September 30, 2005
Religion: Good or Bad?
One of those big-ass philosophical questions that occasionally makes its way into my head is whether religion is a net positive or a net negative for society. Of course, religion is cited as the force behind some of the most awesome acts of human altruism. And of course, religion is cited as the force behind some of the most despicable acts of human destruction. A study published in the Journal of Religion and Society has the balance tipped towards religion as a net negative. I bet we could totally solve this question once and for all right here in the comments.
So, religion: good or bad? Go!
That's a Lot of TV
I challenge the conventional understanding of this new report from Nielsen. The main finding is that American households watch, on average, eight hours and 11 minutes of TV a day, so everybody is like: "Whoah, TV still rules!"
And of course it does. But the thing you have to remember is that this average includes a huge number of senior citizens who do nothing but watch TV all day, every day. And of course we have more senior citizens than ever before. So they're skewing the figure way up.
I'd be very curious to see a histogram of average TV-watching sliced up by age cohort instead of this monolithic number. I suspect that the 18-25 average, for instance, is still huge, but not that huge. Not even close.
September 29, 2005
Indigo Prophecy Released
Remember that awesome-sounding game called
Fahrenheit Indigo Prophecy I told you about last June (and updated you on in April)? It's finally out, and fortunately, it still sounds awesome. And it's got a super-respectable MetaCritic score of 85. Sadly, my PS2's in storage till Monday. Still gonna buy it though. (Via Grand Text Auto, which also tags to a long piece by the game's creator about the process of developing it.)
I can't believe I haven't run across this before. Six wonderful articles about how news organizations grossly mismanage information (a personal hobby horse). The series was linked from today's E&P interview with Mr. Holovaty.
Best Movie Trailer in the World
September 28, 2005
The Waiter Sneaks Up Silently Behind You
I believe that the old saying "everyone has a story to tell" is, in fact, untrue.
What everyone really has hidden deep within them is a theme restaurant.
And I so wish this one was mine.
$100 Laptop Photos
I really hope this happens. I really hope this happens. The folks at the MIT Media Lab have been talking about this $100 laptop for what seems like forever. Today they released some photos of their prototype (see the gallery). Nicholas Negroponte calls the project the most important thing he's ever done in his life. I think I agree. How awesome would it be if millions of very poor people could have WiFi-enabled laptops with their regenerative power supplies? (Via if:book.)
September 27, 2005
I Still Contend No One Actually Listens to Podcasts
All Kurzweil, All the Time
So Robin got to hear Ray Kurzweil. Jealous? Want some of that Kurzweil action for yourself? Try listening to a lecture he gave in May in Boston. WGBH, Boston's super-awesome public radio station, podcasts its weekly lecture series on its Web site. The lectures are all over the map, from panel discussions with the folks behind The Little Prince opera to interviews with some pretty cool authors. A handy alternative to C-SPAN's Booknotes, which also rocks. (Via Learning the Lessons of Nixon.)
Highly Localized Content Monetization
I'm not sure exactly what John Blossom's talking about, but he mentions EPIC. Must be something brilliant. (Via Read/Write Web.)
September 25, 2005
Waiting for Nanobot
Ray Kurzweil's most stunning observation is also his simplest:
When you're dealing with a process that grows exponentially, everything happens at the last minute. Think about it: If things double with every step, then you can be just one step away from completion but still only half-done. So it's misleading (perhaps even unnerving) when you're stuck inside the process, racing through the eleventh hour, and it looks like you're going to fall way short. But trust the exponent, Kurzweil says, because it rules everything.
And he has lots and lots of graphs to back it up.
All of Kurzweil's exponential traceries have to do with information technology. But that's okay, he says, because everything is just information technology -- or if it's not yet, it soon will be.
Going further: Kurzweil thinks the purpose of life is the expansion of knowledge. (It's a very Googly outlook -- and sure enough, Kurzweil has nothing but glowing things to say about the Goog.) So his story is actually pretty simple: Information technology grows at an exponential pace. It carries us with it into a future of omniscience and omnipotence. Done and done!
That's pretty broad, but Kurzweil doesn't shy away from specific predictions, either. By 2010, he says:
- Computers will disappear;
- images will be written directly to our retinas;
- we'll have a high bandwidth connection to the internet at all times
- electronics will so tiny they're embedded in the environment, our clothing, our eyeglasses;
- we'll have full immersion visual-auditory virtual reality;
- and augmented real reality, too;
- we'll use virtual personalities as a primary interface; and
- we'll have effective language technologies.
Beyond that? The nanobot revolution. Artificial blood cells that make Olympians of us all. Radical life extension. The transcendence of biology. Expansion of human (or neo-human or whatever) civilization out into the cosmos. Then the omniscience/omnipotence thing.
Okay. That's Kurzweil. Now it's the snarkotron's turn.... Read more ....
Sent From the Future to Rescue the Past
Motorola's new RAZR, due out by the end of this year, has a 2-megapixel camera, another camera just for video, and can play back approximately any kind of media file. Hellz yeah.
September 24, 2005
I ♥ Oprah
Chief among the tics of humankind that drive me to distraction is Oprah-bashing. She's too rich. She doesn't help the world enough. Her book club popularizes cheap literature.
That last one makes me absolutely insane. Not just because it unforgivably devalues some amazing authors, and not just because it bespeaks an unsufferable elitism, not just because it feels like a deep, indirect insult to the folks I know who got a lot out of the club.
It chafed me most because what Oprah was doing -- constructive an alternative, contemporary canon -- thrilled me. I'm kind of an inveterate detractor of The Canon, in general. Lists of recommended texts are useful, of course. But anything purporting to be The Authoritative List of Greatest Works is simply a religious artifact, founded entirely on faith. The way I see it, we each have a canon. The task of constructing it, work by work, to form a lens onto the world is part of why we keep reading our entire lives.
Of course, the idea that each person has her own canon subverts the Canon entirely. Of course, I'm all for that, 'cause I think the idea of the Canon subverts literature entirely. The idea that there's one complete list of Works To Be Read strikes me as anti-literary. (I understand the Canon is intended to be a basis for further enlightenment or whatever, but I don't think that's how most people who are not Harold Bloom treat it. His Western Canon is long enough to occupy most people for the majority of their lives.)
I was disappointed to hear that Oprah was abandoning the initial contemporary focus of her book club for a seemingly safer "classics" approach. It felt like she was retreating from the exciting business of creating her own canon and falling back on this boring old Canon that already exists. So I'm delighted to hear the real Oprah's Book Club is back.
Yes, there are great books. No, The Celestine Prophecy is pretty inarguably not the literary equal of, say, Remembrance of Things Past. But I can imagine a canon that includes the former and not the latter. And cheers to that.
September 23, 2005
Another Peek Into the Mind of God
The Comments Club
Interesting. Some of the Gawker Media blogs (LifeHacker, Gawker, and Gizmodo) have started including comments, but only by invited users. It's a Gmail-like invite system, the FAQ explains, where these special invitees get more invitations to give to trusted friends and cyberacquaintances. (Via Steve Rubel.)
September 22, 2005
Blessing the Child
Good LORD. This interview with Hayao Miyazaki in the Guardian is one the best things I've read in a long, long time. Make sure you read the last few paragraphs, because they are killer.
September 21, 2005
Awesome Tools of the Day
This is an old link, but seeing as I need to decorate my workspace, I've been casting many a curious eye at the Rasterbator, which lets you make giant, nicely pixellated mosaics of any image you've got.
OK, I've written exactly six posts so far in September, and the month is almost over. For those of you who didn't know, this is because I've been in the process of moving to Minneapolis. Ruminations on moving will happen once I'm sitting at my computer in my apartment, which won't happen for at least a week. For now, Robin does a pretty good job, no?
The Singularity begins the moment when humans create a technology more intelligent than themselves. Singularity theorists like Ray Kurzweil argue that the rate of innovation on earth has been increasing exponentially since before we got here, and now rests on the brink of outpacing human ability to keep up with it. When that happens, the theory goes, humans become obsolete and machines take over, innovating faster than we can possibly imagine.
For a primer on the concept, try this Vernor Vinge essay, what some call the first articulation of the Singularity. Vinge is something of a Singularity pessimist; in most of the outcomes he posits, life gets pretty bad for humankind. Kurzweil, whose new book is the catalyst for this post, takes a much cheerier view; the Singularity means humans will pretty much be over mortality, poverty and disease.
The kicker? Whenever they estimate how soon we've got till the Singularity, Vinge, Kurzweil and others talk in terms of years. Not millennia, not centuries, barely even decades. (Vinge: "I'll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030." Kurzweil: "By 2030, a thousand dollars of computation will be about a thousand times more powerful than a human brain.") Folks like Kevin Drum think 30-40 years are a generous estimate. (Drum: "Seems to me that the Singularity should be right on our doorstep, not 40 years away.")
Interestingly, the Long Bet between Kurzweil and Mitchell Kapor on this topic (the very first Long Bet) has folks split exactly 50/50 as to whether it will play out like Kurz says.
More on the Singularity and Kurzweil's book:
- KurzweilAI.net:: Tons of articles from Kurzweil and his fan club.
- InstaPundit: An interview with Kurzweil.
- Acceleration Watch: More Singularity theorists.
September 20, 2005
A Large Volume of Adventures
A bit of blog-wandering just turned up this 2003 speech by the historian David McCullough titled "The Course of Human Events." It's quite good -- and reminds me of a speech I saw McCullough give at Michigan State, an early college "aha!" experience -- but it was actually a line he cited that grabbed me:
What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything.
From Laurence Stern, an Enlightenment novelist. I love it!
September 18, 2005
I was briefly skeptical of Nintendo's new controller design, but this promo just totally changed my mind. It's a little bizarre and over-the-top but I LOVE IT. Or rather, it's a little bizarre and over-the-top and therefore I LOVE IT.
Blogging the United Nations
There is something awesome about the way openDemocracy's Solana Larsen is blogging the big UN summit... I think it's that she's just doing it like any normal person would:
I am sitting in the General Assembly hall, where the UN has conveniently provided wireless internet. The president of Georgia is speaking and no one is listening (sorry Georgia).
There's some really excellent details in there -- go check it out.
September 17, 2005
A neat little two-pager on John Roberts and the right to privacy in the NYT's Week in Review. It really is interesting that we, as a society, take it so seriously, isn't it?
September 15, 2005
I have been meaning to write this post forever -- ever since, in fact, I walked into the Montgomery MUNI station one afternoon several months ago and saw every surface covered with Dove's new ad campaign. I don't know if you've seen it -- the signature image is the one at the top of this post.
My first reaction was totally positive. I was like, hell yeah! Diverse depictions of beauty! Rock on!
But my appraisal soured as I read some criticism. For instance, from Alas (a blog):
Let's not forget how very little Dove is giving us. All the women in the Dove ads are conventionally attractive; all of them are below the average dress size of American women. No one in Dove-land is fat, no one in Dove-land is disabled, and no one in Dove-land has any wrinkles.
And Mind the Gap says:
But at the risk of sounding like a humourless, spoil sport, never satisfied feminist Iím now going to come out and say ďIím not happy.Ē Whatís not to like? Well I donít like the fact that the empowerment is very little, very late, and I donít like the questions about my own feminist thinking which this campaign raises. What really bothers me is not the fact that the Dove campaign is not radical, it is the frightening probability that, in the context of our current culture, this campaign is extremely radical. As feminists, this is what we should be worried about.
I think those are pretty good critiques. But I've been thinking about it -- I think about it every time I see one of the ads, and that's a lot, because they're all over the place -- and on balance I find this campaign to be excellent, for a couple of reasons.... Read more ....
4" x 4" x OH LOOK IT'S IN SPACE
I am in love with California Polytechnic's CubeSat program. For $80,000, you too can have a very small satellite in low-earth orbit.
My CubeSat would be a time-capsule -- it would have a tiny hard drive and would listen for new upload transmissions throughout its life. Then, when given a special command, it would engage its tiny air-thrusters and travel off into space. (You're probably thinking "It wouldn't be able to escape Earth's gravity!" but come on -- an iPod with a jetpack? It most certainly would.)
Any other CubeSat ideas out there?
Yahoo's Instant Search
Not to be a total nerd or anything, but Yahoo's Instant Search is hot.
Type "san francisco weather" or "al pacino" or whatever. I think it's notable for its creativity -- I certainly wasn't sitting around clamoring for this feature, but now that I have it, I'm like, ohhh yeah -- that's pretty handy.
September 14, 2005
Your Parents Help You Hook It Up
The first Zelda commercial (MPEG file). I want to say it's hilariously bad, but I just watched it three times in a row, so I guess on some level it's really, really excellent.
September 13, 2005
English Grad Students Do Webcomics Too
Like Ender's Game, Except for Nerds... Oh, Wait
This summer camp for startups sounds more like an inventive short story than something real. Entrepreneur Paul Graham's crew paid gangs of young coders several thousand bucks to buckle down and create products this summer -- in return, Graham & co. get a 5-7% stake in their companies.
September 12, 2005
In the New Version, Entries Write Themselves
We started Snarkmarket in November 2003. 891 entries, 1425 comments, and about seven billion spam attacks later, it's time to upgrade to the new version of Movable Type. If anything looks weird or doesn't work, that's why. See you in a bit!
Update: Okay, let us know if anything's busted. Other than the "remember me" field on the comments form. Its busted-ness exists in twelve dimensions, five of space and seven of time, and defies unraveling.
Site Discovery of the Day
I just ran across a video game criticism site I have never seen or heard of before -- The New Gamer. Featured on the home page is an essay from June titled discusses God of War: Guilt and Penance in Ancient Greece.
I know it seems too good to be true, but check it out:
While a sense of compassion may not have been what David Jaffe had intended when he created God of War, I'd be lying if I said I felt nothing as I dragged that solider down the hallway to his doom. Despite that, I continued playing -- all the way to the end, never outraged or disappointed in myself enough to cease playing, but then again I had also just solved a 'puzzle', I could revel in the glory that this sacrifice allowed me to dive deeper into the game, and get one more step closer to redemption. But is there redemption for the gamer in a pre-rendered ending?
So yes, it took me about twelve microseconds to add this site's feed to Bloglines.
Familiar Expressions of Unfamiliar Origin
While chatting online with a friend today about language, I ran across this wonderful list of expressions we use everyday with potentially nautical origins, including "by and large," "the whole nine yards," "jury rig," "taken aback," "windfall" and "toe the line."
September 11, 2005
Is Pinki Nankani Involved
Neighbornodes are group message boards on wireless nodes, placed in residential areas and open to the public. These nodes transmit signal for around 300 feet, so everyone within that range has access to the board and can read and post to it. This means that with a Neighbornode you can broadcast a message to roughly everyone whose apartment window is within 300 feet of yours (and has line of sight), and they can broadcast messages back to you. Boards are only accessible from computers that go through the local node.
Additionally, Neighbornodes are linked together, making up a node network to enable the passing of news and information on a street-by-street basis throughout the wider community.
September 10, 2005
U.S. Census data on a Google Map, with a simple interface.
I think I might have just found my religion.
Sack o' Eggs
September 7, 2005
Out, Out, Damn Spot
Matt linked to a gallery of retouched photos a few days ago. Well, just in case you have some fugly snaps of Beyonce lying around and you're wondering, "How can I clean these things up??" -- here you go! Click for an insanely detailed Photoshop tutorial.
They Got It All Wrong!
If the iPod Nano was itself the iTunes phone, then we'd be in business.
The NYT Mag is going to start running comic strips and serialized fiction! SWEET!
September 5, 2005
Mapping New Orleans
From tragedy, a brilliant new kind of resource is born. I've got to say, I think this map-wiki makes more sense to me than any other kind of wiki I've seen before.
Best Word Reference Ever
If only this online dictionary/thesaurus (based on the Project Guttenberg e-text of Webster's Unabridged) were available as a Google Desktop plugin.
September 4, 2005
Objectivity Gives Way to Outrage
As Jack Shafer noted in Slate, reporters -- especially broadcasters -- seem to have abandoned their fealty to the "objective" institutional voice when it comes to Katrina. From the visceral anger of FNC's Shep Smith and CNN's Anderson Cooper to the quiet candor of headlines on WashingtonPost.com, this catastrophe seems to have made journalists visibly mad, and it's showing through the coverage.
I haven't read or heard any complaints. It seems fitting that reporters should be outraged along with the rest of us at the bumbling of those in command. And it seems appropriate that journalists are batting away the lulling equivocations of politicians with the constant reminder that our people are dying unnecessarily and in droves.
What comes to mind again and again is Jehane Noujaim's documentary Control Room, a look at Al Jazeera's coverage of the war in Iraq. Before Control Room, I knew Al Jazeera only as an anti-American propaganda outlet. After Control Room, I wondered how Americans could regard Al Jazeera as any less objective or more jingoistic than our domestic news sources. U.S. news organizations shared the perspective that whether the war was generally "right" or "wrong," U.S. victories in Iraq were always "good." Control Room showed journalists at Al Jazeera questioning this lens, turning the issue back always to the point that overshadowed everything, the only point that seemed salient -- our (their?) people are dying unnecessarily and in droves.
So the folks at Al Jazeera aired the footage of children dying we were mostly spared here in the U.S. And while U.S. news outlets demurred, Al Jazeera baldly speculated about the role oil played in the invasion. From the American perspective, Al Jazeera's coverage felt out-of-balance. But to journalists for whom Iraq had been home, who grew up immersed in the country and its history, this frame is the only one that makes sense.
We know perfect objectivity is impossible. We also know there may be value in striving for it. What we don't remember is how much objective truth is determined by the broadness or narrowness of our frame. In a newsroom entirely contained within the Middle East, the death of a child at the hands of a soldier is only that -- a blameworthy, unmuddied wreck. Stretch your frame across the Atlantic, to a newsroom in Virginia, and that same death becomes a tragic but small part in a "victory," a march forward for democracy.
In a newsroom safe from the ravages of floods and fires, an anchor urges a shakened reporter, "Let's have some perspective." In a giant, too-small dome littered with the bodies of the dead and the waste of the living, the reporter shouts back, "This is perspective." And maybe they're both right.
Update: Howie Kurtz breaks it down.
This link to the Web site of a professional photo retoucher has been floating around for a few days now, but I hadn't clicked on it. When I did ... wow.
It's mostly images of models and celebrities, including many shots of Alicia Keys and Halle Berry. I was actually surprised at how good most of these models looked in the original photograph. I was expecting Attack of the Pores; instead I got Return of the MAC.
What's shocking is exactly what the photo artist has removed or "enhanced" in image after image. He relentlessly edits out things like elbows, wrists, muscles, skin, hair, anything that disrupts the illusion of a perfectly curved body. And it's only by looking at the before and after photos that it would dawn on you, "Wait, this model apparently has no knuckles." It's literally dehumanizing, and not even in a post-post-feminist kind of way.
Talk of the Town
The New Yorker special section on Katrina includes a shell-shocked commentary from New Orleanian Nicholas Lemann as well as from the typically incisive David Remnick, and an illuminating 1987 piece by John McPhee.
September 3, 2005
Logistics and Leadership
Saheli breaks it down in a post titled, aptly, "WTF":
And even if it isn't about race, why the hell is it about poverty? What the bloody hell is up with this? What is up with our system wherein if you are poor you get left behind? The message we're sending the world is that in America, if you are poor, if you don't have a car, if you can't all fit into your car, you will get left behind to die in sewage. As I wrote Tauscher and Boxer and Feinstein--I've never been so ashamed and so dissapointed with my government.
The New AP Wire
Man, you know who's got the best coverage of the Katrina aftermath out there? Boing Boing! (Well, I mean, it's meta-coverage obviously -- they're pointing to other stories -- but the selection is impeccable.)
Not least of which is this pointer to Kanye West's off-the-prompter remarks during NBC's telethon. Amazing.