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Big Ideas and MediaGlyphs

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Mad Scientist asks, John Robb responds]

Today’s call and response comes to me via two blog posts that followed one another in my RSS feed — in the reverse order to the one I read them in. I’ve straightened that out so response now follows call for your convenience.

From Max Brooks (World War Z) lecturing for the Army’s 2016 “Mad Scientist” initiative:

One of the US government’s biggest challenges today, particularly in the context of military issues, is its inability to communicate big ideas to the American people .. This has caused a significant portion of the population to disengage from government, including and especially from the military .. It may take several decades to reverse the trend ..

There’s more there in the report at the Atlantic Council‘s Art of the Future blog, as Brooks discusses particular big ideas that need communicating — but it’s the communication issue itself that caught my eye.


So how does communication happen most powerfully in todays media environment?

Here are a few points from John Robb‘s thoughts on that very question, posted today at Global Guerrillas. First, a sample of what’s commonly known as an internet meme, but which John would prefer to call a MediaGlyph — his candidate for the punchiest mode of delivery:

And now his comments under the header All Hail The MediaGlyph, The New King of Political Communications:

Successful mediaglyphs blanket social networks, often going viral to reach tens of millions of viewers in days as they are rapidly with an ever expanding network of friends.

Collectively, mediaglyphs generate tens of millions of impressions an hour. Several orders of magnitude (100x) more than any other form of political communication.

Unlike TV, Print, and most forms of online communication, mediaglyphs are built for consumption on smartphones and visual modes of social networking. They are also built for speedy consumption, providing a quick emotional hit in comparison to a long winded article with an uncertain payoff.

Nothing other form of political communications compare.

Mediaglyphs are one of ways online conflict, in this case political conflict, is being fought. These online wars are occurring everywhere, all the time, at every level. They are deciding the future.

That’s why I’m writing a new book called as a natural follow on to my previous book: Brave New War:

The War Online: How Conflicts are Fought and Won on Social Networks

I look forward to reviewing John’s book, which will no doubt get into some detail not easily stated in a single MediaGlyph — my guess, however, is that John’s text will itself be a terrific mine for glyphs, given his obvious delight in short, quotable one-sentence paragraphs.

Sunday surprise: Pokemon Go Go Go

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for Adam Elkus, John Robb & JM Berger among others ]

Three tweets:




I find that last one pretty interesting, and would like to juxtapose it with a para from Michael Moore‘s piece — almost certainly the only piece of his writings I’ve actually downloaded onto my hard drive — Five Reasons Why Donald Trump Will Win:

The fire alarm that should be going off [CC: for Hillary supporters] is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” – meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home. Hillary Clinton is going to have to do something to give them a reason to support her — and picking a moderate, bland-o, middle of the road old white guy as her running mate is not the kind of edgy move that tells millenials that their vote is important to Hillary. Having two women on the ticket – that was an exciting idea. But then Hillary got scared and has decided to play it safe. This is just one example of how she is killing the youth vote.

Department of unintended consequences and black swans:

Who’d have thought a Japoanese telephone-based game might have an influence on the demographics of democracy in the US of A?

The old is new again, this time with bots

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — John Robb updates Sun Tzu ]

SPEC DQ Sun Tzu Robb

Two paras from John‘s post:

Autonomous robots and software bots (collectively “bots”) deeply penetrate the opponent’s territory both physically (territory) and logically (their computer systems). Most would be hidden and remain dormant until activation. Some would actively or passively map opponent networks, analyze them for vulnerabilities, and take advantage of opportunities for stealthy exploitation.

When activated, these forward bots conduct a coordinated attack from inside the opponent’s territory and systems. Damaging, degrading, or taking control of computer systems and physical infrastructure. Advanced robots would emerge from stealth to kinetically engage with opponent forces or physically seize points (airports, ports, etc.) to enable the rapid entry of conventional forces.

Oh, and for additional points, it’s “a very zen concept”!!

From John Robb to Jean Paul Gaultier

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — via Christopher Alexander, Arthur Koestler, James Clerk Maxwell, Hermann Hesse, and Wells Cathedral ]

My topic today is a comment that John Robb just posted on his FaceBook page. As so often, I’ll proceed by indirection. Here’s a wild DoubleQuote illustrating a blogger’s perceived similarity between the “scissors arch” at Wells Cathedral and one of the models in Jean Paul Gaultier‘s 2009 Spring collection:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 wells cathedral 1


John Robb posted:

Some philosophical thinking:

Human knowledge, at an elemental level, can be described as a “transformation” of data.
Complex ideas are built using layers of “transformations” with each layer feeding into the next (think pyramid)
We teach these transformations at home and at school to our children.
We communicate by sharing transformations.
Questions We Need to Answer in the Age of Cognitive Machines:
How many transformations would it take to model all human knowledge?
How deep (how many layers of transformation is human knowledge) is human knowledge? Both on average or at its deepest point?
How broad is human knowledge (non-dependent transformations)?
How fast is the number of transformations increasing and how fast is it propagating across the human network?


My interest is in John’s pyramid, considered as a pyramid of arches.

My starting point (with Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game ever in background) is Arthur Koestler‘s observation in The Act of Creation that the creative spark occurs at the intersection of two planes of thought —


— or to put that another way, that the creative leap is an associative leap between two concepts, disciplines or aspects of knowledge — thus, an arch:




— which in my own DoubleQuotes notation gives us:

Karman Gogh mini

— thus, many arches build to a pyramid:

pyramid of arches


Of course, with arches one has to be very circumspect, buecause in rich contexts, they’re not simple creatures:

rib vaulting flying buttresses

Among the greatest such arches I know are Taniyama‘s 1955 “surmise” as Barry Mazur puts it, that “every elliptic equation is associated with a modular form” — arching way above my pay grade — an insight that was to bear rich fruit forty years later, in Andrew Wiles‘ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem; and Erwin Panofsky‘s great book similarly linking the structures of medieval cathedrals and scholastic thought:

panofsky gothic architecture scholasticism


White we’re on the topic of gothic iconography, another form of arch we might consider is the vesica piscis:


— frequently found in medieval art and architecture:



I’m not suggesting, John, that your inquiry and mine are identical — far from it — but that they have a sufficiently rich overlap that an appreciation of one is likely to spark insight in terms of the other.

And with Hesse’s Game, with which I recall from our earlieest conversations you are familiar..

I mentioned Hesse and Christopher Alexander in my bracketed note at the top of this post. It’s my impression that both were striving for a similar encyclopedic architecture to the pyramid John proposes. Hesse on the Glass Bead Game:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

And Hesse is clear that individual moves within the games take the form of parallelisms, resemblances, analogical leaps — writing, for instance:

Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature.

Speaking of the playing of his great Game, Hesse said:

I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.

And Alexander? His book A Pattern Language is pretty clearly his own variant on a Glass Bead Game, following on from what he terms his Bead Game Conjecture (1968 – p. 75 at link):

That it is possible to invent a unifying concept of structure within which all the various concepts of structure now current in different fields of art and science, can be seen from a single point of view. This conjecture is not new. In one form or another people have been wondering about it, as long as they have been wondering about structure itself; but in our world, confused and fragmented by specialisation, the conjecture takes on special significance. If our grasp of the world is to remain coherent, we need a bead game; and it is therefore vital for us to ask ourselves whether or not a bead game can be invented.


Gentle readers:

For your consideration, delight, temptation, confusion or disagreement, here are three more of Gaultier’s arches, as perceived by Kayan’s Design World:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 1

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 7

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 10

Spectacularly non-obvious, I: Elkus on strategy & games

Friday, October 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Adam Elkus, Umberto Eco, Chris Crawford and John Robb ]

Rock Paper Scissors, diagram by Enzoklop via Wikimedia


Adam Elkus talks about strategy and games, in the inaugural Center for International Maritime Security “Real Time Strategy” podcast. What delighted me was his commentary on rock paper scissors between the 9.55 and 11 minute marks:

I would say that if I was to pick a single game for people to play in a structured way to understand a lot about strategy. Here’s, actually I’ll probably surprise a lot of you people here, and say they can probably just do well with rock paper scissors, in a sense that a lot of games have representational issues of how realistic or generalizable they are, and at the core a lot of strategy amounts to making choices about what to do without knowing what your opponent will do, and the game that’s one of the most atomic and basic in the way it represents that is rock paper scissors. But not just a one off game, a finite game, if you play repeated games of rock paper scissors, the way people win is by detecting sequential dependencies in the various choices that their opponent makes – so learning about the opponent over time, particularly their choices of what they’re going to field, is a very useful heuristic, is a very useful educational gesture..

Adam has more to say about rock paper scissors at his Zenpundit post, Master and (Drone) Commander?


A couple of additional quotes, from an earlier post of mine in a private venue:

Here’s Umberto Eco in his Search for the Perfect Language:

Recent studies have established that unlike western thought, based on a two-valued logic (either true or false), Aymara thought is based on a three-valued logic, and is, therefore, capable of expressing modal subtleties which other languages can only capture through complex circumlocutions…

And here is Chris Crawford, from his justly famous Art of Computer Game Design:

The advantage of asymmetric games lies in the ability to build nontransitive or triangular relationships into the game. Transitivity is a well-defined mathematical property. In the context of games it is best illustrated with the rock-scissors-paper game. Two players play this game; each secretly selects one of the three pieces; they simultaneously announce and compare their choices. If both made the same choice the result is a draw and the game is repeated. If they make different choices, then rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper enfolds rock. This relationship, in which each component can defeat one other and can be defeated by one other, is a nontransitive relationship; the fact that rock beats scissors and scissors beat paper does not mean that rock beats paper. Notice that this particular nontransitive relationship only produces clean results with three components. This is because each component only relates to two other components; it beats one and loses to the other. A rock-scissors-paper game with binary outcomes (win or lose) cannot be made with more than three components. One could be made with multiple components if several levels of victory (using a point system, perhaps) were admitted.


John Robb on The Future of Drone Warfare is worth conasidering here, too, and play nicely with more of Adam’s thoughts in the podcast.

See also my post, Of games III: Rock, Paper, Tank.

And I think I’d best stop here, and make a second post on rock-scissors-paper and threeness games in general.

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