Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Human Evolution: Speeding? Splitting? Borging?... and a dozen Olympics?

A number of recent web-notables all seem to revolve (eccentrically) around the question of human evolution.  Whether it continues. Whether there is such a thing as "selection in groups." Whether our technological (cyborg) augmentations and/or increasing numbers of "non-neuro-typical" society members portend a new splitting of human destiny. And it looks as if I should have set Existence just five years in the future, instead of 35!

For starters, see a short futuristic film by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo about the "game-ification" of everything. They reveal a near future world very much like the one illustrated in my new novel, a very close tomorrow when you'll overlay reality with meta-information...

...only, instead of using it to solve problems or join "smart mobs" as I depict in a focused drama... some folks will apply such tech in different ways, turning every act, even cooking an egg, into an opportunity for "point-scoring."   Both cool and kinda chilling, it's a thought-provoking little film. These challenges to human wisdom and coping ability will continue piling up.

Anodyne for Anecdotes:  Need a counter-riff to volley back at your friends who gullibly send you forwarded nonsense via email or social media? Disinformation, rumors, assertions and "anecdotes" that are easily disproved? (One end of the American political spectrum now uses only assertions, allegories and anecdotes and has achieved the miracle of becoming nearly 100% fact free. The other political wing seems to be constantly toying with the temptation to follow suit -- heaven help us if/when they do!)  

For a tonic, send your "FWD: emailers" this cogent essay, Dissing the Disinformation, about the ancient, gracious and adult art of fact-checking in this modern era.  Will it accomplish anything?  Yes!  The idiots won't read it or learn anything or stop FWD-spamming their friends with nonsense.  But they will take you off their "FWD: list."

Apparently we are speciating, folks, between those of us still capable of prefrontal lobe usage and Homo gullibilitus.  

And if you believe that...

...see a fascinating - if challenging - discourse by the eminent scholar Steven Pinker about the fallacies of most notions of "group selection" in evolution theory. I don't agree with him on all counts, but it is a feast of clear thinking.

But nature follows many paths. One of the themes in Existence, explicitly stated by several characters, is the question of speedups in human evolution. It might be argued that one of these happened about 35,000 years ago, when suddenly Homo sapiens began drawing cave art, burying their dead and expanded their tool sets by more than ten-fold. I contend similar changes happened with the introduction of beer, and then towns, and the Renaissance-Enlightenment. My new novel attempts to explore this concept from many angles, both pro and con.

And it seems I am not the only one. In this TED talk, Will our kids be a different species? Juan Enriquez sweeps across time and space to bring us to the present moment — and shows how technology is revealing evidence that suggests rapid evolution may be under way.

Speaking of (sub) speciation:  During the nine years it took for me to write Existence, I grew increasingly convinced that the phenomenon of "autistic spectrum" - ranging from deep autism to Aspergers to simply way-nerdy - would become ever-more significant in future years.  Not only because the spectrum appears to be manifesting more often (some call it a "plague"), but also as technologies enable folks who were once isolated and victimized to connect with one another, form interest groups, alliances, pool resources and match skills.  I portray this becoming a powerful force by the year 2050...

...and now it appears that others agree.  Steve Silberman, a longtime contributing editor at Wired will soon be publishing a book, Neurotribes: Thinking Smarter About People Who Think Differently, which argues that non-neurotypicals will play an ever-growing role in society.  See a fascinating article about this at io9: How Autism is changing the world for everyoneio9 is increasingly the go-to site for all things future and science-fictional.

=== Diverging Humanity: Olympics Edition! ===

With the start of the Olympics, one may ask: Will Athletes ever stop breaking new records? Or will they continue to grow stronger, better, faster...as we approach the biomechanical limits of the human body.  Niven and Barnes portrayed one possibility in Achilles' Choice... that beefed up and drug-accelerated and e-hypered athletes would be given their own, separate olympics in which they could burn themselves out achieving short lives but glorious ones.

In contrast, Daniel Wilson's Amped shows a near future wherein a frightened public over-reacts and legislates against those who get "amplified" with implants. What has already happened?  The Special Olympics offers a venue for the disabled to show off how hard they have developed... "despite."  

Meanwhile, some regular folks are terrified of double amputees who are doing amazing things with those "sproing" legs.  See Aimee Mullins in her amazing TED talk "My twelve sets of legs."

My expectation?  It will be a case of "all of the above." Arguments over where to draw the lines between these groups.  But not much of a fight over whether there should be venues for all of them!  Including... ironically, a new Olympics level that will return to the roots, and be severely drug-tested and rigorously vetted, so that it is only for... amateurs.

Very interesting... and scary:  Can Neuroscience Cure Gaming's Gun Obsession? One researcher wants to use MRI machines to watch video game players and explore how developers can exploit the human brain’s dopamine pleasure-reward circuitry to hook players, and suggests that game developers would not want to light up the striatum constantly in some kind of sensory overload, but believes games could be developed to target players’ emotions with scientific accuracy. Read the article by Lee Hall.

=== Science potpourri ===

Remember that scene in Minority Report when the spider robots stalk Tom Cruise to his apartment and scan his iris to identify him? Things could have turned out so much better for Cruise had he been wearing a pair of contact lenses embossed with an image of someone else’s iris. Reverse-engineered irises look so real, they fool eye-scanners. And no I never believed in iris scanning.  There are so many more reliable bio markers.
Activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week. Maybe all you really need to do to cement new learning is to sit and close your eyes for a few minutes.

Researchers from UCLA and California NanoSystems Institute have developed a new transparent solar cell, giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity. This new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) produces energy by absorbing more near-infrared light but is less sensitive to visible light, making the cells nearly 70% transparent to the human eye.

Aerographite: world's lightest material 75 times lighter than styrofoam. Electrical conductor also.

=== And Finally ... ===

Supplement ANY of your classes with videos from Khan Academy... see this.  Seriously guys, it's free and cool and with-it...and potentially uplifting.


Ian Gould said...

"But nature follows many paths. One of the themes in Existence, explicitly stated by several characters, is the question of speedups in human evolution. It might be argued that one of these happened about 35,000 years ago, when suddenly Homo sapiens began drawing cave art, burying their dead and expanded their tool sets by more than ten-fold. I contend similar changes happened with the introduction of beer, and then towns, and the Renaissance-Enlightenment. My new novel attempts to explore this concept from many angles, both pro and con."

Actually David it appears that "humanity" was doing a lot of that well before the subset of it living in a back-water known as Europe got into the act.


The mention of evolution and the Olympics set me to thinking: for the first tiem in the evolution of our species individuals at the extreme end of the standard distribution in relation to intelligence, physcial abiltiy and attractivness are meeting - via universities, athletics and the entertainment industry respectively.

If we accept that some proportion of their unusual endowments are genetic and if we assume there's a chancwe that meeting other peopel with similar endowments is likely to lead to breeding then is this going to be another mechanism for the evolution of divergent subspecies?

(We already have the German "superbaby" - whose probably a super-teen by now - who inherited a mutation in his Myostatin regulation mechanism from both his parents, who were both professional athletes.

ZarPaulus said...

I strongly suspect that we're not seeing an increase in autism, just getting better at diagnosing (or expanding the definition of) autism-spectrum disorders. I mean, the word didn't even exist before 1910, and psychology was practically non-existent.

ZarPaulus said...

Though I admit that something like the "Wingman" app would be pretty useful for auties. Someone would probably design a less cheesy version meant for all social interactions within months of something like that coming out.

David Brin said...

Jiminy! Finally, a Blue Politician with some color in his voice and some fire in his belly!

"Because of the Citizens United decision, Karl Rove and the Republicans are looking forward to a breakfast the day after the election. They are going to assemble 17 angry old white men for breakfast, some of them will slobber in their food, some will have scrambled eggs, some will have oatmeal, their teeth are gone. But these 17 angry old white men will say, 'Hey, we just bought America. Wasn't so bad. We still have a whole lot of money left.'"

Read the rest of this. My only cavil...

Dan Rather was brought down by a lure-gotcha trap. And I am concerned that Romney's tax returns fit into this category. I mean seriously, the guy has been running for president non-stop for 8 years! He had to know it was time to clean up his record and prepare for scrutiny. If there are ANY "smoking guns" in his missing tax returns, then it proves he's a royal fool without any sense of foresight at all.

Alternative theory: he is actually very smart. He HAS been scrupulous with his taxers for 8 years... and he is luring guys like Reid out onto a limb before sawing it off by releasing the forms and pulling a Dan rather flip that helps to consolidate his support.

Which would I prefer? The former increases the chances of a rout. (In fact, I fret that Mitt may self-destruct before the convention.) On the other hand, the LATTER theory shows a man of foresight and cleverness. And if there's any chance he might actually get into the office, I guess I prefer that.

Read the Reid...

Jumper said...

I think the only thing Romney is hiding by withholding tax returns is the reality of how people with lots of money funnel it into near-imaginary but legal edifices that seem incomprehensible, not to mention weaselly, to regular wage earners.

On the other hand, he could be hiding that he pes'rsonally has invested in one of the shadowy foreign corporations which now has their tentacles entwined with some 30% of U.S. states' vote tallying software.
(several articles down, but the newer stuff is also interesting to folks here)

Ian Gould said...

ZarPaulus, there's an interestign debate going on in the US over the treatment of autism-spectrcum conditions in the new DSM.

On the oen hand, you have epople who insist that there's nothing "wrong" with them selves - that if the rest of us have a problem with their behavior then that's our problem and want at least soem autism-spectrum conditiosn removed. (The obvious analogy here, for their perspective, would be the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses.0

On the other hand you have parents concerned that if their children "lose their diagnosis", their insurers will no longer have to pay for therapy.

Ian Gould said...

David, since you're answering questions on Existence, what are the cobblies?

Do they have any concrete objective reality?

Paul451 said...

"I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, red-head..."


Paul451 said...

Re: Multiple Olympics / Amateurs.
If I can suggest one new, genuinely amateur Olympic games. In the third year of each Olympiad, thousands of people are randomly selected, each assigned a random sport. They are given a year to train for their sport in the Games, with, presumably, the support of their home nation. The whole thing documented for reality TV.

Olympics / Professionals.
It would also be interesting to see a sub-set of the games set up as a professional league. Teams wouldn't be nation-based, but could recruit athletes from around the world.

Olympics / War-games.
And I've mentioned before the idea of turning existing sports into open (simulated) warfare. Such as fencing as an open field battle. Yachting with (simulated) cannons. Etc. I'd watch it.

Ian Gould,
Re: Evolving athletes.

I've noticed that in AFL (*), the players are being "bred" by their clubs, each generation of draftees is being introduced to tall fashion models at club events, resulting in increasingly tall, athletic children. Hence a vast number of current players are legacies. I can't imagine anyone actually intended it, apparently setting up players with girlfriends reduces the excesses that you'd expect in young men suddenly thrust into fame and (moderate) wealth. But it's an interesting side-effect, and the super-villain in me wishes there were more such experiments going on.

(*Aussie Rules Football.)

Ian Gould said...

Paul, why not a team martial arts event?

Say a six-a-side melee.

Tim H. said...

A little more on the 1.0 ecoboost here: http://wot.motortrend.com/ford-ecoboost-three-cylinder-named-2012-international-engine-of-the-year-217369.html
Forty two years ago Ford needed twice the displacement to get that kind of power. For comparison, Ford's last, and most advanced flathead V-8 had less peak powerin 1953. Hoping for a review soon by a mechanically inclined writer.
BTW, Dr. Brin, is the new iMac and new OS working well for you?
"lylvedi 447" Didn't sell well in it's home market.

Larry C. Lyons said...

You could look at it this way regarding M. Romney's tax returns. Four years ago in the depths of the largest recession since the '30's John McCain and his campaign team vetted Mitt Romney as a potential VP candidate. Part of the vetting was to look at 20 years of IRS returns. Remember this was in 2008 with the economy nearly in freefall. They looked at Romney's tax returns, and chose Sarah Palin.

Palin of all people.

Think about it.

Rob said...

I do not assume Romney did any illegal tax dodging. I think he arranged his affairs legally and to his personal best advantage. I base this on the information I've been given by people who know him.

I also do not assume Reid is lying about being told Romney paid no taxes.

This leaves me to suppose that the appalling shock possible from Romney's returns is that he legally paid no taxes, while making far, far more than $250,000 each year and openly resisting any change to policy.

If he released them, I think that it would crash popular support of Republican policy proposals, and thus he's been advised not to do so.

But there's another wrinkle. The article doesn't point out that Reid, like Romney, is Mormon. So what you're seeing is the highest office-holding Mormon in the U.S. talking about the Mormon who wants the highest office in the other branch of government. That angle is harmless, but it makes me chuckle.

Acacia H. said...

The reason why McCain chose Palin was not because of some deep dark secret of Romney's. No, it was because he was told by the PTB that his choice for VP, Lieberman, was a no-go. I'd be willing to bet he was starting to suspect he'd not win against Obama and was regretting what he had to do to get the nomination. So he decided "eff it!" and went for the dark horse VP candidate who didn't sound that idiotic (and who if she'd listened to her minders would have come out as better prepared) and who could potentially sway some voters his way (women voters, that is).

Romney probably doesn't want to reveal just how much he was making. He considers it an intrusion and probably even feels his dad was a fool to reveal that information in the first place. After all, it's his right to rule, and the little people shouldn't be insisting on knowing just how vast his empire is.

In short, Romney is part of the Aristocracy that Dr. Brin constantly rails against and feels he will prevail because people will realize that it's the proper thing to do.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

As an interesting aside, I was talking to my dad (a loyal member of the NRA) and there is a general feel that Democrats are all set to, the moment Obama gets into office for a second term, pass massive gun control legislation. He even commented on the fact that once upon a time, Republicans were all for gun control and Democrats were pro-gun. Despite this fact, he refuses to accept the possibility that Democrats learned their lesson from 1994 and that they're just biding their time, primarily because of a few loudmouths who insist on calling for gun control.

In short, a couple "bad" apples among the Democrats have spoiled the bunch for the NRA and are the primary reason for the backing of Romney (who was "forced" to pass gun control in Massachusetts) over Obama, who's been fairly hands-off when it comes to guns.

Rob H.

TheMadLibrarian said...

In the next few years, I will need another car, and am having a rough time selecting. Hybrid? Teeny-tiny and overpowered with all sorts of finicky bits to malfunction? Something that's not even a gleam in a designer's eye yet? Give up and buy used? I've seen a lot of proposed new low-fuel engines, but getting them into a reasonably priced vehicle available in America appears to be like winning the lottery.

ersyti 15: one of a number of 'engineered' cities

Acacia H. said...

In the next few years, battery prices will start dropping, and economies of scale may result in the reduction in price of hybrids. That said, you might just want to buy a used hybrid. I'm sure they'll be out there.

Rob H.

ell said...

Regarding Paul's comment that "each generation of draftees is being introduced to tall fashion models at club events, resulting in increasingly tall, athletic children.":

Back in high school, the tallest athletes always dated the shortest cheerleaders, so the next generation averaged out.

Tim H. said...

Robert, they're already available rebuilt, for example: http://www.re-involt.com
One could spend more on an iMac, with only a little effort.
Note to OGH, Apple claims the current iMac will take Four 4GB DDR3 1333 SODIMMs, Other World computing (If they say so, they tried it.) says it can handle four 8GB sticks, at street pricing, roughly $80 for 16GB, $200 for 32GB, and a 64 bit mac can use it. For comparison, if you got a deal on someone's old dual 2ghz G5 tower and decided to max the RAM, you'd be looking at $160, if you squint at it it's a bargain to have new shiny...;)

Acacia H. said...

Which of course really annoyed the tall girls, who want to date someone taller than them. And I've had several tall women state their interest in guys taller than them (as in several inches to half a foot or more taller).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H... seriously. Watch your Dad's face and report back to us when you tell him that mainstream democrats have not only given up on gun control (except maybe restoring the assault gun license requirement and giant magazines)...

...because many thousands of liberals started, under George W. Bush, to arm themselves.

Ask him why Bush's name is never, ever mentioned by republicans.

David Brin said...

Tim H.... the new iMac with Mtn Lion is great, except for one thing (***CALLING FOR HELP!!***) We downloaded Adobe Flash Player several times and it just won't run and I cannot find it anywhere, even though it claims to download successfully.

David Brin said...

SO fashion models from planet Glamoria are bred with our sports, rock, movie stars and rich guys... Never mentioned is that it is all Rumplestiltskin... they will come and take all the kids that result.

infanttyrone said...

Re Flash problems

Following is from Firefox's main Help page...

Maybe try the previous version if you can get it...

Adobe has recently updated Flash to version 11.3. Some users have reported that this version of Flash is crashing more frequently than previous versions of Flash. If you are experiencing excess crashes, please downgrade to Flash 10.3 or Flash 11.2.

Note: This article is specifically for crashes with Flash 11.3. If you are experiencing issues with Flash 11.3 such as video appearing black, white or grey and never playing, please see Flash 11.3 doesn't load video in Firefox.

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, the last time I updated, I think 10.7 and 10.8 are close enough that this might be helpful, look for a file in downloads, "install_flas...osx-4.dmg" double click it and it should shortly ask you if you really want to open it, click yes, which should initiate "Adobe Flash Player Install Manager" I have downloaded the latest earlier today, if I see something different when I install it, I shall certainly pass it along. And I'm waiting a little longer on Mountain Lion, to see if there's anything particular to worry about, and to give "The Plastic" a little time to recover from an unavoidable expense. Not to worry, 10.7 runs fine on a core2duo with 8GB of RAM.

David Brin said...

We can't get the downloaded version of Flash Player to work even on Safari..

re the potential Romney implosion - more :


Hans said...

Hi David,

Again, what is your source for liberals arming? As when I asked before, I don't doubt you are correct, I just want to know how you know that.



sociotard said...

I'm not even convinced that Democrats gave up, really.

Illinois governor proposes assault weapons ban

Of course, that's the kind of discrepancy that happens whenever we discuss groups as if they were of one mind and purpose. Perhaps most Dems have given up that plank. And the ban proposed wasn't even especially strong.

David Brin said...

Hans... my knowledge of liberal gun owners is entirely anecdotal... and it is huge.

Sociotard: it is a horrid mistake to push for an assault weapons "ban". Call it a licensing program and offer my Jefferson rifle that will NEVER need a license... then you sap half the energy from the ninnies.

Ian Gould said...

One for the uncles: continued growth in the use of fossil fuels will have catastrophic effects on global health and the global economy even if we totally ignore global warming.


You might want to make the particular point that the jet stream tends to distribute pollutants in a band aroudn the planet at the same approximate longitude.

Ask them if they want their grandkids breathing air as polluted as present-day Beijing's because of emissions in China and India.

Ian Gould said...

Actually, that should be latitude.

Alfred Differ said...

Thank you David. You’ve brought a ray of hope into my life. Know that.

When I read your Holocene stuff a couple years ago (described better in Existence), that was the first time I thought about adapting tools to my son’s situation. Like those of us who rely upon service dogs to help our kids do what they can’t do or haven’t yet learned, I began to see the tech tools as a practical way out the attention traps he faces.

Instead of coding tools for him, though, I began to watch how he used virtual reality games. Without the bazillion details to process and filter he has begun to do things the people who diagnosed him years ago noticed he couldn’t do. Things like self-immersion in a narrative created by someone else and a few others. One said me might never do it while another said to keep a look out and not lose hope. It could be he is slowly getting there, or it could be that the VR worlds help him focus. I don’t know. Now I’m thinking of a broader class of service agents besides dogs and smart phone apps. Mostly I’m thinking about adapting the world to him instead of him to it.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think my son should be exactly what he already is, though. I can see in his eyes that he finds the communication gap terribly frustrating. It is obvious the loud noises and visual distractions with which many of us can cope cause him pain. It isn’t enough to give him adaptation tools. He has to adapt at least partially to the state of the world because they won’t adapt much to him any time soon. Parents like me need to face that fact and get our kids to flex as much as they reasonably can. Fortunately, the new tools give us a wider range of options. Instead of an ABA style behavior replacement approach, I can consider behavior augmentations too. My son might not have to learn to cope with complex office politics if he can work contracts virtually. Obviously it would help him if he could cope, but now I have an option to push him to adapt or push to find an adaptation tool.

The world is a little sunnier each year now.

Tony Fisk said...

Amateur Olympics. I found Jane McGonigal's account of coming up with a 'new' event for the 2008 games (which was a game in itself) quite fascinating.

'The Lost Ring', considered so appalling by the original Olympians, that it was excised from the record (Herostratus must have been a champ!?)

The full ritual is shown here

Luke said...

Speaking of borging, the 2045 initiative is getting a fair bit of press lately. Will we survive past our prime as brains floating in a cybernetic bath of biochemicals?

Tim H. said...

Home again, Dr. Brin, did the installer come up? If so you should have been asked to shut down a list of applications, including browsers. Second possibility, 10.8 might not play nice with flash. Not too upset at google just this minute, found this:

In short, look at your gatekeeper settings, you want "Mac app store and identified developers", flash player isn't on THAT list yet. Hoping you just found a small pothole, Tim.

Tim H. said...

Mea maxima culpa! Flash player is on the good list, not the $%!+ list.

David Brin said...

Alfred... thanks for sharing your pain and your hopes. Our prayers and/or good vibes go out to you and your child.

sociotard said...

Oooh, now I'm angry.

Obama authorizes secret US support for Syrian rebels

I have to remind myself that I wasn't wrong to vote for this man. John "bomb bomb Iran" McCain would've gotten more militarily involved earlier, and in fact has been advocating that. I just have to accept that every candidate I'll ever get the chance to vote for will worship at the altar of Mars. All I'll ever get to do is vote for the less devout one.

Still, it bugs me, especially reading this.

As Syrian War Drags On, Jihadists Take Bigger Role

So we know already that any violent aid we send will help the jihadists. We're sending munitions to Al Qaeda. Again. What, is this a "sorry we killed Osama" present?

Its just so stupid. ]

We could accept our inability to do anything to make the world a better place through violence. We could accept that stopping Assad through violence will only lead to more death elsewhere another day, and that it may be more likely to be US citizens who die. We could accept that it is not our place to interfere violently in any nation except in our immediate self defense.

Sure, just by being a big country we will have a big effect on the world, but violence is a line we don't have to cross. The supply of military aid is another. I hate to say it, but maybe we should be a little more like China. They're huge too, but they still limit their military bullying to a small section of the world.

Ian Gould said...

"So we know already that any violent aid we send will help the jihadists."

No, aactually what we know is that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already sending weapons to Syria - and US intelligence involvement is intended to try to minimize the risk of those weapons goign to Jihadis.

And what we know is that the Syrian government was massacring non-violent pro-democracy protesters before a single opponent of the regime took up arms agaisnt them.

And we know that the FSA is already engaging in a full-scale war agaisnt the syrian government in which smuggled weaposn whether from the US or from other sources play a secondary role to weapons captured from the syrian army or supplied by defecting Syrian troops,
Waht would you prefer: that the protesters all line up in nice neat rows so the government can machine-gun them with minimum effort?

Ian Gould said...

Furthermore, the bel;eif that syria is just waiting for a nudge for the Jihadis to sweep all before them displays a fundamentally bigoted view of Arabs.

the same thign was suppsoed ot happen in tunisia, in Libya, in Egypr in each case - it didn't.

In Iraq, the Sunnis found themselves heavily ounumbered and under atatck by shia militia which were being supported by the US.

Even so, they overwhelmingly rejected the Jihadis.

This is the same cant we get from so-called liberals about Afghanistan: "Those people are just animals. They've been killing each other for thousands of years we should just pull out and let them have at it."

It's a comfortign lie for peopel who want and easy excuse for withdrawal.

It's also implicitly racist and not supported by the facts.

Ian Gould said...

Incidentally Sociotard, any comment on the reprots that there are thousands (literally) of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militia members in Syria fighitn for Assad?

Can you not summon even 1% of the anger you direct at Oabama in reaction to that news? No?

Then how about the daily credible reports of massacres or civilians by the Syrian government forces and their militia allies?

Ian Gould said...

Finally, for now, what the Obaam finding actually directs;

"Two administration sources confirmed that the president has issued a finding allowing non-lethal assistance to non-violent groups inside Syria, which opens the door to more communications and intelligence help for the local councils, but closes the door on the idea of providing the Free Syrian Army with direct arms, military training, or other deadly assistance. It also closes the door on the idea of providing safe havens inside Syria using U.S. assets."


Paper plate machine said...

Nice blog. Thanks for sharing those useful information's in all categories.

Tony Fisk said...

Nice to see that paper plate machine has survived the Indian blackout.

Ian Gould said...

Tony, you know that bit in Existence about how aliens might lurk on the internet just waiting for us to figure out what they are?

I'm starting to have my suspicions about Tissue Paper Machien et al.

Paul451 said...

Rob H,
Re: Obama & gun control & your Dad.
Have you made a bet yet? That seems a pretty easy one. (And it doesn't have to be purely financial... "If Obama gets reelected, and he doesn't try to introduce gun control legislation, you have to give up your NRA membership forever. If he is reelected and does, I have to join the NRA for life. And if he doesn't get elected, no bet.")

Re: Romney "forced" to bring in Mass. gun control.

You could remind him that it was the conservative government in Australia that introduced our most severe weapons bans. When the Right introduce gun control, the Left supports it. But if the Left introduce it, the Right object. Safer to vote for the Left. :)

Re: AFL players being bred.
I probably should have added that height is an advantage in AFL. So players are already tall, and getting taller.

(In Olympic style sports, I've noticed that athletes date athletes. In big-money team sports, they date teh tawl prettys.)

Acacia H. said...

If I were to actually lay money on my father's feelings about the Democrats, I'd say that he's been poisoned, much as my best male friend, by the Massachusetts Democrats which possess some of the most poisonous and uber-lefty politicians of the bunch. My father actually lays the blame for that with the Kennedy clan, but seeing that the Kennedy clan is now waning politically, it's likely that we may see some moderation return to that wing of the party.

But asking him to give up on his NRA membership isn't exactly the biggest of deals for him. Nor would my joining the NRA matter, seeing that I do feel that gun laws in Massachusetts are over the top (including that oh-so-delightful law that, until amended, banned the very firearms used in historical reenactments of the Battle of Lexington and Concord).

You see, some 25 to 15 years ago, I had a brother who was very much an Alex P. Keaton type - young Republican who had an utter disdain for anything Democrat and was active politically. Even going blind didn't stop this, and while he strove to ensure certain places (such as Salem State College) were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (which, for an uber-liberal institution, fought tooth-and-nail against compliance on such idiotically simple measures like painting a yellow stripe at the end of each step for low-vision people), he was still very much Republican... though he'd likely be considered a Moderate.

No doubt if he was alive today he'd probably be one of those moderates that were cast out by the Purity Republicans. (Complications caused by the anti-rejection medications for a pancreas/kidney transplant gave him brain cancer, and radiation therapy caused swelling of the brain that killed him. These things happen.)

But he was very... um... insistent the family vote Republican. And my folks tolerated him but let him know that their vote was their own. He had a greater effect on me, to be honest. This is no doubt why I consider what the Republicans have become to be such a slap in the face, because they have become something I cannot support, no matter what that feeling of obligation toward my brother may bring.

My dad votes Republican because Republicans in Massachusetts are pro-2nd Amendment. That's all. It doesn't matter Romney voted against the 2nd Amendment because he's a Republican and my dad can drink the Koolaid that says "well, he had no choice in the matter, it was all politics." His membership to the NRA is incidental to this, when you get down to it. It has more to do with family... and how one young man managed to leave an impact with his family in the 30-odd years of his life.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


I'm not even convinced that Democrats gave up, really.

Illinois governor proposes assault weapons ban

I think Democrats have given up pushing a NATIONAL gun ban. Large urban areas like Chicago--which is part of Governor Quinn's domain--still want local bans. Not quite the same thing.


Despite this fact, he refuses to accept the possibility that Democrats learned their lesson from 1994 and that they're just biding their time, primarily because of a few loudmouths who insist on calling for gun control.

In short, a couple "bad" apples among the Democrats have spoiled the bunch for the NRA and are the primary reason for the backing of Romney...

You don't think facts really matter to those folks, do you? Limbaugh and company get higher ratings by stirring up paranoia, and the NRA gets more money likewise. They'd push the "Democrats will take your guns!" meme no matter what real live Democrats do or don't do.

Paul451 said...

Bizarre story - 21yr old Mississippi man arrested for marijuana possession (and an outstanding drug charge) was found shot to death. Police claim he committed suicide, that shot himself... with a pistol he'd concealed from two separate police searches... and while his hands were cuffed behind his back... and while he was in the back of a police cruiser... in his right temple.


The thing is, if it was a police execution, it was so stupid and the cover-up even dumber that it just beggars belief. (At least take the handcuffs off!) It may actually be less improbable that it was some ridiculously convoluted accidental shooting or non-police shooting. [Although I've been watching one of those old fashioned English locked-room-mystery shows recently ("Death in Paradise".) So I may being seeing shadows.]


Rob H,
I was just being flippant with my bet suggestion. Sorry if I touched on anything too personal.

Tim H. said...

OGH, Problem solved?

LarryHart said...


I have to remind myself that I wasn't wrong to vote for this man. John "bomb bomb Iran" McCain would've gotten more militarily involved earlier, and in fact has been advocating that. I just have to accept that every candidate I'll ever get the chance to vote for will worship at the altar of Mars. All I'll ever get to do is vote for the less devout one.

Yes, I have to remind myself of such things when my conservative buddies ask sneeringly if I still like Obama now that he kept doing fill-in-the-blank Bush excess.

As if Bush, McCain, Palin, Romney, etc would NOT have done so.

If you're not sure which party you detest more, Democrats are safer because they're less quick to decicive, irrevocable action. As I always say, if you vote in Democrats whom you turn out not to like, you can do something about it in two or four years. If you vote in Republicans you don't like, they'll have made irrevocable changes to the country by next Tuesday.

Acacia H. said...

Off on a tangent again (as is my wont): here's a short article about the lack of democracies in fantasy literature. Dr. Brin, I think this calls for a full-on Contrary Rant. You should write up an article on Contrary Brin about your perceptions of the pessimistic nature of the majority of fantasy literature and how they look back rather than forward... and what their perceptions of government has to say about the societies they depict.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

At last North Carolina has solved the problem of scientists predicting rising sea levels from global warming: "Outlaw the use of the predictions!"

Tacitus said...

Regards Syria. I'm afraid we will just have to let the factions shoot it out. The UN Security council won't act, Russia has to prove they have cohones (and they have a naval base in Syria). None of the neigboring countries is strong enough to just roll in and clean things up as was done with Idi Amin in Uganda years ago. And if Americans set foot in the place it will just give all sides a new foe to unite against.
The peril is in assuming that a "mostly air" campaign would be effective. It is a much more robust challange than Libya, and in an election year to boot.
There seems to be a tendency to scale up these brush wars. Grenada, then Panama, then intervention in Lebanon with disasterous outcome.

We can't fix everything. We could probably use our resources better elsewhere.

I am trying to stay non partisan these days. After all, the presidential race has become literally a dog (car carriers, snacks) and pony (Mrs. R's therapy horse) show. Maybe I will just wait for some substance.

But I would be remiss if I did not say that Mitt Romney's choice of VP shows serious Lack of Judgment, and raises Troubling Questions about how he could fail to understand how Unprepared for Major Office this individual is.

Just getting ahead of the media curve, ya know.


Acacia H. said...

What choice? The only choice I heard for Mitt Romney for VP was Colbert who said it was obvious he was choosing the horse as his running mate.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Perhaps when the teepers and free riders burn out we can have Republicans again.

Tacitus said...

Tongue firmly in cheek. This is a template that will be deployed no matter the selection.

Fill in the blank________

btw I am sticking to Martinez although she has said it won't happen.

David Brin said...

Re Syria, there is an element of simply wanting to be seen on the right side of history, and eventually, the Alwaites are toast. And anyway, Assad is Iran's boy and when he falls Iraq will also feel less Iran-pressured and the Ayatollahs may respond to pressure.

The Saudis will likely use cash to ensure the jihadis stay muted... for now.

Make that bet with your dad. I have no objection to people being in the NRA... my wife (very liberal) is an NRA pro marksman! More should join to moderate that nest of silliness.

But exclude from "new gun control laws" the re-establishment of reasonable machine-gun style licensing of heavy assault rifles and giant magazines. That's simply restoring sanity. The bet's over whether BHO asks for more than that.

Unless the tax return thing is a Dan Rather gotcha lure... and I think it might be (!) ... then it will play out devastating.

Romney's got a little more than 3 weeks before the convention. I'll bet he has staff assigned to scurry about soothing delegates, already, quenching even the tiniest spark, lest it grow into a pre-convention conflagration.

David Brin said...

Of course, his biggest advantage? "Who the F##@! else are we gonna choose?"

Ian Gould said...

Tacitus, you omit the other alternative:

"But he's so old!"

That was the complaint about Benson, Dole, Cheney and, to a lesser extent, Biden.

Ian Gould said...

"...eventually, the Alwaites are toast."

Well the Assad regime is toast.

Going by the reporting on the ground, an increasing number of Alawites realize that and are deserting the regime.

infanttyrone said...

Of course, his biggest advantage? "Who the F##@! else are we gonna choose?"

Simple answer....Jeb Bush.

My recently deceased wife (poli-sci major in college and former Republican who was a former director of the CA Assoc.of Realtors and used to lobby the likes of Wilson, Cranston, Brown, et al of that era) was convinced that the Republicans would engineer something just before the convention to force Romney to step aside. Scandal or muscle, she wasn't betting on which method, but if you look at previous surveys of American voters who were asked if they would ever consider voting for a Mormon, the numbers I recall seeing make me wonder how Romney got this far, unless he has been (unwittingly) a stalking horse for Jeb or someone (anyone) else who isn't a Mormon.

If there is an afterlife, I am sure she is doing everything possible to thwart any such plans, because as much as she was disappointed by Obama, she felt that the Republicans,especially with their anti-woman policies, have been off the rails of reason for decades.

matthew said...

Thankfully, it looks like Rubio is out as a vp pick. He would have peeled away enough latino votes to cost obama several western states as well as florida. But the wingnut angry white guys of the tea party seem to take Rubio's immigration stance as reason, and obama jumped a march on them on the issue.

matthew said...

"treason" not reason. Makes a difference in meaning.

rewinn said...

@Tacticus2: Your "dog and pony" joke is appreciated!

As for dumping Romney before the convention: it seems to me that we're seeing battles among the Great Houses (House of Adelson, House of Rove) for a prize that isn't that great. So long as the filibuster allows the Senate take hostages, the Aristocracy will get whatever it wants in gross. The problem about Adelson is that he has a highly specific problem that has nothing to do with the Senate: he needs a compliant DOJ to not indict him for bribery.


And following @Matthew ... it seems to be an unfortunate trend among today's Know-Nothings:

"Reason doth never prosper:
What’s the treason?
Why, if it prosper,
None dare call it reason."

Tim H. said...

And the treasonus hope to be on a private island sipping a refreshing drink while we shovel the ashes and bury the dead. Oh, wait was I compassion trolling again, BAD Tim!
And saw this at doonesbury.slate.com,
"I know who you are. You ruined our country!"

A neighbor of Karl Rove, when Rove introduced himself on the street

rewinn said...

Too Good To Pass Up:
"The State of the Federal Web Report issued in late 2011 noted that Federal agencies planned to eliminate or merge several hundred domains, as part of the President's Campaign to Cut Waste. The goal was to reduce outdated, redundant, and inactive domains. As part of this work, the .gov Task Force overseeing the process asked members of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) to archive and preserve all .gov Executive branch domains slated to be decommissioned or merged. NDSA members immediately agreed that an important step in this process was to preserve the content of these sites as part of our national digital heritage - instead of simply eliminating them.

Rather than start a separate, standalone project, we chose to launch a collaborative crawl under the auspices of the End of Term Web Archive project (EOT)...."

"US Executive Branch Closure Crawl"

Naum said...

Dan Rather was brought down by a lure-gotcha trap…

The sad thing is those memos might have been unauthentic, but the information in them was entirely true, according to the secretary of the National Guard officer who "authored" them.

It's nuts -- like saying that you were not married because the "license" proffered was a "facsimile" creation and not the "original" document. Even though you are married.

It's either genius or a sign of idiocy in America.

Acacia H. said...

If a person is guilty of a crime in the United States but there is no actual proof of his or her guilt, then by rights that person cannot be convicted of a crime. While Rathergate utilized true information, the fact that there was no actual documentary proof meant that Bush could not be held accountable for being a weasel during Vietnam. Thus he got away with it, and Rather had egg on his face.

Or to put it another way, if you write a scientific paper that is reporting on a very true phenomena and is completely accurate but you fake documents and data to hold up your viewpoint, then you are conducting scientific fraud and your paper is worth less than the paper it's printed on.

Rob H.

Rob said...

I'm trying to wrap my brain around the idea that a Kerry partisan pulling stupids by badly fabricating those documents, combined with the overeager producer's (Mary... somebody...) enthusiasm to believe them constituted "lure-gotcha". For it to be a lure, wouldn't the Bush partisans have to have held it out initially? And isn't it pretty well established that although they vigorously exploited what happened, they also didn't start it?

Ian Gould said...

You know how peopel sometimes solve momentous problems while asleep?

I've worked out how stop global warming.

Every year, the governments of the wordl identify the 10 companies for the largest emisisosn of greenhouse gases an execute theri boards of directores and major shareholders.

I like it because while it involves some government intervention it primarily leaves the choice of how to redeuce emissiosn up to the free market.

Alfred Differ said...

Execute directors? Hmm... Not much of a fan of Liberty I guess. 8)

Just expose them directly to the related liability. Directors already face some risk in that regard. You won't have to get the shareholders since there tends to be overlap a lot of the time.

Tony Fisk said...

@infantryone Condolences about your wife.

No democracy in fantasy...

While ASOIAF looks to be a clear depiction of rampant feudalism gone.. well, rampant, I detect hints of change in the wings in the last instalment. Martin loves his 'creative anarchy' but he's no Lucas.

Maybe someone should set a fantasy in ancient Greece?

@Ian I have been suspicious of what operates capcha for a while now.

Paul451 said...

Unspeakable violence around Uranus.


Ian Gould said...

Alfred, well the Do-nothings argue that a few hundred thousand or a few million deaths a year due to global warming is an acceprable cost of doing business so a hundred or so deaths should be nothing at all to them.

Paul451 said...

Unspeakably clever moths.


Ian Gould said...

I knoa we see an "energy breakthrough" story in the press every few days but this looks interesting:

Applying a small voltage to a solar panel makes it possible to prodcue panels using a much wider range of cheaper and more easily useable semiconductors.

One of the materials being tested converts high energy blue and UV photons into eelctricity - somethign which current cells are poor at.


Tim H. said...

Thanks for that link, Ian. I see things like that as another little nibble at the energy problem, consistent with the history of technological development, and, in no way bad news for anyone. Skeptics, even deniers aren't going to be upset over lowering their light bill, and you'll have their partial support for that. So often in a democracy you must accept the solution that beats nothing. Interestingly, the "Teepers" seem to also have some difficulty accepting less than the whole loaf they requested.

High Arka said...

"...the idiots won't..."

Would those be the non-Brights?

Alfred Differ said...

@Ian: What I'm wary of is authorizing government to perform those executions even if it is only a few hundred people and we might save millions. Governments with that authority can be pretty dangerous.

Besides, you don't have to authorize anyone to do that. If the liberals are arming as David suggests, just sit back and watch the fireworks.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call Pinker an eminent intellectual. Frustratingly, he *occasionally* does good, well-grounded work.... but 90% of the time (roughly), he just babbles.

He's certainly not a scientist, and avoids actual data in favor of Aristolean thought far too often. The result is that a lot of what he says is not worth reading at all.

The complaint that "group selection" doesn't seem to have a fixed meaning and is therefore not a useful term is, however, correct. John Tooby's column is VERY informative. He writes, "Like the British and the Americans, evolutionary behaviorists are separated by a common language. "

The fact is that people are inclined in our thinking to look for direct causes. "This happened because X did Y". This has caused trouble for biologists because evolution *isn't* causal in that way. What you can really say is "such-and-such event killed the organisms which had gene X / cause the organisms which had gene X to have more babies / killed the groups of organisms which did not assist each other, and assisting each other only happened in organisms with gene X / killed the organisms which did not live in place Y, and the organisms which lived in place Y tended to have gene X", etc.

This is cumbersome and counterintuitive and biologists keep looking for ways to phrase it as "evolution selected for BLAH". This will always fail, because it's a long string of environment-specific events with a lot of randomness.

Anonymous said...

Problematically, John Tooby makes the error of imagining that "fitness" is measurable, and his column goes completely off-base at that point.

"Fitness" does not exist; fitness can only be measured in *retrospect*. One could accurately define "fitness for environment X and time scale Y", but that might be completely unfit 10 years down the road due to the "fit" organisms changing their own environment.

Tooby's point (7) is simply wrong, therefore, because it is incoherent; fitness is not a time-invariant measurement nor is it indepdendent of evolutionary success; evolutionary success changes the environment and therefore changes "fitness" in a feedback loop. So, yes, it is perfectly possible for short-term fitness to be sacrificed in favor of long-term fitness by a group of organisms which is smart enough to recognize that the environment is changing.

Anonymous said...

I see I am in agreement with Dawkins, who writes:

"What I shall do is sort out the argument on units of natural selection. The key is to abandon the word 'fitness',"

This is the very word which our cognitive biases make it hard to abandon.

Anonymous said...

And yet Dawkins is wrong about the value of "group phenotype". It is possible that only a group phenotype distinguishes the behavior of different colonies of bees / algae / chimpanzees / etc. This group phenotype difference has a direct effect on whether the group will successfully occupy an ecological niche.
(In competition with a very unrelated group, perhaps a different species.)

Anonymous said...

..and finally, Joseph Heinrich gives the final word, explaining why group selection models are extremely useful, that they have large predictive value, and that Pinker is engaging in ivory-tower thought, in contrast to Heinrich's data-based analysis.

Anyway, thanks for the reference. Every single person who responded to Pinker was more informative and thoughtful than Pinker. Pinker was a model of how not to be an intellectual, but the others gamely did their jobs as intellectuals in contrast to him. Nice reading.