Sometimes It Just Takes One Mistake

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Eric Falkenstein notes that sometimes it just takes one mistake:

Sports are so compelling because they embody the essence of life: meaningless at some level, but the competition, excellence, and courage are as good a collection of virtues one can observe. The key is that the excellence is refined, a mastery that takes skill and practice at something many others appreciate. I used to wrestle and keep up with college wrestling, but I really like the mixed martial arts as practiced in the UFC. This weekend’s UFC had another classic bout, with the huge Brock Lesnar looking invincible, just like Fedor Emelianenko. He’s just freaky strong, country strong. Once in a college wrestling match he broke his opponent’s pelvic bone in a cradle.

But Cain Velasquez is really talented too, and highlights that in this sport no one is that much better than everyone else. To look at him next to Lesnar, you think, this guy’s in trouble, but MMA fighting takes a lot more than strength and speed (though those are necessary and sometimes sufficient). Velasquez withstood Lesnar’s initial assault, and then actually took Lesnar down with a nifty high crotch, in a move that didn’t seem too flashy. That is, he made it look more like a slip than an actual offensive move. Then, coming from a wrestling background, Lesnar instinctively took a wrestler defense by getting to his base, a big mistake in mixed martial arts where striking and joint locks are in play. This opened him up to devastating strikes to the head that left him dazed. By the time Lesnar stood up he was dizzy, and Velasquez seized on this opportunity and finished him with strikes and a nice knee. Another very strategic match, where a small mistake leads to catastrophic failure.

Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Kit

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide) shares what’s in his own zombie survival kit:

Don MacDonald’s Machiavelli Graphic Novel

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Artist Don MacDonald’s Machiavelli graphic novel, as Jimmy Guterman of Boing Boing puts it, “shows how the real mid-level diplomat in 15th-century city has no relation to the evil opportunist he’s painted as in the popular imagination.”

BioLite CampStove

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

As the demonstration shows, the BioLite CampStove burns ordinary twigs and leaves — but it burns them far more completely, and thus at a higher temperature with almost no smoke, because it converts some of the heat into electricity to power a fan, which drives more oxygen into its burning chamber.

Why Breasts Are the Key to the Future of Regenerative Medicine

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Implants have always struck me as a crude way to reshape the human body.  Now researchers are perfecting the use of stem cells for breast reconstruction and augmentation — with the promise that the same technology will eventually be applied to more vital body parts.

The American technology first found a home in Japan, for peculiarly Japanese reasons:

They found their humans in Japan, where the company had connections to surgeons through their business partners. But Japan made sense for another reason: There, the disfigurement of a mastectomy or lumpectomy is tantamount to social banishment. Much of a traditional woman’s social life centers on public baths, and those whose breast cancer has left them deformed seldom go. When Keizo Sugimachi, a surgeon and president of Kyushu Central Hospital in Fukuoka, learned what Cytori was developing, he launched an investigator-initiated (as opposed to Cytori-sponsored) trial, dubbed Restore 1. Over the course of six months in 2006, he treated 20 women who’d had a partial mastectomy two to five years before. It was also the first clinical use of Cytori’s Celution System. Hedrick assisted on nearly all of the procedures and helped orchestrate how each would progress.
They got better with each case, improving the protocol as they went. In December 2007, Sugimachi told the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium that all 20 of the women in Restore 1 tolerated the procedure just fine, none had an immune response, and 79 percent were satisfied with the outcome. There was no significant loss of breast size between one month and the final assessment 12 months later. That was a crucial barometer, given what happens when plastic surgeons inject fat alone, which was a popular cosmetic-surgery technique in the 1980s and 1990s: The injected fat tended to vanish into the surrounding tissue several weeks later like butter into the crannies of a hot English muffin. (Women who opted for this method were encouraged to think of breast enhancement like a dye job — once the effect fades, go back for another session.) But Cytori’s adipose stem cells stuck around.
Restore 1 showed that Cytori’s cells could rebuild breasts lost to cancer. The next logical step was trying it out for breast augmentation. Perhaps not surprisingly, once again this happened in Japan. The country has a strong and entrenched cultural prejudice against putting anything foreign into one’s body; organ transplants were slow to be adopted in Japan and still remain rare. But if that ick factor is the immovable object, the Western-inspired desire for bigger breasts is the irresistible force.

In late 2007, cosmetic surgeon Tatsuro Kamakura of Cosmetic Surgery Seishin in Japan began a study of the Celution System for breast augmentation, eventually enrolling 20 women. In 2008 he told the Congress of the Japan Society of Aesthetic Surgery that the first three patients kept their new volume and that the tissue remained soft and natural. He had injected an average of 160 cc of stem-cell-loaded fat droplets, boosting breast circumference an average of 4 centimeters (1.6 cup sizes). In commercial use, a new breast could run about $2,000 to $2,800, depending on physician charges. “It’s probably a $1 billion market,” Calhoun says. “You can buy an appliance with a 30 to 40 percent unpleasant rate or you can use your own cells. Which would you choose?”

But the possibilities aren’t boundless. “It’s not a substitute for implants for women who want to look, um, unnaturally large,” Hedrick says. “You can’t take a flat-chested woman and make her look like a dancer at a strip club. We’re not targeting that market. If they don’t care about looking natural, let them do silicone. The goal of this is a natural, soft-tissue feeling. Plus, there is a whole new market of women who would love another 100 to 200 cc but would never have an implant. I think that’s bigger than the current breast implant market” — a sea of women who wouldn’t consider a silicone implant but who would be intrigued by the opportunity to have their breasts plumped with cells from their own bodies while reducing the fat in their hips and abdomen to boot.

Conservative Case for Public Transit

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

William Lind presents the conservative case for public transit:

The fundamental reason conservatives should support public transportation is because traditionally we’ve been strong on national security. The country’s single greatest national security vulnerability is our dependence on imported oil. For at least half of the American population, that dependence is complete; that is to say only half of the population has any public transit available at all. The first conservative virtue, as Russell Kirk argued, is prudence. It strikes us as wildly imprudent to make our mobility hostage to events in unstable parts of the world.

The second [reason] is that there is a myth that has grown out of the libertarian camp — libertarians and conservatives are often confused, but in fact they’re very different — that somehow public transportation is subsidized and highways are not. Well, that’s nonsense. The latest Federal Highway Administration statistics show that user fees, including the gas tax, only cover 58 percent of the direct costs of highways. That’s not even looking at the vast indirect costs. And many rail — not bus, but rail — public transit systems are able to cover 50 percent and more of their expenses out of the fare box. Of course they’re all built with government money, mostly federal, more federal in the highways than transit. Highways get 80 percent federal; normally transit only gets 50 percent. So the picture that many conservatives have that it’s a matter of free enterprise versus subsidy couldn’t be more wrong.
Finally, conservatives have seen in city after city — Portland, Ore., is only one of many examples — how light rail and streetcars boost property values. In fact, the closer you are to a rail station, the higher your property value. The closer you are to a highway interchange, the lower your property value. We’ve seen relatively small investments — less than $100 million in the case of Portland’s initial streetcar line — bring a couple billion dollars in development.

Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing found herself saying “Preach it!” — until Lind took this “detour into Crazytown”:

If it’s possible to give the kids a transit pass instead of a car, that household is going to save a great deal of money. So the middle class also has interest in having transit. Again, what they’re not going to do is get on a regular city bus. The population on board will be largely minority; conservatives usually are white or Asian. They’re not going to be comfortable surrounded by blacks and Hispanics. They’re not going to do that.
The fact of the matter is, according to federal government statistics, the black rate of violent crime is 12 times the white rate. Not double, not triple, not quadruple! Quadruple times triple. People avoid, particularly, young black males. And a lot of public transit now particularly at school hours is carrying a lot of young people home from school. This is very real problem of disorder on public transit from those inner city kids. The perception among not just whites but Asians and pretty much everybody, that they don’t want to be around young black males, is based on facts, there’s nothing to do with “-isms.” So the fact of the matter is that where public transit is heavily used by minorities, everybody else is going to avoid it. They’re doing so not because they’re dirty, nasty racists, they’re doing so out of self-preservation.
If public transit is told it cannot take that reality into account, then its utility is going to be marginal for riders from choice. Because a major reason why people want the private automobile is because it’s private, even when it’s very inconvenient to be stuck in traffic, they say I don’t have to worry about who might sit next to me.

Only a madman would believe that middle-class whites would pay a premium to avoid sitting next to inner-city black youths on the bus.

I’m surprised this common-sense solution was in fact implemented in the old Soviet Union:

A lot of Soviet bus and trolley bus lines had separate first and second class buses. The Paris Metro until recently, and they were really stupid to get rid of it, had separate first class cars for the train. As soon as you have a slight extra fare, anybody who’s worried about who they might have to ride with — and in much of the world this is what women do to protect themselves — will pay the relatively small extra fare, because they’ll know they’ll be riding with a class of people where it’s going to be safer. In parts of the world now, you have special cars that are women only, for the same reason. This is simply transit accommodating reality.

A Digital Media Primer for Geeks

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Eric S. Raymond (The Cathedral and the Bazaar) recommends this digital media primer for geeks as “hands down and no exceptions, the best instructional video [he has] ever seen.”

Crocodile on plane kills 19 passengers

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

When I first read the Australian news headline that a crocodile on a plane had killed 19 passengers, I had an image of a saltie tearing apart tourists on a jetliner — which seemed not just gruesome but implausible.

What really happened was that a passenger on a domestic flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo — from the capital, Kinshasa, to the regional airport at Bandundu — had brought a crocodile on board, hidden in a large sports bag.

He had plans to sell the crocodile, but it got out of the bag, terrified the passengers, and caused a stampede — which unbalanced the small Czech-made Let L-410 Turbolet, sending it crashing down onto an empty house “just a few hundred metres from its destination.”

Welcome to Africa.

The Economic Argument

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Ideas must be judged by how well they fit reality, Ilkka notes. This is xkcd‘s economic argument:

Ilkka continues:

This is, of course, also the very reason why science and engineering graduates earn so much more than humanities graduates. Speaking of the wage gap, the argument in the strip also disproves the claim that women get paid 30% less than men for the same work, for some varying value of 30. If a wage gap this huge really existed, any corporation (who were supposed to be greedy and sociopathic and care only about their profits, remember?) could instantly massively cut their payroll costs by hiring only women. Then again, the real wage gap is nowhere near 30%, especially if we look at the median wage (not as easily swayed by a handful of billionaires), and more importantly, define “equal work” as truly equal work instead of the Marxist sense of “labor theory of value” where a social worker and a systems engineer do “equal” work simply because they both work the same number of hours each day and spent the same number of years in college.

Lots of Water on Moon

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Wall Street Journal cites six upcoming Science papers that conclude that there is a lot more water on the moon than anyone expected:

“It’s really wet,” said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.

The presence of so much water strengthens the argument for establishing a manned lunar base from which to launch other interplanetary adventures. Water is crucial because its components, hydrogen and oxygen, are key ingredients for rocket fuel.

Having a source of water on the moon is critical because the cost of transporting a large amount from earth would be prohibitive. On the moon, a bottle of water would run about $50,000, according to NASA, because that is what it costs, per pound, to launch anything to the moon.

American Charity offers UK drug addicts £200 to be sterilised

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

An American charity is offering UK drug addicts £200 to be sterilised:

Project Prevention is offering to pay £200 to any drug user in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Leicester and parts of Wales who agrees to be operated on.
Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris admitted her methods amounted to “bribery”, but said it was the only way to stop babies being physically and mentally damaged by drugs during pregnancy.

Drug treatment charity Addaction estimates one million children in the UK are living with parents who abuse drugs.

Pregnant addicts can pass on the dependency to the unborn child, leading to organ and brain damage.

Mrs Harris set up her charity in North Carolina after adopting the children of a crack addict.

Speaking to the BBC’s Inside Out programme, she said: “The birth mother of my children obviously dabbled in all drugs and alcohol — she literally had a baby every year for eight years.

“I get very angry about the damage that drugs do to these children.”

After paying 3,500 addicts across the United States not to have children, she is now visiting parts of the UK blighted by drugs to encourage users to undergo “long-term birth control” for cash.

Naturally, offering the option to receive long-term birth control can only be described as devious:

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Addaction, said while no-one wanted to see children brought up in a drug-using environment, there was no place for Project Prevention in the UK.

“It exploits very vulnerable people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol at probably the lowest point in their lives,” he said.

The Reverend Robert Black, of Victory Outreach, which works with former addicts in east London, said he thought Project Prevention’s aims were “very devious”.

These very vulnerable people are in no place to make a decision about long-term birth control — but they can raise children just fine.

The AK-47 of Trucks

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Toyota Hilux — known to Americans as the Tacoma — has a reputation as an indestructible truck. Top Gear put that reputation to the test:

The show’s producers bought an 18-year-old Hilux diesel with 190,000 miles on the odometer for $1,500. They then crashed it into a tree, submerged it in the ocean for five hours, dropped it from about 10 feet, tried to crush it under an RV, drove it through a portable building, hit it with a wrecking ball, and set it on fire. Finally they placed it on top of a 240-foot tower block that was then destroyed in a controlled demolition. When they dug it out of the rubble, all it took to get it running again was hammers, wrenches, and WD-40. They didn’t even need spare parts.

The Hilux was originally designed, says Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s design division in California, as “a lightweight truck with big tires on big wheels. It was meant as a recreational truck, a truck people could have fun with. They also have a really high ground clearance, which means they’re ideal for off-road work.”

They have always been built, says Hunter, as “body-on-frame” trucks: “There’s a rigid steel frame construction, and the body is fitted on top of that. That’s much stronger that most modern cars, where the body and frame are one. I would describe them as bulletproof. We get people who run them for years. There are 200,000 or 300,000 miles on them and they’re still going.”

And that’s why it has become the AK-47 of trucks:

“The Toyota Hilux is everywhere,” says Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and now a fellow of the Center for a New American Security. “It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.” Anecdotally, a scan of pictures from the last four decades of guerrilla and insurgent warfare around the world—the first iteration of the Hilux appeared in the late ’60s—reveals the Toyota’s wide-ranging influence. Somali pirates bristling with guns hang out of them on the streets of Mogadishu. The New York Times has reported that the Hilux is the pirates’ “ride of choice.” A ragtag bunch of 20 or so Sudanese fighters raise their arms aloft in the back of a Hilux in 2004. Pakistani militants drive through a crowd, guns high, in 2000. It goes on. Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq—U.S. Special Forces even drive Toyota Tacomas (the chunkier, U.S. version of the Hilux) on some of their deployments.

The militarized versions are known as technicals:

The truck even has a war named after it: the so-called “Toyota War” between Libya and Chad in the 1980s was dominated by fighters using the light, mobile Hilux. Indeed, Africa, says Kilcullen, is where the truck got its nickname as a fighting vehicle, “the technical.” “When [nongovernmental organizations] and the U.N. first went into Somalia,” he says, referring to a period in the 1990s, “they were not able to bring their own guards. So they got so-called ‘technical assistance grants’ to hire guards and drivers on the ground. Over time, a ‘technical’ came to mean a vehicle owned by a guard company, and then eventually to mean a Hilux with a heavy weapon mounted on the back.”

The Toyota is such a widespread and powerful weapon for insurgents, says Dr. Alastair Finlan, who specializes in strategic studies at Britain’s Aberystwyth University, because it acts as a “force multiplier.” It is “fast, maneuverable, and packs a big punch [when it’s mounted with] a 50-caliber [machine gun] that easily defeats body armor on soldiers and penetrates lightly armored vehicles as well.” It is particularly dangerous, he adds, against lightly armed special-forces operatives.

Immaculate Telegraphy

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

As part of his Immaculate Telegraphy project, Jamie O’Shea took raw materials from the wilderness (of New Jersey), and turned them into a working battery — which could, in theory, grow into a stone-age telegraph network, with enough hard work — and malachite:

Mountain goat kills hiker in Olympic National Park

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

A mountain goat has killed a hiker in Olympic National Park, in Washington:

Witnesses said Mr Boardman, his wife and friend had stopped for lunch on Klahhane Ridge when the ram appeared and moved towards them.

Mr Boardman tried to shoo the animal away but it instead attacked him. After goring the hiker the goat stood over him, and had to be pelted with rocks by a ranger before finally moving away.
The 63-year-old was transported by US Coast Guard helicopter to a hospital in Port Angeles, where he was pronounced dead.

Rangers later killed the goat, which was known for its aggressive behaviour.

Barb Maynes, park spokeswoman, told the Peninsula Daily News that in the past rangers had tried “hazing” the ram — inducing it to be frightened of people — by shooting it with bean bags and throwing rocks.

But there had been no reports of any incidents which would have warranted killing the goat, she added.

I was a bit confused by this note:

Some 300 mountain goats live in Olympic National Park. Found only in North America, they usually stand about 3ft (0.9m) at the shoulder and can weigh up to 300lbs (136kg).

Goats live in the mountains elsewhere, but only the Rocky Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) goes by the name mountain goat.

The goat that lives in the Alps is the Alpine ibex — totally different.

(Hat tip to Todd, who laments that wild animals are f—ing savages.)

The Genesis of Dr. Strangelove

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Dan Lindley provides a study guide to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, which discusses the genesis of the film:

Dr. Strangelove is based on Red Alert by Peter George (who used the pen name Peter Bryant). George was an RAF major in military intelligence. While serving at a U.S. airbase in the U.K, a B-47 roared overhead, shaking a precariously perched coffee cup and sending it crashing to the floor. Someone said “that’s the way World War III will start.” and George was off to the races with an idea to write Red Alert. George wrote the book in three weeks.

The story of how Red Alert inspired the film goes back to 1958 when someone handed Thomas Schelling the book during an airplane flight. As the first detailed scenario of how someone might start a nuclear war, Schelling found the book sufficiently interesting to purchase and give away around four dozen copies. Over lunch with a magazine editor, Schelling discussed writing an article on accidental nuclear war, and mentioned Red Alert. The editor suggested opening up the article with a review of the literature on WWIII. So, Schelling wrote the article and reviewed Red Alert, On the Beach, and Alas Babylon. The magazine rejected the article, but it was soon published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (36) A friend of Schelling who wrote for the Observer of London got the Bulletin article reprinted in full as the lead story in the features section. Stanley Kubrick read the newspaper story, then the Bulletin article, called up the publishers of Red Alert, and got in touch with George. Kubrick, Schelling, and George then sat down for an afternoon to discuss how to make the movie.

When the book was written, intercontinental missiles were not a factor in the strategic balance. But by the time they discussed the movie, both ground and submarine launched missiles were gaining in importance compared to bombers. Kubrick, Schelling, and George spent much time trying to see of they could start the war and play out the crisis with missiles. They could not. Only bombers provided enough time to make all the war room scenes possible. In particular, they wanted to create the strategic choice of whether the President would exploit the bomber launch to send in follow-on forces.(37) With missiles, the war would have started much too quickly. One theme of the book was how hard it was to actually start a nuclear war. Schelling noted that this theme got a bit lost in the film.

According to Schelling, another concern of Kubrick’s was to avoid insulting or attacking the U.S. Air Force. (38) Kubrick found himself in a bind on this because he couldn’t start the war without a psychopathic officer. This was one reason the characters in the film are at times so exaggerated and unbelievable. In the end, a major reason the film is so comedically effective is the way it alternates between absolute realism (such as in its military standard operating procedures and terminology) and incredible zaniness. (39) According to Terry Southern, George’s Red Alert helped set the stage for deadpan realism in Dr. Strangelove: “Perhaps the best thing about the book was the fact that the national security regulations in England, concerning what could and could not be published, were extremely lax by American standards. George had been able to reveal details concerning the “fail-safe” aspect of nuclear deterrence (for example, the so-called black box and the CRIM [sic] Discriminator) — revelations that, in the spy-crazy U.S.A. of the Cold War era, would have been downright treasonous. Thus the entire complicated technology of nuclear deterrence in Dr. Strangelove was based on a bedrock of authenticity that gave the film what must have been its greatest strength: credibility.” (40)

George was concerned that his American friends would hold the film against him. (41) Schelling wrote to reassure him, to say that was not true, that he liked the film and would be welcome as a friend on any future visit to the U.S. Later, Schelling wrote another letter saying he would be bringing his family to London, but George’s wife wrote back that George would not be responding…

Peter George committed suicide in June of 1966, perhaps in part because he suffered “fear and pain about the threat of nuclear war.” (42) One theme of this paper is that many of the fears raised by Peter George and in Dr. Strangelove were remarkably close to reality. The film makes fun of it, but the world was (and still is) a very scary place. Hopefully this article has made this clear, especially in its sections on the logic of deterrence and the devolution of authority, civil-military relations, pre-emption, the precariousness of MAD, and in the comparisons of film language to real language. After much scholarship and experience, these dangers are more easily seen in the year 2000. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Peter George was a pioneer in helping make us aware of these dangers. We should be grateful.

In that Bulletin piece, Metors, Mischief, and War, famed game-theorist Schelling sings the praises of Red Alert, “one of the niftiest little analyses to come along”:

The author does not frighten us with how loosely SAC might be organized and how easily the system could be subverted; what makes this book good fiction is what makes a good mystery — the author has used his ingenuity to make the problem hard.

(Hat tip to Kalim Kassam.)