Monthly Archives: January 2015

For Your Consideration : Existential Cheese, Patent Morass, Pre-K Loss of Play, and Grief


I once had the good fortune to interview Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys. One of the questions I asked him (because I had 30min to come up with questions and had no idea what I was doing) was “What is your favorite kind of cheese?”

His response “Nacho Cheese.”

Wait. So, nacho cheese is just whatever we believe it is?

I went to Mike Siemienas, spokesman for General Mills (which owns Old El Paso) and these alleged “nacho cheese”-blasted taco shells. “I mean, the team MUST have some way to describe nacho cheese,” I implored. He said that Old El Paso looked at some combination of “light/dark, flavor strength, saltiness, moistness, color, amount, heat/spiciness, texture, crispness, crunchiness.” Ultimately, Siemienas said, “It really is based on what consumers are used to and what they believe nacho cheese flavor is.”

Wait. So, nacho cheese is just whatever we believe it is?  Are you kidding me? Besides bringing up deeper, noncheese-related existential issues, this left me wondering—do people expect nacho cheese to have any particular flavor? Or color? Or texture? Or is it just any cheese that happens to be on nacho chips?

The cheese industry itself didn’t have much to add to the debate. “There really is not a Nacho Cheese per se,” says Sara Hill, manager of cheese education and training at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “There might be some jarred cheese blends on the market that say ‘nacho cheese,’ but again, these are blends that are meant to heat up and dip chips into.”

2. Our System Is So Broken, Almost No Patented Discoveries Ever Get Used | WIRED

Even the most dramatic estimates of the social cost of abusive patent litigation range in the low tens of billions of dollars. But according to a new study by the distinguished economists Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution and Hal Singer of the Progressive Policy Institute—a study I helped to fund—liberating patent licensing from its litigation-focused costs and risks would enable tens of thousands of currently-dormant inventions to be commercialized and conservatively add up to $200 billion a year in increased output to the U.S. economy. That’s at least ten times bigger than the litigation problem, and directly impacts job creation.

Here’s the challenge in a nutshell: innovation drives the economy, but much of the new technical knowledge required for such innovation is contained only in patents. The U.S. patent database is the world’s largest encyclopedia of technology improvements and technology experts in the world. Some of that database is directly relevant to the new products and services that any individual company is working on improving or creating. But the database is too hard to access.

Accessing the knowledge and expertise contained in the patent data-base is not a problem for large Fortune 500 companies. Giant companies have long recognized the value of the patent database and spend millions, and in some instances billions, on dedicated teams and expensive tools to mine the patent database for competitive advantage and effective legal risk management. But for the vast majority of smaller and mid-sized businesses that are responsible for the bulk of U.S. job creation, patents represent not a treasure trove of new technical knowledge but a growing multi-trillion-dollar database filled with infringement risk.

3. Pushing kids to read at the expense of play | Washington Post

I told myself that if I shouldered the push — the benchmarks, the testing, the reporting, the retesting — and set the tone of the room so the children felt a sense of playfulness while they worked hard, then everything was fine, right? I incorporated playdough in the literacy block and little cars in math. I picked funny books so we’d have the chance to laugh, and I gave the kids a lot of high-fives. I taught them to take deep breaths to counteract their decreasing serotonin levels brought on by hours in our lovely but intensely scripted classroom. I took a lot of deep breaths myself, to keep the guilt under control.

Ideally, the children would choose their own questions to investigate. But for most of the day, I chose for them from the required curriculum, then tried to sell it as play. What they heard was song, rhyme and encouraging words, but the sound behind that was something like the insistent chugging of a troop train.

And these kids were relatively lucky as far as mandates. In Virginia, the state kindergarten reading standards are overambitious, to be sure, but they don’t go quite so far as Common Core, which requires 5-year-olds to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” While there are early-childhood programs that have eliminated all play of any kind, I taught in a program that guarded the hour of play on the state-approved schedule and allowed a half-hour of recess. Out on the playground, I could see Josue’s shoulders relax and his eye contact resume.

No wonder early-childhood educators so often burn out. It’s not from working with energetic little kids. It’s that internal lurch between feeling like American education heroes and feeling that we’ve met the enemy, and it is us. Often both before lunch.

4. Hilary Mantel on CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed | Books | The Guardian​

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” With his first line, CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed reacquaints his reader with the physiology of mourning; he brings into each mouth the common taste of private and personal loss. “I know something of this,” you think. Even if you have not experienced a “front line” bereavement, such as the loss of partner, parent or child, you have certainly lost something you value: a marriage or a job, an internal organ or some aspect of mind or body that defines who you are.

Perhaps you have just lost yourself on your way through life, lost your chances or your reputation or your integrity, or chosen to lose bad memories by pushing them into a personal and portable tomb. Perhaps you have merely wasted time, and seethe with frustration because you can’t recall it. The pattern of all losses mirrors the pattern of the gravest losses. Disbelief is followed by numbness, numbness by distraction, despair, exhaustion. Your former life still seems to exist, but you can’t get back to it; there is a glimpse in dreams of those peacock lawns and fountains, but you’re fenced out, and each morning you wake up to the loss over again.

Grief is like fear in the way it gnaws the gut. Your mind is on a short tether, turning round and round. You fear to focus on your grief but cannot concentrate on anything else. You look with incredulity at those going about their ordinary lives. There is a gulf between you and them, as if you had been stranded on an island for lepers; indeed, Lewis wonders whether a grieving person should be put in isolation like a leper, to avoid the awkwardness of encounters with the unbereaved, who don’t know what to say and,
though they feel goodwill, exhibit something like shame.


“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road”- Stewart Brand

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For Your Consideration: Innovation Decadence, The Jennifer Epidemic, Zero-Rating, and Grumbling

1. Does Innovation Arc Toward Decadence?

The original inspiration for such grousing – about progress, not about hippies – came from Robert J. Gordon, a Northwestern University economist whose 2000 paper “Does the ‘New Economy’ Measure Up to the Great Inventions of the Past?” included a damning comparison of the flood of inventions that occurred a century ago with the seeming trickle that we see today. Consider the new products invented in just the ten years between 1876 and 1886: internal combustion engine, electric lightbulb, electric transformer, steam turbine, electric railroad, automobile, telephone, movie camera, phonograph, linotype, roll film (for cameras), dictaphone, cash register, vaccines, reinforced concrete, flush toilets. The typewriter had arrived a few years earlier and the punch-card tabulator would appear a few years later. And then, in short order, came airplanes, radio, air conditioning, the vacuum tube, jet aircraft, television, refrigerators and a raft of other home appliances, as well as revolutionary advances in manufacturing processes. (And let’s not forget The Bomb.) The conditions of life changed utterly between 1890 and 1950, observed Gordon. Between 1950 and today? Not so much.

So why is innovation less impressive today? Maybe Thiel is right, and it’s the fault of hippies, liberals, and other degenerates. Or maybe it’s crappy education. Or a lack of corporate investment in research. Or short-sighted venture capitalists. Or overaggressive lawyers. Or imagination-challenged entrepreneurs. Or maybe it’s a catastrophic loss of mojo. But none of these explanations makes much sense. The aperture of science grows ever wider, after all, even as the commercial and reputational rewards for innovation grow ever larger and the ability to share ideas grows ever stronger. Any barrier to innovation should be swept away by such forces.

Let me float an alternative explanation: There has been no decline in innovation; there has just been a shift in its focus. We’re as creative as ever, but we’ve funneled our creativity into areas that produce smaller-scale, less far-reaching, less visible breakthroughs. And we’ve done that for entirely rational reasons. We’re getting precisely the kind of innovation that we desire – and that we deserve.


2. The Jennifer epidemic: How the spiking popularity of different baby names cycle like genetic drift

“There weren’t therapy sessions, per se. But there were websites that still exist where Jennifers would sort of bond over wishing their names weren’t Jennifer. It was semi-serious,” Ms. Rosenkrantz says.

Parents fight, worry, buy books and devote hours of their time to picking the perfect name. Often, these names have an almost mystical quality about them; the newly impregnated will choose monikers that trace family tradition, or that have deeper symbolism that reflects their own ambitions for their offspring. Socioeconomic status, religion, your parent’s ideology can be divined from the name they gave you.

But nothing puts this kind of magical thinking to shame more than examining one’s name under the cold, hard light of a line graph that shows 765 Jennifers were born in B.C. alone in 1984. Or of knowing that you were one of 859,112 Jennifers born in the U.S. during the peak Jennifer era.

Nothing else highlights how beholden we are to the rule of mathematics, cultural influences, fashion and fads.

“My older son’s name is Tristan. He’s 7, and we thought we were making a very unique choice,” says Matt Hahn, a professor of biology and informatics at Indiana University. He wrote a paper examining how baby names come in and out of fashion, so he has no excuses for this: “We later found out that the median age of the name Tristan is 8.”

Prof. Hahn, along with an archeology professor, tracked the frequency of baby names across generations and came up with a fascinating insight: baby names tended to cycle in and out of popularity with a mathematical frequency that was virtually identical to the rates at which researchers can track genetic drift.

In case you were thinking this may just be Canada, they probably got it from the US. Here are the most popular girls names for every State since 1960.

3. “Zero rating” poses a conundrum for net neutrality advocates around the world

“The zero rating question, here in the USA, is not central” to the net neutrality debate, “but it’s a huge issue elsewhere,” said the Open Technology Institute’s Kehl. “The question of whether or how it fits into network neutrality is one people will struggle with, weighing affordable access through low cost, low bandwidth services, versus whether that prioritization is the unfair, walled garden scenario we’re trying to avoid.”

This faceoff between human rights and network neutrality principles is emerging in dozens of countries, where limited access to some services through free data is balanced against complete access for only those that can afford to pay.

Advocates on both sides of the issues are squaring off, with no clear resolution ahead. Susan Crawford, a law professor, author, and former White House advisor on telecommunications policy, argued in Backchannel in January 2015 that zero rating is “absolutely inappropriate,” and that to allow it presents a human rights issue.

Skorup, however, says that it’s not an exaggeration to say that zero-rated apps can be lifesaving in poorer nations.

What this likely is leading much of humanity towards is the further emergence of haves and have-nots, where inequality is entrenched in differential access to services based upon data. To put it another way, instead of a purely digital divide, there will be a data divide.

In the absence of subsidized data that provides equal access to the entirety of the internet, what seems likely to emerge around the globe is not network neutrality, but network inequality.

4. A Few Notes On Grumbling
I love it when someone spends some time to think about automatic behaviors or social interactions. Here are 3 of 15 insights.

4. The atmosphere of grumbling isn’t necessarily a negative one. Grumbling can be fun. Standup is often grumbly and, like comedians, grumblers demonstrate, through their grumbling, their own intelligence and wit. It’s through drollery and discernment that the Grumbletonian differentiates herself from those tiresomely unimaginative people with “negative attitudes.” Being #grumblecore doesn’t just mean grumbling all the time but grumbling in an entertaining way.

5. Grumbling also forges bonds. In part, that’s because grumbling with someone is risky. When you grumble, you put on a critical performance. That means your grumbling has to be interesting. If it’s not, then it’s just grousing, whining, bellyaching, bitching, moaning, kvetching, or carping—and even people who enjoy grumblers won’t tolerate bellyachers. (The worst offense is wildly off-base grumbling: it reveals you as misinformed, or worse.) On the upside, when you grumble well, you present yourself as someone who has risen above her context, and who looks down upon it with judicious-yet-underappreciated insight.

6. Needless to say, it’s a two-way street. If you’re on the receiving end of a good grumbling, you must immediately respond with interesting grumbles of your own, lest you appear undiscerning and complacent about the circumstances the grumbler has just impugned. Normally, we think of friendships as the fruits of shared interests. But how many friendships are actually grumeblepacts, built upon the solid foundation of mutual grumble-respect?

“It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.” -Theodore Roosevelt


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For Your Consideration : Algorithmic Worship, Fact Obsolescence, Mini-Cyberwar, and Lip Reading

1. The Cathedral of Computation | The Atlantic

The worship of the algorithm is hardly the only example of the theological reversal of the Enlightenment—for another sign, just look at the surfeit of nonfiction books promising insights into “The Science of…” anything, from laughter to marijuana. But algorithms hold a special station in the new technological temple because computers have become our favorite idols.

In fact, our purported efforts to enlighten ourselves about algorithms’ role in our culture sometimes offer an unexpected view into our zealous devotion to them. The media scholar Lev Manovich had this to say about “The Algorithms of Our Lives”:

“Software has become a universal language, the interface to our imagination and the world. What electricity and the combustion engine were to the early 20th century, software is to the early 21st century. I think of it as a layer that permeates contemporary societies.”

This is a common account of algorithmic culture, that software is a fundamental, primary structure of contemporary society. And like any well-delivered sermon, it seems convincing at first. Until we think a little harder about the historical references Manovich invokes, such as electricity and the engine, and how selectively those specimens characterize a prior era. Yes, they were important, but is it fair to call them paramount and exceptional?

2. Warning: Your Reality Is Out Of Date | The Boston Globe

These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.

For these kinds of facts, the analogy of how to boil a frog is apt: Change the temperature quickly, and the frog jumps out of the pot. But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn’t realize that things are getting warmer, until it’s been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information. We recognize rapid change, whether it’s as simple as a fast-moving object or living with the knowledge that humans have walked on the moon. But anything short of large-scale rapid change is often ignored. This is the reason we continue to write the wrong year during the first days of January.

Our schools are biased against mesofacts. The arc of our educational system is to be treated as little generalists when children, absorbing bits of knowledge about everything from biology to social studies to geology. But then, as we grow older, we are encouraged to specialize. This might have been useful in decades past, but in our increasingly fast-paced and interdisciplinary world, lacking an even approximate knowledge of our surroundings is unwise.

Updating your mesofacts can change how you think about the world.

3. Cyber City – The Military Training Ground For Cyberwar | Washington Post
I heard about this in a New Tech City podcast but the linked article is more descriptive.

Creating realistic virtual environments is extraordinarily challenging. In cyberspace, a global network of networks, more than 2 billion people interact with at least 12 billion computers and devices, including global positioning systems, mobile phones, satellites, data routers, ordinary desktop computers, and industrial control computers that run power plants, water systems and more.

In many cyber ranges, the simulated Web servers, routers, mobile phones and other network devices operate essentially as they do in the real world, but they have few if any physical components. The virtual devices simply exist as computer code.

Merit Network Inc., a nonprofit technology group in Michigan, just launched a cyber range at Eastern Michigan University that promises to conduct “live fire” exercises. The Defense Department runs the Information Assurance Range in Stafford County, Va. It gives cyber warriors a safe, closed environment to practice intrusions and security testing.

In Hampshire, England, and Millersville, Md., Northrop Grumman runs cyber ranges that allow corporate and government clients in the United Kingdom and the United States to create models of their own networks and employee activity. Northrop officials liken their systems to flight simulators.

Christopher Valentino, a research and development director in the cyberintelligence division of Northrop Grumman Information Systems, said one key to a successful range is closely approximating the way human psychology plays out on real networks.

“It’s very hard to find ‘normal,’ ” he said.

4. Read My Lips | The Economist

No matter how good voice-recognition software becomes, it will always be hostage to its sonic environment. Ask your digital assistant to dial a number in a quiet office and it might hear the right numbers. Try again near a busy road or at a noisy party and you will probably be disappointed. If only your phone could simply read your lips.

Ahmad Hassanat, an artificial-intelligence researcher at Mu’tah University, in Jordan, has been trying to teach a computer program to do just that. Previous attempts to get computers to lip-read have focused, understandably enough, on the shape and movement of the lips as they produce phonemes (individual sounds like “b”, “ng” or “th”). Such shapes-of-sounds are called visemes. The problem is that there are just a dozen visemes for the 40 to 50 phonemes in English; “pan” and “banned”, for example, look remarkably similar to a lip-reader. That makes it rather taxing to reconstruct words from visemes alone. Instead, Dr Hassanat has been trying for the past few years to detect the visual signature of entire words all at once, using the appearance of the tongue and teeth as well the lips.

Disclaimer: The selections I use to describe the links are snippets, often edited together to better describe the original piece, each of which is worth reading on it’s original site.


“It’s not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas.” – Edwin Land

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For Your Consideration : How To Think, Computational Kindergarten, Post-Industrial Design, and 1980’s Venture Capital

1. How To Think

Thinking is not IQ. When people talk about thinking they make the mistake of thinking that people with high IQs think better. That’s not what I’m talking about. I hate to break it to you but unless you’re trying to get into MENSA, IQ tests don’t matter. That’s not the type of knowledge or brainpower that makes you better at life, happier, or more successful. It’s a measure sure, but a relatively useless one.

If you want to outsmart people who are smarter than you, temperament and life-long learning are more important than IQ.

Two of the guiding principles that I follow on my path towards seeking wisdom are: (1) Go to bed smarter than when you woke up; and (2) I’m not smart enough to figure everything out myself, so I want to ‘master the best of what other people have already figured out.’

Acquiring wisdom, is hard. Learning how to think is hard. It means sifting through information, filtering the bunk, and connecting it to a framework that you can use. A lot of people want to get their opinions from someone else. I know this because whenever anyone blurts out an opinion and I ask why, I get some hastily re-phrased sound-byte that doesn’t contextualize the problem, identify the forces at play, demonstrate differences or similarities with previous situations, consider base rates, or … anything else that would demonstrate some level of thinking. (One of my favorite questions to probe thinking is to ask what information would cause someone to change their mind. Immediately stop listening and leave if they say ‘I can’t think of anything.’)

Thinking is hard work. I get it. You don’t have time to think but that doesn’t mean you get a pass from me. I want to think for myself, thank you.

2. Computational Thinking And Why It’s Important

It’s a grounding in computational thinking—not a facility with the latest feature or product—that fosters future success in the field, whether students go on to become engineers or inventors or entrepreneurs.

That’s a powerful rationale for teaching computational thinking to our young people. But there’s a problem. In conventional computer science instruction, these principles are only accessible to those who learn how to program. This poses a big hurdle, especially for younger students. Enter Computer Science Unplugged, which has been developed at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand over the past two decades.

Professors Tim Bell, Mike Fellows and Ian H. Witten have figured out how to teach the concepts of computer science through games, puzzles and magic tricks. Taking the computer out of the picture—for the time being—allows children as young as five to learn about the basic ideas that undergird computer science. Youngsters can tackle topics as apparently abstruse as algorithms, binary numbers, Boolean circuits, and cryptographic protocols. The activities offered by Computer Science Unplugged are aimed at students in kindergarten through seventh grade, though they have been used by students in high school and even college.

Younger children might learn about “finite state automata”—sequential sets of choices—by following a pirates’ map, dashing around a playground in search of the fastest route to Treasure Island. Older kids can learn how computers compress text to save storage space by taking it upon themselves to compress the text of a book. This is done by marking repetitions of a word within a text, crossing out the word each time it reappears, and drawing an arrow back to its first appearance on the page. (Dr. Seuss books, like Green Eggs and Ham, compress especially efficiently because of their frequent repetitions.)

3. Heat Death: Venture Capital in the 1980s | Reaction Wheel
A fascinating read of the venture funding run of the 80’s

The history repeats itself crowd thinks that that there must be a bubble sooner or later. “Now?” they constantly ask, “Is it a bubble now?” as if history has to repeat whatever was most memorable about the last time. History may repeat itself, but there’s an awful lot of history that this particular venture capital cycle could repeat. Below is a short history of venture capital in the 1980s, my interpretation and comparison to the ’90s and today, and some thoughts about what that means. It’s long. If you’re attention-deprived, skip to ‘1980s v. 1990s’, about four-fifths of the way down.

4. Design for the Post-Industrial Era

Design is entering its golden age. Now, like never before, the value of the discipline is recognized. This recognition is both a welcome change and a challenge for designers as they move to designing for networked systems. Jon Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies, recently sat down with Matt Nish-Lapidus, partner and design director at Normative Design, who contributed to the book. Nish-Lapidus discusses the changing role of design and designers in emerging technology.

As Nish-Lapidus describes, we’re witnessing the evolution of product development from one crafts-person, one customer; to a one crafts-person, many customers; to a one craft-person, one product that many people will customize. He explains how the crafted object and the nature of design has changed, beginning with the pre-industrial era:

“We go from having a single pair of glasses made for a single person, handmade usually, to a pair of glasses designed and then mass-manufactured for a countless number of people, to having a pair of glasses that expresses a lot of different things. On one hand, you have something like Google Glass, which is still mass-produced, but the glasses actually contain embedded functionality. Then we also have, with the emergence of 3D printing and small-scale manufacturing, a return to a little bit of that artisan, one-to-one relationship, where you could get something that someone’s made just for you.”

Disclaimer: The selections I use to describe the links are snippets, often edited together to better describe the original piece, each of which is worth reading on it’s original site.




My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles Kettering

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For Your Consideration : Emotion Sensing Machines, DIY Drugs, and Spider Tanks

1. We know how you feel

Incredibly interesting piece on teaching computers to sense human emotion. I kept thinking about how you could combine this with thermal imaging and voice stress analysis to get a pretty reliable remote lie detector. When would this be admissible in court? Could emotion sensing systems be used on archival video for historians? To review congressional testimony? To analyze CEOs during quarterly meetings to see if they are being truthful or enthusiastic about their prospects?

Affectiva is the most visible among a host of competing boutique startups: Emotient, Realeyes, Sension. After Kaliouby and I sat down, she told me, “I think that, ten years down the line, we won’t remember what it was like when we couldn’t just frown at our device, and our device would say, ‘Oh, you didn’t like that, did you?’ ” She took out an iPad containing a version of Affdex, her company’s signature software, which was simplified to track just four emotional “classifiers”: happy, confused, surprised, and disgusted. The software scans for a face; if there are multiple faces, it isolates each one. It then identifies the face’s main regions—mouth, nose, eyes, eyebrows—and it ascribes points to each, rendering the features in simple geometries. When I looked at myself in the live feed on her iPad, my face was covered in green dots. “We call them deformable and non-deformable points,” she said. “Your lip corners will move all over the place—you can smile, you can smirk—so these points are not very helpful in stabilizing the face. Whereas these points, like this at the tip of your nose, don’t go anywhere.” Serving as anchors, the non-deformable points help judge how far other points move.

Affdex also scans for the shifting texture of skin—the distribution of wrinkles around an eye, or the furrow of a brow—and combines that information with the deformable points to build detailed models of the face as it reacts. The algorithm identifies an emotional expression by comparing it with countless others that it has previously analyzed. “If you smile, for example, it recognizes that you are smiling in real time,” Kaliouby told me. I smiled, and a green bar at the bottom of the screen shot up, indicating the program’s increasing confidence that it had identified the correct expression. “Try looking confused,” she said, and I did. The bar for confusion spiked. “There you go,” she said.

Many companies are moving to take advantage of this shift. “We put together a patent application for a system that could dynamically price advertising depending on how people responded to it,” Kaliouby told me one afternoon. I found more than a hundred other patents for emotion-sensing technology, many of them tied to advertising. Represented: A.O.L., Hitachi, eBay, I.B.M., Yahoo!, and Motorola. Sony had filed several; its researchers anticipated games that build emotional maps of players, combining data from sensors and from social media to create “almost dangerous kinds of interactivity.” There were patents for emotion-sensing vending machines, and for A.T.M.s that would understand if users were “in a relaxed mood,” and receptive to advertising. Anheuser-Busch had designed a responsive beer bottle, because sports fans at games “wishing to use their beverage containers to express emotion are limited to, for example, raising a bottle to express solidarity with a team.”

Not long ago, Verizon drafted plans for a media console packed with sensors, including a thermographic camera (to measure body temperature), an infrared laser (to gauge depth), and a multi-array microphone. By scanning a room, the system could determine the occupants’ age, gender, weight, height, skin color, hair length, facial features, mannerisms, what language they spoke, and whether they had an accent. It could identify pets, furniture, paintings, even a bag of chips. It could track “ambient actions”: eating, exercising, reading, sleeping, cuddling, cleaning, playing a musical instrument. It could probe other devices—to learn what a person might be browsing on the Web, or writing in an e-mail. It could scan for affect, tracking moments of laughter or argument. All this data would then shape the console’s choice of TV ads. A marital fight might prompt an ad for a counsellor. Signs of stress might prompt ads for aromatherapy candles. Upbeat humming might prompt ads “configured to target happy people.” The system could then broadcast the ads to every device in the room.

In 2013, Representative Mike Capuano, of Massachusetts, drafted the We Are Watching You Act, to compel companies to indicate when sensing begins, and to give consumers the right to disable it.

2. DIY Drugs Digital Future

I’ve been asked to do this a dozen times. Every editor said to me, “Can you make us a drug?” and I said, “Yes, but what would the point be?” And they couldn’t give me an answer. [Then] I started talking with Bobby Johnson, an editor at Matter. I said, “What was the point at which, culturally, drugs actually became part of the weave of everyday society?”

My contention would be that that was the birth of LSD and the Beatles and the ’60s. So I thought, What was the first drug experience that the Beatles had? And it was Benzedrine, but I didn’t fancy making Benzedrine [an amphetamine] because it isn’t as unusual.

The legal high story represents a pivotal change in the way that drugs are manufactured, consumed, experienced, and mediated in a society, and I wanted to find a drug that was taken by the man who introduced LSD to the United Kingdom.

There is a picture of the Beatles holding tubes of Preludin. I thought, You know? That’s no different than young kids now posing on Facebook with a pile of mephredrone—except for way that the whole world is so interconnected.

It just tied together a few strings for me: privacy, publicity, the consequences of drug use. [I wanted] to make a legal version of John Lennon’s favorite drug. It’s a great headline, isn’t it?

What was your scariest moment when you were having the drug made?

When I went to collect it, walking through the streets of London with a bag of five grams of white powder. If the police stopped me, I would have to tell them that it was actually a legal version of Preludin that I had had synthesized in a Shanghai laboratory.

I don’t fancy my chances that the police would have believed me. I think I would have been taken to the cells while they sent it off for testing. That was really scary.

3. Spider Tanks

Because, Spider Tanks… These renderings are just stunning in their detail and design.


Disclaimer: The selections I use to describe the links are snippets, often edited together to better describe the original piece, each of which is worth reading on it’s original site.


Learning is not compulsory but neither is survival. – W. Edwards Demming


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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 1/13/2015

1. The Tools Of Their Tools

Carr’s topic in the new book is automation. Although the word can ultimately be traced back to the Greek automatos, typically rendered “self-moving” or “self-acting,” Carr notes that our English word “automation” is of surprisingly recent vintage: engineers at the Ford Motor Company reportedly coined the term in 1946 after struggling to refer to the new machinery churning out cars on the assembly lines. A little over a decade later, the word had already become freighted with the hopes and anxieties of the age. Carr tells of a Harvard business professor who wrote in 1958, “It has been used as a technological rallying cry, a manufacturing goal, an engineering challenge, an advertising slogan, a labor campaign banner, and as the symbol of ominous technological progress.” Carr aims to investigate automation in all these variegated senses, and more.

The conventional wisdom about technology — or at least one popular, mainstream view — holds that new technologies almost always better our lives. Carr, however, thinks that the changes we take to be improvements in our lives can obscure more nuanced and ambiguous changes, and that the dominant narrative of inevitable technological progress misconstrues our real relationship with technology. Philosophers of technology, as Albert Borgmann said in a 2003 interview, tend not to celebrate beneficial technological developments, “because they get celebrated all the time. Philosophers point out the liabilities — what happens when technology moves beyond lifting genuine burdens and starts freeing us from burdens that we should not want to be rid of.” A true philosopher of technology, Carr argues that the liabilities associated with automation threaten to impair the conditions required for meaningful work and action, and ultimately for leading meaningful lives.

Carr’s foray into aviation is not an isolated case study. He sees it as a window into a future in which automation becomes increasingly pervasive. “As we begin to live our lives inside glass cockpits,” he warns, “we seem fated to discover what pilots already know: a glass cockpit can also be a glass cage.” The consequences will not always be so catastrophic and the systems will not always be so totalizing. But that does not make the range of technologies any less worthy of the crucial questions that Carr asks: “Am I the master of the machine, or its servant? Am I an actor in the world, or an observer? Am I an agent, or an object?”

2. Sebastian Seung’s Quest to Map the Human Brain

In 2012, Seung started EyeWire, an online game that challenges the public to trace neuronal wiring — now using computers, not pens — in the retina of a mouse’s eye. Seung’s artificial-­intelligence algorithms process the raw images, then players earn points as they mark, paint-by-numbers style, the branches of a neuron through a three-dimensional cube. The game has attracted 165,000 players in 164 countries. In effect, Seung is employing artificial intelligence as a force multiplier for a global, all-volunteer army that has included Lorinda, a Missouri grandmother who also paints watercolors, and Iliyan (a.k.a. @crazyman4865), a high-school student in Bulgaria who once played for nearly 24 hours straight. Computers do what they can and then leave the rest to what remains the most potent pattern-recognition technology ever discovered: the human brain.

Ultimately, Seung still hopes that artificial intelligence will be able to handle the entire job. But in the meantime, he is working to recruit more help. In August, South Korea’s largest telecom company announced a partnership with EyeWire, running nationwide ads to bring in more players. In the next few years, Seung hopes to go bigger by enticing a company to turn EyeWire into a game with characters and a story line that people play purely for fun. “Think of what we could do,” Seung said, “if we could capture even a small fraction of the mental effort that goes into Angry Birds.”

3. King of Clickbait | The Virologist

Much of the company’s success online can be attributed to a proprietary algorithm that it has developed for “headline testing”—a practice that has become standard in the virality industry. When a Dose post is created, it initially appears under as many as two dozen different headlines, distributed at random. Whereas one person’s Facebook news feed shows a link to “You Won’t Believe What This Guy Did with an Abandoned Factory,” another person, two feet away, might see “At First It Looks Like an Old Empty Factory. But Go Inside and . . . WHOA.” Spartz’s algorithm measures which headline is attracting clicks most quickly, and after a few hours, when a statistically significant threshold is reached, the “winning” headline automatically supplants all others. “I’m really, really good at writing headlines,” he told me. “But any human’s intuition can only be so good. If you can build a machine that can solve the problem better than you can, then you really understand the problem.” …

Earlier, in Casterly Rock, Spartz and I had spoken about targeted advertising. “The future of media is an ever-increasing degree of personalization,” he said. “My CNN won’t look like your CNN. So we want Dose, eventually, to be tailored to each user. You shouldn’t have to choose what you want, because we will be able to get enough data to know what you want better than you do.”

On a whiteboard behind him were the phrases “old media,” “Tribune,” and “$100 M.” “The lines between advertising and content are blurring,” he said. “Right now, if you go to any Web site, it will know where you live, your shopping history, and it will use that to give you the best ad. I can’t wait to start doing that with content. It could take a few months, a few years—but I am motivated to get started on it right now, because I know I’ll kill it.”

4. The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness

We’re all in competition, although we prefer not to realise it. Most achievements are only notable relative to others. You swam more miles, or can dance better, or got more Facebook Likes than the average. Well done.

It’s a painful thing to believe, of course, which is why we’re constantly assuring each other the opposite. “Just do your best”, we hear. “You’re only in competition with yourself”. The funny thing about platitudes like that is they’re designed to make you try harder anyway. If competition really didn’t matter, we’d tell struggling children to just give up.

Fortunately, we don’t live in a world where everyone has to kill each other to prosper. The blessing of modern civilisation is there’s abundant opportunities, and enough for us all to get by, even if we don’t compete directly.

Society judges people by what they can do for others. Can you save children from a burning house, or remove a tumour, or make a room of strangers laugh? You’ve got value right there.

That’s not how we judge ourselves though. We judge ourselves by our thoughts.

“I’m a good person”. “I’m ambitious”. “I’m better than this.” These idle impulses may comfort us at night, but they’re not how the world sees us. They’re not even how we see other people.

People like to invent moral authority. It’s why we have referees in sports games and judges in courtrooms: we have an innate sense of right and wrong, and we expect the world to comply. Our parents tell us this. Our teachers teach us this. Be a good boy, and have some candy.

But reality is indifferent. You studied hard, but you failed the exam. You worked hard, but you didn’t get promoted. You love her, but she won’t return your calls.

The problem isn’t that life is unfair; it’s your broken idea of fairness.

Disclaimer: The selections I use to describe the links are snippets, often edited together to better describe the original piece, each of which is worth reading on it’s original site.

Miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them. - Chaim Weizmann


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