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Corante Blogs examine, through the eyes of leading observers, analysts, thinkers, and doers, critical themes and memes in technology, business, law, science, and culture.

The Press Will Be Outsourced Before Stopped

Vin Crosbie, on the challenges, financial and otherwise, that newspaper publishers are facing: "The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn't that your content isn't online or isn't online with multimedia. It's your content. Specifically, it's what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you're giving them, stupid; not the platform its on."
by Vin Crosbie in Rebuilding Media

Travels In Numerica Deserta

There's a problem in the drug industry that people have recognized for some years, but we're not that much closer to dealing with it than we were then. We keep coming up with these technologies and techniques which seem as if they might be able to help us with some of our nastiest problems - I'm talking about genomics in all its guises, and metabolic profiling, and naturally the various high-throughput screening platforms, and others. But whether these are helping or not (and opinions sure do vary), one thing that they all have in common is that they generate enormous heaps of data.
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Disrobing the Emperor: The online “user experience” isn't much of one

Now that the Web labor market is saturated and Web design a static profession, it's not surprising that 'user experience' designers and researchers who've spent their careers online are looking for new worlds to conquer. Some are returning to the “old media” as directors and producers. More are now doing offline consulting (service experience design, social policy design, exhibition design, and so on) under the 'user experience' aegis. They argue that the lessons they've learned on the Web can be applied to phenomena in the physical and social worlds. But there are enormous differences...
by Bob Jacobson in Total Experience

Second Life: What are the real numbers?

Clay Shirky, in deconstructing Second Life hype: "Second Life is heading towards two million users. Except it isn’t, really... I suspect Second Life is largely a 'Try Me' virus, where reports of a strange and wonderful new thing draw the masses to log in and try it, but whose ability to retain anything but a fraction of those users is limited. The pattern of a Try Me virus is a rapid spread of first time users, most of whom drop out quickly, with most of the dropouts becoming immune to later use."
by Clay Shirky in Many-to-Many

The democratisation of everything

Over the last few years we've seen old barriers to creativity coming down, one after the other. New technologies and services makes it trivial to publish text, whether by blog or by print-on-demand. Digital photography has democratised a previously expensive hobby. And we're seeing the barriers to movie-making crumble, with affordable high-quality cameras and video hosting provided by YouTube or Google Video and their ilk... Music making has long been easy for anyone to engage in, but technology has made high-quality recording possible without specialised equipment, and the internet has revolutionised distribution, drastically disintermediating the music industry... What's left? Software maybe? Or maybe not."
by Suw Charman in Strange Attractor

RNA Interference: Film at Eleven

Derek Lowe on the news that the Nobel Prize for medicine has gone to Craig Mello and Andrew Fire for their breakthrough work: "RNA interference is probably going to have a long climb before it starts curing many diseases, because many of those problems are even tougher than usual in its case. That doesn't take away from the discovery, though, any more than the complications of off-target effects take away from it when you talk about RNAi's research uses in cell culture. The fact that RNA interference is trickier than it first looked, in vivo or in vitro, is only to be expected. What breakthrough isn't?"
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

PVP and the Honorable Enemy

Andrew Phelps: "Recently my WoW guild has been having a bit of a debate on the merits of Player-vs.-Player (PvP) within Azeroth. My personal opinion on this is that PvP has its merits, and can be incredible fun, but the system within WoW is horridly, horribly broken. It takes into account the concept of the battle, but battle without consequence, without emotive context, and most importantly, without honor..."

From later in the piece: "When I talk about this with people (thus far anyway) I typically get one of two responses, either 'yeah, right on!' or 'hey, it’s war, and war isn’t honorable – grow the hell up'. There is a lot to be said for that argument – but the problem is that war in the real historical world has very different constraints that are utterly absent from fantasized worlds..."
by Andrew Phelps in Got Game

Rats Rule, Right?

Derek Lowe: "So, you're developing a drug candidate. You've settled on what looks like a good compound - it has the activity you want in your mouse model of the disease, it's not too hard to make, and it's not toxic. Everything looks fine. Except. . .one slight problem. Although the compound has good blood levels in the mouse and in the dog, in rats it's terrible. For some reason, it just doesn't get up there. Probably some foul metabolic pathway peculiar to rats (whose innards are adapted, after all, for dealing with every kind of garbage that comes along). So, is this a problem?.."
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Really BAD customer experience at Albertsons Market

Bob Jacobson, on shopping at his local Albertsons supermarket where he had "one of the worst customer experiences" of his life: "Say what you will about the Safeway chain or the Birkenstock billionaires who charge through the roof for Whole Foods' organic fare, they know how to create shopping environments that create a more pleasurable experience, at its best (as at Whole Foods) quite enjoyable. Even the warehouses like Costco and its smaller counterpart, Smart & Final, do just fine: they have no pretentions, but neither do they dump virtual garbage on the consumer merely to create another trivial revenue stream, all for the sake of promotions in the marketing department..."
by Strange Attractor in Total Experience

The Guardian's "Comment is Free"

Kevin Anderson: "First off, I want to say that I really admire the ambition of the Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free. It is one of the boldest statements made by any media company that participation needs to be central to a radical revamp of traditional content strategies... It is, therfore, not hugely surprising to find that Comment is Free is having a few teething troubles..."
by Kevin Anderson in strange
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

The Loom

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April 06, 2005

Flesh on the Bone

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Posted by Carl Zimmer

Two of the most important stages in hominid evolution were the origin of the entire hominid branch some six to seven million years ago and the first movement of hominids out of their African birthplace. This week we now get a new look at both.

On the cover of Nature, the editors splashed the first reconstruction of Sahelanthropus, the oldest known hominid. The scientists who made the reconstruction used new material they found in the Sahara, adding to the material they described in their first report in 2002. There had been some argument over whether Sahelanthropus was an early hominid that looked a lot like other apes, or an ape that had a passing resemblance to hominids. The authors argue the former. They also claim that their new reconstruction provides new evidence that Sahelanthropus may have been bipedal. MSNBC reports that other scientists would prefer to see a nice pelvis or femur before accepting that claim.

Meanwhile, via John Hawks, National Geographic has a lovely display of some of the oldest hominids fossils found outside of Africa. Found in Georgia, they were initially assigned to Homo erectus, which is known to have spread all the way to Indonesia by 1.8 million years ago. But Homo erectus was a tall hominid with a big brain and a relatively flat face. The Georgia hominids, as you can see in NG's new reconstructions, were tiny and reminiscent of earlier hominids back in Africa. Which raises the possibility, which I've discussed before, that the "hobbits" recently found in Indonesia (Homo floresiensis) might have been the relicts of a pre-Homo erectus migration of little folks out of Africa. (NG also has an article on the hobbits this month, by the discoverers.)

Unfortunately, there's also bad new about hominids these days--the hobbit bones, which were "borrowed" last fall, are a mess.

UPDATE: Minutes later...Man, Nature is hominid crazy this week. I totally missed another paper in this issue on a new skull from the Georgia hominids. What's most interesting about this indvidual was that it was old and toothless. It somehow survived for a long time after losing its teeth, which suggests it got a lot of help from its fellow hominids. Old age and extended family bonds are usually considered to have evolved later in hominid evolution, but this old gum-sucker suggests otherwise.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Evolution


1. Hungry Hyaena on April 12, 2005 11:07 PM writes...

Sorry to hit you with all these comments at once, but I'm reading backwards and I've been too busy to use the "Internets" much this last week.

Anyway, I do think it possible - but by no means is this my final word - that the toothless individual could have scavenged, even with arthritis and other infirmities slowing him down. While I would love to see the first "documented" instance of human assistance date much earlier than either Cro-magnons or Nearderthals, I remain skeptical for the time being.

I'm of the opinion that the Dmanisi group must represent a transition from H. habilis to H. erectus and, as a result, I'm very interested in your theory that a mass-exodus from Africa occured sometime around 2 million years ago. This would certainly result in some changing "world dispersal" timelines.

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