Archive for June, 2007

Freeman Dyson on our biotech future

June 30, 2007

Freeman Dyson writes about our biotech future in New York Review of Books; via /.

Dyson begins with the domestication of biotechnology, i.e., genetic engineering that is accessible to people so that they may breed their own varieties of pets, for example, and goes on to ask

If domestication of biotechnology is the wave of the future, five important questions need to be answered. First, can it be stopped? Second, ought it to be stopped? Third, if stopping it is either impossible or undesirable, what are the appropriate limits that our society must impose on it? Fourth, how should the limits be decided? Fifth, how should the limits be enforced, nationally and internationally?

And, he does not answer these questions, but leaves it to the future generations.

He then proceeds to discuss evolution,  in the context of which talks about an Open Source approach to biology:

We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.

Dyson then talks about rural poverty and how domestication of genetic engineering might help achieve green technologies that can alleviate such poverty, in which context he talks about India:

In a country like India with a large rural population, bringing wealth to the villages means bringing jobs other than farming. Most of the villagers must cease to be subsistence farmers and become shopkeepers or schoolteachers or bankers or engineers or poets. In the end the villages must become gentrified, as they are today in England, with the old farm workers’ cottages converted into garages, and the few remaining farmers converted into highly skilled professionals. It is fortunate that sunlight is most abundant in tropical countries, where a large fraction of the world’s people live and where rural poverty is most acute. Since sunlight is distributed more equitably than coal and oil, green technology can be a great equalizer, helping to narrow the gap between rich and poor countries.

Take a look!

Need for improved drug delivery systems

June 30, 2007

First, let me provide a bit of motivation for improved drug delivery systems. Whenever, we, as patients, take drugs, whether by swallowing pills or taking injections, the level of the drug in our bloodstreams usually starts out very low, then rises, and then goes down again. We then take the drug again, and the same thing happens. At the peaks, those drug levels could be toxic, while in the valleys, the drug might not be effective at all. Yet almost all drugs are administered in this problematic way. More than 100,000 deaths every year can be attributed to people taking prescription drugs in the correct way, often because of that very fact.

From this piece (pdf) (which is nearly an year old); via iMechanica jClub for July 2007, which article also gives links to several other interesting papers and reviews on drug delivery using hydrogels.  Take a look!

A library, a scholar, a writer and a movie

June 30, 2007

Those are some of the interesting stuff from the latest Magazine and Literary Review editions of the Hindu. Happy reading!

Physics envy and physics snobbery!

June 30, 2007

Pharyngula, quotes from a discussion about how science fiction writers treat biology (shoddily), while giving a list of SF authors who get the biology right (very few); along the way there is also a quote about astronomers discussing life and biologists discussing blackholes. Pharyngula also tells how, even though biologists don’t have physics envy, they still have to put up with physics snobbery!

I am just wondering if it all started with Schroedinger’s What is life? Or, are there books by physicists about biology even before that? While we are at it, how much of biology does Schroedinger get correct? Would be interesting to know!

Finally, before I end this post, here is a paper on physicists’ forays into biology called A simple model of evolution of simple models of evolution (pdf); I am sure Abi told me about this paper–but I am not able to find any links to it on his blog!

Sir Sulkman, Offendie, Sir Vidiamort…

June 30, 2007

A funny piece at the Telegraph 🙂

Now the departing premier Mr Baloney Stare has offered him the most parochial of awards available in the world and Sulkie has accepted with silky alacrity and fulsome noises of gratitude. “I feel thrilled and humbled,” he has said. Prithee, why dear chap? Why-for-ko are you, South Bom-Marta’s greatest literary tiger, humbled, exactly, by the stale-Imperial offering from this departing wreckage of a spineless politico?

Take a look!

Dissecting iPhone

June 30, 2007

I really, really wanted to buy an iPhone, and cut it open — no kidding 🙂 But, thanks to AnandTech, I don’t have to! Via B-squared.

The economist’s way of thinking!

June 30, 2007

Here is a review in Nature of The Soulful Science: what economists do and why it matters by Diane Coyle:

Economists typically see the world through a different lens from most folk. “Economics isn’t defined by its subject matter but by its way of thinking,” says Coyle. But is it a better way of thinking? She sets out to argue that it is, and that economics has had an unfairly bad press.

Of course, the reviewer (Frances Cairncross), has no hesitation in recommending the book:

The best thing about it is a deft mapping of the developments in economic thought. Coyle describes brilliantly the intellectual geography of her subject. So anyone who wants to understand how the big ideas of the past half century fit together, and which economists’ publications have been key in advancing particular arguments, could not do better than read this book. For a student wondering whether to study the subject, this is the perfect introduction.

Take a look!

Nanotube based composites — some Q&A’s!

June 30, 2007

In a News and Views piece in Nature, Ajayan and  Tour answer the following questions about carbon nanotubes based composites:

  • Why do we need composite materials?
  • What makes carbon nanotubes special compared with other reinforcing fibres?
  • How do nanotubes affect the properties of composites?
  • Are nanotube composites easy to make? (No!)
  • Does a nanotube’s small size directly affect the properties of nantobue composites?
  • Why aren’t nanotube composites already widely available?
  • Are there any other manufacturing issues?
  • What has been done to enhance the interfacial properties of nanotubes?
  • Couldn’t the interfacial slippage be exploited?
  • Is it possible to order the arrangement of nanotubes in composites?
  • We’ve seen that nanotube composites combine strength and conductivity–what else can they do?
  • How will we see nanotube composites used in the future?

In addition, there are also recommendations for further reading.  Take a look!

A linguist reads Dawkins

June 29, 2007

Eric Bakovic at Language Log reads The God Delusion of Dawkins and has some comments to make:

I didn’t expect to find much about language in this book, but there’s actually a fair bit: some discussion of the Great Vowel Shift, a reference to the universality of “the underlying deep structure of grammar”, and at least a couple of instances in which an appeal is made to stress to clarify an important distinction in meaning (p. 215: the SELfish gene vs. the selfish GENE; p. 364: more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in YOUR philosophy vs. more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your phiLOsophy). Among all these bits about language, a couple stand out for me in particular because they are highly misleading (and could have easily been checked); one of these is discussed below the fold, and I’ll follow up with the second at some future date.

There are also links to some audio material to accompany the discussions. Take a look!

On a different note

June 29, 2007

This being a small post by Kieran, I am going to quote it in full:

Tyler Cowen is soliciting nominations for the most underrated books, beginning with mystery novels. But a free market for books makes it impossible ipso facto for something to be underrated or overrated. Arguing otherwise is either an effort to override the decision of the market with one’s own preferences — and thus of a piece with Stalinism — or a Bourdieuian exercise in symbolic violence by means of invidious distinction.