Friday, 26 October 2012

If Achilles Used Facebook...

In a study published in Europhysics Letters, scientists use a mathematical approach to examine the social networks in three narratives: “The Iliad”, “Beowulf” and the Irish epic “Tain BoCuailnge.” If the social networks depicted appeared realistic, they surmised, perhaps they would reflect some degree of historical reality.

When we pick up a mythological text like “The Iliad” or “Beowulf,” we like to imagine that the societies they describe existed. Even if the stories are fiction, we believe that they tell us something about ancient Greece or the Anglo-Saxons, and that some of the characters and events were based on reality.
1.Howard David Johnson - Victorious Achilles
“Beowulf” is an Anglo-Saxon heroic epic, set in Scandinavia. Notwithstanding obvious embellishments, archaeology supports the historical authenticity associated with some of its characters. The main character, Beowulf, is believed to be fictional. “The Iliad,” is an epic poem attributed to Homer dating from the eighth century B.C. Some archaeological evidence suggests that the story is based on an actual conflict. We contrasted those two narratives with the Irish epic “Tain Bo Cuailnge” (usually called the “Tain”), which most believe to be completely fictional. The “Tain,” which survives in three manuscripts from between the 12th and 14th centuries, concerns a conflict between Connaught and Ulster, Ireland’s western and northern provinces.
2.Hans W. Schmidt Beowulf Illustration
To construct the social networks in each of the narratives, researchers created databases for the characters and their interactions, and categorized their relationships as hostile or friendly. The myth networks were found to have some of the characteristics, including the small-world property and structural balance (related to the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend), typical of real-world networks.
3.Táin Bó Cúailnge
The results showed, that all three were scale-free, unlike any of the intentionally fictional narratives they have examined. However, in the Irish myth, the top six characters are all unrealistically well connected. There are 398 other characters in the “Tain,” but after remove the weakest links (or single, direct encounters) between these characters and the Top 6, the narrative becomes as realistic as “Beowulf” from a social-network view. Perhaps these characters are amalgams of a number of entities that were fused as the narrative was passed down orally.

The studies approach is different from traditional approaches to comparative mythology. It is not literary analysis; it tells us nothing about events or the human condition. Instead, it promises a new way to analyze old material and find striking new perspectives and evidence — in this case, that which we call “myths” may not be as mythical as we thought.

Read the full article on NY Times.

The Web of Modernism - How Abstract Movements Spread Across The Globe

The Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is currently hosting an exhibition called Inventing Abstraction: 1920-5. They took the opportunity to unreaval a graphic representation of the birth of modern art. 
The image, which was designed for their upcoming show Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925 (December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013), is an obvious node to Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s important Cubism and Abstract Art chart that accompanied a show of the same name at the MoMA in 1936.
1. Barr's Original for the 1936 Exhibition 

This web of relationships goes beyond visual art to incorporate musicians like Claude Debussy, writers like Guillaume Apollinaire, and choreographers like Vaslav Nijinsky, and gives us the most complete picture of abstractions transcontinental roots we’ve ever seen.
2. Info Graphic for the 2012 Exhibition (Click Here to Enlarge)
The Americans, centered on photographer Alfred Stieglitz, branch out to include Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, and others. There are obvious Italian, Russian, British, Dutch and other clusters but the image connects the dots between figures we may not know were in contact. The Hungarian hub includes painter Sándor Bortnyik, and Bauhaus pioneer László Moholy-Nagy.The chart shows all known relationships that including those who have shared studios and even slept together.
For more, go to Hyperallergic or the MoMA homepage.

Friday, 5 October 2012

CNN's War On Cyber Terrorism - A Fictional Drama Set in the Situation Room

In February 2010 the cable network ran a live simulation under the name 'We Were Warned - Cyber Shockwave", where Wolf Blitzer guided viewers through a fictional scenario of digital terrorism.
To avoid a War Of the Worlds-like panic, CNN made it very clear, that is was only a product of fiction; but how far were they from the truth? A situation like this could easily happen tomorrow: a Russian computer infects smarthphones via the application 'March Madness', and the virus goes viral within a few hours. Soon it shuts down communication channels, power networks, and due to the blackouts, telecommunication and traffic get shut down as well. Hospitals have only 12 hours left on their backup generators, and the governments hands are tied, the president has no other choice but to declare martial law.
You can watch the whole show on YouTube, or read the transcript on the CNN homepage.

What CNN is trying to reenact, is the 'War Room', reserved for the President of The United States, that comes with a bunch of military personel and a group of advisers (probably a red phone too), for situations involving national security and requiring military action. The most infamous depiction of this roundtable was in Stanley Kubrick's Dr.Strangelove, accompanied by a brilliant performance of Peter Sellers. Entertainment however, was not the only goal of CNN, since their team included experts like the former director of the CIA General Michael Hayden among other high ranking security experts and former advisers.

The event was organised by the Bipartisan Policy Center, but the meaning behind it goes further than politics.  We have reported earlier, that closely linked systems, like the world food trade network, can serve as transmitters for certain viruses, causing a rapid failure of the whole system. Take any countries online network, and you get the same result. One computer is enough to infect and eventually take down the whole system. In 2010 researchers from Boston published a paper in the scientific journal Nature, that pointed out the Achilles heal of strongly interconnected networks. The failure of one point in the system can take down all the others, so the bigger the network is, the more vulnerable it gets.

Hooked already? Read on about the networks of networks on ScienceNews!