Sunday, November 30, 2003

Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC)

There are such interesting things to be found on the internet. Note that the title is a little misleading. Inertial Electrostatic Confinement devices generally produce very little fusion, and generally low power levels. It's as a theoretical technology that it is interesting. I'm not aware of any IEC devices with cores much above a meter in diameter. There's just no money in it, at the moment. Everybody wants to make pebble-bed fission reactors and tokomak fusion reactors, at the moment.

It is perhaps unfortunate that IEC devices can be built so small. If the boundaries to entry were higher, we might see more funding and research in it. Sadly, 'real scientists' rarely have time to experiment with things within the reach of common man. Even though a proper IEC device would need to be enormous to reach the break-even point, the fact that small versions can be built by ordinary mortals may have poisoned the concept for serious investigation. It is similar to the great gulf that exists between commercial aerospace and amateur designs. You have essentially Estes rockets, large Estes rockets, custom large Estes rockets, and then a great gulf of nothing, until the large expensive commercial, government and military launch vehicles. Little research gets done on the gulf between them, and no bridging technologies are created. Some of this is being rectified, by the relatively new Xprize efforts, and new entities like SeaLaunch, but it's still very stratified. And uptake of new technologies is minimal. Anything from the amateur end is badly integrated, and deemed useless. Anything from the government end is so expensive and mired in existing systems, it never achieves a useful genericity.

But, I suppose there are vested interests in making developed technology seem arcane and complex, to justify research expenditures. And amateurs are hard pressed to develop general technologies.

Were I an idealist, I would say that the amateurs will be the ones to close the gap. As open-source internet communities spread from software to hardware, they'll embrace and extend out to large scale technological development.

But the scaling between a software project and something with a few hundred thousand moving parts, and spanning several scientific and/or engineering disciplines is daunting.

And amateurs seem far better suited to immerse themselves in psuedoscientific stupors, building and rebuilding half-imagined perpetual motion machines, antigravity generators, and historical replicas. Interesting that lots of people in this vein seem to refer back to the research of Nikolai Tesla. I've become increasingly of the opinion that he's become even more of a personage of borrowed authority than Einstein and Galileo, these days. There's no easier path to renegade science respectability than conjuring an analogy between your downtrodden theories and Tesla's mad and fantastic electronic designs.

If I see one more design based on a fundamental misunderstanding of angular momentum involving magnets or electricity, I may give up entirely.

I'm of the opinion that some sort of organized effort would be necessary. Some forceful extension of amateur science into the realm of real exploratory research. Sadly(or happily) our social and technological situation is hardly stable, and things continue to change rapidly. So such a movement may occur or be obsoleted without much forewarning.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Penny Arcade!

I have to say, this AT&T cellphone I have is the worst user experience I've ever had. The coverage is terrible, the phone is cheap, and the access sporadic. I would encourage folk to look elsewhere.

I've also had reports that AT&T's data service is not as fast as advertised, showing little advantage over the frontrunner of mobile data, Sprint Vision.

It's good to know someone else feels my pain.

happy thanksgiving, enjoy your obesity-risk activities.

For those who celebrate christmas, prepare your shopping lists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I have dreamed great dreams
and I have seen them taken.
No, not taken, denied.
Dragged wailing into day's light
left to die in harsh contrast to waking life.

I have seen great cities,
unknown, rising from the plain
growing new before my eyes.
Towers and spires, none the same
telling a tale of lives I cannot follow.

I have woken to dawn,
fading visions into memories I curse,
hating them for hints of loss.
Wanting to wake again, back
back where loss is memory.

There are no roads back
no paths to follow
only failing memory.
Only fading hopes.

I have lived great triumphs,
victories without war,
friends I never lose.
My influence spread gently,
designs and ideas accepted,
my plans writ large upon the world.

Plans and triumphs that grow
live, dance, and change.
Giving me great surprise,
children grown beyond intent.
Joy and Satisfaction.

I have seen my plans of triumph fade
obsoleted, grown past.
My memories of them poisoned
by new eyes, seeking every flaw.
Nothing left but hints
marking old mistakes.

These things I remember
like glances of stories
too fast and light to hold them,
only scents of their meaning left.

I curse my memory in both directions.

I cannot hold my past self fast
the younger man who dreamed great things
the details slip and splotch
even two days past I struggle to contain
the tiny pieces of my lost dreams.
I cannot quite lie
that nothing of me dies with them.

But these memories burn me.
Better to be nothing,
than remember enough to regret,
than to feel enough to weep for loss.
I would rip past days from me
deny my past, forget my dreams
to live in peace
free of comparison.

Both paths are denied.
I lose myself in fading memories,
my past dreams and old hopes tatter and are gone.
Left are memories of memories
just holes that held something, their shapes hinting at the loss,
the blackness there telling me
telling me I too am gone, in measure.
Yesterday's dreamer is dead.
I am all that remain.

So today too, I will dream.
I will dream great dreams,
I will see great cities,
I will live great triumphs,
and I will remember them,
failingly, haltingly, in tattered record
to pass them to tomorrow.
So he too will despair,
and he too will worry that something of who he was
lives in those fading things.

There is another hope
another dream.
It does not visit me in visions.
but lies above them.
Today I am upon a hill
I climbed part of it yesterday
tomorrow I will climb another.
And I must dream, must hope
each hill brings me closer
to where it comes from.

That each day's dying
and each day's steps trace a direction
a path of lives and plans
that points to a man
some day
some when
a man wearing something like my face
with something like my name
who carries some dim piece of me
a man who needs not fear memory
who fears no dream of fairer places.
a man who has come home.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Ah, what a week.

My friend Loren has a child, healthy and good thus far. An early problem with jaundice has been averted with modern technology(a UV lamp). I am very happy for him and Liz, and simultaneously very discomfited by the association of age this brings up. I am not that old yet.

Great fun this week watching Kasparov battle the top computer chess program again. The final battle will be on Tuesday. watch at x3dchess website here. Good chess commentary on the match archives too.

Interesting things happening in the Go world too, as you can see at The male and female holders of the Honinbo title are getting married! and Japan lost the first Internet Japan-China match. Get on IGS, for good internet play, certainly better than I can handle.

on the IRC side, we at #immortal on got to talk to a guest speaker today, Mike Treder, the Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. Mr. Treder was very gracious in answering questions and exploring interesting ideas. the log should be available on the main page of the website. It was very interesting, and quite a lot of fun. The CRN publication to read is the new nanofactory feasibility study at jetpress.

er, ah, and, yeah.

I'm doing okay. In an interesting side note, I started taking Strattera a few days ago, some subjective difference, we'll see how a month or two of trials go, and I'll submit a more detailed report then.

Oh, and everybody is required to go to the library and get the book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things" or you can just buy it here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

You know, wierd things like this give me the willies. It's a measure of how chaotic the world is that even a seemingly stable situation like the market for computer hardware can surprise you like this.

Raise your hand if you would have thought five years ago that not only would Apple be using open source software, not only would IBM be making their chips, not only would they be making geek headlines, but that they would produce the third fastest supercomputer on the planet, and that it would be one of the cheapest computer hardware solutions in the history of supercomputers?

Apple? supercomputers? cheap? Unix-based? what? Macintosh = price-competitive? I don't.. yaa.
You know, if you look long and hard enough for an answer, almost anything begins to look like wisdom.

I suppose this effect is easy to see, from a certain perspective. Constant sameness of any kind dulls your perceptions, and the absence of an answer grates on your intuitions. You begin to look beyond your original assumptions for satisfaction. It is perhaps like a failed relationship, as the unsatisfied partner's eyes begin to wander outside their original scope. That is too apt an analogy, too easy. Also, both images wound me. Too much identification.

You know, not that long ago, I would have said that there is no such thing as a comforting lie. That the truth is preferable to anything else, under all circumstances, even from an emotional standpoint. I'm not certain that it's not, but I've come much closer to considering it. Sometimes the truth can tax my enthusiasm for being right.

There is a small list now, of things I'd almost rather not know. Sometimes I wish for some confusing information, just so I'd have to reevaluate my current best guesses about the world. A good hallucination, or improbable event. A thermodynamic miracle, a coffee cup leaping back together.

But intelligence eventually imparts one with a flawed but functional intuition as to the shape of reality. A kind of reflexive recognition of the character of truth. It gets to the point where you begin seeing similar imprints at the bottom of each story. Not that this doesn't present it's own problems. Recognizing truth in this manner has the same kinds of hazards. False positives are just as, or more dangerous. Sometimes the old plodding way of confirming reality is still the safest. But intuitions of this nature allow interesting conclusions to be drawn. What if there is a certain design similarity between all truths? Would this be real physics? Real math? A mysterious teleological uncaused Cause? No, I don't' think so. But I'm hardly qualified to make an educated guess. Or even a wild speculative guess. It seems like any such similarity is because of reality, rather than the cause of it. But it's difficult the separate the two possibilities.

Maybe I'm just frustrated. A year of little discernible accomplishment IRL. Great strides in my understanding do little to mollify a personality that I built of ambition and personal accomplishment. Learning feels like no great thing, because previously, all learning was easy, a non-subject. I could learn whatever I pointed myself at. Now, I'm either decaying or aiming at targets much higher than before. I prefer and assume the latter. The former is a haunting possibility. I wish, not for the first time, for a return to earlier days. A letter to send to my younger self. "Concentrate here instead". Maybe more time, practice or neural plasticity would result in what I lack thus far. A breakthrough of some kind. A result.

Perhaps my expectation of a result is in itself misguided. I have long noted the anthropomorphic expectation that all important discoveries fit within a simplifying abstraction that in turn fits neatly within human short term memory. Perhaps greatly powerful heuristics lie just outside easily manipulated formulae sizes. There is no way to know for sure. But there is no reason to assume the answers lie outside human ability. The complexity barrier has yet to begin to rear it's ugly head. At least practically. Already, we have hit limits in theoretical knowledge in math. How many other areas conceal such nasty surprises?

I don't like to think about such things. They're unsettling and hard to resolve, emotionally. They remind me of another sore spot, my poor memory. Oh, culturally relative I have a great memory, but in general, a horrible one. I can barely remember my own thoughts of a mere hour ago. My personality of a year ago is assuredly not preserved in full. For someone still gripped by a sense of mortality and self, there is no more horrifying realization than the fact that a few years from today, only the grossest approximation of myself today will still exist. Not even in my own memory will I be fairly represented. I will always be filtered through my future self, and imperfect recollection.

You know, some time ago, my journals and notes of most of my past life before 2001 were lost to me. I can't describe the sense of loss inherent in that. My poor memory seemed more secure with physical hooks to goad it into accuracy. Now whatever I did, or accomplished or began lives just as I remember it today. And even that poor testament will degrade as time passes. Justins past fade into reinterpreted mist. This is not all sad. Much deserves to be forgotten. But I wont' get to choose which is and isn't. I already remember unpleasant social events more vividly than my first kiss, my first book, my first love. I can't remember the first time I understood rationalism. The first time I proved a math.

For a while, I was paralyzed in fear of losing my notes again. And then, after a while I was afraid to take notes. What was the point? I rarely reviewed them after a week or so. And I would lose them again. For the first time in a while, computers became less interesting to me. Most of my childhood and young adulthood I considered them tools primarily for writing. An impression I only recently began to change. I was stymied. I couldn't rely on them anymore. Gradually I began to realize that this was no different than anything else. I can't place sole trust in anything.

These aren't bad realizations. They are useful, to me. But this post has grown, and reading over it, I find little that could be useful to a reader. Little even useful to me. It has little structure, little predictive value. It wanders, and it makes no great conclusion.

I find I am afraid of change, even as I work towards it. I'm afraid of a lot of things. But fear doesn't motivate me as much as desire. Though I do fear that balance reflects nothing so much as genes and environment. I don't know how many thoughts I have that can be described that way. I just have to test each one as much as I can think to, I suppose.

One's optimism or pessimism can be determined by who you want to be, over who you are. And whether the differential is larger or smaller than your ambition and hope. That relationship will be different tomorrow. And I'm not sure what the answer even is today. I guess I can approximate based on whether I think that is encouraging or not.

Today someone accused me of being unscientific. I was surprised how much it stung, particularly given the medium, (just IRC) and the source (some person I don't know, and who doesn't know me). the fact that anyone would get such an impression reflects badly on me, I think. But I can't say they're entirely wrong. I am unscientific, I am irrational. I'm far too emotive, and I'm unstable in several dimensions. Further, I am of limited value in certain endeavors. But I aspire not to be. And that my efforts in this were unrecognized, hurts me. Even from one with little vision. I would like to think that I appear to be trying, at least. But perhaps this is too much to ask from outside opinion. Or perhaps I'm overrating myself.

I like asking a lot of questions. I think good ones point you in better directions than good answers, no matter how useful.

"In the end? You should know, nothing ever ends"
--Dr. Osteoman, "Watchmen"