Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Designer babies and organ harvesting

We were talking about designer babies and all sorts of evil things that are supposed to happen in the future last night and the conversation turned to harvesting organs from specially-bred humans. While we were making a joking conversation out of it, it turns out there have been not one but two movies made about just this subject, The Clonus Horror from the 70s and The Island from this year.

The major problem, we contended, was that the clones wouldn't want to live as clones and would rebel against their destiny as a healthy organ source. One of us suggested that if the clone is in a big sterile room with no stimulation or conversation but good conditions to keep their organs healthy it would work; that without stimulation to their minds they wouldn't think of rebelling or indeed think of anything. I argued though that as humans we are designed to be emotionally active and to think constantly and that a human couldn't actually be controlled in this way. It would end in the clone spontaneously dying because the drive to emotionally connect with other humans and ultimately reproduce is the main driving factor of life itself. Without this opportunity to emotionally connect surely our body would be lacking a kind of sustenance that is required for life to continue? Still a scary/bizarre concept though and I hope we don't have to do an experiment to determine if I'm right.

Update (March 2006): And it turns out that now, when I finally ended up watching The Island, this is precisely the point made by Merrick, the president guy, when he explained that without experiencing human emotion and human interaction – life – the body doesn't develop properly. Of course, this is something I hope we only ever prove in movies!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mark Latham v Andrew Denton

Andrew Denton and Mark LathamWell the Denton interview was interesting. I feel like Latham is missing the big picture somehow. Denton definitely asked all the right questions.

The very fact that Latham's undenied intention for the book was payback seems to suggest that any glaring faults of the Labor party he points out are going to be of secondary importance to the reader. So I think I might have to withdraw my initial thankyou to him. If he wanted to write a book about how to fix the Labor party then fine. Even if he wanted to write a book about what's wrong with the ALP still fine as long as it's making some attempt to be objective. But writing a book containing his diary entries that are simply criticising and attacking the credibility of dozens of prominent Aussies -- that's just a big whinge and doesn't really deserve this kind of attention.

But hey we can't help but be fascinated by his downfall, now set in concrete with the release of this book if you ask me. Denton said he was profoundly saddened by the change he saw in Latham. I do also. I feel like Latham's attitude is small-minded, short-sighted and surprisingly self-centred. I once thought that Latham was a guy who would inject innovative, far-sighted and bold ideas into Australian policy brainstorms. How sad that this guy either never existed or has shrivelled up into a pathetic whinger under the relentless pressure of public life.

Ari Sharp (Melbourne) explains it much better than me. A sad and unsettling story indeed.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Google-Earthism and the Marree Man

The Marree ManLoading Google Earth reminds me of trying to read the start of the Bible... In the beginning the earth was without form and void... Then the broadband started to kick in and we suddenly had light... and a compass, a zoom tool, a tilt tool, and a ton of bonus options in the lefthand side panel. What's more, it didn't take seven days to download, but suddenly magically created itself in the spot where we focused our gaze!

Come to think of it, Google is kind of like a religion. When we need to find an answer in life we consult the oracle, Google.com. We worship at Gmail each morning or even several times throughout the day. We vaguely sense that we should question the authority and power of the almighty, but at the risk of being dismissed as heathens we allow it to have some degree of control in our lives. I have to stop this!

Location of the Marree Man Remember the Marree Man? Well we are no closer to finding out who created the image, but I was still excited to be able to look at how it's weathering on Google Earth. It's roughly here (the precise latitude and longitude is in the Wikipedia article).

In a related curiosity I came across, an article at nature.com which documents what is perhaps the first archaeological discovery directly inspired by Google Earth. Apparently Luca Mori was just checking out the lay of the land near his house like we all do and saw the outline of a Roman Villa in the satellite photos!! I still don't think it has sunk in for me how much Google Earth means to us as an enormously comprehensive resource combined with a very usable interface.

Image courtesy of connectingthecontinent.com.
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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Smart sheep

Researcher Caroline Lee with the sheep maze According to a ScienceNOW report sheep can actually be intelligent! (I'm waiting for the one that pigs can fly) Apparently when sheep have to find their way through a simple maze of portable pen gates to join their flock at the other end they can improve their test performance over time by remembering how to do it, a quality that the researchers believe can be bred to make both farmers' and sheep's lives happier.
The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures learning and memory.
But don't we already know that "sheep have excellent spatial memory" as researcher Caroline Lee says? I've always been amazed that despite their apparent stupidity, when sheep enter a new paddock they immediately know where to head to get to the water trough even if they've been in a different and faraway paddock for more than a year and the trough is obscured. Well I suppose that's the "smart" ones remembering and the others all just following. Probably Lee could save a lot of time rating sheep intelligence by simply marking which ones are constantly at the vanguard of a moving flock.

So what are the applications of this new research? In fact sheep are now participating in a new version of Big Brother in Croatia (in an effort to boost the average IQ of Big Brother housemates worldwide).

I can't wait for the international sheep-maze-racing championships to prove Australian sheep really are the most stupid!

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What happened to Chen Yonglin?

Chen Yonglin, former Chinese diplomat in AustraliaI wonder what's happened to Chen Yonglin now he has his protection VISA? We were trying to find a picture of him on the web (really just for the purposes of observing his hair more than anything politically charged) but could only find a few on Flickr and one (shown right) on a stray NineMSN news article linked from the Wikipedia article on him...

Has Google colluded with the Chinese government again to avoid returning hits on his name!? I know for a fact there were several pictures on ABC News online (and those articles don't disappear but remain archived at their unique link). Even a search at ABC News online couldn't seem to turn up any pictures of him (although I didn't scour the list thoroughly)... Still, this kind of search should be easy... Now I'm sounding paranoid!

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Latham diaries fallout

Mark Latham, former Australian Labor Party leaderSo is Mark Latham just a really poor loser and a 'bad sport'? Perhaps yes. But it doesn't mean that the Labor party isn't sick. And it doesn't mean that all the guys he targetted for his criticisms don't deserve this. The freshly-released journals are just highlighting practices within politics which the average person already suspects happen. Unfair and mean-spirited as it may have been, it seems like Latham himself was not always treated fairly so let's look beyond the personal issues to the 'Australia' issues....

To me, the main value to come out of all this is that Kim Beazley will have to work extra hard to maintain credibility, as will the Labor party as a whole. So thank you Latham! Thanks for giving 'em a kick in the pants that they can't just ignore and make some half-arsed response to.

I can't help but be satisfied with the way Julia Gillard handled it. She didn't make any mistakes, but most importantly she said that even if Latham's comments were blunt backstabbings the Labor party should take the criticisms seriously to improve and revitalise the party (my paraphrasing). Frankly, if the Labor party can do this, everyone will appreciate it!

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Tabbed browsing - yes please

The user interface is not supposed to be such a big thing separating IE and Firefox but it's actually the biggest thing I've now come to dislike about IE! I want to be really patient with IE because so many other people use it. Don't want to become some 'leet' who only ever uses Firefox... If only they could just add tabbed browsing to IE though... It would make all the difference.

Get Firefox if you're not sure what I mean!

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Monday, September 12, 2005


Sturt's Desert PeaIt's time to make a blog even though I think my emails probably add up to a "journal" of day-to-day life. Mainly I just have to try out blogging just to get a taste of what it feels like, start trying contributing to the blogosphere myself. I really wanted to start this at something like blogs.com.au but that doesn't seem to have developed itself enough yet. So for now it's another Google service...

Sturt's Desert Pea is a flower that grows here in South Australia in the most rugged spots yet is still beautiful, resilient and unique. I might put a picture of one on the blog template. Cheers!

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