Waves of the Future…

“It sounds like the plot of a pre-Daniel Craig Bond film: an internet tycoon invests part of his vast fortune to fund a fiefdom afloat in international waters. He is joined by the libertarian grandson of one the world’s most famous economic thinkers and advertises for like-minded citizens “who are dissatisfied with our current civilisation” to join him aboard his brave new world. However, this is not fiction. It is happening now and the group, called the Seasteading Institute, has just released the first detailed plans of what its utopian water world will look like. The first architectural stage is being financed by a $500,000 (£362,000) donation from Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of PayPal, the online payments system that was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. More funding will follow, and the group hopes to start building a small-scale version off the coast of San Francisco this year.

The computer renderings of this new ocean dwelling, called ClubStead, show a colossal structure similar to an oil rig that weighs 12,000 tons and is supported on four pillars each with a diameter of 30ft. On board will be room for about 270 people to live, including 70 staff, complete with shops, offices and transport. There will also be a hotel and spa facilities.

Although it looks like a fixed structure, the facility will be movable. It will have thrusters powered by four diesel engines capable of moving the whole structure at a top speed of two knots and providing utility power on the platform itself.

The brains behind the project is Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize-winning economist. “If we can open up the ocean as a new frontier where different groups of people can go and set up their own countries and try different systems,” he says, “then the whole world can look at that, see what works and what doesn’t, and everyone can benefit. America was founded by pioneers who wanted to have a different society to reflect their political and religious values.”

More at Times Online.  (thanks to Lew Rockwell for the tip).

Digital Reading Encourages Risk-Taking

“While the testimonials of digital literacy enthusiasts are replete with abstract paeans to the possibilities presented by screen reading, the experience of those who do it for a living paints a very different picture. Just as Griswold and her colleagues suggested the impending rise of a “reading class,” British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield argues that the time we spend in front of the computer and television is creating a two-class society: people of the screen and people of the book. The former, according to new neurological research, are exposing themselves to excessive amounts of dopamine, the natural chemical neurotransmitter produced by the brain. This in turn can lead to the suppression of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which controls functions such as measuring risk and considering the consequences of one’s actions.Writing in The New Republic in 2005, Johns Hopkins University historian David A. Bell described the often arduous process of reading a scholarly book in digital rather than print format: “I scroll back and forth, search for keywords, and interrupt myself even more often than usual to refill my coffee cup, check my e-mail, check the news, rearrange files in my desk drawer. Eventually I get through the book, and am glad to have done so. But a week later I find it remarkably hard to remember what I have read.”

As he tried to train himself to screen-read—and mastering such reading does require new skills—Bell made an important observation, one often overlooked in the debate over digital texts: the computer screen was not intended to replace the book. Screen reading allows you to read in a “strategic, targeted manner,” searching for particular pieces of information, he notes. And although this style of reading is admittedly empowering, Bell cautions, “You are the master, not some dead author. And that is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master”; you should be the student. “Surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns,” he observes.

How strategic and targeted are we when we read on the screen? In a commissioned report published by the British Library in January 2008 (the cover of which features a rather alarming picture of a young boy with a maniacal expression staring at a screen image of Darth Vader), researchers found that everyone, teachers and students alike, “exhibits a bouncing/flicking behavior, which sees them searching horizontally rather than vertically….Users are promiscuous, diverse, and volatile.” As for the kind of reading the study participants were doing online, it was qualitatively different from traditional literacy. “It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense, indeed there are signs that new forms of ?reading’ are emerging as users ?power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages, and abstracts going for quick wins.” As the report’s authors concluded, with a baffling ingenuousness, “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

More by “People of the Screen'” The New Atlantis.

Comment:

Aha! Here’s the real reason for the financial crash! Glued to their computer trading screens, all those “quants” and geeks who bundled up risk into little packages and shot them across the globe in a viral campaign addled their pre-frontal lobes. More seriously, computer interaction does encourage a kind of virtual reality of quick response, immediate gratification, high-wire devilry and flaring tempers.

Examples:

The Internet porn industry has higher levels of addiction than off-line porn.

Video games are used by the Department of Defense to desensitize potential recruits. Popular games like Grand Theft Auto, for instance, allow players to mimic and experience criminal activity.

Online addiction is even categorized by some people as a separate category of compulsive behavior. Whether that’s excessive or not, it’s true that what’s on our screen affects us in a quite different way than what’s on a printed page. And that’s why one of the best ways to counter government control of the web is to practice a little self-restraint in posting on it.

Libertarian Living: The Best US Internet Law….

“#1: 47 USC 230

This law was enacted in 1996 (as part of the Communications Decency Act, discussed below) during the heyday of the cyberspace exceptionalism movement—about the same time as Barlow’s Declaration of Independence and Johnson/Post’s Internet self-governance article. Indeed, this law is one of the most conspicuous examples of how a legislative body has set different rules for physical space and cyberspace. In this case, the law provides websites and other intermediaries a near-absolute immunization from liability for their users’ content—even if offline publishers would be liable for publishing the exact same user content in dead trees.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this law to the Internet’s evolution. Without this law, all Internet content probably would be subject to a notice-and-takedown regime like we have for copyright law (see discussion about the DMCA Online Safe Harbors below). If websites had to remove user content upon notice to avoid liability, they would act conservatively, quickly pulling down complained-about content without much fuss. So, any company unhappy with negative consumer comments could simply contact the web host, claim that the comments were defamatory (making the web host potentially liable for the content), and expect the web host to scramble to take down the user’s comment.

But in this takedown melee, only negative remarks would be targeted (there would be no legal grounds—or reason—to target positive comments). Thus, notice-and-takedown rules would result in “lopsided” databases in which only positive opinions/commentary would remain, but many negative comments could be quickly excised. This would ruin the capability of the consumer opinion sites (for example, eBay’s feedback forum and Amazon product reviews) to hold people and companies accountable for their choices. Indeed, by undermining the credibility of Internet content generally, a notice-and-takedown scheme could diminish the Internet’s vitality as a mainstream information resource.

47 USC 230 eliminates the notice-and-takedown option for people and companies trying to escape accountability. As a result, 47 USC 230 is a big part of the reason why the Internet became such a massive success.”

From, “The Best and Worst Internet Laws,” Eric Goldman, Informit.com

Google Disappearing Act

“My research indicates that this case of the disappearing blog is not unique. Another Perth-based blogger, Simone, suffered the same fate with her popular blog EnjoyPerth – but in her case the Google ex-communication was total. That is, all trace of her blog simply disappeared from Google’s listings overnight – even external links!

It turned out that her blog had been infiltrated by a hacker, who had planted a ‘hidden’ SPAM harvester at the bottom of her home page. Google had apparently detected the multiple inbound SPAM links reaped by the harvester and – as is fair enough – implemented their policy of penalising sites that illegitimately optimise themselves for search engines using dummy inbound links.

Simone, however, was innocent of utlising an illegitimate SEO strategy and Google didn’t bother contacting her to explain their drastic retaliatory action until Google’s Matt Cutts was made aware of the situation through the TechCrunch site’s expose of her dilemma. See When Google Strikes: The Story Of EnjoyPerth.net

All’s well that ends well; Simone’s blog was re-instated and before long was back in the listings gathering traffic. Without the assistance of the influential TechCrunch, though, and some tech-savvy friends, EnjoyPerth might have been obliterated and many months of effort on Simone’s part sabotaged by the dirty work of a hacker. And it seems to me that Google’s customer relations could do with some refinement.

Abrupt, unexplained de-indexing is a pretty savage measure, and in the case of some sites, could potentially destroy businesses and incomes and lead to real hardship. When people are innocent of transgressing Google’s rules – as Simone was – imposing a blog death sentence without trial or even notification that a capital offence has been committed seems nothing short of fascistic.

In fact, I do not believe that Google is the bully on the search engine block. Rather, it has grown too large for its own good. I’m guessing that it lacks the resources to action sound customer relations every time a serious SEO transgression comes on to their radar screens.

In effect, however, as Simone’s case demonstrates, Google’s punitive actions can be heavy-handed, unfair and damaging, not to mention personally traumatic to the victim. A company that was once seen as a maverick – a refreshing antidote to a stuffy, inhumane corporate system – is now in danger, by virtue of its staggering growth and size alone, of falling victim to its own success and being perceived as just another monster in an Establishment full of them.

To get back to my own case, I have received some good advice from the AussieBloggers Forum and my friend Christine, of Semfire Search Engine Marketing, which I am about to implement. For the benefit of interested onlookers and maybe other bloggers who wake up one morning to find their baby gone, I will detail my remedial attempts and provide updates as they happen.

Firstly, I should communicate Christine’s view that my disappearing blog listing may not be a result of any wilful action on Google’s part. She says my recent post,Boomtown Lament, was indexed by Google (cached on 21 January) and that she suspects the current crisis is just a glitch.

She has examined the coding on my home page and can find no trace of SPAM harvesters. And as previously mentioned, there are still external links and individual post links to my blog appearing in Google’s listings. So my situation appears to be different from Simone’s.

But what to do? This is what I have been advised:

1. Register for Google’s Webmaster Tools. I have done so, “verified” my blog (this is explained by Google after your WT registration is accepted) and sent a “Reconsideration Request” to Google, explaining the current situation and pleading innocent to any flouting of their rules – at least that I am aware of. I will post the gist of any response I receive from them.

2. Upgrade to the latest version of WordPress. This is a task I have been avoiding for months. The time has come – I can put it off no longer (sucking in deep breath as I write).

3. Install the WordPress “All-in-one-SEO-pack” plugin. In advising me thus, Christine stated: I’m putting my bet on the fact that your page titles are very similar and you don’t have a description metatag for your pages so Google sees your posts as possible duplicate content.

4. I’m also wondering whether self-referentiality in some of my recent blog titles (ie: referring to The Boomtown Rap by name in the titles) may have been interpreted by Google as some form of duplication intended to boost my listing…which it certainly was not. I was already being listed at number 1 – I had no reason to resort to such tactics. Besides, I work hard on my titles and would not compromise dramatic effect for some bloody SEO consideration. My self-referentiality was appropriate, since the posts concerned were about the blog itself….”

From the Boomtown Rapper

Comment:

Thanks to one of my readers, I got the search engine problem fixed. I’d checked off the box that keeps the blog out of search engine reach….must have done that in my sleep and forgotten about it. Duh! But, more nefariously, some links to one of my rather provocative posts were broken, after only a day.  Very mysteriously. I repaired them, using this handy free tool – Xenu Link Sleuth (it’s recommended by reputable sites, like Site Point Tribute and Search Engine Journal, but as always, download at your own peril).

Scientists Discover How Levitation Can Work….

 “U.S. scientists have found a way to levitate the very smallest objects using the strange forces of quantum mechanics, and said on Wednesday they might use it to help make tiny nanotechnology machines.They said they had detected and measured a force that comes into play at the molecular level using certain combinations of molecules that repel one another.

The repulsion can be used to hold molecules aloft, in essence levitating them, creating virtually friction-free parts for tiny devices, the researchers said….”

More at Reuters.