Friday, April 21, 2006

Catching up on science... And other cool stuff...

This journal is supposedly about more than political and social and philosophical contrarian ponderings! We modernists are also interested in peering ahead in order to grasp the onrushing dangers and hopes of our crucial time. And a great deal of that peering ahead has to do with science!

During my long hiatus in electronic hell (it’s not over yet, apparently) a lot of cool stuff accumulated. It’s probably unwise to post the whole morass of odds and ends up here, at the topmost level. (For one thing, I am hoping people are linking to the more important articles, about “the Choices We Face” and the plight of the US Officer Corps, etc.)

So here’s what I’m going to do. I will post a long set of news items and links to cool science news, etc. as a comment to this topmost posting. If this kind of thing interests you, just click below.

But first...... let me offer a handful of potpourri items:

1. My full essay on "Other Theories of Intelligent Design" (originally tested on this blog) has appeared in SKEPTIC's online edition at:

2. For those of you who are starting to nose around for information about leading democratic candidates for 2008, there is a lot of buzz about former VA governor Mark Warner, who does appear to be quite a guy. Here are a couple of brief articles that he wrote for THE GLOBALIST:

The thing that impresses me most is that he "gets" what the real Culture War is all about. Not between left and right, but between those who believe in the future and those who do not.

3. Please, you go read “Rumsfeld’s Rules”... the well-meaning (or cynically manipulative) list of “wise sayings” published by the Secretary of Defense when he returned to that post in 2001, close to three decades after he reigned over our final humiliation in Vietnam. Please, somebody, hector some better-known blogger than me, so that this link gets wider attention. The Rules should be read at two levels, for their cliched but genuine truth... and for their bitter irony. For one thing, the list makes clear that today’s Donald Rumsfeld has to be the Bizarro-opposite-guy to whoever wrote these rules. Obsessively and perfectly opposite. So much so that I suspect we’re living in an old Star Trek episode! See it all at:

4. Some of you feel that the true heir of decent conservatism OUGHT to be the Libertarian Party, but you feel put off by the romantic ideologues who run it? Drop by to see the group trying to change all that. I’ve given them my extensive essay on “political axes...” and another arguing that socialism and aristocracy are just different versions of the same basic beast. Independent of my own crank positions, these pragmatic incrementalists are just the ticket for transforming the LP into the best and true alternative to the democrats. Also splitting Roves Big Tent by giving freemarketers a home. But only if libertarians become much less - cosmically less - flaky. There’s nothing Rove should fear more.

Now click “comments” to see a melange of cool NON-POLITICAL stuff. Great science snippets and links about weird tomorrows.


David Brin said...

A whole mess of “stuff” accumulated during weeks of hiatus...

(Did I already post some of these things?)

* A super cool video about the next way that we’ll use computers... (before my own invention kicks in...)
For more about this, see:

* And here’s another! This one is sly. It starts with things that look almost like mussels and such. I figured maybe it was time lapse photography of something real! In fact, though, it’s “camcorder footage from the future featuring ultra-realistic alien botanical lifeform delights.” Enjoy! --

* Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is throwing its weight behind organic products, a move that experts say could have the same lasting effect on environmental practices that Wal-Mart has had on prices by forcing suppliers and competitors to keep up. ... for a sciencefictional take on this from 1968, see the incredibly prescient classic novel by John Brunner THE SHEEP LOOK UP, especially re “Puritan brand organic foods.”

*Boulders blasted away from the Earth's surface after a major impact could have travelled all the way to the outer solar system, new calculations reveal. The work suggests that terrestrial microbes on the rocks could in theory have landed on Saturn's giant moon, Titan....

* Using data from a new map of the baby universe, astronomers said yesterday that they had seen deep into the Big Bang, and had gotten their first detailed hint of what was going on less than a trillionth of a second after time began.
The theory holds that during its first moments, the universe, fueled by an antigravitational field, underwent a violent growth spurt, ballooning from submicroscopic to astronomical size in the blink of an eye.

* The Pentagon's defence scientists want to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives and send transmissions. The idea is to insert micro-systems at the pupa stage, when the insects can integrate them into their body, so they can be remotely controlled later.

* A map of the Americas measuring just a few hundred nanometres across has been created out of meticulously folded strands of DNA, using a new technique for manipulating molecules dubbed "DNA origami". The nanoscale map, which sketches out both North and South America at a staggering 200-trillionths of their actual size, aims to demonstrate the precision and complexity with which DNA can be manipulated using the approach. 15 March 2006 ( news service) To make the nano-map, Rothemund first needed to create a suitable "canvas". He used a single strand of DNA from a bacteria-destroying virus called M13 mp18. The strand was folded over and over at regular intervals using smaller strands of complementary DNA, which pull two parts of the strand together to create each fold. The result is a flat surface made from a long double helix, comprised of the single long strand and more than 200 shorter strands stuck along its length, "stapling" it together at key locations. If this helix was a perfectly formed, the canvas would appear blank. But by using short strands of DNA, containing bits that do not stick to the main strand, it is possible to cause parts of the canvas stand out . Precisely controlling the location of these extra bits made it possible for Rothemund to draw out the shape of the map.

* One of the most popular short films on the Internet is Productive Nanosystems: from Molecules to Superproducts. The four-minute computer animation goes inside a nanofactory and demonstrates key steps in a process to convert simple molecules into a billion-CPU laptop computer.

* Can dangerous knowledge -- such as the publication of the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet -- ever be contained? Once opened, might Pandora's Box be shut again? Those questions lie at the heart of an ongoing debate over the necessity and application of precaution in the deployment of new technologies. (See my “Singularities and Nightmares” piece at:

In addressing this issue, "reversibility" is a concept that Jamais Cascio proposes as a wiser alternative to the Precautionary Principle or the lesser-known Proactionary Principle: "A cornerstone of the open future concept is that we should be striving towards a world that maximizes our flexibility in response to challenges. We will never have perfectly free choices when problems arise, but we are more likely to come up with good solutions under less-constrained conditions than we would if we were limited to a handful of options. The choice to pull back and say 'let's try something different' is an option that we should strive to maintain."

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's the format, give the links. I click. Nothing. Your column comes through to me on a dark blue background, if that's a clue.

I would dearly love to click, but doing a cut& paste is a little off-putting.


Anonymous said...

Something else interesting here

Electron and proton masses seem to be changing. Very curious.

And a bit of CITOKATE. You have frequently tarred Rumsfeld with the brush of the final failure in Vietnam. I finally checked this and, while the man is clearly incompetent for his position and I hold no favor for him, little of the blame can be laid at his feet, if any. He became SecDef in November of 75, Saigon fell at the end of April, six months earlier. He has screwed things up royally, but let's be fair and not blame him for something he didn't do.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Mathews: "I would dearly love to click, but doing a cut& paste is a little off-putting."

If your using IE:

- select address text with leftmouse
- click with rightmouse on selection , choose copy
- click with rightmouse on present address, choose paste
- click 'go to' or press enter

Easy peasy :)

Anonymous said...

Pat's request is a legitimate one. Personally, it's no skin off my back to copy a link address, open up a new tab, and paste it into the address bar, but then again, I've been using a computer as long as I can remember, and a mouse for only a few years less than that. For some people, the task of copy and paste is a bit more difficult. My Bubbie would be one of these people, who has become incredibly computer literate considering the brief period of time since she got her computer and considering the rather longish period of time that came before that. Click-dragging to highlight text is not a skill to be scoffed at, especially amongst those for whom it is new, or those who have less-than-perfect hand-eye coordination.

Of course, there are others who find no difficulty in the task may simply find it an inconvenience. Someone who is on a fence regarding the subject is likely to move on, rather than taking a couple extra simple (to some of us) steps. Unfortunately, those are the types of people that Mr. Brin likely wants to reach the most. If he is trying to draw attention to worthy causes, it makes sense to create clickable links.

I'm sure there's a jargon term for this distinction (hot links vs. cold links? click-through vs. plain-text links? blue versus black links?), but I don't know what it is. Anyone here know?

I should clarify that I am not implying that Pat falls into any particular category, merely that there are plenty of people to whom such a small change would make a difference.

Of course, I always thought that Blogger software did this automatically.

Erik Wennstrom

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

In Opera, select, right-click, Go to URL. IE still doesn't have that?

jomama said...

The basic premise of libertarianism is the essence of civilized progress.

Creating a political party just draws flies like any good food that sits out at the picnic.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brin's well aware of the non-clickable link issue - I've already whined to him about it :-)... It goes back to the fact that the blogger software running on his old (os9) browser doesn't support an easy way to create the links automatically. Hopefully now that he's been forced into the new millennium of OSX, he'll start using something like Firefox as a browser and things will get easier for him and more convenient for us.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, it seems that Nintendo is the organization doing the most to bring the cutting edge of human-computer interaction to the masses. The Nintendo DS has a built-in touch screen and microphone (both used in gameplay) and the Nintendo Revolution controller, well, I'll let the advertising speak for itself.

David Brin said...

DemetriosX thanks for the citokate.

I never called Rummy responsible for our humiliation in Vietnam. I only called it creepy that he was at the helm both times. I stand corrected. Though. It is still. Creepy.

BTW, what job did he have previously?

Kelsey Gower said...

He was in the navy's Ready Reserves from 1957-1975, but from 1969-1975 he worked in the Nixon adminstration and the Ford administration.

I recommend browsing his article on Wikipedia, and many of the external links. You'll probably find many more reasons for him to resign.

Anonymous said...

map of the Americas measuring just a few hundred nanometres across has been created out of meticulously folded strands of DNA

Semi-related but interesting: In his book "The Man of Gold", M.A.R. Barker (you gaming nerds know him) introduced the notion of "High Cartography", a cartographic metalanguage that encoded bumps onto a series of polyhedra in order to describe important geographic data for a particular area.

The workings have never been described in detail, to my knowledge, but I always found the notion of it interesting: that you could convert a map into an advanced form of quipu.

Mark Brown said...

...The MASTER said... (quote)
please, somebody, that this link gets wider attention. The Rules should be read at two levels, for their cliched but genuine truth... and for their bitter irony. For one thing, the list makes clear that today’s Donald Rumsfeld has to be the Bizarro-opposite-guy to whoever wrote these rules. Obsessively and perfectly opposite.

Not that i'm implying I am well known, but here is my start on a series of posts about the RULES:
The above link is the first in the series, and the intro is HERE:

Thanks again... Markbnj.
PS: I do take anonymous comments, so feel free to jump in...

Anonymous said...

You wondered whether dangerous knowledge can ever be contained. I've heard several news stories about Bush trying to reclassify documents from his father's and Reagan's administrations that have already been released. Already used as source material by students. Spread all over the place. (Was it Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth that was responsible for chasing down all the stray facts when history had to be amended to match current policy?) Now that the Internet exists, I don't know how the government is going to put this genie back into the bottle.

Related story:

Kelsey Gower said...

Markb said...

" ...The MASTER said... (quote)"

Ok, I'll be the first to say I lol'd at this line. It just seems so contrary to how Brin would want to be addressed.

David Brin said...

Except if it's with a LISP!

I always wanted an Igor. With a limp and a hump and eyepatch.

"Yeth...Math-ter! Pull the Th-witch! Hahahahahaha!"

Anonymous said...

"I always wanted an Igor."

MAKE Magazine #6 has an article on how to make one, but just to warn you the first item on the Parts List is a 12 year old and the second item is an ACME Spine Bender.

* * *

The Japanese are big into creating servant robots that can assist the elderly. Maybe you'll be able to buy a modification kit to turn your standard nurse droid into a craven hunchback servant.

Anonymous said...

Have you been reading Terry Pratchet?
In his discworld series, the Igors (there's more than one) are recurring characters.
"You have your Father's eyes?"
"No, Mathter, my Uncle Igor's. Father is still using his."

Anonymous said...

"It's pronounced Eye-gor."