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Posts Tagged ‘information

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

misinfo

 

Ideas replaced with feelings. A radical relativism that implies truth is unknowable. Politicians who revel in lying openly, shamelessly, as if being caught out is the point of politics. The notion of the people and the many redefined ceaselessly, words unmoored from meaning, ideas of the future dissolving into nasty nostalgias with enemies everywhere, conspiracy replacing ideology, facts equated to fibs, discussion collapsing into mutual accusations, where every argument is just another smear campaign, all information warfare … and the sense that everything under one’s feet is constantly moving, inherently unstable, liquid …

Almost a decade ago I left Russia because I was exhausted by living in a system where, to quote myself invoking Hannah Arendt, “nothing is true and everything is possible.” Those were still relatively vegetarian days in Moscow — before the invasion of Ukraine — but it was already a world where terms like liberal or democracy were used to mean their opposite, where paranoia was increasingly replacing reasoned argument, and where spectacle had pushed out sense. You were left with only gut feelings to lead your way through the fog of disinformation. I returned to the thing once known as “the West,” living in London and often working in the United States, because, in the words of my naïve self, I wanted to live in a world where “words have meaning,” where facts were not dismissed as “just information war.” Russia seemed a country unable to come to terms with the loss of the Cold War, or with any of the traumas of the 20th century. It was ultimately, I thought, a sideshow, a curio pickled in its own agonies. Russians stressed this themselves: in Western Europe, America, things are “normalno” they would tell me. If you have the chance, that is where you send your wives, children, money … to “normalnost.”

Back in the West, however, I soon noticed things that reminded me of Moscow…

Peter Pomerantsev in an essay from his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality: “Normalnost.”

Pair with his essay “The Info War of All Against All” and this review of his book.

[image above: source]

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might expect little or no help from today’s birthday boy, Henri-Louis Bergson; he was born on this date in 1859.  A philosopher especially influential in the first half of the 20th Century, Bergson convinced many of the primacy of immediate experience and intuition over rationalism and science for the understanding reality…. many, but not the likes of Wittgenstein, Russell, Moore, and Santayana, who thought that he willfully misunderstood the scientific method in order to justify his “projection of subjectivity onto the physical world.”  Still, in 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize (in Literature); and in 1930, received France’s highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur.

Bergson’s influence waned mightily later in the century.  To the extent that there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest, it’s largely the result, in philosophical circles, of Gilles Deleuze’s appropriation of Bergson’s concept of “mulitplicity” and his treatment of duration, which Deleuze used in his critique of Hegel’s dialectic, and in the religious and spiritualist studies communities, of Bergson’s seeming embrace of the concept of an overriding/underlying consciousness in which humans participate.

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Written by LW

October 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Information is a difference that makes a difference”*…

 

Shannon information

 

Information was something guessed at rather than spoken of, something implied in a dozen ways before it was finally tied down. Information was a presence offstage. It was there in the studies of the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, who, electrifying frog muscles, first timed the speed of messages in animal nerves just as Thomson was timing the speed of messages in wires. It was there in the work of physicists like Rudolf Clausius and Ludwig Boltzmann, who were pioneering ways to quantify disorder—entropy—little suspecting that information might one day be quantified in the same way. Above all, information was in the networks that descended in part from the first attempt to bridge the Atlantic with underwater cables. In the attack on the practical engineering problems of connecting Points A and B—what is the smallest number of wires we need to string up to handle a day’s load of messages? how do we encrypt a top-secret telephone call?—the properties of information itself, in general, were gradually uncovered.

By the time of Claude Shannon’s childhood, the world’s communications networks were no longer passive wires acting as conduits for electricity, a kind of electron plumbing. They were continent-spanning machines, arguably the most complex machines in existence. Vacuum-tube amplifiers strung along the telephone lines added power to voice signals that would have otherwise attenuated and died out on their thousand-mile journeys. A year before Shannon was born, in fact, Bell and Watson inaugurated the transcontinental phone line by reenacting their first call, this time with Bell in New York and Watson in San Francisco. By the time Shannon was in elementary school, feedback systems managed the phone network’s amplifiers automatically, holding the voice signals stable and silencing the “howling” or “singing” noises that plagued early phone calls, even as the seasons turned and the weather changed around the sensitive wires that carried them. Each year that Shannon placed a call, he was less likely to speak to a human operator and more likely to have his call placed by machine, by one of the automated switchboards that Bell Labs grandly called a “mechanical brain.” In the process of assembling and refining these sprawling machines, Shannon’s generation of scientists came to understand information in much the same way that an earlier generation of scientists came to understand heat in the process of building steam engines.

It was Shannon who made the final synthesis, who defined the concept of information and effectively solved the problem of noise. It was Shannon who was credited with gathering the threads into a new science…

The story of Claude Shannon, his colorful life–  and the birth of the Information Age: “How Information Got Re-Invented.”

* Gregory Bateson

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As we separate the signal from the noise, we might send communicative birthday greetings to the subject of today’s main post, Claude Elwood Shannon; he was born on this date in 1916.  A mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer, he is, for reasons explained in the article featured above, known as “the father of information theory.”  But he is also remembered for his contributions to digital circuit design theory and for his cryptanalysis work during World War II, both as a codebreaker and as a designer of secure communications systems.

220px-ClaudeShannon_MFO3807 source

 

“It is the nature of humankind to idealize, to indulge in excessive praise as well as unjust condemnation”*…

 

Polarization

 

In 2013, James Evans, a University of Chicago sociologist and computational scientist, launched a study to see if science forged a bridge across the political divide. Did conservatives and liberals at least agree on biology and physics and economics? Short answer: No. “We found more polarization than we expected,” Evans told me recently. People were even more polarized over science than sports teams. At the outset, Evans said, “I was hoping to find that science was like a Switzerland. When we have problems, we can appeal to science as a neutral arbiter to produce a solution, or pathway to a solution. That wasn’t the case at all.”…

Looking at the polarized results, Evans had an idea. What would happen if you put together a group of diverse people to produce information? What would the results look like? Evans knew just the place to conduct the experiment: Wikipedia. Evans and Misha Teplitskiy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, and colleagues, studied 205,000 Wikipedia topics and their associated “talk pages,” where anybody can observe the debates and conversations that go on behind the scenes.

The scholars judged the quality of the articles on Wikipedia’s own assessments. “It’s based on internal quality criteria that is essentially: What do we want a good encyclopedia article to be? We want it to be readable, comprehensive, pitched at the right level, well-sourced, linked to other stuff,” Teplitskiy explained.

In their new Nature Human Behaviour paper, “The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds,” Evans and Teplitskiy concluded that polarization doesn’t poison the wells of information. On the contrary, they showed politically diverse editor teams on Wikipedia put out better entries—articles with higher accuracy or completeness—than uniformly liberal or conservative or moderate teams.

A way to pop filter bubbles? Evans and Teplitsky unpack their surprising– and encouraging– findings: “Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds.”

* Peter Ackroyd, Venice: Pure City

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As we celebrate diversity, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Sir Richard Francis Burton; he was born on this date in 1821.  An explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures (according to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages).

An exception to the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, he relished personal contact with human cultures in all their variety.  His best-remembered achievements include: a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English, after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

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“Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”*…

 

Belgian information activist Paul Otlet (1927)

More than a century ago, Belgian information activist Paul Otlet envisioned a universal compilation of knowledge and the technology to make it globally available. He foresaw, in other words, some of the possibilities of today’s Web.

Otlet’s ideas provide an important pivot point in the history of recording knowledge and making it accessible. In classical times, the best-known example of the knowledge enterprise was the Library of Alexandria. This great repository of knowledge was built in the Egyptian city of Alexandria around 300 BCE by Ptolemy I and was destroyed between 48 BCE and 642 CE, supposedly by one or more fires. The size of its holdings is also open to question, but the biggest number that historians cite is 700,000 papyrus scrolls, equivalent to perhaps 100,000 modern books…

Any hope of compacting all we know today into 100,000 books—or 28 encyclopedic volumes—is long gone. The Library of Congress holds 36 million books and printed materials, and many university libraries also hold millions of books. In 2010, the Google Books Library Project examined the world’s leading library catalogs and databases. The project, which scans hard copy books into digital form, estimated that there are 130 million existing individual titles. By 2013, Google had digitized 20 million of them.

This massive conversion of books to bytes is only a small part of the explosion in digital information. Writing in the Financial Times, Stephen Pritchard notes that humanity generated almost 2 trillion gigabytes of varied data in 2011, an amount projected to double every two years, forming a growing trove of Big Data available on about 1 billion websites… Search engines let us trek some distance into this world, but other approaches can allow us to explore it more efficiently or deeply. A few have sprung up. Wikipedia, for instance, classifies Web content under subject headings…

But there is a bigger question: Can we design an overall approach that would reduce the “static” and allow anyone in the world to rapidly pinpoint and access any desired information? That’s the question Paul Otlet raised and answered—in concept if not in execution. Had he fully succeeded, we might today have a more easily navigable Web.

Otlet, born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1868, was an information science pioneer. In 1895, with lawyer and internationalist Henri La Fontaine, he established the International Institute of Bibliography, which would develop and distribute a universal catalog and classification system. As Boyd Rayward writes in the Journal of Library History, this was “no more and no less than an attempt to obtain bibliographic control over the entire spectrum of recorded knowledge.”…

The remarkable story in full at: “The internet before the internet: Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum.”

* Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

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As we try to comprehend comprehensiveness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the first .com Internet domain, symbolics.com, was registered by Symbolics, a now-defunct Massachusetts computer company.

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Written by LW

March 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both”*…

 

For the past 25 years or so, Carl Malamud’s lonely mission has been to seize on the internet’s potential for spreading information — public information that people have a right to see, hear, and read. “Heroes for me are ones who take risks in pursuit of something they think is good,” says Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and a frequent collaborator of Malamud’s. “He is in that category.”

Indeed, Malamud has had remarkable success and true impact. If you have accessed EDGAR, the free Securities and Exchange Commission database of corporate information, you owe a debt to Malamud. Same with the database of patents, or the opinions of the US Court of Appeals. Without Malamud, the contents of the Federal Register might still cost $1,700 instead of nothing. If you have listened to a podcast, note that it was Carl Malamud who pioneered the idea of radio-like content on internet audio — in 1993. And so on. As much as any human being on the planet, this unassuming-looking proprietor of a one-man nonprofit — a bald, diminutive, bespectacled 57-year-old — has understood and exploited the net (and the power of the printed word, as well) for disseminating information for the public good…

@StevenLevy‘s profile of the man who has led the fight to make public information public: “Carl Malamud Has Standards.”

“If a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law.”

-Justice Stephen Breyer

* President James Madison, 1822

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As we illuminate the “open” signs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1857 that Timothy Alden was granted U.S. Patent No. 18,175 for the design of a typesetting machine, the first such machine that actually operated… though not terrifically trustworthily nor effectively.  Still it spawned a number of competitors– and finally, in 1884, the Linotype machine, which became an industry standard.

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Written by LW

September 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”*…

 

The Annual Library Budget Survey, a global study that queries 686 senior librarians about their budget spending predictions for the year, was published last week by the Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a consultancy wing of Ingenta, the self-described “largest supplier of technology and related services for the publishing industry.” The survey found uneven growth expectations for libraries worldwide…

Check it out at “How Are Libraries Doing Around the World?

* (Groucho Marx’s buddy) T.S. Eliot

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As we keep our voices down, we might send informative birthday greetings to Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS; he was born on this date in 1955.  While working as a Fellow at CERN in 1989, he invented the World Wide Web, developing and demonstrating the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet.  Currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web, he remains a staunch defender of an open Web and the free flow of information.

[On the heels of yesterday’s almanac entry, should “Internet” be capitalized?]

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Written by LW

June 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”*…

 

As of earlier this week, the English-language Wikipedia contains 4,985,975 articles. If these were printed and bound into books — each 25cm tall by 5cm thick, like Britannica — there would be 2,207 volumes, each containing 1,600,000 words…

All of this content is, of course, user-submitted. It is also user-policed: the site requires constant maintenance from a massive pool of unpaid editors, who do things like fix typos, remove instances of vandalism (like de-categorizing George W. Bush as a “sexually-transmitted disease”), and improving the breadth and accuracy of each and every page.

Of Wikipedia’s 26 million registered users, roughly 125,000 (less that 0.5%) are “active” editors. Of these 125,000, only some 12,000 have made more than 50 edits over the past six month. And of these selfless few, one man is king of the domain.

Since joining Wikipedia a decade ago, 32-year-old Justin Anthony Knapp (username “koavf”) has established himself as the the site’s most active contributor of all time. He has made an astonishing 1,485,342 edits (an average of 385 per day), ranging in topic from Taylor Swift to the history of blacksmithing.

What’s life like as Wikipedia’s most prolific editor? And what has compelled this man to dedicate thousands of hours of his time, knowledge, and energy to an online encyclopedia for absolutely no compensation?…

Find out at “The Most Prolific Editor on Wikipedia.”

* Dalai Lama XIV

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As we contribute to the commonweal, we might recall that it was on this date in 1760 that Denis Diderot, Enlightenment paragon and co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie, wrote to his friend Sophie Volland of the very phenomenon that koavf has devoted so much of his life to avoiding…

Diderot transcribed the words of Galiani, who seized the occasion to shine before his audience: “My friends, I recall a fable. Listen to it.” The story tells of a contest between two birds of different species, the cuckoo (supposed to be the representative of method) and the nightingale (the spokesman of genius). Which voice is more beautiful? The dispute is submitted to the ass for judgment. He is lazy and, without investigating the case or listening to the litigants, declares the cuckoo the winner. The story came from an Italian work, the burlesque epic Ricciardetto (1738), by Niccolò Fortiguerri (1674–1735), which Diderot also knew, having recently read it and found cause in it “to weep alternatively from pain and from pleasure.” The ass’s iniquitous judgment in favor of the cuckoo is a perfect example of resorting to antiphrasis: the good response, in a case of this sort, is obviously the contrary of the one given by a bad judge, that is, a judge who does not listen

Diderot

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Written by LW

October 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

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