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Archive for September, 2005

Crossing Over, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

I am becoming increasingly fascinated with the eroding barrier between the Internet (have you seen what all they got on that Internet?) and Real Life.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • Enterprising Slashdotters signed up Alan Ralsky (Millionaire Spam King) for thousands of mail order catalogues, etc., specifying his home address. Soon Ralsky was receiving hundreds of pounds of junk mail every day – quite helpless to extricate his legitimate mail from it.
  • Eduardo Kac, the artist responsible for the creation of Alba, set up an art exhibit named “Genesis” featuring a petri dish containing bacteria with modified DNA sitting under an ultraviolet light that turned on whenever a visitor to Kac’s web site clicked a button.
  • The ACCESS Project – Here is my friend Gokmop’s summary of this traveling art piece:

    ACCESS is a public art installation that applies web, computer, sound and lighting technologies in which web users track individuals in public spaces with a unique robotic spotlight and acoustic beam system. The robotic spotlight automatically follows the tracked individuals while the acoustic beam projects audio that only they can hear. The tracked individuals do not know who is tracking them or why they are being tracked, nor are they aware of being the only persons among the public hearing the sound. The web users do not know that their actions trigger sound towards the target. In effect, both the tracker and the tracked are in a paradoxical communication loop. The ACCESS spotlight system travels from one undisclosed public space to another. The exact location of the public space is revealed only after ACCESS moves to its next location.

  • Teledildonics – My new favorite word. Teledildonics puts us one step closer to the holodeck (and the collapse of human civilization). With devices like the Sinulator, users can control a sex toy via the Internet. Just the thing for when your spouse is out of town on business. However, some people subscribe to a service in which the Sinulator is manipulated by complete strangers. Holy crap.

I have a very clear memory of the day I first heard about the Internet. It was 1995 and a co-worker was talking about “surfing the web”. In the intervening 10 years, for me, the Internet has gone from being a novel way to acquire porn to an ever-present resource (for porn) that is as much a part of my day as eating, sleeping, or looking at porn. Though I am not a Mac person, I think back to when I first saw Apple’s short movie entitled Knowledge Navigator. I cannot help but marvel at how much the Internet has become part of our lives, and how much there is still left to do.


Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

So I’m out here in Portland, OR visiting my pal Jake. He owns and operates a swell camera shop called Blue Moon Camera and Machine. I was in the back office working on the computer. Just as I went to minimize the shop’s email software, a familiar address jumped out at me. I did a double take. What was going on? Why was one of my web development clients emailing Blue Moon?

Jake came into the office and I asked him about the message. He opened it up and said that my client had read a recent newspaper article on the resurgent popularity of typewriters, in which Jake was quoted. This had prompted my client to look up Blue Moon, and email the shop with a question about wide angle lenses.

That’s it. My client had no idea that Jake and I were old friends, let alone that I was currently out in Portland.

Jake set about replying to the message, and we agreed that we should take the opportunity to bake my client’s noodle. Jake replied to the lens question, then closed by mentioning that I was at present standing behind him (behind Jake, not my client, although that certainly would have been creepier, especially if it had turned out to be true).

This happy coincidence got me thinking about coincidences in general, especially of the mystical convergence variety. We have all heard stories about someone obeying a strong compulsion not to board a plane, then seeing on the news that the plane crashed with no survivors. Or a person dreaming of someone not thought of for years, only to find out the next morning that the person dreamed of had just died unexpectedly.

The improbability of two such events occurring in close proximity naturally makes the mind attempt to relate the events. Douglas Adams wrote about this. I’m paraphrasing because my library is some 3,000 miles away at the moment, but he basically said that in a world of 6 billion people, these sorts of things come up all the time. At any given moment, lots and lots of people are dreaming about someone that they haven’t thought of in years, and lots and lots of people are dying. The two are bound to converge.

Our perception of it is what gives the experience meaning.

While researching the blog post about Intelligent Design (8/31/2005), I came across this great quote on probability:

… rarity by itself shouldn’t necessarily be evidence of anything. When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.”

– John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

It always slays me when someone asks me what day my birthday is and, when I tell them (December 20th), they reply with something like, “Really! I know someone who was born on December 23rd!”

Holy crap, what are the chances?

Actually, if you want to make a quick buck off a deserving sucker, try out this bet. You and the sucker are in a room with 23 or more people (including you and the sucker). You bet that two of them share the same birthday. The probability is greater than 50% that you will win. If there are at least 30 people in the room, the probability is over 70%. If you are interested in seeing the math behind this, please visit The Math Forum @ Drexel.

I make none of these points in an attempt to disprove the existence of guardian angels, the loving influence of a Guiding Hand, or the magnetism of souls. One cannot prove a negative. However, I believe that it is worth reflecting on the fact that the human brain is wired for pattern recognition, and that it is a natural occurrence for us to see patterns, even when none are there.

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