Thursday, December 25, 2008

Can't come to work - I've caught "I Love You" virus...

Not sure if this find should go in here or the Zencookbook blog - but decided after a bit of head-scratching that it belongs here.  Yes, there's all kinds of threats to the environment, but there's also all kinds of benefits if one of these biohackers pulls off a particularly imaginative hack.

More interesting to me is how more and more technology is being lateralised, made available to anyone.  As far as I can see, this is the way it's meant to be and has been for millenia.  Telescopes weren't sequestered away and kept for "astonomers," what happened was that people made themselves telescopes, used them, and then called themselves astronomers.

Similarly, the largest and earliest impetuses in each field have come not from some enclave of "official" scientists working under some kind of "official" sanction - they've come from the people who thought to themselves "hey - I can do that!" and then did.  Charles Darwin was a minister's son and only became recognised for his work on evolutionary adaptation AFTER he did the work.  Leeuwenhoek didn't study optics - there was no official curriculum in optics at that stage - he created advances in the field and helped to formalise it as the field of optics, and he used what he created to make advances in microbiology, which is the thing he is more famous for.  All without a formal "official" education beyond basic schooling...

Some of our best advances in programming and electronic communication have come not from the "official" Internet Engineering Task Force and their directed research but from home hobbyists and self-confessed computer geeks and hackers.  We wouldn't have effortless web browsing today if not for individual efforts and ideas developed by individuals and small groups of "non-official" computer geeks.

All right - I mentioned "hackers" back there.  By now, a few of you will be backing up and going "ooh!  He said 'hackers,' he did!" and you'd be right to stop there.  The dangers of some dickhead producing a real-life "virus" in a meth-lab-like basement laboratory is real and present.  I wouldn't be surprised at all to see one coming out in 2009.  But also note that just as we had hackers, so we also have security minded people, who developed "antidotes" to the malware.

And while it looks like the spammers are winning, remember that there's a financial advantage to taking over computers and hacking - there is little financial advantage to killing the world's population.  Also, believe me when I say that anything, the most horrific things, that you can imagine are already being tried and tested in labs that hide behind barbed wire in underground bunkers, in countries all over the world...  Having as many facilities out there as possible in the public domain represents our best chance of someone with the knowledge and facilities to develop antidotes remaining alive out there...

Also - notice how computers and the Internet, which not so long ago were the esoteric realm of a relative few hobbyists and professionals, have now become everyday technology and in fact this is the enabling force behind the biohacking hobby now springing up.  Looking at the timeframe that led from physics and electricity as "official" fields, to electronics, communications, and then computers and Internet, you can see that once the knowledge was easily disseminated (via BBS's and early Internet) how exponentially the body of knowledge and achievements grew.  Now bear in mind that biology and modern allopathic medicine have been around for about the same amount of time, and huge amounts of information are coming online even as you read this.

So - don't waste your time trying to preserve "official ivory tower" desmesnes for the field, and instead start planning task forces and security forces to keep abreast of this new tsunami of biological innovations.  Haven't we learned anything from the progression from Brain virus to zombie farms?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have an evolutionary Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  While I was sitting here waiting for my Christmas day to ramp up, I looked over an old article I'd saved from over a year ago.  Back then it didn't have this finding to round it out, but it still had the concept of a biological cause for religious experience down to a T.  The article is a good grounder in the whole matter, despite that it needs to be as long as it is to cover the subject.  Make the effort because it is worth it.

The question of why we feel religion (and superstition, mystical feelings, etc) is still a strange one even when you know that there's a bit of the brain that you can slow down the activity of and get an instant religious experience.

There's much debate about whether it's an evolutionary step or a byproduct of an evolutionary step, but I posit my theory that religion serves as a unifying force, a way to meld a culture together.  Religion may simply achieve that, and pretty much nothing else.  We (as biological creatures) notice that when "we" aren't as much in evidence inside our heads, we get an elated feeling, a reward.  We also notice that when we're in a large group, the "I" tends to go away in favour of the group.  And we get that reward feeling again. Together, the feeling seems to say, is how we should be.

Maybe that's the feeling social animals like ants and bees and sheep get all the time.  For them too, the aggregatory behaviour is an evolutionary bonus - large groups are more survival-oriented.  When they leave the safety of the herd, the sense of self stirs, and to a herd animal that would probably feel very negative and unfamiliar.

And I'd dare say that for humankind, too, groups were better than individuals.  Only in our case, our brain wasn't wired as a mob-dweller brain, it was wired as a solitary organism brain, and in our case depression of the ego produced a reward feeling.

Perhaps the right parietal lobe is a leftover from earlier days, or a mutation that proved advantageous - either way, we gained an extra personality from it.

And either way, it's no wonder we're such troubled creatures, with so many conflicting imperatives in our brains, we're probably glad to blame things on an entity called "God" or "Luck" or "Fate" or whatever.   But look on the bright side - because of that evolutionary kink, we get several holidays a year, Christmas included...

Which brings me back to Merry Christmas again...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pssst! Can I interest ya in a re-con heart guv'nor?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/22/canadian_lung_bubble/ reconditioned lungs are cool - there is yet hope that I won't be pushing up daisies before my 60th.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends, I guess.  I'll try and hold on until they get really really good at doing it.  %)

And of course, the future will hold a lot of things of interest to sufferers of other organ failures - imagine being able to get a heart with the embolism removed and healed ex vivo, then used to replace a totally failing heart.  At the exponential rate we're making advances, that will all happen around 11PM on Christmas Day or maybe the wee small hours of Boxing Day...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gone - The Golden Age Of Great Genius? Maybe Not.

A recent Yahoo article poses the question of whether Einstein was the last great genius , citing the formation of large institutions as making it harder for individuals to make "stroke of genius" advances.  Me, I'm not so sure the great geniuses have vanished.  I think they've just moved to those large institutions.

If I had the choice of living on the bones of my arse with a laboratory made of collected scrap plumbing and the machinery from the old closed-down chip factory up the road, or living on a government grant, with a salary, a lab full of modern equipment, and half a dozen colleagues to bounce my ideas off, I know for sure it wouldn't take me a flash of genius to work out where I'd rather be....

I also say that except for a few rare individuals who work better in solitude, having a "support network" of colleagues is better for the creative process, so our geniuses these days are more likely to be found in collectives of very talented individuals.  That would tend to make them stand out a bit less, which might also give the impression that we're all out of genius.

Most of those solitary geniuses came out of a vastly different educational system, one less geared towards churning out average students and more likely to foster individualism.  That's not to say that genius can only flourish under such an educational system, of course.  If there's one thing we know about human spirit and intellect, it's that it will express itself under any conditions.  But the individual expressing it may these days be less averse to company than their counterparts under the less socialising system.

And of course, there may well be countless thousands of very intelligent people bordering on genius - but with today's surfeit of communications and magazines and peer reviews and blogs and websites and TV spots, they may well be singing in the wilderness for all the notice the world is taking of them, and their light shall, indeed, be hidden beneath bushels...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advances? Not Just Now.

Just been poking around the tech news, still using "opportunistic wifi" as my connection.  So first of all I'm disillusioned because Telstra have taken over a week to get an existing telephone line connected, and now Amcom are going to take another week, perhaps two, to get ADSL flowing over that (finally!) connected line.  And then, it's going to be ADSL1, not that that matters because my supposed ADSL2+ connection in Perth was worse than dial-up at times.  And speaking of dial-up, I tried using the dial-up number Amcom provided as a temporary measure until they get my broadband connected - and it's about the same as using acoustic couplers over a tin can telephone.

So I can probably be excused for thinking that technology is going backwards.  But reading all the usually jam-packed tech news sites, I'm seeing a kind of hiatus here.  We're well and truly overdue for a quantum leap in some web or internet technology or other, and also a new bit of tech gear that isn't just an Android or iPhone or a new social aggregator site.

Something pretty groundbreaking has to appear before Christmas, you mark my words.  A new internet paradigm, some fundamental scientific discovery, or a piece or hardware. (Or other techo item like an electric car or renewable energy source)  That will restore my faith in our ingenuity and sheer inventiveness, nothing less.

So I'm holding my breath and awaiting results.  What will happen first, my broadband connection actually working or some breakthrough?  As the tagline for my old BBS used to run: "TEdLIVISION! - don't touch that dial!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Second Loot And Virtual Grids

I've been a player in Second Life, the wildly remunerative virtual world.  Remunerative, that is, if you're Linden Research, the company which developed it and now operates it.  I have to say it was a very immersive experience but ultimately it's priced itself out of my desire.  It's a work in beta, or even trailing edge alpha at times, yet Linden Research has the balls to charge for it, and continuously raise prices.  I say good on them, but it's not exactly the way the web was won...  And it has fuelled a lot of protest and controversy in-world, which is not to their advantage.

Because the truth is, that there are other VR projects out there, such as OSGrid and OpenLife, which operate in the same way as SL, and are substantially cheaper or free, and some of them allow you to run your own simulator server.

See, the dirty secret Linden Labs are holding close to their chest is that grids (which is the infrastructure on which simulator servers run) are not, by nature, closed.  And they are not difficult to run.  A brief history of the World Wide Web might be in order...

When the Internet first wobbled into public view, there were servers for a variety of functions, generally it wasn't simple to get these online and running, and the WWW developed out of a desire to simplify the end user experience for everyone.  First Web servers were also a slightly difficult beast to run, most people did not have the bandwidth to run one from home even if they could, and the idea of websites was still rudimentary.

Then larger organisations came onto the scene and allowed anyone to build a few web pages (think Angelfire, GeoCities) and other organisations began hosting more complex websites in return for money.  But it was and is still possible to run a web server on your PC at home or pay for a server in some hosting installation and host other people's websites.

That's the point that Virtual Reality is at right now.  Linden Labs allows you to host your "virtual website" - in other words, what they refer to as a "simulator" - and build your site there.  OpenLife does something similar but with less cost, and OSGrid provides you with a framework in which to connect your server to a bunch of others so that there is connectivity between them all.

And with some of the older generation not being able to find their way off AOL, virtual reality could actually become a new paradigm that will hopefully soon take over the web - instead of a website, how about owning a block of virtual land?  Then it's just a matter of walking from site to site.  This is much easier than remembering a URL.

And, of course, one of the primary problems Second Life is experiencing is allayed if not eliminated by opening a grid to multiple privately operated servers.  SL has many many problems because it is trying to juggle terabytes of data around between their machines.  This process often ends with databases scrambled - and then the "residents" of SL complain about losing virtual items, not being able to move between virtual locations, not being able to login, etc.

Part of the reason Linden Labs do it this way is technical, the rest is purely commercial.  The technical reason is simply that they can preserve your "assets" as you go from one simulation to the next.  It's not required.

Think about when you shop online: You log into a shopping site, fill your "virtual shopping basket" with what you want, proceed to the "checkout," pay for your items, and leave the website.  Your "assets" on the site were what you had in your basket, the details you provided to pay for those items, and the receipt, which has been emailed to you so it's a permanent record.

When you leave that site, do those "assets" travel with you?  No no a thousand times no!  Web workers put in a lot of hours to prevent precisely that kind of thing.  The "permanent" things you have are held on another server - your Paypal account, for example, or your credit card connection to your bank's network.  And the rest is either in cookies which your browser stores for you, or abandoned when you leave the website.

Similarly, LL argue that by closing their grid and keeping all data together, it means that you will see all the public assets (buildings, scenery, objects, etc) when you travel from one simulation to the next.  It's a lovely argument but totally crap.  Because, when you open a website in your web browser, do you need to refer to some central repository before you can view images, for example?  No - these "assets" are served up by the web server as you connect.  Similarly, by keeping local assets local in a virtual reality simulator, you remove the need for a HUGE database juggling terabytes and spread that load among the individual servers.

Hence, I'm thinking that VR will become more and more commonplace as people realise how much easier it is to present information in such environments, how much easier it is for the users to find that information, in a properly designed simulation, and how much easier it is for a user to find their way between VR sites if they become a bit more website-like in their ubiquity.

And I'm a huge supporter of open sourcing things - if you let a team of developers loose on a project, they will end up like Second Life - more and more new features coming out, more and more justification for price rises, and none of the scutwork, such as fixing potentially show-stopping bugs, getting done.  If you let open-sourcers loose on this kind of project, there will be a similar rush of new features, but the bugs, being extremely irritating, will get cleaned up along the way, leading to a much nicer user experience in the end.

Look at Linux - started out as an open source replacement for a machine operating system that only alpha geeks used, and is now as simple to operate as the competition's systems.  Look at Apache webservers - started out as an open source web server that was complex and unforgiving, and now installs regularly and easily on a huge range of machines at a mouse click.

So start flocking to the alternatives, and show your support by donating to them, assisting them, and maybe even contributing something to the development.  Before you know it, Linden Labs won't be the only game in town...

Monday, October 27, 2008

WMML

What Makes Me Laugh...  Reviewing an Attenborough doco, listening to David enthusing about another creature "perfectly adapted to its environment," that's what.  All creatures great and small show compromise, there's not one "perfect adaptation" because if there was such, that creature would take over the environment.

What we understand of the selection and adaptation process, we know depends on the inherent flaws of the system, starting with the semirandom mutations of the DNA. Every system has parts with flaws, and every other system that can take advantage of those flaws, will.  It seems like the eventual aim of natural selection is to produce a biological equivalent of "grey goo" that will just coat the Earth in a thin layer, one organism.

So when there's a new niche in the "e-ecosystem," it's not surprising to find that an organism has started to explore it and try and make a living at it.  Which is pretty much what you're seeing here, in this article.  It's a wide open ecosystem, it can and does provide money and goods if approached right, and therefore equips anyone able to operate here to better survive, without needing skills like checkout operator at fast food stores, office clerking skills, or any other such.

It's gainful, if not legal, employment.  Being a banger or a burglar are also gainful, if not legal.  There's a niche - taking your stuff, your money - and some organisms (burglars) take it by one means, other organisms (banking and financial institutions) take it by more acceptable means.

The important thing to note is that you're the niche, the burglar and bank are the exploiting organisms.  Similarly, your money and your personal data (and therefore, access to your money held by the banks)  are now a niche online, and getting exploited.  It's survival of the fittest, now it's up to you to shore up defenses and repel the skript kiddies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's Why Speedometers Do That

Why Do Speedometers Go To 160MPH?  According to that article, they don't actually know, but they agree that it leads to the psychological itch to go that bit faster.  In one way, the coming of digital speedometers has to some extent shown old dial type speedos to be the bullshit that they are and thus are solving one issue.

But for my money?  The clue's in the "needle's only half way" remark.  We like to think our machines have some reserve over and above our requirements.  Yes, we have drivers who are only happy when the needles on all the gauges are hovering partway into the red, and they who push that envelope are our race car drivers. (Or our hoon drivers, if they didn't luck into a racing career.)

But for the rest of us, the sense of security we get from driving along with "plenty in reserve" is what sells those cars with the 220kph speedos.  (Amusingly enough, if you push the average car to the valve-bending limit they will top out around 150kph, and then the various engine parts end up making pretty patterns on the road behind you.  We're such suckers...)

Also, of course, there's no way a car manufacturer wants to see the speedo needle hitting the end stop.  So even though 140kph is realistic, they will add that extra 80 just to make sure you won't ever "wrap the needle."  The next model will get that fast, buddy, you betcha.  Just buy it when we release it okay?

Also, all that unused range on the dial makes sure we cling to the speed limit or just over.  Despite knowing that every millimeter we depress that pedal is another half a litre per 100km.  So in a lot of ways, cars with dial type speedos have contributed to deaths, pollution, and the cost of constantly replacing your car with the next model.

And here comes my "personal responsibility" homily, yeah yeah...  See, the reason car manufacturers do those sorts of things is simple.  It's because they work.  You and I and everyone else that buys a car and is swayed by the horsepower and top speed, have contributed to this.

At least we're now pushing for greener cars and thinking about driving a bit slower - aren't we?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Use Traffic Lights To MANAGE Traffic.

Okay - all you city planning authorities out there, looking for ways to green your cities and reduce pollution, reduce congestion, and make life easier for your citizens.  Lissen up, I have a thought for you.

I suggested, years ago, that a lot of traffic congestion could be reduced by designing the bigger better traffic light set.  Once again, the Most Abject Pathetic Technology & Electronics Kompany I worked for looked at me as though I'd sprouted three legs and an extra head when I suggested it, and once more, this is an idea well worth taking on board when you next send out a tender for replacing traffic lights.

It isn't hard, these days, to separate a video image into frames, and search each frame for salient features.  Such as "outline of a car," "outline of a motorcycle," and so forth.  Any reasonable computer can do this with ease.  Said reasonable computer can also compare one frame with a subsequent frame, and over a few frames, average the speed of all those detected salient features, as well as maintain a tally of how many such features are in frame.

So if you aim a camera back across the traffic lights at the oncoming traffic, the computer can tell how much traffic it has coming in, how fast that traffic is moving, and how much traffic has flowed in that direction for the last 24 hours.

Now suppose you have four such systems at each intersection, controlling the flow of traffic.  It doesn't matter what time of day it is, the traffic lights react to the existing stream of traffic and try and schedule so that the least cumulative amount of time is spent idling at the lights in all directions.

That move alone could reduce fuel use and pollution from idling at lights to insignificant amounts.  Since it takes a lot of energy to get rolling again once stopped, reducing the amount of times a vehicle has to stop makes an immense difference.  This is also true for electric vehicles (EVs) because they chew huge amounts of juice to start rolling again.

As a bonus, if there is a traffic stream (or single vehicle) approaching the controlled lights at a speed exceeding the speed limit, you can always provide a red light to them.  Then if they pass through the lights despite that, you have a picture of them running a red light, and also their speed at the time... %)

One last thought - if you don't want to waste the computing power needed for parsing images, perhaps you could respectfully ask car and immobiliser manufacturers to start placing a small piece of technology in their product - a Bluetooth beacon...  You could count the number of BT beacons at traffic lights just as easily as images, you'd lose the ability to enforce speed limits and the red light camera facilities, but it would simplify things a bit.

If you like my idea and decide to use it, feel free to.  But please also feel free to donate some money via my Paypal link so that I can continue to come up with new ideas...  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Few more details on the Joule.

A week ago I wrote about the newly-unveiled prototype of the Joule, a vehicle by South African company Optimal Energy and I was a bit short for details.

The vehicle is claimed to be capable of around 200km range on a single battery pack and 400km on dual battery pack.  That's quite a useable range.  All in all, it makes the Joule sound like a very useful and serviceable vehicle.

One quibble, you don't pay for the battery packs apparently - you lease them from Optimal.  If they just mean you lease the batteries and can then charge them yourself, that is fine.  They specifically mention a seven year lifespan for the batteries, as though you will retain lesseeship of them for the whole seven years.

But there's another alternative, one that needs to be clarified by Joule PR - what if they are just commenting in general that battery packs will last for seven years, but that their "lease" scheme means that you drive until the battery pack is flat, and then need to swap the battery pack for another "leased" battery pack?
I.e. they won't give you a Joule with a battery you own for seven years plus a charging cord, but rather it's like the "swap" system in use for propane gas bottles.  In this latter case, unless Joule has an outlet at every service station, the usefulness of the Joule would approach zero really quickly.  Because I seriously doubt Optimal Energy has that good an infrastructure in place.

So there's the battery to consider, and also, that kind of range comes at a price, which is top speed - the Joule is claimed to top out at "83mph," for whatever reasons.  It seems strange that they mention the odd 3 miles per hout, as though they have been straining all systems to get to that speed, like downhill with a tailwind...  Or it may be to give you inchworm-like 3mph awesome overtaking speed at 80.

Either way, I would not rely on a Joule to take me out in the country, which means EVs are not flexible enough yet.  That said, I still think the Joule is a commendable effort, and if they were available and I was able to afford a new car, the Joule would, at this stage, probably be it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A HUGE Thank You To All!

Thanks to everyone who passed the link to that previous article out, I noticed a spike for the day, and hopefully it has reached, or will now reach, the eyes of someone with the necessary vision and resources to make it happen.  I tried to start things locally, but it's hard because this takes resources which no-one I know has.

*fingers crossed*

Want To Sell Something Other Than Cars?

Since I've just badly taken the mickey out of the so-called "designers" of solar and electric vehicles, I herewith present my positive contribution to the matter of EVs and SEVs.

Just think...  Why exactly are you re-inventing the wheel, automotive, EV, and SEV designers?  What is it that people all over the world are wanting?

  1. They want to be reassured that whatever they purchase next, it will not be as damaging to the environment as past efforts have been.
  2. They want to stop hurting in the pocketbook, getting gouged ever more and more money for less and less of Point 1 above.
  3. They want to see the difference in their bank book, in the air around their suburb, and around the world.
  4. They don't necessarily want to give up their cars and conveniences for it.
  5. It shouldn't look like a golf buggy that smashed into a pyramid and got bred to a flying saucer.  People aren't ready for the Jetsons Age just yet.

And as it turns out, there is a solution!

First of all, car manufacturers must realise that there has been a degree of culpability for the current crisis.  Pushing people to buy car after car after car, model after model, year after year - that has not really worked out all that well, has it?  Secondly, car owners holding on to old fossil fuel technology is not a desirable outcome either.  Yes it would mean less cars need to be produced and thus save all that impact on the environment - but the older tech creates a pollution problem of its own...

So what you want is for people not to buy your latest greatest car the minute it hits showroom floors, meaning a massive scaleback in automobile production.  But you don't want them driving 15 year old smogblowers, either.  And you definitely want to keep making money.  What to do, what to do?

Turns out, you have already made a market for yourselves.  In the last 20 years, front-wheel drive vehicles have become more and more common, as we realised that turning a tailshaft and rear differential was less efficient than putting all those components in the front.  Handling was affected, but it made for a cheaper manufacturing process because smaller engines could be used.  Engine computers also got more power out of those smaller engines.  Another saving.

The next thing that has jumped is the technology of batteries.  Currently (no pun intended) there are some fairly light and robust batteries out there, and soon there will be carbon nanotube supercapacitors that will dance rings around present state of the art.

Oh yes - and solar panels can actually be printed onto things now, cheaply and easily.  And motors and drive circuits can become very very very cheap and efficient.

And there you have your perfect market, the perfect way to be green, keep your cars on the road longer and with less pollution, and still have a product to sell:

You know how the computer is programmed in your front wheel drive small car.  You can put an aftermarket kit together, comprising a control unit that interfaces to the engine computer, a solar panel that fits to the roof, a set of batteries that fit under the back seat, and two new rear wheel hubs that have electric motors in them.

Now your front wheel drive small car can suddenly use less fuel, produce less pollution, and cost your customers less to run.  They still buy the kit, but many governments give a rebate for putting solar and electric power on cars so they don't face a huge cost.  Handling improves because a smart controller will assist the driver with the electric motors, making the cars safer.  You as a car manufacturer have a new product, and it will sell like hotcakes so you'll make up in volume for the sales of new vehicles you'll miss.

Don't think it would work?  No-one would be interested in an aftermarket kit that reduces running costs?  Just look at the mad scramble to fit gas conversion kits to cars.  The only thing is that car manufacturers lost control of the retrofit side of things, to freelancers.  But the need to intimately tie the electric drives to the car computers will give you a head start and effectively let you control this particular upgrade.

If you like my idea and decide to use it, feel free to.  But please also feel free to donate some money via my Paypal link so that I can continue to come up with new ideas...  

The Android Kill Switch And You.

Android android android! Apple brick, Apple wossname, Apple cinema! I think what really shits me to tears about the techie and gadget blogs is that they seem to ALL chew the same things into a tasteless mush.  Once you've heard for the fiftieth time that some tech company has been rumoured to say that the idea of a new tetris-playing left handed toilet roll holder that uses Linux and dispenses via SMS messages is not completely stupid so they must be about to release one - well, when you get that same crap served up for the 50th time without a single original or extraneous thought, you just want to vomit a little bit, then smash your computer and never use another one as long as you live...

As it has been with this - the nefarious Android Kill switch ...  I mean, come on!  Yes Apple did this and caused a shitstorm, and yes it's a bit shitty of Google to do this, but...  hey...  Are you guys hearing yourselves?  How hard was it to jailbreak an iPhone?  A closed source operating system?  So how long before the first kill switch killer appears, given this is open source?

Get over yourselves you boring little sensationalists...

....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to Open OpenID?

A blog post not so far in the past - I basically had the same kind of evaluation of OpenID - it is a good system b0rked by useability and trust issues.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm done bitching about OpenID and will not use it unless it's unavoidable, or unless its useability improves markedly.  Meanwhile, I've got a suggestion to make:

How about keeping a personal ID registry someplace - just as ICANN keeps domain contact info and domain info already?  Put it on the existing domain name infrastructure, you can then get on the Internet as an anonymous mug user who has to use usernames and passwords at every site, and if you want a common ID you contact them and pay for your screen name just as domain owners pay for a domain.

You would use an RSA active key synced to the root servers or to your local server, and that pretty much identifies you.  Even a USB key based one that sends a keep-alive to the server on a regular basis, that way you don't even have to log out - just take your key with you and that's it - logged out of the machine, the websites, everything.

Yes, you lose your anonymity but come on - with several million surveillance cameras, your driver's license, social security and tax file numbers, bank accounts, etc - how much privacy do you delude yourself you currently have?  Get used to it...  As far as I'm concerned the advantages of this would outweigh any potential to lose more privacy than I already have lost.

Yes - the RSA keys will cost - but on the order of dollars, not hundreds of dollars.  And yes, they are easy to lose - but (l)users will soon learn to have a bit of respect if they have to pay to re-register a new nickname and buy a new key every time they do something stupid...

And yes - there are hundreds - if not thousands - of spam and fake domains in operation despite the checking of namespaces, I agree.  But that's a quite a few orders of magnitude less than there are zombie machines on the 'net today that would be totally boned if the USB key was removed at the end of the user's session and thus cuts all legitimate communications between that machine and the Internet.

There are totally bogus names and details in the domain contacts list, too.  Yep, I'll totally agree.  But they do function as an identity - they evaluate to one user somewhere out there in meatspace, and that's really all we want here, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is That A Person, A Chimp, Or A Robot?

What rights does a robot have?  This isn't much important right now, I guess, because lets face it, our current robots don't do much more than blow themselves up disarming IEDs or getting themselves shot at to save having that happen to soldiers, or they sweep our rooms, or they dance cute little dances and play soccer.

The problem is that some people with artificial limbs have a better robotic limb than most robots have got.  And the line is gonna blur, very fast.  And before you know it, a machine with nothing more than a human's brain in it will be pushing the boundary and asking the Millenium Man question...

Trouble is, we're already in trouble before we get to robots.  Primates and large apes are being considered for actually being "people" - and that on grounds that are going to open a whole lot more doors...  They are being described as having all the requirements to be considered "people," such as self awareness, using appropriate forms of communication to each situation, tool use, and more.

Trouble is, by that standard there are other species such as elephants, crows, and dozens more - and they would also all come within their whiskers of the same definitions. They are self aware, have cultures passed on within social groups, use tools to accomplish tasks, use appropriate communication methods, have rudimentary "languages" to pass information.

Now to another consideration - we can take an animal, mess with its genetics, and produce a tiny organic robot, a machine designed to do just one or two specialised tasks.  Is THAT a robot, an animal, or a person?

The further you dig, the deeper you get in.  Suppose I had contact lenses, an artificial heart, prosthetic arms and legs, a plate in my skull, and used a steady flow of chemicals to manage things like immune rejection, digestive timing, infection, and whatever else.  Am I still human?  I'll tell you I am.  If you somehow managed to upload my brain and personality into a small supercomputer, it too would tell you it was human.

So scuse me for bringing it up, but someone has to.  Because, at the rate technology keeps leapfrogging, the moment when a human brain in a mechanical body modeled on a chimp will show up in the news and demand an answer to this question...

Added FeedBlitz

Hey all - I've put all the blogs together on FeedBlitz if anyone wants email delivery of all articles on all blogs nightly.  You can go to http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=245899 to subscribe, the feed for all the blogs seems to vary between 5 a day all up to maybe 2 a week sometimes.  All depends if I have access to the Internet, have time, and if there is interesting stuff going on in the world.

The blogs in the FeedBlitz email are:

TEdALOG Lite - General commentary, bullshit, yarn spinning, and what have you. I enjoy seeing such articles, and I enjoy writing them.  I hope you also will enjoy them. 
TEdADYNE Systems - Cyborg Ethics - with technology and our bodies seemingly destined to get mingled, what are going to be ethical questions we face, what technology is around to make it happen now?  Also, ideas for IT and technology - I tend to have quite a few...
Zencookbook Blog - Anything that's eco friendly, green, good for your body - this blog is a companion to the book.  Some ideas for sustainable living, occasional DIY projects that will save your money or your environment or both, and links to great green ideas out there.
TEdAMENU Tuckertime - Recipes I've developed, tried out, or enjoyed. Generally healthy-ish and very varied.  Some of them fit into the Body Friendly Zen Cookbook range, they will usually have a list of active constituents at the foot of the recipe.

You can also go to The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook site.  It's not a blog though (not yet, at any rate!) so it stays pretty static.  That said, I will be updating that site over the next few months though.

Please refer anyone you think might benefit from these sites - the ideas may well be just what some business has been looking for - in which case they are welcome to use them, if they will only attribute them to the right person, i.e. me.  Recipes for healthy easy meals - you're more than welcome to them.  A neat project for yourt home or garden that will save power, or water, or money?  Take the article and have fun!  And everyone can do with a laugh in their lives - so if TEdALOG Lite made you grin, I feel happy too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clever! Why Didn't The Aliens Think Of This?

... oh wait ...

Umm we thought of it!  It's funny, we have robot explorers on Mars looking for water and signs of life, but are we even sure what we'd be looking for?  I mean, maybe the Mars explorers have already run over something, maybe the spacecraft up there have already seen those elusive signs.  I mean - yeah, we could "land" an explorer on Earth and we'd see pretty obvious things like trees and ants.  But A) there are areas on Earth where a robot like a Mars explorer wouldn't see a single sign that something is alive on Earth.  And B) what about looking from up in space, a few million miles away?  Would we know a sign of life if it bit the satellite in the exhausts?

Luckily, we're now a lot closer to finding out the answer to one of those things.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

THE Breakthrough Killer App For GPS Phones - For FREE!

There's this concept for phones at the moment, that the developers say will allow you to see areas not directly visible to you.  The article is written in a slightly feverish puerile tone to make you think of peering through the walls of the ladies' room.  Big deal, really.  They're missing the two most important developments here.

One:  (which I covered in brief in this previous post ) details a concept much like the above already, which would provide "balloon help" of the form of social tags people placed, using their mobile phones, at specific GPS locations.  I said I'd pushed for the development of such a system four - five years ago at a particularly unimaginative and (as it turns out) loser company, but with added features.  More on this in a moment.

Two:  Which my previous post also sort of covered, is the use of images, not just text tags.

Please note that from here on, I'm doing it again - I'm revealing an idea that, had said previous employer taken the development on, would have meant they had a three year headstart on the competition, and if a cellphone or software development company were to take it on now, it would put them a year, maybe three, ahead of their competitors even now.   It's an edge.

And the idea that I had, and which is still applicable, is the leveraging the use of crowds, as all the best apps do, to provide rich content, which is what sells your application to consumers, for minimal cost - which is what sells the application to your accountants...

Take a device that's capable of geolocation, such as a GPS enabled phone or PDA.  Now make sure it has a camera on it as well.  That's all the end user needs.

Now take a server side software that can accept photos from those devices, which are tagged with GPS information, and pass them through a photo stitch process and can use salient features in the images to decide where to stitch, then use other GPS tagged photos (taken from slightly different locations) to figure out the orientation of the photo stitch, and each photo that composes the stitch.

You see the point?  I can now take a photo, the server compares it to existing pictures in my location as given y my GPS, and from that it figures out what direction I'm facing, what azimuth and elevation the camera was at.  No need for accelerometers and compasses.

In fact, the server can probably tell me to within three degrees, what direction my camera was faced.  More than that, it can now offer me a range of options to do with my location.  For instance, it can provide me with images that look like the walls are transparent, i.e. I can see pictures other people have previously taken of the unseen parts.  It means I am so much better prepared when I go through a door (for instance) wheeling a trolley full of documents, and won't snag on the photocopier just inside the door and to the left.

I also want to be able to view adverts for businesses in the building I just photographed, reviews of them (that's the social tagging part of the application) and see a gallery of pictures.  Did you just spot that?  "I also want to be able to view adverts for businesses in the building" the company building this gets to sell location based targeted advertising - and users are going to want it!  Because they want to know about that shop they're outside of.

Why are the users going to provide the content?  Well, to be informed of a place or feature they will need to take a picture of it.  That picture, if it's better than others or fills in a missing detail,  will become content.  And because we all have opinions and like to make them known, tags and reviews will flow in too.  A good piece of software will choose the most common themes out of the reviews and synthesise them into the popular voice, as well as providing anyone that wants it with all the original reviews and tags.  At data prices, but there you go.  Take as much or as little as you feel you need.

The utility doesn't end there though.  Suppose I wanted to go to Noddy's Noodle Nirvana in my home city of Nedlington, Nebraska.  No problem.  I search for Noddy's in the database using my phone, and it gets preloaded into my GPS/mapping function of the phone.  I can see pictures of the place and surroundings, find places to park nearby.  In effect, I've found my way to Noddy's before even leaving, scouted the layout, planned my parking or bus route, and I'm now on my way.

I arrive there, and Noddy's nutty noodle chef has set the place ablaze.  I'm trapped inside.  But the phone knows I'm there, and the fire alarm has triggered a message to my phone showing me where the exits are.  I make it outside and see the Fire Chief using his mobile device to call up a plan of the building, where the lifts and exits are, the hydrants, structural details, members of his team.  Anyone with a similarly equipped phone, the Chief is fully aware of where they are at any given moment, until they leave the mission zone.  Am I out in the muster area?  Trapped in a stairwell?  200 yards away and out of the picture?  My phone will have let the emergency teams know.  Need to access surveillance cameras and see what's happening?  Sure, the system knows where each camera is and if you have the clearance, you get to use them.

Is that not what a Killer App comprises of?  Useful, money-making, life-saving, simple to implement?   If you work for a cellphone or software developer and find this idea just grabs you, feel free to use my Paypal link and make a huge donation... %)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Smarter Traffic Lights Could Save The World

Following on from that previous post , about free electric vehicles:  If you're a mayor of a large city and want to reduce the pollution, the waste of fuel, the extra thousands of litres of fuel your citizens use every week, you may well want to commission someone to help you with a few road changes...

I've long maintained that a leading cause of speed and alcohol related accidents in cities occur at intersections.  You can agree with me or disagree, I just think back to how much detritus I see from accidents at intersections versus the rather smaller amount of broken glass at points along lesser roads.

Speeding to a light to catch the amber would have to rank really high on the list of intersection accidents, is what I would say, judging from the number times a day I see cars flashing across intersections just as my light is turning green.

So - given that computer power is dirt cheap these days, and software exists to examine an image for known outlines such as "car" or "motorcycle" or "truck" - why aren't there four or eight computers in that big ugly traffic light controller box at intersections, and at least two cameras pointing at oncoming traffic in each direction?

The average traffic light set is an embarassingly stupid pile of relays, and in the case of Perth, most of them worked on high voltage AC current until recently, and still had filament light bulbs.  Only recently have they changed to LED bulbs, which has no doubt increased reliability, but I'd say they are still on mains AC voltage...

Back to my point:  If a computer can compare the length of the traffic tails in each direction, it can adjust the green and red times of the lights to suit traffic conditions.  This would reduce the amount of time that cars spend standing still at lights, idling, wasting fuel, and creating an emissions congestion, a "stink spot."  Any easing in traffic flows has to save fuel and pollution, right?  In periods of low traffic, it can even make it possible for vehicles to flow straight through, using its control to cycle the lights more rapidly than it would during a congested period.

But the most important benefit is a hidden one:  You can see the speed of each individual vehicle by comparing subsequent frames of video.  That means that, even in the case where traffic is light, you would give a red light automatically to a single speeding vehicle, or a column of vehicles the majority of which are speeding.  You standardise the speed of traffic and make it easier to adjust the flows between lights, and you discourage speeding drivers who soon perceive speeding as being non-productive.

And because you have those cameras, if a speeder does run a red light, you have a nice pretty picture of them for their court case...

Free Car, Anyone?

If you got a free car offered to you, wouldn't you?  This article says that financial wizardry can somehow make that happen, that you can own a car for the same cost as repayments on a conventional vehicle.

I'm going to go a step further...

Imagine for a moment, that you are one of the countless suburbs dwellers who commute to work, using the bus and train services or your own car or a carpool car.  Whichever way you travel will cause pollution and greenhouse gas emission.  Electric trains are some way towards being much friendlier, and many cities have them.  But suppose you're not in the service area for a local train?

You'd take a bus.  Now I've seen diesel buses, petrol buses, natural gas buses, and hydrogen fueled buses.  Except for the last, they still emit unacceptable amounts of pollution.

So - suppose that an entire city decided to "green up."  What can they do?  Well - how about banning anything other than approved electric vehicles in the city centre, and major business centres?  Most businesses only need to transport staff around, and have a commuter workforce that generally comes from the suburbs, an average of 5 to 25 miles each way.  If you could put those people into the buses and trains, you'd achieve a major reduction in pollution.

Now suppose you gave each household (excluding flats and apartments) which is within the city a free electric car. It's not transferable, is permanently assigned to the house.  You can take just yourself, or yourself and your car pool friends, that's up to you.  You will have to pay electricity to recharge the car, and a surcharge fee to the local council or shire, and pay for damaged or lost vehicles.  But essentially you have a free transport.

Now make the city's centres a "no go" area for conventional vehicles.   Also, make major commute routes a no-go zone as well, cut down on conventionally-fueled vehicles in long queues.  People with their own ZEV/PZEV vehicles are permitted, people with their free electric vehicles will be permitted, and anyone who absloutely requires to use a conventional engined vehicle in those no-go zones may buy a permit by the year.

It would take only a few months to make a place green this way.

Where to get these vehicles?  Well, one of the reasons electric vehicles are so hella expensive is that they are competing on the road with much heavier, much faster conventional vehicles.  They have to be designed to resist a 250km/h impact even though any two EVs would only ever have a combined impact speed of about 150km/h, because conventional vehicles share the road with them.  Since you're taking the majority of those off the road with the permit system, you reduce the problem to near zero.  Most major roads have the capability to have an isolated "high speed" lane for permit vehicles, thus separating the traffic

Also - consider smaller electric buses.  LOTS of them.  Since most places already have a transit card system, you can make the electric buses a cheaper fare, afford to run tens of thousands instead of thousands.  Rely on the fact that work on new ultracapacitor batteries will reduce the time taken for recharging a bus down to a minute or two, and give enough juice to make it a viable means of transport.  Your old fossil-eating buses? Sell them to the people who want a mobile home.  (And can afford the cost of running them...)  Or turn them into emergency facilities that can be moved to where they're needed.  Nothing fancy, just kitchens and small surgeries and so forth.

One last thought.  Thousands of people lose their lives every week, in city traffic accidents.  The leading cause of these accidents is excessive speed.  If you want to reduce that death toll, this is another way to that goal.

Self-Defeating Devices 101 - classes in "what the?"

Unless there are an awful LOT of devices in your home drawing so-called "vampire power" (i.e. they still draw power even when turned off, as most TVs and audio equipment still seems to do) you might not see the value in this device.  I mean, it has to remain powered up in order to manage the other power points, and each power point where you plug in one of the remote receiver/switch units will be drawing vamp power itself.  Seems kind of pointless to me...

Solar. Now U Doin It Right.

First, a random thought about "poo humour." Why?  hehehehe when someone has an article like this one, why mess with the words "poo power" when they could just come right out and say "shitricity, fo shiz!"  Much better "ring" to it.  (oops, no pun intended.  yeah.)

UPDATE: Awwww crap!  Just too many articles on this topic for me to 'void it, must be a movement... 


UPDATE to the UPDATE: I've broken this out to a new post as today, the crap articles have flowed freely...  I'm flushed from laughing... 

Thoughts on suntricity (hehehe wish I could copyright this but someone else uses it as a business name already) as I read articles.  A certain company has been making the rounds with their tubular cells but they've kind of missed the boat on one or two things they could do to improve their product, in my book.

  • One, it's glass tubes.   At least flat panels have progressed to the point where they are warranted against 1" (2.4cm) hailstones for breakage, these tubes don't inspire me with the same confidence. Sorry...
  • Two, they do say it's difficult to manufacture their CIGS technology , especially in a tubular format.   See my suggestions further down.
  • Three.  Cylindrical format.  Ah-uh.  Sorry folks at Solyndra, there are two things I think of immediately.  First, you say there's some "reflection" off the underlying rooftop but unless you space the tubes well apart, there should be no such thing.  And if you do space the tubes apart to allow light through, then you're wasting surface area.  Secondly, the reflected energy is much less than the direct energy so it's not going to account for a significant increase in energy production.  
  • Four.  Claimed low wind loading allows the panels to just be sat on roofs without needing tricky mountings.  Sorry.  I totally disagree, there are any number of wind strengths between calm and cyclone that can lift surprisingly heavy objects off your roof.  I totally wouldn't just rely on "low wind loading" and friction to hold my investment of suntricity to the roof.  Low wind loading also has to be achieved by leaving bigger spaces between tubes, see "Three" above.
There are several things Solyndra can do though, to make their concept more of a market winner.  Here's my favourites:

  • If you can print cylinders with CIGS material, then you should also be able to print corrugated sheets.  Instantly, you still have the same "presents more area to the sun during the day" kind of curved upper surface, but now you also have the spaces between the "half-tubes" used to collect solar radiation.  
  • And cover the upper surface with some tough transparent coating, that will withstand a few hailstones.  
  • Lastly, get over the fact that you'll need to mount the panels, at least to some degree.  Look at it this way - corrugation lends a lot of strength to the material so complicated mountings are still not necessary, it's still cheap to put them up.  And you'd only have to produce the cells in 2" to 4" wide wiggly strips, then bond 36 of them to a corrugated backing sheet and you have an 18V panel.  No need for glass, either.  Some form of fibreglass or other rigid plastic would do the job nicely, and still be light, to boot.

Oh - look here!  Maybe you could talk to this company and use their film material to make your corrugated cells from...  Or take an idea from their process, which can be much more easily applied to a corrugated sheet than a cylinder.

Oh - and if you're making such cells, then for simplicity's sake produce the backing sheets in a size and spacing that will just lay on top of building material like ordinary corrugated iron.  Then, a corrugated iron roof can be easily clad with solar panels, and if you make your material conform to building code, the corrugated roofing can be made of just your solar panels, leading to a lighter roof that performs a dual function.

Oh - and one last thought.  Photovoltaic cells all have one other trait - they get less efficient the hotter they get.  Do yourself a favour, and make the backing sheet a structure with tubes built in, so that you can pass water through to cool the cells and provide hot water to the building the panels are attached to.  Two extra benefits for the price...

As always, if you work at one of these places and like my ideas, contact me, or make a donation using my Paypal link, or both.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Methanade?

You know what they say, "when the world hands you lemons, make lemonade" - well, I don't understand why there aren't companies piping this and using it to generate electricity or some other form of useful work.  I mean - it's going to end up in the atmosphere and doing a lot of damage if we just let it go, it wouldn't be possible to confine or convert it, so why not use it to reduce some amount of fossil fuel use?

A small, agile power company could probably make enough money on this to make it worthwhile, and collect accolades for being green at the same time...

It's A New Meme For Life.

Love the closing remarks on this article - spooky how synchronous things can be sometimes...

"Check your hair shirt at future's door. Sustainability and personal responsibility go well together."


Or this article , favourite quote: "Well, it turns out that small steps and individual actions DO make a difference."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fossett - Where Was His EPRIB?

Far more than the "mystery" surrounding Fossett's death, there's a question that bugs me - what happened to his EPIRB?  I'm not sure of the aviation law regarding EPIRBs on aircraft in the States, but I believe it's a requirement under the Law here to have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on aircraft, and they want to make the same thing law for watercraft at some point, too.

Thing is, an EPIRB is made to be pretty much indestructible.  It transmits a signal on a specific VHF frequency, can transmit continuously for days, and it's pretty hard for it not to be noticed because every aircraft checks the frequency, satellites monitor it, and groundstations have dedicated receivers on that frequency.  That's the beauty of an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter, another name for an EPIRB) onboard.  It's a very very very rare occasion that they fail to operate, and when they do, it's generally not long before someone's at the scene.

I can understand how a crash can occur in rugged country, given a puff of cloud or a laspe of attention.  Clouds in particular are dangerous when close to terrain.  Many pilots are familiar with the joking term "cumulus granitus" meaning a cloud with a montain enshrouded inside it.  It doesn't have to be a large cloud, they are surprisingly dense when you're in them, and amazingly large compared to how you perceive them from the ground.

I'll look forward to reading why the owner of the plane, one of the richest men in the world, couldn't afford to put a life saving device in an aircraft he loaned to someone else to trust their life to.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

There are some things that won't change.

Do you agree with this article ? Or like me, do you get an awful sense of deja vu?  Like, remembering the furore and hooha about - well, lemme see - oh yeah, um gopher and ftp - no-one would care about IP rights any more, civilisation was going to end, yada yada.  The World Wide Web - no-one would care about IP rights any more, civilisation was going to end, yada yada.  Music and file peer networks - no-one would care about IP rights any more, civilisation was going to end, yada yada.

Now it's the turn of VR (the technology of which, by the way, has been around since VRML standards were first laid down before the Internet had really opened its doors to the public.  Now all of a sudden there's the same crap, again.

"What's that thing?" 
"Ugh.  M-kalak made it, he calls it the World Wide Wheel.  It lets you carry big stuff all by yourself, easily."
"Oh great - soon no-one care about hunting rights any more, civilisation gonna end, yada yada.  Hey did I just invent 'yada yada?'"
"Ugh, yeah.  8 - ) <- (smiley face.)  Oh ugh!  Now I gone and invented SFSF .  Ugh!  And acronyms!"

No shit hey?  Whenever anyone invents something, someone will use it for evil?  Where did you ever get that idea from?  And it's up to us as individuals to make sure we don't get evilled?  What a radical idea!  You mean, like, we need to look out for ourselves, no Government nannies to intervene for us?  G'wan, get outta here!

:UPDATE: Seems that maybe VR insecurities are the least, and least relevant,  of the problems that face IT departments and companies today.  Some people just have no respect for IP rights, civilisation's gonna end, yada yada.  

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Inventor For Hire.

I remember, back in 2004, saying to the people at the company where I worked, "This would be right up our alley!  We already produce one of the best 3D GIS type applications, and the hardware to do what I'm thinking surely can't be too far away."

The lethargy and ennui was palpable, it was a bit like speaking to a bunch of fish heads at the local seafood shop.  Glazed eyes, mouths slack, and definitely no sign of interest.  What was I referring to?  That soon, mobile devices would have GPS built-in, that we already knew how to extract significant details out of an image file, and that more and more images were going online, of places of interest.

So if you know the GPS location of a PDA, and you have a picture taken by that device at that spot, you could quite quickly and easily extract salient features, and figure out what the picture was of, and send back information on that particular feature.  Add the image to your stock of images of the place if it showed any improved salient feature information.

Then - four years later, I see this.  They've added the ability to add social tags and info.  But in general, I can only say "f*ck you, my former employers, for being so reticent to try something new."

Wouldn't be so bad if it was a one off, but it's not.  It's one of a long string (probably close to several hundred if I stopped count, much as that would annoy me) of ideas and concepts I've had, and of which a few dozen then surfaced in real life, some with quite compelling success.

So if you're a person or company not averse to possibly developing the next Killer App or Killer Device, talk to me.  Tell me what you do, and I'll see if I can find you a new WorldCam.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quantum Leap For Lasers?

So it looks like the defence forces in the USA will have tactical lasers to add to their armoury in a year or less.  And their own admission is that they will not really be a humane weapon at all, it seems that they've taken a step backwards here. 

Honestly - does this sound humane?

"[F]rom what we know, the Air Force considers laser effects on eyes and skin, for the most part. Skin damage is very much easier to achieve than penetration; simply raising skin temperature to (say) 80C/ 180 f to a depth of a couple of millimeters will cause serious blistering (second-third degree burns). If 40% of the body is burned in this way, then the target will be disabled and may die."

Ummm that makes the tacticla laser a weapon which is surely never intended to actually be used against a human opponent?  Therefore, this weapon must work by increasing the fear and terror of the enemy.  And that kind of mkaes it a weapon of terrorism doesn't it?  How ironic...

Here's a thought for all those people out there thinking up bigger ans nastier ways to kill other people - the laser is an effective weapon because it aligns all the waves of the light.  But the photons comprising those entrained waves are still spread out over a considerable distance.  Now that science has proven that they can slow down photons, think how much more "pew-pew" a laser would be if, instead of delivering all those photons in an entrained wave but temporally disparate, and instead concentrated the photons into a single event...  At least it would punch a hole through the target rather than slow broil them...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Society killzones, a population control mechanism.

What if the killzone is inside you?  What if, eh?  In high school I had a biology teacher who gleefully referred to the penicillin barrier as "the kill zone."  I often wonder if he had more than an inkling, and if his not yet felt inklings coloured my life.

The "kill zone" is that ring of penicillin you paint in the agar-agar growth medium, to prevent whatever you're culturing in the centre from reaching the edges of the petri dish.  The smudge of living fungus, or whatever that you put in the centre, multiplies happily until it reaches the barrier, where it's stopped.  Works great for non-airborne things, and I spent most of my time peering at the throngs of bugs I grew, never having to worry about them getting loose and contaminating other experiments, other people, or myself.

But since then I've discovered that we humans have a lot of built-in kill zones and barriers.  For example - try to think about a truly infinite Universe - at some stage you'll run into a place where your mind won't go further, outside of which you just can't comprehend. 

For example, if I tell you the Universe is infinite and so is Time, you'll nod and say "ah yes - and it's curved, too" without really batting an eyelid.  Then I'll ask you whether you believe in God or The Big Bang.  "Oh yeah!" you'll say, "I tend to believe " whatever theory you follow.  And then I'll lead you into the place where we can't cross...

See, if the Universe and Time really are infinite, then at some point in the Universe, at some time, there will have been or is yet to be, a moment when God creates the Universe.  And wherever or whenever in the Universe that happens, it will by default become true in the entire Universe...  So the theologists will rub their hands gleefully and will politely point out that this shows how entirely pruent it is, to live a good Christian life.  Just because, once and wherce this happens, it will become The Law.

At which point I'll happily point out to them that by the definition of "infinite possibility" there must also be a whence and wherce, in which the Universe appeared in the blinking of a Big Bang.  And that too, once or wherce it happens, must also become The Law.  Ditto for Buddhism, zoroastrianism, spontaneous generationism, and "it just happened"ism.  And, indeed, for EVERY conceivable scenario of Universal Creation.  In fact, there MUST be a place in the Universe where it's not true that the Universe is infinite, too.

They're all true.  And when it sinks in that you can't conceive that, not at all, you'll have found one of your mental killzones.

Similarly, it seems there are biological killzones in living creatures too.  I've read about an experiment done with rats, which demonstrate that while there's biological pressure to reproduce and prosper, there's also a killzone which comes into effect when populations grow too large.  Rats were given ideal food and water conditions, in a strictly limited amount of space. 

First few generations of rats flourished and prospered in Rat Heaven. Then as the population pressure increased, their society began to break down.  Mothers stopped looking after infants, stopped keeping healthy clean nests, and often went out and got pregnant immediately they'd given birth, abandoning the litter.  Fights and squabbles became more callous and deadly and were fought more often, over next to no provocation.  Rats sought escape in repetitive addictive behaviours. 

Look - that is a piece of research I can't recall where I read it, but it impressed me even back then when I read it, because of the parallels I saw in human society.  All species have a drive to "live long and prosper" but apparently we also have a killzone which says "enough is enough" and then kicks in.  Honestly, look around and see the increase in the same sick-society symptoms as those rats showed.  We're well on the way to rebalancing our population. 

I have a theory that the increase in the speed at which we can get from place to place has something to do with a perception of a greatly increased population, and therefore the "life is cheap" symptoms creep in.  Also, we probably communicate with between 10 and thousands more people than our ancestors, so once again we experience much the same population pressure as we would if those people were all living in the same place as us.  And I'm guessing that whatever mechanism causes the socialisation failures in us is being tickled by this huge perceived population.

Maybe autistic people have developed the ultimate coping mechanism...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Genie We Didn't Want.

Here's a scenario.  And here's my thought about it: Turning our collective backs on technology as "too dangerous" is never gonna happen.  Here's another NYT article on a similar topic.  Doping athletes should be legalised.  Dope-free Olympics?  Is never gonna happen either.

As the latter article points out, voluntarily turning our backs on a competitive edge is not going to happen. Athletes are just going ot get into an escalating race to find the undetectable dope, officials will attempt to find the infallible test, and athletes are going to keep doing it, mostly without being detected.

Similarly, any new technology like robotics with tremendous capabilities, farming advances that promise to triple yields, and weapons research, are never going to go away.  Always there will be many groups clandestinely working on the technology and applying it, and trying to devise ways to find out if "them others" are breaking the agreement that we're using to our advantage - by breaking it ourselves.

In Olympic doping, the athletes are undergoing a transformation, and altering their bodies for performance.  In general technology, we're altering the world in profound ways, not all of which will end happily.  As I say in another article though, we're going to keep doing both, messing with our bodies and with our world.

Maybe it's part of our evolution, that we'll have to engineer our own bodies to withstand the rigors of the harsh world we're creating with technology.  Maybe that's the fate of any species that dabbles in technology, maybe this is that genie that can never be put back in the bottle. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A History of the Future of Tech

Technology marches all over every aspect of our lives. Not in a bad way, but still...

I'm going to pose a question or two, see what you think.

In my last post I mentioned that so much has changed so fast. In fact, I'd venture to say that the last 200 years have seen more invention and advance than the rest of human history together, if you list each of our scientific/technological/biological/mathematical/whatever achievements.

This chap along with Shockley Brattain and Bardeen made the first transistors a possibility. He helped develop the first working practical transistor in his early 30's and passed away a few days ago aged 91.

Question 1: Do you reckon Morgan Sparks could have predicted how fast the world would take to his invention and miniaturise it to the point that any 1000 top end laptops made today probably contain more junctions than all the discrete transistors ever manufactured?

Question 2: What was more effective at changing the world, the unleashing of the awesome power of the atom on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the mid 40's, or the unleashing of the amount of data, information exchange, and communication speed made possible by these four men in the early 50's just a few years later?

Kind of thought-provoking, huh?

Question 3: Do you think that the effects of nanotechnology and genetics/geneticmod and other fields is being similarly underestimated today? And will arrive a whole lot faster than the current electronic technology has?

Okay - another one for you. Given the iPhone and the trend it has started among others, what's left for the mobile phone industry? Keep in mind that mobile phones have all but killed the wristwatch industry to the point where they now have trouble avoiding the red in their figures, and that mobile phones have become more and more like micro versions of tablet and UMPC style machines.

Can I suggest something?

It won't be too long now before biotechs and nanotechs and genetechs experience an epiphany event - when they realise that together, they can create something that far exceeds the humble microchip in capability and capacity. And best of all, they will realise that it can be built right inside the most complex machine we know, ourselves. At that point transistors, microchips, mobile phones, computers, laptops, UMPCs, and the whole slew of devices we are used to seeing today will become as irrelevant and scarce as wristwatches...

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