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The End of Cyberspace

  • «Among older people who went online last year, the number visiting social networks grew almost twice as fast as the overall rate of Internet use among that group, according to the media measurement company comScore. But now researchers who focus on aging are studying the phenomenon to see whether the networks can provide some of the benefits of a group of friends, while being much easier to assemble and maintain.»
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« April 2009 | Main | June 2009 »

10 posts from May 2009

My latest article, on tinkering and the future, has been published in the latest issue of Vodafone’s Receiver Magazine. The piece is an effort to draw together a couple of my research and personal interests (though the boundaries between those two categories is pretty blurry), and to see the tinkering / DIY movement as one piece in an emerging strategy for creating better futures.

Almost forty years ago, the Whole Earth Catalog published its last issue. For the American counterculture, it was like the closing of a really great café: the Catalog had brought together the voices of contributors, readers and editors, all unified by a kind of tech-savvy, hands-on, thoughtful optimism. Don’t reject technology, the Catalog urged: make it your own. Don’t drop out of the world: change it, using the tools we and your fellow readers have found. Some technologies were environmentally destructive or made you stupid, others were empowering and trod softly on the earth; together we could learn which were which.

Millions found the Catalog’s message inspirational. In promoting an attitude toward technology that emphasized experimentation, re-use and re-invention, seeing the deeper consequences of your choices, appreciating the power of learning to do it yourself and sharing your ideas, the Whole Earth Catalog helped create the modern tinkering movement. Today, tinkering is growing in importance as a social movement, as a way of relating to technology and as a source of innovation. Tinkering is about seizing the moment: it is about ad-hoc learning, getting things done, innovation and novelty, all in a highly social, networked environment.

What is interesting is that at its best, tinkering has an almost Zen-like sense of the present: its ‘now’ is timeless. It is neither heedless of the past or future, nor is it in headlong pursuit of immediate gratification. Tinkering offers a way of engaging with today’s needs while also keeping an eye on the future consequences of our choices. And the same technological and social trends that have made tinkering appealing seem poised to make it even more pervasive and powerful in the future. Today we tinker with things; tomorrow, we will tinker with the world.

  • «Traditional thinking has held that it’s best to make a public declaration, maybe even more than one. Enlisting others in your hopes will shore up your intentions, and motivate you to work toward your new-found goal. But is this folk wisdom sound? Psychologists have been exploring this question, and some recent studies are now raising doubts about the «going public» strategy. Indeed, it appears that some people may mistake the talking for the doing—and end up failing for lack of hard work.»
  • «[C]onventional wisdom asserts that letting others know of your future plans makes you more likely to achieve them. There’s a logic behind this wisdom: speaking your intentions is an informal contract between you and your network. That contract creates accountability for your actions. The process makes some sense in theory. Yet the success involved in announcing your goals may not hold up in practice. As Wray Herbert explains, telling others of our goals may create a previously unforeseen barrier: ego inflation. In some situations, as recent psychological studies indicate, once we declare our goals to peers, colleagues, or friends, we think of ourselves in a different light. The informal contracts make us feel as if we’ve begun down the path to our goal, which can prevent us from taking further steps toward actually achieving it.»
  • «A collaboration of NASA Ames Research Center, industry, and local universities is developing a fully-automated, miniaturized spaceflight system that provides life support and nutrient delivery, and performs assays for genetic changes E. coli. Flying multiple missions as a secondary payload using this low-cost approach will lead to better understanding of the biological effects of the spaceflight environment, particularly space radiation and reduced gravity, enabling countermeasure development, which is a critical need for safe long-duration crewed space missions and safe space tourism.»

  • «After PharmaSat separates from the Minotaur 1 rocket and successfully enters low Earth orbit at approximately 285 miles above the Earth, it will activate and begin transmitting radio signals to two ground control stations. The primary ground station at SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif., will transmit mission data from the satellite to the spacecraft operators in the mission control center at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. A secondary station is located at Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Calif. When NASA spaceflight engineers make contact with PharmaSat, which could happen as soon as one hour after launch, the satellite will receive a command to initiate its experiment, which will last 96 hours. Once the experiment begins, PharmaSat will relay data in near real-time up to six months, to mission managers, engineers and project scientists for further analysis.»

  • «As a follow on to the highly successful GeneSat-1 Mission, the Ames Small Spacecraft Division is collaborating with industry and local universities to develop the next generation fully-automated, miniaturized triple cubesat spaceflight system for biological payloads. The PharmaSat experiment and flight system will be designed to measure the influence of microgravity upon yeast resistance to an antifungal agent. PharmaSat implements PI guided science focused on questions key to countermeasure development for long-term space travel and habitation….

    The use of low-cost, small-size, autonomous secondary payload concepts provides a means to study biological changes of fundamentally well-understood microorganisms and mammalian cells at the gene/protein level.»

  • «Microgravity can impact living organisms in a variety of ways, and now NASA researchers want to find out how it affects pharmaceuticals. On May 5, a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread will launch as a secondary payload on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket. Weighing in at about 10 pounds, the nanosatellite — called PharmaSat — houses a micro-laboratory with sensors that can detect the growth, density, and health of yeast cells. When NASA spaceflight engineers make contact with PharmaSat, which could happen as soon as one hour after launch, they will send a command to the satellite to initiate a 96-hour experiment, which involves administering an antifungal treatment to yeast cells at three dosage levels.»

  • «KentuckySpace is a non-profit enterprise involving a consortium of universities and private organizations for the purpose of pursuing space-related education, R&D, small satellite design and launch operations.»

  • «Nine years of work disappeared in five minutes yesterday when a NASA satellite crashed into the icy waters near Antarctica. Now climate scientists who worked on the ambitious effort to map the world’s carbon dioxide are trying to figure out what comes next.»

  • «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.»
  • «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.

  • «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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The End of Cyberspace

  • «Among older people who went online last year, the number visiting social networks grew almost twice as fast as the overall rate of Internet use among that group, according to the media measurement company comScore. But now researchers who focus on aging are studying the phenomenon to see whether the networks can provide some of the benefits of a group of friends, while being much easier to assemble and maintain.»
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The End of Cyberspace

  • Anne Applebaum’s «secular horoscope» for the coming decade. «I would say that in the closing days of the 2000s, the future does not look good for all authoritarian regimes. However, the signs are very positive for one particular authoritarian regime: China. Partly this is because the Chinese, unlike the Iranians and the Russians, continue to deliver prosperity, and in the current era it is prosperity, not ideology, that keeps authoritarian regimes in power. Perhaps, then, we are embarking not upon a new twilight of liberalism but, rather, on an era in which prosperity, in the form of infrastructure as well as consumption, becomes the focus of international competition and U.S. foreign policy. We are already heading that way: The Copenhagen climate summit failed, after all, because the United States and China could not agree on a matter that affected their prospects for growth. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism… is dwindling to the status of major nuisance.»
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  • In this paper, I want to give you a sense of how economics can be reconstructed to include natural capital in a seamless way. I shall do that in three stages…. I show that property rights to natural capital are frequently unprotected or ill-specified. I argue that this typically leads to their overexploitation, and so to waste and inequity…. I [then] illustrate overexploitation in the context of a ‘small’ problem: the economic failure that can accompany deforestation in a small region…. [Finally] I demonstrate that when natural capital is included in economic statistics, the recent economic history of nations looks very different from what we are led to believe when conventional economic indicators
  • «Like the Sputnik launch that triggered the Cold War space race, Russian miniature spacecraft launches have catalyzed the Naval Postgraduate School to design and build a revolutionary new mini-satellite launcher to quickly bring the U.S. into the competition. Space Systems Academic Group (SSAG) Profs. Jim Newman and Rudy Panholzer and Research Associate Dan Sakoda came up with the idea for the NPS CubeSat Launcher (NPSCuL) that attaches to an Atlas or Delta rocket via a secondary payload adapter and deploys a large number of miniature satellites into tumbling, low-earth orbit.Command signals trigger a sequence of spring releases in the «Jack-in-the-Box» device that catapult the tiny cube-shaped spacecraft carried inside the launcher into orbit. Once freed, the small CubeSats conduct a wide range of missions, from earth observations to testing cutting-edge technologies for spaceflight such as new solar cells, to studying the effects of microgravity on biological samples.»
  • «does anybody else find such a public declaration of private grief seriously off-putting? Part of it’s just cross-generational — I sometimes have to remind myself that Gen Y et. al. use technology and the public forum of social media in ways that aren’t necessarily bad but just different from the way I would and do. I fucking hate Twitter, fr’example … just can’t stand its truncated format, which seems to me to be essentially a celebration of the spectacularly unexamined life and a giant ‘eff you’ to the studied craft of writing.»
  • We are living in the Era of Perpetual Advice – and almost none of it is any good…. There was a time, not so long ago, when medical information came from men and women in white coats who had gone to university…. Now, by contrast, we have Google, energy healers and Ashley Dupré. No wonder we’re so screwed up. The much deeper problem, it seems, is that most of us suck at telling good advice from bad. A brain-scanning study conducted earlier this year by neuroscientists at Emory University in Atlanta found that even intelligent people may be far more vulnerable to bad advice than initially believed. When respondents making financial choices were faced with corresponding expert counsel, the decision-making function of their brains often shut down. The more confusing and nonsensical the advice, the neuroscientists reported, the less people seemed able to use their own internal value mechanisms.»
  • «Through Design we can turn an invisible activity of energy consumption into a process that can be experienced, thereby potentially altering awareness and leading to a change in behaviour. Following this line of thought, the Visual Voltage exhibition presents a set of objects specially designed to help visitors reflect on how they consume energy.»
  • «People are starting to see peak oil as the Great Opportunity, the chance to build the world they always dreamt of…. The scale of the challenge is huge, and the obstacles are plenty, but there is an emerging energy to succeed, a sense of quickening and an exhilaration in talking and listening to each other once again, to visioning what we want and then rolling up our sleeves and starting to co-create it…. What fascinates me, and what I plan to explore in this website, is the emerging culture that underpins this work. We are communities, a society, a world in transition, and to do that we need a culture of transition, but also the tools for manifesting it.»
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  • «[C]an an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school? As it happens, yes. While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age. Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.
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  • Philip Greenspun, an MIT software engineer and hi-tech guru, argues in a recent blog post that “technology reduces the value of old people.” It’s not that old people don’t do technology. On the contrary, many of them are heavy users of computers and cell phones. It’s that the young won’t bother tapping the knowledge of their elders because they can get so much more, so much faster, from Wikipedia and Google.
  • Nostalgic postmodernism is what people feel when they lose faith in institutionalized «practices» but are uncomfortable with their own creative spontaneity…. We live on the edge of rapid change — especially since 1989 with the remarkable invention of the internet. You have been exposed to so many theories, to so many theorists arguing they have the answers — compare your experience today with that of the therapist fifty years ago who was trained in a single school and who did not log online to see an array of competing schools.
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  • «THERE’S a long list of things we took for granted in 2000 that no longer exist: Saddam Hussein, Lehman Brothers, the World Trade Centre, the lira, franc and deutschmark. Each of these vanishing acts played a crucial role in shaping the world we live in. With this in mind, researchers at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute have compiled a list of significant aspects of our world that may vanish in the decade ahead.» The list includes Pax Americana, diplomats, the concept of the international community, Tuvalu, secrets, seafood, Pakistan, the globally dominant dollar, truth, and capital punishment.
  • On likely deaths of notable world leaders in the coming decade— something futurists don’t generally think about, even though we all know that well-placed individuals can have a significant effect on events (hollah, Massachusetts!). «To paraphrase the satirical newspaper, The Onion, it’s safe to predict that, in the next decade, the world death rate will hold steady at 100%. But although we’re all going to die, in geo-political terms, some deaths matter more than others. So without going into ghoulish speculation about which political leaders might fall to war, terrorism or assassination, here are a few notable people who continue to influence world affairs, but who are statistically unlikely to see out the decade.»
  • «The title, “Future Knowledge Ecosystems,” is a real snooze but the report actually has a lot to say to communities everywhere…. Here’s why the report matters. It captures a worry that is universal. Manufacturing hubs from Eindhoven in Holland to Northeast Ohio, USA fret about losing their competitive edge to nimble, low-cost manufacturers in Asia. Small cities and towns from Bristol, Virginia USA to Ballarat, Australia fear that they will dry up and blow away as youth leave for greater opportunity elsewhere. Even financial capitals from New York City to Hong Kong worry as more transactions move online, empowering smaller financial centers at their expense.»
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  • «Google is looking into whether employees in its China office were involved in the attacks on its network that led to theft of intellectual property, according to CNET sources. Sources familiar with the investigation told CNET last week that Google was looking into whether insiders at the company were involved in the attacks, but additional details were not known at the time. Insiders could have played a part in what is believed to have been a multi-prong attack on the company, according to the sources.»
  • Google’s move was not a brave stand against China’s lack of Internet freedom. Instead, it was simply the last and inevitable straw. Google, like Yahoo before it, has been systematically forced out of the market by a Chinese government determined to purge all foreign competition from its Internet industry, which is expected to bring in $8 billion in advertising revenue in the next three years, according to Internet research firm eMarketer.com. That number is likely to grow quickly as China’s Internet saturation is only about 25 percent, compared with more than 75 percent on average in OECD countries such as the United States. In a country well-known for copying and mass-producing the ideas and products of other countries, from automobiles to movies, a new economic tool has been invented: an insidious, uniquely 21st-century form of protectionism.»
  • «Professors, the people most visibly responsible for the creation of new ideas, have, over the last century, become all too consummate professionals, initiates in a system committed to its own protection and perpetuation. Professors worry that any general-education requirements, any attempt to make a college education seem relevant in a specific way, will be too «presentist» or «instrumentalist.» They have been taught to think of their own work, which is accountable only to the internal standards of their profession, as something pure, something unrelated to the messy business of the world. But this belief itself was only ever dreamed up as a solution to different problems, and once we understand it as a matter of historical contingency, we shall presumably be better able to deal with its consequences.»
  • «Forget the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker: in 20 years some of the most popular jobs could include vertical farmer, space pilot and body part maker, according to a government commissioned report. Shape of Jobs to Come predicts advances in science and technology, coupled with the expected onset of climate change, could make for career paths that are virtually unrecognisable today…. [A] network of «futurists and future thinkers» [was asked] to consider likely science and technology developments before suggesting specific jobs. The result was a list of 110 roles, whittled down to 20 for the study.»
  • «Much of the growth in the telecommunications industry is coming from emerging markets — places like India and Africa and for many new consumers their first mobile phone experience is a shared one. This essay uses the term sharing in the sense of primary usage orientated around borrowing and lending rather than ‘let me show you the photos I took at last night’s party’. Mobile phone sharing is not just limited to personal use — from the streets of Cairo to Kampala kiosks are springing up with little more than a mobile phone and a sign advertising call rates. What happens when people share an object that is inherently designed for personal use? And based on how and why people share in what ways can devices and services be redesigned to optimise the shared user experiences? Indeed, should they be re-designed?»
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  • Parson is a professor at U. of Michigan. «His interests include environmental policy, particularly its international dimensions; the political economy of regulation; the role of science and technology in public issues; and the analysis of negotiations, collective decisions, and conflicts. His recent research has included projects on scientific and technical assessment in international policy-making; the policy implications of carbon-cycle management; the design of international market-based policy instruments; and development of policy exercises, simulation-gaming, and related novel methods for assessment and policy analysis.»