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First a popular culture note. We just watched Christopher Nolan’s new film (with Leonardo di Caprio) "Inception," and I am pleased to recommend it.  In fact, I have to call it the best movie I've seen in years.

 The concept is rather original (though some have written to me, citing stories -- including my own -- that were forerunners*) It is spectacularly original, compared to the repetitious drivel of remakes and comic books and vampires that make up Hollywood’s normal, cowardly fare. But beyond the concept is a script that actually feeds the intellect, for a change.  That challenges the intellect, daring you to pay attention and track the many layers...

...most of which even turn out to make sense!  Sure it is brilliantly shot, with above average effects and an excellent (if sometimes overbearing) musical score. And the supporting cast steals the show charmingly, at many stages in the story. (The second unit director really earned his pay.)  Still, it is the script - the tight plotting and consistent story line - that I enjoyed most.


I always attend films with one or more "mental dials" turned down.  I do this in order to be able to enjoy modern movies without spoiling them by noticing every flaw.  Indeed, with some flicks I can (and have to) crank my mental age and IQ down around five.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT is an example of a movie that I quite enjoyed (!) but only after performing that intentional self-lobotomy and leaving all critical faculties (except love of color and music and fun) at home.

I did not have to do any of that with INCEPTION. For the first time since GATTACA, I went to see a film as an adult, and felt that adults had proudly written directed and made it... for me.

(* See "Stones of Significance" and "A Stage of Memory" for their layered views of simulated reality.)


=== In The News ===

What is the most important feature of the new Finance Reform Bill?
"Under little-noticed new provisions whistleblowers like Markopolos who alerted the SEC to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme will for the first time be entitled to collect between 10- and- 30 percent of the money recovered by the government. And that could turn a new wave of whistleblowers, those insiders with proof of financial wrongdoing on Wall Street, into millionaires

"If the law works, whistleblowers should be rewarded with millions of dollars. Those whistleblowers will save investors billions and billions of dollars," said Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center - reminiscent of some suggestions I have long made, e.g. in EARTH and in The Transparent Society.

Earlier whistleblower reward programs, passed under Carter and later Clinton, offered prizes for revelation of wrongdoing in a much narrower realm - government contracts.  The unambiguous result was billions in savings... though this was partly bypassed during the first decade of the 21st Century via "emergency over-ride clauses" in the law, that allowed the previous administration to bypass all normal contracting rules "in time of war."  (It might and can be argued that the billions that thereupon evaporated may have been a major reason for the wars, in the first place.  But who would be that cynical?)

But hold onto the thought that this will be a major step toward transparency.  And see how I predicted it, first in EARTH and later in The Transparent Society ... and here.

Pragmatic reasons to do good. Nothing would help save the world more than a general rise in functional human intelligence.  Now researchers suggest that the most efficient way to trigger such a rise, in developing nations, is to redouble efforts to eliminate parasitic infectious disease. "The brain, say author Christopher Eppig and his colleagues, is the "most costly organ in the human body." Brainpower gobbles up close to 90 percent of a newborn’s energy. It stands to reason, then, that if something interferes with energy intake while the brain is growing, the impact could be serious and longlasting. And for vast swaths of the globe, the biggest threat to a child’s body—and hence brain—is parasitic infection."

The NY Times featured the Lifeboat Foundation - of which I am a director - in a recent article, describing Lifeboat’s efforts to better understand the risks of high technology, without standing in the way of progress.

Urine as fertilizer? - It is chock full of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which are the nutrients  need to thrive—and the main ingredients in common mineral fertilizers. There is, of course, a steady supply of this man-made plant food: an adult on a typical Western diet urinates about 500 liters a year, enough to fill three standard bathtubs. The nutrients in urine are also in just the right form for plants to drink them up, says Håkan Jönsson, a researcher in Uppsala.


===Lots of Earthlike Planets? ===

More than 100 planets that are a similar size to Earth have been discoveredin just the past few weeks, it has been announced.  The discovery was made by the space telescope Kepler which has been scanning the skies for planets that are orbiting stars since it was launched in January last year. "Kepler finds planets by detecting almost imperceptible 'winks' - the tiny amount of dimming that occurs each time a planet moves across the face of a star.  'Transits', as they are known, by terrestrial planets produce a small change in a star's brightness of about 100 parts per million, lasting for 2 to 16 hours.  Information such as a planet's size and the extent of its orbit can be calculated from the amount of dimming, the length of time between 'winks' and the star's mass."

This raises the number of discovered extrasolar planets up around half a thousand (up from ZERO in just 15 years.)

Actually, the news article leaves out a lot:

1 - because these planets were discovered by "transit" that means ONLY stellar systems whose planets orbit in a plane exactly in line with the Earth will be discovered, maybe one in a thousand.  The fact that so many have been discovered anyway, despite this handicap, suggests that the numbers in our neighborhood are truly large.

2 - Many of us always knew that lots of planets would be found, because of the "angular momentum effect.  Almost all of our solar system’s angular momentum is held by one planet, Jupiter, and not the sun.  The fact that other G type stars rotate at about the same rate as Sol suggested that they, too, must have bled off their angular momentum to orbiting bodies.  Switching hats from astronomer to science fiction author, I knew it for other reasons, too.

3 - There are people who desperately want there to be no life worlds, among these newly discovered planets!  Why would that be?  See why, by looking up The Great Filter.

A side note! Renowned space artist Jon Lomberg reports that: "The Keck Observatory has a new fundraising idea:donate $5K to their research programs and have an exoplanet named after you. I heard about this from their Development director, Debbie Goodwin. This is the biggest bargain around-- and is possible only because the number of exoplanets is over 1000, including the latest Kepler results. Great birthday or anniversary gift too, and unlike the International Star Registry, it's actually official.

=== The Muse’s Corner ===

Are we witnessing the birth of a cosmic internet?

Fab@Home is a platform of printers and programs that fit on your desktop,and can produce functional 3D objects. Look at the 4-legged robot printed…

Not quite Star Trek’s food replicator, but the Cornucopia is a personal food fabricator based on 3D printing techniques. Still in the design stage, the Cornucopia will combine food from specified ingredients, extrude them in layers, cook and then cool them on a serving tray. You’ll be able to dial in specific nutritional/caloric requirements to individualize meals. What more could you want…?

The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered buckyballs in space for the first time…soccer ball-shaped 60 atom carbon molecules first observed in a laboratory 25 years ago

Are we living in a black hole? Using a modified version of Einstein’s General Relativity equations, Physicist Nikodem Poplawski showed that a universe could exist inside the black hole of another universe – like a set of Russian nesting dolls. Such black holes could then be tunnels or wormholes between universes – an idea already widely explored in so many sci fi stories.

 Why Transhumanism is the best bet to prevent the extinction of civilization

Then there’s this fascinating argument that evolution - real genetic changes -- took place in England since 1215 CE, as the commercially successful demonstrably (from records) had more surviving children, possibly passing on the assiduous, individualistic, and nonviolently competitive traits that generate creative wealth. 

"Women, over the course of their reproductive lives, can give birth to 12 or more children. Still in some current societies the average women gives birth to more than 6 children. Yet for the world before 1800 the number of children per woman that survived to adulthood was always just a little above 2. World population grew from perhaps 0.1 m. in 100,000 BC to 770 m. by 1800. But this still represents an average of 2.005 surviving children per woman before 1800."

=== Briefly Swinging Just a Little Political ===

Again, see the endeavor led by Lawrence Lessig to reform the fundamentally corrupt current system, under which members of Congress have to spend a full quarter of their time fund-raising, in order to finance the modern political campaign. "Co-founder of Creative Commons, law professor, author, and copyright guru, Lessig is a visionary of law and technology policy.  His approach to changing the influence of money in politics is both fascinating and logical."


Originally posted to David Brin on Tue Jul 27, 2010 at 10:01 PM PDT.

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