Boredom and information overload

There’s more to boredom than meets the eye.  In an article discussing research about the psychology of boredom, the New York Times writes that sometimes boredom can be a positive thing, allowing the brain time to work through things:

[B]oredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief.   Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter.  In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.

Fascinating.  I’ve often felt that my mind processes information the best when I give it a chance to idle.  For instance, I’ll read complicated materials before bed and let my brain process things while I sleep.  When I awake, things often seem to have gelled.  Although the mental processes associated with sleep are likely quite different from those associated with boredom, it would seem that in both instances, the brain sometimes needs to detach in order to wade through information overload.

New report coming on “How Much Information”

A new “How Much Information” study is being undertaken, to update previous reports done in 2000 and 2003.  The HMI study’s site states:

An updated and expanded study of information growth, conducted by a multi-disciplinary, multi-university team supported by corporate and foundation sponsorship, will complete an update of the 2003 Berkeley report by the end of the year.  The 2008 report will be the first in a three-year research program, sponsored by seven companies, AT&T, Cisco, IBM, LSI, Oracle, Seagate and the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and spanning three research universities, UC San Diego, MIT and UC Berkeley.

Hat tip to Lockergnome’s Tech News Watch.

Today in 1840: Morse Code patent issued

Wired.com reports that today is the anniversary of the 1840 patent for Morse Code:

Morse code has now been in use for more than 160 years. It still has practical applications in the modern world because almost anything can be used, from telegraph key to flashlight to pencil to fingertip, to tap out or flash a message. Severely disabled people even use Morse to communicate, sending out the code by eye movement or puffing and blowing.

For an excellent read on the history of the telegraph and its parallels to the internet, see The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.

Here’s Morse’s patent, issued 168 years ago today:

Read this document on Scribd: Morse

Advice for new law students, part III: avoiding your own Universal Studios fire

In an op-ed in the New York Times, UCLA film professor Jonathan Kuntz writes about the recent fire at Universal Studios.  After describing the destruction of the courthouse square from To Kill a Mockingbird and Back to the Future, Kuntz notes:

More serious may be the loss of the circulating 35-millimeter theatrical prints.  While not original masters, these are the copies made for screenings at repertory theaters, art museum retrospectives and in college classes. . . .

. . . .

This latest fire, I hope, will prompt Universal and its fellow majors to better preserve not just key titles like “Duck Soup,” “Dracula” or “Vertigo” — which will surely be reprinted and return to circulation — but also the other 90 percent of their inventories, the less famous and therefore more vulnerable titles that the studio may not feel justify spending thousands to save. These are exquisite samples of 20th-century American culture and deserve to always be seen in their extravagant, sensual, big-screen glory.

It sounds like after the fire, some of Universals’ assets no longer exist beyond a single remaining master copy.  That’s troubling for several reasons.  First, should the masters be destroyed, the best (and in some cases, only) copies will be lost.  Second, for cultural use to be made of the materials, new copies must be made.

What does this have to do with law students?  The same thing: the importance of archiving and the dangers of failing to do so.  Every term, students suffer data catastrophes — hard drive crashes, stolen laptops, etc. — leading to lost class notes, outlines, paper drafts, etc.  Law school is stressful enough without the added strain of losing a 100-page outline two days before the final exam. But sadly, it seems to happen every term.

Back up your essential files, do so regularly, and keep them in secure and geographically distinct places, such as multiple computers, external hard drives kept elsewhere, network storage, and/or online storage.  Or do simple and quick backups: periodically email your essential files to yourself.

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

This posting will self-destruct in five seconds

As the Internet Archive shows, there is great value in preserving digital information for posterity. But sometimes, there is greater value in destroying information and doing so quickly. Information Week recounts the 2001 incident when an American spy plane was forced to land in Chinese territory after the plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet. The article notes that the U.S. crew was unable to erase the hard drives in time to protect the security of sensitive information. “Since then,” the article states, “researchers have been looking for a way to quickly erase computer hard drives to deny access to sensitive intelligence data.”

According to the article, researchers have developed an effective technique to erase hard drives in minutes rather than hours:

The researchers concluded that permanent magnets are the best solution. Other methods, including burning disks with heat-generating thermite, crushing drives in presses, chemically destroying the media or frying them with microwaves all proved susceptible to sensitive, patient, recovery efforts.

The military need for such technology is obvious and is a simple no-brainer. But additionally interesting are the potential commercial and consumer applications of such technology. According to the article, the researchers claimed the magnetic eraser could be used to quickly erase VHS tapes, floppy drives, data cassettes and hard drives. Maybe someday soon, it will be unacceptable and even illegal for corporations and government agencies to keep sensitive information — like your social security number — on easily stolen laptops, unless those machines are equipped an effective auto-erasure mechanism.