Monday, November 29, 2010

Do something positive today and pass this on

Friday, December 14, 2007

A modern life

rovers on mars
nano-bots in my blood
waking sleeps
and orwellian dreams

seven toads
half mud covered
sit stop motion animated
in digital screens

heightened senses
and a flattened world
my carbon footprint
has a silicon gleam

cybersludge filters
overstock jeans

amazon bookstores
backserver things

bats with a ding

kilohertz sampling
of my whispered screams

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mars rover inspires us all!

The Spirit rover is the ultimate workaholic. On sol 779, its right front wheel failed. The human analogy is, of course, having a paralyzed foot. Yet despite this, Spirit keeps on going, digging a little trench behind it (Spirit was told to drive backwards henceforth in order to compensate for the loss).

Well, the little guy's persistence is paying off. Not only is he still driving around, discovering things, and setting new records, but his trench has unearthed evidence of a previous environment that would have been hospitable to microbes! (read the full story here)

Spirit, you are an inspiration to us all. Keep on trucking!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Spam and phish

It sounds awful, but spam and phish must be a tasty meal. I conclude this on the basis of some spam I received on Monday which clearly comes with some phish mixed in. Here is my favourite sentence in the whole email: "Fortunately for myself, my only sister and mother, our relatives are not aware of the money in Europe which is the reason why my mother wants you to partner with us so we can introduce you as our Next of Kin and beneficiary to the amount."

In point of fact, this is not just any old spam and phish dinner, this is a feast fit for a king. Not only am I treated to this delicious email, but I receive $16 million (US) for doing so. Of course, the feast is not without its price. I do have to hold on to the money for them whilst they escape Iraq, and I do have to be trusted not to simply steal the money. All in all though, it sounds like I cannot lose!

Nevertheless, I must decline. The offer is tempting (with the low expectations and the high payoff), but alas, I am independently wealthy. As it so happens, I have a bank account in Switzerland that I have just inherited from a long lost relative. Now if only there were someone I could send some money to that would help me cash it out!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What if science fiction became science?

When I was a boy, I always imagined that my calculator wristwatch could do anything. Clearly, it could not, but as a child in my imagination it could. Sometimes when I'm watching classic Star Trek or Buck Rogers my imagination slips back and I imagine myself in a world with ubiquitous technology, fantastic gadgetry, and seemingly limitless possibilities.

Perhaps the day when my imagination becomes reality is right around the corner. Today I found this website. Perhaps this is the next super-cool device like the Blackberry and PDA before it. In some respects, perhaps it isn't as fun as it looks. A PDA can perform many of the same functions, and it appears to be roughly the same size.

No, I'm not thinking about its technological appeal, but rather its aesthetics. In all my science fiction shows and movies, technology is not just something you use, but something you wear. It is aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps even fashionable. It is an integrated part of our humanity. Only once technology can become integrated with who we are can it become ubiquitous, and only when it becomes ubiquitous will I have the chance to be Buck Rogers. Needless to say, I would applaud the company who puts one of these watches on the catwalk.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flat worlds, wrinkled sheets, and Bob from Peoria

In his 2005 book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman postulates the idea that the modern world is not round, but flat. By world, he means the competitive economic world, and by flat he means level in the sense of a level playing field. His belief is that in the flat world it is easier for people to do two things: first, compete with each other, and second, move their work (whether their work represents labour or product or both). While he makes a good point, I offer this as a counter-belief: the world is not flat, nor will it ever be. Moreover, the world is as flat now as it always has been. I offer the law of conservation of flatness.

The law of conservation of flatness states simply this: The world is, on average, just as flat as it always has been, and always will be. Whenever flatness becomes more pronounced in one part of the world, flatness has been lost somewhere else. The sum of these changes is no change at all.

Perhaps the most glaring point on which to propose the law of conservation of flatness is the so-called “flattener #7”, or Supply-Chaining. Friedman wants to propose that the supply-chaining model is flattening the world, and his arguments make some amount of sense. It is true that supply-chaining gives suppliers abroad the ability to market to American consumers with lower barrier to entry, but what if you apply the definition of flatness to the result of the supply-chained world? Supply-chaining is supposed to level the playing field, yet if I wanted to open a general store today, I would find it nearly impossible to compete with Wal-Mart because they have perfected this art and I have not. Nor do I have the capital or the prospect of capital to make competition with Wal-Mart even a remote fantasy. The law of conservation of flatness is preserved. While the world is flattened for suppliers abroad, it is made far less flat for some of us here.

In another section of the book, Friedman points out that “natural talent has started to trump geography.” It is difficult to dispute that this is true, but once again there is give and take with the model. Consider a talented individual, Rajesh, from India and an average person, Bob, from Peoria. In the “flattened” world, Rajesh now has much more opportunity to succeed, while Bob now has less. Both individuals may have been willing to work with equal vigor on a given project, but Rajesh, now reaping the benefits of a different (not necessarily better) “ovarian lottery” has an advantage over Bob. Whether meritocracy is a just form of government for a human society is a topic best left for philosophers, but suffice it to say that flattening the world with respect to natural talent will wrinkle the world with respect to work ethic. Once again, the law of conservation of flatness holds.

In a qualitative science studying the flatness of the world (dare we call it flatology?), I believe we have one foundational theorem. Our world has a latent flatness, and our efforts and advances will not change that. Human society may grow and develop, and the flatness will thereby shift from one place to another. Perhaps it will even appear to increase when viewed with coarse resolution. Nevertheless, like a sheet confined to too little space, the flatness of the world remains constant. As we smooth the wrinkles of the world, new ones will be made. The fabric of our world will constrain us and leave us with only one burning question: what will we make with the pattern?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When do we quit?

In 1962 the United States began what I believe now to be the ultimate expression of bull-headed foreign politics, namely the Cuban Trade Embargo.

It was designed to be a means to removing Castro from power, and "protecting" us from communism. Our fears were not wholly unjustified, as the Cuban Missile Crisis followed shortly thereafter. Clearly though, after forty-five years, the strategy has failed. Castro is still in power, planning to pass that power to younger, more vibrant leaders, and communism is as alive as it ever was in the tiny island nation.

More to the point, it has not only failed, but may have even strengthened Castro's position by positioning us as a scapegoat for any government failings.

We now find ourselves, lo these forty-five years later, enforcing a policy which impoverishes the people of Cuba in the name of removing a dictator who has proven immune to public criticism for the sake of retaining an image of authority and power in a world which wholeheartedly disagrees with us. This does not sound like a recipe for success!

Recently the United Nations, an organization we helped establish with the intent of providing a forum for countries to abide by a higher law than their own sovereignty, voted 184 to 4 in favour of a resolution asking the United States to cease the embargo. We refused.

It's time to stop the embargo. As a country we have a difficult time admitting failure. We believe ourselves immune to the normal pitfalls of humanity on the basis that we are somehow God's chosen country. Whether we are God's chosen country or not, we have certainly proven ourselves fallable: deadly sin number seven is pride.