In downtown Montréal, a balsam fir has become the object of snark and controversy. Twitter accounts for the tree have been set up in both French and English. The tree's presence in Montréal's Quartier des Spectacles is the result of an attempt to erect North America's largest Christmas tree to mark Montreal's 375th anniversary. Through no fault of its own, Montréal's tree has garnered coverage by the New York Times since, to date, Rockefeller Center's tree is still the tallest.
In 1970, a young graduate student at MIT demonstrated SHRDLU, an interactive artificial intelligence program which could understand simple English sentences in order to manipulate and describe objects within a simple "block world". It was heralded as a huge breakthrough, leading to predictions that comprehensive "Strong AI" was just around the corner. This optimism proved to be premature, being followed a few years later by the first so-called "AI Winter" of disappointment and funding cuts. But the student, Terry Winograd, went on to Stanford and continues to be influential not just in computer science but also in ethics, cognitive science, natural language and even design. But you might know him better as the PhD. thesis advisor for a guy named Larry Page who was working on some kind of techniques for finding relevant web pages.
Science Needs a New Ritual
And so transcendence can take the form of blindness to differences between people and to our own biases. We assume scientists all think and believe the same things, even beyond the unequivocal data. We are all equal as scientists if we all value the same principles. And what we value comes almost entirely from Enlightenment-era Europe. This is a troubling state of affairs if we claim to strive for all humanity.
Filling the East River. Filling the HUDSON River. Building a dome over Midtown. Borderline crazy proposed infrastructure projects for New York City.
Cinematic historians trying to pinpoint the place where Shyamalan's hubris outgrew his oeuvre would be well advised to hit up YouTube; there, they'll find a weird, misbegotten 2004 Sci-Fi channel pseudo-documentary titled The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan that hints at the problems to come. Built to lead up to the heavily hyped release of Shyamalan's film The Village, this bizarre special follows documentarian Nathaniel Kahn as he begins to profile Shyamalan for what’s ostensibly an authorized puff piece ... [more inside]
"The 1940 Olympics will be taking place in Tokyo. But after that they will be held for all eternity in Germany -- and in this stadium. And it is we who will determine how the sporting field is measured."
How tall can buildings get, anyway?
"Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude." Jonah Lehrer for The Wall Street Journal writes about recent findings on power, corruption, and authority and what can be done about it.
"Although the word “entitlement” fits, it’s been used so frequently as to have become inadequate to capture the preening self-regard, the obliviousness to the damage that high-flying finance has inflicted on the real economy, the learned blindness to vital considerations in the pay equation. Getting an education, or even hard work, does not guarantee outcomes. One of the basic precepts of finance is that of a risk-return tradeoff: high potential payoff investments come with greater downside. But how did that evolve into the current belief system among the incumbents, that Wall Street was a sure ride, a guaranteed “heads I win, tails you lose” bet?"Yves Smith writes an essay on 'indefensible men.'
As George Carlin once said, "it is an infinitely more interesting news story for a team to repeatedly fail at the highest level than it is for them to finally win." After ten years and over 1,500 episodes, last night's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (the US version) featured its very first Top Prize Loser. Ken Basin, of Los Angeles, incorrectly guessed that LBJ prefered Yoo-Hoo over Fresca, and walked away with $25,000 instead of $1,000,000. [more inside]
Michael Jackson is in discussions about creating a 50-foot robotic replica of himself to roam the Las Vegas desert [firing laser beams!], according to reports.
I hereby declare myself king of Monkey Kick-Off. With a score of 4750 Monkey Meters, I feel secure & confident that my reign will be a long & prosperous one.
Rudy Giuliani's Grand Illusion (Village Voice) -- In which we learn the difference between what happened and how it got narrated. What we have left is this: At a moment when the public needed a hero, Rudy Giuliani stepped forward. When he assured New York that things would come out all right, he was blessedly believable. It was a fine thing. But it was not nearly as much as we, at the time, imagined.
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union Balaklava was one of the most secret towns in Russia. 10km south east of Sevastopol on the Black Sea Coast, this small town was the home to a Nuclear Submarine Base. via BLDBLOG
Berlusconi going down? another leftist leader elected - another victim of bush policies or of his own hubris? (via war and piece)
New London Development Corporation Breaks Eminent Domain Moratorium Pledge, Starts Charging Rent. Previously discussed here and here, the Kelo case has just gotten more outrageous. Breaking its word and defying both Governor M. Jodi Rell and the Connecticut legislature, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) has apparently now decided not to abide by a moratorium called for by both the governor and legislature.
AskGod.com Forget Jeeves. For $25 a month, you can soon call a googling "angel" from your mobile phone with questions. According to the press release (pdf): "Soon, with the coming of Ask God, the prayers of all the data-starved will be answered and the prophecy of information on-demand will be fulfilled." In a country caught in the grips of religious mania, is this smart marketing or tone deaf? And with the web increasingly on our phones already, who's going to pay for this?
A story that seems to be good news no matter what side of the 'war' you're on. The dragnet around Bin Laden is reported to be closing quickly, and currently stands, says the Sunday Times, at about 30 squares mile. So, what happens next? (via Plastic.com)