Applied Minds Think Remarkably

From Wired News:Telephone

From outside, the five nondescript buildings that house research and development firm Applied Minds look like any other on this jacaranda-lined street in this city’s industrial zone. Co-founder Danny Hillis escorts me down a hallway that dead-ends into an old-fashioned red phone booth. The phone rings. He places receiver to ear. “The blue moon jumps over the purple sky,” he says, and hangs up. Suddenly, the booth becomes a door, swinging out to reveal a vast, open room filled with engineers, gadgets and big ideas.

More here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jack Kilby, Inventor of Integrated Circuit, Dies

Terril Yue Jones in the Los Angeles Times:

18124725Jack Kilby, the self-effacing 6-foot-6 engineer whose invention of the integrated circuit won him the Nobel Prize and launched the digital revolution, has died. He was 81.

Kilby died Monday after a brief battle with cancer, according to Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc., where Kilby was a young engineer when he pioneered the microchip more than 45 years ago.

“In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it — Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Jack Kilby,” said Texas Instrument Chairman Tom Engibous in a statement. “If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack’s invention of the first integrated circuit.”

While other engineers at Texas Instruments took vacations, Kilby worked alone through the summer of 1958 to develop the technological breakthrough that shrunk tons of electronic equipment to a tiny slice of silicon.

More here.  [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]

The 11-Year-Old Wife

From The New York Times:

Mai_1 When Pakistan’s prime minister visits next month, President Bush will presumably use the occasion to repeat his praise for President Pervez Musharraf as a bold leader “dedicated in the protection of his own people.” Then they will sit down and discuss Mr. Bush’s plan to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But here’s a suggestion: How about the White House dropping word that before the prime minister arrives, he first return the passport of Mukhtaran Bibi, the rape victim turned human-rights campaigner, so that she can visit the United States? (Photo from Time Asia).

More here.

India Shares Rally as a Family Feud Ends


From The New York Times:

India’s stock markets rallied Monday on news that the matriarch of the family-controlled Reliance Group, India’s biggest private conglomerate, had stepped in to broker peace between her sons and divide the company. The $23 billion group, whose businesses include the world’s third-largest oil refinery, the world’s largest maker of polyester yarn and India’s biggest mobile telephone services company and its largest power company, had been in turmoil for months. The brothers who led the company, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, engaged in a public battle for succession after their father’s death in 2002.

More here.

Bacteria Pull Off Photosynthesis sans Sunlight

From Scientific American:Bacteria

In the textbook description of photosynthesis, sunlight fuels the production of sugars that are in turn converted into fuel for the photosynthetic organism. But a recent discovery from the deep blue sea may force a revision of that account. Scientists have found a photosynthetic bacterium that doesn’t live off the light of the sun. Instead, it uses the dim light given off by hydrothermal vents some 2,400 meters below the ocean’s surface.

More here.

Plain, Simple, Primitive? Not the Jellyfish

From The New York Times:Jelly

Jellyfish have traditionally been considered simple and primitive. When you gaze at one in an aquarium tank, it is not hard to see why. Renaissance scholars considered them plants. Eighteenth-century naturalists grudgingly granted them admittance into the animal kingdom, but only just. They classified cnidarians as “zoophytes,” somewhere between animal and plant. In some ways, cnidarians are a better model for human biology than fruit flies. As strange as it may seem, gazing at a jellyfish in an aquarium is a lot like looking in the mirror.

More here.

Monday, June 20, 2005

RNA Comes Out of the Shadow of Its Famous Cousin

From The New York Times:

DNA usually grabs tRna_3 e headlines for its starring role as the archive of genetic information. So deeply has RNA been overshadowed that two of its major roles in the cell have come to light only in the last few years. One, a way of fine-tuning the activity of genes, has been the subject of a flurry of recent reports documenting RNA’s part in central operations like stem cells, cell differentiation, insulin production and cancer.

More here.

Our planet’s tilt dictates cycle of summer and winter


The seasons are marked by solstices and equinoxes — astronomical terms that relate to Earth’s tilt. The solstices mark the points at which the poles are tilted at their maximum toward or away from the sun. This is when the difference between the daylight hours and the nighttime hours is most acute. The solstices occur each year on June 20 or 21 and Dec. 21 or 22.

Seasons_1This year’s June solstice occurs at 2:46 a.m. ET Tuesday, marking the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

More here.

Samir Kassir, 1960-2005

Adam Shatz has an obituary on the slain Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir in The Nation.

“Independence seemed to come naturally to Kassir, who never shied away from a cause merely because it was unpopular. In the late 1990s he led a lonely crusade against the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, who had been making inroads into otherwise progressive Arab intellectual circles; four years ago, he helped prevent the pernicious Institute for Historical Review, a Garaudy-affiliated revisionist group based in the United States, from holding a conference in Beirut. At even greater personal risk, Kassir protested what he called Syria’s ‘mafia-type protectorate’ over Lebanon, campaigning tirelessly for independence and railing against a security apparatus most of his colleagues were too timorous to name. Kassir’s open defiance of Damascus brought him unwanted attention from the pro-Syrian security establishment, which harassed him with menacing phone calls, briefly confiscated his passport on the spurious grounds that he was an ‘influential agent of the Palestinian Authority’ and tailed him in unmarked police cars.”

What Gödel’s Incompleteness Thoerem means and doesn’t mean

Mathematicians often seem to get irritated by the invocation of Gödel’s Second Theorem as proof or evidence of the a priori limits of human knowledge. When Freeman Dyson did so in his review of Brian Green’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, Solomon Feferman weighed in to raise the mathematican’s objection.

Via Sean Carroll I came across a nice piece by Cosma Shalizi on the theorem and its abuses.

“There are two very common but fallacious conclusions people make from this [Gödel’s theorem], and an immense number of uncommon but equally fallacious errors I shan’t bother with. The first is that Gödel’s theorem imposes some some of profound limitation on knowledge, science, mathematics. Now, as to science, this ignores in the first place that Gödel’s theorem applies to deduction from axioms, a useful and important sort of reasoning, but one so far from being our only source of knowledge it’s not even funny. It’s not even a very common mode of reasoning in the sciences, though there are axiomatic formulations of some parts of physics. . . .

This brings us to the other, and possibly even more common fallacy, that Gödel’s theorem says artificial intelligence is impossible, or that machines cannot think. The argument, so far as there is one, usually runs as follows.”

Read on.

New model ‘permits time travel’

From The BBC News:

Time_1 If you went back in time and met your teenage parents, you could not split them up and prevent your birth – even if you wanted to, a new quantum model has stated. Researchers speculate that time travel can occur within a kind of feedback loop where backwards movement is possible, but only in a way that is “complementary” to the present. In other words, you can pop back in time and have a look around, but you cannot do anything that will alter the present you left behind.

More here.

A Muslim Woman, a Story of Sex

From The New York Times:Almond

An erotic novel written under a pseudonym might normally struggle to find a mainstream publisher and a wide readership. Not so, it seems, when it is penned by a Muslim woman living in a traditional Arab society. “The Almond,” a semi-autobiographical exploration of sexual freedom, has sold 50,000 copies in France since Éditions Plon brought it out here last year. And it has now appeared in eight other languages, including English. With its explicit descriptions of lovemaking, the book has been compared to Marguerite Duras’s coming-of-age novel, “The Lover,” and to Catherine Millet’s more recent confessional essay, “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” Yet in this case the feisty 40-something North African author who goes by the name of Nedjma appears to have been motivated by more than a desire to titillate.

More here.

Monday Musing: The lost lessons of Russian literature

Not to feed this blog’s obsession with Hitchens, but the article that Abbas posted on and Josh responded to brought to mind the Soviet Union, in general, and Soviet literature, in particular. It wasn’t simply (or even primarily) the image and use of the word “gulag” by Amnesty International, or even the discussion of and apologia for Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, which seems like a descendant of Stalinist show-trials. It was rather the remarkable contortions of language which seem to increasingly accompany the discussions of the war, from all corners.

Much has been said of the current war as a new kind of war on a new kind of enemy under new conditions, and with different stakes and different psychologies. Yet, for all its newness and difference, the partisans of this war have “anxiously conjure[d] up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new [or at least this] scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.” This is no less true of their opponents.

It was precisely the “borrowed language” aspect of the war that reminded me of 20th century Russian literature. Nearly 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we can think of many things that happily came to an end with it. The prominence of Russian and East European literature is not one of them. Since the 1950s, there was always some Russian writer—Bebel, Pasternak, Bulgakov, Sinavsky, Solzhenitsyn, to take the most prominent witnesses of that experiment/nightmare—whose moral and political insights made him a justified teacher of the human condition. That fascination ended with the Soviet Union.

Perhaps it was a cultural disposition, but what came through in their writings was the use and abuse of language as part and parcel of the project, and the creative use of language as both a defense against the pretensions of the system as well as a tool for exposing it.  (I have learned this far better from the Russians than from Orwell.)

I regularly reread the books of my earlier education—I was a Russian language and literature student for years—but I was pleased to recently find a post on Andrei Platonov (over at normblog), whose The Foundation Pit happens to be one of my favorite short stories, though I hadn’t read it years. (Here’s a excerpt from “Dzhan”.) The post made me pick it up off of my shelf.

Platonov often wrote in inverted grammar and his surrealism was a counter-surrealism of language—the natural reaction to a system whose stranglehold on its subjects was mimicked in its stranglehold on their language. I would like to think that this literature, not simply Platonov, but writers like Daniil Kharms, Yvegeny Shwartz, and Joseph Brodsky, in addition to those I mentioned above, taught me something about the corruptions of language that accompany utopian projects that begin to feel like dead-ends. And it is when I think of this lesson that I become convinced that the loss of prominence of this literature and all that it taught us–about the dangers of clichéd promises of better worlds, the complexities of human psychology and madness, and about how to salvage decency in the face of easy and easing stories about ourselves and our enemies–has been tragic.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Critical Digressions: Dispatch from Karachi

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

Me_in_closet_1 We have touched down in Karachi and are reacquainting ourselves with the city through rituals that we religiously repeat every six months: in the afternoon, we get into our ‘97 Corolla, turn up the AC, turn on FM 89 (that plays Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and “Taste of Summer” back to back with Nazia Hassan and our new generations of rockers, Noori, EP and Jal), pick up a copy of the Friday Times from our man at PIDC (who asks us how we’ve been and inquires about the political climate in the US), drop our dry-cleaning at the Pearl, get a shave and olive oil massage at Clippers (where we are informed of the reflexology treatment that they have recently introduced), get a beer for the road at the Korean restaurant (which nestles between our legs), and then by the evening, meander through Saddar, passed paanwallahs, underwear-wallahs, open-air gyms, tea houses, Empress Market, the Karachi Goan Association building, to get a shirt altered, buy some DVDs (Carlito’s Way, Aurat Raj and Disco Dancer), and have fresh falsa juice as the sun warms our back and the sea breeze wafts through the city, portending the monsoon. On Thursday nights we will attend qawwalis at moonlit tombs of saints, on Friday nights we will attend the rollicking Fez disco at the Sind Club, on Saturdays, head to Burns Road for a plate of killer nihari (a hot, soupy dish prepared with calves’ calves), and on Sunday, chat with old friends over Famous Grouse and Dunhills about the way things are and will be. Here, we are ourselves and we are alive.

Warriors_3William Dalrymple, however, an insightful commentator on India, writes, “Karachi is the saddest of cities…a South Asian Beirut.” The analogy, of course, is incorrect. Looking at a map of Karachi he writes, “The pink zone in the east is dominated by the Karachi drug mafia; the red zone to the west indicates the area noted for the sophistication of its kidnapping and extortion rackets; the green zone to the south is the preserve of those specializing in sectarian violence.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have lived in Karachi and can tell you with great certainty that this take on Karachi is facile. It is as if we were passing through New York in the early ’90s and were to comment: New York is today’s Sodom. Down Atlantic Avenue, across Brooklyn, in areas such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, and Brownsville, gang warfare and the crack epidemic have transformed traditionally middle-class cantons into a no-man’s land. Bullet holes and crushed needles mark and mar desolate facades and streets. But urban decay is not simply a peripheral phenomenon. In Manhattan, whether north or south, Harlem and Manhattan Alley or Hell’s Kitchen and the Bowery, ethnic warfare plays out on the streets: Blacks, Hispanics, Irishmen, Italians, Chinese pitted against each other, daggers drawn.

Downtown_1Dalrymple has written a number of brilliant books on India (and lives there) but neither his view on Karachi nor ours of New York is complete and consequently, is inaccurate. There is more to New York than bullets and needles. But Karachi gets short shrift: outside observers are able to reduce Karachi to a few facts and artifacts. Since we don’t control our own discourse, others are able define, in fact, redefine the city, see what they want to see. Take Tim McGirk’s ludicrous article in Time in which he perceived Karachi through the eyes of a “hit-man.” That’s like perceiving Los Angeles through the eyes of a 7th Street Crip! This variety of analysis is not only poor but wrong. Karachi’s murder rate, in fact, is at par with Delhi’s (and DC’s). And in Bombay, mobsters not only run the movie industry but become politicians and politicians stir murder and champion rape! Of course, Bombay is not merely the sum of squalid facts. Neither are other megacities like Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Lagos and Jakarta (even Lahore), although they share many similar problems.

Quaid_1 The problem with reportage is not simply one of dominant discourse but of the news infrastructure in this part of the world. Unlike other cities, Karachi (and indeed all of Pakistan), is typically covered from another country: the South Asian bureaus of major newspapers are based in Delhi. Naturally, then, the worldview of reporters like Barry Bearak, Celia Dugger, David Rhode and Amy Waldman (all of whom, incidentally, can’t hold a candle to the knoweldgeable Dalrymple) are colored by local prejudice. On the other hand, former US Consul General John Bauman, an insider – somebody who has lived in Karachi for many years, not just passing through on a ten day junket – says “there are so many good things being done in this city. The city is a lot more complex than the single image people get in the United States.”

Meeraatkarachiairport Take our word for it: Karachi is wonderfully vibrant. There are dimensions of Karachi not often appreciated by outside observers (foreign reporters and disgruntled expatriates alike): Karachi’s vibrant cultural life comprises open-air pop concerts, classical dance shows, art exhibits, independent film festivals and coffee houses; there is great dining, street-side or indoors, and a throbbing nightlife. Karachi is very similar to New York; the same frenetic rhythms beat under our feet.

the invisible city

The opening of the Venice Biennale was the launch date for a new service in the city of venice. the service, develpoed as a collaboration  between the Department of Urban Studies at  MIT and the University of Architecture Venice (IUAV), takes the Venice’s visitors through a discovery path to the hidden layers of Venitian lives and events with the help of video phones.


“Michael Epstein, a researcher for the project, is aware that Wi-Fi walking tours may seem strange for Venice, a place behind the curve when it comes to modernization. “The entire course has a bit of a satiric quality to it,” he says, “in the sense that you’re using the latest technology to explore a city that’s still medieval in many ways.”

More here

I Want My Hyphenated-Identity MTV

From The New York Times:

Mtv2_1 Azhar Usman, 29, with his knitted skullcap and full beard, presented somewhat differently. An MTV executive, he explained, had recruited him, saying: “We’re going to redefine the identity of the MTV host. It doesn’t have to be someone sexy and good-looking.” A comedian (and lawyer) from Chicago, Mr. Usman used the audition to invent an exaggeratedly accented (and quite amusing) character: Vijay the V.J.

“My uncle in India says desi stands for ‘doctors earn significant incomes.’ My relatives in Pakistan say desi means ‘Don’t ever say India.’ Here on MTV, desi means South Asian flavor, style and music. Check this new video out. It’s going to knock your socks off. You’ve heard of a big production budget. How about 500 backup dancers? This is like ‘Grease’ meets desi, making it …greasy. No, that doesn’t sound right. People think in my country everybody so sad, crying, terrorism,” Vijay said. “We not terrorism, we dancing. Not dancing like panties falling down …. What is this panties falling down” the buttocks?

More here.

How Meg ryan and Zeno lead to a new time theory

Peter Lynd suggests that time is only an illusion, it is just a collection of related events. He is  college drop out, an underdog physicist, who found inspiration for his controversial theory in “I.Q.” a romantic comedy about Einstein’s niece, and is now promoting his upcoming book with the same agent as Dan Brown’s. Not a typical profile of a physicist I would say, but his theory is the latest link in the chain of answers to the question: How does matter move through time and space?

“Enter Lynds. In his theory, reality is merely sequences of events that happen relative to one another; time is an illusion. There’s no chronon, no direction for time’s arrow to fly, no “imaginary time” flowing 90 degrees off the axis of normal time. “I got to a point in my life where I was asking deeper and deeper questions,” Lynds says. “If you want to understand reality, you have to get into physics. And if you’re really interested in physics, you have to ask really big questions.”

More here [via – for the Hebrew speaking crowd of 3QD)

You Are More Important Than a Quark

From The New York Times:Apple

Some people resent reductionism because it sweeps away many mysteries. Behind spooky phenomena, reductionists have shown, are the ordinary ticktocks of nature’s machinery, the concealed ropes and pulleys of cosmic-scale Penn and Teller tricks. Indeed, reductionism has reinforced the old philosophical suspicion that there is something vaguely unreal about ”reality”: as the Greek philosopher Democritus said, it’s all just atoms and the void. To a hyper-reductionist, the invisibly small microworld is more ”real” than everything else. Bigger objects — cats, toasters, people, the sun, galactic superclusters — are just second-order consequences. The atoms or quarks or leptons (or ”strings,” if you follow the latest trendy theories) are what count, while you and I are just ephemera.

More here.

‘The Ethical Brain’: Mind Over Gray Matter

From The New York Times:

Brain_1 TOM WOLFE was so taken with Michael S. Gazzaniga’s ”Social Brain” that not only did he send Gazzaniga a note calling it the best book on the brain ever written, he had Charlotte Simmons’s Nobel Prize-winning neuroscience professor recommend it in class. In ”The Ethical Brain,” Gazzaniga tries to make the leap from neuroscience to neuroethics and address moral predicaments raised by developments in brain science. The result is stimulating, very readable and at its most edifying when it sticks to science.

Take the issue of raising intelligence by manipulating genes in test-tube embryos. Gazzaniga asks three questions. Is it technically possible to pick out ”intelligence genes”? If so, do those genes alone determine intelligence? And finally, is this kind of manipulation ethical? ”Most people jump to debate the final question,” he rightly laments, ”without considering the implications of the answers to the first two.” Gazzaniga’s view is that someday it will be possible to tweak personality and intelligence through genetic manipulation. But because personhood is so significantly affected by factors like peer influence and chance, which scientists can’t control, we won’t be able to make ”designer babies,” nor, he believes, will we want to.

More here.