Recently in Advanced Science Category

Today I met the founder and president of Sensaphonics, Michael Santucci. He is a hearing conservation expert and audiologist. He is one of the few audiologists who work with the music industry. The relationship is interesting. Hearing conservation is about protecting your ears from continued exposure to loud sounds in order to preserve your hearing. He told us that baby boomers have a higher rate of hearing loss than senior citizens, probably because of devices such as portable music devices. He shows us pictures of a healthy inner ear and a damaged inner ear and had the same effect on my as the healthy lung and smoker lung photos we often see.

The traditional logic behind headphones and earphones is to increase the volume of the music reaching your ears for better sound. The brain compensates for background noise so, as most people have experienced, music in your car stereo suddenly sounds loud when you come to a stop and the background noise disappears. The damage to your ear is based on the total amplitude of the sound, whereas the perceived loudness of the signal is based on the amplitude above the background noise.

One way to have great earphones and not lose your hearing is to isolate and block the outside sound. Then you can listen to music at much lower volumes and it will still sound loud and clear. This protects your hearing while providing super high fidelity.

This is the theory behind the Shure E2cs and the E5cs that I've written about before. Michael takes this a step further and replaces the ear plugs that come with the Shures and replaces them with custom silicon molds. Sensaphonics also makes their own earphones.

Today, my second cousin Cornelius and I got molds taken of our ears. They are going to send me their ProPhonic Soft 2X earphones as well as molds that will work with my E5cs. They're also going to send me the TC-1000-totally-overkill ear set and the Elacin/Sensaphonics ER-9/15/25 high fidelity earplugs. I look forward to my future ear-mold-a-rama lifestyle, comparing the E5cs with the Sensaphonics and protecting my hearing.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

THE NOBLE CAUSE

Technonerds go to movies strictly for entertainment, and of course, the most entertaining part comes after the movie when they can dissect, criticize, and argue the merits of every detail. However, when supposedly serious scenes totally disregard the laws of physics in blatantly obvious ways it's enough to make us retch. The motion picture industry has failed to police itself against the evils of bad physics. This page is provided as a public service in hopes of improving this deplorable matter. The minds of our children and their ability to master vectors are (shudder) at stake.

I love physicists.

via AKMA

Albert Einstein
'We should take care not to make the intellect our god; - it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.'

via JV

In case you were wondering why the rover failed...

movie

via Markoff

sethlJohn Brockman, literary agent extraordinaire and editor/publisher of Edge introduced me to Seth Lloyd via good old fashioned email. I had lunch with Seth today.

Seth is known for his seminal works in the area of quantum computing and is visiting Japan for a year. We talked a bit about Japan, but I jumped at the opportunity to talk to him about some of the loftier things that are puzzling me these days. My first love was physics, but I dropped out when college physics turned out to be more about math than the art of physics. I'm now a repressed physics lover who can't keep up with the math. Therefore, I always jump at the opportunity to have someone explain physics to me in an intuitive way.

Seth explained that historically, physicists have always talked a lot about energy and the conservation of energy. Energy changed form, but there was always the same amount. They later found that you would lose a bit of energy over time and they attributed this to entropy. Recently, people have realized that entropy is sort of randomized molecules and looks a lot like information. Seth explained that the whole universe could be viewed as a big huge computer and you could apply information theory on physics and vice versa.

At this point I tossed out some of the questions I've been asking all of the smart people I've been meeting these days. What is money? Is economics really the way we should be analyzing and managing the exchange of value in society? How are non-financial assets such as trust, beliefs and culture created and transmitted? Does more money beyond a certain point really make you happier and if not, what is happiness?

Seth talked about how money was similar to energy in that it was conserved, at least on paper. Seth pointed out that most things that make you happy require money and energy, but that money and energy in themselves do not usually make you happy. In a sense, they are a necessary part of the process, but not the end. You do get an endorphin rush from the process of scoring more points in a game, gambling, or making more money, but the happiness you get from chasing these obsessions is not the same happiness you get when you finish a great meal or finish a session of meditation.

Seth pointed out that if you are struggling to survive in a tough environment, eating fatty and sweet foods and conserving your energy are probably good things. When you have enough food, sitting around eating sweets on the couch suddenly becomes detrimental. Is there an equivalent to this with money? I believe that free markets and democracy are great things and are the foundation of civilization and progress. I believe that efficiency and greed play a big role in creating healthy economies. Having said that, I do not believe that just because we have free markets and democracies, that people will be happy or that we will have peace. My question is, at what point, if any, do you have too much money? At what point is greed pointless and destructive? Can countries and economies become addicted to economic growth or become financially obese?

Neoclassical economists tend to model human behavior with a simple formula where more money makes you happier and people will do everything they can to earn more. This is like saying that the more calories you take in the healthier you will be and that eating more makes the world a better place. It's obvious to most real people that we decide what to spend our time and money on based on a variety of psychological, cultural and societal influences. Very few of us only spend money to make more money. The question I posed to Seth was whether there were models from the study of energy and entropy or from quantum computing that could be applied to try to understand some of the issues at the edges of economics? Are there ways of measuring and analyzing non-financial, non-conservative value such as culture, love and trust? Were there non-economics models for modeling some of these things? Was there a way to determine whether certain types of pursuits of happiness tended to help the human condition more than others? Was there something in information theory that could help us understand the value of social networks or ties?

Seth said he would ponder some of this stuff and get back to me. I promised to try to render some of my thoughts into a more focused question or problem.

I sat next to Sir Martin Rees at dinner last night. He is the Royal Astronomer of the UK and the Master of Trinity College. I met him last year at the same dinner. He's amazingly smart and funny.

Ever since I'd posted my entry on aviation and global warming, I've been trying to figure out how to get to the bottom of this issue. The journalists told me that they just cited experts and the trick was to find good experts. I figured Sir Martin Rees would probably have an educated and balanced view.

Sir Martin Rees told me that he thought it was probably true that global warming was happening and that CO2 emissions contributed to it. He said that his main concern with global warming with the possibility that something non-linear would happen. In other words, his worry was not just the melting of the ice caps or the increased heat, but that this would cause something unpredictable and significant, such as a change in the circulation of the oceans.

He talked about some of the interesting mail he got. He said that he once got contacted by a cryogenic company which wanted his opinion on the idea of "the end of involuntary death" by freezing yourself before you die. When he replied that he'd rather be buried in a cemetery than a freezer in Calfornia, the company posted on their web site that "Rees is a deathist".

In a controversial book that he wrote called "Our Final Hour" he says that there is a 50/50 chance that our civilization will end this century. He mentioned that the original title of the book was "Our Final Century?" The British publishers took out the question mark and made it "Our Final Century". Then the US publishers change it to "Our Final Hour". ;-)

The dinner was off the record. "Nothing leaves this room. Just like Las Vegas." But I received permission from Sir Martin Rees to blog his comments. Sir Martin, if you see this and I've quoted you in error, please let me know. I don't have your email address.

Scott Mackinney criticizes me in a comment on my blog about the damage I am causing to the environment with all of my air travel. I actually have been feeling a bit guilty about that and have been wondering where aviation is going to go from here.

On the one hand, in some areas, air travel is becoming cheaper and there are even people talking about small, low-cost private planes becoming more common.

A Feb 2000 GAO report warns that the damage to the environment from the emissions from aviation is particularly high because it is emitted into the upper atmosphere and that increased damage due to increases in travel can not be offset by technological advances. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of experts affiliated with the UN warned that the share of global warming caused by air traffic could increase from 3.5% in 1992 to 17% in 2050.

We clearly have a problem here. In an IHT article that I can not seem to find a link to, I read that one of the possibilities was to fly lower where there would be more turbulence, but less damage. I've also heard about the idea of levying high taxes for air travel. In any event, the air travel utopia story seems a bit flawed and if we would get up off our asses and really do something about global warming (which we must) one of the first hit probably should be our global aviation habits.

I WAS going to write about this before, but hadn't been able to gather enough sources. (Honest! ;-) ) I still don't think I have enough information to have an educated opinion. Any pointers to more resources would be greatly appreciated.

As I read some great comments by Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer and other bloggers about the shuttle tragedy, I was reminded about the story of one of the first Japanese submarines. Japan was doing research on submarines, but one of the first trials went terribly wrong. The submarine sank to the bottom of the ocean and the men began to die as oxygen was depleted. They recovered the diary of the captain of the ship. In the diary, the captain pleads to the government and the people of Japan to continue the research and not allow the failure of the mission to slow it down. The diary is quite moving. I bet that if the crew of the space shuttle had had the time to write, they probably would have written something similar.

Yesterday I attended a panel about Nanotechnology. Paul Saffo was the moderator and Howard C. Birndorf of Nanogen, Mildren S. Dresselhaus of MIT and John Gage of Sun were on the panel. You could tell from the beginning that it was going to be a really difficult panel for Paul to manage. The topic was difficult, there were PhD's, investors and mildly interested CEO's of big companies in the audience. It was also clear that everyone on the panel had their own opinion about what they wanted to say. Paul tried to structure the discussion from a discussion about scale (Gage went into a description of powers of ten) to a technology discussion. I think he wanted wrap up with a discussion about applications. It sort of worked.

The technology discussion was a bit difficult for lay people. One person later described the session this way: It was like Milly dropped a stun grenade and the rest of the PhD's in the room were like Navy Seals who came in and took care everyone out. I think the panel quickly left many of the people behind. On the other hand, I was pleased because the technology discussion was quite substantive. Milly explained that real progress was being made in carbon nanotubes and in nanowires. She said that one of the problems as well as one of the interesting properties of nanotubes is that they can be either metallic or semi-conducting. The difficulty was that you couldn't control which you were making. It seemed like she liked the nanowires better. She said that you could put antibodies on the nanowires which would react when the antibody came in contact with the matching antigen. Lots of different antibodies on the ends of nanowires could be used to create a nanodevice to detect the presence of a variety of difficult to detect antigens. She also talked about nanolasers and quantum dots that can help you see the state of devices.

Everyone agreed that one of the biggest problems was how to interface with the tiny devices. Quantum dots and optical seemed to be a good idea. The Dean of engineering for Berkeley was in the audience and he explained that light moved slower around quantum dots and that this could be used to "store light" and could have a huge impact on optical networks and computing.

Some of the applications that people got excited about were RNA detection, bacteria that would manufacture nanotech devices, displays, computing... There seemed to be a myriad of medical applications as well. Having said that, it seemed like everything was about 15 years away and that the equipment necessary for research was still prohibitively expensive. Someone mentioned that Japan was leading in R&D spending on nanotech. Someone also said that maybe it could save the nano-economic recession. Someone else mentioned that the recession wasn't a nano-issue.

Later I was able to catch Milly in the hall and ask her what she thought about carbon nanotubes and hydrogen storage. She said that it was still quite difficult and it would require a breakthrough.

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