Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


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Journal Journal: mp3s encoded as DNA 1

John Timmer writes about an interesting stunt: MP3 files written as DNA with storage density of 2.2 petabytes per gram, "In general, though, the DNA was very robust. The authors simply dried it out before shipping it to a lab in Germany (with a layover in the UK), where it was decoded. Careful storage in a cold, dry location could keep it viable for much, much longer. The authors estimate their storage density was about 2.2 Petabytes per gram, and that it included enough DNA to recover the data about ten additional times."
This was pulled off by researchers affiliated with the "European Bioinformatics Group" (UK) and Agilient (Santa Clara, CA). Has anyone ever tried listening to "junk DNA"?

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Journal Journal: Open Management: Quentin Hardy on github 1

Quentin Hardy, over at his blog at the New York Times, talks up the might from the angle of experimental management systems with a flattened hierarchy: Dreams of âOpenâ(TM) Everything. An interesting subject, though I fear the fact that this is a blog post suggests he couldn't sell an editor on doing this as a real article.


Journal Journal: A pro-nuclear piece at the Guardian UK 3

The Guardian UK -- a newspaper well-respected among the liberal/left crowd -- ran a pro-nuclear power opinion piece on their front page. It's not even the strongest case that could be made -- it hardly matters whether we're at "peak-oil", nuclear waste just isn't that big of a problem, etc -- but sometimes making a weaker case can be more persuasive, even when you're talking to the folks who like to think they're members of the reality based community. Here's some more reality, while we're at it.

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Journal Journal: "How Google Dominates Us"

I've been wondering why I couldn't find a copy of "The New York Review of Books" at my favorite newsstand. It couldn't be they sold out because of an article by James Gleick titled How Google Dominates Us, could it? (Coincidentally, the google bus stops right near here...) Anyway, follow the link to see Gleick meditate on the meaning of evil.
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Journal Journal: Freeman Dyson on Richard Feynman

Freeman Dyson reviews two new books about Richard Feynman, one a serious attempt at capturing Feynman's scientific thought, the other his biography in comic book form. Note: there is no paywall on The New York Review of Books.

Freeman Dyson has been writing stuff for the NYRB fo many years now, but it's all but invisible to slashdot. He was born before microporcessors were invented, he can't possibly have anything interesting to say.


Journal Journal: Meat sans Organism

A news story from the London Times reports on a project to develop and commercialize vat-grown meat: Scientists grow pork meat in a laboratory. One of the thing's that's most interesting to me is how quickly people are thinking through the ethical implications. Would a vegetarian have ethical objections to this project, or welcome it? If you grew human meat like this, would cannibalism become chic?


Journal Journal: Inventing a Better Patent System

A New York Times opinion piece by Robert C. Pozen: Inventing a Better Patent System This article contains a number of simple reforms for the US patent system that you would think would be no-brainers... and it doesn't even mention doing away with software patents. He's also an author on a book on how to reform the financial system. It's titled Too Big To Save, which makes it sound like he might be on the right track.


Journal Journal: Genetic Engineering: the Savior of Organic Farming?

At a recent Long Now talk, Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak presented an argument that genetically engineered food crops may work well with organic gardening techniques, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides and fertilizers. You can read Stewart Brand's summary of the talk, or listen to it: Organically Grown and Genetically Engineered: The Food of the Future (mp3)
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Journal Journal: gamma-ray pulsar discovered

Quoth the press release: "About three times a second, a 10,000-year-old stellar corpse sweeps a beam of gamma-rays toward Earth. Discovered by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the object, called a pulsar, is the first one known that only 'blinks' in gamma rays."
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Journal Journal: Freeman Dyson on the Galapagos 1

Freeman Dyson is one of the few survivors of the age of giants in physics (he was one of the people who developed the mathematical underpinnings for Feynman's work), and he remains a fascinating, wide-ranging thinker, the author of works like Infinite in All Directions. Of late he seems interested in being an environmental heretic, but in a much more moderate, intelligent way than the usual "conservative" style. Most recently he's published a long, thoughtful article on the Galpagos islands, with emphasis on the difficulties of balancing the needs of locals against environmental preservation.

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Journal Journal: Freeman Dyson on Global Warming

The physicist Freeman Dyson -- who made Feynman diagrams mathematically comprehensible to mere mortal physicists -- discusses some recent books about Global Warming. He accepts that anthropogenic global warming is a reality, though he departs from conventional wisdom about the urgency of fixing the problem immediately.

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Journal Journal: Problems with slashdots new discussion system 3

I have problems with slashdot's new discussion system ("D2", no longer in beta, I gather), and I'd like to report them, but instead I'm writing about them here for now because of my first problem:
  1. It's not clear how one is supposed to report bugs. Contact info is buried, and not well labeled. (I could just send email to taco, but he seems like an idiot... should I just email chromatic?). Ah, if you drill down through "Help & Preferences", there's a line how to report a bug. And as for mis-features?
  2. There's some attempt at implementing "smooth scrolling" that's herky-jerky and irritating. Even if it worked right, it would still annoy me: when I punch "page down" or "down arrow" I want it to snap, not to stall. (Turns out this is a mis-feature of Firefox -- I needed to uncheck "Edit Preferences/Advanced/Smoothscroll".
  3. Nested comments are indicated with a heavy side-bar -- this is unnecessary visual noise. Quotations inside of comments are also indicated with heavy side-bars and they've become very hard to see now.
  4. Some comments default to a closed state, and I need to click on them to open them -- I hate this kind of thing myself, it forces me to read with my hand on the mouse. (Maybe this is fixable with pref changes? I'm trying it out).

Thus far, there's only one thing I've noticed about the new system that I like: I can get the entire current state of the discussion in one huge page: I've always disliked the way the old system split things up into several pages (it made it hard to use text searches to skim for mentions of particular sub-topics).

In any case, as the slashdot brain-drain continues apace, it's going to be harder to find things in the discussion that are worth reading. It's more like a place you duck in if you feel like arguing with 13 year-olds and government propagandists. The various "features" being added to slashdot don't seem to address any of the real problems with the system.

(Actually: there's one "new" feature that sort-of works: I was skeptical of the utility of a friends network -- it just seemed like imitating all those other sites -- but actually it's kind of useful to be able to identify a cluster of nominally intelligent folks and automatically, instantly, mod them up. Kind of like the stuff I've been doing with nn and/or gnus on usenet for many a year...)

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"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982