Category Archives: Society

How cluttered is your life?

The BBC and Boing Boing recently profiled Kelly Sutton, a 22 year old Brooklyn software engineer, whose goal it is to live with as little “stuff” in his life as possible.  According to the Boing Boing article:

He says he has gotten rid of all of his possessions, save for his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a ‘few’ articles of clothing, and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.

Interestingly, this doesn’t appear to be a kind of 1970’s era “back to the earth” ascetic impulse.  While it is an attempt to have less “stuff” to worry about and take care of, one of the real reasons this is possible is because so much stuff has become digital.

A Kindle is one thing, but can display an unlimited amount of books.  Or here is another personal example: I have a library of over 214 audio books through The books are stored on the servers, and if I want to listen to one, I just download it to my mp3 player.

This kind of minimalism appeals to me to a degree.  I already feel like my “office” is really the backpack where I tote my laptop, headset, webcam, and a few other essentials.  Whether I sit at a desk, a table, on the couch, or in my truck, I have my office with me.

Here are a few interesting sites:

  • “Unclutterer is the blog about getting and staying organized. A place for everything, and everything in its place is our gospel.”
  • Tiny House Blog:  There is something appealing about the idea of a tiny house.
  • The Fly Lady: She’s been doing this since 2001.
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum: A&E Hoarders

Kids and Programming

Here’s neat article from describing four tools that can help children learn to program computers.

Sometimes I wish I were a kid again!

Are you smarter than a 3-year-old?

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Laurie Hansen of the CTL.]

This fall, quiz show Jeopardy! will showcase 3-year old Watson, an artificial-intelligence, or Question Answering (QA), system created and built by IBM .   Harry Friedman Executive Producer of Jeopardy! claims that Watson is not “Google on steroids” but is actually a computer that uses critical thinking and a natural language processing technology.  John Kelly boasts, “[Watson] will represent an entirely new level of communication between computers and human beings…”

Computers use logic. However, Michael L. Brown, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Simmons College, Boston writes that:

When mathematicians, scientists and other experts at problem-solving are studied and asked to elucidate their problem-solving processes, they regularly report that they work first in intuitive images, irreducible to logic and often visionary or dreamlike. It is only after they have ‘seen around the corner’ that logical reasoning is engaged, to systematize the findings and make them coherent. The ultimate challenge for computer science is not artificial intelligence but artificial imagination.

Imagine that!

Wanna challenge Watson?

Monty Python: Free!

From the prologue of Chris Anderson’s book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.”

For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we’ve figured a better way to get our own back: We’ve launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you’ve been posting. We’re giving you the real thing—high quality videos delivered straight from our vault. What’s more, we’re taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new high quality versions. And what’s even more, we’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

This was the comedy troupe, Monty Python’s response to the “pirating” of their video on And this is what Anderson wrote about the outcome of the experiment:

Three months later, the results of this rash experiment with free were in. Monty Python’s DVDs had climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies and TV best-sellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.

So there!

“Free” is the follow-up to Anderson’s best-seller, “The Long Tail.”  I will dip back into the book in future blog articles. There’s actually a free audio download of this book available here as well.

But now for something completely different (The Killer Rabbit):

Old Rockers meet New Media

I found a curious article in the New York Times on 9/7/2010: Die-Hard Fans Follow Iron Maiden Into the Digital Age.  I wasn’t a “metalhead” in the 1980’s, but everyone knew about Iron Maiden back then.  Well, decades passed and I hadn’t given the band much thought.  I didn’t even know if they were still around.  Well they are, having just released their 15th album and continuing a “relentless touring schedule.”

Even back in the 80’s, Iron Maiden’s music (often long and not packaged for radio, the dominant marketing tool of the time) and success relied on its relationship with its fans and  word-of-mouth network among those fans.

What happens when this metalhead network bumps into the digital age? Iron Maiden’s manager, Rod Smallwood, referred to in the NYT article, was quoted as saying, “Iron Maiden is no analog-era anachronism. The lack of radio airplay and a reliance on word of mouth prepared the band well for the nuances of digital marketing.

Smallwood goes on to say, “When the Internet came in, we were probably one of the first to understand the potential.”

Indeed, before the release of the album, Iron Maiden revamped its Web site, created a Facebook page and offered a free digital single, “El Dorado,” for fans to download. There is even a free “Final Frontier” video game.

Joel McIver, author of a book about metal culture, listed the lessons that the music industry could learn from Iron Maiden:

Invest in the long term. Apply an image. Give the fans what they want. Tour and keep touring. Play the festival circuit. Embrace new technology. Be innovative. Be honest. Be original. Write good songs.

It is like Seth Godin is on their marketing team or something.

Idea Festival!

Q: What do ant wars, time travel and juggling all have in common?

IFTV is a Youtube channel sponsored by The Idea Festival (IF) and described as   “a world-class event that attracts leading and highly diverse thinkers from across the nation and around the globe to explore and celebrate innovation, imagination and cutting-edge ideas.”  If you are interested in non-linear thinking and you’d care to “stretch your horizon” IF is for you!   Connect with individuals and discuss science, the arts, design, business, film, technology and education at IF 2010 September 29- October 2.  You can also see IF Conversations on IFTV, videos about fascinating topics by speakers such as theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by the CTL’s Laurie Hansen.]

Battle of Ideas

“A scholar is that man who must take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the contributions of the past, all the hopes of the future. He must be an university of knowledges.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Battle of Ideas held on October 30th and 31st 2010 “will be a two-day festival of high-level, thought-provoking debate organised by the Institute of Ideas and hosted by the Royal College of Art.”

Green Future editor in chief, Martin Wright says the Battle of Ideas Festival is “full of stimulating and lively argument” where attendees can “clash robustly in a good-humoured atmosphere.”

The festival “comprises 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. The Battle of Ideas aims to be the 21st century equivalent of Emerson’s ‘university of knowledges.’”  The festival expects their attendees  “to be free thinkers with verve, passion and idealism, embodying a spirit of irreverent scepticism where  safe consensus is rejected.”

The motto for the Battle of Ideas?   Free Speech Allowed! See their collection of Battles on Video.

As the site says: “Let battle commence!”

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by the CTL’s Laurie Hansen.]