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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Big Brains At Warp Speed The human brain was not a gradual product of evolution, says a new study. The new research suggests that "humans evolved their cognitive abilities not owing to a few sporadic and accidental genetic mutations - as is the usual way with traits in living things - but rather from an enormous number of mutations in a short period of time, acquired though an intense selection process favouring complex cognitive abilities." The Guardian (UK) 12/29/04

Monday, December 27, 2004

An Obsession With English "Why do people get so agitated about linguistic misuses and even about changes in the language? Is English in a bad state? Are things getting worse? These questions have been made topical by Lynne Truss's bestselling Eats, Shoots & Leaves and by the spate of books (and a television show) on similar themes by authors hoping to benefit from her success." Prospect 12/28/04

America - Closed Society? "Why is American culture, and the American intelligentsia in particular, so closed off from what's happening in the rest of the world? Why do we still need Paris to tell us what's going on (if we still even listen to it)? If anything, the situation is more dire than it used to be, when instability or repression in Europe supplied us with a steady stream of émigrés who acted as a bridge back to their former world. Susan Sontag used to play a similar role, but she no longer does, and no one's taken her place. The more we impose our image on the world, it seems, the more foreign the world becomes." The Nation 01/03/05

Thursday, December 23, 2004

It's Just A Jukebox, People! 4 million iPods have been sold this Christmas season, and cultural commentators have been falling all over themselves to define what the new era of portable digital music really, really means - you know, in, like, a really big, cosmic sense. Jim Walsh would like all the technogeeks and live music doomsayers to just settle down for a minute and enjoy the moment. What does it mean? "It means that four million people will be listening to the soundtrack of whatever they call their lives at the moment... It means that four million people will go to iTunes and drink in the celebrity playlists... What it doesn't mean is that four million people will chuck their tapes or CDs." City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 12/22/04

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

World's Best Students Bypassing US Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year there was "a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half. Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries." The New York Times 12/21/04

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Limit To "Free" Speech? The UK has had a number of recent incidents that challenge the idea of free speech. "The crux of the matter is that one person's attempt to shock, outrage and offend is another's legitimate form of creative expression. It's a murky area of discussion, one that is entirely subjective. But what about art at the very margins of popular acceptance; art that appears to almost everyone to serve no other purpose than to be offensive?" BBC 12/21/04

Monday, December 20, 2004

Danger, Warning! (The Study Says) Two studies indicate how we pick up danger signals from others. "One, in Science, found seeing the whites of the eyes triggered a danger message in the brain. A second, in Neuron, showed that, even if an image of a scared face is shown too briefly to be consciously recognised, the brain registers it." BBC 12/19/04

Sunday, December 19, 2004

What You Want? A Surgeon Who Plays Video Games A doctor says that playing video games improves the accuracy and success of surgeons. "Surgeons who play video games three hours a week have 37 percent fewer errors and accomplish tasks 27 percent faster, he says, basing his observation on results of tests using the video game Super Monkey Ball." Wired 12/19/04

The Prejudice You Don't Know You Have A Harvard psychologist argues that people's prejudice can be measured even when they're not conciously aware of it. "Implicit prejudice, she argues, can affect our decisions and behaviors without our even knowing it, undermining our conscious ideas and best intentions about equality and justice. Social psychologists are divided on just what the Implicit Association Test measures, arguing that different response times may just reflect an awareness of cultural stereotypes and social inequality." Boston Globe 12/19/04

Dumbing Down? Don't Blame The Media "Intellectuals have long expressed concern about the media's potential for diminishing the quality of our culture. Ever since the invention of the printing press, there have been periodic outbursts of anxiety about the destructive impact of the popular media." But "too often the blanket condemnation of the media pundit reflects the profound sense of insecurity that the professional academic experiences when confronted with having to engage with a wider audience." spiked-online 12/17/04

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

RIAA Exec: Copyright Serves Us All An executive of the Recording Industry Association of America is tired of copyright bashing. Strong copyright protection, he writes, is in the public interest. "Folks like Larry Lessig and EFF would have you believe, because it suits their analysis, that copyright protection and the public interest are diametrically opposed. This is merely a rhetorical device, and is a complete fallacy. The public's interest is represented by the copyright law." Cultural Commons 12/15/04

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Being Smart - Is It OverRated? In academia, the top complement these days is to be called smart. "But why this preponderance of smart? What exactly does it mean? Why not, instead, competent? Or knowledgeable? Or conscientious? We might value those qualities as well, but they seem pedestrian, lacking the particular distinction of being smart. Historically, smart has taken on its approbative sense relatively recently." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/17/04

What Constitutes A Successful Museum? From the outside, today's American museums look prosperous and happy. "Yet all is not well in the art museum profession," writes Maxwell Anderson. "Within the confines of their boardrooms, American art museums today are beset as never before by disagreement about their priorities. The difficulty in measuring success in art museums today stems in part from the fact that, over the last generation, art museums have shifted their focus away from collection-building and toward various kinds of attention to the public—without balancing these two imperatives and without a consensus on what constitutes best practices in the latter." So how do you measure success at the modern American museum? Getty Leadership Institute 12/04

Monday, December 13, 2004

Chaos Theory (It's Safer) What makes driving safer? Well yeah, better-designed cars. But better roads and street markings and traffic lights and speed limits and signs, right? Well maybe not entirely true. One traffic engineer says simplifying roadways - taking away traffic lights and restrictive signs might be a better way to ultimately improve the safety of our roads. "In the US, traffic engineers are beginning to rethink the dictum that the car is king and pedestrians are well advised to get the hell off the road." Wired 12.12

Making Up America's Art Improvisation is America's great contribution to art - not just in music, but art and acting too. Marlon Brando, Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock - these were the American originals. "Improvisation is America's art, its self-expression - and its disaster." The Guardian (UK) 12/11/04

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Burned By Branding Why have so many managers bought into the idea that success is mostly a branding issue? "From dry academic papers to self-help blockbusters, the literature of the branding guru is notable not for clarity or coherence, but for a tendency to lapse into a form of post-modern patois - a managerial gibberish that has infected everything from psychometric profiling and ‘third way’ political discourse to the pseudo-intellectual ‘mission statements’ of conceptual art." Eye 12/04

Friday, December 10, 2004

A Whole New Experience In TV "TV over Internet protocol - IPTV - will transform couch-cruising into an on-demand experience. Instead of broadcasting every channel continuously, service providers plan to transmit them only to subscribers who request them. In effect, every channel will be streamed on demand. This will free up huge amounts of bandwidth for hi-def TV and high-speed broadband. Add IP and you get interactive services like caller ID on your TV. And the system will be able to track viewing habits as effectively as Amazon tracks its customers, so ads will be targeted with scary precision. Put it all together and you've got television that's as intensely personalized as 20th-century broadcasting was generic." Wired 12/10/04

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Hipper Than Thou "The origin of hip (and its partner, hep; the words are related) is, unsatisfyingly, unknown. The term first appeared at the turn of the 20th century, and quickly became widespread. Its meaning at this early point was "aware; in the know," and it was not widely used by African-Americans. It wasn't until the late 1930s and early 1940s, during the jive era, that the modern senses—"sophisticated; currently fashionable; fully up-to-date"—arose." Slate 12/09/04

Why Some People Are Left-Handed "The orthodox view of human handedness is that it is connected to the bilateral specialisation of the brain that has concentrated language-processing functions on the left side of that organ. Because, long ago in the evolutionary past, an ancestor of humans (and all other vertebrate animals) underwent a contortion that twisted its head around 180° relative to its body, the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. In humans, the left brain (and thus the right body) is usually dominant." But why are some people still left-handed? The reason may have to do with fighting ability... The Economist 12/09/04

Hit 'Em Square In Their iPods From RSS feeds to podcasting, portable content on demand seems to be the newest wave of the information revolution, and AJ Blogger Andrew Taylor sees serious potential for arts organizations willing to step up to the technological plate. "Imagine a community-wide Podcasting site, where arts organizations could post audio interviews and discussions relating to their coming performances. Imagine a whole new branch of public-broadcasting-like content, that doesn't rely on the narrow and jam-packed broadcast frequencies." The Artful Manager (AJ Blogs) 12/08/04

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Brain To Computer: Go Left Scientists have found that it is possible to control a computer by thinking. "Brain activity produces electrical signals that can be read by electrodes. Complex algorithms then translate those signals into instructions to direct the computer. Such brain activity does not require the use of any nerves or muscles, so people with stroke or spinal cord injuries could use the cap effectively." BBC 12/08/04

What Does It Take To Be Creative? "Almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation -- people who are turned on by their work often work creatively -- is especially critical." Fast Company 12/04

Monday, December 6, 2004

Do Computers Stunt Education? A new study reports that students who were heavy users of computers did worse in school than those who were not. "From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in November that performance in math and reading had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home. And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school, those who used them several times per week at school saw their academic performance decline significantly as well." Christian Science Monitor 12/06/04

The Perils Of Electronic Libraries With tight budgets for college libraries, does it make sense any more for schools to buy expensive books? Why not outsource and subscribe to electronic libraries? "Having a fully outsourced, electronic library would mean giving up control of the information available on your campus, and allowing lawyers, accountants, and vendors' content specialists to make decisions about access to published research -- much like HMO clerks deciding what medical care your doctor can provide. Can innovation and excellence flourish in that kind of environment? That is one of the questions that keep librarians awake at night, but it is a large question." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/06/04

Musicians: What We Think About File-Sharing A first-ever study of attitudes towards file-sharing records what musicians think about the issue: "Among the findings: artists are divided but on the whole not deeply concerned about online file-sharing. Only about half thought that sharing unauthorized copies of music and movies online should be illegal, for instance. And makers of file-sharing software like Kazaa and Grokster may be unnerved to learn that nearly two-thirds said such services should be held responsible for illegal file-swapping; only 15 percent held individual users responsible." The New York Times 12/06/04

Sunday, December 5, 2004

OH-VER-RATE-ED!! (clap-clap-clapclapclap) "Ever felt you're missing the point with some of our biggest cultural heroes? Admit it - everyone can name at least one hip, wildly praised band, album, film, TV show or author that they've never really rated." Critics have their own lists of overrated stars, too: could James Brown's legendary performances be nothing more than "brass-driven aerobics workouts, over which he barks claims of his own magnificence"? Is Neil Young's famously distinctive voice really "the exact timbre of a continental dial tone"? Is U2 an overrated trio of self-important rockers whose greatest talent is in the thieving of other bands' ideas? (Okay, that last one isn't exactly a secret.) The Guardian (UK) 12/04/04

Famous Just Because Western society is overwhelmed with celebrities these days, and the obsession with fame has given rise to an odd sub-category of celebs: people who are famous more for just being famous than for any actual accomplishment. But this celebrity for its own sake isn't really a new concept. In fact, one of history's greatest painters may have originated the concept. The Guardian (UK) 12/04/04

Thursday, December 2, 2004

A Loss For Copyright Challenge Internet archivists have lost a case in American courts challenging recent copyright laws. ""The plaintiffs claim that removing registration and renewal requirements and expanding the term of copyright have made it virtually impossible for works to enter the public domain. Now, out-of-print albums and books -- many of which are not commercially viable -- are simply rotting away unused, but are still protected by copyright." The activists promise to appeal. Wired 12/02/04

In Search Of Dystopia "Literary dystopias have this in common: They are imagined societies in which the deepest demands of human nature are either subverted, perverted, or simply made unattainable. Not that it is necessarily bad to say "no!" to human nature. When it comes to certain inclinations, such as violence or extreme selfishness, there is much to be said for defying the promptings of biology. But when society presses too hard in ways that go counter to natural needs, the result can be painfully unnatural, which is to say, dystopian." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/03/04

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The No. 1 Threat To Creativity Today "At just the moment when the technologies of borrowing, sharing, repackaging, and reinventing -- technologies such as blogs, wikis, peer-to-peer file sharing, full-text searching, digital video, and off-the-shelf music mixing software -- have become so powerful as engines for creative expression, copyright law permits, in effect, nothing at all. Just when the future of creative expression looks so promising, argues Lawrence Lessig, the claims of the past have been shored up, and they block the way." Reason 11/29/04

Why Digital Humans Look Creepy There's something creepy about the digital realism of thre computer enhanced movie "Polar Express." But why? Perhaps things in the movie look too real? Or are they not real enough? "Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete."
Mile High Comics 11/10/04

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