Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day

My dad did not see action in World War II. He was a naval cadet training at Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the summer of 1945 when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. "Some kind of super bomb" was how they first heard it described. The training program was canceled once the war ended, and he came back home to finish college. I never really knew as a kid how disappointed he was not to have completed that program, until my oldest brother got his own wings as a Marine pilot and landed jets on aircraft carriers in the Pacific. That was the first time I ever saw tears in my dad's eyes, he was so proud when my brother came to the front door after he earned his wings.

I always thought it ironic that although he regretted never getting his wings, once he married my mom and they started a family, my dad never set foot on an airplane. Only after we'd all grown up and were independent, did he get on a 747 to Bermuda or to Florida.

He never got to visit Normandy where the crosses of all the D-Day soldiers mark their graves. My mother and sister did. That's a pilgrimage I hope to make one day soon, too.

For now, here's to the memory of all our soldiers everywhere, wherever they are buried, or wherever they lie. And to the men and women who serve now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Official

Well, I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me, considering how long I've been eligible, but today I'm an official member of the NASW.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Question for iPad Competitors: Now what?

Question for iPad Competitors: Now what?

And God Took His Pipette and...

Oh, wait, no it was Craig Venter. And he introduced a synthetic genome into a bacterial cell. Is this as huge as some bloggers claim or fear? Christina Agapakis has some thoughts:
Synthia, the transplant of a single synthetic genome, does not inherently change the biosafety landscape of synthetic biology (sometimes called the "halfpipe of doom") but it does place the discussion in a more prominent, public and hopefully open and thoughtful position. A poll last year showed that while only 20% of people had heard of synthetic biology, 90% thought that the public should be better informed about groundbreaking research. Today, synthetic biology is harder to ignore and there are more ways than ever to learn about what is going on in labs around the world and to have your voice heard. Science magazine has set up an open forum on their website for questions, comments, and discussion on the topic with a lot of people contributing from many different viewpoints and perspectives.

Synthia is important for showing what big budgets and bigger patience can do, and for continuing and broadening the public discussion on synthetic biology. Synthetic biology will continue to grow slowly from many different directions, with new and potentially useful genetic networks designed and inserted into natural or redesigned synthetic genomes. It's important to understand how these technologies work, their potential benefits and risks, as well as their limitations. Synthia isn't going to make you live forever and there probably won't ever be any mer-Venters, but designed bacteria growing in controlled environments have been producing useful chemicals for a while now and the technology will certainly get better over the next few years with more advances in synthetic biology. After that, who knows? The possibilities are endless and it's up to all of us to make sure that it's good for everyone.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Memo to Jerry Coyne: We Can't Imagine You Giving a Commencement Address Either

Apropos Eugenie Scott's recent commencement address at University of Missouri, the always deep-thinking Jerry Coyne is once again scratching his head. Why? Because she encouraged the use of critical thinking skills--but wasn't as absolute as Coyne would like.
But why is it always the psychics, the homeopaths, and the astrologers who take it in the neck when scientists attack irrationality? What about the most widespread form of irrationality?

That would be religion, you see. You know who we're talking about. People who go to church and to temple. Worse, people who go to church and temple and then (splutters over his coffee) their lab!!?

Coyne: "Isn’t it weird that pro-science organizations gleefully take out after every form of superstition save the one that’s most pervasive?"

Yeah. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that a majority of pro-science American high school and college students subscribe to that last "superstition" and that they don't seem to be exactly out-competing U.S. non-science majors (or their counterparts in other countries) for their degrees. But hey, why should the National Center for Science Education care about that?

Earlier in the post Coyne writes that he can't imagine giving a commencement address. Given his cluelessness about science education, we can't either. And we hope he never does.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Global Green Meltdown

Walter Russell Mead takes stock of the movement to remake the world in...some intellectuals' image.

Meyer, Matheson and Hunt at Biola

Arthur Hunt and Steve Matheson got a chance on Friday to question Stephen Meyer on some of the points in his book Signature in the Cell. Hunt's post on the experience is here. Steve's will be online soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Little Hypocrisy Now and Then...

Is PZ Merkwurdige a hypocrite? John Pieret thinks so. I think he's right. And in this case, it's an improvement.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A New Look

This blog, which dates back to March 2002, has been long overdue for a redesign. I had to move the entire archive from my own farrellmedia website some weeks back, and once that was done cleanly, I realized it was much easier to change the design.

Blogroll, book links and other distractions will be added asap.

UPDATE: 5.13.10: Unfortunately, comments older than thirty days seem to have been lost in the redesign process.

Not that there were huge numbers....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Most Distant Galaxy Cluster Revealed by Invisible Light

Deep Space Viewing
An international team of astronomers from Germany and Japan has discovered the most distant cluster of galaxies known so far -- 9.6 billion light years away. The X-ray and infrared observations showed that the cluster hosts predominantly old, massive galaxies, demonstrating that the galaxies formed when the universe was still very young. These and similar observations therefore provide new information not only about early galaxy evolution but also about history of the universe as a whole.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Promising Start-up in India

Two childhood friends from India are making real progress with putting the best features of Office and Google in the clouds.
In early 2005 Bhatia met with Raghavendra and Cavale to see what they were working on, including an instant messaging platform. "I knew that [they] were technically savvy to have figured out a lot of the issues in terms of real-time communication," Bhatia recalls.
The relationship blossomed. The two friends and their mentor devised an ambitious plan of creating a full-fledged Office suite hosted in the cloud--taking all the best features of Microsoft, Google and the upstart challenger Zoho. Instacoll, the threesome's ambitious venture, is now ready with Live Documents, which they call the "future of Office."
Their marketing plan? "We don't want to go directly against Microsoft. We want to offer Office in different formats. Office-as-a-service is one model where people can subscribe for free on the web. People who want to go beyond a certain usage point or unlock advanced features would then advance to a paid version," says Raghavendra. This is the segment they're going to launch in the next few weeks. They already have 70,000 beta users.
Instacoll also plans to offer the software as an appliance. "Right now when workers create documents, they leave them on the desktops. Corporations have very little control over their document management," explains Raghavendra. "We are offering a server that you can install in-house that allows all documents to be stored centrally. You can integrate them with other applications such as workflow management applications. We are partnering with [companies] like IBM and Sun for this."
In addition, Instacoll intends to sell its product through Internet service providers as a value-added service to their customers. "Every time a customer signs up for a broadband connection they could get an Office suite from us," says Raghavendra.

The Crisis Ahead?

Robert Samuelson on why things can get a lot worse:
Countries everywhere already have high budget deficits, aggravated by the recession. Greece is exceptional only by degree. In 2009, its budget deficit was 13.6 percent of its gross domestic product (a measure of its economy); its debt, the accumulation of past deficits, was 115 percent of GDP. Spain's deficit was 11.2 percent of GDP, its debt 56.2 percent; Portugal's figures were 9.4 percent and 76.8 percent. Comparable figures for the United States -- calculated slightly differently -- were 9.9 percent and 53 percent.

There are no hard rules as to what's excessive, but financial markets -- the banks and investors that buy government bonds -- are obviously worried. Aging populations make the outlook worse. In Greece, the 65-and-over population is projected to go from 18 percent of the total in 2005 to 25 percent in 2030. For Spain, the increase is from 17 percent to 25 percent.

The welfare state's death spiral is this: Almost anything governments might do with their budgets threatens to make matters worse by slowing the economy or triggering a recession. By allowing deficits to balloon, they risk a financial crisis as investors one day -- no one knows when -- doubt governments' ability to service their debts and, as with Greece, refuse to lend except at exorbitant rates. Cutting welfare benefits or raising taxes all would, at least temporarily, weaken the economy. Perversely, that would make paying the remaining benefits harder.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Future of Euro

Charlemagne lays it out. Are you a 'neuro' or a 'souro'?

More Bad News for Mainstream Media

Newsweek will be up for sale.
John C. Avise has a new paper, basically summarizing the more detailed points of his book, Inside the Human Genome, that will no doubt be keeping some of the folks in Seattle busy. I've been in contact with Avise, hoping to do a review and interview about it, for this blog if not another journal.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Digital Rights and Authors

Steve Wasserman in a follow-up segment at Mediabistro discusses whether authors should worry about the challenges facing the publishing industry by digital delivery. (It's safe to say he won't be running out to buy an iPad anytome soon.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Budget Crisis

Arnold Kling does the historical break down.
 In any event, in a non-recessionary economy, the federal government's ratio of revenue to GDP is generally around 20 percent. While a $1 trillion primary deficit represents less than 7 percent of GDP, it represents about 30 percent of full-employment revenues. Eliminating a primary deficit of that magnitude will not be easy, particularly when the major expenditure components are entitlements, which are under pressure to expand rather than contract.

I do not think it is overstating things to describe our current budget situation as a crisis.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Steve Wasserman is an agent working with Jill Kneerim and Ike Williams. Here he is discussing how he got started. Interesting that it was through Christopher Hitchens.

Apple. Jobs and Flash

Steve Jobs discusses why Apple won't be adopting Flash for the iPhone or its other mobile devices anytime soon:
Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing experience ever. Add to this video from Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, and many, many others. iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video.