Adivasi Academy students work to save indigenous languages of India

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 02008 by Laura Welcher
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Students at the Adivasi Academy

In a remote region of India, students at the Adivasi Academy are working to save their tribal languages, and through their languages, their tribal cultures and knowledge as well. They certainly have their work cut out for them — many of the students have had to devise writing systems for their historically unwritten native tongues only to embark on the herculean task of developing dictionaries, grammars and other major reference works (consider that Noah Webster’s dictionary was the product of decades of work — and a dictionary is but one part of these students’ undertaking.)

The term adivasi refers to the indigenous people of India, who belong to remote tribal groups and speak many different dialects. These languages are rapidly being engulfed by urban languages with greater economic utility and prestige. One student, Kantilal Mahala, a speaker of the Kunkna [Konkani] language remarked, “In my village, people who move ahead speak only Gujarati. They feel ashamed of our language.” But documentation projects like these can help change perceptions, raising the prestige of the language and its speakers through a new written standard and medium for wider communication — this, and the fact of the Academy’s very existence, which affirms ‘we are here, and we are worth this effort.’

Macro to micro etching

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 02008 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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The final technical hurdle of the Rosetta Disk Project has finally been overcome.  (See Kevin Kelly’s write up of this project here) We are distributing three of the disks to their owners this month and have two remaining of this first edition.

We now have both the sides of the disk micro-etched.  The front human eye readable side (pictured above) was a challenge as it had etching that went from very large to the very small.  The eight outer spiraling texts start with characters about a centimeter high and end up with characters a few hundred microns high.  And the language names surrounding the earth image were small enough we had to get a special engravers style font made in Germany to make sure they would stay legible.  This side of the disk was etched into commercially pure titanium that was coated with a black oxide coating.  This coating was then etched through with an eximer laser by a micro-etching company Norsam Technologies.  One of their challenges was etching the center of the letters as well as the outlines.  They had to create a crosshatching pattern for the 10 micron wide eximer beam to pass back and forth over the fill areas.  Each one takes over 36 hours to etch.

Each of these are mated up with the other micro etched side of the disk with over 13,000 pages of language translations in a stainless bezel.  (see below)

Each of the five first edition disks are going to still two of these remaining for any donor Rosetta Project donors of at least $25,000 (Contact Laura if interested in future editions).  They each come in a protective stainless and glass spherical protective case.  We are now working on more economical versions that we can more widely distribute.  We have already produced a DVD version with all the content and a Java based viewer to view it in a kind of “virtual magnifying” glass format.

 When you open the case and lift out the disk, there is a space underneath which holds a strip of stainless and a stylus to allow each generation who owns that Rosetta disk to mark down their ownership (pictured at the top of this post).

It took us eight years to get to this point.  Whew.



Fashion on an evolutionary scale

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 02008 by Stuart Candy
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Image from Perroquet (02008) by Sølve Sundsbø, at SHOWstudio

Inspired by science photography and nature documentaries, Norwegian fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø produced an art exhibition called Perroquet, comprising a stunning series of photographs and slow-motion videos showing the spectacular plumage and graceful movement of a slender, long-tailed parrot in flight.

This particular subject matter couldn’t be more removed from Sundsbø’s lavish editorial spreads and striking campaign imagery, although his reasons for choosing this particular species do, in a way, relate to fashion. Possessing almost sartorial qualities, it was the bird’s trademark vibrant plumage that piqued the photographer’s interest. Sundsbø looks to this as fashion on an evolutionary scale: compared to the fast-paced, demanding nature of the fashion calendar and the many ‘looks’ each season produces, this creature’s stunning ‘outfit’ has taken centuries to develop.

It was always Sundsbø’s chief intention to document the parroquet [sic] using photography and film; both mediums enabling him to steal moments that would normally be missed. … The photographs present ‘frozen moments’ of the bird’s journey; rather than showing its full body, the cropped viewpoints bring abstract qualities to Sundsbø’s powerful images.

~Perroquet Project Description at SHOWstudio

(The videos are wonderful also, but they are not, it seems, capable of being embedded in other websites: check them out here.)

One thing that strikes me about this project is the unusual and satisfyingly elegant way that it brings together domains normally dealt with by people using different languages and techniques: that is, in my mind at least, the nature documentarian and fashion photographer seem almost to inhabit different worlds. But here, Sundsbø brings his studio skills to bear on a natural marvel, taking fashion and nature — processes typically, and reasonably enough, placed at opposite ends of the temporal spectrum, as in Stewart Brand’s “layers of time” diagram — and putting them on the same footing. Generally speaking, nature may move at a rate orders of magnitude slower than fashion, but that inexorable evolutionary process somehow contrives not merely to keep pace with fashion’s breathless pursuit of beauty, but indeed to remind us, time and again, what beauty is.

Photo from Perroquet (02008) by Sølve Sundsbø, at SHOWstudio

[via BoingBoing]

Convergence08 Unconference

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 02008 by Danielle Engelman
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The Convergence08 Unconference on Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno (NBIC) technologies and their interactions will be held November 15-16, 02008, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Long Now Members receive a discount on the registration price – check your email for more information.

Long Now Board Member Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster with over two decades experience exploring long-term technological change and its practical impact on business and society, will keynote the event.

“A host of technologies that seemed like daring science fiction just a few years ago are racing toward practical application with breathtaking speed. Convergence08 is a unique opportunity to look into the coming NBIC future, examine its implications, and prepare for the vast surprises in store for us all.” Paul Saffo

Each of the 2 days starts and ends with an eye-opening debate or keynote to inspire, and the remaining agenda is created by conference participants; the planning has already started on the Convergence08 wiki.

reCaptcha your wasted time

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 02008 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Surreptitious crowd sourced book digitizing… one word at a time.

Last night I attended the Internet Archive’s Open Content Alliance meeting.  I was really amazed by how far their book scanning, (over a million books now), and contextualizing projects have come.  The two most amazing things were the blog embed tools for the scanned book interface (more on that soon), and the most amazing use of Captcha technology I have seen.  One of the inventors of Captcha’s, those funny squiggly words used to prove your a human when you sign up for something, has now put this wasted time and human brain power to work.

ReCaptcha is now getting its difficult to decipher words from scanning projects like the Internet Archive’s and is using the human effort to digitize the words the computer cant recognize. Over a half million man hours a year can now go to digitizing books instead of just wasting your time.

“We would all be smarter if the world remains multilingual”

Posted on Monday, October 27th, 02008 by Laura Welcher
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During his presentation at Pop!Tech 2008: Scarcity and Abundance, Dr. K. David Harrison discussed how language death leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture. He also detailed efforts to sustain, value and revitalize linguistic diversity worldwide. His talk was presented in collaboration with the multilingual video captioning site DotSub, where it is posted and now translated into 31 languages:

Closing his presentation, Dr. Harrison says “everyone can do something to support a world in which a diversity of thought and a diversity of ways of speaking is encouraged and is fostered and is sustained. There’s no reason for people to be forced to abandon their languages. It’s one of the false choices of globalization to tell people that they must give up a small or minority or a heritage language in order to speak a global language like English. It doesn’t have to happen. We would all be better and smarter if the world remains multilingual.”

If you would like to help keep the world multilingual, you can translate this video yourself. Log in to DotSub, go to the video page, and select your language from the pull down list under “Translate and Transcribe.”

ECOtime – stories from The ECOlogical Calendar

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 02008 by Danielle Engelman
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ECOtime – stories from The ECOlogical Calendar- will debut on NPR starting this Friday October 24, as part of the weekly program Living On Earth.

This minute-long look at the natural phenomena occurring around us is narrated by Chris Hardman, creator of, and artist behind The ECOlogical Calendar.

As with the calendar, ECOtime is all about reconnecting people with the world around them, inspiring the listener to step outside, look around and enjoy the show that nature puts on every day.

We carry the calendar at The Long Now Museum and Store where it is a perennial favorite with our customers; you can also buy it online.

Listen for ECOtime on Living On Earth on your local public radio station, or listen to it online.

Find out where to tune in here.

KQED, Northern California’s public radio, will broadcast Living On Earth:
Sat, Oct 25, 2008 — 4:00 pm
Sun, Oct 26, 2008 — 1:00 am

Wonderfest 02008

Posted on Thursday, October 23rd, 02008 by Austin Brown
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Flammarion Woodcut

On November 1st and 2nd, Stanford University and UC Berkeley will be hosting a gathering of the “scientific community.”  You don’t need tenure to get in, though.  The goal of Wonderfest is to bring together all who are curious, regardless of institutional ranking, to celebrate the scientific quest for truth and to hear a little bit about how we’re doing on some of the big questions.

On Saturday at Stanford, you can hear a physicist and a statistician discuss randomness, some geneticists hoping to revive extinct species, and a whole panel of conservation, carbon capture, solar and fission experts talking about the future of energy.  There will also be a Science Expo featuring art, books, comedy, crafts and music with a “scientific bent,” and a Mind Duel, pitting scientists against high school students.

The Wonderfest heads up to UC Berkeley on Sunday with an astronomer and SETI’s Chief Scientist discussing humanity’s heretofore cosmic loneliness, a psychiatrist talking about dreams with a sleep researcher and a discussion about how to make politics a little more science-savvy.  In addition, the Science Expo continues!

Channeling the late, great Carl Sagan, Wonderfest Director Tucker Hiatt says:

“I hold that the popularization of science is successful if, at first, it does no more than spark the sense of wonder.”  This sentiment, expressed by astronomer Carl Sagan shortly before he died, inspired the name — and the emotional foundation — of America’s oldest science festival.   After ten years, Wonderfest, the Bay Area Festival of Science, is still dedicated to Sagan’s memory.

Wonderfest 2008, the tenth anniversary festival, happens at Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 1, and at UC Berkeley on Sunday, Nov. 2.  The heart of Wonderfest is a series of public dialogues between world-class researchers in discussion of provocative scientific questions.  This year’s dialogues address the origin of randomness, the revival of extinct species, humanity’s perilous energy future, the decades long failure of SETI, the significance of dreams, and the science understanding that is essential for our leaders.

The dialogues and many ancillary activities — some festive, some deep — serve to broaden the meaning of “scientific community.”  Professional scientists often use this term to refer only to themselves.  Wonderfest uses it to describe everyone who regards science as the best way of learning how the world really is.

Laurie Anderson in Conversation

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 02008 by Danielle Engelman
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Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson in conversation with Ken Goldberg
free, no tickets required

Saturday October 25 from 2:00 to 3:30 pm
Wheeler Auditorium in Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s Center for New Media is presenting this lecture as part of their series The Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium.

Ken Goldberg hosts a conversation and audience Q&A with acclaimed multi-media artist Laurie Anderson on topics ranging from privacy and politics to art and technology. This event is planned in conjunction with Anderson’s newest performance, Homeland which she is performing Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25 02008 at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

The Personal Genome Project

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 02008 by Austin Brown
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If you’ve ever wanted to know more about Long Now Foundation board member Esther Dyson, now is your chance to get up close and personal.  As part of the Personal Genome Project, Dyson has joined 10 volunteers, including the head of the program, geneticist George Church, and psychologist Steven Pinker, in making public their personal genetic codes.  Dyson will be speaking about the group’s goals this weekend at the Singularity Summit, but if you can’t make it to San Jose, the Personal Genome Project’s website has the scoop:

The PGP hopes to make personal genome sequencing more affordable, accessible, and useful for humankind.

We believe individuals from the general public have a vital role to play in making personal genomes useful. We are recruiting volunteers who are willing to share their genome sequence and many types of personal information with the research community and the general public, so that together we will be better able to advance our understanding of genetic and environmental contributions to human traits and to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.

In order to achieve these goals, the Personal Genome Project wants to make the genetic and medical records of volunteers accessible to the public.  The PGP hopes to make it much easier to conduct genetic research by building a publicly accessible treasure trove of genetic data.  After the initial 10 volunteers, the PGP is hoping to enroll another 100,000 people to contribute to the database.  Sign-ups begin soon.

Open-sourced genetics research is an exciting, new and somewhat controversial field.  One of Long Now’s upcoming Seminar speakers, Drew Endy, takes the open approach to his work on synthetic biology, the engineering of life at a molecular level.  Whether that excites you or gives you the willies, you should probably come to the debate he’ll be having on November 17th with Jim Thomas, a member of the ETC Group.

Drew Endy        Jim Thomas

PS: Don’t forget to brush up on your synthetic biology by checking out Craig Venter’s Seminar from February.  You can also familiarize yourself with the Long Now debate format by revisiting out last debate, which focused on the potential for human progress and featured historian Niall Ferguson and futurist Peter Schwartz.

(Thanks Gwen!)