The New Aesthetic

Aug 28

[video]

Aug 27

Sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability.

Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found.

One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd – or sheepdog – to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

The discovery has implications for human crowd control as well as the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, the scientists said. […]

To conduct the study, the researchers fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing highly accurate GPS satnavs.

Movement-tracking data from the devices was programmed into computer simulations to develop the mathematical shepherding model.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the researchers concluded: “Our approach should support efficient designs for herding autonomous, interacting agents in a variety of contexts.

"Obvious cases are robot-assisted herding of livestock, and keeping animals away from sensitive areas, but applications range from control of flocking robots, cleaning up of environments and human crowd control."

” — Sheepdogs could be replaced by robots after scientists crack simple process | UK news | theguardian.com

Aug 26

The Yorkshire Dales family who are designing entire cities in Iraq | Cities | theguardian.com

Something improbable is happening in the Yorkshire Dales. In a converted barn, nestling in the hills high above the market town of Sedbergh, with the fresh smell of cut hay in the air, a small family firm of architects is rebuilding Iraq. Cities ravaged by war and diminished by years of neglect under Saddam Hussein, such as Nasariyah, Kut and Kufa, are being reimagined, virtually, using state of the art 3D-modeling software by specialists in masterplanning nearly 3,000 miles away. […]

Over coffee at his workstation, Elliot demonstrates to me how Esri CityEngine enables the quick creation of large-scale 3D city models. “This used to take ages,” he says, finessing the design of a multistorey car park in a 3D visualisation of London. “It used to take ages to change one paramater. Now you can do it at the click of a mouse.” He quickly creates a purportedly Iraqi residential district on his screen, giving projected houses shady courtyards, frontages fringed with date trees and roof-top air cons and water tanks. Then he starts to draw a road on screen. “All the data I’ve put in the rule files means that it will automatically tell me how much it will cost to build that road that way. And then if I get feedback from Iraq saying ‘Move the road slightly to the left’, I can do that easily and at the same time learn what that change will mean in terms of costs and other parameters.” To my eyes, there’s a touch of the pleasure of playing video games to Elliot’s work – certainly it looks like great fun.

The Yorkshire Dales family who are designing entire cities in Iraq | Cities | theguardian.com

Something improbable is happening in the Yorkshire Dales. In a converted barn, nestling in the hills high above the market town of Sedbergh, with the fresh smell of cut hay in the air, a small family firm of architects is rebuilding Iraq. Cities ravaged by war and diminished by years of neglect under Saddam Hussein, such as Nasariyah, Kut and Kufa, are being reimagined, virtually, using state of the art 3D-modeling software by specialists in masterplanning nearly 3,000 miles away. […] Over coffee at his workstation, Elliot demonstrates to me how Esri CityEngine enables the quick creation of large-scale 3D city models. “This used to take ages,” he says, finessing the design of a multistorey car park in a 3D visualisation of London. “It used to take ages to change one paramater. Now you can do it at the click of a mouse.” He quickly creates a purportedly Iraqi residential district on his screen, giving projected houses shady courtyards, frontages fringed with date trees and roof-top air cons and water tanks. Then he starts to draw a road on screen. “All the data I’ve put in the rule files means that it will automatically tell me how much it will cost to build that road that way. And then if I get feedback from Iraq saying ‘Move the road slightly to the left’, I can do that easily and at the same time learn what that change will mean in terms of costs and other parameters.” To my eyes, there’s a touch of the pleasure of playing video games to Elliot’s work – certainly it looks like great fun.

Aug 25

When I close my laptop, it goes to sleep. It’s a curiously domestic metaphor but it also implies that sleep in humans and other animals is just a kind of low-power standby mode. (Do computers dream of electric sleep?) Last year, Apple announced a twist on this idea: a new feature for the Mac operating system called “Power Nap”. Using Power Nap, your computer can do important things even while asleep, receiving updates and performing backups.

The name Power Nap comes from the term describing the thrusting executive’s purported ability to catch a restorative forty winks in 20 minutes but the functioning of Apple’s feature symbolically implies a yet more ultra-modern and frankly inhuman aspiration: to be “productive” even while dozing. It is the uncanny technological embodiment of the dream most blatantly sold to us by those work-from-home scams online, which promise that you can “make money even while you sleep”.

Sleep, indeed, is a standing affront to capitalism. That is the argument of Jonathan Crary’s provocative and fascinating essay, which takes “24/7” as a spectral umbrella term for round-the-clock consumption and production in today’s world. The human power nap is a macho response to what Crary notes is the alarming shrinkage of sleep in modernity. “The average North American adult now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night,” he observes, which is “an erosion from eight hours a generation ago” and “ten hours in the early 20th century”.

Back in 1996, Stanley Coren’s book Sleep Thieves blamed insufficient rest for industrial disasters such as the Chernobyl meltdown. Crary is worried about the encroachment on sleep because it represents one of the last remaining zones of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity. Isn’t it quite disgusting that, as he notices, public benches are now deliberately engineered to prevent human beings from sleeping on them?

While Apple-branded machines that take working Power Naps are figured as a more efficient species of people, people themselves are increasingly represented as apparatuses to be acted on by machines. Take the popular internet parlance of getting “eyeballs”, which means reaching an audience. “The term ‘eyeballs’ for the site of control,” Crary writes, “repositions human vision as a motor activity that can be subjected to external direction or stimuli … The eye is dislodged from the realm of optics and made into an intermediary element of a circuit whose end result is always a motor response of the body to electronic solicitation.”

You can’t get more “eyeballs” if the people to whose brains the eyeballs are physically connected are asleep. Hence the interest – currently military; before long surely commercial, too – in removing our need for sleep with drugs or other modifications. Then we would be more like efficient machines, able to “interact” with (or labour among) electronic media all day and all night. (It is strange, once you think about it, that the phrase “He’s a machine” is now supposed to be a compliment in the sporting arena and the workplace.)

” — "24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep" by Jonathan Crary: Sleep is a standing affront to capitalism | New Statesman

How did the Napa earthquake affect sleep? - Jawbone Blog

The South Napa Earthquake was the strongest to hit Northern California in 25 years. Our data science team wanted to quantify its effect on sleep by looking at the data recorded by UP wearers in the Bay Area who track their sleep patterns.

Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Fairfield were less than 15 miles from the epicenter. Almost all (93%) of the UP wearers in these cities suddenly woke up at 3:20AM when the quake struck. Farther from the epicenter, the impact was weaker and more people slept through the shaking. In San Francisco and Oakland, slightly more than half (55%) woke up. As we look even farther, the effect becomes progressively weaker — almost no UP wearers in Modesto and Santa Cruz (and others between 75 and 100 miles from the epicenter) were woken up by the earthquake, according to UP data.

Once awaken, it took the residents a long time to go back to sleep, especially in the areas that felt the shaking the strongest. In fact, 45% of UP wearers less than 15 miles from the epicenter stayed up the rest of the night.

How did the Napa earthquake affect sleep? - Jawbone Blog

The South Napa Earthquake was the strongest to hit Northern California in 25 years. Our data science team wanted to quantify its effect on sleep by looking at the data recorded by UP wearers in the Bay Area who track their sleep patterns. Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Fairfield were less than 15 miles from the epicenter. Almost all (93%) of the UP wearers in these cities suddenly woke up at 3:20AM when the quake struck. Farther from the epicenter, the impact was weaker and more people slept through the shaking. In San Francisco and Oakland, slightly more than half (55%) woke up. As we look even farther, the effect becomes progressively weaker — almost no UP wearers in Modesto and Santa Cruz (and others between 75 and 100 miles from the epicenter) were woken up by the earthquake, according to UP data. Once awaken, it took the residents a long time to go back to sleep, especially in the areas that felt the shaking the strongest. In fact, 45% of UP wearers less than 15 miles from the epicenter stayed up the rest of the night.

Aug 24

[video]

Aug 06

BBC News - Wikipedia reveals Google ‘forgotten’ search links
The Wikimedia Foundation has also published its first transparency report - following a similar practice by Google, Twitter and others. It reveals that the organisation received 304 general content removal requests between July 2012 and June 2014, none of which it complied with. They included a takedown request from a photographer who had claimed he owned the copyright to a series of selfies taken by a monkey. Gloucestershire-based David Slater had rotated and cropped the images featured on the site. But the foundation rejected his claim on the grounds that the monkey had taken the photo, and was therefore the real copyright owner.
Original discussion of image on Wikipedia

BBC News - Wikipedia reveals Google ‘forgotten’ search links

The Wikimedia Foundation has also published its first transparency report - following a similar practice by Google, Twitter and others. It reveals that the organisation received 304 general content removal requests between July 2012 and June 2014, none of which it complied with. They included a takedown request from a photographer who had claimed he owned the copyright to a series of selfies taken by a monkey. Gloucestershire-based David Slater had rotated and cropped the images featured on the site. But the foundation rejected his claim on the grounds that the monkey had taken the photo, and was therefore the real copyright owner.

Original discussion of image on Wikipedia

Jul 30

Holographic politicians could soon become a normal thing in the US | The Verge

Earlier this year, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was campaigning for reelection and used a rather unusual method for being in many different places at once: he became a hologram. Not biologically, but with the help of a company called NChant3D that broadcast his nearly hour-long speech in 53 different locations. Now a US company called HologramUSA has the rights to use that technology in the US, and has just hired a lobbyist in Washington, DC to push the Democrats and Republicans into using holograms in the upcoming 2016 presidential election, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

The result could be long-dead politicians from America’s Founding Fathers, to more recent and beloved party figureheads like Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Politicians might also use it to do the same thing as Modi, and be in two places (or more) at once, stretching “in person” appearances on the campaign trail.

Holographic politicians could soon become a normal thing in the US | The Verge

Earlier this year, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was campaigning for reelection and used a rather unusual method for being in many different places at once: he became a hologram. Not biologically, but with the help of a company called NChant3D that broadcast his nearly hour-long speech in 53 different locations. Now a US company called HologramUSA has the rights to use that technology in the US, and has just hired a lobbyist in Washington, DC to push the Democrats and Republicans into using holograms in the upcoming 2016 presidential election, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The result could be long-dead politicians from America’s Founding Fathers, to more recent and beloved party figureheads like Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Politicians might also use it to do the same thing as Modi, and be in two places (or more) at once, stretching “in person” appearances on the campaign trail.

“We live in the exoskeleton of the Internet.” — Michael Mann - Blackhat Comic-Con Panel Recap: First Footage and New Image, via Dan H.

Jul 29

Many of us cannot help looking because of what Susan Sontag has called “the perennial seductiveness of war.” It is a kind of rubbernecking, staring at the bloody aftermath of something that is not an act of God but of man. The effect, as Ms. Sontag pointed out in an essay in The New Yorker in 2002, is anything but certain.

“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”

So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those.

As war becomes a more remote, mechanized activity, posts and images from the target area have significant value. When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.

” — At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time - NYTimes.com

Facebook Billboard, Yemen.

Facebook Billboard, Yemen.

Jul 28

“So, what’s the trade-off here? In general, we are safer (automation makes airline flying safer, in general) except in the long-tail: pilots are losing both tacit knowledge of flying and some of its mechanics. But in general, we, as humans, have less and less understanding of our machines—we are compartmentalized, looking at a tiny corner of a very complex system beyond our individual comprehension. Increasing numbers of our systems—from finance to electricity to cybersecurity to medical systems, are going in this direction. We are losing control and understanding which seems fine—until it’s not. We will certainly, and unfortunately, find out what this really means because sooner or later, one of these systems will fail in a way we don’t understand.” — Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma — The Message — Medium

“We’ve seen some less-radical attempts to destroy technology in the real world in recent months, mainly in the form of attacks on people wearing Glass or flying drones, or the drone on its own (by hockey fans who reportedly and incorrectly thought it belonged to the LAPD). As in the movie, the destroyers haven’t been identified or punished, with one exception: Andrea Mears, 23, was charged with third degree assault for attacking a teen boy, Austin Haughwout, 17, flying a drone on a Connecticut beach. She got probation this week, as noted by comprehensive drone chronicler Greg McNeal. It’s easy to call these people Luddites, after the British workers who set about destroying machines — and in some cases killing the people who owned them — in the late 1700s and early 1800s in a futile attempt to turn back the tide of mechanization. It led Britain to pass a law making machine-wrecking punishable by death. But the new machine destroyers’ motivations are different. The original Luddites were worried machines would take their jobs; the Neo-Luddites fear machines will steal their privacy.” — The Violent Opt-out: The Neo-Luddites Attacking Drones And Google Glass - Forbes

Jul 25

"Facebook profile information that is publicly visible by default, for the first five years of the service" via What Is Public? — The Message — Medium

Programmers and engineers who create software with controls for privacy have moved in recent years to an on/off model where content is either viewable to the entire world or only to a list of people whom a user identifies as “friends”. Obviously, reducing public status to a binary consideration is convenient for a medium where everything must ultimately be represented in binary code. But we can’t let society’s norms be defined by which features are least expensive for storing on a database server in the cloud.

"Facebook profile information that is publicly visible by default, for the first five years of the service" via What Is Public? — The Message — Medium

Programmers and engineers who create software with controls for privacy have moved in recent years to an on/off model where content is either viewable to the entire world or only to a list of people whom a user identifies as “friends”. Obviously, reducing public status to a binary consideration is convenient for a medium where everything must ultimately be represented in binary code. But we can’t let society’s norms be defined by which features are least expensive for storing on a database server in the cloud.

Jul 24

Son Finds His Late Dad’s ‘Ghost’ In A Racing Video Game

This is lovely, strange, and wrenching all at the same time. A teenager whose father passed away when he was just six had pulled out an old Xbox game that he and his dad used to play together, only to discover a part of his father lived on in the game, as a ghost car. This is less supernatural than that sentence sounds. In racing video games, a ghost car is a representation of a previous player’s inputs and actions as they drove the track previously. Usually, the fastest laps are stored as ghost cars and then used by players to help them find the best line around a track, or have a way to compete with another player in a time-shifted way.

Via Jake H.

Son Finds His Late Dad’s ‘Ghost’ In A Racing Video Game

This is lovely, strange, and wrenching all at the same time. A teenager whose father passed away when he was just six had pulled out an old Xbox game that he and his dad used to play together, only to discover a part of his father lived on in the game, as a ghost car.

This is less supernatural than that sentence sounds. In racing video games, a ghost car is a representation of a previous player’s inputs and actions as they drove the track previously. Usually, the fastest laps are stored as ghost cars and then used by players to help them find the best line around a track, or have a way to compete with another player in a time-shifted way.

Via Jake H.