Testing this blog function
I'm testing this blog function to see if it works well. If it does, I hope to move my self-created blog function to here, instead. This will be a lot easier to write, provides date stamps automatically, maintains an RSS feed, etc.! Let's see how it works.


Ok, it looks as if RapidWeaver's blog function has a bug if you set the date manually. That's a bummer, but I'll just prepend each of the old blog entries with the correct date, just so we all know when they were written (which may give some incite into why some of the predictions are so far off!)
Are we alone in the Universe?
Originally written: Dec 11, 2010:
"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." - attributed to Arthur C. Clarke
If we are not alone, then why haven't we heard something already? It very well could be that the distance between intelligent civilizations is simply too far and we simply haven't had the capability to receive the correct type of signals for long enough. After all, we haven't been able to receive radio waves for all that long, really. On the scale of time of the universe, whole advanced civilizations could easily miss each other by millions of years simply because their star got started that much earlier or later than the other civilization. Others who are less than 100 lightyears distant could have seen our signals by now, if they were tuned to the correct frequencies and happened to be looking in the correct direction. Even so, it would take another 100 years or so for any reply to reach us, assuming they have the technology to produce one and that we're listening on the right frequencies and in the right direction at the right time. It could simply be a grand game of chance and we simply haven't be playing it long enough.
Here's another viewpoint I've heard mentioned before. Look at a primitive tribe in Africa who knows nothing about radio waves. Radio waves with all sorts of information could pass through them every minute and yet they simply don't know of its existence! As a matter of fact, satellites are constantly sending whole catalogues of information right through their villages, with lots of information which could easily revolutionize their lives, and yet they know nothing about it at all! What if we're the same with respect to other civilizations? What if their methods of communication (higher dimentions, hyper-space, tachyons, etc., happen be passing right though us currently and we simply don't see it. We're sitting here looking for smoke signals and they're sending radio waves.
How long would an advanced civilization last, however? Maybe they wouldn't usually get to the stage of traveling amongst the stars? Maybe something else happens first and we simply are not old enough to know what that could be? Many people have theorized that maybe an advanced civilization would blow itself up, or destroy itself in some other way, long before they would be capable of making contact with us or anyone else. The movie "Forbidden Planet" talks about one such scenario. But, maybe there's another? Maybe a truly advanced civilization stops producing radio waves after only a few hundred years? After all, sending out radio waves is rather wasteful of energy. Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of the satellite, theorized in a later story about the possibility of a solid ring around the equator with antennas sending and receiving tight beams of information to and from the surface. Even today, scientists are busily working on the idea of beaming information directly to satellites instead of allowing the transmissions to spread out as much as they do currently, in order to save energy.
Maybe a civilization tends to turn inward as it grows older. We, today, are finding that social interactions on the Internet, role playing games, and other forms of virtual reality, seem to be a fascinating and time consuming thing for many people. What if a truly advanced civilization could live inside an advanced virtual reality, becoming whatever they want, living wherever they want, virtually visiting far away places, far away times, even other whole virtual worlds? Would such a civilization really need to seek outside for anyone else? Maybe as a civilization advances it tends to turn more and more inward and thus disappears from the rest of the universe. If this is the norm, then we would stand a really small chance of detecting other civilizations and an even smaller chance of being recognized or visited in any way.
Maybe instead of seeking other life elsewhere in the universe, we should be developing a graph of possible futures for a civilization. We may be surprised to find that only a very small number of possible futures actually result in a civilization which is detectable!

Some comments from the previous blog:
"mike", Date: 2011/01/05
Thanks for your article. I truly enjoy reading and thinking of the possibilities but I am profoundly disappointed that in this day and time of exploding knowledge & abilities in technology & communication so few people seem to be interested in these type of questions. Instead the public obsessions are in which sports teams will win this time or which celebrity is making news. I think we are looking for smoke signals and a newer form of communications just may lead to an inpouring of welcomes (wishful thinking though). Thanks again.
"maureen", Date: 2011/01/05
Detectable by whom, with what instruments? The human eye cannot detect even all physical reality not to mention other possible realities.
Problems with Twitter
Originally written: Oct 29, 2009:
1. Twitter needs meta-data. Using up your reply text area for "#", etc., and now location data is just becoming too restrictive.
Meta-data future?
2. Twitter needs location information associated with each tweet (if it's available or configured into the user agent used) (see [1])

Location info, More Location info
3. Why is twitter restricting message length? They should sell the capability of sending longer messages, thus making money.
4. There's no way to link up replies with the original tweet. Each tweet has a unique number, so this should be trivial, however... see [1].
5. There needs to be a way of specifying that a tweet should go to a "group" of people you have defined, or should be sent to everyone except a "group" of people you have defined. (see [1])
6. Twitter needs to be able to include URL into a tweet via metadata. Why not just use the various services which allow you to shorten a URL? Because it's insecure! When you click on that URL someone else sent in a tweet, you don't know where it'll take you! This is an extremely big security hole! Metadata would solve it because Twitter applications could then display the URL to which you will be taken in the same way they do now in browsers. Since long URLs would no longer use up message text length, including one or more of them would not be a problem.
7. Many companies (and individuals) will follow a person on Twitter hoping that the person will follow them back such that the person will then receive their ads. This is a problem for Twitter because it adds to the overhead on their servers by sending thousands of tweets to such company or individual accounts when they're really not interested. Metadata would solve this by allowing such companies to send out a message which clearly asks the person to follow them and even allows a one-click response to do so! Once again, this could be an additional for-pay service, since mostly companies would be using it. Providing it would save a lot of unnecessary overhead on Twitter's servers as well. Need I also mention that this would address the Twitter "follow-me" email Phishing attack (see the Twitter security article above).
8. Twitter could become the first of a new way of advertising! Imagine being able to actually search out ads for an item, or a type of item, which you would like to buy. If you're thinking of purchasing a new flatscreen TV, imagine being able to search through Twitter messages for any notes about flatscreen TVs, what people liked, what people hated, what deals are out there, and even ads from companies? "Pull" advertising, where the customers actually
want the information instead of more of the same old "Push" advertising which everyone hates.

I'm sure there are others. Anyone want to add a few?

iPhone Tablet predictions
Originally written: Apr 29, 2009:

Ok, I've been thinking about this and reading news, rumors, and other predictions for quite some time, but I think I'd like to make my own predictions about the supposed
forthcoming Apple iPhone Tablet.  First of all, the basic rumor of an Apple Tablet has been ongoing for quite some time.  Apple has said  they're not interested in doing one at this time because they're waiting for the tablet market to settle down.  This is their usual method of operating, of course; wait for the market to show a clear direction, then come in with some small new innovation which truly changes the experience and makes the technology much more useful to more people.  Tablets have never been profitable for any company which has released one.  People seem to think they want one, but in the final analysis, using one is always cumbersome and eventually the product is dropped due to lack of interest.

Let's review what Apple has from the past which they could bring to the table.  First, remember that Apple actually introduced the first version of a "Palm Pilot" long before the Palm existed; the "Newton".  It used handwriting recognition and didn't do it very well, but there are still many people who would swear that the Newton was a wonderful device!  The "Inkwell" software which was used there is still owned by Apple and is actually a current part of MacOS X.  If you plug in a USB tablet device, you'll see it under "Software Preferences".  Apple's "Print recognizer" has also been part of MacOS X since 10.2.  Apple has
many tablet related patents.

Back in 2004, Steve Jobs
referenced a new "Apple PDA".  Many people think this device was simply never shipped.  Others have since related stories about the origins of the iPhone stating that the phone started life as a prototype "Newton" or "Tablet" and later had a phone added as well.  If this last story is true, then the 2004 "Apple PDA" was most likely simply the original iPhone.

So, where are we today?  Apple has a new "Unibody" construction method which seems to be widely recognized as the best way to produce a large, thin, device, such as a laptop; or maybe a tablet.  There's a rumor that
Apple will be using the newly introduced Intel "Atom" chip in a new device.  Could this be a "Larger, 7 x 9 tablet"?  We know that there is a market for a MacOS X Tablet.  One company already produces them by purchasing the MacBook systems from Apple, then modifying it into the first "Modbook".  Apple has been pushing for a patent on an innovative tablet docking station.  There have also, recently, be rumors of a new MacBook Pro 17" which would have a builtin battery such as the iPhone and all iPod models.  Does this make sense for a laptop, especially a large one which would use a lot of power on the large screen and would be expected to perform heavy graphics work?  I don't think so.  Could this rumor be confused and actually be talking about a builtin, long lasting, battery for a tablet device?  That would make a lot more sense.

Finally, there's "
Haptic Feedback".  Many people, including people inside Apple, have been doing research on this for years and it's beginning to finally pay off.  Samsung has a few haptic feedback phones; the "Armani" and the "Instinct".  I've even heard from some people that the "Instinct" could be a real "iPhone killer", mostly due to the keyboard being easier to use because of the feedback.  Apple has a patent on haptic feedback touchscreens.

So, what market would Apple be targetting with a new Tablet computer?  They always have one primary market in mind for any new device.  The device usually appeals to more than the original targetted market, but in order to succeed Apple knows you must have at least one good sized market for which the device is a prefect match.  Well, let's take a look at how well the
Amazon Kindle has done.  Even though the device leaves much to be desired, it generally has been fairly well received.  So much so that Amazon is working on a new version.  Amazon has opened a whole online eBook market with this device.  As a matter of fact, eBooks are becoming so popular that you can get a reader and books for your iPhone as well.  The biggest problem with reading a book on your iPhone is simply the size of the screen.  (Wasn't there a mention above of a larger version of the iPhone?)

Can you see where this is going?  Apple introduces the new "iTablet", based on the same, proven, iPhone OS.  It runs all iPhone applications, including games, which can all be purchased already via the Apple "App Store".  At the same time, this new device is perfect for use around the house because, like an iPhone, it wouldn't need to be charged very often at all, lasting at least 1-2 days, if not more, on a single charge.  It would be the perfect small, take along, device for listening to Podcasts (even
remotely controlling other iTunes machines over the network), reading web pages (easier, especially for older people, due to the larger screen), and, yes, reading eBooks.  By using Haptic Feedback, the on-screen keyboard would have a good enough feel to be very usable, and the larger form factor means the keys would be drawn closer to normal size, allowing touch typing.  It would have a dock station where it would plug in to be recharged while allowing use of any USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, the same as a normal desktop computer.  Finally, Apple would extend the "App" and "Music" store to also include "eBook" sales and would provide an eBook reader (or simply use one of the already existing ones).  The device, being about the same size as a large format paperback book, would be perfect for travelers who read a lot and don't want to take heavy books with them, especially since it would run so long on battery power!  Finally, Apple could do something which would help education by signing an agreement with major publishers to provide eBook format textbooks at a reduced price for currently enrolled, full-time, students!  Since the device would be manufactored using Apple's "Unibody" construction process, it would be sturdy enough to handle being dumped into a backpack multiple times a day.  Finally, students could take notes on a portable laptop which would have enough battery time to last the entire day, and we can say "goodbye" to all of the noise of hundreds of fingers hitting keys, due to touch typing on a completely silent software keyboard with the assistance of haptics.

Can you see it all coming together?  I can.  I hope I'm correct.  I want one!

Let me leave you with a video showing basically what I think Apple is designing. (Of course, this is a much thicker and clunkier version from Microsoft back in 2006.)
Microsoft's Origami revisited?

Why did Apple buy a chip company?
Originally written: May 9, 2008:
Ok, I have to get this one out there before I'm proven right or wrong and I keep thinking about the fact that I haven't written anything on this topic, so let's get it "off my chest" now.
There has been a lot of talk about the recent purchase of the chip fabrication company, "P. A. Semi". Various people have made predictions that Apple is interested in making their own chips instead of purchasing from Intel. There are other wild predictions that Apple is interested in using the new capability in order to produce chips for future iPhones, or other future products, and thus saving money on production and bringing down prices in retail far below what competitors could accomplish.
While all of these predictions may have some merit, they also have problems. I don't really believe that one small chip fab. company can really make Intel clones which run anywhere near as well, as fast, and as efficiently as the true Intel, or even AMD. There's a tremendous amount of knowledge of the internals of the Intel design at Intel, which makes them capable of producing "better" chips (for whatever definition of "better" happens to be their liking at the moment) and producing them a lot faster and more efficiently than any other company. AMD can pull it off these days because they, also, have a long history of producing Intel compatible chips. They didn't have that history initially, and it took them a while to come up-to-speed, but now that they have it, they're doing pretty well. Could P. A. Semi also produce thus chips? Sure, given time and probably a lot more employees and money. Would it be worth while for Apple to do this? I don't think so. Apple needs to spend their time and money on other things such as design, software, building new markets.
Similarly, I'm not really convinced that Apple would be interested in using a chip company to produce new chips for their iPhones. Maybe a smaller, specialized, chips, but not the main processor. I admit that this idea has a lot more going for it than the Intel idea, but I'm still not convinced due to the other arguments regarding investments of time and money into a business which is new to them.
So, what
is Apple planning to do with this new capability? Well, let's look at the big problem which Apple has had for many years now and which still plagues them today; third party hardware. Has anyone read about the latest issues with "Psystar"? Well, the problems with third party hardware actually go a long way back. A long time ago, Apple actually tried out the idea of allowing other companys to build hardware and run MacOS. It seemed "cool" for a while, but ultimately there were problems with compatibility and also simply with "look and feel". Apple likes to make sure the customer has the correct "Apple experience" with all "Apple products", or actually with any product which is perceived as running an "Apple system". Ultimately, if someone produces "crap" and runs MacOS on it, that "crap" is perceived as connected with Apple and reflects badly on them and on their other products. This only makes sense and one need look no farther than some of the "Windows crap" out there so that this is true.
Now that Apple has released the iPhone, their problems are continuing with this new hardware. There are lots of third party iPhone applications as well as third party iPhone knockoffs being sold, mostly in East Asia countries. Apple would really like to have better control of all of this "crap" and disallow unofficial hardware and/or software from working with their products.
I believe Apple is very interested in producing a software/hardware combination which would ultimately lock down each part of their product and put an end to the whole "third party problem" once and for all. With a chip company in-house, they will be able to ultimately produce a small "Apple chip" which can be integrated into all of their products. Their software won't run if the chip is not there and responding correctly, and perhaps the chip would monitor software running on the device and disallow access to memory or to the bus if that software doesn't respond correctly to the chip. Apple will ultimately have the complete control they desire and will be able to put an end to the "third party problem" for good.
Could some other company reverse-engineer the "Apple chip" and produce their own fake Apple equipment? Possibly or possibly not. There are many complex cryptographic systems which could be used, with encodings which continually change with time. There are even methods of reprogramming the chip automatically with each software update. I don't think it would be too hard for Apple to stay ahead of those who would try to break the system.
The final question, of course, is what this will do to Apple's market. Yes, it would go a long way toward guaranteeing the "Apple experience" and securing the end-user systems. However, I believe it would also alienate many "Geek" customers who like to "do more" with their equipment and "extend" the capabilities in various ways. If Apple equipment were completely locked down, I believe Apple would see their market share ultimately decrease.
We'll have to wait and see what happens! It should be interesting!
How the brain works, part 2
Originally written: Sep 10, 2008
Tonight I played nay (middle eastern flute) in a middle eastern music and dance concert at UCSB (Santa Barbara, Ca.,
here's the URL). We had a guest artist, an oud player from New Mexico who was originally from Iraq. (You see, the university is having a middle eastern conference this weekend and the focus is on Iraq. You can read about it linked from the URL I gave above under "Performances".) The guest artist's name was Rahim Alhaj (Here's his web page). He was a really nice person and he plays amazingly well! I love the mellow sound of his oud and the way he plays the strings very softly even while he's going quickly, unlike some other people who strike the strings hard.)
But this isn't what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about is that he told me afterward that when he first saw me sitting on stage during the rehearsal he thought to himself, "I've met this guy before somewhere!" He couldn't get it out of his head that we had definitely met somewhere before. Now, I don't think I've met him before anywhere, but I"m not sure. He, at first, suggested that maybe we had met at some airport somewhere. Well, that's a good bet if it's someone from far away because people meet quickly in airports all of the time while traveling to distance places and then never see each other again. (Someone should write a story about that sometime. About how chance meetings in airports and railroad stations, etc., can sometimes end up changing people's lives and the person who has the effect on someone will never know what effect they had. Very Buddhist, connectedness of everything in the world, etc.) Anyway, he then said what many people say these days, "maybe in a previous life..." Now, how many people who say this really truly believe in previous lives? Probably no more than half, I would think.
So, had we met before? Maybe. Probably not. Yes, I do have my Buddhist moments and thinking of it in that way, I can't say we *didn't* meet in a previous life. But then I also have my Atheist moments (one day I'll have to try writing about how Buddhism and Atheism are compatible and even in many ways the same thing) and during those moments I have what Occam's Razor would say is a much more likely possibility, and it tells you something about how the brain works. (See, I *did* get to the topic finally!)
You see, the brain is primarily a pattern matcher. We see evidence of this visually all of the time. Just think of all of those optical illusions we've all seen since childhood. Many of them deal with how the brain completes a pattern, fills in a missing line, etc. We also have lots of evidence that the hearing brain is a big pattern matcher as well. Think about what happens when you hear the beginning off a song you know. You tend to fill in the rest. Sometimes we hear a song which is similar to something we know and we may say, "I know this song!", only to have another person say, "Ah, you know a similar one! This one is new!" We do it with other senses as well. How many times have you tasted something which tasted familiar but knew you had never eaten it before? Then you realized what the similar item was later. You then tend to think of those two things together even if they're not really related at all, simply because your brain said, "this is like that", "this fits a pattern that I know already". How about touch? Do we do it there? I think so. We might feel some fabric and say, "Oh, that feels like silk!", even though we know it isn't. We don't put it in a category by itself even though we know it's something different. Instead, we try to clump it in with other stuff we already know.
Researchers on how the brain works sometimes call this "clumping". We know, for example, that people can only remember, on average, about 7 things at a time. You can remember more than 7 things fairly easily, however, if you clump some of them together. It's harder to remember 7 random numbers (14, 23, 74, 89, 52, 28, 93) than it is to remember numbers in which you can see a pattern (11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77). This is because, in the first case, you're remember 7 items while in the second case you're only remember three (two digits, both the same, increasing by one).
How many times have you met someone and said, "You remind me of someone I know. I remember. You look sorta like Joe!", or something similar? We tend to clump people we know into categories according to how they look, how they act, etc.
So, my theory is that Rahim probably met someone who looked sorta like me and the two faces were close enough that his mind simply merged the two and said, "we've met before". It's a rather common occurance, actually. But knowing that the brain is always pattern matching, helps you see how such things can happen. It also helps you deal with those times when your brain is tricked by events or items which are so close that your brain claims they're the same (usually only until someone points out how they're different at which point you immediately see the difference and say, "oh yeah, how could I have missed that!"
This pattern matching thing is huge, actually. Once you start recognizing pattern matching and clumping when it's happening, you start to realize that it's happening all of the time in many forms. Habits, for example. (Buddhism would, at this point, mention "karma". When you do something, "good" or "bad", you build up a "habit" of acting that way. When you find yourself in a similar situation again, you will now have a small tendency to repeat the action. If you repeat it, you will then have a stronger tendency to repeat it again when the situation occurs again. In this way we all build up "habits" or "tendencies toward a particular view or action", otherwise known as "karma". There's no such thing as "good" karma or "bad" karma. There's only "karma". If you act the way you want to be, you'll eventually find yourself being that way and it won't be an act.) You see, your brain matches a pattern, fits the next thing into the overall view which you've built up over the years. You can chanage your entire view of the world but it takes a while because you need to break down all of those associations which you've built up. Eventually, you end up with a new world view and you start to fit new experiences, etc., into that instead. It definitely works. I can tell you first hand. But not tonight.
Thanks for reading! I'd be interested in feedback if you want to give me any.
Goodnight and take care!
How the brain works, part 1
Originally written: Jun 3, 2008:
[ The following is a blog entry from a previous blog which no longer exists. I'm moving it here. - raj ]
I want to investigate a topic which I find very interesting and which I firmly believe a large number of people are rather confused about. It's a rather large topic, so it will probably take a while to investigate it fully, but we'll see. I'll give it a start tonight (on the evening of my birthday).
There seems to be a common belief that human emotions and "feelings" are one of our most prized possessions. We've all heard statements such as, "you should follow your feelings," and "love is what makes us human." Well, I'd like to challenge this notion.
First of all, I think many people are confusing two different things here. Many people tend to use the word "feelings" to describe both emotions as well as intuitions. The first quote I mentioned above, "you should follow your feelings," is talking about intuition. It's saying you should pay attention to the unconscious part of your brain; that background processor you have which is constantly trying to analyze the input from your senses, trying to fit things together, make sense of patterns, etc. This is good advice, by the way. The unconscious mind is like free CPU time on a background processor. It can give a lot more thought to events, etc., because it doesn't need to bother with all of the day-to-day thinking which we do. (It's also intimately related to dreams, but more on that later.)
The second quote, "love is what makes us human," is actually talking about a purely emotional response and this is the statement with which I have problems. I simply do not believe that "love" makes us human. I believe that all animals with any higher brain functions at all have emotions. Anyone who has had a pet dog or cat can see this clearly.
Conversely, to what many people seem to believe, I firmly believe that emotions are produced by the lower level reptilian brain and not the higher level ape/human brain, and I have anecdotal evidence. For example, people will sometimes get mad about something and then immediately afterward say something like, "I don't know where that came from." People will also say, "It's like anger just took over and he became like an animal." We've all had experiences where we have suddenly become overwhelmed by emotion, love, anger, fear, etc., and couldn't really control it. Why is it that we don't seem to know where these emotions come from? I'll tell you. We don't know where they come from because they're coming from our lower-level reptilian brain. The response to input is coming from there and then rushing into our higher level brain functions, overwhelming us, and it takes us by surprise.
So, if emotions from our lower level brain, then it would stand to reason that other animals would only have emotional reactions since they lack the higher level reasoning ability of humans, right? Well, look around you and you'll see evidence of this all over. Take some time to study the reactions of various animals and see if you can put yourself into their situation. Try to see the world as something which you don't understand but can only approach using terms as "scary", "friendly", "mad", "happy", etc., and you will suddenly realize that you're reacting in basically the same way as your pet!
Cats and dogs have a very small ability to figure things out but mostly they mimic (learn) what they see. They're reactions to world events are almost purely emotional. This is why we hear about a family dog suddenly turning on someone and biting them, for example. Their brain suddenly produced an emotional reaction which said, "fight!" and they did just that. There's no reasoning going on there. (Right now, my wife is asleep with our cat curled up right beside her. When she leaves the house, the cat gets upset. When she returns, the cat is overjoyed to see her. Those are perfect expressions of "love" and "attachment". Emotions.)
So, my first point in what will hopefully become a long investigation is that, far from being "what makes us human," it's the ability to think and reason which makes us human. Emotions are ALL the lower animals have. We have reasoning ability in addition. Reasoning is what makes us human.
Over the next few days, notice when you suddenly feel some strong emotion and try to figure out what would have triggered it. In most, possibly all, cases you will find it was triggered by some conjunction of experiences of which you are probably barely aware. You will find that the emotion comes to you from somewhere and you can't really pin down exactly why or from where. It seems to arise of its own from deep within. (All of these terms have been used to describe the experience. I'm suggesting that there's a really good reason why. Deep down, we all know that emotions are a simpler, more basic, way of viewing the world and they come from a more primitive part of our brain which has almost nothing to do with our higher brain functions.)
But don't confuse emotions with intuition. There are definitely NOT the same. Animals don't have intuition. They DO have emotions. It's ALL they have.
(So, maybe we need to think again about what we value most as "human", eh?)

a lot of scientists would agree that animals have emotions. (Notice in this article that even the argument "against" agrees that animals have emotions, but simply argues against attributing them with a human-like experience.
After re-reading this article, I think I would change the statement that animals don't have intuition. They do seem to have a form of intuition as well as having an emotional response to what happens around them. What they don't seem to have is higher level brain functions such as logic and reason. Of course, some primates seem to have some of these higher level functions to some degree, but point of the article was simply that emotions come from the lower level parts of the brain, not the higher level parts.