Archive for June, 2007

Dynamics of Cats

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Dynamics of Cats is a fascinating blog by Steinn Sigurðsson who is blogging from the conference on Extreme Solar Systems. There is lots of information on his blog about discovering planets on other Solar Systems. The conference has revealed that earth type planets may be much more common than originally thought. Astronomers find it easier to infer the large mega Jupiter planets, but they are finding lots of smaller planets that have an orbital period of 300 or so days.

Nearby alien life just got much more probable.

Dynamics of Cats

Bigelow Aerospace

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Bigelow just launched a prototype space station into orbit using a Russian booster. This link is to the jobs page. I applied for software engineer, although I am not sure that I’d like commuting to Las Vegas. The first job on the list is Astronaut!

Bigelow Aerospace

Now all they need is programming

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

A human brain has the processing power of about 100 trillion floating point calculations per second. IBM has one that is ten times faster. One definition of the Singularity is the day when a computer is more intelligent than a human. It looks like that day might be nearer than we thought.

Although the computing power of Blue Gene/p is more than 10 humans, it is not programmed like a human brain. It will be a while yet (ten years?) before artificial intelligence programming will be able to model human style thinking. Even then the machines will not be aware in the sense that a human is aware. Such machines will be used to solve trans-human problems, that is problems so complex that the details will not fit well into a human brain for analysis.

I will try to list a few trans-human problems:

1. DNA interpretation – We need not only the complete genome, but a complete interactive model that predicts ontogeny and explains phylogeny. When we can do this, we can then use that model to create specifics for any disease including cancer, Alzheimer’s and even old age.

2. Near complete weather modeling – If we can completely and accurately model weather, we may be able to answer questions such as the effect of green house gases on out environment, but this will be moot, because it is likely that we will have cheap green energy sources by then.

3. Security – I hate to think that we will live in a 1984 world where there are cameras everywhere monitoring our behavior, but perhaps large complex computers will have enough data and eyes to model crime. It could prevent violent crime such as murder, rape and robbery. A large enough computer should be able to follow the money trails of all white collar crimes. Political graft and payoffs will be impossible. Our elected officials will have to make laws without the help of special interests, and they will retire no richer than when they started in their careers. This will attract a different sort of person to politics and we will have rational peaceful governments.

4. Energy – cold fusion, super capacitor arrays, hydrogen fuel cells, extremely cheap and efficient solar and wind energy or any of a hundred other replacements for fossil fuels will be evaluated and perfected. One of more of these will take over 99.9% of energy production and the oil companies will have to find another business. (I say 99.9% because I like a wood fire in the winter.)

5. Space travel – The main barrier to space travel is economic. We got into space using 1950’s vacuum tubes. We can do it 1000 times cheaper with current technology. Make it 1000 times cheaper yet, and we will have star ships that cost less than a used Hyundai. Creating stable and cheap space craft will allow us to visit the solar system without personal danger and some of us will take out for the stars.

6. Mental Health – Based on #1, there will be cheap and easy cures for Schizophrenia and Clinical Depression. Targeted drug therapy will treat most behavioral problems or at least make traditional therapies more effective. The world will be happier and saner without turning us into clones.

7. Communication – Take cell phones and multiply by a million. We will be wired, though not physically, to each other. Solitude will be an option for us. All of you reading this blog can come to poker on Tuesdays in Upper Nyack, NY without leaving you living rooms. It will be a great game, but Jim will still win the most.

I can think of others. These are not in any special order. Some are Science fictional, some are obvious. Each though is a gnarly problem that large scale computers might make easier.

IBM creates world’s most powerful computer

Blue Gene/P will be capable of a peak performance of 3000 trillion calculations, or floating point operations, per second (3 petaflops). But its sustained performance is expected to level out at around 1 petaflop.

The Beautiful Ordinary

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Poker buddy Jim’s daughter, the actress Stella Maeve, has a major supporting role in the the movie The Beautiful Ordinary. She appears briefly a couple of times in the trailer that you can see on the link below. This is a teenage coming of age movie. It is more of an art film than the usually run-of-the-mill teen movies, so it might be a good one to see.

The Beautiful Ordinary premiered last week at Los Angeles Film Festival, but the only mention of it that I could find called it a hip chick flick. I have to watch for reviews. Jim told me that it is going into distribution.

It’s hard to believe that Stella is the same little ankle biter that used to come to the poker table in her PJ’s to say goodnight.

(Stella, I’m sorry about the awful picture. It was the best I could get out of the trailer.)

The Beautiful Ordinary

TZ Bridge Cam

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

I have crossed the TZ Bridge twice a day, 5 days a week since March of 1986. I am getting ready to cross it again. I was just outside for a minute and it’s in the 90s and very humid.

Tappan Zee means the Tappan Sea in Dutch. My Dutch ancestors living in Tappan thought that the Hudson River, which is three miles wide here, is big enough to be considered a sea.

The bridge has a minor part in the story that I just wrote, called “At the Submarine Races”.

The link is to a bridge cam looking towards Nyack and home. I captured the image on the left to show you what it looks like at 3:50pm. I won’t actually get to the bridge until about 4:20pm and it will be pretty much stopped.

My truck has 160,000 miles on it and is ten years old, but the air conditioner still works, thank goodness!

Tappan Zee Bridge cam

Story submissions

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

I used my pent up frustration here at work to write a new short story. While everyone else was running around trying to find out where their stuff got moved to, I knocked off 3500 words. I proof read it this morning and sent it out. None of this edit, proofread, re-check stuff for me. I write it and then send out the first draft. By the time it gets back I’ll have some good ideas for improving it.

I’ve had a story out at one zine for 35 days. They respond in 7 days on average, so they are either considering it or they lost it. In my experience, about a quarter of all zines lose stories or forget to send responses. Another story is at a venue that always responds in under 6 days and it has been there for 8. It is a little early to get my hopes up though. I have three other stories out at venues that report when they feel like it and I expect that I will query after two months only to learn that they never got the story, got it and lost it, or never sent the response. I had to query on one venue last week and the response was: “Yeah, I think I remember that story. I didn’t want it.” That’s the actual quote.

Hydra Console Game Dev. Kit

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

In 1985 I saved enough money to buy an IBM PC and the first thing that I did was buy the Macro-Assembler and learn 8088 assembly language. I loved assembly language. I had previously learned IBM 370 BAL, which was the mainframe macro assembler. I have since learned all kinds of advanced languages, but I always loved the simple efficiency of coding right down at the hardware level. I look at languages like Java and I cringe to think of how they are turning a powerful server into a slow moving dinosaur.

The link below is to a games development kit that allows you to create programs for a games console using assembly language. This is the only way to code. I hope that they have a kit like this available when I retire. I would like to spend time again, feeling like Tron and coding the deep parts of a CPU chip. I am not a gamester. Solitaire is my speed, but I could hack some nice code on one of these.

ThinkGeek :: Hydra Console Game Dev. Kit

Tough Times at Work

Monday, June 25th, 2007

My name is on the outside of my cubicle. My Cubicle is the first one as you enter the office area. I arrived at work a little early this morning.

You would not think that any of these things would be a problem, but I not a person who wants to chitchat with anyone. I find life is easier if no one knows my name. People at work, with a few exceptions, are never your friend, no matter how friendly they act.

At least a dozen people said “Good Morning, Keith” as they came into the office this morning. Half of them asked about the tourism department kiosk in my office (my standard answer is that is an alien teleportation device.) I had to smile and act like a caring human with these people.

Now, another bunch of people know who I am, and I will be forced to smile and nod my head when I pass them on the way to the bathroom. I am not a nice person. I don’t want to be a nice person. I don’t need any more friends.

I have to go now, everyone is going out for Dunkin’ Donuts. I guess I can be sociable for a few minutes without compromising my integrity, but when I get back…

One Door Away From Heaven

Monday, June 25th, 2007

I am listening to Dean Koontz’ book on tape One Door Away From Heaven and I am enjoying it entirely too much. I have one big problem with Koontz and that is that he believes in Evil (capital letter intended). His bad guys are very bad – too bad. They scare me a little too much. Often they disgust me or are so repelling that you don’t want to keep reading.

Koontz on the other hand is a real writer’s writer, creating rich believable characters that you care about. I find myself not wanting these nice people to confront the Evil in the stories. I love his use of language and the way that he injects reality and a piece of himself into the dialog. I feel that I know Koontz and I would like to meet him, except that he has this very scary side, almost twisted.

Another defect, which may just be me, is that his books tend to be overly choreographed. There is always a sense that each character must have a geographically and chronologically precise location, almost as though Koontz outlines exactly the movement of each character through the book, arranging meetings and guiding them through a maze. I think that he outlines things a little too much. He should be a little more organic in his plotting, allowing his characters to get lost, and then find there way back on track in a more natural manner. He should throw out his road map and let himself be surprised at where his characters wind up.

One Door Away From Heaven is a real thriller involving aliens, adolescents, a homicidal maniac and personal redemption. I would recommend that you don’t listen to the book on tape, but read the book so you can skip past the nasty parts.

From a genre viewpoint, Koontz is not a Science Fiction writer. The stories that he writes are without a doubt speculative fiction, yet he does not appear as a Hugo nominee or in the Science Fiction section of the book store. There may be some resentment in the Spec-Fic community that Koontz writes best sellers and as such he is labeled a writer of popular fiction (as opposed the unpopular SF kind of fiction).

Koontz has much in common with Heinlein, Clark and Asimov, except his characters are richer, his prose more readable and his stories deeper. He is, though, darker. I think Science Fiction and to some extent fantasy need a real sense of wonder to be successful. Koontz has this to a certain extent, but the over all mood of his books can be overpoweringly grim for long sections.

My tippet only tulle*

Monday, June 25th, 2007

This is from Johnny B. He says that it should be sung to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. It puts a whole new light on the poem that I have always thought a little too grim. You have to repeat the last line of each verse soto voce to get the full Gilligan effect.

Thanks John!

Emily Dickenson – Death

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, be passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

Were toward eternity!

I remember hearing other poems that can be sung to popular tunes. Does anyone remember one?

Tippet: Pendant streamer from the hood or from the arm; also a shoulder cape.

Tulle: a fine mesh fabric used for veils

81 mph Bike

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

My friend Eric is an avid bicyclist and sometimes rides around Nyack in a vintage recumbent bike. I see him from time to time when I walk around Rockland Lake. A biker will pass me at some incredible speed and I’ll hear “Hey Keith” and by the time I turn around he’s gone. He sent me this video of a very fast bicycle. It is sort of Tron-ish.

I include it here because I think J might get a kick out of it.

How to Not Hire an American

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Here is something that I have known about for a while, but it seems few people actually believed. American companies want to hire foreign workers because they will work for much less than the going rate. In order to hire a foreign worker, a company must pretend to look for qualified Americans. Most jobs posted in newspapers and job sites are bogus and are only intended to prove that there are no qualified American workers.

This is most often true in the programming area and affect people like me, but it is true of almost all white collar jobs.

This video, a conference on how to avoid hiring an American, is chilling.

Social Security Calcs

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

My friend Jim and I have discussed when to start collecting social security. I can start collecting at a reduced rate at age 62 plus one month. I can get full benefits if I don’t start collecting until 66 and I can get even more benefits if I put it off until 70.

At age 62 I can collect about $1,567 a month. At age 66 I can collect $2,135. $2,883 at age 70. So you see, if I can put things off, I can collect more. The gotcha is that when I die the benefits stop, so that the later I start the fewer years I will collect. I come from a long lived family on my mother’s side – well over 90. The average age of death is about 83 on my Father’s side.

The calculations don’t show the interest lost on the money that I could have had by collecting it early. I decided to see where the break even points are.

If I don’t calculate the interest, I break even at 76 when comparing 62 and 66. Comparing starting at 66 and 70 breaks even at 81.

I calculated the break even again using a generous 4% interest rate, which is what I get on my PayPal account. At 4% interest the break even is around 81 for all three starting points.

I hope that I’ll live to be more than 81. At the MSN Life expectancy calculator, I am told I will live to be 97, even more if I can lose 40 pounds. I find this possible, but doubtful. In the cemetery next to my house there are the graves of many of my ancestors and several of them lived to be over 100 in the early 1800s. That’s without modern medicine! Most died in their 70s and 80s.

The question now is: will I enjoy the extra money more when I am over 81, or when I am 62?

The link below is to the spreadsheet I created using Google docs. You can see my calculations. I am moving over all of my personal spreadsheets, including my submissions master list, to Google docs. I find it is very well done. The online version of Word is not as as feature rich as the Microsoft one, but I have been using it for notes, outlines and drafts. I still prefer MS Word for serious writing.

social security spreadsheet

Changing Offices

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I moved my office location at work today. I am in a new building and cubicle. The chair is very uncomfortable and designed for a short person. I am 6’3″ and my legs are hitting the underside of the desk. The phone doesn’t work and the internet is very slow compared to the other building. People passing by can look over my shoulder and read what is on the screen.

Another bad thing is that I am back where the action is. Somebody passing by saw me (I am near the door) and starting asking questions about a change I had suggested to the network login script. In the other building, I was out of sight and out of mind.

I don’t like change.