Jurassic Park Reality: Extinct Ibex Resurrected by Cloning

From an article in The Daily Telegraph:

Using DNA taken from … skin samples [preserved in liquid nitrogen], the scientists were able to replace the genetic material in eggs from domestic goats, to clone a female Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo as they are known. It is the first time an extinct animal has been cloned.

Young Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), Sierra de Gredos, Spain  Photo: Jose Luis GOMEZ de FRANCISCO/naturepl.com
Young Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), Sierra de Gredos, Spain Photo: Jose Luis GOMEZ de FRANCISCO/naturepl.com

Just seven of the embryos resulted in pregnancies and only one of the goats finally gave birth to a female bucardo, which died a seven minutes later due to breathing difficulties, perhaps due to flaws in the DNA used to create the clone.

Space: Video

In 2029, the 900-foot asteroid Apophis, will miss Earth by only about 18,000 miles. To put that in contrast, the moon is an average of 238,857 miles away, center-to-center, or about 234,000 miles surface-to-surface. (The moon, of course, has a slightly elliptical orbit, so that’s just an average.) If that doesn’t set up the right mental image, take a look at the animation below, from an article on Wired Science.

Below you’ll see some beautiful video compiled from the STS-129 mission launch. (STS stands for space transportation system, and is the designation for NASA’s own Space Shuttle.

STS-129 Ascent Video Highlights from mike interbartolo on Vimeo.

STS-129 video highlights as compiled by the SE&I imagery team here at JSC from all of the ground, air, ET and SRB assets.

Not Far Off: Amazing Future Visions

Ten years from now, this is where we very well may be. Click through to see these jaw-dropping videos. We’re already starting to see application of this technology. Ten years to make it commonplace sounds reasonable.

Future Vision Montage
Future Vision Montage

Health Future Vision
Health Future Vision

Productivity Future Vision
Productivity Future Vision

See more at Microsoft Office Labs.

These remind me of the A&T “You Will” ads from 1993, which have proven to be quite accurate:

My yaar Aashay Joshi pointed me to the Microsoft videos.

Just the Facts

The other day I was talking to someone who said he had heard on the radio that the US Federal government was going to give free digital television converts to welfare recipients, and that they were spending $100,000 each on plasma TVs in prisons. This came from what was described as “the most trustworthy radio news source in the area.”

Frankly, I couldn’t believe it. There was a coupon program to buy converters at a discount, but the program used up all its money, and had been discontinued. (Recently, it has been given more money by the federal bailout, and is operating again.) However, these coupons are available to anyone who desires them, so it’s hardly being targeted to those receiving government assistance.

But I wondered what the origin of these stories had been, so I hit the internet.

It turned out that millions of households on welfare might be given free digital television converters—in Japan sometime before their digital switchover in 2011. The prison story was a little closer to what’s real—the state of Florida’s department of corrections is spending $100,000 total, approximately $1 per inmate, out of its $2.3 billion dollar budget to convert existing television to digital.

Our opinions are often based on incorrect facts. Part of this is described in basic psychology—it’s called confirmation bias—how we filter evidence that strengthens our preconceptions.

But also our incorrect knowledge of history, various sciences, and current events allows us to hold on to incorrect opinions.

This is especially true in “popular knowledge”—think about all those e-mail forwards you receive that 15 seconds at about.com or Snopes could easily refute. Think about all the people who believe wearing a magnet on their wrist will make them healthy. Or all the “Christians” who espouse the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel and can even quote Scripture out of context to support it. Or that rubber tires protect vehicle occupants from lighting strikes. Or that a metal vehicle acts as a Faraday cage. (It doesn’t.)

At any rate, I have been thinking much of late that we should all do more analysis before we speak.

I wish we could all just be smarter.

I wish I could just be smarter.

Fun with Atheism

One of the things I’ve been able to do this year is teach robotics, using the Lego MindStorms NXT system, at the Academy for Science and Design chartered public school, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. I volunteer two mornings a week, and teach two different student groups, numbering about 10 each. Until December, the program focused on FIRST LEGO League, in which we were competing. Since then we have taken up building robots for an intramural robot Sumo competition.

A few weeks ago, we mentioned a requirement of ethical behavior in class. One of the kids pondered, “Why should I care about ethics?”

“Because God requires it,” I replied. (Just because I’m working in a public school, there is no reason to pretend I’m not a Christ-follower. I don’t beat them over the head with it—indeed, it hardly ever comes up—but it is the foundation for my moral beliefs, including why we need to behave in an ethical manner.)

“But I’m an atheist,” claimed the student, “so that doesn’t apply to me.”

“Well, then,” I suggested, “The FLL program requires it; your school requires it; and this class requires it. Will that suffice?”

A few moments later I asked the student, “So, you’re an atheist? Really?”

“Yes.”

“Honest to God?”

“Ye—waaaaaaaaiiiiiiiit a minute.”

We’re still laughing about it.

FIRST LEGO League: We Won!

Since the school year began, I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics two morning’s a week at Isaac’s new school, the Academy for Science and Design Chartered Public School, in Merrimack New Hampshire.

Many of you know I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics twice a week at the Academy for Science and Design, in Merrimack, N.H. As a function of the class, we had two teams competing in the FIRST LEGO League branch of the FIRST Robotics program, founded by Dean Kaman. (See http://www.usfirst.org/community/fll/ .) The ASD is a chartered public school, now in its second year of operation.

At the “MindStorms Madness” qualifying tournament in Merrimack, N.H., on Saturday, the two teams from the ASD came away with three trophies:

The team I officially coach, Robotic Revolution, won first place in the Technical category (Robot design and programming), and will go on to compete at the state competition on December 6 at Nashua South High School.

The other team I taught (but did not officially coach) won 2nd place in Technical, and got the top score during the seeding matches. (Sadly, they were eliminated in the finals.)

The photos from the slide show above are available here on PicasaWeb.

I’ll update this post with more details about the team and the event sometime in the next day or two.

Amazing Worldwide (Web) Updates

In a typical day, I come across many fascinating things that aren’t exactly well known. This is a list of things which interest me, and probably does not reflect interest in the general population. Of course, thinking about that alone is of interest to me, so … (Ah, recursion!)

Cyborgs Are Real
Way cool neuroscience.

Gizmodo Goes to Lego
Far more here than I could summarize, including a video tour of the Lego factory.

Star Wars is Nearer than You Think
Actually, Star Wars weapons fire charges of ionized Tibanna gas, but you’ll get the idea.

Microsoft 3D Modeler
And you thought everything from Microsoft was evil.

The Large Hadron Collider Rap
Almost as good as “White and Nerdy.”

ShapeWays 3D modeling
These aren’t quite replicators, but affordable 3D “printing” is now at our disposal.

Marketing and Stop Signs
What happens when the marketing department designs a stop sign? (Software and graphics design often go this way.)

The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer
Gamers will understand the reference. Others may learn something.

Keeper of the Star Wars Canon
Imagine having to hold the continuity of a universe together single-handedly. (Well, it helps to have some database skills.)

The Mythbusters Weren’t Allowed to Bust This.
What “the man” doesn’t want you to know about RFID.

I have Joined the Dharma Initiative.

I Have Decided to Become President

What do you think of, “Grow up, you babies!” as a campaign slogan?

Why Is Programming Fun?

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), after leaving it sitting on my dresser for ages. The book is a collection of essays about software design, the most famous of which became the book’s title—expressing the fundamental idea that adding personnel does not necessarily allow a project to be completed faster, just as nine women cannot produce a single baby in one month.

That particular essay, and probably several others, is worthy of a separate discussion; but one Frederick Brooks eloquently expresses has been on my mind for several years.

To be honest, I love my job. (Now, this isn’t to say I wouldn’t rather be paid to travel the world, build with Lego, or quest in World of WarCraft.) I can’t think of anything I’d rather do as a career than be a programmer, except maybe astronaut or Supreme Dictator of the Western Hemisphere. I had been mulling over exactly why this is for a very long time. Frederick P. Brooks has expressed what I feel far more eloquently than I believe I am able:

The Joys of the Craft

Why is programming fun? What delights may its practitioner expect as his reward?

First is the sheer joy of making things. As the child delights in his mud pie, so the adult enjoys building things, especially things of his own design. I think this delight must be an image of God’s delight in making things, a delight shown in the distinctness and newness of each leaf and each snowflake.

Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people. Deep within, we want others to use our work and to find it helpful. In this respect the programming system is not essentially different from the child’s first clay pencil holder “for Daddy’s office.”

Third is the fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning. The programmed computer has all the fascination of the pinball machine or the jukebox mechanism, carried to the ultimate.

Fourth is the joy of always learning, which springs from the nonrepearing nature of the task. In one way or another the problem is ever new, and its solver learns something: sometimes practical, sometimes theoretical, and sometimes both.

Finally, there is the delight of working in such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. (As we shall see later, this very tractability has its own problems.)

Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.

Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men.

I also loved the way Brooks closes his preface: “Soli Deo gloria—To God alone be glory.” This isn’t a perspective one generally finds in books about software.

(Excerpt from Frederick P. Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), © 1995, Addison-Wesley Longman, Inc., p. 7.)