Thursday, July 31, 2008

Visionaries, John Lennon

The world is full of examples of man (and woman? ... I hope!) that were ahead of their own time. Clear examples, to name a few, would be Albert Einstein, Tesla and Julio Verne (one of his novels written in 1864 was recently adapted and a 3D movie was produced).

I have to confess I never liked The Beatles, not a little bit, but there is one John Lennon's song which has one of the best lyrics ever:

"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"

That to me is vision too ...
Found lots of Lennon's cool quotes here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

California went bluetooth

Begining July 1st California passed the cellphone hands-free law.

The law was long expected but the effects in the roads are not so visible yet. I was expecting to see everybody everywhere shining their little blue extensions but I did not notice such a big change. Most likely it'll happen more and more over time.

My multiple attempts with bluetooth since 2004 are ranging from not matching devices, to bad hearing quality, to losing it all the time: where is the little damn thing?, to all sort of battery issues both on the mic and cellphone side of things because of the bluetooth. I love the concept but the technology itself didn't match my expectations so far.

Motorola seems to have a promising one (not just because Beckam is wearing it):
"Motorola has launched the new headset which supports Bluetooth 2.0 wireless technology, the 32g Bluetooth stereo headset S9, in Korea. With stable behind-the-head style, the S9 lets you switch from music to calls with the press of a button. It features an integrated and touch-sensitive controls, the S9 is water and sweat resistant, which is nice for wearing in any weather."

I never had ones that could switch from music to calls!

Here's a map on how other states are dealing with it:

It's nice that law helps us become more cyborgs, no complains on my side, of course it's safer too.

Moore Law for multi-cores

The nicest thing of carpooling is that I get to mount my office on the back of the car. Today on my way back from work as I skimmed over google reader posts I found an interesting thought in GigaOM regarding the opportunities that the multi-core processors world will bring for the industry.

As I commented out loud, a friend who is an insider of the Sony Playstation gaming development team was reminding me of how playstation might have a definite development edge over Microsoft as they chose cheap multiple cores versus few powerful ones very early on. The advantage now seems to be that all their coding for years has been multi-core savy. If that is right, and Microsoft development did not go down that route, Sony's development edge and scalability possibilities are inmensly better.

On the words of Anant Agarwal: "I would like to call it a corollary of Moore's Law that the number of cores will double every 18 months," said Agarwal whose company currently ships a 64-core embedded processor.

One company that got my attention from GigaOm's list was Replay, by introducing what they call the computer-tivo. This is one of my favorite subjects, and although they're only focusing apparently on bug reply it's one of the first tools I see using this powerful concept.

I would bet on Moore Law being right one more time. And, I would also bet that developers will not be micro-managing core management. There will be software automatically taking care of this.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

About Buddhism and Science

For the last year or more I've been on and off studying Buddhist philosophy. I've been attending general practitioner meditation classes which are the very basic introduction to Buddhism.

In these classes I could enjoy a new way of meditating, which gave me new perspectives over Transcendental Meditation (basically mantra meditation that I have been using for the last 10 years or so. This meditation is centered on the heart chakra, which I loved. Also, it has two faces. First, it looks for an object of meditation and once you find the object you concentrate single-pointedly into it and abide into the feeling for as long as you can.

In addition to the meditation, there was the theory. Buddhist theory is so rich and extensive. Every Wednesday night I would get to listen, think and talk about diverse subjects such as: value of intention, patience as a spiritual value, compassion (meaning from Latin com-passion, to share other's passion), equality to all beings (loving everybody in the same way), delusions (such as mind of attachment, self-cherishing) versus wisdom, karma (as a law comparable to gravity), kindness and many others.

Last but not least, there were the people. In these meetings I could find the most exquisite people, in their quest to live a life of pure intentions, where the path to enlightenment is centered around the intention to help others.

The benefits from attending these classes I could feel incredibly during the whole week, being more relaxed, compassionate, understanding, loving, thankful and happy.

Eventually, I got to dig the central and hardest to grasp concept of the Buddhist philosophy: emptiness. I read about it, thought about it, asked questions about it and ended up tending to think that emptiness means in the end relativity of all things, in other words: ultimate relativity. A strong concept I grasped in the past when I was around 16 years old and I happen to call it relativity abysm (taken from Ortega y Gasset) as it felt like falling into an endless precipice by having reality de-materialize in front of my eyes in the light of relativity.

Problem for me was that even when the concepts seem so correct and the philosophy so interesting the explanations could not fulfill my logical thinking. From the beginning I had this feeling of how can this be so right but at the same time so outdated. How can it be using its own dictionary for English words having meanings that could be so off? How on the other hand could they grasp concepts such as conscious, subconscious and unconscious (which they call gross mind, subtle and very subtle mind respectively) thousands of years before Freud did?

My conclusion is that Buddhist meditation is an incredible tool, which allowed people to understand concepts way before they could be rationalized by science. When this same people tried to explain these concepts and rationalize about them the results are not so great. In other words, I loved the philosophical concepts in Buddhism but not so much the explanation and justification of why those things are the way they are.

In the end, I keep the meditation close to my heart and I go back to science to find rational explanations that are more according to my present culture and understanding of things.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Technology unconscious

What can make a process go down from days to minutes?
Given that hardware and software remain the same, the answer is obvious: database indexes!

As an ex-project manager and consultant for NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) I received a call when they were trying to process a big fat invoice from Prometric (leading provider of testing and assessment services) and instead of taking the usual few minutes it was getting stuck forever. Stuck forever after some monitoring ended up being amazingly slow processing due to non-existing indexes that were re-creating themselves temporarily again and again.

This situation made me think of the existence of a growing number of things that goes into the "technology unconscious", by definition: the mind operating well below the perception of the conscious mind. They're there, in the background, making things run smooth, we all use them, but most of the time we don't even remember that they're there or know the details of how they operate, and only realize about them when something fails. Other pieces of the technology unconscious are operative systems, the internet tcp/ip layer, even electricity itself (I get embarrassed when my daughter asks me questions about how things work all the time, thanks google for existing).

To string or not to string, 4D vs 11Dimensions

String theory made the universe extremely fun for scientists, mathematicians and mystics alike.

I heard before about alternatives to the string theory in the quest for unifying the theory of all things (integrating the four forces: strong and weak interaction, electromagnetism and gravity, into one nice beautiful equation) that would shed a much more "normal" 4D universe. Apparently, the alternative has to do with a structurally different conception of space-time, which instead of being a continuum would consist of discrete tiny building blocks.

Only a few days ago, reading the article "Using Causality to Solve the Puzzle of Quantum Spacetime" I could understand more what this alternative is about:
"if we think of empty spacetime as some immaterial substance, consisting of a very large number of minute, structureless pieces, and if we then let these microscopic building blocks interact with one another according to simple rules dictated by gravity and quantum theory, they will spontaneously arrange themselves into a whole that in many ways looks like the observed universe. It is similar to the way that molecules assemble themselves into crystalline or amorphous solids."

Computer simulation software is essentially what they use to produce different universe creations starting from small building blocks. Usually they start out with blocks called simplex. What was introduced in this particular approach is an added rule of causality (or time direction):
"Instead of disregarding causality when assembling individual universes and hoping for it to reappear through the collective wisdom of the superposition, we decided to incorporate the causal structure at a much earlier stage. The technical term for our method is causal dynamical triangulations. In it, we first assign each simplex an arrow of time pointing from the past to the future. Then we enforce causal gluing rules: two simplices must be glued together to keep their arrows pointing in the same direction. The simplices must share a notion of time, which unfolds steadily in the direction of these arrows and never stands still or runs backward. Space keeps its overall form as time advances; it cannot break up into disconnected pieces or create wormholes."

It's interesting that if they impose this arrow of time when building their universe they end up with a universe like the one we can perceive: a 4 dimensional one with an arrow of time. Simple ... and makes sense ... although it makes me wonder, are we limiting this way our conception of the world to our human perception? If we were other type of less evolved organism with no sense of time, would we end up building a 3D world just to conform to what our senses would tell us?

Scientists continue to try to find experiments that can shed light over this incredible questions about the nature of the universe. In the words of Janet Conrad: “There’s this cycle in physics,” she says, “where experiment pushes theory and then theory pushes experiment, and I really like the moment in which experiment is pushing theory”—which is what is happening now in the area of neutrinos.
She's basically referring to the Mini-Boo Neutrino Experiment which is studying one of the most elusive particles ever the neutrino. These particles are ubiquitous, actually according to this article: 100 trillion of these tiny particles just passed through your body in the last second. They might be accountable for some amount of lost mass that physicist expect to find in the universe. One of the explanations for this weird neutrino behavior involves more dimensions.

This seems to be a century of questions, not so sure it is one of answers even considering science can only provide tentative relativistic answers.
Long live to the mystery!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What can make a 4yr old beg for a membership

Since her sister is playing (or should I say living) day and night in her first virtual community ClubPenguin, Angelina (4) has been begging 'make me a number' which can be translated as 'make me a member'.

What hooks kids up in this kind of environment:
1. the social component of making friends, chatting, and hanging out, which usually evolves from I have hundreds of friends I don't even know, to a nice organized list of a few buddies I know (some personally from the outside world). We tried other games before, such as Jump start DVDs, and nick jr, etc, but the social thing really takes things to another level. MyePets, only adds to the social component apparently when kids know each other from the outside world, and being so much more on the safer side did not make the trick for Nicole. Combined with phone or skype with real friends I saw it be as addictive as can be imagined.
2. the freedom they feel by living the adult life of earning their money, buying their stuff, going to places on their own (coffee shop, night club, pizza place, etc).
3. Having this early experience of being "adults", in control, learning to spend their money, adopting pets (that would run away if not taken care of) balancing their time between the earning of the coins (games mostly), the spending and living their lives, seems like it could be so beneficial compared with generations that did not have this simulation chance and went all the way to the real thing.

Why is it so exciting to me?
1. I see it evolving into a virtual world where they will do most of the things we are doing outside, such as: watching tv/videos, listening to their music, syncing their ipods, sending emails, having school like activities, checking their cellphone voicemails, texting cellphones, uploading their pictures and videos, buying/selling real stuff.
2. Facebook would become so pale compared with a social network like the one they could build inside their virtual world including their virtual homes (in ClubPenguin their igloos).
3. Today being this a kids software there is all the usual paranoia about safety that we can all understand and be thankful for; but these kids that are playing in virtual worlds today, will not use "flat" software ever again. For them, Second Life type of communities would be just a natural thing. The open architecture of Second Life makes it the perfect virtual world for the future; the place where we all might be conducting most of our business in the next few years.
4. Summarizing, the excitement for me is the usual, having a little glimpse into the future. Imagining how "immersive" these virtual reality software will be in our lives. The kick I could not have using Second Life (I'll give it a second chance soon) I could find in these kids communities such as Club Penguin.

If only some explicitly educational features could be merged so every so many minutes they had to go through some reading/writing/math, it would be just heaven to us parents.