Things it may be helpful or useful to know.

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Thursday, March 08, 2001

A fascinating perspective from Stephen Druker, a scientist and concerned Jew, inquiring as to whether genetically engineered foods can be in accordance with Jewish law (Halakha). Very interesting and thought provoking. Some responses by Rabbis are cited on the BioIntegrity main page-- a response (as part of a court declaration) by independent kosher supervisor and Orthodox Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski and a response from Conservative Rabbi Alan Green.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:55 AM

The more I read of this stuff, the less I like what's going on. Here's a category no one has really been thinking about-- artificial nucleotides as toxic waste. Oh yeah, they just flush this stuff into the water system, it's not required to incinerate it. Check out ISIS News no.4. Here are excerpts:

In a recent ISIS report (1) produced for circulation at the Biosafety Protocol Meeting in Montreal (Jan. 2000), we pointed out that an increasing variety of naked/free nucleic acids are now being made for use in research, industrial productions and medical applications, all of which are being released unregulated into the environment. They range from oligonucleotides to artificial constructs thousands and millions of basepairs in length,
often containing heterogeneous arrays of genes from pathogenic bacteria, viruses and other genetic parasites belonging to every kingdom of living organisms. As most of them have never existed, or if they have, not in such large amounts, they are, by definition, xenobiotics substances foreign to nature - with the potential to cause harm. Some gene therapy vectors and vaccines have already been found to elicit toxic and other harmful reactions.

Nucleic acids are now known to persist in all environments, including the digestive tract. Transformation by the uptake of DNA is a significant route of horizontal gene transfer, and there is overwhelming evidence that horizontal gene transfer and recombination have been responsible for the recent resurgence of drug and antibiotic resistant infectious diseases.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:31 AM

Science isn't what it used to be-- if it ever was. I suggest reading this article, and then writing some letters. The New Thought Police Suppressing Dissent in Science

posted by Strata Chalup 11:14 AM

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

In this LA Times summary of the US Surgeon General's report on Youth Violence, we see a surprising result: actual scholarship, rather than knee-jerk "answers" has resulted from the Columbine tragedy. I'm quite interested in and impressed by this. One of the most interesting points made was the way that risk factors do not scale linearly-- a child exposed to 6 risk factors has 18 times the likelihood to be involved in violence than a child exposed to just one. Another key point was that risk factors change as children grow. "Bad company" is just not a significant factor for children until they reach their teen years, for example. For busy readers, the Surgeon General has issued it's own summary of the report, and it's worth skimming a few screenfuls if you don't have time to read the full report.

posted by Strata Chalup 12:09 PM

Friday, March 02, 2001

More bad news from the bio-corn patrol: the bad-boy "StarLink" corn is being found in random cornseed samples. So much for the "firebreak" approach to containment of the cornfields. For those who haven't been following the Monsanto spin control, the StarLink varietal is another in the family of Monsanto cultivars which produce an analogue to Baccillus Thuringensis proteins. The Bt residues can kill or deter various common crop-eating pests.

Problem-- some humans are allergic to it, a few violently so. Which is how folks discovered last year that the not-approved-for-humans corn was being used in various foods, due to cross pollination, mislabeling, and possibly outright fraud on the part of some folks who needed to sell their crop.

Problem Two-- In the continuing arms race between people and crop-eaters, the buggies and borers have always shown the ability to become resistant fairly quickly. Why cause this much trouble for what will be in the end a short-term gain of 2 - 6 years?

Problem Three-- The gene mods don't always stay home, as this seed-corn snafu illustrates. Pollen from Bt-engineered crops can spread to standard crops, producing a mix of offspring, some of which will produce the Bt-analogue. Depending on the crop, there is also potential to spread the trait to non-commercial varieties which are related.

Problem Four-- The ecosystem isn't composed of only hostile critters. Studies, hotly contested by Monsanto (surprise) have shown negative effects on beneficial pollinators such as butterflies. The Bt toxin is effective against a wide range of species, many, perhaps most, of which are benign or neutral.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:59 AM

This sobering story about the low quality of journalism in the US is worth a quick read, regardless of your views on the US 2000 election. Keep reading, it's not a leftist polemic, it's a journalist writing about how investigative reporting is done in other countries vs here in the US.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:07 AM

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Better than carpenters' pants, it's the UtiliKilt!. And take a look atthese success stories. What fun.

posted by Strata Chalup 12:23 PM

Heard the news about Motorola's latest little idea? Let's put a GPS chip into consumer electronics to disable them if used outside their marketing area. Patented idea, which is good-- if Motorola is forbidden from doing it, at least no one else will be able to legally.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:19 AM

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

OK, this is entirely awesome. It's a story about cool technology being used excellently and about human nature showing its best side. Very excellent indeed.

Here's a link to the Sendero Group, who have GPS-Talk and other technology resources available for the visually impaired. Folks interested in wearable computing may be interested in their Xybernaut package, links here.

posted by Strata Chalup 4:49 PM

I like this meme. David Weinberger is writing a book, to be calledSmall Pieces. The unusual part is that he's doing it in public, on the web, making the drafts available. Way cool.

posted by Strata Chalup 12:58 PM

In the unlikely event that anyone is using this to catch up on remedial reading, here's a must-read: Tim O'Reilly's Remaking the Peer-to-Peer Meme. Students of technocultural anthropology will also find it interesting reading, for what it says about the industry as a whole and the processes at work.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:25 AM

Saturday, February 24, 2001

An interesting article about some NASA blue-skying (forgive me, that was too easy) on the subject of small aircraft for Joe and Jane Average: Technology Review - Flying Made Easy I'd love to see this happen, but I give it a long shot for my lifetime (which is statistically likely to end in approx 2030 or so). Not as easily done with our sort of aircraft as Julian May's matter of fact description of "rhocraft" lanes in her Galactic Milieu series, but sure would be nice.

posted by Strata Chalup 4:47 PM

Technology Review - The Net Effect: Internet on a Chip Printable
posted by Strata Chalup 1:49 PM

Friday, February 16, 2001

New Zealand Digital Library

Well, this is a nice one. Didn't know it was out there, until some folks on a list started discussing a PDF to ASCII converter that handles graphics.

"Our web site provides several document collections, including historical documents, humanitarian and development information, computer science technical reports and bibliographies, literary works, and magazines. All are available over the Web..."

posted by Strata Chalup 8:00 PM

Free-Fall Lifeboats on RORO's

Free-fall lifeboats-- Nope, I hadn't heard of them either. Reading one of the previously-mentioned NOVA transcripts introduced me to the concept. Imagine a lifeboat that you can deploy over the side of an offshore oil drilling platform, into a sea covered with burning oil. Yeah!!!! So why don't they use these on passenger ships? Well, this paper asks the same question, and attempts to come up with ways to make it feasible to do exactly that.

posted by Strata Chalup 11:13 AM

NOVA Online | Transcripts

Now you can read the shows you didn't have time to watch, or didn't know were on. As someone who doesn't watch much TV, and doesn't subscribe to any TV viewing guides, I never know what's on. Which is fine. :-)

The most interesting thing, to me, about these transcripts is that, while interesting and educational, they clearly convey how *little* information is transmitted via TV. A typical article from The Atlantic or New York Magazine can be literally 5 or 10 times the length, and content complexity, of a Nova transcript. Oh well...

As TV goes, though, Nova is pretty consistently interesting and full of things I didn't know before. I'm not knocking Nova, and I'm very pleased to see the transcripts here, otherwise I wouldn't blog the site. I just found them a compelling, if inadvertant, demonstration of the inherent low signal to duration ratio of a TV experience.
posted by Strata Chalup 10:44 AM

Protoshape: CAD Model Realization for Jewelry and Art

This one builds up stuff layer by layer using additive droplets of a material not unlike jeweler's wax, planing each layer flat to a precalibrated thickness before adding the next layer. Their material can be used for conventional casting, they say-- it will allegedly burn cleanly out of a mold.

posted by Strata Chalup 10:34 AM

Atoms from Bits: The Digital Revolution in Manufacturing

Basically, "Intro to Fabbers 101", by a non-disinterested party working on a nextgen fabber itself. I definitely don't agree that SLA fabbers (stereolithography, the photolayer resin process) are already obsolete.

posted by Strata Chalup 10:29 AM