"steven johnson"

Liberaltarianism: Silicon Valley's emerging ideology of "disruption with economic airbags"

Boing Boing favorite Steven Johnson (previously) has written at length about the emerging politics of "liberaltarianism" in Silicon Valley, which favors extensive government regulation (of all industries save tech), progressive taxation, universal basic income, universal free health care, free university, debt amnesty for students -- but no unions and worker acceptance of "volatility, job loss, and replacement by technology." Read the rest

Pre-Nixie digital: the amazing world of edge-lit displays

Before there were Nixie tubes, there were edge-lit displays: "Each digit panel has a tiny incandescent lamp associated with it that lights when that the numeral on the panel is to be displayed. When the tiny lamp corresponding to a given digit panel lights, the light is injected into the edge of the plastic panel. The engraved area in the plastic causes interference with the light as it travels through the plastic, and some light is refracted out through the plane of the panel, causing the engraved dots making up the digit to light up with a white glow. The resulting digits look much like the fully formed numerals in a Nixie tube, except rather than an orange glow, the Canon display digits give off a cool white glow like that of an incandescent light bulb." Read the rest

Steven Johnson in conversation with Brian Eno

Two of our happy mutants: the science writer Stephen Johnson and the oblique strategist Brian Eno on the nature of art, literature, and science. Read the rest

5 bizarre board games you should try playing just once

Lots of board games from the 20th century just plain suck. Monopoly and Risk are positive-feedback games where the first person to gain a slight advantage inevitably becomes the runaway winner a couple of tedious hours later. In Candy Land the winner is determined when the deck is shuffled – players make no decisions (other than the wise one of burning the game and burying the ashes in salted earth). And calling out random numbers in an attempt to score a hit in Battleship is, as Steven Johnson points out, "about as mentally challenging as playing Bingo."

The board games below all suffer from similar problems plaguing the ones above. But they also have one or more additional qualities -- an inane theme, offensiveness, bad illustrations, unintentionally funny cover lines, or an ineffable WTFness -- that make them worthy of note, or at least mockery. Let the fun begin!

1. Pie Face (1968) "click... click... click... Whoops!..." Dad and son seem inordinately determined to make a mess on mom and daughter's faces in this uncomfortable cover photo.

2. Gomer Pyle Game (1964) Transogram, makers of this execrable TV show tie-in game, should have called it quits with its most famous game, Tiddledy Winks, which at least required skill to win. According to Charlie Claywell, "the game is played by rolling the dice and each player tries to finish first so they can salute Sergeant Carter."

3. Ice Cube (1972). This sadistic game undoubtedly inspired many a young sociopath to pursue a career in the CIA or Chicago Police Department. Read the rest

The Ecstasist: A Conversation with the Novelist Jonathan Lethem

Defender, to the death, of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga. Architect of Philip K. Dick’s induction into the Library of America. College drop-out. MacArthur Genius. Comic-book guy. Jonathan Lethem is a man of obscure obsessions and unabashed passions.

The importance of glass, artificial cold and more

If you're looking for a comprehensive explanation for modern life is how it is, there are probably other books to read. But if you're looking for something light, informative and fun, HOW WE GOT TO NOW is just the thing. There's also a PBS TV show that goes along with it. Read the rest

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson blends the history of science with keen social observation to tell the story of how our modern world came about—and where it's headed. Cory Doctorow reviews How We Got to Now, also a six-part PBS/BBC series, which ties together a lifetime of work

Steven Johnson: the flashbulb and urban poverty

Over at Medium, Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, writes about how the 19th century invention of flash photography shined a light on poverty.

"Flash Forward: How We Got To Know" Read the rest

Trailer for Steven Johnson's new PBS series, "How We Got to Now"

Steven Johnson -- a real favorite around here! -- has a new six-part PBS show coming this October called How We Got to Now, along with companion book. The trailer (above) gives a tantalizing hint of how great this show will be, as does the excerpt from the first episode that's also available. (Thanks, Steven!) Read the rest

Steven Johnson's favorite video games

Author Steven Johnson spoke to the Gameological Society about his latest book, Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, and the games he enjoys playing.

The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?

Steven Johnson: Well, I’m on book tour, so there’s very little play. When I get home, I will no doubt be watching my children—who are obsessed with Uncharted 2, or Uncharted 3, I guess—on the PlayStation. Which I might join them a little bit for. Book tour tends to suck up all your spare fun time.

Gameological: Is it a different experience for you, playing games with your kids? As opposed to gaming before they were around?

Johnson: The coolest thing that we had for a while there—they haven’t been playing it as much—we had this great thing going which one of these days I want to write about. We both were playing kind of separately that game Dawn Of Discovery. It’s a beautiful game that simulates a 14th-century trading empire. It’s a classic simulation, very complicated, with lots of variables. One of the things that’s so powerful about it as an intellectual exercise is that you have to think on all these different scales and from all these different perspectives. So you have to think like a city planner, an admiral, a spice merchant, some industrialist type who is building an iron mine, and this is what they’re doing for fun, building this little trading empire.

What are you playing this weekend? Read the rest

2010 Gift Guide: BOOKS!

Welcome to the second half of the 2010 Boing Boing Gift Guide, where we pick out some of our favorite books from the last year (and beyond) to help you find inexpensive holiday gifts for friends and family. Can you guess who chose a Sarah Palin book?

Kevin Kelly talks "What Technology Wants"

This week, Rick Kleffel, one of my favorite book interviewers, talks to Kevin Kelly about his book What Technology Wants, one of the best books I've ever read about technology. The conversation is fascinating.

11-09-10: A 2010 Interview with Kevin Kelly

MP3 link

(Thanks, Rick, via Submitterator!)

Kevin Kelly's WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS: how technology changes us and ... What Technology Wants Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson in conversation Read the rest

Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From: multidisciplinary hymn to diversity, openness and creativity

Science writer Steven Johnson's latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is, in some ways, a classic Johnson book: drawing from diverse sources across many disciplines, Johnson recounts historical scientific breakthroughs and draws from them parallels to modern technology, particularly networked computers and the way that they shape the societies around them.

But in another way, this is a very different kind of Johnson book. Unlike recent science histories like The Invention of Air or The Ghost Map, Johnson doesn't limit himself to a deep, biographical account of a single invention. Rather, Good Ideas is a sweeping survey of many, many inventions, some dating back to antiquity, and a comparison of these innovations to the innovations that occur on the grand scale -- in the natural evolution of new species and ecosystems -- and on the micro-scale -- the way that neuronal clusters alternate between synchronized, orderly firing and wild chaos to birth new ideas.

This is the heart of Johnson's thesis: that there are similarities to be found (and lessons to be learned) between the way that physics, chemistry and biology innovate to create successful variations in life; the way that humans work together to create successful new technologies; and the way that human brains accomplish the strange business of imagining new things, seemingly out of thin air.

For Johnson, the secret lies in the "thin air" -- the unplumbed space we credit for the "sparks of brilliance" and "happy accidents" that create new connections, strategies and thoughts. Read the rest

Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson in conversation

Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly both have provocative new books out. Steven's is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation while Kevin's is titled "What Technology Wants." Wired sat them both down for a conversation. The way these two think, talk, and riff, I'm glad I wasn't the one responsible for editing that chat down into a couple of pages of readable text. From Wired:

In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Johnson draws on seven centuries of scientific and technological progress, from Gutenberg to GPS, to show what sorts of environments nurture ingenuity. He finds that great creative milieus, whether MIT or Los Alamos, New York City or the World Wide Web, are like coral reefs–teeming, diverse colonies of creators who interact with and influence one another.

Seven centuries are an eyeblink in the scope of Kelly’s book, What Technology Wants, which looks back over some 50,000 years of history and peers nearly that far into the future. His argument is similarly sweeping: Technology, Kelly believes, can be seen as a sort of autonomous life-form, with intrinsic goals toward which it gropes over the course of its long development. Those goals, he says, are much like the tendencies of biological life, which over time diversifies, specializes, and (eventually) becomes more sentient...

Kelly: It’s amazing that the myth of the lone genius has persisted for so long, since simultaneous invention has always been the norm, not the exception. Anthropologists have shown that the same inventions tended to crop up in prehistory at roughly similar times, in roughly the same order, among cultures on different continents that couldn’t possibly have contacted one another.

Read the rest

Where Good Ideas Come From, 4 minute version

Here's a short video promo for Steven Johnson's upcoming Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, a lecture on the way that transformative ideas incubate for long times, come out of left field, and thrive best when there's no one foreclosing on them because they're too weird or disruptive. It's inspiring stuff, and a real indictment of proprietary and closed systems that put blocks and hurdles in the way of creators in the name of "good user experience" or legal compliance.


(via Kottke)

DIY: How to write a book Steven Johnson on Colbert How Lost bends the rules Steven Johnson on Colbert Steven Johnson's TED talk about spreading of epidemics Steven Johnson on eBooks Read the rest

Video games good for the brain?

Scientific American surveys new research on whether playing videogames might be good for our brains. For example, one recent study by University of Rochester cognitive scientist Daphne Bavelier that I've blogged about previously suggests that games can exercise and enhance certain core vision functions. From SciAm:

It is appealing to envision video games being utilized in the rehabilitation of patients and the prevention of cognitive decline, promotion of brain fitness, and development of fundamental skills. However, more careful studies like those of Bavelier and colleagues are needed to realize such a goal. To date, much of the claims around this rapidly growing area of technology-supported medical interventions are insufficiently supported by scientific data.

In this context, a major advantage of video games is the fact that they can be made entertaining and engaging. Motivation is a powerful driver of brain plasticity. The highly realistic and engaging nature of these games allows the gamer to immerse themselves and “feel” like the simulation is really real (e.g. the intensity of combat). Such realistic engagement and the resulting enjoyment promotes brain changes.

Of course, a video game is not the same as the real thing. The motor plan to throw a football accurately (e.g. grip strength, depth perception, tracking the running receiver) versus the right sequences of touches on a game console are two different things. The development of systems that more realistically simulate motor actions and responses will probably be important.

It is likely that the functional impact of the brain plasticity induced by greater technology dependence will be different for different behaviors.

Read the rest

Shepard Fairey Counterfiles in Associated Press Obama Poster Conflict

Attorneys for the recently-legally-beleaguered artist Shepard Fairey have filed a countersuit against the Associated Press over claims Fairey violated intellectual property rights in creating the iconic Obama poster. Fairey and his supporters argue that his work falls squarely within the boundaries of transformation and fair use. PDFs of the counterclaim documents below, at the bottom of this blog post.

The source close to Fairey's legal affairs who passed these directs our attention to a section which, in their words, "illustrates the hypocrisy of the AP." This section documents a number of instances in which Shepard's defense argues the AP has published -- and profited from -- Fairey's work, and that of other artists, without obtaining a license.

# On January 7, 2009 The AP distributed a story entitled "Iconic Obama portrait headed to Smithsonian museum" by Brett Zongker. The AP's article included a photograph attributed to The AP, which depicted Fairey's Obama Hope Stencil Collage that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. (A copy of the full article is attached as Exhibit A.) The AP did not obtain a license to use Fairey's work in this photograph. As shown below, the photograph attributed to The AP consists of nothing more than a literal reproduction of Fairey's work.

# The AP's image database contains the following photograph of Jeff Koons' sculpture entitled Ushering In Banality. On information and belief, The AP did not obtain a license to use Koons' work in this photograph.

# The AP's image database contains the following photograph of George Segal's The Diner.

Read the rest

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