Friday, February 29, 2008


Tokyo has a population of over 35 million.

It has been predicted that there will be 19 cities with over 20 million people in the 21st century and that by 2050, over 2/3 of the world's population will live in urban areas.

With the global population growing toward 7 billion and the emergence of megacities, the human species is faced with problems and realities on a scale for which there is no analog in history.

Somebody has to study this. The results are going to have to amount to a far cry more than an 18 minute presentation at the TED conference.

via Noteworthy blogging TED2008

      Thursday, February 28, 2008

      Time for TED (and BIL)

      TED2008 is on.

      For those of you not hip to TED, it's an annual conference based in Monterey, California with satellite conferences in various places like Aspen, Oxford, and Tanzania. (later this year in Mumbai, Cape Town and again in Oxford.)

      In their words:

      "TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

      The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes)."

      Every year there is a theme and they also award the TED Prize to three worthy individuals who are each granted a wish. A wish to change the world. Many of these wishes come true.

      It's a rather exclusive event, so if you have an extra $6,000 laying around you can still register for TED2009... or not. Get in early for TED2010, I guess.

      For the rest of us, the signature events of the TED conference are the TEDTalks.

      TEDTalks are short, punchy and frequently amazing presentations. They are free and available in both audio and video formats. (They release previous TEDTalks throughout the year, so you can subscribe via RSS or iTunes to keep track.)

      You can scan the TEDBlog for conference updates.

      If you're going to be in the Monterey area March 1st and 2nd and couldn't afford the $6,000, you can always go to BIL. It's free and open to the public and could be just as interesting.

      The BIL conference was established this year in response, but not opposition to the exorbitant fee for TED. It aspires to be a viable alternative and complement. In fact, I suspect that many TEDsters will hang around for a while and crash BIL.

      To quote from their website:

      "BIL loves TED. TED is a great place to sit and listen to interesting ideas. Many of those ideas make it online, and millions get to experience them.

      The catch for many of us is that TED is $6,000, which is too expensive for most people, including a great number with good ideas worth spreading. BIL has been created as a free space for people with ideas to come together and share them.

      Our event is self-organizing, emergent, and anarchic. Nobody is in charge. If you want to come just show up. If you've got an idea to spread start talking. If someone is saying something good, stop and listen.

      We hope BIL can be a perfect match to TED."

      The BILsters also have a wiki set up for info and support.

          Wednesday, February 27, 2008


          Watch people Flickr in real time on a global scale.

          There's also Twittervision and Spinvision TV

          Tuesday, February 26, 2008

          The Torture Playlist

          Check this out, y'all.

          Some of these songs aren't so bad.

          American Pie? Wouldn't that be a nice refreshing break from Deicide? I could see them humming it as they were dragged from the torture room.

          via Boing Boing

          Sunday, February 24, 2008

          Sunday Excursions

          Sunday is a day that I like to break routine and explore something new or tackle some backburner project or just chill and hang with some friends. Some days we fish, some days we mend nets, and some days we just goof off.

          With this in mind, Uncertain Times is going to disengage from the cycle and go a little off-topic with Sunday Excursions.

          Item: Scamorama

          Most of you are probably familiar with those emails with the subject line "Request for Assistance" etc. etc., offering a cut of a large sum of money in exchange for help with transferring funds so that they can drain your bank account, or worse.

          Yes, it's the Nigerian Scammers, aka: 419ers or The Lads from Lagos. These scumbags practice what is known in legalese as Advance Fee Fraud, a variation of the Spanish Prisoner con.

          Although they are popularly known as 'Nigerian', 419ers operate from a number of different countries. They did, however, originate there and remain predominantly Nigerian.

          Most of us ignore and delete, but many have been victimized by these folks. (as well as by their own greed and stupidity) Many have lost money, but some have been kidnapped and held for ransom and some have even been murdered. (despite editorial complaints, for our purposes, Wikipedia has an adequate entry on AFF.)

          But now, the cool part. Enter Scamorama.

          Scamorama is a website devoted to scam-baiting. The object is to string the scammers along for as long as possible (sometimes for months) and eventually lay some sort of smackdown on them. Some actually get the scammers to send them something; a copy of a photo id, a picture of the scammer in lingerie, money, even gold.

          But what's really priceless, in my opinion, is the interplay. Some of the entries are hilarious. In fact, many are so well contrived that scam-baiting has practically become a literary genre unto itself.

          Many scam-baiters pose themselves as fictional, pop-cultural or historical characters such as, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Mr. T, Joseph Stalin, and my favorite, the Miskatonic University Tales, chronicling the exploits of Thomas Mallory, a living human head in a jar!

          Although many of the entries aren't quite as humorous and some are so long that it's impossible to slog through after awhile, some are so funny that I'd advise not drinking milk while reading them.

          Score one for the good guys.

          Late note: I've been following Scamorama since 2003, but I've only recently found 419 Eater. How I missed this, I have no idea. Although I don't think their scam-o-grams are quite as funny as Scamorama's, they're pretty crafty. So much so, that in one case, a 419er was actually convinced to provide some pretty elaborate wood-carvings. I was hepped to this after scanning Wikipedia and the Boing Boing archives. Scamorama also has blivets of links to advance fee fraud and scam-baiting sites both funny and serious as well as a number of odd nuggets worth a peek.

          Item: Suppressed Transmissions

          I haven't played a pencil and paper role-playing game for quite a while, but I still keep an eye on the industry and a few of the publishers, designers and writers; in particular, one Kenneth Hite.

          I first became aware of Mr. Hite via his Suppressed Transmission column in Pyramid, an online RPG journal published by Steve Jackson Games. A friend of mine suggested that I should check him out. I sneaked a peek on a friend's account and I was impressed enough to subscribe. (SJG has also released two volumes of ST in print.)

          The Suppressed Transmission series covers a wide range of themes and genres related to gaming, but it is built on four pillars: Conspiracy, Secret History, Horror and Alternate History. Within this framework each column addresses a particular subject, magnifies it through various historical, fictional or gaming-oriented lenses and then focuses it into an informative and entertaining transmission of ideas and inspiration. Topics include Shakespeare, Antarctic Space Nazis, The Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon, Emperor Norton, The Knights Templar, Route 66, and many others.

          As an erstwhile gamer, I know that the Suppressed Transmissions are an invaluable resource for game-masters and designers. (to paraphrase Mr. Hite: If you can't get any inspiration from this, you might as well go back to drawing 10 foot wide corridors on graph paper.) However, as a writer, Hite's work is a very helpful source of insights and ideas. His erudition, perspective and wit is refreshing and inspiring.

          The Suppressed Transmission collections would be a good score for any aspiring writer. Check 'em out.

              Friday, February 22, 2008

              Terrorist Organization Logos

              Last night, ran a link to a post on terrorist organization logos. My interest was piqued, so I went to check it out.

              What I found was a July, 2007 entry from the blog Ironic Sans with few paragraphs expressing interest in how these logos came to be, who decides, who designs etc. Following that there's a sampling of various logos. What should be noted is that the author was primarily addressing the design elements of the logos and his puzzlement over their origins and meanings, not the organizations themselves.

              I thought it was a great post. It was pretty clear what he was trying to get across.

              Then... the comments. What resulted was a dogpile of comments, many extremely vitriolic, many made by people who obviously did not read the disclaimer or understand the purpose. The comments run about six times the length of the actual post. It's worth a scan.

              What I took away from this: It seems that many people read the first few sentences of the article and then jumped to the pictures and then jumped to conclusions and then spewed out misinformed comments. It reinforces the notion that if you're going to comment on a blog post, you should actually read it first or you're going to come off as a complete imbecile.

              Thursday, February 21, 2008

              Reality Check: Five Words on Why the Music Industry is Still Scrambling to Cope with Digital Reality

              "If we don't, we're dead."

              (relevant link via MediaFuturist)

              Speakeasy Restaurants and Forbidden Food

              Good Magazine's weblog posted an article by Ligaya Mishan on speakeasy restaurants.

              I've always been intrigued by illicit and underground social gatherings. Many of us are familiar with exclusive, illegal after-hours clubs, the secret raves of the '90s, absinthe parties and the many and varied orgies, klatches, salons, flash mobs and bongathons that go on in unlikely venues far beyond the walls of our domiciles; these are fairly well documented in the meme pool. Speakeasy restaurants may be a bit more tame but are no less sub rosa and therefore quite attractive to trendjackers and urban adventurers.

              In a time when food is heavily regulated, litigated and legislated, it only stands to reason that these sorts of establishments would thrive in their own quietly exclusive ways. I suspect that the Cisco-ization of American restaurants and the fact that nouvelle cuisine adventures often involve bizarre concoctions featuring liquid nitrogen, carrageenan, sodium alginate and other seemingly unpalatable chemicals at upwards of $300 a plate has led many to seek their fancies in more down-to-earth, yet still singular, alternatives. (It seems we're already in the midst of a backlash against the postmodern molecular gastronomy fad)

              I've caught wind of this in the past but not in much detail. I'm inclined to think that the examples cited in the above article are just the tip of the iceberg. I'd wager there are goodly numbers of covert and exotic eateries out there.

              Word trickles in that certain chefs, for a fee, would prepare forbidden meals for the venturous and jaded. One example of forbidden food is the Ortolan, a tiny, endangered, European bird, the selling (but not eating) of which was outlawed by France in 1999. Apparently, only a few chefs in the world would dare prepare this delicacy and would only do it for a very healthy stack. (Recipe)

              Another example that could be construed as 'forbidden' (in more than one way) is cited in Ms. Mishan's post:

              "Theme menus have included a "Yes, we’re trying to kill you" dinner: bacon-wrapped pork belly, foie-gras custard with truffled wild mushrooms, and duck-confit pie."
              Just yesterday I was told that there are secretive groups of cannibals in the U.S. indulging their ghoulish predilections with all the flair of contemporary haute cuisine, though I haven't been able to verify this... yet...

              One can imagine nouvelle cuisine deviating into fetishes like 'culinary masochism', an Artaud-esque obstacle course of excruciating and dangerous dining. (although as I imagine this, I suspect that someone has probably already done it, in spades.)

              Wednesday, February 20, 2008

              Terrorist Attack in Second Life

              I don't know what to make of this, but I'm picking up waves of wrongness.

              My left hand said, "Gee, racism and terrorism can be fun!"
              (sarcasm alert)

              My right hand got a micro-chuckle and said, "It's not really real, lighten up."

              My transmogrified prehensile macro-podlet said, "Get a real one."

              via Foreign Policy (no, really)

              (FP seems to find this disturbing)

              (Second Life Liberation Army? Am I the only one that finds this a bit ridiculous?)

              (I'm not going to say it, but you know what I'm thinking...)

              Tuesday, February 19, 2008

              UT Web Favorites: Cryptome

              Cryptome has been quietly leaking, disclosing and revealing for close to a dozen years.

              In their own words:

              Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance -- open, secret and classified documents -- but not limited to those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever been served; any order served will be published here -- or elsewhere if gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise ignored.
              They have frequently updated news and links, as well. They also have an RSS feed but I prefer to scan the site.

              With a sparse old-timey plain-text look, Cryptome delivers the nugs with a high signal to noise ratio.

              For a $25 dollar donation you can get the Cryptome DVD with over 43,000 files covering their 11.5 year history. (But wait, there's more: they'll also throw in 18,000 pages of declassified counter-intel docs dating from 1945-85 from our friends at INSCOM.)

              Though it may lean a bit too far toward the activist/conspiracy theory reality tunnel for some, don't be deceived, Cryptome is a great resource for researchers, aficionados, informed citizens and paranoids alike.

                  Reality Check: Five Words on the Recent Government Surveillance Flap

                  They're gonna do it anyway.

                  (elaboration available upon request)

                  10 Amazing Tree Houses from Around the World

                  WebUrbanist recently posted 'Ten Amazing Tree Houses from Around the World'

                  They are amazing.


                  How Long is Now?

                  One entity I keep an eye on is The Long Now Foundation

                  These people are into some very interesting things. They're building a 10,000 year clock, preserving the world's languages (including many that would otherwise disappear), and they have a series of monthly talks, Seminars About Long-Term Thinking (SALT), featuring UT favorites like Vernor Vinge, Brian Eno, Jared Diamond, Ray Kurzweil, Bruce Sterling and scores of other forward thinkers. I sub to the podcast but all of the talks are also available in their archive.

                  (helpful hint: the Vorbis (.ogg) files in the SALT archive are the best quality and listenable with our recommended media player. VLC plays just about everything with a minimum of hassle and intrusion. Five Stars, you'll never go back to WIMP)

                  One interesting note: in 2006 Will Wright and Brian Eno did a SALT on generative creation which was pretty cool. Will Wright, best known as the creator of The Sims, will be releasing Spore later this year. I'm not huge into videogames (as evidenced by my anachronistic labeling; 'gaming' still means D&D to me) but Spore is worth a scan, gamer or not.