MonthApril 2013

Alan Moore Working on “The Watchmen of Lovecraftian Stories”

neonomicon

For someone who has supposedly turned his back on the comics industry, Alan Moore sure is doing a lot of comics work. He’s currently doing the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen spin-off Nemo, the next LoEG book and a follow-up to his Neonomicon series called Providence. From an interview for The Beat:

At the moment I am swamped in Lovecraft books about – I’ve got nearly every book of criticism that’s been written, that I’ve accumulated over these last six months, so I’m living and breathing Lovecraft. […]

It’s obviously a completely different animal to anything like Watchmen, but there is that point of similarity. It’s starting from – if Lovecraft’s characters, if Lovecraft’s monsters, if Lovecraft’s locales actually existed in A Real World, then what would they really be like, and what would the world be like? So it’s the same premise, but it’s taken me into some very interesting new directions. […]

Having run on at the mouth relatively recently about the appalling standards of research that exist throughout the rest of the comic book industry… I’ve said some very scornful things about some of the other writers in the industry and how – in my opinion – they are completely lazy, that they obviously do not have the respect for their own work that would lead them to actually put a bit of effort into it, and research some things, you know. Don’t just copy everything from an episode of Deadwood that you’ve seen, actually research the American West, find out how people talked. So, having been incredibly nasty and high-handed about many of the other professionals in the industry, I have kind of left myself wide open. If I don’t get every detail of this completely right, then I deserve to get a taste of my own medicine. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have been devilishly thorough in researching this. In the first issue there’s a brief glimpse of a gramophone record, and we’ve got the actual label to paste in, with the record’s serial number on it. I think we briefly see somebody reading a New York Times in the first issue, and it actually is the New York Times for June the 19th, 1919. I’m even – I’ve not actually done this yet, but I’m even trying to check out what the weather was like, which is difficult to establish other than in broad generalities, but I can at least sort out what the sky looked like, and what the phases of the moon were – which is something that Lovecraft used to take pains to do, so I feel that I should as well.

Full Story: Part 1 Part 2

Public Panopticon: A Collection Of Unsecured Web Cams

Cryptogasm has found thousands of unsecured, publicly accessible webcams via Google. Lots of them are doggie day cares, some are pointed at public spaces, some are at work places and quite a few are of private residences. He’s aggregated them all, excepts ones that are pointed at children’s rooms, on a giant page.

You can view the cams here

You can also filter them by location. Here’s Oregon.

You can read more about it in this post, and the FAQ.

This reminds me of a thread from the William Gibson forum a few years ago, where someone discovered a publicly accessible remotely controllable webcam pointed at someone’s office. The forum poster tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate with the guy.

(via Metafilter)

What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

I wrote for Wired:

Inside most companies, the typical health and wellness program includes regular blood pressure checks, a list of fresh foods for the office fridge, and some sort of exercise guru who shows up every so often to tell people they should work out more. If you’re lucky, you might even get some coupons designed to encourage healthier eating — and cut company insurance costs.

But at Citizen — a Portland, Oregon company that designs mobile technology — things are a little different. Employees at the company are now uploading data on how much they exercise, what they eat, and how much they sleep to a central server, as part of an effort to determine whether healthy employees are actually happier and more productive. The ultimate aim is to explicitly show employees how they can improve their work through better personal habits.

This system is called C3PO, short for “Citizen Evolutionary Process Organism.”

“We didn’t think we’d stick with a normal corporate health and wellness program,” says Quinn Simpson, who helped develop the system. “We’re already data visualizers. We already do quantified self.”

Kickstarted by Wired’s Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, the quantified self movement aims to glean more insight into our general well-being through statistics. Typically, this is a personal undertaking, but the same ideas are now moving into the business world. Chris Dancy, a director in the office of the chief technology officer at BMC Software, tracks his life in an effort to prove his worth to employers, and now Citizen is taking things even further.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

I think it would be pretty interesting to participate in something like this, but like many others I worry about what it would be like if there were either mandated or if there was just social pressure to participate. At the moment the Citizen folks are doing this mostly for fun, and as I should have made clear in the article, the only data they have is what you share. You could put completely false information into RunKeeper or a diet tracker.

But at companies like Whole Foods, which offers its employees discounts for having a lower body mass index, things can get Orwellian quick.

Giving Your Love Life To Google Glass And The Hive Mind

Lauren McCarthy

Tim Maly writes:

On January 20, 2013, sometime before 7:45PM, Lauren McCarthy sat down at a table. She was early. She always arrived early. Once she had a spot, she checked her setup. She kept the iPhone in her purse, its camera poking out and angled to capture the whole scene. The iPod touch was kept close at hand. The iPhone was connected to Ustream and Ustream was connected to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The Turk workers had a web form to fill out, which would send texts to the touch. Satisfied that it was all in order, she settled in to wait for her date.

Over the next two hours, McCarthy and an anonymous man went through the motions of a first date, while a rotating series of Turk workers watched the video feed for an average of four minutes and 32 seconds, wrote down what they saw and sent McCarthy instructions, which she tried her best to follow. At 9:24PM, one worker rated the interaction a five out of five, told McCarthy that she should say, “What are you looking for?” and logged the following observations: “man seems to pity her and find her exquisite at the same time. WOMAN SEEMS TO HAVE STUMBLED UPON THE WAY TO LIVE!” For this, the worker was paid $0.25.

Full Story: The Verge: OK, Cupid: giving your love life to Google Glass and the hive mind

See also: Meet the Man Who Sold His Fate to Investors at $1 a Share

Elite Panic: Why Rich People Think All People Are Monsters

Boing Boing has a short excerpt from Rebecca Solnit book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster:

Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don’t become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface — that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.

Full Story: Boing Boing: Elite Panic: why rich people think all people are monsters

First Algae Powered Building Goes Up In Germany

world's first algae powered building

From the press release:

A 15-unit apartment building has been constructed in the German city of Hamburg that has 129 algae filled louvered tanks hanging over the exterior of the south-east and south-west sides of the building—making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects, and named the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the building demonstrates the ability to use algae as a way to heat and cool large buildings.

Full Story: PhysOrg: First Algae Powered Building Goes Up In Hamburg

See also: Are Algae the DIY Answer to Fuel & Food Crises?

When Does a Religion Become a Cult?

Occult America author Mitch Horowitz writes:

Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.

Full Story: Wall Street Journal: When Does a Religion Become a Cult?

Horowitz also recently delivered the State of the Occult Address with Richard Smoley. I haven’t read it, but thought some of you might be interested.

Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill was nominated for a Nebula this year. The story takes place in Portland, OR and there’s a character, called “Emily,” who is only mentioned, never seen, who I suspect is based on Amber Case:

“Breakthroughs?” I pull back without meaning to. “Every month, heck, every week we get some breakthrough. We all rush to try it and blog it and show it off. Aren’t you scared we’re losing our humanity?”

“Oh, but we’re not human anymore! We’ve fragmented into a thousand different species. With every new technology we choose to adopt — or not — there are more of us.”

“You’re spouting Emily again.”

Lisa turns away, goes back to her suitcase. “She’s a brilliant woman.”

“She’s our competitor.”

“Should we miss out on a chance to change the world again, just because Emily works for the wrong corporation?”

On the screen, Dad gets up on his elbows and watches someone approach. A lithe figure and beautiful, strikingly dark against the white sand. A simulacrum of Mom as she once was. The thing can’t even hold a conversation, but Dad doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out a lazy hand and grasps her, and draws her down atop him.

Full Story: Clarkesworld Magazine: Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

Mathematicians Predict the Future With Data From the Past

cliodynamics-chart-660x474

I wrote for Wired:

In Issac Asimov’s classic science fiction saga Foundation, mathematics professor Hari Seldon predicts the future using what he calls psychohistory. Drawing on mathematical models that describe what happened in the past, he anticipates what will happen next, including the fall of the Galactic Empire.

That may seem like fanciful stuff. But Peter Turchin is turning himself into a real-life Hari Seldon — and he’s not alone.

Turchin — a professor at the University of Connecticut — is the driving force behind a field called “cliodynamics,” where scientists and mathematicians analyze history in the hopes of finding patterns they can then use to predict the future. It’s named after Clio, the Greek muse of history.

These academics have the same goals as other historians — “We start with questions that historians have asked for all of history,” Turchin says. “For example: Why do civilizations collapse?” — but they seek to answer these questions quite differently. They use math rather than mere language, and according to Turchin, the prognosis isn’t that far removed from the empire-crushing predictions laid down by Hari Seldon in the Foundation saga. Unless something changes, he says, we’re due for a wave of widespread violence in about 2020, including riots and terrorism. […]

There are competing theories as well. A group of researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute — who practice a discipline called econophysics — have built their own model of political violence and concluded that one simple variable is sufficient to predict instability: food prices. In a paper titled “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East,” they explain that although many other grievances may be aired once the violence begins, the cost of food is the primary trigger. They make a similarly grim prediction: large-scale riots over food, beginning around October of this year.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Mathematicians Predict the Future With Data From the Past

I’d actually recommend reading journal articles I cite before reading my article:

Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780–2010 by Peter Turchin

The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East by Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam.

Also check out Turchin’s blog.

Previously:

Revolution – history and praxis. Technoccult interviews Johnny Brainwash

The Rise of Predictive Policing: Police Using Statistics to Predict Crime

Are We On the Verge of the Next Psychedelic Explosion?

Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them

Palm reader turned cognitive scientist Ray Hyman wrote:

As we have seen, clients will readily accept stock spiels such as those I have presented as unique descriptions of themselves. Many laboratory experiments have demonstrated this effect. Forer (1948) called the tendency to accept as valid a personality sketch on the basis of the client’s willingness to accept it ‘the fallacy of personal validation.” The early studies on personal validation were simply demonstrations to show that students, personnel directors, and others can readily be persuaded to accept a fake sketch as a valid description of themselves. A few studies tried to go beyond the demonstration and tease out factors that influence the acceptability of the fake sketch. Sundberg (1955), for example, gave the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (known as the MMPI) to 44 students. The MMPI is the most carefully standardized personality inventory in the psychologist’s tool kit. Two psychologists, highly experienced in interpreting the outcome of the MMPI, wrote a personality sketch for each student on the basis of his or her test results. Each student then received two personality sketches– the one actually written for him or her– and a fake sketch. When asked to pick which sketch described him or her better, 26 of the 44 students (59 percent) picked the fake sketch!

Sundberg’s study highlights one of the difficulties in this area. A fake, universal sketch can be seen as a better description of oneself than can a uniquely tailored description by trained psychologists based upon one of the best assessment devices we have. This makes personal validation a completely useless procedure. But it makes the life of the character reader and the pseudo psychologist all the easier. His general and universal statements have more persuasive appeal than do the best and most appropriate descriptions that the trained psychologist can come up with.

Full Story: Skeptical Inquirer: Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them

See also: The Forer Effect

An open source personality testing system

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