Entries from September 2010 ↓

Digest 9

Once more, my futile quest to read everything online and bring you the best of what you didn’t catch from, ah, last month. Offline I’m still finishing Spook Country — I read slowly — and I’m listening to my iPod shuffle everything.

  • But first! Are my aggregation digests even legal? Kimberley Isbell has a paper on it, and fittingly, the paper’s aggregated by Nieman Lab.

    In many cases, Blog Aggregators will have the strongest claim of a transformative [and therefore legal] use of the material because they often provide additional context or commentary alongside the material they use. Blog Aggregators also often bring to the material a unique editorial voice or topic of focus, further distinguishing the resulting use from the purpose of the original article.

  • Newt Gingrich, a clever moron, is worried we might refer such legal questions to an imam. He’s called for federal legislation banning Sharia law. In related news, his fans probably don’t get out much.

  • Some guy in a park, probably a Gingrich admirer, threatened to burn a Quran. But skateboarder Jacob Isom is too awesome to let that happen.

    “I snook up behind him and took his Quran. He said something about burning the Quran. I said ‘dude you have no Quran’ and ran off,” Jacob Isom tells NewsChannel 10.

    The 23 year-old says he is an Atheist and will not follow any spiritual guidelines written down in a book. However, he does believe in religious freedom.

  • The NYT Editorial Board isn’t happy with a California plan “to tag preschoolers with radio frequency identification chips to keep track of their whereabouts at school”:

    Surveys have found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that many common techniques used by corporations to keep track of their online activity are illegal. Though it may seem innocuous to attach a chip to our preschoolers’ clothes, do we really want to raise a generation of kids that are accustomed to being tracked, like cattle or warehouse inventory?

    But if this TIME article has its info right, the NYT is a bit late with the “do we really want to raise a generation” line:

    Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.

    That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

    It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.

  • The WSJ has a feature on the American Computer Museum, which is in Montana and which has a museum-crusty website.

  • In 1970 James Gunn interviewed Rod Serling, and thanks to this person, the long-lost recording of the interview now sees light/pixels/whatever.

  • All over the place, lack of sleep is being linked with obesity, including in this NPR article.

  • This Business Insider article says it all in the headline: “CHART OF THE DAY: A Huge Chunk Of The Old Stimulus Hasn’t Even Hit The Economy Yet.”

    Data from ProPublica

  • From NPR, noticed off Boing Boing, an article about what parents should worry about for their children (car accidents, drownings, suicide) as opposed to what they do worry about (terrorists, kidnappers, snipers):

    As for children, Barnes says that overprotectiveness will hurt them in the long run by making them less resilient. “We’re teaching them to be helpless,” she says. “And because we’re so afraid of the world, we’re teaching them to be afraid of the world.”

  • The stock market makes no sense, the economy makes no sense, we’re all going to die. That link’s to a Talking Points Memo re-post of Robert Reich saying:

    The stock market has as much to do with the real economy as the weather has to do with geology. Day by day there’s no relationship at all. Over time, weather and geology interact but the results aren’t evident for many years. The biggest impact of the weather is on peoples’ moods, as are the daily ups and downs of the market.

    The real economy is jobs and paychecks, what people buy and what they sell. And the real economy — even viewed from a worldwide perspective — is as precarious as ever, perhaps more so.

    And: more stuff about the stock market that makes no sense (Boing Boing).

  • Are you merely skimming this post? In a new study mentioned on Brain Mysteries, scientists used gadgetry that tracks the eye movements of readers to determine who was paying attention and who was not. I need me some of that gadgetry.

  • A Talking Points Memo post reports on Obama’s off-script comment at a Milwaukee union rally. Obama needs to go off script more. See for yourself:

  • But all is not well in leftist (center-left?) land, because Glenn Greenwald is always there at Salon.com pointing out failings of the Obama Administration from a progressive standpoint. Check out those headlines Greenwald mentions. Nevertheless, I fall into the group of those leftists who think Obama’s probably doing the best he can given powerful interests, known and unknown to us, that he can’t successfully combat. (For instance, see this enigmatic tweet from Wikileaks.) Nevertheless, I realize my position basically boils down to “Have faith in the guy,” which isn’t good citizenry; therefore, regardless as to how progressives read the tea leaves for Obama’s motivations, they should keep up pressure on politicians, maintain inquiry and doubt, and vote.

  • This next item takes away a big chunk of my “Have faith in the guy” sentiment. I haven’t kept up with the news on extrajudicial killings much, mostly because the idea horrifies me, but Glenn Greenwald encapsulates my opposition to them neatly:

    Obama supporters who are dutifully insisting that the President not only has the right to order American citizens killed without due process, but to do so in total secrecy, on the ground that Awlaki is a Terrorist and Traitor, are embracing those accusations without having the slightest idea whether they’re actually true. All they know is that Obama has issued these accusations, which is good enough for them. That’s the authoritarian mind, by definition: if the Leader accuses a fellow citizen of something, then it’s true — no trial or any due process at all is needed and there is no need even for judicial review before the decreed sentence is meted out, even when the sentence is death.

    I don’t think the executive branch should have carte blanche to secretly kill American citizens who aren’t charged with crimes and who aren’t allowed recourse to the judicial system. I don’t understand why this is controversial.

  • danah boyd [sic] muses on parents considering SEO (Search Engine Optimization) when naming kids.

    I’m not at all sure if it’s better to give a kid a unique name so that they can stand out like a shining star or to go with a more generic name so that they can quietly stay invisible if they want. There’s definitely something to be said for naming a child at puberty instead of at birth, but, well, that’s not really how American society is structured.

    In 2004 I started using my first name, Douglas, as opposed to the nickname Andy off my middle name, Andrew. For both my byline and for personal use. I didn’t ask people who’d called me Andy before to change; sometimes I wish I’d had. I’ll blog about why I “changed” my name someday.

  • Especially as someone who chose the humanities in college, I get peeved when people (often bitterly) allege that the humanities are a bad choice of study because they aren’t sufficiently lucrative. This letter-to-the-editor to the NYT says the right thing about the benefit to society from humanities education.

    [the humanities] also provide the knowledge and wisdom by which we in the present can better question the values that we live by and those that are imposed on us by organizations, government and society […]

    Undervaluing the humanities leads to citizens who are not willing to confront the moral challenges that make them good citizens and protect their freedoms.

    Not every humanities major is going to become a great advocate, and many who don’t study the humanities will become so, but without the humanities, everyone would more often encounter the problems mentioned in the excerpt above.

  • Brain Mysteries blogs about the application of fMRI to the free-rider problem in economics and other fields:

    incentive to lie is at the heart of the free-rider problem […] It’s a problem that professionals in these fields have long assumed has no solution that is both efficient and fair.

    In fact, for decades it’s been assumed that there is no way to give people an incentive to be honest about the value they place on public goods while maintaining the fairness of the arrangement.

    “But this result assumed that the group’s leadership does not have direct information about people’s valuations,” says Rangel. “That’s something that neurotechnology has now made feasible.” […]

    the scientists tried to determine whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could allow them to construct informative measures of the value a person assigns to one or another public good. Once they’d determined that fMRI images-analyzed using pattern-classification techniques-can confer at least some information (albeit “noisy” and imprecise) about what a person values, they went on to test whether that information could help them solve the free-rider problem. […]

    In fact, the more cooperative subjects are when undergoing this entirely voluntary scanning procedure, “the more accurate the signal is,” Krajbich says. “And that means the less likely they are to pay an inappropriate tax.” […]

    This changes the whole free-rider scenario, notes Rangel. “Now, given what we can do with the fMRI,” he says, “everybody’s best strategy in assigning value to a public good is to tell the truth, regardless of what you think everyone else in the group is doing.”

    I’m all in favor of honesty overriding almost all other concerns (I can understand some wiggle room for etiquette-ish white lies). I wonder, though, if such fMRI tech would someday get co-opted and mis-used to trick people. Or if it’d help save the day. Stay tuned?

  • Homeland Security is gearing up to use iris scanners to identify people, says USA Today.

  • Talking Points Memo says Republican Mike Huckabee opposes insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, calling it impractical.

  • You know that Gallup poll I mentioned in an earlier digest that showed Republicans as having a historic 10-point lead on the generic Congressional elections ballot? Now Republicans and Democrats are tied on the same poll. Yeah, sometimes polls are quite ephemeral. It ain’t over until the final chad disappears. You’re still going to vote! Here’s the Gallup graphic:

    Data from Gallup

  • How, chronologically speaking, are waking events incorporated into dreams? NYT has answers.

    First there is the “day residue” stage, in which emotional events [from some particular day] may work their way into a person’s dreams that night. But that is followed by the more mysterious “dream lag” effect, in which those events disappear from the dream landscape — often to be reincorporated roughly a week later.

    I noticed the dream lag effect when I was keeping a dream journal, which I hope to get back to doing. Dream researcher Van de Castle also mentioned the dream lag effect in his book on the subject of dreams. In my dream journal I noticed many more dream themes playing out across week-blocks of time than when I tried to find them in single isolated dreams.

  • Scribner is trying the iTunes 99c/song model to sell individual essays, the NYT mentions in its Arts Beat.

  • danah boyd argues Craiglist’s closing of its adult services section actually causes an increase in abusive situations.

  • Boing Boing posts a video of an ant death spiral. My understanding of the ant death spiral is that ants sometimes dumbly follow each other’s scent-trails in circles until they all pile up in the center, dying. I believe that from their perspective, they’re walking in an straight line (think of Flatland). The comments on the Boing Boing posts are interesting and funny.

  • The AP (via NPR) reports on a study that says making more money typically stops increasing happiness (day-to-day happiness, and overall happiness) for Americans once a person hits an income of about $75,000. After that it’s diminishing returns, a hedonic treadmill of lifestyle inflation and consumerism, etc. I guess any additional dough over $75k should mostly be socked away as savings, plus trips &tc.?

  • A NYT feature discusses a new approach to studying academic/intellectual material that’s an old hat approach for athletes and musicians. Actually, I’ve always studied this “new” way, for the same basic reason:

    For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing. […] Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

  • Daniel Ellsberg, heroic leaker of the Pentagon Papers that helped stop the Vietnam War, was interviewed on MSNBC again about Wikileaks. Can’t figure out how to get an embed of this one on here; check out the link.

  • A clever Toronto Star reporter gave pre-paid credit cards to panhandlers to see 1) if they’d return them as asked, and 2) what they actually used them for (gauged by online transaction history) as opposed to what they said they’d use them for. (LCBO is Ontario’s Liquor Control Board.)

    Card 1: $50, handed to Jason. Spends $8.69 at McDonald’s. Returns card. […]

    Card 3: $75, to Joanne. Card is stolen. Over two days, $24.95 spent at McDonald’s, $38.35 at the LCBO. […]

    Card 5: $75. Laurie buys $74.61 worth of food, phone minutes and cigarettes at a gas station convenience store. Returns card.

  • Boing Boing mentions a new iPhone app, an augmented reality one, that promises to identify flight information for planes you point your phone at.

  • Darmouth researchers are building EEG headsets that connect with your phone (plus its GPS, gyroscopes, etc.) and reads your mind to automatically update your social networking, to update the scientists who are studying you, etc. Like seriously. For real. I’m not making this up. A commentator says:

    This however seriously scared the crap out of me.

    I wonder what Jaron Lanier will have to say about this. You Are A Gadget, quite literally. Lumbering meat relays for Twitter data, in the omnipresent, omniscient God Machine.

  • The Dallas Morning News reports on the Texas education board’s new move to change Islam’s portrayal in textbooks.

    Members of the board’s social conservative bloc asked for the resolution […] A preliminary draft of the resolution states that “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts” across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been “tainted” with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.

  • The Pope’s astronomer confirms he’d baptize a space alien if it asked him to, regardless of however many tentacles it had. (From the UK Guardian.)

  • The New Yorker exposes the Koch brothers, who’ve funded libertarian organizations (such as think tanks including Cato, tea parties, etc.) for decades from behind the scenes.

    The Koch brothers, after helping to create Cato and Mercatus, concluded that think tanks alone were not enough to effect change. They needed a mechanism to deliver those ideas to the street, and to attract the public’s support. In 1984, David Koch and Richard Fink created yet another organization […] Its mission, Kibbe said, “was to take these heavy ideas and translate them for mass America. . . . We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions […] We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” […]

    [Koch brothers’] Americans for Prosperity launched “Porkulus” rallies against Obama’s stimulus-spending measures. Then the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets had echoed the sentiment.

  • Salon.com interviews Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in the Age of Fear.

    Buy from indiebound

    The book seems really interesting; especially as a substitute teacher, I WANT! From the interview:

    We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years. […]

    I acknowledge I don’t have to deal with 30 unruly kids as I teach in front of a class. So I have great sympathy for teachers who have to struggle with that misbehavior. That’s not their fault. But what I’m saying is that we have evidence-based ways of dealing with that misbehavior that are much more likely to stop it, and we don’t use them.

    The longest I’ve worked in any one particular classroom as a substitute has been a full week; most of the time I see a class only once. So I don’t have the experience most teachers have with students where they get to know each other well across several months. Nevertheless I can say I consider myself good at classroom management, aka crowd control, aka discipline. Managing a classroom comes down to capturing the students’ interest, and being fair, patient, and kind. Too many teachers I watch up close (and I worry that Kupchik lets them off the hook, as the interview excerpt seems to suggest he does) fail by trying — unsuccessfully — to scare the kids with meanness, including empty threats, which undermines what authority these teachers might have.

  • I find this New Yorker profile of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg completely fascinating, much more fascinating than I thought I would. But for now I’ll keep the privacy setting as to why I find it fascinating checked, since I don’t want to go there myself, much less bring you there. Whatever ‘there’ is. Anyway.

  • This lengthy NYT feature on if and how language shapes thought is also fascinating:

    When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself […]

    some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” […] Does the need to think constantly about [this sort of] epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner inform the speakers’ outlook on life or their sense of truth and causation? When our experimental tools are less blunt, such questions will be amenable to empirical study.

  • The NYT mentions augmented reality’s arrival at DC bus stops:

    Smart phone users will use QR reading apps to snap a picture of [barcode stickers at bus stops], then their phones will be shown relevant real-time information corresponding to the bus stop they are at.

  • The military, which has forbidden its servicemembers from looking at the Wikileaks website, even if the servicemembers are good and eat all their dinners, has now purchased and destroyed 9500 copies of the 10,000-copy uncensored first edition of Operation Dark Heart, CNN says, trying to keep the information from the citizenry. Some of the 500 copies the military didn’t manage to destroy (burn?) have sold for around $2000 on eBay. A censored second edition is out now, and of course the uncensored first version is available on them thar interwebs.

    the manuscript contained secret activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command, CIA and National Security Agency […]

    In the memoir, Shaffer recalls his time in Afghanistan leading a black-ops team during the Bush administration. The Bronze Star medal recipient told CNN he believes the Bush administraton’s biggest mistake during that time was misunderstanding the culture there.

  • The Daily Mash says existentialist philosophers are staffing video game stores in anticipation of the new Halo release:

    BUYERS of the highly-anticipated Halo Reach will be served by staff trained to ask them what exactly they are doing with their lives. […]

    there is no ‘respawn’ in real life and that regret is not an option once your overdeveloped thumbs are rotting in the ground […]

    Some game creators have pledged that future releases will display real-life achievements in the corner of the screen that players could have managed while they have been playing, including reading a book, forming a meaningful relationship […]

    But software developer Wayne Hayes said: “If I was an overweight teenager living in an identikit provincial pisshole with a tawdry family, no social skills and a horrifying IQ, I think I’d want to be a space soldier from the future, too.”

  • 3d-printing, right outta Cory Doctorow’s novel MAKERS, is “spurring a manufacturing revolution,” says the NYT.

    A 3-D printer, which has nothing to do with paper printers, creates an object by stacking one layer of material — typically plastic or metal — on top of another […]

    [3d-printing] is giving rise to a string of never-before-possible businesses that are selling iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. And while some wonder how successfully the technology will make the transition from manufacturing applications to producing consumer goods, its use is exploding. […]

    MakerBot Industries sells a hobbyist [3d-printer] kit for under $1,000 […]

    the concept may seem out of place in a world trained to appreciate the merits of mass consumption

  • Using Wikileaks as context, Peter Ludlow at The Nation discusses the hacktivist ethic. Note: Wikileaks contests the article’s brief assertion that five human rights groups disapprove of Wikileaks disclosures. From the Nation article:

    The political compass of these hacktivist groups has never pointed true right or true left—at least by our typical way of charting the political landscape. They have been consistently unified in their adherence to the basic hacker principles as outlined by Levy and The Mentor in the 1980s: information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies—it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public. […]

    As described in Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile, Assange’s philosophy blends in seamlessly with the hacktivist tradition: it can’t be characterized in terms of left versus right so much as individual versus institution. In particular, Assange holds that truth, creativity, etc. are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, or what he calls “patronage networks,” and that much of illegitimate power is perpetuated by the hoarding of information. […]

    This is not a one-man or even one-group operation. It is a network of thousands motivated by a shared hacktivist culture and ethic. And with or without Assange, it is not going away.


William Gibson Austin Book Tour Stop

William Gibson came to Austin Wednesday, 15 September 2010, and it was very, very cool. The occasion was his new book, Zero History. I talk about my trip down there in my preceding blog post.

I think the chapter he read from was titled Zero History

The Reading Portion

The Gibson event was, like all Gaul, divided into three parts: a reading (pictured above), a Q&A session (pictured below), and signings (pictured way below). There were maybe 75 people there, some with phones and laptops in constant use during the event, which seemed to me fittingly Gibson-esque.

He knows the answers

The Q&A Portion

Notes from the Q&A, things Gibson said. Everything in quotation marks is pretty darn close to what he said; stuff without quotation marks is my paraphrase. Any mistakes are mine, of course.

  • “In the 20th century I seemed to be a futurist writing about the 21st century; in the 21st century I seem to be some sort of naturalist with a science fiction toolkit.”

  • “When you get to the real future, it doesn’t have any capital F; it’s just ‘today.'”

  • He has “trouble with villains.” He said, “As a grown-up, I sort of don’t believe in villainy in the same way I might have done as when I was younger and as our folk culture encourages us to. The bad guys in my books tend to have way too much money and time on their hands, and in my early, sort of further-future fiction, they tended to live way too long, which gave them even more time on their hands […] The real antagonist in all my work is the way the world is — and that’s what undoes the good guys and the bad guys in these books […] and the way people are, or the way I see the world or I see people as being.”

  • I asked Gibson about Wikileaks, and he said he doesn’t have a position on the organization; he said he needs to think about it in more detail. I encouraged him to blog on the subject. :-p (A lot of people are curious as to what he thinks on the issue.)

    Gibson did say “when [Wikileaks] announced and hinted about the link [to the Afghan War Collateral Murder video], I thought, ‘ahh, here it comes, I could have done with this not happening for a few more years.'” I take that last not as a commentary on Wikileaks content, but rather — since Gibson has mentioned the inevitability of radical transparency or at least something approximating it — a remark meaning Wikileaks and any similar organizations are going to be such game-changers that we and the world at large will have to seriously and quite stressfully adapt. Here’s my post about Wikileaks.

  • In the course of praising the movie Inception, he said: “If you’ve been doing your job right and doing it long enough, you digest all your influences. So when you’re younger there’s like lumps of gristle in your work and it’s not attractive and you realize you should have airbrushed those lumps a bit before you put [the early work] out.”

  • His debut novel Neuromancer doesn’t make it obvious, but he thought of that one as set in approximately 2035.

  • One great question someone asked was: Overall, do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Gibson replied, “Actually I think I’m quite optimistic. People said Neuromancer was oh, this grim dystopian vision of large cities with poor people dealing drugs, where could this have come from, this young man’s imagination is too much! [laughter]

    “I think today, there’s any number of people in, for instance, Africa, who would migrate to the Sprawl [the above-mentioned fictional setting in Neuromancer] in an instant, and they’d be way better off. The Sprawl looked dystopian if you were really, really better off […] When I wrote Neuromancer, any rational, well-informed individual knew the world could end at any second [due to nuclear holocaust]. [For understanding the] second half of the 20th century, the great historical secret: people my age grew up knowing the world could end at any minute. It wasn’t a conspiracy theory; it almost did [end] a few times, and nobody knew. There was a Russian radar operator / missle man who didn’t launch [missles] when he saw the American bombers coming, and they were coming accidently. Those are the real nodal points [of history]. [The bombers] got called back, and they’d gotten past the point where the guy was supposed to push the button, and the guy was on the phone with the Kremlin saying there was something wrong, ‘I don’t want to shoot.’ I hope this guy got a medal. Everybody should give that man a medal.

    “Coming from a world with that stuff going on I thought I was pretty optimistic to write about a world with people in it! In Neuromancer the big corproations decided nuclear war was bad for business anyway.”

His hand must have gotten tired

The Signing Portion

During the signing portion of the event, I got four books signed, two (Spook Country and Zero History) for me, one (Pattern Recognition) for Wifely, and one (Idoru) for a friend. I was near the back of the at-least-fifty-something-people line, so when I got to the table, I didn’t want to pester him with any additional questions. :) Instead, I blabbled a bit about Wifely and the friend for whom he was signing — I got the books autographed to our Twitter user names, by the way. If I could go back in time, I’d have just said: “I feel like I’m supposed to be saying something, but I’m really happy, so I’m just going to stand here and beam.” Yeah, it was totally worth the drive from DFW to Austin and back (each trip in the same day!). The event definitely made my week.

Traveling through the Republic of Texas toward the Future

Today I drove down the center of The Republic of Texas (from my headquarters in Fort Worth) to Austin to see William Gibson’s forthcoming appearance tonight at one big Barnes & Noble, the Arboretum one.

Newsweek poll says 52% of Republicans probably or definitely believe President Obama wishes to impose Islamic law

Welcome to the Republic of Texas, Gibson! :S

I stopped by the Czechoslovakian embassy to the Republic, got two kolaches (strawberry & blueberry) and a Reuben, then checked out the communiques:

L to R: Got Beer?; How Are You; Give Me A Kiss For Beer

Dispatches from Czech Diplomats

Now that I’m here, I’m gonna get some work done while I wait, or maybe just socialize (speaking of the billboard above). If any of y’all out there in Twitter cyberspace are also in here in meatspace, or otherwise want to participate, hashtag this event #AustinGD!

Top center of the building!

Some guy supposed to show up for a wedding?

Digest 8

It’s totally been too long since I posted one of these digests of what I’m reading online. So think of these selections as “recent-ish news stuffs you might have missed.” Offline: I’m reading Spook Country by William Gibson in preparation for his new, related-but-standalone novel Zero History, and I’m listening to the first cello concerto by Shostakovich as well as, ah, the song “#1 Crush” by Garbage. Now, let’s have at it:

  • Der Spiegel has a leaked German military study that says Earth’s supply of oil is already in permanent decline (has already passed the “peak oil” point); global security will probably be impacted sometime in 2025-2040, the leak says, as market economies worldwide collapse. Have a nice day!

  • Salon.com has two ex-CIA confirming Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Of course, Bush knew Saddam had oil!

    On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. […]

    “The president had no interest in the intelligence,” said the CIA officer. The other officer said, “Bush didn’t give a [expletive] about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.”

    The NYT is pleased with Obama’s Oval Office speech declaring an end to the war, but wishes he’d give more speeches in general.

  • If you’d like to worry about running out of things lighter than oil, apparently we’re facing peak helium, too. From Boing Boing.

  • Since apparently the Defense Department has never heard of the Streisand Effect, they haz a plan, according to the NYT: “buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir [alleged to contain] intelligence secrets […]”

    veterans of the publishing industry and intelligence agencies could not recall another case in which an agency sought to dispose of a book that had already been printed.

    Army reviewers suggested various changes and redactions and signed off on the edited book in January […] But when the Defense Intelligence Agency saw the manuscript in July [it set] off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution.

    Such a plan, the Streisand Effect says, will backfire because the publicity will just cause more people to purchase the book. Is the plan some sort of reverse psychology to get people to buy Operation Dark Heart, or are the planners just that stupid?

  • Is this all pretty upsetting? Well, have some chocolate (Sociological Images) — for moments when your aspirations to perfection fall short, an advertiser says; because, like, they couldn’t just say that it’s okay to be imperfect, that perfection is, after all, impossible. They gotta sell the stuff, you know. And you gotta buy it, too. Here’s more worthwhile hating on advertising, from the Psychology Today blog Ulterior Motives.

  • Ok, everyone, I am trying to get something positive in here. I know! A cat!

    Old Enough to Drink


    The cat snuck onto a Dublin DART, was re-united with its human via Twitter, and received a genuine rail pass for being awesome. Thus spoke RTÉ news.

  • People the length and breadth of the land have talked about Obama’s privately-funded redecoration of the Oval Office, but USA Today (also know as USA? OKAY!) gives the five quotes Obama picked for the rug:

    1. “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    2. “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice,” Martin Luther King Jr.

    3. “Government of the People, By the People, For the People,” President Abraham Lincoln

    4. “No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings,” President John F. Kennedy

    5. “The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us,” President Theodore Roosevelt

    Well, that’s some hope (sincerely!).

  • The NYT reports that Republican operatives have recruited homeless people in Arizona to run as Green Party candidates (in a Republican attempt to split leftist votes, of course).

  • Lifehacker with instructions for turning a thumbdrive into a portable computer privacy toolkit.

  • Slate.com with a 10-chart slideshow of income inequality in the States, with accompanying article:

    Incomes started to become more equal in the 1930s and then became dramatically more equal in the 1940s. Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. […] The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America’s middle class.

    [This] ended in the 1970s [hi, Nixon!]. […]

    Why don’t Americans pay more attention to growing income disparity? One reason may be our enduring belief in social mobility. Economic inequality is less troubling if you live in a country where any child, no matter how humble his or her origins, can grow up to be president. […] But when it comes to real as opposed to imagined social mobility, surveys find less in the United States than in much of (what we consider) the class-bound Old World. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain—not to mention some newer nations like Canada and Australia—are all places where your chances of rising from the bottom are better than they are in the land of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick.

  • In 1964 Arthur C Clarke explains why communication will change cities and the future.

    Oh, and suggestions for how to center these object embeds within the li bullet point, anyone? Because I’m that OCD.

  • Russia’s finance minister has a very unusual scheme, mentioned in UK’s Daily Mail. Talking of what we in the States call “sin taxes,” he says:

    “If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems […] People should understand [that] those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state”

  • As I return to substitute-teaching, this Lifehacker how-to for remembering names already is coming in handy. If you’re just meeting a Sasha and exchanging names, Philip Guo advises:

    [Typically] you totally forget Sasha’s name because your mind is too pre-occupied thinking about the next thing you’re going to say to carry the conversation forward, or too focused on listening to Sasha talk […] As soon as you hear her name, start repeating SASHA in your head loudly a few times [even as you give her your name] — SASHA, SASHA, SASHA. If you want to practice saying it out loud a few times, ask her about her name. “Sasha, that’s spelled S-A-S-H-A?” […] The purpose of these questions is to simply get you and Sasha to repeat her name a few times to help you to remember.

  • Talking Points Memo mentions a Newsweek poll showing most Republicans (52%) believe that Obama “definitely” or “probably” wants to impose Islamic law (Sharia).

  • Lefties paying attention to politics are seriously worried about the Democratic base’s “enthusiasm gap” which, at this point, has contributed strongly to the Republicans’ record-breakingly huge 10-point lead (at the moment) in the midterm election generic Congressional ballot, and has increased fears of a November of Doom: if Republicans win the House, Obama in many ways can’t get much good lawmaking accomplished. In The Nation, Thomas Geoghegan advances some obviously good proposals and some good but risky (to my mind) proposals to excite the left and up voter turnout. Here are some of the obviously good ones:

    1. Keep it simple. […] Every initiative should be capable of being put down [summarized?] in a single sentence or two.

    2. Make it universal. People on the left have all sorts of ideas for programs that turn out to be available only to a select few. By contrast take FDR’s big ideas, like Social Security. […] Likewise, Medicare: we’ll all get there.

    3. Make it add up to a plan. […] FDR did not end the Depression, either. But people were patient because they knew he had a plan. He was rebuilding the economy from the bottom up, and it paid off, not in the 1930s but in the unionized, high-benefits postwar decades after he died […] People will be patient with us and keep us in power if they think we have a plan.

    Regardless of his wise advice, Geoghegan’s article is quite a bit harsh, and in the regard I sent a letter to the editor about some of my quibbles (they’re not connected with the excerpt above), so I’ll let you know if anything happens with that. And concerning explanations for Democrats’ dismal poll numbers, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo snarks:

    everybody picks the theory that validates their assumptions.

    Dems and Obama’s poll numbers are so bad because …

    Republicans: Terrible policies and he’s probably a Muslim.

    Right Democrats: No CEOs in the administration. And why does he keep getting into the black thing?

    Down-the-Line Obamaites: Economy’s bad. Nothing he could do. Give it a rest.

    Left Democrats: He wasn’t liberal or tough enough and me and my eight friends are deeply disillusioned.

    Politico: Chronic failure to win the morning.

  • Too much politics! Well, William Gibson’s trying to get back into blogging, and we fans wish him all the luck. You should read this great, 2-page interview Gibson did with Vice Magazine for more on his new novel and his ideas.

  • NY Daily News reports on CuteCircuit’s new dress, the M-Dress (Mobile Phone Dress): you insert your SIM card into the dress label, and voila, one of your sleeve’s palms is now also a cell phone. Pop singer Katy Perry wore it some event(s) or other.

    You Know You Want One. Wifely @cckaty82?

  • Brain Mysteries adapts a meatspace-meets-cyberspace press release by the FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, saying:

    Researchers at the University of Barcelona have created a system which measures human physiological parameters, such as respiration or heart rate, and introduces them into computer designed characters in real time. […]

    The system […] uses sensors and wireless devices to measure three physiological parameters […]. Immediately, the data is processed with a software programme that is used to control the behaviour of a virtual character who is sitting in a waiting room.

    “We maintain that the linking of subjective corporal states to a virtual reality can improve the sensation of realism that a person has of this reality and, eventually, create a stronger link between humans and this virtual reality”, [researcher] Groenegress concludes.

  • This is heartbreaking. The WSJ reports that many Japanese men, who already play the game Love Plus+ in which they maintain relationships with virtual girlfriends, can do well enough in the game (with tasks such as virtual exercise for attractiveness) to win a trip to the real-life resort town of Atami, where they pretend to be on a date with their handheld virtual girlfriend.

    In Atami, the Love Plus+ fans—mostly men in their twenties and thirties—stand out. Unlike the deeply tanned beach crowd wearing very little, they are often pasty and overdressed for the heat in heavy jeans and button-down shirts. […]

    “There isn’t a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness,” said Mr. Fukazawa

  • Also in Japan and also in the WSJ — mostly paywall’ed (info can hurt you!) — a report on automated billboard advertisements that see you with cameras and then modify themselves to target you, the individual consumer, more specifically by auto-analyzing your demographic categories.

  • Cynthia Shearer with a post about Reo Fortune’s The Mind in Sleep, a book I’ll most certainly check out — if, given the cost, only at the library.

  • From the description of this YouTube video — I noticed the video on Boing Boing — “Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman replaced […] voting software with Pac-Man. They did this in three afternoons, without breaking any tamper-evident seals. It would be easy to modify the software to steal votes, but that’s been done before, and Pac-Man is more fun.” You can learn more about their hack here. Give the video a watch:

    You’re still going to vote!

  • Boing Boing with a post roughly about how drones are now patrolling the entire US-Mexico border.

  • Scientist J. Craig Venter, who famously sequenced the human genome and also created a cell with a synthetic genome, is now going after, well, just read it, from the NYT:

    At Synthetic Genomics, [Dr. Venter] wants to create living creatures — bacteria, algae or even plants — that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

    “Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”

    His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing […] “If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,” says Steve Jurvetson […]

    Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products. […]

    The Vatican […] cautiously praised [Venter’s synthetic biology] work as a potential way of treating diseases, saying it did not regard the synthesis of DNA as the creation of life.

  • Brain Mysteries, adapting a news release by the Elsevier, notes that in the cases studied, oxytocin — sometimes perhaps-too-broadly called the “trust” and the “bonding” hormone — affects new fathers just as much as new mothers. No more teasing Wifely @cckaty82 about oxytocin. (NO! We are not pregnant.)

I have many more links, but I’ll have to carry them over to my next digest, which I’ll try to make happen sooner rather than later.

I’d really appreciate hearing in the comments if people are finding these digests useful. They help me keep track of interesting info stuffs; but, at the same time, they’re a lot of work.