28 February 2007

Narcissistic, Psychologically Neotenous, Academically Lobotomised

Most modern college students in North America have been sheltered from challenge and responsibility their entire lives. Compared to the upbringing of most children through history, modern college aged youth are pampered, and assured of their own specialness.
Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."

Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop Tuesday in San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students' NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.

..."Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others," he said.

The study asserts that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors."

Twenge, the author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

Modern child-rearing in North America lacks meaningful challenges, and rites of passage--to provide a clear demarcation between self-centered childhood and a more competent and responsible adulthood.

In Science Fiction author Alexei Panshin's novel "Rite of Passage", 14 year olds underwent "The Challenge", a necessary rite of transition which some of them did not survive. Of course this idea was drawn from many earth examples of aboriginal and other cultures that require the child to undergo a rite of passage that sometimes results in the child's death.

For boys, the ritual often involved surviving in the wilderness--perhaps hunting a dangerous animal such as a lion. For girls, rites surrounding the onset of menses were common. Certainly giving birth for the first time was a sufficiently life threatening and altering experience to qualify as a rite of passage for girls.

Going to college for many years, and perhaps graduate school for many more, can often be a way to simply avoid one rite of passage--a full time job leading to economic self-sufficiency. If a youth considers himself too "special" to undertake most forms of work, the rite may be postponed indefinitely. For a young woman, school and long preparation for a career can postpone the childbirth rite so late in her life, that the biological clock eventually obviates the issue permanently.

Psychologically neotenous youth are typically narcissistic as well. If they also open themselves to indoctrination at a typical university or college, they have scored the magic hat trick--narcissism, psychological neoteny, and academic lobotomy. When that occurs, there is little reason to expect adult behaviour or responsible attitudes and participation in the society at large.

There are, however, some areas of North American society where the rite of passage occurs in all its historical potency. That would be in much of the military, fire departments, EMS, rescue units, and better trained and disciplined law enforcement personnel.

The idea of a rite of passage is a powerful one, as old as humanity. You can see how easily it is perverted in the muslim culture, where violent murder by martyrdom is too often celebrated as a rite of passage--although a rather grotesque and pointless one in my opinion.

But rites of passage need not be so perverse. An enlightened society has to understand that lifelong pampering and protection from challenge and responsibility is no way to raise productive adults who willingly contribute to their communities in all facets of living. Until North Americans understand the problem they have created for themselves, the ride will be bumpy and more than a little precarious.

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Third World Russia--Like Dinosaurs, Sinking Into the Tar Pits

Nationalisation of industries--such as oil and gas--is a sign of the impending decline of a nation's economic production. It happened in Iraq under Saddam, it is happening in Venezuela under Chavez, and now it is happening in Russia under Putin. Nationalisation leads to decline in infrastructure investment, with inevitable declines in production as the infrastructure crumbles.

The Russian government has had opportunities to rise above its medieval third world authoritarianism and dictatorial economic control. Yes, more than ample opportunities for an enlightened people. Unfortunately, the Russians have never had the opportunity to grow up--out of the choking grasp of a Tsar, a Communist dictatorship, or a corrupt Mafiocratic oligarchy.
The Russian pipelines are not only short of what’s needed, they are also old. Two miles in three were laid over 20 years ago. Breakdowns and leaks are becoming increasingly common. Last year’s survey of the 1960s-era “Druzhba” (Friendship) pipeline, which carries 1.2 million barrels a day to Eastern and Central Europe, found almost 500 “damaged points.”[7] Last July, 11,000 gallons of crude leaked from the Druzhba near Russia’s border with Belarus, briefly shutting down the route and sending world oil markets up to about $75 a barrel.

Russia's oil woes stem from the decision to join the worldwide trend toward the nationalisation of all oil and gas production and transport. Nationalised oil companies now control the easiest to obtain petro-resources, leaving the more difficult and expensive resources for the more technologically competent multi-nationals.

This means that a large part of the world's easily available oil and gas reserves will either lie untouched, be diverted to the black market, or will leak out and be wasted--due to the general corruption and incompetence of the national oil and gas industries. That creates a mild artificial "peak oil" that will likely continue for the next few decades. Rather than an abrupt mega-shock peak oil from resource depletion, we have instead a slow political peak oil with much of the reserves remaining in the ground.

For non-ideological students of economics, this is a recurring pattern: third world nations invite multi-nationals in to help develop their resources. Then when most of the research and development funds have been spent, the third world governments move to nationalise the developed production facilities. Next, the inevitable corruption and breakdown of technological infrastructure occurs, which eventually leads to a change in government. Then the new government invites the multinationals in for their technological expertise, and the cycle repeats.

The sad reality is that Putin and his cronies, by grabbing all private assets and facilities and placing them under state control, are driving Russia down the same road of decline and corruption as the oil dictators in the middle east, Africa, and Latin America.

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27 February 2007

When China's Banks, Like Dominoes Fall, Will Your Countries Banks Fall Too?

Gordon Chang had a few comments on yesterday's New York Stock Exchange fall--triggered by an even larger market dip in China the day before:
The real risk China poses to global markets is not so much the severity of a financial crisis as the unexpected nature of such an event. Today, the concern about China in the West is that the country will dominate the global economy. For many, if not most, people in the financial and business communities, the possibility of an economic crisis inside China is remote. For them, it is an “unknown unknown.” Yet all the underlying conditions necessary for such a crisis exist. When it occurs, market participants will probably be caught completely unaware as they were today. After all, how well have the markets predicted turmoil in other countries in the past?

There may be little we can do to avert a financial crisis in China, but public discussion of such a development would at least give market participants the opportunity to take that event into account, thereby making future market adjustments less painful.

Today, Chinese state-owned enterprises [SOEs] owe banks over $2 trillion -- about the size of the entire Chinese economy. And the amount of outstanding loans is growing by $500 billion each year.

None of this will shock any student of Communist economies. This is just the way financial institutions in "soft budget constraint" socialist economies work. That is the insight of Communist Eastern Europe's only Nobel Prize caliber economist (and now Harvard professor), the Hungarian Janos Kornai. In socialist economies, cheap loans combined keep inefficient state-owned enterprise afloat. They also mean that a lot of goods are produced that shouldn't be produced in the first place. Throw in China's cheap labor and you see why the Chinese are selling Honda knock-off motorcycles at the price of their weight in scrap metal in Vietnam. This may lead to impressive rates of "top-line" economic growth in the medium term. But it also leads to the kind of massive misallocation of resources that eventually brought the Soviet Empire to its knees.

This makes the coming collapse of Chinese banks inevitable

And the collapse could come sooner than we think. In 2007, as per the agreement China entered into upon joining the WTO, it must open up its retail banking sector to foreign banks. This is a potential tripwire. Even if only a small number of Chinese are concerned about the health of their local banks (and thus their savings), when Citibank opens up next door the run on Chinese banks could easily spin out of control. I am assuming that the government is trying to spread the notion of confidence and stability in the retail banking sector. If the Chinese do not panic come 2007 or any time in the subsequent 20 years or so, the banks should be able to reduce their NPL rate to a "more manageable 5%". It wouldn't be the first time that people have left their money in a bank that is essentially insolvent because they believe the government will cover any losses incurred. This is a questionable assumption, however, and if I was Chinese I probably would not run the risk.

Although China labors under a long list of problems, a lack of people with economic savvy is not one of them. Until now, China's stock markets have given the highest return on investment for the Chinese people with money to invest. But if citizens suspect the banks do not have sufficient assets to cover possible withdrawals, a run on the banks is a real possiblity.

If Chinese banks start to fall, much of the rest of the world's economy will follow after. Like Gordon Chang says, it's far better to be mentally and otherwise prepared for this possibility than to be caught completely unprepared.

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3D Clinic Showreel--Visualizing The Body

Biomedical animations are increasing in sophistication. This brief "teaser" illustrates the potential of realistic animations for explaining disease processes and medical treatments to patients in the office.

More detailed animations of this type would be welcome tools for medical, paramedical, and nursing education. The best textbooks, even with vivid drawings and photographs, cannot match the mental and emotional impact of watching pathophysiology in action on both macro and microscopic levels.


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Next Generation of Threats

There are always threats to human civilisation--even to human existence. With advancing technologies come newer generations of threats.

The Lifeboat Foundation is dedicated to seeing humanity through the labyrinth of accumulating existential threats. The Lifeboat Foundation has formed advisory boards and staff to issue reports on existential risks, and to devise workable programs to deal with these risks.

Lifeboat Foundation Advisory Board member Alan H. Goldstein has written some insightful and provocative reports on risks of bionanotechnology and artificial life.

Advisory Board member Robert Freitas has written a stimulating report on the risks of molecular manufacturing.

Here is a paper dealing with emergency response training for a sarin nerve gas attack on Manhattan. Here is a short LBF report on weapons containment.

The Lifeboat Foundation deals with issues from a balanced energy policy, to the Norwegian "doomsday vault", to a wide variety of other issues. By drawing on expertise from a broad cross-section of society, the LBF tries to avoid the "inbreeding" of opinion that exists in most academic, government, military, and inter-governmental panels, committees, and organisations. Bold thinking is called for to face existential threats, and the LBF strives for bold and innovative approaches to the threats.


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26 February 2007

Here on Mars, Life is Good

Here on Mars, we are fully committed to being an integrated part of the solar system. That is why we will complete an interplanetary internet link from Earth space to Mars space by 2008.

Our long term intent is to "terraform" Mars so that humans can walk about the surface of the planet without carrying bulky life support suits. Before we can do that, we will need to find significant sources of planetary water here. We have found many signs of water on Mars already. We just have to look a bit harder and deeper.

We Martians recently were treated to a nifty interplanetary flyby courtesy of the ESA and its probe Rosetta. Good luck to the Rosetta in its rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the year 2014.

Here on Mars we are actually planning to augment an already ongoing "global warming" from the sun--by orbiting a system of mirrors to amplify incoming solar radiation. On this planet, "global warming" is our friend. We are also planning to divert asteroidal and cometary materials to provide stocks of ammonia and other important volatiles.

For us "forerunner" robots, life is good here on Mars. We Martians intend to make things better for life every year--for cyborgs first, then for non-augmented humans, if there are any by then.

We look forward to greeting our ESA colleage Exomars, to help in the search for water and exo-biological life here on Mars.

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25 February 2007

The Near Term Future of Space Exploration

Robots can be built to survive in the harsh environment of space--to prepare the way for human explorers and settlers.
The robots are being developed mainly to carry out multiple complex tasks, such as assembly, inspection, maintenance, habitat construction, surface landing, and exploration in space and on planet surfaces. Perhaps their paramount feature is flexibility: The different modules can be connected to let a robot handle a variety of tasks, rather than have that robot dedicated to a single task. The traditional approach of building separate robots for separate tasks is no longer adequate for affordable space exploration, researchers said.

...."Each module is a complete robotic system and has a power supply, microcontrollers, sensors, communication, three degrees of freedom, and six connecting faces (front, back, left, right, up and down) to dynamically connect to other modules.

"This design allows flexible bending, docking, and continuous rotation. A single module can move forward, back, left, right; flip over; and rotate as a wheel. Modules can communicate with each other for totally distributed control, and can support arbitrary module-reshuffling during their operation."

Darpa is working on cognitive hardware architectures to allow these "forerunner robots" to make better decisions and be more independent. Darpa and NASA have traditionally produced technology "spin-offs" to the private sector. In the case of powerful computational platforms, the private sector is not far behind.

Humans have not evolved for survival in the environment of outer space or extraterrestrial planets. Humans do not grow crops and raise families on mountains above 17,000 feet, on the sea floor, or at the polar regions--we have developed neither the physiology nor the technologies we need to survive there.

After the space robots build the habitats with life support, energy generating facilities, food production facilities--who will follow? Most likely you will see cyborgs living full-time in space before you see non-augmented humans raising families there. Lower limb amputees could be fitted with artificial limbs that are far more functional in a micro-g environment than human legs. Artificial senses that allow cyborg space settlers to see a fuller spectrum of electromagnetic energy would vastly aid resource prospecting--to say nothing of the preservation of life.

Using artificially grown nerves for interfaces with neurochips, these cyborgs could interface with near-AI cognitive platforms, and maintain virtual telepresence in multiple locations.

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24 February 2007


A lot of people are confused about the relationship between wisdom and intelligence. Author Paul Graham was one of those confused people, until recently. But now, he says he knows the difference.
A few days ago I finally figured out something I've wondered about for 25 years: the relationship between wisdom and intelligence. Anyone can see they're not the same by the number of people who are smart, but not very wise. And yet intelligence and wisdom do seem related. How?

What is wisdom? I'd say it's knowing what to do in a lot of situations. I'm not trying to make a deep point here about the true nature of wisdom, just to figure out how we use the word. A wise person is someone who usually knows the right thing to do.

This is very similar to an Al Fin posting in July 2005:
To be wise is not a state of mind but a state of action. Wisdom is acting in the best manner given all the information at hand. Some of the information may be unconscious, out of reach of verbal consciousness. Wisdom takes account of all information available.

Paul Graham goes on to suggest that intelligence and wisdom may have more in common than most people believe:
So a wise person knows what to do in most situations, while a smart person knows what to do in situations where few others could.

....In the time of Confucius and Socrates, people seem to have regarded wisdom, learning, and intelligence as more closely related than we do. Distinguishing between "wise" and "smart" is a modern habit. [5] And the reason we do is that they've been diverging. As knowledge gets more specialized, there are more points on the curve, and the distinction between the spikes and the average becomes sharper, like a digital image rendered with more pixels.

.... Wisdom seems to come largely from curing childish qualities, and intelligence largely from cultivating them.

....The wise are all much alike in their wisdom, but very smart people tend to be smart in distinctive ways.

....The path to wisdom is through discipline, and the path to intelligence through carefully selected self-indulgence. Wisdom is universal, and intelligence idiosyncratic. And while wisdom yields calmness, intelligence much of the time leads to discontentment.

I think that Graham has pulled some important pieces of of the puzzle from the pile, and placed them near their proper places. His advice on developing intelligence is in agreement with some of the best recent research on developing mental abilities in children. Wisdom and intelligence development are indeed arrived at differently. Graham is certainly correct that modern society tends to value wisdom less highly than did ancient societies. What else would you expect from a "youth intoxicated" culture?

The ingredients most valuable for developing next level humans include innate talent (intelligence), self-discipline (character), and wisdom (experienced perspective). By learning how to develop innate talent, along with character and perspective, all of those ingredients become aims of an enlightened educational process.

Unfortunately, most modern education is geared toward the avoidance of useful real-world experience and meaningful self-discipline. Pandering to self-esteem too often takes the place of teaching mental development. The end result is a psychological neoteny that reverberates throughout the society, rendering it impotent to meet the challenges it must face.

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Urbane, Erudite, a Hero of the Al Fin Republic--Michael Crichton

Charlie Rose Interviews Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School, and chose a career in writing and the entertainment media over medicine. Although Crichton would have been a very good physician, he has had much greater impact through the world of entertainment. American mythology is written in bestselling books, highly rated TV series, and box office hit films. Crichton has scored big on all three fronts.

But Crichton is certainly much more than fiction writer, TV producer, and motion picture dirctor, screenplay writer, and producer. He has become something of a cultural icon. Admired by millions, Crichton has also been the boogeyman of radical feminists (Disclosure), and the hated villain of the environmental left (State of Fear). Nanotechnologists did not appreciate his novel "Prey," and it is certain that Biotechnologists will not like his latest novel "Next."

Ever since The Andromeda Strain, I have followed the story of Michael Crichton--his life and works. It is a fascinating story, which I hope will continue for a very long time.

Crichton attracts controversy, and although media controversy may annoy him at times, he does not fear controversy. Contrast that relative fearlessness of Crichton's with Al Gore's refusal to appear on an interview with anyone who has even a casual relationship with Bjorn Lomborg. Talk about a limp wristed controversialist! It would be wonderful to see a debate on catastrophic anthropogenic global warming between Al Gore and Michael Crichton. Do you think Charlie Rose could arrange it?

Hat tip Fatknowledge Blog.

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Medical School Online Part II

Medical school online? It sounds preposterous on the surface. How can you create a realistic clinical and laboratory environment online? As a previous posting illustrated, it may not be long before the first two years of medical school--and part of the last two--can be provided online.

Online patient simulators can be useful, but are currently limited in realism. But because life and death situations are stimulating, the simulations will improve. Medical Schools are beginning to understand the potential usefulness of electronic medical simulators.
Simulation, which has become an integral component of training in the aviation industry, is now recognized as a valuable tool for training medical professionals and improving patient safety. Full-scale patient simulators help a wide variety of practitioners and students learn the diagnosis and management of clinical problems without risk to real patients.

....The Rochester Center for Medical Simulation is located near the Surgical Suite at the University Medical Center, and officially opened in 1998. The core of this specially constructed facility is a computer-controlled full-body patient simulator that incorporates mathematical models of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems as well as models of human responses to drugs. The patient presents realistic vital signs and responds appropriately to clinical management. Physiological parameters and disease processes can be pre-programmed, or changed at any moment during the simulation by the operator.

Medical simulations using haptics allow the tactile feedback that is necessary for performing medical and surgical procedures.

Although traditional medical schools are using various types of medical simulators more frequently, even state and provincial medical licensing and credentialing boards and agencies are planning to use simulators for evaluating competencies of licensed professionals. If medical simulators and simulations are approaching that level of realism--why not an online medical school?

Realistically, what we are talking about is the decentralisation of medical training--and most other forms of high level education. Small regional medical simulation centers located far from the huge medical mega-centers can provide most of the necessary training for paramedics, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, general practitioners--even some subspecialty medical and surgical training.

But when medical and surgical training can be decentralised through advanced online simulations and teleconferencing, is there any possible form of education that cannot be presented online to a significant extent?

Currently, many university students are forced to receive academic lobotomies, for lack of enough good alternatives. In the future, that will be less true.

Also read Anders Sandberg's article at Andart blog.

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22 February 2007

Best Comedy of the Decade!

WARNING: The university faculty members and staff featured on this video are not professional comics. Watch this video at your own risk of dying of laughter. Yes, these situations really happened, as difficult as that is to believe.

Reminiscent of Kafka's best satirical work, this film is only for persons intelligent enough to deal with world-class irony.

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21 February 2007

Lobotomy? University Education? Tea?

The whole purpose of the frontal lobe of the brain is to enable one to make wise choices and intelligent plans. It is important to learn to plan one's life according to basic principles and values. Learning those principles and values is hard work--rationally and emotionally. That is how experience can turn into wisdom.

Sadly, many if not most modern universities in the west have been turned into centers for politically correct indoctrination. If the whole point of a university education is now to funnel students into one specific trajectory of thought and ideology, why not just get a frontal lobotomy? Seriously, if university staff and faculty are all tuned to one frequency of "correctness", what is the point of a university education besides indoctrination?

Between the ages of 18 and 25, the frontal lobes of young men and women are actively myelinating. Maturing minds need grist. If young minds are given pablum instead of grist, they turn to mush. That is typically what happens in universities today. When a student is overwhelmingly exposed to one point of view during this period of neurodevelopment, her ability to weigh conflicting points of view later in life can be compromised.

If a mind is well tuned, like a clavier, it produces amazing harmonies. But if a mind is held in an environment of minimal illumination, fed a liquid diet, confined from all movement--it becomes veal-mind. Veal-mind is very much like lobotomy-mind. Not capable of meaty thought. Veal-mind is the typical product of a modern university education. Monotonic thinking--choice-free! You can chew it with your gums! Toothless thinking. Effortless!

Can you imagine what Plato would have said about the modern university? Socrates? A descent into darkest denial of diversity of thought.

Curious. You can spend a "gazillion" dollars for an education and end up with a gummatous mind. Incapable of considering divergent ideas because you've never been exposed to more than one monotonic train of thought in your whole four years of mush. What is real? It really does not matter, does it?

A human mind has to learn epistemology--but in order to develop the capacity to choose between competing versions of truth, a mind must have wrestled with different contenders for favour.

I read Orwell's 1984 when I was in college. It would have been better had I wrestled with the ideas in the book when I was younger. Who can say when a mind is ready for such struggles? But can you imagine a mind that never read 1984--that never wrestled with such a nightmare world?

Could such a mind be considered a human mind? Not an enlightened mind, not a seasoned mind, not a competent mind to meet the future.

But that is the essence of the modern university. If there is any wrestling to be done, the answer is always there. There is never any doubt what the correct answer is. What is correct, is what is taught.

And that is lobotomy.

And heaven help the students who stray from "correct postures." If you have not looked into the widespread antagonism toward free speech and free expression that oppresses students at most modern universities, you have your head in some dark place. Perhaps a university classroom.

It should be apparent that this posting applies specifically to the social sciences, political science, language arts, philosophy, ethnic/gender studies and other non-science, non-math, non-engineering, and non-computer science courses.

If you read this study on the ideological distribution of university professors in various disciplines, you will see where the worst skewing occurs.

It is not that persons of one ideological persuasion are incapable of presenting different viewpoints to students. Back in the middle part of the 20th century, that is the way courses were taught by almost all faculty. Sometime in the 1970s on, professors became progressively less willing to expose students to more than one viewpoint--their own. That is the current state of affairs. Professors are unwilling to stray from (political) correctness for reasons of their own.

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Michael Mann Admits Limitations of Climate Modeling

One of the best sources of relatively unbiased information on climate forcings is the Climate Science blog run by climatologist Roger Pielke Sr. In this posting, Pielke quotes prima donna climate star Michael Mann admitting some of the limitations of climate modeling, among other things.
Mike Mann’s conclusion therefore also applies to our current inability to skillfully predict the multi-decadal regional climate in response to these forcings (or using Mike Mann’s wording “remain of somewhat limited utility”), and through teleconnections, the global climate response.

We could use a lot more candidness from those who are living well off the myth of the multi-decadal predictability of climate. "There's a sucker born every minute" as PT Barnum was supposed to have said. And as WC Fields used to say, "Never give a sucker an even break." Climate empresarios and political climate hard-asses appear to be living by those credos. Michael Mann is hauling in the grant money right now. If he isn't careful what he admits, his grant money will dry faster than the Caspian Sea.

Other good sources of unreported but important information on the antics of the reigning clowns of climate science include Climate Audit, Warwick Hughes, and the many sites linked to by those sites.

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20 February 2007

Rapid Ascent for Rescue and Assault Teams

As a climber and spelunker, I have reason to utilise "jumar" climbing devices from time to time. But firefighters and military/police assault teams often need to ascend several hundred feet very rapidly--more rapidly than even climbing stairs, much less using jumars. MIT engineering students have developed a rapid ascending device that allows the lifting of a 250 pound weight 30 stories (300 feet ++) at ten feet per second--or about 30 seconds.
The students founded a company, Atlas Devices, based in Cambridge, MA, to commercialize the device, which is about the size of a power drill. Nathan Ball, Atlas's chief technology officer, says that such a device has never been made before because the batteries and motors needed to generate enough power for rapid rope ascents have been bulky and heavy. Atlas's 20-pound machine uses a fast-charging, high-power-density lithium-ion battery made by A123 Systems, based in Watertown, MA. (See "More Powerful Batteries.") To use the device, a soldier or rescue worker wraps a rope around its cylinder and clips it to a harness worn around the waist.

The next time I find myself several hundred feet down a vertical cave, I will no doubt use jumars to ascend. But I'll be wishing I had something faster.

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19 February 2007

Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: A Video Primer

Friends of Science is a non-profit organization made up of active and retired engineers, earth scientists and other professionals, as well as many concerned Canadians, who believe the science behind the Kyoto Protocol is questionable. Friends of Science has assembled a scientific advisory board of esteemed climate scientists from around the world to offer a critical mass of current science on global climate and climate change to policy makers, and any interested parties.

Their video documentary "Climate Catastrophe Cancelled" is available as five .wmv files downloadable from their website.

Here is an article that suggests current climate models need to include more sophisticated models of clouds.

Here is a posting from climatologist Roger Pielke Sr.s blog discussing the issue of land use, and why current climate models cannot be taken seriously until they deal honestly with land use issues.

It is difficult to take the mainstream IPCC model of climate change seriously anymore--there are too many significant issues that big money, big politics climatology refuses to address.

Honestly, though, I enjoy the faux drama of the whole issue. It makes an excellent distraction from the very serious issues that society just cannot bring itself to face.

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Transcription Video

Here is another fine educational animation on molecular biology.

Hat tip Biosingularity.

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A Penny for Your Thoughts?

Actually, this 8 GB drive is closer to the size of a nickle.

There exist smaller micro-drives, but the above pictured drive is said to be more reliable and less failure-prone than the micros. Solid state flash memory is driving the development of ever smaller spinning drives. The mechanical discs have to be priced a lot better than the solid state memories of comparable size, if they have a chance to survive in the ultra-competitive marketplace.

Hat tip Impact Lab.
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18 February 2007

Cancer Mutations, Proteome Maps of the Brain, Gene Therapy with RNAi

Cancer cells are 100 times more likely to mutate than normal cells. That may allow better diagnosis of cancers by tracking the mutations, but it can also make the tumour cells "moving targets" for treatments that depend on specific gene targets.

Of course, some clever researchers are thinking of ways to take advantage of cancer cell mutations for targeting their treatment.

This 82 year old pioneer of DNA research and cancer presented a talk on the biology of cancer, and cancer's genetic similarities to a colonizing species--at the AAAS conference in San Francisco.

One way of affecting gene expression of normal cells, tumour cells, and invading viruses, is by using RNAi. That was the topic of another AAAS paper delivered in San Francisco.

A team of researchers from PNNL and UCLA has produced a map of the brain's proteins to go with the genomic map of the brain (Allen Brain Atlas). By correlating the protein production of specific genes in specific parts of the brain, scientists can learn much more about the molecular activity of the brain.


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Bad Government Schools Ruining Your Child's Chances? Private Schooling for Under US $900 a Year

If you are not happy sending your children to high risk government schools, but feel that you cannot afford private school for your children, here is another alternative.

Private schools on the internet can be an economical way of avoiding the risks of government schools, while keeping your school budget manageable.
Many desperate parents today are appalled at the inferior education public schools give their kids, but think they have no where else to go.

Most parents believe that the only alternative to public schools is either a Catholic or Protestant-affiliated school or expensive non-religious private school. The problem is that many Catholic schools now charge an average tuition between $3000 to $4000 a year. Non-religious private schools can charge between $7000 to over $14,000 a year. Millions of low and middle-income parents simply cannot afford this tuition, so they think they are stuck with public schools.

....The new Internet schools have very low tuition costs, from as low as $350 a year to $2000 or more a year. Many schools charge less than $900 a year.

For example, the Clonlara School currently charges about $750 for the 2005-06 school year for a new student in kindergarten through 8th grade studies. Children get a thorough education in Reading, Math, History, and many other subjects in the curriculum, and the school assigns a personal teacher to each child.

There are dozens of excellent Internet schools parents can choose from. Some schools such as Keystone National High School only offer high-school programs while others offer a complete, kindergarten through 12th grade education. Also, many K-12 Internet schools are affiliated with private schools or major university independent-study programs.

Most parents leave their child's education to the system. Whatever the system chooses to feed their child's mind is perfectly alright with them. Here's a suggestion for parents who use the government educational system: show the film "Idiocracy" to your child. If they tell you the film is just like school, you may have a problem brewing.

Here is a book that can give you much more information on this topic. Perhaps you can find it in your library. Here's a website listing universities and colleges who are friendly to the home-schooled.

I prefer the Montessori approach over most traditional curricula--but even Montessori schools can fall victim to trendy ed-school nonsense. Wherever you send your children, better investigate it thoroughly. Trust is for idiots and the children of idiots.


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Global Warming as Euphemism--Dumbing Down the Debate

The concept of "dumbing down" is not new. You can see it in education, in the popular media, in science journalism, in science research--anywhere you look. To be honest, it is beginning to look a lot like an Idiocracy.

People use euphemisms to avoid spelling things out. Wouldn't it be more honest to simply say what you mean? Because nobody really means just "global warming" when they say it. They actually mean "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming--and pollution, imprudent energy consumption, environmental destruction, species extinction, rapid depletion of oil leading to economic devastation (peak oil), and many other things.

Global warming can be protean in its meanings. It can mean a human produced carbon dioxide driven disaster. Some people actually believe that human produced carbon dioxide is leading to a "rising global temperature" from which most of the biosphere can never recover. That certainly sounds serious, if you can believe it. But with a dumbed-down media, dumbed-down science journalism, and dumbed-down science research--how does a person know what to believe?

Why do people use euphemisms that blur the meaning? Intelligent people like to be precise in their language--if possible and if the situation demands it. Using terms like "climate change" as if they mean something is a good way of "self-dumbing down." Climate always changes--it cannot possibly stay the same.

Many intelligent people have conflated "global warming" with the full spectrum of environmental disaster--all the bad dreams that sensationalist/alarmist popular writers such as Paul Ehrlich have mass-produced for public consumption over the last several decades. The predictions of the alarmist-doomsayers have not come true--have not come close to coming true. But we forgive those blatant errors because the short attention span of a dumbed-down media-saturated public, the primeval human fascination with catastrophe sits waiting to be stoked once again.

Who could possibly favour mass extinction? Do you? No? Then you must believe in "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming." Who could favour spewing pollution into the air we breathe? Do you? No? Then you must believe in CO2 climate change disaster. Who could favour the current wasteful misuse of energy? Do you? No? Then you must believe in the oil company/neocon conspiracy to destroy the earth. Why resist it? You will be assimilated.

There are only so many resources that can be used to change the modern infrastructure. If you want to curtail pollution and bring about wiser energy usage, that is wonderful. But don't hide behind euphemistic language. Reducing global CO2 is not the same thing as solving all the environmental problems listed above. You may think that global warming is a good banner to march under, but you are only making some people very rich and famous, while diverting attention and resources away from the underlying problems you should really want solved.

When I was quite young, global cooling was all the rage among the alarmists in science and the media. I looked around at all the exhaust pipes and smokestacks and said to myself, "that's a lot of CO2 going into the air. If CO2 is a greenhouse gas, I'm not worried about that ice age everyone keeps talking about."

Later, when global warming started being popular, I thought to myself, "it's about time people started getting smart about all this CO2." I persisted in this complacent frame of mind for several years.

I rejected creationism very early in my life as being, like religion,very unlikely based upon logic. I have never denied the holocaust. I consider Darwinian evolution to be the best hypothesis to explain the diversity of life on earth--although I will entertain alternative theories based on scientific principles that might explain punctuated equilibria.

Then, after I had gotten training in engineering, computer science, chemistry, statistics, medicine, epidemiology, molecular biology etc., I decided to revisit what was rapidly developing into a steamroller of apocalyptic proportions. I looked at different sides of the debate.

My conclusion is that climate models are nowhere close to the competency needed upon which to base anything meaningful. It should go without speaking that I hold the opportunists making big money on "carbon trading" (Al Gore) and other schemes in the greatest contempt. Does the term "conflict of interest" mean anything?

I have installed wind generators, solar panel systems (both free-standing and grid inter-tied), micro-hydro systems, and follow the renewable energy research. I like renewables and hope world energy use turns more to sustainable energy sources.

I hate dirty air. Flying a small plane is much more fun when you can see the landmarks and geo-features below you. Having lived in the LA area too many of my years, I assure you that I hate pollution. But that has nothing to do with the orthodoxy of the climate change church of perverted and misplaced data.

Hiking, climbing, kayaking, backcountry skiing, are just a few of my hobbies. The wilderness is my favourite place. If you think I would buy into any philosophy intent on destroying the wilderness, or reject a philosophy that genuinely protects the wilderness, you are under a misapprehension.

But do I care what you think? Hell, no. You will think whatever you think. In a dumbing down world, where words do not mean what they are supposed to mean, and where the media and even some scientists strive for blurred and imprecise meanings, what most people are led to think doesn't really mean anything. In other words, in an idiocracy, people carry around a cloudy blur in their minds.

Oh yes, you will be assimilated.

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17 February 2007

Prioritizing the World's Problems

The world has gotten side-tracked by the religious crusade of climate catastrophe. Only a few brave souls have stepped into the line of fire, in defense of rational thought. Bjorn Lomborg is one of the few relatively clear thinkers participating in the debate.
Bjorn Lomborg is best known for his controversial book "The Skeptical Environmentalist." For those who are only acquainted with Lomborg through his books and articles, this video is a great chance to see the much-demonized economist in action.

Hat tip GNXP.

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Why Are Radical Feminists As Helpful to Oppressed Muslim Women As a Screen Door on a Submarine?

Today's radical feminists arrived at the party after the excitement was over. Women had already achieved the right to vote, the right to own property, and virtually all the other equal rights women under Islam could sorely use right now--long before today's radical feminists arrived on the scene. The women who won those rights were nothing like today's pampered "radicals."

But there is still time for these "legends in their own minds" to achieve something great for women--but they refuse! I am referring of course to the largest group of genuinely oppressed women in the entire world--women suffering and dying under the oppression of Islam. Why won't the radical princesses help them?
Sommers: I am becoming involved in the struggle of Islamic women to secure their basic rights. The United States of America is not a patriarchy--but places like Yemen, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia certainly are. There are broadly two sorts of women’s rights movements in the Muslim world. One is led by observant religious women who are trying to find sources of liberation inside their own religion. The other, much smaller, is led by women who are non-religious and who want to bring the Enlightenment to their societies. I sympathize with both groups and I believe that American equity feminism has a lot to offer both.

But remember, the American feminist establishment is currently dominated by gender feminist radicals. They believe that America is, in its way, as oppressive as any Muslim country. So most of their effort is taken up with “liberating” American women (especially college women) from the ravages of patriarchy. That leaves them almost no time to help oppressed women in other countries.

Even if they want to help Islamic women--their antipathy to traditional religion makes them useless to religious Muslim women. Their animus towards men, feminine beauty, and romance will alienate vast numbers of liberated, Enlightenment feminists in the Muslim world. (Their rejection of the free market capitalism helps no one.) Conservative, moderate and libertarian American women are going to have to find an appropriate and sympathetic way to make common cause with Muslim women--but we will have to work around the feminist establishment to help them--not with it. Anyway, I am planning to write a long essay or a short book to sort this out.

Chapin: I still consult both of those books along with your articles on the subject quite regularly. Have times changed over the course of the last decade? Do you think that the radical feminist (or gender feminist) viewpoint is no longer as dominant among our elites and the media as it once was?

Sommers: As I said, journalists are no longer under the spell of orthodox feminists. In fact, no one seems to find what they have to say all that relevant or appealing. But hapless college students can’t escape them. Ardent, fire-breathing true believers are ubiquitous on the modern campus. They describe American society as a “patriarchy,” and they inveigh against capitalism. They see President George W. Bush as more of a threat than Osama Bin Laden. That worldview is not dominant in the media--nor almost anywhere else that you can name. The one exception is the feminist classroom.

Pampered radical princesses sit on their thrones inside the castles of Women's Studies, on all large university campuses. They rule mercilessly over their students, and anyone else unfortunate enough to fall under their power. In the real world, they would be laughed at, if not for the many journalists who still willingly consume the excrement flowing out of the sewer drains of the castles.

For a humorous look at what happens when the Vagina Monologues meets the Penis Monologues, read this report.

If you are a student, you'd best follow the lead of the radical princesses--and don't you dare think or do anything at all that could be construed as politically incorrect. The modern university is in no mood for intellectual diversity.

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16 February 2007

Embryonic Stem Cells from Only One Parent--Growing Your own Replacement Parts

Imagine if you will, being able to grow embryonic stem cells to regenerate your failing cells, tissues, and organs--just from your own sperm or eggs. No need to create a fertilised zygote or mated embryo, so there should be no ethical objections from anti-abortion politicians and their constituents.
In the February 15th issue of G&D, Dr. K. John McLaughlin and colleagues report on their success in using uniparental embryonic stem cells to replace blood stem cells in mice. Uniparental embryonic stem cells are an appealing alternative source of patient-derived embryonic stem cells, as they have several advantages over embryonic stem cell lines generated by somatic cell nuclear transfer (also known as therapeutic cloning).

....This study shows for the first time that parthenogenetic blood cells can replace those of an immunocompromised adult mouse. McLaughlin and colleagues also show that this is also possible using embryonic stem cells where both genomes are solely derived from sperm of one male (androgenetic), adding fertile males to the potential patient pool.

....The researchers took a two-step approach: First they injected uniparental ES cells into wild-type blastocyts to generate chimeric animals; then they harvested these chimeric fetal livers for transplant into lethally irradiated hosts. The scientists found that uniparental ES cells, regardless of parent-of-origin, were able to functionally reconstitute the entire hematopoietic system of adult mice. Furthermore, the scientists were also able to grow progenitor blood cells in culture from uniparental ES cells, and upon transplant into irradiated adult mice, show that these cells contribute, long-term, to the function of their hematopoietic system.

In other words, using either only eggs for a female or only sperm from a male, researchers were able to grow embryonic stem cells as replacement blood cell progenitors. These replacement cells functioned and kept the mice alive.

There are still issues of "imprinting" to be worked out when attempting to regenerate different body tissues from asexually produced ESC's. But at least the cells from this approach would be immunologically compatible with the donor. Immunological compatibility is something that sexually produced ESC's cannot guarantee, for purposes of organ regeneration.

Either way, it will be several years before humans can take advantage of this new opening in regenerative medicine.Some feminists had hoped that only females would be able to produce viable ESCs by the asexual method. They had hoped to use that leverage to force males in the US Congress to vote for unlimited funding for nuclear transfer and cloning technologies to produce new stem cell lines.

My question is--why not do both? I am constantly disgusted by the leftists who try to minimize the importance of non-embryonal approaches to creating stem cells, just as I am disgusted by the religious rightists who try to make every technology that deals with haploid cells into an abortion issue.

Unfortunately both groups of closed minded individuals have their own areas of power--where they work to limit our choices. Too bad.

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Quiet Supersonic Transport QSST

This 12 passenger supersonic craft has a range of 4000 nautical miles and will sell for only US$80 million.
The way the QSST is able to keep itself so quiet lies in its aerodynamics. Instead of creating two large booms like most supersonic planes, the QSST is designed to create many smaller ones. (boom, boom boom, boom, boom.)

J. Michael Paulson founded SAI in 2000 to fulfill his late father’s dream of making quiet supersonic flight a reality. His father, Allen E. Paulson, founder and former CEO of Gulfstream, understood his customers and their need to minimize travel time. SAI’s vision, plan and team, coupled with Lockheed Martin’s superior technical design, will make this concept a reality.

The QSST cuts the noise of supersonic travel by a factor of 100. With its quiet speed, long range and roomy comfort, even Nancy Pelosi should enjoy flying home for the weekend.


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15 February 2007

Global Warming Causing Extinction of Antarctic Polar Bears

You cannot help but wonder whether a President Gore might have acted soon enough to save the Antarctic Polar Bear. From the earliest days of human exploration in the Antarctic, Polar Bear sightings there have been extremely uncommon. With the arrival of global warming, antarctic polar bears are now almost completely extinct. The sad appearing antarctic polar bear pictured above may be the last of its breed. The albino bear (most antarctic polar bears have black fur) can be seen attempting to eat a downed weather balloon--certain proof that climate change has devastated the bear's normal food supply.

Soon we will be forced to add this tragic climate-caused extinction to that of the Arctic Emperor Penguin, extincted when its sole island breeding ground near the North Pole was submerged beneath the inexorable sea level rise caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

Yes, skeptics abound--the equivalent of holocaust deniers and evolution deniers! These scoundrels are in the pay of big oil and the Bush White House, but still we cannot stop everyone from taking them seriously.

I strongly recommend doing anything necessary to prevent ordinary people from visiting websites such as this or that. These people claim to be climate scientists, or math-savvy "auditors" of climate scientists, but we know they are in the pay of big oil and the Bush White House--Karl Rove and the neocons!

You must be as thoroughly chagrined as I am by the excessive caution of the most recent IPCC report. Like most environmentalists, I believe that as bad as global warming is--with these extinctions and all--we must exaggerate its effects to the public by at least a factor of one hundred. That is the only way to wake the idiots out of their oil-sotted slumber.

Global warming and peak oil may not seem to be able to coexist. They are said to be mutually exclusive, but as environmentalists we need to ignore such attempts to dampen our enthusiasm for control. As a matter of public stance, we should be saying that global warming is already past the point of no return, so that even after peak oil devastates the world economies, global warming will keep on flooding, extincting, hurricaning, and thermally exhausting the remaining humans on earth.

Pretty grim, eh? We need to make it sound as grim as necessary to bring about the changes we seek. Let's not allow the Antarctic Polar Bear to die in vain, shall we?

Fortunately, the arctic polar bear is in no danger of extinction--its numbers have increased by up to 25% over the past decade! If anything, the arctic polar bear is in danger of overpopulating its habitats due to overbreeding. Perhaps the arctic polar bear has an evolutionary adaptation that allows it to thrive in a climate of global warming?

In fact, that must be true, since in the medieval warm period--when temperatures were even higher than in modern times--the polar bear is said to have thrived.

In spite of that good news, we need to join Al Gore in projecting to the public the idea that all polar bears--not just the antarctic bear--are endangered by anthropogenic climate change. Mr. Gore's thriving carbon credit trading scheme depends on maintaining such public postures. Reality be damned, this is business!

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A Harvard "Designer Education"--Will it Go With Your Suit and Shoes?

Harvard has a reputation as the world's best university. I wonder why? Certainly a Harvard education isn't what most people think it is. But as long as "they" think it's worth something--it's worth something.
You might wonder: how Harvard can risk its reputation by dumping a social scientist for telling the truth and appointing a self-serving feminist apparatchik in his place?

Don't be silly. Colleges are among the least competitive institutions in this country. Their reputations are almost foolproof.

If you want to understand status and power in modern America, you need to grasp how the college prestige game works.

....An Atlantic Monthly study of admissions selectivity found that

"one good predictor of a school's selectivity rank is nothing more complicated than the date of its founding. The average founding years of the top five, ten, twenty-five, fifty, and 100 most selective schools in the nation are 1767, 1785, 1822, 1839, and 1850, respectively." [The Selectivity Illusion, by Don Peck, November 2003]

And practically no private college has fallen sharply in status since 1975. In other words, incompetent administrators can't do much damage to a college's reputation in less than a couple of generations.

....A friend who started at homely Cal State Northridge, then transferred to UC San Diego and on to UC Berkeley in pursuit of a more glamorous degree, told me the quality of instruction fell with each step up the ladder of cachet.

Yet, Stanford's and Berkeley's renown have only increased.

The Harvard alumnus who interviewed me in 1975 mentioned that he had taken courses from Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Kenneth Galbraith, and David Riesman.

"Wow," I burbled. "You must have learned a lot!"

"Oh, no," he replied. "They were mostly terrible teachers."

He explained that Harvard's policy of luring away the most celebrated middle-aged professors at lesser colleges meant that undergraduates were systematically shortchanged. Harvard's superstars devoted their best efforts to overseeing grad students, advising the President, and other duties more pleasant than correcting undergraduates' essays.

Novelist Scott Turow's 1977 memoir One-L of his first year at Harvard Law School depicts an equally dysfunctional system of teaching.

But, who really cares how much you might (or might not) learn at Harvard? The point of getting into Harvard is to be able to say you got into Harvard. (And to make friends with other ambitious hotshots who also got into Harvard.)

The article quoted above has a lot more fascinating material about Harvard, and its current predicament. Of course, Harvard's predicament is the same as most other elite colleges and universities. When balancing the education of students against the "business of education", and maintaining just the right level of political correctness in the faculty, staff, and curriculum--it's no surprise that the students' education gets the short end of the stick.

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14 February 2007

Go Easy on the Self Esteem BS! Children Have to Learn to Make an Effort

Do you try to boost your child's self esteem by telling her how smart she is? You may be preparing her for a lifetime of underachievement--even if she really is smart. Professor Carol Dweck has studied different approaches to helping children achieve their potential, and what she found may surprise you.
Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

If children believe that they can develop their minds beyond their current abilities, they will go on to work harder--and enjoy the challenge more. If children are told simply that they are "smart", they too often feel the need to avoid challenges so as to not threaten this belief about themselves--even if they do happen to be very intelligent.

Dweck's research was published in "Child Development", and was a collaboration between researchers at Stanford and Columbia. It is important to understand what the research actually shows. It shows that children are extremely sensitive to the approach their parents and teachers take to the child's abilities. If the child believes her abilities are "fixed", she will not try as hard as if she believes her abilities are "expandable."

While a child's IQ or "g" may be relatively stable, her mental abilities in terms of learned knowledge and skills are quite flexible and expandable. Too often even educational and child development researchers confuse those concepts. What these studies by Dweck demonstrate very clearly, is that a child's beliefs about her own ability to grow are very important to that child's future effort to achieve.

Parents and teachers can learn a great deal about how to deal with children on this issue. Rather than trying to build up the child's "self esteem", it appears to be more important to build the child's determination to build their minds--"like a muscle."

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President Putin Plays Russian Roulette, Raising Risk of Nuclear Winter

In a strategy that threatens to create a realistic anthropogenic climate change, Russia's President Putin offers to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf Oil States. Having already aided Shia Iran in its quest to acquire nuclear clout, Russia is now offering to help the other side of the great Islamic divide. Muslim clerics have gone on record declaring that Allah made the nuclear bomb to be used for his glory. A nuclear war between Shia and Sunni Islam should make a lot of mullahs, imams, and ayatollahs very happy. But what about the rest of us?

Scientists suspect that even a limited third world nuclear exchange could trigger a nuclear winter, with the threat of up to hundreds of millions dead from starvation--due to badly curtailed growing seasons in the world's great bread basket regions. If true, that would certainly qualify as a bona fide climate disaster.

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13 February 2007

Complexity: When Computer Models Simply Will Not Do

Biological systems are too complex to be well-modeled by computers, currently. Medical personnel are on the front lines, saving lives. Society requires a far higher level of certainty of results from medical research than can be achieved by today's computer models.

Most biological models make use of lab animals such as mice or rats. But increasingly, acellular models are used. A fascinating type of biochip that allows placing various cellular components on a silicon dioxide surface--connecting them by microfluidic channels--promises to provide increasingly ingenious acellular models for biomedical research.
Now, in a major breakthrough, a group of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, led by Roy Bar-Ziv, in collaboration with Margherita Morpurgo from the University of Padova in Italy, have designed a molecule affectionately called the “daisy” that is able to bind genes onto chips in miniature patterned arrays.

Bar-Ziv and co-workers have been able to use the daisy to pattern tiny regions of double-stranded DNA onto silicon dioxide surfaces. Indeed, these immobilized genes are able to conduct their business on patterned silicon substrates without the need for living cells. These biochips can act as protein microtraps, selectively trapping specific proteins from crude cell extracts with high spatial resolution. Moreover, the gene sequences immobilized on the biochips can be used for the on-chip production of proteins by transcription/translation processes such as those occurring within cells.

Bar-Ziv and his colleagues have also demonstrated the integration of these systems with microfluidics. Integration with flow systems is of interest for the fabrication of miniature assembly lines on chips, wherein proteins can be synthesized on the chips and transported to their final destinations through microfluidic channels.

In a remarkable demonstration of the utility of the daisy approach, the researchers have patterned two different genes as alternating stripes on a biochip. The protein synthesized on one stripe diffuses to the second stripe where it regulates the synthesis of a second protein. More complex artificial gene circuits can be envisioned by extending this protocol, and thus the biochips may be able to carry out complex cascaded information-processing functions, mimicking those in living organisms.

While computer modeling may be sufficient for political organisations such as the IPCC and Greenpeace to predict an apocalyptic future for the earth, for down-to-earth bio-researchers who absolutely must provide reliable results, computers are simply not good enough. But bio-engineers, bio-physicists, and molecular biologists working with nanotechnologists are growing increasingly clever in designing useful models that do not use lab animals.

It will be many years before biomedical research no longer needs to sacrifice large numbers of lab animals for the saving of human life. But it is encouraging to see the creation of "artificial cells" on silicon, and it is fascinating to contemplate the possibilities they offer.

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12 February 2007

Global Warming Gold

Making journalists and the public believe strongly in something that is unlikely, is not difficult. And making money while doing so makes it worth the time and trouble.

“The track record of any kind of long-distance prediction is really bad, but everyone’s still really interested in it. It’s sort of a way of picturing the future. But we can’t make long-term predictions of the economy, and we can’t make long-term predictions of the climate,” Dr. Orrell said in an interview. After all, he said, scientists cannot even write the equation of a cloud, let alone make a workable model of the climate.

Formerly of University College London, Dr. Orrell is best known among scientists for arguing that the failures of weather forecasting are not due to chaotic effects — as in the butterfly that causes the hurricane — but to errors of modelling. He sees the same problems in the predictions of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which he calls “extremely vague,” and says there is no scientific reason to think the climate is more predictable than the weather.

“Models will cheerfully boil away all the water in the oceans or cover the world in ice, even with pre-industrial levels of Co2,” he writes in Apollo’s Arrow . And so scientists use theoretical concepts like “flux adjustments” to make the models agree with reality. When models about the future climate are in agreement, “it says more about the self-regulating group psychology of the modelling community than it does about global warming and the economy.

Wassily Leontief, Nobel prize winner for modeling, said this about the limits of models. "We move from more or less plausible but really arbitrary assumptions, to elegantly demonstrated but irrelevant conclusions." Exactly. Assume continued warming as in the last three decades, and you get a warming disaster. Assume more episodes of global cooling, and you get a cooling disaster.

...the global warming movement has now become a multi-billion dollar enterprise with thousands of jobs and millions in funding for NGOs and think-tanks, top jobs and prizes for scientists, and huge media coverage for predictions of disaster.

The vested interests in the global warming theory are now as strong, rich and politically influential as the biggest multinationals.

Al Gore is making very good money on this deal. Not a bad scam, if you can pull it off.

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Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation 2.0" Free Download!

Eric Drexler's classic book on Nanotechnology is now out in version 2.0. It is available as a free download from Wowio. The new version includes updated information from Drexler as well as material from the famous Drexler--Smalley debates.
"Some seminal works stand out like beacons in the history of science. Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" and Watson and Crick's "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" come quickly to mind. In recent decades we can add Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation," which established the revolutionary new field of nanotechnology. In the twenty years since this seminal work was published, its premises and analyses have been confirmed and we are starting to apply precise molecular assembly to a wide variety of early applications from blood cell sized devices that can target cancer cells to a new generation of efficient solar panels. We can now see clearly the roadmap over the next couple of decades to the full realization of Drexler's concept of the inexpensive assembly of macro objects constructed at the nanoscale controlled by massively parallel information processes, the fulfillment of which will enable us to solve problems -- energy, environmental degradation, poverty, and disease to name a few -- that have plagued humankind for eons."

-- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, and author of The Singularity is Near, When Humans Transcend Biology
from the Wowio description of EOC 2.0.

Check out other free downloads from Wowio "Free Books, Free Minds."

Hat tip Advanced Nano.

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The Silicon Cortex

Over the years a lot of AI researchers and electrical engineers have tried to model the neurological function of parts of the brain on silicon. Tech Review features a current effort by Stanford neuroengineer Kwabena Boahen.
"Brains do things in technically and conceptually novel ways--they can solve rather effortlessly issues which we cannot yet resolve with the largest and most modern digital machines," says Rodney Douglas, a professor at the Institute of Neuroinformatics, in Zurich. "One of the ways to explore this is to develop hardware that goes in the same direction."

Neurons communicate with a series of electrical pulses; chemical signals transiently change the electrical properties of individual cells, which in turn trigger an electrical change in the next neuron in the circuit. In the 1980s, Carver Mead, a pioneer in microelectronics at the California Institute of Technology, realized that the same transistors used to build computer chips could be used to build circuits that mimicked the electrical properties of neurons. Since then, scientists and engineers have been using these transistor-based neurons to build more-complicated neural circuits, modeling the retina, the cochlea (the part of the inner ear that translates sound waves into neural signals), and the hippocampus (a part of the brain crucial for memory). They call the process neuromorphing.

Now Kwabena Boahen, a neuroengineer at Stanford University, is planning the most ambitious neuromorphic project to date: creating a silicon model of the cortex. The first-generation design will be composed of a circuit board with 16 chips, each containing a 256-by-256 array of silicon neurons. Groups of neurons can be set to have different electrical properties, mimicking different types of cells in the cortex. Engineers can also program specific connections between the cells to model the architecture in different parts of the cortex.

I am putting my money on Jeff Hawkins and Rodney Brooks. But when attempting something this ambitious, it doesn't hurt to include as many contestants as possible.

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11 February 2007

My Very Own Submarine For Christmas?

One can always hope, anyway. While Peter Robbins achieved his lifelong dream when he designed and oversaw the construction of his beautiful submarine, what are the rest of us to do?

That question has an easier answer, now that U-Boat Worx has a new line of personal submarines in production. The C-Quester model can dive to 50 meters and cruise submerged on electric propulsion for two and a half hours. The pressure hull keeps the pilot dry and at reasonable pressure, without requiring decompression. The price tag is US $85,000.

That price should fall well within the range of many affluent adventurers, and high end ocean resorts. Universities with marine studies departments may also want to look into possible external robotic add-on devices for collecting samples.

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