Category Archives: Technology

My Story at PandoDaily: “The Internet’s Own Boy”

The Internet's Own Boy

At PandoDaily I reviewed the new documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy.” It’s a new documentary about Aaron Swartz, the 26-year old activist and hacker who hanged himself last year just before he was to stand trial for downloading millions of academic articles.

The government’s case against Swartz involved the download of millions of articles from an academic database called JSTOR. In September 2010, Swartz began using a newly purchased laptop, a Python script, and MIT’s open network—which granted its users free access to JSTOR—to grab the articles. Once MIT and JSTOR administrators realized what was happening, the University installed a hidden camera in the unlocked wiring closet where Swartz had stationed his computer. Days later, Swartz was caught on the surveillance camera swapping a new hard drive. He was then swarmed by police, arrested, and eventually indicted on 13 felony counts.

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Pay Attention During Company Training!

Venessa Wong reports at Businessweek:

Online training technology company Mindflash on Tuesday announced a new feature called FocusAssist for iPad that uses the tablet’s camera to track a user’s eye movements. When it senses that you’ve been looking away for more than a few seconds (because you were sending e-mails, or just fell asleep), it pauses the course, forcing you to pay attention—or at least look like you are—in order to complete it.

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Curiosity Rover Watches Mars’ Two Moons Pass Each Other in the Night Sky

Adam Mann writes at Wired:

Unlike our nice round moon, Mars has two lumpy potato-shaped satellites, named for twin Greek gods who personified fear (Phobos) and terror (Deimos). Phobos is the larger and closer moon to Mars, with an average radius of 11 kilometers. Its companion, Deimos, is seven times less massive and three times farther away from Mars, which is why it appears so much smaller. Both bodies are quite tiny as far as moons go — each is about twice the size of Mount Everest. In fact, Phobos and Deimos are so small and have such weak gravity that going more than 25 mph on their surfaces could launch you into space.

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Epistemology Of Lists

Adam Rothstein has a beautiful exploration of lists, stemming from his childhood love with library card catalogs.

The random idiosyncrasy that such an expansive list allows may have no more critical depth than scanning newspaper headlines, looking for secret messages. But this sort of list is precisely like the written content of the internet. The internet is a series of lists, connected by cross-referenced hyperlinks. Whether one is taking a stroll through Wikipedia, or reading the most compelling links from one’s social media timeline, one is browsing a series of lists. Particular line items expand into full essays, and long reads collapse back into tweets. From the most thoughtful syllabus to the most obnoxious listicle to the strangest permutations of weird twitter, we are browsing a vast meta-card catalog—a veritable list of lists. The nodes of the network jump into line, and we follow it until the tracks fade to scratch marks, which fade to natural erosion, dust swept by the twisting path of the wind. And then we pick up another trail, or we create one ourselves.

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Thousands Of Old Rape-Evidence Kits Are To Be Tested

“Thousands of evidence kits collected from rape victims that have sat untested for years in Texas can now be analyzed, thanks to an $11 million budget appropriation earmarked for the Texas Department of Public Safety,” reports Julian Aguilar of the New York Times.

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A Novelist Describes Google Glass

Finally! An artist with a gift of voice offers his vision of Google Glass. Gary Shtyengart, author of “Super Sad True Love Story,” alternates between 3rd person narration and essay to share what it’s like to look through Glass. Refreshingly, his piece in the New Yorker is not a product review. Powerful and imaginative, Shtyengart uses literary tools–instead of tech specs–as a way to introduce us to Glass.

“O.K. Glass. Google translate ‘hamburger’ into Russian.”
“Gamburrrger,” a voice purred, not so gently, like my grandmother at the end of a long hot day.
And, all of a sudden, I felt something for this technology.

Wearing Glass takes its toll. “You look like you have a lazy eye,” I’m told at a barbecue, my right eye instinctively scanning upward for more info. “You look like you have a nervous tic,” when I tap at the touch pad. “You have that faraway look again,” whenever there’s something more interesting happening on my screen. To awaken Glass, one must tap at the touch pad or jerk one’s head; otherwise the device remains inactive, conserving its limited battery supply and allowing the user to remain perfectly human. At breakfast, I jerk my head up theatrically, and then use a new function which allows me to move around Web sites by holding two fingers to the touch pad and moving my head about, in effect turning my skull into a cursor. “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,” my wife says.

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Tech Tools For the Blind And Deaf

“Desire2Learn’s blind workers help make better accessibility tools for classrooms,” reports Christina Farr of VentureBeat.

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A Wearable Alert to Head Injuries in Sports

The New York Times

Anne Eisenberg reports in the New York Times

A crop of new lightweight devices that athletes can wear on the field may help people on sidelines keep better track of hits to players’ heads during games and practice sessions. The devices, packed with sensors and microprocessors, register a blow to a player’s skull and immediately signal the news by blinking brightly, or by sending a wireless alert.

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Who Made That Digital Camouflage?

The New York Times


Writing in the New York Times, Pagan Kennedy offers a brief history of “digital camouflage” in the US military.

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Connected, But Not In Contact: The Future Of Online Etiquette

“Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?” This begins a biting and personal piece on the etiquette of online communication by Nick Bilton of The New York Times.

As more bits of information are transferred via social network and text, telephone conversations and emails can seem cumbersome and time-destroying. Bilton recalls a story where, after his father left him 12 unanswered voicemails, papa Bilton “called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. ‘Why are you leaving him voice mails?’ my sister asked. ‘No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him.’ My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter.”

At GigaOM, Mathew Ingram responded to Bilton’s blog post smartly:

I think a larger problem Bilton touches on, but doesn’t address directly, is that we have more competing forms of communication available to us than ever before — and not only are different people at different stages in their evolution from one to the other, but people also use them for very different purposes. So for Bilton’s dad, voice mail is a great way of passing on important information, but Nick prefers the real-time nature of texting or Twitter messaging.

While commenters thought Bilton was too harsh, almost to the point of being rude and insensitive toward his parents, both Bilton and Ingram understand that one must know her audience. Perhaps for our older interlocutors, sending an email or chatting on the phone is worth the extra time, a gesture of respect.

What neither of these writers mention explicitly though, is the notion of not wanting to be reached. I understand how a text or a tweet can be less invasive than listening to a voicemail, but I’m curious about our expectations of availability.

Bilton’s argument is one of efficiency, using seamless communication technology and discarding outmoded mediums. Ingram takes a more sympathetic approach and reminds us that not all of us are Twitter power users. But what about silence? Quiet time? Just because I have a phone doesn’t mean I want to be reached.

When I read these articles I thought of the invisibility feature on Gchat and Facebook messaging, how, at times, I’m in reading/consumption mode, or in the mood to communicate only with a select few. So it’s not that I’m ignoring my parents, or hating on phone calls and older kinds of talk-tech, but realizing sometimes I want to be connected, but not in touch with anyone.

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