Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween grab bag of coolstuff

A_Contract_with_the_EarthSomeone care to report back on Newt Gingrich’s book? I used to have hopes for him to veer our way. I’m not easily drawn back to such foolish thinking... but... one can hope. See: A Contract with the Earth

Sorry, but it's Halloween and I am getting gremlined. I cannot hot link all of the following. But it's cool stuff.

Oh, today I spent all day at the Salk Institute participating in "Beyond Belief" which had some major lumionary minds there... but turned out to be somewhat of an "atheism fest"... I wound up being the contrarian speaking up for God!


Researchers have developed a low-cost, low-power computer memory that could put terabyte-sized thumb drives in consumers' pockets within a few years.

Peter Thiel Explains How to Invest in the Singularity

FutureReputation.gossip.rumor.privacyThe Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, by Daniel J. Solove, isn't much concerned with privacy advocates' usual bĂȘte noire, the surveillance state. Instead, Solove focuses on a more down-to-earth set of concerns, such as developing practical law for a quasi-voyeuristic-exhibitionist society. (Somone go read it and report back here!)

Adobe Systems is developing software that could bring the power of a Hollywood animation studio to the average computer and let users render high-quality graphics in real time.

An extremely simple Turing machine has been proved to be universal.

EEStor claims to have developed a car battery based on capacitors that can be charged quickly and is ready for large-scale production. The patent specifies charge storage that is much higher than anything achieved in an academic lab: 52 kilowatt-hours in a 2,000 cubic inch capacitor array -- more than 10 times the power density of standard cells.

See that fellow who documents every move he makes, in order to stave off “terror” profiling.

The US and UK governments are developing increasingly sophisticated gadgets to keep individuals under surveillance.

 DigitalGlobe, provider of imagery for Google Earth, said WorldView I, a new high-resolution satellite to be launched on Tuesday, will produce one-half meter resolution images for commercial use.

There is new hope that we might survive an apocalypse five billion years from now. That is when, scientists say, the Sun will run out of fuel and swell temporarily more than 100 times in diameter into a so-called red giant, swallowing Mercury and Venus. Astronomers are announcing that they have discovered a that seems to have survived the puffing up of its home , suggesting there is some hope that could survive the aging and swelling of the Sun.

Organized crime may have brought in more than $2 trillion in revenue last year, about twice all the military budgets in the worldcombined.

Neural scientists have uncovered evidence of a distinct neurobiology of human intelligence. Their Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT) identifies a brain network related to intelligence, one that primarily involves areas in the frontal and the parietal lobes. T he brain areas related to intelligence are the same areas related to attention and memory and to more complex functions like language. Haier and Jung say this possible integration of cognitive functions suggests that intelligence levels might be based on how efficient the frontal-parietal networks process information.

W hile there are essentially no disparities in general intelligence between the sexes, women have more white matter and men more gray matter related to intelligence test scores, suggesting that no single neuroanatomical structure determines general intelligence and that different types of brain designs can produce equivalent intellectual performance.

A low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet and a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet both improve weight loss, enhance mood, and speed thinking, a study shows, but the low-carb diet may offer less benefit in terms of the rate of cognitive processing.

NASA researchers have designed and built a new circuit chip that can take the heat of a blast furnace and keep on performing.

McAfee CEO David DeWalt says cyber-crime has become a $105 billion business that now surpasses the value of the illegal drug trade worldwide. Worldwide data losses now represent $40 billion in losses to affected companies and individuals each year.

These people are creating software to make the world's statistical data accessible to the public.

(10/07) As if taken straight from The Transparent Society -- The U.S. Transportation Administration today promised to protect air travelers' privacy as TSA personnel peer through their clothes. The TSA has begun testing a millimeter wave scanner at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport as an alternative to pat-downs performed by security personnel when is deemed appropriate. The technology can see through clothing to detect weapons, explosives, and other objects. The TSA said that energy emitted by millimeter wave technology -- 10,000 times less than a cell phone -- is safe, that the technology is intended to keep passengers safe, and that it will keep the potentially embarrassing images safe.

The new "SuperSpeed" USB spec will provide a 10X boost in transfer rate (from 480-Mbits/s in USB 2.0 to 4.8 Gbits/s in USB 3.0), while dramatically lowering power consumption, with broad deployment by 2010. One example of their speed goals is to transfer a 27GB HD movie to a portable device in 70 seconds. The same thing would take 15 minutes

Brookhaven National Laboratory has overcome a major obstacle for using refractive lenses to focus x-rays. This method will allow the efficient focusing of x-rays down to extremely small spots

 A computer program that emulates the human brain falls for the same optical illusions humans do, suggesting that the illusions are a by-product of the way babies learn to filter their complex surroundings. Researchers say this means future robots must be susceptible to the same tricks that humans are in order to see as well.

From Josh Duberman: “Larry Lessig appears on Danish TV to explain his new cause, devoting the next ten years to ending government corruption. Lessig is downright inspirational on the subject, calling on us to set aside our cynical instinct that tells us that money will always control government and use technology to expose corruption and rally citizens to end it.” A riff on transparency, of course.

Tool Cool. Nice to know things will boogy after we’re gone.

What Will China Look Like in 2035?  Here's what economists at China's official government think tank predict for the future of the mainland, by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and senior adviser at Citigroup, is the editor of China's Banking and Financial Markets: The Internal Research Report of the Chinese Government and the author of The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin, China's best-selling book in 2005.

 Forget exploding dye or hot pursuits. Tiny GPS devices inside poackets of stolen money are now snaring bank robbers with trivial ease. And letting parents put fine restrictions on where and when their teens can drive. “Like a host of other location technologies in the works, the money-tracking tools can trace their origin to an initially obscure rule, written into the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which required that new cellphones be able to communicate their location to emergency responders whenever callers dial 911. Some companies planted chips in their phones that communicate directly with G.P.S. satellites. Others use cellular towers to triangulate the signal. With the location systems in place, a number of companies began working on other applications.”

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"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" -Max Planc, Nobel physicist


David McCabe said...

That's some pretty cool stuff! That bird has been uplifted?

Can't wait for the Beyond Belief videos to hit Youtube. What else did you think it would be with that clever name?

One more thing of note on gapminder: Not only are they making tools to make the world's data and statistics accessible to all. They're discovering that, contrary to many peoples' beliefs, the world seems to be becoming more diamond-shaped.

Tony Fisk said...

It would be interesting to see how Snowball reacts to the Gubru memetic rootkit that was rumoured to be in Kate Bush's Aerial

"All of the birds are laughing"

Woozle said...

Idly wondering if there was any overlap between Brin's contrarian anti-devil's advocacy and this: Reasons to believe in God

(And on the general subject of essays: still working on that other one, about my solution for the problem of bad government. It keeps trying to grow larger, and I keep shunting bits of it off into separate pages so the main point doesn't get lost. Meanwhile, "real life" is attacking from the other 5 directions...)

Anonymous said...


I really look forward to the Beyond Belief videos. I watched the entirety of last year's conference and found it highly stimulating, although that too was a bit of an atheist fest. But what else is to be expected in a room full of empirically minded individuals? Since God (the Abrahamic one, at any rate) by definition can't be measured, the likelihood that he'd get a warm reception at "Beyond Belief."

Anonymous said...

Just a day late for Halloween with this one, but I had a thought you (and those who post here) might enjoy entertaining, Dr.Brin.
I'm sure, by now, you've seen (or at least heard of) Comet 17P/Holmes. It's been rather calm since discovered the 19th century, buzzing not much closer than the orbit of Mars. Now, going way out on a limb here, assume the comet is an alien probe, sent to observe us. The insane burst of brightness, the giant cloud of dust kicked up--coolant dump from a gigawatt laser transmission Home. (or something along those lines.)
Now, the rampant speculation part: What invention or trend has appeared in the last 7 years to warrant one of a finite number of reports? (and they must be finite if the comet dumps mass)
I've been playing with this for the past couple nights, but would love to hear what anyone else (especially our esteemed host!) comes up with on such a flight of fancy.
Is it Environmentalism going mainstream, the growing notion in the mass consciousness that we must preserve our world? [Species 451 is maturing; planet may remain worth invading]
The increasing interconnectedness of our society has reached a 'breakthrough' level that makes it somehow worthy of note, or perhaps because we're on the fast track to Singularity? [Species 451 is nearing readiness to join the galactic community]
The slow, slippery slide away from Enlightenment ideals? [Species 451 is regressing. Invasion prospects looking up]

Just a silly thought some of you might appreciate; my apologies if I'm wasting your bandwidth, Dr. Brin.

Anonymous said...

"message home:> begin transmission.....
" the dominant species of planet 3 have begun to accelerate their space program again, predict large landmass will re visit moon, expand species footprint:>
this is in line with our prediction following transmission #1223#1233# in local time 1892 on harnessing of transmission of electrical current by species:> that led to our discovery:.
request authorisation to begine steralisation of planet

Alex Tolley said...

Peter Thiels piece on investing in the singularity is based on incorrect data. The financial markets have not become more volatile, they have become less so. This sort of completely undermines the basis for his belief in the manic booms and busts that are to come.

Wolfram's universal Turing machine claim may be wrong. I await confirmation by reputable sources.

David Brin said...

Tyler, thanks for the speculative notion. Naturally, this is of interest, since:

(a) I was once the world expert on cometary nuclei. (Whenever you see a nature show that depicts them as black and dusty with fountain/geysers erupting all over, it’s based on my doctoral thesis...

b) I have long pondered alien lurker probes. See
and the story “lungfish” at

Woozle, your admirable effort to analyze reasons to believe in God were well worth pondering. Of course, you are dipping your toe into territory that others have gone stomping through. Have a look atthe books of Rebeccas Newberger Goldstein... especially her (coming next year) book “33 Arguments for the Existence of God: A work of fiction”. And similar work by John Allen Paulos. Or the more bilious (though smart) rants of Dennett and Dawkins. They cover many of the same arguments.

I am far more interested in the “Big Sermon” that is always preached by the Universe whenever you go outside, look upward and (respectfully) ask for a clear sign. The sermon is ambiguity. “If I exist, I sure as heck have set things up in order for you to doubt Me. And to thereupon take matters in your own hands and do stuff for yourselves.” People who ignore this sermon, and insist that others will be damned to hell for heeding it, are clearly committing the very worst of blasphemies.

David Brin said...

There are times when I simply lose track of whether I have posted something or not.

Below is a LOT of material that I THINK I never got around to posting. But it may be repetition... so I am putting it up here, under comments. Where few may see it. Alas. Too bad either way. ;-)


David, it is a fact that most capitalists are Democrats.
The CEOs of both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have endorsed Hillary.
Barack Obama has raised more money in the hedge fund community than any other candidate.
In Silicon Valley, the Democrats outraise the GOP by 60% to 40%.
Over 94% of Google's contributions flow to the Democrats.
Moreover, the alumni of schools like Stanford and Harvard are Democrats, by about a 3:1 margin.
The facts are on our side. Smart and accomplished people are Democrats.

Former White House Counsel and major Watergate figure John Dean offered this theory to explain why the democrats are so hopeless when it comes to recognizing what I call “the real issues.” One of them -- the skyrocketing resort to paranoid secrecy by this administration -- would seem a total win-win for the dems to attack. Contrasting this to Bill Clinton’s halving of governmental secrecy would make clear, once and for all, which party contains adults who do not fear accountability, and which ones are always trying to hide the truth. So why does not a single prominent dem hammer this point? John Dean explains:

“When I wrote "Worse Than Watergate" I was deeply troubled by the truly excessive secrecy of this presidency and the efforts [Vice President] Cheney was making to keep things secret. I look at it as someone who has been on the inside. There's a reason for that secrecy; it's because you don't want people to know what . . . you're doing. It's not because you're trying to gain presidential powers; it's because you don't want people to know what you're doing with those powers.

“When I was writing the postscript to "Worse Than Watergate" I asked the Kerry campaign, off the record, why they had given Bush such a free pass on all this secrecy. And they said "It's a process issue." I said "Right, it's a process issue. Everything that's going on in that town is a process issue, and you're ignoring it." But they insisted that voters don't like process issues. I knew the opposite to be true, and I eventually found groundbreaking, empirical studies carried out by political scientists at [University of] Nebraska that showed how important process is to a large segment of American voters. You see, people don't need to know what a motion to recommit is; they understand at a gut level when they're getting screwed by the process. That was a great revelation and comfort to me.” Jamais Cascio has been musing on poor counter-insurgency measures as correlating strongley with a body undergoing auto-immune disease. = 9/12 and the “stupid” decade

I’ve been getting interesting nibbles about the topic that the Democrats should be making issue number one -- the relentless war being waged by the Bushite neocons against all skilled professionals in our government, but especially the U.S. Military. It is a topic that would cross all party lines and potentially devastate the monstrous cabal that has hijeacked conservatism.

But let me pause on that topic, long enought to take a different angle on our crisis. In his September 30 column “9/11 Is Over,” Thomas Friedman, one of the brightest but also most erratic and infuriating of pundits, said:

“9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.”

Well, well. Better late than never. Friedman sees much -- even suggestiong that “9/12” should symbolize our will to move on. And yet, has he seen enough? Does this mea cul;pa reveal genuine humility?

Thomas Friedman goes on: “It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.” This time, Friedman is cogent. I urge anyone and everyone to read the article. Much of what he says should be added to a growing list of Ostrich Ammo riffs to use on that decent-but-obstinate conservative uncle, who hasn’t yet admiited that the movement’s been hijacked. (Have you adopted your ostrich yet?) Alas, Friedman strays by focusing on stupidity-examples that amount to relative minutiae, like a decline in the number of tourists who are choosing America as a destination. Yes, that is telling; our diminishing world popularity translates directly into lost allies, declining influence, deteriorating wealth and faltering power to influence change. Still, tourism?

Even when Friedman speaks of our decaying infrastructure, deprived of investment in favor of futile “nation-building” in a faraway desert -- (whatever happened to America first?) -- I am less than fully moved. Because all of these things are second order effects, compared to the main show.

Indeed, I have been saying pretty much everything that you’ll find in Friedman’s piece, for three or four years. Back when he was among those hooked by Iraq War fever, I declared that “We (Americans) won the Terror War the very day that it began. Our victory It happened the moment supposedly-decadent Bostonians and New Yorkers, aboard flight UA 93, did what enemies of our civilization always find surprising -- they stood up.

“In their spontaneous eruption of grit, mental agility and sheer moral competence, those passengers showed what their ancestors did, after Lexington and Concord, Fort Sumter, and Pearl Harbor -- that attempts to terrify or intimidate our people would face a steep, uphill journey, resisted by average citizens at every turn. “Disproof-of-decadence is a test and a trial that each generation of Americans must pass. This time in fact, compared to other generations, we took care of the chore with remarkable efficiency and got off super-cheap.”

Of course it was a bit of a polemical reach to say “the war started and ended on the same day.” I suppose one might extend its duration a bit, to include the Retaliation. The overwhelmingly competent, fierce and surgically professional way that our armed forces, diplomatic corps and intelligence services collaborated with allies to topple the enemy Taliban regime -- in Afghanistan -- using operational plans mostly worked out during the Clinton Administration. (Do the math. Bush had little chance to meddle with an off-the-shelf scenario, only just enough time to say “go!”)

Certainly that display of the Powell Doctrine in action was enough to cause any likely foe to blanch and think twice about sponsoring terror against us, ever again. That is, if we had stopped there, declaring victory.

Indeed, at that point, both the Iranians and the Saudis began offering frantic olive branches! Both were turned down, for diametrically opposite reasons. Compare that situation to the way our military’s precious aura of invincibility has since been frittered away -- a once-daunting reputation, now transformed into an image of floundering futility. And that is only the surface of the demolition of our armed forces.

So, other than claiming that I was three years ahead of Friedman (on the other hand, he reaches three orders of magnitude as many people), what else can I complain about?

1) Has Thomas Friedman pondered in whose interest it has been, for us to spend the first part of the 21st Century “stupid?” The old Watergate phrase “follow the money” leads -- at minimum -- to one bald-faced Bushite practice. Using the word “emergency” to over-rule defense and homeland security contracting procedures, bypassing long-hallowed accountability procedures to avoid competitive bidding, leading to billions flowing to Bush family friends.

(Another piece of devastating “ostrich ammo” since it shows that the “party of free enterprise” despises competition. Alas, the liberal obsession with calling Iraq a “war over oil” has prevented them from noticing the real raid on our pockets.)

At maximum, following the trail of who has benefited will lead you to a certain group of people -- also Bush family friends -- who were the only civilians allowed to fly through American skies, on 9/12, while the rest of us were kept on the ground.

2) “Stupid” has many levels. Friedman seems to be pointing at something societal -- a pervasive, cultural, turning-away from the assertive confidence that used to characterize America. Is this why the lesson of flight UA 93 has been so thoroughly downplayed?

Indeed, that event wasn’t the only sign of powerful vibrance on that day! The behavior of citizens, in New York and Washington DC, was also superb, stepping in to fight fires, perform rescues, and replce lost professionals. Indeed, it was amateurs who performed the only actions that worked, on that day. Elaine Scarry of the Boston Globe, pointed this out. I have repeatedly called it the “Day of the Citizen.”

In effect, New Yorkers stood atop the rubble, turned to face east, and snapped: “Is that the best you got?” DOes that sound like a lack of confidence to you?

No, Friedman needs to take a closer look at his thesis -- (which seems, at the surface, to be a lot like Jimmy Carter’s whine about “malaise.”)

For one thing, on a cultural level, this mood of trepidation has never overwhelmed the parts of this nation that -- ironically -- remain in the cross hairs of any future terror attack. So-called “Blue America consists in large part of the cities that will inevitably bear the brunt, next time. Citizens in those cities have demanded -- and not timidly -- to be allowed to get back to business and back to the 21st Century, despite the danger! They’ve been vetoed, repeatedly, but that doesn’t mean they deserve Friedman’s diagnosis.

No. The drumbeat of fear -- justifying a permanent state of emergency -- has risen primarily from portions of the country and the population who seem the least at-risk. Is that odd? Just one more weird -- and hypocritical --aspect of “culture war.” 3) If, on the other hand, “stupid” is all about the mismanagement of a skilled civilization, then why have Thomas Friedman and his fellow pundits paid so little attention to the Bushites’ central obsession? To their relentless War Against Professionalism?

Subsuming the GOP War on Science and the oppression of the military officer corps, it also covers the campaign of intimidation and distraction that has kept the civil service, the law enforcement community, the FBI and intelligence community from doing their jobs -- uncovering corruption and shining light, the great disinfectant.

4) Friedman asks: “If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?”

The answer? For a problem to be fixed, it must be in the interests of those who are in power to fix it. Ideally, that should mean the people. But let’s not kid ourselves. Things have changed. A combination of gerrymandering and Diebold have rendered the vote relatively ineffective. That’s bad. But there is worse.

The restoration of the American class system has accelerated to a point where (just to offer one stinging example) the rich no longer fly first class. Hence, they do not share even a mild version of our pain, at the crowded, awful airports. The new lords avoid frisking and probing, simply by taking a limo ride to the charter or business jet terminals, where burgeoning luxury fleets whisk them about, subsidized by the rest of us.

(Note: a majority of “first class” passengers are now regular folks, bleeding off frequent flyer miles -- hence a steep decline in the quality of first class service, which has thereupon helped fuel the a vicious cycle, driving the rich elsewhere. The crux? Those with the most influence have little motivation to help solve our pain, since they simply avoid it.)

This is just one example of how a deteriorating situation will force moderate people like me -- who hated communism and believe in free enterprise -- to recall something important from history. That Adam Smith was the first “liberal” and he hated, above all, market-warping shenanigans by “cronies of the king.”

American liberalism is not currently as radical as Fox News commentators paint it to be. But if this goes on, it is sure to rediscover its roots. And the middle class will rediscover theirs.


See a sterling example of what I have been calling for... a retired military officer taking on a neocon jerk, straight-on! have been presiding at the American Enterprise Institute for 21 years. Today I am announcing that I will step down before the end of 2008. The search for a successor has begun--this being AEI, it will be a competitive search, and we expect a happy conclusion long before the target date. I hope to remain at the institute, if my successor will have me, pursuing my own research and writing. Policy think-tanks such as AEI have become important centers of applied scholarship, and friend and foe alike say we are terribly influential. But our position at the crossroads of politics and academics draws a certain amount of fire from both directions, and the reasons for our success are not widely understood. Here is my kiss-and-tell.

Sorry, but I could not allow the apologia by Christopher Demuth to stand, without offering a reply. His self-excusing polemic is like the captain of the Exxon Valdez claiming that he thought it was a bottle of cough medicine.

No, much worse. If America is now in the throes of Civil War Part III, it is in large part due to plans fostered at AEI.

Plans that did not involve any of the surface rationalizations of supporting capitalism and free enterprise. Noting in our lifetimes has so undermined comptetitive entermprise in America as the relentless campaign to warp markets with secrecy, insider manipulation, monopolization and the use of government as a tool to deliver largesse directly from the taxpayers into the maws of one hundred aristocratic families.

Indeed, were he to appear today, Adam Smith would recognize the putsch that Demuth helped plan as a classic aristocratic-crony use of status to quash competition and steal from the polity.

Case in point: the use of "emergency" clauses to bypass normal US law regarding the allocation of government contracts has resulted in the LEAST competitive contracting environment since the 1870s, in which a quarter of a trillion dollars has simply been given, by fiat and without supervision, to a dozen or so Bush family friends. (Oh, they have sent a few trucks and men as fig leaf efforts to deliver services, in Iraq.)

Anonymous said...

Well, two of the Democrats on the Judiciary committee are caving on Bush's newest AG, so we're gonna keep on torturing folks. Great job at Senate Leader, Dianne Feinstein. And a hearty thanks to Senator Schumer, too, the other asshat.

I despair at these fools, who can't make the fact that we're torturing people, many of them innocent, into a damning attack on the Bush administration, instead they run scared because they're afraid of being called "soft on terror". Or, worse, I suppose, they actually believe the "24" bullshit the Bush administration whips out.

To paraphrase Katherine, over at Obsidian Wings, who's been working on this for years, The Democratic party doesn't represent me or care about the issues I care about. But the only people in government who represent me or care about the issues I care about are Democrats.

We can has new Democratic leadership now?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see how Snowball reacts to the Gubru memetic rootkit that was rumoured to be in Kate Bush's Aerial.