The tracks of your tears

Artificial-life fish!

Self-promo: my New York Times Magazine “Big Ideas” pieces

The New York Times Magazine just came out with its now-annual “Big Ideas” issue — where they offer almost 100 pieces on the biggest new ideas that defined 2002.

I wrote a bunch of the science and technology ones. Here are the links — with a short description of each:

News That Glows: Our digital devices continually interrupt us, breaking our concentration by demanding our attention — with email, phone calls, and instant messages. “Ambient information,” in contrast, takes the reverse approach: It creates device that display information in the background — as shifting colors and patterns that we register subconsciously.

Open-Source Begging: Karyn Bosnack rang up over $20,000 in debt, and couldn’t pay it back. So she set up a begging site and asked for donations … and over 2,000 people donated. Welcome to “open source begging” — a movement that applies the distributed zeal of Linux to the time-honored sport of holding out a tin cup on the sidewalk.

Outsider math: Scientists have spent 3,000 years searching for the way to prove whether a very large number is prime. Even the best and brightest number theorists couldn’t figure it out. But this year, a little-known scientist in India — who isn’t even known as a number theorist — cracked the problem, with the aid of two undergraduates. Why did the answer come from so far out in left field?

The Pedal-Powered Internet: Over in Laos, dirt-poor farmers don’t have phone lines, computers, or even electricity. Yet in a few months, they’ll be getting on the Internet. How? With a bunch of cobbled-together parts, a brilliant use of wifi, and a level of ingenuity that would have impressed Robinson Crusoe.

Smart Mobs: Scientists have known about the emergent behavior of hive-style insects for years. But now mobile devices are letting humans act in the same way — in “smart mobs,” groups that aren’t controlled by any single person, yet move like they have a mind of their own. (Read my piece, and go to Howard Rheingold’s site for even more Smart Mobbery goodness.)

Umbilicoplasty: The latest body part to go under the knife? The navel. Apparently, midriff-exposing clothes have become so prevalent that cosmetic surgeons are getting increasing requests from women who want to reshape this body part that has previously been hidden. According to one academic study, we’ve even developed a navel aesthetic — a cultural sense of what the “perfect navel” looks like.

Warchalking: Hobos used to leave symbols chalked on walls to let each other know where a free meal could be had. Earlier this year, British designer Matt Jones developed similar symbols for wifi — ways of showing where wireless Net connections are open for sharing.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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