The Rodent Singularity Approaches!

2013 02 28 Rodent Singularity

Duke University has just brought the technological singularity a little closer. For rats, anyway.  Sci-fi author Vernor Vinge coined the term, although it has spread well beyond him since then, and it refers to the idea of a superintelligence created by merging human brains with computers, possibly as a single collective intelligence including many human contributors.

This Wired article doesn’t mention the singularity, but it describes the kind of direct brain-to-brain communication that might be a necessary part of creating it. In this case the brains belonged to rats, however. Using electrodes implanted directly into their brains, a rat in Brazil helped a rat in North Carolina successfully solve a puzzle that one rate had been trained in but the other rat had not. Cool? Very. But also rather spooky.

Did the rats know they were communicating as two minds, did they become one mind, or were they still distinct minds merely communicating at a lower level than language? I don’t know, but I’d defnitely like to find out before I get plugged into the Matrix.

Why I Love Mommy Blogs

Throughout Western history, literature has been dominated by men. Obviously some women have succeeded despite the odds, from the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen to J. K. Rowling, but as these charts show the disparity remains quite stark.

This is one of about 40 charts from various major literary publications. Women are the majority in 2 of them.
This is one of about 40 charts from various major literary publications. Women are the majority in 2 of them.

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Bob Woodward: Obama and the Sequester

2013 02 25 Bob WoodwardSo… the sequester showdown is coming. I haven’t written much about it because I hate politics more with every passing hour and I wish a pox on both houses. Fervently. But I’ve been fascinated by the reporting of Bob Woodward. From the Washington Post four days ago:

My extensive reporting for my book “The Price of Politics” shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors — probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government.

Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.

And then yesterday via CNBC:

Several inside 1600 Pennsylvania have tangled with the legendary journalist Bob Woodward. Few emerged unscathed.

The Obama administration is now fighting back against the best-selling author who made his name and reputation in reporting the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. And it’s revealing what they’re not challenging—the miasma of bad faith with Republicans over the budget and the $85 billion in sequestered budget cuts expected to begin on Friday.

I think it’s important information to understand that the sequester originated with President Obama because when the President of the United States lies to the nation about an important issue people should know. Right now the Democrats are basically betting that the GOP will be blamed for the sequester and they are relying on a friendly media to  bolster that impression. But the Republicans–no paragons of virtue or common sense among the bunch–seem to think the Democrats have overreached. Or maybe they are just having a temper tantrum. I don’t know.

I just know that no good can come of serious policy debates mired in falsehood and bad faith, and right now that’s what we’ve got. Thanks to both sides. I wish I had more to offer, but these days I don’t. The problems facing are nation just aren’t that hard. Any number of alternative solutions could be a substantial improvement, but as long as the public treats it like a game of football I don’t have a lot of hope for that.

Liu Bolin: The Art of the Invisible Man

2013 02 25 Liu  Bolin Great Wall

You might have seen some photos of this before: Chinese performance artist Liu Bolin poses in front of interesting landscapes (like the Great Wall of China), and then his assistants paint him completely so that he blends into his surroundings. Sometimes he’s actually really hard to find. (Beat that, Waldo!)

2013 02 25 Liu Bolin Bulldozer

This one (below) is actually my favorite, but there are several more cool ones to check out.

2013 02 25 Liu Bolin Construction

Is Early Learning Helpful?

2013 02 25 Daycare

I’ve read and heard lots of studies suggesting that early childhood education (like preschool) is vitally important in helping put kids on the right track, and even in combating some of the negative consequences of poverty. This has made me a pretty strong supporter of this kind of intervention as an anti-poverty policy. And yet…

“Premature socialization,” says Dr. Neufeld, “was always considered by developmentalists to be the greatest sin in raising children ….[w]hen you put children together prematurely before they can hold on to themselves, then they become like [the others] and it crushes the individuality rather than hones it.”

Read the rest of this contrarian view here.

As usual? The more I learn, the less I know. Any of my readers know about this, or just have any insight or opinions?

Indiegogo: Fighting for Tucker

I’ve never met Tucker, but I worked with his mom, Page, at my first real job. She was always amazingly kind not only to me, but also to my kids. Sometimes my wife would swing by with my two little ones, and we’d say hello to my coworkers and especially Page. They loved her so much that even after I moved on to other things we still came back sometimes to see my old friends, and especially Page.

I always knew that Page’s son, Tucker, had cystic fibrosis. It’s been a big part–and a painful part–of Page’s life. Since I never met him, I always pictured him as a little kid, but he’s actually 24 now. He looks really happy and healthy in a lot of the photos up at his IndieGoGo crowdfunding project, but he just got home from a 42-day hospital stay and he needs expensive medications to be able to keep fighting to stay with his family.

Tucker: Cystic Fibrosis Fighter and Friend to Babies
Tucker: Cystic Fibrosis Fighter and Friend to Babies

Years ago, children with CF commonly did not live to start kindergarten. These days, the average life expectancy has risen to 37 years, but it’s still “very difficult to manage” (read more on Wikipedia). There is currently no cure for CF, just a battery of drugs and a lifetime struggle to live with the disease.

The campaigns has already reached the initial goal, but that doesn’t mean they have everything they need. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo only collect the contributions if the campaign hits the goal, so you have to set it lower than you’d like to try and make sure you hit it. With copays of $1,400 a month and long battles with insurance and Medicaid ahead, Tucker still needs help. There are 66 hours left to donate, and someone has pledged to match the next $1,000 dollar-for-dollar. There are a lot of good causes out there, but this isn’t a cause. It’s my friend’s son. Please, give if you can.

Interactive Map of 100,000 Real Stars

This is pretty amazing.

2013 02 22 100000 Stars

It’s an interactive map that lets you zoom all the way from the sun and our solar system out to the Milky Way, including a view of 100,000 real nearby stars (there are 200 – 400 billion in the entire Milky Way). You can zoom and scroll around to get an idea of what our little interstellar neighborhood is like.

I viewed it in Chrome (which is what it’s designed for), and I hear it works in Firefox (that’s where I first heard about it) but I don’t know about IE.