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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Researchers: TV Screen Clutter Impedes Understanding "In the past few years, television stations have begun to reformat their screen presentations to include scrolling screens, sports scores, stock prices and current weather news. These visual elements are all designed to give viewers what they want when they want it. However, Kansas State University researchers say that it's not working. 'Our conclusion has been that if you want people to understand the news better, then get that stuff off the screen. Clean it up and get it off because it is simply making it more difficult for people to understand what the anchor is saying. We discovered that when you have all of this stuff on the screen, people tend to remember about 10 percent fewer facts than when you don't have it on the screen." Newswise 04/27/05

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The New Mind-Reading Machines Are we really on the verge of inventing machines that will bee able to tell what you're thinking? "So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person’s awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious." New Scientist 04/26/05

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Antiquities Game "At first glance, the connection between those who loot antiquities and those who collect, trade, and preserve them seems the stuff of academic seminars and journals. Yet such is the allure of ancient treasures that, since the 1970s, this relationship has spawned global treaties, inflamed Third World nationalism, created a secretive Washington bureaucracy, and triggered federal prosecutions. To some, this international cooperation reflects the ability of the world’s nations to unite to protect an endangered world resource. To others, it demonstrates the hazards resulting when “feel-good” multinationalism collides not only with the sovereignty of the United States but with the basic human desire to surround oneself with objects of beauty." Reason 04/25/05

Why You Have To Be Smart To Watch Today's TV "For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. You have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all." New York Times Magazine 04/24/05

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Copyright - A Tax On Readers? "Copyright law is a tax on readers for the benefit of writers, a tax that shouldn’t last a day longer than necessary. What do we do? We extend the copyright term repeatedly on both sides of the Atlantic. The US goes from fourteen years to the author’s life plus seventy years. We extend protection retrospectively to dead authors, perhaps in the hope they will write from their tombs. Since only about 4 per cent of copyrighted works more than 20 years old are commercially available, this locks up 96 per cent of 20th century culture to benefit 4 per cent. The harm to the public is huge, the benefit to authors, tiny. In any other field, the officials responsible would be fired. Not here." Financial Times 04/24/05

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Will Digitization Make Libraries Rethink What They Do? So Google is going to digitize vast stores of the world's books. "Most librarians and archivists are ecstatic about the announcement, saying it will likely be remembered as the moment in history when society finally got serious about making knowledge ubiquitous. But some of the same people believe Google’s efforts and others like it will force libraries and librarians to reëxamine their core principles—including their commitment to spreading knowledge freely. Letting a for-profit organization like Google mediate access to library books, after all, could either open up long-hidden reserves of human wisdom or constitute the first step toward the privatization of the world’s literary heritage." MIT Technology Review 04/21/05

How About A Pope For The Rest of Us? "For those of us who came to Manhattan precisely because you're guaranteed never to meet anyone who has read the Left Behind series, America's much-celebrated spiritual revival can have its trying moments." But even the jaded and secular Tina Brown has to admit that Catholicism has made itself look awfully alluring over the weeks since the death of Pope John Paul II. But the election of Cardinal Ratzinger has sent what remains of the 'religious left' scurrying right back into hiding. "Secularists, humanists and quiet worshipers of an unpoliticized God have felt beleaguered, frustrated and unfairly disrespected. There's no energy on the non-zealot side of the cultural debate. There's no Voltaire, no Clarence Darrow, not even a Lenny Bruce to balance the stifling, censorious religiosity." Washington Post 04/21/05

Sunday, April 17, 2005

An Amazing Breakthrough: Scholars Decode Sophocles, Euripides... For a century, scholars have been trying to read a vast trove of ancient Greek and Roman texts. "Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed. In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia." The Independent (UK) 04/17/05

Will Pills Replace Psychoanalysis? As we learn more about how the brain works, we are starting to understand how moods and feelings are controlled by brain chemistry. So what happens to pschoanalysis - talk therapy - that has been popular since Freud? "Advances in neurology, and especially in pharmacology, have called such therapy into question. When psychological and emotional disturbances can be traced to faulty brain chemistry and corrected with a pill, the idea that sitting and talking can treat a problem such as clinical depression might seem outdated." The Economist 04/15/05

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fighting To Speak On American Campuses Freedom of speech is under attack on American college campuses. "On one campus or another, speech that is discomforting, embarrassing, flirtatious, gender specific, inappropriate, inconsiderate, harassing, intimidating, offensive, ridiculing or threatens a loss of “self-esteem” is banned by speech codes." InsideHigherEd 04/13/05

Is US Falling Behind In Basic Research? The US has been a world leader in basic research for generations. But budgets for that research on many levels is being cut. Many scientists fear that "the United States unwittingly may be positioning itself for a long, steady decline in basic research - a key engine for economic growth - at a time when competitors from Europe and Asia are hot on America's heels." Christian Science Monitor 04/14/05

Do Critics Count Anymore? (Nope) Today's art critics have been marginalized. "Ultimately, the critic seems trapped in an inherently reactive and ever-more marginalised position. After all, the function of critics has remained largely static while the art world metastasised, growing too big to allow them any real overview, charging too fast for their publication deadlines and developing a slew of new information channels that bypass critics altogether. Not so long ago, Europeans depended upon travelling critics to relate the latest developments in New York or London. Today, fairs and biennials function as seasonal trend updates, and anyone curious about a faraway show can simply hit the gallery’s website for JPGs and a press release." The Art Newspaper 04/15/05

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

In Minneapolis: Wireless Internet As Basic Public Infrastructure The city of Minneapolis is to go wireless. The city will be covered with a wireless internet connection available to anyone. "Consumers would be able to buy broadband access of 1 million to 3 million bits per second for $18 to $24 a month -- a bit slower than wired cable modem service but about half the price. The network also is expected to create an economic incentive for businesses to locate in Minneapolis. If someone gets off a plane at the airport and signs up for Minneapolis Internet service, they can sign on with one password anywhere in the city." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 04/12/05

Who Owns The Copyright? (A Tale Of Orphans) A big problem with the current copyright laws is that it's difficult or impossible to trace the owners of the vast majority of older works protected by copyright. "Even if the risk of a copyright infringement claim is low, creators who build on another's work do not want to take the risk of getting sued. Copyright owners can ask for up to $150,000 damages per work infringed." Now the US copyright office is trying to address the problem, and asking for help. Wired 04/12/05

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Art As A Way Of Understanding The Universe (Literally) Can art help us understand natural physical phenomena? A competition at the Massachusetts Institute of technology suggests it can. "The Weird Fields contest, part of the undergraduate course 'Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism,' — encourages students to use a special computer program that converts mathematical formulas into visual representations of electromagnetic fields. The resulting swirls, loops, circles and squares, while not necessarily corresponding exactly to those occurring in nature, offer a creative way to understand some of the most abstract concepts in physics." Discover 04/08/05

Burning Out On Pop Culture Pop culture is, by definition, fun. It's fun to keep up with celebrities, fun to gossip with friends about the latest fashions, albums, movies, etc. But these days, there's just so much pop culture to soak in that keeping oneself on the cutting edge is almost a full time job. "How [can] anyone find time to update their LiveJournals, finish reading the new Sheila Heti novel, or get tickets for the just announced M.I.A./LCD Soundsystem show in May? They had to stay up to the wee hours just to kill a few more soldiers in the new Splinter Cell or druggies in Narc. And who had time to wait for the perfect iPod Shuffle moment to magically appear?" Welcome to the phenomenon known as 'hipster burnout.' Toronto Star 04/09/05

Friday, April 8, 2005

Saul Bellow On Getting Close To Art: The “trained sensibility,” he says, is unavailable “unless you take certain masterpieces into yourself as if they were communion wafers.... If you don’t give literature a decisive part to play in your existence, then you haven’t got anything but a show of culture. It has no reality whatever. It’s an acceptable challenge to internalize all of these great things, all of this marvelous poetry. When you’ve done that, you’ve been shaped from within by these books and these writers.” InsideHigherEd 04/07/05

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Knowledge - Of Art And Science "In the modern world, we have seen scientific knowledge assume a status as the most valuable or authoritative kind of knowledge, while artistic knowledge and intelligence is relegated to a secondary status. Science usually struggles when that which is unquantifiable can't be squeezed into an equation, while music and the arts often stretch perception away from the steady state. Yet equations are metaphors for reality and perhaps have more similarity to art than we might usually accord them." NewMusicBox 04/05

Is Multi-Tasking Rotting Our Kids Brains? "As U.S. children are exposed to 8½ hours of TV, video games, computers and other media a day — often at once — are they losing the ability to concentrate? Are their developing brains becoming hard-wired to "multi-task lite" rather than learn the focused critical thinking needed for a democracy?" USAToday 03/30/05

Idiocy Is The New Intellectualism "We live in a curious age of relettering ('Hi! I'm Cyndee!'), reversals (Red Sox = world champions), and rejiggering. Paid flacks are the new journalists, fiction is the new truth, war is the new peace. The New York Times announced this week that Kiev is the new Prague. Does that mean we have to start drinking Ukrainian beer? I hope not. Osama bin Laden has famously declared that America is the new Rome... Perhaps you are familiar with the ladies' apparel phenomenon known as vanity sizing. Here is all you need to know: Size 6 is the new 8." And of course, absolutely everything is the new black. Whatever happened to the world just being itself? Boston Globe 04/07/05

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

The New Intellectuals? "While universities continue to play an important role in intellectual culture, increasingly they are no longer the only game in town. With the rise of the knowledge economy and the spread of decentralizing technology, the academy is ceding authority and attention to businesses, nonprofits, foundations, media outlets, and Internet communities. Even more significant, in my mind, the academy may be losing something else: its hold over many of its most promising young academics, who appear more and more willing to take their services elsewhere — and who may comprise an embryonic cohort of new “postacademic intellectuals” in the making." InsideHigherEd 04/04/05

And The Scan Says: I Trust You Scientists say they can use a brain scanner to tell whether one person trusts another person. "The results suggest that a brain region called the caudate nucleus lights up when it receives or computes data to make decisions based on trust." BBC 04/05/05

Monday, April 4, 2005

When All Of The Knowledge Of The World Comes Together We're in a new era of globalization, writes Thomas Friedman. "We are now in the process of connecting all the knowledge pools in the world together. We've tasted some of the downsides of that in the way that Osama bin Laden has connected terrorist knowledge pools together through his Qaeda network, not to mention the work of teenage hackers spinning off more and more lethal computer viruses that affect us all. But the upside is that by connecting all these knowledge pools we are on the cusp of an incredible new era of innovation, an era that will be driven from left field and right field, from West and East and from North and South." New York Times Magazine 04/03/05

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Of Right And Wrong (And What Does This Mean On The Internet?) The Internet and its fermentation tank of constantly emerging technologies makes it unclear what 'winning' means anymore. It's called right and wrong. It may seem quaintly old school to suggest that people should stop downloading culture without paying simply because it's the right thing to do. But that may be the best option available. For starters, if "the people" don't solve this problem themselves, Congress will, and you won't like the solution--unless you enjoy the tax code. OpinionJournal.com 04/01/05

Infotainment Comes To The Sports World Sports are beloved by fans largely because of the opportunities they present for dramatic finishes, for those heart-in-your-throat moments of great success and even greater failure. One of the greatest sports cliches is "You couldn't have scripted it any better." But of course, you usually could have, and the entertainment industry does so on a regular basis. Perhaps as a result of the inherently similar qualities of drama in sports and in entertainment, the line between the two worlds has blurred considerably in recent years. "Sports events are more and more about the personalities and subplots... Meanwhile, entertainment has become all about competition." Chicago Tribune 04/02/05

Spring Forward, For No Good Reason At All Well, here we are again, Daylight Savings Time, and for what? For whom? Nobody knows, it would seem, and those who think they do are almost invariably wrong. Daylight Savings is there to help farmers? Nope. They hate it. Foisted on the nation by a meddling, monolithic federal government? Not true, either. "The custom rests on an illusion: that we are doing something to time -- yielding an hour in the spring, recovering it in the fall. Of course, it's not so." And as with so many wacky ideas firmly entrenched in the American mind, this one can be traced back to that king of deep thoughts and strange utterances, Benjamin Franklin. Boston Globe 04/02/05

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