Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Science keeps moving on! It could give us the stars...( if we don't get idiocracy first.)

== Do humans need uplifting? ==

First off... some of my past sci fi has been more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” deals with our complex relationships with viruses and such, including the several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts. Oh, there's sudden movie interest. I wonder why?

Alas, P.Z. Meyers speculates that my novel The Postman may be my most prophetic... re: a plague of selfish romanticism driving "preppers" at both society's low and high ends.

Or else maybe the Uplift Series? Because we badly need it? Oh, but see below. We're getting the tools!

== Uplifting animal news ==

Apparently chimps use Instagram and similar apps really well, swiping and touch-activating etc. Does this speak to their “pre-sapient” potential for uplift, as in my cosmology? Or to the really primitive level that these crude apps operate on?

And octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment. When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations. "I wonder if it has to do with their extremely developed brains," asks geneticist Kazuko Nishikura. The theorized tradeoff: cephalopods may gain individual flexibility at the cost of slower genetic evolution.

More amazements from nature – scientists have found a species of insect that uses tooth gears to synchronize movement of the rear, hopping legs. 

Jumping jaws:  the trap-jaw ant uses its jaws - that open a full 180 degrees - not just to catch prey, but to jump as well, propelling them at a speed of 140 mph, with a force 300 times the insect's weight. 

Engineering new life forms. A generation ago, religious leaders called it a red line. A no-go zone, arrogating Heaven’s authority. Now? Silence, as the red lines keep getting moved. Scientists are sculpting and arraying frog stem cells into nano-robots that move tiny appendages and swim about, as designed.

Gosh what a fascinating time! Just a few years ago we learned about Denisovans, a human branch as widespread and important as Neanderthals. Both groups contributed partial inputs to our modern genomes... for non-Africans, that is.  

Only now it seems some African populations carry genes from the “ghost population” of yet a third mystery sub-species!  This  interbreeding happened about 50,000 years ago, roughly the same time that Neanderthals were breeding with modern humans elsewhere in the world. Are you jazzed that science keeps inventing time machines?

Toxic love. Yet sadly endearing. A baboon tries to groom and comfort a lion cub it stole, of course dooming the cub. Should pet owners take note?

== Recent research ==

In “strange metal” scientists have managed to get billions of electrons simultaneously entangled into a shared quantum state. We’ve long been able to do this with bosons (photons, phonons etc) in say lasers. But electrons are fussy fermions. Ooh. 

A fascinating method using “carboranes” to trap and extract particular elements from solution, even seawater. The first tested use was Uranium, but there may be others.

Another for the Predictions registry: “Teslasuit’s new VR gloves let you feel virtual objects.” See my story 'NatuLife,' from my collection Otherness.

== Mining the seas? ==

An eye-opening article about deep seafloor mining and resource extraction. Let’s bear in mind that most regions out there are ‘deserts’ featuring very sparse life. Still, we need critical foresight and a default attitude of ecological conservatism or conservationism. Both for posterity’s sake and … well… might the Galactic Club be waiting for some sign we’re starting to grow up?

Consider this paragraph: Ships above will draw thousands of pounds of sediment through a hose to the surface, remove the metallic objects, known as polymetallic nodules, and then flush the rest back into the water. Some of that slurry will contain toxins such as mercury and lead, which could poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles. The rest will drift in the current until it settles in nearby ecosystems.” 

Yes, the image is noxious. Though consider also that it is upwelling of ocean bottom sediments that is precisely where nearly all ocean life derives. The possibility of positive outcomes should not be blithely dismissed any more than negative ones. What’s needed is prudence and incremental approaches and above all, transparency combined with skepticism toward the truth-bending effects of greed.

Much will depend on a factor barely considered in the article… close proximity of test sites to fast or slow ocean currents. Having said all that (partly as a contrarian) let me add that this fine article should both inspire and warn you. We must to well by this Earth. Or we have our likely explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

== Saving the planet across a broad spectrum ==

Ever more it seems that some form of 'geo-engineering' is in the cards. While the biggest threat to the planet is right wing denialism, the left’s puritanism is also bad news, insisting that only draconian reductions in carbon emissions can do any good at all. This argument -- a version of "moral hazard" -- is flawed in several ways.

1) It’s not true. Even if we vastly clamped down on human activity and emissions (as we’re doing now, amid the covid/covfefe crisis) it would not be sufficient in the near term to prevent many climate related calamities and extinctions and a possible methane runaway-release. As sci fi legend Kim Stanley Robinson said just today(!) keynoting for a conference on extracting carbon from the air, "we're well past talking moral hazard and now have to get used to fighting this battle on many fronts."

(See KSR's novel about the consequences of warming in New York 2140, and of course I portrayed the dilemma in my own 1990 book Earth.)

2) Carbon fuel replacement by sustainables and e-vehicles already has huge momentum, driven by ever advancing technology, far more than by puritanism. Over the long run, we should be fine. If we can get across the next few decades.

3) The very notion that we can only do one thing, instead of attacking problems across a broad front, is a pure sign of zero sum fanaticism based upon sanctimonious emotion and not vigorous problem solving. It is proof that even the “good” side that is right about overall problems and goals can still be infested with self-righteous loons. (Though nowhere near as bad as the other side, which has no positive traits at all.)

We can and must do many things, in parallel. And experiments must go forward to see if methods like this - and ocean fertilization — can offer safe and effective amelioration for a problem to the planet and future generations… while the real solutions lose no momentum at all.

An interesting article about the world trade in “recyclables”… or otherwise known as “waste” … now that China is producing so much of its own that it no longer needs any from the West. Progress... I think?


Aaron Lindquist said...

You have a brilliant mind, David. I admire your pragmatism and respect for the truth.

I noticed The Postman is no longer in eBook format. Are you planning an anniversary edition?

Hank Roberts said...

> ... simultaneously entangled into a shared quantum state.
> We’ve long been able to do this with bosons

So if we make a couple of large bosons -- say helium 3 -- to fuse, do they go bang?

A German Nurse said...

Regarding the nature of squids, I just found an article suggesting an extraterrestrial origin: well as a short kind of rebuttal:

Tim H. said...

Some thoughts on carbon, first, I don't lose any sleep over the remote possibility of causing a "Little ice age" by carbon reduction, it's out of our reach, for now. Second, I like to think of our currently unstable climate as a symptom of "Planetary indigestion", reduce carbon dioxide, it should get better, eventually. UBI, from the previous thread has a place here, with more income, you should expect a more timely retirement of older, inefficient personal transportation*, HVAC** and appliances.

*Even the cars & light trucks that seem to be crafted to say "Does this make me look studly enough?" are now more economical, therefore emit less carbon than the sensible cars of our childhood.
**Just replacing older pilot ignition furnaces with spark ignition furnaces should make a noticeable difference.

scidata said...

You know, I once posted that thing about the bug's jumping gears, along with some examples of natural levers, and even computers. It was met with either "FAKE NEWS!" or "GOD IS GREAT!". Try as I might (and I never stop trying), people refused to look at the research or even scan the pop articles. Dogmatic ideology is a cover for simple laziness. Newton's laws don't apply only to inanimate masses.

Carl M. said...

So, have you see "Planet of the Humans" yet?

Quite eye opening.

Much astroturfing exposed.

The Koch Brothers and others are cashing in on green energy.

Alfred Differ said...

Or to the really primitive level that these crude apps operate on?

I used to think that whenever I coded apps. Keep them simple... enough. I had a very particular lady in mind when I thought that. One person I tried to train on their newly purchased accounts receivable and accounts payable platform back in the early 80's. I had to write EVERYTHING down because the system wasn't intuitive. She could even cut checks without resorting to her notes.

Then I got to see a windowing OS. It was one of those first generation Mac's. OMG!

Over the years I've come around completely to the realization that we use multiple subsets of multiple languages and not just the spoken, lexical kinds. After watching my autistic son pick up certain apps as fast a a neuro-typical kid, I looked into what those apps had that others did not. Typically, they used something closer to a pictographic language. Think early examples of written human languages and art. The bison symbol looks like a bison... for a darn good reason.

There is nothing crude about the languages. They are well developed and in every day use. Software engineers making use of them in their UI's leverage an ancient skill set for their customers making adoption SO much easier.

Those little icons on buttons aren't just for saving screen space. They connect us to Ice Age cave paintings.

bill said...

I had assumed that the octopus's short life-span provided an evolutionary edge, but if they evolve slowly, that idea doesn't seem to be the value of it. On the other hand, maybe they evolve really fast for a mollusc. Lastly, they live in a fairly constant environment, so evolving might not be necessary. Still, it makes me wonder why they "opted" for fast, furious, short lives.

gregory byshenk said...

I haven't seen "Planet of the Humans", but I've seen several reviews (not from climate change deniers, but from environmentalists) suggesting that it has some serious problems, including the fact that a lot of the information is ten or more years out of date.

Bill McKibben has some comment in Rolling Stone, and Dave Borlace at "Just have a think" has short video dealing with it.

David Brin said...

Aaron L. thanks. I just recently finally grabbed the rights back for The Postman, after making money for Bantam/RH/Penguin for 35 years. Also all the Uplift Books! Those will soon be republished by Open Road. The Postman I may do myself, in case the TV rumors pan out. But yes, we’re in a gap.

Hank, yipe, how is Helium 3 a boson? Tho I think we’re all bzons on this bus.

Tim: “*Even the cars & light trucks that seem to be crafted to say "Does this make me look studly enough?" are now more economical, therefore emit less carbon than the sensible cars of our childhood.”

Yes and the Obama era CAFE efficiency standards pretty much doubled gas mileage. Must do much more.

Scidata, that is why I push the tactic of demanding wagers. If you try to offer evidence against a magical incantation, they just double down and recite it harder. It makes you seem like the nerd on the playground, trying to use “reason” and “facts” to evade a bullying.

But a wager demand goes to the heart of their entire world-view… macho. It’s the nerd getting in their face and saying put-up or shut-up! And when they flee… and they ALWAYS flee… you are left owning the playground. It’s not the satisfaction we want (a sane, logical nation) but it is a satisfaction.

I’m not a huge Michael Moore fan. Sure, he piles onto important issues with vital heaps of info. But he does nothing to corner RASRs or fence sitters, which could be done in 1/4 the time.

ZarPaulus said...

You know, I don't actually recall any religious leaders specifically condemning the engineering of new life forms.

Stem cell research, sure, but it was more the environmentalists who hated genetic engineering.

Tim H. said...

Most of the gains in economy come from multiple engineering teams around the world, since before we were born. The fun part is, most of this should be impossible for reactionary numbskulls to roll back, what hot rodder will want to see a 30~50% drop in power by using ancient fuel & ignition tech? CAFE is the cherry on top.

David Brin said...

My latest YouTube video teaches how to use a T Shirt and 2 safety pins to make the most thorough covid mask... or camping bournoos or mosquito-thwarter... you can fashion from ready-at-hand items.

Keith Halperin said...

@Dr. Brin: Re YouTubery_
You are indeed a man of many talents, Dr. Brin.
In "The Postman" world longed for by our dear-departed (but not "dearly departed) Locum and Jim, we know how you'd make your way.
Although, you might make it another way....
Have you ever seen this play?

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (
Written by Anne Washburn
Date premiered May 2012
Genre Dark comedy

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (officially stylized Mr. Burns, a post-electric play) is an American dark comedy play written by Anne Washburn and featuring music by Michael Friedman. It premiered in May 2012 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and then ran from August through October 2013 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.
Mr. Burns tells the story of a group of survivors recalling and retelling "Cape Feare", an episode of the TV show The Simpsons, shortly after a global catastrophe, then examines the way the story has changed seven years after that, and finally, 75 years later.
It received polarized reviews and was nominated for a 2014 Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.

Shortly after an unspecified apocalyptic event, a group of survivors gather together and begin to attempt to recount the episode "Cape Feare" of the television show The Simpsons. The second act picks up with the same group seven years later, who have now formed a theatrical troupe that specializes in performing Simpsons episodes, with commercials and all. The final act is set an additional 75 years in the future. The same episode of The Simpsons, now a familiar myth, has been reworked into a musical pageant, with the story, characters, and morals repurposed to fit the artistic and dramatic needs of a culture still reeling from destruction of civilization and the near-extinction of humanity decades earlier.


It was strange. I liked it.


David Brin said...

Technical advice... turning to you guys first.
1) Mac users... I use Photo-booth to record short videos like my latest on using T shirts as masks. But I see no way to ask Photo booth to record at low resolution to make more compact files.

2) Any experts on OCR - optical character recognition? I have PDF files of some older novels... page images basically... that I'd like to run through OCR. A guy did that for me and the words seem mostly okay... but the line and paragraph stuff is pure hell. It seems unable to grasp that the original had indentations that meant paragraph breaks while the other carriage returns in the pDF should be ignored. Urgh

Anonymous said...

Robert here,

Record in Photo Booth as normal. Open the file with QuickTime (QuickTime Player should be adequate if you don't have the Pro license). Then you can export the video at different resolutions.

Alternately, download Handbrake and re-encode using that. More control over compression and quality, at the expense of being harder to use.

I'd suggest trying QuickTime first, as your Mac already has it and it's easier to use.

David Brin said...

Robert thx. I did that thing using preview. That lets me save a new version at 420p. I doubt Quicktime will let me go lower. I was hoping to find some hidden "preferences" control inside Photo Booth, so I could permanently set low-res/ Clearly not possible.

The OCR problem is more vexing!

Anonymous said...

Robert again,

Depending on the file, you might be able to clean it up a lot with a text editor using the search-and-replace function. I had to clean up the back issues of the OAPT newsletter to put them properly online and that's what I did to save a bunch of work. Still needed proofreading, but not nearly as many corrections as before.

So search for all (say) five-spaces-and-CR and replace that with a paragraph break. Then replace all CRs with spaces. Then replace all double-spaces with single spaces, and keep doing that until there are no double-spaces left.

Anonymous said...

Robert yet again,

QuickTime has a setting for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch that used to be less than 420p.

I think Handbrake will let you set an arbitrary size and frame rate. iMovie might be able to do that as well (used to, but I haven't used the newest version).

David Brin said...

Tried a general replace, Roberts. But without Word Perfect's letting you see codes, it's really hard (in $%$#$#@! WORD) to see what's going on. I'll try variations.

Alfred Differ said...

Word will let you see the hidden markings, but not in as much detail as WordPerfect did.
Searching on them involves the special character hints like ^p and such.

Kal Kallevig said...

"it's really hard (in $%$#$#@! WORD) to see what's going on."

In Word:
File | Options | Display | Show all formatting marks

Or you can choose which ones you want to see

Larry Hart said...


You know, I don't actually recall any religious leaders specifically condemning the engineering of new life forms.

You don't remember this one?

WASHINGTON _ In his State of the Union address, President Bush vowed to pursue legislation to outlaw all forms of ``human/animal hybrids,'' a what-the-heck phrase that may have left Americans wondering if Bush was asking Congress to ban mermaids and centaurs.

It was, instead, a reference to the latest debate over the definition of human life and where to draw the line in merging human and animal cells and genes.

At issue is the creation of so-called ``chimeras,'' generally defined as beings that share human and animal cells. Backers of this brand of biotechnology say chimeras _ named for the mythical Greek monster with a lion's head, goat's body and serpent's tail _ are used routinely by researchers who bear no resemblance to the mad scientist in the H.G. Wells classic ``The Island of Dr. Moreau.''

But critics say the creation of man-beasts raises profound ethical issues and is the latest example of scientists running amok, trying to play God.

Alfred Differ said...


I found some of what I wrote up on your brakes / acceleration challenge and posted it on my blog.

There were actually two variations, but the oldest one hasn't survived the years of me buying new IT hardware. Lost backups y'know. 8)

The one I posted has the original flavor and newer charts. It is moderately close to something I shared with you when you were putting together your most recent book and asking people for helping getting updated charts.

David Brin said...

Kal K… there are no such menu choices in my Mac version of Word. It may be a pretty old one.

Under VIEW I clicked REVEAL FORMATTING and it changes the cursor into some weird speech bubble that flashes some kind of format info for just 0.1 seconds what???

There are no differences in the OCR created file between the real paragraph-generated carriage returns and the myriad spurious ones. Hence the problem must be in the original OCR being too stupid to notice paragraph indentation.

--- Alfred I'll check out the blog when I come up for air. Busier than ever! But I expect the Differ blof to be great!

Cormac Williams said...

I've done a some OCR type programming in the past though mostly in financial and data extraction areas. The actual OCR within an image side of things is relatively robust provided you have a sharp, high resolution and un-skewed image to work with. Layout analysis and preservation and regeneration of correct formatting much more problematic I'm afraid.

But I must admit the first thought that popped into my head was "Wouldn't some pirate already have done this? Why not just repatriate the file if you can find it?" The risk is of course that it's more work converting back to word and checking correct text and formatting than you've already got on your hands.

Without knowing the original workflow that has been applied it's hard to know what to advise. My suspicion is that if during the conversion the images hit a pure TXT format before uplifting into Word format then you are hosed and will have to do the conversion again to recover the layout analysis. If whoever did the conversion kept the hOCR or ALTO xml files (Most of the OCR or layout detection engines have the ability to output in these formats) then it may be possible to convert to Word again more accurately. This will depend on if the indent is preserved in some way (With spaces / tabs / separate bound boxes with the indented line)

Another possibility I can think of is that maybe you've got lucky and there's a difference that can be detected programmatic-ally between the carriage returns in the underlying document structure.

Final thought after writing the above brain dump and forgive me if I'm teaching granny to suck eggs but have you considered if the paragraph indent may have been preserved as a tab character but the first tab stop is set to the far left of the page?


Tony Fisk said...

I think the trick to "fussy fermions" will turn out to be Cooper pairs (net spin 0)

Pandemics are standard fare for modelling future scenarios. Still, the folks at IFTF are bit spooked that a MMORPG they set up in 2008 described a pandemic in 2019. Doing their online future study course, I was a bit spooked to find them using that scenario as an exercise in forecasting. What do I think will happen? (Looks around) ... erm, how to frame this as a forecast? (Syllabus was set around 2017.)

Following on the html refresher, there's one more little trick to play with. The 'a' tag allows 'title' in addition to the 'href' modifier. It allows you to add floating text to see popup details about something. Much underrated, especially now, with touch screen dominance. Still, you can still wave a mouse or touch this text.

I don't think 'style' is allowed, or we could *really* go to town with the CSS.

Tony Fisk said...

Neil Gaiman has made several exasperated noises about a strange edition of "Good Omens" which got scanned through an OCR and added the *wierdest* typos. Sounds like a collectible.

Anonymous said...

Robert here again,

I did my search-and-replace reformatting in Pages, not Word. No longer have a functional Word. (And my Pages is the 09 version, because it supports DTP layout while the newer one doesn't.)

Hailey said...


Is the file plaintext or some other format like PDF or Word doc? My go to for plaintext is notepad++ and using regular expressions for search and replace, but other formats I usually end up writing a short program to do this instead.

For the videos, I like to use the command line utility FFMPEG to re-encode at a lower bit rate. I feel it's easy to use for stuff like that, and it's pretty fast. However it might have issues with some propietary video formats.

David Brin said...

Thanks Cormac & Tony & Robert & Hailey. But all it took was sending the PDF to the right guy. Larry Yudelson of Yehuda Press who typeset POLEMICAL JUDO just dropped the file into his own OCR and sent me a perfectly workable Word file whose infelicities seem VERY much within range of a light edit. Thanks guys!

David Smelser said...

On your OCR issue, are the paragraph indents created with tabs or spaces?

Assuming tabs, you can try this set of search and replaces:
1) Find: ^p^t replace with #PARA#
^p is a carriage return and ^t is a tab. This finds all carriage returns followed by a tab and replaces them with #PARA# (this is a just a unique tag that we come back to).
2) Find: ^p replace with (space).
Now that all wanted carriage returns have been replaced with #PARA#, what is left is carriage returns at the end of lines. Search and replace these with a space.
3) Find: #PARA# replace with ^p.
Now all the carriage returns have been removed. Now replace the #PARA# tag with a carriage return.

If your text uses spaces to indent paragraphs, change step 1 to search for ^p(space)(space)(space)(space) replace with #PARA#.

Unknown said...

Just picking a bone with the title here. "If we don't get Idiocracy first".

This IS Idiocracy, nor are we out of it.

What is the employment rate as of now for recently graduated science majors? Where are the scientific advances of the next generation going to come from? Perhaps we can crib from the rest of the world.

Or perhaps we need to review Heinlein's short story "Coventry" and its possible applications after the upcoming civil war.

Sorry, it's a gloomy day in the PNW.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

An insect species evolving gears is impressive but I have something that beats it handily, Cable Bacteria. Cable bacteria grows on a mat on and under the sea floors and what makes it interesting is that they power themselves by electricity and send that electricity over long distances using biological cables that have similar efficiency to that of copper wire. Apparently the bacteria is widespread on sea bottoms around the world and could possibly like fungi form a single organism of unknown size. They estimate that a cubic meter of the seafloor mud containing Cable bacteria contains hundreds of thousands of kilometres of bio-electric cables that transmits electricity as efficiently as what we can do today. If it transmits electricity it can also transmit signals. If we extrapolate that out to the size of the Earth’s ocean floors then we come up with something that reminds me of what Dr. Brin wrote about in his excellent novel, Earth. One of the scientists said that when he saw this he thought of the movie Avatar. If networked throughout the oceans think of the computing power such an organism would have. Maybe we are after all just fleas on the dog.

A few links:

The webpage of the team studying it:

For those who like the nitty-gritty electrical stuff:

David Brin said...

Deuxglass really interesting "If it transmits electricity it can also transmit signals."

If we extrapolate that out to the size of the Earth’s ocean floors then we’re talking about a potential nervous system component for a living Gaia that doesn’t require the mantle superconductors of EARTH. Though, it could also be “angry” as in Greg Bear’s disturbing book VITALS.

scidata said...

Bacteria, the sea floor,... or entire stars. Computation is a natural process.

“I see no reason why intelligence may not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity”
– Samuel Morse

TCB said...

I use LibreOffice, which is based on OpenOffice. It's great, it's free, and as far as I can tell, the View > Formatting Marks command (Ctrl+F10) shows them all.

David Brin said...

The USAF Thunderbirds are about to fly over our house!

Keith Halperin said...

@Dr. Brin: Re: Thunderbirds-
We usually get them up here in SF around "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass" time.

@Deuxglass, @Dr. Brin, @SciData: Re:"Electro-germs"-
Bacterial Computing (
BioGeoComputing (
Nano-Biological Computers Require Less Than 1% of the Energy Consumed by Electronic Transistors (

TCB said...

When I was a boy I saw a B-70 Valkyrie bomber prototype fly over my house in NC, possibly on its very last flight. (To permanent display in Ohio, I think; the program had been canceled; I did not know any of that at the time.) It looked like something out of Star Trek.

David Brin said...

I once stood next to Jerry Pournelle as a B-1 Lancer cruised by us at no more than 100' altitude and kicked in afterburners. I am still picking out singed, embedded hairs.

David Brin said...

Within days some public figure will be seen in public wearing this TRANSPARENT MASK whose charcoal and Hepa filters are mostly under the chin, and it will skyrocket. See the very slick Indiegogo page. Seeing as I predicted this, why didn't they give me an early chance to invest? ;-(

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Another aspect of these beasties could be even more important. If they had evolved during the Iceball Earth period then we could speculate that the same type of organism could have evolved on other worlds in our solar system that are currently in their Iceball phase. The Earth’s ocean depths are a very stable environment. It has been steady at around +3 C for who knows how long. It resembles what we expect to find under the ice-covered worlds around Jupiter, Saturn and beyond. If each has their own Gia and if they can communicate with one another then that means we are latecomers to the party. I agree with you Dr. Brin. We should not piss them off. The problem is figuring out what could anger them. As they are radically different intelligences from us their sensibilities probably will be hard to fathom.

Deuxglass said...

Thanks Keith for the links. My background is in Microbiology so I devour stuff like that. Much appreciated. I once tried to calculate the computing power a Paramecium would need to survive and multiply. I had to give up because it just kept getting bigger and bigger.

Deuxglass said...


One of your articles talks a bit about Biocomputers vs. Quantum Computers. In my opinion, Life is a quantum computer and we are only just now suspecting that that might be true. It could explain a lot of things.

duncan cairncross said...

Re-Earth intelligence on seafloors - intelligence is EXPENSIVE - our brains eat 20% of our food - what profit would such a network make from intelligence to pay its calorific costs?
Especially in a very low energy environment like the ocean depths

David Brin said...

Okay, I got some help with OCR. Now... I need help with one of Apple's worst and most un-intuitive programs, iMovie. I have a 23 second clip that I want to chop the last 8 seconds off of. I've tried everything.

scidata said...

Deuxglass: computing power of a Paramecium... I had to give up...

It's a difficult calculation because the computation happens at so many different levels. Even a Paramecium is a city. One could spend their entire career studying just the ribosome as a computer, let alone propulsion, digestion, reproduction, etc, etc. I have worked on a Zebrafish model, which is orders of magnitude more complex than single celled life (sociology and psychology walk onto the stage). It's truly dizzying. I would give an awful lot for a chat with Isaac Asimov, from "Fantastic Voyage" to "Foundation's Edge". Reading Brin is great fun too.

Slim Moldie said...

"I need help with one of Apple's worst and most un-intuitive programs, iMovie. I have a 23 second clip that I want to chop the last 8 seconds off of."

On my newer machine I've been able to take care of basic editing needs for little instructional videos I have to make for work with the Quicktime player. The latter is about as dumb and barebones as you can go. Just go the top menu and trim.

You could also go to free cloud-based apps.

I keep an older mac operational off the net to run my non-cloud based word processor (which I refuse to pay money to upgrade and the old iMovie 6. I don't know what version I have on the newer one because I've never opened the application) Once things get too "user friendly" you lose functionality.

David Brin said...

China is the only space-faring nation that doesn't take active measures to de-orbit massive space junk into the ocean or boost it into a graveyard orbit. The Long March 5B core passed directly over New York on its way to the Atlantic (with parts hitting Africa.) It actually passed right over over Chicago about 3 minutes before New York, and over LA about 6 minutes before that. A few cm/s difference in insertion velocity 6 days earlier, at the last point China had control over it, could have resulted in it hitting any of the 3 most populous areas in the US

David Brin said...

Thanks guys.

Jon S. said...

"I once stood next to Jerry Pournelle as a B-1 Lancer cruised by us at no more than 100' altitude and kicked in afterburners. I am still picking out singed, embedded hairs."

How long did it take to recover your hearing? For several months in 1988-89, I lived in the old on-base housing units at Offutt AFB, not far enough from the runway. On the occasions a B-1 would visit, we'd have to make sure we took everything off the shelves on that side of the apartment so it wouldn't fall off when the engines ramped up for takeoff.

Tony Fisk said...

Interesting talk of 'cable bacteria'. On land (or should I say "in soil"?) fungal mats play a similar role in distributing nutrients throughout an ecosystem.

Being something of an Alfred Wallace fan, Flannery discusses the Gaia concept in "Here on Earth", pointing out that land and sea based life forms prefer a slightly different optimal global average temperature.
It's a useful way to explain temperature variations over time, and will be familiar to many married couples.

yana looked around and said...

David Brin thought:

"I have a 23 second clip that I want to chop the last 8 seconds off of. I've tried everything."

In broad terms, open the file in an editor. There will be a bar along the bottom where you can move markers for the starting and ending times. Set the start at 15 seconds, set the end to 23 seconds. Terms differ among applications, but you're looking for a menu command along the lines of "delete selected section." The last 8 seconds should go poof.

Then there would be a command for "save" or "export" where you'll jump through hoops about which video codec you wish to use, to save your clipped video. A practical idea is to look for the vid's "properties" or "file info" beforehand. Make note of the codec, the bitrate, and the resolution (PixelsxPixels), and match those when you save (or "export") the new clipped video. Rule of thumb: don't save with a larger resolution than the original.

Search 'free mac video editor'. There are better ones out there, but for simply lopping off 8 seconds from a video, all you really need is "free" and "easy".

Tony Fisk thought:

"Neil Gaiman has made several exasperated noises about a strange edition of "Good Omens" which got scanned through an OCR and added the *wierdest* typos."

Once read Discworld books in OCR->PDF. Talk about weird typos! Weirder: bought them and re-read them, turns out some of the typos were in the print, and some print typos didn't show up in the OCR'd text. That guy was just messing with us.

Deuxglass thought:

"the bacteria is widespread on sea bottoms around the world and could possibly like fungi form a single organism of unknown size."

Higher life forms already use the myco-mat for communication. Trees can use the fungus network to send nutrients to their children, and cut off the exchange of nutrients to an adjacent tree of different parentage. Not exactly fast, though. To exploit cable bacteria's true potential, the first step is to uplift the electric eel. Fitted with prosthetic fins for touchscreen, eels could be our Navajo Codetalkers In Space.

David Brin thought:

"12:13 PM The USAF Thunderbirds are about to fly over our house!"

Another one today, a WW2 C-47 called Whiskey 7, and a P-51 Mustang.

Anonymous said...

Just go use opensource VirtualDub... for god sake.

My eyes ashing when I reading about this your "hardships" Ok,boomer.

Anonymous said...

Robert here,

You can trim a clip in QuickTime, but I've found that tends to leave bigger files than the original.

In iMovie:

1) Import the clip into your media (if you haven't already).

2) Make a new empty project without a theme.

3) Drag the clip from the media into the new project.

4) Within the project frame, click on the clip so it is highlighted (yellow border). Hover the mouse over one of the ends and it will change from an arrow to a vertical line with arrows pointing left/right. You can now drag left or right to extend or trim the clip.

Deuxglass said...

duncan cairncross,

Conventional thinking says that at the bottom of the sea is very nutrient poor. By the time it gets there all useable energy has already been extracted out. At the water layer near the surface of the sea floor there is Oxygen. Under the surface in the oxygen free layer there is free sulphide. Fee sulphide (SO2)is an electron donor. Oxygen is an electron accepter. Cable bacteria because of its electricity-transmitting cable takes the electron from below and sends it to the surface thereby using this energy to run its metabolism. Essentially it makes the sea floor into a natural, rechargeable battery. As long as there is oxygen above and fee sulphide below it will produce electricity. Both are in plentiful supply on the ocean bottoms. For them the ocean bottom is full of energy.

What is really earth-shaking is that this process in all other forms of life can only take place when the electron donor and the electron acceptor are in very close contact and that can happen only within the cell. This is true for bacteria to elephants. Our respiratory and circulatory systems are all designed to get the two in close contact. Cable bacteria on the other hand did away with that. The electron transfer now takes place with the donor and the acceptor very far apart. It’s as if you didn’t have to ingest food anymore. You would just plug yourself the wall socket and you are good. Cable bacteria are not gas-guzzling cars as all other life forms are. They are Teslas.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Once they discovered that Cable bacteria exist scientists have found them all over the world in marshes, rivers, lakes, swamps, mangroves, and even fjords. They are everywhere there is water it seems. It does make it much easier to study them. A group studying cable bacteria in a salt marsh found out that the electric cables do transmit information as well.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Deuxglass: Re: Links-
You're welcome. I like sending links and info.
When people are open to receive them: it's a "positive-sum game"- everybody wins.
(Dr. Brin: write something about this, if you haven't already!)
I've liked sharing links since I was a kid- I enjoyed playing with "Linkin' Logs"....

@ Duncan C, SciData: Re: "Electro-germs," aka, "cable bacteria"-
I wonder if they could eventually be utilized as an extensive (if low power-density) renewable power source?

@ Everybody-
I wonder if (and I do say IF and not WHEN)) we get a self-aware AI, it might be more like a self-aware fungal mat, insect colony, or cephalopod (with a distributed brain) than a "fen in a box"?

@ Everybody-
5/15: CBS All Access has ordered Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, a Discovery spin-off centering on the crew of the Enterprise and starring Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn. YAY!
(BTW, If you like Star Trek- the new Star Treks are not for you!
They are for the you THAT YOU WERE when you started to like Star Trek...)

David Brin said...

Demand wagers on this! And peg it to something your MAGA can test with you at the seashore... ocean acidification. And now that installed solar capacity has (wow) exceeded US coal -energy production - a milestone delayed for perhaps 5+ years by Foxite intransigence - he can no longer claim we want to "shiver-in-the-dark." EVERY Foxite incantation is a disprovable lie and the only way to corner them is through the only thing in life they value... macho. In-yer-face demands that they put up or shut up. Back their hot-air incantations with cash.

Watch them writhe and twist and make excuses and then... run. Chase them with "coward!" Seriously, it is the only thing that budges some of them and shakes the rest at their macho-loving core.

David Brin said...