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On Consistency

A consistent person, in thoughts, don’t have any logical contradictions in her reasoning. To be consistent in actions, on the other hand, is to have them follow a estabilished pattern. The ultimate consistency is to have both your thoughts and your actions on the same track.

Consistency has it’s place in life. It’s important, for example, to show results in work with a regularity.  It’s important to hit the threadmill everyday, and not just once per month. A math theory will crumble at the slightest lack of consistency.

But it’s not for everything. Let’s just take some time to examine how hard it is the task of being a truly consistent person:

First, all your opinions can’t conflict with each another, and your arguments can’t end up falling into one of the logical fallacies. Here, the first problem we have is that one has to actually remember the things he has said. And this just doesn’t happen, not for the average man.

Memorizing, spotting this fallacies is possible when you see a transcript of a debate. But it’s much more difficult to examine in real time during a conversation. As it is to see if a previous point of view conflicts with the one you are having now.

Finally, we are never the same person we were a moment ago (nor can we remember that person completely). How to be consistent then?

I think that if you had the ability to really get all of the opinions of a person, like a super brain x-ray, you would realize that all of us carry many inherent conflicts, and live happily without fully realizing them.

Lack of consistency invites creativity, freedom. A famous writer once wrote that

“A foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds”

I (think) that what he meant by that is that you are supposed to choose very carefully the things you wish to be consistent about. It may not be important, for example, to be consistent in your opinions on a TV actress – you may like her someday, and deslike her on the next, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not important to be consistent about the way you do groceries, you can start with the tomatoes today, and onions on another.

A person is allowed to be inconsistent every once in a while, or to change her views  subject. I notice that public figures suffer the most from that since people expect them to be entirely consistent, all the time. The point is that content of what someone is saying is more important to be processed than seeing if it matches what was previously said.

It is far more interesting to be consistent in the way you dedicate time following your dreams, whatever they might be. In the same idea, it’s necessary to maintain the same level of expectations in a relationship, or to raise all your kids in the same fashion.

Only you and the priorities you’ve set out can tell what are the things you need to be consistent about.

By the way, in this text, I was consistent in repeating the word ‘consistent’. Not every consistency is valid, see?

[IMAGE: Custumers lining up. Unknown location. image source]

 

 

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Idea #20: Atom Sized Tube

The idea is this:

To build, atom by atom, a tube of diameter of a chosen atom. 

From the famous experiments with scanning tunnelling microscope, you can see that scientists have a limited ability to place atoms as they please on a flat surface. This is accomplished by a combination of ingenuous materials like piezodrives, lots of time and pacience, and very controlled circunstances (high ultra vaccum, and so on).

Aside from writing and drawing stuff, that isn’t much more than a display of tech marvel. We have yet to build complex, useful nanostructures like a nanoassembler, for example.

I’ll be streching this STM idea, and making some guesses along the way – since I don’t have first hand experience with such a microscope.  There is only so much I can check because most papers are blocked behind a pay firewall.

So we can place atoms where we please over a substrate, cool. What if go arranging them side by side, leaving just a space in the middle, of precisely the size of the atom. This is the  layer A.

As an example, let’s pick gold atoms on a copper substrate:

FILTER_1

On another layer B, atoms are just placed side by side, filling the entire surface. These two layers are then sandwiched, facing each other, and you apply pressure to keep them together.

FILTER_2

Note that this would be time consuming, since it took forever just to write the NIST logo. Advances in autonomous atom assemblers (AAA) are useful here.

The size ‘L’ of this should be as large as it’s possible to make it, so that it’s easier to manipulate. I suspect that as you try to make it bigger you will enconter more  and more defects on your flat surface. ‘d’ ends up being just a little bit smaller than the atomic diameter.

To know what ‘D’ to use requires a study in particular, we will get back to it later.

The substrate is a a very carefully grown monocrystal with the least defects possible, to avoid gas difusion.

By doing that, luckily, you will end up with a very expensive artificial atomic tube. Choose a different type of atom and subtrate, you have changed the diameter of the tube. It really didn’t became clear to me if placing atoms in multiple layers is possible, but that should increase the possible diameters you could make – up to molecules size.

I can think of two possible applications for this:

First, the idea is that atoms that fit this size will find this tube and tunnnel through it. So you’d have the means of placing atoms in a precise location, by changing the position of this tube with a piezodrive. You’ve have taken atoms into the gas state in a chamber above, this filter in between, and just below it the surface you are building. This is based on the idea of atomic layer deposition.

With two, independent, blocks like this on top of each other, you would have the means of closing and opening the tube at will. Maybe this will bring us closer to building things in the nano-scale.

  • Will atoms pass on this tube, and how would they behave in there?
  • What is the thickness ‘D’ of this tube that provides this desired effect, of passing only certain atoms?
  • Does more or less atoms pass if you increase D?
  • Do they also leak somewhere else?

These are all question that could be answered by an experiment (or possibly by someone more educated than myself in these matters).

The second application is atomic separation. Assume you stack several of this units side by side forming a sieve. The ultimate sieve, by the way. If you place smaller and smaller ones in sequence, you can sort out the individual atoms of a gas or liquid.

It would be very nice to get 99.999999% pure samples from this, or to separate gold ions suspended in a solution, for example.

filter4

[IMAGE: STM constant current image of Ag, at 160K image credits]

 

On the Value of Life

 it I have this theory that a person’s life has an intrinsic value, that cannot be erased by any doing.

But why is it so?

After all, with ~7.6 billion people around the world, one could think that life is not rare, and we tend to think that valuable things are those that are hard to come by. Like diamonds. We also have this need to rank everything around us, including people, what leads us into thinking that not everyone has a value, not really, just a handful of people.

But this notions are wrong. And very dangerous. They don’t work for life, in my opinion. The moment you start thinking that life is disposable, you’ve lost what’s called the human side of the equation.

Well, when you see someone, you can’t see it just for what it is now or what it has done. Much less see it by how much it earns, by it’s job or it’s car.

You have to see someone for it’s dreams, for the potential for literature, music, science. You need too see it by the way it might contribute to society given the proper chance. You have to see if for the way it raises his kids. See it by the way it carries the torch of humans forward though time.

You need to remember the heritage of every living man: the unbroken line of ancestrals, the rich culture embedded within everyone, centuries of history, traditions, beliefs.

You have to acknowledge the struggle it endured, even though this can only be imagined.

The odds of conception alone, of two random strangers meeting, combining their DNA in a particular way, surviving all sorts of birth diseases, and producing this life are staggering to comprehend. Then it has to pass though all kinds of ackward situations, not to mention puberty, fighting everyday just to keep fed and breathing, only to arrive at your judgemental table.

This theory leads to a certain code of behaviour, that you can’t ignore the intrinsic value of person by action or thought. I find that whenever I’m strong enough to follow it, I’m closer to being more considerative of others.

This is, in my opinion, why you should always treat other people with as much respect as you can, as you expect to be treated, fairly. Not because you fear some divine karma if you don’t, but by conscient action that society is better this way.

Every action of violence, lie, sabotage, of exploitation of others, means violating this intrinsic value. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to know what to do in every situation, but can be a guide.

So does that mean that a mass murderer is inocent?

Not exactly, but it does mean that this value needs to be taken in consideration, even for a mass murderer. First, it means that you should refrain from pre-judging him. Let the evidence speak for itself, if you are in such a position to judge. You’d be suprised how often it’s not up to us to judge and we end up doing so.

I find very hard to support capital punishment if you believe in this value of human life, but I’d say that every case is a case.

It means that he should be given an unbiased trial (the best that can be made possible) and if convicted, that every effort should be made to find him a productive way of returning to society.

There is money around for beach houses, luxury cars, to reward stockholders, but there isn’t for taking care of someone that needs help, for a time, just to get his bearings. Not everyone agrees with this, most people consider a waste of resources to rehabilitate prisioners. But I ask again, what is the value of a human life?

I do believe that if you actually take the time to teach a child proper values, by being present, securing an adequete environment, expose him to good role models (say, in books and movies) then I believe you have a pretty good chance of ending up with an honest, decent human being.

It’s easy to forget the value of life.

When you fence refugees out of countries, when you discriminate, when you fail to provide education and proper medical care, when you ignore the homeless, when you strip people of their dreams, all of this fundamentally ignore the real measure of a human life.

And the end result of this: missed opportunities.

[IMAGE: Famous 1936 photography of a migrant woman, Florence Owens Thompson, and children, by Dorothea Lange]

 

On the Master File

I’ve told you earlier that on some days I like to believe that reality is some sort of elaborate simulation.

There was a group of physicists recently trying make a simulation of a quantum phenomena, and it became increasingly complex to do it, pointing out that such a simulated reality is not possible. It doesn’t exclude the case where reality is run on a quantum computer or any other one that might be created.

Reality does seem too complex for a simulation. To store every bit of data representing everything that you see around seems unimaginable. But who knows what computing capabilities could a God have? What tricks to save memory could it develop, for example, saving function relations rather than variables, and tying things together.

If you have seen the trilogy Matrix, you’ve realized that there are some deep implications in this reasoning. Aside from making you feel bad for living in a world that is not ‘real’, it also means that somewhere, hidden deep in the fabric of reality, there is a Master File.

The true content of this Master File is a mystery. I like to think that it contains a complete record of this universe’s constants. It could contain the exact start conditions of the universe (if it had a start). Maybe, written in some language, the myriad of mathematical formulas that rule the cosmos. Perhaps it even contains information on who built the simulation and to what end.

What a discovery would be to find a way to access this file. That assumes that it can be opened at all.

Could it possibly be opened for editing too?

Dazzling diamonds of Trumpler 14
Star Cluster Trumpler 14, one of the brightest regions in our galaxy. A dark nebula (possibly) is seen near the center. Credit: NASA & ESA, Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Centro de Astrobiología, CSIC-INTA, Spain) image source

We know, from experiences with our own games, that it can be quite tricky to open a ‘console’ from the simulation without a manual. The console is the interface between this reality and the Master File.

It could be anything in the real world, from a modulated radio signal to writing the proper set of equations on a paper. Anything that you input some signal and obtain a response could be the means of opening the console and accessing the File.

Even worse, it could be tied to a specific point in this universe, so it would only be opened in some forgotten alien ruin on a distant galaxy.

And, of course, acessing such a file doesn’t mean understanding it’s contents. It could be encoded in a such a cryptic way that it’s patterns are not obvious. We have learned for more than 50 years that life is coded in DNA but it doesn’t mean we’ve cracked every intricacy of the expression of human genes.

One odd though that comes to mind is that we could be in contact with the Master File right now, in the thousand random chunks of numbers we receive from the world. There could be an underlying meaning to them.

Well, that’s it’s theory. Do you accept the holy quest of seeking out the Master File?

*Note: The content of these notes is not endorsed or affiliated with NASA/ESA, and express solely the author’s view.

[IMAGE: The Matrix styled coding.  image source]

 

Idea #19: Making it Rain

To become masters of this unpredictable thing that is weather is something that only sci-fi has been able to create.

Imagine a world where there wouldn’t be no more extended droughts, floods, blizzards, El Niño or hurricanes. Climate would be mild all year across (still allowing seasonal variations), with scheduled rains timed for maximized agriculture.

Perhaps more important than that, lands that fall now under the low precipitation zones could suddenly become productive and give rise to prosperous urban areas.

One important distinction that must me made is that there is climate and there is weather. Weather is the very unpredictable, short-term trends in atmospheric conditions. It’s ‘ruled’ by the same kind of rules of a lottery game. Climate refers to the (predictable) long term trends of those conditions in a region, averaged over a time frame.

Unfortunately, this distiction is often forgotten in those who denial climate change. A commonplace argument is that you can’t make statements about the climate because it’s unpredictable (but that would be weather). What is true indeed is that it’s not simple to make assessments about climate. It’s still one of the most poorly understood fields of science – as it should be with dealing with planet-scale complex systems.

Because it’s so poorly understood, you probably shouldn’t mess with climate. But we will ignore this advice for the fun of it.

If you had to choose one to have absolute control, you would pick climate. As much as you might want the rain not to ruin you sunday barbecue, you would want more to have enough food for the next generations.

Researching a climate modification system should be viewed as an investiment. Consider for a moment the material cost of hurricanes. According to one source, Katrina (2005) alone costed $ ~106bi in damage. Losses in agricultural production probably mount billions per year in the US alone. To prevent only a fraction of these losses with some investment could prove worthwhile.

The truth is that, as of now, there is no known technique that can deliver all that has been promised above. The best thing we could do is to prevent things from getting any worse, by compromising and making the damned lifestyle changes.

The closest I could find to a climate modification is called cloud seeding, a process to artificially create rain when desired, by seeding a cloud with selected chemicals. It’s controversial, and dangerously close to hocus pocus. Apparently China is one of the leading powers in this enterprise, and has been doing it for quite some time.

Another proposed solution for climate change is to install space mirrors, obstacles to sunlight, in space. They could be used to reflect some of the light and reduce warming. If we could have control over what areas would be shaded (what is considerably more challenging) we could in principle engineer the climate of Earth.


Let’s tackle a small part of the challenge here. Cloud seeding uses water that is already in the atmosphere. But that is not always the case.

Could we heat enough water to make a rain?

We will answer the question on the basis of whether the energy used, or power, is within what our civilization produces. There are technological or practical issues that are not covered here. We will also be making a number of guesses.

The energy is:

heat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suppose the rain falls over an area A in m2 with E millimeters. If we imagine a box with a m2 the height of the water collumn would be E mm. So the mass of water is

mass

Plugging it into the other equation, and using the values:

final

The area used is not that big. It’s the area of Madison, Wisconsin. I picked it because it’s very dry but surrounded by water bodies.

That’s a lot of energy up there. Heating water is very energy consuming. To put this number into a perspective, lets say we are building a rain in a week, or 6.048E+5 s. The power required is then: 6.36E+8 W. Comparing to one of the huge hydro powerplants, it’s about 4.5% of it’s maximum output.

So it would seem, at first glance, that if we wanted to build ‘boilers’ to heat water into the atmosphere it would be within our grasp. Dedicated power plants (moved by renewable sources) built to boil water, on locations where the water would be carried into a desired target site by winds.

water_plants

If the water would effectively go where it’s supposed to, or if it would disperse into the atmosphere is a whole other history. Not every location is suitable for this, as a deep understanding of the particular wind patterns is required. Ultimately, you could add an effective factor from 0 to 1 into these calculations. If this factor is too small (say <0.01) it renders this idea unpractical.

If you placed several boiler units at sea along a typical wind route, hoping to be more moisture left for the air masses inside the continent, you would probably end up with increased rainfall along the coast line too. That could be inconvenient, depending on case. These units are supposed to be central controlled and only turned on when necessary. It’s implied that they are, somehow, more efficient than natural evaporation.

Another alternative for heating water is a sun gun (remember Die Another Day?). How would you reposition a 10km2 mirror with ease I really can’t say.

Making not rain when desired, on the other hand, seems quite harder to imagine. That is unfortunate, all evidence points out to a general increase in precipitation with climate change.

[IMAGE: ‘Bad’ weather over a urban area, unkown location.]

 

 

 

 

Idea #18: Space Elevator

Space elevators are fascinating. I can spend days wondering how they could possibly be built, with what fancy materials, and how would it be the new era of space exploration they could enable to man.

We’ve discussed on an earlier entry how expensive was the cost of placing material in orbit, and how that’s one of the things in the way of our voyage to the final frontier. A space elevator is a thing that comes precisely to change this scenario.

A 2013 study by the International Academy of Astronautics concluded that a space elevator is feasible, and will probably start being constructed as early as 2035. I might be something that our generation will witness after all, with some luck. It surprised me to know that there are several competitions for developing aspects of its construction and operation. So far, timid efforts.

On the other end of this, there is considerable skepticism due to dificulties such as the effective material strengh of carbon nanotubes and space debries. So I’d say it’s 50/50 right now that a space elevator will ever be build.

I really can’t add much to this wonderful BBC critic that is done here. There you will find the basic idea of a space elevator and the challenges in building such a structure. A good overview, more scientific, is presented by this short page.

What I can do is add is my own (crazy) idea of how one should be build:

I understand that one of the bottlenecks of designs for the space elevator is the tensile strengh of the cable (the tether). It requires very sturdy materials, far from what we conventionally use. This could be around the number of 63MPa for carbon nanotubes, while for steel it’s much higher, 383GPa. It’s not a simple thing to keep ~100km of cable standing, even if it’s made fairly hollow.

So it ocurred to me, what if reduced this load by actively lifting the structure?

The idea is to place electrical turbines periodically along the structure, for as long as the atmosphere makes it convenient. 

space_elevator.jpg

A tricky part was thinking of a section that would hold the turbines and still allow movement of the climber vehicles.

The turbine is required to not only lift the aditional weight of itself, but to give an upward/downward lift where required, thus reducing the tension on the structure. Without detailing how these turbines work it’s not possible to say if this would work at all!

No doubt that this entails a serious energy drain, as well as added construction and maintenance costs. I thought that at first these turbines would be powered by power plants on the ground and, when construction is completed, by solar energy from a space station on the counterweight. It should be, as much as possible, self-sustainable or else it would compromise its purpose.

For simplicity, the turbines would be placed on opposite sides of the tether. Two lifter vehicle would pass on the sides of it. You should be able to make the climber the size you want, possibly with an aerodynamic shape. The TT cable cross section increases with the size, though, so there is a trade-off.

What if a turbine breaks? Well that’s a problem. Maybe you could have multiple turbines in each unit, redundant, so that it can hold off until maitenance fix a broken one.

Sure this doesn’t fix the strengh problem all the way through, but it could reduce enough the problem to allow materials like carbon nanotubes to do the rest.

161890main_image_feature_689b_ys_full

The International Space Station in 2006. NASA, image source.

*Note: The content of these notes is not endorsed or affiliated with NASA/ESA, and express solely the author’s view.

[IMAGE: Photo taken from the ISS during a flyby of Super Typhoon Noru. NASA, image source]

 

 

 

On Death

Ah, Death. The conclusion of life.

If we poorly understand life itself, it’s variety, it’s reasons for being, it shouldn’t be shocking that we know so little about how it comes to an end and what lies beyond.

Yet everything you see around, that will ever exist is decaying somehow. We are constanly reminded by that every time we have a brush with death, how life hangs on that mythical thread that the greeks were all about.

Now, you might fear death at some point. But we are raised (by hollywood culture) to face death with pride and dignity, meaning that would are not supposed to express or be overly concerned with our fear, simply embrace it when it comes. This is actually a good piece of advice, since there is no escaping it.

In reality, it can be somewhat messy at the end, as Game of Thrones reminded us on occasion. You see, we fight for life everyday with everything we got, and suddenly we have to abandon it. It’s a difficult transition to make.

To think of death almost brings a certain relief. That all the struggles, all the horrors in this world cannot find meaning after it. I have to admit that when hopes are low, and I can find no joy in living, I even look forward to it.

Death, or rather the fear of it, produced quite a number of things. From music, to literature, to religion. Much of religion (but not all of it) is about theorizing about what comes after that, and giving a sense of meaning to life.

There are many interesting concepts of Death. From one of the oldest, the Egyptians seem to believe that once a person died his heart would be weighted in a balance against a feather, and if lighter than it, the person would be welcomed to immortal life. Hence the meaning of all those elaborate funeral practices. To Greeks people would be ferried through river Styx, after paying a coin, to Hades Underword; or for the choosed blessed, the Elysium.

Mainstream religion drawn much from that. In tradicional Christianity, there is firm belief in Heaven and hell, after a judgment is in place. Islamism has a similar, but not exactly equal dualistic approach. I wouldn’t presume to talk about Judaism. And there are the eastern philosophies, like Buddism, with breaking the endless cycle of rebirth through enlightenment. Hinduism also embraces the concept of reincarnation.

There is also the idea that what awaits us after that is absolutely nothing, that all these concepts above are simply fantasies we tell ourselves. I could not find a specific name for this, the ‘non-belief in afterlife’, it lies somewhere between Religious Skepticism and Apistevism. I do know that this is somewhat frowned upon in society, just as atheism is.

In spite of near death experiences being an ‘active research field’, there are no undisputed evidence as to what lies ahead. The list of people who claimed to have return from death is also disputed, but you are free to seek them or their books if you believe this will bring you any closer to understanding the mystery of death. I honestly doubt it.

If one were to consider a belief in the afterlife, there is a list of questions we can narrow it down:

  1. Do you believe there is something at all after death?
  2. Do you believe in a soul?
  3. What are your thoughs on reincarnation?
  4. Do you think fate is a real thing?
  5. If there is a divine entity, does he judge the living?
  6. Do you truly believe in Heaven?
  7. Do you truly believe in hell?
  8. Where do the dead go to when they die?

Having your personal answers to this, you can iron out the details (if your hell has 9 circles or is it happening on Earth right now, for example). It’s obvious these are question one struggles the whole life with, it’s only natural that your answers change as your perspective of the world evolves.

One of the most beautiful concepts of death I’ve come across is the one presented in J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter’ series. We are confronted with death from the very first book, when we learn about the fate of Harry’s parents. Quite a bold thing to do, discuss a tragic death in a children’s book. But there is wisdom in confronting our children with the reality of the world in a protected environment, not as to shock but to prepare them.

You will probably remember the Three Brothers Story.  The significance of this cautionary tale is to remember that there is in real life there is no defeating death, at best once can elude it with wisdom only to greet it as an equal. The deathly hollows were so powerful indeed because they could master death.

There are these awesome Dumbledore quotes about it:

Voldemort: “There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!

Albus Dumbledore: “You are quite wrong. Indeed, your failure to understand there are much worse things than death has always been your weakness.

And

It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.

After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.

What you won’t remember is metaphorical Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries, with the archway with the tattered black veil, where Sirius Black died. Nowhere the mystery of death was better depicted.

It is my view that the veil of death will never be lifted. This last shroud of mystery nothing can possibly reveal. It’s to teach us humility and to accept that there are larger things than us.


This will be an extra bonus for the artistical fellows out there. I considered a drawing or a painting to reflect on death, but I’m not gifted with the skills to produce it. Heh.

Imagine a green plain field with grass scattered by bashing winds in all directions. A moat in the center. and on top of it an ancient burial site, with stones atop one another. Over the tomb, a white dead tree. Perhaps fog, What man was buried there? How was his life?

Either a painting or one of those fancy carbon drawings would come nicely I think.


[IMAGE: Giza Pyramid Complex, in Egypt. image source]