BLOG 2008 Q3


Baur au Lac, Zurich
Baur au Lac Hotel

2008 September 30

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah 5769 in new apartment
Souvenir Zurich photo

2008 September 29

Umzug nach Schwetzinger Schlossgartenstadt

2008 September 25

Baur au Lac Club, Zurich, Switzerland
Dinner with old "Exonians" from Exeter College Oxford
and College Rector Frances Cairncross
Guest of honour and speaker: John Walsh

2008 September 24

Steven Weinberg on science and religion
Quentin Skinner on Hobbes on liberty

2008 September 23

Down with A-levels, vive le bac!
Caroline Haydon, The Independent
UK schools offering the International Baccalaureate to sixth-form students received two boosts this week. In a survey by ACS International Schools, university admissions tutors said the IB was the "best preparation for university". And consulting company Deloitte says the points system used by the IB makes it easier to differentiate between candidates.

2008 September 21

"As the GRIN technologies converge genetics, robotics, internet and nanotechnology we might be able to download not only our memories but also our consciousness into a machine."
Richard Watson

2008 September 20

"Suddenly literally hundreds of new Churchill quotes, anecdotes, apercus and jokes have appeared."
Andrew Roberts

2008 September 19

"The Nazi empire turned out to be the least successful piece of colonisation ever seen. Launched in 1938, by October 1944 it was gone. Why was the Nazi empire such a horrible failure?"
Niall Ferguson

2008 September 17

Does the environment change our genes?
Magnus Linklater, The Times
Over the past 60 years in Canada, Australia and parts of Scotland, rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) have increased, and women form an increasing majority of the sufferers. In some places, more than three times as many women are afflicted, and babies born in winter or early spring fare worse. This female susceptibility differentiates even between close relatives and is passed on in the female gene. Researchers now suspect that factors in diet, climate, pollution or the like are affecting the susceptible gene. Such inheritance of changes caused by environmental factors is called epigenetic. It seems the environment is constantly altering gene expression by addng or removing an epigenetic marker in maternal gametic DNA. These changes can last for multiple generations.

2008 September 16

Oliver Sacks on manic depression

2008 September 13

What's so bad about losing a bit of information inside a black hole?

2008 September 11

"It is the biggest machine ever built. ... Wednesday, they fired this sucker up ..."

2008 September 10

Bolero never looked better (sorry Bo U10U): CERN ATLAS video

2008 September 6

Rosetta visits Steins
At 18:58 UT last night, the ESA probe Rosetta approached to within 800 km of asteroid 2867 Steins. The success of the encounter was confirmed at 20:14 UT, when ground control at the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, received initial telemetry from the spacecraft. Asteroid Steins has an irregular shape with a width of 4.6 km and is 360 Gm from Earth, so the signal lag was 1.2 ks.
ESA animations

2008 September 5

A new way to concentrate sunlight could make solar power competitive with fossil fuels

2008 September 4

Is Google the enabler for Big Brother? A future history


BigDog is a quadruped robot that walks, runs, climbs on rough terrain, and carries a 150 kg load. BigDog is powered by a gasoline engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. Its legs are articulated like animal legs and it is the size of a large dog. An on-board computer control system keep it balanced and on course. Boston Dynamics is developing the robot in a program funded by DARPA.
See video

Christian de Quincey
Christian de Quincey

The Genius of Charles Darwin

2008 August 31

Amis on terror: an update

2008 August 28

Rainbows End: Intelligence Amplification
The New York Times
Vernor Vinge is a mathematician and computer scientist in San Diego whose science fiction has won five Hugo Awards. In 1993, Dr Vinge predicted the Singularity. His latest novel, Rainbows End, is about the Singularity.

2008 August 26

John Rawls's theory of justice: a critique

2008 August 24

Interoception can explain spiritual experiences

2008 August 23

We will not be next, vows Ukraine
The Times
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko urged NATO to respond to the Russian invasion of Georgia by moving quickly to expand the frontiers of the alliance eastwards. He said Ukraine must do all it can to ensure it was not next on the Kremlin hitlist.

2008 August 20

US says no to planes for Israel
Jerusalem Post
The United States has refused to sell Israel planes out of concern that it might be seen as encouraging an Israeli attack on Iran. During his most recent visit to the US, Defense Minister Ehud Barak requested that America sell the IAF several Boeing 767 refueling planes. The White House refused.

2008 August 17

Do veils improve the behavior of Islamic men?

2008 August 15

Reporting Afghanistan
The Independent
Ross Kemp: "What we tried to show was what the ordinary soldiers are facing, what they are going through. I have seen incredible bravery from very young guys, the young generation that people write off. Look what they are doing in Helmand, and they are doing it for such appallingly low pay."

2008 August 14

Frankenbot has biobrain
Gordon has a brain composed of 50,000 to 100,000 active neurons. Removed from rat foetuses and disentangled from each other with an enzyme bath, the specialised nerve cells are laid out in a nutrient-rich medium across an 8x8 cm array of 60 electrodes. This "multi-electrode array" (MEA) serves as the interface between living tissue and machine. The brain is housed in a special temperature-controlled unit and communicates with its "body" via a Bluetooth radio link. Gordon has several MEA "brains" that the scientists can dock into the robot.
AR This is the Dan Dennett "brain in a vat" scenario!

2008 August 13

Prince Charles spouts off again
Daily Telegraph
Prince Charles warns that genetically modified crops could cause an environmental disaster. Des Turner, a Labour MP and member of the Commons science committee, said: "Prince Charles has got a way of getting things absolutely wrong." Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Commons science committee, said the Prince's "lack of scientific understanding" would "condemn millions of people to starvation in areas like sub-Saharan Africa." Ian Gibson, a Labour MP and former lecturer in Biology, said: "Prince Charles should stick to his royal role rather than spout off about something which he has clearly got wrong. Scientists and others who have looked at the problem have found no solid evidence that GM crops affect people's health."

2008 August 12

The Permission Problem
The New Yorker
In the second decade of the twentieth century, it was almost impossible to build an airplane in the United States. That was the result of a chaotic legal battle among the dozens of companies that held patents on the various components that made a plane go. No one could manufacture aircraft without fear of being hauled into court. The situation that grounded the U.S. aircraft industry is an example of what the Columbia law professor Michael Heller calls the "anticommons." The commons leads to overuse and destruction; the anticommons leads to underuse and waste. In the cultural sphere, ever tighter restrictions on copyright and fair use limit artists' abilities to sample and build on older works of art. In biotechnology, the explosion of patenting may be retarding drug development. When something you own is necessary to the success of a venture, you'll tend to ask for an amount close to the full value of the venture. And since everyone in your position also asks for a huge sum, the venture quickly becomes unviable.

2008 August 11

A series of explosions in a paint factory beside my office caused a fire that took 220 firemen two hours to get under control.

2008 August 8

Reality Bubbles
Christian de Quincey
JCS 15(8), 94-101 (2008)

"Think of reality as made up of countless gazillions of 'bubble moments,' where each bubble is both physical and mental ...
Each bubble exists for a moment, then pops! ...
One of the attractions of Whitehead's panpsychist ontology is that it embraces the core insights of dualism, materialism, and idealism. ... Combining these multiple intuitions in an integrated process is the fundamental insight of panpsychism."
AR Christian de Quincey is singing from my hymnal.

2008 August 4

First the Globall, now the Sphere
Cnet, July 28
A group of academics gathered at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, saw the Sphere, a computer with a spherical touch screen developed by Microsoft Research. The spherical multitouch computer is similar to the tabletop Surface computer that Microsoft announced last year after years in development. The Sphere remains a Microsoft Research project and the company has no current plans to bring it to market.
AR Many years ago I mailed copies of my Globall Hyperatlas article to Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold is this the result?

2008 August 3

Richard Dawkins believes that many science teachers are selling our children short by kowtowing to political correctness. "It's fine to teach children about scientific controversies," Dawkins says. "What is not fine is to say, 'There are these two theories. One is called evolution, the other is called Genesis.' If you are going to say that, then you should talk about the Nigerian tribe who believe the world was created from the excrement of ants."

2008 August 2

"Although Nietzsche often described himself (and has been described by others) as an immoralist, his ultimate objection to compassion was an ethical one. The core of humanity was its ambition to greatness, and all greatness depended on suffering. The modern project of compassion, then, taken as the elimination of suffering, was ipso facto a campaign against humanity as such in favor of a descent into the subhuman."
Clifford Orwin, In Character

2008 August 1

Avro Vulcan
The beautifully restored Avro Vulcan flying at Farnborough 2008.
The Vulcan was Britain's main nuclear bomber during my youth.

"A universe containing mathematical physicists will at any assigned date be in the state of maximum disorganization which is not inconsistent with the existence of such creatures."
Arthur Eddington, quoted by
Sean, Cosmic Variance

Press photo of the mushroom cloud that loomed over my office for two hours Monday morning

Andy Wilson with Microsoft Sphere

Microsoft researcher Andy Wilson with the Sphere

The Microsoft Sphere is based on the Magic Planet, a product from Global Imagination (Los Gatos, California, founded 2002)

See the Magic Planet in action

Me in July 2008

2008 July 31

Stephen Hawking

"The Large Hadron Collider at CERN will smash particles together to recreate the moments after the big bang" Stephen Hawking

"I sincerely hope I'm not the only one who's at least slightly worried about this mad scientist Peter Higgs and his Genesis machine" Worried, Norfolk

Da LHC is Superduper Fly

2008 July 30

Religions may protect people against disease
Roger Highfield, Daily Telegraph

2008 July 27

The Universe from Scratch another wonderful arXiv paper

2008 July 26

Last year J.K. Rowling earned 300 million dollars and the top place in the Forbes world list of billionaires. Her Harry Potter books have sold 375 million copies worldwide.

2008 July 23

Almost forgot: my vacation reading was
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

My Panpsychism thread currently has 526 replies and 8792 views. That's a lot. The Sam Harris forum thread with the top stats seems to be Evolution takes a beating, live coast to coast! which starts:
"Boy oh boy, you should have heard the word today! ... The theory of evolution cannot be reconciled with science. To do so is folly. You should know this in your hearts. That great and wonderful will come eventually: every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Posted 2005-03-15, this pitiful effluvium has attracted 942 replies and 21067 views.

2008 July 19

Enjoyed final hours of my vacation with the family at the Tippling Philosopher pub and the Four and Twenty Blackbirds restaurant
Took Brittany Ferries ship Barfleur from Poole to Cherbourg

2008 July 18

Greatly enjoyed WALL-E at Empire Cinema, Tower Park, Poole

2008 July 10

Visited the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in Kensington, London

2008 July 9

Went shopping for books on physics and philosophy in London
Overnight stay at Carleton Mitre Hotel, Hampton Court, London

2008 July 5

Attended Yeovilton International Air Day, RNAS Yeovilton

2008 July 3

Took Brittany Ferries ship Barfleur from Cherbourg to Poole

2008 July 1

On vacation a sweltering hot day here
WSJ Global warming as mass neurosis


BBC TV series India

Ended my evenings for a week with this glorious BBC TV series: a panoramic history of India in six one-hour episodes

F-22 at Farnborough 2008

Sad to say, I had to pass on the Farnborough Airshow 2008:
I wanted to see the F-22