Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Future is Closer Than You Think

Michael Anissimov discusses the "Top Ten Transhumanist Technologies". All of them seemed like pipedreams only a decade ago. Now, to many in the know, most of them are all but inevitable, and sooner than most are prepared to believe.

Anyone who has compared the amazingly realistic graphics of today's electronic games or animated motion pictures to those of just a decade ago will have no problem believing this prediction by Anissimov:

Sometime in the 2020s, reality simulations will become so high-resolution and immersive that they'll start to get indistinguishable from the real thing.
***
In the mid-to-late 2020s, I expect full-body, high quality haptic VR suits to be affordable to the average person in developed countries, obtained either from your local Wal-Mart or perhaps printed right out of a desktop nanofactory after payment of a fee. For more on this, here is one scientific paper, "Towards full-body haptic feedback".


Read the whole thing.

Those Amazing Stem Cells

Curing paralyzed monkeys with...stem cells. Truly amazing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm Hoping This Pans Out!

Fastcompany.com:
The tobacco mosaic virus is a destructive beast infecting over a hundred different species of plants, including tomatoes. But it may have a weird eco benefit: Incorporated into lithium batteries, it can increase storage capacity ten times.
**
This has all sorts of implications for mobile technology. Imagine every lithium battery in every mobile device you own lasting up to ten times longer. That would mean Apple's new MacBook Airs could hang on in standby mode for 10 months, and Amazon's Kindles may only require charging once every year. Smartphones could have useful call times extending up to a week, and as well as changing how we think about our tech this could have an eco upshot--you'd probably not leave your charger plugged in, sucking down vampire power as much as it does right now.

Alternatively, batteries could be made with the same capacity that they have now, only ten times smaller--freeing up designers to create all sorts of practically useful gadgets that would be impossible at the moment. Micro-batteries are also possible, meaning rechargeable batteries could replace disposable ones in devices like hearing aids.

And this was kept secret...why?

Wikileaks cables show that Texas company "helped pimp little boys to stoned Afghan cops."

Yah, that's a worthy "state secret", for sure. Makes you wonder what's in Julian Assange's widely-distributed-but-256-bit-encrypted "insurance" file, huh?

Senator Corker's "Nuanced" Response to my Letter Regarding TSA Body Scans

Recently I contacted my Senator, Bob Corker, regarding the intrusive nature of the largely useless TSA airport body scans. Here's his response:

Dear Mr. King,

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office with your concerns regarding the new security screening policy instituted by TSA. Your input is important to me, and I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts.

As you know, the new security procedures at airports include the use of full-body scanners and enhanced pat-down techniques. Full-body scanners are currently in use at about 58 U.S. airports and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has adopted rules intended to protect anonymity of passengers and to prevent the storing of images. Enhanced pat-downs were recently implemented as an alternative to the scanners and in instances where an unusual object is detected. While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with securing America's borders and protecting the American people from those that would do us harm, I share your concerns that civil liberties must be safeguarded as we confront the many evolving threats to our nation.

As Congress reviews these new security techniques, the invasive nature of the scanners and pat-downs must be considered along with their cost, safety and effectiveness. Again, while I have great concern with the serious threat faced by our country, particularly with regard to the clear commitment of terrorists to target air travel, I believe Congress should examine carefully whether these practices are necessary. Please know, I have experienced both the full-body scan and pat down procedures, and I will certainly take your concerns into consideration should any legislation reach the full Senate.

Thank you again for your letter. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me.


Sincerely,

Bob Corker
United States Senator


I would have preferred that he actually, you know, take a position on this topic, even if it be adverse to my own. But, maybe that's too much to ask these days.

UPDATE:> Lest I paint with too broad a brush, I must note that not all legislators are as nuanced as Mr. Corker. Though I often disagree with my Congressperson, John Duncan, I respect him greatly. I have written him on a variety of contentious topics over the years, and he never fails to stake out a definite position, responding intelligently to specific criticisms where I have disagreed. Thus, I admire him even when I disagree with him. By contrast, I struggle to find anything truly "admirable" in Senator Corker's letter quoted above.

Senator Corker, you can do better, and I'm betting you will.

The Gore Effect is Back in Action

Record low temperatures observed during the global warming meetings in Cancun.

The Age of Cyber War Is Here

Stories of all out cyber-warfare were all over the place this week. First, FoxNews reports that the previously identified Stuxnet computer worm is still spreading within Iran's nuclear program, with virtually no possibility of it ever being eliminated. The worm just so happens to be perfect at sabotaging centrifuges. We can only hope that's true, and that is represents the end of Iran's near to mid-term nuclear ambitions.

Then there's the growing cyberwar between opponents of Wikileaks and its defenders. The latest round seems to have gone to Wikileaks' opponents.

Interestingly, attempts by opponents of Wikileaks' to cut off its financing sources is potentially facilitating the emergence of a new "virtual currency" (called "bitcoin") which, due to its decentralized nature, cannot be traced and is beyond government control. Though such a currency stands little chance of going mainstream if used only by crypto-anarchist hackers, there are reasons to think its popularity may well expand well beyond the hacker community. For instance, because both the creation and transfer of such a currency is beyond the control of governments and central bankers, its value cannot be inflated away like that of fiat money can, it cannot be readily confiscated, and access to it cannot be easily denied its owners, making it attractive to those concerned about hyper-inflation and/or the government's eventual confiscation of other currency alternatives like gold. Suspiciously, though not surprisingly, the official bitcoin website (from which one can download the bitcoin software) was down when I tried to access it this morning, making it yet another likely casualty of the cyberwar.

And this was secret...why?

OFFICIALS have held secret talks about dumping the Royal Family as the head of the Commonwealth. That, according to the WikiLeaks cables.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Wish I'd Thought of This

Safeguard your junk while asserting your rights in this fetching line of underwear featuring the 4th amendment - the one about unreasonable search and seizure - emblazoned in metallic ink. The maker claims the words are readable on TSA scanners. "Let them know they're spying at the privates of a private citizen," reads one of their slogans.

Breakthrough in Computing

The new technology could accelerate the performance of supercomputers a thousand times, taking us from the current 2.6 petaflops (1015 or quadrillion operations per second) Chinese Tianhe-1A supercomputer to an exaflop (1018 or a quintillion operations per second) supercomputer in just 8 years (“flops” stands for “floating point operations per second”).

And that means a supercomputer that runs 100 times faster than a human brain operating at peak capacity, currently estimated to be around 1016 operations per second by Ray Kurzweil and others.

Full story here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Congress Helped Big Businesses Meet Their Pension Obligations by Stealing Yours

WallStreetJournal.com:
More than 90% of employees opt for a lump-sum payout from their pension plan when given the choice. That could be a mistake.

Under rules that became effective in 2008 and that affect millions of workers, companies such as AT&T Inc., Chevron Corp., and Dow Chemical Co. have been quietly changing the way they calculate lump-sum payouts from their pension plans—phasing out their use of a Treasury-bond rate to calculate lump sums and replacing it with a higher composite corporate-bond rate.

The result: substantially lower payouts to employees who are changing jobs, being laid off or retiring—anywhere from 10% to 60% or more, depending on age and other factors.
***
The changes are part of the Pension Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) and signed into law by President George W. Bush in August 2006. Employers had complained that the Treasury rate was so low that departing employees were getting a windfall and asked Congress for relief.
***
Companies had been using the 30-year Treasury bond rate to calculate lump sums since 1994. Before then, they were using a lower rate, and complained that employees taking lump sums were getting a windfall. Companies persuaded Congress to let them replace it with a then-higher 30-year Treasury rate, which at the time was about 8%.

The change to the then-higher rate angered employees, who realized their payouts would be reduced by tens of thousands of dollars. But the current change has received little notice. Unlike other moves that reduce pensions, employers aren't required to notify employees of the change, and most financial advisers are unaware of it.


Read the whole thing.

Anatomy of a Smear

Turns out that Julian Assange isn't wanted for rape after all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is Julian Assange...

...holding some things back as "insurance"?

Gee, I'd sure hope so. The threat of even more information coming to light is probably all that's keeping him alive these days, so he'd be stupid not to hold some things--some really big things--in reserve.

He does not strike me as a stupid man.

The Middle Class Tax Hike that You Might Have Missed

Your paycheck is about to shrink.

The housing problem...

... in three pictures.

Finally!

I found somebody (Glenn Greenwald) who thinks like I do regarding the latest WikiLeaks controversy. I'm particularly sympathetic to this point:

It is a "scandal" when the Government conceals things it is doing without any legitimate basis for that secrecy. Each and every document that is revealed by WikiLeaks which has been improperly classified -- whether because it's innocuous or because it is designed to hide wrongdoing -- is itself an improper act, a serious abuse of government secrecy powers. Because we're supposed to have an open government -- a democracy -- everything the Government does is presumptively public, and can be legitimately concealed only with compelling justifications. That's not just some lofty, abstract theory; it's central to having anything resembling "consent of the governed."

But we have completely abandoned that principle; we've reversed it. Now, everything the Government does is presumptively secret; only the most ceremonial and empty gestures are made public. That abuse of secrecy powers is vast, deliberate, pervasive, dangerous and destructive. That's the abuse that WikiLeaks is devoted to destroying, and which its harshest critics -- whether intended or not -- are helping to preserve. There are people who eagerly want that secrecy regime to continue: namely, (a) Washington politicians, Permanent State functionaries, and media figures whose status, power and sense of self-importance are established by their access and devotion to that world of secrecy, and (b) those who actually believe that -- despite (or because of) all the above acts -- the U.S. Government somehow uses this extreme secrecy for the Good.



I'm astounded at just how many of the "secret" documents are of the mundane variety, completely unrelated to issues of national security or diplomatic privilege. I can't help but think that many of these documents were classified simply to advance some insider's political agenda, to conceal the source and/or nature of the attacks against a political opponent, or to protect some favored vested interest. Such things should never have been secret in the first place! Why is there not a greater outcry about this?

Fewer Americans Buying Life Insurance:

The percentage of U.S. households with life insurance coverage is at its lowest in 50 years, leaving millions of families without a safety net, industry experts say.

Only 44% of households have an individual life insurance policy, and 30% have no individual or employer-provided life insurance, according to a recent survey by LIMRA, an industry-sponsored group. Some 11 million households with children younger than 18 — viewed as families with the greatest need for coverage — have no life insurance.

Full story here.

Term life insurance is dirt cheap these days. Buy it if you need it. It's cheap peace of mind.

Fareed Zakaria...

...has joined Warren Buffett in whining that the rich don't pay enough taxes. Glenn Reynolds reminds Fareed that there's nothing keeping them from doing so:

"Hey, Fareed: The Treasury accepts donations. Make one, and post the receipt."

Never fear, the government is here...

...to help us with our gambling habit:

Earlier this week, reports emerged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) was floating a proposal to regulate online poker in the US – a proposal that was intended to pass (or attempt to pass) in the current “lame duck” session.
***
The bill is about 75 pages long.


And, with backing up our cars:

The Transportation Department proposed rear visibility rules that would, in effect, require backup cameras in all cars and light trucks by the 2014 models. The DOT estimated the systems -- a rear video camera and interior display -- would add about $200 to the cost of a vehicle.


Well, I hate to appear ungrateful as I appreciate the government's constant meddling in my affairs to insure my well-being. I mean, I do realize that it only wants what's best for me. But, dear government, if you really knew me, you'd understand that my real problems aren't with gambling or backing up my car. No, my problem at the moment is with toilet paper. Seriously, the toilet paper at my health club is that useless single-ply type. It takes about half a roll for a single wipe! I much prefer double-ply toilet paper, don't you? And, shouldn't every American, not just the rich, have a right to thick, plush, soft toilet paper, dear legislator? I mean, this is America, after all!

So, why don't you be a chap and pass a federal law mandating that all toilet paper sold in the US be at least double-ply, okay? Oh, and also, while you're at it, you might as well require that it also be quilted too. One's toilet paper can never be too soft, ya know.

Thanks in advance.

Your faithful constituent,

Sean

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Building the Bible

bpnews.net:
A major evangelical organization which supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood says the newest translation of the NIV Bible is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the TNIV, although the group says it still cannot endorse it because it contains many of the same problems.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement Nov. 19 stating that the NIV 2011 has many of the same flaws that prevented the TNIV from gaining in popularity among the evangelical community. CBMW, though, did applaud the translators for the "openness and honesty" of the translation process.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Surprises Me

Farragut ranked the second most business friendly city in TN.

X-Ray Crazy

NYTimes.com:
Because children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to radiation, doctors three years ago mounted a national campaign to protect them by reducing diagnostic radiation to only those levels seen as absolutely necessary.

It is a message that has resonated in many clinics and hospitals. Yet there is one busy place where it has not: the dental office.

Not only do most dentists continue to use outmoded X-ray film requiring higher amounts of radiation, but orthodontists and other specialists are embracing a new scanning device that emits significantly more radiation than conventional methods, an examination by The New York Times has found.

Read the whole thing.