On Wandering

Cambridge’s A.L. Dictionary defines the word ‘wander’ as:

  1. to walk around slowly in a relaxed way or without any clear purpose or direction;

If you stop to think about, much of our lives is spent on wandering around. We are born into this world without a clear purpose, with no guidelines, and without truly knowing ourselves. That can only lead to much time spent trying to find our path, and hence, wander.

And I don’t just mean to wander physically, or from job to job, but also wander in our way of thinking. How many times we change our minds about something, only to change it back again some time later.

Have you ever felt that strange desire to just leave your ordinary life, your steady-pace and run into the wilderness or live from place to place?

I believe that, to some people more than others, there is still a residual urge from our nomadic past that runs very deep. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the reason why they never seem to find a place, and prevents them from bringing their lives into a focus.

Drifting from one job to the next, focusing on today’s assignment, dispersing one’s energy rather than having a single long term goal are all traits of people who are bound to wander the rest of their lives. Somewhere along the line society stepped on the right of these people to exist as they were.

And there is the danger of not realizing in time that one is drifting too much. This leads to poorly conducted lifes, often with suffering as an end result.

But that doess’t necessarily mean a bad thing. It’s more often a compromise between how one’s dream about his life and how it actually flows. You can’t judge a person’s life based on how aimless it was, as some remarkable life experiences come exactly from wandering around.

As J.R.R Tolkien beautifully wrote in this much tatooed sentence:

Not all those who wander are lost;

The apparent contradiction of these words in fact reveal this truth. To not seek a particular goal can be a goal on itself. There is a fine line between wandering to explore the world and it’s things, and wondering without any purpose – to be simply lost.

[IMAGE: Mt. Cook in New Zealand, image source]



Idea #12: Trackable Money

A very curious feature of this invention we call currency is that you can’t track it with ease. Pick a dollar bill in your hands, can you say if the past owner of that money was your employer, or if you got it from the market? No, most likely you can’t.

Short of conducting an investigation, money is virtually trackless. Owned by who posseses it, one needs simply to present it to benefit from it’s credit feature.

The average people need not know the origin of the money, but this information is relevant for governments, companies and organizations. A government is interested to know if money was involved in illicit activities, as well as to keep track of taxes, for example. A company would be interested in not being associated with crime.

There are means to track large flows of money. For example, any bank transaction higher than a set amount is notified to regulating banks. Personal intensive investigations, with correlating databases, can eventually uncover money laundering. But there is hardly enough people to investigate the population, so only a small fraction of the infractions are punished.

But how one could make money more trackable?

The first step into achieving this is to abolish completely the paper and coin currency. It’s simply impossible to keep track. Instead, favor electronic payment options. We will need to redesign currency as well as the infrastructure used by it.

Money currently has only one relevant attribute: it’s value, how much it represents. What if we added to every cent a list of owners, as well as a past transactions field and a timestamp?

This is a very simplified example of what I’m proposing. Say that for a particular cent:


The more down in the table you go the further back in time you are. So this cent went from the Government of Indiana all the way to Mary, who owns it now in her bank account. John loaned this cent from Peter in 15/06/2017.

Of course there could me more fields in this, as well as codes representing each type of transaction, estabilishment and person. This would have to be very synthetic however, since in the US alone there are  $1.56 trillion of dollars in circulation. Imagine the computer space required to store this information. Probably a record too far in the past could not be kept. Nothing is free of charge.

So a person would have many blocks of cents with different history in his/her bank account. Of course to him/hers, it could only be displayed the total amount.

In every store, there would be credit cards like machines that would register the transactions. They could also be owned by people, or be available in banks for people to register personal transactions such as loans. The banking system would compensate these transactions as it normally does.

Of course, people could still falsify the entries somehow. That’s why there would have to be standart security measures, like the ones used today to prevent credit card fraud. It may seem like too much an imposition to force everyone to use electronic payment means, but there could be considerable gain.

It would be required to process this information. The second step of this endeavour is to build advanced computer routines for scanning infractions, and apply them continuously to the data gathered.

For example, a large amount of small transactions from young consuming group could indicate a drug selling bussiness. A large donation from a company to a politician could trigger an investigation. An unusual growth in income could potentially lead to identifying criminal organizations.

People would ultimately barter or use a black market money, but it’s a lot harder to try to by crack with your iPhone than it is with money.

When in doubt, always follow the money trail.

[IMAGE: French Pacific Territories currency note, circa 1985 image source]


Idea #05: Stackable Chair

Suppose you have you are hosting a barbecue, but since you live in a small apartament, you don’t keep spare chairs laying around.

Aside from renting chairs or asking your neighboor, there is folding chairs and those plastic bar chairs that go on top of the other. But those things are not fancy – and you want fancy chairs!

Well here is an idea for a furniture:


Don’t mind the awful paint drawing, but I never taught myself a better tool. The back foot of the chair above is omitted.

The idea is a smaller chair that can fit under and behind the larger chair. And then another, and so on. I’ve seen this on tables before so it’s not an original idea, but never in chairs.

But how many chairs could you put in the space that would normally be occupied by a single chair?

Let’s see: the chair would have to have a thinkness (e) in order to stand. There would also be a gap (g) between the chairs. And finally, if you stacked too much, the upper chair would be too high and the lower too low. It would also become to narrow for a person to sit.

Some guesses for a somewhat large wooden chair are:

  • D = 50 cm
  • d = 25 cm
  • e = 3 cm
  • g = 0.3 cm

Doing some math alternating the gaps and chairs, you find that you could fit seven chairs in the space of one.

If the chair is metal, it can be made thinner:

  • e = 1.5 cm

So there could be fourteen chairs in one space! That’s a lot of chairs. It almost made me consider a career change.

There is a catch: the chair would not have the beam under the seat, that prevents the legs from opening, like the one in this picture:c553887a7888e35e8fdb269374777fb3--furniture-plans-furniture-projects

From a DIY webpage. All credit of this beauty is due to image source

The solution to this is to use, on each side of the chair, a strong elastic wire with a hook that can be attached when the chair is going to be used. It might not even be necessary if the chair is robust.

Now before you go on building your stackable chair make sure to double check these calculations. It’s a bit empirical to know the thickness required to support an average person’s weight.

If you do build one, make sure to let me know so I can buy it.

[IMAGE: luxurious kitchen image source]




Idea #14: Stargazer

Here is an idea for someone with a passion for Astronomy. You will quickly realize that it requires background on computing and photography. Do not be discouraged!

Living in urban areas with electrical lights, we lost much of the ability to stargaze. We pratically can’t see faint stars or the beautiful patch of the Milky Way. On a full moon you can forget about it. And that is sad because it’s been a past time of mankind for millenia. Looking to the stars connects us with the universe and puts some things in perspective.


The patch of the Milky Way, usually to faint to be seen. image source

The idea is to manufacture and install a camera in a rural area, a farm, far from light pollution. This camera is pointed to the sky, and can rotate 360° on the horizontal plane and ~180° on the vertical plane (theta and phi in spherical coordinates). The camera streams the images to the internet to many clients around the world, stargazing.

So there is a tricky part in finding an isolate enough area, but with powerful enough internet connection. Internet access in the countryside can be a problem.

A live stream probably would yield images too faint though. It would probably be better to set it for long exposure photos (with the camera halted, of course). So an internet website would display high-quality photos of the sky, being updated on a regularly basis. The idea is to preserve true color as much as possible, to retain the feel.

Here the hardcore computing comes to play. A layer could be added to this photos, marking the astronomical objects and connecting the constellations, naming them. A search feature could enable search of a particular object, say Mars or the Voyager 1 probe. A full collection of telescope images could be added if one should select an celestial object.

This is done in many excellent phone apps  and online planetariums. But in the first case, one must first be able to see the star and in the latter it just feels like navigating an artificial image. It doesn’t give that feel of really looking into the stars. Most of the places online have really poor image quality.

There is a commercial dimension into these project, to explore this desire to actually seeing stars, getting familiar with the constellations and locating the planets. There could be two kinds of clients buying stargazing time of the camera.

A first type of stargazing clients would only get the images the camera is showing at the moment, and perhaps the ability to see past in its recorded images. They would have no control of the camera, but would be able to use the layer feature.

The second type would have full camera control for a given time. Only one of those clients at a time (per camera). The price of the camera/hour could be steeper for them. You could also make promotions for periods of low usage, as a marketing strategy.

Or maybe you could take an entirely different approach, and the position of the camera is defined in a pool. This would be more democratic, but would lose the personal satisfaction of controlling alone an object miles away.

It’s not supposed to be a telescope (with zoom feature), that would be an entirely different thing, with much more complexity. It would probably be impractical as a time-shared telescope.

Perhaps this company could also sell the projection equipment to say, display this starfield in a bedroom. I would certanly like to have the feeling of sleeping under the stars, but comfortably indoors.

[IMAGE: Djorgovski 1 globular cluster, near the center of our galaxy.  ESA/Hubble image source]

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






On Mathematics

Mathematics is both a language and a form of artistic expression. Language because it has all its characteristics: it is symbolic, has a morphology and a syntax. It also represents something as an idiom does, in this case our natural world (or rather, our limited interpretation of it).

But Math is not tied to reality, unlike Physics for example.  There is no need for experiment to validade its work. As an important mathematician one wrote:

The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.

One is free to conjure any kind of creation to suit his needs. That is the great power of this field. It can be something that was motivated by a practical problem: How to keep track of a herd of sheep? How to measure the area of a irregular terrain? Will there be enough corn to feed the population? For practical reasons, this comprises most of it.

And it can be simply a thought experiment: What would a 9-th dimension cube be like? The problems in this pure Mathematics have a higher degree of abstraction, and are considered a larger set of the problems that arise from the real world. It’s possible for one of these problems to be found later having a counterpart in the physical.

The more you come close to this century Mathematics, the stepper the abtraction curve goes. That is the reason why most people will only have the practical knowledge of the Classical Era. And that is a bad thing in my humble people, but I guess Math just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

People could benefit from the gain in coping skills from studying it, though. It’s trying at times, but the satisfaction of grasping a new math tool is beyond words. And the variety of problems you can solve increase rapidly with more studying. I consider my Math skills the ultimate measure of knowledge, as everything I ever hope to learn has it in its foundation.

And it’s still under construction, even when it comes to the basics. Much is done of course, but one can easily find knots to tie or a new problem to tackle. A example of this is the prime numbers – is there a formula that can give any prime, given it’s position? This has haunted me for a very long time, it looks at first so simple. Solving it could render our cryptography useless, for those who want to see the world burn.


The mysterious pattern in prime numbers, known as Ulam’s Spiral. credits

There is much more that we can’t do than that we can. As an example, only a handful of integrals have a primitive in terms of defined functions. And the hardship of computing an integral increases dramatically if you start picking elaborate functions.

One might view this tendency as an evidence that the Math we developed is unsuitable to handle our intricate universe. We could be speaking Russian instead of plain English. Perhaps there is a different way of looking to things that is simpler and more effective. It’s hidden, waiting to be found.

From this freedom of creation comes the artistic aspect of Mathematics. In a carefully refined theory, one could leave a lasting work just as a painter or a composer does. I hope this has insipired some more courage when opening your next Calculus book.

[IMAGE: A computer generated fractal, Sierpinski. image source]


Idea #13: Metrics on Text

For the most part, you can only tell how good a book is after you have done some reading. Sometimes you are identified with how the author’s ideas resemble your own’s, and other times it’s the innovative writing style that gets you caught. All of this, regarded here as the ‘quality’ of the text, is too personal and subjective to be put in numbers.

However, there are some aspects of a text that do allow a quantification. Some of these attributes are

  1. how positive a text is, meaning that its words are associated with good memories and emotion;
  2. how innapropriate a text is, meaning containing socially frowned upon words;
  3. how erudite a text is, with elaborate words not commonly used;
  4. how technical, revealed by the presence of technical terms;

But why have this information before reading it?

Well, first, to aid in the decision of reading or not (or buying or not a book). If you have the measure of how negative a text is, and you are in a mood for a light reading, you probably would leave that for another day. Second, to estabilish some sort of relative distance between texts, a scale of how technical for example.

This is a proposed method of measuring the quality of a text or book. It is, of course, not exact math, as it will be seen. It’s simple but demands some work.

Lets tackle number 1 quality, how positive or negative a text is. For the average people, some words are associated with negative emotions or memories. For example, heaven is a ‘positive’ word while rape is a ‘negative’ word. Some words don’t evoke a strong response, such as the word banana, and are ‘neutral’:

heaven banana rape
waterfall shower prison
baby rock abortion

Example of a classification

There is a more comprehensive, but somewhat dubius list on this site: positive/negative. You will notice that I limited myself to nouns because they are easier to work with. There are many words that lie in a gray area that is best represented with neutral. To make it simple: when in doubt, it’s neutral.

So the first step is associating each word with +1, 0 or -1. It’s not required to classify every word (what would be impossible), just a large enough group of them.

Then the second step is to run the text counting each appearance of the word, summing it. For example the phrase ‘The baby took a shower’ would yield Q=1, while ‘The women had an abortion in prison.’ yields Q=-2. You can see how it works, the second sentence is obvioulsy a lot heavier then the first.

This is meant to be done by a computer.

We can fine tune this: in order to get the table of values for each word, a online survey could be estabilished presenting the user with an isolated word and asking it to rate it. Different users would answer about the same word.  The results would lead to a scale of the more negative or positive words, with statistical meaning.

The text is feed into the computer that compares each word with the table, and there you have the quality of a text. This requires the text to have had an electronic form at some point.

Books could have a series of that information printed on the back cover.

[IMAGE: Beautiful library of Trinity College, Dublin image source]



On a Sunset

Few things can rival the beauty of a sunset, particularly after a storm when the sky is filled with clouds. Too many clouds and it spoils the view because the sunlight can’t get through.

Ordinary beauty, yes. But still beauty.

I could probably go on discussing how the red-orange color of a sunset is due to Rayleigh scattering, but as a scholar, it’s important to know when to just sit back and admire the view.

One phenomena involving sunsets is the so called ‘green flash’, a flash of green light moments before the sun disappear in the horizon. Living so far from the ocean I must admit I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.

Big_green_flashA green flash in Santa Cruz, California image source

This was depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. There are many other atmospheric phenomena, some of them quite rare to be seen and registered, this source provides a list of them with photographic records.

But one of the most intringuing aspects of a sunset is how it’s beauty is fleeting. The sun goes down and the red light touches the clouds making them orange and then pink, and finaly blue. The sky in general, is always in constant change. You will never get to see the same sky again.

It is a privilege to be alive to witness a sunset.

[IMAGE: Sunset near Swifts Creek, Australia. image source]


Idea #11: A Cap for Wealth

It’s a surprising simplistic idea but, why doesn’t wealth have an upper set limit in society?

A simple statistics by OXFAM this year states that the richest 1% hold more wealth than the rest of the people combined.

The answer the question stated above is quite simple. Wealth doesn’t have an upper limit because the individuals who own enough wealth to bother soon found out that they could make even more profit by cornering the law-making process. Thus economical power became political power, and wealth accumulation ensued.

Of course today this is done in practice by corporations and organizations. There is no need to tell that it’s not in their interest to have a limit for themselves.

As the relations became more complex, more and more safeguards and insurances to protect assets where put in practice. These include both physical methods (ie banking, security) to more powerful social methods such as:

  • alienation to the real status of wealth concentration;
  • creating the illusion that ordinary people will ever become rich;
  • carefully segregating society into social classes (for example, certain places can only be accessed by people in the upper class);
  • restricting access to education, particularly one that questions.

Today is a safe bet to say that, unless there were a major rupture in society (and I mean really major) these safeguards would deter any attempt to change this status. We live in our own cage of a system.

And our system isn’t able to correct itself against the most serious problems such as global warming and global inequality.

I say hit the ‘reboot button’ in society, starting by setting a cap and redistributing the wealth.

But do it in a non-violent way, by organized gradual awareness and polarization. Sure Gandhi taught us a trick or two. You could still count any extra money earned as a point system, if you care for measuring and comparing earnings.

I doesn’t even need to be a small cap, it can be enough to allow a relative luxurious life style. There is plenty of wealth around to give everyone more than enough to survive.

If you are still not convinced, it’s important when you read these plain statistics about wealth concentration to have this mental image:


[The vulture and the little girl, famous 1993 Pulitzer photo by Kevin Carter image source]

This is the other end of being rich. There is only so much wealth in this world, and if you have too much then someone is short of it. We mask it by saying that this is caused by country poverty, but in reality there isn’t much difference. Certainly doesn’t make a difference to that child.

Any moral being of conviction would refuse to be rich on principle, with the exception of those who do it to help others. To quote a series, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault, not really.

[IMAGE: US S5 dollar bill, portraying Lincoln image source]




On Ethics

We are often plagued by that “Is it wrong?” question. It’s the human nature to be inquisitive about the ethics of things. It’s uncertain if that is something that we were born with or if it was acquired along the way, enforced, for example, by religion.

Rarely we find a definite answer to a moral dilemmas, however. We tend to think that there is a ‘yes or no’ solution to everything, when problems can be so complex that can only be tackled in very specific conditions.

Just as an example: should you save person A or B from drowning? What if A was you son, and B a complete stranger? See how the problem changes shape, just by adding more information. For some people, it falls under a completely different algorithm while for others, nothing changes.

This is applied ethics, asking specific questions to the purpose of determining a policy or a decision in real life. If this was an easy task the world would not be so troubled. In fact, in the heart of every major conflict lies an ethical ambiguity, a problem that at least on the surface seems to have more than one acceptable solution.

But don’t be tempted to think that the answer to all ethical dillemmas is to ensure conformity. Many practical disasters have come from attempting this, including the Second Great War. There are two separate movements in society, one leading to conformity and other to dissidence of opinions. Somehow, the balance of these opposing forces reaches an end result that is society itself.

This affects ethical decisions because our own decisions are based by the mainstream views of the society, its values and beliefs. If my entire family bans abortion, for example, it is lot more unlikely for me to support it.

It’s important to know that although there are little definite answers, much work has been done in thinking about the most common ethical dilemmas. This material should be used to guide the most difficult decisions.

There are many schools of ethics, some that favor the balance such as the Stoicism, other more pragmatic as the Utilitarism. Simply knowing what they are about is a enough to allow you to use them in a rudimentary way, and leads to a better justified position. One needs to draw the line about using them and embracing them as life styles, though.

In very simple terms: Stoicism is inside the moral absolutism (ie murder is always wrong) and anything outside can’t be judged; In Hedonism, right is what gives pleasure (bound to have a fan or two); To Epicureans, enduring pain makes it right; Consequentialist states that one must compute the pros/cons of a moral action; Utilitarism chooses something to maximize, say welfare, and defines right accordingly; Deontological ethics look beyond consequences, and find right in the actions taken.

I’ve found with years that one should navigate between these views, none of them alone is enough to face every decision. One needs to see how arbitrary a solution to a problem is, if only to be more willing to listen to another opinion. If the purpose is not debating, but to reach a consensus, one will find Consequentialism an usefull tool.

On top of that, one has to process these ethical considerations with his religious belief system. For some people religion takes precedence, and for other is the logical approach. It’s a wonder we can reach any decision at all.

[IMAGE: Plato and Aristotle in ‘The School of Athens’, by Raphael Sanzio. image source]


Idea #10: Guns

Depending on the society, the access to firearms can be more or less controlled. Most countries have very tight restrictions to the usage of these items, no doubt due to how tied they are to violence and crime.

Regardless of the policy, it’s in the interest of the state to be able to know precisely where are the guns, particularly the more restricted classes that cross the borders in the dark. These guns have the potential to be used in bank assaults and mass shootings.

Surprisingly enough, there is little way to pinpont the location of a weapon from afar. Without submitting  everyone though a meticulous search, you could use for instance this experimental long-distance testing device.

This idea is a proposal for another long-range testing device. Is it possible to make a gun pipe ressonate, either by an acoustic or electromagnetic wave?

Well every gun has a pipe, and due to mass production there should be a limited selection of pipe calibers and lengths. If you could make a gun emit, for example, a wistle at a distance, you would have the means to detect it.

And perhaps not only detect – Imagine that you make the gun pipe vibrate with a powerful enough wave, tuned to the ressonating frequence. You could render aim more difficult to make. A whole EWAR field could be born.

Unfortunately, I found very little useful data as to estimate how strong would an acoustic wave have to be and at what frequency range would it lie. Perhaps an experiment could shed some light on this.

Hopefully, a better tools such as this could contribute to a world with less guns, or at least less unauthorized ones.

[IMAGE: Soldier with gun. image source]


On Gods

Talking about God is hard because you are always stepping on eggs, is something too close to personal core beliefs. You could easily offend someone without intent simply by phrasing something in a bad way. With that in mind, let’s make sure to note that these are my thoughs on God. It goes without saying that you need not to agree with me.

By God I mean the entity that created, somehow, this reality that we experience.

The way I see it, there is nothing wrong with believing in one God, or two, or many. Usually what’s wrong, in my opinion, is what comes next. I’ll get back to this later.

New Hubble image of NGC 2174


For some, the natural beauty of the cosmos is seen as evidence of God; NGC 2174, ESA/Hubble. image source

There are many ways of believing in a God. It can be supreme (omnipotent and omniscient) or not; It can be benign or evenly capable of kind and cruel acts; It can have a special connection with each living thing or be completely unattached.

It can be a force of nature, an animal, personify a human or be completely alien. It could have only a divine nature or also have a human nature, including having lived among us at some point.

Or, to some people who don’t need that hypothesis, it might even not exist at all. Believing in a God requires a leap of faith that not everyone is wanting or willing to do.

Although each religion ends up enforcing a particular kind of God, it’s important to realize that you are free to choose your own conception of the creator. In my opinion you should go beyond taking for granted a belief set and instead, build your God upon questioning what makes more sense and what your instincs tell.

I understand that God in some religions is tied to eternal salvation, or more accurately to not being damned. But you shoud not let fear of punishment be the only basis for choosing a belief. Personally, I refuse to believe in a God that gives us the reasoning skills but doesn’t allow us to use them.

Logic will only take you so far though. Believe me, I’ve tried. For example, many philosophers have either proven or disproven God using reasoning.

Personal life experience can contribute either way to having a Deity. To some people, the sucession of failures leads to dismissing the idea of a compassionate being. To others, it the overcoming of challenges that leads to a stronger faith. It depends on the individual.

My concept of God is not carved to stone. It could change tomorrow, but for some time I’ve been stuck with a notion.

To me, when God created this universe, he became the universe, with all it’s clockwork precision. So we are stepping on Him right now. He was not omnipotent though, so, for example, in order for life to exist, he would compromise with all the bad things we usually see in this world (that are not caused by us, of course).

In that view, God is only the spark of creation. The details of its evolution followed from the set rules that he laid out in the beginning. Thus, for me, God did not create the world but rather the mechanism of its creation. I’ve found this notion to reasonably end the conflict between science and religion.

My personal experiences led me to believe that he has a keen eye for beauty, but that he doesn’t value life the way we do – which is not as to say he doesn’t care. For me, there is no afterlife tied to this existence (such as you paying for past life transgressions), but there might be another after this one.

On some days, I like to believe in the ‘Game Theory’, that reality is a simulation done to gain something or an experiment. But it’s not every day that I think that.

But what can go wrong with believing in God? As long as you keep it to yourself, nothing, but should you not…


A painting portraying an episode of the Spanish Inquisition image source

The problem usually begins when one tries to interpret what are God’s best intentions. Soon after, that person is led to believe that this interpretation is correct while all others are false. Doens’t take much for persecution to start.

If one doesn’t see God as the spark of creation, but rather as the creator of Genesis, believing in a literal interpretation, one must be ready to admit that he will never be able to put science and faith in peace in his mind. It’s a matter of choice.

[IMAGE: The iconic Pillars of Creation, as seen by the Hubble Telescope. NASA/ESA image source]

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


Idea #9: Bio-Membrane

In Biology, could we produce a single layer of cells, separating two mediums?


The red circles are a different chemical species than the blue circles.

Suppose we had an multicellular organism that was shaped as a layer, separating two mediums in a recipient. It survives on some nutrients and gases that are provided in the mediums. It’s survival is not the main issue here.

Perhaps this organism could be creating by modifying the genes that control the shape of of existing life form, until this layer shape is achieved. Or perhaps it could have more than one layer, if that made it easier.

We could, in theory, modify the membrane proteins to allow passage to specific molecules of interest. It could use the full features of the selective membrane. Naturally, just this would be a lifetime’s work.

Or it could go even further. It could take selected molecules from side A, absorb them, build with the cell machinery substances of interest and expel to side B. This would be a living factory. Aminoacids, proteins, vitamins, drugs, all could be produced in theory.

Maybe it could take CO2 and use it to produce sugar, with the purpose of removing CO2 of air. That would be a carbon capture method, perhaps.

Let’s face it, the only thing shown to produce complex molecules with relative ease is the cell machinery, tailored by eons of evolution. Wouldn’t it be simpler to try to grasp this machinery, and modify it than to build our own nano-machines?

[IMAGE: Mitosis in vegetal tissue, image source]



Idea #8: Sand Dunes

This is a wild idea. Those are fun.

Landslides are movements of the superficial layer of the dirt in areas that become unstable. They occur without much warning, and can cause disasters and loss of life.

Let’s reason a bit. If the dirt moves, it is because it has the potential to move under the gravitational force. It is not yet in the least possible energy situation. And where there is potential energy, there is the potential to generate energy (pardon the word pun).

Could a machine be moved into a  location with landslides, provoke them, harness the energy then move to a second location?

I told you it was wild.

In principle this could be done with gravel mountains, sand dunes, and even snow. I don’t really see that happening with a rocky mountain (unfortunately, because they are the highest).

Maybe this wouldn’t be done with the purpose of generating energy, but rather as to release it in a more controlled manner.

In a very simplistic way of thinking, any land mass above the ground has potential energy in store. The same way a ball over a desk has potential to fall. All you would have to do is bring that mass into lower height, channel the flow into a machine and zap – energy.

And if  we could flatten a mountain to a level below it’s peak, this would release energy provided that the energy used to maintain the process is less that.

Imagine a case with a sand dune,


Another priceless paint artwork.

The machine on the center can move both the angle a and the pipe distance d to reposition it. The sand flows into the pipe due to the pressure of the sand above it. The machine converts the flow into electrical energy.

Suppose a dune is 300m in height and to make it simple its a perfect cube. We flat it to 200m on the top. That means 100x300x300m of sand is displaced. Sand has a density of 2.69 g/cc. That means a mass of 2.42×10^10kg.

The potential energy (mgh), that could be released, is at best: 2.4×10^13J.

Taking a guess, say that 30% is actually obtained due to the machine operation. That is 7.1×10^12J. Enough energy to boil 3000tons of water! In just one sand dune.

Of course, there is a reason  why mountains and sand dunes have the shape they do. Much of the minimization of energy already occurred. It’s possible there would not be enough pressure to make the sand flow, I really can’t tell. The friction of the sand could prove to be to high as well.

I hope you had a good time reading this as I had doing it. Stay sharp!

[Sand dunes in desert wind. image source]




On Music

One of the oldest forms of art, music is natural to man. After all we are born with the ability to produce with our vocal chords a wide range of sounds. It’s like being born with an attached musical instrument. Being able to communicate with sound is obvioulsy an evolutionary advantage.

Music can be defined as the structured production of sound, with the purpose of transmitting though and emotion. In a non-trivial process, sound is received by our ears and decoded, estimulating certain regions in the human brain. It involves both acoustics and psychology.

Music has four major components: Melody, the set of sounds executed in succession; Harmony, the set of sounds executed simultaneously; Counterpoint is a subtle concept, perhaps best experienced; And there is Rhythm, the proportion of the sounds in melody and harmony.

Surprisingly enough, all the myriad sounds of music can be represented by only seven musical notes (and accidents). This has more to do with the fact that music as a subset of sound that is pleasant to hear, so it ends up having this pattern. Physically, every note has a specific frequence, and from one A to the next, the frequency is doubled.

Music is produced today in an industrial scale (it became mass art), with musical producers working side by side with performers and lyric writers. As Adorno and Horkheimer so brilliantly stated, we are tricked into believing we have a choice for music.

Formally, in Music Theory, a composition is written in modern musical notation. This is a rich creation, with somewhat simple rules, in which music is organized into a sheet composed of staffs.

Music Theory has many points of connection with Mathematics.

Since the music of an instrument is a sucession of frequencies, one can assign numbers to each note and obtain integer sequences. For example, by applying the number 1 to the the lowest pitch in the following sheet an integer sequence is obtained:


This entire song can be heard here.

Then one can, for example study the frequence of notes, or try to find a recurrency relation for the music. I’m sure that from all the possible sequences in the universe, only a handful are considered beautiful songs to us. Is there a pattern to those sequences?

If we understood better how some sequences are more pleasing than others we could improve the quality of our music.

The process described above doesn’t work if more than one note is played at the same time unless you separate it into different sequences. This is unfortunately quite common in music.

The other way around, taking a mathematical table or relation and turning it into music is also possible (although it’s kind of useless).

For example, the astronomer Johannes Kepler, studying the movement of the planets considered each planet as emmiting a  note proportional to the orbital velocity, that changes during a revolution around the Sun. There would be a celestial music to each planet. Something similar is done beatifully in an app here – complements to the designer.

A personal selection of songs, divided into pop and classical can be found in this page.


[IMAGE: Vinyl store. image source]






Idea #7: Algae for Food

This is an open question about Biology. I’m streching myself these days.

In my crude understanding, single-cell organisms are capable of building complex molecules via photosyntesis (particularly algae). They are also capable of producing aminoacids, that are used in their own biological processes.

Is it possible to modify them genetically so that they would produce exactly the dietary needs of humans, in terms of sugars, aminoacids and vitamins? 

Well, first we would have to estabilish precisely what an average human needs in terms of food. There is much work done already, link to FAO pdf.

Then, the hard part would be actually modify the organisms. It’s likely that many different species would have to be used in order to achieve the full range of the dietary needs. Each could produce one step of the way.

Two aspects seem to be crucial for  food producing. That the organisms are fast breeders and their inner workings are compatible with whatever gene is to be transfered into them. This is not trivial, as many attemps to modify genes fail due to that.

There are many edible algae, as an example the multicellular P. yezoensis (Nori). It has richness in some vitamins and micronutrients. But there is no algae as of yet that can be the basis of a diet.

And it would seem a waste considering we have 510.100.000 km² of virtually useless water on the planet. We could cultivate them in isolated water bodies or build oceanic farms.

It would go a long way into ensuring food to the next generations, at a reasonable price.

Naturally the standart precautions about contaminating an environment with a transgenic organism needs to be adressed. But no effort is without risk, just as no victory is without sacrifice.

If you could manage to duplicate a mechanism for transporting the molecules through the celular membrane, then the organisms produce a sort of ‘liquid food’. We know from human blood that sugars do pass into the bloodstream in certain cases.

This is fascinating speculation, and  there are many people on the worid working to increase our understanding of life, with hopes of one day achieving this level of genetic manipulation.

[IMAGE: Red seaweed image source]





Idea #6: Memorial

Say manking is wiped out, either by our own hands or on the hands of others. Would there be any record of the human existance after 100 years? What about after a billion years?

There is no reason to presume that there would be necessarily an extintion of our species. After all, we could overcome the challenges that lie ahead, if we are wise and brave enough.

But there is massive evidence about extinction of species, including sentient ones (by us, no less). And to quote Star Trek, “Our civilisation thrived for ages, but what is the life of one race, compared to the vast stretches of cosmic time?”.

The universe is presumably 13.8 billion years old. We are in this planet for the last 200.000 years. That’s about 0.0014% of the age of the universe.  Not even 1%. It’s a little presumptuous to believe we will see the end of Time.

Don’t take me for a doomsayer. I sincerely hope that many generations of humans will come. But we do face serious and real threats, in this century. In the end, what really matters is what we to do in the period we have here.


The galaxy NGC 1569 as captured by the Hubble Telescope. ESA/Hubble image source.

But back to the question, most manmade structures on Earth will be long gone. The changes in the atmosphere we did could take significantly longer to change. The ‘structures’ we left on the Moon could last significantly longer (probably billions of years). There was left approximately 187 tons of material on the Moon.

But there is no telling what is the long term stability of the solar system. It could all go ‘poof’.

Eventually the sun would turn into a red-giant, white-dwarf and finally a cold remnant black dwarf. That is expected to take more than the current age of the universe to occur.

Voyager 1 and other space crafts would still roam powerless the black horizon. They should be well preserved by the vaccum of space – but where would they end up in 10 billion years?

It makes sense for mankind to build at some point a memorial of our existance.

It could contain an archive with some of our best literature, art, music; our genetic makeup and the pulsar map of the location of Earth. Who knows, aliens might even be able to recreate us long after we had disappeared, and give mankind a second chance.

It could be, for example a space station orbiting a long lived red-dwarf star. It would need to be an extraordinary piece of engineering to function alone for eons.

A curious and interesting plan would be to sintesize large quantities of the isotope Tellurium-128 and place it aboard this station. This element has a calculated half-life of 2.2×10^24 years, ~10^12 the age of the universe, so it would be around for a long time.

Ultimately the abnormal presence of this element in a region of  the universe would hint another species about our existence.

What better than the atom itself to carry the message of us across time!

[Image: Native tellurium in sylvanite image source]

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






On Star Trek

For those of you that are trekkies, this post is to remember the good old TV show Star Trek. For those who are born in this century or lived in a nuclear bunker, this will be a short introduction into the Star Trek universe, and to my favorites:

Note that I don’t care for TOS or the new movies. Just a matter of personal taste, nothing to it.

Star Trek creation is usually credited to Gene Roddenberry, although that seldom does justice to the many talented people who worked in all phases of Trek.

It’s a sci-fi series set on the future, where mankind is part of a Federation of Planets, along with many other alien species. The Federation is a highly techological, utopian society. The humans explore the unknown galaxy, engage in stellar warfare and face dilemmas ranging from ethical to technological problems.

There is an interpersonal aspect in Star Trek, in the characters interplay, but that is often in a second plane. What really gets you to sit and watch it are the open questions that are brought with every episode.

You often find yourself wandering how a warp drive could be build, or if Janeway should murder to save another life, and so on. It’s pure fuel for though, carefully inspired in many actual theories of science and philosophical debates.

Note that you don’t need to know how the stardate system works, or what is exactly warp 6 to follow the series. In a short span you get so used to it it doesn’t bother you anymore. Nothing wrong with being a hardcore trekkie though.

Star Trek can provide you with humanistic core values and a general regard for life, as a result of watching.

But Star Trek is also a bit farfetch. It often streches the limits of possible science (aka ‘Heisenberg Compensator‘)  and solutions are often over simplifications of reality. Ending is 99.9% of time merry. Everyone is a multi pro. It had to adapt to the format of a TV series, in the end.


The USS Enterprise on orbit of the planet Haven. credits

ST: TNG is remarkable series depicting the adventures of the starship USS Enterprise, to coin a phrase, to boldy go where no man has gone before.

The ship runs in a tight military hierarchy, under the command of captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Picard and his crew travel among the stars inside the Federation running missions, or in the outskirts exploring unfamiliar species and phenomena.

In no other series the humane side of ST is better depicted. Picard is a moral example to such an extent that I often wonder is tight situations ‘what would Picard do’. Committed to peace, cunning and forceful in battle, is the perfect military strategist.

In January, ST:TNG completed 30 years.  And it is still timeless.


Picard is the ‘living’ example of the power of self-education. image source

ST:VOY is a more recent series (better FX).

It has the most perfect plot motto of all times (spoiler alert): a starship that got stranded in a a remote part of the galaxy and needs to make its way back into the Federation. It was completely new ground, new species (some old acquaintances), as a result a very fresh series.

The USS Voyager is commanded by Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). Janeway is resorcefull, driven and workaholic. It got me to become addicted to caffeine too.

The ship encounters many perils on the journey home, many times comes close to destruction. But the determination of the crew to continue (or will of the writers) always seem to keep the ship together.

A memorable character developed  late in the series is Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).


Captain Janeway (left) and Seven of Nine, probably arguing. image source

The last series we will discuss is ST:ENT.

A short-lived project. Enterprise depicts the adventures of the first starship capable of travelling in warp 5. This is the beginning of the Federation, a time where technology was a lot less developed than in the former series.

There is nothing much I can say without spoiling the series, but it has a different flare from the others: it’s more crude, more close to our reality. The challenges reflect this, they are more of a basic nature.

The series didn’t last long. In my opinion, this was due to the long story arcs (covering half a season in one case).  Still, there are memorable episodes.

Considering the number of episodes in all ST, it’s bound to have plot repetitions. There are at least 7454457 hostage situations alone.  One can’t help to wonder if is there anything new to be imagined in the universe. I certainly hope so.

[IMAGE: USS Voyager, from the opening scene. credits]



Idea #4: A Formula for Wages

An engineered society is a society that, instead of flowing the natural chaotic evolution of people, decides to break this cycle and plans it’s aspects in advance.

Every society is engineered to a degree, governed by its canon of laws that represent certain interests inside it. However, the extreme of this is a form or government and economical system that is planned in all its aspects, before being put to practice, and as the years go by, perfected. It’s a purely utopian society.

Theres is no need to say that this in an enormous undertaking, that requires much collaborative effort.

One of the problems of society is how to reward the work in a manner that is both fair and sane.

The way this is done today, in most western societies, is to leave it to the people to decide the wages. Some jobs do have prefixed wages, but that is in the end tied to the mechanism of supply-demand that regulates economy.

I find this notion to produce quite a number of unfair results. Professors are ill rewarded and CEOs make millions, for example. These distortions are an indication that the model used to set wages is inappropriate.

Having freedom to do so, one might be tempted to reason: Since all people have an equal intrinsic value, everyone should receive the same wage. In fact this view has its merit. To much emphasis is done in creating distinction between people. I doubt you would find many rich people willing to share this view that, by giving up its share, the whole society benefits. As long as money is tied to securing survival, there will always be greed.

I can’t honestly say if wages should be uniform. Deeply divided in this issue.

But I can say is that if it is not uniform, then it should take more factors into account than the law of supply-demand. I strongly believe that there should be  a mathematical formula to set wages, designed to factor in all the trimings of rewarding someone for their work.

Some factors it could use:

  • s – supply or workers in an activity (number in a month);
  • d – demand;
  • y – years of study (number of years in any kind of formation);
  • i – ‘insalubrity’  (a number 0 to 1);
  • r – occupational risk  (a number 0 to 1) .

The insalubrity is how unpleasant or detrimental to health condition a job is. For example, a garbageman should receive almost the same as a doctor, because its job is well, very unpleasant, even though it’s unskilled. A worker in nuclear medicine should also receive more because of the exposure to radiation. That would be much more close to some social justice.

The maximum and minimum salary would be tied to the country gross domestic product (a fraction of it), so it would be updated. Say the maximum salary no more than 10 times the minimum salary. I’m sure someone with knowledge of the Gini coefficient could figure out the perfect number for this.

Or course obtaining supply/demand ratios would require constant statistical analysis. And occupational risk and insalubrity are hard to measure. To solve this, an online suvey could  be used to obtain the most likely value for each profession, by asking a user to compare them.

Let’s give it a try:


Assuming that the supply and demand are even, their ratio is the unit. A doctor (with i=0.1 and r=0.3) that studied for  y=19 years result in W=465.25. A garbageman (with i=0.95 and r =0.2) that only completed y=9 years resut in W=350. They would have comparable wages then.

The Wage W would produce a table of values for each activity. These values are then mapped to the range of salaries defined earlier, and the final wage is obtained.

The formula above is only an example, and it its likely to exist many better functions of these variables.

This would eliminate this problem (in my opinion): two workers on the same activity but  different companies. being payed different wages.

The price paid to implement this in a real society would not be small: just to maintain an updated table of wages would require an entire staff of statisticians and programmers. Most likely to be done in a plataform developed by the government.

I believe the benefit of this could be substantial.

[IMAGE: Men pouring molten metal image source]







On the Complexity of Things

We often state that that something is complex. The world is quite complex. Working as a string-theory teacher is quite complex. Understanding the finer points of the stock market is quite complex, solving an integral can be quite complex, and so on.

But what does ‘complexity’ means?

The problem in arriving with a simple, clear definition of complexity, that works for any kind of system is that that is simply not feasible. Complexity is one of the concepts that take diferent meanings, depending on context. The imprecision of language, in this case, was not to have coined different terms for each one of the complexities.

But in a gross way, complexity of  system:

  • 80 % of the the time equals to hardness, the difficulty of a task or system.
  • 20 % equal to the inter-dependency of the system, the interactions between its constituent elements.

In Biology, for example, a measure of complexity of a food web could be taken as a function of the number of organisms and number of links, biological relations between the living beings. I’m not exacly sure if a specific function was ever defined by someone. defined somewhere, but one could, in principle, construct one to compare food nets. There might even be a relation between this complexity and the long term stability of the food web.

In Computing. a classic measure of complexity is the Kolmogorov Complexity. It’s esssentially the number of lines of code required to produce an output, say a string or a piece of text. Naturally this translate the concept of how two different codes can have different densities of coding – as best exemplified by the The International Obfuscated C Code Contest.

One puzzling contradiction is that the known universe can be both complex and simple. Complex because it is a vast net of interacting entities (with, say 10^80 particles in anestimate). But at the same time, simple because we are able to grasp the laws that govern its workings – and they are simple. A example of this, in Physics, is how most of fundamental laws are written in maximum second-order differential equations.

Complexity is closely related to the phenomena of emergerce, where a non-existant pattern in small scale, for example, appear in the big scale. The shape of snowflakes are one example of this process. Life is often said to be a emergence from chemistry. Counscionuess is an emergence of the human brain. The idea is that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

As we avaliate more and more complex systems, we will eventually perfect the criteria for defining complexity.

[IMAGE: a snowflake as seen from a close distance against a carpet image source]




On the Holy Grail of Physics

Behold the Holy Grail of Physics!


Should manking achieve control of either one of these processes, we would cease to be man and become gods. Not ‘Qs’ I would hope.

They are called ‘Holy Grails’ because they are so hard to achieve that it’s doubtful to be ever be possible. The same way alchemists once sought to transmute common metals into gold, these goals would pretty much leave scientists with nothing else to do. This is actually a bad example since this is possible today, magazine.


The first Holy Grail is the understanding that leads to unlimited conversion between energy and matter, at will. It also encompasses the conversions of matter into other forms of matter and energy into other forms of energy.

It is so powerful, that any material need would cease to exist. Poverty, hunger would end. Money would be meaninless.

One can imagine a white box where, say electrical energy comes in one side and kinectic energy is produced in the other. Then on this same box, electrical energy enters and heat flows on the other one. Or in that white box you put hydrogen and it gets you with platinum. Or more dramatically, you shine it with light and platinum comes on the other side.

How complex (and big) would that machine be.

Down to Earth, this exciting press release came in 2014 about a way to convert pure light into matter using devices called hohlraums. It’s still far from a practical thing though.


The second Holy Grail is the unrestricted control of space-time. Say you need to move from A to B: simple, just open a portal that connects both places and pass through it. Forgot about your math test? Set the portal to a month earlier.

It enables the complete exploration of the universe, since we would no longer be bound by the restrictions of space and time. We would also be immortal if we so desired (keep travelling to the past).

Of course that, to back up all these powers, manking would have to devise a superior ethics.

It is possible that life would become dull then. I don’t believe thats the case, there would still be interpersonal relations to pursue. Perhaps the universe reboots itself if anyone achive that level of understanding.

[Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector, physicists trying to unravel #1. Image source]


On the Necessity of Things

There is a tendency to believe that, just because a concept is novel, it is necessary or better. This is the ‘new is always better’ falacy, to quote a series.

However, not every creation of the human spirit turns out to be positive for man, once you factor all the positive and negative aspects. After weighting them according to what you believe to be a priority, you find out that it does more harm than good.

Even worse, deconstructing a concept once it is out there can be pratically impossible.

Take private property for example. Streching a little, it is believed that at some point, a man decided that he should own the tools that where of common use or that he had created. He needed a shelter too, so he banned all his other peers from entering his cave dwelling. In time he learned to build a hut, and fences were created. From fances to walls to estate borders there was not much difference.

But private property had at least one unwanted outcome. Poverty (or better, wealth concentration) soon ensued.

Now make a ‘simple’ math. Factor in all the suffering caused by poverty in all the history of manking. Now put that against the individual satisfaction of owning things. Wouldn’t it have been better if private property had never been invented?

Now don’t judge me wrong, I’m all about progress. The world needs to become increasingly complex. But the best course of action is to try to think ahead when conjuring up things.

It takes great courage to admit that something is unnecessary, and twice as much to stop using it. On a side note that goes for drugs too. See how the unnecessary can be vicious?

There are many other examples. I dare you to find one that you believe the world would be better of  without.


[Worker swepping money in the Weimar Republic during the Great Depression Image source]



Idea #1: Virtual War

Game of Thrones has an interesting concept, the trial by combat. In this trial, a dispute is settled when each party chooses a representative and they duel to the death. It probably found its inspiration in the germanic tradition of middle ages, were sanctioned duel was a thing.

The notion of resolving arguments in a physical strugle is of no interest to us, but there is merit in the idea that, instead of a fight, both parties would choose representatives to participate in a tournament.

The outcome of this tournment would decide the question at hand, and it would be final. I’m assuming a fair game here. Of course, both parties would have to agree beforehand to these conditions.

This could be used to settle minor issues between people, companies and countries, in a friendly matter. In the latter case, perhaps a supranational organization should be created to enforce the ruling.


Warsaw after WW2.  Image source.

How the tournment can take shape? There are numerous ways. For example it could be an sporting match, of tennis, soccer, chess..

A particularly nice way is using a computer online game, developed to be as balanced as possible, say a EA Battlefield 4 match. Each country could then have an army of players on stand-by to defend it’s interests.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the rules of war wouldn’t apply anymore. Just as today, the best prepared army of players would prevail, same (as per Sun Tzu)  the best trained army does.

Not every decision could be solved by this, though. For example, a murder charge cannot be solved via tournament, because the asset in question (human life) is too valuable. But most questions about property, that take a lot of court time, could be.

If justice is in fact achieve by this, it woudn’t be known. But just just the prospect of reducing the loss of life and assets in an armed conflict is something worth pursuing.


On the Purpose of Life

The purpose of life is to continue to exist.

This idea came to me when I was observing a group of ants gathering cut leaves from a tree. The tree provided the ants with the means of survival, as a prey. Aside from some possible benefit the tree gains from being preyed upon, such as recycling leaves, it would appear as if it didn’t benefit from the existence of ants. However, it is the duty of the prey to support the ecosystem, increasing the diversity of life. And the more diverse the life, the more it can perpetuate itself (say, in the event of a disaster) and regulate better the food webs. More diverse life means more failsafe mechanisms for it to ensure it’s continuing existence.

Life here is used in many senses: collective life (say, if there is a single species alive, there is life), life of a single species and life a single individual.

There is no need to quote the number of  events in which life found a way around extinction and in a few millions years filled again the existing ecological niches. As they suddenly became vacant, there was an enormous pressure on the organisms to evolve into species that could fill the void. These were, however, critical periods where all life hanged on the balance. Had life ended, game over.

Another example of how strong is the instict to ‘carry on the torch’ of life is how much emphasis there is in reproduction. It is hardcoded in human psique, and for every living thing it represents an enormous take of time and efford.

Even the emergency of what is considered intelligence, in humans, can be understood as an attempt of life to perpetuate itself. Intelligent life can cope with more situations, is more resilient, and can develop technological means to extend the period in which life stays on this planet.

The next milestone in this quest for perpetuation is the settlement on other planets, provided that this would be possible. More environment diversity would greatly facilitate the maintenance of life, somewhere, not to mention the complex interactions that could arise from other forms of life.

There is a consequence of this line of reasoning: that any action that go against this life drive to exist is inherently wrong. Not only wrong in a moral sense, but wrong in the sense that, should a species decide, for example, to diminish the life pool, it would most definitely encounter a restoring ‘force’ leading to it’s own elimination. For the game of life must go on, regardless of the players.

That is also one way of condemning suicide, except perhaps under extraordinary circumstances where there is suffering beyond measure.

With living, comes working, loving, feeling and all the other things that are usually said to be the purpose of life. Life has, however, an end on itself; these are simple consequences of the act of staying alive in my humble opinion.

Note: I have very little background in Biology, so be forgiving..

[Image: Pleiades Cluster. Image source]