A Formula for the 21st Century

September 23, 2008


Tacita Dean’s entry when asked by Hans Ulrich Obrist to design a formula for this century

The popular Swiss art critic Hans Ulrich Obrist recently asked many famous (and not so famous) artists to devise a formula for this current century. These graphical representations have been collected in a book entitled Formulas For Now and within it you’ll find submissions from people like Damien Hirst, Yoko Ono, and Richard Dawkins.

Click this link to see an image gallery of some of the submissions.

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Italians unite against ‘il weekend’ – lingustic reactionaries target ‘Anglitaliano’

September 10, 2008

Wadda you mean ‘il weekend’? Basta! It’s fine settimana!

The pervasiveness of the English language in our world today can be attributed to many factors, history, economy, and culture foremost amongst them. Counting close to two billion speakers, it’s easy to say that English is a global language and in many parts of the world is the lingua franca even if it’s not native language.

English shapes and forms the new trends in other languages thanks to this massive presence. One need only think of the English term “football” (soccer in North America) to see how the language has influenced other languages. The Spanish refer to the game as “futbol” and Serbs simply spell it “fudbal”. English loan words then undergo a process of adaptation to best suit the native language.

The French refer to the mixing of English and French as “Franglais” which quite often is seen as a degeneration of the native tongue. So much so is Franglais seen as a threat that the French government finances the Académie française to ensure the French nature of the French language.

As French culture has come under increasing pressure with the widespread availability of English media, the Académie has tried to prevent the anglicisation of the French language. For example, the Académie has recommended, with mixed success, that some loanwords from English (such as walkman, software and email) be avoided, in favour of words derived from French (baladeur, logiciel, and courriel respectively). Moreover, the Académie has worked to modernise French orthography.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it….and I feel fine

September 10, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is all set to start smashing atomic particles today

The media frenzy surrounding the Large Hadron Collider has hit fever pitch as today is the day when the first atomic particles are shot around the 27km track. Some scientists fear that the test could create tiny black holes that could put our planet’s existence in threat.

The world’s most famous theoretical physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking tut-tuts the notions of dangerous black holes being formed. Read Hawking’s take on today’s events (and the experiments to come) in Stephen Hawking’s £50 bet on the world, the universe and the God particle. Here’s an excerpt:

“If the LHC were to produce little black holes, I don’t think there’s any doubt I would get a Nobel prize, if they showed the properties I predict,” Professor Hawking told the Today programme. “However, I think the probability that the LHC has enough energy to create black holes is less than one per cent, so I’m not holding my breath.”

click here to read the rest of the article

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Sports Fandom Is More Positive Than We Once Thought

September 8, 2008

Fans of the legendary English soccer team Liverpool FC display their support

Fans of professional sports are a derided bunch. Usually associated with belonging to the lowest common denominator intellectually and culturally, others have gone as far as to claim that they represent the most prevalent form of social conditioning present in our modern society.

An observer in first century Rome coined the phrase bread and circuses to describe how Romans of that era chose food and fun over freedom, thus giving up their civic duty in favour of decadence. To people like Noam Chomsky, little has changed. In Manufacturing Consent Chomsky explains the role of sports in social conditioning:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

Is being a fan of professional sports all that bad? New research by economists and psychologists suggests that sports fandom actually has some benefits.

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Eco-Friendly Product Design

September 7, 2008

Knives used from recyclable material

Consumers are more and more choosing “green-friendly” options in their purchases. Whether it’s because of trends or because of a real environmental conscience, the rise of the eco-friendy product cannot go unnoticed.

Here is a sample of some eco-friendly products with cool designs made from recycled materials.

Knives (image above)
Austrian Paul Kogelnig and Swiss Gabriel Heusser have crafted these bottle-openers out of old cutlery. According to them, “The future of mass production is mass customisation.”

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Trends in the Next Decade of Technology

September 6, 2008

Future technology
Future technology in a scene from “Minority Report”

Technological process is quickening from century to century, decade to decade, and year to year. In the previous millenium, some argued that technological advances would create a utopia for humanity. Some of the excesses of the past century showed this argument to be patently false. Technology is for the most part neutral and depends on how and why it is used and by whom it is used.

The speed with which our world is undergoing technological transformation is plain to see. The popular futurist Raymond Kurzweil tells us that we are approaching technological singularity: a point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence. That sounds frightening, as it should. However Kurzweil’s singularity is still some time away, should it actually ever happen.

In the meantime Nature.com has asked several leading technological experts to predict the trends in technology over the next decade. Words like haptics and phrases like semantic web will be more commonplace. Here’s an excerpt from this excellent article:

Leo Kärkkäinen – Chief visionary, Nokia Research Center, Espoo, Finland


Ordinary products are going to have memories that store their entire history from cradle to grave, and that consumers can easily access.

Radio-frequency identification tags are a good option because they are already widely used to track inventory and to control theft. They are cheap and can be powered by an outside power source, such as the radio signal from the device being used to read them. But there may be another enabling technology that wins out.

Near-field communication systems already allow a phone to be used like a smart card for a travel pass or as an electronic wallet to pay for goods. If that technology can talk to the things you buy, as well as the systems through which you pay for them, it will enable consumers to choose not to buy goods that are unhealthy, allergenic, have used environmentally unfriendly methods or employed child labour.

As with many technologies, it could potentially be used for bad purposes; we have to ensure that privacy functions are built in to the system to put the consumer in control of whether they want to be tracked.

click this link to read the article in its entirety

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Freedoms Gained and Freedoms Lost

September 5, 2008

The struggle for freedom can take many shapes and sizes, and can quite often be contradictory

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the magazine More Intelligent Life is asking a dozen eminent figures what freedoms they’ve gained and what freedoms they’ve lost.

Commentator Neil Ascherson on his freedoms gained and lost:

Can one regret a right which damaged other people’s rights—in this case, their right to health and clean air? I was never more than an occasional smoker. Yet I still miss the compound pleasure of going to a movie in the afternoon, putting my boots on the seat in front, and lighting up a fat black Gauloise. The smoke curling up to the cupola of the almost empty cinema. The total, concentrated anticipation. The feeling that “this is the life”. With that loss went a whole grubby sensual underworld: the extinct trick of telling where a stranger came from by the perfume of his cigarettes: Ekstra-Mocny from Poland, Nazionale, Roth-Händle (this guy’s a west German left-winger), Morava from Nis which was so much sweeter than Morava from Sarajevo…

The new right for which I am most grateful has to be visa-free travel. A right still limited to certain parts of the world. But the knowledge that, within a few hours of an impulse, I can be not just in a capital city (Prague, Warsaw, Berlin) but wandering down Piotrkowska Street in Lodz , or standing on the cobbles of an East Bohemian village inhaling its scent of pork chops and cabbage, or buying the real original Weihnachtsstollen at the Christmas Fair in Dresden—that’s still miraculous. Do I regret the long waits at frontier stations, the sound of jackboots slowly moving along the corridor from compartment to compartment? No, it’s all been perfectly preserved in novels. And if you still hanker for that paranoia kick, just put on a burqa for your return journey to Britain.

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