What have you invented for me _lately_?

I have been thinking the last week or so that for all the appearance of our rapidly escalating technology, we really haven’t invented anything since the middle of the last century. I view the last real invention as the Laser (actually LASER), back in the very late 1950’s and prior to that the transistor in ’47. Lots of interesting things happened in the early part of the 1900’s such as the first plane (Wright Brothers) in 1903, penicillin in ’28 and nuclear fission in ’38. While there have been lots of things patented, the real breakthroughs have been few and all in the deep past, at least according to my calculation. The World Wide Web? I don’t view that as much of an invention, it was going to be ‘invented’ very soon by someone, it was the logical extension of what had gone before. Integrated circuits? Obvious once the transistor was invented. Man on the moon? ‘Only’ an engineering problem once the basics of rocketry (not really invented by Goddard, though he is credited with inventing the liquid fueled version that was probably necessary for meaningful advances) had been worked out. Cell phones? Coupled with the invention (discovery) of radio (much of the work was done by Hertz in the 1880’s) and the transistor cell phones are pretty much inevitable. Computers? Babbage invented them back in the 1820’s, though it pretty much had to wait for sophisticated electronics and later the transistor to make much of an impact. What can you think of that isn’t easy to see as inevitable that has been invented or discovered since the 1950’s?

While the pace of invention has slowed to a crawl (or, more honestly, come to a dead stop), the refinement of earlier inventions and the combination of various concepts into interesting agglomerations has been moving at an accelerating rate. Will that, though, be enough to take us to the singularity? Perhaps our technological advances will simply peter out as we fill in all the holes between advancements. I certainly think we can carry our ‘filling in the holes’ for decades yet to come, and given the advances I have read about regarding understanding how the brain works, it is feasible that even absent any significant breakthroughs we might be able to ‘jack’ ourselves into the ‘net and that could be the singularity. The vast majority of my ideas really aren’t much more than extending concepts that are already in the works or combining various concepts in apparently new ways, I can’t think of any idea I have had that can’t easily be imagined by someone else thinking of it (indeed, just this weekend I ‘discovered’ that someone has already commercialized an idea I had for parallel writing of electron beam lithography). While I was getting a D in physical chemistry a couple of decades ago I found myself thinking about a wave theory of matter, only to learn years later that there really wasn’t anything special about that idea.

Surely we haven’t invented everything!

Police militarization

The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson

I don’t really have any sort of opinion regarding who did what in Ferguson (unlike, say, my opinions on Trayvon Martin), largely because a) I am firmly convinced that both sides are in the wrong and b) I am not really following it very closely. However, the response to the community upset (note that I firmly believe that thugs have been attracted to the attention and that much of the violence isn’t initiated by the local citizens) by the ‘militarized’ police is more of an issue to me. When I read the above article it aligned very nicely with what was percolating in my noggin so thought I would share it with my reader(s) in lieu of my own babbling.

I recall when in the National Guard that we trained for riot control. I always felt silly doing the training (we had to stand shoulder to shoulder and bang our night sticks against our shields and shout something scary in unison as we advanced in lock-step) but my understanding was we were never likely to need to use that training unless there was a serious disaster and social breakdown had happened. However there is an interesting timing issue: much like the shootings at Kent State, did the riot start because riot police showed up or was there going to be a riot either way? I lean toward the former and except for the idiots that joined the Ferguson protests just because they wanted to riot and loot, I expect the locals didn’t have anything but peaceful protest in mind when they started out. I have read several reports (not on this latest thing in Ferguson specifically) where concerned citizens tried to approach the police to point out problems only to get beaten and thrown in jail for their trouble. When, as appears to be largely the case in the US now, the police start to think that _every_ citizen is a criminal out to get them these over reactions are inevitable.

I am reminded of a few articles I have read over the last decade or so regarding the transition from beat cops to cops in cars. Back when the local police patrolled on foot, they had intimate knowledge of the neighborhood and further, were friendly with many of the citizens. As a consequence (or so I have read), when there were issues the police were often informally informed of the nascent problems by these concerned citizens and are able to head things off before they get out of control. Further, when things have got to a bad point, the police have personal relationships with local citizens so won’t bang them on the head and arrest them when they try to tell them about specific problems.

More signs of the apocalypse…

Stress is inherited

Pregnancy Stress Spans Generations
The stressors a female rat experiences during pregnancy can have repercussions for her granddaughters, a study shows.

Kind of scary: that something even your parents have no control over can have a dramatic impact on your own life. I wonder if this can also help explain things like autism since there never seems to be any genetic link. Of course, if it is an epigenetic link (as is the case in the above report) it won’t show up as changed genes, but to my knowledge no one really has an effective way to measure the epigenome at present, let alone compare it as it changes over life and/or generations.

Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants

Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants

A really interesting idea that seems related to my earlier post on clear air turbulence. I like the idea that it is totally passive, nothing to give away that it is happening.

Guard your bag of chips!

An aspirin a day keeps the oncologist away

Aspirin should be taken by all over 50s to cut thousands of cancer deaths: study
Every middle aged person should take aspirin daily for ten years, experts have said, as a comprehensive study has found it could save 6,000 lives a year by preventing cancer and heart disease

This is interesting; up until this study what I had heard was the risks outweighed the benefits unless you were at high risk of stroke or had had a heart attack. At least based on this article (I’m too lazy to look up the actual study), it seems the benefits clearly outweigh the risks (increased bleeding, primarily), so it might be something I should add into my daily activities.

Organic: better, the same or worse?

Is organic food better for you?

While things _may_ have progressed to the point where we are getting negative returns on our investment, for the most part the last several centuries of steadily increasing technological application toward food has resulted in dramatically reduced deaths, dramatically increased yields and as a consequence, a whole lot more humans to deal with. The majority of organic products come with increased incidence of illness and reduced yields and as a consequence, can only support a smaller population. There have been reproducible differences detected between organic and conventional foods, but those differences are generally (scientifically) not considered significant. Much like the folderol regarding the supposed dangers of microwaving foods (interestingly there are fewer reports on the massively greater scientific documentation on the health hazards of charring food), there is no real evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than their non-organic counterparts. As a consequence, it boils down pure and simple to an emotional decision, there is no science to support the decision to go organic but there is clear science that overall organic has increased incidence of illnesses (due to the general lack of oversight, e.g., unpasteurized milk).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t viable methods to produce the same food with a vastly lower impact on our environment, just that ‘organic’ food isn’t worth the price unless you like overpaying for the same benefit.