Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Small wonders… a sampling for the coming spring

No overall theme, this time.  Just a small collection of worthy links to amuse.
No doubt you've already read and heard the biggest cosmological news in about ten years… Researchers say they've discovered that gravitational waves rippled through the fabric of space-time in the first sliver of a second after the Big Bang, the first direct evidence for a mysterious ultra-rapid expansion at the dawn of the universe. If confirmed, it would represent one of the most profound insights in decades to emerge from the field of cosmology.
Tiny variations in polarization in the microwave background appear to reveal wave-pattens that can only (most cosmologists seem to think) reveal the basic structure of "inflation"… Alan Guth's notion that the universe expanded vastly faster than light speed during the first microscopic fractions of its first second of existence.
WiFi-virusThe First Contagious Air-borne WiFi Virus: Attempting to emulate a cold virus, a team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called "Chameleon", and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.
Zello private radio allows ad hoc walkie talky systems. Look up how it becomes the most popular app suddenly in countries where mass demonstrations are arising, because it bypasses the cell phone companies and government control (somewhat).  Exactly the kind of system I've been calling for, for years.
Oh, but do your very wheels betray you? All cars tires sold since 2004 have had RFID tags embedded. The Tires are read at various airports and high traffic centers. Beginning next year, all Korean tires will come equipped with RFID -- to automate inventory management and maintenance.
Now this sure ain't gonna work: various state legislators aim to rein in the powers of the National Security Agency and the American surveillance state with bills that would limit cooperation by state officials or slow the distribution of state resourceslike turning off the NSA’s access to local Utah water.  Riiiiight.
But careful with that Corbomite Device!  Boeing has quietly filed papers with the FCC for a phone that self-destructs if you tamper with it. It's called the Boeing Black, of course.  I just want the app that  starts a loud countdown on my phone.  Heck, even as a ring tone! (Remember those?)
=== Miscellany ===
Shared ancestry: More than 70% of Jewish men and half of the Arab men whose DNA was studied inherited their Y chromosomes from the same paternal ancestors who lived in the region within the last few thousand years.
This F35 pilot proved three things: 1- how terrific his plane is and 2- that he is a master stick-jockey… and 3- that he badly needs to be grounded and assigned to dig ditches for 6 months, in order to learn to grow up.   Except… ooops… dang the reality of these newfangled game effects!  Never mind.  Still…. it is so way cool to watch. .
LITERARY-WORLD-ELITISTHow to suck at game design: Why Marketers fear the Female Geek.
Should authors avoid the word "crepuscular?" Laura Miller takes on the issue: Is the literary world elitist?  in Salon, writing:  "It’s usually those with the least faith in their own opinions who become the most outraged when the consensus does not agree with them."
== Over-rule Nature! ==
Now here's an interesting item. "Reducing Wild Animal Suffering." An hour long philosophical presentation… of the proposition the humanity is duty bound to aggressively intervene in nature and reduce or eliminate the agony and death that are core elements of the lives of wild creatures.
Reducing-Animal-SufferingThese guys talk around the point for an hour, arguing that if we dislike suffering and want to reduce it, we are obliged to work hard to ease suffering everywhere, not limited by species boundaries. In other words, as Clifford Simak portrayed in CITY, we should move toward remaking the world in a fashion far kinder than the situation that emerged in Genesis, after the expulsion from Eden.  A proposal that is fascinating… and yet also utterly predictable in light of the propelling habit of western civilization to "expand horizons." Indeed, see it portrayed in my novella "Stones of Significance."
These guys try to cover all bases… and fail miserably in just an hour, since they leave out 10,000 implications. For example, they shrug off theology. They assume that suffering is evil when it is a quantitative not qualitative difference from the sensory inputs we require, to survive. They fail to make Temple Grandin's point that the best slaughterhouses may be far gentler than the ways that most animals die, in nature. They allude, in passing, to the need for humanity to impose a vast program of nanotech-computerized birth control on all macro species and probably bacteria, as well. They demand a qualitative on-off moral switch that is simply shifted over an arbitrary amount, when a sliding scale would be both sensible and vastly easier to set in motion, allowing each generation to increase intervention smoothly, as capabilities increase. Could attempts to do this even explain the Fermi Paradox?  And so on…
Still, I enjoyed the mind-challenge, which is essentially about extending the range of our ambitions to the very fabric of creation, criticizing its original (intelligent or natural) design.  Nice class project.
== more miscellany! ==
The Next Godzilla. Okay, I admit this one is badass... tail-dragger or not!
What-if-xkcdIf you're a fan of the marvelous science webcomic xkcd -- or if you just like to wonder about"What if…" possibilities, take a look at Randall Munroe's first book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.
In great news for fans of MacGyver fiction -- powerful muscles are produced by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and sewing thread.  Twisting the polymer fiber converts it to a torsional muscle that can spin a heavy rotor to more than 10,000 revolutions per minute.  Subsequent twisting, so that the polymer fiber coils like a heavily twisted rubber band, produces a muscle that dramatically contracts along its length when heated, and returns to its initial length when cooled. Twisting together a bundle of polyethylene fishing lines, whose total diameter is only about 10 times larger than a human hair, produces a coiled polymer muscle that can lift 16 pounds. Operated in parallel, similar to how natural muscles are configured, 100 of these polymer muscles could lift about 1,600 pounds.  Oooh ooh!  Make a netktie of the stuff… body heat from the victim then causes….
What portion of Wikipedia edits are generated by humans versus bots?  As crowdsourced Wikipedia has grown too large — with more than 30 million articles in 287 languages — to be entirely edited and managed by volunteers, 12 Wikipedia bots have emerged to pick up the slack.
Remember the debris-grabbing tether that my astronaut uses in the first chapter of Existence? Now the European Space Agency wants to test a mission to try it. Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, which threaten working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could hit with the force of a hand grenade.  "Apart from deorbit options based on flexible and rigid connections, techniques are being considered for raising targets to higher orbits, including tethers and  electric propulsion."
Finally, Eli Williamson-Jones has this fun little film group that did a  philosophical look comparing both the film The Postman and one of my podcast ravings about the possibility of building a decent civilization. You might find it diverting… especially at the end when there's this little Jason Silva riff called Existential Bummer.


Terry Brown said...

Very nice put down of the Humanistic "control of nature" paradigm. Reminds me (in passing) of our role of being the World's Police Man. A dubious honorific at best.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The Wikipedia bots do mostly routine stuff like formatting and enforcing certain Wikipedia standardization procedures. I've never known a bot to do the kind of editing that actually adds to the meaning of an article, or that changes the meaning of an article. All of those millions of articles are started by registered human users.

The main problem with Wikipedia is the unregistered editors, those who are only identified by an IP address. The unregistered editors introduce the vast majority of the errors into Wikipedia, and the unregistered editors cause nearly all of the vandalism. The policy of allowing unregistered editors in Wikipedia has caused a lot of registered editors to just give up and stop editing.

atomsmith said...

> Is the literary world elitist?

Doth the Pontiff defecate in a nemorous milieu?

The F-35 takeoff flip is a fake from a video game, according to Snopes. Thanks again for making the world a little less amazing, snopes...

And, tying the theme of reducing animals' suffering with David's warning against METI, from the author of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Eliezer Yudkowsky's Three Worlds Collide (pdf). First contact scenarios with aliens, even benevolent, non-imperialist aliens, result in disaster when ethics forces hands, both ours and aliens'.

Robert said...

Here's an interesting view of what 16 people thought when they came to America. Some of these are truly amazing... such as a person's reaction to customer service. Or food portions. It's well worth reading. Hilarious in parts... and also sobering in others.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Bigger issue than portion-sizes, IMO: Is there any reason why US banking is so... backwards? People paying for routine stuff (like groceries) by cheque, and things mentioned in the article, like transfers between accounts... even within the same bank. Drive through ATMs, but no electronic transfers between accounts?

Is there a deeper reason, some way that banks work? Such as widely contradicting state-level regulations preventing inter (or intra) bank transactions?

Robert said...

Laziness and cost. It would cost money to fully upgrade banks to be fully electronic. And by keeping it this way, banks are able to hold onto your money for a little bit longer and thus get interest payments on that money for the small period of time when it's not owned by you but is not owned by the other customer.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

When I was involved in construction we all had these Nextel Motorola phones with "walkie talkie" capability, except if we were working in a tower-less area, we couldn't talk to someone 500 yards away, even if we were working for the same company. It's about time that stupidity is ended.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

This may have already been mentioned here given David's longstanding advocacy of peer-to-peer cellular systems; but the Serval Project in Australia has done quite a lot of work in developing multiple ways for cell phones to communicate without the benefit of conventional cellular repeaters.

David Brin said...

Very interesting!

Now onward…..