Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Sexual Classification System: Online

The Linnean Society of London has posted hundreds of photos of butterflies and moths from the collections of famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of modern taxonomy.

The Linnaean Collections comprise the specimens of plants (14,300), fish (158), shells (1,564) and insects (3,198) acquired from the widow of Carl Linnaeus in 1784 by Sir James Edward Smith, founder and first President of the Linnean Society. They also include the library of Linnaeus (of some 1,600 volumes) and his letters (c. 3,000 items of correspondence and manuscripts).

They have begun digitizing the collection of 4,000 letters from 600 different correspondents including letters from such major figures as Sir Joseph Banks, Johan Frederik Gronovius, Johan Christian Fabricius, the Jussieu brothers, José Celestino Mútis, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, Georg Dionysius Ehret, Anders Celsius, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Why should we care? An avatar of the 18th century Enlightenment, Linnaeus set the stage for Darwin by recognizing similarities between man and ape: he named our species Homo sapiens. In an age when the word was unspoken, Linnaeus recognized that even plants had sex. He put Sweden on the map of natural science and changed forever the way we label living things.

If you wish to read more, check out Sex, Botany & Empire: The Story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks by Patricia Fara.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Smithsonian Joins the Flickr Commons Project

Flickr Commons is a new forum created by Flickr for cultural institutions to share their photographic collections. The Smithsonian was the fourth institution to join, following the Library of Congress, the Powerhouse Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.

The Smithsonian Libraries provided a selection of photographic portraits from the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. These portraits are part of a larger collection of over a 1,000 portraits in various media.

I particularly like this portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer and Aeronautical Scientist. The entire collection is available online here.

About the Dibner Library Portrait Collection

The scientific portrait collection in the Dibner Library was assembled by Bern Dibner. The images formed a fine research complement to the thousands of scientific books and manuscripts in the library he founded, the Burndy Library. Bern Dibner obtained most of the portraits during the 1940s from print dealers in Boston, London, and Paris. By 1950 he had about two thousand images and arranged them into ten scientific subdivisions: Botany, Chemistry, Electricity, Geology, Mathematics, Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Technology, and Zoology. The portraits are of various types: woodcuts, copper and steel engravings, mezzotints, lithographs, oil paintings, and photographs. Many of them are images that were printed as separate items, used as gifts to send to colleagues and admirers. The exchange of portraits among scientists in the eighteenth century became a very popular form of correspondence. A number of prints also served as frontispieces of books and, unfortunately, a few of the prints in the collection had originally been bound as pages in books and removed some time in the distant past.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Predictions and the Long Bet

How many times have you been sitting at Darrells sloppily consuming a special, vehemently arguing over topics of vast predictive insignificance? Well, it is time to put down that sandwich and put your money where your mouth is.

Enter: Long Bets

The accountability mechanism founded in 2002 by Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly, and operated by Long Now Foundation. The intention of Long Bets is to encourage responsibility in prediction-making (by keeping a public roster of predictions), to encourage long-term thinking (by offering an opportunity to shape a long-term bet), and to sharpen the logic of forecasting (by recording the logic of predictions and bets.)

Warren Buffett recently bet an ambitious hedge fund operator $1 million that they won't beat the returns of S&P 500 after their extremely hefty fees are accounted for. Buffett claims investors will do as well with a no-load index fund over the ten years of the bet. He has long been critical of the performance claims of hedge funds, and his bet is intended to put his money where his mouth is.

In order to make a Long Bet, bettors need to lay out their reasoning. It's worth reading the two sides' very short arguments about investing because the two extremes of investment advice are contrasted in them.

Buffett's Big Bet is by far the largest bet on Long Bets. The previous largest Long Bet was one for $20,000 between Mitch Kapor and Ray Kurzweil. The two prominent thinkers are betting on whether an Artifical Intelligence will pass the Turing Test by 2029. Ray is certain an Artificial Intelligence will pass muster by then and Kapor is sure it will not get close. In 21 years, we will see who is right!

You don't need a million dollars to make a Long Bet. The minimum wager is $200, and is open to anyone. No money changes hands until someone takes up your challenge. You can also simply make a public prediction, which does not require anyone to bet against you. Any prediction can become a bet later. To avoid laws against wagering, the money goes to charities and not to the bettors.

The hope of Long Bets is that these public wagers will prompt people to consider the implications of current developments in the near-distant future -- and then to keep their attention on what happens.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Iron Man and Philosophy

Call for Abstracts
Iron Man and Philosophy
Edited by Robert Arp and Mark D. White
The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor,

William Irwin, at wtirwin@kings.edu.

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

Virtue ethics, Iron Man, and the superhero as moral inspiration; Communism vs. capitalism in Iron Man stories; S.H.I.E.L.D. and the justification of counter-terrorist rights infringement; Iron Man’s revelation of his identities, contractual agreements, and contractual loopholes; The Illuminati, paternalism, and liberalism; The Superhuman Registration Act and the limits of privacy; Iron Man, Plato’s Philosopher King, and the Noble Lie; Genius, invention, and creativity; Role/responsibility of a futurist; If science can do it, should science do it? Weapons of mass destruction and the ethics of technology; Vengeance on my kidnappers: Is revenge ever justified?; Time travel in Iron Man stories, the Butterfly Effect, and determinism; God is dead: Iron Man as the replacement god; Human suffering, the Problem of Evil, and Iron Man as savior; Merging the two Starks (Pocket and Marvel universes) and the question of what counts as personal identity; Iron Man’s “living armor” and the possibility of artificial intelligence; Depictions of Masculinity: Iron Man and Iron John; Robotics, Heidegger, and technology; Capturing consciousness in computer: Mind as computer (Hypervelocity); Iron Man and Captain America: The pragmatist and the idealist; Stark’s alcoholism and the possibility of freedom for the addict; Social pressure and self-deception in Iron Man stories; Civil War: Are (bad) decisions judged by their intentions or consequences?

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): August 15, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for first drafts of accepted papers: February 1, 2009.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to:

Robert Arp: rarp@buffalo.edu

Monday, June 2, 2008

First Sale Doctrine: 100 Year Anniversary

On June 1, 1908, 100 years ago yesterday, the US Supreme Court decided Bobbs-Merrill v. Straus, a case that established what would become known as the “first sale doctrine”. This doctrine, now part of the US Copyright Act, allows the owners of books or other copyrighted works to dispose of them as they see fit (such as by reselling them, giving them away, or lending them out).

The copyright holder (author, publisher) can still control the right to make copies, make public performances, or other derivative works. But once a reader has bought a book, they can pass it along as he/she see fit. The first sale doctrine is what makes libraries (like Frazar) and used book stores possible without needing the permission of publishers to exist or carry out their missions.

The free access to literature that libraries provide, and the freedom to provide access to literature that the first sale doctrine provides, promote the literacy and education of all our citizens. So this is an anniversary and doctrine well worth remembering for its contribution to society.

Just last month a federal district judge in Washington State relied on the "first sale doctrine" affirming a person's right to sell used software on eBay. The case concerned an eBay merchant named Timothy Vernor who has repeatedly locked horns with Autodesk over the sale of used copies of its software. Autodesk argued that it only licenses copies of its software, rather than selling them, and that therefore any resale of the software constitutes copyright infringement.

But Judge Richard A. Jones rejected that argument, holding that Vernor is entitled to sell used copies of Autodesk's software regardless of any licensing agreement that might have bound the software's previous owners.

You can read the full article here