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Showing posts from 2016

A Proposal to Fix an Unnecessary Freeway back up in the Bay Area.

Why did they screw up my freeway when they put in a diamond lane? I've seen this referenced in the local RoadShow columns.   Highway 280 going south backs up behind Magdelena Road exit in Los Altos Hills, just past Foothill College. This is kind of amazing since 1/4 mile past Magdelena road there is an extra inserted diamond lane? Why would adding a lane back up traffic? The answer it doesn't. The backup occurs because the the last two exits both shave an entire lane off of the freeway. It's straightforward to do the math that these two exits become the bottlenecks when the freeway is near to capacity load elsewhere. Four lanes of traffic cruise along at 65 mph, bumper to bumper. Unless there was an an entire lane of exiting cars at full speed exiting the freeway (which there isn't, this is pretty much the middle of nowhere) this will obviously be a bottleneck and limit the throughput of the freeway. It's a simple queueing problem.  I guess they don't tea

Fast and Slow Thinking: Why sophisticated language makes us human.

There are essentially three different systems in the brain. 1. Fast thinking neural nets (emotions), systems that integrate sensory signals and put out a signal that indicates something else. We can't 'see' inside these systems, we can only believe their outputs are appropriate or not. 2. Slow thinking memory that uses language and ideas to make estimates and calculate future possibilities. 3. You. The thing that decides what to think about. We know almost exactly how systems 1 & 2 work .[1]  We've given out several nobel prizes for these topics. We reproduce them in the lab and we make them better every day. We use artificial versions of them to make our lives easier every day. (Have you used Google search lately?) And they'll continue to get smarter, faster and more reliable. We also recognize that system 2, which relies on language, is what makes us most diffrerent fromt he rest of the species on this planet. However, we have little idea of how sy

SETI - A new proposal to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Why don't we see any aliens? A significant problem is the vastness of space. Despite piggybacking on the world's most sensitive radio telescope, Charles Stuart Bowyer said, the instrument could not detect random radio noise emanating from a civilization like ours, which has been leaking radio and TV signals for less than 100 years. For SERENDIP  [A3] and most other SETI projects to detect a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, the civilization would have to be beaming a powerful signal directly at us. It also means that Earth civilization would only be detectable within a distance of 100 light-years. [89] "With available instruments we are unlikely to detect Earthlike planets or civilizations," Airieau said. "This sort of detection will not come within our realm for another few decades." c. 1998. The only thing that overcomes the vastness of space is the vastness of time.  The best way to detect alien civilizations is to send something to wh

What's the matter with US politics?

One of the front runners in the race to become president of the US uses personal attacks, not logic or plans to bolster his position, but emotional appeals.  It's obviously the Donald who is using his skills honed as a reality TV show actor (Reminds me of another President and a few governors who started as actors.) Some have claimed that he is untruthful about 70% of the time (contradicts himself even) and slanders people the rest of the time. He has proposed few concrete plans, except those that would bankrupt the country or siphon off more money to the existing rich and powerful.  He panders to a set of disenfranchised constituents so that they can pour their blame on to the other: the immigrant, the government, anyone except who is really responsible. How would you assign the blame? And how would you fix it? Donald's technique of calling people names is the classic propaganda technique of scapegoating or dehumanization. See Scott Adam's evaluation .  This isn't by

The Power of Big Ideas

What should be the next big ideas? What are some of the recent big ideas? When did the world change last? Language. Writing. Books. Farming. Swords. Governments. Gods. Towns.  But what have we done lately? The Renaissance. The invention of the scientific method.  Galileo invents the telescope and observes the universe.  Humans look at the world, believe what they see and try to understand and predict. The Scientific Revolution. How to go from observations to theory, make predictions that are reproducible. The American Revolution. Government exists by the consent of the governed.  All people are created equal. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Inalienable rights to religion, speech, press, arms, etc. Enforcement of contracts and private property. Abolition of Slavery and Suffragism. Government exists by the consent of the governed, all of the governed. Every single one of them, whatever their heritage, whatever their sexual proclivities, whatever their beliefs

How to Estimate Anything From Nothing...

or How to be a Good System Engineer This will be a discussion of how to estimate something from little or almost no information. We call this making a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess or a SWAG. I've been pretending to be a system engineer for a long time.  And I have to admit that I still have to go look up the  average wait time in a queue  or the  Poisson  distribution. Typically estimates are extensions of known data, the more data the better.  But what happens when you know hardly anything about the data that answers the question, because it doesn't exist? Something from Nothing... The modern method of how to estimate something from no information at all is the  classic paper : "Implications of the Copernican principle for our future prospects" by J. Richard Gott III [ 1 ]. Sounds innocuous, but is probably one of the best tools ever invented for doing system analysis when information is lacking. It's almost as important as  Baye's theorem  that allows o

The Case for Intelligent Design.

What is the Case for Intelligent Design?  First we have to define Intelligent Design.  In the common sense of a replacement for " creationism " it is obvious that there is no case for it.  It's actually a negative argument: since things are so complicated they must be made and could not have happened by accident. That makes some sense: particularly complicated things are unlikely to be made by accident, so things that look like they are designed probably are. This doesn't apply to humans, though; we haven't evolved by accident: we evolve by the random mutations but they are passed along by survival of the fittest.  If the mutation has a small chance of making the entity survive long enough to have a better chance to reproduce, then this mutation will eventually be passed onto more of the members of the species as time goes on. This was the insight that Darwin (and many others) had 150 years ago.  Darwin was the first to understand that the assumption explained

Perfect Pitch: is it possible?

We're going to explore how good someone's perfect pitch could be. How well can a human discern the frequency of a sound? Then we'll show how this pertains to the ability to throw and hit the perfect pitch. How accurately can you hear pitch? The measurements that show how many frequencies a person can distinguish show that humans can discern about 1500 different pitches.  How do they do this?  It's done by a vibrations picked up at the ear drum then transmitted to the cochlea via three tiny bones (that server to amplify the vibrations due to leverage.) The cochlea is a small tube that's about one inch long (rolled up) and gets smaller the further away from the entrance point the smaller the tube gets.  This causes sounds of different frequencies to have peak intensities at different points along the cochlea.  The intensity causes the hairs that line the tube to fire in proportion - hence which hairs fire tells you the frequency (pitch) and how many fire (and th

Interstellar Trade - wait, how about: Interplanetary Trade? Is it possible?

Interstellar trade makes no sense. Forget about making interstellar trade possible, even with Einstein's laws of space and time, where it seems that you get to places faster than the speed of light. Just don't try to go back, because 100's of years , if not 1000's of years have passed. There are no physical goods that would make sense to send between stars, except for reproducing killer robots that can grow humans (well, only killing if they ask our permission.) There have actually been some papers on the effects of interstellar trade  (by Pual Krugman, Nobel prize winner!) The main conclusion is that interest rates on the linked star systems should be correlated.  Looking at correlation of interest rates between earth based countries, the correlation is probably pretty low. Let's consider the secondary effects of trade, planets that trade with the planets that you trade with: the effects have to be very, very small.  So you can make any calculations only assum