Archive for February 2007
A great thinker in our field is Doug Engelbart, who is mostly remembered for inventing the computer mouse. If you search Google you will find Doug’s Web page, where there are 75 essays about what personal computing should be about. And on one of the early hits you can watch the demo he gave in 1968 to 3,000 people in San Francisco, showing them what the world of the future would be like.
Engelbart, right from his very first proposal to ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency], said that when adults accomplish something that’s important, they almost always do it through some sort of group activity. If computing was going to amount to anything, it should be an amplifier of the collective intelligence of groups. But Engelbart pointed out that most organizations don’t really know what they know, and are poor at transmitting new ideas and new plans in a way that’s understandable.
“The dopamine neurons are responsible for telling the rest of the brain what stimuli to pay attention to,” says Terry Sejnowski, the director of Salk Institute for Biological Studies Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, referring to the cluster of brain cells that produce one of the many chemical elixirs that activate, deactivate, or otherwise alter our mental state.
In a deeper way, he explains, evolutionary factors – the need for individual organisms to survive, find food or a mate, and avoid predators – are at work behind the mechanisms of unconscious decision making.
“Consciousness explains things that have already been decided for you…”
How is the physical brain is related to the thinking, experiencing, self-aware mind?
Is There Room for the Soul?
New challenges to our most cherished beliefs about self and the human spirit. Developments in science and religion point to a new picture of reality.
Since leaving office in 2001, Bill Clinton has amassed an estimated $40-million from speaking fees.
Last year was his best yet, raking in between $9-million and $10-million from speeches around the world. He earned in the region of $200 000 a year as president.
Clinton, who went into the White House with relatively modest means compared with most of his predecessors, left office an estimated $12-million in debt from election campaigning and legal fees in relation to the Whitewater affair and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Since becoming an ex-president, he has established himself as the world’s best-paid after-dinner speaker, charging about $150 000 a speech. On one particular day, in Canada, he gave two speeches, earning $475 000.
He told an audience in Kentucky in the autumn: “I never had a nickel to my name until I got out of the White House, and now I’m a millionaire.”
But he was only paid personally for about 20% of the speeches he made.
Many of the others were for charities, mainly the William J Clinton Foundation, whose annual budget is $60-million and which he runs to help the developing world, primarily to combat HIV/Aids. Some of the speeches were given for free.
from South Africa’s Mail & Guardian
- Rudolph Giuliani charges $100,000 per speech
- Ronald Reagan earned $2-million in Japan
Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
- Ann Landers
If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
- Will Rogers
There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
- Ben Williams
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.
- Josh Billings
The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.
- Andy Rooney
We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.
- M. Acklam
Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.
- Sigmund Freud
I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.
- Rita Rudner
A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.
- Robert Benchley
Anybody who doesn’t know what soap tastes like never washed a dog.
- Franklin P. Jones
If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.
- James Thurber
If your dog is fat, you aren’t getting enough exercise.
My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That’s almost $21.00 in dog money.
- Joe Weinstein
Ever consider what our dogs must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul — chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we’re the greatest hunters on earth!
- Anne Tyler
Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.
- Robert A. Heinlein
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
- Mark Twain
You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘Wow, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!’
- Dave Barry
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
- Roger Caras
If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.
- Phil Pastoret
My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am.
[via temple treats, Canada]
ARS News Service
Five years of trials around the world have conclusively shown the strengths and
weaknesses of commercial soil moisture sensors used for irrigation.
Steven R. Evett, a soil physicist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Soil and Water Management Research Unit in Bushland, Texas, and colleagues had a major role in the research, which was sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Bushland researchers found that only a field-calibrated neutron probe gave
consistently accurate soil water content data. Use of the neutron probe is limited to researchers because of cost and regulatory issues related to the radioactive source used to count water’s hydrogen atoms.
The study compared the neutron probe with several commercial soil moisture sensing systems, including four based on the electromagnetic properties of soil as influenced by its water content. The study also tested tensiometers and electrical resistance blocks, including gypsum blocks. Tensiometers use vacuum pressure to sense soil water potential, which is related to how difficult it is for plants to take up water from soil.
While most of the devices worked well some of the time, the scientists found that most also performed poorly in some circumstances. In fact, the blocks and tensiometers proved to be the only sensors that could consistently fill the gap for irrigation scheduling while improvements are made in the electromagnetic systems.
Now the researchers have put their results together in a practical guide for irrigators and researchers, to show them which probes work best under different circumstances and how to get the most accuracy out of each probe. It can also be a guide to manufacturers pointing the way to improved sensors that will be practical. The United Nations will publish the guide.
Evett will present his findings at a conference in Honolulu on March 19-21, which ARS is co-sponsoring with the University of Hawaii. Attendees will include major agricultural sensor manufacturers. The numerous publications resulting from this work include a paper Evett will present at the Central Plains Irrigation Conference set for Feb. 27-28 in Kearney, Neb.
There has been a growing concern on the effect of non-degradable plastic wastes on the environment. Pornpa Suriyamongkol and colleagues in Canada, say that one solution is to use naturally produced plastic compounds, called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs have many potential applications in the food industry (in bottles and other food material packaging), and in medicine (in implants, gauzes, and suture filaments).
PHAs has been found to bio-degrade in 3-9 months, and mass production can be done using plants or microorganisms. Suriyamongkol and colleagues believe that the use of plants is considerably less expensive than in bacteria because the former does not need the costly requirements used in growing the microorganisms, such as sterile environment, fermentation equipments, and electricity.
The efficiency of producing PHA in transgenic plants has already been examined by using the model plant Arabidopsis and several crop species. The main challenge is how to produce commercially viable levels (greater than 15% dry weight) of PHA in the transgenics. If the desired level is attained, it is hoped that the cost of producing bio-plastics in plants could be lower or equivalent to the cost of producing petroleum-based polymers, which is about $1/kg.
Subscribers to the journal Biotechnology Advances may read the complete review at
Cells can be made cancerous by viruses, even those that are considered harmless.
A virus can cause massive chromosomal instability by fusing cells, increasing the rate of chromosome mutations. Fusion abruptly unites two or three cells under the same membrane
At least 18 of 29 virus families that infect human cells have species that fuse cells.
Chromosomal instability is characteristic of most human cancers. All malignant tumor types have been shown to contain chromosomal aberrations. Inactivating these viruses would help to decrease the incidence of cancer. [story]
The stage theory of grief (disbelief, yearning, anger, depression and acceptance) has become well-known… The Yale Bereavement Study examined stage theory grief indicators within 24 months following the death.
Disbelief was not the initial, dominant grief indicator, the researchers found.
Yearning was the dominant negative grief indicator from one to 24 months postloss.
Disbelief decreased from an initial high at one month postloss,
yearning peaked at four months postloss,
anger peaked at five months postloss,
and depression peaked at six months postloss.
The authors add, “acceptance increased steadily through the study observation period ending at 24 months postloss.”
Persistence of these negative emotions reflects a more difficult than average adjustment for the bereaved survivor, a potential referral for treatment.
Why ‘hug a shady wet nun‘?
‘The Fall of Rome’
The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.
Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.
Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.
Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.
Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.
Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.
Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
The UK government wants to encode iris information on passports and keep copies on database to use in iris recognition systems in a system that is being trialled at the moment.
This might mean that personality profiles could be generated from biometric data.
Mind Hacks responds:
How accurate they might be remains another question, but as with any centralised population sample, the concern is that those with unusual results may be scrutinised more closely using other methods, or deemed to be ‘risky’.
MindPlanet reports in the The Sell-Off of America that “America’s Middle Class Has Become Globalization’s Loser”
This article by Germany’s best-known economics writer – Steingart was chosen as “The Economic Writer of the Year” in 2004 – provides a fast and high-level overview of how the American empire is losing (has lost?) its economic power.
While the dollar is still the world’s currency of choice, the USA no longer controls it.
Furthermore, with increasing trade deficits, the outsourcing of labor, and spiraling debt, the US economy is poised on the edge of collapse.
And the American middle-class has and will bear the brunt of this shift as it plays out over the next few decades.
Delinked from prosperity
Make no mistake about it: at the start of the new century, the United States is still a superpower. But it is a superpower that faces tough competition from outside and difficulties within.
In Canada, the middle class is losing too.
After-tax family income for the middle class has dropped approximately five percent.
Inequality is higher in the 2000s than it has been since Statistics Canada began measuring comparable statistics in the mid-seventies.
Toronto’s Globe & Mail concludes the report from StatsCan with an unusually understated remark:
Overall, income inequality “is an interesting trend which seems to be developing in many countries,” said the senior research economist. “It’s something that would be good to keep our eye on.”
Income inequality grew in most industrialized countries such as the Finland, Germany, Sweden and the U.K. in the nineties. Canada sits in the middle. The gap is significantly higher in the U.S.
Jacob S. Hacker, Resident Fellow at Yale
“Wages are stagnant and the middle class is shouldering a larger tax burden. Prices for health care, housing, tuition, gas and food have soared. New government data also shows that tax cuts have shifted the overall tax burden to the middle class from the wealthiest Americans.
The wealthiest 20% of households in 1973 accounted for 44% of total U.S. income. Their share jumped to 50% in 2002, while everyone else’s fell. The share dropped for the bottom fifth.
“For those working in the bottom half of the pay scale, they’re under an enormous amount of pressure.”
2006 US News and World Report:
“…a whopping 67 percent of said they were “dissatisfied” with the state of the union.
“Income distribution from 1995 to 2004, during both an economic boom and a recession, kept tilting toward the already wealthy. The top income quartile gained 77 percent, while the bottom gained just 8 percent.”
This article asks, ‘While worrying about China, are we asking the right questions?’
The notion that China could possibly displace the United States at the pinnacle of world affairs may seem preposterous. China is starting from way behind, and no one looks to China as a political model.
For most of human history, China was the wealthiest, socially most tranquil, scientifically most advanced and arguably the best governed society on the planet.
It is determined eventually to restore itself to these heights.
The first challenge comes from China’s growing weight in the global economy.
The main challenge from China’s economic success lies less in its role as a producer of goods sold throughout the world than in its probable emergence as the world’s largest consumer and capital market.
China already consumes 25-40% of the world’s crude coal, iron ore, steel, aluminum and cement.
It is now almost certain that the next phase of the information revolution will be led by Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. This means that they, not Americans, will own and control the intellectual property and “killer apps”….
China is competing with other Asian nations and itself in a contest we do not even appear to realize is underway.
Will Hutton argues in The Writing on the Wall, growing income disparities and increasingly rigid class boundaries are causing many to wonder whether the American Dream is nothing more than myth.
The utopian ideal of the United States — that through hard work you can achieve your place in the sun — is being confounded by everyone’s actual daily experience.
Americans expect better. About 70% of Americans believe that the poor have a good chance of escaping poverty — only about 30% believe that they are trapped there.
By contrast Europeans — living in more socially fluid societies — are nonetheless much more pessimistic about the chances of mobility. Only 40% believe the poor can escape their fate, and 60% believe they are trapped.
Benjamin Franklin was born the fifteenth son of a candle maker and retired at age 42 with enough of a fortune to comfortably pursue a life of politics and scientific inquiry.
The opportunity for such mobility is retreating, and this is beginning to affect not just American society — but also the American imagination.
In the USA,
- families with children are likely to stay poor,
5 times more likely than British, German, French or Spanish
- only 10% will move out of the lower class; was 23% in the 1970s
There can be a new highway in the sky.
The development of the ‘right of way’ is one of the overlooked functions of our economy. And forfeiting the ownership and management of these rights may be a costly giveaway that jurisdictions are failing to claim, control and capitalize.
We are accustomed to the ubiquity of the transportation industry. Its technology, huge budgets and large operations underpin our productivity. Transportation draws our landscape and becomes the rhytym of society. Yet these institutions rely on their right of way and the grant of opportunity that follows.
The transportation industry is historical technologies, dominant players, tremendous battles, including the strategic and economic factors of our defense and trade, and politics. But regardless the scale, these are first governed by the regions and communities where we provide transport a right to cross.
Current industrial and political culture may slow transportation development even with the claims to innovate and adjust to emerging conditions until a new political approach combines both technology and its conduit.
Until there is a ‘market of way’, regional and local development will be restrained to a narrow range of transportation options based on traditional conduits. Not unlike the sisterly arrival of bike paths that have stimulated a smallish transit boom, or the robust conversion of railroads to ports and landbridges, choosing new and efficient transport options requires a renewed appraisal of available conduit options.
In order to help diversify and stimulate the transport sector, there are several economic claims that cities, towns and rural regions can reserve as part of their community of assets. For example, “the air value over our roads is a trillion dollar frontier” that is seldom considered in the heat of great discussions about energy options, new types of vehicles, transit systems and the shaping of community development.
But perhaps fundamentals are reappearing. Worldchanging blogger Ethan Timm reports “Aerial Tram Leapfrogs Grids and Networks“
“…could be the future of inter-neighborhood, inter-nodal transit.
“…efficient aerial transit could be to car-clogged streets what cell phones were to tangles of wires and switchboards.
“…areas which have poorly-developed technology or economic bases can move themselves forward rapidly through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps.