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The End of Cyberspace

In William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, a burglar looks up a porn site during a break-in. Apparently an Italian burglar remembered this, but forgot that it was how the main character knew her apartment had been broken into….

Burglar arrested after logging onto Facebook during break-in

A burglar was caught by Italian police after logging on to Facebook while carrying out a break-in.

The 26 year old, who has not been named, was traced by detectives after the owner of the house reported the crime.

Officers noticed the computer was still on and when the 52 year old owner touched the keyboard, the social network site’s homepage flashed up.

The man, from Albano Laziale near Rome told police he was not a member, and they quickly realised the last person to use the computer had been the burglar.

He had written several messages on his wall — but not revealed he was carrying out a crime — and police were quickly able to trace him and recover cash and jewellery that had been taken.

Major Ivo Di Blasio, of the carabinieri paramilitary police, said:»He was tempted to log on during the break in and it led to his arrest — it was a silly mistake to make and we were onto him very quickly.

Good grief…

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  • Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right? [Stanford historian of science] Robert Proctor… points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases. He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is «the study of culturally constructed ignorance.»
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Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

  • 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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  • «Predictions are based on our understanding of the past and the present. They have less to do with what might happen in the future, and more to do with the writer succumbing to the ‘top 10 list’ syndrome that afflicts us at this time of the year. In this era of data driven decision making, why do we believe that predictions are valid when they are little more than crystal ball gazing?… Strategic thinking takes informed views about possible futures and generates value by identifying a range of strategic options today to ensure their organisation is sustainable no matter what future eventuates…. Prediction is the enemy of strategic thinking, and the sooner we stop thinking we can fix the future, the more robust our strategic thinking will be today.»
  • «As much as we focus on developing new technologies, it is also essential that we break free of certain metaphors that bind and restrict our thinking about what these technologies can ultimately achieve. The familiar “document” metaphor, among others, has cast a long shadow on how we think about the web, and is standing in the way of some innovation.»
  • On the Human Terrain System and its critics. «Eight years into the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan, American troops are focusing less on killing insurgents and extremists, and more on isolating them from the local populace — in effect, flushing them out and starving them into submission, often without ever firing a shot. It’s a strategy that hinges on a detailed understanding of how overlapping Afghan communities work: who’s in charge where, what villages are in need of what resources, how disagreements create schisms between neighbors, rival mosques and entire villages. The idea is to make key interest groups into allies, swaying whole communities to the U.S. camp and convincing them to turn in or simply kill bad actors in their midst.»
  • «Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — have become a Chinese phenomenon: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results…. The popular meaning is now not just a search by humans but also a search for humans, initially performed online but intended to cause real-world consequences…. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.»
  • The modern library «incorporate[s] a constellation of nontraditional and even non-library uses, like cafes, shops, theaters and auditoriums, galleries, classrooms, conference centers, meeting rooms, recording and broadcast studios, government offices, even housing. Some are placed adjacent to theaters, concert halls and museums to form cultural campuses; others are joined to schools or even hotels.»
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« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »

15 posts from July 2010

Tweetage Wasteland makes a good point:

The five most endangered words of the realtime internet era are:

Let me think about that.

Shirley Sherrod, the former rural development director for the Agriculture Department in Georgia found that out the hard way when she was fired by the Obama administration for her delivery of a supposedly racist speech. The speech was creatively excerpted, political bloggers and cable news commentators blew up the story, it entered the Twitterverse, and boom, Sherrod was asked to resign from her position.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to have time to listen to the whole speech. Once they did, Sherrod was showered with apologies and found herself taking calls from the President.

This story is less about politics and more about pace. It provides a clear example of how our Facebook and Twitter behaviors are bleeding over into the rest of our lives…. When confronted with the realtime web’s constant flow of incoming information, who has time for a full set of facts? We each take a few seconds to consider a one hundred forty character blurb and then hammer out our reactions by way of a Tweet or status update.

I’ve decided to move the Del.icio.us posts to my main blog, as they’re now less exclusively end of cyberspace-related.

  • George Loewenstein argues against over-reliance on behavioral economics in public policy— and especially using it to evade difficult decision-making. «Behavioral economics should complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions. If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioral economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks. But that’s the most it can do. For all of its insights, behavioral economics alone is not a viable alternative to the kinds of far-reaching policies we need to tackle our nation’s challenges.»
  • On Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and his interesting, complex relationship with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. «Mr. Mortenson, 52, thinks there is no military solution in Afghanistan — he says the education of girls is the real long-term fix — so he has been startled by the Defense Department’s embrace.»
  • Profile of the 1970 World Game and esp. SIU’s group, «a company of future oriented, inter-disciplinary technological explorers who are participating in the World Game, a unique experiment to develop a computer coordinated model of planet earth—complete with resources, history, human attitudes and social trends—that can be used to «play the world» and develop ways of running the future for the benefit of all mankind. The experiment is being conducted in more than 20 universities and colleges in the United States, Canada and Europe but its center is housed in the basement and first floor of a monotonous two-story brick building surrounded by a dusty, graveled parking lot, about six blocks off-campus from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.»
  • The philosopher and cognitive scientist Andy Clark has argued that humans have always been ‘natural-born cyborgs,’ that is, they have always collaborated and merged with non-biological props and aids in order to find better environments for thinking. These ‘mindware’ upgrades… extend beyond the fusions of the organic and technological that posthumanist theory imagines as our future. Moreover, these external aids do not remain external to our minds; they interact with them to effect profound changes in their internal architecture. Medieval artificial memory systems provide evidence for just this kind of cognitive interaction. But because medieval people conceived of their relationship to technology in fundamentally different ways, we need also to attend to larger epistemic frameworks when we analyze historically contingent forms of mindware upgrade.
  • New journal, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies.
  • «Welcome to myForesight — Malaysia’s first national-level initiative dedicated to the study and application of Foresight. Besides prospecting technology for business. it provides a common platform for shared experiences, insights and expertise on futures studies — both at the local and global levels. At this initial stage, myForesight will focus on awareness and the participation of Malaysian stakeholders on Foresight current programmes. myForesight is a joint initiative by various parties who have a dedicated stake in Malaysia’s future.Click on the tabs below for a synopsis of myForesight.»

Ruth Evans takes an historical perspective on Andy Clark’s natural-born cyborgs argument, and that «human cognition is not just embodied but embedded: not mind in body, but both mind and body enmeshed in a wider environment of ever-growing complexity that we create and exploit to make ourselves smarter.»

From the abstract:

The philosopher and cognitive scientist Andy Clark has argued that humans have always been ‘natural-born cyborgs,’ that is, they have always collaborated and merged with non-biological props and aids in order to find better environments for thinking. These ‘mindware’ upgrades (I borrow the term ‘mindware’ from Clark, 2001) extend beyond the fusions of the organic and technological that posthumanist theory imagines as our future. Moreover, these external aids do not remain external to our minds; they interact with them to effect profound changes in their internal architecture. Medieval artificial memory systems provide evidence for just this kind of cognitive interaction. But because medieval people conceived of their relationship to technology in fundamentally different ways, we need also to attend to larger epistemic frameworks when we analyze historically contingent forms of mindware upgrade. What cultural history adds to our understanding of embedded cognition is not only a recognition of our cyborg past but a historicized understanding of human reality.

This reminds me some of the work of the cognitive anthropology crowd, which I find necessarily speculative but extremely ambitious and interesting.

You could also re-work Paul Saenger’s work on word spacing and intellectual history in light of Clark.

  • To gain more insight into the extent to which foresters experience uncertainty in their work field, a content analysis has been carried out to reveal how foresters from the United States and (Germanic) Central Europe (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) experience uncertainty. The outcomes were compared with the experiences of uncertainty in a more short-term oriented sector, namely the agricultural sector (also in the United States and in Central Europe). Although the findings must be interpreted carefully, the research reveals that, in contrast to what was expected, foresters experience the future as the most certain time period. Decisionmakers in forestry, as in other business sectors, seem to ignore the uncertainty and pretend that the future is certain. This strategy implies considerable risk and, therefore, for forest management to be effective, there is no other way than actively confronting the futurity dilemma.

  • «The importance of strategic planning as an instrument to cope with the uncertain future has been long recognized, especially in forestry which is characterized by its relationship with the distant future. Surprisingly, the question to what extent the future is indeed considered in forestry decision-making has received only limited attention. It is therefore the objective of this paper to explore empirically foresters’ relation with time (called time perspectives), and more specifically their future orientation, as a basic prerequisite for strategic planning in forestry.»

  • Long range (or strategic) planning is an important tool for forest management to deal with the complex and unpredictable future. However, it is the ability to make meaningful predictions about the rapidly changing future that is questioned. What appears to be particularly neglected is the question of the length of time horizons and the limits (if any) to these horizons, despite being considered one of the most critical factors in strategic planning. As the future creation of values lies within individual responsibility, this research empirically explored the limits (if any) of individual foresters’ time horizons. To draw comparisons between countries with different traditions in forest management planning, data were collected through telephone surveys of forest managers in the state/national forest services of the Netherlands and Germany. In order to minimize other cultural differences, the research in Germany concentrated on the federal state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, which has consider

  • More of this, please: studies of how communities view the future. This studies foresters in Europe. «The study takes a different approach than previous research: it takes an actor-oriented perspective and focuses on the question of how foresters actually cope with the uncertain future in their actions. This requires not only a shift in the understanding of time from a physical entity to that of a social realm but – even more importantly – a shift from interpreting uncertainty from some form of independent variable to viewing uncertainty as a cognitive and psychological state – a social construct about the availability and “makeability” of the future.»

  • » the increasing pace of change has made the future more interesting.

    The question «Who owns the future?» has become more urgent. At the same time, in the information society, there is an increasingly varied multitude of answers to this question. Hence, the key becomes asking well-targeted questions. If you ask who owns the future, a lot of answers crop up…. The moment you own the future, it has become the present. Eternally owned is only that which is lost.»

  • Methods of foresight and future studies are no longer limited to business, government and other organizations. The study of personal futures is still in its infancy, but holds potential not only for you but also for your company. Learn how you can be your own futurist through personal research, and thereby achieve your preferred future.

  • The Performance Agency, Fiction Pimps, manifest ‘Cracks’ in everyday life – Sensory fictive parallel universes that aim at activating the aesthetic dimension of experience and reflection, to enrich any given situation and the persons involved in it. They fiction pimp and will Crack your World! …

    We are hybrids of performers, sirens, agents, poets, futurists, activists, visionaries, mystics and scientists.

  • This contribution deals with the problems in thinking and communicating about the future which are due to the variety and complexity of the types of futures, i.e. possible, potential, probable, desired, surprising, creatable future and the like. A set of resulting so called futures confusions is revealed, the goals confusion, the roles confusion and the methods confusion. The types of futures used in practice and discussed in the academic literature are presented comprehensively in order to identify the reasons for the difficulties leaders and managers experience when dealing with long term futures.

  • The struggle for the future is very much about communication. They who manage to set the agenda will also be those who dominate the decisions and behavior of many others. So we see more and more messages about the future that go hand in hand with media expertise. Even so, we have never been more shortsighted in our view of the future.

  • Foresight processes and activities are confronted with the task of making sense of the present, in particular by interpreting weak signals of change in the organizational environment. Although trends are considered to be important drivers of environmental discontinuities which may lead to strategic surprises, there is no operationalization from a strategic point of view. In this paper we are going to conceptualize trends as (socio-cultural) innovations. This leads to important implications. If the nature of innovation is taken seriously, then strategic trend diagnosis has to deal with two different aspects, invention and diffusion.

  • Scenarios are claimed to support strategic decision makers. They are especially effective in dealing with uncertainties. This paper addresses some drawbacks of the conventional scenario method, which is especially directed at handling these uncertainties, and indicates possible avenues for methodological adaptations.
  • Foresight processes and activities are confronted with the task of making sense of the present, in particular by interpreting weak signals of change in the organizational environment. Although trends are considered to be important drivers of environmental discontinuities which may lead to strategic surprises, there is no operationalization from a strategic point of view. In this paper we are going to conceptualize trends as (socio-cultural) innovations. This leads to important implications. If the nature of innovation is taken seriously, then strategic trend diagnosis has to deal with two different aspects, invention and diffusion.
  • In this paper we will study “weak signals” by concentrating on the journalistic texts of The New York Times before the stock market crashes of 1929, 1987 and 2000. The paper argues that, even if information and communication technology advanced dramatically from the 1920s to 2000, the flaws of business journalism in writing about stock markets have remained almost the same: their reporting is too enthusiastic (or positive) and uncritical, and therefore incapable of effectively detecting the weak signals of impending collapses on the Stock Exchange. Thus we might conclude that neither the increase in the speed of spreading the information nor the accessibility to such information necessarily leads to greater efficiency in using it. The New York Times itself stated repeatedly that the policy of the newspaper has always aimed at “not making financial crises worse”. Thus the pages of the newspaper contain more positive than negative articles on stock exchanges.

  • Research interests: The subjective value of information; Economics of information goods; Information markets (fee-based, free, social, public goods, prediction, aggregation); Information business models; Voluntary payments for information; Motivations for information sharing; Information overload.

  • …are ideas, trends, technologies or behaviour changes that are as yet unrecognised by mainstream society. They might have a big impact or they might disappear. We monitor them to help our partners challenge their assumptions about the future, navigate risk and seize new opportunities.

  • Scanning for Emerging Science & Technology Issues aims to develop a mechanism for the early identification of newly emerging issues of importance to the European research infrastructure. By collecting weak signals and developing anticipatory intelligence, SESTI will provide the means for proactively addressing these challenges at European and national level.

    The project builds on and adds value to existing national structures and competences in foresight and horizon scanning to create synergies and exploit complementarities. SESTI aims to provide a transnational “foundation” to horizon scanning to enable efficient use of anticipatory intelligence in both EU and national policy.

  • The 2-day kick-off conference of the European Foresight Platform has been held on June 14 and 15, 2010 at the Vienna French Cultural Institute in Austria. With over 80 attendees and about 20 presenters the event has been a huge success by bringing together international professional foresight communities, representatives from the European Commission and policy as well as the EFP consortium and the interested general public.

    A variety of different foresight and forward-looking projects and institutions have been presented at the conference. It has been a tour through all different perspectives of future-related activities which included quantitative forecasting and modeling, scenario development, technology forecasts and roadmaps, societal and cultural oriented future studies, participatory elements in foresight, weak signal and wild card research, foresight databases and ideas about new methods like using gaming and social networks for foresight and forward looking activities.

  • «It seems an odd thing to me that though we have thousands and thousands of professors and hundreds of thousands of students of history working upon the records of the past, there is not a single person anywhere who makes a whole-time job of estimating the future consequences of new inventions and new devices. There is not a single Professor of Foresight in the world. But why shouldn’t there be? All these new things, these new inventions and new powers, come crowding along; every one is fraught with consequences, and yet it is only after something has hit us hard that we set about dealing with it.»

  • Presentation by Data Rangers, a Finnish software company, about TrendWiki.

  • Weak signals can range from small changes in behaviour and technology, to signs that a significant shift in a system might be imminent [see box ‘Weak signals, strong undercurrents’ below]. Often it can just involve a hunch that something different is underway, rather than a clear indication of predictable change. An individual signal might make little sense at the time; it might require a number of other similar signals, or a creative leap to realise just what it could be pointing to. It can be infuriatingly abstract. But you have to make a note just in case…

  • iKNOW has developed conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify, classify, cluster and analyse wild cards and weak signals and assess their implications for, and potential impacts on, Europe and the world. To do so, the iKNOW project has developed well-defined scanning strategies, such as the inward-looking top-down (ILTD), which is carried out by the iKNOW Consortium and involves the scanning of over 2,000 EU-funded research projects; and the outward-looking bottom-up (OLBU), which required the creation of the iKNOW Community (including policy-makers, decision-makers, researchers and foresight practitioners) to scan a wide range of knowledge sources (e.g. journal articles, blogs, news, etc.).

    As a result, iKNOW puts forward a novel ‘horizon scanning 2.0’ approach which, on the one hand, promotes participatory and bottom-up scanning supported by web 2.0 technologies, and, on the other hand, improves information collection, filtering, communication and exploitation.

  • Inside the WI-WE Bank, so far we have mapped 282 Wild Cards, 175 Weak Signals (total of 457 WI-WE) and 64 active members. You will be able to view Wild Cards (WI) and Weak Signals (WE), create your own Wild Cards and/or Weak Signals, answer to Wild Cards and Weak Signals Deplhi. You can also contribute to other member’s Wi-We as they can contribute to yours.
  • «[N]anotechnology policy is not determined by government nor by industry or science, it evolves in a contingent – but nevertheless structured – process of governance where multiple actors interact in a dynamic setting. Within this processes, signals indicating the possibility of future change – “weak signals” – attracted increasing attention. Regarding weak signals in a positivistic tradition as given entities that indicate future change, one could say that the former weak signals were (‘correctly’) identified by scientists, industry, policy-makers and so NST became an emerging issue in science and innovation policy. Regarding weak signals in a post-positivistic way (and emphasizing that governance studies need to analyze how fields of emerging technologies are constructed through discourse), weak signals can be understood as “boundary objects” that link different social worlds, such as science, politics, industry, NGOs and media.»
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The End of Cyberspace

« April 2010 | Main | June 2010 »

21 posts from May 2010

  • «British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy.»
  • «Welcome to C19: The Nineteenth Century Index – the most comprehensive and dynamic source for discovering nineteenth-century books, periodicals, official documents, newspapers and archives. C19 Index draws on the strength of established indexes such as the Nineteenth Century Short Title Catalogue, The Wellesley Index, Poole’s Index and Periodicals Index Online to create integrated bibliographic coverage of over 1.5 million books and official publications, 71,000 archival collections and 18.9 million articles published in over 2,500 journals, magazines and newspapers. C19 Index now provides integrated access to 12 bibliographic indexes, including almost a million records from the ongoing digitization of British Periodicals Collections I and II, plus the new Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism. See About for more information on coverage, and linking to texts available online.»
  • «The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ubiquitous phenomenon of unanticipated consequences. We begin with a look at some definitions which shed light on the matter, and then consider the nature of change. This leads to a broadening of the definition of the word ‘technology’, and a look at what was one of our earliest examples of unanticipated consequences. We then address the crucial question of why we have such consequences. Some additional examples follow, and we then look at what society does in the face of unanticipated consequences. The paper concludes with a discussion of some of the ethical implications of acting when we know that there can be unanticipated consequences to our actions.»
  • «The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.»
  • «In some one of its numerous forms, the problem of the unanticipated consequences of purposive action has been treated by virtually every substantial contributor to the long history of social thought.»
  • In the shadows of the global financial crisis of the early 21st century, another revolution is gathering pace, whose repercussions reach far beyond the current correctable economic buckling. It impact on the world will compare with Gutenberg’s. And with it, the era of the printed book will come to a close. Dissolved digitally like sound and image beforehand, limitlessly copyable, globally downloadable by the million with the click of a mouse, the book is entering the world of multimedia like its disembodied cousins from film, photography and music. This is the disintegration of the oldest serially produced data carrier in terms of form and content.
  • This essay describes the workings – and indeed, the work force – of a variety of capitalism that has spread outwards from its Anglo-American core to reshape the entire planet. At the centre of contemporary capitalism is a set of financial instruments called derivatives, and a group of people called traders. The text draws links between their highly abstract formulas and the aesthetics of lived experience. It begins not with the azurean blue, but with the curve of a dark horizon.
  • Rising energy costs and the eco-social consequences of climate change are causing anxieties about the future to increase, while trust in the ability of political elites to solve these problems is evaporating. Reaching eco-political targets calls for more participation of citizens as active architects of their society, write Claus Leggewie and Harald Welzer.
  • «[W]hat they sell us as realpolitik these days is a complete illusion, because it doesn’t address any the problems of the future – climate change, dwindling resources, mounting water and food deficits, the escalating global conflict potential, the exploitation of our children’s future. If you look at it this way, it’s the realpoliticians who seem who have a fondness for crises. Crises also provide an excellent opportunity to score points for tireless crisis management. This is good for distracting from the fact that there is nothing on the political agenda.»
  • Important review of a VERY important book. «[W]hat is the message of This Time Is Different? In a nutshell, it is that too much debt is always dangerous…. Yet people—both investors and policymakers—tend to rationalize away these dangers. After any prolonged period of financial calm, they either forget history or invent reasons to believe that historical experience is irrelevant…. There were superficial differences between debt now and debt three generations ago: more elaborate financial instruments, seemingly more sophisticated techniques of assessment, an apparent wider spreading of risks (which turned out to have been an illusion). So financial executives, policymakers, and many economists convinced themselves that the old rules didn’t apply…. Encouraged by these rationalizations, people run up ever more debt—and in so doing set the stage for eventual crisis.»
  • Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%. We don’t actually multitask. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process.
  • The problem of oversharing in the age of the Internet of Things….

This caught on Failbooking.

  • The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM) is part of the University’s response to recent disasters—and efforts to anticipate future calamities. CCRM was started by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, and has become part of the Institute of Business and Economic Research to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of its research team.
  • A team of amateur sky watchers has pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the debut flight of the nation’s first robotic spaceplane, finding clues that suggest the military craft is engaged in the development of spy satellites rather than space weapons, which some experts have suspected but the Pentagon strongly denies.
  • Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) aims to use an understanding of human values to help to change the technological landscape in the 21st century. Beyond making us all more productive and efficient, we ask how we can build technology to help us be more expressive, creative, and reflective in our daily lives.
  • Welcome to the Revs Institute for Automotive Research, Inc., library and archive Web site. We are an educational organization that advances the scholarly study of automotive history at The Collier Collection in beautiful Naples, Florida. Numbering more than one million items, these distinctive and highly specialized research books, documents and images are collected by Mr. Miles C. Collier to record the history of the automobile and the individuals and organizations associated with it. Scholars, journalists, automotive connoisseurs, hobbyists and preservationists will find our holdings formidable—an automotive history library and archive with few peers.
  • This pretty much sums up my feeling about Foursquare: «Foursquare is a little bit of everything—a friend-finder, a local city guide, an interactive mobile game,» said company cofounder Dennis Crowley, as if reading from the same tired script used by every one of these Web 2.0 or whatever-the-****-they’re-called startups. «But more than that, Foursquare is an [endless string of meaningless buzzwords we just couldn’t bring ourselves to transcribe].»
  • «WHAT is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims…. Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false. Weeding out the few kernels of wheat from the large pile of chaff requires extensive observation, careful experimentation and cautious inference. Science is scepticism and good scientists are sceptical. Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it — sometimes even in the teeth of evidence. Denialism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence. Belief comes first, reasons for belief follow, and those reasons are winnowed to ensure that the belief survives intact.»
  • «What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial? Here’s a hypothesis: denial is largely a product of the way normal people think. Most denialists are simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right. If this seems discouraging, take heart. There are good reasons for thinking that denialism can be tackled by condemning it a little less and understanding it a little more.»
  • In the wake of Enron and ­other corporate ­scandals, America’s best-known business school, the place that produced Michael Milken and Frank Quattrone, is under siege. Our writer spent a year there figuring out what’s going on
  • The economics profession has an unfortunate tendency to view recent experience in the narrow window provided by standard datasets. With a few notable exceptions, cross-country empirical studies on financial crises typically begin in 1980 and are limited in other important respects. Yet an event that is rare in a three decade span may not be all that rare when placed in a broader context. In my paper with Kenneth Rogoff we introduce a comprehensive new historical database for studying debt and banking crises, inflation, currency crashes and debasements. The data covers sixty-six countries in across all regions. The range of variables encompasses external and domestic debt, trade, GNP, inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices. The coverage spans eight centuries, going back to the date of independence or well into the colonial period for some countries.

  • «This paper offers a “panoramic” analysis of the history of financial crises dating from England’s fourteenth-century default to the current United States sub-prime financial crisis. Our study is based on a new dataset that spans all regions. It incorporates a number of important credit episodes seldom covered in the literature, including for example, defaults and restructurings in India and China….. [O]ur aim is to illustrate some of the broad insights that can be gleaned from such a sweeping historical database. We find that serial default is a nearly universal phenomenon as countries struggle to transform themselves from emerging markets to advanced economies. Major default episodes are typically spaced some years (or decades) apart, creating an illusion that “this time is different” among policymakers and investors. A recent example of the “this time is different” syndrome is the false belief that domestic debt is a novel feature of the modern financial landscape.»

  • «Intuition, it seems, is not some sort of mystical chemical reaction but a neurologically based behavior that evolved to ensure that we humans respond quickly when faced with a dilemma (e.g., fight or flight). Too much data, however, throws a monkey wrench into the process. The more variables we consider, the harder it is to make the «right» decision—as anyone who has faced an aisle full of shampoos knows.

    Our brains have evolved to take the quickest and most efficient route to a decision, based on experience and a set of innate and unconscious rules developed since birth to negotiate our physical and social environment. Start considering lots of other information and variables, and the brain slows down or falters. Simplicity, writes Gigerenzer, is an evolutionary adaptation to uncertainty: «A complex problem demands a complex solution, so we are told. In fact, in unpredictable environments, the opposite is true.»»

  • Gerd Gigerenzer on gut feelings. «It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from. My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.»

  • «Why do we make errors? are they blunders caused by the limitations of our cognitive system? Or are errors indispensable parts of every intelligent system? From the first perspective, all errors are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful…. From the second perspective, there are errors that need to be made—that is, errors that are indispensable and functional…. The characteristic of a good error is that a person is better off making the error than not making it—for reaching a goal more quickly, or attaining it at all. In this view, every intelligent system has to make errors. Making no errors would destroy the intelligence of the system.»

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The End of Cyberspace

I seem to have an article in Disegno industriale 39. I can’t read it, but it seems to be there. Hooray!

[To the tune of The Police, «When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around,» from the album Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings (Disc 2) (I give it 3 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

Hear, hear:

For almost two decades, when we imagined the future, we imagined ourselves tapped into cyberspace via our deck alongside Case, the protagonist in Neuromancer.

[To the tune of Alban Berg Quartet, «String Quartet Op.132 No.15 in A minor: III. Molto adagio,» from the album Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets (Disc 7) (I give it 5 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

The online version of the Wired article leaves off my last name!

Now I know why the Legos are looking so smug….

[To the tune of Snoop Dogg, «Who Am I (What’s My Name)?,» from the album «Doggystyle».]

Technorati Tags: cyberspace

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The End of Cyberspace

I know I’m highly susceptible to suggestion from my friends, but when Anthony raved about Write Room, I was skeptical. It looked to me like the computer equivalent of a 1950s retro diner: a loving recreation of an historical artifact that we shouldn’t miss.

But I must say, I’m hooked. Maybe it’s just the Hawthorne Effect, or the appeal of new devices; but I doubt it.

Basically, Write Room is a really simple writing interface. What it does is take whatever you’re writing (so long as it’s not Microsoft Word— it doesn’t work with Word), and put it in green text in a black window (that’s the default anyway). Essentially, it’s a piece of software that’s a mode: call it IBM CRT display, ca. 1969. The only thing missing is the sound of each key clicking like an angry cicada.

But strangely, it works. The light text on black background is easier on the eyes, at least for a while, and might even be a bit calming. And there’s something about all the menus, other open windows, etc. being invisible that helps one concentrate, at least a little.

The thing I really love about it, though, is the assumption that the way to achieve a Zen-like simplicity is to invoke an older kind of human-computer interaction. Write Room makes your computer screen look like something from the 1968 Engelbart demo— or maybe a little earlier. To a generation of computer users who’ve grown up with color screens, ever-fancier transitions, cliipies, etc., this is simplicity. Or at least it’s an interface that signifies simplicity, which works out to the same thing.

Of course, the other interesting thing is the spatial metaphor in the name. Write Room? Why a room? The idea, of course, is that you using the program is supposed to be like shutting yourself in some meditative room, where you’re free from distractions and able to contemplate the Eternal Verities (or something). But there’s nothing remotely spatial about it: it’s as flat an interface as you cold imagine, and the transition into it isn’t fancy at all; it’s just a quick switch. For all it’s amazing simplicity, the choice of the word «room» suggests just how powerful spatial metaphor remain in our thinking about computers and human-computer interaction.

Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace, interface, writing