Thursday, August 21, 2014


Science: How Stuff Works
Fish gotta school, birds gotta flock, and robots, it seems, gotta swarm. At least, that’s what they’re doing on the workbench of Harvard University computer scientists Michael Rubenstein and Radhika Nagpal and Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Alejandro Cornejo. Each of their 1024 robots, called Kilobots, is a three-legged disk the size of a U.S. quarter, sporting a single curl of metallic hair. En masse, they form a mechanical multitude an order of magnitude larger than any robot swarm ever built—a possible precursor to future robot work squads choreographed for chores such as cleaning up oil spills.

“That is a beautiful accomplishment,” says Hod Lipson, a roboticist at Cornell University who was not involved with the work. “Really getting a thousand robots to perform in sort of perfect synchrony.”

The idea for swarms of robots working together comes from nature. Army ants link themselves together to form rafts and bridges, and neurons in a brain fire off signals that collectively create intelligence. They do it all by following collective algorithms—shared sets of rules and instructions—and taking their cues from what’s going on around them. Each individual is “just doing its own thing, locally. But fantastic things emerge out of their collective behavior,” Lipson says.

Science: Heads up for the gathering robot swarm, Angus Chen

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Century of Quantum Mechanics...

In this lecture, Prof David Gross talks all about quantum mechanics. Today quantum mechanics is one of the cornerstones of modern physics. But how did it all start? Gross discusses the roots of quantum mechanics and the problems that lead to the creation of the theory. This inevitably turns into a discussion of the work of the early quantum pioneers such as Bohr, Einstein, Pauli, Dirac and others. Finally, the present status of quantum mechanics is introduced in the light of the outstanding problems that modern physicists face.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Carbon Inside...

The structure of the carbon nanomaterials employed, where the diameter of the semiconducting SWCNTs is in the 0.8–1.2 nm range. (Courtesy: Nano Lett.)
A new solar cell made from carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that is twice as good at converting sunlight into power than the best previous such cells has been unveiled by a team of researchers in the US. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has already independently certified the performance of the device – a first for a CNT-based solar cell.

Thin-film photovoltaic materials are better than conventional solar-cell materials (such as silicon) because they are lighter, more flexible and cheaper to make. They work by absorbing photons from sunlight and converting these into electron–hole pairs (or excitons). To generate electric current, an electron and hole must be rapidly separated before the two particles have a chance to come back together and be reabsorbed into the material. In solar cells, the exciton must quickly travel to another layer in the device (where the charge separation will occur) for the best light-absorption efficiencies.

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are ideal as thin-film photovoltaics because they absorb light across a wide range of wavelengths from the visible to the near-infrared and possess charge carriers (electrons and holes) that move quickly. However, most thin-film cells containing SWCNTs have so far suffered from limited current and voltage, and therefore poor power-conversion efficiencies.

Physics World: Making better solar cells with polychiral carbon nanotubes

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson and Barney Fife...

Enough said: source, Facebook
Michael Brown should have finished his first week in college. I am not elevating him to apotheosis, just stating a fact. He was likely going to a community college, perhaps learning a skill as a technician. Or, he may have had higher aspirations and shoring up his study skills and academics in a less challenging setting. The problem is, we'll never know the answer.

Instead, he was gunned down, left in the streets for approximately four hours for apparently the lethal crime of jaywalking. Yes, Chief Barney Fife - over a municipality of approximately 21,000 citizens - released a video no less than the Department Of Justice advised he not release, publicly trying a dead teenager that can't object; alluding his video taped guilt of shop lifting cigars from an convenience store was the motive for stopping him (the incidents were separate events). Then, disavowed all knowledge of the story in his second televised interview (then suggesting his officer might have known after all), leaving shocked reporters figuratively with their mouths wide open at the level of their feet. Michael’s democratic governor was feckless and useless during public rebuke Saturday. Senators Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren (D); Ted Cruz and Rand Paul (R) all decried the excessive force of the Missouri Police Department. The irony is this impressive display of militarism wasn't used at the Cliven Bundy Ranch where militia pointed weapons at Bureau of Land Management agents – a federal offense that ended in no dead bodies, an avoided standoff and the tax-evading $1.2 million dollar moocher still on his ranch.

Since the election of the country’s first African American president, we've seen the ugly side of this country that can be illustrated in this faux-related pattern recognition (attributed to Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, “The Isis Papers”):



The first African American president (representing a 2.3% probability of "other-than-white-male" since Washington to W) and attorney general are essentially being sued and presumably impeached – individually and/or respectively - for the crime of “president while black”; “attorney general while black” a clear escalation of the “uppity” charge in southern parlance:

Uppity: Taking liberties or assuming airs beyond one's place in a social hierarchy. Assuming equality with someone higher up the social ladder - Urban Dictionary

Michael Brown did the “right things,” though obviously no angel - what teenager is? He “pulled himself up by his own boot straps” which is the usual escape for “we’re NOT going to help you get to whatever your dreams are.” Now he’s the inspiration for the mantra “hands up; don’t shoot!” It is a hash tag; it is a movement in New York, Boston, New Orleans, Howard University and Austin. The veracity of it is currently being investigated as the identity of the officer that shot Michael Brown in the incident report – a public record – has finally been released days after his death – Darren Wilson.

Suddenly, jaywalking can result in lethal force applied to the walker. A video is produced supposedly showing Michael taking cigars from a convenience store. If that is a requisite for deadly force, then the four teenagers that kleptomaniac-ed sneakers as I was being frisked decades ago by the now defunct King's Department Store "defective detective" (inept of logical reasoning, devoid of courtesy and simple police procedure) all should have been shot on sight. The KKK is raising money for the officer that shot Mike Brown as they did for George Zimmerman. And like the case of Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe”) this goes before a Grand Jury, the majority-at-this-point-MAJORITY Grand Jury.

I am angry as an African American male...I am angry as the father of African American males that have never committed a misdemeanor or felony, working in education and engineering respectively to UPLIFT society. I am angry at a society that has made us targets for a rage that is disgusting. I am angry that the six shots - 2 in the head - to subdue Michael Brown for jaywalking were six more than the zero it took to bring Jeffrey Dahmer, James Holmes and Jared Lee Loughner into custody - all mass murderers and the first named a cannibal! They walked into a police office - they were not rolled into a morgue!

Carl Sagan once asked - regarding the environment and somewhat rhetorically: “what are conservatives conserving?

Answer: the status quo that reactionary minds usually defend. Note this description of the book by author Cory Robin, “The Reactionary Mind” (2011):

Late in life, William F. Buckley made a confession to Corey Robin. Capitalism is "boring," said the founding father of the American right. "Devoting your life to it," as conservatives do, "is horrifying if only because it's so repetitious. It's like sex." With this unlikely conversation began Robin's decade-long foray into the conservative mind. What is conservatism, and what's truly at stake for its proponents? If capitalism bores them, what excites them?

Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.

Uppity…Jaywalking…Let’s see the birth certificate!” Then, when they actual see it in long form, not believing it…I want my country back!”…Uppity.

For the liberal/logical, science-based mind, the election of the first black president in the history of the republic was the “Moses moment”; the culmination of King’s “I Have a Dream” exploited by both liberal and conservative politicians and theologians. On the 2008 election, the recently departed Dr. Maya Angelou reflected: “America has finally grown up!” The only time I will ever disagree with the great lady: 150 years later, we're still fighting the Civil War, as if the outcome is still under contention.

For the conservative, reactionary mind, Barack Obama is “the other,” the usurper: Antichrist in some extreme conspiracies. He's faced continual, relentless opposition that has never been seen for any president and never will after his well-deserved retirement. His youth has been sapped by real and contrived crises; internal and external. He looks 80. He didn't need a Supreme Court to decide the count in the same state as his Governor Brother, but he was illegitimate from the aspect that he’d “left his place”; he got the nuclear codes and didn't start Armageddon; he had the audacity to order the kill shots for Somali pirates, Qaddafi and “The Boogie Man” Osama Bin Laden. Couple that with doubling the Dow Jones since the "Great Recession" of 2008; 40+ months of positive job growth, an unemployment rate of 6.2% and you as opposition have a distinct problem with "message." The reactionary opposition is an anti-government movement (that somehow got elected) with the laughable acumen in civics lower than second graders, and a congress with the low confidence score of 14% only means their schemes for “limited government” is about 86% - a successful score once your perspective is flipped.

The threats started in 2007 when he was Senator from Illinois…CANDIDATE, as also Herman Cain experienced in 2012. His first audacity was to win (2008), and then win again (2012) after the opposition meant his defeat even at sacrifice of the democratic republic. The acceleration of age is in the grey in his hair; the lines in his face. He has to balance the complete anarchy of Iraq spiraling out of control after executing the “Status of Forces Agreement” negotiated by his predecessor. He’s being sued in a carnival circus for not implementing the Affordable Care Act – based on a 1989 position paper by the conservative Heritage Foundation – FAST enough, the same act they voted to DE-fund 52 times and suggest impeachment for: following all that?


No less than the UN is publishing a study at the end of August on our compliance with the elimination of all forms of racism - I'm guessing our "grade" will be below a C-. The ugly underbelly of American bigotry/hierarchy is being exposed to the world via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all new mediums as transformative to political engagement as television was to world opinion on the brutality visited upon marchers in the Civil Rights Movement; the opposition to the Vietnam War generated at home. The militarization of policing in communities of color by Barney Fife with MRAPs, tear gas, and sub-machine guns with rubber bullets originated in '72; accelerated in '94, and especially after 9-11 with the "global war on terror," like the "war on drugs" designed as never-ending. In this regard, Barney doesn't shoot the floor inches from his toes and an eye-rolling, groaning Andy Griffith takes his one bullet - his substantial armory is for the battlefield. Otis – the Mayberry town drunk – still staggers in on Friday nights to let himself in his cell; he has nothing, NOTHING to worry about from MRAPs, machine guns, rubber bullets or tear gas…he’s not "the threat" Barney’s likely to react violently to. I don't know how long the global economy will tolerate this until the Dollar is replaced by the Yuan and Euro, and for our reaching back to an "Ozzie and Harriet" utopia that never existed - seals our irrelevance in the pages of history.

The wretchedness of racism is as evident in 2014 as was in 1914 or 1864. Renisha McBride, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis are the president and attorney general in effigy; they are accessible targets of Barney's et al delusional psychopathic hatred...they will eventually find other targets not based on melanin.

"We The People" all are.

Commander William Adama - Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi series)

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Democracy Now!:
Ferguson Protests Erupt Near Grave of Ex-Slave Dred Scott, Whose Case Helped Fuel U.S. Civil War
PBS: Dred Scott case: the Supreme Court decision

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Iie Seppuku...

I had a wonderful birthday. I visited the American Museum of Natural History, the Hayden Planetarium and Central Park. I got many well-wishes on Facebook and other social media. This seemed a strange post so soon after one's 52nd birthday, but...

I lost a friend of my college youth in Winston-Salem: she was to have turned 50 in one week from August 14. A heart attack, so adult male child and 12 year-old-daughter left behind.

We all lost Robin Williams and Lauren ironic, coincidence of "threes," until Wednesday, Trekkie's everywhere lost Arlene Martel -  T'Pring. I would be remiss not to mention the heartbreaking tragedy of Michael Brown in Missouri (I will speak more on that tomorrow). Robin sadly, chose to end his life abruptly, as another part of memories of my youth slips away.

As I thrilled at the action in "The Last Samurai," seppuku loomed large in one of the first scenes. Before the subject could experience pain (and thus show "dishonor" in facing death), his second-in-command (Kaishakunin). would "dispatch" him quickly - you can see how at the link. I sat in the theater, and wondered if the warrior class had masked what we'd now know as anxiety; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder and made it "noble," masking our fears of failure. Even in the armed services, we talk about the "noble sacrifice," sending soldiers, sailors and airmen to meat grinders without thought of treating them for the aftermath (if they survive) and reintegrating them into a populace hopefully less violent than the battlefield, though that sadly is slipping away from civil society.

I am reminded also of a dark time when my thoughts were invaded by depression, and what Robin Williams accomplished, I briefly contemplated. It was not cowardice, as some inane television pundits quipped like verbal Tourettes (at least with social media pressure, he apologized), but an almost calculated - albeit twisted - "logic" at the end of despair; made "noble," similar to the Samurai, even though the people that would survive your deed would be burdened with "why?" with no clear answers or ritual dogma to comfort them. In dark tunnels, you must continually reach for the light no matter how dim or (its candle perceived) far away, and cry out your pain - silence is a foreboding familiar that will crowd away all else but echos...echos...echos, that only get louder and eventually crowd out all else.

I am 52, not 25. Though I'd love to have my old body with its speed, its strength, its stamina and endurance the only thing I can pass on that I hope is of benefit is the wisdom to talk; to share with others how you're feeling, or in my case how I felt to my family. It's a mental/emotional check on my current condition and a guard against slipping into it again.

Like many engineers during the early 2000's, the industry downturn affected me deeply. I suddenly found myself without a definition. I tried many things; failed at many things until I found myself in the mirror I tended not to look deeply at: I, nerd...still had value and a contribution to give.

Now, with more years behind me than ahead of me, I face eventual oblivion working towards being the best ME I can be; doing what I am in this instance to do before I expire. Someone stated to me what's said at your wake and funeral is the narrative you've written on the papyrus of your life.

Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Arlene Martel, Michael Brown and Crystal Phelps have written quite beautiful poems of their existence. I hope to pen as well when my time eventually comes.

Until then, I'll try to stay as mentally and physically healthy as I possibly can and enjoy this life and opportunities given me.

I hope my words help others avoid their own dark place; their own seppuku considerations (Iie Seppuku - "no") counsel; hug your loved ones passionately. They deserve your life lived with them to its fullest.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sidestepping Uncertainty...

This apparatus at the University of Rochester uses "compressive sensing" techniques to take minimal measurements of laser light's position, thus preserving the abilty to measure its momentum, too.
Gregory A. Howland
A novel way of measuring a photon’s location allows physicists to measure its momentum, too — a feat once thought impossible.

Quantum mechanics imposes a limit on what we can know about subatomic particles. If physicists measure a particle’s position, they cannot also measure its momentum, so the theory goes. But a new experiment has managed to circumvent this rule—the so-called uncertainty principle—by ascertaining just a little bit about a particle’s position, thus retaining the ability to measure its momentum, too.

The uncertainty principle, formulated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, is a consequence of the fuzziness of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics revealed that particles are not just tiny marbles that act like ordinary objects we can see and touch. Instead of being in a particular place at a particular time, particles actually exist in a haze of probability. Their chances of being in any given state are described by an equation called the quantum wavefunction. Any measurement of a particle “collapses” its wavefunction, in effect forcing it to choose a value for the measured characteristic and eliminating the possibility of knowing anything about its related properties.

A very GOOD video explanation of Quantum Mechanics at the link, an episode of "Instant Egghead." I promise your hat will still fit after viewing it.

Scientific American:
Particle Measurement Sidesteps the Uncertainty Principle, Clara Moskowitz