We’ve Moved!

January 23, 2010

In case there is still a single person waiting for an additional post on this side. Actually, I moved a while back, but I don’t use WordPress as my hosting site anymore (although still using it as the publishing agent). You didn’t miss much – it was a very, very slow posting year.

Come visit me over at the new Dragon Tamer.



January 14, 2009

In George Hrab’s recent podcast, he answered a question from a user above whether he would accept immortality if it were offered him. I thought his answer was interesting.

Anyone who really knows me knows that I plan to live forever. I totally hate the idea of dying – of ceasing to exist as a thinking entity. In that regard, I cannot entirely side with George (who was not entirely sure he would be into the idea). I would far rather live as long as I wanted to – even if (perhaps especially if) it means thousands of years – and die when I felt I had done everything interesting that I could possibly do than to leave this life at any earlier time.

George raised related issues, though, which I have thought about on and off over the years. It all revolves around three points of view – those of our current mind (the “meat”), the new mind (digital), and everyone else in the universe (others).

Machine intelligence
A common theme in sci-fi and near-future predictions is the ability to “download” (although, really, “upload” is a more appropriate term) our minds into a machine of some sort – computer, robot, whatever – and thus live happily forever.

My problem with this is that our mind is a collection of the entire contents of our brain. If that brain is emptied, our mind is gone. A copy may exist in that machine, but that copy is not, as far as our meat body is concerned, our mind. The meat mind will, for all intents and purposes, consider itself to be dying and will cease to exist as soon as the transfer is complete. The digital mind will think of itself as the “original,” because it will have all the thoughts of the meat mind up to and including the transfer, so it will feel as though it experienced a continuous existence. The rest of the universe will consider the digital mind to be “original,” because it will behave and react exactly as the original mind.

So, from a universal point of view, including that of the digital mind, a transfer from meat to machine would appear to produce the original consciousness in the new medium. However, to the meat, it will still feel like dying – the original consciousness will be gone and no amount of copying will ever change the fact that you, as the original meat, will have died.

Transporter disruption
This brings up a concept I thought of some time ago relating to Star Trek. From everything I understand about the “science” behind transporters, and without going too deep into semi-nonsensical Trekker speak, a transportee’s body is captured in a matrix, disassembled and then reassembled in the new location. (Keep any discrepancies between that simplistic explanation and Trekker lore to yourself – I really don’t care all that much.) From my point of view, the original transportee’s mind is destroyed at the first disassembling. Therefore, every person in the Star Trek universe who has ever been transported has been killed – there just happens to be a new entity with the same mind replacing that person. From a universal point of view, there has been a full transfer. From the original meat POV, death has occured. However, nobody notices it because everyone who goes through the transporter has died, leaving only perfect (or sometimes not-so-perfect) copies behind.

Ultimately, the best way to immortality without risking the meat/digital dichotomy presented above is to do it piecemeal. Don’t replace the brain, make modifications to it; change just a bit at a time via memory expansions, processor upgrades, sense modification, whatever the options are. If I just increase my memory, my mind is not destroyed. If it just works faster, nothing has otherwise changed. Over time and many changes, it is entirely possible that only digital will be left, but I am confident that during the entire process, there is no discontinuity of the original “meat” consciousness. It is the only form of digital immortality that would be acceptable to me. (Hurry up, science!)


Ringing in 2009

January 5, 2009

Not much of note since the last post. We are recovering from the holidays (and what a long vacation for the children that was!) and the house is beginning to look more like normal – not that that is necessarily a good thing, but at least the Christmas decorations are largely absent.

This household eagerly awaits January 20th and the hoped-for changes the event will cause. (It would definitely be nice not to be despised by the majority of the industrialized world again.)

Life in a Fishbowl

Life in a Fishbowl

Now that I have found most of my desk, school work of a sort begins again – I have research to restart, much to learn and studying for a dreadedly-anticipated Physics GRE to manage. This all will likely result in 2-3 days per week at GMU, because I have well-convinced myself that I cannot do serious work at home unless I am already totally in the grove (which will probably happen once I get seriously programming in IDL). It’s just way too easy to get distracted.

I also hope to get a lot more exercise this year, including regular krav maga sessions now that I no longer have a class schedule in conflict with training. We’ll see how that works out!

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

In the trickling way which will probably continue, here is another image taken from my Washington Photo Safari. In this one, I set up with my back to the reflecting pool (where I took this photo) and aimed at the area we had just left – the WWII memorial and Washington monument. I liked the setup, especially with the monument reflecting in the glass-smooth pool in the foreground. I definitely need to make my way back down to the monuments at night, alone or with another enthusiast, so I can take my time and get the shots I really like (instead of needing to stick with a group and being under a deadline).


Commentary on Pseudoscience

December 28, 2008

Tim Minchin performed at this year’s 9 Carols for a Godless Christmas show at the Hammersmith Apollo. It is a beat poem (‘Storm’) commenting on various pseudoscience topics – homeopathy, alternative medicine, etc. Very humorous, exactly the right tone (and not safe for work/children, especially after the halfway point). The sound quality is terrible, but text is provided throughout.

Via Splendid Elles, which was via Skepchick, which was via Pharyngula.

Update: The original video got removed/reuploaded or something. New link embedded and provided here.


Undergraduate Days Gone By

December 20, 2008

This past semester was my final one as a physics undergrad. I had two last classes to take officially – one had to be Sr. Physics Lab but the other was an elective which could (and, by the opinion of various advisors, should) have been Quantum Mechanics but I chose to take Introduction to Astrophysics instead. The benefit of being a (putative) adult is that I do not always need to take the advice of others, even if it really is a good idea. The administration of the physics department has corrected that oversight and QM is required for anyone using the latest course catalogs.

Senior Physics Lab, taught by Dr. Karen Sauer, was quite interesting as I had hoped and expected it to be. It consisted of two 30-45 minute lectures followed by 3 official hours of lab work each week. We could work additional hours if we wanted to, except for the one experiment that required a radioactive source only the instructor was permitted to handle. Each student had to complete four projects/experiments over the semester, generally as a solo project (except for one or two projects considered difficult/complicated enough to duo). For my projects, I chose the Zeeman Effect, Plasma Diagnosis, Compton Scattering and Optical Pumping. The projects themselves ranged from fairly easy (ZM) to bothersomely difficult (PD). The write-ups, however, were the real challenge. Dr. Sauer demanded (after the first draft) fairly rigorous, publishable-level papers. Whether she got anything close to that level is a question for her, but I tried. My papers ran 1600-3300 words and were graded 9 out of 10 on average. My grade for the semester: A

Introduction to Astrophysics, taught by Dr. Shobita Satyapal, was a mixed bag. On one hand, the topic is incredibly interesting to me and getting some in-depth information on how the universe works was fascinating. On the other hand, I felt the class was easier than perhaps it should be. Granted, it is a survey course (like nearly everything else in the undergrad physics world), but I think we could have spent more time on the equations of astrophysics beyond the mostly-unproved basics. On the other hand, if it had been very difficult, I likely would have just complained about that, so I should just be happy with the A+ grade I received.

Even though I only took two classes officially, I still tried to squeeze in some more unofficially, just to keep things active.

Astrobiology, by Dr. Summers. I’ve taken this before and since I am nominally doing research for him and really enjoyed the class, I regularly attended this class. It was great two years ago and even better now. Class attendance has doubled and his slides have become even more awesome with time. It’s still fun. I took one exam without studying for it (did not realize it was being offered) and scored an 85, which was pretty good considering I usually forget things immediately after the semester ends.

Electromagnetic Theory – I sat through maybe half the classes of this one, hoping to pick up something I had missed in my first horrid class. However, the instructor was teaching off the same exact notes (word for word, example for example) as the ones used in the class I took officially and the teaching seemed under par.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics was every bit as complex as I anticipated, but I attended and took notes as well as I could. I kept up fairly well with the topics until we reached Hermitian operators, at which point an entire class went by which sounded like a completely foreign language to me (the result of doing no outside work on the class). At that point, I realized I would be wasting my time attending further classes and used the time to extend my lab work or go home early and see my children before bedtime.

And so my undergrad career comes to a close with a cumulative GPA of 3.96. Now that I am not distracted by regular classes, I hope to be able to dig deep into my research, probably by taking my laptop to school one or more days a week and concentrating on things there, since I will always find a distraction if I stay at home. The grad school situation is currently fuzzy – my intent is to continue my work at GMU with Dr. Summers, but they now require applicants to take the Physics GRE and the next test is not held until just before the deadline for applications, so I may end up with a dead semester or two until I can get the paperwork completed, unless I can get a waiver to skip that portion given the faculty’s familiarity with me over the past several years. Time will tell.


The Holidays Approacheth…

December 19, 2008

…along with all the busy-ness and (occasional) stress that entails.

The semester is over, along with my undergraduate education. I will post more thoroughly on this semester’s endeavors once my final grades are in. It was an enjoyable semester, though.

A few random bits of info and pictures to fill in the gaping void of my postings:

Korean War Memorial Soldier at night

Korean War Memorial Soldier at night

I mentioned last time the photo class I took on October 10th with the Washington Photo Safari and dropped in a picture of the Lincoln Memorial. Here is another image from that evening, a haunting photo of a soldier displayed at the Korean War Memorial. I converted it to gray scale to add to the starkness, although some of the color pictures are not bad, especially one with the white balance set to make the sky look blood-red, boosting the war imaging.

We held the girls’ birthday party at the new Pump-it-Up in Leesburg in October. After arriving, I realized I had left my camera at home. Drop off various humans and party devices, turn around and drive all the way home to pick it up. I missed half the party, but did get a few decent pictures near the end. Most will not make it onto the web (I don’t publish childrens’ pictures, thank you), but I did finesse a nice one of Joe apparently descending into hell.

For their science class, Alpha & Beta needed to track the phases of the moon for a month. They missed a night due to cloud cover (and many more due to forgetfulness), but it cleared up perfectly after bedtime, so I decided to see what I could pull off with my camera and the long lens. I was impressed with the quality I got, especially hand-held.

December 8th Moon

December 8th Moon

During the Thanksgiving feastage at my parents’ house, I snapped a lot of pictures, including one I promised Kim would make it on to Facebook. (Yes, Kim, it is there now.) Finally, for now, we got fully into the Christmas spirit a little later than usual thanks to a few delays, but still in plenty of time. The outside is not yet decorated because it has been unreasonably cold (with no snow!) and/or rainy. I still have almost a week left to do something useful outside!

Here is our tree, before Maestro dismantled most of the lower layers (I never saw a cat – kitten or otherwise – dive into a tree before).

Christmas Tree 2008

Christmas Tree 2008


Dusting Things Off

November 23, 2008

I need to get my butt in gear and post here at least once a week – if I go longer than that, it is all too tempting to let it slide just a little bit longer, and so on.

The semester continues apace, with some small modifications. I had abandoned the Quantum Mechanics class I was auditing. I hadn’t been keeping up with the reading and she finally passed beyond my ability to comprehend anything. (Although apparently it has regressed somewhat into more intelligible terminology.) The fact that it was such a late class helped in the decision – it’s nice to get home before 7 pm. E&M (also auditing) is only rarely attended – I usually find something better to do at that time (like eat). She is still teaching pretty much straight from the old notes I already have, so I am not missing much.

That leaves me still auditing Astrobiology (always cool) and taking my normal two classes, Sr. Physics Lab and Intro to Astrophysics. I’m working on the last of the four lab projects now (trying to get ringing to happen in optical pumping of Rubidium). After a quiz tomorrow, all that is left in that class is to hand in the final paper sometime before December 10th. Astrophysics has another homework assignment left and the final exam.

The photography class I took with Washington Photo Safari (night shoot at the monuments) was pretty cool. Sometime after the semester ends, I hope to do some tweaking of the pics and get them posted. In the meantime, here is one of my favorites.

Lincoln Memorial after sunset, shot across the reflection pool.

Lincoln Memorial after sunset, shot across the reflection pool.

Maestro, still very sick

Maestro, still very sick

In other news, we adopted a new kitten relatively recently. He was found in a feral colony by an LRR worker. She got him some to her vet for some medical treatment and then we adopted him, naming him Maestro (looks like he’s in a tux) and substantially more medical work (mites, an ugly case of worms, very serious upper respiratory infection, very low body weight and a few other issues).

Happily, he is in much better shape now (I was very worried for a bit, especially when he was sneezing blood) and has more than doubled his weight from a paltry 1.8 lbs to 4 lbs since we got him. Of course, that means he is well enough and old enough for neutering, but it beats starving to death in a feral colony.

Maestro ... not the brightest star in the sky?

Not the brightest star in the sky?

Of course, now I have to wonder if he has all his marbles. This was not an action shot. He had his tongue out like this for about 5 minutes.

Maestro gets along very well with the youngest of our other cats, Nikki, and plays, chases and roughhouses with her regularly. He is tolerated by the old man, Ziggy (who occasionally starts to play before he remembers his dignity). The old lady, Stardust, won’t have any of it, though and goes into serious hissy fits whenever he gets too close. However, since she is a total coward, I am not worried about any major catfights happening anytime soon.

Finally, I will leave you with a little bit of nature. After a particularly violent late-afternoon drenching, I spotted a truly brilliant rainbow lighting up the eastern sky. Even the deep purple side of it was very clear. Unfortunately, cameras do much less well with rainbows than eyes do (especially in the hands of inexperienced photographers like myself), but I did the best I could on this one.

Rainbow over Great Falls

Rainbow over Great Falls