Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

16 JANUARY, 2012

Manuel Lima on the Power of Knowledge Networks in the Age of Infinite Connectivity


Manuel Lima, founder of data visualization portal Visual Complexity, author of the indispensable information visualization bible of the same name, and one of the most intelligent people I know, recently gave an excellent talk on the power of networks at the RSA. Using examples that span from the Dewey Decimal System to Wikipedia, Manuel explores the evolving organization of knowledge and information, and the shift from hierarchical structures to distributed lateral networks.

Networks are really becoming a cultural meme in their own right. We could even argue, is this the birth of a new movement, is this the birth of ‘networkism’?” ~ Manuel Lima

Further reading: Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information.

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12 JANUARY, 2012

The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story of Humanity’s Oldest Analog Computer, circa 150 B.C.


30 gear wheels of anachronism, or what a 2,000-year-old shipwreck reveals about the evolution of technology.

On their way back to Greece from Africa in October 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kontos and his crew of sponge divers encountered a severe storm, so they decided to wait it out on the small island of Antikythera. To pass the time, they set out to dive for sponges off the island’s coast. The first of them, Elias Stadiatos, had barely submerged 60 meters when he laid eyes on a striking sight — a heap of human and horse corpses lying on the sea bed. He rushed frantically to the surface and reported what he had seen. Kontos, suspecting carbon dioxide may have caused his fellow to hallucinate, dove into the water himself and soon resurfaced with the bronze arm of a statue. Over the two years that followed, Greek sponge divers and archaeologists recovered multiple artifacts from the shipwreck, estimated to have sunk some 2,000 years prior.

In 1902, however, archaeologist Valerious Stais made the most momentous discovery of all, and he did so from the dry safety of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens — embedded in one of the pieces of rock, he noticed a discernible gear wheel. Nicknamed the Antikythera mechanism, this object became known as humanity’s oldest analog computer — an ancient mechanical device designed to calculate astronomical positions. Some scholars have even prized its historic value higher than the Mona Lisa’s.

In Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer–and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets, Jo Marchant tells for the first time the fascinating story of an obsessive quest to unravel the mystery of this ancient clue that could rewrite the history of technology. It’s a story about unsung heroes, raging egomaniacs, and death-defying treasure hunts, told with a scholar’s scientific rigor and a storyteller’s penchant for intrigue.

The Antikythera mechanism’s fragments are now known to contain some 30 gear wheels, with instructional inscriptions scribbled on every surface. But what makes the discovery most extraordinary is its seeming anachronism — a curious fold in the space-time continuum of technological history. Marchant observes:

According to everything we know about the technology of the time, it shouldn’t exist. Nothing close to its sophistication appears again for well over a millennium, with the development of elaborate astronomical clocks in Renaissance Europe.”

More than an archaeological curiosity, its mystery — which took more than a century to decode — fundamentally challenges our knowledge not only about what the Ancient Greeks were and what they were capable of, but also about the timescale on which technology evolved as humanity grappled with ordering the heavens and understanding time.

Thanks, Mark

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10 JANUARY, 2012

Network: The Secret Life of Your Personal Data, Animated


Disclosing 736 daily pieces of self, or what we talk about when we talk about privacy.

We’ve already explored the physical underbelly of the Internet, but what happens to the actual data that it digests? 28,000 MMS messages — multimedia pieces of communication like photos, videos, and voice communication — are sent into the world every second, and cell phone companies record much of the metadata that travels with them, like location, identity of the receiver, amount of data transferred, and the cost of the transmission. The average user has 736 pieces of this personal data collected every day, and different service providers retain this information for anywhere between 12 and 60 months. Network is a remarkably designed piece of motion graphics by graphic design student Michael Rigley exploring the secret life of our MMS data and the tradeoffs we inadvertently face as we choose convenience of communication over privacy and control of personal data.

…a third party, owning nearly four years of your life.”

Further reading: 7 essential books on the future of information and the Internet.

via Quipsologies

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09 JANUARY, 2012

The Zen of Steve Jobs: A Graphic Novella About “The Lost Years”


Lessons on simplicity, sophistication, beauty, and control from the Buddhist tradition.

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs may be one of 2011’s best biographies, but it severely skirts a significant aspect of Jobs’ life. The Zen of Steve Jobs, produced by Forbes and data visualization studio JESS3, is a graphic novella that explores the period of Jobs’s life when he was fired from Apple in the mid-80s and how he dealt with it — by turning to Buddhism and reconnecting with a friend he had met nearly a decade earlier, Zen-Buddhist priest and designer Kobun Chino Otogawa (1938-2002), who not only taught Jobs the elements of Zen practice but also shared his passion for sophisticated design and aesthetic rigor. Though most of the book is speculative, reimagining a narrative based on sparse background facts from a relationship that took place mostly in private, it is unexpectedly rich in its graphic simplicity.

A lot of these ideas of simplicity, sophistication, beauty, control came out of this Zen period. The way that we thought about this period in Steve Jobs’s life is kind of like ‘the lost years’ — it is not only the moment when he is the hero, and goes away, and comes back, and does all these triumphant things, but it’s also a period of his life that we maybe haven’t seen.”

The Zen of Steve Jobs might just be the most refreshing thing since the graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman, and is a fine addition to these 10 favorite masterworks of graphic nonficiton.

via Open Culture

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