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Submission + - Santa Fe Institute offers free course on complexity

mmpdx writes: Santa Fe Institute is once again offering their free online course on complexity, at . This is an 11-week course, covering the basic ideas of complex systems, and is open to anyone. The topics covered include dynamics, chaos, fractals, cellular automata, genetic algorithms, networks, cooperation in social systems, agent-based modeling, and scaling. This is a great course for anyone who wants to learn about this amazing interdisciplinary area of science.

Submission + - WarGames and the Persistence of the Hacker Myth (

sdedeo writes: A talk given as part of a "Science on Screen" series, going back (1980s, the film), back (1960s, and the TMRC), way back (1840s and Ada Lovelace) and wayyy back (1500s, and the Golem of Prague), in the search for the "myth of the hacker" and the entwined myth-within-the-myth of the intelligent machine.

Did the hacker precede the computer? Barring a sublimation at the singularity, will the hacker always exist?

Submission + - WarGames and the Persistence of the Hacker (

sdedeo writes: "A talk given as part of a "Science on Screen" series, going back (1980s, the film), back (1960s, and the TMRC), way back (1840s and Ada Lovelace) and wayyy back (1500s, and the Golem of Prague), in the search for the "myth of the hacker" and the entwined myth-within-the-myth of the intelligent machine.

Did the hacker precede the computer? Barring a sublimation at the singularity, will the hacker always exist?"


Submission + - Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives? (

An anonymous reader writes: OK, so the headline is misleading. An interesting study was performed wherein people, who rated themselves from -5 (most liberal) to 5 (most conservative), were asked to click one button if they saw a W and a different button if they saw an M. One of the letter choices was shone about 80% of the time. It turns out that Liberals correctly caught the letter shown less often slightly better than Conservatives. Scans indicate that a particular region of the brain that seems responsible for stopping one from sticking to a habitual choice is more active in the Liberals. This matches other studies that indicate Conservatives are more likely to stick to a given path. Original story at: feedId=online-news_rss20

Submission + - 2.0 by Cass R. Sunstein (2007)

sdedeo writes: " 2.0 is an updated and reworked version of Cass Sunstein's, which was reviewed on slashdot back in April 2001. That earlier version was written before blogger was purchased by google, before wikipedia broke "10,000th most popular" on alexa, and — most importantly for Cass — before the terrorist attacks of September 11th unleashed a torrent of political blogging that has yet to peak.

Cass is one of the few people in the world who holds a senior faculty position in jurisprudence at a law school and yet can be expected to understand crucial notions of internet content creation such as versioning control, trackbacks and google juice.

I was first introduced to Cass in his 2003 book, Why Societies Need Dissent. One of the reasons for his appeal among the geek community is not only his content — he's hardly the first person to write about the internet — but also his reliance on provocative thought experiments. Notably, in Dissent, he uses one to explain why you should be suspicious of group-signed letters — an argument he modifies for 2.0, so you won't miss it. You may dispute his applications of such arguments to the real world, but it's certaintly the case that they're both new and non-trivial.

Cass is not one to beat around the bush, and one of the first things you'll encounter in Chapter One is the assertion that "the view that free spech is an 'absolute'" is "utterly implausible." I think he does himself a disservice by highlighting this and leaving the explanation to a much later chapter; Cass is opposed to "viewpoint discrimination" by the government, for example, and he's far more mild than you'd expect.

The central argument in 2.0 is unchanged: greater control over, and filtering of, the content one receives may have adverse consequences for democracy. By this time, most slashdot readers are familiar with the basic idea — when they're not complaining about troll-ratings and slashdot group-think.

It goes like this: increasingly popular software tools allow you to filter to an unprecented extent not only the kind of information you receive, but also its political or ideological slant. Fans of a particular idea ("open source is good", "affirmative action is anti-American", "a conservative cabal runs the United States for the benefit of corporations", &c.) can choose their news sites and blogcircles so that they will rarely, if ever, encounter the opposition except at second hand and in caricature. This is bad.

Before engaging this idea, it's worth stepping back. The internet — and the software on top of it — has often been referred to as the Platonic ideal of participatory democracy. One of Cass's points is the extent to which it's a half-truth: not every feature is faithfully reproduced, and one crucial one — the "public forum", which he uses in a technical, legal sense — is gone.

I grew up in London, and Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner was for me a touchstone of what democracy should be. Supreme Courts the world over agree, and the "public forum" — a geographical location — emerged as a space where courts could not interfere with public expressive activity. The internet is, of course, awash with such things (an unmoderated comment stream is not hard to find), but the crucial difference is that one need never see them while, in the real world, "public fora" — at least in the United States — include the streets and parks we use every day.

For Cass, the public forum extends to what he refers to as "general interest intermediaries" (GIIs): massive circulation sources that, while not granting the same rights-of-access to the public that a park does, provide regular encounters with facts and points-of-view that can be counted on to surprise the reader. My own view — one echoed by the blogosphere both right and left — is that since 9/11, more and more of these GIIs have failed us. Time after time, outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, the New Republic and Time Magazine have not only marginalized legitimate views, but also misreported crucial facts.

While Cass provides fascinating psychological studies of how we turn towards the news that flatters us, I think that one of the reasons for the explosive growth of online communities and online reporting is not that we are polarizing ourselves in a positive-feedback runaway, but rather that more and more people are becoming aware of the structural failures of the GII.

A classic example that friends of mine on the left cite is the "cocktail party" atmosphere of the Washington journalism circuit, where criticizing too aggressively the Bush administration led to a freeze-out on interviews and insider information. (Friends on the right complain to me more often about particular arguments being frozen out.)

Cass pays insufficient attention, in my mind, to these arguments, and his view of the blogosphere is jaundiced at best. For Cass, for example, the blogosphere is the source of urban legends, not their debunking, whereas any glance at the front page of political blogs, slashdot (or, more charmingly, snopes) will reveal plenty of debunking being done on the GII in the comments.

His evidence that blogs — and not just controlled psychological experiments &mdash actually do elicit group polarization is disappointingly thin, and relies on overinterpreted linkage studies and anecdotal evidence that show major "hubs" in the political blogging world, like instapundit, Atrios, and talkingpointsmemo, acting as strong filters that reinforce the party line. Matt Stoller (also a close friend) has done a more detailed study of linkage patterns and comes to very different conclusions.

There are problems with Cass's arguments, and in the end I don't think his snapshot of the internet in 2007 holds up. He's frustrating at times and, ironically, when he frustrates the most he reminds me of a blowhard blogger. The provocative nature of his thought experiments is worth the price of admission alone, however, and his legal-historical background on the nature of free speech in deliberative democracy is fascinating reading. Pundits of the blogosphere would be remiss in not reading his book.

Simon DeDeo is a astrophysicist and literary critic. He lives in Chicago, Illinois."

Submission + - Online annotation or commentary systems? (

MadFarmAnimalz writes: "I recently released my debut novel online under a Creative Commons license. I am reasonably satisfied with how it is being received so far, but I am interested in taking it a step further. I very much liked the system the FSF used for commentary on the GPLv3 drafts (called stet), but the code is not ready for wider deployment. I found a few alternative systems such as python-based Commentary which seems to be unmaintained, and marginalia which doesn't work as stably as one would hope. What (preferably free) software exists out there which enables online annotation and commentary, and which hopefully renders a "heatmap" of the discussion around the document?"
The Internet

Submission + - Internet maps are blooming

Roland Piquepaille writes: "It is important to understand network topology to predict its performance and its resilience to attacks. This is why computer scientists at UC San Diego have developed new algorithms which create Internet maps. Their maps — looking like digital dandelions show Internet nodes and their linkages. But they are — mostly — randomly generated graphs that describe the characteristics of a specific corner of the Internet but double or triple the number of nodes. These algorithms, which you soon will be able to download, should also improve the scalability of network protocols and applications. But read more for additional references and pictures showing 2,000-node-randomized versions of Internet topology."

Submission + - the end of wikipedia as we know it? (

sdedeo writes: I used to be far more involved in wikipedia than I am these days, so it was a surprise for me to learn about flagged revisions. There's a lot of jargon and coining in the roll out: "surveyors", "sightings", "flagging", as well as a great deal of secrecy — "ordinary" users were notified only by accident and the notice was quickly taken down. In true wiki fashion, the proposal itself is highly obfuscated, but the executive summary is that "edit this page" will now become "suggest an edit to this page."
The Internet

Submission + - Wikipedia: "suggest an edit to this page" (

An anonymous reader writes: A little-noticed proposal on Wikipedia — "flagged revisions" — will create a new class of editor: the "Surveyor," with the power to veto any content change suggested by ordinary user's before it's shown. Gradually at first (the rollout is planned for this Fall) articles will transition to this new scheme, where you may "edit this page" but your edits will not be shown to the public at large until certified by this new class of editor. The official "flagged revisions" page on the wiki is obfuscatory; rhubarb is susan has a more polemical take (and summary of the changes) that views this move as the self-assertion of a small bureaucratic class — under ten thousand — against the five million users who contribute actual content.

Submission + - Study: I.D. Thieves Prefer N.Y.C. and L.A.

Ant writes: "If BetaNews article says: "If you live in New York, California, or Nevada, you have the biggest chance of being an identity/ID theft victim. However if you're a Wyoming, Vermont, or Montana resident, the opposite is the case. A study released Wednesday by security firm, ID Analytics, put those that live close to New York City/N.Y.C. or Los Angeles/L.A. at the highest risk. Living in the West also seemed to increase one's chances: Arizona, Oregon, and Washington all ranked in the top ten. The reason for the heightened occurrences of fraud in bigger cities is quite simple: the sheer amount of people living there makes it much harder to identify and track. Living in a highly populated state did not necessarily mean one would be at a higher risk. Two states with large populations, Pennsylvania and Ohio, ranked far down on the list at 36th and 46th respectively...""

Submission + - The Top 12 Movies that Were Ahead of Their Time

Alex Billington writes: "What makes a movie years down the road be referred to as ahead of its time? It's the visual effects and technical achievements that the filmmakers implemented, from the miniatures in Star Wars to the time-freezing camera system in The Matrix, these movies were vastly ahead of their time. has comprised a comprehensive list of the top 12 movies in history that were ahead of their time, ranging from Psycho and 2001 to The Matrix."

Submission + - Is there any reason to report spammers to ISP's?

marko_ramius writes: For years I've been a good netizen and reported spam that I get to the appropriate contacts at ISP's. In the entire time that I've done this I've gotten (maybe) 5 or 6 responses from those ISP's informing me that they have taken action against the spammer.

In recent years, however, I haven't gotten any responses.

Are the ISP's so overwhelmed with abuse reports to respond to ANYBODY that reports spam? Do they even bother acting on the reports?

Is there any real reason to report spammers?

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