20100529

Do it Yourself : Trip Visor

Thanks to a dumpster diving friend I had come into possesion of a pair of welding goggles, as well as some white translucent plexiglass. So, the old hallucination goggles project was adapted for this new, awesome, rugged, form factor.

Step 1 : electronics :
I chose to use an Arduino Pro-mini, two RGB LEDs for the goggles, and a 4 character multiplexed 7 segment display.

Step 2 : draw a circuit board. I like to use a generic drawing program so I can put graphics in the copper pattern. Some PCB drawing software will also allow this, although not all PCB fabrication services will do custom graphics. I skipped out on the current limiting resistors for the blue and green channels, since the supply voltage is actually lower than the LED driving voltage. I still needed them for the red though. This kind of design is very general, as you just need to get some LEDs to blink in a controlled manner. The circuit looks like this :



Next, transfer pattern, etch, drill, clean. It is easier to wire this up on a breadboard and then transfer it to a radioshack protoboard, to save on the hassle of making your own board. Here is a tutorial that I loosely followed, and here is a previous post where I practiced the technique, and below is the finished result. I made the traces from the Arduino to the LED display a too narrow, and unless you're careful this design requires clean up after etching.


I was wrong to try to drive this circuit from coin cell batteries. These batteries do not put out enough current to drive the LEDs. I worked around this by adding a 2xAAA battery pack to the interior of the goggles. If you copy my design, bear this in mind and adjust accordingly.


My friend laser cut white plexiglass to replace the tinted glass of the welding goggles. This is a square cut that could also be accomplished with a saw. These goggles have a slot for a piece of plexiglass on the inside, and another piece on the outside, with 7mm clearance in-between, so it is straightforward to sandwich the LEDs between two sheets of plexiglass to create diffused light. Position the LEDs approximately in the center of the visual field in each eye, so that when you look at them through a pane of the white plexiglass, they line up as if they were one diffuse source. I used standard connectors for indicator lights and power buttons in PC cases to connect the LEDs, and a rocker switch from an old Ikea lamp, to finish off the connections.


This is more durable than past designs, since it doesn't have a separate part for the driving hardware and the goggles, connected by a failure prone cable. Reminds me of this. I can actually toss this one around without breaking it.



20100525

wait what... science island, for sale ?

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/05/24/us-govts-bioweapon-a.html


Apparently Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center is for sale. Well, I have no money, but this would make an awesome science island.


TODO : Equilibrium and Optimality in Regulation of Vice

I would like to read "Equilibrium and Optimality in Regulation of Vice", wherein we rigorously treat the trade-offs between black markets, legalization, regulation, state owned distribution, of goods and serviced related to vice.


For instance, I think the state owned lottery shouldn't exist. But, if lottery is an addictive drug to the poor, maybe it will happen anyway ( and cause more harm if made completely illegal ), so as long as this state-run gambling is fed exclusively back into programs that help gambling addicts, its better than a black market ( though I still wish they wouldn't put up the billboard advertisements, these seem quite wrong ). Basically, try to formalize and generalize all the aspects of debate over drugs/gambling/prostitution/gluttony/(and can we extend it to sloth as well? wouldn't that be something). And by formalize I mean that I want to see some equations that are predictive.

I'd like to think about this more, so I'm noting it here and will try to get back to it later. There is probably already substantial work in this field, looks like it would be fun.



20100514

Predictions that Work

If you're ever up for a laugh, dig up futurist predictions for the 1930s or 50s, and see what they thought the future would be like. Yet for every atomic rocket car, there are some predictions that were eerily spot on. What are the characteristic of these predictions, vis a vis the ones that don't pan out?

The best predictions of the 21st century were those relating to the computer revolution. Moore's Law, JCR Licklider's papers about the internet (or Intergalactic Computer Network as he referred to it,) and Douglas Englebart's theories about human-computer interfaces. Their ideas were first formulated in the early 1960s, but took until the mid 80s to reach a critical mass of popular use. 20 years out is pretty good for a prediction.

Now, compared to the atomic flying car, to pick one particularly egregious failed futurism, these technologies possessed clear benefits even at early stages of their development, fulfilled a unique need, and had capital costs low enough to be purchased by individuals. As the cost and complexity of a system rises, the number of stakeholder increases, and the odds of a single person derailing the entire endeavor rises. An incomplete nuclear power plant offers little to no benefit. An atomic flying car has to actually work before anyone will buy it. Meanwhile, computers are useful as bulk data processors, and phone lines for communication, long before they become truly interactive.

Of course, the biggest advantage that Licklider and Englebart had was that they made their future. First they envisioned it, then they built it. Scientists have historically been only slightly better at futurism than their lay peers, and no better at the social aspects, but they are the drivers of innovation.


20100512

Testing Math Notation

This is an inline equation $sin(x)$, as is this : $1/(1+exp(-x))$.
\[ \frac{1}{1+e^{-x}} \]That was a displayed equation. This post brought to you by the courtesy of John Forkosh, following this tutorial.


20100509

The California Bug

Medical science has yet to isolate the specific germ, spore, or neurofungus that transforms normal earthlings into Californians, but the existence of such a metaphysically virulent organism can and must be inferred through indirect measure. A state populated by a virus-borne colony from the future sounds like just the kind of thing a Californian would believe, but if we calmly inventory California’s contributions to planetary civilization, the mind-virus hypothesis begins to make a frightening kind of sense.
--The California Bug, Howard Rheingold


As a Californian, I'll buy that. California isn't so much a state as a state of mind, and one that is firmly focused on the future. Strike the motherload, make it as a movie star, or build it faster, smaller, sexier in aerospace or silicon valley. A culture requires some sort of mythological wellspring, and CA's can be seen in every raygun gothic gas station, ballardian interchange, or hopeful tech start-up. We Believe in Tomorrow.

The California Dream is similar to, but not the same as the American dream. Hard work and virtue aren't at all necessary in the Golden State. What matters is creativity, vision, and just a slight edge of madness. We don't work hard because we want to make it, or rise above our humble origins, we do so because we must, because we are driven by a primal urge that we do not fully understand.

Where was I going with this? I don't really know. Maybe Science Island, a deliberate organization of people with a clear myth about the Future. We are the carriers of a Mind Virus, find others, infect them, spread the meme.


20100508

Open Source Nanotech ?

Small scale, self sustaining nano-fabrication will facilitate technological and economic independence, as the entire industrial basis of society can become mobile and robust in the face of catastrophic damage.

For self replicating fabrication schemes, creation of computational media is a limiting step. Do-it-yourself fabrication of computational media is one of the major barriers to shrinking the size and energy requirements of an industrial basis for society. ( Furthermore, if we are to colonize off-world, we will need to be able to build a self-sustaining hight tech fabrication facility that can fit inside a shipping container ). To this end, solving the do-it-yourself nanofabrication problem will be one of the most interesting developments of the coming century.

Also, I really should get off this futurism bent and and do some real research.


I enjoyed reading this short story : http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/under.htm


Quote

In this metallic era of barbarians, only methodically and excessively cultivating our abilities to dream, to analyze, and to attract can safeguard our personality from disintegrating into nothing or into something commonplace.

Those parts of our experiences which are real are precisely those that are felt by others.  Reality is composed of all that is in common in our experiences.  Thus our individuality lies only in the parts that are erroneous.  How happy I would be to see, one day, a scarlet sun.  It would be so mine, this sun, no one's but mine!

Fernando Pessoa died in 1935.  Apparently people have been worrying about the effect of the information revolution on individuality since well before it started.  I wonder what people were saying after the printing press appeared.  Probably they had different concerns then; I don't know if individuality had been invented.  Perhaps it was invented in response to the possibility of making exact copies of things.

But if as the exchange of information becomes more efficient we lose more and more of our individuality, does this mean, given this definition, that the boundaries of reality are constantly expanding?  I suppose so, if you grant the reality of memes.

I remember once consoling someone who was distressed about having experiences she could not convey to others, telling her that she should cherish them as something uniquely her own.


20100507

Feed Burn

Wow, ok, so I am recovering from some sort of postmodern psychological ailment that I will tentatively call feed-burn.

It all started three or four weeks (maybe five, I can't really tell) ago when my colleague decided to introduce the lab to Google Reader, and conveniently emailed us all a link to his neuroscience "bundle". For those of you still unfamiliar with Google Reader and RSS feeds: it's a way to get new posts from all the blogs you read, all your web-comics, all your scholarly articles, and all your news, aggregated in one place, where they pile up like unread e-mails in your in-box. For those of you reading this post in a RSS reader, I apologize for the crude description, and I also wonder how you are still sane.

Furthermore, in Google Reader, one can create "Bundles" which are RSS feeds made up of several RSS feeds. You can also generate a filtered feed of "starred items", thus becoming an RSS feed classifier and essentially a component of a gigantic modular RSS classification AI.

So, this is great, right ? All my scholarly articles in one place, all my tech news, I should be able to stay on top of the Singularity now, no problem, right ?

No.

Information arrives too fast. This isn't just random reality-television novelty, this is actual, useful information that is deeply relevant to my interests and goals in life. This is information that, if properly packaged, is behaviorally useful.

Thanks to the Internet, it is now possible for me to spend literally 100% of my time consuming novelty, rather than attempting to produce it. WeAlone recently blogged of the economics of novelty and attention in a post scarcity society. Well, it turns out that on the Internet, novelty is anything but scarce, and with an army of RSS feed zombies, attention also exists in surplus. The problem is not learning to escape boredom, the problem is learning to filter the vast surfeit of information to maximize your productivity and utility in society. Frankly, its enough for me to start supporting DRM and pay-for news services : if I have to assign economic value to information, I will start optimizing my information consumption. ( But of course this is a terrible idea because people who need knowledge and can't pay for it absolutely have a right to access it ).

click... skim... click... skim... click... skim...

If you allow a rat to electrically stimulate its own pleasure centers, it will do so until it dies from dehydration and exhaustion. Every day, first thing : wake up, read e-mail, catch up on google reader, then get out of bed. Every evening : fall asleep only after the queue is empty. At work : I can't stop hitting refresh, and my already poor attention and working memory is fast obliterated. I can hardly remember anything thats happened the past three weeks. I'm not sure I've made any progress at work, and pretty much every day is indistinguishable. Welcome to the 9 to 5 ? perhaps, but these symptoms are highly correlated with my newfound Google Reader addiction. So, after a bout of irrationality yesterday wherein I repeatedly forgot what I was doing and what I had just done, I decided that I needed to quit the Internet .. or at least Google Reader. This stuff is info-crack.

So, what's going on here ? Useful information is behaviorally rewarding. Google Reader works well at collecting and sorting useful information, generating a qeue of behaviorally rewarding stimuli that is filled faster than it can be consumed. Therefore, Google Reader is an unlimited supply of geek cocaine accessible by a simple press of a button .. over, and over. Sequential reader elements are uncorrelated, so there is no need to maintain a working memory across elements. The task can be accomplished simply by reacting to stimuli repeatedly, absolutely no focus or direction is required. Its like watching television or playing video games, only somehow it feels like its good for you, like its going to make you smarter, better, faster, stronger.

If I recall, the definition of "Singularity" is something like "technology is being created faster than man can understand that technology". As a species, we aren't there yet, but as individuals, this post-modern information overload has been happening for decades, and it is only going to get worse.

Hours wasted, days wasted, weeks wasted. My eyes are dry and I can't seem to do math properly anymore. It is time for this to stop, I've got to get back to work, just as soon as I check the 184 unread Reader elements that have piled up since I started typing this post.

edit : Reader has delivered to me an article much like this one, meta.. meta.. ok, I've got to step away from the computer now ... just as soon as I check e-mail.

edit : yeah yeah, another guy can't keep up with the pace of change. this might actually be temporally invariant. I need Biff to spin it into something meaningful.


20100505

Weird Science, or Keep on Trucking

Today in weird science, Effect of estrogen on mitochondrial function and intracellular stress markers in rat liver and kidney following trauma-hemorrhagic shock and prolonged hypotension.

After major blood loss of 62% of the circulating blood volume, the animals cannot maintain their blood pressure and expire if fluid resuscitation is not provided (8). When a small volume of E2, and not vehicle, was administered after 62% blood loss, the animals not only demonstrated an acute survival during prolonged hypotension (3 hr), but also prolonged survival after fluid resuscitation.


Yes, we can drain 2/3rds of a rat's blood, shoot it full of estrogen, keep it alive for three hours, and then bring it back to life. As they say, "It's alive! Mwahahahaha!"