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.
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