Issue: XXVIII.1 January - February 2021
Page: 14
Digital Citation
Bookmark and Share
David Benqué

back to top 

Almanac publications are practical guides for navigating the future, comprising calendars, maps, forecasts, tables, unit conversions, folklore, and other useful information. Almanacs have been in print circulation since at least the 17th century, with almanac-like artifacts such as maps, tablets, and ledgers dating back millennia in many cultures around the world. They are still published to this day in areas such as farming, nautical navigation, and finance. revisits the almanac to unpack the cosmic imaginary surrounding data and algorithms.

Journalist Adrienne Lafrance argues [1] that The Old Farmer's Almanac is an early prototype for the Internet. The yearly publication served the same functions as a smartphone, such as offering weather predictions, and occupied a similar cultural space. Almanacs are products of a cultural imaginary where the cosmos directly informs events on Earth. Examples include weather-prediction models based on sun-spot activity and the origins of statistics in astronomical science, as well as moon cycles and divination practices such as astrology. Since the first issue of the The Old Farmer's Almanac in 1792, parts of this cosmic imaginary of data and prediction have been amplified and legitimized—they are now called data analytics, or even artificial intelligence. Other parts, such as astrology, have been discarded as illegitimate forms of speculation in breach of scientific rationality.

ins01.gif cover

The publication revisits the almanac to unpack the cosmic imaginary surrounding data and algorithms. The project makes use of contemporary tools used in data science and machine learning to implement divinatory rationalities—algorithmic forms of astrology. It uses astronomical data as the basis for predictions ranging from financial markets to energy infrastructure, gambling, and mundane daily tasks. The project aims to excavate the history of prediction from a new angle, highlighting the mediated nature of algorithmic processes that are usually presented as objective and neutral. frames all predictions as modes of relating events on earth to cosmic forces, interrogating the legitimacy assigned to some forms of speculation over others.

Visit the almanac:

back to top  Further Reading

Benqué, D. Cosmic spreadsheets. in Supra Systems #1. G. Voss, ed. London College of Communication, London, 2018;

Benqué, D. Case Board, Traces, and Chicanes: Diagrams for an Archaeology of Algorithmic Prediction Through Critical Design Practice. Ph.D. thesis. Royal College of Art, 2020;

ins02.gif Electional Astrology is a type of astrology that looks forward for the best days to plan particular tasks or events. In this widget, I translated the criteria for a set of tasks—for example, not to plan meetings when Mercury is retrograde [2]—into code that produces calendars for a specific task/location pair. The criteria are first computed individually before being aggregated into a score, grading each day of the year ahead for the task in question.
ins03.gif Crisis Proximity Index is an astrology based on the 2008 financial crisis. The Index is based on the reference point of August 9, 2007, when BNP Paribas froze three of its investment funds, triggering the first signs of panic among investors. Daily planet positions are compared with this base vector, using distance as an indicator of a possible new crisis. The fluctuation in distances is shown projected on the celestial sphere and as a table, both color-coded to convey a negative (red) or positive (green), respective of the distance decreasing or increasing.
ins04.gif Cosmic Commodity Charts predict prices on commodity futures markets using the positions of the planets of the solar system. Historical price data is used as a target and planet positions from the JPL ephemeris [3] as features to train a support vector regression algorithm. Once the statistical relationship between positions and price is established in the fit of the model, future planet positions from the ephermeris are used to predict future prices. The chart displays the curve for the year ahead and highlights the high and low prices.
ins05.gif Power Grid Harmonics uses elements from financial technical analysis to detect patterns in the U.K. power grid's fluctuations. The theory of "harmonic trading" [4] is a form of technical analysis based on Fibonacci angles and numbers, promising profits by detecting the "natural cycles of the market." I applied these techniques to the frequency of the U.K. power grid, following an algorithmic trading YouTube tutorial to implement them in Python [5]. This suggests some kind of harmony or hum to the fluctuations of electricity.

back to top  References

1. LaFrance, A. How the Old Farmer's Almanac previewed the information age. The Atlantic. Nov. 13, 2015;

2. Orion, R. Astrology for Dummies. 2nd edn. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2007.

3. Folkner, W.M. et al. The planetary and lunar ephemerides DE430 and DE431. IPN Progress Report 42, 196 (2014);

4. Carney, S. The Harmonic Trader., Tucson, AZ, 1999:

5. Python Parseltongue. FOREX Harmonic Pattern Scanning Algorithm Tutorial Series, Youtube, 2017;

back to top  Author

David Benqué is a designer and researcher from Paris, living and working in London. He is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Royal College of Art. His thesis proposes diagrams as a language to critically investigate algorithmic prediction. His research operates through design practice, while borrowing methodology from media archaeology and the digital humanities.

back to top  Footnotes

back to top 

Copyright held by author

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2021 ACM, Inc.