Archive for November, 2007

A canticle for celeriac

November 17, 2007

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Doomsday vault begins deep freeze:

Engineers have begun the two-month process of cooling down a “doomsday vault”, which will house seeds from all known varieties of key food crops. The temperature inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will drop to -18C (0F) in order to preserve the seeds. Built deep inside a mountain, it aims to safeguard the world’s crops from future disasters, such as nuclear wars, asteroids or dangerous climate change. The first seeds are scheduled to arrive at the Arctic site in mid-February.

Probably the best thing that could happen to this place is for it to be forgotten in a couple of decades…


Fish pharming

November 17, 2007

This looks pretty sweet at first glance. I’m sure there are some gotchas, but it defnitely beats feeding chickens fish meal to make them produce healthier eggs.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Scientists harvest fish oil crop:

Experiments have proved that crops containing genes from marine organisms are able to produce omega 3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish. Adding the oil to animal feed would create omega 3-rich meat, milk and eggs.

This could only be written in a town that doesn’t have winter

November 17, 2007

In Beijing, their pre-winter of discontent – Los Angeles Times:

Instead, Li and an estimated 200 million of China’s poor have been forced to shiver as they mark off the days until Nov. 15 arrives. That’s when municipal managers switch on boilers, radiators and immersion heaters, firing up central heating systems that are a throwback to the Communist-planned economy of the 1960s.

Have none of this wanker’s editors heard of apartment buildings with radiators, common in probably every city north of the Mason-Dixon line? In New York whose climate is roughly comparable, landlords are supposed to turn the heat on by Oct 1, but not nearly all of them do, and it sure ain’t worker-state asceticism that motivates them.

Those damn indians weren’t using the place anyway

November 12, 2007

The Risks Digest Volume 24: Issue 90:

I have not yet had a student object to using on intellectual property grounds. If ever I do, I will ask how much money the student expects to make from the sale of the paper

This just annoys the heck out of me. The idea that your property is only your property if you exploit it commercially is at best badly-conceived and at worst incredibly pernicious. “You can’t make any money off it, so give it for free to someone who will” seems to be a common business plan on the internet (see Google books and much of web N.0), but that hardly qualifies it as a great moral principle.

And another thing about IQ

November 12, 2007

Yhis whole “TV is making us smarter” thing pisses me right off, and thinking about Shalizi’s article helped me crystallize why: it presumes that the kind of cognition required to understand supposedly-more-complex TV shows actually makes you smart. Understanding allusions and inside jokes, or being able to follow complicated multi-character stories isn’t some grand cognitive task, it’s how people live their lives in a social milieu.

What’s changed is that people (by which I mean men — see “soap opera”) are applying these cognitive skills to works of fiction about which they become obsessively knowledgeable in addition to (or perhaps rather than) the social interactions of their real lives.

Why people hate architects and contractors

November 11, 2007

MIT sues Gehry, renowned architect of daring $300m Stata Center – The Boston Globe:

Robert Campbell, an architect who is a critic for the Globe, said it is inevitable that there will be problems in any unconventional building like the Stata Center, which has roofs colliding at different, odd angles. “It looks like something out of a Disney cartoon,” Campbell said. “It’s really quite pleasurable and people like it, but it does involve some risks in that it’s impossible to keep it from leaking.”

The result, Campbell said, helped to break up the monotony of a street of concrete buildings. “Because he’s so daring, you figure you’ve got to be daring, too, if you’re a client,” Campbell said. “You know if you hire Frank Gehry there are going to be new kinds of problems.” But he said clients accept the risks because “they’ll get a building like no other building.”

If by “like no other building” you mean “one you can’t actually use for the purpose you built it for”, then yeah.

But ultimately justifications like this are crap. A really good architect, in contrast to an expensive poser, delivers the aesthetic goods without compromising the quality of the structure. The looks-cool-from-a-distance thing is for Trading Spaces.

These are mostly some pretty good questions

November 11, 2007


He is particularly strong on the question of health care policy, a subject in which he has turned himself into a genuine expert. In that regard, he has a web article at American Prospect that everybody — conservatives included — would do well to read: “Ten Reasons Why American Health Care Is so Bad.” I have some nits to pick, but in the main it lays out the case for doing something about the financing and management of heath care in the United States.

Although some of them, like the first, are kinda wrongheaded because they seem to imply things about the current state of affairs that ain’t so. Making slightly more convenient versions of existing blockbuster drugs to extend their patent life is not really innovation.

But of course life could never evolve on gas giants themselves

November 11, 2007

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Astronomers discover new planet:

If the new planet, which has mild surface temperatures, has a rocky moon or moons around it, say the astronomers, then theoretically they could support liquid water.

Like cyberpunk, only boring.

November 10, 2007

The World’s Biggest Botnets – Desktop Security News Analysis – Dark Reading:

t’s hard to imagine anything bigger and more complex than Storm, which despite its nefarious intent as a DDOS and spam tool has awed security researchers with its slick design and its ability to reinvent itself when it’s at risk of detection or getting busted. Storm changed the botnet game, security experts say, and its successors may be even more powerful and wily.

We have no jet cars, no body mods. But the bad stuff everybody wrote about, that’s here…

This is why I love The Register

November 3, 2007

Another story about someone getting stuck by following computerized directions:

the demoniac satnav’s plan to finish its fleshy master by sealing him up in his cab until he died of pastry-based-snack-induced malnutrition misfired. The plucky trucky, 45, managed to struggle free of the cab and evade any banjo-playing inbred cannibal psychotics who may have been lurking in the surrounding thickets. After fighting his way heroically across as much as several yards of impenetrable wilderness, the gutsy Czech reached the home of simple, decent yokels the Auburn family, who had lived there for generations* plying their homely trade as university lecturers. The kindly bumpkins nourished Odehnal back to health, rather than giving him to the wicker man or something.

*Two. News reports specify that the family had a son, 19, known as “Mat”.