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Monday, January 31, 2005

Are Video Games The New Music Tastemaker? Where do kids get their music these days? Increasingly less from MTV. No, the new music guru is video games. "Recent surveys show that more than 40 per cent of game players have bought a CD from an artist featured in a game, 40 per cent have learned of a new band from a game, and 27 per cent have gone out and bought the CD." Australian IT 02/01/05

Do-It-Yourself Everything "Neil Gershenfeld, a physicist and computer scientist who runs the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, envisions a time when many of us will have a "fabrication center" in our homes. We'll be able to download a description of, say, a toaster -- perhaps one we designed ourselves -- to our computers, and then feed the designs and the raw materials into a personal fabricator. At the push of a button, almost like hitting "print," the machine will spit it out." Boston Globe 01/30/05

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Is Architecture A Red Herring In The Ground Zero Debate? The struggle to rebuild Ground Zero has frequently been portrayed as a clash between a visionary architect and a powerful New York developer, but "Philip Nobel argues that our obsession with the architect-as-healer has led us to ignore more important, if less emotionally appealing, questions about ground zero: How should the site be used? How much focus should there be on office space, on cultural space, on a memorial? In giving aesthetic speculations more weight than material concerns in our critical and public discussions, he says, we have virtually guaranteed that the site will end up looking like every other New York real estate development." The New York Times 01/30/05

Friday, January 28, 2005

Who Owns What (It's Very Complicated) "While it was once believed that Marxism would overhaul notions of ownership, the combination of capitalism and the Internet has transformed our ideas of property to an extent far beyond the dreams of even the most fervent revolutionary. Which is not to say that anything resembling a collectivist utopia has come to pass. Quite the opposite. In fact, the laws regulating property—and intellectual property, in particular—have never before been so complex, onerous, and rigid." Bookforum 01/05

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Worst Day Of The Year, Scientifically Speaking? (Relax, It Was Yesterday) We thought about putting this story up yesterday, but decided nah... why ruin the day? Anyway, a professor devised an equation to determine the worst day of the year. And came up with January 24. "The equation is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action." MSNBC 01/24/05

We're Watching You (Always) A new book details the extent of the new security realities in America. A 'security-industrial complex" is being built to tie together massive amounts of private information about everyone. It details the "far-reaching consequences for ordinary Americans, who must cope not only with the uneasy sense of being watched (leading, defenders of civil liberties have argued, to a stifling of debate and dissent) but also with the very palpable dangers of having personal information (and in some cases, inaccurate information) passed from one outfit to another." The New York Times 01/25/05

Every Word A Gateway The internet has revolutionized the way we get information. Now one researcher wants to push the revolution even further. The "idea is simple -- he plans to move beyond the basic hypertext linking of the web, and change every word into a "hyperword." Instead of one or two links in a document, every single word becomes a link. Further, every link can point to more than one place, pulling up all kinds of background context from the web as a whole." Wired 01/25/05

Sunday, January 23, 2005

No Matter Grammar (If You Want To Write Well) It's long been a given that one of the keys to writing well is to drill good grammar. But a large new study refutes that idea. It was "the largest systematic review yet of research on this topic; and the conclusion the authors came to was that there was no evidence at all that the teaching of grammar had any beneficial effect on the quality of writing done by pupils." The Guardian (UK) 01/23/05

Of Universes And The End Of All Things (Maybe) "Although thermodynamics and cosmology point to the eventual death of all lifeforms in the universe, there is still one loophole. It is a law of evolution that, when the environment changes radically, life must adapt, flee or die. The first alternative seems impossible. The last is undesirable. This leaves us with one choice: leave the universe." Prospect 02/05

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Drink A Day... ... helps keep you mentally sharp. At least, that's what a new study suggests. Researchers found that women between the ages of 70 and 81 "who had the equivalent of one drink a day had a 23% lower risk of becoming mentally impaired during the two-year period, compared with non-drinkers. It made no significant difference whether they drank beer or wine." Nature 01/20/05

Atheists In America (Where?! Let's Get 'Em!) America seems to be all about religion and demonstrable faith these days, with even the most secular of public figures feeling compelled to at least occasionally make nods toward their own piousness. In other words, it's a rotten time to be an atheist. "USA Today put the number of nonreligious Americans at 30 million... There are 5 million Americans who are Jewish, but everybody knows a lot more Jews than they know atheists, and why? Because atheists are afraid to come out of the proverbial closet." Boston Globe 01/20/05

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Software That Can Pick Pop Hits "The magic ingredient set to revolutionise the pop industry is, simply, a piece of software that can 'predict' the chance of a track being a hit or a miss. This computerised equivalent of the television programmer Juke Box Jury is known as Hit Song Science (HSS). It has been developed by a Spanish company, Polyphonic HMI, which used decades of experience developing artificial intelligence technology for the banking and telecoms industries to create a program that analysed the underlying mathematical patterns in music." The Guardian (UK) 01/17/05

Monday, January 17, 2005

Okay, We Like Art. Anyone Know Why? "In all the airtime and column inches devoted to discussing art - its merits, its value, its place in our lives - the big questions that lie at the heart of the debate are often too difficult or too obscure to tackle. They are, roughly speaking, these: why do we care about art? And, given that we obviously do (and that this is worldwide phenomenon that has stretched throughout history), what is it in art that we care about?" Financial Times (UK) 01/17/05

The Pentagon Wants To Read Your Mind The pentagon has given a scientist a "$5 million grant to work on her theory that by monitoring brainwaves she can detect whether someone is lying. She claims the system has an accuracy of between 94% and 100% and is an improvement on the existing polygraph tests, which rely on heart rate and blood pressure, respiratory rate and sweatiness." BBC 01/16/05

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The UK's Freedom Of Speech Debate "There is the choice that faces our increasingly multicultural society. We can try to defend an ever growing number of "cultures", defined by religion, race, ethnic tradition or sexual preference, from public comment they regard as grossly offensive. There's a case for this, but let's be clear what it will mean. The result must inevitably be that we shall have less free speech. Future historians may look back on the last three decades of the 20th century as a high point of freedom of expression, never to be achieved again. There may be a net gain in other public goods - such as civic peace - but there'll be a net loss of liberty. Alternatively, we can take the view that, precisely because Britain is increasingly multicultural, all variations of religion, all "cultures" - including, of course, atheism, devout Darwinism, etc - should get used to living with a higher degree of public offence." The Guardian (UK) 01/14/05

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Riding Laziness To Good Health Want to live longer? A new book says the way to make it happen is kick back and be lazy. "The book begins with an explanation that we are all born with a limited amount of "life energy". If we use it all up quickly - by exercising and getting stressed out - we will die early. If we do very little and live life at a snail's pace, we can eke it out and live much longer. It's a theory that doesn't find much support in the scientific community... The Guardian (UK) 01/11/05

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Is Science Being Undermined By Religion? "As a student of the history and philosophy of science, I have been watching with concern how modern science itself — perhaps the single most powerful force for secularisation — is being re–coded as sacred, either as affirming the Bible or the Vedas, or as ‘lower knowledge’ of ‘dead matter’, in need of spiritualisation. As an old–time partisan of the Enlightenment and scientific temper, I have been watching with concern as my fellow intellectuals and activists, in the United States and India, who identify themselves with social justice, anti–imperialism, women’s rights and sustainable development, have themselves paved the way for re–enchantment or re–sacralisation of science." New Humanist 01/07/05

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Truth. But How Do You Know? Every year John Brockman asks 100 intellectuals and scientists to try and answer a question. This year's is: "What do you believe to be true, even though you can’t prove it?" The World Question Center 01/05

Monday, January 3, 2005

Plugged In - How The Internet Has Impacted Artists How has the internet changed the way artists do their work? "The first large-scale surveys of the internet’s impact on artists and musicians reveal that they are embracing the Web as a tool to improve how they make, market, and sell their creative works. They eagerly welcome new opportunities that are provided by digital technology and the internet." Pew Internet & American Life Project 12/05/04

Sunday, January 2, 2005

The US - Failing At School "Nearly six in 10 high school graduates in 2005 will start college in the fall, but half of them — and more than two-thirds of the African American and Latino students who enroll — will fail to earn either an associate's or bachelor's degree. So why do U.S. media, policymakers and university administrators continue to worry more about who gets into elite colleges and how much they pay for that privilege? Why don't they focus on how few students make it through this nation's higher education system with the tools to help keep the society we all share on track?" Los Angeles Times 01/02/05

TV For The Good Of Humanity TV is bad for you, right? Or is it? "Critics ceaselessly point out television's alleged faults. The growing girth of the nation is blamed on it; increased violence; higher levels of teen sexual activity; and finally, we are assured, the idiot box is generally dumbing us all down. But we have plenty of reasons to doubt that bill of indictment on television." Reason 12/29/04

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