Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thank you Mr. Hitchens

In October of 2011 I attended the Texas Freethought Convention and got to see Christopher Hitchens receive the Richard Dawkins Award. During the question and answer period an eight year old girl asked Christopher what authors she should be reading. Christopher considered it for a moment and then told the girl that he would meet her in the hallway after the talk and give her a list. True to his word Christopher met the girl in the hallway and gave her his undivided attention. What follows are the pictures I took of Christopher talking with the young girl. The pictures were taken with my HTC EVO 8 megapixel cellphone camera.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Emergent Conspiracy

I do not believe in LSCGs (Large Scale Government Conspiracies) unless there is objective evidence to support the claim. Without evidence, belief in LSGCs becomes a presupposition that blocks further inquiry. The 9/11 Truth movement is one such example, where true believers are hopelessly mired in an ever deepening tangle of justifications in order to maintain a core belief.

That all being said, I do believe that what appear to be conspiracies can be emergent over large populations of people. In the end, these conspiracies are nothing more than a manifestation of the abstract needs of the population. The spread of democracy is one such example. No global cabal arranged for the spread of democracy. It was simply what the world needed. Individuals pushed and pulled in their own little ways and the "average" emerged over a few hundred years of progress.

Add to this "emergent behavior" the very human ability to build systems that predict society's behavior and we have the makings of a feedback loop. For example, this supercomputer predicted instability in the Middle East based on deteriorating public sentiment, and this initiative seeks to accurately model the probability of large scale disasters like 9/11, and the 2003 Shuttle breakup. Once these "forecasts" become accurate and easy to obtain, leaders should be able to use that information to make subtle adjustments in order to prevent bad things from happening (sort of like the movie The Adjustment Bureau).

A cynical person might say that such power could be used to do bad things (like oppress people by predicting when they will rise up and revolt), however history does not bear this out. "The People" have always thrown off the chains of their oppressors. Yes, it may take centuries or more, but no power has ever succeeded in permanently subjugating large populations of people. In addition, with large scale communication, as we have today, revolutions would happen much faster and adapt to such predictive systems much more efficiently. Thus the only plausible predictive system is one that gave people what they truly needed (not to be confused with what they want).

This is where it gets interesting. Eventually as these systems evolve they get more effective than the existing ineffectual government we have today. They make better decisions because they can take more data into account at a faster rate than the best politicians.

The systems begin to take over for us...

It is a fallacy to say that harmony and peace will reign as a result. That may very well be what happens, but we cannot say for sure that harmony and peace is what humans really need. There is good reason to believe that humans can only be their best and most creative when there is some degree of adversity pushing us.

Everyone's desires/needs/actions/etc averaged together is an emergent property that some like to call the "collective consciousness". This is in direct analogy to the collective contributions of every cell in your body working together to be "you".

In other words...

I propose that these predictive systems are slowly becoming a "brain". Just as our own brain guides the trillions of autonomous cells in our body, this "brain" will guide the billions of autonomous "cells" roaming the Earth that we call humans.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Benefits of Exercise... Need more proof?

I like to do the timed race up the Columbia Tower in Seattle. In the 2008 I did it in 13:28.25 and 2009 my time was 12:55.55. Both were done without any training and each time I knew that I could have done better. I missed the 2010 race altogether.

Sometime in September of 2010 I started training for the 2011 race. I managed to shave 30 seconds off of my 2009 time with only a few months of training and decided to push it even harder for the 2012 race. I also picked up a heart rate monitor a few months ago in order to get a more detailed understanding of how my body was responding.

As your aerobic capacity increases, your heart gets physically bigger and is able to pump more blood during every cycle. This causes your RHR (Resting Heart Rate) to slow down, which is a good way to track your progress. I got my heart rate monitor on 17Aug2011 and strapped it on for the night while I was sleeping. I added a daily run to my training and strapped on the monitor again last night (05Oct2011) to check my progress.

The results speak for themselves - the blue graph is my August data and the pink represents the current state of affairs.

(Click to embiggen...)

From a subjective standpoint, I feel a lot calmer and more relaxed. The little things do not bug me as much as they used to, and on nights where I cannot get in enough sleep, I feel perfectly fine the next day.

To be sure, the data is not perfect (you are not perfectly at rest while sleeping) and last night could have been an anomaly. I will continue to track this on a monthly basis and see if a true trend is developing. I like what I see so far though.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nothing fails like prayer...

Then: "I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas."

Now: "In the past seven days Texas Forest Service has responded to 176 fires for 126,844 acres."

Functional Evaluation

I have some iPad development to do in the near future and I need to learn Objective C. Since Objective C is a super-set of the C programming language, I figured I would finally work my way through the KnR C book. I taught myself how to program in C, which means I most certainly have some gaps in my knowledge that could be filled.

This is one of those embarrassing gaps that falls into the "everyone probably knew this but me" file...

 Somewhere at the end of chapter 2 it says:

"C, like most languages, does not specify the order in which the operands of an operator are evaluated. (The exceptions are &&, ||, ?:, and ',' .) For example in a statement like x = f( ) + g( ); f may be evaluated before g or vice versa; thus if either f or g alters a variable on which the other depends, x can depend on the order of the evaluation." 

This whole time I had naively assumed that evaluation was always done from left to right...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Big Government

I hear a lot of talk about how Barack Obama supports big government. I see no direct evidence of this and really feel like such talk mostly comes from whiny teabagger welfare recipients. About the worst you can accuse Barack Obama of is not using his bully pulpit more effectively on a gridlocked Congress. But that is not what this post is about...

What confuses me is how we heard so little about the expanding size of government when George W. Bush was in office. Along with federalizing airport security and signing the Patriot Act into law, we lost a huge surplus, overthrew Iraq and started running their government for them.

Why is it that a Republican can kill a surplus, expand the size of government and start running a second government and no one gives a shit. But when a Democrat wants to do something useful like get rid of recision in the health insurance industry (the practice of dropping paying customers for pre-existing conditions) you would think the whole world was coming to an end.

Bottom line. I think this is all driven by people who let "liberal" and "conservative" labels do their thinking for them. There is nothing wrong with looking at an idea in isolation and ignoring where it came from. Try that on for size and then tell me how much you hate politicians.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Military Grade Security

Quick back of the napkin guess about the government's current ability to crack passwords... There are probably a lot of flaws in reasoning. Feel free to point them out and I will adjust accordingly.

In 1998 the EFF built a machine called Deep Crack for about $250,000. It was capable of checking 90 Billion 56 bit DES encryption keys per second which means the whole keyspace could be searched in about nine days.

Speculation begins here...

Assumption 1: Moore's Law holds when it comes to dedicated decryption hardware. If you could check 90 Billion 56 bit keys per second in 1998 for $250,000, and there are (rounding up) seven doublings over the ensuing 13 years, then you could check 2^7 * 90,000,000,000 = 11,520,000,000,000 56 bit keys per second in late 2011 for $250,000.

Assumption 2: You can check 2 AES keys (regardless of size) in the time you can check one 56 bit DES key. This puts the late 2011 capability at 23,040,000,000,000 keys per second for $250,000 dollars.

Assumption 3: The federal government can afford a lot more than $250,000 for a password cracking rig. I figure $10 Billion is an entry level price before it starts to attract attention, so that ups the capability by about 40,000 times to 921,600,000,000,000,000 keys per second.

That puts us at about 913 quadrillion keys per second capability in late 2011... Or about 92,160,000 keys per second per dollar spent...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Camp Quest Ohio

Just got back from a camp counselor gig at Camp Quest Ohio. Easily the most amazing week of my life. The kids were incredible and the program went off like a well oiled machine. Many thanks to August Brunsman and his crew for running such a great camp.

I cannot wait to do it again and am especially excited about our efforts to do the same thing with Camp Quest NorthWest. I also have it on good authority that I have been missing out on a great experience over at Skepticon, so I plan to register for that at some point too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Camp Quest NorthWest

Working a lot lately on setting up a Washington chapter of Camp Quest called Camp Quest NorthWest. Our rough goal is to have a full week camp going by 2013 with a type of weekend activity in 2012. It remains to be seen how close to that we land, but we are trying. Drop me a line if you are interested in volunteering, or simply think it might be fun to send your kid to a fun and interesting camp experience.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wonder what this is...

I see this all over, I wonder what it is for?

46 DC EA D3 17 FE 45 D8 09 23 EB 97 E4 95 64 10 D4 CD B2 C2