April 30, 2007
Thinking and Feeling
The Boston Globe's Ideas section rocks out with a great piece on emotional reasoning -- with quite a bit of history of cognitive science thrown in:
Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC, has played a pivotal role in challenging the old assumptions and establishing emotions as an important scientific subject. When Damasio first published his results in the early 1990s, most cognitive scientists assumed that emotions interfered with rational thought. A person without any emotions should be a better thinker, since their cortical computer could process information without any distractions.
But Damasio sought out patients who had suffered brain injuries that prevented them from perceiving their own feelings, and put this idea to the test. The lives of these patients quickly fell apart, he found, because they could not make effective decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. These results suggest that proper thinking requires feeling. Pure reason is a disease.
Somewhat similarly, I've heard claims that our embodiment -- the fact that we have fingers and toes and torsos and a defined, physical 'self' -- is crucial to our intelligence, and that the whole notion of an ephemeral intelligence (like, some Google A.I.) is untenable because of that. Hmm.
Talking Points TV
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is doing a videoblog. It's pretty lo-fi, but I like it, especially because I totally cannot keep up with TPM for the life of me -- just way too much detail -- and this provides a nice distillation. Worth a peek.
April 29, 2007
2007 National Magazine Award Finalists
The Atlantic Rides Again
The Atlantic Monthly, along with Wired, was basically my introduction to the awesome interestingness of the world. So I am happy to see it making some smart new moves on the web:
Decades before Lex Luthor, The Joker, Diabolik, Satanik, Catwoman, Fu Manchu, Doctor Mabuse and all the rest, there was Fantomas, arguably the first costumed super-criminal ever, who terrorized Paris in his monthly magazine appearances.
I've mentioned it before, but Pope's blog is a gem -- full of fun insights and sketches.
Sunday of Wonders
I. Jan Chipchase is a kind of design ethnographer, traveling the world to see how people actually use things in their everyday lives. He takes wonderful pictures along the way -- always with unusual perspectives. He's in Turkey now:
III. Apparently, we've found the Fortress of Solitude -- note the tiny, tiny person in the lower left:
IV. French kids in free fall -- literally:
V. Finally: All that is solid melts into, er, a mess. It'll be slow going in the Bay Area for a while:
April 27, 2007
Look at Me
Ooh, cool research summary over in Cognitive Daily: persuasion, eye contact, differences between men and women, and virtual worlds. Awesome. The specific finding is really interesting; it's worth a peek.
(The brain category on Snarkmarket has been too quiet... trying to rectify.)
April 26, 2007
Hackety Hack makes Ruby sort of like BASIC. From the fellow who brought you Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby, it's a downloadable program (basically the Ruby language, the Gecko browser, and some helpful libraries) designed to introduce geek wannabes to the world of programming. For a slightly less kid-oriented approach, check out Try Ruby, which is a browser-based version of the same thing by the same guy. (MetaFilterrific.)
A Print-Only Newsletter... Just Kidding
I gotta say, the NYT is doing so many things right online these days. For instance, this blog entry from The Caucus strikes me as pitch-perfect:
We are about 45 minutes away from the start of the big Democratic debate in South Carolina. The Timesís Katharine Q. Seelye will be live-blogging all the action from Orangeburg beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
The Timesís Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny will be writing off the debate in South Carolina, for the Web site and of course, for the newspaper.
Note the order. NOTE THE ORDER!
DealBook is also amazing if you're into that sort of thing.
Frothing at the Brain
William Gibson's new book "Spook Country" comes out this summer. I cannot wait. Here is a sneak peek from TIME's nerdblog written by Lev Grossman:
Your heroine is Hollis Henry, a freelance journalist assigned by a Wired-like startup magazine called Node to write about (mysterious, reclusive) artist who creates hologram-installations of historic events on the sites where they actually happened. Gibson's books are usually about his pet topics of the moment, as much as they're about his characters, so here's a brief list of Spook Country's idees fixes: art, forgery, drugs, Manhattan, Los Angeles, large quantities of data, pirates (here I'm quoting the press release), the CIA, tramp freighters, weapons of mass destruction, war profiteers, and "vast amounts of cash leaving the country."
Actually, it kinda sounds like a parody of a William Gibson book, doesn't it? I don't care. I'm in.
April 25, 2007
Behold, the Governor
The Spy in the Aisles
Here's a question for you: Does Wal-Mart have it's own security force? An actual division of the company? Or do they contract a Blackwater-type? Anybody know? I feel like that would be a solid next step. Then would be buying an island.
Except in Wal-Mart's case I feel like the island would be... Australia.
Black Rim Glasses
Ethan Kaplan's blog is consistently good. Witness this post on user-generated content where he brings it around to Walter Benjamin in the end. He is a technology guy (perhaps... THE technology guy?) at Warner Brothers Records, so he straddles the line between new worlds and old in interesting ways. Worth subscribing.
April 24, 2007
Meta Free for All
Stephen Colbert and Sean Penn in a metaphor-off. U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky adjudicates. This might be the greatest thing I have ever seen.
I think Eagle vs. Shark deserves to be the next cult classic. Please patronize it when it comes to a theater near you.
(PS: you don't actually have to wait for the movie to buy the wonderful music of the band that composed its soundtrack, The Phoenix Foundation.)
'But Faith Is Like a Pickpocket'
A blogalogue (ack!) between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan is wrapping up over on the terrific Beliefnet. Here's a bit of Harris:
You want to have things both ways: your faith is reasonable but not in the least bound by reason; it is a matter of utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt; you are still searching for the truth, but your belief in God is immune to any conceivable challenge from the world of evidence. I trust you will ascribe these antinomies to the paradox of faith; but, to my eye, they remain mere contradictions, dressed up in velvet.
If God loves the world, he has a terribly noncommittal way of showing it.
Sullivan's reply is yet to come. Suspense!
Reconstructing Landscapes from Memory
Edwin Zwakman. That is all.
Have not even begun to dig into this Foreign Policy feature yet, but it looks promising: "21 Solutions to Save the World." I'm going to read it tonight but if you get there before me tell me what's good.
Magazines of the World
signandsight translates articles by non-English language authors in Europe (especially Germany) into English. What I like even better, though, are the synthesis: Here's all the smartypants magazines in the U.S. and Europe this week, summarized. Totally cool.
Reminds me of Foreign Policy magazine's reviews of books in foreign languages. The world needs more sites and services like this.
The Other Jane Jacobs
Sure sure, you've heard all about Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of American Cities. It's been totally absorbed by the Conventional Wisdom and, in its way, made harmless: Oh look, a little old lady writing about neighborhoods.
3quarksdaily writes up Jacobs' other books -- the ones that make much larger, and much more radical, macroeconomic claims.
It's no mere recitation, and 3qd writer Alon Levy doesn't let Jacobs go uncriticized. His summation:
Jacobs' policy suggestions span the entire gamut from politically insane to extremely cogent.
I like the sound of that!
April 23, 2007
Warren Ellis Rides Again
Transmet was a work of optimism. It was about Truth, and Authenticity. Doktor Sleepless, frankly, isn't. It's about liars, secrets, fraud and death. We're in a period where we distrust authenticity, because we've just been lied to too much. The minute someone stops being a cartoon and starts being real, we beat the shit out of them.
Ellis's Bad Signal email list consistently reads like the sort of thing one of his future-guerrilla-media characters would write.
April 22, 2007
Best Video Ever
April 20, 2007
Cruel 2 B Kind
There's a great paean to the computer game 'Civilization' over in The Weekly Standard. Be sure to flip to the second page; there's some fun material on Sid Meier, Civilization's creator. In particular I liked this bit:
Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."
There's also this:
"We don't get into glorifying the violence and the gory stuff," says Meier. "That's just not the games that we like to do. I've raised a son and I know all the messages, all the influences, all the things that come into a young person's life, and we're responsible for a part of that. I mean, as game designers, we want people to play our games, so I think we need to take some responsibility for the content and the messages that come through our games."
A Bit of Foolscap, Talking to the Ether
Despite how dorky it looks, I am a little bit excited about this new Amazon.com e-book reader. It's almost entirely because it has high-speed wireless internet access. That's the whole point of an e-reader, I think: If I just want to tote around Harry Potter, books work fine. But if I want to tote around Bloglines... hmm!
April 18, 2007
links for 2007-04-18
Virginia Tech, and Taking Control of Your Representation
A Virginia Tech student named Jason Piatt just looks into his webcam and talks:
I guess the internet's a pretty powerful thing... I didn't realize how many people are really on Facebook and MySpace and all that, but all day long people have been sending me emails, messages, and everything... "I wanna do this interview, I wanna do this interview."
At first it was kinda exciting because I felt like people really care about what I have to say out there... I'm doing somebody some good, I'm making a difference. And then after a while I realized, like, no matter how many times I told the same story, that I just told you... people still wanted to hear it.
And I would tell 'em, I'd say, I don't have anything, you watch CNN right? You see these other things... that's all I got.
Fix an image of the standard cable news presentation in your mind -- helicopter shot, yammering voices, text crawl -- and then watch this. It's riveting.
Update: This is on Current TV now. Here's the broadcast version (a little tighter).
Related: This Ypulse post is fascinating. A Facebook group created as a memorial to one of the VA Tech victims leads with this warning:
**ATTENTION NEWS MEDIA**
NEWS MEDIA DO NOT have permission to use photographs, quotes, or any information from the site, AND you do not have permission to contact group members.
Wow. There's something important going on here.
Print It Out, Fold It Up (But Only in Three Dimensions, Please)
Ooh: SEED has a PDF cribsheet on string theory. I didn't know I needed that 'til just now.
But wait: There are loads of these cribsheets!
Lots of people have been pointing to the demise of Kongo Gumi, a Japanese temple builder. It was the world's oldest business, started in 578.
Wow, there are seriously just three digits in that year.
Here is a list of some other extremely old companies.
What's the world's oldest college? Oldest government (i.e. no revolutions)?
April 17, 2007
The Arcade Fire plays a Parisian freight elevator. Not the original plan, but:
We had discussed dates and places, imagining the Madeleine at night, the knoll at the Ile de la Cite, an old cafe, a roundabout behind the Olympia...We checked the weather every day, put to despair by the cold front that's passing through Paris. We had surveyed the entire inhumane neighborhood from top to bottom, trying to anticipate the crowd, the will power of the group, the cold, and the fatigue. Then suddenly we had a plan. Win asked if there was a freight elevator. We found it, he smiled, and the Take Away Show was no longer in our hands.
Also: Same city, sunnier day, and The Shins hit the streets.
Update: I didn't even notice the guy tearing pages out of a magazine in the background! That's the percussion!
April 16, 2007
In Peacemakers, you play a leader of either Israel or Palestine. To win as Israel, you have to earn a high approval rating with the people of both Israel and Palestine. To win as Palestine, you must win the hearts of both Palestinians and residents of other parts of the world. If your approval rating with either of your constituencies sinks below a given threshold, you lose. The simulation is illustrated with video footage from actual news reports. Ernest Adams writes it up for Gamasutra.
Too... Much... Smartness
This Cornell class-blog, Info 204, is blowing my mind in a sort of cyclical combustion cycle where just as I feel like I've processed one of the posts, another one comes along and everything going BLAM. The class covers "how the social, technological, and natural worlds are connected, and how the study of networks sheds light on these connections."
I'll, Er, Pass
April 15, 2007
Somewhere, There's an Aphorism Just for Me
After seeing Life of Pi yesterday on the shelf, picking it up for the nth time, and perusing the dust jacket, like always, I thought to myself, "I should get this book. It has been recommended to me by many readers I trust. It won the Booker Prize. It sounds like a rollicking good read. It meets the page 69 test." And then I put it back on the shelf. I'm still not sure exactly why, but I think I'm getting closer to an answer: I hate the cover. The illustration makes me unhappy, the fonts make me retch, the color offends me. It is an aesthetic aversion for which I can offer no defense whatsoever. None. I just gotta confess. It's irrational, I know. I'm depriving myself of cultural delights, I understand. But I think something about that cover makes me really not want to read that book. Anyone care to make a similar confession, or am I the only insane one here?
April 13, 2007
Yeah yeah, I know nobody's interested in Bangladesh, but that's why I keep posting these links -- it's the seventh most populous country in the world! And it's a moderate Muslim state! Come on people!
In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is one of two women locked in a bitter, corrupt struggle for power that has spanned decades. Now she and other members of her party, the Awami League, stand accused of murder. Somehow I gotta believe the reaction in Bangladesh is something like: "Yeah... no kidding!"
There is actually no elected (or even quasi-elected) government at all in Bangladesh right now; since early this year it's been under the rule of an interim military government. They're the ones making the accusation, and cleaning house in general. Details from Foreign Policy.
Back in 2001, I remember hearing many, many Bangladeshis say all they really wanted was a Musharraf-style military dictator: a strong authoritarian who could ensure stability. Looks like they might just get it.
(Murder link via Activate, which is consistently sharp and surprising.)
April 12, 2007
48 in 48
Pat Walters at Poynter (yo) is going to the National Writers' Workshop in Hartford this weekend. He's going to drum up 48 writing tips in 48 hours and post them here. I think this is a feat of public education Herculean enough to merit close attention.
(Plus, I've been to the NWWs, and they are seriously always full of good stuff.)
The History of Computer Role-Playing Games
Awesome, awesome, awesome: Matt Barton at Gamasutra is writing an encyclopedic, illustrated history of computer role-playing games. Part one (1980-1983), part two (1985-1993), part three (1994-2004). Open, print, snuggle up in bed.
Everybody's on the Internet
Has anybody out there been to South Korea? Is it actually the future? It sure seems like it.
P.S. Been loving the IFTF blog (that's where this link points) lately. Definitely subscription-worthy.
April 11, 2007
Pictures Tagged 'Bladerunner'
Virtual China looks at Flickr photos tagged shanghai and bladerunner. Also tokyo, london, etc. I love it that that title can be so specifically descriptive.
April 10, 2007
Holy Crap, Best Blog Design Ever
April 9, 2007
Religion vs. Atheism Cage Match
I'm finding this Beliefnet exchange between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan delectable. Just the juicy, metaphor-happy game of Pong alone would be enough to make me happy. But the real fun of it is watching these two completely irreconcilable worldviews in two supremely intelligent heads honestly, respectfully clashing, striving for reconciliation. The thing is, you know that this debate isn't going to solve or change anything, or even end in any reasonably cathartic way, and I don't think I walked away from reading it with a single additional nugget of wisdom in my head. Except maybe that this is the way all hard questions in life should be fought over and decided.
April 8, 2007
Military Jumping Beans
That is all.
links for 2007-04-08
April 5, 2007
Help Me Invent a Need for This Tool
Seriously, this 3D scanning/printing stuff is poised to take off. It seems super-exciting, but the problem is, I have no idea what I would actually want to make with a desktop factory. I am sure this simply betrays a lack of physical imagination on my part. Any ideas?
April 4, 2007
The Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil
I've eaten it.
I just got back from an eight-day vacation in Rio de Janeiro. Having consistently been told to try every unfamiliar fruit we came across, my travelmates and I raided the fruit stands and juice shops for the new and exotic. We appreciated açaí, the crazy caloric berry goop that's somehow acquired a reputation as a quasi-health product. We loved the omnipresence of mango and passion fruit. But the flavor that obsessed us at the juice shops was something the locals called "graviola," which we didn't find at any fruit stands, so we didn't know what it looked like. At the fruit stand, we fell for a spiny, green confection called the custard-apple.
On one of our last days in Rio, we passed by a street market where all kinds of fruit were being sold. There, we discovered a fruit called the "cherimoya," described to us as a hybrid of the graviola and the custard-apple. I bought three.
The cherimoya tastes like a glazed orgasm marinated in ecstasy. "Custard apple" is a reasonable description, although it fails to capture anything of the fruit's divinity; it's got a texture resembling custard, and the apple probably comes closest in taste. Fittingly, one can only eat the cherimoya in little tantalizing bites; the seeds and shape prevent you from taking a mouthful. I'm thinking God added the seeds right after He kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden for eating the thing.
If this had been what Turkish Delight tasted like, I would totally understand Edmund's willingness to become the White Witch's man-whore.
Brazil also brought me my first tastes of ostrich, which was yummy, albeit a tad overhyped; and piranha, which except for the minor thrill of hypothetical cannibalism was unexciting.
Disclaimer: After all this hype, three of you are going to go to Brazil and tell me you find the cherimoya too sweet. To each his own. For you, the graviola, the custard-apple, or the sugar-apple might be the devil's fruit. I'm guessing the entire Annona genus has been forbidden by God.
April 3, 2007
Only for Fellow Ask MeFi Nerds
April 2, 2007
'Souvenirs of the Way We Felt'
Good piece in The Economist about the future of books:
Books are not primarily artefacts, nor necessarily vehicles for ideas. Rather, as Mr Godin puts it, they are "souvenirs of the way we felt"Ě when we read something. That is something that people are likely to go on buying.
That's a good line, and at least a little true, I think.
Books are also expensive wallpaper -- not a bad thing -- and, I swear, little souls, too. It's all just patterns, right? So books are just crude, durable patterns. And probably still the best passage to 1,000 years from now that we've got. Write a book!
April 1, 2007
Doing Things No Human Could Do
Robot bricklayers! I don't know about you, but I always find these industrial robot arms hypnotic: so massive, yet so fast and so precise.
P.S. The link is to the Monocle site. I got a chance to check out the printed magazine this weekend and it is pretty awesome.