Monthly Archives: June 2010

Brains and the Internet

So, according to this article, using the internet stimulates brain activity. Of course, it also goes on to say that it may not be the right kind of activity. In fact, although web browsing is beneficial for some skills (like skimming the page for information), it also damages other, possibly more important ones. Here’s my favorite bit:

Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

Who needs imagination? Or critical thinking? Not future generations, that’s for sure.

It also says hyperlinks make it hard to remember things. You should just read the article.

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Crows are smarter than dumb humans

If this TED guy is right this is really going to happen. Like next Thursday

Joshua Klein gave a talk at TED about how smart crows are. It’s pretty terrifying Their brains are apparently, proportionality, the size of apes. He shows some video of crows that learned a unique way to open up nuts. They also might have the potential to clean up trash on the side of the road for us. That way we can just exterminate people who are serving jail time for misdemeanors and minor felonies.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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The National – "High Violet"

For two years I’ve been obsessed with a band called The National. They’re five guys (two sets of brothers and Matt, the singer/songwriter) who are originally from Ohio, but now reside in Brooklyn.

They sound a little bit like Joy Division/New Order and a little bit like Leonard Cohen. Like those guys? Yes? No? Doesn’t matter. You’ll like The National. I promise.

Famed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker (“Don’t Look Back” “Monterey Pop”) recently shot a show The National played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Check out a video from that show here.
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The First Man Made Organism

It’s really just a very simple bacteria.

Scientist have recently created the very first “synthetic” organism. Meaning man-made. It’s a very simple bacteria. I read about this achievement first in The Economist. That’s right I read The Economist. Anyway you can find the article here.

What most struck me about the article was not the fact that we have finally created a brand new organism, that was coming and we all saw it. But, it was this little piece of information in the article,

To make the new bacterium recognisably different Dr Venter and his colleagues deleted 14 genes they thought unnecessary from M. mycoides, and added some DNA designed from scratch in a process Dr Venter refers to as “watermarking”.

 This was an opportunity for some fun. The watermark, Dr Venter says, includes a cipher which contains the URL of a website and three quotations, if you can work out how to decode it. The plaintext part of the watermark brands the bug as Dr Venter’s own, encoding its serial number as JCVI-syn1.0. (A plan to refer to the result as Mycoplasma laboratorium and have it recognised as a completely new species seems to have been abandoned for the moment.) 

The watermarking is not just a fancy signature. It means that if, despite precautions, the Frankenbug does get out, its entirely harmless presence would be detectible in any given sample by straightforward DNA amplification technology of the sort used in genetic fingerprinting. It might also trap thieves. Dr Venter has offered his invention for patenting—an action that is sure to be controversial—and the watermark will thus stake out what he hopes will become the property of his firm, Synthetic Genomics. 

They basically put a secret message into the DNA. Now this struck me because there are many people that beileve that in our DNA is a code from the extraterrestrial life that created us. Or that extraterrestrial life could create a virus that they would spread through out the universe that would contain a message in it’s DNA. Professor of physics at Arizona State University,

One idea I’ve had is that maybe the bottles are living cells, terrestrial organisms and that the message is encoded in DNA.  Viruses are continually infecting organisms on Earth and uploading their DNA into the genomes of those organisms, so there is a well understood pathway for getting information into DNA.  We’re littered with it.  Our own genomes have got huge amounts of this junk that has climbed onboard from viruses over evolutionary history, so if viruses can to it ET can do it and it seems to me that we could in addition to scouring the skies for radio waves with a message encoded we could scour terrestrial genomes, which are being sequenced anyway, to see if there is a message from ET encoded in it.

This idea used to seem crazy. Now it seems entirely likely. Considering that the very first organism we have created we already did it too. The world is getting too crazy. 

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Fred Armisen talks about developing material

This is an awesome interview with Fred Armisen talks about how he develops new material. It interlaces him talking about new bits and then showing the new bits he just developed or talked about. It’s really funny and really cool to see the “serious” creative process for something that would appear to just be something a guy created by farting around. I don’t know it’s cool.

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