A Collection of Things That Do Not Exist

I have for a long time now socialised as much or more with scientists as with people from my side of the Popperian divide, and in these especially computer scientists, because Cambridge collects and hoards them in a way that it doesn’t other academics. Some of them have truly impressive brains and are interested in everything, so they give me a good chance to pontificate about my subjects in pubs, for a start. But more and more I also come into contact with such people professionally, as the whole ‘computing in the humanities‘ thing gets more and more steam up. And this is what takes me to conferences in Vienna and so on, not least because having kept this sort of company for so long I can mostly follow the talk. Also, it gets me involved in collaborations back here in my actual job.

In Cambridge there is a research centre called CARET, the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, which is basically concerned with electronic resources for teaching. They have got more and more spread out however, and projects all over the general area of e-learning are opening up. One that doesn’t yet involve me, but that plainly might, is to do with museum catalogues. I’m not going to tell you about it, however, firstly because I basically don’t know, but secondly because this is much more fun than anything I might have to say.

As part of the exploratory work for such a thing, my friend at CARET Dan Sheppard has come up with this test set, which is only meant to be a proof-of-concept database filled with what is meant to be ‘nonsense data’. But Dan’s idea of nonsense data, combined with his inimitable coding style, creates surrealist high comedy! (It’s like the whole ‘making computers produce art by forcing them to write nonsense‘ approach.) So two entries into the catalogue I am finding described a “miniature post-conquest Liao Dynasty Wirework sousaphone”, which is apparently 64mm long and “entirely beige, except for the damaged part, which has been stained beige as a consequence… Overall, it depicts a monkey using a violin. It may have been a controlled substance, as the blue bowl-shaped recess is moldy.” The next one is a “small heavily waterlogged early Greek Ruby cymbal” which weighs 184000 g. This is going to keep me happy for a good few working days now. May you all also enjoy…

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5 responses to “A Collection of Things That Do Not Exist

  1. This reminds me of Browne’s splendid ‘Musaeum Clausum':

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/misctracts/museum.html

  2. Good heavens. If lying were a competitive sport that would be gold medal standard :-)

  3. I assume you all know about the Museum of Jurassic Technology (which, in fact, exists).

  4. I have… absolutely no idea how seriously to take that, but I am strongly tempted to spend the small amount of money it would take to order Geoffrey Sonnabend’s Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter (Culver City 1991), just to see if it turns up and, if it does, quote it in annoying and pretentious ways in theory-heavy work…

  5. experiencedtraveller

    Just surfed in. Thanks for the site.

    Enjoyed your link to Thaler’s machine here: http://www.ultrafuzz.net/Imagination_Engines.html

    Regards.

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