Archive for ‘Technology’

November 13, 2012

Look! It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s a Drone!

I know you don’t have time to watch a 27 minute video, but this one is worth a look. An age of robotics rushes toward us and the airborne advance guard are drones. Not just military drones, but commercial and private ones as well. Concerned about the death of privacy brought by the Internet? Just the beginning…

From the filmmakers at Journeyman Pictures:

“This is a powerful technology. No amount of hand-wringing is going to stop it”, says drone expert, Peter Singer. Whether it’s a floating TV station streaming live to the web, the prying lens of the paparazzi, the police chasing a criminal or a government agency spying, small domestic drones are experiencing an exponential growth. At the world’s largest drone convention in Las Vegas a salesman tells the crowd, “this can be used in law enforcement, disaster relief and industrial applications. It’s also very good at dusting floors. Every home owner should have one”. And as the technology advances at a frightening speed, anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy one over the counter. These hobby drones can fly for miles and provide sharp video feedback to the pilot. “I wouldn’t cheat on your wife!”, laughs columnist Charles Krauthammer. But jokes aside, there are real fears over the “political, legal and ethical issues that play out with this”, argues Singer. In 3 years time an order from the US congress will see tens of thousands of drones legally occupy an already crowded sky, raising numerous questions about basic safety, terrorism and civil liberty. As companies rush to cash in on this new billion dollar industry, experts warn, “we’re not ready for this”.

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September 20, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/20/12

The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World  (Wired)

Take the subway to an otherwise undistinguished part of Third Avenue in Brooklyn. Knock on the door. Wait for some stylishly disheveled young man to open it and let you in. You’ve arrived at the BotCave—the place where 125 factory workers are creating the future of manufacturing.

The BotCave is home to MakerBot, a company that for nearly four years has been bringing affordable 3-D printers to the masses. But nothing MakerBot has ever built looks like the new printer these workers are currently constructing. The Replicator 2 isn’t a kit; it doesn’t require a weekend of wrestling with software that makes Linux look easy. Instead, it’s driven by a simple desktop application, and it will allow you to turn CAD files into physical things as easily as printing a photo. The entry-level Replicator 2, priced at $2,199, is for generating objects up to 11 by 6 inches in an ecofriendly material; the higher-end Replicator 2X, which costs $2,799, can produce only smaller items, up to 9 by 6 inches, but it has dual heads that let it print more sophisticated objects. With these two machines, MakerBot is putting down a multimillion-dollar wager that 3-D printing has hit its mainstream moment.

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New Study Finds “Severe Toxic Effects” of Pervasively Used Monsanto Herbicide Roundup and Roundup Ready GM Corn  (Naked Caspitalism)

Although I generally refrain from posting on Big Ag and relegate the topic to Links, I have a special interest in Monsanto. Last year, I had wanted to devise a list or ranking of top predatory companies, but could not find a way to make the tally sufficiently objective to be as useful in calling them out as it ought to be. Nevertheless, no matter how many ways I looked at the issue, it was clear that any ranking would put Monsanto as number 1. Monsanto has (among other things) genetically engineered seeds so that they can’t reproduce, denying farmers the ability to save seeds and have a measure of financial independence. In 2009, Vandana Shiva estimated that 200,000 farmers in India had committed suicide since 1997, and Monsanto was a major culprit:

In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases poverty and leads to indebtness.

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The Definition of a Quagmire  (The New Yorker)

We can’t win the war in Afghanistan, so what do we do? We’ll train the Afghans to do it for us, then claim victory and head for the exits.

But what happens if we can’t train the Afghans?

We’re about to find out. It’s difficult to overstate just how calamitous the decision, announced Tuesday, to suspend most joint combat patrols between Afghan soldiers and their American and NATO mentors is. Preparing the Afghan Army and police to fight without us is the foundation of the Obama Administration’s strategy to withdraw most American forces—and have them stop fighting entirely—by the end of 2014. It’s our ticket home. As I outlined in a piece earlier this year, President Obama’s strategy amounts to an enormous gamble, and one that hasn’t, so far, shown a lot of promise. That makes this latest move all the more disastrous. We’re running out of time.

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September 17, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/17/12

Studies Show Wind Power’s Massive Potential (Inside Science via 3 Quarks Daily

There is enough energy for people to reap from the wind to meet all of the world’s power demands without radically altering the planet’s climate, according to two independent teams of scientists.

Wind power is often touted as environmentally friendly, generating no pollutants. It is an increasingly popular source of renewable energy, with the United States aiming to produce 20 percent of its electricity by wind power by 2030. Still, there have been questions as to how much energy wind power can supply the world, and how green it actually is, given how it pulls energy from the atmosphere.

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This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity (Business Insider)

Facebook really is watching your every move online.

In testing out a new diagnostic tool called Abine DNT+, we noticed that Facebook has more than 200 “trackers” watching our internet activity.

Abine defines trackers as “a request that a webpage tries to make your browser perform that will share information intended to record, profile, or share your online activity.” The trackers come in the shape of cookies, Javascript, 1-pixel beacons, and Iframes.

For example, cookies are tiny bits of software that web pages drop onto your device that identify you anonymously but nonetheless signal useful behavior about your background interests to advertisers who might want to target you. Facebook uses these types of cookies to activate the “like” buttons on other websites.

Critics call this spying. Advertisers call it targeting.

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‘Social voting’ really does rock the vote (KurzweilAI)

Brace yourself for a tidal wave of Facebook campaigning before November’s U.S. presidential election. A study of 61 million Facebook users finds that using online social networks to urge people to vote has a much stronger effect on their voting behavior than spamming them with information via television ads or phone calls, Science Now reports.

The study follows a Science paper that tracked how people influence each other’s online behavior through Facebook.

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Lit Motors will shake up the electric vehicle market with its two-wheeled, untippable C-1 (KurzweilAI)

Imagine a vehicle that’s smaller than a Smart Car, nearly a third of the price of a Nissan Leaf ($32,500), safer than a motorcycle with a range capacity that just lets you drive and won’t ever tip over.

What you get is Lit Motors‘ C-1, the world’s first gyroscopically stabilized, two-wheeled all-electric vehicle, which launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco today, writes Peter Ha on TechCrunch. Oh, and it will talk to your smartphone and the cloud.

May 1, 2011

Nuclear Power: Who Can You Trust?

The report below highlights the possibly terminal foolishness of trusting governments and utilities to behave with the prudence required to manage the operation of nuclear power facilities.

In response to a question on whether sufficient safety measures had been taken, (Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto) Kan said nuclear plants operate on the assumption that emergency diesel generators will maintain a reactor’s cooling functions when outside power is cut off.

He said the fact that such a back-up system failed to work properly has serious implications.

Kan said measures were not taken despite previous accidents and warnings, and that he must admit that the utility and the government failed to fully deal with the situation.

Emphasis added. From NHK World via The Raw Story.

March 27, 2011

Digital Piracy: The Beginning of the End

Ok, you can steal my e-books. Well, it’s not actually stealing, because if you don’t want to pay for one, you can have it. So goes Tim O’Reilly’s approach to digital rights management (DRM). This, of course stands directly opposite the rigidly proprietary copyright practices of major media publishers. But O’Reilly runs a $100 million media business. What gives? Is he a throwback to the 60′? (Shades of Abbie Hoffman and Steal This Book.) Or do we see an early adopter of an approach to publishing and copyright management that puts more emphasis on the good to the community? And one which, of course, is also economically viable.

From “Steal This E-Book” by Jon Bruner in Forbes Focus, an abridged interview with Tim O’Reilly. The unabridged version (and worth the read) is here.

Jon Bruner: On all your titles you’ve dropped digital-rights management (DRM), which limits file sharing and copying. Aren’t you worried about piracy?

Tim O’Reilly: No. And so what? Let’s say my goal is to sell 10,000 copies of something. And let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits.

People who don’t pay you generally wouldn’t have paid you anyway. We’re delighted when people who can’t afford our books don’t pay us for them, if they go out and do something useful with that information.

I think having faith in that basic logic of the market is important. Besides, DRM interferes with the user experience. It makes it much harder to have people adopt your product.

March 23, 2011

Life, Art, Tech, Fame: Gaga@Google

Lady Gaga bares, if not all, then much of her life in front of a room full of Googlers. Candid, engaging, appreciative of her fans…and clearly too hip for the room including the interviewer, Google’s Marissa Mayer who can’t quite be herself in the presence of our current incarnation of fame. But Stefani (she and Gaga are one, we learn) clearly loves her fans who adore her – no matter that her “life as art” riffs land outside the algorithms of Google’s culture. If art anticipates the future, what does the phenomenon of the Lady Gaga foretell?

October 25, 2008

The Technology Behind “It’s All Over but the Counting”

The new political social networking and campaign tools are not fundamentally concerned with information, but with action. Obama’s “ground game” is not good, it’s not great, it’s revolutionary. For now, that is. Each new two year election cycle will see newer and more powerful tools for reaching and mobilizing voters.

The five minute video below is instructive on the state of the art today. In it Joshua-Michele Ross of O’Reilly Radar interviews Jascha Franklin-Hodge, CTO and co-founder of Blue State Digital about “how technology is affecting politics and democracy in the U.S.” Click here for Ross’s full post at O’Reilly Radar.

In a manner of speaking, nerds rule.

Postscript: Technology + Charisma = (virtually infinite) Cash. The utility of this formula for political advertising is illustrated below.

                        Obama Purchases Ad Space On Side Of McCain’s Bus

From The Onion via Politico.com

August 13, 2008

Pandora: Let the Music Play

As I write this, I am listening to Pandora’s generic “funk” station. “What is Pandora?” you may ask. It’s pandora.com where you can create your own “radio” stations based on artist, title or you can pick from a number of generic stations like the one I’m playing now. (Funk, not only is it danceable, you can keyboard to it as well — though probably not at the same time.)

Pandora is based on the Music Genome Project. As the site says

Since we started back in 2000, we have been hard at work on the Music Genome Project. It’s the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Together our team of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound – melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics … and more – close to 400 attributes! We continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country.

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart’s content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings – new and old, well known and completely obscure – to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

You can create as many “stations” as you want. And you can even refine them. If it’s not quite right you can tell it so and it will get better for you.

Check it out here. And now to shift the soundtrack, inflect the mood — a little reggae? Or maybe some Bach?

April 28, 2008

The shouting in and about the Obama and Clinton campaigns continues, but the basic context remains and the quest for the Democratic presidential nomination unfolds within it. All the tactical decisions, the evaluations of those decisions, all the campaign ads, all the surrogates’s advocacy, etc., are subordinate to the larger question of whether a cultural and political shift is occurring – one that as some commentators have noted is at least as profound as the one that gave Ronald Reagan his greatest role.

I continue to espouse that this is the case. The shift, as I noted in an earlier post, is from the everyman and everywoman for his/herself ethos of the greed is good halcyon days of the 80’s to Obama’s gyral return to the cultural ground of “I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”

Why do I think this remains the case? Because Hillary’s campaign has indeed thrown the kitchen sink at her opponent, hit him with the garbage disposal, and it has made no difference. Take the Pennsylvania primary, for example. With the flap about Rev. Wright taking stage center in the attack of the sink, the polls (on average and courtesy of RealClearPolitics.com) showed Obama moving from 6 points down to 7. By the time of the election, he was back at 6 points down. He lost by 10 (after having been 20 points down a month before). In the elections thus far where he has started far behind, e.g., Ohio, he has closed the gap and then lost by an additional 4 percent as the late deciders voted for Hillary.

So the net effect of hurling the sink was zero. The rest of the campaign will, I do believe, play out as it has been with Obama getting the nomination on the basis of more superdelegates breaking for what they see as the future rather than the past. The times they are, again, a-changin’.

(As I write this, Rev. Wright is again making news as he defends his career. I predict that the inevitable attacks on Obama will have no lasting impact on his campaign. Time, of course, gets the last word.)

April 24, 2008

The Ecstasy of Influence

Earlier in these posts I’ve noted the rise of the Creative Commons and Open Source software movements as indications of how the understanding of creativity (and ownership of creative works) is changing in a larger context that I call “the return of the commons.”

For the viewpoint of a well-known novelist, Jonathan Lethem (b. 1964) on creativity and copyright, both delightful reads, see the articles at the links below. The first is to an article in Harper’s, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” from which I cadged the title of this post. The second is to an interview with Lethem in Salon.com where he gives his take on sharing his work, including giving away the film option for his seventh novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet. Both articles were published last year, but are as or more relevant today.

We live in times that are seeing the end of the myth of the lone creator bringing forth work of pure originality.

Good reading. Enjoy.

The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism

Interview with Lethem in Salon.com