Tech Highlights

Its colored!
It's colored!

Tech Quarterly is here again and here are some highlights.

There’s an interesting study about the contagious effects of loneliness. It sounds kind of paradoxical since the fact that it can be spread at all shows that the victims are already interacting with people and thus not ‘lonely’ technically speaking. In the area of medical research, there’s a glue designed for aiding bones to heal.

As for gadgets and machines, readers might be interested in an article on E-readers and potential future developments that these devices will move towards – especially having coloured displays. The discussion on ways of typing different language text on mobile phones helps you understand more about non-latin languages.

Finally, there’s something on mechanization of agriculture; the article reveals surprising labour shortage in this field of work. I thought the solution might be to move the unemployed people from the urban areas to these agricultural regions but well, they designed all sorts of machine to do the job so that means the unemployed will have to find something more complex to earn a living.

Decaying Plastics, Melting Ice

Dripping Off
Dripping Off

We are dependent on oil not only for energy but something almost as ubiquitous in modern day products. Shaking off other aspects of our dependence on oil is thus as important as diversifying sources of energy. And some Koreans just found out how to make an alternative kind of plastic way faster.

Meanwhile, Brian Palmer wrote a piece on about how we might be able to overcome bacteria resistance to anti-biotics, a problem we have faced since the invention of anti-biotics. Fighting evolution is not the ultimate solution, as Palmer argued; he believes we need to adapt the rules of evolution and manipulate the bacteria with other strategies to overcome the problem.

Johann Hari writes on moreIntelligentLife about how Arctic is changing as experienced by the Inuits living there. Many of us may know about climate change and perhaps some of the sciences behind it but our lives goes on pretty much the same except for periodic violent weather we might intuitively attribute to climate change. To climate scientist, arctic is at the front line of this phenomenon and Hari writes convincingly about the reality of climate change in the arctic and how the lives of the Inuits are affected. The writing reflects a deep respect for those who lives in the arctic; something lacking in most other appeals for attention to global climate change. Ultimately though, it reflects how people are all looking at the problem with different lenses and focusing on different consequences. If anything is to be done at all, we’ll have to connect the different groups together.

On other green matters, Nina Shen Rastogi asks on, Should You Flush Your Drugs Down the Toilet?

Fake Stuff

NPhone rocks!
NPhone rocks!

The Economist ran a story about counterfeit handsets in China lately. Counterfeiting and piracy is not exactly all imitation and no creativity but it does actually hurt the economy, or so claimed by original manufacturers because it affects their incentives to innovate. The difficulty lies with assessing whether the consumer would even consume the good in the first place if the imitation is not available. As a matter of fact, I think the best way for these problem to solve themselves is for consumers to realise which one of the products (real or fake) offers them the utility they need. In most cases, people may just be satisfied with imitations then so be it; the original manufacturers simply may not have profited from these group of consumers who would otherwise not be able to afford the real thing.

It is only when the utility functions of these products coincide and people switch from using original to fakes that matters (but the difference should be made up by the disparity in quality or the time lag in introduction of imitations) and becomes a huge problem. And it would be a bad thing if manufacturers ends up engaged in the competition of who is best able to prevent piracy – that’s senseless innovation that penalizes the society in general. Take Digital Rights Management (DRMs) for example. It sucks, everyone hates them and games like Red Alert 3 lost business because of it (though most part of its lack of popularity was attributed to its poor interface design and lame scenarios) and consumers hate big firms for them.

Perhaps intellectual property should be contained in ways that are stricter such that innovations built upon ideas that belongs to others are welcomed. In many sense, parodies are imitations, and so are fan fiction, built upon characterization or story frameworks that belongs to others. We should perhaps start treating the NPhone’s relation with iPhone like Shrek’s relation with Matrix. A joke.

Careful Bots


It’s a long time since I last directed readers to a lengthy prose penned at The New Yorker; while some of those long-winded stuff are reserved for pure entertainment when one is really bored in front of the computer, Jeremy Groopman wrote an interesting narrative report about robots that cares for patients. If you’ve some time to spare, it’d be good to go through some of these technology stuff that is more elaborate and human in reporting than those featured in The Economist.

The same magazine reports about another kind of careful technology. Seymour M. Hersh explores a more remote topic that less people would really bother about seriously despite its implications on many.

Parcel Here!

Heavy but weighs zero grammes
Heavy but weighs zero grammes

This week’s read/watch/listen parcel starts with a little introduction of a new book The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins and a Q&A session that follows under Berkeley’s Arts & Letters programme on The site holds a wonderful collection of intellectual and academic videos from different events and places.

The book itself was recently published and praised by The Economist for its educational value. To be frank I’ve never read Richard Dawkins but from his readings of The Greatest Show on Earth in the video, I reckon I’d enjoy his style of demonstrating his arguments using long analogies that are probably closer to the heart of readers (rather reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches).

He compares Creationist to Holocaust Deniers, those who argues that Evolution is full of gaps to a stubborn lawyer who declares that more evidence is less. He questions the plausibility of Marsupials engaged is some sort of migration programme where they emigrate en masse from Mount Ararat to Australia – such was the witty humour that Dawkins use to entertain readers and frustrate those who believed in the literalism of Noah’s Ark. Dawkins is critical and knows clearly what exactly he is out defend in the book.

Next, some readings on the fertility decline around the world in The Economist, something I wrote about previously as well as an article on price wars on The New Yorker by James Surowiecki. There’s a video accompanying the article from The Economist about population.

Finally, find out more about Vincent van Gogh’s life from The Economist’s Editor Highlights Audio.

Mail in the Mailbox

More Mails!
More Mails!

This week’s package has arrived! It’s pretty heavy so I’m cutting down on the quantity of reads. As always, we begin with a talk from the wonderful conference, TED; by Physicist David Deutsch that attempts to explain the sudden explosive development in our ability to explain the world. Deutsch speaks slowly and refers to his notes frequently but his explanations and knowledge of reality is brilliant. The anecdotes and examples he gave are both apt and interesting enough to compensate for his lack of speaking prowess. In the lecture, Deutsch introduced the Royal Society‘s motto, “Nullius in Verba” (Latin for “take nobody’s word for it”) which I found immensely intriguing.

For those interested to know about economics in the world today can listen to the interview with 2005 Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. It’s a pity there’s no subtitles available for the interview as well as the lecture linked above.

Finally, plunge into the long read by Peter York from moreIntelligentLife, How Marketing has got under our skin explores the history, trends and current state of the issue of self-branding or personal branding.