Branson’s move into space tourism

Spacplane It’s either the zietgeist or it’s just herding in both journalism and the blogosphere–
I lean toward the latter, but following on the post on flying cars below, there’s this from the BBC.

“The news that Sir Richard Branson has signed a deal to take paying passengers into space suggests the Ansari X-Prize has achieved its goal of bringing space tourism closer to the masses. One of the aims behind the $10m (£5.7m) challenge was to galvanise enthusiasm for private manned spaceflight, thereby bringing ‘out of this world’ tourism within reach of ordinary people.

In the past, space travel has been open only to the privileged few; either government-back astronauts or millionaires with enough spare cash to book a flight on a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station.

If and when the Virgin venture – dubbed Virgin Galactic – begins offering its first spaceflights, the tickets will still be expensive. A sub-orbital flight is expected initially to cost about £100,000.”

Hemingway Bullfight Tale From 1924 Turns Up

“Eighty years after they were written, a previously unknown story and a handwritten letter ascribed to Ernest Hemingway have surfaced to stir a literary and legal dispute between people who want to see them published and people who don’t.

At present, the opponents of publication – notably the custodians of the Hemingway estate – are winning, according to several people on both sides of the debate. But that has not detracted from the long, twisty tale of the documents themselves: a two-page letter and a five-page slapstick account of a bullfighting incident written in 1924. Not only do the documents offer an insight into the personality of a young Hemingway, scholars say, but they also illuminate the powerful appeal exerted by even modest discoveries of previously unknown writing by literary giants like Hemingway, who died in 1961.”

More here from the New York Times. The passport photo of Hemingway is from around the time that he wrote the story (1923).

The academic uses of blogging

In keeping with the self-referential character of the blogosphere, a recent post and article has pointed to one use of blogs that I hadn’t considered.

Majikthise has a post on Quine; it’s a defense of Epistemology Naturalized. The post seems quite sensible, but the post is also interesting in light of what she does and one apparent reason for it.

“Currently, I’m collaborating on a moral psychology experiment about ordinary speaker’s use of the term ‘intentionally’. I’m also working on a paper about Quine, analyticity and gay marriage, a philosophical analyss of ‘media bias’ arguments, and some other more traditional projects.”

It ends with “I’d be very grateful for feedback on the above sketch.”

It may point a growing trend, the use of blogs for academic research. This Guardian piece discusses the trend.

“Creating a blog to track the progress of your PhD thesis might seem like the ultimate delaying tactic – a way to avoid ever actually writing the thing itself. But for Esther MacCallum-Stewart, currently doing a D.Phil thesis on popular culture during the first world war at the University of Sussex, the opposite has been true. She began blogging about her thesis ( in February 2002, initially to keep track of the ideas she was developing. ‘I realised I was making notes all over the place, and they weren’t making any sense at all.'”

The trend seems very related to what you find in academic blogs such as Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal, Crooked Timber, and a Fistful of Euros–often thoughtful discussions of issues but in a format that lets you track and search them easily. It’s an altogether different type from the references/filters of Arts and Letters Daily or SciTechDaily, and from the passing but definitive judgment without argument (often with failed wit of the “Sontag Award Nominee” sort) one finds in Andrew Sullivan or Wonkette. All in all, a positive trend, I would say.

AIDS: The Elusive Vaccine

“After twenty-three years of intense research into the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), together with the accumulated experience of more than twenty million deaths from the in-fection worldwide, there is still no prospect of a vaccine to prevent AIDS. Is the discovery of a vaccine simply a matter of time? Or has this virus presented scientists with a hitherto underestimated, perhaps even impossible, challenge?”

More here from the New York Review of Books.

All the World’s a Gallery

“Two years ago, a sticker depicting Che Guevara as a ‘Star Wars’-style storm trooper began cropping up around Los Angeles, pasted to the backs of mailboxes and street signs. Inspired partly by the popular duotone Che portrait marketed on T-shirts and posters, the image seemed an amalgam of two of the most iconic images of the last half-century…

Inspired by graffiti, posters and the communal culture of the Web, stickers are gaining wide attention as an artistic phenomenon, academics and practitioners say. Hand-drawn, stenciled or screen-printed, the images float on the Internet, available for downloading, printing and pasting in ways that the creators could only have imagined. And as they make their way around the globe, from one e-mail in-box to the next, one cultural context to another, their meaning tends to morph.”

More here from the New York Times.

The Genesis Project

“One morning, a little more than a year from now, a group of scientists, members of what is known as the Stardust mission, will be standing around on a remote stretch of salt flat in the Utah desert, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a very special package. It will, if all goes as planned, enter our atmosphere much like a meteorite, plunging earthward until the final stage of re-entry, when a small parachute will open. The object, about the size and overall appearance of a large metal cephalopod mollusk, better known as the nautilus, will drift harmlessly to the ground, its belly filled with the dust and debris gathered from the comet Wild 2, which scientists now expect may offer significant clues about life’s origins here on earth…

Searching for the origins of life in the dust of a comet might sound like a bit of cosmically cockeyed indirection, something straight out of a New Age sci-fi novel. The Stardust mission, however, is typical of a number of projects to divine life’s origins, all part of a $75-million-a-year scientific enterprise now being financed by NASA. It is known as astrobiology.”

More here from the New York Times Magazine.

Why are lightning bolts jagged instead of straight?

“Ever since Benjamin Franklin’s time lightning has been understood to be a large electrical discharge similar to that seen when a conductive object (like a metal doorknob) is touched after a static electric charge is picked up (by feet scuffing across carpet, for example). But whereas the spark from static electricity measures a centimeter or less in length, a lightning channel can span five kilometers or more. (Also, cloud-to-ground lightning involves electrical currents on the order of tens of thousands of amps. In contrast, a circuit breaker for a common household circuit is usually rated at 20 amps.) Because of its extreme scale, lightning is a complex physical phenomenon.”

More here from Scientific American.

NASA developing flying cars

“Not only is NASA developing its own flying cars, but it’s also working on a collision-deterring navigation system that could make skyways safer than highways.

‘You can say our goal is to make the second car in every driveway a personal air vehicle,’ says Andrew Hahn, an analyst at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Hahn’s engineers are already committed to a 15-year time line for three successive generations of flying cars. The first will resemble a compact Cessna with folding wings that converts to road use; it should be available as a graduation gift when this year’s freshman class leaves high school. The second, with a rollout planned for 2015, is a two-person pod with small wings and a rear-mounted propeller. The third will rise straight up like a mini-Harrier jet and should be on the market by the time your newborn has a learner’s permit. The first of the three vehicles shouldn’t cost more than a Mercedes.”

More here from the New York Times Magazine.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Goodbye Darkness: The new science of exuberance

“What does the good life feel like? I mean the life worth living, the life we should and do admire. For most of the last century, that question was answered in terms derived from the study of depression, schizophrenia, and the anxiety disorders. A person in touch with the times would suffer existential angst and social anomie. To be wise was to experience ambivalence about important matters and to feel alienated from the culture.

If I am reading the tea leaves right, our fascination with emotional paralysis may be nearing an end.”

More here by Peter D. Kramer (author of Listening to Prozac) in Slate.

Lasker Prizes to Honor 5 for Research in Medicine

“A founding father of molecular biology, a surgeon who developed the standard operation for removing cataracts and three researchers who unmasked an elaborate genetic control system within the cell are the winners of this year’s Lasker awards for medical research.

The awards, many of whose recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, are being announced today by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation.”

More from the New York Times here.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Edward W. Said, 1935 – 2003

“Edward Said combined politics with scholarship, and showed how the two are intertwined. Deeply affected by the Arab-Israeli war, he became an inspiring guide to both history and culture, and his prose remains a joy to read. On the anniversary of his death, Tom Paulin celebrates a brilliant mind.”

More from The Guardian here.

In a typical and shameful display of philistinism (and possibly anti-Arab prejudice), the American press has largely ignored the terribly sad first anniversary of the death of one of the greatest American public intellectuals of our time. Five of the editors of 3 Quarks Daily knew Edward personally, and we were all present at his funeral service in Riverside Church last year. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that he was not only brilliant, but loyal and generous to a fault. He was also dashing, charming, and devastatingly witty. Edward loved to talk, and whenever he did, one was boggled by his prodigious erudition. He could also be very funny and loved telling jokes.

Ezra Pound once said that it is one’s duty to meet the great men of our time. If indeed this is our duty, then I feel that I fulfilled a great part of it by having met Edward. Our lives are improved for having known him, as are the minds of millions for having read him. We extend our condolences and sympathies to Mariam, Wadie, and Najla Said once again. Today is a sad day.

See also my earlier posts related to Edward Said here, here, here, here, and one by Sughra Raza here.

Here are three articles by Edward Said which have been published posthumously:

The Business of Terror in Le Monde diplomatique.
The Language of the People or of the Scholars? in Le Monde diplomatique.
Thoughts on Late Style in the London Review of Books.

Here are selected articles about, and tributes to, Edward Said published since his death:

The Rootless Cosmopolitan by Tony Judt in The Nation.
Edward Said: The Last Interview by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.
Harmony across the great divide by Michael Jansen in The Irish Times.
The Political Legacy of Edward Said by Irene Genzier in The Palestine Chronicle.
Chomsky Criticizes Iraqi War, Praises Said by Matt Carhart in The Columbia Spectator.
Intellectual guns fire salute to Edward Said by Waqar Gillani in The Daily Times (Pakistan).
Panel Reflects on Said’s Legacy, Orientalism by Saritha Komatireddy in The Harvard Crimson.
On Edward Said by Michael Wood in the London Review of Books.
He spoke the truth to power by John Higgins in The Times Higher Education Supplement.
The Piano Man Made It Home: An Ode to Edward Said by Ahmed Amr in Amin.
A Testimonial to My Teacher by Moustafa Bayoumi in The Village Voice.
Edward Said: An Appreciation by Daniel Barenboim in Time.
Said’s Legacy in Mother Jones.
A Corporeal Dream Not Yet Realized by Omar Barghouti in Counterpunch.
Edward Said Is Remembered for Influential Scholarship and Political Activism by Scott Mclemee in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Edward Said by Christopher Hitchens in Slate.
Remembering Edward Said by Tariq Ali in New Left Review.

The Edward Said archive is here, and contains links to many of his writings which are available online.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Is it all in the style?

“For Alex Katz, “style is my content.” The veteran realist, who turned 77 this summer, opens a new show today at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea of 12 paintings, ten of which are portraits of “power women” in the season’s newest outfits.

His stylish sitters are always supremely comfortable in their clothes, which form a second skin. But the tailor-made fit of Mr. Katz and couture goes beyond a mere interest in clothes as subject matter, rich as they are for a realist astute to social and character detail alike. For this artist, sartorial presentation is as much a metaphor for painting as a motif. Like his own technique, his sitters’ wardrobe is at once classy and casual, composed and nonchalent, high energy and cool. And most cool of all, his assertive style never seems precious or affected.”

This and more from A Chat with the Painter, by DAVID COHEN.

Colby College in Waterville, Maine has an beautiful art museum, which includes a large, permanent collection of paintings donated by the artist. A wonderful selection of these are up at the museum right now, including many of his well known portarits, landscapes and other whimsical paintings.
Also at the museum currently is the show Mr.Katz curated for them.

Check out the Pace-Wildenstein (Chelsea) gallery exhibition here.
See more here.

On the left is yet another example of Alex Katz’s work.

Taming Jeanne, Frances, Lisa, or Ivan

BOSTON (2004-09-24) In an article in the October issue of Scientific American, atmospheric scientist Ross Hoffman argues that at some point in the not too distant future, scientists may be able to weaken tropical storms, or at least steer them away from land.

Dr. Hoffman is a vice president of Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. He spoke with Bob Oakes (of WBUR, the public radio station in Boston) about the scientific future of influencing the weather.

For links to multiple other references, and WBUR, check here.

Before we too into the Dust descend

“Edward W. Said, for years a cherished friend and for a lifetime a towering comrade, died in New York at 6:45 am on Thursday 25 September 2003. After a funeral service at Riverside Church on Monday 29 September 2003, he was cremated and his ashes taken to Lebanon by his widow, Mariam Said, and buried at the Quaker Friends cemetery in Brumana village in the Metn region of Mount Lebanon. Edward Said was born in Jerusalem on Friday 1 November 1935 before the colonial occupation of his homeland.”

That is from a remembrance of Edward W. Said by his colleague at Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi, in Al Ahram.

More on Edward W. Said tomorrow.

Maths holy grail could bring disaster for internet

“Mathematicians could be on the verge of solving two separate million dollar problems. If they are right – still a big if – and somebody really has cracked the so-called Riemann hypothesis, financial disaster might follow. Suddenly all cryptic codes could be breakable. No internet transaction would be safe. On the other hand, if somebody has already sorted out the so-called Poincaré conjecture, then scientists will understand something profound about the nature of spacetime, experts told the British Association science festival in Exeter yesterday.

Both problems have stood for a century or more. Each is almost dizzyingly arcane: the problems themselves are beyond simple explanation, and the candidate answers published on the internet are so intractable that they could baffle the biggest brains in the business for many months.”

More here from The Guardian (via Preoccupations).

See also my earlier post about the seven million-dollar problems in math, here.