So, this, yesterday, from Palin:
Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
Yes, as McCain has been mockingly referring to planetaria as "overhead projectors" and a waste of money in national debates, Palin in speeches sneers at fundamental biological research techniques because they involve running experiments on icky bugs. And anyway, if those eggheads in Paris's Institut de Fru-Fru Sodomé are into it, then it's nothing that Americans would want anything to do with, right?

My friends. Are you scared of the light? Aching for an embrace of the comforting darkness, a state where one just didn't need to know about the world beyond arm's length? Weeping for the chance to keep your children's brains smooth and unfurrowed by a world that seems to become more complex every day?

Then McCain-Palin is the ticket for you. And may your God love you and hold you in his bosom, pressing your eyes closed against his warm flesh, for all eternity.
Phil Plait reports on an unconfirmed image from a Hawaiian telescope that appears to show a planet in orbit around a remote yellow star. Whoa.

We've been discovering extrasolar planets for many years now, but unless I'm mistaken, we have yet to actually snap a discrete piccie of one. This would be hella cool.

Edit OK, was msitaken: we've shot a planet around a brown dwarf before. But yellow stars are more exciting.

Congrats, CERN

Wednesday, 10 September 2008 10:57
My hat is off to the scientists at CERN and all their supporters. I'm looking forward now to some sweet smashings and amazing revelations. (And hopes that the science press won't mangle things too badly as they abstract the findings down to the level I can understand them.)

Congrats, Phil

Monday, 4 August 2008 15:53
Congratulations to Phil "Bad Astronomer" Plait for accepting the position of James Randi's intellectual heir, and the presidency of the JREF. This puts him at the head of one of the oldest and most dedicated organizations focused on stemming the tide against the world of pseudoscience, hokum, and self-delusion. They lead the fight in never giving an inch to creationists, global-warming deniers, and others who would reverse the flow of science for their own purposes.

I used to read of Randi's weekly column at randi.org regularly, and was familiar with his ongoing concern of not having any clear candidate for passing his torch on to. Recent shifts in my online newsreading habits led me to start reading Plait's stuff without getting around to re-subscribing to Randi, so learning about his new role was an unexpected but welcome surprise this morning.

Plait's explosive enthusiasm, which he's maintained over a solid decade of science (and anti-anti-science) blogging, makes for quite a counterpoint with Randi's grumpy curmudgeonliness. I look forward to seeing what emerges. (I don't know how much their age difference is a factor in their relative personalities, since I have only been familiar with the online writing of the elderly Randi. But based on what I know of his many decades of service to the skeptical cause, including his celebrated string of appearances on The Tonight Show during Carson's era, I suspect he's always rather been like this.)

Bugging Apophis

Sunday, 29 June 2008 21:27
Phil Plait on motions within the U.S. Congress towards a space mission that would get the dealie on asteroid Apophis' sinister plans by physically popping a radio beacon onto it, well before its scheduled holy-shit-that-was-close.

I really like the idea of this; it's a very satisfying mode of nerdly assertiveness. We are nervous about the big bruiser sauntering leisurely our way, but rather than wait and hope it doesn't wallop us when it gets here, we send a speedy little robot emissary directly to it. It will say "Howdy, neighbor!" and then slap a bug onto its back. That's excellent.

Ad Astra

Wednesday, 19 March 2008 22:34
My favorite comment from the Making Light thread on Arthur C. Clarke's passing, by Paul Duncanson:
Tonight, if it's not overcast, go out somewhere you can see the sky clearly. Look up for long enough and you'll be bound to see one or more of the points of light moving. It's full of stars and, my god, we put some of them there.

Then take the phone from your pocket and call someone who lives on the other side of the planet.

There is magic here already and it's in no small way because of him that we have it.
Ricky: Is [[livejournal.com profile] doctor_atomic] still working on precognition?

Me: [affirmation, with correction - she is a cognitive scientist.]

Ricky: Yeah. No "Minority Report", huh?

Then again

Tuesday, 21 August 2007 21:20
After I wrote that last subject line I thought I bet that isn't actually true, and lo.
A background process I didn't realize I had going returned a value yesterday and told me the point at which the last Harry Potter novel soured a little on me, preventing it from being really great. It was when Crusher said 'Their DNA is devolving into amino acids!' and then Riker turned into a spider or something. )

Midweek stuff

Wednesday, 15 August 2007 10:25
Zarf lent me Hofstadter's new I am a Strange Loop yesterday. Between him and the reviews I've read the consensus seems to be "Eh... it's worth reading." It covers the same ground as Gödel, Escher, Bach, examining how consciousness can emerge from unconscious material, but is both shorter and much more explicit about it - GEB is often seen and even loved by its readers as an almanac-style funhouse of art and logic not arranged around any particular topic, and though the book helped set him for life Hofstadter has always regretted its unintended ambiguousness. I read two chapters of the new book in bed last night and am already convinced that if nothing else it contains enough new angles to stay interesting throughout, so I'm cool with it.

The review I read suggests that I can expect him to spend a lot of ink alternately and mourning his dead wife and thrashing John Searle's anti-AI arguments, which I've already seen him do years ago in Le Ton Beau de Marot (highly recommended reading, by the way, if you haven't heard of that one). But this time he's doing it in a GEBby context and not a linguistic one (though these are certainly related to begin with) so we'll see. If I trust any author, I trust this one.



I touched base with my client on Sunday evening, reminding them that they gave me zero hours of work last week but adding that this was OK given my webclient push, and I wouldn't complain if they chose to withhold for another week. The response has been uncharacteristic silence, such that I've been peeking in on their ticketing system just to make sure that I hadn't missed anything. Well, I'm getting what I asked for.

I don't think that I've overtly noted here yet that doing paid web work on the side of Volity has been good for my own project. Facing and overcoming challenges that don't originate from my own needs forces me to learn new web programming and styling techniques, broadening the arsenal I bring to Volity webwork. In June, for example, paid work encouraged me to get up to speed with CSS - all the books I own on the subject are from 2003 and therefore nearly useless - and for this reason the web client has a beautiful layout without a single <table> involved (except for the actual tables).

Yes, I still have to see how badly it fails on MSIE6. If it is full of fail I will be tempted to just lock that damn thing out and require MSIE7, or the non-shitty alternative browser of your choice. We'll burn that bridge when we come to it.



Speaking of 2003, I've been thinking lately that as of this summer I've been working on Volity for the length of a typical American undergraduate education. All that time on a single project! It makes me feel a little panicky until I look at it sideways and figure: yeah, that's about right, actually.



I can't wait to show y'all the webclient prototype. I can't until [livejournal.com profile] daerr builds a proxying solution that will let the webserver freely make AJAX calls to my Jabber connection broker daemon. For the time being, I have been having the daemon itself serve all the static HTML bits as well as the Jabber stuff, and just hit itself with the AJAX. This... does not scale. Heh, it might scale actually but it would be utterly unmaintainable and I don't even want to feint in that direction, not even for the sake of a demo.

My voice of experience speaks here. This is how paranoid I am of a "oh, we'll just do it this way for the time being" hack becoming the permanent solution. No, I'm not giving that an inch.

I have been threatening to just shoot a video of the alpha running, and I just might resort to this if I can't do anything else this week.



Heh, the Diesel finally put up polite-but-firm little placards in its booths asking that they be used only by parties of three or more during "busier hours". It's 10am now and I see only couples and singles-with-laptops. Wonder how well this works when it's time. Oh, here comes a guy now... and he reads the card... and he keeps walking! Wow.

I used to stretch out in the booths by myself all the time, but at some point I lost the ability. The last time I did, earlier this year, I thought I could feel waves of resentment beating down on me from everyone else. I might have even picked up and moved to a table before I left!

Twice, attractive young women I do not know have asked to share the booth with me, and this always gives my day a little lift but it's probably a weak reason to seek to sit in the giant booths alone. I wonder whether mutual strangers might now recognize the look of argh-I-can't-sit-anywhere in each other as they wander around the cafe, and propose to become one-time Booth Buddies.
I got called out about insinuating in an earlier post that Romney would institute an ultrapatriarchal dystopia should he become POTUS. Listing my justifications for this hyperbole, I came to the realization that, while he is famously anti-abortion and anti-teh-gay[1], I wasn't able to name his stances on the big political-scientific issues. So let's do a little research, shall we?

Generally, I get the impression that he doesn't really give a shit about any of this stuff and is willing to say whatever his machine thinks the base - that magical 27 percent - wants to hear, with each position given the little "but we don't know for sure!" wink meant to mollify more moderate conservatives cough cough. But I did find at least one surprise here.

Global Warming: As his governorship started to morph into a presidential run, he publically mumbled that maybe there wasn't any global warming, and later backed the state out of environmental responsibilities. Now his campaign issues press releases talking about "the radical environmental ideas of the liberal left ".

Stem cells: Oh, I remember this now. He's been openly anti-stem-cell-research for years, telling researchers in his own state to stuff it. He hasn't changed his mind in current press releases, where he speaks of how, after he thought about it for a while, it became clear to him that stem cell research is a dead end, and nevermind what some ethically challenged eggheads up in their towers think.

Evolution: In a recent interview, Romney said he found it reasonable to believe that God set evolution in motion - a common position for non-backwards religious folks to take, and one I don't have much of a problem with. This surprises me, because it's not the obvious cynical "Teach the Controversy!" play to the jesus-base. Keep your eye on this one; it's a clear outlier and I bet it changes.

This all just confirms for me that Romney's down in the "I'd vote for a random number generator over this guy" category, much like our current president. I don't know if the lack of a bumbling-manchild vibe makes him more or less likable than GWB. But really, it doesn't matter.

[1] Yes yes, lol flip-flop. Listen, that's allowed. In 2004 I spit acid at those who mocked Kerry for changing his mind on positions ever, and I reserve the same treatment for those who challenge Romney on the same grounds. You get some spit in both eyes if you defended Kerry then and attack Romney now on this non-issue. There are so many more valid targets than this, folks.
prog: (tiles)
Don Herbert, TV's Mr. Wizard, has passed away. LA Times obit, with photo gallery.

I mist up a little, not of sadness but of good memories from my childhood. I watched him on Nickelodeon in the mid 1980s, and his show was a bright spot during a very patchy time. He didn't make me into a scientist, but he did help wedge me onto a trajectory of permanent curiosity, which has turned me into whatever the hell I am today. I like to think he had the same effect on many other kids, too. Cheers, Don.

Pass the salt

Thursday, 3 May 2007 13:08
From [livejournal.com profile] rserocki: Biologists are making progress in isolating why calorie restriction extends animals' lifespans. This is encouraging news.

I thank the CR community for helping to keep life extension in the headlines, making news like this more visible, but their implementation is not one for most people. (Understatement.) My interest in CR stops at being mindful to avoid eating when I'm not actually hungry - which is good, but it isn't even scratching the surface of what its real practitioners do. (Which is, basically, to avoid eating when they are actually hungry.) I admire and support their commitment, and I am sure they're right about all the side benefits of their koo-koo diet (such as out-of-whack hormone generation giving them a feeling of continual elation), but still I think I'll hold out for the pill version.
Righto, I'm starting to see why all my friends were getting tweaked by season 2 of the new Who.

Look, if you want to imagine that the future of humanity 5 billion years from now looks like it's maybe only 500 years from now, fine. If you want to conjecture that aging and death is intrinsic to humans and literally incurable, okie dokie. I may grumble at your conclusions but I accept that you may wish to simplify and streamline things in order to write popcorn SF (and produce it within a reasonable TV budget).

But don't say that it's impossible to orbit a black hole, when in truth that notion is no more preposterous than orbiting an ordinary star. They're both just gravity wells, man. Just stay out of the Swartzchild radius and you're fine. A black hole is actually not some sort of capricious space monster that arbitrarily pulls in and gobbles up matter from an indefinite distance away. Seriously, you could have replaced it with an Classic Trek-style Giant Space Amoeba or whatever and the whole thing would have been far more reasonable.

I feel that this is a more legitmate complaint that WHAT that's not how computers work or whatever. It's one thing to make shit up about how physics works (time machines? warp drives? bring em on, I love em) but to present known things as matter-of-factly and utterly wrong is just beyond the pale.
prog: (khan)
I need a life-extension icon. I'll use Shatner for now because he's a rather spritely 75-year-old, isn't he. (Yes, he's only 50 in this picture, but do you deny that he's still got it?)

From BoingBoing, some Aubrey de Grey stuff: a brief text interview, where he interestingly pooh-poohs the effectiveness of CR in humans, and the full video of a presentation he gave about how he'd like to fight aging, starting with the prerequisite fight to raise awareness of aging as something that can be fixed.

It's frustrating that my plan to be rolling in ca$h money by now hasn't really panned out because I had been planning from the start to pour a lot of it into things like SENS and the MPrize. I'll keep trying.



It seems that "life extension" is the term on the rise for this whole thing. I like it better than "immortality", which has the air of divine unattainability baked into it, or "clinical immortality", which sounds too, erm, clinical. I'll have to go adjust my LJ tags to match, sometime.

CR people

Sunday, 29 October 2006 13:49
Story from New York Magazine about a Calorie Restriction diet subculture. That is, people who eat as few calories per day as they can, carefully measuring out exactly the nutrient quantities their body needs and not a scrap more, with the hope that it will add (all things being equal) decades to their lifespan.

I had heard about the experiments with lab animals, where it's proven to work, but didn't know that people were doing this. I imagined that nobody would want to live in a state of constant hunger.

This sounds exactly like the sort of thing I'd jump into wheeee and then forget about two days later. Still quite intriguing.

I like nines too

Wednesday, 25 October 2006 00:32
prog: (coffee)
Today's Wikipedia article of the day is about the number 0.999... and its equality to 1. I did not know this!! What a fine thing to think about.
Went to hear Richard Dawkins read from his new book The God Delusion at the, uh, church that Church Street (I assume) is named after at Harvard Square. With [livejournal.com profile] dougo and the [livejournal.com profile] dictator555.

Ha ha ha... I just now discovered that the introduction that the introducey person introduced him with was taken word-for-word from his Wikipedia page.

Anyway, it was OK. The first half was fiddle-dee-dee about what a total bastard the pre-Christian biblical God is, and I do declare I've heard that all before, and so have you. He gets marks for not trotting out everyone's favorite story of God summoning bears to eat naughty children, but that's the vein he was in.

There were some nice bon mots in there but for the most I rolled my eyes at everyone else's laughter and applause at his Old Testament exposé. Haven't any of you ever read a weblog ever? And some of it, frankly, was like a lame comedy routine, at one point basically going So this Trinity thing, is that three gods or one? Make up your minds! [LAUGHTER] Blat.

Then, uh... I dunno. It didn't really leave much of an impression on me. I might end up reading the book anyway for guilty-pleasure reasons, and/or the hope that it surely must contain some new insights I haven't already been exposed to.

[livejournal.com profile] tahnan will be disappointed to know that he again invoked the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

A guy during the Q&A session asked if he could give him a hug, but the introducey lady wouldn't let him.

Then we ate Bibim Bap at Seoul Food on Mass Ave and the nice lady said WHY AREN'T YOU EATING IT RIGHT and picked up my spoon and mixed up my bibim bap for me because I hadn't bothered. I told her it was because I was lazy. When I finished eating it she said GOOD JOB!

Bastards

Thursday, 24 August 2006 10:39
People who voted to declassify Pluto are the same sorts of people as Americans who wanted to ditch their constitution as soon as they realized that it's 200 years old and was written by squares besides. Wevowution, Vivian!!

I really want to not care about this but I'm finding that I can't not.

Veto

Wednesday, 19 July 2006 23:19
Here is me lighting a candle for the untold numbers of people the president doomed today in order to please his unevolved base. For all I know, I'm one of those doomed. For all I know, so is he.

Most of Congress stood against you this time, you son of a bitch, and it will be even more with the next bill. The allies of fear and ignorance cannot hold back science forever.

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