Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cool Science Reminders We're Living in The Great Renaissance

I’ll be posting my long-delayed appraisal of the movie Surrogates, shortly.  But meanwhile, here’s a raft of links and other cool items that remind us that -- despite efforts to turn civilization toward know-nothing foolishness, we still live in an era of enlightenment and wonders.

See Shawn Otto -- one of the driving forces behind the science Debate 2008 endeavor to lift the national and worldwide awareness of science as a driver of public policy, address the 2009 Nobel Conference.

See a marvelous series of cartoon satires of “caveman dire-warning sci fi” -- especially if there had been a paleolithic Michael Crichton.


The Worldwide Lexicon is a Firefox translator that makes browsing foreign language sites transparent and automatic. Just open a page, and if it is in a foreign language it will translate it, first using human edited translations submitted by other users, then via machine translation (obviously not as good, but usually sufficient to understand what is going on). The process is similar to Wikipedia in many respects, except focused on translation, and sharing interesting websites. You can fetch a beta version at www.worldwidelexicon.org  Terrific stuff.  Actually, I am writing (both in my novel & nonfiction) about how this era may represent - metaphorically -- the end of the “dispersal from the Tower of Babel."  Think about how that applies!  Oh, but it is a metaphor with resonance that goes MUCH farther -- one of many bits of scripture that can be used as potent weapons for enlightenment, in the culture wars.

Researchers from Australia and Singapore are developing a wireless ad-hoc mesh networking technology that uses mobile handsets to share and carry information including high quality video. The mesh network will make use of Bluetooth or Wifi and could be used at a large sporting event, conference, or even a crowded city centre during an emergency, to swap information between handsets - even if the mobile phone network was offline. http://www.itnews.com.au/News/157220,researchers-developing-free-mobile-mesh network.aspx

 Of course, this relates to one thing I have been ranting about forever -- the near-criminal lack of a backup capability for all our cell phones to be able to pass texts, peer-to-peer (P2P) in the event of a Katrina-type (or worse) crisis.  Those who know how it could be done, and who have refused, for dismally silly rationalized reasons, should expect to be sued, for everything they have, the next time such a crisis strikes.  They’ve been warned.

Meanwhile, a, I good or what?  ”A new internet game is about to be launched which allows 'super snooper' players to plug into the nation's CCTV cameras and report on members of the public committing crimes. The 'Internet Eyes' service involves players scouring thousands of CCTV cameras installed in shops, businesses and town centres across Britain looking for law-breakers. Players who help catch the most criminals each month will win cash prizes up to £1,000.”

A fun rumination on the rise and fall of the Great Books....”For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other
varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts
commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a
remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and
political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower
conception of "greatness" than we might like today, but their
foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly
intellectual.”  --  

DB adds: The Great Books arose out of the fertile, if weird minds of Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins, who together thoroughly transformed the University of Chicago into one of America’s strangest and most intellectually fertile higher institutions of learning.  The Great Books concept was modeled somewhat after the “Seven Liberal Arts” program that Martianus Minneus Felix Capella devised, to arrest intellectual decline during the fall of the Roman Empire.  I am proud to own a copy of the Great Books set... and have mostly found it useful to point-to, while telling my kids ABOUT the big minds of the past... most of whose actual words, insights and passages have almost no direct usefulness in the modern age.  But knowing a lot about such people, and the context of their thinking, is vital.  And some of them are absolutely essential to read in the original, even today.  Karl Marx, Adam Smith, the Federalist Papers, Freud’s Original Introductory Lectures (and little else from Freud), these a person must at least try to understand in depth, in order to grasp the issues of our day.


See a wondrous UV portrait of the Andromeda galaxy -- a mosaic of images from SWIFT.

And now a weird sidestep of “dark energy.” An accelerating wave of expansion following the Big Bang could push what later became matter out across the universe, spreading galaxies farther apart the more distant they got from the wave’s center. If this did happen, it would account for the fact that supernovae were dim—they were in fact shoved far away at the very beginning of the universe. But this would’ve been an isolated event, not a constant accelerating force. Their explanation of the 1998 observations does away with the need for dark energy. The theory is attractive because it describes the effect astronomers observed using only general relativity. It also provides a mechanism for a scenario that’s been discussed in cosmology for some time, the “bubble of underdensity”—the idea that the Earth might be in an area with a low mass density compared to the rest of the universe, which would account for the distance of the supernovae. .... This model would require Earth to be at the center of the universe. In other words, it would violate the Copernican principle, which states that the Earth does not have a special, favored place and that the universe is essentially homogeneous.

Is your city prepared for a home-made nuke? (Somebody gist this article for the rest of us?) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327163.900-is-your-city-prepared-for-a homemade-nuke.html

For those who always wanted to see through wallsThe way radio signals vary in a wireless network can reveal the movement of people behind closed doors. Variance-based radio tomographic imaging processes the signals to reveal signs of movement. They've even tested the idea with a 34-node wireless network using the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol. Signal strength at any point in a network is the sum of all the paths the radio waves can take to get to the receiver. Any change in the volume of space through which the signals pass, for example caused by the movement of a person, makes the signal strength vary. So by "interrogating" this volume of space with many signals, picked up by multiple receivers, it is possible to build up a picture of the movement within it.

Champions of free will, take heart. A landmark 1980s experiment that purported to show free will doesn't exist is being challenged. In 1983, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet asked volunteers wearing scalp electrodes to flex a finger or wrist. When they did, the movements were preceded

Nerve cells will grow and generate synapses with an artificial component, in this case, plastic beads coated with a substance that encourages adhesion and attracts the nerve cells, McGill University researchers have found. This approach bypasses the need to force
nerve cells to artificially grow long distances... interestingly, the article doesn’t even mention paraplegics. The government of England plans to put 20,000 more problem families under 24-hour CCTV supervision in their own homes to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on
time and eat proper food.

A 10- to 20-megawatt plasma rocket could propel  missions to Mars in just 39 days, whereas conventional rockets would take six months or more.

3GS is the first iPhone with an internal compass - Augmented Reality (AR) apps use your phone's GPS to know where you are and the compass to know which direction you're looking at. Then these two apps can tell you what you're looking at that's written up in Wikipedia and/or Cyclopedia -- the beginnings of augmented reality that I first depicted in EARTH.

Increasing the activity of beta brain waves can make people move in
slow motion.

By disabling a gene involved in an important biochemical signaling pathway involving a protein called target of rapamycin (TOR), scientists have discovered a way to mimic the anti-aging benefits of caloric restriction, allowing mice to live longer and healthier lives.  nu?  I still hold to my wager.  We’ll find that humans already throw most of these switches.  For us, it won't be that easy.

By connecting electrodes and radio antennas to the nervous systems of beetles, University of California, Berkeley engineers were able to make them take off, dive and turn on command. Funded by DARPA, the project's goal is to create fully remote-controlled insects able to perform tasks such as looking for survivors after a disaster.

Sidewiki, a new Google Toolbar for Firefox and Internet Explorer, allows users to publicly annotate any page on the web, and could become a universal commenting system. Google could use sentiment analysis to see users' reactions to a page and then influence search

Speaking of Augmented reality -- with Mobilizy's just-released Augmented Reality Mark-up Language (ARML), programmers can more easily create location-based content for AR applications -- the equivalent of HTML for the Web.

Scientists Make Paralyzed Rats Walk Again After Spinal-cord Injury.

A mathematical equation that counts habitats suitable for alien life could complement the Drake equation, which estimates the probability of finding intelligent alien beings elsewhere in the galaxy. That equation, developed in 1960 by U.S. astronomer Frank Drake, estimates the probability of intelligent life existing elsewhere in our galaxy by considering the number of stars with planets that could support life.  The new equation, under development by planetary scientists at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England, aims to develop a single index for habitability based on the presence of energy, solvents such as water, raw materials like carbon and whether or not there are benign environmental conditions.  Ah... but... Astrobiologist and physicist Paul Davies, of the University of Arizona in Tuscon, said it was a "pointless exercise" as the equation refers only to life as we know it.  I tend to agree with Paul.

The “State of the World” report makes for powerful reading.

Stirling Energy Systems (SES), based in Phoenix, has decreased the complexity and cost of its technology for converting the heat in sunlight into electricity, allowing for high-volume production. It will begin building very large solar-thermal power plants using its equipment as soon as next year.

Is The Atlantic finally emerging from its love affair with troglodytic postmodernist reactionary anti-futurism?  Perhaps, if they are publishing Jamais Cascio.  “Pandemics. Global warming. Food shortages. No more fossil fuels. What are humans to do? The same thing the species has done before: evolve to meet the challenge. But this time we don’t have to rely on natural evolution to make us smart enough to survive. We can do it ourselves, right now, by harnessing technology and pharmacology to boost our intelligence. Is Google actually making us smarter?”

3D holograms that can be touched with bare hands have been developed by researchers from the University of Tokyo. Called the Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display, the hologram projector uses an ultrasound phenomenon called acoustic radiation pressure to create a pressure sensation on a user's hands, which are tracked with two Nintendo Wiimotes.

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers have created a prototype micro robot that can crawl through the human body. It is only a millimeter in diameter and 14 millimeters long, so it can get into the body's smallest areas. It is powered by either actuation through magnetic force located outside the body, or through an on-board battery.

New terahertz-detecting technology could make "intimate" body-search-at-a-distance cameras as cheap and easy as conventional video shots.

Open-innovation models succeed only when carefully designed for a particular task and when the incentives are tailored to attract the most effective collaborators, say collective-intelligence analysts.


Okay, there's lots more.  But let me part with this.  Anyone who thinks that all this cientific discover doesn't have profound <i>theological implications, akin to any conceivable meaning of the word "revelation</i> has to have a hole in his head.  We are picking up His tools... whether He exists or not, that is impressive stuff.  Any Father worthy of respect would be proud for us.

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