Gongol.com Archives: January 2010
Brian Gongol

January 29, 2010

Science and Technology "Thanks, dreamed-up version of me"
Writer AJ Jacobs says he got into trouble with his wife after she awoke from a dream in which he flirted with another woman. For now, it's just a dream. But consider this: We sleep for a third of our lives, and there have long been attempts to make that sleeping time seem more useful to our waking lives -- mainly to figure out if we could learn in our sleep. What's really intriguing is to ask whether we are responsible for what our sleeping minds are doing -- sleepwalking was successfully used as a defense for murder in the 1800s, and similar cases are argued and studied today. But in the not-so-distant future, the same people who are constantly in touch with their friends and family via text messaging and smartphones may upgrade to having their brains connected directly to the Internet. It sounds outlandish, but it's actually quite likely in the next ten to twenty years. Bionic implants for hearing and sight are already making their way into practical use, and it's only a matter of time before people start making the leap to wanting constant access to information via the same kinds of channels. There's really only a slight jump to be made from walking around with a Bluetooth headset constantly attached to one's ear to actually having a device of a similar sort literally attached to one's body. And it would only take a slight nudge from the right people to make such an implant seem socially acceptable; all Steve Jobs has to say is "i-anything", and legions of Apple die-hards race to the stores. So when this all comes about, we'll have to wrestle with a very serious question about whether we're responsible for what we do in our dreams. What happens when someone who's a perfectly law-abiding, tax-paying citizen by day ends up surfing the Internet in his or her sleep? And what if that sleep-browsing takes her to an Al Qaeda message board? Or takes him to a site serving illegal pornography? Are we responsible for what our brains are doing when we're not conscious of it?

Business and Finance Business Week offers really bad business advice
An article by Bruce Nussbaum entitled "Ten worst innovation mistakes in a recession" has some reasonable advice about what a company should do during a recession (like sticking with good talent), but it also says it's a bad idea to "reduce risk" during a recession. To the contrary: A good business is built on taking only well-calculated risks with a high probability of success. Doing that consistently over time is, in fact, a very safe and non-risky approach. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. The truth is that good entrepreneurs are generally very risk-averse. They find work they can do with a high degree of competence, where they have a safe margin of competitive advantage over the other companies in the market, and then invest heavily on that safe bet. The idea of the entrepreneur as some adventure-seeking Richard Branson clone is surprisingly misleading. The truth is that, for many entrepreneurs, their income is safer when it's entirely under their own management than it would be if it came in the form of a paycheck from someone else.

Computers and the Internet Bing Maps adds a layer for live Twitter updates
Very intriguing -- thanks to geotagging, one can browse anywhere on the Bing maps of the planet and see the latest Twitter updates from that location. Recreational fun for now; potentially useful in case of major events from a specific location. On a related note though, there is far too much energy being devoted to navel-gazing about the "rules" and "etiquette" of social networking. Lots of people have the hubris to declare themselves "social-networking experts", and they ought to shut up and find something more productive to do with their time.

Science and Technology Forget the Moon shot
The President's proposed budget for 2011 cuts NASA's mission for a return to the Moon. Whether other countries will also cancel their plans for lunar exploration remains to be seen -- China wants to put a rover there by 2020, and the EU wants to do a manned mission by 2025. We should not be surprised in the least if the Google Lunar X-Prize is successful before any government trip to visit the Moon again, nor should we be surprised if a private mission to the Moon follows. On a related note, the poor little Mars Rover probably won't be moving anywhere anymore, having been stuck since April. But if NASA can get it pointed in just the right direction, its solar panels could continue to churn out enough energy to produce interesting data from a stationary point.

Business and Finance Bureau of Economic Analysis claims a 5.7% increase in US GDP last quarter
If true, that's an exceptional rate of growth. Of course, we need that kind of growth rate more than ever in order to overcome the enormous unfunded obligations in our nation's old-age pension and health programs.

Science and Technology Chimps as filmmakers
(Video) The phrase "A thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters" comes to mind

Science and Technology Nuclear fusion is "going to happen this year"
A project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just produced evidence that nuclear fusion could be initiated much more easily than previously thought, and along the way towards that effort, they managed to concentrate 20 times more energy than had ever been produced by a laser before. They actually offer a pretty useful video on their homepage describing how the system works.

Water News Should the people pay for sales taxes on projects mandated by the Federal government?