Friday, August 28, 2009

Looking smaller.

Nothing today.

But I'll leave you with the picture at left. This is pentacene, a molecule made up of five carbon rings. Note that you can see the rings. This is an image of an atomic-force microscope. Read about it here.

Wall of Idiots
Bad predators. Bad.
US Chamber of Commerce

Links of Interest
Wooden recumbent bike
The color of dinosaurs
Possible hole in relativity

Pencil lead potentiometer
Cardboard van Leeuwenhoek microscope
2 Minute Chocolate Cookies
Punchout robot kits and here and here
Mobius strip music box
Rocket telemetery
Bicycle paniers

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SF Lunch Eaten! Film at Eleven!

I saw District 9 last week. It is one of the few movies worth the hype. Essentially, it's the story of a broken spaceship that ends up over Johannesburg. Thirty years later, the resulting refugee camp is no longer tolerable to the South Africans and they're going to move them to a "better" camp 200 km distant.

It's not for the squeamish.

Sure there's a some blood and guts. Not as much as in Spielberg's wretched War of the Worlds. It's not the violence. It's the way the violence is used. Neill Blomkamp is from South Africa and the violence done in that country under Apartheid shows in every frame, every scene and every prop. It also has the best special effects I've ever seen. I want to see it again to see if, possibly, this time I might see some seams. Go see it.

Now, consider also The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. It's an alternate world story where, in effect, the Holocaust did not happen. The resulting collective guilt didn't happen and Isreal was not handed over to the Jews. A brilliant conceit. Chabon is a brilliant writer and no one, Jews included, reach the end of the novel unscathed.

Usually, we flinch. In a film, we slip to one side and glamorize a piece of the action or sentimentalize it or just neglect it. Harry Turtledove has written several alternate Civil War novels with astonishingly little to do with slavery. What race relations there are show up as straw men, easily dealt with and, thereby, trivializing the material.

It's not just SF. There's a subgroup of empowerment movies and books that pander to their various demographics with pretty much the same plot. Demographic representitive has a bad thing happen to them and through will and (sometimes) talent get through an epiphany and have a happy ending. Pick your demographic: women, men, race, etc. It doesn't matter. The story is the same. If Joe Campbell's Monomyth didn't exist before modern media, it does now.

But the characters are all beautiful. They live in expensive homes. They have or get fulfilling (but often vague) jobs. Whatever happens to them leaves few scars. All is right with the world at the end.

All of these works flinch when they look at the world.

Now, let's return to Chabon and Blomkamp. The common ground between their two works is the courage of their execution and the courage of the publishers and producers to see the work presented to the public.

Let's face it. District 9 makes Star Wars and every other piece of crap like it look like bad cheese. TYPU makes every alternate world story ever written prior to it stale pudding.

What saddens and infuriates me is that this is my field: SF and fantasy. I've been working in this field for years. We should have had this courage-- both the writers and the publishers. We invented the alternate world story. We invented the alien refugee story. But Chabon and Blomkamp create art with it while we're churning out toasters.

I don't think it's a lack of talent in our field. I hope not, anyway. But I do think it's a lack of nerve. An unwillingness to move out of our comfort zone.

A lack of courage.

Wall of Idiots
Betsy McCaughey

Links of Interest
Dubai: The Ruins
Creating a heart patch
Knocking Clock
Kees Engelbarts' Artisan Watches
Dwarf Garden
The Albany Bulb
Naked Lunch turns 50
Telescope turns 400
Little Ice Age vs. Climate Change! Sunday! Sunday!
Giant felt whale. No. Really.
Phasma insectoid robot
World's smallest pistol
V: Don't Blink
Physics of the Impossible
The Abode of Chaos
The Maine Musical Wonderhouse

5 minute pie
Lost foam metal casting
Drum smoker
BBQ Barrel
Capapults, Part 3
Tabletop Aquarium
Portable Stool

Monday, August 24, 2009

Raising the Bar

The political links show that Bush was over the edge of even my worst nightmares.

I wonder if we should be proud of our politicians when they reach or exceed the paranoia of the conspiracy set. Certainly, he has raised the bar for all succeeding presidents.

In order to meet the level Bush has attained, Obama would have to be a Kenyan socialist that is hell bent on destroying the dollar so we can all be enslaved on a People's Commune.

Nope. Not enough.
Wall of Idiots
Microsoft tries to patent evolution
The Aral Sea
Sour toe cocktail
Ian Plimer

Political Links
Bush used terror level in '04 election
Mercenary assassination squads
A storm over food, water and power

Links of Interest
Titan Missle Museum
Larry Spring
Cardboard bicycles
Loss of Clean Water
Secret passage consultants
V: How not to make things
Merchants of Tiny Plastic Death
Zen Aquaria
How unhealthy is obesity, anyway?
The Shoe Tree

Camping Shower
Cast a glass skull
Backyard Metal Casting
100,000 Garages
Connect the computers
Wooden Flashlight
Fire alarm
Potato Stun Gun and here
Etching aluminum
How to build a catapult part 1 and part 2
Critter Cage
Slug Proof Planting Barrels

Friday, August 21, 2009

Propaganda from the Right

On September 9th, the US Supreme Court is going to hear Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Citizens United is a conservative propaganda. Here are a few titles:

Intelligence Failure: How Bill Clinton's National Security Policy Set the Stage for 9/11.
Prince Albert: The Life and lies of Al Gore.
ACLU: At War with America
Rediscovering God in America (with Newt Gingrich)
Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny
Hillary: The Movie

The last title, "Hillary: The Movie" was produced to be released in 2008 prior to the democratic primaries. However, the Federal Election Commission blocked its release under campaign finance laws. Citizens United claim its a documentary. The FEC said it was electioneering. The FEC was backed by the US Distric Court in spring of 2008 and the film was not released until after the election. Here's the CNN analysis.

The IMDB entry has Hillary Rodham Clinton in the cast as far as archive footage. The rest of the cast is:

Michael Barone
Bay Buchanan
Ann Coulter
Frank Gaffney
Newt Gingrich
Larry Kudlow
Michael Medved
Dick Morris
Robert D. Novak
Kate O'Beirne
R. Emmett Tyrrell
Kathleen Willey

Any of these sound familiar? I've been following Coulter and Gingrich for a couple of years now and observed many, many lies, half-truths, spin, and complete and utter fabrications. That they are prominent here indicates this is another conservative hatchet job.

What SCOTUS has to decide is if there is any difference between a 120 minute and a 30 second political commercial and whether it makes a difference if the listener pays for the propaganda or if it's spoon fed. I don't see a difference but the court has Ailito, Thomas and Scalia. No doubt they will decide that propaganda for the right is better than no propaganda at all. Their interpretation of the law seems extremely slanted.

Facts do not sway them in the pursuit of a conservative truth.

Links of Interest
Benjamin Franklin
Origin of Rubber
Origin of Zero
Great Balls of Fire Shape the Planets

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stupidity Re-examined

I said, yesterday, that Birthers were stupid. I have to correct myself.

The idea that Obama is not an American citizen has been thoroughly disproved. Clinging to it is stupid. But the people who cling to it are not, by and large, stupid. It's this dichotomy that's interesting.

Larry Niven said, in Protector, that intelligence is a tool to be used to reach a goal. However, the goal is not necessarily chosen intelligently.

In the case of the Birthers, the model is that there is no way that Obama can possibly a legitimate president. The solution to the model, using intelligence, is to delegitamize his presidency. Since the goal is of supreme importance, intelligence is used in its most limited, goal directed function: to find evidence to shore up a shakey model. Religion is like this. Religion-based science is not science in any sense because evidence is placed within a scaffold by reasoning that does not arise from the evidence.

This, interestingly enough, is also why creation "science" (in the same way as Fox "News") fails. The model predicts a behavior that is not supported by facts but supporting the model is more important than determining fact so the facts are bent, the reasoning strained, in support of the broken model.

On the other side, it's similar to the supporters of Gore crying conspiracy in the election of 2000. The problem with the election was that the noise level of the election process had overwhelmed the signal of the votes. There's an analogous situation in electronics known as signal to noise ration. The signal has to be sufficiently stronger than the noise to be discerned. If the signal strength is too close to the noise it can't be determined as different from the noise. The 2000 election had the same problem. The difference in votes between the two candidates was less than the inherent voting errors and irregularities of the election process. When the S/N got too low the signal was no longer distinguishible. Personally, I think the Supreme Court should not have made a decision but had a revote in Florida. Or declared it a hung election and caused it to be thrown into the House or Representitives. Either decision would have legitimized the election rather than having it hang over Bush's first term.

(Please note: I think Bush was the worst president we've had in living memory. But it serves no one to delegitmize his presidency. Nor does it serve us to do the same to Obama.)

But to return to the topic for a moment, the problem with model trumping fact is how pervasive it's become. Another way to phrase it is symbol trumping substance. The symbol represents a common cultural model subscribed to by some population subset. The substance represents actual and meaningful dialogue or action. Which do we see? Symbol. Substance, all too often, is the whisp of a memory.

We have learned to accept the symbolic gesture as a substitute for the substantive action so much that we have become unable to actually make things happen. Consider the heated rhetoric over health care for example. Nowhere has there been so many lies and labels thrown around as in that debate-- but how much actual facts have been discussed? Neither side is particularly fond of facts and meaningful statistics. Instead, they throw around little vignettes, symbolic victims and sound bites. Consider the election of 2000.

Consider the Birthers.

Lies about Obama
Hot dog sushi

Bipedalism evolution in apes
Video in paper magazines
Haynes Manual of Sex
Chinese hornets invade France
When rock collectors attack
The Methuselah Tree
Metamaterial Big Bang
Chimpanzee Rationality
The effect of gravity waves on man in the moon cosmology
The CD as musical instrument
V: Brokeback Invertebrate
V: How toilets are made
V: Winding a toroid
V: Geckobots
V: Green Pizza Box
Starry, Starry Cake
Musical instrument contest winners

Online archive of vintage tools
Making monster plants
Pie pops
Bicycle rack
Popcorn sorter

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dare to be Stupid

Humans are so smart that they can sometimes make themselves stupid.

It's not hard to see how this works. The human brain makes models. Sometimes the model becomes more compelling than the facts from which the model was made. Consequently, the human then clings to the model rather than pitch it in favor of new facts. This is what makes science so interesting: it self corrects. The wonder of science isn't how well it works; it's that it works at all.

That said, here comes Executive Order 13489.

13489 restores the Reagan EO 12667 of 1989, overriding Bush's EO 13233 of 2001. Essentially, it reduces the ability of previous presidents to claim executive privilege once out of office. It only applies to documents generated by the president while in office.

Now, if you do a search on "Executive Order 13489", very quickly it degenerates into Obama banning the release of his records without his permission. The EO does talk about executive privilege but presidents have been using executive privilege for the last century. In point of fact, Section 4-A says, "Any determination under section 3 of this order that executive privilege shall not be invoked by the incumbent President shall not prejudice the Archivist's determination with respect to the former President's claim of privilege.", specifically prohibiting executive privilege by a former president.

The blogosphere often conflatees this fallacy with a misdefinition of "natural born citizen", saying that an NBC must have two parents who were also US citizens. This one is even harder to swallow since it would mean the first five presidents of the USA would, in fact, been illegal since their parents were not US citizens. It's a lie, like most of these. Natural born citizens are people born in this country regardless of parentage. The birthers are idiots. But that's not the question here.

Here's a good example. The natural born citizen part has this link to FindLaw suggesting that the link will explain how a natural born citizen needs two US parents. First bullet item there says US citizenship comes from being born in the US. Therefore, the writer of this material not only didn't understand the concept being spouted but linked to a site that refuted his thesis.

The model derailed understanding of the facts.
Wall of Idiots
Lies about Medicare

Links of Interest
Water flowing uphill: Fountain
Methane seeping from Arctic sea-bed
Norovirus and Tobacco: Creating vaccines from plants
Resolving the arrow of time
Sculpting with high explosives
Mercury fountain
Cometary glycine
Museum of Utopias
Museum of Sex
Complex Consciousness
Language vs. Thought
Origin of Human Malaria
V: Elephant with Prosthetic Leg
The nature of water
The Flying Car: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and here

V: Water Rockets

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Musing on Montreal

(Picture from Raymondo Person.)

I still haven't put my notes in order about Worldcon and Montreal. I can say that Montreal is a wonderful city. Eminently walkable.

Ben was a little disturbed by the ubiquity of strip joints. American cities, in my experience, cloister their nasty bits in local areas. In Boston, the original nasty area was Scollay Square. Later, when Government Center was created, the nasty bits were moved over on Washington Street in an area known as the Combat Zone. By the end of the 80's, even these were moved out of the city to be lost in some limbo north of here. Probably in New Hampshire.

But in Canada, it's different.

We first noticed this in Halifax but it's more pronounced in Montreal. In an affluent area, you might see expensive restaurant, boutique, office, boutique, local business, etc. But this only works in affluent areas. In less affluent areas-- not poor, mind you. But just lower rent areas-- you'll find a different pattern: restaurant, club, store, strip joint, restaurant, office, restaurant, surplus store, strip joint, etc. Things were mixed up much more by revenue and expense class rather than moral imperative.

Another thing I noticed about Montreal as opposed to American cities. In the poorer sections of American cities there is an racial shift in accordance with an economic shift. As the income level descends across neighborhoods there is an increase in people of color. This gives the American cues as to the income level (and possible threat) of the neighborhood.

None of this applies in Montreal-- or, at least, the demographic and racial mix is different and therefore not as discernible to the American eye. I wandered into several poor neighborhoods and found few ethnographic clues. It was disturbing. At first, it was disturbing to be able to discern poor areas that were not (to my eyes) racially marked. Then, it was disturbing to find myself looking for such marks to determine poor areas.

There is a huge racial component in American society. So great and pervading that it cannot be easily seen until you leave America behind for a bit and see how it's done in a country without that same sort of racial component.

I don't know the racial history of Canada-- I've read about some of it regarding the natives and between the English and French. But the more I read about it, the more I think that what Canada has experienced is vastly different from the American experience: slavery, emancipation, retrenchment through lynchings and other violence in the south, the black diaspora to the North, race riots in the northern cities. None of that ever existed in Canada.

Sometimes, I don't think we Americans know where we live.
Wall of Idiots
Conservation as carbon free energy... duh
Not funding asteroid tracking
Interrogation, Inc
Glenn Beck
Town Hall Nazis
Lies about the UK Health Care System
Lies about the proposed health care system
More lies about the proposed health care system
Lies about Ezekiel Emanuel and here
Death panels
Survivalist's Medicine

Links of Interest
Morris automata museum
End of the world by zombies
Beer Boosts Bones
A pool of distant galaxies
Long term NASA
Malaria in a warming world
Arkive: Images of Life on Earth
Celebrity Death
Hacking moths
Evolution in a microbial fuel cell
Energy from onion waste
The state of biofuel technology
Meteorite on Mars
Mars and methane
10 gazillion stars
Bizarre instrument modifications
Hermit crabs in glass
Designing for the rising tides
Fabbed violin
The pitch drop experiment
Self winding mechanical clock
Vortex smoke ring collision
Elegant wooden bicycles
Chopper bikes
Heat treatment of paleolithic tools

More on free yachts
Cardboard component storage
FAT tire bicycle and here
Amateur astronomer resources
Voltage divider
DIY air sampler
Cigar box guitar and here
Human powered hovercraft
Cable management
Air Hockey and here
Bottle cutting
Foam walk along glider and here
Dremel Foot Switch
Dremel Duplicator
Wire holder
Cardboard frisbee
Organic pesticide

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back from Montreal and Ready to... sleep.

We went on vacation on 8/1. Mostly stay at home and work on things. Then, on the following Wednesday, we went to Montreal for the World Science Fiction Convention. (Worldcon).

Worldcon was fun. Montreal was fun. More on that in later posts.

Then a couple of days in the Vermont cabin. Now, we're home, resting.

Here are some links. When I wake up I'll talk more.

After all, both of you might be interested.

Wall of Idiots
Birthers and here
Gun idiocy

Links of Interest
The intellectualism of Queen Elizabeth I
Spiral Jetty
Cathedral Park
Korowai Tree Houses
The How and Why Wonder Book of Sex and Science
Sexy Bicycles in NYC
Bicycle Bones
Global Melting
Tech Lab: Babbage and Lovelace

Garbasail: Very Large Kite
Pocket Garden
Drought Tolerant Planter
Breadmaker to Composter
Growing Mushrooms
Benchfly and here
Foundry Furnace Part 3
Bamboo Flutes
Watermelon Keg
Solar Window Inserts
Transparent Guitar Pick
Stone Tile Lamp
V: Paper Airplane in 30 Seconds
Painless Onion Dicing
PC Controlled Power Strip
Pig Smoker
Wine Jelly
Star Lamp