who is calling?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #57
Who is calling?
The public phone is ringing. Who is calling? And a scene from which book is cited thereby?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and partial solution (29 January 2013):
Detail of the season 2 titlecard of the television series 'Person of Interest' (Nolan 2011-present)
S.A.S. has solved the first part of the riddle. It is the artificial intelligence called ‘The Machine’ from the television series Person of Interest (Nolan 2011-present) calling John Reese (Jim Caviezel) via a public pay phone. The scene is from the end of the final episode of season one, Firewall (S01E23). As a recap the scene is repeated and then continued at the beginning of The Contingency (S02E01). Now the question remains: Which scene from which book is cited here? Hint: The citation becomes even more explicit in the latest episode, Prisoner’s Dilemma (S02E12).

UPDATE and final solution (08 February 2013):
Mona did it, identified and quoted the correct passage from William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ (1984)—congratulations! In the scene from Prisoner’s Dilemma (S02E12) I hinted towards, a pay phone rings next to Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) walking on the street. Due to the dramaturgy of the story Finch ignores it and walks on. Then the next phone near to him starts ringing … Here is the complete scene from ‘Neuromancer’, when the artificial intelligence which goes by the name ‘Wintermute’ calls Case, the main human protagonist:

There were cigarettes in the gift shop, but he didn’t relish talking with Armitage or Riviera. He left the lobby and located a vending console in a narrow alcove, at the end of a rank of
pay phones.
    He fumbled through a pocketful of lirasi, slotting the small dull alloy coins one after another, vaguely amused by the anachronism of the process. The phone nearest him rang.
    Automatically, he picked it up.
    Faint harmonics, tiny inaudible voices rattling across some orbital link, and then a sound like wind.
    “Hello. Case.”
    A fifty-lirasi coin fell from his hand, bounced, and rolled out of sight across Hilton carpeting.
    “Wintermute, Case. It’s time we talk.”
    It was a chip voice.
    “Don’t you want to talk, Case?”
    He hung up.
    On his way back to the lobby, his cigarettes forgotten, he had to walk the length of the ranked phones. Each rang in turn, but only once, as he passed. (Gibson 1984: chpt. 7)

GIBSON, WILLIAM FORD. 1984. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin.
NOLAN, JONATHAN. 2011-present. Person of interest [TV series]. New York: CBS.

the coming war on general computation

The copyright war was just the beginning

The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.
    The problem is twofold: first, there is no known general-purpose computer that can execute all the programs we can think of except the naughty ones; second, general-purpose computers have replaced every other device in our world. There are no airplanes, only computers that fly. There are no cars, only computers we sit in. There are no hearing aids, only computers we put in our ears. There are no 3D printers, only computers that drive peripherals. There are no radios, only computers with fast ADCs and DACs and phased-array antennas. Consequently anything you do to “secure” anything with a computer in it ends up undermining the capabilities and security of every other corner of modern human society.
    And general purpose computers can cause harm — whether it’s printing out AR15 components, causing mid-air collisions, or snarling traffic. So the number of parties with legitimate grievances against computers are going to continue to multiply, as will the cries to regulate PCs.
    The primary regulatory impulse is to use combinations of code-signing and other “trust” mechanisms to create computers that run programs that users can’t inspect or terminate, that run without users’ consent or knowledge, and that run even when users don’t want them to.
    The upshot: a world of ubiquitous malware, where everything we do to make things better only makes it worse, where the tools of liberation become tools of oppression.
    Our duty and challenge is to devise systems for mitigating the harm of general purpose computing without recourse to spyware, first to keep ourselves safe, and second to keep computers safe from the regulatory impulse.

Here’s the full transcript of the above speech Cory Doctorow gave at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress Behind Enemy Lines.

via entry at techdirt

why turning around?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #56
Turning around
What’s happening in this scene? Why are the two kids turning around?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]


ennis house sunrise

The idea to recreate the House on Haunted Hill in Minecraft haunts me since months. Well, Kevin Shull already did it back in November 2011, complete with custom texture pack and all:

House was created “block for block” as close as I could get with the photographs I found. Some areas were unclear in photos if photographed at all. House is 3x minecraft dimensions. Doors are six blocks tall instead of two. Thirteen textures created for textile blocks. Thirty additional “ice” blocks were created (that won’t melt) for windows and doors. Not enough blocks to do window designs or the gate and iron work. Interior lighting by transparent “glowstone” . For interior and exterior views of the house, two models were created to allow for different block surfaces on walls and placement of windows. Single player control mod was used to control sun and turn off rain that has become a constant problem. House is so large the MC cam creates a lot of distortion. Thought I’ld never finish it, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Hope you like it.

Oh yes, I do like it, indeed—if you do, too: Besides Ennis House Kevin also did Frank Lloyd Wright‘s other ‘textile block’ houses: Freeman House, Storer House, and Millard House.


who is eddy?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #55
Who is Eddy?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE (17 January 2013):
Clink Wharf
All right, here’s a strong hint: The carriage in the screencap is on its way because of Eddy.


einstein on sts

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
These quotes by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) are a fine follow-up to poincaré on sts:

We have thus assigned to pure reason and experience their places in a theoretical system of physics. The structure of the system is the work of reason; the empirical contents and their mutual relations must find their representation in the conclusions of the theory. In the possibility of such a representation lie the sole value and justification of the whole system, and especially of the concepts and fundamental principles which underlie it. These latter, by the way, are free inventions of the human intellect, which cannot be justified either by the nature of that intellect or in any other fashion a priori. […]
    The natural philosophers of those days were, on the contrary, most of them possessed with the idea that the fundamental concepts and postulates of physics were not in the logical sense free inventions of the human mind but could be deduced from experience by “abstraction”—that is to say by logical means. A clear recognition of the erroneousness of this notion really only came with the general theory of relativity, which showed that one could take account of a wider range of empirical facts, and that too in a more satisfactory and complete manner, on a foundation quite different from the Newtonian. But quite apart from the question of the superiority of one or the other, the fictitious character of fundamental principles is perfectly evident from the fact that we can point to two essentially different principles, both of which correspond with experience to a large extent; this proves at the same time that every attempt at a logical deduction of the basic concepts and postulates of mechanics from elementary experiences is doomed to failure. (Einstein 1933)

EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1933. On the method of theoretical physics. The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford University on 10 June 1933.

poincaré on sts

Jules Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)
Well, it’s not really Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)—eminent mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and philosopher of science—talking about science and technology studies (STS) proper. Rather he talks about the fundamentals of epistemology, the position of the natural sciences, and their relation to reality. And here we are at the core of STS. Wherever you read about STS it is stated that STS are founded on the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of science stemming from the former. The great achievement, absolutely indispensable for STS, was to relativize scientific knowledge and to look at it from a social constructivist vantage point. To put scientific knowledge on a par with other kinds of knowledge, and thereby stripping it of the nimbus of being something special, of being apart, of being absolute.
    Enter Bruno Latour, heavily influenced by, and fond of social constructivism. But at one point he feels that the relativizing trajectory of constructivism has gone too far. Especially when it comes to the things of the natural sciences. He feels the need for STS to backpedal a bit from the constructivist extremes. And here I wholeheartedly agree.
    But at least one question remains for me: Who exactly was, or still is it, who without any reservation whatsoever believes in that all-encompassing absoluteness of scientific knowledge? The natural scientists? The wider public, impressed by the overwhelmimg success of science and technology? Well, for sure not the great grandmasters of science.
    Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Poincaré’s ‘Science and hypothesis’ (1905 [1902]), a book written for the wider public. In this snippet from the opening pages we already find all the foundations of STS, up to Latour’s recalibration.
    Here is the great Henri Poincaré’s healthy, justified epistemological relativism bolstered by sound arguments and expressed in clear-cut, direct, and understandable language:

To the superficial observer scientific truth is unassailable, the logic of science is infallible ; and if scientific men sometimes make mistakes, it is because they have not understood the rules of the game. Mathematical truths are derived from a few self-evident propositions, by a chain of flawless reasonings ; they are imposed not only on us, but on Nature itself. By them the Creator is fettered, as it were, and His choice is limited to a relatively small number of solutions. A few experiments, therefore, will be sufficient to enable us to determine what choice He has made. From each experiment a number of consequences will follow by a series of mathematical deductions, and in this way each of them will reveal to us a corner of the universe. This, to the minds of most people, and to students who are getting their first ideas of physics, is the origin of certainty in science. This is what they take to be the role of experiment and mathematics. And thus, too, it was understood a hundred years ago by many men of science who dreamed of constructing the world with the aid of the smallest possible amount of material borrowed from experiment.
    But upon more mature reflection the position held by hypothesis was seen ; it was recognised that it is as necessary to the experimenter as it is to the mathematician. And then the doubt arose if all these constructions are built on solid foundations. The conclusion was drawn that a breath would bring them to the ground. This sceptical attitude does not escape the charge of superficiality. To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions ; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.
    Instead of a summary condemnation we should examine with the utmost care the role of hypothesis ; we shall then recognise not only that it is necessary, but that in most cases it is legitimate. We shall also see that there are several kinds of hypotheses; that some are verifiable, and when once confirmed by experiment become truths of great fertility; that others may be useful to us in fixing our ideas; and finally, that others are hypotheses only in appearance, and reduce to definitions or to conventions in disguise. The latter are to be met with especially in mathematics ,
and in the sciences to which it is applied. From them, indeed, the sciences derive their rigour ; such conventions are the result of the unrestricted activity of the mind, which in this domain recognises no obstacle. For here the mind may affirms because it lays down its own laws ; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature. Are they then arbitrary? No; for if they were, they would not be fertile. Experience leaves us our freedom of choice, but it guides us by helping us to discern the most convenient path to follow. Our laws are therefore like those of an absolute monarch, who is wise and consults his council of state. Some people have been struck by this characteristic of free convention which may be recognised in certain fundamental principles of the sciences. Some have set no limits to their generalisations, and at the same time they have forgotten that there is a difference between liberty and the purely arbitrary. So that they are compelled to end in what is called nominalism; they have asked if the savant is not the dupe of his own definitions, and if the world he thinks he has discovered is not simply the creation of his own caprice.(1) Under these conditions science would retain its certainty, but would not attain its object, and would become powerless. Now, we daily see what science is doing for us. This could not be unless it taught us something about reality; the aim of science is not things themselves, as the dogmatists in their simplicity imagine, but the relations between things; outside those relations there is no reality knowable. (Poincaré 1905 [1902]: xxi-xxiv)

(1) Cf. M. le Roy: “Science et Philosophie,” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 1901.

And as a bonus, here is a one-sentence definition:

The method of the physical sciences is based upon the induction which leads us to expect the recurrence of a phenomenon when the circumstances which give rise to it are repeated. (Poincaré 1905 [1902]: xxvi)

POINCARÉ, JULES HENRI. 1905 [1902]. Science and hypothesis. London, Newcastle-on-Tyne, New York: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd. Originally published as La science et l’hypothèse. Paris: Ernest Flammarion.

nasa johnson style

NASA Johnson Style is a volunteer outreach video project created by the students of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It was created as an educational parody of Psy’s Gangnam Style. The lyrics and scenes in the video have been re-imagined in order to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center.