Second Piece for Times & Seasons: Faith is a Work in Progress

My second post about epistemic humility is now up at Times & Seasons.

For the record, I’ll be posting therefore about 2 weeks (1 and a half remaining), and then my guest-blogging time will be over. There will be some new blog pieces here as well during that time, and of course after it, but volume will probably be a little lower than usual while I’m writing the pieces for Times & Seasons just because they are unusually complicated for me to write. I’m trying to pull together a lot of tangled threads that have grown without much order over the years and wrangle them into something coherent and structured. It’s tricky work (for me, at least).

Neurons from Urine

 

The ick factor is so outweighed by the cool factor it’s barely worth mentioning.

Nature covers an article in Nature Methods that describes how researchers were able to create new brain cells starting only with discarded cells flushed away in urine. This is terrific news for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that this stem cell treatment doesn’t require destroying human life. In addition, stem cells derived from embryos tend to be hard to control, but the brain cells cultured this way–when implanted into rats–didn’t lead to any tumors. It also helps that these cells are obviously easier to harvest (“We work on childhood disorders,” said one of the researchers. “And it’s easier to get a child to give a urine sample than to prick them for blood.”) Finally: this allows researchers to create stem cells for a patient from that patient’s own cells.

Sometimes, the future is rad.

 

WSJ Lets You Balance the Budget

So the fiscal cliff is looming closer and closer, and a new poll shows that “Americans clearly want Washington to solve its looming budget crisis, and they clearly reject almost every option to do that”. It sounds like typical voter stupidity at first, especially since a lot of the options on the table are not only palatable, but probably should be enacted for their own sake. The article lists: “raising taxes on everyone, cutting Medicaid or Medicare spending, raising the age for Medicare, or taking away tax deductions for charitable contributions or home mortgage interest,” and the last three all seem like no-brainers to me.

Before you start to feeling too smug, however, you can head over to the Wall Street Journal and try your hand at balancing the budget on your own. You start with the $1,102,000,000,000 10-year deficit and a menu of choices for raising taxes and cutting discretionary and entitlement spending. 

Read moreWSJ Lets You Balance the Budget

Who Steals a Jet Engine?

The Slashdot headline definitely caught my attention (F-16 Engines Stolen From Israeli Air Base), and the story was indeed as advertised: Not one, not two, but several jet engines were swiped from an airbase. These engines weigh 3,700 pounds each, mind you, so it’s not like you can smuggle one out in your car.

An older version of the stolen F-100 engine. What do you think I can get for one of these on ebay?

It gets even better, however. Turns out someone helped themselves out to a five-fingered discount on eight F-15 and F-16 engines back in 2011, also from Israel. Maybe we should not give them so many toys if they can’t take better care of them? Oh, yeah, and in 2009 Malaysia suffered a similar heist. Someone absconded with a pair of F-5 jet engines which were subsequently tracked to Argentina before being recovered in Uruguay.

The world is a weird place.

Here’s a Distraction: Funny Les Mis Review

I’m a little behind on my blogging for DR this week because I’m working on some pieces for other websites (which I shall dutifully link to here). In the meantime, David Edlestein’s review of the new Les Mis movie made me laugh out loud at several points, starting with this:

For the musical Les Misérables, director Tom Hooper has his cast of stars perform the songs live on-camera instead of having them lip-synch to prerecorded tracks, which is the norm. He doesn’t want you to forget the momentousness of his grand design, either. When an actor begins to sing, the camera rushes in and fastens on the performer’s face, positioning itself just below the head, somewhere between the navel and the Adam’s apple—and canted from 30 to 45 degrees, although the angle changes as the performer moves and the operator scampers to keep up. I imagined the cameraman to be small, fleet, and extremely high strung, like Gollum. The actors must have had to cultivate an inner stillness to keep from recoiling from him/it.

It gets even better, so read and enjoy. I particularly enjoyed re-reading it in David‘s voice, once I recognized his name as the film critic for NPR’s Fresh Air. It’s definitely given me a review style to aspire to!

The Next Stage of Gadgets is Not a Gadget

I was thinking about the next big leap forward in personal technology on my run today because that’s how I roll. Personal computing has basically gone from desktop to laptop to mobile, including both tablets and phones. What’s next? The limiting factor is primarily user-interface. Anything smaller than a phone will be too small to have a screen (no output) and too small to have any kind of keyboard (no input). Some kind of direct mental control might work for the input, but there are big privacy concerns. Google Glass is supposed to be the next leap forward in displays, but I’m skeptical. What we needed, I thought, was a contact lens with a screen in it. I figured that was still a long ways off, but the Internet is generous, and always provides. That’s right, folks, an LCD display on a contact lens is already a reality, although it’s just a simple monochrome display at this point.

So the next stage of personal computing will really be wearable devices where the device is actually distributed into smaller segments, like perhaps a CPU built into your watch that displays to a screen in your contact lenses.