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  • Weaving Tapestries of Code

  • Jen Luker

  • PARISS: All right. So, before we welcome our next speaker on stage, I want to give you

  • a few mind blowing fun facts about her. So, she owns three spinning wheels. She thought

  • the movie Hackers was about her. Why, you may ask? Before modems and AOL, she used to

  • hack into the telnet system at the University of Utah so she could message a college student

  • in Sydney, Australia, that she befriended through exploring the system. After the university

  • figured out that changing the password wasn't going to stop her from hacking it, they give

  • her her own log in, which was pretty boss. All right. So, weaving tapestries of code,

  • let's welcome Jen Luker. [ Applause ]

  • JEN: Hey, everyone so  this is getting to the end of the last day. How has your conference

  • been? Nice? Awesome. Okay. So, weaving tapestries of code. Now, this is gonna be a fun little

  • history lesson. Going on a bit of an adventure. Before we get started, some of you are probably

  • asking, you know, textiles? Why textiles of all the industries in all the world, why textiles?

  • I want to set up a little bit of a history lesson before we get to the history lesson.

  • When we are looking at textiles. I want to explain that it takes time to develop the

  • clothes that we all wear. Back in the mid 17th century, it actually cost about ten days'

  • worth of work, worth of pay, to pay for a single shirt. So, if you were to take that

  • money and translate it to what we do today, there are some calculations that essentially

  • say that this shirt would cost us between 3 and $5,000. So, we need a few updates that

  • actually did progress things quite a lot. We came up with the spinning wheel. Which

  • like one tenth of the time that it took to spin yarn, which was one of the largest chunks.

  • It dropped the time from 2300 hours to spin the yarn for this shirt down to about 400

  • hours. The other portion was weaving this. Because you're weaving ultra fine threads

  • in order to make something durable enough to survive. Most people only bought an outfit

  • a year, maybe two. That's it. So, when we're trying to consider the fact that that's how

  • expensive this shirt was... let's look at these. So, mid 18th century. This was the

  • height of fashion in France. This is a ridiculous amount of fabric in that even shows you some

  • of the undergarments  not all  but some of the undergarments that the women wore.

  • These are highly textured, patterned, beautiful pieces of work. Looking at this, this is the

  • most basic thing. 3 $5,000. This is unreal as far as how much this cost. So, if you look

  • at how much time it took to develop 18th century French silk brocade, this would take between

  • 15 and 27 days of 12 hours a day of weaving. Because a weaver could only do about 2 inches

  • per day. These patterns were highly complex. It took two weavers. You had one person that

  • actually wove the thread and then you had the other person who stood on top of the spinning 

  • or the loom itself and actually picked up the threads individually. So, this was absolutely

  • a bare minimum of a two person job. Taking 15 27 days. Just to make the fabric for the

  • outside garment. So, then we get to this picture which is one of the most famous early computing

  • pictures ever. This hung on the wall of Charles Babbage amongst others at the time. There

  • were not that many made. They were commissioned. But they were highly incredible. Charles Babbage

  • used to have these really big parties. And he'd invite all of the great names of the

  • day. Including the Duke of Wellington who was known to be extremely, extremely smart.

  • And Charles Babbage kind of leaned on him and would look at him and say, so, how do

  • you think this picture was made? And the Duke of Wellington would look at this and he would

  • say, well, it looks a lot like a wood cut. And if you look at this wood cut, it actually

  • does look a fair amount like that wood cut. Except when you look deeper, it looks more

  • like your suit jacket than it does a wood cut. And that's because everything from the

  • words on the bottom to the image itself to the background is all woven using a Jacquard

  • loom. This took 24,000 cards to program. When the average French silk brocade took about

  • 4,000. It would take months to lay this out. We got the French Jacquard loom starting in

  • December of 1800 was when the patent was given. It was put into production in about 1801.

  • And it's a little bit misleading because it's not just the loom that we're talking about.

  • It's basically that top box was the real innovation. But there's really nothing on this loom that

  • was unique to Jacquard. In 1725, Bouchon had developed his loom that used a piece of paper

  • that had punched holes in it to essentially line up and set the process versus the drawlooms

  • in the day with warp threads that allowed him to pick them up programmatically using

  • rods. And in 1728, three years later, his protege, Falcon, developed this one. Those

  • pieces of paper are really difficult, because if one rips  and they ripped all the time 

  • if you misplaced is ever so slightly, it would tear. You would have to re create the entire

  • piece of paper. By dividing them in two cards and having the large holes on the side so

  • you can mount them in the places they need to be. The positioning was much more accurate.

  • Much less likely to tear and if one did tear, you could just replace one and sew it back

  • together. So, this was much more user friendly. However, this still required two people because

  • you still needed someone to lift up the cords. So, then we have the flying shuttle developed.

  • And I don't necessarily mean this shuttle. However, I do mean this shuttle. The reason

  • I had the previous image is because this is how it works. It shot the flying shuttle across

  • a room at 60 miles an hour. Preventing a user from having to lift up each thread and moving

  • it back and forth. By being able to have those things lifted, it did it for you. 20 years

  • later, almost, we have Vaucanson's loom. His loom was the first automatic loom. Vaucanson

  • was actually an automaton, he made the tambourine player and this is the digesting duck. This

  • is where we get, if it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck. In fact, some people

  • jokingly name this the defecating duck. Because this duck would poop. So, if none of these

  • ideas are truly unique to Jacquard, why did he get all the credit? The answer to that

  • is that he brought all of these pieces to the. From Bouchon's system to lifting threads,

  • Falcon's card in a loop, Kay's flying shuttle and the control system for switching cards,

  • that was the first time it was put together in one piece. It was maybe not the first automated

  • one, but it was the very first user friendly automated machine. Now, unfortunately, right

  • about this time, just shy of when this was developed, we had the French Revolution. And

  • more specifically, we had the reign of terror. It took 10 months to kill off one fifth of

  • the French population. 400,000 people died. Now, though that hit most of the demographics

  • in France, it was towards the clergy and the aristocracy. Which means that by the time

  • the Jacquard loom came out, nobody wanted French silk brocade. So, what happened to

  • our Jacquard loom? Richard Roberts, who developed every single one of the things on this list,

  • a wet gas meter, improved lathe, planing machine, power loom, self acting spinning mule, we

  • could go from four threads  what we could do then  up to 80 threads per machine. Dropping

  • what used to be 400 hours' worth of work into 9 minutes. The gear cutting machine,

  • the electro magnet and the punching machine. He took Jacquard's loom, specifically the

  • head, and attached it to something that we now know as a riveter. And because of Richard

  • Roberts, we not only have the first automatic powered loom that no longer needs people to

  • sit there and weave. We also have industrial, military ships. And bridges. And that's where

  • it went. All right. So, it only took a few years, really, to get to a great majority

  • of the innovation. It took another 50 years for that to really come into play. But once

  • it did, it very quickly jumped from an automated loom into a powered loom. So, back to Charles

  • Babbage. One of the reasons why he was so amazed by the Jacquard loom was because he

  • loved the punch cards. He wanted to develop his machines to use these punch cards in order

  • to calculate numbers. His difference engine number one was to calculate polynomial functions

  • to 16 digits. And it would also print out those results for you as a test and then press

  • into a plate so that you could then print those out later using a printing machine.

  • His analytical engine was supposed to be more general purpose. It was supposed to be that

  • you could program this machine to perform a calculation for you. And it didn't necessarily

  • matter which calculation. And after the development of this engine kind of stalled. The difference

  • engine number one stalled, he only developed the portion that you see on the left hand

  • side here. He really dug deep into the analytical machine. And after the analytical machine,

  • he improved his difference engine to be accurate to 31 digits. None of these were actually

  • built until 150 years later. For a while, you could have seen this in San Francisco.

  • It's now in a private collection. However, you can go online and see videos of how this

  • functions to this day. The machine weighs 5 tons. It's huge. And highly impractical.

  • There are 180,000 moving parts. But imagine if this had actually come into fruition when

  • it was created. What if it had been 150 years earlier? Someone else who attended his lectures

  • was Menabrea. He was a brilliant, brilliant mathematician. Babbage gave a lecture at the

  • University of Turin on his analytical machine. And Menabrea was the one who transcripted

  • that lecture. The lecture itself was in French. So, he ended up hiring Ada Lovelace to translate

  • it back into English. Ada Lovelace, as many of you probably know, is actually the daughter

  • of Lord Byron, and had a volatile relationship with her mother. To the point that her mother

  • didn't let her learn art or poetry. She didn't want her daughter to be like Lord Byron who

  • had a mental insufficiency or mental instability streak. The problem, though, as strictly mathematical

  • as she was, she saw the world in a poetic fashion. When she looked at the machine, she

  • looked at the drawings for that analytical machine and saw what it could do, she realized

  • that machines are not meant just for calculating numbers. That they could do so much more.

  • And that is her genius. That is her contribution. She ended up publishing the work with enough

  • footnotes to be much longer than the actual work that she transcribed in the first place.

  • She did have some help from Charles Babbage regarding some of the details of the machine.

  • The algorithm that she developed was based on a logic structure that previously existed.

  • So, again, she got a lot of credit because she put it all together. So, quite a few years

  • later, another 50 or 60 years, we have Herman Hollerith who at his doctorate thesis was

  • an electronic tabulating machine. The next year, the very first census used punch cards

  • from his company to mark off each dot for each person. And at that time it wasn't more

  • of a combination of dots equaled something as much as this dot meant your gender. This

  • to the meant your demographic. This dot meant where you lived. It was a little bit more

  • specific. All right. By 1911 his company, combined with three other companies to make

  • a fifth company called computing tabulating reporting company. Which a few years later

  • we now know as IBM. In 1928, IBM introduced rectangular hole, 80 column format punch cards.

  • Which is why to this day our IDEs default to 88 columns. All based on Jacquard loom

  • punch cards. So, from 1800 to 1924, something that could have technically been developed

  • by 1840. We very well could have had the industrial Revolution and the computing age much earlier

  • than we did. So, let's talk a little bit about wartime efforts and knitting. This beautiful

  • quote I found says, during wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies.

  • A pair of eyes watching between the click of two needles. And this was less because

  • knitting was used for code and more because people didn't pay attention to knitters. Knitter

  • is grandma sitting in the corner. She's just a woman, as they'd say. But those women were

  • kind of incredible. So, the very first reference to using knitting in code, or code in knitting,

  • was Madame Defarge from the Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens in 1859. He referred

  • to her  she was just a blood thirsty woman who would sit in the meetings where they were

  • arguing about who should be the ones to be hauled off to the guillotine and she would

  • knit the names and stories of those people into her projects. In all reality, though,

  • I have to say, Belgium had some of the coolest knitters. There's one woman who parachuted

  • out of a plane, took her knitting with her, biked around France and  not just Belgium,

  • but France and Germany  and would talk to soldiers trying to be helpful and get information

  • from them. And then turn around and take that information back. She was one of the few that

  • actually knit some of her information into her work. All right. There's another Belgium

  • woman whose house and whose window sat over train stations. And so, while she was sitting

  • there knitting, she would be tapping her foot. And the foot tapping was in Morse code. And

  • she would be telling her children in the floor below her what she was seeing out the window.

  • Which trains were going where, where they were coming from, what they had in them, what

  • time it was, all while a German sergeant was living in their house? Another woman based

  • on the speed at which she knit was able to do the same thing except as opposed to using

  • her foot in Morse code, she would do a purl stitch if it was a passenger train and she

  • would do a yarn over if it was a supply train so they could record how often they came and

  • when they came based on her rate of knitting. In World War II, the British Office of Censorship

  • banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad because they were afraid that these

  • knitting patterns very well could have code in them. And here's one of the reasons they

  • might have thought that. The sweater I'm wearing today has two messages written into it. I

  • took the message, converted it to binary, converted binary to knitting stitches and

  • knitted them into my sweater. So, in this case, ones are knit stitches, zeros are purl

  • stitches. And yarn overs are the spaces in between the eight characters it takes to make

  • a letter. So, knitting and crocheting and weaving and stitching and embroidery goes

  • much farther than just messages and punch cards. There's some beautiful mathematical

  • things that we can do with crocheting, for instance. So, look at the middle picture.

  • The top one has two parallel lines. This is what we know as parallel lines. They are two

  • straight lines that will never cross. But in hyperbolic knitting, all three of those

  • intersecting lines on the top are parallel to the line below it. And when this woman,

  • Daina , asked, how? Why? Her teacher said, imagine it. Because we can't show you. And

  • it wasn't until 20 years later when she had to teach hyperbolic physics and geometry that

  • she really looked deeply and discovered that it was a crocheting pattern she was looking

  • at. So, she started crocheting and playing with it a bit and this is what we came up

  • with. This is one of the first versions and this is what she took to her students and

  • said, look, if you fold along these lines. They never intersect. It's not that these

  • are straight lines. It's that they are straight on the plane themselves. If you fold it into

  • a straight line, that's what they are. But if you look at them in comparison to the line

  • below it, they suffer so that they never touch. They curve into each other and out. It wasn't

  • until 1990s that we were able to actually visualize hyperbolic geometry. Because crocheting

  • is the only form of fabric that actually allows us to play with it and interact with it and

  • see it for the first time. Another version of this is the Lorenz Manifold. Though the

  • hyperbolic geometry was the first time a crocheting pattern was printed in a scientific journal,

  • this was the second only a few years later. All right. So, this is a simplified model

  • of equations describing the rising and cooling of hot air. Otherwise known as thermal convection

  • in the atmosphere. But this is the only way that we have been able to determine that we

  • can visualize these things. That we can play with them and move them and swirl them and

  • see them in a way that's stable. And in this sense, these fiber arts, these things that

  • old women knit while nobody paid attention to them, were the ways to discover mathematics.

  • Something that a lot of people are really familiar with because we wear them a lot these

  • days is infinity columns. They're Moebius strips. But something we have a lot of difficulty

  • interacting with it w is a Klein bottle, which is a three dimensional Moebius strip. Every

  • side is the outside. Every side is the inside. You can put your finger on one spot and wrap

  • all the way around and touch every surface without lifting. Without folding into an inside.

  • And beyond mathematics, we also have data visualization. There's something impactful

  • about having color and texture in front of you like this. This scarf is not actually

  • every day and one year. It's one day for a hundred years. This is defining what global

  • warming looks like over time. In another one, they decided to map their sleep patterns of

  • their children. When they were babies. Their first year. And they can see how they went

  • from very erratic and who knows when to something much more stable. And in the third one, a

  • woman who really, really hated her commute some days and was loving it on others would

  • knit different colors based on what the delay was that day. And that ended up selling on

  • eBay for $8600. Right? And sometimes the art itself can be the technology. All right? This

  • is actually functioning pianos. Functioning keys. Functions sensor. And just touch and

  • gesture motion sensors. Or sometimes it's just a QR code to allow you to connect to

  • the Wi Fi. But my question at this point is, is knitting a programming language? How far

  • have we really come with this? And if you look at knitting, there's really only these

  • three stitches. Unlike crocheting there's hundreds, thousands. Same thing with embroidery.

  • Knitting only has these three. May do them in different orders, may knit three together.

  • But in the end, it's just a knit stitch. And the purl is an opposite side of a knit stitch

  • so you're just doing it backwards. And a warn over is just a way to make space. Which is

  • how I made this sweater. Knowing that, how many of you can read this? Okay. This is a

  • full knitting language. This is  this is the  this is in fact us programming. We have

  • to figure out so many things in our heads. Like, how many multiples and then how many