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Comment: Re:Better definition of planet (Score 3, Interesting) 119

by ideonexus (#49156117) Attached to: One Astronomer's Quest To Reinstate Pluto As a Planet

Up until last Thursday night, I completely agreed with you. I thought that if an object had enough mass to pull itself into a sphere, it should be a planet. I thought the IAU's definition of planet was an offense to reason--well, I still think it is. Requiring an object to have "cleared its orbit" is a silly concept that would mean gas giants larger than Jupiter would be "Dwarf Planets" if they were found in a proto-planetary disc. The name, "Dwarf Planet," is completely stupid and offensive. How is a "Dwarf Planet" not a planet if it has "Planet" in the #$%^ing name???

Then, just this last Thursday night, I attended a lecture by the very engaging, highly-studied Neil deGrasse Tyson. The guy who declassified Pluto as a planet in the Hayden Planetarium exhibits long before the IAU did so officially. He explained to us that Pluto was mostly a dirty ball of ice... like a comet. In fact, if it were in orbit around the Earth, it would have a tail.

That took me aback. If Pluto is just a particularly large Kuiper Belt object--if Pluto is just a large comet that isn't close enough to the Sun to melt, then I must admit that it doesn't make sense to call it a planet.

This is a bit of an iconoclasm for me, so I'm still figuring out my position on the matter, but I'm leaning toward accepting that Pluto is not a planet, but that the IAU is a bunch of numbskulls who need to fix their illogical, nonsensical definition of "Planet" and take the word "Planet" out of their labels for things that aren't planets. This is the kind of political bullcrap that turns kids off to science.

Of course, all this could change when New Horizons reaches Pluto this July.

Comment: Re:Just y'know... reconnect them spinal nerves (Score 5, Interesting) 208

by ideonexus (#49146285) Attached to: Surgeon: First Human Head Transplant May Be Just Two Years Away

The problem, even with a spinal cord cut intentionally and carefully, is that the surgeon has no way to know what connections in the head go to what connections in the body. Our nervous system-brain interface isn't a blueprinted thing at birth, our brains are actually born with no knowledge of the nerves running through our bodies. Our brains and bodies learn to interface with one another via "neural pruning." The brain is born with a bazillion* neurons, far more than it needs, but this is to account for all the possible nerve connections. Then, as the body grows, the nerves send signals to the brain, and those neurons that don't receive signals die off, leaving the neurons that are properly wired into the body. In other words, our brains grow by natural selection.

So how is a surgeon supposed to wire up a body to a brain that hasn't grown into that body? How is a brain pruned in childhood to interface with a body of certain dimensions and nerve-wirings supposed to interface with a body of completely different dimensions? It's not just a problem of lining up the nerves in the donor body with the right connections in the patient's head (a seemingly impossible task in and of itself), its the fact that the nerves in one person's body are going to be a very different set of wires than those in the the head. Many of the major nerves will match, but the signals from those nerves will be very different.

I wish this researcher the best of luck, and I imagine we will benefit tremendously from the new information we get from this research, but I suspect the final result will simply discover what the next challenge is to performing a successful head transplant.

*Technical term. :)

Comment: Re:What exactly is Transhumanism ? (Score 4, Informative) 76

by ideonexus (#48946219) Attached to: R.U. Sirius Co-Authors New Book On Transhumanism

Transhumanism is currently a hodgepodge of religious nonsense, visionary science fiction, and practical self-improvement. I confess I am a bit swept up in the romantic ideal of it. I love the idea of human improveability in the form of intellectual and technological advancement, extended lifespans, higher quality of life, and even post-scarcity economies.

The religious nonsense part of it is best embodied in Ray Kurzweil's singularity (also known as the nerd rapture), the idea that humanity will soon upload our minds to computers and live forever. I can't imagine us not having this technology before the end of the century--especially with efforts like the UK's Human Brain Project and America's BRAIN Initiative AND a proof of concept with researchers mapping a worm's brain into a legobot and having it "come alive". HOWEVER: I also don't pin any personal hopes for immortality on this research because we are making copies of our minds, so even if my mind joins the singularity, I will still die--probably bitterly jealous of my immortal self having all that virtual sex in technoheaven.

For me, the science fiction of transhumanism is all about vision and inspiration, and not about dreams of salvation and immortality like Kurzweil promotes. The science fiction part of it is most accessible through Star Trek, but in reality our transhumanist future will probably be more like the wild visions of Charles Stross' Accelerando, or my personal favorite the Quantum Thief Trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi. These books drop you into settings filled with Matrioshka brains (Dyson Spheres made of computronium), and force the reader to confront all the uncomfortable otherness that comes with virtual life.

Another great science fiction resource is the Creative Commons Eclipse Phase RPG, which takes place in a future where humanity has colonized solar system and extended out into the Oort Cloud. Each planet and environment requiring different engineering and culture adaptations to survive. You can download all the books in PDF format. These books are a fantastic jumping-point for the imagining what a post-human future might look like.

This all said, I am not a fan of Sirius' encyclopedia. I was looking for practical, real-world things I can do right now to enhance my life through science and technology. Instead, I got very thin treatments of many subjects, overstatements of medical advances, important subjects left out (like the 19th Century Russian Cosmism movement (precursor to transhumanism)), and a general lack of leads to new areas to research. I get way more information from Wikipedia-surfing than I got from this book. I do appreciate his efforts though. If he gets more people into the idea of transhumanism, then more people will collaborate on it, we'll have more hacks for better living, and more people thinking about the future and human progress.

Comment: Re:More ambiguous cruft: hardly. (Score 5, Informative) 514

by ideonexus (#48939067) Attached to: The Gap Between What The Public Thinks And What Scientists Know

Exactly this.

What's funny is that when Climate Change Skeptics, the Koch Brothers, funded their own study and planted an outspoken critic of climate change science as the director of the research, that skeptic ended up becoming a believer and published an Op-Ed in the NYT explaining how wrong he had been to not accept the science.

But somehow people still find a way to rationalize it all away as just the invention of a bunch of wealthy limousine-riding scientists keeping down those poor, defenseless oil companies.

Comment: Biofuels have Always Been Political (Score 5, Insightful) 224

by ideonexus (#48938959) Attached to: New Study Says Governments Should Ditch Reliance On Biofuels

The reason politicians on both sides of the political aisle push biofuels from corn is because they are pandering to voters in Iowa. A favorite political joke in recent elections is that if Wisconsin held the first primary, we would have major initiatives to make fuel from cheese.

Comment: Re: noooo (Score 5, Insightful) 560

by ideonexus (#48719681) Attached to: 2014: Hottest Year On Record

Interesting. No global warming in 17 years... what a funny number, 17. It's a prime number. Why not 10 years, 20, or even 100? Why are "skeptics" always so hung up on 1997 as the baseline for all global warming trends? Does it have anything to do with the fact that the 1997-1998 El Nino event generated a record year for high temperatures? I was just getting interested in the science of global warming when this phenomenon hit, and I remember NASA scientists warning everyone that we could not blame rising carbon dioxide levels for the anomalously hot temperatures of those two years.

Ironic that 17 years later, the 1997-1998 El Nino event is now the holy grail baseline year to which all skeptics cling like a polar bear to a melting iceberg. In 2008 the skeptics were using this baseline to claim that global cooling was taking place. Then, as yearly record high temperatures kept happening, they used this baseline to claim that global warming had flatlined. Now, just eight years later, the trend from 1997 is on an incline, but the skeptic story is that temperatures aren't warming as fast as predicted. Keep clinging to 1997, you are just one El Nino event away from looking really really silly.

As for the WattsUpWithThat blog, I used to respect it until Anthony Watts pulled a 180 on accepting the findings of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project. Originally he said he would accept the findings whatever they may be because it was funded by the Koch Brother's, but when the independent research led by a prominent skeptic further confirmed Global Warming was real, Watt's rejected it. The man has zero credibility at this point.

+ - Google Sues Mississippi Attorney General for Conspiring with Movie Industry

Submitted by ideonexus
ideonexus (1257332) writes "Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has called for a "time out" in his perpetual fight with Google in response to the company filing a lawsuit against him for conspiring with the movie industry to persecute the search giant. Leaked Sony Pictures Entertainment emails and documents obtained under FOIA requests this week have exposed how the Motion Picture Association of America was colluding with and lobbying state prosecutors to go after Google, even going so far as to "assigned a team of lawyers to prepare draft subpoenas and legal briefs for the attorneys general" to make it easier for them to persecute the company."

+ - Civil Rights Groups Divided on Net Neutrality

Submitted by HughPickens.com
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Edward Wyatt reports at the NYT that the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition have sent representatives, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, to tell Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, that they think Obama’s call to regulate broadband Internet service as a utility would harm minority communities by stifling investment in underserved areas and entrenching already dominant Internet companies. Jackson "was unequivocal in voicing his opposition to Title II because of its effects on investment in broadband and because of the ultimate impact on minority communities and job creation," said Berin Szoka, another participant in the meeting with Wheeler who has also argued for Section 706. "We got a lot of poor folks who don't have broadband," said Jackson. "If you create something where, for the poor, the lane is slower and the cost is more, you can't survive." “I think we’re all on board with the values embedded in what President Obama said, things like accelerating broadband deployment and adoption,” says Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and a member of the group including Mr. Jackson that met with the F.C.C. chairman. “The question is, will we be able to solve these issues by going so far with stringent regulation?”

Some of the groups that oppose Title II designation, like the Urban League and the League of United Latin American Citizens, have received contributions from organizations affiliated with Internet service providers, like the Comcast Foundation, the charitable organization endowed by Comcast. But those organizations say that the donations or sponsorships do not influence their positions. “We get support from people on all sides of the issue, including Google and Facebook,” says Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “We don’t let any of them influence our position.” For it's part, the NAACP says its formal policy position is that the NAACP neither endorses, nor opposes the formally defined concept of net neutrality but supports the need to particularly focus on underserved racial and ethnic minority and poor communities, while highlighting the importance of protecting an open internet."

+ - Isaac Asimov: How Do People Get New Ideas? 1

Submitted by HughPickens.com
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Arthur Obermayer, a friend of the Isaac Asimov, writes that he recently rediscovered an unpublished essay by Asimov written in 1959 while cleaning out some old files that is "as broadly relevant today as when he wrote it. It describes not only the creative process and the nature of creative people but also the kind of environment that promotes creativity." Some excerpts from Asimov's essay which is well worth reading in its entirety:

Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. What is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others. Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display."

+ - Emma Watson Nude Photo Threat a Plot to Censor 4chan

Submitted by ideonexus
ideonexus (1257332) writes "After Emma Watson gave a speech on the need for feminism to the United Nations, 4chan users threatened to release nude photos of the "Harry Potter" star in retaliation, setting up the emmayouarenext.com website with a countdown clock. Now it has been revealed that the site was an elaborate hoax intended publicize a movement to shut down 4chan."

+ - Satanists dramatize distribution of religious materials at schools

Submitted by tylikcat
tylikcat (1578365) writes "In response to a ruling allowing Christian groups to distribute bibles and other Christian oriented materials in schools, the Satanic Temple has decided to distributed their own The Satanic Children's Big Book of Activities. Let the games begin!

To be fair, the Satanic Temple is is forthright in stating that they would not have sought the right to distibute such materials on their own, but point out that most children will already be aware of Christianity, but this might be the first time they encounter to the practice of Satanism."

Comment: Re:Great news (Score 1) 269

by ideonexus (#47888189) Attached to: Massive Study Searching For Genes Behind Intelligence Finds Little

I've read the The Bell Curve, and I think it was a fair analysis for it's time, but--unfortunately for Murray--it was written right before the genetics revolution made all his speculation about race seem naive. The assumption at the time was that people of the same race were genetically similar; therefore, you could lump people of the same race together and make assumptions about their genes influencing their intelligence.

Then the Human Genome Project came along, followed by cheap genetic testing, and scientists like Craig Venter found that the genetic similarities between people of the same race are nothing compared to the genetic variations between any two humans.

In other words, The Bell Curve's conclusions were based entirely on phenotypic analysis, which was fair at the time, but the advent of genotypic analysis has rendered the book pretty much irrelevant.

Comment: Re:Answer: They mostly can, but is it economical? (Score 5, Interesting) 444

by ideonexus (#47888101) Attached to: If Tesla Can Run Its Gigafactory On 100% Renewables, Why Can't Others?
I would add (6) Many states have regulations making it impossible to do what Musk is doing. I live in Republican-Controlled Virginia, where I can't buy solar panels from Musk's SolaryCity, which has a location 20 minutes away from me in Washington DC and more locations in Maryland, because my state has pretty much given Dominion Power a monopoly on supplying electricity here, giving them exclusive rights to net-metering--which they have made cost-prohibitive to implement, and the company has actually successfully sued organizations that install solar panels.

+ - Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny in Gamer Culture-> 1

Submitted by ideonexus
ideonexus (1257332) writes "2490 gamers, developers and journalists have signed an open letter supporting inclusion in the gaming community after indie game developer Zoe Quinn received backlash and harassment when her ex-boyfriend posted false accusations that she traded sex for favorable reviews of her game and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was driven from her home after receiving death and rape threats for her videos illustrating the way some mainstream games encourage the commodification of and violence against women. The harassment has prompted geek-dating advice columnist Harris O’Malley to declare the backlash the "Extinction Burst of Gaming Culture", the last reactionary gasp before the culture shifts to become more inclusionary."
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