The Longest Now

Sexiest github: White House’s We The People
Tuesday September 11th 2012, 10:07 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice

Both code and roadmap!

Louis C. K. says: direct ticket sales online trims scalping 98%
Monday July 09th 2012, 9:13 am
Filed under: metrics,poetic justice

The $6M scalping ban. Nice work, Louis.

Higgs boson confirmed! World’s media mass At CERN in celebration.

Today CERN and FERMILAB announced 5σ confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson [1], inspiring a burst of heady live coverage from the Guardian. (CERN had leaked a video about the discovery the day before, so everyone knew what was coming, and turned up for today’s Higgs seminar. All of the scientists who had worked on early versions of the theory that pointed towards such a boson also flew in the the seminar, which continues tomorrow.)

CERN has posted and archived beautiful 360-degree photos of the day, a video of the press conference (rather dull), and will soon post a recording of the day’s seminar (which was live-streamed and amazing; come back for it tomorrow).

The media as usual tries valiantly to explain things in a down-to-earth way that is both simplistic and true, but is generally failing. As with a few other recent scientific breakthroughs, I am grateful that Wikipedia offers solid explanations of the topics at hand, and through the magic of hyperlinks (which news agencies are still struggling with 🙂 allows exploration of the topics in as much depth as you like.

Related reading: supersymmetry, scalar field theory, htlhcdtwy.

[1] Note the careful, conservative trend in particle physics: the labs making the discovery are all quick to say they’ve discovered the existence of at least one new particle, which matches the profile of the Higgs boson; it could be one or more of its sibling bosons that have been discovered – supersymmetry suggests there could be 5 of them.

Re: Sudo make me an Internet
Wednesday July 04th 2012, 12:36 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,poetic justice,popular demand,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

Happy Independence Day!

A few good pieces on the Declaration of Internet Freedom:
* Christian Science Monitor: The Internet needs its own ‘declaration of independence’
* Forbes: Freshly-Minted Declaration of Internet Freedom Demands ‘Free and Open Internet’
* ABC News: For July 4, a Declaration of Internet Freedom
* And an excellent, long piece by The Verge: How the net’s minutemen plan to protect the future

And ACTA was just rejected by the EU Parliament:
* Controversial anti-piracy agreement rejected by EU

Kudos to everyone involved in that turnaround.

Librarians v. interdisciplinary existential threats
Friday June 22nd 2012, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,fly-by-wire,poetic justice

Existential threats don’t scare us.  We’re librarians.

Bethany Nowviskie on the arc and glory of digital humanities, interleaved with modern creative work.

via Jacob Rus

Adapt Now Or Be Disintermediated, says @FakeElsevier

Reed Elsevier’s received a scathing critique by The Street’s Jared Woodward this week, who bets heavily against its stock [RUK] :

We regard the common stock as an implicit naked short put option because, while the upside potential from the publishing division is limited, the downside risk from any revolt by its customers (libraries), laborers (academics), or funders (governments) is not.

Woodward incisively covers everything from the academic-run The Cost of Knowledge campaign countering the Elsevier-backed Research Works Act, the Federal Research Public Access Act proposal to enshrine Open Access as a requirement of all government funders, a similar EU mandate, the UK recruiting Jimbo to help draft a similar policy for all UK-funded research by 2014, Harvard’s faculty memo on deep and broad Open Access support, the stunning successes of PLoS One and Rockefeller University Press, and @FakeElsevier‘s tweets and blog.

@FakeElsevier is a pseudonymous academic who has been sharing satirical posts and tweets about Elsevier since February. The subject above is from one of the more popular blog posts: “Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.

Take a look at Woodward’s report: It’s an exhausting and exhilirating read.

Federal Research Public Access Act

Ken Liu gets his due: The Paper Menagerie snags a Nebula!
Sunday May 20th 2012, 3:53 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice,popular demand

Congratulations to my friend Ken Liu, phosphorescent fiction shaper whose story “The Paper Menagerie” won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story last night! Next stop: the Hugos (chosen by the Chicon 7 attendees :)).

Happy On Birthday: Which Birth Dates Are Most Common? Most statisfying.
Wednesday May 16th 2012, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,metrics,poetic justice

A fine heatmap of birthday frequency, in which you can see what country the data comes from, which holidays they celebrate, and even some of their superstitions:

HT to Amitabh Chandraand Matt Stiles.

Inspired by life: architecture + biology + design
Tuesday April 24th 2012, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,poetic justice,popular demand

I had the great fortune of attending a workshop recently with a provocative MIT architect, Neri Oxman, whose artistic work I have seen showing up in museums across Europe and the US – it is truly awesome.

I was struck by the excellent practical end results produced from designs with varying textures/ colors/ qualities that are defined by artistic parametric equations. The group’s past prototypes include some armor and body sheaths – presented as art, not as fashion – that were very much what I was looking for years ago when I wanted better load-bearing clothes.

Future projects promise to include living structures and buildings… and, I hope, a line of designs suitable for the public. Work like this deserves to be shared, and should not be hidden in museums and universities.

From the Oxman files

Studying patterns
Monday August 29th 2011, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,metrics,Not so popular,poetic justice

For the past few years, I have been tracking patterns and ways to measure them.  In some easily reproducible settings, like small-group social engagements, short-timeframe teamwork, and the like, patterns are much more useful than individual events at determining how things work out.  Especially when the desired outcome is patterned, and real-life outcomes usually are (“make sure everyone leaves happy”, “come up with a solution that addresses everyone’s personal use case well enough”), focusing on natural patterns rather than linear ones* provides for better rules of thumb, and a clearer understanding of why things happen.

Indeed, most common wisdom about why things happen – how causality works, what comes first and what comes next – is simply a version of the post hoc fallacy: if two things happen near eachother, one caused the other.  You can see this most eloquently in the history of many sciences.  We continue to make this class of mistakes most quantitatively in abuses of statistics today.  But the more prominent arena for this sort of thinking is in everyday life – the way we talk and write, the words we use to explain important events to ourselves.

If you look at almost any significant and complex world problem, you will find that both laymen and experts enjoy breaking things down into linear patterns, and choosing a small number to claim as the “key” factors in making or unmaking some change.  Climate change, economic collapses, political standoffs.

In my observation, it is rare for there to be much truth in ascribing impact to any small set of such factors.  Yet most people I know will, in at least some areas where we lack solid repeatable data, suggest otherwise.

After running some experiments in this area, I am keen on writing something more formal about this, including some language, metrics, and toy examples for working with patterns.  I have found a close attention to patterns to be of tremendous personal use, and expect it will come to be so in larger collaborations as well.  If you have run across relevant work in this area, or writings on pattern of any sort – human, biological, artistic, mathematical, or other – I should like to hear about it.


* Linear or “single factor” patterns are the simplest kind; and in many if not all cases one could describe all more complex patterns in terms of the interction of linear patterns.  However we can usually evaluate a set of natural, more complex patterns with reasonably low error.  Forcing a guess at their decomposition into linear ones and at what those linear factors are, and composing those guesses together, is often far more incomplete or uncertain.


Black Macaque Pack Attack!
Friday July 08th 2011, 6:31 am
Filed under: %a la mod,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable,international,poetic justice

Photographer David Slater, travelling in a park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, spent three days travelling alongside a group of friendly crested black macaques. They befriended him and ruffled his pack in curiosity, exploring his camera and discovering how to use it — one of them started shooting photos with it, taking some 300 in all, including two brilliant self-portraits and a priceless shot of Slater asking with a smile to have his camera back:


Sulawesi monkey taking a photo of the photographer

Simian harmony: holding hands, playing keepaway


Since then, the grinning monkey self-portrait rocketed to internet memedom (right) … now it’s with us for the long haul. But it’s the shot of the photographer, with one of the macaque clan lightly holding his hand, that will stay with me. Not only does it tell the whole story in a glance, but what description of our kinship with these fellow creatures could be more clear?

Hat tip to bro Sebastian for sending this my way, before the meme took off.

Magnificent: Museum of Modern Math
Sunday July 03rd 2011, 2:35 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,metrics,poetic justice,Uncategorized

Launching next year in the Big Red Topological Sphere: a Museum devoted to the Queen of the Sciences and supported by local New York organizations and by Google.  Learn about the Musem of Mathematics and what they have planned:

Introducing Afghan families to Wikipedia

OLPC Afghanistan currently works with school in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar.   This is one of our most politically complex and interesting deployments.  The initial schools involved tend to be on the wealthy side, but are still often in areas with poor power and connectivity.

Jalalabad also houses Afghanistan’s only FabLab – which set up the first “FabFi” mesh network to serve the surrounding community.  After the deployment of OLPC laptops to a local school there, families began to have access to the Internet, and to Wikipedia, for the first time.  Here are three generations of one family, outside on their roof, browsing Wikipedia together:

Afghan family browsing Wikipedia together outside

An Afghan family browses Wikipedia together outside

(As it happens, one of the university students who helped localize the software into Dari and Pashto is also a Wikipedian.)

Over a year after that deployment finished, I am working with FabLab folk to figure out what a similar lab and community wifi setup might look like in Herat, where we also have an OLPC school and may add another.  They’re refreshingly fun and competent people to work with, and full of great stories about young Afghans taking interesting ideas and running with them, turning them into amazing art projects or montages or startups.   Any city trying out cool new technical innovations should have a fablab to amplify the joys of being on the cutting edge.

Today we have 4,000 families connected to eachother and to the Internet in Afghanistan through OLPC; we hope to have thousands more by the end of the year.  And now I’m wondering if we can get fablabs started in the US cities where there are significant OLPC projects.

Happy Passover~
Monday April 18th 2011, 7:59 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,null,poetic justice,Uncategorized

As we did last year, we are working from a remix of the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah (now v. 7.1) – with some quotes, songs, and anecdotes of our own.  We will endeavour to live up to Hezekiah’s standard for a memorable feast.

Wikimedia Commons: Happy 10 Millionth!
Friday April 15th 2011, 7:58 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,poetic justice,popular demand,wikipedia

Commons hits eight figures of media. The WMF blog post about it is lovely.

Commons growth continues to be geometric and visually stunning. And the extra horsepower running it (and making regular dumps!) marks a great improvement from last year. Now we need to help the community there keep up with its popularity!

Boston Book Festival this year – dinner and a date
Sunday April 03rd 2011, 10:20 am
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice
Save the date: the Boston Book Festival is set for Saturday, October 15 this year on Copley Plaza.  It’s a lot of fun, and you may get to meet some of your literary heroes 🙂

I have gone to the BBF the past two years and loved it; it makes me regret not becoming a writer. Last year I volunteered at the event, helping set up their public wifi; they’ve also held a tent for OLPC for the past two years, where we’ve recruited a few great collaborators.  It is a literary bazaar, warmly supportive of local authors and businesses — with hints of festival, conference, and educational showcase.   All of the events are free, but it was hard to get into the most popular author presentations — seating was packed, and nobody wanted to leave when sessions ended!

The festival is supported by the Boston community, and this year they’re hosting a fundraising dinner for the festival, as part of a fundraiser for the event. (It’s nice to see Cambridge helping out its big brother.)  They are also reserving seats at the big events for donors, with VIP passes.  Please consider volunteering for the event or coming to this dinner to support and learn about it.


BBF dinner invitation

BBF dinner invitation: April 28th at the MIT Media Lab


2011 Naked Emperor Oscars

From Zapiro‘s genius sketchbook.

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