30 June, 2008

Feed off Evil...but don't spread it.

In the last 6 years I've taken a long term view on the pay out for the sacrifices I've made in finishing my framework and applications and launching my business. These sacrifices required a trade off between my desire to achieve certain things now versus being able to throw those resources into my business now. Along the way I've interacted with my peers both socially and professionally and in relaying my goals have noticed several personality traits in the people that I've discussed my goals with. It has always fascinated me how some people are quick to form an opinion having little to no information about a subject. At the same time other people are incredibly meticulous, silently gathering information until they have enough to make a reasoned opinion or assessment of the topic of discussion. Some of these people seek to be facilitators of the dream, they do this by bringing up information that they may be privy to that you were not aware of as caution, others seek to be destroyers, they will bring up things as if to say "gotcha" , rather than wishing to aide they wish only to tear you down.

I've found that the learning to avoid the opinions of the latter type of person allows you to focus on your goals while feeding off the positive feedback of the facilitators allows you to achieve your goals. That said, it is important to surround yourself with both types of people, the facilitators may be compelled to provide advice but they can also out of empathy for the time and effort you've expended in your pursuits, to omit a level of honesty that may be needed in order to turn your ship so to speak if it seems you are headed inexorably toward an iceberg. On the opposite end , the destroyers can serve as a form of positive motivation toward achieving your goals. In order to make use of them you must be able to feed off evil, not everyone is able to take clearly negative or demeaning comments and turn them into sources of positive motivation but when others wish you ill you should focus on the germ of truth that usually attends such talk to eradicate it. By doing so you clear yourself to exceed your expectations and prove the destroyer wrong in one go. I've always prided myself on my ability to take a negative comment (even one that is not necessarily intended to be malicious) and use it, feed off of it. A relentlessly competitive spirit allows you to set up competitions between yourself and whomever it is you perceive has issued a challenge. I've always perceived challanges from others , even when no explicit challenge was made, this level of paranoia allowed me to achieve several goals I've set for myself. When I was in grade school, the challenge set by my peers was motivation for my studies once I came home. I remember studying for hours every night, commiting to memory every word that was written on the black board of my social studies class room just so that I could recite it, word for word the next day. I got a thrill of achievement from that act that I can't explain, since then I've tried to recreate that thrill by picking up challenges put forward by others. I must admit to a level of paranoia in this tendency, when I go running I feel immediately challenged by any runner that comes abreast of me, their attempt to pass in their own pace modifies my own. I take it as a secret inner challenge and use that to accelerate my performance for that session. If that person had not come, I would have been less likely to increase my pace for my own inner reasons. I've sought to simulate this challenge by keeping my times from previous runs and consulting that during the run. Self measurement is a key way to pace your present achievement against your past and keep track to achieving your goals. Without that self measurement you tend to get lost in mediocre performance that detracts you from achieving your goals in the timeline that you set. In the last 6 years, the challenge of designing a distributed web framework and applications to run on it has put me on a playing field where all my competitors are non local. My challenges came from the other founders, technologists and entrepreneurs that have struck out to try and solve problems that I also attempted to solve. In so doing inevitably a clash of ego's leads to arguments. An ex coworker of mine who I've kept in contact with for the last 7 years or so has served his purpose as a constant source of challenge for me, though he may not be aware of this, his words have motivated me to prove him wrong on many of the malicious statements he's made concerning my endeavor. Some people would question why I keep him in my circle of "friends" but he has been invaluable in allowing me to wake up periodically and re-assess what I am doing and why. These sessions have allowed me to redouble my efforts, now it is likely I would have done this anyway but the motivation from the perceived challenge has sharpened my focus. I have people who I can confide in and get good news on what I am doing but those people are afraid to hurt me if they feel what they say can, my friends are the ones who aren't afraid to hurt me when they state their opinion. I have to still divine weather their statement is one of malicious or caring intent but the act of doing so still focuses my mind to prove them wrong either way. Also in these experiences I learn to criticize others always with a solution to accompany the criticism. The old saying that if you have nothing good to say, say nothing is one we all should learn to adhere to but this is not to say hide what you perceive as the truth from those who know. It is to say, present the truth in a dispassionate and caring way and not an openly malicious one.

You never know when the negative or intentionally malicious comment you give someone leads them to a path of ruin, so you should always choose your words carefully. Not everyone is as resilient to challenge as you may be, not every one is as stubborn in the face of adversity, keep this in mind when interacting with others. Also it is important to fully immerse yourself in the perspective of others before you can say anything intelligent about what they are doing, don't assume that a two minute introduction is enough to make you an expert in something that someone else has been working on for years. This belies a level of arrogance , conceit and impulsiveness that can be detrimental to yourself and to those with whome you interact.

So feeding off evil, is good...in fact imperative to achieve your goals...but don't spread it.

22 June, 2008

Phoenix processing a revolution ???

The Phoenix lander has succeeded beyond the hopes of its designers and has not only successfully landed on Mars near the ice cap but has managed to unearth (or unmars to be precise) frozen ice just under the soil surface near the lander. Now the lander undergoes the process of chemical analysis of the ice to determine if it has anything in it that we might consider as a form of life. It is amazing that we are in a position to answer the question of weather or not life is unique to our blue orb, at the same time the relative silence in the media is disturbing. I think the most important consequence of a discovery of living entities in the Martian subsurface ice would be the ability to adjust our estimates for the probability of life in the Galaxy.

We've known since the 50's that the elements of life, simple amino acids , lipids can be formed by simulation of conditions similar to what was found in the early Earth. However, amino acids do not life make, before we get to life we need to have complex replicating chains of Amino Acids , called RNA ...and then we need protective shells for these RNA that are able to be permeated conditionally based on various interactions with materials outside of the membrane....in essence a primitive cell. Finding such entities on Mars would indicate that the process of building life is one that can form in the most inhospitable environments and should drastically increase the estimates for life in the Galaxy. Still it must be pointed out that life being able to form in extreme environments does not necessarily lead to life that can evolve to the complex form that we exist in, it could be that our form of life, introspective life is orders of magnitude more improbable to emerge from cell based life , leaving most of the galaxy one big petri dish of goo populated by the occasional macroscopic animal forms like ourselves only in rare occasions.

Still it is exciting to know that we are on the virge of finding out, it just may be that the results yield nothing interesting but that would not end the game, the solar system has several planetary bodies which have complex geothermal activity and chemistry that could be the seat of bizarre forms of life, such as the frozen moon of Saturn's Enceladus which is blessed with so much water it spews it into space in massive geysers that are now believed to be the source of one of Saturn's rings. Could Enceladus be spewing out more than just liquid to populate that ring? The preponderance of the materials that constitute living things in the solar system provides confidence that very interesting chemistries are being tried or have been tried and we know it happened at least once so it is possible that it could happen again.

Hopefully the experiments being conducted by Phoenix will answer that question definitively very soon.



the living snowflake

The definition of what constitutes a living thing is not as cut and dried as many would think. If we define a living thing as something that takes materials from its environment , consumes them to make energy and reproduce themselves, and then excretes waste...then stars are alive and most chemical reactions can also said to be living ones, so how do we distinguish what we familiarly call "life" from ordinary chemical processes. Can we add in the restriction that the interactions must be performed by multicellular organisms to be alive then we have just removed many types of archaic bacteria and viruses from the category of "life" and we know that these organisms are capable of reproducing themselves. Maybe the problem is the question, maybe we have used a much too narrow definition of "life", I propose that instead of defining life in terms of resource utilization and reproduction that we define it in terms of one thing that life does that non life does not. Life has the unique ability to continue to change despite the fact that the required resources for its survival do not, this is the result of the nearly random effects of mutation. All cells are subject to mutation by virtue of their existence on a planet, near a highly radiating Sun. The effects of UV radiation on our cells introduces mutations in the genetic structure of even the smallest organisms and changes over time how those organisms relate to the outside environment. In the billions of years that have elapsed since the first signs of life on Earth, mutation has played its part in the development of increasingly more complex systems from blind chemical processes. The formation of the cell wall is said to arise from the combination of having simple replication molecules trapped insides lipid bodies which naturally, in their mindless acquiesence to conservation of energy, form into spherical shapes. The process of genetic transcription also occurs from the blind chemistry of the simple sugars which are themselves nothing more than energy conservative combinations of elemental molecules like Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon and Hydrogen which have known (but probabilistically certain) affinities for bonding and attraction.

In living systems contrary to those of low level chemical systems (reactions) the failure of elements to bond is expressed as an improbability of the occurance coupled with the brevity of the survival of the new species (the atomic scientists word ...not mine!) what is not energy conservative ceases to exist after brief periods. Life on the otherhand persists through mutations and macroscopically results in a materially different system that can then propagate its particular mutation set to its progeny. Viruses do this, the most archaic Bacteria do this, plants and people do this. Stars do not do this, snow flakes do not do this, a catalyzing reaction between two elements or more complex chemicals does not do this. The evolution of what I propose as non life is rigid and fixed once the energy regime for a reaction is set, once oxygen and hydrogen meet under the right temperature and pressure constraints water WILL form. Abberant species of hydrogen/oxygen molecules are probabilistically denied to exist for any important (meaning allowing continued reaction) duration. Similarly, stars are not alive because they do not have the ability to continue their stellar burning beyond the limits of their acquired Hydrogen fuel, the initial mass value or addition of new material does lead to a change in the evolutionary trajectory of the star (will it be a white dwarf? a neutron star or a black hole? or will it go NOVA?) but these changes are precisely predicted ones. Unlike true life, who's evolved state under mutation holds the possibility for highly unpredictable changes in the final entity, particularly after generations of mutation and propagation.

So formerly my proposal for a new definition of "life" is:

Life, any entity that under the process of internal random mutation changes how it interacts with the outside environment from generation to generation despite having at any given moment the resources (even if fixed in quantity) required for its survival.

How's that?

19 June, 2008

the inverse existence probability of a multiverse and God

Disclosure: Following post modified from comment posted at Richard Dawkins web site.

I'll say that the idea of a "God" as a creative force that might be sentient but not cognizant of its work is not one I wince from. I could accept an absent minded God:

' a Giant in another dimension sneezed and 10 centimeters from his nose was born our Universe'

: does that make our Universe a theist one? If we are to accept the plausibility of multiverse theories over those of the theists that postulate a controlling conscious God for our Universe, we have to accept the possibility of what these theories predict. If Universes are born and die in an infinite foaming of space not unlike the Planck scale undulations we know occur in our space time, then it is possible that there was a "God", in this thought experiment it was completely oblivious of its creation just as we are oblivious of the riot of particle creation we engender as we wave our hands in the wind and give birth to a billion trillion virtual undulations in space time.

Is this absent minded type of God possible?? yes, but extremely unlikely. If universes can be born in the random "nothing" of space, which is far more numerous in expanses away from any sentient beings (like ourselves) then near them, then it is more likely that(away) is where most of them will spontaneously be born. In no way aided by an absent minded and oblivious "God". In fact it seems in the limit as the number of created universes in the multiverse goes to infinity, the probability of an absent minded sentient creating any single universe goes down to zero.

Though I have none of the skill to explore rigorously the veracity of what is conjectured above, it seems intuitively that the probability of a God ..even an absent minded creator one, approaches zero if the infinite multiverse concept is correct. Given the fact of no evidence at all to support the cognizant and watching theist God the only other alternative, there is something delightfully ironic about that to me. ;)

To understand why this is so read about the idea of limit, a concept created by mathematicians for use in Calculus and the study of variations.



18 June, 2008

commerce enable redux

The chronicles of commerce enabling my startup continue, after wrestling with the draconian and Gordian loops that Paypal requires for developers to get their payment services working properly I did some more research on the subject and decided to go with Amazon payment services as an alternative. You'll recall I first mentioned my attack of this issue way back in April.

The main trouble I had with paypal revolved around the amazingly complex set of actions that must be performed to test code, the unreliability of their system (they just recently had a string of hiccups that led to possibly millions of dollars in lost revenue from their existing customers...good thing I was not up and running at the time. I battled those issues for just over a week after writing that post and then decided to just let it rest until either paypal's issues resolved and or I had a calm mind enough to work through the issues they presented. I decided to finish up everything else that I had waiting which involved finishing the pages for the consumer web site and other little tweaks. I have done that and now attack commerce enablement with aplomb using the Amazon API and noticed one issue immediately. Unlike Paypal's services which provided an option for subscription buttons , Amazon as yet does not support recurring payments. This would be a deal breaker if it were not for a cool aspect of the framework I've designed that the Consumer Site is built on.

A short run down of what needs to be done is as follows:

  1. Paying customer with an existing account with a specific term of service (say 3 months) expires between logins.
  2. On next login customer should be redirected to service plan upgrade page to extend the terms of their service on their existing account.
  3. After selecting a new plan and term and submitting request using Amazon button, the User should be prompted to pay using Amazon payment service and then redirected back to consumer site.
  4. My site should confirm the request payment and on that basis do the switch to the new plan or reenable the existing plan and send off a notification email as receipt.

What is cool about the whole thing is I was able to use a powerful feature of my web framework to make the process trivial. Ideally, I would have wanted Amazon to provide a subscription button as opposed to a pay now button, a subscription button would allow me to have Amazon handle recurring payments but Amazon doesn't have a subscription service so I have to simulate it. If I was able to get paypal to work reliably they do have subscription services but it is simpler to use the buy now button and simply handle the term expiration on my end. I was able to implement this without any need for changes to any classes in the framework API.


One of the most important features to be added to my framework was a way to granulate the actions performed against several dimensions. Originally the framework was designed as the base for a content management system as the first application so I needed a way to trigger changes to content at specific times, dates, on specific object types (story,ad) or by specific categories. I decided the best way to do this in as fine grained way as possible was to create what I called a Flag in the API. Flags allow specification of the attributes mentioned above as independently defined attributes. Date, Time, Type, Type ID and even the order of an item in a list of items can be made into discrete objects. These Flags can then be associated with various object sets in the system to allow the ad hoc creation of complex selection behavior. I realized the power of this and made it agnostic of type across the frameworks base class for new types. I also added the ability to control the periodicity of a Flag , controlling when it is "fresh". For example, a Flag can be Fresh on Monday of every week for a 3 months or it can be Fresh between 2pm and 8pm of April of this year only. Controlling periodicity of a Flag allows it to be used to control the triggering of any action. This allows Flags to be created to discretize any instance of any object type (including other Flags!). Combined with the ability to store those Flags in a queue and act on the "fresh" state of the Flag I was able to delay any action for exection on any instance of any object type. This takes us back to our problem of needing to simulate subscriptions using a buy now button provided by Amazon payment services. In order to simulate subscription I would need a way first to time limit a users account access to the term duration of their selected service plan.

When I first designed the framework and the Flag object I wanted to allow a system wide ability to specify when a User could log in to the system, the perfect candidate to manage this was a Flag. A User account can be given what is called a Temporal Flag which manages when they can login, this allows the system to control precisely when certain Users can login. Allowing or preventing access to the system off hours if that is desired. It also allows me to simulate the subscriptions, by specifying a Flag that has its "fresh" interval varied with the term of the service plans selected by the User during purchase. Enabling this for the paying Users was trivial, I simply had to update the "switch.jsp" that handled the actual job of updating the service plan status of a User to provide a Flag to that User with the required term duration (one month,3 months,6 months, a year) thus once the date specified in the Users temporal Flag is reached their account will go under temporal restriction and they will be prevented from Logging in.

The next step involved redirecting the temporally restricted User to the service plan page, this required isolating a unique aspect of paying Users and using that to generate a redirection to the service plans page instead of to their default page selected after login. This required adding a 4 line conditional that checked the temporal Flag existence as well as if the User account had a service plan, if both are true the User is guaranteed to be a paying customer whose term has expired. This would then trigger redirection to the service plan page to allow the User to reactivate their plan.

The next step involves changes to the "switch.jsp" template, to allow it to create and or update Flags with the new terms and options selected and confirmed as paid for by Amazon. This template is managed in the framework itself so the change required no core API changes. A wrinkle to the implementation related to 8 plans that are Site manager Plans, these allow a User to manage their own Site full of their own Users, I needed to disable or enable these Users for the site...this didn't require any changes other than the necessary method calls in the clauses that invoked these plans. The changes would be made in real time to the Users account updating their current session object and allowing them to immediately continue their session!

I am partly through the implemention of stage 3 above, having started the Flag insert /update code which I will finish tomorrow. I am so happy I added Flags to the framework...what could have been weeks of work should be wrapped up in little more than two days.

10 June, 2008

nothing from something from nothing...

It is a demonstrable fact that some things can indeed come from "nothing". The best example is the zero point energy that is practically seen as the Casimir effect between two plates in *empty space*. The answer comes from realizing that we live in a quantum world, one of probabilities not certainties. The equations that govern particle behavior (to unheard of accuracy)dictate the probable emergence of particle pairs in empty space at zero temperature (absolute zero). Virtual particles they are called, however they can become very real if an event interrupts the annihilation that would normally attend their creation. The problem that people have in understanding the meaning of "nothing" is that the very concept is relative to time and energy because we are embedded in a space time. Thus over sufficiently long or short periods of it the meaning of "nothing" varies. The equations are commutative across energy as long as all the energy of the system is allocated for over any given time of observation. In the case of virtual particle predicted by mathematics, their effects measurable by experimentation, "nothing" depends on when you are doing the observation, pre spontaneous creation? post creation? or post annihilation. The concept of "nothing" is itself transitory. The intrinsic importance of this realization was put home by Steven Hawking when he conjectured his Black Hole radiation theory. It has as a lynch pin the idea of virtual particles undergoing asymmetrical annihilation on either side of a black hole's event horizon as the cause of the eventual dissipation of the black hole.

Another amazing fact, it is believed that the sum total of all energy in the universe is a big fat zero. It is theorized that as the universe expands the existing energy will dissipate to the point that it is on the level of the quantum fluctuations at which point it will be practically "nothing". Us, the Earth , the Carbon, Iron, Oxygen and Nitrogen that make up planets and nebula of the galaxy, the entire universe is nothing more than the remnants of an energy echo sent 13.5 billion years ago in the initial bang. The evolution of the universe is an expression of that energy as it evolves over time, if it is true that the Universe will continue to expand and in fact accelerate with age it will accelerate to a state of "nothing". Over the arch of observation that attended its creation, expansion and evolution and eventual death in a cold whimper it will be conserving energy as over that arc the sum of what was and what was not will still be zero. Incredibly cool isn't it? Recent evidence suggests that our Universe may have been created in a process called Inflation (theorized by Andre Linde in the early 80's) the idea is that our universe is a bubble in an ever roiling multiverse infinitely extended, a white noise of universes being created, evolving and dying forever...not unlike what we see in the zero point energy, an endless roiling of empty space. The beauty of this symmetry of the immensely large and the immensely small is hardly an accident in my view.

So something (virtual particles) can indeed come from "nothing" (empty space) and elicit real effects (Casimir Effect , dissolving black holes) on the Universe. In this, the physics definition of "nothing" is statistically the white noise of the zero point energy, which is as "nothing" as anything can get in space time. When I first learned of this correlation between reality and the equations of quantum mechanics I had one of the most incredible feelings in my life, that the probabilistic equations could give rise to such a prediction (vacuum fluctuations) of the very base nature of space itself was astonishing to me.







09 June, 2008

the burning sun...

The sun, the enabler of the processes that gave impetus for the formation of life burns ever present in the summer sky of NYC. There was a time when the idea of the sun as simply an orb rotating around the Earth was common but that time has come and gone, most people today know that in the hierarchy of celestial spheres , the sun is preeminent being the most massive by far of all other orbiting bodies put together.

What less people know is the amazing physics and chemistry that happens inside the sun itself. It is not a homogeneous ball of fusing hydrogen gas, it has complex flows of electromagnetic energy across its surface which occasionally burst free in the form of Coronal mass ejections that travel near the speed of light toward Earth. Some theorize that these CME's have drastically changed events here on Earth, CME's of sufficient strength could devastate the modern communication system built on orbiting satellites by causing massive overloads in the delicate circuitry of those orbiting devices. Terrestrially, the strong fields give rise to increased activity with the Earth's own magnetic field , increasing the number of particles that impact and penetrate our thin atmosphere to hit ground. The effects of these increased electrical storms could cause major electrical grid irregularities across the globe. Some feel that the cycles that the sun has during which it undergoes maxima and minima of sun spot activity may be linked to the climate changes of the Earth and may be instrumental for the cyclic ice ages.

But the activity of the sun goes deeper still, the sun is a furnace for creating atoms. The fusion process gives rise to the heavier nuclei that are required to form the elements we find all over the Earth. Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen up to Iron. The engine of this atom factory lies in the immense pressures that attend the gravitational accretion of billions of tons of hydrogen gas, deep in the core hydrogen is being fused and the heavier the nuclei the deeper it forms with iron accumulating in the core. Over the next 4.5 billion years, the time that will elapse before the sun begins to run out of the easily fused hydrogen fuel, the balance of power will shift...as the core grows heavy with nuclei and the sun radiates away billions of tons of mass in the form of the trillions of neutrinos that it expels every second the gravitational pressure will fall, this will cause the sun to expand like a giant balloon as the more loosely bound matter revolts against the weakened gravity that binds them together, as the sun expands the ferocity of its nuclear furnace will wane and it will take on a more reddish hue. As it continues to grow it will consume Mercury, Venus and by some calculations even Earth will find itself within the bounds of the suns engorged ruby sphere.

As the hydrogen fuel continues to be burned into heavy elements, the weakened gravity will allow the fused nuclei to escape, the sun will seed the solar system with billions of tons of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen , iron...over several million years its expulsions will take on brilliant and fantastic shapes similar to what we see when looking at other planetary nebula formed by dying suns. Perhaps the sun will expel helical wisps of oxygen, iron and nitrogen or spherical shells...however it occurs the sun will seed the solar system with the materials that may form who knows what will come next. In the twilight of the solar system and as the sun shrinks to a white dwarf the solar system will officially die but it will continue to shine in the form of the dull characteristic frequencies that are emitted from the shells of radiated heavy elements bathed by the last uv photon embers of the sun at its core. A beacon of a sun that once burned bright and in its death continues to shower space with its splendor in a subdued palette of expelled elements.




03 June, 2008

breaking the silos that fester ignorance...

I've always been fascinated by what I perceived with wonder in the makings of the natural world. I spent hours as a child just observing the patterns that unfold on this living planet, hearing, smelling and seeing all that occurs and questing it all. I could find no greater joy then to be able to sit and ponder what ever curiosity reality has conjured up for my observation at any given moment.

That said, I take great pride in regaling friends, family and often times random strangers with curious bits of fascinating science such as:

"did you know that you and the sun exist because suns before that one have died.?"

"did you know that you and that squirrel are greater than 50% genetically identical?"

"did you know that the brain you have, developed thanks to an accident of our ancient ancestor happening to live on both sides of what would be a great geological rift?"

Depending on the party, the responses range from apathy to interest, a few times I find absolute fascination in the listener as they try to wrap their mind around what I've shared with them. It is in these exercises that I realize just how many people lack even the rudiments of understanding of what I long ago realized to be simple truths. In order to be effective as teachers of science we must take heed of this difference in the vast gulf of knowledge that spans between us and those we seek to teach. To say this is not a statement of arrogance it is one of fact but by being insensitive to the difference we can end up in a fight instead of inspiring fascination. As the world population increases and those with the position to teach the truths of reality reduces in relative proportion, we must be even more careful not to inflame the fires of nascent and latent ignorance in the masses into rage.

At times, I've wondered if the internet, this super network of knowledge nodes spanning the globe would slow the progress of ignorance through the masses. I've concluded that it can, but it will do so only if the information is available to the masses. It is entirely easy to never find something if you never go looking for it. The preponderance of fora on a myriad range of topics online allows the cross pollination of ideas across cultures that is needed to stamp ignorance some what...but it is only effective if the silo nature of these medium is disrupted by injections of alternate views from the prevailing topic or category of fora engaged. The silo itself takes separate forms, there is a silo between entirely different languages, which necessitate translation between for distinct basis of information in each to be understood by others. There is also the silo of site architecture, which for many sites is designed to allow interaction on the site by bringing user to it, the ability to bring a site to the users could vastly enhance the usefulness of a site for cross pollinating communication on any topic. Breaking down these silos will allow a a new expedience to be realized in the rate at which knowledge is shared and spread across the world. If we can bridge the gaps of understanding we can possibly reduce the rate of advance of ignorance with population and save our future from the evil that the past has taught us is the fruit of ignorance.

In hopes of doing just that I've designed and will soon release a web application that makes this possible. Hopefully, it will be as successful as I envision at forcing individuals of different language, culture and interest into the same communication stream to excite learning of truth and diminish promulgation of ignorance. I'll be presenting more information about the application and site in the weeks to come.