Saturday, June 17, 2006

Various Miscellaneous Apolitical items

No, this is not the Great Big Arrogant Posting that I promised. That will go up tomorrow or the next day. This one is just a chance to dup onscreen whole bunches of cool stuff that has accumulated in the Apolitical Try. Especially the all important FIRST ITEM which might be called David Brin's newest book. well.... sort of...

250px-star_wars_on_trial_coverAnnouncing in June 2006: Star Wars on Trial : Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time (Smart Pop series) by David Brin and Matthew Woodring Stover, with two dozen wonderfully articulate authors "testifying" either for the prosecution or the defense. Is SW fantasy disguised as science fiction? Does the series spread doom-pessimism about democracy? Has it been a let-down since "The Empire Strikes Back"? Does it even make any sense? Contributors include Scott Lynch, Lou Anders, John Wright, Tanya Huff, Adam Roberts and many others.

Pick up a copy of Star Wars on Trial -  and be prepared for a wild, extravagant "trial" - brash and entertaining and
downright fun!

exorariumAbout my Exorarium Project, a Virtual Extraterrestrial Terrarium to envision varieties of Intelligent Life on distant exoplanets -- a collaboration with UCSD professor Sheldon Brown, here are a couple of items that are highly relevant:

--The Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) site is a team of scientists who are building computer simulated Earth-sized planets to discover the likely range of planetary environments for planets around other stars. These simulated environments allow us to visualize what these planets look like from space to help future missions recognize signs of possible life in the spectra of planetary atmospheres and surfaces.

--One fun planet-building site is ASTROVENTURE: Try the "Design a Planet" feature.

Another topic from a while ago: “dusting” vast stretches of “desert ocean” (most of the ocean, in fact, where there are no nutrients and therefore no food chain) with trace nutrients to creat new fisheries and such carbon out of the atmosphere. The quintessential modernist notion -- well here are a couple of Nature news stories on some Ocean Fertilization experiments. The web sites below provide some additional insight. mix of good/bad news.

==Looking toward the wider world==

nation-amongHave a sampling-glance at a fascinating book -A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History: America's Place in World History by Thomas Bender, elucidating some “connections” that might never have occurred to you.

As we experience a major secular oil price rise, there are two major economic effects. One is the huge macroeconomic effect upon today’s spendthrift lifestyles, forcing new economies and efficiencies, at last. The other is supply/demand, stimulating use of tar sands and other oil sources that will profoundly change what we mean by “peak oil production.”

The latest news? That Canada’s vast supply of tar sands may be eclipsed by even greater supplies in... Venezuela. Accessible barrels numbering in the TRILLIONS, suggesting to some that Bush & Co may have ulterior reasons for “drumming up” hostility toward Chavez down there. I am less concerned about that than I am with how this may affect the timetable thinking in the Saudfamily’s Grand Plan for us.

Satellite Could Open Door on Extra Dimension -- (New Scientist -- May 30, 2006) An exotic theory, which attempts to unify the laws of physics by proposing the existence of an extra fourth spatial dimension, could be tested using a satellite to be launched in 2007. Such theories are notoriously difficult to test. But a new study suggests that such hidden dimensions could give rise to thousands of mini-black holes within our own solar system - and the theory could be tested within Pluto's orbit in just a few years.

Watch Big Brother Watch You : Wireless Camera Hunter scans commonly used Video Frequencies in less than 5 seconds and detects any video transmissions in the area. Then the Wireless Camera Hunter locks in sources from up to 500 Feet away (depending on power of source transmitter).The device allows the user to see what the Hidden Camera is seeing, making it easier to detect hidden video. The monitor display is a high resolution 2.5 Color TFT Screen that displays the Video Image and the exact frequency of the transmission. Www. Haven’t even seen this in movies...  But it’s useless against wired models or encrypted or spread spectrum.

Three D at last? Oh Boy, now the interface can dumb-down online interaction even more vividly!!!

News of the weird: What if, seconds before your laptop began stalling, you could feel the hard drive spin up under the load? Or you could tell if an electrical cord was live before you touched it? For the few people who have rare earth magnets implanted in their fingers, these are among the reported effects -- a finger that feels electromagnetic fields along with the normal sense of touch.
It's been described as a buzzing sensation, a tingling, an oscillation, movement, pure stimulation and, in the case of body-modification expert Shannon Larrett's encounter with a too-powerful antitheft gateway at a retail store, "Like sticking your hand in an ultrasonic cleaner."

NakedBrainRemember the topic of how to make a better world by making people smarter? I still think (?) that the better approach is to work on our aggregate-intelligence through reciprocal accountability institutions and citokate. But others are working on improving us human components. See: Richard Restak, a Washington neurologist and president of the American Neuropsychiatric Association, who has written extensively about smart drugs in his 2003 book, "The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind," as well as his forthcoming "The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety Is Changing How We Live, Work and Love."

Rare counting ability induced by temporarily switching off brain region: A minority of people with autism have one or more extraordinary intellectual talents, such as the rapid ability to calculate the day of the week for a given date, or to count large numbers of discrete objects almost instantaneously - they're often called 'autistic savants' or 'idiot savants'. Now Allan Snyder and colleagues have shown that by placing a pulsing magnet over a specific area of the brain, these kind of abilities can, to some extent, be induced in people who aren’t autistic.

Except that it still ignores every human interactive skill.... Cell phone users and instant messaging addicts can now search the web using IM chat software rather than a web browser. Kozoru, a Kansas-based startup, on Monday launched , a new search engine that queries the web with instant messages. Users send the system a question as a chat message, and the system replies with relevant links. It's similar to Google, except Byoms returns three of four replies instead of hundreds, and can be queried in plain English. "Searching the internet on a mobile phone right now is painful," said Justin Gardner, 's communications manager. "You have limited real estate when you’re looking at a phone. In that environment people want two, three, four answers." Alas... it remains... painful.

More relevant to a flattened-hierarch, truly open world: The Universal Radio Peripheral (USRP) allows for building a -defined general radio that can receive and transmit on any frequency from DC (zero) to 2.9 GHz. Matt Ettus paints a picture of radio bringing about a many-to-many revolution, like blogging, but for a wider segment of the world.

Is there hope in chocolate? Caffeine can make you more easily convinced by arguments that go against your beliefs because it improves your ability to understand the reasoning behind statements, suggests experiments at University
of Queensland....

==Finally, amusing misc items...==

Cool images from the future.

See "The cutting edge: A Moore's law for razor blades?"

Incredibly incisive (or funny) science.

Going from ridiculous tech to the sublime... take a look at for a real 3D display (it is real 3D because it is 20 liquid crystal planes deep, each plane separated by perhaps 0.5 cm)


"The most important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them." --Sir William Bragg

==See my next posting: Guided Allocation vs. Markets, an ancient struggle with strange modern implications


Anonymous said...

Interesting bit from Natural History Magazine:

The Birth of War

An archaeological survey concludes that warfare, despite its malignant hold on modern life, has not always been part of the human condition.

By R. Brian Ferguson

Thirty years ago all the anthropologists studying war would have fit into one small room. Granted—and guaranteed—that room would frequently erupt in heated debate, but few outside would notice or care. Tribal warfare? Exotic, maybe, but so what? Anthropologists see war as potentially lethal violence between two groups, no matter how small the groups or how few the casualties. But how much light could such a broad definition of conflict, or cases of precivilized human strife, shed on modern warfare, the struggles that have flared in Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda, Vietnam, Korea—and on and on?

Rest of story

I could see the above being attacked as politicized science. (How dare some egghead hippies suggest war might not be human nature!)

Anonymous said...


Queue up your TiVOs or VCRs.

Tonight at 9:00 pm, and then again in the wee hours, History Channel will run Errol Morris' The Fog of War, an excellent movie-length interview with Robert MacNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War.

Anonymous said...

Stefan, I concur---The Fog of War was excellent. I had never imagined how so many very intelligent people could go so disastrously wrong. Sobering.

Tangent, don't worry about tar sands or whatnot. We'll be making diesel via the Fischer-Tropsch process until we run out of dry land. There's plenty more carbon to throw into the atmosphere; it's not like we can all go the way of Brazil and become energy-independent, or anything.

I mentioned earlier that I'd run into some of that "deep environmentalism" nonsense that I thought was only a theoretical position that no one took seriously. I've now discovered a blog post at "I'm Not Paranoid" which reads like something straight out of Nathan Holn. It's only about culture and the arts, instead of society as a whole, but it bemoans the lack of "elites" (I quote) to lead "the rabble" (I quote again, and not ironically!) to good taste.

The more I read, the more impressed I am with the concepts of modernism and faith in the abilities of the common people and the institutions we build, and more convinced that this is, indeed, the most salient divide in political debate today.

Frederick Paul Kiesche III said...

Well, I've had carpal tunnel since 1985. The treatment back then was to slice you. 30% chance of making it worse, 30% chance of cure, 30% chance of being better than getting worse again. I was the last 30%. No "cure" that I've ever heard of!

And, ahem, Dr. Brin, ahem, any chance of some good old fashioned "science fiction" coming our way? I just read "Tank Farm" in the Benford/Zebrowski collection "Skylife" and it had me hankering for a new Brin opus in the Uplift universe or a novel set in the "Tank Farm" universe, or, anything!!!!

Anonymous said...

tangent you said "I wonder if these new tar sources will result in further delays in alternative fuels. One of the big problems with alternative fuel research is that so long as gasoline remained cheap and accessible, there was no incentive for researching other fuels."

isnt the question the answer?

If the issue is carbon dioxide then alternative fuels (except hydrogen made with nuclear or wind) dont realy get you anything a more efficient petrol engine wont

Tony Fisk said...


Apart from the 'Star Wars on Trial' and 'King Kong' collections, I suggest you go have a look at Jim Baen's Universe and check out 'the Ancient Ones'. You'll find a few other notaries there as well. (I haven't yet, alas: been too busy! Gotta get less busy...)

Anonymous said...

Since Tony mentioned him:

Jim Baen has had a very serious stroke and is in a coma.

The company is running under "very specific" emergency plans.

Don't know much more than that. If you're interested, check the publishers' web site.

Tony Fisk said...

Tragic news.
FWIW: the stroke occurred on June 12, and Jim Baen is still in a coma. No further news.