5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 1/24

A more local Internet, stroke recovery and the Kinect, goggles and empathy, naval bases under the seafloor, and the relief of an object that just does one thing. 
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1. The people of Burlington, Vermont want to create a more 'local,' non-commercial Internet.

"Local, though, can be a funny concept when it comes to the Internet. The way routing works, an email sent on one side of a city might travel abroad before reaching its recipient across town, simply for efficiency’s sake. Civic Cloud can’t ensure that, say, a session of Lakecraft won’t bounce beyond Burlington. 'But with the network and the cloud being locally controlled,' Holt says, 'there are a lot more things in place to mitigate the possibility of that happening.'

The tendency of Internet traffic to travel far and wide is one reason the NSA has been so able to tap transmission. Holt appreciates the point, but says that simply using a service like, say, YouTube, involves its own kind of exposure. 'If you’re going to use a live streaming service,' he says, 'you’re likely going to have to give up some privacy so that they can target ads to you.' It is, he says, a question of the very nature of the modern Internet experience. 'We live in this world where the Internet is overly commercialized. Where are the non-commercial spaces?'

Burlington has something in its back pocket that other cities don’t: A ridiculously speedy network, one that’s probably about a hundred or so times faster than what you have at home. Big telecom providers have focused on serving up broadband to the country’s dense places, which doesn’t exactly include Vermont. So the city stepped in, opting for a gigabit-fast fiber-to-the-home network."

 

2. Stroke recovery .... with Microsoft Kinect.

"The prototype Stroke Recovery with Kinect system was built by using the Microsoft Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK). It uses the Kinect sensor’s three-dimensional camera to capture the movements of 48 skeletal points on the patient while he or she performs the therapy. Stroke Recovery with Kinect interprets the movement data, enabling the system to measure and evaluate the patient’s movements and assess their rehabilitation progress. The system uses the patient's scores from previous sessions to adjust the level of difficulty for subsequent therapy sessions. 

One of the three programs in the Stroke Recovery with Kinect system is the classic box-and-block test (BBT). This program application evaluates patients’ coordination, gross manual dexterity, and motor skills as they (virtually) attempt to pick up blocks one-by-one and put them into a box in a set amount of time. Similar to a computer game, Stroke Recovery with Kinect displays patients’ scores as soon as they finish a session, providing immediate reinforcement when scores improve from session to session."

 

3. "Out-of-Body Therapy" turned into an interactive goggles-and-video art project.

"THE MACHINE TO BE ANOTHER is an Open Source Art investigation on the relation of Identity and Empathy that has been developed on a basis of low budget experiments of Embodiment and Virtual Body Extension.

Designed as an interactive performance installation, the ‘Machine’ offers users the possibility of interacting with a piece of another person’s life story by seeing themselves in the body of this person and listening to his/her thoughts inside their mind."

 

4. The humble Cold War suggestion that the Navy build vast bases under the seafloor.

"The Navy’s efforts to recover a lost hydrogen bomb off the coast of Spain that year and the loss of the attack sub USS Thresher three years before had brought new funding and discipline to deep submergence systems. In such heady times, dreams of colonizing the continental shelf within a generation seemed like sober predictions.

It was in this environment that C.F. Austin of the China Lake Naval Ordnance Test Station proposed the Rock-Site concept: manned undersea installations excavated into the rock of the seafloor. By applying well-understood principles employed for decades by the mining industry, Austin proposed that large bases could be constructed and operated anywhere suitable bedrock occurred in the ocean, at any depth.

Austin realized that even with mid-1960's technology, it would be possible to sink a wide shaft into the sea floor, seal and drain it, then use it as a staging area for further excavation. A tunnel-boring machine could be lowered into the shaft in pieces and then assembled to bore out more tunnels, including one for a small modular nuclear reactor much like those used at Camp Century in Greenland and McMurdo Base in Antarctica."

 

5. A fascinating conjecture on the human response to software eating the world.

"I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between objects and activities. It’s something obviously affected by digitally-enabled multi-functionality. The digital object doesn’t so much have 'a function' as a series of functions under an umbrella of one or two metafunctions – to wit, 'this device is what I use to keep up to date' or 'my tablet is what I use to read everything from the news to novels.' The association between object and function that was often one-to-one has become multiplied, perhaps receding into infinity (what, really, is the limit of what you can do with your iPhone?)

But more than that, though I know it sounds like mere tautology, the function of physical devices is related to their physicality. How they operate and what they do in 3D space is dependent on the manner in which they occupy that space. Maybe it’s my digitally-addled brain that needs reminding of that, but it somehow feels like a point worth repeating. And the Curta, in a world in which even the scientific calculator feels arcane, just seems so fascinatingly, resoundingly, undeniably physical. And perhaps it’s because of that physicality, but something about it thus seems so purposeful.

It is easy to get caught up in romanticizing the object we can touch, just as we here on Snarkmarket can occasionally get a bit too attached to pixels you can interact with and manipulate. But I’ve been wondering lately if, beyond the chatter about the attention economy or a supposed 'inherent' nature to print or screens, there isn’t something pleasurable in the object that performs but one function. Physical or digital, it doesn’t matter. All I mean to ask is if there isn’t something to be enjoyed in a conscious minimalism of function rather than form – that one might find relief in the simplicity of a one-to-one relationship between an activity and a thing."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

America(n). The use of America for the United States & American for (citizen) of the US is open to as much & as little objection as that of England English(man) for Great Britain, British, & Briton. It will continue to be protested by purists & patriots, & will doubtless survive the protests.

 

Thanks, Cara Rose and Steve!

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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