Technophobia from 1900

 Posted by on 24 November 2008 at 6:39 pm  Humor, Technology
Nov 242008

Here’s a sign from the early 1900′s telling patrons about that new-fangled electrical light. I especially liked the sentence, “The use of Electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep.”

I’m sure glad we Americans in the 21st century beyond such irrational fears of new technology!…

Water Fountain

 Posted by on 16 September 2008 at 12:37 pm  Cool, Technology
Sep 162008

There’s nothing worse than the big vertical jets of water that often populate shopping malls. They’re loud — and not interesting in the slightest. In contrast, I’ve seen some cool “jumping” fountains, but this fountain beats them all:

(Via Guy.)

Sep 102008

The Ford Hall Forum is a longstanding and prestigious platform for speakers with interesting things to say (like Objectivists Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Yaron Brook). The Forum sent out an announcement that Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales of Wikipedia fame will be speaking on September 11 in Boston. This caught my eye, not only because I fondly remember Jimbo from Objectivisty circles many years back, but also because it advertises that he is going to talk about how “Objectivist philosophy guides his vision”:

Free Speech, Free Minds, Free Markets: Competition and Collaboration

Across the globe we are building, editing, and contributing to a growing body of knowledge and tools at everyone’s fingertips. Volunteers in leaderless organizations contribute to online initiatives and articles. Software developers spend their free time collaborating with complete strangers. Amazingly, these efforts are creating products of extraordinary quality, sometimes better than that of large for-profit organizations. Why do we do it? Why does it work? Join us tonight as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales joins journalist Christopher Lydon to address these questions, where “web 2.0″ will take us next, and how Objectivist philosophy guides his vision.

I would love to ask some questions about how Objectivism guides his vision, but I can’t be there. Maybe some NoodleFoodler could go and ask questions for us and report back! Here are the ones I am curious to hear addressed:

  1. You refer to Wikipedia as a way to give people free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Yet Wikipedia doesn’t even aim to express what is true—it is focused on documenting what people believe, carefully including all the patently silly and downright vicious things people think. That is, Wikipedia strives for neutrality rather than objectivity with regard to the truth of what is claimed. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire you to characterize Wikipedia more accurately as a vast snapshot of what people currently think, good and bad?
  • When you ask for contributions to Wikipedia, you seem to frame or at least decorate the appeal in altruistic terms. How does that square with the ethical egoism of Objectivism, which flatly rejects altruism as immoral?
  • In your appeal for contributions, you wrote that “This is a radical strike at the heart of an increasingly shallow, proprietary and anti-intellectual culture. … I hope [my daughter] will grow up in a world where culture is free, not proprietary… We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world.” (Emphasis added.) Just what is bad about being proprietary? Wouldn’t an Objectivist be supportive of the creator who chooses to profit from the sale of his work, rather than fight against him? And “taking back” seems to imply that something was unjustly taken. The Internet is physically composed of private property (computers, connections) and wasn’t taken from you; the information communicated using it wasn’t taken from you, either. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire clarifying and reinforcing the intellectual and physical property rights involved—including how they recognize and foster a deep harmony of interests—rather than this talk of “taking back” something that wasn’t taken in the first place?
  • You recently announced your launch of a Green Wiki. That site explains, “In light of the climate crisis and other ecological challenges increasingly facing us,” that it hopes to serve the “people who want to inform themselves and live in a more sustainable way,” because “the threats to our environment are real and that they require action.” It will be “written from a green point of view,” and will focus on detailing such helpful actions as “How to reduce your carbon footprint.” How can this initiative of yours be informed by Objectivism, which repudiates the Environmentalist movement as epistemologically, morally, and politically corrupt?

Obviously, I don’t understand how Jimbo’s actions can be reconciled with Objectivist principles, so I’m surprised to hear that he thinks the philosophy guides his vision. It would be great to see how he addresses this.

Black Google?

 Posted by on 26 August 2008 at 12:28 pm  Business, Technology
Aug 262008

Is there a need for a “Black Google”? According to this article, there is.

In a free market, specialty search engines could be entirely reasonable and appropriate if there is a demand for such a service. For instance, a search engine catering towards physicians might properly give different sorts of results than a search engine catering towards patients.

But the business model would only succeed if there were a subpopulation that had distinctive and significantly different search engine results preferences from the population at large, and the business could get them to become dominant users of their alternative search engine.

Otherwise you end up with problems like this:

Since search engines learn from what people are clicking on, RushmoreDrive had a small problem immediately after its launch: So many white members of the media were visiting the site that the results became skewed and turned up more “white” results…

The article also struck an odd note when it stated that Google’s search results “alienate the rest of the population” (i.e., the non-caucasians). It’s not clear to me that the term “alienate” is warranted.

High Tech Nihilism

 Posted by on 7 August 2008 at 2:34 pm  Culture, Technology
Aug 072008

The August 3, 2008 New York Times takes a look inside the nihilistic culture of internet trolls.

For what it’s worth, Jason Fortuny aka”Weev” (the featured troll in the article) has explicitly stated that he believes we are living in a simulation. I’ll leave it an an exercise for the reader to decide if/how that philosophy shapes his actions.

Jun 182008

I just love to learn about how people are using their brains and turning important problems inside out to slam-dunk in some novel way.

Try this on for size: they have produced genetically-modified organisms that “feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw [...and] excrete crude oil.” Isn’t that outrageously cool? So much for the “finite supply of fossil fuels.”

Oh, and the guys pulling this off have a nice angle aimed at those who are out to destroy industrial civilization:

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy — as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0″ will not only be renewable but also carbon negative — meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

So if they go big with this, we get to enjoy the resulting cognitive dissonance in the guys who consider the invention of the internal combustion engine the low point of human history. Sweet.

Property Rights in Outer Space

 Posted by on 5 June 2008 at 10:52 am  Law, Technology
Jun 052008

There have been a couple of recent articles on extending the concept of private property into outer space. One is from the May 18, 2008 Boston Globe entitled “My Space“, and one is from the June 2008 issue of Popular Mechanics entitled “Who Owns the Moon? The Case for Lunar Property Rights“. (Both links via Instapundit.)

Here are a couple of noteworthy quotes from the Boston Globe article:

There’s a variety of opinion as to how extensive extraterrestrial property rights should be – whether to allow, for example, the outright buying and selling of land, or whether to forbid ownership and instead rely on leases, trusts, and easements – but there’s nonetheless a growing consensus that some form of space property is inevitable and necessary.

…”Property rights will provide the only economic incentive that will possibly justify entrepreneurial space exploration,” says Alan Wasser, chairman of the Space Settlement Institute and the former CEO of the National Space Society.

One can legitimately debate the merits of the various proposals to apply the concept of “property rights” to this new realm. But I’m glad that the discussion is at last beginning.

As Ayn Rand noted in her essay, “The Property Status of Airwaves”, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.

The precise and proper application of the concept of property rights to new areas may require some hard intellectual work. For instance, the guidelines for the airwaves are different than for real estate. Similarly, the rules for intellectual property in the era of easy internet dissemination of MP3′s may be different than the rules for tangible objects. But as long as men need to think and use their minds in order to create the values necessary for life, the broad principles and justifications for property rights will always apply.

The Panama Canal in 75 Seconds

 Posted by on 29 May 2008 at 4:23 pm  Cool, Technology
May 292008

This cool time lapse movie shows a passage of a tanker through the Panama Canal in 75 Seconds.

The Panama Canal Authority website states, “The history of the construction of the Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat, and final victory. Many gave their life in the effort. Follow the story from the early days of the French construction period, to the completion by the United States, and into the present time.”

More details of the history of this amazing creation can be found here. And of course there’s a Wikipedia article.

(Via Joost Bonsen.)

A Glimpse of the Future

 Posted by on 19 May 2008 at 4:00 pm  Technology
May 192008

Here’s a modular shape-shifting robot that reassembles itself when kicked apart:

What could possibly go wrong with this technology?


 Posted by on 18 April 2008 at 10:09 am  Personal, Technology
Apr 182008

You’ll learn more about elevators than you ever wanted to know in this New Yorker article: Up and Then Down. The article includes the story of Nicholas White, who was trapped for 41 hours without any food or water in an elevator. It’s pretty horrific, if you concretely imagine what that would be like. You can even help your imagination by watching this time-lapse video of him stuck in the elevator.

I ride the elevators at CU Boulder pretty frequently. Kate accompanies me teach my classes at CU Boulder every Tuesday and Thursday. (She’s perfectly well-behaved, she needs the exercise, and she loves to come with me.) She’s too old and creaky to go up and down the stairs, so we take the elevators. After reading that article, though, I’ll never ride an elevator again without a working cell phone!

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