Lots to cover... science, culture, problem solving, energy crises, more science...
But first... A BRIEF MOVIE PRE-REVIEW...
No, I haven't had time yet to write my long, thoughtful essay on "Avatar and the Well-Meant Wrong Message from Hollywood." That will just have to wait. But, as a popular culture stopgap…
Here are hints I noticed in the new film's trailer:
- he is the SON of the Robin who (in all other RH movies) helped Richard return -
- it's not Prince John, but King John -
- Crowe rants about "we want our rights IN LAW!"
At home I went online and offered a wager. What important historical event must this film be all about? Why, the Magna Carta, of course. And why does it make me happy… in a world where most films swwon toward the notion of kings, solipsistic wizards and vampires? Clearly, Tom Charity of CNN and Kenneth Turan of the LA Times are not getting smarter with age. Both, nonsensically and weirdly called the new movie a "prequel."
When I learned that the script was by Brian Helgeland, I perked up even more. While I have mixed feelings about the Postman movie that Helgeland scripted for Kevin Costner (Costner never even bought me a beer), Helgeland tried hard, under difficult conditions. He definitely caught the heart message from my novel, with its pro-civilization theme. He remains one of the bright lights in Hwood-writing, these days.
I'll go see Robin Hood with high hopes.
(See more musings about Popular Culture...from Star Wars to Star Trek and Lord of the Rings.)
== A New Facebook Page for the Uplift Universe ==
It will offer updates, links & background on Uplift books. The go-to source for everything about Uplift! with updates on books...and the science behind them.
Plus a new web page dedicated to Uplift.
== GET 'YER POSDCASTS HERE ==
Amateurs have always played a significant role in scientific discovery, particularly in astronomy, biology and other natural sciences. This tradition has been masked, somewhat, by the prodigious growth of Big Science. In the last century, we've seen an increasing trend toward professionalization of all aspects of society; however, back in the 1980s I started forecasting a counter-trend, toward a rising Age of Amateurs. Indeed, the sheer number and complexity of our challenges will demand a wider proliferation of skills than just one-per-person. may soon witness a return to greater emphasis on citizen-contributors, in areas like national defense and self-reliance at networked information gathering.
The scope of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, will be enhanced by thousands of amateur dishes scanning the skies, sharing their results through the internet. Now I talk about this in a newly posted video: The Age of Amateurs that may open your eyes to a fascinating trend.
Every year I help run a special "Architechs" creativity workshop at the Future in Review Conference, challenging some of the world's top Chief Technology Officers, from corporations like Cisco, Intuit Deloitte and Microsoft, to solve a major problem in 48 hours. Here’s a clip of FIRE’s 2008 CTO Challenge: 'Using Technology to fight Wildfires.” Part1: Part2:
At this year's FiRe Conference, (just finished), I challenged the CTOs to come up with great new ideas for spurring the development of "Scalable Alternative Energy." The result was clear thinking from bright fellow at Intuit, Deloitte, Microsoft, Cisco, CalIT2 and other visionary companies. With wisdom provided by my old Caltech classmate Professor Nate Lewis. I hope to be able to link you to the video soon. (Tell your companies and groups that I do these events as "creativity stimulating exercises" for hire! Customers are always happy!)
Check this out: An Interactive Scale of Universe: You can zoom in and out by sliding the bar along bottom to see changes of scale: from Quantum foam, the fabric in Einstein's space-time theory (10 to the -35 meter) to the observable universe (10 to the 27 meters).
== OUR COUSINS ==
The near complete Neanderthal genome sequence (first cut) has been released! What about the differences? "When it comes to protein coding genes, they're pretty minor. Only 78 differences in the sequences that encode proteins are uniformly present in humans but absent in Neanderthals. Only five of those would change the primary structure of the protein. ... Much of the action instead seems to be happening in areas that may regulate the expression of genes. There were over 230 changes apparent in the parts of genes that flank the protein-coding section (the 5' and 3' UTRs). In the areas that have been identified as Human Accelerated Regions (HARs) based on the large differences between humans and chimps, the Neanderthals had the human form 90 percent of the time, but that still left 45 HARs in which humans have picked up significant differences since they diverged from Neanderthals."
The authors also went looking for cases where there was evidence of what's termed a , where a useful mutation occurs and spreads through the population, dragging its area of the chromosome along with it. We can detect these by looking for large chunks of the chromosome that are essentially identical in modern humans, but differ from the Neanderthal versions. Researchers found over 200 of these. Many of them appear to contain genes involved with neural development, including DVRK1A (implicated in Down Syndrome), Neuregulin-3 (schizophrenia), and CADPS2 and AUTS2 (autism). The authors also point out RUNX2 is part of a selective sweep; mutations in this gene lead to skeletal deformities in the face and shoulders, areas which differ significantly between humans and Neanderthals.
Gosh I want to know more about the autism and down syndrome links!
The data implicates gene regulation - rather than the protein-making genes themselves - as a significant driver of the evolutionary adaptation in humans. That's the next frontier.
At the same time, the genome sequence does provide evidence that humans and Neanderthals have interbred. This became apparent when the Neanderthal genome was paired against human genomes from different parts of the globe. The Neanderthal DNA consistently matched European and Asian samples better than it did African; the difference was small, but consistent. It suggested that the Neanderthals, which were restricted to Europe and Asia at the time modern humans originated in Africa, had interbred with humans once they began migrating out of Africa.
=== Attempted Transparency ===
I like this effort to create a cloud-movable utility for group judging the credibility of journalist-reporting. It could, in theory, lead to what I portrayed in my 1989 novel EARTH -- and in my next novel EXISTENCE -- as "credibility ratings."
Alas though, I cannot see how this fine idea would gain enough traction -- in today's fractured net-world -- to reach the critical mass of users that would make it truly effective. This is one of a hundred places where a little seeding by a billionaire visionary could make a huge difference... or else if the company and method got incorporated INTO Google.
=== Misc science ===
See a famous math wizard/billionaire's new endeavor that's making the future you will live in. Seriously.
Problem Detected with Voyager 2 Spacecraft at edge of solar system. Mission managers can no longer decode the science data beamed to Earth from Voyager 2. The space probe and its twin Voyager 1 are flying through the bubble-like heliosphere, created by the sun, which surrounds our solar system.
Explanation? Duh? Passed through our “Crystal Sphere.”
The sum of human knowledge just took an order of magnitude leap: Zettabytes overtake petabytes as largest unit of digital measurement! The size of the digital universe will swell so rapidly this year that a new unit -- the zettabyte has been invented to measure it. Humanity's total digital output is expected to pass 1.2 zettabytes this year. One zettabyte is equal to one million petabytes.
Stan Seibert writes in to recommend another 3-D “object printer.” The Makerbot http://makerbot.com/ It is a 3D printer kit for $750 that is assembled by the end user. “It can produce objects on the 10x10x10 cm scale with a few different kinds of thermoplastics, though ABS is the most common. Although too young to have experienced this, I'm told the MakerBot is the 3D printing equivalent of the Altair 8800 or the Apple I.”
A team of international researchers has brought the primary component of mammoth blood back to life using ancient DNA preserved in bones from Siberian specimens 25,000 to 43,000 years old. Studiesreveal special evolutionary adaptations that allowed the mammoth to cool its extremities down in harsh Arctic conditions to minimize heat loss.
"A 1-millisecond advantage in trading applications can be worth $100 million a year to a major brokerage firm, by one estimate. The fastest systems, running from traders' desks to exchange data centers, can execute transactions in a few milliseconds--so fast, in fact, that the physical distance between two computers processing a transaction can slow down how fast it happens. This problem is called data latency--delays measured in split seconds. To overcome it, many high-frequency algorithmic traders are moving their systems as close to the Wall Street exchanges as possible.
At its most abstract level, the data-latency race represents the spear point of the global movement to eradicate barriers--geographic, technical, psychological--to fair and transparent markets. "Any fair market is going to select the best price from the buyer or seller who gets their order in there first," says Alistair Brown, founder of Lime Brokerage, one of the new-school broker-dealers, which uses customized Linux servers to trade some 200 million shares a day. "At that point, speed definitely becomes an issue. If everyone has access to the same information, when the market moves, you want to be first. The people who are too slow are going to get left behind."
Tech Briefs Design Contest: Create the Future. The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs magazine to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The annual event has attracted more than 7,000 product design ideas from engineers, entrepreneurs, and students worldwide. Entry categories include: Machinery & Equipment, Consumer Products, Medical, Safety & Security, Transportation, and Sustainable Technologies.
Astronomers find Recoiling Supermassive Black Hole: "Astronomers have found a possible supermassive black hole that is recoiling out of a distant galaxy at high speed. The black hole, visible with X-rays as a clear star, is not located in the center of the galaxy, as would normally be the case. Recoiling black holes are interesting because they provide insights into how supermassive black holes develop in the center of galaxies."
About Space elevators: A Hoist to the Heavens: .
and The "Space Elevator: Physical Principles"
Hydrogen from Seawater Using Molybdenum Oxo Catalyst
World Futurist Society's 20 predictions circa 2025.
10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world
Lessons from history for technology designers.
Emory University scientists have dscovered that simple peptides can oganize into bi-layer membranes.â€¨The finding suggests a "missing link" between the pre-biotic Earth's chemical inventory and the organizational scaffolding essential to life.
Cell phones could double as night vision devices.
Google Invests in Firm That Tries to Predict the Future.
Social media has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the web. TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users. Facebook has topped 200 million. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third largest country. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.
Excellent collection of material on space-based solar power.
==== SETI and more silly shouting ====
To mark the 50th anniversary of SETI, as well as the publication of Paul Davies's The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, (a new book about our search for extraterrestrial life), Penguin UK and National Science and Engineering Week will be firing off up to 5,000 messages into space via a radio telescope. The messages can be up to 40 words, and can say anything you like – greetings, warnings, confessions, jokes. The 50 best will be revealed in The Daily Telegraph in March, with each of the winners receiving a copy of Davies's book. To enter the competition, submit your message of no more than 40 words at www.penguin.co.uk/eeriesilence Entries will be accepted until February 28.
Personally, I think a message should be: "Know that humans are exuberant and impatient. No international consultations have discussed how best to make wise contact. Until our most-sage human thinkers have pondered and discussed this with the Earth's citizens, rash "messages" like this one should be taken as informal bursts, from individuals, that don't speak for humanity."
I have seen THE EERIE SILENCE... Paul kindly sent me a copy since he cites my recent positions on the METI Controversy (whether to shout into the cosmos). Alas, he failed to cite my far more important "Great Silence" paper from the 1980s, which is still the only review article and overview the field ever had. Paul is one of the fine and original minds of our age. I hope now that he is Chair of the Post-Detection Committee (from which I resigned in disgust, a few years ago), that he will change and broaden his view of the range of thought experiments we need to ponder, in this "topic that (so far) lacks any subject matter."
=== AND A QUICK POLITICAL NOTE ===
Jim C wrires: "From NYT via Firedoglake, how the risks of a spill were increased through the same destruction of the civil service that you've been discussing for some time now. It would be nice to see the oil-spill / civil service relationship explored more in the popular media." Yes it would, Jim.
All right, the decks are now mostly clear. Hoping to get back to work now.