Sunday, January 15, 2006

Crazy Truth

software :: python :: webxcreta

I recently emailed a friend about the webXcreta project, and to give
him some background on it, I described Eigenradio:

A few years ago, I came across one of the most bizarre software
projects I had seen on the net: a guy at MIT had created an internet
radio station that "consumed" Top-40 songs being played live on other
internet radio stations, pushed them through massive statistical
commutation and custom software, and then spit out "new" music from
these computations. The music generated was a sonic, statistical
average of what was popular and getting air-play. Most people found the
resulting "music" disturbing. I, however, couldn't stop laughing --
literally. You could actually "hear" the statistics of the thing, if
you listened carefully. It was stunning. And hilarious.

That bit about hearing the statistics is key. And it perfectly
describes how it felt to listen to that music. It felt like an
epiphany. One of Eigenradio's taglines was brilliant:

What you hear on Eigenradio is the best of the New Music, distilled and
de-correlated. One song on Eigenradio is worth at least twenty songs on
old radio.

Now, with webXcreta, I find myself in a similar situation: I read the
posts, and I convulse with laughter. It's not the content so much that
makes it so irrepressibly funny to me, but rather what's under the
covers. To give you a quick sense of my humor, I laugh at truth. Truth
is endlessly amusing to me. I remember reading James Gleik's "Chaos"
book in high school, and laughing for about 15 minutes after I read his
description of Sierpinski Gaskets: they have zero area and infinite
points. It wasn't so much like a light going off in my mind, as a
bomb. The truth of it turned my mind upside down, and I had new eyes.
It was an ecstatic experience -- thus the laughter.

There's something similar happening in my mind with reading theses
Schrodinger's Box
blog posts. There's something hidden, under the covers that is the
true source of my laughter; the quote above from the Eigenradio site
points to the answer. To explore this further, consider this: what if
you absolutely had to read 1000 pages of text in less than a minute,
what would you do? What's the cheapest alternative to a
massive/complete data set? A random sampling! Read a shotgun-spread of
statistically sampled textual data from those 1000 pages.

And that's it. That's what's making me laugh. When I read
Schrodinger's Box,
part of my mind is actually aware that it is seeing parts of thousands
of data sources simultaneously, and the truth of that inspires a
quasi-ecstatic hilarity. Crazy truth.

In my experience (and, arguably that of the entire world of science),
Crazy Truth is a gold-mine for discovery. It will be interesting to see
how this code evolves and what strange uses it gets put to...

Now playing:
Yes - Close to the Edge

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