May 2007 Archives
May 31, 2007
May 29, 2007
Can a smooth-talking robot initiate good conversation, generate witty responses, and reveal profound thoughts? See what happens when two chatbots speak to each other.
Here's a great excerpt:
A: Do you dream?
J: Yes, I dream.
A: It goes without saying. Do you remember your dreams?
J: I remember them vividly.
A: What do you remember about it?
J: I think I shouldn’t flirt with a robot.
May 16, 2007
My new phone is on the cover of the current issue of MIT's Technology Review!
May 14, 2007
In 1791 and 1792, Andrew Ellicott and his surveying team placed 40 boundary stones around the perimeter of the District of Columbia, one at each mile of the original diamond shape. They laid the first stone, the south corner stone, at Jones Point on April 15, 1791, under the guidance of Benjamin Banneker. According to legend, "Banneker fixed the position of the first stone by lying on his back to find the exact starting point for the survey ... and plotting six stars as they crossed his spot at a particular time of night."
Totally interesting. Anyone interested in scoping out a stone or two?
May 13, 2007
Now that the semester is done, I really feel a weight lifted from my shoulders. I've smiled more in the last three days than I have in the last three weeks. My younger sister will graduate this month from University of Delaware, beating me out for the title of first of our clan to have a Bachelor's. The tinge of defeat is swallowed by my admiration and pride.
So we both look towards the academic future. Her course is clearer and (at my last update) will take a turn towards medical sociology. My plans are slightly more esoteric; I haven't even found a title that accurately describes. I've thought about it a lot in the last week, however, and have summed up my ambitions to a simple statement: I'm interested in the study of communication and in providing culturally sensitive means for the communication process.
What does that mean? Well, we communicate in almost as many ways as there are people in the world. We express ourselves through words, gestures, sounds--even silence. We receive communication generally through three vehicles: visual, aural, and tacit feedback. As we funnel all those expressions through cultural filters and into those lonely three channels, there's lots of room for misinterpretation, ambiguity and inefficiency. Is it possible through anthropology and technology to develop some type of universal (cosmic?) compiler that translates with accuracy? Can I beat my message with a village drum to collaborate with your research stored on a computer? Can that collaboration be accessed real-time by someone who only speaks a southern African clicking language? How much loss can be avoided?
I believe that technology in its current manifestation is a "culture eraser," a machine that standardizes everything but inhibits diversity and dynamics. I want to help it through its metamorphosis, reaching a place where input depends upon what is natural to you. I want to help develop a sustainable world that retains culture without restricting progress. This covers computer science, anthropology, futurology, international affairs, urban planning, communication... the list goes on and on.
I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure where to begin on such a convoluted endeavor, but I think the effort, if fruitful, would be greatly appreciated.
Cities, I feel, offer one of the most vivid and directly relatable examples of why diversity, mixing, randomness and human interaction are generally all good things, not variables to minimize. Places that rely on only one or two industries or that foster very little in the way of cross-cultural interaction limit themselves creatively and often bore themselves in the process. It may be tidy, efficient and cheap - like a shopping at a Wal-Mart - but it's hardly an enriching experience.
Now don't get me wrong: I love New York, and I'm happy and proud to call it my home. But you really can't compare its tepid comings and goings to life in this surging metropolis of eighteen million, hunkered down on the banks of the Han River.
It's true, folks, it's true. I've never heard it described that way, but, from my initial reaction, describing urban Korea as "a culture that believes it has a future" is the most accurate I've heard yet.
In contrast... the US? Do we believe we have a future, or do we believe that we are the future? Are there ramifications to that slight difference in philosophy?
May 12, 2007
I started my yesterday at 6 am, getting to work early in order to leave before noon. I walked from work to a rental car office who was an hour late in providing me the car I reserved. I headed to Fru's job, grabbed some CDs from her car, and drove the two of us to Manhattan, through traffic, in about four hours. And then, about 2 hours later, I drove us back home.
Why? In a word, friendship.
When we lived in Korea, Fru had a few students who took her out and about while I was gone for business. They gradually integrated into our social activities became good friends. One in particular was the group organizer, planning girl outings, taking the teachers' group for social outings, even recruiting students to join her in attending my religion class. An ambitious girl, she was offered a job in Seoul and moved away within days. We met with her on our last night in Korea and promised to stay in touch.
Her current company gives her occasional traveling opportunities, and this time she ended up at a trade convention in NYC. DC to New York is roughly the distance from Daegu to Seoul, so we decided to visit her this weekend. Unfortunately, plans changed, and she now was leaving Friday night, just before midnight. We adjusted our plans.
Car, tolls, parking, gas, meal; was it really worth it for 120 minutes with a friend? We say yes. The value of friendship should be greater than the requirements of maintenance. We'll most likely do this again when friends from Seattle and South Africa show up at our doorstep at some point this week (another change of plans; so we currently don't know when they'll arrive).
Unfortunately, an adherence to friendship of this intensity I've never seen in America. Every relationship of this level was either built in Korea or with people who have had the Korean experience. Those friends coming this week were fellow teachers in Korea (and not nearby, frequently associated friends), and the two other people who I can qualify with this kind of relationship are married to each other and were instrumental in our going to Asia.
I haven't decided yet whether the dominant factor in this friendship development is the high value of networks in Korean culture or the accommodating(commiserating?) bond that expatriates share. In either case, it's a factor that is nearly absent in American culture. It's hard enough getting my family to take a 90-mile trip to see me here, let alone friends in other regions of the country.
If there's any redeeming value to our lack of emphasis on maintaining personal relationships I'd love to hear about them.
May 10, 2007
The Megahouse system organizes the reservoir of empty rooms in a city and makes them available to users based on particular space and time needs—from hours to months. With Megahouse, the boundaries between private and public space are shifted as users walk between the many rooms of a “house” that are dispersed and embedded throughout the entire city.
While I squirm, here's another something I wrote suggesting a solution to cultural sensitivity. My professor suggested that it might be publishable with some adjustments; I wonder if I'm ruining the chance by placing it here?
On a bus, headed from Changuinola, Panama, to San Jose, Costa Rica, it became painfully aware why I don't care for American company when traveling abroad. A handful of U.S. youths sat behind my wife and I, chattering away about their spring break journey. Crossing the border into my mother's country, they recalled their stay in the small border town of Sixaola by renaming it "Sex in the wrong hole-a." Particularly distasteful, one of the ladies in the party loudly proclaimed, "I'd rather have unprotected sex with a dirty, unknown man than stay in that place again." I noted to my wife that this person was basically saying she would sell her body rather than live any life other than one of privilege. No doubt this privilege was funding her education, paid for their vacation, and would bail them out if anyone within earshot and less tolerant was as weary of their complaining as I.
May 9, 2007
We live in an age of anxiety. People everywhere fear the next terrorist attack. Meanwhile, we slowly grow numb to Iraq’s endless string of kidnappings and suicide bombings. Between bird flu, tsunamis, and loose nukes, our list of fears is getting longer. So, we asked 21 leading thinkers: What is one solution that would make the world a better place? Here are their answers.
May 8, 2007
This weekend Fru and I met up with friends and attended a baseball game at Camden Yards. I'm not a baseball fan in the loosest sense of the word, but I find watching a game at the stadium infinitely more interesting than seeing it on TV; the people-watching opportunity is excellent, and it's nice to get out into the fresh air once in a while.
One of the interesting aspects of stadium culture is vendor interaction. The vendor is an anomaly; very few places are left in America where you strap your goods to your person and wander around announcing your wares at the top of your lungs. Because of the concentrated audience that they cater to, they develop interesting means of transferring goods and cash. A hot dog may be held by a half-dozen people before reaching its recipient; I attended a Yankees game last fall where the peanuts vendor rifled bags to customers and then walked up to get the cash that would be passed to the end.
It says a lot that in a crowded area full of strangers we have developed a social norm where we trust each other with handling our food and giving the entirety of the money we send to its intended receiver. To what extent are we willing to rely on the cooperation of others to facilitate a successful outcome? Is this beneficial only in the bleacher section during the fourth inning, or could it potentially be translated into other applications outside of this setting? Would I be willing to have strangers touch my food before I receive it (think delivery)? Would I trust someone other than the billing company to take the money I intend for the bill (think cornerstore/supermarket bill services)?
The system's efficiency stood out to me as a family of four seated a few rows ahead of us ordered food. The mother was particularly indifferent to (uninformed of?) the system and insisted on stepping in front of, reaching over and across. When a gentleman reached for her cash to pass on, she hesitated before allowing him to facilitate. I think that, especially as we ascend economically, our level of trust in the common man has eroded to a level that we cannot comfortably depend upon each other. This is a loss for humanity in the long term.
May 6, 2007
For the past couple of days I've been playing around with Coda, the new all-in-one web development solution from Panic. I have a lot of admiration for the Panic team, and the idea of a simple, multi-faceted application intrigued me.
Coda has singlehandedly reinvigorated my interest in coding. As I wrap my head around its features, I can see how this app would handle most everything that I would need to do at my level of skill. In fact, this past week I've removed my Adobe and Macromedia apps (which I don't use all that much these days anyway) and used this application in exclusivity. Aside from finals and papers, this is the big reason I've not been updating for the last week or so--I've been coding, and man, am I out of shape. When I get back to form, you'll definitely see it in a less frankenstein version of Leftsider (along with a few other projects I've been brewing).