MonthAugust 2012

Finding Jesus At Burning Man

Pastor Phil Wyman writes about his Christian missionary work at Burning Man:

I see Burning Man as a developing festival culture in American society. Like the children of Israel, who gathered for holy days like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, millions of people throng to festivals such as Burning Man, the Rainbow Gatherings, and Mind Body Spirit. Such events are imbued with a hedonistic party culture, but they often foster a search for deeper spirituality. That spirituality is typically not Christian—it’s not specifically or predominantly anything. Rather, it’s at root the search for meaning. Like the Jews running out to the desert to see John the Baptist, these spiritual seekers run to festivals and find new crazed prophets. [...]

Like others at the festival, we devoted ourselves to building a large art installation—one of more than 300 built on the playa that week. Ours would be something of a sociological experiment. We were looking for people who were hoping to hear something—a still, small voice, perhaps.

I found some friends to help me—Hope Deifell, Dennis Huxley, Scott Veatch, and Matt Bender—and we built something we called Pillars of the Saints. It was an interactive meditation project based on the life of Simeon Stylites, the 5th-century Christian desert father and ascetic mystic. Simeon lived on a pillar for 39 years, seeking God and sharing wisdom with the multitudes who sought him out. Even popes asked for his advice, and Simeon’s work started a small movement of “pillar saints.”

It took us four days to build the installation: three pillars 10 to 12 feet tall and three blank walls with a flame altar in front of each. Each of the elements—the pillars, the walls, and the flame altars—had its own purpose.

Christianity Today: Finding Jesus At Burning Man

(via Al Billings)

The Problem With Men Explaining Things

Rebecca Solnit for Mother Jones:

Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about Al Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to Al Qaeda and no WMD, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

Mother Jones: The Problem With Men Explaining Things

I’ve definitely been “that guy” before. I try not to be. (And yes, as Solnit writes, men do this to each other too — we should stop.)

New Dossier: Paul Laffoley

Geochromechane: The Time-Machine From Earth by Paul Laffoley

Latest dossier is up: Paul Laffoley.

NASA Democratizing Space Research With Android Powered Satellites

NASA's Android powered PhoneSat

I wrote about NASA’s PhoneSat project for Wired:

The first version of NASA’s satellite — PhoneSat 1.0 — costs about $3,500 to build. It’s a coffee-cup-sized cube designed to withstand cosmic radiation, containing an HTC Nexus One phone running the Android operating system, an external radio beacon, external bateries, and a circuit that will reboot the phone if it stops transmitting data — all off-the-shelf commercial parts.

It has been tested under various adverse conditions, such as “thermal-vacuum chambers, vibration and shock tables, sub-orbital rocket flights and high-altitude balloons.” The plan is to launch this month with the modest goal of staying alive long enough to send a few photos back to earth.

The next version, PhoneSats 2.0, will use newer Samsung Nexus S phones and include a two way radio system that will enable researchers to control the satellite from earth. Other enhancements include solar panels and magnetorquer coils.

Last April, NASA sponsored a development contest giving programmers the chance to write Android apps that will run on the PhoneSat. Examples of potential applications include star tracking and radiation monitoring apps.

Wired Enterprise: NASA Builds Your Own Private Satellite — With Google Android

Previously: Want to Do Your Own Space Research Project? ArduSat Wants to Help

High Weirdness Today

Whatever happened to all the “kooks” listed in Ivan Stang’s High Weirdness By Mail book? Funny you should ask:

High Weirdness By Mail (HWBM) is a kind of directory of kooks circa 1988, built up during Stang and friends’ hobby of collecting kook literature, a listing of hundreds of addresses that a collector could write to and, either for free for for only a little money, receive some authentic weirdness for their trouble. Some of the addresses are of lone kooks, like Brainbeau (p 160), looking for spread their ideas. Some of the them lead to UFO cults like Unarius (p 50), looking for recruits. Some believe Jesus talks to them personally; whether they’re viewed as lone nutters or respected televangelists seems to depend only on resources. Doesn’t matter, Ivan Stang includes them both. Some are actual hate groups. Many are independent artists, several of which would subsequently hit it big before a wider audience. There are over 320 pages of addresses in the book, and each of them has a short blurb written about them to warn the reader about what he’s in for. Most of the addresses, of course, probably don’t work now. Here, in a kind of metapost, I visit some of the entries and find out where they are now, or if they still exist.

MetaFilter: High Weirdness By Mail

Coders Can’t Put Writers Out Of A Job Yet, But We’d Better Watch Our Backs


Screenshot from Current, see Ethan Zuckerman’s post for an explanation

I wrote for TechCrunch about the way automation and machine learning algorithms may start putting writers out of jobs:

Discovering news stories is actually the business that Narrative Science wants to get into, according to Wired, and CTO Kristian Hammond believes finding more stories will actually create more jobs for journalists. I’m not so sure. It will depend on a few things, like how much more efficient writers can be made through technology and how much risk publishers will take on “unproven” story ideas vs. safe computer generated ideas. The idea behind Current was that it could help publishers find lucrative stories to run to subsidize more substantial reporting. Of course publications will continue to run original, differentiating human written reporting. But the amount resources dedicated to that sort of content may change, depending on the economics of automation.

And the possibilities get weirder. Look at drone journalism. Today drones, if they are used at all, are just used to extend journalists capabilities, not to make us more efficient or replace us. But how could drones change, say, event or travel coverage in coming years? Will one reporter with a suitcase full of drones and a server full of AI algorithms do the work of three?

TechCrunch: Coders Can’t Put Writers Out Of A Job Yet, But We’d Better Watch Our Backs

Previously: DARPA Training Computers to Write Dossiers

‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home

come and take it

Earlier this month, Wilson and a small group of friends who call themselves “Defense Distributed” launched an initiative they’ve dubbed the “ Wiki Weapon Project.” They’re seeking to raise $20,000 to design and release blueprints for a plastic gun anyone can create with an open-source 3D printer known as the RepRap that can be bought for less than $1,000. If all goes according to plan, the thousands of owners of those cheap 3D printers, which extrude thin threads of melted plastic into layers that add up to precisely-shaped three-dimensional objects, will be able to turn the project’s CAD designs into an operational gun capable of firing a standard .22 caliber bullet, all in the privacy of their own garage.

“We want to show this principle: That a handgun is printable,” says Wilson, a 24-year-old second-year law student at the University of Texas. “You don’t need to be able to put 200 rounds through it…It only has to fire once. But even if the design is a little unworkable, it doesn’t matter, as long as it has that guarantee of lethality.”

Forbes: ‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home

As the article notes, someone has already managed to print a working lower receiver (ie, the important part) for a rifle.

India’s SMS Hoax Panic: Could It Happen In The U.S.?

I talked with Shlok Vaidya about what conditions would lead to an “SMS panic” like the one last week in India. There’s also a cameo by John Robb in there:

Trying to think of something that fit the mold of what happened in India, I asked Vaidya about the calls for Obama’s birth certificate in the U.S. Those rumors are more difficult to debunk because the target audience was already distrustful of the government and mainstream media, and right wing institutions were either slow to distance themselves from the demands and rumors or propagated them themselves. So even once the birth certificate and a Hawaiian newspaper birth announcement were made available, so-called “Birthers” weren’t convinced and claimed the birth certificate was fake and/or called to see a long form birth certificate.

Some Birthers will never be convinced, no matter what evidence is produced. This is similar to the problem in India: no one could prove conclusively that the northeasterners weren’t in danger. Any attempt to engage with Birthers and conspiracy theorists, such as such as Cass Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltration” proposal is likely to backfire and make them even more paranoid.

TechCrunch: India’s SMS Hoax Panic: Could It Happen In The U.S.?

Parody: League of Extraordinary Gentlepersons

League of Extraordinary Gentlepersons

Why should Alan Moore get to have all the fun?

Plot details here.

Previously: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1988

DARPA Has Seen the Future of Computing … And It’s Analog

DARPA UPSIDE analog processors

By definition, a computer is a machine that processes and stores data as ones and zeroes. But the U.S. Department of Defense wants to tear up that definition and start from scratch.

Through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the DoD is funding a new program called UPSIDE, short for Unconventional Processing of Signals for Intelligent Data Exploitation. Basically, the program will investigate a brand-new way of doing computing without the digital processors that have come to define computing as we know it.

The aim is to build computer chips that are a whole lot more power-efficient than today’s processors — even if they make mistakes every now and then.

The way Darpa sees it, today’s computers — especially those used by mobile spy cameras in drones and helicopters that have to do a lot of image processing — are starting to hit a dead end. The problem isn’t processing. It’s power, says Daniel Hammerstrom, the Darpa program manager behind UPSIDE. And it’s been brewing for more than a decade.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Darpa Has Seen the Future of Computing … And It’s Analog

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