Archive for May 23rd, 2008

Convergence

Typically, in technology circles, the term “convergence” means the eventual combining of the television and the PC into a single device, which, frankly, I kinda have a hard time seeing.  The convergence that I’ve been seeing lately, which I find very intriguing, is between cellphones and computers, as the former get more and more powerful, and the latter get more and more compact.

We are nearing a point where screen and keyboard size will actually be more significant limiting factors than storage or processing power – and I think foldable OLED screens will provide much relief there, especially if they can also function as touchscreen keyboards.

But that’s not the kind of convergence I want to talk about, either.  I was reading Olivia Judson’s NYT blog entry on cytological hybrids, or “cybrids”: a cell from one species implanted whole into an egg cell of another species, becoming its nucleus, and eventually an embryo of the cell “donor” species, and it hit me. This is just like the DIY hackers I read about all the time in Engadget, the people who stick the guts of a Sega Dreamcast into a jewelry case to create a brand-new portable console.

Not only that, but I’m fascinated by DNA’s similarities to computer code: It’s a set of instructions that is both complex and modular – snippets of it can be copied and pasted to perform the same functions in completely different programs!  It’s also bloated with a lot of useless legacy code that no longer serves a function – some of which is actually old viruses that have been defanged and absorbed.  There can even be copying errors, and compatibility issues if the DNA in a transplanted egg nucleus doesn’t mesh with the DNA in the egg’s mitochondria (which is in fact modified bacteria code).

My point is, the most fascinating and important convergence coming down the pike is the one between technology and biology.  Right now, we’re at the novice stage when it comes to DNA and cell biology, copying and pasting and tweaking here and there, but I think there will come a day when we can actually read DNA like any other kind of programming language.  Which means that we could write and edit it, too.  Which would be both cool (we wouldn’t have to go looking for a gene to perform the function we want – we could just write it from scratch) and kinda scary (what happens when a gene programmer screws up, or a bioterrorist writes The Perfect Virus?).

I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to it or dreading it, but the possibilities and threats are wide open.

May 23rd, 2008 at 10:09pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Technology

Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

This week’s quote is from one of the shadowy and mysterious Codename V’s new favorite films, Southland Tales, which has a very eclectic cast and a very eccentric plot:

And what did we do when we discovered a rift in the fourth dimension?  We sent monkeys into it.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s cats…

The shadowy and mysterious Codename B. forgets the first rule of heights: Don’t look down.

May 23rd, 2008 at 11:20am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

Take That, Propaganda!

Woohoo!  House passes amendment to investigate the DoD’s use of generals to spout administration talking points on teevee in the guise of “analysis”:

Tonight, the House passed an amendment introduced by Reps. Hodes, DeFazio, and DeLauro to the Defense Authorization Act for FY2009 requiring that “not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense and the Comptroller General of the United States shall each conduct a study of, and submit to the Congress a report on, the extent to which the Department of Defense has violated the prohibition on propaganda” and defines propaganda as “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of the people of the United States in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.”

On passage of the amendment, Speaker Pelosi said:

In his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” The Pentagon media influence program reported by the New York Times struck at the heart of this principle – not only denying citizens the knowledge they deserve but also using the media to manipulate public opinion, and as a consequence, damaging our democracy.

The President and members of his Administration led the country to war on the basis of unproven assertions, later confirmed to be false, and have continued to misrepresent the truth on the ground. The Hodes-DeFazio-DeLauro Amendment which prohibits the Department of Defense from using funds for propaganda purposes and initiates a GAO and IG investigative report into past use of propaganda, is a vital step toward restoring the public’s faith in information stemming from the Pentagon.

Rep. Hodes:

The American people were spun by Bush Administration “message multipliers.” They were fed Administration talking points, believing they were getting independent military analysis. Days after, the Pentagon suspended the program. The news outlets have been remarkably silent. The Department of Defense Inspector General has begun an internal review of the program but given the possibility as well as decision makers in this Congress were misled about the war in Iraq, I believe it is absolutely critical that a public investigation happen that is transparent to this body as well as to the American people. Congress cannot allow an Administration to manipulate the public on false propaganda on matters of war and national security.

Awesome. Be even better if the media were to report on it. I couldn’t find a story about this vote in either NYT or WaPo, so who knows if they’ll bother to write about the investigation’s results either.

2 comments May 23rd, 2008 at 07:30am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,War


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