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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What We've Learned About The World From Video Games "Economics is loosely defined as choice under scarcity. After all, in the real world, there's only so much to go around. You can't always get what you want, and unfulfilled desires give rise to markets. But in a game world, there's no inherent reason for scarcity. Game designers have given us plenty of utopias where we can have all the mithril we want, to buy whatever we want whenever we want it. Problem is, those worlds turn out to be dull." Wired 03/29/06

Elevator Music - Junk Food For Our Emotions "Perhaps the use of muzak is in part a reflection of our preoccupation with gloss and spin - buff up the surface, attend to every external area of presentation and, with luck, anything goes underneath. But more than this, the use of muzak is pernicious because it is manipulative. Its effects, like those of the constant bombardment of sexual imagery, are insidious. We should be under no illusions: the power of music to manipulate our emotions is well known and widely exploited. And formulaic muzak stimulates only the very shallowest of our emotions, arousing or lulling our surface senses to order." The Guardian (UK) 03/28/06

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gotta Brainstorm? That's Not Very Creative "The trouble with brainstorming is that it reduces people into impersonal little thought bites, little sound bites. It doesn't allow them to access their imagination the way they can with avatars, and it doesn't allow personal emotional investment. Its emphasis on nonjudgmental positivity prevents animus and its bitter, exciting battles. Brainstorming, with its image of storm troopers from faceless military platoons or free-associating advertising drones, encourages hivemind rather than originality." Wired 03/28/06

The Smartest Countries In Europe (A List) Germany comes out on top in a new study, followed by the Netherlands. Researchers say "that populations in the colder, more challenging environments of Northern Europe had developed larger brains than those in warmer climates further south. The average brain size in Northern and Central Europe is 1,320cc and in southeast Europe it is 1,312cc." The Times (UK) 03/27/06

The Woman With The Perfect Memory A woman named AJ remembers everything that ever happened to her. Everything. "Give her any date, she said, and she could recall the day of the week, usually what the weather was like on that day, personal details of her life at that time, and major news events that occurred on that date." ABCNews 03/27/06

Monday, March 27, 2006

Brain Game That Makes You Smarter "Next month, Nintendo is releasing Brain Age, a DS game based on the research of the Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. Kawashima found that if you measured the brain activity of someone who was concentrating on a single, complex task -- like studying quantum theory -- several parts of that person's brain would light up. But if you asked them to answer a rapid-fire slew of tiny, simple problems -- like basic math questions -- her or his brain would light up everywhere." Wired 03/27/06

The Future: Third World Cities? "The third-world metropolis is becoming the symbol of the 'new'. If, for the better part of the 20th century, it was New York and its glistening imitations that symbolised the future, it is now the stacked-up, sprawling, impromptu city-countries of the third world. The idea of the total, centralised, maximally efficient, planned city has long since lost its futuristic appeal: its confidence and ambition have turned to anxiety and besiegement; its homogenising obsession has induced counter-fantasies of insubordination, excess and life forms in chaotic variety. Such desires find in the third-world metropolis a scope, a speed, a more fecund ecology." New Statesman 03/27/06

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The End Of Feminism? "According to a remarkable thesis that has blown open the debate around feminism, sexism and the future role of women, a new generation of bright, rich professionals have broken through the glass ceiling and have nothing to fear from the men around them. They will be just as successful." But "the meteoric rise of this new generation of 'go-getting women' who want high-powered, well-paid jobs has dire consequences for society. It has diverted the most talented away from the caring professions such as teaching, stopped them volunteering, is in danger of ending the notion of 'female altruism', has turned many women off having children - and has effectively killed off feminism." The Observer (UK) 03/26/06

Satire Artist Proposes Wind Farm Vacation A planned windfarm off Nantucket Island has drawn the ire of residents worried about their views. Now Artist Jay Critchley has an idea to pretty it up. Critchley has "submitted a proposal to the Corps of Engineers for 'Martucket Eyeland,' a 'Las Vegas-style, family-oriented vacation land' to be built in the ocean on a corner of Cape Wind Associates' planned Nantucket Sound wind farm. The man-made island would offer the sights of Cape Cod - including the Pilgrim Monument - with terrific views of the turbines." Cape Cod Times 03/25/06

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Orchestra Of Laptops The Princeton Laptop Orchestra, founded last fall, can, with "15 first-year students on Macs connected to custom omnidirectional speakers" emulate a full-fledged orchestra. "Or an electronica band. Or a jazz combo. It's easy when the conductor keeps time via network clocks precise to 20 milliseconds." Wired 03/23/06

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ownership Of Heritage? It's Complicated "Heritage is piously declared the legacy of all humanity. But the possessive jealousies of particular claimants pose huge obstacles to our global common inheritance. Confining possession to some while excluding others is the raison d'tre of most heritage. Created to generate and protect group interests, it benefits us mainly if withheld from others..." spiked-online 03/16/06

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rethinking The 'Burbs Is it time to rethink our perceptions of urban sprawl? "Does sprawl include exurbia, the outmost band of development, ... the very low-density urban penumbra that lies beyond the regularly built-up suburbs and their urban services? Or is it the newly emerging suburban band of conventional subdivisions, golf courses, schools, and strip malls located closer in toward the city? If the latter is sprawl, is it logical to exclude older suburbs? Certainly at one time these older communities, even many of the most densely packed inner neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, were themselves relatively low in density and suburban in character compared to what was the core of the city. Why wouldn't they be considered historic sprawl?" Chronicle of Higher Education 03/21/06

Will Today's Games Change The World? "An entire generation has grown up with a different set of games than any before it. Just watch a kid with a new videogame. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn't a random process; it's the essence of the scientific method. Through trial and error, players build a model of the underlying game based on empirical evidence collected through play. As the players refine this model, they begin to master the game world. It's a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment, and analysis. And it's a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual-first approach of their parents." Wired 03/21/06

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Public Broadcasting Endowment? The US is planning a major auction of broadcast bandwidth, which could mean a bonanza for public broadcasting. "The auction, now scheduled for 2009, is being made possible by the switch from analog to digital broadcasting technology. Digital broadcasting requires less bandwidth than analog, meaning parts of the spectrum can be freed up for sale to cell phone companies, wireless Internet firms and others.the auction could generate anywhere from $500 million to $5 billion that could be used to set up a permanent trust fund for public broadcasting." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 03/20/06

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Do Buildings Build Jobs? Not What The Economists Say... "For a decade and a half, the belief that sports teams were economic drivers helped persuade cities and states to shower billions of dollars on major league sports teams, most of it to build state-of-the-art stadiums." But "a small community of economists who have taken up and methodically rejected many of the claims made about the economic benefits of major league sports teams: that they create jobs or bring money to local businesses or otherwise spur economic growth." So why are cities still falling for these arguments? Boston Globe 03/19/06

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Help Me - I'm Over-Entertained! "I now have more entertainment in my diet than I could ever possibly hope to consume. If entertainment was food, Id be stuffed. Id be grossly overweight. What does it all mean, you may ask. What are the implications of having so many choices? Well, for starters, it means I have to be very selective..." London Free Press 03/16/06

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Is "Fake" Violence Rotting Us From The Inside Out? "Violence no longer informs me. It no longer has the power to teach. It is a one-note song I've heard so many times it has lost its power to stun or impress or delve deep. It now merely tears at the fabric of the soul, punches holes in the anima, scrapes its knuckles on the pavement of hate, and you can shrug and roll your eyes and go watch The Hills Have Eyes or Saw II or even play some hi-res shockingly ultraviolent video game and enjoy the brutal escapism and wallow in the bloodshed while pretending it's not slowly, quietly blackening your world view like a smoker sucking down another carton of Marlboro Reds, but deep down, where the meanings are, I think maybe, just maybe, you might be seriously mistaken." San Francisco Chronicle 03/15/06

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Grand Unifying Theory Of Everything Seth Lloyd believes that "the universe is a gigantic quantum computer. When you zap things with light to build quantum computers, you're hacking existing systems. You're hijacking the computation that's already happening in the universe, just like a hacker takes over someone else's computer." Wired 03/14/06

Monday, March 13, 2006

Computers That Play Hunches Computers aren't good at making intuitive choices. But a new "hunch engine" promises to improve things. "When the user starts the hunch engine he is presented with a seed -- a starting point -- and a set of mutations. The user selects mutations that look promising in his eyes, and the application uses that selection to generate another set of mutations, continuing in that fashion until the user is satisfied with what he sees. Call it guided natural selection, where the selector for fitness is what looks good to the human in front of the monitor." Wired 03/13/06

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Cult Of Cool we've wanted to be "cool" now for 50 years. "No other cultural phenomenon in the United States has lasted so long. None has determined so powerfully how we want to be thought of. And even the geekiest among us, the proudest and most combative of misfits, lepers with ulcerated noses forever pressed to the glass, have at one time or another allowed it to influence their decisions. It is that much an American standard." Chicago Tribune 03/12/06

Inspired By... What, Exactly? Every artist, actor, writer, and musician talks about it, but what is this mysterious thing called 'inspiration'? "If you are a religious believer of any denomination you know, or at least you have words for, where your inspiration comes from, however mysterious it may seem... But for the more secular-minded there is not much language to talk about inspiration without beginning to sound a bit mystical, reliant on some powerful source or force that can't quite be named but can't quite be ignored." The Observer (UK) 03/12/06

Friday, March 10, 2006

Interpreting The Music (Silently) You think music is all about the sound? Nope. In Seattle, interpreters perform at concerts to translate for deaf fans. "The craft is harder than it sounds: At its best, it's being prepared and knowledgeable enough to communicate the essence of an artist's lyrics over the actual words. By law, venues must provide interpreters upon request. And while local ticket sellers report just a handful of requests a year typically for big-name events it's been particularly busy for KeyArena, which has trotted out U2, McCartney and the Stones." Seattle Times 03/10/06

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

That's Ridiculous "Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression; its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements." New York Review of Books 03/11/06

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Video Games - A Cure For Aging? Can video games help stave off old age? Millions of Japanese believe so. "Players have to complete puzzles as quickly and accurately as possible, including reading literary classics aloud, doing simple arithmetic, drawing, and responding rapidly to deceptively easy teasers using voice-recognition software. The player's "brain age" is then determined. A physically fit, yet cerebrally past-it 30-year-old might be told after his first few attempts that his brain is into its 50s; a retired woman could, over time, end up with a brain age 20 years her junior. The challenge, to reduce one's brain age, is proving addictive among Japan's baby boomers." The Guardian (UK) 03/07/06

Cross-Cultural Translation After 'It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp' won best song at the Oscars, it rocketed in popularity. "Why this song? Why now? When 'white' culture borrows from 'black' culture, it doesn't necessarily borrow what it thinks it's borrowing. The real meaning of the song, its reference to pimps, its role within a movie documenting the often pathetic efforts at stardom of a pimp who also makes music, isn't particularly relevant. When a piece of cultural stuff makes the transition into the mainstream, it often does so on terms entirely different from what it originally meant." Washington Post 03/07/06

Monday, March 6, 2006

High And Low English? "It often seems that the English language is heading off in two separate directions. On the one hand there are the wild abbreviated inventions of texting, all the different pidgin languages that are born on the street corner when an ethnic language bangs into English and the technospeak of modernity. All these separate strands of invention are blurring together to create a new English with a hybrid vigour." The Guardian (UK) 03/06/06

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Harvard - Not What It Used To Be? "For the past three decades, Harvard's reputation for preeminence has not always reflected reality in Cambridge. Who now thinks Harvard is better in engineering than MIT or Caltech? Who thinks Harvard's Law School, hobbled by rancorous dissent, is better than Yale's, Virginia's, or Stanford's? Its Philosophy Department, once the home of William James, C.I. Lewis, and W.V.O. Quine, is now typically ranked below departments at Michigan and Pittsburgh. Harvard's relative decline is not entirely its own fault." Boston Globe 03/05/06

Friday, March 3, 2006

Writing By Hand In An Age Of Email Who writes letters anymore in the age of email? Except, maybe email makes us appreciate the written note more. "E-mail may have revolutionized our communication, making it faster, easier, more practical. But that doesn't mean the handwritten note is dead. Instead, the act of putting pen to paper seems to have gained in currency. Now it's what you do to say something special, or heartfelt, or really important." Los Angeles Times 03/03/06

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Download Your Feelings Online Music fans are uploading playlists they've created to music services and tagging them thematically. It's "a phenomenon that some researchers predict will dramatically change the online music business before the decade is out. IMixes are the online cousins of amateur cassette-tape and CD mixes created over the years by countless music collectors as soundtracks for parties and road trips. Many of the playlists focus on a theme -- and many of those on a personal one, whether the subject is a lost love, a class reunion, a nasty breakup, duty in Iraq or a new romance." Washington Post 03/01/06

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Social Networking Beats Big Media Sites "In the past 12 months, 'social networking' has gone from being the next big thing to the thing itself. Last month, MySpace, the site that famously propelled the Arctic Monkeys to pop stardom, overtook the BBC website in terms of visitor numbers. Along with competing sites Bebo and Facebook, MySpace has formed one of the fastest growing sectors on the internet." The Guardian (UK) 03/02/06

Abbreviations and the Verbing of Everything Do Not A Language Make "Computer-speak is not just a dialect or vocabulary -- it has grammatical principles all its own. That's the claim in the current issue of English Today... But [the] suggestion that the grammar of e-English is new or different doesn't hold up," and Nathan Bierma can prove it. Chicago Tribune 03/01/06

What The 1st Amendment Needs Is A Hit TV Show A new study clearly designed to shock Americans into a higher sense of civic responsibility has revealed that more of us can name the members of TV's Simpson family than can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. (Yes, there are five. Look it up.) In other stunning news, ArtsJournal has learned that more Americans are familiar with the work of Jon Stewart than can recite a Walt Whitman poem from memory. Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 03/01/06

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