Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I meant to post this over a week ago but was distracted with SFN meeting preparation. Stuart Kauffman at MIT discussing his and his co-author, Giuseppe Longo's ideas, on the natural world and biology. Kauffman also writes at the NPR blog, 13.7 and there you can find the ideas discussed in the video as long form blog post. NECSI, one of the hosts of Kauffman also has the video below accompanied by text on their site. here [PDF]
at 9:28 PM
Ronald Bailey in Reason
While still in the early stages of space exploration, it makes sense to try to prevent the inadvertent introduction of terrestrial life to other worlds while researchers pursue their search for extraterrestrial life. But others argue that sometime later in this century, humanity should begin the process of terraforming other worlds, most probably beginning with Mars. British planetary scientist Martyn Fogg provides a good definition of terraforming as “a process of planetary engineering, specifically directed at enhancing the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to support life. The ultimate in terraforming would be to create an uncontained planetary biosphere emulating all the functions of the biosphere of the Earth—one that would be fully habitable for human beings."
Mars as it is is not a promising home for Earth life; its average temperature is -60°C, well below Earth’s average of 15°C; the pressure of its carbon dioxide atmosphere is one-hundredth that of Earth’s; and it lacks an ozone layer so its surface is blasted by DNA destroying UV rays from the sun. Can it be made more hospitable? Science fiction author Jack Williamson coined the word terraforming in a 1942 short story in Astounding Science Fiction. Arthur C. Clarke further developed the idea of terraforming in his 1951 novel The Sands of Mars. In 1973, young astronomer Carl Sagan devised a proposal for melting Mars’ South Pole by darkening it. This would boost carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect, which would warm the planet and allow water to flow.
In a research review in 1998, Martyn Fogg evaluated various suggested technical means to begin terraforming Mars. A runaway greenhouse effect releasing carbon dioxide might be jumpstarted by pumping potent man-made greenhouse gases like perfluorocarbons into the atmosphere or by directing extra sunlight onto the South Pole using a space mirror 250 kilometers in diameter. Once started, Fogg estimates it would take 100 years to build up a thick atmosphere and warm the planet enough so that anaerobic Earth life could successfully colonize the planet. Candidates for pioneering terrestrial microbes include the dessication-resistant cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis, the lime-boring cyanobacterium Matteia, and the ionizing-radiation resistant heterotrophic bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans. In addition, the Planetary Society is flying 10 hardy organisms as part of its Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) aboard the Phobos-Grunt mission. They will be returned with soil from Phobos to see how they fare in long exposure to space.Bailey then links to a pdf discussing "The Ethics of Terraforming" [PDF]
at 9:01 PM
Monday, November 7, 2011
Interesting article from Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic on Pakistani/American Relations.
Much of the world, of course, is anxious about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and for good reason: Pakistan is an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea. It is perfectly sensible to believe that Pakistan might not be the safest place on Earth to warehouse 100 or more nuclear weapons. These weapons are stored on bases and in facilities spread across the country (possibly including one within several miles of Abbottabad, a city that, in addition to having hosted Osama bin Laden, is home to many partisans of the jihadist group Harakat-ul-Mujahideen). Western leaders have stated that a paramount goal of their counterterrorism efforts is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of jihadists.
at 3:03 PM
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Justin E.H Smith interviews Cătălin Avramescu about this new book, An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. (side note, Cabinet is one of the better magazines I have seen in a while, subscribe if you like what you read)
I think cannibalism is challenging not just on an epistemological level. The cannibal provokes us at a deeper, ontological, level. How can cannibalism’s existence be justified? This question is particularly difficult, since the coming into being of the cannibal implies the disappearance of other beings. If this is true, then an examination of cannibalism is bound to induce a species of metaphysical unease....
Early modern authors were aware of the slipperiness of the concept of cannibalism and they played it to great effect. The consuming of the body of Christ in the ritual of the Christian communion or the medical use of the extract of mummies were, for instance, reconstructed as acts of cannibalism by radical writers and reformers. Some utilized symbolic associations such as that between bloodletting and money lending. On the other hand, there was, indeed, some acceptance of what I should call, perhaps, “minor cannibalism.” For instance: a man drowns in a river, is eaten by fish, and then another man eats the fish. What made the difference? Two elements. One is essential in casuistry: intention. The minor cannibals, such as the sick men flocking around the scaffold, do not themselves wish to harm the source of the matter they ingest. This contrasts with the perverted will of the “major” cannibal. The other element is the drama of dismemberment, which is a procedure that carries numerous associations in Western culture.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Emma Marris @ The Last Word On Nothing blog asks the question. One major issue when it comes to synthetic life is are we really synthesizing all of organism, including our microbiotic gut dwelling partners?
Another problem that I’ve talked over with Wildlife Conservation Society Institute director Kent Redford is that animals are not ever really alone. Mammals like mammoths and humans host thriving, complex communities of microbes on their skins, in their mouths and, especially, in their guts. This “gut flora”, when behaving normally, doesn’t hurt us but helps us break down our food and train our immune systems. Disorders from asthma to eczema to allergies and even obesity have been linked to the number and kinds of microbes in our guts. There are ten times as many microbial cells as human cells in your body, and microbial genes outnumber human genes by at least 100 to one (See here). Animals and their microbiota are so tightly linked that some scientists think of them collectively as a kind of superorganism. Each species has its own suite of flora species that have adapted to it. When the mammoth went extinct, so, presumably, did all its little bugs. A cloned mammoth born vaginally from an elephant would likely end up with elephant microflora. One delivered by cesarean might have no bugs at all. What do we make of a mammoth superoganism if only one out 100 of its genes are authentic to the ecosystem that roamed the earth inside a hairy proboscidean skin 13,000 years ago?H/T: Andrew Sullivan
at 2:53 PM
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Economist reports on the latest in using game theoretic models in international affairs and economics.
Mr Bueno de Mesquita’s “game” is a computer model he developed that uses a branch of mathematics called game theory, which is often used by economists, to work out how events will unfold as people and organisations act in what they perceive to be their best interests. Numerical values are placed on the goals, motivations and influence of “players”—negotiators, business leaders, political parties and organisations of all stripes, and, in some cases, their officials and supporters. The computer model then considers the options open to the various players, determines their likely course of action, evaluates their ability to influence others and hence predicts the course of events.Looks like we might be one step closer to having game theory churning, androids with whom to share out grievances and weaknesses with as well.
Where is all this heading? Alongside the arms race of increasingly elaborate modelling software, there are also efforts to develop software that can assist in negotiation and mediation. Two decades ago Clara Ponsatí, a Spanish academic, came up with a clever idea while pondering the arduous Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As negotiators everywhere know, the first side to disclose all that it is willing to sacrifice (or pay) loses considerable bargaining power. Bereft of leverage, it can be pushed back to its bottom line by a clever opponent. But if neither side reveals the concessions it is prepared to make, negotiations can stall or collapse. In a paper published in 1992, Dr Ponsatí described how software could be designed to break the impasse. Difficult negotiations can often be nudged along by neutral mediators, especially if they are entrusted with the secret bottom lines of all parties. Dr Ponsatí’s idea was that if a human mediator was not trusted, affordable or available, a computer could do the job instead. Negotiating parties would give the software confidential information on their bargaining positions after each round of talks. Once positions on both sides were no longer mutually exclusive, the software would split the difference and propose an agreement. Dr Ponsatí, now head of the Institute of Economic Analysis at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, says such “mediation machines” could lubricate negotiations by unlocking information that would otherwise be withheld from an opponent or human mediator. Such software is now emerging. Barry O’Neill, a game theorist at the University of California, Los Angeles, describes how it can facilitate divorce settlements. A husband and wife are each given a number of points which they secretly allocate to household assets they desire. The wife may inform the software that her valuation of the family car is, say, 15 points. If the husband puts the car’s value at 10 points, he cannot later claim that he deserves more compensation for not getting the car than she would be entitled to.
at 11:22 PM
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Philosophy Bro ..er, "reviews" David K. Lewis's book, On the Plurality of Worlds:
I happen to believe in a bunch of things. No, I can't prove their existence. But think of all the shit that you believe in without proof - 'redness'? 'Propositions'? Possible, imaginary worlds where, somehow as if by magic, Socrates isn't an ugly motherfucker? Even sets seem questionable - how could there be some universal object that contains all and only the odd numbers? But sets are useful as fuck, so we deal with them. Well, I say if you're going to make shit up, GO BIG OR GO HOME, bitches. If you think it's too crazy, whatever bro - not everyone is worthy. But don't come in my house, kick my dog, and tell me you have a simpler solution that you just made up where everything magically makes sense because your hand-waving said so. Mind tricks do not work on me, only ontologies.
at 11:39 PM
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Leave it to the informed. Here is Juan Cole on the situation in Tripoli:
A map of the fighting.
Al Jazeera English is live-blogging the conflict
The underground network of revolutionaries in the capital, who had been violently repressed by Qaddafi’s security forces last March, appear to have planned the uprising on hearing of the fall of Zawiya and Zlitan. It is Ramadan, so people in Tripoli are fasting during the day, breaking their fast at sunset. Immediately after they ate their meal, the callers to prayer or muezzins mounted the minarets of the mosques and began calling out, “Allahu Akbar,” (God is most Great), as a signal to begin the uprising. (Intrestingly, this tactic is similar to that used by the Green movement for democracy in Iran in 2009).
Working class districts in the east were the first to rise up. Apparently revolutionaries have been smuggling in weapons to the capital and finding a way to practice with them. Tajoura, a few kilometers from Tripoli to the east, mounted a successful attack on the Qaddafi forces in the working class suburb, driving them off. At one point the government troops fired rockets at the protesting crowds, killing 122 persons. But it was a futile piece of barbarity, followed by complete defeat of Qaddafi forces. Eyewitness Asil al-Tajuri told Aljazeera Arabic by telephone that the revolutionaries in Tajoura captured 6 government troops, and that they freed 500 prisoners from the Hamidiya penitentiary. The Tajoura popular forces also captured the Muitiqa military base in the suburb and stormed the residence of Mansur Daw, the head of security forces in Tripoli.
A map of the fighting.
Al Jazeera English is live-blogging the conflict
at 9:50 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Altered Zones does an interview with one of my favorites, John Maus:
AZ: I was interested in hearing you talk about more of the classical reference points you use in the album. I mean, we've talked about the '80s thing-- we’ve talked about the language of the present-- but you're also reaching into the deep past.
John: I think every moment's been kind of obsessed with itself and itself alone. But it seems to me that, for instance, the 18th century guys were kind of familiar with the early 18th century and the 17th century Baroque. They knew it. It was part of their vocabulary. Even though they were disparate musical truths, they all had a relationship. But then we get to this moment and nobody knows about anything but pop. They think that this or that rock band is really radical because they've never heard Luciano Berio. You can take a Josquin mass and quantize it into quarter notes and there's triads there, there's chords that are modal and don't adhere to any kind of major-minor tonality scheme. Then you can just add a drum beat and a vocal melody over the top, and it's something slightly resembling a pop song. You can only speak English better and understand etymologically what’s happening with English if you speak French and German. Just as we'll make a better use of pop knowing about Romanticism and Viennese Classicism and the German Baroque and the High Renaissance.
AZ: How do you think we’ve gotten to pop now?
John: Every musical moment is almost entirely reducible to the discursive regime and the mechanisms of power. Pop music is how it is because our master today is commercial capitalism. Just as bourgeois aristocratic court music was what it was because it was part of pleasing the aristocracy.
AZ: And what is your role in all this?
What we would-be artists and musicians all need to remember is that it shouldn't fall to us to transform the world politically, it should fall to those who would make a creative medium of politics instead. That Joseph Haydn didn't refuse to serve the Esterházys, or J.S. Bach the Lutheran Church, and so on, makes little difference with respect to the music they made. Transforming the world of who-serves-who-and-why, finally, fell to the Saint-Justs of the world. We would-be musicians are not political innovators in the strict sense (Joan Baez was not substitute for MLK). Let those who would make a medium of politics articulate a way forward for our world, we'll met them with enthusiasm when they do this, I promise! The world where music is used to sell shoes and useless gadgets made by slaves in the "third world," and, meanwhile, we'll keep trying to make revolutionary music.
at 8:10 PM
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Monday, July 11, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Researchers at UW-Madison have successfully coaxed neurons to grow into silicon/germanium tubes. The work is hailed as a large breakthrough in the field of neural electronics.
Image credit: ACS Nano, DOI:10.1021/nn103618d
Image credit: ACS Nano, DOI:10.1021/nn103618d
at 1:44 PM