In the wake of 9/11, the military needed to know which adults could quickly learn a language (preferably an Arabic one) and be able to translate a backlog of neglected communications. That led to the development of an advanced system of evaluation for language learning which will now likely make its way into mainstream education. The opening of Michael Erard’s Nautilus piece on the topic:

“Imagine a test that could tell you how good you can ultimately get in any foreign language, from Hindi to Welsh, from Igbo to Spanish, before you’ve even learned how to say ‘hello’ or “please pass the butter.” Tres alléchant, no? Most adults would have to put in 10 years or more of dedicated work to find out if they have what it takes to end up with the vocabulary, accent, and grammatical sensibilities of a near-native speaker. This test could direct them from the debút.

And it may be coming your way soon.

Called the Hi-LAB (or ‘High Level Language Aptitude Battery’), it was developed by University of Maryland researchers working on a government contract in order to predict a person’s ability to learn a language to a very high level. Since its release in 2012, the Hi-LAB has been rolled out to government agencies and military training schools and will eventually be available for civilians as well. (Details of the Hi-LAB were only recently released to the public.) In the same way that America’s space program and the Cold War created spin-off products and technologies that altered civilian life, the Hi-LAB could become one of the first civilian benefits to come out of America’s war on terror.

Scientists who study second language acquisition have long been fascinated by the difficulty that adults have in becoming native-like in a language they begin learning after puberty. Most adults have no problem picking up modest amounts of vocabulary and grammar, assuming they’re motivated to put in sustained effort. But to become highly skilled in a second language, simply devoting the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell made famous in Outliers isn’t enough. It turns out that a person needs high-performing cognitive hardware, too.

The Hi-LAB provides feedback about who has this ability from the get-go, before the armed services invest any money in them. Cathy Doughty, the director of the team that developed the Hi-LAB, says: ‘Research has shown both focused motivation and personality factors to be necessary… [but they] don’t guarantee success, because the outcomes are limited by aptitude.’ Will education eventually follow this model too?”


There’s no corporation, including Google, that should be trusted with our private information. Of course, there’s no way to avoid such a faustian bargain in this world of clouds. Everything is free, but it still costs a lot. There’s the rub.

Later this year, Julian Assange is to release a book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, the description of which sounds bombastic, grandiose and borderline crazy, like Assange himself. But that’s not to say it won’t contain truth. Just because the messenger is deeply flawed doesn’t mean the message is completely wrong. Sometimes, it’s only the truly damaged person who’ll step forward. From Alison Flood in the Guardian:

‘Julian Assange is writing a ‘major’ new book, in which the Wikileaks founder details his vision for the “future of the internet’ as well as his encounter in 2011 with Google chairman Eric Schmidt – a meeting which his publisher described as ‘an historic dialogue’ between ‘the North and South poles of the internet.’

The book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, will be published in September this year, announced publisher OR Books this morning. It will recount how, in June 2011 when Assange was living under house arrest at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, Schmidt and ‘an entourage of US State Department alumni including a top former adviser to Hillary Clinton’ visited for several hours and ‘locked horns’ with the Wikileaks founder.

‘The two men debated the political problems faced by human society, and the technological solutions engendered by the global network – from the Arab Spring to Bitcoin. They outlined radically opposing perspectives: for Assange, the liberating power of the internet is based on its freedom and statelessness. For Schmidt, emancipation is at one with US foreign policy objectives and is driven by connecting non-western countries to American companies and markets. These differences embodied a tug-of-war over the internet’s future that has only gathered force subsequently,’ said OR Books in its announcement.

The title will include an edited transcript of the conversation between Schmidt and Assange, as well as new material written by Assange, who has been confined to the Ecuadorian embassy, in London, for the last 18 months.”

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“He’s like a young James Franco. He’s got a brilliant mind.”

Barbara Ehrenreich was an early supporter of John Edwards’ debacle of a 2008 Presidential campaign, seduced by the populist message without realizing the messenger was hollow, that he had all of the slickness of Bill Clinton without any of the prodigious political gifts. But she’s been right about so much regarding the fear of falling in America, and long before the disruption of the Internet Age or the recent economic collapse. While doing an Ask Me Anything at Reddit to promote her new book, she answered a couple of questions about minimum wage. The exchanges follow.



Do you think we’re getting any closer to minimum wage being a living wage as well?

Barbara Ehrenreich:

Well, there’s a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage and I think it will probably happen. That’s something most people agree with. The opposition is coming from, well, Republicans, employers, and especially the so-called hospitality industry like restaurants and hotels which employ a lot of low-wage people. But even if we get the national minimum to about $10.50 an hour which Obama’s talked about, that’s not going to be a living wage in most places. The living wage that you need for various cities, states, etc. is something that is constantly being calculated by a group at MIT for example, and they do it by reason. They give you the amount you need for a bare-bones existence for various family sizes, and certainly where I am sitting in Northern Virginia, $10.50 is not going to do it. It would need to be more like $20 an hour.


What do you think of raising the minimum wage and if you think it should be raised why wouldn’t it create a surplus of labor?

Barbara Ehrenreich:

This is the argument that is made all the time against raising the minimum wage, that it will lead to unemployment. There is no empirical evidence for it. Obviously if we raise the minimum wage to the living wage, there might be some difficulty, but you can look at places like the state of Washington, which has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, and compare its economy to that of Idaho, right across the border, and Washington does better.

I would say to that argument is: I don’t care. This is a moral issue. If you are paying people less than they can live on, you are in effect expecting them to make a charitable contribution TO YOU. If someone says “Well I’m a small business person, and I can’t afford to pay more than $8 an hour” then maybe you don’t have a business plan. You have a plan to exploit the desperation of certain people. With all this talk of a minimum wage, how come there is so little complaint when we see a CEO or hedge fund manager when they add $10 million to their pay? Yet we don’t. We get all bent out of shape going from $7 to $10 an hour. And that’s crazy to me.•



“They on the other side are ever anxious to communicate with us here.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion wrote.

Like a lot of people searching for answers after the unexpected jolt of tragedy, Jean Elizabeth Leckie developed some odd beliefs that helped her get through it all. The second wife of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, she, just like her spouse, was an ardent spiritualist. She came to believe after the heartbreaking death of her brother, a soldier killed in combat during WWI, someone she desperately needed to be waiting for her “on the other side.” In the April 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an article delved into her personal relationship with the dead. An excerpt:

“I will say that from my analysis of her personality and her character and the super-evident vigor and keenness of her intellectuality, she is far from being one whose credulity can be readily imposed upon–that she is far from being one whose one self-willed thought can be swayed from its original course without the strongest proofs–material, moral and spiritual.

‘My husband has been a Spiritualist for thirty-six years,’ said she. ‘During long years I was in doubt. I have been a Spiritualist since the Battle of the Marne. My brother was killed there.

We became very frank in our talk after that. She told me she had nothing to conceal; that she hoped that Spiritualism might be spread throughout the world–that it meant the spread of the true religion. When she believed in the life hereafter life in this world took on such a different aspect that it was the duty of all who had investigated the other life to endeavor to link the two lives together.

‘We can help one another in this sphere and the higher sphere,’ she said. ‘They on the other side are ever anxious to communicate with us here. But we should aid them in that communication. From the earthly viewpoint, let me illustrate. There may be some one on your telephone wire who is anxious to talk to you, but if you have your receiver down you cannot hear from him. That is what we are apparently constantly doing in this world–and on the other side they are trying, trying, ever trying to reach us.

‘Oh, if we all only knew–if we all could only realize how like the world here is the world there–waiting to prepare the way for us–waiting to make a home for us. And if we are fond of certain things in this earth; if we like our home and the furniture and the pictures and the books in it; if we like our garden–all those will be there for us–duplicated–on the other side.’

‘But with a higher appeal?’ I queried.

‘Yes, with a higher appeal,’ she said. ‘All the material things that we like here may be duplicated there, but on the other side there is ever an advance. There are higher spheres than the sphere just beyond here. One goes to a sphere higher than the first sphere beyond this world as one becomes more fitted for the higher life. One who has gone to that higher sphere can come back to the first sphere to help relatives or friends who have just passed from the earth. But one cannot pass from the first sphere on the other side to higher spheres until one is advanced spiritually. For example: If a child dies its grandmother who had advanced to a higher sphere than the first, may come back to the first sphere to help the child.’

‘In regard to childhood and old age,’ I said, ‘Sir Arthur told me that while there was no such thing as time, as we understood it, the apparent average age of the other side was about 35 years, that youth and old age adapted themselves to this apparent age.’

‘Yes,’ said she.

‘We often read,’ I said, ‘of a child or an old man appearing to persons sitting in a spiritualistic seance. How would you reconcile that with the 35-year age average?’

‘The spirits appear to their friends and relatives at the period of their lives when they passed away, so that they will be recognized,’ said she. …

Having been told by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that Lady Doyle was an automatic writer, receiving messages from the Spirit World. I asked her as to her method.

‘I do not enter a trance,’ she said. ‘Two or three of us sit at a table. I have paper before me and a pencil in my hand. At the top of the paper I make the mark of the cross. Sir Arthur makes a sharp prayer–and he offers a very beautiful prayer–and then we wait. Generally I soon feel the desire to write. I am unconscious of what I am writing, but I know it is a direct communication from the other side. I know that.’”


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle discusses Sherlock Holmes and psychic experiences:

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In 1973, Russell Harty spent a weekend at Salvador Dali’s Catalonian home to create an appropriately insane portrait of the 69-year-old artist and his “cybernetic mind.” On display: Al Capone’s Cadillac, General Franco’s granddaughter and an “instantaneous plastic web.” Dali reveals that his two favorite animals are the rhinoceros and a filet of sole. Amazing stuff.

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Writer and former eco-activist Paul Kingsnorth believes he’s seen the future and thinks it’s murder. He no longer dreams of averting an environmental collapse, the doom of us all, as traditional green activists and next-wave biotechnologists do, but believes it’s a foregone conclusion. His best-case scenario is that some can scrape by using the random parts of an exploded machine. From a Daniel Smith’s New York Times profile of Kingsnorth:

“Instead of trying to ‘save the earth,’ Kingsnorth says, people should start talking about what is actually possible. Kingsnorth has admitted to an ex-activist’s cynicism about politics as well as to a worrying ambivalence about whether he even wants civilization, as it now operates, to prevail. But he insists that he isn’t opposed to political action, mass or otherwise, and that his indignations about environmental decline and industrial capitalism are, if anything, stronger than ever. Still, much of his recent writing has been devoted to fulminating against how environmentalism, in its crisis phase, draws adherents. Movements like Bill McKibben’s, for instance, might engage people, Kingsnorth told me, but they have no chance of stopping climate change. ‘I just wish there was a way to be more honest about that,’ he went on, ‘because actually what McKibben’s doing, and what all these movements are doing, is selling people a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people. And those people . . . they’re going to feel despair.’

Whatever the merits of this diagnosis (‘Look, I’m no Pollyanna,’ McKibben says. ‘I wrote the original book about the climate for a general audience, and it carried the cheerful title The End of Nature’), it has proved influential. The author and activist Naomi Klein, who has known Kingsnorth for many years, says Dark Mountain has given people a forum in which to be honest about their sense of dread and loss. “Faced with ecological collapse, which is not a foregone result, but obviously a possible one, there has to be a space in which we can grieve,’ Klein told me. ‘And then we can actually change.’

Kingsnorth would agree with the need for grief but not with the idea that it must lead to change — at least not the kind of change that mainstream environmental groups pursue. ‘What do you do,’ he asked, ‘when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.’ He laughed. ‘It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: ‘Hey! Come share my crisis with me!’’

In 2012, in the nature magazine Orion, Kingsnorth began to publish a series of essays articulating his new, dark ecological vision. He set his views in opposition to what he called neo-environmentalism — the idea that, as he put it, ‘civilization, nature and people can only be ‘saved’ by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering and anything else with the prefix ‘new’ that annoys Greenpeace.’ Or as Stewart Brand, the 75-year-old ‘social entrepreneur’ best known as the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, has put it: ‘We are as gods and have to get good at it.’

For Kingsnorth, the notion that technology will stave off the most catastrophic effects of global warming is not just wrong, it’s repellent — a distortion of the proper relationship between humans and the natural world and evidence that in the throes of crisis, many environmentalists have abandoned the principle that ‘nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental.’ If we lose sight of that ideal in the name of saving civilization, he argues, if we allow ourselves to erect wind farms on every mountain and solar arrays in every desert, we will be accepting a Faustian bargain.”


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After seeing how bungled the instant replay and home plate collision rule changes have been in Major League Baseball, I prefer we wait for any more alterations to the game until Bud Selig has actually and finally retired. I’ve said before I’m in favor of balls and strikes being called robotically because of the high fail rate of umpires. The best of the men in masks are wrong on 9% of those calls and the worst 14% of the time. If the latter figure is acceptable, then maybe an umpire could be wrong 20% of the time here and there and not have it seem unusual. That could lead to games being fixed.

Which isn’t to say that any of the current MLB umpires would ever do such a thing, but subconsciously they’re swayed by something other than money: the reputation of the players. From Eric Chemi at Businessweek:

“The adage ‘your reputation precedes you’ neatly summarizes what we all suspect: People with better reputations often get the benefit of the doubt when they need it. Just how much reputation matters is open for debate, but two business school professors have taken a good shot. Using two years of data from Major League Baseball, Jerry Kim of Columbia University and Brayden King at Northwestern University found that behind-the-plate umpires are reliably more generous in their calls with highly regarded pitchers than they are with average hurlers (pdf).

The systematic bias persists, the researchers say, in spite of strong disincentive. Behind-the-plate umpires are quantitatively graded on their accuracy, and these grades help determine lucrative playoff assignments. Even so, for pitches hitting the exact same location, umpires are more likely to call a strike if the pitcher has a better reputation. More All-Star appearances means fewer called balls”

Roman Polanski, genius and predator, was interviewed by Penthouse at the time of Chinatown, which was my favorite film for many years. An excerpt:


How did you come to make Chinatown, your newest film?

Roman Polanski:

Paramount acquired the rights to it and about a year ago Bob Evans, a vice-president at Paramount, called me and I came to Los Angeles and read the first draft. It had been written specifically for Jack Nicholson and I have always wanted to make a movie with him. So I decided I’d do it and I worked with Bob Towne for two months rewriting it. It was his original script. Already, at that stage, a picture of Faye Dunaway formed itself in my brain, and I was absolutely positive she was the only person who could play the role.


What was it like working with Jack Nicholson?

Roman Polanski:

Jack is the easiest person to work with that I have come across in my whole career. First of all, he’s tremendously professional, and secondly, it’s very easy for him to do anything you ask. I think he spoils the director, and the writer, because any lines you give him sound right even if they’re awkward or badly written. When he says something, it sounds authentic. He never asks you to change anything. Every other actor I’ve worked with has said, at some time, ‘Can I change this?’ or ‘Can I take this out?’ But that never happens with Jack. It’s amazing, really.


What about Faye Dunaway?

Roman Polanski:

With her it was just the opposite. I mean she’s hung-up. She’s the most difficult person I’ve worked with. She’s undisciplined, although she works hard. She prepares herself for ages – in fact, too much. She’s tremendously neurotic. Unflexible. She argues about motivations. She’s often late and so on. But then, when you see the final results, you tend to forget all the trouble you went through because she is very good indeed. It’s just a price you have to pay for it.


How did Jack and Faye get along?

Roman Polanski:

Oh, they get along very well. They’re great friends. So were Faye and I before we started the picture. And we are now. But throughout the production it was fire and water.


Does Chinatown represent a departure for you in either theme or treatment?

Roman Polanski:

Every film I make represents a departure for me. You see, it takes so long to make a film. By the time you get to the next one you’re already a different man. You’ve grown up by one or two years. Chinatown is a thriller and the story line is very important. There is a lot of dialogue. But I missed some opportunity for visual inventiveness. I felt sometimes as if I were doing some kind of TV show. I thought I had always been an able, inventive, creative director and there I was putting two people at a table and letting them talk. When I tried to make it look original I saw it start to become pretentious, so concentrated on the performances and kept an ordinary look.


Isn’t that better than having the audience acutely aware of the camera, like a thumb in their eye?

Roman Polanski:

Yes, but I don’t think that’s ever happened to me. Only when your camera makes them nauseous do the critics say, ‘His nervous camera moved relentlessly throughout the entire sequence’ and so on. I’ve read those criticisms of some pictures. It’s the same thing with writers. Sometimes a great stylist writes so smoothly that you’re not aware of what you’re swallowing.”

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In America, will there be more words written about the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who just passed away, than, say, Peaches Geldof or the Ultimate Warrior? One would hope. I recently posted from his 1988 interview with the New York Times. Below is another Q&A he sat for, a 1969 Space Age one with a Colombian newspaper, this time on UFOs, ETs and such. The interview:


What is your opinion about UFOs?

Gabriel García Márquez:

My opinion about UFOs is of common sense: I believe they are craft from other planets, but whose destination is not Earth.


Do you believe in the existence of life in other planets?

Gabriel García Márquez:

The arrogance of those who assert that ours is the only inhabited planet is touching. I think that rather we are something like a lost village in the least interesting province of the Universe, and that the luminous discs that are passing in the night of the centuries are looking at us like we look at chickens.


From where do you believe they come or who is directing them?

Gabriel García Márquez:

The UFOs must be manned by beings whose biological cycle is considerably wider and fruitful than ours. They are not concerned with us because they finished studying us thousands of years ago, when they conducted their last explorations of the Universe, and they not only know much more about us than ourselves, but they know even our destiny. In reality, the Earth must be for them like an emergency island in the hazards of space navigation.


Do you think that the public is properly informed about this subject?

Gabriel García Márquez:

I don’t believe there is a conspiracy by the great powers to hide the truth about UFOs from us. That would attribute the owners of the world more intelligence than what they have.


To what you attribute the persistence of some scientists to deny not only the possibility that extraterrestrial spacecraft could exist, but the [UFO] phenomenon itself?

Gabriel García Márquez:

What happens is that humanity wasn’t able to merit the wisdom of the alchemist, who considered the laboratory like a simple kitchen for clairvoyance, and now we are at the mercy of a reactionary science whose coarse dogmatism cannot admit any evidence that it doesn’t have inside a jar. They are regressive scientists who deny the existence of Martians because they cannot see them, without even asking themselves if the Martians could be the microbes which make war to us inside our bodies.

So long as science is experimental—and not clairvoyant as was alchemy and which in our times only poetry can be—humanity will continue to be part of the kingdom of the barnacles. We will continue to see with an open mouth those luminous discs which were already familiar in the night of the Bible, and we will continue to deny their existence if their crew sit down to have lunch with us, as it occurred so many times in the past, because we are the inhabitants of the most provincial, reactionary and backwards planet in the Universe.”


Festo has created a robotic, though sadly pouchless, marsupial. It will hop on you and take your job. From the company’s release:”With the BionicKangaroo, Festo has technologically reproduced the unique way the kangaroo moves. Like its natural role model, it can recover the energy exerted when jumping, store it and retrieve it efficiently on the next jump.”

alent to taking a life.

MURDER/CRIME Letters for sale (USA)

Many handwritten letters by America’s Most Notorious Killers & Serial Killers.

Some actors pretend to be nervous during interviews, but John Belushi wasn’t kidding. In 1978, he sat uneasily, along with fellow actor Donald Sutherland and director John Landis, for a brief chat about Animal House, the film that was going to make him a huge star and put even more microphones in his face. Sutherland, conversely, could not give a fuck about this interview, a far healthier impulse. 


From the June 8, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Bucharest--There was recently discovered at Veresti, in the Botolani district in Rumania, a strange new sect styling itself the ‘Sect of the Tremblers.’ Its leader gives himself the title of patriarch. It has not many adherents.

At their meetings the members lie flat on the ground trembling continually; they believe that they are able to shake off their sins in this way. They have assemblies twice a week at which they weep for many hours.”

SRI International experimenting with robotic insects that employ swarm techniques for macro manufacturing. 

As an exhibition of the amazing images by the late filmmaker Chris Marker opens at the Whitechapel Gallery, Sukhdev Sandhu of the Guardian has an article about these visions, simultaneously dreams and nightmares, which have profoundly influenced the culture, even this modest blog. An excerpt of William Gibson’s comments:

I first saw ‘La Jetée’ in a film history course at the University of British Columbia, in the early 1970s. I imagine that I would have read about it earlier, in passing, in works about science fiction cinema, but I doubt I had much sense of what it might be. And indeed, nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for it. Or perhaps everything had, which is essentially the same thing.

I can’t remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe. As I experienced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone. I do know that I knew immediately that my sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.

Part of what I find remarkable about this memory today was the temporally hermetic nature of the experience. I saw it, yet was effectively unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would happen to see it again, on television, its screening a rare event. Seeing a short foreign film, then, could be the equivalent of seeing a UFO, the experience surviving only as memory. The world of cultural artefacts was only atemporal in theory then, not yet literally and instantly atemporal. Carrying the memory of that screening’s intensity for a decade after has become a touchstone for me. What would have happened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or otherwise access a copy? It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.”

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In the new Technology Review article “The Limits of Social Engineering,” Nicholas Carr looks at the potential and pitfalls of Big Data, which can tell us where things are going but can also bury the lead. In the piece, Carr references a 1969 Playboy interview with Marshall McLuhan, which was both really wrong and really right. The opening:

“In 1969, Playboy published a long, freewheeling interview with Marshall McLuhan in which the media theorist and sixties icon sketched a portrait of the future that was at once seductive and repellent. Noting the ability of digital computers to analyze data and communicate messages, he predicted that the machines eventually would be deployed to fine-tune society’s workings. ‘The computer can be used to direct a network of global thermostats to pattern life in ways that will optimize human awareness,’ he said. ‘Already, it’s technologically feasible to employ the computer to program societies in beneficial ways.’ He acknowledged that such centralized control raised the specter of ‘brainwashing, or far worse,’ but he stressed that ‘the programming of societies could actually be conducted quite constructively and humanistically.’

The interview appeared when computers were used mainly for arcane scientific and industrial number-crunching. To most readers at the time, McLuhan’s words must have sounded far-fetched, if not nutty. Now they seem prophetic. With smartphones ubiquitous, Facebook inescapable, and wearable computers like Google Glass emerging, society is gaining a digital sensing system. People’s location and behavior are being tracked as they go through their days, and the resulting information is being transmitted instantaneously to vast server farms. Once we write the algorithms needed to parse all that ‘big data,’ many sociologists and statisticians believe, we’ll be rewarded with a much deeper understanding of what makes society tick.

One of big data’s keenest advocates is Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, a data scientist who, as the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, has long used computers to study the behavior of businesses and other organizations. In his brief but ambitious new book, Social Physics, Pentland argues that our greatly expanded ability to gather behavioral data will allow scientists to develop ‘a causal theory of social structure’ and ultimately establish ‘a mathematical explanation for why society reacts as it does’ in all manner of circumstances. As the book’s title makes clear, Pentland thinks that the social world, no less than the material world, operates according to rules. There are ‘statistical regularities within human movement and communication,’ he writes, and once we fully understand those regularities, we’ll discover ‘the basic mechanisms of social interactions.’”

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Ridley Scott never really fully left the world of commercials–his best work in the field was actually still ahead of him–but here he is in 1979 at the time of Alien‘s release discussing his branching out into feature films. Footage is awful for the first few seconds.

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From Sam Volkering’s Tech Insider article about the upcoming Formula-E racing championship and how its futuristic technologies may eventually run down all streets:

Qualcomm has signed on as the Official Founding Technology Partner of the Formula-E championship. This isn’t a simple sponsorship opportunity. There’s far more to it that that. Qualcomm see this as an opportunity to develop their technologies around the globe.

This will include revolutionary coverage of the races using Qualcomm wireless technologies. But also perhaps more importantly Qualcomm’s unique electric vehicle (EV) technologies.

In the inaugural championship the pace cars will be electric. And electric cars need recharging. But instead of a plug, the pace cars will recharge using Qualcomm’s ‘Halo’ wireless charging system.

From year two, the race cars will use this technology also. The idea is to have the wireless charging pads in the roads around city centres. These areas where the cars race will allow charging ‘on-the-go’ for the cars. Simply, as the cars pass over the charging pads their batteries are charged.

Now if you think that’s great for a bunch of racing cars take it all one step further. If wireless EV charging pads are in city centre streets, then normal EV’s can benefit from the technology as well…

And that’s where cutting edge technology from series like Formula-E and Formula 1 filter down into the cars we drive every day.”



“It was obvious to them that she was living on a witch’s diet.”

In the September 10, 1911 edition of the New York Times, an article took the starch out of latter-day witch-chasers in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who blamed a slightly eccentric woman for allegedly hatching hexes. The article’s opening:

“In the twentieth century, more than two hundred years after the last witch was tried at Salem, a prosaic New York dressmaker was hauled into court in a large, prosperous and up-to-date American city and charged with being a witch.

This thing happened in Allentown, Penn., a couple of weeks ago, and what makes the case more remarkable is that it was not an accidental and sporadic instance of superstition, but apparently a symptom of a state of mind which is almost universal in Eastern Pennsylvania. Neither the witch herself nor the people who caused her arrest seemed to see anything unusual about the proceedings brought against her. None of her neighbors did; and yet the community in which she lived was not a back-country district, but a busy and populous neighborhood in a big, wide-awake, and thoroughly modern city. 

The woman was Meta Immerman, a New York dressmaker who had gone to Allentown to start a sort of Kneipp sanitarium. She believed in various theories of the kind which the frivolous-minded term ‘crank.’ Some of them had to do with diet; one of them was the belief that you could cure most of your bodily ills by going barefoot when dew was on the grass.

That of itself would have been enough to convict her of witchcraft in the eyes of her new neighbors at Allentown. The very idea of such a thing suggested the weaving of spells. So, the first time Meta was seen walking barefooted in early morning her case was permanently diagnosed.

However, she did not leave her neighbors with merely this evidence. She carried a little pocket electric light, and sometimes on dark nights she would pull this out and use it–say for some such purpose as to read the number on the street door of some house she was looking for.

So there were now two counts on her indictment, and the evidence was almost overwhelming.

  1. She wove spells by walking barefooted through the grass at dawn.
  2. She cast spells by throwing a witch light on houses at dead of night.

And now, to cap the climax, the unconscious dressmaker one morning walked through the grass with her shoes in her hand. Her reason simply was that she had no convenient place to put them down; but this did not come out until her terrified neighbors had had her hauled to court as a witch, and the amazed Mrs. Immerman was frantically protesting her innocence.

She was lodging with the family of George Kipp of South Thirteenth Street. A young couple by the name of Sober also lived in the house. It was the male Sober, John by name, who brought things to a crisis. He was seized one night with what he called ‘a terrible pain in my stomach.’

"One of these nut-devourers is Senator La Follette"

“One of these nut-devourers is Senator La Follette”

That was enough. All the suspicious circumstances in Mrs. Immerman’s case flashed at once to the minds of the Sobers and the Kipps. Then a new and still more damning thing was remembered, which was that Mrs. Immerman lived on nuts and raw eggs. She did, as a matter of fact, and so do a large number of the curious people who worry all the time about their stomachs. One of these nut-devourers is Senator La Follette. However, the Kipps and the Sobers did not know that. It was obvious to them that she was living on a witch’s diet.

They did not proceed to extremities at once. Kipp relied on a charm he had put over his door to keep witches away. Sober’s pain, however, was too real and too severe for him to wait for results. His wife advised him to lose no time, but to go and see a witch doctor right away. 

Fortunately, one of the best witch doctors in Allentown lived right across the street, George Kistler by name, and Sober at once consulted him. ‘No,’ said Sober afterward, ‘he didn’t give me any medicine. He just closed his eyes and asked me if I felt like anyone was clutching my sides. That was how I felt, and I told him so, and he closed his eyes again and seemed to go into a trance. Then he said: ‘Young man, some woman has cast a spell over you.’ I said, ‘Do you mean a witch?’ He closed his eyes again, and said that was just how people were bewitched.

‘I came home and told my wife, and she said right away it must be Miss Immerman. Then I knew when it was that she had cast that spell. She had asked me to help carry her trunk to the third floor. Of course, I obliged her, and as I took it up the stairs she kept her eyes fastened on me steadily, instead of looking at the trunk. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I know it was then she was casting the spell.

Kistler, the ‘pow-wow’ doctor, never charged Mrs. Immerman with witchcraft; it seems that ‘hex’ doctors never give names. The simply diagnose the case as any other doctor would do, and discover, the bewitching from the symptoms. So Kistler had merely diagnosed the case as one of witchcraft, and it was the Sobers who settled on Mrs. Immerman as the witch.

And they had her arrested, and she served a jail sentence of forty-eight hours. Not, of course, for witchcraft; she was charged with some prosaic modern offense such as refusing to pay her room rent. It was necessary to get her out of Allentown and back to New York, where she is now and where she can weave her spells with impunity and even ride a broom if she can find a good steady nag of that kind, and the arrest served the purpose. It was enough; Mrs. Immerman took the hint and hastened back to this infidel and materialistic town, where, if there are people who believe in witchcraft, there is at least no great danger of getting arrested for practicing it.”


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Peter Sellers being interviewed by talk show host/speed reader Steve Allen in 1964 about Dr. Strangelove, revealing how he used the voice for the titular character from the famed tabloid photographer Weegee. Mixed in are a couple of clips of the protean actor’s former employees recalling how he faked an injury to get out of doing the Major King Kong role. 

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The latest screams from those who hate government (yet work in government) came during the bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The public sector is incapable of doing such things correctly, they said, only private business is capable of executing such projects correctly. Except…having worked for some free-market companies, I can tell you that new Internet platforms and offerings are a mess initially (and sometimes permanently) more often than not. The Obamacare site, fixed fairly quickly, did a better job than many private concerns would have.

The idea that government is incompetent and the free market is perfect is a tired and false argument. Either can be good or bad. The Internet was birthed by the government and only when developed was it able to survive and thrive on venture capital. DARPA regularly churns out amazingly creative inventions (though they often give me nightmares). And let’s recall that Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama during a debate for having the foolishness to invest stimulus money in Tesla Motors, which has since paid back the loan with interest. He stuck to a narrative based on an ideology. The truth would serve us better.

From Jeff Madrick’s New York Review of Books piece on the subject:

Both government research and entrepreneurial capital are necessary conditions for the advance of commercial innovation. Neither is sufficient. But the consensus among many economists and politicians doesn’t seem to acknowledge an equal role for government. Resistance to acknowledging government’s fundamental contribution to American scientific and technical innovation became especially vigorous when the federal government’s solar energy project, Solyndra, to which it had lent more than $500 million, went bankrupt. The investment was part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, which included a substantial program of loans for clean energy, run by a successful former hedge fund and venture capital manager. But the solar energy company was undermined when the high price of silicon, on which an alternative technology to Solyndra’s was based, fell sharply, enabling competition, especially from China’s solar companies, to underprice the American start-up.

Solyndra’s 2011 bankruptcy led to a Republican congressional investigation, and a bill to end the loan program altogether. Although venture capital funds, such as Argonaut Ventures, controlled by Obama fund-raiser George Kaiser, were among the major investors in Solyndra, critics saw the failure as proof that government couldn’t and shouldn’t invest in such new ventures at all. ‘Governments have always been lousy at picking winners, and they are likely to become more so, as legions of entrepreneurs and tinkerers swap designs online,’ wrote The Economist in 2012. But including Solyndra, only roughly 2 percent of the projects partly financed by the federal government have gone bankrupt.”


"I metal detect as a hobby"

“I metal detect as a hobby”

People who lost something in their yard

Have you lost something in your yard? Let me bring my metal detector and help find it. I metal detect as a hobby and would enjoy helping you.

Jon Gertner, who wrote an excellent book about Bell Labs, has an article at Fast Company about Google X, the lab that is trying to be its creative descendant, though the search giant’s “moonshot” wing is even further afield, more an amorphous thing than something that is solid state. An excerpt:

“X does not employ your typical Silicon Valley types. Google already has a large lab division, Google Research, that is devoted mainly to computer science and Internet technologies. The distinction is sometimes framed this way: Google Research is mostly bits; Google X is mostly atoms. In other words, X is tasked with making actual objects that interact with the physical world, which to a certain extent gives logical coherence to the four main projects that have so far emerged from X: driverless cars, Google Glass, high-­altitude Wi-Fi balloons, and glucose-monitoring contact lenses. Mostly, X seeks out people who want to build stuff, and who won’t get easily daunted. Inside the lab, now more than 250 ­employees strong, I met an idiosyncratic troupe of former park rangers, sculptors, philosophers, and machinists; one X scientist has won two Academy Awards for special effects. [Astro] Teller himself has written a novel, worked in finance, and earned a PhD in artificial intelligence. One recent hire spent five years of his evenings and weekends building a helicopter in his garage. It actually works, and he flew it regularly, which seems insane to me. But his technology skills alone did not get him the job. The helicopter did. ‘The classic definition of an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing,’ says DeVaul. ‘And people like that can be extremely useful in a very focused way. But these are really not X people. What we want, in a sense, are people who know less and less about more and more.’

If there’s a master plan behind X, it’s that a frictional arrangement of ragtag intellects is the best hope for creating products that can solve the world’s most intractable issues. Yet Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself–an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions, in this case by taking incredible risks across a wide variety of technological domains, and by not hesitating to stray far from its parent company’s business. We don’t yet know if this will prove to be genius or folly. There’s actually no historical model, no ­precedent, for what these people are doing.”

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The new freedoms of the Internet Age are great and in the aggregate we’re wealthier, but the dollars themselves are in far fewer hands than before we were wired. Astra Taylor, who’s made two excellent full-length documentaries (this one and this one), has a new book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, which talks about the current wave of inequality fostered in part by the emergence of the web. Gawker’s Michelle Dean interviewed Taylor on the topic. The opening exchange:


Can you boil down for me the main reason you think the internet isn’t the ‘democratizing’ force we were promised?

Astra Taylor:

Because of money. It makes no sense to talk about the internet as separate from the economy. In the mainstream pundit world, there are two camps. One would say the internet is ruining everything, or distracting, or addictive. The other camp would say the internet’s amazing, we’re all connected, and it’s going to bring about a new age of democratization of culture, and creativity.

It’s not [that I have] some revolutionary theory. But there was a disconnect between this chatter from a fundamental characteristic of our world, just sitting there, and I just felt like somebody had to address it. No one was talking about the role of finance and the way business imperatives shape the development of tech.

The web is not an even playing field. There are economic hierarchies, and there’s this rich-get-richer phenomenon. And it’s emergent of these massive digital corporations, you know, Google and Apple. They’re not the upstarts they position themselves as.”


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