Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thought police

A three day conference on largely Jacobean spies has slowed the posting. But here's one for the New Jacobeans on the block.

The U.S. Army has just awarded a $4 million contract to begin developing "thought helmets" that would harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops. Ultimately, the Army hopes the project will "lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone."

From Time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Not worth the paper it wasn't written on

More trust - unsurprisingly. This from former US labour secretary, Robert Reich. Here's his Wikipedia entry.

The Street's fundamental problem isn't lack of capital. It's lack of trust. And without trust, Wall Street might as well fold up its fancy tents. Financial markets trade in promises—that assets have a certain value, that numbers on a balance sheet are accurate, that a loan carries a limited risk. If investors stop trusting the promises, financial markets can't function.Yet it's turned out that many of these promises weren't worth the paper they were written on. The subprime mess triggered the collapse of trust, but financial markets were in danger of such a fall even before mortgage-backed loans were shown to be worth far less than anyone supposed. That's because when the market was roaring a few years back, many financial players had no idea what they were buying or selling. Even worse, they didn't care, as long as they were making money.

What is perhaps more surprising is this article's title. From

The You Tube Librarians

From that nice Mr/Ms Google.

We just launched Google Audio Indexing (aka GAudi) in Google Labs. The dedicated site offers more features, such as "search within video" and "sharing," and a more robust user interface.

Everything you wanted to see from the US elections. Kind of. Google Audio Indexing.

Civic Games

Game playing is also social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time and can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.

Pew on American teenage gaming.

Download the PDF report here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trust is everywhere

Financial markets hinge on trust, and that trust has eroded. Lehman's collapse marks at the very least a powerful symbol of a new low in confidence, and the reverberations will continue.

The crisis in trust extends beyond banks. In the global context, there is dwindling confidence in US policymakers. At July's G8 meeting in Hokkaido the US delivered assurances that things were turning around at last. The weeks since have done nothing but confirm any global mistrust of government experts.

Joseph E Stiglitz is university professor at Columbia University and recipient of the 2001 Nobel prize in economics. More here.

And Stiglitz own site.

Do the mass math

Yet when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases, the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases because the total number of consumers are spread across many more vehicles (the so-called 'fragmentation' of audiences). That tends to reduce the median revenues of those vehicles. Mass Media vehicles try to compensate for this by 'dumbing' the quality of their content, attempting to attract a larger audience by appealing to a lower common denominator and restore larger numbers of consumers.

More wisdom from Vin.

Europe to get innovation and technology?

The EIT will combine "the three parts of the knowledge triangle - education, research and business innovation", in a venture not tried in Europe before, Mr MacDonald said. Such networks had been "lamentably unexplored" in the EU previously, he added.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has held its inaugural meeting in the Hungarian capital Budapest.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paris and Memory

Laurie from the Paris blog on place and memory in Les Halles during...

...the early 1980s, when Les Halles became a hotspot for youth culture. The hideous mall converted from the farmers market Eric describes below was brand new at the time, and it (along with the drug trade at the Fontaine des Innocents) drew young hipsters.

A response to:

This all feels very Tom Coryat meets Walter Benjamin.

Facebook and Trust

At the Information Security Conference in Taiwan this week, researchers from the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) in Greece will present details of an experiment that involved enlisting Facebook users in a potentially devastating kind of Internet attack. The researchers created an application that displays photographs from National Geographic on a user's profile page. However, invisible to the user, the app also requests large image files from a target server--in this case, a test machine hosted at FORTH. Provided that enough people add the application to their page, the resulting flood of requests can shut down the server or render it inaccessible to legitimate users.

From MIT's Technology Review on social networking and "malicious code".

Groundhog paper

Picture from the NYT.

But there was a happy ending in Groundhog Day, despite everything.

Plastic Logic will introduce publicly on Monday its version of an electronic newspaper reader: a lightweight plastic screen that mimics the look — but not the feel — of a printed newspaper.

The device, which is unnamed, uses the same technology as the Sony eReader and’s Kindle, a highly legible black-and-white display developed by the E Ink Corporation. While both of those devices are intended primarily as book readers, Plastic Logic’s device, which will be shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego, has a screen more than twice as large. The size of a piece of copier paper, it can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents.

From the NYT.

This Wednesday, Cambridge University startup Plastic Logic, which is headquartered in Mountain View, CA, will open a factory in Dresden, Germany, that will produce about 11 million large, flexible electronic-paper display units a year. The displays will be used in an electronic reader that the company showed at the Demo conference in San Diego last week. The product, which is scheduled to be commercially launched in January, uses display technology from E Ink and backplane technologies that employ polymer electronics developed by Plastic Logic's founders at Cambridge University.

From MIT's Technology Review.

Material Grr

For me, the Madonna experience was an example of a market failure. The seller of the product may know something about its quality. The buyer of the product, though, has to take its quality on trust simply because it's not possible to inspect the potential purchase before parting with one's cash. Of course, it's always worth reading the views of critics (they exist in part because markets do indeed fail) but, as there was only the one concert at Wembley, you'd have to draw conclusions from her performance at other venues. On the night, some people walked out but, as the show was costing punters around £1.50 a minute, the majority presumably thought they should hang around.

This issue of trust is a problem across a wide range of markets. Information failures can destroy markets remarkably quickly. Financial markets, in particular, rely on trust. Indeed, those familiar with the banking system know that it depends entirely on trust: no bank could repay all its depositors in one day because the money simply doesn't exist (which is one reason why, when the run started, Northern Rock was such a disaster). For the most part, trust is maintained but, once in a while, things go horribly wrong, perhaps because those who were trusted abused their positions. And, as trust disappears, once-respected brands become vulnerable. Madonna, be warned.

The managing director of economics at HSBC on trust and hard candy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gotta love that CERN bean thing

Space and cool and the NYT.

L'esprit de l'escalier sorta

Foucault’s research for Madness was largely completed while he was in intellectual exile in Sweden, at Uppsala. Perhaps that explains the superficiality and the dated quality of much of his information.

The history of madness gets a kicking...

...a while ago.

Thanks to the Mind Hacks people.

And the bestseller is

James Patterson doesn't think of himself as a writer. Indeed, in person he's not remotely awesome, nor flashy. Sporting standard-issue polo shirt, chinos and deck shoes, he's softly spoken and surprisingly modest. "I recently had [my 61st] birthday party," he says, "and asked 16 friends; some went back all the way to kindergarten, and the consensus, which I really like, was that I'm still the same asshole that I always was. There didn't seem to be a lot of airs. I don't think of myself as a writer. I think of myself as [my wife] Sue's pal and [my son] Jack's friend, and I like to scribble. That seems to be the truth about who I am."

But then there is this...

He currently outsells JK Rowling, John Grisham and Dan Brown put together. This year he's on target to sell more than 20m books in the US alone, adding to his $1.5bn in global sales, making him the world's bestselling author by a mile. Oh, and he's also the most borrowed author from UK libraries.

From the Independent on Sunday.

David Foster Wallace - 1962 - 2008

Born Ithaca, New York, February 21, 1962
Died Claremont, September 12, 2008

Google and Trust

Still, the bigger Google gets, the more trust will become an issue. I think they need to look at alternatives. Why not, for example, establish an appeals panel made up of advertisers and users to adjudicate issues such as SourceTool's? This would require Google to hand down its laws — or more to the point to draft its constitution: the definitions for good sites rather than spam, not in algorithm-busting detail but as high-level goals.

But another Google era wrinkle appears: scale. When the web is developing by the minute, it’s impossible — and potentially limiting and dangerous — to write even the broadest definition of what’s good. And your good is not necessarily mine.

It’s all about trust. The question will be whether I trust Google or the government or the market more.

Jeff Jarvis on...

...Google and Trust.

Sunday Morning