Archive for the ‘technology’ tag
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series — which I recommend even as many of the special effects themselves are laughable and some of the science today out-of-date — but all of Carl Sagan’s work.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.
Really interesting story from Brendan Koerner in Wired about a speaker installer whose side business in putting secret compartments into vehicles landed him in jail. The heart of the issue in the case:
Alfred Anaya’s case makes clear that the government rejects [the “technology is morally neutral”] worldview. The technically savvy are on notice that they must be very careful about whom they deal with, since calculated ignorance of illegal activity is not an acceptable excuse. But at what point does a failure to be nosy edge into criminal conduct? In light of what happened to Anaya, that question is nearly impossible to answer.
Venkat Rao remains one of the most interesting future-focused thinker I regularly read. This little idea definately seems sound to me:
I am calling it Godwin’s Corollary for Technology: every online discussion about technology that goes on long enough will eventually mention the Singularity or Collapse.
He goes on to say a number of other wise but less pull-able things about the role of both “good” and “bad” waste in the advance of technology that I really would encourage you to give some time.
Alternate title: Why Humans Would Lose the Robot Wars
Seriously, these things are impressive. Like, scary impressive. The presentation style is dry, but the last few demonstrations are awesome. (And again, a little disturbing.)
Peter W. Singer, not the famous Australian utilitarian philosopher, considers some of the ramifications of the seemingly risk-free war the United States is carrying out in Pakistan.
And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.
(via The Browser)
Tom Vanderbilt has an enjoyable piece in Wired about the convergence between Google’s famous driverless car, and the progress toward a similar goal being made by traditional automakers. He spends some time, as well, considering the legal wasteland that exists around these technologies. The crucial point though:
[As we ride, Google’s driver-less] Prius begins to seem like the Platonic ideal of a driver, against which all others fall short. It can think faster than any mortal driver. It can attend to more information, react more quickly to emergencies, and keep track of more complicated routes. It never panics. It never gets angry. It never even blinks. In short, it is better than human in just about every way.
(via The Browser)
The basis of “I, Pencil” is one of the most important ideas you’re likely to ever encounter. Anyone who, encountering its premise for the first time, is not at least a little awed is probably dead inside.
I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, as a wise man observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
[I refer in my generous praise to the first two-thirds of the piece. While the bit about the mail isn’t obviously wrong, it’s much less obviously right than the part about the pencil. While I won’t here mount a strong defense of the US Postal Service, I believe one can adequately be mounted. I favor wonder and awe, not militant libertarianism in all matters.]
(via Google, The Rational Optimist, and an email I was drafting)
This story is first and foremost a good yarn. It’s entertaining and unknown enough to keep you interested, while it teached you some valuable things about the seldom regarded infrastructure that keeps human civilization pushing foreword, and the risks of nuclear terrorism within that system.
(via Hacker News)
I’ve mostly ignored pieces about Google in the last five years, but when I gave this one a shot it left me a little dumbfounded (emphasis mine):
What was it getting with GOOG-411? It soon became clear that what it was getting were demands for pizza spoken in every accent in the continental United States, along with questions about plumbers in Detroit and countless variations on the pronunciations of ‘Schenectady’, ‘Okefenokee’ and ‘Boca Raton’. GOOG-411, a Google researcher later wrote, was a phoneme-gathering operation, a way of improving voice recognition technology through massive data collection.
That answer had seriously never even started to possibly be a glimmer in my mind.
Perhaps you’ve heard it:
The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space; the Russians just used pencils.
Thing is, that’s not really a good explanation of why Space Pens were invented, or how human have written in space. I long suspected these facts, but I never actually bothered to confirm them, which io9 has conveniently done.