cultivate culture

Joseph Rotblat
February 23, 2012, 9:27 pm
Filed under: physics, politics, Science, society, technology

A great bio doc is out now on his life. I watched it and was inspired to write this pseudo-summary piece:

Take a look at some other PeaceMag articles, too. It’s a solid publication.

Heads or tails: Approaching the fate of Bitcoin
June 6, 2011, 9:33 pm
Filed under: politics, society, technology

So apparently this already hit the tech world but this is the first time I and maybe you are hearing it. It hurts my brain. A currency of cryptographic keys exchanged on a peer-2-peer network (i.e. a DECENTRALIZED currency). Unclaimed keys are being exhausted as people scramble to crack them using the standard ‘check every possibility’ strategy whose efficiency depends on how much computing power you have. To gain possession of bitcoins (as the currency is called) people are spending REAL $ on buying super PCs (stuffed with GPUs!) to dicpher the keys because they think bitcoins will be worth something. Why do they think so?

The ability to crack a bitcoin key drops with the keys size because of the impractically large amount of computing power required to crack longer keys. In fact, there is a publically known practical limit to the amount of currency (about 21 million bit coins, a ceiling we are appraoching with diminishing returns and will eventually hit by 2140). Thus the bit coin CAN NOT BE INFLATED. It’s supply is fixed, kinda like gold, where the limited supply ensures demand and thus value, so long as everyone agrees they want shiny stuff. So long as people keep thinking that a DECENTRALIZED, UNINFLATABLE currency might catch on, and so continue to spend REAL $ to accumulate bitcoins, the value of the currency will grow.

Bitcoin value has risen one hundred-fold in the last 8 months relative to the USD, a fact that has scared the banks and even the technocrats themselves into calling it the most dangerous open-source project ever created. See this nice sum up  for the juicy details on why. “What? Me worry?” I say, “Pfff, these techy visionaries are so off the mark! The infrastructure required to sustain such a currency won’t survive the global crackdown, let alone the consequences of the failure of the bee stock.” You gotta look on the bright side 🙂 Then again, if you’re one of those anarchist traders, this is about as good as it gets.

CG is simultaneously errie and pretty
September 16, 2008, 4:08 am
Filed under: art, Music, technology

I dig the digital revolution in the aesthetic of video media. Computer Graphics (CG) made eerie and beautiful. A case in point is Tetsoo (e.g. bloo). However, there are many more. For example, my old friend Jonathon and some gifted friends came out with this.

Kinda makes me want the matrix to exist, just so we can crash it.

LHC: A dawn or dusk for tens of thousands of physicists?
September 9, 2008, 12:24 am
Filed under: physics, technology

Physics is the study the physical world and what it is made of. So what is it made of? The ancient Greeks (in their togas and brilliance) came up with, among many other things, the idea of an indivisible piece from which all other matter was made. They called it the ‘Atom’. People like Einstein did research that helped this concept become a reality at the turn of the last century.

Then, people started finding smaller parts within the atom, the concept applied to even smaller scales: an electron around a nucleus that itself was made of protons and neutrons. But the Greek’s concept of the ‘true Atom’ kept physicists searching. To delve deeper, they had to resort to what at first glance seems ridiculously brutish: smash a known particle with another and watch the pieces that fly out. Nevertheless, a large proportion of physicists have devoted the last 60 years to doing just that. A ‘smash’, however, is only as good as the ‘umph’ that each particle brings to the collision, so physicists have been making larger and larger ‘accelerators’ in order to get more energetic collisions.

Enter the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This accelerator is able to smash particles together with up to 30 times more energy than anything ever built. In fact, it will be able to get down to scales for which we only have theories. For that reason, the tens of thousands of experimental physicists that that have devoted their careers to the LHC will be joined by the tens of thousands theorists that have for over the last 30 years developed theories that predict what everyone will see when it is up and running.

The LHC begins to turn on this Wednesday for the first time. Needless to say, it is a serious event for alot of people. Decade old theories will soon triumph or be tossed.

The human element is interesting here. Being the skeptics that they are, the community has prepared itself for failure. Research beyond the LHC abounds. However, what if the soon-to-be-tested theories are right? Plans for any new accelerators may be axed for lack of need. That’s a lot of people out of work.

That’s science.

Tune in this Wednesday at 9am to see the fate of those CERN scientists.

For more info on LHC’s ‘first beam’, click here.

For an interactive picture explanation on how the LHC works, click here.

Postscript: So the day has come and gone as a success. The first full on interactions will be in a couple weeks; give it a couple month for good data; and until the beginning of next year for publishing results.

For Nick: For the views of some popular theoretical physicists as to what the LHC will find, see the Daily Telegraph article (Thanks Willy)

Vision for 2020: blow yo’ ass up with space lasers!
May 11, 2008, 11:40 pm
Filed under: society, technology

FIve years ago, I got into the anti-“ballistic missile defense” movement after flipping through two documents that I just refound on the net.

The first was a report by MIT and the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Counter Measures” (the document is hundreds of pages, but they have since made a short video :), you’ll need realplayer). It argued that the system is doomed to fail both technically and practically.

The second was “Vision for 2020“, a United States Space Command document from 1996 outlining their goals from missile defense up to the year 2020. This document showed BMD as only the first stage in a plan that leads the US into “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments. Integrating Space Forces in war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.” Also, it writes the “control of space is the ability to assure access to space…and an ability to deny others the use of space, if required.” The image on page 15 of a satellite laser weapon blasting what is very clearly Iraq supports this notion of preemptive attack through space.

At that time, Canada was being asked by the States to join the missile defence system. Working with other students and with the help of the group Science for Peace, we did a public lecture on the issue. I really got into it. That Halloween, I even dressed up as BMD:

So, five years later, I check in again. What’s happened since? Well…

In 2005, Canada, through the words of Paul Martin, officially ‘pulled out’ of missile defense shield. However, it seems this was more of a gesture to quell public dissent than to actually affect policy. Canadian companies, scientists, and military have continued to work towards manifesting a missile defense shield.

In 2006, Bush and the US government came out with a new “National Space Policy“. Unfortunately, it’s even more aggressive (encouraging a move to “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage.”).

Nevertheless, there have been some specific decisions by the Canadian government slowing the advancement towards the militarization of space. Most recently (just a couple days ago), Industry Canada blocked the sale of Canada’s space industry’s star company, MDA, to Alliant Techsystems, a big arms manufacturer involved in missile defense. MDA is the developer of the Canada Arm and Radarsat II (a superduper detection system). This move should not be taken lightly. It is the first time in the history of the country that Industry Canada has blocked any such sale (where both seller and buyer were in agreement). Though this move was not directly against missile defense, it shows that the Canadian government cares about the soviergnty of its space industry, and that soviergnty conflicts with the vision for 2020.

So in closing, the last five years seem to have strengthened the argument that missile defense is much more about industrial relations and growth, than about potential enemies and the capability to defend against them. There may be some people that think those political and economic benefits (to some) warrant taking steps towards the weaponized space envisioned in VIsion for 2020. I still don’t.

The future of computing
January 22, 2008, 9:35 pm
Filed under: society, technology, Uncategorized

This is an oldie but a goodie. Gershenfeld, half visionary, half techno-zealot, puts the do back in dork. Computers will no longer just be for information, but will be used to change the physical world (aka digital fabrication). Two points:
1) Digital fabrication is perfectly suited for personal product production. That is, you biuld what you want.
2) Digital fabrication is a great way to solve local problems, locally.
Yet another TED gem

Modern Metropolis
December 4, 2007, 8:29 pm
Filed under: society, technology

Upon entrance to Berlin Hauptbahnhof:
Wow. I feel like I’ve stepped into the well-oiled machine that is Germany. The Berlin main train station is right out of what I imagine the glory days of Metropolis would be like. You know? Like the feel of one of those gigantic fancy stream-lined expresso machines. Maybe it’s just because there was an eerily worn poster of the classic film on the wall in the hostel I just dropped Carmen off at…but I’m surrounded by things that give that sense of technological ‘triumph’: multiple sets of rows of tracks each extending out into different directions and layered on top of each other in a structure too big to seem to have a roof. But, sure enough, looking up through the gaps in the crisscrossing network of escalators, the full glass ceiling shines back, as if from man-made heaven, reassuring us feeble humans that despite the monstrosity of the whole affair, the futurist’s complexity is still neatly packaged, tamed, and manageable, at least in principle. Would Lang be proud or petrified?