clock is just one project. Grab your favorite beverage, put your phone on do-not-disturb and go spend an hour or so reading what the Long Now Foundation is up to.