Clive Thompson

Platform cooperativism (or, how to turn gig-economy jobs into $22.25/hour jobs)

Frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson (previously) has a great short piece in this month's Wired about platform cooperativism: replacing parasitical Silicon Valley companies that sit between workers and their customers with worker-owned co-ops that take the smallest commission possible in order to maintain the apps that customers and workers use to find each other. Read the rest

Peak Indifference: are we reaching climate's denial/nihilism tipping point?

I use the idea of peak indifference to describe the moment when activists no longer have to try to convince people that a problem is real (the problem does that itself, by ruining ever-more-people's lives), and then the job switched to convincing people that it's not too late to do something about it (if the day you finally decide to take rhino population declines seriously is the day they announce there's only one rhino left, there's a powerful temptation to shoot that rhino and find out what it tastes like). Read the rest

The promise and peril of "sonification": giving feedback through sound

The majority of applications use "visualization" to give feedback and responses to users: think of graphs, alerts, and other visual cues about what is going on inside a computer, or what the computer has detected in the world. Read the rest

Electrification 2.0: Rural broadband co-ops are filling the void left by indifferent monopolists

Writing in Wired, frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson praises the rise of rural broadband co-operatives that are springing up to provide internet access to their far-flung, widespread communities, comparing them to the rural electrification co-ops that sprang up to provide power to farmers neglected by the monopolistic Edison trusts. Read the rest

Common sense: the Chomsky/Piaget debates come to AI

In 1975, Noam Chomsky and Jean Paiget held a historic debate about the nature of human cognition; Chomsky held that babies are born with a bunch of in-built rules and instincts that help them build up the knowledge that they need to navigate the world; Piaget argued that babies are effectively blank slates that acquire knowledge from experiencing the world (including the knowledge that there is a thing called "experience" and "the world"). Read the rest

History's most productive geniuses goofed off like crazy

In Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (published in 2016, just out in paperback), Alex Soojung-Kim Pang painstakingly investigates the working lives of the likes of Charles Darwin and finds that history's most productive high-performers were working about four hours a day and slacking off the rest of the time: napping, strolling, having leisurely lunches. Read the rest

Scientists model the climate in Game of Thrones

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones

[Hi everyone! I'd like to re-introduce you to Clive Thompson, who will be writing posts for Boing Boing. You may remember Clive from his guestblogging stint here a few years ago. Clive is a journalist and book author -- he's a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and a columnist with Wired and Smithsonian. He's working on his next book right now, about "how programmers think", and he's online as @pomeranian99 at Twitter and Instagram, or at his site www.clivethompson.net. ​I'm very excited to have him join us! -- Mark]

The climate in Game of Thrones is incredibly weird, not least because of the strange timing of the oddly-long seasons. A group of climate scientists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, and Southampton decided to figure out what's going on by making a climate model of the world -- based on the weather data they could scrounge from George R. R. Martin's novels. They wrote it up as a mock academic paper authored by the GoT character "Samwell Tarly".

Their/his key finding? The only way to create a model that behaves like the world described in the books is to assume the planet in Game of Thrones "tumbles" as it orbits its sun:

One way that seasons can be made to last longer is to allow this tilt of the spinning axis to change throughout the year, so that the Earth ‘tumbles’ on its spin axis, a bit like a spinning top. If the Earth ‘tumbles’ exactly once in a single year, then the spin axis always points towards (or away) from the Sun, and the winter (or summer) is then permanent (Figure 3(b)).

Read the rest

New York's rat population has genetically diverged into "uptown" and "downtown" subpopulation

Matthew Combs, a Fordham University Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station grad student worked with colleagues from Fordham and the Providence College Department of Biology to sequence the genomes of brown rats in Manhattan, and made a surprising discovery: the geography of rats has a genetic correlation, so a geneticist can tell where a rat was born and raised by analyzing its DNA. Read the rest

After 20 years, no one knows how a pumpkin got impaled on Cornell's 173-foot spire

On the October 8, 1997 students and faculty at Cornell University noticed an unusual addition to the tip of McGraw Tower: a pumpkin. To this day, no one knows who put it there, or how they were able to do it.

From Atlas Obscura:

“One day, there was this thing at the top of the tower,” remembers Oliver Habicht, at the time a recent graduate working for the university IT department. It was way up at the top, impaled on the spire. It was round, and about the size of a beach ball. Was it… was it a pumpkin?

It was. Someone, somehow, had apparently carried the gourd up hundreds of steps. They had snuck it silently through the tower’s bell cage—a structure criss-crossed with cables that, if tripped, would have let out an immediate BONG—and gotten it up to the top of the very steep roof, all without being noticed. Not only that, but they had affixed it well enough that it stayed put until springtime, enmeshing itself in campus culture and becoming its own type of steady, albeit slowly rotting, beacon.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

The stereoscope was the virtual reality of 1838

Erin Haworth of The Smithsonian says:

Thought you might be interested in Clive Thompson’s latest tech column in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine, which takes a look at virtual reality and how its shocking power was all the buzz once before — about 150 years ago!

Thompson admits he once thought modern day virtual reality might be a fad. He changed his mind about it as he researched the similarities between VR and the stereoscope, a curious illusion discovered in 1838 that used vision and perspective to make the brain assemble two slightly varied images into a three-dimensional view. Thompson now predicts VR is here to stay.

The stereoscope became wildly popular in its day, crossing all cultural and class boundaries, transforming science, inspiring artists and being used as an educational tool. As VR edges into the mainstream, Thompson also takes a look at the various applications of today’s technology as it gets better and cheaper.

Read the rest

Why speed bumps made from Silly Putty are a good idea

Silly Putty has an interesting property. It's soft when you squeeze it slowly, but rock hard if you hit it with a hammer. Someone came up with the good idea of making speed bumps (or "sleeping policemen," as they cleverly call them in the UK) out of a Silly Putty like substance. That way, slow drivers get a smooth ride, but the faster you go, the more the bump punishes you. It would be fun to design the speed bump in such a way that it rips the undercarriage out of any car going twice the speed limit.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

Accepting unhappiness makes you happier, feeling bad about feeling bad makes you feel worse

"We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health," says Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Read the rest

This public toilet scans your face to make sure you don't use too much toilet paper

Beijing's Temple of Heaven is one of the world's most popular tourist spots. As such, it has a busy public restroom. The administrators felt that people were using too much toilet paper so they installed a toilet paper dispenser with facial recognition. If you received your 2-foot-long segment of toilet paper in the last 9 minutes, you'll have to wait to get more.

From Mashable:

In the short time it's been up, the system has already cut down usage to a fraction, temple staff said. According to the Beijing Evening News, each washroom average four rolls of toilet paper, compared to 20 rolls before.

But some have reported that the facial recognition process — which is supposed to take three seconds — can take up to a few minutes, and that it has not been reliable.

Some Weibo users have also responded with incredulity.

"To be honest, 60cm is a bit too little," said a user.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

Link Rot: only half of the links on 2005's Million Dollar Homepage are still reachable

In 2005 a young man from England created a website called The Million Dollar Homepage and sold advertising space on it. The page is a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid (1,000,000 pixels) and he sold the pixels for $1 each. The page has 2,816 links in it. A recent analysis of all the links reveal that only 1,780 are still reachable.

From Harvard's Library Innovation Lab:

Over the decade or so since the Million Dollar Homepage sold its last pixel, link rot has ravaged the site’s embedded links. Of the 2,816 links that embedded on the page (accounting for a total of 999,400 pixels), 547 are entirely unreachable at this time. A further 489 redirect to a different domain or to a domain resale portal, leaving 1,780 reachable links. Most of the domains to which these links correspond are for sale or devoid of content.

The 547 unreachable links are attached to graphical elements that collectively take up 342,000 pixels (face value: $342,000). Redirects account for a further 145,000 pixels (face value: $145,000). While it would take a good deal of manual work to assess the reachable pages for content value, the majority do not seem to reflect their original purpose. Though the Million Dollar Homepage’s pixel canvas exists as a largely intact digital artifact, the vast web of sites which it publicizes has decayed greatly over the course of time.

[via Clive Thompson] Read the rest

A traveling neon salesman's sample-case, 1935

This old Mental Floss post collects salesmans' miniatures from the 1930s, including mausoleums, swimming pools, Persian rugs, and more -- but the gem is this gorgeous neon sample-case. Read the rest

Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does. Read the rest

How to replace yourself with a very small shell script

Data scientist Hillary Mason (previously) talks through her astoundingly useful collection of small shell scripts that automate all the choresome parts of her daily communications: processes that remind people when they owe her an email; that remind her when she accidentally drops her end of an exchange; that alert her when a likely important email arrives (freeing her up from having to check and check her email to make sure that nothing urgent is going on). It's a hilarious and enlightening talk that offers a glimpse into the kinds of functionality that users can provide for themselves when they run their own infrastructure and aren't at the mercy of giant webmail companies. (via Clive Thompson) Read the rest

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