India's street typists -- skilled professionals who type documents for passersby who need formal paperwork for official purposes -- are in great financial difficulty. Their trade has been largely supplanted by computers with word-processors. Even the love-sick young men who would come to them to type out love letters have moved on. The BBC profiles the street typists of Calcutta, in a piece steeped with melancholy at a world that has moved on.
In an NPR report from 1984, a revelation: There are people who do not like to go shopping and some of them might enjoy buying things from the comfort of their own home with the help of a computer. I know. It's crazy. Bonuses: Description of a kludged-together, TV-based system that "will eventually be replaced by a home computer" and an early version of the audio editing and production style now famous from its use on Radiolab.
Two more high-profile patent cases are headed to the US Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear a patent case this year. The patent system is in chaos, with ever-more-trivial patents being granted, and ever-broader theories of patent infringement being created by the Federal Circuit, the court that oversees the patent system.
A Supreme Court ruling that restored some sanity to patents would be very welcome indeed -- but if they went the other way, it would be dreadful. The only solution at that point would be for Congress -- whose campaigns depend on revenue from patent abusers -- to pass a new law (don't hold your breath).
Stroz Friedberg, a risk-management consultancy, commissioned a survey [PDF] of information handling practices in businesses that concluded that senior managers are the greatest risk to information security within companies.
Take a picture and put it under glass, but not quite the way you think. The folks at Fracture have a built a business that connects several different technologies into one new way to make large-format photos printed on glass suitable for hanging. Today I talk to Abhi Lokesh, one of Fracture's founders, about the journey from a small village in Africa to a whizz-bang printing and distribution company.
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In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, there is a poured-in-place castle made of concrete and filled with archaic technology — a museum of tools that people no longer use because they've all been replaced by industrialization. You can visit.
MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.
Tor.com has republished a great chart from Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!, forthcoming in on January 7. The chart details the central thesis of the book: that "the long-standing campaign against fun" is a recurring story in which anxious, killjoy grownups make up stupid explanations for why the stuff their kids like is terrible and should be banned, and the golden era of their own childhoods (and the amusements that reigned then) should be restored.
The chart starts with Trithemius's 1494 rant against printing presses ("The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last?") and moves smartly through books, steam engines, newspapers, photos, telegraphs, movies, phones, phonographs, radio, TV, computers, and (of course), the Internet.
Ars Technica's Casey Johnson has designed a handy checklist for people hoping to develop a "woman's" tech product without being sexist jerks. The first step is ensuring that there is, indeed, some need that is unique to women (an important step -- women don't need their own pens, Bic). And obviously, you can't just make a pink version or a version that has fewer features and declare it to be chick-ready. Johnson then counsels against avoiding merely making things more "design-y" and declaring it to be woman-friendly (guys like things that look good too).
My friend Andrew linked me to this nifty old-timey video showing London, Midland, and Scottish Railway employees repairing a steam locomotive. There's a lot of neat stuff happening here, but I particularly loved the part where a guy crawls backwards into the train's firebox to diagnose boiler and engine problems from the inside. TRAINS!
The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.
However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.
We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.
Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam is the 40th (!) novel in the Discworld series. It's just come out in the UK (the US edition comes out in March) and it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.