Walking Dataloss

On average, the car in front probably isn't a Toyota

About Walking Dataloss

Hi! This is Walking Dataloss, a stream-of-consciousness–type blog about decay, perception, and dodgy assumptions.

Walking Dataloss is written by Greg K Nicholson and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mooquackwooftweetmeow.

17 July 2007

About the blog’s title

There was a TV advert recently—I think it was for an optician, though it might've been for a camera—in which a person walks through a forest, with Polaroid-type photos dropping behind them every few paces. The point was that we see so many images even over the course of just one day, but remember just a tiny fraction of this. You can generalise that to the other senses as well.

For example, a human can see at a rate of about ten frames per second, so over twelve hours one sees more than four hundred thousand images. And we remember none of them. I mean: we filter these images and extract facts from them, but then we forget the actual image. Even if we consciously try to remember the image, memories are imperfect and some subtleties are always changed or lost. (Animals make rubbish eyewitnesses.)

After a split-second review of each of these innumerate sensations, to extract the juiciest titbits, the brain simply discards all of them. There's decay intrinsic in every perception an animal makes.

In the world of software geekery, a “dataloss” bug (problem or error) is one that causes some of the user's information to be lost. It occurred to me that this advert was expressing a continual state of dataloss. It's one of the fundamental aspects of what's often called “the human condition” (although I should make it clear that I think this applies beyond just humans).

A lot of science fiction stories involving robots—for example—contrast those robots with their human (and roughly-human) counterparts, by having the robots be “perfect”. Flawless memory; absolute objectivity (the absence of emotions influencing decisions); and limitless accuracy and precision in almost every respect are hallmarks of the science fiction robot. (This isn't particularly contrived, as these are attributes that the fictional robots share with real-life computers.)

Often this “perfection” extends to an inability to feel emotions, usually love. While the robots are lauded for their impeccable grasp of the factual, they can simultaneously be pitied for their lack of a “deeper” experience of life, beyond the “merely” factual. (My suggestion that there is something “deeper” than the “merely factual” already assumes that there's more to life than pure facts.)

Is it wrong to say it's love when it tries the way it does?

The Flaming Lips, “One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21”

It's concluded that in fact the robots' “perfection”, while ostensibly useful, is also a shortcoming. Imperfection is highlighted and celebrated as being intrinsic to humans' nature—constant dataloss is a fundamental part of life.

There's definitely, definitely, definitely no logic to human behaviour.

Björk, “Human Behaviour”

I used “Dataloss” in the title rather than “decay” because dataloss is usually seen as being actively induced and thus preventable. Decay is more of a continuous, natural, inevitable process; I wanted to challenge dataloss's preventability. Besides, the latter has connotations of rotting flesh that I didn't want to encourage.

The “Walking” half of the title is the best way I could find to succinctly express the idea that people are dataloss (although, of course, I don't mean that they literally are). I'm also using it to illustrate the idea that what seems to be the most straightforward way to say something often comes loaded with assumptions. Here it's assumed that discussion is naturally restricted to concerning humans and no-one else, and that all humans can (or do) walk.

There should be a conclusion here... ...So! “Walking Dataloss” manages to cover the blog's main thrusts, “decay, perception and dodgy assumptions”, pretty succinctly.

09 July 2007


So… This blog's going to be centred around the idea of decay and how it affects our perception. And then how that leads to assumptions, and illogical categorisations (putting things into boxes where they don't belong).

I'm already guilty after one sentence—to whom does “our” apply? Just me? Me and a few friends? Me and you? (Hi! by the way.) Every person alive today? Every human including the dead and yet-to-be-born? Every mammal? Every animal? Or absolutely every living being including plants and such?

Yeah. Tough one.

Of necessity, I'm going to have to reduce generalisations to only those that apply to me. Generally, though, I'm going to try to challenge assumptions by stretching applicability to the widest sense possible.

I'm not going to criticise directed writing or speech in English for assuming the audience is human—at the time of writing, only humans can understand English beyond a few words—but I will use things being assumed when they shouldn't be as starting points for wider thoughts.

I've written about this sort of stuff before—simplistic things like my “rant about foreigners” in which I complained about an American website using units of measure that were familiar to them, but that a wider, non-American audience found awkward or even incomprehensible. I've also written about what's in the solar system, trying to use language that most objectively describes the reality of what's there, as well as removing the historical misemphasis particularly of Pluto, but also of the “major planets”. (I only just realised that that entry was relevant to this.)

A lot of my pictures on Flickr have a theme of decay and imperfection. In Four (I use ¡Forward, Russia! nomenclature for the pictures I publish) I tried to make a picture of a murky sky over Hartlepool (Great Britain, Earth etc.) look bright and sunny; the result has a clear air of artificiality (quite possibly due to my lack of GIMP mojo).

For Ten, I drew around the photo by hand, sloppily, creating an outline that was clearly produced in this way. Both of these were an attempt to highlight how the reality of what I photographed gets filtered en route from the camera to the viewer, by artificially filtering the pictures even more; and in the case of Ten, by intentionally introducing imperfections.

As another example of me playing with imperfections, I began my Thirteen series by focusing on the most obvious imperfection the camera recorded (part 1)—the overexposure of the Sun. I then focused on the same area but with the imperfection removed and the sky recoloured to blue, the colour you'd expect of a sky; the resulting picture (part 3) is—in my opinion—less interesting than part 1. And finally, I couldn't bring myself to “waste” such a good photo (again, my opinion, of course) by not publishing the full thing as it was “supposed” to look (part 4)—an example of the valiant fight against decay.

One more thing: there's an article on The Twaddle, a now-mostly-defunct website I run, about the English language (indeed any language) being an intrinsically imperfect representation of what the speaker is trying to express; it argues that this imperfection, the nuances that are applied to any perception that passes through a brain, ought to be appreciated. 00101 01110 00111 01100 01001 10011 01000 01001 10011 00011 01111 01111 01100 wasn't written by me (the author now prefers to remain anonymous for unstalkability reasons) but it probably comes closest to the type of thing I intend to write about on this blog.

(By the way, earlier, “our” applied to anything that can perceive, which I think means any animal.)

Questions? Comments? Plaudits? Microblog at me, @gregknicholson on Identi.ca, or with the tag #walkingdataloss; or email me at walkingdataloss@gkn.me.uk.