You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Technology’ category.

Earlier this year, at the end of my first year of graduate school and in the middle of paper-writing season, my laptop died. It had been lying innocently in my bag when they both toppled over and crashed onto the ground. The impact affected the monitor; it wouldn’t turn on. I don’t think there could have been a worse time. Deadlines were approaching and tensions were mounting. Thankfully I had been using Dropbox and, commandeering a nearby desktop computer, I was able to continue working without missing a beat.

The reason my working documents (including a powerpoint presentation and relevant images) were saved is because Dropbox, like Google Apps (explained previously), use cloud computing to save (or “sync”) your files online. For me, what’s special about Dropbox is threefold: For one, the service functions seamlessly with how you use your computer already. Dropbox is represented on your computer simply as a folder like any other. You drop files and organize subfolders as you would anything else. The difference is that this folder’s contents are backed up online. Which brings me to the second aspect I enjoy about this service: it is passive. That means that you don’t need to do anything for it to be doing its job. When my computer suddenly became inaccessible due to a broken screen I could be confident that the most recent version of the files I was working on would be available online, from any computer. This brings me to the third feature. Again like Google Apps, I can access my own Dropbox folder from any computer (through a login at the Dropbox website) and can even have files publicly accessible for others should I choose.

Go ahead, get Dropbox here.


After many weeks talking about doing it, and many months recognizing the need, I’m finally posting the first of a four-part weekly series on the ‘tools I use.’ As a (potential) academic-in-training I’ve been enjoying the relative downtime of the summer to reflect on my own habits that contribute to productivity or procrastination. This reflection has given me the chance to appreciate the tools that have consistently made my life and the work I do as a writer/researcher more bearable. It is in this spirit that I share some of the software tools that have worked the best for me. I hope to not only introduce these tools to readers who might not have heard of them, but also to highlight the ways I have personally used these programs and how they’ve helped me. Everyone’s got their own workflow, and at the end of the day we need to work in the way that works for us. These tools might not be your thing. They might even hinder your work. My goal is to make you aware of these wonderful tools, use them as you may, or ignore them all together. But hopefully I’ll be able to share something new with you and if I am able to make your life just a little easier, then I will consider it a success. All of the software highlighted here will be free, easily accessible, and user-friendly (I promise).

To begin this series, I will introduce the cornerstone of not only my academic work but, dare I say, my wired life itself. That, of course, will be Google Apps – and includes, Gmail, Calendar, Documents, Reader, and even Youtube. The range of Google applications extends beyond my ability or need to go over each of them and their uses in detail. Many of them will not factor into your daily workflow and since there exists a variety of tools available that do the same thing, I am not confident that Google necessarily provides the best of all worlds. There are three apps that I do use on a regular basis, and I will explain why below.

Before we continue, it’s important to understand broadly how Google works. This concept, ‘cloud computing,’ will apply to all of the tools I will be introducing in this series so it is worth beginning with this:

The first is Gmail. Gmail is my primary email and I have my other (school) accounts forwarded to my gmail. Doing this is pretty straightforward but differs by account type. You’re also able to reply to email inside your gmail using other accounts, which is handy if your gmail emails are being bounced back or being filed as spam. Internet-based email has the obvious advantage of being accessible from any computer, and therefore suffers from not being accessible when offline (which has never been a problem for me – and is apparently no longer the case). Gmail also offers great customization and organization (such as labels and stars). Google has published a guide to becoming a “Gmail Ninja” that walks you through your own personal setup depending on your familiarity with the service. It’s also worth mentioning that the Gmail blog has some really useful tips and advice for getting the most out of gmail. For example, a recent post offers a “grandmother’s guide to video chat.” Oh, and did I mention the instant messenger and address book built into the app, unlimited* storage and the ability to search through email the same way you would the Internet itself?

The second is Google Calendar. In addition to many of the perks of gmail (such as customization and being accessible from anywhere), the thing I really appreciate about the Calendar is its ability to provide reminders of upcoming events. I love being able to insert a birthday, indicate that it repeats every year, and give myself a ten day reminder (enough time to pick out something nice and have it send in time for birthday arrival). Being able to share calendar events with groups of people (such as a study group) doesn’t hurt either. It is definitely worth checking out.

The third is Google Docs. To be honest, I only started using Google Docs again quite recently. It is an extraordinarily useful tools, but it mainly caters to collaborative work, whereas I have been mostly engaged in solo projects. The original setup also left something to be desired, it was a bit clunky and didn’t integrate greatly with other apps. That, apparently, has changed:

However, as useful as Google Docs is for collaboration I don’t use it for the sort of frantic notetaking that is an essential part of my research and writing practice. For this I use a specific tool which I will introduce in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

“A meme is any learned feeling, thought or behavior. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a sociological “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a biological gene.

The word “meme” is a neologism coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing-fashions, and the technology of building arches.

Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (similarly to Darwinian biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity’s reproductive success. So with memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate. “Memeticists argue that the memes most beneficial to their hosts will not necessarily survive; rather, those memes that replicate the most effectively spread best, which allows for the possibility that successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts.” <wiki>

This talk of ‘temes’ sounds quite similar to what Kevin Kelly has described as the Technium. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post. You should definitely check it out.

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science

“Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique exhibition, at the Healy Hall in midtown Manhattan, uses innovative mapping techniques to physically show what and where science is today, how different branches of science relate to each other and where different”Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique branches of study are heading, where cutting edge science is erupting as archipelagos in the oceans of the yet unknown – and – how it all relates back to the physical centers of research. The world of science is turned into a navigable landscape.

Modern mapping imagery has come a long way from Ptolemy. In this stimulating show compelling for all ages and backgrounds, audiences will both visually and tactilely uncover how contemporary scientific thought has expanded. Such visualization of scientific progress is approached through computer-generated relationships, featured on large panels as well through the collaboration of New York based artists W. Bradford Paley, Digital Image Design Incorporated and Columbia University and Ingo Gunther with renowned scientist from the field of scientonometrics: Eugene Garfield, Henry Small, André Skupin, Steven A. Morris, Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans.

Scientists will be stimulated, students and teachers encouraged, and the general public fascinated by this multi-layered accessible approach to the worlds of modern scientific thought.” <about>

  • Cartographic, Concept, and Domain Maps <gallery>
  • Katy Borner, information scientist <home>
  • W. Bradford Paley, interaction designer <home>

Related Post: Visual Literacy

“A metamaterial is a material which gains its properties from its structure rather than directly from its composition. To distinguish metamaterials from other composite materials, the metamaterial label is usually used for a material which has unusual properties. The term was coined in 1999 by Rodger M. Walser of the University of Texas at Austin. He defined metamaterials as:

Macroscopic composites having a manmade, three-dimensional, periodic cellular architecture designed to produce an optimized combination, not available in nature, of two or more responses to specific excitation.

Among electromagnetics researchers, the term is often used, quite narrowly, for materials which exhibit negative refraction. The first metamaterials were developed by W.E. Kock in the late 1940s with metal-lens antennas and metallic delay lenses.” <wiki>

Experience design is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments — each of which is a human experience — based on the consideration of an individual’s or group’s needs, desires, beliefs, knowledge, skills, experiences, and perceptions. An emerging discipline, experience design attempts to draw from many sources including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, haptics, product design, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand management, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, and design thinking.” <wiki>

Essays by Don Norman. And his recommended readings.

Going interface-free with Jeff Han:

“Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase investigates the ways we interact with technology — a quest that has led him from the villages of Uganda to the insides of our pockets. Along the way, he’s made some unexpected discoveries: about the ways illiterate people use their mobile phones, the new roles the mobile can play in global commerce, and the deep emotional bonds we share with our phones. And he’s got a surefire trick to keep you from misplacing your keys.” <profile>

Connections & Consequences (TED):

Literacy, Communication & Design (LIFT):

Jan Chipchase‘s blog, Future Perfect

“PMOG is an experimental new online game being created by a small company called Gamelayers. The acronym stands for Passively Multiplayer Online Game. Players install an add-on (an “MMO”) to the Firefox Web browser and also create a log in name and profile on the PMOG server. When the add-on is enabled, they can encounter and create various messages and artifacts which appear as a pop-up overlay on web pages. Players compete (and cooperate) to accumulate datapoints by browsing, annotating web pages, and using tools like “mines” to remove others datapoints and “armor” to defend against attacks. The design theme is steampunk: Think high-tech Victoriana.” <wiki>

“This unconventional massively multiplayer online game merges your web life with an alternate, hidden reality. The mundane takes on a layer of fantastic achievement. Player behavior generates characters and alliances, triggers interactions in the environment and earns the player points to spend online beefing up their inventory. Suddenly the Internet is not a series of untouchable exhibits, but rather a hackable, rewarding environment!” <home>

What are you waiting for? Take the tour.

Passive Aggression: A new type of game turns Web surfing into all-out information warfare
(Wired, March 2008 .pdf)

“RedOrbit, Inc., headquartered in Texas , was founded in November 2002 . The web site, RedOrbit .com, was launched in May 2003, with the goal of creating the largest, most unique internet community, with the strongest consumer brand, in the most underserved niche on the Web. RedOrbit .com has since become the premier internet destination for space, science, health, and technology enthusiasts around the globe.

RedOrbit .com is committed to providing stimulating, original content and presentation, with over 500,000 pages covering the vast ideological spectrums of space, science, health, and technology. The beautiful and engaging forum created at RedOrbit .com promotes a friendly and open environment, enhancing user loyalty and community, while advancing RedOrbit’ s goal of providing the world with a virtual Utopia for intelligent, curious minds.” (emphasis added) <wiki>

“From the smartest artificial brain to the first artificial life.” <DISCOVER, 11.14.2007>

I have highlighted what Discover magazine has dubbed the ‘6 Most Important Experiments’ of our time. I have coupled each item on this list with a short description from the experiments’ website to try and hook your interest in finding out more. I would definitely suggest checking out the original article, which can be found online here. Also, I’ve added an experiment that I could not allow to be absent from this list. If you know of any additional experiments (in any field) which merit mention on this list, please let me know!

Here we go:

1. The Blue Brain Project

“The Blue Brain project is the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations.” <about>

“Earthtime is an organized, community-based international scientific initiative aimed at sequencing Earth history through the integration of high-precision geochronology and quantitative chronostratigraphy. Our main goal is the development of the geochronological techniques necessary to produce temporal constraints with uncertainties approaching 0.1 percent of the radioisotopic ages.” <about>

” In order to meet the raw material demands of a modern pulp mill, the Sarawak State Government (Borneo) entrusted the Forest Department with establishing 150,000 hectares of industrial tree plantations. To date, 60,000 hectares have already been established and an additional 2,000 hectares are being planted every month.” <about>

4. Dark-Matter Experiment

“After the very successful run of XENON10, the first XENON detector with an overall mass of 15 kg and a target mass of 5.4 kg (after cuts), a part of the collaboration decided to go one step further: XENON100 will have a 10 times larger fiducial volume. This will increase the sensitivity to the WIMP parameter space even further and will provide an improved chance to detect WIMPs directly.” <about>

5. The Census of Marine Life

“The Census of Marine Life is a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations engaged in a 10-year scientific initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans. The world’s first comprehensive Census of Marine Life-past, present, and future-will be released in 2010.” <about>

6. Artificial Life

“In 2003, JCVI researchers created a synthetic version of the bacteriophage, PhiX 174, and recently they successfully transformed one species of bacteria to another by genome transplantation. As they progress on their goal of synthetic life, they are ever mindful of the societal implications of this work. From the first work on a minimal genome in 1995 to today, these ethical implications are being explored by our scientists and policy experts. Synthetic genomics holds great promise for the future and our team intends to be at the forefront of discoveries and the important public dialogue.” <about>

Find the whole article, with a description of each experiment, here.

7. The Large Hadron Collide at CERN

“For the past few decades, physicists have been able to describe with increasing detail the fundamental particles that make up the Universe and the interactions between them. This understanding is encapsulated in the Standard Model of particle physics, but it contains gaps and cannot tell us the whole story. To fill in the missing knowledge requires experimental data, and the next big step to achieving this is with LHC.” <about>


Welcome to OpenLearning! Here you will find the useful links to online learning material suxh as academic podcasts, video lectures, and audiobooks; in addition to posting must-see videos on topics of interest.