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Prophecies of the Internet, 1971

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Earlier this week, I posted about the death of Paul Baran, co-inventor of packet switching -- the core technology of the Internet -- and a co-founder of Institute for the Future, the non-profit forecasting thinktank where I'm a research director. Yesterday, as we looked through our library of Baran's brilliant, and still-relevant, research papers, we came across a mind-blowing report from 1971, titled "Toward a Study of Future Urban High-Capacity Telecommunications Systems." At the time, Baran and his IFTF colleagues were considering how the military's ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, might someday change our everyday lives if it became publicly accessible. This particular report contained a delightfully prophetic page of forecasts titled "Brief Descriptions of Potential Home Information Services." Click here to see a full scan of the page. Here are a few of my favorites (remember, this was 1971!):
 Tmp  Images Iftfbarantelecom * DEDICATED NEWSPAPER. A set of pages with printed and graphic information, possibly including photographs, the organization of which has been predetermined by a user to suit his preferences.

* PLAYS AND MOVIES FROM A VIDEO LIBRARY. Selection of all plays and movies. Color and good sound are required.

* RESTAURANTS. Following a query for a type of restaurant (Japanese, for instance), reservations, menu, prices are shown. Displays of dishes, location of tables, may be included.

* LIBRARY ACCESS. After an interactive "browsing" with a "librarian computer" and a quotation for the cost of hard copy facsimile or a slow-scan video transmission, a book or a magazine is transmitted to the home.

"IFTF Celebrates Paul Baran: Forecasting the Internet" (IFTF, thanks Jean Hagan!)

"Paul Baran obituary" (The Guardian)

GoDaddy CEO draws fire for killing an elephant, posing with carcass

GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons: Christ, what an asshole. (via @tara)

Stingray X-ray

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This is an x-ray of a newly discovered species of stingray, native to the Amazon. You can't tell from this shot of its innards, but the Heliotrygon gomesi actually resembles a "pancake with a nose"—big, round, flat, and beige. Read more about this creature at Our Amazing Planet.

Image: Ken Jones

Submitterated by Ajourneyroundmyskull

What the writing process looks like

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Science blogger Ed Yong graphs out author emotions over the course of the freelance journalist writing process. It's very close to reality. Only details left out: This graph should actually be plotted out as a ring, not line with end points. And between edits to last story and the finding of next story, please insert "Valley of Crippling Self-doubt".

Symphony of Science ode to the brain

Symphony of Science, the people behind that awesome Carl Sagan "Glorious Dawn" autotune song have a new video, based around neuroscience. There's plenty of Sagan—who I still think sounds weirdly like Kermit the Frog when filtered through autotune—and it's also got a great, spacey chorus featuring Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who described her own stroke for TEDtalks a few years ago.

Video link

Submitterated by spiderking

Conflicting reports over impact of Chernobyl: Miles O'Brien on PBS NewsHour

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This is something that I really want to look into over the next few months. I've been told by many sources, and read in several places, that the actual human toll from the Chernobyl accident was relatively small, compared to what we imagine. For instance, in a report for PBS on Tuesday, Miles O'Brien quoted the United Nations Chernobyl Forum as attributing only ("only") 4000 deaths to the disaster. O'Brien says:

the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, issued a report contending: "There is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of cancers or leukemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of any non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not the actual radiation doses."

That's in line with what I've learned from multiple independent sources. But, it's apparently not the whole story. Other sources that O'Brien spoke with for his PBS report—mainly doctors and scientists from the Ukraine—say that there is evidence of much more widespread Chernobyl-caused health problems in human populations.

I can't promise I'll have answers on this quickly. But it's something that I'm going to look into. In particular, I'm really curious whether the different groups of people studying Chernobyl are coming up with wildly different data, or whether the data is similar but the conclusions are wildly different. Is one group relying too much on anecdote? Are the other group's results based on research that didn't go deep enough or last long enough? I've got no idea. But I'll be interested to find out.

You can watch O'Brien's full report from Chernobyl, and/or read the transcript, online. Fair warning, this is heart-wrenching stuff. Especially his interview with one of the Chernobyl liquidators—military and firefighting crews who were brought in to do hands-on cleanup of highly radioactive material.

Image: After visiting the Chernobyl site, Miles O'Brien is screened by a radiation detector. Photo taken by Catherine Buell. More images at PBS.

Japanese tsunami survivors camped out in a nuclear power plant

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It's a little mind-blowing, in light of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But, in another part of Japan, tsunami survivors are living in their local nuclear power plant.

The nuclear plant in Onagawa was built to withstand 30-ft. tsunami waves. (Fukushima, in contrast, was only designed for 18-ft. waves.) After the tsunami destroyed much of the city, some of the people who survived made their way to the power plant, looking for shelter. Weeks later, 240 of them are still living there, according to the Associated Press. The AP describes these people as sleeping and playing "next to the reactors", but it also says that the refugees are being housed in the power plant's employee gym. Because of that, I suspect the "next to"—and the resulting mental image of a bunch of huddled masses snuggled up against a containment vessel—is misleading.

The Onagawa plant is one of several nuclear power plants that suffered minor damage after the earthquake and tsunami. But the problems here were much, much smaller than at Fukushima, and operators were able to get the reactors into cold shutdown pretty quickly. Currently, the plant is still in shutdown mode.

The company that owns the power plant—Tohoku Electric Power Co., a different firm than the one that runs Fukushima Daiichi—is still keeping the facility pretty locked down. The gates aren't wide open to anybody. Only employees, and the refugees living there, are allowed in and out. So all the descriptions of life inside come from interviews the AP did with those people while they were off of the power plant grounds.

From the sounds of things, living in the power plant is a lot nicer than living in other refugee camps in Onagawa. Unlike other places, people living in the power plant report having access to electricity (The availability of which is why Onagawa is a refugee camp and Fukushima is a disaster zone. Onagawa also uses diesel generators, but theirs weren't damaged), as well as clean toilets and the Tohoku Electric Power Company's dedicated telephone network.

Image: Nekosuki600 via CC

Via Steve Silberman

In and Out with Dick and Jane: A Loving Parody


[Video Link] Here's the trailer for a funny parody book by Ross MacDonald and James Victore called In and Out with Dick and Jane. The illustrations are excellent.

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In and Out with Dick and Jane: A Loving Parody

Hercules eCAFÉ Netbook

Screen-shot-2011-03-31-at-4.11.14-PM.jpg Hercules' new ARM-based Linux netbooks have a delightful Nintendo DS-style design, described by Wired's Charlie Sorrell as "wonderfully squared-off, without that awful fat wedge-shape of most netbooks." At just €200, the price is right. [Wired]

Enormous hi-rez panorama of a spectacular 18th century library

The 360Cities people shot a 40 gigapixel panorama of the interior of the gorgeous Strahov library, an 18th century biblioparadise in the Czech Republic. You can spend a lot of time getting lost in this image, which 360Cities claims is the largest indoor image ever shot.

Strahov Library 40 Gigapixels

Man fused to chair

A man in Ohio, who had not moved in two years, was found fused to his chair. [Fox News]

Lifelike horse-puppet -- really, really lifelike

This TEDTalk from the puppet troupe Handspring Puppet Company features a jaw-dropping horse puppet (around 9:16) that is so expertly made and controlled you have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't an animal:

Puppets always have to try to be alive," says Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company, a gloriously ambitious troupe of human and wooden actors. Beginning with the tale of a hyena's subtle paw, puppeteers Kohler and Basil Jones build to the story of their latest astonishment: the wonderfully life-like Joey, the War Horse, who trots (and gallops) convincingly onto the TED stage.
Handspring Puppet Company: The genius puppetry behind War Horse (via JWZ)

Coffee Joulies: clever coffee temperature regulators on Kickstarter

A couple of engineer/designers named Dave have a Kickstarter project to fund production of "Coffee Joulies," a little gizmo that brings your coffee down to the optimal temperature and keeps it there.

One of my big beefs with many of the Kickstarter projects I see is that their originators don't give any indication of their ability to see a project (any project!) through to completion. I want to know that my money goes to people who have at least some track-record of finishing what they start. So I wrote to the Daves for more background on their own work and project history and they obligingly sent along a link with some background that makes it clear that while this might be more ambitious than anything they've done to date, they certainly have made stuff happen in the past (Dave P adds, "We have firm quotes from a manufacturer (the one that usually makes Oneida flatware) and a pretty firm development timeline of 12-16 weeks before we can fulfill our orders from Kickstarter."

Coffee Joulies work with your coffee to achieve two goals. First, they absorb extra thermal energy in your coffee when it's served too hot, cooling it down to a drinkable temperature three times faster than normal. Next, they release that stored energy back into your coffee keeping it in the right temperature range twice as long.

This amazing feat of thermodynamics happens thanks to a special non-toxic material sealed within the polished stainless steel shell. This material is designed to melt at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and absorbs a lot of energy as it melts. This is how Joulies cool your coffee down three times faster than normal. Once it reaches this temperature, the special material begins to solidify again, releasing the energy it stored when it melted. This is how Joulies keep your coffee warm twice as long.

Coffee Joulies - your coffee, just right (via Red Ferret)

App called "Creepy" pinpoints people's location based on their social networking activity

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The creator of Creepy, Yiannis Kakavas, calls his application a "geolocation information aggregator." It analyzes a person's tweets, Facebook posts, and Flickr stream to generate a map of where that person is and where he or she goes.

You can enter a Twitter or Flickr username into the software's interface, or use the in-built search utility to find users of interest. When you hit the 'Geolocate Target' button, Creepy goes off and uses the services' APIs to download every photo or tweet they've ever published, analysing each for that critical piece of information: the user's location at the time.

While Twitter's geolocation setting is optional, images shared on the service via sites like Twitpic and Yfrog are often taken on a smartphone - which, unbeknownst to the user, records the location information in the EXIF data of the image. Creepy finds these photos, downloads them, and extracts the location data.

When the software finishes its run, it presents you with a map visualising every location that it found - and that's when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. While the location of an individual tweet might not reveal much, visualising a user's history on a map reveals clusters around their home, their workplace, and the areas they hang out. Everything a stalker could need, in other words.

Creepy app warns of an end to privacy

Congressman's wicked-funny monologue at the Congressional Correspondents' Dinner

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)'s monologue at last night's Congressional Correspondents' Dinner is some danged funny stuff -- even if you can't follow some of the more esoteric Washington insider material, the self-deprecating montage of Weiner losing it during interviews with Fox News is worth the price of admission. And then there are the Weiner/weener jokes!

Anthony Weiner KILLS At Congressional Correspondents' Dinner (via Reddit)