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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sacre Bleu! Google Non! French president Jacques Chirac is unhappy that Google dominates his country's internet searches. Google's French version is used for 74% of internet searches in France. So Chirac has asked his culture minister to create a home-grown French search engine. What's wrong with le Google? "The answer is the vulgar criteria it uses to rank results. 'I do not believe', wrote [the culture minister] in Le Monde, "that the only key to access our culture should be the automatic ranking by popularity, which has been behind Google's success." The Economist 03/31/05

Proving Truth In The Modern Age What constitutes a proof in the modern age? "Two recent examples of how computers have been used to prove important mathematical results illustrate how the field is changing..." The Economist 03/31/05

Sunday, March 27, 2005

How The Internet Is Transforming Entertainment "The internet is changing the entertainment business from one that is driven by hits to one that will make most of its money from misses. This is good news for consumers, because it means more choice, and we all like things that will never make the best-seller lists for CDs, books or movies. And although it might sound strange, this "new economics of abundance" is already the basis of the net's most successful companies, such as Amazon, eBay and Google." The Guardian (UK) 03/24/05

Why Politicians Can Never Understand The Arts People in the arts spend a great deal of time bemoaning the lack of governmental support, but is the ignorance of politicians really a great surprise? After all, the arts are everything that politics isn't: subtle, nuanced, full of deep ideas and gray areas, and imbued throughout with a belief in the intelligence of the audience. "The [UK's] Labour party used to justify its support of the arts rather as a 19th-century curate's wife might advocate distributing informative pamphlets to the deserving poor, by their social usefulness... This approach, of course, swaps the robe of the wizard for the coat of the social engineer: it robs art of its chance to enchant." The Guardian (UK) 03/26/05

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Quietest Place On Earth "The quietest place on Earth makes its claim less than a block from a bustling liquor store, adjacent to a city bus stop, under the flight path of jumbo jets, and not far from a playground that hosts a daily scream fest worthy of earplugs. And yet, there it is: the anechoic chamber at [Minneapolis-based] Orfield Labs, an office-size studio used for testing sound equipment. Engineers tested the chamber not too long ago and found, or rather didn't find, sound. What they didn't find measured below the threshold for human ears, 0 decibels, and was as quiet as negative 9.4 decibels, an absence so profound that a person standing in the room for more than a few minutes would begin to hear his or her own ear making noise as their brain struggled to understand what was happening." Minneapolis Star Tribune 03/24/05

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A List: 13 Things We Don't Understand There are plenty of things we understand about how the universe works. Indeed, it seems like every month there's something wonderfully impossible that we've managed to figure out. And yet, the number of things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever is long. Here's a list of 13 things about the world that defy explanation (so far) New Scientist 03/23/05

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Remixing Life As We Like It Don't like real life around you? Increasingly, we can remix it to our own liking. "We're remixing our TV behavior as TiVo-style video recorders let us 'make every night Thursday night.' We're remixing our media by grabbing online articles from dozens of different sources—and then broadcasting our own opinions with blogs. When you get down to it, the remixing metaphor applies to almost any area you can think of. Some of the sessions at ETech bannered the remixing of radio, DNA, politics and culture." Newsweek 03/22/05

The CSI Effect: Juries Want More Are crime shows influencing real-life juries? US prosecutors are seeing "an increasing desire on the part of juries for the kind of certainty shown on television programs such as "Crime Scene Investigation," in which crimes are solved conclusively in less than an hour. Across the country, prosecutors say, juries are demanding more from them." Chicago Tribune (LAT) 03/22/05

Monday, March 21, 2005

Why Logic Misfires In The Brain Why do people often make decisions that seem to go directly against their interests? "Neuroeconomics, while still regarded skeptically by mainstream economists, could be the next big thing in the field. It promises to put economics on a firmer footing by describing people as they really are, not as some oversimplified mathematical model would have them be. Eventually it could help economists design incentives that gently guide people toward making decisions that are in their long-term best interests in everything from labor negotiations to diets to 401(k) plans." BusinessWeek 03/21/05

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Link Between Intelligence And Suicide? "In one of the largest studies on suicide ever conducted, researchers found that men with especially low scores on intelligence tests are two to three times more likely than others to kill themselves. Men with low IQ scores and only a primary education were no more likely to kill themselves than men with high IQ scores and a higher level of education. But men with low IQ scores and higher education were at a greater risk of suicide. And men with low IQ scores and highly educated parents were at the highest risk of all."
Boston Globe 03/20/05

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Automatic Critic Who needs critics anymore? They're unreliable. The latest web services will do your cultural sorting for you. "These web-based applications seek to recommend music not through descriptive reviews, but through affinities calculated by a computer algorithm. Websites like Movielens.org and Filmaffinity.com endeavour to tell you what you will like by having you tell them what you already like. This form of definition-by-association is supplanting the good old-fashioned review as the primary way for consumers to discover new music, movies and literature. Using a recommender application is like consulting your friends for music or movie advice, except on a grander scale." CBC 03/17/05

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

American Censorship And An Insidious Chill US Representative Bernie Sanders writes that the recently passed Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 is a threat to free expression and Americans’ First Amendment rights. "I am increasingly alarmed by the culture of censorship that is developing in this country. This censorship is being conducted by the corporations that own our increasingly consolidated, less diverse media. And it is being done by the government. The result is an insidious chill on free expression on our airwaves." In These Times 03/08/05

Monday, March 14, 2005

Language-As-Power "The top 20 global languages - defined in terms of their use as a first or second language - provide an interesting reflection on the fortunes of those languages that have spread by organic growth and those that have expanded by means of mergers and acquisitions. At the top of the league table is Mandarin Chinese, which has 1,052 million speakers, more than twice as many as the next highest, English, with 508 million. Third is Hindi with 487 million and fourth Spanish, with 417 million. Of course, English is a far more global language - though primarily as a second language - than Chinese, the vast majority of whose speakers live in China. But with the present rise of China - and indeed India - it would not be difficult to imagine Mandarin and Hindi becoming far more widely spoken by 2100." The Observer (UK) 03/12/05

Sunday, March 13, 2005

America The Manic Depressive Has America's obsession with wealth and material possession become a mania that distracts us from recognizing the truly important things in life? A new scholarly book argues that, "in the age of globalization, Americans are addictively driven by the brain's pleasure centers to live turbocharged lives in pursuit of status and possessions at the expense of the only things that can truly make us happy: relationships with other people." If the author is right, the country has crested the manic wave created by the 1990s stock market boom, and is headed for a very big emotional fall. The New York Times 03/12/05

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Customer As Inventor "How does innovation happen? The familiar story involves boffins in academic institutes and R&D labs. But lately, corporate practice has begun to challenge this old-fashioned notion. Open-source software development is already well-known. Less so is the fact that Bell, an American bicycle-helmet maker, has collected hundreds of ideas for new products from its customers, and is putting several of them into production. Or that Electronic Arts (EA), a maker of computer games, ships programming tools to its customers, posts their modifications online and works their creations into new games. And so on. Not only is the customer king: now he is market-research head, R&D chief and product-development manager, too." The Economist 03/10/05

Is There A Better Case To Be Made For The Arts?: The Home Stretch What do Bill Ivey, Midori, Robert L. Lynch, Glenn Lowry, Ben Cameron, Andrew Taylor, Joli Jensen, Jim Kelly, Adrian Ellis, Phil Kennicott and Russell Willis Taylor have in common? They're taking part in a week-long blog debate on ArtsJournal about the value of the arts: "Let's paint a picture of what we think a vibrant cultural system should look like, and then advocate on behalf of policies that take us there. In my experience, arts advocates tend to ask for "more," rather than for a specific outcome. If we want a drawing teacher in every fourth grade classroom, let's talk that way. I think policy leaders and funders like to know exactly what will happen if they support a program. The challenge, of course, is that once we get where we say we want to go, we have to be willing to stop, and not ask for more...That's been hard for us to do." A Better Case For The Arts (AJBlogs) 03/11/05

Monday, March 7, 2005

The Medically-Enhanced Performer? "Forget going to the doctor for bronchitis or poison ivy. Nowadays, patients are increasingly demanding drugs to help them perform better at the company conference, study harder for tests, or eliminate performance anxiety before a big date. It's called "cosmetic neurology," this use of new drugs that help people who aren't sick psychologically perform better socially." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/07/05

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Art On The Defensive Is the world of art becoming cowed by a culture that is increasingly hostile to anything that smacks of intellectualism? "Faced with pre-emptive, Internet-driven attacks on what they might do or say at any given moment -- and self-fulfilling prophesizing as to whom they surely will offend -- movie stars, comedians, even news anchors, increasingly spend their time in reactive mode. Good art -- and lively entertainment -- sets agendas. Defensive art typically is unwatchable." Chicago Tribune 03/06/05

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Musical Taste (Literally) "But the stimulated sensation is usually colour vision. Synaesthesia, as the stimulation of one sensory perception by another is known, is not that unusual. ES is a professional musician who is able, literally, to taste what she hears. Almost every musical interval provokes a gustatory sensation in her. A major third sounds sweet. A minor third, salty. A fourth has the flavour of mown grass. Only an octave is tasteless." The Economist 03/03/05

  • Cross-wiring The Brain Why do some people have a reaction in one sense when another is stimulated? "Neuroscientists think the condition occurs because certain regions of the brain "cross-activate" at the same time. So the tone perception center, for example, may be linked with the taste perception center. And studying synesthetes is giving clues to the working of the brain, one of the most complex structures in the universe." Wired 03/04/05

The Unforgivable Sin Of Noticing Beauty "New York Times dance critic John Rockwell kicked up a minor tempest recently when he wrote, of ballet dancers, that 'looks do count: for dramatic verisimilitude, for romantic illusion, for box-office excitement.' That such self-evident assertions would register as controversial says something about where we are these days in our unsettled view of beauty. The dissonance in the culture runs deep. We tend to look at exquisite dancers, fashion models, gorgeous movie stars, even particularly lovely people in daily life as a slightly different species, part idols and part freaks who occupy an alternative plane... We see beauty as a trick in some ways, a genetic ruse paired with the money, privilege and private trainers to cultivate it." San Francisco Chronicle 03/03/05

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Life, The Universe, And Everything? Don't Hold Your Breath. Some prominent scientists believe that modern physics is quite close to being able to announce a Grand Unified Theory of Everything - multiply the Big Bang Theory by a couple of million and you've got the general idea. However, a new book argues that, while science has made undeniably great strides in the understanding of our universe in recent decades, no one is even remotely close to having a complete understanding of the way in which all of reality is bound together. The book also argues that the popular "string theory" of quantum physics is completely wrongheaded, and seems to suggest that much of what is now assumed to be fact in quantum mechanics doesn't quite jive with reality. Meanwhile, the universe continues to exist, against all logic and reason... Wired 03/02/05

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