Category Archives: Rants and Musings

Golden Bubbles

Just because something is finite or rare doesn’t necessarily make it valuable. That’s a classic mistake people make when talking about currency.

Something has “real” value when it meets an actual human need or a desire.

Food and water, for example, have “real” value, because you would die without them. Shelter from the elements (such as a house) may also have some degree of “real” value (although much of what people refer to as “shelter” is mostly them flaunting their social status in the form of unnecessarily large houses). Land has “real” value because you can do things with it (growing food, building shelter, etc).

Gold has been seen as having value for millennia because of its inherit usefulness. For starters: It’s a very malleable metal which is resistant to oxidation and corrosion. It’s also shiny. This makes it ideal for making jewelry. Where there are people, there are always going to be people who want to show off their social status, and rare jewelry has a way of fulfilling that social need.

In the modern era, however, gold is a little less useful. We have all sorts of composite materials and advanced metals that are perhaps just as functional as gold for many purposes.

So much of the world’s gold supply has been hoarded up in vaults and is not even being used for anything anymore. The fact that the average person can get along just fine without it in their everyday lives (and yet the price is insanely high) means that the value of gold is currently suffering from a giant perception bubble. People think it’s worth more than it actually is, and because it’s rare, the price goes up, and since the price keeps going up, people want to buy it as an investment vehicle, and so the price keeps going up, and so people want to buy more, and it’s basically just a cycle that feeds on itself.

Plus, there are all the people who currently own gold and want the value to keep going up, so they are constantly going out of their way to tell people just how valuable gold is (and how it’s a foolproof investment). For the longest time, all you had to do was listen to any major talk radio station and you would hear countless ads about how you should “invest” in gold and blah blah blah.

In my opinion, the price of gold in the past couple of years has basically just been a giant bubble that demonstrates humanity’s greed and complete inability to assess the true value of things.

You can ride these sorts of bubbles for a while, but they will eventually always crash.

A Card “Force” Using Unintuitive Mathematical Odds

“A card force is one of any number of methods used in close-up magic to apparently offer a subject a free or random choice of card, when in fact the magician knows in advance exactly which card will be chosen. This can then be revealed later in the trick.”

Premise: We have a set of three cards, all of which are known to us. We attempt to force a specific card on the unsuspecting participant by instructing them to randomly point at one of three cards, which are all laying face down. Theoretically, they have a one in three chance of picking the correct card randomly. If they point at the desired card, we immediately instruct them to flip it, effectively “forcing” the card on them in one try. If this works on the first try, the trick will be especially impressive. However, if it doesn’t work on the first try, we still have a fall-back method:

If they point at one of the other cards, instead of telling them to flip the card, we pretend that they’re playing a game of elimination and we simply remove the card, instructing them to point again. If they point at the next incorrect card, we instruct them to remove it, leaving one final card: the correct one.

Potential downside: If they point at the desired card on the second step, then the “force” fails,
because when we remove it, the end card will actually be the incorrect one.

Cards used: Ace of Hearts (the desired card), Queen of Clubs, and 8 of Spades

Approximate Results After 2000 Simulations:
Times ended on Ace of Hearts: 1322 (0.661)
Times ended on Queen of Clubs: 339 (0.1695)
Times ended on 8 of Spades: 339 (0.1695)

Click here to run the simulations yourself using javascript

Explanation:
Odds of picking the right card during the first step: 1/3. If incorrect card is chosen on first step, we pretend it’s an elimination game and remove the card, leaving only two cards, the desired card, and the incorrect card. At this point, you might think there is an even 50/50 chance they will choose the correct card, but in reality, the odds of them choosing and eliminating the desired card are still 1/3 because it hasn’t been touched. The odds of them choosing and eliminating the second incorrect card, however, have increased to 2/3. This is unintuitive, but the simulation shows it to be true.

Verdict:
Because of the fact that we know which cards are which, we can effectively double our seemingly low 33% odds all the way to 66% simply by using this card force method.

The only unsolved problem is, how do you handle a dead end where someone chooses the wrong card, and then the right card on the second step?

Litmus Test for Door to Door Sales

If I ever get down on my luck, I’m totally going to start a business selling “No Soliciting” signs from door to door.

The way I see it, it’s practically a guaranteed sale…

“Sorry, we’re not interested in whatever you’re selling! In fact, we hate door to door sales people!”

“Well in that case, you’ll love this sign!”

The best part about it is that if they don’t buy the sign, you can just come back every week until they do. After all, they don’t have a sign saying you can’t!

Redesigning Neural Pathways

As I was laying in bed last night, looking up at the ceiling and trying to fall asleep, a revelation came to me: I don’t know the alphabet backwards.

Now, this is a real problem. I mean, what would I do if a cop pulled me over for an impromptu alcohol test? I can imagine it now, “Mr. Chapin, please stand on one leg, touch your nose with your index finger, and recite the alphabet backwards for me”. To which I would reply, “err… uh… but I can’t!”, and would end up in jail even though I was sober as could be.

These are the kind of thoughts that go through my head whenever my body is inactive and my mind refuses to shut off (usually when I’m either attempting to go to sleep, or when I’m taking a shower). Yup. Some of my best insights take place while I am washing my hair.

So anyways, I immediately set about to teach myself the alphabet backwards. To make it interesting, I resolved to do it all entirely in my head without using a piece of paper or writing device even once. This may be ridiculously easy for some of you, but I’m one of those people who can only recite the alphabet in sing-song. Take away the song, and I’m lost even when I’m going forward! Whenever I’m indexing things in alphabetical order (like a file cabinet, for instance), I end up singing the alphabet song in my head every time I need to figure out whether “e” comes before “f”. This usually means that the alphabet song gets sung in my head a couple hundred times before I’m finished.

Ah. The dangers of learning things in sing-song…

Here’s the method that I contrived and used to re-teach myself the alphabet both forwards and backwards while I was laying in bed:

1. Sing the alphabet in my head to find the first three letters, “abc”.
2. State the three letters in my head to myself again, but this time in normal tone, “abc”.
3. Reverse the three letters and state them to myself again, “cba”.
4. Mentally draw the shapes of the letters in forwards order.
5. Mentally draw the shapes of the letters again, but this time in reverse order.
6. Repeat until it feels “natural”.
7. Repeat steps 1 through 6, over and over, making three letter sequences for all the letters in the alphabet: abc, def, ghi, jkl, mno, pqr, stu, vwx, yz
8. Practice chaining together the first couple of sequences in my head, “abc, def”.
9. Practice chaining together the same sequence, but this time in backwards mode, “fed, cba”.
10. Repeat until it feels “natural”.
11. Repeat steps 8 through 10 to chain together the remaining sequences.
12. Haltingly practice saying the alphabet backwards, one sequence at a time, “zy, xwv, uts, rqp, onm, lkj, ihg, fed, cba”.
13. Repeat over and over until it feels “natural”.
14. Speed up recitation and attempt to find the sing-song rythm, “zyxwvut srqponmlk jih gfe dc b and a”.
15. Go to sleep and let my subconscious mind ponder the changes to my brain.
16. Wake up in the morning and recite the alphabet forwards and backwards while taking a shower.
17. Recite forwards and backwards both before sleeping and after waking up, for an entire week.

Time Travel

My opinion/theory is that time is linear and takes place at a constant rate. You can not stop time. You can not move back or forward in it. All you have is here and now, which moves along at an unchangeable pace. The only thing that we are able to change is our perception of time. For example, if you put your consciousness on “pause” and go to sleep for 8 hours, when you wake up you have effectively moved your perception of time ahead by those 8 hours. You have not “time-travelled”, however, because time exists outside of your perception. This is evidenced by the fact that many other events continued to take place at their normal pace even while you were asleep.

The biggest thing that gets people all excited about the idea of time travel is Einstein’s theory of relativity, which basically states that, well, everything’s relative.

For example, there’s no way to measure how fast the earth is moving through space because that depends entirely on your viewpoint. If you are standing on earth, it seems like it’s at a stand-still. But if you’re standing on an asteroid that is zipping along at 1,000 miles a second past the earth, then the earth looks like it’s moving really fast.

People have taken the concept of relativaty where it applies to movement and they have mistakenly tried to apply it to time. The reason why they do this is because humans identify and measure the process of time according to the movement of things (i.e. movement of hands on clock, movement of planets and stars, etc…). Technically, if all movement ceased to exist, there would be no way to measure time, so it would appear to have come to a stand-still. However, time would still be moving along at it’s normal rate, even though nobody would be able to measure it. You can’t change time by moving things any more than you can go back in time by moving the hands on your clock.

Here’s another thing that confuses people about time travel, making them think it’s possible: The speed of light.

Light travels at 186,282 miles per second, and the distance it travels in a year is called a “light year”, or 5,878,625,373,184 miles.

The most distant galaxies that our human instruments can detect are at least 10 billion light years away. Some people would say that the fact that we can see this light is evidence that the universe is at least 10 billion years old, because the light had to take that long to get here. Others say that God just flicked a switch and made the all the light from those distant stars just “instantly” travel the distance to earth when He created it.

There’s no way to know for sure, but we at least know this: Light generally takes a long time to travel over long distances.

We also know that humans see using light. Light bounces off of things and hits the back of your eyes, where the resulting signals are interpreted by your brain.

Now here’s the interesting bit. Look up into the sky. If you were to see a star that was exactly one “light year” in distance from the earth, you would effectively be seeing *into the past*. The light hitting your eyes has been travelling that distance for an entire year and is just now reaching you.

When scientists look at a star 10 light years away and they watch it explode, that is an explosion that actually took place 10 years ago! Crazy, huh?

Let’s say we figured out how to travel faster than light, and we flew 100 light years in distance from earth. Then, using an amazingly powerful telescope, if we were to focus in on earth, we would be seeing light that was 100 years old. If you zoomed in a little closer, you might even see people walking around in 1906 clothing, doing whatever people did in 1906.

Does this mean you “travelled back in time”? No! All you did was change your perception of it! It would basically be like rewinding a video-tape to see previous footage. Can you interact with the footage? Nope. It’s just light.

On that same note, you should be able to understand why you can’t “move forward” into time. You can’t change your perception to something that hasn’t taken place! The best you could do would be move close enough to the object in question so that you could see it in the now, instead of merely distant light from the past.

Hopefully now you understand what all the fuss was over time travel and einstein’s theory of relativity, and the speed of light. You should also be able to make sense of all the time travel nonsense that Hollywood puts out. Or at least I hope so…

Satellite Imagery/Video of the USA from space

Satellite Image

What would you think if the government was recording live satellite video imagery of the entire USA, up close? What if a crime was committed but wasn’t discovered till later on? The government could literally rewind time and track the entire path of the escape vehicle, leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.

According to the wikipedia, the USA is approximately 3,718,711 square miles in size.

Using these numbers, if you were to take the USA and squeeze it into a flat, square shape,it would be approximately 1,928 miles in width and 1,928 miles in length.

If you were to photograph the USA at 431,309,824 pixels per square mile (approximately three times higher resolution than current internet satellite/aerial imagery gives you), then you would use 1,603,257,976,815,616 pixels to photograph the entire USA.

If we saved this image off without compression as a 2 bytes per pixel image, then the file size would be 3,206,515,953,631,232 bytes, or around 2,917 terabytes in size.

With a typical compression algorithm, you could theoretically get it down to around a third of that size… probably around 960 terabytes.

Now, let’s theoretically record this area at 30 frames per second. At first glance, you’re probably thinking, “whoa! 28,878 terabytes a second???”. But you have to remember that this would be video you’re dealing with. A good video compression algorithm would only record the differences between frames. And trust me, a TON of those pixels aren’t going to change noticeably in that small space of time. Pretty much all you’d be recording would be people and vehicles moving across the face of an otherwise static and unchanging image. So let’s just say that less than 1% of that square mileage would appear to have moved at all.

Which means you’d probably have less than 5 terabytes worth of image differences per frame. At this estimate, 1 second of video would only take up around 150 terabytes (not 28,878). This means that we could record the USA at 540,000 terabytes per hour. Assuming that we took a complete snapshot of the entire USA every single hour (960 terabytes), then 24 hours of the USA would take up around 12,678 petabytes.

This may sound like a completely absurd size, but it’s not so mind-numbing when you think about the new holographic data storage technologies that are being developed right now. Terabytes will be cheaper than megabytes are now.

What if they only recorded major cities for now, and they were to do it at only, say, 5 frames per second? Or even just one frame per second for starters? They could still track vehicles and do basic surveillance.

In the mean time, check out this massive 18,000×18,000 pixel image that was taken by the Hubble telescope!