Category Archives: Technology

Based on science and wrought through engineering skills.

The key to everything

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via 3QuarksDailyNYBooks: The Key to Everyting

Freeman Dyson reviews Geoffrey Wests book on “Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies

“Geoffrey West spent most of his life as a research scientist and administrator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, running programs concerned not with nuclear weapons but with peaceful physics. After retiring from Los Alamos, he became director of the nearby Santa Fe Institute, where he switched from physics to a broader interdisciplinary program known as complexity science.”

Freeman’s review nicely summarizes the book for some heady reading. But his view on the subject is not without criticism driven by differences in philosophy:

“The choice of an imagined future is always a matter of taste. West chooses sustainability as the goal and the Grand Unified Theory as the means to achieve it. My taste is the opposite. I see human freedom as the goal and the creativity of small human societies as the means to achieve it. Freedom is the divine spark that causes human children to rebel against grand unified theories imposed by their parents..”

I share Freeman Dyson’s view. But this is still worth reading and stimulating to think about.

The rise of the ambient video game

zeldabotw-2018-04-21-10-471.jpgvia 3QuarksDailyTheOutline – The rise of the ambient video game – Link in the Korok Forrest ready to replace the Master Sword into the stone to start his Master Trials.

Lewis Gordon describes his recurrent experience with Nintendo’s hit and truly revolutionary “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” He compares it to Ambient Music, which is also a genre I love.
Talking about the convergent emergence of video games and ambient music in the 1980s, he writes, “Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to draw on his childhood experiences of climbing mountains and discovering lakes in the countryside around Sonobe, a town roughly an hour’s drive from nearby Kyoto and Osaka. His wish found expression in the original Zelda’s large, nonlinear and mythical pre-modern Japan. The designers, coders, and artists crafted a crude 8-bit landscape with the emerging computer-chip technology, the game’s deep, verdant greens a far cry from the concrete and steel dominating Japan’s cities and towns at the time.”

“Japanese ambient music of the 1980s reflected such concerns. Hiroshi Yoshimura released the album Green in the same year as The Legend of Zelda, crafting a work of almost unfettered naturalism, lush with shrubbery and the drip of water.”
“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, […] has incredible grass. It undulates gently in the wind while the sun paints its tips yellow. Meadows turn into shimmers. Holding forward on the controller jostles Link, the game’s boy-hero protagonist, into a light jog, his weight only just displacing the greenery around him. In the evening I sit on the couch, letting the colours and sounds of the digital world wash over me, allowing my brain to slowly decompress. It’s a relaxation activity that slips nebulously into self-care, the video game equivalent of putting an ambient record on.”

This echoes my experience. I find myself drawn back into Hyrule after taking my time (more than 640 hours!) to complete the game and DLC in both regular and Master modes. I look for more Koroks (little surprises and puzzles hidden throughout the open realm,) help people in distress along the path ways, try to catch a better horse, or just watch a sun set on a mountain top with a dragon flying in the distance.

It’s the ambience of the game redeeming reality (to quote Kracauer) that draws me back and back again.

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Dude, you broke the future – a talk by Charlie Stross

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Charlie Stross gave a talk at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December 2017. It puts our current history into a larger context. It includes a fresh view of AI as it has been with us for centuries in the form of corporations!

A real eye opener worth reading! Dude, you broke the future!

You can also watch the talk on youtube.

Bill Gates: “We Need an Energy Miracle”

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Killing the fallacy that Capitalism and Markets are effective and efficient. And it is especially true when viewing the slow unfolding climate disaster.

Bill Gates on the surprising wisdom of government R&D: “When I first got into this I thought, How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget? And I was worried: Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these “Centers of Excellence.” They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”

Read more on the Atlantic.

Fixing Myself to Fight Getting Older

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Dune by David Lynch, Thufir Hawat: “Remember, the first step in avoiding a trap is knowing that one has been set.” This concept is really fundamental to all problem solving, to fix a problem you need to know of its existence and understand it well.

It’s the kind of thing that must currently drive Elon Musk crazy, since they do not yet have the right data to understand the recent Falcon 9 fueling accident. For Elon, accidents are just part of the path, unfortunate but an opportunity for learning and improvement to achieve reliable and full control.

Being older is not obsessing me as might be common in our youth obsessed culture. But I do feel a slow down. My mind is fine, but the body is clearly showing some wear. One elbow seems slight arthritic, my sleep has become very disrupted, and a creeping weight issue has created “more of me” than I would like.

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My basic approach this year has been to “map the problem space.” And I have to say that Withings has been with me on this as has my Apple gear. I have really become to like their Healthmate app, which is tracking my weight, BMI, HR, and other environmental factors with their Body scale. I have started tracking my sleep with the wonderful Aura, which tracks my troubled behavior via movement and HR picked up through a sensor underneath the mattress – no need to wear a wrist device or headband. It also tracks light levels and noise. It features a neat “go to sleep” color light and sounds and wakes you gently at the right time (I tend not to need that.) I exercise with an HR strap reporting with my stationary bike cadence into Wahoo app. After realizing some trends, I have been able to take action.

  1. My weight has continued to ever so slightly keep shifting in the wrong direction. I faced the tough choice and have started to cut our carbs and now track calories with MyFitnessPal. The trending plot in the Healthmate app really made things clear. My iPhone and Apple watch are tracking my Activity level.
  2. My sleep patterns has worsened after getting better. I am reviewing changes in a few supplements and am switching back to an easier regimen and sources. I am also more careful about keeping regular hours and reducing exposure to blue light in the evening with Apple’s “Night Shift” screen settings and the wonderful f.lux on my Macs. It’s free but so nicely designed, I would gladly pay for it.
  3. I had been tracking my blood pressure. On a daily level. I saw a sudden dramatic and persistent spike to dangerous level that persisted for several days. Definitely unusual and most likely stress related. I took steps to reduce stress and ended up getting a Withings Blood Pressure Monitor that I am now using mornings and evenings automatically averaging my readings. I am happy to say I am back in the safe zone.
  4. I am also planning on starting a daily log about how I am feeling to see correlations and detect long term trends.

I don’t think it is just my playful fascination with gadgetry that makes this process more fun using devices. But the integrated tracking on iPhone and web really makes it easier and keeps me with the program. It also supports gradual changes that are easier to handle than trying dramatic change in one step.

However, I might have to get more proactive in heading out to a medical professional in some areas – like that painful elbow. Just like a car that is not maintained and gradually declines to become a wreck instead of a classic, we get “old” before our time via gradual diminishment and aches that we do not deal with.

Time to be proactive in self maintenance!

Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity

I read about wishful thinking to overcome the end of individual existence – death – by transcending and being encoded into a powerful silicon artifact. Actually, this entry was triggered by an interesting speculation in Nautili.us – “Why Alien Life Will Be Robotic” by Martin Rees, a British cosmologist and astrophysicist, and also the Astronomer Royal. As Sting once sang in a song, I do not subscribe to this point of view.

I am not convinced of materialism, but neither do I believe that dualism is a proven thing. We simply know way to little to be certain either way. One thing I do know is that the world and everything in it is vastly more complex on both the smallest scale (as Feynman once lectured, “There is a plenty of room at the bottom”) and the largest. It is also important to move away from reductionism despite its usefulness over the last centuries and start looking at systems thinking. Everything in the world is vastly more connected than our simple models can perceive. Just today I saw news of a study that “Bacteria actually communicate like neurons in the brain.”