Rule Five Friday

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (1) (853x1280)Are we on the brink of creating artificial life?  Excerpt:

With 100 billion neurons and 37 trillion cells, the human body is simply too complex to be artificially designed by modern computers.

But in the quest to create artificial life, what if we started a lot smaller? That’s what team of scientists has done, creating a replica of the simplest form of life we know.

The worm Caenorhabditis elegans has just 300 neurons and around 1,000 cells – and now a robot has been created that mimics the actions of this simple organism.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (2) (861x1280)The OpenWorm project, a global effort including researchers from the US and UK, is attempting to create the world’s first digital animal.

Earlier this year they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a worm you can download onto your computer.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this.  First, the implications of digitizing a worm brain are far, far different than the implications of digitizing a human brain.  Ditto for the moral and ethical implications.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (3) (1280x845)Fortunately, the complexity of a human brain is also far more involved than a worm brain, making the differences in the project probably more of kind than of degree.

But what if we could do it?

That’s where the two ways of looking at this come in, here where humans are concerned.  You could use the process to make a copy of your own brain – a back-up, as it were, to be activated on physical death.  On the other hand, what if you could eschew physicality altogether, and go completely digital?  A disembodied sprite, wandering the Intarwebs.  Would you be an odd sort of living virus?  2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (4) (862x1280)Would you be able to interact with the living?  With other cyber-beings?  Would you still have rights, obligations, responsibilities?

I’m inclined to answer “no,” to those last three, because the copy of you would not be you – it would only be a programmed simulacrum of you.  It’s hard to see how a purely digital “person” could in fact be a person in any legal, moral or ethical sense.

But back to the worm; the linked article concludes:

The robot is very basic for now, and does not possess the ability to perform more complex functions such as eating.

It’s an important step, though, to creating artificial life that can think for itself.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (5) (861x1280)While this worm is a very basic form of life, it may be a precursor to making much more complex animals.

This will be a huge undertaking, though – even a mouse has 22 million neurons in its brain.

‘The mere act of trying to put a working model together causes us to realise what we know and what we don’t know,’ John Long, a roboticist and neuroscientist at Vassar College in New York State, told New Scientist.

In other words, creating a simulation of any mammal brain, much less a human brain, is a long, long ways off.  Still the stuff of science fiction (of which, as all True Believers may know, yr. obdt. is a fan and an author.)

But while it may be a long ways off, it may not be too soon to start thinking about the implications.  Besides, it’s entertaining.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (6) (1280x844)

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Time and family presses, so we’ll just have a few quick notes  and items of interest on this pre-Thanksgiving Hump Day.

Complex Life May Be Possible In Only 10% of Galaxies.  Ours, obviously, would be in that 10%, although the jury is still out on the possibility of intelligent life in Congress.

The Delicious Science of Chinese Buffets.  We have one in the Denver area we favor, the Great Wall buffet in Lakewood, where it is not only possible but probable to eat entirely too much.  Too many Chinese buffets serve up a menu where everything tastes like it was dumped out of a can and heated, but the Great Wall serves up a wide variety of food that is obviously freshly made and piping hot.

But oh, the calories.

bears-cute-awesome1-11Breaking the boundaries of established science; what happens when you put a snail in the microwave?  Yes, really.

Finally:  Did Ben Franklin Want the Turkey As Our National Symbol?  Perhaps not, although these days one wonders if the chicken would be more appropriate.

On that note, we return you to your pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday, already in progress.

Animal’s Daily News

Silver BearNote:  There will be no post on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.  Rule Five Friday and the Saturday Gingermageddon will be posted as per usual.

Take a look at what the FDA proposes for rules for restaurant food.  Excerpt:

The Food and Drug Administration plans new rules requiring chain restaurants, movie theaters and other retailers that sell prepared foods to put calorie labels on menus and menu boards. The rules will only apply to establishments that have 20 or more locations.

The rules will be announced on Tuesday.

A sampling of what will be labeled with calorie information — and what won’t — under the new rules:

— Menu items at chain restaurants, including drive-through and take out boards

— Drinks on menus, and soda dispensers

— Some alcoholic beverages on menus

— Most prepared foods in supermarkets, convenience stores

— Concessions at movie theaters, amusement parks that are part of larger chains

— Displays of food, such as pastries, at coffee chains like Starbucks

— Food prepared on site at large retail outlets, such as Target and Costco

Can someone – anyone – point out in the Constitution where the Imperial Federal government is authorized to place these restrictions on privately owned businesses?  All too many seem to forget the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Angry-BearIn simple English:  If the Constitution does not specifically authorize the Imperial Federal government to take a certain action, they may not take said action.  And this kind of meddling in the affairs of privately owned businesses is nowhere to be found.

When will Congress and the Imperial judiciary rediscover the Tenth Amendment?  When they do, maybe we can broach the subject of an alphabet soup of unConstitutional agencies that have been set up in the Imperial City in recent years.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

This just in from the always-worth-reading Dr. Victor Davis Hanson:  Explaining Away Obama.  Excerpt:

The only mystery about the last six years is how much lasting damage has been done to the American experiment, at home and abroad. Our federal agencies are now an alphabet soup of incompetence and corruption. How does the IRS ever quite recover? Will the Secret Service always be seen as veritable Keystone Cops? Is the GSA now a reckless party-time organization? Is the EPA institutionalized as a rogue appendage of the radical green movement with a director who dabbles in online pseudonyms? Do we accept that the Justice Department dispenses injustice or that the VA can be a lethal institution for our patriots? Is NASA now a Muslim outreach megaphone as we hire Russia, the loser of the space race, to rocket us into orbit?

Explaining away Barack Obama isn’t that hard.  He was a child of wealth and privilege, who was never held to account or expected to actually run any organization until he was suddenly elected President.

Out on a limb.
Out on a limb.

In 2008, when he initially announced his intention, it’s very probable that he didn’t expect to gain the nomination, much less win the election.  In the considered opinion of yr. obdt, he was at that time just launching  himself into the national perception with the intent of a later candidacy.

But he won, and once he had, he was like the car-chasing dog who has actually caught one, and now is unsure what to do with it.  And after six years in the Imperial Mansion, he still doesn’t know.  His administration has been marked mostly by arrogant condescension, indecisiveness, buck-passing and blaming his predecessor.

Dr. Hanson concludes:  We have had storytellers and fabulists in the White House before, but rarely a president who is energized to distort the truth by the very contempt that he holds the people in.

As usual, Dr. Hanson is correct.

Rule Five Friday

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (2)An interesting tidbit from the Left Coast:  Crime-Fighting Robots Go On Patrol in Silicon Valley.  Excerpt:

A new kind of security guard is on patrol in Silicon Valley: crime-fighting robots that look like they’re straight out of a sci-fi movie.

At first glance, the K5 security robot looks like a cartoonish Star Wars character.

“The vast majority of people see it and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cute.’ We’ve had people go up and hug it, and embrace it for whatever reason,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope, headquartered in Mountain View.

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (1)They are unarmed, but they are imposing: about 5 feet tall and 300 pounds, which very likely will make someone think twice before committing a crime in their presence.

“The first thing that’s going to happen is the burglar is going to spot the robot. And unfortunately, criminals are inherently lazy. They’re not looking for something that’s going to be confrontational, they’re looking for something that’s going to be an easy target,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope. “They see the robot and maybe they move down to the next place down the street.”

Or they will knock it over.  Or throw a blanket over it.  Or spray-paint over its optical sensors.

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (3)Or, they will just steal the robot.

Seriously, as described this just doesn’t seem like a terribly bright idea.  The designers of RoboCop Mk I may get away with this in Silicon Valley, but how about Newark?  Chicago?  Detroit?  Right down I-5 in Los Angeles?

In any of those locales as well as dozens of others, the response from the local criminal element is certain to be laughter.

If someone messes with the robot, apparently this happens:

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (4)If someone decides to attack the robot, it could get uncomfortable. When first confronted, they let out a loud chirp and notify the control center. The chirps will get louder and louder as the threat persists.

“A very, very loud alarm,” said Stephens. “Think of a car alarm but much more intense.”

Oh dear.  Loud chirps.  That’s certain to put off a criminal.  And how far away is this control center?  How far away are any actual humans who would be able and equipped to respond to RoboCop Mk I’s chirps of alarm?

The very real concern here is that the robot will be used as justification for reducing human police presence in any given area, 2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (5)which is a catastrophic mistake.  Until we have autonomous robots capable of intervening in crimes-in-progress – and this, mind you, requires robots capable and programmed in the use of force (violating the Three Laws of Robotics?) then these are just expensive, fancy mobile security cameras.

Also:  Can they go up curbs?  Stairs?  Enter buildings?  Open doors?

The linked article concludes:

The makers of the robot said they have a long waiting list of about four dozen companies waiting for a K5. They expect to put many more of these robots in place sometime next year.

Privately  owned companies may spend their money however they wish, but one hopes that no tax dollars at any level are spent on these.

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (6)

A Day At The Range.

Thompson-Center Contender
Thompson-Center Contender

An interesting piece of firearms technology is the handy and versatile Thompson-Center Contender, a single-shot break action handgun with interchangeable barrels ranging in caliber from the .22 rimfire to the .45-70.  The Contender (along with the more recent Contender G2) also comes in carbine version and the newer Encore comes in more powerful rifle-caliber varieties, but our copy (above) is the old Contender G1, and we have a .22LR barrel and a .222 Remington barrel for it.

Since I had some business at the gun club this morning, I took the Contender along to check the zero on the .22 barrel and bust some stationary clay birds.

2014-11-20 10.40.58 (960x1280)(Yes, I know the scope is incorrectly mounted; that’s how it came when we bought the gun, already mounted, and it holds zero, so I haven’t messed with it.)

The Contender is aimed at hunters (pun unintended) and that’s where it has found its greatest market.  A good friend of mine has taken several pronghorn with his, barreled for the wildcat 7-30 Waters.  I’ve been watching around for a .30-30 barrel for ours, since I already have ample brass and dies for that venerable cartridge.  This will turn the Contender into a short-range deer-killer, increasing the versatility of what may be one of the handiest thing to grace a hunter’s handgun cabinet.

What’s even handier is that, since stock length is not an issue, Mrs. Animal (4’11”) can use it as easily as yr. obdt. (6’1″.)

All in all a nice addition to the working firearms collection and, as you can see, a pretty good shooter as well.

Animal’s Daily News

Facepalm-bearThe big story of the day is, obviously, President Obama’s announcement this evening of his executive order Imperial decree on immigration policy.

Some opinions and news on what is to come:

From WaPo:  President Obama to announce executive action on immigration Thursday.

New York Times:  Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration Is Unlikely to Include Health Benefits.

From the Weekly Standard:  Sessions: Obama Now ‘Emperor of the United States.’ 

The Hill:  GOP outraged by immigration plan.

 From Politico:  Rick Perry: Texas might sue Barack Obama.

USA Today:  GOP senator warns of violence after immigration order.

Now, outright violence is probably unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely.  But public outrage over what is clearly an unConstitutional and illegal power grab by the President is not, and a Constitutional crisis is in the offing here.

What can Congress do to reign in what is increasingly appearing to be a rogue President?  Impeachment is probably off the table.  But the Executive Branch can spend not a penny without the authorization of the House of Representatives, the People’s House who, by explicit design of the Founders, control the nation’s purse-strings.  They have not done so with any sense of responsibility in recent years, but could this be the thing that tips them over?

Angry-BearBarack Obama’s primary failing as a President is his lack of understanding of the Constitutional limits of his powers.  He took the nation into a brush war in Libya with no Congressional authorization; he launched attacks on ISIL in Iraq with only questionable authorization (claiming he was covered under the same approval Congress gave in 2003) and now he plans to rewrite immigration law with the stroke of the Imperial pen.

This is a Republic, not a dictatorship; a nation of laws, not decrees.  Congress should exercise their own legislative and financial power, to stop this madness.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Mrs. Animal has a fondness for critters (for which, as some point out, I should be grateful) and maintains a bird/squirrel feeder in front of our residence.  For ground-feeding critters she regularly puts out whole and cracked corn on the ground beneath the bird feeder; this is what resulted from that practice yesterday afternoon:



Them would be ducks, True Believers. A whole passel of fat, tasty mallards, right there on the xeroscaped front yard.  We live in the suburbs where discharge of firearms without good reason is frowned upon (obtaining a tasty supper is not deemed ‘good reason;’ an axe murderer kicking in your front door, on the other hand…)  Still, one is tempted to obtain a really good pellet gun, as broiled wild mallard is one of the tastiest of meals.

Probably better to take shotgun in hand and head east to a couple of places I know along the South Platte out by Brush, where you can usually pick up a couple of wild ducks.

Waterfowling can frequently be a wet, muddy business.  While I have a fondness for fine shotguns and generally pick up my Citori or one of my restored and refurbished Brownings or Winchesters for upland work, trap shooting or sporting clays, when time comes to kill some ducks or geese I’m as often as not inclined to pick up a very different fowling piece altogether.

A Mossberg user.
A Mossberg user.

Since my 19th birthday I’ve had a copy of the old, ugly but reliable Mossberg 500 in 12 gauge, a gift from my first wife when we were dating.  The old gun has been through a lot in the decades since.  I’ve killed a small mountain of birds, bunnies and such with it, and its original Mossberg “C-Lect Choke” (Mossberg’s proprietary collet choke) barrel was replaced with a 28″ vent rib barrel cut for tubes.  The original hardwood stock was likewise replaced, this with a Hogue overmolded synthetic.

The old Mossberg is sort of the AK-47 of shotguns; not overly attractive, but rugged, reliable, effective, endlessly accessorizable and tough, tough, tough!  I have plenty of nicer, prettier and better-fitted shotguns, but when you’re spending the day splashing through a marsh or sitting in a muddy goose pit, the old Mossberg stoked with heavy 3″ mags is the way to go.

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.