I have a number of coherent essays almost ready, but first let’s clear the decks with some interesting miscellany!
--Waste on a Vast Scale--
About $360 million spent by the United States on combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan ended up in enemy hands. The U.S. military said the money was handed down by contractors to "the Taliban, criminals and local power brokers with ties to both." The military awarded at least 20 companies about $1 billion worth of contracts and suspended seven contractors it said lacked "integrity and business ethics."
The Post reports: “I think we've finally got our arms around this thing," said a senior military officer who was authorized to discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity. The new contracts, the official said, were the result of a year's worth of "intelligence work and asking the right questions. We're now starting to take action." Congressional investigators determined last year that much of the transport and security money went to the Taliban and Afghan warlords as part of a protection racket to ensure the safe arrival of the convoys, conclusions that were confirmed this spring by military and intelligence inquiries.
Oh, but this pales next to the $12 Billion (with a “B”) dollars in raw cash (!) that Cheney and Rumsfeld sent to Iraq (21 Hercules cargo planes loaded with shrink-wrapped cash) -- which simply disappeared… not only from our possession or our books, but from the memories of those who should be outraged.
---Privacy and Paranoia---
Minority Report in real life? Here’s a news item that leads into a tiny, mini-rant about Steven Spielberg’s cool movie from a few years ago. Should we put the masses of data as our disposal to better use than predicting what movie people would like? Risk assessment tools have had some success in predicting rates of recidivism, and are used by parole boards. But should people be penalized for actual crimes committed – or the statistical likelihood of committing more crimes?
I have a world of respect for Steven Spielberg, whose deep-seated gratitude toward civilization shines in every film. I found Minority Report logical and very well-done. I loved especially that this film did not portray a tyranny! The people weren't afraid of the government. It was theirs to command... though they were consenting to things you and I would find creepy!
One thing about Minority Report, though. Spielberg does commit one huge "idiot plot" assumption. I can see where he had to, for plot reasons. But still, it is huge. In such a world, the punishment for "almost sorta woulda" committing a crime would not be more severe than actually doing it! It would be a year at a psychiatric evaluation resort... not the cryogenic equivalent of an instant, no-appeal and no-trial death sentence!
Ah well… here’s a must-see: the pilot episode of "The Lone Gunman", an X-Files spinoff which aired March 4, 2001, on FOX, is eerily predictive of 9/11. Portrays the (remote control) hijacking of a passenger aircraft by a hostile faction in the U.S Government, who attempt to fly it into one of the twin towers! Says the creepy informer: "smack a fully loaded 727 into New York and you'll find a dozen tin-pot dictators all over the world just clamoring to take responsibility, and begging to be smart-bombed."
-- Art Imitating Reality? –
Inspired by Ayn Rand, PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, along with Patri Friedman and others, are helping to fund the Seasteading Institute to build a floating 'start-up country' off the coast of San Francisco -- built on oil-rig like platforms in international waters. Here residents will be able to live by Libertarian ideals, free of regulation, laws, and the welfare state. I’ll be weighing in on this, later.
My next novel features "Shoresteading" - a different thing, entirely. More about this soon!
-- Transparency Alert --
Apple patents an application that could disable your camera if it thinks you are recording something you don't have permission to.
New targets for Cyberattacks: hackers now hijack cell phones through text-message malware that turns your phone into a botnet. Other potential targets: smart utility meters at home, car computers, GPS receivers, as well as social network spoofing. One protection has always been that most creative people find innovation more interesting than crime. ‘Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more.”
--At the Intersection of Science and Society--
Does power propel sexual aggressiveness, helping to explain the seemingly endless flow of political and celebrity sex scandals? Science is investigating. One recent study had heterosexual students sitting next to a student of the opposite sex. Researcher Maner found that when he gave students a brief feeling of power, "they were more likely to start flirting with the stranger sitting next to them. Men and women alike.”
One reason to get a tongue piercing: it can be fitted with a magnetic stud that allows paralyzed individuals to control their wheelchair by tongue movements.
Smart Contact lenses will diagnose disease, analyze health statistics, deliver drugs and more.
The Talk-o-Meter gives a graphical output of each person's contributions to the conversation. Hm...wonder where I would rank?
-- Technology --
A robot that can run like a human: Designed by the University of Michigan, Robot Mabel is the world's fastest robot with knees, reaching nearly 7 miles per hour.
Very cool! Mini helicopter robots hover mid-air, playing ping pong.
Haptic displays, infinitely configurable virtual keyboards may replace standard keyboards on laptops.
How to make an impression in the business world: Augmented Reality Business Cards with 3D Avatars, spinning cubes, pop-up resumes.
-- Science News --
Outdoing Arecibo, China aims to build the largest radio telescope in the world. They’ve broken ground on FAST, the Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, in a natural depression in Guizhou province. Expected to be operational in 2016, FAST will be able to scan larger sections of the sky than Arecibo and deeper into space/time. Part ot the worldwide Square Km Array. It may also join in the search for extraterrestrial life, even as SETI faces shut downs….And now donors are helping reboot California's Allen Array for SETI.
Diagnostic tattoo. A miniature diagnostic device with the mechanical properties of skin was developed by engineers at the University of Illinois. It can be mounted directly to the wrist or anywhere on the human body for EMG and other measurements. The circuit almost becomes part of the skin as it bends, wrinkles, and stretches.
Ketchup spill? This amazing weird invention picks up viscous materials.
New Nanometal changes from hard to soft at the flip of a switch.
Fascinating progress in antimatter confinement, possibly leading to actual spectroscopic studies of anti-hydrogen.
Could releasing a cloud of tungsten dust help solve the problem of space debris?
Cool picture of a shooting star... seen from the International Space Station.
-- Just for Fun --
How people in science see each other: How do technicians view undergrads, post-docs and professors?
What makes things funny? An ancient question. The Five 5 Leading Theories for Why We Laugh—and the Jokes That Prove Them Wrong.
Goodnight internet. A bedtime story for you and your laptop