Friday, August 19, 2011

Last Call

Finally, I'll leave you tonight with some hopeful news.

IBM unveiled a working prototype of silicon computer chips Thursday that emulate the processes of the human mind rather than relying on the traditional architecture of computer chips, which have remained basically unchanged since the 1940s.

The research team's design uses fewer transistors than traditional chips, and it features 256 digital processors that act as "neurons," that do the computation, and synapses that learn and remember things. One of the chips has 262,144 programmable "synapses" and the other has 65,536 "learning synapses," according to IBM.

Traditional integrated circuits feature many more transistors, and are programmed. The new IBM chips won't be programmed in the same way, and they'll process information differently.

One major breakthrough significance of the "neurosynaptic core" chip is that the technology could use much less power than computer chips do currently because they're designed like a human brain (which is, believe it or not, extremely efficient at processing information.) They would also occupy less space than the supercomputers of today.

So what do IBM scientists do with a neural net architecture chipset?  Why, exactly what you should do with a neural net architecture chipset.  Game on.

The researchers didn't provide any details about this, but headlined a blog post announcement about the development of the chips with: "This cognitive computing chip taught itself how to play Pong." 

Happy Skynet day, folks.

America's Sweetheart

Well, we might be going to hell in an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom minecart ride, but we all have one thing in common on a slowish news Friday:

We love Betty White.

Thought Reese Witherspoon was America’s Sweetheart? Or maybe Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock?

Well, you’d be wrong, because Betty White can officially claim that title. It turns out that the angelic 89-year-old is now America’s most favorite and trusted celebrity, the Los Angeles Times reports.

White has come in first in a Reuters/Ipsos poll asking, "whose endorsement of a company would be most likely to drive business”?

Just over 2,000 Americans voted, and the former “Golden Girls” star beat out other famous faces like Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman (who tied for seventh place with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), Will Smith and Johnny Depp.

And I have to admit, White would definitely be in my top five.   Let's face it, she's America's awesome Grandma.

Open Mic Night At The Lobbyist Bar

Yeah, this pretty much sums up exactly how American politics works.

In what looked like a covert lobbying effort, a top Bank of America official brushed past Gov. Rick Perry (R) during a New Hampshire business breakfast on Wednesday, shook his hand and uttered the words, “Bank of America, we will help you out,” before walking away as if nothing had been said.

The brief exchange was caught by a CSPAN camera, but went unnoticed until the blog ZeroHedge pointed it out. ZeroHedge also correctly placed the man’s identity as James Mahoney, Bank of America’s director of public policy.

Que sera sera. Commenter here earlier today said I should stop bothering with Rick Perry because there was no way he could win. I beg to differ and this is exactly why.


NASHVILLE — A federal jury on Thursday awarded $200,000 in damages to a Nashville woman who was shackled by Davidson County Sheriff's deputies during labor.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before deciding the amount to give to Juana Villegas, who was arrested in July 2008 on a minor traffic violation for which charges were later dropped.
Villegas testified that her wrists and ankles were bound while she was in labor during an ambulance ride from the jail to the hospital. She said she did not know that a deputy who could unlock the shackles was riding in the front of the vehicle.
Villegas, 35, was unshackled shortly before delivery, and her baby boy was born without complications, but she was shackled again shortly afterward. One leg was attached to the bed when she was lying down. Her legs were shackled together when she got up to use the bathroom. And deputies refused to allow her to use a breast pump after giving birth, causing her pain and illness.

This is what abuse of power looks like. Get used to it, because stories like this aren't going anywhere. Guilty or not, she was far from a flight risk and was not in any condition to be of danger to herself or others. Allowing some dignity during childbirth and immediately following would not have been unreasonable.  The fact that the charges were later dropped cannot be held against the police because there is no way they could have known.  However, the fact that they could not know is also why she should have been treated like a human being.

This Week's WTH: That Is One Scary Amoeba Edition

(CNN) -- It's eerie but it's true: Three people have died this summer after suffering rare infections from a waterborne amoeba that destroys the brain.
This is the time of year when there is an uptick in cases. The amoebas flourish in the heat -- especially during the summer months in the South, thriving in warm waters where people swim.
Health officials usually record about two to three cases in a given year -- 1980 was the highest with eight deaths. And most of the time, they occur in children and teenagers.
I will never swim again without thinking of this.  Holy cow.  Small percentage doesn't matter when you are the one stricken.  I am a bit embarrassed that I had not read about this before now.

Worst quote ever:

But when an amoeba gets lodged into a person's nose, it starts looking for food. It ends up in the brain and starts eating neurons.

"It causes a great deal of trauma and a great deal of damage," Yoder said. "It's a tragic infection. It's right at the frontal lobe. It affects behavior and the core of who they are -- their emotions, their ability to reason -- it's very difficult."

It destroys who you are in the most fundamental sense.  While it is not the scariest thing I have ever read about, it's a strong candidate for ickiest.

Ought To Be Another Interesting Day At The Dog Track

Tyler Durden on European Roulette (it's like Russian Roulette, only everyone has a revolver pointed at everyone else's head):

If yesterday's news broken by ZH that one bank was in dire need of US dollars and ended up borrowing $500 million from the ECB was enough to send the market down almost 5% today, then the follow up news that the FRBNY just reactivated FX swap lines with Europe will likely send ES limit down at tomorrow's open. The FRBNY has just announced that in the week ended August 17, it lent out $200 million to not the ECB, not the BOE, but the "most stable" of all banks: the SNB.

This is the first use of the Fed's Swap Lines since March, and the most transacted under this "last ditch global bailout swap line" (see more on how the Fed bailed out the world using swap lines here) since October 2010. This event also gives us a hint that the European bank in question in dire need of cash is Swiss, which in turn means that it is not some usual PIIGS suspect, but one of the two "big ones." If true, this means that the European insolvency, liquidity and what have you crisis is about to take an exponential step function higher.

Bottom line is if the Swiss banks are in a serious liquidity hole right now, Europe is about to completely blow up and soon.   Keep an eye on Durden's call here, he's usually pretty close to the truth on things like this.

Moving Forward At Your Own Perry-il, Part 5

It's like Rick Perry is trying to win an award by seeing how much stupid he can pack into a single week.  This time the Perpetual Gaffe Machine strikes in New Hampshire.

A woman who will probably not be supporting the Texas governor brought her young son along to a campaign event in New Hampshire on Thursday, and had the boy ask Perry his views about science. "How old do you think the earth is?" the boy asked. This was an apparent allusion to how fundamentalist Christians often insist that Earth -- and indeed, the whole universe -- is about 6,000 years old.

"How old do I think the earth is? You know what, I don't have any idea," Perry responded. "I know it's pretty old. So it goes back a long, long ways. I'm not sure -- I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely hold the earth is.

Perry then steered the conversation to some questions the boy's mother had been asking him, about evolution.

"Here your mom was asking about evolution. And you know, it's a theory that is out there -- it's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure--"

The mother cut back in: "Ask him why he doesn't believe in science."

Perry continued: "Because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

The answer of course is "Whatever is the answer Rick Perry thinks is wrong."  And no, Texas doesn't teach creationism.  But it's not like Perry knows what he's talking about anyway, he thinks Social Security is unconstitutional.

If this meathead ends up President, we deserve our slow death as a country.

Getting Serious On Syria

President Obama called for Syrian President Bashad al-Assad to step down in the wake of al-Assad's bloody, months-long crackdown on dissidents since the Arab Spring swung into high gear.

"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way," President Barack Obama said in a written statement. "We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."

The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Union echoed Obama's demand.

"Our three countries believe that President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country," British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

"We call on him to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people."

Pretty sure the international pressure will get to al-Assad sooner rather than later, but as always whenever Syria is involved, Iran's response will be key.   But if anything, I think this response is for the benefit on another country:  Iraq.

When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki spoke up about the government crackdown in Syria, it wasn’t the hard line that President Barack Obama would want from a U.S. ally in the Middle East.

I hope that demonstrations in Syria will not be quelled by force,” Maliki told the Iraqi television al-Sumaria on Aug. 13, in his first public response to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s five-month crackdown on dissidents. Assad should “respond to the people’s demands and quicken the implementation of reforms.” 

That's about as milquetoast as a response as you can get on Syria, and the line in the CNN piece at the top there about the US expecting a strong condemnation from other leaders is directly being pointed at Nouri al-Maliki.  With the international community coming down on Syria and al-Assad like this, al-Maliki is going to be brought to heel.

So if you're wondering why on a random Thursday that the US is dropping the hammer on Syria, you can lay that at the feet of Iraq's PM soft pedaling things.


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