(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Internet

“The bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding”*…

 

The internet, most everybody agrees, is driving Americans apart, causing most people to hole up in sites geared toward people like them… This view makes sense. After all, the internet gives us a virtually unlimited number of options from which we can consume the news. I can read whatever I want. You can read whatever you want…  And people, if left to their own devices, tend to seek out viewpoints that confirm what they believe. Thus, surely, the internet must be creating extreme political segregation.

There is one problem with this standard view. The data tells us that it is simply not true.

See for yourself at “Maybe the internet isn’t tearing us apart after all.”

* Rem Koolhaas

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As we listen for the pop, we might recall that it was on this ate in 1622 that the Stationers Register recorded (allowed the publication of) the first issue of a news weekly– a series of reports from foreign correspondents, generally considered to have been the first “newspaper” in the English language.

Cover of the second issue (the first issue is lost)

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Written by LW

May 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”*…

 

Jacques Louis David’s The Death of Socrates

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy may be the most interesting website on the internet. Not because of the content—which includes fascinating entries on everything from ambiguity to zombies—but because of the site itself.

Its creators have solved one of the internet’s fundamental problems: How to provide authoritative, rigorously accurate knowledge, at no cost to readers. It’s something the encyclopedia, or SEP, has managed to do for two decades.

The internet is an information landfill. Somewhere in it—buried under piles of opinion, speculation, and misinformation—is virtually all of human knowledge. But sorting through the trash is difficult work. Even when you have something you think is valuable, it often turns out to be a cheap knock-off.

The story of how the SEP is run, and how it came to be, shows that it is possible to create a less trashy internet—or at least a less trashy corner of it. A place where actual knowledge is sorted into a neat, separate pile instead of being thrown into the landfill. Where the world can go to learn everything that we know to be true. Something that would make humans a lot smarter than the internet we have today…

An alternative to crowd-sourced, crowd-funded publishing that’s true to the ideals of the web– and that works:  “This free online encyclopedia has achieved what Wikipedia can only dream of.”

* Benjamin Franklin

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As we rethink querying Quora, we might spare a thought for “The Sage of Baltimore,” Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken; he died on this date in 1956…  The author of The American Language (and many, many other things) is credited with having coined the term “ecdysiast,” in response to a request from a practitioner who requested a “more dignified” way to refer to her profession.

Often called “the American Nietzsche” (by virtue of his scholarship on the German philosopher), Mencken might better have been considered “the American Wilde”; consider:

Democracy is the theory that holds that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Nature abhors a moron.

Puritanism – The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.

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Written by LW

January 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Certainly it constitutes bad news when the people who agree with you are buggier than batshit”*…

 

The NSA’s 2007 internal manual for research on the Internet is, well… mesmerizingly odd.  On it’s way to a Dungeons-and-Dragons-as-reported-by-an-undergraduate-Classics-major-like depiction of life online, it cites Borges, Freud, and Ovid – and that’s just the preface…

The NSA has a well-earned reputation for being one of the tougher agencies to get records out of, making those rare FOIA wins all the sweeter. In the case of Untangling the Web, the agency’s 2007 guide to internet research, the fact that the records in question just so happen to be absolutely insane are just icing on the cake – or as the guide would put it, “the nectar on the ambrosia.”…

More of the backstory at “The NSA’s guide to the internet is the weirdest thing you’ll read today“; browse through the text in its extraordinary entirety here.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?, or more familiarly, who will watch the watchers?)

– Juvenal

* Philip K. Dick

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As we limber up our gaming fingers, we might recall this is an important anniversary in the pre-history of the Internet:  on this date in 1837, Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke patented the electric “Five Needle Telegraph” in London (U.K. No. 7390).  They were subsequently granted a patent in the U.S. 10 days before Samuel Morse received his, but Morse was given priority by the U.S. PTO as the first inventor.  Nonetheless, Wheatstone and Cooke had priority in the U.K.; their system served British railways, press, and law enforcement for decades, first as the service of an independent company, then as a nationalized part of the General Post Office.

Wheatstone (left) and Cooke

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Written by LW

June 10, 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

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”*…

 

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H.G. Well’s The Time Machine is widely credited with having popularized the prospect of time travel (though Edward Page Mitchell”s short story, “The Clock That Ran Backwards” surely deserves a nod).  In fact, the notion of travel into the future dates back to the Mahabharata; and travel into the past, while more modern, to the 18th century (e.g., Samuel Madden’s 1733 novel Memoirs of the Twentieth Century).  The concept flowered in the 19th century– e.g., Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”.  And of course, it has flourished in our time, bot in countless novels and in the newer media of radio, film. and television.

At our post-relativity times, scientists have increasingly taken the concept seriously, looking for theories that might suggest that traversing time might be possible (both backwards and forwards) and investigating claims that time travel has already happened.

So it should come as no surprise that scientists are exploring a new frontier, the internet for evidence, of visitors from another era…

Two researchers from the Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University decided to search the Internet for such evidence and have completed the study, “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers,” submitted on December 26 on ArXiv. Authors Robert Nemiroff, professor of physics, and Teresa Wilson, a PhD candidate, said, “The modern ubiquity” of the Internet lends itself to far-reaching methods to search for time travelers. They said a benefit from their effort, given the great reach of the Internet, is that their search is “the most comprehensive to date”…

Read more at PhysOrg’s “Michigan researchers hunt for Internet remnants from time travelers.”  It’s a fascinating read, though– spoiler alert– none were found.

Still, as Randall Monroe reminds us, we’re all time travelers…

 xkcd

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-01-michigan-internet-remnants.html#jCp

* Albert Einstein

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As we check our watches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1582 that Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland introduced the Gregorian calendar.  While this was “October 5” in the rest of the world, those four countries, adopting Pope Gregory XIII’s innovation, skipped ten days– so that there, the date shifted from October 4 the day before to October 15.  With the shift, the calendar was aligned with the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles used to establish the celebration of Easter.  Britain and its colonies resisted this Popish change, and used the Julian calendar for another century and a half, until September 2, 1752.

From a work published in 1582, the year of the calendar reform; days 5 to 14 October are omitted.

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Written by LW

October 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In economics, the majority is always wrong”*…

 

“Grumpy Cat,” whose image has flown across the internet– and graced the front page of the Wall Street Journal

One may imagine that economics has little bearing on the more frivolous frontiers of everyday life; but in fact it explains why one consumes so much “animal antics” online and so little Shakespearean seriousness…

Economics sometimes has surprising applications. One example is the Alchian-Allen theorem, an observation that came from a footnote in an economics textbook in the 1960s about how quality demand is affected by transport costs…

The Allen-Alchian theorem explains why places with high-quality produce (Allen and Alchian had in mind apples in Seattle, which is where apples come from in the US) nevertheless do not always get to consume that same high quality (they pointed to the market for apples in New York city, where no apples grow) because of the relative costs faced by consumers in each case (for New York consumers, a high-quality apple, once you account for transportation costs, was actually relatively cheaper than a low-quality apple compared to relative prices in Seattle). Hence the market sent the high-quality apples to New York.

You’re still with me? It’s all about relative costs. When you move something, or impose any fixed cost, the higher-quality item always wins, because it now has a lower relative cost compared to the lower-quality item.

The interesting idea is that this also applies in reverse – namely when we remove a fixed cost. The internet does this: it removes a cost of transport, and it does so equally for high quality and low quality content. Following the Allen-Alchian theorem, this should mean the opposite. Low-quality items are now relatively cheaper and high-quality items are now relatively more expensive. This idea was first explained by Tyler Cowen, but the upshot is that the internet is made of cats

The internet lowers the cost of “transport” for every idea, high and low quality alike. It’s the opposite of the apples situation. It means that low quality apples are now relatively cheaper. It means that cats-doing-funny-things is now relatively cheaper than say German Opera. Economics insists that when demand curves look like this we can expect more cat watching, and less German opera watching.

This theorem means that we expect a lower quality, “bittier” consumption to proliferate on the internet (as a technology that lowers transport costs of high-quality and low-quality ideas alike). Which is what we observe. So that’s a win for micro-economic demand theory.

Is this really what’s happened?  Have we all gotten dumber?  Read more– including the arguments, pro and con– at “The internet is made of cats – and you can blame economists“: and read the paper the lays out the “economics of cute” in “The Alchian-Allen Theorem and the Economics of Internet Animals.”

* John Kenneth Galbraith

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As we come to terms with the fact that all our bases are belong to them, we might spare a slightly skewed thought for Giuseppe Arcimboldo; he died on this date in 1593.  An Italian painter best known for creating partraits composed entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books, he is considered a Mannerist… though he might well be the first Surrealist.  He was certainly cited by many– from Dali through Ocampo to Švankmajer– as an influence.

Arcimboldo’s portrait of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

July 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

Phreaking out…

Cover of the Spring 2012 issue of 2600

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In preparation for “treat-ing” tonight’s parade of freaks, one might pause to pay respects to 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, an American publication that specializes in publishing technical information on a variety of subjects including telephone switching systems, Internet protocols and services, as well as general news concerning the computer underground.  The magazine’s moniker comes from the “phreaker” discovery (by John “Cap’n Crunch” Draper and friends in the 1960s) that the transmission of a 2600 hertz tone (which could be produced perfectly with a plastic toy whistle given away free with Cap’n Crunch cereal) over a long-distance trunk connection gained access to “operator mode” and allowed the user to explore aspects of the telephone system that were not otherwise accessible… like free long distance calls.  (The seed money for Apple was in part raised by the two Steves’ sale of “phreaking boxes” designed to do just this.)

2600 has become a journal-of-record for “Grey Hat” hackers– tech explorers concerned to push past the limits inherent to the design of a given technological device or application (as opposed to White Hats, who are ideologically motivated to do good, or Black Hats, who pursue selfish– often illegal– gain).  So its current editorial focus is largely on the web and its devices, increasingly on mobile implementations and application.

But 2600 honors its roots, among other ways, by maintaining a gallery of photos of payphones around the world; for example…

Peshlawar, Pakistan

Moscow, Russia (The payphones only accept one ruble coins, an obsolete denomination)

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As we wax nostalgic, we might send illuminating birthday greetings to Narinder Singh Kapany; he was born on this date in 1926.  While growing up in Dehradun in northern India, a teacher informed him that light only traveled in a straight line.  He took this as a challenge and made the study of light his life work, initially at Imperial College, London.  In January 1954, Nature published his report of successfully transmitting images through fiber bundles– and Dr. Kapany became the father of fiber optics (a name he coined).  Dr. Kapany ultimately migrated to the U.S., where he continued to invent (he holds over 100 patents), taught, started successful companies, and became a philanthropist.  Fortune named him one of seven ‘Unsung Heroes’ in their “Businessmen of the Century” issue (November 22, 1999).  It was, of course, the implementation of Dr. Kapany’s work that rendered “phreaking” moot.

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Happy Halloween!

 from the NY Public Library’s Flickr set of Halloween cards

Written by LW

October 31, 2013 at 1:01 am

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