Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tech marvels and wonders

Let's do a quick, midweek palate cleaner, and switch to the part of our nation and civilization that is doing fabulously.... science! And for starters --

Changing the future of of the hyperloop companies claims to be ready for full-scale tests.

An F/A-18 Hornet releases a swarm of over a hundred mini drones that swarm with collective intelligence, like birds.  Yow.

Can we stop brain cancer.. with rabies? The rabies virus has the unusual ability to enter nerve cells, scientists are attempting to use it to transport tumor-killing nanoparticles into brain tumors.

Bacteria fed synthetic iron-containing molecules can be induced to generate current as part of their metabolism. These bacteria could be used to treat wastewater, while generating electricity.

The future of “breath-analysis.” In a potential breakthrough in rapid-diagnostic medicine, a team used mass spectrometry to identify the breath components associated with each of 17 diseases. By analyzing the results with artificial intelligence techniques (binary classifiers), the team found that each disease produces a unique breathprint, based on differing amounts of 13 volatile organic chemical (VOC) components. They also showed that the presence of one disease would not prevent the detection of others.

So far, measurements of the response of an anti-hydrogen atom to light suggests that it responds identically to regular hydrogen.  In 2018, scientists hope to get a much better grip on whether the same thing applies to gravity.  So far, the standard model is holding.

Marvel at the science behind daily life with Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski, which examines mysteries mundane and grand, those nagging quandaries from the kitchen to the night sky. 

In the scientific songs department, Tom Lehrer's classic ditty about the periodic table has been superseded by ASAPScience. Set to "Orpheus in the Underworld", it covers elements up to 118. With applications. Though now badly needing updates.

Is Botox another weapon against depression?  Perhaps it will help John Kerry to not grimace as his State Department is sold to the Kremlin.  (Couldn't help it.)

== Technologic wonders ==

The start of mass production at Tesla’s massive battery Gigafactory near Reno NV is a huge milestone in Tesla’s quest to electrify transportation, and it brings to America a manufacturing industry—battery cells—that’s long been dominated by China, Japan, and South Korea. 

Tech offers a human touch... “Easily the most anticipated product at the CES 2017 — and without question 2017’s most promising transformative technology — is Spinali Design’s vibrating short-shorts, which sync with your phone and translate directions from your favorite navigation app into goading twitches to your left or right cheeks.” 

Bosch offered a concept car at CES that emphasizes changes to the interior driver and passenger environment, including hand gesture controls and haptic feedback.

Printed electronics are the next wowzer thing. But techniques need improvement. Currently, a trail of nanoparticles of silver must then be heated to make a conducting wire.  But new methods laying down nanowires may get past this, and allow better conductivity with fewer resources.

A new kind of organic coating… made from banana peels and such… may delay fruit ripening much better, allowing it to be picked later and yet be stored longer. Ripening can even be timed so one banana of that bunch you bought will be ready each day of the week.

MIT researchers have developed a radical design for a low-cost, miniaturized microscope that can chemically identify individual micrometer-sized particles. Low-cost, ten-times-higher-resolution spectroscopy technique could allow for detection of microscopic amounts of chemicals for applications in security, law enforcement, and research.

== Nature and history ==

In a Myanmar flea market, a huge find – the feathered tail of an infant dinosaur 99 million years old, now under study by researchers at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

So cool. I hope someday to visit the newly opened replica of Lascaux Cave, that’s been erected right next to the original. 

Okay folks, I have been reminding you that you lived in a civilization that did wonderful adventures in space exploration and science. (We’ll see if it continues.) But did you know you also live in a civilization that made way-cool goggles for a parrot named Obiwan so they could watch it fly safely through a laser field?

Finally... a look a heroes of books: Boing Boing reports: “Two employees at the East Lake County Library created a fictional patron called Chuck Finley -- entering fake driver's license and address details into the library system -- and then used the account to check out 2,361 books over nine months in 2016, in order to trick the system into believing that the books they loved were being circulated to the library's patrons, thus rescuing the books from automated purges of low-popularity titles."

Ah, to live in a society where that is the epitome of official corruption.


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who routinely checks out books from the library just to keep them on the active list. I think she has a list of when to take out each book so it isn't purged.

Dennis M Davidson said...

@David Brin. Lascaux art.
What's fascinating about the paleolithic art in this cave and others is how little it changed in style and form over millennia. These artists were skilled in both technique and composition. This knowledge had to be conserved and taught from one generation to the next--- over hundreds or thousands of years. From this we can surmise long-term stability in the 'parent' culture of these artists. Another 'wow'!

Alfred Differ said...

I'm hoping anti-Hydrogen misbehaves wrt gravitation. 8)

Jumper said...

For some reason I acquired two copies of Mandelbrot's masterful The Fractal Geometry of Nature. A little-known aspect is how he worked with the printers to make sure of the fine care necessary to portray the infinitely complex minuscule details. It truly is a beautiful and wondrous book. I donated a copy to the library. Years later I looked up its borrowing history and saw it had never been checked out. This depresses me.

It will be a while before antimatter cobalt can exist. Its chirality would be interesting to check.

Alfred Differ said...

Stratfor is now listing CRISPR as a geopolitically critical technology and noting how patent holders can have more impact of foreign policy than governments in the earliest years of a patent due to slow reaction times for governments. Who gets an early license, hmm? 8)

David Brin said...

Alfred I pay very little heed to Stratfor. They are smart but hobbled by doctrinal obsessions.

Dennisd... In Uplift War I talk about how most major human language groups, especially Indo European, seem to trace backward to ancestral tongues that were extremely inflected and grammatical, with cases and declensions and genders and such . These amount to Shannon-type correction coding that would preserve accurate content across continents and centuries... though as a cost. It would have made thinking very rigid and uncreative.

Unknown said...

I'm not trained in language, but one thing that always fascinated me about Sanskrit is that it was a language designed from the start to preserve its rhythm and pronunciation, with a style guide (a poem) that shares the grammar and sounds through rhyme. Admittedly, it's only a few thousand years old, but compare that to English.

Tony Fisk said...

For those who yearn for new lands to explore, how about a newly discovered continent?

Comprising Lord Howe Rise and associated islands, much of the real estate on 'Zealandia' is, admittedly, a bit soggy at the moment. Nevertheless, it has geological features consistent with a continental body.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: You play a different game than they do. You make predictions with much lower odds and freely admit them as long shots. They don't and explain why. That leaves them with a lot of pre-prediction material that gets used mostly as research fodder.

The point they make about CRISPR, though, is that is should be considered among the tools used by nations to influence their available wealth. For example, a nation with no large rivers to be dammed up for electricity generation has to spend more generating or purchasing electricity. This chips away at disposable income since hydro is one of the cheapest and fast response sources of electricity. Those same rivers make for cheap roads bringing goods to market if they flow the right way. These things add up over time. Adding CRISPR to the list means we should be looking at early licensees with a bit more care. They might be better off in half a generation and then do something they might have otherwise avoided.

Alfred Differ said...

@Tony: I was taught to call it Caledonia. The geologist who educamated me said it was best described as a sub-continent and loved the double meaning in that. 8)

TCB said...

Last night I read not about technological wonders but about technological terrors.

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine
, or, how a data mining company called Cambridge Analytica has created a personality profile of every American voter and uses that information to feed you fake stories and propaganda articles (on your Facebook feed, much of the time). Quote:

"Most recently, Analytica helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump, secured a win for the Brexit Leave campaign, and led Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign surge, shepherding him from the back of the GOP primary pack to the front.
The company is owned and controlled by conservative and alt-right interests that are also deeply entwined in the Trump administration. The Mercer family is both a major owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Steve Bannon, in addition to acting as Trump’s Chief Strategist and a member of the White House Security Council, is a Cambridge Analytica board member. Until recently, Analytica’s CTO was the acting CTO at the Republican National Convention."

Question: since Facebook is a crucial part of the CA manipulation apparatus, using your likes to generate a profile which can be more accurate than even your spouse, is it wise for anyone who does not consider themselves far right to even BE on Facebook?

(I have an account but probably don't go on it even twice a year.)

LarryHart said...


I have avoided Facebook as much as I avoid FOX News, which probably explains why I don't understand the rules of the universe that my fellow Americans inhabit.

Anonymous said...

What planet are you on? Worry about the stupid Dam, you moron.

**Water Weight** triggers quakes near damaged Oroville Dam!

Acacia H. said...

Slight political question

First, as we likely know, Ryan is resisting efforts to investigate Trump and Flynn. Rand Paul has even betrayed the Libertarians who consider him his father's successor to the faith by saying "Republicans shouldn't investigate Republicans."

Well, Wikipedia is currently stating Flynn's party affiliation is Democratic. But we know how easily Wikipedia can be edited.

Does anyone know of other sources as to his party affiliation, or is this another salvo in the Orwellian mess that the Trump Administration is becoming?

Rob H. who is waiting for the bombshell that is Anonymous to actually go off and reveal their data and wonders just what would it take for Republicans to stop backing Trump and replace him with their own loyalists...

LarryHart said...


Rand Paul has even betrayed the Libertarians who consider him his father's successor to the faith by saying "Republicans shouldn't investigate Republicans."

And that's how democracy dies. To thunderous applause.

I'm in the middle of reading Robert Harris's trilogy of novels covering the career of Cicero in ancient Rome. I've just reached the part of "Conspirata" in which a very Trump-like character named Clodius unexpectedly wins acquittal (for the charge of desecrating a sacred female religious ceremony by dressing up as a woman himself) in a very 2016-like upset vote. After which, Clodius promises to renounce his patrician heritage and join the ranks of the common people who supported him.

One of the stunned prosecutors, Lucullus, has this to say:

"I shall tend my fish, study philosophy, and compose myself for death. The republic holds no place for me any longer."

David S said...

@robert, you can do date filters when doing google searches and look for older articles.
I found a June 2016 article ( where he says that he is a registered democrat.
Here is an excerpt from the articles:
In fact, one of those Democrats is Flynn himself. “I’m a registered Democrat,” he said, before adding that he was “about as centrist as possible.” As a boy, he would help arrange bus rides for Democratic voters on election days in his hometown. “I’m not a politician, but if someone were to look it up right now, I’m a registered Democrat, and I’m okay with that,” he said.

David Brin said...

Hey anon. I got enough to worry about. When it comes to the dam, there are hundreds of skilled professionals on the job and I trust them more than I trust politicians or yammering internet snarkers. Yes, some professionals ignored 2005 calls by environmentalists to shore up the spillway. (One reason I also trust environmentalists.) But thing is, those particular professionals will now lose their jobs! It is competitive accountability. And apparently politicians and especially oligarchs do not have it.

It has reached a point where I wonder if DT will reach Alfred's or Rob's "100 days". Perhaps he will resign and then keep his followers riled by claiming the Dems and the Press hounded him out. A win-win for Ryan and Pence!

Victoria Silverwolf said...

Interesting and sad that instead of treating this serious problem as something to be tackled, the Blame Game is being played by at least one California politician:

"The Oroville dam failure was entirely avoidable: California passed a $7.5 Billion water bond in 2014 but Jerry Brown didn't spend $1 on new water storage or improvements to existing infrastructure like Oroville."
— Travis Allen on Monday, February 13th, 2017 in a press release

Analysis of this statement:

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

It's ironic that I used to live in Orange County, California, back during the first administration of Jerry Brown. Here it is 2017 and Orange County is still a hotbed of conservatives and Jerry Brown is yet again the governor of the state. Did I jump back in time several decades?

Deuxglass said...

A dam at risk of failing definitely focuses the mind of those engineers trying to avoid the worst happening. Let them do their work and ignore all those hoping to benefit from the situation. there is a possibility that it might turn out like in 1862(I am not a denier by the way). The accountability will come afterward.

Zealandia is such a lame name for this mostly sunken continent. It sounds like someplace in Holland and totally lacking in mystery and wonder (as is Holland). Lemuria and Mu would have been better names by far. You could set an alternative history novel in either of the two but not in Zealandia. It just wouldn't work.

I saw the older version of Lascaux twice and it made a deep impression on me each time and I wonder how the improved version will be. I have made plans to go down to PĂ©rigord to see it and while there have a few cassoulets. I am a prehistory nut and France is one of the best places to be for that. Three months ago I was at a conference at Saint Germain-en-laye. The speaker was Jean-Jacques Hublin who is Head of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and one of the foremost specialists of Neanderthals. It was a fascinating talk but he spend a good amount of time on something he wanted to emphasize so I will pass it along to you.

He said that there is enough Neanderthal skeletons in the birth to adolescent age to make some interesting comparisons to Homo Sapiens of the same age. The Neanderthal baby at birth has the same size AND SHAPE as a human baby but afterwards there is an important divergence. The Neanderthal baby brain follows that of a chimpanzee with regular increase of brain size until adult but the human baby brain grows 250% in the first year vastly outstripping the growth of Neanderthal babies and most of that is in the prefrontal cortex. He said our specific type of intelligence comes from the first year of life. Neanderthals were intelligent but they were not brilliant like we are. Perhaps that first year of life is what makes all the difference. My daughter who lives in Brooklynn and is expecting told me that the State of New York has a special very cheap health insurance for children. I doubt if any private insurance company would offer such a plan. There is no profit in it. Sometimes the "invisible hand" is not really invisible. It actually isn't there at all.

David Brin said...



Deuxglass said...

Only 20 comments on scientific fun stuff and we go back to politics? Sheez.

Unknown said...

Deaux, webcartoonist Jon Rosenberg does "Scenes From a Multiverse", as well as comics for "The Nib", that are often tinged with more than a little political import. His most recent SFAM was obsolete the day after it was published, as it posited a Congressional hearing with Flynn about his phone calls; his latest Nib entry bemoans the way political scandals (and their absurdity) seem to outstrip his ability to lampoon them in comic form.

Too much political stuff, happening too fast, is why we have to go back to politics again so soon. Blame Donnie and his fan club.