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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Neutral Is To Internet As Objective Is To Journalism? "Arguments over net regulations are nothing new. But they have taken on fresh urgency as the industry absorbs a wave of megamergers and the internet rapidly evolves into a high-bandwidth pipe capable of replicating -- and perhaps even replacing -- both traditional telephone and cable TV services." The central argument is over something called "net neutrality," but the term may be a bit misleading, since the internet has never been truly neutral. Wired 05/31/06

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Underlying UnFairness Doctrine You're open-minded? Sure you are. Of course. And yet... A study shows that "we may intend to be fair, but underneath our awareness, our minds automatically make connections and ignore contradictory information..." Scientific American 05/30/06

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bach By Deaf Kids? Is It Art? Is trying to teach deaf kids to sing Bach cruel? Or is it inspiring? A new video documenting the exercise raises questions about artistic impulse. "The video first shows us the deaf students learning to sing, under the guidance of an enthusiastic young music teacher. Not surprisingly, the result comes close to pure cacophony. It's likely to provoke a grimace from music lovers. It's also likely to pain anyone with even a hint of political correctness." Washington Post 05/28/06

The Dance Of Form And Function (In An Airline Terminal) Want to design a public space that works well? One where the flow of people is practical, yet pleasant to be in? A place that gets the job done, but also one where people like to come? Hire a choreographer to think about the way people will move in it. That's what architect David Rockwell did when he consulted choreographer Jerry Mitchell... The New York Times 05/28/06

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The New Airport City Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport employs 58,000 people. It "is but one example of how major airports are beginning to drive business siting and urban development in the 21st century, much as highways did in the 20th, railroads in the 19th, and seaports in the 18th. As aviation-oriented businesses cluster at and near major airports, a new urban entity is emerging: the Aerotropolis." Next American City 05/06

Getting Excited Over Cell Phones (Your Brain Does) A new study reports that the brain responds when you use your cellphone. "When the researchers looked at the brain during phone emissions, they found 'an excitability increase in the exposed left hemisphere' as compared to the non-exposed side of the head and the sham exposure. The effect lasted up to one hour after the end of exposure." Discovery 05/25/06

Not To Defend Cheating, But... "As a graduate student, as a course instructor, I have come to the conclusion that I welcome the arrival of the world — in the form of ubiquitous contemporary technology — into the stultified environment of higher education. I must also welcome these new methods of cheating because, perhaps, only under the pressure of this now powerfully armed student revolt will high school teachers and college professors finally begin to adapt to new realities and begin to actually teach and facilitate learning and assess students in real and relevant ways." InsideHigherEd 05/25/06

The Power Of Crowds "Just as distributed computing projects like UC Berkeley’s SETI@home have tapped the unused processing power of millions of individual computers, so distributed labor networks are using the Internet to exploit the spare processing power of millions of human brains. The productive potential of millions of plugged-in enthusiasts is attracting the attention of old-line businesses, too. For the last decade or so, companies have been looking overseas, to India or China, for cheap labor. But now it doesn’t matter where the laborers are – they might be down the block, they might be in Indonesia – as long as they are connected to the network." Wired 05/25/06

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why We Love Lists? What is it about lists? People seem addicted to them. "For lists today, no matter how titillating, are like pornography: Once the guilt sets in, you can't escape feeling dirty for having lingered over them. It wasn't always thus." Chronicle of Higher Education 05/26/06

Monday, May 22, 2006

It Ain't Art Unless It's Making People Angry Architecture may be the only artistic pursuit left that we really argue about. That isn't to say that people don't have musical, artistic, and theatrical preferences, but architecture remains "a subject that is fraught with genuine conflict, and it seems to have acquired an extraordinary capacity to make all kinds of people extremely angry about issues that range from the most intensely personal to the most diffusely political." The New York Times Magazine 05/21/06

Warum Nicht Sind Sie Lachend? Contrary to popular belief, Germans do have a sense of humor, as any native speaker can tell you. But translating English humor to German never seems to work, and the language itself may just be the reason. "At a rough estimate, half of what we find amusing involves using little linguistic tricks to conceal the subject of our sentences until the last possible moment, so that it appears we are talking about something else... But German will not always allow you to shunt the key word to the end of the sentence to achieve this failsafe laugh... The German language provides fully functional clarity. English humour thrives on confusion." The Guardian (UK) 05/23/06

Sunday, May 21, 2006

America Long On Faith, Short On Knowledge Americans are supposed to be devout, even over-the-top, religious devotees. But we're also buying the supposedly sacrilegious DaVinci Code as fast as the copies can be printed. What gives? "The attitudes that make Americans so 'religious' are the same ones that have made them such a ready market for the Da Vinci flimflam." Los Angeles Times 05/20/06

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bush's America, Through British Eyes Imagine you're a Briton spending a few years in America, starting somewhere around the beginning of 2003. Two years removed from the 9/11 attacks, and a few months shy of the invasion of Iraq, how did America look to an outsider? "I have always found America exciting; but, for better or worse, never exceptional. Its efforts at global domination seemed like a plot development in the narrative of European empire rather than a break from it... The fact that it is a big country, which, like any complicated and interesting place, is full of contradictions, is axiomatic. But it is rare to see a political culture and counter-culture so enmeshed, confused and evenly balanced (in numerical terms, at least) that it is impossible to tell which is which." The Guardian (UK) 05/19/06

The Sin of Omission Musician and rock critic Stephin Merritt has lately become a target of several of his fellow critics, who have branded him a racist. Merritt's crime? Making a list of his favorite songs that included no black artists, disliking modern hip-hop, and saying that he liked the song, "Zip A Dee Doo Dah." The flame war has ignited a debate over the line between musical taste and the wider culture. Or as one writer put it, "If the number of black artists in your iPod falls too far below 12.5 percent of the total, then you are violating someone's civil rights." The New York Times 05/18/06

The Politics of Privacy The debate over privacy vs. security has been raging in Washington and across the country recently, thanks to the controversial surveillance tactics being used by the Bush Administration. But in such a globally connected world, what is privacy, anyway, and can we really afford it? Bruce Schneier says the issue is far simpler than many people make it sound, and the obvious conclusion is that we can't afford not to make privacy a priority. "We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need." Wired 05/18/06

Monday, May 15, 2006

Write A Screenplay, Win The Lottery - It's all The Same, Isn't It? Want to strike it rich? Write something. At least that's what an awful lot of people seem to be thinking about these days. They are writing the screenplay - or, since Harry Potter, the children's book - that will overnight, pay off the mortgage, free them from the job, allow the kids to have a great education and pay for the rest of their lives to be lived in tasteful but significant luxury." Trouble is - your chances of that ever happening are about the same as winning the lottery... The Guardian (UK) 05/15/06

Do We Need To Remember To Fail? "The unprecedented success of technology in the last 50 years may have also created an expectation that failure should be anticipated and eliminated in all aspects of life. This leaves less and less tolerance for its inevitable persistence; very little margin is left for error. That is understandable in deciding whether bolts or welds should be used in a skyscraper (as became an issue in the Citigroup Tower in New York); large forces hinge on such small decisions. But that absolutist approach also entails unexpected sacrifices in other aspects of life, particularly when avoidance of failure and accident becomes the guiding principle for future design and behavior." The New York Times 05/15/06

Sunday, May 14, 2006

All The Books In The World In One Place That's the dream of armies of copiers, working to digitize the world's libraries. "The dream is an old one: to have in one place all knowledge, past and present. All books, all documents, all conceptual works, in all languages. It is a familiar hope, in part because long ago we briefly built such a library. The great library at Alexandria, constructed around 300 B.C., was designed to hold all the scrolls circulating in the known world..." The New York Times Magazine 05/14/06

Great Music - Some Basic Questions "We need to wake up to the fact that people are now asking basic questions. Why are we musical? Why did people write symphonies? Why do we have the string quartet? They seem child-like, these questions, but they're there to provide us with the opportunity to enthuse and explain and demonstrate the answers we first stumbled upon in our musical journey and which encouraged us to make that journey in the first place. Figure out our answers to those questions, and it will help us tackle some more simple, yet more terrifying, questions: why should the state spend money on the arts, why do we have opera and why is it so expensive, why should we have so many orchestras in London?" The Observer (UK) 05/14/06

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Short History Of Booing "The first written record comes from ancient Greece. At the annual Festival of Dionysia in Athens, playwrights competed to determine whose tragedy was the best. When the democratic reformer Cleisthenes came to power in the sixth century B.C., audience participation came to be regarded as a civic duty. The audience applauded to show its approval and shouted and whistled to show displeasure." Slate 05/11/06

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Politics Of Ranking Your Friends "If the Internet was once ungoverned by etiquette, those days are gone; MySpace and its siblings, by many accounts the future of the Net, are rife with discussions of good manners versus unforgivable faux pas. There isn't an aristocratic class, just yet, but you can see the lines forming in the sand, renegades and bad boys posting bulletins pell-mell, uploading risque pictures, collecting "friends" as if it's all some big popularity contest — while mannered netizens look on disapprovingly. Screw up and you just might get dumped, online and off." Los Angeles Times 05/10/06

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Is The U.S. On The Verge Of Going Bilingual? To judge from the furor raised by conservatives last week when a group of Latin recording artists released a Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner, you would have thought that America was on the verge of losing its very soul. Ariel Dorfman says that we'd better get used to it. "This Spanish is not going to fade away as Norwegian or Italian or German did during previous assimilated waves... If this prophecy of mine is right, and America will sometime in the near or distant future be articulating its identity in two inevitable languages, then the question looms: how will the citizens of the United States react to this monumental challenge?" The Guardian (UK) 05/10/06

What Is Experience Worth? The older we get, the more we like to reflect on the importance of "life experience," and how the passage of time can give human beings an expertise in their chosen field that raw talent never can. But how important is experience, really? After all, talented athletes now begin their professional careers as teenagers, and don't appear to suffer from a lack of life experience. Could the same be true in politics, music, or art? Is it possible that all the talk of seasoning and maturation is nothing more than our fear of those younger than us? The Guardian (UK) 05/10/06

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Documenting A Revolution Of Thought It lasted for only a year in the late 1920s, and only 15 issues were ever printed, but Georges Bataille's controversial and provocative magazine, Documents stands as one of the most influential publications of the 20th century. "Conceived as a 'war machine against received ideas', Documents drew in several dissident surrealists such as Leiris, Joan Miró, Robert Desnos and André Masson. As, in his own words, surrealism's 'old enemy from within', Bataille was uncompromising in his disdain for art as a panacea and a substitute for human experience, his problem remaining 'the place that surrealism gave to poetry and painting: it placed the work before being'." The Guardian (UK) 05/06/06

Friday, May 5, 2006

Don't Know Much About... Science "It is easy to say Americans, even those graduating from elite universities, lack scientific knowledge. But it is hard to define what science literacy consists of-and harder still to know how universities can impart it to, say, English majors. Does science literacy mean knowing a roster of facts or concepts? Having a sense of the scientific method? Appreciating the history and philosophy of science? Being competent in math, the lingua franca of the sciences? All of the above?" Boston Globe 05/05/06

Reinventing the Public Library (shhh...It's an "Idea Store"...) to begin with, don't call them libraries. "This is the Whitechapel Idea Store, the flagship of a $44 million project initiated by the London borough of Tower Hamlets. The council aims to replace the area's century-old libraries-largely disused and falling into disrepair after decades of meager funding and neglect-with modernized venues. More than just rehabbing buildings, though, the mission of the Idea Stores is to rejuvenate, as well as rename, the very concept of the British public library, starting in one of London's toughest neighborhoods." Boston Globe 05/05/06

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

A New Idea In Collaborative Writing (Or Book By Committee) A Scottish technician is auctioning off the writing of pages of a book on eBay. "So far, eight pages of the unique book, Novel Twists, have been written by eight different people from Scotland, Canada, Ireland, the US, and England. Nobody knows who is going to write the ninth page, never mind the following 241. Each author has to contribute between 250 and 450 words, making for a book of 62,000 to 112,000 words. As for the plot, it's anybody's guess." Glasgow Herald 05/01/06

Where Does Life Evolve The Fastest? In the tropics. "A census of all the plants and animals around the world would reveal that species richness is uneven: it is highest in the tropics, the regions of Earth near the equator, and lower the closer one goes toward the planet's poles." LiveScience.com 05/03/06

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Study: Girls Come Out Ahead On Technology "After one of the most comprehensive studies of the effect on children of the explosion in media choices of the past 15 years, the regulator Ofcom said girls aged 12 to 15 are more likely than boys to have a mobile phone, use the internet, listen to the radio and read newspapers or magazines. Only when it comes to playing computer and console games do boys overtake girls." The Guardian (UK) 05/03/06

Is The Web The New Rock 'n Roll? "Forty years ago, music was leading a social revolution, disrupting the establishment and empowering a new generation. Today's web technology and social media, known as Web 2.0, or the second wave of the internet, are leading a similar challenge and the long-term effects are likely to be greater. Once again we are divided into those who get it and those who don't." BBC 05/02/06

Monday, May 1, 2006

What Does It mean When Wrong Is Used More Than Right? Ancient English cliches and expressions are being mangled by the culture of cut and paste and the spread of unchecked writing on the internet. According to the Oxford English Corpus, a database of a billion words, dozens of traditional phrases are now more commonly misspelled than rendered correctly in written English." The Guardian (UK) 05/01/06

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