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Norway to the future
Sunday, April 25, 2004
 
More Mars
Spirit and Opportunity have been quite silent lately, but Mars is still full of interesting things. Meanwhile, you can read Oliver Morton's piece on two craters seemingly showing recent liquid water. The pictures are quite convincing, but then again I am a layman.

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Sunday morning bliss
Surfing randomly around in a Sunday state of mind...

I know just about everything has been said and done about the Lord of the Rings already, but unicast got me laughing to this Commentary By Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky for the FOTR extended etition. The required snippet:

Chomsky: A terrible thing the Orcs do here, isn't it? They destroy nature. But again, what have we seen, time and time again?

Zinn: The Orcs have no resources. They're desperate.

Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things.

Well written and well worth some minutes of your time (after all, you had almost forgotten about LOTR by now, hadn't you)

Or, if you are aiming for political incorrectness, you can always memorize the results of this study, showing that solving mazes can tell us something about the competitiveness of women.

Coffee, black, hot. Now.

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Friday, April 23, 2004
 
Today's weirdest idea
This has been popping into my mind lately: Looking for a new hobby, and do not mind freaking people out? Start collecting DNA!

It's basically the perfect hobby: you collect something, it's free, every item you collect is unique and it doesn't take up much space nor time. Start asking friends/celebrities/politicians for a hair instead of an autograph. When you in some years can decode their genomes, you will be able to sequence the DNA on your own computer, going from a collection of hairs in plastic bags to computer files detailing everything about a person. Then you can clone them and keep them in your basement, or share them on your favorite p2p network.

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EPA Approved ICBMs
"Thus, if the Minuteman III ICBMs have to be used in some future nuclear war, their rocket motors will not pollute the atmosphere. EPA regulations do not apply in foreign countries, so no changes are being made to reduce the harmful environmental effects of the nuclear warheads." (via WorldChanging.org)

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Thursday, April 22, 2004
 
"One short-term memory booster please." "Will that be pill or implant, sir?"
With brain implants on their way, it is good to see that scientists are discussing the ethics of boosting brainpower with drugs. We already have and employ several chemicals to affect our brains, from pills which affect our pain threshold, Prozac and its numerous off-shoots, and as the article mentions, Ritalin. Coffee, cigarettes and wine may increase your brainpower, yet are socially accepted. "[H]ow is taking a drug any different?" the article asks. Why stop with drugs, I say.

In what way would a physical implant affect us as persons? Most people will agree that people on pain killers or Ritalin are the same person, albeit a bit better suited to function in our world. Prozac is coming close to being a fad, you probably know someone who currently takes or has taken mood-altering pills (maybe you take them yourself). Is the person a different person than before? By different, I do not just mean that they are acting differently, I mean are they the same person. I believe that for the vast majority, the answer is yes (if you have taken or are currently taking mood enhancers, do you consider yourself to be yourself?).

Chemicals can be scary. They can be volatile. They can cause adverse effects. Still, we consider that the upsides of drugs larger than the eventual downsides. Being addicted to branded pills (not counting the various pseudo-brands of, say, E) is the only socially acceptable way to be a drug addict in today's society. I will not go into the debate on the ethical sides of being allowed to feel better as long as the pill is produced by a respected pharmaceuticals company as opposed to in secret labs in The Netherlands, let's just say that I am very sceptical towards putting chemicals into my body- that includes the mildest painkillers.

Often, doctors do not even know why a drug works the way it does. As an example, beta blockers are supposed to increase blood pressure and heart rate, while they work in the exactly opposite way on heart attack victims. Same, goes for Ritalin, I wonder who first thought of giving that hyperactive kid some speed to calm down. Using electronic implants that work on a limited area of the brain, doing what it is supposed to do, and nothing more, may be a better way to avoid adverse effects than by pouring your body full of molecules that are free to wander around the blood stream, connecting to whatever is possible, affecting the complex system being a human body. As with any complex system, changing one of the inputs -- be it by drugs or electronics -- is dangerous, as the butterfly effect can set things in motion that no one had thought of. Just imagine what our most used "explant" -- the device that we are now addicted to as it removes the need to be physically in the same place to communicate -- the mobile phone, might do to our brains in the long term.

With neuroscience research progressing day by day, we learn more about the inner workings of our brain, in more detail than ever. Electronic implants are already in use for therapeutic reasons, so the parallel to therapeutic drugs is there, implants are just some years (but not many) further down the road. This requires not only the researchers, but also each and every one of us, to take a stand on what we feel is acceptable and ethically correct. For me, the method used is more of a second nature, except that I am risk-adverse enough not to risk my sanity by using chemicals. Looking at the mother in Requiem for a dream, becoming a cyborg seems to me to be a better alternative.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004
 
Scenarios for society
From Z+Blog, the BBC is adopting scenario planning to societal issues in the TV series IF. What if...Almost totally unrelated, I am listening to the radio, and they just mentioned that Norway got it's first printing press in 1643, as the last country in Europe, a good 100 years after our Icelandic neighbours... what if... The same radio program also does some scenario musings:
  • Tenk om Bondevik ble diktator...
  • Tenk om staten overtok barna våre...
  • Tenk om vi ikke hadde hatt amerikanerne...
  • Tenk om vi ble 120 år gamle...
  • Tenk om Golfstrømmen forsvinner...

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The Page 23 meme
From Ross:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

However, on account of these consequences, reason takes away people's hope for eternal life and the only real and unshakeable certainty it offers is the certainty of extinction -- the fate of everyhting in the universe


This was from Between Security and Insecurity by Ivan Klíma.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004
 
Spices for the brain
So this is why India is racing ahead in the brainpower market: Curry Could Save Brain Cells. Betterhumans.com explains:

Curry may help fight brain diseases by enhancing an enzyme that protects brain cells from oxidative damage.

Studying the effects of a compound in the spice on rat neurons, Italian and American researchers have found that it might help protect against such diseases as Alzheimer's.

The researchers—including Michael Schwartzman and Nader Abraham from New York Medical College in Valhalla—think that the compound could help prevent neurodegenerative conditions that affect the elderly, although they say that much more research is needed.


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Helping cells to die
Another tip-off from our excellent national public radio P2 on research currently in progress at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen: Karl Johan Tronstad, PhD is working on modified tetradecylthioacetic (3-Thia) fatty acid effects on programmed cell death. Fatty acids function as structural components of cells, serve as metabolic fuel for mitocondria, and participate in intracellular singaling. Some fatty acids, like Omega-3 have been found to have a positive effect on the health of humans.

Mitocondira are the power plants of our cells. They use the oxygene we breathe to metabolize sugar and fat into energy the cell can use, but recent research has shown that they play a significant role in the programmed death of the cell as well. Every cell in our body is programmed to die after a certain period of time, but mutations and failures can cause the cell to fail to self destruct. Cell death requires energy, and if the mitocondria are damaged, the cell may not be able to initiate the disassembling procedures, and this can lead to cancer. The goal of the research on the modified 3-Thia acid is to be able to increase the energy production in the mitocondria, and as such help the body to kill cells when it is time. The acid has been sucessfully tested on animals and humans wihtout adverse effects, and testing is now on the way to clinical trials on leukemia patients. While not a revolutionary cure for cancer, this treatment can increase the life quality and expectancy of many people.

For more information, you can read a paper by the research group on Modified fatty acids and their possible therapeutic targets in malignant diseases.

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A warm welcome to Norway's new nanotech lab!
Today is the official opening of the Microtechnology Research Laboratory (MRL) in Oslo. The lab is a SINTEF-backed project located in Gaustadbekkdalen in Oslo, and part of the Oslo Technopole umbrella organization. While the name says 'micro', the facilities are equipped to do nanoscale research as well.

The project is about two years after schedule, as the construction of the building ran into problems caused by the clay-rich ground on the site. The lab building and installed equipment is one of the biggest investments into research in Norwegian history, totalling an estimated 250MNOK (~30MEUR). An additional 20 to 30 MNOK has been spent to minimize the vibrations in the building, an essential factor when doing research at very small objects. It is the first building in Norway dedicated solely to micro- and nanoscale research.

The working areas of the centre will include:
  • Microsystem design and technology development
  • Development of new sensor-principles
  • Centre of excellence within radiation- and imaging-sensors, and optoelectronic systems
  • Small-scale production of microsystems
  • Education: Cand. Scient./Dr. Scient.
Combining resources and researchers from SINTEF, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University Hospital of Oslo (Rikshospitalet), the goal is to encourage and facilitate technology innovation by bringing together production of microtechnology and nanotechnology research in one place. 70% of the projects planned are Norwegian-initiated, says project manager Anders Hanneborg to NRK P2 today. Much of the financing is based on private capital, Hanneborg states, but it is hoped that breakthroughs can be applied to less profit-hungry fields as well. Some projects are underway in the micro-sensor field, both implanted insulin-sensors for diabetics patients and CO2 sensors for cars and -- hopefully -- children's classrooms are being developed. To a layman like me, the sensor technology seems similar to active RFID chips, the microsystems containing both a sensor and a chip to store and relay information from the sensor to a wireless scanner.

The centre is also part of the FUNMAT project (National Consortium for Research within Functional Materials and Nanotechnology). The FUNMAT consortium has been operating since 2002, and has helped Norwegian hitech-companies to several commercialized technologies. The consortiums goal is research on materials for sustainable energy production and environmental technology, nanotechnology and biomaterials. This is in line with the EU's 6th Framework Programme for Research and Development (6FWP) on materials technology, an important driver for developments of new technologies.

These are good news, as Norway has been lagging behind its neighbours in nanotech investments the last years. If you are interested in what happens in and around Norway, Nanoforum has a document giving a very good overview (PDF-en) of the status of Scandinavian nanotech research from 2003.

Some related articles (in Norwegian):


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Train your own AI by chatting to it
I often wish I was studying artificial intelligence. Whether it is because it involves several beautiful fields of science, the philosophical aspects of what to answer the day your PC claims it has become alive all of a sudden, or just the sheer thrill of trying to play god is not important. Nevertheless, the subject consists of many easy to grasp, difficult to understand and hard to learn subfields. While it is quite possible to get a basic knowledge of concepts such as neural nets, genetic algorithms or expert systems from a little reading in bed, the science behind is so far way beyond my reach. I therefore welcome any news about developments in the more layman-applicable parts of AI research.

KurzweilAI.net (via The Speculist) writes about the merging of two tools for AI enthusiasts. Combining open source software, HTML-like structures, databases and relationships, this seems to be a development at such an aggregated level that even I should be able to play around with it.

OpenCyc is a database of general knowledge, a big collection of concepts and their assertions, as well as an ontology of the concepts. Basically, the data stored in the database can be accessed by an AI program. Instead of entering information into the database manually, it is preferable to 'teach' the database by talking to an AI program (a chatbot) in a natural language.

AIML is an XML structured markup language. It is used to structure the knowledge base of ALICE chatbots. It includes tags for a category/concept, a pattern which represents what a user might say to the chatbot to trigger the identification of the concept, and a template for a response to the user. To use this knowledge base better, the chatbot can benefit greatly from an inference engine such as OpenCyc.

Enter project CyN. CyN is an AIML interpreter that communicates with the OpenCyc engine, enabling the training of a chatbot in a natural language. The project team describes their vision:

One of the first questions that interested programmers want to know about OpenCyc is what kind of natural language interface is there and can they talk with it. And one of the things that interested programmers who learn AIML ask is how to make their chat bots appear smarter. CyN tries to address the desires of both communities.

Having been inspired by the book I am currently recommending to anyone who cares to listen, Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines, Gordon at the Speculist has been musing about enhancing the Ramona chatbot by distributed computing and training. Interesting thoughts, after all teaching a mind of any sort requires quite an effort and a shared training will increase reliability and performance.

The CyN project seems to pave the way for small groups to achieve such goals, where individuals train their personal AIs, and the AI relays knowledge to one or more aggregated AI personalities, being a synthesis of its individual members. Maybe future developments will allow a global inferrence engine containing the combined knowledge of several trained-by-humans niche AIs. With everyone talking to their personal AI, both these and the community AIs can develop the global database of all knowledge knwon by AIs. From such a synthesis of human memes, values, morale and knowledge, it should not be long before the AI reaches a sophisticated level, asking the age-old question of Where should we have lunch?

And it's all open source...

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Sunday, April 18, 2004
 
I've been blogrolled
Satisfying my ego by looking at the referrer links from my site stats service, I just found out that I have at least one reader who has not been persuaded verbally to start reading. He even added me to his reading list "as it is written by a Norwegian, and it's always nice to find something exotic. I've known Swedes, Finns and Danes but the only Norwegian I knew was a guy with a hobbit hairdo. In my high school."

Hobbit hairdos are of course very popular here in Norway, and right now I wish I had a camera (or at least a mirror) to show you all how my neckwarmer is coming along... Heh, and I'm exotic. If I had a eurocent for each time I heard that, I would have.... one cent.

Oh, and the blog is worth reading, been missing some tales from the crypt - er- lab. He's missing an RSS feed though, so I have to visit manually until he clicks yes in the apropriate box in his blogger settings.

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New commenting service
I've just added a new commenting service from HaloScan. I don't think the functionality is radically different (no choice to get emailed when people comment or reply to a comment), but the layout seems a bit nicer, and it includes a trackback service.

I really want a system that allows trackbacks to be sent automatically when linking to another blog, and a commenting system a la a messageboard, or at least with some sort of notification system. I used MovableType when blogging from Milan, and Pia showed me some of the functionality I didn't know about here the other day. Being a control freak, I want it running on a server where I have totalitarain control. Since Xiando (my Linux-guru who ran the Milan blog) seems to be a bit slow on responding to all my various stupid requests for playing around with content management systems, I think this will have to wait until I have moved back home and got my server room (wet dream) set up with my own little web server.

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Libraries launch "welfare iTunes"
Public libraries in Oslo and Bergen have launched an online library of Norwegian music. It does (of course) only work in Microsoft Internet Explorer with Media Player, but I hope this is only temporarily (after all, librarians dig Linux, don't they?). The funniest part was nevertheless the fact that a song that is being listened to, is virtually checked out of the library; you will have to wait until the other borrower finishes listening to borrow the song.

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Friday, April 16, 2004
 
My first contribution to Wikipedia!
I'm so proud. I was working on a school paper on constructing corporate strategy scenarios for the students' welfare organisation (SiB), and as always checked what Wikipedia had to say on the issue. Lo and behold, there was no article! (quite senstational as Wikipedia is very comprehensive; for my home town buddies, you can contribute to this article for example). Well, not anymore. Check out my proud work on Scenario planning.

One day this will be a tiny part of an Encyclopædia Galactica...

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Would it bother you to see this man having sex with a chicken?
is one of the questions you have to answer in this morality test. Gives you results in the same from as the political compass.

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Thursday, April 15, 2004
 
Real cutie
On a blogging roll today (woke up at 0700 for some weird reason), from Robotic Nation Evidence, I give you (shouting in Japanese style)Team Osakas hand standing (amongst other skills) robot! Quite impressive, indeed.

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Twilight Zone revisited
This made my day and made me think at the same time (strange feeling) -- there is something sinister going on in Norway these days. Our trademarks have for as long as anyone cares to remember; high prices, high salaries and did I mention high prices (a litre of gasoline costs something around 1,2 Euros). And now, for the third time in two year (dramatic emphasis beign added) Supermarkets are cutting the price of Beer!! Yes, beer! One of the few ways to enjoy life that still is legal in this country. What is happening? They are banning smoking, closing pubs early and scaring the life shite out of most people by whatever causes cancer this week. And then they lower the price on beer?

I am inclined to believe that this is our Christian Democratic Party's work; they are planning to sedate us before taking over completely... And I will bite the hook, happily. Oh well. Cheers!

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Implants approved
The FDA has approved human brain implant devices:

The idea is not to stimulate the mind but rather to map neural activity so as to discern when the brain is signaling a desire to make a particular physical movement.

"We're going to say to a paralyzed patient, 'imagine moving your hand six inches to the right,'" [Cyberkinetics chief executive Tim] Surgenor said.

Then, he said, researchers will try to identify the brain activity associated with that desire. Someday, that capacity could feed into related devices, such as a robotic arm, that help patients act on that desire.

It's misleading to say such technologies "read minds," said Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw, of the New York State Department of Health, who is conducting similar research. Instead, they train minds to recognize a new pattern of cause and effect, and adapt.

"What happens is you provide the brain with the opportunity to develop a new skill," he said.



Cool, I say. Cool.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004
 
Freaking you out on a Wednesday
Writes The New York Times; Oman's Oil Yield Long in Decline, Shell Data Show. Despite advanced technology, like (Norwegian pioneered) horizontal drilling, Oman's oil fields are going empty. Update: From the comment by AMH: BBC writes about Norway's oil fields going empty on the same day as I wrote this piece. Good timing and well worth a read)

There are several articles being written on declining oil production, but people seem to do nothing else than barely taking notice. To quote Stupid Evil Bastard, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? Going nuts about a boob at the Superbowl, caring about your fifteen minutes of fame, reading tabloids, yet barely noticing that -- if we do not advance at several levels; technologically, ecologically, ethically and intelectually to name a few -- there will be no more oil in the world whithin the scope of your lifetime.

Argh. Peak Oil has been discussed for ages. Let me quote a few sacry passages from Life After the Oil Crash:

Almost every current human endeavor — from transportation, to manufacturing, to electricity, to plastics, and especially food and water production — is inextricably intertwined with oil and natural gas supplies.



It is estimated that the world's population will contract to between 500 million and 2 billion during the Oil Crash. (Current world population: 6.4 billion)


Anytime an avowed leftist and liberal icon like Michael Moore is in complete agreement with a member of the Bush administration, it's safe to say the shit has hit the fan.



If I ruined your day, good. You will somehow thank me for it when the shit starts to land on rich people's platters. In the meantime, start spreading the word, and start saving for a self-sustained house...

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Dude, where's my flying car?
Ah, the bliss of disneyesque future dreaming... Check out this art by 20th century artist Arthur Radebaugh.

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Norwegian tech update
Norway's most prominent aerospace company plays a small part in the Darwin project. They are working on noise reduction in the signal processing.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004
 
Eye piercings next?
Fashion trends is not my favourite cup of tea. This post from Futurismic caught my attention, though. I've always been wondering when the fashion avant garde will take up piercing their eyes. Not there yet, but surgeons in the Netherlands now provide eyeball jewelry.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004
 
Hot air balloon basket, anyone?
Brilliant scientist not included.

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Progressive thoughts from the southwest
I have long ranted about how old school a monogamous marriage is. Not only are they unrealistic when you look at divorce statistics (actually, I'm impressed by all those who do not divorce, they have managed to take a correct life-long decision based on almost no data), they are the result of several hundred years of piousness and indoctrination. In today's Stavanger Aftenblad (that's down in our Bible belt, which kind of makes me wonder what their agenda is), they take a stand for removing the prohibition on polygamy. The journalist argues more or less around the classic reasons for polygamy; being able to support widows in societies where there is a shortage of men and the tolerance for immigrants who already have several wives. He also comes with a moral reason many people can agree to:

Hva er det moralsk overlegne i et system som ikke har noe å utsette på en mann som har barn over hele byen, men som truer med fengsel hvis han vil gi alle barna den beskyttelse som bare gifte foreldre kan gi? Hvis vårt statsbærende parti har rett i at ekteskapet er et stort, nesten hellig gode, hvorfor kan vi ikke dele det med flere?


Why should not we be able to give all children the right to the security married parents can give? If the state sanctions the sanctity of marriage as a holy good, why is it denied from some?

The act of setting a new life into this world is serious business. A pregnancy is considered a right, and people do from time to time get married as a direct consequence of an unplanned pregnancy, again taking the decision to marry on a weak basis. The really sad part here is that the people who end up in these situations more often than not are people who are not at all suited to be married, even less suited to be parents. Sure, they might learn how to give their kid love, but what about security and a proper upbringing in a well-furnished house? Getting pregnant should not be a right for everyone, in much the same way we should have certain criteria for the right to be a citizen and to vote (but that is another story). There should be some minimum requirements as to the security the parents can bring this kid, an assessment of their mental, monetary and practical capabilities to foster the child. I know I'm ranting here, but I tend to get provoked when I see teenage mothers with small trophy children, believing that the guy who picked them up one night on the club actually is a suitable father. I also do not have all the solutions, as requiring a license to get pregnant smells a bit too totalitarian. Some things that may get things in the right direction might include:

1. Change the concept of marriage to be a time-definite union, with the option to renew. Let's say that if you get married, you get married for 7 years. Say the girl is pregnant at the time of marriage. If the strenuous work of early childhood care is too much pressure on the young mother or father, and he/she is thinking that it is the other persons fault, then maybe, just maybe, they will be able to hold together for seven years (also, the penalties for breaking the bond should be quite severe, economically). Voilà, the kid is 'secure' until he/she starts in 1st grade. If the parents after seven year still have not grown tired of each other, they have the option to renew for just seven more years. Voilà, the kid is 14, not the best age to see your parents separate, but better that being 12 and thinking it is your fault (if you also know that your parents are living together on a seven years 'lease' you could be expecting, even welcoming it). Another seven, and the kid is 21, ready to leave home.

This is just a thought experiment I do from time to time. I am not saying it is the best way to do it, or if it would work. But to me, it seems that adjusting the institution of marriage to something more in line with today's expectations, and giving people the possibility to commit to another person for a limited (how scary isn't 'till death do you part???) time, might make more people happier in total at any given point in time.

2. Almost the point of the journalist above; why only two people who are the legal sponsors of a child's life? Granted, the child is a product of their genes, but this is really a minor point. People adopt, and are able to show as much love for adopted children as for their own. Also, if the parents break up, only one person is left with the responsibility/right to raise the kid- usually the mother. It is then up to her to solicit help from her family and friends. How about giving family, but perhaps even more so, friends, a possibility to commit themselves to a child? Many young people live in collectives, they are part of tight-knit groups of friends which might mean more to them than their blood-line. They might even have spent quite some time in each others' beds and so on. Combined with the pragmatic notion that monogamous relationships seldom hold for more than a few years, how about the ability to start a child-raising poly-something (searching for a good name here, but lost... a club? hive? collective? polypolygamy? N:N-clique? update: the besserwisser word for group marriage is apparently polygynandry.) where everyone is responsible for providing the child with what parents should provide? Maybe with some additional rights for the actual mother, perhaps the father as well. Just think about the possibility of having a legally appointed babysitter or three, to share the more sleep- and fun-depriving parts of parenthood. Or, from the other side, the possibility to sit there as a godfather, teaching the kid the things a parent shouldn't be teaching its kid (but that the kid should learn nevertheless). This is, of course, just another thought experiment.

Oh, well, enough ranting for today. Off to barbecue the Easter lamb.

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Friday, April 09, 2004
 
The Swedes do it again
Sweden seems to be racing ahead in the gene-research area. So much for our great and protective and reactionary laws in this country. Now, researchers at the Karolinska Institute have identified a gene related to asthma and allergies (Swedish). Betterhumans have the details.

What does this mean for Norway? While these studies have not involved stem cells, the progress that is being done in Sweden shows how important a rational and positive approach to genetics research leads to positive results. When (not if) they discover a valuable treatment for a disorder based on research outlawed in Norway, what should we do? Should we deny our citizens the treatment because it is based on what our (primarily christian-based) ethics say is wrong? Or should we jump on the even more unethical bandwagon, letting other countries do the grey-area research, and wait to reap the benefits? The worst thing is that such an approach may just work in Norway. As long as we can feel good about ourselves for not making the world a more scary place (through allowing stem cell research), silencing any critique will be simple as long as we are allowed to purchase the treatments. Go oil! Go ignorance!

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Thursday, April 08, 2004
 
Sweden says yes to gengineered potato
In this article from Dagens Nyheter (Swedish) we can read that the potato with the catchy name EH92-527-1 have been approved for commercial growth by the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

It is the composition of the starch in the potato that has been modified. A 'normal' potato contains 85% amylopectin and 15% amylose. The EH92-527-1 contains respectively 98% and 2%, the increased amylopectin level produces a starch that is more efficient in industrial applications, and can be used in f.ex. paper production, while the by-products of the starch production can be used as animal food and fertilizer.

The potato has been grown in test crops since 1994, and the danger of an uncontrolled spread of the potato is small, as the plant does not reproduce using seeds, rather than growing from other planted potatoes.

Sweden needs a unanimous approval from the EU Commission to allow commercial crops of the potato.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation are skeptical to the new potato, saying that the proposed benefits do not sufficiently outweigh the risks. They are sceptical to the potato's immune system, its possible resistance to antibiotics, as well as the EUs laws on genigeneered products.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004
 
Synd, Gert

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Monday, April 05, 2004
 
Education on the right track
Most of the news about Norway's future are not about cutting edge biotech research, quantum computer projects and the like, unfortunately. So, I try to find trends in other places.

We are so few people in this country that one primus motor within a field can make a difference. Arne Trageton is such a figure. He has been pioneering computer-based reading and writing education for our 1st- and 2nd graders. Here in Bergen, we now have 2000 kids learning reading and writing on computers. (A quick look at some facts about Bergen shows that this is about a third of all the 1st and 2nd graders here). He has been touring around, and believes that within 5 years, learning to read and write on computers will be widely implemented in Norway.

(A personal note: I was staying up way too late yesterday, reading one of the transhumanist canon's main works, The age of spiritual machines by Ray Kurzweil. In his predictions for 2009, which was the last thing I read before falling asleep, this was his main point on education. Arne and Ray, I hope you are correct.)

This is also consistent with the latest white paper on education from the Ministry of Education and Research. The introduction to the policy draft states:

Vi skal styrke elevenes grunnleggende ferdigheter. De er redskaper for all annen læring og derfor avgjørende for videre utdanning og arbeid. Meldingen fremhever det å kunne uttrykke seg muntlig, lese, skrive, regne og bruke digitale verktøy. Slike ferdigheter er nyttige og nødvendige for å skape materielle verdier, men de åpner også veier til dannelse og livskvalitet som ellers ville vært stengt.



For the linguistically challenged, the main point here is that they want to strengthen the fundamental abilities of the students. The fundamental abilities include -- in addition to reading, writing and doing maths -- "using digital tools". The education minister have also focused on more hours for classroom teaching, more tests, a controversial decision to only have students get grades in their main tongue (we have two, slightly different, forms of Norwegian), and is trying to implement daily physical education to increase the overall health and learning ability of the students. Healthier and better educated people is and will remain to be one of Norway's most important assets, so these steps are definitively in the right direction.

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Sunday, April 04, 2004
 
What to do when you have too much money
Paul Allen seems to have an interest for natural science, and knows how to get some fun out of all his wealth. A while ago, we heard about him funding the next phase of SETI, but this is not the only project he has funded. He is a sponsor for one of the X-Prize (first private venture to 100km altitude with a 3-person reusable spaceship) competitors, is setting up the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, and is funding research towards providing a publicly available human Brain Atlas. All in all an impressive collection of science and fun on the edge.

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Rationalistic trend?
A minority of Norwegians consider themselves christian (.no). For the first time, more people have answered 'no' to the question whether they - from their own definition of the word - consider themselves christian. 49% say no, 47% yes.

At the same time, however, there is an increase in the number of people who believe that the ressurection of the Christ was a real event. Religion-sociologist Pål Repstad sees a trend that people are converting from christianity to other forms of belief, showing that Norwegians are not becoming less spitirual, but are (my words) shopping for new ways to find their meaning of life.

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Saturday, April 03, 2004
 
Scandnavian RSS celebrity deathmatch
I'm hooked on RSS now. I get fixed up hourly. I feel exhausted, transcended. My reading speed has increased, I think, threefold. Amphetadesk is really an excellent name for that program.

Let's take a look at how the Scandinavian countries' biggest news sites have adopted to the trend. I checked out whether the biggest newspapers in the three countries had their own RSS feed set up. Research was done via Google, with the search string "rss site:domain.name". When no results showed, I visited the respective page and did an internal search, which (lo and behold) did not provide anything more than Google. The links are to the pages where the newspapers present their feed service, not to the feeds themselves.

Norway:


dagbladet.no: Several feeds
aftenposten.no: Several feeds
vg.no: Several feeds
bt.no: One feed
ba.no : no source
dn.no : no source

(note: ba.no and bt.no are local papers, but as I am currently based in Bergen, these were included for my convenience. And maybe one or two other readers)

Sweden:


dn.se: Several feeds
aftonbladet.se: No source
di.se: No source

Denmark


berlingske.dk : no source
bt.dk : no source
politiken.dk : no source
borsen.dk: One feed

Quick conclusion: Norway seems to be the forerunner when it comes to news syndication. What is most surprising is that neither Dagens Næringsliv (dn.no) nor Dagens Industri (di.se) - the two countries leading business newspapers - have jumped on the bandwagon. Whether this is a policy decision, or just technological inertia, remains a mystery.

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