BLOG 2010 Q1


2010 March 28

Philosopher: Why We Should Ditch Religion

For the world to tackle truly important problems, people have to stop looking to religion to guide their moral compasses.

Sam Harris: "We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education."

AR Good man, Sam. Philosopher? Not yet, but getting there.

2010 March 25

Templeton Religion
Michael Brooks, New Scientist

In his acceptance today of the £1 million Templeton prize, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala forcefully denied that science contradicts religion. Ayala should know better. Science is about finding out how the physical world works. Templeton "religion" is all about finding common ground between science and religion. The Templeton version of religion is a vague notion that there is something "other" out there. Templeton has stripped religion of all ideas, rendering it entirely pointless.

AR  Templeton is doing sterling work for science — keep it up!

2010 March 20

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
The Times

Sir Tim Berners-Lee may be a mild-mannered academic who lives modestly in Boston, but as the inventor of the world wide web he is also a revolutionary. The computer scientist from Oxford is a cultural guru as much as a technological one. He is now advising Gordon Brown on opening up Whitehall.
GB: "What should we be doing with the internet?"
TBL: "Well, put the government data on the web."
GB: "OK, let's do it."
TBL: "I don't want to go to a government office to do a government thing, it should all be online."
Sir Tim never cashed in on the WWW.

AR  Tim deserves a Nobel Prize. These online government ideas feature prominently in my new book.

2010 March 19

Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg
Prof. Dr. Wolf Singer
Freie Wille und verwandte Themen

2010 March 18

Preview of my next book (PDF: 5 slides, 170 KB)

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

Read Solar:
Smoother than
Money by Amis

MQ-9 Reaper

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper

MQ-1 Predator
First operational drone
Introduced in 1995 by the
U.S. Air Force

Manufacturer: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Unit Price: About $4.5 million
Armament: Two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
Length 8.23 m
Wingspan 14.84 m
Power: 115 hp (86 kW)
piston engine
Range: 3,704 km
Maximum altitude: 7,620 m

Frau Europa
Stefan Theil, Newsweek

The crisis now engulfing heavily indebted European governments has exposed deep rifts within the European Union. All eyes are on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is an expert at hammering out consensus. And Germany has benefited most from EU trade and the single currency.

Why should Germans pay for Club Med citizens living it up on a mountain of public and private debt, while Germans have gone through a decade of painful reforms, tax hikes, and stagnating wages? Germany is ranked the world's seventh most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum. Frau Europa, it's time to lead.

Quantum Cryptography Breakthrough
MIT Technology Review

Quantum cryptography is secure. But it can only be used over point-to-point connections. Networks destroy the quantum properties of the photons used to secure messages. And the sender and receiver of quantum encrypted messages must be perfectly aligned to carry out polarization measurements on the photons as they arrive.

Anthony Laing and others get round this using entangled triplets of photons, qutrits, rather than entangled pairs. The extra dimension provides a reference for measurements of the other two. Quantum cryptography that is reference frame independent is an enabling technology that will bring quantum cryptography to the masses.

2010 March 14

Drone War Porn
Spiegel International

More missiles have been fired from drones in the 13 months since Barack Obama has been in office than in all eight years of the Bush presidency. Drones are in use in the skies above Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. This year the U.S. military will likely train more drone pilots than fighter pilots, says P.W. Singer, an expert on modern warfare at the Brookings Institution based in Washington, DC.

According to Singer, drones and robotic warfare in general are the new normal. We've gone from using a handful of these systems to now having around 7,000 in the air. We're seeing a change in the experience of war. It changes the way politicians think about war. This is a revolution. The drone war is accessible for everyone. You can see the videos on YouTube. The soldiers call them "war porn."

AR  This the prelude to Globorg dominion over feral humans.

2010 March 9

EADS graphic
EADS Northrop Grumman tanker refueling B-2 Spirit (EADS graphic)
Forget It

Spiegel International

Airbus parent company EADS has abandoned its bid for a $35 billion U.S. Air Force contract to build 179 tankers. EADS partner Northrop Grumman said the call for bids had been so tightly tailored that Boeing was the only company that could possibly land the contract.

Northrop Grumman and Airbus won the order for the jets in 2008, but under protest from Boeing the bid was overturned. In 2009, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he could only live with a Boeing jet. The Airbus tankers have won against Boeing in five international bidding processes in recent years.

AR  Pentagon: free market good if and only if U.S. bid wins.

Falklands Redux
Molly O'Toole, Newsweek

Oil has been discovered off the Falklands. Argentina has routinely filed legal claims on the Malvinas, but a U.N. resolution would have no force of law without adoption by the Security Council, where the United Kingdom is a permanent member with veto power.

The Brown government says Britain will maintain forces as a deterrent to protect the Falklands. The potential value of the Falklands oilfields is obvious. But there is no telling how much oil is really there until exploration begins. Good relations with the emerging Latin trade bloc may be worth more in the long run.

AR  Good relations require more than a U.N. resolution.

2010 March 8

Cyberwar With China
The Times

A surge in cyberwar attacks originating in China have hit government and military institutions in the United States. A new U.S official report says the number of attacks on Congress and other government agencies has risen exponentially in the past year to an estimated 1.6 billion per month. Analysts say that the West has no effective response. Urgent warnings have been circulated throughout NATO and the European Union to protect secret intelligence material.

AR  Memo to Homeland Security: EINSTEIN to the rescue!

Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Review of Books

The movie that haunts Avatar is The Wizard of Oz. In all James Cameron's movies there is a yearning to leave the flesh of Homo sapiens behind for something stronger and tougher. The Terminator (1984) is about the conflict between the human race and a race of cyborgs. Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies, said about her first interactions with the director: "That man is definitely on the side of the machines."

Avatar shows the debt that Cameron owes to The Wizard of Oz. As the admiring scientists protest to the trigger-happy Marines, Na'vi civilization is technologically sophisticated. "Don't you get it?" an exasperated Dr. Augustine shouts at the corporate and military yahoos who clearly intend to blow all the Na'vi to kingdom come. "It's a network — a global network!"

Cameron's real attraction has always been for the technologies that turn humans into superhumans. The Na'vi are the ultimate expression of his career-long striving to make flesh mechanical. The triumphant conclusion of Avatar is a permanent abandonment of the gray world of Homo sapiens for the over-the-rainbow fantasy world into which Jake accidentally strayed. Avatar is very much a movie for our time.

AR  Interesting — I don't recall ever having seen The Wiz.

2010 March 7

The Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative
National Security Council

The Department of Homeland Security is deploying, as EINSTEIN 2 activities, signature-based sensors capable of inspecting Internet traffic entering Federal systems for unauthorized accesses and malicious content. EINSTEIN 3 will conduct real-time full packet inspection and threat-based decision-making on network traffic entering or leaving these Executive Branch networks. EINSTEIN 3 will automate alerting of detected network intrusion attempts and send alerts to the National Security Agency.

AR  Did they think: clever stuff, must call it Einstein?

Coolpix of Schwetzingen

2010 March 5

Globorg: Completed first draft :-)

2010 March 3

Cosmic Observations
Amanda Gefter, New Scientist

The holographic principle says that the physics inside a region of spacetime is equivalent to the physics on the region's boundary. You can think of a black hole as equivalent to a hot gas of ordinary particles on the boundary of the universe. And since a hot gas of ordinary particles never loses information, neither can a black hole.

So no observer should ever see information disappear from the universe. If Alice is watching an elephant fall into a black hole, she will see it approach the event horizon, where it is incinerated by the Hawking radiation and sent streaming back as a sad heap of ashes. Meanwhile, Bob, who falls into the black hole along with the elephant, sees the elephant cross the horizon and live happily for a time before hitting the singularity.

According to the holographic principle, both stories must be true. But how can the elephant be ashes outside the horizon and alive and well inside the black hole? The laws of physics prohibit such duplication.

Cosmologist Raphael Bousso says the mistake is to describe what's happening both inside and outside the horizon simultaneously. In fact no single observer can ever see both at once. You must restrict your description of the universe to what a single observer can see.

AR  Bousso is right: This one-observer principle is central to my
      Mindworlds approach.

2010 March 1

Fatwa Condemns Terrorism
Jerome Taylor, The Independent

A respected Islamic scholar is publishing a fatwa that condemns terrorism and warns suicide bombers that they will "go to hell" for their attacks. Shaikh Dr Qadri is launching his 600-page fatwa in London. His ruling is one of the few available in English.

Pakistani-born Shaikh Dr Tahir ul-Qadri, 51, is a "shaikh ul-Islam", one of the highest positions in Islamic jurisprudence. He condemns suicide bombings, kidnappings, and the killing of innocents as "absolutely against the teachings of Islam."

AR  We must ask the Saudis to see sense and endorse this ruling.

MQ-9 Reaper
(formerly Predator B)
Based on the MQ-1 but can
carry 10 times more weaponry
Used by the U.S. Navy and
U.S. Air Force

Manufacturer: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Unit price: $10.5 million
Armament: Up to 1,351 kg
(e.g. AGM-114 Hellfire and
AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles or
GBU-12 and GBU-38 bombs)
Length 10.97 m
Wingspan 20.12 m
Power: 950 shp (712 kW)
Garrett AiResearch
TPE-331-10T turboprop engine
Range: 5,926 km
Maximum altitude: 15,400 m

The Euro
Spiegel International

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou have won a battle. Europe has given itself a few weeks' breathing room. But doubts over whether Greece and the common currency can be defended have hardly diminished.

The international financial industry is betting billions on a Greek bankruptcy or the demise of the euro. European governments are determined to defend their common currency. The founders of the euro knew that the new currency could only be stable if all member states committed themselves to sound financial policy.

Efficient Gasoline Engine
MIT Technology Review

California startup Transonic Combustion has developed a fuel-injection system that can improve the efficiency of gasoline engines by more than 50 percent. A test vehicle equipped with the technology needs less than 4 liters per 100 km in highway driving. The company plans to introduce the technology into production cars by 2014.

The gasoline is heated and pressurized before injection into the combustion chamber. This puts it into a supercritical state. The supercritical fluid mixes quickly with air when it's injected into the cylinder, where the heat and pressure cause it to combust without a spark for better combustion. Proprietary software adjusts the injection to match the load on the engine.

Dominant Air Power
in the Information Age
Air Chief Marshal
Sir Stephen Dalton

Air and space power provides the essential foundation for any sort of military endeavour. There are circumstances when air power alone has the capability to achieve the desired effects. Air power is our comparative advantage over potential opponents in future conflict. Success depends on our ability to exploit this critical advantage. We can do this most effectively by using air power to dominate the timely acquisition of information and knowledge.

Ocean Bacteria Form Network
New Scientist

Lars Peter Nielsen of Aarhus University in Denmark and his team have found evidence that bacteria in ocean sediments are connected by a network of microbial nanowires. These fine protein filaments between the bacteria transport electrons from bacteria in deep sediments to bacteria in oxygen-rich mud near the surface, where they are offloaded onto the oxygen. Nielsen calls the process electrical symbiosis. Nielsen says "we have no indication that more advanced information is exchanged in the network."

GE Hitachi To Burn Nuke Waste
Kevin Bullis
MIT Technology Review

Current U.S. nuclear power plants use only 5 percent of the energy in nuclear fuel. A new GE Hitachi process separates the waste into three groups. The first group consists of fission products that need to be stored for a few centuries. The second group is uranium rich enough for burning in a Canadian CANDU reactor. The third group is dangerously radioactive and contains plutonium. A PRISM sodium- cooled reactor would burn waste of the third kind.

2010 February 26

Argentina Owns Falklands? Bonkers
Hugo Rifkind, The Times

Argentina's claim on the Falkland Islands looks stupid. They're next door? We've got France next door. You've got Brazil next door. For a brief period about 200 years ago, you owned them? Don't get us started on the stuff we briefly owned about 200 years ago. We're colonialists? Generally speaking, we gave our empire back. You moved to yours, and then basically killed everybody. The Falkland Islands don't make us feel guilty at all.

The Falkland Islanders Are British
Stephen Glover, Daily Mail

In 1982, Margaret Thatcher quickly grasped the fundamental point that the 2,000-odd people who then lived in the Falklands were British. They had a right to be protected from a fascist junta. Many people forget how heroically Mrs Thatcher had to fight to get her way. Mrs Thatcher recognised that a huge wrong had been done, and was prepared to risk her political career to put it right. She understood that the issue was about sovereignty and Britain's obligations to her citizens. What was true then is true now.

AR  Defend the Falklanders! Man the battle stations!

2010 February 23

A Churchillian Defense of the Markets
Brian M. Carney, The Wall Street Journal

Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of Stephen Green's 42nd-floor corner office in Canary Wharf, the sun is setting over London. But Mr. Green, chairman and former CEO of HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world, doesn't fit the image of the bankers that so many have come to despise since the fall of 2008. Last year, he publicly shamed his own industry ...

AR  Stephen and I studied together at Exeter College Oxford.

2010 February 22

BMW Oracle America's Cup trimaran
Image: Gilles Martin-Raget
America's Cup 2010 Winner USA

Trimaran Length: 34 m, Beam: 27 m
Wing Sail Height: 68 m (more than a Boeing 747 wingspan)
Design and R&D: BMW ORACLE Racing

Airborne Laser Testbed
New Scientist

The Pentagon is going back to square one in its search for an airborne anti-missile laser. The ABL can't deliver enough power to be lethal at 200 km and still fit into a Boeing 747. The $5 billion project, begun in 1996, will be downgraded to a testbed.

The Missile Defense Agency will investigate a new kind of laser. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is developing diode- pumped alkali lasers with "mass-to-power ratios that far exceed what is possible with today's other laser systems."

2010 February 21

Googled: The end of the world as we know it

2010 February 20

Moving on with Globorg (12 chaps drafted, 4 to do)

MTB Cycletech Jalopy
The MTB Cycletech Jalopy could be my next bike, with its cool hub gears, disc brakes, toothed belt drive, and sporty retro styling.

Reading The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis

2010 February 14

Islam Lost Its Brakes
Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

In 1979, Islamist extremists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Saudi rulers forged a new bargain with their Islamists: Let us stay in power and we will give you a free hand in setting social norms and religious education inside Saudi Arabia.

Iran's revolution in 1979 brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. That revolution set up a competition between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, and it triggered a surge in oil prices that gave both fundamentalist regimes the resources to export their brands of puritanical Islam.

Also in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Arab and Muslim mujahedeen fighters flocked to the cause and shifted Pakistan and Afghanistan in much more Islamist directions.

"Islam lost its brakes in 1979," said Mamoun Fandy at the
International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

Mutiny At RichardDawkins.Net
Andrew Brown, The Guardian

Richard Dawkins: "Imagine that you found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an 'utter twat', 'a suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat's rectum. A suppurating rat's rectum inside a dead skunk that's been shoved up a week-old dead rhino's twat.' Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language."

AR  Moderate the site, Dick!

The Faith Instinct
The Economist

Nicholas Wade is convinced that a Darwinian approach offers the key to understanding religion. He thinks our propensity for religion has some adaptive function. But the notion of religion as an adaptive phenomenon makes better sense if one accepts the idea of group selection. Religion enhances a group's survival by promoting moral rules and cementing cohesion. It makes people ready to sacrifice themselves for the group and to deal ruthlessly with outsiders. Wade sympathises with the idea that Islam emerged from dissident Christian sects in the Levant.

Robots To Replace Workers
Howard Solomon
Network World Canada

Cisco Systems futurist Dave Evans says in 25 years robots will replace all workers. He said things are accelerating at an exponential rate. By 2013, wireless network traffic will reach 400 PB a month, compared to the 9 PB a month today for both wired and wireless networks. Moore’s Law will extend for some time but the limits of silicon will be reached around 2021. Quantum computers will be fast.

YAL-1A Airborne Laser
U.S. Air Force Boeing 747 Airborne Laser Testbed

Click for a demo video

NASA-GM Robonauts
MIT Tech Review

Robonauts could be the next explorers to walk on the Moon or Mars. They could work like astronauts but wouldn't need life support gear. NASA and General Motors are developing the first of these humanoid robots, which could be at the space station within 3 years.

2010 February 13

Star Wars 2
U.S. Air Force

Missile Defense Agency officials demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALT) destroyed a missile over the Pacific Ocean: "A short-range threat-representative ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform. Within seconds, the ALT used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALT then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALT fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch."

A view on my local jogging trail, today

2010 February 12

Bill Gates

I think that innovation does generally map to economic growth over time. But taking a particular innovation and quantifying its direct economic impact is hard.
For example I believe that because the Internet lets people find a lot more information a lot more easily and quickly, it is a much bigger benefit than the economic figures show.

I Do Not Understand
William Rees-Mogg, The Times

The BBC "Head of Religion" Aaqil Ahmed is not the head of my religion. Islam is the religion to which Mr Ahmed belongs. I do not understand why the BBC did not choose its head of religion from the Church of England.

AR  Mr Rees-Mogg was vice-chairman of the BBC for 5 years in the
      1980s. If he doesn't understand, who does?

2010 February 10

Iran — Why Don't We?
Robert Wright, The New York Times

Why don't we offer Iran the acknowledged right to enrich uranium in exchange for radically more intrusive inspections along with their ratification of the NPT protocol giving inspectors broader latitude?

AR  They don't care whether we acknowledge their right, because
      they think they have it anyway.

Gigabit Wi-Fi
MIT Tech Review

A wireless network using infrared light instead of radio waves has transmitted data through air at a rate of 1 Gb/s. Such IR networks could provide faster, more secure communications and would be especially useful where RF transmission can interfere with other systems.

International Boundaries Research Unit
Territorial boundaries around the North Pole: Surely a war zone when we start drilling there

MIT Tech Review

IBM has created graphene transistors that are over 10 times faster than silicon transistors. The prototypes are made from atom-thick sheets of carbon and operate at 100 GHz. The transistors were created by growing them on a wafer in a commercially feasible process. Graphene could replace silicon in high-speed computers.

AR  Great stuff, IBM

2010 February 9

A Raving Mad Fake
David Blackburn, The Spectator

France's most debonair philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy, has denounced Immanuel Kant in his most recent book as a "raving mad fake." Levy drew on the work of an obscure Kantian expert named Jean-Baptiste Botul, who was the invention of a bored journalist. Invented friends of Jean-Baptiste Botul recorded what they recalled of his work in "The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant — a seminal work". Levy must be a shoo-in for this year's Botul Prize, awarded by the Botulism Foundation.

AR  I always thought Levy was a fake himself — now I'm sure!

2010 February 8

SAP CEO Resigns
Ragnhild Kjetland, Bloomberg

SAP CEO Lιo Apotheker has resigned after the supervisory board decided not to extend his mandate. Board members Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe will take over as co-CEOs. Apotheker, 56, became sole CEO in May 2009 and presided over the first annual drop in revenue at the company since 2003. SAP's software license revenue fell 28% in 2009 and total revenue fell 8% to €10.67 billion. SAP co-founder and chairman of the supervisory board Hasso Plattner: """The new setup of the SAP executive board will allow SAP to better align product innovation with customer needs."

AR  SAP CTO Vishal Sikka now joins the executive board.

Blair-Bush Crusade
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

Tony Blair on his discussions with Bush in April 2002: "As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this."

AR  Two Christians gun for the "holy" land — what's new?

2010 February 7

Google: Books Back2Life
David Drummond, The Guardian

The majority of the world's books are out of print but in copyright. They are hard for people to find and it's difficult for copyright holders to exploit them commercially. The Google Book Search settlement seeks to bring those books back to life. It aims to make access to millions of books available either for a fee or for free, supported by advertisements. The rights holders will remain in control. They can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether. Nothing in this agreement precludes any other organization from pursuing its own digitization efforts.

AR  Go Google Go!

2010 February 6

The Galbraith Revival
Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal

John Kenneth Galbraith did not believe that understanding economic reality required arcane mathematical formulas. His explanations of many economic phenomena came richly laced with commonsense psychology. His solutions emerged from the Olympian heights of his own ratiocination. His belief in the capacity of experts to direct everybody better than they could direct themselves made him sympathetic to Communism.

In communist Poland, noticing the drab way people were dressed, Galbraith remarked that it "may be the problem of socialism. Planners can provide for everything but color, and they cannot allow for that because so much of it is associated with idiocy great and small." In other words, you can have any color you like, so long as it's chosen by the philosopher-king.

AR  Good man, Galbraith. I used his book The New Industrial State as a text in a class I taught in London in 1973/4.

2010 February 5

Communicating With Brainwaves
Emily Singer, MIT Tech Review

Some people thought to be in a vegetative state may be more aware than previously thought. Research in 2006 using functional MRI had shown that an apparently vegetative patient could mentally respond to complex commands. A new study shows that brain imaging can be used for two-way communication.

Patients diagnosed as either vegetative or minimally conscious were asked to imagine either of two different situations that activate characteristic parts of the brain. A brain scan then showed which of the two situations the person is visualizing. The patient had to comprehend the command, remember it during the test, and then carry out the visualization.

Five of 54 patients presumed to be in a vegetative state were able to control their brain activity. All five had brain damage as a result of head trauma. In one patient, the imagery task was used to communicate. The patient was instructed to imagine playing tennis if the answer to a question was yes, and to imagine his house if the answer was no. Asked six questions, he answered five correctly. For the last question, he showed no brain activity at all.

AR  Startling to see how easily one could be misdiagnosed as
      vegetative when life goes on in the brain (me at home?)

2010 February 1

36 Arguments for the Existence of God
A work of fiction by Rebecca Goldstein
Review by Ron Charles, Washington Post

Goldstein introduces us to the world's best-selling atheist: Professor Cass Seltzer finds himself alarmed by the "indecent amount of attention" that has recently been lavished on him and his new book, "The Varieties of Religious Illusion." But it's not the body of Cass's book, it's the appendix that has earned him millions of dollars and made him an international sensation. At the back of the book is a list of 36 arguments for the existence of God.

Contemplating his good fortune, "America's favorite atheist" feels "moved by powers beyond himself." In such a transcendent moment, how can he resist "the sense that the universe is personal, that there is something personal that grounds existence and order and value and purpose and meaning"? Goldstein's novel sports so many spot-on episodes of cerebral pomposity that you've got to place this novel among the very funniest ever written.

AR  I liked Goldstein's books on Gödel and Spinoza and her novel
      "The Mind-Body Problem" so I guess I'll like this one too.

England "Cesspit"
The Daily Beast

 Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, 76: "England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground of fundamentalist Muslims. Its social logic is to allow all religions to preach openly. But this is illogic, because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence. And yet England allows it."

AR  Thanks for this gem,
DB editor Tina Brown

China Bugs
The Sunday Times

The British security service MI5 has accused China of bugging and burgling UK business executives and setting up honeytraps in a bid to blackmail them into betraying commercial secrets. MI5 says China has attacked UK defence, energy, communications, and manufacturing companies.

AR  Google will feel vindicated.
Maybe China is the new Soviet Union and we have another
Cold War to chill through.

Christopher Reid
AFP/Getty Images
Christopher Reid

Religion in India
A book by William Dalrymple

2010 January 31

Justin Mullins, New Scientist

A spaser is a nanoscale device for surface plasmon amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation. Plasmons behave like light waves trapped in a metal's surface. Their frequencies are in the THz range and they typically live for mere attoseconds. One actual spaser is a silica ball just 44 nm across with a gold core. The silica is doped with dye molecules that emit green light when stimulated by a laser. Some of the light generates plasmons at the surface of the gold. The signature of amplification is a big increase in green laser light emitted by the ball for a small increase in energy from the stimulating laser. The spaser is to nanoplasmonics what the transistor is to microelectronics. But a plasmonic device would be able to process and store information in radioactive environments. Plasmonic devices don't yet match the performance of electronic components.

AR  I blogged spasers on August 23. Maybe in a few decades we'll
      replace electronics with plasmonics rather than photonics.

2010 January 30

Tony Blair: "I'd do it again"
The Times

Blair said that many of the arguments used to justify overthrowing Saddam's regime now applied to Iran. He said that Iran was now a greater risk to Britain than Iraq was when he ordered the invasion in March 2003. "I had to take this decision as Prime Minister ...
I genuinely believe that if we'd left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we'd still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse."

AR  Great man. Stick to your guns. You saved Iraq from tyranny.

Sukhoi T-50
Sukhoi T-50: The Russian F-22 Raptor?

Pavel Felgenhauer says humbug: "It doesn't have a new engine, modern weapons, or electronics. It's impossible to make a fifth- generation plane without having fifth-generation components.
It's just a tuned-up version of the existing Sukhoi 27 model."

2010 January 29

Frank Ryan, New Scientist

The human genome has evolved as a holobiontic union of vertebrate and virus. Evolution acts on the holobiont in a process known as symbiogenesis. The AIDS pandemic shows symbiogenesis in action. HIV-1 is a retrovirus, a class of RNA virus that converts its RNA genome into DNA before implanting it into host chromosomes. This process of endogenization converts the virus into an endogenous retrovirus (ERV). Endogenization allows a virus incorporated in a chromosome in the host's germ line to become part of the genome. Such germ-line endogenization is the source of all the viral DNA in the human genome. Retroviruses have undergone a long co-evolutionary relationship with their hosts. Viral genomes contain regulatory sequences that can control not just viral genes but host ones as well. Many viral sequences have become part of our genome.

AR  The science here is totally fascinating.

2010 January 27

Christopher Reid Wins Costa Prize
Arifa Akbar, The Independent

Christopher Reid's poetry collection The Scattering won the £30,000 Book of the Year award. Reid, 60, is only the fourth poet to win the Costa prize. He wrote the poems as a tribute to his late wife, who died in 2005.

AR  Chris and I studied together at Oxford some 40 years ago.

The Jesus Tablet

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad tablet computer. He called it "a truly magical and revolutionary product ... unbelievably great ... way better than a laptop. Way better than a smartphone."

AR  Do I need it? No.

Avatars 'R' Us
Andy Ross

Avatar is now number one worldwide, but not because of its reception by the critics. Its meticulous technical details and
magical alien ecosystem explain much of its success. Also,
the avatar concept tells us something deep about ourselves.

2010 January 21

Gravity as an Entropic Force
Martijn van Calmthout, New Scientist

Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam argues that gravitation could result from the entropy of the distribution of mass in spacetime. Newton treated gravity as a force between objects and Einstein showed that gravity describes how objects warp spacetime. Yet their laws are only mathematical descriptions.

Verlinde starts from the first principles of thermodynamics and uses the holographic principle. Earlier, Stephen Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein introduced holography to describe the properties of black holes. They said a spherical event horizon could store all the bits of information about the mass in the hole. Gerard 't Hooft and Leonard Susskind later proposed that this holographic principle might apply to the whole universe.

Verlinde uses the holographic principle to consider a small mass at a distance from a bigger mass. Moving the small mass changes the information content, or entropy, of a holographic surface between the masses. This changes the energy of the system. Using statistics, Verlinde show that movements toward the bigger mass are more probable. This shows up as an attractive force between the masses. It is entropic because it arises from probability and information.

From expressions for the information in a holographic surface and its energy content, and Einstein's E = mc2, Verlinde derives first Newton's law of gravity and then the Einstein equations.

On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton
Erik P. Verlinde, ArXiv

Newton's law of gravitation is derived in a theory in which space is emergent through a holographic scenario. Gravity is explained as an entropic force caused by changes in the information associated with the positions of material bodies. A relativistic generalization leads directly to the Einstein equations. The equivalence principle implies that the origin of the law of inertia is entropic.

AR  Wow — this is great!

Gulf: US Versus Iran
The New York Times

The Obama administration is accelerating the deployment of new defenses against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf. Special ships off the Iranian coast and antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries will counter the Iranian threat.

AR  Think what a missile
firefight in the Gulf would do
(a) to world gas prices and
(b) to property prices along
the Arab side of the Gulf.


Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs


Albert Speer Jr, Der Spiegel

Dubai's Burj Khalifa is purely a vanity project. I am convinced that the slums of the 21st century are being built in Dubai. Not all the buildings are constructed to the same quality as the Burj Khalifa. Many buildings were built quickly and on the cheap by speculators and are now standing empty. One builds cities for people. The cities have to be used. The quality of the urban space is absolutely decisive.

AR  Speer is an architect and
the son of the Nazi architect

From Eternity To Here

You won't find consciousness
in the brain
Ray Tallis, New Scientist

We cannot say that when we see neural correlates of consciousness that we are seeing consciousness itself. If we did, we would be unable to explain how intracranial nerve impulses can be "about" extracranial objects. There are problems with a sense of past and future, with notions of the self, with the initiation of action, and with free will. Science begins when we escape our subjective, first-person experiences into objective measurement, and reach towards a vantage point the philosopher Thomas Nagel called "the view from nowhere". An account of consciousness in terms of nerve impulses must be a contradiction in terms. The brain no more has a world of things appearing to it than does any other physical object.

AR  This is correct given his "science begins" assumption (from Nagel). But that can be finessed — see my new book Mindworlds

Burj Dubai

Burj Khalifa Opens
The Wall Street Journal

The Burj Khalifa, at 828 m
(half a mile) the world's tallest skyscraper, opened January 4. Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum hopes the building
will help restore the allure of Dubai as a business hub.

2010 January 17

What's Our Sputnik?
Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

Visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my president, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.

Taiwan is a barren rock with 23 million people who, through hard work, have amassed the fourth-largest foreign currency reserves in the world. They got rich unlocking their entrepreneurs, not digging for oil. China is now our main economic partner and competitor. I hope Americans see China's rise as the 21st-century equivalent of Russia launching the Sputnik satellite.

AR  Tom is right on the money, as always. The Islamic belt is the
      rust belt of the future. Invest where people work.

Opening The Academic Mind
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Slate

Louis Menand's new book suggests that contemporary higher education's biggest problem is professionalization. Professors have become professionals in a system committed to its own protection and perpetuation. Menand: "Interdisciplinary anxiety is a displaced anxiety about the position of privilege that academic professionalism confers on its initiates and about the peculiar position of social disempowerment created by the barrier between academic workers and the larger culture. It is anxiety about the formalism and methodological fetishism of the disciplines and about the danger of sliding into aimless subjectivism or eclecticism."

AR  Menand needs to watch his language: that's a bad case of
      pseudoscholarly woffle he has there.

James Cameron Hates America
Tom Shone, Slate

James Cameron's Avatar has been greeted on the right with the kind of immediate snarling antagonism reserved for Oliver Stone pics. MovieGuide, "the family guide to Christian movie reviews," awarded the movie "four Marxes and an Obama" for its "abhorrent New Age, pagan, anti-capitalist worldview that promotes Goddess worship and the destruction of the human race." Writing in the London Daily Telegraph, Nile Gardner professed himself astonished by "the roars of approval which greeted the on-screen killing of US military personnel."

Cameron was always going to be a tough nut to crack. His politics are an intriguing salad: dove-ish bromides strapped into the titanium exoskeleton of a hawk. He was born in Canada in 1954, which means that he spent his formative teenage years watching the giant next door receive the beating of its life in Vietnam. It left him with an almost forensic fascination for "how the mighty fall," his enduring theme as a filmmaker, from Terminator to Titanic.

AR  The right should be happy with Avatar: any jihadists who exult
      at its firefights will be infected with eco-paganism — a vast
      improvement on the jihadist death cult.

2010 January 16

Google In China
The New York Times

To many of the young, well-educated Chinese who are Google's loyal users in China, the company's threat to leave is no laughing matter. Many view the possible loss of Google's services with real distress. China's Communist rulers have long tried to balance their desire for a thriving Internet with their demands for political control. Google has stirred up the debate over their claim that constraints on free speech are crucial to stability and prosperity.

AR  The students should press for changes in how the government works in China. Espionage and hacking of Google data don't look good. Their authoritarian cult of covert controls on information means they cannot prove they wish Google well — if they do.

2010 January 15
Haiti — Jesus

China: $123 Trillion by 2040
Robert Fogel, Foreign Policy

In 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000. China's per capita income will hit $85,000, more than double the forecast for the European Union, and also much higher than that of India and Japan. In other words, the average Chinese megacity dweller will be living twice as well as the average Frenchman when China goes from a poor country in 2000 to a superrich country in 2040. Although it will not have overtaken the United States in per capita wealth, according to my forecasts, China's share of global GDP — 40 percent — will dwarf that of the United States (14 percent) and the European Union (5 percent) 30 years from now. This is what economic hegemony will look like.

AR  People published equally absurd extrapolations about Japan
      a quarter-century ago.

2010 January 12

Brain Entanglement
David Robson, New Scientist

Groups of brain cells seem to use quantum entanglement. The electrical activity of neurons in separate parts of the brain can oscillate together by phase locking. The frequency seems to be a signature of neurons working on the same task. Recent work [below] shows that the electrical signal in groups of neurons separated by up to 1 cm can lock phase exactly. Such "coherence potentials" can start in one set of neurons and be cloned by others some ms later. This is much more complex than classical phase locking and matches both amplitude and frequency. This mechanism could code memories.

Coherence Potentials ... in the Cortex
T.C. Thiagarajan, M.A. Lebedev, M.A. Nicolelis, D. Plenz
PLoS Biol 8(1): e1000278. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000278

Transient associations among neurons are thought to underlie memory and behavior. We recorded ongoing local field potential (LFP) activity at multiple sites within the cortex of awake monkeys and organotypic cultures of cortex. We show that when the composite activity of a local neuronal group exceeds a threshold, its activity pattern occurs without distortion at other cortex sites via fast synaptic transmission. We call these all-or-none propagated patterns coherence potentials. They are diverse and complex waveforms that can serve for encoding information.

AR  This suggested role of quantum entanglement in the neural
      memory-building mechanism is entirely consistent with the
      consciousness mechanism I describe in my new book

2010 January 11

From Eternity To Here
Sean Carroll, California Institute of Technology

The fundamental laws of physics treat the past and the future as exactly the same, whereas the world does not. That's the arrow of time problem. The answer to why the past is different from the future is intimately connected with the whole universe, with what happened at the big bang. The fact that the past is set in stone while the future can still be altered is all because of entropy. The fact that you can remember yesterday but not tomorrow is because of entropy. Once you assume that the universe had a low entropy for whatever reason, everything else follows. To understand why the entropy was lower yesterday really requires cosmology. The early universe was was smooth, it was expanding very rapidly, it was a dense, hot state, and there was a lot of stuff in the universe. That happens to be a very low-entropy configuration, and that is the puzzle. We have to understand how quantum mechanics and gravity play together long before we can ever hope to say definitively what the right answer is to these questions.

AR  The nature of time is the topic of chapter 13 in my new book
      Mindworlds. I claim that physics is time-symmetric because
      it is epistemologically flat whereas time is the dimension of
      epistemic depth.

2009 January 10

Temple of Apollo, Schwetzingen
Temple of Apollo, Schwetzingen Schloßpark, today

The Mosque, Schwetzingen Schloßpark
The Mosque, Schwetzingen Schloßpark, today

2010 January 9

Schwetzingen covered in snow — strained my back shoveling it!

2010 January 7

Quantum Darwinism
MIT Technology Review

Quantum Darwinism was unleashed last year by the physicist by Wojciech Zurek at Los Alamos National Labs. It explains why macroscopic physics obeys classical rules while the quantum world obeys the laws of quantum mechanics.

Zurek thought about the role of the environment in quantum mechanics. For other quantum physicists, the environment is a nuisance. For a quantum object in isolation, its quantum information can survive forever. But in the classical world this quantum information leaks into the environment.

For Zurek, the environment is an information channel with properties that are key to understanding Quantum Darwinism. All macroscopic measuring machines get their information through this channel. Only quantum states that can be transmitted through the environment in the right way and in multiple copies can be observed at the macroscopic scale. The classical view of the universe is determined by the states that survive transmission through the channel.

Universal Darwinism is essentially a 3-step algorithm: replication or copying, variations among the copies, and selective survival of the copies determined by their variations. John Campbell concludes that Quantum Darwinism meets this criterion.

Quantum Darwinism
John Campbell, arXiv

The Darwinian nature of Wojciech Zurek's theory of Quantum Darwinism is evaluated against the criteria of a Darwinian process as understood within Universal Darwinism. Quantum theory is discussed from the view that Zurek's derivation of the measure- ment axioms implies that the evolution of a quantum system entangled with environmental entities is determined solely by the nature of the entangled system. Quantum Darwinism is found to conform to the Darwinian paradigm in unexpected detail. Universal Darwinism may be considered a candidate Theory of Everything as anticipated by David Deutsch.

AR  UD is a sufficiently general algorithm that it very nearly applies to any temporal process under the "becoming" paradigm that I describe in my new book Mindworlds. The theory QD that it does apply to quantum processes — which are then not only instances of becoming but also of inheritable variation — is intriguing. Zurek's use of QD to reduce the logical basis of QM from 5 to 3 axioms is a fine piece of work.

2010 January 6

Can science explain religion? H. Allen Orr reviews Robert Wright's attempt to show how it can — with skepsis.

2010 January 4

European Supergrid
Alok Jha, The Guardian

Europe's first electricity grid for renewable power is on the political calendar this month. Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, and the UK plan to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea in a network with thousands of km of undersea cables costing up to €30 billion.

The supergrid supplies electricity across the continent from wherever the wind is blowing, the sun is shining, or the waves are crashing. Connected to Norway's hydro-electric power stations, it could act as a giant battery. It is a big step toward a continental supergrid linking into solar power farms in North Africa.

2010 January 3

The Aging Brain
Barbara Strauch, The New York Times

Aging brains are easily distracted. They can wander off and begin daydreaming. Deborah M. Burke, a professor of psychology at Pomona College in California, has researched tip-of-the-tongue "tots" when you know something but can't quite call it to mind. Tots increase in part because neural connections can weaken with disuse or age. But if you are primed with sounds that are close to those you're trying to remember, the lost name will pop into mind.

The aging brain gets better at recognizing the big picture, and it can continue to build pathways that help it to recognize patterns and see significance. The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them. For adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge their previous assumptions. Adult learners should confront thoughts that are contrary to their own. If they look at their insights critically, they can remain sharp.

2020 visions from The Telegraph
Coolpix of my study

2010 January 2

Irish Blasphemy Law
Repeal it

As of yesterday, the new Irish blasphemy law makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion.

We believe that blasphemy laws are unjust. In a civilized society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

AR  All the Irish need to do to advertise the absurdity of the law is to start a new religion that requires its members to proclaim statements that other religions condemn as blasphemous. They would even enjoy tax exemption.


Run Barefoot!
Chris McDougall, The Telegraph

Last spring, Daniel Lieberman, the head of the evolutionary anthropology department at Harvard, recruited Harvard students for an experiment: to run every day either barefoot or wearing a thin foot-glove. The results were remarkable. Once their shoes were taken away, the students instinctively stopped clumping down on their heels and began landing lightly on the balls of their feet, keeping their feet beneath their hips and bending at the knees and ankles. Dr Lieberman was so taken by his discovery that he started running barefoot for miles at a time through Boston.

AR  Good — now I know why
I like running barefoot

Migration Threatens Britain
George Carey, The Times

British democratic institutions support the liberal democratic values of the nation. But some groups of migrants are ambi- valent about or even hostile to such institutions. The idea that Britain can continue to welcome with open arms immigrants who immediately establish their own tribunals to apply Sharia, rather than make use of British civil law, is deeply socially divisive. Our society owes more to our Christian heritage than it realises and to overlook this inheritance of faith will lead to the watering down of the very values of tolerance, openness, inclusion and democracy that we claim are central to all we stand for.

AR  Steady on, archbishop!
People will start thinking the Church of England has a backbone!

Apple's new 27" iMac
It's as good to use as it looks