5 Intriguing Things: Thursday, 1/9

An e-commerce parable, the unprogrammable programming language, skin-cell art, robotic lovers, and Chinese microfilms.

 1. The wardrobes of Songyang, some kind of parable about e-commerce.

"In the town of Songyang, a significant number of members of the local community have become electronic merchants on Taobao.com, China’s largest consumer based e-commerce site. The most unique aspect of their participation in e-commerce in particular lies in the fact that most of them are selling a singular product: modular wardrobes.

This phenomenon is particularly curious because there are no local advantages associated with the production of these wardrobes.

Most of the materials required for the construction of the wardrobes are imported from outside Songyang, and the wardrobes do not require any specialised skills to assemble that only the locals possess.

In fact, interviews with the community members reveal that many of them got into the business only because 'their neighbours seem to be doing well.'

Despite the organic, almost haphazard, nature of this development, the benefits are clear. Songyang, as a whole, began to acquire a reputation for modular wardrobes on Taobao.com, which turned into higher sales for the villagers involved.

The sharing of production and business expertise also flowed freely, raising the quality of the products and the efficiency of business operations. There were also reports that some electronic merchants, facing a glut of online orders that they were unable to fulfil, passed on those orders to their neighbours.

More importantly, the viability of the trade has helped Songyang stem the 'brain drain' associated with urban migration. Becoming an electronic merchant had become a viable career option for the youths of Songyang, and they no longer have to move to the larger cities in search of employment."


2. Programming language as art: the case of Malbolge.

"It was noticed that, in the field of esoteric programming languages, there was a particular and surprising void: no programming language known to the author was specifically designed to be difficult to program in."


3. Skin cells as art.

"Skin cells have been manipulated in the laboratory to form letters and words in order to visually »reincarnate« the promises of the cosmeceutical industry. Over several months, selected skin cell lines were cultured and, in the course of numerous experiments, the cells were engineered to grow into defined micro-structures. The ephemeral outcome of this procedure was then recorded by means of live cell imaging and time-lapse microscopy. The project is presented as a series of videos documenting the attempt at controlling biological matter. From time to time, the cells form legible structures that quickly dissipate again. To a certain extent, it is possible to control this biological material, yet moments of successful stabilization are soon followed by disorder and decay."

+ Read all the stuff on wetwareontologies.tumblr.com. It's weird and challenging, but so intriguing. 



"Whatever should be natural becomes unnatural. Being with an android— desiring something that does not have a place in the category of natural erotic desire—is not a normal part of the physical aspect of desire. If Deckard does not think about Rachael as a replicant, his physiological ability to desire her, and therefore perform sexually, proceeds accordingly. One could even say the ability proceeds naturally, in that it is the body that can desire freely whereas the self is leashed by notions of what is natural and normal. Once thought and recognition enter the picture, the self reconnects the physical desire with the idea that this being is wrong, unnatural, not to be desired. The android is so physically human-like that it can inspire human desire and potentially bypass the necessary “protective” measures created by the subject to maintain a natural order."


5. China's "microfilm" industry produces ad-supported, mobile-optimized films that get tens of millions of viewers.

"Xiao's microfilm Old Boys kick-started the Chinese microfilm phenomenon — films around 40 minutes or less that are distributed online and generally viewed on mobile phones or laptops. They have become intensely popular with people born in the 1980s or later. Today, microfilm producers face fierce competition for sponsorship and advertising, so many try to cater for mass viewing and employ comedy elements and sexual themes."

+ Kinda reminds me of stories like this from Japan in the mid-aughts: "This technology has now led to the emergence of a new and unexpected phenomenon: people reading entire novels on their mobile phones. The growing population of readers consists mainly of young people in their late teens and early twenties, the first generation to have grown up with e-mail. One novel that achieved popularity through this new medium went on to be published in print and became a million-copy bestseller. The fact that the novel is now being made into a movie illustrates just how far this phenomenon has come."


Today's English Usage Tip From 1957:

aid(e). In the sense 'helper, assistant' the English word (1596 on) was aidaide was short for aide-de-camp (1670 to date in Brit. usage), an officer who assists the general (pl. aides-de-camp). The French spelling, however, is now firmly established in non-military use in US (nurse's aide, aide to the chairman, aide of the Junior Senator). Assistant and helper are both still good words. 

They really are still good words.


Thanks Zach S!


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Moments of Successful Stabilization Are Soon Followed by Disorder and Decay

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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