There’s something about this longish quote from Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature (Granta, 2011), that reminds me of Aaron Straup Cope’s talk at NDF2012, time pixels.

The artificial frog permanently influenced my theory of knowledge: I certainly believed, rocking my daughter on this Wednesday afternoon, that with a little concentration one’s whole life could be reconstructed from any single twenty-minute period randomly or almost randomly selected; that is, that here was enough content in that single confined sequence of thoughts and events and the setting that gave rise to them to make connections that proliferate backward until potentially every item of autobiographical interest—every pet theory, minor observation, significant moment of shame or happiness—could be at least glancingly covered; but you had to expect that a version of your past arrived at this way would exhibit, like the unhealthily pale frog, certain telltale differences of emphasis from the past you would recount if you proceeded serially, beginning with “I was born on January 5, 1957,” and letting each moment give birth naturally to the next. The particular cell you started from colored your entire re-creation. (p.41)

It was something not so much to do with the artisanal integers that made up much of Aaron’s talk, but where he took that integer idea and combined it with a time coordinate. Artisanal integers propose a unique ID for every location in the world (in particular every building); combine it with a time and you have spacetime IDs – an ID for every physical location at every moment in time.

From there you could map in 3d space every significant moment and location in your life, as well as cross matching it with other people’s significant moments and places. Where did your life cross paths with the people around you? Did you or they notice? Did the same events or moments in time carry the same significance? Fancy discovering that you shared a significant moment, or worse, that a moment you thought you shared with someone didn’t have the same significance for them.

It’s a bit ethereal, but it comes back to something more tangible, in New Zealand at least, in the form of the whakapapa, or the oral family histories Maori give when speaking on a marae. Whakapapa are about making connections between the speaker and their host. So it’s not only about the time and place at which they’re meeting, but all the times and places that they or their ancestors have crossed paths before.

It’s highly selective; you tell the story that endears you to your hosts. At it’s core, it’s about finding significant times and places in shared histories, but it’s the twenty-minute period the speaker is in at the moment they’re there on a marae that determines every piece of their history they choose to tell that day.


As for Nicholson Bakers’s frog, it came from an early Time-Life book, showing two frogs, one natural, the other grown artificially from “idioplasm sucked out of a single intestinal cell” of the other. Both looked liked frogs, but the artificial one, though “froglike in every detail”, displayed a pallor and pear-shaped body “that betrayed its origins”.