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]