Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The World Moves Ahead to More Cool Stuff

Time for my monthly  cornucopia of cool (and non-political) news from the exciting world around us.
Brin-volved Items:

"FiRe CTO Design Challenge": Author, physicist, and host David Brin leads the challenge of "Water Beyond Tomorrow: Using Technology and Innovation to Provide San Diego (and the World) with Adequate Safe Water for Future Decades"  at this year’s “FiRe Conference (Future in Review). 

I had the honor of hosting and stimulating and challenging some of the brightes high technology officers in modern business, including: Sophie Vandebroek, CTO, Xerox, and President, Xerox Innovation Group; Eric Openshaw, Vice Chair and U.S. Technology Leader, Deloitte; Per-Kristian (Kris) Halvorsen, SVP and Chief Innovation Officer, Intuit; Ty Carlson, Architect, SiArch Group, Microsoft; and Joe Burton, CTO, Cisco.

I was interviewed on the BBC World Service on the issue of “bombing” a lunar crater to discover whether there is ice on the moon.  The interviewers worried deeply about littering... but it turned into a delightful and fairminded treatment of the topic.  If it is no longer up, I hope to post it at

See an excellent and eye-opening article about The Participatory Panopticon, by Jamais Cascio, that includes an interview with David Brin about our ongoing rush toward a transparent society.

Non-Brinvolved Items:

200px-EvolutionOfGodSee a fascinating interview with Robert Wright, one of the most important authors of our time, about his new book, Evolution of God, about the roots of religion.

  HPlus Magazine finally releases their new summer issue! It describes the already-existing brain/computer interfaces - and where they could take us - and explains Dartmouth-built robots whose artificial neurons can mimic the human learning process. There's 84 pages of online-only goodness, including laser-stimulated brain cells, artificial muscles, and an interview with NASA's director of research (who suggests robot exploration of Mars). And NPR's Moira Gunn assays the implications of the U.S.'s abrupt welcome for stem cell therapy.

Incredible!  The next game intreractive technology:

See the blog of the production company making "The People Vs George Lucas” --  a full length film, due next year, riffing off my book STAR WARS ON TRIAL.

Think Link appears to address some serious deficits in the current, sad state of "discourse" online.  I envision combining it with a good reputation system.  The result could be a real step toward the kind of "disputation arenas" I described in the American Bar Association's Journal of Dispute Resolution.

Somebody's thinking about What Comes After Email.  I have received several emails from people who think there are similarities to my Holocene Project... which I pitched at Google the same day that the patent was awarded, a while back.  Me?  At a first, hurried glance, I don’t see a whole lot of Holocene in Google Wave... but I can see that it would be vastly improved by incorporating Holocene concepts.  Alas, I have found that many bright fellows cannot see the hand in front of their face.  Ah well, I wish them well.  Opinions?

Stunning. And right now this volcano is affecting our sunsets and dipping global warming.

The issue of cyberwarfare.

A simple way has been found to convert plant cellulose into , a basic building block for fuel, polyesters, and other petroleum-based chemicals...  to extract HMF from plants by using a mixture of copper chloride and chromium chloride to break down the cellulose without creating unwanted byproducts. The chlorides didn’t degrade, which meant that the process could be repeated using the same chemicals, reducing the cost of creating HMF while yielding a product with fewer impurities.  While still a ways off from commercial applications, the process shows promise in creating an alternative to plastics.

Sundiver"Near-Term Beamed Sail Propulsion Missions: Cosmos-1 and Sun-Diver", James Benford and Gregory Benford, Beamed Energy Propulsion, AIP Conf. Proc. 664, pg. 358, A. Pakhomov, ed., 2003   Um...see my novel, "Sundiver?

Apropos of tweeting, I couldn't resist sharing this find of Laurie Morrow's!  Do have a look

...and finally...

=== Are We inherently Empathic? ===

New research from Vanderbilt University indicates the way our brain handles how we move through space—including being able to imagine literally stepping into someone else's shoes—may be related to how and why we experience empathy toward others.  

Empathy involves, in part, the ability to simulate the internal states of others. The authors hypothesized that our ability to manipulate, rotate and simulate mental representations of the physical world, including our own bodies, would contribute significantly to our ability to empathize.  The researchers compared performance on the test with how empathetic the subjects reported themselves to be. They found that higher self-reported empathy was associated with paying more attention to the right side of space. Previous research has found that the left side of the face is more emotionally expressive than the right side. Since the left side of the face would be on the right side of the observer, it is possible that attending more to the expressive side of people's faces would allow one to better understand and respond to their mental state. These findings could also point to a role of the left hemisphere in empathy.  (contributed by Stefan.)


Stefan Jones said...

I wish your water supply talk had a video!

We should really be designing housing developments, shopping areas, etc. around water collection and conservation. This will probably mean building lots of stinky catch basins, but they could be prettied up as parks.

I think this is the correct link for Beverly's blog:

The interactive game technology link is missing.

nonobec: A popular biscuit in Finland.

Matt DeBlass said...

On the empathy front, Chris MacDougall's excellent new book Born to Run has a good discussion on persistence hunting and how the ability to think "outside your body" would have (and still is in the rare places it's practiced) been a huge asset.
Basically, persistence hunting involves jogging steadily after a prey animal, say a deer, while it sprints away in short bursts. Humans are terrible sprinters, but we're actually some of the best distance runners in the animal kingdom, and we have fantastic heat regulation systems (we can cool off while we run, instead of having to stop).
So we'd just have to keep following the sprinting deer until heat and exhaustion brought it down, then whack it on the head with a rock. Slow and steady does indeed win the race.
Where the empathy and imagination comes into play is in anticipating the critter's moves. The best persistence hunters are the ones who can anticipate how an animal will react to a given move, and use that foresight to keep it from rejoining the herd.

Interesting stuff, and as an avid recreational runner (who, at 6'3" and over 250lbs doesn't fit the "typical" runners image) it's fascinating to think about the how and why of these things.

Stefan Jones said...

This American Life ran a great story about a couple of guys who tried to run down an elk. They kept the elk moving, but the elk had all sorts of tricks to keep their stalkers from zeroing in on one particular animal.

My take from the empathy story: Yet more proof that "we" are not simple meat computers. We are really, really complex meat computers, whose basic functions are dependent on sensory input. Brains in a jar might not think about much at all. "Streamlined" uploads that don't take into account this interconnection might be insane or nonfunctional.

'prestra': Baltic Motors' hybrid car, introduced in 2011

JuhnDonn said...

David Brin said... The authors hypothesized that our ability to manipulate, rotate and simulate mental representations of the physical world, including our own bodies, would contribute significantly to our ability to empathize.

I'm still amazed at how well we can sit down in a large vehicle like a car and expand our spatial awareness to enable parking lots to work with such close tolerances. I first noticed this when I drove up and parked an 80's Honda CRX, got into a 70' Impala and drove off and later parked it in same narrow parking lot. I have no idea how we've evolved the spatial awareness but think it's pretty cool.

Matt DeBlass said...

Stefan, exactly. It's apparently like a game of chess, with the best hunters thinking many moves in advance to keep the beast from getting back to the herd.

Gilmoure, it is amazing. I do this all the time when driving or mountain biking, for example. I don't think "my bike's wheel is going over a log" I think "my wheel is going over a log."

Amazing stuff, when you think about it.

David Brin said...

The whole human persistence hunter thing is (if I may say so) vividly described in a scene in UPLIFT WAR.

We are physically such amazing creatures, I think it likely we developed the big brain more as an afterthought, a runaway artifact of sexual selection, perhaps.

Yes, Gilmoure, it is a total mystery how we evolved minds capable of piloting cars through wild maneuvers using a wrist to steep while shouting at a cell phone. The creationists are fools for focusing on animal evolution. Darwin explains nature! He has more difficulty explaining us.

Stefan Jones said...


Chart you might like!

David Brin said...

huh? ?/????

Stefan Jones said...

Let me make a link of it:

Blue vs. Red States Chart

OK, that worked in preview. Click away!

This is kind of a downer, but he may have a point:

Is science killing science fiction?

Jester said...

Tracking on-line porn subscriptions really measures how well people use search engines, not how much porn they watch on-line.

Who the hell pays for Porn?

The teen birth rate and the divorce statistics seem to have some weight, though.

Travc said...

Those Red vs Blue comparisons would be much more informative at a county level. I have no idea where the data would be found though.

As for Darwin and humans... it is really hard to say much evolutionarily about behavour, even in animals under strong selective pressures. For example, we are still trying to figure out why lions operate in prides (though there have been some recent revelations on that particular front).

Travc said...

Rosenfelder's piece about science killing science fiction sounds like the standard naive whining. The "science fiction" he bemoans loosing sounds like the worst pulp. The meat of the good stuff never hinged on the technical details anyway. Asimov's stuff about MultiVAC (The Last Question) was way off in technical details, but if that bothers you, you aren't reading it right.

Oh, and what is with Rosenfelder complaining about the elements? The island of stability hasn't be disproven AFAIK. And even if it is someday, elements are hardly the point. Systems, how things interact with each other, are much more relevant and (at least for the foreseeable future) fertile ground for literary devices. Resorting to magic element X has always been lazy.

On the topic of "hard" SF, well, that will always age poorly (at least aspects of it). It is essentially a speculation of a plausible "what if". I love good hard SF, it serves a great purpose and is enjoyable even to a skeptical geek like me. (I can't stand technobabble.) More fanciful SF has always had elements of fantasy, and like good fantasy, is best when the author does not try to explain the technical details (but does maintain consistency).

Anyway, Rosenfelder complaint kind of pisses me off. He manages to insult both scientists and good SF authors while seeming to laud to laziest cop-outs as some great literary innovation.

Robert Leyland said...

Beautiful picture of a volcano, but its a tiddler really. The dip in global warming is because the Sun is a lot less active. No significant sunspots in months, 10.7 flux lowest in a hundred years etc. This is the lowest the sun has been since the early 1900s, and it still isn;t showing much sign of a turn around.


Stefan Jones said...

Rosenfelder's piece struck a chord with me, because I'm having trouble coming up with ideas for a non-fantastic SF setting that isn't totally lacking in sense-of-wonder, or even opportunities for human adventure.

I've written whole sourcebooks full of ideas for Fantasy and space-opera-ish Science Fiction role playing games. They sell at a steady rate and are fairly well rated by buyers. They're fun to do.

But I can't imagine writing a novel along the same lines.

Stefan Jones said...

Delete that spam!

Found a wonderful snark about Sarah Palin's brief career:

"The way she kept repeating the phrase 'no more politics as usual' kind of made me think of a sort of failed Dumbo, tightly clutching his magic feather while plunging to his death." -- Tashtego

tacitus2 said...

Travc is correct, those stats are not straigtforward. For instance, you would have to know something about marriage rates to comment on divorce rates. One could plausibly posit that marriage in highly "blue" constituencies is less common (CDC stats clearly show this in Black America for instance). No marriage--no divorce. And the by county data would help too. There are some Red States with large city Blue islands in them. Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, etc. A closer look would be educational. Finally, define "teen" in teen pregnancies. A married 19 year old and an unmarried 13 year old look the same on paper, but have different societal ramifications.

Ah, lies, dammned lies and health care statistics.


as political light is dark, no Palin comments.

David Brin said...

Tacitus good try. But red regions also lead in so many other undesirable encomiums. Domestic violence etc, it really is hard to find an out.

Some areas have a legitimate excuse... that their best and brightest keep leaving... possible a deeply traumatic and hurtfully insulting fact that helps explain the boiling, inchoate rage of culture war. One way to stanch this flow is to create their own Athens islands, as Texas and Florida and Georgia did. It works...

...but it also draws in blue types to those islands, which then start tilting blue themselves. The deepest southern states avoided this... and have trailed in education standards and every other possible measure of civilization for so long that there is simply no excuse.

It is a deliberate choice, now. Self-reinforcing over their radios and in sadomasochistic treatment of their women.

Of course I am painting an unfair, simplistic and in many places wholly inaccurate picture. Nevertheless, after suffering under their horrific misrule for most of the 21st Century, I feel entirely justified in righteous anger at such towering hypocrisy -- that (overall) people who are so BAD at living moral, decent, positive, and even godly lives dare to screech at the rest of us how such thing can and must be done.

sociotard said...

A few fun things.
Walkman, at 30, a mystery to teen.

Ant Mega-Colony takes over the world

Anonymous said...


imho, you screech more than I.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, you thought I was talking about YOU???

Dang, the thought never crossed my mind. I do not consider your kind of conservative to be anything like the culture warriors.

Except for one thing. The refusal of most decent conservatives to admit that something far beyond distasteful excess has happened to their side.

That it will be necessary, soon, to break away from the new Know Nothings. It is a moral imperative.

After the outrageously perfect record that they have amassed -- of directly and horrifically harming this country we all love -- how can any sincere American not face this desperate need. On July 4th, yet?

David Brin said...

BTW...I do not screech that my opponents are damned to hell. I do not claim utter moral superiority for my lifestyle, ignoring evidence that it actually doesn't work.

Both of these extremes of obnoxious behavior -- along with utter denial of the relevance of intellect or evidence or discourse -- are displayed by only one side of the political spectrum, right now.

You know that I am fully capable of noticing the mental crimes of the far left. I skewer them regularly! But they do not venture anywhere near that far, down avenues of Crazy Land.

Neither do you. You are a fine fellow.

Travc said...

On the red-blue stats...

I wasn't quite thinking like Tacitus, but he could be more right than wrong. The main bit (which he is certainly correct about) is that how "red" or "blue" a state is quite a marginal statistic. At the state level, it is just different shades of purple. Now counties... there you get some real variance.

So, not so much a political comment from me... I was thinking more about statistics.

Anyways, I have to drive from Sacramento to LA every so often, and large parts of CA are culturally off the right side of the deep end. Next time the political lamp is lit, there is a whole lot to be discussed/debated about how screwed up CA is these days -_-

Stefan... on SF 'settings' ideas:

I've been quite partial to pervasive nanotech for a number of years. You can go for fantastic (or even apparent classic fantasy with "magic"), or whatever level down to gritty realism. No reason people actually need to be in control of the nanites... especially if they are self-replicators. Social "organisms" up to full collective consciousness are quite plausible at our current level of understanding.

Oh, also "grey goo" is pretty unlikely, so if you want to limit the invasiveness of self-replicating nanites, just invoke a quite reasonable need for particular materials or precursor chemicals. After all, the Earth isn't a giant ball of bacteria for fundamentally that reason.

Actually, no need for nanites or man made artifacts. Biological organisms with RF signaling capability make for a pretty powerful (and fairly plausible) device. Hell, ants do pretty well with just chemical signaling. Olaf Stapledon's Martins from Last and First Men are a good inspiration.

Travc said...

One more SF uber-device...
Alien artifacts

These can even be relatively "hard". For example, a sub-light alien probe arriving to Earth. Tech level can be whatever you want (2001 to a glorified webcam).

What would we do (short term) if we discovered a planet in the habital zone of another star with O2 in it's atmosphere? Probably launch a probe which would get there eventually... even if eventually is a long time.

tacitus2 said...


I am striving to stay non political. But to clarify, I have not taken offense. But I do have to take you to task a little.
My comment was on some statistics that "smelled a little funny". I was encouraging people to look harder at such data, and to ask the next level of questions. This strikes me as only rational, and it is a level of skepticism that should be directed to all odd looking data sets.

Your riposte suggests that this kind of thinking is clearly wrong headed, because all sorts of other (non referenced) statistics prove that Red America is an inbred, angry, goblin infested place.

I too am obviously adding a little purple to the prose, to make a point.

You have your political biases. No shame there, we all do, and none of us see them as biases. We view the world from the background of our experiences, and from what we see out of our literal or virtual windows.

When I use the term screeching I was referencing the tendency towards dehumanizing a political faction you diapprove of, and of hammerin' down the CAPS when you get exercized. Although on this second point you are improving.

Now, back to work on productive and revenue generating matters. You have been accused of nothing more than human weaknesses, to which the only legitimate plea is "nolo contendre".


Anonymous said...

"Incredible! The next game intreractive technology:

See the blog of the production company making "The People Vs George Lucas” -- a full length film, due next year, riffing off my book STAR WARS ON TRIAL."

This does not make much sense. How exactly is this blog, or film, "the next game technology"?

Meanwhile, you've linked to h+ again, whose site still doesn't work. "Loading publication" and a little cute animation, nothing else after several full minutes, no network activity, browser says "done" rather than "transferring data...". Is it IE-only or some such rot?

Rik said...

Rosenfelder piece? Boooo...rrrring.
Q: why?
A: it's the biology, stupid!

Sometimes I wonder... Imagine an alien artifact on Earth. What it would do, is change us into the natives after C. Columbus. Population decimated by new new microbes, unknown diseases and culture obliterated or altered beyond recognition. Oh wait, we've already done that with language, monotheism, agriculture and science!

Google Wave looks like Chrome or Reader 2.0. Just screaming for integration. I think, btw, that Rosy is the real bomb, not Wave itself.

David McCabe said...

Wave is not only a product, but a protocol. As with email, anyone can write Wave-compatible software. What you see on the screen is only Google's Wave client. (In fact, they demoed a command-line Wave client in their keynote.)

There's your in. Many Holocene features could be implemented by an advanced Wave client. If Wave catches on, uptake of Holocene would be much easier than if Holocene were its own incompatible universe. Rejoice, and be glad!

Even if Google ignored you, you have to admit that Wave is a huge step forward. The first in a long time, in this area. Moreover, it provides a new opportunity for your ideas -- and thousands more. A better protocol and data model make virgin ground.

By the way, Google Talk already has translatebots; you don't have to wait for Wave to try it. Personally, I think this is just asking for misunderstanding and grief -- have you ever read one of Google's machine translations? An amazing feat of statistics, but still a poor translation.

Jester said...

Tacticus -

Teen marriages are the most likely to end in divorce.

It's likely that "shotgun weddings" are a substantial part of the difference in divorce rates between Red and Blue States.

In Blue States, or, more specifically in Blue urban areas, even "good guys" who try to help take care of their kids don't normally feel that they're expected to marry a girl they get pregnant, anymore than the pregnant girl in question ussualy expects the guy to marry her.

High teen pregnancy rates go hand in hand with (and help perpetuate) high rates of poverty, and Red States are disproportionately poor. So, there is a substantial issue of the proper order of carts and horses.

A pregnant married 19 year old is still in trouble - she's very likely to live in poverty, very likely to wind up divorced, and very unlikely to achieve any higher educational goals.

Of course there are exceptions, just as some unmarried 19 year old mothers are able to create good lives for themselves and their children...but teen pregnancy isn't a good thing stastically (or something not to worry about) even when the mother and father marry.

In short, I both agree and disagree with you :)

tacitus2 said...

In the sense that you are asking the right questions, we are in total agreement!
The right answers are a tougher nut to crack.

Tony Fisk said...

Must check that water video (water gardens would prevent storm run-off from making the Yarra a little too bracing for our local dolphin population, which has been making tentative movements upstream in the last couple of weeks)

Science killing sf:

Clarke was fond of quoting Haldane(?) "the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we *can* imagine."

sf always struck me as an exercise in trying to outdo reality.
The trouble is, reality (or our understanding of it) has had a habit of keeping up... even with such bizarre things as invisibility devices. (cue the steady jog of the bipedal vector predator/researchers wearing down the flighty sf gazelles. Cue the Goodies' Star Safari park!)

Of late, I think that modern sf has become too enamoured with virtual reality and nanotech. Like FTL travel, they're great plot devices, but they've been done to death!

pleroto: a little known comic opera

Rob Perkins said...

There are the usual problems with that chart (the questions about method arise; I recall reading a scathing crit about the porn survey, but I can't remember where off-the-cuff).

The largest, most debilitating problem in all that thinking is the division of a 300 million member nation into precisely two factions.

sociotard said...

I'm a little dissapointed with Obama's denunciation of the Honduran Coup, simply because it wasn't so much a military coup as it was a Legislature-and-courts-together-as-directed-by-Honduran-constitution coup. Frankly it looks like Obama took what he saw at face value, denounced it, and now he won't admit he's wrong.

1.) The Honduran Constitution has a term limit set in it for the President.
2.) The only way to change this is by if the Congress calls for a referendum and the people vote on it and establish a committee to change it.
3.) It is illegal for any other branch of government to act so as to start the referendum.
4.) There is an election in November.
4.1.) A law passed by his own government bans referendums within 180 days of an election, thus even their Congress wouldn't be allowed to call for one unless they first voted to repeal that law.

---- 1-4 are set up.

5.) The Honduran President is displeased that the Congress will not call for a referendum on the increasing or removing of term limits
6.) He then calls for the Ballots to be printed up and Congress, being the only branch who can request such, denies him. Court upholds Congress's Authority.
7.) Unswayed by this, the President of Honduras goes to a foreign power, Chavez, and has them printed up without Congress Consent.
8.) The Honduran President then orders his military to distribute the ballots that were printed up in Venezuela
9.) The Court tells the top millitary officials that such an act is illegal and that they can not carry it out.
10.) The Top Military officials cede to the Court's opinion and refuse to carry out the order.
11.) The President then dismisses those officials
12.) The Honduran Court then says that the President can not do that
13.) Growing more upset with the legal process, the Honduran President incites a mob to break into a military facility and steal the ballots so as to distribute them
14.) The Attorney General of Honduras makes a proclamation that anyone acting on those orders will be arrested for violation of the law.
15.) The Honduran President and his mob continue in their illegal actions and the Military, acting as the police in this instance (which was to be expected) begins to arrest the mob and also the President.
16.) The Honduran President is removed from the Country and Congress then appoints his successor in accordance with the law and with the approval of the Court.

I broke that up a whole lot more than the person I heard so as to make sure I didn't miss a step. Is this an accurate depiction? If not, why, and can you cite why?

If this time line is accurate, I think the officials in Honduras were perfectly justified in their actions. You had a President who no less than 4 times directly violated the law in the pursuit of expanding his own power. Not only did he violate the law but he did so with the aid of a foreign power, which raises issues of sovereignty, and also acted to incite a mob. Each of those two times he knew full well that they were against the law and could be no qualms about it just being a bad interpretation of his just authority. It wasn't a military coup because the military was acting under lawful orders given my the highest prosecutor of the land and was supported by both the Congress and Supreme Court and were acting in their normal function. Also, elections will be held this coming November as normal.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

Speaking of water; A buddy of mine actually put in a Cistern at his house. It's a good idea for watering gardens, or as a backup source. Feed it with the run-off from the roof, float the filter in the pool, and add a pump.

>> Lot's of good ideas opening up with Smart Communities. The one up-side of scarcity, is that we start borrowing things from neighbors again. Needing each other is a good foundation for friendship. I predict a new class in school; How to be a good borrower and return tools to neighbors. Yeah, I used my neighbor's tiller, and didn't pull out the vines right away, so he got it back all dirty -- I was hoping to use it another day and then clean it out -- honest! Anyway, after I dropped a tree on his fence, we didn't talk for a few months. OK - it was MY fence, and I'm replacing the wire with wood.

So there is an upside and a downside to being forced into tighter communities. Schedule the return of the neighborhood gossip; and you thought conversations about Brad and Jennifer were annoying!

>> Good stuff as always Dr. Brin on the science. I see so many cool innovations, almost daily. Hard to keep up with the pace, except with the few things that we actually have impacting our lives. Seems that innovation is only allowed if it's to amuse a ten-year-old.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

Empathy may not only be a Human specialty.

I suspect that it has to do with spatial awareness -and perhaps empathy is the byproduct. So, the primate that must navigate trees and judge if a branch can hold them, has to model in their heads the physics involved.

A dolphin, creates an actual physical 3D sound model in it's head (and I've always suggested that someone hook up a sonogram to that bubble of fat on a bottle-nosed dolphin).

So maybe, we can look for empathy, in higher spatial skills in general?

>> But here is another snag.... behavioralist studies are showing that empathy is actually quite common in the animal kingdom LINK

In fact, a study of rats showed, that when a test was set up to where they were fed, when another group of rats was shocked -- the rats starved themselves, rather than hurt the other group of rats.

So perhaps, we only evolved in mental abilities and not really in social ones?

I firmly, believe however, that altruism is the best survival tactic. And only in larger, alienated and artificial communities, do we allow for sociopaths. Something we have to get a handle on quite soon.

>> E Coli have been shown to share toxins in family groups, and one "volunteer" will absorb the toxin, and then move to a competing group of E Coli and explode itself, releasing the toxins and destroying the group -- all to advance it's own colony. Human's did not invent the suicide bomber, it appears.

So, perhaps we put a lot of poetry and window dressing on impulses and politics we adopted from single-cell organisms? Individually, there might be wisdom, but collectively we are doomed to traffic and war. Both a result of statistics group behavior in scenarios with limited resources; the appearance of free will that is as consistent as ants at a picnic.

Oh, and Joe Biden is now saying; "Israel; free to set own course on Iran." Damn. Well, we painted the pig a bit better this term, but it's still looking to be a pig. What is worse; a war-monger, or a coward that says; "well, do what you feel is best."? Saudis are saying the same thing--as though they were leading the world in integrity.

I'm sure, that either we are out of it, and self-consciously saying "tisk, tisk" or we are going to have a better parade of pre-war experts to explain to us, about the FEAR and urgency. If Iran is allowed to get rid of their fear-mongering puppet leader in an actual Democracy, what doom might that spell for the Resource Wars?

My enthusiasm for science and the future, keeps taking a backseat to my concern over our CorpGov -- every time I hear about a great new robot, I keep wondering; "how will it be used against us?" Takes the fun out of it.

It is very hard to have real emotional empathy, when people get abstracted. Or, you get relentless stories of the "tragedy of the week." Are human's really adapted to be ethical in this modern world? When we learn of nations on a map after there is a need to explain the new bombing campaign? As a chimp in a tree; OTHER, is something crawling on the ground or swinging in a tree. Not somebody we locate on google maps.

So we talk about caring for soldiers and things, but unless we are actively involved in SEEING the soldiers at the hospital -- it has less true impact and urgency. What happens in the future, when we can have drone wars, and except for a few accountants with clearance, we might not even know a war is going on? I realize I have he same trouble -- and I don't really want to be tormented thinking of all the kids in pain in the world.

I'm thinking of the "Forever War," that I read in high school. It's just a part of the economic framework and a background noise on the conscience.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

Sociotard said;
1.) The Honduran Constitution has a term limit set in it for the President.

From what I've heard, that one-term limit was set by the Military hunta, which has controlled the government for decades. Replacing a Presidente before the Democratic farce can actually have any chance of changing the outcome. So an elected representative DARES to get elected again based upon the will of the people in defiance of the Svengali? Heavens! Term limits are only useful if your voting system is broken; otherwise you hand the power to election consultants.

CIA and Israelis "consultants" are much in evidence. When was the last time EITHER of these groups did something that was FOR the people rather than some damn globalist sweat shop?

>> Obama's condemnation of the kidnapping in Honduras was the one unequivocally noble thing he has done so far in office -- don't taint it. It's a huge assumption that Obama doesn't know the backstory, regardless of whether he is forced to retract his comment.

>> And did anyone know that representative Cynthia McKinney was taken hostage off the coast of Palestine on a humanitarian trip? No. Really? 22 people and a winner of the Nobel Peace prize on a humanitarian effort get snatched by pirate soldiers in the blockade.

If only Somalia had as many people in the US media. Maybe they wouldn't be starving to death from the overfishing and toxic dumping.

David Brin said...

Sociotard wow, thanks for that summary. Brrrr!

Dave McC said: "There's your in. Many Holocene features could be implemented by an advanced Wave client. If Wave catches on, uptake of Holocene would be much easier than if Holocene were its own incompatible universe."

True enough! My problem is much simpler though. Every month people come and nibble at Holocene, interested enough to take up my time...

...then, after fizzing with enthusiasm, they wander away again. The shake their heads, muttering "it CAN'T be that simple and obvious! If it were, really, it would have been snapped up by now by somebody else! Or some small group would have made a free demo site and attracted groundswell buzz!"

One man-month of a skilled Java-Flash designer. That's what has been estimated as all we'd need, in order to set up a killer online site that would attract opensource fanatics and take off on its own. (I am more cynical and figure 2 or 3 man-months.) That's it.

Can't get even that. Every smarty pants looks at Holocene and says "It HAS to have been done before. Brin can't claim all that!"

Not once has even one of those guys ever come back and shown me a piece of prior art. Ever

Now you see why we aren't innovating in energy or space or just about anything, except how to lobotomize people down to 140 characters.

David Brin said...

Sociotard wow, thanks for that summary. Brrrr!

Dave McC said: "There's your in. Many Holocene features could be implemented by an advanced Wave client. If Wave catches on, uptake of Holocene would be much easier than if Holocene were its own incompatible universe."

True enough! My problem is much simpler though. Every month people come and nibble at Holocene, interested enough to take up my time...

...then, after fizzing with enthusiasm, they wander away again. The shake their heads, muttering "it CAN'T be that simple and obvious! If it were, really, it would have been snapped up by now by somebody else! Or some small group would have made a free demo site and attracted groundswell buzz!"

One man-month of a skilled Java-Flash designer. That's what has been estimated as all we'd need, in order to set up a killer online site that would attract opensource fanatics and take off on its own. (I am more cynical and figure 2 or 3 man-months.) That's it.

Can't get even that. Every smarty pants looks at Holocene and says "It HAS to have been done before. Brin can't claim all that!"

Not once has even one of those guys ever come back and shown me a piece of prior art. Ever

Now you see why we aren't innovating in energy or space or just about anything, except how to lobotomize people down to 140 characters.

David Brin said...

Shat, there is a ghost in the room re the Honduran president. Any movement that believes that only one "indispensible man" can save the nation is one that disbelieves in itself as a movement.

Even Valdimir Putin saw this calumny and took strenuous efforts to arrange to retain power WHILE at least paying lip service to term limits. In so doing, he strengthened the future democratic capability of Russia... while keeping it squelched in the near term. Above all, he said "look, we can produce more than one qualified leader. We are not small."

I don't like him, of course, but that was worthy of respect. In contrast, caudillos in S America are not, whether they are oligarch variants or from the populist left.

Travc said...

@Sociotard re: the Honduran "coup"

Nice summary. Pretty much follows what few actual facts I've been able to glean. And Obama's denunciation was disappointing to me too. He should have played it cool at least until more of the facts came out.

I've been playing the contrarian on a couple of more lefty blogs. They are normally better described as progressive, but on this the fell into knee-jerk left tribalism. Even if it was a power grab, it wasn't a typical one.

Another thing that has been played up is that the head of the military attended the School of the Americas. Somehow that is supposed to be evil... but in this case it appears that the general did exactly what the "school" advocates: Act like a professional in service to your country.

One recent tidbit that I find very interesting...
The military leaders are now admitting the way the abducted and exiled the president was illegal. Their statement included a bit about how they felt their actions were justified and are confident that they will get a pardon. That is exactly the way exceptional cases are supposed to work, and the pardon is a good bet since they were acting (at least nominally) to support the Supreme Court and the legislature.

Anyways, interesting case where I'm waiting to see how it turns out. "Least bad option" seems like a pretty plausible interpretation.

Also as Dr Brin points out, the "indispensable man" also has a nasty history (and current reality) in Latin America. If the president thought that his political ideology was critical to the future of the country, strengthen the party and find a good successor. That is the democratic (really republican with a little r) way things are supposed to work. Trying to eliminate term limits at the 11th hour of your rule is just trying to hold onto power for yourself.

Travc said...

Re: Social bacteria ect.

Myxococcus xanthus is the model organism for studying sociality in bacteria. "Suicide bombers", pack hunting, all sorts of good stuff.
Google will get you lots of info.

Both Lenski and Velicer have done some cool studies where they evolve bacteria in environments where the social behaviour isn't selected for (growing them in stirred liquid). The bacteria loose some of their social abilities, and then (sometimes) regain them when grown for successive generations on agar (petri dishes). From this we can track down where the important mutations occurred, what genes are involved, and how they are "rescued" (gain the ability back... which very often not just simply reversing the original mutations). As I said, cool stuff.

As for empathy in animals.
Anyways, rats are highly social, no surprise they have social traits like apparent empathy. Lots and lots of animals are social. Even animals which are not social as such often have quite sophisticated social-ish (interacting with other individuals) abilities. Hell, there are lots of examples of cross species sociality even.

A predator will often not bother to attack a potential prey if the prey looks at it... makes sense (the prey is ready to run or fight and will be a harder target). Is that empathy?

Empathy is an interesting topic... but it isn't anything very special or uncommon. Adaptive benefits are not hard to imagine, though they are notoriously hard to actually pin down/prove.

Altruism is quite different. It doesn't require empathy. It is merely doing something beneficial to another at the (proximate at least) expense of yourself. Empathy may help identify situations where one can do something beneficial for another individual, and it may be useful for assessing the potential for potential delayed compensation.

I'm of the opinion that generalized empathy and common altruistic acts are probably a byproduct of using sloppy heuristics to determine the best social behaviour. Instead of tying to compute the optimal, just go with some simple rules of thumb.

BTW: The Argentine Ant "mega colony" is almost certainly a byproduct of pheromone based in-colony identification breaking down with the insanely rapid anthropogenic geographic spread of the ants... aka, a bug, not a feature.

David Brin said...

empathy is not sympathy. though it is often conflated. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in others' shoes, with some modeling accuracy. Thus, it is a powerfully useful device ... for a predator to have.

"what is the deer thinking?" would be a useful question for the tiger to picture in mind. I believe when a cat is clamping down on the deck of thrashing prey, it is telepathically thinking... "yes, I know, shhhh, there there now."

Sympathy arises when you have empathy combined with satiability combined with satiation. (Note... not all species... or humans... are capable of being saiated.)

People hearing of stranded whales will today rush to the beach JUST as fast as their ancestors would have, upon hearing the same news.

Think about the sentence above. roll it over till you get it. Till it clicks. The same impulse to run toward the helpless... but with different aims in mind.

Jester said...

In order to support the Coup, (which the Honduran military recognizes to be illegal - "We had to burn the constitution to save it") one has to first swallow a Big Lie hook, line, and sinker.

Zelaya was actively campaigning for and had formally endorsed his former VP in the November Election. Decidedly odd behavior for a man who had any intent to run himself.

The actual Text of the non-binding Referendum said nothing at all about terms limits, and was not a call for ammending the existing Constitution. It was a call for creating a new one, not written by Reagans "Central America Hands".

"¿Está usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una nueva Constitución política?"

Roughly -

"Do you want a choice in the general November election to decide about a National Constitutional Convention to aprove a new political Constitution?"

Given that he wasn't running in November, and his name would not be on the ballot, and that the referendum was non-binding, there was no path here to another consecutive term. Claims that he was seeking to extend his time in office are about as valid as claims that Obama is a super-secret Islamocommiefascist.

The ban on Referendums within 180 days of the election was passed - literally - the night before the non-binding referendum was to take place.

It's actually an open question (or was) as to whether or not the President had the right to call a non-binding Referendum. Oddly enough, knee-jerk coup supporters blinded by a rabid and irational hatred of a Chavez (who is tool, but rates about 43rd on the list of current nasty dictators) tend to leave out that niggling "non-binding" part.

Calling a march of unarmed protestors seeking to recover the ballots a "Mob" is pretty telling in regard to a persons objectivity.

The Congress leveled no actual charges, but rather, Ousted him for being "mentally incompetent" while waving around a forged resignation letter. When you're in the right, you ussualy don't have to lie.

The Supreme Court of Honduras has no more power to oust a sitting President than the Supreme Court of the United States. The Honduran Constitution also has an Impeachment Clause.

Under that clause, the President has a right to present a defense.

All of that being said, he was an asshole of a President who kept trying to -

1) Censor the media.

2) Expand the States power to wiretap in the name of combating Gang Violence.

Not a fan, personally, even if he did a few good things like nearly doubling the minimum wage and trying to enforce the existing tax code (The wealthy in Honduras simply don't pay their taxes, as it's cheaper to pay off investigators).

If the Military had siezed Nixon and flown him to Mexico when Watergate broke, and the House and Senate had impeached him in absentia while refusing to allow him a defense and waving a fake resignation letter, only to replace him with a Constitutionally Ineligble Speaker...we'd have something close to analogy.

Well, if they'd followed up by ordering a one week news blackout and suspension of the rights to free speach and peacefull assembly...

If the Golpistas had any respect for the Rule of Law, they would have had hauled him before the Supreme Court to testify, and then hauled him right over to the Congress to be impeached.

And, the rest of the world wouldn't be saying squat about it.

Instead, they're shooting kids in the head with live ammunition.

Acacia H. said...

I don't know if this got mentioned yet or not, but NASA is putting out Plan B for a heavy cargo lifter to get astronauts into space and eventually to the Moon. As the image on that news article shows, it's basically a one-use shell using the existing infrastructure for the Space Shuttle. From what I understand, it would only be able to put two people into space, though I'm not quite sure why that is.

I must admit, this would be an effective stop-gap measure while continuing to fund and build a new rocket system to either put the new four-man capsules into LEO and to the ISS, or to actually build a full launch system like they originally were planning. I could also see the eventual push toward your own short story, Dr. Brin, holding the canisters in low orbit, growing food from water created from leftover hydrogen and oxygen in the tanks, while solar panels put out the power needed to keep the platform in space. This "orbital scrapyard" would also be useful because we'd have a growing supply of resources that could be used for in-orbit construction of space ships to mine asteroids and the like.

You know, waste not, want not!

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Travc said...


Just to make it clear, many of the "pro-coup" assessments offered (including mine) are really just about offering the other side to an argument that has been *way* oversimplified. I'm not in favor of the coup, but what is going on is complicated and there doesn't seem to be a clear right vs wrong.

It does seem to me that many of the key players were trying to do what they thought was good for their country. That doesn't make them right of course.

Thanks for the additional info to chew on.

TwinBeam said...

In the spirit of Red-Blue polls of morality, I thought this was pretty funny. No idea how they came up with it...

And on the topic of space, NASA is apparently planning to de-orbit the ISS in 2016 - assuming this isn't a publicity stunt to protect funding for the manned space program.

It seems a shame to waste all that mass - about 300tons, which would cost about $1B to launch by the cheapest means available. But the, it's only a billion dollars, and who even keeps track of such petty change these days?

Since the ISS is going to get a VASIMR thruster before much longer - why not supply it with the enough reaction mass to keep it in orbit?