Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Complete History Of The Soviet Union

 Video Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris:

While this is a great chronology of events, I am particularly fascinated by the use of Tetris as a lens to understand the timeline philosophically.

It should be noted that Tetris was originally created by a Russian, Alexey Pajitnov, in 1984 when he was working for the Soviety Union (to be exact, Soviet Academy of Sciences at their Computer Center in Moscow).

Now, notice the lyrics from the song at 3:53:

"I work so hard in arranging the block,
but each night I go home to my wife in tears.
Whats the point of it all when your building a wall
and in front of your eyes it disappears.
Pointless work for mindless pay, this is one game I shall not play."
I can't help but think that Alexey's own creative potential when designing Tetris was unleashed by his place on the timeline. Get's me thinking about how other games are reflective of their time and place in history. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Microchip Story

If your interested in Technology, History, or William Shatner you'll love this video (all the better, if like me, your a fan of all 3):

"They looked to nature for the answer. When they understood what nature was doing, they could control it." -William Shatner
Far out!

Unfortunately, the technology of today has proven to be much creepier. We saw last week from Sony that it's only a matter of time before Google's Android starts harvesting our thumbs.

Apparently, once Android has opposable thumbs, nothing will stop it and Samsung predicts it will take over the world (or at least South Korea).

Why are people advertising technology like this? Why do people think this is a good thing!?

Things begin to spiral out of control at about 26 seconds:

Via Engadget.

Why You Must Listen to Mumford & Sons #8

Reason #8 - Timshel

Complete with an allusion to Steinbeck's East of Eden, Timshel revisits the themes first introduced in the title track Sigh No More and the full narrative of the album which is unveiled in The Cave.

Many of the tracks use metaphors and allusions to speak broadly about life. In contrast, Timshel is about a women in a very specific situation. We will get to that shortly.
To understand the meaning of Timshel, you must first read the following excerpt from John Steinbeck's East of Eden:
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation [of the Bible] orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.
This understanding of Timshel provides an excellent lens to understand the womans situation, which is brought to light in the second verse:
And you are the mother,
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
We see a mother is in the midst of a significant Sigh of Life. The coldness and loss of innocence gives context to her desperate and painful situation. She is confronted with the choice to have an abortion (or possibly to put her child up for adoption). This is a Timshel moment, a life choice of paramount proportions.

As we in East of Eden, choices in life are not a legalistic "Do thou", or a predetermined "Thou Shalt", rather the glorious "Thou mayest". The choice to choose Love, Truth, and the way of the Maker.

But the allusion to East of Eden goes even deeper. In regard to these life choices, the end of the second verse ("And these are what make man great; His ladder to the stars") are the thinly veiled words of Steinbeck himself ("Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods").

The refrain brings us back to one of the major hopeful themes of the album - the fellowship of brotherly love first seen in the refrain of The Cave (But I will hold on hope; And I won't let you choke; On the noose around your neck). She would be choking on the weight of her circumstances, but she is not alone. She is in community with those who love her - the only way we can hope to weather the Sighs of Life.

by Mumford and Sons

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

But I will tell the night
And Whisper, "Lose your sight"
But I can't move the mountains for you

Don't forget to check out all the reasons to listen to Mumford & Sons:

Reason #1: Sigh No More
Reason #2: The Cave
Reason #3: Winter Winds
Reason #4: Roll Away Your Stone
Reason #5: White Blank Page
Reason #6: I Gave You All
Reason #7: Little Lion Man
Reason #8: Timshel

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Anti-Facebook

 Would you willingly add a dose of accountability to your digital identity?

Color is a new mobile social networking app with one big catch; you don't totally control the content. It intelligently pulls pictures, video, and text that are uploaded by everyone around you, creating a timeline/diary of your life.

In a mashup between a wonderful childrens story and a fascinating study on the effects of Facebook on your self-esteem I explored how our digital persona's have the potential to be dangerously uncoupled from reality.

Color offers a striking alternative:
"As for Facebook, Nguyen says he's started to lose his interest in the service. "It's become: Look at how amazing my vacation is, or look what great shape I'm in!" he says. "To me, it's way pithy. It's just become a highlight reel--and not real life anymore."

Real-life is exactly what Color hopes to deliver, with a hint of accountability. On other social networks, no one is held accountable for any photo uploaded--one can simply keep albums private or create a fake identity" (via FastCompany)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Much Radiation You Absorb Doing Everyday Tasks (Infographic)

It took me a good 10 minutes to wrap my brain around the information in this chart, but it really puts the danger of radiation exposure into perspective.

  1. Relatively we receive a lot of radiation naturally
  2. Beyond that, the most significant exposure to radiation is from medical scans
  3. Finally, you would have to live nearby (~50k) the site of a perpetual nuclear catastrophe at it's worst (such as Fukushima) for at least half a year straight to receive severe radiation poisoning.
That's not to put the harm of radiation poisoning lightly, but relatively, the potential threat of radiation poisoning is significantly less then what I imagined. 

Full size image. via io9

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Optimism vs. Pessimism

Atomic energy is a timely application of being uneasily hopeful about technology.

But this thought was first conceived in my post about the role of social media in the Egyptian revolution. I concluded by expressing my "uneasy hopefulness" about the opportunities that digital technology offers for societal change.

I began toying with the merits of embracing a psychological state that is pinned between the tension of optimism (hopefulness) and pessimism (uneasiness).
  • If one is overly pessimistic, they will choke out the positive redemptive potential in themselves and others through judgement and a lack of grace.
  • If one is overly optimistic, they will unleash the negative destructive potential in themselves and others with a lack of accountability and discernment.
It seems one must simultaneously hold an optimistic and pessimistic view in order to advance the cause of redemption.

I somewhat related topic (though I'm not quite sure how) this is why I appreciate Trent Reznors music. The moments of cacophony, of utter disorder, compliment and even amplify the moments of order and beauty. This simultaneous order and disorder stimulates and stretches both parts of my brain allowing a deeper/fuller enjoyment that would not be possible otherwise.

Maybe it's a stretch to apply this to music, but maybe not. In many areas of life I'm seeing this model of necessary stretching, or discomfort, in order to grow and experience fullness.

Where have you experienced this in your own life?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rescue in the Rubble

Imagine you are in a half delirious state; trapped, injured and stunned from the building that collapsed around you.

The earthquake hit without warning. It's hard to say how long you were unconscious, but once you came to, you spent the first hour screaming for help. After no response, you struggle in vain with your one free arm to writhe yourself from the debris that has you pinned.

Time passes eternally as you fall in and out of consciousness.

A small amount of light passes through the rubble piled around you. You hear something moving nearby, but your mind can only fear the worst. Is it an aftershock? No, the noise is to small and localized. Is the structure going to collapse further? No, the noise persists too consistently. "Is someone there?", you shout. No answer.

It's getting closer.

Your eyes strain in the darkness trying to see into the crevice where the sound is originating.

The sound is even closer now.

You see some debris moving, and then, you scream in horror as THIS slithers through the crack:

The robotic snake swings it's head in your direction as it senses your frantic struggles in the debris and freezes it's gaze on you in recognition of your screams....

Now tell me, how do you feel in this moment? Is this a rescue, or a nightmare?

Don't get me wrong, I'd rather be found sooner than later. But what good is being found if you die from a heart attack.

After I wrote this I found an excellent Q&A with researchers who are wrestling with exactly this kind of situation. Unfortunately, their solution introduces a host of even more terrifying scenarios - teaching robots to be deceptive (which is horribly ironic because of the already strong association with snakes and deception).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Movie Madness (Poll)

64 of the greatest Science Fiction movies duke it out based on your votes, First Round is TODAY at io9.

I'm suprised Wall-E is beating Gattaca, otherwise (if your curious) my votes for round 1 are matching the current leaders (as of typing).
TODAY March 15 and Friday, March 18: First Round
Monday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 23: Second Round
Friday, March 25: Sweet Sixteen
Monday, March 28: Elite Eight
Wednesday, March 30: Final Four
Friday, April 1: Final Four
Monday, April 4: Championship

I can't imagine any moving having enough mass appeal to beat out Star Wars.

My prediction: Star Wars will beat Star Trek II: Wraith of Khan in the championship.

But it will be a lot of fun to see how the others fall a long the way!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Creepy Sony Commercial

If you weren't already afraid of the impending apocalypse at the hands of sentient machines:

Well, we can rest assured that our harvested body parts will live on in the form of robotic hybrids.

At least we have the Dodge Charger, "leader of the human resistance":

That's an example of a commercial that understands my fears and doesn't twist them in to a nightmare. As a result I have a more positive opinion of the brand.

But this isn't really new for Sony, they already scarred me for life with this one:

And then there is always this classy ad.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Sony doesn't quite understand American culture yet.

Novellus Donates $1 Million to Japan Relief Effort

Inspirational kind of stuff that makes you proud to work for your company.
From the press release:
"Without Japan, the semiconductor industry could not have achieved the technological breakthroughs that have improved the quality of life for so many throughout the world," said Richard S. Hill, chairman and chief executive officer of Novellus Systems. "Furthermore, the success Novellus Systems enjoys today is directly related to the support Japanese companies have given Novellus over the last 20 years. There is no way we can turn a blind eye to such massive devastation. While money will never replace the souls lost in this disaster, it is our hope this donation can help the people of Japan know that they are not alone in their time of need. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the people of Japan for their catastrophic loss."
Also, check out this eye opening before/after photo set of the devastation inflicted by the tsunuami.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

I have introduced you to Chupwala's and Guppies; using the metaphorical imagery as a social critique of the trappings of Facebook (which in itself is not a problem, but is merely representative of our modern lives).

The Chupwala's, living in darkness, are polluting the sea of stories at it's Source/Wellspring while the Guppies live lavishly in a controlled state of perpetual light, taking the Stories for granted, even defiling them by rewriting themselves into the center of every story.

In one of my favorite excerpts; Iff, a Guppie, has a shocking revelation of the damage that has been done to the Sea of Stories:
Iff broke in. "Look down at the Ocean".The thick, dark poison was everywhere now, obliterating the colours of the Streams of Story, which Haroun could no longer tell apart. A cold, clammy feeling rose up from the water, which was near freezing point, 'as cold as death', Haroun found himself thinking. Iff's grief began to overflow. It's our own fault,' he wept. 'We are the Guardians of the Ocean, and we didn't guard it. Look at the Ocean, look at it! The oldest stories ever made, and look at them now. We let them rot, we abandoned them, long before this poisoning. We lost touch with our beginnings, with our roots, our Wellspring, our Source. Boring, we said, not in demand, surplus to requirements. And now, look, just look! No colour, no life, no nothing. Spoilt! (Page 146)
I can't help but think Salman Rushdie is pointing to an ever growing crack in our foundation. We've lost touch with our roots, distracted by an endless pursuit for lavish comfort, making the Story all about us.

This is one childrens story every adult should read.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mac Poster Trilogy

Here's some Mac trivia (and art) for you Apple geeks.

This story begins with a piece of art. I was quite fond of "Exploded 128" by Garry Booth:

So Elena got me the whole trilogy for Christmas.

The 2nd piece is Macronaut by Ray Frenden:

But the trivia comes in with the third poster. I was having a conversation tonight with Rob about "Mac Ghosts" by Gary Gao, and we were trying to figure out exactly what system is on the right:

Well, after a good half hour of pouring over Apple products from the last 3 1/2 decades I have conclusive results.

Left is the late 1999 2nd gen iMac (with slot loading CD-R/DVD as opposed to the disc tray on the 1st Gen).

Center is, of course, the momentous 1984 Macintosh 128.

And the mystery system on the right is... drum roll... 1978 Apple II Plus with a black and white Sanyo VM 4209 monitor and two Apple Disk II 5.25" floppy disk readers (I owe the exact details to an old eBay bid):

At first I thought it was Lisa because I remembered the two 5.25" floppy drives:

It's Not About Us

Yesterday, from the childrens story Haroun and The Sea of Stories, I mentioned the Chupwala's who live in darkness allowing their shadows to act independently of their true self. This is poignant metaphor for our digital identity which may not be rooted in the light/reality of our true self expressed in genuine community.

Well, on the other side of the planet live the Guppies. The Chupwalas live in darkness percisely because the Guppies used the P2C2E (Process Too Complicated To Explain) machine to lock the planets rotation in place so that they could live in perpetual sunshine.

Guppies? Maybe it's Yuppies.

But another interesting aspect of the Guppies is that their Prince Bolo and Princess Batcheat are equally reponsible for polluting the Stories, not by plugging up the renewing Well-Spring, but by distorting the existing stories to be all about them. Famous stories are rewritten, displacing the central characters with their own name.

Again, I'm going to direct the aim squarely at Facebook. To quote one of my favorite bloggers:
It’s not about us. The blogosphere, the Twitterverse, the Facebook generation has made everything so much about us... But I think scripture is clear that there are at least two things we should view as more important than ourselves: God, and other people [Matthew 22]. We should humble ourselves and think less of our own [opinions]... They have a place, to be sure, but it must all be grounded in a deep, Christ-like humility. (Brett McCraken)
We must keep the narrative of the story intact; not defile it by making the story all about us.

I'm just scratching the surface of the depth and beauty in Haroun. This is one childrens story every adult should read.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Your Brain on Facebook

Or should I say the "Shadow of the Person, or Self, or Substance" on Facebook. I can see your quizzical look already. Let me explain...

There was a study by researchers at Cornell concerning the effects of Facebook on your brain. Students were placed in 1 of the following 3 situations:

A) 3 minutes in front of a blank computer screen (the control)
B) 3 minutes in front of a blank computer screen with a mirror nearby
C) 3 minutes browsing their Facebook profile.

Following this each student was given a questionnaire to gauge their self-esteem. Groups A and B saw no effect. Group C saw a positive spike in the self-esteem of participants.
"Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does not match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves. We're not saying that it's a deceptive version of self, but it's a positive one." (Cornell Chronicle)
You might have expected these results, but is a self-created positive version of self really not a deceptive version of self? Some of those terms would have to be qualified for me to agree with that statement. But I digress.

Now, what am I getting at with this business about Facebook being a "Shadow of the Person, or Self, or Substance"?

Well, I recently read a children's story.

But this is not just any children's story, this is magical realism at it's best. A masterpiece by Salman Rushdie called Haroun and the Sea of Stories. And Salman knows as well as anyone that a children's story can contain powerful ideas - there have been attempts to take his life because of ideas in another of his children's books.

In one particular scene of Haroun, a central character named Rashid comes across an individual known as a Chupwala. Chupwalas are a society that live in darkness and are accused of committing a great wrong; polluting the Well-Spring that refreshes the waters of the Sea of Stories.

Also, you should know Chupwalas have taken an oath with their Cultmaster leader to never speak. So Rashid is translating an ancient form of sign language spoken by both the Chupwala and the Chupwalas shadow. Yes, the shadow speaks as its own entity. As you will see, in this land of darkness the shadows of a Chupwala can act independently of the Chupwalas themselves.
Now it was the Shadow's turn to 'speak'. 'You must understand that in the Land of Chup, Shadows are considered the equals of the people to whom they are joined,' it began (with Rashid translating again). 'Chupwalas live in the dark, you know, and in the dark a Shadow doesn't have to be one single shape all the time. Some Shadows - such as my good-self - learn how to change ourselves, simply by wishing to do so. Imagine the advantages! If a Shadow doesn't care for the clothes sense or hairstyle of the person whom it's attached, it can simply choose a style for itself. A Chupwala's Shadow can begraceful as a dancer even if its owner is clumsy as an oaf. You comprehend? What's more: in the Land of Chup, a Shadow very often has a stronger personality than the Person, or Self, or Substance to whom or to which it is join! So often the Shadow leads, and it is the Person or Self or Substance that follows. And of course there can be quarrels between the Shadow and the Substance or Self or Person; they can pull in opposite directions - how often have I witnessed that! - but just as often there is a true partnership, and mutual respect. - Pg 132 Haroun and the Sea of Stories
As I will discuss further in a future post, the Chupwala's live in darkness as the result of a machine simply known as P2C2E (Process Too Complicated To Explain).

Even though this book was written 21 years ago, it would seem the P2C2E is a fairly accurate analogy to our digital existence which allows our shadows to exist independently of our self.

Monday, March 07, 2011

"So Much Pain!"

Shelly (who I consider to be my art guru) wrote an excellent blog post on the Isenheim altarpiece.

I have always LOVED the Isenheim altarpiece because it shows us something really wonderful (and true) that the artist understood about Christ. Jesus' skin is all marked up in this painting for a very special reason. The monastery in Isenheim was run by the Brothers of St. Anthony, and served as a hospital. The Brothers of St. Anthony were especially skilled at taking care of people with some really painful skin diseases. The people who came to the hospital sometimes looked a lot like Jesus did here - big sores all over their bodies. 
So, imagine being a patient at this monastery and walking into the chapel to pray. You feel miserable and you look up and see this picture of Jesus. Not only do you see a reminder of how he suffered to save you, but you notice his skin looks like yours. You see that Jesus is someone who knows what it's like to be you! He knows what your pain feels like, and like the Bible says he is always "interceding" for us when we don't even know how to describe what we feel... 
After showing one of her classmates, "The first thing she said when she saw it was, "So much pain!" Yes. Exactly. I replied, "That's why I love it. It shows Jesus as someone who knows our pain."

This reminds me of another facet of the Crucifixion story - Christ Body in the Tomb.

Only instead of pain it's "So Much Death!"

I first came across Christ Body in the Tomb after reading about it in The Idiot by Dostoevsky; whom it had a significant impact on.

And if you are wondering why Christs body looks so similar in both works (particularly the hands), they were done by contemporary Germany painters in the first half of the 16th century. The altarpiece is by Matthias Grünewald and the tomb by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Loss of Penmanship

Speaking of the ancient technology of pencil and paper, I've had a lot of conversations recently about the loss of penmanship (in this digital age of the keyboard).

I regularly find myself scrawling something on a post it note, only to have the first word come out as a incomprehensible traffic jam of characters. I've decided this is simply because my brain is trying to communicate through my hands too fast. Based on how smashed the first word is, I'm guesstimating that I type at least 4 times as fast as I write.

This also reminds me of a funny thing I saw a child do recently. We all know the ubiquitous sideways smiley that litters our casual digital communication, an obvious evolution of the right side up smiley that our teachers scrippled on our homework in grade school.

I saw a child hand write a side ways smiley face at the end of their sentance.

I suppose if that's all a child has ever known in the digital age, as far as they know, a smiley face is supposed to be sideways.

Whenever I discuss the loss of penmanship, there is always a sense of fear mixed with a sense of nostalgia. When literacy became commonplace, I'm sure many feared (or maybe not) we would loose our verbal story telling skills and memory capacity.

Maybe they were right.

But when we step back at look at it, this is a much smaller and insignificant step (physical script to digital script) then transitions from oral communication to written communication.

So lets loose the fear, and laugh about the quirks. :)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Post-PC Age

Apple spent the last half a decade distinguishing between Mac & PC - so that they can champion the "post-PC age".

You can hear this repeatedly in yesterdays presentation.

If I understand correctly, Steve Jobs was brewing up the iPhone/iPad revolution in early 2000's before the Mac vs PC ad campaign began. I have a hunch they had a clear vision for ushering in the post-PC age.

We see here how strategic Apple is, especially in light of the "Back to Mac" renewal of the Mac platform. They are leveraging the iOS platform as a lifeline to pull the Mac into the post-PC age. This is what Apple means when they say OSX Lion is "The Power of Mac OSX, the Magic of iPad".

Apple is not leaving Mac behind in the dieing PC-age.

And I'm not speaking functionally (though there is plenty of truth in that too) so much as I am talking consumer perception of what is antiquated and what is the cutting edge.