Blog Archive for the year 02015

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DOTS—Long-Term, Human-Readable Archival Data Storage

Posted on Sunday, December 27th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Via Alexis Madrigal’s TinyLetter, Real FutureDOTS is a Digital Optical Technology System developed by Eastman Kodak in the 01990s, and abandoned in 02002. In 02008, a team of digital imaging experts and former Kodak employees founded Group 47 to buy the DOTS patents and continue development. They succeeded in 2011.

Unlike magnetic and optical storage solutions, which must be protected from data corruption, physical degradation, and environmental damage, DOTS physically encodes data on an archival tape coated in a phase-change alloy. The alloy is resistant to temperature extremes, electromagnetic pulses, and other common environmental hazards (though it is vulnerable to acids—including, apparently, Sprite), while the tape itself is made of archival materials.

Just as importantly, DOTS is also meant to withstand the onset of a digital dark age. The data, which may include words and images as well as digitally encoded information, is transferred to the alloy using a laser, which changes the alloy’s index of refraction. In other words, the blank portions of the tape are shiny, while the data-bearing portions are dull. The result, though written at a microscopic scale, is visible under normal magnification.

Each tape begins with a Rosetta Leader(TM)—a human-readable, microfiche-scale, page that explains the storage format, and includes instructions for building a DOTS reader. According to Group 47 president Rob Hummel, even if there were no way to build the reader, it would be possible to decode the data using nothing more than the instructions in the Rosetta Leader and a camera. “While it would be very tedious,” he says in a video describing the system, “at least it wouldn’t be impossible.”

In tests, DOTS has been shown to remain archival for at least 100 years—short enough, as long-term thinking goes, but far longer than magnetic tape storage or the always-evolving hardware needed to read current digital storage media. As the Group 47 website notes, “Competing technologies (magnetic tape, hard drives) require a complex and expensive system of data migration within five years, as, beyond this, there is an unacceptably high probability of data loss due to catastrophic media and/or data degradation or outright failure.”

Rick Prelinger Seminar Media

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 10

Wednesday December 9, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Prelinger Seminar page.


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Cocktail Mechanics class at The Interval

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 02015 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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The Interval at Long Now cocktail classroom series:

Cocktail Mechanics” class at The Interval (tickets $100 each)

Taught by Jennifer Colliau (Beverage Director of The Interval at Long Now)
The Interval’s new cocktail classroom series will teach you the art and science of making drinks. In small, hands-on classes you will learn the fundamentals and finer points of making exceptional cocktails directly from one of San Francisco’s finest bartenders, our own Jennifer Colliau.

In Cocktail Mechanics, Jennifer explains both fundamentals and finer points while teaching several recipes from behind The Interval bar. Then you take a turn to practice what you’ve learned under her supervision. The Interval will be closed during the class, so you can use all the tools, ingredients and glassware that our bartenders do.

Jennifer will show you how to make both classic cocktails and newer drinks created by some of San Francisco’s top bartenders. Next you and your classmates will stir or shake them yourselves. Of course you’ll also drink your creations, before leaving with copies of all the recipes so you can make them again at home.

Along the way you’ll learn skills you can use with any drink you make: measuring, different mixing methods (and when to use them), the proper glassware for each cocktail, and more. These are the same techniques our bartenders use every day.

Jennifer’s knowledge and attention to detail assure that The Interval’s cocktails are always delicious and true to their recipes. In this class you’ll have the rare opportunity to learn from her, so you can bring that bartending excellence home.

Jennifer Colliau is The Interval’s Beverage Director and a world famous bartender and cocktail historian. She designed and authored The Interval’s drink menu. A recognized authority on classic cocktails and contemporary mixology, Jennifer has been written about or written for publications such as The New York Times, Food & Wine, Wired, 7×7, The Washington Post, and Imbibe Magazine. Her company Small Hand Foods specializes in making artisanal syrups and other authentic ingredients for cocktails old and new. In 02015 the San Francisco Chronicle named Jennifer a “Bar Star” and they have also said the drinks on our menu are “some of the most finessed in town.”

Eric Cline Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Eric Cline presents 1177 B.C: When Civilization Collapsed

Eric Cline presents “1177 B.C: When Civilization Collapsed”


Monday January 11, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15


About this Seminar:

In 1177 B.C., the Bronze Age came to a sudden end, and with it the end of the dominance of the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Hittites, and Babylonians– empires that had ruled for over a millennium. Eric Cline’s research paints a vivid picture of these thriving cultures and the complex causes that led to this “First Dark Age.”

Growing a forest of 5000 year trees

Posted on Friday, December 11th, 02015 by Bryan Campen - Twitter: @bryancampen
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Bristlecone Kit

This month, your contributions to The Long Now Foundation support the creation of the Fund of the Long Now. We will leverage this fund, through centuries of interest and investments, to help make Long Now a truly long-term institution.

Supporters of the fund are receiving a limited edition Bristlecone Pine Tree Kit (pictured above) in honor of their substantive contribution. Our goal is to get kits out to as many donors as possible, but there are only a  limited number.  Bristlecone pine trees are considered the oldest living organisms in the world, known to last up to 5,000 years, and are a living symbol of our commitment to ensuring Long Now extends into the deep future.

We are happy to report that as of this morning, we’ve shipped more than 180 Bristlecone Kits to our supporters. To those who have contributed, thank you.

We need to reach $500,000 in order to put this fund into active management, and to generate good returns to support our activities and programming.

There is still time to join this year’s group of visionary donors in creating a truly long-term future through Long Now.

The Interval honored as one of “coolest businesses in San Francisco”

Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Long Now’s Bar & Cafe, The Interval, is honored to be included on Business Insider’s list of the 19 “coolest new businesses in San Francisco”. Thank you to our team and supporters who have made this project possible and created a new platform to engage the public with long-term thinking.


Sweden’s Minister of the Future

Posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Sweden’s Minister of the Future, Kristina Persson, has been tasked with expanding the temporal horizons of government plans and “constantly remind others to include the long-term in the decision making process.”

The idea behind the creation of such a ministry was a simple one: for Sweden to remain competitive tomorrow, it might, unfortunately, have to take unpopular steps today—and since politics and politicians, given elections and interests, tend to focus on the short-term, a watchdog for the long-term was needed.

It’s easier said than done, as politics show us every day. Can you think of a politician willing to risk re-election for a better future they cannot benefit from? Most probably wouldn’t.

Read the full interview by Alberto Mucci at Vice Motherboard.

Getting Wiktionary into PanLex

Posted on Friday, December 4th, 02015 by David Kamholz
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If we want to achieve the miracle of translation from any language into any other language, it would be enormously helpful to have a machine that can translate any word, or word-like phrase, from any language into any other language. The PanLex project aims to build exactly that machine. It is documenting all known lexical translations among all the world’s languages and dialects. The project draws mainly on published sources rather than eliciting translations directly from native speakers. An obvious place to turn in working toward this ambitious goal is Wiktionary, an online multilingual dictionary with content curated by thousands of users. Wiktionary contains millions of translations in thousands of languages, and in fact was one of the first sources mined for PanLex in 02006. However, this was done as a rough one-off procedure that could not take advantage of the regular growth of Wiktionary over time. Over the past several months, the PanLex team has been developing a better procedure for incorporating most of Wiktionary’s translations into the PanLex database. This has turned out to be an intricate process.

Wiktionary is in fact many resources, not just one. There are more than 150 editions of Wiktionary, each based on a particular language. Each edition contains entries mainly in that language; many entries include translations into other languages. For example, the English Wiktionary contains an entry for the verb go, whose primary sense “to move through space” is translated into German as either gehen (“to walk”) or fahren (“to go by vehicle”). The German Wiktionary contains separate entries for gehen and fahren, each of which is translated into English as go. Entries among different Wiktionaries must be manually linked, as there is no reliable automatic way to do this.

Several factors make it very difficult to treat different Wiktionaries as a single, uniform, computer-readable resource. Each Wiktionary contains different editorial standards for the standard structure of an entry, and these standards are not perfectly followed by all editors. Furthermore, the wiki markup in which entries are written is designed to be easy for editors to learn, not easy for computers to parse.

The DBnary project, created by Gilles Sérasset at the Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, is an effort to convert some of the largest Wiktionaries (currently 13 editions) into linked online data. This means that the data are computer-readable and made to conform to existing standards for lexical data, language codes, parts of speech, and so on. DBnary is a valuable contribution to making Wiktionaries tractable for PanLex, without which our task would have been much more difficult. However, much additional work has been necessary to make use of DBnary.

DBary translation map of “cat”
One major challenge in interpreting DBnary for PanLex is language variety identification. DBnary uses three-letter codes, drawn from the ISO 639-3 standard that identifies more than 7,000 languages. PanLex uses codes from this and other ISO 639 standards, but additionally recognizes varieties of each language, which generally correspond to dialects or to different script standards for writing the language. Given a language code and a text string in that language, it is no simple matter to identify the PanLex variety code. Many cases can be resolved with a heuristic that detects the string’s Unicode script (e.g., Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Han) and then looks for a variety of the appropriate language which is written in that script. For about a hundred more difficult cases, we have had to create custom mappings and (in a small number of cases) custom code.

Another major challenge in making use of DBnary is lemmatization. PanLex records only the lemma of any given word or phrase, which generally corresponds to a dictionary headword, also known as a citation form. For example, most English nouns are recorded in the singular (table, not tables), and verbs are recorded in the infinitive (go, not goes or went). Wiktionaries generally record lemmas as their translations, but there is significant messiness in the data. We use a variety of heuristics to detect whether a string is likely to be lemmatic. For example, we remove most parenthesized material from strings, so that “divan (old-fashioned)” is converted to “divan”; the complete original string is preserved as a definition. Strings that contain certain characters, such as commas or semicolons, are likely to be lists of translations rather than single translations and are also converted to definitions.

We have written extensive custom code to convert all 13 available DBnary editions into a format that can be ingested into the PanLex database. The resulting files contain over 4 million translations. We are still in the process of perfecting the code and expect to have the ingestion completed in 02015. This will represent a substantial contribution to PanLex, which currently contains about 57 million translations. Once the new DBnary-provided Wiktionary data are ingested, we will retire the out-of-date PanLex Wiktionary sources. We will also be able to periodically update PanLex with the latest data from DBnary, thereby incorporating new crowd-sourced Wiktionary translations.

The PanLex project is always looking for skilled help in analyzing sources such as Wiktionary. Other sources, though typically much smaller, present similar challenges. We currently hope to hire a small number of source analysts to process our ever-growing backlog of sources. If this sort of work would interest you, please contact

The Fund of the Long Now

Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 02015 by Bryan Campen - Twitter: @bryancampen
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June 02016 marks Long Now’s twentieth anniversary. In terms of a new nonprofit, it is a pretty good run. But for Long Now it means that we still have at least 9,980 years left to go…

So we decided to build a fund to better ensure our future, and at the same moment put deep time in your hands. We have created The Fund of the Long Now, a donor fund that we will invest in to help make Long Now a truly long-term institution.

The Bristlecone Pine Kit that includes its own tiny greenhouse tube.

As a thank you to those who provide tangible support to The Fund, we have made a limited edition set of Bristlecone Pine Tree Kits. These kits will be sent to everyone who can make a substantive donation.

The bristlecone is one of the longest living species on earth, and a living symbol of our shared commitment to the deep future, whether we measure that in centuries or millennia. The Fund of the Long Now is being built to back up our promise to that future, and to support the operating budget of a truly long-term cultural institution.

Once we reach $500,000, The Fund of the Long Now will go into active management that is specifically designed around long-term thinking. We have been testing the principles of the fund with our financial advisors for several years, and will continue to tune it as we move forward.

What your bristlecone tree will look like after about 5,000 years. Individual results may vary.

The idea behind the Fund originates from one of our core principles, to leverage longevity, and was best illustrated in Stewart Brand’s The Clock of the Long Now. So as you consider making a contribution we leave you with his quote:

The slow stuff is the serious stuff, but it is invisible to us quick learners. Our senses and our thinking habits are tuned to what is sudden, and oblivious to anything gradual. Between the near-impossible win of a lottery and the certain win of earning compound interest, we choose the lottery because it is sudden. The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior, and so we miss the real event, which is that to gamble is to lose.

What happens fast is illusion, what happens slow is reality. The job of the long view is to penetrate illusion.

Philip Tetlock Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.


Monday November 23, 02015 – San Francisco

Audio is up on the Tetlock Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


All it takes to improve forecasting is KEEP SCORE – a summary by Stewart Brand

Will Syria’s President Assad still be in power at the end of next year? Will Russia and China hold joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean in the next six months? Will the Oil Volatility Index fall below 25 in 2016? Will the Arctic sea ice mass be lower next summer than it was last summer?

Five hundred such questions of geopolitical import were posed in tournament mode to thousands of amateur forecasters by IARPA—the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity–between 2011 and 2015. (Tetlock mentioned that senior US intelligence officials opposed the project, but younger-generation staff were able to push it through.) Extremely careful score was kept, and before long the most adept amateur “superforecasters” were doing 30 percent better than professional intelligence officers with access to classified information. They were also better than prediction markets and drastically better than famous pundits and politicians, who Tetlock described as engaging in deliberately vague “ideological kabuki dance.”

What made the amateurs so powerful was Tetlock’s insistence that they score geopolitical predictions the way meteorologists score weather predictions and then learn how to improve their scores accordingly. Meteorologists predict in percentages—“there is a 70 percent chance of rain on Thursday.” It takes time and statistics to find out how good a particular meteorologist is. If 7 out of 10 such times it in fact rained, the meteorologist gets a high score for calibration (the right percentage) and for resolution (it mostly did rain). Superforecasters, remarkably, assigned probability estimates of 72-76 percent to things that happened and 24-28 percent to things that didn’t.

How did they do that? They learned, Tetlock said, to avoid falling for the “gambler’s fallacy”—detecting nonexistent patterns. They learned objectivity—the aggressive open-mindedness it takes to set aside personal theories of public events. They learned to not overcompensate for previous mistakes—the way American intelligence professionals overcompensated for the false negative of 9/11 with the false positive of mass weapons in Saddam’s Iraq. They learned to analyze from the outside in—Assad is a dictator; most dictators stay in office a very long time; consider any current news out of Syria in that light. And they learned to balance between over-adjustment to new evidence (“This changes everything”) and under-adjustment (“This is just a blip”), and between overconfidence (“100 percent!”) and over-timidity (“Um, 50 percent”). “You only win a forecasting tournament,” Tetlock said, “by being decisive—justifiably decisive.”

Much of the best forecasting came from teams that learned to collaborate adroitly. Diversity on the teams helped. One important trick was to give extra weight to the best individual forecasters. Another was to “extremize” to compensate for the conservatism of aggregate forecasts—if everyone says the chances are around 66 percent, then the real chances are probably higher.

In the Q & A following his talk Tetlock was asked if the US intelligence community would incorporate the lessons of its forecasting tournament. He said he is cautiously optimistic. Pressed for a number, he declared, “Ten years from now I would offer the probability of .7 that there will be ten times more numerical probability estimates in national intelligence estimates than there were in 2005.”

Asked about long-term forecasting, he replied, “Here’s my long-term prediction for Long Now. When the Long Now audience of 2515 looks back on the audience of 2015, their level of contempt for how we go about judging political debate will be roughly comparable to the level of contempt we have for the 1692 Salem witch trials.”

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