Tag Archives: strange

New Printable RFID

According to Wired, a new nanotube-based ink allows RFID tags to be printed directly onto packaging materials. The end result would be that no bar-code scanning, just wheel a cart of gorceries through the exit, and you’re good. Plus, if your credit card is RFID enabled, then you could, in principle, have your account debited at the same time! No human interaction required at all. Pretty sweet. I can’t wait to see what the Fringe has to say about this.


Girl Power Economics

The Libertarian Blog over at Reason.com had a delightful piece today on the correlation between girl band popularity and economic growth. I’m actually not sure if it is satire or not.

“Why didn’t the United States see [strong] growth during the ’60s boom? America… lost interest in [girl bands] in favor of a self-styled “invasion” of boy groups… We went off the girl standard before France did… The Go-Go’s fueled the recovery from the early 1980s recession… The effect was strongest in the 1990s… NAFTA allowed the free exchange of angry Canuck songstress Alanis Morissette. Britain maintained low inflation and low unemployment… thanks both to economic liberalization and to the rise of the Spice Girls.

Just as the decrease in piracy is correlated with the increase in global temperatures, the economic tide seems to be correlated with girl bands. Thus, we need more pirates and more girl bands, then we will have economic prosperity and stable temperatures. As satire, this is good stuff. If gender balance in music is as good a predictor as anything else, it calls into question the validity of “real” economic predictors.

But, as I said above, I’m not sure if this is satire or not.


Amazing first decade, futurists, and suffering

The Jester has has his time for long enough. Once he crosses the line into flagrant paranoia, I have to step in.

It’s a new year and a new decade. The decade might have been better for Science (still no flying cars) but all-in-all, I’m pretty happy. We’ve seen tissue engineering come a long way including grow-your-own skin and grow-your-own hearts. We’ve seen metamaterials with negative index of refraction and a lower thermal conductivity than vacuum, both of which I grew up believing were physically impossible. We seen bona fide proof of evolution (as if we needed more).

Basically I can’t even begin to touch on all the cool things in that happened in the last ten years. It’s enough to have give me a glimmer of faith in the vision of the futurists’ utopia: we may conquer death and scarcity and create a world of never-ending exploration. But maybe human nature needs scarcity and death to be whole. Maybe ten years is a good time for reflection on what we all want for ourselves and for each other. Facile suggestions that ‘happiness’ is what we want miss the point: If we knew what would make us happy, we would have it by now.

Ultimately, and strangely, I’m not sure that conquering death and scarcity will make us any kinder. I think we’ve made some real progress toward doing those things, and I’m not alone in that thought.

Yet, even so, I think a lot of otherwise crazy-seeming people might be sane in the light of this statement: abundance does not necessarily engender generosity. People who think we’re better off without public healthcare may be right up to a point: the threat of true suffering can be motivation for good. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hold with people who would sell others’ welfare for the sake of an abstraction. The Free Market is all well and good until Henry Frick has you killed because you want fair pay. Yet, we only have the opportunity to be truly charitable in the face of true misfortune. Would we cheat ourselves of this sorrow?

If we could truly alleviate human suffering on a large scale, would we be neutering humanity?


our magical culture

Subrationedei brought my attention to this quote from Raymond Williams. In Culture and Materialism, p. 185:

It is often said that our society is too materialist, and that advertising reflects this … But it seems to me that in this respect our society is quite evidently not materialist enough, and that this, paradoxically, is the result of a failure in social meanings, values and ideals.

It is impossible to look at modern advertising without realizing that the material object sold is never enough: this indeed is the crucial cultural quality of its modern forms. If we were sensibly materialist, in that part of our living in which we use things, we should find most advertising to be of an insane irrelevance. Beer would be enough for us, without the additional promise that in drinking it we show ourselves to be manly, young in heart, or neighborly. A washing-machine would be a useful machine to wash clothes, rather than an indication that we are forward looking or an object of envy to our neighbors. But if these associations sell beer and washing machines, as some of the evidence suggests, it is clear that we have a cultural pattern in which the objects are not enough but must be validated, if only in fantasy, by association with social and personal meaning which in a different cultural pattern might be more directly available. The short description of the pattern we have is magic: a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions, functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strangely coexistent with a highly developed scientific technology.

That seems highly salient to anyone who would like to live a simpler life or, indeed, merely a rational life. Our superstitious brains seem to be built to see magic even in the midst of a world crafted by our rationality. We buy objects of “value” for the same reasons and with no better justification than a cave man trading food to the witch doctor for a love amulet designed to attract affection from the prettiest cave woman.

Imagine I go buy a really nice car for a lot of money. Now, a car seems to have more value than a horse bladder pouch filled with herbs and teeth (a voodoo love amulet). You can drive the one, but the other you just hang around your neck.

But consider: the price difference between a Honda and a BMW doesn’t represent a real increase in functional utility – the one costs twice as much but it won’t get you to twice as many destinations. What are you buying with that extra money?

Social meaning. You’re buying others’ perception that you are a man (or woman) of means. Some people might even perceive themselves differently if they own a BMW. This might give them confidence. Confidence and conspicuous wealth (perceived according to our society’s measure of such things) may actually help a person get a mate… and within another society the material object that imbues its owner with those qualities might take the form of a magical charm. And it might, therefore, work.

So let me say it again: your expensive stuff is expensive because you are buying magic.


Our senses lie. Are you sure you will believe it when you see it?

Hot Tipper Rob (after one year, our number 1 supporter!) sent us this amazing little piece about strange multi sensory illusions. There are lots of optical illusions – certain shapes fool our interpretive abilities. What is surprising is that visual stimuli can produce tactile illusions.

So it turns out that if you happen to look at a bunch of horizontal lines moving upward on a screen for a while, then feel a little vibrating line with your fingertip, the line will feel like it’s moving. Evidently, the visual lines predispose our tactile sense to interpret motion.

Here’s another one (via Wired) I found interesting. It’s called the hollow mask illusion and, evidently, it doesn’t work on people with schizophrenia.

I wonder if the Jester would see the mask, or the face?