Excerpted

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Rupert Murdoch said recently that he believes the New York Post will still exist in ten years, if in a digital form. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where that’s possible. Most newspapers won’t survive the transition to the Digital Age, obviously, though dissemination of high-quality news reporting will likely continue. From Michael Kinsley’s new Vanity Fair piece, “Front Page 2.0,” in which he argues the same even if he’s as short on particulars as I am:

It’s not true that the publishers have just stood by while the Internet has stolen their business. Way back in 1981, the American Newspaper Publishers Association, under its leader that year—Katharine Graham, the C.E.O. of the Washington Post Co.—made a big lobbying push for a law forbidding AT&T, then a government-sanctioned telephone monopoly, to sell classified ads electronically. The publishers argued that the telephone company’s monopoly guaranteed the company profits that it could then use to subsidize the development of an electronic Yellow Pages, which would threaten one of their most profitable products, classified ads.

It was a bold argument. The newspaper industry had a higher rate of return on its investment than the phone company did. Nevertheless, the publishers were correct in seeing classified ads as the first thing they would lose as their business went online, though they missed the fact that the telephone company itself was about to be split into little bits and that it was some guy named Craig who would take this particular profit center from them.

Although it is hard to believe now, when The Washington Post can be bought by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for pocket change of $250 million, but just 15 or 20 years ago, before the commercial arrival of the Internet, there was no sweeter sinecure in American capitalism than owning the one newspaper in a one-newspaper town. And cities as large as Los Angeles and Washington had effectively become one-newspaper towns. It was heaven: you could earn huge monopoly profits from advertisers like the big department stores, which had nowhere else to go. You were automatically a civic leader. And if you got bored, or your family needed cash, you could sell out to Gannett, which always stood ready to gobble up monopoly newspapers and lower the tone. At symposia and seminars on the Future of Newspapers, professional worriers used to worry that these monopoly or near-monopoly newspapers were too powerful for society’s good.

It couldn’t go on, and therefore it didn’t.”

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Kubla Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome, but he couldn’t escape the voices of the dead. China is building its top-down insta-cities, believing it can forgo organic development, but large swaths of these developments don’t echo with life. If they’re a dream, it’s a dream that may never be fulfilled. The opening of Jonathan Kaiman’s Guardian article about Tianjin Eco-city, which is green in more ways than one:

“Wang Lin needed a change. The crushing air pollution and gridlock traffic in his hometown Hangu, an industrial district in China’s northern metropolis of Tianjin, made him anxious and sometimes sick.

Then he heard about the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city. According to its marketing, the £24bn development – a joint venture between the governments of China and Singapore – will one day be a “model for sustainable development” only 40km from Tianjin’s city centre and 150km from central Beijing. To Wang, it sounded like paradise.

Last year, the 36-year-old moved into an inexpensive flat in one of the city’s half-occupied apartment blocks. As a freelance translator, he doesn’t mind that most viable employers are at least half an hour away by car. He loves the relatively clean air and the personal space. But he also has his complaints.

By the time the city is complete – probably by 2020 – it should accommodate 350,000 people over 30 square kilometres. Five years into the project, however, only about three sq km have been completed, housing 6,000 permanent residents. There are no hospitals or shopping malls. Its empty highways traverse a landscape of vacant mid-rises and dusty construction yards.

‘This place is like a child – it’s in a development phase,’ Wang says. ‘But it’s chasing an ideal. It’s the kind of place where people can come to pursue their dreams.’”

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Drones are made not only to deliver what you ordered but to stop by unannounced. The opening of Robert Wall’s WSJ article about this technology getting ahead of regulation in Europe:

“The U.K. has a history in unmanned aviation spanning almost 100 years. It added to that this month when a court in northern England issued the country’s first-ever fine for the dangerous and illegal use of an unmanned aircraft.

The drone’s owner flew his craft in restricted airspace, over where Britain builds its nuclear submarines. The fine came in at £800 ($1,340.) Legal fees were another $3,500. And the aircraft crashed in the water.

Europe, which has trailed the U.S. and Israel in the development of unmanned military aircraft, is now beginning an effort to avoid falling behind on commercial drones, too. The European Union plans to spell out rules to govern a market it suggests could reach around 15 billion euros ($20.7 billion)per year.

Europe’s challenge is that several countries have embarked on permitting commercial drone operations, but there has been no effort to harmonize standards across the region.

‘Remotely piloted aircraft, almost by definition, are going to cross borders,’ Siim Kallas, the European Commission for Transport said in a statement last week.

Because phone holograms aren’t a thing yet, SociBot, the creepiest invention since Google Glass, is now an option. It can approximate the face from a photo you feed it and watches you with a pair of embedded cameras, responding to your gestures and expressions. As the product’s site says: “The eyes follow you around the room; the expression changes to reflect its mood (or yours!).” You’ll never be alone again. Never. From Oliver Wainwright at the Guardian:

“If Skype and FaceTime aren’t giving you enough of the human touch, you could soon be talking face to rubbery face with your loved ones, thanks to SociBot, a creepy ‘social robot’ that can imitate your friends.

‘It’s like having a real presence in the room,’ says Nic Carey, research co-ordinator at Engineered Arts, the Cornish company behind the device. ‘You simply upload a static photo of the face you want it to mimic and our software does the rest, animating the features down to subtle mouth twitches and eyes that follow you around the room. Even when they’re not speaking, it really feels like there’s someone there, keeping an eye on you.’

The face of a disembodied colleague staring out from a silvery helmet might not be what you’d expect at your average teleconference, but the company thinks it could transform the way we interact over long distances by simulating the subtleties of human expression, recreating the things that are lost on a flat screen.

Designed to be gender and ethnically neutral, the translucent mask is projected on from within, the chosen face 3D-mapped on to its surface and speech perfectly lip-synched, while the head turns and tilts as it talks.”

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The three Transformations humans must make if we’re to attain a higher plane of living, à la philosopher Nick Bostrom’s “Letter from Utopia“:

“To reach Utopia, you must first discover the means to three fundamental transformations.

The First Transformation: Secure life!

Your body is a deathtrap. This vital machine and mortal vehicle, unless it jams first or crashes, is sure to rust anon. You are lucky to get seven decades of mobility; eight if you be fortune’s darling. That is not sufficient to get started in a serious way, much less to complete the journey. Maturity of the soul takes longer. Why, even a tree-life takes longer.

Death is not one but a multitude of assassins. Do you not see them? They are coming at you from every angle. Take aim at the causes of early death – infection, violence, malnutrition, heart attack, cancer. Turn your biggest gun on aging, and fire. You must seize the biochemical processes in your body in order to vanquish, by and by, illness and senescence. In time, you will discover ways to move your mind to more durable media. Then continue to improve the system, so that the risk of death and disease continues to decline. Any death prior to the heat death of the universe is premature if your life is good.

Oh, it is not well to live in a self-combusting paper hut! Keep the flames at bay and be prepared with liquid nitrogen, while you construct yourself a better habitation. One day you or your children should have a secure home. Research, build, redouble your effort!

The Second Transformation: Upgrade cognition!

Your brain’s special faculties: music, humor, spirituality, mathematics, eroticism, art, nurturing, narration, gossip! These are fine spirits to pour into the cup of life. Blessed you are if you have a vintage bottle of any of these. Better yet, a cask! Better yet, a vineyard!

Be not afraid to grow. The mind’s cellars have no ceilings!

What other capacities are possible? Imagine a world with all the music dried up: what poverty, what loss. Give your thanks, not to the lyre, but to your ears for the music. And ask yourself, what other harmonies are there in the air, that you lack the ears to hear? What vaults of value are you witlessly debarred from, lacking the key sensibility?

Had you but an inkling, your nails would be clawing at the padlock.

Your brain must grow beyond any genius of humankind, in its special faculties as well as its general intelligence, so that you may better learn, remember, and understand, and so that you may apprehend your own beatitude.

Mind is a means: for without insight you will get bogged down or lose your way, and your journey will fail.

Mind is also an end: for it is in the spacetime of awareness that Utopia will exist. May the measure of your mind be vast and expanding.

Oh, stupidity is a loathsome corral! Gnaw and tug at the posts, and you will slowly loosen them up. One day you’ll break the fence that held your forebears captive. Gnaw and tug, redouble your effort!

The Third Transformation: Elevate well-being!

What is the difference between indifference and interest, boredom and thrill, despair and bliss?

Pleasure! A few grains of this magic ingredient are worth more than a king’s treasure, and we have it aplenty here in Utopia. It pervades into everything we do and everything we experience. We sprinkle it in our tea.

The universe is cold. Fun is the fire that melts the blocks of hardship and creates a bubbling celebration of life.

It is the birth right of every creature, a right no less sacred for having been trampled on since the beginning of time.

There is a beauty and joy here that you cannot fathom. It feels so good that if the sensation were translated into tears of gratitude, rivers would overflow.

I reach in vain for words to convey to you what it all amounts to… It’s like a rain of the most wonderful feeling, where every raindrop has its own unique and indescribable meaning – or rather it has a scent or essence that evokes a whole world… And each such evoked world is subtler, richer, deeper, more multidimensional than the sum total of what you have experienced in your entire life.

I will not speak of the worst pain and misery that is to be got rid of; it is too horrible to dwell upon, and you are already cognizant of the urgency of palliation. My point is that in addition to the removal of the negative, there is also an upside imperative: to enable the full flourishing of enjoyments that are currently out of reach.

The roots of suffering are planted deep in your brain. Weeding them out and replacing them with nutritious crops of well-being will require advanced skills and instruments for the cultivation of your neuronal soil. But take heed, the problem is multiplex! All emotions have a natural function. Prune carefully lest you accidentally reduce the fertility of your plot.

Sustainable yields are possible. Yet fools will build fools’ paradises. I recommend you go easy on your paradise-engineering until you have the wisdom to do it right.

Oh, what a gruesome knot suffering is! Pull and tug on those loops, and you will gradually loosen them up. One day the coils will fall, and you will stretch out in delight. Pull and tug, and be patient in your effort!

May there come a time when rising suns are greeted with joy by all the living creatures they shine upon.”

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From John Brownlee’s Fast Company article about the potential of shape-shifting furniture which can transform with just a wave of the hand:

What the Tangible Media Lab is trying to prove with Transform is that there are more to just shapeshifting interfaces than just shaking hands over Skype. The future of interface design is that we’ll be able to interface with everything, and the line between what we call a computer and what we don’t will eventually go away entirely. Tomorrow’s computers will be furniture, clothing, and more, and the ways we interact with them–and they with us–will be richer than we can possibly imagine.

As for what’s next for the Tangible Media Group, Follmer tells us that they hope it’s no coincidence that they have been hosted in Milan this year by Lexus, an automobile maker. ‘Imagine a car with a shapeshifting dashboard!’ he says. No need to imagine for long, though: next time we hear from these guys, we suspect they’ll have already tried to build one for themselves.”

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Gene Shalit, who once hollered at me and broke his mustache in the process, was apparently busy “producing” articles for Look magazine before he became famous for saying words about movies. In an interesting 1966 piece, “boy…girl…computer,” he writes about punchcard dating invading Harvard and other campuses in those happier times before Mark Zuckerberg was born. (Canadians had experimented with computer dating a decade earlier.) The opening of Shalit’s New Journalism stylings for the long-defunct title:

“Out of computers, faster than the eye can blink, fly letters stacked with names of college guys and girls–taped, scanned, checked and matched. Into the mails speed the compatible pairs, into P.O. boxes at schools across the land. Eager boys grab their phones… anxious coeds wait in dorms … a thousand burrrrrrrings jar the air . . . snow-job conversations start, and yeses are exchanged: A nationwild dating spree is on. Thousands of boys and girls who’ve never met plan weekends together, for now that punch-card dating’s here, can flings be far behind? And oh, it’s so right, baby. The Great God Computer has sent the word. Fate. Destiny. Go-go-go. Call it dating, call it mating, it flashed out of the minds of Jeff Tarr (left) and Vaughn Morrill, Harvard undergraduates who plotted Operation Match, the dig-it dating system that ties up college couples with magnetic tape. The match mystique is here: In just nine months, some 100,000 collegians paid more than $300,000 to Match (and to its MIT foe, Contact) for the names of at least five compatible dates. Does it work? Nikos Tsinikas, a Yale senior, spent a New Haven weekend with his computer-Matched date, Nancy Schreiber, an English major at Smith. Result, as long date’s journey brightened into night: a bull’s-eye for cupid’s computer.

‘How come you’re still single? Don’t you know any nice computers?’

Perhaps no mother has yet said that to her daughter, but don’t bet it won’t happen, because Big Matchmaker is watching you. From Boston to Berkeley, computer dates are sweeping the campus, replacing old-fashioned boy-meets-girl devices; punch bowls are out, punch cards are in.

The boys who put data in dating are Jeff Tarr and Vaughn Morrill, Harvard undergraduates. At school last winter, they and several other juniors–’long on ingenuity but short on ingenues’–devised a computer process to match boys with girls of similar characteristics. They formed a corporation (Morrill soon sold out to Tarr), called the scheme Operation Match, flooded nearby schools with personality questionnaires to be filled out, and waited for the response.

They didn’t wait long: 8,000 answer sheets piled in, each accompanied by the three-dollar fee. Of every 100 applicants, 52 were girls. Clearly, the lads weren’t the only lonely collegians in New England. As dates were made, much of the loneliness vanished, for many found that their dates were indeed compatible. Through a complex system of two-way matching, the computer does not pair a boy with his ‘ideal’ girl unless he is also the girl’s ‘ideal’ boy. Students were so enthusiastic about this cross-check that they not only answered the 135 questions (Examples: Is extensive sexual activity [in] preparation for marriage, part of ‘growing up?’ Do you believe in a God who answers prayer?), they even added comments and special instructions. Yale: ‘Please do not fold, bend or spindle my date.’ Vassar: ‘Where, O where is Superman?’ Dartmouth: ‘No dogs please! Have mercy!’ Harvard: ‘Have you any buxom blondes who like poetry?’ Mount Holyoke: ‘None of those dancing bears from Amherst.’ Williams: ‘This is the greatest excuse for calling up a strange girl that I’ve ever heard.’ Sarah Lawrence: ‘Help!’

Elated, Tarr rented a middling-capacity computer for $100 an hour (‘I couldn’t swing the million to buy it.’), fed in the coded punch cards (‘When guys said we sent them some hot numbers, they meant it literally.’) and sped the names of computer-picked dates to students all over New England. By summer, Operation Match was attracting applications from coast to coast, the staff had grown to a dozen, and Tarr had tied up with Data Network, a Wall St. firm that provided working capital and technical assistance.

In just nine months, some 90,000 applications had been received, $270,000 grossed and the road to romance strewn with guys, girls and gaffes.

A Vassarite who was sent the names of other girls demanded $20 for defamation of character. A Radcliffe senior, getting into the spirit of things, telephoned a girl on her list and said cheerfully, ‘I hear you’re my ideal date.’ At Stanford, a coed was matched with her roommate’s fiance. Girls get brothers. Couples going steady apply, just for reassurance. When a Pembroke College freshman was paired with her former boyfriend, she began seeing him again. ‘Maybe the computer knows something that I don’t know,’ she said.

Not everyone gets what he expects. For some, there is an embarrassment of witches, but others find agreeable surprises. A Northwestern University junior reported: ‘The girl you sent me didn’t have much upstairs, but what a staircase!’

Match, now graduated to an IBM 7094, guarantees five names to each applicant, but occasionally, a response sets cupid aquiver. Amy Fiedler, 18, blue-eyed, blonde Vassar sophomore, got 112 names. There wasn’t time to date them all before the semester ended, so many called her at her home in New York. ‘We had the horrors here for a couple of weeks,’ her mother says laughingly. ‘One boy applied under two different names, and he showed up at our house twice!’

Tarr acknowledges that there are goofs, but he remains carefree. ‘You can’t get hung up about every complaint,’ says Tarr. ‘You’ve got to look at it existentially.’

Jeff, 5′ 7″, likes girls, dates often. ‘If there’s some chick I’m dying to go out with,’ he says, ‘I can drop her a note in my capacity as president of Match and say, Dear Joan, You have been selected by a highly personal process called Random Sampling to be interviewed extensively by myself. . . . and Tarr breaks into ingratiating laughter.

‘Some romanticists complain that we’re too commercial,’ he says. ‘But we’re not trying to take the love out of love; we’re just trying to make it more efficient. We supply everything but the spark.’”

 

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The Philosopher’s Beard has a post which calls for the internationalization of history, treating it in the same manner as science which has largely accepted universal rules. It would probably be no easier to pull off than world peace, even if it might make world peace more attainable. The opening:

“History too important to be left to national politicians as a social engineering project for their ideological or ethnic visions of national identity.

First, the principle. The idea of ‘national histories’ should be replaced with the unitary ideal of international history, that all official histories should be compatible with each other as literal facts must be. History is about matters of fact and their true explanation just as science is. Yet, while more or less the same science is taught in schools all over the world (with the exception of a few theocracies), national histories are very often self-serving opinion taught as fact, i.e. propaganda. The result is the dangerous cultivation by governments of the ignorance and resentment of their citizens.

Second, there should be a grievance mechanism that reflects the moral fact that the way history is taught is a matter not only for national governments – democratic or otherwise – but of human rights below and international relations above.”

When he’s not busy watching his aunts ants have sex, E.O. Wilson analyzes how they build structures with a communal “brain.” And he’s not the only one interested in this subject. Understanding the hive mentality of these ingenious insects could help humans master swarm robotics and unlock secrets to cellular “behavior.” From Emily Singer at the Guardian:

“Scientists have been studying the social behavior of ants and other insects for decades, searching for chemical cues and other signals that the insects use to coordinate behavior. Much of this work has focused on understanding how ants decide where to forage or build their homes. But new research combining observations of ant behavior with modern imaging techniques and computational modeling is beginning to reveal the secrets of ant construction. It turns out that ants perform these complex tasks by obeying a few simple rules.

‘People are finally starting to crack the problem of producing these structures, which are either made out of soil or the ants themselves,’ said Stephen Pratt, a biologist at Arizona State University. The organization of insect societies is a marquee example of a complex decentralized system that arises from the interactions of many individuals, he said.

Cracking these problems could lead to improvements in swarm robotics, large numbers of simple robots working together, as well as self-healing materials and other systems capable of organizing and fixing themselves. More broadly, identifying the rules that ants obey could help scientists understand how biologically complex systems emerge — for example, how groups of cells give rise to organs.”

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Ant-sploitation from 1977:

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It seems like every day this year brings word of yet another young MLB pitcher on the cusp of stardom who’s torn a ligament in his elbow and needs Tommy John surgery. It could just be a coincidental cluster, but if I had to guess I would think it’s happening as a result of pitchers consistently throwing too hard. Cy Young, a portly man who wore his belt north of the Fred Mertz level, did not throw fire all the time or he wouldn’t have lasted so long. Of course, it’s not likely he would have gotten many modern hitters out. Year-round training by players has made pitchers feel like they have to be in the 90s consistently or they won’t be able to compete with hitters. Perhaps they’re right. Even with no PEDs, training and technology has made for one amazing athlete after another stepping into the batter’s box.

In an interview with MLB Radio on Sirius, noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews offers numerous reason for what seems to be a trend of pitcher injuries: no off-season for some youth players, throwing too hard to impress scouts, trying to light up radar guns which have become omnipresent over the last decade, and high school pitchers attempting to throw beyond 80-85 mph which compromises their arms. I think he could have added abusive use by high school and college coaches who often overwork young hurlers..

In part 2 of the interview embedded below, the Birmingham-based doctor discusses the next wave of innovation after platelet-rich plasma injections for treating injured pitchers:

“The research we’re trying to do now is trying to add stem-cell therapy at the time of the surgical procedure to enhance the biological healing response. Now that’s not there to enhance their performance. That’s there to try to get them to heal and hopefully to heal stronger and heal quicker, so it doesn’t take a year and a half for a redo of a Tommy John procedure in a major league hitter. We’re beginning to investigate that. The problem is doing that scientifically because the players have all heard about it, and they’re coming in and requesting that you add a stem cell to their Tommy John procedure, so it’s getting out in front of us. I probably shouldn’t even be talking about it. That’s hopefully going to help us with the healing and decrease the re-tear [risk]. And hopefully help the ones we’re doing secondarily to be a little more hopeful that they’ll be able to return at the same rate.”

 

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A “Making of…” featurette for 1973′s Westworld, in which writer-director Michael Crichton, then 30 years old, commented astutely on the Singularity. He wasn’t always so good at predicting the future.

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Robert Evans, who’s made some great movies and some bad mistakes, did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

What was it like to be involved with such an iconic film, The Godfather?

Robert Evans:

It was the first mafia movie written, directed, and acted by Italians. Coppola’s hungry brilliance as its director, was cinematically operatic. But nobody wanted to make it. They only offered 6 million to make it and said it would never be a hit. I got the rights for $12,500 and they weren’t even impressed with that. Sometimes you have to go against the tide. Nothing is easy in the business. A lot of layers from distribution, down to set decoration, casting, music. Each one is a battle.

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Question:

I don’t really have any questions, I just wanted to tell you that Chinatown is my all-time favorite film, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everything you did to bring that film into existence. Everything about Chinatown is perfect.

Robert Evans:

Thank you very much. I want you to know that everyone at the studio did not want me to make it. It was my first independent movie as the head of production at Paramount, and everyone there thought i was crazy. Nobody understood the script. But i knew Robert [Towne[ was a great screenwriter, i had Jack Nicholson as a lead, and Faye Dunaway, and Roman Polanski. I decided to bet on my artists, not my executives.

Question:

Do you and Roman [Polanski] still talk?

Robert Evans:

Yes we do often. He’s a very close friend of mine. We’ve been through thick and thin together.

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Question:

I’d like to ask what you think is different about the industry today compared to when you started? Specifically in regards to starting in the industry.

Robert Evans:

its much larger, more corporate. The American film has grown to be our countries number one export to the world. It flies the American flag higher all around the globe, more than any other product we manufacture. We should be very proud of it.

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Question:

Has anyone been a bigger prick to you than Frank Sinatra?

Robert Evans:

Frank was great to me – i was a prick to him. And it wasn’t right. But it had to do with the casting of Mia Farrow, and Frank divorced Mia and our friendship over it. It was a friendship i really treasured because he gave me an opening in the business when he took the detective book i optioned as a young producer, and said “I want to make this film”. When it comes to a woman, all rules change. Especially an actress.

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Question:

How many pages does it take to get excited about a screenplay?

Robert Evans:

When its over. A screenplay is re-written, re-written, and re-written. Its a never-ending fight, and very subjective. I’ve made mistakes, and hit the ball out of the park…

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Question:

What do you look for in a script?

Robert Evans:

Lean dialogue. The more the dialogue, the more amateur the writer. A movie is called a moving picture. Its not a play. Theres a big difference to being a screenwriter. One can be a screenwriter and brilliant at it, yet not a book writer, or a stage writer. A triple threat writer is a very rare jewel. And overestimated by his agent.

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Question:

Why has it taken so long to do another Popeye movie and which modern day actor would make a good Popeye?

Robert Evans:

[no answer].•

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From a post at Failed Architecture by Margaret McCormick about the complicated past and present tense of a former mental institution in Washington D.C.:

“In 2007, the announcement came that a long abandoned former mental institution was to be renovated in order to create a headquarters for the DHS (the agency which oversees immigration, customs, border control and the secret service, along with several other federal functions). Aside from sounding like the plot to a bad action/horror movie, the site was a bit of an odd-duck: an enormous campus, fifteen minutes drive from the White House and full of old buildings barely anyone had ever heard of. For its own part, St. Elizabeths Hospital was founded in the 1850s as ‘The Government Hospital for the Insane,’ hosting generations of doctors, nurses and patients. Some of which having been infamously linked to the powerful of DC, including: Ezra Pound, brought there on charges of treason in 1945; John Hinckley Jr., for shooting President Reagan in bizarre attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster in 1981; Richard Lawrence, who attempted to shoot President Andrew Jackson in 1835, failed, and was then beaten mercilessly by the President himself and Charles Guiteau, after killing President Garfield in 1881.

Unsurprisingly most of the campus was shut-down in the mid 1980s due to a Reaganite distaste of government dependence and dilapidating facilities. The staff argued, perhaps correctly, that the campus was simply not fit to successfully treat patients in a post-industrial society. Perceptions of mental health had changed and the enormous facility had become obsolete. For years afterwards, the campus served as a kind of spooky albatross with old, now homeless, patients still lingering around the grounds. Indeed the cost to maintain it was so great that in 1987, the federal government transferred responsibility of the eastern portion to the District of Columbia, hoping the city would make something of the land. They didn’t.

A foreboding shadow in an already violent part of the city, St. Elizabeths seemed to haunt governments both national and local: too big to be ignored and too old to be torn down, it was a comatose behemoth. That is until its need arose almost twenty five years after its abandonment.”

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The new technologies have chosen winners and losers with little regard for fairness. If you were a really good travel agent or bookstore owner, your livelihood is gone. But Major League Baseball owners, not exactly innovative people, have become mega-rich because they happened to have endless hours of content that’s not likely to be time-shifted, in an era when regional cable exploded. And low ratings–or no ratings–haven’t thus far made much of a difference.

Technology, however, isn’t likely the sole factor in the new wave of income inequality. Politics plays a vital role. From Paul Krugman’s New York Review of Books piece on French economist Thomas Piketty’s new volume on haves and have-nots:

“Capital still matters; at the very highest reaches of society, income from capital still exceeds income from wages, salaries, and bonuses. Piketty estimates that the increased inequality of capital income accounts for about a third of the overall rise in US inequality. But wage income at the top has also surged. Real wages for most US workers have increased little if at all since the early 1970s, but wages for the top one percent of earners have risen 165 percent, and wages for the top 0.1 percent have risen 362 percent. If Rastignac were alive today, Vautrin might concede that he could in fact do as well by becoming a hedge fund manager as he could by marrying wealth.

What explains this dramatic rise in earnings inequality, with the lion’s share of the gains going to people at the very top? Some US economists suggest that it’s driven by changes in technology. In a famous 1981 paper titled ‘The Economics of Superstars,’ the Chicago economist Sherwin Rosen argued that modern communications technology, by extending the reach of talented individuals, was creating winner-take-all markets in which a handful of exceptional individuals reap huge rewards, even if they’re only modestly better at what they do than far less well paid rivals.

Piketty is unconvinced. As he notes, conservative economists love to talk about the high pay of performers of one kind or another, such as movie and sports stars, as a way of suggesting that high incomes really are deserved. But such people actually make up only a tiny fraction of the earnings elite. What one finds instead is mainly executives of one sort or another—people whose performance is, in fact, quite hard to assess or give a monetary value to.

Who determines what a corporate CEO is worth? Well, there’s normally a compensation committee, appointed by the CEO himself. In effect, Piketty argues, high-level executives set their own pay, constrained by social norms rather than any sort of market discipline. And he attributes skyrocketing pay at the top to an erosion of these norms. In effect, he attributes soaring wage incomes at the top to social and political rather than strictly economic forces.”

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Cuban baseball is a strange thing these days. It’s minor-league level, but there are a few amazing players mixed in, like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig, who are capable of thriving in the MLB. It’s generally thought of as rundown, impoverished and hopelessly mired in the past–like Cuba itself during the age of Mighty Castro at Bat–but advanced analytics have found an unlikely home in the island nation. The opening of “Béisbol Prospectus,” a new SI piece by Eric Nusbaum:

IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT in Havana’s historic Estadio Latinoamericano. Bottom of the 12th inning of the second game of a doubleheader. The hometown Industriales and Holguín are fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.

Everyone still in the park—fan, player, coach, food vendor—is worn down to raw nerve. This game has seen a pivotal interference call, a runner thrown out at home and another doubled off second after tagging up early. Down 5–3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Industriales took a 6–5 lead, which they blew in the ninth.

Alejandro Aldama, 25, clings to a few rolled-up sheets of computer paper like they are a map to hidden treasure. He paces in the underground section of stands behind home plate. Watching the game from here, sunk below the infield grass, is like watching from a foxhole.

Aldama is cofounder and vice president of the Independent Group for Baseball Investigation (GIIB), Cuba’s first official sabermetric organization. The treasure map in his hand actually contains rosters and advanced stats. This year the GIIB is working with Industriales manager Lázaro Vargas, providing advanced statistical analysis, a first in Cuba for any team.

Four glaring light towers lean forward over the empty outfield bleachers and shine on Industriales outfielder Stayler Hernandez, who walks to the plate flirting with a .200 average. The fans above him whistle and blow noisemakers. Aldama wipes sweat from his brow. Vargas sits comfortably in the dugout as Hernandez settles into the lefthanded batter’s box.

SABERMETRICS—THE ADVANCED, computerized and occasionally counterintuitive analysis of baseball statistics—is beginning to take hold in Cuba.”

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Drones aren’t a unilateral technology, and eventually those pilotless planes are going to be aimed at the U.S. They’re a pretty attractive weapon for terrorists, capable of carrying a payload of explosives without a need for human recruits or faked passports. That development, of course, will lead to an American military industry protecting us from terror drones, tracking and destroying them. We’re just at the beginning, and people-less deliveries of books and pizzas will have that dark counterpart. The opening of “The Next Drone Wars,” a Foreign Policy essay by Sarah Kreps and Micah Zenko:

“During World War II, a top commander in what was then the U.S. Army Air Forces, General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, developed a new way to attack U-boat stations and other heavily fortified German positions: he turned old B-17 and B-24 bombers into remotely piloted aircraft and loaded them with explosives or chemical weapons. ‘If you can get mechanical machines to do this,’ Arnold wrote in a memo to his staff, ‘you are saving lives at the outset.’ The missions had a poor track record, but that did not deter Arnold from declaring in 1945 that ‘the next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all.’

Nearly seven decades later, Arnold’s prophecy is slowly being realized: armed drones are starting to rule the skies. So far, the United States has had a relative monopoly over the use of such drones, but it cannot count on maintaining that for much longer. Other states are quickly catching up. And although these new weapons will not transform the international system as fundamentally as did the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, they could still be used in ways that are highly destabilizing and deadly.

Countries will not be deterred from launching drone attacks simply because an adversary has drones in its arsenal, too. If anything, the inherent advantages of drones — most of all, not placing pilots or ground forces at risk of being killed or captured — have lowered the threshold for the use of force. Spurred by the United States’ example, other countries are likely to threaten or conduct drone strikes in ways that are harmful to U.S. interests, whether by provoking regional adversaries or targeting domestic enemies.”

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At some point in time, our descendants will look back in a shock at the sort of diet most Americans had during this era. GM foods probably shouldn’t be feared any more than what we’re eating now. From look at the future of genetically engineered foods at Kurzweil AI from Daniel Berleant, author of The Human Race to the Future:

Beans don’t taste as good as meat to many people. Yet there is no reason they can’t be engineered to taste like small chicken nuggets. Processed fungus protein called mycoprotein, sold in grocery stores, tastes like chicken already. But why stop there? Potatoes with small hamburgers in the middle sounds good — let’s call them ‘hamburgatoes.’

There is no reason hamburgatoes can’t be grown once genetic engineering gets further along. Carrots are crunchy, as are potato chips. So why not grow carrots that taste like potato chips, but retain the nutritional advantages of traditional carrots? Kids would want to eat more veggies.

Sunflower seeds come in packages at many supermarkets, but the ones with the seeds still in their shells seem less popular as snacks because they are harder to eat. You have to bite off the shells to get to the rather small seed inside.

Yet the sunflower seed market would almost certainly grow dramatically if the seeds were ten times larger or more. Imagine eating an enormous sunflower seed the size of a small egg … hefting its weight in the palm of your hand … cracking off its shell to reveal the rich, tasty meat within … and finally sinking your teeth in to savor its nutritious and distinctive flavor. A future sunflower could produce just a few seeds like that, instead of dozens and dozens of smaller seeds like the sunflowers they used to grow back around 2020.”

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In the big picture, tearing down a system where power to disseminate information was in the hands of the relative few is a good thing, but revolutions are rarely bloodless. The death of print was in the works for decades, but no one has yet figured out the new landscape. Two quotes:

From Stewart Brand in 1972:

“One popular new feature on the Net is AI’s Associated Press service. From anywhere on the Net you can log in and get the news that’s coming live over the wire or ask for all the items on a particular subject that have come in during the last 24 hours. Project that to household terminals, and so much for newspapers (in present form). Since huge quantities of information can be computer-digitalized and transmitted, music researchers could, for example, swap records over the Net with ‘essentially perfect fidelity.’ So much for record stores (in present form).”

From Michael Wolff in 2014:

“[Politico] did usurp The Washington Post, so they took what was essentially a 2 billion dollar business and replaced it with a business that does 25, 30 million dollars in revenue. So that’s kind of the paradigm. You take these businesses that were real businesses, incredibly valuable businesses, and you create that same function with businesses that are essentially trivial.”

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Quantification means that third parties are granted access behind company firewalls. Example: A vending machine business can tell remotely when more Sprite is required, but it’s also a security risk to hackers who want to walk in a backdoor. When things are “smart,” when they have information, they pose a threat. Just like people. From Nicole Perlroth at the New York Times:

“Companies have always needed to be diligent in keeping ahead of hackers — email and leaky employee devices are an old problem — but the situation has grown increasingly complex and urgent as countless third parties are granted remote access to corporate systems. This access comes through software controlling all kinds of services a company needs: heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; billing, expense and human-resources management systems; graphics and data analytics functions; health insurance providers; and even vending machines.

Break into one system, and you have a chance to break into them all.

‘We constantly run into situations where outside service providers connected remotely have the keys to the castle,’ said Vincent Berk, chief executive of FlowTraq, a network security firm.”

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In video-game parlance, members of the Heaven’s Gate cult who committed suicide 17 years ago, hoping in their collective delusion that their well-calibrated deaths would enable them to hitch a ride on Hale-Bopp’s tail, weren’t choosing “Game Over” but trying to get to the “Next Level.” The gaming lingo is particularly apt because those shrouded, Nike-wearing true believers earned a living (until their dying) in the nascent field of website design. From Claire Evans at Vice:

“On March 26th, 1997, 39 people in matching black sweatsuits and Nike sneakers were found dead in a rented mansion in a San Diego suburb. They were members of a religious group called Heaven’s Gate, and they had committed suicide, cleanly and methodically, by ingesting large doses of phenobarbital and vodka. In each of their pockets, authorities found a five-dollar bill and three quarters—interplanetary toll fare.

Their motive was to hitch a ride to the ‘Next Level’ on a heavenly spacecraft hidden behind the rapidly-approaching Hale-Bopp Comet. They didn’t believe they were committing suicide. Instead, they were abandoning fallible physical ‘vehicles’ in order to progress to the ‘Next Level’ above human, a commitment they’d honed while living in isolated compounds in Salt Lake City, Denver, and the Dallas Forth-Worth area, before moving to their final resting place in Southern California.

Beyond the spectacle of their exit from this world, what’s most interesting about Heaven’s Gate, looking back, is their complicated relationship to technology. While we remember the Nike sneakers, the purple shrouds, and the bunk-beds meticulously lined with bodies, what most people don’t know about these 38 devotees and their leader, Marshall Applewhite (known to them as ‘Bo’ or ‘Do’), is that they paid for their lifestyle by building websites.

Yes, Heaven’s Gate were web designers. The group ran a firm called Higher Source, and counted the San Diego Polo Club, a local topiary company, and a Christian music store among their clients. In the heady early days of the World Wide Web, this crew of androgynous roommates in matching close-cropped haircuts and baggy, modest clothes practiced what they called ‘Higher Source-computer programming’ in Java, Visual Basic, SQL, and C++.”

________________________

“You’re only chance to evacuate is to leave with us”:

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From film blogger Justin Bozung’s interview with mime Dan Richter, a passage about how he came to be cast as “Moon-Watcher” in 2001: A Space Odyssey and how he prepared for the role:

Justin Bozung:

So for those that haven’t read the book, could you tell me how you came to work on the film with Stanley Kubrick?

Dan Richter: 

I had a friend at the time, a book publisher named Mike Wilson and he was working with Arthur C. Clarke on a series of books about diving. Arthur and Stanley had been discussing the ‘Dawn Of Man’ sequence because they had almost finished the live action shooting on 2001, but they still didn’t have an opening. They had tried a few different things but nothing seemed to worked right. They decided that maybe they should talk to a mime about some of their ideas. Arthur mentioned this to Mike Wilson, and because Mike and I had been friends, he said ‘I know a mime. His name is Dan Richter, and he’s great.’

So consequently, I was asked to go and meet with Stanley at Borehamwood Studios MGM outside of London. I figured he’d pick my brain, and I’d offer some suggestions. So I drove up to see him and we started to talk. Stanley started to explain to me some of the ideas they had had for the sequence that didn’t work. Thinking about it, I didn’t see his problems as having to do anything with acting, but rather as something to do with movement.

The ‘Dawn Of Man’ was for the opening of the film. The problem with the opening of a film or a play or a book is that you have to go and get your audience. You have a very short amount of time to get the audience involved, literally seconds of minutes. So it was important that we made the man-apes come to life.

Justin Bozung:

So you didn’t really go into the meeting thinking you were going in for a job interview with Kubrick?

Dan Richter: 

I truthfully thought I was just going in to talk to him. I thought Stanley was just going to pick my brain, and I thought I’d just offer up suggestions to him in regards to how a mime could be of assistance to him in terms of solving his problems for the sequence. I didn’t know I was auditioning for him. I went in there acting cocky. I wasn’t worried about saying anything wrong to Stanley, because I wasn’t looking for a job. I was busy with other work in London at the time. I just thought I was there to give Stanley some pointers or whatever. I thought I was meeting with Stanley to explain mime movement to him.

Stanley and I hit it right off, and I think he liked my approach. After I was done talking Stanley asked me to show him what I was talking about. He wanted to see how to move as I had explained it to him. Then he offered me the job. So I told Stanley I’d have to do all of the choreography. I told him I’d help develop all of the man-apes costumes. The costumes initially were completely unworkable. You couldn’t move in them. Then I told Stanley that I’d cast and then train the people myself. I didn’t think he’d actually agree to my terms, but he said ‘yes’ to everything. So suddenly, I found myself with a immense job, and it was a job creating something that had never been done before. I was given an office, a rehearsal studio, assistants, and my name on a door and I was just this cocky kid. I had to deliver.

I mean, I had no ideas or plans to play ‘Moon-Watcher’ in the film. I thought I was there to just help with the research and the choreography of the actor’s movements. I never had any notions that Stanley would want me to play ‘Moon-Watcher’ in 2001.

Justin Bozung:

Then there was the enormous amount of research you did on apes.

Dan Richter:

I spent a great deal of time researching at the London Museum Of Natural History. I was granted access to their back stacks, and got to examine and study various skeletons and bones in their collection and all the early journals and research work the museum had acquired to that point.. I spent a lot of time talking to scientists with specialization in the Australopithecus era. Which of course, was the era that we were planning on setting the opening of the film in.

I also went to various zoo’s around England. With the zoo research I was studying the apes to develop a choreography. So I studied the apes at the zoo, so I could see how they interacted with each other in a tribe. How they moved, how their bodies reacted. So I began to study Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and Gibbons. Before my first trip Stanley had handed me a 8mm Bolex camera and told me to film everything. So I just went and filmed everything I observed. I was looking for the truth of it, I needed to know how they interacted with each other.

As we got closer to shooting, we were having a difficult time figuring out exactly how the man-apes should move. When I was at the zoo I filmed this Gibbon ape in slow motion coming down a tree and once he got down he began to just walk around. When I went back and watched the film I discovered this specific way in which the Gibbon walked. The Gibbon moves with their legs slightly bent with their knees pointing outward. Then, with the Chimps we decided it would be best to move our hands and arms in the same way that they moved theirs, which was at particular angle as well.”

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Ethics, let alone laws, can’t keep up with the accelerating pace of science and technology. Growth is exponential and often unexpected, and different nations have varying rules of engagement. It’s difficult to come up with any universal policy. Biotech, in particular, will be messy and dangerous. From a post about the implications of synthetic yeast by Julian Savulescu at Practical Ethics:

“Back in 2010, I blogged about Craig Venter’s creation of the first synthetic organism, Synthia, a bacteria.

Now, in 2014, the next step has been made by a team at John Hopkins University, the use of synthetic biology in yeast, which, whilst still a simple organism, has a similar cell structure to humans (and other more complex organisms): a nuclei, chromosomes and organelles. The engineered yeast has been reproduced to over 100 generations, passing on its new DNA.

The pace is breathtaking. Moore’s law describes a phenomenon in computing, where computer capacity (so far) doubles every two years. Kurzweil uses Moore’s law to predict the: a state where humans no longer control, or even comprehend, the progress that technology continues to make.

It’s difficult to measure scientific progress in the same way as computer power, but it’s clear that leaps in progress are now measured in years, not decades. Yet still we wait until technology is upon us before we act.

Consider a parallel technology: cloning. The earliest intimations of cloning were perhaps in 1885, when Hans Dreisch successfully divided sea urchin embryos. Yet it was not until Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1998 that we began to become concerned and consider deeply thoughts on human cloning. A moratorium on human cloning research was put in place in the US, and a ban in Europe. In industry, cloned animals are used in farming already, yet the EC and UK governments are apparently at loggerheads about whether to allow this to continue.

Synthetic biology, I believe, has far greater potential than straight forward cloning. But this potential includes great harms as well as great benefits.

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Ray Bradbury reportedly wrote Fahrenheit 451 on coin-operated typewriters in the early 1950s. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, coin-operated computers became a thing three decades later in the Bay Area. No dystopian masterpieces seem to have emerged, but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. The opening of the above article:

“Patrons of the San Francisco Civic Center library may now buy time on a coin-operated computer–a $1 token pays for 20 minutes–to help figure their household budget, manage a small business or learn to type.

The computer comes with an instruction book written on a third-grade level.

The library’s first Franklin Ace 1000 computer was wheeled into the main library by Kim Cohan, its 18-year-old marketing entrepreneur, who said he has ‘taken an expensive piece of equipment and brought it to a level where it’s affordable for a large number of people.’

Cohan has taken a $4500 computer and wired it to a coin box and a printer. Librarians will sell the $1 tokens–which are restamped slot machine tokens–and take reservations from the public for up to an hour on the computer.”

Maybe we could colonize Mars with a relatively small community of pioneers. Not so another solar system. In that case, the mass would be critical. From Sarah Fecht at Popular Mechanics:

“Back in 2002, John Moore, an anthropologist at the University of Florida, calculated that a starship could leave Earth with 150 passengers on a 2000-year pilgrimage to another solar system, and upon arrival, the descendants of the original crew could colonize a new world there—as long as everyone was careful not to inbreed along the way.

It was a valiant attempt to solve a thorny question about the future of humans in space. The nearest star systems—such as our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home—are so far that reaching them would require a generational starship. Entire generations of people would be born, live, and die before the ship reached its destination. This brings up the question of how many people you need to send on a hypothetical interstellar mission to sustain sufficient genetic diversity. And a new study sets the bar much higher than Moore’s 150 people.

According to Portland State University anthropologist Cameron Smith, any such starship would have to carry a minimum of 10,000 people to secure the success of the endeavor. And a starting population of 40,000 would be even better, in case a large percentage of the population died during during the journey.” (Thanks Browser.)

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While plant and insect brains may not be as complicated as human ones, they’re very complex and likely resemble our processes more than we commonly believe. From Oliver Sacks in the New York Review of Books:

“Where Aplysia has only 20,000 neurons distributed in ganglia throughout its body, an insect may have up to a million nerve cells, all concentrated in one brain, and despite its tiny size may be capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. Thus bees are expert in recognizing different colors, smells, and geometric shapes presented in a laboratory setting, as well as systematic transformations of these. And of course, they show superb expertise in the wild or in our gardens, where they recognize not only the patterns and smells and colors of flowers, but can remember their locations and communicate these to their fellow bees.

It has even been shown, in a highly social species of paper wasp, that individuals can learn and recognize the faces of other wasps. Such face learning has hitherto been described only in mammals; it is fascinating that a cognitive power so specific can be present in insects as well.

We often think of insects as tiny automata—robots with everything built-in and programmed. But it is increasingly evident that insects can remember, learn, think, and communicate in quite rich and unexpected ways. Much of this, doubtless, is built-in—but much, too, seems to depend on individual experience.

Whatever the case with insects, there is an altogether different situation with those geniuses among invertebrates, the cephalopods, consisting of octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. Here, as a start, the nervous system is much larger—an octopus may have half a billion nerve cells distributed between its brain and its ‘arms’ (a mouse, by comparison, has only 75 to 100 million). There is a remarkable degree of organization in the octopus brain, with dozens of functionally distinct lobes in the brain and similarities to the learning and memory systems of mammals.”

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