/blog > archive > May 2013

tinfoilbaby

 Until recently, Charlie Veitch was a prominent  figure in the “Truther” movement, that granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, the one that asserts that the 9/11 attacks were in fact carried out by the US government. These are the folks who will tell you that the twin towers couldn’t possibly have fallen in the way they did without a controlled demolition via explosions; that there were no people on board the aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon (not even a pilot — the plane was controlled by a robot), that there were no Israelis in the World Trade Center on that fateful day, as they were all warned ahead of time to stay away; etc. The dynamics of how people can come not only to believe such idiocy but devote their every waking moment to it are fascinating. But even more interesting is the process by which an individual can walk…

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startrek

[Note: this piece contains a few minor spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness.] An unexpected aspect of the appeal of Star Trek, as explained by Virgina Postrel: For many viewers, it turns out, Star Trek represents the ideal workplace. “I was most attracted to the competence of the characters,” said a Tennessee businessman. “It would be nice to live in a world or even work in an office where everyone was dedicated to their jobs and to each other and good at their work.” In retrospect, this escapist appeal makes sense. In Star Trek, the work is meaningful; the colleagues are smart, hard-working, competent and respectful; the leaders are capable and fair; and everyone has an important contribution to make. Star Trek features what law student Cindy McNew described as “a close-knit group of colleagues whose abilities complement one another and who don’t seem to take out their animosities or…

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NASAsnacks1

One area where we’ve come to expect a good deal of transparency is in the food we eat. “Read the label,” we are told if we want to know where the substances we put in our bodies — in particular the highly processed ones — are actually coming from. People want to know whether those bratwursts contain MSG, whether that breakfast cereal contains high fructose corn syrup, whether those peas have been genetically modified only by nature, or perhaps more recently in a lab somewhere. The need for accurate food labeling may take on a bit more urgency now that the idea of 3-D food printers is starting to catch on. NASA has just funded a company that intends to produce such a device, with the aim of making food handling and production much easier on long space voyages and — the company’s founder believes — possibly curing world hunger…

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google-glass

Nick  Bilton tells the story in The Wall Street Journal: As I approached the line to the restroom, I took a deep sigh, thinking that I might find some respite from the hundreds of cameras strapped to people’s heads at the conference. Yet when it was finally my turn to approach the rows of white urinals, my world came screeching to a halt. There they were, a handful of people wearing Google Glass, now standing next to me at their own urinals, peering their head from side to side, blinking or winking, as they relieved themselves. Welcome the future, where we have no secrets. I’m (obviously) a big believer in transparency and in the power of technology to keep people from hiding things from us that we have a right to know. But then there are those things that we want to keep — if not hidden — at least private. That’s going…

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hyundai-ix35-630

UPDATE: I thought  Ellis Jakubowski’s comment (below) warranted a response. This post wasn’t really about whether hydrogen powered cars are a good idea; however, Mr.  Jakubowski writes: Because pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes energy to manufacture it. Okay, just a couple of quick thoughts here: 1. Pure hydrogen is hard to come by on earth (because it’s always mixing with oxygen and other elements), but it is in fact the most abundant substance in the universe. About 3/4s of the universe is hydrogen*. In fact, all of the energy we access on earth, whether it comes from fossil fuels, wind power, nuclear energy, whatever — ultimately derives from that big, bright fusion reactor you may see hanging in the sky on a sunny day. And guess what that reactor (which we affectionately call “the sun”) runs on? 2. You don’t really manufacture hydrogen so much as you…

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duckinsydney

Giant inflatable floating duck brings joy to Hong Kong. I like the duck — he’s cute and all. And it’s pretty cool that he’s so big. Still, I can’t imagine making up a weirder story than this. People talking about all the “joy” it brings, how it represents “freedom.” The artist bemoaning the fact that people can’t really “see” the duck when there are so many others looking. The whole thing is surreal. It’s like a piece from an alternate universe version of The Onion which is far more subtle and sophisticated than the one we have here. But no. It’s a news story. I don’t mean to suggest that I disapprove. If the duck brings people joy, I’m glad they got joy. We can’t have too much of that in the world. (Note that the accompanying photo is from the duck’s visit to Sydney, not the current Hong Kong…

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elwood

…is that they are talking points. The recent revelations about Benghazi have drawn attention to how the official talking points about the tragedy were altered. There is a lot of focus on why and by whom. This is all well and good, but may I just ask a fundamental question about all this? Why the stink is our government handing us “talking points” to begin with? Let’s review what talking points are.  I grabbed the first few definitions I could find: Dictionary.com a fact or feature that aids or supports one side, as in an argument or competition. Merriam-Webster.com something that lends support to an argument; also : a subject of discussion TheFreeDictionary.com Something, such as an especially persuasive point, that helps to support an argument or a discussion. Wikipedia A talking point in debate or discourse is a succinct statement designed to support persuasively one side taken on an…

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programminglanguages

Kirk MacDonald, president of PubMatic, has some words of advice for fresh college graduates with a none-too-encouraging title: Sorry, College Grads, I Probably Won’t Hire You His advice to young people looking to land their first job in “media, technology, or related fields” can be summed up in three words: learn some programming. Generally, I think this advice makes sense. In fact, I find it odd that in this day and age it’s possible to graduate from high school (much less college) without having written some computer code. Assuming there are still some rigorous secondary educational programs out there — the kind where kids have to learn algebra and geometry and how to diagram sentences — a little basic computer programming would fit in nicely. Of course, if we’re really facing the shortage of technically literate employees that McDonald claims, we’re going to need more than that. Fortunately, technical education…

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RadicalAbundance

I’m reading K. Eric Drexler’s new book Radical Abundance, which explores the impact of atomically precise manufacturing (APM). Drexler predicts that APM will be with us soon and that it will transform the global economy in ways that can be compared to the industrial revolution of the 18th century or the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. That is to say, he predicts it will be among the biggest shifts that have ever occurred. Drexler compares the introduction of APM with the digital revolution of the past few decades, asserting that APM will essentially turn the production of physical goods into a form of information technology. Just as digital technologies made it possible to produce unlimited copies of information products (books, recorded movies, music) at essentially zero cost, APM will enable the production of physical goods at a tiny fraction of the cost of producing them today — enabling…

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dollarfeatured

[UPDATE: due to the recent interest (thanks, Glenn!) I have bumped this piece back to the top.] More bad news about jobs. With the unemployment rate at 7.6%, the recent euphoria about it dropping to 7.2% a while back is all but forgotten. (And perhaps wasn’t all the called for to begin with?) But the news is worse than just a persistently high jobless rate: The labor force participation rate has not been this low — 63.3 percent — since 1979, a time when women were less likely to be working. Baby boomer retirements may account for part of the slide, but discouragement about job prospects in a mediocre economy still seems to be playing a large role, economists say. “The drop in the participation rate has been centered on younger workers,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief economist at MFR Inc., “many of whom have given up hope of finding a…

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