MonthMay 2011

The World’s Oldest Known Museum

Ur

In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world’s first museum.

It’s easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history – Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That’s part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it’s also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.

io9: The story behind the world’s oldest museum, built by a Babylonian princess 2,500 years ago

Chinese Prisons Forcing Inmates to “Gold Farm” in Online Games

Gold farming

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

The Guardian: China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work

Welcome, Tumblr Spotlight Followers!

Tumblr Spotlight screenshot

This blog appeared in the Tumblr Spotlight section for technology today. A warm welcome to the new followers, I hope this blog continues to hold your interest.

Charlie Stross on Buckminster Fuller: “Why are your houses so heavy?”

Dymaxian House

The story of why we aren’t all living in Dymaxion houses today is a convoluted epic of business failure (for one thing, starting up a production line for houses using cutting-edge aerospace technology was something that had never been done before; for another, Bucky’s business sense was not, sadly, as good as his design sense) that has been recounted in numerous biographies. What interests me about it is that it’s a far more humane approach to the problem of providing housing for the masses than his Brutalist contemporaries, whose designs tended to be fixed, immovable, made cheaply out of low-end materials, and built with high density mass housing in mind rather than low impact customizability. It was also way ahead of the field in terms of awareness of environmental constraints; while we could design better today, we’d be making incremental tweaks, whereas Bucky came up with the original idea of modular, lightweight, mobile low-impact housing ab initio.

Charlie Stross: “Why are your houses so heavy?”

“Wisdom of the Crowd” Wiped Out When Individuals Know What Others in the Crowd are Thinking

The “wisdom of the crowd” has become a bit of a pop cliché, but it’s backed up by real-world evidence. When groups of people are asked to provide estimates of obscure information, the median value of their answers will often be remarkably close to the right one, even though many of their answers are laughably wrong. But crowds rarely act in the absence of social influences, and some researchers in Zurich have now shown that providing individuals information about what their fellow crowd-members are thinking is enough to wipe out the crowd’s wisdom. […]

Compared to the control setup, the additional information changed the crowd’s collective behavior dramatically. In what the authors term the “social influence effect,” the panels that were provided with information about their peers quickly narrowed their focus onto a fairly limited set of values, meaning the diversity of their answers decreased. In contrast, the control group retained its initial diversity throughout the repeated rounds of questioning.

Worse still, the panels that were provided with social information narrowed in on answers that were more likely to be wrong.

Ars Technica: Social influences kill the wisdom of the crowd

Lost Egyptian Pyramids Found with Infra-red Satellite Images

infra-red satellite images of lost egyptian pyramids

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.

Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.

The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.

An infra-red satellite image shows a buried pyramid, located in the centre of the highlight box.
She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.

BBC: Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

(via Zoltananda)

Zombie Preparedness Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC zombie plan

The federal government agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a zombie apocalypse preparedness guide.

For example, here’s what the CDC recommends you have on hand in case of a zombie-related emergency:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
    Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
    Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
    Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
    Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
    Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
    Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
    First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

CDC: Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

What’s great is that this is the sort of stuff you should keep on hand for any emergency. Great way to make disaster planning fun, CDC!

Update: Here’s a PSA from Oregon Public Health, which as Trevor Blake notes in the comments below “features members of the Portland Occulture secret society.”

Second Life Founder Launches New Alternative Currency

CoffeeandPower utilizes a virtual currency. Users who sign up and give their cellphone numbers so they can receive SMS updates are automatically seeded with C$20 to get started. C$ is exchanged when goods are bought and sold. More can be purchased (at an exchange rate of US$0.75 for C$1) and users will be able to “cash out” as well. As many of the transactions on the site might be quite small, the virtual currency will help minimize transaction fees for every exchange. In other words, you can earn from C$ and then buy things on from other users without any fees.

Second, CoffeeandPower really emphasizes the community around this marketplace. That’s not a surprise when you think of Philip Rosedale’s work in creating the virtual world Second Life and its online community and economy. Users will be able to chat with each other, both in a public timeline and in private messaging and video chat.

ReadWriteWeb: Second Life Co-founder’s New Project CoffeeandPower: Exchange Virtual Currency for Real-World Tasks

Generation Lost: The Unemployment Crisis Among Young People

Meghan O’Halloran was one of those who had her career derailed by the timing of her graduation.
She left Cornell University with a degree in architecture and six summers of internships at top firms in New York, Milan and London.

“I thought getting a job would be a snap,” she said.

But after graduating in December 2008, just as job losses in the economy were reaching a high point, she was confronted with a very cold reception into the labor force.

She followed her boyfriend to China for a year, and found architecture work plentiful in the building boom there. But when she returned home at the end of 2009, not much had improved, and no one was hiring.

“I’ve applied for temporary work,” she said. “The answer is always the same, ‘We wish we could hire you.'”
She’s decided to leave behind her hopes for a career as an architect and has started her own business making custom fabric, carpets and furniture.

Money: The Great Recession’s lost generation

The kids mentioned in this article seem relatively lucky. They have jobs, or businesses. What’s only hinted at in the article is trickle down unemployment – as college graduates settle for jobs for which no college degree is required, it makes life more difficult for those without degrees.

See also:

How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America

Debunking The Millennials’ Work Ethic “Problem”

THC Cuts Lung Cancer Tumors in Half, Study Finds

THC molecule illustration

Then, for three weeks, researchers injected standard doses of THC into mice that had been implanted with human lung cancer cells, and found that tumors were reduced in size and weight by about 50 percent in treated animals compared to a control group. There was also about a 60 percent reduction in cancer lesions on the lungs in these mice as well as a significant reduction in protein markers associated with cancer progression, Preet says.

Although the researchers do not know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. They speculate that THC may also interfere with angiogenesis and vascularization, which promotes cancer growth.

Preet says much work is needed to clarify the pathway by which THC functions, and cautions that some animal studies have shown that THC can stimulate some cancers. “THC offers some promise, but we have a long way to go before we know what its potential is,” she said.

Science Daily: Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half, Study Shows

(via Socialphysicist)

Previously: Does Marijuana Shrink Tumors?

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