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  • «We analyze the temporal evolution of emerging fields within several scientific disciplines in terms of numbers of authors and publications. From bibliographic searches we construct databases of authors, papers, and their dates of publication. We show that the temporal development of each field, while different in detail, is well described by population contagion models, suitably adapted from epidemiology to reflect the dynamics of scientific interaction. Dynamical parameters are estimated and discussed to reflect fundamental characteristics of the field, such as time of apprenticeship and recruitment rate. We also show that fields are characterized by simple scaling laws relating numbers of new publications to new authors, with exponents that reflect increasing or decreasing returns in scientific productivity.»
  • «The Galaxy Zoo files contain almost a quarter of a million galaxies which have been imaged with a camera attached to a robotic telescope (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, no less). In order to understand how these galaxies — and our own — formed, we need your help to classify them according to their shapes — a task at which your brain is better than even the fastest computer.»
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Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« links for 2009-05-06 | Main | links for 2009-05-12 »

  • «Members of CubeSat Team SJSU reach for the skies as they continue to build «ReadySat Go,» a small cube-shaped satellite that will one day be launched into orbit. ReadySat Go, which will be about the size of a small Kleenex box, is a communications satellite. «The quickest way to say it is, it’s an answering machine in space,» said Eric Stackpole, a senior mechanical engineering major and the club president. «You send a message up and it records that message. Then when it flies over a different part of the Earth, it can send that message back down.»»

  • In Fall 2007, Eric Stackpole had a crazy idea: what if a bunch of students, unguided by professors, decided to build a satellite… for fun? The result was CubeSat Team SJSU, a group of multitalented, multifaceted students at San Jose State University.

    Our current project is ReadySat Go, a 1kg CubeSat satellite with store-and-forward capabilities, built with a «do more, with less» philosophy. Our goal is to find out for ourselves what it takes to make it into space, without the threat of failing grades or apathetic lab partners.

links for 2009-05-08

  • «Members of CubeSat Team SJSU reach for the skies as they continue to build «ReadySat Go,» a small cube-shaped satellite that will one day be launched into orbit. ReadySat Go, which will be about the size of a small Kleenex box, is a communications satellite. «The quickest way to say it is, it’s an answering machine in space,» said Eric Stackpole, a senior mechanical engineering major and the club president. «You send a message up and it records that message. Then when it flies over a different part of the Earth, it can send that message back down.»»

  • In Fall 2007, Eric Stackpole had a crazy idea: what if a bunch of students, unguided by professors, decided to build a satellite… for fun? The result was CubeSat Team SJSU, a group of multitalented, multifaceted students at San Jose State University.

    Our current project is ReadySat Go, a 1kg CubeSat satellite with store-and-forward capabilities, built with a «do more, with less» philosophy. Our goal is to find out for ourselves what it takes to make it into space, without the threat of failing grades or apathetic lab partners.

  • About the end of cyberspace

    Cyberspace is a «metaphor we live by,» born two decades ago at the intersection of computers, networks, ideas, and experience. It has reflected our experiences with information technology, and also shaped the way we think about new technologies and the challenges they present. It had been a vivid and useful metaphor for decades; but in a rapidly-emerging world of mobile, always-on information devices (and eventually cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and swarm intelligence), the rules that define the relationship between information, places, and daily life are going to be rewritten. As the Internet becomes more pervasive— as it moves off desktops and screen and becomes embedded in things, spaces, and minds— cyberspace will disappear.

  • This blog is about what happens next. It’s about the end of cyberspace, but more important, about what new possibilities will emerge as new technologies, interfaces, use practices, games, legal theory, regulation, and culture adjust— and eventually dissolve— the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds.

  • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an historian of science and futurist.

    ping Pang

  • Part of the Corante Innovation Hub.

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Maybe I shouldn’t have worried so much about how my use of Twitter could be more meaningful, in light of this:

corey menscher built the ‘kickbee’ while attending the itp program at new york university this fall. the device is designed to record kicking movements from a pregnant woman’s baby. once a kicking is sensed, the device will send a signal to its onboard electronics, which will in turn transmit the signal to a computer via bluetooth. the computer then logs the information on the online social messaging service twitter. this send a message out to followers letting them all know that the baby kicked.

Of course, you might argue that a kick is a lot more meaningful than anything I could post.

Menscher elaborates:

As an expectant father, I am once-removed from the physical knowledge my wife has of our baby and its development. With the Kickbee, I wanted to create a device that would give me a chance to be aware of our baby’s movements. It can also aid in tracking the frequency of fetal movements, which is an important way to monitor the health of the developing child.

The Kickbee is a wearable device made of a stretchable band and embedded electronics and sensors. Piezo sensors are attached directly to the band, and transmit small but detectable voltages when triggered by movement underneath. An Arduino Mini microcontroller transmits the signals to an accompanying Java application wirelessly via Bluetooth. (a SparkFun BlueSMIRF v2 module that communicates serially with a Macbook Pro)

The Java application receives the sensor values and analyzes them. When a kick event is detected, a Twitter message is posted via the Twitter API. I chose to use Twitter because it is easy to initiate an SMS message to any mobile phone when a kick is detected. It also acts as a data log that can be accessed programmatically for visualization or archiving.

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  • «Everyone knows that baked goods tend to be best when fresh from the oven; the challenge for bakery customers is predicting when that might be. New technology from London agency Poke now removes the guesswork, however, by enabling bakeries to alert their customers via Twitter any time a new batch is done.»
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Sitting in the quiet living in the pre-dawn hours, I came across William Deresiewicz’s essay on technology, sociability, and solitude in the Chronicle Review. For those who have access to it, it’s well worth reading.

One book that influenced me when I was younger was Anthony Storr’s Solitude. I didn’t actually read that much of it, and I doubt I understood it very well, but the idea that solitude was worthwhile and rewarding, and nothing to be afraid of, was a novel concept for me. Deresiewicz argues that his students, who’ve grown up with MySpace and text messaging (among other things), have lost most opportunities to learn and benefit from being alone.

If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That’s 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she’s never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she’s never alone.

I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she’ll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?

To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience…. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence.

One thing that jumped out at me was that Deresiewicz contrasts the physical solitude that used to characterize being online, with the situation today. It used to be that «connecting» online was more a physically isolating experience, done at desks, in front of desktops. Today, though, you don’t have to be alone to go online: just as cellphones and mobile Web technologies make it less likely that you’ll ever be offline, and lower the bar for jumping onto the Web, they make it less likely that you’ll be fruitfully alone.

But as the Internet’s dimensionality has grown, it has quickly become too much of a good thing. Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive…. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.

Of course, we all know plenty of people who manage to feel alone even today, and it’s possible to resist the pull of technology: there are people who rebel against constant connectivity, on the grounds that it’s too intrusive and distracting. But still, I think Deresiewicz points to a bigger trend that most of us will recognize.

A rich essay. Worth reading.

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The End of Cyberspace

Sitting in the quiet living in the pre-dawn hours, I came across William Deresiewicz’s essay on technology, sociability, and solitude in the Chronicle Review. For those who have access to it, it’s well worth reading.

One book that influenced me when I was younger was Anthony Storr’s Solitude. I didn’t actually read that much of it, and I doubt I understood it very well, but the idea that solitude was worthwhile and rewarding, and nothing to be afraid of, was a novel concept for me. Deresiewicz argues that his students, who’ve grown up with MySpace and text messaging (among other things), have lost most opportunities to learn and benefit from being alone.

If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That’s 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she’s never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she’s never alone.

I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she’ll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?

To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience…. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence.

One thing that jumped out at me was that Deresiewicz contrasts the physical solitude that used to characterize being online, with the situation today. It used to be that «connecting» online was more a physically isolating experience, done at desks, in front of desktops. Today, though, you don’t have to be alone to go online: just as cellphones and mobile Web technologies make it less likely that you’ll ever be offline, and lower the bar for jumping onto the Web, they make it less likely that you’ll be fruitfully alone.

But as the Internet’s dimensionality has grown, it has quickly become too much of a good thing. Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive…. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.

Of course, we all know plenty of people who manage to feel alone even today, and it’s possible to resist the pull of technology: there are people who rebel against constant connectivity, on the grounds that it’s too intrusive and distracting. But still, I think Deresiewicz points to a bigger trend that most of us will recognize.

A rich essay. Worth reading.

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On the heels of reading David Weinberger’s piece on unique IDs, a friend sent me a link about VERB Yellowball.

VERB YELLOWBALL is a big, bouncy, world-changing idea that was created to spread play to every kid in America. Here’s the deal. We’re scattering thousands of yellow balls all across the country. It’s up to you to find one, play with it, and most importantly, pass it on. FIND ONE. Someone is bound to pass one to you. Can’t wait? Check out our “Pass It On” section. PLAY WITH IT. However you want. Whenever you want. Just play. WHEN YOU’RE DONE, ENTER THE CODE ON THE BALL AND BLOG YOUR STORY TO THE WORLD.

PASS IT ON. To a friend, or a kid you don’t even know. Pass it as far as you want. If you’re going on a trip, bring it with you. Remember, this is a revolution. And you are the messenger.

It’s a bit like Where’s George, in that part of the point of the game— or meta-game?— is to contribute to a record of the object’s travels, and the system relies on each object having a unique ID that is linked to information about it. Though in this case, the purpose of the records (or the blogs for each ball) seems to be to encourage more use— to get other users to play with the ball.

Not quite things that blog, but things that are blogged.

Not hard to imagine such objects connected to online games— for example, putting objects that have magical properties in a game environment out in the real world.

Technorati Tags: digital-physical, end of cyberspace, games, blogject, sports, unique ID

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  • «As a cognitive psychologist with a penchant for formal models, my long-standing research interests are in behavioral decision theory, including the areas of judgment, choice, probabilistic inference, and measurement.»
  • «But if Tuesday’s convention crowd was evidence, the sin study was interesting to other scholars as well. So Vought and colleagues plan to continue their national study of evil.»
  • «Geographers from Kansas State University have plotted the seven deadly sins of… the entire United States, using statistics for each county on crime, income, STDs, and other data. They call it “a precision party trick — rigorous mapping of ridiculous data.”»
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As part of my study of the end of cyberspace and the future of information and information technologies, I’ve spent some time looking at the history of the idea that printed media are a problem to be solved: that, as Eldred Smith put it, «information is restricted by the very vehicle that was designed to promote its availability— the book or other print product.»

It turns out that while predictions of the «death of the book» became a stock in trade for Internet enthusiasts in the 1990s, and were the subject of plenty of attention in popular culture (at least, that part that reads New York Review of Books, Atlantic Monthly, and the like), arguments about whether the book could survive as a useful medium for professional knowledge-workers has a long history.

There are a couple good articles that talk about debates within the library world about the future of the book, but through the miracle of Google Scholar (and the vanity of searching for yourself), I just came across something that looks broader and quite promising as a history of anxieties about the future of print: Andy Duffy’s 2000 M.A. thesis (PDF), «The replacement of printed text: Alternative media forms from the 1940s to the 1980s.»

Here’s the abstract:

The purpose of this thesis is to examine alternative forms of media developed in the USA between the 1940’s and 1980’s, which were proposed in order to come to terms with the faults associated with printed text and the paper medium. The examination is concentrated on relevant literature on the media and not the actual media themselves. The questions asked were: 1. Why were alternative forms of media presented for replacing printed text and what were the aims of those wanting to replace it? 2. What were these alternative forms of media and how did they compare with printed text with regard to storing and disseminating text? The study concentrates on two aspects of the different media: their ability to store and disseminate text.

Due to the increasing amount of scientific research results in the form of printed text the research community experienced growing problems with text dissemination and recall. These problems caused delays in research procedures hampering scientific development. Due to the increasing importance of scientific research, not least its role in international conflicts, a solution to these problems was regarded as being of the utmost importance….

A few pages in, Duffy expands on the problems with books:

I have chosen to emphasise one important aspect of this change for this thesis. This is the examination of the social and historical context in which different media were developed to help solve what I refer to as the information problem….

In the 1930’s and 1940’s mechanically printed text had been regarded by many as being responsible for giving rise to the information problem. Printed text, in diverse forms, was no longer regarded as being the best medium to disseminate and preserve information. Despite its previous importance for spreading scientific research results, printed text was now viewed as limiting and constraining scientific research and development.

The thesis covers micro-card, Vannevar Bush’s Memex, J. C. Licklider’s Online Information Network, and Ted Nelson, Xanadu. (It doesn’t talk about microfiche, microfilm, or the other micro-technologies that actually did make it into the library, and were occasionally touted as replacements for the book.)

Technorati Tags: books, history, library, media

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« January 2009 | Main | March 2009 »

11 posts from February 2009

From Metropolis, an essay on «Tracking the Future» that describes a recent book on new urban infrastructures.

The 50-year arc of engines and batteries puts us right on the cusp of viable clean-power transit. The computation and flexibility necessary to make better use of the energy feeding the electric grid are already available; they’re the same technologies keeping cell phones going for days on a single charge. And telecommunications itself is slowly but steadily having a noticeable effect on how and when we use energy, whether through the reduced need for office space because of flexible work locations, the creeping advance of videoconferencing, or even the use of online social networking to buttress face-to-face interactions. It’s not as if we can’t imagine what a viable future might look like (even if it is just as easy to summon a picture of total collapse).

What’s harder to grasp is the inherent flexibility of this new infrastructure. With The Infrastructural City, Varnelis, an architectural historian and the director of Columbia University’s Network Architecture Lab, set out to update Reyner Banham’s 1971 book, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The major difference is that where Banham saw in Los Angeles’s unplanned urbanism a logic that could be instructive, Varnelis views it as a city in perpetual crisis—a victim of its own infrastructure. The freeways are perpetually clogged. The wildfires burn faster the more they are suppressed. “Infrastructure is no longer a solution,” Varnelis writes. But he really means the old infrastructure, those masterworks built according to a plan….

The emerging infrastructure is different. Varnelis describes it as something multiple and shifting: “networked ecologies,” plural “infrastructures” that are “hypercomplex” and as likely to consist of legal mechanisms and barely visible cell-phone networks as the heavy stuff of tunnels and bridges. Inherently less apparent than the infrastructure that came before, they’re also as likely to be owned by corporations as by governments—meaning these networks can’t really be controlled, only “appropriated” according to their own logic. With traditional planning made impotent by capitalism and NIMBYism, rebuilding the city now requires a “new type of urbanist,” a designer Varnelis compares to a computer hacker who reimagines a new use for the underlying rules and codes.

I’ve said before that for people my age (I’m 44), Web 2.0 is a time machine. So it’s nice to see that Newsweek has caught onto the idea (though why they had to title the article «Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies» is beyond me. Excuse me!).

  • Facebook is about finding people you’ve lost track of. [This is so true. In fact, I found the article on a college classmate’s Facebook page. We’d been out of touch for about 20 years before I friended her (though she insists she friended me first… yeah, right). Which just proves the article’s point.]
  • We’re no longer bitter about high school. [How can I be bitter about it? I can hardly remember it.]
  • We never get drunk at parties and get photographed holding beer bottles in suggestive positions. [Don’t I wish….]
  • Facebook isn’t just a social network; it’s a business network.
  • We’re lazy. [True that.]
  • We’re old enough that pictures from grade school or summer camp look nothing like us.
  • We have children.
  • We’re too old to remember e-mail addresses. [But we’re smart enough to know that we don’t have to. Our address books sync with our iPhones, we import them into Gmail, etc.]
  • We don’t understand Twitter. [We do. We just think harder about using it.]
  • We’re not cool, and we don’t care. [Well, that’s a pose.]

Via Interaction Design Umeå, Freedom:

Freedom is an application that disables networking on an Apple computer for up to eight hours at a time. Freedom will free you from the distractions of the internet, allowing you time to code, write, or create. At the end of your selected offline period, Freedom re-enables your network, restoring everything as normal.

This reminds me a bit of Write Room, and why I like it: it’s designed to be distraction-free.

At what point did the absence of distraction become a luxury? Is it just me, or is concentration (not just attention, but the ability to really focus seriously for long periods of time) an ever-scarcer state of being? (I hate to call it a commodity, despite its economic or productive value.)

This is my prediction for 2009: in addition to the global recession continuing to play havoc with all of our lives, we’re going to see more people explicitly trying to balance their time online and offline. Zeroing and digital sabbaths will become more popular.

The latest data-point: Lucy Kellaway’s Financial Times column:

This is our first experience of recession in the internet age, and so far I don’t like it one little bit. You could say that the internet makes the recession more bearable as there are all those networks to help people get jobs and there is Ebay for buying things second-hand.

Yet such things are trivial compared to what the internet is doing to our confidence. The internet has created a global psyche. The web has mentally joined us at the hip, so we can no longer put our heads in the sand. If that sounds painfully contorted, it is because it is. Just as no country can decouple itself from the ailing global economy, none of us as individuals can decouple ourselves from the ailing global psyche.

Through blogs, websites and e-mails the world’s economic ills are fed to us on a drip all day long. It is not just that we hear about bad things faster, we hear about more of them and in a more immediate way. My worries become yours, and yours become mine. On the internet, a trouble shared online is not a trouble halved. It is a trouble needlessly multiplied all over the world. After reading this article, people in Australia will surely start worrying about my paint colours, too.

This would not matter so much if it were not for the fact that confidence is the medicine that cures a recession; and all this sharing of bad news leaves one with no confidence at all.

If I had been alive during the last comparable recession, over 60 years ago, I would have limited my news injection to reading The Times every morning. In those days it had a front page given over not to big scary headlines, but to small classified ads. The news inside would probably have left me a little depressed over breakfast, but I would have had the rest of the day to recover my equanimity.

Instead, I sit over my computer all day and feed my anxiety.