Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Global Warming Denial is so common in America

I think I've figured out why there's such a storm of people denying global warming and related phenomenon in the United States. Here's a map of the air temperature anomaly (difference in temperature from expected):
US average is -8C
We're not FEELING it here. The anomalies are making all US territory colder, as cold air from Canada and the north pole are pushed into our area. Today it is very cold around my area, particularly, with weather I'd normally associate with states thousands of miles north.
Combine this with our conservative branches believing that economic activity is inherently good, and government intervention inherently bad, and you have people who experience massive cognitive dissonance at the very concept. It contradicts everything they know, so they reject it.
But all "Canadians for global warming" jokes aside, temperature affects more than just temperature. Farming, culture, and engineering are all affected. Adaptation could prove...expensive.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mr. Wu's Amazing Robots

Just outside of Beijing, a touring journalist, Paul Merton, has discovered a man named Mr. Wu, who makes a multitude of robots with no educational training. Yes, the original sources spell his name "Woo," but I'm pretty sure that it's this one, transliterated "Wu."
Mr. Wu's robots are of varying utility. Many are just little walking toys of entertaining novelty. And all are named after him, and a number describing the order of their invention. I think his most interesting is Wu-25, a rickshaw bot that announces something in Chinese as it hauls you about. (The video does not translate that, unfortunately.) I'd totally buy that. Most impressively, all of Mr. Wu's robots are made of things that other people threw away.
When uneducated people accomplish things like this, it leaves me in awe, since I've met very educated people who could do no such thing. I also am left wondering how much more such people would accomplish if granted an education.
Also, if I had money, I would totally hire Mr. Wu. His current job as a farmer is a total waste of his talents.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Geothermal Desalinization

I suddenly have the idea of using the earth's internal heat to purify water.

You will need:
* Supply of lava from fissure or volcano
* Heatproof ceramic pipe
* Seawater
* Steam Condensing Unit

Pump the seawater into the volcano, producing steam. Capture the steam. Let it cool in various radiators. Pump the now fresh and warm water to the consumers.

The salt in the water probably melts with the lava. Then what?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Punishment Too Far In Georgia

In Georgia, a mother was angry with her son for getting bad grades. This much is not news. That much happens all around the world. So to punish him, she made him beat his pet hamster to death with a hammer. She was arrested for this, charged with one count cruelty to animals, one count cruelty to children, and one count battery. (The battery charge doesn't seem to fit the pattern, since it's the crime of touching a stranger without their permission. Did she grab the sheriff's arm while being arrested or something?)
I have to agree with the charges, and think she should lose her child to protective services because of what lessons she's teaching. At best she's teaching her son that Mommy is a crazy person who cannot react rationally to disappointments. At worst, she's teaching him that vandalism, assault, or even murder, are normal acceptable responses to interpersonal problems. You may think I'm exaggerating in the last one, but children think very anthropomorphically. Even their toys are people to them. These are not lessons I want a child to learn. Especially if he decides that if Fluffy has to die for his sins, then maybe it's okay if I, or the guy down the street, or Mommy dies for his sins too.
Now, had this mother instead sold the hamster to a pet store, and used the money on a tutor, (or even kept it for her own uses), it would have the intended lesson that screwing up has consequences, that the hamster is now gone forever because the boy didn't put the effort into keeping it. And life would have gone on with me (and the national media) completely ignorant of the situation. The hamster may experience some momentary sadness at the change of situation, but it would at least still be alive.
What blows my mind entirely are people defending the mother in this situation, which only makes sense of you hate animals beyond all reason, or think that vandalism is a great response to interpersonal problems. Either way, I think I'll be avoiding Georgia for a while. It's full of crazy people.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Transportation Slime Mold

A Japanese scientist has discovered that slime molds, grown in a 2d medium like agar, inevitably finds the fastest route to food.
Used carefully, this is invaluable to planners of subway systems, freeways, and other shortest-route problems. (Which, on traditional computer systems, is NP-Complete, the kind of puzzle that may only be solvable by brute force attempting every possible solution, which takes somewhere around forever for more complicated examples.)
I'm left wondering what else can be solved by biology, which collectively has been working on these puzzles for millions of times longer than any of us has have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Transcendental Number Theory

I have a new theory. It may be true or false, I'm not sure how to proceed in proving it.
My theory is that all numbers in the physical world are actually transcendental, and that we humans mostly use integers and rational numbers because we're rounding it to terms we understand.
A quick primer, which you can skip if you're a mathematician. Numbers come in various kinds. Natural numbers are the first we humans learned to deal with like 1, 2, 3, and so on as if you were counting apples. Integers are those and also 0 and negative numbers like -3. Rational numbers are all those that can be represented as a fraction of integers, including integers themselves. 6/1, for instance, for 6. This was all discovered by the times of the ancient Greeks. Their next discovery was irrational numbers, which cannot be expressed as a fraction of integers. The square root of 2 being the first example. If represented with our decimal system, the pattern after the decimal point would both go on forever and never repeat at any point.
Transcendental numbers are irrational, and also not any sort of square root. The most commonly referred to ones are pi and Euler's number, which are useful for circular constructs and natural growth modeling respectively. There are uncountably many transcendental numbers, but most have no easy way to reference. Mathematicians can now begin reading again.
In Engineering, there is a concept of precision. All measurements are slightly wrong. This error can be reduced by measuring more carefully, but all measurements are to within some plus-or-minus of the true value. Most serious projects reduce this error to ludicrously small values. Not zero, however, as that would take infinitely long.
Evidence against this theory includes Max Planck's discovery of graininess in the universe, where measurements below a certain threshold are no longer meaningful. This implies rational numbers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Google and China

I'm sure you've heard it elsewhere first. The Chinese government hacked Google's email servers to dig up dirt on human-rights activists. So Google has retaliated by no longer censoring their searches, and announcing that if this requires them to leave China, well, then so be it. (A quick note that Google is the host of this blog.)
I can still remember when Google was first introducing itself to China. Many pundits were furious that they were making any concessions at all. Google's business department answered this by claiming that they were doing this all for the best, and to trust them on it.
I'm surprised by the Chinese response. While the government is predictably furious, the common people seem delighted by Google's move. Chinese citizens are shown laying flowers on Google's signboard. Maybe it's just sympathy for the hundreds of employees who will likely to lose their jobs, or maybe it's a deliberate siding with Google's position. Real news from China has been difficult to determine.
In any case, it looks bad for the Chinese government. The whole "censor stuff you don't like" thing looks stupider every day, the image of them abroad is mostly that of thieving and insufferable-ness, that working in China will mean having your technology stolen and endless regulation.
The thrust of the Chinese argument is that they're turning their backs on billions of dollars. Such is true in literal terms. China has 1.3 billion people, who have between them $8.8 trillion USD to throw around. But Google is arguing that it's not a fair market. Things were set up to give local competitors, like Baidu, every conceivable advantage, and Google every conceivable disadvantage. Google managed to get maybe 20% of the local market, and it was made very clear that it wouldn't get higher than that.
And yes, the Chinese Renmenbi has a value, but so does reputation, security, trust, and a thousand other intangibles that the Chinese government poked at. This event is not over. I predict much screaming by both sides in the near future.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I think my ultimate goal is to make the quality of life for all humans still alive up to the levels of 17th century European aristocrats, who had things pretty awesome, all things considered. A large percentage of their work was hobby time, they wanted for very little, and had armies of servants to help them with their every whim. The servants I am inventing will be non-sentient robots for ethical reasons. Sure, come wartime the aristocrats would be expected to serve in the armed forces, an aspect which I don't intend to copy, but all and all, a sweet life.
Okay, come morning, a typical aristocrat would be dressed by a servant. This was only partially because of laziness. Aristocrats of the day often wore ludicrously complicated clothing to achieve a kind of Ermine Cape Effect. They say after all that clothes make the man, mostly because naked people have relatively little influence on society, but also because dressing glamorously leads to a glamorous appearance that the aristocrat wished to cultivate. So, today, a machine for dressing a person.
I'd start with a machine that can pull a shirt over a person's head, fasten the buttons, pull pants over their legs, close the button, and raise the zipper. This is far far easier said than done, machine visual recognition is still extremely poor, about the level of a slug's vision at best. The machine must somehow identify the correct positioning of buttons and so on, preferably in some non-visual fashion, and also without accidentally fondling the user of the machine. A male user of this machine would be expected to put on underwear first, a female user both underwear and bra.
If that is somehow accomplished, the next thing to accomplish is bras and basic dresses. Somewhat more complicated, as they have many different styles and no two work quite the same way. Same problems as above, plus inconsistent operating principles. A system this complex could probably also handle other undergarments. Also, for male users, ties. (It's been my observation that women tend to avoid wearing neckties.)
The third stage would be the aristocratic clothing. It makes no sense at all, involves multiple layers, is utterly inconsistent, and in some instances could even involve sewing. (In 1914, Archduke Ferdinand's assassination was successful mostly because his ludicrously complicated clothing was sewn onto him every morning, which frustrated attempts to give him medical attention.) It could dress you in any style of clothes presented to it, and is borderline sentient so we stop at this point. Further innovations would involve lowering the costs to lower the price, and bring it into the price range of the worldwide populace. (Presumably the $1/day crowd would rent one for 1 cent per day, or some such.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Emotional Computing

A common feature that videogames developed roughly after I stopped having the time to play them is "anti-frustration features," that notice when a player is playing badly, and dials back the difficulty to keep the player from becoming too frustrated. And the reverse, because what's fun about games is the challenge. So expert players suddenly have a much, much harder game, just like they like it.
I read an article last night about how a computer can measure the stress level of the user by the way that they type. A frustrated user has a different rate and tempo of entry than a calm one. Combined with the previous fact, this gives me an idea.
The "Emotional" computer platform would measure typing patterns, and when stress was observed, attempt to make the user interface easier. If I were designing this further, I'd want a psychologist and an Apple designer (Apple computers being famous for their intensive user-interface research) to help, since some "helpful" ideas in computing have proven to be the most annoying. Clippy the anthropomorphic paperclip, for instance. Microsoft intended for him to be helpful. Instead he made millions of users wish their computers could feel pain.
Idea number 2: "Torture the computer" button. Complete with recordings of screaming, pleading, and wimpering. Now the computer will "suffer" for crashing while you had four hours of unsaved novel written!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The unluckiest guy in the world

In 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was one of the five unluckiest people to ever live. He was a salesman in Imperial Japan, and took a business trip on August 5th. To Hiroshima. Where he was injured in the atomic attacks on that city. His injuries were moderate, so he decided to take time off work and go home to recover. Except, unfortunately for him, he lived in Nagasaki. Where he suffered atomic attack yet again on August 9th.
Mr. Yamaguchi was the only person having government records proving his presence in both cities, but as many as five people shared that unfortunate distinction with him.
Thankfully, the rest of his life seems to have been far more pleasant, up until January 6th of this year, when he passed away.
He will be missed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


After several weeks delay, my university has announced that I have completed my tertiary education. A new and exciting world awaits me. A world where I get paid for working, instead of course credit!

....eeexcept that the economy is in the toilet, my student loans from those lean freshmen years are now due, and many economics experts proclaim that people my age and younger are effectively unemployable.

If you need me, I'll be rewriting my resume again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

To be Rich

For a new decade, the one that starts today, I think I'll ask, why is my country, the United States, a wealthy one?
For one, it has a lot of natural resources. Oil and gold and uranium in the western deserts, farmland aplenty in the midwest, and various other minerals and forests. But this alone doesn't explain it. Japan is nearly resource-free, but is a wealthy prosperous nation, while uranium-rich Nigeria is riddled with poverty.
Probably the greatest resource in the United States is trust. If I go to the gas station, there is a refrigerator there with sports drinks, beer, milk, and other things to buy. This refrigerator is not locked. The clerk trusts that I will buy the goods contained within instead of stealing them. And if I do steal them, the clerk trusts that he can call the police, who will arrest me for it, possibly even recovering the stolen goods. In other countries, they also have gas stations, and those gas stations also have drinkable goods in a refrigerator. But their refrigerator is locked. If I want to buy something, I have to ask the clerk for it, have him unlock the refrigerator and hand it to me. All the while suspicious that I'm plotting to scam him, or stab him and run. And he can't really trust the police to help him, since they're often bought-off by the local mafia, unavailable, or useless.
Transactions in low-trust countries require more work to set up, and are more uncomfortable for both the seller and buyer. If my desire to buy, say, Gatorade, is only marginal, then in a low-trust environment, I probably won't bother. And both I and the gas station are poorer for it. I because I am still thirsty, and the gas station because it didn't sell as much today.
I worry as this new decade dawns, that the trust is going away. The system was clearly manipulated in 2009. The poor see the rich as bloated plutocrats who would happily stab them for a nickel, and the rich see the poor as a teeming mob of communists who'd take their posessions at any cost. May it not get any worse.
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