MonthMarch 2011

Top 10 People to Follow on Twitter

I saw William Gibson‘s “Five to Follow” list for The National Post (congratulations on making the list Meredith!) and thought, since the Post will probably never ask me, I’d share my own list here.

These are the top 10 people I think readers of this blog should follow. I couldn’t break it down to five – 10 was hard enough! Apologies to everyone I left off – it was a hard list to write.

Chris Arkenberg. “Research, forecast, & strategy from the Left Coast. Tech, new media, energy, geopol, complex systems. Beatmaker, surfer, nature lover.” You can read my interview with him here.

bendito (((1/f)))). “Mathematics and particle astrophysics. Also writing a book or two.”

Kyle Findlay (aka Social Physicist). “Chaos, networks, reality. Itinerant scholar.” Read my interview with him here.

Tom Henderson (aka Mathpunk). “Mathematician, gamer, writer, comedian, eater of foods. Futurity now!” Read my interview with him here.

Wade A. Inganamort. “Screenwriter • Partner/Co-founder/Producer @HukilauNow.”

Rita J. King. “Co-Director (with @Josholalia) of IMAGINATION: Driving the Future of Education and Work.”

Venessa Miemis. “Digital ethnographer, futurist, blogger. MA in Media Studies.”

Alex Pang. “Historian | futurist | information ecologist.”

Theoretick. “I am a Quantum Mechanic working through my Love/Hate Relationship with Tech.”

Cat Vincent. “Essayist on occult/fortean topics, former professional exorcist & combat magician. Unnatural Philosopher. Lives in Bristol, England.”

And of course, if you want to follow me I’m @klintron on Twitter. You can also receive updates from this blog by following @techn0ccult.

A Brain–Computer Interface Allows Paralyzed Patients to Play Music with Brainpower Alone

brain computer interface for music

A pianist plays a series of notes, and the woman echoes them on a computerized music system. The woman then goes on to play a simple improvised melody over a looped backing track. It doesn’t sound like much of a musical challenge — except that the woman is paralysed after a stroke, and can make only eye, facial and slight head movements. She is making the music purely by thinking.

This is a trial of a computer-music system that interacts directly with the user’s brain, by picking up the tiny electrical impulses of neurons. The device, developed by composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda of the University of Plymouth, UK, working with computer scientists at the University of Essex, should eventually help people with severe physical disabilities, caused by brain or spinal-cord injuries, for example, to make music for recreational or therapeutic purposes. The findings are published online in the journal Music and Medicine.

Nature News: Music is all in the mind

(via Richard Yonck)

See also: Eyewriter, an inexpensive way for people to draw using only their eyes.

Bruce Sterling: Network Culture Is Incompatible with Representative Democracy

TechCrunch TV interviews Bruce Sterling on Hacktivism at SXSW:

Damon Albarn Is Going Ahead with the John Dee Opera Without Alan Moore

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn has written and will star in a stage show about 16th Century alchemist, astrologer and spy John Dee.

A musical work based on Elizabeth I’s medical and scientific adviser, Doctor Dee will have its premiere in July at the Manchester International Festival.

It will then be staged at the home of the English National Opera as part of London’s Cultural Olympiad programme.

BBC: Damon Albarn to star in new stage show

(via John Reppion)

Previously: Alan Moore explains why he canceled his involvement in the opera.

More Happiness and Longevity Research: Working During Retirement is Good for You?

Slate has some coverage of the Longevity Project, a decades long research project tracking the lives of geniuses. This could just be propaganda to make us happier about the fact that many of us will never be able to retire, but it makes sense. I don’t want to spend my golden years eating TV dinners and watching Jeopardy reruns.

Retirement is usually seen as the severing of oneself from the work of a lifetime. Friedman, who is 60, dislikes this notion, and from his research he’s come to believe such an attitude is bad both for society and individuals. Of course, for those in miserable work situations, a departure can mean liberation. But most of the Terman males (given the attitudes of the times, far fewer of the women Termites worked) had solid, sometimes even exceptional careers. Interviews done with successful Termites in their 70s, several of them lawyers, showed a striking number continued to work part time.

For those who contemplate retirement as decades filled with leisure and relaxation, The Longevity Project serves as a warning. As Friedman says, “fun can be overrated” and stress can be unfairly maligned. Many study participants who lived vigorously into old age had highly stressful jobs. Physicist Norris Bradbury, who died at age 88, succeeded J. Robert Oppenheimer as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, overseeing the transition of the U.S. atomic weapons research lab from World War II into the Cold War.

Slate: Don’t Stop Working!

(via Alex Pang)

The Obama Administration Wants a DARPA for Education

The Big Brains at Darpa have dreamed up some pretty cool stuff over the years: GPS, mind-controlled robotic arms, the Internet.

So could education benefit from its own version of the Pentagon-led research agency?

The Obama administration thinks the answer is yes. Its proposed 2012 budget includes $90-million to kick off the effort, conceived as a way to support development of cutting-edge educational technologies.

Why the need for a new agency? Education research and development is “underinvested,” argues James H. Shelton III, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement in the U.S. Education Department. A new agency—its name would be “Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education”—would have more flexibility to identify specific problems and direct efforts to solve them, he says. Plus, it would be able to attract top outside talent to work on these projects.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Why the Obama Administration Wants a Darpa for Education

(via Theoretick)

RIP Owsley “Bear” Stanley, Original Sound Engineer for the Grateful Dead and Big Time LSD Manufacturer

The Bear

Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the original sound engineer for the Greatful Dead who was also credited with kickstarting the 60s by manufacturing massive amounts of LSD, died in a car accident in Australia last weekend.

National Post’s Obituary of Stanley

The Dead get a bad rap these days. Many have forgotten the band’s contributions outside of hippie music. Jerry Garcia, a lifelong science fiction fan, was actually a technology advocate with an interest fringe science ideas like cryogenics. Lyricist John Perry Barlow went on to co-found the EFF. The Dead forum was a core part of the important BBS The WELL, an early force bringing together counter-culture and high technology. In the history of cyberculture, the Dead is up there with Stewart Brand and Timothy Leary in terms of importance.

A couple years ago Uriah Zebadiah hipped me to the Dead’s contributions to audio technology via Stanley. In addition to being an LSD manufacturer, Stanley wanted to experiment with audio technology – and the Grateful Dead were his lab. He funded the band just so he could experiment with their equipment.

From San Francisco Chronicle’s profile of Stanley from 2007 (via Boing Boing):

Less well known are Bear’s contributions to rock concert sound. As the original sound mixer for the Grateful Dead, he was responsible for fundamental advances in audio technology, things as basic now as monitor speakers that allow vocalists to hear themselves onstage. […]

“We’d never thought about high-quality PAs,” says the Dead’s Weir. “There was no such thing until Bear started making one.”

The Chronicle profile includes a rare interview with Stanley about his all-meat diet and his belief in a coming Ice Age.

For more history of LSD, check out the Skilluminati article Ronald Hadley Stark: The Man Behind the LSD Curtain.

The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Hollywood


The late 90s had a string of interesting movies that made one feel… strange. The Matrix, Magnolia, Being John Malkovitch, Fight Club, American Beauty. Hell, even the Truman Show fit this mold. I call ’em mind-fuck movies. They aren’t necessarily great movies, and those brought-up on a steady diet of weirdness probably wouldn’t be moved by them. But each one played with reality and identity, invoked paranoia in and interesting way, and/or made the mundane seem strange by zooming in a bit too close.

There was something about those movies, and the feeling that they transmitted, that’s been lost in the past decade. But I think it might be coming back.

It seemed at first in the early 00s that the mind-fucking would continue. There was Vanilla Sky (which was actually based on a late 90s Spanish movie), and Philip K. Dick was finally getting his due. But most of those Dick adaptations sucked. With few exceptions the 00s were dominated by realism, bromantic comedies, superheroes and sequels (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stands out, but it seems a little too sentimental to qualify as a mind-fuck movie) . My favorite movie of the decade, Children of Men, was hardly a mind-fucker.

Actually, the 00s will probably be more remembered for its TV series than for its movies. We’ll remember shows like Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Dexter and Mad Men. But great as these shows are, they are hardly mind-fuck material. Lost should have been the ultimate mind-fuck epic, but it ended instead in disappointment. (I haven’t watched all of Battle Start Gallactica, but I could see someone making the case that it should qualify for the mind-fuck category. If so, it’s the exception and not the rule.)

Maybe it was 9/11, Bush Administration and the wars. Maybe it was Hollywood’s risk-adversion. Whatever it was, that surrealist buzz fizzled.

But there’s a slew of new movies coming out of Hollywood that remind me of that 90s vibe. It may have started with Inception, and there are others coming up that look like they will break the 00s mold. Movies like
The Adjustment Bureau (yet another Dick adaptation), Limitless (which looks like a Scientology metaphor) and Sucker Punch. I’m not saying any of these will be good. In fact, I’d bet against it. But each one seems like it could be a story arc or plot line from The Invisibles. I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.

Mind-fuck might be too strong a word for this new crop of Hollywood movies. I’m thinking the term “neuro-film” might be a better fit.

Whatever you call it, here’s to hoping for a better decade.

The Rise of Farmpunk


Mr. Jones, 30, and his wife, Alicia, 27, are among an emerging group of people in their 20s and 30s who have chosen farming as a career. Many shun industrial, mechanized farming and list punk rock, Karl Marx and the food journalist Michael Pollan as their influences. The Joneses say they and their peers are succeeding because of Oregon’s farmer-foodie culture, which demands grass-fed and pasture-raised meats. […]

The problem, the young farmers say, is access to land and money to buy equipment. Many new to farming also struggle with the basics.

In Eugene, Ore., Kasey White and Jeff Broadie of Lonesome Whistle Farm are finishing their third season of cultivating heirloom beans with names like Calypso, Jacob’s Cattle and Dutch Ballet.

They have been lauded — and even consulted — by older farmers nearby for figuring out how to grow beans in a valley dominated by grass seed farmers.

But finding mentors has been difficult. There is a knowledge gap that has been referred to as “the lost generation” — people their parents’ age may farm but do not know how to grow food. The grandparent generation is no longer around to teach them.

New York Times: In New Food Culture, a Young Generation of Farmers Emerges

(via Eric Schiller)

Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

not hiring

I have a new piece on the dismal impact of information technology on the workforce at ReadWriteWeb:

Last week we told you that enterprises are investing more into business intelligence and analytics initiatives. This week there’s more good news for professionals in this area: according to KDNuggets, salaries are rising for analytics and data mining professionals.

Based on a poll with approximately 250 respondents, KDNuggets found that salaries are up from its 2010 poll in North America, Western Europe, Asia and Latin America. (There is no mention of Eastern Europe, Africa or Antarctica.)

It’s a good time to be a geek, particularly one with a background in statistics, analytics and data mining. But a bad time to be almost any other type of worker.

For example, The New York Times reported on software that can process legal documents at a fraction of the cost of hiring lawyers and paralegals:

“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”

That’s good news for the people who develop that software. But for people in the legal profession? Not so much.

ReadWriteWeb: Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

Supplemental reading:

Paul Krugman: Degrees and Dollars

Paul Krugman: Autor! Autor!

Krugman, again, on the same issue back in 1996

And, less dreary but probably less realistic:

Jobs 2.0: Data-centric Jobs for Generation Y

Photo by Daniel Lobo

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