Archive for the ‘technology’ tag
Inspired by yesterday’s time video, I Googled to discover how GPS is owned. Turns out, it’s owned by the US national government, which constitutes an understandably a troubling monopoly to rival powers. So China, India, Russia, and Europe all have systems that provide similar functionality to GPS. I went on a mini rant about the whole topic on Twitter.
A really interesting point I’d never encountered:
How many calls to a typical U.S. fire department are actually about fires? Less than 20%. If fire departments aren’t getting calls about fires, what are they mostly getting calls about? They are getting calls about medical emergencies, traffic accidents, and, yes, cats in trees, but they are rarely being called about fires. They are, in other words, organizations that, despite their name, deal with everything but fires.
Why, then, are they called fire departments? Because of history. Cities used to be built out of pre-combustion materials—wood straight from the forest, for example—but they are now mostly built of post-combustion materials—steel, concrete, and other materials that have passed through flame. Fire departments were created when fighting fires was an urgent urban need, and now their name lives on, a reminder of their host cities’ combustible past.
The post goes on to explore how this exists for other models in the world, and is well worth reading, but I never really recognized that specifically about fire departments.
I enjoyed this column from David Brooks. His points about the abilities that humans have that machines don’t and likely won’t:
Second, the era seems to reward people with extended time horizons and strategic discipline. When Garry Kasparov was teaming with a computer to play freestyle chess (in which a human and machine join up to play against another human and machine), he reported that his machine partner possessed greater “tactical acuity,” but he possessed greater “strategic guidance.”
Maria Konnikova pens a nice think-piece about virality on the internet. And while it’s fitting that the New Yorker would name a piece like it would be easy to digest and then not deliver, it is honestly annoying me a little bit that not only does the piece lack a list, but it even lacks something approximating it within the structure. But this is intersting:
First, he told me, you need to create social currency—something that makes people feel that they’re not only smart but in the know. “Memes like LOLcats, I think, are a perfect example of social currency, an insider culture or handshake,” Berger told me. “Your ability to pass it on and riff on it shows that you understand. It’s the ultimate, subtle insider signal: I know without yelling that I know. When your mom sees an LOLcat, she has no idea what it is.”
I’ve needed to transcribe some audio recently, and found it quite a bear of a task. Transcription services aren’t error-free, and they typically take at least 24 hours to turn around. But YouTube videos get free machine transcription, and while it’s more error-full than a human transcription it’s probably faster.
Andy Baio explain:
How’s the quality? Pretty mediocre! It’s about as good as you’d expect from a free machine-generated transcript. The caption files have no punctuation between sentences, speakers aren’t broken out separately, and errors are very common.
But if you’re transcribing interviews, it’s often easier to edit a flawed transcript than starting from scratch. And YouTube provides a solid interface for editing your transcript audio and getting the results in plaintext.
I’d not really thought about it, but it’s probably true. I type a lot less periods than I should for the amount of text I write, and this may well be the reason:
I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”
This made the rounds in the technology-focused sphere almost a month ago, but I just finally read it. While Frank Chimero’s beautiful visual essay is aimed at people making technology, it’s rich enough to be relevant even if you aren’t. Plus it’s so damn pretty! Plus so phrasing are just beautiful:
One of the reasons that I’m so fascinated by screens is because their story is our story. First there was darkness, and then there was light. And then we figured out how to make that light dance. Both stories are about transformations, about change. Screens have flux, and so do we.
A really interesting piece by Alexis Madrigal about the weird enmeshing of people and machines that constitutes a likely future of telemarketing.
Such conversations happen millions of times a year, but they are not what they appear. Because while a human is picking up the phone, and a human is dialing the phone, this is not, strictly speaking, a conversation between two humans.
Instead, a call-center worker in Utah or the Philippines is pressing buttons on a computer, playing through a marketing pitch without actually speaking. Some people who market these services sometimes call this “voice conversion” technology. Another company says it’s “agent-assisted automation technology.”
(via Daring Fireball)
A really neat videos — probably more cool than instructive, unless you already understand more than I do about sorting theory — of various different ways computers can sort data.
Ben Thompson’s analysis of social networks along the axes of ephemerality and symmetry is pretty interesting. Nothing you couldn’t have thought of if you’d set out to do the exercise yourself, but I sure hadn’t. I found this especial novel:
The companies towards the top of the graph – the more permanent type of content – were founded in the PC era. The PC itself has always been a destination-type device; normal people weren’t using a PC most of the time, but rather made a point to use it.
It’s the exact same with the type of content created for these PC-originated services: more permanent, thoughtful content is intentional; ephemeral content is much more whimsical and meaningful only at a specific moment in time. It follows that this type of content is really only possible in mobile on a device that is always with us.
The list isn’t mind blowing, but it is interesting, as is the article that proceeds it. I valued their starting with this point:
Some questions you ask because you want the right answer. Others are valuable because no answer is right; the payoff comes from the range of attempts.
I think this very point is not only true of the old televisions series — which I recommend even as many of the special effects themselves are laughable and some of the science today out-of-date — but all of Carl Sagan’s work. He truly was a unique figure with unique things to say.
Whereas radio kids represent the “get practical” approach to science education and motivation, Sagan kids represent the “life, the universe and everything” strategy. Such a strategy taps into one’s “spiritual” or “religious” brain, getting at one’s romantic desire to figure out “what it all means” and “why there is anything…at all.” That’s the kind of motivation that can redirect a life into a science.
And this is what Sagan’s Cosmos had in spades.
An interesting short piece about some of the impacts that electric cars are starting to and might have on the broad electrical grid. This hadn’t occurred to me:
In most parts of California, charging an electric car [with a dedicated high-voltage charger] of those is the equivalent of adding one house to the grid, which can be a significant additional burden, since a typical neighborhood circuit has only five to 10 houses.
Really neat little video that explains why and how the fuel pump shuts off when it determines your vehicle’s tank is full. I’d always wondered but never tried to find out before.
I really enjoyed Walter Isaacson’s story of the details of Bill Gates time at Harvard. I’d known the outline for decades, but the details are interesting:
Gates’s case [before Harvard’s disciplinary committee] arose when auditors from the Defense Department decided to check the use of the PDP-10 that it was funding in Harvard’s Aiken lab. They discovered that one sophomore—W.H. Gates—was using most of the time. After much fretting, Gates prepared a paper defending himself and describing how he had created a version of BASIC using the PDP-10 as a simulator. He ended up being exonerated for his use of the machine, but he was “admonished” for allowing a non-student, Allen, to log on with his password. He accepted that minor reprimand and agreed to put his early version of the BASIC interpreter (but not the refined one he and Allen were by then working on) into the public domain.
I was rather charmed with this piece about jet bridges, a small piece of everyday technology I’d never given a second thought. (Found it via The Browser, which you shouldn’t ignore.) But I was even more charmed to realize that it was part of a project from that The Atlantic, a book publisher, and a few educational institutions.
I enjoyed Freddie Deboer’s review of Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, a book about which it seems I was right to be both interested in and dubious of. This paragraph is, I’m increasingly convinced, the trenchant and unanswered question facing the future of the capitalistic economies:
It is hard to overstate: This country, in its current condition, has no other option but something close to full employment. Our pathetic social safety net, even absent the contracting effect of austerity measures, can’t fill in the gaps caused by the demise of ubiquitous employment. Even the counterrevolution has no other idiom; the most common epithet directed toward Occupy protests, after all, was “Get a job!” That the near impossibility of getting a job was the point for many who were protesting was too destabilizing a notion to be understood. In the short term, I have no doubt that the unemployment rate will fall. The question is the long-term structural dependability of a social contract built on mass employment.