posts about or somewhat related to ‘information’

We Are Nomads

We Are Nomads

What Do Drugs Do to Spiders?

via Mental Floss:

Getting spiders high for science started in 1948, when German zoologist H.M. Peters got fed up with trying to study web-building behavior in spiders who wouldn’t do him the courtesy of working on his schedule. His garden spiders tended to build their webs between two and five a.m., and he asked his pharmacologist friend P.N. Witt if there might be some chemical stimulant that would coax the spiders into building their webs at a more reasonable time. 

Witt tried giving the spiders some amphetamine and, while they kept building at their usual hour (to Peters’ dismay), the two scientists did notice that those webs were more haphazard than normal. Over the next few decades, Witt continued to dose spiders with a smorgasbord of psychoactive substances, including marijuana, LSD, caffeine and mescaline, to see how they reacted. Since spiders can’t use tiny bongs or drink from little mugs, Witt and his team either dissolved the drugs in sugar water or injected them into flies and then fed the spiders with them.

Images: Spider web images by NASA, via Mental Floss. Clockwise, starting with the top-left: a regular web; a web on marijuana; a web on benzedrine; a web on caffeine; a web on chloral hydrate; and a web on LSD

The News Machine

Remember Operator, the game where you whisper a message to someone, they whisper the same to another who does the same to another until finally the message comes back to you full of distortions and embellishments? So too COLORS Magazine’s News Machine.

Created for last month’s International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, The News Machine is a commentary on how information systems work, and how discrete items within it get lost in translation — so to speak — as they pass from one medium to another.

Via COLORS:

Designed in collaboration with interactive designer Jonathan Chomko, the COLORS News Machine turns your tweets into headlines, but only after they’ve been passed through all the media filters and technological platforms that disseminate and distort the news today.

Twitter is the largest and least verifiable wire agency in the world. Tweet your story to @colorsmachine and watch the message change as it echoes through different media and into print.

A megaphone will read your tweet out loud. Its tape recorder listens, converting what it hears into text so that the television can show it onscreen. A camera watching the television converts what it sees into a signal to the radio antenna, which broadcasts the tweet. And the waiting microphone interprets this radio address as text again for printing.

Pick up your receipt. Compare the original tweet with the final report. Accuracy of reproduction varies according to the clarity of your writing and to chance.

As Fast Company’s Mark Wilson points out, The News Machine’s “tacit thesis is very difficult to reconcile: Even by stating the truth, you could be helping to spread misinformation.”

jtotheizzoe:

I’m sort of thrown off today. it’s hard to be motivated to bring you science when there’s Reality going on.
When something hits us upside the head like the Boston Marathon explosions, we can feel dizzy, disoriented … left swirling in a dust-storm of rapidly beating hearts, furrowed brows, held breath and shaking heads. That’s how I feel, anyway. I’ve been sitting here, repeatedly muttering statements that begin with “What the f…” and simultaneously cheering and cursing the power of social media to communicate painful news. I keep looking through Twitter and blogs, knowing exactly what I’ll see and don’t want to. So powerful, but so unfiltered. 
It’s not the first time in the past year that this message from Fred Rogers has been appropriate, and that’s perhaps the ultimate tragedy. But he’s right. Every photo of violence and blood in the streets of Boston that we won’t unsee is full of people running in to help. And if we have to look, that’s what we should focus on.
My thoughts are with Boston. 

FJP: Agreed. A very wonderful thought from someone who works on a very wonderful program. Our thoughts are with all those in Boston and all those who have a loved one who traveled there for the marathon. If you’re looking for someone or have information about someone, try Google Person Finder.

jtotheizzoe:

I’m sort of thrown off today. it’s hard to be motivated to bring you science when there’s Reality going on.

When something hits us upside the head like the Boston Marathon explosions, we can feel dizzy, disoriented … left swirling in a dust-storm of rapidly beating hearts, furrowed brows, held breath and shaking heads. That’s how I feel, anyway. I’ve been sitting here, repeatedly muttering statements that begin with “What the f…” and simultaneously cheering and cursing the power of social media to communicate painful news. I keep looking through Twitter and blogs, knowing exactly what I’ll see and don’t want to. So powerful, but so unfiltered. 

It’s not the first time in the past year that this message from Fred Rogers has been appropriate, and that’s perhaps the ultimate tragedy. But he’s right. Every photo of violence and blood in the streets of Boston that we won’t unsee is full of people running in to help. And if we have to look, that’s what we should focus on.

My thoughts are with Boston. 

FJP: Agreed. A very wonderful thought from someone who works on a very wonderful program. Our thoughts are with all those in Boston and all those who have a loved one who traveled there for the marathon. If you’re looking for someone or have information about someone, try Google Person Finder.

More information does not make a more informed population. We need to think about what it actually means to create a more informed society. We’re a long way away from that. But I don’t have some nostalgic lust for the past, because I don’t think we’ve ever been truly informed.
The idea of crowdsourcing geopolitical forecasting is increasing in popularity, and not just for spies.

Sharon Weinberger, BBC. Intelligence agencies turn to crowdsourcing.

Sharon’s talking about Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a US Government program that crowdsources geopolitical predictions.

Sharon suggests that the crowd may foresee events that we wouldn’t guess at otherwise, like these infamous examples:

The intelligence community has often been blasted for its failure to forecast critical world events, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.  It was also heavily criticized for its National Intelligence Estimate in 2002, which supported claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Two sites so far that have come from under the program. The first, called Forecasting ACE, was launched last year, and its intro video explains well the sometimes odd wisdom crowds display. 

The latest site, however, is their most interesting. It’s called Global Crowd Intelligence and its creators have catered to our (that is, human) desires for competition, games, and fun.

Writes Sharon:

Indeed, what users wanted, it turned out, was something competitive, so that’s what the company has given them. The new website rewards players who successfully forecast future events by giving them privileged access to certain “missions,” and also allowing them to collect reputation points, which can then be used for online bragging rights. When contributors enter the new site, they start off as junior analysts, but eventually progress to higher levels, allowing them to work on privileged missions.

Appealing to people is, after all, a good way to solicit information from them.

Sharon looks elsewhere, too, where other crowds are making guesses of their own. At Wikistrat, a privately owned, self-titled Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy (MMOC, seriously) has guessed at possible outcomes for Syria.

These are the humans trying to give our jobs to robots
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Narrative Science, its boss Kristian Hammond, and their algorithmic journalist robots of the future. Most of the controversy has been over a few audacious comments, as most controversy usually is (via Wired):

Last year at a small conference of journalists and technologists, I asked Hammond to predict what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years. At first he tried to duck the question, but with some prodding he sighed and gave in: “More than 90 percent.”

He also predicted that a computer will win the Pulitzer Prize by 2017. But that’s just talk — from reading what his algorithms have done, it’s hard to expect a Pulitzer, but it’s not as easy to rebuke the 90% assumption. 
via Slate, on what the robots cover:

Narrative Science is one of several companies developing automated journalism software. These startups work primarily in niche fields—sports, finance, real estate—in which news stories tend to follow the same pattern and revolve around statistics. 

Take the financial articles that NS writes for Forbes, as considered a little later in the article:

Don’t miss the irony here: Automated platforms are now “writing” news reports about companies that make their money from automated trading. These reports are eventually fed back into the financial system, helping the algorithms to spot even more lucrative deals. Essentially, this is journalism done by robots and for robots. The only upside here is that humans get to keep all the cash.

Following the diplomatic/commodity trail that influences stock prices, or tracking stats and numbers in sports to find stories, may eventually become an obsolete task for us humans as robots begin to cover them more efficiently, and faster. And, having begun to crawl through Twitter for election coverage, Narrative Science’s scope may (soon! soon!) slowly grow.
FJP: But as for what this post covers, the concern is a lot like other problems people have with today’s journalism. In the same way that programmers or bloggers won’t replace columnists and reporters, but will instead facilitate, complement, and in all sorts of ways share the new workload, so too might Narrative Science-esque algorithms cover some of the responsibilities that future journalism expects, but which are difficult/unreasonable/impossible for, say, a journalist from ten years ago to handle.
Photo courtesy of Narrative Science.

These are the humans trying to give our jobs to robots

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Narrative Science, its boss Kristian Hammond, and their algorithmic journalist robots of the future. Most of the controversy has been over a few audacious comments, as most controversy usually is (via Wired):

Last year at a small conference of journalists and technologists, I asked Hammond to predict what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years. At first he tried to duck the question, but with some prodding he sighed and gave in: “More than 90 percent.”

He also predicted that a computer will win the Pulitzer Prize by 2017. But that’s just talk — from reading what his algorithms have done, it’s hard to expect a Pulitzer, but it’s not as easy to rebuke the 90% assumption. 

via Slate, on what the robots cover:

Narrative Science is one of several companies developing automated journalism software. These startups work primarily in niche fields—sports, finance, real estate—in which news stories tend to follow the same pattern and revolve around statistics. 

Take the financial articles that NS writes for Forbes, as considered a little later in the article:

Don’t miss the irony here: Automated platforms are now “writing” news reports about companies that make their money from automated trading. These reports are eventually fed back into the financial system, helping the algorithms to spot even more lucrative deals. Essentially, this is journalism done by robots and for robots. The only upside here is that humans get to keep all the cash.

Following the diplomatic/commodity trail that influences stock prices, or tracking stats and numbers in sports to find stories, may eventually become an obsolete task for us humans as robots begin to cover them more efficiently, and faster. And, having begun to crawl through Twitter for election coverage, Narrative Science’s scope may (soon! soon!) slowly grow.

FJP: But as for what this post covers, the concern is a lot like other problems people have with today’s journalism. In the same way that programmers or bloggers won’t replace columnists and reporters, but will instead facilitate, complement, and in all sorts of ways share the new workload, so too might Narrative Science-esque algorithms cover some of the responsibilities that future journalism expects, but which are difficult/unreasonable/impossible for, say, a journalist from ten years ago to handle.

Photo courtesy of Narrative Science.

Our talk with Benji and Matt
We emailed the Guardian’s Benji Lanyado about a new project he and Matt Andrews have been working on called Top 5 News, which lists the most popular articles by the most popular news orgs in the US and UK. Here’s what we talked about, short and simple:FJP (Blake): What is Top 5 News and how did it come together?
Benji: top5news.net (and its British cousin top5news.co.uk) pulls from a number of different news sites, displaying their most popular pieces of content every 15 minutes. We wanted it to be a snapshot of what people are actually reading, rather than the latest news, or editor’s choices. To some extent, it’s an automated Drudge Report. 



FJP (Blake): How does it work? What was used to make it work?
Matt: The site is a fairly customised use of the PHP framework CodeIgniter. It goes off to fetch the page HTML of the source websites every 15 minutes and scans through the code for the relevant links. We store an archive of links as well as the most recent ones so that over time we can attempt some data visualisation to show trends and spikes. Finally, on the front end we use CSS3 media queries to give the site a responsive design so it works well on mobile too.
FJP (Blake): Is it “just” an experiment or is it something you plan to build off of?
Benji: For now, it’s a minimum viable product… we want to see how popular the idea is, and gather as much feedback as possible. After that… who knows.
FJP (Blake): Besides that, your work at the Guardian and all your interactive traveling (a la Kerouapp) is very cool. Any plans to expand upon this previous work?
Benji: Yeah, it was a lot of fun working on Kerouapp, and its been great to see Jon Henley, one of the Guardian’s feature writers, using it for his trips across Europe. It’s also been used by the BBC and Time Out, which is great. I’m actually travelling a lot less these days, but would love to see other news organisations use the tool and run with it.
FJP (Blake): Please tell me about any other plans you might have, and what you’d like to do in the near/distant future.
Benji: I’m very keen to keep working on projects like this with developers, both inside the Guardian and outside it. I’m actually starting an intensive front end development course myself in a few weeks, so I can potentially knock together prototypes myself in the near future. I think basic programming skills are going to become an essential skill for future journalists.
Photo: The Guardian.

Our talk with Benji and Matt

We emailed the Guardian’s Benji Lanyado about a new project he and Matt Andrews have been working on called Top 5 News, which lists the most popular articles by the most popular news orgs in the US and UK. Here’s what we talked about, short and simple:

FJP (Blake): What is Top 5 News and how did it come together?

Benji: top5news.net (and its British cousin top5news.co.uk) pulls from a number of different news sites, displaying their most popular pieces of content every 15 minutes. We wanted it to be a snapshot of what people are actually reading, rather than the latest news, or editor’s choices. To some extent, it’s an automated Drudge Report. 

FJP (Blake): How does it work? What was used to make it work?

Matt: The site is a fairly customised use of the PHP framework CodeIgniter. It goes off to fetch the page HTML of the source websites every 15 minutes and scans through the code for the relevant links. We store an archive of links as well as the most recent ones so that over time we can attempt some data visualisation to show trends and spikes. Finally, on the front end we use CSS3 media queries to give the site a responsive design so it works well on mobile too.

FJP (Blake): Is it “just” an experiment or is it something you plan to build off of?

Benji: For now, it’s a minimum viable product… we want to see how popular the idea is, and gather as much feedback as possible. After that… who knows.

FJP (Blake): Besides that, your work at the Guardian and all your interactive traveling (a la Kerouapp) is very cool. Any plans to expand upon this previous work?

Benji: Yeah, it was a lot of fun working on Kerouapp, and its been great to see Jon Henley, one of the Guardian’s feature writers, using it for his trips across Europe. It’s also been used by the BBC and Time Out, which is great. I’m actually travelling a lot less these days, but would love to see other news organisations use the tool and run with it.

FJP (Blake): Please tell me about any other plans you might have, and what you’d like to do in the near/distant future.

Benji: I’m very keen to keep working on projects like this with developers, both inside the Guardian and outside it. I’m actually starting an intensive front end development course myself in a few weeks, so I can potentially knock together prototypes myself in the near future. I think basic programming skills are going to become an essential skill for future journalists.

Photo: The Guardian.

General news is not relevant to young people because they don’t have context. It’s a lot of abstract storytelling and arguing among adults that makes no sense. So most young people end up consuming celebrity news. To top it off, news agencies, for obvious reasons, are trying to limit access to their content by making you pay for it. Well, guess what: Young people aren’t going out of their way to try to find this news, so you put up one little wall, and poof, done. They’re not even going to bother.

Said (Microsoft researcher) Danah Boyd, addressing why young people aren’t following traditional, regular news.

FJP: Can’t help but think of this, for one thing. Also, if you’re interested: Jonathan Stray on making news immersive.

via Poynter.

Dataminr, the social media analytics firm that verified bin Laden’s death before the press (or the president), is now partnered with Twitter
A New York firm that fishes through Twitter for newsworthy clues to send its financial/government clients will soon get more access than almost anyone else to Twitter’s “Firehouse,” or the current of wide-open, real time messages of the entire tweeting human race.
Dataminr, which claims it verified the bin Laden death rumors before any official announcements were made, will use its privilege to give clients information before anyone else knows. The company recently said it learns a lot by seeing whats talked about, and by whom.
via a company press release:

On any given day, Dataminr alerts its clients to numerous relevant events that are either pre-news or off the mainstream radar… In recent days, these ranged from an assassination attempt on high-ranking Arab leaders in Tajikistan, to a tsunami warning in Chile, to panic-buying of fuel by the UK public in reaction to an oil tank driver strike.

Seeing Twitter through the Firehouse would probably be really confusing, with so many different languages and half-finished personal conversations. But the firm has been able to find a lot of trends/events from a more limited vantage point (according to the same press release):

Dataminr’s real-time analytics engine processes public Tweets in the aggregate, detecting linguistic and propagation patterns across the over 340 million messages shared on Twitter daily. In addition, Dataminr takes the unique approach of merging Tweets with third-party and client proprietary data to perform multi-variable event detection.

And on what has become Dataminr’s legitimizing moment (its alert of bin Laden’s death), ars technica quoted the following:

"Dataminr sent an alert in this instance at 10:20 [p.m. Eastern time on May 1, 2011], based on only 19 messages," Dataminr founder and CEO Ted Bailey told the Twitter Devnest crowd. "This was, for our clients, the earliest warning system in the entire financial industry for this event, which had a dramatic effect on the market once it hit the financial radar. This was also one of the most viral events in Twitter’s history. Messages went from 19 in this 5 minute period where we caught it, up to 20,000 per minute in just half an hour."

FJP: I guess someone has to make money from it.
H/T: ars technica

Dataminr, the social media analytics firm that verified bin Laden’s death before the press (or the president), is now partnered with Twitter

A New York firm that fishes through Twitter for newsworthy clues to send its financial/government clients will soon get more access than almost anyone else to Twitter’s “Firehouse,” or the current of wide-open, real time messages of the entire tweeting human race.

Dataminr, which claims it verified the bin Laden death rumors before any official announcements were made, will use its privilege to give clients information before anyone else knows. The company recently said it learns a lot by seeing whats talked about, and by whom.

via a company press release:

On any given day, Dataminr alerts its clients to numerous relevant events that are either pre-news or off the mainstream radar… In recent days, these ranged from an assassination attempt on high-ranking Arab leaders in Tajikistan, to a tsunami warning in Chile, to panic-buying of fuel by the UK public in reaction to an oil tank driver strike.

Seeing Twitter through the Firehouse would probably be really confusing, with so many different languages and half-finished personal conversations. But the firm has been able to find a lot of trends/events from a more limited vantage point (according to the same press release):

Dataminr’s real-time analytics engine processes public Tweets in the aggregate, detecting linguistic and propagation patterns across the over 340 million messages shared on Twitter daily. In addition, Dataminr takes the unique approach of merging Tweets with third-party and client proprietary data to perform multi-variable event detection.

And on what has become Dataminr’s legitimizing moment (its alert of bin Laden’s death), ars technica quoted the following:

"Dataminr sent an alert in this instance at 10:20 [p.m. Eastern time on May 1, 2011], based on only 19 messages," Dataminr founder and CEO Ted Bailey told the Twitter Devnest crowd. "This was, for our clients, the earliest warning system in the entire financial industry for this event, which had a dramatic effect on the market once it hit the financial radar. This was also one of the most viral events in Twitter’s history. Messages went from 19 in this 5 minute period where we caught it, up to 20,000 per minute in just half an hour."

FJP: I guess someone has to make money from it.

H/T: ars technica

What Americans buy, by NPR
NPR’s Planet Money blog published this graph today showing the biggest expenditures for Americans, and also some interesting, though sort of unnecessary, things they like to buy.

What Americans buy, by NPR

NPR’s Planet Money blog published this graph today showing the biggest expenditures for Americans, and also some interesting, though sort of unnecessary, things they like to buy.

Information Credibility on Twitter →

Platform matters, according to Yahoo researchers.

In the experiment, the headline of a news item was presented to users in different ways, i.e. as posted in a traditional media website, as a blog, and as a post on Twitter. Users found the same news headline significantly less credible when presented on Twitter.

Interested in further Twitter analysis? The researchers point to Truthy, a project at the Indiana University that further analyzes Twitter and its credibility.

[W]e tend to think of the information age as something entirely new. In fact, people have been wrestling with information for many centuries. If I was going to say when the information age started, I would probably say the 15th century with the invention of the mechanical clock, which turned time into a measurable flow, and the printing press, which expanded our ability to tap into other kinds of thinking. The information age has been building ever since then.

In an interview with The Browser, Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, discusses a number of books that inform his thinking. 

The Browser, Nicholas Carr on Impact of the Information Age.

Click through for the interview and Carr’s book recommendations

An estimated 295 exabytes of digital information is stored around the globe. Some of it’s on digital tapes, most of it’s on hard drives.
If you turned that information into physical books, says Dr. Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California, you could cover the entire landmass of the United States and China 3 books deep.
Wrap you mind around it another way, explains Hilbert and his fellow researchers, and the world’s stored information is “315 times the number of grains of sand in the world [but] less than one percent of the information that is stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being.”
Image: Detail from infographic created by data backup service Mozy via ReadWriteWeb.

An estimated 295 exabytes of digital information is stored around the globe. Some of it’s on digital tapes, most of it’s on hard drives.

If you turned that information into physical books, says Dr. Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California, you could cover the entire landmass of the United States and China 3 books deep.

Wrap you mind around it another way, explains Hilbert and his fellow researchers, and the world’s stored information is “315 times the number of grains of sand in the world [but] less than one percent of the information that is stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being.”

Image: Detail from infographic created by data backup service Mozy via ReadWriteWeb.