Resolutions, For Real

The last couple weeks have been a bit rough. It’s not so much the work as the uncertainty that comes with being a noob in a big project, and I’m an impatient noob. So some dark soul-searching happened, as well as some resignation, which eventually led to a few actual resolutions.

For one, some plans that I’d made for my future turned out not to be viable — a bummer, which might yet leave some other options open. But one of the more challenging things about my current situation is  all the gaps between what I’m doing right now, what I want to do in the future, what else I think I want to do in the future, what I’m expected to do, and what I’m too lazy to do. I suppose the issue right now is that I’ve no clue what I want. This is a dilemma of luxury that I’ve obviously created for myself, because I’m in a good job (a great job, actually, where I’m learning an incredible amount) that pays well and I’ve more or less settled into how I’m living right now.

But I have to look around me and see what some of the people I love are doing, and the difference between them and me is palpable. They’re all either exactly where they want to be, or are planning meticulously for it. And they’re all extremely good at what they do; they’re passionate about something, and it shows. I’ve no clue what I’m passionate about.

So my one real resolution for this year is to figure out what I’m good at, where I want to be in a year’s time, professionally and personally, and how to get from here to there. Vague, I know, but … baby steps. The one scenario I don’t want to find myself in, in ten years’ time, is in this exact same situation.

Whew. Deep thoughts.

In other news, I finally bought Dune today. I don’t know why in the name of omniscient entities I thought I could walk through Barnes & Noble to get coffee from the cafe without interacting with books. Ten steps towards the new releases, one glimpse at the latest Orson Scott Card, and I was lost. But I have a policy to buy only books that I know I love, so Dune it was. I can never remember if I already do have a copy. Either way, I bought it, and am already reading it. Now I have the delicious dilemma of deciding between Dune and Doctor Who for my dinner companion, and I can’t believe how alliterative this sentence is.

The interesting thing about Dune is… well, there are lots of interesting things. But I wish I could have somehow sneaked it into my thesis, because my god I love this story. I need to print out the Bene Gesserit litany against fear and frame it up somewhere. It’s such a marvelous mix of plot and character, science and religion, society and politics. The cool thing is, even though Dune has nothing to do with AI or robotics or automata, it’s entirely overshadowed by the sheer lack of such things. The whole point of the Butlerian Jihad is that machines that think like humans are abominations; instead, humans control their minds and bodies in precise, machine-like ways. “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man’s mind“, according to their version of the Bible. It would’ve been really interesting to see how/if elements of AI could’ve featured in the book, anyway.

Last weekend, Gsj and I went to check out the local bookstore near where he lives, which turned out to be a very good idea indeed. There’s something fiercely lovable about second-hand independent bookshops — they don’t have the gloss of new books to draw the uninitiated in, and they really are old and musty and possibly depressing. But there were some gems in there, for both lulz and edification.

…. which of course was right next to…

The latter was really rather extraordinary — it included all sorts of things like making your own electric shock machine and building stoves… or something. I believe the Boy Mechanic was published in the 1930s and the Girls Handicrafts in the sixties, though I can’t be sure about that.

Maybe I should get into this Instagram business. It would probably all be pictures of books in various seductive poses, and then it would get weird.

So maybe not.

110 Nanoseconds And The Thing That Never Was

It starts with this post about temporal cloaking which I seem to have encountered about two months too late. It describes how a team at Cornell has developed a mechanism to slow time around an event, creating a bubble of spacetime around the event and thus making it seem as though it never happened. Another post which I just discovered explains a few more theoretical details about the phenomenon, this time from the Imperial College of London. You can find the original paper here.

Reading through the paper, it doesn’t sound very impressive (but then again which dry scientific paper ever does?) especially because the maximum time they could temporally cloak anything turned out to be 110 ns; in theory, that could go up to 120 microseconds.

The number of sci-fi scenarios that could arise from this literally blow my mind. I was thinking about some of this stuff when I encountered a commenter’s thought that made my ideas far more concrete: this might be new technology, but imagine applying it to the screening of signals. Data is encoded in signals, and you don’t have to make all data vanish for it to have an impact on the veracity or accuracy of your information.

Just think about that for a second.

And after that V asked me what the hell the point of 110 ns as any kind of measure was, because it’s not immediately obvious what that does. So I tried to create a scenario for her.

  1. The average PC processor these days operates at about 4 GHz (actually closer to 3.5, but whatever).
  2. That means that the period of a single clock cycle is about 0.25 nanoseconds.
  3. 110 ns translates into 440 cycles of 0.25 nanoseconds each.
  4. Now, consider the number of cycles it would take for a single instruction to execute.

Here’s where I hit a stumbling block. I’m supposed to know this sort of thing because I’m a computer engineering student, apparently, but a) I wasn’t particularly stellar, b) I have the worst memory and c) I’m very software right now. I crowdsourced the question on Facebook and was firmly put in place for asking such a ridiculously wishy-washy thing (my commenter was right, anyway — there are too many things involved in comp arch to every answer a question like that without knowing the entire, exact background).

Incidentally, I believe the DP512 we used in microcontroller classes operates at 16MHz, which is a far less impressive 62 ns clock speed. Not much help there.

But if you want to consider something as basic as a fetch-decode-read-execute, you’re thinking of at least 4 cycles, maybe ten if you factor in subrouting jumping and the different kinds of memory access… I think. I’m probably still simplifying this far too much into uC territory.

Of course now the question is why the hell I’m torturing both myself and others about this piece of technology. And the answer is: possibilities! Sci-fi! I’m not talking about cloaking entire people or underground cities cloaked in time or anything (although that would be fabulous). I’m talking about bits of data just carefully concealed. I swear to god DoD probably had massive funding in this project.

Here’s what I typed to T, while we were discussing the possibilities:

well you’d have a system of signals, but some of them would run through these lenses
and the lenses would turn on and off at random times, so that no one suspected any patterns
so what you’d get is sort of… lost packets, noise?
if you couldn’t record the events i mean
so it would be secret in the sense that you couldn’t record it and it would sound like noise but it would be RIGHT THERE
under your nose!
distributing information!
 …. actually why stop there
if you could mess with the signals propagated through security cameras
then all you get is a series of nonsense images, if anything, through that camera
it’s an entire system of rewriting history

And what I typed to V:

you could lose valuable calculations within those 440 cycles
by which i’m thinking like… stock market calculations? fluctuations in the market?
i need to ask some comp arc people about this
i mean you don’t even have to lose ALL your data
you just need to lose SOME data
for your final data to totally fail and not make any sense

Of course this is stupidity, in some ways, because it’s not likely they have a portable micro version of these lenses that they can simply insert where they want to. But here’s the thing about sci-fi — you have license to imagine and hope for the future.

Or possibly dread, if we’re talking about a totalitarian system that jacks into records to rewrite history and itself. 1984, guys — doubleplusungood.

Science: it’s like magic, except it works!

In other, almost just-as-startling news, have a look at the Crazy Camouflage Cephalopod:

The Seventh Colour

Gideon and his new, somewhat irascible friend are already deep in conversation by the time Font gets back to their table with three mugs of dubious looking substance called coffee. Font can’t understand why someone would want to drink something that tasted bitter and made you shake all over, much less why someone would want to build houses that sold the stuff and encouraged you to buy more, but he supposes time travel broadens the mind.

Continue reading “The Seventh Colour”