Friday, December 28, 2018

In Space

Watch out Space, we're coming.

Two things you need to know about the future - quantum shit everywhere, and everything is in outerspace.

1. Surely you've heard about quantum computing. If you haven't, it's a way of computing that makes regular computers look like an abacus by replacing the binary bit (on or off) with a quantum qubit (on, off, or both). If you're the kind of person who thinks facetime is not much different than a portal to another dimension, then you're simply not prepared to imagine our quantum-computing future.

2. And surely you've heard of outerspace, that's where all of our satellite debris is accumulating, and where in the past few years, the cost of visiting has been reduced to fractions of its old cost, thanks mostly to reusable rockets.

Space is also very cold, and "Quantum" loves cold. Quantum states are really sensitive and can be collapsed by the slightest perturbation. Close to absolute zero, everything is frozen still, so the kinds of particles that can really mess up a good quantum state are no longer a threat. Even the force of gravity by the Earth on a single atom is strong enough to mess this up, so the microgravity of low earth orbit is ideal.

So it is to everyone's satisfaction that a Bose-Einstein Condensate has now been achieved on the final frontier. One of these days, we will be living in quantum states in outerspace. 

A Bose-Einstein condensate has been produced in space for the first time
Oct 2018,

Laws Meta-Physical
2013, Network Address

The Shanzhai Sun

"Shanzhai" means "counterfeit goods," which is China's way of saying "Made In China"

Let's start with the story from a few months ago, where China plans to make artificial moons for nighttime illumination. Mirrors in outerspace that redirect sunlight from low earth orbit. Now they're looking pretty good on the nuclear fusion front, i.e., artificial suns.

Granted, you must take every headline about nuclear fusion as fake news, because we are unlikely to see its boundless surplus of power in our lifetime. Depends on who you ask though. At this point, a Chinese reactor is reaching 100 million degrees, which is way more than the Sun itself, but still only enough to maintain such a nuclear meltdown for 10 seconds.

Regardless of "when," folks like the futurist Isaac Arthur do a good job of explaining how this major shift in energy production can be used to transform our world. Megastructures that surround our entire Earth, or spaceships that span the Milky Way, all these things are possible with nuclear fusion as an energy source (some faster than light travel wouldn't help).

Bottom line, this gives a different meaning to the idea of China Fake. Also wondering what the plans look like for Fake Earth and Fake Humans.

China's 'artificial sun' reaches 100 million degrees Celsius marking milestone for nuclear fusion
Nov 2018, ABC News

China is launching artificial moons in urban areas
Oct 2018,

Isaac Arthur's Science and Futurism Channel

Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, 2008
Chinese Science Fiction

2013, Network Address

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Hype Things

Smart home device manufacturers are competing to see which is more well-aligned with the scifi surveillance state dystopian future - a home studded with fisheye security cams, or a home punctuated with a thousand ears.

Most of us have been hearing about the Internet of Things (IoT) for quite sometime now. It had a modest peak in its hype cycle less than ten years ago. In fact, IoT was one of the less-hyped segments of the digital revolution, which is unfortunate because it is so related to security concerns. Had we seen this coming we could have been more vigilant about certain aspects of our digital vulnerabilities.

Now it's here. Actually, I'll say that it was here last year just about this time - when every home I visited after the holidays had a new "digital home assistant." It was a very popular gift.

Take this to the next level and you can imagine a not too distant future that combines the sensory system provided by an IoT, and the artificially-intelligent ability to integrate these disparate data channels into a coherent entity and a self like none other.

All these ears and eyes, as well as all the other sensors that we don't even notice so readily, such as temperature or footstep pressure or even our electrical field, will combine into one thing. A planet, a body, hard to categorize, it will see, hear, and feel everything - our entire anthroposphere will be aware. 

Meanwhile, the thought of a building listening to me is way creepier than the thought of it looking at me. And I'm less creeped out about a building that can tell if I'm angry by measuring my body temperature and pulserate, because I just have nothing to compare that to. It's not as invasive only because I have nothing to associate it with.

What's next for smart homes: An 'Internet of Ears?'
Nov 2018,

FBI tells router users to reboot now to kill malware infecting 500k devices
May 2018, Ars Technica

anything that gets implanted into our bodies now has an RFID chip in it, which means it's part of the IoT, which means we're part of the IoT.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Right Angles in Nature

Tabular Iceberg, care of BBC

Although it looks like the future on a planet that is totally colonized by Megastructures and Ecumenopolises, this is a pretty common thing called a tabular iceberg. Nature is short on straight lines and definitely right angles, although Andy Goldsworthy would disagree.

Andy Goldsworthy made this. (Or did he?)

Ice, however, is good for straight lines. I do recall a drawing by a Japanese woodcut artist in a book about Modern Art. It was a frozen lake, just a bunch of straight lines, and predated the more abstract things to come out of the early 20th century.   

Nasa photographs rectangular iceberg
Oct 2018, BBC

On Right Angles
Or why we tend to perceive right angles everywhere
Network Address, 2012

You Love Right Angles
AKA I'm Not a Right Angle You're a Right Angle!
Network Address, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Benign By Design

Nanomaterials tend to have magical properties. The most famous nanomaterial yet is graphene, which is a sheet of carbon molecules, holding on to each other in a way neither nature nor man has ever seen. Not only does this nanomaterial form itself in a way that is new, but it has properties that are just as novel. (See this jacket that was covered in graphene and sold to the public just for the chance that regular people may discover something that scientists haven't yet.)

Being that graphene, and most nanomaterials, are such a surprise, and that because of their magical properties they are becoming ubiquitous in our environment, it might be a good idea to figure out what these things do once we unleash them into the biosphere. 

Just in time, here come some ideas about what this stuff does as it persists in our environment. The Center for Sustainable Nanotech shows us that the way nanoparticles are coated makes the difference in how they behave in biological systems.

Certain particle-coatings were found to form fatty sheaths that make the particles stick to each other. These little fat bubbles are really called fragmented lipid coronas, and like most things nano, they have never been seen before.

Some coatings make the fat-corona and some don't, and now that we are beginning to understand, the scientists want us to consider this in future applications of the wonder material.

Professor of chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Franz M. Geiger gets all the credit for the lingo by the way, "Benign by Design."

Study provides insight into how nanoparticles interact with biological systems
Oct 2018,

Pro Posteri

Everything gets old. Everything lives, dies,and then shits itself. Even the internet.

I had never heard of linkrot until today. However, I have always considered posterity and the preservation of information to be an important consideration and practice, be it for the creative individual, or the common cultural enthusiast alike.

As stated in the bio, this website is for the purpose of a personal content-addressable archive. This has already  become more useful as the internet, by way of your search results, transitions from a thing that looks the same for everyone to a thing that looks different depending on who you are.

Already feeds are tailored to your behavioral profile. Everything you see is alpha-beta'd to infinity. In common language, the United Airlines homepage looks way different depending on whether you're you or you're me.

That being said, boy was it a surprise to learn that someone out there had a way better and way more ambitious idea than me. They are the creators of the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, and they have way stronger devotion to posterity than I.

Mark Graham, director of the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive gave a talk at the 2018 Online News Association conference, detailing this careful and insatiable machine that gorges on terabytes of our cultural data daily (via Ars Technica).

What's more exciting, that they're archiving physical things like vinyl records and microfeche, or that they're archiving the entire internet, everyday. What? They have robots that have repaired over 6 million pages lost to linkrot. They screenshot the Google homepage every ten minutes*.

Or is it more exciting to know they've been at it for 22 years? Has the internet even been aorund for 22 years?? (Yes. AOL remembers).

Great quote taken from Ars comments section:
The Internet Archive isn't trying to merely scrape the web. It's trying to ensure that we have a record of the past that we can rely on in the future. -source

We may not readily notice its effects in our daily lives, but we should appreciate nonetheless that such obsessive, compulsive behavior exists. Our world changes faster than we do as individuals, and our memories change even faster than that. Without an unconditionally comprehensive, enduring, and accessible repository of our cultural artifacts, it becomes too easy to perpetuate the failings of lessons we have already paid for.

You would think as the good consumerists, Americans would not stand for such highway robbery. Then again, according to the Internet Archives donations, many people recognize it as a fair deal.

*Fun fact: Stephen Wolfram (Alpha) also screenshots his desktop every ten minutes, and that's not the end of his compulsive archiving behaviors. I revered this guy, only a little, bit before I discovered this. Now he's in the pantheon.

The Internet’s keepers? “Some call us hoarders—I like to say we’re archivists”
Oct 2018, Ars Technica

They even have video games for goodness sake! It's called the Internet Arcade.

They offer other services, like comparing side by side the same page at two different times, or architectural diagrams that show how a site's structure has changed over time.

Post Script:
NSFW - leave it to the comments section to remind us that we can use this to view vintage porn. Leave it to me to remind you if you are now on, fantasizing along with an adult film from 1998, of let's say a 25-year-old couple, consider that they are now 45 years old. That's not strong enough. Get a video from the 70's. Those actors are now over 70.
[comments section]

On Science Communication

Science isn't easy. It can be repetitive and tedious, but it's not easy. Writing about it is even harder.

We're skimming through a grocery list of the worst scientific disciplines to research and write about, as compiled by the writers of Ars Technica, a science-slanted popular news outlet.

Note that this list is more about what science writers don't like --reading-- about, not writing. And most of the problems here come from the discrepancy between how passionate the writers feel about their subject matter, and its impenetrability.

Space exploration
Theoretical physics
Quantum optics e.g. time crystals

The reasons for this lamented impenetrability are succinctly summarized by an actual scientist, in the comments section:
Professional scientist here. I'm currently writing a review paper, and I'm on a bit of a deadline crunch, so naturally I'm procrastinating here on Ars. And regarding your accusations of the dryness and joy robbing nature of the primary literature, I have just one thing to say to you...
You're kinda right. I mean, sure, there's a reason that it's written this way, but yeah, I get it. I'm plowing through many papers in my field and I understand the details well, and I definitely get excited at many passages that would put most people to sleep. But many simply put me to sleep.
I think the reason for this is three-fold: 1) precision of language is important; 2) making precise language varied and interesting is much more work than allowing it to remain dry, so many authors don't do it; 3) there are some details that specialists need to communicate to each other that aren't exciting no matter how hard you try. ¯\_(?)_/¯

This is a great explanation, and supports the need for this very specific type of communicator in our society, the science writer. Alan Alda thought it was so important that he created an entire school to attend this need.


Here are the subjects our reporters enjoy covering the least
Sep 2018, Ars Technica

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University