brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell

29Jul/04Off

Scientists Create Synthetic Rogue Protein

California scientists have created a synthetic prion, a rogue protein that was used to infect mice with a brain destroying infection.

Prions are the cause of several fatal diseases, including BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis) and CJG (Creutsfeldt-Jakob disease). It's a nasty, nasty disease, which was chronicled in Richard Rhodes' book Deadly Feasts. It's not exactly comforting synthetic analogs of existing infectious prions have been synthesized in the laboratory. CJD is a disease with 100% fatality, and prions are immune to normal sterilization procedures with are effective against other infectious agents. Not good, not good.

Filed under: Science 1 Comment
29Jul/04Off

On This Day in Baseball

Red SoxMy baseball calendar informs me that on this day in 1988, the Red Sox traded two of their minor leaguers for pitcher Mike Boddicker. Boddicker was no slouch, going 7-3, 15-11 and 17-8 in his two and one half seasons with the Sox. The players they gave up? Three time All-Star utility outfielder Brady Anderson and four time All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling.

I believe also that Curt Schilling is the active major leaguer with the most at bats without getting a home run.

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29Jul/04Off

Francis Crick

Discoverer of Double Helix is DeadFrancis Crick, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his work with James Watson, is dead. You can get JPEGS of their 1953 paper from the Smithsonian Institute. It's hard to quantify just how important a role that this discovery has played in the fields of biology and medicine.

It's also fun to make Lego models of DNA.

Filed under: News, Science Comments Off
29Jul/04Off

Great Hackers

Paul Graham posted Great Hackers, an adaptation of his keynote OSCON 2004 speech. He's also the author of Hackers and Painters, which I haven't read yet, but probably will pick up shortly.

His comments to me seem rather thought provoking, but should be tempered a bit by a sense of humility. For instance, in talking about individual productivity, it seems rather obvious to me that in a social environment you can't play it fast and loose with productivity as if it were a property of the individual. It really doesn't help you to have someone who can code Lisp if you don't have anyone who can grow wheat. How then, should we compensate the two individuals. Does the Lisp programmer naturally deserve more than the wheat farmer? Graham seems to be arguing for some kind of "ladder of progress", which is often little more than an attempt at justification of the inequities of the world by the "haves".

I also found his discussion of "how to detect a hacker" to be interesting. As an example, he listed Trevor Blackwell who coincidently, I've met as well. I got a chance to ride Trevor's Segway Clone at Hackers, and had a long discussion with him. Something was obvious to me that apparently wasn't obvious to Graham: Blackwell was a good hacker. Graham says that at first he thought he was crazy and an idiot. The hubris is believing that a legitimate dichotomy exists, with idiots and nuts on one side and hackers on the others. Hackers are by and large the nuttiest people I know. After all, what normal person spends $1000 of their money to homebrew their own Segway? Or build a Farnsworth Fusor fusion reactor? Or write their own Unix operating system? Insanity is part and parcel of what most hackers do.

Lots of people have their buttons pushed by Graham. If he poo-poos Java, the Java fanatics come out of the woodwork to call him idiot. If he says he deserves more money because he's a hacker, people with socialist leanings come out of the woodwork to do the same. I don't bother getting worked up about it: some of it is obviously true, some of it is insightful, and some of it is probably entirely wrong. But it beats listening to politics...

29Jul/04Off

Exploratorium: Cabaret Mechanical Theatre

Dan Lyke noted that the Exploratorium has new exhibit of hand-cranked automata called the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. I love this stuff. Perhaps a trip to SF will be forthcoming.

If you're inspired, you could always pick up some craft books or read up on mechanisms that could be useful.

Filed under: Link of the Day 1 Comment