Archive for December 6th, 2012

December 6, 2012

Jewish Autonomous Oblast

Oblast

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is a federal subject of Russia (an autonomous oblast) situated in the Russian Far East, bordering China. Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan. Soviet authorities established the autonomous oblast in 1934. It was the result of Joseph Stalin’s nationality policy, which provided the Jewish population of the Soviet Union with a large territory in which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritage.

According to the 1939 population census, 17,695 Jews lived in the region (16% of the total population). The Jewish population peaked in 1948 at around 30,000, about one-quarter of the region’s population. The census of 1959, taken six years after Stalin’s death, revealed that the Jewish population of the JAO declined to 14,269 persons. As of 2002, 2,327 Jews were living in the JAO (1.2% of the total population), while ethnic Russians made up 90% of the population.

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December 6, 2012

Cannabinoid

oblast

Cannabinoids [kuh-nab-uh-noid] are a class of diverse chemical compounds that activate cannabinoid receptors (molecules on the surface of a cells in the brain and throughout the body, which receive chemical signals). After the receptor is engaged, multiple intracellular signal pathways are activated; researchers are still unraveling the precise mechanism at work.

Cannabinoid receptors are activated by endocannabinoids (produced naturally in the body), phytocannabinoids (found in plants), and synthetic cannabinoids (produced chemically in a lab). The most notable cannabinoid is the phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis. However, there are known to exist dozens of other cannabinoids with varied effects. Before the 1980s, it was often speculated that cannabinoids produced their physiological and behavioral effects via nonspecific interaction with cell membranes, instead of interacting with specific membrane-bound receptors.

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December 6, 2012

Terrorism Market

terrorism-market

Dumb agent theory

The Policy Analysis Market (PAM), part of the FutureMAP project, was a proposed futures exchange developed by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and based on an idea first proposed by Net Exchange, a San Diego research firm specializing in the development of online prediction markets. PAM was to be ‘a market in the future of the Middle East,’ and would have allowed trading of futures contracts based on possible political developments in several Middle Eastern countries.

The theory behind such a market is that the monetary value of a futures contract on an event reflects the probability that that event will actually occur, since a market’s actors rationally bid a contract either up or down based on reliable information. One of the models for PAM was a political futures market run by the University of Iowa, which had predicted U.S. election outcomes more accurately than either opinion polls or political pundits. PAM was also inspired by the work of George Mason University economist Robin Hanson.

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December 6, 2012

The Shockwave Rider

The Shockwave Rider is a 1975 science fiction novel by John Brunner, notable for its hero’s use of computer hacking skills to escape pursuit in a dystopian future, and for the coining of the word ‘worm’ to describe a program that propagates itself through a computer network. It also introduces the concept of a ‘Delphi pool’ (a large group of people used as a statistical sampling resource), perhaps derived from the RAND Corporation’s Delphi method – a futures market on world events which bears close resemblance to DARPA’s controversial and cancelled Policy Analysis Market (dubbed the ‘Terrorism Market’ by the media).

The title derives from the futurist work ‘Future Shock’ by Alvin Toffler. The hero is a survivor in a hypothetical world of quickly changing identities, fashions, and lifestyles, where individuals are still controlled and oppressed by a powerful and secretive state apparatus. His highly developed computer skills enable him to use any public telephone to punch in a new identity, thus reinventing himself. As a fugitive, he must do this from time to time in order to escape capture. The title is also a metaphor for survival in an uncertain world.

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December 6, 2012

Sidewise in Time

Murray Leinster

Sidewise in Time‘ is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in a 1934 issue of ‘Astounding Stories.’ In the story, professor Minott is a mathematician at Robinson College in Virginia who has determined that an apocalyptic cataclysm is fast approaching that could destroy the entire universe. The cataclysm manifests itself on June 5, 1935 (one year in the future in terms of the story’s original publication) when sections of the Earth’s surface begin changing places with their counterparts in alternate timelines.

A Roman legion from a timeline where the Roman Empire never fell appears on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. Viking longships from a timeline where the Vikings settled North America raid a seaport in Massachusetts. A traveling salesman from Louisville, Kentucky finds himself in trouble with the law when he travels into an area where the South won the American Civil War. A ferry approaching San Francisco finds the flag of Czarist Russia flying from a grim fortress dominating the city.

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December 6, 2012

A Logic Named Joe

How to Create a Mind

A Logic Named Joe‘ is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in a 1946 issue of ‘Astounding Science Fiction.’ The story actually appeared under Leinster’s real name, Will F. Jenkins, since the issue also included a story under the Leinster pseudonym ‘Adapter.’

The story is particularly noteworthy as a prediction of massively networked personal computers and their drawbacks, written at a time when computing was in its infancy. The story’s narrator is a ‘logic’ (much like a personal computer) repairman nicknamed Ducky. In the story, a logic whom he names ‘Joe’ develops some degree of sapience and ambition.

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