Monthly Archive for May, 2008

Carbon nanotechnology: The seedy underbelly

Carbon nanotechnology is extremely promising. It will provide cooler, smaller circuitry to relieve the rapidly aging silicon technologies, it has given us the Memristor, it will allow us to efficiently target and destroy cancer, build a space elevator, develop fuel cells, and a veritable plethora of other applications. And, with new methods of mass producing them being developed constantly, the future looks bright.

The past week, however, has not been kind to the development of carbon-based nano-technology. First, we found out that longer carbon nanotubes are rather unfortunately similar to asbestos in a disconcerting number of ways, particularly in how the long fibrous tubes behave. There is a chance, therefore, that they may well cause cancer in the same way that asbestos does: long fibers are inhaled, whereupon cells in the lungs, unable to deal with such long, thin fibers, freeze, inflame, and eventually scar and develop into cancer. There is no complete study on the issue yet, but the resemblances are alarming.

As well, it seems that Buckminsterfullerene, better known as the Buckyball, is capable of crossing over lipid cell membranes with almost no effort – this also means that they could, according to the laboratory that ran the computer simulation, cross the all-important Blood-brain barrier, which keeps our brain free of invasions and toxic elements. It remains to be seen what the consequences of buckyball invasion into cells are.

This turn of events is sobering and unfortunate, but that attention is being paid to these types of issues is certainly reassuring.

On Public Knowledge

The point was brought up to me by a good friend a short while ago: once we learn all there is to know about the universe, what will be our purpose in life? What will be the point of existence?

While I disagree with his topical point since part of the essence of humanity is creativity, which knows no bounds, the question does bring to light another essence of our being: our progress as a society is driven largely by knowledge. Ever since we became a collective society, we have constantly been pushed, for various reasons, to seek out new knowledge. The core of these reasons is, of course, to make our own lives easier.

However, our research is not conducted by all of humanity at once, but rather by small communities of people. This presents a problem because while personal knowledge will benefit that person, no benefit will come from research and scholarship until it is made part of society as a whole –– until it is made public. Thus, a key component to scholarship and academics is in fact the impartation of the new knowledge to society as a whole.

A different set of problems is associated with this new revelatory goal. The primary method of disseminating knowledge to the public in our modern society is that of the media. The media is remarkably effective at this task, but it is also unfortunately a commercial outfit keen first and foremost on preserving and increasing profit margins –– hence, rather than hearing about topics that the public needs to discuss, or freshly discovered gaps in our knowledge, we learn all about what the latest celebrity gossip is: the kind of material that dumbs the public and brings in money. One incredibly public scholarship issue that has been victimized by the media is the incredibly important topic of global warming. Even a Google search on the topic reveals people on both sides of the issue screaming of media injustice.

This has interesting implications on the research I am attempting to do, given that the focus of my research is on the media. This scenario does, however, bring to mind another situation I have previously written about: Mike Wesch’s Web 2.0 video. The video is actually an excellent example of exactly the sort of public scholarship we need to hear about the [new] media, as it bypasses the normal and conventional means of information dissemination and public discourse, instead leveraging the very mechanisms it means to critique. This is, then, perhaps a model to follow in the months to come.


As previously seen on Sunil Garg‘s blog, here is a bit of an exercise in self-reflection.

He leaves the building in a rush, with a rather battered black Eastpak backpack with what appears to be a staple holding together the right strap. It would immediately appear that perhaps to this person is either unwilling to spend much money, or else does not care about the image he projects. The backpack is worn very low, perhaps in an attempt to fit in with the many others who exhibit this behavior around him. He does not appear to be wearing any accessories, instead sporting a black t-shirt with an Apple logo and the text “Southcenter” centered upon it in cracked white lettering. This suggests that perhaps the person used to be under the employ of Apple at the retail store in the popular Southcenter shopping mall, and perhaps even resides there. Looking on, we find that he is wearing a pair of grey cargo pants. This is striking given the prevalence of jeans in American society, and also because it completes an entirely greyscale ensemble, suggesting this person’s favorite color. Two glints of metal draw the eye to one of the cargo pockets – one is clearly the clip of a pen or pencil; it would seem that our subject requires the use of a pen or pencil very often. The other bit of metal is difficult to see and impossible to identify, though the fact that it is clipped to the upper fold of the pocket indicates that it is often needed.

I’m a bit of a boring person when it comes to clothing. I always wear (cargo) shorts or cargo pants out, a remnant habit from my high school days, when I used to carry around quite a few electronic devices with me – an iPod, a PDA, and cell phone to be specific, and cargo pockets proved handy for these reasons. These days, my laptop is almost always with me in my backpack, so most of these devices are unnecessary. My backpack is also a bit of a remnant – I have had it many years, and it has served me very faithfully. Ignoring the snapped strap buckle, it is in perfectly serviceable shape, and I suppose it may even have sentimental value at this point, having been brought so many places with me. Finally, I have a menagerie of random t-shirts which I wear, a growing majority of which were obtained for free, and the Apple shirt I wore today was no exception. I in fact have never worked for an Apple store, and do not reside in Southcenter, but instead got the shirt for free from a friend who had gone to the grand opening of the store in question. The truth is often disappointingly simple, I suppose.

On Media Consumption and Production

(Broken record: this is an Amsterdam-related post.)

How primarily do the Dutch interact with their news and commercial media, and how has this shaped the general commercial structures and mediums of the industry?

In general, the most analogous conceptual framework by which this question lives is the synecdoche. The consumption of products in an economic sense drives the development and availability of those products from the supplier, and so in many ways the physical existence and prominence of media reflects synecdochically upon the consumption of media.

Through this observation, we can explore new and indirect methods of studying media consumption among the Dutch. Rather than query directly for the public usage of media, we can take the relative production of each medium as an indirect measure for that same usage data. In this way, we can get a complete picture with hard data with much less variability.

Caution must be taken, however. The premise of our question is that the consumption of media potentially shapes the production and mediums of media – that is, consumer demand drives the industry. Thus, if we simply take the numbers on the production end and infer the consumption numbers, we completely fail to address our research. In this way, it can be seen that in fact our very research question is based on the goal of addressing the extent of the synecdochical relationship between physical media existence and production and consumption.

Hillary is 404

This Candidacy Cannot be Found.

Form and Content

It’s been a while since a video entitled “Web 2.0 .. The Machine is Us/ing Us” circled around the web. For those of us who live in Web 2.0, who think constantly in its context, the video was nothing new, but simply provided a neat, bundled package summarizing a number of its tenets, potentials, and quandaries.

The core idea presented in the video is that of form and content. Mike Wesch, the author of the video, argues that with the advent of XHTML and RSS/ATOM, effective separation of form and content has been achieved, and information sharing has become not only easier, but a core principle of the Web, vis-à-vis Web 2.0. This is currently arguable, as the quality of code dictates the level of separation afforded in each individual instance. HTML5 is fascinating in that it provides more native mechanisms for determining these separations without sacrificing expression of form.

The point at which this conversation becomes interesting is that at which we turn the argument upon itself: what is the medium of the video? One of Wesch’s more tangential (and thus questionable) assertions is that the separation of form and content has directly led to the influx of the user-generated web. What is inarguable, however, is that without the user-generated web, his video could not have possibly existed in the plane it currently does. It is thus appropriate that a video about the web is in fact a video on the web.

Likewise, Philip Thurtle, in his book The Emergence of Genetic Rationality, focuses on, among many other topics, the necessity of effective information collection, collation, and communication in the rise of certain forms of social consciousness, among them genetic rationality. In fact, in the introduction of the book, he comments on the organization and information principles followed by the book – this bit of meta draws attention to the book as the medium, as the ultimate culmination of a certain process of information processing which is perhaps the most final and arduous of them all.

On the other hand, the media in general filters out instead most commonly over the mediums of print, the web, and television. The most interesting point here is in fact the medium itself – each communicates in an entirely separate way, organizing and shaping both form and content with radically deviant methods. When ground down to these separate considerations of form and content, the concept of the television as a medium seems to become the most bipolar, and the print medium the least. When we consider the effect of the content alone, it seems that given the wealth of content on the Web, to survive in the medium means that content is of absolutely key importance.

These deviations are things to consider when considering other concepts relating to media.

Convolution and Information Theory

In mathematics and electrical engineering, convolution is “a mathematical operator that takes two functions f and g and produces a third function that is typically viewed as a modified version of one of the original functions.” Commonly, this operation is performed by taking two transformations of the same wavefunction as the operands for the process, which then analyzes the wavefunction into a new one. This process is extremely useful for analyzing linear-time systems.

Walter Benjamin, a philosopher from the early 20th century, took this concept and applied it analogously to non-mathematical cases in reality, creating several concepts about which to analyze arcades in Paris. To aid in doing this, he created a multitude of convolutes about which to focus and organize his thoughts and research.

Of these, one interesting convolute is the one he has entitled N: On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress. As the media of our society is built entirely on the dissemination and manipulation of knowledge, this is of particular note and relevance to the concept of the transfer of knowledge through the media. In the spirit of Benjamin’s research, the following is a short entry following his form.

“Over the last decade, the major firms and cultural institutions that have dominated media and information industries in the U.S. and globally have been challenged by people adopting new technologies to intervene and participate in mainstream media culture.”
Lievrouw, Leah A. “Participatory Design”. Ninth conference on Participatory design: Expanding boundaries in design. New York: ACM, 2006.

It seems that the “new media” is gaining legitimacy quickly. This has been aided by numerous factors: more journalistic practices being weaved within the agile framework provided by new media reporting, providing for more accountability and thus credibility within society, and increasing feedback from blogs and new media back into mainstream media – for instance, Keith Olbermann regularly quotes the Daily Kos on his program. This increased impact of new media culture and the Internet has led to a radical reshaping of how knowledge is disseminated: user-generated content is rapidly gaining mindshare, and citizen journalism is reshaping ethics and accountability. This has a profound effect on the progress of our culture.
May 2007

As competition for audience revenues intensifies in the newly competitive media environment, programmers are hoping to harness the potential of the Internet. The present study explores potential online media service access in light of motivational factors, existing media use level, home communication technology infrastructure and demographic attributes. Findings indicate that perceived gratification expectation dimensions were strong predictors of likely online media service use. Although traditional media use was largely perceived as irrelevant to online media content access, online service was seen as a functional supplement to traditional media instead of a complement or displacement mechanism. An existing communication technology cluster in the home was not found to be predictive of likely online service adoption, as it might not have been deemed “functionally interdependent” of the online service. The younger babyboomers and post-babyboomers fit the profile of a likely online media service adopter, as characterized by their age and educational level.
Lin, Carolyn A. “Perceived gratifications of online media service use among potential users”. Telematics and Informatics. New York: Pergamon Press, 2002.