Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smart Machines

Check this out.  A mini-helicopter that can balance a pole - and toss it to another copter which catches it - at least it worked once.  Pretty amazing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

1913 meteor event over North America and Atlantic

The recent meteor event in Russia has stirred up interest in other meteor events in the newswires, and I came across this account from a 1913 event over northern North America, with most of the sightings from around the Great Lakes area exteding to the coast and into several reports by ships in the the Atlantic.

This event was odd in that the meteors apparently were traveling nearly tangent to the earth's atmosphere, sortof skimming along at very high altitude and not crashing down like the more recent Russian event.  This cluster of meteors apparently skimmed across the sky in a long trail lasting several minutes.

The linked article has a picture painted by artist/amateur astronomer Gustav Hans from his vantage point in Toronto as it passed over the night sky.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dream Imagery

I occasionally take time to think about my dreams when I wake up, and recently I've noticed a change in character from the often disorganized/chaotic/confused mess that most dreams are.  There's occasionally a nice story arc I'm noticing in some.

As I thought about the most recent night's dream this morning I almost passed over/discarded some details until I thought about it some more.  The more I thought about it I just smiled as I was impressed with what was going on in my head.

Now, discarding a really bad haircut that I was conned into getting - the main image theme that kept coming back to me was that of being in a large sports arena.  For some reason I'd taken a long trip to get to this arena and watch the event.  But about half of the seats were empty, and the fans weren't all that excited about the game.  Just kindof sitting there passively watching.  All over the arena on the floor in front of the empty seats were blank pieces of paper - kind of like they were put there to advertise "this seat is available" when you go to pick out available season ticket seating in some places.  Anyhow, I was sitting there and wasn't interested in the game going on at all.  I couldn't even see it - obstructions in my view - maybe people standing/ or construction underway (not sure) - but either way I didn't care.  So I got up and weaved my way through all the other people scattered about rows around me and made my way to the aisle to leave.  Instead of walking upwards to exit though, I walked down toward the court (I think it was a basketball court) because the exit I needed was on the other side of the arena. The game wasn't over yet, but when I got to the aisle I found the aisle crowded with lots of other folks leaving too.  As I tried to go down the steps I had to step to the side because it seemed like work was underway down in front of the court.  I almost missed the significance of this part - or didn't pay attention to it at first, but it was cheerleaders who were folding up the chairs and pulling up the steps as I was walking down.

As I wound my way around the court and then outside all of a sudden everything was deserted.  The parking lots were empty.  No vehicles anywhere.  Setting was a small town not unlike some I grew up in.  Everybody had already left and I was wondering how I was going to get back home because I didn't have a vehicle.  So I started walking down the small street worried how I was going to make my trip back home.  I got to an old junk lot on the side of the road - with gravel on the ground - and was wondering where my ride was.  And then I just started hearing an engine running.  I looked around - nobody was anywhere - but I kept hearing the running of this old clunky engine.  Gradually I found it.  It was coming from an old timey car - like a Model T I guess - and it was stashed in with other junk.  It was a tiny car - like the size of a bumper car.

When I saw the little car with it's engine still running I remembered it from a portion of a dream I'd had very early in the night.  I remembered encountering this old little car running in the junk pile prior to going to the arena.  The little car was in terrible shape, wheels all bent, rusted, in a mud puddle, debris inside - but I remember the engine on it was running even then, and thinking or saying "Well, if all else fails I guess I can drive home in this."   Well, this image had returned to me at the end of the dream right before I woke up.  I started pulling out junk from around the little car to free it, dumping out accumulated water from the junk, worried about mosquitos, pulling debris off of it.  And underneath the debris were two big red gas cans.  And they sloshed when I moved them - they had gas in them.  So I put them in the trunk of the little junky car.  At this point I woke up with the feeling that I knew that little car could get me back home.

The story arc and ending of this dream was odd in that it resolved interestingly and positively.  I had a similar dream a few weeks ago that similar - with a positive resolution that was surprisingly logical.  Usually dreams for me would degrade into getting lost, nonsensical disconnected events, that type of thing - so it surprises me when they make a good deal of sense and conclude nicely.

My Interpretation:
So as I thought about this, at first I just recounted the events in my mind without really getting the gist of what was going on.  But gradually the big picture began to take shape that made me smile at the analogy that I think my mind was building.

You see I quit my job last year - and I think the dream imagery ties into thinking about quitting work.  To me, the arena and the game represented my company.  It's a place I wanted to go to - something I wanted to be a part of.  And the fans represented the workers.  It makes sense to me that we couldn't really see the game, because the work we do is often far disconnected from what happens in the overall game.  And it makes sense in that context that the fans just weren't that into it.  In my experience a lot of employees work hard and do their best, but really don't know whether what they're doing makes a difference to whether their team wins or loses - kindof like a fan's cheering.  Obviously, me losing interest in the game and walking to the exit represents my decision to leave the company....

But here's the interesting thing that almost missed - remember that the cheerleaders were putting away the chairs and dismantling the steps while the game was still going on.  I almost missed this part as part of the ambiance of the dream - but as I thought about it I realized this relates directly to an undercurrent I felt about our company at the end - that the cheerleaders were encouraging us in our work to achieve outwardly stated corporate goals - but in reality I did feel that some of it was exactly that: cheerleading.  I felt like the strategy we were pursuing wasn't working and despite our best efforts we weren't making headway.  And it would not be a stretch to say that I felt like they knew it wasn't going to work as designed, but that they had to continue to try to execute the plan given to them from higher up anyway.   Again, this is all my perception, but the image of the cheerleaders packing up the chairs and the steps while the game was still going on tapped into subtly into this impression I already had.   When even the cheerleaders a packing it up, it's time to go.

The deserted setting in after leaving the arena makes sense in this context of me now being out on my own now, and then wondering how I get home makes sense in this context.  Another thing that surprised me was this old little junky car on the side of the road.  Its' little engine was still "putting" along like it was before all the rest of the dream happened.  And despite the crooked wheel, small size, and rusty exterior - I thought this little car and a couple cans of gas could get me where I needed to go.

I had to smile at this.  And at the same time be pretty amazed at what sometimes goes on inside my head at night.

Things that go boom

NYT article had an article this morning pointing out renewed interest in dangers posed by meteors and the need to do some better sky surveys following the recent undetected meteor that exploded over Russia a couple days ago.

It probably also reminded us all of the Tanguska event in 1908 that occurred over a remote area of Siberia.  Apparently the Tanguska meteor (or maybe comet?) was only about an estimated 100 meters across (a little more than a full football field), and according to wikipedia "The Tunguska explosion knocked down an estimated 80 million trees over an area covering 2,150 square kilometres (830 sq mi) (i.e. circular area of 52km in diameter)."
Apparently NASA was recently awarded with 2 decommissioned high powered Defense department  telescopes - supposedly with capabilities greater than Hubble.  But while the telescopes are space ready, they'd need to be upgraded for space and then would need to be launched.  Could they perhaps /should they be put to use doing dangerous meteor hunting?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bubbles and talent diversion

I was reading a book called _Analyze This_ recently that was detailing many examples of how computer algorithms are increasingly used in the world.  It describes a lot of exciting things (like algorithms that write songs), and a lot of not so exciting things (like algorithms that create financial catastrophes).  The talent tends to go where the money is, and the book describes how the financial bubble siphoned off so much of the best talent - usually math, science, engineering students with advanced degrees - to Wall Street.  When Wall Street crashed that talent moved to Silicon Valley where much is being directed at Social Media and web interactions currently.

The chain of events led to this quote by Jeff Hammerbacher that summed up well his experience on both Wall Street and at Facebook as this:  "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads...  That sucks."

He's now founded a startup called Cloudera dedicated to organizing large sets of unstructured data that would have a wide range of applications.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Abandoned Images

I saw a link to this page on the Marginal Revolution website.  I tend to like images that show nature taking back from civilization, but these are exceptional photos of deserted places.

Reminds me of photos like this I took in in either Alabama or Florida.

Gaia hypothesis in action

This story about the recent spread of foraminifera across the ocean seems to fit James Lovelock's "Gaia hypothesis" that the earth behaves as a large self regulating system.  The increased ocean temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere create a changing environment conducive to the creatures which convert the excess carbon dioxide into calcium deposits.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More than Profit Maximization?

I normally don't agree with Paul Farrell's articles, but this resonated on so many points similar to a post a short while ago on January 13th "On Shareholders" that I wanted to post a link. 

10 Signs Wall Street's Soul Sickness Grows Worse

The article by Farrell follows a similar theme that corporate culture has morphed into a singular focus on profits (in this case bank's focus on profits) has caused our corporations to often behave psychotically - without regard for their impacts on broader society.  Underneath it all it seems like Farrell is pointing to a theme that doing the right thing is not necessarily in the scope of what corporations try to do anymore (if that's what they ever did), but especially now decisions are increasingly made based upon short term profit motives without regard for the rightness or wrongness of an action.  Instead, rightness or wrongness becomes a PR problem - a messaging problem - a smokescreen of discussion that obfuscates that a decision was made for profit maximization purposes only.

If you read Farrell's article I think you'll agree there's little defense for the terrible actions of the banks other than they could make a lot of money doing it, and they thought they could get away with it.

As a shareholder in companies I want them to behave better - even if it means a degree of lower profitability.  By all means corporations have to have profitability as a top priority, but it's not the only priority.  It's OK to leave a little bit on the table and still make a better effort to do the right thing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Carbon capture finding

Interesting biological study finds apparently efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into a carbonate via chemical reaction with nickel.  Comes from a study on Sea Urchins as reported by BBC news.

quote: "Researchers say that the natural ability of sea urchins to absorb CO2 could be a model for an effective carbon capture and storage system."

The process is also called "very cheap." The article discusses possible implementation w/ power plant and has a nice image detailing the flow of the process.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shadow of an atom

At first I was like:  "An atom is too small to cast a shadow,"  but it turns out they focus a very specific color light that's absorbed by this element to generate this rough image.  Here's the link

Here's another link with an additional illustration w/ perspective of how the shadow was generated.