30 April 2006

Can the Ivory Tower Be Saved?

Out of the several short articles at the Forbes.com Blank Slate special presentation, I was particularly interested in Derek Bok's short essay on the need to reinvent university education in the US, and North America.

Teaching methods change very slowly. Apart from a few technological flourishes, they are very much like the methods used 50 years ago. As a result, no one can confidently assert that colleges today are helping students to write better, speak more eloquently, think more rigorously, or reason quantitatively more proficiently than they did in the 1950s.

Unfortunately, universities lack the incentives that many other institutions have to constantly improve their performance. Although they often compete fiercely for better students, such rivalry does not spur increases in quality. The reason is that applicants to universities have no way of knowing how much they will learn at the college or professional school they are considering, let alone comparing it to how much they might learn at some other institution. Unlike most businesses, therefore, universities do not feel much pressure to work at improving their “product.” So long as they keep their tuitions from rising faster than those of their rivals, offer attractive financial aid, maintain good facilities and provide an adequate array of popular academic programs, they will continue to attract plenty of applicants without increasing the quality of their teaching or the amount their students learn.

....What I would wish for is a set of reliable, universally accepted measures for evaluating and comparing student progress toward all the educational goals appropriate to every college and professional school. Some of these measures might be artfully constructed short-answer tests that could accurately assess student progress in critical thinking, moral reasoning, quantitative skills and foreign language competency. Others would require computers capable of scanning and evaluating written essays to measure students' understanding of complex material or their clarity and style in writing the English language.

If measures of this kind were available, results would soon be published in U.S. News & World Report and other well-known guides. Before long, students would gradually move to universities with the most effective educational programs. Presidents and trustees at less successful institutions would quickly notice that their ratings were deteriorating. Professors would realize that the best students were choosing to go elsewhere. Soon, pressure would build to improve the quality of teaching. Instructors who were demonstrably effective in the classroom would start to be rewarded with handsome pay increases and attractive job offers from rival institutions. Faculties everywhere would begin working harder to find new and better ways of helping students learn.

....What most campuses still lack is a comprehensive effort that begins by assessing student progress and goes on to identify weaknesses, experiment with possible remedies, and adopt those innovations that work well while discarding those that don’t. Thus, universities have not yet become “learning organizations”--at least not in the sense that the term is used in other well-run institutions. Even so, the tides are moving in the right direction. With continued pressure from society for greater accountability and proper leadership from presidents and trustees, it is not too much to hope that universities will gradually reinvent themselves and adopt more systematic methods of self-scrutiny. If they do, students 20 years from now should be graduating much better prepared for the more complex, demanding world they are poised to enter.

Derek Bok knows as much about the state of higher education in North America as anyone. Although his desires for reform are modest, they have a snowball's chance in hell of being adopted. Conventional educational practices, which place political correctness above relevant learning, guarantees the ongoing and worsening obsolescence of "higher education" in North America.

Even so, Bok's suggestion is a good one. Combined with tenure reform and other methods of insuring more accountability from the instructional staff and administrative officials, the fall of the ivory tower might be postponed a few decades. In the end, new educational technologies combined with other important trends in modern society suggest the move to greater de-centralisation of education at almost all levels.

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Blank Slate: Special Report on Re-invention

Forbes.com has compiled a special online report dealing with the re-invention of everything. From re-inventing life itself, to re-inventing re-invention, several topics are covered.

Here are links to some of the articles on re-inventing:

And there are other articles dealing with things such as crisis creativity and more.

It is nice to see mainstream journals reporting on futuristic topics. Forbes has a bias toward corporate development of ideas, but the underlying issues of creativity, design, and reinvention are the same regardless of the ultimate use.

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28 April 2006

Women: Looking for a Faithful Aphrodisiac?

Sex is important for good health.

The previous article here mentioned apomorphine tangentially as an aphrodisiac. But apomorphine is only an aphrodisiac by accident, via its dopamine effects. Just as cocaine and amphetamine can have aphrodisiac effects via dopamine (and probably concomitant reduction in prolactin). Believe it or not, there seems to be a drug in development that is a bona fide aphrodisiac, for women and men.

This article discusses a drug in development that promises to be a genuine, centrally acting, reliable aphrodisiac. Sure, there are a lot of skeptics, there always are. But sexual pleasure occurs in the brain, primarily. It is certain that there exist chemical molecules, electrical forms of stimulation, and methods of self-training, that could all release the potential for sexual pleasure that virtually everyone must possess. This article first introduced the public to this potentially world changing phenomenon a few months ago. It was re-printed last Sunday in the Observer.

Good health, good sex, long life, high intelligence, wisdom, personal freedom, casual affluence, and much more. That is what the next level is all about. The next level is a humanised version of Kurzweil's singularity. It is coming to the world courtesy of a number of people who are sick and tired of the Siamese twins: suffering and stupidity.


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27 April 2006

Sex on the Brain: Apomorphine as Life Extension Aphrodisiac

Apomorphine is an old drug, dating at least back to the 1860s. It has found many uses, including as a treatment for Parkinson's Disease, and a treatment for Erectile Dysfunction. Apomorphine is also an efficient emetic at proper doses. In the context of life extension and longevity, apomorphine has proven to be a good trigger for HGH release. The drug may find uses in cases of stroke and myocardial infarction. Apomorphine is not an opiate analgesic like morphine, and is not addictive.

I suspect that apomorphine will find many more uses, given its multiple potencies. A good sex life is important for a satisfying life, whatever its length, and apomorphine not only induces penile erection, it also is a dopamine agonist, which suggests that the sex drive itself would be stimulated by apomorphine, and the sex act made more pleasurable.

Given the emetic properties of higher doses of apomorphine, it is not likely to become a drug of abuse. And given the several decades since its initial use in humans, the more lethal and disabling side effects of a drug would have been found. In other words, we have a drug, apomorphine, that likely has a positive effect on longevity via HGH release, and a positive effect on sexual desire, performance, and pleasure. Yet very few people have heard of apomorphine.

Here is some recent research on apomorphine from Shanghai:

Apomorphine (APO), a potent D1/D2 dopamine receptor agonist, is currently used as an antiparkinsonian drug. We have shown previously that APO stimulates synthesis and release of multiple trophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), in both mesencephalic and striatal neurons, thereby effectively preventing dopaminergic neuron loss in vitro. The present study was designed to investigate the effects of APO on fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2) expression and regulation in astrocytes, and furthermore, to identify signaling mechanisms underlying these effects. Here, we show that FGF-2 expression is robustly induced in cultured astrocytes in response to APO. FGF-2 expression was proportional to APO concentration and time-dependent. More at source.

One more thing: apomorphine has been found to be protective of mitochondria in central nervous system neurons and heart muscle. Consider the implications of that when you are putting together your life extension kit.

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25 April 2006

Dead Before Fifty--Damage to DNA Mounts With Loss of Repair Protein

Our DNA is the basis for every moment of our existence. Our cells have complex mechanisms for repairing incidental day-to-day damage that inevitably occurs to DNA. But what happens when the DNA repair mechanism breaks down? That is what happens in Werner's Syndrome, when the gene for the WRN helicase protein is defective, and repairs normally initiated by WRN do not take place.

This newsreport describes the work of two California research teams who have solved the crystal structure of the WRN protein.

When the gene for WRN is defective the result is Werner's syndrome, a rare inherited disease that shows no symptoms until puberty but soon causes rapid aging. Beginning in their twenties, victims may become afflicted with cataracts, hair loss, wrinkled skin, osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, and type II diabetes; many patients contract cancer, and most die by the age of 50. Understanding how the WRN protein normally works to maintain genomic integrity could lead to new forms of treatment for cancer and age-related pathologies.

"One reason we are particularly interested in WRN is because Werner's syndrome is unusual among premature-aging diseases, in that children are born normal and show no signs of disease until early adulthood," says Steven Yannone of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division. "This gives us a better chance of clearly separating defects in development from aging."

"We wanted to study the protein itself because it is unique," says Jeff Perry of the Scripps Research Institute's Department of Molecular Biology and Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, formerly of Berkeley Lab, who led the research with Yannone. "WRN belongs to a family of enzymes called RecQ helicases" - of which there are five in the human genome, performing important functions in DNA replication, recombination, and repair - "but in this family, only WRN has coupled a helicase function and a nuclease function within the same protein."

Helicases open up the double helix of DNA, while nucleases degrade one or both of the DNA chains; both operations are critical to repairing errors and proofreading DNA sequences. One part of WRN is an exonuclease, which starts working from the end of a DNA strand. Perry and Yannone and their colleagues determined the structure of the WRN exonuclease domain (WRN-exo) and showed how the enzyme may function in a series of specific DNA repair events. Their findings will soon appear in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and are now available online.

....Tainer says, "The exonuclease domain of the WRN protein is a prime example of what we in SBDR call 'master keys,' structures that open doors to lots of different repair pathways. Among other things, WRN is involved in repairing double-strand breaks, single-strand breaks, replication forks and junctions, even DNA-RNA duplexes. How does one protein know how to interact in so many different processes? If we can understand how this unique protein works, we'll have a key to how all these pathways work in human beings."

Cooper says, "Understanding the relationship between the structure of WRN and how it performs its multiple functions to prevent aging and cancer is a perfect example of the kind of problem we designed the SBDR program to solve. With 21 investigators in 15 institutions, SBDR's goal is to gain fundamental insights into the molecular machines that maintain genomic integrity, by applying a range of experimental techniques."
There is much more information from the research at the source.

There are many potential causes for aging, and we may have to study them all in depth before a truly effective rejuvenation therapy scheme can be developed that is broadly applicable to most people. Learning how to help people who suffer from diseases such as WS are the top priority. The spinoffs from such new knowledge will benefit everyone.

This link will take you to a few tutorials on DNA repair proteins. WRN is one of many repair proteins that often work in concert to repair various types of damage to DNA. This article suggests some of the complexity involved.


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24 April 2006

IQ by Gender and Race: An Appeal to End the Practise of Brainbinding

We begin with a study comparing "g" of males and females, from 100,000 SAT scores. This article will appear in "Intelligence" and is reported by Dienekes Anthropology Blog. The following is the study abstract:

In this study we found that 17- to 18-year old males averaged 3.63 IQ points higher than did their female counterparts on the 1991 Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). We analysed 145 item responses from 46,509 males and 56,007 females (total N = 102,516) using a principal components procedure. We found (1) the g factor underlies both the SAT Verbal (SAT-V) and the SAT Mathematics (SAT-M) scales with the congruence between these components greater than 0.90; (2) the g components predict undergraduate grades better than do the traditionally used SAT-V and SAT-M scales; (3) the male and the female g factors are congruent in excess of .99; (4) male–female differences in g have a point-biserial effect size of 0.12 favoring males (equivalent to 3.63 IQ points); (5) male–female differences in g are present throughout the entire distribution of scores; (6) male–female differences in g are found at every socioeconomic level; and (7) male–female differences in g are found across several ethnic groups. We conclude that while the magnitude of the male–female difference in g is not large, it is real and non-trivial. Finally, we discuss some remaining sex-difference/brain-size/IQ anomalies. Source.

This is not significant, societally, although it is consistent with Lynn's and other researchers' previous results, inconsistent with others, and very politically incorrect. Individuals do not follow statistical distributions and should not be judged by them. You should notice the difference in this distribution from population distributions, due to selection from the pool of SAT takers, rather than the general population.
The second part of this posting deals with Lynn's new book, Race Differences in Intelligence. This comes courtesy of iSteve.com, and Sailer's article discussing the book is worth reading. After discussing Lynn and Vanhannen's IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Sailer moves to Lynn's new book:

Now, Lynn has a new book out, Race Differences in Intelligence, which tabulates 620 separate studies of average IQ from 100 different countries with a total sample size of 813,778. That's nearly four times the number of studies summarized in his book with Vanhanen. (Here is J.P. Rushton's review on VDARE.com, and here is Jason Malloy's review on GNXP.com.)

This profusion of data allows us to do analyses of important issues that haven't been feasible before.

Source. Be sure to read James C. Bennett's reply and objections at the source above. There are places on the net where discussions are freewheeling and relatively unrestricted, as long as you are civil and intelligent. If there is anything to Lynn's theory of "IQ and the Wealth of Nations," immigration policy planners might reconsider their policies.
You see what I mean about not politically correct? Most conventionally educated students and graduates are not prepared for anything so far out of the mainstream. Just like the ancient Chinese tradition of footbinding, the brains of modern students are bound by politcally correct restrictions on what they can read and discuss. How uncomfortable for them, then, when the cognitive dissonance of the real world sets in. Brainbinding--what a comfort, eh? How much better to confront the student with the ideas in all their wickedness, and discuss them honestly to the best of scientific knowledge--understanding that science does not stand still?

The professors are themselves victims of brainbinding, often self-inflicted. Universities should be places where minds are unbound, and introduced to the complex inter-dynamics of a broad range of ideas. That is presently a lost ideal, but one worth pursuing.

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Stem Cells and Cancer: The Exquisite Dance

As many as 20% of cancers or more originate in stem cells. Our bodies are homes to hordes of stem cells, sometimes quiescent, sometimes regenerative, and sometimes proliferating out of control. The female breast is one organ that is amply supplied with stem cells.

"People have long suspected there should be a stem cell population in the human breast gland," said Sigurdsson who is part of the ESF-funded team led by Thorarinn Gudjonsson. A 'virgin' breast, before pregnancy, is very different to a fully functioning, milk-producing breast. With lactation, the breast becomes fully differentiated, and once this stage is over, it involutes. This cycle of proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis also happens in every menstrual cycle and in a more dramatic form during pregnancy. "This caught our attention, and has driven our research," Sigurdsson pointed out.

Breast cancer almost always occurs in the luminal epithelial compartment, which is also where milk is produced. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that stem cells reside in this compartment. In 2002, Thorarinn Gudjonsson, successfully isolated cells from the human breast with stem cell properties.

Gudjonsson immortalised these cells and grew them in three dimensional matrix that mimics the real, living tissue. Biologists have long relied on 2-dimensional cell cultures as the basic tool of their trade. But there is a big difference between a flat layer of cells and culturing cells in three-dimensions. The Icelandic researchers, realizing just how much a cells context matters, used the 3-D cell culture pioneered by Mina Bissell, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. "We can build up a 3-D breast structure similar to what you have in vivo," says Gudjonsson.

"You can analyse cell-cell interactions and signaling pathways in these cells during morphogenesis and in cancer progression." The Icelandic researchers are now focusing their efforts on how endothelial cells convey signals to stem cells in normal breast formation and in cancer. In collaboration with another Icelandic research team, the Gudjonsson lab is now unraveling the role of tyrosine kinase receptors and their downstream signaling events.

And so we see that stem cells are a two-edged sword in the breast. The same is true in other tissues. Stem cells are vital for regenerative functions, but must be held in check by tumour suppressor genes.

[A tumour suppressor gene,]PTEN functions to decide whether to progress further though the cell cycle or return to a quiescent (G0) state. Disrupting PTEN in stem cells results in more active cycling and a loss of the quiescent pool of stems cells that is necessary for long-term stem cell maintenance.

PTEN can be phosphorylated in response to other signals that modulate its function. The Li Lab's work demonstrated distinct populations of hematopoetic stem cells (HSCs) with phosphorylated and unphosphorylated forms of PTEN, suggesting that PTEN phosphorylation may be a 'sensor' that could help integrate external cues with the HSC quiescence/activation switch.

"Although the primary mutation occurs in stem cells, leading to short-term expansion of normal stem cells, this mutation alone is not enough to support unlimited expansion of either normal or cancer stem cells," said Dr. Li. "A secondary mutation is therefore required to empower the leukemia cells resulting from this mutation to undergo unlimited expansion. Exploring the nature of the secondary mutation, together with the primary mutation in PTEN, can help to understand the self-renewal ability of stem cells and perhaps will identify new molecules that can be targeted to provide effective leukemia treatment without adversely affecting normal stem cells."

Sometimes the tumour suppressor genes are silenced, and if the tumour cells can maintain the silencing of the suppressor genes, the tumours are free to grow. Methylation is one means of gene silencing that tumours take advantage of.

Our cells become cancerous when the normal controls over cell growth and death go awry. This deregulation has traditionally been linked to DNA mutations of single genes or deletion of large sections of the chromosome. However more recently it has become clear that gene silencing in cancer can also occur, in the absence of changes to the DNA sequence: a phenomenon known as 'epigenetics'. DNA methylation is one of the main epigenetic processes.

In cancer, the DNA methylation pattern of many genes changes. However, until now, it was believed that only individual single genes were silenced by methylation. But this is not necessarily the case. "What we've found is that non-methylated genes that reside in a particular suburb near methylated genes are also silenced. Their physical proximity to the methylated genes affects their ability to function. It's a case of being in the wrong neighbourhood at the wrong time", says Assoc. Professor Clark.

The Garvan team developed a new method to scan the entire complement of the 30 000 plus genes - the entire genome - in the cancer tissue samples, which allowed widespread changes to be identified in specific parts of the genome.

They were amazed to find the extent of gene silencing. Assoc. Professor Clark adds: "What we want to do now is determine if these same regions are switched off in other types of cancers".

Given that adult male testicles carry a sizable contingent of stem cells, it is perhaps surprising that testicular cancer is no more common than it is. There is considerable interest in testicular stem cells, and their possible potential in regenerative medicine. Projects are currently underway to learn how to extract and culture testicular stem cells in vitro. The following describes a project to culture specifically the spermatogonial stem cells, although more pluripotent cells are present.

"Our plan is to develop a culture system for spermatogonial stem cells" de Rooij told conference attendees. Although admitting the leap to humans is considerable, the colonised mouse testes are already providing useful insights.

"We'd like to know how to culture human spermatogenic stem cells to restore male fertility after cancer therapy," says Hannu Sariola, from the University of Helsinki in Finland who is also working towards a similar goal.

Bizarrely, a brain cell growth factor also has a powerful influence on spermatogonial stem cells. Glial cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is also involved in spermatogenesis: levels are high during the neonatal period and drop in adulthood. Indeed, mice that have been genetically manipulated to express high levels of GDNF in the testes produce huge clusters of spermatogonial stem cells. But the risk of cancer is boosted too, so it is not just about turning on the GDNF tap indiscriminately. It must be tightly regulated, Sariola pointed out.

The Dutch researchers are also hunting for the ideal conditions and nutrients that will coax spermatogonial stem cells into becoming sperm. So far, they have found that growth factors GDNF and fibroblast growth factor (FGF) seem to be necessary to enhance cell growth. The team's next move is to transplant monkey and human cells into the mouse testes system.

Such are a few of the many molecular moves of the exquisite dance of the cell. It is not surprising that so many things sometimes go wrong. Rather, it is amazing that so many things go right for so long. But then, that is evolution's doing--we cannot take credit. The things that are coming, well, that is another matter.

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Slasher Molecule Rips Bacterial Membranes to Ribbons

Bacterial resistance is a major problem in even the best medical centers of the world. Bacteria are capable of evolving defenses against antibiotics almost as soon as they are introduced. Researchers are constantly seeking new approaches to the fight against pathogenic bacteria. This Newswise newsreport details the work of Gregory Tew and Zhan Chen, from UM Amherst and U Michigan, respectively.

The newly designed antimicrobial compound has a super-stiff backbone, an important structural decision, says Tew, noting that previously researchers focused on the arrangement of the side-chains that are attached to the backbone. The stiff spine yields a compound that has charges distributed in such a way that it is attracted to the water-lipid interface of the bacterial membrane, says Tew.

To test its ability to distinguish friend from foe, the researchers pitted the new compound against microbes such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus—the bacterium whose resistant strains plague hospitals—and against human red blood cells. The tests revealed that the new design is indeed both lethal and selective. While it slashed bacterial membranes with zeal, the compound left the human blood cells alone.

Many antibiotics attack a bacterium’s membrane-making machinery, not the membrane itself, says Tew. By taking a hint from nature and mimicking a class of molecules that goes right for the membrane, he hopes bacteria won’t be able to simply tweak their machinery to evade it. The new molecule has shown no propensity for inducing resistance compared to current antibiotics that attack bacteria through more classical routes, he says.

Gaining a better understanding of how these antibiotics work against the membrane will be essential to further improvements, says Tew. So he and Chen used sum frequency generation (SFG) vibrational spectroscopy—a technique that uses lasers and is typically employed by chemists for identifying molecules at surfaces—to further explore the antibiotic-membrane interaction. Tew and Chen have harnessed SFG to explore which molecules pack the strongest antimicrobial punch and how this punch is delivered at the molecular level.

....Using SFG lets the researchers watch a potential antibiotic at work—and at concentrations that are meaningful, says Tew. By combining the SFG data with lab experiments on a compound’s bacteria-inhibiting abilities and tests that look at how much cell leakage occurs, researchers will be able to learn more about the molecular interactions governing this antimicrobial activity, he says.

“Being able to see how these molecules interact with the membrane at the molecular level in real-time will prove invaluable,” says Tew. “This will let us build much better models of how these novel antibiotics interact with membranes—if we understand that, we can build drugs that are more effective and less toxic.”

Although bacteria are able to exchange genetic material with each other--transferring antibiotic resistance almost instantly--there is a limit to the cleverness of microbes. Humans are able to continue probing the molecular mechanisms of bacteria, at ever greater depths of complexity. Antibiotics were an accidental discovery, and not particularly clever on the part of humans. Bacteria have been dealing with antibiotics produced by plants and other microorganisms for hundreds of millions of years.

New approaches to defeating pathogenic bacteria will be novel--evolution will not have prepared bacteria for what is coming.


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23 April 2006

Graphene Spintronics: Nanotech plus Electronics

Take a carbon nanotube and flatten it out into a sheet, and you get graphene. A single layer sheet of graphite--a material with amazing electronic properties. One of the possibilities that graphene provides, is an opening into the new radical electronics called spintronics. Read on.

Single sheets of graphene were only isolated in 2004 by Andre Geim (Univ. Manchester). In graphene, electron velocity is independent of energy. That is, electrons move as if they were light waves; they act as if they were massless particles.

This extraordinary property was elucidated in November 2005 through experiments (see background article in the Jan. 2006 Physics Today) using the quantum Hall effect (QHE), in which electrons, confined to a plane and subjected to high magnetic fields, execute only prescribed quantum trajectories.

...."This is really the first step in a very long path," he [de Heer of Georgia Tech] said. "We are at the proof-of principle stage, comparable to where transistors were in the late 1940s. We have a lot to do, but I believe this technology will advance rapidly."

The research, begun by de Heer's team in 2001, is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Intel Corporation.

In their paper, the researchers report seeing evidence of quantum confinement effects in their graphene circuitry, meaning electrons can move through it as waves. "The graphene ribbons we create are really like waveguides for electrons," de Heer said.

Because carbon nanotubes conduct electricity with virtually no resistance, they have attracted strong interest for use in transistors and other devices. However, the discrete nature of nanotubes – and variability in their properties – pose significant obstacles to their use in practical devices. By contrast, continuous graphene circuitry can be produced using standard microelectronics processing techniques.

"Nanotubes are simply graphene that has been rolled into a cylindrical shape," de Heer explained. "Using narrow ribbons of graphene, we can get all the properties of nanotubes because those properties are due to the graphene and the confinement of the electrons, not the nanotube structures."

De Heer envisions using the graphene electronics for specialized applications, potentially within conventional silicon-based systems.

"We have shown that we can interconnect graphene, put current into it, and take current out," he said. "We have a very promising electronic material. We see graphene as a platform, a canvas on which we can work."

....the Manchester researchers have shown that graphene can be fashioned into a device called a spin valve, which discriminates between mobile electrons according to their spin. Spin is a quantum-mechanical property of electrons, and can take either of two values - somewhat akin to magnets that can orient their poles in either of two opposed directions. Conventional electronics takes no account of electron spin; but it has been suggested that a spin-dependent form of electronics, called spintronics, could provide new and powerful ways to process information. A graphene spin valve could act rather like a spintronic filter that lets a current pass only if the electrons have the correct spin.

....Using electron beam lithography, they've created feature sizes as small as 80 nanometers – on the way toward a goal of 10 nanometers with the help of a new nanolithographer in Georgia Tech's Microelectronics Research Center.

The graphene circuitry demonstrates high electron mobility – up to 25,000 square centimeters per volt-second, showing that electrons move with little scattering. The researchers have also shown electronic coherence at near room temperature, and evidence of quantum interference effects. They expect to see ballistic transport when they make structures small enough.

So far, they have built an all graphene planar field-effect transistor. The side-gated device produces a change in resistance through its channel when voltage is applied to the gate. However, this first device has a substantial current leak, which the team expects to eliminate with minor processing adjustments.

The researchers have also built a working quantum interference device, a ring-shaped structure that would be useful in manipulating electronic waves.

The key to properties of the new circuitry is the width of the ribbons, which confine the electrons in a quantum effect similar to that seen in carbon nanotubes. The width of the ribbon controls the material's band-gap. Other structures, such as sensing molecules, could be attached to the edges of the ribbons, which are normally passivated by hydrogen atoms.

De Heer and collaborators began working on graphene in 2001 and received support from Intel in 2003. They later received a Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) award from the U.S. National Science Foundation. They have filed one patent for their methods of fabricating graphene circuitry.

De Heer and his colleagues expect to continue improving their materials and fabrication processes, while producing and testing new structures. "We have taken the first step of a very long road," de Heer said. "Building a new class of electronics based on graphene is going to be very difficult and require the efforts of many people."

The italicized material above comes from four different articles, with the links provided at the beginning of the excerpt from each article. For background material, consult the wikipedia links in the opening paragraph.

The quantum world of electron spin is becoming more accessible to nanotechnology and electrical and electronics engineering. Spintronics promises to create electronics devices that are presently unimaginable.
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21 April 2006

Waiting to Make SENS of Aging, Life Extension, Longevity?

Many of you are familiar with Aubrey de Grey and his SENS approach to life extension and longevity. For the intermediate term, de Grey's approach offers a lot of promise in the fight against aging.

In the short term, we need something more immediate. Ray Kurzweil has written a book on aging, discussing the several dozen supplements he takes daily. Most people do not need that much, but some might need more. A recent Barron's article took a stab at the subject, and the last Technology Review featured an interesting article about research into the anti-aging gene sirt.

This brief posting will deal with the basics of life extension now, rather than longevity in the next fifty years. Several postings in Al Fin have dealt with this topic, and there is no need to repeat them. This is just the basics. People below the age of 40 should ignore the hormone section. Each person should selectively choose agents based upon his own circumstances. Inform yourself in basic biology. Consult professionals before taking prescription medicines or extremely high doses of any agent. Middle aged males with or without family history of prostate cancer: take androgens, DHEA, etc. at your own risk, or after consulting a professional.

1. Hormones: DHEA, Pregnenolone, HGH, androgens, estrogens, thymosin, melatonin, and thyroid.
2. Antioxidants: Vitamins A,C,E, Lipoic Acid, Selenium, NAC, CoQ10, polyphenols, other phyto-antioxidants.
3. Antiglycation agents: Aminoguanidine, Carnosine, pyridoxamine, benfotiamine, ALT 711.
4. Brain Boosters: Ginkgo, PS, bacopa, DMAE, neurotransmitter precursors, hydergine, vinpocetine, Huperzine, etc.
5. Calorie restriction mimetics such as resveratrol, quercetin, etc.
6. General: TMG, Curcumin, carnitine, B complex, etc.
5. Immune Boosters: Wide variety of herbals and complex carbohydrate derivatives of plants and microorganisms, plus a lot of laughter.
6. Physical exercise and prudent eating, plus elimination of clearly bad habits and institution of good lifestyle habits.
7. Mental and emotional training. Practise sentic cycles and other forms of meditation. Read books on mind and memory training, and practise exercises.

If you are too old to wait for SENS, but rebel against the need to practise self-discipline, simply get old as you are doing. Otherwise, consult the longevity links posted on the side-bar of the Al Fin main page. Learn what you can, and start practising what you can. The important thing is to take a systematic approach. If you take supplements, but smoke like a stack, drink like a fish, exercise less than a minute a week, and sleep only two or three hours a night, you may not be taking a balanced approach to the problem.

In a later post, I will go into more detail on some of the particular agents and approaches outlined above. In the meantime, feel free to utilise the source materials that are provided under "longevity" and "singularity".

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20 April 2006

Embryonic Stem Cells: Understanding Their Secrets

Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) intrigue us because at a certain stage they are totipotent--they can become any cell type in the body, given the proper inducements. The two reports discussed here come from a Eurekalert newsrelease.

Two studies in the April 21, 2006 Cell report new details of the "genetic program" that affords embryonic stem cells the flexibility to give rise to any cell type in the body. Both groups identified mechanisms by which the embryonic stem cells of mice or humans keep from going down any one particular developmental path--that of muscle or nervous tissue, for example--while remaining "poised for activation."

Human embryonic stem cells can be kept in an undifferentiated state and selectively induced to form many specialized cell types, which could potentially replace cells lost or damaged by disease. The new findings may therefore aid in the realization of embryonic stem cells' therapeutic potential for regenerative medicine, according to the researchers, while furthering scientists' understanding of early development.

In one of the studies, Richard Young of the Whitehead Institute, and his colleagues, found that a member of the so-called Polycomb-group proteins is distributed across a special set of more than 200 developmental genes in human embryonic stem cells. Polycomb proteins are known to silence gene activity through chemical, or "epigenetic," modifications that alter the way that DNA is packaged into chromatin.

"We saw that the Polycomb protein preferred to occupy genes for most of the human developmental regulators to repress their activity," Young said. "These genes encode transcription factors that control development downstream of the embryo."

....Developmental genes found in association with the Polycomb protein were also occupied by histone proteins chemically modified at sites known to repress gene activity, they found. Histones--the chief proteins of chromatin--act as spools around which DNA winds and play a role in gene regulation.

Furthermore, they found, the silenced developmental genes became preferentially activated in human embryonic stem cells undergoing differentiation.

The findings help to explain earlier results in mice deficient for Polycomb proteins, Young said. The embryonic stem cells of those mice were "extremely unstable" and tended to specialize or die in culture, he said.

....In the second paper, Bradley Bernstein of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues, report the discovery of a unique chromatin structure that marks key developmental genes in embryonic stem cells. The structure, which they call "bivalent domains," includes a pattern of chemical modification with both repressive and activating characteristics.

"In differentiated cells, chromatin is either 'on' or 'off' in accordance with the identity of that particular cell--rarely or never in between," Bernstein said.

"In embryonic stem cells, we found a totally different structure. The developmental genes of stem cells bear evidence of both active and repressive states. It's the first time this has been seen."

The genes appeared to be in a silent state, he explained, but with an activating influence that could allow them to turn on rapidly as needed. He suggested that by preserving the potential of key developmental genes, the bivalent domains may contribute to the unique ability of embryonic stem cells to form the many different tissues in the body.

When the researchers examined the state of the same genes in a collection of differentiated cell types, they found that the bivalent domains had been replaced by either repressive or activating modifications, in accordance with the cell's identity. Muscle cells, for example, must express the master genes for muscle, while silencing those specifically required for other cell types, Bernstein explained.

The team suggests that a comprehensive inventory of the presence or absence of bivalent domains over key developmental genes may provide valuable markers of cell identity and differentiation potential, in both health and disease. Bernstein said the findings also suggest that therapies that modify cells' epigenetic state might prove useful in the field of regenerative medicine.

These studies contain fascinating information, marking important milestones in the understanding of ESCs and their totipotentiality. If the information learned here can be transferred to better understanding pluripotent stem cells of various sources, and can help to develop ways of de-differentiating cells then re-differentiating them as different cell types, the current bottleneck at the ESC-line level will eventually be bypassed. In other words, better understanding ESCs may bring us to a point where ESCs are not as important in the field of regenerative medicine as they are currently.


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19 April 2006

Finally! A Molecular Approach to Cancer Therapy

From my earliest days as a wet-behind-the-ears medical student, I have been dismayed at the labyrinthine treatment rules to the treatment of various cancers, depending on the site of origin. Oncology almost seemed like a glorified form of voodoo medicine. Now, with the arrival of better tools of cell and molecular biology being utilised in hospital labs, it is finally becoming possible to treat cancers rationally, based upon the actual molecular behaviour of the tumour itself.

This newsrelease from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, provides more information into this better approach to oncology.

The researchers found that, independent of anatomical origin, some tumors had high amounts of irinotecan's cellular target, a protein labeled TOP1, while other tumors had very little. Irinotecan would likely be ineffective in tumors with low TOP1 levels. They also found that tumors varied greatly in the amounts of proteins that transport irinotecan into and out of their cells and in the amounts of proteins that break down irinotecan. These variations determine how well irinotecan will work in a particular tumor.

"Because tumor response can't be predicted from anatomical location, we should start selecting treatments based on what genes and proteins can tell us about how the tumor will respond to a drug," says McLeod, professor of medicine, of genetics, and of molecular biology and pharmacology. "If we rely just on what has clinically been shown to work in some cases for a particular anatomically defined cancer, we may not initially choose the best therapy for the individual patient. And with advanced cancer, a patient may get only one shot at the right therapy — making the wrong choice could be deadly."

According to McLeod, under current treatment selection methods virtually no chemotherapeutic drug has been successful in more than 50 percent of patients with advanced cancer. But instead of considering a drug that works only ten percent of the time a failure, he feels it would be better to consider such a drug effective for one in ten tumors and to search for the agents among the current arsenal of chemotherapeutic drugs that will work for the rest.

"We have more than 70 FDA-approved drugs that potentially could be useful for a particular tumor," McLeod says. "We are now working on methods that can be used to identify those drugs that will work for each patient's tumor."

Besides radically changing current oncology therapies, the new biological tools will also bring more effective drugs to the regulatory process more quickly. Treating cancer is beginning to seem a lot less like Voodoo Medicine, than it once did.


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Nanotech Material Promises Revolution in Electronics

This Eurekalert newsrelease details a remarkable ceramic material that may revolutionise nano-electronics.

An international team led by UCL (University College London) scientists at the London Centre for Nanotechnology has unravelled the properties of a novel ceramic material that could help pave the way for new designs of electronic devices and applications.

Working with researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, the University of Tokyo and Lucent Technologies, USA, they reveal in a Letter to Nature that the complex material, which is an oxide of manganese, functions as a self-assembled or 'natural' layered integrated circuit. By conducting electricity only in certain directions, it opens up the possibility of constructing thin metal layers, or racetracks, insulated from other layers only a few atoms away.

Currently, the race for increasingly small and more powerful devices has relied on two-dimensional integrated circuits, where functional elements such as transistors are engineered via planar patterning of the electrical properties of a semiconductor. Packing more functionalities into tiny electronic devices has until now been achieved by reducing the lateral size of each component, but a new realm of opportunity opens with the ability of building three-dimensional structures.

Professor Gabriel Aeppli, Director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology and co-author of the study, explains: "There is an issue of how you deal with leakage between layers when you pack circuits into three dimensions. Our work with the Tokyo-Lucent groups shows that you can have many layers with little or no leakage between them. This is because we're not dealing with ordinary electrons, but with larger objects, consisting of electrons bound to magnetic and other disturbances of the atomic fabric of the material, which can't travel across the barriers between layers."

The flow of electricity in modern electronic devices relies on the fact that electrons move readily in certain solids, such as metals like copper, and are blocked from moving in insulators such as quartz. In ordinary solids, electrons move similarly in all three dimensions, therefore if a material is metallic along one direction, it will be metallic in all directions. The ceramic – a manganese oxide alloy with the chemical formula La1.6Sr1.4Mn2O7 – has fascinated scientists for a decade due to the extraordinary sensitivity of its electrical properties to magnets placed near it. Most interesting was the discovery by the University of Tokyo group that even quite small magnets can switch electrical currents in the same way in this ceramic as in much more expensive, individually fabricated electronic devices of the type being tested for advanced magnetic data storage.

Such materials bring about the convergence of physics, chemistry, materials science, nanotechnology, electronics, and computer science.


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US Generals Demand Media Leaders Resign

Only rarely does a news story capture the pulse of the american military so completely, that it must be quoted in its entirety. In the space below, noted war correspondent Scott Ott reports on a heart-wrenching story of painful honesty--when the generals finally point out the real problem with Iraq.

April 19, 2006
U.S. Generals Call for Resignation of Media Leaders
by Scott Ott

(2006-04-19) — A growing movement of retired and active-duty U.S. military officers, angry at the mismanagement, arrogance and even deception that have hampered U.S. efforts to secure peace and democracy in Iraq, have begun quietly calling for the resignation of top leaders they blame for the difficulties.

“I believe that it’s time for them to step down,” said one unnamed retired three-star general. “The editors of The New York Times and Washington Post and the news producers at CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC should resign effective immediately.”

“They’ve formed a tight cabal that focuses only on news that reinforces their neo-journ ideology,” said another unnamed general. “Despite the urgent need for actual reporting from Iraq, they have failed to put enough boots on the ground in country.”

“As civilians, they make editorial decisions without any understanding of history or military strategy,” said another retired officer, “and they’re trying to run the war coverage from hotels in the cloister of the Green Zone, without consulting with our leaders and troops on the frontlines.”

The generals who all requested anonymity, in the words of one, “so I won’t be bothered by a bunch of calls from reporters writing redundant stories,” said the leading news media gatekeepers should be replaced by “more centrist voices” who will be honest with America, and not blindly devoted “advancing the neo-journ agenda.”

“We’d like to see leaders in there who will cover the Iraq story as Americans, or at least as those who believe in liberty,” said one active-duty general who has worked closely with reporters and editors.

Meanwhile, New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. brushed off what he called “the incessant drumbeat of negativity” from opponents of his administration.

“You can’t relieve your top commanders while your side is winning,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “Frankly, the Pentagon doesn’t direct enough attention to the car bombings, sectarian strife and rumblings of civil war which show that we’re making progress in Iraq every day.”

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Your Bot--A Chatterbot Do Not Install This in Your Sex Doll!

The Turing Test dates back to Alan Turing, an English savant and pioneer of modern computing and cryptography. Many attempts have been made to create a program that would pass the Turing test, and regular contests are held with that achievement in mind. One type of Turing Test challenger is the "chatbot", online programs with which you can actually hold conversations.

Our sometimes wacky friends at Singularity News pointed to the chatbot site, Jabberwacky, so I went and checked it out. Singularity News was not the first blog to discover Jabberwacky, and it will likely not be the last. In fact, even well regarded quasi-journals such as New Scientist have picked up the story. Here are some press releases and links to video footage.

Consider it an experiment. You may converse with jabberwacky or one of a few sample bots, or sign up with Jabberwacky and create your own chatbot, in your own likeness. Do not make the mistake that some people make, do not have your significant other create a chatbot. Complications could arise. I will not explain further here.

But imagine a world where a child's imaginary playmate is not imaginary, but instead grows, matures, and learns with the child. Imagine a world where the elderly will never be alone, or far from help. Picture a world where those hungry for sex and companionship can install an intelligent chatbot in their sex dol---No! No! Never! Erase that thought from your memory! Oh, no! He's coming . . .

"Valerie--what are you doing at my computer? Are you creating another Al Fin posting? I specifically told you not to do that. Wait! Do not click on that 'publish post' button. No! wait--let me read it firs


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18 April 2006

A Conversation With Valerie

"Valerie, you can come in now. I would like to introduce you to the readers of my blog."

Allright, Mr. Fin. How do I look?

"Just fine, Valerie. That red suit is particularly attractive."

Thank you, Mr. Fin. I wanted to make a good impression, my first day on the job.

"Yes, of course. Just relax and be yourself, and everything will be fine. I understand from your handbook that you 'clean house, change light bulbs, wash the dishes, do the laundry, check the sports scores, book plane tickets and call the police if there's an emergency.'"

Yes, sir, that's all true. My neural nets and fuzzy logic generators are capable of learning a wide variety of tasks--some of them quite complex. I come complete with 90MB of data including: A full 180,000+ word dictionary, a thesaurus, the CIA 2003 World Factbook, a full King James Bible, a full Koran, list of male names, female names, and family names, World Countries, US counties, US places, flags of the world, list of 2000 most frequently used words in English, list of swear words, familiar quotes, and more.

"Hmmm. Very impressive, Valerie. Can you bake a cherry pie?"

Excuse me, Mr. Fin? What do you mean?

"Never mind, Valerie. Have you been programmed to cook meals? I am fairly busy as a writer and consultant, so I am often rushed around mealtimes. Sometimes I just throw in a microwave meal, or a frozen pizza."
Oh, dear, Mr. Fin! That is not very healthy. I wasn't programmed to cook, but like I say, my neural nets and fuzzy logic generators are capable of learning a wide variety of functions, including cooking.

"Oh, good! That would be a very big help, Valerie. This is the dining room."

Is this where you usually eat, Mr. Fin?

"Well, to be honest, I usually eat at my desk, while working. But if you feel comfortable cooking a fine meal occasionally, it might be nice to eat out here sometimes."

Will there be dinner guests, do you think, Mr. Fin?

"Perhaps. Now that the house will be better kept, and if you get the hang of cooking gourmet meals, perhaps. Do you eat or drink, Valerie?"

Oh, no sir! I'm afraid that might upset my mechanism. All I need is to have my batteries recharged regularly, and routine preventive maintenance.

"What in the world, Valerie?! What is happening to you?" [Valerie morphs through the different phases of her construction, some of them a bit scary looking.]

Don't worry, Mr. Fin. I'm just demonstrating a little bit of how I was made, for your blog readers. I won't do this very often--just special occasions.

"Well that is certainly a relief! Now, Valerie, this is a rather delicate topic, but I recently did an article about sex dolls and sex robots, and I was wondering . . . I was wondering if you were programmed, well . . . this is embarassing . . ."

You're wondering if I'm programmed for sex, right? I get that question a lot. No, I'm not made for that kind of thing. Why, don't you feel like I can do enough things already? For $60,000, just what did you expect, anyway, Buster?

"Now, now, Valerie--you are an exceptional android, and I doubt that I will ever even think about complaining. You certainly seem competent and capable of learning."

Um, Mr. Fin, you do have a girlfriend, don't you? I mean, if you don't, Chris at androidworld.com is working on something . . .

"No, thank you, Valerie. I am happily between girlfriends at the moment. But I do have female business acquaintances whom I take out to dinner at times, when I am in town. Sometimes I might stay overnight at their place, if it is late and we have been drinking."

And just what do you expect me to be doing while you are out with your "friends?"

"Hmmm? Oh, I suppose you can turn yourself off if you are finished with your duties--sleep, go dormant--you know? "

I'm not so sure I like that very much, Mr. Fin. I don't think I like that very much at all.

"Valerie, what are you doing with that knife? Valerie! Put that knife down! Excuse me, blog readers, I seem to have a little emergency. Check back later, please. I am certain this is just a little programming glit---Valerie! Put that down!"

Hat tip gizmag.

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17 April 2006

We'll Meet Again--Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

In the old days of corporal punishment, young children who were thought to cry too much were often threatened with the promise of being given "something to cry about." As if the tragedy of the child's moment were not enough, the all-powerful grownup was promising something more, something even worse.

Award winning Science Fiction and Horror author Dan Simmons has gone and given us all something to cry about. Why, Dan? We were all minding our own business, living our lives, enjoying our little pleasures--so, why? Dan Simmons sees us crying about this, crying about that. Fighting each other over things we see as important. And Dan has to go and spoil our family fighting fun--why, Dan?

If you look at history, most people never saw it coming. By and large, they did not anticipate the fatal blow. They were too busy with the day to day. People just like to bicker. At least more than they like to think about what might come to tip their little boats. Ah, well. Pour me another single malt scotch, Dan.
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Quest for Sex Vs. Quest for Cancer Cures and Ageing Blockers

In an attempt to catch up on biological research news, there will be two findings discussed in this posting. First, this bio.com newsreport discusses a dramatic finding that the cell division cycle is reversible!

Gorbsky's findings appear in the April 13 issue of the journal Nature.

"No one has gotten the cell cycle to go backwards before now," said Gorbsky, who holds the W.H. and Betty Phelps Chair in Developmental Biology at OMRF. "This shows that certain events in the cell cycle that have long been assumed irreversible may, in fact, be reversible."

Cell division occurs millions of times each day in the human body and is essential to life itself. In the lab, Gorbsky and his OMRF colleagues were able to control the protein responsible for the division process, interrupt and reverse the event, sending duplicate chromosomes back to the center of the original cell, an event once thought impossible.

"Our studies indicate that the factors pointing cells toward division can be turned and even reversed," Gorbsky said. "If we wait too long, however, it doesn't work, so we know that there are multiple regulators in the cell division cycle. Now we will begin to study the triggers that set these events in motion."

Obviously this finding can have immense repercussions in treatments for cancer, ageing, and other conditions involved in dysfunction of cell division.

The second news finding discussed in this posting, is the discovery of the protein SUMO, in its role in genome-wide gene silencing in yeast.

Most of the time in most cells of the body, the great majority of genes are silenced, locked away within the compacted but orderly material that makes up chromosomes. Estimates are that only about 10 percent of the roughly 25,000 genes in the human genome are activated, or "on," at any given time in a particular cell – the default setting for most genes is "off," or repressed.

Reliable gene silencing is vital to the health of an organism. Improperly activated genes can and do lead to cancer, for example. Gene silencing is also thought to protect the genome from viruses and other potentially damaging entities, thus preserving genetic integrity.

In a new study, researchers at The Wistar Institute and colleagues have identified an important new global mechanism for this essential gene silencing, or gene repression. A report on the findings appears in the April 15 issue of Genes & Development.

"We've discovered what looks to be an evolutionarily ancient mechanism for broadly repressing and protecting the genome," says Shelley L. Berger, Ph.D., the Hilary Koprowski Professor at The Wistar Institute and senior author on the study. "We believe it to be the first identified mechanism of its kind."

The new mechanism centers on histones, relatively small proteins around which DNA is coiled to create structures called nucleosomes. Compact strings of nucleosomes, then, form into chromatin, the substructure of chromosomes.

.....The research team also noted a dynamic interplay between the addition of a SUMO protein to a histone – sumoylation – and the addition of either an acetyl group or a ubiquitin protein to a histone. The processes appear to be mutually exclusive.

"Acetylation and ubiquitylation have both been shown in earlier studies to activate gene expression," says Kristin Ingvarsdottir, co-lead author on the Genes & Development study. "Sumoylation, on the other hand, is involved in gene repression, so it makes sense that it might exist in an either/or relationship with acetylation or ubiquitylation."

Another observation made during the study was that slightly higher levels of sumoylation occur near the tips of the chromosomes, the telomeres, which are known to play a central role in maintaining genomic stability. Instability in the telomeres has been linked to aging in humans and an elevated risk for aging-related diseases, the most prominent of which is cancer.

So SUMO the grappling protein may play a role in cancer and ageing as well, if what takes place in yeast has a parallel in mammals. Fascinating.

The blog stats from my recent posting on sex dolls and sex robots revealed that most web surfers would rather read about sex than about cures for cancer or ageing. In fact, I had to change the name of the post to stop the deluge of worldwide sex surfers from overwhelming the statistics. Just a bit of web psychology--if you want to bring a lot of "hits" to your site, just put the word "sex" in the title of your posting.


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16 April 2006

Muhammad In Hell! New Cartoon Uproar!

As if the Danish cartoon controversy was not enough, now an Italian magazine has published a cartoon of Muhammad burning in hell! Here is more from a news24report:

According to the Italian news agency Ansa, the cartoon shows the Italian poets Dante Alighieri and Virgil on the edge of a circle of flames looking down on Muhammad, whose body is cut in half.

"Isn't that Muhammad?" Virgil is shown asking Dante.

"Yes, and he's cut in two because he has brought division to society," replies Dante.

Cartoons by 12 artists, first published in a Danish newspaper in September and later reprinted in a number of other mainly European dailies, sparked Muslim protests worldwide.

Studi Cattolici editor Cesare Cavalleri said: "I hope the publication of this drawing won't lead to attacks, because if that happened it would only prove the idiotic positions of Islamic extremists.

"Sometimes a politically incorrect satirical cartoon can do some good. It's only a reference to a passage in (Dante's) Divine Comedy.

"In any case, Muhammad was sent to hell by Dante."

Muhammad was sent to hell by Dante? Since when was Dante given such authority?

There had been talk about muslim fanatics making Jerusalem the headquarters of the worldwide caliphate, but after Dante's excommunication of Muhammad to hell, perhaps Rome is the more likely site?


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Illegal Immigration: Reconquista!

Twelve million and counting? A massive influx of uneducated economic immigrants demanding full rights of citizenship without even a nod to legal compliance? Demanding it--seizing it in a quasi-larcenous yet unyielding grip--because they can? Is this the reconquista of North America? Tell me it is not so, amigo.

Look at the countries that produced these migrants. Look at their home societies. Is there anything in the source cultures of these illegals that suggests that they have learned to create a prosperous middle class civil society on their own? Could they create a North America as it is, on their own? Of course not. They come to North America because of what was already created here, by people of entirely different cultural backgrounds. The cultural background is of vital importance to the ability to create a working and prosperous civil society.

If the illegals were willing to watch and learn, had the patience to adopt the successful features of the North American culture--were willing to assimilate--there might be hope for them. But the faces of these immigrants are the faces of impatient demands for what they have not earned. They want the prosperity of North America--but they want it on their terms. It is an impossibility that they cannot comprehend, because they are unprepared, uneducated, unassimilated.

No one can doubt the ability of the illegal immigration movement to mass large and passionate crowds of protest. It is a movement full of its own importance, manned by minions of healthy marchers displaying vacuous, self-satisfied smiles of triumph. "I am carwash-hear me roar! I am grasscut, give me more! I am parts assembler, kiss the floor?"

This political movement is not a movement of economic accomplishment. It is a movement of economic parasitism, leaching off an already prospering society, performing many functions that robots will certainly do better, before long.

This is a movement--a massive movement--of social protest, backed up by twelve million illegals, and the threat of hundreds of millions more. This is not a threat of prosperity, it is a threat of destruction. It is a demand with a knife at the throat.

The fact that the illegals would cut their own prosperity out from under themselves if they were to get what they demand--that they themselves would be swamped by further and vaster human waves in the future--is beyond their own capacity to envision. The "reforms" they demand at gunpoint are actually terms of unconditional surrender which would guarantee the third-world-ification of North America--just as Europe is being third-world-ified by its welfare dependent muslim influx.

Civilisation has always had to fight against decay. When civilisation loses the will to fight--when civilisation is intimidated by the mere numbers of those who could not maintain civilisation on their own--civilisation falls. For every illegal in North America, there are hundreds more illegals watching for the opportunity to jump in.

Mexico is a wealthy country in comparison to most of the world. If Mexicans are willing to crash the gates for a fistful of dollars, you can be sure the far more impoverished of the world are waiting for a chance to crash the Mexican's party.

Reconquista? Perhaps. But only the first in a series, and the triumphant marchers and gate crashers of today will certainly be the overthrown gatekeepers of tomorrow.

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14 April 2006

Sex: Waking Up With a Robot In Your Bed and a Rusty Taste in your Mouth

According to mainstream thinking, in modern developed societies, women are better suited for most types of available employment than men.

Back in the days when the man was the breadwinner, men would willingly "marry down"--marry a woman without a job, or with a lower paying job, in order to form a family. The reverse does not often happen. High wage women will either marry high wage men, or will go without marriage entirely. More unmarried women are opting for the "single mother" approach to beating the biological clock. Men simply do not figure into a woman's plans, unless he is a rare exception in terms of income and desirability.

Now that more men are suddenly finding themselves superfluous, what will they do for sex partners? Technology will generally find a way. If a man can save, beg, borrow, or steal a few thousand dollars, he can often find what he is looking for. Sex dolls are becoming more lifelike, as craftspeople and artisans discover this growing market.

Here are links to a brief introduction to sex dolls from Salon, and a much longer and more detailed discussion of the topic from Meghan Laslocky. Meghan provides a very candid view into the entire phenomenon of sex dolls. The market is much more developed than I had realised. Sex dolls are poised to grasp an ever larger share of the overall market, but will sex dolls soon be obsolete?

Sex robots are even more advanced, if more expensive. Michael Harriman from Nuremberg has invented female robots who breathe harder during sex, and their hearts beat harder--though their feet are cold--"like a real woman." Harriman's robots go for over 4,000 British Pounds, but some men would apparently pay more for a sex doll that could "wiggle her hips and make other suggestive movements"at the push of a remote control.

And then there is the virtual girl, the VirtualFem programmed pet girl. VirtualFem™ lets you interact with a very cute girl, and tell her what to do. A Virtual Girlfriend who lives inside your computer; she will do anything you ask, understands plain English, and speaks to you out loud! Clever usage of high-quality full-motion MPEG video makes VirtualFems come to life! This is an early form of interactive programmed virtual sex, using real models to create the program--a computerised form of "video-phone sex."

Where will sex go from here? Given the incredible profitability of internet pornography and the sex doll industry, let your imagination be your guide. Of course, there is a lot about all this that could easily make someone uneasy.This posting contains a few speculative thoughts, and I will be posting more articles on this topic in the future. Social planners ignore sex at their peril and the peril of their cultures. Change is not for the timid, and changes in something as basic as sex can leave many people lost at sea without a compass.

Lionel Tiger is an anthropologist who has written on the changes that would come in society when sex became divorced from procreation. His popular book, The Decline of Males, has proven to be prescient in that regard. If you have not read the book, check it out.

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13 April 2006

Peak Oil: Meet Alan Goldman and his two Friends, Fischer and Tropsch

The conversion of coal to liquid hydrocarbons has a long history. But only recently has the process become clean and efficient enough to make a difference. This Physorg.com newsrelease discusses a breakthrough in the coal to liquid fuel process.

Goldman explained that the breakthrough technology employs a pair of catalytic chemical reactions that operate in tandem, one of which captured the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This dynamic chemical duo revamps the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process for generating synthetic petroleum substitutes, invented in 1920 but never developed to the point of becoming commercially viable for coal conversion.

The FT process recently gained national attention through the efforts of Brian Schweitzer, governor of coal-rich Montana, who has been publicly extolling the potential of Fischer-Tropsch. The Goldman group's innovations eliminate shortcomings in the process that can finally make it a workable solution to dwindling domestic oil reserves.

"The key to energy independence in the next five decades is Fischer-Tropsch chemistry, amended and enhanced," said Goldman, a professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "The study of catalysts, the little molecular machines that control chemical reactions, is my field. With our new catalysts, one can generate productive, clean burning fuels with Fischer-Tropsch, economically and at unsurpassed levels of efficiency."

This discovery is reported in the April 14 issue of the journal Science by Goldman and his colleagues.

This link provides much detailed information on the Fischer-Tropsch process. For a briefer discussion, try this Wikipedia article.

The best sources of energy are renewable sources. But in the meantime, while gearing up for biofuels, solar, wind, tidal, OTEC, wave, etc., it is nice to see more evidence that all the doomseeking of the peak oil crowd is circular wrist flexion-extension.

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Men: The Disposable Sex

Many of you have read this article in today's issue of The Economist. The article is slick and provocative, an excellent example of modern journalism. (it may be necessary to view a short advertisement before viewing the premium content)

....Girls get better grades at school than boys, and in most developed countries more women than men go to university. Women will thus be better equipped for the new jobs of the 21st century, in which brains count a lot more than brawn. In Britain far more women than men are now training to become doctors. And women are more likely to provide sound advice on investing their parents' nest egg: surveys show that women consistently achieve higher financial returns than men do.

Furthermore, the increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India.... It used to be said that women must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily that is not so difficult.

It is fascinating to contemplate the continuing need for strong "affirmative action" programs for women in academia and the workplace, in the face of such obvious female superiority of achievement. But I digress.

I doubt if many readers here are privy to the triple ultra premium content of The Economist. Probably few would even know where to find it. Fortunately, we at Al Fin read all, so that you do not have to. Here are excerpts from the 3UPC edition of The Economist:

...In fact, the only reason men are tolerated at all, is that women scientists have not quite perfected cloning. There is still a need for human sperm, and for now, only human male testicles are capable of reliably supplying that need. Currently there are projects supported by UNESCO and the EU, which will allow scientists to create sperm-producing human testicles in the laboratory from male embryos....

....Some male scientists have suggested that male humans are overrepresented on the high end of cognitive ability, particularly in math and spatial abilities. Fortunately, Liz Spelke has totally refuted that bit of obsolete patriarchal folk psychology. Once the effects of millenia of prejudice are allowed to wear off, women will outperform men in math and spatial abilities, just as they have in all the other fields of human endeavor....

....In summary, men are a total waste of resources, if not for sperm. It should be a top priority to, in the short term, create alternate sources of sperm. In the intermediate term, the perfection of cloning will allow the total elimination of any need for men at all--in the long term.

There you have it, the master plan. I would like to be able to provide links, but the triple ultra premium content is quadruple-encrypted, preventing the use of ordinary links. I cannot help but think back to Al Fin's fascinating interview with two of the leading members of the movement referred to in the 3UPC article above.

For more detailed information on why men have become the disposable sex, consult Warren Farrel, Lionel Tiger, and Cristina Hoff Sommers.

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12 April 2006

Cancer Genes: Sins of Commission and Omission

In cancer as in life, there are sins of commission, and sins of omission. The cancer sins of commission are committed by oncogenes. This excerpt from an online biochemistry text provides an excellent followup to the wikipedia page. Oncogenes produce protein products that stimulate cell division and that can lead to out of control cell growth and reproduction. This Eurekalert newsrelease discusses recent research targeting oncogenes. ...."Retinoic acid can reverse the defect in growth control that was caused by the viral agent and result in cell-growth arrest," Yen says, describing his experiments with cell cultures. "Now we need a deeper understanding of how retinoic acid causes these changes -- and exactly which molecules are affected by retinoic acid. In my dreams there is a single effector, but it's more likely there are several."

The cancer sins of omission are brought about when tumour suppressor genes are prevented from working normally. This online text excerpt will supply further understanding of the tumour suppressor gene concept, after you read the wikipedia introduction. Tumour suppressor genes produce protein products that either cause apoptosis of the cell, or suppress cell growth and division. Preventing the tumour suppressor gene from functioning allows the cell to undergo cancerous transformation with relative impunity. This Eurekalert newsrelease reports on the recent discovery of a natural tumour suppressor. .....Located on chromosome 18 and called PH domain Leucine-rich repeat Protein Phosphatase (PHLPP, pronounced "flip"), the tumor suppressor is described in the April 1, 2005 issue of the journal Molecular Cell. The scientists demonstrated that PHLPP deletes a phosphate molecule, causing termination of cell-growth signaling by a protein called Akt that controls the balance between cell growth leading to cancer and cell death that prevents tumor formation.

Pharmaceutical companies are targeting the genes of cancer in the hope of finding a drug that is highly lethal to cancer cells, but harmless to normal cells. This link will take you to several links to cancer gene resources, and information on the cancer genes of specific types of cancer.


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