August 2016

What is phubbing?

Although I have a smartphone, I am not a particularly heavy user of the technology.  Thus, I was surprised to learn of a new smartphone phenomenon called "phubbing" from a research article entitled, "When phubbing becomes the norm."  

In the article, the term is defined in this wise:

The term “phubbing” represents the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by concentrating on one’s phone instead of talking to the person directly.

Spreadsheetology and scientific research

BBC News reports that some genetic scientists have run up against a problem when using the Excel spreadsheet, which would "helpfully", automatically, and presumably without notification alter the data within a column. For example: "Gene symbols like SEPT2 (Septin 2) were found to be altered to "September 2".

The magic carpet of the Rio Olympics

One of the main sources of excitement at a Summer Olympics is watching sprinters break Olympic and world records.  In this respect, the 2016 Rio Games was a bit of a bust.  The only such record to be broken was by Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in the Men's 400m final.

Drones, crops and Jevons' Paradox

Jevons' Paradox concerns how increases in efficiency can lead to increases—rather than decreases—in consumption of resources.  Designers expend a great deal of brainpower and passion on increasing the efficiency of their designs.  The goal is often to decrease consumption of a resource, as a way of improving overall sustainability.  In brief, the reasoning is that if a given task can be completed with fewer resources, then those resources will be conserved.

How IT products serve social goals

The slogan "form follows function" has long been associated with a minimalist view of good design.  On the positive side, it has been used to mean that designs should be configured to fulfil their intended goals.  On the negative side, it has been used to limit those goals to so-called basic needs only, to the exclusion of social goals.

What is a computer? Some more!

A recent posting pointed to some lack of clarity about what a computer is.  Is a computer anything that carries out automated, logical or arithmetical operations?  Or, is it a particular kind of good, e.g., a PC and not an iPad?

Who is a computer?

Cameron has written about some of the problems with defining a computer today, but as some people remember computers used to be people. In fact, that is is the earliest definition: "A person who makes calculations or computations", from the earliest 17th century (thank you OED). It was only in the mid 20th century that the word included electronic devices.

Olympics + Samsung = #Unity or #Censorship?

To follow-up on some of the recent Olympics related blog posts, I'd like to direct your attention to an ad from Samsung, one of the sponsors of the 2016 Olympic. You may have seen it already, perhaps in an abbreviated, edited-for-TV version. 

Known as "The Anthem", it shows people around the world singing each other's national anthems, particularly the lines that emphasize unity, humanity and progress. "One World One Anthem" it says, before wrapping up with by pointing out that Samsung is a

What is a computer?

What is a computer?  Wikipedia currently gives the following definition:

A computer is a device that can be instructed to carry out an arbitrary set of arithmetic or logical operations automatically.

This definition is one that might be expected from a computer scientist.  It is very broad and entirely functional, that is, it describes a computer strictly in terms of what it does.

DNN: 16 Aug 2016

A recent edition of The Economist has two articles that make mention of drones.  Semi-autonomous vehicles will certainly change things.  But, will they change everything that their promoters claim?

The Cyborgian games?

One of the most salient technology-society issues in Olympic sport is that of  enhancement.  Consider my recent post on gene doping, for example.  In general, the question is: When is the use of technology in a sport appropriate or acceptable?

Happy Birthday IBM PC

(This post was meant to go out last Friday...)

August 12, 2016 is the 35th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM Personal Computer. Here's a few points to ponder as you celebrate the occasion:

CRISPR will give us wings!

CRISPR refers to short repetitions in DNA, the study of which has produced technology to edit DNA with great precision.  The prospect of being able to edit DNA nearly at will has led to a lot of breathless commentary about how we may change the world—for better or worse—through employing it.

A video recently posted on a YouTube channel called "Kurzgesagt" (German for "In a nutshell") falls into this category:

So/Not so obsolete at this time

A post a few weeks ago featured some obsolete technology that's
making a comeback. This time I want to talk about how obsolete
technologies often surprise people at their longevity.

E-bike style and safety

An electronic bike (or "e-bike") is more-or-less what it sounds like: a bike with an electric motor integrated into it.  E-bikes have become quite popular in Europe and in China, especially as a substitute for cars for short distance commuting.

Should gene doping in sport be accepted?

I noted in an earlier post that the Rio Olympics marks the first time that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has proactively tested for cheating, specifically for gene doping.  

A recent article in New Scientist rehearses some arguments for why gene doping should simply be accepted, rather than banned and policed.  I want to briefly go over those arguments here.

Gender and the Rio Summer Olympics

One of the most fundamental distinctions made in Olympic sports (and others) is the division between men's and women's events.  Most sports on offer at the Games feature events that are divided into exclusively male or female categories.

(Some exceptions come to mind: rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming are for women only, whereas Greco-Roman wrestling is for men only.  Men's and women's gymnastics involve some different equipment for men versus women.  Equestrian events are integrated.)

When is colored food good?

Increasingly, food companies seem to manipulate food coloration as a marketing ploy.  In 2000, Heinz marketed green ketchup as a way of attracting interest in a humdrum condiment.  This was followed by increasingly odd colors such as purple, pink, orange, teal and blue.

Although the campaign had a good run, Heinz reverted to the traditional red after a few years.

Where are we now?

One of the casualties of the advent of rapid and ubiquitous, electronic communications was supposed to be place.  That is, when you can virtually be anywhere at any time, then it would hardly matter where you actually are.

This reduction has occurred to some extent.  Consider the recent Pokémon Go phenomenon.  Players of the augmented reality game can collect a Rattata, for example, almost anywhere.  Whether the virtual creature is encountered in Canada or Brazil, say, makes no difference.

The crosswalk revisited

In STV 202: Design and Society, I often use the design of the typical crosswalk as an example of how designs embody social contracts.  

A crosswalk is a place where two parties, drivers and pedestrians, share a resource that both want to use, namely, a certain stretch of roadway.  In order to do so for the benefit of each, and reducing the danger to pedestrians, there is often a signal system that manages the right of way.  Only the party with the right of way, as indicated by the signals, is permitted to use the contested area of street.

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