Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Big Necessity

This is an important book describing what the catastrophic lack of simple tech means to 2.6 billion people.

"The disease toll of this is stunning. Eighty percent of the world's illness is caused by fecal matter. A gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, and 100 worm eggs. Bacteria can be beneficial: the human body needs bacteria to function, and only 10 percent of cells in our body are actually human. Plenty are not. Small fecal particles can then contaminate water, food, cutlery, and shoes—and be ingested, drunk, or unwittingly eaten. One sanitation specialist has estimated that people who live in areas with inadequate sanitation ingest 10 grams of fecal matter every day.

Diarrhea—usually caused by feces-contaminated food or water—kills a child every fifteen seconds. That means more people dead of diarrhea than all the people killed in conflict since the Second World War. Diarrhea, says the UN children's agency UNICEF, is the largest hurdle a small child in a developing country has to overcome. Larger than AIDS, or TB, or malaria. 2.2 million people—mostly children—die from an affliction that to most westerners is the result of bad takeout. Public health professionals talk about water-related diseases, but that is a euphemism for the truth. These are shit-related diseases."

The world should not be this way.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Memex

"The real heart of the matter of selection, however, goes deeper than a lag in the adoption of mechanisms by libraries, or a lack of development of devices for their use. Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it. In minor ways he may even improve, for his records have relative permanency. The first idea, however, to be drawn from the analogy concerns selection. Selection by association, rather than indexing, may yet be mechanized. One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory."

Sounds like the web doesn't it? Taken from the seminal article As We May Think, Vannevar Bush created the notion of hypertext and connectivity 50 years before the web was invented.

IMHO, Einstein's peer in every sense of the word.

Head Bangers Unite

"The authors found that there is an increasing risk of neck injury beginning at tempos of 130 beats per minute related to the range of motion in the head banging style.

The average head banging song has a tempo of about 146 beats per minute. The authors suggest that at this tempo head banging may cause headaches and dizziness if the range of movement of the head and neck is more than 75º. They report that at higher tempos and greater ranges of motion there is an additional risk of neck injury.

So could someone render themselves unconscious while head banging? Unlikely, say the authors, unless they are banging their head on the stage or connect with someone else's head.

And what of two of the most famous head bangers, Beavis and Butt-head? When head banging at a tempo of 164 beats per minute to "I Wanna be Sedated" the range of motion of Beavis' head and neck is about 45º, say the authors, so he would be unlikely to sustain any injury. But the news for Butt-head may not be so rosy. Preferring to head bang at a range of motion of 75º, he may well experience symptoms of headaches and dizziness."

For your listening pleasure, here is I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones.

Don't Get Spore! :)

Don't get Spore, it's a time killer to the max. I NEVER play video games but Spore is different. The hard part is impressing other species to gain allies in order to advance. Very tricky stuff here to be sure. The cute little darling above is Leopardswarm, a fast, strong predator with smarts. He "aint" too pretty or smart, for that matter, but he does survive.

Addendum: Leopardswarm has advanced to tribal status :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

ED & Then Some

"The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills."

You CANNOT make this up. :)

Chaos Incarnate

Absolutely terrific post from the NY Times on Chaos & Cancer...

"A striking feature of many cancer cells is that the DNA in their chromosomes is all jumbled up. Chunks of DNA containing one or more genes have been ripped out of their chromosome and reinserted in a different place. Other lengths of DNA have been transferred to a different chromosome altogether."

"One of the rearrangements disrupts a gene called RAD51C which is involved in mending serious chromosome breaks, those in which both strands in the DNA are disrupted. The impairment of double strand break repair could be a major cause of all the other rearrangements, the researchers suggest."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Smoke & Mirrors

When I look at this Dilbert, I realized this one, in a very indirect but telling way, shows how profound the disconnect is when people try to explain just what money is and how it's used in today's world. Like the disjointed conversation in this Dilbert, the cognitive dissonance on this fascinating subject resembles the one on obscenity whereby the definition never seems to fit but the old "I know it when I see it." rant applies whenever a politician tries to invoke censorship to gain more political power by "protecting the innocent" from this most dreadful plague on society. As per obscenity, the slipperiness of definition applies to money as well because what it is (and how it's used) depends on the party or parties who interact with this most mysterious of items.

"Money is anything which is accepted as a medium of exchange and it can be classified into the following terms:
  1. Barter (Pre-Money)
  2. Commodity Money (medium of exchange/food/metal et. al. )
    'Metal is a storehouse and a measure of value.'
  3. Receipt Money (forerunner of checks - a written receipt that enables the owner of deposited coins in a vault to withdraw the coins at any time.)
  4. Fiat Money (paper money decreed legal tender, not backed by gold or silver. 'US money is fiat money')
  5. Fractional Money...is paper money which is backed by up to only a portion of the face amount. (see fractional investment banking to learn more.)
    LAW: Fractional money will always degenerate into fiat money. It is but fiat money in transition."
To learn more, read The Creature from Jekyll Island or view the author's interview below.

To get more information about $, type Fed in the BRT search box and hit Search. The end result will amaze you.

Addendum: "While technically and legally the Federal Reserve note is an obligation of the United States Government, in reality it is an obligation, the sole actual responsibility for which rests on the reserve banks...The government could only be called upon to take them up after the reserve banks had failed." - Paul Warburg (A Founding father of the Fed)

In other words: The Federal Resrve notes constitute privately issued money with the taxpayers standing by to cover the potential losses of the banks which issue it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I was helping out a good friend in setting up his brand new iMac, a process I have done several times before for Apple systems I have had over the years and noticed, once again, what attention to detail really means. From carrying the box to configuring the system, I was continually struck by how nuanced the Apple product truly is. The box opened with ease, the protective plastic bag, designed to keep scratches at bay, had a nice feel and the tape holding the keyboard and mouse together during it's trip to the customer released it's grip without the need of scissors. The machine itself had enough heft to it that bespoke of good materials used in the building of the product and when booted up and linked to the web, it simply worked.

The guts of the machine are the same as any decent Windows box (I use Windows as well as Macs in my real job.) but the experience of setting up an Apple computer always strikes me as being different, which translates to quality, a concept well addressed by Robert M. Pirsig, a writer I have long admired as being one of the few who really knows how do this most difficult craft with elegance and grace.

His first book, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, instructs one to see quality as an undefinable essence that just "is" as life is just "is" when viewed through the prism of Zen.

In Lila, this attempt to define quality (and to experience it) becomes the central locus of the book because wasting one's time on anything less is not acceptable as one moves toward old age.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


IMHO, Orwell would have loved Dilbert...

"5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. "

Or to quote Catbert... "Does any of that mean the same as firing idiots and cutting the budget?"

I can hear George laughing at this one. I know I am.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Visualization 101

Seeing how the quantum world works is the ultimate in frustration as subatomic particles do things that "don't make sense" in relation to the "calm" classic world in which we live, until now.

"For the first time, a detailed description on the making of Sanders’ animation—Solid State Quantum Computer in Silicon—was published this month in the New Journal of Physics. This issue is devoted to the leading uses of visualization in astrophysics, biophysics, geophysics, medical physics and quantum physics and Sanders is one the guest editors for this issue."

To see the clips, click here. (Note, These are Quicktime files. To download the Apple free QT player, click here.

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.” - Sir Arthur Eddington

To see more of the great invisible, click here.

See what I mean?

Slumdog Millionaire

"It’s a virtuoso feast of filmmaking by Danny Boyle, but it’s also the perfect fairy tale for our hard times. The hero labors as a serf in the toilet of globalization: one of those mammoth call centers Westerners reach when ringing an 800 number to, say, check on credit card debt. When he gets his unlikely crack at instant wealth, the whole system is stacked against him, including the corrupt back office of a slick game show too good to be true.

Just when we thought that reality couldn’t hit a new bottom it did with Bernie
Madoff, a smiling shark as sleazy as the TV host in “Slumdog.” A pillar of both the Wall Street and Jewish communities — a former Nasdaq chairman, a trustee at Yeshiva University — he even victimized Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity with his Ponzi scheme. A Jewish financier rips off millions of dollars devoted to memorializing the Holocaust — who could make this stuff up? Dickens, Balzac, Trollope and, for that matter, even Mel Brooks might be appalled."

"No one knows, do one?" - Fats Waller

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Black Swan

Question: What do these events have in common? Bush - 2000 - Florida, 9/11, JFK Assassination, the internet, 1929, 1987 & 2008 market crashes, rogue waves and the 50 Billion Dollar Ponzi Scheme

Answer: They're Black Swans /highly improbable events that carry great impact.

"Banks hire dull people and train them to be even more dull. If they look conservative, it’s only because their loans go bust on rare, very rare occasions. But (…)bankers are not conservative at all. They are just phenomenally skilled at self-deception by burying the possibility of a large, devastating loss under the rug."


"Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ….I shiver at the thought."

To followers of quantum, chaos and Murphy's Law, this book relates because no intelligent person accepts the fact that reality can be predicted. (Except for self proclaimed experts such as economists, financial advisers, governments and corporations etc., etc. who refuse to accept this irrefutable fact.).

The law of initial conditions rules and aggregates of initial conditions which makes up reality means that making educated guesses about anything is a crap shoot at best. See James Gleick as reference point. "Guess what caused the expensive crash of the Ariane 5 in 1996. And what does it say about software design?"

The most original part of the book is Nassim's take on history being a vehicle that "looks forward" as history, as everything else, will  always be a set of incomplete initial conditions that attempts to describe why a particular event happened as it did. What even more damming is the fact History is written by the winners.

And yes Virginia, there is a black swan. :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Day...

Even though the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still has gotten mixed reviews, (The original TDESS is beloved.) the notion of man being a virus is not far fetched at all given we are the only species that knowingly pollutes the environment at global levels in order to "improve our lot in life". On the tech side, the film basically works, especially regarding Gort, the nanotech/silicon entity that is truly majestic and frightening at the same time.

Both flicks resonate, the original with nuclear concerns brought about by the cold war, the latter with the environment and the spectre of global warming.

Interestingly enough, an author who, I think, got inspired by the first TDTESS was Arthur C. Clark as he wrote two masterpieces that dealt with the environment and with advanced civilizations. In The Deep Range, the issue was man's right to kill whales as Clark sensed that cetaceans were intelligent even though, in the book, "earth's population is fed principally from the sea--on whale products or from plankton farms."

In Childhood' End, the circumstances directly relate to The Day..."Childhood's End explores humanity's transformation and integration with an interstellar "hive mind" or Overmind. It also touches upon such matters as cruelty to animals, man's inability to live in a utopian society, and the apocalyptic concept of The Last Man on Earth. The 1953 edition of the story begins at the height of the Cold War, some thirty years after the fall of the Third Reich, with attempts by both the United States and the Soviet Union to launch nuclear rockets into space for military purposes, threatening imminent doom for the planet."

Now that I have seen and read all the material quoted in this article, the question I keep asking myself is, "What is the survival rate of civilizations in this universe?" because at the rate we're going, we may not make it.

Size 10

'Nuff Said

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

First Steps

This is one of the best thought grams depicting creativity ever put forth. The image will draw you in forever, something not surprising as the author of said art work is Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse and engineer extraordinaire who thinks big things about mankind and tech.

Also speaking of big things, Adobe might have a biggie by the name of Zoetrope, a cool and sophisticated information linker that uses time as the weapon of choice to enable users to tease out skeins of information from the ephemeral web. (Click here to get a PDF & the QT talking about the tech behind this most interesting app.)

Now, combine this with semantics and the road to Oz beckons.

For more information on semantics, click here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What were they thinking?

MARKETING 101: Don't do a promotion deal when one organization is valid while the other is not.

To whit..."Some complained that the zoo, which receives public support through a tax levy, should not become involved with a private museum dedicated to the teachings of the Bible’s Book of Genesis. Others said a scientific institution shouldn’t link itself to a place that argues man once lived side by side with dinosaurs.

“They seem like diametrically opposed institutions,” said Dr. James Leach, a Cincinnati radiologist who e-mailed zoo officials about his concerns. “The Cincinnati Zoo is one of this city’s treasures. The Creation Museum is an international laughingstock.”

The lights are on but nobody's at home.

Why Detroit (& the US) Don't Get It.

When one does a little research, interesting facts come to light. For instance, alcohol can power cars without a problem as seen by Brazil telling the Big Three to "flex" or else.

"Flex-fuel" vehicles, which run on any combination of ethanol and petrol, now make up 77% of the Brazilian market."

And this video graphically depicts another amazing property of hemp besides that of making rope or getting one pleasantly "toasted".

Or this where two designers have built very cool vehicles running on compressed air.

"Same as it ever was." - Talking Heads

Predicting the Future

When viewed in the light of quantum theory,

and Murphy's Law, any organisation, person or government thinking they can predict the future, can't.

A Keeper

Just got mine, a NASA Climate Change Widget.

We are running out of time.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Just had to show some particulars regarding the $8.5 trillion the US Government is going to give away, courtesy of Seeking Alpha.

Any questions?

For more info on just how big this amount of money truly is, click here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Sense of Perspective

The NY Times graphics shows the details of the $7.76 trillion dollar commitment but an article from The Big Picture shows the perspective of just how huge the bailout truly is.

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion

• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est),
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $851.2 billion
World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion,
Inflation Adj
usted Cost: $3.6 trillion

TOTAL: $7.52 trillion

Subtract $7.52 trillion from $7.76 trillion (The total government commitment [thus far] on the bailout) and you will see that the 7.76 trillion exceeds the total amount of money spent on the largest projects the US has ever done by 24 billion dollars.

The perfect storm is here.

Update: $8.5 trillion is the new government pledge or the equivalent of "half of the entire economic output
of the U.S. this year.

(The $8.5 trillion now exceeds the big project list by $74 billion.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Going Mobile/The OLED Era Begins

Going Mobile will never be the same.

9.7 Trillion & Counting

BRT was wrong (again). It's not just 7.76 trillion dollars gone, it's now 9.7 and counting. The pix above is out of date but it's the thought that counts, right?

"The stimulus package the U.S. Congress is completing would raise the government’s commitment to solving the financial crisis to $9.7 trillion, enough to pay off more than 90 percent of the nation’s home mortgages

The $9.7 trillion in pledges would be enough to send a $1,430 check to every man, woman and child alive in the world. It’s 13 times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office data, and is almost enough to pay off every home mortgage loan in the U.S., calculated at $10.5 trillion by the Federal Reserve.

We are in such deep sh*t. If I felt up to it, I would calculate how many box cars it would take to handle 9.7 trillion dollars in $100s. The weight would also be staggering. To see how much volume and weight 15 billion dollars takes up, click Show Me the Money.

Dipity - The BRT Timeline

This Says it All

This says it all for the BA and the bailout.

Any questions?

Form Factor (II)

This is a picture of a material that will change everything about computing. It's Graphene, the wonder material that does amazing things with electrons and light. The inhibiting factor to leveraging graphene was the ability to manufacture it cheaply until now...

"Graphene is created when graphite — the mother form of all graphitic carbon, which is used to make the pigment that allows pencils to write on paper — is reduced down to a one-atom-thick sheet. Graphene is among the strongest materials known and has an attractive array of benefits. These sheets — single-layer graphene — have potential as electrodes for solar cells, for use in sensors, as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and as efficient zero-band-gap semiconductors."

...the researchers developed a method of placing graphite oxide paper in a solution of pure hydrazine (a chemical compound of nitrogen and hydrogen), which reduces the graphite oxide paper into single-layer graphene.

Such methods have been studied by others, but this is the first reported instance of using hydrazine as the solvent. The graphene produced from the hydrazine solution is also a more efficient electrical conductor. Field-effect devices display output currents three orders of magnitude higher than previously reported using chemically produced graphene.,,

"We have discovered a route toward solution processing of large-scale graphene sheets," Tung said. "These breakthroughs represent the future of graphene nanoelectronic research."

What this means for computer storage borders on the fantastic...

"What distinguishes graphene from other next-generation memories is the on-off power ratio – the amount of juice a circuit holds when it's on, as opposed to off. "It's huge — a million-to-one," said Tour. "Phase change memory, the other thing the industry is considering, runs at 10-to-1. That means the 'off' state holds, say, one-tenth the amount of electrical current than the 'on' state."

"Current tends to leak from an "off" that's holding a charge. "That means in a 10-by-10 grid, 10 'offs' would leak enough to look like they were 'on.' With our method, it would take a million 'offs' in a line to look like 'on,''' he said. "So this is big. It allows us to make a much larger array."

Tour said the new switches are faster than his lab's current testing systems can measure. And they're robust. "We've tested it in the lab 20,000 times with no degradation," said Tour. "Its lifetime is going to be huge, much better than flash memory."

Best of all, the raw material is far from exotic. Graphene is a form of carbon. In a clump it's called graphite, which you spread on paper every time you use a pencil. "

The Singularity is Near

Click here to see an earlier BRT blurb on Graphene

Morbid Curiosity

As much as I distrust the Fed, the Fed of New York has posted an interactive map showing the relative delinquencies of CC and mortgage debt in the US. Check it out because it shows, in real time, why the debt bomb matters.

Forgotten but not Gone

There's an interesting article on Science Daily titled Forgotten but not Gone, How the Brain Relearns.

"Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology have been able to show that new cell contacts established during a learning process stay put, even when they are no longer required. The reactivation of this temporarily inactivated "stock of contacts" enables a faster learning of things forgotten."

The brain leaving tracks, as it were, reminds me of Theseus who used a ball of string to navigate his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur at Knossos on the island of Crete.

Following this notion of time saving connectivity, other scientists are using fMRI to see the striking similarity of thought patterns of memories past and imaginations about the future.

"Psychologists have found that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain at work, they have observed the same regions activated in a similar pattern whenever a person remembers an event from the past or imagines himself in a future situation. This challenges long-standing beliefs that thoughts about the future develop exclusively in the frontal lobe."

"Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future"
- Steve Miller. - Fly Like an Eagle

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hanging by a Thread & Reaching 300

It seems we are all hanging by a thread, a thread of nanotubes that allow cells to communicate with one another.

"Mammalian cells could also be doing the same.Even more speculative is the idea that the development of organs could be influenced by tunnelling nanotubes. It is not well understood how organs "know" how big they should get, or the exact shape to take. "These are all open questions," says Gerdes. He speculates that if the cells in a given organ were connected by nanotubes, then
these connections could help establish a feedback mechanism that provides the necessary information for the organ to grow to the right size and shape."

Interestingly enough, these nanotubes were discovered accidentally, something akin to how penicillin was discovered.

"HAD Amin Rustom not messed up, he would not have stumbled upon one of the biggest discoveries in biology of recent times. It all began in 2000, when he saw something strange under his microscope. A very long, thin tube had formed between two of the rat cells that he was studying. It looked like nothing he had ever seen before.

His supervisor, Hans-Hermann Gerdes, asked him to repeat the experiment. Rustom did, and saw nothing unusual. When Gerdes grilled him, Rustom admitted that the first time around he had not followed the standard protocol of swapping the liquid in which the cells were growing between observations. Gerdes made him redo the experiment, mistakes and all, and there they were again: long, delicate connections between cells. This was something new - a previously unknown way in which animal cells can communicate with each other."

"Originally noticed by a French medical student, Ernest Duchesne, in 1896. Penicillin was re-discovered by bacteriologist Alexander Fleming working at St. Mary's Hospital in London in 1928. He observed that a plate culture of Staphylococcus had been contaminated by a blue-green mold and that colonies of bacteria adjacent to the mold were being dissolved. Curious, Alexander Fleming grew the mold in a pure culture and found that it produced a substance that killed a number of disease-causing bacteria. Naming the substance penicillin, Dr. Fleming in 1929 published the results of his investigations, noting that his discovery might have therapeutic value if it could be produced in quantity"

Believe it or not, BRT has posted it's 300th article, not bad for a blog started over a few beers with two of my best friends.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Tracy Kidder wrote a great book about tech where "artists" will do almost anything to create something of significance.

"West invented the term, not the practice — was "signing up." By signing up for the project you agreed to do whatever was necessary for success. You agreed to forsake, if necessary, family, hobbies, and friends — if you had any of these left (and you might not if you had signed up too many times before). From a manager's point of view, the practical virtues of the ritual were manifold. Labor was no longer coerced. Labor volunteered. When you signed up you in effect declared, "I want to do this."

I refer to "Soul" because of a recent NY Times piece titled A Computing Pioneer Has a New Idea, an article describing the introduction of a new kind of super computer created by Steven Wallach, a hardware geek of genius who was one of the players in Kidder's book.

"One of the venture capitalists grew frustrated with Mr. Wallach’s repeated criticisms (of startups who just did not understand the programmin issues of SC) and said to him, “All right Mr. Bigshot, what would you?”

Two weeks later, Mr. Wallach had a new idea. He had long been fascinated with a chip technology called Field Programmable Gate Arrays. These chips are widely used to make prototype computer systems because they can be easily reprogrammed and yet offer the pure speed of computer hardware. There have been a number of start-ups and large supercomputer companies that have already tried to design systems based on the chips, but Mr. Wallach thought that he could do a better job.

The right way to use them, he decided, was to couple them so tightly to the microprocessor chip that it would appear they were simply a small set of additional instructions to give a programmer an easy way to turbocharge a program. Everything had to look exactly like the standard programming environment. In contrast, many supercomputers today require programmers to be “heroic.” “The past 40 years has taught us that ultimately the system that is easiest to program will always win,” he said."

This kind of elegance (& perseverance) comes through with Carver Mead's work as well...

"Finally, Foveon has combined the best of what both film and digital have to offer. This is accomplished by the innovative design of the three layer Foveon X3 direct image sensor. Similar to the layers of chemical emulsion used in color film, Foveon X3 image sensors have three layers of pixels. The layers of pixels are embedded in silicon to take advantage of the fact that red, green, and blue light penetrate silicon to different depths – forming the first and only image sensor that captures full color at every point in the captured image."

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. " - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tequila Sunrise

Now, doing shooters may have a bit of bling involved...

"The key is that diamonds aren't made of anything special - the carbon in the Cartier stones could just as easily have been lead in a child's pencil. The important factor is how the atoms bond to each other. The Mexican team use a Pulsed Liquid Injection Chemical Vapor Deposition (PLICVD) system, which does exactly what it says in the name. Small squirts of a carbon-bearing liquid is pulsed into a special chamber, where it is evaporated into vapour which deposits its carbon as a diamond film onto a heated metal plate.

All you need to do is choose the liquid. Obviously you need carbon, but the other elements in the chemical cocktail are important...

Lucky, then, that tequila distillers have already done it. They carefully prepare the C2H6O of Ethanol, which you might notice has all three of the ingredients we want (with C in the minority), then dilute it further with distilled water (some more pure H2O goodness). One of the researchers, Luis Miguel Apátiga (soon to be known as Hero of Alcohology), bought a bottle of tequila to test if this would work, or if the extra agave-based additives would scupper the process. The answer: no it doesn't, and the team are now researching how other brands of tequila affect the procedure (and presumably high-fiving each other over finding a way to put "Crate of tequila" on a research expense form)"

Not to be outdone, Physorg has their take on this serendipitous bit of R&D as well.

"To dissipate any doubts, one morning on the way to the lab I bought a pocket-size bottle of cheap white tequila and we did some tests," Apátiga said. "We were in doubt over whether the great amount of chemicals present in tequila, other than water and ethanol, would contaminate or obstruct the process, it turned out to be not so. The results were amazing, same as with the ethanol and water compound, we obtained almost spherical shaped diamonds of nanometric size. There is no doubt; tequila has the exact proportion of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms necessary to form diamonds."

Shooters anyone? :)

Time To Go

It's time for the Fed to go. Why? Just ask Bloomberg because Bloomberg is demanding, via a lawsuit, that Bernankie (Fed Head) and Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) tell us where two trillion dollars of our money has gone. For a detailed view of Bloomberg's Freedom of Information lawsuit, click here.

"The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return."

The ironic part about this is even though this is our money, we have to pay the Fed interest to "borrow" it to fund the bailout to unknown parties because the government doesn't have the right to print it's own money, the Fed does.

It becomes stranger still that the Fed is a private entity run by bankers for bankers, something that should become rather evident to the most obtuse observer based on the current actions of Paulson and Bernanke, two officials who have sworn oaths to serve the public good.

To add insult to injury, consider this..."WASHINGTON — Nineteen banks taking taxpayer money from the Treasury Department have spent $32.4 million lobbying the federal government during the first nine months of this year, their lobbying disclosure reports show.

Combined, the Treasury is investing in the banks $159 billion from the $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress last month. None of the banks has indicated it plans to stop lobbying.

NO CHANGE: Despite crisis, Merrill Lynch still lobbying

And this, "When the restructured deal is complete, taxpayers will have invested and lent a total of $150 billion to A.I.G., the most the government has ever directed to a single private enterprise. It is a stark reversal of the government’s assurance that its earlier moves had stabilized A.I.G

PS, AIG's worth about 7 billion

Addendum: Here's an update on Bloomberg vs the Fed:

"Bloomberg requested details of Fed lending under the Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit against the central bank Nov. 7 seeking to force disclosure of borrower banks and their collateral. Arguments in the suit may be heard as soon as this month, according to the court docket. Bloomberg asked the Treasury in an FOIA request Jan. 28 for a detailed list of the securities it planned to guarantee for Citigroup and Bank of America. Bloomberg hasn’t received a response to the request.

The Bloomberg lawsuit is Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 08-CV-9595, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)."

The Perfect Storm looms.

Quick Update, click here to get Bloomberg's latest salvo.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Chirality is a big deal because without it, life on this planet could not exist.

"When used in the context of chemistry, chirality usually refers to molecules. Two mirror images of a molecule that cannot be superimposed onto each other are referred to as enantiomers or optical isomers. Because the difference between right and left hands is universally known and easy to observe, many pairs of enantiomers are designated as "right-" and "left-handed." A mixture of equal amounts of the two enantiomers is said to be a racemic mixture. Molecular chirality is of interest because of its application to stereochemistry in inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry, and supramolecular chemistry."

In Physics World, researchers may finally have an answer as to why nature prefers "left Handedness" in organic molecules.

"Amino acids, for example, can be either right- or left-handed mirror-images of each other. However, they are always left handed when produced by living organisms. This is important because chirality can affect how a molecule takes part in the chemical reactions crucial for life. Scientists believe that two external agents could be responsible for chirality in biological molecules: circularly polarized light and spin-polarized electrons."

Chirality in nature was discovered by Louis Pasteur, the brilliant French scientist who ",,,was singlehandedly responsible for some of the most important theoretical concepts and practical applications of modern science."

Interestingly enough, Louis Carrol used Pasteur's findings in Through the Looking Glass to ask the cosmic question, "`How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink.' "

If one wants to extend this concept of chirality to infinity, perhaps Cern's take regarding Antimatter will suffice. I know it does for me.