Tuesday, October 6, 2015

TITAN - Taking Over the World.

Apparently Elon Musk is scared that our ORNL TITAN supercomputer might take over the worldThat might be fun, but as a variant - that us evil scientists use the supercomputer to seize control.

Now, TITAN is already a 20 petaflop machine, whereas the human brain is only 10 petaflops, so we already have the raw power needed to create superintelligence. A tad more programming could lead our little toy to controlled synthetic ultraconsciousness, with a brain the size of a planet, capable of talking the hind legs off an Arcturan megadonkey*. 

But just yapping and a monster brain are not enough - you need arms, legs, weapons etc. So we'd need to hook TITAN up to mindless robots that can see to our physical needs: huge, indestructible machines with infinite strength, precision and balance that never tire and prepare perfect sushi. 

Evilly-laughing, mwaha ha ha ha, we villainous plotters would then finally flip the switch that orders the supercomputer to make the robots kill all the little people and use the fruits of our dystopian Earth to serve us, only us, their masters, in any way we desire. Hmm.....in my case that would require forming two robot soccer teams, one, that I would play in, being slightly better than the other.

*Acknowledgement: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poet's Corner

A Scientist’s Lament

Cold cuts of truth. These are
Not scimitars bisecting wholes.
Sharp diamonds flashing by, unseen,
Tangential lances,
Silent glances,
Surpassing snug, benighted souls.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Live at Leeds

The Who, Live at Leeds
In the 1970s, during the day  the Leeds University Union Refectory, my undergrad cafeteria,  used to serve up the most awful garbage: exemplified by the insipid yellow matter custard of the Great British 20th Century Culinary Tradition. But at nights the Refec served us the best of pulsating 70s rock. You see, it was the  biggest concert hall on the thriving British college circuit,  holding over 2000, so we got all the big bands: The Stones, Led Zeppelin, the lot.  But no gig there was more famous there than The Who's Live at Leeds, recorded in 1970 and generally recognized as the best live album of all time. But, alas, that was  before my period of frequenting the Refec.

But we did get some real classics. Andy Kershaw, a fellow student, was the unpaid Entertainments Secretary of the Student Union: he spent all his time booking the bands and thus failed his degree. (Despite this  failure he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate there, as he subsequently became a famous broadcaster.) He squeezed in some beauties.

In Freshers week in 1978 we had The Ramones and I twisted my ankle pogo-ing to Cretin Hop early on. Ouch! Then came The Stranglers, The Jam, UB40, Joy Division, George Thorogood, The Specials, Ian Dury etc. Surprising we got any work done, really. Kershaw himself  reckons the greatest gig there was The Clash in 1980. I was there too, but bored silly. Musical beauty - in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Whither UT and ORNL?

Here's my (and others) NPR  opinion on what we ought to be doing more of at UT and ORNL.

As the Instapundit would say: Read (or in this case, Read and Listen to) The Whole Thing. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Meadow of Flowers

Nanga Parbat: Rupal Face
Thirty-six years ago, in 1979, we voyaged to Kashmir, to Gulmarg; the Meadow of Flowers. As we climbed the slopes of Mount Apharwat,   the mighty Rupal Face of  Nanga Parbat hove into view - the highest mountain face on Earth, rising  15,000 feet above its base. I remember ridge upon brown ridge, on top of each other, like ascending brush strokes,  culminating in that  crystal peak that Hermann Buhl first summited in 1953, solo, without oxygen, in an insane 40-hour effort,  spending the whole night 'asleep' standing on a narrow ledge, the vast abyss a couple of inches away.  Then later, in 1970, when the greatest, Reinhold Messner, finally conquered the Rupal itself, did he abandon his brother to die on the descent? What motivates the human spirit to these extremes? And, after our voyage, the paradise that is Kashmir slowly sank into chaotic, benighted conflict....

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Desecration of the Isles

Bald Eaglets on Saltspring Island, July 2015

The Gulf Islands, in British Columbia, lying off the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island, are of outstanding natural beauty and ecological importance. Eagles soar above Arbutus and Cedar, and Orca whales fish in the Southern areas.

In 2010 National Geographic Traveler gave these islands top rating for destination stewardship, citing a "Wonderful mix of breathtaking scenery, functioning local communities, and a close-to-the-ground tourism experience.” I'm surprised. What I witnessed in my latest visit there was negligence and decay. 

The islanders are  laid back, smiling  and very pleasant. They think they are protecting the environment, but their demeanors change when you start to suggest they clean up their individual acts a little.  Clear cutting seems to be the norm here - you buy a piece of pristine property (prices seem to have gone down recently), get rid of as many trees as you like to create a waterscape view, sell the wood, then erect or half-erect  anything you like: trailers, piles of refuse, unfinished "building projects".  

Rusting hulks fill the island harbors. 

The rest of BC hardly helps them. Logging masters BC. Pulp mills pollute the air. Anchored tankers grace the sounds. Overfishing depletes Chinook salmon (the Orca staple). 

Canada has become environmentally unconscious, it seems. 
Sad, for such a breathtaking land.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

True to our Values

OK, who do we back in the Middle East conflicts? I mean, we’ve got to back SOMEONE, haven’t we? We have to remain true to our values, don't we? 

This year is the 50th anniversary of little-discussed, but classic example of these values, when the US backed the genocide of about a million “Communist” villagers by the Indonesian military, with the CIA supplying lists of names to the perpetrators. The genocide was celebrated by many over here, and by Time Magazine as “the West’s best news for years in Asia.” 10 years later we went one better, supplying not only political backing but also 90% of the military equipment Suharto needed to massacre another 100-200,000, this time in East Timor.  And it wasn’t just a Cold War anomaly, because Western support for that regime continued well after 1990, into the Clinton years.

Don’t expect our choice of who to back in the Middle East to be influenced by such petty considerations as the potential genocide of those who live there.