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I'm looking at some sample code for the iPhone, an application that demonstrates a bunch of principles in app coding all at once, including animation and so forth. It's a relatively trivial app, just sample code, and it uses the Periodic Table of Elements as its data set. As information goes, the PT is a pretty useful set of data. But then I recently came across This t-shirt while reading Dinosaur Comics.

The information packed into this t-shirt space is REALLY USEFUL. It's probably the most concise and powerful set of scientific information I've seen, taking all the best discoveries of the last couple centuries and distilling it into a simple to use set of engineering instructions that people at nearly any technical level could understand (and experiment with) given a bit of time and energy.

When I was thinking about the Periodic Table and all the elements represented on it, it occurred to me that the names of the elements aren't really all that useful or descriptive, and the symbols themselves are actually confusing if one doesn't understand their origins (Pb for lead? Well, that's because it's "plumbum" from the Latin, because those clever Romans went and made all their pipes out of lead - lucky for them their water was mineral rich and mostly coated the pipes on the inside). I started wondering if it would be better to come up with a new kind of taxonomy for elements; and I guess when I say "better" I am discounting the whole "retrain generations of scientists in various disciplines to use another system" thing and wondering if there's a way to teach people a new system, or whether more people would learn more effectively if there were a better naming scheme and/or organization to the table.

I didn't give it too much thought because I didn't want to start going down a Dvorak or Esperanto type rathole. It's bad enough that people in this country are too dead set in their ways to use the freaking SI like the rest of the world does. But then I looked at the t-shirt text and started thinking about organic chemistry and how CHON is key for so many different applications - yet the PT doesn't really reflect that at all. Neither does it highlight all the various elements that are so key in electronics applications (and yes, I realize that engineering and pure science rarely mesh well, but I'm talking about practicality in everyday life and spreading useful knowledge to the maximum number of people, not about keeping information "pure").

In its current state, the PT is minimally useful and requires a significant amount of training to understand even the basics of it. So I have to ask: how would Edward Tufte recreate it? What visual cues would improve its information density and readability? What would a three-dimensional periodic table look like? Is there a way to name the various elements to better represent their properties - maybe even to make chemistry easier to understand (just as prefixes and suffixes in chemical names make it easier to envision what kinds of chemical or molecular properties a compound has)?

What if we could take the Periodic Table, or, even better, take that t-shirt that's chock full of scientific principle and turn it into something along the lines of a Voyager record style set of graphemes? Wouldn't it be great to create children's toys that incorporate these hypothetical icons of scientific principle into their designs? Reading about how some of my friends want to recreate the Rutherford experiment for their children inspired me to consider this as well. We could be creating familiarity with fundamental principles very early in education, in the same way as the various "iconographies" in Anathem do, where the avout are trained for saecular world interactions based on archetypes portrayed in stained glass windows...

Stem Cells

Apr. 9th, 2009 02:30 pm
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Apparently the only people who really have an issue with stem cell research are Catholics and Christian fundies. That's a pretty seriously small minority. Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism have no issues with using stem cells for research purposes, as the research occurs to cells before any of those belief systems consider them "alive". Only Catholics and fundamentalists/cultists believe in personhood at conception/fertilization.

Don't ever let them paint this issue as one where "religions" believe using stem cells is wrong! The vast majority of people in the world believe using stem cells to research healing is fine.
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I recently watched the NOVA special "Cracking the Maya Code" and was absolutely fascinated by it. I have a special place in my heart for Mesoamerican / pre-Colombian civilizations and Mayanists in general. It's incredible to me that the language of the Maya has finally been deciphered, and that we can rescue that tiny amount of their culture that remains.

I highly recommend watching the special (though mainly I find it's the perfect example of "leave your dogma behind" when it comes to research and analysis - people never seem to be able to let go of their preconceptions and notions, they can't stand not being right!). The most incredible realization hit me when they revealed what was actually going on with the problems in translation; when they determined that multiple symbols could represent the same syllable it hit me: the varied stylized renderings of the alphanumeric symbols were basically just "fonts"! The reason why it was so hard to figure out Mayan language was because they carved a bunch of stuff in their equivalent of MS Comic Sans and Wingdings!! A very important design consideration for Long Now type thought experiments...

Also, the value of working in isolation cannot be understated. None of this would ever have happened if not for the work of Yuri Knorosov, an epigrapher working behind the complete isolation of the Iron Curtain. This kind of result reinforces my belief that the Anathem model of isolating avout is not a bad one at all. Societal collapse happens way too frequently for my taste, it's a terrible waste of time starting over again and again.
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I think that, starting with my generation, and during the rise of personal computing in general, there has been a sharp uptick in the number of people who were "born" interactive users of technology. There seem to generally be two kinds of technology users: actives and passives. Actives are the tinkerers, the hackers, the engineers and the problem solvers - the people who actually remix and rehash technologies and create new ones; passives simply enjoy the fruits of technology without bothering to try and understand its underlying principles (or at least the implications of the technology). Tech is just a means to an end for passives, while actives pursue tech for the sake of tech itself or some other higher ideal or pursuit. It's the difference between a person who watches television and a person who solders together a TV-B-Gone!

I often wonder where cybernetic enhancement will take people, and now I'm thinking of it in terms of actives versus passives. Put simply, the passives are going to find themselves in a very bad place; if cybernetic extensions of the body are not "owned" by the person who uses them, how can a person have any kind of self-determination at all?

This is truly the most important revelation of the open source movement that one can imagine - what would it be like if your eyes were produced by Microsoft, and were subject to automated upgrades you couldn't prevent (nevermind the fact that you get Blue Eyes of Death periodically)? Or what if your ears had an automatic killswitch implanted by Apple that turned them off if you didn't make your payments on time; or better yet, what if Sony got to determine what conversations you could and couldn't hear around you based on copyright laws? Censorship, technological monopolies, and freedom take on a whole different meaning when you're literally talking about YOUR BODY and whether or not you own it.

On the other hand, people who can hack their own minds and bodies will be the ultimate expression of enhanced humanity; and the actives will very quickly outstrip the passives in terms of their abilities and grow the gap between the two groups. And of course this isn't even considering the people who will refuse to accept anything more than the most passive cybernetic enhancements for various moral or religious reasons - I can almost envision a kind of cyber-Rapture where the people who can't or won't be active get "left behind" by the active folks, who basically have either lost the ability to, or no longer want to, interact with the passives.
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The Union of Concerned Scientists have published this "periodic table" of political / government interference in scientific study.


This is what electing the Bush administration has done for us and the world...!! Can we please get rid of Republicans now? Or change their party name to "Corporate Lackey-ians?"
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I would like to have a vote on the THEORY that the sun revolves around the Earth...


FSM help us.
mik3cap: (Default)
Do you think people would have a better understanding of the situation if evolution is referred to as a "scientific model" rather than a "scientific theory"? "Theory" apparently has too many connotations for the average uninformed person to grasp. Is it not accurate to refer to evolution as a model, the same way that there's a "standard model" of particles and their interactions in physics?

I know it's not possible to convince average uninformed persons of religious conviction of anything. But I'm hoping that maybe we can get the fence-sitting folks less convinced of absolute rightness a bit more over to the side of overwhelming evidence if we change the language slightly. Of course, I suppose it's possible for anti-science folks to just come up with a dismissive "Well, it's just a MODEL, that means it's like a TOY, it's not reeeeal..."

Jo mama

Feb. 12th, 2006 09:30 am
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Fun fact: I believe I got my first job by mentioning Johari's window in my interview.
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Which brings us to Prof. Tyson's rule number one the next time you have an encounter with an alien. There is a chance, cause there's always a chance, that the alien you meet when it extends its whatever it is its extending, there's a chance that there's something important about this alien that you don't know.

"You don't know for sure whether they're made of matter or anti-matter."


"So you don't want to shake their hand or whatever it is they're offering you to shake. So... you like... flip them a coin or something. If they explode, they were made of anti-matter and you didn't risk your life. These are safety tips!!"
mik3cap: (Default)
I woke up this morning with a wicked sore back. I'm really tired and kinda hungry... I feel a little bit better, but I'm definitely still under the weather.

In other news, dude, maybe we can use negative light to SEE THROUGH TIME.
mik3cap: (Default)
Oh for pete's sake... How boring is this selection of Star Trek races??

# 1 Human
# 2 Betazoid
# 3 Trill
# 4 Bajoran
# 5 Romulan
# 6 Vulcan
# 7 Ferengi
# 8 Cardassian
# 9 Andorian
# 10 Klingon


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