Saturday, January 27, 2007

The New Revolution

In a recent issue of Scientific American, well, namely the December '06 issue, there was an opinion article by Rodger Doyle. In it, he opined that the new "digital revolution" does not count as a genuine, new, industrial revolution. He relies on the distribution of the US workforce as a metric to determine the importance of the technological advancements. I feel that the very fact that I can write here as proof that he is wrong.

He lists all the great advancements made during the first and second industrial revolutions (the steam engine, germ theory, etc.), and says that nothing of the late 20th century rivals the changes effected by those advancements. This is an obvious opinion and one that I think betrays a shallow understanding of the digital revolution.

He uses a chain of causation from the lessening of importance for fertility in an agricultural society, since machines instead of children can now care for the farm, to the fading of social taboos such as homosexuality, divorce, pre-marital sex, contraception, and women holding jobs. For starters, I don't think this is the case at all. The social changes were interconnected with technological advancements but were far from reliant on them. The social mores that repressed women and behavior not conducive to child rearing had nothing to do with our agrarian nature. If it did, that means it would have to apply to other cultures, as well, and that's not the case. There have been numerous civilizations that relied on agriculture and didn't have the moral hang-ups that permeated our country for so long.

Social changes would happened with our without the industrial revolution. Indeed, it could probably be argued that social changes fomented advancements within the industrial revolution. I say that the internet and computers have given us grand advancements that have altered civilization. Most of the great technological advancements of today; modern cars, satellites, and massive medical leaps, happened purely because of the massive amounts of processing power given to us by computers. To say that 95% survival rates on cancer, new drugs every week, and the ability to repair physical damage that would have once been permanent hasn't had a profound effect on society is absurd.

Alright, I admit, these advances have been long in the making and maybe don't qualify as late-20th century. If that's the case, let's only take advancements from 1980 and up. That includes the home computer, the internet, and, um... cell phones. I'll go with the internet, for 400!

The internet is one of the great inventions. It's right up there with the automobile and electricity. It has had a profound effect on society and to say that it hasn't is I think both wrong currently and will be very wrong in the future. The internet has been around for a decade, essentially, and trying to gauge its effects now is, I think, pointless. We have no idea what its real effects are, but we can already plainly see that they are immense.

Doyle argues that the second industrial revolution created two new social classes, the industrial entrepreneur (e.g. Ford, Rockefeller), and the blue collar laborer. I think this is correct, but he then says the 20th century's inventions have only added to previous classes and not created new ones, displaying its inferior status as a revolution. The classes may be similar, but they have been fundamentally changed. Anyone, now, ANYONE can open a store. We no long have a merchant class because everyone is a merchant. Idea-men can now become billionaires overnight. They can do it without work or skill. The internet has created a new entrepreneur, one who sometimes doesn't know he's one until the money starts coming in.

Doyle's use of population distribution as the primary measure of the importance of a revolution is also seriousl flawed. I think a more accurate measure would be how people spend their day. Do they spend it working to survive, or working for money? Do they spend it in leisure, or chores? Do they move around? Do they sit still? Who are they and how do they live?

I think I'm getting off track. I guess this is what happens in the intellectual free association that blog entries frequently are. The main point I feel that's missed is that the internet and the personal computer have changed things in the sense that physical stuff is no longer what's most important. It's now data. Information. And the data is moving so much faster and is so easily available that one of the major barriers between classes, the accessibility of information, is gone.

It is also violently, and most visibly, changing the ways the economy works. Borders no longer matter. A store in Tokyo is now real competition to a store in Kennebunkport, Maine. The absurd thrashing that states and countries are doing trying to either open up or lock down the internet proves that the changes the internet will have are only beginning. Look at the law recently passed making it illegal for financial institutions to authorize payments to overseas gambling sites. We are witnessing the death of the old economy.

I think social change is more arguable. While the speed and availability of information changes things, it's not a change in the way things work that would, conceivably, alter life. Still, the massive economic and political changes caused by the internet more than raise the last 25 years up to the level of "possible revolution." Now, of course, do I think is a revolution? Not at all. But I at least think it for better reasons than Rodger Doyle.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

And Speaking Of...

And speaking of guns. Here's a funny study. Apparently, states with high gun ownership have high homicide rates! Big surprise. Now, it doesn't matter which hypothesis is assumed, (more guns = more crime or vice versa), since it confirms my statement about gun owners; they are all wackjobs. Causation is immaterial. There is a correlation between gun ownership and murders, so if you own a gun, you're screwed.

Homicide Rates Higher in States with More Guns at Home (Via

We Have Idiots in Office Everywhere!

As some of you may have noticed, I have a "Save the Wolves" thingy on the right side of my blog. Well, the 63,000-some people who signed it is not a loud enough voice to hammer through the 40-inch thick skull of Idaho's current governor, C.L. “Butch'' Otter. First off, any man with a nick name, especially one as insipid as "butch," should never be allowed in office. Second, if they ever do somehow get into office, the state which elected him/her should be bombed.

I find it depressing and nauseating that a thundering Neanderthal like this redneck managed to get into office. He's actually politicizing the wholesale slaughter of the local wolf population because the poor, gun-toting loonies in the area are afwaid of dem! Pobrecitas! Jackasses is more like it.

Now, I'm not some weirdo who thinks hunting is wrong. In fact, I've got nothing morally against hunting (Confidentially, I don't really have morals at all. I consider them constructs from which I must escape). Hell, we have so many deer in the damn country we actually need hunters to off them! This is primarily because we've killed all the deer's natural predators, of course, but who needs logic, here? Pishaw!

So, I don't hate hunting, I just hate hunters! Long ago, hunters were important to gather food, but now we have supermarkets, so there must be another reason. It's not to save money. Guns, licenses, armor, trucks, and waiting for hunting season all cost a fortune. It's not for the freshest, most tender meat. That's farm-grown all the way. It's not for raw population control, or these guys would simple off the deer and leave it to be consumed by the natural processes of the woods.

So, in reality, what we have is a bunch of rednecks roaming the woods trying to... do... something. I'm not sure what. All I've ever heard is the macho bullshit about connecting with the primal man. Screw you! Primal man. Ha! I'm sorry, but going out into the woods with a high-powered rifle, scope, camo-flaj-ee, weird pheromone sprays and blowing away unsuspecting fauna is connecting with the primal man only if primal man had high-powered rifles, scopes, camo-flaj-ees, and weird pheromone sprays. If you strip down to your skivvies, clinch a knife between your teeth, and come out of those woods with three dead deer, I will buy you a drink, until then, shut up. You just like playing with guns because it's a big penis that shoots bullets (I don't necessarily subscribe to the object-as-penis idea, but it gets the point across).

Also, I'm not really worried about the wolves. The species will survive. This is more or less a screed I've had building in me for some time. I really, truly hate hunters. In general, I hate any gun-toting wackjob, but hunters earn special venom since they are everything I hate about myself. They are primal and ignorant (most of the hunters I've met border on retarded). And if they aren't ignorant, and are somehow intelligent and educated, then they are arrogant, self-obsessed, still-primal nitwits. They are stunning... no, shining... NO, coruscating examples of the slavering, ravaging, rapacious cavemen about which environmentalists scream their faces blue. They simply consume until their death, which, for me, can never, ever, come soon enough.

Idaho Governor Can't Wait to Kill Wolves (And is Generally Just an Asshole) (Via


How many of you knew that Gnarls Barkley was actually two people? I just found out today. Wild.

The Great Diaphragm in the Sky

A great deal of attention has been paid, recently, to the concept of a space "elevator." It's really only the newest idea in a long line of ideas on how to get into space on the cheap. Well, I guess "newest" isn't the right word since it's been around for some time. I guess the right way to describe it is as the most recent idea to become trendy.

Past ideas have included such winners as a giant sling shot, a magnetic lift, a magnetic sling shot, and the ever popular big-ass space shuttle cannon. The lift has really gained traction recently thanks to the emergence of carbon nanotubes, which promise new super materials. The main problem facing the space elevator is out of what we make the cable. When you have a cable that's thousands of miles long, the weight of the cable itself is enough to snap the cable. Ultra-light, ultra-strong materials must be invented before we could achieve the dream.

Well, along with carbon nanotubes, we now have meta-materials. These are atoms of known materials arranged in such a way as to give the final product entirely new properties, as though they were a new kind of material. These two new toys have given futurists and arm-chair dreamers (such as yours truly) the ability to say that the problem will be solved because LOOK AT THESE NEW MATERIALS! We'll undoubtedly get there with these!

Well I think that approach is stupid. In fact, I don't think we need the new wonder-materials. With materials we have now, materials directly on the horizon, and, oh yeah, a butt-load of money, we could develop a space elevator today. First, many of the big problems with the cable's strength can be eliminated if we start the cable at high altitude. The higher up we go, the weaker the gravitational force, the less cable, and the shorter the distance.

The focal point of my plan is rather absurd and dismissed by most, but I'm confident that it's sound. My idea involves balloons. Giant balloons, of course. The biggest balloons ever created. Imagine giant blimps, hundreds of times larger than the Hindenburg, supporting large, aerial, shipping platforms. We could have a ground based elevator attached to one at low altitude. This platform could theoretically be anchored to the ground. The second platform would be connected by yet another (relatively) short elevator to the first platform. By now, altitudes would high enough to be above the weather and storms would only ever be a consideration for the first platform. Finally, a series of higher platforms up into the mesosphere, with a final elevator into the thermosphere, where a station of some sort is waiting.

The second plan, and one I consider more cost-effective, is one where the first station is in the mesosphere. In this scenario, ground-launched airships deliver cargo to the station which is then lifted to two or three more platforms until delivery into space. Obviously, at such high altitudes, debris falling to earth will become a problem, but here is where I get to invoke the deus ex machina of future wonder-materials. The balloon skins will be made from indestructible carbon nanotube skin.

Oh, and to explain my title, I imagine that the large platforms would look similar to giant, inflated diaphragms in the sky. Or perhaps red blood cells.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Emotional Recognition.

A little while ago, some suspected terrorist was picked up in Rhode Island, my stomping grounds, for going to truck driving school. He was acting suitably strange. He was belligerent and didn't want to bother learning to drive in reverse. Suspicious? Nooooooooo.

After reading above the fold, the very first thought to pop into my head was a fear that he was not a terrorist, and that he just was acting weird, and that because of that, his life was now ruined. It wasn't a fear that the terrorists are at the doorstep. No. I was afraid that this guy who could very well want to kill me, was innocent.

This was a great moment for me because it confirmed that that which I fear cognitively is the same thing that I fear emotionally; the loss of freedom. I fear the oppression of our government and the fact that just because someone is acting strangely, a human right, the fear of others can prevent them from doing so.

I think about this with every court case, and every episode of Law & Order. In many ways, I feel that Law & Order gives people a very distorted vision of the world. On TV, the bad guy is ALWAYS the bad guy. The fact that when people get off, they may not be the bad guy, is lost in the show. I would let a thousand truly guilty people go if it meant keeping one truly innocent person out of shackles.

Benjamin Franklin's quote about those who trade freedom for safety deserving neither carries weight, today. It carries weight with me personally. I am not now, nor have I ever been, afraid of terrorists enough to change my daily behavior. On the other hand, I think about my freedom every day. I revel in its presence and fear its elimination. I fear it for myself and for other people, and my heart goes out to those wrongfully jailed. And now I know that is truly how I feel. Which feels great.

All I Know is That I Know Nothing

I've been having some cognitive dissonance, lately. It's a really pesky problem. Basically, I'm worried that I'm not qualified to even be writing for this blog.

I know that I have a broad spectrum of knowledge. I know that I'm better informed than most. Still, I rather embody the cliche "Jack of all trades, master of none." I know a lot about many sciences, but not enough about any to really call myself a scientist of any discipline. My only real area of scientific expertise is psychology, which is pretty simplistic as a science. It's, aside from all the mamby-pamby "study of mind" bullshit that gets bandied around, the study of behavior. I'm very good at it, at least, so I feel confident about speaking on matters of psychology.

But this is a blog about science in general, not just psychology. Hell, I even include philosophy in my title. I'm all over the place! In my own defense, I will have a degree in philosophy soon, so I'll be qualified to confuse you.

I'm not sure where it came from, but this is one of those moments of emotional recognition. I can recognize cognitively that I do NOT know everything, but it's an entirely different thing to recognize it emotionally, and realize, truly realize, that I know very little, and there are others out there who know far more than me. I just don't meet them very frequently. And if I don't keep that arrogance in check, when I do meet them, I'll seem like an ass. I deal with asses every day. I definitely do not want to be one.

Sigh. What can I say? I've managed to knock myself down a peg. I guess it's better than having someone else do it and then pouting for a week. I do that sometimes. So now I'm sitting here, writing for a blog I don't think I'm qualified to write for a readership of what is very likely in the single digits. That's actually kind of funny.

Aw hell. I'm sure if I say something stupid no one will notice.