La Brea Assumption Pit

The other day one of my colleagues sent me an article about a tummy rocket that runs on stomach acid and jets about doing sensor and/or chemical things. Then I got a pointer to this article [Link] on a wirelessly powered 3mm x 4mm x thin chip that goes into the human circulatory system (no teleporter, sorry!) and putts about (maybe) and does mechanical things like sensing or zapping.

What makes this notable to me is not the technology per se, but that the developer, a boffin at Stanford U, got to this by questioning an old assumption.

“scientists were approaching the problem incorrectly. In their models, they assumed that human muscle, fat, and bone were generally good conductors of electricity, and therefore governed by a specific subset—the “quasi-static approximation,” to be exact—of the mathematical principles known as Maxwell’s equations.
Poon (the researcher) took a different tack, choosing instead to model tissue as a dielectric—a type of insulator. As it turns out, human tissue is a poor conductor of electricity. But radio waves can still move through tissue. In a dielectric, the signal is conveyed as waves of shifting polarization of atoms within cells.”

Simply put someone assumed a while ago that human bodies are good conductors and that sidetracked the technology. The critical question is why didn’t they question the assumption and make actual measurement?

Electricity was early associated with frog muscles, which experiments seem to contradict the assumption prima facie. But someone decided humans acted like copper wires. If anything this is a good example of how good science is based on continually questioning assumptions and testing them.


I have long entertained the hypothesis that humans first abandoned hunting-gathering for sedentaryism because of property. Simply put, if you wander about, even in a punctuated fashion with a period of a month or so, you can’t accumulate lots of gear (as Burns would call it.) And a lot of what you do have to carry about is food and food processing stuff.

The situation was that the technology was steadily improving and diversifying. The rate of this was not as fast as today, but it was fast enough, I suspect, to cause a certain degree of tension between the stuff that the technology would permit be made and what could be carried about. And no, I’m not talking about large appliances, just the number of things. If everything is made or stone or wood or other vegetation, then there are strong limits of human strength and carrying capacity.

So the hypothesis is that as the technology improved, so did the capacity to gather and hunt foods and at some point this, probably in combination with gratuitous geography and climate, made it possible for humans to become sedentary and amass property.

There is a growing body of data that may support this hypothesis and a datum was added recently according to this article. [Link] Seems that some U California researchers have uncovered a semi-permanent settlement dating back 20 KY in contemporary Jordan. They offer that this settlement was occupied for about half of the year over a period of about a KY. That’s longer than we have been in any city in Nawth Alerika, including St. Augustine or Mesilla.

More evidence that consumerism is part of the human programming. Why? Does it go with intelligence and tool making? Why make tools if you have to leave them behind? Makes for nice cogitation on the nature or evolution and/or creation.

Spring Slicing

Things may be a bit sparse around here for the next few days. I have to have a bit of medicalist attention that will require a constrained recovery away from lights and looking. I have stacked a few bits and pieces to (hopefully, if everything works properly) pop up over the anticipated period. And then after spending all that time in darkness have all sorts of nasty comments to blog.

Death by Politics

Once more into the week in and the weather beavers are now beating the drum of pollen. I have to reflect sometimes on how they came to talk about such things. Obviously they are weather related since the temperature and winds will have impact on diffusion and drift – not that we expect the bogs to either know what those are nor appreciate their functionality – but since also health related  why not the regular news readers. Perhaps talking about such mundane things offends the dignity of news readers? Or do they have problems with the technical perms like parts per million? Still, given the banality of the news these days, and its general repetitiveness, it would seem they would like a little bit of excitement to spread about?

On which note, I wandered off to gym in Scant City this morning and did my usual inept perspiring. The podcast was an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas”, a talk by the biologist J. Craig Ventner who makes a claim to have made artificial life. (Stifled chortles!) It’s only really artificial if you start from basic building blocks, namely atoms. So when someone takes existing organic (as in carbon based, not the whacked foodstuff usage) chemicals, builds genes, and inserts them into existing cells, that isn’t artificial any more than putting a new engine in a motor car is made from scratch. Yes, it is more than assembling a plastic model airplane with ether glue but it isn’t making.

Anyway, amidst his pontifications I was struck by Ventner making a statement that society was now dependent on science and could not exist without it. Given the current political war on science, both the repulsian and the democrud versions, I was moved to consider this. Much of Ventner’s argument, which is not necessarily complete, rests on the  current bogeymen of impending social collapse: climate change; exhaustion of petroleum; and overpopulation, all of which are either denied or whose opposite is advanced. I keep getting emails from conservative repulsians about how the Amerikan (caucasian) birth rate is too small and pink skinned humans are going to become a minority. Not necessarily inaccurate but the solution is not a baby race with other components of the population.

I am willing to concede to Ventner’s contention, if not his argument, at least partly because of personal interest but mostly, I hope, from rational kritik. But I am unsure of how to proceed beyond that. Science Fiction movies aside, scientists are not courted by politicians and simple, if dramatic, solutions are seldom forthcoming. If anything, politicians are unwilling to let scientists sit at decision tables for the simple reason that they cannot take the risk. Instead, scientists are kept hamstrung by the on-going campaigns to make them seem elitist and parasitic, simultaneously. Death due to famine and flood have been around since humans emerged and politicians are only passingly troubled by such. Being replaced by actually competent, inquiring folk would be disastrous in their minds. And, if their propaganda works, in the minds of the citizen boggery.

Sound and Apathy

Sundae again, and things are not wet, but the pollen is in full force and for once I am happy to be composing at computer. While one can get waterproof paper and ink, they are not conducive to cognitive composition. On which note, I see from research at Washington U that antibiotics do not cure sinus infections.[Link] Is this news? Back when I was a young man, my general physician, a former flight surgeon, would not treat my sinus attacks on the grounds that it just made me more amenable to worse things. I got so used to the idea that when I became a manager I was surprised when employees wanted to go to physician for antibiotics for ‘sinus infection’. But since they were in misery I let them go. They weren’t going to get any work done anyway and if I let them go at least they wouldn’t be distracting everyone else.

Next, we have an article [Link] advancing that Stonehenge was built as an acoustic analog. The idea, proposed by someone from an acoustics institut is that the henge is supposed to represent an interference pattern. The problem I have with this is that the old wood henges, old and new world, were clearly astronomical and because of being made of thinner wood pieces, pretty clearly not acoustic.

The same, given it is sundae, may not readily be said of churches. There will be lots of singing today at services, and, I suspect, lots of folks wishing, praying even, for interference. Too much religionist singing is more about enthusiasm than competence. That seems to follow with this article [Link] about a Brown U biologist who is also a member of the church of Rome and who propounds that relgion and science are not inherently antagonistic. His approach seems to be to present science as developmental rather than dogmatic, which is difficult unless one can actually get the students to think. Too many, I fear, start out rejecting and never alter their outlook.

On which note, an article [Link] about a hypothesis from a U Southern California professor that the problem with Amerikan education is that the students are simply not able to learn because of economic, social, and familial brokens. And no amount of standardization and testing is going to move that situation a whittle.

Makes eminent sense to me. If the students won’t, or can’t, learn then no amount of trying is going to do any good. SO you have two choices: either fix it so they can learn; or find something else to do with them.

Gee, neither of those is really socially acceptable, to either political party, are they? Maybe if we had a system where office holders worried about the citizens instead of their own longevity in office?

Unrealistic Conversation

Another weather beaver saturday. Thank nerd for the block heater! Or at least the nerd who thought it up and built the first one. May be the best thing about modern civilization after the heated bathroom floor.

Speaking of heating, I ran across a rather strange article in The Guardian. [Link] It details how the new chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the floks who bring  us the journal “Science”, and contend continuously to be the premiere science organization in the Yankee republic, whined about the war on science.

“We are sliding back into a dark era, and there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.”

I have to admit that I am a bit bemused as to what actually constitutes a ‘realistic conversation’? After all, these are nerd subjects and it is hard enough for nerds of different disciplines to carry on meaningful conversation across disciplines. We lack the basic ideas, memes, and concepts in common. How then can we have conversation of any substance with bogs, or even SMUG politicians?

I also have to admit to a certain alienation just by having to read about this in a British newsrag. Evidently the American journalism instrumentality did not see fit to publish this. The question is whether it is genuinely lacking in news worthiness, or there is some confirmation here of some conspiracy?

But having raised that question, I am less disturbed than the speaker would wish of a nerd. That we are entering a dark age is apparent, and not just on the failure of interest by the boggery. A host of problems, including global climate change, and the end of petroleum, are causing that and the question of whether civilization and even the species can survive is more crucial than the absence of communication between nerds and bogs. Sad to say, the contributions of science here are probably less than secondary and peripheral.

To strike a biblical analogy, we have a tower of babel situation here. There was a communication catastrophe there but what destroyed society was the failure of the project. That is what confronts us now, the failure of the project that is society, and its cause is externally imposed major change. Some parts of the planet will become uninhabitable. The capacity to produce food will be sharply reduced. Humans will discorporate in disproportionate numbers. And the power mongers will be too busy trying to preserve status quo to pay attention to nerds with pieces of a solution.

Mechanic Needed

At the boundary now and starting to try to close tabs. And I have been weak and added new sources. One of the podcasts I listen to is what used to be “Future Tense but changed a good while ago to “Marketplace Tech Report”.[Link] The tenor and timbre is different and while not as good with content as before the presentation is much improved which probably indicates the change from type 1 to type 2 management.

Anyway, they have a 4 minute podcast every day during the ‘work week’ that I use as spanners between when the primary podcast episode runs out and I can finish my cool down walk and depart the gym premises.  Usually I listen on Mondays (CBC’s “Best of Ideas”) and Wednesdays (CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks”) while I try to walk the gym biggest violation of trust and integrity, the indoor track. The track is mandated by their cardiac rehabilitation charter to be rigorously conserved but it is continually clogged with people ignoring direction convention, equipment piled in the middle of the way, and weight bouncers doing prone machinations.

Lately they have been having commercials, which are rather banal, and pushing their daily email eletter, which pushing is banal in its own way. But I  succumbed and actually came across a couple of good things this week. First, it appears that the superluminal neutrinos over in Europe may be a bad measurement. [Link] The things being investigated are a bad oscillator in a timing device and, this is my favorite, a coax cable with a flaw, which results in a time delay of the signal passing. This reminded me that when we were playing with spooled optical fiber for the Yankee army that we found out that the speed of light was less when the fiber was spooled compared to played out. As one of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, commented on hearing this, “the electrical engineers masticate derriere once again.”

Much as I hate to say it, this is an appealing development; it satisfies both KISS and William of Occam’s shaving tenet. Of course, as my colleague keeps asking, ‘why wouldn’t the speed of a neutrino in dirt be greater than the speed of a photon? A photon has transient dipolar charge; a neutrino only has a quadrupole.’

And while we’re on faulty hardware, I also noted, from the same source, that [Link] that the current (political) administration has proposed a ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’. The idea is not a bad one, but the described implementation is utterly specious, the White House wants the search engine organizations, and their advertisers, to agree not to collect personal information. The obvious glitch here is that even if they publically agree to this, we cannot trust them for even one Planck length (time?) This is how they maximize their revenue from those of us who frequent the internet. It is contrary to their deepest religious beliefs – contemporary capitalism – to act so. Enlightened self-interest only appertains if there are actual punishments.

Since the data collectors, and now, apparently, even the Yankee government, cannot be trusted, getting a ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’ is relatively easy. All the government has to do is (a) guarantee that any effort, short of actual physical violence, taken by a user to assure privacy is legitimate and cannot be discriminated against, or foiled under penalty of eternal incarceration at Guantanamo as a terrorist, and (b) actually educate the general citizenry, including the boggery and the SMUGs in Congress, on anonymous browsing, personal DNS, and the like.

But this, it is a Potempkin village. With bad singing. The Moscow opera was much better than this. Perhaps the current resident of the White House is scared of the Repulsian fire drill?