Monday, July 14, 2008

A Potpourri of Science, technology and Whiz-Bang Stuff

Time to take a break from politics and worries about the "October Surprise in August". Let's have the latest flood of misc marvels, quirky quandaries and technological teasers.

For starters, an announcement: The winners of the “Uplift” computer graphics challenge have been announced in the video and animated categories.

I’ve spoken before about the still-image entries, many of which were truly wonderful, dramatic and astonishingly vivid. Some of them even related to the topic! (One can’t complain about talented artists following their own muse. Wonderful stuff!) Now see the video entries.

One, by Christopher Bischoff, though unfinished, has the makings of something really interesting. I hope he continues working on it and shows us some more. (It seems the only one that might do, for my books, what half a dozen entries did - spectacularly - for Greg Bear’s book EON, a couple of years ago... that is, actually help to sell a movie. Alas, I have no idea why none of the video teams thought it worth even cracking one of my books.) Several other entries ranged from cute to way-cool. Like the amusing work by Juraj Molcak, 'Adventures of Lifter Joe', which at least uses the verb “lift” - and George Kiparissous’s, 'Uplift', which does have a token chimp. As does the incredibly weird but really well (and creepily) rendered short film by Yiming Lin, Ong Kok Ping and Ishan Shukla called ‘Maternity'.

Oh, and if you know anybody who’d like to get into this field? Well, I have scripts for trailers for Startide and Uplift War.... Unused so far.

------- Solar Sails at last? ---

SolarSailsThis summer, NASA engineers will try to realize a dream older than the Space Age itself: the deployment of a working solar sail in Earth orbit. The name of the sail is NanoSail-D and it is scheduled for launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket as early as July 29, 2008. Um... about time? Note, the Falcon is the rocket of Paypal founder Elon Musk, also impressario of the Tesla Roadster. Hence NASA had to be proded and offered a free ride, to do what anybody sensible would have done way back in 1991, when I edited PROJECT SOLAR SAIL. (We hoped the run a regatta of privately-made sails past the moon, in honor of the Columbus Quincentennial. Sigh.)

Also. Those interested in interstellar travel, might have a look at Marc Millis Tau Zero Foundation - TZF - or the avowedly more “plebian” peregrinus interstellar (THE PI-CLUB) of Dr. Tibor Pacher. Of course the grand-daddy is the British Interplanetary Society which had pushed for spaceflight for decades, till big governments suddenly rushed into the business in the 1960s, at which point, with great agility, they shifted to speculative work on IS travel.

----- Movies better and worse than expected.

Expectations are half of perception. If you tune your dials beforehand, you can find the good in (say) a joyfully stupid film like “The Fifth Element” (brainless and utterly delightful) or “Get Smart” (surprisingly funny and even above average in the action department.)

Alas, my problem in recently watching “Jumper” was that someone told me it was pretty good science fiction...when, in fact, even low expectations could not have saved my reaction to this horrible dog. Noxious, immoral, illogical and stupid, it falls for every “idiot plot” device while portraying dismally unlikeable people at war with even more dismally unlikeable people... a scenario that can work (e.g. DUNE and the MATRIX) when the authors are aware of what they are doing... and not brain-dead/evil. Just one logical no brainer? Um... teleporters could gain protection at any time, by offering their services to national governments... or even (!) by going public and doing open good with their powers. Much like Hancock. Irony! Though deeply flawed in many ways, Hancock was probably written by one of the few Hwood screenwriters with a brain not fried/paranoid on coke. (Well, Akiva Goldsman does have some neurons. And guts. He does.)

the_stars_my_destinationWorst of all is when such a high-budget pile of drivel poisons the well for an entire zone of science fictional premise (e.g. personal “jaunting” or teleportation) that was already there, in excellent novels, like Bester’s THE STARS MY DESTINATION. Bester did something that I often try to do... directly violating the Idiot Plot. He asked -- “what if the new thing wound up being shared by everybody?” Exactly as we’ve shared most of the cool new things that transformed civilization, so far.)

=== A Mess of Miscelany ===

NOTE! Some of these items have better provenance than others. Grain o' salt time...!)

Hospitals and doctors apologizing and fessing up have seen REDUCED malpractice costs, fights and even insurance premiums.

Now, as China prepares to showcase its economic advances during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network.

Read the previous two items carefully. One shows the west learning the wisdom of eastern style version of transparency... while the other shows the east using western methods to cling to eastern traditions of control.

--- Rick Rolled to child porn = you're a pedophile, says FBI. Everyone has had it happen to them: a "friend" sends you a link that purports to be something like a cat in an awkward position with a hilarious caption. Soon, however, you discover that the link wasn't to a lolcat at all; instead, you've been Rick Rolled into a porno site. (Actually, it’s never happened to me, but I clipped this link so some of you out there can be warned. Apparently, one fellow got sniffed accidentally linking and won a criminal conviction.)

--- Billboards That Look Back - NYT - 5-31-08 “The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.”

=== Even More Random ===

In recent years, global photovoltaic (PV) production has been increasing at a rate of 50 percent per year, so that accumulated global capacity doubles about every 18 months. The PV Moore's law states that with every doubling of capacity, PV costs come down by 20 percent. Extrapolate those gains out six or seven years, and PV costs will be competitive by 2015... well, maybe. Still, in 2005, production of silicon for solar cells already surpassed production of silicon for semiconductors.

University of Melbourne researchers have shown that a DNA fragment taken from Tasmanian tiger samples (the thylacine, extinct for 70 years) can be added to mouse embryos, where the DNA functioned normally in making collagen. This is the first time that genetic material from an extinct animal has functioned inside a living host. More impressive, from a marsupial into a placental. Ah, but I’ve I’ve said since Jurassic Park -- the “reader machine” (the right egg and womb) is just as necessary as the code itself.

After an extensive search, astronomers say they have definitely found half of the universe's missing normal matter in the spaces between galaxies. The missing part of baryonic matter has largely escaped detection because it is too hot to be seen in visible light but too cool to be seen in X-rays. Dubbed the "intergalactic medium," or IGM, it extends essentially throughout all of space like a cosmic spider web.

Engineers and applied physicists from Harvard University have demonstrated the first room-temperature electrically-pumped semiconductor source of coherent Terahertz (THz) radiation, also known as T-rays. The breakthrough in laser technology, based upon commercially available nanotechnology, has the potential to become a standard Terahertz source to support applications ranging from security screening to chemical sensing.

The doughnut is making a comeback – at least as a possible shape for our Universe. The idea that the universe is finite and relatively small, rather than infinitely large, first became popular in 2003, when cosmologists noticed unexpected patterns in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the relic radiation left behind by the Big Bang.

Straight-line extrapolation shows that China and India, with their faster growth rates, will eventually catch up to the U.S. in terms of pure economic size. But America has a final competitive advantage: its confluence of bright, hungry entrepreneurs and flush, eager investors; and its stable, highly adaptable system. Huh... well, we can hope.

With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export. We'll see. There are other trends.

Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in US schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey by Pennsylvania State University researchers reveals. About 16 percent said they believed human beings had been created by God within the last 10,000 years.

Researchers at the University of Tskuba in Japan have designed a quantum eavesdropper that can extract information from a quantum message without the sender or receiver knowing. It exploits a loophole: the ability to make imperfect copies of quantum states without destroying the original coded entanglement. Whoops! There goes yet another straw grasped by the encryption transcendentalists!

BroadStar Wind Systems' new AeroCam wind turbine is the first to break through the $1/watt cost barrier, the company claims. Designed with a low profile on a horizontal axis with multiple blades, it looks like an old McCormack reaper!

A new scanning electron microscope (SEM) design by physicist Derek Eastham could achieve a resolution around four times better than existing SEMs--as low as 0.01 nanometers (roughly the distance between a hydrogen nucleus and its electron).

“There's nothing special about the Sun that makes it more likely than other stars to host life, a new study shows. The finding adds weight to the idea that alien life should be common throughout the universe.” Well... maybe. In fact: “The Sun did stand out in two ways: it is more massive than 95% of nearby stars and its orbit around the centre of our galaxy is more circular than those of 93% of nearby stars...But when all 11 properties were taken on board, the Sun looked very ordinary. Robles's team calculates that there would be only about one chance in three that a star selected at random would be "more typical" than the Sun.”

Um... that sounds like begging the question by being pedantic about terminology. In fact, any one or two traits might be responsible for our anomalous conditions. Heaping in a dozen others, just to smear things out, does not make for good science, nor refute the unusual-ness of Sol. Indeed: “They conclude that there are probably no special attributes that a star requires to have a habitable planet, other than the obvious one – the planet must be within the star's habitable "goldilocks" zone, orbiting at a distance where the temperature is not too hot for life, nor too cold, but just right.” And, indeed, this may be a trait that is very much anomalous in our solar system.

Chinese scientists have developed 500-nanometer lithium-ion-battery electrode materials using tin Nanoparticles encapsulated in elastic hollow carbon-nanotube-based spheres, replacing conventional graphite. The scientists have found that the new materials provide higher initial and long-term ampere-hours capacity, prolonging battery life....

Argonne National Laboratory scientists have developed composite battery materials that can make batteries for laptops and cell phones both safer and longer lived, while increasing their capacity to store energy by 30 percent. The new materials are one example of a new generation of lithium-ion electrode chemistries that address the shortcomings...

Highly efficient nanotube-based tile materials that can convert radiation, not heat, from nuclear materials into electricity.

Tomorrow's laptop? (Thanks to Ray Kurzweil for many of these links. Just remember that Ray tends to be... enthusiastic.)

Low doses of hydrogen sulfide (smell of rotten eggs) can safely and reversibly produce a suspended-animation-like state in mice.

Intel and Microsoft plan to fund researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois $20 million to start over and design a new generation of computing systems. The move was motivated in part by an increasing sense that the industry is in a crisis of a sort because advanced parallel software has failed to emerge.

Our skin contains millions of microscopic helical sweat ducts that may act as antennas that reveal a person's physical and emotional state from a distance, Hebrew University researches have discovered. Treating the skin as an array of helical antennas could open up a new method of measuring physiological changes.

Northwestern University researchers have found that a nanoengineered gel inhibits the formation of scar tissue at a spinal cord injury site and enables the severed spinal cord fibers to regenerate and grow. offers ”10 Audacious Ideas to Save the Planet.” Of course, my “EON” proposal would make this sort of list systematic, persuasive and effective...

Which countries make the grade when it comes to fuel efficiency — and which earn failing marks?

The total number of people online will climb to 1.8 billion by 2012, encompassing roughly 25 percent of the planet, with the highest growth rates in areas such as China, Russia, India and Brazil.

Rresearchers at the University of California at Davis have found that fructose, but not glucose, causes alarming changes in increased intra-abdominal fat. (Arg, I planted so many fruit trees, thinking “it’s organic,” and now what do I do with all the plums?)

=== Hysterical Historical Quotes ===

[The telegraph] binds together by a vital cord all the nations of the earth. It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth. *Charles Briggs and Augustus Maverick, 1858*

[It is] inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news and for entertainment and education [as radio] ... to be drowned in advertising chatter or used for commercial purposes. *Herbert Hoover, 1922*

Television drama of high caliber, produced by first-rate artists, will materially raise the level of dramatic taste of the American nation. *David Sarnoff, 1941*

Cable [television] will create great access to information; it will also greatly assist self-identity, democratic processes, educational environments, and community cohesion. *Barry Schwartz, 1973*

Our new ways of communicating [the Internet] will entertain as well as inform. More importantly, they will educate, promote democracy, and save lives. *Al Gore, 1994*

In fairness... this cynicism festival misses the point. Sure, each new generation of electronic communications became drenched with crass commercialism. But, then, most forms of PRINT communication became drenched in porn! Nevertheless, and despite incredibly bad cable TV laws that have destroyed so-called “public-access” and all competition, I have to point out something that nobody else has -- that half of the cable channels you see today are “daughters of PBS”... what else would you call the History Channel, Discovery, Food, Home & Garden, A&E, Classic Movies, and so on? Oh, there’s a cynical answer; good, nonfiction TV is cheap to produce! Look at how little the History Channel pays me (generally nothing) to be a talking head on “The Universe” or “Life After People.” So? It’s an irony! It’s the crap that costs more to make.

---- Keep an eye on India. ---

In engineering studies, the number of students enrolled in full-time, four-year undergraduate degree programs has risen from 250,000 in 1997 to 1.5 million in 2007, and is currently growing at 25% annually. Most surprisingly, the higher-education sector has moved from a primarily state-provided service to private provision within a decade. Ninety-five percent of the above increase comes from enrollment in privately run colleges, which now account for 80% of the total. The storied state-owned Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), which made up 10% of national engineering enrollment in 1990, now account for less than 2% and graduate 5,000 students a year. In brief, the national government has increasingly yielded control over higher education to the individual states over the past 10 years. The states have, in turn, allowed the private sector in, something that the national government resisted when it was in charge. OTOH, recent commodities price rises have hurt India in particular. And it is arguable what fraction of their “engineers” can actually innovate or problem solve. And wealth disparities --- well, let’s hope.

“If we could ever competitively—at a cheap rate—get fresh water from salt water,” observed President John Kennedy nearly 50 years ago, “that would be in the long-range interest of humanity, and would really dwarf any other scientific accomplishment.” There are now 13,080 desalination plants in operation around the world. Together they have the capacity to produce up to 55.6m cubic metres of drinkable water a day—a mere 0.5% of global water use. About half of the capacity is in the Middle East. (Where energy is cheap.) But now things are changing. As more parts of the world face prolonged droughts or water shortages, desalination is on the rise. In California alone some 20 seawater-desalination plants have been proposed, including a $300m facility near San Diego. Several Australian cities are planning or constructing huge desalination plants, with the biggest, near Melbourne, expected to cost about $2.9 billion.

Wired editor Chris Anderson’s THE LONG TAIL predicted people would go for individualism, rewarding niche producers. But Anita Elberse, a marketing professor at Harvard's business school, looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink. Following the fad. Lets the best push out the merely good. As seen in Kiln People.

Carved out in a barley field, this 150ft wide pattern is said to be a pictorial representation of the first ten digits of Pi, one of the most fundamental symbols in mathematics.

Giant Snake-Shaped Generators Could Capture Wave Power.

Marine fossil records show that biodiversity increases and decreases based on a 62-million-year cycle. At least two of the Earth's great mass extinctions-the Permian extinction 250 million years ago and the Ordovician extinction about 450 million years ago-correspond with peaks of this cycle, which can't be explained by evolutionary theory. Our own star moves toward and away from the Milky Way's center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years- suspiciously close to the Earth's biodiversity cycle. (See my 1980s era article in Analog: "The Deadly Thing at 2.2 Kiloparsecs.")

And from the i-told-you-the-voices-were-real dept. Science Sportsqs writes "The Sierra Nevada Corporation claimed this week that it is ready to begin production on the MEDUSA, a damned scary ray gun that uses the 'microwave audio effect' to implant sounds and perhaps even specific messages inside people's heads." (Got my doubts about this one.)

Project Dragonfly has pioneered inquiry-driven reform to increase public engagement in science and global understanding.

Here’s a rather breathless screed about the so-called “teen pregnancy pact”... a crazy story generated by an irresponsible high school principal, completely false and yet fanned into flames by an insane media machine. The screed is intemperate but entertaining. It also misses the core point. That “Red America” has higher rates of domestic violence, divorce, premarital sex, extramarital sex, STDs and teen pregnancy than “Blue America.”


Repeat as needed. Over and over and over and over. Screeds are less effective than repetition, alas. And this from an inveterate screed writer.

Ask two people to answer a question like "how many windows are there on a London double-decker bus" and average their answers. Their combined guesses will usually be more accurate than if just one person had been asked. Ask a crowd, rather than a pair, and the average is often very close to the truth. The phenomenon was called "the wisdom of crowds" by James Surowiecki, a columnist for the New Yorker who wrote a book about it. Now a pair of psychologists have found an intriguing corollary. They have discovered that two guesses made by the same person at different times are also better than one... the average of the two guesses was better than either guess on its own. ... Second guesses made immediately improved accuracy by an average of 6.5%; those made after three weeks improved the accuracy by 16%. Jun 26th 2008 From The Economist

Even after three weeks, the result is still only one-third as good as the wisdom of several different people. But that this happens at all raises questions about "individuality" within an individual. If guesses can shift almost at random, where are they coming from? One answer could be that they are evidence for the "generate and test" model of creative thinking. This suggests that the brain is constantly creating hypotheses about the world and checking them against reality. Those that pass muster are adopted. Guessing the answers to questions you do not know the correct answer to, but have some idea of what the right answer ought to look like, could tap into such a system. A hive mind buzzing with ideas, as it were, but inside a single skull.

---- The sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today's sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren't sure why. The sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a “little ice age” that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

It started as a search for a way to provide cold storage for vaccines in underdeveloped areas. Adam Grosser talks about a project to build a refrigerator that works without electricity or other stored fuels to bring the vital tool to villages and clinics worldwide. Tweaking some old technology, he's come up with a system that works.

... and on a positive note... that will have to do for now....


Anonymous said...

DB, you cover so much stuff in this post that it is hard to know what to comment on!

* * *

Desalinization strikes me as, in a world where cheap energy is becoming a thing of the past, a boutique method of supplying water.

Besides being energy-hungry, desalinization plants are complex and fragile.

We really have to design our infrastructure, and our cities for that matter, for sustainability. We can address the water problems by not putting so many damn people in one place, for example.

Countries and cities that plan ahead are going to be the ones that weather a tough century.

* * *

"Get Smart" owed a lot of its appeal to good casting. A fine summer popcorn movie.

I'm thinking of paying to see "Wall-E" again. This is an astonishingly rare thing for me.

Unknown said...

The movie Jumper was, indeed, dreck. The book that it is not-really based on, however, is worth checking out. A bit jarring at first if you're expecting a young-juvenile but the author (Gould) does an excellent job of having people act in a believable fashion and in extrapolating exactly how a normal person would likely act when given this ability. It's a quick read, but fun.

Anonymous said...


This link is completely worthless for most of us here, because the content is only available to subscribers at this site.

Please post a link to a copy that anyone can read, for free, simply by clicking the link and then reading.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...


This one's a host unknown error. Removing the extraneous space leads to a working Web site, but it's not anything to do with wind turbines.

And the links for the sun's orbit of the galactic core and that MEDUSA gadget are switched.

Do you ever actually double-check any of the links you post?

I suggest when you compose a blog post like this one, you put a private copy in HTML form somewhere, then clear all cookies, then actually view it and click the links one by one. Then you'll discover:

* Broken (presumably misspelled) links
* Switched links
* Links that go to members-only stuff where you're a member, but your readers mostly won't be

Remember also, your readers mostly don't have the time or inclination to play guess-the-typo-fix to try to make broken URLs work, let alone the time, inclination, and money to actually pay for membership at any of the members-only sites where you did.

Tony Fisk said...

I had thoughts for Sundiver, but no time to do anything with it.

It's worth mentioning that the Planetary Society is looking to try solar sails again with Cosmos2.

On spam TV: didn't Clarke once comment that those who bemoan the oversupply of information have never experienced the opposite?

I haven't seen Jumper, but the premise reminds me of 'There Will be Time' by Poul Anderson. It featured some pretty nifty combat tactics. Wall-E will have to wait until September.

A few years ago, I saw a report on a US hospital that opted for transparency in the way described, with much the same outcome (reduced payouts and improved feedback led to better procedures, and fewer incidents). It's clearly a better way to go. So what's stopping them??

The reason why Melbourne needs alternate water supplies can be summarised in this graph (as of the start of this month, you will see that we are heading into ... erm, uncharted waters!?)

The state government has opted for desalination (high-tech white elephant) and for piping water from the equally parched Goulburn river. They have firmly quashed any proposals for recycling sewage under the caption 'election promise' (I half-seriously put in a suggestion to the 2020 summit that breweries, who actually require very pure water, should be encouraged to use recycled water when making beer. 'Sucking more piss' would then be a very apt catch-cry!)

anon... you can always try googling the terms used in broken links.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that any solar system that meets the criteria of the Modern Laplacian Theory as put forward by Dr Andrew Prentice would have habital planets. I don't think any of his predictions on the structure of our system have been shot down yet. Any data of differences outside that should have no bearing on things.

Kurzweil is a few years out. OLPC plan to have this out 2010.


PS: The Sigma Forum website needs to close the anchors for the NAME tags.

David McCabe said...

Anon, although the rate at which our host screws up links is amazing -- I'd pay to know how he does it -- complaining that you don't have time is rather clueless.

Alan Kay and other stars are doing mind-blowing work in fundamental computing techniques: Viewpoints Research Institute.

David Brin said...

dig it. I am not doing this commercially. I do the best I can to link but I race through these data dumps out of a sense of obligation to share interesting stuff with you guys. Because I am often sent news items you might not see.

Heck, I don't even link via blogger, since their methods are insane. I compose on Kos and then bring the html over here.

Consider this my once a year caveat: If the links don't work, follow a google sniff & you'll get there. It's a measure of your interest.

Steve Gilham said...

1) Glad to see you've caught up with the worrying lack of solar cycle 24 in this year where we have already seen an anomalously chill northern hemisphere with late snow-melt.

2) As someone who publishes a strand of links of the day on his own blog, I am mystified by your problems. Here's how you do it

a) use the "Edit HTML" tab to compose your entry
b) open the page you want to link to in a separate browser tab
c) select and copy the URL from the address bar
d) back to blogger, select the text you want to make a link
e) press the chain/world icon
f) paste the copied text into the dialog that is presented
g) Press OK
h) lather, rinse, repeat
i) publish

I don't see how it could be made simpler short of mind-reading.

David McCabe said...

Damnit Brin, you've got me saying "dig it" and people look at me funny!

David McCabe said...

It could be made simpler by detecting URLs when you paste them in, and automatically making them into hyperlinks. Most text inputs on the web do this.

Travc said...

So much randomness... (Dr Brin, was 'random' a catch-phrase when you were at CIT? Just curious if it is more institutional or generational.)

Solar sails... Ionized particle based, not light, right? I really liked the idea of a big parabolic sail that also severed as a reflector/accumulator to power a ion engine.

On the PV front, I don't think focusing on the silicon wafer ones is the way to go. I think these will be supplanted pretty soon by much cheaper (and possibly more efficient) varieties. Sort of like a vacuum tubes to transistors step, not just a Moore's Law progression.

We found a lot of the dark mater, yeah! Just a few weeks back Degrasse-Tyson was on the Colbert Report, and Colbert said something like 'well, maybe dark matter is just normal matter we haven't found' (and Degrasse-Tyson very much to his credit replied that it is a real possibility). Particle physicists annoy me, so maybe my glee has something to do with that ;)

Oh, on undetected eavesdropping on quantum entangled/encrypted channels... I don't think the ability to extract *some* information in theory is the death-knell you may think it is. Unless that key exchange gets repeated many many times, the channel is still encrypted. Tapping it with enough fidelity to read the key in a single pass is still detectable... which is the entire point.

The desalinization thing is pretty cool. Turns out there is a very clever technological innovation behind (at least a lot of) the renewed interest.

I can't find a good link just now, but reverse-osmosis desalinization can be made something like 60% more energy-efficient by using the pressure of the saline outflow to partially power the pressurization of the input. The engineering implementation I've seen (on History Channel probably ;)) is a very elegant rotary pump (basically a single part). One of those obvious in retrospect innovations.

Wisdom of crowds... Always remember that the 'good' result only holds when the crowd is not misinformed. A few well placed lies (or even just hints at erroneous information) and a crowd can easily be fooled. In fact, distributing misinformation then calling on the 'wisdom of crowds' to support whatever you happen to want is a tired-and-true tactic (Iraq War for a recent example).

This actually hits upon an very interesting discipline. There are folks who actually study what conditions lead to different sorts of 'collective intelligence' systems working or failing. No, markets are not always better than polls... and polls are not necessarily better than experts. In some cases even, flipping a coin may actually be the most reliably accurate predictor available.

Travc said...

I too am a bit mystified by the link problems. Of course, I stubbornly refuse to use any sort of WYSIWIG editor for HTML (emacs vs vi flamewar anyone;), and I don't know if blogger would allow you to just upload a text file for the posts.

Ok, apologies in advance for getting all pedantic...

Anyway, just typing in the actual tag (a href=) and surrounding the url with double quotes (") solves a lot of problems. The cut and paste from from the address bar of another tab/window actually opened to the page makes life easy.

So for me it boils down to:
type: <a href="
copy and the url from another tab
paste the url after the "
type: ">whatever text<\a>

Old school isn't too hard... I've been writing html since '92, though never as a major endeavor (as evidenced by my lack of current homepage).

Travc said...

PS: Dumb blogger doesn't accept the tags tt, kbd, code, pre, big, dfn, and I assume many others.

strong and em work though, and are conceptually better than b and i. Should emphasized text within an italic block be italic? Though web browsers still aren't that smart alas.)

Ok, done complaining... get back to talking about cool stuff ;)

Anonymous said...

The novel, "Jumper" by Steven Gould is great. The movie shares nothing but the title and part of the premise. It goes with the movie versions of "Starship Troopers", "I, Robot", and "Dune".

Cliff said...

It would be interesting to see some research on the quality of Indian engineers - how they compare to American-educated engineers, what their strengths and weaknesses are.
I'd also like to see that sort of comparison for German and Japanese engineers as well, to get a sense of where the average American engineer stands.

David Brin said...

Re SETI/METI: This fellow interviewed me... though I wasn't quite sure he was the press, at the time. His article is better than it might have been, though off-target in a few places. Generally a smart & fair guy and not a bad discussion. Join in!


Travc... us Caltechers INVENTED "random"!!

Hawker, I am much more forgiving of the movie version of Dune, which, I believe, captured the essence and the chilling horror of their future.


In addition to joining my local CERT team and helping in the San Diego fires (join! You are needed and it stands up for local/amateur capability!) ( I've also helped a friend who has been leading an effort to create Project-KID... a systematic approach to bringing in basic child-care into disaster areas and utilizing local volunteers to handle this urgent need in skilled ways.

Please have a look at these two web sites (only turn your audio volume down first!)

We saw that in San Diego's fire crisis, a rich region with undamaged infrastructure was able to pour vast amounts of goods and volunteers into the evacuation centers. Even so, the child-care situation was mixed, at best. (Turns out the best places put healthy kids to work! e.g. taking care of animals. They were far happier and less bored.) Now, lessons learned here and in New Orleans etc are being applied to creating a turn-key set of kits and guides that can help manage childrens' needs in crises, from ideal cases (San Diego) to really rough situations.

Lenore says: "One of the key leading edge applications for this, we believe, is to make provision for dependent care for first responders and other essential personnel, who can't show up to do the work they are trained to do if they can't find child care for their own kids. Turns out this is particularly challenging in public health emergencies, where they utilize a lot of nurses, but we know fire and police also face these needs. We have had more than one emergency responder say that this could be a good mission for some CERT team members."

If you live in San Diego, learn about Project Golden Phoenix, taking place at Brown Field 7/21-22... an emergency preparedness exercise that might still need some volunteers.

Travc said...

Thanks for the CERT links... This is definitely a good thing. I'm up in Davis these days, so the wildfire response issues hit pretty close to home.

When I was down in LA, I gave a non-trivial amount of thought to how civil defense volunteers could be organized for earthquake (and other) emergencies. One thing that kept coming up is two-way communication.

In the olden days we had a good number of ham radios, not so much anymore... and certainly not enough in urban areas. Cellphones can help a lot, but as shown the infrastructure is vulnerable and doesn't live very long without grid-power even when it remains intact. Robust radio equipment isn't really cheap nor particularly easy to use (and importantly improper use can seriously degrade the usefulness of the whole system).

Seems to me this is where CERT or civil defense or whatever could step in quite well. In LA I imagined a person every few blocks having a two-way radio along with some other basic supplies and training. Anyway, I just wanted to point out that radios really are a necessary empowering bit of kit, and something that really does need some pre-planning coordination.

PS: The child care angle is one I've never thought of before... obviously any 'first responder' is in a situation not unlike a soldier. The most key aspect in allowing them to focus on the job at hand (and accept all the personal risk being thrown at them) is to ensure that their loved ones are taken care of.

Anonymous said...

Astonishing images . . .

Travc said...

I wanted to make a quick observation on McCain's inability to 'go online' which recently hit the news.

Yeah, funny old man doesn't know jack about computers... but it is quite a bit more serious than that IMO. He seems to have no clue what the internet is... which has some profound implications, not least of which is national security.

Anyway, the US president (or a senior Senator even) doesn't have much need or even opportunity to use the internet. A good one probably doesn't get much TV time either... but they sure as hell better know what it is at a conceptual level.

BTW: One could make the comparison to actually serving in combat or some other specific military 'experience'... but I couldn't figure out a good way to phrase it. The point is the same, actual practical/personal experience isn't very important, a conceptual 'big picture' understanding very much is critical.

Travc said...

The CERT thing reminded me of this post about Cloverfield... how it would have been if the main characters had basic emergency preparedness sense.
Making Light: Cloverfield (with spoilers)

Yeah, just being random ;)

Travc said...

Nice... looks like they are making some progress on the 'mobile base' idea.

Just in case you aren't familiar, NASA is reluctant to send astronauts on long 'rover' missions, since it is very difficult to carry all the spare parts and supplies you might want if something went wrong (like the rover breaking down or someone getting hurt). So, the idea is just to make the whole landing craft / base mobile.

Anonymous said...

You're worried about Plums?

Don't be.

Worry about high-fructose corn syrup, which is in about anything that's processed these days (courtesy of the Big Sugar lobby).

It's nasty, tastes awful...

If you like Passover-soda, you should try carbonating your own (CO2 is cheaper than shipping around mostly water).

A few plums (I know trees make a ton -- would love some, myself!) won't kill you, but a consistent diet of fructose in Everything might. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm also skeptical about the practical use of the antennae like properties of skin glands.

Psychophysiology has had a devil of a time measuring anything reliable from the skin using electrical conductance... I don't see how this promises to do anything to improve accuracy.

sociotard said...

I didn't know about Karl Rove being subpoenaed by congress, refusing, and then fleeing to a little Ukranian country that the US has no extradition treaty with. He's back now, but still refuses to testify. Disturbing.

For a little something that will give you more faith in humanity, watch Where the Hell is Matt (2008). Assuming you haven't seen it already. I hadn't

Unknown said...

Republican ad claims "If only we'd had a Republican president in 2001, 9/11 would never have happened."

That's a convincing argument. They should extend it. "If only we'd had a Republican president in 2003, the Iraq war would never have been bungled."

"If only we'd had a Republican president in 2005, hurricane Katrina wouldn't been a disaster."

"If only we'd had a Republican president in 2008, the government wouldn't be conducting warrantless surveillance on American citizens in defiance of the constitution."

With this kind of solid logic on their side, how can the Repubs lose in November?

David Brin said...

Especially since Bush appointed political hacks and shills to the FBI and Justice, instead of professionals, slowing down everything... and arguable also assigned a number of agents to politically motivated vendettas, like seeking that elusive "smoking gun" on the Clintons. (Still missing, after 16 years and a billion dollars.)

That re-assignment, if proved, would boil down to criminal negligence, at best, possibly treason.

Tony Fisk said...

...and, of course, if the US had had a Republican president in 1992, Somalia would never have been such a debacle.

The tactic being employed here is solid *and relentless* logic. Welcome to spam news.

Anonymous said...

zorg - slightly inaccurate - the ads appear to just show a picture of the towers burning and say "don't vote for a democrat".

And in the linked video, the sponsor says something to the effect that Clinton let bin Laden escape, leading to 9/11.

That said, the ads would appear to be rather "counter-productive", to anyone with two brain cells to rub together...

Unknown said...

Yep, it was Clinton's fault. Of course, it wasn't Reagan's fault for funding bin Laden in the first place, was it? Reagan created bin Laden, taught him to use violence, fed him arms and sent him advisors to teach him terror tactics...then, when the monster Reagan had created turned around on America...why, it's Clinton's fault, because Clinton failed to stop the monster.


Gotta love that twisted logic.

Here's another headline that's just as funny. Democratic presidencies aren't always bad for stocks.

Yup. And when you hold out your hand and drop a rock, it doesn't always levitate upwards, either.

These are the most dishonestly misleading descriptions I've ever seen. Democratic presidencies aren't ever bad for stocks. Look at the historical record! Read the article! Demo presidents have always been better than Repub presidents for the stock market, and for emloyment growth, and for productivity growth, and for deregulating big industries like the railroads and the airlines.

Ever since 1932, the record is clear and overwhelming. If you want stocks to do well, if you want the economy to do well, if you want lower deficits, if you want better productivity...elect a Demo. Yet that headline implies the exact opposite.

Talk about doublethink--!

Unknown said...


Instead of watching sludge like Jumper, here are some really good recent science fiction film. Many of these are foreign films, some are animated, and all are vastly better than most of the dreck in the theaters...but, for some peculiar reason, most of 'em are unknown or underrated.

PAPRIKA (Japanese animation, 2006)
This one is absolutely mind-bending. You've never seen anything like this. Nominally it's about the theft of a device that let's a person enter and control the minds of people undergoing psychotherapy with a new device, but the imagery is so mind-bending, and the love story and psychological dilemma of the detective protagonist prove touching enough, that it rises above its purely science fictional elements. This one is a must-see.

THE HOST (South Korean, 2006). Great updated 1950s monster movie that starts with a bang, but develops the characters of the family and becomes much more than a Ray-Harryhausen-style creature feature (though it does that part very well too). The fact that it's set in South Korea makes it fresher and more interesting, and the resolution of the family's problems dovetails nicely with the climax of the monster's attack.

THE CELL (American, 2000) Brainfrying imagery enhances this haunting psychological story of a therapist who must use experimental technology to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer to find his latest abductee, who is still alive. This one has a great twilight-zone-style ending, as well as a being a terrific mystery, and exploring some genuinely fascinating Freudian depths.

A SCANNER DARKLY (American, 2006) Greatly underrated. This remains the truest to Philip K. Dick's original material of all the movies made from his work. As such, it's deeply tragic, and very affecting. Also wildly funny in a very dark way. Around the time undercover drug agent Keanu Reeves gets assigned to investigate himself, you realize the hallucinogenic mindset of the drug cops is even more bizarre than the drug-addled surreality of the dopers they're chasing. The rotoscoping worked well for this movie, I thought, giving a bizarre not-quite-real sheen to the entire story that fit well with Dick's underlying story about people drowning in mind-altering drugs. The original book was still much better, of course, because of touches like the list of friends Dick added at the end who had died from drugs...things you couldn't really put into the movie. But it's still a moving and impressive movie, and scarily prophetic about the drug war.

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (Japanese, 2004) Even better than the original, I thought. There are some amazing set pieces here, including the hack attack on the protagonist that makes him blow up a liquor store, the final combination of android battle and software infiltration, and the scene at the start where the killer geisha robot goes berserk. Ultimately, the deep social conscience of the ending makes this film work, and of course the return of the Major from the first film provides a great cameo.

Last but far from least, WALL*E (American, 2008), destined to be a true classic. I won't give away any spoilers, but it's definitely a must-see science fiction film.

All of these films are probably available on DVD at your local video rental store, or through netflix. All are highly recommended and immeasurably better than the spandex-superhero junk clogging the theaters this summer (except of course for The Dark Knight -- but that's not really a science fiction film, by all accounts, more of a film noir/gangster epic with comic book touches).

Boot said...

I'd recommend the following movies if you haven't seen them.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Its ending can be interpreted in several ways.

Primer (2004)
It is rare to find a movie that throws me for a loop. This one still did so on the second watch through.

Stardust (2007)
A pleasant little story. Nothing special but worth watching.

Travc said...

Dem presidents are good for the stock market, but not necessarily as good for the broker or rich 'investor'. Dems often want them to actually pay taxes after all.

Travc said...

Children of Men (2006) doesn't meet the 'generally underrated' criteria, but for good reason IMO. (BTW: Wall-e is pretty well rated too, again because it is very good.)

I haven't watched much anime for years... The strong form of Sturgeon's law applies, and I am no longer surrounded by friends who obsessively watch everything and filter out the rare good stuff for me.
"Scrapped Princess" seems like it may be quite good, it has a cool world concept at least (yes, it is sci-fi, not fantasy).

BTW: For a random note, anyone else remember Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? That actually had a pretty good sci-fi backstory with a lot of potential.

Cliff said...

I second "Paprika" and "A Scanner Darkly."

Can't say I cared much for "The Host" - I think the Korean-ness of it rubbed me the wrong way.

And how does a game called "Fantasy Roleplay" have a sci-fi backstory?

David Brin said...

Patrick Farley's old website is still no good.

I refer folks to "Spiders"...

Anybody know where it is accessible these days?

Tony Fisk said...

There is an archive of 'Spiders' here:

(The first three parts: I don't think part IV was ever published)

Obtained via an interesting not-quite article

Anonymous said...

I think he meant Warhammer 40,000... It's a horribly dystopian setting, though; lots of factions fighting each other, every single one evil (but some are more evil than others).

DED said...

I keep hoping that The Planetary Society will try again to launch their solar sail. The failure of the launch vehicle on the first try was depressing.

David McCabe said...

I second "A Scanner Darkly". Zorgon, you shouldn't have gotten up so soon: They DO run the names at the end.

Tony Fisk said...

The Planetary Society have certainly not given up on solar sailing.

A progress report on Cosmos 2 is here.

As is a request for funding.

sociotard said...

PAPRIKA (Japanese animation, 2006) It was okay. The music and most of the imagery was good. Too much pointless cartoon nudity.

A SCANNER DARKLY (American, 2006) No. This was crap. Again with the silly pointless nudity. Moreover, I DON'T CARE ABOUT STONERS. Except for the ways in which their escapades endanger and threaten the innocent, I couldn't care less how much they suffer or how early they die. Honestly, don't some of you wish Bush hadn't woken up from one of his binges? It's their own frickin fault. It's not like the problems associated with drug use are well hidden.

Sorry for the long rant, but if I can't care a little bit for the protagonists, I can't enjoy the movie. (and then they tried to make it look like it was all the corporations fault. Stupid and irritating.)

Travc said...

This is completely off whatever topic... so just ignore if you wish.

@Doug s.
No, I meant Warhammer FRP, not 40K. The deep backstory is sci-fi.

Advanced (non-humanoid even) aliens use a random planet to construct hyperspace gates (located at the poles). They colonize the planet to some extent, very few aliens live there, but they create a few servant races (uplift of sorts I suppose). These races are the classic fantasy elves, dwarves, and humans... but an interesting twist is that humans benefit from being the latest created and most well suited to the planet, thus most able to thrive independently.)

Something bad happens (war with other aliens?) and the hyperspace gates are destroyed, at least in a functional sense. Lots of the fantasy ex-machina (demons, gods (which are explicitly just very powerful demons), corruption of endemic species (say hello to orcs ect) comes from uncontrolled interdimensional portals fixed on the plant's poles.

Time passes, all (or at least nearly all) the aliens die out or manage to leave. The servant races go native, with the humans rapidly multiplying while the others slowly die off.

One of many fun tidbits is halflings... The otherwise weak little buggers are explained by a last-ditch (possibly incomplete) effort to create a new servant race which is resistant to the weird corruptive stuff emanating (or at least left over) from the collapsed gates.

Another tidbit I liked is that demons and gods are just Lovecraftian aliens from other dimensions. The stuff of hyperspace is just called Chaos, and as such not every entity is evil per se. There is a god of 'law' for example, who's goal (at least that of followers) is to reduce the universe to a continuum of perfect order (aka, nothing in it).

Anyways, sci-fi or fantasy is just a setting, not a story. As a setting, sci-fi offers a lot of benefits, but can easily lead to very lazy (bad) storytelling just riding along atop trite narrative devices offered by the setting.

Personally, I don't like high fantasy. It's most often worse than the laziest sci-fi, since the cheap devices don't even need to make sense (it's magic). Though the challenges and stakes possible in a fantasy setting can make for compelling narrative. There are so many post-apocalyptic settings for the same basic reasons.

Which brings us back around to fantasy with a sci-fi backstory. Basically, just Clark's third law most often combined with very-post-apocalypse. Collapsed civilization with pervasive self-replicating and organizing nanotechnology is a pretty powerful setting which seems to be getting somewhat popular just now. There are a lot of things an author can do when most any object or organism can be manipulated by mostly inscrutable intelligences.

BTW: I still think the Stargate is one of the best TV series plot devices ever created ;)

Travc said...

Oh, one last thing. Role playing games (tabletop at least) are really all about the setting. A good RPG is one where the setting makes creating a fun compelling story is easy. I don't think this would be missed by an author like Dr Brin ;)

Of course, RPGs are overwhelmingly dominated by fantasy and sci-fi, which says something about the generas.

David Brin said...

Can anyone recommend a good movie for kids that teaches involvement in local (community)civic affairs?

Nyctotherion said...

Sociotard: you realize that your dismissal of drug users pretty much discounts not just A Scanner Darkly, but Philip Dick's entire body of work.

As well as William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson, John Lennon, Bob Marley, and hundreds of others whose work you may not like, but can't deny their artistic importance.

matthew said...

Re: David's question about movies that highlight civic involvement by young folks

I recommend "Hoot" about a fight to preserve habitat for the burrowing owl. Fairly Disney-esque with the obigatory happy ending, it's still good fun after all. Music by Jimmy Buffett, BTW (who also ex-produced the film). Most reviews are pretty ho-hum and say that the book by Carl Hiaasen is far superior, but I enjoyed the movie for what it's worth.

For older films, how about "Sounder" or "How to Kill a Mockingbird?" Even "Mr Smith Goes to Washington?"

Anonymous said...

"I too am a bit mystified by the link problems. Of course, I stubbornly refuse to use any sort of WYSIWIG editor for HTML (emacs vs vi flamewar anyone;)"

NoteTab Pro. Not WYSIWYG; edit the actual code directly. And it actually has a real, working user interface too. ;)

Re: the various movie suggestions -- most of these are overlooked for a reason, namely the absence of English dialogue. At least two that were mentioned, The Host and Pan's Labyrinth, are definitely subtitled, and I'm guessing the anime probably also is. (Worse would be no English dialogue OR subtitles.) Western adults are also prone not to take anything animated seriously (which is sometimes a mistake -- Titan A.E. was good as an action/adventure flick, though not for realistic science of course -- but that's currently how things are).

As for Wall-E, isn't that a kids' movie from Disney?

P.S. searches for that shape-of-the-universe article always seem to run into paywalls. Where the heck can I just go read the damn thing, without opening my wallet or submitting my email to be spammed first? It's not like it has a significantly-greater-than-zero marginal cost of reproduction or anything. My reading it won't cost anyone anything, in other words, particularly as I certainly will never pay just to read the one article, ever ever ever, so my reading it for free won't be anyone's "lost sale" either.


Unknown said...

Sociotard remarks:
I DON'T CARE ABOUT STONERS. Except for the ways in which their escapades endanger and threaten the innocent, I couldn't care less how much they suffer or how early they die.

In these inhumane times, as barbarism rises around us and torture becomes commonplace, I urge you to remember that dehumanizing other people is exactly the opposite of what we need to do right now.

When we dismiss "dopers" or "terrists" or "faggots" or "libruls" or "reactionaries" as subhuman creatures about whom we have no concern, we diminish ourselves.

As soon as we point at another suffering fallible human being and proclaim "except for the ways in which their escapades endanger and threaten the innocent, I couldn't care less how much they suffer or how early they die," we destroy our own humanity and start to create a living hell on earth...the hell of the gulags, the hell of the Guantanamo torture chambers, the hell of the Genoa police beating innocent protestors to death while laughing out loud.

In the last 7 years, too many unthinkable atrocities have become commonplace. Arrest without trial, torture, a national enemies list, warrantless surveillance, doctors consulting with interrogators on how to improve torture -- all in the name of the almighty state. As the twilight of common decency submerges us in the long shadows of fascsms, all I can say to you is that these suffering people you dismiss as "dopers" are potentially your brothers, your sisters, your father, your mother, your children, your best friend since kindergarten. Do you really truly not care how much your children suffer or how early they die? Do you really truly rejoice if your brother or your sister dies screaming and convulsing in a gutter from an overdose?

Once we dehumanize one group and discount their brutalization as unimportant, we narrow the circle of people we consider human. Soon, the circle narrows even tighter. First, we dismiss "dopers" as inhuman and unworthy of our compassion -- next, we disregard the suffering of alcoholics; then we dehumanize people addicted to prescription drugs, and then gambling addicts. Before long, whole swaths of society become "non-persons," and we wind up with this.

In the words of Oliver Cromwell, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it not possible you be mistaken?"

NOTA BENE: I'm the only person I know who has never used any kind of drug, including alcohol (hate the taste), cigarettes (hate the smell), or prescription mood agents like prozac or tranquilizers or even sleeping pills (the very idea of taking that crap gives me the willies).

But I don't delude myself that the fact that I happened to get lucky and win the genetic lottery so that I have absolutely no interest in alcohol or any kind of drug makes me somehow more moral or worthy of being considered a human being, just as alcoholism doesn't someone else immoral or unworthy of being treated as a human being. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases, not moral failings, and all the available evidence shows that the most effective way to deal with the drug crisis in this country is to treat drug addiction as a disease, not a moral failure or an indication that the addict is a subhuman mutant.

Anonymous said...

Zorgon: not even Tylenol or aspirin?

Anonymous said...

if somebody is searching for *good* sf to watch, I want to reccomend a very good anime, Planetes. Easily one of the most realistic depiction of space travel around.
It's a series, not a movie, so be patient with the slow character-building start, by the end there're plenty of payoff....

matthew said...

Hey Zorgon, thumbs up for that last comment / tirade! Some of the wisest words I've seen in months.

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
-Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

"First they put away the dealers,
keep our kids safe and off the street.
Then they put away the prostitutes,
keep married men cloistered at home.
Then they shooed away the bums,
then they beat and bashed the queers,
turned away asylum-seekers,
fed us suspicions and fears.
We didn't raise our voice,
we didn't make a fuss.
It's funny there was no one left to notice
when they came for us."
-NOFX "Re-gaining Unconsciousness" on the album War on Errorism

Travc said...

I don't get the dislike of subtitles so many people (at least Americans) seem to have. I read quite slowly, but subtitles very seldom pose any sort of problem 'keeping up'. More importantly, they are far far superior to a bad dub. This is especially true of anime, where the quality of voice acting is routinely superb in Japanese, but rarely even passable in English. After all, in rapid sequences (action especially), how things are said is often more important than actual words. In slower sequences, subtitles are not at all hard to follow.

Anyways, just spouting off.

BTW: Wall-E is Pixar, and Pixar is owned by Disney... However Pixar is quite independent from Disney creative content wise (I hope it stays that way). If you aren't familiar, every Pixar film so far is an excellent 'family' film... in the sense that adults can certainly watch and enjoy it along with kids. Wall-E had my SO crying in several places.

PS: I first heard new Dr Who being described as 'family' fare in this sense. I tend to agree, and particularly like the definition. 'family' != 'for kids'.. or stuff which doesn't offend the religious right, which seems to becoming a common usage unfortunately.

Unknown said...

Amid the depressing signs of civilization's decline and the rise of barbarism, both at home and abroad, more good news:

Breathtakingly beautiful modern building made from a Weaire-Phelan foam cell structure: one of the many postmodern architectural masterpieces like those created by
Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry that have broken through the ugly drabness of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Bauhaus box stereotype that suffocated architecture from WW II well into the 80s. Now, for the first time, futuristic new buildings are finally starting to look like they were built in the 21st century.

Webcrawling program scouts the net in quest of reports of isolated illness and assembles 'em to give advance warning of an epidemic in time to stop it cold.

A new technique for growing single-crystal nanorods and controlling their shape using biomolecules could enable the development of smaller, more powerful heat pumps and devices that harvest electricity from heat.

A novel super-resolution X-ray microscope developed by a team of researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) and EPFL in Switzerland combines the high penetration power of x-rays with high spatial resolution, making it possible for the first time to shed light on the detailed interior composition of semiconductor devices and cellular structures.

New type of cement would remove CO2 from the air, potentially removing up to 5 billions tons of CO2 per year from the earth's atmosphere.

New machine "prints" building, reducing costs by 80% and speeding up construction by a factor of 5.

Best general-interest article I've seen about Peak Oil. Debunks the "ZOMG we're all DOOMED civilization's going to end and we'll all turn into CANNIBALS!!!" crap spouted by Ted Turner, the crackpot website The Oil Drum, and to some extent by James Kunstler. However, this article does not minimize the problems and challenges posed by Peak Oil. As the author points out, all these whiz-bang technologies I've been posting sound promising, but any new technology typically requires from 20 to 30 years to make it from the lab into commercial production. That means that even if we were deploying all this today (which we aren't -- yet), we'd still have at least 20 years of rough patch to go through before all these new technologies kick in and start solving our Peak Oil problems.

To that extent, Al Gore's recent call for 100% carbon-free electricity production in the U.S. by 2020 seems wildly unrealistic. Even if we starting building the roughly 800 nuclear reactors we'd need tomorrow, given the cost overruns and deadline blowouts typical in building nuclear reactors, they certainly wouldn't come onstream by 2020.

The moral? Both bizarrely overoptimistic scenarios like Gore's 2020 deadline and ridiculously overpessimistic doomsaying (like the Olduvai Cliff hysteria) don't do any good in solving the Peak Oil problems.

We need sober sensible realistic plans, not chicken-little doomsday hysteria that encourages everyone to give up because we're all gonna die, or absurdly rosy scenarios like Gore's 2020 fantasy that can't possibly be accomplished within the next 12 years even if we dropped everythng else and started up a giant Manhattan program for alternative energy.

Peak Oil and global warming are tangible physical problems that can be solved, and the evidence for this is clear -- the human race has lived through more drastic episodes of climate change over the recent geologic past than those expected from global warming. Moreover, we did it without current technology, and we did it without being able to predict or plan for the climate changes.

Nevertheless, Peak Oil and global warming won't be solved by fantasy or hysteria, but by clear-eyed imaginative pragmatic hands-on planning and sensible reorganization of our society and our technology. That's going to take time and it will cause economic dislocation and some financial pain for some people, but there's no scientific or technological reason why we can't do it. The primary problems (as with the lunacy that's erupted over the last 7 years) are social, not scientific or technological.

sociotard said...

As well as William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson, John Lennon, Bob Marley, and hundreds of others whose work you may not like, but can't deny their artistic importance.

To my chagrin I don't know the first two names you mentioned. I have heard some John Lennon and Bob Marley stuff I liked. The pieces I liked were those that weren't actually about drugs. I disliked [i]Scanners[/i] because it was about stoners, not because it was written by one.

Do you really truly not care how much your children suffer or how early they die? Do you really truly rejoice if your brother or your sister dies screaming and convulsing in a gutter from an overdose?
My Aunt died of an overdose (prescription drugs, I think). I was sad because that left her young sons without a mother, but the act itself was her free will in action, and I won't regret that she had free will. I also won't regret the consequences of free will.

Before long, whole swaths of society become "non-persons," and we wind up with this.
I don't pity the natural consequences of doing drugs. I do pity addicts whose civil rights are violated. There's a difference.

But I don't delude myself that the fact that I happened to get lucky and win the genetic lottery so that I have absolutely no interest in alcohol or any kind of drug makes me somehow more moral or worthy of being considered a human being, just as alcoholism doesn't someone else immoral or unworthy of being treated as a human being.
I'm not sure about myself in this regard. I may have won the genetic lottery, I may have not. Even if a man is predisposed to alcoholism, he won't become one if he never tries sip one. With four generations of Mormons behind me, I have no idea if my heretage would leave me vulnerable.


Everybody knows that addiction is a risk. They kind of cover that along with the ABCs these days. Even a person who is very vulnerable to addiction can save themselves from that fate by choosing well. (The few who can't, like crack babies and some painkiller patients, are by far an exception to the rule.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I can appreciate people who do drugs as people, but I'm not going to feel sorry for them if they hurt themselves doing something they knew was stupid. It's like how I can not care if the guys on Jackass hurt themselves.

Example: I respect Barack Obama and I'll vote for him. If his earlier experiments with cocaine had given him a heart attack or reduced him to giving Senator Craig BJs for drug money, I wouldn't have cared.

David Brin said...

quick comments:

Does anybody ever have insect bites that come in perfectly symmetrical pairs, on the same exact spot on both legs... then a different spot on both, the next time? I’ve done a cursory google search and found a few people report it, but not a single theory.

Z, Frank Gehry is a brilliant “exterior decorator” of buildings. But is buildings break every wisdom contained in Stewart Brand’s great book: HOW BUILDINGS LEARN. I also hate Mies and Bauhaus and those fools who gave “modernism” a bad name. Modernism should be about practicality -- with a touch of vividness and flair ADDED on top of the practicality. Because good design should start out elegant and beautiful, not forced. If you want the truth about any Gehry building, ask the tenants.

Movies? I have long preached “Go to films with your dials properly tuned, and you can enjoy half of them just fine.” I went to see JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH , with my kids & their friends, expecting a dumb but fun 3D kid flick that sort of betrays Verne, but WTF?

Man! It was a kid flick, so low “depth” expectations were a good idea. But dang was it good! The 3D was truly awesome. And Jules Verne was, like, totally happy with this one, wherever he happens to be. Absolute way-fun and do NOT wait for the DVD.

OTOH, SCANNER DARKLY stank NOT because of the drug aspect, but because it was murky, stupid and the exact opposite of entertaining or thought provoking.

Eek! Ralph Bakshi is the artist GOH at the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal. Urgh....

Z if you want real energy wisdom, dowload any of a dozen recent youTubes showing my ex Caltech classmate Steven Koonin lecturing about the big picture... from the POV of the “good guy oil companies” BP & Arco. Yes, “peak oil” is a myth in one way... there’s plenty of fossil fuel, though we’ll all be Saudi servants.