Tag Archives: internet

Bing Day (Part One)

So after the critically acclaimed Google Day, I thought I should probably try the same experiment with its closest search engine rival, Microsoft’s Bing. Read on to see how the day played out…

9:00 – Woken up by alarm. Groggily reach for laptop. Straight to http://www.bing.com. No matter what happens later, I guess I should start the same way as I did for Google, and ask – “what should I do first thing in the morning?” The first search result is a very weird bodybuilding site, with a huge paragraph of text to read on morning exercise routines.

9:08 – Took a while to get through all that. As the author of the piece concluded that he would “get on (his) stairmaster” every morning, I’d best do the same. Seeing as I don’t actually have one, I’ll have to use good old-fashioned regular stairs and just run up and down those.

Stairs

9:40 – Morning workout complete, I’m bloody knackered. And the neighbours probably didn’t appreciate my storming up and down the stairs solidly for over half an hour at nine in the morning. Anyway. Bing – “what should i do after exercise?”

This search takes me to a site which tells me exactly what to do after exercising, in fact, ten things. This of course means I must do all of them.

1. Rest. 9:45 – YES. Back to bed. Thank you internet. Fifteen minute power nap coming my way.

Rest

2. Stretch. 10:00 – I feel like this would have been better before the nap. But anyhow. Best do what it says.

Stretches

3. Cool down. 10:10 – This aparently involves “Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes”. To be honest, that’s pretty much my normal state of existence.

4 and 5. Eat Properly and Replace Fluids. 10:20 I am going to have to digress from the list for a second here to ask what to eat…

So, Bing, “what should I have for breakfast?” To my horror, I get the exact same result as when I asked Google before: Eggs, wheat toast, half an orange (or any fruit) and an 8oz glass of milk.

It wasn’t exactly haute cusisine last time, but I’ll have to make it again. Back in a bit.

Breakfast

10:50 – Demolished that. All that running up and down stairs worked a treat for my appetite. So now, as promised, back to the list of “things to do after exercise”.

6. Try active recovery. 10:41 – According to the site, this is all about “easy gentle movement to improve circulation”. I’ll slowly wave my arms about a bit or something. Ridiculous.

7. Have a massage. 10:45 – NICE. The list recommends self-massage… Not sure what to expect when I type this in, but Bing: “what is self massage?” I get this very handy article telling me exactly how to massage my shoulders, feet, hands and abdomen. Very weird.

Shoulder Massage

And the next one is…….

8. Take an Ice bath. 11:00 – NO. I really don’t want to do this. At all. This is testing the limits. Its mid-November. It’s not an ideal time to be running a cold bath. However, in the name of frivolous internet experiments, Im going to do it.

Cold Bath

11.10 – Bath full of cold water. Time to take the plunge. Wish me luck.

Freezing

11: 15 – So. Fucking. Cold.

So to finish the so far awful list of things to do after exercising…

9 and 10. Get lots of sleep and avoid over training. 11:20 – The second one here is not really something to do, and I have already been told to rest within these ten steps. I probably wasn’t supposed to do all of those things. The best part of my morning is now over.

So far, Bing is rubbish. Part Two to follow!

Battle of the Search Engines

So after deciding to do more stuff, I thought I would try and look more into the whole letting-search-engines-dictate-my-life thing.

And seeing as I did Google before, next it will be the turn of its fierce rival, Bing.

I will try to mimic my Google Day methods as much as possible, i.e. do it from 9am to 5pm, use the same sort of language for searches etc. I know it’s not exactly scientific, but let’s pretend it is.

It’ll be interesting to see how similar or different the results are. After that, well I guess it’ll  be the turn of Yahoo.

As long as I don’t have to look out for tornadoes again, I’ll be happy.

Thoughts on Code

I first watched this quite old TED talk by Clay Shirky a few months ago, and have just revisited it, seeing as it has a lot to do with what I’m doing at the moment.

It is about the power of collaboration as opposed to institutions, and he explains how the internet has allowed a system whereby huge amounts of people are enabled to make contributions, no matter how little, to something bigger. In short, he says, we have only been consumers for the last 50 years or so – that was all that the mass media allowed us to do and we got very good at it. But now we have tools to produce as well – and what’s more, we can share all this stuff and more easily work together.

One example he gave was that of “Ushahidi”, a website that was created to accumulate news in Kenya from users to give people first-hand knowledge of what was going on in a government-enforced media blackout. This is great.

Shirky goes on to say that it took just two web developers 72 hours to build this thing. Which is kind of amazing too – the amount of effort required to achieve so much for so many people is a real testament to the power of the internet to get people to collaborate.

The thing is, that it still required two people of a very much professional training and standard to make the thing. Personally, I know absolutely nothing about how to build a website. Coding is essential to how web applications are built, and as such, makes the web a more elitist platform than you might think. It is (very literally) a completely different language, and not an easy one to understand at that. The internet may well be quite democratic and give people the tools to produce their own content, but if you can’t code, your creations can only be within certain set parameters.

It is after all, a language, if not a particularly easy one to master. But perhaps it needs to be taught in schools, just like we teach French or German. Its certainly more relevant to children’s futures than Latin.

Anyway. Just a thought.

Thoughts on Consciousness

So yesterday, I  went to a lecture about consciousness by a neuroscientist called Murray Shanahan, from Imperial College. It was about how consciousness is constructed within the brain, how networks of neurons connect together to create hierarchies of thought and other such clever stuff.

To be honest, most of it went right over my head. Total mindfuck.

There was, however, an interesting thing about the way in which networks in the brain resemble social networks. The structure it follows is what is known as a modular network (see below). I won’t go into it in too much detail, as this will only display how little I know, but essentially, this works in the brain by having separate modules of neurons that are all linked together by highly influential neurons which act as hubs.

This isn’t the best diagram in the world, but it hopefully helps explain how it works a bit. So basically, in a real world social network, the connector “hub” neurons are highly sociable and influential people, who move between different social groups and link them together.

Its interesting to see how, whether by accident or design, we have come to create online networks that so closely resemble the processes that go on within our own brains.

In the questions at the end of the lecture, one guy asked that if this system was how consciousness is created, then why is a social network such as Facebook, that relies on a very similar system, not itself a conscious entity?

Shanahan’s answer, from what I remember, was pretty much “well its just not.” Fair enough.

It got me thinking about Twitter though. The thing that makes Twitter interesting, and crucially different to Facebook, is the the way everyone’s tweets are collated into a vast web of trends, moods and feelings on a global scale. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Twitter has a consciousness per se, but I think it might be the first social network we have created that has something resembling one.

As a timely example, I read a amazing story a couple of days ago about how the global mood on Twitter can predict the rise and fall of the stock market by about four days. With an accuracy of 86.7 per cent. That’s mental. I chatted with Henry about this, and we wondered if somehow Twitter could be infiltrated to lift the global mood, almost like a guerrilla happiness spreading campaign. This would then act as an economic stimulus to help the recovery.

Worth a go. Surely better than what this guy‘s doing anyway.

Readings: I, Pencil

“I, Pencil” is an essay written in 1958 by the libertarian economist Leonard E. Read. The short narrative is told from the point of view of a regular everyday pencil, and starts with the bold assertion that “no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

Read intended it, to a large extent, to be an illustration of why the division of labour within a capitalist system works so efficiently; a powerful polemic in defence of a global free market. But that’s not what I’m interested in (well I am a bit, but I think he’s wrong).

What I’m more interested in is the way he explains how shared knowledge is so intrinsic to the production of pretty much every object we own. It is a wonderful illustration of all the various people and processes that all contribute separately to the construction of a simple pencil, whether its the lumberjack who cut down the wood, the miner who dug for the graphite, or the person who conceived the notion of pencil in the first place. As Read describes it, “Millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally in response to human necessity and desire, in the absence of any human masterminding.”

That quote could easily be used to describe the way in which the internet works. Wikipedia, for example, although now burdened with a certain amount of (often necessary) rules and regulations, essentially started off as a free market encyclopaedia, where anyone could contribute and edit whatever knowledge they wished. There was no hierarchy, no rules, and it resulted in it growing at an insane speed into the massively useful source of information it is today (and much more reliable than most give it credit for). It is a fine example of how giving people freedom and responsibility can work.

Read’s glossing over of the vast inequality and exploitation that occurs within real life free markets makes his political/economic argument here somewhat removed from my own opinion – I mean if everyone’s contribution is, as he says, of relatively equal magnitude and importance, then why are they never all rewarded as such?

The thing is, thanks to the internet, all those little pieces of knowledge are now out there for all of us to access. I imagine I could quite easily find out on the internet how to make a pencil, from start to finish.

I briefly looked into actually doing this as an experiment, but I definitely can’t afford it. Id need to go and cut down actual trees and mine for graphite in Sri Lanka and make glue and stuff. It would make a good documentary, I can see BBC 4 commissioning it. No-one would watch it, but that’s what BBC 4 is for, right?

I digress. My point is, now that knowledge is so easy to reach and collate in this great big thing called the internet, it’s now about how we apply that knowledge. Information, unlike labour, is free, and we can use it however we like, to build things, share things, design things etc…

In a passage of I Pencil that I am more inclined to agree with, Read says “The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited.” I’m sure plenty have said this before me, but I think we now have the makings of a system that truly allows us to do this.

We’ve done the knowledge sharing bit (pretty much). Now, how do we make a network that allows us to do stuff with it all?

Thoughts on Knowledge

I’ve been thinking a bit today about how digital technology affects our knowledge and memory. Countless Tory rag hacks have filled countless column inches about the “dumbing down” of people that has been caused by TV, video games and the internet –  saying that we spend too much time using them and have no time to learn or experience things.

These criticisms sometimes have some validity, and sometimes don’t – worries about some people’s lack of interaction outside of screen based worlds are very genuine and cause for some concern, for example. However, it is this thing about knowledge and learning that intrigues me.

The internet has caused a mass externalisation of knowledge, any strand of which can be accessed at any point within seconds. This means, in short, that we don’t really need to know as much stuff.

Here’s where aforementioned Tory rag hack says “Back in my day, one was taught real things. I could recite all of our fine nation’s monarchs back to William I.”

I couldn’t do this. Not a chance. But give me wikipedia and 10 seconds I can use the knowledge if I need to. It becomes much more about the application of knowledge, not the accumulation of it. Which surely is a good thing?

Much more productive, for sure.

I have a plan for a little bit of research to do tomorrow. More on this later.