Saturday, December 23, 2006

Have yourself a PNAC little Christmas...

Interesting to see the Beeb linking to and analysing the PNAC:
"George Bush is about the last neo-conservative standing, Cheney as well maybe. Bush is not an analytical person so he just adopted the neo-cons' philosophy.

"It fitted into his Manichean, his black and white view of the world."
There are, of course, big debates over why the PNAC standpoint failed, which would take many years to go over in depth, I suspect. Still, the question remains - was it the "implementation" (by which not just the details of the Afghanistan/Iraq invasion is included, but also the people involved in the administration) that failed, or has the world changed considerably - sufficiently - since Reagan? Have people learnt lessons, and put "structures" in place that handle imperialist intervention more efficiently?

Again, I suspect it's nothing so "black and white". Invading two countries at the same time - the second because the first is drawing too much media attention - is a dumb idea. Invading Iraq and assuming that people will welcome you with open arms is a clear case of forgetting/ignoring your history. Links beween insurgency and surrounding Middle East regions should certainly be assumed too.

Whatever the mix, it feels like a good Christmas if the end of PNAC is being talked about. Have a merry one :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Economics and Psychology Merge...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Reality is dead anyway.

BBC NEWS: Viewers fooled by 'Belgium split'

Funny, with so many fears around being used to coerce people into chasing particular policy, it turns out that there's some kind of "reality tv" line that can be crossed after all... Is an imaginary reality only acceptable as long as it's purely imaginary? If so, why do we keep insisting on makin choices based on it?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Happiness is a warm league table

Via Mind Hacks, Slate has a quick article on happiness and economics. The move towards "positive psychology" and new evidence to counter the tradiitonal economic idea that choice = happiness (yadda yadda) are apparently getting some influence in government circles.

Except, of course, this is crap. For many reasons.

1. Governments, well, the UK one at least, equates happiness with having things. Or, rather, getting things, which is different as it's a process, rather than a state. But here's the paradox, the vicious circle: progress then gets fed off unhappiness. 'Happiness', as defined, depends on more things. More things depends on people wanting to be 'happy' (note the magician's sleight of hand trick there), which means the entire system gets defined in terms of non-happiness. See previous ranting, elsewhere for arguments/discussion.

2. The question 'are you happy?', apart from being rather subjective (dependent on how you experience and remember life) and according to what just happened, is rather like asking 'are you asleep?' You are, if you are happy, generally quite unlikely to think about the question, or think to yourself 'OMG I'm so Happy yay'. This is because happiness, even defined as a calm sense of comfort and satisfaction, is a state of being. When you're scared, you don't (without training) ask yourself "am I scared?" - you're too busy being scared, and acting/reacting accordingly. The same thing is true of happiness - why bother to ask the question if you're feeling too good?

This, I suspect, leads to a very dangerous operation in terms of measuring happiness. When the UK government not only wants people to be 'happy', but also a) determines what happiness is, and b) determines how to measure it, for their "happiness league table" purposes, they are thereby killing the whole "definition", the whole meaning behind happiness. (This is in much the same way that they try to measure "intelligence" by giving tests, producing individuals that are good at, uh, passing tests, but not necessarily thinking.)

Alas, with our rationalist, measure-happy way of doing everything these days (happiness through drugs is still the easiest way to gauge things), expect more floundering and scratching of heads over something that is, in reality the simplest thing we can possibly do.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What be these air monsters you climb inside the belly of?

My pledge failed some time ago, so I'm glad to discover a similar Flight Pledge idea. This one breaks it down into 2 tiers, for "no flying" (save emergencies) and "max of 2 return flights" too. And you actually get a certificate, apparently.

Will have to think about signing up. Currently, I'm invited to go to Norway, so I'm trying to work out if going by train and ferry is feasible/desirable...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Has science shot itself in the foot?

I'm currently skimming over an article from 2001 by Svein Sjøberg entitled "Science and Technology in Education: Current Challenges and Possible Solutions". He sets out a bunch of possible reasons why students aren't taking science as subjects. (Incidentally, when Brown talks of "Britain's future economic competitiveness", that basically means "we need more progress!".)

As an (ex?) scientist, I'm interested in hearing more about other people's - especially non-scientists' - relation with the area. As Sjøberg notes, everyone is extremely happy to use and to follow what science produces, but few actually want to do it. If anyone's reading this, why didn't you take science? What puts you off? Is it just something that "somebody else" does?

I've put some of my thoughts below - including an explanation of this post's title - but just to summarise the Sjøberg article, here's a quick run-down of the 13 influences he puts forward:

  1. Irrelevant and dull, on a personal level

  2. Too difficult, too intellectual, especially in an age of anti-intellectualism

  3. Teaching is poor

  4. Alternative beliefs are more fun! (See #1. Also, are they more relevant to the individual?)

  5. The idea of of 'objectivity' is under 'attack' from more social-constructivist-style points of view (but is this relevant when choosing further education topics?)

  6. Scientists perceived as either geeky or mad

  7. Media portrays scientific debate as scientific uncertainty (Maybe see #5)

  8. Science is cold and uncaring - "unhuman"

  9. More distrust over science messing with the 'natural order'

  10. Science today is more to do with the military-industrial complex than personal curiosity (also see #4)

  11. Progress is now the 'norm', so we're less enamoured with it

  12. Other role models now compete, such as footballers and singers (assuming that scientists were role models previously...)

  13. A communication gap exists between scientists and the public, so less understanding of what scientists 'do'

I think a lot of these tie together, and we can extract a common thread that results in the idea that science has, in effect, shot itself in the foot. In many of these reasons (#1, #4, #8 especially), it is the fundamental objectivity of science that puts people off - the lack of humanity and subjective agency that most people, it turns out, actually quite like.

This sets up a split, which is amplified by the "necessity" in a globalised economy of sudden and rapid "mass production" of scientific expertise. On the one hand, rational and objective researchers are needed to conform to the philosophical ideal of scientific methodology. But on the other hand, you need less rational, more "empathic" people who also act as "messengers" for science and progress - the teachers, policy consultants, media consultants, etc. But this "mass production" movement - i.e. "we need scientists, and quickly!" - in conjunction with other anti-"intellectualism" factors, means that you end up with people who are, by nature, rational and objective doing the rational and objective jobs.

In other words, there is nothing to stop anyone from conducting a job in a rational, scientific manner, whilst retaining 'other' abilities of a more interpersonal, humanistic nature. What prevents it in this case is the ideas that a) training is expensive and time-consuming, so a natural 'instinct' for rationality is preferred, and b) as the population grows ever larger, specialisation becomes the norm, such that you are expected to conform to one or the other.

Thus, it can be said that in today's globalised and competitive culture, poor teaching and misperceptions about science are the natural result of the scientific area 'isolating' itself from what it means to be human. People like using and reading about science for its emotional effect, but science as a methodology deliberately rejects this as unimportant. It has, in effect, dug its own grave.

The re-integration of science with the 'soul' (see how I have to put that in quotes? this is the extent to which 'rationality' has permeated my language...) is something we need to face up to, and fast. Religion in its theological phase attempted (/attempts) to put science to work for the soul. Science in its objective phase rejects the notion of spirituality, yet the debates over "religion vs science" highlight the fact that this is an issue we are struggling with, and fighting to comprehend. Fighting badly.

What we need is much more of a "religion-with-science" debate, in which the definitions of both are re-assessed completely, and re-centred on the 'self' rather than on their polemic ideals. That's the only way I can see that we're going to get out of the mess we're in.

Feel free to leave all sorts of comments below.

Recommended reading: Promethus Rising, R. A. Wilson.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Control over Reputation

Hmm, I'm almost loathe to give publicity to this one, but it raises some interesting points. The FT has a (purchasers/subscribers-only) article today on a new 'e-Influence' service being offered to track companies' reputations amongst bloggers and "other opinion-formers on the Internet".

The opening line of the article states, in a typically overhyped way, that "Businesses are in danger of "losing control" of their reputations".

Doesn't this imply that, prior to more lubricated communication flows (blogs et al, if you like), reputation was in the hands of the suppliers? I love the way marketingspeak goes against all the 'rational consumer' theory of its economics grandaddy (a split representing, I suspect, the adherence to practical psychology that marketing relies on...). Bad product = pay less. Reputation is not branding.

Such reputation-tracking services will, I guess, fall into usage by two sorts of company: those that actually care what people are saying about them (at which point the mettle of the "independent" blogger is tested, as "sweetening" deals come their way...) and those that are out to sue (a practice which scientologists pioneered, of course).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Logics of 'Off'

Following from Joel and Moishe, Arno sheds some light on why I love the Mac so much.

Film Review: El Laberinto del Fauno



Pan's Labyrinth has to be the worst movie I've ever seen. (OK, actually it's one of the most amazing, but I don't like getting expectations up...) A dark, dark Studio-Ghibli-style romp (think Totoro/Spirited Away) with Alice and Henson intakes, yet no description here will do justice to the sheer beauty - and horror - of it (including the storytelling).

Go see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Electricity in the Air

Been meaning to blog this video of a guy getting tasered for not leaving a US library, but haven't had time. Fortunately PZ over at Pharyngula picks up on it, along with another case of a guy having an epileptic fit getting tasered.

It's all about the shock value, these days.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Energy: Markets vs Contracts, Nuclear vs Oil

Just finished reading a long article on Russia, China, and oil markets: Russia tips the balance, which follows the short leader in this week's New Statesman.

The latter summarises Russia's increased centralisation and state control over oil and gas, but the former goes into the matter in far, far greater detail. It's also part 2, although I haven't read the first part yet.

In essence, the article describes the current move away not just from dollars (in the form of foreign oil/gas exchanges), but also from a market system that the West relies on. China, India et al have gotten, or are getting so big that they can essentially negotiate long-term contracts with Russia and Middle Eastern states. This cuts down the amount of oil available to the Western markets (sending prices up yet further). Furthermore, the state control of fuel supply is mutually exclusive to the controlling interests of Western companies (which would otherwise help 'feed' the market), affecting not just the control of market supplies, but also access to exploratory ventures. Global peak-oil starts to look like a relatively sane nightmare compared to the multitude of factors that suddenly need to be considered in its place. (As always, the reality is humanity-driven...)

To quote from the article:

"The lucrative economic, financial, political and diplomatic package of enticements being offered to producers around the globe by China, India and the other economies of the East far outweigh what the US can offer - the US simply cannot compete."
and:
"Russia, China, India and the rest of the world outside the West ... do not feel an integral part of the global system they see as greedily and inordinately dominated by the multinational oil companies of the West, with which their relations are growing ever more tense."

Something I didn't realise is that, while the Iranian Euro-backed Oil Bourse is possibly being cut, the Chinese have set up the Yuan-backed Shangahi Petroleum Exchange, and the Russians are planning a ruble-backed exchange too. Others are getting procedures in place to make it easy to switch away from the dollar:
"the fact that the West's oil majors have lost control of all but 9% or 10% of reserves means that state-controlled oil companies can reroute any amount of product they wish from the New York-London exchanges to any of the new exchanges. This will provide a more than sufficient supply to guarantee the success of the new exchanges, and the US can do nothing to stop it."


Western Governments are naturally in a bind, and a very immediate one at that. Exchanges are pretty much ready to go. Russia has taken control back. Peak-oil, if one goes with it, is a matter of several hundred years probably, but the realistic threat to our "modern" economies is one of decades, if not less.

This, I believe, is why Blair is tetchy about renewables and so "enamoured" by nuclear. There are a number of options, but the timescales involved serve to differentiate their likelihood (and attractiveness) enormously. The West does not have the possible growth of China and the East, so we have less bargaining tools available to step outside the market - indeed, the market is our bargaining tool, our lifeline to foreign energy.

The romantic option is to invest in renewables - adhere to the true definition of "energy supply security". But the shift in paradigm is too much in too short a time to focus al our efforts on it. Whether people like it or not, even a successful transition to decentralised, clean, local energy sources would involve a fundamental shift in the attitudes, lifestyles and culture of the masses. This they would adapt to, but probably not agree to (if the current level of eco-apathy is anything to go by) in advance. Renewables, then, should be a long-term investment strategy, but politicians are too busy being short-sighted for that. (If renewables are to make a difference, they must spring Napster-like from communities, from the ground up. But that induces issues of control in such a centralised, network-bound regime...)

So nuclear is the way forward, for two reasons. Firstly, it shifts is not away from the market paradigm, but merely the oil market paradigm. Markets are good when you have something to sell that nobody else does (competition amongst consumers = higher price), or when you need simply to be able to buy something (a la oil and gas currently). By controlling the supply of radioactive fuel (through the fortunate coincidence that it is "ambiguous", dual-purpose, and therefore subjectable to control mechanisms), the structure of the market that emerges can be swayed easily too. This brings us to the second reason - nuclear power reflects, and indeed accentuates the linkage between fuel and military control. Two for the price of one.

(On a sidenote, one could also conjecture that control over the market, and over the market platforms - dollar vs euro, oil vs nuclear - is somewhat akin to the control over and fragmentation of Social Networking Providers.)

There's a good chance, then, that higher-level clashes will "tear us apart" (although not necessarily in a bad way, depending on your perspective...) The market decisions informed by political decisions (and vice versa) hereby clash with democratic awareness and the flipside of decentralised communications - alternative channels. It's possible that the UK public (and, indeed, the American one) is by now placid and disillusioned enough to let nuclear get the go-ahead. Personally, I think there's more chance that a "2-tier" mode of governance will emerge - one concentrating on global deals, nuclear superiority (or rather, a nuclear-vs-oil battle) and the ilk, while the other, diffuse network of "survivors" will have removed themselves further from the political sphere and set up their own. What form this will take, I'm not sure, but perhaps it's for the best, anyway.

Friday, November 24, 2006

All's Fun and Games over in the Real World

Ah Zippy, what truth you do speak.

Personal.FM

Yayyy, Brits allowed to use modern technology at last!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Media-Consumer Feedback Loops

The front of today's FT has a headline on the housing bust due (paid subscription needed for full thing). In the article, a time certainly isn't given, but one has to ask - does bringing up the point in the media make the occurrence more likely? In other words, so long as people aren't told about bad things, optimism is at a high, and markets are high as a result.

The media is interesting from a merely reporting point of view. However, it gets hyper-interesting when it reports on the people reading it, setting up some feedback loops that, if they can be controlled, can probably be very useful... (But to whom? ;)

Thus, the fear or optimism encouraged by the reporting of the bust or boom, respectively, of house prices, is perhaps akin to the fear or optimism reported by media regarding, say, terrorism. Media reports, people react, politicians react, media reports.

But then, is there a better way to run things? Or, ironically, is merely being aware of this line good enough to break it?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bloody clever spam.

I think this kind of spam is pretty ingenious, really. Wonder what kind of a job spam filters do with it... (If it looks weird, you're probably not in HTML. EDIT: Or, bah, you're reading it using my blog CSS, ahaha. Will try to fix this later...)

 
ah us ty mm al td ep vh ag
su ga zeee ok yk ch eq jrg ymp
fd vj tg yc jv yo vp km zgdadmrv
dh kr lclyea fp wv ja au ln bh bn
gmdu nw vs he kb ay nq ak fa ko
lt er pu kqvyfs pz ovsc dn oj


ri lh yp jc fvzw zogle kq
an tq wj egpk kz se fv vp hblm
cr ju ls zr ji uj jj ko nc ji
wd rf sw cwwrqj ui ecx mvhue lexkdx
evnu fz ha ei gc ef og py lc dk
mf fl qd bp puom ot vk si po


fypp xi ze ki qz lwgy
in pt xq gevp bq ke at zj
hp ym mh pq pe ur kik
tc lj ptecon lt iq iui
nr qq nm it lo cw bt bo ly qt
rlpn is ii pk nteynd fa wpti


rv lg pa dn gt jj hu wu
vf ju gfmp xlj bh bifl fp ly
bfr wq ij xgnbzk xo kp aqx
tiu ffrdpe btzppp cbisjv lus
os pa fq re vq zdh zq lq au ac
ov db oh el od nj qa qs ll mb

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wheee, I managed to use YouTube! User-Generated Content ahoy, Web2.0 here we are! The future is now, etc.

Anyway, this is an entry for the Perplex City "Extreme Puzzling" competition, but I thought I'd share it here as well, just because I can. Yay!



You can download it here, too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Made me laugh...

'Doomed to repeat it' quote of th' day...

"Had it not been for the US and the UK, the Iraqis would still be ruled by Saddam Hussein. This is a country in transition. We have been brutalised by 35 years of brutality."


(Iraqi deputy PM, via BBC News)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scotch

Scotch is good. Everybody drink Scotch.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Technopolitical Fork

Well, it had to happen. With the onset of a full-time PhD, I've started a new blog to keep track of all the "technology + politics" stuff that would otherwise go on here. Signal to noise, and all that. It should also tie in neatly (or overlap way too much, we'll see) with Into the Machine, which deals with more of the "top-down" use of technology, rather than bottom-up deliberation etc etc.

Anyway, go check it at Sphereless, add it to your RSS and all that.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Social Interfaces

eXmosis: Social Interfaces - why is connected technology such a lonely experience?

Looking for more examples of proper social technology...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Rise of the Multinets

BBC article on the break-up of the Internet.

Strikes me there are some interesting analogies.

1. Perhaps this is natural evolution, based purely on the size of the internet and the need for a fractal evolution of hierarchies. Just as some communities and some companies "split off" once they get to a certain size - to avoid conflicts, inefficiency, etc - so maybe the Internet is reaching the point where the multitude of "communities", which until now have happily fenced off their own internet space but which have also subscribed/agreed to this fencing off process, has grown beyond the ability to solve scalability using the existing technology.

2. The emergence of troubles as the result of increased usage/expansion by different cultures, and what's effectively an emergent conflict arising from scale of same, could I think be said to mirror the trend for "globalisation" off-line.

Multiculturalism is a "problem" that we haven't had to face before - each to their own, but only so long as there's enough space and the networks that our infrastructure consists of allow it. However, the solutions have the potential to be very different. I see technological solutions - at least at first - to an on-line clash of culture, especially as the culture is embedded in the technology to begin with. Such a path is harder to take in the real world.

However, following the "Balkanisation" outlined in the article, the issue of network borders rears its head, of course. How will data get "translated" between networks? Who controls this translation? In other words, there is a whole bunch more scope for the economic kind of activities we currently see between real world borders - exchange rates (why buy a service on Internet A when you can get it cheaper on Internet B?) and sanctions (cutting communications/translations for various normative purposes) for example.

All of a sudden, the politics that we deal with on a day to day basis, but that we think the Internet is safe from, are very much in play again. The more things change...?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google and YouTube, sitting in a tree

Just got back from Uni to see that Google have bought YouTube. In light of previous posts, the relevant stuff is probably:

the company will keep operating its own Google Video as a separate operation.

...

Universal Music Group has signed a distribution deal with YouTube, which will protect the rights of the music firm's artists.

YouTube also says it has signed a deal with CBS, which will offer short-form video programming, including news, sport and entertainment on YouTube.

Google has also signed distribution deals of its own, with Sony BMG and Warner Music to offer music videos.

Is this the beginning of a new YouTube?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fractal goodness

One from a month and a half ago, but I like it, so nyeh.

Mouse brain and universe look the same.

See original NY Times article without picture, plus Exmosis: Fractals.

Who Owns The Deliberation[tm]?

Amongst various commentary on the recent launch of David Cameron's video blog thing, Webcameron.org.uk, Phil picks up on the battle between traditional and emerging media platforms, while David Wilcox asks whether we can trust Government to talk directly to us online.

This issue of Trust is a big one - hence the capital 'T'. I suspect - and intend to find out for sure soon - that this issue isn't related purely to matters of an online nature, but that it has been resurrected as technology opens up the avenues through which we conduct our politics. The relationship between the 'public', the media and the politicians is a triangle that needs to be considered carefully - that is, we should not sit back and see where we're taken with all these new-fangled toys.

If indeed the question is old, then there will be plenty of examples - both around us, and from the history books - that we should take into consideration when deciding what kind of democracy we want as a collective.

To take one, concerned directly with institutional trust (yet pushing the media aside for the moment), as an illustrative analogy: Who should decide the technical details of the voting and ballot processes?

In other words, who is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the link (or links - in both directions) between the elected and the electorate? The same question can be applied to an ongoing accountability that - currently - is provided (in a way that is, at least, the most possible/plausible given the state of technology) by mainstream media channels.

As technology integrates itself even more with our daily lives, and becomes more applicable to this field, my question (to reiterate) is: Do we want to just see where the mix of established competitive democracy and emerging integrative technology takes us? Or should we (as a whole nation) be considering what form of politics we want, and then designing infrastructures to this end?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Demographics and House Prices

Reading this BBC article on still-rising UK house prices, I'm reminded of this New Yorker article that Phil linked to a few weeks ago. In particular, note how the "previous" generation is helping out the current gen:

The building society suggests that many first-time buyers are being helped to get a foot on the property ladder by their parents remortgaging their own properties to cash in on rising house prices and giving their offspring a deposit.

Each month almost as many people remortgage their homes - borrowing more while staying put - as borrow to actually move house.

My rough memory of British demographics recalls something of a post-war baby boom. Is it possible that this demographic boom is now coming into its own - has paid off its mortgages and is able to provide some fresh economic input, partially fuelling (along with some other factors) the current house price bouyancy?

Note also the quote "A growing number of people have missed mortgage payments recently," - perhaps an indicator that the remortgaging activities above act as a "catalyst" for more house buying, but not necessarily as guarantee that mortgages following the initial buy will be paid back?

Note: plot house prices against population size. Might it be possible to predict when this boom will end? What would happen if so?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Couple of Guardian links

No more cash for Iraq war, Bush told by army.

Three retired senior military officers yesterday accused Mr Rumsfeld of bungling the war on Iraq, and said the Pentagon was "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically". Major General Paul Eaton, a retired officer who was in charge of training Iraq troops, said: "Mr Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making."

Britain's boom coming from financial services ... and the general gravitation towards London continues.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Examples of the future of social spaces

Some links following on from my post about the future of media-networking servcies:

- David Wilcox: "Social networking gets political". Given that UK democracy is essentially a competitive, attention-seeking system, I think that much of the same arguments about attention, branding and their integration with provision of service are applicable in a political context too. Do the Tories want to provide a social service to discuss their policies, or to appear as a "trendy" service provider? Will Labour warp into an ISP?

- New Statesman: "The battle for YouTube" outlines a possible YouTube future:

...insiders at MTV say that close thought has been given to how the content and format of YouTube should be altered in the event of a takeover. Users will be allowed to continue generating the content, but the company is determined to "raise the bar" for quality of material and the way it is presented. They will want to find corporate sponsors, even if at present much of the unedited footage on YouTube includes people sitting on the toilet (would Estée Lauder be keen on that?). The anarchy of the site will be organised into new "mini-channels", regulated by the new owners, but still allowing the wacky content providers in.


(Also interesting is the "Listen" functionality on the New Statesman article, vaguely.)

Flickr/Flock Test


Aaaa!
Originally uploaded by scribex.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Symbol Meets World

An article from the other day entitled "Truth or illusion: What's real on YouTube?" (via /.) raises issues over what is "real", in comparison to what is created merely to sell things. With the importance placed on "user-generated content" (U-GC) in the drive for a new media paradigm, new questions are raised: Does an entangling of corporacy or simple promotion with "honest" content threaten the paradigm? Or does it enhance it somehow, lending credence to it and providing evidence that here is a new model that, to some extent, is capable of bending traditional promotion to its will?

Only a naive fool could insist that such "upward" content could remain free of the influence of "promotional deception", and that a "truth" of an ethical production value could be maintained without complications. The history of viral advertising and the infiltration of social network recommendation (see, ironically, this book, for instance*) show that the simple provision of "false" media is probably the least of our worries, alongside the "rewarding" (read "buying") of socialite kids to brainlessly promote products, in exchange for both freebies and social capital.

It is this latter which brings the matter full circle. Here's the rub, and the crux that makes the whole "infection of user-generated content" idea so gnarly. The fact is that the new media paradigm wouldn't be possible without an already existant brand-saturated culture. In other words, the vast majority of user-generated content - the volume with which YouTube, MySpace, etc depend upon to maintain some future - is built up around the "branding" of the people involved. Reviews, comments, demonstrations, novelty sneak-peeks, even "what I like" lists... We define ourselves according to what we buy, what we watch and what we listen to, and so our communications, and our "social indicators" (i.e. things that say "who will like me?") reflect this utterly.

Take a look at the YouTube most favourited videos, for example. It's a good bet that at any given time, at least half of the list will contain copyrighted footage, references to video games, spoofs of pop culture, and so on. Truly "original" content - possibly the utopia that those who espouse U-GC are aiming for in a bid to undo the large corps of the world - is often lacking, and when it does come along, it usually gets bought up by one of the big boys anyway. If not, it is at least 99% likely that such talent recognises itself, which today means that such talent also brands itself and wrestles with the possibility of "making it big" anyway.

This is not to say, of course, that upward content is doomed or anything. On the contrary, it has never truly been "free" either. What we should expect to see is a far more subtle direction and misdirection of this content from both within and without "recognised" moral boundaries over what is advertising and what isn't. Creating false content isn't "morally" a sin - indeed, a lot of the time, when it turns out that some content is actually a "false" promotion, people are pretty impressed with the blurring if the line. ("Nice, but fake.") The "sin" is when people feel duped into believing a person is a person, as with lonelygirl15 in the original article. The new/old adage of "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog" is true, only now, nobody knows you're a multinational company with a 7-digit special effects budget. The "faceless" corporation, man, has many, many faces. If you knew your best friend was being paid to invite people along to see a film, would you still go? Would they be your friend? If your life is defined by marketing, then the answer is probably "yes" to both - because hanging out with people in contact with a brand is cool, man.

Don't expect the blurriness to go away though. YouTube must be sweating it a little, what with videos being policed and copyright infringement being cracked own on. That fuzzy line might just turn round and bite them which, in turn, doesn't necessarily help out the people who's content U-GC relies upon - i.e. the people doing the suing. But the media leviathons have enough in place to weather the storm. As mentioned, nobody's stopping them from infiltrating good ol' fashioned social networks.

I think the outcome of all of this will be one the 2.0 utopians will be disheartened by, and it will come about partly because they** just don't want to think about it. Just as it's hard enough to discern between "legal" (i.e. royalty-free) music swapping and "illegal" swapping, so it's just as hard to discern between "legal" (either according to law, or according to morality) content and "illegal" (either infringing or "false") content, partially because there is no such gap. technology confuses the issue, and makes it sound like you can come up with a definitive technological "fix" to contrast the two. But how can you differentiate when, in the "reality" of culture, there is no difference? The only way to draw on such an "infringement" culture is to allow everything.

This is why YouTube, and any other service that relies on cultural U-GC, will need to morph - because it makes explicit and centralises that which can only exist in an informal, truly decentralised manner. Corporates still "own" new media paradigms in the sense that business models depend on popularity, popularity depends on infringement, and infringement is decided by law which, in turn, is often decided by the corporates. New social networks do not "break free" of traditional media or culture. They feed off it, and as such are entirely circumscribed and within the grip of it.

Expect, then, the integration of business with networking to expand. Expect "advertising" to shift to "ownership", just as MySpace has been bought up, just as Microsoft and Apple are keen to promote their own distribution networks. Expect "review" sites to take up the challenge, but never forget that many review sites are often kept sweet after getting various freebies. Expect U-GC to become contextual, sanitised, and self-censored according to which network it's aimed at and posted in. Companies will no longer need to "fake" content, because they will simply own all the content. The battle will (once again) be in attracting people to a service through word of mouth.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


* The first reference that comes to mind, anyway. Actually, the book was a little feeble, all told.
** The curse of a idealised, generalised, abstractised demographic strikes again. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Paris in the McSpring

Paris Hilton is a platform - outgoing links are her success.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Rational Pope

Following the shenanigans around the Pope's recent comments, I read the whole speech (linked to from this BBC article). The Pope was addressing the University of Regensburg, which lists a school of catholic theology amongst its departments, and I assume this was where the Pope's talk was aimed at, and where he attended in the past.

The talk is interesting, and not (just/necessarily) for its media-stirring passages. The whole notion of the integration of Rationality, Faith and Ethics is touched upon (lightly - it's only just over 6 pages long...), and in a sense, the overall message is encouraging to me - as a semi-rational, semi-spiritual entity.

Talks are naturally always directed at the immediate audience, and I'm sure many other talks (I can think of a few by Tony Blair...) take on disproportionate significance when interpreted outside of the original context. However the main message in this one is a call for greater "acceptance" of extra-scientific discourse within traditionally "purely" scientific environments of academia (as I read it...)

In other words, our oft-blind acceptance of science as a rational, neo-alternative to blind faith-based religion should be reconsidered - not only in terms of its links to the ethical and philosophical quandaries thrown up by this science, but also in terms of the nature of this science itself. In other words, there is a legitimate ground to question the idea that scientific methods themselves are any less of an investment in faith than religion.

No, that's wrong actually. Or, at least, ambiguous - misleading. To break it down:

On one hand, the Pope is attempting to declare a boundary of science, and a position of religion relative to this. That is, there are many things we do not know but that are of extreme importance (science != ethics, for example). Hence, a world built solely - or primarily - atop science (and, but not necessarily) technology will be a world devoid of answers to many of these things. Possibly my quote of the day, the Pope puts this as:

'A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.'
The definition of the term "religion" here is replaceable, perhaps advisably so given the apparent stigma surrounding it in this age. Perhaps notions of 'humanity', an existential theme of emotion and non-"rational", yet utterly pervasive, behaviour is how many might prefer to read this.

So a call for more philosophical science - surely a good thing although something that seems to be largely ignored by those (usually) with profit to gain from progress.

The second factor, on the other hand, is an idea that science itself shares some or much of the same values as religion - namely, a subordination of the individual to laws external to it:
'The scientific ethos, moreover, is ... the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.'
That is, I read, the faith in an unchanging constancy underlying the omniverse is the same as the faith in some higher order, whether human-shaped or not. That is, the scientific desire to know how things work is analagous to a personal desire to know something exists on a higher level than us. Thus, scientific faith sets limits for what we are able to do, while religious faith sets limits on what we should be able to do. While one is 'physical' and one is 'ethical', and a vast field could be concocted (and no doubt already has been) to both diverge and unite the two, the important point is that the attitude of the individual in the respective directions is extremely similar. Science is a therapy for our inability to shape the world as we would like, religion is a therapy for our inability to shape ourselves.

There are some further interesting lines in the talk on the various stages of Christianity, its hellenisation, dehellenisation and its dependence on science. (I'm reminded of Foucault's idea that "science" during the time of the plague was responsible for dislocating much of the "non-rational" religion of the time.)

Of note also is the idea of "community" in each realm too - does science provide an objective, shared understanding which is capable of bringing people together under the same banner, or does it establish an in-depth understanding of the world that not only is increasingly removed from the common ability to understand it, but that detracts from our need to come together to make decisions? Similarly, is religion a personal, subjective, and ultimately non-group activity, or does it provide room for (intepretive, yet potentially rational) discourse within which communities can thrive?

I'm not really sure whether a Pope driving for more rational "analysis" of faith is a good or bad thing. I suspect that it's neither and/or both, that all things will be revealed in time, and that you can't judge these things at all from a talk directed at a small university department.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Back and gone.

Huzzah, Blogger have restored access to my blog, so I can post again. But I'm off on holiday til next weekend, so something will have to come along after that. Been reading a lot of stuff about interactivity, politics and networks and stuff, so some interesting links and ideas coming out of that, plus I still have to write some stuff on the Perplex City ARG.

Have a good week...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Liquid explosives, up close and personal

As in-depth discussion and details are generally lacking or ignored in the common media, The Reg's article on the details of liquid explosives is a must read.

Also see commentary at 'Into the Machine'.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tabletop music mixing

I want one of these. (Check out the videos...)

New DJ trend?

Wii are amused.

Quick post while I wait or someone to invite me to the new blogger stuff...

Argh! Wii to have free on-line games via wireless... I was semi-set to avoid the next round of consoles - I'm fed up dropping a few hundred quid for something I don't get proportionate amounts of fun out of... But the wii is looking extremely good. Stupid Nintendo. Maybe I'll wait and see what the games cost.

Would also probably have to upgrade the house - the console area currently doesn't have the headroom to re-enact tennis serves.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

ARG.

Perplex CIty needs your clicks...

(What's all this?)

Post-event update: I've been playing this Perplex City game recently. I'll hopefully put together a bigger post about it soon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Intellectually Challenged

To distract myself from dissertation duty, I've resorted to creating puzzles. The first is "Final Positions".

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Value of Tribal Voyeurism

Patriotism, tribes, competition, battle cries. Many people seem to decry such "primitive" rituals of bloodletting and whooping. Yet the reality is that patriotism pays. The World Cup has been responsible for a good economic season in the UK, with its influence extending not just to barbeques, pizzas and beer, but also to television sets, flags, and quite possibly "extras" such as broadband and 3G.

So things are up, at least for the moment. And there's the rub. The World Cup is popular not just with the punters, but with the retailers, but only comes around once every 4 years. We can't live like this, injecting huge amounts of cash into the economy once in a blue February, and then lounging around and floundering for the other 3 and a bit years. That's ridiculous.

No, we need to grasp the link between that sense of tribal belonging, and the success of the GDP-o-meter. We need to exploit pride if we are to survive the 21st century intact.

But having a World Cup every year is obviously flawed - it would cause too much disruption to national football, for one thing, and generally lose its novelty appeal for another. And creating a new international event just wouldn't work - football is the global symbol for "We are better than thou", so you either risk clashing with an already established iconic event (by creating a new football tournament) or crash landing by trying, against all odds, to make another sport popular. Not going to happen.

But we do have established tribal callings already, pretty much all year round, with well-defined international squads and enough "matches" going on to keep things interesting. Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Lebanon are already in play, with Iran, Syria, North Korea and France lined up waiting for same players to be released. We've seen that cameras operating from the front-line can get a signal back. All the pieces are in place, they just need joining together.

Here's what we need then:

1. Extend news coverage to include pre-invasion "warm-up" coverage, including analysis of recent performance, current injuries and an overview of the tactics being used.

2. Heavier integration of in-game, live statistics for the maths-freaks. "Posession time" has many possibilities, for instance. Statistics should also be broken down into inter-allied-forces counts so that teams on the same side can compare their performance.

3. More action replays, with bullet-time, Hawkeye-style recreations of trajectories, targets, etc.

4. Bigger flags.

5. Conduct "mini skirmishes" that last for 90 minutes and broadcast them live on digital TV. (This last part is essential, as viewers need to be able to choose their viewpoint(s), check stats, etc.) Swapping ends is optional. Strike a deal with and/or force pubs to show these on large screens.

With all this extra information and viewer-centric "clashes", interest can't fail to be renewed. Furthermore, by publishing a schedule of "matches" in advance, not only is it easier to follow the action, but the opposition are encouraged to prepare themselves and interact at the same time. This will enhance and encourage the same format in other countries, reaching a point where "friendly rivalry" will emerge to replace the nasty vindictiveness of out-and-out racism. Especially once they've seen how much money we're making from all the sales of big screen TVs.

By being open and transparent and - most of all - competitive, the set of "rules" by which affairs are conducted will work itself out in due course: Press coverage and "democratic viewing figures" will ensure that the action does, indeed, stop once a "golden goal" has been achieved (and there is no retaliation after the final whistle). "Fair fighting" will become the new global watchword(s).

Profiting from war is not illegal - in fact, it's already the foundation of many developed economies, and is a big factor in making sure you have bread on your plate. So why not embrace it? Turn that bread into garlic bread, add some pizza, get some mates round, and sit back to watch the UK slug it out with the Taliban (once again - we won the first round, but past performance is not a guide to future performance, right kids?)

It's not even a zero-sum game, unless you score an own-goal.

Monday, July 17, 2006

All Seeing Ears

The Syria link isn't anything new (at least according to yesterday). The use of the word "shit" isn't a scandal. Attitudes towards overlong speeches just remind me of every graduation ceremony I've been to.

What's (possibly) interesting is the way different media institutions run with it, and what happens when the barrier between "controlled" media ("PR"/spin) and "celebrity" media (that is, media which intrudes into privacy, and so here the media pouncing on an unswitched mic is akin to it/them pouncing on a celebrity spotted out jogging...)

At this point, I'd love if someone kept a minute-by-minute account of all of the news articles surrounding this. Not that I'm paranoid about the link between state and corporate media. Just sceptical. Intrigued. I would imagine that, as the link from sender to receiver is often so heavily directed, anything undirected (and, noting Bush's comments right at the bottom below, out of the usual bounds) causes a little bit of a furore in various political press offices. I can't imagine that reportage would be withdrawn, but, you know, it'd be interesting to track the changes...

ABC go for snippets and paraphrases. The Reuters article linked to from Google News says "Article not found". (Oh, here's a working link which has much of the conversation.)

Here's the text from the CNN article, anyway:


Bush: What about Kofi Annan? I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.

Blair: I think the thing that is really difficult is you can't stop this unless you get this international presence agreed.

Bush: She's going. I think Condi's (U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) going to go pretty soon.

Blair: Well that's all that matters. If you see, it will take some time to get out of there. But at least it gives people....

Bush: It's a process I agree. I told her your offer too.

Blair: Well it's only or if she's gonna or if she needs the ground prepared as it were. See, if she goes out she's got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk.

Bush: See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

Blair: Cause I think this is all part of the same thing. What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if he gets a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he's done it. That's what this whole things about. It's the same with Iran.

Bush: I feel like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government.


Plus some extra bits according to the Washington Post, include Bush's remarks about his and other speeches:

"No, just going to make it up," he said. "I'm not going to talk too damn long, like the rest of them. Some of them talk too long."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sneaky Psychoclassificists...

BBC reports that Autism 'more common than thought':

"'Prevalence of autism and related ASDs is substantially higher than previously recognised.

'Whether the increase is due to better ascertainment, broadening diagnostic criteria, or increased incidence is unclear.
"

Note the lack of distinction between "some form of ASD", and "a lifelong disability" - the blurring of continuum and thresholded abnormality. Rates are going up, but is it a genuine increase, a broader classification scheme, or simply a desire to classify?

Normality is against the norm. Rejoice in your deficiencies and peculiarities!

Extraness: The Mind Hacks blog has a good rundown too, making the excellent point:

"Having one of these diagnoses entitles children to special educational support or even a place in an expensive yet well-supported special school in many areas of the UK."

..and generally linking "objective" diagnosis with "societal" (and hence subjective) needs.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Liberty and Equality

I don't know much about anything, but from a layman's point of view, it's funny how when you extradite 3 bankers, everyone gets up in arms about extradition rules, but when "hacker" Gary McKinnon was sent packing, nobody could be arsed to notice.

Just drawing attention to the differences, s'all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happiness vs the Battle Obscured

The NEF have have released their "Happy Planet Index" (Download here), placing the UK at 108th and trying graciously to sever the association of happiness with GDP. The associated BBC article is here.

"Although Vanuatu tops the happiness index, it is ranked 207th out of 233 economies when measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."

Interestingly, it seems that the largest economies occupy the middle of the table:

"Germany is ranked 81st, Japan 95th, while the US comes in at 150th."

Naturally, I wonder about how we measure "progress" - note that "progress" is a very different thing to "happiness" - one can be happy without making progress, and one can make progress without being happy.

Various things (ok, ok, I've watched a little bit of Big B[r]other...) have got me thinking recently about the differences between men and women, and I've come to the (temporary) conclusion that when men get bored, they create external enemies (hence video games, paintballing, cold war, terrorists, holocausts...). When women get bored, they create an internal "enemy" (worrying about themselves, rather than worrying about someone else). OK, this is a gross over-simplification, but I think it has enough value to merit discussion. I'm also not speculating (yet ;) on causes...

Global markets fit very much into this man-influenced version of the world, under this model. Competition is a constant battle, just with certain "rules" that involve underhand tactics rather than out-and-out violence. Diplomacy, not Firepower (although the latter has played an essential part in creating the market in the first place, of course).

At any single point in time, we are being dragged continuously into a struggle of trade with "emerging economies" and "newly globalising countries" - feeding the male desire to do battle with and overcome an external enemy. Opening up new countries to trade is like inviting the gangly guy in the corner over to play squash when you're on a roll.

So this means, under current definitions, the "globalised" definition of happiness is one that's inherently tied to that of "competing", and all that "progress" is is yet another tactic to play the game. Winning outright is out of the question - once someone wins, you can no longer compete, and so new competitors need to be found all the time.

Except this idea of "happiness" needs to be considered on a fractal scale too. The effects and male motivations bonding happiness with competition trickle down to the level of the individual (and beyond, and feed back). People are not nations. There are more people, for a start - many more - which means a much wider variation in needs. Furthermore, not everyone is "as" male as those deciding the agenda of "competitive happiness". At least half the population, probably.

In fact, this split is readily identifiable. Of the happiest people I know, some (small) proportion, mainly biased by my own social circles, are happy because they do want to compete and like the challenge. Fair enough. The other happy individuals are happy because they don't want to compete and aren't competing. Thus, the ability to remove oneself from the competitive "flow" is vital to achieving this happiness.

The problem is that the former need the latter in order to "compete", like an army commander needs soldiers. Populations cannot be happy while they are being enlisted by their "commanders" (read "presidents", "prime ministers", "kings", etc.) to undertake economic battle in a war on the scale that only those high enough up can comprehend.

I should wrap up by making a clear distinction between "male/female" and "men/women", as in the current climate any reference to either can find the discussion quickly mired in debates of equality and so on.

"Male" and "female" concepts are very much abstract, used in order to define some polarities in order to draw some relative context to matters we often take for granted as being absolute (e.g. GDP = Happy). "Male" and "female" are not necessarily tied intrinsically to the "man" and "women" biological forms - men have as much of a "male/female" mix as women do. Following yin and yang then, "male" and "female" is simply a "handy" way to refer to two things that are in opposition, yet attract and repel each other simultaneously.

There are women that like to compete. There are men that don't. There are men that like to compete. There are women that don't. Happiness depends on letting all of these exist as they would like to.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

No fly zone pledge

Well, its been a while. Hopefully I'll post something substantial soon. In the meantime, a couple of things to pass into the minternet...

Firstly, me and my lady keep staring at the clouds and noticing just how many of them are actually just airplane trails. Mucho flying. So we've decided to not fly (unnecessarily) for a year and we invite everyone to join in. Think carefully before signing up, though...

Secondly, here's a plug for Phil Jones' latest venture, the Political Ideas and Values podcast. He's getting his interview groove on and talking to different Internet figures each episode. This week it's the turn of Dan Abbott of tdaxp.com. What does tdaxp stand for? You'll have to listen to the podcast to find out ;)

More post soon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

From The Top Down :: Home

To their great credit, The Sussex Uni's Student Union have produced a documentary on the ongoing financial, administrative and communicative difficulties at the University. They've made it available to download, and even making it freely available on DVD in the near future.

'From The Top Down'

Monday, June 05, 2006

Homebrew chemical terror bombs, hype or horror?

Interesting analysis on how difficult it would actually be to create a chemical/biological VEST OF TERROR over at the Register - reminds me of when the Cypherpunks list was going strong-ish: information is possibly dangerous in the wrong hands, but lack of information leading to FUD and a police state is just as dangerous too.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Loke Vidz

Today I thoroughly enjoyed Granny Turismo (8MB WMV file).

Via Amy.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Quotes for the day

"One spectator was given treatment after being hit by a runaway cheese."

"I'm going to take my cheese to the pub and have a party."

From the annual cheese chase.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Podcasting lectures

I'd be interested in hearing Ben's thoughts on this one, as he's close to the action...

Podcast lectures for uni students (there's video of it in action too)

Note that the podcast is instead of normal lectures, it seems. Which I find a bit odd. Being able to "repeat" a lecture, to go over the bits you missed, is a good thing. But interaction here seems to be confined to sending text messages to ask questions, which then get answered in the next podcast.

So why do I think this won't last?

1. As the student in the BBC video notes, obviously there's no real-time feedback. Transmission of understanding (i.e. learning) isn't a straightforward thing - comprehension of an issue is different for each person, such that half of an audience may get explanation A, while the other half may get explanation B. Description of a theory vs use of examples to get a point across, for instance.

2. The article mentions that students will be able to watch the lecture via a video, but there didn't seem to be any inclination of that in the BBC video. If you don't watch a lecture, there are many visuals that would help to explain and clarify things immensely - a picture is worth at least a thousand words, which is a lot of bytes and a lot of minutes in podcast terms.

3. If the lecturer simply records the lecture into a microphone, then there's no engagement on the side of the lecturer, let alone the students. Engaging with an audience separates a good lecturer from a mediocre one. And engagement = enthusiasm, motivation, and comprehension.

4. I don't listen to podcasts any more. Why? Because I can't skip through them easily (fast forward, rewind, etc) to find content I'm interested in, and because I just stop listening if I'm concentrating on something else, such as writing a post or looking at pictures. Sensorial attention in general seems to be something that most people take for granted. The first of the problems above is "only" applicable in that a lecturer can skip back to something previous, or skip over stuff that's not relevant, or to stuff that is. The second is important as if lectures are provided in audio form, there's surely a tendency to do other stuff at the same time, resulting in the student taking in less information.

So I'm not convinced at all. Doing a traditional lecture, recording it and making it available would make sense perhaps. But bending ("hacking", in the greasy sense) technology to cater for distance learners and people that can't be arsed to get out of bed just stinks of sloppiness and bad ideas to me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Intelligent Profiling

BBC News: Semantic web vs privacy

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fuel wars

More evidence that nuclear is all about the sales, with "talks" going on between Russia and the US...

"In particular, Russian officials complain about the continuation of restrictions on deliveries of their nuclear products to the US.

They are a lucrative export, reportedly valued at half a billion dollars a year."

(emphasis mine...)

Sounds to me like everyone wants to be the new Middle East, but for nuclear instead of oil. I suggest that this is why nuclear is really back on the agenda in the UK, and why renewables have so little enthusiasm behind them - it's much easier to sell tangibles than just "electricity" (especially if you haven't got the export network in place - a la France). Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Soros jumps from Microsoft to Stock Exchanges

George Soros is apparently moving from holding large amounts of stocks in Microsoft to Stock Exchanges.

I guess this is moving "up the ladder", so to speak - as the economy starts to look like it might go down the pan, switch to the people that will make money from it doing so. If people want to trade large amounts of shares, they still need somewhere to do it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Iran: Not just oil, but uranium too?

Apologies for the coverage of Iran, but thought this one was worth mentioning - a lengthy article, but an interesting read (despite it's obvious bias) as it a) has a short "history" of Iran, Iraq, the US and Europe, and b) ties the Oil Bourse in with the market for that other big source of power, nuclear.

This makes sense in the same way that the Dollar-shifting Bourse makes sense, but is intriguing as you suddenly start to open up a range of factors that affect the balance of economic power. Countries don't often act just for one reason, but a whole host of reasons that, put together, act as a stimulus? Sounds plausible to me, but I might be wrong...

I don't have too much of an idea how true the difference is between civil-grade Uranium and weapons-grade, and what you can produce in civil reactors. Is that (i.e. a general ignorance of the technicals) part of the problem?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Vim 7 out

Vim 7 out. Grab here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

$$$ pt II - IOB on again?

Heavens, has it been a few months since last I blogged this already?

Looks like Iran's Euro-driven Oil Bourse is all ready for the off this week, according to various places such as Marketwatch:

"Also on Friday, Iran took a step toward establishing an oil-trading market denominated in euros, rather than in U.S. dollars, by registering an oil bourse on the Persian Gulf island of Kish. On that market, oil would be sold in euros, according to the Associated Press, citing state-run television in Iran."

Interesting.

$$$

More on the shifting dollar...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Happy happy joy joy

Britain's happiness in decline, reports the BBC. Good long article.

Wealth does not = happiness for the simple reason that wealth is a "scarce", finite (at any one time) and rival resource, which must be competed for under the system we have. Sure, c'est la vie to a certain extent - resources are scarce and finite, but the scarcity we now face is entirely an artificial one. By imposing this artificial scarcity, we are forced to struggle. By struggling, we produce. And to produce, we must consume. Struggle is a funny friend and enemy, simultaneously, of happiness.

Happiness, on the whole, though is an infinite, non-rival resource. If I am happy, then you are not necessarily less happy as a consequence. But happiness doesn't lead to progress. In fact, the opposite might well be the case.

For the individual now, the challenge is to recover the grounds for happiness that exist but that are "obscured" by the lives we're "supposed" to live.

For society, the challenge is to translate this into a sustainable system. Key to the solution, I think, is in the happiness-struggle "dichotomy" (that isn't). Responsibility should be the buzzword of the 21st century - responsibility of the individual by the individual. Production should be both sustainable ecologically and personally - that is to say, sanity and happiness need to be maintained as a result. At the moment, things are heading the other way and, in reaction, opposing forces are very much at the other extreme, often.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pictures of assholes

Worth a watch.

(Via Neil Gaiman.)

Techsplanation wanted

Would anyone care to explain why, when I enter http// in Firefox (i.e. without the colon before the slashes), I get redirected to microsoft.com? Does this work for anyone else? Apparently it doesn't matter what I enter after the slashes either, so any broken link that misses the colon out will automagically bounce to MS.

Firefox conspiracy? Or Internet conspiracy? Or some "natural" explanation?

Monday, May 01, 2006

JK Galbraith RIP

Liberal economist JK Galbraith dies :(

One of the people I've only read a very small section of, but whose work that I have read has made me think very hard and impressed me deeply. The nature of production and consumerism, and a refreshingly alternative view on economics and economists... Plenty of catching up to do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Economic tectonics

The balance is shifting, readjusting as China et al appeal to let their economies expand, and (interestingly) Qatar follow Sweden in switching away from the Dollar to the Euro. Japan claims it's strong enough to cope with a stronger yen...

I realised last night that there's no way our "own" economy can be sustained in the light of all this. Consumers (aka the "general public") are being used in the very same way as both city workers and natural resources - all are having their maximum "output" sucked out of them until they break, at which point they become discarded in favour of the next. That kind of usage just doesn't last very long (10 years?), especially with less jobs around (if such is the case) and less ability to get paid as much for the same job (very much the case, i suspect... sorry, no refs).

Climate change is supposed to be the killer, but global economies may force a lot of us to seek cheap, sustainable lifestyles long before that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mish Mash

Leaping deftly into the realm of remix, Scribe took his trusty Soundtracker and Audacity to render ...

Von Hat

Mostly the product of Sigur Ros's "Von" (from the album of the same name) and Joe H's "Breathe", with sprinklings of samples nicked from the Internet and Astral Projection musings.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sprituality in the Public Mind

Pleased to see some debate on spirituality make it onto the BBC News homepage. The (ok, "my") question is - how do get such debate honestly into the mainstream consciousness?

Pure faith - in a God or Gods, or in scientific progress (or in anything else) - is simply a way of avoiding the questions that scare us most*. Pure faith is a way of removing responsibility for ourselves and our thoughts on to an external party - a deity in one case, or "progress" in the other...

Coming to terms with a lack of spirituality means coming to terms with ourselves - the ability to look into our own psyche. This isn't easy. But nor do we do anything to make it easier - in fact, most of our activities make it much, much harder. The promotion of "Success" (with a capital S) to the highest good carries with it the fear of failure.

Failure is nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps a "better" society would be one in which this is understood. But then, it's easy to criticise...

* The scary questions are not those such as "why are we here?" either. The questions that scare us are the ones along the line of "what if I don't like me?"

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stupid economist

Gambling 'major boost to economy': "I'm an economist, and what I'm saying is that this has been massively good for the economy in terms of productivity, and it'll create a lot of jobs as the casinos come through and it'll create a massive amount of inward investment."

Seeing that economy is king these days, perhaps exploitation of the vulnerable is the way forwards to a future of prosperity...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"pants like a dog"

Am I descending to youTube links? Hell yeah. But when Bush gets outquestoned by a student, it's worth it. Political discussion is dead! Long live political discussion, etc. (Oh, the irony, using net video links to indulge in political discussion...)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thought Paradigms

I've heard it said (somewhere, ages ago) that intelligence isn't a case of learning things, but rather one of merely knowing a diverse enough range of things, and finding the similarities between them. I like this, but haven't thought much about it.

Now, though, it strikes me that to get from one (learning things) to the other (linking things) is possibly a "fundamental" jump in how we approach a subject.

In the first instance, the "things" we learn are isolated, and context-dependent - they have their own causes, their own effects, and their own "space". Thus, learning a bunch of things as a "concept" is learning just a collection of things. They link up, but only amongst themselves, within the context we learnt them in.

To find the similarities, though, requires a further step. It involves looking not at the things themselves so much as the bonds that tie them together. In other words, it is a jump from "absolute" (a collection of contextual "things") to "relative" (a collection of links). In network theory, this could possibly be mapped as the difference between nodes/vertices and edges/links.

Once you start looking at, and remembering, the relative pattern involved in concepts, pattern matching becomes a much easier task. For instance, if concept 1 is represented as two nodes and a joiner "A + B" and concept 2 a different set, dealing with different things related in a different way - "C x D" - we can learn them in two ways.

Firstly, we can place the priority on the nodes, the "things", such that we note them down as "A and B (with an addition)" and "C and D (with a multiplication)". (The concepts aren't mathematical, I'm just using mathematical notation to indicate homogoneity vs heterogeneity.)

Secondly, we can prioritise the relationship, so we note "An addition (of A and B)" and "A multiplication (of C and D)". Things are still heterogenous, but the important bit is that we can only (or we tend to) compare the parts outside of the brackets. If a concept related to similar things, we would have "A + B" and "A x B", and the former way of learning might have "an advantage".

But if we change the concepts to be "A x B" and "C x D" then all of a sudden the priorities we place on the construction of those concepts makes a big difference to what we can infer from them.

i.e. "A multiplication (of A and B)" vs "A multiplication (of C and D)". Here, now, the unbracketed part is now homogenous, forming a link between the two concepts that deal with different "absolute things", but share something in terms of relationship. This, then, may be the finding of similarity some people espouse intelligence to hold.

The mathematical notation is a little confusing. A good example would be the ability to learn languages - if you grow up with more than one language, then it's probably easier to learn another language later on in life than if you only grew up with one. Why? Because you're not concentrating on the words (the "things"), but what's linking those words - thought. Learning a new language then involves recognising and mirroring the new language's relations in terms of thought and concepts rather than mapping one word to another.

Maybe there's some research out there on this. Whichever, it certainly needs more investigation...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Straw, eggs and Rice

This BBC article made me laugh, not just because I can imagine similar, uh, "protest" tactics being used next time someone like Condoleeza Rice visits the UK (is egg-throwing to be considered an "exercise in democracy"?*), but for this quote:

"But US officials say Mr Chavez is causing instability in the region with his fiery anti-Bush rhetoric and autocratic style of leadership."

Replace "Chavez" with "the Bush administration", and "anti-Bush" with "anti-Islam/Iran/enemy of the day" and it still makes complete sense! "Politics is blind", to try to coin a phrase.


* Quote from this article which is worth checking out to see just how much of a twat Jack Straw is. While Rice manages to handle the protests with quite some civility, Straw just sneers and claims he could organise more people. He doesn't really get it, does he. Maybe it should be "politicians are stoopid", rather than "politics is blind"...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Quick Update

Things have been a bit quiet round here (and on Into the Machine) recently. In proper "OMG l00k wot i did 2day!!1" style, here's what I been up to this week...


  • Got 2 essays to write for Uni. One's on the differences in profiling (i.e. providing a profile about yourself, vs having a profile constructed "about" you a la supermarket loyalty cards), the other's on scientific risk vs progress... Both proving to be pretty interesting.

  • Found a new obsession with Lomography, and old cameras. See Flickr widget on right hand side for some results.

  • Afore-mentioned intrique with old cameras has led to far too much time spent on ebay. However, a useful perl script has started to emerge from it, to build up a profile of people's bidding habits...

  • Afore-mentioned fascination with Flickr has led to a small Perl script to chirp images from any number of Flickr RSS feeds, for use with xscreensaver.

  • My girlfriend has roller boots :)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Great reads of our time

Why, I was almost tempted to buy this from Oxfam at the weekend.

Fortunately, I'd forgotten my wallet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The latest social music craze

Last.fm is great, but I think I've discovered a new way of socially exploring exciting new music. It's called "public transport".

Step 1: Get on a bus. Student-loaded buses work particularly well.
Step 2: Cast a glance around you to identify positions of people wearing earheadphones.
Step 3: Wait until you hear something you might like the sound of.
Step 4: Ask person what they're listening to.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to this approach. Firstly, if you like quiet music then you might have a hard time finding stuff. Secondly, the "preview" option isn't much cop and often tends to be quite tinny. Thirdly, you might get odd looks. But then this is no social music service for JESSIES, y'hear? (Unless your name actually is Jessie.)

The other upside is that you can ask people who's music you don't like the sound of - chances are, they'll be so embarassed to tell you (c'mon, nobody really likes Coldplay...) that they'll turn the music right down to avoid being asked by anyone else. Cashback!

What are you waiting for? Get out there and start "podinterrupting".

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dumb Lawyers

Bizarre... Neil Gaiman gets cease-and-desisted for something he didn't do and isn't illegal.

Iranian oil bourse hits wall

I had today marked in my diary as the opening of the Iranian Oil Bourse, but looks like it's going to be another few months, at least.

The article's also interesting for noting that a British guy, Chris Cook, came up with the idea, and who says of the Euro takeover "conspiracy": ""Basically, there aren't enough euros in circulation, and nor are there likely to be".

Scrap that one from the diary, then.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Visual explorations of complex networks

visualcomplexity jackpot - there goes my weekend... now all I need is an A0 colour printer and I'm set for life :)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spreading via RFID in 127 bytes

Extremely cool, if you like the, um, idea of viruses (which admittedly I do - in terms of their mechanism rather than their effect...)

RFID-borne Viruses

Dislocation of the self

This is almost a spiritual post. I'm not sure it can be counted truly as "spiritual" simply because it's more concerned with biology, as far as I can see. However, I'm sure that there's good ground for calling the two - spirituality and physicality - the same thing under certain conditions. I'm not sure, which is perhaps why I'm forcing myself to write this down - to get myself to think it through and work out what it means, if anything.

For a little while, on and off, I've been doing a tiny bit of Tai Chi. This came out of getting into the Tao Te Ching and "philosophical" Taoism in general. This may explain my reluctance to disentangle the body from the spirit above - the link between the health of the body and of the mind in Taoism is, I would argue, much stronger than in any other religion or philosophy.

In the Tao Te Ching (for starters - Chuang Tzu uses the idea a lot too) there is much talk of "nothingness", which leads to many statements which seems paradoxical and back to front on first reading. Here are a couple of examples that lend air to the idea much better than I could:

The ordinary person who uses force,
will find that they accomplish nothing.

(38)

and:

All movement returns to the Tao.
Weakness is how the Tao works.
All of creation is born from substance.
Substance is born of nothing-ness.

(40)

This idea that nothingness and weakness create strength and substance is a powerful one once you get your head round it. It's also the basis behind Tai Chi, a martial art that uses "weakness" to overcome an opponent - using their own strength against them rather than merely attempting a battle of pure power. In order to "flow" with your opponent, it's essential (but not necessarily easy) to clear out the "power" that your mind pushes into your own body first. In other words, the extraneous levels of "resistance" you put up against an opponent are also extraneous amounts of energy that we're used to exerting upon ourselves. You can train soldiers to march powerfully together, but are they flexible or reactive when doing so? When an attack comes, a good unit will act as one, but be fluid in avoiding damage and manoeuvring into position. Rigid resistance bows down to flexible dynamicism.

So I've been doing Tai Chi, as I said. Getting the right amount of yin (weakness) vs yang (resistance) is key, and generally it's a lot less yang than you'd expect from a martial art. In this aspect, then, it becomes a form of meditation - one cannot calculate the right balance, nor can one work it out through protracted thought. The balance is one to be discovered, as if independent from learning. I cannot write it down here. I can only find it through observation. It is in this sense that I must reduce my capacity for thought to "nothingness" and, in true Jedi style, let my feelings take over.

I think I finally had a real glimpse of this last week. A peek at that moment when the brain actually switches "off", becoming merely a spectator for what the body is doing. Note, though, that I haven't done any Tai Chi in a couple of weeks. It occurred, indeed, as I was washing the dishes - a routine, non-challenging activity, which helps immeasurably.

As I was washing the dishes, I started to just observe what my hands were doing - I certainly wasn't instructing them as to how to clean the plates. At that point, I realised that my body was doing all this stuff by itself. My eyes were checking what parts needed to be concentrated on, my hands and arms were rotating and brushing as needed. The amazing reality of doing-without-thinking became amazingly clear in a moment. It was as if I had no need of a brain at all - that each part of my body knew what it was responsible for, and reacted to the information itself had, plus any information passed to it from another part elsewhere. Perhaps my brain was essential to the process, but only as a messenger, not as a controller. And there was certainly no need for my consciousness to be there.

When people say that we only use 10% of our brains (which is, AFAIK, dimissed as a myth), I can see this may be true for some definitions of "use". If it's defined as that conscious part, the ability to run things through in our mind, analyse them and come to some kind of logical, "rational" conclusion based on the evidence we have, then perhaps the saying is fair. For 90% of the things we do are routine. We don't even get to decide what we want to do - we just have an urge that comes from somewhere, and our body acts on it. Logical control doesn't need to be a part of that 95% of the time (which plays havoc with the idea of rationality and freedom of choice).

The 10% of the brain that is "rational" ("logical" is definitely the better word in this case) is still vital - we need to think in order to come to some conclusion about a new scenario, which encompasses the whole field of "learning". But learning is simply the process of moving things from thinking "analysis" into unthinking "response" - the more we learn, the less we have to think about it. Thinking is slow, which is why you can't pass your dirving test even though you might know everything about how a car works. Learning, and experience, are that "nothingness" side of how we react and respond, and are essential to getting things done in time. Dynamicism and flexibility.

Quite what this means, I haven't found out yet. Certainly, it sheds a new light on my Tai Chi practice, and on my ideas of rationality. In a way, much of it just about faith - faith in your own ability to react, and not to spend too much time thinking about how to do things.

Perhaps this translates up to a larger scale too - a reflection on the emphasis we place, as a society, on analysis vs experience, knowledge vs sprituality.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Running for cover

2 stories merge together today... Final approval for US Patriot Act and Republicans defy Bush over ports. Both conspire to point a fair way towards that old notion we need to constantly be reminded of again and again: America (and, by implication, the UK) is scared shitless. It keeps itself scared. It likes being scared.

There's probably a psychological/psychiatric classification for this when applied to the individual. Maybe political diplomacy would do well to look it up. Dealing with hysterically frightened individuals usually involves kid gloves (followed by a short, sharp pounce to restrain them :) so maybe there's a more international equivalent out there (instead of just threatening to bomb each other all the time)...

Running for cover

2 stories merge together today... Final approval for US Patriot Act and Republicans defy Bush over ports. Both conspire to point a fair way towards that old notion we need to constantly be reminded of again and again: America (and, by implication, the UK) is scared shitless. It keeps itself scared. It likes being scared.

There's probably a psychological/psychiatric classification for this when applied to the individual. Maybe political diplomacy would do well to look it up. Dealing with hysterically frightened individuals usually involves kid gloves (followed by a short, sharp pounce to restrain them :) so maybe there's a more international equivalent out there (instead of just threatening to bomb each other all the time)...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sgt Pepper innovation

Eee, almost missed this one from a week or so ago... 'Sgt Pepper economics' demanded

Whereby... Beatles "innovation" = bringing sitar (and other such worldy influences) into their albums, to create fresh new sound.

Therefore academic "innovation" = hugging "globalisation" to create fresh new ideas.

Interesting. Personally, I read this as being encouraged to go on a 6 month trip to an Indian commune, smoke lots of exotic plantery, come back and write a thesis on the necessity of more love and bagels in politics while only wearing a dhoti. We could call it "yellow submarine thinking".

Just need to get funding now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Windy Plans

A plan for a giant wind farm in Cumbria has been rejected - so is there more support for nuclear power instead? There's possibly a bit of a clash here between the power we need, the power we use, and the backlash of being used to a society of "individualism". We want to live as we do. We're not too keen on nuclear. And we don't want to screw up the landscape that we visit to get away from all that power we're using. At some point, something's going to have to give.

That, or some large-scale microgeneration plan.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stinky

Gah. US settles suit by Egyptian claiming wrongful detention:

"A federal judge ruled last year that Mr Ashcroft must answer questions on the case under oath, but the government has appealed the ruling arguing that top officials need immunity to combat future threats to national security."

Friday, February 24, 2006

"He detonated intercontinental ballistic missiles with the power of his brain!"

Read and be enlightened... Fafblog! Why are we in Iraq?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Attack the Symbols

Funny, the BBC recognises the symbolic importance of the al-Askari shrine - not as a functional building, but as a symbol of belief - and notes the effect it can have and the problems of a civil war now being faced.

But the attack on the WTC in the US was also a symbolic attack, and wars were the (intentional) result. One rule for one layer of the fractal diplomacy, another rule for a different layer.

"Civil war could lead to the break-up of the country, and would export even more instability and violence across the wider Middle East and beyond."

Why can we only think on the size of national borders?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

British P&O Handing US ports over to UAE DPW

Controversy over UAE company owning US ports - a shift in the balances of power, in more ways than one?

X-Post: Hallucinations for the believers only

ITM: Hallucinations for the believers only

Monday, February 20, 2006

Psychology of a bomber throught news reports

Interesting (or maybe I've just been ignoring the reports recently...) - 1 suicide bomber in Iraq, but another bomber who just left a bag in a restaurant and then walked out.

Is using MO a plausible strategy to determine alignment, motivation, state of mind, etc of a terrorist?