Posts Tagged ‘web 2.0’

Kiva! Help save the world… for FREE!!

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’ve been using Kiva for a little bit now and I’m very impressed with it. It’s basically a web-based micro-lending site, where you make loans of, usually, 25 dollars to people who can really use them. Then when the loan is returned, you can reinvest it with someone else.

It’s great. Go to the site. Check it out.

The thing is that for a limited time Kiva is allowing members like me to offer a free trial whereby you can make your first 25 dollar loan for free. There are only a limited number of these so please act now!

Here’s the link


You’ll be glad you did. I promise…

Totally off topic but…

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I’m in Tempe Az. It’s SITI Co’s last of three residencies here. We will be performing Under Construction, next Saturday.

However, this week, we’re rehearsing Who Do You Think You Are. We will be performing WDYTYA at the Kranert in Champaign/Urbana in a few weeks but this is the only chance we’ll have to rehearse it. We’re also doing workshops during the day with the ASU MFAs. Some of which were in Eurydice earlier this year, so it’s good to be back in a room with them.

But what I want to blog about here, briefly, has nothing to do with any of this. It’s a new thing that I’ve been doing online.

This is in addition to the Yelping, Chess With Friendsing (free on iPhone), Bright Kiteing and Twittering that I’ve been doing. If any of you know what those things are and care to join me…

My point here today has to do with the fact that there are certain things that humans, any human, are better at than computers, any computer. Combine this with the fact that we have more data coming into the world of astronomy than we know what to do with and you get Galaxy Zoo.

If you go to Galaxy Zoo and register and go through a bit of a tutorial process you can classify galaxies. You’re looking at actual images of galaxies and making basic decisions about what you’re seeing. This data you provide is cross referenced with other folks choices looking at the same images and what emerges is a fairly accurate/useful sorting process. This is not a game. It’s active, citizen science.

So I leave it open in a tab on my Firefox and every once in awhile I’ll just stare at stars and sort them. It’s kind of meditative and it’s also contributing. Busy as I am, I can work on our sharpening picture of the cosmos. This makes me happy.

Leon’s Things 3

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Although I said I wouldn’t be announcing here every time I add a YouTube clip to my “project,” I have been asked by certain powers that be, to do so.

So, “Leon’s Things 3″ is up. You can see it along with all the other Leon’s Things vids at:

Go wild.

The Dark Knight (part 2)

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Here are a couple of other thoughts that didn’t really fit in the first post.

One of the things that is interesting to me about “The Dark Knight” is the viral marketing of the film itself. The campaign, which was aimed specifically at the Batman fan base, used websites that appeared to be political sites for Harvey Dent. As something other than an ardent fan, I wouldn’t have even noticed such a thing, but for fans it was the beginning of a trail of digital crumbs that led to the first images of The Joker. These images then got passed around as both “Look at this cool image” and “Look how cool I am that I figured it out” capital. A lot of this passing around was directed at other fans (read “nerds”), but it is the percentage of it that got into the mainstream, non-nerd public which really impacted anticipation of the film. It turns out that we’re all only a couple degrees of separation away from a comic book nerd. So they made the nerds work for the info, and then let them run with it.


Speaking of brilliant: The plot of The Dark Knight involves a “social experiment” by The Joker. It’s one of the most inventive and interesting aspects of the film’s story, and handled quite well I think. What it immediately made me think of is another experiment that is of deep significance to current ethical thought in America. It is the so-called “Milgram experiment.” If you aren’t familiar with it, please follow the Wikipedia link I just gave you and find out more.

Here’s why I think Milgram is so important right now. Arguably, the United States lost whatever moral legitimacy it had in Iraq the day that the Abu Ghraib story broke. As shocking as it was to us outside of Iraq, to Iraqis the proper noun “Abu Ghraib” was already familiar and loaded. At that point, it was over. However, in the States, free from past associations, there was an immediate, and largely successful spin campaign to contextualize the incident. The story-line was simple: The abuses were the result of bad apples. I don’t believe anyone who wasn’t actually in one of the pictures, has ever been held responsible for what is an ethical catastrophe.

However, everything that I’ve read or seen about those American “bad apples” points to the fact that they are completely normal, and deeply misunderstood. And what Milgram shows us, is that put in the right set of circumstances, most normal people will do things that seriously violate their own sense of right. Milgram is evidence that, all things being equal, the “bad apple” argument is unlikely to be right, and when there are systematic abuses, it behooves us to look at the system.

It is comforting to blame the bad apples because it allows us to participate in our supposed good appleness. This is dangerous and doesn’t allow us to deal with the fact that most of us would have behaved the way those soldiers at Abu Ghraib did. In this light, Milgram seems depressing, but I find it deeply hopeful. I think there are 3 responses to Milgram (and these are in order of priority):

  1. As a society, take pains to avoid creating Milgram type situations.

  2. As an individual, take pains to recognize and avoid getting into Milgram type situations.

  3. As an individual, if you find yourself in a Milgram type situation, be in the percentage that disobeys.

It is on this last point that the hope is brightest. In the Milgram experiment there was a percentage who stopped. They were in the minority, but they existed. This statistical thread is what gets humanity through things like the Cuban Missile crisis. The way that this was presented in The Dark Knight is not only moving, but thrilling. The result of The Joker’s experiment seems to fly in the face of Milgram, but I would argue that it doesn’t. All you need, on each boat, is one individual who has the wiles to get control of the button, and is a member of Milgram’s minority.

And here we’re back to the idea of a hero as the person willing to transgress. The person operating on the basis of their own moral convictions. We feel all cool about Batman in this sense, but it’s the same species as The Joker and Clockwork’s Alex.

Free will: Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

There are no easy answers to any question worth asking. My ambivalence towards “The Dark Knight” is centered on the feeling that although it is bringing up some pretty interesting questions, it is also, at times pretending that there are easy answers to them.

Caught in Web 2.0

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

So another over-long lapse in Leon’s blogging.

You may have noticed that I’ve added a little “bookshelf” widget to the sidebar of the blog page. This is something being run through a book based social networking site called “Shelfari”. I don’t know a lot about them but I’m messing around with it.

I’ve been doing this a lot; messing around with so-called “Web 2.0” stuff. It’s all very interesting, but like everything else about computers, feels embryonic. There is a critical issue of critical mass that seems to play in. With some sites, you go and sign up and literally nothing happens. With others you get deluged by so much cruff that you wonder why you’re bothering. The balance between seeming pointless because there isn’t enough going on and seeming pointless because there’s too much, seems to be the really tricky thing.

Something that I’m not the first to notice is the fact that the early days of interconnectivity with computers featured List-serves and bulletin boards and it was all about community. Now granted it was a community of people who knew how to use the machines, but it was a community. When the web and web commerce became practical, the internet became very much about individual action, but now with Web 2.0 its swinging back towards interconnectivity of people, and now there are a lot more of them. Many of them are not even nerds. So this is interesting.

I intend to continue “messing around” with these sites, if only out of intellectual curiosity. So lets take a look at some of what I’m doing:

Flickr: This was the first site that I really started using. It’s a photo based social networking site. my id on it is “leoningul”. Lame. I know. Anyway, I occasionally upload pictures that I’ve taken. I have a small group of “friends” on it. People I’ve never heard of come by and look at my pictures. It’s all good. What I try not to do, it use it as the proverbial digital shoebox. I don’t throw snapshots up there. I think about it more as a low stakes public gallery. A place where I can put up pictures that I’ve taken (or made) that I think even someone who doesn’t know me would be interested in. In other words, there is a degree to which I see it as a public artistic activity. This may be pretentious but that’s how I feel.

Facebook: This is the big, scary monster of social networking sites. What gets me about Facebook is that I had a dozen “friends” on it, almost before I was done signing up. I continue to add a couple people a week. It’s silly. In many ways it’s just plain stupid, but what it ties into is the totally irrational way in which people relate. It provides for a level of casual contact amongst a large group of people which has already lead to some really interesting things. In the short time that I’ve been on it, it has already put me in touch with long-lost contacts and is starting to actually get me work. It’s not that throwing a fish at someone is something I would miss if I couldn’t do it, but there are plenty of people in my life who I wouldn’t relate to much at all if I didn’t have a context in which to “throw a fish” at them. I’ve also started playing chess on Facebook which is really cool.

Second Life: I’ve just started on this. It seriously freaks me out. Second Life is a virtual environment in which you have an avatar that you move around and interact with people and stuff through. I haven’t spent a lot of time in it yet, but I’m still yet to meet anyone. I don’t even know how to look for a person. Frankly it feels like death. I don’t know how to explain this, but it feels more like some sort of weird after-life, than a parallel life. We’ll see how it goes. A while back, I had some time and I did a ten day free trial of World Of Warcraft, which is similar to Second Life except that there’s a lot more structure and you’re basically in a Tolkein-esque world fighting monsters. After ten days they wanted me to start paying money and I realized that it’s one thing to find something engaging and even engrossing, but paying someone to steal time out of my life was not something I was interested in. The weird thing was that I could spend hours in WOW doing something utterly mundane, while letting the mundanity of my actual life slip by, unnoticed. I think there’s something going on here that is deeply interesting. Why are we willing to do as “entertainment” the very things we are seeking entertainment as a relief from? Anyway, I decided to see how far I can go with these things for free, and Second Life says that there’s a lot available without paying any “real” money. We’ll see.

Netvibes: This is interesting. Netvibes is essentially a web aggregator. A place where you can pull all the various content that you access regularly on the web together. I’ve been using Netvibes as my home-page for awhile now. I get my news and check in with blogs and other stuff through it’s widgets. However, they’ve just upgraded it and part of the new design is moving Netvibes towards a kind of social networking site. In addition to my own private Netvibes page, I now have a “Leon’s Netvibe Universe” that allows anyone to access an aggregate of web content that I, essentially curate. This is kind of interesting. You can check it out at

SEE: Part of the reason that I’ve been exploring this stuff is that we have a project at SITI Company that is an implementation of some of this technology. If this stuff is designed to allow contacts and networking across large groups of people, then there are certain things that we can do with our supporters and students, using this stuff. We’re calling it SITI Extended Ensemble (SEE), and it’s the brainchild of Brad Carlin. In some ways SEE is more like the old school BBS sites, but already in it’s embryonic stages we’re finding out a lot of interesting things about how these things work. In just over of month of being public we already have 200+ members and some lively discussions. An interesting thing that keeps coming up is that we want to define SEE as “Not a SITI version of Facebook.” You can check out SEE at:

There are also things like, Digg and Stumble that I’ve been doing in terms of finding and tagging websites. There are also a whole raft of things from Google that are completely changing the way the web is accessed. These are so integrated into how I use Firefox (my current browser of choice) that I don’t even think of them as websites. Perhaps this is the kind of ubiquitous invisibility that Web 2.0 will eventually evolve into, overall. I mean as cool as something like Second Life or Facebook might be, they will never be a part of how I go about my day in the way that something like Stumble or the various Google tools that I use are. In Second Life and Facebook, I guess I’m being asked to extend my imagination into them (which is fine I guess), but the more evolved tools are already acting as extensions and modifications to how my imagination and curiosity works. Eg: when I wonder where something is, my mind reaches for Google Maps. Luckily it’s on my iPhone so it’s only a pocket away.

Whether any of this is good or bad I think is yet to be discovered. We’re in the stone-age. What I do know is that, like Marshall Mcluhan said: The new technologies are not bridges between us and our environment. They ARE the environment.