Can you pass the marshmallow test? You’re a little kid. A marshmallow is placed on the table in front of you. You’re told you can eat it any time, but if you wait a little while, you’ll be given two marshmallows to eat.
The kids who have the self-control to pass this most famous of psychological tests turn out to have more rewarding and productive lives. Walter Mischel, who first ran the test in the 1960s, spent the rest of his career exploring how self-control works, summarized in his 2014 book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. “The ability to delay gratification and resist temptation has been a fundamental challenge since the dawn of civilization,” he writes. “It is the ‘master aptitude’ underlying emotional intelligence, essential for constructing a fulfilling life.”
This talk spells out the remarkable things have has been learned about willpower and self-control in the individual. It also considers wider implications. Does it make a difference when an organization or society has more people able to fully engage self-control? Does it make a difference when that kind of behavior is publicly expected and trained for explicitly? Is there a social or political or cultural level of surmounting marshmallow-test temptations? That might be the essence of long-term behavior.
1100Lab has developed a visualization mapping all of the battles in Wikipedia in the last 5,000 years. Their blog details how they compiled the data, as well as other projects by the Netherlands based research and development firm.
On March 8th & 9th at Fort Mason Center, Autodesk will be hosting their annual conference event REAL2016, which focuses on new 3D technologies, including 3D modeling, 3D printing, laser scanning, augmented reality, and fabrication. Autodesk has generously offered Long Now Members a 50% discount for the event, please check your email for instructions on how to redeem this discount.
The programming over 2 days features talks, panels, demonstrations and a startup competition – all centered around capture, compute and create technologies and their increasing convergence.
Do stop by and visit The Interval while you are at the event, we’ll be open from 10am to midnight offering thoughtful coffee and cocktails. Private events and ticketed lectures are noted on The Interval website and our Twitter.
We hope that many of you will be able to attend!
Tuesday February 9, 02016 – San Francisco
“We are uniquely fire creatures,” Pyne began, “on a uniquely fire planet.” Life itself is a form of slow metabolic combustion—which eventually created oxygen and burnable vegetation that allowed fast combustion, ignited by lightning. Humans came along and mastered fire for warmth, food preparation, and managing the landscape, and that made us a keystone species. Humanity’s ecological signature on the world is fire.
Then we made fire the all-purpose catalyst for craft (clay, glass, metal) and eventually industry, shifting to the vast geological resource of fossil fuels. That “pyric transition” made humans dominant on the earth, even to the point of affecting climate. We used fire to clear much of the world’s forest for agriculture.
Then came a century of misdirection about wildfire. The forests of Europe are mostly too wet to burn, but by the late 19th century the leading foresters in world came from there and taught their ignorance to foresters in North America and India, where the land depends on seasonal fire for ecological health. National governments set about suppressing all wildfire, with catastrophic success. In the absence of the usual occasional local fires, massive fuel loads built up, and destructive megafires became the norm. There was an alternative theory of a “restoration strategy” to manage wildfire in way that would emulate how lightning and native American burning kept the landscape ecologically healthy, but it has been applied haltingly and fractionally, and megafires still rule.
“The real argument for fire is that it does ecological work that nothing else does,” Pyne concluded. “Charismatic megaflora” like redwoods need fire. An ecologically rich mosaic of forest, savannah, and meadows needs fire. Healthy prairie needs fire or it gets taken over by invasive woody plants. People trained only as foresters are blind to all that. Wildfire practice now works best when it is guided by wildlife biologists who insist that red cockaded woodpeckers need fire-dependent longleaf pines, that grizzly bears need the berries that grow in recent burns, that pheasants need grassland burned free of invasive eastern red cedar.
The techniques for prescribed burns for a bioabundant natural landscape are now well honed. They need to be applied much more widely. When in doubt how to proceed, ask the ecologists, who will ask the animals.
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This November, The Rosetta Project was awarded access to staff and facilities at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to develop a wearable version of the Rosetta Disk. The successful proposal, titled “The Rosetta Disk – An Exploration into Very Long-term Archiving” focused on the need for access to high-powered microscopes and imaging technology available at the Lab to prepare and evaluate components of a new Rosetta Disk prototype. The user program will provide Rosetta Project staff access to the Molecular Foundry, Advanced Light Source, and National Center for Electron Microscopy.
The new version of the Rosetta Disk currently under development uses a similar manufacturing process as the first edition of the Rosetta Disk, with the resulting archive being microscopically formed in nickel and readable with 1000x magnification or less. The main difference is that the final archive is about 2 centimeters in diameter, making it a size that could comfortably be worn on the human body. Given the new process is reliable, fast, and less expensive than the one used for the original Rosetta Disk prototypes, it is the first version of the Disk that could potentially meet the long-desired goal of broad dissemination, in keeping with the long-term archiving strategy of LOCKSS (“lots of copies keeps stuff safe”).
Although the new, smaller size of the disk is an advantage, it imposes a new constraint of having less surface space that the archive contents can occupy. If we keep the information or “pages” in the archive at the size where they can be read with 1000x magnification, we can fit 1000 or fewer of them on the disk. The original Rosetta Disk has over 1,500 languages and 13,000 pages of information, so this means we must include fewer languages, fewer pages for each language, or some combination of the two. Yet constraints breed creativity, and we have chosen to meet this new challenge by slightly altering the contents that will go on the wearable Rosetta Disk.
The contents will be in keeping with the original Rosetta Disk in that they will be represent many of the world’s human languages. The contents will also be parallel, that is, the same information for each language. The two main kinds of content will be a parallel text and parallel vocabulary list. The text we have chosen is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), which is available in over 300 languages, and the parallel vocabulary will be Swadesh lists compiled by Long Now’s PanLex Project. The vocabularies will be chosen to match the texts as nearly as we can.
In a major departure from how the contents of the original Rosetta collection were assembled, the Universal Declaration and PanLex data are all “born digital”. This means we have a lot of control over font and font size, but this entails making choices. Our goal will be to maximize the amount of language content on the disk while preserving maximum legibility. This is where access to the Lab microscopes and imaging equipment will be especially helpful.
Another advantage to having “born digital” material is we can make the contents of the wearable Rosetta Disk available as open digital data as well as a physical artifact. We hope this will allow for all kinds of interesting experimentation in the archival longevity of both forms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights collection we will be using are all available in Unicode, which is a much preferred long-term format, and the PanLex Swadesh lists are now part of the Natural Language Toolkit collection and available as a corpus for computational tinkering.
The 1000x magnification required to read the Rosetta Disk is vastly lower than what is capable with the resources of Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which in addition to a vast array of imaging equipment operates the most powerful microscope in the world (TEAM I, left). Nonetheless, access to higher power equipment will allow us to prepare the content that will go on the disk, evaluate the longevity of the materials we are choosing to use, and to explore new methods to protect the disk surface from environmental damage as well as direct contact with human skin (many people – myself included – are sensitive to nickel).
An aspirational goal of the project is to develop long-term relationships with the staff and scientists at the Lab who have interest in exploring new materials and methods for long-term archiving. Some intriguing new possibilities have already emerged from early discussions (hint: think color!). These may allow us to radically change not only how we archive, but what we are able to archive for the long-term as well. And while new archival technologies are evolving rapidly, what seems steadfast and applicable to all of them are the strategies for long-term archiving long articulated by The Rosetta Project, and both explored and practiced in its Rosetta Disk.
The late 20th century saw the yields of the world’s staple crops more than double. To keep this momentum going well into the 21st century, scientists are working on C4 rice, a rice that more efficiently photosynthesizes sunlight, potentially making the crop that feeds half the world up to 50% more effective.
Jane Langdale is a Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford.
We’re happy to announce that starting this week, Long Now Members may reserve the private room at The Interval for 1-2 hrs on Mondays with no bar minimum! The Interval is a great venue to host a meeting, reception or event. Our private room fits up to 10 people. Reservation requests will be filled on a first come, first served basis and must be made between Monday and Friday the week prior to the Monday you are requesting. (Sorry we cannot offer complimentary bookings further than a week out.)
The room is available to rent to members and the general public on other days as well for $75 to $150 an hour, depending on the day & time.
Reservation requests are made through this link, and must be finalized and approved before your booking is 100% confirmed. Be sure to put your member number in the notes field to receive the discount: http://theinterval.org/space/#rental
Members also receive a 10% discount on food and beverages at The Interval on Mondays. Please remember to tip our bar staff well; they are also ambassadors for Long Now and are doing a fantastic job both delivering a wonderful experience at The Interval and educating patrons about our projects, ideas and mission.
The concept of the Digital Dark Age has been around for quite some time, and has been a key topic of discussion at the Long Now Foundation since its inception in 01996. In fact, it has been my own raison d’être since I started grad school in 02006. It may be a surprise to some that I am not here to wave the flag in our march against the great foe of the DDA, but rather question the temerity of the claims to its looming existence.
In the 01990s, when we first started really talking about the issues of digital storage media and file format obsolescence, it was almost as if we were caught with our pants down. We hadn’t truly been thinking about this as a problem; we as a civilization weren’t prepared for the challenges it posed. We soon realized, however, that digital documents have their own complex fragility and maintaining access to digitally encoded information over the long-term may be more challenging than the analog. There was a flurry of activity across the globe, and while the topic faded from the headlines, the flurry of activity continued and has slowly and steadily gained momentum.
Almost a year ago, new sources were abuzz again about the Digital Dark Age after Vint Cerf sounded the latest warning bell. While I typically rejoice whenever my rather obscure research area gets some well-deserved media attention, I felt a little flummoxed. The core of the DDA concept presupposes a world where no one has or is doing anything about it. Yes, if we we do nothing now to collect and preserve not only the bitstreams, but also the contextual information (or metadata, as I describe here), that information could very well be lost forever. Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.
I will return to when I questioned when Kevin Kelly told Robert Krulwich that “there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet.” I knew there were loads of people interested in working on making video game emulators, but I wasn’t sure if obscure formats like VisiCalc would ever be sexy enough to gain enough attention to be preserved. Well, I’m here to eat my doubtful words. I’m very please to admit that I think Kevin Kelly is right. This idea, coupled with the fact that I know now that there is an army of people equipped with the interest, knowledge, and skills to prevent it (and we are training more every day!), I feel confident in saying that there will very likely be #nodigitaldarkage.
Until its final extinction in 1844, the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) ranged across the entire north Atlantic ocean, fishing the waters off the northern US, Canada, Iceland, and northern Europe, including the coast near Newcastle in northern England. The size of a medium penguin, it lived in the open ocean except for when it waddled ashore for breeding on just a few islands. There its flightlessness made it vulnerable to human hunting and exploitation for its down that reached industrial scale. Attempts to regulate the hunting as early as the 16th Century were fruitless. The last birds, on an island off Iceland, were gone by 1844.
The host of the Great Auk meeting was Matt Ridley, member of the House of Lords, former science editor of The Economist, author of The Rational Optimist and Genome. He opened the meeting by noting that de-extinction comes in four stages, which he described as: 1) In silico (the sequencing of the full genome of the extinct animal into digital data); 2) in vitro (editing the important genes of the extinct animal into living reproductive cells of its nearest living relative; 3) in vivo (using the edited reproductive cells to create living proxies of the extinct animal); and 4) in the wild (growing the proxy animal population with captive breeding and eventually releasing them to take up their old ecological role in the wild.)
Three participants from Revive & Restore—Ben Novak, Ryan Phelan, and Stewart Brand—spelled out the current state of de-extinction projects involving the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, and Woolly Mammoth. In each case the extinct genomes have been thoroughly sequenced, along with the genomes of their closest living relatives, and some of the important genes to edit have been identified. With the woolly mammoth, 16 genes governing three important traits have been edited into a living elephant cell line by George Church’s team at Harvard Medical School. For birds, the crucial in vivo stage of being able to create living chicks with edited genomes utilizing a primordial germ cell (PGC) approach has yet to be fully proven, though work has begun on the process, working with a private company in California.
Michael McGrew from Roslin Institute in Edinburgh described the current state of play using primordial germ cell techniques with chickens. Progress may go best by introducing the edited PGCs into the embryos of chickens adjusted to have no endogenous germ cells of their own. Because so much work has been done on chicken genetics, working with a bird in the same family, the extinct Heath Hen, may offer the most practical first case to pursue. For the Great Auk eventually, a flock of captive-bred Razorbills will be needed to supply embryos for the PGC process.
Oliver Haddrath (Ornithologist at the Royal Ontario Museum) and Richard Bevan (Ecologist at Newcastle University) described what is known of the lifestyle, ecology, and history of Great Auks compared with Razorbills, and Andrew Torrance (Law professor at the University of Kansas) examined potential legal hurdles for resurrected Great Auks and found them not explicitly prohibitive and potentially navigable.
The meeting concluded with a sense that the project can and should be pursued. Next steps include funding the completion of Tom Gilbert’s genetic study of Great Auks and Razorbills and scheduling a follow-up meeting in the summer of 2016, perhaps at another location (Canada, Iceland, Denmark) in the once-and-perhaps-future range of the Great Auk.
Matt Ridley added the following about the Farne Islands:
The Farnes are one of the very few island groups on the east coast of Britain, so they are very attractive to island-nesting seabirds. They host about 90,000 breeding pairs of seabirds each summer: mainly puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, black-headed gulls, herring gulls, lesser black-back gulls, Arctic, Sandwich and Common terns, shags, cormorants, eider ducks and fulmars. About 2000 grey seal pups are born on the islands each autumn.
The number of breeding birds has approximately doubled in 40 years, largely thanks to protection from human disturbance, control of the predatory large gull population, and habitat management. Most of the birds depend on just one species of fish to feed their young: the sand eel. The eels lives in vast shoals over the sandy sea floor close to the islands. Some studies have suggested that nutrients from human activities on land — including agricultural fertiliser and human sewage — have contributed to the productivity of this part of the North Sea, though treated sewage effluent outflow to the sea has now ceased. It is likely that there are more breeding birds on the Farne islands today than for many centuries, because in the past people lived on the islands (as farmers or religious hermits), and visited them to collect eggs and chicks for food. There is archeological evidence that great auks lived here in the distant past, but they would have been quickly exterminated by people on islands so close to the shore, being so easy to catch.
One of The Interval’s most distinctive features is “Otto”, our chalkboard drawing machine. Otto is a vector drawing machine that was built by Swiss artist Jürg Lehni. In this short video piece by Fusion media, you get to see Otto making a drawing and hear directly from Jürg about his work. To see Otto drawing in person, get tickets to one of our Conversations at The Interval talks on Tuesday nights.
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