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Mindful Cyborgs: E-Waste Redux and the Early Days of Social Media

This week on Chris Dancy and I talk about my e-waste in the Internet of Things article, “organic reach” on Facebook and how today’s social web is different from the social software of the early days of the net, such as IRC and Usenet.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: From IRC to E-Waste Rapid Communion begets Complexity

What exactly goes on in the brain of a writer?

The New York Times reports on fMRI studies on what exactly goes on in the brain while people write. The first version of the study was conducted with amateur writers. The second was conducted with experienced creative writers. The researchers found that there were differences between the brain regions used while brainstorming and actually writing, and between the amateurs and professionals. But not everyone is impressed with the research:

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, was skeptical that the experiments could provide a clear picture of creativity. “It’s a messy comparison,” he said.

Dr. Pinker pointed out that the activity that Dr. Lotze saw during creative writing could be common to writing in general — or perhaps to any kind of thinking that requires more focus than copying. A better comparison would have been between writing a fictional story and writing an essay about some factual information.

Full Story: New York Times: This Is Your Brain on Writing

I’ll be giving a presentation on the Tarot at the Weird Shift gallery on Saturday

I probably should have mentioned this before, but I’ll be giving a “microtalk” on the Tarot this Saturday at the Weird Shift Storefront.” More specifically, I’ll be talking about the possible origins of the Tarot and the sources of the imagery from the earliest decks. No one knows for sure, but most scholars dismiss the idea that the cards were originally used for divination and doubt that it contained deliberately kabbalistic symbolism. But the alternate theories I’ll present are just as interesting.

The event will start at 7:30pm, but I don’t know when I’ll be speaking.

The Psychedelic Salt Mines of Russia

Psychedelic Russian salt mines

Russian psychedelic salt mine

Deep beneath the Russian industrial city of Yekaterinburg is what looks like an exquisitely painted temple from some magnificent forgotten civilization. But the psychedelic stripes of color that snake through these vast tunnels are actually an incredible naturally occurring phenomenon.

The miles of colorful passageways were once a salt mine deep underneath the Earth’s crust. The bold stripes that electrify the walls are made up of layers of a mineral called carnallite, which is used in plant fertilization and can appear in a rainbow of colors, aol.com reports.

More Pictures and Information: The Weather Channel: Psychedelic Salt Mines of Yekaterinburg, Russia, Captured by Photographer Mikhail Mishainik

Even more photos on Visual News

(Thanks Skry!)

Mindful Cyborgs talk with Kate Darling About Legal Rights for Robots

This week Chris Dancy and I talk with MIT Media Lab researcher Kate Darling about the case for legal protections for robots.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Emoji-ing Robots Seek to Fathom Their Origin

A Weird Hum Is Driving People Insane — And Nobody Knows What’s Causing It

The Hum

Jared Keller writes:

“The Hum” refers to a mysterious sound heard in places around the world by a small fraction of a local population. It’s characterized by a persistent and invasive low-frequency rumbling or droning noise often accompanied by vibrations. While reports of “unidentified humming sounds” pop up in scientific literature dating back to the 1830s, modern manifestations of the contemporary hum have been widely reported by national media in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia since the early 1970s.

Regional experiences of the phenomenon vary, and the Hum is often prefixed with the region where the problem centers, like the “Windsor Hum” in Ontario, Canada, the “Taos Hum” in New Mexico, or the “Auckland Hum” for Auckland, New Zealand. Somewhere between 2 and 10% of people can hear the Hum, and inside isolation is no escape. Most sufferers find the noise to be more disturbing indoors and at night. Much to their dismay, the source of the mysterious humming is virtually untraceable.

Full Story: Policy.Mic: A Mysterious Sound Is Driving People Insane — And Nobody Knows What’s Causing It

(Thanks Skry)

See also:

The Hum (Wikipedia)

A website dedicated to the Hum

The World Hum Map and Database

Data Doppelgängers and the Uncanny Valley of Personalization

Sara Watson writes:

“What is it about my data that suggests I might be a good fit for an anorexia study?” That’s the question my friend Jean asked me after she saw this targeted advertisement on her Facebook profile: [...]

She came up with a pretty good hypothesis. Jean is an MIT computer scientist who works on privacy programming languages. Because of her advocacy work on graduate student mental health, her browsing history and status updates are full of links to resources that might suggest she’s looking for help. Maybe Facebook inferred what Jean cares about, but not why.

Days later, I saw a similar ad. Unlike Jean, I didn’t have a good explanation for why I might have been targeted for the ad, which led me to believe that it could be broadly aimed at all women between the ages of 18 and 45 in the greater Boston area. (When I clicked to learn more about the study, this was listed as the target demographic.)

Still, it left us both with the unsettling feeling that something in our data suggests anorexia

Full Story: Data Doppelgängers and the Uncanny Valley of Personalization

See also: Facebook Could Decide an Election Without Anyone Ever Finding Out:
The scary future of digital gerrymandering—and how to prevent it

Mutation Vectors 6/21/2014

Jason Leopold

Mutation Vectors is a weekly rundown of my media diet, and occasionally other other random thoughts.

Journalism

This week’s must read: There is nothing you must read this week. Feel free to take the weekend off. But if you must read something, I liked Matter’s profile of journalist Jason Leopold. I also like Rusty Foster’s thoughts on the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mozilla trying to to fix online comments in this Daily Dot story:

What they want is “community ownership”—a large group of people with a sense of investment in the community, around the NYT or the Post or whatever. But the only way to do that is to give up a lot of control to the community, and I don’t think what has to be done to really build community ownership is compatible with the mission of a news organization. Essentially the NYT should not be Reddit. The NYT, just by being what it is, already is a million times more valuable to humanity than Reddit—becoming Reddit is not the way forward. [...]

Social media ate all of that up, which in my opinion is a good thing. Social media tools turn out to be far better at conversation around media than anything any web site ever built. Social media works because people organize their conversations around people, not media properties. I have my group of friends, and we talk about NYT articles, and Vox articles, and whatever. I don’t want to have separate communities at each of those places.

Of my own stuff this week, I have to say I had fun profiling Metasploit.

Music

Books

I recently finished two books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read before: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim right now.

Poverty isn’t just about money

Maria Konnikova writes:

When we think of poverty, we tend to think about money in isolation: How much does she earn? Is that above or below the poverty line? But the financial part of the equation may not be the single most important factor. “The biggest mistake we make about scarcity,” Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist at Harvard who is a co-author of the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” tells me, “is we view it as a physical phenomenon. It’s not.”

“There are three types of poverty,” he says. “There’s money poverty, there’s time poverty, and there’s bandwidth poverty.” The first is the type we typically associate with the word. The second occurs when the time debt of the sort I incurred starts to pile up.

And the third is the type of attention shortage that is fed by the other two: If I’m focused on the immediate deadline, I don’t have the cognitive resources to spend on mundane tasks or later deadlines. If I’m short on money, I can’t stop thinking about today’s expenses — never mind those in the future. In both cases, I end up making decisions that leave me worse off because I lack the ability to focus properly on anything other than what’s staring me in the face right now, at this exact moment.

Full Story: New York Times: No Money, No Time

See also:

Time Wars

The High Cost of Poverty

The Cognitive Burden of Poverty

The problem isn’t technology, it’s exploitative business models

Former Twitter engineer and Simple co-founder Alex Payne writes in response to yet another rant by venture capitalist Marc Andreesen:

We could go back and forth all day on what exactly defines technological change – I certainly have before. But what labor wants is self-determination, not a slowing of technological change. Taxi drivers protesting Uber aren’t saying that they want apps out of their cabs. They want leverage to negotiate wages and working conditions so they aren’t barely scraping by. The pushback is on exploitative business models, not technology.

“Let markets work”, you say, “so that capital and labor can rapidly reallocate to create new fields and jobs.” Well, we’re three decades into an era of systemic deregulation and financialization. The result? Global recession, lingering structural unemployment, and an accumulation of capital at the top of the economic pyramid. In this climate, capital has indeed “rapidly reallocated” … into hard-to-tax, hard-to-regulate asset classes like fine art. Small business loans are still crunched and austerity reigns while tens of billions in corporate profits sit in off-shore tax shelters.

The “severe macroeconomic down cycle, the credit crisis, deleveraging, and the liquidity trap” that you mention in passing? We “let markets work”, and that’s what we got in return. It’s been a failed experiment for everyone but the 1%. Dismissing “the crisis of inequality” as just a “pessimistic economic theory” has not been, historically, a move that’s gone well for aristocracy.

Full Story: Alex Payne: Dear Marc Andreessen

See also:

Marc Andreessen’s Crude and Nuanced Tech Cynicism

Rusty Foster on Andreessen

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