Monday, December 31, 2012

Network of Smartphone-Based Sensors Monitor Air Pollution Levels

Network of Smartphone-Based Sensors Monitor Air Pollution Levels: Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a network of smartphone-based air pollution monitors that allow individuals to track
UCSD Citisense smartphone
CitiSense device
pollution levels in real time and feed a central database of air quality trends citywide throughout the day. The so-called CitySense devices are equipped with sensors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a digital app that illustrates the color-coded results based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. During a four-week test, in which the phones were distributed to 30 volunteers, the system showed hotspots of elevated pollution that shifted over the course of the day. Ultimately, the developers hope to deploy hundreds of devices in order to generate a public database on air quality levels. “We want more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” said William Griswold, a computer science professor at UC San Diego. “We are making the invisible visible.”

An Embroidered Cape Made Of Golden Spider Web

An Embroidered Cape Made Of Golden Spider Web:

It took three years for textile expert Simon Peers and fashion designer Nicholas Godley to create this beautiful embroidered cape that is made of golden spider silk (web).

Working with a team of more than 80 people—including spider handlers—they spent three years looking for golden orb spiders across Madagascar, where the both Peers and Godley reside.

A total of 1.2 million spiders were caught—each harnessed and milked to produce between 100-160 feet of thread—sometimes up to 400 yards, before being released back to nature.

The extraordinary golden silk was hand-twisted together to form unbreakable threads before hand-woven on looms to produce the stunning cape.

"I hate sounding pretentious, but what we wanted to do here was produce something that was a work of art. I feel like what we’ve produced in some ways is more exceptional because of the extraordinary amount of effort that went into it. If we were doing all of this to make money, I could think of much, much easier ways to do it,” shares Godley.

[via Godley and Peers]

Web Game Puts Your Eyes To A Color Test

Web Game Puts Your Eyes To A Color Test:

Interactive designers Maria Munuera and Mark Mckay have developed a web game that puts your eyes to a color test.

Simply called ‘Color’, players are required to match exact colors from a color wheel.

The levels start easily with hues and saturation, but the difficulty level rises to more challenging analogous and triadic colors.

Click herehere to play the game!

[via Color]

A Bottle That Collects Sounds To Create Personalized Soundtracks

A Bottle That Collects Sounds To Create Personalized Soundtracks: [Click here to view the video in this article]

Just like collecting fireflies in a jar, the ‘Re: Sound Bottle’ is a device that lets you collect sounds and noises, which you can turn into personalized soundtracks.

Designed by Jun Fijiwara, the device works by simply uncorking the bottle—if sound is present, it enters ‘recording mode’ and automatically saves the sound.

As more sounds are recorded, an audio database will be formed, creating rhythmic tracks—just like a mini robot DJ.

To listen to the sounds that you have collected, uncork the bottle again and wait for your soundtrack to play.

According to Fijiwara, he hopes for the Re: Sound Bottle to help people to interact more directly with music by recording the sounds they encounter in their daily life.

Click to watch the video below:

[via Vimeo]

China Uses Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction

China Uses Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction:

A small handful of doctors in China are going to extremes to rid people of addiction. As a last resort against intractable addiction to heroine and alcohol, these doctors are attempting to erase motivation by erasing a part of the addict’s brain. And they are doing it in the face of worldwide condemnation, and in the name of scientific research.
The procedure involves drilling small holes into the skulls of patients and inserting long electrodes which extend down to the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area, often referred to as the “pleasure center” of the brain, is the major nucleus of the brain’s reward circuit. The neurotransmitter dopamine stimulates cells here to elicit the pleasurable sensations we get from eating fatty foods, getting a job promotion, or taking heroin. Electrical current is passed through the electrodes which kill the cells of the nucleus accumbens. By ridding the addicts of their pleasure centers, doctors hope to rid them of their addictions as well. The surgery is performed while the patients are awake to minimize the chance of damaging regions involved in sensation, movement or consciousness.
The stigma associated with drug addiction is particularly strong in China where thousands are executed every year for drug trafficking. Thus, the drastic cure might be considered commensurate with the sickness. In 2004, however, the Chinese Ministry of Health banned the procedure after they determined that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to show that it was safe in the longterm.
But, according to Time, the ablation surgery has been performed at least 1,000 times since the 2004 ban. The reason: some doctors were allowed to continue the procedure for research purposes. And making good on their scientific pursuit, doctors at the military Tangdu Hospital in Xi’an last month published a study documenting the “long-term outcome and changes of the personality and psychopathological profile of opiate addicts after bilateral stereotactic nucleus accumbens ablative surgery.”

The MRI remnants of a burned out nucleus accumbens.
The surgery proved more effective than conventional methods at ending addiction. Five years after the surgery 47 percent of the 60 patients remained free from their opiate addiction; 53 percent had relapsed. That’s an improvement over the 30 to 40 percent of people who end their addiction by conventional treatments.
Lasting side effects, however, were seen in 60 percent of patients following surgery. Memory deficits were observed in 21 percent and motivation loss in 18 percent (one individual suddenly lacked sexual desire). Perhaps most disturbingly, 53 percent of the patients demonstrated some change in personality, which the authors described as “mildness oriented.”
Not surprisingly the procedure is roundly condemned by experts around the world. David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins and author of “The Compass of Pleasure” that explores the brain chemistry behind feeling good, called the procedure “horribly misguided” in a Time article. He added, “This treatment will almost certainly render the subjects unable to feel pleasure from a wide range of experiences, not just drugs alone.”
And the publications in Western journals have sparked a heated debate in the scientific and medical communities on the wisdom of publishing such studies in legitimate and reputable scientific journals. Many fear that, by publishing the results, the scientific community is condoning the methods by which the data was produced. Shi-Min Fang, a Chinese biochemist/writer with a history of criticizing science fraud in China, told the New York Times that “the results of clinical research in China are very often fabricated. I suspect that the approvals by Ethics Committee mentioned in these papers were made up to meet the publication requirement. I also doubt if the patients were really informed in detail about the nature of the study.”
Similar “corrective” surgeries in China have been condemned in the past. In 2007 the Wall Street Journal reported the case of Mi Zhantao, an impoverished 25-year-old who had a part of his brain ablated in an effort to treat his depression. The surgery didn’t work. It did, unfortunately, have other effects. Mr. Mi’s right arm is now partially limp and his speech is slurred. Mr. Mi’s mother, Kong Lingxia, says she’ll regret going through with the surgery that cost her family about $4,800 – about four years of family income – for the rest of her life.

The brain’s incredible complexity makes it impossible to predict the consequences of ablation surgeries.
Dr. Wang Yifang, Mr. Mi’s surgeon and head of neurosurgery at No. 454 Hospital of the People’s Liberation Army in Nanjing, said he’d performed the ablative surgery about 1,000 times to treat schizophrenia mostly, but also to treat depression and epilepsy. Michael Shulder, president of the American Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery was astounded at the number, telling the Journal the amount was “completely off the charts” and that even 10 would be considered “highly controversial.”
Dr. Wang stands by the procedure. “In many of the mental disease hospitals 30 to 50 percent of patients cannot be treated by medicine. And these patients have caused a great burden to their families and society,” he told the Journal. And according to over 300 surveys filled out by family members of people who had undergone the procedure, Dr. Wang says, 93 percent of the respondents said the patients had shown improvement.
Some targeted brian ablation does occur elsewhere as measures of last resort. About two dozen ablations are performed each year in the US and the UK. These rare cases are reserved for people suffering from debilitating depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder for which conventional treatments have been ineffective. And the procedures are only performed in these countries after an “extensive review by institutional review boards and intensive discussions with the patient, who must acknowledge the risks.”
By 1951 nearly 20,000 lobotomies – surgeries removing part of the frontal cortex – had been performed in the United States. António Egas Moniz won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1949 for his work demonstrating the therapeutic value of lobotomies for certain psychiatric conditions. But about the same time the number of lobotomies being performed was dropping off and, by the late 70s, were blacklisted in the US.
The brain ablation surgeries being performed in China are vastly more precise than blunt dissection lobotomies, but any brain surgery carries with it serious risk to the patient. In addition to infection and other complications that all surgeries entail, the incredible complexity of the brain makes the consequence of even a perfect procedure highly unpredictable. Moreover, the “pleasure center” isn’t just the part of the brain that makes people drug addicts, it’s also essential to seeking the more worthy rewards in life such as a completed novel, a beautiful sunset, a lifelong love. It also gives us that non-negotiable impulse that leads us to make bad choices. Perhaps more than any other brain region, the “pleasure center” could be renamed to the “human nature” center, for what’s more human than rejoice and regret?
Ignoring for the moment the risk of devastating brain damage, is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are? That’s a choice that each society has to make for itself. Correction: that’s a choice each society has already made for itself.

Don't Talk About Your New Year's Resolutions

Don't Talk About Your New Year's Resolutions: [caption id="attachment_495" align="alignright" width="225" caption="This statue at Notre-Dame de la Garde says "shush!""] [/caption]As I read the funny pages this morning in the paper, I noticed a running joke: no one keeps their New Year's resolutions. There are a million different personal and psychological reasons for this--but you can use SCIENCE to better understand why you fail, and how to get better at achieving your goals. [More]

Computing in 2165 (preview)

Computing in 2165 (preview):
The Science Of The Next 150 Years: 150 Years in the Future [More]

3D Fireworks in Google Earth

3D Fireworks in Google Earth:
In celebration of the new year many people shoot off fireworks, and we love to show off the work of GEB reader 'Steven' who took it a step further and created some great 3D fireworks in Google Earth! As you can read about in his blog, the fireworks are intended to duplicate the 2011 Taiwan New Years Eve show, based on the simulation that you can view here.

3D Fireworks

As you can see from the photo above, the fireworks aren't just simple animated images -- they're fully 3D! Some of them shoot into the sky, and some wrap around the Taipei 101 tower. As Steven points out in his post, animations like this are only possible because of the work of 3D modelers that created the buildings. In this case, credit goes to user Tang Huang who created the exceptionally detailed model of the Taipei 101 tower.

To see the fireworks in action, you can view them here using the Google Earth Plug-in, download this KMZ file, or watch the video below:

For another fun way to view fireworks, Keir at Google Maps Mania built a map that allows you to view video from celebrations around the world. It's a simple map that does a great job.

Happy New Year!

Netflix Pushes For Privacy Law Change To Make Your Viewing History Available To Advertisers And Government

Netflix Pushes For Privacy Law Change To Make Your Viewing History Available To Advertisers And Government:
Coming soon–an algorithm to root out criminals and agitators in advance based on Netflix viewing history. Truthout writes:
You might want to think twice about streaming that “subversive” documentary about the Weather Underground on Netflix. If Republicans have their way, you just might end up on a watch list somewhere. This week, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the 1988 Video Protection Privacy Act, which forbids movie rental companies from sharing or selling their customers’ viewing history. The Senate is expected to take up the amendment soon.
If this passes, what you watch on Netflix may soon become public information that your friends, employers, and even the government will have access to. Netflix favors the law change because it will help them branch into social media…[with] enormous profit-potential in selling your viewing history to advertisers who can target specific demographics based on your preference in movies. Also unmentioned by Netflix is just who else might get this information once it’s taken out of the privacy lockbox.

2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies

2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies:
Pagan Conference LogoThe Conference on Current Pagan Studies (Pagan Conference) is just a month away and for those who have not attended, I would highly recommend you do. Those who have attended keep coming back so I will take that as a recommendation. I have been involved with the conference for the last several years having presented papers, set up a new website, and been the operation manager. I receive no monetary compensation only the knowledge that I am making a difference in the Pagan community.
This year’s theme is Pagan Sensibilities in Action. Pagan perspectives are manifested “as our lived experiences in artistic expression, personal and collective practices, the manner in which we hold power, and other engagements” (from the Call for Papers page). The Pagan Conference actively pursues both well known and interesting practitioners along with active scholars. Being more inclusive sets this conference apart from other academic conferences.
The keynote speakers will be Peter Dybing and Sabina Magliocco along with about 30 scholars from a wide range of disciplines presenting papers, original research, and thought provoking ideas. Papers range from Putting Descartes before the horse: Pagan identities and challenges to serving the Pagan body politic (moderated by Sabina Magliocco with presentations by Joe Futerman, Elizabeth Rose Marini, and Kimberly Kiner) to As Above, So Below: Pagan Theology, Polytheistic Psychology, and Pagan Praxis (presented by Jeffery Albaugh). Although you do not need be to an academic to enjoy this conference, you did need to enjoy interesting lectures.
I am looking forward to hearing from the Pagan History Project with Armando Marini, Aline O’brien, and Sam Webster. I fear that much of our history is maintained only within individual’s memories. I would like to see more work in oral history and am thankful for these and other people’s work to document our history.
The 9th annual Pagan Conference will be on January 26 & 27, 2013 at Claremont Graduate University, Claremont CA. This is a multi-discipline academic conference with participants both inside and outside of the Pagan communities. Also for more information, or for questions, please see the Conference on Current Pagan Studies Facebook Page.

Writer's block and the drip

Writer's block and the drip:
Why do we get stuck?
Writer's block was 'invented' in the 1940s. Before that, not only wasn't there a word for it, it hardly existed. The reason: writing wasn't a high stakes venture. Writing was a hobby, it was something you did in your spare time, without expecting a big advance or a spot on the bestseller list.
Now, of course, we're all writers. We put our ideas into words and share them with tens or thousands of people, for all time, online. Our words spread.
With the stakes higher than ever, so is our fear.
Consider the alternative to writer's block: the drip. A post, day after day, week after week, 400 times a year, 4000 times a decade. When you commit to writing regularly, the stakes for each thing you write go down. I spent an hour rereading Gary Larson's magical collection, and the amazing truth is that not every cartoon he did was brilliant. But enough of them were that he left his mark.
You can find my most popular posts of the year right here. My new collection, Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck is now available at finer bookstores online and off. I could never, ever have signed up to write this book, never sat down to create it. But since I had six years to write it, it created itself.
You don't launch a popular blog, you build one.
The writing isn't the hard part, it's the commitment. Drip!

'A Highly Personal Music'

'A Highly Personal Music':
Jazz Happened
, by Marc Myers, University of California Press,
267 pages, $34.95.

Jazz personalities have provided material for some of the best
biographies and autobiographies written in modern times, and some
histories of jazz qualify as significant contributions to the
cultural history of the United States during the twentieth century.
In Why Jazz Happened, Marc Myers of has given
us another important contribution, but this is a contribution with
a difference.
Myers opens and ends his book with discussions of the Original
Dixieland "Jass" Band, a quintet that, on February 26, 1917, played
the two songs that constitute the first jazz
ever released. The band, though commercially successful, was far
from the best ensemble of its type. Its members never improvised,
and their tunes incorporated corny barnyard effects. But they were
partially responsible, Myers writes, for "the dramatic moment in
time when jazz was first documented on record. As I listened to the
music, I couldn't help thinking about the irony—that jazz may have
been born in New Orleans, but the music's documentation began at
RCA Victor's studio on West 38th Street, in the heart of New York's
Garment District."
Few jazz enthusiasts would see anything "dramatic" in the first
recorded jazz tunes, except perhaps that they were performed by an
all-white New Orleans ensemble instead of by superior black and
Creole musicians who (for the most part) were the true pioneers.
Myers' comments typify the unusual nature of his book. Most
histories of jazz focus on what might called its internal history:
the biographies of notable jazz musicians, composers, and
arrangers; the various stylistic developments of particular
musicians (such as the early and later styles of John Coltrane,
Miles Davis, or Bud Shank); and the nature of jazz music itself.
Myers focuses on the external history of jazz—on those
"nonjazz events" that significantly influenced the genre's
development. Among these influences were the invention of
long-playing records (which permitted long solos to be recorded),
the postwar G.I. Bill (which enabled many jazz musicians and
composers to study classical music), unions (especially the
two-year ban on recording, beginning in 1942, by the American
Federation of Musicians, which led to the emergence of many small
record companies), DJs, promoters, and much more.
Myers concentrates on developments in jazz from 1945 to 1972. It
was during these postwar years that "influential nonjazz events
became more abundant and potent," he writes.
[D]uring the twenty-seven years that followed World War II, jazz
was reshaped frequently by external events. After the war, the
vise-like grip of the three major record companies [Columbia, RCA
Victor, and Decca] on the industry weakened in the wake of labor
actions, increased competition from new labels, changes in the
radio industry, and the promotion of concerts. As a larger field of
record labels emerged and competed, jazz musicians gained greater
creative independence. From 1945 to 1972, the ten major jazz styles
that emerged certain reflected their times. But instead of
conforming to proven blues and dance models, jazz began to be
filtered through the views of individual artists rather than solely
through the commercial interests of a few large record companies.
For the first time, jazz play an assertive role, reflecting and
shaping America's values and culture rather than merely mirroring
them. As all the arts began to reflect the personal vision and
freedom of the artist, jazz's natural reliance on self-expression
allow the music to pivot neatly from syncopated dance music to
individualistic statements.
A refreshing aspect of Why Jazz
is its richly nuanced treatment of the relationship
between commerce and creative individuality. Although the story
here is far from linear and uniform, Myers makes it clear that
market processes, such as the competition among record companies
and the persistent efforts of jazz artists to adapt to changing
musical tastes, frequently had a beneficial influence on jazz. The
old chestnut—as told, for example, by the Marxist Sidney
Finkelstein in Jazz: A People's Music (1948)—that jazz
musicians have typically been "exploited" by capitalists and
entrepreneurs does not hold up to historical scrutiny. More than a
few of those supposed exploiters were jazz enthusiasts who took
considerable risks to underwrite and promote their favorite
I have been a jazz buff since the early 1960s, and I counted
Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper,
Bud Shank, Paul Desmond, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, and
Charlie Byrd among my childhood heroes. As I later became
interested in political theory, the relationship between the
cultural individualism of jazz and the political individualism of
libertarianism seemed so natural to me that, with all the innocence
of youth, I frequently expressed surprise upon discovering that few
of my libertarian friends shared my interest in this form of
The improvisations that characterize jazz have produced the most
individualistic form of art in American history. Solo jazz
musicians are at once composers, arrangers, and performers; and the
variety found in their solos reflects the individuality of the
musicians themselves.
"No two persons ever hear jazz the same way," the celebrated
bandleader Woody Herman wrote in 1964. "It is a highly personal
music. It is complicated. All of us, musicians and laymen alike,
enjoy or dislike a performance because of an infinite number of
intangibles—our personal background, listening experience,
knowledge of vocal and instrumental skills, even our age. Part of
the charm of American jazz lies in its variety."

Over the Dairy Cliff: How Farm Welfare Harms Consumers

Over the Dairy Cliff: How Farm Welfare Harms Consumers:
Writing in today’s Wall Street
, James Bovard highlights the absurdity of U.S.
agricultural policy:
Current farm programs—which consist of massive subsides, price
supports and various marketing restrictions—were enacted in 2008
and expire on Dec. 31. That should be cause for rejoicing, except
that the system is rigged against consumers and taxpayers.
Instead of Americans enjoying a bounty after the clock runs out,
federal farm policy will automatically revert to a farm bill drawn
up in 1949. That will compel the Department of Agriculture to
roughly double the price supports for dairy and other farm products
thanks to a mystical doctrine called "parity."
The doctrine was concocted by Department of Agriculture
economists in the 1920s to "prove" that farmers were entitled to
higher prices than the market provided. The official parity
calculation was based on the ratio of farm prices to nonfarm prices
between 1910 and 1914, the most prosperous non-wartime years for
farmers in American history....
The ultimate absurdity of the "dairy cliff" is that there is no
need for federal intervention in dairy markets. The supply and
demand for the vast majority of food products made in America
function just fine without government price controls. The worst
disruptions have perennially occurred for a handful of items such
as sugar and corn, as well as dairy products, which are under
political protection. Politicians have long exploited these
disruptions to help drum up donations to their re-election
Read the whole thing
In a recent column for, Baylen Linnekin made the case
scrapping the farm bill
and replacing it with nothing at all.
In a recent column of my own, I explained how the Supreme Court’s
excessive deference to economic regulation
has its roots
in a protectionist New Deal law passed to benefit
America’s dairy industry.

Hundreds of new laws go into effect Tuesday

Hundreds of new laws go into effect Tuesday: SACRAMENTO – Homeowners will have increased protections from foreclosure under some of the hundreds of state laws taking effect with the new year.
California also is studying whether to create the nation's first state-administered retirement...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Picture Sundays: Chumash ‘Ap

Picture Sundays: Chumash ‘Ap:

The interior of a traditional Chumash dwelling called an ‘ap as recreated at the La Purisima Mission State Historic Park near Lompoc, California. If only a fraction of modern dwellings were this elegant . . .