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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:

Question:

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.

Question:

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.

Question:

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.

Question:

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.

Question:

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.”

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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.

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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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.”

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“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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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 can execute 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.”

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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:

Question:

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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“The machine cannot lie,” said Leland Stanford, which may not be true much longer, but racer Jackie Stewart knew that humans certainly always could–especially to themselves–as he discusses his elaborate preparations for Monaco in 1972 with good friend Roman Polanski.

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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Predictions about the year 2000 from 1957 Germany. Cooking with punch cards never happened. It was all a lie.

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.”

While subbing for Mike Douglas in 1970, Sammy Davis Jr., going through one of his phases, discusses Black Separatism and such with dethroned but undefeated boxing champ Muhammad Ali during his Vietnam Era walkabout.

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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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Global corporations that solve problems in an innovative and technocratic manner, but, oh, there’s a catch or two in return for the miracles and wonders. A featurette for Norman Jewison’s 1975 cautionary tale about the free market run amok, Rollerball.

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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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