Couples in England with certain forms of inherited cancer will now be able to prescreen embryos to choose give birth to healthier babies. This sets a new precedent for the pre-screening and selection of embryos with other desired genetic traits.
Think outside your cable box! My long-time friend, the legendary Ken Schaffer, has finally come out of stealth with his new project, TV2ME. In a nutshell, it enables you to watch your own cable subscription channels live from anywhere via broadband over the Net. The system connects your cable box to a video streaming system that only you can access via the net. So for example, when you are on the road you can still catch your local broadcasts and home team games, right from your laptop! It's a new spin on the concept of video-streaming and P2P. Instead of sharing your video with others, you are accessing your own video from anywhere. Read this article for an overview of TV2ME, and Ken Schaffer, one of the most colorful geniuses I know (picture Lenny Bruce crossed with Richard Feynman).
Today I saw The Motorcycle Diaries. This film is perhaps one of most beautiful, vivid, and emotionally powerful works of art to ever grace the silver screen. I knew nothing about this film before today -- it was a whim, at the suggestion of a very special person. I have seen hundreds of films -- and just about every significant foreign and independent film in the past several decades. This film is truly perfection in motion. It's a must-see.
Disclaimer: In case anyone takes issue with this film, or my review of it, let me just say that I personally know nothing about the life of Che Guevara, and the film does not delve into his politics or his later life as a revolutionary -- which I do not endorse or agree with. The film is really not very poltical in fact -- it is simply a great film about a road trip, the struggle to survive, and the strength of compassion. The cinematography, acting, writing, casting, direction and editing are amazing: That's why I like this film. It is a masterpiece of the medium. The film stands on its own as a great work of art and should be seen for what it is.
It's official, the US Air Force has looked seriously at teleportation. This recently released Air Force report details the history of teleportation science, the present state-of-the-art, as well as several new directions for research and an extensive bibliography. Fascinating reading!
NFC. An interesting way for devices to share data, if they are within a few centimeters of one another. Sounds kind of like Bluetooth -- which I have still not needed for anything. But I like the vision anyway -- if all devices did this it could be very useful -- I've always wanted to be able to "grab" data by swiping my phone near something I am interested in (without needing a bar code scanner).
A Russian academician has predicted that bird-flu will stem to humans and kill up to one billion people around the world within 6 months of an outbreak. He says it is highly probable that a pandemic could take place within the next year. There is no evidence cited for his claims however he refers to studies to this effect allegedly in hands of US authorities. We'll be tracking this meme as it develops to see if it is credible. Please update here if you get further data. Editor's Note: The World Health Organization is organizing an emergency summit to develop strategies to combat the threat of this potential pandemic.
New research has found that running a mild electric current through your brain can significantly boost your verbal skills, with no side-effects, as far as anyone knows so far. Very interesting. It appears to decrease the firing threshold of neurons in the path of the current. This research was applied mainly to the frontal lobe of the brain. I wonder what it might do to other brain regions? Fascinating discovery.
"Allerca Inc is now taking reservations for genetically engineered hypo-allergenic cats, which it calls 'lifestyle pets'... and apparently they are just the beginning... Read the press release here... and you can take delivery of a cuddy non-sinus bothering bundle of joy for just $3500. 'The hypoallergenic cats produced by ALLERCA will allow consumers to enjoy the love and companionship of a pet without the cost, inconvenience, risk, and limited effectiveness of current allergy treatments. Clients will take delivery of the first ALLERCA kittens in 2007. The hypoallergenic cat is the first of a planned series of lifestyle pets that ALLERCA will develop over the next few years.' Meow!"
This is pretty cool stuff -- growing brains using live tissue and then teaching them to control software:
from an article in Slashdot: "Scientists at the University of Florida made a living 'brain' by extracting 25,000 neurons from a rat's brain and culturing them inside a glass dish. Then, the neurons began to extend lines to each other, creating a living neural network between them. The dish had a grid of 60 electrodes connected to a computer running a flight simulator. The scientists were able to train the 'brain' to control the plane in the simulator and to react to conditions of the plane. Are we getting closer to create an artificially made conscious being, or perhaps, a living computer?" AlphaJoe was one of several readers to add a link to Wired's article on the experiment.
Disclaimer: I try to keep this blog non-political. I am essentially a political centrist -- I tend to judge each politician, plan and party on its merits rather than by any rigid ideology or party-line. I generally find most politicans, political plans and political parties to be less intelligent and less long-term-oriented than I would wish them to be. As a result, from my perspective, choosing among them is often a matter of choosing the lesser-of-evils. So by posting this article I don't want to give anyone the impression that I am a partisan person or that this site is partisan. Far from it. In fact, as you can probably see from this site's content, having an open mind is one of my core values. I also have lots of friends on both sides of every major issue, and they're all intelligent people whom I respect. There are liberal ideas that make sense to me and also a lot of conservative ideas that make sense to me. May the best memes win!
An article has just come out that is so significant I think it deserves wide exposure. The American Conservative Magazine -- the voice of conservatives in America -- has officially endorsed John Kerry instead of Bush. Now that's unprecedented. It shows that there is a tremendous split taking place among conservative voters.
Read it yourself, here. It's really something. I would be interested in hearing comments on this article from both conservatives and liberals.
This article by a former NSA/NSC and Reagan-administration official adds further credence to the "October Surprise" theory that the White House may initiate a pre-election attack on Iran. It's interesting because of the source, who is presumably both more reliable and more connected and "in-the-know" than the usual rumor sources on the Web. Let's hope he's wrong or that the action is cancelled.
A pre-emptive strike on Iran could quickly spiral out of control and involve other nations -- for example Russia. Iran has a huge military and would be a much more serious opponent than Iraq. There is no immenent threat from Iran -- there is time to solve the situation through diplomacy. Considering that we are currently losing the war in Iraq and facing severe troop shortages, I don't see how we could fight another ground war against a country as powerful as Iran.
A further complication is that a limited strike on just the disputed nuclear installation would run a high risk of major retaliation by Iran against the US, Israel, our forces in Iraq and other allies. The only way to protect against that risk would be to NOT do a limited strike but rather to do an instant decapitation attack in order to wipe out any potential retaliatory capabilities. It seems unlikely that such an instant decapitation attack could have a high probability of success without the use of nuclear weapons. And this is what worries me. There is certainly a risk if Iran continues to build up its nuclear capabilities. But is this risk worse than the risks of a nuclear conflict in the region?
The USA is still the first and only nation to ever use nuclear weapons in the field of battle. Let's hope we don't use them again. If we do, I think we will certainly have lost all moral-imperative on the world stage. Nuclear weapons should never be used unless there is no alternative, and certainly not pre-emptively. To do so would set a terrible precedent, weakening our case against nuclear proliferation in other nations, and will make the world a more dangerous place.
If Russia and China witness us making a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran, why should they not think we might do the same against them? Actions speak louder than words. We have to be very careful and think about future generations, not just in our own country, but in others. While the danger of nuclear weapons being used by terrorists or against Israel is certainly something to combat, if we use those same weapons ourselves (which will inevitably result in mass civilian casualities no matter how careful we are) are we any better than the terrorists?
Deep beneath the South Pole ice-cap is a strange fresh water lake -- Lake Vostok. Lake Vostok is the subject of intense speculation, debate and strange conspiracy rumors. Because it hasn't been exposed to our atmosphere since at least the last ice-age, it may contain ancient microorganisms that do not exist anywhere else on our planet. Some researchers even suggest it may be a perfect testbed for researching life on other planets, or at least researching Earth's past. But the plot thickens. Over the last few years I have heard interesting and strange (unconfirmed) rumors about a massive magnetic anomaly deep within Lake Vostok. I have also heard a number of rumors about accidental visitors being turned away on threat of death from Lake Vostok by armed military guards, and rumors of high-level interest in whatever is down there from a number of intelligence agencies and space agencies. Now why would they need armed military guards at a remote South Pole research lab? Could there be something more interesting than just ancient bacteria down there? Recently a major controversy erupted over Russian plans to drill through the ice-shell that shields the lake from the surface atmosphere. This article provides some more background on this mysterious and interesting research site.
A leading researcher claims that he is certain that some humans alive today will live to be 150 due to changes in the human lifespan. He even bet money on it. Meanwhile another study has found that certain mutations in our DNA may be causing shorter lifespans. I guess if you combine the enhancements with the mututations our lifespans will balance out to about current levels.
Scientists have discovered that by blocking the effect of a gene called D2 in a particular part of the brain they can transform normal monkeys into "drones" that will work as hard as they can, continuously, on repetitive tasks, without needing any expection of reward to keep going. In other words, they can transform regular monkeys into the primate-equivalent of worker-bee's. Normally monkeys (and most humans) tend to work hardest only when they expect a reward, and in particular they don't usually sustain high productivity on endless repetitive tasks without some sort of "light at the end of the tunnel." But not anymore; It's a Brave New World folks -- this same drone-gene is expected to also function the same way in humans, raising the spectre of Aldous Huxley's Epsilon (human drone worker) Caste becoming a reality. (New product idea -- Dronicine -- the little grey pill that makes you a drone!). It's a scary thought -- but then again, maybe a daily dose of this stuff would have made junior high-school more bearable. Come to think of it by the way, for those of you (like me) who find themselves working 12 hours a day for no reason (and without any big reward in sight for that matter), maybe we're already drones???
Great find from Rob Usey at Psydex Corporation: This article is a survey of the emerging field of "sociophysics" which attempts to apply statistical mechanics to predict human social behavior. It's very cool stuff if you're interested in social networks, memes, sociology and prediction science. The article discusses recent progress towards Isaac Asimov's vision for a science of Psychohistory as proposed in his Foundation stories. This relates in many ways to my previous article on "A Physics of Ideas" in which I proposed some elementary ways to measure the trajectories of memes as if they were moving particles in a Newtonian system.
Ok, just got back from seeing Primer -- a very cool new indie sci-fi flick that you probably haven't heard about yet, but will. If you liked the film, Pi, or you like your sci-fi with a double shot of science, then you are going to LOVE Primer. There are several things about this film worth noting. First of all it is definitely the most authentically "techie" film I've ever seen. It definitely captures what it's really like to be a hard-core garage-geek working on the next big thing. Some people are going to hate the fact that there is so much physics jargon -- but if you have at least enough background in the frontiers of science you are going to like it. The film itself has an interesting story. The director also wrote the script and acts in it -- and it's his first film -- done on a budget of just $7000!!! But he's managed to make a really cool flick with a definite "feel" to it. The first half of the film is just awesome -- the writing is good, the pacing is excellent and it really gets you interested in what they are discovering. Then when they start using the machine it gets even cooler but also very hard to follow. I have to admit I'm still puzzled about what happens in the second half of the film. I'm hoping someone out there will put together a cheat-sheet -- let me know if you've found one that's any good -- so far the discussion on the Primer website doesn't really solve it (don't read that until after you've seen the film though). That said, even though I am still puzzled, I enjoyed it. Finally someone is making good sci-fi again. Go see it.
A Chinese satellite rudely crash-landed in a villager's house. The villagers were unhurt but the house was demolished in the freak accident. The homeowner was quoted as speculating that perhaps this indicated they would have good luck in the coming year...yeah, like maybe a new house will fall from the sky too?
Researchers have discovered a strange new organism that seems to have traits of both a virus and higher lifeforms. Some scientists are speculating that this could herald the discovery of a fourth domain of life. The next step would be to see whether this new class of organism is related to any diseases.
My friend Maribeth Back builds reading machines -- devices that provide new ways to read and experience written text. It's part art, part technology. For example, she has one reading machine that lets you drive through texts, changing direction as you go -- but only seeing one line at a time -- at super high-speed. It dramatically enhances the speed at which you can read, and is also an interesting new way to think about reading. She's a genius. If you are in SF this Thursday, check out her show at the Center for the Book:
Many of you have expressed interest in actually seeing these Reading Machines I build...so...
just for you all, there's a very informal showing coming up this week. The machines are on exhibit at the SF Center for the Book Gallery, 300 De Haro on Potrero Hill. (The show is called "Show Me a Story: Childrens' Literature and the Technology of Enchantment" and will continue through Nov. 5). I may or may not give an actual short talk, depending on who shows up; but if people have questions about tech, etc. I'll be happy to expound :>
This Thursday, Oct. 14, I'll be there from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, and would love to see you there. Here's the address and brief blurb. (There's also a wonderful "paper engineering" exhibit in the front part of the gallery -- pop-up books of gorgeous complexity.) Also, if you haven't seen the Center for the Book, it's a wonderful thing -- a working space devoted to book art, full of gorgeous hand presses etc. and with a huge variety of book-art related hands-on courses.
What: mbb + reading machines
Where: San Francisco Center for the Book Gallery
300 De Haro St. (foot of Potrero Hill)
When: 5:30 - 7:30 PM
Thursday, October 14
Free admission. There may well be wine and nibblies or something of the sort. Hope to see you there!
Via my friend, Lee Stein: MIT researchers may have found a gene that enables mice (and humans, potentially) to live 30% longer without caloric restriction. It is already known that cutting down food intake by 1/3 can result in up to 50% longer lifespans. Here is a terrific article on the possible implications of this discovery.
Adding new evidence that is sure to lend credence to the 100+ year old "cancer microbes" hypothesis, a recent study has found that a doxycycline, a common antibiotic, appears to "shut off" aggressive liver cancer -- causing cancer cells to stop reproducing and behave normally as long as it is administered.
Recent data indicates that the pace of C02 buildup in the atmosphere is moving faster than expected, raising speculation of the dreaded "feedback effect" kicking in. Computer simulations have predicted this, now it may be happening -- or it may just be a temporary anomaly. In a few years we will know, once we have more data. If indeed feedback is taking place, predictions indicate that massive global warming effects will take place much sooner than expected. Time to invest in that houseboat you always wanted?
Researchers from U. Chicago and Microsoft Asia have developed a new Web indexing algorithm called BlockRank that ranks pages according to which sections ("blocks") of content on other pages contain links to them. The results are said to be similar to Google's PageRank algorithm.
In 1999 I flew to the edge of space with the Russian air force, with Space Adventures. I made it to an altitude of just under 100,000 feet and flew at Mach 3 in a Mig-25 piloted by one of Russia's best test-pilots. These pics were taken by Space Adventures from similar flights to mine. I didn't take digital stills -- I got the whole flight on digital video, which was featured on the Discovery Channel.
In 1999 I was invited to Russia as a guest of the Russian Space Agency to participate in zero-gravity training on an Ilyushin-76 parabolic flight training aircraft. It was really fun!!!! Among other people on that adventure were Peter Diamandis (founder of the X-Prize and Zero-G Corporation), Bijal Trivedi (a good friend of mine, science journalist), and "Lord British" (creator of the Ultima games). Here are some pictures from that trip...
Peter F. Drucker Peter F. Drucker was my grandfather. He was one of my principal teachers and inspirations all my life. My many talks with him really got me interested in organizations and society. He had one of the most impressive minds I've ever encountered. He died in 2005 at age 95. Here is what I wrote about his death. His foundation is at http://www.pfdf.org/
Mayer Spivack Mayer Spivack is my father; he's a brilliant inventor, cognitive scientist, sculptor, designer and therapist. He also builds carbon fiber trimarans in his spare time, and studies animal intelligence. He is working on several theories related to the origins of violence and ways to prevent it, new treatments for learning disabilities, and new theories of cognition. He doesn't have a Web site yet, but I'm working on him...
Marin Spivack Marin Spivack is my brother. He is the one of the only western 20th generation lineage holders of the original Chen Family Tai Chi tradition in China. He's been practicing Tai Chi for about 6 to 10 hours a day for the last 10 years and is now one of the best and most qualified Tai Chi teachers in America. He just returned from 3 years in China studying privately with a direct descendant of the original Chen family that created Tai Chi. The styles that he teaches are mainly secret and are not known or taught in the USA. One thing is for sure, this is not your grandmother's Tai Chi: This is serious combat Tai Chi -- the original, authentic Tai Chi, not the "new age" form that is taught in the USA -- it's intense, physically-demanding, fast, powerful and extremely deadly. If you are serious about Tai Chi and want to learn the authentic style and applications, the way it was meant to be, you should study with my brother. He's located in Boston these days but also travels when invited to teach master classes.
Louise Freedman Louise specializes in art-restoration. She does really big projects like The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Gardner Museum and Harvard University. She's also a psychotherapist and she's married to my dad. She likes really smart parrots and she knows how to navigate a large sailboat.
Kris Thorisson Kris has been working with me for years on the design of the Radar Networks software, a new platform for the Semantic Web. He has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab. He designs intelligent humanoids and virtual realities. He is from Iceland, which makes him pretty cool.
Kimberly Rubin Kim is my girlfriend and partner, and also a producer of 11 TV movies, and now an entrepreneur in the pet industry. She is passionate about animals. She has unusual compassion and a great sense of humor.
Kathleen Spivack Kathleen Spivack is my mother. She's a poet, novelist and creative writing teacher. She was a personal student of Robert Lowell and was in the same group of poets with Silvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton. She coaches novelists, playwrites and poets in France and the USA. She teaches privately and her students, as well as being published, have won many of the top writing prizes.
Josh Kirschenbaum Josh is a visual effects whiz, director and generalist hacker in LA. We have been pals and collaborators since the 1980's. Josh is probably going to be the next Jim Cameron. He's also a really good writer.
Joey Tamer Joey is a long-time friend and advisor. She is an expert on high-tech strategic planning.
Jim Wissner Jim is among the most talented software developers I've ever worked with. He's a prolific Java coder and an expert on XML. He's the lead engineer for Radar Networks.
Jerry Michalski I have been friends with Jerry for many years; he's been advising Radar Networks on social software technology.
Chris Jones Chris is a long-time friend and now works with me in Radar Networks, as our director of user-experience. He's a genius level product designer, GUI designer, and product manager.
Bram Boroson Bram is an astrophysicist and college pal of mine. We spend hours and hours brainstorming about cellular automata simulations of the universe. He's one of the smartest people I ever met.
Bari Koral Bari Koral is a really talented singer songwriter. We co-write songs together sometimes. She's getting some buzz these days -- she recently opened for India Arie. She worked at EarthWeb many years ago. Now she tours almost all year long and she just had a hit in Europe. Check out her video, on her site.
Adam Cohen Adam Cohen is a long-term friend; we were roommates in college. He is a really talented composer and film-scorer. He doesn't have a Web site but I like him anyway! He's in Hollywood living the dream.