Friday, February 26, 2010

Haverford returns Descartes letter

My alma mater just discovered that they were holding a stolen Descartes letter in their collections.

Man. I wish I'd known that letter was there when I was a student. I would have taken the time to stare at words actually penned by one of the smartest people ever.

Still, I'm proud to have gone to a school that immediately returned something as soon as they realized they weren't the rightful owner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Facts and intelligence

I have long respected and admired Leonard Pitts. His editorial columns are always intelligent, and often reveal insights into topics that I never would have thought of otherwise.

Two of his recent columns point out something I've known for a while: anti-intellectualism in America has exploded of late. To the point where both sides in the political battlefield quote back and forth the same Moynihan remark: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

I'm sure there's some facts I'm blind to; some inconvenient truth that I conveniently forget to prop up my worldview. But it seems to me that the Republicans today are masters of denial. And I fear for the future: I see no way for us to walk back from this place. How can we change from this state of affairs to one of civility and reason? Perhaps if all televisions were destroyed, it might be possible. But even if we create publicly financed campaigns, would it be able to stop the madness?

I know Canada and Europe aren't perfect. I know they have problems, and their political systems have flaws. But I can't help thinking that other places in the world have a little more respect for intelligence than we do. I wish the Republicans were being intelligent enough to defeat Obama in an argument occasionally. Goldwater, Buckley... I wish there were a political opponent who I disagreed with, that I could actually RESPECT.

The West Wing was a TV show about political wish fulfillment, and this was part of its story. Not only did it show a Democrat who argued for progressive politics forcefully and persuasively (and won), but in the final season it had a Republican presidential candidate who was ethical and reasonable - and conservative.

Maybe the problem is TV making me think it can be different, rather than fueling the flames of hatred and hysteria. Or maybe it's both.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Australian "hackers" revealed

Some department of the New South Wales government is shocked - shocked! that a newspaper tried to find out information about an upcoming programme.

He claims that the reporters hacked into their webserver to get documents. This "hacking" consisted of typing in the address for the site.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Medical metaphors

In the debate over health care reform, I've heard interesting metaphors. People have compared and contrasted the medical-industrial complex to grocery stores, to public schools, to car dealerships.

But I very much like what Jonathan Rausch writes, exploring what would happen if air travel were like healthcare.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Periodic Tables of Awesome

There are many excellent periodic tables on the internet.

But are any as fantastic as the periodic table of cupcakes?

Certainly nothing is nerdier than the comic book periodic table. Each element has its own page, where you can review excerpts from comic books where that element was mentioned.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lego Sudoku Robot

Sure, some Lego robots can solve Rubik's Cubes. But Sudoku is much harder for a robot.

And much slower.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's getting better. I think I'll go for a walk.

I continue to be astonished at the right wing rhetoric out there. Complaining that President Obama is destroying the economy, that the stimulus isn't working, that what we need more of now is deregulation and tax cuts.

How can they say it with a straight face? How can someone call for more of what destroyed the economy and has deeply hurt millions of people? People are out of work, out of their homes and out of their medical coverage. More people are hungry than since the Great Depression. And it's the Republicans' fault.

President Obama and the Democrats are making it better. I wish they were doing more to make it more better, but the resistance to any measure that would actually create jobs, stabilize our banking system, and keep poop and lead out of our food and toys? Unacceptable.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Darpa wants to be the next Frankenstein

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or NAMBLA, seems to have used up all its good ideas on the whole "creating the Internet" thing. Because their latest idea of creating immortal bacteria seems a tad bit stupid.

Sure, we can make cells that live forever. Possible danger to the rest of life on earth? No problem! We'll just put in a gene that makes it instantly die if it touches a particular molecule.

Like that won't evolve out of the life form in 2 generations.

I'm sure DARPA has done some cool stuff, even lots of cool stuff. But the media keeps digging up these crazy irresponsible schemes. At least that means they get shut down. I hope.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Inclusive scouting

Ever since the Mormons took over the Boy Scouts and moved the headquarters to Texas, they've been an even more conservative organization than they were before.

But one troop in Harlem decided they still wanted to teach boys to be good men, without teaching them to hate. So they created a group called Navigators.

I hope it catches on.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Another picture of dino plumage

Another beautiful rendering of what color dinosaur feathers probably were is at the Times.

Science is awesome.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Copyright Overreachinglords

UCLA professors have been posting videos on their class websites. These websites only work on-campus. You can't view the videos anywhere else in the world.

But that's not good enough for movie producers. So now they have to take all the videos down.

OK, you say, but if they were stealing these videos then they should stop and pay for them. The problem is that these videos are clearly fair use - they're allowed to show them in their classrooms completely legally. But the media producers want us to stay in the 1980s and not use new technology.

They're going to lose eventually - progress has a way of always happening. (It's not always good, but if poor people are going to get dioxin poisoning and asbestos, it's only fair for record companies to get screwed by the internet.) It's a shame they're going to spend millions fighting change, lashing out and ruining lives in their death throes instead of working on being creative and inventing new ways to make it easy to buy their music.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Unfortunate Web Addresses

Man, I would not want to be named Michael Sporn. Especially if I ever started a business named after me, and had to create a website for it.

Right up there with PowerGen Italia, Who, or Pen Island.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Science can read your mind

Well, a little bit. British scientists have devised a way to communicate with people in comas. Or, people we thought were in comas.

By getting them to imagine a physical activity like tennis, they could distinguish between activity in different parts of the brain.

This does push and pull on the meaning of "death". It used to be that if you weren't breathing, you were dead. Then it moved to the heart. It's been in the brain for a while, but we didn't have the tools we have now. Now we can detect brain activity in otherwise completely immobile people.

I wonder if in 100 years we'll have brain scanners good enough for these people to participate in society. Just as our EKG machine now makes the first toilet-paper tube stethoscope seem primitive, will we one day look back on our current technology and chuckle at simpler times?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jonathan Coulton rap battle

Continuing my week of obsessive fandom, here's a highly entertaining video. At least, if you're familiar with old video game music and Strong Bad.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coulton and TMBG in one concert

Jonathan Coulton is opening for TMBG in several concerts. But they're all very far away. Oh, well. I guess I'll have to look elsewhere for a total nerdgasm.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Jonathan Coulton in ASL

I just became a fan of Jonathan Coulton. He writes weird, funny songs. (I actually already had been impressed with his guitar work in Areas of My Expertise and admired the song he wrote for the end of Portal.)

This video is a guy signing one of Coulton's songs in ASL. The level of nerditude is extremely high. But so is the level of awesome.