Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodby Mr. Spock

Or goodbye Leonard Nimoy, actually:

Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83
Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”). [...]
He was a man of many talents. He had a Master's degree in Spanish that he earned in his 40's, among many other accomplishments. Follow the link for photos, video and more.

10 or 11 steps, German, or French?

10 Steps to Germanize Yourself

11 Steps to Frenchify Yourself

Apparently, a "know-it-all" in German is called a "Klugscheißer" (“smart shitter”). Who knew? Read the whole thing for more fun facts (I'm pretty sure it's meant to be humorous. And while many a truth is spoken in jest, I'm sure it's not 100% universally so. I'm just say'n. Don't want any German or French hate-mail! ;))

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to swear in six languages

The begining of this article warns that it's "R" rated. If you go there, you'll see why:


Talk about local color. Gosh.

Modern English: a blend of languages

Here is an interesting article about the complex blend of several languages that evolved to become modern English:

139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language
When I say “Old English” what comes to mind? The ornate, hard-to-read script? Reading Beowulf in your high school English class? The kinds of figurative compound nouns – or kennings – like “swan of blood” and “slaughter-dew” that have sustained heavy metal lyrics for decades?

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was a language spoken by the Angles and the Saxons – the first Germanic tribes to settle the British Isles. They were not the first inhabitants, as any Welsh or Gaelic speaker will tell you, but their language did form the basis for the Angle-ish we speak today. But then why can’t we modern-day English speakers understand Old English? In terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Old English resembles its cousins Dutch and German more than it does modern English. So how did English change so drastically?

The short answer is that the English language changed forever after the Norman invasion brought a new ruling class of French speakers to the British Isles in 1066. French was the language of the nobility for the next 300 years – plenty of time for lots of French words to trickle down to the merchant and peasant classes. For example, the Anglo-Saxons already had words for “sheep” and “cows”, but the Norman aristocracy – who usually only saw these animals on the plate – introduced mouton (mutton) and boeuf (beef). Today, nearly thirty percent of English words come from French.

As a result, modern English is commonly thought of as a West Germanic language with lots of French and, thanks to the church, Latin influence. But this history of English’s development leaves out a very important piece of the linguistic puzzle – Old Norse: the language of the Vikings.
How To Speak Viking

The Old Norse noun víking meant an overseas expedition, and a vikingr was someone who went on one of these expeditions. In the popular imagination, the Vikings were essentially pirates from the fjords of Denmark and Norway who descended on medieval England like a bloodthirsty frat party; they raped, pillaged, murdered, razed villages and then sailed back across the North Sea with the loot.

But the truth is far more nuanced. The earliest Viking activity in England did consist of coastal raids in the early ninth century, but by the 870s the Danes had traded sword for plow and were settled across most of Northern England in an area governed by treaties known as the Danelaw. England even had Danish kings from 1018 to 1042. However, the more successful and longer-lasting Norman conquest in 1066 marked the end of the Viking era and virtually erased Danish influence in almost all aspects of English culture but one: its effect on the development of the English language. [...]
It's an interesting history, showing examples and explaining the roots and usage of many of the words we use today. The viking influence lives on not just in our vocabulary, but grammer structure and usage. Some linguists even claim that English should be reclassified as a North Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

Friday, February 20, 2015

An actual product called "Poo-pouri"

I don't know which is more weird and funny, the commercial, or the fact that the product is a best-seller on I'm sure that someone must be laughing all the way to the bank. Good for them!

Don't forget to see Second Hand Stink, and Even Santa Poops.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The mental/emotional effects of isolation

An article by Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski cross-country across the Antarctic continent, completely alone. She talks about her experience of isolation, and how her experience might compare to what future astronauts might face:

How will space explorers cope with isolation?
[...] It was the alone-ness itself that was frightening and my subsequent 59-day ski across the continent was dominated by my battle to deal with the shock of it.

I imagine that the first humans to visit Mars might experience a similar state of shock at their disconnection from human society. It is intriguing to wonder whether there might be parallels between the psychology involved in exploring Mars and exploring Antarctica.

Could potential astronauts preparing for long space missions across the solar system learn anything useful from experiences like mine in Antarctica?

As I began my loneliest of expeditions I had the benefit of more than a decade of previous polar journeys to draw from. In addition I had carefully prepared for the psychological stress of isolation, consulting a specialist sport psychologist.

Yet, I was taken aback by the range of ways in which the alone-ness affected me. I became increasingly emotional. With no one to witness my behaviour, I allowed inner feelings to flow into outward expression without check. If I felt angry, I shouted. If I felt upset, I cried.

Self-discipline became much harder. Surrounded by others, taking risky short-cuts isn't a possibility, largely because of the embarrassment of being discovered. But alone, with no-one to observe your laziness, the voice of temptation was always present. I found that ignoring the voice of temptation was an extra drain on mental energy that simply hadn't existed on team expeditions.

My brain, starved of any input by the lack of colour, shape or form in my largely blizzard-obscured world began to fill in the gaps by creating hallucinations.

I was surprised to find that we can hallucinate not just with our visual sense but with all our senses. I hallucinated strange forms in the gloom of regular whiteouts that took the shape of floating hands and small bald men on dinosaurs, but I also hallucinated smells, tastes and sounds that all seemed very real.

As I skied, I began to direct my internal monologue at the sun (when it was visible through the bad weather) and was slightly perturbed when eventually the sun began to talk back to me in my mind. It took on a very distinct character and even though I knew on some level that it wasn't real, the sun played an important part in my coping strategies.

Routine became increasingly important to me in overcoming these damaging responses to alone-ness. When everything else in my landscape and daily experience was so surreal, routine became the rhythm that I clung to. I performed every task in exactly the same way, every time it had to be done. I repeated chores in the same order again and again until I reached the point that I barely had to think about them. Reducing the thought required seemed to simultaneously reduce the emotion.

This was despite the fact that I did have some connection to the outside world during my expedition. I carried a satellite phone which was capable of calling anyone in the world at any time from my tent -- and yet, largely, I decided not to.

I was scared of the emotional high that speaking to loved ones might bring, knowing that it would inevitably be followed by a crushing emotional low as I was forced to end the call. [...]
To read it is to almost be there in her shoes. Fascinating. See the links for pics and more.

Death and dying in America

Seeking a ‘Beautiful Death’
[...] Dr. Volandes, a staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, noted that “in the abstract, fighting every second of the way and pursuing aggressive life-prolonging interventions sounds admirable.” But he wants doctors, patients and families to consider the likely outcome of the fight and how much suffering it will involve.

He recognizes that “there are no right and wrong decisions about medical care at the end of life” but insists that all decisions should be fully informed. To ensure that patients and families understand the options, he has developed a video tour of what medical interventions like ventilation, CPR or placement of a feeding tube look like, which often prompts a change of heart. As one patient put it, “It looks so different on television.”

The video, produced by ACP Decisions, a nonprofit group devoted to advanced-care planning, is licensed to health care providers and insurers who can show it to patients and families to facilitate shared decision making in planning for care at the end of life.

In a randomized trial of the video’s effectiveness among 50 patients with advanced brain cancer, a quarter of patients in the control group who had only a verbal discussion about end-of-life care with their doctors chose life-prolonging care, half opted for limited medical care and only one-quarter chose comfort care. But none of those who saw the video opted for life-prolonging care, a handful chose limited medical care, and 92 percent decided on comfort care, Dr. Volandes reported. After watching the video, patients said they had a better understanding of their choices.

However, even just a discussion with their doctors about goals for end-of-life care can often make a huge difference. The one-third of patients in a 2008 national Coping With Cancer study who had such a discussion were less likely to undergo CPR, be put on a ventilator or be placed in an intensive care unit. Most enrolled in hospice, suffered less and were in better physical shape and better able to interact with others and for a longer time.

Their survivors, too, fared better; six months after the deaths, they were markedly less likely to experience major depression.

Options regarding end-of-life care should be discussed well before an emergency — or for those with dementia, during the early stages of mental decline. “The absolute worst time to contemplate decisions about medical care is when one is critically ill and in the hospital,” Dr. Volandes writes.

The kinds of questions doctors should be asking:

They are some good questions. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Future-shock, accelerated?

Is the pace of technology suddenly accelerating? A case can be made for it:

The Acceleration of Acceleration: How The Future Is Arriving Far Faster Than Expected
One of the things that happens when you write books about the future is you get to watch your predictions fail. This is nothing new, of course, but what’s different this time around is the direction of those failures.

Used to be, folks were way too bullish about technology and way too optimistic with their predictions. Flying cars and Mars missions being two classic—they should be here by now—examples. The Jetsons being another.

But today, the exact opposite is happening.

Take Abundance. In 2011, when Peter Diamandis and I were writing that book, we were somewhat cautious with our vision for robotics, arguing that we were still ten to fifteen years away a major shift.

And we were wrong.

Just three years later, Google went on a buying spree, purchasing eight different robotics companies in less than six months, Amazon decided it was time to get into the drone delivery (aka flying robots) business, and Rethink Robotics released Baxter (a story explored in my new release Bold), the first user-friendly industrial robot to hit the market.

Baxter was the final straw. With a price tag of just $22,000 and a user-friendly interface a child could operate, this robot is already making the type of impact we were certain would show up around 2025.

And we’re not the only ones having this experience.

Earlier this year, Ken Goffman—aka RU Sirius—the founder of that original cyberpunk journal Mondo 2000 and longtime science, technology and culture author—published Transcendence, a fantastic compendium on transformative technology. Goffman has spent nearly 40 years working on the cutting edge of the cutting edge and is arguably one of a handful of people on the planet whose futurist credentials are truly unassailable—yet he too found himself way too conservative with his futurism.

You really have to stop and think about this for a moment. For the first time in history, the world’s leading experts on accelerating technology are consistently finding themselves too conservative in their predictions about the future of technology.

This is more than a little peculiar. It tells us that the accelerating change we’re seeing in the world is itself accelerating. And this tells us something deep and wild and important about the future that’s coming for us.

So important, in fact, that I asked Ken to write up his experience with this phenomenon. In his always lucid and always funny own words, here’s his take on the dizzying vertigo that is tomorrow showing up today:


Read the whole thing, for embedded links and more examples of this phenomena, and what it means for the future.

It a way, this also relates to this article: Welcome to the Failure Age!, that I blogged about recently. It's about the relationship between technological advancement and the evolution of economics and the ways both shape our societies. About how technological advancements cause failures of older technologies, and how that causes massive disruptions in the workforce and economies, locally and globally.

Our societies are struggling with ways to deal with that, and now that the pace of change is accelerating (according to both of these articles) it's more important than ever to understand this technological/economic relationship, and how we may cope with the many possibilities it's creating in the near future.

I really recommend this article; it's not pessimistic! I think it identifies the dynamics involved very well, and is optimistic that we can find ways to adapt, if we remain flexible and adaptable, and able to change with the changes. If we can, many good things may become possible.


The French Republic and Religion

Here is an interesting perspective:

I never knew how differently France and America value religion
I made my first trip to France in December 2003, when I visited my French cousins in Paris. At the time, newspapers were headlined with the motto of the French Republic, but with the last word changed: “Liberté, Egalité, Laicité.”

That was the buzzword at the time: laicité, or secularism. A law was being advanced to forbid students at public schools from displaying any religious symbols — no headscarves for Muslim girls, no yarmulkes for Jewish boys. The law passed, and it's still in effect.

I debated the law with my cousins around the dinner table, and it became clear that we came from starkly different societies. If the US enshrined freedom of religion, France seemed to be embracing freedom from religion. People’s religious affiliations should not be present at all in the public sphere, my cousins said.

Now I'm back in Paris. I joined my French cousins Ivan and Katia at the huge march that followed the deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. Religion was again at the forefront of the national conversation in France.

“I am here because I want the religion and the religious people to stay away from the Republic,” Ivan said. “If we want to live together, we have to respect laws of the Republic and keep religion home.”

My cousin Katia mentioned a recent train ride she took. “A lady came with a black dress. Only her face was not covered … and she had black gloves,” she said. “It hurts me. And the same thing about Jewish people with a [yarmulke] and a hat. I can’t stand that.”

“What does that say to you?” I asked. “What message are those people putting out?”

“I’m different and I’m showing it,” she said. “They want to belong to community, which I understand, but why showing it to others? This I don’t understand.”

The word "community" has come up a lot on my visit here. We often talk in America about the Muslim community or the Jewish community, taking for granted that our ethnic or religious identities don’t negate our identities as Americans. But in France, I’ve learned that “community” is something of a dirty word.

The French Republic rests on the notion of secularism, that your "community" is France itself. To many, belonging to a community in France carries the connotation that you wish to be apart from French society. [...]
Read the whole thing. It would seem that there are many younger people there looking to belong to a community, and some of them are looking for it in religion.


The truth may hurt...

... but it's better than living with a delusion. This article is brutally honest about some things many of us realized earlier on, but some are only just coming to understand now:

You Betcha I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin
[...] In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.

This isn’t an original or new observation, In fact, back in July 2009, I wrote: “The tragedy of Sarah Palin’s recent press conference announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska flows from the sense that so much potential has been wasted.”

The trouble with taking the easy way out is that it doesn’t last forever. The people who truly last in this business don’t rely on shortcuts or good looks or gimmicks; they survive on work ethic, wit, and intellect.


Is it possible that Kathleen Parker saw something I didn’t when she attacked Palin? I saw it as strangling the conservative baby in the crib; Parker probably saw it as snuffing out a monster.

Such is the plight of a writer; I got some stuff right, and my position was justifiable at the time, but in hindsight I regret contributing to the premature deification of Sarah Palin.

I still say she was an incredibly talented political force, but she squandered her opportunity for greatness, and instead became a fad. And it’s worth considering that maybe her early critics saw some fundamental character flaw—some harbinger of things to come—that escaped me. [...]
Read the whole thing, for embedded links and more. This guy was a real Palin booster. When people like him say the things he's saying, well, perhaps it really IS over. At least I hope it is. Time to move on.


What do Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates all have in common?

They are concerned about the dangers posed by artificial intelligence:

Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind
[...] He told the BBC:"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

His warning came in response to a question about a revamp of the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of AI.

But others are less gloomy about AI's prospects.

The theoretical physicist, who has the motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is using a new system developed by Intel to speak.

Machine learning experts from the British company Swiftkey were also involved in its creation. Their technology, already employed as a smartphone keyboard app, learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next.

Prof Hawking says the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have already proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

"It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate," he said.

"Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded." [...]

Elon Musk Thinks Sci-Fi Nightmare Scenarios About Artificial Intelligence Could Really Happen
[...] Musk, who called for some regulatory oversight of AI to ensure "we don't do something very foolish," warned of the dangers.

"If I were to guess what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence," he said. "With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon."

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of research with the goal of creating intelligent machines which can reason, problem-solve, and think like, or better than, human beings can. While many researchers wish to ensure AI has a positive impact, a nightmare scenario has played out often in science fiction books and movies — from 2001 to Terminator to Blade Runner — where intelligent computers or machines end up turning on their human creators.

"In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out," Musk said. [...]

Bill Gates: Elon Musk Is Right, We Should All Be Scared Of Artificial Intelligence Wiping Out Humanity
Like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates thinks we should be concerned about the future of artificial intelligence.

In his most recent Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit, Gates was asked whether or not we should be threatened by machine super intelligence.

Although Gates doesn't think it will bring trouble in the near future, that could all change in a few decades. Here's Gates' full reply:

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned.

Google CEO Larry Page has also previously talked on the subject, but didn't seem to express any explicit fear or concern.

"You can't wish these things away from happening," Page said to The Financial Times when asked about whether or not computers would take over more jobs in the future as they become more intelligent. But, he added that this could be a positive aspect for our economy.

At the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics' Centennial Symposium in October, Musk called artificial intelligence our "biggest existential threat."

Louis Del Monte, a physicist and entrepreneur, believes that machines could eventually surpass humans and become the most dominant species since there's no legislation regarding how much intelligence a machine can have. Stephen Hawking has shared a similar view, writing that machines could eventually "outsmart financial markets" and "out-invent human researchers."

At the same time, Microsoft Research's chief Eric Horvitz just told the BBC that he believes AI systems could achieve consciousness, but it won't pose a threat to humans. He also added that more than a quarter of Microsoft Research's attention and resources are focused on artificial intelligence.
They all seem to agree that any threat is not immediate, and probably far off in the future. So far as I can see, machines so far merely mimic intelligence. They certainly have no consciousness.

I found the remark by the Microsoft researcher interesting, that he believes that "AI systems could achieve consciousness". I don't see how that could be possible, which is what makes the remark... interesting. It's interesting too, that Microsoft is focusing such a large percentage of it's attention and resources on AI. What would an "artificial consciousness" created by Microsoft be like? Hopefully, nothing like Windows 98. ;-)

Read the original complete articles, for embedded links and more.