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February 28, 2004

I Knew It!! [7:19 pm]

From Slashdot: For Exercise in New York Futility, Push Button

The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined.

Here at MIT there are definitely some "Close Door" elevator buttons like those described above — I’ve always assumed that they were part of some Course 9 experiment to measure the mood/stress levels at MIT.

Followup: Monday’s NYTimes editorial — Press Here to Control the Universe

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Absurdity [1:55 pm]

I’ve ruminated about posting something about this, but LawMeme has done a better job than I could: Paris Hilton And Copyright Law. The Reuters article: Paris Hilton ‘Directed’ Sex Video - Court Filing

In court papers, Marvad’s lawyers argued that the case should be thrown out because Salomon was not the sole copyright holder as he apparently had claimed in registration documents.

“Unfortunately for Salomon, the video also depicts Ms. Hilton participating fully in the creation of the video,” the motion said. “Ms. Hilton offered directorial comments and physically controlled and directed the camera.”

At one point in the video, Hilton even pushed Salomon out of the frame so as to not block the shot, the document said.

James Grimmelmann asks the right question, particularly when dealing with freaks like these:

Really. Is this the sort of factual issue on which anything ought to turn?

See also the TLA writeup: Paris Hilton ‘Directed’ Sex Video

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Online Film Critics [12:33 pm]

Invasion of the Web Film Critics

Though their readership is growing, online film critics remain at the bottom of the movie-publicity food chain — far below daily newspaper critics, magazine writers and broadcast reporters. They are the last to be invited for preview screenings, are seldom quoted in movie ads and remain largely off the radar for Hollywood studios.

“Online critics have nowhere near the kind of respect that is given to other journalists,” said David Edelstein of Slate, who also is the film critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. “Variety doesn’t take them seriously, skipping them when it samples critics. The New York Film Critics Circle doesn’t allow onliners in. I write for a publication with between 5 (million) and 6 million readers, but most studio publicists make no distinctions between it and any other website.”

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If Ye Fayle To Shoppe, Ye Colonials Shall Wynne? [12:30 pm]

Here’s a provocative history, claiming the shape of American culture lies in the pocketbook: Armies of Consumers: 1776’s Secret Weapon?

Deceptively simple, his argument goes like this: two and a half million strong and scattered along 1,800 miles of coastline, the colonists had little in common besides a weakness for what Samuel Adams derisively termed “the Baubles of Britain.” When Britain imposed stiff taxes on this appetite for stuff — without granting any political representation — Americans responded with an ingenious invention with instant and widespread appeal: the consumer boycott. By the time the First Continental Congress was convened in September 1774, transforming mass consumer mobilization into a successful political rebellion was a relatively straightforward task.

[...] It sounds far-fetched, possibly scandalous: pinning Americans’ success in the war for independence even partly on their common experience in the marketplace. Moreover the notion seems to contradict the long-standing assumption among scholars that lofty ideas elegantly expressed — and a brisk trade in political pamphlets and newspapers — were sufficient to unite the public behind the revolutionary cause.

[...] And while others, including Gordon S. Wood, another Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who teaches at Brown, predict that Mr. Breen’s thesis will be controversial, they concede his book is important. “I’m not persuaded by the attempt to explain the Revolution,” Mr. Gordon said. But he added, it is the first book about the period “to show the scale and depth of consumption in any kind of statistical detail.”

How long before this set of thoughts becomes a basis for a new interpretation of “Progress of Science and Useful Arts?”

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From One of My Day Jobs (Offtopic) [12:14 pm]

With the TPP applications process drawing to a conclusion (hopefully resulting in a little less weekend work!), here’s an article from the NYTimes that I missed that echoes what I and many others have found particularly notable in this cycle of the process: Decline Seen in Science Applications From Overseas

“It’s really what we’ve been fearing all along,” said Vic Johnson, associate director for public policy at the Association of International Educators. “It’s the accumulation of a lot of things that is just causing a change in the attractiveness of the United States as a destination for students and scholars.”

The General Accounting Office study said the nation’s system for issuing visas for research in sensitive areas was unnecessarily slow and cumbersome.

For example, it said, while the State Department, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are all involved in researching candidates for visas, the three agencies do not have data systems that can work with each other. In addition, the report said, it takes the State Department two weeks just to notify consular officials abroad once it has cleared a candidate to receive a visa.

“Everyone has to be willing to put up with more delays and bureaucracy in the post-Sept. 11 world,” Representative Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, said at a hearing on the report today. “But we still have an obligation to ensure that we are not needlessly alienating scholars from around the world who could help this nation, and that we are not unnecessarily hamstringing or burdening our universities and research centers.”

As this year’s crop of TMP general exam takers know already, there’s a pretty ambitious RFP (for a really ambitious amount of $$) out there that expects to resolve the problem cited in the second paragraph in this excerpt. As I did for them, I leave to the reader a consideration of Section C and then just how feasible such a program might be from an organizational, computational and institutional perspective.

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