First operational drone
1995 by the
U.S. Air Force
Manufacturer: General Atomics
Unit Price: About $4.5 million
AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
Length 8.23 m
Wingspan 14.84 m
hp (86 kW)
Range: 3,704 km
Maximum altitude: 7,620 m
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
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.
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
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
2010 March 9
EADS Northrop Grumman tanker refueling B-2 Spirit (EADS
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
AR Pentagon: free market
good if and only if U.S. bid wins.
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
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!
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."
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
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
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.
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.
(formerly Predator B)
Based on the MQ-1
carry 10 times more weaponry
Used by the U.S. Navy and
Manufacturer: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
price: $10.5 million
Armament: Up to 1,351 kg
(e.g. AGM-114 Hellfire
AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles or
GBU-12 and GBU-38 bombs)
Wingspan 20.12 m
Power: 950 shp (712 kW)
TPE-331-10T turboprop engine
Range: 5,926 km
Maximum altitude: 15,400
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.
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
Efficient Gasoline Engine
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
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
GE Hitachi To Burn Nuke Waste
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
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
Image: Gilles Martin-Raget
America's Cup 2010 Winner USA
Trimaran Length: 34 m, Beam:
Wing Sail Height: 68 m (more than a
Boeing 747 wingspan)
Design and R&D: BMW ORACLE Racing
Airborne Laser Testbed
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)
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
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
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."
Moderate the site, Dick!
The Faith Instinct
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
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. Moores Law will extend for some time but the limits
of silicon will be reached around 2021. Quantum computers will be fast.
Click for a demo video
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
AR SAP CTO Vishal Sikka now joins the executive board.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
AR Google will feel
Maybe China is the new Soviet Union and we have another
Cold War to chill through.
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"
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: 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
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
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
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
On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton
Erik P. Verlinde,
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
property prices along
the Arab side of the Gulf.
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
AR Speer is an architect
the son of the Nazi architect
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
AR This is correct given
his "science begins" assumption (from Nagel). But that can be finessed — see
my new book Mindworlds
Burj Khalifa Opens
The Wall Street Journal
The Burj Khalifa, at 828 m
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
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
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
Tom Shone, Slate
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
AR The right should be
Avatar: any jihadists who exult
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
2010 January 15
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
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
T.C. Thiagarajan, M.A. Lebedev, M.A. Nicolelis, D.
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
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
I claim that physics is time-symmetric because
it is epistemologically flat whereas time is the dimension of
2009 January 10
Temple of Apollo, Schwetzingen Schloßpark, today
The Mosque, Schwetzingen Schloßpark, today
2010 January 9
Schwetzingen covered in snow strained my back shoveling it!
2010 January 7
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
It's as good to use as it looks