Friday digest (3.5.2021)

It's National Day of Unplugging, so I am celebrating by not unplugging even a little bit

In fact, this week we’re plugging in more than usual. Links largely inspired by my one-track mind of trying to figure out how to train these neural nets. Here’s an appetizer, before we jump in, a sort of Item Zero, a Brautigan poem that has been stuck in my head all week, because the machines I am working with are neither loving nor graceful:

1. Good tweet

2. Been listening to Time Trial OS

Time Trial (Original Score) by Dan Deacon (2018)

This is Dan Deacon’s score for the Time Trial movie, which is about professional cycling and David Millar. Listening to this while I work makes me feel like I too am on a big Tour de France several-day race to a dim and distant finish.

3. Terrifying apartment of the week

I promise not to make terrifying apartments a weekly staple, but I had to share with you this incredibly horrifying tweet thread (of a tiktok series of videos) and a related article for context.

The thread

I don’t want to spoil the thread for you because the buildup is cinematic and my jaw actually dropped. Here’s an article from the Chicago Reader that can provide a little context (warning: it’s got a graphic description of murder, if you’re not into that kind of thing).

4. Using CT scans and computer simulations to unfold secret letters

This week I learned about “letterlocking” which is an early type of physical cryptography from the 15th and 16th centuries: folding a secret letter into a complicated shape, and sealing it in such a way that you could tell if it had been tampered with before you received it.

Yale researcher named Rebekah Ahrendt found a 17th-century trunk of undelivered letters preserved in the postal museum at The Hague, the Netherlands. The trunk belonged to Simon and Marie de Brienne, a highly connected postmaster and postmistress of their day. Now known as the Brienne Collection, the trunk contains 2,600 "locked" letters sent from all over Europe, 600 of which had never been opened.

But because these are really old documents, historians want to unlock them without damaging the paper-folding. Jana Dambrogio, a conservator at MIT Libraries, developed a way of seeing what’s inside by unfolding them virtually, using CT scans, multispectral imaging, X-ray tomography, and computer visualizations.

5. Art installation/Deep Q-net plays RPG

From the twisted minds of Cory Arcangel: a reinforcement learning installation powered by top-of-the-line hardware plays Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, accompanied by sounds from Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never, also known to some of you as the guy who did the Uncut Gems soundtrack, also also known to others of you as Dasha from Red Scare’s boyfriend, allegedly).

A shot of the display screen, which updates in real-time as the net learns its reward (ostensibly, whatever social credit score is at play in the Kardashian game universe)

I’m horrified, amazed, impressed, inspired and confused all at once. Perfect!!! It’s on display at the Greene Naftali Gallery in New York until April, I hope some of you get to see it.

6. Find of the week

I chased this cat around the second floor of the CMU parking garage for nearly 30 minutes. She had a tiny bell around her neck and looked really skinny so I was worried that she was lost, but I couldn’t catch her. I made Joe come back with me an hour later to leave a can of tuna. Two days later, the tuna was still untouched, so I’m hoping that maybe she had a home after all.

Yours lost in the machines,

N