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September 14, 2007

'Narcissistic bloggers and illegal downloads are undermining our culture and deceiving our children' — Andrew Keen

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Ciar Byrne interviewed Andrew Keen, author of a new book entitled "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy," for a September 10, 2007 article in The Independent.

Long story short: "Leave the web to the professionals... narcissistic bloggers and illegal downloads are undermining our culture and deceiving our children."

Here's the piece.

    Andrew Keen: Leave the web to the professionals

    Internet pioneer Andrew Keen believes that narcissistic bloggers and illegal downloads are undermining our culture and deceiving our children

    A new voice has penetrated the chorus of internet evangelists, with a warning note about the dangers of Web 2.0. It is that of Andrew Keen, who insists that he is no Luddite, but rather a Silicon Valley insider whose eyes have been opened to the damage that the internet is wreaking on our culture.

    Keen, an Englishman who moved to California to become one of the original dot.com entrepreneurs, has just returned to the UK to spread the message contained within his new book, "The Cult of the Amateur".

    "The book is a polemic," the author confesses. "It's never claimed to be particularly fair." He even concedes that the book's subtitle — "How today's internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy" — is "a little sensationalist".

    Distortion, not to mention downright untrustworthiness, is one of his main gripes with Web 2.0, the second incarnation of the internet epitomised by websites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Google and MySpace. Keen is also concerned by the lack of financial reward for talent. The internet relies on professional journalists, writers and musicians for much of its content, but blogs, online advertising and pirate downloads are rapidly putting newspapers, publishers and record companies out of business.

    But what perhaps grates on Keen most is the boundless narcissism that the internet has engendered in unqualified members of the public who use it to broadcast their opinions to the rest of the online world.

    He compares Web 2.0 to a literary invention of the postmodern Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a short essay, "The Total Library", in which he envisaged a chaos of information in an infinite number of books.

    "Back in the Nineties, I was a pioneer in the first internet gold rush," Keen writes at the start of his book. In 1996, he founded Audiocafe.com, one of the earliest websites devoted to digital music. It closed after just 18 months, but Keen remained a member of the internet fraternity, producing MB5: The Festival for New Media.

    His epiphany came in September 2004, on a camping trip for FOO – Friends of (multi-millionaire media owner Tim) O'Reilly. The word on everyone's lips at the corporate scout camp was "democratisation". But Keen began to feel "seasick".

    "I soon realised that even my gut was reacting to the emptiness at the heart of our conversation... It suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated."

    In person, Keen modifies his argument. "I don't blame technology ever. The internet is just a mirror: when we look at it, we are looking at ourselves. It's not cars or guns that kill people, it's drivers or shooters."

    For someone with his own blog, www.cultoftheamateur.com, Keen really has it in for bloggers. "I don't like unsubstantiated opinion, the kind of narcissistic culture the internet engenders, although it didn't invent it."

    He doesn't read many blogs himself — "I don't have time" — but makes it clear that he reserves his criticism for actual blogs, not sites like The Huffington Post, which he describes as "an online start-up newspaper".

    Keen is unmoved by the increasing numbers of professional journalists blogging, many at the behest of their employers. "A lot of journalists are pissed by the idea of blogging. You are disintermediating the professional gatekeepers. I don't see the point. Either they're professional journalists or they're bloggers. It's hard to do both."

    He adds, however, that if Robert Fisk or Martin Amis blogged he would read their stuff. Rather, it is the idea of the "noble amateur" that worries him — the consensus among some in the internet community that the opinions of unqualified members of the public are equally valid to those of experts.

    Keen believes that, although the traditional media can be biased or get things wrong, the filters of editors and lawyers mean that "for the most part it does a pretty good job reporting the facts". He identifies the irony that most of the opinion flooding the internet depends on traditional media for its raw materials.

    The book contains frightening examples of how the internet allows people to masquerade as something they are not, from the predatory paedophile pretending to be a teenager, to "Al Gore's Penguin Army", which posed on YouTube as a "self-made" riposte to An Inconvenient Truth but was traced to a conservative Washington DC public relations and lobbying firm.

    Keen, who has two young children of his own, fears that a generation is growing up without the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. "We need more media literacy in class. What we read on Wikipedia is not necessarily true, but kids assume that what they read on the internet is true. I think there needs to be some serious studies. Researchers have to go out and ask kids, 'When you read a blog, do you think it's true?' We take it for granted that this generation has our sophistication."

    The "mash-up", a work created from bits of other people's work, is also a target of Keen's critique. While he agrees that all great works of art – and, indeed, lesser ones — are indebted to earlier works, he believes that there is "a new permissiveness about intellectual property that is not healthy".

    "Mass media was a pretty good time for creative art," he argues. "This Web 2.0 world doesn't look as rosy, because the artist isn't rewarded. Consumers are getting used to the idea of getting things for free."

    He sees two possible futures for the internet. The first is a dystopian vision in which newspapers continue to close, the recording business collapses and — starved of advertising — television reaches a crisis point.

    The second is more positive, a Web 3.0: "I think people are going to rediscover expertise and professionalism in the context of this new media."

September 14, 2007 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Biarritz Whisper-Soft Pipeless Hydrotherapy Foot Spa

Biarritz

Why bother with the headaches of a trip to Miraval or Chiva-Som when you can enjoy the very same thing in the comfort of your own home?

In fact, yours might be even better: consider that the New England Journal of Medicine has reported on the potential dangers of insufficient sanitation in such settings.

The Biarritz cleaning system is "certified by the National Sanitation Foundation in the U.S.," according to Jonathan Margolis, writing in today's Financial Times How To Spend It supplement.

Bonus: "The Biarritz also offers an ultra-comforting experience to accompany your pedicure — to wit, a motorized, heated mid- and upper-back massager."

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$4,795.

September 14, 2007 at 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Is loneliness genetic?

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Long story short: In a study published yesterday in the journal Genome Biology, all 22,000 human genes of two groups of volunteers — the most and least lonely on an accepted loneliness scale — were compared.

209 genes stood out in the loneliest people, and "A big fraction of them seemed to be involved in the basic immune response to tissue damage," said Steve Cole, a molecular biologist at U.C.L.A. who worked on the study.

Here is a link to the BBC's report on the findings; that story follows.

    Why loneliness may damage health

    US scientists may have uncovered a genetic reason why lonely people may have poorer health.

    The UCLA research, published in Genome Biology, found certain genes were more active in people who reported feelings of social isolation.

    Many of the genes identified have links to the immune system and tissue inflammation - which may be damaging.

    Other studies have shown clear links between lack of social support and illnesses such as heart disease.

    The biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most important basic internal processes — the activity of our genes.

    The researchers said that quality, not quantity, of friendships, appeared to be important.

    The link between genes and loneliness has been explored before - a recent Dutch study of 8,000 twins also pointed to the connection.

    The UCLA research looked in more detail at which genes might be involved.

    They took 14 volunteers and assessed their level of social interaction using a scoring system.

    They then looked at genetic activity in their white blood cells and tried to compare the results.

    In their "lonely" volunteers, various genes tended to be "over expressed" compared with those at the opposite end of the scoring scale.

    These often had known links to the body's mechanisms for fighting off disease, such producing inflammation. Too much inflammation can damage tissues and cause disease.

    Other genes, including those thought to be important in fighting viruses and producing immune antibodies, were less active compared with the non-lonely volunteers.

    Dr Steven Cole, who led the study, said: "What this shows us is the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most important basic internal processes — the activity of our genes.

    "These findings provide molecular targets for our efforts to block the adverse health effects of social isolation."

    He said the differences he found were not connected to other factors such as the age, wealth or health of the people involved, but were specifically connected to their feelings of social isolation.

    They were unconnected with the size of the person's social network.

    Dr Cole said: "What counts, at the level of gene expression, is not how many people you know, it's how many you feel really close to over time."

    He said that in future, the gene profile he'd identified might help doctors work out whether therapies to ease loneliness were effective.

    Professor Andrew Steptoe, who carries out research into the biological effects of psychological conditions at University College London, said that the findings were "plausible".

    He said: "We know that social isolation and lack of social support may compromise your health.

    "We can say there is an association here, but we can't say definitively that the social isolation is causing any change in gene expression."

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Here is a link to the abstract of the study; the abstract itself follows.

    Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes

    Background: Social environmental influences on human health are well established in the epidemiology literature, but their functional genomic mechanisms are unclear. The present study analyzed genome-wide transcriptional activity in people who chronically experienced high versus low levels of subjective social isolation (loneliness) to assess alterations in the activity of transcription control pathways that might contribute to increased adverse health outcomes in social isolates.

    Results: DNA microarray analysis identified 209 genes that were differentially expressed in circulating leukocytes from 14 high- versus low-lonely individuals, including up-regulation of genes involved in immune activation, transcription control, and cell proliferation, and down-regulation of genes supporting mature B lymphocyte function and type I interferon response. Promoter-based bioinformatic analyses showed under-expression of genes bearing anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid response elements (GREs; p = 0.032) and over-expression of genes bearing response elements for pro-inflammatory NF-kB/Rel transcription factors (p = 0.011). This reciprocal shift in pro- and anti-inflammatory signaling was not attributable to differences in circulating cortisol levels, or to other demographic, psychological, or medical characteristics. Additional transcription control pathways showing differential activity in bioinformatic analyses included the CREB/ATF, JAK/STAT, IRF1, C/EBP, Oct, and GATA pathways.

    Conclusions: These data provide the first indication that human genome-wide transcriptional activity is altered in association with a social epidemiological risk factor. Impaired transcription of glucocorticoid response genes and increased activity of pro-inflammatory transcription control pathways provide a functional genomic explanation for elevated risk of inflammatory disease in individuals who experience chronically high levels of subjective social isolation.

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Here is a link to a press release about the work.

September 14, 2007 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's first exercise cellphone — Samsung SGH-E570 Pedometer Mobile: 'Beauty and brains, all in one'

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You know you want it.

From the Samsung website:
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SGH-E570 — Brilliant in Full Color

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Shine into the chic set with the Samsung E570, a boldly fashion-forward dual folder in Sweet Pink and other delectable colors.

This irresistible GSM camera phone combines pert clamshell design with superlative features.

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Beauty and brains, all in one.


Overview:

Luscious, high gloss color isn’t the only stand-out of the SGH-E570.

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Strikingly attractive, its remarkable looks are complemented by full featured confidence, including 1.3 Megapixel Camera, Video Recording, MP3 player, Bluetooth, Micro SD and more.

GPRS Class 10 with EDGE for faster data transmission rates, along with Premium Black GUI and unique features like a pedometer make this model especially appealing.
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Are you a "Target User?"

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Everyone else, proceed at your own risk.

How do you spell kawaii?

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$194.99.

September 14, 2007 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

bookofjoe MoneyMaker — GutterBall™ Episode 2: Still waiting

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Nearly two years ago I had an epiphany.

Apparently no one was listening 'cause nothing's changed.

I just came in from another unpleasant session mucking out my gutters.

And that's just the ones on the front of my house, which I can access with a 10-foot ladder.

The one in back is about 30 feet above my concrete patio and there's no way I'm touching it: Meriweather Mowing comes by twice a year and their team clears it.

Trouble is, about five days after they've gone, one end is already filled with leaves and branches from the giant trees adjacent, and it's spillover city whenever it rains from then on, with a little water in the basement to remind me of my failure to launch drainage.

Up front I've got two supposed remedies in place, on one side these:

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and on the other these:

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The flat ones work pretty well — at least, there's no water dripping down six inches in front of my windows on that side when it pours — but the caterpiller manqués are just not cutting it.

They clog up after a few months and require manual disimpaction, with the accompanying spray of mud and dirty water and tree bits into my eyes, mouth and hair, along with the usual quota of hand and arm cuts sustained while pulling them out and then replacing them after hand-clearing the gutters.

So here's the MoneyMaker™: A ball about the size of a golf ball with the following qualities:

• Surface covered with tough microabrasive material in the form of tiny teeth or serrations too small to hurt a person or break skin

• Sealed internal motor that keeps the ball silently, slowly moving back and forth inside the gutter, from morning to night and perhaps 24/7 if the power management is ideal

• Solar powered so it never needs batteries

• Sealed and waterproof

With constant mincing of gutter contents into tiny particles that will wash right out in the rain, this is an invention whose time has come.

The robotics and solar powered drive train, together with the other requirements noted, would make this pricey: I'd pay $100 for one.

In fact, give me two: one for the upper gutter and one for the two in front — for now, at least, I'll move the GutterBall™ from one side to the other on the first of the month.

Oh, yeah: You can have the name gratis.

It's what we do.

And yes — I realize that cage or screen inserts into the downspout openings will be required to prevent the precious ball from taking a dive into the sewer system along with the gutter contents.

September 14, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Pan Protector

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From the website:

    Pan Protector

    Finally, a safe and easy way to store your cookware without worrying about scratching the interior.

    Slip the handle through the opening, then stretch the cover over the pan.

    Made of soft cotton/poly fabric.

    Machine washable.

    Fits pans up to 14''.

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Set of three.

$19.99.

September 14, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Everybody is a star — Meet Gray Cat

Gray Cat is a neighborhood fixture who of late has been spending significant time on my patio, watching me on my treadmill.

It seemed only right and proper to invite him (her?) in for a snack and a nap so that's what I did last week.

He seemed to have a good time (how can one really ever know, though, with a cat?), at least judging by the fact that he (she?) now makes regular visits throughout the day, taking two or three light meals in the course of his (her?) many and varied feline functions.

It took a few days but this morning Gray Cat finally figured out how to ascend to the penthouse equivalent of my treadmill accoutrements, where I was fortunate enough to film his (her?) activities (top).

September 14, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

LED Armband

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From the website:

    LED Armband — Be Safe at Night!

    Features LED lights that flash or glow red at the push of the power switch.

    This reflective armband is perfect for sports, work or emergencies.

    Elastic strap adjusts from 11-18" for comfortable fit.

    LED-lit armband can be seen over a mile away.

    Also useful as dog collar or location marker.

    Armband is reflective with light turned off.

    Includes 150-hour replaceable batteries.

    Can be attached to belt or backpack.

    LED lights last 100,000 hours.

    Quick-release buckle.

$19.95.

September 14, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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