Search Is on for Original Apollo 11 Footage

Monday, July 31st, 2006

The Search Is on for Original Apollo 11 Footage:

Almost everyone on the planet who had access to television watched the first moon landing, back on the night of July 20, 1969. What the TV viewers didn’t know is that they weren’t seeing the best images.

The astronauts actually beamed higher-quality footage back to Earth, but it was only seen by a small number of people at three tracking stations.

Those original images were recorded and put into storage — somewhere. Now, a small crew of retirees, space enthusiasts, and NASA employees are searching for a moon landing that the world has never seen.

How did they convert the high-quality image to a TV-ready image?

To convert the originals, engineers essentially took a commercial television camera and aimed it at the monitor. The resulting image is what was sent to Houston, and on to the world.

A Nation of Wimps

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Hara Estroff Marano says we’re raising A Nation of Wimps:

Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they’re breaking down in record numbers.

Here’s how it works:

The 1990s witnessed a landmark reversal in the traditional patterns of psychopathology. While rates of depression rise with advancing age among people over 40, they’re now increasing fastest among children, striking more children at younger and younger ages.

In his now-famous studies of how children’s temperaments play out, Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences. About 20 percent of babies are born with a high-strung temperament. They can be spotted even in the womb; they have fast heartbeats. Their nervous systems are innately programmed to be overexcitable in response to stimulation, constantly sending out false alarms about what is dangerous.

As infants and children this group experiences stress in situations most kids find unthreatening, and they may go through childhood and even adulthood fearful of unfamiliar people and events, withdrawn and shy. At school age they become cautious, quiet and introverted. Left to their own devices they grow up shrinking from social encounters. They lack confidence around others. They’re easily influenced by others. They are sitting ducks for bullies. And they are on the path to depression.

While their innate reactivity seems to destine all these children for later anxiety disorders, things didn’t turn out that way. Between a touchy temperament in infancy and persistence of anxiety stand two highly significant things: parents. Kagan found to his surprise that the development of anxiety was scarcely inevitable despite apparent genetic programming. At age 2, none of the overexcitable infants wound up fearful if their parents backed off from hovering and allowed the children to find some comfortable level of accommodation to the world on their own. Those parents who overprotected their children — directly observed by conducting interviews in the home — brought out the worst in them.

A small percentage of children seem almost invulnerable to anxiety from the start. But the overwhelming majority of kids are somewhere in between. For them, overparenting can program the nervous system to create lifelong vulnerability to anxiety and depression.

How Legalizing Drugs Will End the Violence

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department, explains How Legalizing Drugs Will End the Violence:

Virtually every analysis of the Mexican “drug problem” points to the themes raised here: the inducements of big money and wide fame; the crushing poverty of those exploited by drug dealers; the entrepreneurial frenzy of expanding and protecting one’s markets; the large, unquenchable American demand for drugs; and the complicity of many in law enforcement.

But something’s missing from the analysis: the role of prohibition.

Illegal drugs are expensive precisely because they are illegal. The products themselves are worthless weeds — cannabis (marijuana), poppies (heroin), coca (cocaine) — or dirt-cheap pharmaceuticals and “precursors” used, for example, in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Yet today, marijuana is worth as much as gold, heroin more than uranium, cocaine somewhere in between. It is the U.S.’s prohibition of these drugs that has spawned an ever-expanding international industry of torture, murder and corruption. In other words, we are the source of Mexico’s “drug problem.”

The remedy is as obvious as it is urgent: legalization.

Regulated legalization of all drugs — with stiffened penalties for driving impaired or furnishing to kids — would bring an immediate halt to the violence. How? By (1) dramatically reducing the cost of these drugs, (2) shifting massive enforcement resources to prevention and treatment and (3) driving drug dealers out of business: no product, no profit, no incentive. In an ideal world, Mexico and the United States would move to repeal prohibition simultaneously (along with Canada). But even if we moved unilaterally, sweeping and lasting improvements to public safety (and public health) would be felt on both sides of the border. (Tragically and predictably, just as Mexico’s parliament was about to reform its U.S.-modeled drug laws, the Bush administration stepped in, pressuring President Vicente Fox to abandon the enlightened position he’d championed for two years.)

With drugs stringently controlled and regulated by our own government, Mexico would once again become a safe, inviting place for American tourists — and for its own citizens, who pay the steepest price of all for our insistence on waging an immoral, unwinnable war on drugs.

Ampakines Reverse Brain Aging In Rats

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Ampakines Reverse Brain Aging In Rats — even after the drug itself has left the body:

A drug made to enhance memory appears to trigger a natural mechanism in the brain that fully reverses age-related memory loss, even after the drug itself has left the body, according to researchers at UC Irvine.

Professors Christine Gall and Gary Lynch, along with Associate Researcher Julie Lauterborn, were among a group of scientists who conducted studies on rats with a class of drugs known as ampakines. Ampakines were developed in the early 1990s by UC researchers, including Lynch, to treat age-related memory impairment and may be useful for treating a number of central nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. In this study, the researchers showed that ampakine drugs continue to reverse the effects of aging on a brain mechanism thought to underlie learning and memory even after they are no longer in the body. They do so by boosting the production of a naturally occurring protein in the brain necessary for long-term memory formation.

The Expert Mind

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Philip E. Ross notes that when cognitive scientists want to study The Expert Mind, they study chess masters:

Skill at chess, however, can be measured, broken into components, subjected to laboratory experiments and readily observed in its natural environment, the tournament hall. It is for those reasons that chess has served as the greatest single test bed for theories of thinking — the ‘Drosophila of cognitive science,’ as it has been called.

The take-away message of the article is that prodigies are made, not just born:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today’s record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player’s progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance — for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam — most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Where does motivation come from? From doing well early on:

Furthermore, success builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child’s motivation. A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average. In their early years, these children would have enjoyed a substantial advantage in size and strength when playing soccer with their teammates. Because the larger, more agile children would get more opportunities to handle the ball, they would score more often, and their success at the game would motivate them to become even better.

Folk Science

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

In Folk Science, Michael Shermer explains why our intuitions about how the world works are often wrong:

Folk astronomy, for example, told us that the world is flat, celestial bodies revolve around the earth, and the planets are wandering gods who determine our future. Folk biology intuited an élan vital flowing through all living things, which in their functional design were believed to have been created ex nihilo by an intelligent designer. Folk psychology compelled us to search for the homunculus in the brain — a ghost in the machine — a mind somehow disconnected from the brain. Folk economics caused us to disdain excessive wealth, label usury a sin and mistrust the invisible hand of the market.

The reason folk science so often gets it wrong is that we evolved in an environment radically different from the one in which we now live. Our senses are geared for perceiving objects of middling size — between, say, ants and mountains — not bacteria, molecules and atoms on one end of the scale and stars and galaxies on the other end. We live a scant three score and 10 years, far too short a time to witness evolution, continental drift or long-term environmental changes.

Causal inference in folk science is equally untrustworthy. We correctly surmise designed objects, such as stone tools, to be the product of an intelligent designer and thus naturally assume that all functional objects, such as eyes, must have also been intelligently designed. Lacking a cogent theory of how neural activity gives rise to consciousness, we imagine mental spirits floating within our heads. We lived in small bands of roaming hunter-gatherers that accumulated little wealth and had no experience of free markets and economic growth.

Healing power of electricity raises hope of new treatments

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

From Healing power of electricity raises hope of new treatments:

In preliminary lab tests, researchers showed that by controlling the weak electrical fields that arise naturally at wound sites, they could direct cells to either close or open up a wound at the flick of a switch. By making the cells move faster, they were able to speed up wound healing by 50%.

The role of electricity in wound healing has received scant attention from the scientific community since the German physiologist Emil Du Bois-Reymond cut his arm and measured the electrical field across the wound in the mid-1800s. But in the journal Nature today, an international team of scientists led by Aberdeen University not only confirms the effect but also unravels the genetic machinery behind it.

Using sheets of skin in dishes, Min Zhao and Colin McCaig show that electricity flows from the edges of a wound as soon as an incision is made. The current is triggered by positively charged sodium ions coursing through the tissue in one direction and an opposing rush of negatively charged chloride ions, together creating a voltage across the wound about 15 times weaker than an AA battery.

Baby Pygmy Slow Loris

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

Today’s dose of cute comes from this Baby Pygmy Slow Loris:

This photo provided by the Zoological Society of San Diego shows a baby pygmy slow loris at the San Diego, Calif., zoo’s nursery Thursday, July 27, 2006. The male was born June 24, and is now on display in a larger enclosure as it becomes more active. When the baby was born, it weighed 17 grams, and was one of the smallest babies the nursery has cared for. The loris, which now weighs 60 grams, was taken to the nursery after his mother was not giving him proper care.

Iron Grasshopper

Friday, July 28th, 2006

It looks to me like Richard Sandrak, the Little Hercules, may have his job outsourced to China.

Young Lu Di‘s kung-fu is strong:

Lu Di, 6, flexes his muscles as other students watch at a kungfu school in Songshan, central China’s Henan Province July 26, 2006. According to the school’s president Shi Yongdi, Lu did 10,000 push-ups in three hours and twenty minutes on July 22, 2006. Shi said the school was waiving his tuition for ten years due to his outstanding performance.

Rogue Captains Built First Global Market

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Rogue Captains Built First Global Market by ignoring their superiors’ orders:

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the East India Company established a monopolistic trade network on the high seas, gaining immense wealth and influence at home in England. Their ships sailed from Europe with silver and bullion, returning months or years later with exotic goods from Asia and Africa. Along the way, enterprising ships’ captains engaged in private trading of their own, abusing company resources for personal gain. Now, researchers at Columbia University have shown that it was this illicit trading, rather than officially sanctioned activity, that was directly responsible for the creation of the first global market and the success of the East India Company.”

The researchers analyzed data from 4,572 voyages undertaken by the East India Company between 1601 and 1833, totaling over 28,000 port-to-port journeys. In a paper in this month’s American Journal of Sociology, they describe how many rogue captains ignored orders to trade in established markets and then return directly to England, choosing instead to explore new locations and trade between local Asian ports for their own personal profit. Although they were breaking the law by appropriating supplies and ship crews for this private trading, in doing so they ultimately benefited the East India Company by building a larger market and gaining a unique knowledge of local market fluctuations.

“In the end they had a much larger trade network pioneered by these malfeasant captains, had more goods in their networks, and were better able to respond to the changing market in the East,” says Emily Erikson, the study’s lead author. By weaving together a complex network of ports, the opportunistic captains created a connection between Europe and East Asia whereby events in one region immediately affected the other. “They were engaging in criminal activity but that was actually necessary to build up what was the first instance of the global market,” says Erikson. She and co-author Peter Bearman argue that not only did these entrepreneurial individuals enable the East India Company to completely dominate East Asian trade by 1760, they also paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism by illicitly creating the first modern competitive market.

Because a market is a decentralized structure, it must consist of many individuals who can act in their own interest. “We sort of take the process for granted at this point,” says Erikson. “We live in a capitalist society, we think markets are good, we believe in individual freedom. But back then, people didn’t believe individual initiative was a good thing, especially in the context of a monopoly organization.” As East India Company captains acted in their own interest, they inadvertently expanded their market, generating more demand for manufactured products of the West and building England’s wealth — thereby catalyzing the Industrial Revolution. “In short, before the invention of steamships, the East India Company laid down the commercial ties that served as a template for the modern world-trade system,” write the authors.

(Hat tip to Jesse Walker at Reason.)

Designer Jeans From Designer Genes

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Before discussing Designer Jeans From Designer Genes, Dr. Henry Miller notes the many “green” uses of gene-splicing, including three unrelated uses mentioned in a recent biotech journal:

The first of these involved moving two barley genes into rice, which increases more than four-fold the yield in alkaline soil (a problem in thirty per cent of arable land worldwide).

The second showed that moving a single gene from the petunia into tomato markedly increases the concentration of antioxidant compounds called flavonols, the consumption of which in food appears to be correlated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The third was a proof-of-principle experiment that demonstrated that the addition of a single bacterial gene to a mammal (in this case a mouse, used as a model system) enables the animal to more efficiently metabolize phosphates from feed, thereby reducing the phosphate content of their excreta. Adapted to large animals like cows and pigs, this approach could lower the phosphate content of manure from intensively farmed livestock and reduce the phosphate runoff into waterways and aquifers.

The Novel Moscow Feared

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

John Miller explains that The Novel Moscow Feared was “the ur-text of science-fiction dystopias”:

Authors sometimes gripe about the long wait between the completion of a book and its publication. Perhaps the sad case of the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin will help them put things in perspective: He finished his novel “We” in 1921, but it didn’t appear in print in his native land until 1988.

The problem wasn’t that Zamyatin and his manuscript were obscure or unknown. Rather, it was that they offended communist censors, who correctly understood “We” to be a savage critique of the totalitarianism that was starting to take shape in the years following the Russian Revolution.

They managed to suppress “We” inside the Soviet Union, but they weren’t able to keep it from making a deep impression elsewhere: Two of the most iconic novels in the English language — “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “1984″ by George Orwell — owe an enormous debt to Zamyatin.

That’s because “We” is the ur-text of science-fiction dystopias: It described an Orwellian society almost three decades before Orwell invented his own version. Although the book has never been especially hard to find in the U.S. — editions have been in print since 1924 — it will now become even more readily available, thanks to Natasha Randall’s new translation, published this month by the Modern Library.

In case you don’t use the prefix ur- on a regular basis, here’s a definition:

Ur- is a German prefix meaning “prot(o)-”, “first”, “oldest”, “original” when used with a noun. In combination with an adjective, it can be translated as the intensifier “very”.

10 questions for Charles Murray

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Gene Expression’s 10 questions for Charles Murray opens with this amusing comment on scientists and human nature:

The geneticist J.B.S. Haldane famously remarked that important theories went through four stages of acceptance: “i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.”

Charles Murray is, of course, responsible for quite a bit of “worthless nonsense”:

This process would be quite familiar to Charles Murray, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has gained a reputation for staking out controversial positions a decade before they become mainstream. Starting with Losing Ground in 1984, later with Richard Herrnstein in 1994′s The Bell Curve, and most recently with In Our Hands, Murray has made his name as a public intellectual by dropping well-researched bombshells onto policy debates. In between, he’s published shorter books on political philosophy and a thorough historical study of human accomplishment in the arts and sciences.

In In Our Hands, he notes that the US is “awash in money,” but there’s a better way to redistribute it — if that’s your goal:

Instead of sending taxes to Washington, straining them through bureaucracies and converting what remains into a muddle of services, subsidies, in-kind support and cash hedged with restrictions and exceptions, just collect the taxes, divide them up, and send the money back in cash grants to all American adults. Make the grant large enough so that the poor won’t be poor, everyone will have enough for a comfortable retirement, and everyone will be able to afford health care. We’re rich enough to do it.

Why would he recommend this?

Mancur Olson and other public-choice theorists taught us that sugar farmers can get sugar subsidies because they care passionately about getting their benefit while no other constituency cares enough about preventing them from getting it. Under the Plan, the grant will be the only game in town (every other transfer is gone), and will affect every adult in the country. Every time Congress debates a change in the grant, it will be the biggest political news story in the country, and a very large chunk of the population — and people holding a huge majority of the monetary resources for fighting political battles — will lose money if it’s raised. Compare the prospects for jacking up the grant with the certain knowledge we have of the trends in spending under the current system. They have sky-rocketed and will sky-rocket, through classic public choice dynamics. The Plan uses the only strategy I can conceive to get out of the public-choice box.

Britain’s kids sweat it out in new mini-gyms

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Britain’s kids sweat it out in new mini-gyms:

“I just want to get fit,” she says.

She goes to the gym five times a week.

She is nine years old.

Bradley’s parents suggested she join this gym in Potters Bar, southeast England, to help make new friends when they moved into the area.

She is now one of a growing band of children across Britain — some as young as five — who have been bitten by the gym bug.

With child-sized treadmills, exercise bikes and resistance weight machines, mirrors on the wall and pop music pumping out, this gym in Potters Bar looks and feels just like its larger adult version.

Children are attracted by its grown-up feel, but also say they want somewhere to go with their friends, somewhere to do some new kinds of exercise.

At least 80 such gyms have opened in Britain in recent years, and one of the leading kid gym companies, Shokk, says it alone is opening new ones at a rate of around three a month.

With memberships reaching the hundreds for each one, tens of thousands of children across Britain are expected to pump weights and sweat it out on running machines this summer.

Evidently the idea was exported from America. Who knew?

Dominic Lacasse

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

You must watch this Amazing Acrobatics Video of Dominic Lacasse.