Archive for June 4th, 2009

Add your voice: Keep the Internet open and free.

| June 4, 2009 | Reply
Add your voice: Keep the Internet open and free.

The context for this post is provided by Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures, who recently stated:

I’m a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period.”

Now, in light of that bizarre, politically motivated statement, what’s going on at the FCC? FreePress advises:

At this very minute, the Federal Communications Commission is crafting America’s first national broadband plan. Whether the plan will give more control over our Internet to the likes of Sony Pictures, Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon depends on what we do right now.

These companies’ well-heeled lobbyists are flooding the FCC’s public docket with comments in support of policies that let them:

  • Tilt the Web’s level playing field to favor the Web sites of corporate partners;
  • Deploy content-sniffing devices that would randomly open and sift through our private Web communications;
  • Impose usage penalties on people who use the Web for more than simple e-mail and Web surfing;
  • Block innovative Web services that compete against their phone, cable and entertainment products; and
  • Disconnect users for any reason or without justification

What can you do to keep things on track at the FCC? Write a comment to the FCC. It will only take a minute. Let your voice counter-balance the monied corporate interests that are trying to grab hold of the Internet for the sole purpose of squeezing out profits, just as they grabbed hold of all other electronic media during prior decades.

Note that we now have a president who is committed to keeping the Internet open and free:

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Fun on the frontiers of astronomy

| June 4, 2009 | Reply
Fun on the frontiers of astronomy

Want to watch/read an entertaining and inspiring three-part discussion covering the frontier of astronomy? All you need to do is follow this link to the article and videos at Discover Magazine. The participants include Saul Perlmutter, Debra Fischer, Mike Brown and Andrea Ghez, in a panel moderated by Discover’s Phil Plait. It’s lively, accessible and mind-blowing.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

[Debra Fischer]

We started out with a solar system where many planetesimals were forming, and that evolved into a system where all the stable niches are filled. To me that’s one of the most exciting discoveries in this field.

[Mike Brown]

[I]t’s the small objects that really matter. The small ones are little particles that sit in the outer solar system, and they’re gravitationally swept around by planets. The analogy I like is that these objects in the outer solar system are the blood splattered on the wall after some horrendous murder. I love this analogy—it’s disturbing, but I love it. As Debra just suggested, there might have been additional planets that used to be here in our solar system [but were ejected due to gravitational instability]. The bodies have all been removed.

[Andrea Ghez]

The question that I started off with was, I thought, very simple. It was just “Is there a massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way?” But one of the things I love about science is that you always end up with new questions. What happened with my research is that the stars we studied to prove that there was a black hole turned out to be very young. Young stars have absolutely no right to be next to a black hole because a black hole should shear them apart. We have no idea how these stars formed. So that’s one of the major questions we’re trying to address today: “How do baby stars form next to this completely inhospitable object?”

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Quotes on helping

| June 4, 2009 | Reply
Quotes on helping

Here are several quotes about helping via The Quotations Page:

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: If I can ease one life the aching,or cool one pain,or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson

Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.

Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

In giving advice, seek to help, not please, your friend.

Solon (638 BC – 559 BC)

All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.

Noam Chomsky (1928 – )

I will charge thee nothing but the promise that thee will help the next man thee finds in trouble.

Mennonite Proverb

He helps others most, who shows them how to help themselves.

A. P. Gouthey

It is not so much our friend’s help that helps us as the confidence of their help.

Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC)

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Laughing rats

| June 4, 2009 | 1 Reply
Laughing rats

A group of scientists has now suggested that laughing can be detected in mammalian species as simple as rats.

This discussion of laughing animals is discussed at Alan Boyle’s blog at MSNBC:

How do you graph the evolution of a laugh? Researchers tickled babies and six different kinds of apes, quantified their giggles, and found that the patterns fit a classic evolutionary tree.

Those patterns hint at the ancient origins of human hilarity and suggest that other social species – including apes, dogs and rats – really, truly laugh as well.

Or check out a laughing gorilla here.

Why do we laugh? Mostly, we laugh at things that are not funny. See here, for more information on the psychology of laughing.

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Barack Obama’s impressive speech in Cairo

| June 4, 2009 | 1 Reply
Barack Obama’s impressive speech in Cairo

Obama gave a terrific speech (here’s the video). In the first ten minutes, he detailed the many connections between Islam and the United States (yes, Rep. Keith Ellison did take his oath of office using a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson).

The first condition for progress of any type is to plainly state where we are, and Obama’s speech did a great job of this. Yes, our many misunderstandings, driven by irresponsible media frenzy, occlude plain facts, several of them highly embarrassing to the U.S. For instance,

For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.

That, then, is how we can repair the damage: by establishing trust by stating the facts. Only after speaking frankly can tone matter. Obama’s tone was impressive, based on the many applause interruptions.

But good tone is nothing without admitting undeniable facts. Only then can we move forward. By traveling to Cairo to make his speech, Obama has made a dramatic statement that America is no longer framing its diplomatic strategies through the use of crude stereotypes. I don’t know whether the audience entirely trusts America, but this was a huge step in the right direction.

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