MonthApril 2014

Media Diet 4/26/2014

Hi everyone. I’ve decided to try doing a weekly round-up of what I’ve been reading, listening to and watching. I’m going to try to post it to the blog every Saturday, which means it will go out to the mailing list on Sundays. It probably won’t always be so long. We’ll see if I actually keep it up or not.

Journalism

Kowloon Walled City

I usually post what I’ve read and found interesting lately to my Twitter account and/or here on Twitter, but apparently I didn’t find much of interest this week other than Jacob Kaplan-Moss’ takedown of Jeff Atwood’s perhaps well intentioned, but still pretty awful, post on what men can do about sexism in the industry.

I also read “Leftism and the Banausic Thinker: From Plato to Verso” by David Auerbach. TL;DR: Auerbach says leftist groups fixate on vaguely defined grand conspiracies like “neolibralism,” and tend to be more about forming cliques based perceived ideological purity than about getting shit done in their communities. Not exactly a new argument. A more interesting question, to me anyway, is whether the right is much different. The vast conspiracy angle is always there, be it communism, godlessness, or The Cathedral. But is there less in-fighting on the right? Is there anything to learn about solidarity from the right, or is all politics and activism doomed to pointless factionalism and the narcissism of small differences?

I was going to write for Wired about the FCC’s new proposed internet rules that would, apparently, do away with net neutrality, but we didn’t really end up having anything to add to the conversation. Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica, though, pointed out what a departure the reported proposal is from what the FCC has previously advocated, and Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM got some details I haven’t seen anywhere else, including confirmation the original Wall Street Journal story that started this whole thing was accurate. (If you don’t know at all what I’m talking about, maybe start with the WSJ story).

Oh, and speaking of the WSJ, they are, oddly enough, hosting a website on the Kowloon Walled City. It’s exactly the sort of Flash-driven, pointlessly pseudo-interactive type of site that drives me nuts: music that autoplays, CPU-gobbling animations that add nothing to the stories, confusingly organized content. I haven’t started exploring it, but there’s probably some interesting stuff in there.

Even though I co-host one, I don’t really listen to podcasts. I’m not sure to fit them into my life now that I hardly ever drive. But I wanted to mention that Justin Picard and Georgina Voss started a podcast about design, futurism and high weirdness called Gin and Innovation that has guests like Deb Chachra, Scott Smith and Eleanor Saitta.

Books

I recently finished reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I liked it, though sometimes the dense prose got in the way of the story telling, and the female parts are at best underdeveloped and at worst, well, bad. But there’s brilliant world building here and some challenging characters. Bacigalupi also published two short stories set in this world, which I haven’t read yet: “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man,” both of which you can find for free on his website.

Comics:

I thought this little web comic by Steve Schaberg was great:

Street Gang by Steve Schaberg

Read the whole thing.

I’m way behind on my comics reading, but I’ve been thinking about how series like Sandman, The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan really represented their respective zeitgeists in some way. They were just so plugged into cultural currents.

So I asked on Twitter which contemporary ongoing creator owned series was the most zeitgeisty. My candidates were: Zero, The Movement, The Private Eye, Prophet, Saga and Templar, Arizona. I’ve not actually read any Saga yet, so I’m not actually sure about it, and though Prophet feels really “now” for some reason, it’s not exactly plugged into contemporary cultural trends. And I hadn’t realized that The Movement has been cancelled.

The crowdsourced recommendations were: COPRA (which I’ve mentioned here before), Lazarus, Manhattan Projects … and even though it’s not creator owned, a couple people mentioned Hawkeye (actually, neither is Prophet, really, nor was Sandman). Of these, I’ve only read COPRA and the first few issues of Hawkeye.

Television and Films:

Electrick Children

I’ve not been watching many new movies lately, but a couple months ago I watched Electrick Children on Netflix and liked it. It’s one of those films where the acting and execution carry a weakly developed plot.

I’m catching up season five of Justified right now.

Music:

thesoftmoon

Weirdly, I’ve not been listening to much music at all lately. Not since December, when The Soft Moon (I prefer their first album) and Chrome (who put out a lost tracks compilation last year) were in heavy rotation.

According to Last.fm, Gridlock and Zomby are about the only things I’ve listened to in the last three months.

Is neuro-skepticism in danger of going too far?

Neuroskeptic points to a recent meta-study of neuroimaging critiques conducted by Martha Farah at the University of Pennsylvania. The blog highlights Farah’s conclusion:

Inferences based on functional brain imaging, whether for basic science or applications, require scrutiny. As we apply such scrutiny, it is important to distinguish between specific criticisms of particular applications or specific studies and wholesale criticisms of the entire enterprise of functional neuroimaging.

In the first category are criticisms aimed at improving the ways in which imaging experiments are designed and the ways in which their results are interpreted. Uncontrolled multiple comparisons, circular analyses and unconstrained reverse inferences are serious problems that undermine the inferences made from brain imaging data. Although the majority of research is not compromised by any of these errors, a substantial minority of published research is, making such criticisms both valid and useful.

In contrast, the more sweeping criticisms of functional imaging concern the method itself and therefore cast doubt on the conclusions of any research carried out with imaging, no matter how well designed and carefully executed. These more wholesale criticisms invoke the hemodynamic nature of the signal being measured, the association of neuroimaging with modular theories of the mind, the statistical nature of brain images, and the color schemes used to make those images seductively alluring.

As mentioned earlier, each of these criticisms contains an element of truth, but overextends that element to mistakenly cast doubt on the validity or utility of functional neuroimaging research as a whole. None of the criticisms reviewed here constitute reasons to reject or even drastically curtail the use of neuroimaging.

Full Story: Neuroskeptic: Brain Scans: Don’t Throw Out The Baby With The Dead Salmon

The full paper is here.

(via Boing Boing)

Today in Drones: Weed Farms, Wi-Fi Hotspots and Graffiti

Katsu's Open Source Graffiti Drone

For the drone spotters out there:

The Independent: Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers:

One such man, an unnamed 33-year-old, told the Halesowen News that after finding a property with a cannabis farm he and his crew either burgle or “tax” the victim.

“They are fair game,” he said. “It is not like I’m using my drone to see if people have nice televisions. I am just after drugs to steal and sell, if you break the law then you enter me and my drone’s world.

“Half the time we don’t even need to use violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury.”

Wired: Darpa Turns Aging Surveillance Drones Into Wi-Fi Hotspots:

A fleet of surveillance drones once deployed in the skies over Iraq is being repurposed to provide aerial Wi-Fi in far-flung corners of the world, according to Darpa.

RQ-7 Shadow drones that the Army flew in Iraq for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions are now becoming wireless hubs for connectivity in remote conflict zones where challenging communication environments can mean the difference between being ambushed and getting reinforcements.

Wired: This Open Source Graffiti Drone Will Give Cops Nightmares:

“What does it mean that I’m able to be throwing these strokes up and across a canvas that is 30 feet wide and is suspended 25 feet in the air?,” he asks. “Painting in these ways just wasn’t previously possible.” Much in the way that smartphones have become an extension of our minds, Katsu wonders if drones could someday serve as a commonplace way to extend our physical selves. Of course, in that sort of drone-filled future, you’d have to imagine that cops would have their own drones, too–anti-graffiti UAVs that chase rogue robot artists through alleyways and across rooftops, or else just clean-up quadcopters that scan walls for illegal art and clean them autonomously with high-powered water weaponry.

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’

NPR reports:

A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely. [...]

These days, seeds are intellectual property. Some are patented as inventions. You need permission from the patent holder to use them, and you’re not supposed to harvest seeds for replanting the next year.

Even university breeders operate under these rules. When Goldwin creates a new variety of onions, carrots or table beets, a technology-transfer arm of the university licenses it to seed companies.

Full Story: NPR: Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’

As the article notes, seed companies also often sell hybrid seeds, which don’t produce identical offspring — think of it as a biological “DRM” system for seeds. It’s sad that “open source” isn’t the norm in agriculture.

Mindful Cyborgs Interviews Douglas Rushkoff on Presentism

We’ve used the phrase “Present Shock” to describe what Mindful Cyborgs is about since the beginning. So obviously it was great to talk with Douglas Rushkoff, who coined the term in his book of the same title last year.

During the interview, we talked about presentism, e-cigarettes and the “male period” dictated by the lunar calendar.

Download and Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Present Shock, Corporitism, and Life in the Digital Media Enviroment

Sleep is the answer for nearly every ailment

Time reports:

Researchers have known for some time that sleep is critical for weight maintenance and hormone balance. And too little sleep is linked to everything from diabetes to heart disease to depression. Recently, the research on sleep has been overwhelming, with mounting evidence that it plays a role in nearly every aspect of health. Beyond chronic illnesses, a child’s behavioral problems at school could be rooted in mild sleep apnea. And studies have shown children with ADHD are more likely to get insufficient sleep. A recent study published in the journal SLEEP found a link between older men with poor sleep quality and cognitive decline. Another study out this week shows sleep is essential in early childhood for development, learning, and the formation and retention of memories. Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen, a pioneer of sleep research at the University of Chicago, once said, “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.”

Full Story: Time: It’s Time to Pay Attention to Sleep, the New Health Frontier

(via Alex Holmes)

Mindful Cyborgs: What Would the Web Look Like if We Built It Today?

On the 25th anniversary of the web, Alex Williams and I talked about what the web might look like if we it were built today. Would it be more like an API than a protocol? Would it have a payment system baked in?

Download and Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 28 – Diasporic Destiny for the 21st Century Mind

Copra Issue 1 Now Online for Free

COPRA issue 1

The first Michel Fiffe’s beautiful Suicide Squad inspired indie comic Copra is now online for free.

Mindful Cyborgs: The Trial of Humanity

This week Alex Williams, Chris Dancy and I talk about the “app backlash,” touchy subjects like marginalization and what Chris calls the coming “Trial of Humanity.”

Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes Do Webcomic for the BBC

The Key by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes

The Key is a short, wordless webcomic by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes and published by the BBC.

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