Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

Weird Science

(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

Looking back over the advance of physics over the last two hundred years, it's staggering to realize how much our world view has changed. As a science fiction writer, I'm always trying to imagine how much more things might change in the coming two centuries. The really hard thing to anticipate is the completely game-changing advances that occur every so often.

My sense is that, for one thing, we won't be using chip-based computers in two hundred years---any more than we use mechanical calculators now. That's why, in my recent novels Postsingular and Hylozoic, I've been speculating about a world in which our computations escape from our machines and filter into our ordinary matter.

boingnick.jpg

Nick Herbert is one of my favorite offbeat physicists. One of his papers in particular is something I've thought about a lot over the years: "Holistic Physics, or, An Introduction to Quantum Tantra." Here Nick argues that our conscious minds display some of the same features as quantum mechanics. When we're not thinking about anything in particular, our thoughts evolve in a continuous, multi-universe kind of way---but when we focus on something, we carry out something like the quantum collapse that characterizes the process of measurement.

boingbrains.jpg

[Brain models from the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University.]

As I've been saying, I think it's at least in principle possible that the quantum computations in ordinary matter might be capable of carrying out these same kinds of processes---which we normally associate with living, conscious minds. And Nick's paper helps you to think about this idea.

David Deutsch wrote a deep and technical paper about the topic of computation in arbitrary pieces of matter, called "Quantum theory, the Church-Turing principle and the universal quantum computer."

The basic idea is that quantum mechanical systems can act as universal computers, and it's generally believed that any universal computer can emulate a human mind (given the right program, and, aye, there's the rub).

One of our big problems is that we still have such an imperfect notion of how to build a software system that's like a human mind. The best idea along these lines that I've seen in the last few years is in the book On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee.

boingneon.jpg

Two more rich sources for futuristic ideas.

(1) The arXiv.org site---for instance look at their New Papers on Cosmology and Extragalactic Physics page. It blows my mind that you can so easily access all these wild new papers, easily readable in PDF form. Even if, for the average person, a lot of the writing is incomprehensible gibberish (like the backwards neon sign shown above), you can skate through and pick up some great concepts and buzzwords.

(2) The physicist John Baez's pages. Baez is a deep thinker and a gifted popularizer, adept at imparting the true strangeness of this world.

It's liberating to realize that, as always, we're very much on the edge of knowing what's really going on.

Canadian cinema fined $10,000 for privacy invasion over bag-search

Patrick sez, "A Canadian cinema has been fined C$10,000 for invasion of privacy when it searched a mother and daughter's bags for video cameras, but instead pulled out birth control pills from the daughter's purse. The mother had no idea. She sued. She won."
Staff at the theatre were searching customers' bags for video equipment that could be used for movie piracy.

Security guards didn't find any video equipment in the family's bags, but did turn up a large selection of snack food, which they asked the family to take back to their vehicle, Lurie said.

"They did so willingly. But they continued the search of the bags and while searching they also uncovered some birth control pills belonging to the older daughter," Lurie said.

"Needless to say the mother was not pleased to find out in this manner that her daughter had those pills in her possession."

Cinema ordered to pay $10K in damages for search (Thanks, Patrick!)

Podcast horror story about wanting to fly

This week on the most excellent Pseudopod horror podcast, David Nickle's fantastic story "The Inevitability of Earth," a tale about the ignobility of those who would fly:
When Michael was just a kid, Uncle Evan made a movie of Grandfather. He used an old eight-millimeter camera that wound up with a key and had three narrow lenses that rotated on a plate. Michael remembered holding the camera. It was supposedly light-weight for its time, but in his six-year-old hands, it seemed like it weighed a ton. Uncle Evan had told him to be careful with it; the camera was a precision instrument, and it needed to be in good working order if the movie was going to be of any scientific value.

The movie was of Grandfather doing his flying thing -- flapping his arms with a slow grace as he shut his eyes and turned his long, beak-ish nose to the sky. Most of the movie was only that: a thin, middle-aged man, flapping his arms, shutting his eyes, craning his neck. Grandfather's apparent foolishness was compounded by the face of young Michael flashing in front of the lens; blocking the scene, and waving like an idiot himself. Then the camera moved, and Michael was gone -

And so was Grandfather.

Dave's got a new short story collection coming soon, available for pre-order: Monstrous Affections.

Pseudopod 144: The Inevitability of Earth

MP3 Link

Pseudopod podcast feed

Mickey-ears skull ring

The Great Frog's Michael Mouse Ring is a sweet chunk of chunky, infringing silver: a skull in Mickey ears.

Michael Mouse Ring

Young Conservative rappers explain Jesus, Ayn Rand, and ANWR drilling

In this short video, sneering rappers from the young conservative movement bust rhymes about drilling in Alaska, forcing women to bear foetuses to term, eliminating social programs and merging Church and State. Lines include: "Three things taught me conservative love: Jesus, Ronald Reagan, plus Atlas Shrugged;" and "Everyone can succeed because our soldiers bleed."

It's (apparently) not a parody.

Why Conservatives Can't Dance

Structure of the Sun papercraft


Among the free papercraft downloads at Canon's website is this beautiful model of the structure of the sun -- a perfect project for a sunny weekend!

Structure of the Sun (via Make)

FBI terrorist interrogator on the uselessness of torture and the efficacy of cookies

A former FBI interrogator who successfully extracted secrets from senior Al Qaeda members using psychological tricks has gone public with his feelings on the ineffectiveness of torture. As he explained on CBC's As It Happens, torture is especially bad when you've got a "ticking bomb" situation, as a good psychological interrogator can establish rapport in hours, while torturing Al Quaeda suspects required dozens of sessions with waterboards and days of sleep deprivation to get any intelligence (and what it got, no one trusts):
Ali Soufan, a former FBI interrogator, revealed in an article being released in June that Osama Bin Laden's bodyguard opened up about the 9/11 terror attacks only after being offered -- sugar free cookies.

Bin Laden lieutenant Abu Jandal is a diabetic, Soufan said, and wouldn't eat sugar cookies he'd been offered.

"Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: 'He was a diabetic and couldn't eat anything with sugar in it,' Time's Bobby Ghosh wrote. "At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal's angry demeanor.

"We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan told Ghosh. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures..."

"It took more questioning, and some interrogators' sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda -- including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers -- but the cookies were the turning point," Ghosh writes.

"After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans," Soufan said. "Now he was thinking of us as human beings."

Cookies, not torture, convinced al Qaeda suspect to talk, FBI interrogator says (Thanks, Mark!)

How Chryslers are made: chipper stop-motion film from 1939 World's Fair

Ben sez, "A film from the 1939 World's Fair showing a Chrysler being built in Stop Action animation. Originally filmed in 'Three-Dimensional Polaroid Film.'"

Man, this thing has got it all: golden age World's Fair, that fantastic chipper music, dancing brightly colored machine-parts... I want to crawl in and nestle among the sparkplugs.

Exclusive: Chrysler Builds a Car (Thanks, Ben!)

Friday Night Zappa

(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

Sooo...it's Friday night again.

How about a playlist of thirty or so videos by Frank Zappa!

We miss you, Frank.

Guide to some of the military's rock bands

Over at Playboy.com, the inimitable Jack Boulware surveys the greatest of the military rock bands. Some are "official" while others, called "kix bands" by the Navy, are in it just for the, er, kicks. From Playboy.com:
Battlebandddddd Hang Ten aka US Navy Pacific Fleet Rock Band

Based at: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Members: Nine

Official Description: “An extensive repertoire encompassing popular music from the 1960's to today's latest hits…everything from rock and pop to disco and light jazz”

Playlist: Guns N’ Roses, Gwen Stefani, Bob Marley

Original Songs: None listed

Bonus: Navy publicity requested control and approval over this story!
"Battle of the Battle Bands"

Alex Pang on Tinkering

Just in time for the Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, my Institute for the Future colleague Alex Pang wrote a fascinating essay about tinkering. I love the word "tinker." Back in Cincinnati, my oldest brother Mark, a lifelong maker who is now a research scientist and physician, spent his teen years digging around in an electronics hobbyist supply shop called The Tinker where resistors and capacitors were sold by the pound. From Vodafone Receiver:
What is interesting is that at its best, tinkering has an almost Zen-like sense of the present: its 'now' is timeless. It is neither heedless of the past or future, nor is it in headlong pursuit of immediate gratification. Tinkering offers a way of engaging with today's needs while also keeping an eye on the future consequences of our choices. And the same technological and social trends that have made tinkering appealing seem poised to make it even more pervasive and powerful in the future. Today we tinker with things; tomorrow, we will tinker with the world.

What is tinkering? Discovering that certain snack tins can be used to make an antenna that extends the range of your wi-fi network, using electric toothbrush motors to power small robots, building a high-altitude balloon that takes video of the edge of space, are all examples of tinkering. It is technical work and a cultural attitude. Tinkering is customizing software and stuff; making new combinations of things that work better than their parts; and discovering new capabilities in or uses for existing products. Despite its fascination with things and bits, it is resolutely human-focused: you don't make things 'better' in some dry technical sense, you make them work better for you. Tinkerers modify everything from cars, computers, and cellphones, to virtual worlds and computer code. They are driven by a desire to experiment, to make existing technologies more useful, and to customize them to better suit users' needs.

According to MIT professor Mitch Resnick, tinkering might look at first like traditional engineering, but it is very different. Both are about designing and making things; but engineering tends to be top-down, linear, structured, abstract and rules-based - a highly formal, organized activity, meant to be carried out in (and in the service of) large organizations. Tinkering, in contrast, is bottom-up, iterative, experimental, practical and improvisational: informal and disorganized, accessible to anyone who is willing to learn (and fail) and it doesn't follow any plan too closely.
"Tinkering to the future"

Web Zen: Feline Zen


05.29.09 : feline zen 2009

Sorry I'm Late: stop-motion film



Sorry I'm Late is a fantastic stop-motion short film by Tomas Mankovsky. It was shot from above using a still camera. (Thanks, Carrie!)

ME BIGFOOT. ME ON TWITTER.


@hellobigfoot. Usually, him one does following, but now it is your turn.

If you don't have any of the books already, do yourself a favor. If nothing else, you can use one as a shield when he sneaks into your tent and tries to make off with all your granola and bullets. Here they are:
* In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot
* Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir
* Bigfoot: I Not Dead

(Thanks, Graham Roumieu, and thanks for turning me on to the books like 5 years ago, Susannah Breslin!)

Pick The Perp

Cannabissss
Pick The Perp is a fun site where the aim is pick the perpetrator of a crime from a line up.
"Booking mug shots and related information is gathered from arrest records from open sheriff's web sites in the United States of America. Those appearing here have not been convicted of the arrest charge and are presumed innocent. Do not rely on this site to determine any person's actual criminal record. "
Pick The Perp (Thanks, Steven Leckart!)