Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

MindHacks has a post on the science of dying from fright and whether a belief in a curse can do you in. The links on the studies are interesting. Along the same line of curses there was an Australian book written by an ex-Australian Intelligence Corp officer and an ex-ASIS case officer a few years back on the Australian Intelligence Community. The main theme of the book was how Intelligence failures occur. One of the chapters in the book entitled "Faustian Bargains" was on what could be called "bureaucratic assassinations" of whistleblowers, or "blowtorching" of government members that don't tow the line. The authors thought that the anthropology of sorcery provided a perfect model for how the power structure works in a bureaucratic environment like the Intelligence community. Of course, it had nothing do with the paranormal, but how high ranking officers perceived as powerful - like sorcerors and their magic - can cause fear by their curses, and memetic rumors, and thus cause members of the tribe to be socially outcast and isolated from the pack. A link from ABC series "Australian Story" comes with this quote on blowtorching from one of the Authors:

"The French anthropologist Levi Strauss wrote an extraordinarily deep tale on how sorcery worked and he was talking about sorcerers who point the bone at people or find some other way of taking out a rifle. He explained that there are three components to a successful attack on a victim in primitive sorcery. The first one is the sorcerer has to believe in the effectiveness of his magic or at least if he doesn't believe in that then he believes in his power to sell it, so the sorcerer has to believe in his won power. The second is the victim also has to believe in the power of the sorcery so if he believes he has been sung or attacked in some other way then he immediately starts succumbing to stress. The third component is that the general community have to believe in the power of the sorcery and once they do so they start to treat the victim like he is dead already and that just further compounds his isolation and terror. I believe that a medical autopsy of the victims of sorcery have shown up a physical dissolution of their nervous system, like soldiers who have died of extreme shell shock. The body just can't take it and breaks down. I am guessing that in the case of Merv Jenkins he succumbed to that sort of pressure where he was suddenly isolated, the system had served for many years turned on him without notice and subjected him to that sort of pressure."
A good link on "How cognitive science can improve your powerpoint presentations".

A link on the psychology of illusions and our visual system.

Scientific American has an article on "Teaching computers to see like Humans" (via 3QuarksDaily).

Drew Endy, the biological engineer, has an interview on Edge (Via O'Reilly Radar).

O'Reilly Radar also had a five part introductory series to synthetic biology with Drew Endy. It ended yesterday or the day before. Anyway, the posts are:

  1. Everything you needed to know about human-created life forms but were afraid to ask
  2. The dummy's guide to engineering genes
  3. Play God for fun and profit (mostly fun)
  4. Managing the unmanagable future.
  5. Synthetic Biology: The conclusion of the very beginning.

The comments section of the GNUCitizen post on Social Network and Identity theft (that I mentioned here) mentioned a researcher by the name of Allesandro Acquisti. Here is his research page. The papers cover a variety of topics including the economics of privacy, identity theft, information security, and social networks.

Also on privacy, and relating to counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence, is this article on a reporter who tried to remain anonymous for a week (via Metafilter). Going "underground" in this day is looking harder and harder to do. Even those individuals and groups whose craft is going underground have to hide in the open. There was a recent post on "The Spy who Billed me" where a CIA contractor was uncovered by the website (even though she doesn't "out" the contractor, as her blog post shows, with a bit of open source digging it takes all of two seconds to find their webpage by googling keywords in the blog post). A book I have been recently reading, and relates to this topic, is "Torture Taxi" which covers how the authors, journalists, and mostly amateurs, unravelled the CIAs network of front companies involved in extraordinary rendition. I've been reading it for two reasons:

1. The author Trevor Paglen is an immensely interesting fellow. He calls himself an "experimental geographer" and has some very interesting ways that he obtains his information. It's almost a combination of real life side channel attacks (through obtaining info on relationships between companies/planes and piecing together emitted information that the CIA erroneously thought non-important) and traffic analysis (by analysing plane and transportation network patterns).

2. Open sources, and collaborative intelligence, was used to unravel the CIA front companies. Much of the information used to unravel the CIA front company network was from plane enthusiasts who take photos of planes, notetake tail numbers, listen in to radio channels and note callsigns etc. Now, if we get those same guys to use their skills against rogue states and non-state actors like human smugglers and terrorist networks ...

Also on researchers again, and things pertaining to visual manipulation and deception, I found this research page on digital forensics, human perception, and visual signal processing.

A term that has been popping up in my Google Reader lately is "Reality Mining" and is of interest to those who study social networks (and also privacy advocates, or even Intelligence analysts, since some of the data collected comes from mobile phones). According to the MIT page on reality mining this research area questions:
How do social networks evolve over time?
How entropic (predictable) are most people's lives?
How does information flow?
Can the topology of a social network be inferred from only proximity data?
How can we change a group's interactions to promote better functioning?
Some links pertaining to reality mining:
  • A slideshow (via O'reilly radar)
  • News article on reality mining using mobile/cell phones (via Warren Ellis)
  • Reality mining mentioned in Top Ten emerging tech trends of 2008 (via Bruce Sterling)

That's the links for this Friday and weekend reading!


Flagg707 said...

What a fascinating data dump to consider. Thanks for posting this.