The internet isn’t about frames and ugly 2-page personal websites anymore

January 16, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Posted in blogging, computers, geeky, internet, opinion, social | 2 Comments
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The fact that this realization still strikes me profound after a few days can only indicate 2 things: 1) that I think too much about the internet, and 2) that my thoughts about the internet are at least 2 years behind everyone else’s. But since we’re on the subject, I might as well share some writings I’ve found by those who don’t suffer from my propensity for lagging behind the times.

Tim O’Reilly, head of O’Reilly Media and one of the most influential figures on the development of the web in the last decade, has the following to say about a certain “collective intelligence” taking hold on the internet:

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

First, because search engines use link structure to help predict useful pages, bloggers, as the most prolific and timely linkers, have a disproportionate role in shaping search engine results. Second, because the blogging community is so highly self-referential, bloggers paying attention to other bloggers magnifies their visibility and power. The “echo chamber” that critics decry is also an amplifier (Link to article here).

“Web 2.0” is the buzzword for what I’ve been trying to place my finger on for the last month–that snazzy, interactive, smooth dynamic feeling of the web as exemplified by sites like flickr, wikipedia, and pretty much everything google has ever made (gmail and google maps being the most well-known ones). Apparently there’s been a conference every year since 2004 to explore how this “new Web” can be made even cooler.

While strictly speaking, Web 2.0 refers to a set of technical innovations and business models, these components are deeply connected with a paradigm of collectivist, highly self-referential content that must also enter into discussion. Continue Reading The internet isn’t about frames and ugly 2-page personal websites anymore…

The Harvard Cooperative Monopoly

September 26, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Posted in books, news, opinion, school | 6 Comments

textbooks.jpgMore brouhaha brewing at everybody’s favorite campus bookstore, the Harvard Coop, the latest confrontation involving members of the Harvard Undergraduate Council and some friends from the Cambridge police department. More eyes are watching this time, since boingboing has linked to both this Crimson story and an earlier incident as well (boingboing link for that is here).

This all started last year, when a few guys decided to found an online textbook comparison-shopping website called crimsonreading.org for Harvard classes. The website eventually partnered up with the Harvard Undergraduate Council (UC), but failed to garner any sort of support from the administration, nor the permission of the Coop to access the ISBN numbers of all the textbooks in the store. These ISBN number are crucial to providing the right books for each course, because they are unique to the each edition and printing. Usually these numbers are solicited from professors directly via phone or email, or for a small minority classes, they are available online from the course syllabus after classes have begun. The painstaking process of getting these numbers quickly before each semester is both the reason the Coop is so protective of its book list, and also the reason that it has been able to levy unnecessarily high mark-ups on books without suffering from significant competition. Very simply, there is no other place to get the right books for a course, and even students who care about saving money often have no choice but to buy from the Coop.

One alternative that has been available to students is to order books online. Continue Reading The Harvard Cooperative Monopoly…

Old News on the Science Wars

September 24, 2007 at 11:56 pm | Posted in arguments, opinion, philosophical, science, social | 3 Comments

Meant to post this two weeks ago, but got myself into a massive time sink after reading this article online: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” by Alan Sokal. No hurry though, this is apparently old news for most people who care about the matter — the paper was published in 1996 in a well-known cultural studies journal called Social Text. Among other juicy pseudo-intellectual non-sequitors (of the sort I routinely peppered my high school english papers with), I quote the following from the article:

It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical “reality”, no less than social “reality”, is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific “knowledge”, far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it;

Yes, you’ve heard it before, the “science as culture” argument. But before that even has time to sink in, things rapidly take a weird turn:

In mathematical terms, Derrida’s observation relates to the invariance of the Einstein field equation G_{\mu\nu}=8\pi G T_{\mu\nu} under nonlinear space-time diffeomorphisms (self-mappings of the space-time manifold which are infinitely differentiable but not necessarily analytic). The key point is that this invariance group “acts transitively”: this means that any space-time point, if it exists at all, can be transformed into any other. In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed; the π of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone.

If you’re wondering what Derrida could possibly have said that would suggest the inconstance of π and G, you need not worry — it’s all a big joke. The article was a deliberately meaningless hoax, and the author was a physicist with a point to make, which he (rather diplomatically) explains as an attempt to answer the question:

Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies — whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross — publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?

In other words, “Does Social Text publish bull shit?” Obviously, in this case, the answer was yes. Continue Reading Old News on the Science Wars…

25. Watching Pan’s Labyrinth. Not being moved.

June 4, 2007 at 1:02 am | Posted in movies, opinion, rambling | Leave a comment

So I know people all over the blogo-critico-media-sphere have been talking about how darkly gorgeous and life-affirming this movie was, but I have to be honest, I think I may have missed the point. Maybe I do remember perceiving a point along the way, and maybe I actually felt it hit me. It was somewhere left of center on my chest, which is what I would have expected based on my preconceptions about the film. But then I forgot about it. Sadly, the deepest feeling I was left with at the end of the film was puzzlement that I didn’t have any deeper feelings after the film.

I’d like to think, at least, that this wasn’t all the film’s fault (or heaven forbid, mine for not having the heart to be moved by it). It was my fault entirely, however, for failing to realize that my friends, among which the cynical and weak-stomached abound, were not going to thank me for inviting them over for nightmares, or worse, a feature-length affliction of sweaty hands and restlessness. More importantly, I underestimated the effect that this would have on my own experience. Watching a movie with a group of people prone to groaning about the violence or the acting or the unbearableness of the dramatic tension will thwart the most willing recipient of that elusive quality of good movie-watching, suspension of disbelief.

You’d think that “suspending” your “disbelief” would only really be important in very fanciful or crappy movies, Continue Reading 25. Watching Pan’s Labyrinth. Not being moved….

Fairplay ≠ Fair Use?

January 15, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Posted in arguments, nytimes, opinion, rambling | 1 Comment

Well, looks like both boingboing and kleinschmidt beat me to this critique in the NYTimes of Apple’s use of DRM in iTunes, but just thought I’d add a link to this in the Straight Dope on the Fair Use clause, that ubiquitous piece of copyright legislation that some of my friends swear justifies their peddling of bootleg movies on eBay. (Actually I think the argument was that it was legal to copy CD’s to give it to friends, which is still untrue, “technically” or otherwise.) Lest we might get “legal” confused with “everyone does it,” here’s the Straight Dope on Fair Use, inspired by common sense for the most part:

  • It’s OK to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial purposes.
  • It’s also OK to copy music onto special audio CD-Rs, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) but again, not for commercial purposes.
  • Beyond that, there’s no legal “right” to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of a CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won’t usually raise concerns so long as:
  • The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own.
  • The copy is just for your personal use. It’s not a personal use in fact, it’s illegal to give away the copy or lend it to others for copying.
  • The owners of copyrighted music have the right to use protection technology to allow or prevent copying.
  • Remember, it’s never OK to sell or make commercial use of a copy that you make.

There are certain exceptions to these general principles Continue Reading Fairplay ≠ Fair Use?…

Mr. Science, Meet Captain Obvious

December 14, 2006 at 1:23 am | Posted in opinion, social, wistful musing | Leave a comment

The Harvard Gazette is reporting on a new study that shows that “Too many 24-hour shifts worked by hospital interns cause medical mistakes that harm and may even kill patients.” Apparently, “Interns who put in more than five 24- to 30-hour shifts in a month were involved in 300 percent more fatal errors than when they did not work extended shifts.” Not to mention that they also “stick themselves with needles, and lacerate themselves with scalpels and broken glass at increased rates.” Well, whodathunk? Sleep-deprived doctors not performing flawlessly? Thanks, Harvard Medical School, for advancing the frontiers of science where common sense no longer kicks in!

But seriously, thanks, with no sarcasm attached. As a pre-med myself, it is comforting to know that the fabled culture of competition and self-abuse looming in my future is, at the very least, now being called into question. More encouraging is that the changes in attitude are being expressed by professionals within the field, in addition to the concern long held by outsiders. In Europe, medical students are forbidden by law from working more than 13-hour days, and a new bill in the Massachusetts legislature hopes to instate a similar, albeit 18-hour, cap on American hospitals. While ER and Grays Anatomy will lose an easy explanation for the moodiness of their characters, the rest of the public — and our poor med students, lest we forget — can all benefit from better health and, thankfully, a less dramatic existence.

In fact, this is a much-needed dose of sanity not just to overzealous young interns but to ambitious undergrads and high school students alike. Continue Reading Mr. Science, Meet Captain Obvious…

Want AIDS? How about dwarfism?

December 7, 2006 at 6:12 pm | Posted in nytimes, opinion, sarcastic, social | 2 Comments

All the cool people are doing it. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking about bare-backing, or unprotected sex. You probably only know what I’m talking about if you’ve read this article about bug-chasers, i.e. “The men who long to be HIV+”? In case you don’t have time to read a million pages of repetitive prose (like me, Rolling Stone writers just love watching themselves type), here is a pretty good excerpt of what on everyone’s mind these days. And by everyone, I mean every sadomasochist homosexual with no regard for the intrinsic value of their own life:

Carlos is part of an intricate underground world that has sprouted, driven almost completely by the Internet, in which men who want to be infected with HIV get together with those who are willing to infect them. The men who want the virus are called “bug chasers,” and the men who freely give the virus to them are called “gift givers.” While the rest of the world fights the AIDS epidemic and most people fear HIV infection, this subculture celebrates the virus and eroticizes it. HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold.

Is Carlos an idiot? The Traditional Values Coalition seems to think so, and considers homosexuals like Carlos to be “actively seeking death” and “willing to kill others as part of a sickening ‘erotic’ thrill.” Here’s a legal question no one wants to answer — can deliberate HIV infection be considered murder? Suicide? Manslaughter? Probably none of the above. I’d say it’s more like delayed potential murder with mutual consent, with no real intent to kill since none of these men worry about the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs other than that “it works.” Has anyone explained drug resistance to them? Continue Reading Want AIDS? How about dwarfism?…

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