Red Dragon Tattoo

Woke up this afternoon from a nap to see The Illustrated Man running on the SciFi channel, which reminded me of a hilarious song “Red Dragon Tattoo” by the little known pop group Fountains of Wayne. In the song a guy who wants to impress a girl who isn’t interested in him decides to get a tattoo:

Red dragon tatto, it’s just about on me

I got it for you, so now do you want me?

Will you stop pretending I’ve never been born

Now that I look a little more like that guy from Korn

Personally, I’ve never understood the whole tattooing concept. I have a friend who literally has wings tattooed on her back. I prefer to avoid pain, and therefore tattoos.

The Immortality Watch

One of the things I’d prefer not to do is die (I’m going to need at least a couple centuries to get my web site updated!) Anyway, Lisa thinks the whole notion is absurd, but I think the odds of never having to die are now higher than they’ve ever been and increasing on an almost daily basis. The odds of effective immortality within my lifetime (I’d like to live at least 200 years) are still exceedingly small, but I am optimistic.

Something I don’t think people who don’t regularly read scientific journals realize is the extent to which human discoveries about biology are accelerating. I don’t know how to quantify it, but I believe there is a sort of Moore’s Law-style principle for biology in that not only are new discoveries being made, but the actual rate at which medical knowledge is being acquired is increasing over time.

Anyway, two news items last week strongly improved the price of my immortality futures.

Another advance was added to nanontechnology (Eric Drexler’s looking less and less like a nut every day) a few months ago. Researchers developed a robot small enough to do repair work at the single cell level. The full article on the robot was published in Science this past June.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology made newspapers around the world for discovering why some animals on calorie-restricted diets live so much longer. In mice given diets that contain all the necessary nutrients but just exactly the number of calories required to maintain life, the mice tend to live 40 percent longer than mice given higher, but still normal, calorie diets. Why this happened was a mystery until the MIT researchers announced that their experiments with yeast strongly suggest that the calorie restriction interacts directly with the SIR2 protein which functions to “shut off” certain cells and whose absence in yeast was found to shorten life span.

The good news is that the reason all of this works is that the SIR2 protein needs a chemical NAD, which is also needed by the body when it converts food to energy. At least in yeast and mice, it is now believed when they eat high calorie diets, there is less NAD available for the SIR2 protein since all the NAD is used to metabolize food. Restrict the calories, and all of a sudden there’s more NAD for the SIR2 to do its work and the result is a more efficient system that extends the lifespan of the organism.

Assuming all of this applies to human beings, it is not inconceivable that in a few decades we might all be taking medication to increase our NAD levels, thus getting the benefits without having to eat a 1,200 calorie diet from birth to death. And for people like me who have already lived a substantial portion of our lives, we can send in the nanorobots to repair pre-existing cellular damage.

It’s a cyberpunk future without the fascist governments (what I really want is the “suntan” lotion in one of Bruce Sterling’s Islands In the Net that literally changed skin color, although I’d want to get to choose more skin colors. Think of the market for teenagers — my nephew had green hair, I’m sure he’d have loved green skin!)

Brian Gets Upgraded

Yesterday I spent much of the late-afternoon and evening buying and then setting up a new computer. I operate on the Moore’s Law principle — every 18 months I need a new computer that is at least twice as fast as my “old” computer, at the same price.

This time around it took a lot less than 18 months. I replaced my underperforming 450mhz PIII with its lowly 17 gig hard drive with an Athlon 900mhz machine with a 45 gig hard drive. The only areas I skimped on performance were going with 128mb RAM rather than 256 — have to add that later. I also installed an ATI 32mb All-In-Wonder rather than the $350 GE Force card I’d been wanting. The appeal of moderate 3D acceleration along with the audio/video in/out options on the ATI was too much to pass up for only $100. I’ve just got to route my cable wire up to my den so I can start recording Babylon 5 when it hits the SciFi channel starting Monday (subjectively, btw, I seem to be getting 3D frame rates at 1,024 x 768 on the ATI card that I was getting from my TNT2/32 at 800 x 600 which is more than adequate for my 3D needs).

I also added a 19-inch Trinitron monitor, which was a big improvement over the bottom of the barrel 17″ monitor I’d been using.

Nigeria: Teenage Girl to Be Publicly Whipped for Pre-Marital Sex

    The ongoing takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamic extremist Taliban movement has received a lot of coverage in the United States, especially among feminist organizations who have rightly highlighted Afghanistan’s ongoing war against women’s human rights. Less well reported, however, are the victories that Islamic extremists are gaining in Nigeria, putting that country on the verge of civil war.

    In January 2000 the Nigerian state of Zamfara adopted Islamic law, Sharia, and since then it has been joined by seven other Nigerian states. Although not carried quite to the extremes that Sharia has been in Sudan and Afghanistan, it is nonetheless turning Nigerian into a nightmare.

    One of the more egregious violations is a return to public whipping of both men and women who engage in pre-marital sex. Several months ago a young couple caught engaging in sex were sentenced to a public lashing, and last week a court in Zamfara sentenced a pregnant 17-year-old girl to 180 lashes. The sentence is to be carried out 40 days after the girl gives birth.

    This sentence is particularly cruel since 100 of the lashes come for engaging in premarital sex, but 80 of the lashes are punishment for the girl’s compliance with a court order to name any men she had sex with. The girl complied and named three men she had slept with, but after police were unable to “prove” any of the men had sex with her, the Islamic court convicted her of falsely accusing the three men.

    Among other punishments, the BBC reports that “in August, two motorcycle taxi riders in Zamfara were lashed in punishment for carrying female Muslim passengers.”

    Like Sudan, Nigeria has a majority Muslim population in the north, but a majority Christian population in the south, and the spread of Sharia and Islamic extremist has led to violent clashes between Christians and Muslims that threatens to erupt into a full-fledge civil war along the lines of what has transpired in Sudan over the past few decades.


Sharia sentence for pregnant teenager. The BBC, September 14, 2000.

Stephen King’s E-Book Sales Slipping?

According to USA Today, the percentage of people who are paying for copies of Stephen King serialized novel The Plant are slipping — only(!) 70 percent of those downloading chapters of the novel are paying the $1/chapter.

First, $1/chapter is a bit pricey, except for the fact that King has said if he makes it to the 8th chapter, all subsequent chapters will be free. Eight dollars isn’t bad for a novel, but note that it’s probably more than you’d pay for the mass paperback version of a King novel.

Second, this illustrates the importance of expecations, and the bottom line is many intellectual property rights owners have unrealistic expectations of where the profitabilty of books and music are headed. Look at the bottom line — 172,004 people paid $1 for the first installment of the novel, and 74,373 paid $1 for the second installment. Assume that for the next six installment readership falls a bit and averages 50,000 paying customers per installment. That brings gross revenues from the venture to almost $550,000. Even assuming King has insanely high overhead costs of 50% of revenue, that’s still a profit of a cool quarter of a million dollars. I don’t know what King’s book contract looks like, but most people I know who want to be authors would be very happy to make $35,000 to $40,000 a year (the bottom line is that most books don’t sell, and writers don’t make much money unless they can sell in King-like numbers).

What the Internet will do is make it able for me or someone else to make the smaller levels of income independently of large publishers. For King and others in that upper stratosphere, however, they’re incomes will almost certainly fall (though some of them might be willing to accept that in exchange for the sort of control they have by selling their own work).

Death to Radio

This CNN story reports that radio is threatened by advances in technology. Thank goodness.

In August my wife and I drove from Michigan through Ohio and Kentucky to a wedding in Tennessee. Wherever we went our radio choices boiled down to a) boy band pop stations, b) classic rock, c) soft rock/80s format, or d) pop country. Yuck.

When I drove to Chicago with a friend in July, the rental car had a CD player and the only time we switched to the radio was for traffic and weather updates.

Maybe if micro-power stations ever actually go life, there might be something worth listening to on the radio, but I find radio to be so bad I don’t even actually have a radio at home. I’d never use it.