Archive for July, 2008

July 24, 2008


Public Release: 24-Jul-2008
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
Why play a losing game? Study uncovers why low-income people buy lottery tickets
Although state lotteries, on average, return just 53 cents for every dollar spent on a ticket, people continue to pour money into them — especially low-income people, who spend a greater percentage of their incomes on lottery tickets than the wealthier segments of society. A new Carnegie Mellon University study points to income as an influential factor in the decision to invest in a product that provides poor returns.
“In the study, the researchers note that lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations. They recommend that state lottery administrators explore strategies that balance the economic burdens faced by low-income households with the need to maintain important funding streams for state governments.

“‘State lotteries are popular revenue sources that are unlikely to go away anytime soon,’ said George Loewenstein, a study co-author and Herbert A. Simon professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon. ‘However, it is possible to implement measures that can actually benefit low-income lottery players and lead to fairer outcomes.’ Loewenstein noted that one such potential method for addressing income inequality, which has shown promise in other countries, is tying lottery tickets to savings accounts.”

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
Study suggests human visual system could make powerful computer
Rensselaer professor Mark Changizi has begun to develop a technique to turn our eyes and visual system into a programmable computer. His findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Perception.

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
Sex and lifespan linked in worms
In findings published in Nature, scientists have discovered that smaller, but more structurally diverse chemicals are a significant part of a living thing’s biology. When food is scarce or colonies become crowded, young worms stop developing normally and enter the dauer stage. In this form they can live, without eating or reproducing, for months — about ten times longer than the worm’s normal lifespan. When the dauer finds greener pastures, it finally develops into an adult and resumes its normal aging process.
National Institutes of Health

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
FASEB Journal
Licking your wounds: Scientists isolate compound in human saliva that speeds wound healing
A report by scientists from the Netherlands published online in rhe FASEB Journal identifies a compound in human saliva that greatly speeds wound healing. This research may offer hope to people suffering from chronic wounds related to diabetes and other disorders, as well as traumatic injuries and burns. In addition, because the compounds can be mass produced, they have the potential to become as common as antibiotic creams and rubbing alcohol.

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
‘Nanonet’ circuits closer to making flexible electronics reality
Researchers have overcome a major obstacle in producing transistors from networks of carbon nanotubes, a technology that could make it possible to print circuits on plastic sheets for applications including flexible displays and an electronic skin to cover an entire aircraft to monitor crack formation.
National Science Foundation


Building Futures Which Last

July 16, 2008

World War III failed to happen in 1958. That event was important to Poul Anderson’s Psychotechnic League future history.

After the Soviet Union broke up, there were still new books about the USSR invading the US. And there were sf writers whose series and/or future histories had the Soviets as one of two superpowers well into the future. Jack Chalker had an easy solution for his Well of Souls series — Nathan Brazil pushed the universe’s reset button. Other writers became rather less explicit about history, or declared their failed futures to be alternate history.

Lesson One: Be prepared to abandon your lovely future.

Lesson Two: If you want to continue using the same future, be vague as possible about what will last beyond this week.

Or you can decide not to care. Use the same future everyone else writing future-set fiction does: aircars will completely replace ground cars, videophones will rule, etc. Modify to the taste of a particular editor (North America becomes Arabic-speaking, the Middle East turns Southern Baptist, whatever.)

But suppose you want to get the future right, as much as possible. There are ways to do it.

Learn what predictions have consistently been wrong: Ground cars were supposed to be completely gone shortly after WW II. (Probably earlier, actually.) Voice-only phones were to be extinct by 2000 CE. (Yes, we have videophones — but they’re not the only phones around.)

In economics, there’s “This bull market will continue forever.” In the past, all such markets have gone diving among the sharks; but this one is different because [new technology/right party in office/….]. In politics, “My party will rule forever” and “We’re going to simplify the tax code.”

Study cycles: There are “moral panic” cycles; times when drunk driving or gambling is considered a major problem, and others when it’s shrugged off. There are economic cycles; as I write, we’re on the downslope of one. And political cycles; in the US, one swings between parties and another between ideologies. The two political cycles have gone together recently; but don’t count on this continuing.

Look at the future which has already happened: An elementary school teacher looked out at my class, and said we were the largest class she’d ever taught. After us came the Baby Boomers.

When the Boomers overfilled elementary schools, it should have been easy to predict there were going to be a lot of college students not far in the future. Colleges didn’t prepare for the overflow.

Find indicators which work: During the next fifty years, some countries will fall apart. Others will merely undergo revolutions or go bankrupt.

I use male life expectancy at birth as a sign of a country’s stability. The US doesn’t top the list. (This is apparently partly because babies who would be considered dead at birth elsewhere are counted as alive for the few hours they survive. But that’s not the whole story.)


There are things you can’t predict completely. (Or maybe you can — in which case I recommend investing as your fulltime job. Sexual morality will be different fifty years from now — but different how? Vatican III will probably make changes in the Roman Catholic Church — but when will it be held, and what will those changes be? (My guess: Around 2060. About the changes, I can make one confident prediction — some of them will cause schisms.)

What can you do about these?

Have fun: Pick changes you find interesting.

Decide what works best with your story and characters: If it’s useful for your heroine to be a Roman Catholic priest, change church law so this can happen. (I don’t expect Vatican III to allow female priests; but perhaps Vatican VI or Marsport I will.)