Category Archives: internet

Not just normal… supernormal

Telegraph: Monster burger containing 4,800 calories unveiled in US

Telegraph: Monster burger containing 4,800 calories unveiled in US - click to read story

I’ve been catching up with podcasts recently, and was fascinated by For Good Reason‘s recent interview about supernormal stimuli with Dierdre Barrett.  She explains much about our problems as animals living in an artificial world: why we over-eat, why socialising online or by texting is more compelling than hanging out with our friends, why everything is louder and faster these days.

Essentially, Barrett researches the way that animals (including us) respond better to artificial over-stimulus than we do to natural levels of stimuli. We want saltier, sweeter, fattier food, bigger breasts, poutier lips, louder and more driving bass beats, faster cuts in our movies and more exciting roller coasters.  We want everything up to 11.  Hell, we want everything up to, 12, 13, 130 … faster, deeper, harder, MORE!

Two examples of animal responses to supernormal stimuli she cites are birds who ignore their own eggs in favour of bluer ones with bigger, blacker polkadots (how sweet, how stupid) and butterflies who boff card-board cut-outs and ignore the real lady butterfly flapping her wings enticingly nearby. How stupid. How ridiculous. How much does this explain about the porn industry?

Barrett’s soothing mantra is that we are people with brains and free-will, and are therefore able to overcome our response to the supernormal.  I was disappointed that Grothe didn’t challenge her on this. I like the way he inhabits the role of devil’s advocate to draw out his interviewees, but he ducked this one. There appears to be increasing evidence that free will is either an illusion or operates at trivial levels at best, which is something that Grothe is well aware of.  (A search for ‘free will’ in his previous podcasts at Point of Inquiry yields 117 hits). It is of course much easier for everyone if we act as if we have free will.  If we don’t, then all sorts of things about society will unravel. But that is another blog post for another day.

So while none of this was epiphanic, it deepened my awareness of the issues.  And if you don’t subscribe to Point of Inquiry or For Good Reason, and you like that kind of thing, then let me recommend them.

The Facebook Privacy Row – 1

Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook Privacy Settings

Isn’t the Facebook privacy row a fascinating piece of anthropology?

Mark Zuckerburg presents himself as a geeky regular dude who just created a really cool app for his friends. Here he is in the Washington Post:

Facebook has evolved from a simple dorm-room project…
Mark Zukerburg

However, many Facebook users think he’s made of cunning, harvesting our personal information for his personal gain and  saying  “aw shucks, my bad” when people object. There may be no contradiction here, given the gap between a person’s view of themselves and the effect they have on the world. Wired sees naiveté ascending into arrogance,  a third interpretation which may also be true.

But isn’t the normitivity of Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s approach intriguing? They say they want to change the world, but it seems they want to change us. They express surprise whenever users point out other assumptions are available. The problem, they hint, is our secretiveness and inability to use the privacy options. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we did like our moms told us, and shared nicely with others?

What they hint, Scobleizer states. He thinks we should get over ourselves and accept that privacy is dead. Indeed he thinks that a desire for privacy is downright suspect:

Just what are you doing that needs to be so damned private? Are you having sex inside Facebook? Doing illegal drugs? Cheating on your wife?
Scobleizer

… which suggests either a blessed lack of complexity in his life, or a complacent sanctimoniousness.  He argues that Facebook is at its most useful when it is wide open, and opens his profile wide accordingly. But he is disingenuous, and has a more personal personal account.

Facebook shows a parochial lack of imagination for a service which is already global: there’s fluffy talk about peace and connection, but a lack of respect for diversity or acceptance that different folks want different strokes.

What I find interesting is the underlying assumption that openness is good, that  we are old-fashioned meanies who just “don’t get it” when we say “my data is mine, not yours Mr Zuckerberg, and no I don’t know you well enough to call you Mark”.

Here’s my real question:

Are Zuckerberg and Scobleizer culturally naive? They wouldn’t be the first Americans to think of the rest of the world as the 51st state. Or is the naiveté just PR for the punters as Facebook backs slowly and cynically away from a strategic position that’s increasingly unpopular and no longer compatible with a geeks-of-the-people, guys-with-integrity act?

Here, incidentally, are some more geeks-with-integrity who are developing an open-source alternative to Facebook, with privacy built in by default.

Colour me world-weary but it will be interesting to see if they are still as squeaky clean 3 or 5 years from now.


PS – I’ve no idea if I’ll post on this subject again but it seems likely, so I thought I’d number it anyway.

I’ve got life – Happy 101 Sweet Friends

I usually steer clear of bloggy memes because  they are a lazy way to pick a subject, but I am distracted at the moment (houses to sell, motorways to drive on, MSc assignments to think through, you know how it is) so I’m grateful for May’s nomination for the Happy 101 Sweet Friends meme.

Besides which, as anyone who reads me regularly knows, I believe those of us who live in the West should be be grateful for the unfair hand of fate that’s given us food and security and shut the bleep up about ‘artistic differences’ or whatever it might be.

The instructions are: List 10 things that make your day & then give this award to 10 bloggers.

  1. The chance to bang on about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is always guaranteed to cheer me up, and it’s great to have an excuse to listen to Nina Simone who puts it so much better:

    There – you feel better for that, don’t you?
  2. Having no plans turns a day into a gift. That old proddy work-ethic means I rarely plan frivolity, so it’s only when a plan falls through that I kick back and have some fun.
  3. A cup of tea in the morning. There is nothing, but nothing, like the first cup of tea of the day. It’s not so much that it makes my day, as the lack of a cup of tea undermines it.
  4. Sunshine. I open the curtains hopefully every morning and look for blue. And yet I move further north to greyer skies year after year.
  5. Evesdroppings. My current favourite was an elderly lady telling her middle aged children that she had been in Blackpool when their father bought her engagement ring:  ‘ a cheap one’ she reassured them kindly. A Yorkshire-women wouldn’t want a fecklessly expensive one, now would she.
  6. My cat. What can I say? I’m a woman of a certain age.  My husband says the cat’s needy, but I choose to think of him as affectionate. Besides which, he spends hours jumping on his own shadow which always cheers me up. Hard to tell which of us is the simpler-minded, really.
  7. The chance to do good Visio. Or any other kind of systems diagram.  I like analysis diagramming and haven’t done enough of it lately.
  8. A clean kitchen. I even like cleaning the kitchen  so long as there’s a good comedy podcast in the background.
  9. Not over-eating. Stopping smoking was a cinch in comparison. I’m chewing over Kate Moss’s mantra that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. (Chewing over, geddit?)
  10. Being married to my honey. Soon to be a daily delight.

And now… 10 bloggers whose blogs give me pleasure

  1. Paddy K – acerbic, atheist and Irish, living in Sweden. I wish I could nail a subject with Paddy’s pointed venom.
  2. Colm – also atheist and also Irish. Colm’s post frequently make me wish I’d written them myself.
  3. Jon Pashley – far too sporadic a blogger, Jon posts with energy and excitement in ways that leave me thoughtful or spark my interest
  4. SoRB  –  doesn’t blog, but his comments are trenchant, provocative, thought-provoking and thought through. I should start a FaceBook Group for people who want him to blog.
  5. Dr Z – gives us windows into two worlds impossible for outsiders to imagine let alone experience: he’s a doctor and he’s a female to male transsexual. He’s also an engaging writer.
  6. Eyoki – a blogger who reflects on the artistic and cultural experiences that come his way, occasionally through the lens of his transsexuality.
  7. Charlotte Otter – I have a huge bloggy-pash on Charlotte whether she’s writing about her family, her native South Africa or her progress as an author. She just writes so damn well. Not fair.
  8. Hairy Farmer Family – the Hairy Wifey bakes cakes to diet for, swears up a storm and makes me laugh.  She also champions her son’s battles with the the NHS, and I find her blog a fascinating counterpoint to Dr Z’s.
  9. Sol – who’s already been nominated – is intelligent, clever and lovely, and her son is a genuinely adorable boysy boy. And she doesn’t blog about him enough.
  10. May – who nominated me – May more regularly than any other writer tosses out a turn of phrase which leaves me frothing with envy.  I can be clever and funny, but never quite that clever or quite that funny dammit. Life is being shitty to May and I know of no-one more deserving of an even break than May and her lovely husband H.

Fashion 2.0

I have just spent far, Far, FAR too much time footling around designing dresses at http://www.styleshake.com. It’s a site where you can design a dress, choose the fabric, and have it made up to your exact measurements give or take a centimeter. And all for ludicrously reasonable prices and delivery in 10 days1.

Style Shake

Style Shake

Let’s get the business-related observations done with before we lose the people who don’t like the eau de œstrogen wafting around this post.

First of all, what a bloody genius use of the internet; the perfect example of something that simply could not be done without the web. Even better: the site works well, which is more than can be said for most design-your-own-whatsit sites.  I do hope business model pays: I’m a bit of a seamstress myself and it’s hard to see how they could get the things cut and sewn for UK wages. I really want to see their production line. (I am such a process geek). I’m also intrigued by their design software which presumably drives their pattern-cutting software in a reverse of the wire-frame-to-rendering process used by the computer graphics and special effects industry.

I am fascinated by just how varied the end results can be given a limited range of design elements (fabric colour, shape of the neckline, length of the skirt, etc).

Style Shake: Bold Bodycon Style Shake: Darling Daywear Style Shake: Office Edge Style Shake: Star Sensation Style Shake: Style Noir Style Shake: 1940s Allure Style Shake: Three in One

I guess it’s like lego, the real limit is your skill and imagination.  And boy have people done some interesting things with their limited pallet, as you can see from scrolling through their photographs and favourite designs.  Be careful though, there’s  some eye-watering fugliness in there too.

I guess it only goes to prove that StyleShake’s rather awesome software doesn’t make you Christian Dior any more than MS Project makes you a Project Manager or PowerPoint makes you good at communicating.

Have a go – you know you want to.


1 – Mind you, I’ve not had the chance to use the site yet – my first instinct was to blog, but come next payday … Back to post

What are Twitter thinking? #Twitter #stupid #phishing

I am SERIOUSLY unimpressed by Twitter.

I guess a lot of us have been sending out Direct Messages about having more satisfying sex for longer, and those of us with half a brain have been changing our passwords.

But this email from Twitter is unforgivable:

Twits at Twitter

Moronic email from Twitter

The text reads:

Hey there.

Due to concern that your account may have been compromised in a phishing attack that took place off-Twitter, your password was reset. Please create a new password by opening this link in your browser:
http://twitter.com/account/password_reset?email=etc,etc

This will reset your password.

This is stupid because it encourages people to trust unsolicited emails which ask them to click on a link.  Phishing emails in fact.  Yes, let’s train people to trust links in unsolicited emails which aren’t addressed to them personally. That would be cool.

Not.

This is in fact so blindingly moronic that I cannot bring myself to explain how blindingly moronic it is.  I don’t want to ruin my entire weekend with the rage I’d generate in myself.

Of course if I really want to get my point out there, I should tweet it.

Twisting in the hand

Watching Aleks Krotoski ‘s excellent programme about the Internet last night, I was struck by the one thing she didn’t say:

We make our technology, as we make our gods, in our own image.

She considered the use of social networking for good and for ill and the nuances there are summed up most neatly in the irregular verb:

  • I am an activist
  • You are a freedom fighter
  • He is a terrorist

Every technology extends the reach of the individual and the most chilling part of last night’s episode was her interview with an arrogant little shit who claimed to have generated the denial of service attacks which effectively closed Estonia in 2007.  So the real question about the internet is not ‘is it a force for good or ill?’  The question we should be asking is ‘are we grown up enough as a supposedly intelligent species to be trusted with it?’  When we look at the devastation we’ve caused with every other technology we’ve devised, the answer quite clearly is ‘no’. (Says me. In my blog. Which I will announce via Twitter. And repost on Facebook. Before turning up the central heating because it’s cold here today).

I was however intrigued by the implications of how the internet is changing the dynamics of political power.  20thC democracy is clearly a busted flush. In the UK no-one can be bothered to vote because individuals feel disenfranchised and powerless.  (Was Thatcher’s emasculation of the unions in the 1980s co-incidence, or did it cause this de-politicisation of the workers, I wonder).  And we’ve all come to realise the truth of the old anarchist saying ‘no matter who you vote for, the government will get in’. Now it’s been clearly shown that that means a bunch of trough-snorting, house-flipping, expenses-fiddling, family-funding, John-Lewis-shopping scheisters who seek to use parliamentary privilege to evade the short arm of the law.  No wonder no-one votes.  (Me, I’m composing the limerick with which I’ll spoil my paper in June).  In the US, the stakes and therefore the turnout were higher and Obama clearly gets the internet and used it successfully to reach the voters other media don’t reach.  Even so, the corruption and ritualised posturing of the American political process make the only possible reaction one of disgust.

… and breathe…

I ought to delete that little rant because Krotoski did not mention party politics or the entrenched political processes at all, and it’s irrelevant to this post.  Instead Krotoski looked at the shapes that are coalescing to form the new political power-bases.  I am genuinely interested in concepts like ‘the virtual homeland’ and ‘self-radicalisation’ and I find it intriguing that this language is only used in negative contexts.

The way that the Internet enables individuals to engage with the world around them and the power-structures above them is certainly subversive, but when we consider the scum that has risen to the top of the 20thC political processes (see above) is it actually bad that individuals are becoming more engaged and more informed?

Interesting times, eh.

Right.  Time for packing more books into boxes.  When I sell the house I am going to buy a Kindle. Or an iPad.  Or both.

Logical advice about wrestling pigs

The maths text book I had when I was 14 had a cartoon and quotation at the beginning of every chapter. The one on the chapter about stats said

Politicians use statistics as a drunk uses a lamp-post, for support rather than illumination.

This is not just the fate of stats of course; many people misuse logic in the same way.  The confusing thing is that they don’t realise what they are doing is an abuse of logic.  Debates between thinkers and feelers or between sceptics and believers become tedious spirals of cross-purposes and often break down into insult and ad hominem attacks.  The only effective way to cut through this is to introduce cognitive dissonance and use the gap created to introduce some logic, which is what happens in the video below:

Logic is highly structured, it follows rules.  It is not metaphorical or allegorical and people whose minds work best with metaphor and allegory do not (can not?) follow a logical argument step by step to the inevitable conclusion. Instead they arrive at their conclusion intuitively and then seek out arguments that sound as if they justify and support it.  The arguments sound like logic, they use the same language and the same semantic structures as logic, but they are being used in fundamentally different ways.1

When these two approaches meet, you get an impasse.

Don’t wrestle with a pig, you get muddy and the pig enjoys it.

These arguments are un-winnable.  If someone validates their beliefs intuitively then they are  not going to accept the validity of a logical argument.  And vice versa.

What makes this situation even worse is the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Put very crudely, this is unconscious incompetence in action.  At the lower levels of incompetence, people do not even have the ability to recognise competence in others. Think of David Brent (anti-hero of ‘The Office’, played by Ricky Gervais).  He is so inept it is painful, but he doesn’t recognise his own ineptness and he doesn’t recognise the abilities of others who far outshine him.  Me too: for example I cannot play chess though I know the moves, and I wouldn’t recognise skillfull chess playing if I saw it, though at least I don’t think that I’m any sort of chess player.

Theramin Trees gives a neat summary of the Dunning-Kruger effect below, and I urge you to watch it:

The thing that I find really odd though, is not the persistent failure of the illogical to acknowledge a good argument when it’s presented.

No, what I find really odd is the persistent attempts to flog the dead horse by those who do understand logic.  If someone is not convinced the first time that you say “there’s no evidence base for homoeopathy” then they won’t be convinced the 30th time or the 300th time.  Simply doing the same thing again and again won’t work.

As I have said, what does work is introducing cognitive dissonance, which brings us back, as so often, to the power of finding the right question and asking it.


1:  I was going to link to the episode of Beyond Belief broadcast on 28th December about Angels, but for some reason it is not available.  It was even more barking than the rest of the series, which I rather like in an outside-the-comfort-zone sort of way.  The reason I like it is because I listen to so many Sceptical podcasts which lazily make a virtue of scorning believers, and this makes a refreshing change without proselytising on behalf of anyone’s specific imaginary friend.

Back to post.