Sunday, May 11, 2014

Transmissions through time? Plus news from the climate front … plus tons 'o sci news…

== Transmissions from tomorrow? ==

It can be fun to toy with the idea of transmissions through time.  Gregory Benford's TIMESCAPE take the concept literally.  Most serious science fiction can be taken as warnings from alternate potential tomorrows.

TRANSMISSIONS-FROM-TOMORROW This Cli Fi game sends clues from the future... Chronofacts brings messages from a variety of possible futures—some pleasant, others apocalyptic. These clues make up the basis of FutureCoast, a collaborative storytelling game that explores what people in the present think about how climate change will affect their future.

Speaking of messages from the beyond… here's an uber-cool animation of what will happen in 4 billion years, when the Andromeda Galaxy collides with ours. Plus some highly evocative artists, conceptions of what the sky might look like, from the surface of Earth about that time. Of course, it takes our solar system over 200 million years to orbit the center of the Milky Way, so these scenes would be give or take a hundred million or so!

four percent improvement in learning performance was induced via cranial electrical stimulation. The process may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD.

Ever want to send helpful messages back in time? How about this one that should have been invented 4000 years ago. Eccentric axe uses physics to make splitting firewood easier.

Or let the past come alive? Should scientists bring extinct species back from oblivion? The mighty Stewart Brand and his wife the equally mighty Ryan Phelan ponder a question I also mused in EXISTENCE. "...It isn't possible to bring dinosaurs back to life, scientists say, because their DNA is too degraded after millions of years. But work is now under way to bring back more recently extinct species. This includes research at the University of California-Santa Cruz aimed at restoring passenger pigeons, and Harvard scientists' attempts to bring back the woolly mammoth.... There are significant practical, ethical, and legal questions yet to be worked out.

Between-ape-artilectOr messages ABOUT the future?

Transhumanists have a new tome! Ben Goertzel and Natasha Vita-More have brought forth a fascinating collection of contributions (from Aubrey De Grey, Paul Werbos, Giulio Prisco and yours truly) about potential accelerating change: Between Ape and Artilect: Conversations with Pioneers of General Artificial Intelligence and Other Transformative Technologies.

== Looking toward the facts on climate change ==

Is it time to actually study climate change… instead of basing our "sides" on snarks and silly facebook jpegs? Or loyalty to a particular television nuremberg rally network.

My graduate school alma mater, UCSD, is offering a free on-line course on climate change. If you foist your opinion about, how about knowing more science than you're gleaning from hypnotic media ranters and jpegs and your Uncle Ralph?

ENERGY-POLICY-METHANEThe methane revolution may lead to U.S. energy independence even before solar and wind fully kick in. With less of our money going to coal barons and petro sheiks, we can hope for a better economy and less meddling in our politics. Lower energy prices will create jobs and could also undermine Russian Revanchism.

But if there were ever a "revolution" that merits close watchfulness and regulation, this is it. Fracking is a process that should be closely supervised and shut down when and where it threatens water supplies. And the methane drawn from the ground should all be used, never let into the air, where it is a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2. Fracking sites should not be visible from space because lazy companies flare off natural gas instead of shipping it to market.  Here's an article describing recent moves in these directions -- which should accelerate. Those who demonize methane are as silly as the dopes who rant against regulation -- because they have been told to rant by shills working for… coal barons and petro-princes.

Followup: here's confirmation tracking contamination of aquifers. Fools take extreme positions, when clearly this is a case where we can get vast benefits from a new industry that also needs very close scrutiny, supervision and regulation. Duh? Airline regulation led to the safest mode of transport on Earth. Fracking is a perfect case. And let's start by stopping it in heavily populated areas that have rich farmland, like Pennsylvania. Again, Duh? (OTOH… those wanting to ban it entirely are also simplistic fools.)

== Science Miscellany!==

It's worth subscribing to this video blog on the Economist magazine - pertinent video following up some news items we've raised here.

Researchers at UNSW Science have found that the genetic makeup of the sponge-using dolphins is significantly different than other populations. This means the behavior must be shaping these clever dolphins' genes. Knew about the sponge-using. Had no idea there was a genetic component!

Meanwhile -- a dolphin-to-human language translator… is it finally here? Separate from the question of how intelligent they are, this is an essential and beautiful step… and one for the predictions registry!

While we're "braining"… "The Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas provides an initial road-map of the brain, at the level of interstate highways and the major cities that they link," says David Anderson of Caltech. It isn't as precise as the perfect synapse map of the nematode c. elegans that was revealed last year. But C. elegans has just 302 neurons and mice have 75 million! This is definitely an advance.

ZX9811A002S00_460I've seen a couple of episodes of this thing. Richard Hammond Builds A Universe. With his trademark wit, Richard Hammond takes on the ultimate engineering project: to build a planet piece by piece, from the top of a two-mile high 'tower' in the Californian desert.

=== And... ===

Joyful or mirthful laughter produces brain wave frequencies similar to those seen among people who reach what is considered the desired “true state of meditation,” according to a new study from Loma Linda University.

One aspect of the insane War on Science has been the ironic attempts to enlist scientifically respectable voices to support loony "rebel" beliefs. Now we hear that eminences like Laurence Krauss, Michio Kaku and Star Trek actress Kate Mulgrew have been either tricked or deceptively clipped in order to appear in a "film" promoting Geocentrism… the notion that the universe revolves around the Earth. Say what? Does anyone actually think that, let alone spend big money and cheat and steal FaceTime from genuine sages to promote it? This article probes into the matter a bit. But I'm sure the surface has only been scratched.

MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic based on Spitzer Infrared images.

== … and to help you sleep well… ==

B6-12-videoSince 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas. A list of these impacts can be found on the B6-12 website. New evidence indicates that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten times more, according to a new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, the B6-12 Foundation.


Jack Sarfatti said...

I am publishing a paper soon that dark energy is a transmission from tomorrow. I was at UCSD La Jolla with Greg and Jim Benford.

Tony Fisk said...

Hammond's show is v. good. It was aired on ABC at the same time DeGrasse Tyson's series debuted. I promptly dubbed it 'poor man's Cosmos', and had fun comparing the relative budgets to Star Trek and Doctor Who (Hammond scrambling up and down his tower by stairwell rather than turbo lift)

I was especially taken by his approach to making cosmically spectacular mistakes ("Oops! Forgot the dark matter!") while pointing out that's how we learn.

My daughter liked it too.

Tony Fisk said...

While I get it that not all fracking is actively harmful, I am dubious that it can be regulated effectively. Furthermore, it is ultimately a dead end technology that detracts from the development of TWODA renewables. Still, they seem to have reached a critical mass of market share, and can probably deal with a level of competition. It remains to be seen whether they can thrive under governments who are working to actively suppress them, like our current set of self-servatives in Australia.

Tony Fisk said...

Final thought: a fun(?) take on messages from the future

Jabr said...

I enjoyed Benford's "Timescape", but I fell that Jim Hogan did a far better treatment of the concept in "Thrice Upon a Time". It's a shame he drifted off the rails into ConspiracyLand in his more recent novels.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather used to use an axe very much like that for splitting wood. The whole off-angle-wedge thing was apparently quite popular when he was young, though they had long since stopped making them by the time I got to see it in action.

Tony Fisk said...

Odd that they'd stop making it. More investigation needed.

Alex Tolley said...

I agree with Tony Fisk regarding fracking. The government isn't even bothering to do the regulatory inspections already required.

The oil and gas industry has a long history of violating rules or breaking something, plead "who coulda knowed" and getting away with a slap on the wrist or avoiding paying fines. BP's Exxon Valdez disaster is still not paid for. BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster is still in the courts as BP fights to avoid payments. California's Richmond Chevron refinery regularly pollutes the air due to an incident, but Chevron never seems to suffer any consequences. Whatever one's opinion of the agenda in the movie "Gasland" it is pretty clear that the gas companies have done everything they can to avoid paying for groundwater contamination, including hiding the chemicals they use in the fracking fluids.

I don't disagree that natural gas is a good transition fuel from coal, but the way it is being extracted is not doing us any good, and the low energy prices are stalling the renewables front. In the meantime, the US has become a major coal exporter to China. Instead of focusing on energy conservation and efficiency, we are back to looking for major production increases to maintain "business as usual".

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Here's (almost) your flying car….

CNN's reporters are so young that they don't know this concept has been around since at least the 1980's. Talk about cultural amnesia!

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Asteroid impacts

I would be a little surprised to learn that we have underestimated asteroid impacts by an order of magnitude. There is a wealth of data for the size and frequency of asteroids. This new data could be contrary to those findings. We have a nearby neighbor to test the frequency with impacts that will hit the surface, which should act as a proxy. What I don't know is how much the relative gravity well sizes affects the ratio of Earth:Moon impacts

Anonymous said...

Re: UCSD Course on Climate Change.

[Sigh] Dr. Brin, you're just not on the ball. I mentioned the course five weeks ago on your comments page, and only now you're linking to it? We're just about to take our midterm exam. :(

Fortunately, there is still time to enroll, as long as you don't want credit for taking it. It is not as heavy on the science as I'd like (but I did study Physics as an undergrad, so I may have a higher tolerance for that kind of stuff), but it still has plenty of good information, especially from Prof. Sommerville. The week on the international politics was also fascinating. Highly recommended, if you have the time.

A.F. Rey

David Brin said...

oops. I thought it was in the fall….

Alex Tolley said...

@J Sarfatti - I look forward to your explanation why this transmission from the future does not violate causality.

Alfred Differ said...

Paradoxes in physics are usually a demonstration of our lack of understanding. My experience with them was usually resolved with the realization that something I thought actually mattered actually didn't. 8)

Causality is a funny thing. We perceive it as there, but I'm not convinced the universe gives a hoot.

Poor Richard said...

You gotta be kidding about regulating fracking. And Stewart Brand is going senile after selling out.

Poor Richard said...

@Jack Sarfatti: "dark energy is a transmission from tomorrow"

Yes because we will WANT the universe to fly apart faster.

sociotard said...

Russian and Chinese corporations have better transparency than US corporations

Jumper said...

I presume two things about drilling contaminations: bad cementing jobs (and trying to save money is the likely culprit), and old wells - going back over a century - were not designed to impede the greater-than-natural pressures introduced by fracking newer wells nearby. The latter is harder to fix.

David Brin said...

Poor Richard I talked to Stewart Brand this weekend. On your very best day, ever, I hope you get to rise to his level of intellect on his worst. Seriously. That is a true gift I am wishing upon you.