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Mixed Connections

The most front-of-mind are purely physical connections, binding two separate things together. Most of the connectors I saw/thought about this week rely on some form of friction and/or a change in state (most often from liquid to solid). In no particular order: rope, wire, string, screws, nails, buttons, zippers, spray/liquid/solid adhesives, tape, sticky tack, epoxy, chains, springs, snaps, hooks and eyes, lashes, concrete, solder, welds, friction (dovetails), plugs and sockets, threaded joints, folds, roots, suction, magnetism, knots, sewing/weaving/knitting, bites (army ant sutures), staples, pins, mixing.

Some connections also rely on alterations of chemical/atomic structure to connect. These tend to be much harder to reverse than many physical connections: fusion, dissolution, cooking/firing/baking.

Then there are metaphysical connections, the connections we talk about between people or ideas or events, which I would characterize as a kind of sharing—be it of traits, genealogy, interests, friends, provenance, themes, or causality. We use the language of physical connection to describe these: bound in holy matrimony, causal chain, linked in, ties of blood.

The thing that connects all these expressions is the purpose of the connections to which they draw analogy: to constrain motion. Hinges, shackles, cuffs, reins, and handles all restrict motion through connection. Connectors are often also channels for the passage of something from two otherwise separate entities: tubes, pipes, wires, electromagnetic waves, buses, word of mouth, and all manner of electrically conductive materials act as connections that transport.

The most interesting of these of course being neurons. It is in connection, impossibly tangled and branching and complex connection, that our consciousness resides, that we understand the world.

I prototyped a nifty switch hidden in a magnetic box. A light is on when it’s not physically connected to something, but as soon as the magnetic (physical connection) is made, the electrical (channel) connection is broken. The two cannot coexist. But that’s an arbitrary fact of wiring. I could just as easily have wired the light only to turn on when the box is magnetically attached to something else.

Which made me realize that connections are most interesting when they are broken, when they’re forbidden, when they are unintended. Secret liaisons make good stories, short-circuits end in fires, ruptured pipelines induce panic. This is the great appeal of the mashup—possibly even the power of cinema (wasn’t it Eisenstein who wrote about cutting and the mental jumps the mind makes?)—the juxtaposition of disparate elements that our minds nonetheless connect.

jumblr screenshot

That is pretty much how my favorite parts of my brain work, making strange and unexpected connections with unpredictable outcomes. It’s also the way humor works, uncovering the unexpected connection to spark a laugh. So after much unsatisfying PComping, I ended up turning to the now almost clichéd connectivity of the web to explore the pleasure of the unexpected connection. Part php and part spit, Jumblr is a website that makes unexpected connections by jumbling links, either within a site or between two sites. It works by scraping a site, parsing its links and storing them in an array using XPath, shuffling the array, and then returning them via preg_replace(). Right now it breaks when sites use relative links because they end up pointing to my domain, but once I figure out how to construct a conditional regular expression, I’ll be able to fix that problem. I’m also going to develop a Javascript link interceptor so that the randomization persists with each link click.

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