Archive for the ‘Commissions’ Category

Joi Ito's Vanity Photo Album: Eicher

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Powerful aristocrats throughout history have commissioned portraits by master artists to immortalize their achievements. Now amateur photographer and Creative Commons advocate Joi Ito is offering that immortality to bloggers, bureaucrats, coders, CEOs, and other obscure Free Software functionaries, in an expensive limited-edition “blook,” Freesouls. Ito muses, “Now the question is whether the demand for this book will actually exceed the number of people who appear in the book.” His concern is justified, the book’s content is freely downloadable under a CC license, with the notable exception of Ito’s own copyrighted portrait.

There is little aesthetic or technical merit in Ito’s portraiture. Most of the photographs have the charm and warmth of a corporate annual report. Many are blurry, poorly color balanced, crooked, or have distracting backgrounds. Ito seems to have discovered his limitations, converting most of his images to black and white, using a Photoshop effect known as the “Leica Look.” This emulates the classic, dramatic look of film, but the results are often unflattering.

But the quality of Ito’s photographs is beside the point (which is a major flaw in a photo book). Ito is the paparazzi of the internet in-crowd. These are his friends, they are cooler than you. Who they are is more important than how they look.

When I first learned photography in art school, the aesthetic paradigm was “Mirrors and Windows.” Photographs are a window into others’ lives, or a mirror into our own soul. But Ito’s book is a Creative Commons manifesto wrapped in photography. Ito demands that authors and artists do as he has done, they must give away their work without compensation, in order to free their soul. His book is a bullhorn blasting through your window, declaring that if you look in the mirror and don’t see what he sees, you have no soul. Copyrights are a contract with the devil. Lacking a soul, you will be invisible in a mirror.

…Read more at The Register.

Profiting from climate change: Ben Pile

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Imagine an unpopular, impotent, and fragile UK Government, trying to make political capital out of a looming crisis. To avoid being embarrassed by criticism of its shallow policies, it appoints an independent panel of experts, to which it defers controversial decisions. Now imagine that the panel proposes measures from which its members and their associates will directly benefit.

It couldn’t happen here, you may think. Scandal and resignations would surely follow. Who could possibly allow vested interests to profit from the legislation they are instrumental in creating?

This week, an independent panel of experts called the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published the details of its recent advice to Parliament that the UK should reduce its CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

There’s no doubt there’s money to be made from this new legislation, which was passed last week. A recent conference, given the title ‘Cashing in on Carbon’ was, in its own words, “aimed squarely at investment banks, investors and major compliance buyers and is focused on how they can profit today from an increasingly diverse range of carbon-related investment opportunities”.

…Read more at The Register.

The New Green Aristocracy: Ben Pile

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
Brilliant analysis on environmentalism and the legitimacy

An aristocracy is a form of government by an elite that considers itself to possess greater virtues than the hoi polloi, giving it the right to rule in its own interests. Aristocrats were referred to as ‘the nobility’, or ‘nobs’. These days we prefer decisions to be made democratically – the idea being that we can judge for ourselves which ideas serve our interests, thank you very much, ma’am.

But in recent years, politicians have sought legitimacy for their positions from outside of the democratic process. A new aristocracy is emerging from the emptiness of UK politics – and it’s considerably more virtuous than thou.

…Read more at The Register.

The Large Hadron Collider: Anton Wylie

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

CERN's LHC

The LHC comes at a crucial time for particle or quantum physics. In particular, it comes at a crucial time for the dominant theory, known as the Standard Model.

The Standard Model has been to modern particle physics rather what the periodic table was to 19th century chemistry. It served both to organise the known entities systematically, and as an impetus to fill in the holes in our knowledge. The Standard Model can claim to have predicted the existence of several previously unexpected particles, which were subsequently discovered experimentally. Arguably, too, it has also seeded the separate field of quantum information theory, and quantum computing.

From the point of view of having things neat and tidy, there is just one hole in the jigsaw of Standard Theory. The missing piece is the (by now surely) world-famous Higgs boson – popularly known now as the “God particle”. So named not because it could resolve the Augustinian Dilemma, but perhaps as in, “Oh God, when are we going to find it?”. More seriously, the Higgs boson could account for the mass properties of the other entities – why some have it, and some don’t. So if particle physicists observe the Higgs boson, they can effectively draw a line under 50 years or so research, slap themselves on the back, and move on.

Unfortunately, the Higgs boson has spent over 40 years hiding – ironically not because it is tiny. The Standard Model unfortunately does not predict its mass. As efforts have concentrated on manufacturing the boson in particle accelerators, its continuing elusiveness has been put down to it being big – a tad too big.

“Particle physics has other gaping explanatory holes to fill.”

Hence the LHC, which crudely speaking whizzes bits of matter to as fast a speed as possible. Experimenters let these crash into various targets to see what new interesting bits emerge. The record-breaking energies of the LHC require similarly record-breaking electro-magnets to achieve.

….Read more at The Register

Bringing it all back Hume: Anton Wylie

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008
A philosophy of science that may be the best thing we’ve ever run

WiReD magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson has just seen the end for scientific theories. And it is called Google.

The concept of the mind, and by extension that of a person, was also affected, with far reaching implications.

In psychology, Behaviourism was one favoured development. Its ontology does not include people with minds, only biological entities with patterns of behaviour. The rise and rise of neuro-science is correlated with this. Another is politics. The New Labour government in the UK boasts almost daily that it is in the business of “modifying behaviour”.

Even when this type of thinking is felt to be repugnant, the tendency remains to treat people as parametrically determined objects. The phrase “hearts and minds” admits that people feel and think, but implies that what matters is to ascertain which feelings and thoughts affect them most strongly. Modern politics consists to a large extent of this type of appeal, and that part conducted through the media, almost exclusively.

Read more at The Register

Climate Models vs. Reality: Anton Wylie

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Climate Modes vs Reality

Climate models appear to be missing an atmospheric ingredient, a new study suggests.

December’s issue of the International Journal of Climatology from the Royal Meteorlogical Society contains a study of computer models used in climate forecasting. The study is by joint authors Douglass, Christy, Pearson, and Singer – of whom only the third mentioned is not entitled to the prefix Professor.

Their topic is the discrepancy between troposphere observations from 1979 and 2004, and what computer models have to say about the temperature trends over the same period. While focusing on tropical latitudes between 30 degrees north and south (mostly to 20 degrees N and S), because, they write – “much of the Earth’s global mean temperature variability originates in the tropics” – the authors nevertheless crunched through an unprecedented amount of historical and computational data in making their comparison.

For observational data they make use of ten different data sets, including ground and atmospheric readings at different heights.

On the modelling side, they use the 22 computer models which participated in the IPCC-sponsored Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison. Some models were run several times, to produce a total of 67 realisations of temperature trends. The IPCC is the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and published their Fourth Assessment Report [PDF, 7.8MB] earlier this year. Their model comparison program uses a common set of forcing factors.

Notable in the paper is a generosity when calculating a figure for statistical uncertainty for the data from the models. In aggregating the models, the uncertainty is derived from plugging the number 22 into the maths, rather than 67. The effect of using 67 would be to confine the latitude of error closer to the average trend – with the implication of making it harder to reconcile any discrepancy with the observations. In addition, when they plot and compare the observational and computed data, they also double this error interval.

So to the burning question: on their analysis, does the uncertainty in the observations overlap with the results of the models? If yes, then the models are supported by the observations of the last 30 years, and they could be useful predictors of future temperature and climate trends.

…Read more at The Register.

How to copyright Michelangelo: Eicher

Thursday, December 27th, 2007
Commissioned as a Christmas special for 2007, this was a couple of years in the making.

Some of the world’s greatest artworks are turning into copyrighted properties. Five hundred years ago, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Today, those images are copyrighted. How can ancient cultural icons become commercial properties, centuries after they fall into the public domain?

How this happened is a story that takes us from a Crusading Pope in the Borgias era, all the way to Bill Gates’ mansion on the shores of Lake Washington.

…Read more at The Register.

Why we hate the modern mobile phone

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

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Brendon McLean wrote to me with such a succinct summary of mobile phone angst, I invited him to elaborate. Read the result, How the mobile phone biz lost the plot, here.

Truths, half-truths and Wikipedia: Tom Melly

Thursday, March 15th, 2007
Tom Melly, on the Wikification of the obituaries of his father, George Melly

Wikipedia comes in for a fair amount of criticism these days from El Reg and other publications, but I can’t help wondering if we’re missing the real point regarding its status as an encyclopedia. Most of the arguments hinge on its accuracy, or lack of it. But if our criteria for an encyclopedia is a guarantee of 100 per cent accuracy, then there are no encyclopaedias now, and there never have been. So is Wikipedia an encylopedia, and, if not, can it ever be one? Reluctantly, I think the answer is a resounding ‘no’, and here’s why.

This is a tale of personal experience, so a bit of background is needed. In the first place, I am a casual editor on Wikipedia under the username Tomandlu. I’ve contributed to articles on various novels, historical events, and so on (including, for reasons I fail to recall, the tuberculate pelagic octopus – don’t you hate it when that happens?). So, I like Wikipedia, I really do. Besides, any resource that has anything as bizarre as the Death Star talkpage gets my vote.

My father is George Melly, the British jazz-singer and writer. Needless to say, I keep an eye on Wikipedia’s article on him. I try to avoid any bias, although I did once suggest that a particular anecdote wasn’t really noteworthy or accurate. (It was a trout not a salmon, and he didn’t wank on it, just near it; besides, if a wank-adote is really required, then there’s a far better one involving cat impressions and a plate.)

…Read more at The Register.