Friday, November 30, 2007

News on the Home Front

There are few more hostile (and fascinating) environments on the face of the earth than Antarctica. Landsat, that venerable satellite system of the seventies, has released an Antarctic mapping site. Here you can crawl over Antarctica to your heart's content. Likely it will penetrate Google maps shortly if it hasn't already.

On another note, if you've been getting a lot of CT scans lately (as I have) you might have been sanguine about the radiation risk. Don't be reassured! CT scans have now come under radiation scrutiny. I'm thinking of getting my own dosimeter.

Ubergizmo gave a couple of interesting entries this morning: Turns out the Army is considering using non-pilots to pilot their new Sky Warrior UAVs. Interesting. Another issue that has been discussed over at AOPA is how to integrate UAVs into the civilian airspace in order to watch the borders. One wonders if these two issues might collide in the future.

If you need a loo in London (just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) there's now a texting service that aids you in your search. I don't have anything to say about it. Check it out for yourself.

And, finally, Nature puts out a science fiction. If you're interested in science vs. fiction, here is the place to check.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Artifice of the Real

There's an old Zen Koan that goes something like this: A warlord is walking up the steps to a temple. He is contemplating himself, his world, thinking about the temple, etc. A monk runs out of the temple, rushes down the steps to the warlord and slaps him hard across the face, crying "Wake up!"

Often, when I'm reading the news or listening to people on the train I'm tempted to exercise the Zen Monk Option.

There's a conflict at the heart of the American experience between the subjective and the objective, the trivial and the real. When the nation was riveted to the artificial drama of OJ's bronco wandering down the highway, I would have slapped my hands bloody walking down the street. Wake up! This is not real.

Well, it turns out I am not only not alone in this style of perception. I need the ZMO myself.

Phillip Ball has an interesting book review in Nature entitled "Is technology unnatural?" What is the boundary between natural and artifice? Check it out. He crawls right to the heart of the matter of where that boundary is drawn.

Greg Bear, in the same issue, takes on the state of artificial life. Again: the artificial versus the real. You can read it here. When is life the product of artifice?