Thu, 18 Jan 2007

Global Climate Change

For any of you who haven't seen Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", go rent the DVD or put it on your Netflix queue. It's a great movie that will blow your mind, I highly recommend it, if only to (wait for the shameless plug) revel in the artful beauty of Gore's presentation built by Duarte Design on Apple's Keynote presentation software.

Despite some idiots with their heads in the sand, experts generally concur that Gore's movie, with the exception of a few minor quibbles, is largely spot on in its assessment of the facts.

Here's a quick summary: The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been growing steadily since the 1960s (Keeling Curve) and this is strongly correlated to the precipitous rise in the global Temperature Record.

Problem is that I think the activism angle of the movie is a little off-base.

Consider the grassroots activism they recommend in their PDF, "Ten Things You Can Do To Help Stop Global Warming". It's good stuff, and for reasons outside of global warming, I endorse all ten "things".

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Replace your inefficient incandescent bulbs with compact flourescents which are not only cheaper to use (they last a lot longer than filament based bulbs) but put out more lumens per watt, so you can get equivalent light output at much lower energy consumption.
  • They recommend driving less, and walking/biking more, which, if it doesn't save the planet, saves inches on your waistline, and keeps a few more dollars in your wallet, and may even help the "global war on terror" by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, by however much.
  • They suggest you check your tires, which is a really good idea anyway. An under-inflated tire makes more contact with the road and increases friction and heat on tires, and can result in blowouts. In addition, you may have an adverse effect on the handling, noise and treadwear of your tire by running on the sidewall. Plus, it's a good time to check for foreign objects lodged in your tires and to check the amount of tread you have left.
The whole list is worth reviewing, but among these and other sage pieces of advice (like getting an insulator blanket for your hot water heater, or putting your outside lights on an automatic timer to conserve energy, avoiding sharp bursts of acceleration and deceleration while driving, and having dinner with your family at the dinner table instead of in front of the energy and conversation whore of a TV) are simply smart not just in reducing CO2 emissions, but being a more efficient energy consumer, a better driver, and a healthier, happier and socialized human being.

But are any, or all of these activities going to have a meaningful impact on the Keeling Curve, and thus on the 2007 or 2017 or 2027 or 2057 Temperature Record? I'm sorry to say I don't think they are.

The problem is that just like you can't convince a starving person to "put down that trans-fat laden big-mac", Western industrialized nations aren't going to seem genuine when they tell half of the world's population "hey, you know what, these things here, these cars... they're instruments of the devil... what you need to do is stick to what you had before". You see, there's another curve the Keeling Curve mimics, and that's the Global World Product, or basically the economic growth we've seen on the planet.

I'm not saying that you can't have economic growth without CO2 emissions... I'm just saying we won't have economic growth without CO2 emissions. This is because the path of least resistance doesn't just apply to electricity, it applies to the foods people eat, it applies to the modes of transportation they use, and the culture they adopt. The American lifestyle, in comparison to the struggles of most 3rd world citizens is "the easy life" and nobody with a strong sense of self-interest is likely to forego it for the sake of environmentalist tendencies.

OK, so you and me and let's say a shocking 80% of the US adult population embraces these "10 things". How is that going to not only offset the billions of new drivers, TV watchers, and french fry eating, starbucks drinking customers in India and China, not to mention the rest of the world? Indeed, how is that going to actually roll back CO2 generation, per capita, globally, to levels in the 1980s, the 1960s, not to mention the 1940s?!

I don't mean to get all post-apocalyptic, but I think the question is simply a matter of how long we can put off the inevitable. Humankind is facing a Green Plague which I suspect will occur in the next 100 year or so as extreme weather, rising sea levels, famines, ecological and geographic upheaval destroys the tenuous logistical tendrils that often barely support today's urban centers (as we saw in New Orleans).

A large part of the answer, in my opinion, is replacing the internal combustion engine, at least in the form that burns non-renewable petroleum, with something that can be fueled by a carbon-neutral power supply, but that's another blog entry altogether.

Name/Blog: rus
Title: go solar
Comment/Excerpt: on slashdot today: "As costs decline and the search accelerates for clean alternatives to expensive and dirty fossil fuels, some analysts predict solar is poised for a significant expansion in the next five to 10 years." it's a good read. cheers. --rus.

Tue, 16 Jan 2007

Quantum Physics

I don't know if you are fascinated by advanced theories of Physics like general relativity, special relativity, or string theory, but I certainly am.

A recent article helped to clarify my understanding of quantum physics, and it's such a refreshing view of the classical theory, that I thought I'd share it with you, my friends, who I can only surmise are chomping at the bit to bring up the finer points of quantum theory in general company at a cocktail party, for instance.

To wit, take a gander at this article. The part I found to be particularly insightful (in as much as it bestowed upon me some insight), was the passage:
To the question, "Why does the world appear to be quantised?" Zeilinger replies, "Because information about the world is quantised."
After all, a fisherman who uses a coarse net to fish the oceans for fish may pronounce that "there are no living creatures in the sea smaller than this here herring, the smallest fish I have ever caught." Meanwhile, a fisherman who uses a finer net, might suggest that, in fact, the ocean also contains minnows. This imples that the tools we use to probe the universe may, by their very nature, be incapable of gathering data that accurately describes the actual dynamics of the universe they are measuring.

Therefore, quantum theory will only be able to describe the universe to the detail of quantization defined by the granuarity of the observations our tools can make, rather than the granularity of the universe itself. Consider, for example the definition of Planck Length and Planck Time.

This in turn reminds me of another physicist, Sir Isaac Newton, and his (not so?) famous quote:
"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
Newton, one of the most learned men of his time (much ahead of his time, in fact), is lamenting being only vaguely familiar of the "undiscovered truth" lying in plain view.

At first, this seems to be in conflict with what Descartes has to say in Discourse on Method:
"...everything which could be known by human beings could be deduced one from the other in the same way, and that, provided only that one refrained from accepting anything as true which was not, and always preserving the order by which one deduced one from another, there could not be any truth so abstruse that one could not finally attain it, nor so hidden that it could not be discovered."
However, if you put a particular emphasis on "which could be known by human beings", his philosophy remains unchallenged by the principle that the universe may be comprised of forces that are too continuous for the discrete instruments we are using measure it.

But what I find most interesting is that we may actually have a rough idea of just how many pebbles our thirst for science and knowledge have turned up, and just how broad and expansive the undiscovered ocean before us truly is. If you followed the link about Planck time (or already knew what it was), the following article gives an indication just how coarse our net is; just how many fish in the sea our nets may actually be missing.

Specifically, the shortest time ever measured is 1-18 seconds, or roughly twenty-six orders of magnitude greater than the theoretical limit of discretely observable times. To get a sense of just how gross a measurement this is, if you caught a fish 20cm long in a fishing contest, and exagerrated the size of it by twenty-six orders of magnitude, it would be 2,114,046,820 light years in length. By comparison, this distance is about three times greater than the most distant object ever measured, meaning that if we pointed Hubble in the opposite direction of Abell 2218 and found an object equally distant, the size of your exaggerated fish would be larger than the greatest observed size of the universe.

This gives you a rough idea of just how coarse an understanding of the natural world we are able to know, a rough idea of just how large the undiscovered ocean of truth before us, actually might be.

Thu, 11 Jan 2007

Why I'm Not Ordering an iPhone (and neither should you)

Today's blog is dedicated to my friend Gavin.

In his blog today, he writes:
"People are arguing about its features (or lack thereof); others are frothing at the mouth in anticipation so vigorously that they'll probably need to be hosed off before they're let back in the house... (Candidly, I'm probably closer to the second category than the first.) ... I'm ordering the 8GB version."

Now far be it from me to dissuade anyone from parting with their hard-earned cash by buying an Apple product. In fact, holding off on a technology purchase often doesn't make sense to me for other reasons I won't get into now. In fact, I have been accused of going so far as to send out "a fair amount of tauntin'", as Gavin puts it, for those who hold off on making a technology purchase.

So I suppose it will come as a bit of a surprise (and role reversal) for me to say that after some reflection, I am not quite so "frothing at the mouth" over the iPhone.

Yes, the iPhone the best thing that happened to mobile computing technology since they ditched clay tablets for papyrus.

Yes, the iPhone may very well obviate the need to cart a laptop from point A to point B.

Yes, the iPhone is a steal at $500, $600, or $800.

So what's the problem?

The problem is I'm not eager to get into a 2-year contract with Cingular only to have Apple ship an updated version shortly afterward.

Remember the first iPod? The one with the relatively clunky buttons, the relatively low-rez, scratch-attracting screen. The second generation iPod followed only nine months later, and featured the solid-state wheel, more capacity, and improved screen.

Sure, Apple has learned a lot of lessons regarding mobile consumer devices, and the iPhone has nearly no buttons, high-rez, full color (and assuredly) scratch-resistant screen, so what's the problem?

Well, the iPhone is as much software as it is hardware, and let's face it, other than some fancy eye candy, most of the software isn't even written yet. As David Pogue notes: "As I tapped my way into obscure corners of the phone, Mr. Jobs pointed out a couple of spots where only a placeholder graphic was available."

And this is where I think my comparison of the iPhone to the first generation iPod really hits home: Remember the first generation iPod software? Remember iTunes 2.0? The iTunes Music Store didn't exist until version 4.0. You've probably blocked the memory that the only menu options were either related to your music (playlists, artists, songs), or your contacts and settings. That's it. No video, no games, no dock connector, not even on-the-fly playlists.

Now, if you're frothing at the mouth and June 2007 can't come quickly enough, I'll grant you that you're under no risk of making a bad decision by getting one of these-- particularly if you're saddled with some poor excuse for a phone or (horrors!) PDA like atrocity of a "smartphone", particularly those running WinCE (pronounced like it's spelled).

However, I hope you'll grant me the fact that, if an iPhone 2.0 is launched in the 6-8 months after the initial launch (whether this is purely a software or a new rev of the hardware, or both), that the second generation will invariably be a significant improvement over its predecessor, and that's when you'll see me plunking down for a two-year contract on one of these things. But you won't see me putting in a pre-order on one unseen, untouched and untested.

Fri, 05 Jan 2007

Asshat of the Year

I'm prepared to nominate my Asshat of the Year award (you didn't know I had one?), even though it's only January.

It's Scott Henson, "Director of Platform Strategy" at Microsoft, who, in an interview with Ars Technica was quoted as saying that the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive would likely never be internalized into a future version of the console because "[we] don't want to charge customers $200 extra for something that may be the next Betamax."

If you're missing the huge foot he stuck in his dumb ass mouth, I'll complete his sentence with what he basically said without saying it:

"[we] don't want to charge customers $200 extra for something that may be the next Betamax (by including it in the chassis of the XBox 360), instead we'll charge customers $200 extra for something that may be the next Betamax (by making it an add-on)"

If I had bought an XBox 360 HD DVD add-on, I'd be returning it to the store saying "hey, I'm one of those customers who got charged $200 extra for something that Microsoft says 'may be the next Betamax'. Now give my freakin money back."

Name/Blog: Rus
Title: Re: asshat of the year
Comment/Excerpt: the year is still young... so you might be jumping the gun. Maybe you could do asshat of the month and then award asshat of the year from the candidate pool of 12 asshats of the month? It would guarantee you at least 13 blog entries per year. ;)

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Blog entries per year
Comment/Excerpt: I'm already averaging > 12 per year, TYVM! I think a better format is to pass the baton to a superior asshat, allowing the current asshat to bear the crown until then. ;-)

Khan Klatt

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