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Current Topic: Technology

A Way That May Or May Not Be Honest
Topic: Technology 7:08 am EDT, Mar 27, 2012

Jen Paton:

In this limitless Web, there is always someone who will agree with us, supply the arguments and evidence we need to support what we thought anyway, playing on our emotions in a way that may or may not be honest. This may not necessarily lead us closer to truth.

Prachi Patel:

Magnetic hard disks will soon be able to store one terabit (a trillion bits) per square inch. The technology, called heat-assisted magnetic recording, involves heating the magnetic regions on a disk that hold individual data bits, allowing those regions to be made tinier. Seagate says the method promises to keep increasing storage density, and it could lead to 60-terabyte hard drives. The company is targeting 2015 for its first commercial product featuring the technology.

Carl Zimmer:

Shaving a cubic millimeter of brain tissue would yield a petabyte of data.

But better technology alone won't get Seung to his connectome. "The challenge is analyzing them," he says. Toward that end, he'll need a lot more eyeballs. The more people who can proofread his connectomes, the faster his maps will grow. As a result, he and his colleagues have set up a website where the public can pitch in.

"We're trying to gamify it," Seung says.

Mary Meeker, Scott Devitt, and Liang Wu:

Do humans want everything to be like a game?

An exchange:

Someone once accused Craig Venter of playing God.

His reply was, "We're not playing."

No Need For Explanations
Topic: Technology 7:56 am EDT, Mar 19, 2012

Steven Shapin:

We do not intend to eat our ancestors, but we inevitably do.

Mo Costandi:

Those that died of kuru were highly regarded as sources of food, because they had layers of fat which resembled pork. It was primarily the Fore women who took part in this ritual. Often they would feed morsels of brain to young children and elderly relatives. Among the tribe, it was, therefore, women, children and the elderly who most often became infected.

Robert Mueller:

There are only two types of companies. Those that have been hacked and those that will be.

Undersecretary of Commerce Mark Foulon:

It has become clear that Internet access in itself is a vulnerability that we cannot mitigate. We have tried incremental steps and they have proven insufficient.

Robert Ito:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described imagery from "The Shining." The gentleman seen with the weird guy in the bear suit is wearing a tuxedo, but not a top hat.

An exchange:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The "Bear Patrol" is working like a charm!
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: [uncomprehendingly] Thanks, honey.

Haruki Murakami:

If you can't understand it without an explanation, you can't understand it with an explanation.

5by5 | Hypercritical #42: The Wrong Guy
Topic: Technology 8:31 pm EST, Nov 15, 2011

Steve Jobs:

It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore.

John Siracusa will not be getting a Christmas card from Walter Isaacson.

John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin discuss Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Steve Jobs. Topics include Isaacson's failings as an author and biographer, the technical cluelessness on display in the book, and Steve Jobs, Enemy of Progress.

Steve Jobs:

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that.

Joe Queenan:

I have lately taken to hiding in subterranean caverns, wearing clever disguises while concealed in tenebrous alcoves and feigning rare tropical illnesses to avoid being saddled with any new reading material.

I do not avoid books ... merely because I believe that life is too short. Even if life were not too short, it would still be too short to read anything by Dan Aykroyd.

Lisa Moore:

There are only so many movies, so many trips, so many new friends, so many family barbecues with the sun going down over the long grass.

It has always been this way.


But at forty-five you realize it.

Mason, Waters, Wright, and Gilmour:

And you run and run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or a half page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone the song is over, thought I'd something more to say

5by5 | Hypercritical #42: The Wrong Guy

The Tweaker
Topic: Technology 9:47 pm EST, Nov  9, 2011

Steve Jobs:

We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, "What is the purpose of a sofa?"

Malcolm Gladwell's latest piece promptly fulfills its modest purpose as a teaser for Walter Isaacson's new book, summing it up as "enthralling" even before the end of the first paragraph, thus laying the groundwork for Isaacson to join Larry Ellison and Eric Schmidt at the next New Yorker Festival for a friendly round of what-does-it-all-mean metareporting.

By the time we've arrived at Act Two, Gladwell has begun to resemble his subject. With a flourish that is simultaneously the sort of thing at which Jobs himself excelled and which he found so frustrating from others, Gladwell tweaks an old idea and presents it to you as fresh, new, more perfect:

One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britain had plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain's human-capital advantage -- in particular, on a group they call "tweakers." They believe that Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them -- refined and perfected them, and made them work.

Was Steve Jobs a Samuel Crompton or was he a Richard Roberts? In the eulogies that followed Jobs's death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson's biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker.

In case you've forgotten your classic Stephenson, here's a refresher:

Hackworth was a forger, Dr. X was a honer. The distinction was at least as old as the digital computer. Forgers created a new technology and then forged on to the next project, having explored only the outlines of its potential. Honers got less respect because they appeared to sit still technologically, playing around with systems that were no longer start, hacking them for all they were worth, getting them to do things the forgers had never envisioned.

Compare with Gladwell:

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution.

At this point the Gladwell Method is tried and true, but surely there is still room for a tweak or two.

The Tweaker

Engineering the 10 000-Year Clock - IEEE Spectrum
Topic: Technology 6:48 am EST, Nov  9, 2011

David Kushner:

How do you engineer something for the very distant future and get people to care about it today?

Stewart Brand:

We are trying to get people to think long-term, because civilization's shortening attention span is mismatched with the pace of environmental problems.

Jeff Bezos:

Symbols are important.

Danny Hillis:

The more we highlight and blend in with the most spectacular features of the mountain, the more memorable a Clock visit will be for the time pilgrims.

Freeman Dyson:

It's very important that we adapt to the world on the long-time scale as well as the short-time scale.

If you want to see humanity move gracefully into space, you have to accept it's going to take a while.

Engineering the 10 000-Year Clock - IEEE Spectrum

How Google Dominates Us
Topic: Technology 7:45 am EDT, Aug  2, 2011

Lawrence Lessig:

There may be a quid. There may be a quo. But because the two are independent, there is no pro.

James Gleick:

Google makes more from advertising than all the nation's newspapers combined.

What it means to own information is very much in flux. There is no information utopia. Google users are parties to a complex transaction, and if there is one lesson to be drawn ... it is that we are not always witting parties.

This much is clear: We need to decide what we want from Google. If only we can make up our collective minds. Then we still might not get it.

Charlie Brooker:

Suddenly there is no stick. There's just you. You are the stick.

Malcom Gladwell:

There is no point in raising standards if standards don't track with what we care about.

Mark Foulon:

It has become clear that Internet access in itself is a vulnerability that we cannot mitigate. We have tried incremental steps and they have proven insufficient.

Sarah Palin:

The view is so much better from inside the bus than under it.

Eric Schmidt:

If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

Jack Kerouac:

"You boys going to get somewhere, or just going?" We didn't understand his question, and it was a damned good question.

How Google Dominates Us

Technology Provides an Alternative to Love
Topic: Technology 12:33 pm EDT, May 29, 2011

Neil Postman:

The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront -- spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. Does one blame the computer for this? Of course not. It is, after all, only a machine.

Jonathan Franzen:

Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn't throw terrible scenes when it's replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that's indifferent to our wishes -- a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance -- with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.

The fundamental fact about all of us is that we're alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there's a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

David Foster Wallace:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Technology Provides an Alternative to Love

RE: Why I hate my new iPad
Topic: Technology 7:43 pm EDT, Nov  5, 2010

Alan Kay:

At PARC we had a slogan: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points."

Frank Chimero, in February:

I get excited when I see new tools and I have no idea how to use them.

I look at it and all I see is potential.

Jeff Jarvis, way back in April:

After having slept with her (Ms. iPad), I am having morning-after regrets. Sweet and cute but shallow and vapid.

James Lileks, in April:

The Apple tablet is the Barack Obama of technology. It's whatever you want it to be, until you actually get it.

Leigh "Me Too" Gallagher, seven months later:

When I started to use it -- that's when the love affair ended (or really, failed to kick in).

Jim Motovalli:

Plug-in hybrid and electric cars, it turns out, not only reduce air pollution, they cut noise pollution as well with their whisper-quiet motors. But that has created a different problem. They aren't noisy enough.

The world according to Doug Engelbart:

The chord keyboard is unquestionably far superior to the QWERTY. People did not adopt chording because they lacked the persistence to overcome the mental hurdle of learning it, and they lacked the imagination to envision their lives on the other side of the hurdle. So they sat dumbly, QWERTY in hand, pecking away without satisfaction. It was his duty to carry on the struggle. Eventually all would see the light ...

Randall Munroe, last November:

What if I want something more than the pale facsimile of fulfillment brought by a parade of ever-fancier toys?

To spend my life restlessly producing instead of sedately consuming?

Is there an app for that?

RE: Why I hate my new iPad

Avoiding a Digital Dark Age
Topic: Technology 8:26 am EST, Feb 26, 2010

Kurt D. Bollacker:

I wondered: Had I had simply misplaced my faith, or was I missing something? Why are these new media types less durable? Shouldn't technology be getting better rather than worse? This mystery clamors for a little investigation.

Georgie Binks:

Where do computer files go when you die?

David Lynch:

So many things these days are made to look at later. Why not just have the experience and remember it?

John Maynard Keynes:

In the long run we are all dead.

Lisa Moore:

It has always been this way.


But at forty-five you realize it.

Stewart Brand:

Photographic prints, especially color prints, degrade badly over time. Edward Burtynsky went on a quest for a technical solution.

Brad Lemley:

It is a clock, but it is designed to do something no clock has ever been conceived to do -- run with perfect accuracy for 10,000 years.

Stewart Brand:

We're building a 10,000-year clock, designed by Danny Hillis, and we're figuring out what a 10,000-year library might be good for. If the clock or the library could be useful to things you want to happen in the world, how would you advise them to proceed?

An exchange:

Moe: Homer, you need to focus here. You gotta ... think hard, and come up with a slogan that appeals to all the lazy slobs out there.
Homer: Can't someone else do it?
Moe: "Can't someone else do it?", that's perfect!
Homer: It is?
Moe: Yeah! Now get out there and spread that message to the people!

Avoiding a Digital Dark Age

Pre-Millenium Tension
Topic: Technology 7:42 am EST, Jan 27, 2010

What if I want something more than the pale facsimile of fulfillment brought by a parade of ever-fancier toys? To spend my life restlessly producing instead of sedately consuming? Is there an app for that?

Is more what we really need?

You have a choice in a situation like the one we're confronting. You can sit back in your chair and fondle your nihilism, or you can try to be original and work toward something creative.

Any technology that is going to have significant impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old.

Some of your greatest successes are going to be the children of failure.

If you want to be in the right place at the right time you need to figure out where things are going.

I could have done that. I could have done that while doing all the other things that I do. Why didn't I?

Deliberate practice is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating genius. For one thing, you need to be smart enough for practice to teach you something.

Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something!

One passionate person is worth a thousand people who are just plodding along ...

It's about effectiveness -- not effort.

Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

Most people will do almost anything to be liked.

The process of tying two items together is the important thing.

It's not where you take things from -- it's where you take them to.

Architecture matters a lot, and in subtle ways.

Let's pull out the bazooka and be done with it.

"Poor folk love their cellphones!"

We are moving from a world with a billion people connected to the Internet to one in which 10 or 100 times that many devices will be connected as well. Particularly in aggregation, the information reported by these devices will blanket the world with a network whose gaze is difficult to evade.

Even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold ...

$500 can build things that change how people live.

What am I going to use it for?

Once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

The human mind has a tremendous ability to rationalize, and the possibility of making millions of dollars invites some hard-core rationalization.

They just want theirs. That is the culture they have created.

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