Friday, October 20, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Tight-Fitting Genes

Excuse the banality, but we sense humanity is headed for calamity.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN. Evolutionary theorist Dr. Oliver Curry says the human race could split in two: an intelligent, healthy upper class and a dumb, troll-like genetic basement.

From the BBC:
Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws... Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.
So far, so good.
Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.
How's that for affirmative action? But we still need physical action.
However, Dr. Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology. Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals.
Remember that song by Porno for Pyros? "We'll make great pets..."
Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect.
Take a look at the Internet. The future just happened.

IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD. If we're facing technological addiction, might as well go all the way. Toshiba is out with a black space helmet that lets you experience 360-degree television, provided you sit right in front of the screen.

Behold, a whole new way to watch too much television.

FREEZE TAG. As for staying active, it's a little harder at Willett Elementary School in Attleboro, Massachusetts, now that the principal has banned tag, touch football and so-called "chasing" games.

From the Sun-Chronicle:
Reasons cited by school administrators largely focused on safety; kids would get too rough or run into each other, giving rise to parent complaints and threats of lawsuits.
Two decades ago, in my middle-school gym class, the coach told us why we all went through warm-up exercises.

"What does that protect us from?" he asked us.

I raised my hand.


"Lawsuits," I replied. Everybody laughed. Not with me -- at me.

Coach said the school needed protection from "cream puffs" -- wimpy kids nurtured by helicopter parents scared of a little rough play. Looks like I was right after all.

But anyway, parents don't like the no-tag rule.
"I think that it's unfortunate that kids' lives are micromanaged and there are social skills they'll never develop on their own," said Debbie Laferriere, who has two children at Willett.
Not only that, dodgeball's out too. Looks like the kids will have to play in the adult leagues when they grow up.

SHOW AND TELL. If the kids can't play tag, they can still play with fire. An elementary school student in Chandler, Arizona ignited himself in class this week during a fire prevention lesson.

From the Arizona Daily Star:
The student's teacher was reading a book on fire safety when the student put a cigarette lighter behind his back and lit it, igniting his shirt. The school principal says the teacher saw smoke coming from behind the boy who was sitting on the floor with other students.
The boy's back is burned, but he'll be all right. Guess he just needed a "smoke break." (rim shot)

DUMBING DOWN. Lots of people are gnashing their teeth here in Arizona because a survey by Morgan Quitno Press ranks it as the least smartest state in the union. Look at some of the people we've elected to office in Phoenix, and one has reason to believe that.

However, your Lightning Round calls attention to the wording. The survey did not say Arizona was dumbest. It simply said least smart, meaning not as smart as other states. Arizona education czar Tom Horne says test scores bear that out.

From The Arizona Republic:
"Arizona students perform above the national average on TerraNova, which is the principal measure by which we compare ourselves to other states," Horne said.

Arizona test scores are generally about average, but the state historically ranks at the bottom in terms of money spent per student.
So now we're getting to the real crux of the survey -- education speding. Even the surveyor admits this is more than about intelligence:
Morgan Quitno Press, which compiles state- and city-ranking publications, used a variety of measurements to create their list, including money spent on students, standardized test scores, graduation rates, teacher salaries and teacher/student ratios.
So we have an survey on smarts which makes the flawed assumption more money spent on education produces smarter people. How do you like hearing that, homeschooling families? Guess this smart survey isn't that smart after all.

MAKE YOUR MOVE. MAYA-II, a DNA-powered computer, can play tic-tac-toe using a set of wells that correspond to squares on the board.

From NewScientistTech:
Each well contains between 14 and 18 DNA logic gates. After a human player makes their move, MAYA-II responds through a DNA reaction. The strand outputted feeds into a series of other DNA logic gates that link the different wells. This results in a chemical reaction that generates a green fluorescent glow in the square MAYA-II selects as its next move. The strand also interacts with the remaining wells, priming them to respond appropriately to future moves.
Fun, but I'd like to see MAYA go on to the bonus round and beat the dragon.

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