And So the Popularity Contest Begins Anew

“With the death of Osama bin Laden in May and the arrest of James (Whitey) Bulger on Wednesday night in California, there are only eight fugitives now on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 10 Most Wanted list…

It will take a couple of months or so for the bureau to decide which fugitives will replace Bin Laden and Mr. Bulger on the list. First, it solicits candidates from its field offices, a process that began after Bin Laden’s killing. Then representatives from the Criminal Investigative Division and the Office of Public Affairs narrow down the names. The director of the F.B.I. gives final approval.” (via NYTimes.com).


Reasons to Stay off the Road?

Volkswagen Autopilot Lets You Drive Hands-Free at 80 MPH: “Volkswagen is testing a self-driving system that lets you travel up to 80 MPH. It maneuvers the highways like a champ and even handles the stop and go of traffic jams. The temporary auto pilot technology uses adaptive cruise control, lane assist and a variety of sensors to track your speed, your location and all the cars around you. It’s a semi-automatic system so you need to continually monitor the car. You don’t have to keep your hands on the wheel, but you really shouldn’t be napping while the car is flying down the highway at 75MPH.” (via Gizmodo).

The tone of the post says that Gizmodo is enthusiastic about this development. Technological boosterism is fine, but don’t ignore that many humans are at their absolute worst when they are behind the wheel, which they will still be.


Google’s Driverless Cars Are Now Legal in Nevada: “A state bill with new rules for self-driving cars just passed, allowing Google’s fleet of hybrid vehicles to hit the road in Nevada soon. Google had been lobbying for the bill for weeks, saying they’re safer than human-driven cars.” (via Gizmodo)


Expansion Memory for a Brain

‘After studying the chemical interactions that allow short-term learning and memorization in rats, a group of scientists lead by Dr. Theodore Berger—from the University of South California’s Viterbi School of Engineering—have built a prosthetic chip that uses electrodes to enhance and expand their memory abilities. The chip is capable of storing neural signals, basically functioning as an electronic memory, allowing rats to learn more and keep it in the devices.’ (via Gizmodo).

‘The Wire’ Creator David Simon Has a Counteroffer for Eric Holder

Official portrait of United States Attorney Ge...
Att'y Gen. Holder

“We’re going to blame the Times of London pay wall for the fact we’re just now seeing The Wire creator David Simon’s emailed response to the paper following attorney general Eric Holder’s light-hearted plea for another season of The Wire at a drug policy event in Washington last Tuesday. “I want to speak directly to [Co-creator Ed] Burns and Mr. Simon: Do another season of The Wire,” Holder said, adding, “I have a lot of power Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon.”

Late last week, Simon replied with a counteroffer:

The Attorney-General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated. I’ve spoken to Ed Burns and we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanising drug prohibition.

David Simon, co-creator of The Wire
David Simon

The exchange has at least clarified one thing: the chances of another season of The Wire are now exactly the same as America having a rational dialogue about drug law reform.” (via The Atlantic Wire).


Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats

“Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30 second exposure the scene also inspired what, in the 16 year history of Astronomy Picture of the Day, the editor considers may be the best title yet for a picture…” (via APOD: 2011 June 18).

Integrate WP and FB?

The logo of the blogging software WordPress.
Image via Wikipedia

Since my FmH posts automatically flow to my Facebook page, does anyone know if there is a way for the comments of those who respond on FB to a given post to find their way to my WordPress comments page for that post?


Book Review: How the Hippies Saved Physics


Fred Alan Wolf… resigned from the physics faculty at San Diego State College in the mid-1970s to become a New Age vaudevillian, combining motivational speaking, quantum weirdness and magic tricks in an act that opened several times for Timothy Leary. By then Wolf was running with the Fundamental Fysiks Group, a Bay Area collective driven by the notion that quantum mechanics, maybe with the help of a little LSD, could be harnessed to convey psychic powers. Concentrate hard enough and perhaps you really could levitate the Pentagon.

In How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, David Kaiser, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, turns to those wild days in the waning years of the Vietnam War when anything seemed possible: communal marriage, living off the land, bringing down the military with flower power. Why not faster-than-light communication, in which a message arrives before it is sent, overthrowing the tyranny of that pig, Father Time?

That was the obsession of Jack Sarfatti, another member of the group. Sarfatti was Wolf’s colleague and roommate in San Diego, and in a pivotal moment in Kaiser’s tale they find themselves in the lobby of the Ritz Hotel in Paris talking to Werner Erhard, the creepy human potential movement guru, who decided to invest in their quantum ventures. Sarfatti was at least as good a salesman as he was a physicist, wooing wealthy eccentrics from his den at Caffe Trieste in the North Beach section of San Francisco.

Other, overlapping efforts like the Consciousness Theory Group and the Physics/Consciousness Research Group were part of the scene, and before long Sarfatti, Wolf and their cohort were conducting annual physics and consciousness workshops at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

Fritjof Capra, who made his fortune with the countercultural classic “The Tao of Physics” (1975) was part of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, as was Nick Herbert, another dropout from the establishment who dabbled in superluminal communication and wrote his own popular book, “Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics” (1985). Gary Zukav, a roommate of Sarfatti’s, cashed in with “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” (1979). I’d known about the quantum zeitgeist and read some of the books, but I was surprised to learn from Kaiser how closely all these people were entangled in the same web.” (via NYTimes book review).

This movement interested me back in the day, since I studied both theoretical physics and the psychology of consciousness, altered states, etc. I also had no idea that most of the luminaries in this field were so intertwined.


My Facebook Network is Closing in on Me

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 09: Actor Kevin Bacon ap...

I am not a big Facebook user. I don’t keep up assiduously with posts of people to whom I’m connected and if I hadn’t set up my WordPress posts to flow automatically to my Facebook page there’d be almost nothing up there. It puzzles me why people would communicate 1:1 through FB rather than email. I do keep a ‘daybook’ of notable things I did on a given day, but it is for me to refer back to later, not for anyone else. (Is it really interesting to anyone much beyond Gavin and me, for instance, that this morning, blocks away from where the Bruins were parading through the Boston streets with their Stanley Cup and thousands of idolators, I went to hear a harpsichord recital at the Boston Early Music Festival by an old friend of mine, Gavin Black, in from out of town? It was superb, by the way. ) So the major reason I’m there is so people can find me and vice versa. Being networked as an end in itself, not so much as a tool.

Every so often I go through the people FB suggests I might want to befriend to see if there is anyone I really know, or used to know. Many, or most, of these are suggested because they and I have mutual friends. I’ve noticed a curious fact about these suggestions. Within the past year or so, I passed some kind of tipping point. When I click on the mutual friends’ notation to see how I’m connected to these people, I usually find that the several friends we have in common are disparate,  from different and unrelated realms or epochs of my life. (“She knows both x and y?”) My FB network is closing in on itself. Maybe it is just an artifact of the fact that the suggestion process is based on prior connections but I still find it surprising. Would love to see a cloud-type diagram of my FB network, depicting links between people in some graphic way.

Recent work about the ‘degrees of separation’ notion suggests that there are particular nodal people who are broadly connected and act as bridges for other, more marginal people to connect more broadly. I guess I must have some of those in my network. With FB, however, it may not be people who are truly a friend to many, but rather people who are simply less discriminating about linking to others. Although when I have linked to people I don’t really know I have usually really enjoyed the ensuing connection, my principle is that I don’t want to ‘friend’ people to whom I would not really refer as friends, broadly speaking. (That’s probably why I don’t go to my high school and college reunions.)

The looping back on itself of my network reminds me of this, “A Subway Named Moebius”, a 1950 science fiction story by A. J. Deutsch which for some reason has stuck with me ever since I read it as a child, and about which I have written here before. Deutsch:

“The principles of connectivity state that as a system makes more connections to other parts of itself, the connectivity of that system increases in an exponential fashion to staggering levels. The subway under New York City had been growing in complexity for years. It was so complex, in fact, that the best mathematicians could not calculate its connectivity.

Then the first train disappeared. The system was closed, so it couldn’t have gone anywhere, but when all the trains were pulled, they still couldn’t find it. The searchers would see a red light, wait curiously, and hear a train passing in the distance, sometimes so close that it appeared to be just around the next bend. Where was the train? What happened to the passengers? Professor Tudor has a theory…”

And here is a page which collects, along with the aforementioned story, other ‘Moebius literature.’

A couple of other observations about my FB network. I’m surprised to see I’m one degree of separation away from some pretty famous people, mostly writers, politicians and folksingers. I have resisted the temptation to ‘friend’ them just because of their notoriety.

Six degrees of separation: Artistic visualization.
Where's Waldo?

With regard to those people to whom I’m connected by surprisingly unrelated paths, I wonder if they are sitting there similarly surprised when my name comes up on their suggestion lists. (“Eliot knows both x and y?”) If so, I don’t end up hearing about it. I’m not sure other people peruse the lists of suggested connections with the same interest and curiosity I do. The ‘degrees of separation’ stuff has always fascinated me. No man is an island, and all that…

I would love your comments on this. Are you in my network? Are you connected to me by disparate paths or links?


Joyce’s puzzle solved

Leopold Bloom
Leopold Bloom

How to cross Dublin without passing a pub: ‘ “Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,” muses Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses. It’s a conundrum that has intrigued literary visitors to the city for years and, until now, frustrated them.

The Joycean quandary has just been solved by software developer Rory McCann, who came up with an algorithm to help him chart a pub-free route through Dublin’s streets. Starting by plotting out 30 points around the city’s canals, to represent the size Dublin would have been when Ulysses was published, he used data from the online editable map, OpenStreetMap, to pin down the locations of Dublin’s 1,000-plus pubs,. He then set his algorithm to work to find a winding path across the city that does not pass within 35m of a pub.’ (via guardian.co.uk …thanks to abby).

…and a happy belated Bloomsday to all.


Enteroaggregative, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a clust...
Electron micrograph of E. Coli

This article from Eurosurveillance is a fairly technical microbiological discussion of the unusual characteristics of the E. coli strain causing the lethal European outbreak, the search for the source of which has been challenging. Rapid gene sequencing of the isolates and rapid communication of the data were unprecedented.

“In this issue of Eurosurveillance, a collaborative group of investigators, led by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Escherichia and Klebsiella, report several intriguing and important new findings on the nature and possible origin of the epidemic strain. Firstly, using well- validated genotyping methods, Scheutz et al. provide convincing evidence that the STEC strain causing the outbreak in Germany is in fact not a typical virulent STEC strain, but instead is a much rarer hybrid pathotype that harbours the phage-mediated Shiga toxin determinant with an enteroaggregative E. coli (EAggEC) background, more precisely described as enteroaggregative, Shiga toxin/verotoxin-producing E. coli (EAggEC STEC/VTEC). Secondly, they also identify in this strain the presence of the receptor for iron-chelating aerobactin, known to be a virulence factor associated with the extra-intestinal E. coli pathotype. Thirdly, they provide new data attesting to a close genetic relatedness of the German outbreak strain to previously described similar EAggEC STEC/VTEC strains. These findings are relevant for identifying the ecological reservoir and evolutionary origin of the epidemic agent, gaining a better understanding of the biological determinants of unusual disease severity and clinical complications seen in outbreak cases and the design of specific diagnostic tools for detection and treatment of STEC cases, and identification of the epidemic strain for accurate outbreak monitoring.”

One of the things I had not known is that there is a whole class of virulent E. coli , the “Shigatoxigenic group of Escherichia coli (STEC)”, that produce Shiga toxin. This is a cause of bacterial dysentery I thought was only due to another bacterium called Shigella.


China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work

‘”Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” [one prisoner] told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”‘ (The Guardian via The Null Device).

How to spot a psychopath

Jon Ronson speaking at TAM London October 2009
“From Broadmoor to boardroom, they’re everywhere, says Jon Ronson, in an exclusive extract from his new book.” (via The Guardian).

The Case Against the Em Dash

Em Dash

‘Perhaps, in some way, the recent rise of the dash—and this “trend” is just anecdotal observation; I admit I haven’t found a way to crunch the numbers—is a reaction to our attention-deficit-disordered culture, in which we toggle between tabs and ideas and conversations all day. An explanation is not an excuse, though—as Corbett wrote in another sensible harangue against the dash, “Sometimes a procession of such punctuation is a hint that a sentence is overstuffed or needs rethinking.” Why not try for clarity in our writing—if not our lives?’ (via Slate Magazine).


Why Crime Keeps Falling

“The economic downturn has not led to more crime—contrary to the experts’ predictions. So what explains the disconnect? Big changes in American culture, says James Q. Wilson.” (WSJ via kottke)

Surprisingly perhaps, some point to the move to unleaded gasoline as one factor.


The diving bell and the spider

“In the days before scuba tanks, people used to explore the underwater world with the aid of diving bells. These large open-bottomed chambers were dunked into the water, and divers used the air trapped inside them to breathe. The bells have been around since at least the time of Aristotle, but in the rivers and lakes of Europe, one animal has been using similar structures for far longer – the diving bell spider.

The diving bell spider is the only member of its group to spend its entire life underwater. But it still needs to breathe air, and it does so by building its own diving bell.” (via Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine).


Two New Elements Added to Periodic Table

periodic table of the elements

‘They exist for only seconds at most in real life, but they’ve gained immortality in chemistry: Two new elements have been added to the periodic table.

The elements were recognized by an international committee of chemists and physicists. They’re called elements 114 and 116 for now — permanent names and symbols will be chosen later.

“Our experiments last for many weeks, and typically, we make an atom every week or so…” ‘ (via NYTimes.com).


23 Brilliant Authors Offer Writing Tips

There is a lot of good news in this post from my online friend, writer Steve Silberman, with whom I share many interests dating from our days as Deadheads. (We have yet to meet in person.) First, that he is in the midst of a book, and in a niche that he has carved out for himself that is likely to make a major contribution, as he explains in his first paragraph. I’m excited about reading it when it arrives. Second is the advice he has collected on the process of writing from 23 authors in his social network. Much of this makes pretty good advice even for those of us gearing up for life projects other than writing a book. Finally, I discovered some fascinating authors to add to my to-read list. (via Steve’s weblog,  NeuroTribes).


Densest Matter Created in Big-Bang Machine

Particle physics is one of the disciplines stu...

‘A superhot substance recently made in the Large Hadron Collider (pictures) is the densest form of matter ever observed, scientists announced this week.

Known as a quark-gluon plasma, the primordial state of matter may be what the entire universe was like in the immediate aftermath of the big bang.

The exotic material is more than a hundred thousand times hotter than the inside of the sun and is denser than a neutron star, one of the densest known objects in the universe.

“Besides black holes, there’s nothing denser than what we’re creating,” said David Evans, a physicist at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and a team leader for the LHC’s ALICE detector, which helped observe the quark-gluon plasma.

“If you had a cubic centimeter of this stuff, it would weigh 40 billion tons.” ‘ (via National Geographic).


Prozac Killing E. coli in the Great Lakes

Fluoxetine HCl 20mg Capsules (Prozac)

“When antidepressant pills get flushed down the drain, they do more than create happier sewers.

Scientists in Erie, Pennsylvania, have found that minute concentrations of fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac, are killing off microbial populations in the Great Lakes.

Traces of antidepressants such as Prozac have been found in both drinking and recreational water supplies throughout the world, in quantities experts say are too dilute to affect humans but which have been found to damage the reproductive systems of mollusks and may even affect the brains of animals like fish.” (via National Geographic).


The Earth Is Full

World population 1950–2000
World Population 1950-2000

Thomas Friedman: “You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?” (via NYTimes op-ed).



When the Sun Sets in Style – “Monday was Manhattanhenge in New York, one of the two days of the year when the setting sun lines up exactly with the city’s east-west streets. This year the astronomical event fell on Memorial Day; the next time this happens will be July 12, which will be during pro baseball’s All-Star Break. “Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball,” predicted Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Well, whatever its significance, Manhattanhenge sure is pretty. For those that didn’t get a view or a picture themselves, here’s what it looked like.” (via The Atlantic Wire)