All items about information


Patently absurd

If patent attorneys continue unabated, we may one day have to be careful how we think, lest we run afoul of patents.

Patents control how inventions are used and sold. Initially covering new products, the scope of patents was expanded by the US Congress to include processes.

Today, patents reach far beyond simple processes. Companies are patent genes and mathematical algorithms. eHarmony, for example, has patented a mathematical formula for compatibility; now, other companies are rushing to patent the application of math to everything from finance to energy.

This documentary looks at the expanding definition of patents, and how it might change society.

As we incorporate technological inventions into ourselves, we may find the patent-holders in control of our lives, and be forced to pay someone in order to think in a particular way.

Shot of newspapers by Shironekoeuro (

Newspaper and magazine publishers see the the arrival of tablet computers like the iPad as a salvation for their ailing industry. They expect it to lower delivery costs and move them from a once-a-day news source to a constant, immediate service.

The excitement is justified, but misdirected. If tablets do save publishing, it’ll won’t be because they’re digital or more up t. It’ll be because they make newspapers interactive, and in doing so, let any reader place an ad right on the page they’re reading, opening up an entirely new revenue stream. Read more »


Which emits more CO2 - the Icelandic Volcano or the planes it stopped from flying?As more and more data is scrutinized in public, there is a growing trend towards creating visualizations that are easier to digest than the raw numbers.

Here’s a topical infographic pulling together the effects of mankind and Mother Nature on our atmosphere. You can see that the Icelandic volcano eruption’s effects are cancelled out by the planes that have been grounded because of the ash cloud, and in fact we are witnessing a net reduction in CO2 pollution this week. More details here.


You’ve seen bad metaphors for the Internet. Pop culture is filled with films where special effects show computer networks as highways, with towering servers encroaching on light-filled roads. These scenes try to represent the Internet as, well, a series of tubes (Play this clip from Hackers to jog your memory.)*

This happens a lot in Hollywood, and in too many cyberpunk novels (like one I’m finishing now just to spite myself.) I forgive William Gibson’s “collective hallucination” and Neil Stephenson’s Metaverse because, well, they’re good books.

But maybe the UI of the future will look like this after all, at least for certain applications. Check out Britain from Above by way of the folks at Flowing Data. Warning: clicking this video may make your browser lock up for a minute for some reason. Be patient, or go to the Youtube playlist.

There are clips for telecommunications, air traffic, and even shipping on the site itself, which is well worth the visit.

I’m a huge believer in visualizing information and making the world more understandable, and the convergence of things like geomapping and GPS are making understanding even easier. These clips resemble nothing if not an RTS for the real world. It makes me want to click and drag routes for cars and boats.

I used to think Tron was a great movie, but not really a UI. Now I’m starting to wonder how these flying-through-data approaches, first conceived as a network metaphor for the non nerd, can become user interfaces.

This is how the prescient visuals of Minority Report slowly become reality.

We’re about to drink from a firehose of positional data as location-aware personal devices replace traditional cellphones and we move towards a sensor-driven world. We have the cloud computing infrastructure to handle massive computing and fast data retrieval. How long until Britain From Above becomes a live Google Earth overlay?

Oh, wait. It already is. Here’s the site’s Google Earth layer. When will web analytics catch up with this?

(*For real fun, check out the eighties-era Mac copy dialog at 8:18 in that Hackers clip. Anachronisms, FTW!)

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