Two Robots, Both Alike in Dignity

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1. Robots in everything.

"Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor at Ryerson, has built two robots with very different purposes: one tweets art criticism and the other will soon hitchhike across Canada. The art critic robot, called the kulturBOT 1.0, attends art exhibitions and tweets text-captioned photos of the artworks, visitors and venue. From January to March of this year, the robot toured around the About the Mind exhibit at McMaster University, exploring how we think and communicate about art, while at the same time exploring how we think about and interact with robots. The hitchhiking robot, hitchBot 1.0, is still being completed. Its intended journey will begin in Canada’s Maritime provinces and span all the way to British Columbia."


2. The Logistical Fictions tumblr seems custom-made for readers of this newsletter.

"Before a later film revealed its boring mundanity, the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark surfaced as a kind of Überwarehouse, a seemingly infinite repository of all manner of myths and magicks—carefully catalogued by 'top men.'"


3. Evolution: Dodgeball was the first mobile app I ever loved. Then Google let it die. Then it came back (sort of) as Foursquare, which has just spawned Swarm.

"Foursquare retained the Dodgeball idea of location check-ins, but took it a step further. It added gaming elements like earning badges and points, so you could compete against your friends to see who was more socially active in a particular week. It also introduced the idea of mayorships -- for those who checked in the most at a specific spot -- which has since become one of Foursquare's most recognizable features. While Dodgeball's only incentive for checking in was to hang out with your buddies, Foursquare encouraged users to check in pretty much everywhere. Checking in wasn't just about telling your friends where you were -- it was also about exploring new places and documenting your whereabouts."


4. There is some heavy, em-dash-laden thinking going on to understand what it means to run an economy on attention.

"How are the ways we understand subjective experience –not least cognitively – being modulated by political economic rationales? And how might artists, cultural theorists, social scientists and radical philosophers learn to respond –analytically, creatively, methodologically and politically– to the commodification of human capacities of attention? This theme issue of Culture Machine explores these interlinked questions as a way of building upon and opening out contemporary research concerning the economisation of cognitive capacities... this special issue proposes a contemporary critical re-focussing on the politics, ethics and aesthetics of the ‘attention economy’, a notion developed in the 1990s by scholars such as Jonathan Beller, Michael Goldhaber and Georg Franck. This notion –and the related conceptualisations such as ‘experience design’, the competition for ‘eyeballs’, ‘click-throughs’ and so on– animates contemporary digital media production, advertising and the online, multitasking, near-pervasive media milieu in which they develop."

+ The theme issue: Paying Attention.  


5. Ballerina feet are crazy technology.

"Self-treatment is the norm. Some is benign: wrapping feet in tape, or lamb's wool, or stuffing chamois leather and old pairs of tights into pointe shoes. Some dancers have more eccentric rituals, such as blowing into shoes before putting them on, or covering their feet in glue and other chemicals to make them stick. More dangerously still, many attack their feet with scissors and razor blades. The question of pain management raises a laugh from almost every dancer I speak to."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

billion, trillion, quadrillion, &c. It should be remembered that these words do not mean in American (which follows the French use) what they mean in British English. For the British they mean the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, &c., power of a million; i.e. a billion is a million millions (1,000,000,000,000), a trillion a million million millions, &c. For Americans they mean a thousand multiplied by itself twice, three times, four times, &c.; i.e. a billion is a thousand thousand thousands (1,000,000,000) or a thousand millions; a trillion is a thousand thousand thousand thousands or a million millions, &c.

This is scarcely believable! A billion can not refer to two different numbers in English! And yet: it is true, Oxford agrees. The British gave up the ghost officially in 1975.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of 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, 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 website 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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