Showing posts from 2005

Is dorky the new sexy?

Sagan was, simply speaking, sexy, in a sense that transcends mere sexuality. —Keay Davidson, Carl Sagan: A Life , p. 264 In perusing the Wired News list of "2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks" , I noticed that my friend and dorkbot instigator douglas irving repetto was on the list! Some people say the term "sexy geek" is an oxymoron. Here at Wired News, we say it's redundant. I don't know who nominated doug, but my guess is Xeni Jardin ( herself a pretty sexy geek), who's listed as a suggester for the article, based on the boingboing team's contact with dorkbot (such as David Pescovitz's MAKE article and several bb posts ). See also my previous post about dorkbot's 5th anniversary . The dorkbot map (which I started) is growing at a rapid rate, with 45 members so far.

Lincoln Center's Cartoon Musicals in NYC

A much-awaited film series has begun this week: the return of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's series about the wide-ranging intersection of animation and music, Cartoon Musicals ! This is a dream come true for animation buffs: the series features some truly rare and offbeat stuff, and curator Greg Ford shows his excellent taste and vast, insightful knowledge of the medium. The first part of the series, back in August, already set a high bar. A Disney compilation showcased the early Silly Symphonies with their imaginative world-building -- the best one showing the rivalry in a music world between lands of classical and jazz music -- and the wild graphic inventiveness of some of the more experimental segments from compilation pictures like Three Caballeros , Make Mine Music , and Melody Time -- the best being "All the Cats Join In" from Make Mine Music , which I recognized as largely animated by Fred Moore's, since the wild joy of the dancing teens in the cartoo


Now is an exciting time to be a fan of the maverick media theorist Douglas Rushkoff . He's known for analyzing media and the power of storytelling therein, and has dealt both with how viewers can become empowered by "taking control of the story" and the shadier side of how advertising and other manipulative forms of media control the audience (and has analyzed the potential for new media forms to lead to both cases). Also, he's known for dealing with Judaism from an unconventional, counter-institutional perspective as an "open source religion", such as in his book Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism and articles like " Judging Judaism by the Numbers " and a New York Press article on the "self-imposed death of institutional Judaism" . Freethinking lapsed Jews turn out to be like Paikea in Whale Rider , who was the black sheep of her Maori tribe for flouting the convention of male leadership, only to turn out to be the true heir to

dorkbot turns five!

This month, New York City's monthly watering hole for techies, artists, and hackers, dorkbot-nyc , had its fifth anniversary meeting. Founded by artist and Columbia University Computer Music Center professor douglas irving repetto , its motto, "People doing strange things with electricity", gives the impression of what to (un)expect. Its dorky arena includes almost anything within the wide bounds of electronics, including both hardware and software, with a square emphasis on low-budget, do-it-yourself, personal projects. The results are geeky, goofy, technical, off-beat, and as wacky as the presenters' personal interests; the three presentations of a typical session will have almost nothing in common. The first meeting I attended, when dorkbot had been around for less that two full years, was in April 2002 , featuring a video by Kyle Lapidus and Tali Hinkis, who together with their children, the musical prodigy Rama (who's already composed a theme song for do

Frappr group for Equal Time for Freethought listeners

(inspired by Brian Flemming 's similar antics with the Church Sign Generator ) Last week, the map I created for listeners of the radio show on scientific naturalism and secular humanism Equal Time for Freethought (for which I am on staff as a researcher/consultant), which airs on WBAI in the metro New York City area, finally went live with a link on the official site. The map is made via Frappr , a super cool site that uses Google Maps to allow people in a group to post their locations on the planet. (For more examples of ways people are using Google Maps, see Google Maps Mania .) I've also created a couple of other Frappr groups: for Distributed Proofreaders ( forum thread ) and dorkbotters (that is, people who go to dorkbot , including the local nyc group ). I'm very pleased to see that the first two listeners to add themselves, besides the staff members of the show, are all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Mayer, Arizona! Clearly, the show is being heard via

A decade of Pixar feature films

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Toy Story , rounding out a decade of feature films from Pixar. I literally grew up alongside computer graphics; Tron was released, on July 9, 1982, just a month before I was born; also, the adolescence and adulthood of the medium parallel my own. I remember missing Toy Story during its original theatrical run (remember how back then, it was promoted as a "Disney" rather than a "Pixar" film?), instead seeing Jumanji (what a load of crapola that was) while Toy Story was playing on a different screen of the same theater. However, I didn't miss the revolution for long: I've looked forward to each new release since Monsters, Inc. 's wickedly clever trailer in which the characters wind up in outer Mongolia instead of outer Magnolia (oh, the pain-of-anticipation of seeing that one a full year before the release of the film itself). Pixar has moved from one artistic triumph to another, barely missing a bea

Screenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: study on web-using teens

Earlier this month, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study about American teenagers on the Net . This showed that not only are teens sophisticated users of the Net, they're also using it as creators. The most impressive statistic is that over half of teens who used the Net created content; particular forms such as blogging, personal webpages, working on webpages for other people, and even remixing of existing content are all fairly common. The report confirms what I've definitely seen of the existence of a "generation gap" in Net use, especially for leisure as opposed to basic activities, like email for everyday communication, and reference. A lot of older people I know don't appreciate the significance the Net, seeing it as just another unproductive diversion for brats with too much time on their hands. For me it's odd, because I was in the era just before the Net came around; it wasn't a significant factor in my teen/high school yea

Nick Sagan (Carl's son) has a blog!

A few days ago, less than a week after reading Keay Davidson's biography of Carl Sagan, I was browsing through the library and randomly came across a science fiction novel by Carl's son Nick Sagan (the third of Sagan's five children). Although I had heard of Nick's career as a TV writer (including, appropriately, for Star Trek series The Next Generation and Voyager ), I had no idea that he wrote science fiction books. In fact he has written two SF novels so far: Idlewild (2003) and Edenborn (2004). I can't opine on the novels, not having read them, but I'm pretty sure that Steven Baxter is right when he says that Nick "has a sense of wonder in his DNA." ;) So I checked his site (see the pictures page for some photos of him with Carl!), and he has a brand-new blog that just debuted earlier this week! In fact, it debuted on Halloween and in his first post he weighs in on his favorite holiday (mine too; in fact, I found my own way to tie it in wi

The scary state of Jules Verne translations

Roderick T. Long's recent post about the merits of Jules Verne reminded me of this. I recently was pretty shocked to find out that the most widely available English translations of Jules Verne's books are totally mutilated and inaccurate. As much as 1/4 of entire books are cut, including in particular much of the social and political material, giving the impression that Verne didn't deal with those issues. For example, the most available translation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was done by a clergyman who decided to omit all mentions of Darwin. Much of what is kept doesn't fare much better: in that same translation, Nemo's figure for the density of steel was confused to make it lighter than water. Most of these hack translations were done in the 1800s, but are still widely reprinted today, with little awareness about them. In contrast, the translations into other languages are generally okay, and in the non-English-speaking parts of Europe the sophisticated asp

So who's opsound?

Creative Commons Australia has a new animated video that's a must-see. Here's a 13 MB QuickTime file of the movie itself ; the org's post also has the script (which may be more accessible for those without broadband access) and the source files for the animation (done with the software package Moho ). Not only does the movie explain in a clear and accessible way the legal issues involved in the Creative Commons organization 's limited copyright system, but it's flat-out hilarious and an excellent piece of animation in its own right. It takes full advantage of the freedom that the animation medium offers; and the voice acting, dialogue ("you are SOOOOOO busted!") and sound effects are top-notch, convincingly getting the dialogue across without relying on lip-synch (because the characters don't have mouths). These screenshots give some idea of the inventive imagery, but the movie has a funky energy that needs to be seen in motion. What's even cool

Heinlein & science fictional feminism

Today's New York Times book review section has a fantastic article , "Heinlein's Female Troubles" by Mary Grace Lord, about feminism in Robert Heinlein's science fiction.

Jonathan Kozol

On September 13, I had the chance to see in person one of the leading education writers, one whom I admire while simultanenously having profoundly mixed feelings about. With an incredible amount of energy and raw passion for a 69-year-old—especially considering that this is just one event of a two-month book tour—Jonathan Kozol talked to a packed crowd at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble in Manhattan to promote his new book The Shame of the Nation : The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (there's also an excerpt in this month's issue of Harper's magazine, "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid" ). Dozens of copies of the book (in a deluxe hardcover edition, to boot) were flying off the shelves; such demand is certainly a testament to the huge numbers of people who care about education and want to improve it. I was tipped off to the appearance when I unexpectedly heard Kozol on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC radio earli

19th century educational pioneers vs. the 21st century educational status quo

Following up on my announcements of new electronic versions of classic 19th century works on education by Friedrich Froebel and Herbert Spencer are two examples of the difference between their ideas introduced well over a century ago and the educational practice today. Last Tuesday's health section of the New York Times had an appalling article , "Tough Day for Kindergartners (and Parents)" by Laurie Tarkan, about the unhappiness both children and their parents face when the children begin attending kindergarten; and how this unhappiness is being dealt with only by increasingly elaborate methods of "greasing the wheels" to make a smoother transition into the system. In the blandly matter-of-fact account of such methods, there isn't the ghost of a suggestion that the system itself is the problem, even as it acknowledges that the new environment is less individualized and breaks up the students' previous relationships with their parents and preschool co

some cool books from Prometheus

Prometheus Books is the largest and most well-known publisher of books about secular humanism in the United States, but it also has a few books that are a bit more offbeat. Here's a list of random interesting-looking books from them, prepared as part of my research for possible topics and guests for Equal Time For Freethought . In fact, a couple of books on the list (the ones by Litman and Davin) are ones I knew about and was interested in long before I noticed they were from Prometheus. Kropotkin: The Politics of Community by Brian Morris —About one of the greatest anarchist thinkers, Peter Kropotkin, and his current relevance. Morris also has a book (not published by Prometheus) about Bakunin, and Prometheus does publish a book on French anarchist Jean Grave and a collection of Bakunin's writings . Digital Copyright by Jessica Litman —Shows how pathetic copyright is and how modern changes in copyright laws, with an emphasis on the particularly egregious 1998 Digital Mi

market socialist hippie commune in National Geographic

National Geographic magazine has a regular series where they look at a particular ZIP code area of the United States in each issue. In last month's (August 2005) issue, the feature was on the East Wind commune in Tecumseh, Missouri—a prototypical 1960s hippie commune that's lasted until today. While it's always nice to see the idealistic 1960s alternatives still around (for instance, contemporary alternative schools that began in the "free school" movement during the 1960s and early 1970s), it also happens to be an interesting example of market socialism in practice. While the work and resources within the commune are distributed collectively, the commune's revenue comes from the half-million dollars of annual profit which they obtain from a nut butter business. The article makes there out to be a sharp, ironic contrast between such market profitability and the socialist ideals of the commune—the name "East Wind" comes from a quotation by Mao Zedo

Herbert Spencer's essays about education on Project Gutenberg

Following closely Friedrich Froebel's autobiography , another pioneering work in education has been posted to Project Gutenberg , after being prepared by Distributed Proofreaders (see my earlier post on DP), and again I'm credited in the text for my work on it. The book in question is the collection Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects by Herbert Spencer, a leading 19th century scientist whose radical social and political theories influenced the likes of Alexander Berkman, Voltairine de Cleyre, Henry George, Emma Goldman, and Benjamin Tucker. The group of essays "What Knowledge is of Most Worth?", "Intellectual Education", "Moral Education", and "Physical Education" were originally written in the 1850s and collected in book form in 1861. This edition adds five additional essays, as well as an excellent 1911 introduction by Charles W. Eliot. Known for creating the "Five Foot Shelf" collection of selected books, Eliot summ

r. i. p. UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass

I'm sad to see that today's New York Times has an obitiuary for Philip J. Klass, known among skeptics for his books about UFOs. One of these books, UFOs Explained , was the first skeptical book I read, which together with Martin Gardner's Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus , I found in my high school library. This is one of the factors that then led me to pick up Carl Sagan's books, starting with Broca's Brain (which has a section on pseudoscience) and the then-brand-new The Demon-Haunted World .

T. H. Huxley essays on Project Gutenberg

A 1902 collection by Thomas Henry Huxley, Lectures and Essays , including essays like "Autobiography", "Lectures on Evolution", "Naturalism and Supernaturalism", "Agnosticism", has just been posted to the website Project Gutenberg , after being prepared through Distributed Proofreaders . There's already a ton of Huxley material on PG , including many essay collections that overlap with this one (such as another one, posted just this past May, which also went through DP, Science and Christian Tradition , which has three essays in common: "The Value of Witness to the Miraculous", "Agnosticism", and "Agnosticism and Christianity"), but one can't have too much of a good thing.

Baby is Three

Two weeks ago, the humanist radio show Equal Time for Freethought (on WBAI in the New York City area), for which I'm on the staff as a researcher, celebrated its third anniversary. Given that tonight's show featured science fiction author David Gerrold, I think a reference to Theodore Sturgeon's famous short story is appropriate. Given how marginalized the show's philosophy of "secular humanism and scientific naturalism" is in our society and (especially) the mass media, I'm proud it's been on for so long. In fact, when I started listening to tonight's show I suddenly got a gut reaction of surprise to this — hey, humanism is coming from the radio! It may be a relatively small step towards getting the message out (especially in the constraints of a half-hour format) but it's still significant. Tonight's discussion was interesting, since I'm a longtime science fiction fan (as, of course, is interviewer Barry Seidman). Some of my favorit

Froebel's autobiography on Project Gutenberg

An eBook of the autobiography of Friedrich Froebel , the education pioneer best known as the inventor of kindergarten, has just been posted on Project Gutenberg . This was prepared via Distributed Proofreaders and I had a role in producing this as the "Post-Processor" (completing a finished copy of the book after it's been proofread); I'm credited in the text. (I've previously posted about my involvement with DP, where I explained the process a bit more). Since Froebel didn't write a formal autobiography, it's a compilation of two long autobiographical letters, heavily annotated by the translators (with 142 footnotes for a work of about 150 pages!) and also contains a Froebelian chronology and bibliography, so it has quite a bit of historical material. Quotes about Froebel's educational philosophy from the book: While others have taken to the work of education their own pre-conceived notions of what that work should be, Froebel stands consistently

My first anniversary at Distributed Proofreaders

Today is exactly one year since I've joined Distributed Proofreaders . It's a project for producing electronic texts of public domain books (from classic to obscure) for the website Project Gutenberg (which is one of the largest such websites, and has existed in some form since the 1970s). The work of producing a text is split up so that many people can work on it at the same time. Most of the work of producing an accurate text is the work of correcting and formatting text that has been extracted by software (known as OCR) from a scan of a book's page; in DP, proofreaders log on to the site and, via specialized software, compare the digital text and image side-by-side. One page is proofread at a time by any one person. It's a lot of fun. It provides a way to indulge two of my favorite things, old books and computers, at the same time. There's a combination of flexibility and seriousness in the structure. The activity level is high as books move through the site an

OK, I've started a blog.

Well, after thinking about making a blog for a long while, I finally just decided to quit procrastinating and just start one, and see where it ends up. The first day of the first month of the second half of the year is a nice round time to start afresh. I've just got back from the Alternative Education Resource Organization 's 2005 conference, "A Spectrum of Alternatives", held last weekend, and one of the first things I'm going to do is to write about it. (Also, I was talking to a person at the conference who was posting entries to his own blog about the conference, and I was thinking, "hey, it looks easy, why not!") I've also been to two of their previous conferences in the same location, the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) 2003 , and 2004's AERO 15th anniversary conference; it was nice seeing people again from those conferences, as well as seeing new folks too, such as seeing Alfie Kohn in person for the first time.