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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
pandacam! (via metafilter)

differences :D (via metafilter)

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Monday, September 29, 2003
a survey of the literature by george saunders! (via the jamais vu)

The Patriotic Studies discipline may properly be said to have begun with the work of Jennison et al., which first established the existence of the so-called “fluid-nations,” entities functionally identical to the more traditional geographically based nations (“geo-nations”), save for their lack of what the authors termed “spatial/geographic contiguity.” Citizenship in a fluid-nation was seen to be contingent not upon residence in some shared physical space (i.e., within “borders”) but, rather, upon commonly held “values, loyalties, and/or habitual patterns of behavior” seen to exist across geo-national borders.
acoustic cyberspace by erik davis :D (via interconnected)
In closing, I'd like to re-emphasize that the acoustic dimension of electronic technology is a powerful emergent domain—not just for aesthetics, but for the organization of subjectivity and hence for the organization of collectives, of larger political groupings in the broadest sense of politics. I have used the example of music because it demonstrates most clearly how large groups of people around can organize—or be organized—around the politics of affect, of resonance.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
14BUDDHISM (email this)

In the 2,500-year history of Buddhism, the religion has directed its energy inward in an attempt to train the mind to understand the mental state of happiness, to identify and defuse sources of negative emotion and to cultivate emotional states like compassion to improve personal and societal well-being. For decades, scientific research in this country has focused on the short-term effects of meditation on the nervous system, finding that meditation reduces markers of stress like heart rate and perspiration. This research became the basis for the ''relaxation response'' popularized by Prof. Herbert Benson of Harvard in the 1970's. Buddhist practice, however, emphasizes enduring changes in mental activity, not just short-term results. And it is the neural and physical impact of the long-term changes, achieved after years of intense practice, that is increasingly intriguing to scientists.

''In Buddhist tradition,'' Davidson explains, '''meditation' is a word that is equivalent to a word like 'sports' in the U.S. It's a family of activity, not a single thing.'' Each of these meditative practices calls on different mental skills, according to Buddhist practitioners. The Wisconsin researchers, for example, are focusing on three common forms of Buddhist meditation. ''One is focused attention, where they specifically train themselves to focus on a single object for long periods of time,'' Davidson says. ''The second area is where they voluntarily cultivate compassion. It's something they do every day, and they have special exercises where they envision negative events, something that causes anger or irritability, and then transform it and infuse it with an antidote, which is compassion. They say they are able to do it just like that,'' he says, snapping his fingers. ''The third is called 'open presence.' It is a state of being acutely aware of whatever thought, emotion or sensation is present, without reacting to it. They describe it as pure awareness.''

The fact that the brain can learn, adapt and molecularly resculpture itself on the basis of experience and training suggests that meditation may leave a biological residue in the brain -- a residue that, with the increasing sophistication of new technology, might be captured and measured. ''This fits into the whole neuroscience literature of expertise,'' says Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard neuroscientist, ''where taxi drivers are studied for their spatial memory and concert musicians are studied for their sense of pitch. If you do something, anything, even play Ping-Pong, for 20 years, eight hours a day, there's going to be something in your brain that's different from someone who didn't do that. It's just got to be.''

When one scientist in the control room said, ''All right, here comes the first picture,'' the young woman visibly tensed, gripping her elbows. Electrodes snaked out of her scalp and from two spots just below her right eye. And then, staring into a monitor, the young woman watched as a succession of mostly disturbing images flashed on a screen in front of her -- a horribly mutilated body, a severed hand, a venomous snake poised to strike. Through earphones, the woman was prompted to modulate her emotional response as each image appeared, either to enhance it or suppress it, while the electrodes below her eye surreptitiously tapped into a neural circuit that would indicate if she had successfully modified either a positive or negative emotional response to the images.

The visiting monks, as well as a group of meditating office workers at a nearby biotech company, have viewed these same gruesome images for the same purpose: to determine what Davidson calls each individual's ''affective style'' (if they are prone, for example, to hang onto negative emotional reactions) and if that style can be modulated by mental effort, of the sort that meditation seeks to cultivate. It is the hope of Davidson and his sometime collaborator Jon Kabat-Zinn that the power of meditation can be harnessed to promote not only emotional well-being but also physical health.

Since founding the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have treated 16,000 patients and taught more than 2,000 health professionals the techniques of ''mindfulness meditation,'' which instructs a Buddhist-inspired ''nonjudgmental,'' total awareness of the present moment as a way of reducing stress. Along the way, Kabat-Zinn has published small but intriguing studies showing that people undergoing treatment for psoriasis heal four times as fast if they meditate; that cancer patients practicing meditation had significantly better emotional outlooks than a control group; and not only that meditation relieved symptoms in patients with anxiety and chronic pain but also that the benefits persisted up to four years after training. Kabat-Zinn is conducting a study for Cigna HealthCare to see if meditation reduces the costs of treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.

07HAPPINESS (email this)

Gilbert's papers on affective forecasting began to appear in the late 1990's, but the idea to study happiness and emotional prediction actually came to him on a sunny afternoon in October 1992, just as he and his friend Jonathan Jay Koehler sat down for lunch outside the psychology building at the University of Texas at Austin, where both men were teaching at the time. Gilbert was uninspired about his studies and says he felt despair about his failing marriage. And as he launched into a discussion of his personal life, he swerved to ask why economists focus on the financial aspects of decision making rather than the emotional ones. Koehler recalls, ''Gilbert said something like: 'It all seems so small. It isn't really about money; it's about happiness. Isn't that what everybody wants to know when we make a decision?' '' For a moment, Gilbert forgot his troubles, and two more questions came to him. Do we even know what makes us happy? And if it's difficult to figure out what makes us happy in the moment, how can we predict what will make us happy in the future?

In the early 1990's, for an up-and-coming psychology professor like Gilbert to switch his field of inquiry from how we perceive one another to happiness, as he did that day, was just a hairsbreadth short of bizarre. But Gilbert has always liked questions that lead him somewhere new. Now 45, Gilbert dropped out of high school at 15, hooking into what he calls ''the tail end of the hippie movement'' and hitchhiking aimlessly from town to town with his guitar. He met his wife on the road; she was hitching in the other direction. They married at 17, had a son at 18 and settled down in Denver. ''I pulled weeds, I sold rebar, I sold carpet, I installed carpet, I spent a lot of time as a phone solicitor,'' he recalls. During this period he spent several years turning out science-fiction stories for magazines like Amazing Stories. Thus, in addition to being ''one of the most gifted social psychologists of our age,'' as the psychology writer and professor David G. Myers describes him to me, Gilbert is the author of ''The Essence of Grunk,'' a story about an encounter with a creature made of egg salad that jets around the galaxy in a rocket-powered refrigerator.

Psychology was a matter of happenstance. In the midst of his sci-fi career, Gilbert tried to sign up for a writing course at the local community college, but the class was full; he figured that psych, still accepting registrants, would help him with character development in his fiction. It led instead to an undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado at Denver, then a Ph.D. at Princeton, then an appointment at the University of Texas, then the appointment at Harvard. ''People ask why I study happiness,'' Gilbert says, ''and I say, 'Why study anything else?' It's the holy grail. We're studying the thing that all human action is directed toward.''

Here's how it expresses itself. In a recent experiment, Loewenstein tried to find out how likely people might be to dance alone to Rick James's ''Super Freak'' in front of a large audience. Many agreed to do so for a certain amount of money a week in advance, only to renege when the day came to take the stage. This sounds like a goof, but it gets at the fundamental difference between how we behave in ''hot'' states (those of anxiety, courage, fear, drug craving, sexual excitation and the like) and ''cold'' states of rational calm. This empathy gap in thought and behavior -- we cannot seem to predict how we will behave in a hot state when we are in a cold state -- affects happiness in an important but somewhat less consistent way than the impact bias. ''So much of our lives involves making decisions that have consequences for the future,'' Loewenstein says. ''And if our decision making is influenced by these transient emotional and psychological states, then we know we're not making decisions with an eye toward future consequences.'' This may be as simple as an unfortunate proclamation of love in a moment of lust, Loewenstein explains, or something darker, like an act of road rage or of suicide.

This is exciting to Gilbert. But at the same time, it's not a technique he wants to shape into a self-help book, or one that he even imagines could be practically implemented. ''Hope and fear are enduring features of the human experience,'' he says, ''and it is unlikely that people are going to abandon them anytime soon just because some psychologist told them they should.'' In fact, in his recent writings, he has wondered whether forecasting errors might somehow serve a larger functional purpose he doesn't yet understand. If he could wave a wand tomorrow and eliminate all affective-forecasting errors, I ask, would he? ''The benefits of not making this error would seem to be that you get a little more happiness,'' he says. ''When choosing between two jobs, you wouldn't sweat as much because you'd say: 'You know, I'll be happy in both. I'll adapt to either circumstance pretty well, so there's no use in killing myself for the next week.' But maybe our caricatures of the future -- these overinflated assessments of how good or bad things will be -- maybe it's these illusory assessments that keep us moving in one direction over the other. Maybe we don't want a society of people who shrug and say, 'It won't really make a difference.'

''Maybe it's important for there to be carrots and sticks in the world, even if they are illusions,'' he adds. ''They keep us moving towards carrots and away from sticks.''

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Friday, September 12, 2003
interview click

review mp3s

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Tuesday, September 9, 2003
processing processing

I'm not talking about what will work, or what will happen, but what could be elegant—what could allow people to create beautiful web sites. I have a few ideas that I've worked into Ftrain: I got rid of all internal structures for the site, like sections, chapters, authors, and descriptions, and instead express that data in an RDF-like syntax that is backed by a (pseudo) ontology; this way I can let the computer reason about content, so that when someone wanted to see all the stories on the site, it could produce all the fictional stories as well as all the non-fiction stories, and if they wanted to see just the fictional stories, well, we could do that too. This is a very different way of thinking about a site, and I'm not sure I understand it yet. But having an internal ontology of content structures does give me an awful lot of new ideas about navigation, reading, and suchlike.

That is what is most painful about a new medium, is how much the work is about the medium itself. Weblogs are a pure example: there is a significant percentage of weblogging that is about weblogging, as people figure out what to do with the new forms, much as when people, faced with a microphone, will say “I am talking into the microphone, hello, on the microphone, me, hey, microphone. Microphone. Hey. Me. I'm here. Talking. Hi there, on the microphone. That's me, talking. Please check out my blog.” As any toddler's parents will tell you, narcissistic self-consciousness is a part of early growth, and it will take years before we get it out of our collective systems, but eventually people will realize the value of saying something besides saying “I am saying something,” and we can go from there. The medium may be the message, but the message is also the message.
unspoken groups
But here’s the problem: things aren’t about what they’re about. "Aboutness" is also contextual and ambiguous. For example, if my blog entry on the JFK assassination links to the 1962 Sears catalog from which Oswald bought his rifle, the author of that catalog will not have labeled it as being about the JFK shooting. And if a scientist publishes a paper about a new polymer, she may in passing reject some closely related compound because it’s too sticky…but that may be exactly what you’re looking for. So, for you the article is about what the author tosses away in a footnote. Not to mention that in much of the best writing, about-ness is an emergent property. So, while the author’s intentions are an important clue, aboutness is ambiguous. Systems that too easily categorize and classify based upon a univocal idea of aboutness do violence to their topic.

Second, social software enables the social network’s shape to emerge. Rather than, for example, dividing the company into groups, structuring access permissions, and provisioning them with the toolset it’s anticipated they’ll need, emergent social software is low-tech and relatively non-intrusive. It may include such familiar items as chats, mailing lists, instant messaging, weblogs and wikis. The access controls are generally turned off at first. The taxonomy is blank. The webspace is unfurnished and undivided. The group builds what it needs as it needs it. The structure of the group’s tools follows upon the group’s growth into itself. For example, the group may use a wiki – a jointly editable web site – that starts off blank. As the group develops interests, individuals will add in pages, structuring the workspace. Because the site is editable by every individual, what emerges is a workspace that reflects not the group’s expected interests or its pretended interests or its satisfy-the-boss interests but its real interests...interests it may not even know it had.

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Monday, September 8, 2003
css wiki zen

"Looking like a regular website" for me also adds additional design parameters. In my eyes, a site has to be valid HTML and use CSS instead of tables for layout. A site also should be semantically correct, and since most wikis produce fairly simple HTML (content is just headings and paragraphs), I intended to take a CSS zen garden approach when coding it, putting all style into a CSS file while leaving the content produced by the wiki (and the content order) alone. The last requirement I put on myself was to produce a site that didn't look like it was limited by the other parameters. Like other projects I have created, I design purely in photoshop. This often produces interesting designs that have to be solved like a rubik's cube when converting them to xhtml/css, but I do my best not to think about XHTML strict vs. transitional when putting colors, fonts, and shapes together in photoshop.

the grey automobile

To begin with benshis. During the silent film era, Japanese exhibitors supplied a benshi, or interpreting actor, to stand next to the screen and explain films. The benshis might or might not understand the Western stories and characters any more than the audience did, but that didn't matter, because benshis evolved a performance tradition of their own--not only explaining, but praising, criticizing, sympathizing and applauding, in parallel with the film. Benshis became so popular that their names were billed above the stars, they had theaters of their own, and silent films survived in Japan for almost a decade after the introduction of sound--because audiences could not do without their beloved benshis.

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Friday, September 5, 2003
blogworld weblogs

myst online trailer homeworld 2 demo

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Tuesday, September 2, 2003
three

Briony sat on the floor with her back to one of the tall built-in toy cupboards and fanned her face with the pages of her play. The silence in the house was complete—no voices or footfalls downstairs, no murmurs from the plumbing; in the space between one of the open sash windows a trapped fly had abandoned its struggle, and outside, the liquid birdsong had evaporated in the heat. She pushed her knees out straight before her and let the folds of her white muslin dress and the familiar, endearing, pucker of skin about her knees fill her view. She should have changed her dress this morning. She thought how she should take more care of her appearance, like Lola. It was childish not to. But what an effort it was. The silence hissed in her ears and her vision was faintly distorted—her hands in her lap appeared unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge. She brought her forefinger closer to her face and stared at it, urging it to move. It remained still because she was pretending, she was not entirely serious, and because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it. And when she did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of her mind. When did it know to move, when did she know to move it? There was no catching herself out. It was either-or. There was no stitching, no seam, and yet she knew that behind the smooth continuous fabric was the real self—was it her soul?—which took the decision to cease pretending, and gave the final command.

These thoughts were as familiar to her, and as comforting, as the precise configuration of her knees, their matching but competing, symmetrical and reversible, look. A second thought always followed the first, one mystery bred another: Was everyone else really alive as she was? For example, did her sister really matter to herself, was she as valuable to herself as Briony was? Was being Cecilia just as vivid an affair as being Briony? Did her sister also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did she spend time thinking about it, with a finger held up to her face? Did everybody, including her father, Betty, Hardman? If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone's thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone's claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance. But if the answer was no, then Briony was surrounded by machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling she had. This was sinister and lonely, as well as unlikely. For, though it offended her sense of order, she knew that it was overwhelmingly probable that everyone else had thoughts like hers. She knew this, but only in a rather arid way; she didn't really feel it.
163
When I was little and I first went to school, my main teacher was called Julie, because Siobhan hadn't started working at the school then. She only started working at the school when I was twelve.

And one day Julie sat down at a desk next to me and put a tube of Smarties on the desk, and she said, "Christopher, what do you think is in here?"

And I said, "Smarties."

Then she took the top off the Smarties tube and turned it upside down and a little red pencil came out and she laughed and I said, "It's not Smarties, it's a pencil."

Then she put the little red pencil back inside the Smarties tube and put the top back on.

Then she said, "If your mummy came in now and we asked her what was inside the Smarties tube, what do you think she would say?" because I used to call Mother Mummy then, not Mother.

And I said, "A pencil."

That was because when I was little I didn't understand about other people having minds. And Julie said to Mother and Father that I would always find this very difficult. But I don't find this difficult now. Because I decided that it was a kind of puzzle, and if something is a puzzle there is always a way of solving it.

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