Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nonpolitical (!) stuff

Taking a much-needed break from serious stuff and politics. We all deserve peaceful holidays, even amid the rabid and hun-like “War Against Christmas...” that is being perpetrated by those ravening hordes at the ACLU...

So here are a few almost-random items. Just for fun.

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Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons Marks International Human Rights Day (from Dec. 9, 2005) The public is invited to listen and participate in a discussion by legal and artificial intelligence experts on the rights of "transhumans" -- defined by the Terasem Movement as "conscious entities who have or who aspire to have human rights, regardless of being of flesh, electronics or a bioelectronic combination." The pioneering 1st...

A "brain" grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator by scientists at the University of Florida. They hope their research into neural computation will help develop sophisticated hybrid computers with a thinking biological component. The first result could be to enable...

New "thinking tools" -- software for storing, retrieving and generally making the best use of information -- are now available on Mac computers. They include Devon, which uses a "semantic search" process that is more sophisticated than search engines and can bring up files or passages whose meaning is related to what you are looking for, even...

The Dec. 1 issue of Nature looks at what wikis, blogs, digital libraries, Google Base, and other Internet technologies may mean for the future of scientific communication beyond the confines of scientific journals. These tools offer fresh opportunities both before publication, when people are debating ideas and hypotheses, and after, when they...

And now, veering in another direction, do drop by and read this article about those who seem quite busy, laying a path for Nehemiah Scudder:

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Veering again, I have just finished revising my infamous Star Wars Essay, indicting that universe of many crimes, from plot inconsistency to anti-democracy propaganda. It will be the lead piece in a book that comes out next June, from BenBella Books’ “SmartPop!” series of books on popular culture. (The same puplisher as for my latest book: King Kong is Back! An Unauthorized Look at One Humungous Ape.)

The new book -- Star Wars on Trial -- will feature essays written by eminent and fun authors, taking both sides in a zesty “mock trial.”

Watch for it in June, the same month that Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE online magazine will make history. Meanwhile, do subscribe to ANALONG, if for no other reason than to support modernism.

And buy the Kong book as a gift! You’ll be glad you did. (See (offers) for how to send me self addressed stamped envelopes to return you signed bookplates.

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Finally, I am on an advisory group trying to figure out future pitfalls of nanotechnology... like whether it really can turn into carnivorous “gray goo” as Greg Bear ortrayed interestingly in BLOOD MUSIC and that Michael Crichton sensationalized more recently. We are starting to put together an anthology of essays about nanotech futures. Here is the fascinating opening 3 paragraphs of one of the most interesting.

Noninflationary Impact of the Personal Nanofactory Robert A. Freitas Jr. 13 December 2005
Is the advent of, and mass availability of, desktop personal nanofactories (PNs) [1] likely to cause deflation (a persistent decline in the general prices of goods and services), inflation (a persistent general price increase), or neither?

Our analysis begins with an assumption that at the end of a 20-year period of introduction, almost every household in a developing country has purchased a PN. The PN will be capable of building any manner of consumer goods using simple molecular feedstock such as acetylene or propane gas that will be piped into the home via a utility connection, similar to present-day hookups that deliver natural gas, water, and electricity. There are other delivery scenarios such as bottled gas feedstock, and more self-sufficient feedstock provisioning scenarios such as solar-powered recycling, biomass/biowaste extraction, or even atmospheric extraction, but these will be set aside in the interests of simplicity.
. If we further assume that (1) the capital cost to acquire the PN is approximately $4400, (2) the PN can produce consumer products at the rate of 1 kg/hr [1], and (3) the PN is operated 50% of the time throughout a useful lifetime of 10 years, then the PN during its useful life produces 44,000 kg of consumer products which have an amortized capital cost of $0.10/kg, a cost that is built into every product manufactured by the PN.

.Assuming the average person in a first-world country consumes 2000 kcal/day of food, and taking the average energy density of food (arbitrarily weighting protein:carbohydrate:fat in a 4:3:3 ratio) as 24 million J/kg [2], then the average person consumes about 130 kg/yr of food. Assuming the average person consumes 4 grocery bagfuls per week of consumer nondurables with each bag containing 2 kg of useful product, then the average person requires 400 kg/yr of consumer nondurables (of which 130 kg/yr is food). The PN is assumed to produce 4400 kg/yr of consumer products. Given that the average person in an industrialized economy needs 400 kg/yr of nondurables, or 1600 kg/yr for a household of 4 people, this leaves 2800 kg/yr either for increased nondurables consumption or for the manufacture of desired consumer durables. Durables might include clothing, appliances, furniture, and cars. Large automobiles that weigh 2000 kg today could weigh as little as 200 kg if made of much stronger diamondoid materials, so the production budget would allow up to 14 diamondoid cars per year to be built. Thus a single PN with the above parameters is probably sufficient to satisfy all reasonable household needs for residents of industrialized countries.

...all right, a little dense. But fascinating! Feel free to discuss.
Oh, and I get full points for dropping politics for a while. ;-)


Anonymous said...

In Warren Ellis's gritty comic series "Transmetropolitan," middle class and up households have personal fabricators.

In addition to design patterns, the fabs have to be supplied with matter to work from. The wealthy buy super-dense "base blocks" which the fab can efficiently turn into food, clothing, drugs, tools, and so on.

Ellis' narrator, vile gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, notes in a column that you can tell when you've entered a middle class neighborhood because the streets are immaculately clean: The middle class supply their fabs with matter by dumping in trash.


fpoole said...

I positively love Analog. I am a faithful subscriber. :)

Tony Fisk said...

Bought a CD for my brother the other day...and, David, you were right... about dangers of SETI. Someone... the Gubru!?... must be... have jacked into the Sony rootkit, and subverted Kate Bush's new album.
...the song must be sung...
*what kind of language is this?*
...must be..the birdsong! It's ...a memetic virus invoking a .. get up .. on the..roof! Gotta...Gotta!

OK! Better now, and the neighbours can wave to each other (although it's a bit drafty up here). Just as effective as hostage gas: none of us are going anywhere! And there's a fine view of the approaching invasion fleet...
And all the birds are laughing...

Well, you did say fun. (Kate always was a bit cuckoo, but 'aerial' grows on you)

OK, with that out of my system, and back in a semblance of monocamerality, a couple of observations:

The public is invited to listen and participate in a discussion by legal and artificial intelligence experts on the rights of "transhumans"
Does this include washing machines? (No! Stop that!)

A "brain" grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator
Some of you may have heard of the game 'Creatures', a sort of PC Tamagotchi which actually had some serious neural (and biochemical) network modelling under it. The creatures occasionally showed some interesting emergent behaviour: learning to play 'games' with each other, and even 'grieve' if one died! Apparently, the creators managed to train the software engine to fly a flight simulator as well. It was able to fly level and acquire targets. But it had some interesting quirks: eg a tendency to fly in a continuous barrel roll! (maybe not quite ready for an airbus 380!!).
Speaking of small minds, they don't come much smaller than a honey bee's, yet they can be trained to recognise faces! What is going on here?

On Vanity Fair: Suddenly my earlier silliness seems a paragon of reason (at least the birds have a chuckle)!
Well, be they of the culture of Lief or Def, I'm not moved by terrorists of any stripe, and I'll take my chances in the winepress, thankyou very much.

Oh, and I get full points for dropping politics for a while
For a mention of the word 'Scudder', five points deducted from whichever Hogwart house you identify with: refer to four state attractor in previous post ;-)
To be fair, I'll take one point from mine for mentioning the word 'Bush'.

While I've always been an avid sf fan, for some reason, I never got into the magazines. 'Universe' sounds like a good opportunity to remedy this. Any idea when/where the site will be up? (presumably Baen will want to publicise and receive submissions prior to June)

Rob Perkins said...

That Vanity Fair article is disquieting on more levels than just "watch out for the whacko Apocalypts."

Tony Fisk said...

@Rob: ....ooh, yeah!

'the blood of 2.5 billion people: We've done the math'
What a caring, sharing lot, and compared to their vision of Jesus at the apocalypse, Stalin is a benevolent saint! That alone should suggest that something is *very* wrong with their mindset!

I noted the political agenda, too!

Well, on the day of the haemorrhage, when the 'saints' are flushed away, the remaining pragmatics shall say 'Thank God for that', look around at the mess that has been left behind, and get to work cleaning it up.
(all the while muttering 'That's one party that won't be invited back!')

Now, I suggest you wash the 200 mile long rivers of blood out with a look at what makes this type tick in this New Scientist article: 'Fundamentalists are Just Like Us' (part of a special report). It won't make you feel better, but understanding is the first step to controlling.

@David, I owe you an apology: I thought you were being a bit over the top about the apocalypt leg of the troika. And, yes, the Great Officer Purge! With these critters on the streets, paranoia is a survival trait!

Non-political? Ha! 10 points.

Rob Perkins said...

There is that. But the trouble with *that*, (though I can't argue with LaHaye's popularity as a bookseller) is that I can't imagine that all 70 million self-identified Evangelical Christians are as apocalyptic as

The author of the article gives no support, for example, for "Most of these churches are run by pastors who belong to conservative political organizations that make sure their flocks vote as a hard-right Republican bloc," but it forms a building block of his demagoguery.

Let's face it. (And I say this as a member of a millenialist church...) If 70 million Americans are mobilized against science and reason, it's time to emigrate; we've already lost, secularists, Mormons, Jews, Catholics, Anglicans, the lot. Everyone except the born-again Christian.

They'd be marching on us all by now. But the thing about millenialism, the part that is easy for anyone to study and see, is that it intrinsically rejects the notion that Mankind will have a part in Armageddon, except to oppose God. In other words, people can't force His hand. I can think of three examples along with an interpretation of Revelation which simply doesn't permit that sort of chicanery.

Perhaps you'd have to be sane to see that biblical wrinkle, which is why I can't (yet) imagine that 70 million people in the United States believe it.

I haven't read LaHaye's books, and probably never will; I can't imagine having the Bible interpreted for me by an Evangelical Christian. (They *really* don't like my religious preference...)

Tony Fisk said...

70 million people have probably been led astray by polls of a certain leaning.

It does concern me that LaHaye and co. have a political agenda to " remove all humanists from public office and replace them with pro-moral political leaders."

Looking at the synopsis, I propose a series 'Cleft Behind' wherein God leaves his creation on autopilot...

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...

Well, it concerns me too. My crit of the VF article isn't that Evang loonies aren't actually loony, it's that it's demagoguery.

He and David are still absolutely correct that danger exists in the Evangelical movement, but it's the same kind of danger which existed in the Bolshevik movement. That is, the root cause of the danger isn't their *religion*, rather, it's the use by corrupt or naive leaders and idealists of the underlying ideology, which poses the danger.

That means only that the vigilance and reactive measures, if focused on *what* they're using instead of *how* they're using it, will not solve the problem to society's benefit.

Maybe it's just that the use of demagoguery to counter demagoguery doesn't strike me as entirely... reasonable. Why would I trade one set of potentially oppressive masters, who lump me in with the Evangelical loonies, for another, who will lump me in with the Hell-bound damned?

Can't caucus with either of them. And at times I really wish my many Republican Mormon family members would take a step back from the tactical alliance and think about that angle.

Rik said...

Read the comments for this BBC-article ( and weep. Ye gods! Imagine - it is the same, after all - the rebellious angels at the supposed dawn of time: (falsetto) well yes, monkeys are nice, but they shouldn't become too clever...

I know you mean CRNano, but if Chris Phoenix places his trust in AIs, those commenters are not an encouraging development. BTW, may I hereby suggest we replace the ugly PN with DeskTop Production. No one uses the old dtp anymore, so might as well give it a new name. Other suggestions are what's currently being worked on: RepRaps or FabLabs. CRNano offer several ideas for products, a few of which are actually appealing. But until something hits the stores or homes, people - I say - are not going to listen or add something to the discussion.

It's still possible to write something that really enflames people, witness the trial of the unfortunate Orhan Pamuk. Sorry, dr. B, but Analog or whatever may not be the best place to get folks interested or even to tell stories. Stories aren't serialized in newspapers anymore (pity); now we have soaps or telenovella's. Most of Western soaps are boring, yet addictive. Just wondering why authors of all genres don't write more for tv...

Anonymous said...

MTV nothing. I want my PN!

Anonymous said...

Assuming that one can use a PN to make a PN it seems to me that the existence of such a device would seriously simplify the global economic situation. Production and Sales services would become irrelevant unless directly related to Resources (and Design but that's a matter of training). On the one hand PNs would give people a new degree of freedom and on the other hand it would bind them to a few groups who own and control resources. At least in the short term. After a while people could just use their PNs to manufacture spaceships and leave the Earth to find new, free resources. PNs could mean the end of money and make the inflation/deflation discussion obsolete.

jomama said...

Re: The simulating rat.

I knew any ol' animal could be taught to fly.

Now try to teach one to build an F-22.

David Brin said...

One of you wrote privately offering the following for me to post:

(((This is not just STUPID. This is not just a WASTE OF TIME. This is
just the sort of bureaucratic, paranoid overreaching I imagined when I
heard the *name* "Homeland Security.")))

"Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior" NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and
Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book
through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for
Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and
Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in
New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the
professors said."

To which I must respond thusly... Why are the DHS guys getting in a lather over COMMUNISM? I mean, isn't that dead? I thought we'd moved on to OTHER ooga booga threats. I mean, how retro...

... or maybe how pro-active and far-seeing. As disparities and wealth grow back toward their levels last seen in the days of the wobblies and the Red Menace.

PS Any further news about the Diebold whistleblower?

one of you sent this to be posted...

“Cato Institute fellow and Copley News Service columnist Doug Bandow admits he secretly got paid by Abramoff to write up to 24 favorable columns:”

’Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist's clients. "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."’

Finally, there is this...

In an interview last week, Rep. Tom Davis (r-Va), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said "it's a fair comment" that the GOP-controlled Congress has done insufficient oversight and "ought to be doing more."

You'll recall this is one of my top Smoking Gun proofs of rightwing hypocrisy -- that hearings and investigations and shouts of corruption have been so lopsidedly one-sided that even the faintest glimmer of sincerity is shown to have always been a lie.

Well, at least Davis, from moderate Virginia, nurses a slim thread of residual honesty, enough to express a little embarrassment. This was clipped from the San Diego Union.

"Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own, Said Davis. I get concerned we lose our separation of powers when one party controls both branches."

Um Duh? Only make that all three branches, plus the media, plus the nation's corporate boardrooms.

Just Davis's committee alone issued 1,052 subpoenas to investigate allegations of misconduct by the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, costing more than $35 million. (Total expenditures, both public and private, aimed at investigating, charging or press-pillorying Clinton Era officials have -- by some estimates -- topped a billion dollars, overall. With the result of exactly zero indictments of Clintonians for actions taken as part of their performance in office. I will reiterate that glaring fact until it sinks in. Total number of Clintonian indictments has been zero. After a billion dollars.

"By contrast, the committee under Davis has issued three subpoenas to the Bush Administration.” Two regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site, opposed by a powerful Republican senator. The other one last week, concerning Hurricane Katrina.

One of the top proposals that I have made, for a winning Democratic "Contract" with America, would be to pledge that this will never happen again. That the minority party in Congress will always have at least 100 peremptory subpoenas available, to use any year, plus at least a hundred staff positions empowering and allowing at least minimal levels of oversight of both the Executive and Legislative Branches.

The American people are smart enough to notice, if this case were made clearly. But instead, we have allowed the culture war to be about Patriotism, about the ACLU, about Gay Marriage, about The “War on Christmas.” Almost as if the left were controlled by Karl Rove’s moles.

Richard Mason said...

Assuming the average person consumes 4 grocery bagfuls per week of consumer nondurables with each bag containing 2 kg of useful product, then the average person requires 400 kg/yr of consumer nondurables (of which 130 kg/yr is food).

Help me out here... What makes up the two-thirds of consumer nondurables that aren't food? Cleaning supplies? Bath products? I can't think of what I buy that would outweigh food by a factor of two, especially since the author apparently considers such things as clothes to be durables, not nondurables.

That is, unless gasoline is included in this category, in which case 8 kg a week is a significant underestimate instead of overestimate. But gasoline probably shouldn't be included here. (You wouldn't use a replicator to make gasoline.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I'll inject just a little bit of politics here. Don't know where else to put it because the archives of this blog have grown large by now.

In the past Brin has mentioned that because the U.S. has ceded its moral leadership position in the world "Whatever Comes Next" will look a lot less like like Pax Americana than it might have, and one WCN candidate is a "Pax Europa" like instantiation, with yards-thick rulebooks.

Take a look at proposed EU standards for novels. No kidding!

Some juicy examples:

2) For Font Size, see also Paragraphs A and B of Chapter LXIII. Use of fonts over or under 12 points will result in the exclusion of the Novel from European Union support. Formatting more than 25 lines on a page and more than 60 characters in a line is prohibited.

3) For insetting, paragraph spacing and margins see Sub-Sections 234 and 235 of Chapter XVII. Any work failing to meet the requirements as laid down in Items 2 and 3 will not qualify as a Novel even if it should fulfill all other criteria.


6) The ideal ratio between Dialogue and Author's Text is 2 : 1. A maximum divergence of + or ­ 12 per cent is tolerable. Any divergence of a larger order will result in the disqualification of the work from European Union support.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's satire. I hope so.

Tony Fisk said...

Over a billion dollars spent on rooting out Clinton corruption? (not counting the attempts to access the documents stored with the Iraqi WMD program!). This sounds like a thriving industry for someone:
- Who's paying?
- Who are the law firms receiving the briefs?
- What connections do those law firms have with GOP?

But, you shouldn't be too hard on the current crew: they're *reducing* costs by making it much easier to prosecute...

More stuff on Diebold whistleblowers can be found at
Brad's Blog also has a few other tasty tidbits about Diebold, including a description of a hack test that demonstrated how votes could be 'corrected' without leaving a trace.

Even Gvr. Bush is starting to distance himself!

And has any of this stuff made the mainstream news?

"Don't you worry about that!"

In case it hasn't, have you heard that George Bush has admitted spying on americans?

It appears George (and Condi) is more concerned about people telling tales than being outed on this (psychopaths really can't see the problems they cause)

Personally, I wouldn't have as big a problem either if
a) he sought a verifying authority, and
b) I could respond in kind.

But, then, I'm not a subversive 'al-quaker' operative.

(Am I?)

Whilst we're on conspiracies, the Blair/Bush Al Jazeera memo still hasn't surfaced, despite a request for disclosure being lodged with the British government 26 days ago by Steve Wood (he claims the acknowledgment was 'Possibly the shortest response in terms of detail on record!').

No reply six days after the required deadline.

Anonymous said...

richard mason said:

"Help me out here... What makes up the two-thirds of consumer nondurables that aren't food? Cleaning supplies? Bath products? I can't think of what I buy that would outweigh food by a factor of two, especially since the author apparently considers such things as clothes to be durables, not nondurables."

I haven't read the article, but myn first guess would be packaging. But that's just a guess.

(Man, go away for a day or two and the threads here get too big to keep up with.)

also, re: the "War on Christmas", no liberals I know of are pushing it, but it's one of those things there's very little good way to fight against, if you ignore it, they just keep saying it, if you argue it's not there, you're drawing more attention to it. And journalists have the gaping maw of the press to feed daily, so will run most anything. At least it seems that way, these days.

David Brin said...

The EU protocols on the "novel" are pretty obviously (and hilariously) a spoof.

Oh... Let me pass this on. Many people who are elderly and stumble or seem to have a mini "attack" often deny having had anything more than a brief dizzy spell. But it can be a sign of a stroke. I received a circular saying that three simple testst can help you to determine whether a stroke has taken place. I am passing these on here (though I cannot attest to the provenance of this advice.)

Doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

1. *Ask the individual to SMILE.

2. *Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

3. *Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. . . It is sunny out today)

If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the

Rob Perkins said...

David, you obliquely point out that old Americans are very, very stubborn. A relative of mine by marriage described a horrifying day when her father denied having more than a dizzy spell, erratically drove her and her sister places, etc, all while they were positive that something was desperately wrong.

I think it's good advice; it sounds like the sort of thing a doctor would to to see if other tests are necessary.

Anonymous said...

Richard, Molecularly Manufacturing should enable people not to need gasoline. With the physical properties of diamond and carbon nanotubes available, it is easy to literally make clockwork powered cars with more energy storage than exists in a tank of gasoline, 90% plus efficiency in conversion of stored energy to movement, and more power than a current truck.

Little packaging should be necessary given automatically RFID tagged and inventoried items produced in the home.

Todd, I really hope it's a satire, and suspect that it is. It's hard to imagine ordinary people becoming that insanely isolated from common sense.
Anyway, I think it looks like a joke.
Either that or I'm *still* not cynical enough.

Tony Fisk said...

@Todd, Michael:
You've surely heard about Euro-english?

And, of course, who can forget the scandalous affair of the euro-sausage

Anonymous said...

In re: gray goo...

Rikki and Tavicat Simons are the creators of an intriguing comic series/graphic novel/regular novel with illustrations (Rikki's done all three, in an effort to interest people in the work) entitled Ranklechick and His Three-Legged Cat. Part of the background of the series is that everyone lives on various space habitats (Ranklechick at the Europan Zoo, for instance), because a few centuries back, some kind-hearted soul unleashed nanobots on Earth, programmed to fulfill everyone's imaginations. Unfortunately, better than 90% of humanity turned out not to have any imagination, so the nanos turned everything into gray goo...

...if only Rkii's tales of trying to get his story published didn't bear that plot point out so well...