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Thu, 24 Nov 2005

The Information Future

— SjG @ 10:17 am

In the not-so-distant future, the average person will find information falling into one of three categories:

  1. Forbidden Information (circuit diagrams, satellite ephemeris, “intellectual property,” etc.)
  2. Purchased Information (“Entertainment,” music, movies, games)
  3. Pushed, Mandatory Information (advertising, propaganda)

Forbidden information, while available to some small group in order to perform their jobs, will be increasingly restricted under the twin guises of Intellectual Property and Homeland Security. Within twenty years, it will be illegal to design even simple circuits outside of sanctioned workplaces; similarly, computer programming will require licensing and security clearances.

Purchased information will be controlled by The Almighty Google Corporation (TAGC). Even information that people are permitted to create on their own will only be sharable to the world through a Google-controlled mini-payment system. Purchased information will also be inextricably meshed with Mandatory Information — to view your cousin’s wedding pictures, you will be obligated to view advertising from banquet companies or wedding registry providers, or perhaps even a Public Service Announcement on the evils of divorce.

The twist on all this is that bandwidth will be free. TAGC will have the world blanketed in a high-speed wireless network. You’ll site down in an overpriced coffee chain, open up your computer, and immediately be connected to virtually unlimited bandwidth so you can download as much Entertainment as you can afford. TAGC will, of course, use you location and search histories to inform you that you’re only a mile from a franchise of your favorite Bagel place, and it’s nearly lunchtime, and if you go now, you won’t get anxious and depressed later, so you can quit taking Paxil (that is why you were searching for information on the side-effects, isn’t it? Admit it. You sent a Gmail Message to your doctor on the subject too). What’s more, on the way, you’ll pass a Multinational Flower Distributor Outlet on the way, and you might want to keep in mind that you had a bit of a spat with the significant other (based on the frequency of the Gmails the other day, and the mood-assessor’s analysis of the vocabulary used), so this would be a good opportunity to patch things up — we would have recommend the Fancy Chocolatier across the way, but your significant other has been searching for diet information, so better play it safe…

Wed, 7 Sep 2005

God is Good but Nature is Cruel

— SjG @ 1:41 pm

So the garden is practically seething with big spiders these days. There are orb webs spanning the gaps between branches or arcing across the front entry-way or even from the hedge to any car foolish enough to sit still for a few hours. Most of these orbs are homes to furry spiders, others have sullen-looking yellow-brown fellows. Trapdoor spiders are in and about the squash vines all around the front yard. Compact little jumping spiders that remind me of Isuzu trucks seem to prefer the sunny area in back where the nasturtiums flourished. The echinacea are a-lurking with yellow or white crab spiders. It’s a hard job being a gnat.

But even the spiders don’t have it so good. The other day, I saw a large mud-wasp carrying the paralyzed body of one of the yellow-brown spiders. Supposedly, they lay eggs in the paralyzed spider, so when the young hatch, they have something fresh to eat. Hey, these guys all play rough — spiders, wasps, they’re all packing chemical weapons.

On my walk in to work this morning, I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting in a deodar tree. The neighborhood seems kind of urban for hawks, but they do show up occasionally. As I walked, it exploded down on a group of mourning doves, which frantically scattered in all directions. They all shot behind a house, and I didn’t see the outcome. So either a bird died suddenly, or a bird went hungry.

Sun, 17 Jul 2005

Ban Snicker’s Bars!

— SjG @ 12:41 pm

Snicker’s Bars are Dangerous, and could be used by Terrorists!

Yes, it’s a little known fact that your average Snickers Bar could be used as a Weapon of Mass Destruction by our Enemies. How, you ask? Well, there are a variety of ways. One, Enemies could use them as a part of a campaign to damage our healthcare infrastructure and national morale through pervasive obesity. But there are far more sinister possibilities. Consider the explosive potential of a single, snack-size Snicker’s bar:

A snack-size Snicker’s Bar is 280 food calories, which is 280,000 energy calories, or enough to heat 280,000 liters of water 1 °C at standard temperature and pressure.

Now, the standard Olympic pool is 25 by 50 meters, 2 meters deep at the shallow end, and 3 meters deep at the deep end. Assuming a linear slope, that’s 25 * 50 * 2.5 = 3,125 cubic meters = 3.125 mega-liters. One liter is 0.264 gallons, so that’s roughly 825,000 U.S. gallons. When calculating terrorism risks, it’s imperative that we use good, clean, American units for the final calculations; otherwise, people may think we’re French.

So, back to our Snicker’s bar: raising 280,000 liters of water by 1 °C is the same as raising our Olympic swimming pool 0.0896 °C = 0.16 °F. Now, you all have personal experience with heating water in kettles or microwaves. You know what kinds of energy we’re talking about here. Imagine releasing the kind of energy that could heat up an entire Olympic swimming pool (even just a little) in the middle of a crowded sports arena! Clearly, we’re talking grave danger to society.

But this is just the tip of the threat iceberg. We’ve only looked at chemical energy contained in one of these perilous candies. The true threat is much, much worse. So much worse, in fact, that we strongly feel that such bars must be immediately banned!

Consider: a snack-size Snicker’s bar is 2.07 oz. Where did the 0.07 ounces come from? Imprecise calibration? Seems like an awfully un-American weight to me. Regardless, 2.07 ounces is 58.68 grams, or 0.05868 kilograms, so the nuclear energy in the bar is 0.05868 kg * (2.998 * 108 m/sec)2 = 5.2738 * 1015 joules = 1.26 * 1015 calories. That’s enough to heat our Olympic pool 4.03 * 108 °C = 7.258 * 108 °F.

Check the math! Our national security may depend on it!

You see, if a single Snicker’s bar could be used to raise the temperature of our Olympic swimming pool by 725 million °F, it’s only a matter of time before the Terrorists use them against us.

The cost of doing nothing is far too high. We must act! Therefore, it’s imperative that all Patriotic Americans join our call to ban Snicker’s bars.

We must act; if not just for ourselves, for our children and future generations. We must petition Mars candy company. We must call our Senators. But for the sake of the children, we must do something before it’s too late!

Wed, 29 Jun 2005

Visions of Hell, Part I

— SjG @ 9:09 pm

OK, if you live badly in this life, you will find yourself in an Airport after you die.

Your flight will be leaving from Terminal One, which, due to a support-staff strike, is knee deep in trash and cigarette ashes (smoking’s allowed here). Your flight has been delayed. The terminal is crowded to overflowing, with people standing, sitting on the floor, doing everything but pitching tents. If your sins were relatively minor in the previous life, you get a seat, albeit a seat sticky with spilled milkshake, chewed gum, and other unidentifiable substances. You share your seat with your luggage, which is inexplicably heavy and bulky.

You wait, while a couple has a screaming fight right next to you. A child plays a portable video game that makes electronic beeps and chirps, just loud enough that you cannot sleep. The closest restroom is half a mile away, and you don’t dare visit it because you’ll lose your spot, and be forced to stand in the surly-looking throng over by the window, who are being tormented by the hot sun streaming in. And anyway, you have strong indications that the toilets in that restroom have clearly backed up.

Every few hours, there is an announcement that your flight has been further delayed. It’s always delayed by “just a few minutes.” Voices in many languages are broadcast over the fuzzy PA, thanking you for your patience during construction, warning you to look out for suspicious packages, announcing other flight delays and cancellations, and advertising the various concession stands. The concession stands are all closed due to the strike.

Every third day, or so, there is a gate-change announcement for your flight. You, and two hundred other lost souls, must pick up your belongings and rush to another terminal. Now, this Airport is a vast Airport, but not very well maintained. There are corridors that go off into dead-ends, there are elevators that trap you between floors for days on end. Your heavy baggage bangs against your legs as you frantically run, trying to find this other terminal. The new terminal is no improvement upon the old terminal — if anything, it’s smaller and more crowded. And, upon your arrival there, the flight delayed announcements resume.

Every third week or so, your flight actually boards. You and your weary, stinking fellow travellers crowd onto a airplane that doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned in years. The seats are very small and close together. Once everyone has completed the herculean struggle to cram their bags under seats and into the overhead, you sit. And wait. The air conditioning is not running on the plane, and the air feels like it’s been breathed and exhaled by a hundred tubercular people before it gets to you. After a few hours, the plane finally rolls back from the terminal, and waits in the queue for the runway. It’s positioned so that the hot sun streams through your window. The windowshade is jammed, and the tab by which you should be able to pull it down has been broken off.
After seven or eight hours, there is an announcement that, due to uncontrollable events, this airplane will not be permitted to fly, and that you will need to report to the replacement flight in Terminal Three. Once in Terminal Three, the standard terminal cycle repeats.

Every third month or so, your flight actually departs. Your seat is next to a morbidly obese individual who overflows into half of your seat. Right before takeoff, this individual ruefully mentions a propensity for motion sickness; this announcement is prophetic, as vomiting commences shortly after takeoff. The narcissist businessman in the seat ahead of you tilts back the seat as far as it will go, which leads you to discover that your seat is jammed and will not recline. His cologne was applied using the “more is better” philosophy, and he smokes through the whole flight while berating his trophy wife, flirting overtly with the stewardess, and taunting his wife with stories of his infidelities. She blubbers in misery throughout the flight. The woman across the aisle prays loudly for the whole flight. You discover that the book you had saved for the flight is misprinted, and after the first chapter, the pages are too blurry to read. The stewardess sadly informs everyone that there will be no food or beverage service on this flight.
Behind you sits the child with the video game, and he is so excited by the game that he unconsciously kicks your seat for the whole flight. His baby sister screams and shrieks from the moment you board the plan until the plane lands twelve hours later, and the captain explains that due to technical difficulties, you have been diverted to another airport. Your flight will continue from Terminal Six.

And this is your eternity.

Mon, 9 May 2005

Post Apocalyptic Puzzles

— SjG @ 3:33 pm

I have a strange mania, which comprises various and sundry thoughts involving reconstruction, reinvention, and rebuilding some semblance of structure after some unspecified societal collapse. Maybe it’s because I read too much post-apocalyptic science fiction at too young an age, or because I’ve succumbed to the fear-mongering of the news media, but I often find myself thinking about how I would implement key elements of infrastructure (or even obscure and trivial manufacturing) if the existing order were to fail.

This is not to say I’m a survivalist, or caching weapons, or preparing for The Tribulations. Frankly, living where and how I do, I’d be unlikely to survive a serious breakdown of our society. Maybe it’s merely a fascination with how things work.

This section will include some of these musings.

I’ll start with something trivial: how would I build a machine to manufacture pipecleaners?

The basic idea of a pipecleaner is simple: a large number of short, stiff bristles are held tightly together in a spiral formed of two or more wires. The puzzle is that the tight spiral of wire holds the bristles in position; before the wires are twisted, the bristles are free to move however they will. Using longer bristles makes it easier to hold them in position, but more difficult to twist the wires which will secure them. What’s more, that would require trimming the bristles after the twist is completed, which would be a complicated spiral cut, and would be wasteful.

My best solution thus far is to have a mechanism knot long bristles around one wire, which enables a simple straight cut to correct their length, and prevents wasted material. Then, the second wire is applied, and the two wires are twisted.

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