What exactly is a tangible interface?

The Feature interviews Matt Jones:

Matt_jones Matt Jones and Chris Heathcote are Nokia’s oracles. Officially, Jones is a concept development manager and Heathcote is a user experience manager in Nokia’s Insight & Foresight group. Unofficially, the two are inciting a revolution in the way we interact with our mobile devices, and each other. At last week’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, they wowed the crowd with a demonstration of a Nokia’s Near Field Communication, a cell phone shell containing a reader for wireless electronic tags. According to the researchers, NFC isn’t just another wireless standard though. Rather, it’s a harbinger of the “tangible interfaces” to come.

TheFeature: What exactly is a tangible interface?

Jones: We’re trying to come up with ways to rethink and remap the idioms of computing and communications that have traditionally been tied to the desktop and laptop so that they work better in the contexts in which people use smart phones. Embodied interaction through tangible interfaces is one way to do that.

TheFeature: Can you give a concrete example?

Jones: We’re looking at how touch can be used to execute a number of tasks or interactions so you don’t have to switch contexts from the real world to the world inside the screen. For instance, one person could touch his device to someone else’s and give them a “digital gift,” to borrow a phrase from our old boss Marko Ahtisaari. That digital gift might be something as simple as a URL or a photo that I’ve taken of a moment we just shared.

TheFeature: Awww. That’s sweet.

Jones: Well, I don’t want to get too Hallmark about it. All joking aside though, the touch technology provides measurable quantitative differences in the efficiency by which people can complete that kind of task. In terms of the measurements that people wearing white coats take inside usability labs, touch technology could reduce the number of interactions required by an order of magnitude.

More here.

Evolution at Work (and creationism nowhere in sight)

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

You may have heard last month’s news about an aggressive form of HIV that had public health officials in New York scared out of their professional gourds. They isolated the virus from a single man, and reported that it was resistant to anti-HIV drugs and drove its victim into full-blown AIDS in a manner of months, rather than the normal period of a few years. Skeptics wondered whether all the hoopla was necessary or useful. The virus might not turn out to be all that unusual, some said; perhaps the man’s immune system had some peculiar twist that gave the course of his disease such a devastating arc. But everyone did agree that the final judgment would have to wait until the scientists started publishing their research.


Today the first data came out in the Lancet. One of the figures jumped out at me, and I’ve reproduced it here. The scientists drew the evolutionary tree of this new strain. Its branch is marked here as “index case.” The researchers compared the sequence of one its genes to sequences from other HIV strains, looking to see how closely related it was to them. The length of the branches shows how different the genetic sequences are from one another. The tree shows that this is not a case of contamination from some other well-known strain. Instead, this new strain sticks way out on its own.

More here.

The memoir mountain

William Grimes in the New York Times:

In 1884, Ulysses S. Grant, desperate for money and terminally ill with cancer, did what countless statesmen and military leaders had done before him: he sat down to write his memoirs. Racing against the clock, he turned out two substantial volumes on his early life and his military experiences in the Mexican and Civil Wars.

By any measure, he had a lot to write about and a lot to tell. He produced a classic memoir, as the genre was then understood: important events related by a great man who shaped them.

But that was then.

Today, Grant’s memoirs fall into the same sprawling category as “Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure,” “Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age With the New York Yankees” and “Rolling Away: My Agony With Ecstasy,” to pluck just three titles from the memoir mountain looming in the next month or two.

More here.

A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

John Markoff in the New York Times:

ThinkThe technologist and the marketing executive who co-founded Palm Computing in 1992 are starting a new company that plans to license software technologies based on a novel theory of how the mind works.

Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky will remain involved with what is now called PalmOne, but on Thursday they plan to announce the creation of Numenta, a technology development firm that will conduct research in an effort to extend Mr. Hawkins’s theories. Those ideas were initially sketched out last year in his book “On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines,” co-written with Sandra Blakeslee, who also writes for The New York Times.

Dileep George, a Stanford University graduate student who has worked with Mr. Hawkins in translating his theory into software, is joining the firm as a co-founder.

More here.

Radical report supports baby sex selection

Shaoni Bhattacharya in New Scientist:

Parents undergoing fertility treatment should be allowed to choose the sex of their baby for “family balancing”, says a radical report by the UK parliament’s committee on science and technology.

The controversial document makes many other bold suggestions on human reproductive technologies. It does not rule out human reproductive cloning in the future; it backs the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research; and it challenges the UK government’s intention to strip the anonymity from future sperm and egg donors.

More here.

Revolutionary Science

Jed Z. Buchwald reviews Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years by Charles Coulston Gillispie, in American Scientist:

The book’s nine chapters range from a careful account of the involvement of scientists in the early revolutionary Constituent Assembly, through discussions of education, the profoundly important creation of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, the development of the metric system, and the years of the Terror, war and reaction. Along the way we meet some astonishingly colorful and often tragic characters. There are, for instance, the unfortunate Jean-Sylvain Bailly, a mediocre astronomer who became Mayor of Paris and met his end during the Terror, and the great chemist Lavoisier, a member of the General Tax Farm, who never could do things halfway and who thought that rational deliberation would always trump emotion. He too felt the kiss of Madame Guillotine, and none of his politically well-placed confreres (including the mathematician Gaspard Monge and the chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet) “said a word or lifted a finger.” We meet as well the young Laplace, onetime collaborator of Lavoisier and eventually a central figure in French mathematics and physics, as well as a sometime administrator, of whom Napoleon remarked that “he brought the spirit of infinitesimals to administration.”

More here.

Wrestling With a ‘Lolita’ Opera and Losing

Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times:

In an introduction to the score for his “Darkbloom: Overture for an Imagined Opera,” which will have its premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra tonight, John Harbison calls the piece the remnant of a misguided project, an “unproduceable” opera based on a “famous and infamous” American novel.

What made it unproduceable, at least in part, was the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal involving priests and minors, Mr. Harbison said in an interview this week. The novel was Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” a work about a man’s passion for an adolescent girl.

“I suppose the subject matter never has been more socially unacceptable than it is now in the United States,” Mr. Harbison said. “Obviously I began to think more about that.”

More here.

Bobby Fischer’s scabrous and hate-filled farewell

Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times:

Fischer_cp_6088312After nine months of captivity and bitter legal struggle the former world chess champion flew to freedom in Iceland, spraying his vitriol far and wide. Japanese politicians, he declared, were “gangsters”. The US was “Jew-controlled”. “This was not an arrest,” he said, in the few minutes that he was audible to reporters between his arrival at Narita airport in Tokyo and his departure for Reykjavik. “It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and (the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi. They are war criminals and should be hanged.”

To underline his point, he unzipped his trousers as he approached the airport, and made as if to urinate on the wall. This is the man who on the night of September 11, 2001, applauded the attacks on the United States as “wonderful news”, expressing the hope that Americans as a consequence “will imprison the Jews, they will execute several hundred thousand of them at least”.

More here.

Man smuggles own art into MoMA

From CNN:

Many a visitor to New York’s Museum of Modern Art has probably thought, “I could do that.”

A British graffiti artist who goes by the name “Banksy” went one step further, by smuggling in his own picture of a soup can and hanging it on a wall, where it stayed for more than three days earlier this month before anybody noticed.

The prank was part of a coordinated plan to infiltrate four of New York’s top museums on a single day.

More here.

Rousseau’s Narcisse at The Theater for the New City

Via Crooked Timber, Narcisse, a play by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, will be performed for the first time in the U.S. at the Theater for the New City, April 7th through April 10th.

Rousseau_picEyeball Planet and The Theater for the New City are delighted to announce the American premiere of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s play NARCISSE; a masterpiece which the legendary philosopher wrote at the age of 18 years old. NARCISSE has never been performed in the United States and will make its contemporary debut in a stunning, surrealistic and experimental production.

. . .

NARCISSE is an utterly contemporary drama that deals with the problem of narcissism and sexual ambiguity. The play is about a man who falls in love with an image of himself dressed as a woman and explores contemporary issues of desire, self-obsession and the difficulty of the relation between the sexes.

Changes in Support and Opposition to the War

The March 15 Stop the War demonstration in London was much smaller than the one two years ago. Support for withdrawing troops has waned.  What’s changed?  Andrew Mueller offers his reasons in OpenDemocracy.

“The Stop The War march of 15 February 2003 in London passed into legend precisely because it wasn’t just another outing for the usual suspects. Most of the people I spoke to had never been to a demonstration in their lives. They simply objected to being lied to by their government, to their money being spent on the destruction of foreigners who meant them no harm, and they were determined to be heard.

They had made a thoughtful, rational decision. The preponderance of such people was the reason there was refreshingly little chanting.

The non-chanting tendency will have been conspicuous by its absence from Stop The War’s London demonstration of 19 March 2005 to mark the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is a guess: I wasn’t there either. I suspect, however, that the woman we met in the first paragraph was in attendance, tooting on her infernal whistle, joining lustily in the fatuous mantras about ‘blood and oil’, nodding with expressions of grim resolve at the speeches. As for the banner she’ll carry, . . .  it might well be one of Stop The War’s official placards. These read ‘Bring The Troops Home’.

It’s a shame they don’t make banners large enough to include the parenthetical addendum: ‘and leave the Iraqi people – millions of whom recently risked their lives to vote – to the mercies of Ba’ath party recidivists, opportunist gangsters, and Islamist yahoos’. The moral arithmetic of Stop The War’s slogan is easy to appreciate – it was wrong to send troops to Iraq two years ago, therefore it must be right to withdraw troops from Iraq now – but it is the most depressing example yet of Stop The War’s failure to engage constructively with anything that has happened in the last three and a half years.”

Confessions of a bohemian

David Jays writes about The Letters of Lytton Strachey, edited by Paul Levy, in The Guardian:

Lyttonstrachey200x299‘As usual, it struck me that letters were the only really satisfactory form of literature,’ mused Lytton Strachey in 1916. ‘They give one the facts so amazingly, don’t they?’ Strachey’s iconoclastic biographical writing pounced on intimate detail and modern biography has followed suit, often focusing on the Bloomsbury circle. Michael Holroyd’s sprightly 1967 life of Strachey followed precisely this model, twitching at sauce and gossip, for which letters and diaries rather than published writings represent a treasure trove.

‘The literature of the future,’ he assures Virginia Woolf, ‘will, I clearly see, be amazing. At last it’ll tell the truth, and be indecent and amusing, and romantic.’ Initially, Strachey imagines writing plays or panoramic social novels – ‘My footmen are amazing, and so are my prostitutes’ – but only gradually defines his supple notion of personal history.

He and his friends, the Woolfs and Bells, Keynes and Forster, believed they were inventing the modern world and, to a surprising degree, they did. Their idea of modernity – of free thought, free talk, technological advance and self-examination – is still very much our own.

More here.

Rooting the River Horse

Kate Wong in Scientific American:

000ce0219aea1213987f83414b7f011c_1With its gaping maw, hairless body and eyes that sit high on its head, the semiaquatic hippo is one of the most distinctive members of Africa’s mammalian menagerie. Two species exist today–the common Hippopotamus amphibius and the smaller Liberian hippo, Choeropsis liberiensis–and 40 more are known from the fossil record. Experts agree that hippos belong to the mammalian order Artiodactyla, a group of even-toed, hoofed creatures whose extant representatives include camels, pigs and ruminants such as cows. But exactly where hippos sit on the artiodactyl family tree has proved devilishly difficult to discern.

Two hypotheses lead the pack. The first posits that the piglike peccaries, or tayassuids, are the closest relatives of the hippo. The second proposes that extinct swamp-dwelling creatures called anthracotheres own that distinction.

More here.

Brutal murderer and beloved poet

Donovan Slack and Eric Ferkenhoff in the Boston Globe:

NormIn Chicago, he is one of the city’s most beloved antiwar poets, an author of two books and a congregation leader at a West Side church. But in Massachusetts, he is notorious for executing a clerk at a Saugus clothing store in 1960, aiding in the murder of a Middlesex County jailer in 1961, and then escaping from a Norfolk County correction center in 1985.

Yesterday, his past and Massachusetts authorities caught up with Norman A. Porter Jr.

Now 65, the man on the ”Most Wanted” list has been living in Chicago for at least a decade as Jacob Jameson. As J.J. Jameson, he has been a frequent performer at Chicago lounges and was named Chicagopoetry.com’s poet of the month in March 2004.

More here.

13 things that do not make sense

Michael Brooks in New Scientist:

1 The placebo effect

DON’T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away…

7 Tetraneutrons

FOUR years ago, a particle accelerator in France detected six particles that should not exist. They are called tetraneutrons: four neutrons that are bound together in a way that defies the laws of physics.

Francisco Miguel Marquès and colleagues at the Ganil accelerator in Caen are now gearing up to do it again. If they succeed, these clusters may oblige us to rethink the forces that hold atomic nuclei together…

More here.

Fabulous fabrications

From The Economist:

CartoonThe “fab lab”, as Dr Gershenfeld has nicknamed his invention, is a collection of commercially available machines that, while not yet able to put things together from their component atoms, can, according to its inventor, be used to make just about anything with features bigger than those of a computer chip. Among other tools it includes a laser cutter that makes two-dimensional and three-dimensional structures, a device that uses a computer-controlled knife to carve antennas and flexible electrical connections, a miniature milling machine that manoeuvres a cutting tool in three dimensions to make circuit boards and other precision parts, a set of software for programming cheap computer chips known as microcontrollers, and a jigsaw (a narrow-bladed cutting device, not a picture puzzle). Together, these can machine objects with a precision of a millionth of a metre. The fab lab’s purpose is to endow inventors—particularly those in poor countries who lack a formal education and the resources to implement their ideas—with a set of tools that can translate back-of-the-envelope designs into working prototypes.

And it works.

More here.

Mama’s Boys Get Better Milk

Michael Shirber in Live Science:

The tendency of some mothers to coddle their sons may be ingrained, at least in species where males compete for mates.

A recent study of Iberian red deer on a research farm has shown that mothers produce more milk of higher growth-potential for a male calf than a female one. The reason appears to be a genetic advantage, seeing as healthier, stronger males will mate more often – spreading the mother’s genes.

The researchers studied 60 female deer, which – over five years – produced 44 male and 47 female offspring. In collecting milk samples, the researchers took account of the weights of mother and fawn in their analysis.

In equal circumstances, sons were not only given more milk, but the milk was also three percent higher in protein concentration than what females were given.

More here.

The Education of Paul Wolfowitz

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

It is often said in Washington these days that conservatives are full of fresh ideas while liberals defend old orthodoxies. At least in the realm of fighting poverty, the opposite is true. On those few occasions when they think about the subject, conservatives recite a stale catechism of clichés based on virtually no research or experience. You’ve heard them often: foreign aid is a waste, all of it ends up in Swiss banks; poor countries should just free up their markets and they will grow; Africans don’t want to work, etc.

If Wolfowitz is inclined toward these mantras, he should read Jeffrey Sachs’s compelling new book, “The End of Poverty.” Sachs, a distinguished economist who has spent the last three decades working with governments around the world, explains that none of these conventional wisdoms gets it right. Much foreign aid has been very well spent and led to landmark results.

More here.  Oh, and here’s Christopher Hitchens on, yes, Wolfowitz in Slate:

He almost went out of his way to be jeered and hooted at a pro-Israel rally in Washington in the early days of the Bush administration, by telling the gung-ho crowd not to forget the suffering of the Palestinians…

The truth is, he’s a bit bleeding heart for my taste, even though I know some very tough Kurdish and Iraqi and Iranian and Lebanese antifascist militants who would welcome him as a blood-brother. No shame in that, I think.

More here.

Literary Surrealism

John Allen Paulos in his column at ABC News:

PaulosThe Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), Oulipo for short, was the name of a small group of primarily French writers, mathematicians and academics devoted to the exploration of mathematical and combinatorial techniques in literature. Founded in 1960 (and still somewhat active), the group searched for new literary structures via the imposition of unusual constraints.

Raymond Queneau’s “One Hundred Trillion Sonnets” is a prime example of Oulipo’s combinatorial approach to literature. The work is only 10 pages long with a sonnet on each page. Cut crosswise, the pages allow each of the 14 lines of each sonnet to be turned separately. Thus any of the 10 first lines may be combined with any of the 10 second lines, resulting in 10^2 or 100 different pairs of opening lines. Any of these 10^2 possibilities may be combined with any of the 10 third lines to yield 10^3 or 1,000 possible sets of three lines. Continuing, we conclude that there are 10^14 possible sonnets. Queneau claimed that they all made sense, although it’s safe to say that the claim will never be verified since there is more text in these 10^14 different sonnets than in all the rest of the world’s literature.

Another good example of Oulipo’s work is Jean Lescure’s (N+7) algorithm for transforming a text. Take an excerpt from your favorite newspaper, novel or holy book and replace each noun in it with the seventh unrelated noun following it in some standard dictionary. If the original text is well written, the resulting text is a bit surreal, but usually retains the original’s rhythm and even something of its sense. “Fourscore and seven yeast ago our fathoms brought forth on this continuance a new native, conceived in library and dedicated to the proprietor that all menageries are created equal.”

More here.