1 october 2004: pinch and a punch
flipsockgrrl @ gmail .com
In Vietnam, in 1968, Eddie Adams took one of the most famous photos of the 20th century, and for two years he could not even look at it. In a single lifetime our sensibilities have diminished: these days we watch live television coverage of aeroplanes crashing into skyscrapers and voluntarily click on Internet videos of beheadings and torture.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's work inspired "a sentimentalising of mortality that's become incorporated into popular culture and can be seen as the source of such death-obsessed [television] dramas as Touched by an Angel and Dead Like Me--and series like Six Feet Under and the proliferations of CSIs, in which the dead body is fetishised as a catalyst for truth telling."
"To many New York teenagers, all the world’s a pharmacy. There is a vanishing distinction between pills for medication and for recreation, and the much-touted risk of suicide misses the point."
So you think The Sims are materialistic? Not so. If you play for 20 hours or more, you'll find all those material acquisitions actually weigh you down and prevent you doing interesting stuff in the online Sims world.
From the "Well, der!" department: a new scientific study reveals that a nation's economic fortitude is not as closely tied to the well-being of its citizens as previously believed. (via BoingBoing)
Cory Doctorow gave a presentation to Microsoft about why digital rights management is bad for us and bad for them. It's available in PDF, MP3, .txt and multiple language versions:
The Entertainment and Media group of the World Economic Forum just don't understand the Internet and how people want to use it:
A letter from the computer industry to the movies-and-music industry:
30 September 2004 | top of page
Australian universities have "trimmed the fat, changed their diet and found better sources of sustenance... Enter the chief financial officer, usually recruited from the rough and tumble of the corporate world. Universities are big business. Mini empires. With annual revenue that in some cases exceeds A$1 billion, strategic planning, risk management and keeping the books in order is no mean feat."
The Australian Catholic University would have to raise HECS and cut staff if its church landlord demanded hefty management fees for its Strathfield and North Sydney campuses. ACU vice-chancellor Peeter Sheehan and Sydney archbishop George Pell can't seem to agree on terms.
Academics should spend time in private industry to see how ideas are turned into successful products, says Ross Chapman: "Academic careers tend to be focused on research, publications and teaching. If you were to take out a year or two to go and join private industry then that boosts your career development."
The University of Tasmania will introduce the nation's first bachelor of Antarctic studies next year. The degree will be similar to a bachelor of science and attract the same cut-off score. Students will also be able to take non-science subjects including art, music, history, film and literature about Antarctica.
An external review commissioned and funded by the ANU finds 29 per cent of the university's best research is in the top 5 per cent worldwide. The review of quality and performance confirms ANU's spot in the top 100 research universities globally, despite government claims that Australia lacks a university of that standing.
Dennis Littky reckons high test scores are only part of a good school. Equally important are "Creativity, passion, courage and perseverence" as well as "speaking, writing and reading" through projects that engage each student's interests.
The Guardian newspaper announces its shortlist for the (British) Student Media Awards.
"Mention a BMW, and adults think of quality. Talk about an iPod, and college kids know they want one. But throw out the name of a major university, and chances are pretty good that neither adults nor students can tell you a thing about its academic programs. The difference often boils down to marketing campaigns..."
The campus novel focuses on "the one long hard moment... when the splendors and miseries of personal existence and the frighteningly powerful appeal of books, problems, and ideas come together in a truly dangerous way. Undergraduates do all sorts of things at universities. They play computer games, they eat pizza, they go to parties, they have sex, they work out, and they amuse each other by their pretensions. What most fiction has ignored is that a lot of them also spend vast amounts of time alone, attacking the kinds of intellectual problems that can easily swallow lifetimes."
Two University of South Florida admissions officers have been sacked over charges that they manipulated applicants' test scores to improve the university's standing in national rankings.
Over the next five years New York University will employ 125 new academics in its arts and science faculty, hoping to improve its international reputation. (NYT login = flipsock, password = sneedle)
"Second Life, the Massively Multiplayer Online world where end users can design and trade their own game-artifacts, is offering free accounts to university profs... for the purpose of conducting in-game classes." (via BoingBoing)
29 September 2004 | top of page
How did the 'intelligent design' movement publish in a peer reviewed biology journal? A similar, notorious story from climate science sheds light on the question. (via 3quarksdaily)
The former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Marcia Angell, believes the pharmaceutical industry has become a marketing machine that produces few innovative drugs and is dependent on monopoly rights and public-sponsored research. (via 3quarksdaily)
Richard Dawkins on race: "Learned differences in language, religion and social customs notoriously provide labels for prejudice and discrimination. So, even more obviously, do genetic differences in colour. Could the first category have been implicated in the evolution of the second?"
At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee (USA), researchers are peering into the atomic world with record clarity, developing an electron microscope image that can distinguish the individual, dumbbell-shaped atoms of a silicon crystal. (via 3quarksdaily)
"The sum total of our knowledge about the genetics, biology, and geographical distribution of HIV indicates that vaccine scientists may have met their match in this adaptable foe. The reality seems to be that a vaccine against AIDS is becoming little more than a pipe dream."
Do penguins really fall over backwards while watching helicopters fly overhead?
Is the sky falling? And if so, when? Here's how the 'Doomsday Argument' helps you calculate the true risk of disaster.
The August issue of "Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery" notes that, among the ten largest pharma companies in the period 1991-2000:
That translates to about an 11 per cent success rate from starting in the clinic to final approval of a new drug.
What do galaxy M51, Hurricane Isabel, sunflower seeds and the cauliflower have in common?
Thirty years ago, the Russian military allegedly developed plans to build a base on the Moon. The project-deputy general designer of the General Machine Building Design Bureau (KBOM), Aleksandr Yegorov, said the Soviet plan was scrapped because it was too expensive.
The best reason to read about science is "not to check facts, but to revel in wonder... Science and fiction deal with different entities, and ask different questions; but each can intoxicate, inspire, console, and feed that appetite for mystery and revelation that makes human beings at least as interesting as electrons."
30 September 2004 | top of page
"The technology train--in all its indifference--is going to forge ahead regardless of what we do. It's up to each of us to decide whether we're going to hop on board or stand by the tracks watching it roar by." Old-school managers can learn to enjoy the ride, if you help them buy a ticket.
What is 'user experience', what does it mean and why should we care?
"A 26 year old may not be very good at managing people or dealing with the SEC. Those require experience. But those are also commodities, which can be handed off to some lieutenant. The most important quality in a CEO is his vision for the company's future. What will they build next? And in that department, there are 26 year olds who can compete with anyone." (via BoingBoing)
Fortune favors the bold. Can you make the tough calls at work? Take this quiz to test your leadership mettle.
When the US Army's chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, retired in 2003 Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz breached protocol by not attending the retirement ceremony. Shinseki's mistake was in giving an honest answer to a straightforward question: how many troops would be needed to ensure peace in Iraq?
In the 1990s David Brock made a name for himself "in the political media by harnessing the well-financed and well-organized machinery of the conservative movement to attack those who had the courage to try to stand up to it." Eventually he realised he was wrong about many of the issues he championed--he "decided to stay in Washington as an outspoken critic of the political Right... As opposed to the years of self-righteousness and ideological certainty, the possibility that I may be wrong is now with me all the time, when I have the courage to think about it."
Usability is about the user's experience of a web site or organisation. You do spend time with customers, don't you?
"His fame for a while was nearly comparable to Elvis's--a [Glenn] Gould recording of a Bach prelude and fugue was launched into space on Voyager in 1977 to instruct aliens about human culture, should they ever be able to decipher how to turn on the spacecraft's phonograph."
Weblogs are "just logical extensions of the traditional website jobs page and the online portfolio/CV," comments Suw Charman. "Good blogging, the sort of blogging that gives your company a good reputation, takes time" plus management support and trust.
30 September 2004 | top of page
In the online news world, mainstream American media are full of stories about hurricane damage in Florida, but mostly ignore the disaster in Haiti that *is* receiving coverage in other countries. Doc Searls suggests some reasons for the different perspectives and observes that "If we want to save the Net by establishing it as a place, rather than as a plumbing system for industrially-produced 'content', we need to mean something that isn't just national when we blog in the first person plural."
Stop creating ROT on your web site. You don't need a fancy content management system, just a few good habits and a periodic note in your diary.
A US study finds that adults spent more time online in 2003 than in 2002 while the number of hours spent watching TV has stayed virtually the same. Growth in online time rose more quickly than television viewing declined. Another study found 31.5 percent of 18 to 34-year olds and 33.3 percent of those 35+ watch TV while online.
"Creating a blog to track the progress of your PhD thesis might seem like the ultimate delaying tactic - a way to avoid ever actually writing the thing itself." Weblogging can be a useful tool for keeping track of your ideas and web references, as well as for collaborating with other academics and researchers.
"[M]any people assume that if you could overcome the economic obstacles to global access, everyone would magically be on line. But even when the connection is there, countries are imposing limitations on what can be accessed." Since 2002 the (US) Berkman Center, University of Toronto and University of Cambridge (USA) have been monitoring what sites are blocked by ISPs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Usability testing is often based on asking a person to find something you know exists on your web site. It may be equally useful to ask them to find something you know *does not* exist.
Ah, the sweet sounds of yesteryear...
The Netherlands has one of the world's most active instant-messaging (IM) communities. Visiting recently, Microsoft's corporate vice-president Blake Irving "referred to a new IM version that would allow schools and employers to monitor and organise the communications, as well as store them." MSN Netherlands already offers banking services via MSN Messenger: keep a weather-eye on them for clues to the future of business and social connections online.
Computer games need B-sides: just stick some experimental games on the DVD with the big title. "Little Flash games, or student games, or Internet games that haven't taken off yet. Don't advertise them on the box, sell the 'big game' just like always." Everybody wins: the designers get a chance to go wild, the company gets good world-of-mouth advertising from players, and the industry fosters some innovation.
A report sponsored by the EU warns that newspaper circulation in many European countries is falling, readers are ageing, advertising revenues are falling and most newspapers have failed to find profitable online services.
How Microsoft reaches out to Usenet members, plus different ways of visualising the size and shape of an Internet community AND how to deal with trolls on a 'community' web site or discussion list.
Why readability testing is not enough to ensure your web site is usable.
"Hi. I'm Chancaca. I'm an Internet addict. Uh... I guess it all started back in '98, when I, uh, got my first MSN account. At first I just logged on once or twice a day..." A Yahoo study finds most participants are willing to give up US$500 in return for getting reconnected to the Internet after only five days' abstinence.
It may or may not be a good thing but, whatever the future is, it will definitely be full of metadata; on this the experts agree. The HTML tag that time forgot, <profile>, is metadata for the people. If its use catches on, the future might arrive rather earlier than expected.
The 'tutorials' section of BleepingComputer.com has clear, straightforward articles about the Internet, written for people with little experience in computers or the web. Search for a word or phrase, or scroll down the page to see a list of popular topics. If you want to ask more specific questions, you can register for a free account and join the discussion forums. (via User Friendly)
The Evergrow consortium of universities aims "to invent methods and systems, and build infrastructure for measurement, mock-up and analysis of network traffic, topology and logical structure, so that we can start now to address the opportunities presented by the Internet of 2025." At the moment, Evergrow's DIMES project is using distributed computing methods (like SETI@home) to map the size and shape of the Internet, and you can help.
In Somalia there are 0.02 Internet users per 1000 people. Compare with Iceland (783.48), Australia (538.71) and the global weighted average of 96.67 users per 1000 people.
Intranet integrity and availability is not something to gamble with: "downtime means loss in productivity, loss of revenue, and an angry mob you once called your users." Learn from others' experience instead of your own, and design your IT systems to handle security, maintenance, backups and disaster recovery.
30 September 2004 | top of page
"Star Wars" was in the top 20 movie searches when Yahoo began tracking 'buzz' in 2000. It's never left the top 20.
You know it's great Art if the eyes follow you around the room.
Lara Croft invades bucolic needlepoint landscapes, wreaks aesthetic havoc. (thanks, Paul)
Fictional 'user personas' can help you design a better product or web site. Give these characters enough detail so that they're useful, without letting them become too highly focused on the specifics of a task or scenario.
Consider also developing 'group' personas to help you develop applications or tools for social interaction: "It’s difficult to imagine teleconferencing software without thinking about two groups--one at either end of the connection--using it; sometimes these are groups of executives, sometimes they’re technical collaborators, sometimes they’re mixed. Each of these different groups has a different set of needs and expectations from the software, and each can be modeled as a group persona, rather than as individual users."
History's notable films, reconsidered: seriously, who names a sled?
On Route 66, near Amarillo, Texas, ten graffiti-covered Cadillacs are buried nose-down in a dusty wheat field. Cadillac Ranch is one of a handful of "Great Monuments [that] are rhapsodised as the embodiment of American hopes and dreams, folly and failure, art and commerce, materialism and spiritualism."
Here's a band that understands the online music market: Green Day is selling pre-printed blank CDs with the artwork of their last five major-label albums. They suggest you burn your digitally-purchased Green Day music onto them. (via BoingBoing)
Trying to describe the fourth Florida hurricane, journalists have finally run out of cliches.
"The paranoid-reductionist formula goes like this: People connected by money, greed, and ideology are building institutions to foist their self-centered agendas--and corrupt ideas--on the easily hoodwinked masses. These people are so unscrupulous and cunning that they're willing to present the most outrageous untruths as fact." Does "Harper's" editor Lewis Lapham really believe this? Why did he 'fictionalise' (that is, invent) his account of attending a political convention? What happened to the magazine's journalistic integrity?
30 September 2004 | top of page
Dating on the web: first, get yourself a pair of smittens...
Confessions of an elephant polo groupie: "The cheerleader has a light beard and waves pink Mylar pom-pons. He screams at a transsexual who's whacking a black-and-orange polo ball with a 6-foot wooden mallet. A British industrialist blocks the shot. Their mounts--Asian elephants--bellow and bray as they are urged down the field."
Getting bored with the standard "Oh, GOD!" in the bedroom? Expand your repertoire with the Victorian Sex Cry Generator (contains rude bits). "Oh, insupportable delight! Oh! Superhuman rapture!" (Actually, I personally prefer John Donne quotes.)
Indoor fun, circa 1859: how to make hand-shadows on the wall.
The old Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy text game has been tarted up with some new graphics, but it's as wonderfully frustrating as ever--and you can contribute new illustrations for The Book, too.
Honda's diesel advertisement for British television is a beauty. I liked it so much, for a moment I forgot to loathe four-wheel drives. (Requires Shockwave and sound) (thanks, Andrew)
The New York Times reports in Beijing there is "outrage over the demolition of traditional neighborhoods--particularly the hutongs where extended families have lived for centuries in a tight fabric of single-story buildings connected by thin alleys--and the forcible eviction of their residents.... Some residents selected for relocation have responded by killing themselves in grisly public protests, including a few cases of self-immolation." Yet the gist of the Times story is not that people are burning themselves to death to save their neighborhoods, but that China is cutting back US$37 billion in work in Beijing for Starchitects.
In May we noted the emergence of Pacmanhattan, in which people dress up as Pacman characters and play the classic video game in real life, around the streets of Manhattan. A wacky way to get some exercise :-) Now Howard Rheingold has collected a list of other 'live' games from around the world: there was even one in Adelaide this year, for the Fringe Festival.
The Childhood Goat Trauma Foundation was created in 1982 by a small group that originally came together as a an informal support group for problems that were the result of traumatic experiences at petting zoos as children.
"Steven Pinker is a psychologist. Rebecca Goldstein is a novelist. Both are obsessed with realism and the pursuit of objective knowledge. They met to talk about consciousness, game theory, and gossip."
30 September 2004 | top of page
17 Dec: the
sock has flipped
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