Neal's Oscar Picks
Magic Mirror Joke


by Craig Reynolds

DRM and copyright: as described here last week its getting harder and harder to find anyone in favor of DRM (see's poll: Should music companies drop DRM? (via)). Interoperability is easy if there is no DRM to worry about. iTunes has demonstrated that most people are happy to buy legal content if the price is reasonable, that you can "compete with free". Of course there are a few clueless music and tech execs who insist that DRM is exactly the right approach and that, unlike the first N versions, release N+1 will actually work. As a public service, Daring Fireball provided some clues to one such exec: Translation From PR-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso's Response to Steve Jobs's 'Thoughts on Music'. It comes as no surprise when BBC reports: US copyright lobby out-of-touch. MPAA: blatant, unrepentant law breakers: the most deliciously ironic news last week was that the MPAA was caught violated the license on copyrighted software (via, via, read the software author's comments here and here). It seems clear that this was not MPAA's official policy, it looks like a lazy programmer was prototyping something and cut some ethical/legal corners. (The license said the software was free if you retained the links back to the author's site, otherwise you had to buy a special license. MPAA removed the links without purchasing a license.) MPAA claims they should not be held responsible for the actions of an employee. Yet they routinely sue innocent parents for license/copyright infringement by their kids. MPAA claims that the site was never advertised and was used only for evaluation. Yet they sued developers of a Linux media player for privately using movie clips to evaluate their software. I hope this turns into a messy lawsuit, it couldn't happen to a nicer association.

Be careful how you praise kids: I recently became fascinated by the work of Stanford Prof. Carol Dweck on the dark side of praise in education.  I heard an interview with Dweck on local news radio (KCBS, Feb 6?), and later found this press release (which I mentioned briefly last week) and then this article in New York Magazine: How Not to Talk to Your Kids (The Inverse Power of Praise). Very short summary:  Praising kids for being smart is deadly, making them risk-adverse praise junkies.  Praising them for working hard is helpful, it encourages them to continue to try challenging tasks. Describing one of the experiments: "...The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores..." Hear Dweck interviewed about her book Mindset -- The New Psychology of Success. Several years ago I heard AI pioneer Marvin Minsky decry how educators work so hard to prevent kids from suffering the horror of failure.  He said it was critically important to fail again and again, so it actually meant something when you succeeded.  My reaction at the time was along the lines of "but what about their self esteem?"  Looks like he had it quite right.

Mother Nature's Sun: very exciting technology: Cheap solar power poised to undercut oil and gas by half (via, via) Cultural ethology: Did teenage girls invent technology? That is certainly what happened in a band of wild chimps living in a tough environment. While the big strong adult males were out catching rabbits with their bare hands, the females and young foraged for other foods. Female adolescents were regularly observed making simple pointed spears from tree branches, and using them to stab at potential hiding places of bush-babies (small squirrel-like primates): Chimps Use "Spears" to Hunt Mammals, Study Says and Hunting chimps may change view of human evolution. So much for the notion of "bird brains": Now, where do I hide this? Birds plan, study shows. Green tech: The plug-in hybrid carving three-wheeler from Venture and Windmill Sailboat: Sailing Against the Wind. Finally: Robo Bird-Watcher "An intelligent video system in an Arkansas bayou searches for an elusive bird," Robot watches out for rare bird.

Cosmic debris: Astronauts should 'ski the Moon', 181 Things To Do On The Moon, Deadly stellar dance explains supernova shape, Scientists surprised by data about distant planets (and Distant planets: Warm, weird, waterless).

Math notes: a math-phobic death spiral: Math anxiety saps working memory needed to do mathAncient Islamic inventions seldom remembered in the west have been touched on here before and now another example. The geometry of quasicrystals (and other aperiodic tilings, see this gallery) were first described and analyzed by Western mathematicians in the 1960s and 1970s. It appears that quasicrystals were well understood by Islamic artisans in the year 1453: Medieval Muslims made stunning math breakthrough and Geometry meets arts in Islamic tiles.

Technobits: Why Understanding Programs is Hard from Ed Felten --- iTunes fingers musical fraud --- Algorithm helps computers beat human Go players --- Modular robot's wriggles show greater flexibility, Incredible Robots Walk, Roll, Climb and Cooperate (lab's site) --- Zeroshift - Advanced Transmissions (see also, via) --- Jolly Roger should run from scary squiggly arrows!