Missle defense scandal covered by NY Times

I had the pleasure to hear Professor Postol talking about Missle Defense at the lecture series from the MIT Club of Boston – that was some time last year, I think in September or so. He didn’t say much more than what was covered by the Tech Review article – but it was interesting to see him answer to the questions of a highly skilled audience, and to see how solid his arguments were. If he’s right, he is about to uncover a huge scandal. I think it’s great that we still have passionate scientists with strong integrity.

Misconceptions about new Technologies

Ken Orr lists the following misconceptions about new technologies:

Myth: “Best possible” determines the choice of technology.
Reality: “Good enough” is the basis for choice.

Myth: Choice of technology results from rational analysis.
Reality: Choice is strongly influenced by convention and past practice.

Myth: Technology advances or discoveries usually are adopted eventually.
Reality: Most don’t succeed – and shouldn’t.

Myth: The biggest hurdle is making the original discovery – the downstream development is just a matter of applying the necessary effort.
Reality: Most of what is not yet known about a new discovery is probably bad and requires creativity to overcome.

Myth: Technological advances have intrinsic value.
Reality: The customer determines value.

Myth: Radically new advances will win.
Reality: New is not necessarily better.

Myth: The power of a new technology determines its success.
Reality: The infrastructure required to support it is often the determining factor.

Myth: Progress in technology comes principally from continuing to improve performance.
Reality: Progress requires establishing standards, imposing constraints, and achieving routine.

Myth: A new technology can be grafted onto an existing business.
Reality: The new product and the business system developed to produce it should be created together.

Pharma-Crop contamination

Now, this is one of the stories where it’s important to separate myth from truth, hype from facts. Unfortunately, the article is not very accurate. But there are a number of good comments on the associated Slashdot discussion.

Most importantly, no genes jumped. The contamination stems from the plants being mixed together, but not their genes. The crops still have to be destroyed as a precaution, because the chemicals produced by the genes could have contaminated the soy.

To address some of the “gene jumping” concerns: In nature, genes don’t jump from sexual organisms to others of a different species (that’s why in your garden, tulips stay tulips, even if they’re next to a rose bush). However, to implant genes into plans, they are made “transgenic” (by putting the genes into plasmids, transposons or viruses). This could in fact enable them to “jump” to other plant species.

Bottom line: There is a lot of misinformation around, and many dangers are exaggerated. At the same time, I really want to make sure that we understand the consequences, before we plant acres of plants that have hightly active medication inside!

California’s coast – in high resolution

The pictures are spectacular – upon entering the site, you’ll be shown a random picture of the series. The technology is interesting as well – it’s described in detail on the site. In a nutshell, the pictures are shot with a high resolution digital camera from a helicopter, and stored on an Apple powerbook, together with the exact position from a GPS receiver.

jastram.de redesign is up and running

As I kept writing these little blurbs once in a while (mostly for myself – is anybody reading ;-), the filesystem based scripts started to ache. So I looked around for a decend PHP driven message board. I played around with a few, but there was nothing out there that really did what I wanted. Either it had a different purpose, was totally overblown, or just awkward (I spent a lot of time with PHPSlash, but it was quite cumbersome.

Even though I usually don’t like writing stuff from scratch that could otherwise be gotten, I decided to do it after all. For one, it’s really not such a big deal (a few hundred lines of code, excluding HTML); second, it’s a nice portfolio piece, the next time I am out looking for a job; and third, it’s a lot of fun.

jastram.de is online again!

Well, I am still here! To make a long story short, the company that was in charge of maintaining my DNS entry (essentially a “phone book entry” between the name “jastram.de” and the server’s number) screwed up big time. The screw-up was caused by the acquisition of the hosting company and the migration to new servers. Roughly 500 domain names were affected, but most of them were restored within a few days. Just with my account everything that could go wrong went wrong.

Slashdot – Comments that Agree

In fact, 5% – 18% of Slashdot moderators have been banned. Follow the link above, and you will encounter a research paper of a banned Slashdot moderator, who concludes “Slashdot stands as an example of a best-of-breed solution for those who wish to create a community that promotes agreement” – agreement, of course, with the editors.

Genechat.org up and running

I created the website genechat.org a short while ago, and it’s now up and running (but don’t expect too much new content anytime soon). I created the site for various reasons. First, I am more and more interested in Biotechnology. Second, I was looking for a little project to learn PHP and MySql. And third, I’d like to get involved in an open-source project. The site is based on PHPSlash, and I am hoping to contribute to the project in the near future.

Everything2

I seldom announce web sites here, but I want to point people, once again, to everything… ehhh, I mean everything2. Everything was an experimental database by the people who brought you Slashdot, that relies on user par ticipation, node creation, link strengthening, and everything else that leads to the creation of a semantic web. I just found out that version 2 is out – actually, quite a while ago. Check it out – it’s fun!