"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community."--William James
Fifty years ago this month Hugh Everett III published his paper proposing a "relative-state formulation of quantum mechanics" - the idea subsequently described as the 'many worlds' or 'multiverse' interpretation. Its impact on science and culture continues. In celebration, a science fiction special edition of Nature on 5 July 2007 explores the symbiosis of science and sf, as exemplified by Everett's hypothesis, its birth, evolution, champions and opponents, in biology, physics, literature and beyond.
Though I always found it weird that in this one case a sci fi idea pronounced by a grad student was so thoroughly embraced by the physics community, making his rep for life.
And while we’re discussing weird ideas from physics... Richard Gott’s infuriating, thought-provoking, “Copernican” approach to predicting that humanity has 5,000 more years. (I’ve seen the same kind of analysis give us just twenty years, or less. huh.)
Speaking of many worlds, I highly recommend the latest book to ponder the topic of “where is everybody out there?” Contact with Alien Civilizations was written by former senior U.S. diplomat Michael A.G. Michaud, who chaired the committees that developed the well-regarded “SETI Protocols.” I served with Micahaerl on those committees...
...until they unraveled, just this last year, under the strain of the increasingly tense METI imbroglio, or the debate over whether humanity (or rather, a few peremptory individuals) should start shouting into a strange and dauntingly silent universe. An excellent book, covering these issues from many angles!
The Arlington Institute issued this warning: The era of cheap food is over. The price of corn (maize) hasdoubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. Thefood price index in India has risen 11 percent in one year, and in Mexicoin January there were riots after the price of corn flour (used in makingthe staple food of the poor, tortillas) went up fourfold. Even in thedeveloped countries food prices are going up, and they are not going tocome down again.
Cheap food lasted for only fifty years. Before the Second World Warmost families in the developed countries spent a third or more of theirincome on food (as the poor majority in developing countries still do). Butafter the war a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the GreenRevolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long,steep fall in the real price of food. For the global middle class, it wasthe Good Old Days, with food taking only a tenth of their income. It will probably be back up to a quarter within a decade, and itmay go much higher than that, because we are entering a period when threeseparate factors are converging to drive food prices up. The first issimply demand. Not only is the global population continuing to grow (aboutan extra Turkey or Vietnam every year), but as Asian economies race aheadmore and more people in those populous countries are starting to eatsignificant amounts of meat.
An experiment in viral hit measurement! A bright young SF author, Jeff Carlson, is about to see his first novel published. We are also writing a book together! He has just posted his very first author web site at www.jverse.com. Now for the experiment. Let’s see how many hits we can generate on Jeff’s site and show how thumping big and influential the Contrary Brin community really is!
President Bush has signed a directive granting extraordinary powers to the office of the president in the event of a declared national emergency, apparently without congressional approval or oversight. The directive establishes under the office of the president a new national continuity coordinator whose job is to make plans for "National Essential Functions" of all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, as well as private sector organizations to continue functioning under the president's directives
New Scientist reports a single hydrogen atom has been snipped off a molecule and then added back on again, marking the first time a single chemical bond has been broken and reforged in a controlled, reversible way. The team first used their STM to locate a methylaminocarbyne (CNHCH3) molecule that was fixed to a platinum surface. Then they turned up the voltage, increasing the flow of electrons. That was enough to break one bond – between the molecule's nitrogen and hydrogen atom – but not to disturb any of the other bonds, leaving a molecule of methylisocyanide (CNCH3).
To reverse the process, the group simply bathed the sample in hydrogen gas. The platinum surface catalysed the splitting of the hydrogen molecules into their hydrogen atoms, which reacted with nitrogen in the methylisocyanide molecule to re-form methylaminocarbyne.
Okay, the last part was more classic chemistry, manipulating the surroundings rather than a single site. Still. Wowzer.
DID YOU KNOW THAT...newly discovered fossils show that penguins as tall as 5 feet roamed what is now Peru more than 40 million years ago
There is a growing body of evidence that the Earth's magnetic field is about to disappear, at least for a while. One of those signs is that the strength of the field has been falling by 5% per century recently. Other evidence comes from old navigation records showing that patches of abnormal magnetism have been growing off south-east Africa and in the South Atlantic.
Researchers studying Neanderthal DNA say it should be possible to construct a complete genome of the ancient hominid despite the degradation of the DNA over time. There is also hope for reconstructing the genome of the mammoth and cave bear, according to a research team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.
NASA is joining a Japanese team in a space experiment that uses a “reverse origami” tether to keep satellites in their proper orbits, or to return spent rocket stages quickly to Earth. This tether will have to be strong considering its gossamer construction. Looking like a strip of aluminum foil, almost like a tape measure, the tether is 1 km (3280 feet) long, but only 0.05 mm thick and 50 mm (close to 2 inches) wide.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirms that Bush's use of presidential signing statements are, in fact, utterly without precedent. Though they've been used by American presidents for about 200 years, signing statements - edicts issued by the president to declare his intent to construe a provision within a law differently than Congress does - are constitutionally questionable.
Scientists can now sugars ubiquitous in nature to a replacement source for those products that make oil so valuable, with very little of the residual impurities that have made the quest so daunting. The process converts glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters. That building block, called HMF, is a chemical derived from carbohydrates such as glucose and fructose and is viewed as a promising surrogate for petroleum-based chemicals.
A US company is taking plastics recycling to another level – turning them back into the oil they were made from, and gas. All that is needed, claims Global Resource Corporation (GRC), is a finely tuned microwave and – hey presto! – a mix of materials that were made from oil can be reduced back to oil and combustible gas (and a few leftovers). Key to GRC’s process is a machine that uses 1200 different frequencies within the microwave range, which act on specific hydrocarbon materials.
(I thought of this 25 years ago, only with a twist that could take uses FAR beyond the range of just converting hydrocarbons! Anyone know these people or more about them?)
Pathetic "broadband." The median U.S. download speed now is 1.97 megabits per second — a fraction of the 61 megabits per second enjoyed by consumers in Japan. Other speedy countries include South Korea (median 45 megabits), France (17 megabits) and Canada (7 megabits).