We'll start this time with CHASING ICE —a documentary by and about one of the world's greatest adventurers, who spent years with his brave & hardy team designing, building and setting up some of the world's toughest cameras to endure the planet's harshest environments, all to track by time-lapse whether glaciers are growing or shrinking. It's spectacular to watch, long before you finally get to see the hard-won footage.
This nature show is a game-changer. Watch it and make everyone you know watch it. I saw an early version and it left everyone speechless in awe. Chasing Ice premieres on the National Geographic Channel, Friday, April 19, 8 PM ET (check local listings or find it on Amazon). And yes, your denialist uncle will find any excuse to avoid watching, because he will know in advance where this goes, where it has to go, where undeniable, bald-faced video footage takes anyone who has the basic curiosity and honesty to watch.
Oh… you have never seen anything till you've watched a chunk of glacier the SIZE OF MANHATTAN break off of Greenland and go belly up in a spectacular roar. Watch it 95% just to know there are still adventurers in the world who can bring home to us tales of wonder, worthy of Amundsen.
== Tracing back the clock of life… TEN billion years? ==
Has the complexity of life been increasing along a path similar to Moore's Law? If you trace-back the doublings of integrated circuit complexity, halving the number of transistors per chip every 18 months (Moore's Law) you get to zero around 1970… pretty much when it all started. A similar back extrapolation was done with Hubble's Law, way back in the 1930s when the expansion of the universe was discovered, giving an early estimate for the Big Bang that was correct within an order of magnitude. Now scientists have done the same thing with the expansion of the genome. And although this is only one possible measure of life-complexity, this particular trace-back yields shocking results. See: Moore's Law and the Complexity of Life in Technology Review.
If you discount the vast tracts of "redundant" DNA in mammalian chromosomes, then the log curve plots straight back in time, past eukaryotes and prokaryotes, to suggest that life had its origins… almost ten billion years ago. Since the Earth itself is less than five billion years old, this suggests that either:
(1) life began de novo on Earth (the standard model) and then had a phase of exceptionally rapid genome growth (akin to the inflationary phase of expansion that some say followed the Big Bang), or
(2) life began elsewhere and was seeded on the early Earth, in accordance with the Panspermia Theory of Arrhenius, and later Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. (As well as Heart of the Comet.)
An altogether fascinating prospect, either way.
== Science and the Spirit of Innovation ==
See 27 sci fi things that are coming true. Such as a robot that can navigate an obstacle course, spray on skin, invisibility cloaks, 3-D printing of houses, chimera monkeys made from several embryos, artificial leaves, new, cheaper solar cells, and exoskeletons!
Yet, are any of these advances as epochal as breakthroughs of the past? Has the engine of our innovation broken down? The incredible stodginess of Hollywood, these days, with remakes of remakes, is only matched by the stunning "me-too" notions seen in most net-web startups. I run into it all the time.
Every decade since 1940 has seen the United states and its economy swayed by two major forces - a vast trade deficit that wound up being the great driver of world development, raising billions out of poverty around the world... and a wave of made-in-america innovative products and services that generated enough wealth to pay for it all. From jet planes to rockets and satellites; from telecom and pharmaceuticals and fiber optics to xerography, CCDs and the internet, these breakthroughs came in rapid succession and enabled us to buy trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed, thus uplifting the world.
That is, till the first decade of the 21st Century, when much of this engine stalled. Is it simplistic to blame it on social matters like the culture war against science, waged especially hard during the Bush Administration? Of course that was a factor, at a time when extremes of both right and left preach cynical disbelief in the possibility of technology serving us in its traditional, problem-solving role.
That attitude is opposed by (among others) President Obama, who mentions sci-tech more often in speeches than any two other presidents, combined. But there has to be more to it than that. A component that drives deeper than politics.
This article in the Economist, Has the ideas machine broken down? tries for perspective… and at least succeeds in offering background.
One thing you can do: Sign a petition to increase NASA's budget -- and support cutting edge developments in space and technology. But above all, think about it! Talk to others about re-igniting the can-do spirit.
A thoughtful, brief article about the prospect of uplifting animal intelligence appeared recently in the Boston Globe, By Emily Anthes.
An absolute must-read about the importance of the next frontier in biology and medicine, the Micro-Biome ecosystem of bacteria and microbes who inhabit the human gut, skin, mouth etc. Aldous Huxley wrote about this in a great novel 80 years ago. Today, both doctors and quacks are touting both real and fantasy cures that might arise from tailoring or re-building these symbiotic networks that are often wiped out or thrown into imbalance by excessive use of antibiotics. Reinforcing the old saw that one generation's brilliant "solution" winds up creating new problems that the next generation must deal with. So it goes. (Get your own personal microbiome analyzed at uBiome.com).
Brain Scan Predicts Whether Convicts Will Re-Offend: Welcome To The Sci-Fi Future. Activity in one very particular part of the brain shows a high correlation with recidivism. Men in the bottom half of anterior cingulate cortex activity were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes and 4.3 times more likely to be arrested for nonviolent crimes. Should this become a factor in parole hearings? The future is arriving.
Graphic shows how vaccines have changed our world. And now yet more studies provide overwhelming refutation of the loony notion that vaccines cause autism. An area where the "left" is bona fide easily as cloud cuckoo as the right.
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a way to make genetic parts that can perform logic calculations.
Laser light to the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex apparently zaps away cocaine addiction – or conversely turned non-addicted rats into compulsive cocaine seekers. The effects were seen in rats gene-spliced to have light-sensitive neurons that can be turned on-ff by laser, hence, a different approach must be used for human therapies. Still, knowing which neurons are active in inhibition/addiction control could be of great value and there are other (e.g. magnetic) ways to have similar effects.
==Science and Society==
One of the latest TED talk sensations is Allan Savory, who has spent his life combatting desertification, and who now believes we've had it all wrong for two generations. He claims that deserts are prevented, rather than created, by large herds of grazing animals. His presentation is worth watching and the re-evaluation that he triggers is delicious to my contrarian mind! On the other hand, it isn't hard for me to do a second, ornery veer and say "yes… but!"
Oh so many buts. Like the fact that vast deserts clearly grew as human pastoralists were able to protect their herds from predators. Overgrazing is just as much a threat as undergrazing and Savory's technique requires the transient passage of large/dense herds of grazers, who stomp and fertilize an area without denuding it. A cavil that will require either intense supervision and daily management… or a return to predator-dense situations that keep the herds packed and moving. Moreover the grasslands that he has restored are anything but "healthy" ecosystems in their own right. Improved, but still denuded of trees by the very herbivore herds that Savory extolls. For true health you need at least partial coverage by trees, and that takes active management too, in order to protect them from the herbivores, like cattle, elephants and giraffes.
Finally, Savory's method emphasizes vast herds of cattle that are burdensome in their own right. One of the hopeful prospects on our horizon will be vat grown meat. If it can satisfy our appetites at three pounds of grain per pound of meat, then there will be more food and hope in the world, at far lower Karmic cost. I will not let go of that hope… though I appreciate Savory's input of an eye-opening realization. One that will do good! Just let's not get carried away.
Read about one man's lifelong wrestling match with his atheism against religious heritage in the context of a scientific world. Sample an excerpt from The God Problem, by Howard Bloom, in Utne Reader.
Ever read a blog on chemistry that was hilarious? See this one about di-oxygen di-flouride… or FOOF. Yes, it is as horrible a substance as it sounds! And the blog is gut-busting… if your funny bone is tickled by something that makes water ice explode at minus two hundred celsius.
io9 offers you one of their great lists: "Want to get smarter during your commute? There are a lot of fantastic podcasts that will teach you new things in a thoroughly entertaining way. Here are 13 podcasts that will expand your brain with cutting-edge science and cultural analysis."
== Smart Mobs and the Boston Bombings ==
Just one quick comment amid the mid-April terror crisis that has become all-too familiar in recent years. Evidently the FBI gets it and has called out a "smart mob"… or at least asked for public help identifying potential culprits in the Boston bombing from street video footage. All may change, by the time this blog is posted, so I am putting off making my own appraisal. But this could be a seminal moment, when all of society came to realize… we'll be better off when all citizens share in the power to see.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."
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