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Re: <nettime> Behind the Blip: Software as Culture
Karl-Erik Tallmo on Thu, 10 Jan 2002 11:35:28 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Behind the Blip: Software as Culture

This is a very interesting article, Matthew. I have two questions.

matthew fuller wrote:

>Computers must be understood already as assemblages.  In his 'Lectures
>on Computation', Richard Feynman notes research that specifies thirteen
>levels to an operating system.  "This goes from level 1, that of
>electronic circuitry - registers, gates, buses - to number 13, the
>Operating System Shell, which manipulates the user programming
>environment.  By a hierarchical compounding of instructions, basic
>transfers of 1's and 0's on level one are transformed, by the time we
>get to thirteen, into commands to land aircraft in a simulation or
>check whether a forty digit number is prime."22 Since the time of his
>writing, 1984, many more additional 'levels' have become involved, the
>various protocols of interface, licensing, network, the ways in which
>computation has been coded and styled for various markets, are only a
>few examples.  What is contended here is that any one of these levels
>provides an opportunity for critique, but more importantly - for forms
>of theorisation and practice that break free of any preformatted
>uniformity.  Since it is what they are further assembled with that
>determines their metamorphosis, it is the task of such practical and
>theoretical work to open these layers up to the opportunity of further

This brings to mind an idea I had back in 1988 - a pedagogical idea 
for displaying to non- computer geeks (including myself) exactly how 
the different layers on a computer are working. In medical literature 
one might see illlustrations showing e.g. different layers of the 
kidney and what they do, so my idea was to show everything that is 
going on inside a computer in a similar way, from what is well-known 
to the user, say a word in italics on a text line in a wordprocessor. 
Beneath that would be a hole displaying ascii with some tag for the 
formatting, something lika a <i>xxx</i>-tag or whatever kind of 
"flag" is used. Then, I don't know what comes next - some 
hexadecimal? Somewhere in this hierarchy  the program code that 
allows the program to italicize a string of characters would also be 
visible. Then all levels down to machine code. Everybody I spoke with 
said that this was impossible. Reading the above, my old idea popped 
up again and I just wonder, would it really be impossible to depict 
the goings on like that?


Another question that arises when we talk of future programming and 
future interfaces is what will new kinds of processing do to line 
oriented code in general? Linear, although vertically aligned, 
instructions have been the idea from the beginning of computing. I 
know many are involved in trying  to find new kinds of logic for the 
old kinds of code, or code writing machines - which I believe would 
probably just cement the way we write code today. But how will, for 
instance, quantum computers be programmed? Or is there even some 
entirely new method for controling the processing of information that 
does not even require a program anymore but something else?

Karl-Erik Tallmo



    KARL-ERIK TALLMO, Swedish writer, lecturer

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