Archived entries for tech

To the Comic Book Publishers of the World,
An Open Letter

I want to give you money.

I like your products.

But, your medium is inherently flawed. Being a lifetime collector of comic books is a dangerous course of action. You end up with whole tracks of your house taken over by longboxes, stacks of unsorted singles, bookshelves full of trades. And the longer you’re a fan, the more you collect, so the mass swells to mammoth proportions. I know people who rent houses. Whole fucking houses, mind you, to store their metastasizing collections.

In an era when we’re attempting to go green, this is an untenable state of affairs. God only knows how many trees are being felled so Billy can have his next issue of SUPERHERO SPANDEX FETISH ACTION DELUXE. I think it is time that the industry looses their attachment to paper products, and starts to embrace the pixel products.

So here’s the deal, comic publishers, I’m willing to give you money for your products in a digital form. Not to even own, mind you, to borrow. Think of it as a Netflix for comics. Charge me a monthly fee, I’m fine with that. Tier off your archives, so I have to pay more to read archives of older books, I’m fine with that. But, you’ve ignored this business opportunity for too damn long. I want you, either together or separately, to get off your collective asses and join the 21st Century and the digital revolution.

Here are a few general ideas to get your noggins rolling.

-Marvel. I know you’ve got this digital comic thing going already. But, here’s the deal, it fucking sucks. You’re trying to short your digital subscribers by holding back on the hot, on-the-shelf, titles and giving them spotty coverage on back issues. For God’s sake, I don’t even know why, but you were hyping Civil War #3 today on your website as a new comic. That book came out THREE YEARS AGO. When I can, with a few clicks, some loose morals and a bit of patience download EVERY COMIC YOU HAVE EVER PRINTED, having a digital service that is this bad almost criminal on your part.

-DC. Admitting that the Internet exists might be a good idea. Marvel’s got you beat across the board here. And with the level of complexity and crossing-over that your stories have, offering me a digital package of all BLACKEST NIGHT books (something like 80 books over 10 months) would save me and you a hell of a lot of pain in tracking them all down.

-Dark Horse. I know you deal in a lot of movie properties, so this could be weird for you, but there’s no reason you couldn’t let me read all of Hellboy in a digital format for $20.

-MP3 downloads come with vinyl records at Best Buy. Why don’t digital versions of comics come with trades? It’ll give you another reason to shrink-wrap the trades and keep those wankers at Barnes and Noble from reading them all.

-The basic model should be something like this: A base rate that lets me read all of your new books for, say, the month of their release. Maybe delay them two weeks to keep your brick and mortar stores happy. I can live with that. From their you start tiering up. For another few bucks, I get access to all books from the last year. For a few more, I get access to all books from the last five. Give me the option to read a few trades a month, and then charge me once I hit my limit. Finally, the big package should include access to all of your archives. And I know you have them. If the nerds out there have them, you have them. And if you don’t have them, you’d damn well better get on having them otherwise you’ll loose your history forever.

-Next year, we’ll start seeing the rollout of the big tablet devices. Tabloid-ished sized devices from Apple and a few of the PC manufacturers. I imagine at some point there will even be on running Google’s Chrome OS. The point being is that these devices are perfect delivery methods for your digital content. Sure, I love holding a comic book in my hand and turning the page, but these devices are going to get close to that without cutting down tree.

-I don’t want to hear that any part of this is hard. I know that what ever program you are using to print your books can spit out a PDF. All you need to do then is find a DRM partner and build a system that lets me stream those PDFs. Take a look at services like Issuu. Things like that were made for digital comics.

-If you want me to put a dollar amount on what I’d be willing to pay for a top-level subscription to just Marvel, then how about this: I was paying ~$100/month for hard copy books. I’d be willing to pay $60/month for the full blown archive subscription. You could even put the ads in the books, I’d be fine with that. And if that doesn’t make you stop and think, then you’re out of your mind. Cutting out the paper middleman would probably save you at least 70% on production costs and distribution alone.

There is a great line in SportsNight, an early TV show from Aaron Sorkin. It is toward the end of the show when the characters don’t know if their fictional sports show is going to be picked up or not. A character appears who says “Some one who can’t make money with SportsNight shouldn’t be in the business of making money.” It was, of course, a fuck-you to the network that was canceling them, but it holds true as a mantra. You comic publishers are leaving gobs of money on the table here, now get off your ass and grab it before I do something else with it.

Your truly,
//–Zachary Whitten

Originally, hypertext wasn’t the base-line code of the Internet. It was a theoretical construct for containing and organizing information. It worked like this:

You read the sentence “The boy played with the dog.” Now, each part of that sentence gets broken down.

-The Boy
-Played
-With
-The Dog

Each of those sections in-turn leads to either more specific information up or down a never-ending pyramid of information. If you go up it, the pyramid narrows and becomes more specific. If you go down it, the pyramid broadens, giving you more general information.

In hypertext, going up the pyramid via “the boy” would lead you to specific information about the boy. Biographic information, interests, activities, relationships. And every individual piece of each of those chunks of information also had an infinite pyramid attached to them. Going down the pyramid would lead you to information about what a boy is, about his species, his world, his genetics, and the cosmos around him.

Hypertext was an attempt to render information in such a way that everything was understood. Every piece of knowledge, however minute, was available to the reader to be able to fully comprehend what they were reading.

It is heady stuff to think about, and ultimately impossible to achieve. Wikipedia is about as close as you can get to a realistic implementation of the system, and even they know better than to hyperlink everything. They cherry pick the bits that matter, and hope you understand the rest.

(Which is good, and bad. The M-Theory entries are still completely obtuse for me.)

My interest in this is transforming MAGICTOWN into a bit of a hypertext concept site.

In novels, you move backwards and forwards through foreshadowing and reference. Reference something in the past to remind the audience, or tease mystery. Foreshadow to make the reader think about what could happen in the future.

Now, what if I gave you the ability to immediately go backwards and forwards to those events? It would work like this. I’d start with the jQuery.ScrollTo script. Basically, it hides a huge field of information in a relatively small window. By clicking controllers, you move the background around behind the window. Sort of like looking a newspaper on microfiche. Hit the link if you need a visual.

What I would do is put each chapter of the novel as a entry on the huge background, with referential elements tagged in red or blue. Click red and you go to something forward in the novel. Click blue, and you go back to something earlier. But the page isn’t re-loading. Every page of the novel is contained behind this sliding, moving frame.

Ostensibly, it would be a terrible way to read a novel. But, from an experimental information design stand-point, it would be an interesting way to treat the relative elements in a narrative. The viewer would have to restrain themselves from spoiling the story. And since the page isn’t reloading, taking a step, either backwards or forwards, doesn’t have a back option. There aren’t controllers to step back to your previous location.

Hell, in writing this little bit now, I’m wondering about the potential for building a choose-your-own-adventure style engine with this. Hell, you could build the whole damn thing out of WordPress and do an exquisite-corpse style narrative.

Things to think about, thoughts to have, at the very least.

I’ve been pestering my more technical and user experience oriented friends about this idea for the past few weeks. And now I’m rolling it out, conceptually, at least, for you vultures to pick apart and carry off bits as you see fit.

It works like this.

Cellphones are getting more and more intertwined with GPS devices. With the compass in the new iPhone and Android phones, the bloody things can now not only tell you where you are, but what you are looking at, and give you information on what ever it is you happen to be looking at. This is the foundation for what people are calling augmented reality. Basically, you take our normal perception of reality, and then you overlay some kind of heads up display that tells you things you want to know. Like say you were standing in Time’s Square. You could look around through whatever method of delivery you have (cellphones in this day and age, probably contacts or glasses later) and be given information. Look uptown and you could be told via an on screen pop-up where the nearest subway station is, or what tourist things are that way. Look at the TKTS booth in the center of the square and you could be give a list of available tickets, prices and estimated wait times in line. Look over at the Virgin Megastore and you’ll be given the daily deals and event information. Look at the Naked Cowboy and you’ll be given a bio and a link to his iTunes store (if you can stand looking at him long enough for all that to load). Have a basic idea of what I’m talking about? Good.

Now, we’re going to completely side step the weird implications of this electronic, consensual information hallucination and talk about some of the other uses for this kind of tech.

Specifically, I want to build an AR Pinboard.

You know those pinboards they have at coffee shops? With want ads, flyers, community events, art, and other weirdness just tossed up there with a push pin? Those things have always fascinated me. They are this perfect little microcosm of local interests targeting local people. The entire thing is geo-centric marketing to the locals in that coffee shop. And I want it to make a beautiful little e-baby with AR.

Say I am a tourist to Memphis, TN. I’d probably visit Beale Street at some point, it is sort of the nexus of everything that’s happened in the city. At some point, everyone ends up down there, stories get written about it, songs get sung, pictures get taken, history gets made. And I want a virtual pinboard of all of this. I want you to be able to go to Beale Street, pop open you AR-capable data device and have it pick up on dozens of “pins”. Say I get a story idea while standing at the corner of Beale and Third, I’d pop a pin down there using my AR device, and attach the story to it. Or if my friend Brandon took a whole series of photographs in A Schwab, he could toss a pin down there and link it to the pictures on his website. Did amazing group of blues musicians play an impromptu set at WC Handy Park and you happened to be there to record it? Put down a pin and stick the video on it.

Places would start to build up a geocentric AR history as people shared their lives, ideas and creations across these pins. The historical placard would be a thing of the past, an AR pin in its place would be able to provide you with so much more information. Places would become important again, we’d have a reason to leave our monitors, we’d have a reason to go exploring again.

PS: If anyone thinks they can actually build this, I’ll gladly help out.

500x_netneut_01

What you are looking at here is a mock-up of a payment plan for Internet use if Net Neutrality fails. ISPs will be able to make individual deals with websites and charge for access to the most popular ones. The go-anywhere, do-anything Internet we have now will cease to exist overnight. If the thought of bandwidth capping and limiting transfer rates worried you, then the loss of NN should make you piss yourself in fear.

For those that aren’t aware, here’s a short primer on NN:

Right now, your ISP delivers access to all internet sites equally, or at least they are supposed to – Comcast and a few others are getting sued over some limiters they’ve implemented, but anyway. If Comcast is my ISP, then they’ll deliver my request to, say, ATT just as fast as they would to their own website. The ISP shows neutrality toward all connections their customers request. But, if they didn’t do this, then they could cherry pick what content they allowed through. For example if Microsoft were to buy an ISP, they could then block all access to any Apple-favored websites. Hell, they could probably just pay Comcast to do it. The content you receive over your ISP’s connection would be at their discretion, not yours.

Currently, the Obama administration and the FCC are trying to preserve NN, but the Republicans are doing everything they can to throw a monkey wrench into it. John McCain, that bastion of technological advancement, has introduced a bill called the Internet Freedom Act that would block the FCC from declaring NN as de jure law instead of de facto policy. Should I mention that McCain’s campaign is the single largest recipient of telecom money in political history? And that the telecom companies stand to make billions if this goes through?

If you want to support continued Net Neutrality, SaveTheInternet.com has all the information you need.

Graphic from Gizmodo.

digitalfire4

This is a monument to the fallen Russian soldiers of World War 2. It is just out side of Cherkassy, in the Ukraine – which is actually no longer part of Mother Russia. She hold her arm out to stop aggressors and carries an eternal flame in remembrance of the dead. Well, at least she did. Remember all of the furor last winter about Russian natural gas exports to Europe? And how Russia turned them off until the Ukraine agreed to cough up the money they owed for leasing the Russian pipeline? Well, guess what was a casualty of all of that. The Cherkassy eternal flame.

At least, that was the case until a few months ago. A local telecom group was looking for a place to put a new cell tower, and they stumbled upon a golden opportunity with the Cherkassy monument. They would replace an actual flame with a digital flame.

digitalfire6 digitalfire7

The fifteen foot tall cell tower is covered in LEDs that imitate the dancing of a real eternal flame. The cost for upkeep is paid entirely by the telecom company, who have made a point to tout the green-friendly nature of LED fire over gas fire.

Welcome to the future. Anything we can replace with something digital and plastic – we will.

(Oh and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think some one wants to put a cell tower on the Statue of Liberty – they already lease out Mt Rushmore for it.)

This is terribly rough, and not thought out very completely. But, I want to get it out of my head so I can move on to the finer details of Wave. There’s a lot here. And even more potential.

Here are my rough notes so far.

-Does everything, good at nothing.

There are faster and better ways to do the things Wave lets you do. Pictures? Picasa and Flickr. Email? Gmail or your own whatever mail. Chatting? Any mash-up program like Aduim or Trillian will work fine. But, these are all disparate programs. The real potential in Wave is the ability to mix everything together in one pot and see what comes out.

Plus, the Playback thing is just plain awesome.

-with:public broke my head.

I’m a huge fan of watching the Internet zeitgeist work its magic. The LiveJournal imagestream, things like PingWire and Twittervision are my go-to places when I need ideas, want to defrag, or just want to find out what’s hidden in the static. With:public is this. But, you know, times a billion. Imagine the world as one giant real-time bump sorted message board and you get what with:public is.

-I squee’d so hard I almost pee’d

I was playing around with Wave with a friend, and I saw a message block pop up beneath mine with her name next to a cursor. Then I watched the cursor start typing. Then I WATCHED IT BACKSPACE AS SHE REACTED TO MY REAL-TIME REPLY. I made a noise so loud it was heard across the office.

-Beta? Try late revision alpha.

Wave is busted as fuck, unoptimized as fuck, and desolate as fuck right now.

Lots of Google Wave doesn’t work at all right now. The to make a Wave public, you have to add the public contact. Except that public contact isn’t a real person, so you have to trick the system to add it. The spelling correction works…maybe…sometimes…if it feels like it. There are lots of things that should be button or menu based that just aren’t yet. Like the with:public thing. I’m sure the edges will get smoothed down, but right now it is sort of a pain to use.

This isn’t helped by the fact that Wave is a huge resource hog if you’ve got it open in a browser. I’m sure this will also get smoothed out. It also makes me kind of want a stand-alone app so I can tab over it from my web browser, instead of tabbing inside of another program.

Finally, Wave is pretty barren right now. And way penis heavy. Most of the users are male nerds. Things will get better as more people get involved, but right now the user base is still stumbling in the dark, trying to feel out the edges of the thing.

-Where this is all going to go

Besides the advertised collaborative, social networking and game bits, Wave will start to supplant other things. Here are a few I can think of off the top of my head:

-Craigslist. You’re dead once Wave gets regional tagging working.
-Message boards. Expect there to by massive, unwieldily Waves for place like 4Chan and Something Awful.
-Huge games. With the graphics engine that can be built into this, expect this to be like the re-birth of MUDs, crossed with the Mafia games, except have them look decent and probably have some kind of AI brain to play against.
-MP3 Waves. Imagine HypeClub as a Wave. With the songs in the Wave. I’ve just blown your mind.

I’ll have more as I play with it.

Google has removed the main page of www.thepiratebay.org from their search index after a DMCA complaint.

If you search “thepiratebay.org” this what you’ll see at the bottom of the page:

In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 8 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org.

There’s a mix of fear and sad humor in this for me. Fear at what things like this mean for the future of impartiality in search results and information access. Sad humor that some one actually believes this is going to make a damn bit of difference. Sure, you wont get www.thepiratebay.org to pop up in the search now, but Google still returns www.thepiratebay.org/browse as the top result. And for anyone who’s ever used The Pirate Bay (for perfectly legal reason, I’m sure) knows that the browse page is what you want anyway.

Here’s the thing about piracy and torrents sites – the people and the material they supply are like mercury. Sure, you can press down on one clump of it, but you’re just going to end up spreading it around until it re-pools somewhere else. A dead Pirate Bay just means more traffic for places like Mininova and h33t. And if you kill them, more will pop up to replace them. And even if you can kill all of the torrent sites, you’ve got thousands of darknets, all of Usenet, and free file hosting services like Mediafire and Rapidshare. The DMCA was hamfisted and missed the point a decade ago when it was penned, and it hasn’t gotten any smarter or more in-tune with reality since then.

From The Register:

An American “Reaper” flying hunter-killer robot assassin rebelled against its human controllers above Afghanistan on Sunday, and a manned US fighter jet was forced to shoot the rogue machine down before it unilaterally invaded a neighbouring country.

The Reaper, aka MQ-9 or Predator-B, is a large five-ton turboprop powered machine able to carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles – each capable of destroying a tank or flattening a building. It is used by the US and British forces above Afghanistan as a “persistent hunter-killer against emerging targets”.

According to USAFCENT Public Affairs:

The aircraft was flying a combat mission when positive control of the MQ-9 was lost. When the aircraft remained on a course that would depart Afghanistan’s airspace, a US Air Force manned aircraft took proactive measures to down the Reaper in a remote area of northern Afghanistan.The statement goes on to say that the errant killdroid “impacted the side of a mountain” and that there “were no reports of civilian injuries”.

And then William Gibson’s perfectly timed and executed snark-tweet:

GreatDismal That Reaper drone went rogue because it had heard of a wedding party in the adjacent country. They have a taste, now.

The Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. The essence of what is happening right fucking now. Before, the zeitgeist was something slow that you could rough out before it was gone. Now it is lightning striking a lake of gasoline, all evidence blown away before you had any idea it was happening in the first place.

While the web has sped up the zeitgeist considerably, it has also given us new ways to track it. Here are a few of my favorite ways to let the zeitgeist wash over me.

My oldest, and still favorite way to track it is the LiveJournal Image Stream. The 50 most recent images posted to LiveJournal on a page you manually refresh. Most of LiveJournal belongs to the old Warsaw Bloc these days, but when something happens of world-wide importance you can watch all of the images line up. When Benazir Bhutto was shot, I knew before CNN lead with the story because of this.

Twitter is also really useful in keeping track of this sort of stuff, too. My two favorite bits are visualizers that show you what’s going on through Twitter.

Twittervision is a Google Maps/Twitter mashup that shows you where each tweet is coming from. I’ve shown this to a bunch of people and it never fails to impress.

Pingwire is a live stream of all the images being posted to the free Twitter image hosts. Leave it on for a few minutes and come back, you’ll be amazed at what people are taking pictures of. (You’ll also learn that if some one is going to take one naked/half-naked picture of themselves, they are going to take several.)

Lastly, we turn to the omnibeast Google. Google’s trending hot topics. The top 100 search strings for the US that day. It is both horrifying and enlightening at the same time.

Kerry and I were talking about what would happen to Twitter if Facebook ever got around to externalizing their status updates into something more Twitter-like the other day.

And, low and behold, I wake up this morning and the Social Media world has lost their shit because they’ve done just that.

Mashable’s got the main coverage of what’s happening. The break down goes something like this: a bunch of people (thousands at least, maybe hundreds of thousands) get email invitations to beta test something called Facebook LITE. Turns out the invites were a glitch in the system and weren’t supposed to go out. However, there actually is a Facebook LITE beta going on right now in India. It is pretty much what you think it would be. Status updates with a bit of threading in the responses. Again, Mashable’s got pictures.

Near as people can tell, it is a direct shot at Twitter, but it looks to be aimed at a knee cap and not the head. It is different enough from Twitter that Facebook people will be comfortable with it, but near enough to Twitter’s functionality to take over their real-time social media domination. My guess is that Facebook LITE will be an external service you can sign up for, but stay out of the crap that is regular Facebook. I’m sure they’ll roll regular Facebook users into Facebook LITE as soon as the system is up in this part of the world.

In the first pass at Facebook LITE, I can tell you flat out that Twitter waited too long to do something with their $3om in venture capital. Sure, they may own the brand space right now, but Tribe.net owned social networking a decade ago, and who the fuck knows who they are now? Twitter is filled with useless information, spammers and people who only tweet once and then leave. Facebook is the exact opposite. They’ve got some of the most stringent and active anti-spam policies of any social network on the web. A real-time Twitter-like service with real people giving out real information that ACTUALLY MAKES MONEY will be the first nail in Twitter’s coffin.

The Horribly Brain Breaking Question:

If you are born into a state of augmented reality, does that augmented reality become reality? And if so, what does augmented augmented reality look like?

The Drunken Stumble of Thoughts to Get There:

Effectively, we’re already living in an augmented reality in comparison to things that don’t have as broad of a range of senses as we do. We live in an augmented reality compared to dogs. Bees live in an augmented reality compared to us.

Now, what if you added a bit of tech to the human biology. Say, a self-replicating nano device that was a genetic Internet connection. GPS, connectivity to the group thought, ocular content browsing, location based data sources, all of that shit that is part of what we’re theorizing augmented reality to look like. The first generation to have something like this could honestly call their existence an augmented reality. But, what about their children?

They come out of the womb and their reality is already augmented, so the baseline is moved up and it opens up the question as to whether or not you can legitimately call it augmented still.

Then, what the hell do these people do to push their reality even farther? Make what they’re perceiving real instead of illusory?

Ah, Jesus, what the hell would that even mean?

Realtime reassembling of reality to match the group consciousness?

Is the increase in the speed of data transmission and processing really doing anything more than accelerating the trip to impermanence?

Ah, good morning, good morning. Time to kill your faith in the world a bit more.

So, you’re all familiar with Rupert Murdoch, yes? That near-mummified Australian who controls more media in the world than just about anyone else? And how he has a penchant for twisting news to one side or the other for monetary gain?

Well, it looks like the crusty old kangaroo spore has outdone himself.

This broke yesterday:

LONDON, July 9 (Reuters) – Britain’s most senior policeman ordered an inquiry on Thursday into reports that journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s bestselling British newspaper conspired to hack into the phones of celebrities, legislators and public figures.

London police chief Paul Stephenson said a senior officer will investigate allegations in the Guardian newspaper that News of the World reporters worked with private investigators to access “two or three thousand” private mobile phones.

A…wait, what?

Former British deputy prime minister John Prescott, U.S. actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Australian model Elle Macpherson were among those targeted by reporters seeking exclusive stories for the tabloid, according to the report.

Elle Macpherson? She’s a retired model. What the hell were you looking for with her? The most extreme thing she does is drop her kids off at school on her driver’s off day.

The Guardian said private investigators working for the News of the World intercepted voicemail messages and gained access to personal data such as itemised phone bills and bank statements.

…..

“This included material that showed that 31 journalists working for The News of the World and The Sun had acquired people’s personal information through ‘blagging’,” the Assistant Information Commissioner Mick Gorrill said in a statement.

“Blagging” is a form of deception where a person pretends to be someone else in an attempt to obtain information from sources such banks or telephone companies, the watchdog said.

Blagging is a terrible world. Phishing or Social Engineering is what we call it on this side of the pond, you tea-swilling crumpets.

But, that’s just the overview from Reuters. The Guardian’s got even more dirt to spill. They’ve some how gotten a hold of legal documents that were sealed after the head of a football team sued News International for illegally accessing his cellphone. The man was paid to keep his yap shut, and the documents were sealed, even the police reports that showed the full extent of the phishing scheme. The bizarre and tantalizing part about this is that none of the police agencies decided to pursue action against News International staff, even after the scope of all of this was revealed. It’s as if the biggest new corruption case in the history of their agencies just wasn’t enough to get them up. I mean, it wasn’t like they had all of the paper work from the private investigator News International was hiring to do all of this, right?

Oh, wait.

In suppressing Taylor’s legal action, News Group buried not only the Scotland Yard evidence but also paperwork that had been seized by the Information Commission from a Hampshire private investigator, Steve Whittamore, who had been running a network of sources who specialised in the illegal extraction of information from police computers, British Telecom, the DVLA, Inland Revenue and others. Whittamore subsequently pleaded guilty to criminal offences, although the newspapers who hired him were never prosecuted.

Shit.

It’s those documents that the Guardian got their hands on. Among them is a full laundry list of what Whittamore was doing. You know, stuff like….

Among those whose privacy apparently was illegally violated when British Telecom was conned into handing over their addresses and/or ex-directory numbers are Nigella Lawson (four times); Patsy Kensit; Jude Law and Sadie Frost; Lisa Snowdon (three times); Anne Robinson and her former partner; Carol Caplin; Lenny Henry; Vanessa Feltz; Lord Mountbatten’s grandson; and witnesses to the murder of Jill Dando, thus potentially interfering with the course of a live police inquiry.

When the actress Charlotte Coleman died after an asthma attack, the News of the World paid for BT to be conned into handing over the itemised Friends and Family list from her bereaved parents’ phone bill. When the TV presenter Linda Barker moved house, they hired Whittamore to get her new home address from the supposedly confidential social security database.

Working on instructions from the News of the World, Whittamore and his network also conned the criminal records database of the police, which is a specific criminal offence; the Inland Revenue, also a specific criminal offence; a cab company used by Ken Livingstone; a Paris hotel used by Jason Donovan; the actors union, Equity, for the addresses of actors; Granada TV, for information on a Coronation Street actor; and on numerous occasions the DVLA for the home details of people whose car numbers they had spotted.

Oh, Fourth Estate, look at you. You’ve grown up so much. Back when you started out, you were this muck raking hellion, determined to shine the light of truth into the darkest corners of The System and save the working poor from the injustices of corruption. Now you’re all big and tall, chasing people around with telephoto lenses on your cameras and tapping their phones with sophisticated listening devices. You keep it up at this rate, and the world’ll never need another Secret Police. Won’t that make your mommy, proud?

Ehrrr. Ahem. Anyway.

One might wonder in what diseased brain any of this sounds like a good idea in the first place. This is fraud on a base level, right? Well, not so much in England. Turns out gaining access to people’s information through subterfuge in England is COMPLETELY FUCKING LEGAL provided the end result is “for the public good.” That’s right. In England, I can go rooting through all of your personal information provided at some point I turn up some kind of criminal activity on your part.

So, quick round up before I let you get back on with your day, now feeling a bit more paranoid and shitty.

News International owns newspapers in England. Said newspapers hire private investigator to gain access to privileged information. News International gets caught, but with a wise legal play, manages to seal the records and give justice the middle finger. Law enforcement agencies in England, who have apparently gone soft now that the IRA is nothing more than a bunch of doddering old Irish drunkards in Belfast, can’t be assed to actually prosecuted the case that is handed to them and only the PI goes to jail (Don’t worry, he got money for News International to stay quiet). Jump forward a few months and some how the Guardian gets their hands on the court papers and proceeds to publicly flay News International. Now we sit back, get some pop corn, pour some whiskey and watch English news agencies rip each other’s bits off.

EDIT: Fixed a few inconsistencies with my use of News Corp’s subsidiary companies.

I woke up this morning and found the Internet was running around banging its head into walls again. Great, I thought, either another celebrity died or Apple’s released a new phone. Or maybe both. Maybe Steven Jobs died and resurrected himself as the True Jesus Phone.

Thankfully, it turned out to be none of that. Google released a short, but tantalizing statement about their new OS, named uncreatively enough, Google Chrome OS. In the press release, Google promises an OS targeted toward netbooks, but scalable up to desktop PCs, with a boot time measured in seconds, not minutes and the best part? It’ll be totally free.

My friends and I are already visibly turgid over Google’s last announcement, Google Wave. I plan on shoving all of my writing over to Waves where people will be able to edit and provide critiques. No more need for stupid Facebook invites to events, either. Just start a Wave for an event and send it out to everyone. That’s not even getting into the options for gaming and creative group projects.

But, when you combine the ideas in my head from Google Wave with a 3lb netbook with a 6+ hour battery life for less than $500, you change my fucking life. In a good way. This is something to be watched.

Oh, as an aside, there was a line in the press release:

They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.

That got me thinking about a video I saw a few years back that talked about Google basically taking over the world in a benevolent way with user-specific data. After about thirty minutes of digging, I found the video. This version is shit for quality, but you can find the original here.

Now, I want you to think about what you watched and how spot on those people were. The iPhone/iPod Touch is the iPod Wifi. Google’s iReader is Newsbotseter. Google Wave is Google Grid. Instead of the NTY suing Google, the AP did. Oh, and that last bit about geotagged podcasts? That’s fucking Twitter, just with sound instead of text.

Let that sink in for a second, bring it to a simmer then add this: We are now able to prophecy our future because of consumer trends and technology functionality.

From WIRED’s Danger Room:

Even by the standards of the Pentagon fringe science arm, this project sounds far-out: “” that can be ordered to “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.” But researchers back by Darpa are actually making progress on this incredible goal, Henry Kenyon at Signal magazine reports.

One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”

One team from Harvard is working on a kind of “generalized Rubik’s Cube” that can fold into all kinds of shapes. Another is trying to order large strands of synthetic DNA to bind together in a “molecular Velcro.” An MIT group is building “’self-folding origami’ machines that use specialized sheets of material with built-in actuators and data. These machines use cutting-edge mathematical theorems to fold themselves into virtually any three-dimensional object.”

My interest with this is the instant fabrication possibilities that a basic technological building offers.

The commercial potential is incredible. I buy an assembler and some building block goop. Then I slot it with a few basic templates I’ve purchased. Dishes, flatware, bits of a table, objects built out of single pieces or primitives. If I chose, I can lease templates for more complex items. For a few hundred bucks, I can buy a one-time use template from Sony that will spit out an HD television. Transportation and packaging costs would be nil. Think of it as a digital download of a physical object from a service like Steam or Emusic.

Beyond that, the ability to instantaneously create something is part of the Singularity. In order to keep the technological advancement going past a certain point, you’d have to be able to produce ideas as fast as you can think them, something I’ve mentioned before. Starting from a universal building block would make that sort of thing possible.

What you’re looking at is a visual representation of the voice/text data transmitted by AT&T on Obama’s inauguration day. The flat map on the bottom is Washington, DC. When the grid of dots rise up from that, you’re seeing increased local cell traffic. The map of the United States above that shows where that traffic is going. The farther a state presses out from the rest of the country, the more calls are coming from DC to that state. The timeline on the bottoms show you what point of the day you are looking at.

From the MIT Senseable City Lab that dreamed this whole thing up:

The City illustrates the emotional flow of the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Through an analysis of the number of mobile phone calls made in Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day and the home state or country of phone origin, it is possible to see peaks of call activity as the crowd anticipates President Obama’s oath, a drop in call activity as the crowd listens to his inaugural address, and peaks again as the crowd celebrates the inauguration of the new President. Through their cell phones, those present at the historic event share their impressions with friends and family in vast numbers: on the morning of January 20th, call activity is two to three times stronger than usual, and it rises to five times the normal levels after 2 pm as President Obama takes his oath and people begin to celebrate.

I believe in memetic life. I believe that if viruses are to be considered a creature strung between life and death, then information must be viewed in the same way. Information is transmissible, and through transmission, it is capable of replication. Its information may be wrapped in sheaths of silicon and paper instead of protein and amino acid, but it is still just information.

I think there are types of memetic life that can be identified. Ideas that have traced out such a path along the history of human existence that they are perpetually intertwined with us, like the mitochondria in our cells.

I call one of these types of life the Sublime Lover. It comes to you in a simple string of words. “I dreamed I met the love of my life.” The idea swims in through your eyes or ears, and buries itself in the fertile beds of your imagination. There it spreads out to your memories, creeping over the walls between thoughts like a vine. It pulls a little bit from here, some from there, and just a pinch from over there. By the time it is done, the Sublime Lover has a fully formed construct, ready to erupt into your mind.

When it comes to you, it’s just as real as the first time you fell in love. The heady passion of it all infuses every part of your being. You love this person. You love them unconditionally and uncontrollably as long as the dream holds. The Sublime Lover feeds off that raw unchecked emotion. It gorges like an animal just awoken from a long hibernation, knowing that the plenty will vanish once you awake. And that’s exactly what happens. Reality breaks the dream, you wake and that pure love is gone. You’re left unsettled because, even though it was a dream, you’re still devastated at the loss of this person. This person that existed only in the space of a dream.

Then you tell some one about this experience, about how vivid the dream was, and how much you loved that person. You tell them that you said “I love you”, and you can still hear your voice ringing in your ears. You tell them about the smells, the touches and the tastes. You tell them about it all being a dream. And, just like that, you’ve passed on the Sublime Lover.

You didn’t need all of the flowery stuff to passed it on, just the basic idea. Memetic life isn’t like organic life. We evolve through iteration, evolution and mutation. Memetic life evolves by absorption. Only the basic, most vital parts are transferred from one person to another. The Sublime Lover that one person has will be completely different from the one another person has.

That’s how this is going to work now. I have just infected all of you with the Sublime Lover. I have spread it to the hundreds of you, and you will spread it to thousands, and they to countless millions. And even though it all came from a single source, they will all be different.

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

One of my key arguments for the digital collective consciousness we’re running at full tilt into is that it makes all of humanity one reactive force to disasters. I use the example of the Southeast Asian tsunami a few years back. Death reports put the number of dead around a quarter of a million. Displaced people numbered in the millions. And while there were aid groups involved from America, most of us just watched the disaster unfold on our televisions, detached from it all.

Now imagine it is that morning of the tsunami. You wake up. You blink twice and reconnect to the SOCSWARM network. You’re suddenly overwhelmed with images and feelings of disaster. A red-hot needle is jabbed into your brain, and you can’t let go of this disaster. It becomes all you think about, your foremost desire is to help these people who you’ve never met but are intrinsically connected to. The world has ceased to be a series of small to medium sized ponds. We are all part of one ocean now. Humanity reacting as one to help part of itself.

This is, of course, an oversimplified and hyperbolized version of reality. But, a glimmer of this is seen in what’s going on with swine flu. The connectivity between people brought about through social networking and mash-up programs has given us the ability to track the spread of the disease in near real-time.

The most important factor in combating any contagion is getting ahead of it. You don’t worry about the infected people, they are already behind the leading edge. What matters is where the edge is now. You want to build a ring of isolation around that edge, and starve the disease out.

While the paranoia is a little extreme, it is doing just this. People are voluntarily retreating into their homes at the slightest hint of a sniffle. Schools are closing at the moment an infection is found. People are actually washing their hands. The over-exposure to this problem maybe amplifying our fear of it, but that fear is making us act in ways that will keep us healthy.

Swine flu could have been a very real threat to the health of the world, but because of our connectivity, we’ve reacted fast enough, and directly enough to turn this into something that the late night comics will be making jokes about for the rest of the year.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen. I’d hate to die to BACON LUNG.

CNN is running a very interesting article about the inaccuracies in the public perception of what happened at Columbine 10 years ago.

The Columbine tragedy left a lasting mark on many Americans, largely because of the media’s around-the-clock coverage in the days and weeks following the shooting. Columbine was named the top news story of 1999 with nearly 70 percent of Americans saying they “followed [Columbine] very closely,” according to a Pew Research Center study.

When media coverage faded, reporters and investigators soon learned that some of the initial reports were wrong. Cullen writes about the misperceptions: “Facts rush in, the fog lifts, an accurate picture solidifies. The public accepts this, but the final portrait is the farthest from the truth.”

Officials at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office agreed that the Trench Coat Mafia, among other myths, were false. Lead investigator Kate Battan said the 10-year anniversary offers a chance to clear up the misconceptions.

“It was the first big event where cell phones were around, and I had witnesses giving information to the media before I even got to it,” she said. “A lot of that information was wrong.”

…..

Cullen said the myths were so widely reported that they were hard to take back later.

“You would have to go through a lot of corrections,” Cullen said. “You would need to have something blockbuster to shake them [the public] up and say ‘Everything you know about Columbine, let it go.’”

Psychologists who study memory say people tend to remember first impressions. In the case of Columbine, what the public first saw and heard in the news tended to stick with them.

Part of the reason I think the Columbine story is so easily acceptable in the “loner kills popular kids” style is because we’ve all been there. We’ve all been on the receiving end of stuff like that. We know what it feels like to be isolated by people who you perceive as better than you. In a way, our fascination with the horror that happened on that day is so potent because it is spiked with knowledge that you share something in common with these people. The idea that you’ve shared headspace with the teenager that just put a bullet in a cheerleader is one of those secret tastes that no one will actually admit to liking, but everyone does.

If you strip that out, just make those two teenagers confused, ill sociopaths, then you lose much of the “in” that made the story so fascinating in the first place. People are very unlikely to give up something that they enjoyed in the first place.

From the BBC:

Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking copyright law and were sentenced to a year in jail.

…..

“It’s serious to actually be found guilty and get jail time. It’s really serious. And that’s a bit weird,” Sunde said.

“It’s so bizarre that we were convicted at all and it’s even more bizarre that we were [convicted] as a team. The court said we were organised. I can’t get Gottfrid out of bed in the morning. If you’re going to convict us, convict us of disorganised crime.

“We can’t pay and we wouldn’t pay. Even if I had the money I would rather burn everything I owned, and I wouldn’t even give them the ashes.”

…..

No copyright content is hosted on The Pirate Bay’s web servers; instead the site hosts “torrent” links to TV, film and music files held on its users’ computers.

I’m not trying to make these guys out to be martyrs, because that it clearly what they want. I’m also not going to say that any of them are innocent. They knowingly profited by providing people with access to copywrited material.

But, if you can send people to jail and fine them millions for that…explain to me how, exactly, the Google search that brought me to copyrighted material on YouTube or Google Video isn’t just as culpable?

Right now copyright law is staring out into a great digital unknown, too scared of all of the potential outcomes to move. The problem is, the rest of the world is running up like a pack of drunkards ready to push the lazy tit over the edge for taking to long to make a choice.

I talk about robots a lot around here. Partly because I’m a geek, and we’re doing absolutely fascinating things with robotics right now. And partly because the things we’re teaching them to do scare the ever-living shit out of me.

Most people see robots with weapons and start screaming about the Terminator. I’m not particularly worried about the current stage of military robots, like the Predator drones, because they aren’t making choices for themselves. There is a mammalian intelligence, born and reared just like the rest of us, behind the controls. But, the second you stick a robotic AI in control of something like that, you scare me.

I’ve already talked about how the Swiss inadvertently taught a bunch of robots how to lie. They were trying to see how robots would communicate resource distribution to a swarm by using iterative evolution-modeled experiments. After each pass through the test, they would pull out the most successful bits of code from the robots, modify it for a few robots, and start the whole thing over again. The robots formed communities, and those communities start to interact with other robot communities. By the 50th generation, you had robots that were lying to communities that weren’t there own about what was food and what was poison. You even had robots that would self-sacrifice to protect their community.

Subterfuge and self-sacrifice in 50 generations. Sun Tzu would be proud.

Right now, the Japanese are facing one of the worst imbalances in population age in recorded history. There are more old people than young people right now, and the birth rate is falling pretty dramatically. In a generation or two, the old will out number the young at a near 2:1 ratio. There simply aren’t enough people in Japan to provide care to that many elderly, so the Japanese are looking to robotics. The Honda Asimo is one of the most advanced robots in the world, and the only reason Honda is sinking so much money into it is because they think they’ll be able to re-coup it by selling an army of robotic domestic servants. An army of domestic servants you can control by your own thoughts, which would be perfect for the infirm who can’t get out of bed.

But what happens when the brain you’ve attached a robot to slips into dementia and stops thinking clearly?

One of the more horrific and amazing things that the Japanese are doing with robots right now revolves around the CB2 project. This frightening thing:

The project is supposed to examine child development from the ground up. They built a robot that mimics the physicality of a child, and they taught it to learn and respond to stimulus. Ostensibly, the data they’ve gathered will give them clues as to what behaviors and actions might better teach a child communication and social skills. However, what they are really doing is building a full blown robot personality from the ground up. With each new generation of the CB2 robot, the thing advances, growing and learning.

Now think about this, have ever know a child that didn’t want their parents dead at some point?

We’re not just teaching robots to learn, mind you. We’re also teaching them to think and research, to create new ideas. I know people in Wales are batshit to begin with, but really, who thought this would be a good idea?

A robot called Adam that can think up theories and test them with almost no human help has become the first machine to make a new scientific discovery.

Operating from a laboratory at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, the machine identified genetic processes in baker’s yeast that were previously unknown.

Not only did Adam come up with hypotheses about how certain genes should work, it devised and carried out experiments to prove they were right.

Right now, robot computational thought is faster than any human’s ever could be. And according to Moore’s Law, it is just going to keep getting faster. If they keep getting faster, and we stay the same, but we let them do the thinking for us, what do you think will happen? We’ll become domesticated house cats in a world run by robots.

Or worse, you could combine these examples into a simple bit of dialog.

“Adam, are you building a virus to destroy humanity?”
“…..No, father.”

You don’t teach them to learn.
You don’t teach them to lie.
You don’t teach them to choose.

Writers have been saying this for half a century now. Why is no one listening?



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