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Mark Bruce
Lives in Adelaide
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Mark Bruce

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Give Me Your Recent TV Series Recommendations!

I often joke that I wouldn't notice if commercial television suddenly ceased to exist. I simply don't watch it aside from the occasional news broadcast over dinner. Honestly, we have a DVR hooked up to the TV in the main room and I don't know how to use this piece of technology, I might have handled the remote a couple of times: this is Elise's life blood and her domain! 

That being said I do enjoy a few made-for-television shows that I always binge watch with Elise as soon as the complete season is available. Top of the list for me is Game of Thrones and probably shortly followed by Walking Dead and House of Cards. I thought I'd recommend a few new, recent ones that have been surprisingly good and seek your recommendations and reasons why in return!

1. Narcos
Ten part series set in Colombia about the life and deeds of history's biggest drug dealer, Pablo Escobar Narcos is oddly compelling right from episode one and only draws you in more as it goes. Cinematography and acting are all great and the tempo swings between deep dramatic scenes, gorgeous aerial shots, and sudden thrilling violence. Multiple times Elise and I would look at each other and go "No way did that happen, that bit has to be artistic license." And, sure enough, 30 second later after looking it up on a device "Holy crap that actually did happen!?"  

2. True Detective
I enjoyed season 2 just as much as the brilliant season 1 but for different reasons. This time set in California we get a gritty crime thriller that weaves volatile relationships, politics, corruption, redemption, hope, and high stakes with again a great cast and cinematography A bit of an emotional roller coaster that executes a ballsy conclusion that might be unappreciated by some. 

3. Hinterland
A good, authentic little crime drama, four episodes long and set in Wales This follows Detective Matthias and his efforts to piece together clues and solve a new murder with each episode, while continuing to build characters and background as the overarching story unfolds. Interspersing the dramatic confrontations and dialogue we get treated to gorgeous scenes of the Welsh countryside and coast. Admittedly a surprising find and not something that I would normally have considered but I'm definitely looking forward to season 2.

Most Anticipated
Rick and Morty - Season 2. Season 1 was just so goof-ball awesome I can't wait for more!
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Something very big would be The Sweeney (70's), watching that back to back takes well over a week.

Psychoville was good.

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Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind
My synopsis plus key excerpts.

Sapiens is probably the most ambitious book that I have ever read. Within the constraints of space and a lay but intelligent target audience that are typical for a book like this it attempts a truly grand and epic synthesis of human history and human culture. Starting with our divergence from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees Yuval Harari weaves a dense and engaging tapestry of human history that covers human biology, culture, institutions, agriculture, religion, money, industrialisation, and science that succeeds in providing a fascinating overview of historical transitions and novel insights into both key events and our indelible human nature. 

Above all, the key takeaway, and the key lesson that Harari conveys with Sapiens is the overwhelming power of ideas to control our lives, our desires, our history, and even the entire biosphere of our planet. Sapiens repeatedly emphasises the seemingly obvious but so often forgotten or neglected point that all of these ideas have no objective reality, no physical existence in the real world, and exist only as abstract constructs in our minds at both an individual and collective level. One’s programming by collective ideas is most starkly presented when considering issues of morality that one takes to be absolutes. Our seemingly fixed society is represented as a fluid and purely imagined order, as a set of games with rules we all agree to follow and adhere to. 

This is a book that I could not put down and it consumed most of my free time for a week. Harari presents such a different lens, with a different focus on human nature and historical human events that I couldn’t help but find the material endlessly fascinating, the story thoroughly engaging and always stimulating. Old lessons and knowledge were represented and reinforced in a new light with new metaphors and of course new lessons and knowledge were presented in powerful ways. There were many nights when I learned more details about history than I had in many, many years. 

Sapiens was one of those rare, wonderful books that helped make me a better person and a better, more aware thinker. 

Selected Excerpts
The following list of excerpts of ~2,200 words has been culled down from an original list that I made of ~13,000 words. 

Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species?

Over the last few centuries [legal fictions known as] companies have become the main players in the economic arena, and we have grown so used to them that we forget they exist only in our imagination.

Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.

Most millionaires sincerely believe in the existence of money and limited liability companies. Most human rights activists sincerely believe in the existence of human rights.

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

Both the Code of Hammurabi and the American Declaration of Independence claim to outline universal and eternal principles of justice, but according to the Americans all people are equal, whereas according to the Babylonians people are decidedly unequal. The Americans would, of course, say that they are right, and that Hammurabi is wrong. Hammurabi, naturally, would retort that he is right, and that the Americans are wrong. In fact, they are both wrong. Hammurabi and the American Founding Fathers alike imagined a reality governed by universal and immutable principles of justice, such as equality or hierarchy. Yet the only place where such universal principles exist is in the fertile imagination of Sapiens, and in the myths they invent and tell one another. These principles have no objective validity.

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. You also educate people thoroughly. From the moment they are born, you constantly remind them of the principles of the imagined order, which are incorporated into anything and everything.

The imagined order shapes our desires. Most people do not wish to accept that the order governing their lives is imaginary, but in fact every person is born into a pre-existing imagined order, and his or her desires are shaped from birth by its dominant myths. Our personal desires thereby become the imagined order’s most important defences.

It follows that in order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order. ... There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.

Most people claim that their social hierarchy is natural and just, while those of other societies are based on false and ridiculous criteria. Modern Westerners are taught to scoff at the idea of racial hierarchy. They are shocked by laws prohibiting blacks to live in white neighbourhoods, or to study in white schools, or to be treated in white hospitals. But the hierarchy of rich and poor – which mandates that rich people live in separate and more luxurious neighbourhoods, study in separate and more prestigious schools, and receive medical treatment in separate and better-equipped facilities – seems perfectly sensible to many Americans and Europeans. Yet it’s a proven fact that most rich people are rich for the simple reason that they were born into a rich family, while most poor people will remain poor throughout their lives simply because they were born into a poor family.

Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.

Money was created many times in many places. Its development required no technological breakthroughs – it was a purely mental revolution. It involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imagination. Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services. Money enables people to compare quickly and easily the value of different commodities (such as apples, shoes and divorces), to easily exchange one thing for another, and to store wealth conveniently.

Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

Money is based on two universal principles:
a. Universal convertibility: with money as an alchemist, you can turn land into loyalty, justice into health, and violence into knowledge.
b. Universal trust: with money as a go-between, any two people can cooperate on any project.

But if we take into consideration natural-law religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary efforts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

As long as the hosts live long enough to pass along the parasite, it cares little about the condition of its host. In just this fashion, cultural ideas live inside the minds of humans. They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them.

Modern-day science is a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits collective ignorance regarding the most important questions.

Our current assumption that we do not know everything, and that even the knowledge we possess is tentative, extends to the shared myths that enable millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. If the evidence shows that many of those myths are doubtful, how can we hold society together? How can our communities, countries and international system function?

In 1620 Francis Bacon published a scientific manifesto titled The New Instrument. In it he argued that ‘knowledge is power’. The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.

Poverty, sickness, wars, famines, old age and death itself were not the inevitable fate of humankind. They were simply the fruits of our ignorance. . . . The leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life.

Europeans began to draw world maps with lots of empty spaces – one indication of the development of the scientific mindset, as well as of the European imperial drive. The empty maps were a psychological and ideological breakthrough, a clear admission that Europeans were ignorant of large parts of the world.

What enables banks – and the entire economy – to survive and flourish is our trust in the future. This trust is the sole backing for most of the money in the world.The entire enterprise is thus founded on trust in an imaginary future – the trust that the entrepreneur and the banker have in the bakery of their dreams, along with the contractor’s trust in the future solvency of the bank.

Credit enables us to build the present at the expense of the future. It’s founded on the assumption that our future resources are sure to be far more abundant than our present resources. A host of new and wonderful opportunities open up if we can build things in the present using future income.

In the new capitalist creed, the first and most sacred commandment is: ‘The profits of production must be reinvested in increasing production.’

Like the Dutch Empire before it, the British Empire was established and run largely by private joint-stock companies based in the London stock exchange.The Indian subcontinent too was conquered not by the British state, but by the mercenary army of the British East India Company. From its headquarters in Leadenhall Street, London, it ruled a mighty Indian empire for about a century, maintaining a huge military force of up to 350,000 soldiers, considerably outnumbering the armed forces of the British monarchy.

First, capitalism has created a world that nobody but a capitalist is capable of running. The only serious attempt to manage the world differently – Communism – was so much worse in almost every conceivable way that nobody has the stomach to try again. In 8500 BC one could cry bitter tears over the Agricultural Revolution, but it was too late to give up agriculture. Similarly, we may not like capitalism, but we cannot live without it.

At heart, the Industrial Revolution has been a revolution in energy conversion. It has demonstrated again and again that there is no limit to the amount of energy at our disposal. Or, more precisely, that the only limit is set by our ignorance. Every few decades we discover a new energy source, so that the sum total of energy at our disposal just keeps growing.

Yet all of these upheavals are dwarfed by the most momentous social revolution that ever befell humankind: the collapse of the family and the local community and their replacement by the state and the market.

For real peace is not the mere absence of war. Real peace is the implausibility of war.

First and foremost, the price of war has gone up dramatically. The Nobel Peace Prize to end all peace prizes should have been given to Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow architects of the atomic bomb. Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into collective suicide, and made it impossible to seek world domination by force of arms.

But the most important finding of all is that happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.

If happiness is determined by expectations, then two pillars of our society – mass media and the advertising industry – may unwittingly be depleting the globe’s reservoirs of contentment.

People are made happy by one thing and one thing only – pleasant sensations in their bodies. A person who just won the lottery or found new love and jumps from joy is not really reacting to the money or the lover. She is reacting to various hormones coursing through her bloodstream, and to the storm of electric signals flashing between different parts of her brain.

Happiness and misery play a role in evolution only to the extent that they encourage or discourage survival and reproduction. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that evolution has moulded us to be neither too miserable nor too happy. It enables us to enjoy a momentary rush of pleasant sensations, but these never last for ever. Sooner or later they subside and give place to unpleasant sensations.

As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.

Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet Earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion. The otherworldly meanings medieval people found in their lives were no more deluded than the modern humanist, nationalist and capitalist meanings modern people find.

Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, perhaps the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

#sapiens   #history   #human  
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Interestingly, I think one of the first pieces I read mentioning Sapiens also mentioned some of the futurist, transhumanist elements of it.
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HUMAN by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The below preview trailer for Human was released a couple of months ago and I discovered yesterday that the full three-part series is now available, for free, on Google Play. You should also be able to find a full-length copy on YouTube. 

This is powerful and moving cinematography. The bulk comprises short yet striking interviews with a great many different people from many different places all around the world. On offer is a glimpse of the joy, the happiness, the sadness, the hardship that our fellow human beings have endured and continue to experience. A snapshot of the lives of different, common people from different walks of life, from different cultures, with different ways of viewing the world . . . and yet closely linked together by shared common hopes, feelings, loves, losses, and desires. 

This is an exercise in empathy. An exercise in connecting with strangers and genuine people to whom we are all ultimately, if distantly, related to. 

Interspersing the interviews are glorious aerial scenes of grand landscapes, untouched wilderness, and glowing metropolises that evoke a sense of whimsy, a sense of wonder, a sense of awe, a sense of pity. 

I watched Volume 1 last night. In rather un-Australian fashion I just finished watching Volume 2 this afternoon instead of the Football Grand Final :P Looking forward to Volume 3 tomorrow. 

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3 

They're all about 80 - 90 minutes long .

#human   #society   #culture  
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Yup, awesome, everyone needs to see this.

Vol. 1  (83 mins)

Vol. 2  (86 mins)

Vol. 3  (93 mins)

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Maintenance & Repairs: 26th - 27th September 2015

The prior inhabitants of the property we purchased and moved into late last year had long neglected maintenance and repairs to certain areas. One of these areas included the garage / shed roof, on which was installed a solar pool heater array of black tubing - which we rarely used. After getting through the summer we discovered that the tubing leaked in places and where the ends dangled down into the channels of the sheets of galvanised roofing it would pool and collect rainwater; over the years this led to significant rust damage to the point where spots had rusted through, rain pooled inside the structure, and sections couldn’t be repaired but needed to be replaced. 

My Dad thought we could do the repairs ourselves and so I procured the necessary large sheets of replacement roofing and on a nice sunny spring weekend we got to work; Dad as foreman / leading hand and planning the tasks, required materials, and order of approach and me as trades assistant. We were also lucky to have my father-in-law and brother-in-law join us on the first day to provide significant help. I’m a tech guy and my Dad is always amazed at, and says he doesn’t understand all the things I do with computers, smartphones, and the Internet. But my Dad and father/brother-in-law were in their element and I was certainly amazed at how they put everything together and I still don’t understand everything about how we achieved the final result; it was quite a feeling to see order descend into chaos and like a big jigsaw puzzle all come together once again. 

Despite finishing each day bone-tired from exhaustion it was a great experience and exposed me to a new and different learning curve. The garage / shed roof is in the best shape it’s been in for a decade or more and should offer a similar extension of life and preservation of property value. 

Image: Early on the first day, Dad and me on the roof (west end) with father-in-law inside. 

➤ Removal of old - leaking and degraded - black solar heated piping on roof
➤ Cutting and sealing of PVC pipes connecting pump to solar piping
➤ Detachment of flashing / end covers on east and west ends
➤ Wire brush to remove worst of rust and spray rust treatment / Cold Galv protection on flashing / end covers
➤ Removal of 6 old roofing sheets (3 from each end, east and west) that were rusted and degraded from solar heater leakage
➤ Cutting of old sheets with cutting discs to fit trailer for dumping and trip to dump with waste including old solar heater piping
➤ Removal of two old structural roofing support beams at 1 east and 1 west ends due to partial rotting and degradation from water damage
➤ Mounting of new treated timber support beam at east end and securing roofing timbers with brackets
➤ Mounting of C-channel as structural support beam at west end and securing roofing timbers with brackets
➤ Mounting of roofing sheet clips to exposed roofing timbers at east and west ends
➤ Cutting two of the four new Topdek 700 roofing sheets / cladding to needed widths with cutting discs
➤ Mounting one complete Topdek 700 sheet and one cut Topdek 700 sheet at both east and west ends to complete the roof coverage
➤ Mounting flashing / end covers at east and west ends
➤ Trimming south flashing / end cover to new Topdek 700 profile shape
➤ Sweeping roof and removing old debris and rust
➤ Anchoring flashing / end covers
➤ Silastic sealant added to all tiny nail / drill holes in old roof sheets and flashing
➤ Miscellaneous repair of deadbolt lock mounting and screw holes
➤ Miscellaneous repair of poor existing amateur electrical work along east wall by qualified electrician 
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+Jim Allen​ the heater worked, at least the pump that circulated water through the black solar piping always pumped out warm water. But it was a whole extra pump to run every day and we didn't use it that often and didn't end up calculating how much extra electricity it would cost. I'll buy a pool blanket this week and that should help to warm it a little over the next month or so in time for use in November when it starts getting hot here. I imagine using gas for hearing would be very expensive - that much water has a lot of thermal mass!
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 38/2015.
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DNA origami polymers, Sonogenetic neurons, Transparent brains, Prosthetics sense touch, Hacking neurons, Microfluidic RAM, Kirigami 3D fabrication, Algorithmic language parsing, Graphene filament, Tunable cheap catalysts. 

1. Precisely Assembled Polymers from DNA Origami
Self assembled DNA origami technology has now been used to controllably form precisely ordered arrangements of conductive polymers in two and three dimensions This was enabled by functionalising a conjugated polymer with a specific sequence of single-stranded DNA; when the polymer is then added in solution to a surface on which a DNA origami array has already been formed the polymer strands can be made to form specific shapes and structures as desired, and because the polymer remains conductive this suggests the technique might be used for molecular circuit design. 

2. Sonogenetics to Control Neurons with Sound
In a similar way to how optogenetics uses neurons genetically altered with light-sensitive proteins to make them respond to light, the new field of sonogenetics uses a different ion channel protein that is sensitive to focused pulses of ultrasound to make genetically altered neurons respond to ultrasound The embedded video shows a nematode worm being made to switch direction when ultrasound is switched on, also showing the genetically-altered neurons responsible firing up in response. Ultrasound can pass through tissues and structures that light cannot and so the technique might be less or non-invasive compared to optogenetics. Although optogenetics got a boost this week too

3. Creating Better Transparent Brains
A new technique provides a better method for turning brains transparent in order to better image 3D brain anatomy at high resolution Called ScaleS, the technique is an improvement on other methods that results in minimal tissue damage, uses a mixture of sorbitol and urea, is compatible with labelling techniques, and preserves tissue integrity able to withstand micron-slicing and electron microscopy. As a proof of concept the team used the tool to derive new insights into the location of Alzheimers plaques and different specialised brain cells. 

4. DARPA’s Prosthetics Sense Touch
A new advance from DARPA in prosthetics and brain-computer-interfaces has resulted in the first genuine prosthetic control + sensation closed-loop system The prosthetic arm attached to a 28 year old volunteer incorporated both electrode implanted into (i) the motor cortex to read brain signals and move the arm and hand, and (ii) the relevant area of the sensory cortex to input signals from sensitive touch sensors on the fingers of the prosthetic arm. In blind tests the person successfully reported which finger was touched and even knew when the researchers tried to trick them; they reported that it felt as though someone was touching their real hand. 

5. Hacking Neurons
First, a study in rats with spinal cord injuries demonstrates that synchronising attempted muscle movement with neural stimulation - via a Neurochip-2 device in this case - provides a measureable and significant boost to neuroplasticity that resulted in the ability to perform a learned task twice as well without the stimulation, if not quite as well before the injury Second, a group engineered the synaptic weights - from inhibitory to excitatory - on a single neuron in a nematode worm and was able to alter its behaviour to swim towards rather than away from a threat, and was able to do this by swapping out different ion channels in the live nematode

6. Storing Cells in Random Access Memory
Microfluidic circuits can now be formed into architectures that enable the functional equivalent of transistors that store and shuttle living cells instead of electrons The group created a random access memory equivalent for living cells, exerting far finer control over switching states than had ever previously been achieved, and they hope to be able to create large single-cell memories in future. The ultimate goal for tools like this is to swiftly sort through a great many cells to find rare cells that may be indicative of certain diseases or disorders. 

7. Novel 3D Fabrication Techniques with Kirigami
First, complex and closed “pop-up” 3D structures can now be formed based on Japanese Kirigami techniques after forming 2D structures with strategically-placed cuts made by conventional semiconductor fabrication methods Fundamentally this represents a new set of design rules for transforming most 2D electronics and photonics surfaces into complex 3D shapes. Second, again taking inspiration from Japanese Kirigami techniques, new 2D solar panels with strategic cuts are able to bend and flex in three dimensions to quickly alter the orientation of the solar cell’s surface towards the sun for improved efficiency

8. Better Machine Learning Language Parsing
A new machine-learning system can distinguish not just words but lower-level units in language such as phonemes and syllables Unlike other comparable systems this one is unsupervised and doesn’t rely on human expert annotations, and it should enable better handling of rare languages and more accurate determination between different accents or pronunciations. Interesting assumptions built into the system include its use of a noisy channel and that word frequency will follow a power-law distribution, a phenomenon that was covered wonderfully by Vsauce recently

9. 3D Printing Graphene Filament and Nerve Guides
First, a new start-up company Graphene 3D Lab has launched a graphene-based conductive polymer filament for use in 3D printers and which can help produce conductive components and electronic devices (a battery was produced as a demonstration product) and the material claims a conductivity 25 times better than comparable filaments Second, 3D printed silicone structures loaded with specific biochemical growth promoters act as personalised nerve growth guides to help restore nerve function and movement after damage and was successfully tested in rats

10. Tuning Cheap Catalysts for Different Reactions
A new multi-purpose catalyst platform is based on cheap graphite, the edges of which are functionalised by binding different compounds whose composition and quantity generate a specific catalytic framework able to accelerate specific reactions The approach combines both heterogeneous and molecular electrocatalysts and ultimately aims to replace expensive catalysts across a range of different industrial chemical processes including fuel cells, carbon capture, and compound synthesis. The basic materials and processes exploit materials and systems that are already employed at industrial scale, which should facilitate scale-up. 

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Conventional - Stir In Lithium Atoms and You Have Yourself A Good Disco
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Google Photos App is Just Amazing

It took me about 30 seconds to make this cool highlight video (32 seconds long) from last weekend with Google Photos. 1. Open Google Photos on phone, 2. Tap "+" icon at upper right, 3. Tap "Movie" 4. Select pics and clips, 5. Done, (Optional: 6. Make edits, change filters, etc). Watch immediate preview. Select back arrow to save. Come back in 15 minutes and rendering and authoring is complete. Watch, share, and enjoy. So damn easy, and so well done, it's just such a powerful application with lots of heavy lifting going on in the back-end of course. 

We spent last weekend down the coast in Carrickalinga with Elise's family and enjoyed utterly perfect spring weather. BBQ and drinks at the house just back from the beach, movie that night, sleep-in, 30 minute walk along the beach to Normanville, coffee and cake, walk back, drive to golf course clubhouse for dinner and drinks, enjoy a spectacular sunset from balcony and guy flying his drone around, relax that night, gorgeous drive home the next day. Really really nice weekend. These are just a few of the highlights in the video. 

#google   #photos   #autoawesome  
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I've actually got a couple dated 1970, which is bizarre
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 41/2015.
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Brain circuit functions, GMO pets, CRISPR xenotransplants, Two-qubit logic, Chemical search engine, DNA based sensor, Optogenetics applications, Human brain project, Robotic object grasping, Ion selective membranes. 

1. Understanding Brain Circuits
New imaging techniques that convert brain scans into wiring diagrams are now allowing groups to determine the factors of certain neural networks in the brain that allow control over global thoughts and actions The results show how the signalling cascade (between neighbouring and distant regions) in the brain resembles other related phenomena such as those involving dynamic networks. In future they hope to test whether wiring differences between people can predict performance on different cognitive tasks. In related news experimental evidence seems to have proven that ultimate object recognition occurs in the neural circuits of the inferior temporal cortex Additional work this week also revealed the brain circuits and firing patterns for how our brain keeps time

2. Bringing GMO Pets to Market
China’s BGI group announced that it is selling genetically engineered “micro” pigs for $1,600, which were formerly created by BGI as test animals to help with a range of medical research initiatives Created with an older genome-editing technology, TALENs, (it’ll be interesting to see what they’re now cooking up with CRISPR), the pigs were made simply by switching off one of the growth hormone receptor genes. I’m supportive of the effort, novel smaller pets for people with revenues helping to fund medical research, and wonder what other custom genetic alterations of these and other pets will be made available commercially - probably better on the open market than encouraging unseen backyard creations. 

3. CRISPR for Xenotransplantation
Speaking of CRISPR and pigs, the technique has been used to perform a large amount of engineering on the pig genome, with pig embryos created that have had 62 endogenous retroviruses inactivated in their DNA, as well as 20 genes modified that encode for cell surface proteins that trigger immune reactions in humans This is a pretty powerful proof-of-concept for using CRISPR to enable xenotransplants of pig organs into humans that (i) removes the risk of endogenous retroviruses causing disease in human organ recipients, and (ii) reduces or removes the need for immunosuppressant drugs in human organ recipients. 

4. Quantum Logic Gate and Two Qubits in Silicon
A two qubit quantum logic gate has been created in silicon for the first time and so helping make silicon quantum computers a feasible prospect Using the same silicon processing technology as is currently used commercially is a significant benefit that helps increase the feasibility of developing silicon based quantum computers. This is the first time a two-qubit system has been realised in silicon, using silicon transistors that have just a single electron associated with them whose spins can store binary information; the team has designs for chips with millions of qubits. 

5. Combinatorial Chemical Search Engine
Lee Cronin is one of the researchers I try to keep track of and this week his group demonstrated an automated robotic chemistry system that (i) creates many different random combinations of chemical conditions, (ii) focuses on those that prove promising for additional investigation, and (iii) repeats the process to arrive at optimal chemicals and conditions As part of tackling a question relating to the origin of life on Earth the group demonstrated that small protein fragments can be made much longer and more easily than previously thought; the record of the conditions and chemical reactions that lead to these proteins helps to calculate the likelihood for producing the first molecules required for life. Such a system might be used to search out other optimal molecules for a range of applications and so speed up research and discovery in the process. 

6. DNA Sensor Detects Antibodies
A new sensor comprised of a DNA “nanomachine” is able to selectively signal when it binds to antibodies of interest It works by (i) desired antigens / detectors are attached at two points, (ii) when an antibody binds the antigens it stretches and opens the DNA molecules up, and (iii) this exposes fluorescent molecules to emit light that can be captured by a detector. This is a nice modular system that (i) can be used to detect almost any antibody of interest, (ii) could be adapted to detect almost any cell type of interest (based on surface proteins), (iii) could be incorporated into cheap assays that are readable by a mobile phone camera. 

7. Optogentics for Fertility and Heart Activation
First, small populations of neurons (called kisspeptin neurons) in mice were engineered with conventional optogentics techniques to make them sensitive to light; researchers then used light to activate or deactivate the firing of these neurons and showed that they are key drivers of fertility that release episodic pulses of key reproductive hormones These mice were made fertile or infertile by turning the light on or off. Second, a convenient optical pacemaker has been demonstrated in flies whose heart cells were optogenetically modified to respond to light and their heart rate could be ratcheted up or down as desired by way of light pulses

8. Human Brain Project Update
The Blue Brain Project component of the Human Brain Project achieved a new milestone with a draft digital reconstruction of the neocortical microcircuitry of the rat brain, the model of which, when processed on a supercomputer matches the observed signalling behaviour of the same region of real rat brains The representation was only of a third of a cubic millimeter of brain tissue with 30,000 neurons and 40 million synapses. The group admit this is an important, but minor milestone and there is a huge amount of work to do. In other brain news new electrode implants for the brain show remarkable flexibility and a firm implantation sheath that dissolves after positioning

9. Deep Learning for Robotic Grasping
A Baxter robot loaded with deep learning software has learned how to pick-up and grasp objects better than other pre-programmed picking-and-grasping approaches The software was pre-trained with object-recognition capabilities and Baxter was left alone to practice picking up objects for 10 hours a day, and over a 700 hour period clocked up 50,000 grasps on 150 different objects. The next step will be for the group to incorporate learning to apply the correct grasping strength to objects with different softness / hardness, with a classic end point being the ability to correctly apply toothpaste to a tooth brush. 

10. New Membrane for Selective Ion Absorption
New membranes comprised of graphene and silicon nitride show excellent selectivity for separating ions from solution The graphene is generated by chemical vapour deposition and with deliberate defects that produce nanometer sized holes in the sheets, which are then placed over a layer of silicon nitride that has been punctured with an ion beam; when placed in a salty solution the group demonstrated different ions selectively pass through different pores. Predictive modelling might now allow the design and fabrication of different membranes able to selectively remove gold ions or uranium ions from water for mining applications or biologically relevant ions for sensing applications. 

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Wow, +Mark Bruce, reading that MIT research, I'm struck by how similar this feels to Deep Learning techniques for image recognition - particularly the focus on layering: 

Earlier stops along the ventral stream are believed to process basic visual elements such as brightness and orientation. More complex functions take place farther along the stream, with object recognition believed to occur in the IT cortex.
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Supporting Anti-aging Rejuventation Research by Donating to SENS

For the fourth year running I renewed my $1 per day donation[1] to SENS Research Foundation as a lump sum to coincide with the annual matching fundraising campaign run by SENS and coordinated by the FightAging! site. 

A Better Approach
SENS isn't just the most sensible approach we have to successfully combat aging; it is also the most sensible approach we have to successfully combat most if not all diseases. The current system we have focuses on combating the very many individual symptoms (diseases) of aging that arise from complex causes and regulatory networks. In contrast SENS seeks to combat the biological damage that accumulates (there are ~7 categories) over the years that, when it passes a certain threshold, causes the diseases we commonly associate with aging.

The current system seeks only to prolong aging and extend frailty and decrepitude; this is a simplistic whack-a-mole band-aid approach that nonetheless is all we have access to at this time. In contrast SENS seeks to fix and remove damage at a cellular level, ideally well before such damage results in disease, and so offers the only rational approach to actually achieving rejuvenation of the human organism and the maintenance of the youth, vigor, and health that we all desire and deserve. 

A mature SENS platform would offer the possibility of indefinite lifespans for people - barring accidents of course. 

In terms of funding SENS is deplorably underfunded. It receives a drop in the ocean compared to the established way of tackling disease and aging and so needs every supporting dollar it can in these early stages of developing proof-of-concept therapies. Success will breed success of course, and as soon as the first demonstrated therapy, even in animals, makes headlines a feedback loop will pull more capital into the approach. But we first need to help boost grass-roots support to help them get to that point. 

If you're passionate about having the chance to stay young, fit, and healthy for well over 100 years and have a few dollars to spare then please consider donating to SENS as part of this fundraising drive. And if you don't have a few dollars to spare then please consider sharing this post to help spread the word to encourage others to do so. 

Learn more about this year's SENS fundraising effort here:

Donate to SENS here: 

Reddit discussion here:

Summary of the accumulating damage that SENS seeks to tackle with links to more information and strategies for doing so:

[1] It's actually slightly more than $1 per day as I index the amount each year to account for inflation to keep at 2012 dollars or above. With the matching fundraising campaign I'm helping to contribute >$2 per day to SENS. 

#sens   #fundraising   #rejuvenation  
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The somewhat wibbly nature of the slurry in my head is a very great positive side effect of going nutso.
New words are just the tip of the iceberg!


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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 40/2015.
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Platelet drug carriers, Optical rectennas, Soft gel printing, Living implants, Spray-on solar cells, Microscopic supercapacitors, Tiny folding robots, Mimicking biological materials, Memory neuroprosthesis, Carbon nanotube transistors. 

1. Repurposing Platelets as Drug Carriers
In studies on mice platelets were first isolated from blood, their membranes were extracted and added to a solution containing nanoscale spheres of a gel loaded with a cancer drug, the solution was compressed forcing the gel spheres inside the membranes, which were finally treated to add a second cancer-targeting drug on their surfaces When injected back into the bloodstream the cancer drugs circulated for 5 times longer and when the platelets encountered a cancer cell they bound it, the surface drug disrupted the cancer cell wall, the platelet is swallowed, and the gel cancer drug attacks the cancer cell nucleus. A nice modular platform for exploring trojan delivery of various payloads to various cell types. 

2. Optical Rectenna Converts Light to DC Current
This interesting technology consists of arrays of carbon nanotubes grown vertically on a surface as a cathode, each of which are capped with a metal oxide diode, and the entire surface is covered in a metal anode; light hitting the surface stimulates an oscillating charge in the nanotubes that is captured by the rectifier structures attached to create a direct current The length of the nanotubes is tuned to the wavelength of light to be harvested. Energy efficiency is still low but promising. If the group hits the development milestones they have planned then new photodetectors, energy harvesters, and solar panels should be possible. Vertical organic semiconductor crystals might also support similar advances

3. Printing Functional Structures in Soft Gels
A new 3D printing method uses a bath of granular microscopic hydrogel particles as a support medium to hold in place soft 3D printed materials in arbitrary shapes, and so allowing structures to be printed that might not solidify but still stay in place and hold their shape and As a demonstration the technique was used to create a jellyfish, hollow tubular knots, and shells and these structures could be hardened and solidified by curing / cross-linking. The technique holds promise for being able to build structures that can’t currently be built, as well as in tissue engineering applications and using cell-loaded inks to print organs and their vasculature. 

4. Towards Living Implants
Bacteria have been engineered to express a specific linker protein on their cell walls that securely attaches to another tubular molecule able to bind more than one of these linker proteins!/2015/4/401722/ut-research-opens-the-way-to-living-implants. When added into solution the bacteria can be made to bind together into clumps, or when attached to a surface the bacteria can be made to stably adhere to the surface while carrying out normal function including motility motion. This raises the possibility for applications in (i) altering human cells near where an implant is to be introduced in order to more securely attach an implant, (ii) microbots adorned with bacteria that can move them through solution in a biological way, and (iii) living implants that store bacteria engineered to produce proteins, drugs, and other molecules of use or need to the person. 

5. Towards Spray-On LEDs and Solar Cells
First, a new type of single-layer thin-film cheap to produce easy to manufacture LED panel is made from dissolvable materials that might be painted or even sprayed onto surfaces Promising but still work to do - I’d also like to see the indium replaced by something more sustainable and scalable if possible. Second, the latest push in spray-on solar cell technology with a new nanocrystal ink that doesn’t require heating but rather utilises non-toxic ammonium chloride as the necessary sintering agent to tie the nanocrystals together from solution

6. Promising Microscopic Supercapacitors
New laser-etched graphene supercapacitors show promise for powering future electronics Consisting of a bit of electrolyte, graphene oxide dielectric, and graphene electrodes, the prototype supercapacitors were produced with a DVD burner and were used to make hybrid battery-capacitor devices that can be recharged in minutes, has 10 times the energy density of conventional microbatteries, 20% the thickness of a sheet of paper and one square centimeter device can power an LED flashlight for an hour. Lots of promise for larger multi-stacked flexible sheets to power a wide range of electronic devices and sensors in future. 

7. Tiny Folding Robots
New folding reconfigurable robots weigh just 4 grams and can crawl and jump along surfaces Called origami robots or “robogamis” these devices are powered by actuators made from shape-memory alloy that, once deformed, return to their original shape after being heated. By adding multiple different actuators together, and which have been set to different shapes, the group managed to build light robotic systems that were able to controllably walk and jump as required. Designed for easy manufacture and assembly the group are still exploring possible applications for their new devices - does anyone have any ideas?

8. Mimicking Biological Composite Materials
Magnetically assisted slip casting is a new fabrication method developed to produce tough multi-layered biomimetic materials comprised of layers of micro-platelets with identical orientation in each layer and so copying the natural architecture of teeth and seashells The technique depends on suspensions of magnetised ceramic platelets; as the suspension hardens an external magnetic field is switched to reorient the platelets at defined intervals in order to build up layers of hardened material that is ordered in precise orientations compared to the layers above and below it. Demonstrations include production of artificial tooth enamel that possessed identical physical properties to natural tooth enamel, although the process would allow novel chemical and electronic properties to be added as needed. 

9. Neuroprosthesis for Memory Loss
A neuroprosthesis that attaches to the brain via a small array of electrodes, and which previously performed well in animals, is now being tested in humans to assist with memory loss The device works by mimicking how a memory is translated from short-term memory into long-term memory and is designed to bypass damaged hippocampal sections in order to provide the next region of the brain with the correctly translated memory and so improve the chances for long-term memory storage. The implant currently predicts the correct signal translation 90% of the time. 

10. IBMs Carbon Nanotube Transistors
IBM can now produce nanoscale transistor contacts for carbon nanotubes without reducing their performance Carbon nanotube transistor contacts have hindered performance gains until now and IBM believe the new fabrication methods could overcome contact resistance challenges all the way down to the 1.8nm node, and the overall carbon nanotube technology package overcomes major hurdles for incorporating carbon nanotubes into semiconductor devices. The fabrication technique was described as “microscopic welding that chemically binds the metal atoms to the carbon atoms of nanotubes.”

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Yep its been all over the place +Adam Black ;)
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Spotting Mathematics in Nature

I spotted this little weed growing next to the house yesterday and on closer inspection couldn't help but notice the beautiful fractal geometry it embodied; it immediately reminded me of the mathematical fractal in the second image that I recalled seeing at some point years ago. I think the resemblance of the curves and geometry is uncanny, although if you look closely you'll notice that the plant has deployed this structure twice, once and most clearly at the top of its stem, and a second time below at about the mid point of the stem, which you'll see is offset or rotated by about 60 degrees compared to the one above, branching out in the mid-point and so maximising surface area and minimising overlap. 

Second image from: 

#nature   #mathematics   #fractal  
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Here's a 3D sculpture by Koos Verhoeff and others which is quite close to the weed you found (via +Patrick Honner's site).
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 39/2015.
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Switching cell behaviour, Silver to gold, Modular bacterial viruses, Evolved circuits, Functional organoids, Molecular wrench, Multimaterial printers, New CRISPR variant, Brain computer interfaces, Better nanopore sequencing. 

1. Targeted Cell Switches
This is an interesting platform technology for recognising if a cell as a certain DNA sequence and then triggering a range of subsequent behaviours Basically, (i) two recombinant zinc-finger proteins are designed to selectively bind specific adjacent DNA sequences, (ii) attached to the two zinc-finger proteins are two halves of another protein with special domains, (iii) if the two halves are in the same vicinity the special domains cause them to fuse into the complete protein, (iv) the complete protein can activate a range of cellular responses such as cell death, secrete proteins to activate the immune system against the cell, or a range of other behaviours such as glowing green in the proof-of-concept. Potentially very useful for targeting cells infected with latent viruses or those with particular mutations. I expect this system to be co-adapted to CRISPR-Cas9 (from zinc-fingers) if it hasn’t already. 

2. Making Silver Act Like Gold
Silver nanoclusters comprising 25 silver atoms and 18 ligand molecules look and act - both chemically and physically - like the equivalent gold nanoclusters Both types of clusters have very similar optical properties, emission properties, and crystal structures despite big differences between individual silver and gold atoms. The group believe that are behaving like super-atoms, with electrons occupying stable orbitals around the entire nanocluster as if it was a single giant atom (a bit like quantum dots). It will be interesting to see if they can prove the reverse and also perform similar demonstrations with other atoms and so enable a whole new arena of new materials. 

3. Designing Reliable Modular Viruses to Fight Bacteria
A new storage, generation, and production system promises rapid design of modular viruses against specific bacteria as needed Standard bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria but not human cells) are stored in a yeast system as an extra chromosome, and but screening for genes encoding the tails or feet of the viruses - the parts that determine what strains of bacteria they will bind - these can be swapped in as needed to produce new viruses against the strains of interest that nonetheless have known reliable properties. Such specificity allows editing of microbial communities, e.g. in the gut, to remove particular species and of course for infection and disease control - although such viruses are still mopped up by our own immune systems. Viruses are also now being used to deliver DNA origami nanodevices into cells

4. Evolving Electronic Circuits
Applying certain electrical signals to new computer chips adorned with gold nanoparticles helps to establish a process of artificial evolution that quickly builds and selects for organised networks of gold nanoparticles configured into different logic gates!/2015/9/424928/darwin-on-a-chip. While only a set of 16 logic gates were created with this demonstration the group believe this has proved their principle and they hope to scale the system up to more useful arrays; the dimensions of the logic gates are already comparable to those in conventional circuits. Such approaches are inherently resistant to material defects and remind me of the pivotal evolved FPGA chips that work in novel ways, and of evolvable hardware in general

5. Building Functional Organoids
First, more work on functionalising different cells with different strands of DNA in order to program the assembly of different cell types into different structures, this time to produce miniature three dimensional tissue organoids with customised and well-defined structures These organoids should help drug screening and development, and can even incorporate vasculature and specific cells with specific mutations in specific locations. Second, small kidney organoids have been successfully demonstrated in pigs, working as kidneys should, including cleaning blood and generating & excreting urine, hopefully larger and fully functional structures can be achvieved in future. 

6. Molecular Wrench Made by Chirality-Assisted Synthesis
Chirality-assisted synthesis is a new method that enables the controlled production of large customised molecules by utilising the chiral property of some base molecules that means they can only be joined to each other in one direction As part of the proof-of-concept the group demonstrated the successful synthesis of a molecular wrench. The technique is simple, elegant, and founded on molecular geometry - the geometry means there is only one shape these molecules can link up to form. Future work will extend this to different and larger geometries to create a range of functional polymers and other materials. 

7. Multimaterial 3D Printers
New 3D printing print heads are able to simultaneously mix and print different concentrated inks that allow for control over both print composition and print geometry on the fly The new print heads can mix materials with a wide range of viscosities using rotating impellers that provide active mixing - a key advance. Using these print heads the group printed gradient structures with soft and hard regions, reactive materials, and electrical circuitry. Meanwhile, groups are continuing to develop 3D prints that self-fold when heated for example into more complex structures

8. A Newer, Better, CRISPR
A new form of CRISPR-Cas9, called CRISPR-Cpf1 has been demonstrated that offers a range of benefits including (i) requires just one RNA strand instead of two, (ii) is a smaller enzyme and so easier to get into cells, (iii) cuts DNA with offset exposed ends rather than blunt ends and so should facilitate insertions, (iv) cuts at a greater distance to the binding site and so offers another method or opportunity for editing, (v) recognises different PAM (binding) sequences to Cas9 The technique is expected to make it even easier to edit the genomes of bacteria, yeast, animals, plants, and humans and should be widely available soon.

9. BCIs for Telepathy and Motility
We had a couple of ocol brain computer interfaces this week, both of which utilised non-invasive EEG caps. First, a basic set-up allowing two people to engage in basic brain-to-brain communication in which one would as a series of yes-no questions to the other, the other looks at one of two LEDs to answer, and a yes answer stimulates the first’s visual cortex sufficiently for them to be aware of it Second, a man who was paralysed for five years underwent months of training (to build muscle and control a virtual avatar) before reaching the point where he could walk without assistance simply by thinking and the system transferring signals to muscles in the leg

10. Improvements to Nanopore DNA Sequencing
A new method significantly improves the accuracy of DNA sequencing using innovative nanopore sequencing methods by simply forcing the passage of DNA through the nanopore to take place much more slowly The method simply involves using a more viscous liquid to carry the DNA and slow down its passage by two or three orders of magnitude through a nanopore in a two-dimensional film of molybdenum disulfide. The group hopes this will lead to quicker, more accurate DNA sequencing. 

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Another awesome week, Mark. Thanks!
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Sunset at the beach the other evening.
A good image for my contemplative mood after experiencing the most profound half hour for months while reading about the power of ideas in Chapter 6 of Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
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So Deep :) 
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A transhumanist and technophile residing in Australia, loving life and avidly looking forward to the future.
Hi, I’m Mark. I am a unique selfplex of knowledgeable, technophilic, and insatiably-curious memes currently residing on organic wetware with a personable and engaging predisposition, which is acutely aware of being a small but furiously spinning cog in the great meme-machine built by the human civilisation. 
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Ever since becoming an Autodidact I manage to keep doing things I never thought I'd be able to do :)
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