Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

I recall a commercial where the fellow was selling oil filters for cars or something like that and the reason for spending extra on a high quality oil filter came down to the statement "Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later".  This meant if you do not invest in the higher quality oil filter now your engine will wear out sooner and the financial cost will be greater than what you would have paid in the cost of all those high quality oil filters.

Today on the Wired Science Blog a story about the probability of a massive solar flare was posted. Here is the link to the abstract of the article

I think this prediction is a good argument in favor of converting our power network to a distributed model where individual power consumption nodes all have very small and independent footprints.  Doing this is possible right now for residential dwellings by using solar panels to generate electricity and using earth-heat-pumps to keep the temperature inside the dwelling manageable. 

This prediction is also a good argument in favor of switching over our data network to be optical, away from electrical.

The 'Pay-Me-Later' part of this could be a catastrophic event that takes down the Age of Information. 

The 'Pay-Me-Now' part is the realization that changing how the power grid is structured and moving to an all optical data network is very expensive.

My expectation is that we will worry about this a lot in the coming years, and if we are lucky, and the event does not occur too soon, then we will have adopted, for the most part, infrastructure changes that allow civilization to persist across such an event when it does happen.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One More Post About The Brain

This post is lifted from my response to this blog post: On Agnosticism vs. Atheism


I think about this idea (a lot).  My approach is from the angle of how the brain works.

Something everyone (everyone who is ok with natural selection) can agree on is that the brain evolved to (at least) enable organisms that move around to successfully negotiate their environment.

Success in terms of natural selection means persistance across generations.

A good basic definition of the brain is that it is an organ that can take in sensory inputs and turn those inputs into motor activities that allow the organism to get around.

From a algorithmic standpoint the brain has to model the sensory input in such a fashion that it can make good enough predictions of the future to allow the organism to successfully get around.

On thing that can not occur is that the algorithm goes into some sort of infinite regress, or loop.  It must always resolve things.  Getting 'stuck' when considering how to move around the environment can result in diaster which the prevents persistance across generations.

There is a great book out, "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer, that goes into just how far down the rabbit hole of resolution the human brain can go.  One of the main points of the book is that the brain evolved to make snap judgements on poor data because making the error of false positive when analyzing risk is selected in favor of while the error of false negative is selected against because it can result in the organism becoming lunch for some other organism.

Religion and  and the Scientific Method are seen to emerge differently.  Religion is a very natural and even hardwired attribute of the brain.  We have to resolve things, we can not become stuck so we make stuff up when necessary to accomplish this.

The Scientific Method which is by definition more methodical, does not naturally emerge because it requires a lot of safe leisure time to execute.

It is very difficult to shed the evolutionary heritage that gives rise to concepts like God and other such fantastic beliefs because these keep our brains from 'locking-up' and are deeply ingrained in how the brain works.

So when posed the question "Does God Exist?" my response is:  "There are lots of answers to this question and here is how I rank them, in order correctness (least to most):

1 - Yes
2 - No
3 - I do not know.
4 - I do not understand the question.
5 - It is worse than that (response 4) you do not understand the question either.
6 - Let me tell you how the brain works and this will explain why the original question makes no sense."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why the Brain Exists and How it Works

Here is a grand video, a Ted Talk by Dr. Daniel Wolpert:


The video goes into detail on how the brain does the thing that it evolved to do.  And that thing is to enable the organisms to successfully negotiate its environment.

The brain being a short-term modeling engine that predicts the future is made very explicit in the video by Dr Wolpert.
This type of analysis about how the brain evolved and what it  does and how it does it is critical to understand cognition at every level.

Before the brain is anything else it is an engine that allows a motile organism to successfully move around. After that an analysis of the brain from the viewpoint of how creatures with a brain can be successful and how natural selection drives the evolution of this engine is covered very well in Michael Schemer's book "".   

News From the Year 2022

A friend sent in an email message recently:

"... today we woke to find that AAPL market cap.was greater than both that of MSFT and GOOG ..."

Given what Apple has done in the past ten years this is right on target.

I've been impressed with Apple for a long time.  This email is being composed on a Macbook Pro, Evelyn uses and iPad and between the two of us we have 5 iPODs (one of the three iPods I have is the Ipod WIFI which is basically a hand held computer).  Evelyn also has a Macbook air and our family has an iMac 24 that we use when we need a larger screen.

I do note that Microsoft announced recently that the Windows8 OS is now up and running on the ARM core.  

Now on to 2022 ...

I think this development from Microsoft (along with the Google tablet/smart-phone OS) means that we will see in the next few years an explosion of tablets, and other devices, like we have only imagined in the past.  

This explosion will result in the tablet becoming so ubiquitous that they will no longer 'belong' to to a particular person (not my tablet or my wife's tablet but our set of tablets, or our home's set of tablets) ... 

When you 'pick-one-up' it will "belong" to you as long as you are using it and when you set it down it goes back to being 'anyones'.  You impress your content/style-of-use on the device by pointing it to some cloud store that contains your preferences (roaming profile) by perhaps touching it with a fob that you carry with  you or perhaps it can read your finger print and you literally just touch it.

All this will result in a profound shift in how we view and use computing devices.  Your digital-identity will be something that you impress on the things around you, your car, your phone, various tablets/keyboard-devices.  

The distinctions between a television/telephone/computer/music-video-player will will just fade away.  Whenever you are near one of these things it will 'belong' to you in that all your 'content' will be available from it without having to worry about shifting it around manually.

As far as paying for all of it you will 'pay-by-the-bit' for content sent or received.  If you need synchronous voice/video/text rather than asynchronous then you pay more.  If you can 'wait-for-it' whether it is communications or content then you pay less.  I think this will result in people naturally moving toward asynchronous use modes.   

In ten years we will be as far beyond where we are now as we are beyond where we were 20 years ago. (2022).

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

East Coast Flyover By IIS

Every now and again I check the web site. If the orbit of IIS is just right, a bit before or after sunset the reflection of the sun on the IIS makes for a beautiful sight. The IIS appears to be a fast moving very bright star as it passes over. 

If the IIS passes over later at night or later in the day you can not see it since the sun is either blocked completely or the sun is in the sky and the light does not reflect down to the earth.

So what do the folks in the IIS see when they fly over the planet at night ... Below is the video of made from many still pictures as the IIS flew just off the east coast of the US. Here is the URL of the video on Vimeo.COM Also here is a blog post from Bad Astronomy which gives a very nice commentary of the video.


Vol nocturne de la station spatiale internationale au-dessus de la côte Est de l'Amérique. from ASTROLab on Vimeo.