Friday, June 19, 2009


Scientists are reporting an advance toward a memory device capable of storing data for more than one billion years.

Alex Zettl and colleagues note in the new study that some of today’s highest-density experimental storage media can retain ultra-dense data for only a fraction of a second. They note that William the Conqueror’s Doomsday Book, written on vellum in 1086 AD, has survived 900 years. However, the medium used for a digital version of the book, encoded in 1986, failed within 20 years.

The researchers describe development of an experimental memory device consisting of an iron nanoparticle (1/50,000 the width of a human hair) enclosed in a hollow carbon nanotube. In the presence of electricity, the nanoparticle can be shuttled back and forth with great precision. This creates a programmable memory system that, like a silicon chip, can record digital information and play it back using conventional computer hardware. In lab and theoretical studies, the researchers showed that the device had a storage capacity as high as 1 terabyte per square inch (a trillion bits of information) and temperature-stability in excess of one billion years.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Practicing compassion

These last couple of days, it has been harder than normal to believe that there is goodness in everyone.

Quakers recommend that, in our relations with each other, we should strive to respond to "that of God within everyone." In my own thinking, I have always related this to a supreme principle of respect. At least part of respect includes believing that everyone is capable of goodness. And at least part of the recommendation to look for and respond to "that of God" within everyone is also to assume that everyone is capable of goodness.

Immanuel Kant proposes something similar in his moral theory. One formulation of his "categorical imperative" is "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means" (
Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 429, trans. James W. Ellington, Hackett Publishing Company, [1785] 1981).

I have been reading the stories of the women who went to Dr. Tiller for care and they are nothing short of breathtaking in the level of trauma the women he helped were in.

From Joss Whedon's Angel:
we will never win.  not completely. that's not why we fight. we do it because there are things worth fighting for.

So I'll continue to fight without resorting to violence, in the belief that compassion is the right way to fight. sigh.

Monday, June 01, 2009

This is what fanaticism does

My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age. My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping. I can't really come up with some profound political statement just now, so let me just list some memories of Dr. Tiller.

I remember him firmly stating that he regarded the abortion debate in the US to be about the control of women's sexuality and reproduction.

I remember he spent over six hours in one-on-one care with my wife when there was concern she had an infection. We're talking about a physician here. Six hours.
He told the story of his previous shooting, where a woman shot him twice in both arms as he drove out of his clinic. At first he wanted to run her down with his Jeep, but then he thought "she shot you already George, she'll do it again!"
I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was wearing, which said "Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!" or something similar. Turns out it comemmorated the birthday of a fifteen year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party.

The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking - obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them.

I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair. "You give good hugs" she whispered. He paused just for a moment. "You're just fine," he told her.