Lab Notebook – January 25, 2015

  • Revealing letters in rolled Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging : Nature Communications : Nature Publishing Group 012015
    Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
  • Charlie Brooker: the dark side of our gadget addiction | Technology | The Guardian 120111
    “Today it’s Siri. Tomorrow it’ll be a talking car. The day after that I’ll be trading banter with a wisecracking smoothie carton. By the time I’m 70 I’ll be holding heartbreaking conversations with synthesised imitations of people I once knew who have subsequently died. Maybe I’ll hear their voices in my head. Maybe that’s how it’ll be. | The present day is no less crazy. We routinely do things that just five years ago would scarcely have made sense to us. We tweet along to reality shows; we share videos of strangers dropping cats in bins; we dance in front of Xboxes that can see us, and judge us, and find us sorely lacking. It’s hard to think of a single human function that technology hasn’t somehow altered, apart perhaps from burping. That’s pretty much all we have left. Just yesterday I read a news story about a new video game installed above urinals to stop patrons getting bored: you control it by sloshing your urine stream left and right. Read that back to yourself and ask if you live in a sane society.”
  • A Paranoid Reflection Of Our Digital Age – On The Media 011615
    The British TV show “Black Mirror” is a sort of modern “Twilight Zone,” pondering the dark future, and present, of our relationship with technology over a series of unnerving episodes. Brooke talks to creator, Charlie Brooker, about his vision for the program and what it says about our relationship with our gadgets, our media, and our selves.
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Lab Notebook – December 14, 2014

  • Media in Transition 9: Mediating Audiences – MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing
    [May 1-3] Audiences, broadly speaking, now include readers, viewers (of exhibits as well as film and television, for instance), players, users (of software as well as libraries), and people who are as busy conversing, writing, and photographing as they are “listening” in classical ways. As much as media change might suggest that we are now beyond audience, new media technologies, systems, and concepts still strive to somehow develop, constitute and assess a wide variety of audiences. | Indeed, “the people formerly known as the audience” (NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen puts it) remain at the center of the media equation. From the textually extrapolated reader to Nielson’s statistically-based profiles, from effects-prone masses to algorithmically generated targets of Google’s AdSense, audiences have been imagined and constructed in myriad ways. In part this reflects the disciplinary specificities of media studies and mass communications. And in part, it bears the traces of shifting media regimes, from centralized mass media to the particularities of today’s social media, or from lone readers to the networked group. Audiences have been produced, regulated, contested, disaggregated and of course, studied. Duped or engaged, passive or active, empowered or surveilled, they remain at the center of the media equation as persistent sites of anxiety, even as we struggle to find new ways to describe ‘them’ and their activities.
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Speech Donors Will Humanize the Range of Computer Voices

  • Speech donors | Spark with Nora Young | CBC Radio 022314
    Until now, people living with severe speech disorders only had a few computerized voices to choose from. With the help of speech donors, Rupal Patel and collaborator Tim Bunnell are creating new, personalized voices that match the individual. | If you are interested in donating your voice or if you know someone who may want to receive a voice, please visit
  • About | VocaliD
    In the United States alone, there are 2.5 Million Americans with severe speech impairments many of whom rely on computerized voices to express themselves. Yet many of them use the same voices as there are only a few options. That’s tens of millions of people world wide using generic voices. VocaliD (for vocal identity) aims to help children and adults with severe speech impairment find a voice of their own! | Our VocaliD approach extracts acoustic properties from a target talker’s disordered speech (whatever sounds they can still produce) and applies these features to a synthetic voice that was created from a surrogate voice donor who is similar in age, size, gender, etc. The result is a synthetic voice that contains as much of the vocal identity of the target talker as possible yet the speech clarity of the surrogate talker. It’s a simple idea that could make a powerful impact on the lives of those who rely on synthetic voices to express themselves.
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Lab Notebook – February 16, 2014

  • Content economics, part 5: news | Felix Salmon 021114
    "… journalists themselves are becoming much more portable than they ever used to be. It used to be that if you left the NYT or WSJ or ABC News or some other storied news brand, you lost a lot of power and reach. But as the media universe fragments, that’s not nearly as true any more. Just in the past few months, Nate Silver and David Pogue have left the NYT; Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher have left the WSJ; Katie Couric has left ABC; Ezra Klein has left the Washington Post; Glenn Greenwald has left the Guardian; and so on and so forth. All of those were high-profile, big-dollar deals, but there are lots of other journalists moving around right now too, and it has never been less obvious that if you get a job offer from a big legacy-media company then you should take it."
  • What's your Facebook credit score? | 012414
    We know that credit goes way beyond the plastic in our wallets — from how much debt we carry to paying it off on time. Now, some credit agencies are looking into using our social media information in our credit reports. | Credit expert John Ulzheimer says what we post and who we add as friends on social media can have farer reaching effects than we think. “It’s the whole mantra, birds of a feather tend to flock together. And if you tend to connect with people who are high risk or higher risk borrowers, then the perception is that you are as well. And that’s really where the issue lies.” | It’s not hard to figure out why credit agencies would want to know what you’re like as a person to decide if you’re worthy of a loan or credit card, but, is it legal? Ulzheimer says that remains to be seen. "Whether or not it’s legal really is up to how it is perceived in the Equal Opportunity Credit Act. It has to be built using science.” | Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have treasure troves full of information that they could sell, but actually selling personal information could lead to headaches down the road, according to Ulzheimer. “Here is the massive, massive problem that … social media sites are going to have to deal with. Right now, none of those companies are referred to as a ‘consumer reporting agency.’ The Fair Credit Reporting Act has a very clear definition of what is a consumer reporting agency. The minute any of these social media sites decide to monetize their information for the purposes of allowing lenders and credit reporting agencies to assess the risk … of consumers, they also become become a consumer reporting agency … you’re going to be in the crosshairs for any number of federal fair credit reporting lawsuits.”
  • When commercials 'Keep it real': The rise of realistic advertising | 020714
    Lindsay Foster Thomas: “There I was just watching TV when out of nowhere, he appeared: The guy with one arm selling Swiffer dusters. When I first saw him, I didn’t know that his name was Zack Rukavina. Or that he’d lost his arm to cancer. Or that I was watching him interact with his real family while he spoke about all the ways Swiffer helps him help out around the house. | All I knew was that the commercial I was watching was compelling in a way I hadn’t experienced as a TV viewer before. | Had I seen a person with a disability in a mainstream commercial before? Most likely. Certainly war veterans, paralympians and the elderly have been cast to push products from sneakers to remote alarm systems. | But, what struck me about the Swiffer ad was that his disability wasn’t the highlight of the commercial. It was certainly what got my attention, but by the end of that 30-second spot, I was remembering more about how Zack poked fun at his wife for being a terrible housekeeper and the way his two adorable children seemed to vie for his attention in every scene. The commercial didn’t provoke pity, embarrassment or portray its leading man as any kind of superhero. The Rukavinas are a totally normal family and that’s what Swiffer was successful at conveying. That and if you must dust, don’t skimp on the brand name. | Diversity in commercial advertising still has a long way to go in reflecting the appearances and experiences of America’s various populations. However the Swiffer ad and others seem to be stepping into reality TV territory – more inclusive casting choices, less pretending that we all look, sound and behave alike in our homes and communities.”
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Lab Notebook – January 26, 2014

  • A Blogger’s First Amendment Rights – and Responsibilities – On The Media 012414
    A federal court ruled last week that a blogger who had lost a defamation suit in 2011 should have the same free speech protections as a traditional journalist, and as everyone else who publishes online. The blogger is Crystal Cox, who is notorious for creating domain names and blog posts tarring the online reputations of her targets and then offering to fix the problem for a price. Bob speaks to Ellyn Angelotti of the Poynter Institute about what the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals means for First Amendment protections online, and whether it matters that Cox is the defendant.
  • Combating “Bad” Speech With More Speech – On The Media
    The blogger Crystal Cox has also targeted First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza, his wife, and their toddler. Bob spoke to Randazza in the Spring of 2012 about how Cox’s actions were testing his free speech values. Since then, Randazza decided to take her to court and won. (He told us this week that his legal strategy had nothing to do with the content of Cox’s speech and were instead based on domain law. His court arguments are available upon request, for free, if you ever find yourself in Cox’s cross hairs). Randazza also blogs at The Legal Satyricon.
  • New Frontiers in Child Porn Law – On The Media 012414
    The Supreme Court is weighing how much defendants convicted of possessing images of child pornography should have to pay in restitution to the victims depicted in those images. The case involves a woman known as “Amy,” whose uncle raped her when she was a young girl and circulated photographs of the abuse online. He eventually went to jail, but those photos became among the most widely viewed child porn in the world. Karen Duffin reports on Amy’s quest for restitution.
  • Do the Motivations of Leakers Matter? – On The Media 012414
    A recent Pew poll found that although 45% of Americans believe Snowden’s leak helped the public, 56% wanted criminal charges brought against him. Did he act to protect the rights of Americans, or dismantle what he considers a surveillance state? Does it matter why he acted? Brooke talks to New Republic contributing editor Sean Wilentz about his cover story that asks that very question.
  • Banning The Other N-Word? – On The Media 012414
    The Israeli Knesset has given preliminary approval to a bill that would criminalize use of the word Nazi, and Nazi symbols, except in certain educational or artistic contexts. Violators could face fines as high as twenty-nine thousand dollars, and up to six months in jail. Backers of the bill seek to prevent disrespect of the Holocaust that results when Nazis are invoked casually, whether in political invective or adolescent insults. Brooke talks with linguistic anthropologist Paja Faudree about this legislative attempt to control the use of language.

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