The notion of the table or the grid permeates history and cultures as well as computing and business. It is a key element of our apprehension of the universe and the reduction of it to comprehensible form
pathmap is an application designed to support wellness practitioners interpret pathology results. Pathmap links a body of work about the detailed interplay between different aspects of pathology, biochemistry and nutrition to provide holistic insights into the patient’s condition.
Like many laboratory results, pathology are generally used as “traffic lights” where people pay little attention until they get a red light warning them that some parameter is out of limit. pathmap is an interface designed to help people see the results as a narrative. The pathmap interface shares many aspects of metadex and storylines.
A system for indexing metadata, Metadex was designed to provide contextual support for text searching and allow the content management systems then under development to share information effectively.
A US patent was applied before but the dot com crash took the company down before the patent was defended. Advances in text searching, artificial intelligence and XML protocols have rendered redundant the urgency for the system, however indexing metadata is still useful and the attribution of meaning using a dense and well indexed system has powerful applications.
Certainly there is more need than ever to effetively be able to share aggregate and organise content.
The Content Management systems built to realise Metadex, UConstruct and Proton morphed into Open Source projects: Proton lives on today as Joomla, though the metadex was removed under Mambo, and the content sharing hooks were removed in Joomla 1.1.
The Storylines interface is an exploration as well as a presentation tool. It was developed to reveal and discover throughlines as much as to present them. The reason for this is that I had never sat down and made a list of my projects, let alone examined them for throughlines or thought about identifying established creative that may have explored those same throughlines.
To this end, I started by recording the media, the topics and various other metadata about the projects I have created during my highly varied career, in an attempt to determine a pattern and any meaningful throughlines that might emerge.
As I did this a number of throughlines did emerge, I have done a lot of advocacy in environmental politics, in print, on radio and through the political party The Greens. A large number of established creatives have similar foci, I have selected Ted Nace and Al Gore as they are remarkable for their transition from writing about technology to climate activism in Ted Nace case, and from politics to activism in Al Gore’s case. On reflection, I should have also considered broadcaster and writer Philip Adams who I admired as a teenager, interviewed as a luddite for PC Week and have maintained correspondence with over the intervening decades. His friend Barry Jones, was president of the ALP for many years, Australia’s first Minister for Science and author of many books on the importance of science in politics.
While I may have reached this conclusion using tools other than the still fledgling Storylines interface, it was building and testing this tool that revealed the links to those influences on my work.
I have also spent a good deal of my life coding systems designed to categorise data using n-dimensional cubes and metadata tagging. This started with my first coding projects, designing a program to generate crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles with more than one solution. This focus sharpened through the development of my software tools to extract census data (which is stored in an n-dimensional cube with each census question as an independent dimension) as three or four dimensional data sets for analysis by statisticians at the Institute of Multicultural Affairs. I then explored metadata tagging as an alternative to database retrieval, inspired by the Australian data management system called The Corporate Retriever. The outcome of that work was a decision by Sean Howard to invest in the then emerging technology of text searching and the launch of the software package ISYS. All that work culminated in the development of the Metadex, a system for indexing metadata, designed to complement the early web search engines and create a distributed framework for sharing metadata and discovering meaning on the web in a more contextual manner than text searching allows.
The Storylines interface itself has a deep relationship to that work, being primarily driven by the categorisation system of WordPress. I see the Storylines interface as being an alternative way to retrieve data from the billions of WordPress websites around the world. This is part of a long term project. I developed a content management system (CMS) known as Proton in the mid nineties to demonstrate Metadex, because there were no CMS available at the time. My first attempt, UConstruct, was built before Microsoft had a database to web scripting language and was written to my specs, by a friend in C++. I built Proton from the ground up in Cold Fusion, and then ported it to Microsoft ASP. I saw Metadex as providing a FAT table for the internet and forming the basis on which a series of net based apps could be built. The developer of Cold Fusion, Jeremy Allaire visited us in Ultimo and took some of those ideas to Adobe as the basis of the CS framework for connecting Adobe applications across the cloud. Adobe purchased Allaire shortly afterwards.
I am still searching for other technologists and computer scientists who have worked in that space, though, in hindsight, if I had done that research twenty years ago the trajectory of my career may have been remarkably different.
I have been introduced to the work of Christopher Alexander by David Harris, Creative Media Theories, Griffith University, which I have found totally inspirational and suspect may provide an overarching framework to give a meaningful and moral anchor to this work. That ties together two philosophical frameworks I have been pondering over the last three decades.
The first is that the network we are building is an organism in which humans are simply nodes. In the same way that our biochemistry is rich with the historical components of other lifeforms including colonies of organisms that have become organs in our body, so will the systems that we build now become components of a larger organism. To me it seems foolish to argue about whether automated supermarket checkouts threaten human job security when the system is not being built to serve the interests of individual humans. The systems of the spy agencies that monitor our phone calls and text messages, and the big data centres that monitor every purchase and trip we make are simply the beginnings of the nervous system of that larger entity. What exercises my mind about this fact is that we approach the singularity with almost no thought about the role of ethics and morality in its development. In determining where to study my masters I wrote to QUT requesting the facility to study that topic specifically as a PhD subject. On hearing Alexander’s 2009 address to computer scientists I wept with joy that there are other people considering these same topics.
The second is that I long ago tired of the simplistic arguments of the antitheists that religion is illogical and unscientific and therefor the enemy of rational debate. While I fully acknowledge that religion has evolved from a search for meaning into a tool of the state that is more effective at managing populations than oppression by brute force, that does not diminish its role as a rich and dense storehouse of cultural meaning and a reference point for morality. My project The Cross was commenced in 2015 to deal specifically with this topic, though it has languished for want of attention due to a lack of time. I hope that Christopher Alexander’s 2016 work, Making the Garden, explores similar themes and will offer me a way into dealing with this topic more richly and powerfully than I have been able to so far.
Finally, I would like to comment on my most recent work, CHIME, which is currently a sound piece, manifesto and short mime performance on the theme Text is dead, long live Chime. This has grown out of a study of the IBM Selectric typewriter and will lead to more experimental work using bells as a media for social interaction and play. The theoretical underpinning of this work is the thought experiment, what if we took away Text as the universal interface between computer applications and started somewhere else. At the moment it is simply a fanciful idea to spawn further work and thinking and has proved remarkably fruitful. I do not have any polemical issue with text as the basis of computer interfaces but as will all assumptions I think it worth challenging and examining. As well as exploring the creative performance possibilities this approach offers I would like to examine the role of text in the light of Christopher Alexander’s challenge for computer scientists to think through the morals and meaning of the code we build.
In the interim, I will continue to build on the Storylines interface as presented here, as a means of finding connections and meaning in my projects as well as content generally.
Christopher Alexander’s best known book, A Pattern Language sets out the 253 individual components of good design identified by Alexander and his students over 20 years of research.
The foundation of most of Alexander’s work, the principles of object-oriented programming and the programming patterns movement, this work has influenced the development of computer science significantly.
In a 2009 lecture, Alexander challenged computer scientists to apply the fundamental principle behind his work, that good design has a moral foundation, to their work. In that speech he said that his research into the influence of his work on computer science revealed to him that this basic principle has been overlooked.
Architect, writer and philosopher, Christopher Alexander has taken a bottom up approach to design, identifying what makes individual components of a design good, and building from that a series of patterns that lead to good architectural design. His best known work A Pattern Language was written in 1977 and compiled thousands of these patterns as the basis for future work.
His work has influenced Computer Science, especially object oriented programming, the design patterns movement and the extreme programming movement. His work was influential in the development of the Wiki, SimCity and its immensely popular spin-of The Sims. His works Notes on the Synthesis of Form, and the Nature of Order underpin significant developments in computer science but Alexander himself has applied them more broadly to investigate religious and philosphical questions from a new basis.