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Knotty Patterns

bracketbracket is an irregular ezine by Paul Smedberg
more about bracketbracket in general
more about Paul Smedberg in specific

Here's the idea:

Below are thumbnails with links to 11 different posters for Knotty Patterns.

You are encouraged to print-out some of these posters
(8.5x11" black and white)
and put them up somewhere.

Why might you want to do that? Well, check out the posters and ask yourself, "Would I enjoy coming across one of these posters on a bulletin board?" If you answer "yes" then you might want to help spread this confusing form of amusement.

Click on a thumbnail to view a printable poster.
Print out a few and put them up somewhere,
then if you're still feeling helpful, email me that you put some posters up.

Seeing something that's almost a band poster will cause the viewer to do a kind of mental double-take — art showing up in unexpected places.

Surprise! What is it? I have no idea. It must be art.

Perhaps if enough posters are put up, a band or bands calling themselves Knotty Patterns will form. The posters and this site then serving as an incantation that summons up a band.

If you are a musician who would like to perform under the name Knotty Patterns, I would encourage you to perform suddenly and unexpectedly and in a way that exemplifies the idea of Knotty Patterns. If you do perform as Knotty Patterns, please let me know.


Each of the posters is based on a combination of three sets of found patterns: Egyptian hieroglyphics from 3,500 years ago, an electronic circuit diagram from the 1960s, and cellular-automata-like fax errors from 2003. Each by itself a knotty pattern.

The first two patterns can be pretty well understood.
The third pattern — the fax error — has a certain air of mystery about it.

Ooooooo mystery!

I had received complaints at work that some of my faxes were coming in garbled. One day, I sent a fax directly from my computer to my fax forwarding service. This service, eFax, receives the fax, encodes it and sends the fax image to me as email. Somewhere — along the line from Word, through Bitware and an external fax/modem, over the phone to eFax, and back to me as an email attachment — these faxes would always be corrupted on pages with a graphic running head. Sending the same document through this informational gauntlet would generate a different set of patterns each time.

The patterns on these corrupt fax pages look very much like they might originate in cellular automata (CA).

Cellular automata are patterns generated by stepping through some fairly simple rules. For most cellular automata simple rules generate patterns that are really simple and repetitious, but occasionally the patterns don't repeat, or don't repeat much, and grow into something complex and knotty.

Once you've seen a bunch of different CA patterns, you can, more or less, get a feel for what a CA pattern looks like. You start seeing them all over the place: trees, rocks, clouds, animal skins, the background of this page . . . this stuff is everywhere.

The mystery is how these patterns arose from the intersection of different graphic handling programs, file formats and modalities.

Well, that's not really an "Oooooo mystery". More of a "What the faaaa?" mystery.


Cellular automata
have been deeply excavated and articulated by Stephen Wolfram, especially in his book/site A New Kind of Science. (requires free registration for full access) This is a medium-heavy read. You don't need calculus or anything that grisly, but after the first two or three chapters it is not a particularly good after-martini read, though it is fun to look at all the pretty pictures. Mr. Wolfram also has the annoying tendancy to point out, in first person, how wonderful his discoveries are. He seems to present his work as on the level of inventing bread. This stuff is not as important as bread. Maybe as important as cars, but not as important as bread.


bracket bracket is a made by Paul Smedberg

Here are other issues:
27 an unpredictable, inconsistent, un-understandable user interface
26 the big wooden spoon of consciousness
25 flash movie lasts 109 million years — can predict future
24 salary doubler — it really really works
23 hard-boiled html coding and rube goldberg competition photo
22 music for modern office — for avant office fun
21 the terminal computer and conversation engines
20 everything I need to know I learned in graduate semiotics seminars
19 he trod low beneath the slanted rim
18 the buns of navarone
17 patty duke is a pun based on "pas de deux"
16 lego haiku
15 water is its eloquent metaphor
14 money — insubstantial — an article of faith
13 fork tatoo on forehead
12 lite art, death, and mangled scott joplin tunes
11 eyeglass displays and the bureaucratic bolero
10 owning time or doing time
9 outside in the rain with the windows rolled down
8 if pi were about four-and-a-half
7 colliding farris wheels and rock 'n' rant
6 hubba hubba
5 let the black humor begin to spend itself before you come in
4 a man trampling on a violin
3 warning signs from farm equipment
2 ellen's chocolate cake — so good you have to lean on something
1 first issue december 8, 1996 includes tibet before buddhism


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