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Monthly Archives: February 2014

20140221 Life at the speed of Light

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Craig Venter is the first person to sequence human DNA and now he seems to be the first person to create artificial life from human designed DNA.

It is not a small achievement and it seems to be opening an infinite opportunities to use human designed organisms to meet whatever needs humans have.

The discussion starts with chemical synthesis as prove of understanding of biological issue. As soon as it is achieved, the next step is to develop digital model of life, which comes down to pretty much sequencing of DNA because all life is build with DNA. As soon as DNA sequence for new organism defined on computer as blueprint, the necessary sequence could be generated from base pairs.

Obviously as everything else in the world it is a lot simpler as idea on paper then actual implementation in reality with all real life complications, but it actually was done and we now on the brink of incredibly powerful technology that will give us power to add self-replicating and self-developing organism / machines to our existing non-organic technologies.

At the end Venter looks at possibility of biological teleportation which seems to becoming real possibility, but I would not bet on it just because I do not think it would be possible to get snapshot of living organism which is changing constantly and then send and reassembly it flawlessly. However all other possibilities are more then exciting.

20140214 Knowledge and Power

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True to the name this book is about knowledge and power. More precisely it is about what kind of knowledge leads to power and how it is done. The first came a theory. The knowledge comes from information as it is defined by original Shannon’s theory of information communication, which stated that information is not just flow of data, but rather new and unpredictable piece of data. The human mind combines new information in often-unexpected way and creates knowledge to allow humans to deal with real external world much more effectively then any other animal can.

It is kind of interesting how ideas of deeply religious Gilder mirror ideas of deeply atheistic Ayn Rand. Both are at awe of real world and both are accept that it exists outside of human mind and is not limited to simple material forces. However Gilder sees in it absolute necessity of superior being, while Ayn Rand just uses notion of human consciousness as additional factor missed by both materialists and spiritualists. I guess I am philosophically with Ayn Rand, but I am afraid there is no logical justification for this except that I brought up an atheist and therefore have default assumptions formed at early age. If I were brought up in religious home, I would probably prefer Gilder’s assumptions. However I do not agree with these guys that it is important. I think that as long as science is accepted as 3 steps process a-falsifiable theory, b-practice / experience / experiment, c- theory rejection / revaluation / expansion; everything is fine and philosophical ideas are not really relevant. The problem happens when actions are based on philosophy rather then science, especially when these are violent actions. Then we have lives destroyed and price to be paid for deviation from science.

The second part of the book is going through financial crisis with correct in my opinion evaluation that it was caused by government intervention. With usual conservative idea that there are superheroes – entrepreneurs who made life better and create wealth for all other bums who would not be able to survive without these superheroes. Obviously it is also relates quite closely to Ayn Rand’s ideas. I for one only partially agreed with these ideas because with all due respect these superheroes normally did not do it alone. Society and yes, government just have to assure such arrangements that “superheroes become recipients of wealth created by efforts of multiple individuals many of which are not less hard working, often a lot smarter, and generated produce more ideas. So I think we should find better arrangement so everybody could apply maximum of his or her abilities and obtain benefits of results. Meanwhile until we found such arrangement, existing capitalism with wealth sticking in hands of entrepreneurs beats the heck out well-known alternative of transferring wealth into hands of bureaucrats and politicians.

The final chapter unsurprisingly dedicated to the future which is going to be bright because entrepreneurs eventually win due to simple fact that only entrepreneurial capitalism proved to be able creating constant improvements in human lives and any repression of capitalism would lead to decrease in wealth and consequently quality of life. I could not agree more.

20140214 American Guns and history

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It is a nice little book about 10 guns that had impact on American history. They are:

1. American long rifle. This rifle was more of a hunting gun then fighting weapon. It was shooting farther and more accurately then military musket, but it was more difficult and time consuming to reload. As result in traditional pitched battle between two military forces it would produce inferior volume of fire. However if tactics change from mass movement of formations typical for battles since ancient Greeks to “pick up high value target, shoot, and run” – new tactic of American voluntary military of war for independence, it become a powerful tool with significant advantages. Not the least of which was ability to take our commanding officers, bringing British and German military formation into confusion and disarray. This weapon did not win the war, alliance with France did it, but it was instrumental in victory and formation of American culture of independent actions.

2. The Spencer repeater. This was one of the first weapons with magazine that significantly increased firepower. Author believes that it had a significant impact on Civil war victory.

3. Colt single action revolver. Another example of fast reloading weapon. Starting from 1844 it gave American decisive advantage in Indian wars against people armed with bows and arrows.

4. Winchester 1873 rifle. Well known as “gun that won west”. It was not a military, but rather civilian self-defense weapon. It was rifle of choice in after civil war fight between settlers and Indians that obliterated remnants of independent Indian tribes.

5. M1903 Springfield rifle. As many bolt rifles of early XX century it was made from pattern provided by the Mauser design. As a main American weapon of WWI it was not that different from rifles of other countries, but its place in American history is warranted by being the weapon of mass of conscripted American soldiers in WWI.

6. Colt .45 M1911 Pistol. This weapon is special for two reasons. First it was typical American tool of American soldier. The pistol in other armies of the world was weapon of an officer. In American army regular soldier carried it also. The second reason is its design. This gun was designed so well that it lasted for nearly a century.

7. Thompson submachine gun. This weapon was designed to be a trench warfare tool, but wind up as mainly civilian criminal gun for bank robbers. I guess its value is not so much military or historical, but rather as cultural amulet of American gangster. It looks great and makes a lot of noise – perfect for movies.

8. M1 Garand – the main American rifle of WWII. Being semiautomatic weapon it provided American soldiers with superior power against German troops armed with bolt-action rifles and submachine guns. As it is always with American weapons accuracy was pretty high.

9. .38 Special police revolver. This gun was for a long time weapon of American police and detectives. As with Thompson gun it had more of cultural then historical value.

10. Finally M16 – American high tech response to Soviet AK47. As it is typical in match between Western and Soviet weapons nearly at all levels from handguns to tanks and jets it has superior technology at high price put against cheap mass production of lower technological quality, but high reliability. The experience of Vietnam war was – a cheap AK47 that nearly any Vietnam soldier would have that would always work, but would not hit a target against expensive, light weight and accurate M16 which would not always work, especially if not taken enough care of. After some modification M16 won military contest, but AK47 won cultural contest in third war becoming a symbol of fight against civilization and found its place even on flags of a few terrorist organizations.

Overall it is an interesting professional angle on American history.

20140207 John Galt – The world of Ayn Rand and contemporary America

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The main idea of this book is to compare heroes of Ayn Rand books and real people in America of early XXI century. It turns out that there is a lot in common so the pairing goes like this:

Howard Roark – undefeatable architect of “Fountainhead” is paired with Steve Jobs founder of Apple.

Mad collectivist Ellsworth Toohey – evil enemy of Roark from the same book is paired with Paul Krugman – NYT columnist and consistent promoter of collectivism and left wing of Democratic Party in our reality.

John Galt – initiator of creative and productive individuals strike from “Atlas Shrugged” is paired with John Allison former CEO of BB&T bank who seems to become an effective promoter of libertarian ideas among young people.

Parasitic businessman James Taggart incapable to run his business effectively and living off the government support if paired with Angelo Mozilo former CEO of Countrywide – Mortgage Company that was using government to give out mortgages to individuals who could not possibly pay them back.

Henry Rearden – superman quality inventor and businessmen courted by John Gult paired with Bill Gates in his struggle against big government.

Wesley Mouch – the evil central planner and regulator who is destroying economy in “Atlas Shrugged” with Barney Frank who did the same in real life, thou somewhat less successful.

Farncisco d’Anoconia the rich man who inherited both wealth and many talents and used them to create prosperity is paired with T.J. Rodgers CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

Robert Stadler a brilliant scientist in “Atlas Shrugged” who gives government powerful weapons is paired with Alan Greenspan – the libertarian who became top government financial regulator and was instrumental in creating real estate bubble.

Finally Hugh Akston a superior philosopher from “Atlas Shrugged” is paired with Milton Friedman – real life economist who did more then anybody else to promote libertarian ideas in economics.

Obviously comparing fiction with reality is not an easy task. Fictional heroes have no negatives and fictional villains have very few positives, while real people are a bit more complicated. The same applies to actions and their results. Actions are bold and results are obvious in fiction, while actions a subdued and cautious in real live and results are not obvious and subject to the spin. Nevertheless these comparisons are pretty good and quite consistent with real life results.

20140209 Israel Test

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The main idea of this book is that Israel being the one and only real democracy in the middle of Muslim word’s dictatorships and kingdoms needs and deserves full support of Western world. The effectiveness of this support is the real test of viability of Western democracies and their ability to meet challenge of savagery and theocracy and win.

The book goes through Bell Curve narrative of statistically superior intellectual abilities of Ashkenazy Jews notable only because of one interesting remark. It is that among enemies of Israel who are most effective in ideological attacks there is a disproportional number of individuals who are actually born Jewish. It is a cute note that Jews so good in all intellectual endeavors that they even succeed in Anti-Semitism.

I am not sure that western world will pass Israel test. The history gives plentiful examples of how western intellectuals not just supported, but initiated bouts of Anti-Semitism always harmful and sometimes murderous. I would not count on support and defense from anybody including United States, in which Jewish influence is on decline, leaving alone countries like France or Russia where Anti-Semitism always was a part of national identity. My hope is that contrary to all previous situations Jews have their own state and therefore access to resources to develop all technology they could come up with. This technology could make such a huge qualitative difference that numerical inferiority of Jew could become insignificant in any military contest even if it contest against whole world united in hate against Jews. Obviously it is limited to situation when such hate would not become suicidal. In case if it does become suicidal it could be a Samson option for humanity.

20140202 – Conversational Intelligence

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Ever since Daniel Goleman came up with “Emotional Intelligence” new and new forms of intelligence get discovered all the time. This time it is “Conversational Intelligence” – an ability to effectively communicate that separate unsuccessful people from successful in all areas of human activities from business to marriage.

This intelligence has 3 levels: Level 1 is just a communications necessary to transact business and share information; Level II – positional conversation when individuals state their position and try to influence positions of counterparts; Level III – the highest level when conversation turns into joint effort to shape reality according to mutually agreed form.

As help in achieving level III of conversations a mnemonic of STAR SKILLS is provided:
1. Build Rapport
2. Listen Actively
3. Ask smart questions
4. Dramatize message
5. Reinforce success

Also significant attention is allocated to emotional side of conversation. All this is supported by references to experiments using fMRI technology to analyze process of conversations.

The book is divided into tree chapters dedicated to 3 topics:
1. Why we need conversational intelligence?
2. How to raise you own conversational intelligence
3. Getting to the greatness in conversations
All this is supported by real life experiences and examples of improvement in conversational intelligence leading to success in achieving some business or personal goal.

I am not sure it could help anybody, but it is an interesting reading for communicationally challenged individuals like me.