Saturday, January 28, 2012

Existence, a Confident Internet, Smarter People... and Dolphins!

loyalWant a glimpse of my new novel EXISTENCE? In a manner similar to EARTH, I offer many brief glimpses into the world of 2050, between chapters of a fast-paced adventure and the strangest alien first contact ever. Now the  Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. has posted a sample - a couple of those between chapter glimpse interludes, focusing on one question... how can we be sure to make our new AI offspring both sane and loyal to humanity, as a whole?

The same site has republished a more colorful version of my essay on “Who Wants Immortality?

While we’re on the subject. Do you know a fair-sized group that might want me to speak for them when I go on a book tour for EXISTENCE in June?  Cities included for sure will be Seattle, Portland OR, the SF Bay Area, and LA.  Other possibilities - New York, Boston etc, if there’s enough interest, plus points in between. Have a look at a list of the public talks I’ve given over the last few years (and go to the bottom for the happy testimonials!)

Osiame Molefe a young columnist at South Africa's Daily Maverick, wrote passionately about the need for moderate grownups within the ruling African National Congress to stand up for good government against radical leaders setting up "feudal fiefdoms." In making his case, Mr. Molefe cites and quotes extensively from my novel The Postman, suggesting that, in the long run, the only thing that matters is normal men and women standing up, as citizens, and taking responsibility.

== Toward a Confident, Scientific Civilization ==

A report titled the "The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States," warns in stark terms that "some elements of the U.S. economy are losing their competitive edge."  A restored emphasis on science and technology is a major part of any solution.

Meanwhile, a compilation of public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America, demonstrates increasing public support for research and innovation to improve health, create jobs and boost the economy.

How best to nurture positive attitudes?  Rob Sawyer delivers a
starwarsontrialwonderful online appraisal of the importance of science fiction, especially in mass media, as a way to experiment with ideas and comment on social dilemmas. In the course of this amazingly cogent performance, Rob reaches at a conclusion very similar to mine... that much of this transformative power has been frittered and ruined by the pablum mentality toward science fiction that was engendered by Star Wars.  His critique is a bit different, yet related to my own in Star Wars on Trial - and my earlier Salon Magazine article - about how George Lucas’s cycle wound up betraying the world’s most daring and exciting and progressive storytelling genre. And undermining a civilization that’s been very very good to all of us. Including George Lucas.

== And Up With Science Fiction! ==

Also joining the fight for the good stuff... famed author and literary lion Ursula K. LeGuin stood up for her home genre of science fiction with a roar: “To define science fiction as a purely commercial category of fiction, inherently trashy, having nothing to do with literature, is a tall order. It involves both denying that any work of science fiction can have literary merit, and maintaining that any book of literary merit that uses the tropes of science fiction (such as Brave New World, or 1984, or The Handmaid’s Tale, or most of the works of J.G. Ballard) is not science fiction. This definition-by-negation leads to remarkable mental gymnastics.” Good for her.

And the British Library is holding an exquisite exhibition on the history of Science Fiction Literature, through September.  I would love to attend.  Look at this excellent video about the event, featuring the erudite China Miéville.

See an "exam" for would-be fantasy novelists. If you answer "yes" to even one of the 69 cliches, then sorry. You're great epic isn't original and groundbreaking.  It is derivative copycatting hackwork.  I think #4 is a little unfair and too broad... but it does serve up a warning to do it in a new way. On the one hand, many of the cliches fit Joseph Campbell's storytelling prescription.  On the other hand, Campbell sucks. While reading (and chuckling) note how many of these howlers are core elements of Star Wars!

A thought-provoking essay by Brad Torgerson about why fantasy has taken off while science fiction book sales may have languished.  On the other hand, many publishers report that this trend may have stalled at last.  Now, if only a top author of great sci fi would come back in out of the cold with a huge-hit, best-selling book-o- wonder!

== Is Internet Freedom Endangered? ==

The short answer? Always.

More specifically, I’ve been asked my opinion, as “Mr. Transparency,” about the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA.  Naturally, I opposed this absurd over-reach that portended to strangle internet freedom by putting unsupportable burdens on carriers and linkers to information.  And yet, my stance is not relexive but reflective and I hope that you, too, will ponder the complexity we must navigate.

The Internet carries a lot of illicit copyrighted information. My books appear on several pirate sites and, for the record, I ask that they stop; I got kids in college.) Yet -- Julian Sanchez argues the overall economic impact of online piracy has been wildly inflated – the most pirated movies also tend to be top at both box office & DVD sales. The most impacted industries (music, movies, books) have outperformed the overall U.S. economy lately. So should we yawn? It's complex. Without IP, the US could never afford to lift the world by buying goods. (Hence overseas IP thieves are cutting their own throats.) And IP was an innovation to foster openness.  Want a return to rampant trade secrecy? OTOH - SOPA would have strangled internet freedom. We need to be thoughtful, not reflexive.

== Fascinating Miscellany ==

See an amazing list of predictions made 100 years ago by a very savvy writer, amazingly on-target. Especially since the heady optimism of 1911 hit a hard wall in 1914. Still, call out the predictions registry!  Oh... There is one last peculiarity to Watkins’ article. Every one of his predictions involved an improvement in the lives of Americans. He saw only positive change in the new century.  Note this as an artifact of 1911... before the Titanic and before the calamities of 1914 smashed optimism like a bug.  Will we ever get it back?

Have a look at this Kickstarter project... to create a “sousveillance App” for android smartphones called Help! Turn it on and you transmit a live audio and video stream to a safe place till you shut it off.  If the feed is interrupted by damage or power failure or interference, an email goes to your contact person offering the stored feed up till the moment it was lost.  Use it for alibis, in cases of danger or just to record that encounter with authority.  (If you sign up, say I sent you!)

Amazing! A couple of very beautiful astronomical perspectives. The Known Universe and Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D.

Kanzi, a fun-loving male bonobo, has figured out how to cook his food with fire and even to light fires with matches.  All right, that’s halfway uplifted.  Shall we finish the job?  Ah Fiben Bolger was my best character ever!

“War Correspondent”  or “WarCo” is a first-person-shooter game in development in which the player holds a camera instead of a weapon, gaining points not only for surviving and filming the most dramatic and dangerous moments, but also for followup interviews and report editing.  An altogether amazingly cool notion.  It leverages against ideas that resonate with my own The Transparent Society ... and with Peter Gabriel’s Project Witness. And, like PORTAL, it's just plain more moral and wholesome for kids & others, even though it is set amid adrenaline-pumping, gun-blazing combat. I can’t wait to offer it to my son and to try it myself.  And to offer my support.

Catch a fascinating/fun artistic recapitulation of the rise of human civilization... and then (in the eyes of this comet expert) the highlight of a worrisome encounter with a comet!  Deep-down - all the way to the symbolism of human “seeds” crossing the cosmos - it is a love-ode to human ingenuity and unquenchable zest to survive and persevere.

See a cogent, well-written and unabashedly transhumanist article by Valkyrie Ice about the future of graphene computing (that may accelerate Moore’s Law), the home-fab revolution, and... sexbots. Published on Accelor8or

Brazil has undergone a demographic shift so dramatic that it has astonished social scientists. Over the past 50 years, the fertility rate has tumbled from six children per woman on average to fewer than two — and is now lower than in the United States. This may be of cosmic importance.  Yes, cosmic. Because Malthus may be more correct on other planets than he has been for us. A fluke in human nature has meant that everywhere women get health, freedom, prosperity and hope, the vast majority choose small families. This seems counter -darwinian! It may also save us all, giving us time to repair and save the world and cross the danger gap into star-traveling levels of wisdom. Might most other races get trapped into overpopulation busts, as portrayed in 1960s sci-fi and gloom books? Might this explain the Fermi Paradox of missing starfarers? In fact, it may not last more than a couple generations, so let's use this breather well.

Dolphins have been using iPads, so it’s really about time our primate cousins adopted the technology: Orangutans use iPads to video chat with Friends in other zoos! Now the big questions.  Will this help to reduce ennui at the zoo? Or to nail down simian and cetacean intelligence? Will this help to sell scientists and the public on Uplift? Will the orangs use Face Time to organize their own Simian Spring?  And does this qualify as one for the Predictions Registry?

We seem to be getting amazingly close to the $100 laptop (or pad) per child.

100 Skills Every Man Should Know: The Instructions (With Videos!) - from Popular Mechanics

== SCIENCE BLIPS! ==

Americans think science will save the economy!

Technology addiction: evolution or enslavement?

9 amazing exoplanets

UCSD researchers have been developing fascinating devices that can self-propel, even though they are microns in size. The latest use tiny self-propelled rocket motors that can zip around an acidic environment, like the human stomach, without the need for any external fuel.  I’ve met these guys.  Amazing stuff.

The European Southern Observatory's plan to begin construction of the world's largest telescope — the European Extremely Large Telescope — will take a big step forward; its primary mirror will be a staggering 138 feet (42 meters) wide. For comparison, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii has a mirror that measures 33 feet (10 meters) wide. But don’t count out the yanks, -- Caltech (my alma mater) leads a consortium to put an almost equally prodigious 30 meter device on Maua Kea in Hawaii.

ResearchGate is a new social network for scientists.  One grasps what they intended the name to mean.  But that secondary implied meaning does sound worrisome!

Visit your travel agent to book a flight to space!

What mystifies Dr. Hawking? Women are a mystery, he says.

Check out a lovely little epiphany... an optimistic (super!) look at the next 40 years, written by someone who hasn't had the joyful spirit of ambition snuffed by grouches of right and left.

Meteor in Titan’s atmosphere?

From fussilli to quadrefiori: The complex mathematics and geometry of pasta

One of many interesting series podcasts about science developments may be the Sentient Developments site of my friend George Dvorsky.  Give it a listen!

==Can We Get Smarter? ==

I won’t be the first... but... transcranial direct current stimulation or TDCS, can be used to improve language and maths abilities, memory, problem solving, attention, even movement.  “"You require effort and hard work to learn. It is just that you get more out of your effort. And because it is cheap, low tech, easily affordable, it could be widely available. This addresses the objection that it will introduce inequality and unfairness. It could be available and should be available to all, if it is safe and effective."

Another possibility? Optimum intervals  to pulse serotonin to maximize a protein that seems to be involved in memory? The optimal protocol, it turned out, was not the usual, even-spaced one, but an irregular series of two serotonin pulses emitted 10 minutes apart, then one five minutes later, with a final spritz 30 minutes afterward. With this regimen, interaction between the two enzymes rose by 50 percent—an indication that the learning process was operating more efficiently. Very preliminary, but suggests steady but irregular learning may be better than cramming! Read the article in Scientific American.

Well, we’ll see.  Humanity could sure use a “brain wave” style boost, across the board! Still, wait a bit.

Yes... well... watch out for things that sound too good!  The web site “ Sci- ənce! ” offers “red flags of quackery” ... related to many familiar “logical fallacies.”

Oh but this one is obvious! Chewing gum before a test - does it increase brain function?  Too bad it makes you LOOK stupider.

== Dolphins Triumphant! ==

Speaking of smarter-than human.... Many species interact in the wild, most often as predator and prey. But recent encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction. In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins “rode” the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back down.

But this is even better. Quick! To the Predictions Registry! Dolphins are skilled at imitating sounds they hear. But they occasionally store away sounds to practice much later, at night when they are alone... possibly while sleeping and dreaming. French water park workers included whale songs in the music background of a show. Then... at night... when the dolphins were half-brain sleeping... they seemed to drift into recapitulations of the themes in the whale song --

-- very much like I portrayed Captain Creideiki doing, in Startide Rising!  Someone log that as a “hit”?

Ah, but do they already know about this sonar-sighted object under the Baltic, the size of a jumbo ject... isn’t it shaped like the Millennium Falcon? Could it... could it...  could it be....

... a great big practical joke?  Oooooh those dolphins!

80 comments:

TheMadLibrarian said...

I am pleased that I can do probably 90-95 of the 100 listed PM tasks; the others I haven't done because I've had no call for them. What's up with "100 tasks GUYS shold be able to do"? It's just as crucial for the wimminfolk to be able to do them as well!

Haleakala is in contention for another solar observing telescope, but the local Hawaiian activists are agin' it. They feel it 'disrespects' the land; I'm not sure how that follows, since the area at the summit of Haleakala (lit. "House of the Sun") was traditionally used for astronomical purposes by the kahuna, among other uses.

TheMadLibrarian

carkbor: canker disease spread to trees by burrowing insects

ell said...

Re: Malthus/Darwin:

Women are not insects or orchids. A woman who gives birth to 27 children may see 1 of them survive to adulthood. A woman who gives birth to 3 children may see 3 of them survive to adulthood. It is nearly impossible to nurture (let alone keep track of) 27 children (especially if they are closely spaced), but fairly easy to raise 3 children to be 3 healthy adults.

Tacitus2 said...

The stats you quote for Brazil are not that unusual. Egypt from 1960 to the current day has gone from a fertility rate of 7 births per woman down to just under 3. Morocco and Turkey are similar.

I will leave it to the sociologists to explain the whys and wherefores.

Tacitus

Stefan Jones said...

A British comedian -- Dara O'Briain -- opines on science and quackery. Brilliant, utterly brilliant:

http://www.boreme.com/posting.php?id=23510#.TySlTfpYijQ.twitter

"The difference is that science knows it doesn't know everything. If it thought it knew everything it would stop.

ZarPaulus said...

I strongly suspect that women in third-world countries tend to have more children than those in countries that fluoridate their drinking water (along with other forms of modern hygiene) is because no matter how many kids they have there is a significant chance that some of them will die of disease in childhood.

And farmers use their kids as cheap labor, to most other people they're a burden.

Mike Frank said...

"Now, if only a top author of great sci fi would come back in out of the cold with a huge-hit, best-selling book-o- wonder!"

How about the guy who writes this blog?

My wife and I have a phrase for when we stay up all night, reading a book from cover to cover. We call it "doing a Brin."

David Brin said...

Mike you are welcome here!

The switch from women having many kids to just a few happens to correlate with a shift from high-r to high -K reproductive strategy.

LarryHart said...

I am so torn between curiosity at the previews of EXISTENCE vs a desire to read the entire novel cold when it's available.

I'll probably give into temptation later, after I've finished REAMDE and then gone back to finishing GLORY SEASON.

Robert said...

The Denialists are at it again (still): we've another article claiming that there's been no warming for over ten years and that we're going to go into another mini-ice age with the next solar cycle. I'm halfway tempted to suggest the methane emissions from this article will raise the global temperature by a degree but...

So. Anyone want to dissect this and point out where the information was flawed or mistaken so we have ammunition to use against it?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

fiesa: what you have when you run out of tea during a fiesta.

Tony Fisk said...

First off, Robert, the reporter does the usual 'so-called' polemical trick. It's usually the sign of a barrow being pushed.

Another trick being employed is the graph of recent global temperatures. All that demonstrates is:
a) the 'noise' or variation in any trend*
b) the need to look at a much longer period to determine real trends.

What this graph is usually used for is to draw a line connecting 1998 to the current year and cry out 'behold, temperatures are dropping!' They never seem to start from 1999 (which would give an equally flawed surge in temperatures) In this case, the reporter has simply looked no further than the past year to prove his case.

Finally, the reporter is pointing to sunspots. This is the basis of skeptic rebuttal #1

In summary: *yawn!*

* it isn't really noise in the traditional sense (after all, can 30,000 measurements be wrong?), just an indication of how many factors are at play. The energy in the system sloshes about like water in a well-stirred bath tub

David Brin said...

QUestion... are any of you guys experts on the damnable instrument of alien designed torture called Microsoft Word?

AMong the thousand and twenty sins for which I damn the horrid thing, the most recent is a devilish thing. I received a word file, a copy of my final draft submitted to my publisher for the novel EXISTENCE. This returned version had lots of editorial notes inserted under track changes... all of them colored orange.

Fine so far. I proceeded to make changes of my own, accepting her suggestions or putting things back. I also cut 15,000 words and added 5000. A substantial draft! My changes were noted by margin boxes in blue. So far so good.

I sent that version back to the publisher. They seemed happy. Tomorrow I will get the next-to-final version in PDF, which I can't change anywhere near as thoroughly.

Okay... I then tried to ACCEPT CHANGES so that the copy I had would be clean, a Word file of my main novel... and found that the file was LOCKED against saving changes! No way to get rid of the orange and blue boxes along the right hand margin!

Hey, it's my damned novel! I deserve to have a clean copy of the text!!! But the publisher is telling me "the printer won't let us. Bull! For some reason they don't want me to have a clean text file, and screw em.

I tried saving as RTF. The boxes stay! I tried downloading open office for my Power PC mac so I could try opening with it. It won't download (anyone know a good site?)

Suggestions?

Robert said...

Copy-paste it into a separate document. Oh, I'm sure there's some method of creating a final draft from the edits, but it's been ages since the classes I took on it so I'd have to play around with it to figure things out.

My apologies. :/

Rob H.

rewinn said...

The souvaillance app looks promising, but in its FAQ the author has given a very flip and discouraging response to the idea of GPL'ing it.

It is well established that open source software is more secure than closed source software. Indeed, anyone who installs this app without the opportunity to inspect the code may be permitting spyware onto their device.

I don't recommend supporting this app until its source code is open. It should be easy for someone with the right skilz to do an open source version of this concept.

Tony Fisk said...

It sounds like the file is read only.

Have you tried saving it as another file, and *then* removing/accepting the boxes?

(Sorry if this is all too obvious)

David Brin said...

It's not a read-only file. I can (and did) make changes and save. But those changes are accompanied by blue change boxes in the right margin... along with the orange ones that I cannot affect at all. The usual little "x" in the corner of the boxes is missing. And when I "save as" it saves a version (even rtf) - that still has all the orange and blue change boxes.

The copy and paste suggestion appears to work somewhat... though it is very laborious.

David Brin said...

Anyone have a favorite "Science of Sci fi" book or web site I can steer folks to, who want to learn more about the science side of warp drive, wormholes and such?

Tony Fisk said...

Next thought is that they are comments. (You said they are to the side of the document. Do the boxes have lines pointing to sections?)

Assuming this is correct, and assuming you've been chained to Office 2007*, the way to delete them is to click on one of the comment boxes. Now look at the review pane. Here you will see a sub-pane on comments, including(!) a delete button. If you right-click on it, you will get the option of deleting all comments.

Another possibility is that all revisions have been set to be viewed as balloons. In the 'tracking' sub-pane (next to comments, you may see an option reading 'original showing markup'. Change this to 'final' which will show the final version with all accepted revisions.

*The action of the recombinant alien viral DNA becomes even more apparent in Office 2010, when it is assumed you want everything stored in .docx format. The menu's been re-ordered there as well

rejec: the notion of word being a documentation standard

sociotard said...

Santorum telling people to stop donating to colleges because college indoctrinates kids against religion. (Don't most Ivy league schools have a seminary?)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIh1F-V6eXM

Robert said...

Damn you, Republican voters, for ignoring the one viable candidate who not only could have won you the White House, but also redeemed the Republican Party. :(

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Mike Frank:

My wife and I have a phrase for when we stay up all night, reading a book from cover to cover. We call it "doing a Brin."


My wife and I (both sci-fi fans) have different reading styles. With a book like "The Postman", I like to savor each page and to take natural breaks to experience the suspense of "cliffhangers" at various points. She's a complete speed-reader.

When we first met and began dating--acutally just PRIOR to our first date--she went out of town for a long weekend, and I wanted her to be reminded of me while she was gone, so I lent her my copy of "The Postman". When I first read that book, it had taken me at least a month, for all the reasons listed above. When I talked to her on the phone from Nevada, I asked her how far she had gotten into the book, and she said matter-of-factly, "I finished it." When I expressed my shock and awe, she explained "Well, it WAS a five hour flight."

Actually, our getting together as a couple was fortuitous Brin-wise for both of us. I was the one who introduced her to "The Postman", and hence to Brin, but it had never occured to me to seek out OTHER works by the same author. She then devoured the first Uplift Trilogy (before there WAS a second one) and introduced me to those.

And BTW, I'm talking about a woman who let me have the march from the end of Star Wars (not the "Imperial March", but the upbeat martial music that's playing as Leia pins medals on Han and Luke) played as we walked back from the alter at our wedding!

Anonymous said...

...for some reason, that circular obejct under the Baltic reminds me of Russian "Popovkas", circular gunships made in the 19th century. Both were designed for use in the Black Sea, though.
I wonder...

- The Vagabond
cirrove - The way right-wing consultants get around obstacles.

Atomsmith said...

Science in Science Fiction...


I took a fun freshman seminar with this exact title, in the Astrophysics department.

It centered around Larry Krauss's book The Physics of Star Trek (but the 1995 version...)

The other book we read in that class was some obscure novel called EARTH...

Tony Fisk said...

I think the Empire march would make for one scary recessional!

Anonymous said...

David

click on the print button when the printer window opens check the "print to file" box and print.
See if that will get you a clean copy.

Tacitus2 said...

"And BTW, I'm talking about a woman who let me have the march from the end of Star Wars"

The Force is strong in this one.

T

TheMadLibrarian said...

Larry, sounds like your wedding and ours thought along the same lines -- we used the same piece of music for OUR recessional!

The Physics of Star Trek was one book I was going to suggest for a more or less realistic look at far-out phenomena like wormholes, quantum singularities and warp drives, but I was beaten to it!

TheMadLibrarian

tisticat: Data tracking how often Schroedinger's Cat is alive or dead

rewinn said...

@David - a friend suggested
"You could also try looking at the Restrict Editing setting. I forget where it was in Word 2010, but now it's under the Review tab. If editing restrictions have been applied, you (or the editor) should be able to remove them.

This feature got turned on accidentally for me once, don't ask me how, and the symptoms were pretty much what you describe."

David Brin said...

Yeah the Physics of Star Trek is a good one. Re my problem, the "save changes" boxes are locked, somehow. Some Microsoft trickl used by the publisher.

Print to file did not work.

But copying slugs of text into the computer's clipboard then carefully pasting them into a new file appears to have done most of the cleanup, bypassing this nasty trick.

Off to Washington DC for a couple of days of speeches....

David Brin said...

If I had access to a wagering parlor, I would check and see what the odds are, amid the bitter personal attacks between the two me...
...that nominee Romney would pick Newt as his running mate.

I don't consider to to be likely! But I think it is much more plausible than the betting pools are probably offering, right now. After all, Reagan chose Bush Sr after similar tussling. And you gotta hand it to goppers. When they decide to forgive and make up, the past becomes nothing at all. Memory is a convenience. (Lefties, in contrast, hold loooooong grudges.)

What does Newt bring? Romney needs unity and he needs the fire-breathers and the good old boys. Newt can supply those, shore up the base areas and then hurl himself forth as attack dog, letting Mitt seem to take the high road. Biden is no match.

DOwnsides? The libertarians lose again. And the fundies are gonna face the nightmare of Newt & Mitt from their churchly perspective. But they'll rally.

Tacitus2 said...

You may recall that months ago, when many of you were having vapors over the unacceptable flavor of the week, that I called the R nomination for Romney. And to boot went out on a limb for a Suzanna Martinez VP slot. Intrade has her at 6.5% right now.

I stand by my call.

As to the general election results it will come down to the economy. Probably, to get more specific, to what extent can Barack Obama get people to accept stringent austerity measures. Alas, the people who he needs to persuade are Greeks who don't give much of a damn about his opinions...

Tacitus

Robert said...

Yeah. I'm lazy, you see. So rather than try to find the proper work-around, I just go for a quick-and-easy alternative like copy-and-paste. I'm glad to see it's working for removing the coding, Dr. Brin. :)

The coders at computer software companies undoubtedly hate people like me. After all, there's "proper" ways of doing things, and taking cheap shortcuts is... inelegant. =^-^=

Rob H.

Rob said...

And the fundies are gonna face the nightmare of Newt & Mitt from their churchly perspective. But they'll rally.

They won't.

I'm as convinced of that (as a social conservative with many touchpoints of affinity with them!) as Tacitus is of his VP prediction.

Robert said...

Science-related update: Just in time to smack the Maunder Minimum people upside the head, fresh research has pinpointed multiple volcanic eruptions as the likely cause for the "mini-ice age" that altered European climate. I'll have to post this on my Facebook account to counter the recent claims we're going into a new ice age due to reduced solar activity for the next solar cycle (funny, that, we have been smacked by several solar flares lately. Where's that quieter-than-usual solar activity?).

-------

Speaking of solar activity, a radiation sensor in the Curiosity Mars Probe en-route to Mars is currently being used to monitor radiation from the solar flare that gave Earth a glancing blow this week. Information from the probe will be used to determine how astronauts would fare in heading to Mars (or to an asteroid)... and the probable need to improve radiation shielding. (I wonder what happened to that research about plasma-based radiation shields...)

-------

Here's an interesting article concerning the evolution of the blue whale's growth over generations though the scientists believe overfishing will likely cause this generation of blue whales to be the largest before a lack of food starts reducing the size of the following generations.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Remember, under the political lamp, the discussion of a Secured Transaction Excise Tax?

Whether it's to stabilize markets against unreal trading or as a revenue source, it looks like the French Conservative Sarkozy now wants one.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

You may recall that months ago, when many of you were having vapors over the unacceptable flavor of the week,


"Vapors"? I actually WANT an unelectable candidate to run against President Obama. Herman Cain would have been a dream come true.


that I called the R nomination for Romney. And to boot went out on a limb for a Suzanna Martinez VP slot. Intrade has her at 6.5% right now.

I stand by my call.


I thought Marco Rubio in the GOP veep slot is a done deal. I'd be very surprised to see it go to anyone else.


As to the general election results it will come down to the economy. Probably, to get more specific, to what extent can Barack Obama get people to accept stringent austerity measures. Alas, the people who he needs to persuade are Greeks who don't give much of a damn about his opinions...


I agree it will be about the economy, but disagree fundamentally with everything else. It's the Republicans, the Scott Walkers of the world whose prospects depend on convincing people that austerity is a good thing. President Obama has to convince voters that Republican policies are harmful, not that he can enact them as well as R's can.

The problem with your stated policy is that there is "spending" and there is "spending". Not all spending is equal. Take my personal situation, for example. I'm about to be outsourced, and I'm looking for a new job while being careful about not blowing my savings.

So, yes, it's a bad idea to "increase spending" by running up credit card debt to purchase cool electronic gadgets or to fly to Las Vegas or to buy a new Astin Martin.

OTOH, it is a really GOOD idea to invest in a new suit to interview in, and to have professional help updating my resume. It's a good idea to spend money on the gas it takes to drive to different places for interviews. And it's a very good idea to keep up at least minimum payments on the mortgage.

Republican austerity policies would have the country do the equivalent of saying "no" to all of the above.

sociotard said...

Surveillance Video Becomes a Tool for Studying Customer Behavior
Uses software to analyze customer behavior patterns in stores. Allegedly "it cannot identify or track individuals". Sure. Right. The elites will accept that restriction.

A Crisis in Two Narratives: Why Spending Won't Solve the Crises

Are 2 year colleges better than 4?
I liked getting exposed to other fields and think that a well-rounded education is valuable. At the same time, student debt is a huge problem.

This Radiolab episode was good. It interviews a man who fell for a chatbot on a dating site. It made me wonder, what if AI doesn't pop out of the military or Wall Street, but out of attempts to create the perfect gold-digger?

sociotard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul451 said...

Everything you thought you knew about learning is wrong.

Well, not quite. But I found it interesting.

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8587336&postID=1100472396992701113

sociotard said...

Paul, your link takes us right here.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"The Denialists are at it again (still): [claiming] we're going to go into another mini-ice age with the next solar cycle. [...] So. Anyone want to dissect this and point out where the information was flawed or mistaken so we have ammunition to use against it?"

"Next solar cycle" meaning the next 11 years? That's short enough for a bet. Why argue, challenge them to put their money where their mouths are.

After all, people might act on their suggestion, so shouldn't the author(s) have "skin in the game"?

(bedisall: Yeah, it's about that time.)

Paul451 said...

Okay one more:

There's been a spate of "Ag Gag" bills intended to stop animal rights activists (and animal welfare agencies) from secretly filming in factory farms.

http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-national.php?Id=219&yr=2012

Robert said...

It was the Solar Grand Cycles or something to that effect. We were leaving #24, and entering #25, according to the article (though Wikipedia doesn't have anything about a Solar Cycle #25). Considering the news article that just came out showing evidence on the role that multiple volcanic eruptions has on the climate and another article that revealed the Earth has absorbed more energy than it's released during the last solar minimum, the claims of another "ice age" is idiocy and easily debunked at this juncture.

I'm going to enjoy posting those articles in fact, and pointing them out to the person who posted the one on the "new ice age" silliness. ;)

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

I wish I could say I was being meta. But, oops...

http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/01/everything-about-learning/

(iliquit: Time to go.)

David Brin said...

Red Families v. Blue Families
Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture
Naomi Cahn and June Carbone
"Red Families v. Blue Families identifies a new family model geared for the post-industrial economy. Rooted in the urban middle class, the coasts and the "blue states" in the last three presidential elections, the Blue Family Paradigm emphasizes the importance of women's as well as men's workforce participation, egalitarian gender roles, and the delay of family formation until both parents are emotionally and financially ready. By contrast, the Red Family Paradigm--associated with the Bible Belt, the mountain west, and rural America--rejects these new family norms, viewing the change in moral and sexual values as a crisis. In this world, the prospect of teen childbirth is the necessary deterrent to premarital sex, marriage is a sacred undertaking between a man and a woman, and divorce is society's greatest moral challenge. Yet, the changing economy is rapidly eliminating the stable, blue collar jobs that have historically supported young families, and early marriage and childbearing derail the education needed to prosper. The result is that the areas of the country most committed to traditional values have the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates, fueling greater calls to reinstill traditional values."

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The result is that the areas of the country most committed to traditional values have the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates, fueling greater calls to reinstill traditional values."


This sort of thing reminds me of a hypothetical practical joke I once heard about. A married couple has a fancy electric blanket with separate controls for each side. The joke is that you switch the controls around, so that "he" is actually activating the heat on "her" side and vice versa, but the couple themselves have no idea that's what is happening. So when "he" gets too hot, he turns down the heat which makes "her" too cold. So "she" turns UP the heat, which makes...

See, they're driven to double down on the wrong action and to produce exactly the wrong result, which makes them double down even further, ad infinitum.

This dynamic applies to your example of "insisting on more traditional values" when traditional values are producing the problem.

It also applies to calls for austerity in the face of a depression.

Or to voting in Republicans to fix the ills the Republicans have foisted on the country.

Like any good story, it explains a lot.

Tony Fisk said...

They may be ills but, goshdarnit, they're *our* ills!

fruiziff: a godless soft drink intended to poison our precious bodily fluids

Tony Fisk said...

It suggests to me that Herman Cain should have claimed to speak in tongues, rather than Chinese (we had a guy like that a couple of years ago)

Ian said...

Tacitus:

Republicans shouldn't count on much of a headwind from the economy/

Global excomic prospects have improved abruptly in the past few weeks - it's weven being suggested that the Eurozone may avoid recession entirely.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-01/euro-region-manufacturing-output-contracts-for-sixth-month.html

Tacitus2 said...

Ian

Nothing would please and surprise me more than to find that the economic troubles of the world are in fact better than advertised. Generally it is in the self interest of those in power to try and paper over the bad stuff. And Lord knows there is plenty of bad paper still out there. In the most immediate sense Greek bond holders are about to get a haircut that will be reminiscent of that sported by our genial-and sartorially resplendent-Host.

But as I said, would love to be wrong.

Tacitus

sociotard said...

Generally it is in the self interest of those in power to try and paper over the bad stuff.

Depends on which power base and which issue.

Newspapers and other media feed on bad stuff. No matter what the issue, they need to make the situation far worse than it likely is.

Politicians like making things look bad if they can tie the badness to their opposition. Otherwise they will, yes, paper things over.

Marino said...

Re Word, try using Libreoffice or NeoOffice for Mac (google for a download site). LibreOffice has different versions for Macs with Intel or not Intel processors.

Did you attempt to save the file as simple ASCII text (not rtf)?

and, re cut and paste, there should be a "Select all" command, instead of doing it by chunks.

(I'm an happy user of OpenOffice, which btw now has a plugin for export to epub e-book format, too..)

Paul451 said...

A guy walking his dogs in a park in California. He was walking his dogs off the leash, because the park had long been a no-leash dog park, but unbeknownst to him, changed to a National Park in December, which means it's now covered by leash laws. A ranger stopped him, intending to fine him, and he gave her a fake name (as one does) and tried to walk away.

So she tased him in the back. He was then arrested for suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, providing a false ID, (and walking dogs off a leash).

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/01/30/MN921N0LQT.DTL

"Witnesses said the use of a stun gun and the arrest seemed excessive for someone walking two small dogs off leash."

The park spokesman said, "The ranger was trying to educate residents of the rule".

(rangsas: Yo, gettin' the job done.)

Paul451 said...

Marino,
I suspect the document was in collaboration mode, with the main document password locked. David's additions were marked as "comments". CRTL-A (select-all) would have only picked up either just the main doc, or just individual comments.

Open-office, libre-office, etc, don't have a high compatibility with MS-Word's collaboration tools. It's likely that the comments would show at all.

It's not really a Microsoft "flaw" as such, it's just a dickish move by the printer password locking a work against its own author; and a weak-ass response by his publisher to not push the point. ("What, you don't like working for us?")

(substu: An inadequate a disco.)

Robert said...

It is not necessary to attribute to malice that which can easily be attributed to incompetence.

Then again, I've been attributing incompetence to the Republican Party since the Shrub got into office in 2000 so it may be a broken corollary.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

The Atlantic thinks Romney falls into the "uncanny valley" for politicians.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/01/the-uncanny-valley-what-robot-theory-tells-us-about-mitt-romney/252235/

Robert said...

I've another interesting article concerning a scientist's proposal to import elephants and other endangered animals to fill the holes in Australia's ecology. It's a fascinating read and suggests that Australia's ecology has been out of kilter since the Aborigines hunted into extinction some of the larger animals that had once been found on Australia (before the coming of Europeans).

Note, he's not suggesting just importing animals and letting them loose. For elephants, for instance, he's suggesting using infertile animals and using GPS tracking systems. He also is suggesting some animals at risk of extinction could be imported and kept safely in Australia (though how this would stop poaching is beyond me).

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Re: Ozyphants

The Red Kangaroo is big. 2m tall. There's a wide variety of smaller 'roos and wallabies. Lots of genetic potential. If there was an ecological niche for large animals the Red or some other animal would be getting bigger. (Especially if there was a fast growing uncontested food source that only required height to access. (**)) Since they aren't, it probably means the elephant would not survive, or would displace something else, and would cause a stupid amount of damage either way.

That said... I do like the general idea. But if we're gonna volunteer to save endangered species, why not great apes? Bonobos (probably from zoo stock) in the Northern Territory, mountain gorillas into the Blue Mountains, Orangutans in Queensland rainforests.

(** Actually, that's an idea. If you want a larger marsupial to replace extinct large marsupials, why not breed large marsupials? Shouldn't take too many generations to add a metre to the height of a kangaroo.)

LarryHart said...

Off topic, for whoever it was who got me started on the novel REAMDE...

Ok, I'm within 200 pages of the ending, and it occured to me to look up the town of Elphinstone, British Columbia on Google Maps.

Much of the plot depends upon this small Canadian town and its proximity to the Idaho border. I wasn't sure if it was a fictitious name or a real town. But the thing is, there IS a real town of Elphinstone, BC, but Google Maps puts it way, WAY west of Idaho. Northwest of Vancouver, even.

So is Google Maps mistaken?

Did Stephenson purposely mis-locate the town in the book?

Did he make up the name, and it just so happened there's a real town by that name?

To further complicate the question, "Elphinstone" is almost...almost...an anagram for "Neal Stephenson".

Robert said...

Paul: If we did selective breeding we could develop a larger kangaroo. However, recent scientific research suggests that size changes take longer on land than they do in the water (the link I provided to an article on blue whale growth earlier on talked about this).

In all likelihood, larger kangaroos never developed for one reason: the Aborigines were busy hunting the largest of animals because you get more meat for the effort. So it was not evolutionarily advantageous to be big in Australia once humanity first arrived.

Rob H.

Ian said...

"Ian

Nothing would please and surprise me more than to find that the economic troubles of the world are in fact better than advertised. Generally it is in the self interest of those in power to try and paper over the bad stuff. And Lord knows there is plenty of bad paper still out there. In the most immediate sense Greek bond holders are about to get a haircut that will be reminiscent of that sported by our genial-and sartorially resplendent-Host."

Speaking as a former professional economist, there are some things you can't paper over - like bond yields at auctions. The initial yield on Italian debt has virtually halved since December - and before soemoen suggests that this is only temporary, both Spain and Italy (who between them account for 80% of Eurozone public debt)have massively front-loaded their debt issuance for the year and have either sold or will shortly sell well over 50% of their total bond issues for the year.

Greece is essentially a sideshow - the Greek economy is something like 2% of the EU economy. Greece mattered because of the risk of contagion not in its own right.

Oh and as for that hair-cut: a significant percentage (no-one is sure exactly how much) of Greek debt is held by hedge funds and other speculators who bought in at 30% of face value and are about to get new securities worth 50% of face value. THe people who sold the bonds to them have already taken their haircut and the impact has worked its way through the markets already.

Institutional investors who bought
Greel debt at or near face value have had almost two years to write down the value of their holdings. So these losses also have already had their effect.

To put Greece into perspective once again: the global market for government securities is somewhere around $50-60 TRillion. Even a total default on Greek debt of ca. $300 Billion, while dreadful for Greece was never going to affect the whole market.

Over the past few months I've been quoting peopel the probability of a double-dip GLOBAL recession. At the worst of the Greek crisis ca. November I set it at 50%, a coupel of weeks ago I revised that to 40%; ask me today and I'd set it at 30% with a caveat that any recession was likely to be relatively mild and relatively brief.

If nothing goers seriously wrong in Portugal over the next few weeks, I'll revise that down again.

In closing: in economics, one of the great and prevalent errors is to assume the future will be a continuation of the recent past. That's what turns economic expansion into bubbles.

It also means than in the wake of a recession people tend to underestimate the pace of economic recovery.

That's particularly understandable this time around given how the global recovery of the first half of 2011 took a huge hit from the Eurozone debt crisis.

Tacitus2 said...

Ian

cool.

Tacitus

Rob said...

Oh, that's interesting. Bond sales from my local school district (which has an Aab rating, I think) have gone down from 5% to 1.9%. Whichever bonds backed my mortgage, the rate I just refinanced at was 4%, down from 6.5%.

Lower interest rates mean what? A combination of high demand for creditworthiness and an economic recovery in progress?

If so, does that mean we should really watch out (or have watched out) for unintended consequences when central banks like the Fed tweak their own rates to near zero?

Tony Fisk said...

Bringing elephants to Australia is reminiscent of the restoration of the mammoth steppes...

I believe the chap who proposed it was doing so primarily to start a discussion as to how best to tackle invasive species like Gamba grass (aka elephant grass because of its size. It apparently burns ferociously and regenerates quickly, so is a threat to forests/woodland. Whether elephants eat it is another matter)

sociotard said...

A paper that may overturn Dark Energy

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-repulsive-gravity-alternative-dark-energy_1.html

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"In all likelihood, larger kangaroos never developed for one reason: the Aborigines were busy hunting the largest of animals because you get more meat for the effort. So it was not evolutionarily advantageous to be big in Australia once humanity first arrived."

From what I understand, in other parts of the world, once humans open up a niche like that, you start to see some movement of surrounding species into the evolutionary "space". Where it doesn't happen means humans have essentially replaced that niche. I'm not sure that elephants would fit in a local niche, without causing damage, if you can't breed 'roos to do the job. (There's a reason marsupials dominated in Australia. Low soil fertility, low rainfall, highly variable climate. Efficiency above all else.)

Rob,
"Lower [bond] interest rates mean what? A combination of high demand for creditworthiness and an economic recovery in progress?"

I see the first, but not the second. Low bond rates mean lots of buy in. Which means buyers are putting a premium on creditworthiness over return. Once you see an economic recovery, buyers start to favour return over security, move out of the bond markets, and in order to compete, interest rates on bonds must rise.

Ian,
Thank you for your summary, every little bit helps.

sociotard said...

Sorry, I linked to that story because it presented itself as news. The paper is a year and a half old. Yeesh.

From the article:
According to Hajdukovic, gravity in the quantum vacuum arises from the gravitational repulsion between the positive gravitational charge of matter and the (hypothetical) negative gravitational charge of antimatter. While matter and antimatter are gravitationally self-attractive, they are mutually repulsive. (This part is similar to Massimo Villata’s theory from part 1, in which negatively charged antimatter exists in voids rather than in the quantum vacuum.) Although the quantum vacuum does not contain real matter and antimatter, short-lived virtual particles and virtual antiparticles could momentarily appear and form pairs, becoming gravitational dipoles.

“If particles and antiparticles have gravitational charges of the opposite sign, a sufficiently strong gravitational field can convert a virtual pair into a real one,” Hajdukovic explained. “It is not a new hypothesis but a consequence of the Schwinger mechanism, well known in quantum field theories.”


It doesn't make sense to me. Wouldn't the virtual particles attract electromagnetically far more powerfully than they would repel gravitationally?

Paul451 said...

"Negative gravitational charge" implies negative matter, not anti-matter. My understanding was that anti-matter was gravitationally positive.

I can safely say I didn't understand any of it. <sigh> I wished MOND had worked out. I liked MOND.

Robert said...

We actually won't know how anti-matter reacts to gravity until we get a large enough sample of anti-atoms in order to perform actual experiments. While it is believed anti-matter reacts to gravity the same way, the proof is in the anti-pudding.

Rob H.

Ian said...

Anonymous hacked the website and e-mail archives of a White Supremacist group and found evidence of extensive links between them and Ron Paul.

Oh and evidence of meetings between Ron Paul and Nick Griffin of the BNP.

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/291000/20120201/anonymous-ron-paul-neo-nazi-bnp-a3p.htm

Ian said...

On a more cheerful note: the US unemployment rate fell to 8.3% last month amidst accelerating jobs growth.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-03/payrolls-in-u-s-jumped-243-000-in-january-unemployment-rate-drops-to-8-3-.html

Atomsmith said...

From a relativistic perspective, anti-matter should have regular gravity.

Here's my reasoning:

When a particle / anti-particle pair annihilate, energy is released.

Therefore the net mass-energy of the pair is positive, i.e. the mass-energy of both particles warps spacetime in the same way. (If they warped spacetime in opposite ways, the net mass-energy would be zero and no energy would be released.)

Therefore anti-matter interacts gravitationally the same as matter.

Just a thought from a keen amateur...

Robert said...

Ah, but is energy itself gravitationally bound? Or is gravity itself a form of energy? (And ultimately, what is energy? Photons? Electrons? Particle collisions?) On the quantum scale, is energy the same thing as it is on the macro scale?

There is tremendous ambiguity involved in this. Thus all we can say is "maybe," despite the fact quantum effects don't necessarily behave the same way macro effects do.

Rob H.

ell said...

I thought gravity could bend light waves (and keep light from escaping from a black hole), so energy (light) could be affected by gravity.

Whereas neutrinos (matter) can pass right through massive objects (planets) without being affected...

Hmmm....

sociotard said...

Neutrinos are affected by gravity. They pass through planets because they are unaffected by electromagnetism, and that's what makes normal matter bump into itself (most of the time)

sociotard said...

Famous scientist valentines.

http://chenected.aiche.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Picture-12.png

Paul451 said...

Something I asked in the recent libertarian thread, but... well, you know...

David's written about (the dangers of) the development of international law where nations are the smallest unit size allowed access to the various institutions.

IMO, the United Nations was crafted along the idea of a world government (then crippled so it wouldn't actually work as one.) Suppose the UN didn't exist. Could you devise a system of international law based around libertarian philosophy? How would it work? (Ie, with nations as "Individuals".)

(shiesse: said the group, in phonetic German.)

Robert said...

There's an article about a fungus found in the Amazon that may significantly help with plastic pollution. It seems this fungus devours polyurethane, even in anarobic environments. This means it could possibly be used inside landfills. In addition, the enzyme it uses to snack on polyurethane can be extracted and thus used outside of landfills, should the fungus prove potentially invasive (thus meaning the company that patents the formula will get rich selling it to recycling companies).

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

New media mass hysteria. Contagious twitching.

http://news.discovery.com/tech/twitching-disorder-social-media-120203.html

Had a chuckle at this quote (particularly from a supposed science site): "Doctors have also tested the girls for traces of chemicals. All came up negative." Argh, what the hell are these girls made up of?

(inesses: illnesses that cause you to become imaginary.)

David Brin said...

been out of town...


onward...

gwern said...

>
Another possibility? Optimum intervals to pulse serotonin to maximize a protein that seems to be involved in memory? The optimal protocol, it turned out, was not the usual, even-spaced one, but an irregular series of two serotonin pulses emitted 10 minutes apart, then one five minutes later, with a final spritz 30 minutes afterward. With this regimen, interaction between the two enzymes rose by 50 percent—an indication that the learning process was operating more efficiently. Very preliminary, but suggests steady but irregular learning may be better than cramming! Read the article in Scientific American.


Cramming not being great is actually one of the oldest results in psychology; the enzyme stuff is interesting, but as far as that claim goes, adds nothing.

http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition#literature-review