Two items have caught my eye this week in the ceaselessly crashing waves of information and distraction also known as "being online".

Item the firsta new island has been identified off the coast of Greenland.  A new island?!?  Due, predictably to … (wait for it) … global warming.  Or "global climate change".  Or "the global struggle against our continued existence", or whatever we’re calling it now.  As it’s not possible to turn around recently without more articulation of the interesting times we live in with regard to climate, I’ll leave it at that:  new island.

Item the second: a bi-directional brain<->computer interface intended to (someday) serve as artificial memory. This is research in progress at USC, but has already achieved the ability to simulate 12,000 neurons and interact with real brain cells.  You need to read through the popular science hype like "reducing memory loss to nothing more than a computer glitch", but there’s some cool potential there.

I found the difference in my reaction to these stories interesting, as well.  With regard to the first, my reaction is along the lines of "oh, #$!^%", and "we’re totally screwed".  While I’m mostly not what I would call an emotional environmentalist, from a pragmatic point of view I’ve long thought our modern growth-driven world fails to understand and appropriately respect the complexity and interdependence of environmental systems.  Our inputs to the world’s systems (internal combustion, population growth, agriculture, etc.) have impacts that are both unpredictable and leveraged, and then before we know it, we’re staring at melting ice caps and waiting for submarine Miami.

Brain-computer interfaces, on the other hand, excite me a great deal.  With all due respect to those who differ in this regard, I’m not personally persuaded by literal interpretations of various mythologies of the origin or purpose of life.  I don’t think there is anything categorically off-limits about us working to modify our brains, or to use technology to enhance and extend our cognitive capabilities.

In fact, I’d argue strongly that we already have and depend on such enhancements and extensions (I just need this very low-bandwidth keyboard/screen interface and a few D/A converters to access my supplemental memories).  I think it’s theoretically difficult to identify a big bright line that separates the current state of our technological enhancement to human thought from a more capable, faster, wetter one we may have in the form of mid-21st century brain implants.

Of particular interest, I thought, was the mechanical focus of the USC researchers.  With regard to the not-yet-understood aspects of human cognition and consciousness and the impact such unknowns might have on his work, the lead researcher remarks: "A repairman doesn’t need to understand music to fix your broken CD player".

I like that approach.  It makes sense, and it’s an interesting avenue of approach to take towards a subject of such massive complexity as the brain, in that it doesn’t depend on an understanding of internal semantics, but rather just the observable mechanics.

On the other hand, part of me does wonder what the melting-ice-cap of brain implants we might be fretting about in the early 22nd century.


Miscellaneous trappings of my morning spent reading RSS feeds:

  • As I recently tweeted, twitter is everywhere in this weekend’s news.  I think I literally saw over a dozen references as I scanned my feeds this morning.  In my experience, the site is still having rather frequent and severe performance/availability problems, and I’m only tentatively sold on the notion, but I’m getting kinda into it.  In particular, I think its opportunity to provide super-lightweight transport-flexible connectivity could unlock all kinds of creative uses for ubiquitous connectivity.  If that is indeed the direction this goes, we’ve just scratched the surface of the mash-ups and other sorts of info-feed integrations twitter should enable.  Things like geotwitter are neat novelties, but aren’t going to change my daily habits, which seems to me to be the definition of this being The Next Big Thing that’s been predicted.  The meta-view of twitterverse is interesting (as mappr is to flickr or zeitgeist is to google), but again amounts to little more than another gee-whiz shiny thing on the intarweb.  Crassly commercial as it may be, twitter/woot strikes me as a closer example of how twitter could become the centerpiece of a new information ecosystem.
  • Social networking is trending to eclipse pr0n in as %age of Internet "site visits" (details here if you have an Economist subscription).  As pointed out in this commentary, though, lots of social networking is used for sex…
  • Microsoft apparently continues the "open source infringes patents" form of FUD.  Honestly, I’ve largely stopped paying attention.
  • Google history is offering to track all of your browsing for you.  Erm, I think I’ll pass for now.  I think both their reasons for wanting to do this and my hesitation to let them do it are fairly obvious on the surface.  Ironically, it’s mostly the the ability of google search to pretty reliably conjure up whatever old link I might want that makes this service feel like an unnecessary intrusion.
  • Speaking of google, they’ve apparently acquired their way into the online meeting space.  I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming the possibility of a google-quality WebEx alternative.  No linux version at the moment, unfortunately…
  • As a token earth day nod, I’ll pass along Make magazine’s link to New Scientist’s coverage of a working prototype of a desktop printer modified to print circuits!  This is potentially really exciting — I’ve started to do the homework to make custom PCBs at home, and the traditional techniques look both relatively cumbersome and very nasty, from a materials-required point of view.

It’s an absolutely beautiful day here, so I think I’ll go AFK for a bit and enjoy the fresh air with my family.


I haven’t yet checked this out, but Rudy Rucker has a new webzine. Certainly some of you are fellow Rucker fans (hey, Eric!) and will want to give it a perusal.


Alaska’s Republican senator Ted Stevens got all technical in the course of discussing net neutrality on the floor of the senate a couple of weeks ago. The original text of his hooey is an amusing read, but the techno remix is even more fun.

(via William Gibson)


We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar attempts to parse statements of emotion out of blog posts and assembles them into interesting interactive presentations. The applet isn’t perfect – a few areas seem kinda buggy – but it’s a very neat concept, and worth playing with a bit.

(Via coolhunting.)


Forget about keyboards, mice, and awkward metaphors obstructing the path between you and your application. This multi-touch user interface was demoed today at O’Reilly‘s Emerging Technology conference in San Diego, and has generated well deserved buzz all day long (more here and here). I will not be able to explain as clearly as the video does, so just watch it.

This is very exciting. I’m a good typist and a big fan of the command line, but this feels like a sea change in user interface technology that could expose entirely new possibilities.



Apple‘s design aesthetic – as manifest in industrial design, software usability, or GUI look and feel – is notably unique and, most would agree, “prettier” than that which otherwise prevails in the computer and consumer electronics industry. Their product packaging is similarly attractive, as evidenced by the new MacBook Pro box.

Personally, I appreciate the pretty, but I’m much more interested in what’s inside the box (mmmm… MacBook Pro…). As such, I’ve never given much thought to specifically what makes the Apple aesthetic feel superior. This video demonstrating the hypothetical treatment of the iPod packaging by the Microsoft marketing group does a great job laying out the differences. A worthwhile view.

(While you’re watching videos, check out the real-life fight club.)



The hackaday / make / street tech world has covered a lot of neat “persistence of vision” things lately. Basically, these involve a microcontroller that controls LEDs to light in a particular pattern such that as the device is waved around (or, in some variatinos, the shoe or bike wheel to which it’s attached moves) a perceptible image – usually text – is created. [Update: some more really cool bike-wheel PoV displays are here.]

New Scientist reports that researchers in Japan have taken this a big step further:

The display utilises an ionisation effect which occurs when a beam of laser light is focused to a point in air. The laser beam itself is invisible to the human eye but, if the intensity of the laser pulse exceeds a threshold, the air breaks down into glowing plasma that emits visible light.

The required intensity can only be achieved by very short, powerful laser pulses – each plasma dot, or “flashpoint”, lasts for only about a nanosecond. But the resulting image appears to last longer due to persistence of vision. As with film and television, the impression of a continuous image is maintained by refreshing the flashpoints.

The neat-o factor here is considerable, and there are certainly some cool human-friendly applications of something like this to be discovered. On the other hand, the article starts: “The night sky could soon be lit up with gigantic three-dimensional adverts…“. Oh, great.

(via smartmobs)

if there is any justice, Herb Powell is owed royalties

 miscellany, tech  Comments Off on if there is any justice, Herb Powell is owed royalties
Feb 032006

The “Why Cry Baby” crying baby analyzer is mentioned in Salon’s piece on insanely mega-yuppie new parent nutjobs, via Babygadget.

I love kids, gadgets, kids with gadgets, and gadgets for kids. I’ll confess, I did imagine trying to prototype something like this when the little guy was really little. But come on… this needs feedback and some sort of training mechanism to really work…. 😉 [well, at least to be interesting… this thing doesn’t even have a USB interface!].


Google’s new “mobilizer” application, found here, presents a clutter-free version of any URL you give it. The idea is to make sites more viewable on mobile devices, and it looks promising.

To test, I grabbed the last page I could recall that had been really impossible to usefully access from my treo. I’ve just this week ended an epic support issue with my local telco (TDS Metrocom) — the long story short: I called on Dec 29 2005 to report that the access panel outside my house had no dial tone on one of my lines, and after countless calls on my part and failed promises on theirs, finally had a working line on Jan 16, 2006. In the early part of that time (before I’d basically given up any hope of timely resolution), I found myself out on a Saturday adventure with the family, but wanting to call their tech support for an update. After about 15 minutes, I gave up trying to get their tech support phone number from their website via my phone.

Without a doubt, this sort of inaccessibility severely indicts the design quality of the target website. Regardless, it’s hardly uncommon. So, back to the subject at hand: how would my attempt have faired with google mobilizer?

via mobilizer native
main page: 0.47KB 21.98KB
forms: 1 1
links: 21 49
images: 12 20

Obviously this doesn’t solve all of the potential problems one encounters on a limited browser platform — for example, I’m not sure that the phone number I needed is actually on their website. Still, the improvement is marked, and at worst this would’ve let me give up and get back to watching trains with my toddler more quickly.

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