Thursday, 28 February 2013
A really engrossing article from Aeon magazine profiles some more big-thinkers regarding the fracturing future possibilities for mankind. Building from an earlier clever interview that leaned towards the apocalyptic, our impulsive and unhelpful tendencies are explored but also our positive capacities and how they might be synthetically extended.
Like some hard-hitting thought-experiment, which does not seem so far-fetched like the classic Cartesian teasers of Brain-in-a-Vat or Teleportation that involves re-assembly of a subject on-site with simultaneous destruction at the origin, the dialogue summons up a hypothetical, benevolent and omnipresent Artificial Intelligence, having gradually won acceptance, that’s like the Ancient Greek household gods, cults, patrons, oracles and wishing-wells, only closely monitored, mimicking current trends in social networks and driven traffic, also known as popularity. The intelligence’s only manifestation in the real world would be as a question-and-answer service—a very sophisticated one, which would learn by aggregation of all queries and solutions offered, evaluating and project their outcomes. Such a universal internet, pervasive and accessible, could learn as well by positive-reinforcement, and here I think is where the dialogue veers towards doom and gloom, sort of like a lab rat (by who are the overlords and who is the subject?) who avoids an electro-shock or earns a treat from historical successes and failures. It all sound eerily familiar, and the landscape, world-view of inquiring minds. But how accommodating is the landscaper? Certainly most problems are not without precedence and our predicaments and quandaries are not as unique as we’d like to think in some form, but a lot of examples from the past do not necessarily yield a right, correct answer
Monday, 25 February 2013
Although not without historical precedence, the more reflection dedicated to the Pope’s resolve to resign his post enlivens some interesting repercussions. It seems that one cannot simply retire from the office, and his intentions to repair to a Roman monastery make me wonder if Benedikt will be a mentor, a shadow pope, inviting a second succession of schisms for the Church Universal.
And does his decision open up an expectation, the option for all predecessors to gracefully bow out, whether a divine directive or public perception of being outmoded, like some old and tired politician. With some providence, we will not be overcome by such intrigues.
A team from the University of Karlsruhe has been awarded an honourarium from an internet giant for having developed an “air-writing” system to make using touch-screens easier and more intuitive.
There is due cause for revulsion and concern when it comes to food-security and integrity—and I don’t think that this strange phenomena is polluting clinical studies but it is something to consider when one has everything under the microscope and genetic makeup is something writ-large like a rancher’s brand—but Nature periodically orchestrates a very elaborate waltz between genomes, in ways not fully understood though more and more bizarre examples are being discovered.
Sunday, 24 February 2013
Experimentation is possibly demonstrating the waning efficacy of pesticides, namely in tests involving the pervasive chemical DEET. Mosquitoes that are spreading the scourges of mankind that defy overcoming on first exposure avoid the active ingredient, developed by the US military to make jungle warfare more tolerable, but upon their second encounter, seem inured to the taste and don’t seem to mind it so much, like acquiring a taste for coffee or beer and maybe even a liking for it.
Spielgel’s Eines Tages has a fascinating little article about a short-lived micro-nation that came into being in the Rhine Valley due to cartographical errors in dividing up occupied Prussia after WWI among the British, French and American area-of-responsibility. A gap resulting in dividing control which left the region containing the monastic town of Lorch, Kaub and Limburg isolated and able to claim a quasi-independence.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
BBC Magazine profiles an interesting study from Yale University’s department of Sociology on the potential connection between the confines of grammar and financial readiness, with likely bonds among the cultural gradients in the spectrum of mores, like hierarchy, collectivism versus individualism, gender equality, etc.
The lead researcher groups all the world’s languages into two classes, one group, which includes English, is marked by a strong shifting of tenses to express action, intentions and wishes that are to take place in the future, covering both the mundane and the inspired, and the other group of languages whose rules of grammar do not make a big distinction between present and future. The difference does not fall strictly among family lines—for example, while in English one must say, “It will snow tomorrow,” auf Deutsch, a close relative, one can say, “Morgen scheint es” with no ambiguity. European on balance languages seem to have the most formal ways of differentiating time. After large-scale studies on the future-oriented habits of speakers of these different lingual classes, mostly involving savings and retirement but also habits, like exercise and preventative health, that defer rewards for present action, the researcher found a strong correlation between shoring up for one’s future, whether one’s Golden Years or something more immediate though not instantly gratified, among those speakers whose tongue did not really have a separate future tense.
The very fine and peripatetic blog Kottke directs to an interview from The Atlantic with Oxford philosophy professor Nick Bostrom about humanity’s penchant to attribute its destruction to something external, like a collapsing environment, meteor impact or seismic event rather than culprits of its own making.
Friday, 22 February 2013
We all have certain internal monologues, which are sometimes broadcast in other venues, but others, possible more rare since so much is shared, with varying degrees of self-censorship and editing, are meant for our consumption alone. German public radio had an excellent
vignette about one such surreptitious collector of those private streams-of-thought (leidiglich, nicht entweder auf Deutsch), intended for the author’s eyes only, and compiled her findings and reflections into a book on the ephemeral phenomena of the shopping-list.
Thursday, 21 February 2013
Mental Floss has a neat little article on the origin and mutation of English words garbled by mishearing them and shifting grammar conventions.
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
I find it nice that my old bank, and perhaps my new one as well, supports the dream and demand of home-ownership with various avenues thereto, even though such aspirations in Germany are not unattainable, of course, but traditionally not defining of one’s character and not some obligatory rite of passage, to be saddled with an enduring debt to call one’s own. I find it a little off-putting that the Rubik’s Cube image of a house chosen resembles the movie poster from the film Cabin in the Woods, making the whole arrangement seem rather darkly and sacrificial, and not in a responsible way. A home and wealth is something generational, a legacy but neither are regarded as with such status any longer, I think.
Geologists researching defunct mining sites around Leipzig are discovering veins of rare-earth elements, which are in high demand for the electronics industry mainly as something akin to what the connective tissue and synapses need to metabolize in circuitry.
Currently, China has a virtual monopoly the world’s supply, which might be putting manufacturers in an awkward position, given purported labour conditions and compromising environmental practices. Germany, first trying to provide resources through electronic scrap, is studying Australia’s, as China’s chief competition, less than sloppy-seconds for ideas on how to extract pay-dirt in a more responsible way. I wonder how the shift in potential suppliers, though price always seems to under-cut accountability, might alter the landscape of prospecting and consumerism.
The spreading discoveries of horse and donkey meat in samples of processed foods in discount supermarkets does not only represent a revolting betrayal and a call for consumers who either seek out the greatest apparent bargains out of thrift or out of necessity to re-evaluate trust and priorities. Shoppers who are not patronizing their local butchers and farmers’ markets, though left with some reliable alternatives at grocery stores, have to wonder what sort of institutionalization in Europe make cheap food no good deals.
Monday, 18 February 2013
While the media focus on European economic policies and tax accords from the perspective of the States seems more preoccupied with the potential spillage and knock-on effects of the proposed Tobin Tax, a levy on financial transactions and market trades, the burgeoning talk of a trans-Atlantic Free-Trade-Agreement, urged by both the US administration and European commission president seems an idea comfortably, tantalizingly far away.
Those sound positive on balance, but I fear that consumer protections will suffer through compromise. Instead of meeting half-way or adopting the more stringent standards of one partner, existing safeguards, like employment rights, food labeling requirements, safety standards and protection for the environment and livestock will be relaxed, diluted in order to meet industry imposed milestones. I hope that this is not the case, because risking health and security is no lubricant for trade, and to prevent these attitudes from prevailing, one cannot take the stance that procrastination and off-putting is acceptable, any more than in the here and now surrendering one’s sovereignty and self-determination to creditors is.
Sunday, 17 February 2013
As I was completing some of the bureaucratic tasks to settle into my new job, I found it a little ironic that the special vehicle registration office (Kfz-Zulassungsbehörde) for the Hessian state capital of Wiesbaden was located in a particularly contentious former exclave, the borough of Mainz-Kastel and probably the least allied location for a function peculiar to state authorities.
I knew that there was a certain patriotic tug-of-war between the state capitals, facing each other on opposite sides of the Rhine, but I did not know about the details or history at first. In Roman times with the founding of the frontier fortifications at Mogonticum (Mainz, Mayence), the empire first crossed the Rhine at this point of land with a bridgehead established at Kastel, with first a wooden bridge in the year 11 BC and then a permanent stone structure in the year 71 AD.
The modern Theodor-Heuss Brücke was built in the same spot. A triumphal arch dedicated to the memory of Roman general Germanicus, who nonetheless was unable to penetrate far into Germany except via a narrow corridor of control hugging the Main and the Danube to just outside of Regensburg (Limes Germanicus, the German limits or frontier), stood here until probably the early Renaissance.
I can remember this strange sort of introductory hazing in the form of a ritual and obligatory exchange among freshmen at colleges away from home, which goes something along the lines of: “What is Friendly’s? What you call Arby’s, we call Hardee’s. I went to a Piggly-Wiggly once when we were visiting my aunt in Alabama.” And so on with the comparison of the terroir of fast food and grocery store franchises. I wonder if such conversations still take place. Having lived in Germany for more than a decade, I wouldn’t have thought I would ever notice regional branding again, since all chains seem to co-exist peaceably.
Of course, there is preference and convenience, but there never seemed to be a “Rewe-town” that locked Edeka out or kept down the competition or any demarcation—except for Aldi-Nord and Aldi-Süd (and I understand that now Aldi is really prevalent in the States too)—that defined the borders of a company’s reach, like an Appel/Apfel line in the German Sprachraum. I am beginning to notice, now however living in a place where it’s easier to forego driving altogether, that there are assertions and neighbourhood anchors, of grocers’ and supermarkets, that do require some shift in selection and expectations, plus there are more smaller markets that are independent and not part of any chain, which I am enjoying as well and certainly worth seeking out.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
National Geographic magazine had an interesting feature on the work of researchers at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, from 2008, finding that the blood of alligators and other similar swamp denizens has prized anti-microbial properties, which can stave off infections from many types of bacteria, including a few that have developed resistance to human antibiotics through keeping too neat and tidy and abuse of our resources. Five years on, the research still, I think, merits a look and an update.
Meditating on these strange and spammy haikus, however, I grew more and more intrigued about the workings behind these simple text ads. I imagine it’s quite primitive and probably would not yield anything useful—the mechanism, but I wonder if there are some sort of organic, spontaneous commercials that build themselves according to the latest visitor and content of the web site, rather than being apportioned from a pool of existing advertisements. It’s primitive, I guess, in so far as no one is really paying for that service and the effectiveness would be too big of a gamble (right now, at least), but it would be pretty keen if computers could generate a well-executed ad and find a product for it afterwards.
Galileo that covers popular science, history and culture. There was a fun segment the other day, which prompted me to explore their internet presence and find that old, complete episodes are available to watch on-line with added profiles and references (one has to browse through the entire show to find a particular story but that’s OK and the commercials are entertaining as well).
The report canvassed Germany in search of its most unique Automats—discovering them in formats ranging from vintage photo-booths rescued, lovingly restored, and then installed by a pair of entrepreneurs in niches all over Berlin, including building lobbies—these simple and classic contraptions, which are not for passport-quality pictures, are proving wildly popular despite the fact that anyone with almost anything can take polished digital photos and make an omni-chronicle—to an out of the way coin-operated dispenser that a dairy farmer built that delivers fresh milk directly from a cow, robotically milked, to a promotional Automat in Köln’s train station that, in exchange for a good imitation of a cat’s meow, gives out a free sample of cat food. What sort of automated service would you invent? What convenience ideas from the past would you revive?
Friday, 15 February 2013
There has been a strange colluding focus in the reports towards the waning of the week with a somewhat strange commonality.
meteorite that exploded over a populated area in the Ural mountains. That’s a pretty spectacular occurrence though its unfortunate that people were hurt and property damaged but surely something to remember. When I first half-attended to the story on the radio, I thought maybe it was the anniversary or new research into the Tunguska explosion in 1908 (though half a world away from the Urals) that perpetrated by a meteorite some a twenty times as big and leveled forests. The political reflex was to placate the shocked by pledge to protect the public from the threat of such impacts, which while it is possibly feasible to shield against something as big as the asteroid close to passing the orbits of Earth’s most high-flying artificial satellites (which supposedly had nothing to do with the impact but gravity has a far-reaching influence) could not provide an umbrella again every shooting-star.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Sunday, 10 February 2013
Der Spiegel’s English mirror presents an interesting compilation of interviews and analysis regarding just what exactly is stealing the wind of the sails of the renewable energy revolution, die Energiewende: namely subsidies (Subventionen).
Intuniv (Adjective.) Someone who easily grasps situations. “Joan was very intuniv and immediately sensed that her blind date was a repellent troll.”
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Fixed and statutory holidays aside, I was wondering if the advance and regression of the Moon inevitably yoked Fasching, Carnival, Marti Gras with the Lunar New Year, but then I realised that this upcoming week, beginning with the ringing in of the Year of the Snake, is really chocked full of celebrations, with the feast day of Cædmon, the earliest Anglo-Saxon poet known by name, following on Monday, with the birthday of statesman Abraham Lincoln and the commemoration of Freedom to Marry, when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome back in 2004 directed staff to issue marriage licenses in a non-discriminatory manner, then on 12 February.