Famous Monster Mash

Found this on Youtube, dedicated to Forrest J. Ackerman and Jim Warren, editor and publisher of the original Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that set fire to my imagination when I was a mere tad. If you like monsters, you’ll love this…

Little Shoot

Adam Fisk’s P2P system, Little Shoot, has gone public. I’ve been using the private beta version for a few months. Searches turn up lighting fast downloads of documents and media. Most of the files I’ve accessed have been Youtube videos, but you can also use Little Shoot to turn up images, audio, docs, and apps. You can also publish with Little Shoot – since it’s new, most of the content is coming from sites like YouTube and Flickr, but as more people use it, more files will be contributed by users and a file sharing network will evolve. Mashable ran a piece on Little Shoot, saying that “Fisk and his team think file sharing has evolved in the wrong direction in the Web 2.0 world.”

“People flocked to put their videos and photos on sites like YouTube and Facebook, and those sites now control an astonishing percentage of our digital content. Corporate ads are slapped on personal videos. Privately shared content is taken down due to bogus copyright claims. Sharing has become synonymous with forsaking one’s right to manage one’s own content,” the company says.

(If you’re interested in more detail about the system, note the Q&A at Mashable, where Adam’s made several clariftying posts.)

Thoughts about perception and communication

Carnegie Mellon scientists are studying how the brain makes sense of natural scenes using a computational model of visual processing. “The model employs an algorithm that analyzes the myriad patterns that compose natural scenes and statistically characterizes those patterns to determine which patterns are most likely associated with each other.”

The bark of a tree, for instance, is composed of a multitude of different local image patterns, but the computational model can determine that all these local images represent bark and are all part of the same tree, as well as determining that those same patches are not part of a bush in the foreground or the hill behind it.

Whether the theory is exactly correct or not, in thinking about it, I realize that we take understanding and perception quite a bit for granted. Our comprehension of the world is supported by complex internal processes that, like all characteristics of living systems, can vary from one “bundle” (human being) to another. We evolve diverse assumptions about the world based on our diverse interpretations. When we communicate, we generally think we share assumptions about reality, but our assumptions are only similar, and less similar where we have differences that will color perception (culture, language, internal process). Communication is far more difficult than we imagine. How do you communicate more of your substructure, so that the things you write or say are understood because your specific neural context is understood? I studied Irish author James Joyce quite a bit when I was in college, and I recall that, with Finnegans Wake, he created a book that could only be understood if you read what he’d read and could get into his head. He understood that a reader’s experience of a book will differ from the experience the author might have intended, depending on the reader’s background, perception, interpretation, culture… so each reader’s experience of a book is different, and if you’re trying to convey your unique sense of the world as you sensed it, you have to demand that the reader crack your code by following a path similar to the path you followed in reading, thinking, writing.

End of the Viridian era

Added Bruce Sterling’s “Last Viridian Note” to the Viridian Design web site and to Worldchanging. It’s kind of like simple living/voluntary simplicity, but that’s not what he’s thinking:

Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

It’s not so much about how to live in the new economy as how to live despite the economy, which is a wonky abstraction tethered to an unstable and unsustainable conceptual base, a manifestation of a centuries-long bubble that’s exploding slime on every main street parade. Despite that, we find energy and volition and keep on keeping on. As we move from a linear supply model to a network supply model, from resource extraction from knowledge extraction, we transform and are transformed, and move on.

And get good tools. In fact,

…get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely “non-materialistic.” There is nothing more “materialistic” than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical dysfunction. That is not civilized.

Hossein Derakshan arrested?

According to Global Voices Advocacy, the active and highly visible Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan (aka Hoder) has been arrested in Tehran and “is being investigated on suspicion of espionage for the state of Israel.” No posts on Hoder’s blog since October. Hoder’s been active in shining a light on other similar arrests. GV notes that the arrest hasn’t been confirmed by other news sources.

Gary Chapman at Texas Community Media Unworkshop: Obama’s Open Government Initiatives

At the Texas Community Media Unworkshop last Saturday, I posted several notes to Twitter from a talk by Gary Chapman of the 21st Century Project at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. By popular demand, here’s those notes, with some additional material…

Kevin Martin from FCC was at UT [last] week. He said Democratic members of the FCC had been trying to increase minority ownership of broadcasting, but his philosophy had been instead to expand the space and the opportunities. Gary had previously had concerns about Martin, but found himself agreeing with much he had to say. Martin is considering how to increse the availability of broadband as well as the bandwidth, something the Obama administration also wants. (See my previous post about white spaces.) Gary also heard Martin propose free national public broadband.

The LBJ School is working with Obama transition team. There’ll be a White House CTO. has info about transition.

The Federal government has already put spending data online and has created APIs, ways for programmers to access and use for that data, which anyone can also download. Obama drove legislation to do this – transparency in government is a top priority for the new administration.

OMB watch has created a site,, using that data.

Data about the Federal budget is also online, but not in an accessible way – as pdf documents. The LBJ School has prposed working on a transparent onine budget similar to the spending data, and is working with the Obama transition team on the concept. This should open a new era of transparency and accountability. People will be able to monitor what’s happening at all levels of government. The most compelling applications will tie the spending data to the budget for analysis… connecting the dots for real transparency.

The LBJ School is also seeking funds for a lab to create tools for bloggers, activists, etc. Get programming talent to build new tools. For instance, the want to take a wiki model of collaborative space and flip that into specfic applications for collaboration and for doing processing online. Gary mentioned as a similar tool Wikicalc, Dan Bricklin’s collaborative spreadsheet absorbed by SocialText. Another exampnle: Google is creating APIs for its spreadsheet.

The next phase of public media will blur boundaries between government and citizens using online tools, Gary says. We’ll see a transition from e-government, which is merely transactional (renew your driver’s license online) to i-government, or information based government. Government shouldn’t just build PR web sites, it should be guarantor of data quality for access by tool builders. This is the next phase of democracy, and the ext stage in the fight against corruption. We won’t need to file freedom of information access requests, because the information will already be online and accessible.

This is all high on the Obama transition team’s agenda. They’ve been working on this for months already. Obama is also reestablishing status of science – planning to bringing on a science advisor.

SocialMinder Alpha: threat, or menace?

SocialMinder logoI received an email from a trusted friend offering a free invitation to the “closed” alpha test of a application called SocialMinder that’s supposed to map emails to my Linkedin network and provide some analysis and intelligence. I signed up,then let my friend know I’d done so. He immediately responded that SocialMinder had spammed his address book without authorization, so if you got a request from me to sign up for the service, ignore it. It appears to be either a scam or a severely broken alpha. I received an “action report” after signing up, and all the links in the email were broken (“502 Bad Gateway”). I tried to log in at the site, same error message. It appears to be working for some people, but until I see it, I can’t recommend it – and I haven’t authorized the site to contact anyone in my behalf.

People-Powered Media [un]Workshop

Find me at the People-Powered Media [un]Workshop this weekend, described as “an ‘unconference’ style event created to explore how community media can be used as a tool for information, organization, and action.” Gary Chapman will keynote in the afternoon, otherwise the discussions will emerge, unconference style. Register now if you haven’t already.

Obama on Technology and Innovation

The Obama presidency hopefully starts today, not January 20 – and it’s time for all of us to start real work on a future that’s not just survivable, but thrivable. My particular interests are social technology and sustainability, and on the tech side, I’m particularly interested in the ambitious plan set forth in Obama’s white paper, “Connecting and Empowering All Americans through Technology and Innovation” (linked as pdf). The doc incorporates some of the best thinking about where we should focus…

Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Information through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets – including a clueful paragraph on protecting the openness of the Internet and another on encouraging diversity in media ownership.

Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy. Tals about online tools for open government, and “bringing government into the 21st Century,” using tech “to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks.” To that end, he wants to appoint a Chief Technology Officer. (D’oh – you mean we didn’t already have one?)

Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure – great news for the “Freedom to Connect” crowd, including yours truly. “Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access,” so he’s going to push for a redefinition of what constitutes broadband in the U.S., i.e. fatter pipes. He also wants to open spectrum for more and better wireless deployment.

Employ Technology and Innovation to Solve Our Nation’s Most Pressing Problems, such as lowering health care costs by doing more to integrate records and facilitate digital claims processing. Healthcare systems are a patchwork mess, so this will be a huge challenge – it’s definitely time to take it on.

Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy Development and Deployment. Those of us who are interested in clean energy development know that it’s all about technology – we replace resource extraction with knowledge development and engineering to support greater efficiencies as well as the development of new forms of energy. Obama has several items for supporting the development of the clean energy sector, and for upgrading education so that our schools will produce more science and engineering graduates, and “[tap] the diversity of America to meet the increasing demand for a skilled workforce…so that we can retain and
grow jobs requiring 21st century skills rather than forcing employers to find skilled workers abroad.” He’ll also modernize public safety networks.

Improve America’s Competitiveness. “Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.” Obama proposes making the R&D tax credit permanent, reforming immigration, doing more to promote American business abroad, ensuring competitive markets, protecting American intellectual property abroad and at home, and (big one) reforming the patent system. “By improving predictability and clarity in our patent system, we will help foster an environment that encourages innovation. Giving the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the resources to improve patent quality and opening up the patent process to citizen review will reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation.”

This is a lot to accomplish, but vision, attitude, and powerful intention will go a long way in getting us where we need to be after eight years of backward thinking and indifference. Personally, I’m putting my nose to the grindstone and plowing ahead with the the two areas of focus I’ve had for years – on the social web and on sustainability, both well-addressed by Obama’s plan – and I’m feeling invigorated knowing that the new administration will be supporting, not obstructing, progress in both areas.

Video as a condiment

A citizen activist asked my opinion of adopting an online televsion platform for activist work. Example:, “communicating what works for America.”

My response: if you’re asking me if I think a citizen’s group should adopt a web version of one-to-many broadcast technology and support efforts to turn the web into television, I have to say no.

I had a conversation not long ago about a diet with meat vs no meat, and the nutritionist I was talking to said that meat should be used as a condiment, not a main dish. That’s probably how you should approach video.

There’s a lot of interest in adding video to web sites, and we’ve worked on projects where it makes good sense to do that. I’ve also worked on activist projects where we used video effectively. You might use video to show irregularities at the polls (something we did in 2004 and others have done since – Video the Vote is a good example. You might also use video to show what mainstream media chooses to ignore – as Indymedia, for instance, has done.

There will inherently be more and more video and rich media online, but we have to think about the context we’re creating. I know there are ways to be interactive in and around video, but I’m still concerned that more video = more passive watching, less interaction. The web promised more: I’m remembering the tag line Paco Nathan came up with for our media company, FringeWare: “Because your television doesn’t love you anymore.”

(Disclosure: I actually do watch televsion, probably far more than I should.)

What do you think?

Attention, multitasking, and persistent panic

I used to tell people that “I’m a multitasking fool,” and in recent years, I’ve seen greater emphasis on “fool” – yes, I was good at balancing many tasks, I could keep a lot of balls in the air without dropping them. As I matured, I realized that depth has more value than breadth, and in recent years I’ve been trying to learn to focus and do a few things well.

Alina Tugend in The New York Times notes a multitasking trend since the 1990s, saying that “while multitasking may seem to be saving time, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are finding that it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.” As a good case study who’s thought about it a lot, I felt real resonance with the quote from Edward Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!: “Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

….despite what many of us think, you cannot simultaneously e-mail and talk on the phone. I think we’re all familiar with what Dr. Hallowell calls “e-mail voice,” when someone you’re talking to on the phone suddenly sounds, well, disengaged.

“You cannot divide your attention like that,” he said. “It’s a big illusion. You can shift back and forth.”

The article goes on to discuss overload, fragmentation, and the neural overhead of task-switching.

Dr. Hallowell has termed this effort to multitask “attention deficit trait.” Unlike attention deficit disorder, which he has studied for years and has a neurological basis, attention deficit trait “springs entirely from the environment,” he wrote in a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.”

“As our minds fill with noise — feckless synaptic events signifying nothing — the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and gradually to anything,” he wrote. Desperately trying to keep up with a multitude of jobs, we “feel a constant low level of panic and guilt.”

Sound familiar?

Hope Art


Found a page filled with parodies of the Shepard Fairey “Hope” Obama poster.

The strong, simple poster hit the nerve of many graphic designers. Fairey, who had been accused of copying style and content of communist propaganda posters, found himself suddenly imitated with numerous versions of his original design. Tutorials and plugins began to appear in the web on how to make your own Fairey/Obama poster, even ready made solutions where you can just enter your own text instead of HOPE.

The loophole in the second law of thermodynamics

A Scientific American article asks, regarding the second law of thermodynamics: “if the world is steadily becoming more disordered, how do you explain the self-organization that often occurs in nature?” [Link]

At root, the trouble is that classical thermodynamics assumes systems are in equilibrium, a placid condition seldom truly achieved in the real world.

A new approach closes this loophole and finds that the second law holds far from equilibrium. But the evolution from order to disorder can be unsteady, allowing for pockets of self-organization.

The article goes on to say that “the second law is universal but also found that it is not nearly as gloomy as its reputation suggests,” because “it applies only when the system under study is in a quiescent state called equilibrium,” i.e. “thermodynamics…deals only with situations of stillness.” However nature, generally, isn’t standing still, but is in a persistent state of flux (ask any buddhist). The conclusion of the article:

…the development of order from chaos, far from contradicting the second law, fits nicely into a broader framework of thermodynamics. We are just at the threshold of using this new understanding for practical applications. Perpetual-motion machines remain impossible, and we will still ultimately lose the battle against degeneration. But the second law does not mandate a steady degeneration. It quite happily coexists with the spontaneous development of order and complexity.