Links August 2009

IQ as a Social Multiplier – Michael of Accellerating Future summarises some research into the effect of increasing IQ [1]. It seems to me that increasing the health of children and giving them adequate education is the best thing that can be done for developing countries. When smart children become smart adults they can fix all the other problems.

Richard Dawkins gave an interesting TED talk about militant atheism [2]. I’m not convinced by his central point, I’m happy to get along with anyone who doesn’t want to compromise a legal or educational system regardless of the myths that they believe.

Freeman Dyson gave an insightful TED talk about the search for life in our solar system [3]. He suggests looking for the reflections of lenses that could be used to keep life forms warm. He also suggests that if there are no such life forms there already then we should create them, that sounds like a good idea to me.

Arthur Benjamin gave a brief but insightful talk advocating statistics as a better candidate for the peak of high school mathematics than calculus [4].

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuro-scientist who had a stroke, she describes the experience of having the left half of her brain shut down in a passionate TED talk [5]. It’s one of the most unusual lectures I’ve watched.

Alain de Botton gave an insightful TED talk “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success” [6]. One of his most striking points concerns the concept of a “meritocracy”. If everyone who deserves to be at the top gets to the top then by implication everyone who is at the bottom is there because they deserve it. He quotes St Augustine as saying “it’s a sin to judge any man by his post“. It seems to me that perhaps we shouldn’t push the meritocracy angle so much in the free software community…

Eve Ensler (who is most famous for the “Vagina Monologues” gave an insightful TED talk about security [7]. Her main point is that people who concentrate too much on trying to achieve security will end up not enjoying life – and not being particularly secure either. I believe that her work with women in Africa and the Middle-East who have been mistreated makes her better qualified to comment about security than most people. Bruce Schneier recommended her lecture.

Willard Wigan gave an interesting TED talk about his micro-sculptures, he typically creates a sculpture on the head of a pin [8]. It is interesting to note how his interest in art developed from being forced to wag school due to being treated awfully by the teachers.

Elene Gabre Madhin gave an interesting TED talk about economics in Ethiopia [9]. She describes how when people were starving in the north of Ethiopia there was a food surplus in the south and the problem was a lack of a functional market. She left her position at the world bank to create a functional commodities market in Ethiopia to solve this problem and increase the GDP of the country at the same time.

Michael Pritchard gave an interesting TED talk about the Lifesaver filter [10]. The primary product is a bottle that appears to have a volume of about 1.5L which contains a 15nm micro-pore filter. The smallest viruses are apparently 25nm in diameter so the filter will stop all viruses, as opposed to current filters which have a 200nm pore size which allows the smallest bacteria to get through. He gives a live demonstration of using a tank of water that came from rivers, a pond, and with some sewage thrown in and drinking the water that comes out of the filter! The filter in the bottle can produce 6,000 litres of clean water and can then be replaced. The other product that he is developing is a jerry-can size device that can filter 25,000 litres – enough for three years use by a family of four!

Here’s an amusing anecdote about airport security [11]. An interesting link from the comments section of that page is the Bill of Rights Security Edition – the US Bill of Rights printed on solid sheets of metal [12]. I guess that carrying that through airport security makes some political point.

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