Category Archives: geekery

Humankind as Plague

Big Think‘s Tauriq Moosa revisits Alan Weisman’s World Without People. Star Trek fans might recall Q’s first trial of humanity on The Next Generation. Moosa asks: how could we justify human existence to such aliens if evidence for our value is limited?

Are We a Plague? Well, That Depends

Climate change and imported disease may have killed them, but most paleontologists accept the theory Martin advocates: “When people got out of Africa and Asia and reached other parts of the world, all hell broke loose.” He is convinced that people were responsible for the mass extinctions because they commenced with human arrival everywhere: first, in Australia 60,000 years ago, then mainland America 13,000 years ago, followed by the Caribbean islands 6,000 years ago, and Madagascar 2,000 years ago. — Alan Weisman

As Moosa explains, writers, scientists, and philosophers have been exploring whether humanity is Earth’s boon or threat or some indeterminate combination of both for several centuries. Their question remains unsettled, though: there’s still too much uncertainty about environmental stability, population levels, geo-cycles that are beyond human interference, and the impacts of our technologies on life and the systems that supports life.

Check out the World Without Us and Scientific American websites for some engaging graphics, like New York City from Day 2 through Ice Age.


Obit: Aaron Swartz

RSS co-developer Aaron Swartz has died aged 26yo.

Check out his writing on personal leadership and healthy organizations in the blog series Raw Nerve (available on his website until it’s not.)

Last May, Aaron talked to attendees of the Free to Connect conference in DC about his work coordinating resistance to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).*

* ht: @cmcknz77

New Tool-Toy and Tech Updates

Thanks to my brother: my latest tool-toy is IFTTT, a rules (recipe) site that allows users to cross-link their web-mediated services. One of the most common benefits is eliminating some of the content management work that users would otherwise duplicate across sites, work like uploading or archiving images, links, and posts.

How IFTTT Works

With each IFTTT recipe, you can identify a trigger or a starting condition that will prompt an action or consequence in a related service. For example, one of my recipes pushes select content from WordPress to another website I use. If all goes to plan, I’ll be able to focus my synchronous site use on interacting directly with people and reading their content rather than interacting, reading and broadcasting at the same time.

We’ll see if this works out: obviously I’ll be curating content somewhere so it’s just a question of where and how much. But see also Slate on “labor-saving devices” that haven’t saved us much labor. I’ll review this in 3 months to see whether IFTTT is bucking that steady trend for me and has proved itself worth keeping.

IFTTT and Twitter

My coming to IFTTT this late (it’s been live since 2010) means that other web-mediated services have already evolved in ways that diverge from IFTTT’s open cloud model. Twitter, for example, is no longer on IFTTT’s list of possible triggers. For users like me, this means that I can only treat Twitter as a content recipient; I can’t use it to broadcast to other services. It’s a nagging limitation and I’ll have to see whether my Twitter use changes in favor of other microblogging sites that do support both broadcasting and archiving.

The No Automatic Archive status quo for Twitter is also galling given that all public tweets automatically go to the Library of Congress. With an archived output of 130 terabytes and rising, all Twitter users are now published authors, but only a few of us can access the content we’ve authored. That being so, I don’t understand how a CNET editor can link Twitter with serious free-the-data companies when Twitter’s user archive is not yet accessible and users can’t export their information to other services.

News: Windows Live Messenger (1999-2013)

Apparently Microsoft is migrating all Windows Live Messenger users to Skype this spring. Not having used Messenger since the mid 00s myself, I’m surprised it still has such an active user base: just over a third of Skype’s base at about 100 million people worldwide. The web-communications arena has filled out a lot since Messenger’s launch, and I’m hoping that the influx of Live-level users isn’t going to be more disruptive than Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype was two years ago.

Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Wu-Tang’s GZA on Hip Hop and Science

An astrophysicist and a rapper walked into a studio…

StarTalk Radio is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s NSF-sponsored show, and is distributed on YouTube.

This episode features GZA (pronounced “Jizza”), a founding member of the 1990s hip hop collective The Wu-Tang Clan, and Christopher Emdin (@chrisemdin | Columbia University), who teaches at the intersection between science and hip hop. (See also a recent London Sun report on GZA and Emdin’s recent initiative, E=MC.)

I enjoyed hearing from both the artist and the educator about what’s needed to thoroughly integrate science with an artistic form like emceeing. Emceeing is storytelling that requires high quality language skills, curiosity, and the ability to relate distinct concepts to create a new point: lots and lots of metaphor, contrast, and vivid imagery, as well as mastery of rhythm and rhyme.

During the show, Tyson also asks about violence in art (a discussion raised again after Newton), and how artists like GZA can inspire their audiences to engage science in more relevant ways. Tyson started out a skeptic and ended the interview

Cool clip. 34 minutes long.