Archive for the “News” Category

I had the misfortune to read something on Facebook that sent me off on a rant.  Here is that rant.

We were given RULES not guidelines about the exams we set as Lecturers at the University. And these rules stated that the mean of the class HAD to be at the 50% level, and if your results deviated significantly from this you had to explain how you managed to screw up, and what you would do next time to make sure this didn’t happen again. I kid you not. This was a Russell Group University, and it was (and is) common practice amongst other top U.K. Universities too. Is this the way to teach at the University level, or is this just a way of maximising the numbers of bums on seats for 3 or 4 years given a lackluster and mediocre student intake? I certainly did not have the luxury of this Idiocracy approach to education when I was an Undergraduate. I entered Sussex University with a Higher National Certificate in Applied Physics from Oxford Polytechnic and I had Distinctions in all subjects – so I thought I was pretty shit hot. At the end of my First Year at the University of Sussex I got a 2:2 mark. I was completely devastated, but it showed me the level that was expected of me. So what did I do? I worked my butt off for the next two years and nearly blew my brain and ended up with a First Class Honours Degree that actually meant something. What would have happened if Sussex had taken the Idiocracy approach to setting exams? Well I probably would have still ended up with a First – but I would have understood about a 1/10th of what I ended up knowing, and I would have been about a 1/10th as useful in all the jobs I had following graduation. End of a Grumpy Old Man’s rant.

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Unfortunately it appears that it is physically impossible for there to be a quantum computational aspect to the brain.

For a while I thought that perhaps the “conscious” (i.e. classical computer) part of the brain could act as the “observer” and by an “entangled Quantum Zeno effect” it could make the decoherence time of a brain quantum computer sufficiently long to be physically possible.  The Quantum Computer part of the brain would correspond to the “sub-conscious”.  Sadly, a discussion with perhaps the greatest theoretical Quantum Physicist on the planet shows that this is not viable :(  It therefore appears that there is NOT a quantum computational aspect to the brain.

And just today the bloody obvious hit me like a hammer.  If there WAS a quantum computational aspect to the brain – then why would we be stymied by the 2-slit experiment?  And more importantly why would Feynman have been able to say that “nobody understands Quantum Mechanics”?

Looks like the brain is a massively parallel classical computer, still it gives very impressive results!!

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A while back I was driven to write about the nonsense regarding our particle accelerators creating a Black Hole, or some other exotic particle that will destroy the Earth.

And now it seems I have to do the same thing all over again regarding this Singularity business, now that Stephen Hawking has decided to comment on the subject.

We really do seem to be living in the Golden Age of the Idiocracy.  Because some retard, or possibly a 10-year old with zero science understanding, writes about Mars appearing the size of the full Moon on some Internet blog – there are actually a huge number of negative IQ people out there that take such complete and utter garbage at face value.  Why am I so affronted by such stupidity?  Because even Stone Age man knew better than that dammit!!  Where computers are involved people seem very keen to turn off their brains i.e. common sense.  I guess this is why the Singularity gets any air time at all.

I feel a little less offended by idiots proclaiming that particle accelerators will destroy the Earth because to understand the nonsense behind that statement you at least need to have GCSE standard maths and physics.

The Singularity issue is in yet another category of innate Homo Sapiens gullibility, it is closely related to the “Computer says no” reflex, where people happily relegate responsibility for thinking to a computer program where someone else has kindly done the thinking for them.  After all, thinking and learning hurt don’t they?  And we don’t want that do we??

I find it difficult to know where to begin dissing the “Singularity is near” concept.  But I think I can give an example that puts the whole Singularity business into context, and that is nuclear fusion.  Nuclear fusion is our attempt at creating the powerhouse behind the stars here on Earth.  “The energy source that is always 10 years in the future”, as often stated by those working on the problem.  And that’s where I saw the link with the Singularity and the hard A.I. problem, except the hard A.I. problem is INFINITELY more complex by comparison.  The reason being we don’t know what we’re talking about when it comes to trying to define and therefore to replicate consciousness.  At least when it comes to nuclear fusion we have Maxwell’s equations, we know the mathematics behind creating complex dynamical magnetic confinement fields, behind the behaviour of plasmas, and behind the actual fusion reactions themselves – and still we can’t make the damn thing work!  We started fusion research way back in the 1950s and back then the early researchers thought they had got fusion going (almost first time of trying) due to the production of a few neutrons – unfortunately they were not neutrons resulting from fusion reactions.  Never mind, small issue, in 10-years time we’ll easily have this sorted.  And then 60 years comes and goes and we still don’t have it sorted.  And this is for a technological problem where we know all the basic physics and have all the basic equations to hand!!

Now let’s consider the Singularity.  You can see why I used nuclear fusion as a comparison, it’s because a machine that passes the Turing test is likewise always 10-years in the future.  But the Singularity is a bit more than simply passing the Turing test, here we are talking hard A.I. we are talking a sentient machine, machine consciousness – and yet we don’t know squat about consciousness, so don’t you think it might be a little difficult (slightly more difficult than getting fusion to work) to get consciousness into a machine, given we don’t even know what it is?  No of course it isn’t!!  Haven’t you seen Terminator?  It’s dead easy.  You create a Skynet (Internet) and it grows and grows until quite suddenly, right out of the blue, it becomes self-aware!!  How cool is that?  Hello – hello out there – Terminator is a film, it is not real life (unlike the Idiocracy).  But from where I am sitting, the proponents of the “Singularity is near” are doing just that – they are treating what was an entertaining sci-film as our future reality.  Not a very scientific approach, more like a religious belief, a religious sect (and that’s just about as insulting as I can get).  It must also be pretty insulting to all those Philosophers and other great thinkers that spent a lifetime working on, and writing about the subject of human consciousness.  Not to mention those computer scientists that have spent their whole career working on the hard A.I. problem.  These people, if any, should be the ones to have any clue about how to create consciousness in a machine – and of course they do not have a clue.  They are completely clueless.

So where does that leave us?  Well – THE SINGULARITY IS NOWHERE BLOODY NEAR and it will remain that way for quite a few generations to come.  I am not writing off the possibility of machine consciousness – far from it, but for a race of “intelligent” beings that haven’t even gone back to the Moon yet, something we did way back in 1969, don’t you think you are being a little over ambitious in your expectations of what is, and what is not, currently feasible.

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The solution to the Fermi Paradox is that there is no other intelligent life in the Universe.

Better start taking a little more care of this planet and the creatures we share it with people!

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You will have seen the headlines about the possibility of destroying the Earth now that we are able to provide such extremely high energies in our super-colliders.  Grief – the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is to be upgraded to give a collision energy of 14TeV (14 x 10^12 electron volts) what unbelievable destruction could such energy release upon us tiny humans?  Time to get things into perspective.

There is a beautiful line in “The Forbidden Planet” where they have just been attacked by a monster from the Id and it withstood a blast of a Billion electron volts – WOW!!  A billion electron volts (American Billion) is a thousand million electron volts.  An electron volt is equivalent to 1.6 x 10^-19 Joules, so a Billion electron volts is around 1.6 x 10^-09 Joules, or a nano joule.  How much energy is a nano joule?  Well if it takes 4.2 Joules to raise the temperature of 1 gramme of water 1C, then I guess you can work out for yourself that a nano joule ain’t gonna do much.

Let’s go back to the LHC as that is providing a LOT more energy – here we’re talking 14 x 10^12 electron volts!  So that is 2.26 x 10^-6 Joules or 2.26 micro joules.  Still not exactly knocking your socks off is it?  But hey, in electron volts it sounds pretty good doesn’t it!!  We are playing with energies we shouldn’t be playing with – surely?  Well not quite.  Nature as you might expect makes our greatest efforts look pretty puny.

Cosmic Rays – those high energy particles coming in to us from every direction in space.  What sort of energies have they been accelerated to?  Well the high energy Cosmic Rays come into the upper atmosphere carrying a very respectable Joule’s worth of energy, that’s 6.25 x 10^18 electron volts in Forbidden Planet money, or half a million times the energy the LHC might be giving out in 2015.  Our efforts are pretty pathetic.  Does it end there?  Of course it doesn’t.  On Tuesday 15th October 1991 the “Oh My God” particle entered our upper atmosphere carrying?  How much?  50 Joules!!  Yes that’s 50 Joules of energy in a single particle.  Now if that ain’t gonna create Black-Holes, rifts in space time or God knows what else – then what will?  It is estimated that several particles carrying this amount of energy hit our atmosphere EVERY DAY.  Oh and another thing – they have been doing this for the last 4 Billion Years.

So – can we please – give up this crap of destroying the Earth with our piddling inconsequential particle accelerator experiments and perhaps consider much more likely Earth destroying scenarios that have been around since the end of World War 2??

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And so far today it has been raining since before I even got up – it is now 2:30 p.m.


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It’s not looking good is it?  Last winter I didn’t get a single image in 6 months due to the never-ending rain and cloud.  Looks like we are getting a repeat again this year.  If it is ANOTHER 6-months with no imaging I think I’ll give this nonsense up.


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O.K. so the day has finally arrived and “they” are now replacing the Sodium street lights around here with white light LED lamps.

Isn’t it absolutely marvelous how “they” can get their act together AND spend a huge pile of our cash on something that nobody either wants or needs around here.

And yet – replacing the noisy Aluminium phone lines which are slugging Broadband speeds by a factor of 5 due to the error corrections needing to be applied – appears nowhere in “their” plans.

You gotta love this 3rd world country we live in.

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I have recently received a few inquiries from photographers asking where they can purchase the High-Speed Xenon flashguns I use in my high-speed photographic work.

The units are made by THIS company in Ely, Cambridgeshire.  Check out their prices, for a unique piece of kit that cannot be purchased anywhere else on the planet, I believe they represent superb value for money :)

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The missus kindly held up a piece of A4 paper this lunch time outside in a howling gale so I could project an image of the Sun onto it.

An 80mm refractor with a 5X Barlow was used.  Yes the image is upside-down just as it came out of the refractor :)

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