The Null Device
All four July 21 bombing suspects have been captured; two were taken down, using SAS tactics, in Notting Hill (just off Portobello Road) and Kensington, and a third was nabbed by Italian anti-terrorism units in Rome (perhaps he was going to hook up with the Grey Wolves, who apparently maintain a presence in the Eternal City and have connections to Islamist radical groups?). And then there's the alleged mastermind, who has been picked up in Zambia; the US also want him, so he may well end up in Gitmo or farmed out to the Syrians or someone for "extraordinary rendition"; couldn't happen to a nicer guy...
The police have announced that the investigation and the threat are far from over, and that the assumption is that there may be other suicide teams and/or cells at large. Quite a few other people have been arrested, and the authorities are still appealing for information.
Arising from the question of "why doesn't the UK have an EFF?", there is now a proposal to create a British digital-rights campaign group. This has taken the form of a PledgeBank pledge for people to sign, pledging to set up a standing order for £5 a month to fund such a body. The target is to have 1,000 people sign the pledge; so far, 493 have signed it.
Psychologists are now looking at magic tricks for answers to how the mind works. Developed and refined over centuries, such tricks and techniques are now being recognised as containing a lot of folk knowledge about the low-level workings of consciousness and perception:
A card trick that lasts four or five minutes, for example, might have 20 pages of detailed text to describe exactly where to look, what to say, what to do and so on. And a lot of the understanding of a trick has to be from the perspective of the audience.
Our brains filter out a huge amount of the mass of sensory input flooding in from our environment. Kuhn explains that we see what we expect to see and what our brains are interested in. "Our visual representation of the world is much more impoverished than we would assume. People can be looking at something without being aware of it. Perception doesn't just involve looking at an object but attending to it."
The various reviews of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory look encouraging; it looks like he has neither Americanised it (as, common sense has it, is essential for a story to be universal and sell well) nor turned it into a Gloom Cookie-esque steaming pile of gothsy clichés (the aesthetic, thankfully, seems to owe more to Carnaby Street circa 1967 than Camden High Street circa 2005). It also features Noah "young Adolf Hitler/Nick Cave lookalike" Taylor as Charlie's dad, and they used real squirrels in the filming. Hmmm...
Another thing I didn't know until today: that the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was created by Roald Dahl, who worked on the script for that film.
A researcher at the veritable MIT Media Lab is mining volunteers' mobile phone location and call data, and using it to determine all sorts of things, from simple things such as how long people work and how much they procrastinate to which people are friends and which ones are merely coworkers. Not only that, but the data can predict people's behaviour:
Given enough data, Eagle's algorithms were able to predict what people -- especially professors and Media Lab employees -- would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.
Eagle used Bluetooth-enabled Nokia 6600 smartphones running custom programs that logged cell-tower information to record the phones' locations. Every five minutes, the phones also scanned the immediate vicinity for other participating phones. Using data gleaned from cell-phone towers and calling information, the system is able to predict, for example, whether someone will go out for the evening based on the volume of calls they made to friends.
Eagle was also able to see that the Red Sox's improbable breaking of the World Series curse shook even the world of MIT engineers. "I actually saw deviation patterns when the Red Sox won," Eagle said. "Everyone went deviant."The information was recorded by special custom programs running on the phone; the same information is gathered by the mobile network operators, though is not available to the general public. However, it is available to law-enforcement agencies, and is probably being used right now for assembling automated dossiers on entire populations.
Could this be the creepiest building in existence? The Ryugyong Hotel, a gigantic jagged, windowless edifice that stands balefully in the middle of Pyongyang like a Mordorian volcano. It was to have 3,000 rooms, far more than there would be demand for, and was started in response to a South Korean firm completing a hotel in Singapore; construction cost an estimated 2% of North Korea's GDB, and was halted in 1992. To this day, the unfinished hotel is omitted from maps of Pyongyang and North Koreans will strenuously deny any knowledge of it, despite its gargantuan bulk being visible from anywhere in Pyongyang.
(via The Fix)
MP3s of indie bands covering well-known songs; includes covers of Whitney Houston, Kylie Minogue, ABBA, Ace of Base and various R&B/rap artists, by the likes of The Flaming Lips, The Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, and some bloke named Ben Gibbard who gets featured twice. Interesting that they have covers of REM and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but omit covers of The Smiths and Talking Heads.