Genetically engineering FOR deafness

I had the TV on MSNBC this evening for about 2 minutes, during Tucker Carlson’s show. Here’s (a paraphrase of) what I heard Tucker say:

Some deaf parents want to be able to test for deafness. They want to make sure that their children are deaf like them. [blah blah blah] Now, it’s one thing to genetically engineer the sex of your kids, but can’t you agree that genetically engineering your kids so that they are born deaf is just wrong?

His guest, of whom I know nothing about, hedged and didn’t really answer. I’m not even really sure what the show was about (like I said, I only saw about 2 minutes and didn’t pay a whole lot of attention). But, given the discussions I’ve been involved in through this blog, those couple of lines just kind of jumped out. Got me thinking.

I think I’ll wait to discuss in more detail until I’ve had a chance to read the transcript this weekend, but I’m sure it will be on my mind.

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Knowledge work and the hacker mentality

Are you a hacker? I am. And I’d be willing to bet that quite a few of you reading this are, as well. In fact, I think being a hacker is one of the skills/mindsets that is essential for a competent and successful knowledge worker today.

Of course, I’m referring to a hacker in the “old school” sense, as described by Bruce Schneier:

A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box. It’s someone who discards conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. It’s someone who looks at the edge and wonders what’s beyond. It’s someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don’t follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity.

Hackers are as old as curiosity, although the term itself is modern. Galileo was a hacker. Mme. Curie was one, too. Aristotle wasn’t. (Aristotle had some theoretical proof that women had fewer teeth than men. A hacker would have simply counted his wife’s teeth. A good hacker would have counted his wife’s teeth without her knowing about it, while she was asleep. A good bad hacker might remove some of them, just to prove a point.)

Richard Feynman was a hacker; read any of his books.

It is in this vein that I claim to be a hacker, and that I claim that a hacker mindset is an important one for a successful knowledge worker. Tom Davenport notes the following about knowledge workers:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution, orapplication of knowledge.

[High-performers] engage in certain activities that keep them on the cutting edge of their own expertise and help them develop new capabilities as appropriate.

Many high-performers attributed problem-solving abilities to the acquisition of a broad base of knowledge. Knowing how one’s work impacts another department or function,seeing opportunities to collaborate or help solve a problem in another part of the organization, or understanding how two seemingly different kinds of expertise fit together were typical traits of high performers.

Sounds like a hacker to me. So I’ll ask again: Are you a hacker?

Amazon aStore

Amazon aStore Beta Logo

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Matt Homann’s post about his new Amazon aStore. I’ve been an Amazon Associate for a year or so, but I don’t rely on it for anything so haven’t really been paying attention to what they’ve been doing. When I logged in to the affiliate site, there was a very quick explanation of the aStore and a four-step wizard to get set up. So, I set one up.

It’s a nice set-up, still in early stages and beta so it obviously has room to improve. In fact, since I first set up my aStore, Amazon has added the ability to add additional pages beyond the standard “Featured Products” home page of an aStore.

There are two ways you can have people visit your aStore: you can give them a link to the aStore itself (for example, Brett Miller’s Shop); or you can embed the aStore on a page inside your site (for example, My Amazon aStore). I prefer the latter, since it keeps everything within the site, but I’ve not been able to figure out how to ‘deep link’ into individual items within my page set up. My last post included deep links to items, but these went to the Amazon hosted aStore. I’d also like to see an RSS feed for the Featured Items page so people could subscribe to keep up with what has changed.

A lot of my posts draw their inspiration from various media – including books, CDs, DVDs, and video games – all things you can find on Amazon. Though I don’t expect to make a whole lot of money through this, it seems silly to not take advantage of the system when I’m referring to it so much anyway. So, if you think you want to buy a book from Amazon based on what you read here, please feel free. (And tell all your friends, too 😉 )

For more thoughts on the Amazon aStore check out Amazon’s Everywhere Strategy.

Complete archives of Royal Society available free through December

Several years ago, after reading Neal Stephenson‘s incredible Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), I developed an interest in the activities of Natural Philosophers in England in the late 17th Century. I picked up several biographies of the times including names like Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle and am completely fascinated with what they were able to achieve. When you think about the difficulty many people today have even understanding the acheivements of these great minds, it is even more amazing to consider that they had to come up with these ideas on their own.

Royal SocietyIn a press release today, the Royal Society announced that the complete archive of the Royal Society journals, including papers from that period, is to be made freely available electronically for the first time beginning today (14th September 2006) for a two month period.

The archive contains seminal research papers including accounts of Michael Faraday’s groundbreaking series of electrical experiments, Isaac Newton’s invention of the reflecting telescope, and the first research paper published by Stephen Hawking.

The Society’s online collection, which until now only extended back to 1997, contains every paper published in the Royal Society journals from the first ever peer-reviewed scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions in 1665, to the most recent addition, Interface.

Considering the price of a regular subscription, this is a great deal, especially if you just want to take a quick glance at a couple of key papers. This is an even better deal if you want to do some serious reading and research.  As if my reading list isn’t long enough!

I learned of this through a post on Slashdot this morning.

Bringing gaming back to the masses – Nintendo Wii

Nintendo announced today the ship date (19 November) for its new video game console, the Wii (pronounced ‘we’), as well as the line up of games available at shipping time. See Live at Nintendo’s NYC Wii press conference for minute by minute details.

At a time when most new gaming systems, especially consoles like Microsoft‘s XBox 360 and Sony’s upcoming Playstation 3, focus on technical aspects like processing power and graphics resolution, Nintendo is taking a different approach:

“Our goal is to bring gaming back to the masses,” Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, said in a telephone interview. “You see that in our pricing, you see that in the number of units we plan to make available this year and you see that in how we are positioning the Wii to appeal to every member of the household, including but not limited to the hard-core gamer.”

The Wii’s major innovation is a wireless controller that the user can tilt and point to produce action on the screen. In a sword-fighting game, for instance, the player can simply swing the controller to thrust and parry with an on-screen blade; there is no need to master the complicated combinations of buttons and triggers that make many video games so intimidating to the reflex-challenged.

All along, Nintendo has resisted what seems to be the general direction of gaming consoles. When the PS2 and original XBox were pushing to make the console an entertainment center, including such things as DVD players, Nintendo kept to the basics with the GameCube. The trend seems to be continuing, and I for one am happy to see it. (I think I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this and trying it out as much as my kids are!)

Check out Wikipedia for a Comparison of seventh-generation game consoles.

The Quest for genius on CNN

Thanks to Hobie Swan over at the Mindjet blog for a heads up on the upcoming program The Quest for genius to be broadcast on CNN the weekend of 23-24 September. In addition to interviewing Tony Buzan and putting mind mapping to the test, host Richard Quest will interview chess legend Gary Kasparov, Dr. James Watson (of DNA double-helix fame), and Kim Peek (the real-life inspiration for the “Rain Man”).

The show will air Saturday at 06:00, 14:00, 19:00 and Sunday 06:00, 19:00 (all times GMT). Just in case I forget, I’ve already set up the DVR.

Mastery writ large – US Open Champions

US Open 2006 - Roger Federer wins the US Open ChampionshipThis past weekend saw the crowning of new champions of tennis at the U.S. Open. Congratulations to all those who competed (that takes a whole lot of mastery itself), and especially to those who won. Of special note is Roger Federer, who showed decisively why he is considered the best in the world today. Consider these words from a US Open news story:

And if you’re still not convinced, take a look at his resume. The current world No. 1 enjoyed a 2004 and 2006 championship in the Australian Open, the runner-up spot at this year’s French Open, and of course his exceptional four consecutive wins at Wimbledon.

As for any pessimists who previously slighted Federer as merely a grass champ, his fortitude and record the past three years on hard court at the Open quickly refute – mock, even – such ideas. His consecutive appearances in Grand Slam finals is now up to six – and the Australian Open is just around the corner.

Congratulations to a man whose finale today shot him to’s Player of the Day, US Open Men’s Singles Champion and the first man in history to simultaneously win Wimbledon and the US Open for three consecutive years. Flawless, confident and gracious, Federer is a worthy warrior whose composed play without question entitles him as the King of all Courts.

Of course, special mention must go out to Andre Agassi, who played in his 21st consecutive U.S. Open, and to Martina Navratilova, who at 49 years of age won her 59th major title (this one in mixed doubles). The event was bittersweet for both, as it marked their final appearance as competitors in the sport.

Diverging to nonsense? Thoughts on Wikipedia

Will Wikipedia converge into a useful encyclopedia, or will it diverge to nonsense?  That is one of the central questions discussed in a story I heard yesterday morning on NPR‘s Morning Edition.  An interesting story to listen to if you are interested in where Wikipedia is going, though for those who are already familiar there may not be a whole lot of new info.  One ‘a-ha’ moment for me was the observation (paraphrased), “If the community of people who volunteer and maintain Wikipedai breaks down, the Wikipedia will turn into a wasteland of spam, porn, etc.”

The NPR story also touched on – but didn’t delve into – the question of whether Wikipedia should try to be a “legitimate” encyclopedia, focusing on only things that a legitimate encyclopedia woud address, or a repository of whatever information users want to post there.  For more information on that debate, check out Deletionists, inclusionists, and delusionists from Nicholas Carr.

Escher and Hilbert on passion

From my M. C. Escher calendar:

Any schoolboy with a little aptitude can perhaps draw better than I; but what he lacks in most cases is that tenacious desire to make it reality, that obstinate gnashing of the teeth and saying, “Although I know it can’t be done, I want to do it anyway.”

This brings to mind a passage from John Derbyshire‘s book Prime Obsession, a combined biography of Bernhard Riemann and history of attempts to solve his famous hypothesis:

[David] Hilbert believed firmly in the unbounded power of the human mind to uncover the truths of Nature and mathematics. In his youth, the rather pessimistic theories of the French philosopher Emil du Bois-Reymond had been very popular. Du Bois-Reymond maintained that certain things – the nature of matter and of human consciousness, for example – are intrinsically unknowable. He coined the apothegm ignoramus et ignorabimus – “we are ignorant and we shall remain ignorant.” Hilbert had never liked this gloomy philosophy. …

We ought not believe those who today, with a philosophical air and a tone of superiority, prophesy the decline of culture, and are smug in their acceptance of the Ignorabimus principle. For us there is no Ignorabimus, and in my opinion there is none for the natural sciences either. In place of this foolish Ignorabimus, let our resolution be, to the contrary: “We must know, we shall know.”

As I’ve mentioned before, desire and passion (and a touch of obsession) are key to achieving mastery, and accomplishing things that no one else thinks is even possible.

Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen.