Monthly Archives: January 2012

Is there anybody out there?

Douglas Koke presents a very cool time-lapse video (with motion graphics overlay) of the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Music courtesy of Telefon Tel Aviv, one of my favorite bands. View large for the full effect:

In related news, new funding has revived the Allen Telescope Array in California, which will once again sweep the skies for radio signals from any advanced alien civilizations out there in the cosmos.

SETI director Jill Tarter eloquently reminds us why this is important:

(via Bad Astronomy)

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Train makes me happy

So sue me.

Gotta love that playful, free-associative, it’s-all-good attitude that can drop “deep-fried chicken,” “soy latte,” and “Mister Mister” into the lyrics for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Because you know what? They’re right. It’s all good.

(Also, “Drops of Jupiter” has that transformative “na na” coda that I love, which means the song makes it on my list of favorite anthemic sing-alongs.)

This is sticky music, made to cling to the insides of your head — the front lobe of your left side brain, to be exact — and to put a jaunt in your step and a skip in your walk. To me, anyway.

And if you find you can’t get these songs out of your head either, hey — you’re welcome.

Update: A couple of great live versions here and here. Some fun, and unannounced, performances in a Stockholm shopping mall here and here. And a very cute — and impressive — cover of “Hey Soul Sister” here.

Update 2: An alternate video for “Drops of Jupiter” here. And I humbly take back my (possibly condescending) implication that the song is merely thoughtlessly playful; turns out it’s inspired by the death of lead singer Pat Monahan’s mother. The song’s subtle undercurrent of melancholy makes much more sense to me now.

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Twitter chooses profits over free speech. In other news: water is wet, and 2+2=4.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? In the victory against SOPA and PIPA, advocates for the free and open Internet successfully fended off censorship imposed by government; now we are reminded that there’s nothing preventing online social networks from censoring themselves as the cost of doing business. From the New York Times:

[T]his week, in a sort of coming-of-age moment, Twitter announced that upon request, it would block certain messages in countries where they were deemed illegal. The move immediately prompted outcry, argument and even calls for a boycott from some users.

Twitter in turn sought to explain that this was the best way to comply with the laws of different countries. And the whole episode, swiftly amplified worldwide through Twitter itself, offered a telling glimpse into what happens when a scrappy Internet start-up tries to become a multinational business.

“Thank you for the #censorship, #twitter, with love from the governments of #Syria, #Bahrain, #Iran, #Turkey, #China, #Saudi and friends,” wrote Björn Nillson, a user in Sweden. […]

The announcement signals the choice that a service like Twitter has to make about its own existence: Should it be more of a free-speech tool that can be used in defiance of governments, as happened during the Arab Spring protests, or a commercial venture that necessarily must obey the laws of the lands where it seeks to attract customers and eventually make money?

Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and author of “The Master Switch,” said the changes could undermine the usefulness of Twitter in authoritarian countries.

“I don’t fault them for wanting to run a normal business,” he said. “It does suggest someone or something else needs to take Twitter’s place as a political tool.”

Color me utterly unsurprised. As I wrote in an earlier post:

I’ve always found it ironic and a little disturbing that the democratic flowering of free speech that we see on Twitter and Facebook is taking place on a decidedly undemocratic, corporate platform. In a panel on the Internet and the Arab world, [Micah] Sifry and other panelists note this as well:

The role and responsibility of social networks was debated by the panelists, with Sifry saying, “I’m terrified that we’re relying on these corporate entities to enable this kind of activity. It’s very dangerous. There’s really no reason they have to be socially responsible at all. Their responsibility is to the bottom line. Twitter did not have to inform its users that the Justice Department was seeking all of their IP information in this WikiLeaks situation. They’re under no obligation to tell you. How do we get out of conducting vital public discourse, organizing, on a corporate foundation? […]

We’re all dancing on a rug owned by others, with no guarantee that the owners won’t someday pull it out from under us.

It seems as if that day is sooner than we think, if indeed it hasn’t come already.

So my question still stands: how do we avoid depending on corporations — like Twitter, and, for that matter, WordPress — for our free speech? How do we keep the people’s voices free?

(Update: Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing has much, much more.)

(Image via PC Mag)

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Miscellany: Blume, Hitchens, Lamarr, Tyson; The West Wing as science fiction; groupthink and solitude; what e-books can’t do; and the end of SOPA (for now)

Time for another grab-bag of links that caught my eye:

1) An NPR interview with the incomparable Judy Blume, who talks about censorship, how to inspire kids to read (and how not to), the folly of labeling authors and books according to “audience age,” and how perseverance determines a writer’s success more than talent. (Note to self: time to get to work. Again.)

2) An interview with Richard Rhodes on the scientific career of actress Hedy Lamarr, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Fascinating stuff, and one I’ve touched on before, in a post on stereotypes and women scientists.

3) A compilation of articles written for The Nation by the late, great Christopher Hitchens, spanning 28 years (1978-2006).

4) Over the past few months my wife and I have avidly watched all seven seasons of The West Wing. Graham Sleight explains why the show is, at its heart, science fiction in spirit and impulse: “I want to argue […] that it’s SF in a more profound sense […] It makes an argument, as SF does, about possibility, about what can be done, and it does so by presenting us with a world already showing a change from our own.” Highly worth reading if you’re a West Wing fan.

5) A provocative New York Times essay by Susan Cain on “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” about the folly of insisting on constant collaboration and “teamwork” at the expense of creative solitude. This is happening in schools as well, as Cain points out, a fact that I personally find a bit worrying. Learning to work with others is great, but are we failing to appreciate the virtues of aloneness, of introspection?

6) Why books are made of win: the Abe Books blog, via Matador, offers a list of things you can’t do with an e-book. Including leaving it on a beach towel, throwing it across the room, and using it to press flowers and fallen leaves.

7) Carl Zimmer’s excellent profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

8) And finally — victory! Talking Points Memo analyzes how Netizens killed SOPA and PIPA. No doubt the advocates of censorship will try again; but those who stand for freedom of speech will be ready and waiting.

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Newt Gingrich is right (about exactly one thing)

I never thought I’d say this, but Newt Gingrich is right.

Call him a blowhard. Call him an egotist. Call him a moral hypocrite. Call him a bomb-thrower. Call him undisciplined and incapable of follow-through. Call him one of the most cynical, divisive, destructive politicians of the last few decades, the single worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party if he were nominated, and to the country if he were elected. I absolutely agree with all that.

And yet. Listen to him give this speech below, about a grand vision for space and for the renewal of American scientific ambition. And then tell me that that’s not exactly what Neil deGrasse Tyson would say (as he does, passionately, here), or Carl Sagan (who celebrated American optimism and big ideas, and wrote extensively on why colonizing space is vital to the human future):

Yes, Gingrich is playing to the Republican base and pressing the American exceptionalism pedal hard. But he’s absolutely right about the need for big goals — a lunar colony, a manned Mars mission — that can galvanize the nation, capture the imagination of the next generation, and inspire them to study and work hard to be part of it. At heart this is entirely compatible with President Obama’s call for all of us to pull together and work towards a common purpose; the continued expansion of humanity into space, I submit, is just such a purpose, one that can fire our hearts and minds and call on us to do great things.

For all the well-publicized reasons that I won’t repeat here, Gingrich is the wrong man to lead us. But even imperfect messengers, as I’ve argued, can deliver worthwhile ideas.

Robert Gonzalez at io9 lays out some compelling reasons for a permanent moon base here. NASA offers 185 more.

Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the Gingrich speech here. He points out something that Gingrich, who supposedly opposes “big government,” glosses over: that the Apollo program Gingrich so highly praises was a massive government project — and that government, not the private sector, is what has historically funded and advanced the frontiers of exploration. Yet another reason (one Tyson also explains here) why government matters.

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How to listen, cont’d: When life hands you lemons (or a Nokia ringtone)

Following Stefon Harris’ advice, violist Lukáš Kmit’ takes what he hears and runs with it:

Well done.

(via Boing Boing)

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Yosemite and the stars

Presenting Project Yosemite — be sure to watch it full-screen. I must see this for myself one day:

I’m awed and humbled to be in a universe where such beauty exists. That is all.

(via io9)


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