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I'm preparing to move back to Belgium in a couple of months, and one of the things that needs to be sorted out is what the best data plans for smartphones are over there. It's been two years and everything is different. To my great annoyance, Belgium still hasn't invented the unlimited data plan; the most I can get per month is 2 gig, which is just low enough to make me worry about overshooting it and paying an arm and a leg for using an extra 30 megabytes or something. (My first experience with this came a few years ago when I visited my grandmother in the hospital. I decided to download her favorite CD from iTunes on the spot so she'd have some music to listen to. Grandma was successfully cheered up for a while, but apparently I'd overshot my monthly data allowance already, and my good deed turned up on my mobile bill to the tune of 80 euros a few weeks later.)

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Welcome to Life is "A science fiction story about what you see when you die. Or: the Singularity, ruined by lawyers."


Tom Scott: Welcome to Life (2.5 min)

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Found via Techdirt: a video from Microsoft that "informs" you about the dangers of counterfeit software. The dangers consist of strangely clad men who will invade your office to hide in your copy machines, steal your external hard drives, and abscond with your credit cards and desktops. Conventionally attractive women are particularly at risk of this.

Piracy Lurks Everywhere (2min)
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It's pretty sobering to read that the sky-high figures for financial damage and job losses caused by "piracy" that the media industry routinely presents as true, and on which so many draconian "anti-piracy" laws are based, are completely false. But you can also just watch this funny video, it's probably more memorable anyway ;)

Rob Reid: The $8 billion iPod (5 min)
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Social experiment: please watch the video before reading any of the text that follows it? There seems to be wide agreement that this is a moving and poignant short, but I'm curious to know exactly why different people find it poignant, so I don't want to impose my framing of what happens beforehand.

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Theo Gray, element collector and many other things, constructed a table with a hand-carved wooden tile for every element in Mendeleev's periodic table. Each tile hides a sample of the element inside the table. It's a beautiful piece of work, and I love how it shows that there are real, physical, interesting things behind that perfectly boring grid full of letters I was presented with in high school and forgot as quickly as I could possibly manage. Maybe I'd have tried harder to take an interest in chemistry if the periodic table had been presented as this intricate ordering of actual materials that look and feel absolutely fascinating. Most of the video is Gray showing off his collection of element samples, and oh, I wish I was in that room right now and could touch all that stuff. (New thing learned today: tungsten is an incredibly heavy element, and one actual use of tungsten powder is sprinkling it on wax in dog's ears so the ears will lie flat.)

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Not doing much writing at the moment. I'm busy reading up on open source licensing and open source project management for research purposes and more personal reasons (I'm getting involved in an open source project and want to be more useful). So, have another video!

The general gist of this talk is familiar: how secure we feel often doesn't match how secure we actually are. But it's a very good summary of exactly where this discrepancy comes from, when it's most likely to occur, how it persists, and what we can do about it. I love videos that summarize everything worth remembering about a given topic, and point out how it relates to other issues in ways that seem obvious in hindsight but just didn't occur to me before. (More rambling after the video)

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Like the link between incorrect perception of risk and the very existence of modern media that's pointed out here. There are a lot of news outlets that make a deliberate effort to sensationalize everything, which makes people feel that one-in-a-million occurrences could very well happen to them. That seems obvious. But it's not just sensationalist news that skews our perception of how likely we are to get personally involved in some freakishly rare event; it's the very concept of news media. The more we hear about something, the more we assume that it's likely to happen to us as well, and the whole idea of news media is to tell everyone about happenings that were extraordinary. Things that were rare enough to be newsworthy.

In a way, every single thing that ends up in any kind of news is sensationalist. No matter how dryly and objectively a quality media outlet manages to report on something, it's still going to make us more likely to feel that this something might happen to us as well. You can get a pretty good idea of the kind of risks you run in a certain place just by living there for a while, but once there's a newspaper to tell you of the things that happened in Other Place, you start overestimating the likelihood that those things could happen where you are. The problem isn't that bad news outlets scare people for no reason, it's that news outlets (quality or not) exist in the first place. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't have news, of course, just that we need to keep in mind that no matter how carefully we select our news sources, news is always going to be sensationalist by its very nature.

(Applying this to an example that's relevant to me right now: my advisor is organizing a conference here in Kyoto in November, and there were almost no responses to the call for papers from outside Japan, while she normally gets lots of those. The only explanation we can think of is that people are afraid to visit Japan because of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. This seems incredibly weird from my point of view. However, even those who have only read the most non-sensationalist and accurate descriptions of the nuclear crisis are still going to overestimate the risk of coming to Japan, because they've been bombarded with news about Fukushima while hearing nothing of the situation in the other 46 prefectures of Japan. Even if we inform them now that Kyoto is hundreds of miles away and completely unaffected by the disaster, and they believe us, they're still going to overestimate the risk of coming to Japan simply because they've heard Fukushima mentioned more often than Kyoto.)

Anyway, most of this talk isn't about news media at all, but that was the part that jumped out to me.


Found via Sociological Images.
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Via Sociological Images, original Feminist Frequency post with extra links here. I want to keep a dedicated little video-playing device in my pocket just so I can show this to every person who utters the phrase "I'm not a feminist, but" or wants me to justify my calling myself a feminist because "most" feminists are, you know, you know?

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The reason why this talk delights me beyond anything I can express is rather long and convulted, so I've put it after the video. tl;dr version: It's Jurassic Park for real, and Jurassic Park pretty much made me.

Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken (16min)

Summary from TED:

Renowned paleontologist Jack Horner has spent his career trying to reconstruct a dinosaur. He's found fossils with extraordinarily well-preserved blood vessels and soft tissues, but never intact DNA. So, in a new approach, he's taking living descendants of the dinosaur (chickens) and genetically engineering them to reactivate ancestral traits — including teeth, tails, and even hands — to make a "Chickenosaurus".
 
Video under the cut )
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BBC: Japan nuclear crisis: Pensioners seek work at Fukushima (3 min)

In this interview, which I can't embed because BBC doesn't allow that, Mr. Yamada Yasuteru explains that he and many other retired volunteers want to help out at the struggling Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to save younger people the risk of radiation accidents with lasting consequences. About two minutes in, the interviewer asks if the volunteers would describe themselves as "kamikaze pensioners" and their work as a "kamikaze mission".
This does not go over terribly well... )
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This video gives a quick overview of why we shouldn't assume that the business model of the entertainment industry is worth protecting against the things it hates, like piracy or unlicensed creation of derivative works (such as all kinds of fanstuff).

Video and rambling under the cut )
 
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There's been so much squee about the Thor movie that I'll probably go see it, even though movie tickets in Japan cost an arm and a leg. In the meantime, the only thing I have an opinion about is the ridiculous casting imbroglio. Via Sociological Images, here's a video that explains clearly and in brief why casting a black actor to play a white character is not the same as replacing all the Avatar kids with white actors.

(While we're on this topic, allow me to draw your attention to Racebending.com's campaign about the Hollywood adaptation of Akira, where they apparently want someone like Brad Pitt to play Kaneda. FYI, this is Kaneda. And just to spread the awesome of Akira a bit, here's a an Akira vid (some violence and gore) set to the absolutely thrilling song "Kaneda" from the OST.)

MovieBob: The Big Picture: Skin Deep (5 min)

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This deserves to be said again and again.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story (19min)

Description from TED's website:

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

 
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I watch tons of interesting talks online every week, academic and otherwise, but I barely ever seem to share them beyond Twitter. Dreamwidth and all the places where I cross-post need more good and watchable non-fiction videos, as arbitrarily decided by me just now, so I'll be posting some on a semi-regular basis from now on. Enjoy!


Beware online “filter bubbles”: Eli Pariser on TED.com (9 min)

Description from TED's website:

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.
 

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