segunda-feira, dezembro 10, 2018

Railway Barons: "Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder" by Caroline Fraser

I am well into “Prairie Fires” by Caroline Fraser, a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder who is best known as the author of the Little House children’s books. I have not read these books nor have I seen what I believe to have been a rather saccharine TV series “The Little House on the Prairie.” I have a more general interest in the early settlement of the American West and the complex set of relationships between the government which wanted the west populated but which was largely indifferent to the plight of early settlers who had been encouraged to go and farm in what would now be considered hopelessly unsuitable locations, the railway barons who strongly boosted these desert areas in order to gouge money out of the hapless immigrants (which many of them were) and the pioneers themselves whose optimism in the face of ludicrous odds is a miracle of hope over expectation.

Ingalls Wilder lived until 1957 having become famous and comfortably well off, but her early life, part of which was lived in a mud cave dug into a river bank, is an extraordinary tale of transition from extreme poverty and isolation to mid twentieth century affluence.

For a working definition of the term “The American Dream” you could do worse than read Caroline Fraser’s book. She also gives substantial and sympathetic consideration to the oft-betrayed and dislocated Native Americans whose traditional lands were routinely confiscated even after the government had signed treaties pledging to keep the settlers away.

For the last word on the broken dreams of westward pioneers you need Jonathan Raban’s “Bad Land.” An unqualified masterpiece.

sexta-feira, dezembro 07, 2018

Saviours: "The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation" by Darrell M. West

Imagine the scene: It's 2025 and a school student is visiting their careers adviser.

Student: Hey there, so do you have any advice for me in choosing a career?
Adviser: Well, we've monitored your performance over the last 13 years of schooling, your interests and abilities and used our software to predict which roles you would be best suited to.
Student: Ok, so whats the result?
Adviser: We are terribly sorry, but it seems you are what is commonly called a 'spare'
Student: Umm..a spare?
Adviser: Yes, a spare, or spare part. There is simply no job you can do that cannot be done better, cheaper and more reliably by a robot. Economically, you are unemployable, for ever.
Student: Oh. I'm somewhat disappointed.
Adviser: If it makes you feel any better, its completely normal. 60% of all students are spares, and we expect that percentage to rise to 80% over the next decade as the robots are improved.
Student: So what next?
Adviser: Have you considered prostitution? Its legal now and their is still a premium for human participants?

I cant wait for driver-less cars!
I can go to sleep on my way to work!
Make breakfast!
Make babies!

Could we programme these evil machines to not be evil? Maybe get them to come up with some good solutions to all these problems? Maybe they could be our saviours, if we weren't so negative?
 Anyhow, I think it's time the World Government confiscated all the land and rented it all back. We simply have to stop using work, salary, pay or money (at all) and become a robot-backed, egalitarian leisure economy. Of course, The working class machines will have to work longer hours for inferior batteries.

But it may take a revolution or three.

All civilisations peak and then fall right? Anyone feeling peaky?

quarta-feira, dezembro 05, 2018

Similar Story Archs: "Past Tense" by Lee Child

I have said elsewhere that crime fiction seems to flourish in times of stress, such as our era now. I fully expect more great detective fiction in the near future as it is one of the few genres that can show society from top to bottom: the detective, investigator or whatever, in many of the best novels, talks to both the monied and the moneyless at the same time against a puzzling foreground as broad and as complex as the society, or the human beings, that carry out and solve seemingly deeply baffling crimes at the outset of any great novel.

I would say Agatha Christie wrote cosy crime novels. The culprits in her novels are usually quite posh, have very reasonable motives, are no more unpleasant than anyone else, act out fiendishly clever plots, and are expert enough actors to throw all but the most intelligent detectives off the scent. She wrote puzzles that weren't worth working out imho. Sorry to be harsh, but tastes differ. Speaking tastes, the first Lee Child book I read was good. But any others I read by him were more or less the same story repeated. Weird that he gets away with it. Er...Reacher righting wrongs? It’s a genre; of course, the story archs will be similar. If Lee Child has fooled you twice it’s YOUR fault. I finally gave up on Lee Child's Reacher series four chapters into "The Midnight Line" which was, in a word, atrocious. The background to the novel was appallingly researched and I found myself getting increasingly annoyed as I couldn't quite believe this was the same author that had produced pretty much up till then ridiculously unputdownable thrillers. The Killing Floor had the most ingenious plot, but the other two had different but clever plots. Raymond Chandler's plots had a lot of similarities: femme fatale, a sweetheart, a massively built henchman, a criminal overlord, several beatings up, coshings or Micky Finns, a confusing plot but the femme fatale's at the bottom of it. It doesn't matter, when you sign up for a detective series, you anticipate a certain amount of repetition in style. What I don't want to read about is another serial killer, who can break into any building and not leave any clues. Having said that, life is stranger than fiction if you read the book about Gianni Versace's murder. That the murderer got away with all his previous ones for so long, makes you wonder (police ineptitude mostly). And then I found myself reading the latest Lee child "Past tense"...WHAT is literature? FUCKED if I know (*Keep moving fellow readers of this review; don't make eye contact with the writer of this review...*)

domingo, dezembro 02, 2018

N-Dimensional Topology: "Cosmosapiens" by John Hands

Me: 'Whatever happened to Occam's Razor? This stuff makes Plato's Forms look like one of the most sober and parsimonious metaphysics imaginable! I would like to point anyone interested in this stuff to an amazing non-performance of a book called "Cosmosapiens" by John Hands. Hands has the nerve to subject all these theories (the Big Bang, Inflation, multiverse theories and much more) to the actual evidence we have, rather than arcane mathematical models that try to extrapolate from it in various directions, or else wild speculation (or both). None of them come out well. The universe looks as if it is much other than these theorists try to paint it. Here's a clue: multiverse theories usually try to blunt the implications of something called the Goldilocks Effect. What sorts of conclusions is Hands trying to avoid?'

Socrates: 'There is a world of difference between the Multiverse as mathematical probability explaining phenomena here and the Multiverse as topic for speculative writing. Your problem is with the latter, not the former. Speculation produces much tosh but allows creativity to flourish. Meanwhile, maths is maths, physics is physics and we slowly explore the data and the consequences of the data. But unless you are familiar with and can manipulate 22-dimensional matrices in your head, you are just somebody n the crowd watching a game you cannot fathom and relying on commentary.'

Me: 'As indeed are you by such a measure, unless you can perform those feats yourself! But seriously, do you think ANYONE can do 22 dimensions in their head? Moreover it's not required - even the most arcane string theorists only run to about 13, from memory. Moreover, one can get fairly well educated about such matters without just 'relying on commentary', so I stand by my comments, and question whether "the Multiverse as mathematical probability explaining phenomena" is seriously distinct from sheer speculation. The nature of the various notions of the multiverse makes that a serious question.'

Bottom-line: 'Bullshit! There is no alternate version of me on any plane of existence that listens to Rick Astley, watches reality TV, shows clear signs of having latent psychic energy, eats smashed avocado on toast, or prays to any god. Being just a regular 'Joe' (in this case 'Manuel'), I have always sensed the multiverse hypothesis had validity. If true, and the number was infinite and consciousness was unbound by the physical, is it possible every time we make a personal decision we move to another universe that supports the decision? Just sayin'. WTF did I do wrong to end up in this Trump crappy universe?'

quarta-feira, novembro 28, 2018

M87: "Einstein's Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable" by Seth Fletcher

“The so-called hair-theorem maintains that they can be entirely described by three parameters: mass, angular momentum, and electric charge. They have no bumps of defects, no idiosyncrasies or imperfections – no ‘hair’.”

In “Einstein's Shadow: A Black-Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable” by Seth Fletcher

“There are actually three principles that come into conflict at a black-hole horizon: Einstein’s equivalence principle, which is the basis of general relativity; unitarity, which requires that the equations of quantum mechanics work equally well in both directions; and locality. Locality is the most commonsense notion imaginable; everything exists in some place. Yet it’s surprisingly hard to define locality with scientific rigour. A widely accepted definition is tied to the speed of light. If locality is a general condition of our universe, then the world is a bunch of particles bumping into one another, exchanging forces. Particles carry forces among particles – and nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, including force carrying-particles. But we know that locality sometimes breaks down. Entangled quantum particles, for example, would influence one another instantaneously even if they were in different galaxies. […] And after all, the whole reason black holes hide and destroy information is because of the principle of locality – nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and therefore nothing can escape a black hole. If some sort of non-local effect could relay information from inside a black hole to the outside universe, all was well with the world.”

In “Einstein's Shadow: A Black-Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable” by Seth Fletcher

“The 20th century produced two spectacularly successfully theories of nature: general theory of relativity, and quantum theory. General relativity says the world is continuous, smoothly evolving, and fundamentally local: influences such as gravity can’t travel instantaneously. Quantum theory says the world is twitchy, probabilistic, and non-local – particles pop in and out of existence randomly and see to subtly influence one another instantly across great distances. If you’re a scientist who wants to dig down tot eh deepest level of reality, the obvious question is: which is it?”

In “Einstein's Shadow: A Black-Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable” by Seth Fletcher

Fascinating stuff but once again inspires some readers with more questions:

1. The silly one. Is it possible that Black-Holes are actually a life-form simply moving through space? 
They have found a way to attract, trap and ultimately consume what they need to grow.

2. What is the nature of the material ejected (by M87) as opposed to the material ingested?

3. If different, what material, if any, has been left behind inside the Black-Hole, M87?

4. Probably also silly. If the jet of material is shooting out from the Black-Hole (M87), does this mean that this material is traveling faster than the speed of light? We have been told that even light cannot escape from a Black-Hole;

5. What about the sexual connection? (This question always pops up when talking about Black-Holes. Why?).

My answers:

1. Yes very silly. Complete nonsense;

2. Ionised matter accelerated to relativistic speeds. It's not stuff being ejected from inside the black hole itself it's matter and energy ejected from the excretion disc. Black-holes theoretically can evaporate over time via hawking radiation in the form of thermal energy;

3. Not really understood however since no information about what has fallen into the black-hole is retained so in that sense it has to be different;

4. Nothing can travel through space-time faster than the speed of light. Actually light has nothing to do with it. It's the speed of causality;

5. Spout I must. Since I first learned about black-Holes many eons ago in my teens, they've seemed most compelling as emblems of obscenity (literally, off scene) and extremity, paralysis and paradox. There is some kind of human projection into understanding the universe (vide Willard Quine on under determination of scientific theory), and black holes seem like a high watermark of human interest sneaking into developing hypotheses using mathematical and objectively measuring tools. How can that happen, you ask? Somehow, the full proof wall develops a crack and human reality--you might liken it to Kierkegaard's infinite interest, without his theological bent--rushes in. (Another powerful example from classic lit is the door opening at Garcin's demand in “No Exit” by Sartre) Black-Holes are teasingly and luridly sexual, gapingly and irresistibly dangerous, appallingly and exquisitely frightening, puzzlingly and perturbingly unfathomable. The bizarre end of the empirical quest through modern history is something you "a priori" can't directly see. Our math either has to make uncomfortable moves to accommodate them while retaining some sense of a "finite" universe, or give up the ghost of such a universe and joyride the slippery slope into metaphysics. They have a human face--I'm wagering more than they do not. As so many on the social sciences side of the fence see it, reality is social reality, and that seems truer as I age. There!

With my reviews of physics’ books, I get all sorts of questions regarding Black-Holes. Because I can’t be bothered to answer them as they trickle in, here’s a summation of some of them (with my answers to the best of my knowledge):

1. Do we have any evidence regarding the interactions of black-Holes?
Answer: There is speculation that at least some forms of 'gamma ray bursts' (intense but short term bursts of radiation high energy radiation detected by satellites) may be due to colliding black holes formerly in binary systems. Some bursts are probably due to binary pulsars so it is possible some arise from colliding black holes. Surprisingly nothing more dramatic than an even larger black hole is theorised to develop after the collision;

2. How does space-time behave when two black-Holes interact at a distance? Can this interaction provide interesting ways to move through space-time: without getting trapped or ripped apart?
Answer: The options for using variations on black holes as gates for space travel don't look hopeful but are under theoretical investigation;

3. How do black holes influence matter-energy in our solar system, beyond maintaining our orbit around Sag A? Can we exploit this interaction in any way?
Answer: The black-Hole at the centre of our galaxy isn't that influential. It is rather lightweight compared to the total mass of our galaxy. If it disappeared today we would still travel around the galaxy's centre. Whether the black hole there formed there and drew mass progressively around it to form the galaxy, or whether it formed elsewhere and drifted into the centre isn't certain, though the former case is favoured. But its mass is relatively insignificant compared to the rest of the galaxy - it just happens, for whatever reason, to be at the centre;

4. Is it possible that what we see as the death of many solar systems results in the birth of a universe?
Answer: Vide point above;

5. Can the preponderance of black-Holes account for some of the missing mass of the universe?
Answer: Black-Holes, of a smaller size than those in the centre of galaxies, have been postulated as the 'missing mass' but the required number hasn't been found using a number of strategies. It is more likely the missing mass is due to currently undetected new fundamental particles. But you never know....

Bottom-line: As a side note, until all of the information is properly correlated, and all error sources identified, namely with the data coming from the South Pole Telescope, we won’t get any direct confirmation of the existence of Sagittarius A* or M87 black-Holes via radiation imaging. So, hold your horses.

domingo, novembro 25, 2018

ΔE Δt ≥ ℏ/2: "Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum" by Leonard Susskind, Art Friedman

I was on a train the other week and I was sitting opposite Einstein who asked me if I would mind changing seats because he liked to see where he was going for a half a journey and then he liked to see where he had been for the other half of the journey and I told him I didn't mind changing seats and I asked him if he minded me asking him if he was dead and he said, "When?"

Why was the universe in such a low entropy initial condition? As many have pointed out, that might be even more unlikely than random macroscopic decreases in entropy. Also, if the universe had a low entropy initial condition, might it have a similar boundary condition at the other end? If so, then someday, entropy will start to decrease!

The public is always excited about quantum mechanics, and consequently there is a potential for careless journalists to exploit that, by mentioning all the exciting parts (e.g., quantum teleportation - people often think this 'spooky' phenomenon violates special relativity), but omitting all of the constraints (e.g., the fact that non-random information in quantum teleportation is actually transmitted at the speed of light or even less). The old Carl Sagan quote is very relevant on all things quantum (and throughout the totality of human thought, in fact):

“Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves.”

I show that, within a quantum mechanical framework, all phenomena which leave a trail of information behind (and hence can be studied by physics) are those where entropy necessarily increases or remains constant. All phenomena where the entropy decreases must not leave any information of their having happened. This situation is completely indistinguishable from their not having happened at all. In the light of this observation, the second law of thermodynamics is reduced to a mere tautology: physics cannot study those processes where entropy has decreased, even if they were commonplace. Meaning: "The past exists only insofar as it is recorded in the present."

Problem: what about phenomena which "leave a trail of info" (say 100 bits) behind, but (going in the reverse time direction) leave a trail of info (say only 50 bits) behind? Plainly it can be "studied by physics" in either direction, and also the "past exists" in either direction. So, no, it wasn't a tautology. But anyway, plausibly there is something wise here (and for that matter, plausibly there was something wise in H. Everett's many worlds interpretation from the 1950s); I just think all this stuff is basically speculation and not rigorous. Maccone uses words like "I will make these ideas rigorous" but that is bunk. There is not a single theorem and proof in the paper, it is all "proof by example" and by assertion (e.g. "the eventual correlations in all macroscopic systems are practically impossible to control and exploit" he asserts, with zero justification). Non-rigorous arguments are ok, but falsely saying they are rigorous, is not.

What really puzzles me in the realm of probabilities is that events with an infinitesimal chance of happening do occur: The ball hitting the gate post instead of going goal, the coin falling on edge and into a crack instead onto the infinite floor space around, or bird`s poo on my car and not on the other hundreds of cars around mine. The interesting point is that although the probability of entropy decreasing events, and other physical events, is infinitesimally small, it is NOT zero and therefore just might occur. Interestingly is that one cannot measure x and p simultaneously for a quantum particle. So we cannot know if a particle doesn't have x and p values at the same time. In the Bohm (ontological) interpretation, particles have defined paths which cannot be known accurately. 

The vacuum and ΔE Δt ≥ /2 (c.f. Δx Δp  /2); why not have definite energies, but which cannot be measured, in the same sense? It seems there is ambiguity in the meaning of what's going on in the vacuum and perhaps looking at all interpretations of QM would help (or not!).

I find the meaning of what's going on here very difficult because one is importing classical physics ideas, time, energy, position, momentum into quantum phenomena. You can calculate with it all and build computer chips etc. but the meaning??? I still believe a version of one of the "hidden variables" interpretations like Bohm's will prove to be a better understanding of what’s going on at the Quantum level. There is no real evidence that there are discrete packets that form particles in EM - rather the discrete packets are the atoms in our measuring instruments.

The "hidden variable" idea (e.g., "the photon DOES have a well-defined position and momentum, we just can't measure it") was around from the beginning of quantum theory, but it was discounted in the 60s and by many experiments since (c.f. Bell's Theorem in Becker’s book). It's a complicated one to explain, but the gist of it is that you can send a photon through three polarized screens, one of which (at least) should stop it if it has a well-defined polarization. It doesn't however, the photon seems to be able to flick back and forth between DIFFERENT polarisations in between each screen. It's complicated to get your head around, but the evidence seems to show there are no hidden variables, it's not an artefact of our measuring systems; it’s just the way the universe is. If you don't mind spending a little time scratching your head, it is well worth watching the first QED lecture that Feynman did in New Zealand. It's advanced stuff, but Feynman does have a way of explaining things that I find extremely helpful. He also helpfully advises viewers at the very start of the lecture that they will probably not "get" most of it, but “not to worry about it.”

Teachers don't spend enough time on the particulars of the slit experiment.  What EXACTLY is used to measure the photons on the back screen?  What EXACTLY causes the slight randomness of the photons going thru ONE slit?  Is it the frequency shift of photons coming out of the "laser", is it the human error in designing a perfect laser shooter?  Is it the photons nicking the inner sides of the slit?  And then in the advanced notion of the slit experiment which talks about measuring WHICH slit the photon goes thru, which alters the results (from quantum mechanical, back to mechanical expected results), how is the slit-choice ACTUALLY measured, perhaps the device is affecting the result? Also, I think the fluid physics dudes should always chime in on slit experiment presentations with talk about carrier-waves, which after many, many decades STILL hasn't been proven wrong.  

Physics teaching is so bad nowadays, and so one-sided, new students get bad education, thinking they know something, when in fact due to being presented the questions and solutions wrongly, the education system has actually created a barrier for those trying to ADVANCE human knowledge.  If teaching something, like the way Susskind does in this book, do it right, do it completely, and spend some actually time on it, rather than trying to get to a pre-determined endpoint. Could Susskind have given us a more objective visualization of quantum mechanics if we had an interactive emergent process unfolding photon by photon? This idea is based on: (E=ˠM˳C²) ∞ with energy ∆E equals mass ∆M linked to the Lorentz contraction ˠ of space and time. The Lorentz contraction ˠ represents the time dilation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. We have energy ∆E slowing the rate that time ∆t flows as a universal process of energy exchange or continuous creation. Mass will increase relative to this process with gravity being a secondary force to the electromagnetic force. The c² represents the speed of light c radiating out in a sphere 4π of EMR from its radius forming a square c² of probability. We have to square the probability of the wave-function Ψ because the area of the sphere is equal to the square of the radius of the sphere multiplied by 4π. This simple geometrical process forms the probability and uncertainty of everyday life and at the smallest scale of the process is represented mathematically by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle ∆×∆pᵪ≥h/4π. In such a theory we have an emergent future unfolding photon by photon with the movement of charge and flow of EM fields. This gives us a geometrical reason for positive and negative charge with a concaved inner surface for negative charge and a convexed outer surface for positive charge. The brackets in the equation (E=ˠM˳C²)∞ represent a dynamic boundary condition of an individual reference frame with an Arrow of Time or time line for each frame of reference. The infinity ∞ symbol represents an infinite number of dynamic interactive reference frames that are continuously coming in and out of existence (this is just wishful thinking on my part…lol).

sábado, novembro 24, 2018

XXXVII St. Cecily's Lisbon Choral Festival

(Our choir in a red box)

(My beautiful blue bracelet we've received in the festival) 

(the artists...)

After 5 weeks of rehearsals, three of the chants that I like the most we sang today (tenors, as always, shining bright...):

("O cordeiro que foi imolado"; composer: A. Cartageno)

("Cordeiro de Deus"; composer: Teodoro Sousa)

("Glória"; composer: A. Cartageno)