Bitcoin, the newish digital currency, is a hot topic today, as legislators on Capitol Hill took up the issue of regulating this new form of money.
We started to wonder what people outside DC wondered about Bitcoin. So, we modified a bot to scrape all of Google’s suggestions when people started to search for Bitcoin. Imagine typing “bitcoin a” into Google’s search box and copying what the search engine’s suggestions are. Then “bitcoin b” and “bitcoin c,” etc. That’s what the script does: it’s a probe of the hivemind.
What it creates is a kind of ABCs of the digital currency, and it represents a compendium of issues that relatively large numbers of people are wondering about.
New Bitcoins enter circulation when computers solve some very complex mathematical problems. Doing this computation is called Bitcoin mining and it’s what many of Google’s suggestions relate to.
There are plenty of other search strings you’d expect: “bitcoin ATM,” because the first one was recently installed in Vancouver, BC, or “bitcoin arbitrage,” because that seems like a good thing to do with currency. There are the names of clients (Qt), trading platforms (Kraken), and other companies in the ecosystem (Zip Zap).
Ah, but some things are more revealing of Bitcoin culture.
Arizona’s attorney general called the program ”propagandizing and brainwashing.” An administrative law judge ruled that it “promotes racial resentment against ‘Whites,’ and advocates ethnic solidarity of Latinos.”
With that, the Tucson Unified School District’s controversial Mexican-American studies courses shut down in 2011. Yet a University of Arizona study found that the mostly Latino students who took the courses were 46 percent to 150 percent more likely to graduate from high school than those who did not. The study also determined positive effects on math and reading test scores. An independent audit of the curriculum confirmed that taking the courses helped students succeed in school.
Read more. [Image: Dan Koeck/Reuters]
A chat about the cultural significance of late fees and blue boxes.
Read more. [Image: AP]
When a Guardian journalist visited Bhutan recently, the country’s “mystical” quotient did not disappoint. Among other things, the writer noted “men and women laboring in song,” a woman “scampering around churning a pot of yak butter tea,” and the “sound of mule bells ringing in the valley.” As he reaches the remote mountain home of a local herder, the man quips, as though starring in a tourism commercial, “You know, happiness is a place.”
Indeed, it’s a rare Bhutan story that doesn’t mention how irrepressibly joyous the country is.
The recently released 2013 UN World Happiness Report devotes a sizable section to Bhutan, attempting to quantify the happiness levels of the only country that prioritizes contentment over income.
The country’s 1729 legal code stated that, “if the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” In 1972, this sentiment was codified when Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, instituted a “Gross National Happiness” as its official measure of progress, superseding the more traditional Gross National Product in importance. The country’s constitution directs the state “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”
Read more. [Image: Andrees Latif/Reuters]
Poetry is useless.
That’s the prevailing sentiment in our culture, as far as I can tell. CEOs and lawyers rule the world. Policemen protect property and keep the peace and provide material for television dramas. Athletes and rock stars and movie stars make tons of money and provide material for gossip columns. But poets? Who cares? “It is difficult to imagine a world without movies, plays, novels and music, but a world without poems doesn’t have to be imagined,” as Newsweek said way back in 2003, when a large gift to Poetry magazine was supposed to change the face of poetry but, unsurprisingly, didn’t. A 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts found that about 14 percent of the people in the U.S. read poetry, which seems generous. To compare poetry to other art/entertainment genres on Google Trends is to see the obvious. Poetry doesn’t move public conversation; its only use, the thinking goes, is to give some handful of people tenure so they can spend their days in the ivory tower endlessly recycling their unentertaining irrelevance.
Oddly, this isn’t just the position of outsiders. It often seems to be the position of poets themselves.
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Before the Internet existed as a place to look at cute pictures of other people’s lives, exchange idle chatter, and, occasionally, thoughtfully discuss big ideas, there were coffeehouses. Many scholars see the coffeehouse as the ultimate symbol of the public sphere, particularly in European history — politicians, writers, and men of fashion would meet to gossip, enjoy a drink, and sometimes even foment revolution.
But coffeehouse culture may be under threat. In the 1950s, Vienna suffered a period darkly known as kaffeehaussterben, or coffeehouse death. Luckily for intellectuals and caffeine addicts, the United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been on the case. Since 2011, the “Viennese coffeehouse” has been on its list of Austria’s protected “intangible cultural heritage.” UNESCO created this designation in 2003 in an effort to preserve significant parts of culture that don’t happen to be buildings or mountains. According to UNESCO’s website, the Viennese coffeehouse is “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill” — at the very least, this has to be the metaphysically interesting entry on the list.
Now, Turkey and Argentina are trying to follow Austria’s example by applying to get UNESCO’s cultural blessing over their coffeehouses.
Read more. [Image: UNESCO]
Results-obsessed perspectives overlook meaning
[…]there is one word I never hear,” I continued. “And it’s always the first word that pops into my head when I think of Shakespeare.” I turned on my slideshow and flipped to the first slide. Projected onto the screen, in bold capital letters and surrounded with a sparkling star animation I found online, was a single word: “SEX!”
A momentary hush fell over the students, and then they started to laugh. From the back of the auditorium, I even heard a few amused cheers and claps. The students’ teacher, smiling, nodded in approval.
"I think Shakespeare is the sexiest writer in the world," I said. "So let’s talk about sex." In all of the schools I visited around the country, not a single teacher demanded that I omit the sexier parts of my Shakespeare lecture in favor of pure iambic pentameter. In fact, many of them invited me to come back the following year. Welcome to the new Singapore.
For decades, the tiny island nation nursed an international reputation of being serious, conservative, and—well, unsexy. In 2003, a survey found that Singaporeans had the least sex of people all the countries surveyed (granted, the study was sponsored by Durex, the condom company), and the more prudish aspects of Singapore’s criminal code, such as the legal bans on homosexuality, pornography, and oral sex (unless part of foreplay), haven’t helped dispel that stodgy reputation. It’s even technically illegal for Singaporeans to walk around naked in their own homes.
But times are changing.
Read more. [Image: Henry Fuseli/Wikimedia commons]
During a time when computing power was so scarce that it required a government-defense budget to finance it, a young man used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman on a glowing cathode ray tube screen. The year was 1956, and the creation was a landmark moment in computer graphics and cultural history that has gone unnoticed until now.
Using equipment designed to guard against the apocalypse, a pin-up girl had been drawn.
She was quite probably the first human likeness to ever appear on a computer screen.
Read more. [Images: Lawrence A. Tipton]