MonthAugust 2010

American Muslims Have Mainstream Values

Islam

About 9 in 10 American Muslims support progressive policy positions on health care, school funding, the environment, foreign aid and guns. However, smaller majorities take positions on other issues that are very much in line with those of conservatives and religious people. They favor school vouchers (66%), government funding for religious social service groups (70%), making abortion more difficult to obtain (55%), the death penalty (61%), income tax cuts (65%), forcing U.S. citizens to speak English (52%) and even stronger laws to fight terrorism (69%).

So American Muslims tend to be conservative on social and religious issues and liberal on economic and human rights issues, making their attitudes more similar to those of Catholics than to those of conservative Protestants.

Forbes: American Muslims Have Mainstream Values

See also: Will Europe Be Islamafied in 40 Years?

The Nanotech Breakthrough of the Decade?

roll out the nano

Bold claim from Jamais Cascio:

This is likely the biggest technological breakthrough of the year, arguably even of the decade.

A team of researcher from the University of Texas, Dallas, and Australia’s CSIRO has come up with a way to make strong, stable macroscale sheets and ribbons of multiwall nanotubes at a rate of seven meters per minute. These ribbons and sheets, moreover, already display — without optimization of the process — important electronic and physical properties, making them suitable for use in an enormous variety of settings, including artificial muscles, transparent antennas, video displays and solar cells — and many, many more. The breakthrough was announced in the latest edition of Science.

WorldChanging: Ribbons, Sheets and the Nanofuture

(via Chris Arkenberg)

Intel Developing Improved Mind Reading Computers

brain imaging

The current crop of thought-controlled devices relies on users imagining movements, but, according to the Telegraph, Intel is working on technology that will “read” what words users are thinking:

Preliminary tests of the system have shown that the computer can work out words by looking at similar brain patterns and looking for key differences that suggest what the word might be.

Dean Pomerleau, a senior researcher at Intel Laboratories, said that currently, the devices required to get sufficient detail of brain activity were bulky, expensive magnetic resonance scanners, like those used in hospitals.

But he said work was under way to produce smaller pieces of equipment that can be worn as headsets and that can produce the same level of detail.

Telegraph: Computers that read minds are being developed by Intel

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

Greek statues in color

I didn’t even realize they had ever been in color…

Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy can help researchers understand what the paints are made of, and how they looked all that time ago. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light. Everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, like scouts into a foreign land. Inevitably, a few of these scouts do not come back. By noting which wavelengths are absorbed, scientists can determine what materials the substance is made of. Infrared helps determine organic compounds. X-rays, because of their higher energy level, don’t stop for anything less than the heavier elements, like rocks and minerals. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.

i09: Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

… but I think I prefer them without.

Making brains: Reverse engineering the human brain to achieve AI

Brain

An introduction to the concepts and problems with reverse engineering the human brain:

The ongoing debate between PZ Myers and Ray Kurzweil about reverse engineering the human brain is fairly representative of the same debate that’s been going in futurist circles for quite some time now. And as the Myers/Kurzweil conversation attests, there is little consensus on the best way for us to achieve human-equivalent AI.

That said, I have noticed an increasing interest in the whole brain emulation (WBE) approach. Kurzweil’s upcoming book, How the Mind Works and How to Build One, is a good example of this—but hardly the only one. Futurists with a neuroscientific bent have been advocating this approach for years now, most prominently by the European transhumanist camp headed by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg.

While I believe that reverse engineering the human brain is the right approach, I admit that it’s not going to be easy. Nor is it going to be quick. This will be a multi-disciplinary endeavor that will require decades of data collection and the use of technologies that don’t exist yet. And importantly, success won’t come about all at once. This will be an incremental process in which individual developments will provide the foundation for overcoming the next conceptual hurdle.

Sentient Developments: Making brains: Reverse engineering the human brain to achieve AI

Futurama Writer Invented A New Math Theorem Just To Use In The Show

Futurama math theorm

Ken Keeler, the Futurama writer behind the theorem, actually has a PhD in math, so this was probably just a walk in the park for him. But for the rest of us non math geniuses, his theorem was used to explain a problem with an invention that let characters switch bodies. In the show, you can only switch bodies once with the same pair of people, so they needed an equation to prove that with enough switching bodies around, everyone will eventually end up as who they really are. Insert: funny jokes, robot humor and black comedy and mix accordingly.

Gizmodo: Futurama Writer Invented A New Math Theorem Just To Use In The Show

Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload, ca.1550-1700

Old Bookshelf by Marieke Kuijjer
Paper with an interesting abstract:

This article surveys some of the ways in which early modern scholars responded to what they perceived as an overabundance of books. In addition to owning more books and applying selective judgment as well as renewed diligence to their reading and note-taking, scholars devised shortcuts, sometimes based on medieval antecedents. These shortcuts included the use of the alphabetical index, whether printed or handmade, to read a book in parts, and the use of reference books, amanuenses, abbreviations, or the cutting and pasting from printed or manuscript sources to save time and effort in note-taking.

Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload, ca.1550-1700

(via Alexis Madrigal)

Why the Web Isn’t Dead – A Few More Points

At the risk of beating a dead horse and becoming bona-fide member of the slow media, I want to make a few more points about that recent Wired cover story. Some of this may seem like semantics or nit-picking, but I think the details here are important for understanding what is and isn’t happening to the web. (My previous thoughts are here).

What are the defining features of the web?

“It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule.”

Anderson keeps mentioning HTML, HTTP, and port 80 as the key features of the web. I don’t think that’s the case. Quite a lot of apps for iOS, Android and Adobe AIR are built using HTML and, presumably, access data using HTTP over port 80. Even apps that aren’t just glorified shortcuts to a company’s web site (TweetDeck, feed readers, and Instapaper are good examples of great apps that change how we consume web content) don’t seem far off from the typical web experience – they’re just custom browsers, still using the same old ports and protocols. (I could be wrong about those specific apps, but the tendency remains.) What’s really happening is that the browser is becoming invisible – it’s becoming the OS. Which is what web people have been saying would happen all along.

But what, at its core, is “the web”? To me it’s about hypertext – the ability to link and be linked. Interconnectedness. So apps can either be walled gardens – with no way to link or be linked to – or they can incorporate links. If it’s the former, then they’re no longer part of the web. If it’s the latter – isn’t it still the web?

It might not be this way forever, but the New York Times iOS app (at least as it runs on my iPod Touch) has outbound links (which open within the NYT app), and the ability to e-mail, text, Tweet or copy permalinks to the stories you read in the app (but if you open the links from your e-mail on your iOS device, they open in Safari and not in the NYT app). So even if it’s not using HTML, HTTP and port 80 (and I’m pretty sure it actually is), it’s still providing a rich hypertext experience. It’s still, all in all, the web.

Facebook is searchable by Google

“It’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule.”

It should also be noted that Facebook is searchable by Google now. So are Twitter, Tumblr, and most other big name social media sites. Mobile and desktop apps aren’t, but again – most of the apps there are still pulling content from or pushing content to the open web, where it’s being crawled by Google. Facebook has been pushing to make profiles public specifically to court more search engine traffic. Certainly there’s a lot of data that Facebook generates that it holds onto itself – all that data that’s going into its Open Graph project. That’s how it generates value. But it’s still an ad-supported system that depends on getting targeted traffic – and search seems to be a part of its strategy.

It may also be worth noting that The New York Times shut down its previous walled garden experiment in order to get more search traffic. The current semi-permeable wall idea is designed in part to encourage search traffic and link sharing.

Of course others, like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, both of which have had semi-permiable pay-walls, are going the opposite direction. So it remains to be seen which model will win. It seems likely that pay-walls will work for some content but not for others. It’s hard to imagine the Wired article in question getting so much traction and generating so much debate in a world of walled off, stand alone apps with no links.

The link is still the currency of social media

“Facebook became a parallel world to the Web, an experience that was vastly different and arguably more fulfilling and compelling and that consumed the time previously spent idly drifting from site to site.”

I’m not sure this is entirely true either. What exactly do people do on Facebook? A lot of different stuff, but one of those things is sharing links. The same is true on other social media sites. “Giving good link,” as Jay Rosen calls it, is still the best way to be popular on Twitter. Links – whether to articles, videos, or whatever – are still what generate activity on social media sites. True you can do more and more within Facebook without ever having to refer out to any external content, but it’s hard to imagine the value of the link diminishing enough for it to vanish from the social media ecosystem altogether any time soon.

The social graph only goes so far

Social media is a key way to find new links, but it’s not the only way and isn’t always the best way. Some of the “search is dead” sorts of articles that have been floating around about Google lately seem to believe that you can replace search with your “social graph.” You just ask your friends “Hey, where’s a good place to get a smoothie around here?” or “What kind of cell phone should I buy?” and you get your answer.

But that just isn’t the reality of the situation. I recently bought a Samsung Vibrant. If I’d been depending on my “social graph” I’d never have bought it since no one I knew had one. I had to depend on search engines to find reviews. I did an experiment the other day – I asked if anyone had an ASUS UL30A-X5 or knew someone who had one. This laptop wasn’t as new a product as the Vibrant. Also, it was part of the line of laptops Engadget called laptop of the year in 2009. So it seemed plausible that in my network Twitter followers and Facebook friends (over 1,000 people combined), including lots and lots of geeks and tech savvy people, SOMEONE would either have one or know someone who did. But no one did. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything.

And consumer electronics are a relatively un-obscure interest of mine. If I’d asked my social graph if they knew of any essays comparing Giotto’s Allegories of the Vices and the Virtues to the tarot, would anyone have been able to point me towards this essay? Maybe, but sometimes it’s easier to to just fucking Google it.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of answers through my friends via social media. But it’s not a replacement for Google. (And while there might not be much room for Google to grow its search business, it’s far from irrelevant.)

How open has the Internet ever been?

First it was getting listed by Yahoo!, then it was getting a good ranking in Google, now it’s getting into the Apple App Store. In each case, the platform owner benefited more than the person trying to get listed. This is not new. That certain sites – like Facebook at YouTube – have become large platforms is certainly interesting. That Apple, Facebook and Google have a disproportionate say over what gets seen on the Internet is problematic, definitely. But there was never any golden age when the Net was truly open. The physical infrastructure is owned by giant corporations, and ICANN is loosely controlled by the US government. And the biggest threat to openness on the Internet is international agreement that has nothing to do with the shift to apps.

Furthermore, even the App Store is open in a certain sense. It’s important to remember that Apple didn’t invent the app store – or even the mobile app store. They’ve been around for quite a while. I had a plain non-smart phone on Verizon that had access to an app store. Part of what made Apple’s app store successful though is that anyone could buy the SDK and submit apps to it. You didn’t have to be invited, and the cost wasn’t prohibitive. Very few developers could develop apps for that old Verizon store. In that sense, the app store is extremely “open.”

What do we need to do to ensure the app and post-app ecologies are “open”?

Even if we are going to see the end of the Open Web, replaced instead by an app economy or later an object ecosystem, we don’t need to have a closed Internet. Here are some of the keys to an open future:

-Open Data
-Open APIs
-Data Portability
-Net Neutrality
-Disclosure of data collection and usage
-Open-source apps and objects
An independent Internet

Scammers Draining Bank Accounts Through iTunes and PayPal

Hacked iTunes

According to TechCrunch, scammers are exploiting iTunes accounts linked to PayPal:

Reports are appearing this morning about a major security hole in iTunes accounts linked to PayPal. At least one group of scammers has found a way to charge thousands of dollars to iTunes accounts through PayPal. One targeted customer told us, “My account was charged over $4700. I called security at PayPal and was told a large number of iTunes store accounts were compromised.” His email was filled with nearly 50 receipts from PayPall for $99.99 each. He was able to catch it before his bank disbursed funds to PayPal.

TechCrunch: Fraudsters Drain PayPal Accounts Through iTunes

No details yet on how the accounts were compromised.

Steve Jobs on Web Objects, Media Democratization in 1996

Longtime readers know I’m no fan of Steve Jobs, but this 1996 interview in Wired – from when he was still at NeXT – is brilliant. It explains a lot about where he’s coming from now.

Now Jobs is making a third guess about the future. His passion these days is for objects. Objects are software modules that can be combined into new applications (see “Get Ready for Web Objects”), much as pieces of Lego are built into toy houses. Jobs argues that objects are the key to keeping up with the exponential growth of the World Wide Web. And it’s commerce, he says, that will fuel the next phase of the Web explosion.

WebObjects

WebObjects is still around – it’s a web application framework closer to Ruby on Rails than Momcomp or JackBe. But I have to hand it to him, he was ahead of the times. Remember that Jobs’ original vision for the iPhone was based around mobile web apps, not the app store.

More highlights:

The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.

That’s going to break people’s hearts.

I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important. […]

I don’t see most people using the Web to get more information. We’re already in information overload. No matter how much information the Web can dish out, most people get far more information than they can assimilate anyway. […]

To be honest, most people who have something to say get published now. […]

When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth. […]

I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what’s happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don’t seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids.

Wired: The Next Insanely Great Thing

(via Chris Jones)

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