Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unforseen Consequences...

"...the plague (Black Death of 1347 to 1351) selectively took the already ill, while many of the otherwise healthy survived the infection.

Although it may not be surprising that healthy people would be more likely to survive an illness, it is not always the case. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed thousands of healthy people in their prime while sparing many children and the elderly, whose weaker immune systems did not overreact to the infection."

The same curious notion of unexpected results regarding sickness also applies to cleanliness and how it relates to cancer and disease. "As strange as it sounds, epidemiologists are starting to uncover some unexpected links between our exposure to dirt and germs, and our risk of cancer later in life. Children who attend daycare in their first few months are much less likely to develop leukaemia than those who stay at home, for instance, while some tuberculosis vaccines reduce the risk of skin cancer.infection. "

Last but not least, check out Allergic Reaction, a BRT blurb that shows that cleanliness is not next to godliness when it comes to the epidemic of allergy that is impacting every industrial country in the world.

Strange as it ever was. - Talking Heads

Semantic Web 2 Step

Click on the first YouTube video to get a great, non-techie introduction to the Semantic Web. Terrific way to demystify something that will change how we do business on the net.

Click on the second YT video to learn about Semantic Web Rules.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gravity Waves

Successfully detecting vanishingly weak Gravity Waves has been a long standing quest as they are envisioned to be the mechanism which enables gravity to bend space and time as postulated by General Relativity in explaining how reality works at the large scale of things. (1919 eclipse experiment)

Successful Gravity Wave detection could be at hand because output of the Lowest Noise Laser "...results in a reduction in the quantum mechanical intensity fluctuations, known as photon noise, of 90 percent. Using this extremely quite light in gravitational wave detectors can drastically increase their sensitivity."

Now that GWave detection is near, using this information to build anti-gravity devices to enable heroes like Luke Skywalker and Flash Gordon to battle Jabba the Hut & Ming the Merciless may be here at last. I for one, can't wait. :)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The New Black

"Researchers in the US claim to have made the world's darkest material using arrays of carbon nanotubes.The new material reflects just 0.045% of light incident upon it, making it blacker than the previous record holder — a nickel and phosphorous alloy that reflected about 0.16% of incident light. The material could be used to boost the efficiency of solar panels."

To get an idea of just how dark this material is, consider this "The total reflectance of conventional black paint, for example, is between 5 and 10 percent. The darkest manmade material, prior to the discovery by Lin’s group, boasted a total reflectance of 0.16 percent to 0.18 percent.

Lin’s team created a coating of low-density, vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays that are engineered to have an extremely low index of refraction and the appropriate surface randomness, further reducing its reflectivity. The end result was a material with a total reflective index of 0.045 percent "

In addition to improving solar collector efficiency, I'll bet this material would be awesome for the creation of more Velvet Elvis paintings that were the "artistic" rage of the early '70s.

Raindrops keeps falling on my head...

Unlike Burt Bacharach and Hal David's classic, Raindrops (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid) where Kathleen Ross rides a bike while the song lightly intones various ways to deal with the rain, "Researchers have recently developed a system that recovers the vibration energy from a piezoelectric structure impacted by a falling raindrop. The system works with raindrops ranging in diameter from 1 to 5 mm, and simulations show that it’s possible to recover up to 12 milliwatts from one of the larger “downpour” drops."

Forevermore my take on rain will be forever changed.

Real ALife

"A bacterium (plural: bacteria) is a unicellular microorganism."

"Artificial life
(commonly Alife or alife) is a field of study and an associated art form which examine systems related to life, its processes, and its evolution through simulations using computer models, robotics, and biochemistry.[1] "

Synthetic Biology...
combines science and engineering in order to design and build ("synthesize") novel biological functions and systems.

"US scientists have taken a major step toward creating the first ever artificial life form by synthetically reproducing the DNA of a bacteria, according to a study published Thursday. "Through dedicated teamwork we have shown that building large genomes is now feasible and scalable so that important applications such as biofuels can be developed," said Dr. Hamilton Smith." (J.Craig Venter Institute)

As stated in BRT, (Frankenstein Redux) Venter was beginning to get close to his stated goal of creating life. Looks like he's almost there. "In the final stage of their research which they are already working on, the Maryland-based team will attempt to create a bacteria based purely on the synthetic genome sequence of the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria.

The bacteria, which causes certain sexually transmitted diseases, has one of the least complex DNA structures of any life form, composed of just 580 genes. "

Click here to read NYT's take on the same subject.

It appears the insightful Just Say No campaign to premarital sex as advocated by the Bush Administration doesn't apply when building the first real artificial life form based on a sexually communicable disease.

"Don't you just love it? "- John Travolta, Broken Arrow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Just saw the monster flick Cloverfield. Good special effects (monsters are intense), proper level of dread, and, for once, a real sense of what happens when people confront the frightening unknown up close and personal. Using hi def hand held cameras, director Matt Reeves achieves the kind of "you are participating in a chaotic event writ large" feeling impossible to achieve using the usual steady cams, tripods or dollies to control how cameras record a scene.

No doubt this film will succeed so the next questions to ask are: How did the monsters come to Manhattan? What is the final outcome? and... Are there more of them?

Great fun as the dialog works, the actors are good and this novel approach to doing this over done genre of film making is fresh. Unfortunately, copy cats will abound so theater goers will see the motion sickness treatment of hand held cinematography done on future slasher/vampire/monster flicks that need a "new look" to cover up the same ole same ole story line that started off with the great originals Frankenstein and Dracula (aka Vlad III the impaler).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Diatoms - The next wave of computing?

Diatoms, a common member of Phytoplankton, are not only commonplace to the extreme, (oceans/freshwater streams/soils/damp surfaces) they also differ from all other organisms because they "are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule."

This cell structure has intrigued scientists for centuries not only because of its exquisite and intricate beauty but also on the kind of material it's made of. "Diatoms build their hard cell walls by laying down submicron-sized lines of silica, a compound related to the key material of the semiconductor industry—silicon. “If we can genetically control that process, we would have a whole new way of performing the nanofabrication used to make computer chips,” says Michael Sussman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor and director of the UW-Madison’s Biotechnology Center."

"To that end, a team led by Sussman and diatom expert Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington has reported finding a set of 75 genes specifically involved in silica bioprocessing in the diatom."

Using this data, scientists may be able to program diatoms to build chips that are much faster and smaller in size, thus avoiding the limits of Moore's Law "as diatoms are capable of producing lines much smaller than current technology allows."

The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. - Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, January 19, 2008

MIT OCW Milestone

MIT Open Courseware has reached a milestone. All 1800 courses are now online. Additionally, OCW has opened Highlights for High School, a selection of OCW courses keyed to high school students. Click on the image below to view the Highlights video to learn how this environment will unlock the minds of the young.

Pretty cool news don't you think?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Great Unwinding

Just read a great article from James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency, titled Disarray "I maintain that all the "players" -- from the bankers to the politicians to the editors to the ordinary citizens -- will continue to not get it as the disarray accelerates and families and communities are blown apart by economic loss. Instead of beginning the tough process of making new arrangements for everyday life, we'll take up a campaign to sustain the unsustainable old way of life at all costs."

He's right but instead of just bitching about it, he calls for solutions that can work if we have the will to make them happen. "Stop all highway-building altogether. Instead, direct public money into repairing railroad rights-of-way. Put together public-private partnerships for running passenger rail between American cities and towns in between. If Amtrak is unacceptable, get rid of it and set up a new management system. At the same time, begin planning comprehensive regional light-rail and streetcar operations."

It's time to roll up our sleeves and do something because if we don't, we're toast. Financial markets are unwinding, the US has no money and leadership in both the public and private sectors is anything but as we inch closer to the abyss but there is some hope. Nanotech solar is starting to take off while at the same time, Switchgrass and Algae could replace corn in generating clean biofuel because of their higher energy content and ability to grow almost anywhere there is available land or water.

Obviously these projects are just a tiny start point in the transition process but at least people are starting to realize we are in trouble. As stated before in BRT, solutions exist in the lab but funding and scaling the ones that work in the real world is daunting at best but it can be done if we have the will. We are in for tough times as the end of oil is nigh and global warming threatens us all as we move closer to the "magical" 450 parts per million CO2 levels that could transform earth into a variant of Venus.

I like warmth big time but....


“The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. … It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity…. There are no nations, there are no peoples. There is only one vast and immense, interwoven, multi-national dominion of petro-dollars. … There is no America. There is no ‘democracy.’ The world is a business, one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work.”
Arthur Jensen telling Howard Beale how the world works.

Network - prescient, biting, funny and above all else, relevant, says it all regarding the state of America today. We are in deep doo doo thanks to greed, incompetence and deceit. "Since taking office, Bush has doubled the federal debt to more than $5 trillion. And, according to US Treasury figures, on net, foreign investors have purchased close to 100% of that debt. That’s $3 trillion borrowed from the Saudis, the Chinese, the Japanese and others.

Now, Bush, our Debt Junkie-in-Chief, needs another fix. The US Treasury, Citibank, Merrill-Lynch and other financial desperados need another hand-out from Abdullah’s stash. Abdullah, in turn, gets this financial juice by pumping it out of our pockets at nearly $100 a barrel for his crude."

Addendum: To see another viewpoint, check out Bush's “Stimulus” Cash Giveaway; “Gentlemen, Start The Helicopters”

Last but not least, read the insightful Economist article All Fall Down? to learn about a little known but huge sector of America's markets that could also go bust along with this gem titled Is This the Big One? It's sure to warm the cockles of your heart.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Act of Creation

The Act of Creation "..uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole."

To support his argument, Koestler cites numerous examples of the creative act with the most striking being the notion of how Kekule discovered Benezene when thinking about the Ouroboros.

"He (Kekulé) said that he had discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail (this is a common symbol in many ancient cultures known as the (Ouroboros)."

Written in 1964, this masterwork remains as relevant today as it did when it originally came out in paperback costing me all of $2.25 because every creative person who reads this will chuckle and nod in agreement about how "creativity just happens, it cannot be forced and comes forth only when it's ready much to the frustration and chagrin of its creator."

Koestler also wrote Darkness At Noon and two other seminal books on science, "The Sleepwalkes", on the contribution of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo and "The Ghost in the Machine", which contains a critique of behaviorist psychology and Koestler's theory to account for the apparent self-destructiveness of human nature."

"The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards."
- Arthur Koestler

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Subprime Nation

Patrick Buchanan is no hero of mine but the man's very smart and his take on some aspects of US policy and economics is right on as seen in his article Subprime Nation.

"America, to pay her bills, has begun to sell herself to the world.

Its balance sheet gutted by the subprime mortgage crisis, Citicorp got a $7.5 billion injection from Abu Dhabi and is now fishing for $1 billion from Kuwait and $9 billion from China. Beijing has put $5 billion into Morgan Stanley and bought heavily into Barclays Bank.

Merrill-Lynch, ravaged by subprime mortgage losses, sold part of itself to Singapore for $7.5 billion and is seeking another $3 billion to $4 billion from the Arabs. Swiss-based UBS, taking a near $15 billion write-down in subprime mortgages, has gotten an infusion of $10 billion from Singapore.

Bain Capital is partnering with China's Huawei Technologies in a buyout of 3Com, the U.S. company that provides the technology that protects Pentagon computers from Chinese hackers.

This self-indulgent generation has borrowed itself into unpayable debt. Now the folks from whom we borrowed to buy all that oil and all those cars, electronics and clothes are coming to buy the country we inherited. We are prodigal sons, and the day of reckoning approaches."

Apollo 13 - "Houston, We have a problem."
Do we have the strength to get through this? Only time will tell as we try to survive the last year of the worst administration this country has ever had.

Touching the Fabric of Life

"Researchers believe the pipettes will be useful for concurrently measuring electrical signals of cells during fluid injection. In addition, the pipettes are transparent to X rays and electrons, making them useful when imaging even at the molecular level. Adding a functionalized protein to the pipette creates a nanoscale biosensor that can detect the presence of proteins."

No doubt we are getting closer to the tech of Dr McCoy where one will be able to ascertain what is going on without resorting to gross procedures involving needles, glass pipettes or labs that take a week to determine what illness any particular person may have.

Go to Cracked.Com to check out the best and worst Trek films. The Voyage Home is the one where McCoy goes ballistic over 20th century medicine. (he's right but what the hell, it's a flick right?) His tirade is worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On Growth & Form

Nobel laureate Peter Medawar called On Growth and Form "the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue"

And he's right. Why? Because not only does D'Arcy Thompson write like an angel but he also applied mathematics to describe biological form. Using the Logarithmic spiral, he shows how the Nautilus shell expands into 3 space while at the same time, he uses non linear shearing transforms to depict how species can subtly differentiate from one another depending on how they adapt to their environment.

Chapters in his book include:

After reading this book, one's view of reality is forever changed.

The Hole in The Wall

"When Indian researcher Sugata Mitra embedded a high-speed computer in a wall separating his firm's New Delhi headquarters from an adjacent slum, he discovered that slum children quickly taught themselves how to surf the net, read the news, and download games and music. Mitra then replicated the experiment in other locations. Each time the results were similar: within hours, and without instruction, the children began browsing the Internet."

Out of hand, out of sight approach to Tech.
Absolutely Awesome!!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Water, Water...

Though somewhat tongue in cheek, the excellent Salon article titled How to Solve America's Water Problems pulls no punches in stating we are in big trouble in the H20 scheme of things. "In San Diego, which just experienced its driest summer in recorded history, the hills are charred from October's wildfires. The state of California is so tapped out that the pumps that carry water from the Sacramento River to San Diego were tightened in December. Water authorities are urging San Diegans to tear up their grass and replace it with cactus and succulent."

and..."Metro Atlanta draws its water from Lake Lanier, a dammed-up stretch of the Chattahoochee River. The Chattahoochee forms part of Georgia's boundary with Alabama, then joins the Flint River to become the Apalachicola, which flows through the Florida Panhandle. The more Atlanta drinks, the less flows downstream. Since this year's drought began, Lake Lanier has shrunk to 15 feet below its normal level, its all-time low. As it withers, Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been bickering over the remaining supply."

And we haven't even talked about the problems in the west/southwest or the near death state of the Florida acquifer (pollution, pesticides & fertilizers) as the US continues to dry up under the impact of GW.

To get a better idea of the current situation in the US, click on the image above to get the NDIS (National Integrated Drought Information System) take on this grave problem.

When combined with the impact GW is having on the sea, (GW 1 & 2) the potential for ironic calamity really starts to take hold because at the same time Florida and the Southeast is drying up, coastal areas will flood out as ocean levels rise.

Don't you feel better now?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Culture of Calamity

Have not read Culture of Calamity yet but in Alternet, there is a terrific interview with the author, Kevin Rozario, where he "explores the role that massive catastrophe has played in American culture. Why did the stock market radically jump despite the prediction of thousands of jobs lost in Hurricane Katrina? Who benefits from disasters? How did it come to be that, in the wake of 9/11, an average of $2.1 million in tax-free payments were made to the families of those killed in the attacks? Why are mainstream media outlets inundated with images of destruction?"

Read this to learn more about how the US has dealt with disasters throughout history as Rozario states that opportunity beckons whenever people capitalize on the aftermath of any given situation. "In the New York City fire of 1835 the value of land goes up eight times in the two months between the fire and the aftermath of the fire. The land was worth more cleared of the property than with property."

When viewed in this light, we should be happy as the stage is set for disasters of biblical proportions courtesy of the wonderful Bush Administration.

The Napkin PC: "No inhibitions, it´s just a napkin."

When e-paper is combined with Bluetooth, WiMax and a (cleverly disguised) PC, Disruptive Tech emerges in the form of the Napkin PC, an elegant, low powered approach to group collaboration that could change how creativity and education functions.

"The technology includes a "napkin" holder filled with e-paper napkins, as well as a place for colored pens. When someone gets an inspiration, they simply grab a napkin and start doodling with one of the pens. The pen uses short-range RF technology to send data to the napkin interface. The pen and napkin can also communicate to a base station PC in the napkin holder using long-range RF.

Holleman hopes that the Napkin PC concept could enable creative groups - such as architects, artists, and engineers - to collaborate better because the doodles can be easily shared. Another perk of the concept is that the napkins are modular, so designers can connect them to create large-scale layouts. For example, a block of napkins can be hung side by side on a wall to create a large display."

Using this, people (students, architects, suits, etc., etc.) wanting to collaborate on any given project can sketch it out and not worry about the vagaries of a cumbersome computer interface interfering with creating something loose and really cool. Additionally, if the PC is connected to the web via WiMax, designers could upload output from the e-paper napkins for online distribution. Yanko Design published this very hip concept created by Avery Holleman to show how systems become invisible when placed in the hands of somebody who knows how to make it happen. C'mon Apple, how about "thinking different" on this one."

"Party on!" - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Allergic Reaction

Knowing the Human Genome is not enough, man also has to learn about the myriad of beasties that live within us to to better understand how they impact the health of everyone on planet earth.

"Much as we might like to ignore them, microbes have colonized almost every inch of our bodies, living in our mouths, skin, lungs, and gut. Indeed, the human body has 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. They're a vital part of our health, breaking down otherwise indigestible foods, making essential vitamins, and even shaping our immune system. Recent research suggests that microbes play a role in diseases, such as ulcers, heart disease, and obesity. "

To that end, the National Institute of Health has an initiative (among others) to do the following: "Microbiome – The Microbiome is the full collection of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.) that naturally exist within the human body. Initiatives in this area would focus on developing a deeper understanding of these communities of microbes in order to determine how they affect human health."

One area the Mirobiome project could help is in learning why allergies are exploding at exponential rates in industrial countries. In the Technology Review article titled The New Hygiene Hypothesis, Swedish pediatrician and immunologist Bengt Björkstén analyzes feces collected from kids from Sweden and Estonia to learn how microbes impact their immune functions as "allergy rates in Sweden and other wealthy nations, including the United States, have risen dramatically over the past 50 years, while rates in historically poorer nations, such as Estonia, have not."

His initial findings appear to indicate "that rising allergy rates are linked to our more antiseptic, modern lifestyle." whereby we "pampered" humans do not encounter enough foreign allergens to keep our immune systems healthy. To whit: "...babies born in urban environments have fewer microbes and fewer diverse microbial communities than those born and raised on farms. The same is true for babies born in Sweden versus those born in Estonia."

No doubt going back to the "good old days" of being really dirty is not the answer as bad hygiene comes with it's own set of problems that go beyond that of allergy but there is hope using Microbiome tech as start point because it "assesses microbial populations without having to grow them in the lab." thus speeding up research as "This approach will generate a much more extensive microbial profile and allow scientists to look for specific patterns linked to allergy. If they can pinpoint the precise factors that lead the immune system awry and boost risk for immune disorders, the researchers may be able to prevent them."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Blind Watchmaker

For those who don't believe in Evolution...

Any Questions?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Motion Mountain

When one browses the net as often as I do, one finds gems that are too good to pass up. Motion Mountain is such a jewel, a free, up to date book on physics. Some of the questions posed by Christoph Schiller include the following:

"How does a rainbow form?
Is levitation possible?
Do time machines exist?
What does 'quantum' mean?
What is the maximum force value found in nature?
Is 'empty space' really empty?
Is the universe a set?
Which problems in physics are still unsolved?"

What's cool about this is that people can add content to the book via the MM wiki and the book itself is loaded with illustrations, puzzles and brain teasers to accompany well written text that elegantly explains arcane concepts in ways lay people like myself can easily understand.

Check it out, without a doubt, you will learn something.
I know I have.