Sunday, July 20, 2014

I X Hate X This: The Rise of Conjunction X

I've been seeing a lot of usage of the X symbol recently on websites, posters etc. I can't help but get annoyed with this new 'fad'. I mean I see titles like:

Artist X Musician
Abstract concept 1 X Abstract concept 2 (i.e. Love X Art)
Band X Location

What the hell does the "X" mean? "Versus"? "And"? "With"?, "In"? I don't really know. I think it's a hipster way of saying this not an ordinary combination of two things. This is an X of two things. X is a conjunction of two entities related or otherwise which makes the sum of the two separate entities appear much, much better.

As if one entity would magically get the redeeming traits of the other if the Conjunction X is used instead of say And or With or Versus.

 When did this new trend even began?

X already means a lot of things, some even quite cool. X marks the spot for Pirates. X is a prize worth aiming for by inventors, scientists and engineers. X is a generation used to be thought of as cool and forward-looking (that is until generation Y came.) X is a gene that gives cool powers. X indicates an unknown/classified project. X are files referring to mysterious and unexplained events.

But Conjunction X is fairly new. I see this on events where a designer would partner with a comic book artist for a line of clothing with comic book characters printed. Or when a symphonic orchestra performs with a rock band. Or when a electronic band performs in a trendy restaurant.

Googling "X" does not return anything useful. I find a band named X, a manga titled X, the xprize etc. Googling "Conjunction X" is the same. I find the real mathematical and grammatical definition of conjunction and X as a cross-product of two vectors. Google fails me this time.

In any case, I think conjunction X is here to stay to symbolize something that materialized from the hipster generation of today, like YOLO, or selfies or expensive ice cream.

End X Rant

(Hey look! My username has an X!)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

God's eye view

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman just posted a short clip in Vine of a lightning storm over Houston from the ISS point of view.

This reminded me of a small project run by a group in Germany called Blitzortung.

The project monitors all lightning strikes all around the world in real-time using a network of sensors in different locations in the globe.

You can see the lightning strikes as dots on the global map. Places with a lot dots would mean ther is most probably lightning storms occuring in the area.

Another project simply named Earth, shows a real-time visualisation of the global wind map.

Here you can see the winds flowing, circling, spiraling probably following some unknown patterns or maybe just going on chaotic paths to noone knows where.

One would think some higher beings up above is really monitoring these things using far more advanced technology than ours. Or perhaps these beings are controling the flows, the strikes using their high-tech or magical powers to maintain some balance or to achieve some unfathomable goal.

To them everything looks deterministic, even calm. To us below everything looks far chaotic and destructive.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Gravity of Just Being

You don't know me. 
But you will soon.
For I possess the most powerful weapon of all. 
More powerful even than death.
More powerful than non-existence.

I give you the Just-Life Equation.

You will be under the state of Just-Living. 
You will be just waking up everyday just to go to work just to eat just to go home and sleep and wake up again.
Then you'll just do the same thing over and over again.

You will just be living.
Like a clock just ticking.
Or a candle just melting away.
Or a river just flowing.

Endless. Aimless.
No goal or ambition.
No hopes or dreams.

Just living.

My name is Justexist.
Soon this world will be mine.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Patok Jeeps and Awful Radio Remixes taught me about life

Back in college, I used to commute from home to school and back. I regularly ride the 'patok jeeps' because they are accessible, cheap and fast. Patok jeeps are just like your typical jeepneys in the country-- with some modifications. If you see jeepneys with decorations all over their chassis, from inutile decorative antennas, to abstract paintings, to mottos devoid of meanings, to various attachments of statues of horses, eagles, what have you, Patok jeepneys are steroid-enhanced versions of those jeeps. They come with more decorations, more colorful paintings, disco lights to boot and its signature large loudspeakers playing disco-remixed music from the 80's and 90's.

Patokstep, the Pinoy version of dubstep, as I'd like to think of it. Take 'Sometimes When We Touch' by Dan Hill. Then add a generic bass drum heavy beat and some DJ muttering senseless words randomly  like the one below:

And you get the Patokstep.

I  found some remixes in youtube with this type of sound:

It doesn't sound so bad actually. I knid of like it. It's the music they play during fiesta disco nights in the provinces. (Maybe that's why I like it, because of the nostalgia factor. Aw.)

There's another type of songs they play in these jeepneys. The Christmas remixes. They take a very famous novelty song from that year, give it a Patokstep remix then make it a medley with another Christmas song with Patokstep mix. Then add 1 or 2 more songs in the mix. You get the Mandatory Generic Christmas
remix of the year. Like the one below.

Anyway, during my first rides on these jeepneys, listening to these music is unbearable, what with the very loud sound and the repetitive tunes. But days passed and I began to get comfortable with the songs. In the end I just learned to go with the rhythm (I don't really dance or jive to the music but I just learned to be at peace with it, the repetitions serving as a melodic meditation chants for me.)

So in the end, I realized that I did not notice the long journey, the traffic, the heat and smoke, as long as I tune in and meditate with the music.

What I'm saying is, life is full of noise. It's up to you if you want to hear them still as noise or transform them into wonderful music. I'm reminded of the movie 'Another Earth', where the main character tells an anecdote about an astronaut in space who keeps hearing a ticking sound but he can't find the source. It keeps on ticking when he is awake. Tick tick tick.  And even when he sleeps. Tick tick tick. He seems to be losing his mind because of the sound. But then later he found that he can make this ticking sound serve as a background percussion of any song he imagines in his head. Sort of a Heavy Bass drum mix. Then he became at peace with sound because he can just hear nice music.

Back in college, in another jeepney ride, there was a father and his daughter. The daughter seemed agitated by all the travels and seems to be on the verge of crying. The father consoles him by saying 'Enjoyin mo lang anak' (Just enjoy [the ride] my child'. I find his advice very simple yet true.

It's a matter of enjoying what you have and looking at the positive side of your problems.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Diamond-coated phones, forward thinking etc.

​First, iPhone had Gold mobile phones (or at least gold-tinted). Now Samsung is doing diamond phones. Quite a level up.

Samsung Galaxy S5 may have diamond coating: Report

I did my thesis in a laboratory for plasma physics and its applications. One such application is the surface coating of a particular substrate using a plasma-enhanced deposition technology.

When family members asked what I am studying (They know I am studying to be a 'scientist') I try to explain my thesis in a very, very layman's terms.

'I create diamonds from some gases'. Because I can't explain to them the exact mechanism, that we need to have very low pressure vacuum at high voltages using rare inert gases at exact proportions using some fatal electrical contraptions.

And they think I'm a rockstar after my simple explanation. One cousin even asked for a diamond jewel.

Going back to Samsung's diamond coated phones.

Well, just like 'rockstar'-rifying my thesis, the news that a phone will be coated with diamond is some form of rockstarification.

First, it's not really diamond.

It's almost diamond but not quite. They are coating it with carbon with molecular structure resembling that of diamond. And remember that diamond and graphite have the same composition (carbon) just different molecular structures. You know graphite, that lead in the pencil we use for writing.

At its worst, we can say Samsung is covering their phones with graphite-like material. They're just covering up the phone with pencil lead scratchings!

Not really. Heheh. What they are doing is kick-ass. Diamond-like carbons (DLC) are a breakthrough in material science. It's about as hard as natural diamond (which is the hardest mineral there is) but much easier to fabricate.

Natural diamonds form in extreme pressure and heat in thousands of hours. Volcanic levels extreme. Center of the Earth levels extreme.
Diamond-like carbons can be formed in the lab in just a couple of days (as in my laboratories cases). In just around 100 degress celsius (boiling water temperature). So there's that.

I'm interested in how they are going to do this for mass production. It took our lab 24 hours even more just to coat a 1 inch by 1 inch surface with DLC. And We used a very complicated contraption of vacuum tubes, thick steel chambers a few gas tanks, a big vacuum pump and a lot of power supplies. The entire contraption costing hundreds of thousands of pesos.

They may have found ways to deposit DLC with low power, heat, pressure requirement and found some technique to shorten the deposition time. Which I'm interested in knowing. I'm sure after many years, the DLC-coating technology has advanced (I'm just not aware. Time to do some research.)

Anyways, it's just good to find out that some research topic you know back then to have no huge commercial application is gaining some momentum at present. It takes a great deal of forward thinking to realize the value of your research.

It's similar to how Physics Nobel prize laureates are actually scientists in their latter stages of life, because society only realize the value of their work many years after their publication. Great forward thinkers, those laureates are.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crisis Tech

"Necessity is the mother of invention. When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it."

In the aftermath of immensely destructive typhoon Yolanda, some suggestions, inventions, propositions have surfaced, all to mitigate, aid or prepare for future impending natural disasters.

UP students recycle chargers and batteries for Yolanda survivors
Volunteer physics undergraduates from the University of the Philippines (UP) are turning old chargers and batteries into disposable energy sources that can be used by Super Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors.
The recycled devices can charge a cellphone and give the user enough energy to send at least one text message.

PNoy wants DOST to create dependable emergency communications system
President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said he has asked the Department of Science and Technology to create an emergency communications system that is not dependent on cellular networks or external power sources.

Hospitals must be disaster-proof—expert
“We should be designing our hospitals to be more resilient in the face of such natural disasters, especially disasters relating to rising sea levels. We can have hospitals that store and extract energy at the roof, as opposed to placing them at the basement. There are also certain materials that you can design and build hospitals with so they would more likely withstand earthquakes,” explained Gary Cohen, Health Care Without Harm president and founder.

Survivors transform fridges into fishing boats
A fishing community in Tanauan, a small coastal town 20 kilometers south of Tacloban city in the Philippines have been going out to sea in boats made out of refrigerators after their vessels were destroyed by a killer typhoon.

Tacloban City as global center for climate change proposed 
A renowned urban planner on Wednesday told the national government that it should transform Tacloban City into a global center for climate change.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The City of the Living Dead

It's just a couple of days until All Saint's Day. Time to go to cemeteries to remember our departed loved ones. I checked Google to look at one cemetery here in Makati, the Manila South Cemetery. The graves form a grid with semblance to a real urban landscape.

 Zooming out just makes the similarity more obvious.

Zoom out some more and you'll see houses and buildings look like magnified graves.

 The city sure looks like a graveyard from up above.

Well, we're all just dead corpses scuttling around and about, getting busy dying, gradually rotting in this stinking graveyard called life. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quantified Corruption

A bunch of senseless rants follows.

Corruptibility Coefficients

An amazing visualization tool to sort of understand the complex network of the pork barrel fund money flow.

Consider, they were able to derive the following values from their data for each of the politicians:

Betweenness CentralityWeighted DegreeClustering CoefficientEigenvector CentralityCloseness Centrality

From here, can we derive another number, the Corruptibility Tendency  Coefficients defined as:
 - a coefficient that indicates the possibility that the politician is taking the pork barrel funds for themselves and therefore tend to be corrupt. The closer this value to a certain threshold, the higher the possibility for corruption.

Let's call those thesholds, the Napoles Thresholds (like the Schwarzschild radius but these are more a social indicator than a universal constant.)

Political science theorist in collaboration with mathematicians, physicists can create theories.
The Napoles investigation will be the experimental proof for the hypotheses.

From accounting data, these can be generated annually and analysed.

This will not serve as an evidence, merely an advanced warning system. A precaution and then a deterrent for politicians thinking of misusing these funds.


Deserved Corruption

 I had an absurd idea way back that corruption should not be seen in a negative light. It is the degree of corruption and person that is doing it that should matter.

If a politician is doing great work to his people, he should be allowed a certain amount of kickbacks from the projects he is able to implement successfully. Like a 20,000 peso cellphone gift as kickback for a multi-million peso housing project that benefited a thousand homeless families. The politician deserved that cellphone didn't he. It should serve as an incentive, a motivation to do better on all his projects.

Compare corruption to the Yakult good bacteria. Bad if too many doses.

I said it was absurd, didn't I.


The Science of Politics

In our local government, the people running for govt positions during elections have established some kind of process, pointers, strategies for campaigning.
- tips to cover the most areas during one motorcade.
- a list of funerals, birthday parties, graduations which will be held during the campaign period (a list which is shared and distributed among running mates)
- the correct size of shorts to wear to attract men's attention without losing too much dignity (yep, the female candidates do)

They boiled the entire campaign processes to a science. Or a business.
Profit = Income - Expenses

Monday, August 26, 2013

Streetlight Astronomy

On a clear and smokeless night, if you look outside from a high building it is easy to find the beautiful network of minuscule lights forming various constellation amidst the darkness.

I'm not referring to the stars twinkling in the night sky but rather on the street lamps lining up the highways, alleyways and city streets.

I have a useless hobby, only good if you have plenty of time on your hands and if you happened to be living on some high building with a nice unobstructed view of the cityscape. Like a good astronomer, I map constellations formed by the street lights and give names based on the patterns they formed.

It's easy to find a pattern, as most street lights line up a straight road, successive lamps would more or less form a straight line of small lights. What is a little tougher is finding patterns from lights from different streets maybe those a hundred or so meters away from each other.

It's nice to find a particular pattern and name them with what you want as if you are discovering some new star or celestial object. But since you discovered them you can give something cool, something you want for their names.

Below is an image what the Downtown hemisphere, the top left area is the Skway (not included in the image) and on the right side  is the Osmena highway as seen on a vantage point on a building near the corner of Buendia Avenue and Osmena higway. This is sort of a star chart of the street,  a Streetlight Chart if you wish ( and I am a streetlight astronomer).

I have labeled some of the constellations that I discovered (I'm not planning on labeling them all). The image is a crappy capture, low res. The actual view much more radiant, the lights are much more visible. Some of the constellations I found in real view can't be found in the image because some lights are displayed very faintly to distinguish.

And below are the enlarged versions of the labelled constellations.

It is interesting to realise that the lamps form a very different pattern aside from their geographical location. Though seemingly unrelated, a lamp on the corner of Batangas St. for example is actually connected to a streetlight somewhere in Libertad by an arbitrary pattern created by an observer above, just as the stars Betelgeuse and Aldebaran are actually connected by a pattern perceived by an observer millions of light years away them. Extreme pattern finding on its highest level.

Yeah, it's sort of a useless hobby as there is no real-life application of the streetlight chart whatsoever. Although similar to a star chart, the streetlight chart can serve as an alternative map, a location pointer only applicable if viewed on the exact place where the map is created. It can serve as a coded map, one only need to give names to the individual streetlights forming the constellations to be usable.

I'll meet you at the Daenerys star in the Laser Sword constellation. 3'oclock sharp.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Commercialization and Entertainmentization of Space

Doing science for the sake of gaining knowledge itself is a mantra every scientist cannot deny. And the pursuit of knowledge is an end itself. Does this imply that any means to achieve this end is a valid means? The end justifies the means, that is the common saying.

I began thinking about this after reading some articles about some space exploration/missions with added twists. Some major projects actually incorporate entertainment and commercialization to achieve the actual goal.

Welcome to the Big Brother Planet

Consider the MARS One Project. 

The project aims to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. The organization will be taking applications, who will undergo selection, training and finally will be sent to Mars at around year 2022.

Their website says:
Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an on-going, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from lift-off to landing, to provide primary funding for this next giant leap for mankind.

Norbert Kraft, former Sr. Research Associate at NASA and Chief Medical Director for Mars One states, “In my former work with NASA we established strict criteria for the selection and training of astronauts on long duration space flights. Gone are the days when bravery and the number of hours flying a supersonic jet were the top criteria. Now, we are more concerned with how well each astronaut works and lives with the others, in the long journey from Earth to Mars and for a lifetime of challenges ahead. Psychological stability, the ability to be at your best when things are at their worst is what Mars One is looking for. If you are the kind of person that everyone chooses to have on their island, then we want you to apply too.”

It's actually like Big Brother Mars edition. The global reality-TV media event is actually expected to be the major source of the funding for the entire project, which definitely costs a lot. Which means we will be seeing official Mars cereals, official Mars pajamas, official Mars beer etc on our TV not very long now.

Astronauts should have nice-smelling underarms

Another project  is the Axe Apollo Space Academy.

One can sign up for the AXE Apollo Space Academy in their website . Users will be voting for the candidates online. The people with the most votes will advance to their National Challenge where the top-voted candidates will compete with other qualifiers in their country. The top recruits will advance to Global Space Camp, where the qualifiers will again compete for a chance to join the international crew and be sent to space.

This campaign was launched in January 2013 to promote the Axe Apollo deodorant brand. It came with a slew of TV commercials depicting an astronaut's awesome status, higher than firemen or lifeguards with their catch phrase 'Nothing beats an astronaut'.

Round trip tickets to space

Other companies offer a more direct approach to space travel.
Virgin Galactic direct sells reservation for a seat in their spaceship bound to lower outer space.

Tickets are priced at US$250,000 (deposits are refundable).
Many celebrities have already signed up, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, X-en director Bryan Singer, Paris Hilton among others.

The company Space XC is offering something similar. Their program also includes undergoing astronaut training prior to the actual space flight. The ticket prices range from 95,000 to 100,000 US Dollars. Their flight will reach 60 to 100 km altitude in space.


Of course these endeavors would gather a lot of criticisms, all great endeavors do. Space Tourism, in particular, were cited to speed up global warming and other environmental effects. There were also legal issue raised, like licensing et cetera.

Others say the very steep price of tickets is very impractical and will only be attainable by the wealthy. Some criticise that funding through sponsorship and advertisements is a very risky proposition.

These are all valid criticisms and are matters that should be discussed.

What I'm particularly thinking about is the one question  I posited in the beginning of this article. Does the end justify the means? Space Exploration and experimentation is the end itself, so is it okay if it is funded by a deodorant company, or by cereal ads etc?

Personally, it gives a bad taste in my mouth if I am a scientist doing science and funded by Axe for example. Note that I don't think it is about company interests/conflicts since a deodorant company clearly has no interest on whatever findings you might find in your space experiments (or is there? hmmm...)

Having said that, as a scientist, I think it may just feel wrong or awkward in the beginning but when you are already out there doing your experiments or walking in space, all those hesitations will disappear. You are in space! That's all that should matter. And if it is your dream, the ultimate vision of your end realized, then everything else will just feel trivial.


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