How digital is transforming politics: a special report from Mashable that’s well worth a look

Unless you’ve been off-world for a few years, it’s not news that electronic media technologies are exerting a dramatic impact on our political sphere. However, being generally aware of the fact and having a more detailed understanding of the hows and whys, that’s another thing.

Our good friend Josh Catone and his colleagues over at Mashable have just released a fantastic series (http://mashable.com/2012/10/02/politics-transformed-special-report/) entitled Politics Transformed: The High Tech Battle for Your Vote, and to say it’s illuminating is to badly understate the case. Some of the specific issues addressed include: Continue reading “How digital is transforming politics: a special report from Mashable that’s well worth a look”

The DaVinci Gallery: a study in High Dynamic Range

Lately I’m working not only on my actual camera ability, but also on better understanding the technology of processing images. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the DaVinci Machines Exhibit in Denver working on both composition and technical skills (shooting in lower light, for instance) and doing so with an eye toward how I’d be outputting the images later. Interesting results.

I bracketed everything I shot (three exposures: -3, 0 and +3) to enable composite High Dynamic Range processing. The sequence below comprises five different takes on the same raw image. First, the basic shot, fine tuned a bit in Photoshop.

Continue reading “The DaVinci Gallery: a study in High Dynamic Range”

Kara is self-aware: technology is climbing out of the uncanny valley, but toward what?


The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotic and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.

This, from the folks at game developer Quantic Dream, is simply remarkable.

Continue reading “Kara is self-aware: technology is climbing out of the uncanny valley, but toward what?”

Remembering the Space Shuttle: “Something has happened…”

First in a series.

A few moments ago, at 11:30am EDT, Atlantis lifted off, marking the 135th and final mission in NASA’s historic Space Shuttle program, which began in 1981. The Shuttle era was defined by glory and tragedy and perhaps even a bit of banality. After all, the first time you do something it’s exciting, but at some point it becomes routine, even if the something in question involves lobbing over 2,000 tons of metal into space.

Over the coming days, as the crew of Atlantis orbits the earth, conducting experiments and, one hopes, taking a few moments to enjoy the ride, the staff at Scholars & Rogues will be offering a series of personal reflections on the program. We have also invited some guests to drop by, including our rocket scientist buddy Dr. Michael Pecaut, who has had quite a few experiments up on the Shuttle (and is at Kennedy Space Center right now working on yet another one). Continue reading “Remembering the Space Shuttle: “Something has happened…””

Art and music and a special Friday Night edition of the Saturday Video Roundup: let’s get the 4th of July weekend started!

Heading down to the First Friday event in the Highlands Gallery District here in a bit, and am very much looking forward to seeing mentalswitch’s eyePhone show at Sports Optical. You’ve seen some of his iPhone art here before, in fact, and tonight – lots more. Head this way, Denver folks.

Meanwhile, I’m ramping up for the evening with some new tuneage. Just downloaded last year’s Fitz & the Tantrums CD and I’m rapidly falling in love. Here are a couple of samples.

Y’all have a good one, y’hear? And if I don’t see you, happy 4th. I’ll be doing barbecue, Lexington style, with some good friends. You won’t be eating as well as we are, but have fun the best you can…. Continue reading “Art and music and a special Friday Night edition of the Saturday Video Roundup: let’s get the 4th of July weekend started!”

Skepticism vs. Denialism and how to tell the difference

I suppose, as a general rule, the human animal is built to prefer knowing to not knowing, but I have been struck over the course of the past decade or so at how much worse our society has gotten at tolerating uncertainty. It’s as if having to say “I don’t know” triggers some kind of DNA-level existential crisis that the contemporary mind simply cannot abide.

Perhaps this is to expected in a culture that’s more concerned with “faith” than knowledge, reason, education and science, but even our extremely religious history fails to explain the pathological need for certainty that has come to define too much of American life. Perhaps it’s due to fear. America is currently being slapped about by one hell of a perfect storm, after all: Continue reading “Skepticism vs. Denialism and how to tell the difference”

What would a progressive society look like? The Tricentennial Manifesto

The Tricentennial ManifestoOne of my lists is currently engaged in a fairly dynamic discussion about “what is a progressive?”

In thinking about the issue, I realized that it might help to ask the question a slightly different way: what would a progressive society look like? Maybe I can better understand what it means to be progressive in 2010 if I reverse-engineer the definition from a vision of the future where things work the way they ought to.

I have argued that the success of the progressive movement hinges on seriously long-term thinking. It’s not about the 2012 elections or the 2016 elections or even the 2020 elections – those fights are about the battle, not the war.

Instead, if we do things properly, if we concentrate on and win the war, what does America look like on our Tricentennial? The following 40 articles suggest some ideas. Continue reading “What would a progressive society look like? The Tricentennial Manifesto”

Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010

This is the future – people, translated as data. – Bryce, Network 23

The future has always interested me, even when it scares me to death. I wrote a doctoral dissertation that spent a good deal of time examining our culture’s ideologies of technology and development, for instance (and built some discussion of William Gibson and cyberpunk into the mix). I once taught a two-semester sequence at the University of Colorado in Humanities and the Electronic Media, where I introduced the concept of the “Posthumanities” to my students. A few years back I talked about the future of retail and described the smartest shopping cart that ever lived. Continue reading “Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010”

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Continue reading “Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review”

In racist technology wars, HP closes on Veridian Dynamics

In Episode 4 of Better off Ted (a fantastic show that you really need to tune into now before it, like so many other shows that make the mistake of being intelligent, gets axed), Veridian Dynamics encounters a small problem. It has installed new motion sensors in the building that turn the lights on and off as employees enter and leave the room. They already had a sensor system, but this one is better, somehow. The official ABC synopsis sets the stage:

Meanwhile, Lem and Phil have their usual morning quarrel, this time over coffee and microscopic organisms. (Trust us, folks—it’s hardly as sexy as it sounds.) When Phil leaves to get a cup of joe, everything in the lab suddenly shuts off. Lem is confounded by this, even more so when everything springs back to life upon Phil’s return. Continue reading “In racist technology wars, HP closes on Veridian Dynamics”

Business and social media: American companies growing up, sort of

Ever since the Internet began gaining popular awareness in the mid-1990s, the topic of how businesses can productively use various new media technologies has been a subject of ongoing interest. Along the way we’ve had a series of innovations to consider: first it was the Net, and the current tool of the moment is Twitter. In between we had, in no particular order, Facebook (not that Facebook has gone away, of course), CRM, mobile (SMS, smart phones, apps), blogging, RSS and aggregation, Digg (and Reddit and StumbleUpon and Current and Yahoo! Buzz and Technorati and Del.icio.us and seemingly thousands more), targeted e-mail, YouTube, SEO, SEM, online PR and, well, you get the idea.

We certainly hear examples of businesses getting it right with new media, but in truth these cases represent a painfully small minority. Continue reading “Business and social media: American companies growing up, sort of”

Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us

You’re honey child to a swarm of bees
Gonna blow right through you like a breeze
Give me one last dance
Well slide down the surface of things

You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing

– U2

Fantasy stories, myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, horror, all these have been with us for a very long time. Science fiction, as well, has been with us since Mary Shelley found herself in a bet with Lord Byron about the possibility of writing a new kind of horror, one not grounded in the gothic.* So the presence in our popular culture of stories based in unreality of one form or another is certainly nothing new.

It seems to me that there’s been a lot more of it lately, though. Continue reading “Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Cronkite to Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1”

Ten years on: was Columbine the rule or the exception?

Part two in a series

How did it happen? Why did it happen? There’s simply no way to measure how many hours have devoted to these questions in the ten years and four days since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School, and while we don’t (and never will) have all the answers, we do have some of them. Obviously a good bit of the discussion focuses on the individuals themselves, and other analyses cast a broader net, examining the social factors that shaped the individuals. In a way, the question we’re still debating perhaps boils down to nature vs. nurture. Were Harris and Klebold Natural Born Killers? Or are they better understood as by-products of deeper social trends and dynamics?

The answer is probably “All of the above,” but we can’t simply check C and be on our merry, uncritical way. Continue reading “Ten years on: was Columbine the rule or the exception?”