Archive for November, 2011

Quis Custodiet? Stop Censorship!

Monday, November 28th, 2011
The co-called “Protect IP” act is not designed for your protection.

It is designed to protect rich entertainment media companies…and to give more censorship power to government and corporate entities.

Remember the “Patriot” act? The jokers who draft these kinds of legislation are getting clever at giving them warm fuzzy names. Was the Patriot act designed to help us be more patriotic? Don’t kid yourself. It used the excuse of 911 to make it easier for Big Brother to spy on US citizens.

Now they’re at it again. The Protect IP act is not designed to protect any Internet Protocol; the initials IP in the name of the bill stand for Intellectual Property.

But that’s good, right? When someone creates a book, song, film, play, whatever, we should protect their ownership of it and their right to earn money from it, right?

We already have something for that, called international copyright law.

So why do we need Protect IP? We don’t. Who does? Apparently, the entertainment industry feels it is not making enough money, and thinks it deserves special protection.  Apparently, making huge profits ever since they discovered they could sell scratches on plastic and call them “records” somehow isn’t enough.  It really bugs these media moguls that a kid in Springfield (or halfway around the word) can download a pirated copy of the latest music video without tossing $20 on top of the treasure horde these media corporations have amassed.

Yes, they will whine about “lost sales” or try to claim that pirated material forces them to charge you even more for recordings. They’ll claim they are “job creators” and urge you to support their latest grab for your money and your freedom.

But what stinks most about Protect IP is not its stated intentions. What it seeks is no less than endorsing the censorship of the Internet by government and corporate interests. Right now, the Internet and its free exchange of ideas and information are fueling a drive for democracy and independent thought all over the world.  None of that would be happening if the Internet was merely the information apparatus of government and big business.

Consider what happened to Television. Deciding that we needed to keep the number of stations limited to avoid crowding the airwaves, we established the FCC to watch over radio and television. And what has been the result? TV stations are all owned by large corporations and mainly used to sell advertising for corporate sponsors. All those TV shows, good and bad? They are a loss leader — what the store puts in the display window to get you to come in and spend your money there.

Is this what we want for the global information network? For it to be owned by governments and large corporations so they can use it only to promote the status quo and sell us more products?

No! The Internet was created to share information. Yes, some of that information will be commercial; hard to avoid that in any human endeavor. But don’t we want it to be a tool of freedom — not tyranny?

The Protect IP act is an invitation to tyranny. Giving ANYONE the power to shut down a website because you don’t like its content (or to force ISPs to route traffic around it) is a violation of the original purpose of the Net; to share information. When you walk into a bookstore, you will probably be able to find books or magazines you don’t like. Does this mean you should have the right to make the cops close down the bookstore? After all, if you don’t want to be offended by the contents of a book, all you have to do is *not* *read* *it*. This is why we do not burn books in America. We just read the ones we like.

Ideas should be able to stand on their own. They don’t need help. If something is true and useful, people will share it. If not, they will ignore it. There is a intellectual Darwinism that usually ensures that liars and fakers will be found out and abandoned.

Have you heard the saying “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies“? It’s Latin for “who will watch the Watchers?”.  It is the quintessential reminder that entrusting too much power to overseers is something we should always avoid. Yes, we can train a cop, give him weapons to defend himself, and tell him to defend the helpless and watch over the greedy. But who will watch him?  Cops are human too.  So he has a supervisor.

While less than 1% of Americans are millionaires, over 50% of members of Congress are millionaires.  Our only check on them is not re-electing them in a few years. Do you want them to supervise our Internet?

Leggo my Eggo, Congress! Stop grabbing for censorship!

The Protect IP act might come up for a vote this week. Add your name to those Senator Wyden plans to read in filibustering this obscene bill.


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By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

color_chartShakespeare wrote: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” The perception of the world around us is something of a mystery. In theory, we can trace the flow of events from a photon striking a photoreceptor in the retina until the neural data pulse reaches the visual cortex. What is particularly difficult to assess is at what point the visual datum becomes available to our consciousness: when do I see the point of light? Likewise, we could monitor one of the taste buds and trace its signals to the brain etc., but might wonder when this pulse-train of data becomes a sensation of flavor such as chocolate.

The mainstream view of the “mind” (as the brain’s awareness of its own functioning) must be reconsidered in light of recent discoveries inside every cell. Instead of regarding the brain as some kind of biological computer, with the neurons acting like switches, we perhaps ought to think of every brain cell as a complete nanocomputer in itself, and the entire brain as a supercomputer made from 1011(one hundred billion) nanocomputers networked together in an organically-grown self-organized Internet. This many-into-One architecture that makes the Internet so robust also explains why the brain survives injury and reroutes functionality around damaged tissue.

If one assumes that each individual neuron has at least a small amount of memory, then the flock of a hundred billion of them is a distributed-processing matrix.

The mystery in this model is how the individual processors (i.e., the neurons) communicate or share complex data to create a consensus. In the quantum consciousness models  quantum entanglement makes consensus automatic and unavoidable. This is tempting, but leaves non-addressed the issues raised by multiple personality disorder, where apparently separate entities can share the same brain.

We propose, therefore, that the mind is software, not hardware. Software that runs on a processor matrix and collects all data. We are the data. When we grok the data and it becomes part of us, we experience it. All experience is experience of data; the only way to experience the absence of data is unconsciousness.

The quantity of data needed by an organism varies. Plants need little, since they don’t travel. Herbivores need to find nourishing plants. Carnivores need to track and hunt herbivores and smaller carnivores. As organisms become more complex, larger hardwares support the software. At a certain point the system has leisure time after hunting and can ponder ways to accelerate its comfort development by inventing weapons to make hunting more efficient and tools to make skinning and cooking more efficient.

The questions that remain are: where does this software we call the Soul come from, and where does it go? We know it does not originate with the body; all the body supplies is the computational matrix of the microtubules and the system bus of the neural net. How does the software get into it? The deist would say that God performs the system bootstrap into the  fetus; the atheist would say it arises from background noise  in a neo-Darwinian ecology of symbols and thoughts. Once again, we are left with an argument of irreducible complexity and intelligent design on one side, and self-assembly of genetic algorithms on the other.


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Why Hypercube Speakers Are Better

Monday, November 14th, 2011

hypercubeI have written about the advantages of Hypercube speakers. For those who want quick facts and not the whole history, I decided to write this “short form” to skip the narrative context and just get right into why Hypercube-enclosed loudspeakers are superior to traditional loudspeakers. First of all, when you put a woofer into a hypercube enclosure, it becomes nearly omnidirectional. But let’s look at the ways this conversion improves the fidelity or quality of the speaker’s output. In particular, let’s look at the reduced distortion and the improved transient response of the converted vs. unconverted loudspeakers.



On the top you see the distortion for a woofer in a box; on the bottom are the distortion curves of the same woofer, tweeter, and crossover in a Hypercube (rhombic dodecahedron) cabinet. As you can see, the curves are consistently lower (by up to 10db) in the tesseract enclosure. It’s not difficult to see that the Hypercube loudspeaker is putting out purer sound.

Now for the cumulative spectral decay or “waterfall” plots.




Here are the waterfall plots:

On the top is the plot for the normal unconverted loudspeaker: a woofer in a box. The decay is relatively smooth except in the upper registers where the physics is more complex.

And here is the waterfall plot for the converted loudspeaker. As you can see here, the sound decay in the Hypercube enclosure is smoother and faster, showing that the hypercube speaker cabinet rings less and is inherently better for reproducing transients.
Summing up, changing the boundary geometry that the speaker bounces sound off from a square box to a Hypercube geometry, in which tesseract-shaped wavefields intersect 3-space as cube-shaped standing waves, improves the loudspeaker’s purity (less distortion) and accuracy (less ringing and crisper transients). Changing the shape changes the boundary, which changes the interaction, which changes the performance.
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It’s What You Do With What You Have

Sunday, November 13th, 2011


Often while walking I come upon images that symbolize hope. Here you see plants growing on a rock: a limestone boulder. These plants were not given a lush garden or even a neglected piece of ground. Like Charley Brown trick-or-treating, they got a rock.

And so they grew on it anyway. Limestone is porous and holds rainwater well. As you can see, they are green and happy, like most plants in Florida. There’s a lesson in this for me, perhaps.

It’s not what you start with that matters in this universe. It’s what you do with what you have that counts, in the final analysis.

I’ve found it’s that way with speakers, too: lots of woofers are perfectly adequate if you relieve their suffering by removing them from a cuboid box and mounting them on a hypercube speaker cabinet. The motor of the loudspeaker, the woofer (and tweeter for 2-way systems) is strong enough to do the job because it has been engineered to overcome the disadvantages of the box enclosure.

I would venture to say that perhaps the same is true for the human mind: if you take any human mind at all and relieve it of its suffering, fulfill its physical needs, and allow it to learn, it will grow and improve itself. I would further suggest that the freedom to grow and learn is an oft-neglected human right.


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Ninja Turtle?

Thursday, November 10th, 2011


The Parable of the Turtle

Today we had a visitor. I looked out the front window and there was a turtle strolling across our front yard.

I’ve seen them crossing the road before but this was the first one brave enough to just casually walk through the yard. He (she?) was a handsome specimen, dark and orange with yellow piping on his neck. I’ve seen dusty-looking “gopher turtles” that burrow in your yard, but he didn’t look like one. He was a no-nonsense in-your-face “I’m a turtle, what are you gonna do about it” critter.

To a starving carnivore I suppose he looked delicious. Fortunately for him we were not starving. I’d have to be really hungry to attack such a harmless living being.


He seemed to be heading down the street to a pond to our south. My brother James and I watched his progress with interest.

He was rather suspicious of our motives. He kept stretching out his neck to look back at us in case we were following him, which we were.

Eventually he reached our neighbor’s driveway.  Our neighbor, whose name is also Jim, noticed the little rascal and waited for him to get across the driveway before he backed his car out.

The nameless ninja turtle slid off into the shade of a palm tree and we stopped following him. Hopefully he made it to the pond, if that was where he was headed.

Let’s leave him be. He reminded me of myself: fully grown, single, stumbling through life. He seemed to know where he was going, however. And he was smarter than the other turtles I have seen here in Florida. He was staying on the shoulder and avoiding what little traffic we get here. He wasn’t worrying about jobs, taxes, or the debt crisis in Greece and Italy. He was sticking to what he knew, what he could do: being a turtle.

There must be a lesson to be learned here. I’ll think about it.


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Accidental Conspiracies

Monday, November 7th, 2011

pathI walk 2.7 miles  most mornings. Sometimes I skip a day; sometimes I go farther. I know it’s about 2.7 miles because I measured it with my odometer. I have lost a lot of weight on treadmills, but if I can walk outside I’m not tempted to stop early. I have to do the whole route to get home again.

Sometimes I go farther. I can choose the path less taken and wander off road into the woods. The woods here seem to be a combination of pine trees, scrub oaks, palmettos, and the occasional palm tree. The pine trees are the tallest, and give most of the shade. In between the trees and palmettos are small ferns and grass.

pathThe path I take from the subdivision road is carpeted with a soft carpet of pine needles, up through which spring numerous ferns, each about a foot or so tall; I step between them under a cloudy sky, treading softly without a stick.

It’s a different kind of beauty here; there is no gleaming beach, manicured landscaping or implanted garden. Billboards call this “the real Florida”, away from the neon techno-madness of Orlando and Miami and Tampa. Here it is back to basics: sand, palmettos, birds, people, alligators. I would have found this different aesthetic rather harsh when my father retired here, were it not for the fact that we lived in Florida before. It’s still different, and after being gone for 30 years my sinuses are complaining: there is pollen in Florida year-round.

As I sit here in this secular cathedral, pine trees like pillars, pine needles for carpet, I find myself wondering if all the patterns we take for granted as deliberate could be accidental conspiracies. I look at the carpet of pine needles. To someone who knew nothing of pine trees, it might look as though a crew had brought out tons of this stuff from somewhere and carefully spread it around especially on this path. The pattern of the needles could seem contrived, like the soap flakes Hollywood has used for snow.

If I were to confide this suspicion to anyone who knows anything about pine trees, however, I would look crazy. Perhaps he might patiently explain to me that the while a pine tree stays green all year, it sheds needles like my cat Otto sheds his fur; the needles turn red and fall fall one by one, laying down an intricate almost interwoven layer.

I suppose that the complex webs of interdependence we see in nature could be seen in two ways as well. We see the lion at the top of the food pyramid, and call him the king of the jungle. But none call him tyrant, or accuse him of conspiring to oppress the other animals. In fact, undergraduate biology students learn to their surprise that without carnivorous predators, the plant-eaters overpopulate, deplete their food sources, and suffer losses from starvation until there are fewer of them again. Predators stabilize these excessive populations so that none starve (especially the predators).

Those who really believe in social Darwinism, the prospering of the fittest, would have us believe that in human pyramids, some similar mechanism is at work, so that for every thousand human sheep there must be a wolf  (or a war?) to keep their numbers in check and a shepherd to supervise and harvest their wool.

But we are not sheep to grow wool for a shepherd, nor antelopes to be pruned by the jaws of a lion. It is all very well to speak of the mere appearance of conspiracy, but we must remember that unlike the pine trees, we are thinking creatures. While the fall of a pine needle is a random statistical event, the actions of humans are the result of planning or impulse decisions. But do these individual actions fit together in a planned way, or do they merely overlay each other in history, as the pine needles overlay each other in the forest?

When we see similarities or apparent structural or causal relationships in the ways that human civilization is formed, we must look carefully at evidence, lest we either mistake accumulated random events and actions as a deliberate plot — or look at a a suspicious sequence of events and actions and airily dismiss them as coincidence: pictures seen in clouds and inkblots.

Those who disapprove of the Occupy Wall Street protest are saying the same things that have been said about protests since the 1960s: that the protesters “hate america”, are “anti-american”, or that they are simply whiners who are too lazy to work.

The protesters might retort that the 46 million Americans now officially living in poverty is more than the population of the ENTIRE USA was in 1870 (39 million):

Seriously, folks, when one of the richest nations on earth has one-sixth of its population living in poverty, tens of millions of citizens, reasonable minds might want to know why.

It is predictable that some of the rhetoric will focus on perceived patterns and conspiracies; just as it is difficult to accept that one man with a rifle could end the life of JFK (if he did), it is difficult to see the mass migration of money in the last 30 years from the hands of the middle class and poor to the concentrated assets of a tiny percentage of the population., and not see a deliberate intent behind it.

Before we demonize the rich, however, let us remember the parable of the pine needles. Yes, the events of the past few decades have resulted in their getting richer. And yes, the figures show that they are getting richer faster than anyone else, even though they are the least in need of money. But it is a stretch to suppose that they wanted this wildfire of bankruptcies and foreclosures. The rich need poor people to wash their clothes and cook their food and maintain their homes and businesses.  But what they do not need is people homeless from foreclosure, hungry and angry with nothing left to lose.

So I have to admit that I do not believe the Great Recession was deliberately engineered. I think it is more of a pine needle carpet. People wanted homes they could not afford, and greedy bankers encouraged them in order to get raises, commissions, and promotions. If their had been a boom in the economy, maybe so many defaults would not have happened. But they did.

I don’t know about you, but I get angry when the rich say it is the fault of the people for getting loans they were too lazy to pay.  My girlfriend has been working 2 and sometimes 3 jobs. Now she lost her job managing a neurologist’s office and she is in the process of losing her home. She is not lazy. Saying that her situation is all her fault sounds to me like the tobacco companies saying that when a smoker dies of lung cancer it was the smoker’s fault, that it was their choice to smoke. Sure, never mind the studies that show nicotine to be more addictive than heroin. After all, since we’ve been telling heroin addicts that it is all their fault too, so why not say the same to nicotine addicts?

I am unemployed. No, Mr. Tea Party, I was not an Art History or Philosophy major in college: I have a degree in Physics. I am unemployed anyway. I lost my own web development job when the customer decided he couldn’t afford any more software development for a while. It wasn’t because I did anything wrong or failed to do something right. It was simply a matter of not being able to afford my salary in tight times. So I do not blame anyone for deliberately making me poor. There was no plot.

I guess what I am saying is that the rich did not make us poor. It was a combination of jobs outsourced overseas to cheaper workers and poor planning and greed and their inevitable consequences. Now that we can stop saying it is the fault of this class or that class of citizens, it is time to stop squabbling over causes and get a plan to fix things.


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