Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Genetically altered mosquito warriors could wipe out humanity's biggest killer
The humble mosquito, and the deadly diseases it carries, is estimated to have been responsible for as many as 46 billion deaths over the history of our species. That staggering number is even more frightening in context - it means that mosquitoes are alleged to have killed more than half the humans that ever lived.
In short, the modified genes affect only the female mosquitoes, rendering them flightless. The larvae hatch on the water, and the females are unable to leave, rendering them harmless to humans and leaving them to die. The males are unaffected, so they mature normally, then mate with other females to pass the genetic modification on.

I've often wondered why stuff like this hasn't been done before.  Admittedly I'm not a geneticist, but it would seem we have gotten pretty good at genetically engineering simple lifeforms.  Particularly in this case, since we don't care much about the overall health of the insect.  Just produce insects that carry a gene that makes them sterile when there are two of them, and release tons of them.  It would seem like this has been done, although using radiation to sterilize them as opposed to genetics.

A few years ago, I read something about genes that could affect the odds that they would appear in the sex cells.  A sex cell is supposed to have a random gene picked from the two possible genes (one from your father one from your mother).  These genes would increase the odds that they would be picked over the other choice to something over 50%.  This struck me as an interesting way to genetically engineer some sort of species as a weapon that dies off, (think the xenomorph from the Alien movies).  You create perfectly normal aliens and unleash them on some world.  However, included in the initial group would be a few individuals with a certain gene.  This gene would have various effects based on if the individual had two copies or one, and if they were male or female.  A male with one copy would be more likely to pass on the gene (maybe 90%).  A male with two copies would be sterile.  It would have no effect on females, they'd just carry it normally.

I wondered how effective this gene would be, and did some spreadsheet calculations.  I then wrote a basic program to simulate the odds.  I discovered that the gene was super effective as long as it had high enough probability.  The magic threshold appeared to be 86%.  At 85% the population would stabilize with a small core group of gene free males.  At 86% it would always wipe out the population, even when introduced into a large stable population.  I'm sure there's some interesting mathematical explanation for that point, but I don't know what it is, and I didn't really want to write a whole detailed post about this.

Oddly, I never added it to my site.  I vaguely remember not considering it done, but maybe that was before I realized that anything I do is done the first time I stop working on it.  I added it and it's there now, at the end of the C++ section.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Software Companies Die

Read this and thought it was interesting, then I noticed it was written by Orson Scott Card.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

an illuminating metaphor for the process of biological evolution

This is a very interesting example of evolution using memes instead of genes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Money Data

I think I'd be happy if xkcd switched from comics to just monthly epic data presentations like this.  Here are some interesting things I found in it:
  • Annual cost of: cat - $670, internet - $720, cellphone - $928
  • 1965 ratio of CEO pay to production worker pay = 25x.  2007 ratio = 275x.
  • That royal wedding used $800,000 in flowers.
  • Iraq war cost more than Vietnam.
  • Combined Iraq/Afghanistan wars cost about 25% of WWII.
  • Nuclear power plus a Fukushima level accident every year costs less than solar or coal with external costs (although less than on shore wind).
  • State taxes are surprisingly regressive. 
  • Apple has $76 billion in cash reserves, they could buy 15 Nimitz class carriers (at $5 billion each, US has 10), or 422 F-22 Raptors (US has 187).
  • Walmart's annual profit of $16.4 billion could fund 88% of NASA's annual budget of $18.6 billion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
Also see this map:

Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street
Then came day two. Early in the morning, large contingents of demonstrators began to converge at a key downtown intersection. They sat down and refused to budge. Their numbers grew. A labor march would soon add additional thousands to the mix.

“We have to clear the intersection,” said the field commander. “We have to clear the intersection,” the operations commander agreed, from his bunker in the Public Safety Building. Standing alone on the edge of the crowd, I, the chief of police, said to myself, “We have to clear the intersection.”


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Police officer pepper-sprays seated, non-violent students at UC Davis

In the video above, you see a police officer [Update: UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike] walk down a line of those young people seated quietly on the ground in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, and spray them all with pepper spray at very close range. He is clearing a path for fellow officers to walk through and arrest more students, but it's as if he's dousing a row of bugs with insecticide.
Well he's on paid vacation, so at least justice was done.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Scale of the Universe

I've seen a lot of these, and even made one at some point, but this is by far the best one I've seen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

5 Lessons of U.S. Plan for a Permanent Military Presence in Australia
The U.S. has arranged with Australia to install a permanent military presence near the northern Australian town of Darwin, a move that signals shifts in President Obama's foreign policy and the U.S. vision for its role in the world. Obama will formally announce the new base with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during his visit to Australia next week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Argument recap: For GPS, get a warrant
Midway through a federal government lawyer’s plea Tuesday for unrestricted power for police to use new GPS technology to track cars and trucks on public roads, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., sketched out just how the Court may well restrict the practice.   Despite an unqualified prior statement by the Court that one moving about in public has absolutely no right to expect privacy, the Chief Justice said that such a right might exist, after all, and it could trump the fact that the movement was in public.  If the Court can find a way to say just that, police almost certainly would have to get a warrant before using GPS to monitor where suspects go.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vaccine-wary parents warned against sending ‘chicken pox lollipops’ through the mail

Parents fearful of vaccinations are being warned by a federal prosecutor that making a deal with a stranger who promises to mail them lollipops licked by children with chickenpox isn't just a bad idea, it's against the law.
Remind me again why we don't require a license before people can have kids?

Color of Time

I was stumbling and came across this site:

It changes the background color for every second of time.  The obvious way to do this would be the convert the HH:MM:SS of time into a RGB value.  However, it was clear that wasn't what that site was doing, because the color changed dramatically every second.  I thought perhaps there was something more interesting going on.  It did mention that every second would have a unique color, which would imply that it took the date into account too.  I thought perhaps it took the unix epoch time and converted that into hex values.  It could use a simple hash of the time and then just take the last 3 hex pairs and use them directly.  That wouldn't absolutely guarantee unique times, but it would be about as close as you could get with the limited space of RGB values.  Since 2563 = 16,777,216 you'd have enough colors to only have to use each twice per year.

I checked the source, and was somewhat disappointed to see it was just generating random values.  I guess it was just a concept.  You could at least seed the RNG with the hour, minute, or second values.

I decided it would be somewhat interesting to see it implemented the way I had originally envisioned it, and set out to make it.  I began by copying his code since it was relatively easy to follow.  However, every time I attempt to use javascript I'm reminded of the inadequacy of my "pretend it's just C++" method of programming it.  So, I scrapped the code and started over from scratch.  After more troubles trying to figure out how to do things that should be simple in javascript, I got it working pretty well.  There are still some things I'd like to change, but that's not very likely.

I'll admit his is prettier than mine, but I think mine is more interesting to watch.  In order to make full use of the color space I'm not directly using the HMS values.  I'm converting them into a ratio and then multiplying that by 255.  In other words (#seconds/60) *255.  This allows a just barely perceptible change in color each second.  Also, I wanted to make the foreground color complementary colors.  However this is apparently not that easy to do.  I ended up just subtracting each hex pair from 255, which gives sometimes complementary colors, and painfully jarring colors the rest of the time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

White House Responds to Petitions

The white house has begun responding to the petitions that had the requisite signatures.  I was pretty cynical about what the responses would be.  However, I must say the responses surprised me. That is, I was surprised at how condescending, circular, and filled with bald faced lies they are.  Perhaps I'm too insulated from politicians' day to day lies.  

Also, I suspected that there would be petitions about not taking petitions seriously.  However I expected this would take a few months.  However, literally the day after the first responses were posted there were already multiple petitions to take the petitions seriously.  Here are some of my favorites:

Actually take these petitions seriously instead of just using them as an excuse to pretend you are listening

Offer a response to marijuana legalization petitions that isn't written by someone legally required to oppose them.

We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition.

One silver lining is that they did respond to the petition demanding they acknowledge aliens. In their response they mentioned the various ways we're looking for signs of alien life.  Interestingly the first one, SETI, has been shut down since April 2011 due to lack of funding.  It requires $5 million in funding, ie, less than 0.0005% the cost of the Iraq War.

And since I've been watching these videos nonstop, I'll link this one about SETI here:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bizarre Lunar Orbits
The orbit of PFS-2 rapidly changed shape and distance from the Moon. In 2-1/2 weeks the satellite was swooping to within a hair-raising 6 miles (10 km) of the lunar surface at closest approach. As the orbit kept changing, PFS-2 backed off again, until it seemed to be a safe 30 miles away. But not for long: inexorably, the subsatellite's orbit carried it back toward the Moon. And on May 29, 1972—only 35 days and 425 orbits after its release—PFS-2 crashed.