1.3 million years on Facebook, per month

Tim Challies gives us more big numbers:

Seven hundred billion minutes. That’s how much time Facebook’s 500 million active users spend on the site every month. 700,000,000,000 minutes. Let that one sink in for a moment. Every month we spend the equivalent of 1.3 million years on Facebook; the equivalent of nearly 18,000 lifetimes. More than half of us login every single day; we average 130 friends. And we spend vast amounts of time on there.

Facebook now offers 900 million different objects or pages for us to interact with—groups, events, community pages, and so on. We upload over 3 billion photographs every month (which means we’re uploading millions every hour).

via 700 Billion Minutes | Challies Dot Com.

Is that math right?

HT: Joe Carter

Drone proliferation

During the early part of the Iraq war, someone had the idea of installing a Hellfire missile on a surveillance drone.  Thus inventing one of the most formidable weapons ever, which can kill an enemy with no risk to the person wielding the weapon.  Now other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, want them and are trying to buy them from U.S. companies.  Read this:  David Ignatius – Dazzling new weapons require new rules for war.

Can or should anything be done?

Dead Sea Scrolls will go online

Ancient and modern communication technology come together, as the world’s oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible along with other texts from just before the time of Christ go online, where they will be more readable than ever:

The Dead Sea Scrolls, among the world’s most important, mysterious and tightly restricted archaeological treasures, are about to get Googled.

The technology giant and Israel announced Tuesday that they are teaming up to give researchers and the public the first comprehensive and searchable database of the scrolls – a 2,000-year-old collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek documents that shed light on Judaism during biblical times and the origins of Christianity. For years, experts have complained that access to the scrolls has been too limited.

Once the images are up, anyone will be able to peruse exact copies of the original scrolls as well as an English translation of the text on their computer – for free. Officials said the collection, expected to be available within months, will feature sections that have been made more legible thanks to high-tech infrared technology. . . .

Scholars already can access the text of the scrolls in 39 volumes along with photographs of the originals, but critics say the books are expensive and cumbersome. Shor said the new pictures – photographed using cutting-edge technology – are clearer than the originals.

The refined images were shot with a high-tech infrared camera NASA uses for space imaging. It helped uncover sections of the scrolls that have faded over the centuries and became indecipherable.

If the images uploaded prove to be of better quality than the original, scholars may rely on these instead of traveling to Jerusalem to see the scrolls themselves, said Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish thought at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.. . .

For the last 18 years, segments of the scrolls have been publicly displayed in museums around the world. At a recent exhibit in St. Paul, Minn., 15 fragments were shown.

Shor said a typical 3-month exhibit in the U.S. draws 250,000 people, illustrating just how much the scrolls have fascinated people.

“From the minute all of this will go online, there will be no need to expose the scroll anymore,” Shor said. “Anyone in his office or on his couch will be able to click and see any scroll fragment or manuscript that they like.”

via Google to bring Dead Sea Scrolls online.

“PowerPoint corrupts absolutely”

I can’t believe I missed this critique of PowerPoint in Wired by Edward Tufte, which came out a year ago:

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

Of course, data-driven meetings are nothing new. Years before today’s slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. But the format has become ubiquitous under PowerPoint, which was created in 1984 and later acquired by Microsoft. PowerPoint’s pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons.

via Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil.

He goes on.  Is he right?

I myself use it only when I am giving a presentation in which I need to show and then discuss works of  art.  But I don’t use it for my lecture outlines.  And I don’t like to turn out the lights, thus cutting off my contact with my audience and surely inducing them to fall asleep.

Wiretapping the internet

The Obama administration is seeking the authority to wiretap the internet–including Facebook, Skype, smart phone e-mails, and every other kind of online communication–and to force sites to provide unencrypted access to law enforcement agencies. From the New York Times:

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

Webmonk, who alerted me to the issue, has some special expertise on the subject and offers some useful explanation:

I developed software for police departments to do (almost) exactly this – wiretap an Internet signal. That is perfectly legal (in most jurisdictions) as long as one has a warrant – the police take their software/hardware to the Internet Service Provider, and hook it up to whichever of their routers happens to funnel the subject’s Internet traffic. My software made a copy of every bit that the subject passed in or out and stored it. Then, the police could go look at that stored information.

The problem we ran into was encryption: encryption encodes the information being passed back and forth so that even if someone is listening in the middle (hackers, police, stalker) and can see what is going back and forth, they can’t decode the message to understand the contents. . . .

The same sort of thing that helps keep my banking information from being stolen can also keep illegal activity safe. Most of the websites that we were interested in knowing the subject’s activity, used encryption, so the police weren’t able to see the details of what the person was saying or doing on that site.

The difference in what I developed and what is being proposed here is that this would require all “communications” websites to install software that would allow the government (with a warrant, presumably) to access everything that someone was doing in an UNENCRYPTED form.

For example: Facebook uses encryption. If the police get a warrant to tap your Internet signal, they can see that you are going to Facebook, but they can’t see what you are doing on there. The proposed law would require Facebook to install software that somehow provides a completely UNENCRYPTED copy of what you are doing on their site to the lawman with a warrant because Facebook could be used by (rather dumb) terrorists to communicate with each other. This would apply to all websites that provide “communications” of some sort.

So what do you think about this? Is it a legitimate update of law enforcement needs in light of new technology or a dangerous assault on civil liberties? Do you see anything wrong with this statement?: I don’t do anything wrong, so I don’t have anything to hide. Might there be a time when a law aimed at terrorists could be used against other “subversive” groups, such as Tea Partiers? Or Christians?

HT: Webmonk

Quantum photonic computers

A dramatic practical application of “weird science” may revolutionize computers in the next five years:

A new photonic chip that works on light rather than electricity has been built by an international research team, paving the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers with capabilities far beyond today’s devices.

Future quantum computers will, for example, be able to pull important information out of the biggest databases almost instantaneously. As the amount of electronic data stored worldwide grows exponentially, the technology will make it easier for people to search with precision for what they want.

An early application will be to investigate and design complex molecules, such as new drugs and other materials, that cannot be simulated with ordinary computers. More general consumer applications should follow.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, said many people in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” he told the British Science Festival, as he presented the research.

The breakthrough, published today in the journal Science, means data can be processed according to the counterintuitive rules of quantum physics that allow individual subatomic particles to be in several places at the same time.

From a sidebar:

Why quantum computing?

To make use of properties that emerge on an ultra-small scale. “Entanglement” – the ability of subatomic particles to influence one another at a distance – and “superposition” – the fact that a particle does not have a definite location and can be in several places at once – are the two most important properties.

Yes, it’s weird but why is it useful?

Because quantum particles can do very many things at the same time, unlike an electronic “bit” in conventional computing. The use of quantum particles, or “qubits”, permits parallel computing on a scale that would not be possible with conventional electronics.

What particles are you talking about?

Many scientists are working with atoms or ions trapped in ultra-cold conditions. But the latest discovery by the Bristol-led team uses photons – light particles.

How does a quantum chip actually work?

There are several models. The Bristol version sends “entangled” photons down networks of circuits in a silicon chip. The particles perform a co-ordinated “quantum walk”, whose outcome represents the results of a calculation.

via FT.com / Global Economy – Computers set for quantum leap.