======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) — Volume 9 Number 2, Apr. 2011 Alan B. Scrivener — www.well.com/user/absmailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================
In this issue:

Stop the Presses!

"The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive — if true."
Sometimes things are just too big to see. Cybernetics co-founder Gregory Bateson's youngest daughter, Nora Bateson, connected with me on Facebook through some Santa Cruz friends, and I have followed her project of completing a documentary film about her father, "An Ecology of Mind," and showing it worldwide:
  • The Vancouver International Film Festival — October 2-3, 2010
  • Special Event in conjunction with the 2010 Bioneers Conference, San Rafael, CA — October 10, 2010
  • Rome, Italy — November 6, 2010
  • Milan, Italy — November 8, 2010
  • Spokane, WA — International Film Festival — February 12, 2011
  • Eugene, OR — University of Oregon at Eugene's 2011 Cinema Pacific Film Festival — April 7, 2011
I have been eagerly awaiting its arrival in SoCal, so I can see it. Meanwhile, I watched the preview on YouTube. But, somehow, it didn't occur to me to mention any of this in the last issue of C3M. Doh! More info: Next showing: University of Oregon at Eugene's 2011 Cinema Pacific Film Festival Screening April 7, 6:45 PM at Bijou Art Cinemas

Remembering Heinz Von Foerster

Von Foersters Heinz and Mai Von Foerster
"... we may compare the sensitivity of the [Central Nervous System] to changes of the INTERNAL environment (the sum-total of all micro-environments) [with] those of the EXTERNAL environment (all sensory receptors). Since there are only a hundred million [10^8] sensory receptors, and about ten-thousand billion [10^13] synapses, we are 100,000 [10^5] times more receptive to changes to our internal than in our external environment." — Heinz Von Foerster, 1973
    "On Constructing a Reality" Environmental Design Research, Vol. 2


While moving my household, I came across a box labeled "UNDERSTANDING WHOLE SYSTEMS REPRINTS." Luckily I wrote the label, oh, thirty years ago, and so could decode it. It's one of several boxes of material for a book I was once writing called "Understanding Whole Systems." This box contained reprints of papers I'd collected over the years that seemed relevant to the project. Amongst many other fascinating things, I found nine reprints of papers by Heinz Von Foerster, his collaborators and students. (On the top of each I had written "a gift from Heinz Von Foerster.") I pulled one reprint out, "On Constructing a Reality" by Heinz Von Foerster, and started reading it. (I may have picked it because it had the Eye of Horus on the cover.) Part way through I quoted the paper on Facebook -- an abbreviated version of the epigram at the beginning of this section (420 character limit, you know). A friend replied that it was the 100th anniversary of Von Foerster's birth this year. (On the occasion of Heinz von Foerster's 85th birthday, on November 13, 1996, a web page was created in his honor, and on the occasion of his 90th birthday on November 13, 2001, a booklet with CD-ROM was co-produced by echoraum and the Heinz von Foerster Society. Don't know yet what's planned for his 100th.) Well, well, a hundred years old. I decided it was time to revisit this Grand Master of Cybernetics. I began to remember how I met him.


As the strudel bakes, the stories tuck themselves between the apple slices. Later, when [children] eat the strudel, it seems they can taste those stories.
    — Joanne Rocklin, 2000
      "Teacher's Guide to Strudel Stories"
It must have been around 1978. I was researching another book, "A History of Cybernetic Thought." I'd been at UC Santa Cruz, picking Gregory Bateson's brain on the topic. At one point he suggested I go visit Heinz. He was just a little ways up the coast, living in retirement with wife Mai, somewhere between Davenport and Pescadero if I recall correctly. Von Foerster, a pioneer of the Macy Foundation meetings on Feedback, like Bateson, turned out to be a treasure trove of cybernetic history. I still have my notes from that meeting (somewhere) and will share them in a future issue of C3M. Then, Mai brought out the coffee and strudel. "Have you ever had strudel?" Heinz asked with glee. I hadn't. "Then you are in for a treat!" he told me. And I was.
apfelstrudel apfelstrudel
Ever since, when my travels have taken me to places like German Village in Columbus, OH, and Old World Village in Huntington Beach, CA, I have always sought out the strudel.


As I was leaving, Professor Von Foerster gave me a stack of reprints. I don't know how many there were, because I didn't inventory them then, but now I have nine. And now I have an inventory. To my amazement, all but two are available as PDF files on the web, and those two are in a book for sale on Amazon.

a gift from Heinz Von Foerster: 9 reprints

year author(s) title citation link have I
in Cyb.
of Cyb?
1967 Gotthard, Günther
Von Foerster, Heinz

Biological Computer Laboratory
Department of Electrical Engineering
University of Illinois, Urbana
The Logical Structure of
Evolution and Emanation
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,
138 (2) 874-891 (1967)
complete no no
1969 Pask, Gordon
Biological Computer Laboratory
Department of Electrical Engineering
University of Illinois, Urbana
The Meaning of Cybernetics
In the Behavioural Sciences
Progress of Cybernetics,
Vol. 1, J. Rose (ed.), Gordon and Breach,
New York, pp. 15-44 (1969)
complete no yes
1970 Maturana, Humberto
University of Chile, Santiago
Neurophysiology of Cognition Chapter One of Cognition: A Multiple View,
P. Garvin (ed.), Spartan Books,
New York, pp. 3-23 (1970)
buy no yes
1970 Von Foerster, Heinz
Biological Computer Laboratory
Department of Electrical Engineering
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Thoughts and Notes On Cognition Chapter Two of Cognition: A Multiple View,
P. Garvin (ed.), Spartan Books,
New York, pp. 25-48 (1970)
buy yes no
1972 Von Foerster, Heinz
Biological Computer Laboratory
University of Illinois, Urbana
Notes On An Epistemology
For Living Things
L'Unité De L'Homme — Invariants
Biologiques Et Universaux Culturels
complete no no
1973 Von Foerster, Heinz
Professor of Biophysics and Electrical Engineering
Biological Computer Laboratory
University of Illinois, Urbana
On Constructing a Reality Environmental Design Research,
Vol. 2, W. F. E. Preiser (ed.)
Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross; Stroudsburg,
35-46 (1973), based on a lecture given at the
opening of the fourth International Conference
on Environmental Design Research
April 15, 1973 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute,
Blacksburg, VA
complete yes yes
1974 Von Foerster, Heinz
University of Illinois, Urbana
Perception of the Future
and the Future of Perception
adaptation of an address given on March 29, 1971,
at the opening of the Twenty-fourth Annual
Conference on World Affairs

at the University of Colorado, Boulder
complete no no
1974 Gotthard, Günther
Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory
University of Illinois, Urbana
Cybernetic Ontology and
Transjunctional Operations
Self Oraganizing Systems 1962
Yovits, Jacobi and Goldstein (eds.)
Spartan Books, Washington, D.C.
pp. 313-392 (1962)
complete no no
1974 Weston, Paul E.
Von Foerster, Heinz

Biological Computer Laboratory
University of Illinois, Urbana
Artificial Intelligence and
Machines That Understand
Annual Review of Physical Chemistry,
Vol. 24
complete no no
(I've also noted which one's I've actually read, and which appear in the book "Cybernetics of Cybernetics.")


In his office at Kresge College at UCSC, on a shelf, Gregory Bateson had a copy of "Cybernetics of Cybernetics" by Von Foerster, his collaborators and students. Bateson was kind enough to let me make notes and photocopies from it. I sought my own. In 1995 it was reprinted and I got my wish. Now at last I am slowly reading it.
Cybernetics of Cybernetics
Cybernetics of Cybernetics
It looks like a collage of a book, put together by a bunch of excited, creative students in the 1970s. It consists mostly of reprints of seminal cybernetics papers — ah, the Golden Age of Fair Use — and most of the rest is a sort of glossary. It seems they made inquiries to a number of cybernetic luminaries who they identify by initials, including:
  • Gregory Bateson (G.B.),
  • Stafford Beer (S.B.)
  • Stewart Brand (S.Br.)
  • Ivan Illichv (I.I.)
  • John Lilly (J.L.)
  • Charles Muses (C.M.)
  • Claudio Naranjo (C.N.)
  • Gordon Pask (G.P.)
  • G. Spencer Brown (G.S.-B.)
  • Heinz Von Foerster (H.V.F.)
  • Klaus Witz (K.W.)
Each was given a list of words to define, such as:
...to give half the As. I'm not sure if they only gave some definitions, of if the book's producers edited the results, but a sparse mix of multiple definitions by multiple authors is provided throughout. They make great short-attention-span reading. One of my favorites was:
TOOL A tool consists of a use at one and A grasp at the other. Tools, tasks, and users co-evolve in rich interaction. [S.Br.]
The book is also packed with diagrams of how the definitions inter-relate — and other, mostly decorative illustrations. (The two mythic creatures biting each other below are an example.) In addition, two more "books" are included: the Parabook, which contains information about the book — for example: an index of the glossary terms — and the Metabook, which recapitulates the undersized diagrams of how the glossary terms are related. In preparing the table above of publications I received from Heinz, I wanted to check which ones appeared in Cyb. of Cyb.. By chance my book had opened to "On Constructing a Reality," so I knew about that one. But I was hindered by the lack of a Table of Contents at the beginning of the book. A look on-line confirmed that the book was widely believed to lack one. But then I discovered, buried in the Parabook, there was one after all. Perhaps they didn't want it at the beginning so you would dive right in. But by now it seemed like a digital version of the contents would be handy, and since one didn't seem to exist, I put in the time to key it in. The use of upper and lower case is a little "hinky," but I preserved it anyway; not sure why. I broke out the author and title information in tabular form, so it could be easily imported to a database later on. Words listed in italics (and all caps) are glossary terms; they have many authors, but those authors are not listed in the contents, so I didn't track them down. When an author is listed with the word "BIBLIOGRAPHY" it means a list of their pertinent published works to date is provided; a possible boon for future cybernetic historians. Sorry I didn't have time to list in detail the Parabook and Metabook.


page Author(s) Title
(With an introduction by Heinz Von Foerster)
12 Wiener, Norbert BIBLIOGRAPHY
18 PASK, G. "The Background of Cybernetics"
23 ASHBY, W.R. "What Is New"
26 Ashby, W. Ross BIBLIOGRAPHY
30 LAMONT, V. "Societies"
31 LAMONT, V. "Journals"
35 CLOUGH, R. "Two Examples of Negative Feedback"
39 POWERS, W.T. "Feedback: Beyond Behaviorism" (Summary)
40 BAUM, W.M.
"Feedback: Beyond Behaviorism"
41 POWERS, W.T. "Feedback: Beyond Behaviorism"
43 CLOUGH, P. "Feedback and Feedback Control: No Dialog"
44 NAST, J. "Feedback and Behaviorism"
44 CLOUGH, R. "Booty"
47 REBITZER, J. "Playing With Feedback"
47 CLOUGH, P. "Mechanism Maybe"
48 CLOUGH, R. "S, S*, delta, R"
54 HAWKINS, D. "The Nature of Purpose"
65 MCCULLOCH, W.S. "A Heterarchy of Values Determined By the Topology of Nervous Nets"
68 McCulloch, Warren S. BIBLIOGRAPHY
81 PASK, G. "Industrial Cybernetics"
86 BEER, S. "Managing Modern Complexity"
106 ASHBY, W.R. "The Self-Reproducing System"
112 MATURANA, H.R. "Neurophysiology of Cognition"
128 VON FOERSTER, H. "Cybernetics of Cybernetics" (Physiology of Revolution)
130 UMPLEBY, S.A. "On Making a Scientific Revolution"
133 WILSON, K.L. "Enrico Fibonacci"
135 KOLAKOWSKI, L. "In Praise of Inconsistency"
141 TOOL
142 SHULTZ, D. "Reflections On Notation and Cognition"
152 AMOSOV, N.M. "Simulation of Thinking Processes"
169 TIME
173 LÖFGREN, L. "Recognition of Order and Evolutionary Systems"
180 KOWACK, G. "If You Smile At Me I Will Understand..."
183 FELDMAN, B., ET AL "H, Entropy, Information Theory, Partitions, Coalitions, Tables"
220 VON FOERSTER, H. "On Self-Organizing Systems and Their Environments"
232 ASHBY, W.R. "Principles of Self-Organizing Systems"
243 Parabook
249 HOWE, R.H. "Habermas Outline"
259 SIELINSKI, B. "A Cybernetic Book"
272 FISCHER, R. "A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States"
288 HABERMAS, J. "Knowledge and Human Interest"
301 PASK, G. "Anti-Hodmanship: A Report on the State and Prospects of CAI"
306 SLOAN, S. "Innovation, Imagination and Education: A Recapitulation of Gordon Pask on Learning"
314 VON FOERSTER, H. "Memory Without Record"
336 BRÜN, H. "The Need of Cognition for the Cognition of Needs"
343 VON FOERSTER, H. "Personalities, Affinities, Genes and Happenings"
346 HOWE, R.H. "Theses on Literature /LITERATURE"
350 CLOUGH, P. "Recently, Sociology"
354 WILSON, K.
"Assignment for Cybernetician #5"
354 FORD, B.J. "Response"
355 LEBAILLY, A. "Response"
355 PETTY, D. "Response"
355 GOOCH, S. "Response"
360 NEED
361 BRÜN, H. "about five of the great Is"
361 REBITZER, R. "I Need"
364 HACMANN, J. "LAW: Reflections"
365 BRÜN, H. "Premises"
376 VON FOERSTER, H. "On Constructing a Reality"
382 BRÜN, H. "Competition vs. Cooperation"
386 HARDIN, G. "The Cybernetics of Competiton: A Biologist's View of Society"
402 PASK, G. "The Meaning of Cybernetics in the Behavioral Sciences"
421 WILSON, K. "The Establishment of Connections"
422 FORD, B.J. "The Establishment of Connections"
423 BRÜN, H. "The Establishment of Connections"
"An Approach To Formal Psychiatry"
450 HOWE, H.R. "Positivism and Reflection"
"Distinction Is a Perfect Continence"
455 WILSON, K. "Metaface"
457 MATURANA, H.R. "Cognitive Strategies"
472 BRÜN, H. "Drawing Distinctions, Links, Contradictions"
(translated by Richard Herbert Rowe)
"The Historical Category of the Now"
487 Gotthard, Günther BIBLIOGRAPHY
501 ROWE, R.H.H


Von Foerster mind map Heinz Von Foerster "mind map" from en.domotica.net/Heinz_von_Foerster
Heinz Von Foerster passed away in 2002. Mai, his wife of over 60 years, followed him in 2003. In revisiting Cybernetics of Cybernetics, and actually endeavoring to read it straight through (currently on page 96), I've noticed that it is, in fact, a hypertext. The hypertext idea was "in the air" in the mid-1970s, so it's not too surprising. What is surprising is that in the web era no industrious group of students has tried to get "Cyb. of Cyb." all entered as an interlinked set of web pages. Someone else who noticed the web-like structure of the book was Jamie Hutchinson, whose on-line essay "A Web Site Before Its Time — Navigating Cyberspace, Then and Now" explores this idea. A glance through the affiliations list in the table of papers above shows a strong presence of the Biological Computer Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Urbana, a.k.a. BCL. (My daughter commented, "Urbana, Illinois — that's where HAL 9000 was born!") According to commentary on the web, this institution ranked as one of Professor Von Foerster's greatest achievements. Heinz understood the power of getting students together and giving them access to photocopy machines, electric typewriters, and mimeograph machines, plus maybe some press-on letters for titles and a light table with layout tape or hot wax. It was guerrilla publishing! As a reader of the output of the process, I have mostly appreciated it for the results it produced. But those closer to it have also praised the process involved. Jamie Hutchinson at BCL posted the article "'Nerve center' of the cybernetic world — Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory" and Kevin Hamilton is assembling information under the title "Cybernetics on the Prairie" about the BCL as well. There is also a book about the lab called "An Unfinished Revolution?: Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory / BCL 1958-1976" (2007) by Albert Muller and Karl H. Muller, which I plan to read soon.


serpents uncredited recursive reptiles in "Perception
of the Future and the Future of Perception"
"Some of the ideas expressed in this paper grew from the work sponsored jointly by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under Grants AFOSR 7-67 and AF 49(683)-1680..."
    — Heinz Von Foerster, 1970 "Thoughts and Notes On Cognition"
After all this talk of Von Foerster's colleagues, conferences, publications, students, legacy, and culinary influences, perhaps I should take a moment and mention his ideas. What I got as "take home value" from "On Constructing a Reality" and "Thoughts and Notes On Cognition" included these points:
  • reality is the output of an unconscious computational process (same epistemological manifesto as Gregory Bateson)
  • our nerves do not communicate qualities, only quantities
  • an organism maps its environment onto its own internal coordinate system (see also Mary Catherine Bateson: "each of us is our own central metaphor")
  • some metaphors for mental activity abducted into computer engineering and back out again, e.g. memory, are dangerous
  • we need to unlearn some things before we can learn about the mind
  • how did he get the U.S. Air Force to pay for epistemological research?


Gateway to the Mind Gateway to the Mind VHS tape from Bell Science Series
Here's some candy to reward you for plowing through all this neurology-informed epistemology (what my friend Dr. David Warner might call neuro-cosmology). Recently with my old school chum Bob Z. I watched one of the Bell Science TV shows, "Gateways to the Mind" (1958). (It's not on YouTube, but a post-techno noise-fest with video remixes from it is.) I realized it gave my a lot of mental models of the nervous system, some still installed in my thought processes. It was the first place I heard the word "feedback" used to describe error-correcting signals (negative feedback), and not just the runaway shriek of a microphone-speaker loop (positive feedback). For variety, we also watched the similar (but more entertaining and less educational) extinct EPCOT show/ride, "Cranium Command" (1989 - 2007), which is on YouTube.

Other Stuff

Ed Dillinger: Encom isn't the business you started in your garage anymore. We're billing accounts in thirty different countries; new defense systems; we have one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment in existence. Dr. Walter Gibbs: Oh, I know all that. Sometimes I wish I were back in my garage. Ed Dillinger: That can be arranged, Walter.
    — dialog from TRON, 1982
Some other research projects I've been up to lately:


Our local San Diego Professional Chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH had a field trip to see Tron Legacy in 3D at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, with a laser light pre-show. I made a timeline of TRON cultural milestones as a side-light:


(As in tile + metropolis.) In my consulting work I've been researching procedural city generation for mobile games, and shared some work publicly. Some of this work, and accompanying source code, overlaps with the material from my June, 2010 talk for the San Diego Professional Chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH: "Mathematics for Computer Graphics" — which I still plan to post in its entirety.


I submitted an anecdote to InfoWorld's blog, "Off the Record" last month and it was accepted. The title is "Danger, danger! Newbies at work!"


"If It's Just a Virtual Actor, Then Why Am I Feeling Real Emotions?"
(Part Three)

(If you haven't read parts one and two, see the archives, listed at the end.)


"All realities are virtual."
    — Timothy Leary
In 1991 the SIGGRAPH conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques was held, for the first time, in Las Vegas. A lot of outreach was done to casino management, trying to get them to see the potential of computer graphics for "location based entertainment," as it was being called then. I have no doubt that senior sales management and business development types at the likes of Silicon Graphics and VPL tried to get meetings with casino investors such as Steve Wynn. And I'm pretty sure some of these efforts lead to the mid-90s "Virtual Reality Bubble" in Vegas, including the Luxor Casino's "Secrets of the Luxor Pyramid" (1993), and the Hilton's "Star Trek Experience" (1998). But I'm getting ahead of the story. One of the "firsts" at SIGGRAPH 1991 was having a curated, live technology demo area. This has continued until the present day under names like "Emerging Technologies," "Digital Bayou," "The Edge" and "Electric Garden." But the first was called "Tomorrow's Realities Galleries," and one of the two co-curators was none other than my old boss from Rockwell, Steve Tice. I volunteered to help. It turned out it was "down to the wire" on printing the show guide. "I can get you into it," he said on the phone, "but I need a title, right this minute." I thought for a second, and said, "Technical Coordinator." And so I was to witness — and help with — the installation of a bunch of state- of-the-art Virtual Reality (VR) demos. My employer, Stardent Computer, was exhibiting that year (their last booth before imploding the following October) and I elected to drive out rather than fly, bringing some equipment. I wanted to be there early to help with the VR technology setup, and I wanted a car while I was in Vegas. (I also brought my wife, and we stayed at the new Excalibur, which was cheaper than the Hilton where the other Stardent people stayed, so I got no flack.) So here I was driving to Vegas late in the day, from Los Angeles County. It was already dark, and I was making my way up the Cajon Pass north out of San Bernardino into the Mojave Desert. I was alone — my wife would fly in later. Suddenly traffic slowed way down. I was chill at first. I had some mix tapes I'd made recently, and was playing them to relieve the boredom of "highway hypnosis." A song that came on was "One" by Metallica. I had recorded it off of MTV on stereo VHS tape, and then dubbed from that to cassette, so it had all the dialog and sound effects from the MTV video version. The video had borrowed heavily from the 1971 film "Johnny Got His Gun" directed by Dalton Trumbo, based on his own 1939 novel. According to the Wikipedia for the film, "The music video for Metallica's 1988 song 'One', featured excerpts from the film. Rather than pursue an ongoing license for their use, the band bought the rights to the movie in its entirety." This amazing film tells the story of a soldier in World War One who is so badly wounded that he can't tell where he is at first, nor can he tell dreams from waking. He gradually figures out that he has lost his arms, legs, eyes, mouth and entire face. Something about this story seemed connected with the exciting new research into Virtual Reality that I expected to see at SIGGRAPH. By now the traffic had stopped. Up ahead I saw a police car with its red and blue flashing lights. On the radio I'd heard there was an injury accident on the pass, so I resolved to be patient. Then the police car rose into the air, hovered for a minute, and flew right over me headed towards San Bernardino and a trauma center. I realized upon reflection that this had been a "life flight" helicopter, not a police car. But for a moment there I thought I might be seeing things. It was an exciting, bewildering, exhilarating experience. I was so struck by this event that when I arrived in Las Vegas, and found there was an airbrushed T-shirt booth in my hotel, I commissioned a shirt, based on a sketch I provided, that said "All realities are virtual," along with a picture of a disembodied brain with eyes. (I still have it.)
t-shirt airbrushed T-shirt


"If participants have their way, VR will be a very social technology."
Since I was self-appointed and self-titled, I wasn't quite sure what I should do when I arrived at setup for the VR technology gallery. There was an office upstairs overlooking the exhibit space, so I set up my Mac SE and laserprinter from Stardent, along with an acoustic modem. Commandeering the FAX line, I was able to telnet into my Stardent system in Los Angeles if needed, or to Stardent HQ in Concord, Mass., from which I could send and receive email from the stardent.com domain, and also I could telnet into the Well in Sausalito, CA, and send and receive personal email. (This was before the World Wide Web took off, but other interesting things were already happening on the Internet.) I got really excited when I discovered I'd gotten an email from Billy Idol, who said he might make it to a party I was throwing. (He didn't, but Todd Rungren did!) The "Tomorrow's Realities Gallery" was co-chaired by Steve Tice and another guy whose name I don't remember. He was one those arrogant New Yorker types who had to have an entourage with him at all times to tell him how great he was, and I found him pretty useless. The only thing I remember he did was to veto a plan by some of the Dutch volunteers to print up some t-shirts for the participants, at our own expense. So I invented my job. I got a clipboard and walked around the venue, asking the folks at each exhibit if everything was going okay. If they had problems, I wrote them down. Then I took a stab at solving them. If I didn't have the resources, I went to Steve for help. Then I repeated. Over several days I solved a lot of problems for a lot of people using this method. In searching the web for remnants of this event, I was astonished to discover ACM SIGGRAPH's archives don't go back that far, and there is no official record of the event. I have my guidebook somewhere; probably in a locker in one of dozens of bankers boxes after my recent move. Maybe I will find it and scan it another day. I did find many folks whose Curriculum Vitae references the event. For example:
  • Moreland, John L. San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) Interactive Color (Macintosh program) ( ftp://ftp.sdsc.edu/pub/sdsc/graphics/interactive_color )
  • Myers, Rob Process Arts in Santa Cruz Plasm: Above the Drome ( www.plasm.com/rob/portfolio/Plasm/Plasm.html ) Three networked skyboards equip visitors to surf freely throughout a shared virtual space. Each fiberglass skyboard is a custom full-body input device, with force-sensing resistors driving the flight simulation for the occupant's on-screen avatar. A large rear-screen projection in front of each skyboard renders the cumulative adventures of all three surfers in a common, infinitely wrapping space, as they dive below the waves to slalom through the fishes, or soar overhead to trail confetti across the sky. [Installed at SIGGRAPH '91 Tomorrow's Realities Gallery, Las Vegas, 1991]
  • Naimark, M. Naimark & Company VBK - A Moviemap of Karlsruhe ( www.naimark.net/writing/karlsruhe.html ) EAT ( /www.naimark.net/projects/eat.html )
  • Noser, H. The Animation of Autonomous Actors Based on Production Rules [System presented at the "Tomorrow's Realities Gallery" SIGGRAPH '91, 18th ACM Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Las Vegas, NV]
  • Ward, M., Azuma, R., Bennett, R., Gottschalk, S., Fuchs, H. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill A demonstrated optical tracker with scalable work area for head-mounted display systems. Proceedings of 1992 Symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics (Mar. 29 - Apr. 1, Cambridge, Mass.). Computer Graphics 1992, 43-52.
  • Wenzel, Elizabeth and Foster, S. Human Systems Integration Division at NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA Virtual Acoustic Environments: The Convolvotron Computer Graphics, 25 (4), 386. [Demonstration system at the 1st annual "Tomorrow's Realities Gallery", SIGGRAPH '91, 18th ACM Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, Las Vegas, NV, July 27-August 2.]
  • Zyda, Michael J. and Pratt, David R. University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA NPSNET: A 3D Visual Simulator for Virtual World Exploration and Experience The presentation at SIGGRAPH was a live demonstration showing the NPSNET system running networked over three IRIS workstations. [Demonstrated in the Tomorrow's Realities Gallery, SIGGRAPH '91, Las Vegas, 28 Jul - 2 Aug 1991.]
To be frank, I don't remember a lot of these. The virtual restaurant, "EAT," was cool, though obviously absurd. There was a great laser-disk-based Mars flyover that was quite interactive and thrilling. University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill had several cool things, including a bicycle and a treadmill with VR glasses integrated. The folks from Division in the UK had the most advanced, full-up, commercially available VR system there, and they almost didn't get it working in time. They needed a file from their UK headquarters via File Transfer Program (FTP), and I was able to "save the day" with my acoustic modem and FAX line. They gave me a t-shirt as appreciation, which I also still have.
t-shirt Division T-shirt


"You gotta work the suit."
    — Michael Keaton, on playing Batman
As excited as I was to experience VR for the first time (the last was at Disney Quest Orlando in 2008, where the obsolete SGI graphics seemed dated...), at least I knew what VR was. But the new concept I encountered was from Tice's own compnay, Simgraphics, which had their public debut of Performance Animation, a.k.a. VActors(TM), Synthespians, and Performance Cartoons. The specific demo in the gallery was "Suzy Surfer," a real-time computer-generated character based on real-time input from a human operator. In essence, an electronic puppet. I still keep in touch with Tice, and I prevailed upon him to give me some good links and even to upload some video to YouTube about this historic breakthrough. ( www.simg.com/ ) ( www.allbusiness.com/north-america/united-states-california-metro-areas/454358-1.html ) ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ji3WEX6Svw ) Warning: video begins with loud tone!


"Do good things."
    — salutation used frequently by Dave Warner
After SIGGRAPH I was still troubled by the riddle of the Metallica video — something was tickling my brain. I finally got it. Though VR has great promise in the areas of educating and entertaining normal people, it is in the application to the problems of the disabled that it has the most to offer. I called up Dave Warner. "Well, duh," he said. He was way ahead of me. He had been doing medial school rotations and ended up in Pediatric Rehab, kids who'd been in auto accidents mostly, having trouble with doing their painful but necessary exercises. I already knew Dave had hooked these kids up to electrode-powered muscle-activated Nintendo games, which gave the kids muscular workout while chasing donkeys and barrels, and they worked harder at it than the traditional exercises. But what I didn't know was that he and Tice had gotten together and pulled a media stunt — they borrowed VActor equipment, saying it was going to be on TV with sick kids; they got a TV crew to come, telling them to expect sick kids and computer graphics, and they got Loma Linda Hospital to let them use the kids, because the computers and TV cameras would be there. It worked. They had a virtual character named "Eggwardo," a floating egg-shaped head, who appeared on the TV of a kid in a cancer ward, and would talk to him or her on the phone. ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MBYB9WsjCM ) Warning: video begins with loud tone! Dave used to calls these media events "stunt science," and insisted he always used off-the-shelf technology, so any institution that saw the TV broadcast was free to emulate application. Now, this is more than an entertainment venue for these kids. There is clinical evidence, some of it from work at Loma Linda University Medical Center, that mirthful laughter and peak experiences (including seeing a magic trick, or a feeling of wonder like I had in Cajon Pass) can boost the immune system. If this works as intended, it's a healing technology. Later there was a whole conference, "Medicine Meets Virtual Reality" (MMVR) which started in 1994, and showcased work just like this, but at the time Warner and Tice and their collaborators were the only ones doing it.



In February 2011 I received this email:
Dear Mr. Scrivener, I recently came across your "Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory", which I enjoyed immensely because it had reams of narrative woven into it, which is how I like to take my information best (high intuition, low rigor). I have been reading books on information and control in systems for about 5 years now. I work in healthcare and started the Complex Adaptive Systems thing when I was studying management in Graduate School at Antioch University in Keene NH. I started a website some years ago to sort of put my ideas in front of myself, and others, and am kind of surprised that the cybernetics/systems presence on the internet isn't very 'emergent'; i.e. it doesn't seem to be evolving very much. Not much of Gordon Pask's "Conversation", in which there is a mutual learning going on. Do you know of any good website formats which might rectify this? I'm currently hosted by Microsoft, which is about as adaptive as a dead dinosaur. Thanks for your notes on all those books. I really enjoyed reading them, and hopefully will see more of these works. Sincerely, Ebenezer T. Boston MA p.s. my website is called 'adaptingsystems.com'
(Note: if you email me about this eZine I may quote you in it, unless you ask me not to!) Ebenezer's comment about Gordon Pask's "Conversation" got me thinking: this 'zine isn't really very interactive. People email me and I sometimes post their comments. I often agonize about whether to post their names, and I avoid listing email addresses to cut down on spam. But because it is labor-intensive for me, I don't do much of it, so this hasn't been a very useful place to have conversations about cybernetics and systems. (It's been seven years since I got an email with this comment:
do you watch the japanese 'ghost in the shell' tv series at all? it touches upon many cybernetics / systems theory issues. peace, -z
and now the links are broken!) Back in the early nineties I used to have some great on-line discussions about Virtual Reality (VR), memory palaces, dead media, and a lot of other cool stuff on the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (the WELL), with the likes of cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling, social commentator Howard Rheingold, and techno-counter-culturist R. U. Sirius. But I drifted away after a misleading article in Playboy Magazine claimed it was some kind of wild and crazy dating site, which brought in a flood of cluless and disruptive newbies. So I sat up and took notice when I read that Facebook was rolling out a new "Comments" widget that allows any web site to use Facebook credentials in a comments box. The widget allows me to delete comments I think are inappropriate, or ban posters entirely. It gives posters control over whether their comments are copied to their Facebook Wall. It sounds like it fits my needs. I realize that some have raised the question of whether the loss of anonymity enabled by this tool is Not a Good Thing. For example, Gordon Plutsky's "Facebook Comments — Does It Make Sense for Your Site?" makes the observation: "Reduces nasty comments ... and all comments for that matter." And Steve Cheney's "How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity" goes further, saying it stifles free speech. But I'm actually not going to wade into this controversy. I support the idea that anonymous web posts are important, especially for the likes of nuke plant whistleblowers and Tunisian rebels. But I have never offered anonymous comments, so all I'm doing is automating a pre-existing process, and hopefully making it more obvious how someone's words will be used. Please indicate which article you are commenting on. Feel free to comment on the Comments Widget as well. (If you oppose it, and using it to complain is too paradoxical for you, feel free to email me instead.)

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Last update:  10:40 PM PDT 07-Apr-2011