One of my principal themes is the importance of remembering what we are fighting for. It isn't only justice, liberty and accountability -- although those would be sufficient... and they have been horrendously betrayed. There is also the other side of the Enlightenment... the wondrous things that we do, that only a free and open civilization can do.
Despite the War on Science and the War against Professionalism -- and the deliberate fomenting of struggle between professionals and amateurs -- it is still possible to see a civilization forging ahead in countless directions!
Read on for a list of fascinating items from the frontlines of science and technology --
First a brief puff. I’m told that the wonderful old Dreamcast game - Ecco the Dolphin -- has been re-issued as a downloadable for the Nintendo Wii. It happens I wrote that game! Or... at least, I wrote the storyline and scenario and introduction. I admit that the other stuff -- like graphics and game-play -- are also terrific. Under-rated as all get-out. (Somebody report back here if it still has the same, lengthy/lyrical introduction?)
The WorldChanging site has an offering by Alex Steffen appraising the harm done by our sprawling suburban lifestyle, and tabulating the argument for higher urban density, in cities where people simply don’t need cars, or anywhere near as much concrete. (Hint... don't raise this with your favorite "ostrich." Attacking suburbia is not a win-win issue, yet.)
On a related topic, I introduce and moderate the theme of a video - and conference - discussing Jonas Salk’s notion of the “Good Ancestor Principle”... the question of whether our descendants will judge us to have been wise... or profligate and destructive of their chances for a decent life and world.
From the same idea-generating program (run by my friend Tom Munnecke) see a fascinating “apology” by Mark Friesse to Tim Berners-Lee for having rejected TBL’s original paper on the potential of a URL-based Web.
More affordable solar energy? Energy from fusion? Reverse-engineer the brain? Those three are among the 14 "grand challenges" for the 21st century announced today by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
The NAE's web site has descriptions of all 14 challenges leaving it to the public to vote on which should be given top priority. Rather than focus on predictions or gee-whiz gadgets, the NAE said the goal was to identify what needs to be done to help people and the planet thrive. (Thanks Bandit)
All of us -- all of you -- ought to watch this brief talk by Jonathan Haidt, showing an extremely persuasive and well research model for the wellsprings of both liberalism and conservatism. To know and understand is to better grasp when how and who to compete with. I’ve cited him before. This is backed up by quite a lot of research and he seems to accomplish something quite rare -- he makes sense of the American culture wars and shows how all of us may need to give a little. Budge a little.
There is also much that Haidt misses! For example, I think Haidt underestimates the way older, solidarity-loyalty conformity-purity imperatives still influence liberals, and especially leftists (an important distinction!) Possibly because his research questions are biased toward older rather than newer forms of group identification. (If he'd asked questions about purity in terms of food rather than sex, the conservatives would have been impure, the liberals obsessed with purity! Likewise, liberals... and especially leftists... have their own “in-groups” and authority figures. Indeed, his oversimplifications abound and miss, I believe, a profound separation in personality between (on the one hand) indignation-junkies of the far right and left, and (on the other hand) the more frontal-lobe-driven variety of liberals and conservatives.
Recall Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village” (to raise a child)? That seems to be a “lattice world” statement and the right wing response “No, it takes parents!” was resoundingly atomistic.
Above all, what Haidt is missing is the perspective offered by looking at how liberals and conservatives differ over the matter of “horzions.” Horizons of danger, inclusion, opportunity and so on. I believe that it is just as likely that you can separate liberals and conservatives according to how they feel about the process of horizon expansion, with liberals pledging fealty to that general process -- often at the expense of older group loyalties (like the nation) -- while conservatives reacting with deep suspicion toward horizon expansion and fetishistic inclusion while touting reflexive loyalty to older in-groups.
Nevertheless, Haidt provides five extremely useful metaphors that help us grasp just how different the liberal enlightenment mentality is. Moreover, he is right that educated and thoughtful people in our civilization bear a responsibility to try harder, much harder, to understand the underpinnings of their own beliefs... and even their opponents. If we don’t try, then who will?
Had enough about Star Wars? Or want more? Here’s an essay by the brilliant Athena Andreadis, that she wrote before ever hearing of my book Star Wars on Trial. While she noticed many of the same things I did, her fresh perspectives -- and hilariously-scholarly sentences -- are wonderful and make terrific reading.
John Kao believes the United States has an innovation crisis, and he’s calling on today’s corps of young technology professionals to sound the alarm. Citing technology pioneer Vannevar Bush’s assertion more than 60 years ago that “A nation that loses its science and technology will lose control of its destiny,” John Kao said the United States is in peril of becoming a technology laggard.
...and an interesting... possiblyrelevant(?)... news item...
DVD in firefighter's coat blocks bullet: A South Carolina man is thankful for a DVD that ended up taking a bullet for him. Colleton County Fire and Rescue Director Barry McRoy says he was leaving a Waffle House restaurant in Walterboro on Saturday morning when two men ran in fighting over a gun. Police say a bullet hit one of the struggling men, shattered a window and then hit McRoy. The bullet hit a DVD McRoy was carrying in his pocket. He suffered a bruise but didn't realize he had been shot. As he told a police officer what happened he noticed a bullet hole in his jacket, the shattered DVD case and a piece of the bullet. The DVD was nicked. It was a gift from an employee who had recorded a TV show about fire extinguishers.
Um... any chance that it was my “Architechs” episode about future firefighting tools? Any conceivable way to find out?
...and now a tech-news tsunami...
The demonstration site for the Implicit Association Test. (Someone try it & report!)
A space station astronaut does peculiar things with balls of floating water: (Thanks Stefan.)
A fascinating science blog entry about how rats use their whiskers to build accurate maps of their surroundings. A way-fun blog in-general!
When scientists found out that chimps had better memories than students, there were unkind comments about the caliber of the human competition they faced. But now an ape has gone one better, trouncing British memory champion Ben Pridmore. Ayumu, a seven-year-old male brought up in captivity in Japan, did three times as well as Mr Pridmore at a computer game which involved remembering the position of numbers on a screen. And that's no mean feat - the 30-year-old accountant is capable of memorizing the order of a shuffled pack of cards in under 30 seconds. The reason this is fascinating is that humans specialize in having a vast RANGE of abilities. The best human mimics can mimic other animal sounds better than any animal mimic, for example. For an average chimp to chomp a human champ into a memory chump, well... it indicates something deep and systematic.
In the race to perfect "regenerative medicine," stem cell therapy for animals is ahead of treatment for humans because it is not so strictly regulated. It's not experimental -- it's here.
Medicine’s dream of growing new human hearts and other organs to repair or replace damaged ones received a significant boost when University of Minnesota researchers reported success in creating a beating rat heart in a laboratory. But the researchers cautioned that the dream, if it is ever realized, is still at least 10 years away. The researchers removed all the cells from a dead rat heart, leaving the valves and outer structure as scaffolding for new heart cells injected from newborn rats. Within two weeks, the cells formed a new beating heart that conducted electrical impulses and pumped a small amount of blood.
Oy! Under the category of notions that attract dopes every generation... Bruce Bueno de Mesquita claims that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.
During an experiment originally intended to suppress the obese man's appetite, electrodes were pushed into the man's brain and stimulated with an electric current. Instead of losing appetite, the patient instead had an intense experience of déjà vu. He recalled, in intricate detail, a scene from 30 years earlier. More tests showed his ability to learn was dramatically improved.
The world's rush to embrace biofuels is causing a spike in the price of corn and other crops and could worsen water shortages and force poor communities off their land, according to a U.N. official.
But a biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn't interfere with food supplies...
...and bacteria into fuel uses 65% less energy than making ethanol.
The Toshiba Micro Nuclear Reactor mentioned in a previous posting does not exits! Apparently a hoax.
Just to show that all the liars out there aren't those we entrusted with power. There are scoundrels everywhere. And the only "disinfectant" - as Louis Brandeis said - is plenty of light.