Best counter-demo ever

Everyone's heard of the Westboro Baptist Church, right? The "god hates fags" and "god hates sweden" guys. They decided to turn up at Comic-Con and protest against... something. Presumably comics are the tools of satan or whatnot. What they weren't planning on was the epic counter-demonstration that all the geeks had ready. Very much worth a look. To my mind, this is the best way to deal with fanatics like this - let them have their say, then counter it with hilarity right opposite them.

In other news, I completed the first "finished" draft of the essay I was writing on pharmaceutical alteration of human memory for an "extended project" qualification. I'll likely post a link to it in the near-ish future. The whole thing is vaguely based around an idea I had last year about using noradrenergic agonists to improve certain areas of memory function.

Various things

Gizmodo has a piece on a guy from Brooklyn who's created a working fusion reactor at home. Apparently he's part of the growing number of DIY fusion enthusiasts around the world. While it's unlikely they'll end up making any fundamental breakthroughs, perhaps they'll be able to investigate methods of making reactor construction more economical and efficient so that when commercial fusion becomes viable, it can be distributed as cheaply and widely as possible.

The Taxpayers' Alliance are understandably pissed off about the additional £1 billion being spent on a advertising/PR campaign for the 2012 Olympics. Seems pretty ludicrous to me, especially in a time where the government is trying to reduce frivolous expenditure. Then again, it's not like nobody was expecting the overall cost of the project to increase. It's fair to say that I was expecting it. The Olympics in general is a goddamn joke and I refuse to take any interest in the events themselves until athletes are allowed to use any technology they want to enhance themselves. The whole thing's tedious without chemically and mechanically augmented people running the 400m in three seconds and clearing the stadium in the high-jump.

On a related note, I was deeply disappointed to learn that the English team is going through to the next round in Nationalistic-Ball-Kicking-Fest 2010. If only they'd get it over with and lose, maybe people would be a little less zealous about their chanting and moron-horn blowing. That'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Phones indistinguishable from magic

Man, I'm terrible at updating. Have been rather busy wrapping up the "Access to Higher Education" course I'm doing and looking forward to a relaxing summer break before starting uni.

I mentioned last post that I recently acquired an HTC Desire, one of the newer Android smartphones. I've had a while to get used to it now, and it's a genuinely amazing piece of technology. While I'd argue that it's probably the best available in the UK at the moment (at least for my purposes), it's undeniable that the whole range of modern smartphones are extremely impressive. The last time I purchased a smartphone was in 2005- a Nokia 6630, one of the first 3G smartphones. At the time, it was great- 220MHz processor, capable of running java apps, 1.3MP camera- these features were pretty high-end back in early 2005, but now they're laughably outdated. Obviously, five years from now, my shiny new Desire will look pretty old and busted.

So what can we look forward to in the next few years of phone design? Well, Technology Review reckons that 3D is going to be big in phones and I hope they're right. While wearing goggles to view 3D screens may be a bit of hassle, small devices such as phones and the Nintendo 3DS won't require special eye-wear, making them a much more attractive prospect. As mentioned in the last post, processors will continue to get faster and more efficient, but that's pretty much to be expected for any device. One development I'm really hoping for is cheaper, lighter and higher-resolution augmented reality goggles for constant data layers placed over real-life. 3D screens are nice and all, but they don't really match up to full AR. It looks as if the software to handle it smoothly is coming along nicely too.

Apps like Layar, Talk to Me, and Google Goggles are already pretty incredible combined with the hardware of a modern smartphone. I can't wait to see what capabilities are available by the time my contract is up for renewal.

Interesting things

The US military is experimenting with using lasers and nanotech to treat wounds. Very awesome.

fMRI "lie detectors" have seen their first brush with the courtroom. While I'm no expert, the technology seems to be in its infancy, and it's extremely difficult to test it in realistic situations. Probably good that it isn't yet deciding guilt.

I recently got an HTC Desire and so far the 1GHz Snapdragon processor has been running all the apps I can throw at it beautifully. Looks like my next phone might have an Intel processor, though, as they've revealed plans to release a next-generation Atom processor designed for use in smartphones, claiming that it leaves current mobile processors in the dust.

Finally, and sadly, Evan Harris has lost the vote in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency to the Conservatives, by 176 lousy votes. While the Lib Dems' science policy isn't perfect (particularly their stance on fission power), it's a damn sight better than the other parties', and Dr Harris is one of the few genuinely scientifically literate members of parliament. Damn shame that he's lost his seat.

Chrome vs. Lightning

Google have come up with a brilliant advertisement for their Chrome browser based on footage shot at 2,700 FPS comparing the speed at which Chrome loads with three amusing set-ups including an electrical arc. Definitely worth a watch and, for what it's worth, it's worth giving Chrome a look. It may not yet have the same range of add-ons that Firefox does, but it's simple and lightweight, and the tab management is implemented really rather well.

Are bloggers journalists?

If you follow tech news at all, you've almost certainly heard about the raid on Jason Chen, a blogger who writes for Gizmodo, a tech site which spends a disproportionate of its time obsessing semi-religiously over the minutiae of Apple's latest releases. The short story is that some guy found an iPhone 4G prototype in a bar which one of Apple's engineers had lost. He made attempts to return it to Apple, but their customer service line ignored him, so he sold it to Gizmodo. They reported on the incident, gave details of the (pretty boring) new tech, and offered to send it back to Apple provided an official request was made. Apple, of course, was having none of it and therefore decided that, instead of acting like adults, they'd send in the cops.

The thing is, California has a "shield law" which protects journalists from revealing their sources, meaning that the raid and confiscation of Chen's property may have been illegal. Obviously, I don't purport to have any real knowledge when it comes to California's law, but this little debacle does raise interesting questions about the exact role of professional bloggers within society, particularly regarding whether or not they deserve the same legal protections as traditional journalists. To my mind, the answer's pretty simple- of course they're journalists. They may not be publishing in print, but then again neither do TV or radio journalists. Sure, in this case it's just a fairly niche site for techies, but there are plenty of blogs out there which deal with serious political issues which have widespread consequences. It's hardly unusual these days to see a story in the national press which was first broken by a blogger, and these incidents are only going to become more common.

Whatever the exact details of the Gizmodo case are, it's undeniable that blogs are playing an increasingly important part in all areas of debate, and to not afford them the same protections that traditional media enjoys would risk seriously hampering the independence and freedom of a very significant portion of the modern press.

In other news, eco-terrorists have been caught planning to bomb an IBM nanotechnology research centre. Pricks.

One of the projects IBM have been working on in the area is creating a 3D nanoscale map of planet earth using advanced lithography techniques, and doing it in under 3 minutes. Very impressive stuff.

If you happen to hate yourself, why not have a go at building a contraption which gives you an electric shock every time you think too hard? These guys did, for some reason.

And finally, want to use humour in the workplace but don't know how? Luckily, the Microsoft site has a weird page detailing proficiency levels in "a positive and constructive sense of humor".

Who needs evidence when you have corporate kickbacks and public outrage?

Why bother taking the time to carefully craft appropriate legislation regarding a complex technical issue when you can have 60-year-olds with no fucking clue what they're talking about write the law instead? Seems to be the standard for passing new laws these days.

The Digital Economy Bill has apparently been approved thanks to the fact that half the Commons have the BPI's cock deeply embedded in their mouth, and the other half are barely aware of what the internet actually is. It's not like this is a highly technical area where legislation which is poorly written now could have disastrous effects years down the line, now, is it? And it's certainly not like that whole "due process" thing was of any use- why not just cut off the connection of anyone who looks a little bit like they might download something illegally?

The mephedrone ban has been sped through as well, surprisingly backed by the Lib Dems, with a quote from Dr Evan Harris supporting it. Admittedly it's the most reasonable thing I've seen said by an MP on the issue, but it's still saddening to see someone who usually has a usually great record on scientific issues supporting an absurdly reactionary and unnecessary ban on a drug which almost certainly doesn't warrant this level of hysteria. While it's entirely probable that mephedrone has some risks, possibly some fairly serious ones, the fact that there are no unequivocal cases in which users have died from taking only mephedrone indicates that it's probably not some kind of super-scary instant-death chemical that necessitates the entire country running around screaming that the sky is falling. All this ban serves to do is to criminalise tens of thousands of people, mostly young, whose only crime was to desire an enjoyable evening; and to encourage the chemists creating these "legal highs" to explore even more novel, untested psychoactive chemicals (of which there are a great many). Awesome*.

*While I meant that sarcastically, the science behind these new drugs is genuinely pretty awesome indeed. I might not want to take any of these new drugs myself, but I'd be rather interested in helping develop them.

Singh wins Libel appeal

Excellent news- Simon Singh has won his appeal in the libel trial brought by the British Chiropractic Association- a band of notably deluded liars. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a general shift to less utterly retarded libel laws.

Also, does anyone know what's going on with the proposal to update libel laws to cover the internet too? I damn well hope they don't, otherwise I might not be able to call Jack Straw a free-speech-hating, dog-molesting arse-clown.

On an unrelated note, I'm pretty sure this is an April Fool's, but it's still amusing- Greek government files trademark claim for the term "nanotechnology".

Gates backs nukes

Very interesting TED video has gone up with Bill Gates talking about his investments in fission energy and how it's probably our best bet for an environmentally and economically friendly primary source of power. Very much worth a watch.

Also, I've been looking into getting a smartphone lately. The last time I had a genuinely modern phone was back in early 2005 with the now-venerable Nokia 6630. Things have changed a lot since then, and the idea of something running Android with some augmented reality apps is really very appealing. So far, the HTC Desire is the most attractive- while it may not be the physically sexiest phone, the 1GHz Snapdragon processor combined with Android 2.1 and the HTC Sense interface is a pretty attractive package. Anyone know of any comparable alternatives to consider?