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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Movies And The Musical Message Movies use borrowed music to telegraph extra-musical ideas - most of them never intended by the original composers. Movies offer a peek "into the contemporary American unconscious, into the way mass culture understands, or misunderstands, high culture. The pop associations are an important part of the music's meaning, even if the composer never intended his music to work this way." Philadelphia Inquirer (LAT) 08/31/03

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Machines That Can Think? "A new type of thinking machine that could completely change how people interact with computers is being developed at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories.The idea is to figure out ways to make humans smarter by improving human-hardware interactions..." Wired 08/27/03

What's Next For Humans? Human evolution has been rapid and sophisticated. But "where do we go from here? Have we attained perfection and ceased to evolve? Many geneticists think that is very unlikely, though few find it easy to say where we are headed or how fast. Until the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, people used to live in small populations with little gene flow between them. That is the best situation for rapid evolution, said Sewall Wright, one of the founders of population genetics. But Sir Ronald A. Fisher, another founder of the discipline, argued that large populations with random mating just what globalization and air travel are helping to bring about were the best fodder for rapid evolution. Which of them is right? No one really knows." The New York Times 08/24/03

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

What Happens If You Just Give Education Away? "When MIT announced to the world in April 2001 that it would be posting the content of some 2,000 classes on the Web, it hoped the program - dubbed OpenCourseWare - would spur a worldwide movement among educators to share knowledge and improve teaching methods. No institution of higher learning had ever proposed anything as revolutionary, or as daunting. MIT would make everything, from video lectures and class notes to tests and course outlines, available to any joker with a browser. The academic world was shocked by MIT's audacity - and skeptical of the experiment. At a time when most enterprises were racing to profit from the Internet and universities were peddling every conceivable variant of distance learning, here was the pinnacle of technology and science education ready to give it away. Not the degrees, which now cost about $41,000 a year, but the content. No registration required. It's a profoundly simple idea that was not intuitive." Wired 08/03

Monday, August 25, 2003

Why Written Languages Die Out "In the first study of its kind, three experts in the study of written language have described the common characteristics that caused three famous scripts - ancient Egyptian, Middle Eastern cuneiform and pre-Columbian Mayan - to disappear. 'Thousands of languages have come and gone, and we've studied that process for years. But throughout history, maybe 100 writing systems have ever existed. We should know more about why they disappear'." Washington Post 08/25/03

The Art Of Self-Driving Cars Toyota plans this fall to unveil a car that parks itself. Journalists who have test-driven the car report it works. "Self-driving systems have been in research laboratories for years. Automotive experts expect the car to make splashy headlines when Toyota officially unveils it to the public next month. It will initially be offered as a high-end feature for the $20,000 Prius, a model that uses an electric motor to assist a gasoline engine to conserve fuel." Wired 08/25/03

The "Distributed" Library An experiment in the San Francisco area tries to create a virtual "distributed" library. "List the books and videos that you own. You will then have access to the multitude of books and videos available in other people's collections. You can search for specific authors or titles, browse individual collections, find nearby users, or find people who like books in common with yours. You will have access to user-written reviews and have the opportunity to write your own. If the owner of a book or video you're interested in has time for you to pick it up, you can check out items for a 2, 7, 14, or 30 day period (at the owner's discretion). Returning books late will get you negative feedback, while returning books promptly will get you positive feedback." Community Books 08/03

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Math's Great Challenge It's the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics. Will it ever be solved? "With a pedigree linking many of the greatest names in the field, the Riemann Hypothesis runs like a river through vast swaths of seemingly distinct mathematical territory. Andrew Wiles himself has compared a proof of this proposition to what it meant for the 18th century when a solution to the longitude problem was found. With longitude licked, explorers could navigate freely around the physical world; so too, if Riemann is resolved, mathematicians will be able to navigate more fluidly across their domain. Its import extends into areas as diverse as number theory, geometry, logic, probability theory and even quantum physics." LAWeekly 08/21/03

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Backtracking On The Mozart Effect "The 'Mozart effect,' which was first suggested in a study in 1993, showed that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart before a spatial skills test appeared to improve performance. Scientists soon reported a 'Schubert effect' and even a 'Stephen King effect'; hearing lively prose from the author before spatial tests also appeared to improve scores. Now researchers are discovering why the so-called Mozart effect happens, and they are finding that the benefits of music lessons may have been overstated." USAToday 08/19/03

Reducing Ideas To Slides (The Quickest Way To Kill Ideas?) "Slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch." Wired 08/03

Monday, August 18, 2003

Embracing Your Inner Geek Ordinary people are forced to learn more and more about technology. "Time and again, attractive new technologies have trickled out of the labs and into homes and offices, forcing ordinary users to develop skills that once would have seemed far too advanced for them. Early automobiles were so unreliable that drivers carried tool kits and learned to fix the balky machines. Early radio sets were handbuilt by avid hobbyists. 'This is all part of a fairly predictable pattern. Folks have been doing that since the days of telegraphs and radios and televisions. There's a real love of technology, and people want to get inside and tinker with them'." Boston Globe 08/18/03

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Is Technology Progress Threatened? "The defining political conflict of the 21st century is shaping up to be the battle over the future of technology. Fortunately, technological progress doesn't just have opponents; it also has boosters. The rise of neo-Luddism is calling forth self-conscious defenders of technological progress. Growing numbers of extropians, transhumanists, futurists and others are entering the intellectual fray to do battle against the neo-Luddite activists who oppose biotechnology, nanotechnology, and new intelligence technologies." Reason 08/13/03

The Forgotten Everyday Details "Biography of the long-lost past poses special problems. The most basic knowledge proves elusive, often never recorded in the first place. It's one thing never fully to know your subject's thoughts and dreams. It's another to visit a room, intact after 350 years, where a beam of sunlight shining through a prism produced the most famous optical experiment in the history of science, and still fail to find out whether there had been glass in the windows." The New York Times 08/16/03

Friday, August 15, 2003

Network Failures Are For Arts Too Network failures don't occur just in electrical power grids, writes Andrew Taylor. "Just think of the network of organizations, funders, and associations that create, present, support, and deliver the arts across America. These organizations and individuals are mostly running at over-capacity (long hours, low pay, bad computers, etc.). They are more interconnected than they know. Many are showing signs of burning out. And most of the generators that kept them going are cutting back or cutting out (state arts agencies, national foundations, individual donors, earned income, volunteer labor, etc.)." Artful Manager (AJBlogs) 08/15/03

Thursday, August 14, 2003

More Of Our Own... We all pay lip service to the idea of diversity - of ideas, of people. But David Brooks writes that most people want to stick to their own. "Maybe somewhere in this country there is a truly diverse neighborhood in which a black Pentecostal minister lives next to a white anti-globalization activist, who lives next to an Asian short-order cook, who lives next to a professional golfer, who lives next to a postmodern-literature professor and a cardiovascular surgeon. But I have never been to or heard of that neighborhood. Instead, what I have seen all around the country is people making strenuous efforts to group themselves with people who are basically like themselves." The Atlantic 09/03

Monday, August 11, 2003

First Words... 2.5 Million Years Ago? "Recent evidence suggests we may have started talking as early as 2.5m years ago. There is a polar divide on the issues of dating and linking thought, language and material culture. One view of language development is that language, specifically the spoken word, appeared suddenly among modern humans between 35,000 and 50,000 years ago and that the ability to speak words and use syntax was recently genetically hard-wired into our brains in a kind of language organ. This view of language is associated with the old idea that logical thought is dependent on words." The Guardian (UK) 08/07/03

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Seeing Trumps Listening? Has our ability to see and interpret images surpassed our ability to hear and translate sound? "Perhaps there simply are more pictures available for our brains to interpret than there are sounds, or perhaps we are wired to process visual data especially quickly and efficiently. Scientists do know that the part of our brains that deciphers optic signals is larger and more developed than any other part of the cerebral cortex. Some think that when our brains translate aural input into sounds, they do so in a temporal fashion. It's as if each sound were a soldier marching in formation past a reviewing stand." Baltimore Sun 08/03/03

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Where The Sun Never Sets "Why, you might ask, now that empire has become an irrelevant historical fact, are pundits, intellectuals and sundry other commentators debating whether America is an empire or should be an empire, or whether the United States has what it takes to succeed
as an empire? By using the word "empire" as if it were a living possibility, even people opposed to the idea of an American imperialism make it easier for the pro-empire crowd to make their fantastical case. But a country doesn't decide to be an empire the way a person decides to wear black rather than brown shoes to a party.
Newsweek 08/07/03

The Flash Mob: Art, Politics, Or Silliness? The new phenomenon of the 'flash mob' - a planned gathering of random individuals who proceed to do something bizarre but harmless in a public place - is certainly a sign of the times. But is it art? Certainly, the activities of most flash mobs are no stranger than the work of some performance artists. Or maybe it's the most basic form of political organizing - after all, the mobs are organized by e-mail, and bring together like-minded people from disparate walks of life. Or, is the flash mob nothing more than this era's obnoxious public fad, like streaking, or running onto a baseball field during the game? Philadelphia Inquirer 08/07/03

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

The Fading History Few students are studying history these days. And those that do seem to have an aversion to history books. "Instead, there is a preference for more bite-sized, experiential media, like TV history programmes or websites. Apparently, TV provides a model for what students expect from their university courses, as something involving 'colour, action, biography and narrative'. There are complaints that students see history as 'basically a narrative, descriptive subject', and 'expect to be told stories rather than acquire the skills of the historian'. A number of reasons have been offered to explain these trends." spiked-culture 07/23/03

Ukraine - The Land Fads Forgot "It often seems to me that Ukrainians have a distinctive immunity that protects them from the gaudy attractions of fashionable trends. Having said this, there is a thoroughly prosaic reason for such immunity. In a country of 48 million people the middle class is too small, and the poorer classes, preoccupied with problems of day-to-day living, too numerous, for them to have the time and energy to give which fads need to take root. No all-encompassing means of communication has been established; it is impossible for everyone to learn about the same phenomena simultaneously. So everyone, so to speak, sings his own favourite song." Topic Magazine 08/03

Mapping The Brain The study of the human brain is one of the most fascinating and frustrating branches of science. Brains are as diverse as snowflakes, which makes it exceedingly difficult for scientists to assign a categorization to the 'average' brain. "Researchers are now trying to better understand what constitutes a 'normal' brain by studying a newly compiled atlas that contains digitally mapped images of 7,000 of the organs. A decade in the making, the brain mapping project quietly debuted this summer." Chicago Tribune (AP) 08/06/03

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

What's Happened To Contemporary Art? "There is a cynicism in the heart of much that passes for art today, which sits oddly with its claim to be art. After all, art has to be positive, even when it deals with the most depressing aspects of experience, because if it isn't what is the point of making it? But far from seeking a positive response to its work, the establishment art of today actually stimulates a negative reaction..." spiked-culture 07/23/03

Monday, August 4, 2003

Real Unreal "Virtual" Situations (And What We Can Learn From Them) "Blast Theory" is an amalgam of theatre performers and scientists creating interactive "performances" that mix reality with virtual situations. "The laboratory provides the technical and theoretical underpinning for their fascination with computer and communications technology, and its ability to create 'virtual' situations that blur distinctions between the real and the imaginary. Verbal and visual ambiguity is very much the stuff of artistic endeavour. But with the development of three- dimensional imaging and 'intelligent' and ubiquitous computing devices, a number of scientific laboratories worldwide are attempting to understand how humans will interact with all this smart machinery." Financial Times 08/04/03

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