Sunday, November 18, 2007

Science n' The Future

Forbes-The-FutureForbes Magazine recently interviewed a number of futurists, including Stuart Brand, Rudy Rucker, Stephan Wolfram (and me!) on the topic of The Future.

Cool and loads of fun, the Dresden Codak online comic strip deals with matters like time travel and singularities.

Cool and part of the solution... the “$100 laptop” project seems to be coming into shape at last, with a robust and adaptable - wifi networked, low power and high-functioning laptop for children in the Developing World. And only off-target on price by a factor of two. It will make you salivate for one yourself. So buy one while buying one for a poor kid, in a special matchup program. "Give One & Get One" for $399.

TransparentSocietyA building built for voyeurism... Not only will the building’s glass walls allow W residents to see, and be seen by, passers-by on the street below, but Mr. Fletcher and Ms. Lillo have created peekaboo features within each apartment, like a window between the kitchen and the bedroom, and a bathroom that’s a glass cube, allowing residents to expose themselves to their roommates and family members, too. Mr. Transparency quails.

From the Transparency Front: a town in the UK that provided access to the CCTV feeds to citizens. “The scheme that gave residents of Shoreditch links to local CCTV cameras through their TV sets had better viewing figures than Channel 4's Big Brother...The Information Commissioner had ordered the homesnoop CCTV be handicapped by low resolution to prevent the watchers from identifying the people they were watching. "You couldn't recognise specifics, but you could see if there was trouble happening or if someone was roaming about. It made people feel safer," said Hatwal. "Not a single resident came back and raised [CCTV] as an issue," he said. "It was the defining thing that made people say, 'Oh yes, I want that', and they wanted to see more detail [in the CCTV images]."

A new kind of lamp/bulb has no electrodes or filaments and may last hundreds of hours, while emitting light at 50% efficiency. (Vs 5% for incandescent or 15% for fluorescent.)

See the new Paul Allen Array which takes the SETI Project to new levels. I am glad!

Galaxy-Garden-lombergSpeaking of which, renowned space artist Jon Lomberg - a colleague in our discussions over the METI conroversy -- has just established a “Galaxy Garden” in Hawaii, that illustrates many features of the Milky Way on a scale of 83 light years per inch. A flower might represent an entire star-forming nebula. Way cool.

Back on Earth.... see an article about using High-Temp plasmas to neutralize toxics.

If there are any lingering doubts as to whether the age of oil is nearing its end, the International Energy Agency has put them to rest and made it clear that only a massive and immediate investment in sustainable energy will prevent a global crisis.

When matter gets swallowed by a black hole, it could fall into another universe contained inside the black hole, or get trapped inside a wormhole-like connection to a second black hole, a new study suggests.

Metaverse-singularityRead Jamais Cascio’s essay about Openness and the Metaverse Singularity. “The people who have embraced the possibility of a singularity should be working at least as hard on making possible a global inclusion of interests as they do on making the singularity itself happen.” What a wise guy.

Scientists in Taiwan are reporting new insights into why diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of obesity. Their study focuses on healthful natural antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Chalk up another predictive “hit”? Ultra-capacitors promise to store energy far better soon, supplementing or even replacing batteries in many uses.

The world's smallest hard drives have already shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, but nanoscale computing may soon make that achievement look elephantine.

A new startup called YourStreet is bringing hyper-local information to its users by collecting news stories and placing them on its map-based interface, down to the nearest street corner.

Last week's announcement by Shai Agassi, a former SAP executive based in Palo Alto, that he's raised $200 million for Better Place, a company that will try to revolutionize the electric car industry, is the latest sign of this region's growing role in one of the hottest sectors of the automotive industry.

Some scientists speculate that a mirror system in people forms the basis for social behavior, for our ability to imitate, acquire language, and show empathy and understanding. It also may have played a role in the evolution of speech. Mirror neurons were so named because, by firing both when an animal acts and when it simply watches the same action... The whole article is fascinating, but here’s the crucial part: that autistic children do not lack all mirror activity or ability to mentally mirror other people. Rather, in a more complex situation, they can mirror some of the time, but for more restricted groups of people, excluding those they don’t know well.

“This evidence for normal mirror neuron activity in autistic children may indicate that mirror system dysfunction in these cases reflects an impairment in identifying with and assigning personal significance to unfamiliar people and things, Oberman suggests. Whether deficits in relating to unfamiliar people that are characteristic of autism are the cause or the result of a dysfunctional mirror neuron system is unclear.” Of course I ponder how this will turn out relating to a longtime interest - the roots of our capacity for empathy, altruism or pragmatic negotiation with others.

What? No politics?

Sometimes we need reminders that civilization is continuing. And that even if a conspiratorial cabal does continue ruining our way of government, it does not have to be allowed to ruin Enlightenment Civilization or our basic way of life.

 We can still keep it going, by exploring, by cooperating decently and competing fairly, and by being ourselves.


David McCabe said...

Great stuff!

Aren't hard-drives on the way out anyways? iPods and now even small laptops are switching to larger and larger arrays of non-volatile RAM, which will be better for most purposes once the price comes down.

Your Forbes link is broken. The correct URL is:

David McCabe said...

Another comic you might like is XKCD. Here's a recent favorite of mine:

Tony Fisk said...

Hard drives, flash etc. is a matter of competition.

Hard drives always seem to just maintain the lead in terms of price and storage, so far...

I was hoping to participate in the G1G1, then found that it is for US and Canada only

(Hrmph! I appreciate the 'third world divide' irony.. but hrmph!)

Anonymous said...

XKCD is awesome.

Anonymous said...

I work in an industry that dearly loves the idea of solid state "hard drives," but the economics have to be right. (One of the servers I run tests on has 192 x 73 GB drives!)

As promising as solid state drives are, I continue to be astonished by the longevity and progress of spinning-platter hard drive technology.

On Saturday I bought a 300 GB drive for $85. I paid maybe three times that for a 40 MB drive in 1988.

The only thing that will ever go on that new drive: Digitized TV programs. My home-brew TiVO-like box will shortly be capturing HDTV programs. Big fat files . . .

David Brin said...

XKCD is, indeed, fun.

Stefan, do you have a recipe somewhere how to make a homebuilt Tivo? Something my son & I can slap together?

Actually, we are going shopping at Frys to get parts for his first build-from-(sort-of)-scratch computer with a doible-bottable pair of hard drives, so he can use either XP or Linux. So we're open to recommendations on everything, from how-to sites to mid-price graphics cards.

Re the disk vs flash war - the founder of San Disk - Eli Harari - once had an office next to mine at Hughes Aircraft. He'd be my sixth billionaire, if he ever answered an email. But does knowing billionaires make any diff?

Well... "cuz" Sergey gave me a card that's good for a HUNDRED free searches on Google!

Unknown said...

...a doible-bottable pair of ...

Oi! There's a near critical-mass of typos...

The general rule of thumb is to install Windows first, then linux which usually comes with a boot-loader to select the OS. (as you can imagine, MS tries to stomp on anything already in the boot sector).

You don't really need two separate disks, just leave some empty space when you partition it. The ubuntu partition manager (and probably others) will even resize an XP partition if you forget (but not vista!).

If you want to go nVidia, I think EVGA makes good (& well priced) cards. (And the San Diego Fry's is usually well-stocked.)

Check out Tom's Hardware guide for ideas on low- mid- and high-end DIY systems.

David Brin said...

The Obama/Google interview is impressive. HE is impressive.

And I am depressed. Is there any way we can blend Richardson's experience with Obama's clarity of purpose and charisma, with Hillary's connections and Clark's generalized sense of adulthood?

Ideally, Obama will be Secretary of State in two years and get all the seasoning he needs.

Oh, to have Al Gore BACK as Veep.

Heck, I am infavor of giving ALL the current dem canidates high cabinet positions, while picking someone totally innocuous to be actual president. Someone who won't feed Culture War and will simply let all the smarty-pantses do their jobs.

To that end... just having a mature adult at the top, who can help everybody else do well, mediate disputes, while soothing the national mood and not drawing culture lightning, I'd pick Wesley Clark, hands down.

But hell, during the Vietnam Era, I was part of the "draft Walter Cronkite" movement. So what do I know?

And who am I - of all people - to recommend that "adulthood" should be our top criterion?

David Brin said...

Aw heck.

I like Ike.

bfaul said...

"If there are any lingering doubts as to whether the age of oil is nearing its end, the International Energy Agency has put them to rest and made it clear that only a massive and immediate investment in sustainable energy will prevent a global crisis."

Any plans to comment on this subject at length? This is becoming an obsessive topic for me because I don't see a viable alternate source that can replace our transportation energy needs in any realistic way in time to prevent a meltdown of society. The stuff that's been suggested is still vaporware, and I think we are approaching the point where the economy will start to spiral downward. Can we transfer over before fossil fuels A) become so scarce that the infrastructure change is not possible or B) the economy becomes so chaotic that it cannot sustain a national program to develop technology that uses alternate sources?

I think that this is THE issue of the next 20 years, surpassing even global warming in urgency, although of course, the two are closely intertwined.

David McCabe said...

Here's the URL of the Obama interview that Dr. Brin may be referring to:

I find that usually has the best prices on computer parts, and their service has been great in my experience. Although I'm a sold-out Apple fanboy these days--Linux is too much hassle, and sadly, despite so much human effort going into it, the community doesn't seem capable of creating a great, unified desktop experience.

It takes some radical geniuses like the ones at OLPC to break out of the horrible cycle create something great.

Point of advice for people making fun, graphical programs (such as Dr. Brin and son?): If your hardware supports OpenGL... use it! It's awesome! You won't have to worry about performance anymore. Doing something expensive? Just tell the GPU to do it.

Anonymous said...

I sent DB a detailed email about putting together homebrew TiVO-like systems.

If others are interested, just go to either of these sites:

I lay around the house last weekend, nursing a cold and watching several months worth of Robot Chicken and Venture Brothers episodes that I'd saved up. Progress!

Woozle said...

Every useful bit of Linux information I've had time to document and at-least-slightly-organize is here (or linked from that page, anyway). (I should place an ad in the personals: single ad-free wiki site seeks community. Don't knock, just start editing.)

From my own experience, Linux is slowly getting there. It is already a helluva lot easier and nicer to install than Windows ever was -- until you get to the sticking points:

- those devices whose manufacturers haven't seen fit to divulge their hardware specs so Linux drivers can be written

- software requiring the use of proprietary formats (MP3, DVD...) whose owners want royalties (yes, you can encode MP3s in Linux, but you have to know about the quasi-legal Universe repository...)

- web browser plug-ins (mainly a complaint from the kids, who do a lot of gaming; things like Google Video and YouTube work fine).

You can take a hard drive whose Linux was installed on one computer, attach the hard drive to a different system, and it will boot and find all the supported devices. Try doing that with any version of Windows.

In any case, it's getting easier and easier to use, and Windows strikes me as getting harder and harder to use (and fix). We use Ubuntu for our main machines here at home, and Win98 for those few necessary programs that won't run nicely in WINE, and we're definitely not looking back.

David McCabe said...

... until you want to cut and paste. Once you see how nice an operating system can be, you realize that Windows isn't the competition.

But let's not get into a protracted OS argument. :-)

Anonymous said...

A very interesting rant / argument about how approach Global Warming:

The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See. (The title is a come-on.)

. . . and a follow-up, after the author listened to arguments and objections:

How It All Ends

Anonymous said...

Regarding running out of oil:

I could be wrong, but I've heard that there's plenty of uranium and thorium around. If we had to replace every kilowatt generated by fossil fuels with one generated by nuclear power plants, we probably could do it. Yes, it would cost a fortune, but many other things cost a fortune as well.

Anonymous said...

Switching over to nuclear power isn't a panacea. Even if you manage to replace every coal and oil plant you'll still need a way to fuel cars, trucks, trains, and planes. That means either hydrogen or electricity.

That will take a long time, political commitment, buy-in from industry, and a lot of R&D and refit dollars.

The leadership and willpower isn't there; right now we're having trouble convincing car manufacturers to raise fuel efficiency standards by a few points. Sure, Detroit makes a big deal about their hydrogen power concept cars, but really, they're still in the business of selling S.U.V.s.

Anonymous said...

Re: oil/transportation

1) reinvest in rail. Mag-lev is going up in China and has been running in Germany brilliantly (one accident that I know of). Rail could do far more than it currently does, reducing the truck and air fleet.

2) Accept that suburbia is problematic due to resources required for infrastructure and should be discouraged in future. Again, rail comes in handy.

3) Enough with the SUVs.

4) Re-regulate the energy industry and be more proactive re: investent in and subsidization of renewable energy (shades of 'Earth' again!).

5) Part of the problem with oil/gas is that aside from power and transportation, they are also nylon, plastic, fertilizer, etc. This would be the biggest pinch. Not sure exactly how that hurdle would be jumped.

Woozle said...

Two unrelated comments:

(1) My conservatism ostrich is also a bit of an ostrich on the subjects of global warming and oil dependence. He seems somewhat mystified that Europe is already passing GW-reduction laws when there are still "serious doubts" about the theory (I think that was the phrase he used); he seems to believe that it's all somehow politically-motivated. He's also convinced that hybrid vehicles can't be all that great because they aren't very popular in Europe, where gasoline is much more expensive than here.

(2) OSX is undoubtedly a great system; Apple does provide the only serious competition to Microsoft in the personal desktop arena, which is especially vital right now. I just wish they weren't so closed-platform about everything; they could easily be more awful than Microsoft if they ever achieved dominance. Microsoft is doing their best to close up their platform, having made their billions from its openness -- but Apple started out closed. (To their credit, they have opened up a little since then; any indications that they might go further?)

David McCabe said...

Not really sure what you mean. "Open" is a pretty nebulous term... but Apple is the one releasing open-source software, providing their developer tools for free, etc. etc. Obviously they have to keep a lot of their best technology closed in order to keep selling hardware (or do they?). Personally I think it's worth paying a bunch of smart people to put together a coherent and featureful platform for me to use and develop on, even if I don't get the source.

Sorry if this is too off-topic.

Anonymous said...

Boy I love Dresden Codac a great example of what a guy in his early 20’s can do with an internet connection.

As for going nuclear if we use breeder reactors we have 250 years worth of fuel. Thats if we generated 100% of our electricy with nucular. Available from previously mined U235 assuming we stop wasting the stuff in Iraq. But Chernobyl was a breeder reactor and they produce lots of weapons grade plutonium.

Unknown said...

Something that astounds me is Detroit claiming that if California increases their fuel efficiency standards, it will "kill the domestic automotive industry".

But, presumably, not the imported vehicle market ...

... so why, exactly, is it that Detroit can't do what Japan can do?

Woozle said...

My Apple knowledge may well be out of date; if they're releasing open source tools, then that is another step in the right direction. Apple may have made significant progress of which I'm unaware. So...

What I mean by "open" is addressed by questions like these: Can I now run OSX on a machine I put together (or bought elsewhere), or do I have to buy the OS and the hardware as a package? If the hardware breaks, can I buy replacement parts from my local non-brand-specific PC parts store? Are there hardware diagnostic tools readily available for OSX? If I lose track of my OSX installation CD, can I download a new copy off the internet without buying it again?

Or, in general: How much does OSX tie the user's hands, preventing "citizen empowerment" within the domain of the OSX-controlled computer?

David McCabe said...

Dresden Codak is one of those things that makes me wonder how I can do more with my life.

Any suggestions?

Unknown said...

Did everyone catch the ghost of Feynman in the latest Dresden Codak?

He looks a bit more... intense than in the famous picture, though.

Anonymous said...

Oh, great. Another online comic to follow.

Anonymous said...

Here is an alternative to the Manchurian Candidate theory:
From John Brown former member of the State Department

"For both Cheney and Rumsfeld, it was the imperial capital, not the empire itself that really mattered. There, "war" would mean the loosing of a commander-in-chief presidency unchecked by Congress, courts, anything -- which meant power in the only world that mattered to them. War in the provinces was their ticket to renewed prominence within DC's self-absorbed biosphere, a kind of lost space station far removed from Mother Earth, and a place where they had longstanding, unfinished accounts -- both personal and political -- to settle"

From an article in Tom's Dispatch

Anonymous said...

Dang the link didn't work here it is

David Brin said...

Detroit is led by troglodytic dinosaurs who should long ago have realized that their golf buddies in the oil companies are NOT their friends.

There can be no greater proof that big-corporate America is not into enterprise/competitive capitalism. They mouth the catechism, but in fact behave like feudal lords, with the same fixation on game-rigging, rather than competing creatively.

If Adam Smith were alive today, he would recognize the rent-seeking cronies-of-the-king who have always been the chief enemies of free and creatiove markets, far deadlier than socialism ever was. He would call for the arrest and forcible exile of all the top 10,000 golf buddies, so that our markets and companies could recover their verve and truly compete, once again.

I would not go as far as he would. But note, I do not oppose corporatists for socialist reasons. I oppose them because I support free-enterprise. When libertarians get that concept through their thick skulls, they will finally stand for something in this culture. Freedom.

As for ostriches and global warming...

I am seeing the same "migration of dogma" among my own ostriches. Not one of them can be made to notice that they have been led by the nose to:
(1) reject the idea that the Earth is warming at all,
(2) admit it is warming but it won't affect our lives,
(3) it WILL affect everything (the US Navy is planning for an ice-free arctic), but there's no proof it's human-generated and there's nothing that can be done, so anyone who wants to act has some biased agenda.

There are cogent responses. But they have to be devastatingly short, sharp shocks.

i) Offer a $100 bet that he cannot come up with a scenario in which any group of "eco-nuts" stands to make more than 1% as much from CO2 reduction, as the oil companies stand to benefit from delay and maintaining the status quo.

This is a powerful GENERAL TECHNIQUE. Wagers really focus an ostrich's attention. Money matters to them. So does hypocrisy. The essential point is "you seem happy to bet with our future, based on arm-wavings. But if you are so sure, you really ought to be willing to put real money on it."

ii) Skewer him with "WHY are you guys squirming so much, on this issue? WHAT'S THE WORST THAT WILL HAPPEN, IF THE CLIMATE CHANGE LIBERALS GET THEIR WAY?"

You seem to be afraid that... we'll all... get... more... efficient?

That's what most of us are asking for. Investing in research and standards and market forces that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, make our industries and vehicles more efficient, and push forward science. And this is to be fought... why?

(If he raises some scarecrow of extreme lefty hyper-regulatory/confiscatory nonsense, tell him YOU would help to fight such crap. But, because his side refuses to negotiate, you are left having to ally yourself with those lefty flakes, for the sake of our kids.)

iii) Final hypocrisy... twelve years of neocons screaming "We need more research..." while axing and cutting and eviscerating the research every chance they get!

And they dare to accuse their opponents of ideological illogic? feh

Anonymous said...

"You seem to be afraid that... we'll all... get... more... efficient?"

Remember that you're dealing with people for whom efficiency and thrift are signs of weakness. Status-seekers, not problem solvers.

Also people who are afraid of change, and can't imagine things being different possibly being better.

Tony Fisk said...

As a change from online comics of note, I'd like to point out Stephen Fry's blog, and to an entry where he tries to make sense of the heated discussion he had with a climate change denialist masquerading as an ostrich. He wasn't very happy with the outcome, and how he reconstructs the reasoning is worth reading. It also makes an interesting portrait of the effect indignation can have on the course of the debate!
(It helps that Fry is a very intelligent, witty and expressive writer)

What else... oh yes!

With the usual 'wait five years' disclaimer:
Human skin cells have been reprogrammed by two groups of scientists to mimic embryonic stem cells with the potential to become any tissue in the body.

Just what you need for Christmas:
An exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

Unknown said...

Alas, hard drives have "been on the way out" since around 1985. Pournelle predicted the death of big iron spinning metal drives in favor of silicon drives every year until Byte went under. Like the wheel, I doubt the spinning-metal hard drive will ever go away. Just too cheap and efficient.

Woozle asked if there isn't some way OS X can be put on homebrew hardware. Erm, well, uh, basically...yeah:

For recording TV shows, try MythTV for linux. Ubuntu makes it a snap.

Lisi's "exceptionally simple theory of everything" sounds promising. The kicker is how you break the symmetry to get observable expectation values. He hasn't figured that out yet. The devil's in the details. Lots of these great-sounding theories of everything (starting with Kaluza-Klein Theory) have been derailed by blowups in the calculations when you try to combine gravity with quantum mechanics.

The news about mouse skin cells turned into stem cells likewise sounds promising, but I wouldn't bet on it in humans anytime soon. These new "breakthroughs" always seem to get lost in translation from animals to humans. Miracle cures that work great in test tubes seem to do nothing in the human body. Homo sapiens is just a very very complicated organism.

If Micro$haft keeps going the way way they've been going with Vista, everyone with any sense with either be running linux or OS X. Vista is the worst disaster I've seen since Windows ME.

Why inflict XP on your son? Tell him to install WIndows 2000 Pro if he must install Windows -- Win 2K does essentially everything XP does (except for remote desktop and smartcards) and requires half the RAM and runs twice as fast.

Someone said linux is too much hassle. If you think so, you should try Xandros Deluxe. This is a truly no-hassle install. They've even paid for licenses for the mp3 codecs, so everything works right out of the box. Xandros Deluxse is pretty amazing. I've never had a machine that didn't work perfectly with Xandros after the install. Ubuntu 7.10 is a pretty painless install too, though. In 7.10 everything just seems to work, except mp3 and DVD codecs, which you get just by clicking on "install" from the repositories. They've even got near-bulletproof auto-detect of graphics hardware so now you don't ever have to edit an X windows conf file.

Naum said...


OS X is built on F/OSS - they (dodging flames from Linux lovers, though I still *heart* Linux…) are the first to successfully bring Unix to the desktop.

No, it's not open in the sense that you can build a box and put OS X on it (well, if your hacker skills are up to it, maybe…). But OS X comes with a great deal of F/OSS built in - from gcc (C compiler), Perl, Ruby (including Ruby on Rails), Python, Apache, mySql, PHP, etc.…

Even minus the developer tools, one can still install Linux/*nix type packages (MacPorts I have used) and use X11 (which is included with OS X) to run the Gimp, Inkscape, Open Office, other open source applications…

On "tieing user hand", OS X is far better in this regard than Windows. Again, it's not as free as Linux but it does present the best of both worlds to many who arn't blessed with the time or no longer desire the inclination to tinker — Unix underneath with polished UI on top…

Also, if you want to develop Apple (Cocoa) applications, the developer tools (which are built on top of FSF gcc) are provided free with the OS, including XCode IDE along with the GUI part that allows you to layout your application panels/windows…

My Apple knowledge may well be out of date; if they're releasing open source tools, then that is another step in the right direction. Apple may have made significant progress of which I'm unaware. So...

What I mean by "open" is addressed by questions like these: Can I now run OSX on a machine I put together (or bought elsewhere), or do I have to buy the OS and the hardware as a package? If the hardware breaks, can I buy replacement parts from my local non-brand-specific PC parts store? Are there hardware diagnostic tools readily available for OSX? If I lose track of my OSX installation CD, can I download a new copy off the internet without buying it again?

Or, in general: How much does OSX tie the user's hands, preventing "citizen empowerment" within the domain of the OSX-controlled computer?

DED said...

Heh, I was rooting for Clark to get the nod in 2004, too. :)

Anyway, pardon my ignorance, but could someone point me to a FAQ or old post that explains why Mr. Brin is "persona non grata in SETI Institute circles." I don't want to waste someone's time rehashing old stuff.

Anonymous said...

Queen guitarist Brian May is the new chancellor of Liverpool's John Moores University.

He was awarded his doctorate in astrophysics in August. He began the PhD in 1974 but ditched it when Queen's fortunes took off, returning to his studies last year. His his Ph.D. thesis is entitled "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud"

May will start the job as honorary head of the university in February, taking over from Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair.

His duties will include presiding over graduation ceremonies and representing the university on special occasions.

Tony Fisk said...

ded, I suspect David is joking when he says he's persona non grata in SETI circles. In a nutshell, I think he tends to take on the role of contrarian in many debates and, like Cassandra, gets to be viewed as a bit of nuisance sometimes.

wrt SETI, he has espoused the view that there is no reason to believe that ET is a benevolent entity, and that we should not be blithely yelling 'hallooo!' into the darkness.
(read more here)

I'd heard that Brian May had resumed his thesis (which apparently hadn't been snatched up in the interim by someone else), but not that he'd been granted it. Or that he'd promptly been made a chancellor

It brings to mind some words by Mark Knopfler:
I should have learned/ to play the gui-tar, I should have learned/ to play them drums...

I thought I had posted this, but with political lamp smouldering, may I point out a whistleblower:
Bush 'involved' in CIA leak case
A former White House press secretary [Scott McLellan] has said the US president was involved in misinforming the public over the leaking of a CIA agent's identity.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Linux and OSX: Yes, they're great, but can I play [insert popular new game here] on them?

Tony Fisk said...

Doug S:

umm, WINE?

(I'm not much of a player, but I believe Quake works on Linux. So, I suspect the barriers are political rather than technical)

And some clever folk have managed to get Linux working on the XBox.

Woozle said...

Partly just to prove that I'm not blindly loyal to Linux, and partly so nobody gets misled...

A lot of Windows stuff won't run under WINE. In fact, I haven't been able to get anything really useful to run under it. This includes Microsoft Access -- whose failure to work under WINE means that I've had to spend the last year or more (realtime... maybe a few hundred work-hours, ballpark) gradually migrating the database functions of my online store over to Linux-native tools in order to rescue it from the clutches of Windows-dependency.

(I'm told Access can be run, but I've spent some time on the problem with no notable luck.)

The other Nearly Indispensible tools I use in Windows -- PaintShop Pro, CoolEdit Pro, and Endicia's "Dazzle" postage printer -- also won't run. (GIMP is great, but PSP has the edge in usability.)

I'll also mention Qemu, just because someone is bound to: most Windows stuff works in it, but of course it is rather slow; Qemu itself also randomly decides not to run.

I could go on, but I didn't want to turn this into Chaos Manor ;-) .

DED said...

ded, I suspect David is joking when he says he's persona non grata in SETI circles. In a nutshell, I think he tends to take on the role of contrarian in many debates and, like Cassandra, gets to be viewed as a bit of nuisance sometimes.

Thank you, Tony. I know that Mr. Brin is on the Board of Advisers to The Planetary Society, the outfit that rescued SETI from NASA when gov't funding dried up. So, the whole thing left me a bit confused. I'd imagine that those advisory board meetings would be interesting to listen in on.

wrt SETI, he has espoused the view that there is no reason to believe that ET is a benevolent entity, and that we should not be blithely yelling 'hallooo!' into the darkness.

Well, that certainly runs contrary to some of the idealists that make up TPS. :D

And I'd have to agree with him. Fermi's Paradox may be the result of something sinister.

David McCabe said...

I got Solitaire to run in WINE once, but it took all day.

Zorgon: "works perfectly" for some value of "perfectly". I take it you mean that the basic features of the hardware were available. But as of a year ago on Ubuntu, cut and paste was still fragile. Cut. And paste.

And something much more fun than OS banter!

matthew said...

The plasma garbage "converter" is really spiffy. My little corner of the engineering world is in using plasma to etch PCB's. We use our plasma etchers to do all sorts of little "cleanups" that were never imagined by the original manufacturers. Good stuff. I know Sandia Labs was working on using plasma for toxic waste cleanup a few years ago... Looks like someone took that idea and ran with it.

David Brin said...

Actually, it is only the very central core bunch of SETI folks who are miffed at me. And of course, it is because of my contrarian tendencies to poke at even friends.

(Why do you think I am so fanatically loyal to Enlightenment Civilization? Every other kind would haver throttled me, by now!)

I have long boosted SETI, written extensively about contact, and served on the committee that drafted the "Seti Protocols."

On the other hand, I've been frank to point out some ways in which that core community has become insular, self-referential, assumption-ridden and ... yes... dogmatically dishonest, in recent years. The lengths to which they have gone, to isolate themselves from colleagues in other disciplines, should have long ago embarrassed honest scientists.

We are seeking a major scientific conference that might be willing to host a debate or discussion of the issues at hand. We've applied to the AAAS... and heard nothing. At this point I must assume they won't host our session. Any other ideas?

Unknown said...

Doug S. asked if he could run Windows games on linux. Alas, no, despite WINE (a Windows emulator), not really. That is one drawback of linux. If you want to run pretty much any Windows game, you'll still need Win XP. The good news is you can dual-boot it with linux.

Also, Windows boasts a raft of niche specialized software that linux won't run. Stuff like AutoCAD and Nuendo (a high-end audio multitrack recording program) and Adobe Premiere (video editing) and Adobe After Effects (video compositions & SFX) and so on. If you run a small business you'll need special-purpose software like Dentix, designed to automate a dentist's office, or Yardie, a program for managing real estate. Linux still can't run these programs and has nothing really equivalent. (Cinelarra isn't a patch on Adobe Premiere + After Effects, Ardour isn't even close to Nuendo, Inkscape isn't a replacement for Adobe Illustrator, etc.)

Aside from games and these kinds of special-purpose programs, though, linux is excellent. It's much better than Windows for anything internet-related...either surfing or hosting websites.

Naum mentioned a lot of plusses of OS X, but he didn't discuss the one big one -- OS X just looks and feels beautiful. It's superbly well designed. OS X is the best-looking OS with the easiest and most intuitive feel and operation of any OS that I know of today. I've customized Ubuntu to look as much as possible like OS X (not hard to do). Not the same, but it still looks and acts much nicer than Windows. In OS X the OS has global access to info so when you enter your name in one place, OS X knows enough to put that in your address book and everywhere else that you would otherwise have to enter it by hand. Everything in OS X has been carefully thought out. It's a really lovely operating system.

Speaking of tech stuff, Esquire has a neat list of ideas that could change the world.

Encouraging in these dark times of cops going berserk tasering innocent bystanders to death and giant terrorist corporations like Monsanto impoverishing third world farmers with weapons of mass agricultural destruction like their "terminator" seed technology.

Unknown said...

Zorgon: Your Esquire link appears to not work.

Is this what you wanted to link to?

Anonymous said...

Referencing the front page...

"Decide for yourself if something happened, at some point, to transform a guy who once loved civilization (and us) into just another grouchy bazillionaire."

Yeah. She left him.

Anonymous said...

More from the transparency front.

Did some professional stand up?

sociotard said...

Say what you will about people with a hankering for secrecey and a love of the look-back view, sometimes they can make cool things.

The stunning temples secretly carved out below ground by 'paranormal' eccentric in Italy

Unknown said...

(Sigh) Nothing ever works in computers. Nothing. Ever. Works.
That's why I used straight URLS instead of a href= code, so back to the straight URLs.

No, the Esquire article I tried to
link to is this one: best-brightest-2007/sixideas1207

Someone on balloon-juice mentioned that the dividing line in American society used to be between right and left, but now it's between the sane and the insane. Case in point:

David Brin said...

Zechariah, those underground Italian temples are
just amazing. The thing that is coolest about it (as interpreted from the joyful photos and the article) is that the utopian community that built it all seems to have very few cultlike traits. Just artsy new-agey-ness that is totally okay, fun, and kind of sweet.

Doug, thanks for the news about Wikileaks. I will lead a posting with that one.

David Brin said...

Zrogon, please type in the link again, sigh.

Woozle said...

Zorgon's original link took me to an Esquire page with the correct title, but no content (even after clearing away the floating ad).

A search for "best brightest 2007" came up with the link Michael gave, which certainly sounds like the right article.

Perhaps Esquire moved the article since Zorgon bookmarked it?

Anonymous said...

The straight URL I entered the 2nd time takes me right to the article. If it doesn't take you there, Esquire may be playing games with AJAX that OS X doesn't undertand. The web has turned to crap ever since AJAX got going.

Anyway, here's the text. It's a short article:

Best & Brightest 2007
Six Ideas That Will Change the World

They are making orange peel plastic and robots that can heal themselves. They are six researchers with six ideas that will one day change the world.

1. Breaking Down the Firewall

Internet censorship is the book burning of the modern age, denying as much as a third of the world's population access to news and information.
But a new brand of activists -- or "hacktivists" -- are using their computer expertise to help people stranded in Web-censored countries abroad (and corporate offices and military bases at home) jump the firewall. The key innovation, developed by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, is a software program called Psiphon. In the latest version (due out this winter), prospective users, or aid groups, contact the Citizen Lab to receive passwords and Web links. Once signed in, users are then patched directly into the Psiphon network of servers. A search bar pops up on their own screen, and they can surf the Web freely. All censors see is an unfamiliar IP address, which could be for anything from a bank transaction to an eBay sale.
According to Ronald Deibert, the lab's director, the biggest threat to the system is censors who might sign up for the service to learn Psiphon's IP addresses and block them. But the lab has developed a high-tech shell game to counter this measure. As soon as one address is blocked, Psiphon assigns it to another region and puts in a new one. When the next one gets discovered, Psiphon again swaps in a new one. The process can go on indefinitely, until the censors grow tired or the firewalls come down.

2. Electronic Skin

As fast and small as our electronics and computers are today, there is one major drawback. They are hard and rigid and fragile. Completely the opposite of what Stéphanie Lacour is making: bendable, stretchable circuits that will one day be used to make electronic skin and malleable computers.
In 2002, as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton, Lacour found a way to make metal stretch by embedding it in rubbery silicone. Doing so allowed it to expand to twice its original length without breaking. The next step was building a flexible circuit. Lacour, now heading her own lab at Cambridge University, did this by consolidating all the hard microcomponents of the circuit into tiny rigid "safe zones," which are networked to one another by stretchable metal. The final product is a silicone patch the size of a stick of gum that bends and twists like a rubber band.
The most obvious application is for prostheses. Imagine a computerized hand that can feel heat from a stove or a lover. Lacour hopes to develop the first such prosthetic glove in two to five years. Initially, it will need to be hooked up to a tiny computer to alert the wearer to various sensations. The next step is a system that mimics the shape of neurons and relays signals directly to the brain, enabling the wearer to process tactile information in real time.
But those without prostheses will benefit from Lacour's innovation as well. She envisions T-shirts embedded with electronics that can detect if a baby has stopped breathing and a foldable GPS-enabled map. Then there are the crazier, more fun ideas Lacour dreams up on a daily basis -- things like interactive tattoos that might change from a lion to a tiger to a skull, depending upon your mood or outfit.

3. The Pollution Magnet

Eighty-two thousand people die from cancer in Bangladesh every year, many due to arsenic poisoning. But building upon her discovery of a way to get rust nanoparticles to bind to arsenic, Vicki Colvin has invented a new, astonishingly easy way to clean the water supply: Sauté a teaspoon of rust in a mixture of oil and lye, which breaks down the rust into nano-sized pieces. Retrieve the rust particles with a household magnet. Then immerse the rust-covered magnet into a pot of contaminated water. Pull out the arsenic. The system is up to a hundred times more efficient than existing methods, and requires no electricity or manufacturing infrastructure, so even the poorest of villagers can use it.
Depending upon government regulations, Colvin's extraction system should go global in as few as five years. Yet ultimately, Colvin, a professor of chemistry and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, has bigger plans. She sees her method as just the first step toward developing an easy point-of-use water-purification system that would cover virtually every pollutant. The filter would have a dipstick to tell you what's in the water and a reader to tell you what you need to add to pull it out -- perhaps silver nanoparticles to kill bacteria or a protein to capture pesticides.

4. Machines That Fix Themselves

There will come a time when computers and robots don't need humans to program them. For mechanical engineer Hod Lipson, that time is now. And it all starts with his four-legged starfish robot.
Beginning with no idea of what it looks like, the starfish makes random motions and measures how it tilts. It then generates about a hundred different hypotheses about what its structure might be, moves itself again, collects more data to determine which models are potentially correct, and behaves accordingly. It continues this process of weeding out less-useful models until an accurate one is found and takes hold, a process inspired by Darwinian evolution. And if anything happens to it -- for example, it loses one of its legs or falls from a table -- it can then generate a new model to adapt to different circumstances, with no human assistance.
Well beyond smart robots, this self-adapting technology could one day be used to erect buildings that can repair themselves, airplanes that anticipate mechanical problems, and bridges that sense and readjust for potential structural pitfalls.
In the shorter term, a self-modeling robot could be used to explore the planets, repairing and reprogramming itself depending upon conditions on the ground.

5. Burying Our CO2

Kurt Zenz House isn’t the first scientist to suggest sequestering carbon dioxide in the ocean. But he is the first to come up with a solution that might actually work.
The key is depth. Whereas other plans to sequester carbon in the ocean were plagued by fears that the CO2 would escape, House advocates going much deeper -- at least three thousand meters, or two miles below sea level into the seabed. At that depth, House hypothesizes that the extreme water pressure and low temperature will turn the carbon into a liquid denser than the surrounding water, forming a layer that will prevent it from rising back up into the ocean. "We can store all the CO2 from humanity for centuries, and it wouldn't change sea levels by a centimeter," says House, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in earth and planetary sciences. "And there isn't any major life at that depth, so the footprint is very light."
Estimated costs are about forty dollars to capture and store a ton of the gas, about the amount of CO2 produced by a car every 500 to 1,500 miles, depending on the make. House is currently in talks with a major oil company to start field tests while a group of developers from New Jersey wants to build the first power plant that would use his system.

6. The Next Plastic

Plastic has changed little since its heyday in the 1960s. It's still ubiquitous, oil based, and dirty as hell for the environment. Makes you wonder what we've been doing all these years.
For one thing, not listening enough to chemist Geoffrey Coates. In his lab at Cornell University, he's been reinventing plastic. Making it environmentally friendly and biodegradable -- with orange peels.
The key is limonene, a citrusy-smelling chemical compound made from orange rinds that when oxidized and mixed with carbon dioxide and a catalyst can be turned into a solid plastic. The final product can be made into anything from Saran wrap to medical packaging to beer bottles and naturally biodegrades in just a few months. And because it can be produced using recycled CO2 from carbon-spewing factories, simply making Coates's plastic can help the environment.
Since 1999, when Coates and his colleagues first began experimenting with limonene, they've discovered a number of other natural materials, such as pine trees and soybeans, that can be manipulated into biodegradable polymers as well. And more recently, they've been experimenting with artificially creating polyhydroxybutyrate, a polypropylene-like plastic that is naturally produced by bacteria.
While Coates's natural polymers are more expensive to produce than most current plastics, he stresses that this isn't just another radical innovation that will never make it out of the lab. Novomer, a company he cofounded in 2004, will see its green plastics used in high-end electronics in the next couple of years. Once production is scaled up, less-expensive mainstream consumer products such as food containers will follow soon after.


Also: P.z. Myers at Pharyngula debunks the wild hype surrounding the mouse stem cell "breakthrough."
As expected, it's not nearly the thrilling medical leap our science-illiterate press seems to suggest.

"There is a catch. The way the four genes were activated in these cells is effective, but lacks a little finesse: constructs containing the genes with promoters we can control were inserted by retroviral transfection into the target cells. There are problems with this technique. Where the genes get inserted is random, and has the potential to create new mutations. In addition, they aren't regulated in quite the same way as the normal genes are — this leaves the cells wide open for aberrant expression. The mice made from induced stem cells, for instance, are highly prone to cancer.
What the investigators have accomplished is to discover the reset button for the cell, but the way they currently press it is by hitting it hard with a ball peen hammer.
This is good enough for a start, and they've shown that these four genes do the necessary job, but eventually we'll want to find a more elegant way of activating them. Rather than inserting extra copies of the genes, for instance, we'd like to find a way to turn on the signaling cascades that will activate the natural copies present in the genome; some combination of extracellular factors and injected small molecules that do the same job of putting the cell in the ES state."

Creating stem cells at the price of giving you cancer isn't much help medically. Oh, well, back to the drawing board. At least it's an incremental step forward.