Blog Archive for the year 02007

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The Future of Futurology

Posted on Monday, December 31st, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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The Economist has a nice piece on the future of forcasting. Good reading for the upcoming seminar with Paul Saffo and later with Nassim Taleb. The article does a good job pointing out the value of certain types of short-termism:

The next rule is: think short-term. An American practitioner, Faith Popcorn, showed the way with “The Popcorn Report” in 1991, applying her foresight to consumer trends instead of rocket science. The Popcornised end of the industry thrives as an adjunct of the marketing business, a research arm for its continuous innovation in consumer goods. One firm, Trendwatching of Amsterdam, predicts in its Trend Report for 2008 a list of social fads and niche markets including “eco-embedded brands” (so green they don’t even need to emphasise it) and “the next small thing” (“What happens when consumers want to be anything but the Joneses?”).

It also points out the value in prediction markets which are similar to our project Long Bets, but capitalize on the wisdom of crowds principle where people buy shares in an idea to give it a probability:

The most heeded futurists these days are not individuals, but prediction markets, where the informed guesswork of many is consolidated into hard probability. Will Osama bin Laden be caught in 2008? Only a 15% chance, said Newsfutures in mid-October 2007. Would Iran have nuclear weapons by January 1st 2008? Only a 6.6% chance, said Inkling Markets. Will George Bush pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby? A better-than-40% chance, said Intrade. There may even be a prediction market somewhere taking bets on immortality. But beware: long- and short-sellers alike will find it hard to collect.

Ironically Long Bets has a bet on living at least 150 years

10,000 Year Gears of Jade

Posted on Friday, December 28th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Here at Long Now we are now experimenting with new ways of using stone in the Clock after being introduced to Stuart Kendall and Jason Clausen, the stone crafters of Seattle Solstice. They have built new machines to cut stone in ways not before possible. Their work in large stone is machined to tolerances usually only associated with metalwork. Above you can see one of the test gears being cut by their custom computer controlled diamond wire saw.

The point of using stone in the 10,000 Year Clock is to isolate metal to metal contact. This prevents one of the most potentially destructive effects in the Clock, galvanic corrosion, which occurs between dissimilar metals. We are trying the stone in accelerated load test rigs (seen above) against other materials we might use in the Clock. While at first we thought that machining jade like this was quite original, it turns out that it may have been one of the earliest substances machined.

Stuart Kendall suggested that if we wanted to build working clock parts of stone, we should try nephrite jade. A type of stone that is very hard, polishes well, and has one of the highest tensile strengths of any stone (more like metal in fact). We are beginning to test parts made of nephrite jade now. Below you can see one of the roller test rigs that has made over 4 million revolutions against another jade roller and against a stainless roller. So far it is performing well.


Posted on Thursday, December 27th, 02007 by Kevin Kelly
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A lifelog, or lifeblog, is an attempt to fully document every second, every action, every interaction, every keystroke, every conversation of one’s life. In this sense it is quantitative as it accumulates data about a person’s daily activities. But among lifeloggers there is a subgroup of photo lifeloggers who are merely content to photographicly record their life in detail. There are many photologgers who take a portrait of themselves everyday. 
One of the longest running of these daily guys, JK, now has a daily 8-year series of himself. He recently turned that series into a wonderful and mesmerizing timelapse animation.
This fellow JK also maintains a list of other maniacal photologgers here. Daily portraits seem to be a big thing in Germany. Some like to keep the photo constant from day to day in an almost clinical uniformity. Others are committed to dressing themselves up to maximize diversity from day to day.  But the obsessive nature needed to maintain anything daily for years shows up in a few really obsessive photologgers. One guy takes a picture of whatever is in his right hand for the first time that day. Here is an excerpt from part of his day on December 6, 2007.
It’s an odd collection only because its trouble to take it. Someday when cameras will film our lives 24/7, this degree of documentation won’t be freakish.

Lodestone unloads a new surprise

Posted on Thursday, December 27th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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We have been researching long lasting magnetic properties for use in the Clock of the Long Now. Magnetite or lodestone is a naturally occurring magnetic material that has been known for at least two millennia. These materials have held their magnetism even over geologic time scales which makes them interesting for potential use in the Clock. We could potentially use them for actuating/holding without touching thus eliminating wear. I just came across this article on a new property some nano-tech engineers came across when they super cooled magnetite and made it change states into a conductor. I like that such an old material is finding new use in the nano-tech world…

With engineers looking to exploit novel electronic materials for next-generation computers and hard drives, phase transitions between insulating and conducting states have become an increasingly hot research topic in physics and materials science in recent years.

The debate about the causes and specifics of magnetite’s temperature-driven phase change has simmered much longer. Natelson said physicists have long sparred about the possible underlying physical and electronic causes of the phase transition. The discovery of this new voltage-driven switching provides new clues, but more research is still needed, he said.

“The effect we discovered probably wasn’t noticed in the past because nanotechnology is only now making it possible to prepare the electrodes, nanoparticles, and thin films required for study with the precision necessary to document the effect,” he said.

Long-Term Digital Dilemma

Posted on Monday, December 24th, 02007 by Kevin Kelly
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The New York Times and the Hollywood Reporter both have recently written about a new 74-page report from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called “The Digital Dilemma: Strategic Issues in Archiving and Accessing Digital Motion Picture Materials” (not yet online).

The paper addresses a perennial Long Now concern: the ephemeral nature of digital preservation. How digital media are short lived, and liable for early extinction. There are some new and interesting facts suggested by the reports. In a December 23, 2007 article called “The Afterlife is Expensive for Digital Movies” the Times claims that the crux of the preservation dilemma is that analog, while less desirable is much cheaper: “To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.”
Room X

The solution? Preserve all movies, including all movies shot in digital, onto analog film. The Times says: “At present, a copy of virtually all studio movies — even those like “Click” or “Miami Vice” that are shot using digital processes — is being stored in film format, protecting the finished product for 100 years or more.”

However, if analog storage was so great, we would not have lost so many films to decaying or exploding celluloid film. According to the Times, in terms of survival rates, analog storage is not much better than digital. It says “only half of the feature films shot before 1950 survive.”

But the questions and concerns about digital storage are still very much unknown. The Times again:

To begin with, the hardware and storage media — magnetic tapes, disks, whatever — on which a film is encoded are much less enduring than good old film. If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of disks can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a “brick wall” when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable.

Hollywood is finally waking up to the worry.

Milt Shefter, the project leader on the AMPAS Science and Technology Council’s digital motion picture archival project, is quoted in The Hollywood Reporter article as follows:     

“We are already heading down this digital road … and there is no long-term guaranteed access to what is being created.  We need to understand what the consequences are and start planning now while we still have an analog backup system available.” … Shefter noted that a requirement for any preservation system is that it must meet or exceed the performance characteristic benefits of the current analog photochemical film system. According to the report, these benefits include a worldwide standard; guaranteed long-terms [sic] access (100-year minimum) with no loss in quality; the ability to create duplicate masters to fulfill future (and unknown) distribution needs and opportunities; and immunity from escalating financial investment.

Blogs vs. New York Times

Posted on Friday, December 21st, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Roger Cadenhead over at the Workbench wrote up his analysis of one of our Long Bets yesterday that is up for review (thanks to Chris Anderson for sending this in). Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing also did a nice write up. We here at Long Bets will be making our own analysis of course, but here is a good excerpt of his take on it:

So Winer wins the bet 3-2, but his premise of blog triumphalism is challenged by the fact that on all five stories, a major U.S. media outlet ranks above the leading weblog in Google search. Also, the results for the top story of the year reflect poorly on both sides.

In the five years since the bet was made, a clear winner did emerge, but it was neither blogs nor the Times.

Wikipedia, which was only one year old in 2002, ranks higher today on four of the five news stories: 12th for Chinese exports, fifth for oil prices, first for the Iraq war, fourth for the mortgage crisis and first for the Virginia Tech killings.

Winer predicted a news environment “changed so thoroughly that informed people will look to amateurs they trust for the information they want.” Nisenholtz expected the professional media to remain the authoritative source for “unbiased, accurate, and coherent” information.

Instead, our most trusted source on the biggest news stories of 2007 is a horde of nameless, faceless amateurs who are not required to prove expertise in the subjects they cover.

And I just saw that Winer and Boutin have wrote up their takes on this:

My Long Bet with Martin Nisenholtz
It certainly is fun to speculate, but the decision about who won
belongs exclusively to the Long Now Foundation. They have
to decide who determines what the top stories of 2007 are, and
imho they should consult with search experts to
Scripting News –

Wikipedia wins, I lose big bet on the news
By Paul Boutin
Google — the company, not the search engine — will call a
winner, and the Long Now Foundation, which holds the
cash in the pot, will decide the issue. I know because I set this
all up in 2001, by talking to Google PR chief David Krane –

Long Now Media Update

Posted on Friday, December 21st, 02007 by Danielle Engelman
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The latest Seminars About Long-term Thinking are now available as audio downloads or podcasts and hi-res video for Long Now members.

*Rosabeth Moss Kanter on “Enduring Principles for Changing Times”

DNA Driven World

Posted on Thursday, December 20th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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This BBC lecture was posted by and I thought it would be a good preparation for our upcoming February 25th talk by Craig Venter. Some excerpts:

To begin the process of change we need to start with our children by teaching them in place of memorization, to explore, challenge, and problem solve in an attempt to understand the world around them, and most especially the world they cannot “see” or feel directly. Perhaps, we can also start by changing the way we teach science in our schools.

So over a short period of time genome projects, which 10 years ago required several years to complete, now take only days. Within 5 years it will be commonplace to have your own genome sequenced. Something that just a decade ago required billions of pounds and was considered a monumental achievement. Our ability to read the genetic code is changing even faster than changes predicted by Moore’s Law.

At my company Synthetic Genomics, we have a major program underway in collaboration with BP to see if we can use naturally occurring microbes to metabolize coal into methane which can then be harvested as natural gas. While not a renewable source of carbon, it could provide as much as a 10 fold improvement over mining and burning coal. We also have organisms that can convert CO2 into methane thereby providing a renewable source of fuel.

First Photo from Space

Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Above is the first known image ever taken from space and our first image of the really ‘big here’. It was shot from a captured German V2 rocket launched after WWII from White Sands missile range. You can find more about the effort in this excellent article in Air & Space magazine (also the really amazing panorama below). While it feels like space imagery is something fairly new because of new tools like Google Earth, this hauntingly grainy black and white image taken over 60 years ago reminds me that the intelligence community has been seeing and using this data for a long time. Also worth noting is that while we have this first image, it is my understanding that NASA is missing a large amounts of the early satellite data due to digital data loss. This is a good case where a real film camera has helped preserve the data.


Foucault and the Eclipse

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Over 50 years ago the French scientist Allais observed:

During the total eclipses of the sun on June 30, 1954, and October 22, 1959, quite analogous deviations of the plane of oscillation of the paraconical pendulum were observed…” – Maurice Allais, 1988 Nobel autobiographical lecture.

And back in 01999 NASA reproduced the experiment and the effect during the total eclipse that year at multiple Foucault pendulums. I have been following this since learning of Allais’ original claim when I started working with Danny Hillis on the design of the 10,000 Year Clock. It seemed to me it might lend itself to a way for the Clock to mechanically record eclipses as they occur through the centuries and millennia. (One of my favorite Long Nowish publications is the 5 millennia Canon of Solar Eclipses [NASA page]) Unfortunately I cannot find much follow up to the 01999 experiment (any links appreciated). It would be very fun to build a device that capitalized on the effect as part of a 10,000 Clock.