Friday, 22 August 2014

Life, Death and Stupid Paradoxes

The other day I was talking about an old friend of mine who dead early. He was very much loved by his friends and family and it is one of the sadist funerals I’ve been to.

I’ve also had my own brush with death when my ventilator failed suddenly due to a brief power failure in the middle of the night and the backup battery did not come on like it was supposed to. When I woke up surprisingly I wasn’t as scared as I thought it would be. My primary concern was for others how sad my friends and family would be. I was quite shocked by this as I always thought I was an individualist deep down selfish as a two-year-old. Luckily my brother to heard my cries for help, was able to wake my parents and I survived.

Our society approaches life as an individual thing. You own your life and your own your death as well. Society gives us permission to abuse our bodies in any way we see fit from smoking and other drugs, to cosmetic surgery and climbing Mount Everest. But after my brush with death I feel that we actually do have a responsibility to look after ourselves not only because it is good for us, but our friends and family don’t have to see us die before our time.

I know this goes against the core tenets an individualist society but that’s how I feel.

There is one thing that is worse than seeing somebody die and that often is seeing somebody suffer. There is this bizarre paradox in the medical community which is the concept of withdrawal of treatment. For example it is perfectly legal for me to commit suicide. All I have to do is ask someone to switch my ventilator off. And I do know of people that have done just this.

You, most likely, don’t have the ability to commit suicide legally and you certainly can’t get somebody to help you. The paradox in this is: if you push someone off a cliff is it a homicide or is it simply removal of needed under foot support? How is this different from switching somebody’s ventilator off?

It’s legal to starve a peg fed person to death if that’s what they ask for, but not legal to allow someone who can eat normally to starve themselves to death. It’s completely ridiculous. Why aren’t we allowed to end people’s suffering in a reasonable way? It’s good enough for our pets? What makes us special?

The status quo just keeps going as people are frankly too scared to talk about death (its struggle for me to write this). Our outdated laws don’t affect the vast majority of us and many of our politicians put their religious beliefs ahead of what the majority of us want.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Israel You’re Doing it Wrong

It has been said that The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This seems to be standard fare for the Israeli government these days, if you punish the evil doers they will eventually learn to treat you with respect. In a perfect world this makes complete sense, why would a small group attack a more powerful group? This is because people are not logical beings we fight back against seemingly impossible odds, it is human nature is what we do, it what we have always done and it is what we will always do. And sometimes David does beat Goliath.

If you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. An example of this is the difference between what happened at the end of World War I compared to what happened at the end of World War II. (This is greatly simplified for the purposes of this article) At the end of World War I Germany was required to pay war reparations disarm and give up some of its territory. This made sense, they started the war so they should have to pay for it. However the resentment and humiliation suffered by the people of Germany led to the rise of fascism and to an even worse war only 27 years later.

This scenario has played out many times in history the aftermath of one war directly leads to the start of the next, there is even a term for it "Carthaginian peace", this cycle continues until, someone decides to do something differently.

At the end of World War II, things were done differently, the defeated powers of Germany and Japan were assisted to rebuild modern democratic economies. This was very successful Germany and Japan are now some of the most peaceful and economically powerful countries on earth.

The only way the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will end is when Palestinians are able to build a future for themselves with the assistance of their so-called enemies Israel. This may sound strange but it is the only way conflicts can be permanently resolved is to help each other not destroy each other.

I strongly believe that Israel will one day make peace with its neighbours, but between then and now how many people need to live in fear and die?

What I Have Been Up To

You may wonder why I haven’t been blogging lately. The reason for this is because I have been busy helping to set up a hacker space. I came up with the idea for creating a Hackerspace in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne several months ago. I had been doing lots of research talking to others (mainly Andy Gelme a founder of CCHS), but still didn’t really have an idea of how to achieve my goal. I heard good things about, so I thought screw it lets just make a group and see what happens.

So I started the group Eastern Suburbs Hackers Group. On the day after creating the group I had 20 people I now have 58. "I" had very much become "we". Obviously I had to hooked into a vibe - many people wanted a Hackerspace out this side of the city. A group member one of the first to join Peter O came up with a vastly better name Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers which becomes an easily pronounceable acronym - MESH!

I also got very excited by the number of people who were involved so I decided to register a domain name. I tried several and then eventually found which was available at the bargain basement price of $4.95. I already have a web server so it does not cost me anything to host it.

I wanted to find a date from my first meeting and another member Lachlan (who has been indispensable) created this lovely graph that shows the best date and time for us to meet. This made it a no-brainer to have our first meeting on Sunday, 20 July 2014. My mother offered to cater to the meeting for free and the meeting went better than my wildest expectations. After this things happened very fast. But unfortunately I got sick - in fact my place was full of sickies. The second meeting was originally going to happen at my place again and I was seriously thinking about cancelling it. Thankfully, Lachlan got our second meeting at the Ringwood Trade Training Facility (RTTF) which is on the site of Ringwood high school - a perfect location for a hacker space.

Our second meeting was even better than the first. For us to continue meeting at the RTTF we really need to be an incorporated body. Being incorporated will also make it easier to apply for insurance and protect members from being personally liable is something goes wrong. An incorporated body is an entity in its own right - it can own property, have a bank account, etc. It is quite easy, and only $33.10, to become incorporated. Consumer Affairs Victoria provides generalised model rules that any aspiring incorporated body can adopt with only a few modifications. If an organisation wishes to seriously modify the rules it costs $192.00 as someone would need to read through it and check if it complies with regulation.

Anyway, this Sunday starting at 6:30 PM we will be meeting to officially become an incorporated body. All this is happening way faster than I ever thought it would.

This whole thing proves something to me. If you have a goal in life it could be creating a hacker space or making a robot or writing a novel, even if you don’t know how to reach your goal you just need to start. I think there is this myth in our society that there are born leaders - that great people always going to be great no matter what the circumstances. And that is takes a certain class of person to be a Mining Magnate, a Prime Minister, a Steve jobs or Bill Gates. That idea is the biggest pile of bullshit that has ever been dropped on the human race.

This is a truth that certain powerful people have done their best to hide throughout human history. The real truth is - we are all capable of greatness. It is just that some people through circumstance or through dogged determination actually go out there and do something. They don’t let society tell them their proper role in life and they don’t worry about failure.

I have one message to the 7 billion people on this planet - pull your head out of your arse and show the world what you are made of!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Moore’s Law IS NOT Ending Soon

There is a whole lot of talk and a lot of assumptions about the direction that technology is heading. One of the most irritating is: "Moore’s Law will be ending soon."

A prediction attributed to the co-founder of Intel Gordon E. Moore in the early 1960s - that the number of transistors on a single integrated circuit would double every 18 months - later this got rounded up to every two years. Going by this strict interpretation of Moore’s Law it probably has ended. But many people have avoided providing a strict definition of Moore’s Law. One reason for this, even though the number of transistors for a single integrated circuit has not gone up much lately, is we have many other methods of improving computer performance.

The latest processors have multiple cores enabling true multithreading. A computer can now do many things simultaneously, rather than just giving the illusion that was doing multiple things at once (multitasking). Say a computer has a huge calculation to do. Theoretically, it can split that calculation into, say, 12 chunks and complete it 12 times faster. In practice it isn’t quite like that, but as software developers start to make programs that take full advantage of multithreading our computers can become a hell of a lot more powerful without having an increasing number of transistors on a single integrated circuit.

Another thing that will make computers more powerful in the coming years is the development of more efficient software programs. Throughout the early 2000 when you were upgrading your computer the performance did not go up at all even though your computer had more grunt. That’s because software of that era, especially on the Windows platform, was becoming increasingly bloated. It probably took longer to boot a computer in 2005 than in 1995.

Since then, the trend has been in the opposite direction. This is because of the overwhelming abundance of embedded computing devices such as mobile phones and single board computers such as the Rasberry Pi and Beagle Bone Black. These devices are as powerful as the desktops we had in the early 2000s. People aren’t going to upgrade to a smartphone phone that takes five minutes to boot up an old Nokia brick would be a far better phone. This forced developers to pursue lightweight operating systems such as Linux and UNIX.

Apple OS X is built on top of both open source and closed source versions of UNIX. Android, the most popular mobile operating system, is a flavour of Linux. These lightweight operating systems are very friendly to developers as they are generally open source and work very well with a lot of the UNIX / Linux infrastructure that is already out there.

Many developers have started to developing multiplatform applications. This has two benefits, one that you don’t need to learn different programs that do the same thing on different platforms, the other is that developers need to account for systems that don’t have a lot of processing power. The result of this is slick programs that run well on any platform and even better on desktop PCs.

Improvements in computer systems architecture could also greatly increase the performance of computers. Once upon a time there was only soldering on only one side of a circuit board. Chips sat in rows of holes drilled into the board. Now many components are now surface mounted greatly reducing their size and reducing space requirements, while allowing circuits on both sides of the board. Instead of rows of holes CPU mounts are now an extremely accurate forest of electrodes. Circuit board manufacturers have mastered the two-dimensional and I believe eventually they will go up into three dimensions. Instead of looking like an extremely detailed miniature suburbia the inside of our computers will look more like the CBD of a large city.

Further on into the future we might start using optical components inside our computers. The speed of light is a lot faster than the speed that electrons take through a circuit. To begin with this new breed of computer will be a hybrid of optical and electronic computing, then maybe a complete optical computer. After that, who knows? Quantum computers maybe?

I think we still have a whole lot of latent power that we can bring out of our current technologies. Computers will continue getting faster the rate might slow or speed up, but overall, I believe that Moore’s Law will hold into the distant future provided something catastrophic doesn’t happen to the human race. Over this time the processing of and access to information will continue to get cheaper.

Extremely cheap information technology coupled with distributed sources of energy such as solar and wind will allow developing nations to bootstrap themselves up to our technology level and maybe even overtake us. Children in these places will have access to an essentially free education, learning at their own place and learning what they want. They will not have the legislative baggage such as copyright, patent law and an old slow, and human, bureaucracy.

The future will be an exciting place!