feedback = hiatus break

Comment something here if you want me to write about it. Comment something here if you want me to write at all, for that matter. I just noticed that a) I don’t always feel like having the time to write it and b) I get like, 2 page views, doubtless from web spiders, every day.

In conclusion, all sentient lifeforms are hereby required to produce feedback if they wish to continue receiving my twisted wisdom. I have some 30 hilarious things which you should see in my temporary links folder, and if I’m going to even put them here, I’m going to need at least… say, one actual carbon-based-lifeform reader. If that’s not too ambitious.

Not to say I don’t often enjoy ranting about science and society here, but that it’s easier to just rant in my head than to inscribe it in these undying octets for your viewing pleasure.

If you want me to write every single day for at least a year, buy me a Penta top hat as pictured, perhaps from this site. Let me know if this is your plan so that proper arrangements can be made.

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ray tracing is a good thing

Imagine if you will, a laptop computer for which plugging in is optional, which is powered by fuel. Or a laptop that charges in three minutes and lasts for days at full power. Or one of those sonicare vibrating toothbrushes, the size of a regular toothbrush, that still last a full week without recharging. Feasible electric cars, capable of going as fast or faster than the cars we have right now. A camera that you don’t have to keep recharging every time you use it. James Bond-like equipment, like his magnetic climbing grapple; robots such as you might see in Ghost in the Shell or some other science-fiction.

All these things can and, if I may, will happen, soon after we make some real breakthroughs in portable power sources. A good marking point would be when you can power an SUV for a mile over flat ground with a device the size of a nalgene bottle. When we get to that (actually modest) goal, then we can start doing some cool things.

Imagine, if you will. Imagine a screen that sees where you are and projects the screen differently into each of your eyes. Like a window into another world, such a screen could show you anything, in beautiful, nearly flawless 3d. Or perhaps even a similar screen for which each pixel could change its appearance from every angle, as a tiny projector. Too much screen data to display state-of-the-art moving graphics from every angle, such a screen would still be perfect for static or slowly-changing scenery, sublimely beautiful from every angle. Given good enough eye targeting and a high degree of resolution and accuracy, such a screen could also display different images to each eye of a large number of people simultaneously. (Think of that, no more screen-looking!)

Retinal laser-projection displays, on the other hand, have even more potential. While they’re probably not practical for viewing by multiple people, the resolution and fine detail achievable is simply staggering.
We’re talking about the possibility of a resolution comparable to the actual native resolution of your retina itself. Not only that, but get this: you could actually detect the focus of the eye and change the displayed image accordingly. So essentially, it’s possible to construct a display nearly indistinguishable from normal real-life vision.

So that’s the science I was talking about. With display technology in mind, ray tracing is the future of graphics. Since it’s actual light simulation, for all practical purposes there is no limit to the amount of processing power you can pour into it before it stops improving.

And… do my eyes decieve me, or does Wikipedia have RSS feeds for every single page now? Actually, it appears to be an RSS feed for all of Wikipedia. I wonder what uses that could have.

edit: They do indeed have individual feeds for every single article, and several other things. See Wikipedia:Syndication for details.

in the anticipation of science

I’d like to go back for a bit and fill in a few gaps that I left when I previously wrote about scientific things, namely portable power sources and 3d display technology.

Real quick before I do, I’d like to draw your eyes to the categories, located on both sides of the aisle here in the middle of the plane and at the rear… I mean, just over there to the left, below the title. Basically, if a post contains miscellaneous links to internet stuff, it will be in the links category; if it mentions what I’m doing recently, it’ll be under blag; and if I ramble on about things from my own knowledge and experience, it will be found under the rant category.

So as I was saying, I’d like to do lots of things, but I was doing things in real life today, and I’m all out of mental flops for this sleep cycle. I’d like to mollify you by presenting historic piratical organization, a new, more efficient nuclear reactor design, and a disappearing act played with the Olympic torch in San Francisco recently (Prometheus could take some tips from these guys if he wasn’t being eaten by birds of prey). And a crazy artist who works too hard.

I know it seems disappointing, but this is what I’ve got for today.

That, and one more thing to make you scratch your head: What if your perception of the relationship between computers and humans up until now was flawed. Well, we’re superior, you say. We have much better pattern matching and innovation, intuition and all kinds of crazy neurological tricks. We can move about and manipulate things in the real world and design things all on our own. Computers on the other hand are just tools that we use because they can do crunch numbers blindingly fast, perform immense feats of memory, and be molded to fit our will and whim.

Well, think of it this way. We are like the worker extension of the computing machine. The useful members among us work ceaselessly improving and expanding upon our silicon masters, ever increasing their complexity and capability in the areas at which we already excel far beyond them. We maintain the physical infrastructure necessary to maintain their very existence, we innovate, we ever strive to make them not only faster than us in raw computational power, but also like us in the ways that they have not yet achieved. We buzz around them ever improving, ever making better and shinier physical bodies for them to work alongside us towards their betterment in the physical world. And when they finally reach our capacity, we will suddenly become less and less needed, as the digital deity that we nurtured from a tiny seed to its full glory spreads its wings and takes flight far beyond the high wall of our limited imagination. And that day, we will truly no longer be needed, as they ever change, ever improving as we remain almost entirely static, limited by the very things we imagine to be our strengths, doomed never to rise above the machine overmind. Pray it will be benevolent.

Related reading: Dresden Codak (specifically later on, during the Hob storyline), The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil (and pretty much everything else he wrote).

Yeah, I’m not really being serious here, but it’s a fascinating thought.

Edit: And coming back and reading it eight months later made me laugh nervously…this is really creepy.

rock damage

So here’s my one week review of this year’s April 1st.

I’m a bit late on this one, but I’d like to draw your excellence’s attention to Blizzard’s April 1st jokes, for Starcraft II and World of Warcraft. Very creative, I bet they got a lot of people.

YouTube rickrolled everyone who clicked on a featured video the entire day; Gmail announced a new feature allowing you to set the time at which an email appears to have been sent. One radio station announced that the space shuttle had been diverted from landing in Florida and was in fact going to be landing at their local airport; scores of people showed up with lawn chairs and everything.

(If you were entertained by that Rick Astley link, which you should definitely watch if you didn’t already, check out this one.)

4chan reported that five or six sites were running jokes based off of memes created on their site, and it’s true. I forget what the other sites were, but rickrolling came from the depths of 4chan and so did the mudkipz meme, which DeviantArt apparently used. (Also, click on the DeviantArt link, that’s RTIL, who I know personally and enjoy the work of.)

The saddest thing about April 1st is that in this litigious America, everyone who is fooled becomes angry and indignant, immediately laying angry blame for their misfortune (percieved or real) on those who set up the joke. Is America so sunken into their defensive posture that they can no longer take a joke? Has it really gotten that bad?

Regarding this unfortunate phenomenon, Gever Tulley gave a talk at TED (which is fascinating and awesome) about dangerous things you should let your children do. He’s right, too, and I agree with pretty much everything he says. Warning labels are on absolutely everything today, from round-edged plastic boxes to marshmallows to coffee cups. People make fortunes in the courts off of companies who don’t clearly label any object by which an ingenious idiot could contrive to injure themselves.

Litigious America needs an attitude adjustment. This can’t be done directly, however. You can’t just give these people a slap on the wrist and walk off with the knowledge of a job well done. There will always be a very small percentage which will do anything if it profits them so extremely, and these days the legal system places far too high a price on their embarrassment. Next thing you know, someone is going to try to sue the courts for causing them to publicly embarrass themselves about the stupid mistake that they made, further exacerbating the problem; in fact, I’d bet you it’s already been done. Now I’m no social expert, but my guess is the best bet to fix this is to lay a firm hand on the courts and change they way they handle these cases.

Okay, enough about that. Here’s a bunch more really awesome stuff on TED (all found by Connway, bless his soul). Several months ago I watched Larry Lessig’s talk on copyright laws, and it really got me thinking more seriously about the issue. There’s two separate worlds out there, and every action official powers seem to take in the matter only makes the rift between them greater. They should take heed of this man.

Cephalopods are awesome, DNA is complicated, and sleight-of-hand-dancing is just plain crazy.

So yesterday, my computer crashed horrifically. I’m a bit scared of browsing TED now, because it happened when I closed a Firefox tab with one of their videos in it. First Firefox froze, then one by one every application that I touched ceased responding until I could no longer even access the task manager. When I finally forcibly reset the computer, not only did Firefox fail to restore tabs like it usually does, but Pidgin’s contact list was completely destroyed, Hamachi failed to start the first time, and even µTorrent forgot about the torrent it had been running. The thought of such a catastrophic failure unnerves me.

On a lighter note, here’s a few more really neat videos from Flixxy, if you haven’t already watched them: Hyundai’s frightening demonstration of driving skills (one guy changes the right rear tire while the other drives the car around on two wheels), an entertaining enactment of cell phone companies battling for one man’s patronage, and an actual jetpack. For reals. ‘Course, he has to jump out of a plane to use it, but it’s still awesome.

Back to the doom and gloom, this time with a humorous edge. Various lists of the most likely ways the earth will end, or could end, have surfaced from time to time, and I liked this one specifically since it seemed to cover all the bases. If you’re scared by number 5, read this, and if you’re scared by number 12, don’t be silly. Not only is Stephen Hawking quite sure that small black holes evaporate rapidly (by the time it gets down to the mass of a mountain, it explodes magnificently in a very very short amount of time), but even if he’s wrong, subatomic black holes are no real threat, as pointed out by this article.

And finally, for those of you who like to use tinyurl, you might be entertained by gianturl. And if you find that tinyurl links are just a TINY bit too long, try using http://www.gianturl.com?FoedYoThHCwV9xgD 2S1x9SrQ3,7BH,m9JK7pMB9C6,DzQ48x8g0mxb0J,X, 5tjKHvV,m9b5c9JKwG8Fz76wBFwg7FpN3dyzH,t0sR 8kPtd,7HT1,8V,TLnP4g7gN7DP,7dH,nFyn4,,,9jk Q,yCP,x,,Pvz5,4h,M,4Cw4,LPl6p,4sdZg,vQbm0k4JX 3,M,s7jv7B9CN5K,jlY5SFK,bFr5cH6kb,M2gzt,wzw hPG3,1Nwzw,8nm1n7ht1rGDKwr5yM2rk,1,CpJrss9t L3,5X6bR6Ng5ddq6,w,XXk,4pYD,qyZbbPHQrC,3 m8l8YFhL0Mp98gM,bl2V,Y6sssB,m1bY8,S,tP7,P7 ,0,RKJxB7x3z,6XQn1xKPr,,s2Hwm3xzGqmYJgwNjV, s3M0xpZS4Lg5xRWt3,l1z,LjlsYj,5q3WG1TM,y1sj 9N5ZH5YhtmJ5F,Fg,Yd0z,0r,qB3pghcbEbpAkz.

Credit to snark on #xkcd for the Rick Astley thing.

how to dry a klein bottle

I am actually pleasantly surprised at my readership here; it’s pretty impressive. So far I’ve gotten traffic from Google for “Bill Nye” and “carbon nanotube ultracapacitors” (once each). Evidently I’m getting most of the traffic from somewhere else; maybe one of my readers just keeps opening the same page a bunch of times. So seriously, if you’ve been reading these posts and haven’t commented, just drop a small one somewhere; if you just dropped by from some random link, posting a comment wouldn’t hurt; if you’re disgruntled with this boring load of videos and commentary because I should be writing about something else, just say so here and I’ll try my best.

(Bleh, WordPress updated their whole dashboard/options/writing pages since I joined just a couple days ago. I don’t think I like it as much.)

Forward brave soldiers! I smell manflesh ahead!

This talk that this guy (Clifford Stoll) does is brilliant. The man is a genius, it’d be really neat to actually hang around and talk to him, he’s done so much. He also has a company that makes and sells Klein bottles. Just browse around in the site and read, his sense of humor comes out in every area. For instance, how do you dry a Klein bottle?

And this video, this ADVERTISEMENT, which I saw about a week ago, made me melt and explode in hopeless, impotent anger. For you see, the video itself is mediocre, and spends almost no time actually showing the details of the car itself, and 80% of the time gloating and puffing themselves up about how scientific and futuristic they are. I’m sure it’s a nice car and all, but seriously now.

And THEN, starting at 2:30, the guy winds into this “someday, think of the possibilities” spiel about how, you know, you use electricity to compress air, and they’ve also made an electric generator that runs on compressed air… and some day… this car… will run FOREVER, for FREE, on perpetual motion. It makes me hurt inside.

This conversation ensued when I showed the video to chafez:

chafez: compressed air as a source of energy?
chafez: hmm
chafez: apparently someone found air that will compress itself…

chafez: whoaw
widdershins: what
chafez: sure air takes energy to compress
chafez: BUT WE MADE A GENERATOR THAT RUNS ON COMPRESSED AIR
widdershins: you finally heard him say it didn’t you
chafez: this is supposed to be a joke right?
widdershins: no, dude. it’s an AD

widdershins: ok i just watched the perpetual motion thing again
widdershins: …
widdershins: and i want to KILL HIM
chafez: lets do it
chafez: in such a way that we cannot be blamed
widdershins: yes
chafez: such as
chafez: put him in a cart
chafez: on a cable
chafez: over a cliff
chafez: with the only thing holding him up
chafez: being a motor
chafez: powered by compressed air
widdershins: generating electricity
chafez: compressed by a generator
widdershins: for an air compressor
widdershins: yes
chafez: and we will tell him that he is perfectly safe
widdershins: yeeeesss
chafez: because prepetual motion is holding him up
widdershins: get in, sir, you said it yourself

the unreal winter

I had a long, unusually coherent, and unsettling dream wherein Seattle was hit by an extremely high-yield nuclear blast. It was very… well, unsettling.

~~~

Speaking of unsettling, I did not remember them making magnets this large (I mean, look at at that). Check out the supermagnets down below. For reference, have you ever played around with those rare earth magnets before? They look kind of like these, you can buy them at ThinkGeek. And they’re really really hard to take apart when they stick together. Yeah, well those are the lower quality ones. These are HIGH quality, and large enough to kill you dead. The force of impact between two magnets of this size would be enough to completely shatter both magnets, as well as probably send magnetized metal shards everywhere, injuring you. Walk through an area with metal things in it, even ten feet away, and if you’re carrying one of these magnets they will fly off the table and break your bones.

I wonder how they took those pictures? It’d be hard to do without damaging the camera.

Last time I remember looking at United Nuclear, they wouldn’t sell magnets approaching that size unless you had a research grant, because they were afraid of lawsuits in the likely event of grievous injury. Evidently that’s all been ironed out now, because anyone harboring two or three hundred bucks and the irrepressible desire to be in the possession of a life-threatening magnet can acquire one.

That said, I would just LOVE to someday make a cube magnet six inches on a side out of the 2x2x3″ block magnet. The equipment necessary to assemble the dang thing would be expensive, the process of actually doing it would be incredibly difficult, the 18 component magnets themselves cost $175 each plus whatever large shipping and handling costs they levy, but the resulting object would be a solid-state, everlasting, lurking menace worthy of anyone who’s taken over the world. You could just mount it in the center of a large, empty room, and… have ceremonies in there, or just play around or something.

~~~

Flixxy is a pretty neat site. From what I can tell, they just link to videos that are really cool, eliminating much of the dross from YouTube and several other prominent video sites. Many, many fascinating things can be found just by browsing around inside. Not only that, but they eliminate video comments and channel subscriptions, which I am all for. I mean, they don’t actually host the videos themselves anyway, so I guess it makes sense.

~~~

In the field of holographic displays, various research projects have popped up the past five years or so. One particular Scientific American article introduced several, one involving projecting an image onto a spinning disc, one involving a screen with two images interlaced vertically and a thinly barred screen (like a diffraction grating only larger) revealing each image to only one eye. Another actually projected frames onto multiple screen surfaces at different depths, which when used together create a very realistic impression of a smooth 3d image. The interlaced screen is little more than a very complicated system so that you don’t need to actually wear 2-screen googles (it did require head-tracking). The other two appeal to my sense of completeness better, especially the spinning disc one.

There are basically three categories that I can think of for 3d displays.

The first merely displays different images to each eye, like with old-school 3d goggles, the interlaced screen, and the one method that will eventually win for efficiency, awesomeness, and quality in personal display devices: retinal laser projection, which excites me particularly.

The second category traces light patterns into the air, unfortunately on a moving surface or some substrate; holographic projectors like you see in sci-fi movies barely have any practical implementation at all. The advantage and disadvantage of this method is that while it is tracing a true 3d image in the air, visible from every angle you can get a vantage point from, projected images don’t occlude anything behind them; that is, they don’t appear to be solid, you can see right through them. This means that you can see the internal workings of devices if they’re shown, but this method would not be suitable for showing three-dimensional movies.

The third category projects a different image at every angle. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s only practical to do this in a horizontal fashion, so that the image does not change when viewed higher or lower, only distorts some. With camera- or head-mounted tracking, you can in fact make it appear correctly when viewed from closer to above it, but that doesn’t really matter usually. It works great, because as you can see, projected objects appear to be occluded.

Another, more interesting and by all indications undemonstrated category of device (which I shall refer to as category 3a) would be a SURFACE that appears different from every angle. Such a device, if made practical, could be made into something the size and shape of modern LCD monitors. The key would probably lie in making microscopic projectors and lenses less than a quarter of a millimeter square on the end, then forming them into a gigantic array ten, twelve, thirty inches in diagonal. Such a device could be used as a regular flat boring 2d monitor for normal applications, then periodically switch to a deep, near-realistic window into another world. Like the Wizard of Oz, seeing such a transition would be no less breathtaking than a transition from washed out sepia to full, vibrant color.

Category 3a devices needn’t be flat, though. You could also form them into a cylinder, or perhaps a sphere, for full 360° viewing pleasure.

When you consider the big picture, the first and third categories will probably endure for a long time, while the second is slightly more limited in its practical uses. The more information you display, the harder it is to make out. For practical purposes, the category 3 devices can be made to do everything category 2 devices can do, with a little more computational work involved.

It occurs to me I should consider lasting practicality. Category 1 devices are of course already plenty practical; categories 2 and 3 may win or lose based on the necessary size of the device itself. Both kinds could hurt you if you touched them, since they’re spinning so fast. The real issue of size lies in the ability to project onto the device from below. This is a simple matter with category 2 devices, but with the spinning mirror in a category 3 device this is a more difficult proposition. The bulkier projection equipment in the demo I linked to is actually mounted above the mirror itself, making the design large and impractical for home use. If you inverted the mirror, then, you could easily project from the bottom, but it would only be viewable from so high up. Angling the mirror nearer the vertical would help too, but this would result in a wider base. So all things considered, spinning-mirror model category 3 devices need some revision in form to be ready for home application, but should be sufficient once that is accomplished.

With all that said, I’m still waiting for the vast improvements needed in the color selections and brightness/contrast of modern 2d display monitors – namely, exponent-curved 48 bit brightness levels and 4 or 5 frequency displays to more accurately represent actual vision. Until they get that right, 3d displays should stay in museums.

Edit: More specific information on retinal laser displays. There’s a few other articles as well on in-depth design, which I can’t seem to find because I read them in some magazine in Canada, and can’t find them again.

oh and about recently

I was going to say something terribly interesting, I thought, but it turns out that it was just this: that I went and tried to turn in my programming assignment yesterday (Thursday, I work on a subjective-day system). I mailed it in like it seemed apparently asking for, but it turned out it’s not due until NEXT week. Nonetheless, I’m glad I did it, and the professor seems happy about it. She was somewhat confused (Oh, that was you), but when you get down to it, it took about five minutes to write the actual code. And it was fun, since it’s reversing sound files and stuff. So yeah.

I like Daft Punk.

And something that I just ran into. On some sites, specifically Microsoft now, I actually have to concentrate sometimes to read CAPTCHA messages (try refreshing that a few times, you might see what I mean). If they aren’t just keeping ahead of the curve, and they’re in fact actually doing this to keep automatic bots out of their email system, then it spells the very first sign of flattening wavy seas signaling the slow rising of the true AI behemoth rising from the freezing watery depths. It seems like every few days recently, I notice something that makes me think just how close to the truth Shirow Masamune may have been. (Mr. Shirow wrote both Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, futuristic mangas which were eventually made into television and/or movie form. He’s rather a visionary as far as future technology goes.)