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…


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…


May 6, 2007 at 2:13 pm | Posted in humor, social | 1 Comment

What would a society need to be like, if its purpose was to help people actualize their sense of self?

It would need…

This might not be reality
But it’s my ideal society.
Practice sobriety,
Perhaps a little filial piety;
Free to worship one’s own deity,
It’s the way society’s supposed to be

(2x) I call it…
Not utopia,
but Juetopia!
It’s my utopia

Technology, it’s nothing but a
Utility, a tool that we
Use to better society.
It won’t be abused or otherwise used
For control or as an end in itself.
Its only role and it’ll serve that goal
Is to make our lives real swell.

Now education,
It’s kind of like transportation;
Gets people to their own destination,
As well as their desired vocation.
It’s not rote memorization
Nor government standardization;
In my society education
Is about personal realization.

(2x) I’m talkin’ about…
Not just any (your average) utopia,
I call it (but rather) Juetopia!
It’s my version of (my own) utopia

Family, it’s gotta be
One of those things we can’t help but need;
Providing love and emotional ties,
An aspect of humanity that cannot be denied.
But eventually, we’re going to need
Our own independence and identity.
This is why in Juetopian life
Social welfare helps parents that are about to die.

Finally, spirituality,
It gives one a sense of morality.
People can’t just be force-fed religion;
They’ve got to arrive at their own definition.
Contentment isn’t from booze or drugs;
It’s from something deep inside of us.
This thing, it’s called self-actualization;
There’s plenty of it in my civilization.

(2x) I call it…
Not utopia,
but Juetopia!
It’s my utopia!

It’s my society.
People have sobriety,
A little bit of filial piety;
Allowed to find one’s own deity.
Everybody, feel free to join me.

(2x) What’s it called?
Not just any utopia!
Say it again! Juetopia!
Gotta love my utopia!

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?…

Hello world! And thoughts of a non-parent

November 29, 2006 at 2:14 am | Posted in nytimes, social | Leave a comment

Well it seems that my addiction to the NYTimes has outpaced my literary inclinations. To kick off the new habit, I’ll point your way to an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times magazine that contained some analysis on class differences in how parents raise their children. Anthropologist Annette Lareau explains the parenting strategy of “concerted cultivation,” which in her study was observed primarily in middle-class families where parents

engaged their children in conversations as equals, treating them like apprentice adults and encouraging them to ask questions, challenge assumptions and negotiate rules. They planned and scheduled countless activities to enhance their children’s development — piano lessons, soccer games, trips to the museum.

On the other hand, poor and working-class parents tend to a strategy that Lareau calls “natural growth”. Her study concluded that these parents

raised their children the way most parents, even middle-class parents, did a generation or two ago. They allowed their children much more freedom to fill in their afternoons and weekends as they chose — playing outside with cousins, inventing games, riding bikes with friends — but much less freedom to talk back, question authority or haggle over rules and consequences. Children were instructed to defer to adults and treat them with respect.

Lareau’s argument then draws a fairly predictable conclusion — that these differences in child-rearing perpetuate existing inequalities of class and wealth, by fostering very specific attitudes in these children as they mature. Middle-class children who are the product of concerted cultivation “become used to adults taking their concerns seriously, and so they grow up with a sense of entitlement, which gives them a confidence, in the classroom and elsewhere, that less-wealthy children lack.” Consequently, “In public life, the qualities that middle-class children develop are consistently valued over the ones that poor and working-class children develop.”

I’d like to take a look at that research, because as intuitive as Lareau’s theory of parenting seems, her argument strikes me as a little bit culture-centric. Continue Reading Hello world! And thoughts of a non-parent…

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