A couple of articles lately that really hit home. Brink's "How to mend a broken heart" is simply excellent. Turns out that drug addiction may actually be a byproduct of love's existing circuitry, that a broken heart can medically kill people with something that looks a lot like a heart attack, and that simple pain relievers like Tylenol can help dull the pain of a breakup. Plus, how can you not love "The Museum of Broken Relationships"?
"Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed [beyond their breakup], they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display.... Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: "The Silver Watch" with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, "I love you." The wood-handled "Ex Axe" that a woman used to chop her cheating lover's furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well."
Another article talked about a more profound kind of heartbreak, and a very different problem of memory. The Washington Post's 2009 piece "Fatal Distraction" is about something that really can happen to any parent, though we really don't like to think about it:
"Two decades ago, [death by hyperthermia] was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child... well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?"
Research suggests a very unsettling answer:
"Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa.... [he] is the memory expert with a lousy memory, the one who recently realized, while driving to the mall, that his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of the car. He remembered only because his wife, sitting beside him, mentioned the baby. He understands what could have happened had he been alone with the child. Almost worse, he understands exactly why.
....Diamond says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot.... that's why you'll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.... "The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," he said. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, [emphasis mine] where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it's supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted - such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back - it can entirely disappear."
With horrifying results, if the forgotten thing is your child's quiet presence in your now-parked car. Often made worse by prosecutors with too little sense, which is the secondary subject of the article.
"There may be no act of human failing that more fundamentally challenges our society's views about crime, punishment, justice and mercy. According to statistics compiled by a national childs' safety advocacy group, in about 40 percent of cases authorities examine the evidence, determine that the child's death was a terrible accident - a mistake of memory that delivers a lifelong sentence of guilt far greater than any a judge or jury could mete out - and file no charges. In the other 60 percent of the cases, parsing essentially identical facts and applying them to essentially identical laws, authorities decide that the negligence was so great and the injury so grievous that it must be called a felony, and it must be aggressively pursued."
There are times when it should be, if there is any suggestion that anything more than mere forgetting is at work, or if it fits a pattern of serious neglect. Otherwise, it just makes a bad situation worse, wasting money to achieve no deterrence. And really, no justice either.
There's a simple technology fix, mind you. Unfortunately, it can't get manufactured, because no manufacturer can afford to be sued if it fails. So babies will die after pulling all of their own hair out, and we can all thank the damn tort lawyers for one more thing.
The other thing that was interesting about this cheap device, developed by some NASA scientists after a local tragedy, was the poor test-marketing results. Seems that very few people thought it could happen to them.
But it could. There are things like broken loves, that you want to forget, but can't. And there are things you must remember - but can't guarantee you will. The universe is an amazing place. Just not always a friendly one.
Absent technology, my recommendation? Make the autopilot work for you instead. Every time you get out of the car, even if your child isn't in it, open the door and physically feel the child's seat. Do it without fail enough times, and it becomes an autopilot sequence of its own, associated with the presence of that booster seat. Once the seat disappears, it will eventually extinguish, though you might feel kind of foolish for a while.
Then again, consider the possible alternative.
Very interesting Daily Mail article about Britain's Electron Model of Many Applications (EMMA) ring accelerator, and its potential in both energy generation and medicine:
"One ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, and the thorium deposits that have already been identified would meet the entire world's energy needs for at least 10,000 years. Unlike uranium, it's easy and cheap to refine, and it's far less toxic. Happily, it produces energy without producing any carbon dioxide: so an economy that ran on thorium power would have virtually no carbon footprint.
Better still, a thorium reactor would be incapable of having a meltdown, and would generate only 0.6 per cent of the radioactive waste of a conventional nuclear plant. It could even be adapted to 'burn' existing, stockpiled uranium waste in its core, thus enormously reducing its radioactive half-life and toxicity."
The technical catch?
Particle accelerators like the "'non-scaling, fixed-field, alternating-gradient' (NS-FFAG)" EMMA must continue to become better, smaller, and cheaper - because without those accelerators working, a Thorium reactor can't run and starts to cool off.
That's the good news, of course. In a Fukushima style disaster, the reactor just turns off.
It's also the bad news. Improved accelerators that combine small size and reliability are not a trivial technical advance. Until we really try, it will be hard to even know where the alligators are, let alone get it down to an economical level. It's wise to expect some unexpected difficulties along the way, as well as unexpected costs, and not see this as some kind of near-term fix. Or even a certain fix, in any time frame.
The ray of light? A 400 MeV relative called "Pamela" (Particle Accelerator for Medical Applications) promises new possibilities in treating heretofore untreatable cancers, and the demographics of cancer and aging are likely to make Pamela-style accelerators reasonably popular public projects. As long as a steady trickle of good news results, and the setbacks are manageable, a path is laid for continued improvement in the underlying technology.
This is definitely one of those technologies we'd all love to see succeed.
See also the Thorium Energy Amplifier Association's 2010 report, "Toward an Alternative Nuclear Future" [PDF].
Well, Clyde sure did in the movie Every Which Way But Loose. Orangs are quite clever, and we always knew they were by far the best tool users among the great apes. Their feats of intelligence and escape artistry at zoos are near-legendary, and have included hiding improvised lockpicks in their lower lip - then successfully using them. They've also shown the inclination to make one tool using another tool, which is no small water.
Clyde was a trained ape, of course. So was Chantek, who showed the ability to master sign language, invent new words, lie successfully, and absorb human cultural notions at the level of a young child.
All pretty cool - and potentially disruptive to our notions of where the term "reasonable creature" (which defines some states' murder laws) might begin and end.
Another brick in the wall comes from Erica Cartmill and Richard Byrne at the University of St. Andrews in the UK. They studied orangutans in zoos, but the study focused on how they interacted with each other, not with humans. The kicker? The orangs were consistently using sign/body language among themselves, for specific things, and using the same signals both consistently, and with more emphasis when a response isn't forthcoming (the sign equivalent of talking slower and louder - guess that reflex goes pretty deep).
The use of zoos introduces some complications to the conclusions, but without some kind of anti-grav pack, that stuff is going to be very hard to observe in the wild. If we ever do establish the existence of a similar behaviour pattern in the wild, without human intervention, I think the case will pretty much slam shut on the notion of orangutans as, effectively, "people."
I'm there now. Right beside Philo Beddoe.
Interesting NY Times article, which does happen once in a a while. I'm inclined to remove the philosophizing, and just note the results. What it suggests, however, is that the baby's slate isn't quite as blank as we might think - in this way, and in other ways:
"Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the "naughty" one. But this punishment wasn't enough -- he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head."
The What? I'll let the Clay Mathematics Institute explain:
"Formulated in 1904 by the French mathematician Henri Poincaré, the conjecture is fundamental to achieving an understanding of three-dimensional shapes (compact manifolds). The simplest of these shapes is the three-dimensional sphere. It is contained in four-dimensional space, and is defined as the set of points at a fixed distance from a given point, just as the two-dimensional sphere (skin of an orange or surface of the earth) is defined as the set of points in three-dimensional space at a fixed distance from a given point (the center).
Since we cannot directly visualize objects in n-dimensional space, Poincaré asked whether there is a test for recognizing when a shape is the three-sphere by performing measurements and other operations inside the shape. The goal was to recognize all three-spheres even though they may be highly distorted. Poincaré found the right test (simple connectivity, see below). However, no one before Perelman was able to show that the test guaranteed that the given shape was in fact a three-sphere."
It's one of 7 "Millennium Problems" which has standing $1 million prizes for a solution at the Clay Mathematics Institute. Err, make that 6. Dr. Grigory Perelman in St. Petersburg has become the first winner of a Clay Millennium Prize. Only problem? He doesn't want it. He also failed to show at a 2006 Fields Medal ceremony from the International Mathematical Union.
The Weekly Standard does a very good job documenting all of the scandals and forced retractions by the IPCC. As you might expect, there are rather more of them than have been published in the "mainstream" media. It makes for a long article, and taken together, they are incredibly damning. Having read them, I do not think "hoax" is too strong a word to describe these instances - and the comparison of Climategate to The Pentagon Papers is apt.
Though the cover drawing of an unclothed Al Gore isn't really something I wanted seared into my brain....
I'm talking about ads for mass spectrometers, genetic sequencers, and other stuff that leaves your "4G smartphone hacked to run Linux" huddled in some corner, crying over its basic inadequacy.
My favorite might be the boy band takeoff, for its oh-so obvious send up.
I would never in a million years have guessed that these kinds of creative approaches existed in that sphere. I'll take that as a signal to stretch my imagination a bit in future.
Very smart approach. Swim in shallow flats where fast-moving fish live. Begin by circling around them, beating your flukes into the seabed to raise sand clouds. When the circle closes, the fish try to jump out. And hey! Those tricks from Sea World have a real world counterpart after all.
Well, this was interesting. Just a couple weeks ago, another IPCC scandal revealed that Himalayan glaciers wouldn't be melting away by 2035, as claimed. More like, uh, 2305. Maybe. The whole controversy, and process by which this grossly unsubstantiated claim became very financially beneficial to the people making it, was aptly described as "nice work if you can invent it." So, why was the material in the IPCC report? Well, this pretty much sums up the IPCC as politics, not science:
"In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report's chapter on Asia, said: 'It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.'It had importance for the region, so we thought we should put it in.' "
Just let that statement sink in for a bit.
Now, the real expert whose contrary (and correct) glacier work IPCC chair R.K. Pachauri blackballed as "voodoo"science wants an apology. And the Indian government has decided that science is too important to be left to the IPCC. Environment minister Mr Jairam Ramesh, who notes that while some glaciers are shrinking, others are advancing, had an announcement:
"...announced the Indian government will established a separate National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology to monitor the effects of climate change on the world's 'third ice cap', and an 'Indian IPCC' to use 'climate science' to assess the impact of global warming throughout the country.
"There is a fine line between climate science and climate evangelism. I am for climate science. I think people misused [the] IPCC report, [the] IPCC doesn't do the original research which is one of the weaknesses... they just take published literature and then they derive assessments, so we had goof-ups on Amazon forest, glaciers, snow peaks.
"I respect the IPCC but India is a very large country and cannot depend only on [the] IPCC and so we have launched the Indian Network on Comprehensive Climate Change Assessment (INCCA)," he said."
The IPCC has always been corrupt and dishonest. This is a positive step.
Some modern motorcycles have begun to include onboard, computerized self-diagnostic functions, just as cars do. But they haven't eliminated the kind of judgment mechanics exercise. If we can understand why they haven't, this will help illuminate further the limitations inherent in the idea of an "intellectual technology," and the perversities that get laid upon work when those limitations aren't heeded.
Car manufacturers are supposed to standardize their diagnostics under a protocol called OBD-II (for onboard diagnostics), but as any mechanic will tell you, sometimes the system gives the wrong trouble code. Being off by one digit might give a diagnosis of "System fuel too lean on bank one" (P0171), that is, an air-fuel mixture that is too much air and not enough fuel on the first bank of cylinders, when in fact the problem is "System fuel too rich on bank two" (P0172). An experienced mechanic can tell too lean from too rich by looking at the spark plugs; they will look blanched white in the first case and sooty in the second. Representing states of the world in a merely formal way, as "information" of the sort that can be coded, allows them to be entered into a logical syllogism of the sort that computerized diagnostics can solve. But this is to treat states of the world in isolation from the context in which their meaning arises, so such representations are especially liable to nonsense. To rely entirely on computer diagnostics would put one in the situation of the schoolchild who learns to do square roots on a calculator without understanding the principle. If he commits a keying error while taking the square root of thirty-six and gets an answer of eighteen, it will not strike him that there is anything amiss. For the mechanic, the risk is that someone else committed a keying error.-
Computerized diagnostics don't so much replace the mechanic's judgment as add another layer to the work, one that requires a different sort of cognitive disposition.
"In case after case around the world, the researchers said, primary predators such as wolves, lions or sharks have been dramatically reduced if not eliminated, usually on purpose and sometimes by forces such as habitat disruption, hunting or fishing. Many times this has been viewed positively by humans, fearful of personal attack, loss of livestock or other concerns. But the new picture that's emerging is a range of problems, including ecosystem and economic disruption that may dwarf any problems presented by the original primary predators.... "The economic impacts of mesopredators should be expected to exceed those of apex predators in any scenario in which mesopredators contribute to the same or to new conflict with humans," the researchers wrote in their report. "Mesopredators occur at higher densities than apex predators and exhibit greater resiliency to control efforts." The problems are not confined to terrestrial ecosystems...."
Interesting article. Hopefully, it will lead to smarter interactions with nature. We're the apex species, which means stewardship whether we like or not. Might as well get good at it.
One wonders, too, if there may be some applications to human predators, as well.