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Journal

Touchable Memories

Fenby Miskin

Touchable Memories is a meaningful social experiment conducted by Pirate3D which converts photographs into 3D replicates with the use of a home printer called Buccaneer. In this way, the blind are able to recall via touch their old memories from photographs taken when they could still see. Even if they have lost their sight since birth, the tactile experience with the 3D re-interpretation of the photo taken allows them to visualize more vividly the memories that were shot.

As one of them puts it, ‘If I can touch the photograph, I can make the memory tangible again’.

Article by Kenny Ong

More about this story & the 3D printer at Design Boom

The Source

Fenby Miskin

Four and a half years ago, Brooklyn composer Ted Hearne begun following the rise of Wikileaks four and a half years ago, intending to adapt the story of Julian Assange's vigilante media organisation into a theatrical production called The SourceThen Chelsea Manning happened. After the whistleblower leaked secret war logs that revealed widespread wrongdoing on the part of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hearne knew that he had found his real subject.  

The Source debuts today in New York at the 2014 Next Wave Festival, with the performance described on its website as "four singers housed in a visual and sonic installation". Through computer-processed voices, the performers "inhabit a fever-dream assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, chat transcripts, court testimony, and declassified military video, shining a light on the massive information machine in which Manning, and our nation, has become ensnared". 

Last August, Manning was convicted of 20 offences, including espionage, and sentenced to prison for 35 years. "When Manning's identity became known and she became a public figure, her decisions became more interesting to me than Assange's," Hearne explains. "I started to imagine what she may have been feeling when she first encountered what we now know as the Iraq War Logs, and that helped me examine my own reactions to these documents."

To find out what inspired him to make music from classified cables read the full article on Dazed.

Shared brain activity predicts audience preferences

Fenby Miskin

Brain waves recorded with electroencephalography (EEG). Photograph: Deco/Alamy

Brain waves recorded with electroencephalography (EEG). Photograph: Deco/Alamy

Neuromarketing firms claim that brain scanning technology can be used to evaluate consumers’ responses to products and predict which ones they prefer, but so far most of these claims are hugely exaggerated.

New research published in the journal Nature Communications adding some hope to the neuromarketing hype, by showing that the brain activity shared by small groups of people in response to film clips can accurately predict how popular those clips will be among larger groups.

Ten years ago, Uri Hasson and his colleagues recruited five participants and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan their brains while each one watched the same 30-minute clip of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. They noticed that the film produced remarkably similar patterns of brain activity in all the participants, synchronising the activity across multiple regions, such that their brains “ticked collectively” while they viewed it. 

The researchers went on to show that films differ in their ability to induce this shared brain activity, with the more engaging ones producing a greater degree of synchrony, and more recently others have shown that the stereoscopic effects used in 3D films make viewing more enjoyable by creating a more immersive experience.

The new study, led by Jacek Dmochowski of City College of New York, builds on this earlier work. Dmochowski and his colleagues showed 16 participants scenes from the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, together with 10 commercials that were first aired during the SuperBowl championship, while recording their brain waves with electroencephalography (EEG).

The researchers also used official television viewing figures and publicly available data from Facebook and Twitter to gauge how popular each clip was at the time it was first shown. As in earlier studies of shared brain activity, they found that some of the clips produced a greater degree of synchronised brain activity in the participants that others.

Remarkably, though, the participants’ shared brain activity accurately predicted audience reactions to each at the time they were aired, with the most popular scenes and commercials producing the greatest degree of brain synchronisation in the participants.

Thus, the extent of shared brain activity within the small group of participants was closely linked to the collective behaviour of a much larger group of people, suggesting that brain scanning technology could eventually be used to predict peoples’ reactions to a forthcoming film, their product preferences, or perhaps even how they might vote in an upcoming election.

“I’m generally sceptical of claims about the application of neuroscience to marketing, which are often made by ‘neuro’ startups with little scientific evidence” says Yukiyasu Kamitani of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, “but I think this study ... [with its] well designed experiments and sophisticated statistical methods ... provides solid evidence that neural measurement can be useful for the prediction of mass preference.”

Although the researchers also asked the participants to rate how much they liked each of the clips, they did not determine how each individual’s brain activity is linked to popularity. And it’s still not clear why the more popular clips produced greater synchrony across the participants’ brains, but one possibility is that we favour stimuli that produce a more stereotyped brain response that is shared by others.

Ebola Big Data

Fenby Miskin

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IBM will put its super-computing data crunching to use in Sierra Leone, as part of the fight against the deadly disease Ebola.

It has launched a system which allows citizens to report Ebola-related issues and government, health agencies and others to keep track of the disease.

Citizens can use SMS or voice calls that are location-specific.

The data will then be analysed to identify correlations and highlight issues.

Already, regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases have been pinpointed and the delivery of urgent supplies such as soap and electricity have been sped up.

"We saw the need to quickly develop a system to enable communities directly affected by Ebola to provide valuable insight about how to fight it," explained Dr Uyi Stewart, chief scientist of IBM Research in Africa.

"Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government."

Khadija Sesay, director of Sierra Leone's open government initiative, said it had helped "open up a channel with the general public so that we can learn from their input and create actionable policies in the fight against Ebola".

Radio broadcasts are being used to encourage people to use the system and telco operator Airtel has set up a free number via which citizens are able to send SMS messages.

Ello...Ello

Fenby Miskin

Predicting the end of Facebook in 2014 feels reckless. Like slapping a date on the fall of the wall might have felt in the 1980s.

As of June this year, the social networking behemoth had 1.32bn active monthly users. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Centre, 71% of online adults use Facebook. Considering 73% use a social networking site, that’s pretty much: all of us.

The startup world is full of people pitching and failing the next big thing. Two days ago, though, something exciting happened. San Francisco began jumping out of Facebook’s ad-splattered soup and into the clean, empty social networking world of Ello.

Ello is crawling with bugs, isn’t out of beta testing, and it’s still taking off in starship headquarters. 31,000 new users were asking to be beta testers at this week’s peak. On Thursday, the Ello team had to shut down new invites to the site as they struggled to keep up.

The brain-child of Kidrobot designer Paul Budnitz , Ello is the “anti-facebook.” It’s been around a while, but the LGBTIQ community’s recent struggle with Facebook’s “real-name” policy has been instrumental in the shift to the site. Ello positions itself as a network with a manifesto and a social conscience. Its logo has a V for Vendetta-like menace to it: an eyeless black smiley with a spinning mouth that mocks the social gaze we are so used to feeding online.

Humans like us forget that change is the only constant. Facebook will not last forever. The only questions are why the move starts, when it does, and where the party is next.

This year marks a decade since Mark Zuckerberg and his motley crew of 20 year old programmers moved to Palo Alto, California, and defined a new phase in the internet’s infant history with their soothing blue sans-serif. Facebook has succeeded by providing us with a mirror during our early development. It’s inevitable demise will stem from a problem that only starts to hit you as you grow up: the complicated nature of time.

Facebook’s core identity management strategy is its photo albums. They’re the only part of ourselves that it lets us store, search and catalogue in any meaningful way. Narcissus-like, we can organise thousands upon thousands of images of our selves down through the years. There is no similar organizing function for the identities we create as we change: our thoughts, books, links, articles and music.

Considering that Facebook claims American users spend 40 minutes a day on the site – a whopping 243 hours a year – it’s no surprise that our past selves are starting to seem oppressive and unwieldy in their muumuus.

Facebook’s most important social function, the flipside to the photograph, used to be that it truly did give you a place to connect. A shared hive mind with people you would otherwise drift away from. Then Facebook began using a News Feed algorithms and default filters to choose whose posts you saw, they were trying to slow down the wall – and boost the likelihood you’d see Britney Spears’ updates over your friends. Its overall effect was infantalising. When Facebook acts like an overbearing parent, it’s only natural that the adults will want to move out.

The constant data-collection and streams of personalized advertising added injury to the insult of what was already feeling like a tight, airless social space. The internet can seem like so much light and pulses, but its effects are real. Visually and emotionally, the self you inhabit on Facebook is still a child.

Enter Ello.

A lot of the justified concerns surrounding the new networking site stems from how it will manage to protect user-data and stay advertising free.

Ello is absolutely defiant in its stance – you will not be commodified, you will not be managed – but as other beta-testers have shown, they did accept venture capital. $435,000 of it. And investors tend to want their money back, big and fast.

Ello says that it’s going to monetise by selling features. If that makes enough to keep their heads above water – and with its current growth rate, that’s an exciting “if” – let’s hope it can be sustainable. A networking site where you can pay to personalize, while still engaging some sort of coherent social space – not the screaming dark boom of the late days of MySpace – would have its appeal.

There are plenty of other features that would be useful tools as well. The ability to keep and share ideas, links and lists, and not lose things to the ever-hungry maw of the present would be a great boon.

Facebook already feels like a Tupperware party. That’s not always a bad thing. You want to turn up once in a while because it’s worth seeing people and eating cake with your Great Uncle Mark… even if there’s a risk you’ll walk away paying for the cake tin. 243 hours a year at the Tupperware party seems a lot, though.

Article by Ruby J Murray for The Guardian's Comment section online

Open Source Hardware

Fenby Miskin

novena-hardware.jpg

Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Sean “xobs” Cross want to sell you a laptop you can completely trust.

Earlier this year, the two Singapore-based engineers fashioned a laptop made almost entirely from open source hardware, hardware whose designs are freely available to the world at large. They called it Project Novena. Anyone could review the designs, looking for bugs and security flaws, and at least in theory, that meant you could be confident the machine was secure from top to bottom, something that’s more desirable than ever in the post-Edward Snowden age.

“The motherboard, battery board, and display adapter board are designs from whole cloth,” Huang told us. “Every trace on those PCBs was placed by my hand.”

The original idea was simply to encourage others to build their own open source laptops at home. But now the pair are taking the project a step further. Starting today, you can order your own pre-built Novena laptop through the crowd-funding site Crowd Supply, and it will ship out in the coming months. Much like Kickstarter, Crowd Supply is place where you can put up money to help fund a company and then get a product in exchange.

The project is part of larger movement towards open source hardware. Open source software has become a mainstay across the web and inside many businesses, and now, open source hardware is beginning to find its own place in the world, not only among hobbyists but inside big companies such as Facebook. The idea is not only to improve security, but to help spur innovation. If you share designs, others can make them better. The new, commercial version of the Novena does include some parts that are closed source, such as the processor, but Huang and Cross have tried to minimize these as much as possible.

OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE IS BEGINNING TO FIND ITS OWN PLACE IN THE WORLD, NOT ONLY AMONG HOBBYISTS BUT INSIDE BIG COMPANIES SUCH AS FACEBOOK.

The machine is available with two different cases: one made of aluminium, and one “heirloom” wood bezel hand-crafted by Portland, Oregon-based designer Kurt Mottweiler. Both are designed so that you can readily expand the hardware that’s inside. “Half of it is empty,” Huang says of the machine. “It’s designed with the thought that you would add to it yourself.” You can modify the system without any special bending tools, and it will also ship with extra bezels in case you break one, so that you can feel safe modifying it.

You can purchase a version of the machine, including the aluminum case, high-definition display, and motherboard for $1,195. For $1,995, you also get a battery and a 240 gigabyte solid-state hard drive. And the heirloom version sells for a whopping $5,000. “The heirloom version is for people who are ready to invest in something they would use for years and years,” Huang says. You can also buy just the motherboard for $500 and use it with your own case.

The aluminum version of the machine is unusual in that the display sits on theoutside of the case. When you lift the case lid, you see not a keyboard but the insides of the machine. That makes it easy to add new components. You then attach your own external keyboard, as you would with an iPad or some other tablet PC. That might make it hard to actually use the laptop on your lap, but Huang says this is actually what most users he’s talked to prefer. That said, the heirloom version includes a removable keyboard.

All versions of the Novena run the open source Linux operating systems, and they’re powered by an ARM processor, the same sort of chip you’d expect to find in a smartphone. Yes, these machines are a bit underpowered by today’s standards, and they’re even more expensive than a premium laptop like an Apple Macbook Pro. But the point is that they’re different. “It’s not for everyone,” Huang says. “But it’s open source, for people who care about the security, privacy and the ability to explore the source and make sure the design hasn’t been tampered with.”

This is certainly a small-time operation, aimed mostly at hobbyists. But the project appears to have solid backing from Crowd Supply. Unlike competitors such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, Crowd Supply specializes in helping companies that want to manufacture physical products, and it plays an active role in helping those businesses figure out how to actually produce those items. It also helps with shipping orders and logistics. “One thing we fear the most is non-delivery,” says Crowd Supply co-founder Josh Lifton. “That’s where people put money into the thing, the company becomes successful, and the original backers never get their product.” To prevent such scenarios, Crowd Supply vets the teams and proposals to make sure the promised items can actually be delivered without going over budget.

Lifton also emphasizes that if you purchase one of these laptops, you shouldn’t think of yourself as an investor in company. You’re simply getting a laptop at a lower price than others will in the future. “It’s certianly true that the original backers are putting more skin in the game,” he says. “But the reward there is that they’re getting it for a much cheaper price, the price will be higher after the campaign.”

Huang agrees that backers shouldn’t think of themselves as founders. But he still says the earlier backers are important. “There’s no way a VC would back this idea,” he says. “If you don’t contribute, it’s not going to happen.”

Further information:

Novena

Wired Magazine

Kurt Mottweiler

Technology & Datasets

Fenby Miskin

Brain Atlas

Brain Atlas

Scientists released the most detailed map ever made of the fetal human brain today. It contains a massive amount of information about gene activity at a crucial time in development — just as the cerebral cortex is developing. The scientists believe it holds important clues about the biological origins of disorders like autism, as well as insights into what makes the human brain unique.

Halfway through gestation, a human brain could fit in the palm of your hand. But it’s around this time that the cortex, which is responsible for many of our cognitive capabilities, is starting to take shape, says neuroscientist Ed Lein of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, who led the new study.

To build the new atlas, Lein and colleagues constructed the map from four fetal brains obtained through a tissue bank. They sliced each one into about 3,000 ultra-thin sections. They used dyes and genetic markers on some of those slices to create a reference atlas. On other slices, they used microscopes equipped with laser beams to snip out tiny bits of tissue for genetic tests. The team looked at the activity level of about 20,000 genes, and they report their findings today in Nature.

There’s no doubt the fast pace of technology is making these massive datasets easier and faster to compile. But the promise of meaningful advances in understanding the brain and disorders of the brain won’t be delivered overnight. Even in this new era of Big Neuroscience, that’s still the hardest part.

The researchers have only begun to delve into this deep dataset, but Lein says they’ve already found some interesting things. For example, 34 genes whose sequences differ in interesting ways between humans and other primates appeared to be especially active in the developing frontal cortex. This is a region that’s relatively large in humans and thought to be especially important for social behavior, planning for the future, and other cognitive skills that humans excel at compared to many other species.

The team also investigated 78 genes identified in previous studies on autism and found that they appeared to be enriched in newly generated neurons in the cortex. “It tells you that the maturation of those neurons is where you want to look” for clues to the biology of autism, Lein said. (How that might fit with the recent finding of abnormal patches of cortex in the brains of autistic children — reported by Lein and colleagues last week — isn’t yet clear).

The atlas is just the latest released by the Allen Institute, whose previous effortsinclude atlases of gene activity in the adult human brain, as well as the adult brain and developing mouse brain. In another paper today in Nature, they report a detailed map of neural connections in the mouse brain.

Right to be Forgotten by Google

Fenby Miskin

How are you implementing the recent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decision on the right to be forgotten?

The recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union has profound consequences for search engines in Europe. The court found that certain users have the right to ask search engines like Google to remove results for queries that include the person's name. To qualify, the results shown would need to be inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.

Since this ruling was published on 13 May 2014, we've been working around the clock to comply. This is a complicated process because we need to assess each individual request and balance the rights of the individual to control his or her personal data with the public's right to know and distribute information.

If you have a removal request, please fill out this web form. You'll receive an automatic reply confirming that we have received your request. We will then assess your case – please note that this may take some time because we have already received many such requests. In evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about your private life. We'll also look at whether there's a public interest in the information remaining in our search results – for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official (elected or unelected). These are difficult judgements and as a private organisation, we may not be in a good position to decide on your case. If you disagree with our decision you can contact your local DPA.

We look forward to working closely with data protection authorities and others over the coming months as we refine our approach. The CJEU's ruling constitutes a significant change for search engines. While we are concerned about its impact, we also believe that it's important to respect the Court's judgement and we are working hard to devise a process that complies with the law.

When you search for a name, you may see a notice that says that results may have been modified in accordance with data protection law in Europe. We’re showing this notice in Europe when a user searches for most names, not just pages that have been affected by a removal.

How does Google protect my privacy and keep my information secure?

We know that security and privacy are important to you - and they are important to us, too. We make it a priority to provide strong security and give you confidence that your information is safe and accessible when you need it.

We’re constantly working to ensure strong security, protect your privacy and make Google even more effective and efficient for you. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on security, and employ world-renowned experts in data security to keep your information safe. We've also built easy-to-use privacy and security tools like Google Dashboard, 2-step verification and Ads Settings. So when it comes to the information you share with Google, you’re in control.

You can learn more about safety and security online, including how to protect yourself and your family online on our Good to Know site.

How can I remove information about myself from Google’s search results?

Google search results are a reflection of the content publicly available on the web. Search engines can't remove content directly from websites, so removing search results from Google wouldn't remove the content from the web. If you want to remove something from the web, you should contact the webmaster of the site the content is posted on and ask him or her to make a change. Additionally, if under European data protection law, you would like to request removal of certain information about you that appears in Google's search results, please click here. Once the content has been removed and Google has noted the update, the information will no longer appear in Google's search results. If you have an urgent removal request, you can also visit our help page for more information.

Are my search queries sent to websites when I click on Google Search results?

In some cases, yes. When you click on a search result in Google Search, your web browser may also send the Internet address, or URL, of the search results page to the destination web page as the HTTP Referrer. The URL of the search results page may sometimes contain the search query that you entered. If you are using SSL Search (Google’s encrypted search functionality), under most circumstances, your search terms will not be sent as part of the URL in the HTTP Referrer. There are some exceptions to this behaviour, such as if you are using some less popular browsers. More information on SSL Search can be found here. Search queries or information contained in the HTTP Referrer may be available via Google Analytics or an application programming interface (API). In addition, advertisers may receive information relating to the exact keywords that triggered an ad click.