Frozen throats

Truth or urban legend:

During the construction of the Alaskan pipeline, workers consumed alcohol to distract their minds and bodies from the bitter temperatures they were working in. On more than one occasion, a worker would leave a glass of alcohol sitting in their car overnight, return in the morning and take a big swig. The subzero alcohol would freeze their throat and stomach on contact, killing them instantaneously.

Some facts that might help you in your journey for truth:

My friends are divided 50/50, with half in utter disbelief, and the others skeptical. The source of the story is, of course, completely convinced of its truth.

Derrick’s Electronic Music Festival

Techno legend Derrick May has been given the keys to the city in Detroit for this year’s Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Riddled by bad management and shady dealings, the event has almost lost its backing many times over the past three years (we all remember “I support Carl Craig”).

Handing over the organization to one of the city’s many techno legends is a good step towards reliability for years to come.

May has DEMF contract in hand

Cameron’s Ironic.. or not!

My good friend Soren Kirkegaard once said about irony:

Irony is a disciplinarian feared only by those who do not know it, but cherished by those who do. He who does not understand irony and has no ear for its whispering lacks eo ipso what might be called the absolute beginning of the personal life. He lacks what at moments is indispensable for the personal life, lacks both the regeneration and rejuvenation, the cleaning baptism of irony that redeems the soul from having its life in finitude though living boldly and energetically in finitude.

That said, is the The Celibate FAQ trying to be ironic? Read it closely. I mean really closely. It’s so darn close to blackpeopleloveus I can’t belive it is written in all honesty. I’m just trying to have life in finitude.

Escape from Suvivor Junkyard Wars

Last summer my good friend and former bandmate Dan Paluska was shipped off to a remote island off the coast of Scotland to compete in the latest reality competition, TLC’s Escape from Experiment Island. The second episode airs tonight at 10PM.

The plot is simple. It’s Junkyard Wars meets Survivor. Characters within and between teams are pitted against each other during the off hours while they compete in engineering tasks on the playing ground.

Three adjectives Dan would use to describe himself: Intelligent (wait, that’s only one?).

Diversity breeds creativity

Mr. Negroponte wrote a simple and elegant introduction to the Technology Review’s 10 Emerging Technologies issue this month, touting the benefits of interdisciplinary research, youth and creativity.

Even though it’s a simple reiteration of the Media Lab party line, the article sent my mind off in a thousand directions. As an academic in an interdisciplinary institution, I can firmly say that while many groups around MIT are moving in this direction, the world is still far from being accepting of breadth as an education style.

Tenure, an infrastructure most people think is as old as the university, is actually quite young institution in America. Based on the German concept of lehrfreiheit, or freedom to teach, tenure also has the effect of locking in to an age heirarchy that undermines young thinkers. While the ideals are good (i.e., disconnecting professors’ ideas from their employment), the resulting system lacks the adaptability and creativity necessary to bridge new ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we fire all tenured professors and replace them with younger, less experienced researchers. But when new professors spend their time appealing to the venerable members of their program, they lose their potential to break new ground through alternative methods and perspectives.

Or maybe I’m just worried about getting tenure someday.

Tech Review: Creating a Culture of Ideas

Pitt: A history of Tenure

Locked in but not locked out

This week’s New Yorker carries a fascinating story, one that is unfortunately not online, but would surely spread like crazy if it was. It tells the sad tale of people who are “locked in,” that is having lost complete communication with their muscles, and in turn the outside world. These people are not in comas, rather they have all of their thoughts, but no way to communicate them.

Dr. Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist from the University of Tubingen works with these patients using a system some call a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), which is a sort of pong game hooked up to a person’s EEG (brain waves). In a miraculous extension of the brain’s capacity to learn, many of Birbaumer’s subjects have successfully used the system to spell words, reestablishing the connection between the brain and the world it resides in.

There is surprisingly little literature about Birbaumer’s work on the web (one measly Nature abstract), but the importance of his work deserves some serious attention. It is an inspiring story for those academics stuck in their labs, working on animals or otherwise, showing that research can have a real impact on the world.

To say the least, it’s worth the $4.

Sunny Cancun

Mardi Gras.. Cancun?! What kind of life is that for a graduate student?

I’ll be making my return to the Sunbelt Social Networks Conference at the beginning of February to present more findings on the analysis of Blogdex data. Since the findings last year were such a big hit, I’ll make sure and post them here before I leave.

The Sunbelt conference is always my favorite, covering such a wide range of topics, from school children bullies to trucker prostitutes. With any luck they’ll have wifi, and I’ll do some real time blogging.. I’m not sure at this point, but I do know that they have “beamers” (a.k.a. overhead projectors)