Two contrasting news makers
Friday, April 28, 2006
Recently, there have been two contrasting stories making the rounds about two students of two of the top universities in the United States.
Interestingly enough, with the immigration problems the US is facing, both students and families were not borne in US soil: Dan-el Padilla Peralta (from Princeton) is from the Dominican Republic, and Kaavya Viswanathan (from Harvard) is Indian.
Another interesting side to these stories is the media coverage. For example, Dan-el Padilla's
story has 2 hits on news.google, compared to 991 for Kaavya's
(as of April 28, 2006 - 11:17 AM EST).
The US seems to be more interested on the scandal and disgrace of a teenage girl than it is of a young man, who against all odds, has been able to succeed in a very competitive environment achieving academic excellence.
Both stories are very compelling: Padilla is an illegal immigrant raised in homeless shelters in New Jersey by a single mom--his gift is academics; on the other hand, Kaavya is the only daughter of well to do naturalized Indian physicians--her gift, seemed to be, writing (we do not know any more).
I personally would like to know more about Dan-el Padilla, than Kaavya: even though plagiarism is interesting, I would prefer to know what the US is going to do about his status and if he will get a green card that will allow him to go Oxford, on a scholarship, and be able to return to the States.
By the way, the only two stories about Padilla are:
- American Dream
- The first story published was on the Wall Street Journal, Weekend Edition: Illegal at Princeton.
Unfortunately, the story is only available to subscribers. (I have a screen grab of the story, if you want to read it--note that I have no permission from the WSJ.)
Kaavya's story is well documented and it keeps increasing by the minute. There are now 1,010 entries in news.google
Have you heard of MySpace?
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Have you ever heard of MySpace?
I am quite certain some of you have been thinking about MySpace lately. Why? Probably because so many people are talking about it.
(I am actually writing this entry an example of the funneling effect the web has on certain themes. MySpace seems to be the "it" boy of the internet right now, and thus sort of proving my funneling effect
theory--we just can't stop writing about MySpace.)
I still do not understand the appeal of MySpace
, so I still consider it an interesting experiment. However, it is a community that should be taken seriously. A few months ago, Rupert Murdoch paid $580 million for MySpace. That is quite a chunk of money when you stop and think about it, but being Rupert investing the money we have to assume he knows what he is doing and that there is something of extreme value around all those, seemingly, disjointed web sites.
This week there has been good and bad news about MySpace. Of everything reported about the company, only one particular story caught my eye: MySpace announced
that it was hiring a new Chief Security Officer.
Is the hiring of this person due to the buzz on the web or was it something they were planning all along?
I think it may be a bit of both. Most of the bad PR that has been floating around seems to be related to public security issues--not the sites per se, but the content or the people using the community.
Though it seems to be a good PR move, I do not see what this new Security Officer will actually do for the company. It definitely has a good marketing twist to it, which may be enough, i.e., having a high profile executive join the ranks will put at ease the minds of concerned parents whose teenagers use MySpace to talk to their friends and, dangerously, anyone with a computer and internet access).
Aside from this, I do not see the clear function of such Officer. Will he create a task force to audit 10 million existing sites or do background checks for anyone creating an account?
Probably not. I mean, the whole appeal of this net community for the site creator is the easy of use, and for MySpace the low maintenance--read cheap to maintain: they provide just enough tools to create sites and then just let the whole thing grow.
I think that putting too many checks and bounds to the game will decrease the growth rate and will affect hundreds of other side businesses: Wired reported that News Corp. "sells $13 million in ad revenues each month," in addition to other little side business selling customization for MySpace sites--it may be a problem because all the economic value being generated actually depends on the growth of the community. I.e., no growth == no money.
News organization writing about MySpace:
- And of course the other 6,150 news sites reporting on MySpace (as of April 19, 2006)
One web, one mind
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The web seems to have a merging effect on collective thought. Since we all get most of our news from the internet, we all think of the same things or we have a particular topic in mind roughly around the same time. Funneling Content
If there is such a thing as a funneling effect of thought, how does it actually happen?
It is a very simple concept. All that is needed is to control the distribution of ideas via main web sites or news distribution channels around the world.
Noam Chomsky argued this particular topic a few times: mind control and the role of the media. (I have to mention Chomsky, as what discussion of this nature would be complete without his point of view.)
In a nutshell, we have a democratic world-society with manufactured consent, i.e., a very orderly and controlled society via news outlets since we can no longer be controlled by force.
In our information age, this type of thought control is a bit harder to achieve since the web is still a relatively uncensored medium in democratic countries; however, when someone high up there in the power pyramid gets spooked about something, there is no telling what editorial waves hit ISPs and news outlets.
Interestingly enough, while editing this entry, the Toronto Star reported
today that "The Conservative government has taken steps to keep the public from seeing images of flag-draped coffins when fallen soldiers are returned home from Afghanistan." So, censorship does exist, even in Canada.
But even without this "guiding" hand, there seems to be this invisible funnel of main topics for humanity to discuss. Of course, we live in the same world so some topics have to be in our collective mind: oil prices, the Iraq world, global warming (if it really is an issue), etc., etc. Sometimes, though, some topics are more predominant than others.Zbigniew Brzezinski
, who served as United States National Security Advisor in the Jimmy Carter era, wrote a book titled Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technotronic Era
in which he "prophetically foresaw a society," as quoted by Jim Marrs in Rule by Secrecy
, "...that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially, and economically by the impact of technology and electronics--particularly in the areas of computers and communications." Perhaps we are just seeing Brzezinski revelations 30 years after his book was published (October 1976).Funneling the Mind
If such effect exist, could we actually create a global consciousness that we can tap into?
This is more of a conspiratorial type of topic, which I have nothing against, but there has to be a bit of pragmatism to explore this particular theme.
For example, I visit news.google.com, wired.com, and slashdot.org daily. Would you be able to figure out what I am thinking about or what major themes are running through my mind right now?
In a way you could, with the minor caveat of my readings of real books and hard copy newspapers: similar to everyone else, I have different interests and if I feel that I am getting good information from a few sources (web or paper), I stick with them. Thus, these particular sources are, in effect, manufacturing my consent.
Of course, you can not blame the owners of these media outlets for expressing their own opinions or selling their own agendas. As in any market, we, the consumers, need to be responsible and get as many points of view as there are out there and then, and only then, make up our minds about anything--ignorance should not be an excuse.
It is, in fact, a buyers market: if The New York Times seems to have one point of view about the war on Iraq, why not try the Wall Street Journal, or an independent media outlet. One of them will have to be telling the truth. After all, journalist are supposed to be reporting on real events, and now with 3 or 4 different sources reporting on the same snapshot of time, we should be able to choose which point of view we are going to believe given our background, beliefs, and experiences.The Effect on Business
Does any of this have any effect in the business world? I believe it does, but I do not know to what extent. For example, are companies hiring Internet Chief Officer that harvest the web to see what anyone is talking about them and thus make organizational decision from the results?
I think this has been tried before, i.e., a consulting business model harvesting everything that has been written on the web and report daily on the "main" themes. I would call it "a corporate brand manager."
It is a hard endeavor, but very implementable, i.e., write your own search bot that specializes in "your" company and ignores everything else. (I tend to think that this function actually resides in the laps of Marketing departments in the corporate world--if it is not, it should.)
All and all, I think we do have a global consciousness that is created by the events
all around us. Since everything we do is now connected, we should get as many points of view as possible before making up our minds about what is really happening.
With so many choices, it is too easy (not to say irresponsible) to let a few shape our consciousness--usually the ones with the stronger points of view are the ones that have the most interest to convince us of anything (most of the time, it is not to our advantage).
On that note, long live the free (as in speech) internet, which allows me to still express my own personal point of view on the topic of one web, one mind.
This is a short story, because I am small
This is a story written by Gabriel, my six year old son.
He said he wanted to write a short story because he is small. He literally said: "Dad, I want to write a short story because I am small."
He says the story is about a dragon and Spongebob. He was reading it out loud while typing. I am just sorry I didn't write everything he said.
Note that there are exactly 3 commas and one ending period. The commas are defenetely accidental, but the period, I think, is by design--some of his homework requires for him to put periods after simple sentences.
It was typed in a Dell D600 laptop computer. Essentially it became his laptop, as I refuse to use the sticky keyboard anymore--he surfs and watches DVDs while eating snacks or drinking juice :)
Knowledge of the World
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Language is arguably one of the main mediums used to transmit ideas and knowledge. With this premise in mind, as of late, I have been toying with the theory that if knowledge is transmitted via language then a large portion of the world's knowledge to date is lost on the edges of some average distribution of a language/knowledge continuum.
According to ethnologue.com, there are 6,912 known spoken languages in the world. Within all these languages, there is common knowledge that has been transmitted over the centuries either through spoken stories or written works. However, not all of it makes it to every remote spot of the world.
I argue that we have a common knowledge base throughout the world, which I represent as follows:
- The vertical axis represents the knowledge accumulated from every language; the red band represents the common knowledge we share as a global culture.
- The horizontal axis represents the languages spoken (I have no space for 6,000 bars, so 4 bars will have to do)--there is no particular order the languages are presented.
- As per the width and height of the bars, you can think of each language being more expressive or contains a larger amount of words or phonetic sounds when compared to other languages (think of Chinese or Russian).
Hence, putting all the languages of the world side by side and conceptually estimating the knowledge accumulated globally, I end up with bits of information that, I claim, lie outside the red band, and these bits are knowledge that has been lost in translation.
This being a thought experiment, I only have empirical results to support this observation. In particular, I have noted (and probably so have you) that some of the knowledge that does not translate from language to language is actually cultural knowledge. Thus, I present three trivial examples:
- Children's Stories
Latin American folk stories used to scare little children do not exist in North America, and conversely, the boogey man is not part of the vernacular knowledge of Latin American mothers--although moms always find a way to scare us of something (as a defense mechanism, we can now explain).
- Tropical Fruits
How many of you know where cashews come from?
Gabriel thinks they come from cans bought at the super market, or a cashew tree. However, a cashew is actually the seed of a tropical fruit called maraņon.
This bit of information does not come from any special training from my part. I actually had a tree in my backyard (in El Salvador, not Canada) and after school my friends and I would pick the ripe maraņones, eat the fruit, and then roast the seed (which grows outside of the fruity part) to eat it as an afternoon snack. They were, and still are, delicious.
- Translated Literature
As a global culture, we have found a way to translate literary works without loosing too much of the idiosyncrasies that create the charm of a particular work of art.
For example, I have read Cervantes's Don Quijote de la Mancha in English and Spanish, and have, from time to time, compared paragraphs of certain passages of both versions. It is not surprising to find the concepts of the two version being the same in my mind, even if the physical representation of the words on the pages is totally different (different phonetics, different sentence structure, et al).
This duality of languages and the representation of the same concept in the mind is actually hard to explain, and probably understand, if you do not speak more than one language: things are the same, yet different.
But in this particular example of Don Quijote, both translations of the same work have a common element to it, which is what is translatable and has become the average knowledge that is transferred from culture to culture. (Although master pieces as these translations are, I am certain some aspects of the novel our one handed Cervantes considered important did not quite make it into every translated Don Quijote book.)
Although I call my thought experiment a theory, it hardly qualifies as hypothesis of a problem, as every new theory tries to add new knowledge to our understanding of the world around us. Unfortunately, my "theory" does not really prove anything new. We all know that we should welcome cultural differences and channel them in a way that allows us to learn new things from each culture we encounter. In essence, I am saying that having two different points of view at the same time about a particular issue is actually beneficial--some of that cultural knowledge may be the key to solving intractable problems.
Even though, I have not done any academic research, I can site one research result to back some of my writings (this may be pushing it, but if you squint really hard you can almost see some relationship): Ellen Bialystok, a researcher from York University, has done a more scholastic study relating to bilingualism and problem solving
. For example, CTV reported on her last study:
York University psychologist Ellen Bialystok undertook the study to see if people who speak more than one language react faster in a series of computer tests than people who speak only one language.
According to her results, knowing two languages allowed some of her subjects solve a certain type of problem faster.
Her study seems to be related to what I am trying to present here (which I only found out after writing my entry), although, a more rigorous study or her experiment and her statistical analysis is necessary to be more certain of the results.
I will, however, go further and state the claim that knowing more than one language allows individuals to have knowledge about different cultures and that this cultural knowledge adds different perspectives to problem solving allowing for a larger spectrum of possible solutions to draw from
--noting of course, that a certain aptitude on the field of study is required, i.e., being fluent in English and Spanish does not give me the tools to be any good at brain surgery.
It is a big claim with no backing of anything, except a vague relationship to some obscure study done by one researcher and my three examples together with my fancy (and original) knowledge-language continuum graph. So, I will live it up to you to draw your own conclusion about the connection and claim I made.
What do you think? O mejor dicho, que opinas? :)
The Simpsons movie trailer
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Like any typical Gen-X male, I enjoy watching The Simpsons.
Finally, the movie has become a reality. "Excellent...":
I keep hoping they bring back Futurama, or perhaps Futurama, the movie.