Archive for January, 2006

Today’s Featured Wikipedia Article

January 25, 2006

So I wandered over to Wikipedia just now, as I often do. Not looking for anything particular, I just needed to take my mind off things, and Wikipedia is a great place to go and just learn. Anyway, check out today’s featured article. Wicked cool.

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Occam’s Razor and Dark Matter

January 25, 2006

New Scientist Space:

Astronomers realised in the 1970s that the gravity of visible matter alone was not enough to prevent the fast-moving stars and gas in spiral galaxies from flying out into space. They attributed the extra pull to a mysterious substance called dark matter, which is now thought to outweigh normal matter in the universe by 6 to 1.

But researchers still do not know what dark matter actually is, and some have come up with new theories of gravity to explain the galaxy observations. MOND, for example, holds that there are two forms of gravity.

[…]

Now, Joel Brownstein and John Moffat, researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, say another modified gravity theory can account for both galaxies and galaxy clusters.

The theory, called scalar-tensor-vector gravity (STVG), adds quantum effects to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. As in other branches of physics, the theory says that quantum fluctuations can affect the force felt between interacting objects.

Dark matter never sat well with me, because it seemed like a straightforward application of Occam’s Razor should have ruled it out. Observations didn’t match our theories, so instead of adjusting the theories we invoked a new entity, an undetectable kind of matter that filled 75% of the universe. Um, yeah… that makes sense.

So, in my amateur opinion at least, this makes a heck of a lot more sense. It’s the simpler solution.

The Internet is for Porn

January 25, 2006

An… interesting… music video done entirely in World of Warcraft.

Smells like… hypocrisy

January 25, 2006

ARS Technica:

What happens when an organization that is best known for inveighing against the unauthorized copying of movies gets caught doing exactly that? The Motion Picture Association of America was caught with its pants down, admitting to making unauthorized copies of the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated in advance of this week’s Sundance Film Festival.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated looks at the motion picture ratings system created and run by the MPAA. Director Kirby Dick submitted the film for rating in November. After receiving the movie, the MPAA subsequently made copies without Dick’s permission. Dick had specifically requested in an e-mail that the MPAA not make copies of the movie. The MPAA responded by saying that “the confidentiality of your film is our first priority.”

Dick later learned that the MPAA made copies of the film to distribute them to its employees, despite the MPAA’s stance on unauthorized copying. Ah, there’s nothing like the smell of hypocrisy in the morning-apparently the prohibition against copying films without the copyright owner’s consent doesn’t apply to the MPAA. A lawyer for the MPAA justified the organization’s apparent hypocrisy by saying that Dick had invaded the privacy of some MPAA staffers, which justified the MPAA’s actions.

It’s funny how privacy doesn’t factor into it when they go around suing bittorrent users.

Google fails second test of evilness

January 25, 2006

Breitbart:

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country’s free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet’s fastest growing market.

“Do no evil” my ass. And we all had such high hopes after they flipped the DOJ the finger the other day.

“America’s deepest principle”

January 24, 2006

CNN:

President Bush told abortion opponents Monday that they are pursuing “a noble cause” and making a real difference in the campaign to recruit more Americans to stand on their side.

“We’re working to persuade more of our fellow Americans of the rightness of our cause,” the president told abortion foes gathered at the foot of Capitol Hill on a chilly, rainy day. He spoke by telephone from Manhattan, Kansas, where he was to give a speech.

“This is a cause that appeals to the conscience of our citizens and is rooted in America’s deepest principle,” the president said. “And history tells us that with such a cause we will prevail.”

Normally, I don’t like to talk about abortion. As issues go, it’s just lose-lose. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind, ever, and you’re liable to make a whole lot of people hate you by opening your mouth on it one way or another. Plus, it’s a purely a distraction issue – takes away from the real (dare I say, more important) issues that face the country, like the environment, healthcare, and incompetence at the highest levels of the country.

But I gotta say, this one kind of grabbed my attention. Because I have absolutely no clue what he’s talking about or what he’s alluding to with the highlighted phrase.

“Millenials”

January 24, 2006

NYT:

“We think that the single largest differentiator in this generation from previous generations is the social network that is people’s lives, the part of it that technology enables,” said Jack McKenzie, a senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates, a market research and consulting firm specializing in the news media and entertainment industries.

“What’s hard to measure, and what we’re trying to measure,” Mr. McKenzie continued, “is the impact of groupthink, of group mentality, and the tendency of what we might call the democratization of social interaction and how that changes this generation’s relationship with almost everything they come in contact with.”

[…]

“You’ve got a group of kids who are unbelievably, incredibly loyal to each other,” Dr. Levine said. “They are very bound to ethics and values. But in a funny sort of way, it prevents some of them from developing as individuals.” Along with finding technological dexterity in this group, and a highly developed ability to work in team settings, Dr. Levine said he had encountered concerns that some young people lacked the ability to think and plan for the long term, that they withered without immediate feedback and that the machinery of groupthink had bred a generation flush with loyal comrades but potentially weak on leaders.

So I originally typed several paragraphs of insightful commentary on this, only to to have the program crash when I tried to post it, and discover the auto save feature didn’t work right. I’m not about to re-type it.

In short, the article talks about my generation, dubbed “Millenials” (God I hate that term – why can’t we be something cool like Generation X?). It’s kind of hit and miss – the author and presumed audience of the article obviously doesn’t belong to the generation being discussed, and analyzes it from the point of view of marketers (because, you know, the important thing is how do we turn people into good little consumers). Flaws aside though, it does provide some interesting food for thought – the few paragraphs above highlight what represents a monumental social change that’s on it’s way.

UPN and WB to combine

January 24, 2006

CNN (via Whedoneque):

Warner Brothers and CBS Corp. announced plans Tuesday for the creation of a new broadcast television network, called CW, that would replace the WB and UPN networks in the fall of this year.

The new broadcast network will draw on programming from both WB and UPN, and will be a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS (Research), with each company owning 50 percent, officials of both companies said. (The “C” stands for CBS, the “W” is for Warner.)

That’s um, weird. Definitely weird.

Don’t really have any greater insight than that, it’s just something I’m scratching my head about.

Senator Stevens calls for a Porn rating system

January 24, 2006

ARS Technica:

Ratings systems work fairly well, when people pay attention to them and follow the guidelines. People don’t take their preschoolers to see R-rated movies like Silence of the Lambs, and you don’t buy “Adults Only” videogame titles like Leisure Suit Larry for an eighth-grade graduation present. There comes a point, however, where ratings become pointless. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has arrived at such a point with his suggestion that porn sites receive ratings.

I thought it was a joke when I first saw the headline myself, and the punchlines are obvious: “this site is rated A for…” Unfortunately, Sen. Stevens isn’t joking. During a committee hearing on the Child Online Protection Act last week, he put the adult entertainment industry on notice that if it didn’t come up with a rating system, Congress would do one for them.

I have an idea. Let’s come up with a ratings system for stupid ideas that come out of Congress. We can rank them on a scale from “idiotic” to “fucking stupid” and they can carry recommendations like “mildly amusing” and “may cause brain damage”.

And speaking of Google

January 24, 2006

I’ve found a good article (via BubbleGeneration) giving a fair minded overview of Google as a company – how it came to be and what some of the issues it raises are. It’s worth the read for anyone remotely interested. I’ll just snip the last paragraph as that’s what I’m interested in right now:

Putting all this together, we reach the conclusion that, on the one hand, Google is cool. On the other hand, Google has the potential to destroy the publishing industry, the newspaper business, high street retailing and our privacy. Not that it will necessarily do any of these things, but for the first time, considered soberly, these things are technologically possible. The company is rich and determined and is not going away any time soon. They know what they are doing technologically; socially, though, they can’t possibly know, and I don’t think anyone else can either. These are the earliest days in a process of what may turn out to be radical change. The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the first suburbs.

The railroad analogy does seriously get overused, and I do have a couple of other little nitpicks with the article. One line in particular annoys me “Once the texts were scanned and stored, the only thing preventing every writer’s work from being given away free would be a few pieces of computer code on Google’s servers.” – since Google is getting this data from libraries, all of which I’m sure contain photocopiers… isn’t the “given away for free” part a moot point?

Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about. The part that fascinates me is the idea of suburbs. Although I think the article is slightly mistaken – it wasn’t really the railroad that spawned them, it was the automobile. Which reminds me of an essay by Isaac Asimov (not online, as far as I can tell – it’s printed on dead trees on my bookshelf).

The gist of it was this: There’s three types of science fiction, which he explained through the context of a hypothetical 19th century sci-fi story written about the automobile. Basically, there’s three plotlines the story could take. The first is purely an adventure story – A bad guy kidnaps the good guy’s girlfriend, so the good guy invents (or otherwise gets access to) an automobile, which by virtue of its speed and lots of action scenes, he uses to save the girl. The second kind is a more meticulous variation on the story – it would spend a great deal of time explaining how an automobile worked and the process of inventing it, and the story action would more directly relate to the new technology… one scene might be where the hero runs out of gas, for example. The final kind of story takes it a step beyond though – what are the consequences of an automobile? This is the kind of story that might have imagined mechanized warfare, suburban sprawl, interstate highway projects, traffic jams, and shopping malls and global warming.

Basically, I think all the stories told about search, Google, and the web are so far of the first two types. What’s far more interesting, far more profound, would be stories of the third type. We now live in a world where ungodly amounts of information is at our fingertips. The entire Library of Alexandria rests in our living rooms. We lived a “cached life” – where just about everything that we do is recorded somewhere. The societal implications of this have barely begun to be realized – so far we’ve seen the hero save the girl from the bad guy, I don’t think anyone has yet imagined what the real consequences of that will be. It’s something I like to think about though (and if I ever come up with some realistic ideas, I’ll share them). It’s a fascinating period in human history to be alive for though.