Archive | Science

Interesting Stuff – Week 31 2020

Phishing Icon

Culture

The Observer had a good series of articles on Facebook and how it influences politics and culture. 

The Guardian reported on proposals to tax over-40’s more to pay for social care in later life. My initial thoughts on this are positive. It seems like a good idea to me. Works in Germany and Japan according to the article. Doesn’t add to burden on younger people, who already have a raw deal with rent and mortgage costs.

Universities have been in silent trouble for a while. COVID-19 may be the tipping point for many. This article in Nature is a good synopsis of the crisis.

Doesn’t look like remote work will end anytime soon in the big tech companies. Google said their staff will be working from home until at least June 2021, as reported by Ars Technica. The same article also outlines long term plans by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft to extend remote working. Apple followed them this week. As AppleInsider detailed.

This is fabulous. During the lockdown, an amateur woodworker from Belgium built an electric guitar from scratch using a thick wooden shelf he had to hand. This 26-minute video summarises the build. Well worth 26 minutes of your time.

Technology

More information about the Twitter security breach came to light this week. Ars Technica reports on how the attackers used spear-phishing techniques to get access. 

But it turns out that the hackers were teenage amateurs, rather than some sophisticated or state-backed outfit. They have all been arrested and charged. Wired has the details.

On the topic of spear-phishing: it often uses social engineering techniques to get access to peoples data. Here is a short video that shows how easy it is for scammers to get your info over the phone.

Following the poor Intel results last week, and the announcement of more delays to their 7 nm fabrication process, the company announced some changes in senior roles. One notable one was the appointment of Irish engineer Ann Kelleher to lead the processor division.

Science

We will probably never know how life started on Earth. Deep time and plate tectonics recycling the Earth’s crust will have destroyed the evidence. But it was likely via pre-biotic self-organising chemical reactions. New research  summarised in Chemistry World last week shows evidence of some self-replicating molecules showing metabolism. Remarkable stuff. 

It’s been a busy few weeks for Mars exploration. NASA successfully launched its Perseverance rover this week. It follows in the trail of missions from both the UAE and China. Hopefully, they will all get into orbit and land successfully.

Apps

This is intriguing. Algoriddim djay Pro AI – Neural Mix music app for iPad. It can extract individual vocal, melody or drum tracks from songs. And allow you to mix in different ones from other sones. Using an AI-based algorithm. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with the DRM protected Apple Music I have. But for non-DRM protected tracks, it is is pretty impressive.

Interesting Stuff – Week 30 2020

Sci-Fi doodles

Culture

Neotext – a new Sci-Fi fiction publisher launched this week. Their website has both new short stories, and essays about Sci-Fi and concepts from Sci-Fi. This essay by Adam Roberts on how he defines Sci-Fi is excellent.

Technology

A New York Times article with inside details of the group that got access to Twitter admin tools and used it to steal valuable and sought after twitter user names to sell. And how one of the group then sent after popular bitcoins companies and then influential Twitter users to scam Bitcoin from people. It looks like 30+ (twitter updated their estimate) of the users also had their Twitter data downloaded. That has everything in it. Not good.

Intel announced this week that they will miss their targets for their next-generation processors. Before that TSMC disclosed that they were moving to risk estimates for their 3nm chip fabrication processes next year, with full production at this smaller scale targeted for 2020. Remarkable! Apple Insider has details. Apple’s iPhone and iPad chips are made by TSMC using Apple’s designs. Mac’s due this year will also use Apple Silicon fabricated by TSMC.

A selection of essays on the topic of AI and how it will shape our future. Written by leading pundits and experts. Published by The Rockefeller Foundation.

The NHS England COVID-19 contact tracing app has been a shambles from day 1. Sky News has the sorry tale.

The UK National Cybersecurity Centre website has some great information on it. This article on Identity and Access Management is a good starting point if you are looking into the topic.

Science

Apple committed this week to make its supply chain 100% carbon neutral by 2030. Excellent. Where Apple leads, others follow. 

They also published their 2020 Environmental Progress Report.

Maths

Tim Hartford, who presents the BBC More or Less radio show and podcast, announced that his latest book will be published in September. It is a layperson’s guide to how statistics and other numerical data is used and abused in everyday life. It’s called How To Make The World Add Up! I’ve preordered it on Apple Books!

I love what Crash Course is doing on YouTube. This week I discovered that they had lined up with Arizona State University to offer a selection of courses. Including this one on Algebra. Bloody marvellous.

Interesting Stuff – Week 29 2020

Blackboard with maths statistics, equations and ideas

Culture

Prospect Magazine list and poll on the top 50 thinkers in the Covid-19 influenced world right now. Interesting list. Many new to me.

Wired UK article on why we should be wearing transparent face masks. To help people who have hearing issues. And also everyone else, as we use facial cues in everyday speech more than we think.

First, be kind – Your feedback has the power to encourage another person, or shut them down, possibly forever. Excellent advice for everyone. When giving feedback or advice, or even just your opinion. Be nice. 

Web

Nebula is a subscription video service for content creators to post educational and information videos without having to worry about ads and the vagaries of the YouTube algorithm. To surface their content. Also, as it’s not YouTube, you won’t be lead by the hand to videos showing the worst of humanity. Only $3 a month. Bargain. I subscribed. They might need to throw more server capacity or network bandwidth at it though. Time will tell, but I’ve had a few buffering issues using it. Issues that I don’t get on YouTube. 

WindowSwap opens a random video taken from someone’s window in their house, apartment, or office. The videos are showing what’s happening in that place when the video recording took place. Looks to be recordings rather than live webcams. But still fascinating, and brilliant.

Technology

The EU introduced new rules for mediation between businesses and online marketplace providers. The latter include online marketplaces, social media and creative content outlets, app distribution platforms, price comparison websites, professional collaborative platforms, and search engines. In effect in the EU from 12th July. Some interesting stuff, like having to give companies 30 days notice before terminating access to a service. Some are interpreting this as Apple and Google will need to provide 30 days notice before removing apps from their app stores. A summary of the provisions is available here. The full regulations are available in multiple languages and formats here.

M. G. Siegler on how much change there has been in personal computing over the last 20 years. From a desktop PC with a 20 kg (44 lb) monitor to a 0.45 kg (1 lb) iPad Pro. Remarkable.

Wrong About the Apple Silicon Mac – Rene Ritchie outlines why most people are thinking incorrectly about the Mac Apple Silicon migration. Watch on Nebula or YouTube.

Apple are updating their API’s, documentation and contributions to open source projects to remove any exclusionary terms. Nice one. 

STEM

Quanta Magazine article on the incompleteness theorems by Kurt Gödel.

Conrad Wolfram has a book and project to try to update the teaching of mathematics to take heed of the fact that computers exist and can be used to enhance the curriculum. Most people in the future will have access to computational power that they can use to do calculations for them. And with knowledge engines like Wolfram Alpha, and AI systems they will often be able to ask questions in plain language. There is a sample lesson for the new maths curriculum they are developing on the Wolfram blog.

Review: The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science Of Fate book Cover

The Science of Fate book cover

I’m always wary of books that address the concept of free will. Many people assert that we don’t have free will due to the deterministic nature of the physical universe, or due to evidence from experiments that shows our subconscious brain makes ‘decisions’ before our conscious mind performs an action. Such as flicking a light switch. It’s still our brains making a choice though. Our subconscious is part of us. The deterministic universe arguments against free will just annoy me. There is plenty of space in the layers of reality above the quantum realm for emergent behaviour that includes our ability to act as agents that can choose. We have free will in that sense. So I went into the audiobook edition of Hannah’s book with some trepidation. Would it be another book advocating that we don’t have free will? Thankfully my fears were unfounded. This is a book about how our biology shapes our behaviour via biochemistry, neurobiology, and psychology. It’s an excellent survey of how behaviours have been shaped and honed by natural selection and evolution. It’s undoubtedly a fact that there are many behaviours that humans (and other animals) exhibit that are predetermined by our biology and environment. The level of this predeterminism varies depending on what is being discussed. Most humans (without medical or psychological problems) can override the higher level impulses that our biology shapes. My take after reading this book is that humanity in the round does have free will with respect to the higher level activities such as “will I eat this apple or throw it over the fence into my neighbours garden.” Our free will emerges with the complexity in the underlying biology, which in turn arises from chemistry and physics. On a technical note: the audiobook is excellently read by the author who is experienced in audio delivery from many science podcasts and other media activities. I highly recommend this book. In whatever format you like the best.

Free Will?

There is a lot of discussion about free will and whether humans have it. I don’t pretend to understand all the arguments. I want to learn a lot more in future.

One of the arguments that is made by advocates of the position that humans don’t have free will is based on brain scan results from when people are asked to perform a simple task. For example when someone is asked to move their index finger. Brain scan results show that our brains unconsciously decide to make the finger movement several seconds before we have conscious awareness of the decision. Similar results have been shown for other brain processes. I don’t think the fact that our brains make some decisions in our subconscious, before the conscious brain is aware of them, is in doubt.

Some people posit that this means we don’t have free will. If our subconscious brain is making decisions then how are we making informed conscious decisions is the argument. I don’t agree with this position. Our subconscious is still part of our brains. We don’t fully understand how brains work. Even if we didn’t have the option not to perform the action that is decided in our subconscious (we do have that option), then the decision in the subconscious is still ours.

Human Universe

Just finished watching the last episode of BBC Human Universe. It was a fabulous advertisement for rationalism, Humanism and Enlightenment values. Professor Brian Cox is a great host for these types of programmes. I’ve seen comments saying that he isn’t as good as predecessors such as Carl Sagan or James Burke. I disagree. I watched both of those presenters back in the day. They were great. So is Brian Cox. He is as good as them. He’s also operating in a world were there are a lot more channels competing for peoples attention. So the presentation has to grab people. It’s well worth watching Human Universe on iPlayer if you missed it. 

Fast Diet Update 2 #fastdiet

Quick update on my fast diet progress. See the original post for more details, and fist update

Weight: 82.5 Kg. (down 5.3 Kg).

BMI: 23.3. (down 1.5).

Waist: 99 cm. (No change).

Surprised that my waist hasn’t reduced even though I’ve lost 5.3 Kg. Must be losing internal fat. Which is good if true. Want to get waist down to about 88 cm. Onwards.

Summing an arithmetic sequence

This post is to test how Latex output from Mathematica appears via MathJax. It also shows a handy way to sum up a sequence of numbers that have the same difference between them.

Suppose you have a series of numbers that start with a number we call a. If the next number, and the ones after it, in the sequence differ by the same value, then the formula given below can be used to calculate the number of items in the sequence: 

\(n=frac{L-a}{d}+1\)

where a = the first term in the sequence, L = the last term in the sequence, and d = difference between the terms in the sequence. d has to be non-zero and the same between each set of terms in the sequence.

Once you know the number of terms in an arithmetic sequence you can sum the terms using the formula: \(S=frac{1}{2} n (2 a+ (n-1)d)\), where a = the first term in the sequence, n= the number of terms in the sequence, and d = difference between the terms in the sequence.

The embedded equations above show that the latex from Mathematica does work. Happy days. That’s both Mathematica and MathType I can use as required.