Monday, December 29, 2008

Proof by contradiction

Proof by contradiction is an argument style in which you prove something to be false by assuming it to be true, and then showing how this leads to something that clearly isn't true. The obvious falsehood proves that the original assumption cannot be true. Let's try it.

Let's assume that I am Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln is dead. Dead people cannot write. Therefore, this blog was never written.

Since this blog is written and you are reading it, I am clearly not Abraham Lincoln. (For our non-American readers, Mr. Lincoln was America's 16th president, who died in 1865.)

My favorite use of this was Bertrand Russel's argument about how if one allowed enough false assumptions, one could prove any absurd thing. His student asked him to prove that he was the pope (laughable, as Mr. Russel was an atheist) given that zero and one were the same number. (This assumption would have many other hilarious implications.)

Since 0 equals one, I can add one to both sides to get the equation 2=1. The pope and I are two separate individuals. But since 2=1, I and the pope are actually the same individual. Therefore, I am the pope.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Accelerate Sleeping

Most Americans, myself included, are not getting enough sleep. Maybe your job demands too much time, maybe your back hurts sometimes for no apparent reason like mine does. Maybe you're too worried at night to sleep. What is sleep? Why is it important? And can we somehow do it in less time?

All animals with a brain need to sleep. Kind of. Fish sleep by entering a semi-conscious daze, the kind a human being experiences when being shown a really boring slide show. If a danger emerges, the fish will swim away fully awake, but the fish can't really concentrate on details like the presence or absence of food, react to mates, or tell you what color this rock is. (Although the last one cannot be done by the fish when it is fully awake, because fish cannot talk. And are kind of stupid.)

So all animals need to sleep, despite this being a glaring obvious weakness in both predator and prey. Predators lose track of prey when they sleep, and prey are easily eaten if they are discovered. Nonetheless, a brain stops working correctly in a state of sleep deprivation. We humans are not an exception just because we invented civilization and changed the very face of the planet. No, not even to land that sweet, sweet, million dollar deal. You must sleep. Even dolphins, who would drown if they stopped swimming, have developed an elaborate system of being able to sleep one half of their brain at any given time just to make sure they can. Sleep is that important.

While awake, our brains have a particular pattern of electrical energy, the beta wave. If we get drowsy or meditate, we get a different pattern, the alpha wave. In an alpha-wave state, you are relaxed, but suggestible. Should you go to sleep, your brain wave will slowly shift to a third pattern, the theta, then to a slower pattern, the delta. Your brain shifts around its information, cutting its useless connections, strengthening the useful ones, and storing important memories in long term memory. This cycle lasts for a while, then it reverses. Your brainwaves speed up again until a beta-like pattern is achieved. But you are not awake at this point. You are paralyzed and dreaming. This happens seven or eight times per night, but you forget most of your dreams. They are not important. However, some studies say that your dreams can help you with the problems you face during the day. Russian cosmonauts take a nap if confronted by a frustrating problem, because it's easier to think of a solution while asleep. Video gamers note that if they game very heavily that day, the game will appear in their dreams.

In humans, sleep need actually decreases with age. Fetuses are basically nearly constantly asleep. An infant needs to sleep 16 hours per day, a child needs 9-10 hours, and most adults need 8. But we're not getting 8 hours of sleep, and in our groggy state suffering vehicle accidents, stupid behavior, crankiness, and incessant weight gain as the body figures that the lack of sleep indicates some kind of desperate emergency that it needs to preserve every calorie to survive. (Yes, your body is wrong about many things that go on in your daily life.)

So maybe sleep could be accelerated slightly. There's a theory of brainwave synchronization, in which listening to a tone matching your current brainwave would encourage your brain to follow the tone, which then slowly slides to the desired brainwave. You would put on a pair of headphones, lie down, and listen to the beta-wave tone. (Since you are awake and not meditating, your are almost assuredly in the beta wave.) As you relax, the tone starts to shift to theta, putting you to sleep. It slides down to delta, and your brain repairs itself. It slides a bit faster than you would change states naturally, encouraging your brain to work quickly. After a few REM cycles, it shifts to alpha and then beta to wake you back up.

I'm hoping this allows eight hours of sleep to be crammed into six, but find this dubious. There's no reason that the brain would necessarily follow a tone just because it heard it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aztec Engineering

I recently sat through a series of documentaries about world civilizations, and came across an interesting realization: Most of the maddest engineering projects undertaken worldwide have been for one singular purpose. That purpose being: Look what I can make, neener neener neener. They boast of a people being smarter and wealthier than the others.

But almost every civilization has had at least one mad project seen to completion. The French had Versailles and the Eiffel tower was quite insane for its time. German architecture was considered amazing in the middle ages. Even the Aztecs had a number of interesting projects, and many of my previous beliefs about them were proven wrong.

I had previously believed that the Aztecs had settled in their capital, what is now Mexico City, thousands of years before their demise in 1519. They had elaborate stone structures, and yet never discovered the wheel, which was a basic invention to most world civilizations. They also made a number of changes to the land around their swampy lake.

In fact, the Aztecs had been utterly nomadic before about 1200AD, and had built their grand city that so impressed the Spanish invaders in just 300 years, working out elaborate systems to make the swampy soil that they built on able to withstand the immense weight of such large structures.

I also assumed, since they were known to have elaborate porter systems, to have had their water delivered by runners carrying pots. They could not use the lake the built around, because the lake had brackish, undrinkable water. They did not have metal, so pipe wasn't available.

Instead, they independently invented the aqueduct, of a similar model to the one that kept Rome from getting thirsty. They knew enough about hydrology, stone cutting, and gravity, to keep a stone trench flowing all the way to their city. I did not know about this, since all of the structures that they built were totally destroyed in the invasion.

Foreign policy ultimately did the Aztecs in. When the Spanish arrived, every other tribe in the area sided with the Spanish against the Aztecs. Disease and superior technology damaged their civil and military abilities until they were forced to surrender, and their capital, Tenochtitlan, blasted to rubble. The Spanish drained the lake, built Mexico city over the ruins, and in their newly founded colony of Mexico, forced native people to dig gold for them until they revolted for independence hundreds of years later.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Last time I took a friend shopping, it was a very frustrating experience, because she wanted a pan without PTFE, and all of them had it.

There's a very practical reason. PTFE is better known by the name its inventor, DuPont Chemistry, came up for it. They call it "Teflon." It is a slick, plastic-like substance that can be stuck to a metal surface. Once the surface is coated, nothing ever sticks to it again. This is appreciated on cooking pans and pots, because cleaning now means a quick rinse. A PTFE coated surface is waterproof, easily cleaned, and electrically insulating.

However, my friend is suspicious of the other side of PTFE. If heated to 260C (500F) it decomposes into a bad smelling gas that mildly poisons humans, who experience "flu-like symptoms" and poisons birds to death in short order, since they are smaller and have more fragile lungs. My friend is a bird owner, and concerned that the "flu-like" effect may be cumulative.

Now that temperature is unlikely, since it is significantly above the "smoke point" of most foods. A food heated to the "smoke point" emits awful-smelling smoke as it burns, irritating the eyes, nose, and sensibility of anyone around.

Because of the temperature concerns, I'd prefer to use PTFE in room-temperature applications, of which there are plenty. A PTFE coated floor would mop up without a need for soap. PTFE is easily used in firearms, making bullets that do less damage to the gun when fired, so the gun lasts longer. (No, contrary to rumor, a PTFE bullet is not armor-piercing.) If I could coat my toilet, it would be literally self-cleaning with every flush.

More madness when I have time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


In George Orwell's 1984, the nation of Oceania, where the novel takes place, comprises what in our world is the United States, Australia, England, the rest of the Americas, and a few other areas. The novel is set in London. The mostly English speaking nation is under a totalitarian dictatorship that seeks to replace English with a more significantly impoverished language, Newspeak, which would lack the linguistic tools needed to even contemplate rebellion. English is slowly phasing out as an irrelevent "Oldspeak," with the implication of being obsolete.

In this new language, old documents that would inspire rebels will be reduced to laughably contradictory piles of nonsense, say the literature students. I disagree, as I reject the Sapir Worf Hypothesis, and believe that some meaning can still be preserved. As an example of this, I'm going to translate the declaration of independence into Newspeak, a task the Sapir-worf followers have deemed impossible. (Because statements like "All men are created equal" would turn into the obviously and hilariously wrong "All mans same.")

Sometimes government ungood. People need destroy government when government work ungood. Position is not as natural, but should made as natural. When people leave government, they should say why, and government stopping is ungood.

We Bellyfeel this: All mans should same powers. All mans should have power to live, to do things, and try to be happy. State exists to give this, state power comes from all mans, and mans has power to change it or replace it. Mans should replace unbellyfeel state speedwise.

England coldplus unbellyfeel mans for a long time. We tell world.

King unaccept good laws we need.

King stop congress make law because unreason rubbish.

King make congress meet in unreason place.

King make congress go home for unreason.

King stop election, because he is a jerk.

King let foreign jerks in, and not let us stop it.

King stop court from make justice.

King make judge obey unreason rule.

King's thugs slept in our bed and ate our food. We unenjoy!

King make forces bother us.

King make forces rules follow over ours.

King let forces kill us, king ungoodful stop punish.

King not let us buy. Ungood!

King make ungood taxes we unenjoy.

King ungood punish for unreason.

King take us strange places for unreason punish.

King make arbitrary unreason rules near us too.

King take away our law.

King unlet us talk about law.

King unstate us, war unwith us.

King destroy our boats, ruin beach, destroy our towns, and killed us.

Now king send large foreign forces to kill us. How unmanful ungood!

King push riot on us, push riot on Indians.

We ask King stop humbleful, King unstop. What ungoodwise person!

We ask fellow British help, because we think they good manful. They unhear. Therefore, we war them until they hear.

Because this, we, who represent United States of America, say we are new state, unconnected England. This as should be. We unhear English King. We have power to War, Peace, Friend, Sell, and do all other state things. We promise do hero to protect United States.

I promise to change this translation if anyone finds a word that doesn't exist in Newspeak (like if "unhear" would be "unlisten" instead), or would produce a nonsensical result ("Enjoy" meaning "suitable to government").

FIRST EDIT: Oops, "honor" doesn't exist. Replacing.
SECOND EDIT: "Listen" has been replaced with "hear" to mean "auditory understanding." All instances of "unlisten" replaced with "unhear."
THIRD EDIT: "Army?" More like "Forces." Also, "hero" is a better description for what the politicians offer their new country. The oldspeak "stupid" replaced with newspeak "unreason."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Emulated Horror

So one interesting blog I've been introduced to, Overcoming Bias, has been running a number of discussions about producing simulated humans, which can run copies of the brains of educated people, so that companies can immediately hire the copy, as it doesn't need to go through the extensive educating process that most people would have to. The author seems to think that this scenario is, essentially, inevitable. But I find it horrible. Allow me to elaborate.

In the scenario, emulated people must "rent" bodies. These bodies function the same as my biological human one, but merely being "born" (Ie: copied) does not give you ownership of your body. If the emulated person fails to pay rent, they get evicted. Without a backup of some kind, this would be death for them. Now in a good economy, this death is unlikely, as the emulated person is "born" educated and ready to work at a high paying job.

Now presumably, the original controls when copies are made. None of the scenarios described how copy-making is controlled, but obvious problems can be found if corporations were able to "copy" people against their own will.

However, the economy doesn't always stay good. Let's say I make ten copies of myself, and all eleven of us get computing jobs. Then the market changes. There is a depression. Some of the companies decide that they can no longer afford parts of their IT department, and 5 of us lose their jobs. There's no IT work to be found, and the replacement job at McDonalds isn't quite paying enough. The copies are behind on payment. Uh oh, here comes the collection agency, here to kill you and steal you body and brain!

I don't think my copies are going quietly. Aside from stealth movement out of the country, they'd probably resist attempts to erase their brain. Fairly violently, if need be. It's hard to claim it's not justified, seeing as failure would mean death. Now you have five people who have no reason to cooperate with society anymore. This is a bad thing.

Aside from that, I also predict that it would utterly commoditize labor. Let me bring up two profiles of prospective workers. Pretend you're a hiring manager, looking for a new IT worker.

The first one is a famous, well-known man, has worked for MIT, IBM, and Kerberos. He has made many contributions to the Linux kernel, including the filesystem, but also has considerable experience with Windows and Macintoshes. He's had near-continuous working experience since 1990, and thanks to the copying technology, a new copy wants to work for you.

Our second candidate just graduated. He's had on and off jobs, but nothing serious. He's in bad standing with some of his clubs, which he hopes to pay the respective fines soon. He doesn't like his current job -- he thinks his boss's habit of making sure he comes in on time is insufferably fussy. Your company specializes in his latest major, which is why he's interested in the job. Actually, the original version of him got hired by a small company, which inspired him to make the copy, which is now providing you his resume.

The first candidate is Theodore T'So, legendary programmer. The second is from a deliberately bad resume that I dug up to demonstrate a somewhat more ordinary candidate. (I wanted an ordinary, just graduated student, but found no such resumes. Curious.)

In a world with emulated people, I imagine everyone is going to want the legendary candidates, and nobody is going to want the ordinary kind. Depending on how many copies Mr. T'so makes of himself, they might or might not fulfill this. With the market saturated with legendary workers, wages go down, and opportunities will be hard to come by. The surplus of skilled jobs will go away now that there are more skilled people to work them, never mind that these new people are simulated. For the non-legendary, there are few opportunities, and society offers you little. Chaos ensues as they chose from a number of awful choices, like begging, welfare, and crime, none of which are socially helpful.

To say nothing of Indian programmers, which would now be out of favor due to the difference in time zone and culture.

Worse, every downturn there will be simulated people fighting off the collection agencies, who have rather literally come for their heads.

As one last consideration, a rich enough simulated person would be, effectively, immortal. If I assume that a person could run themselves on a hard drive, I could copy my brain into a RAID-1 setup. As long as I or the copy could afford a new hard drive, a solar panel, a submarine battery, and a shack in the middle of nowhere, the copy would live forever. Forever. The original me would die of old age and the copy would go on right as before. For hundreds of thousands of years.

If it could manufacture its own hard drives, it could outlive humankind itself. If not, lack of ability to buy storage media to replace corrupted old media will be the thing that eventually lays it low.

Also, if I could buy myself a duplicate body, I think I could send the duplicate on missions to other planets. By myself, it'd be a fool's errand, as I have work here that I can't just abandon for 60 years, but the copy has no such restriction.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Irony of Jobs

Before this crisis, I heard many speculators claim that the United States had a shortage of skilled labor and a surplus of unskilled labor.

Unskilled labor were jobs that anyone could fill. Clerk at McDonalds. Bathroom janitor. Little training is required. Many of these jobs don't even need you to have graduated from secondary education yet. However, since everyone can do them, competition for them is fierce. Having the job can mean the difference between affording an apartment verses living under a bridge. Only so many of these jobs are available, since companies and people are only willing to pay a certain amount to get the bathroom clean.

Skilled labor requires university degrees, and prefers working experience. Doctors. Lawyers. Engineers. System Administrators. Scientists. Obtaining the human capital needed to work the position was a long and expensive prospect, which is why few people qualify. These people make vast amounts of money for the company they work for, and there is an nearly endless hunger for them. At least, for the ones who are provably good. Nobody's that interested in a shoddy engineer.

Scholarships would be a promising way of solving this disparity, but who would fund them?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The US, indeed, the world, is in economic trouble right now. The subprime mortgage bubble burst rather abruptly, and quite a few institutions were heavily invested in things that, to everyone's surprise, had no value whatsoever. Here in the states, the government is bailing out several companies, to the delight of some and annoyance of others.

Jobs would be key to resolving this problem, as additional jobs would mean additional spending and consumer confidence. Unfortunately, since the banking industry has been heavily involved in this crisis, there is a bit of a credit crunch. Everyone is too scared to lend money, which decreases the availability of both spending and jobs.

This problem may have started in the US, but it has extended to the entire world. Iceland's banks are mostly bankrupt from their involvement in the subprimes, and they've dragged the entire Icelandic government into bankruptcy with them. European banks are failing. Chinese factories are closing for justifiable fear that they will be unable to sell the goods they produce. (Justifiable because the US is their #1 customer, and the European market also buys a lot, neither can afford to buy as much anymore.)

Trying to trace the source of economics, in this case so that we can restart it, has always given me a headache. I'm frankly, in this case, reminded of Terry Pratchett's "Making Money," in which the main character reveals that the economy of ( the fictional nation in which he lives) is basically just one entire flimflam. A confidence game. Thinking about it, currency is essentially an excuse to reward people for working, so that people can have things and distribute them in a "fair" way. This drives libertarian-types absolutely bonkers, and they advocate a return to metal-backed currencies over the law-backed ones that currently exist. I don't think that would really change anything.

It's my opinion that the government's bailouts should attach to actual equity of the company, so that the executives that caused this mess will have to frantically re-earn their position by buying it back. Unfortunately, the United States has always been wary of government involvement of businesses, fearing that strong control may lead to totalitarianism. The bailouts will likely continue with no consequence to the parties responsible for the problem, which leads to "moral hazard."

"Moral Hazard" is an economist's way of saying that if a person escapes the consequences of their actions, it will inspire them to more irresponsible behavior. If you had an insurance policy that gave you a million dollars if you broke your leg, you might be less careful about keeping your leg unbroken. (Or you may even deliberately break it if you need the money. It's happened before.) Likewise, when you control the payroll, why not give yourself an unearned raise? If this leads to loss of confidence in your company, it's not your problem because you can go retire to Tahiti and your successor will just collect money to stay afloat.

Now I suppose it would be equally bad to leave corporations afraid to take any action lest it bankrupt them, but there must be some consequence to failure. Society fairs poorly when it tolerates double standards.

Also, I hear that the infrastructure could use a repair here. We should reinstate the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) to try and boost consumer spending and reduce unemployment.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A quick thought about cars

In a world where OBDC-II exists, why the hell can't my car automatically check itself up?

And while we're at it, I should install one of those automatic tire-inflaters too.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Auto Clean Bathroom

If there's one thing modern people all have in common, it's that they all loathe to do housework and yet feel it's necessary, because nobody likes a filthy, disorganized living space. So I'm starting automation plans so that it gets done for you and you can do more important things, like your job, your hobbies, raising any children you have, or maybe finishing that great work of yours.

The bathroom is a room of entirely fixed features. There's a toilet to dispose of waste, a bathtub or shower to clean off one's body, and a sink for hand washing. All of these tend to collect the filth they remove from your body and periodically need to be cleaned, a nasty chore frequently mentioned in rants about how people hate housework.

Since none of these move, and cleaning consists of the exact same motions every time, automation is fairly straight forward. Robotic arms attached to the ceiling can, on a cue or timed signal, lower a scrubbing brush with a cleaning-solution squirter, squirt solution, scrub, and flush away. Human maintenance would only involve installing the system, setting up the cue (Press button to clean, or "Run every day at 3am"), and refilling the cleaning solution tanks. The brushes should also be interchangeable, as they wear out with use. They will need to be replaced when that happens.

The toilet's cleaner consists of a squirting nozzle and a brush. Squirt solution on the side of the bowl, then swirl the brush down the around and down the bowl until it reaches the bottom. Then flush. The toilet is now clean. Raise this arm back into the storage position.

The tub's cleaner first has to slightly wet the tub, in case it's dry, then lay down a bleach powder. It should wait about 5 to 10 minutes, then lower a brush arm, and scrub the powder around. It should then rinse the powder off, whereupon it will take away all the dried soap and dirt with it. Then store the scrubber heads.

Sinks would consist of a similar treatment to the tub, but less extensive and with a shorter waiting time.

Lastly, the tub should have a plughole cleaner, because people often lose hairs while showering without noticing. (At any given time, 90% of your hair is growing and 10% is falling out and being replaced with a new hair.) Removing these hairs often gets quite disgusting, as the hair is wet and dried repeatedly before the user notices. By the time it's cleaned, the hair is a vile smelling, soggy mess. Yuck.

For best results, the shower should be seal-able, as this allows the user to enjoy a hot shower with less hot water, doesn't steam up any nearby mirrors, and prevents mildew from forming.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Antibiotic Resistant

When antibiotics were first invented, they were hailed as a magic bullet that would solve all disease forever. Miraculously, the same pill cured a number of diseases at the same time. Infections killed many fewer people, as the bacteria that caused the disease could not endure the chemical onslaught.

Unfortunately, the laypeople thought that antibiotics were effectively magic anti-disease pills. Even today, there are people who want antibiotics prescribed to them to cure colds, which are caused by viruses and not affected by antibiotics. Agriculture has been giving animals antibiotics for a prophylactic use, and none of this happens in a vacuum.

Bacteria existed before humans, and would easily survive almost all the events that would end humans. They reproduce every 15 minutes on average, and have a long history of chemical warfare against each other, and adaptation to survive harsher and harsher environments. It wasn't long before one bacteria genetically developed a way to survive the presence of antibiotic drugs. People using the antibiotics in strange ways gave this bacteria an advantage, since stopping and starting the treatment gave it time to recover and spread its genes to the non-resistant. (Bacteria are capable of sharing some of their genes by swapping, even without reproducing. This sharing helps them survive environments that change frequently.)

Nowadays, antibiotic resistant bacteria are quite common, and more and more antibiotics are becoming useless. There are even bacteria that require antibiotics to survive. Researchers are using this by making genetically engineered bacteria that require antibiotics. Should the bacteria become contaminated with unwanted genes, they can be killed off by ending the supply of antibiotics. It also keeps some of the wild germs out. However, this is quite bad for us, since the usual means of treating disease isn't working so great anymore, and if somebody comes to the hospital with a serious infection, they could die of it as easily as before antibiotics were invented.

This are two pieces of good news here. One is that an alternative has been developed. In the Soviet Union, antibiotics were in short supply, so doctors there developed viruses that destroyed common bacteria, and went inert when there were no more bacterial cells to infect. They call this "Bacteriophage," from "Bacteria," and "phage," Greek for "eating." Bacteria do not have any real defense against bacteriophages, which adapt and change like any other virus. The down side of that is that bacteriophages are specific to the type of bacteria, and must be specially developed. The process isn't difficult, but does involve culturing the original disease, identifying it, and injecting the patient with the correct phage. The process takes at least 2 days.

The other piece of good news is that antibiotic resistant bacteria gain their resistance at a cost, and are, in the absence of antibiotics, weaker than their non-resistant brethren. Pre-antibiotic treatments should prove extra effective, particularly eating sterile food, drinking sterile water, rest, and perhaps non-antibiotic drugs, if available. If the patient avoids antibiotic drugs, recovery is likely.

What you can do to keep antibiotics useful is to use them only when a doctor tells you to, to follow the instructions exactly, and to finish the entire prescription even if you feel better. (You feel better before all bacteria are destroyed.) This way, you will not breed antibiotic resistant bacteria. If you are a doctor, phage therapy shows significant promise.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Operating Systems

Yesterday, a man asked me what the point of operating systems was.

It's technically possible to do without one, and the first computers had none. The first computers were designed to do one task, and one task alone. If you wanted it to do a different thing, you had to rebuild the computer.

The first development consisted of storing not just the data in memory, but the program too. Now it was possible to have different programs, although only one at a time, and they still had to be written in direct machine language (which is a pain in the ass for even professional programmers.)

Finally, simple operating systems developed. Now you had a standardized environment, adaptable to different computers, that could accept programs written in higher level languages. The personal computer was now possible, although it still didn't happen yet, because computers were still too expensive.

Time-sharing was the next obvious idea, because the institutions that owned computers had many users, and much of a computer's time was spent waiting. One could divide the CPU's attention between all the users in such a way that each could feel they were the computer's only user. This was far more productive -- instead of running one process at a time, one process that spent most of its time waiting, now the computer was running thousands of processes in tiny slices of time. Each ran as fast as if it were the only one, so more of the CPU's time was spent working instead of waiting.

When personal computers became more common than servers, GUIs became popular. The Graphical User Interface (GUI), is more popular than the alternative (Command Line Interface, or "CLI") because most people can point and click faster than they can type. A few expert users prefer CLIs, certainly, but they're a minority of users. Of course, time sharing was still incorporated, because users do want to do more than one thing at a time.

A modern OS must do the following:

* Manage resources such as drivers and memory so that no two programs claim the same piece at the same time (which would be extremely bad.)
* Control the disks so that programs can merely manage files, not disk blocks. Files are simpler for the program.
* Control what program runs when (how much priority does "My budget spreadsheet" have over "Play music" or "Solitaire"?)
* Make sure that no resource runs out. (You get warned if you run low on memory.)
* Manage caches to speed up all access
* Provide a standard interface to programs so that program writers don't have to worry about that crap. Also, programs operate in a similar fashion, so it's easier for the users.
* Be able to stop programs that endanger the operation of the computer (such as programs with endless loops, programs that try to alter each other)
* Most recently, attempt to stop malicious programs, like spyware and viruses.

OSes have significantly bloated over the years. Windows Vista requires more than a gigabyte of RAM to run, and even the tiniest Linux wants 16 megabytes. By comparison, the first personal computer operating systems ran in a few kilobytes. Admittedly, priorities are different now, since memory is now cheap and expansive, and user time more precious, while back then memory was painfully expensive and had to be conserved at all costs.

There is one reversal to this. Microsoft is planning a new release of Windows, which they're only calling "7" for now, which can be installed in 25MB. More typical usage requires 250MB, which most users definitely have now. Why the sudden interest in efficiency? While the typical desktop machine has increasingly expanded capability, there is a big market in notebook computers, which are kind of minimal in capability to maximize battery time. There are also embedded computers, which have little memory and no hard disk, and often boot from specialized Read Only Memory (ROM) chips. Microsoft definitely has an interest in increasing its share of notebook and embedded markets. (Embedded computers are used when the computer will never be directly used by the user, and are typically contained in another device, like a car. The car contains a computer, and you never directly use it, but the car wouldn't work right without the little computer.)

So in short, if you like your computer to do more than one thing, more than one thing at a time, if you like having a variety of cheap programs, and you like your programs to have some standardization, like "CTRL + Q" for "quit" instead of whatever sequence a programmer felt like using today (ESC + CTRL + W + Q + 8), then you definitely want to have an operating system.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Home power

The average home uses 1.5kw of energy. Traditionally, homes connect to a city power grid that sells them electricity from generating plants. Customers are charged per "kilowatt hour," (as in, 1kw * 1 hour, a unit of energy equal to 3,600,000 joules). I have heard prices quoted as low as 5 cents per KWH, and as high as 20 cents per KWH. Assuming 10 cents per kwh, the average home's bill is 36 cents per day.

However, with a few clever technologies, these homes could easily power themselves. This would prove a major advantage if the grid ever shuts down, as it does during earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters, or as it sometimes does by accident. (Sometimes areas of the grid spike with power and must be shutdown to avoid destroying equipment. Sometimes the shutdown is an accident, but it takes a while to start up again.)

Solar power varies by insolation. In the United States, western Arizona gets the most sun, collecting 6.5 KWH per square meter of panel per day. A region near the northern section of the Idaho/Montana border gets the least at 3 KWH per square meter per day. If homes in these two regions wanted to power their homes by solar panel, backed by large batteries, the home in Arizona would need 6 m^2 of panel, but the home in Idaho or Montana would need 12 m^2 of panel.

Diesel powered generators are common for emergencies. They are not frequently used, as they produce only about 400 watts, require constant fueling to run, and are noisy, stinky, and inconvenient. Still, many people have them because it's better than not having power.

Radioisotope power really comes in handy. An organization, the Idaho National Laboratory, currently makes radioisotope electric generators for spacecraft. These consist of cylinders, about 6 feet long and perhaps 1 foot in diameter, which produce a slow, constant source of electricity from the heat of nuclear waste. Each cylinder produces 300 watts of power with no radiation. (Aparently, the waste is mostly alpha emitters. Alpha radiation could not make it through the outer jacket. In fact, if you held an alpha-emitting metal in your hand, your skin would block all the radiation. Just don't eat it.) At 300 watts each, 5 cylinders would power the home, and could easily be stashed in a basement corner and forgotten.

Wind power is possible in some areas, but only where the wind blows reasonably consistently. I can think of only two places where this holds, one is in South Dakota, one is in California, and both are somewhat free of housing at the moment. Wind power would use quite a lot of space, so probably isn't a good idea for housing power.

Prior experiments have proven that home generated power is perfectly compatible with grid power. In fact, most regions require the utility company to buy back power you produce should use produce more electricity than you use. In such a case, your electric meter literally runs backwards. The utility companies complained bitterly, and most have significantly slowed the rate at which the meter turns backwards, but it does indeed turn backwards and does indeed reduce your bill. In most of these regions, they had little reason to complain. California passed such laws in hindsight of a massive brownout problem due to a lack of capacity, and the utility company's argument looked very stupid indeed in light of that.

Since most grid power in the United States is powered by coal and hydroelectric power, conserving this has a major environmental impact. Coal smoke smells, and lower demand means less burned coal.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Paper reactor

A few posts ago, I joked about installing a paper reactor. Such a device would be a small fireplace that burns paper, and extracts the energy to do useful work or make electricity.

Paper tends to burn very quickly, due to the high surface area and low volume. Still, a large organization could probably provide a constant supply of unwanted paper to keep it going. A single person, such as myself, would quickly run out of such paper and have to supplement with something else, such as wood, or garbage.

The device would consist of a fireplace-like chamber with small holes in the bottom. The holes not only vent air up to provide the oxygen for combustion, they also let the ash from burned paper sink out from the reactor to free up space. Below this should be a ramp to a waste chute. Ash might make good fertilizer, but I doubt anyone will care to collect it.

Above the fireplace chamber will be a chute that unwanted paper enters through and a method to use the heat, of which I know two. One method is to have a tank of water, which boils from the heat, the steam turns a turbine, generating power. The other is the stiller engine, which moves a piston based on the end near the fire being hot and the end far from the fire being cold(er). Either way, wires should then carry the power to the main grid. The burning chamber should also have a vent for the smoke to the outside, because otherwise smoke will escape up the paper-receiving chutes. The turbine method should also have a condenser that cools the steam back into water and bring it back to the tank, since otherwise one would constantly have to vent steam and refill the tank with a hose.

I estimate that a large businesses burned paper would generate about 500 watts of power. They would also appreciate the additional security, since they often destroy papers that could damage them if stolen by shredding, and this would provide a second obstacle to reconstructing the papers. (Yes, one could technically reassemble a shredded paper. It's harder if the paper is cross cut. It's much much harder if the paper is burned. It's nearly impossible if the paper is cross cut and then burned. It's utterly impossible if the waste chute splits between multiple receptacles.)

Auto Trash Collection

Human living in the modern age involves some waste. Reasonably clean people try to keep theirs contained to avoid interference with their life. There are many wastebaskets that must periodically be emptied into larger sources. At least once per week, most homes have a garbage pickup day, where a company takes the garbage from one place to a landfill.

On the garbage pickup day, all the trash must be centralized at the pickup point. If all containers are the same, then this can be done robotically, saving 15 minutes of work per person.

15 minutes that I hope they use to improve the world.

As for the landfill, it would probably be a good idea to have a hobo rifle through it for useful things (such as metal) sometime.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paperless society

In other automation news, the one task that I have to do most often that annoys the living hell out of me is organizing the tons and tons of loose papers. They are everywhere. My university sends me papers. I get mail, much of it unwanted crap. Some mail must be destroyed because it could be used to steal money or credit from me, thank you very much credit card spams. College and government demand forms, often in duplicate, or worse, triplicate. There is easily twice the weight of paper than humans in my house. There are also too many books. Handwritten notes are common from places where I had no computer available and still needed to keep a record.

Much of the tasks now on paper could be done on computer. For instance, the 1040-EZ, a "fun" little US Government form that determines how much tax you need to pay them. Despite being perfect for computerization, it is only offered as a PDF file to be printed out and drawn on with a pen. A computerized version could also handle the few calculations involved (add line 23 to 53, subtract line 19, and multiply by the square root of line 89. Well, okay, it's all add and subtract.) A computerized version could even auto-transfer the money at the end thereby relieving me of all responsibility there. (Every year, on April 15th, the date US taxes are due, the post office has to stay open until midnight because large numbers of people insist on waiting until the last possible second. The people working there can't be pleased by that. Nor do I think the IRS is pleased at having a burst of forms on April 16th to fuss with.)

The savings in paper would be immense. The college, government, and spam forms are often sent by mail, meaning that the government subsidized mail carriers had to physically carry it to my house, put it in my mailbox. Electronic forms would be sent as a signal over existing wires, for a savings of 43 cents per form.

Also, computers can more easily be organized. Items can be moved around in batch according to patterns in their content. Were I blind, computers can read many forms with a synthesized voice, whereas paper forms require their own reader, often a friend of the blind person. (Yes, there are OCR devices for blind people that can help them read paper. I don't imagine they're easy to use, especially if one inserts the form upside down.)

If I get any more paper, I think I'm going to invent some kind of paper-burning reactor to deal with it. It would produce energy through the heat difference, and....


The world's farthest away greenhouse

20 light years from our own solar system is a red dwarf star, Gliese 581. Astronomers have confirmed the existence of 3 planets around it. The tradition of naming for planets around stars is to name them with the star's name followed by a letter, starting with 'b' for the first planet. (Because the star is 'a.')

Gliese 581b seems to be a gas giant around the size of Neptune. Gliese 581c seems to be similar to our planet Venus, but larger. Gliese 581d is in the habitable zone, and is speculated to be similar to earth, with liquid water and more. All three are likely to be tidally locked due to their proximity to their home star, meaning that they have a day side that always faces the star and is lit constantly, and a night side facing away from the star that is dark forever.

I think we should send a probe to Gliese 581d, which would broadcast video of circulating the planet when it arrived. It should then land, construct an airtight greenhouse, fill a tank with the local water, and plant the seeds of earth plants in the greenhouse. In the remote chance that Gliese 581d has native aliens, they would probably find this interesting (organisms from ANOTHER WORLD, sealed off so it won't harm us, holy crap!), and if they don't, then we've kick started terraforming the place in case something happens to earth. (Probably the greenhouse would, at some point, leak, and carbon dioxide and methane are gases likely to be common on other planets that plants can use)

Now since Gliese is 20 light years away, and the absolute maximum speed we could manage is about .8c, if we launched this probe tomorrow at top speed, the probe would land 25 years from now, and we'd get the video about it radio'd to us in 45 years. Also, this would cost multiple millions of dollars. Still, awesome, right?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Auto Mow Lawn

Every suburban house has a lawn. Once, lawns were a symbol of luxury, as it meant that you were wealthy enough to employ a gardener for no good reason. But since then, lawns are now maintained by homeowners because they're fun to walk on and everyone else has one.

Using the same logic as vacuuming robots, let's have lawnmowing robots that wander the yard, snipping the grass as they go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auto Make Bed

Making beds is a trivial chore. It takes ten minutes at most if you're particularly persnickety about your bedding. Nonetheless, it's a daily task, and even 30 seconds a day can really add up over time.

I propose a series of grips tucked away in the ceiling. On signal, they reach down, probe to the corners, and flip the blanket open as a human would. Repeat for every layer.

Pillows can be fluffed with a pneumatic rod under low pressure.

At completion, the grips can fold hospital corners for fancy people.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Automated Cooking

In medieval times in the west, cooking involved stirring things together and baking them. It was slow work, done by hand. Many bakers worked, because it wasn't practical for the average person to spend 6 hours a day stirring bowls of bread dough and shoving it in an oven. (Yes, there were other cooks that made things that weren't bread, pastry, and cake, but these were the big staples. A very large number of people could barely afford bread, pastry, and cake on holidays.)

Today, there are still bakers, but many of them have been replaced with mixing machines and food processors, because paying someone else to cook your food is expensive and annoying. We don't mind the slight loss of unemployment, because being a medieval baker sucked. Being a modern baker is significantly more fun, because now you can create loads and loads of food that many people will eat, instead of working 12 hours a day just to feed one village.

What else could be done to help out in the kitchen? Certainly more than the existing works, which help prepare the food, but can't help anymore once the heat is applied.

Let's start with ingredient selection. Raw ingredients can be kept in pneumatic tubes and delivered from a signal. Ingredients that should be stored cold would start in a refrigerated area, of course.

An auto-stirring device would be appreciated, I reason from my own experience. Many foods need significant stirring as to not burn on the bottom of the pan and cook evenly. I can't use most chemistry solutions to this, such as magnetic rods spun by a second magnet below attached to a motor, because the heat would damage any magnet involved. In addition, many foods are acid and would absorb an excessive amount of iron.

I can, however, use the industrial solution of a rod attached to large "wings," and rotate the rod by small motor. I know that this can be made not to melt or dissolve in the food, because "wings" exist that can survive being plunged into molten metal. Stirring would be done by yanking the device down into the pot. A non-corrosive metal should be used, or at least one with favorable nutritional properties.

Ovens should have a temperature probe that it can insert into the food and read. It could display this on the front of the oven, for the chef's convenience, so that it is no longer necessary to open the oven to see if the food is ready. Also, it would help if they could automatically turn over some foods, such as meats, say with a fork-on-a-jointed-rod that could be stabbed in, and torqued to deftly turn the food over. This would, again, be controllable from outside the oven, or, for greater automation, computer signal.

Most chefs enjoy distributing and laying out the food, but automation is again possible. A turkey-baster like device could collect fixed portions of soup or other liquid foods, large meat-and-vegetable portions could be cut with knives and placed on a plate with a tong-like device, and semisolid foods such as mashed potatoes can be automatically scooped.

A cook's least favorite part of the meal is cleaning up afterwards. Most foods leave behind residues of food on everything they touch, and should this residue remain untouched, it would rot and stink up the whole kitchen. In the bad old days, one would have to get a tub of water and soap and scrub the food off with a cloth or brush. Sinks mildly improved things, and dishwashers majorly improved things. Restaurants even have industrial dishwashers that can continuously load plates, wash them, and unload the plates for the incoming customers. (Most restaurants do not need to run them perpetually, but they have that ability if needed.) My own dishwasher is terrible, requiring the user to do 99% of the washing before finishing the job, and would literally cook the food onto the plate if given a dirty one directly. I will replace it sometime in the foreseeable future with a more recent design (which doesn't do that), but what can be done about all the dirty pots, pans, and other things that can't fit in the dishwasher?

I could have a cleaning robot that, on signal, comes out of a hiding place, scrubs all unused food from the utensils, vacuums the debris into a holding chamber, and gives a quick wash, soap, rinse, and dry. It would then place the utensil back into place, dispose of the dirty liquids in the sink, and return to storage. I imagine it being spider-shaped, with many legs for stability, several strong manipulators so that it can pick up heavy pots, scrubbing arms with attached bristles, a soap dispenser, a vacuum tube, and a chemical "nose" trained to recognize scents of common cooked foods. It would seek to the source of "cooked food," lift the source with the manipulators, scrub on all sides with the scrubbers, vacuuming each surface before turning. (Although if it does spill anything, there are four models of mopping robots on the market.) It would then apply a small amount of water, soap, scrub, more water, vacuum. It can rub a cloth on a utensil to dry it, then put it down. When it cannot find "cooked food," it should walk to the sink, which I assume can respond to a signal with another one, helping it find it, and eject the vacuum chamber's contents down the disposal. It should also be able to activate the water-flow and disposal by signal, stopping when the grinding reaches a certain tone. (The disposal sounds different when working empty and when grinding food.) It should then return to storage, where it can clean out the vacuum chamber with a wash or something, refill the water and soap, and possibly have the pads and cloth changed.

A somewhat larger robot spider could collect plates, and place them in the dishwasher. The dishwasher could be automatically run at certain times.

If all of these are computer controllable, one is now never too tired to cook, because now one can have preprogrammed recipes made for you with no effort on your part. Chefs that enjoy cooking can have their least favorite parts automated and manually do the rest.

The market for pre-packed food, (Better known as "TV Dinners" because they were invented when TV was new and therefore anything related was clearly a must-have thing made of pure awesomeness), would now be limited to people who genuinely like the way it tastes, and not the no-time-to-cook people or I-don't-know-how people that buy it now.

I also predict many interfaces for this, using a front end and a back end. The back end would actually direct the machines according to prepared instructions. The front end would have a nice user interface familiar to the user, and would list choices. There would be many front ends. A windows user unfamiliar with computers would have a DINNER icon on their desktop that they would double click, and it would provide a list of buttons with large pictures of the food. They would click the one that interested them. An adventurous UNIX user's front end would be a command-line script with a "-random" option that selected a random cuisine, which they would run daily from cron at maybe 5pm daily so that they could sit down to a new dinner every night by 6pm. (cron is a UNIX program that allows you to run programs at certain times, such as "6pm every day," or "every saturday at 12pm," or even "once a minute.")

Friday, October 24, 2008


Lately, I've been changing what question I ask people for more information. I used to ask them what the worst problem in the world was. Most of what came up were sociological problems that can't be solved with chemistry, machines, or anything I know anything about.

So now I've been asking people what task they'd most like see done automatically. Surprisingly, rather than list household annoyances, most people named things that were aspects of their jobs.

Would doing these things automatically take these jobs away, or lower their pay?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Retraction Corner

So it seems a number of my ideas just aren't going to work out.

The melting of the north pole did not occur as fast as was predicted. It was predicted to have completely melted by September of this year. It is now October, and there is still ice on the pole. Less than there was before, and it's still decreasing in an alarming way, but ice remains.

The Radioisotope car would work if most people drove it for what it was, a dangerous and powerful machine. Unfortunately, a look into urban traffic quickly shows that people make excessively risky maneuvers with their car all the time. When their car is powered by hydrocarbons, the way it is now, the absolute worse case error involves their car exploding, potentially killing everyone inside it. Sad, certainaly, which is why they tell you to drive carefully, but not risky to anyone not directly in the car's path.

Radioisotope cars would have a small amount of nuclear waste in them. This waste could be contained so that it would survive a collision with another car without damage, say by using a tough metal alloy. Nuclear waste is currently transported in containers that could survive a direct hit with a minor explosive. Unfortunately, I imagine that if I actually made and sold radioisotope cars, that some fool would attempt to "race the train" by slipping through the safety bars that urge you not to do that and try to make it through the intersection before the train goes through. Trains often go as fast as 90 MPH and weigh hundreds of times more than any car. When a very large, very fast moving, very heavy object collides with a lighter object, simple physics can tell you that the lighter object is going to be pretty much destroyed. So now we have a hazmat emergency, because I can't think of any material offhand that could survive being hit at 90MPH by a train. Raw plutonium on the road would be a horrific emergency for the entire city.

Also, due to power-to-weight ratios, large trucks and large SUVs would be far more practical to isotope-power than station wagons. This style of vehicle is going out of style.

So Radioisotope power should be more restricted to home applications, where it is less likely to be rammed with trains, thrown off cliffs, or run into a wall because somebody decided to go faster than they could readily perceive and interpret.

Although the two could combine again with better batteries, with radioisotopes providing your home power which you use to charge up your electric car's battery.

On the plus side, two of my ideas were used successfully by other people.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Autofarm: The results

Okay then. Farming requires the raising of plants and animals, for food or textile purposes. It's hard work involving loads of tasks. Let me see if I can relieve a few.

I think we should start with an underground drip system to relieve the task of watering, since plants need water, and farm plants often need more water than is provided by their environment. We dig a system of pipes that drip water up into the soil. Scattered water sensors determine how much to add. The best time to water is 3am, so the plant can absorb it without the heat of the sun evaporating it, or the opportunity for fungus to grow while the plant is not drinking in the evening. Nutrients can also be added to the water.

Now I'll start through the farmer's tasks, automating when I can.

The soil must be prepared, because plants don't grow well in compacted soil. Traditionally, it is tilled, originally by digging it all up, and tossing it back into place. Now tractors do this. I propose an "autotractor" that can plow through a specified area, such as a radio fence (which will provide other benefits later), automatically driving between the points until the entire area is plowed. The farmer can still ride if he wants, but I suspect enjoying a glass of lemonade inside will be done instead. Riding should be done on the debugging stage of this to make sure that it does in fact stay within the radio fence.

The seeds must now be planted. This can be done on the back of the tractor. If computer controlled, it could plant certain seeds in certain areas.

The seeds grow. Other plants also grow, that the farmer wants to discourage. Weeds, in other words. For all the advances in machine vision, the best system for identifying weeds is still the farmer's eye and brain. Still, there have been a few developments in weed eradication over the years. First there was the hoe, which allowed the farmer to dig up weeds without bending over, which was bad for her back. Then there were genetically engineered crops that were immune to an herbicide that would be spread over the field, eliminating everything but the crop. Since the genetically engineered option annoys people, I'll provide some kind of power-hoe at this stage. A number already exist in the market.

If the weeds are gathered, we can soak them in a bucket of water in the sun to extract their nutrients, and add the extract to the water supply. The weeds should then be thrown away or fed to animals.

Once the crops reach a certain height, mulch can be added to retard further weed growth.

The crops must be protected from pests. Symbiotic relationships with the pest's predators is one option, as are drugs that kill the pests. These pests can be animal, fungus, or parasite, and eat the crop mostly because it is there. The radio fence can be set up to make an ultrasonic sound to annoy animal pests away. Sound also benefits the plants by some means not currently understood. Perhaps it knocks air into the plant's stoma.

At harvest time, the plant should be uprooted and the parts of human interest cut from the plant. Mechanical harvesters exist for most crops I could name. Lettuce provides an interesting challenge. I propose scooping it up from below, banging it against a surface to move dirt stuck to the roots, washing, and placing in storage.

Animal care is already quite automated due to immense interest from the meat industry. (Automation means less paying for labor which means cheaper meat.) Animals are kept in specialized pens that feed them, remove their waste, and protect them from fighting with each other. Water is also provided. Chicken coups are designed to separate the chicken waste from eggs, and funnel the eggs to egg packaging departments and the waste to some sort of disposal. (Or on the crops, as chicken waste is actually a very decent fertilizer.) Cow care is also very automated, with auto-milking machines, feed throughs, and so on. A hoof cleaning machine could probably be built with existing sensor technology.

Pigs should be washed more frequently than is practical to do it manually. I propose a system with a touch-sensitive brush that has a supply of water and soap. The brush finds the pig, gently rubs it first with water, then with soap, then more water to remove the soap. After seeking its way over the entire pig's body (minus the face area, I can't think of a way to keep the soap out of the pig's eyes), it can be retracted. The pig will probably enjoy the experience as a gentle massage.

Sheep sheering would be a difficult challenge for sensors. We'd start it by providing the tools under farmer intervention. First the tool guided by the farmer. As the system gets smarter, the farmer will need only watch and be prepared to hit a kill-switch if it goes to far, then ultimately be freed of this task altogether. I imagine the tool would find the sheep, buzz off an inch from rump to neck and the underside, then check the under-material. If wooly, continue shaving. If not, stop and release the sheep.

One last potential invention of interest would be an auto-vet that could monitor the health of kept animals. One problem in large farms is that it is not possible for the farmer to keep track of which animals are sick, and the herd is large enough that at any given time at least one animal is sick. The usual solution of giving all animals antibiotics is unfortunately breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria. The auto-vet could monitor traits of the animal for signs of sickness (waste bacteria count, alertness, sounds made by the animal, visual eye condition, and so on), and should it decide that the animal is sick, provide antibiotics into the animal's water. This would not only reduce antibiotic consumption (which does add up), but also increase the effectiveness of antibiotic doses. Antibiotics would be kept up for a period suggested by a human vet.

Well, it seems that farms were already quite automated before I looked into them, so this article wasn't too worth it. Crap.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Automated Farm

I am challenging myself to think of a way to automate all common tasks on a farm, because farming was essentially the job of 99% of the population before the industrial revolution, and would continue to be today had farmers not grown more productive and industrial jobs proven more tempting due to the ability to meet people who are not your direct relatives and (often) higher salary.

Those farms that remain in business would appreciate the lessening of work, and corporate farms would appreciate the lower expenses. (All my food is basically corporate farmed.)

Farms are important because they make food (and textiles). They involve a lot of hard work to operate, especially if one intends to not only feed oneself, but to make a profit as well.

The details will have to wait, as I am currently swamped with a gazillion tasks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Suicide Belt

The graphic I am showing you is a WHO-made map of the earth, colored by the suicide rate of each country, with the countries greyed out having data that is more than ten years old (and thus useless). I want you to notice something.

Hey, there's a pattern in this chart...

With the exception of Germany, country from France to the Pacific (including Japan), is in the highest rate category. Yes, for some reason, Europeans and Asians are committing suicide more than anyone else on earth. Something must be going terribly, terribly wrong. Also, the last time I saw this map, about 2 years ago, Germany was in the highest category, making the belt outright continuous.

The highest rate is in Lithuania. Wikipedia reports that 40.2 Lithuanians out of every 100,000 end their lives every year, out of a total population of 3,369,600. Doing the rather grim math, 1,355 Lithuanians take their lives each year. Men were five times more likely to kill themselves. Lithuanian commentators blamed everything from poor economy to national disruption, to homogeneity, to lack of childcare. The Lithuanian government is worried that Lithuanians might disappear in the future, especially since their birthrate plummeted to 1.3 children per couple.

Many of the other countries could have their high rates blamed on lack of prohibition against suicide (Japan), shoddy psychiatric services (the Koreas), being inside the Arctic Circle and thus having dark and depressing winters (Russia, Finland), social isolation (rural China), or Alcoholism (every country even close to the former soviet union).

While most of my (American) readers will probably assume that these statistics means that Europe and Asia are very depressing places, I don't think that depression is the only factor here. The lowest rates are in Central and South America, where people don't commit suicide for religious regions. Catholic Christianity, the most common religion there, teaches that it is evil to commit suicide because of two reasons. The first being that your life was a gift from God, and that ending it is insultingly returning it. The second being that it denied that God was just, which was blasphemous. So Central and South Americans might be just as depressed, but finding some other way to deal with it.

It is not clear how these countries came to have this problem, nor can I offer any real solution to them. Germany might be a good place to start looking, as their rate recently declined. This may be due to action on the part of German society, or the German government, or it may have just been spontaneous.

As a Lithuanian commentator wrote, "Every civilized state must take care of its people's health by proposing ways of preventing suicides."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike about the Ocean

Discovery channel just showed a special in which one of my ideas was tried in a different form, and good news, it worked.

In my idea, boats would haul nutrient rich water to nutrient poor sections of the ocean, setting it into bloom and sucking enormous amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

In their version, they found that the deep ocean was already nutrient rich, came up with a pump that would, by wave-action alone, pump the deep water up to the surface, tested the bloom hypothesis, which checked out, and launched two pumps about 60 miles north of Hawaii.

It turns out that my hypothesis that you can feed the ocean is correct. Two weeks after launching the pumps, there was an explosion of fish in the area, plenty of phytoplankton, and loads and loads of seabirds. Unfortunately, one of the pumps was damaged by the ocean, and the show did not describe how expensive they were to build.

If this is all true, then it might be possible to convince a fishing group or government to pay for many pumps, sucking our excess carbon dioxide into the form of fish and birds. If people eat the fish, they might release the carbon contained in them, sure, but those people were planning to eat anyway. What they don't eat in fish, they'll eat in emergency rations distributed by charities.

This also helps because the complete collapse of most major fishing species is predicted within 10 years. Why are they in trouble? We humans keep eating them, as many cultures love eating fish. A tragedy of the commons occurs because every fisher wants more fish, but every fisher means less fish in the ocean to be had. The fish most commonly harvested won't go extinct, exactly, but it won't be profitable to go send a boat to get them because they will be so rare, the fisher will lose his or her boat, and life would suck for everyone generally.

Funding is the rub. That and a temporary mortorium on fishing, which would benefit everyone, especially the fishers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Improved Bed

The bed is a common device in the western world, as a supportive surface for sleeping, but it's not the universally preferred place to sleep. There are other cultures that sleep in hammocks, or on the ground, or on a chair, or perhaps by some other means. (Propped against a wall, perhaps?) But in America, a person sleeping on the ground is either a hobo or a drunk, hammocks are used only really for a nap outdoors or sleeping while camping. A few Americans sleep in a large supportive chair, but I'd say a bed is the most common way to sleep.

Most beds are fixed furniture, staying very much where they are installed. A mattress softens the impact of the sleeper's weight, sheets increase the smooth feeling, blankets keep the sleeper warm, and pillows support the sleeper's head. Beds may have a few other components, such as a drawer for commonly needed materials (sleeping pills, perhaps, or maybe a place to store eyeglasses or dentures), but most bed improvements have been incremental changes to one of those components. (Even hammock and floor cultures often have pillows or blankets of some kind.)

Well, what if instead, a sudden redesign replaced the whole thing with a much better version? I'm not the best industrial designer, so there are probably intellectual errors with this version that maybe can't be corrected, but why the hell not redesign a bed? If you wanted sane engineering, you'd ask a university or engineering firm, not this blog.

Let's start with Skinner's special crib. B.F. Skinner was a pychologist famous for studies involving rats in boxes. So when he built a special crib for his daughter, his critics started this insane story about the crib being a "skinner box," and that she hated him. This story is untrue -- the crib was not a skinner box of any kind, it was a special design for her comfort and his daughter actually still loves him very much. But the crib was an important starting point, because it was warm and immensely comfortable.

The crib has a closeable door with glass or plexiglass windows, sealed roof, and feeds warmed air into the sleeping compartment. In hot climates, cooled air could be substituted, of course. Since it is warm (or cool), blankets are not needed, and because it's finely controllable, the subject will likely neither sweat nor shiver. Skinner used a cloth mesh and that was pretty much it, since warm and comfy is all a baby needs, but let's not stop there. Adults like luxury.

The bottom should have a padded, memory foam surface that can easily be washed. (Because even if you don't sweat, you still shed a bit, both hair and skin. That and if somebody goes to bed after not showering all day....) Probably preferably detachable. A vibration source should be mounted beneath the mattress or foam pad, and when it is activated, it will massage the user. A control inside the box should activate or deactivate the vibration. Or, with a computer, have sophisticated vibration patterns activated by voice recognition.

A speaker wired to an MP3 player can play pleasing and relaxing music, chosen ahead of time. The speaker should play about at 30-40 dB. This would also allow a wakeup function, be it the gentle Zen method of bells that slowly get louder until the sleeper awakens, or by the traditional Alarm clock method that makes an irritating noise until deactivated. If the MP3 player is more of an embedded computer, this might even be arbitrarily selectable, although one does not want to encourage people to hit the snooze button repeatedly.

Sleepers fond of sleeping late will enjoy curtains. This would be an unwise choice for those that sleep in through school or work. Curtains will also grant the sleeper privacy if need be.

For the truly lazy, food or water could be kept in a tank outside the heated part and piped in through eating tubes. I think this should be discouraged before they have tubes built in to remove the waste afterwards, which, frankly, ick.

A number of drawers should be available, since people like to keep certain accessories near them when they sleep, such as their glasses, or dentures, or sleeping pills.

The circulation should replace all the air in the chamber within 2 minutes, and the exhaust air should be sterilized, perhaps with ultraviolet light. This would help sick sleepers to recover faster, since any bacteria they give of would not manage to return to their body, and all the air they breathe would be perfectly clean. Also, for maximum airflow, the input valve should face the output valve.

To Do:

* Find out more efficient way to temperature control than an incandescent bulb. Must maintain exact temperature for less watts. Also, controllable, because some people want to sleep at 30C, some want 20C, and a few want 10C. Lastly, reversible in case of hot climate and/or out of control summer.

* More comfortable sleeping surface than memory foam

* Somehow manage auto-cleaning when no human is in the chamber, such as at 11am every morning. No human will be in the chamber then, right?

* Make sure vibrating undermatress can't be clogged by, say, dropping one's keys, or the midnight snack in it.

* Determine a way to strap people to the mattress in order to adapt it for airplanes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Education and the world of "Durr"

Again I have been asking people about the world's worst problems, and at last I have come to find someone who agrees with me, a government clerk. According to us, the world's worst problem is stupidity. Okay, so she said it was "ignorance," which only somewhat overlaps. In any case, people's lack of education and/or refusal to apply intellectual effort is a major problem that causes several others.

People not knowing any better is improving over time as education becomes less expensive, more extensive, more readily available, and more publicly funded. The libertarians like to complain about paying for other people's education, but it serves no one to have a nation of ignoramuses with no future. Especially if said ignoramus thinks that the best way to get money is to burgle your house, rob you, or run scams. (Some crime is, in a way, an industry. An industry that operates to public detriment.) If they do not do crime, they may turn to begging, which is both annoying and an eyesore. Or they abruptly die of hunger, thirst, or exposure. In any case, it will cost you money either way.

The economy especially benefits from education. Currently, the United States has a surplus of unskilled labor and a deficit of skilled labor. Companies don't want to hire people with little education because they would be too expensive to train, and people with little education also often have little money and do not feel they can afford an education, perpetuating the problem.

Little can be done about intellectual laziness other than loss of privileges and perhaps a swift slap to the back of the head. It's a social problem.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Password is Shiboleth

It is recorded that the tribe of the Hebrews, the ancestors of modern Israel, were at war with an enemy that was ethnically similar to them, and tried to infiltrate them. Since spying was a big problem, a lot of effort was put into a solution, which was also dutifully reported. The Hebrews noticed that their enemy lacked a sound in their language that the Hebrews did have: what is “SH” in modern English. This group substituted “s.” And so they asked any suspected spy to pronounce a word with that sound in it, and if he couldn't do it, they killed him. This test of ferreting out by some word or action that an outsider cannot readily reproduce is now known by the word that the Hebrews did for their test, “shibboleth.” “shibboleth” means either “ear of corn” or “torrent of water” in Hebrew. The best the infiltrating group could manage was “sibolis,” and someone pronouncing it that way tended to be stabbed on the grounds that they were a spy.

Wikipedia records the use of shibboleths in war, because the cost of being infiltrated by an enemy group is quite high. They give the quick examples of the world war II, such as American example “Flash. Thunder. Welcome.” (America does have people of German and Japanese origin.) The sentence would have been pronounced by a German speaker as “Flash. Thunder. Velcome.” and by a Japanese speaker as “Frash. Thunda. Wercome.” A group approaching while shouting an “enemy” pronunciation would have been fired upon. The Australians had a similar shibboleth designed to root out Japanese speakers, since the German army was too far to menace Australia. They used “Wooloomaloo,” which would be incorrectly pronounced “Wurumaru.”

I speak English, American style, and Spanish. This is quite understandable for me, since I am an American of southwestern origin, English being America's standard language, and Spanish being the most common language of America's southern neighbor, Mexico.. It has left me wondering which shibboleths I could manage, and which ones I couldn't. Also, if there are anti-American shibboleths in most languages. I note that I can reproduce a few sounds that don't exist in my own native language, such as “ж” (which is a guttural sound vaguely like clearing your throat and would be badly approximated by the English “ch” ) which is odd. I may have picked this up from one of my father's friends who spoke Hebrew, Yiddish, or Greek, all languages which do have this sound.

I can immediately think of one anti-English shibboleth offhand. Korean has a sound that is halfway between what is “k” and “g” in my language. I cannot manage to make this sound, and so a word or phrase with one or more instances of this would make a good anti-American shibboleth. A person who was raised speaking English would fail the test, even if they were ethnically Korean.

Spanish (and I think also French) speakers have a “rolled R” that is hard for English speakers to reproduce. German has “ж.” Russian is a little short on concents, and has yet more “ж.”. A few African languages have a “throat click.” The Nordic languages have a few vowels that aren't in English, like “Ø.” Finnish has an especially easy time of this, and has a shibboleth that literally can't be said by anyone whose native language is anything other than Finnish. (It's their word for “steamroller.” It involves several “Øs,” a “hj,” and several other sounds that involve bending the mouth in ways that my mouth distinctly will not bend. A non-native speaker can manage a close enough representation to be understood.)

Speakers of many Asian languages will have a harder time coming up with shibboleths, because most sounds in their languages also exist in English. Speakers of the two big Chinese languages can hope to confound with their tonal system (in which, say “shi” with a rising tone means something differently than “shi” with a falling tone. ) Mandarin Chinese, spoken in northern China, has four distinct tones, and Cantonese Chinese, common in southern China, has six. A tonal based shibboleth is a bad idea, because the tones aren't hard to imitate for speakers of nontonal languages, such as English. A novice speaker might mix them up, but would still manage if their life was on the line. Thai and Vietnamese have some odd letters recorded, but I haven't heard enough of these languages spoken to determine if they represent sounds that aren't in English.
Japanese speakers would have a very hard time coming up with an English detecting shibboleth, since every sound in Japanese is also in English, while the reverse is not true. (although the sound transcribed as “r” is actually halfway between “r” and “l,” but that wouldn't be terribly effective due to an English “r” and an English “l” both being heard as the “r” sound in Japanese.) The only angle I could think of is that Japanese is sensitive to vowel length, in which “tan” and “taaaaan” are two different words. They would have to write a sentence where getting the vowel lengths wrong would have an immensely humorous (or nonsensical) implication.

The last thought is that a shibboleth need not be a word, but could also be an action. There was a supposed anti-Jewish shibboleth practiced by the nazis in which they would leave a person in a room with coffee and sugar cubes. They seemed to believe that a non-Jewish German person would put the cube in the coffee, stir, and then drink it, while a Jewish person would put the cube in their mouth and then drink the coffee. I disbelieve the truth and effectiveness of the test because I have never heard of any person, Jewish or otherwise, performing the second action. In fact, I know several Jewish people personally, and given a cup of coffee and a sugar cube, they all put the cube in the coffee, stir, and drink, although this may be because I was born at least a generation after the nazis, who murdered everyone who put the cube in their mouth, Jewish or otherwise. And anyone they thought was Jewish. And anyone who disagreed with their murderous policies. And anyone they disliked and could get a hold of, period.

Verbal shibboleths work because of the tenancy of adults to either mishear or be unable to reproduce any sound not present in a language they learned in early childhood, but action shibboleths only work if the subject is unaware of being tested and is unaware of the potential implications of their action. And of course, the main problem with a war shibboleth is that it detects a person's native language and/or culture, but not their true loyalty. The “Flash Thunder Welcome” test would be “failed” by an American soldier of German Jewish origin or Japanese origin, despite the total loyalty of this hypothetical man to the United States. It is recorded that some American soldiers of German Jewish origin did in fact have to quickly explain their loyalty to the United States by other means.

Are there any shibboleths to detect members of your group from other groups? Or the other way around?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quasi-Automated Publishing

Most people who want to write a long document use a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. The formatting is obvious, and what you see is what you get in a very literal way. Even a person who fears computers can write a novel with a word processor, and they often also know how to email that novel to their friends. This is assuming that they know how to write, of course. Some people are terrible at writing, such as myself.

But publishers cannot directly work with word processor documents. They have their own standard, PostScript, from which they can easily print properly formatted pages at whatever size paper the book happens to be, and any formatting, included pictures, or special considerations will be retained even if other factors are changed. (I will ask a publisher what these factors are, since I can't think of any other factors that would mess with the formatting.)

Both PostScript and most word processor formats are well documented and standardized. Therefore, it is possible to write a program that could easily convert between the two, and furthermore, possible to produce a webpage form that accepts a word-processed document, converts it to postscript, and offers both up to a publisher for consideration. Publishers reject most of the writing they get, on the grounds that most writing they get is absolutely terrible and would not sell very well. However, stripped of this technical limitation, I believe that worldwide literary output would increase. This may also increase worldwide literacy rates.

For best results, the conversion program should be open source so that anyone may use it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sorry we're late

You perhaps noticed that a number of entries appeared at once, all post-dated. Don't worry, this wasn't a glitch. I've had no Internet access for a while due to hurricane Ike and the breaking of some cable somewhere. I was able to write them when my power returned, but unable to post them until now. I apologize for any delay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Diamond computing

Currently, most computers are made of silicon. Silicon is the most plentiful material on earth, mostly in the form of sand and rock. Unfortunately, silicon is limited in the temperatures it can endure, and modern computers dissipate more and more heat as they get more powerful. This is limiting the development of further computing power. In addition, most CPUs must be quite flat in order to be properly cooled.

But silicon is not the only possible material to build computers out of. A number of research teams around the world are conceiving of CPUs cut from synthetic diamond. Such a CPU could endure temperatures of thousands of degrees, would naturally conduct heat away at high speed, and could have an extremely tall, 3 dimensional structure. A thousandfold increase in processing power could happen easily.

Diamond mining companies are not pleased by these developments. Mined diamonds have uncontrollable impurities that ruin them for this purpose, and also cannot be outrageously large enough. In addition, synthetic diamonds might weaken the value of their own diamonds, since synthetic diamonds could arrive to any specification for cheap. An engagement ring with a gem the same color as your partner's eyes? No problem. A ring whose gem is made from the ashes of a family member who recently and tragically passed away? Can do.

Elaborate tests have been made by mining companies to distinguish laboratory-cultured diamonds verses naturally cultured, with the hopes that they can then encourage consumers to prefer naturally made. I think that a girl that would reject a laboratory diamond is not a girl for me.

How far away is diamond computing? A ways. An estimate of 10 years has been issued, but I suspect it is like the 50 year estimate for fusion power, it will remain 10 years away for another 10.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Engineerng Aphorisms

Work is good, but drudgery is evil. If there's a task that you really hate doing, you should work a thousand times harder to automate it so that you never have to do it again.

Adding extra workers to a late project makes it later. Not obvious, but different workers have different ideas of how to accomplish a given task, and errors will most likely occur on the interface between two different people's work. Some 85% of time is spent fixing those errors.

Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. --Derek Bok

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent --Isaac Asimov

The graduate with a Science degree asks, "Why does it work?" The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, "How does it work?" The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?" The graduate with a Liberal Arts degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?" (rimshot)

In a mad world, only the mad are sane. --Akiro Kurosawa

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. -- Mark Twain

No matter how complicated a problem is, it usually can be reduced to a simple, comprehensible form which is often the best solution. -- An Wang

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Interesting Uses of Household Heat

Even in southeast Texas where I live, where the weather remains well above 20C long into the winter, the bathroom tiles are always incredibly cold in the morning.

Meanwhile I have a computer, and it needs special effort to stay cool. Without cooling, the chips would literally melt.

There's a bathroom modification I've been reading about in which pipes are installed beneath the floor, and water from a boiler is run through the pipes, making the floor very warm and pleasant to walk on. The water goes back to the boiler when it runs out of heat.

Water cooling systems exist for PCs in which a carefully controlled set of tubes and pipes runs water over metal to absorb heat from the chips.

If you combined the two systems, your PC would keep your bathroom floor at least tepid, and your floor would keep your PC cold.

At least, if your PC is near your bathroom. If it has to travel through a lot of pipe, it very well might be cold by the time it gets to the bathroom.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Worst Case of Global Warming

Yes, Global Warming is big in the news right now. A skeptic, Wm. Robert Johnson, put together a hypothetical simulation of the worst possible case, despite his belief that it is not in any way happening. I think it's interesting how dismal the hypothetical case is, and how much less bad it is than the absolute most hysterical case given. I consider it the worst possible result of global warming.

In the worst possible case, all the ice on earth melts and the ocean rises 66 meters. This sounds like a lot, but the map that he threw together shows that the earth looks mostly the same. Mostly.
But some things are missing....

You'll note that some regions have sunk beneath the rising ocean, but most familiar features are still there. He was kind enough to also generate maps of big famous countries, one of them being the United States, where I live.

It's just slightly different

My house would sink beneath the waves towards the end of this but I would have ample warning to evacuate. Florida and all its oranges is gone, its residents forced to move to either Georgia or Texas. Louisiana's swamps are a thing of the past. New York has had to move to Yonkers. And that nice farming region in central California is now a bay.

Presumably, the sea would rise slowly enough for the people of Florida, Manhattan, Louisiana, Galveston, and central California to move to some place that isn't flooded, but most of those places are rather nice, and I'm sure the residents aren't going to be happy about losing them. New york will be especially annoying, as it has 8 million people and quite a bit of infrastructure that it will need to build elsewhere as the sea slowly inhales Manhattan.

The Caribbean is utterly devastated. Puerto Ricans will presumably move to the United States. Haitians will be streaming into whatever country will accept them. Cuba will be straining. Only Cuba will actually exist anymore.

The real nightmare, however, will be in China. The majors cities of Tianjin, Shijazhuang, Jinan, and Heibi will now all be beneath the waves. As far as I understand the population distribution of China, the residents of this region are about as numerous as a court district in the United States. They will all have to move west in enormous streams. Beijing will now be a coastal city, if it stays above the waves at all.

Things are very bad in eastern Asia...

Also in the region, the tiny country of Bangladesh will be gone. According to Wikipedia, it has 150,448,340 people. They will have to beg either India or Pakistan for rescue, and I don't think relations are great with either country. (Bangladesh was originally a Pakistani province, until it, broke away, just as Pakistan broke away from India in the first place.)

There is a tiny plus side to all of this, though. With the ice that was pushing it down gone, Antarctica will rise from beneath the waves, and Greenland will also gain additional territory, and between these two, there will actually be more land now than back when there was still ice on the earth.

But be honest with me. Given the choice, would you rather live in Florida, or Greenland?

Lastly, Mr. Johnson admits that the change in ocean would change the weather in ways that neither he nor I could predict. The bay in California, for instance, would increase rain production to the east of it, and the deserts in Nevada might actually bloom into a grassland. On the other hand, if the wind and climate change, the wheat belt, currently in central United States, might move north into Canada. It's not entirely clear if Kansas and Nebraska, currently growing wheat and corn, could change to growing grapefruit instead. Nor is it clear that the Dakota/Manitoba area could start growing wheat instead of whatever it is that they're doing now. I'd also like to remind skeptics that the theory of global warming does not indicate an even increase in all zones, but an average increase worldwide, and some zones could actually become colder. The wheat belt moving south into Oklahoma could be just as devastating to national agriculture as it moving north into Canada.

So, there you have it. Global warming isn't an utter disaster that will kill us all, but it could cause a massive inconvenience and annoyance. Also, did I mention expensive and painful? Thanks again to Mr. Johnson for his maps and research.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Popular, but Wrong

I hear about a number of ideas passing around that are quite popular, but don't have any basis in fact whatsoever. Please stop telling me these stories. They are not true, and repeating them will not make them true.

Water Fuel

Water cannot be made into a fuel. It is a low-energy compound, fundamentally. Hydrogen, which water contains, is high energy, but the only way to extract the hydrogen from the water involves injecting a lot of energy into it. So water is, at best, a store of energy, not a fuel.

There is no pill that will change water into gasoline, and there is no carburetor that can "burn" water. Yes, I understand the temptation, what with gasoline costing several dollars per gallon and water so cheap as to be practically free. Wishing will not make it so.

Cold Fusion
Cold fusion is the idea that you can have all the energy glories of nuclear fusion without the high temperatures and energy-expensive containment. Supposedly, this happens at room temperature, which is far below the temperatures involved in hot fusion. (Hot fusion basically copies the conditions in the sun -- absurdly high temperature.)

However, for all the buzz, it has only operated once, and no attempt to reproduce it has worked. Generally in science, when results are not reproducible, this generally means that either the first experiment was in error (such as having contamination that the performing scientist was unaware of), or deliberate fraud is occurring. This would not be the first time that somebody got a result that nobody else could copy.

Again, the temptation is obvious. Cold fusion would make it worthwhile to electrically hydrolyze water for fuel and would power entire cities with no pollution.

Science Teaches Morality

No, science is amoral in that it might show you the basic principles, but doesn't give you any guidelines in how to use them. Nuclear fission is identical in the atom bomb and the nuclear-powered electric reactor. One is clearly peaceful, the other is clearly a weapon of war. But both operate by the exact same principles.

Morality is left to the philosophers. Do it well, and get a society that is a joy to live in. Do it badly, and get a miserable hellhole.

Decelerating Speed of Light

Creationists, shown proof that certain stars are so far away that we could not possibly see them if the universe was as young as they say, try to escape this by claiming that the speed of light has been exponentially decreasing since the birth of the universe.

This does not work. Theory has implications in science, and a faster speed of light in the past would affect certain things in the present. No decay has been noted in the present, suggesting a certain curve, and if this curve is true, then there are some clusters of stars that prove the universe to be, under this model, no younger than 4 billion years old.

The theory of light being created already halfway to earth works functionally, but is unsatisfying for two reasons. One, it makes God out to be a liar, as he's showing light from a star that never came from the star. Two, it opens the problem of "Last Thursdayism," in which the Universe was actually created last Thursday with signs of being older, or the more extreme version in which the universe is ten minutes old. Clearly, "Last Thursdayism" is ridiculous.

Creationism may work as a religious belief, but it is so painfully obviously not science that it's not even funny. Yes, I understand you'd like science to back your religious beliefs. If you want it to be a scientific theory, it has to make predictions of some kind.

Naturopathic Medicine
Some people distrust doctors and other medical professionals. They're expensive. They talk in a jargon-y fashion. In the past, many of them had bad attitudes from the admittedly impressive training they went through. (I went through the college from hell, therefore STFU and do as I say, peon!)

So instead, these people try to relieve their medical problems through "natural" treatment. Unfortunately for them, they clearly don't know what they're doing, have a major fetish for "natural" treatment, which mostly involves random herbs and half-baked theories that don't really make sense.

Now herbs can be a valid part of treatment, since plants do contain compounds that can modify bodily chemistry. Most existing medications are indeed based on earlier herbal ones, with the active ingredient isolated and refined to avoid side effects.

But the theories are often patently ridiculous. Feeling funny? It must be your intestines "auto-intoxifying" itself with your own poop, which they go on to describe being backed up between 4 and 40 pounds of (which would probably kill you from the infection) and how only an herbal enema (with their patented formula, of course) can rescue you. You will feel so much better afterwards. If only because you were so embarrassed before.

"Toxin" is commonly abused in their parlance, and pretty much anything that they don't sell is labeled as a "toxin." Their theory of "whole body treatment" is also incredibly odd. Your toe is broken, therefore...we must mess around with your sinuses. Yes, of course, it is so obvious.

The government has secret funds for you that you can access by....

No, they freaking don't. It doesn't even logically make sense. Where would this magical money have come from, and if it's really rightfully yours, wouldn't it be easier for them to just give it to you, or discount your taxes?

Enlarge your penis/breasts

Ah, this common spam. Apparently, a number of men feel dissatisfied with the size of their genitals, and a number of women feel disappointed in the chest department, so along comes these companies to send a bazzillion emails to convince them that their pill will help.

A blogger actually tried ordering one of these pills. It was a sugar pill that came with an instruction book explaining exercises that any decent physiologist could have told you how to do for free. The exercises give you, maybe, one or two extra inches through tissue stretching.


A Soviet scientist once did an experiment that he claims changed a bucket of water into a polymer-like substance. He further claims that a bucket of water poured into this "Poly water" becomes more of the same.

Of course, just like the cold fusion above, no one else could replicate it, and signs pointed to contamination in the tubes used during the experiment. There are some glues and slimes that, when added to water, might explain the polymer-like behavior.

That there are other explanations does not deter some people from claiming that this is actually a brilliant discovery that "science" is "suppressing" for the glory of "capitalism."

And even if this were true, this would only lead to the eventual doom of the earth if somebody carelessly knocked over the bucket into the drain, which eventually leads to the ocean...

But wait, there's more

There are others, but I lost them when my internet connection cut out and I don't feel like retyping them. This article is long enough already.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...