20091223

Visionary Nanofutures: V

In its emergence, nanotechnology is the stuff of science-fiction made real, while science-fictions are the dreams of science. Alone each is amorphous, but together nano and sci-fi set up a mutual interference pattern that results in a visionary quantum collapse. The interactions of scientific innovation and imaginative storytelling create atoms of nanotechnoscientific belief. From these atoms, materials with miraculous properties, a revolution in chemistry, and the universal molecular assembler among others, stakeholders conceive a future which justifies their favored version of nanotechnology. Their “tall and slender tower of reasoning” acts as a scaffolding around which scientists and policymakers design the concrete basis of a nanofuture, and it is from this base that science-fiction authors write the next generation of visions; the cycle repeats itself. Nanovisions can be self-reinforcing, or mutually destructive. If the course of nanotechnology veers away from molecular assembly, Engines of Creation becomes more and more fantastical, and less relevant to contemporary discourse. Conversely, as long as Engines continues to inspire nanotechnologists, molecular assembly will be pursued, even if it is far beyond the current state of the art. Nanotechnology's visionary qualities opens doors for an examination of social and political issues. The future worlds imagined by nanotechnology call into question the failures of our current society; inequality, inefficiency, and the near unshakeable faith in technological progress that defined the 20th century. Most people possess reflexive political opinions on these issues, when questioned, they respond by instinct rather than reasoned consideration. Science-fiction shatters our preconceptions. By changing the context, it frees people to consider what is truly important without overtly threatening their self-image. Though an engineer might openly proclaim that technology is value neutral, and only its applications have moral weight, a science-fictional analysis of nanotechnology permits him to learn that technology cannot be separated from applications; every artifact is political. Because nanotechnology presents such pressing issues of economic competitiveness and national security, yet requires long term commitments, it encourages policymakers to look up from the tactical skirmishing of politics and focus on “that vision thing.” Even if the technical promise of nanotechnology falls through, like so many grandiose visions before, the deep debate it has already stimulated is valuable in and of itself. Speculation is a game, but games prepare us for the test. By prefiguring the course and implications of nanotechnology, visionary nanofictions strengthen society for the stresses of a technological revolution.

Part IV

Thank you very much for staying through this lengthly series. Originally, this was an assignment for Michael Bennett's class on nanotechnology, Molecular Coordinates. I hope that these essays have been interesting and thought provoking, and I am sure that I will return to these themes, particularly interaction of science-fiction and policy making.


20091217

Visionary Nanofutures IV: Fiction in the Laboratory

Policymakers act on technology only at a distance. To fully affect the development of nanotechnology, we go directly to the source of innovation; scientists and engineers working in the field. “Whether they like the role or not, nanotechnologists are considered the essential actors of making the greatest dreams and the greatest fears come true. Therefore, more than in any other field, students of nanotechnology must be prepared to respond to such expectations, in public discourse as well as in daily research decisions.” Scientists and engineers must be engaged with full implications of nanotechnology because their involvement is the only way to counter demagoguery and neo-luddism. When scientists isolated themselves from the public debate, they surrender defining nanotechnology and framing its implications to the loudest technocritics, to the detriment of nanotechnology and society. The complexity of nanotechnoscience implies that scientists require more than technical knowledge, “[To] understand what these visions are about, what their cultural backgrounds and driving societal forces are. Because science fiction authors are arguably the most professional and influential vision writers, their texts are an ideal source for making engineering students aware of the public expectations they will increasingly face in their professional lives.”2 The positive effects of this use of science-fiction extend beyond heightened political awareness. Educating engineers in ethics is a pressing problem. Traditional approaches, whether top down or bottom up, share the dilemma that although you can teach engineers to pass a test, you cannot force them to integrate 'soft' ethical reasoning. Science-fiction analysis, because it uses imaginative as well as logical faculties, is more effective in inculcating a mindset of ethical consideration. The density of science-fiction allows a class to cover more material, Berne and Schummer provide the example of Michael Flynn's “The Fisher at the Ford,” which arranges “Six characters with different moral positions, for each of which we find almost convincing arguments.” Finally, exposure to visionary futures can alter the direction of research. At the bottom of the Drexler-Smalley divide in nanotechnology is a disagreement over whether research should be directed towards the goal of molecular assembly. While the potential of each path is an open question, I believe that powerful visions are beneficial; the grant process rewards short-term research, scientific norms should balance approachable experiments with low-probability paradigm shifting research. One inspired scientist might be enough to break the field of nanotechnology wide open.

Part III-----Part V


20091215

Visionary Nanofutures III: Politics of (im)Possibility

Technological development is a human phenomenon carried out by hard working scientists and engineers supported by a social and political framework. Policymakers can govern the rate and course of innovation through direct funding and intellectual property protection, but in a democratic society they are ultimately accountable to the will of the people, which is in large part affected by pop culture. The early years of space exploration are intricately bound up with science-fiction, starting with Jules Verne's Journey from the Earth to the Moon. The British Interplanetary Society, a group of enthusiasts with degree of technical knowledge, “all of them science fiction fans,” designed a workable lunar mission in 1939; their sole intractable problem finding a rocket powerful enough to get the capsule off the ground. In America, widespread support for Kennedy's space program was grounded in popular depictions of space travel, such as the juveniles of Robert Heinlein, the work of artist Charles Bonestell, and the 1950 movie, Destination Moon. “Space boosters amplified these efforts by playing on popular anxieties about the Cold War.” Collier's magazine published a series of articles detailing an unstoppable nuclear bombardment from space. The historical example of space travel provides a guide to modern science policymakers. Nanotechnology cannot succeed if public opinion, swayed by cautionary literature, as exemplified by Michael Cricton's Prey and Bill Joy's essay “Why the Future Doesn't Need Us,” turns against it, but conversely favorable depictions in science-fiction will accelerate interest in nanotechnoscience. Books and movies depicting nano-enabled societies in a positive light could assuage a skeptical public (see Wall-E vesus the Terminator saga for an example in robotics.) Fear of nuclear annihilation provided the decisive impetus to the space race, a generalized fear of the future economic stagnation and ecological disaster might serve for nanotechnology. “A clever environmental campaign would explain to the rich how much they are suffering at the hands of old tech... The job at hand is aggressive restoration... Ripping into the previous technological base and rethinking, reinventing, and rebuilding it on every level of society.” Legislative gridlock in Washington, DC and massive public disenchantment with politics is evidence of intellectual bankruptcy in conventional politics. Old political mythologies have lost their credence. The combination of technical and social pressures opens an opportunity for a group of savvy and idealistic politicians to use science-fictional ideas to redefine the American narrative.


Part II-----Part IV


Is this identity true ?


20091209

Visionary Nanofutures II: Engines of Imagination

The single most significant work of nanoliterature is Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation. Engines laid out the basic principles of molecular assembly, provided an extensive overview of its applications, and prefigured many current nanoethical debates; the majority subsequent nanoliterature is a commentary on Engines of Creations. In the words of Richard Smalley, Nobel laureate and Drexler's arch-rival in the nanotech community. “I was fascinated by your book "Engines of Creation" when I first read it in 1991. Reading it was the trigger event that started my own journey in nanotechnology.” More a manifesto than a technical essay, Engines is distinguished by its relentless visionary drive. Drexler writes with the fervor of an evangelist, outlining a glowing future of limitless resources, human immortality, and ever expanding consciousness in a framework of technological Darwinism, where only the most adaptable artifacts survive. In his foreword to Engines, Marvin Minsky makes two basic claims about the work: First, that it is based on the soundest technical extrapolation, and second, that it can be grouped (to its benefit) within the genre of science-fiction. Science-fiction is more successful than purely technical works in explaining future worlds because “[It is] equally concerned with the pressures and choices […] imagined emerging from their societies.” Minsky correctly identifies the science-fictional quality of Engines of Creation as the source of its enduring influence, but his grasp of the why is insufficient. Minsky implies that conventional predictions of the course of science diverge from reality because they lack a social dimension; a more accurate explanation is that science-fiction succeeds because it engages all our narrative faculties. Human beings are hardwired to understand the universe as a coherent sequence of causal relationships, or in other words as a story with a setting, characters, and events. Where the scholar uses tested theoretical paradigms and rigorous logic to make her case, the science-fiction writer instead appeals to an intuitive sense of narrative unity. Science-fiction can be distinguished from naturalist or fantastic literature by the subjunctive tension of “events that have not happened.” Science-fiction is the literature of the possible, writing it is the process of envisioning a credible alternative reality. This is why Engines of Creations endures when most futurology decays faster than a pulp magazine; as long as one of Drexler's many technical foundations remains credible, the strength of his vision binds all of his conclusions together.


Part I------Part III


20091207

Visionary Nanofutures I: The Oracle

This is the first in a series of five short essays on nanotechnology and science-fiction.

No man can know what tomorrow will bring, but even so human beings are obsessed with catching glimpses of the future. From the Oracle of Delphi to sophisticated stock market prediction algorithms, we seek foresight for profit, peace of mind, or pure curiosity. In ancient times, prophets were able to call upon divine will and supernatural power to lend authority to their claims, but in this age, serious-minded citizens are not convinced by appeals to the ineffable. Methodologies tend to be based on mathematical modeling, as used in The Limits to Growth, a 1972 study on population growth in a finite world, or alternatively in qualitative economic, political, and sociological analysis of the present day. There are problems with both methodologies; mathematical models are vulnerable to extrapolation errors, either using linear models where an exponential would be more appropriate, or erroneous selecting the steepest section of a sigmoid curve as the base for exponential growth. Qualitative analysis, if sufficiently rigorous, provides a better glimpse of the future, but is still limited by contemporary academic paradigms, and is subject to political pressures. A way out of this impasse is imagination; when we go beyond predicting specific issues, we are envisioning a world, a creative and imaginative proposition. In asking questions about the future, we first ask “What is changing?”, and at the dawn of the 21st century, that change is technological. Nanotechnology is one of the new fields that promises to reshape the world, a science of manipulating matter at the atomic level to create substances with wondrous new properties, and artifacts that in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, are “indistinguishable from magic.” Nanotechnology is young, its direction still uncertain, but all agree that its impact will be revolutionary, and requires forward looking ethical and social examination. Discourse on the future of nanotechnology and its ethical and social implications is perforce speculative, and speculation is a dangerous game. Nordmann criticizes the tendency of speculation to “waste the scarce and valuable resource of ethical concern,” but how can work in nanotechnology without speculating? Quantum mechanics teaches that we cannot observe without changing, and when we speculation on nanotechnology, “observing” the future, we affect the development of nanotechnology. The most important speculations are those that stick and stay with us, the ones that we find most “visionary.” Visionary futures are inextricably tied to nanotechnology.


Part II


20091130

We Alone in Washington

Good news, everbody! This humble blogger has landed one of the most kickass internships in the world with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. We'll be going deep undercover in a recon mission to discover who these science policy professionals are, what they believe, and what they're doing. And of course, we'll be infiltrating transhumanist views into the highest levels of government.

No other information for now, but brace yourself for a We Alone on Earth special feature starting Jan 18, 2010.


20091118

Political Science Fiction

New York Times columnist David Brooks posted a provocative column on American futurism, optimism, and innovation. He proposes that the quality that makes America unique is an "Eschatological faith in the [that] future has motivated generations of Americans, just as religious faith motivates a missionary." But right now due to the sad state of politics, we have lost that faith in the future, that trust in technological progress has moved to China. What we need is a leader (Obama) who can create a national vision of the future, exciting our country to again lead the world.

I agree with Brooks; Americans no longer believe in the future, pessimism and catastrophe are the modern ideologies, and they are poisoning our future. However, the politics of the conventional will not be enough to make this change. We need visionary drive, and Brooks forgets our current visionaries and futurists: science fiction authors. Sci-fi needs to move out of the nerd ghetto, and become part of the national discourse.

Laying out this vision is the hardest challenge that President Obama faces. Even his astounding rhetorical skills may not be up to the task. But if he is going to be that transformative leader that America so desperately needs, he must articulate a national mission. More-so than health care, Afghanistan, and the economy, we have to restore the national engagement with the future


20091107

Circuit Etching Test

Using some variant of the instructions found here, I was able to etch a small 1"x1" test board.


Current problems : surprisingly few. [1] OpenOffice, which I used to draw the design, does not scale correctly when printing. Much searching on the internet did not resolve this problem, and ultimately I guessed as to the correct scale at which to draw the design. Suggestions for a better free drawing program would be welcome. [2] There was a 1mm misalignment between the two board sides. This makes through hole mounting.. tricky to impossible ? I will have to try harder next time. [3] I do not have a drill press, and Home Depot does not sell bits small enough to drill out PCB holes. I will simply use only surface mount designs in the future, to avoid this problem. [4] I do not know how to reliably get good close-up shots with my cheap digital camera.

Significant deviations/simplifications/shortcuts from the internet instructions : [1] I did not prepare the board with acetone beforehand, I scrubbed it a bit with steel wool. [2] I did not have to soak the board particularly long to remove the paper. I simply left the board in warm water for a few seconds then slowly peeled off the transfer paper in one piece. This created a nearly perfect mask. [3] I did not have to heat or agitate the etching solution, I just ignored it for twenty minutes. [4] I removed the mask with a q-tip and acetone, no abrasion.

Update : I tried some surface mount style soldering practice on the board

Since drilling holes is a major nuisance, I decided to try soldering an IC directly on the surface. I cut about 1/2 the leads off and bent them inward. I then tinned both the pads on the board and the leads. Connecting the chip was then as simple as briefly touching the joint to melt the two pools of solder together. The chip ( a hex inverter ) still works despite using no anti-static precautions, no heat sink while soldering, and hooking it up to twice the operating voltage backwards. Surface mount soldering of 0.1" pitch components turns out to be fairly easy, so I see no reason not to use surface mount design in the future. Soldering of smaller surface mount components appears to take a bit of cleverness.


20091004

Flicker Hallucination Goggles : Public Demonstration

Last night we tested out some of the Goggles on the street. I remember the following quotes : "I wish I had one of those blind people sticks so I could walk around with these on all the time", "Thems Nice", "What the hell?", "Its like, an octagon, but with way more sides", "This is better than drugs", "My God, its full of stars", "I need another fix", "No !!!!", "Are you on this shit too?", "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?", "Why are you a triangle?", "Too much fun to be legal".







20090926

Titles of Papers not yet Written

Invent titles of ridiculous papers that you would like to exist.

I'm fairly certain that these people titled their paper before they did the research

Edit : I am turning this into some sort of sticky page where I will add in titles that sound cool, but have not been written. Some of these have already been used as titles for posts on this blog, I will try to keep them linked in as things change.


  • Circuit Lower Bounds are Hard because of The Man
  • Completing Your Graduate Thesis Through Applied Hobonics
  • Differential verses Integral complexity as measures of replicator sophistication
  • Growing up in Many Worlds: The Developmental effect of exposing children to The Many Worlds Hypothesis of Quantum Mechanics
  • An improved calibration and auto-ranging function for targeted microwave weapons permitting nonlethal use
  • (in)Sanity and Science.
  • The Journal of Applied Hobonics
  • A Mathematical model for the genetics of drug addiction
  • Metrics of stability in emergent agent based social models
  • Micro-exposure to Common House-Hold Hallucinogen and their Effect on Childhood Development
  • Modalities of a Decentralized Military-Industrial Complex in Globalization Protests.
  • Moduli spaces and non-unique souls.
  • A Novel Hobonic Approach to Food Acquisition
  • Numerical solution for audiovisual stimuli of maximum representational dissonance
  • The origin of cognitive impulses
  • Post-Human Rights in a Postmodern Polity
  • The potentials of Molecular Computation in non-coding genomic DNA
  • Putting the so called junk DNA to work as a computational medium
  • Reconstructing Extinct Genomes Through Mathematical Analysis
  • Resource availability drives rapid, reversible mutation in non-coding DNA regions
  • Sensory prostheses and novel Nonlethal Riot Control Methods
  • Social algorithms for clique self-assembly, and applications politics
  • Equilibria and Optimality in Regulation of Vice
  • Subjective Information : Philosophy of Individualism and Consensus Reality in Information Theoretic Terms
  • Toward a unified theory of the sensory-motor control loop and its pathologies


Sensory Prostheses and Nonlethal Police Methods

Not too long ago (seems like ages, but some of us are still serving community service for unauthorized protest), 20 delegates from the self appointed most-powerful nations descended on Pittsburgh. I'm not... exactly sure what, if anything was accomplished in this G-20 meeting, besides raining a whole hell of nuisance on the Pittsburgh community. I'm not going to go into the details of the general awfulness and terror that ensued, you can find that on elsewhere. Instead I will focus on the intersection of neuroscience, non-lethal police methods, and sensory prosthetics.

Police arrived in town with all manner of goodies and anticipating war. These included the usual pepper aerosol bombs and rubber coated bullets, but also the technologically sophisticated Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD).

The number of technologically sophisticated devices designed for non-lethal control methods is increasing, and research into the human nervous system both guides the design of such weapons, and also provides clues about how to guard against them.

The principle use of nonlethal weapons is to achieve a tactical advantage and a measure of control without causing permanent injury. I will group said weapons loosely into three categories : painless immobilizing techniques, methods of inducing pain, and advanced methods of sensory incapacitation. The first two are familiar and historical. Advanced, painless, methods of sensory incapacitation is a subject of ongoing research.

We can have lots of fun with painless immobilization techniques ( handcuffs ? rope ? nets ? barricades ? paintballs filled with glue ? foam bombs ? ), and have most likely not exhausted this category. We can also inflict pain fairly easily ( blunt force, tasers, pain stimulating chemicals in various delivery systems, bashing people over the head (these also seem to have the nasty problem of occasionally just killing people)). We are only beginning to hack the sensory systems to achieve immobilization in the absence of either pain or physical restraint.

The LRAD falls somewhere on the boundary between sensory hacking and pain induction. With respect to sensory stimuli, the LRAD is quite simple. It is very, very, loud. It is so loud that it will almost certainly irreversibly damage hearing. Its primary mechanism of action to to simply cause extreme pain in the more sensitive components of the human auditory system, and it is still a crude device.

High intensity strobe weapons are a bit more curious. They generally do not exceed the luminance tolerance of the eye, and so pain is not their main effect. Instead, they overwhelm and incapacitate the visual system, allegedly causing nausea and vomiting in some subjects. This strobe light incapacitating ray may well be the first true sensory hacking weapon.

How does it work ? As far as I know, that information is not publicly available, but I can speculate. The lights change faster than the human visual system can adapt. In fact, they change so quickly that the computational architecture of the retina and primary visual cortex ceases to perform its usual computation. As a result, the visual system is overwhelmed by artifacts of the computational structure : at the right frequencies, vision breaks down into noise and simple geometric shapes. Given a particularly unpredictable and destabilizing visual stimulus, the discrepancy between vision and the other senses becomes large. This lack of sensory alignment can cause nausea of a form not entirely dissimilar to motion sickness.

Can we conceive of other such weapons in other sensory modalities ? Certainly touch and taste are inaccessible remotely. This leaves audition and olfaction. Frankly I can't think of any way to hack olfaction besides a really terrible smell (thank you Sea Shepard). LRAD is a very crude hack of the auditory system, and barely counts. Perhaps a loud signal mimicing the statistics of natural speech can block communication in crowd control situations ? Perhaps an as yet undiscovered auditory analog of the flicker hallucination effect exists ? Or, perhaps a combination of auditory and visual stimulation in a synchronized fashion can geometrically amplify the efficacy of the strobe light incapacitating ray.

You don't think I was just sitting at home thinking of new technologies for hurting people while my friends were getting gassed, do you ? No, for many incapacitating agents there exist countermeasures. Sensory prosthetic systems can act as a general purpose perceptual filter, removing noxious stimuli and passing only useful information on to the brain. We are not yet in the age of augmented reality of this sophistication, but military research may drive us there.

A heads-up display with expanded sensitivity to wavelengths outside the visible spectrum could conceivably dodge the jamming effects of the strobe-nausea ray. By a combination of shifting to wavelengths that are not being jammed, and filtering out the flickering signal, we can reconstruct a useful visual scene. In short, Mr. La Forge is probably immune to strobe weapons.

An auditory prosthesis ( e.g. hearing aid ) can be turned off to prevent pass-through of the LRAD. Now, an auditory prosthesis attached to a digital filtering device may be able to pass through some sounds while still blocking the LRAD channel. At the very least, the prosthesis could clamp the audio to a non-painful level, and return to standard pass-through in-between LRAD bursts.

I guess I don't really have anywhere I'm going with this, besides perhaps that being a cyborg will render you immune to some riot control tactics.


20090920

psychedelia, contradiction, and theorem proving

Suppose we have a system which generates new facts from a body of axioms, derivation rules, and previously-known facts, i.e. a theorem-proving system. For this to be done tractably, the system much have some heuristic for exploring the space of possible facts. As long as it is functioning properly, the "shape" of the set of known truths within this space will depend both on the formal system itself and on this exploration heuristic.

Now suppose we introduce a logical contradiction into the system's body of known facts. Now all points in our space of facts are reachable. If the system had unbounded computational power, the entire space would "light up" at once. In a finitely-powerful system, we see an expanding shape, now determined solely by the exploration heuristic, i.e. by the properties of the theorem prover and not the thing which it is supposed to be studying.

This is the sense in which psychedelia is "mind-manifesting".


20090916

The Ethics of Nanotechnology

It's time for some serious social science. The EU Commission has released guidelines for ethical nanotechnology. Much of it is pretty sensible advice as to openness and encouraging the use of nanotechology for socially beneficial goals, but there are some sections that deserve critical review.

First, 4.1.11, that research bodies should standardized terminology. Nomenclature is more than word games, it shapes the ways in which think about the world. Calling for standard terminology would be an early step in the closure of nanotechnology. Do we want standardization to allow clearer collaboration, or are the many definitions of nanotechnology necessary for a diverse and expanding research community?

In the prohibition section, there is a call for not violating fundamental ethical principles, with new viruses given as an example. We should strongly consider the implications of military nanotechnology, particularly for targeted assassinations and robotic soldiers. Their call for non-therapeutic human enhancement is more problematic. I believe that we are going to see a blurring of the lines between medical (health is a social construct), commercially necessary (can you afford not to be as smart as your nano-enhanced colleagues) and recreational body modification. We are already cyborgs, why are nano-cyborgisms so dangerous that even research into enhancement technology is prohibited?

An aside on the topic of drugs. Commonly available mechanosynthesis would be a massive boon to drug users. Right now, synthesis of illicit drugs is controlled by monitoring their precursors. Mechanosynthesis uses the same elemental building blocks for all its products, so it essentially putting a drug lab in every home. How can we prevent personal fabricators, both macro and nano, from undermining laws that right now we consider necessary for society?


20090902

Do It Yourself : How to Build Hallucinogenic Goggles

This post will describe how to construct a pair of goggles which can be used to induce geometric visual hallucinations (1 2 3) via strobe light patterns. This tutorial should be accessible to anyone familiar with Arduino, and I do not cover details of the electronics design. These goggles can be constructed for 25 to 50 dollars, depending on how good you are at scavenging parts.

WARNING : this and similar projects have been known to induce seizures in susceptible individuals.


Device Summary

This device consists of three major components : a physical interface to provide the visual stimulation, electronics to control the physical interface, and code which governs the behavior of the interface. The physical interface consists of ping pong balls in swimming goggles with LEDs inside. The electronics are an Arduino pro-mini, and a few additional interface parts. The code is Arduino SDK C style driver code.

Component 1 : Physical Interface
Update : This later post suggests there might be an easier, faster, and more durable way to construct the goggles. The design posted here works fine, but is tricky and time consuming to make, and also fragile.

parts :
  • 4 to 10 Ping pong balls
  • 2 RGB LEDs, frosted clear casing (this is important, sand down the outside if not frosted)
  • 2 4x1 male headers, .1" spacing
  • 2 4x1 female headers, .1" spacing
  • 1 8x1 female header
  • 1 Dolfino medium sized silicone adult swim goggles ( had to buy in a 3 pack )
  • 2-3 ft of elastic ribbon
  • 3-4 ft of ribbon cable, only 8 channels required. Other cables with 8 channels also work.
Description :

Ping-pong balls, cut as if by a plane penetrating approximately 15% of the ball diameter, and rejoined with with smaller section inverted to form a cup like structure. RGB LEDs are affixed via solder to male headers which penetrate the corner of the ping pong balls (near the joint of the two sections). Light is emitted from the LEDs, reflects off the back of the larger section of sphere, and creates uniform illumination in the smaller cup. Two ping pong balls are nestled in a modified pair of swimming goggles. A ribbon cable connector is affixed with female headers which interface between the male headers on the spheres, and the male header output from the electronics. Note that logos or text printed on the ping pong balls can usually be removed with acetone ( nail polish remover ).

Tools :
  • one minute epoxy
  • superglue
  • soldering iron
  • solder
  • sharp razor
  • scissors
  • medium to fine sandpaper
  • wire cutters
  • tweezers
  • pin
  • toothpick, etc. for mixing and applying epoxy
Instructions :

Construct (2x) ping pong ball shells which are mirror images of eachother:


  1. Imagine the section cut by a ray displaced 34-40 degrees from vertical and rotated around the z axis. Alternatively imagine the section of a circle cut by an arc of 70-80 degrees. This partition defines the sizes of the large and smaller sections which form the spherical diffuser. You will not be able to cut both sections from the same ball, since material is lost in cutting, and a 1-2 mm edge is required for overlap to bond the sections together. Additionally, neither side should have a company logo on it, since this will ruin light diffusion. Ping pong balls have a ridge where the two halves are joined in manufacture, avoid cutting through this ridge since it will create an uneven joint that will prevent the balls from being re-assembled. I don't have exact measurements, but on my model the diameter of the circle at the interface of the two sections is 1.365"
  2. Prepare the larger section first, as described above. With a razor, cut a crude circular hole in the ping pong ball, perhaps circumscribing the logo if one is present. Slowly and carefully expand this hold by cutting around its circumference with a pair of fine scissors. Stop approximately 2mm from the final desired hole. At this time lightly sand the hemisphere on a flat piece of medium to fine sandpaper to create a fine, flat interface.
  3. From a new ping pong ball, prepare the smaller section. Cut the ball crudely in half using a razor, then carefully trim one half down to the intended size of the smaller section, plus 3mm.
  4. The smaller section should rest in the larger cup, and be large enough not to fall inside. Do not glue the sections together yet.
  5. Using a pin, create evenly 0.1" spaced holes for the male header in the larger section as shown. You may want to practice on a spare bit of plastic first. Insert the short end of the male header through these holes, and super-glue the header in place. Trim the LED leads so that the LED rests as shown, and bend down the last 2mm of leads to align with the inner header pins. If you do not have frosted housing for the LEDs, lightly sand the exterior of the LED with fine sandpaper. Clear housing creates light that is too focused for uniform diffusion in the eyepiece. Tin both the LED leads and the header pins in advance. Solder the LED onto the header from the inside; do not to melt the plastic. Super-glue the smaller piece into the large piece to make a finished eyepiece. Once the super-glue thoroughly hardens, you may want to finish the joint in the plastic with additional careful trimming and fine sanding ( don't sand through the joint )
  6. The final pair of eyepieces should be mirror images of each other, which is just a matter of correctly positioning the LED leads :

Construct ribbon cable connector:

EDIT : this is a terrible, tedious, way to build a cable. The correct way involves some sort of headers that are actually designed to clamp into ribbon cable, or using these little header connectors that use pins which clamp onto the wire (pins sold separately ?). I will post a writeup if I build a pair using better technique.


I found that it was important to have a separate cable that would disconnect from the goggles under force. This prevents the inevitable accidents from destroying the tediously constructed eyepieces, and modularity makes the whole thing easier to repair. This step is open to improvisation. Here is what I did :
  1. Tear a band of 8 lines from a section of ribbon cable. The cable should be as long as you would like the strap from the electronics to the goggles to be. I think 3-4' is fairly good.
  2. Cut the ribbon cable diagonally such that the spacing between the lines matched the 0.1" spacing of the 8 pin female connector
  3. Strip 2mm bare wire of each line
  4. Solder the line to the 8 pin female connector. Tinning the contacts in advance helps.
  5. Apply 1 minute epoxy to the contact, to provide both insulate and structural stability. Make sure there are no shorts between lines before you do this.
  • EDIT : Hot glue works better here, for a number of reasons. Hot glue remains flexible once cool, which allows for smooth transfer of strain on the cable without breaking the contact. Epoxy hardens, which results in an inflexible interface which slowly cuts and degrades the cable. Breaking of the cable, as well as squishing of the ping-pong balls, seem to be the two most common failure modes of this design. If anyone knows of any commercial connectors that would be better for this design, let me know.
  • Tear the line in two for ~1.5', creating a split from 8 lines to two ribbons of 4 lines. Prepare 4-pin female headers similarly to the 8 pin female header, in a symmetric fashion as pictured below. I used a clip that came with the swimming goggles' strap to stabilize the point where the cable splits in two.
  • The assemblage of this connector cable with the eyepieces should have the indicated pinout at the 8 pin female header :

  • Modify swimming goggles and complete physical interface assembly :

    1. Locate suitable swimming goggles. This is harder than it sounds. The only goggles I found suitable were the mid-sized silicone pair in a three pack of Dolfino goggles. The goggles must be of a correct size to snugly fit the eyepieces, and be able to deform to the circular shape of the eyepieces. The goggle must also be able to hold together with the lenses removed. Many goggles are bridged by an attachment to the lenses, rendering them unsuitable. Ideally, you would also be able to affix a strap to the goggles even with the lenses removed. Due to the limited availability of suitable goggles, this step may require improvisation.
    2. Remove the lenses. In the pair I used, the lenses were held in with a weak silicone glue. It was difficult to remove the lenses without damaging the goggles. Superglue proved effective at repairing large accidental tears in the silicone goggles
    3. Attempt to insert the eyepieces. If necessary, create an opening in the silicone to feed the male headers though. I used either a razor, or a hole-punch, depending on the thickness of the silicone. Insert the eyepieces.
    4. Create a head-strap. I used elastic ribbon, threaded through the hole used for the header pins, held in place by plastic loops, and super-glued back on to itself. One end was folded and kept free to adjust tension.
    5. Attach ribbon cable headers to the eyepieces, check that you have oriented the ribbon cable pinouts correctly.
    6. If the eyepieces are loose, optionally super-glue them in place to the goggles. Note that this will make repairs and maintenance more difficult.


    Component 2 : Driving Electronics

    Parts :
    • 1 Arduino pro-mini ( and FTDI breakout for programming ) (other options 1 2 3 4)
    • 1 6x1 right angle male header
    • 1 8x1 right angle male header
    • 2 12x1 straight male headers
    • 6 Resistors for the 6 LED channels as determined by your board voltage and LED datasheet (voltage, current) specifications. Use this handy LED resitor calculator. For 3v boards, a resistor may be un-necessary for the (green, blue) channels.
    • hookup wire
    • 1.5"x2.5" radioshack protoboard
    • Battery Pack
    • Power Switch
    • optional : LED displays, pushbuttons for a hardware user interface. I used a 16 segment display for some of my models, and a couple designs have pushbuttons to cycle through the various strobe light patches.


    Description

    There are probably a million and one ways to make 6 LEDs blink quickly in a controlled fasion. You can drive your LED goggles however you wish. I used an Arduino because the programming interface is easy to use. I also hope to figure out the serial interface to the arduino so I might write a control sketch in processing, for real time tweaking of the waveform patterns. My construction consisted of an arduino board, with the 6 pulse-width-modulation ( PWM ) output pins attached to the LED goggles. I also attached a 16 segment display and some push buttons to the design, but you can experiment with whatever features you wish.

    Tools : Soldering iron, Solder, Soldering accessories

    Assembly of an example control board :
    1. Since the arduino chip rests on raised headers, and the 16-segment LED display has ~1.5mm clearance, we can hide some of the circuitry underneath these components. Since this is a 3 volt board, I only needed 56ohm resistors for the red channels. Your LEDs and board may have different constraints. Also solder on the 6x1 right angle male header to the Arduino pro-mini serial FTDI interface ( I think thats what those 6 pins are called anyway ).
    2. We then solder in place the arduino chip and LED diplay. The LED display is set up for multiplexing, so the corresponding segments of each digit are connected, and the display is driven by alternately drawing both digits, controlled by switching on and off the common cathodes. Since I was short on pins, several display pins also double as input pins for the switches. Every so often, the sketch switches the display pins into read mode and polls the state of the buttons.
    3. I used a lot of tedious surface-mount style wires on the back to keep the design clean. It took some practice for me to get used to this type of soldering. Attaching the battery pack and power switch is not shown.


    Assemble All components :

    This is open ended, Experiment !. Prototype your design on a larger Arduino and breadboard. Tweak the driver code to your preferences. Make a more permanent device using your favorite prototyping technique ( Or design and order a custom PCB ! Please tell me if you do, I'd probably buy a couple! ).







    Component 3 : Code

    I've put some files up on Sourceforge

    Arduino sketch

    ( and here, another example adapted for the AtTiny13a)


    20090729

    182 rides later

    and I know the sound of the subway anywhere--
    each track is the same, cluckacluckaclucka-BAM at the end, sometimes setting off a red flare, sometimes not,
    but I swear one could be heading right at me
    in an open field and I would/could/shouldn't recognize it.

    There's no irrevocable connection between sound and vision, no mapping of 'this is what a subway sounds like' to the subway itself back down to earth, back down to 'this is what a subway looks like'.

    I thought I could draw these connections, put these patterns together, map-reduce-fold down to fractals and pretty pictures.

    Can't. See, it's not even philosophically possible. 182 times I have both seen and heard the subway, both senses moving at on(c)e [I never wait for the subway with my eyes closed, or my ears shut.], I cannot put these pieces together. I rely on the surroundings. This is a subway because you are waiting for a subway. Don't you know, were you above ground this clack-a-clack-a-clack-a-BOOM would be a street car. Red connected above and below, its tracks a biker's hell.

    --

    I got to drive a subway. Apparently, this has been the cause of many accidents in the D.C. area. I didn't cause an accident. I mean, I'm writing this now, and besides, there were only two people on the train--me and the guy who was supposed to be driving. I got to the train late, and the conductor

    (black--accent indistinguishable to my ears who have lived in the South for far too long where every black person sounds the same (like fried chicken, watermelon, and greens--the faint aftertaste of slavery, still bitter, still lingering 150 years later in everyone's hands, the old masters still hold power and things are free but never equal),--was he Jamaican, African, from somewhere else hot and sticky where people go to die or vacation?)

    flirted with me and asked me where I was going ('Bayview') and said we could go there but also said that he'd 'have to let me drive'. ('Alright,' I said, 'Cool')--was the night when I got out of the station. The final buses were long gone and I wasn't sure how to hail a taxi (and were those even taxis?) so I called 3 friends on the West Coast at my 2AM and told them the tale as I trudged home for 1 hour.


    20090625

    Almost new content

    This is a different model that my adviser invented ( he does all the math ). it looks about the same as the old model.





    20090621

    ... and the reason no one ever does anything to fix things is that they haven't got a clue what to do. There is a lack of ideas, a lack of leadership, and a lack of useful social innovation. Sure there are forces actively delaying progress, but those can be ignored and overwhelmed by superior innovation. I am using innovation in a broad sense, which includes lifestyle changes that result in less waste. Forget the culture war, its not my problem, I'll just try to think of new ideas.


    I am often struck with the absurdity of certain academic pursuits. For instance, when I encounter natural beauty I usually think how amusing it would be to model the growth of plants. I then realize that it is already rendered perfectly for me right now, and really why would I want anything less? Does mathematical modeling of phenomena actually provide deeper understanding? The only thing I'd say for certain is that a correct mathematical model often affords greater control over the modeled system.


    20090618

    The Structure of Religion

    I've been thinking a little on the nature of religion, both for my own personal reasons and to formulate a wider policy. No decision can be made in the presence of inaccurate observations, and I think religions can be characterized by three elements.


    1) Gnosis: Human beings have religious experiences, this is an undeniable fact. We are on a very basic neurochemical level capable of experiencing sensations of the presence of supernatural beings and of a deep connectedness to the universe. There is a physiogical basis to these feelings, for example epilepsy and various entheogenic drugs, but their physical nature renders these experiences no less meaningful. If you feel like you're talking to God, I cannot invalidate your personal experience of the divine. The presence or absence of supernatural beings has no bearing on the existence of the sensation of gnosis.

    2) Community: If a successful meme against Christianity were developed, people would still go the church on Sunday for the social aspects. As a community, you're either a member of not, but just because We Alone didn't have a church upbringing, and parent/elderly focused communities have little personal relevance, doesn't mean that others do not find these communities valuable. As long as communities don't violate the UN Charter on Human Rights, I don't believe we have a right to interfere with their existence. Even if we disagree, we must get along.

    3) Memeplex: As this blog has stated in the past, religion is a collection of memes. Some are these are mythical, like Genesis, others are ethical. Religious mythology gets a bad rap here, because many of its adherents believe they can't follow both it, and the scientific explanation of the universe, hence Young Earth Creationism in school, and teaching the controversy. Here, we must make a stand. I don't like state supported meme-myths, but the scientific memeplex is required for an understanding of scientific fact, and we have to promote scientific fact in school.

    As for ethics, religious values are a good enough operating system for society. Logical philosophical ethics, like utilitarianism and Kantian ethics, break down in boundary cases. I feel that the ad hoc nature of religious ethics actually leads to a more resilient social structure. The problem is when these ethics also call for denying gay people basic human rights, or advocate stoning women for insane offenses a la fundamentalist Islam. Again, here we must make a stand.

    The problem with trying to alter religious memeplexes is that religions, as self perpetuation memes, demand rigid adherence to orthodoxy. for example, the Koran states that it is eternally true. I don't know if there's a good way to encourage social and memetic flexibility without knocking the heart out of the rest of the system. Reform Judaism and mainline Protestantism are fairly moribund.

    If there is an answer, it lies in gnosis. The direct experience of God revitalizes religions, and causes a questioning of pre-existing doctrine. Ironically, by bringing people closer to god, we might be able to ameliorate the more damaging aspects of religion.


    20090601

    Pro Nuclear Propoganda

    I'm not going to get into the technical details of why fast breeder reactors are the best solution to the energy/climate crisis here, but nuclear power faces one major implementation problem, public image.


    When people think nuclear, they think Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Three Mile Island. Radiation sickness, cancer children, irradiated wastelands. The reality is the that nuclear power is inherently unfriendly and dangerous. It's a classic Big Science field with military applications and hefty health risks. We are right to be concerned.

    I doubt people will ever like nuclear power, but we must promote credibility in America's nuclear complex. This means moving it from the shadow of military secrecy. Familiarity will make people less nervous. Nuclear power should be directly compared to coal, in terms of local impact. Numbers and facts may help, but the image of a nuclear plant on a green field with a blue sky, compared to black skies full of coal smoke is what we're aiming for.

    One killer app is nuclear power for disaster aid. A Russian group is planning to building floating nuclear power plants. These could be used to run desalination plants to provide clean water in Africa and SE Asia. Of course, the problem is that one security breach and you have Somali pirates with nukes, but we must run risks.

    As for our larger project, the biggest danger is that all science may be again tarred with the nuclear brush. Failure here could affect fusion, nanotech, and other convergent technologies.

    As time permits, I may turn my hand to doing some propaganda.


    20090529

    We Must Not Lose the Propaganda War

    In a speech before the convention of the veterans of foreign wars in new york, Nixon also said opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single Weapon working against the u.s.

    Propaganda lies in an ethically grey area. It can be used to justify both noble and ignoble causes. We are engaged in an environmental propaganda war which has persisted since the 1960s. This war pits wealthy, powerful, job providing, and ultimately destructive corporations against the poorly organized and underfunded environmental grassroots organizations.

    This afternoon I witnessed some truly strange anti-green propaganda as I drove from New York to Pittsburgh. I am certain that this propaganda was paid for by powers representing the interests of the Pennsylvania coal mining industry, and not the interest of Pennsylvanians themselves.

    The first item of interest is a billboard advocating clean coal, depicting a green incandescent lightbulb on a black background. They could have at least used a compact fluorescent bulb to pretend to mask their hypocrisy, but I doubt the citizens of buttfuck Pennsylvania will notice. There is no such thing as clean coal, and all information associated with "clean coal" is an effort by existing coal mining corporations to persist in their inefficient and destructive enterprise.

    Having lost the moral high ground by attacking the citizens of central PA, I proceed to the next billboard of interest, which reads ( near as I can remember )

    "Obama's clean energy plan is a war on the poor"

    The billboard cites a projected $5 per gallon for gasoline as evidence of this war, and urges citizens to call their senators. This billboard must have been paid for by either the coal companies, the oil companies, or both. This one is complicated. Assume for a moment that Obama's policies will lead to $5/gallon gasoline, and ignore the fact that the oil market has more control over the price of gasoline than any government. If Detroit were to double its gas milage on all vehicles, this increased cost would be nullified, and we would all be breathing a little bit easier. I can only assume that the inertia with respect to fuel efficiency is due to intellectual laziness or intellectual insufficiency in America's engineers and auto company CEOs. Complaints about the jobs lost as the coal and oil companies collapse miss the point that our current coal, oil, and gas enterprises are destructive and lazy solutions to our energy needs. If properly executed, the green energy economy can replace the role of fossil fuel corporations in the American job market.

    Many of you may be familiar with fast breeder nuclear reactors. These reactors can meet our energy needs with existing nuclear fuel, and should give us more than enough carbon-free years to transition to purely sustainable energy source. After some discussion with other authors of this blog, we suspect that fast breeder reactors can be done properly and need not pose a national security risk. There is widespread concern that the plutonium produced by fast breeder reactors may find its way into the hands of a rouge state or terrorist group. This would require cooperation between some part of a major nuclear power and a dangerous terrorist group. Now, this is not to say that this is unlikely or that this hasn't happened before, but wouldn't we expect existing sources of plutonium/uranium to pose a similar risk ? If the plutonium fuel produced is stored on site, and we limit the number of stations to a few tens or a couple hundred, we should be able to keep the fuel secure. Additionally, it is possible that the small risk of a rouge state acquiring the plutonium fuel is much less than the risk of widespread political instability caused by global climate change. I hope that somewhere, some think tank is analyzing these risks right now, and has found a way to overcome the security concerns surrounding fast breeder reactors.

    As for the propaganda war, the best I can think of at the moment is to hold an internet photoshop contest for pro-green propaganda, and display the best on billboards in prominent locations, and in online advertisements. The only idea so far : playboy model next to a nuclear stack, captions "one of these curves can save the world" ... or something like that. Getting churches in this country on the bandwagon may do some good, but that is a hard beast to control.


    20090523

    Technosphere/Biosphere

    An excellent and imaginative post from Everett.

    The upcoming climate/energy crisis is the product of a clash between two competing ecosystems, the biosphere and the technosphere. This is not to say that machine and animal are automatically in opposition, the issue is that the biosphere is unable to react to the technosphere fast enough to maintain equilibrium. Evolution is a process that affects all entities with heredity. The biological process of evolution is an established fact. Evolution in machines is a more radical idea, but one espoused by many STS theorists. To summarize, technologies are built on previous technologies, that is to say they express a heredity. The course of technological development is guided by selection pressures of technical possibility, and the desires of human actors.

    The biosphere and technosphere are incompatible, because technical evolution occurs on a time scale orders of magnitude faster than biological evolution. Without protection, the biosphere will be forced back by technological artifacts that occupy the same macro-niches, in terms of land and resources. The technosphere, areas substantially altered by human technology, now occupies most of the land area of the planet. With its speed enhanced efficiency, without external pressures, it will expand to cover the entire world.

    I cannot predict the state of the post-crisis equilibrium. The biosphere will survive, as the rocks and seas that existed before life remain. But as Mike's post postulates, we may see a convergences between biological and technological. Biology will take place on technical substrates rather than physical ones. Genetic technologies will decrease the timescale of biological evolution, perhaps providing a method for the biosphere to compete with the technosphere. Of course, a genetically engineered organism is a technical process, so this is another means by which the biosphere is being rendered obsolete.

    Timescales: Expect mankind to become extinct when posthuman evolutionary timescales significantly outpace human evolutionary timescales by an order of 5-10.


    20090521

    Progress

    Human progress : first it was exponential, then climate change brought it down to linear, until our energy capture capacity brought everything to a slow and final halt. It took hundreds of years past the third world war to finally reach our carrying capacity. It is a state in which we let all go to waste. We re-engineered the entire planet to support our ever increasing population. The mass extinction is old news, but don't worry, we've digitally preserved their DNA. You can enjoy the new holographic virtualization of ecosystems lost. It is as good as the real thing, except they never reproduce the smell quite right, the older people say. We lost the medicinal wealth of the tropical ecosystems, but thats ok, we aren't really biological anymore anyway. Life is not dead: vast orbiting supercomputers simulate the hypothetical evolution of a planet without us.



    20090518

    There are 1.2 billion people alive today who were born before the molecular basis of life was discovered

    This is for those who claim that some of the questions we ask today will never be answered.

    (Population data from here. Using the central dogma of molecular biology, articulated in 1958, as a somewhat arbitrary cutoff point.)


    20090514

    Notes on Practical Construction of Desert Compounds

    (thanks to friends)

    Tunnel garderns
    Adobe based construction
    Clever use of more conventional construction
    What to tell the county
    What to do with the poop
    Its not that unreasonable

    A more private version of hippie desert science land
    Not the institute of mental physics
    The simple construction option
    Using local building materials

    And of course, a few of these


    Brains at DARPA

    The gnomes at the Pentagon are always pushing the limits of science, and these days they're looking into brains. A leading DARPA initiative investigates the possibility of telepathy. I can't say that faster communication between soldiers is the wave of the future. While it'd be useful to be able to communicate well in a squad that was split up, there are probably easier ways to do this. While I'm fairly sure general emotional states could be transmitted, the only one that seems useful militarily is 'danger.' Extracting enough information out of an EEG to allow tactical command seems like a major challenge. For a good look at how a developed system of this type would work, see Scalzi's The Ghost Brigade.

    Where I see this coming in handy is in therapy, negotiations, and relationships. If these machines allow better interpersonal emotional understanding, i.e. empathy, they offer a path to peace. By becoming more in tune with our emotions, we can better understand ourselves and each other, reducing tension in this world.

    BONUS LINK:
    Techer could be new DARPA chief.


    Penetrabit: Slime-Temples

    by Rob Hardin

    Life is a disease of matter.
    --Goethe


    I
    30 cm. of creeping protoplasm,
    absently gibbering spirals, hexahedrons, hillocks, trills
    may indicate an autocatalytic reaction.
    And the hypnotic figurations of nerve axons-

    Receptive, active, quiescent-
    turn like scrolls of electrolyzed plasma.
    Both substances reveal a talent for spatial organization:
    their dead thrashings trace patterns of cerebral complexity.

    Similarly, the contractions of human heart muscle
    resemble a wave spreading outward.
    When the wave is broken, heart fibrillations
    exhibit persistent patterns. And, often

    these autocatalytic spirals of disease
    are attended by failure and death.

    II
    The surface of the brain
    may also erupt in a necropolis of spirals.
    Reverberating cortical depression
    brings with it a pattern of self-propagating forms.

    Even a disc galaxy follows this rococo pathology:
    its tentacles of stars are ragged whorls.
    A parahuman architect is endless sketching cochlear temples to its own vacant energies.

    If god is dead, he is dressed as a tendrillar Louis XIV,
    and his fingers are twitching.


    20090513

    Five Principles for Productive Debate

    If two parties can not agree to the following five principles of debate, then the debate is unlikely to reach a correct and reasonable conclusion. Even with these principles in place, a debate may be unsolvable, as evidenced by apparent paradoxes in the perfectly logical and rigorous framework of mathematics.


    1 : Both parties must be open to convincing by rational argument

    2 : Both parties must argue for both sides of the debate

    3 : Sloppy logic will lead to 'reasonable' but useless or incorrect results

    4 : All evidence must be considered with equal statistical weight and fact-checked

    5 : No Faith except that which is common to both parties



    If these principles can not be agreed upon, then a productive resolution of the debate can not be guaranteed.

    If principle 1 is violated, then the debate becomes a pointless exercise in contradiction.

    If principle 2 is violated, then the debate may be decided based on who has more charisma or better rhetoric, not on which side is more correct. Adhering to principle 2 also ensures that both parties have respect and understanding of the opposing viewpoint.

    Principle 3 is impossible to attain absolutely ( except in math ), but both parties should be disciplined and adhere to as rigorous of reasoning as is possible.

    If principle 4 is violated then your debate has no firm ground to stand on, and it will devolve into an exercise in manipulating the truth rather than finding it.

    If principle 5 is violated, principle 1 is automatically violated simply by use of contradictory axioms : the union of your reasoning frameworks automatically contains a contradiction, and no sound resolution is possible.

    Some debates or arguments are too poorly defined to meet these five criteria. Some debates may contain within them an inherent contradiction to these five criteria.


    Catastrophic Futurism

    A brief overview of current futurism shows that most of it is predicated on a notion of catastrophe. Global warming, energy, finance, radical terrorism, the Singularity, all of these concepts have at their core the idea that mankind is held hostage to unpredictable events beyond our control. Taleb's influential Black Swan theory posits infrequent, large scale events as the causal driver of history. There is of course a large degree of validity to this point of view. We undoubtedly do face major problems, but is catastophism a useful futurist model?

    Futurism's obsession with the catastrophe has distracted us from the real goal of the discipline. The job of a futurist is not to predict the future, his job is to create the future. If a visionary is right, it is only by accident. Instead of aiming for correctness, we should aim for visionary impact and power. Mankind wants to hope. We must be allowed to dream.

    Forget predictive power, these are the axioms we must build on:
    1) Which human values are important?
    2) What technological means are available?
    3) What does a world that embodies our values and means look like?


    20090510

    The seventh (and most paranoid) possible reason why serious people no longer write about hallucinogens

    A variant of [4] below.


    Mutual Disrespect

    "Do you have anything besides... existential destruction of all attempts at reasoning this evening?"
    "... Yeah, it's a bit bleak isn't it."
    "Can you articulate what if anything is problematic with religion?"
    "The usual response is that it's the enemy of reason, etc., but then you have to argue that reason is a good thing.
    I would be more inclined just to state that religions are groups of replicators which manifest a great deal of power and use it in ways often contrary to the interests of 'humanity,' and other replicator-groups with the same power and the same human-orthogonal utility functions are much more readily criticized, e.g. nationalisms, political ideologies, secular traditions, technologies, 'globalization', but religion is uniquely sacred, and 'respectable' members of society are obliged to pay lip service to it.

    We act like the solution to religious strife is some kind of limp 'mutual respect', where a rabbi and a priest and an imam sit in the same room and say nice things about each other. I'd prefer mutual disrespect. I'd prefer that they sit in that room and argue about total nonsense until they turn blue, and let the rest of the world see how utterly silly it is."


    20090425

    Reaction-Diffusion : Gray-Scott Model

    A "related video" link from the CUDA version of cortex lead me to this web-page

    http://www.mrob.com/pub/comp/xmorphia/index.html



    Best stalking points this work back to one Robert Munafo based in Cambridge.


    Adrift in Perceptual Space

    This is a video of a random walk through a self organizing map trained on human figures. Self organizing maps themselves are not very cognitively plausible ( they have extremely limited computational power ). I am wondering if some combination of a feature encoding network and a self organizing map might give the best of both systems ?




    More on JG Ballard

    Taking a break from work, I tracked down a few Ballard related links. Surprisingly, I think the conventional media often reads him more deeply than the science fiction community. Judging from the comments, the general community grasps the significance of his work with more subtly than science fiction fans. Ballard was the STS writer, his gift was exploding the psychology of the technological age. If the Sci-Fi community passes him by, paying him homage more as a matter of course than actual understanding, it may indicate that too much exposure to the tropes of SF creates a kind of future burn, an uncritical acceptance of the positives of technology, and that when confronted with Ballard's bleak, obsessive viewpoint, SF fans shrink back.

    But the general population, caught between Science: The Endless Frontier and Frankenstein, is ready to be challenged. Ballard struck a deep chord with people across the spectrum. Ballard is uninimitable, but his ideas were better than his style, and if SF is to break out of the ghetto, we the SF community should return to Ballard's questions. How does technology give life to our obsessions, with consequences for our 'humanity'? What is the link between the dark reptilian center of the mind, and the chrome and glass towers of the future? How can we exist in technologically warped spaces, with equally subjective time? Ballard rarely asked 'why'; the search for answers is more important than the search for causes. Technology is. It is humanity's child, and it has a life of its own, a life with direction and momentum beyond the control of the scrambling masses.

    http://io9.com/5221560/remembering-jg-ballards-science-fiction-legacy (io9, scifi)

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/apr/19/jgballard (the news media)

    http://www.nme.com/blog/index.php?blog=10&title=no_future_why_jg_ballard_is_rock_s_favou&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1 (NME, did you know he was considered the inspiration for the New Wave movement?)

    http://www.obit-mag.com/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5348 (obit, conventional)

    http://www.thestar.com/article/623474 (Cronenberg on Ballard)

    http://jalopnik.com/5218763/jg-ballard-1930+2009 (Car blog on Ballard, particularly good comments)

    Bonus

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/25/dying-fall-jg-ballard (one last story)
    http://www.ballardian.com/rattling-other-peoples-cages-the-jg-ballard-interview (an interview with Ballard)