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Thursday 10 October 2013

African inventor makes 3-D printer from scrap

I have been following African tech development for years. Many in the West will be unaware that in many areas they are way in advance.

In Nairobi hundreds of buses have Wi-Fi - unlike in New York or London. Africans have been able to use mobile phones to make payments and transfer money for years.

The  open source project Ushahidi, which allows users to crowdsource crisis information and began during the disastrous 2007 Kenyan elections, is now used worldwide.

So it does not surprise me that an African has done this:
Kodjo Afate Gnikou has imagination, talent and ambition. 
Using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer and even bits of a diskette drive, he has created what is believed to be the first 3D printer made from e-waste. 
It has taken him several months to put together his experimental device. Lifting designs off a computer, the 3D printer produces physical objects. He shows us by “printing” a small round container. 
And it doesn’t stop there – the 33-year old says he believes this model is only the prototype for something much larger. His aim is to one day transport e-waste to Mars to create homes for mankind. 
“My dream is to give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology. We are able to create things. Why is Africa always lagging behind when it comes to technology?”, he asks. 
Some elements had to be bought new but, in all, his printer cost him 100 US dollars to build. 
Gnikou says his printer can also be useful on a daily basis as it can print various utensils needed in any household, that are not always easy to get hold of.
More: African Inventor Makes 3D Printer From Scrap. Video of Kodjo after the jump.

NB: If you're interested in following African tech development I recommend Eric Hersman.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Tomorrow's world + the NSA: James Burke reflects

A science broadcasting legend predicts the future, after getting it mostly right 40 years ago, and has some choice words on the NSA 'scandal'.

James Burke is a British broadcasting legend, one who any Brit over 45 years old would recognise as the face of technological progress.

Most familiar as the chief presenter of the long-running BBC science series 'Tomorrow's World', he also anchored the Moon landing coverage and has written many influential books. The Washington Post has called him "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world."

He may be familiar to Americans for his hit PBS series charting how technological progress happens, 'Connections', and his writing for Scientific American and Time.

Writing in 1973 for BBC magazine Radio Times he predicted life today and marking that 40th anniversary the BBC has looked back to see how his predictions stack up: they mostly do. He predicted the mass take-up of computers, in-vitro fertilisation and cheap air travel.He got right that the British people would resist identity cards. He got wrong that there would be 300,000 computer terminals by 2000 - there were 134 million.

Burke also predicted "metadata banks" of personal information - Facebook, Google - and that "young people" would be completely relaxed about releasing their personal information.

Speaking to the BBC's Eddie Mair (audio after the jump), Burke was asked about this attitude to privacy in the light of the current panic about government and privacy.

Burke says that issues like transparency and accountability are new, they have come forward because of the Internet, the 'information age'. That the general public now has access to more information, and is demanding it - this is "healthy". But matters of privacy are contextual:
When street numbers came out in the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 1820s there were riots, because nobody wanted others to know what your street number was. Times change. When you tick a box when you buy something online that allows them to put you in their big data pile and find out what you'd really like next time.

Walmart does 300 million transactions an hour and they use that information, for example, when there is a big hurricane predicted they'll put torches on the shelves exactly where you want to buy them. And pop-tarts because, believe it or not, that's what people buy when there's going to be a hurricane.

So it's a quid pro quo.
Asked if he's content with this situation (which he had predicted) Burke reflects that when he visited the Soviet Union he was told to be careful of what he said, 'because everyone is listening'. Says Burke:
Of course they're not listening. If they had to listen to everything we said in hotel rooms in the USSR in those days they'd be up all day and night.

So called snooping is them looking for metadata, not what you say. Not what you said to Charlie but the fact you talked to Charlie. If Charlie's unimportant and you're unimportant the thing they're happiest to do is dump it because the pile is unmanageably big now.
So called Big Data, the electronic exhaust we leave behind, is unbelievably large and growing at extrapolated rates. Nobody is going to ask me what I said to somebody on the phone yesterday afternoon, they're not interested. The algorithm will say 'I see he's talking to so-and-so and it's not relevant to us', and that's as far as it will go. There's no other way you can run the system anywhere.
So you're unperturbed by the NSA and the Edward Snowden revelations and all that?
We've been doing that since we left the caves. Anybody who thinks that governments have not been taking what they can about public behaviour, they haven't understood the political process.
Of course everyone does it, of course they've always done it. Seems to me the press has jumped on the idea that people are snooping without recognising that the amounts of data are so gigantically enormous that there is no way that the NSA cares a rat's ass about me or you.

We're in a transition period. I don't think it'll be that long before we'll be able to throw out our own search algorithms to, say, find out if anybody is looking at me!

There's always a quid-pro-quo with technology. There's always two sides to every knife.
Speaking about the future, Burke cites one development which will fundamentally change the world: nano-factories. (Video about this after the jump.)
Let’s say that 2040 sees the start of worldwide wi-fi distribution of software kits to make a nano-fabricator. Sits in the back garden, spare room, somewhere. Uses dirt, air and water and a bit of cheap, carbon-rich acetylene gas. Manipulates atoms and molecules to produce anything you want, virtually free. Each fabber can make copies of itself, so: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 etc: one each for nine billion of us, say, by 2042.

Sixty years later, we’ll have adapted to the new abundance and are living in small, no-pollution, autonomous communities, anywhere. Energy from spray-on photovoltaics makes any object (like a house) its own power source. So, here you are in your fabber-fabricated dwelling, filled with Mona Lisas if that’s your wish, with holographic reality transforming any room into anywhere (like: beach, sun, wind ruffling hair). So nobody travels any more. Want to see a pal, have dinner with your mother, join a discussion group? No problem: they’ll be there with you as 3D holograms, and you won’t know Stork from butter, unless you try to make physical contact (I’m avoiding sex and reproduction because that might have to be wild speculation).

The entire global environment will also be covered with quintillions of dust-sized nano-computers called motes. So your life will be constantly curated by an intelligent network of ubiquitous cyber-servants. The “motes” will know you need more food, or that it’s a bit chilly today, or that you’re supposed to call Charlie. And they’ll take the relevant action. Your shirt (motes in the fabric) will call Charlie. Either his avatar will appear, or you’ll hear his voice. Not sound waves, but brainwaves. Brain-to-brain communication (it happened for the first time in summer 2013).

No travel means no need for infrastructure, such as high-speed trains (unnecessary by mid-century, along with superhighways and airports). No need for anything that Government does, because, in our millennial culture of scarcity, Government was primarily there to tax, spend, and re-distribute the wealth. In 2103, with no scarcity, what need for Government? And with abundance, everybody has everything, so what need for criminals?
Listen to the interview with Burke and watch his predictions for the future after the jump:

Saturday 5 October 2013

Music · Funkanomics · Stevie Wonder · Superstition remix

Many remixes are disrespectful and frankly don't add anything to the original. This one does.

Funkanomics are a trio from Germany and their bone shaking basslines underlay this version which keeps the original structure, lyrics and hooks.

Superstition remix and two more great mixes from them as added extras (Hendrix meets Sylvester plus - vaguely - Heatwave) after the jump:

Friday 4 October 2013

More 'gay' animals - and why they exist

Homosexual behavior has been documented in so many species that many scientists believe it is universal within the animal kingdom.

Last year a post of mine '11 'Gay' Animals' for was my most viewed ever, being the most read for six weeks and attracting nearly 500 comments. When the site did a rejig last year I got dropped with many other writers so this follow up was never published. A friend picking up on the original inspired me to drag it out. So here's another 11 for you, starting with the most familiar: Homo Sapiens.

Homosexuality in humans has been documented for thousands of years, but we still have no final explanation as to why it occurs and how it develops.

We know that there are a number of features which distinguish homosexual human beings from heterosexuals. Studies have discovered some very odd distinctions -- like finger-length and hair swirl and even penis thickness. The existence of young children who are apparently gay or lesbian has come much more to the fore in recent years, as have transgendered children, suggesting that a "born this way" theory is on the right track.

Research has pointed at a number of possible biological causes with immunology currently a favorite because such traits are known to be influenced in utero. In any family, the second-born son is 33 percent more likely than the first to be gay, and the third is 33 percent more likely than the second, and so on, as though there is some sort of “maternal memory.”

Hypothetical mechanisms include an alteration in the flow of male hormones in the formation of boys and female hormones in the gestation of girls. Why? It could be germs, genes, maternal stress, and even allergy.

In this interview with the renowned evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Dawkins explains how evolutionists have a few theories for why human homosexual behavior would be favored in natural selection, they includes the 'gay uncle theory'. Here, gay members of a group help look after children, increasing the group's survival chances. This is also the case with many other species where non breeding members of a group help raise, for example, pups or other bees. Anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy argues that for much of human history children were raised by groups, not just their parents alone.

Lesbians kissing
Another is that a 'gay gene' we find now may have operated differently in another environment. An analogy would be how in hunter-gatherer times a gene that stores energy as fat quickly and efficiently during the rare times of abundant food may have been advantageous; genes that helped people fatten quickly would have been favored by selection. But now those same genes aren't so useful, because food is always abundant -- at least in the wealthy parts of the world -- and so people with these 'thrifty' genes are especially prone to diabetes and obesity.

Another theory is that a 'gay gene' could have a double function, just as the gene variant for sickle-cell anemia is maintained because it reduces the severity of malaria. It could be that the gene that causes men to become homosexual also makes women better at reproducing. Women with that gene would have more children than other women, and even though some of their sons become homosexuals who do not reproduce, they would still have enough heterosexual daughters to carry the genes on.

Studies of twins strongly suggest that such a gene does exist, but we are still to definitively idetify it.

Many societies, such as Polynesia's, have clear and approved roles for 'gay' sons and 'lesbian' daughters and throughout history priests and shamans have often been 'gay'. Richard Lippa, a psychologist from California State University, has found cross-cultural confirmation that gay men and lesbians tend to take up certain sorts of job and have common other stereotypes. This suggests that homosexuality evolved and persists in humans because it benefits groups or relatives, rather than individuals, like how in bonobo chimpanzee society, homosexual behavior has benefits at a group level by promoting social cohesion.

Biologists looking at the rest of the animal kingdom are trying to explain the apparent evolutionary advantages of homosexual behaviour. Researchers Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk provide a variety of possible answers in their short paper Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Evolution (pdf). They give numerous examples of how same-sex sexuality appears to benefit various species.

After the jump read more about dolphins, elephants, flamingos, koalas and orang-utans.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Did Syria "rebel chemicals" story come from Russian source?

A story on an obscure American news website, Mint Press, has been central to Russian claims that rebels exploded chemical weapons in Damascus rather than the Assad regime.

The credibility of that story has since been undermined, and today Buzzfeed takes a long look at Mint Press' shadowy backers and their Iranian links.

Middle East specialist Brian Whitaker has been digging deeper and asks detailed questions about its author and whether the story was actually planted by Russia:
I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks looking into the story that Saudi Arabia provided rebel fighters in Syria with chemical weapons. More specifically, I have been looking at the story of how it became a story - along with the questions this raises about the boundaries between journalism and propaganda, and about attempts to manufacture credibility for a report that was lacking in evidence...
...The eagerness with which Syria "truthers" latched on to this tale was bizarre since it relied on anonymous sources and uncritical quoting of them – practices that the truthers object to vigorously when they are found in mainstream media. But on this occasion it told them what they wanted to hear...
...Essentially, what Mint Press did with its chemical weapons story was to take a short cut by piggy-backing on the credibility of an international news agency, the Associated Press. Dale Gavlak's association with AP added enormously to the story's credibility and helped to compensate for its flimsiness in terms of hard facts. That's why Mint Press insisted on including her name on the story, even though her actual role in it is disputed.
More: Manufacturing Credibility. How the Syria 'Rebel Chemicals' Story Was Over-Sold

Whitaker has tracked down a comment written by the author of the Mint Press story, Yan Barakat aka Yahya Ababneh, written on the Daily Mail website, before the Mint Press article was published:
Barakat then adds some information that wasn't included in the Mint Press story which has done so much to excite Russian officials: "Some old men arrived in Damascus from Russia and one of them became friends with me. He told me that they have evidence that it was the rebels who used the weapons."
More Yahya Ababneh exposed: Syria "rebel chemicals" story may have come from Russian source.
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Tuesday 1 October 2013

Daily Mail/fascism linkage is lazy history

Lord Rothermere I (Harold Harmsworth) with Hitler
As most people seem to be rightfully outraged by the Daily Mail's smearing of Ed Miliband's father I see many repeating the meme that the Mail supported Hitler and the blackshirts.

Mail owner Lord Rothermere did support Hitler (see above picture) and the Mail did publish "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" - pictures of which are being furiously retweeted this morning. But as Media Prof Roy Greenslade pointed out in 2011 (based on work by my mate Matt Wardman) the Daily Mirror published "Give the Blackshirts a helping hand."
The Mirror's sister paper, then known as the Sunday Pictorial, even ran pictures of uniformed blackshirts playing table tennis and enjoying a sing-song around a piano. Both titles also planned a beauty contest aimed at finding Britain's prettiest woman fascist.

Not many people know that. Certainly, nothing like as many as know that the Mail ran Rothermere's "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" (which is Wardman's point)...

... It is also important to view Harold's misguided views through the prism of widespread support for appeasement, not least from The Times under the editorship of Geoffrey Dawson and, of course, many leading politicians.

Lastly, it is also the case that the Mail of the 1930s was not nearly as influential as the Daily Express and its owner, Lord Beaverbrook.

And it was the Express, in March 1933, that ran a splash headlined "Judea declares war on Germany: Jews of all the world unite in action".

It was an overblown report about an (alleged) boycott against German goods that was declared in response to anti-Semitic activities by the Nazis. The "boycott" was quickly repudiated by the Jewish board of deputies in Britain.
Greenslade said:
Damn the Mail if you will for what it publishes now. But Rothermere the Second, Rothermere the Third (Vere) and now Rothermere the Fourth (Jonathan) cannot be held responsible for the views of the first of their line.
Point being that those making Daily Mail/fascism links today are using the exact same tactic they are rightly criticising the Mail for using on Ed Miliband.

Update, October 5: Roy Greenslade writes:
I have previously written that we should not damn the Mail, and the current Lord Rothermere, for his great-grandfather's support for fascism.

But I concede that, in these circumstances, the regurgitation of the Harmsworth family's dark past is valid. It is hardly surprising that it is now back on the agenda.

Similarly, Dacre's own family history has also become the subject of some fascination. Why, people are asking, didn't his own father fight for Britain in the second world war, as Ralph Miliband did?

Then there is Dacre's own background as a leftish student. He is now likely to be held up to ridicule for what he wrote while at Leeds university.

In truth, the whole affair has blown up in Dacre's face because of his intransigence. The Mail editor has become the centre of a story that has legs.

In the process, he has achieved the reverse of his intentions. A dignified Ed Miliband has emerged with an enhanced image. As for press regulation, he has made it infinitely more difficult for the matter to be resolved in favour of the system he favours.
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Music · Black Ivory · Mainline

Something to brighten your Tuesday, this is a stonking disco non-hit.

The obscure Harlem group with the dodgy name made this in 1979 on the Buddah label, home for many other classics. Like Love Sensation and countless others it drives on relentlessly, has a brilliant breakdown and an earworm of a hook (they collaborated with legend Patrick Adams). And put aside that it compares lurve to injecting hard drugs ...

Totally agree with this take on Mainline by Doc’trin:
After hearing some covers and a handful of house tracks which sample Mainline, it’s safe to say that nobody even comes close to the magic that happens on the original. In fact, just as I was writing this I saw that Tensnake is releasing a very uninspiring version himself, so I’m glad I get to share “the real deal” with you before this song title gets overloaded with a bunch of undeserved hype.

Organic instrumentation wins this round. You can’t deny the power this track has when it ditches it’s narrative verses before the halfway mark in favor of a loopy disco hook, percussive-break down and cheerful lyrics that will stay in your head forever. Please play this by my bedside if I ever end up in a coma. Seriously.
Boogie after the break: