Smart links: WikiLeaks, arsenic and empathy edition

Two items before we get on to the links: If you're looking for a really special gift for the polymath in your life, why not give her the gift of the IdeaFestival? The price for an all-access pass will never be lower!

The revealing discussion to the right with game designer and futurist Jane McGonigal is but one of many IdeaFestival Conversations. New IF Conversations videos featuring your favorites from IF'10 will be available soon.

The big idea: Why use games to escape reality when they can be used to improve it?

Today's linkage:

The bond we share with pets may be what makes us human, according to Dave Munger at SEED.

In the 14th century, Gutenberg's press revolutionized the availability of information. Suddenly, a relatively broad swath of society coped with an unknown phenomenon: too much data. Can we learn anything from its reaction? Check out "information overload, the early years:"

To understand how these earlier generations coped with this flood of information is to help us appreciate the power of human ingenuity to take an inhuman-seeming problem and turn it to productive use — and even, sometimes, to exploit the aspects that seem most overwhelming at the time.

Focused on contemporary uses of digital technology in organization and trans-media, for example, LIFT'11 has released its list of presenters for the Geneva conference.

Philosophers across the spectrum have agreed to comment on David Chalmers' paper on a Philosophy of the Singularity, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Consciousness Studies. Chalmers achieved some popularity in recent years by successfully raising objections to purely reductive and physical descriptions of the human mind using, along the way, popular subjects such as the Matrix to make his points. But be prepared for some industrial strength reasoning.

Empathy and the human connection is so fundamental to understanding our audience that without it, no amount of analysis, documentation, engineering or management will save us.

Perhaps you've heard by now that arsenic eating microbes have turned up. So-called extremophiles suggest that in addition to the normal ingredients for life - hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus - microbes can use even poisonous elements to survive in normally hostile  environments. At The Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla rounds up the coverage from Thursdays' NASA presser.

High performance soaring aircraft have a lot to learn from the Peregrine Falcon.

Johnnie Moore wonders if the arguing over WikiLeaks is in reality a stand in for "who's in charge here"?

"Cocktail Party Physicist" Jennifer Ouellette suggests a reading list for the popular science lover in your family.

Is this the coolest astronomical iPad app ever?

Take a ride to space aboard one of the commercial successors to the Space Shuttle. The second test for SpaceX's Falcon-9 is slated for tomorrow. The founder of Paypal and the current head man at SpaceX, Elon Musk, will web cast the entire trip.