Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The anti-GMO movement…

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

It’s surprising how many people are anti-GMO, playing into the hands of unscrupulous marketers who have made a lot of money attending to their whims. The whole idea is absurd, of course. Humans have been making GMOs since prehistoric times. Their creations weren’t called such a nasty, degrading name as GMO, to be sure, because the usual name until hysteria took hold was “domesticated variety” or something similar. New technologies just speed up the process, but they just continue this process.

A recent article in Science News should be read by every anti-GMO activist on this planet, many of them in the U.S. (These probably overlap considerably with the anti-immunization crowd, PETA members, vegetarians, and vegans.) OK, I’m being a bit snarky here—I don’t really care about what your belief and behavioral choices are as long as you don’t proselytize about them by shouting in my face.

Back to the Science News article; it’s titled “The Road to Tameness” (SN, p. 21, July 8, 2017). I’ll extract from that articale a short list of ancient GMOs: golden hamsters, horses, silkworms, dogs, cats, chickens, honeybees, rice, foxes, watermelons, wheat, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, camels, ducks, sheep, corn, tulips, and roses. There are many more. Human beings have been genetically tinkering for ages. One really impressive sight is to drive through Holland when all those tulips are in bloom. Guess how many varieties in those fields of color are wild.

The article’s title is politically correct; SN always tries to stand above the cultural and political wars. They talk about “tameness” and “domestication” in the article. I talk about ancient GMOs and genetic engineering. Po-tah-toe v. po-tay-toe. No matter what you call it, human beings have been genetically tinkering for a long time.

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Information overload…

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Maybe I’m just getting old, but every day it seems to be more difficult to process the information I look for and find. I seem to be drowning in it. I try to be selective, but the selection takes time too. Some days the selection process takes more time than processing the information I’ve received.

Information is now mined by corporations who sell what they’ve mined to other corporations. The latter are probably in the same boat I’m in. Will Corporate America come to a grinding halt when it has so much information that it can’t process it? Will I?

Some computer gurus discuss a tipping point when computer networks become sentient and human beings become superfluous. (The Terminator movies are built on this premise.) I don’t think that will happen. When information overload maxes out, computers will be turned off, AIs, robots, and androids will crazy, and civilization will end. We’ll probably return to a hunter-gather society. The only information we’ll need then is what to hunt and what to gather.

We’re already networking computers to solve problems of great complexity. But will we reach the point that the solutions to these problems are just as complex and human beings can’t begin to understand them? I can imagine a worldwide network going crazy because it has solved a complex and important problem but the solution is so complex that only another worldwide network can understand it!

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Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Apocalypse redux…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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Fake news and misleading stats…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

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Is nuclear power off the table?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

In my forthcoming novel, Gaia and the Goliaths, #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Detective Castilblanco considers some of the pros and cons about nuclear power. The novel’s main theme involves climate and environmental issues, pro-environmental activism, and attacks on the environment waged by corporations and their political sycophants.  Russia, known for its lack of concern about the environment and the Chernobyl disaster, plays an important role too. These issues are current ones now, considering the new U.S. administration that will invade Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump and his cabinet choices will probably set back any progress we’ve made on environmental issues, except for states like California that are far more progressive than Washington, and there are plenty of willing accomplices for Trump’s team in the GOP-dominated Congress. The new president thinks global warming is a hoax and climate control isn’t necessary. But questionable actions have been taken by Dems too. There is a general consensus among politicians that nuclear power is bad, so let’s get rid of it.

For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has championed the closing of the Indian Head power plant on the Hudson, mentioned in my novel, without having any viable alternative for replacing the power the plant generates. Many European countries depend on nuclear power, as does Japan. Is it dirty energy? Are nuclear power plants accidents waiting to happen? Have politicians created a Frankenstein monster in order to win votes from environmental activists?

First, let’s state for the record what affects global warming and is bad for the climate, namely fossil fuels. Presumably Cuomo, who has no technical background and is apparently channeling Van Helsing in his pursuit of nuclear energy as an evil vampire, will replace Indian Head’s power output with coal-burning or natural gas power plants. Those are worse for the environment. We need to reduce the carbon footprint, not augment it. Any environmental campaign must be anti-fossil fuels because there is no way to use them that won’t damage the environment. Period.

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Irish Stew #59…

Monday, January 9th, 2017

International

Classic Putin? His refusal to expel U.S. diplomats in response to Obama’s retaliation for Russian hacking and inviting the diplomats’ kids to a Christmas party made me wonder if a bare-chested Putin would ride in to the party on a reindeer sporting the rest of Santa’s costume. Even without the latter, Putin’s response makes Putin look like a PR genius (can I hire his PR people for my books?) and Obama look like a chump. McCain rightly states that Putin is a murdering thug, though, and certainly not on Santa’s “nice list,” so maybe Trump’s chump for SecState won’t be approved by the Senate. Trump is swimming in dangerous waters! No one likes Putin except Trump and the narcissistic despot himself.

I’ve been very careful to separate the sleazy practices at the DNC exposed by the Russian hackers from the criminal actions of the hackers and the man who commands them, Vladimir Putin. Obama is right to say that we should be on the same page about Putin’s nefarious attempts to undermine the American election, now established by U.S. intelligence leaders—Putin is the enemy here. But I’m not alone in wondering if Obama and other Dems would give a rat’s ass about this if it had been the RNC that was hacked, or if HRC had won. Those who would say HRC lost because of the hack in spite of the findings from the intelligence community, and the continue to blame the FBI director, should just move on. Trump won, figure out why, and never let it happen again. Moreover, let’s work our butts off to keep this psycho Il Duce from destroying the world!

The art of the deal? To many one-percenters, war is a business. Either Trump wants to pander to these ghouls, or he wants a piece of the action. The U.S. sells more arms to the rest of the world than any other country and, of course, the Pentagon still wants their new and improved toys too. People get rich off war. Il Duce Trump, not content with the endowment Nature gave him, wants to extend it by forging new swords to brandish internationally. “Let’s have another arms race,” he says, “because we’ll have bigger and better bombs.” (OK, I couldn’t find the direct quote, but that’s the idea!). We have a recipe for disaster on an international scale. At the very least, I can see international conflagrations occurring as more bodies, Americans and others, are poured into the maws of Mars. Insane!

National

What’s with deifying Elizabeth Warren? This faux-progressive is becoming Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc for all HRC’s liberal faux-progressives licking their wounds after the presidential election. I can imagine “liberal Catholics” (now there’s an oxymoron!) proposing her for sainthood. Just remember, ye true progressives across the land, she campaigned for HRC in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the primaries instead of Bernie Sanders. Remember that guy, the one who could have beaten Il Duce Trump? Warren and the rest of HRC’s sleaze-team got what they deserved. And Warren is part of that crowd! She just announced she will run in 2018. I’m hoping there’s a true Massachusetts progressive candidate who will run against this faux-progressive in the primary.

Healthcare. Mitch McConnell says the first item on the agenda for the new Congress is to end the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare. McConnell, Ryan, and others in the GOP are already talking about slashing Medicare and Social Security, and Medicaid is on the way out. Do the American people really want to turn back the clock to when health insurance meant insurance that you would die young? When insurance companies dropped you as soon as you contracted something serious? When millions of people’s insurance reduced to emergency visits to ERs?

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Irish Stew #58…

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

[Double billing today…don’t get used to it, but 2017 is starting out with a lot of news to comment on. Don’t be shy. Your comments are always welcome, even rants. Just keep them clean!]

International

Russia and Syria declare ceasefire. How nice of them! Who’s speaking for the rebels? We have an international refugee crisis in the area; Aleppo, Palmyra, and other cities are completely destroyed and their populations dead; and Assad and Putin are patting each other on the back and chortling about how many rebels they’ve killed. Maybe ISIS will regroup and refocus and go after Assad—he deserves it!

Team Assad/Putin are closing in on Stalin’s record for murders, and Papa Joe had a lot more years under his belt. If there’s a Devil, he has some good assistants who work despotic hand in skeletal hand with the Grim Reaper. So little time…so many people to kill!

Say goodbye to the two-state solution. Netanyahu doesn’t want it, Trump doesn’t want it, and the Arabs don’t want it because it works against their campaign to destroy Israel. The main problem in the Middle East? Everyone wants a scapegoat. Secondary problem? Saudi Arabia! Even with low oil prices, the Saudi royalty are still living the rich life. When their people reach the level of the long-suffering Palestinians, maybe something will change. By then Netanyahu might be begging for his life!

National

Media and public senility. Loss of short term memory, they say, is one indication of senility. Whether senility or just plain stupidity, the American media and public have become so focused on the Russian hackers that the big issue has been forgotten. Did Russian hackers help Donald Trump or hurt HRC? There’s a difference, folks, and not recognizing it is part of that senility or stupidity too!

Not to minimize cyberwarfare crimes perpetrated by pimp Putin’s hacker-whores, let’s deal with reality: there were sleazy crimes committed by HRC and her followers once Mr. Sanders entered the primaries, and they continued all the way through them, the convention, and the 2016 election. Here’s a Bishop Berkeley-like question: if illegalities are committed by a candidate, campaign, and political party, does it matter who exposed them?

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Irish Stew #57…

Monday, December 19th, 2016

International

Let’s go to war! Cyber warfare, of course. Maybe Obama actually said to Putin, “We can do stuff to you,” but he’s been like a turtle swimming in molasses with his actions against the Russian despot. And it’s not just Putin’s hackers. We should declare cyber warfare against all hackers. The bozos who stole more than 1 billion plus users’ info from Yahoo (obviously not just U.S. users are represented) and are selling it on the dark web should be tracked down and thrown in jail. Edward Snowden should be kidnapped in Russia and brought back to a firing squad. X Manning (I don’t know what to call her/him, so I’ll use X) should join him.

Screwing around with idle threats, Mr. President, will not clean up the internet. Stop this now, or it will only get worse. If it comes to turning power plants off or creating run-away nuclear facilities or crashing multiple commercial planes, it’s too late. Let’s get NATO involved too, because this war is international and Europe is threatened, although they might be too complacent to realize it.

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