Einstein: General and Special Relativity

Einstein was unique in that he was able to expand on Newton’s ideas of gravity and give us a new way of thinking about time. This would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for the fact that his theories have been proven over and over (for example, thank him for GPS technology and bending light).

For some modern physicists, his ideas are lacking because of quantum dynamics. Of course this is a serious field of study, but it kind of makes me mad when I hear about contemporaries dissing him (I won’t name any names).

Scientists that argue for brane theory and dismiss the subtle mixture of space and time confuse me. How can you acknowledge that time is inexorably linked to space and then propose a theory that suggests another hidden dimension of space? This supposedly allows time to have existed forever. How is this more satisfactory? How can we reconcile the macro with the micro in a way that doesn’t destroy 100 years of proven theory? Are we just going to paradoxically claim that time is intimately linked to space but is also potentially independent of 3-dimensional space?

We get into a terribly difficult ontological argument about “What comes before time existed?”. If we accept that time has always existed then we have to accept these ontological arguments. The Arrow of Time is a hard philosophical construct to detour.

What’s great about Einstein’s theories is that he taught us that things are much more chaotic than Newton. He got us to the moon, helped guide Voyager, and obviously helped make GPS satellites possible. Why were all these things significant? Because of time. Time travels differently depending on velocity and nearness to mass. This was his Opus. No serious scientist would argue against this logic.

What is arguable is the essence of “time”. I don’t think it is a knowable variable, but it works in the math as a variable nonetheless. 😉 Careful!

The Strange Things Our Bodies Are Made Of

Biological processes in the human body are astounding by any measure.

We take for granted that human bodies need water and food. But what happens at the micro-scale is bewildering, even for micro-biologists and medical doctors.

Yes folks, I’m talking about chemistry. But before you click away, please know that I am not going to bore you with meaningless chemistry knowledge like you probably endured in high school or college.

Instead, I’d like to look at a few of the body’s essential nutrients that are very surprising. This doesn’t come from anything I’ve ever read or learned (and I doubt you have either), but nonetheless it should surprise and delight.

Let’s begin:

1. Potassium – The chemical symbol for Potassium is, counterintuitively, K (for Kalemia in Latin). In its pure form, it is highly combustible in water. By “highly combustible”, I mean that if you take a chunk of it and throw it in a bowl of water, it will violently catch fire. On top of that, potassium is radioactive. Proponents of nuclear energy sometimes state that you get more radiation from eating a banana than by living near a nuclear reactor. While I can’t vouch for the validity of that statement, I can vouch for the radioactiveness of potassium. Ironically, our bodies NEED potassium.

Potassium is a very important mineral to the human body.

Your body needs potassium to:

  • Build proteins
  • Break down and use carbohydrates
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain normal body growth
  • Control the electrical activity of the heart
  • Control the acid-base balance

2. Sodium – Like potassium, sodium catches fire in water. Less so than potassium, but defintiely pyrophilic. This begs the question: “Isn’t the human body inundated with water? Why do we not have fires going on inside of us all the time?”. Well, that’s kind of what is happening – on a micro-scale. Sodium is a key element in regulating cell permeability. Cells need to absorb and excrete. They also need to guard against foreign particles. The cell wall performs these functions but is regulated by the “sodium channel”. Without boring you to death and going into too much detail, sodium is the bouncer at the “club” that keeps good things moving in and out and stops bad things from doing the same. Without sodium, our cells cannot function. It is so essential to our bodily functions that in ancient times, blocks of salt (Sodium Chloride) were used as currency.

3. Star Dust – When stars reach maturity, they tend to explode. Well, that’s most stars anyway. When they explode, they eject a massive amount of rock and dust. As this cools down and gravity takes hold, then another star is sometimes formed and planets as well. Welcome to Earth, one such lucky planet. On Earth, creatures have evolved through the millenia to eventually create humans. Humans, and other mammals, need Oxygen to breathe and have metabolism. Where did O2 come from? Current scientific theory suggests that O2 was started by simple cell organisms that “breathed” CO2 and “exhaled” O2. Today we would call these organisms “algae”. But if we look further, we notice that CO2 is simply a carbon atom attached to two oxygen atoms. So where did C and O2 come from in the first place? Stars. Yep, stars. So when Crosby, Stills, and Nash says that “We are stardust”. They are absolutely right. It is the stuff that was formed in stars millions of years ago that makes our tiny brains that can grasp at this.

4. Bacteria – 90%+ of the cells in your body are bacteria, not your actual biological cells. This is a bit misleading, because it takes account of whole body genetic material. But with that in mind, it is still surprising that there are that many bacterial dna traces in our systems. Why is that? Well, that’s a long explanation, but it has to do with evolution. I suspect that medical science will eventually figure this out and start treating people with something other than antibiotics. (anti-life)

Hopefully this didn’t freak you out. If you have comments or questions, please reply in the form below.

My Blueprint for SEO: Part II

In the last installment, I focused on the number one starting point for any SEO project: Keyword Research.

In the second part of the SEO revellation I will present the second thing that every SEO should be focusing on.

My Blueprint for SEO Part 2:

Meta Tags

Any website that you visit is basically a series of codes that describe to your browser how to display the information. An important part of this, with consideration for SEO, is the meta tags that appear at the top of nearly every website. If you are using Firefox, you can right-click on nearly any spot on any website and choose “View Page Source” to see the website code.

Meta tags are essentially meta data that describes what the page is about. One example of a meta tag is the meta title tag. When you do a search on Google, the Blue links are the title. This is normally what you would click on to get to the website.

Below the title, you have the description. This is another meta tag that needs to be optimized as part of on-site SEO.

Typically, you want the description to be very targeted and accurate (use your results from your keyword research in part 1). If the web page content matches the description, then Google and other search engines will recognize this and rank your web page higher in the search results.

In the next installment, I will outline the essentials of offsite SEO, which is basically creating backlinks to show authority to all search engines. If Google does not think that you are an authority in your field, then your phone will not ring. Metatags are essential for your website SEO.

New 3D Interfaces are Coming

A new genration of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) are cropping up and the potential applications of these new types of user interfaces are pretty cool.

Check out this demo of the periodic table of elements where you can choose between 4 different 3D representations. Hold down your left mouse button and move the mouse around to spin/rotate the periodic table. It’s quite cool and intuitive.

3D Interface Demo

A Vote for Ketchup on Hotdogs

Believe it or not, there are hotdog purists out there that think putting ketchup on a hotdog is blasphemy. Mustard is fine, as is saurkraut (yuck!), peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, chili, sour cream, etc. So why do people hate the idea of ketchup on hotdogs so much?

A recent article on the amazingribs.com site highlights the argument with quotes from many people including the President himself. It’s worth a read.

Nonetheless, I view ketchup on a hotdog as an American cultural norm.

My fondest memories of hotdogs are the boiled hot dogs served in the streets of Athens, Ga. One of this particular hotdog purveyor’s signature dogs was the “Red Dawg”. I ordered this everytime! It is a light coat of Heinz ketchup and then a generous dashing of Tabasco. It is spicy, sweet, and savory. What is wrong with that flavor profile?

It is a bit different in the South. Grinding meat and making sausages is very European.

But what is more impressive and American than the immigrant story linked above?

Much like the author above, I promote free choice. If you want ketchup on your hotdog, do it. If not, then don’t ‘shame’ people by sending them to the back of the line. tsk-tsk

If your are not from Chicago or New England, then dress your hotdog however you like. 🙂

Operation BBQ Relief Helps Feed Moore, Oklahoma

Operation BBQ Relief is a great organization that has been helping feed residents of Moore, Oklahoma after the terrible tornado that leveled the town earlier this week.

In case you haven’t heard yet, the tornado was an EF5 and was 1.3 miles wide lasting 45 minutes. It took the lives of at least 24 people and destroyed 2,400 houses. Some 10,000 people are thought to be affected. With a price tag of an estimated $1Billion, the citizens of Oklahoma need everyone’s help.

That’s where you come in! If every American pitched in just $3, that would generate almost $1Billion.

One of the biggest immediate needs is food for the survivors that have lost everything. Operation BBQ Relief has a volunteer team of cooks that have brought their mobile kitchens to Moore to provide meals for citizens, first responders, firemen, and police officers. Please help spread the word and donate to their great cause.

Of course, there are other organizations helping the victims so if you don’t donate to Operation BBQ Relief, please consider a donation to your favorite charity helping the victims.

My Blueprint for SEO: Part 1

SEO is an ever changing game that requires constant vigilance. Nonetheless, there are aspects of SEO that change very little throughout time.

In these posts I will outline the steps I personally take to make sure my sites, as well as my client’s sites, stay on the top of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

The Blueprint for SEO

Part 1: Keywords

Everything starts with keywords. Well, it’s better to say that everything with SEO starts with keyword research. I use a variety of tools to accomplish this. The most prominent tool I use is provided for free by Google and I recommend that everyone doing SEO utilize it. Here’s a link to it.

The Google Keyword Tool will generate variations of any keyword(s) that you give it. This is incredibly beneficial in many ways.

First and foremost, it gives you a competitiveness ranking for each keyword, or keyword phrase, that it generates. Keywords that have low competitiveness are obviously the easy ones to go after, but equally obvious are the “money keywords” that are your main focus.

For example, if you are a pizzeria in New York City, your main money keywords are likely to be “pizza new york” or “Manhatten Pizza”. But there are tons of opportunities there! Why not optimize your SEO for those low competition keywords and bring in additional traffic? Don’t be shy to look for keywords like “best pizza in new york” or “NYC Pizza”.

The important part of using the free google keyword tool is that you must use it in different ways because you will get different results. Start out by typing in a website address and a keyword and then export those results to Excel (or whatever spreadsheet program you feel comfortable with).

Next, try inserting a longer keyword phrase, also called long-tail keywords, into the tool and omit the website address. Export that to excel as well. From there you can merge the two excel files and start sorting and analyzing.

What you are looking for is a high ratio of search volume over competition. The larger the difference, the better. Use the great Excel sort feature for search volume and then start analyzing.

To analyze the keyword list in excel you must have intimate knowledge about your client’s services. Does it make sense to delete “new york city pizza sucks”? Probably yes. Does it make sense to delete “New York City pizza is da bomb”. Maybe not? Would you ever delete “pizza by the slice in new york”? No. (well, if you don’t sell pizza by the slice then of course you would delete it)

The critical thing to know about long-tail keywords is that you must look at the traffic values in aggregate. This means that you can add up the traffic values of all of your long-tail, low competition keywords and arrive at a total that is close to what you can expect from your top “money maker” keyword.

This is an under-utilized aspect of keyword research and deployment, but mark my words, it will be the wave of the future. As people get more savvy with computers and emerging technology, the search engines will inevitably keep up and find new ways to help people find exactly what they are looking for in the shortest amount of time possible. As long as there is search, there will always be ways to tailor your website content (keywords!) to match the paradigm.

This article has only touched on one aspect of SEO, but stay tuned for the rest of the series on SEO Blueprints.

Robobees – Robotic Pollinators of the Future

Robobees

robobeesScientific American recently published an article on the emerging technology of Robobees. Researchers at Harvard have been working on creating flying robots to perform the tasks of a colony of bees.

Beyond pollination, there are many other possible applications for these robobees including:

  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping;
  • traffic monitoring;
  • space exploration

At nearly the size of an actual honey bee, these robobees are made of carbon fibers and carry their own power supply and electronics. The wings are flapped by using voltage to control a piezoelectric element that connects to the wings. Currently, the team is working on refining the battery to allow for extended flights. Right now, they are using wires to connect to a traditional battery for testing.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the robobees is the goal to have a colony of robobees that can communicate with each other. The goal is to have robobees disperse, find where flowers are blooming, and communicate with the rest of the hive. They are not quite there yet as there are many hurdles to overcome.

One of the biggest hurdles is to develop a low power method to allow communication. Current wifi technology is power-hungry and has limited range. GPS and other technologies are also power intensive. If battery weight and power were not an issue, then any type of wireless communication might work but battery weight is a limiting factor.

The researchers describe the battery problem as a catch-22: The heavier the battery, the more juice is needed for flight, the more battery power is needed, and so on. Nonetheless, advances in technology should yield a solution within the next several years. Perhaps it will be a hybrid battery solution that allows for solar charging.

Here is what the Harvard website says about the robobees:

From flies to fish to lobsters, small insects and animals have long been ideal models for roboticists and computer scientists. Bees, for example, possess unmatched elegance in flight, zipping from flower to flower with ease and hovering stably with heavy payloads.

Body

By leveraging existing breakthroughs from Professor Wood’s Microrobotics Lab, which conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly in 2007, the team will explore ways to emulate such aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. In addition, achieving autonomous flight will require compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.

Brain

One of the most complicated areas of exploration the scientists will undertake will be the creation of a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae. Professor Wei explains that the ultimate aim is to design dynamic hardware and software that serves as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.

Colony

Finally, to mimic the sophisticated behavior of a real colony of insects will involve the development of sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools to simulate the ways groups of real bees rely upon one another to scout, forage, and plan.

Click here to visit the Harvard website

Additional Resources:

The article on robobees from Scientific American

Watch video of a robobee taking off

More images of robobees

 

 

Maybe we ARE living in the Matrix?!

Scientists to Investigate…

This is not your usual news, but it certainly is interesting. Scientists at the University of Washington have developed a way to test whether we are indeed living within a computer simulation.

Before you start laughing or shaking your head, consider the original article by Nick Bostrom that started all this. Basically, the article posits that if humans advance to the point of “post human” (meaning a super-advanced civilization capable of running computer simulations of ancesters), then it can be a logical argument to assume that it has already happened and we are merely one of these computer simulations. The article does some math based on current known constraints of computational powers and physical laws. Assuming a “post human” world encompasses the knowledge to fully access the brink of physical laws and has almost inifinte compueter processing power, then Bostrom argues that we can assume that we are a computer simulation just as safely as we can confirm “normal” reality.

If you’re still following and haven’t dropped your jaw, scratched your head, or donned your cap of skepticism, then check out this U of W article that proposes a test so we can know for sure. While it is still in it’s infancy, the idea is to show a distinct difference from the normal cone of distribution expected from the relationship of energy and momentum. What this means in lame’s terms is that we should start to notice some idiosynchrocies between “normal” and the computer simulation. I guess the idea is that if we do find these discrepencies then we can assume that we are living in a computer simulation.

I have a few problems with this. First of all, there could be other things causing these discrepencies. The answer could be more troublesome than being part of a computer simulation. Another problem is that it doesn’t really tell us anything that we can use. If we are all just part of a computer simulation, then what does that mean for us? Does it change anything? Does it make this life less “real?

But you know, part of me would not even be surprised. It wasn’t too long ago that we did not even know about the existence of DNA or pathogens, much less radioactivity or electricity. What if we next find out that we live inside a computer program? I would not change my outlook on life except to have a constantly unsettling feeling. 🙂

In any case, this is a really neat thing to think about psychologically as well as philosophically. The fact that it is now being tested with math and science just adds to the philosophical drama.

For an interesting take on this from the entertainment industry, take a look at the Star Trek Voyager episode “The Thaw”.

Let me know what you think about this in the comments. Also, if you know of any other pertinent tv or movie references, then leave those in the comments as well and I will append them to the post. Happy computing! 🙂