Monday, October 03, 2005

Making Progress.

Most of this post was drafted before Katrina so some things like the employment stats link will be somewhat dated but they still make the point that Lou Dobbs is a clown.

For those among us who love to wallow in the idea that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and we are all doomed to a long Y2K style apocalypse (the predicted kind not the manifest kind), this might be a rather annoying post so why not stop reading, go pour yourself a cool glass of water and lie down for a spell.
Now that the wet blankets are gone, I sometimes like to save up some of the more positive stories I find and link to them all at once so that someone out there might get a lift from it. I remember one Monday evening after reading one of Chenkoff's Good News from Iraq (this link is to his last such post from him due to his changing career obligations though the series is going to be continued by others), I was watching the NBC nightly news when, after airing one of those pathetic plucky-person-with-no-hope-soldiers-on-with-a-positive-attitude human interest type stories when Brian Williams comes back on with an eyebrow raised and says something like "We will take a little good news wherever we can get it these days." and then he signs off.

Um Brian? If you are looking for some good news you must have your flashlight stuck up your
log flume.

I should not single out NBC. Most people watch the news so they can see how bad the world is. It makes cozying up in a lower middle-class dwelling with someone you never would have married if sex ed had included more than just readings from the Book of Job, seem like heaven by comparison to what the rest of the world is going through. It also gives people something to cluck their tongues about at work while asking, "What is this world coming to?"

But just as Lou Dobbs is not going to mention that his Exporting of America has gone the way of Ross Perot's Great Sucking Sound (see these statistics especially the unemployment rates and this article which puts Dobbs' vision of I.T. workers standing out on the street like depression era farm hands
because of evil India, in perspective), the media is not going to traffic in good news so it is nice that the Internet allows us to find out what our entertainers feel is unimportant to us.

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  • The new worlds only literate civilization has yielded another city in the jungles of Guatemala. The information it could yield about the Maya will no doubt be fascinating.

  • There are still a few languages from antiquity which we have text of but we can not read. There are also lots of "language like" systems in nature which are too complex for us to understand easily like genetic information (both DNA and RNA), the "language" of proteins (being able to read a gene and have a guess at what it's protein looks like). But as computers advance in both capacity and sophistication, new tools are emerging to make languages more manageable, even for humans who you would think would be old hats at languages by now. Even as the machine translation field cranks out new and improved, though still not perfect products, other methods of breaking the language barriers between humanity are being used such as computer assisted translation where human translators provide the "common sense" while the computer provides a much larger vocabulary range than the translator might possess.

  • On the political scene, much has been made about the Islamification of Europe. People are worried that the influx of Islamic immigrants will lead to an erosion of liberal secular views in favor of theocracy and feudalism. A small few have mentioned that the same forces which are causing Christian organized (industrialized?) religion to be as popular as syphilis among European youth might have the same secularizing effect on the Islamic youth. Well they may not just be whistling Dixie. (The article refers to them as left-wing but since no distinction was drawn between social and economic left I would hesitate to lump them in with MacDonald hating hippies just yet.)

  • Also in politics or sociology or something... There are people working on ways to create local Internets where anyone with a line of site to someone else's window could access a discussion group and if they find something posted on it to be interesting they can post it on their own. It is called Neighbornode and it offers some interesting tools for local communities (from their FAQ page):
-post messages to a bulletin board for all of your neighbors to see (and reply to)
-post photos to a photoblog, either from your computer or from your cellphone
-set up a neighborhood webcam for people to check out
-link nearby nodes together to create "supernodes" where larger areas can share information resources
-add your own artwork and text to the splash pages, to customize your node.

  • Perhaps future versions or spin-offs will not be net dependent which would make dictatorial control of information flow more of a laughing stock than a serious threat. Especially when combined with solar-powered wi-fi stations bringing net access just about anywhere. I could envision a network of overlapping stations concealed and running some kind of transmitting software that allowed stations to cooperatively fade in and out so that agents for police states would find it difficult to track down the stations but then I am not a programmer or an engineer so whether such a trick is possible remains to be seen.

  • In technology there have been discoveries of a substance harder than diamond and one that is a superconductor in the presence of a high magnetic field and potential methods for making "near-perfect lenses" Why are these two seemingly inconsequential items noted here? After all there are lots of little discoveries being made all the time. That is the point. There are huge numbers of technological applications that were either impossible or un economical before little discoveries like these. In the months and years to come there will be new tools techniques and knowledge generated because of discoveries like these which are below most people's radar yet are piling up at an accelerated rate. Five or ten years from now some new form of MRI scanner with shocking resolution or an automatic tunnel borring machine will be making the news because of little advancements like these but the importance of them currently is invisible.

BTW. The harder than diamond substance could help the researchers in this story test their theory.

  • On the health front, scientists have created mice that can regrow everything but the brain and transplanting their cells can confer this ability (temporarily) to other mice. A refined version of the this work might very well work with humans. There are artificial kidneys on the way - though which will get here first, the artificial kidneys or the regeneration therapy is still up for grabs. Here is a short but interesting introduction to the subject of RNA interference. It is a method where by it is possible to turn off a gene. A virus gene, a bacteria gene, an immune system gene that is activated out of turn in an autoimmune disease, a cancer gene - take every health problems involve genes and realize that this technology will likely have an impact on all of them. It is difficult to overstate the importance to the medical field and that is before you even consider that this technology will allow a gene to be temporarily knocked out in an adult animal where as before you had to knock it out at conception so if the gene had a different use in development than in the adult this could not be studied. You could even knock out a gene in one location but not all so you can see how the gene functions in various. Once neglected diseases are getting attention now.

  • And the study of consciousness is yielding some interesting results. It seems that brain signals which are externally induced don't travel very far after we fall asleep. The signals seem to go the shortest distance in the early hours of sleep which are by the way, the time of night when we dream the least. What this means is still unknown but it might be that waking consciousness and "conscious" dreaming requires large scale integration of the brain and it is the loss of this which causes a loss of consciousness.

  • Holy moly! While Jerry Falwell is still against homosexuality (we assume) he has actually supported homosexuals as persons with a right to exist and rent an apartment and work. When Jerry Falwell starts to make sense - even just a little - it might be time to brush up on Revelations. The world really is coming to an end.

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