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 we have to add. We have asterisks, we have
parentheses, we have two last stitches. And if you really, really look at this, you’ll
recognize that this is what it is. All we’re doing is we’re saying, we have a couple
we have some stitches that we have to do before the loop starts. And then we have our loop.
Or a do while in this case. Do purl one knit three where we have more than three stitches
left. And then we purl one and two. So, though this pattern actually shows how we knit every
row, the entire project, including the entire brocade stitch, is on my GitHub repo. Let’s
see if this will let me do it. Nope. So, this is essentially how it works. So, if you take
those stitches and we say we want 18 inches. And we knit 6 stitches per inch and we want
our diamond brocade stitch, it prints out not only how many cast on stitches that fit
within those eight stitches, plus one. But also every knit and purl that’s in those repeats.
So, we could either do this… Or we could do that. So, I have one last quote
for you. From a lovely woman named Linda Liukas. She has a really energetic TED Talk that’s
just magical. I highly recommend you watch it. There’s a link on the slides. And near
the middle, she said and that’s why no one recognized that when I was conjugating French
or irregular verbs, I was actually practicing my pattern recognition skills. And when I
was excited about knitting, I was actually following a sequence of symbolic commands
that included loops inside of them. And that Bernard Russell’s lifelong quest to find an
exact language between English and mathematics found its home inside a computer. I was a
computer programmer. But nobody knew it. We went from an 18th century fashion fad in France
all the way to mathematics and science and is knitting a programming language? I have
two points that I wanted to make. One, is we all stand on the shoulders of giants. And
just because your idea may not be absolutely unique in every fashion, doesn’t change the
fact that it’s yours and it’s important and it should be heard. And the other is that
sometimes you have to step away from the computer and play with something to truly discover
something unique. I’m Jen Luker. You can find me on Twitter. And if you want to know more
information, I have quite a few. Please come talk to me. Thank you.
[ Applause ] PARISS: All right. We’re gonna break until