Data pr0n: the demographics of employment and leisure

Paul Raven @ 05-08-2009

Just a quick one: even if you’re not particularly interested in demographic research into how different segments of the population of the United States spend their time each day, the interactive graphical data thingy that the New York Times have produced to illustrate it is pretty sweet, and good for killing ten minutes of idle time… not to mention allowing you to reflect that the idle time in question is theoretically represented in the data you’re observing; how delightfully post-modern! [via MetaFilter]

What other data sets would benefit from this sort of presentation?

Lunchtime doubly so

Tom James @ 25-06-2009

hourglassA powerfully engaging essay on the nature of mind and the perception of time over on Edge by David M. Eagleman:

Try this exercise: Put this book down [or just stop reading the screen] and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move. What is happening to the time gaps during which your eyes are moving? Why do you feel as though there is no break in time while you’re changing your eye position? (Remember that it’s easy to detect someone else’s eyes moving, so the answer cannot be that eye movements are too fast to see.)

Not only does our perception of time vary under different conditions, different sensory inputs do not slow down to the same subjective time:

Duration distortions are not the same as a unified time slowing down, as it does in movies. Like vision, time perception is underpinned by a collaboration of separate neural mechanisms that usually work in concert but can be teased apart under the right circumstances.

This is a fascinating and SF-mineworthy area of research.

[image from bogenfreund on flickr]

Why I’m looking forward to 2012

Mac Tonnies @ 08-04-2009

Mac Tonnies - Loving the AlienIf you thought we were all done with millennial panics and numerically significant dates for another thousand years or so, think again. Mac Tonnies looks a short way ahead to December 2012, the much-touted end of the Fifth Sun of the Mayan calendar, and wonders whether we’re doomed as a species to perpetually rebuild such temporal milestones. Continue reading “Why I’m looking forward to 2012”

Multitasking: You can’t do it, my friends

Tom Marcinko @ 03-10-2008


It might seem like a strange thing to say, coming from a person who’s drinking coffee, answering office email, listening to Juliana Hatfield’s great new album How to Walk Away which I really recommend, and blogging, but multitasking is just about impossible, according to MRI experiments.

…[A] man lying inside the scanner would be performing different tasks, depending on the color of two numbers he sees on a screen. … [W[hen the man in the scanner sees green, his brain has to pause before responding — to round up all the information it has about the green task. When the man sees red, his brain pauses again — to push aside information about the green task and replace it with information about the red task. If the tasks were simpler, they might not require this sort of full-throttle switching. But, [U. Michigan neuroscientist Daniel] Weissman said, even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain when we try to do several at once.

Modern life expects us to do more and more things more quickly, if not simultaneously. If that’s not even possible, at what point do we reorder our tasks and expectations? How will your Bartleby-like character cope?

[Charles Babbage’s brain by Gaetan Lee]

Time is fleeting: Strange clock at Cambridge

Tom Marcinko @ 20-09-2008

“Conventional clocks with hands are boring,” says inventor John Taylor. Much more interesting to build a four-foot-wide mechanical timepiece that has no hands or numbers, uses blue lights flashing through slits to tell the time, and is accurate only once in five minutes. Watch it work in a short video narrated by Taylor.

He based the clock on a design by longitude pioneer John Harrison, who was calibrating the one he built himself when he died in 1776. The ominous grasshopper sculpture atop the face is a tribute to another Harrison invention, the “grasshopper escapement” that releases a clock’s gears with each swing of the pendulum. The “Chronophage” (time-eater) was unveiled at Cambridge by Stephen Hawking, in a ceremony that ran 14 minutes and 55 seconds late. Taylor says:

“I … wanted to depict that time is a destroyer – once a minute is gone you can’t get it back …. That’s why my grasshopper is not a Disney character. He is a ferocious beast that over the seconds has his tongue lolling out, his jaws opening, then on the 59th second he gulps down time.”

[Hawking unveils the chronophage by rubberpaw]

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