Friday, August 31, 2012


Hace un par de semanas, la blogger Jen McCreight publicó un poste proponiendo un nuevo movimiento dentro del ateísmo. En particular, un movimiento que vaya más allá de estar en contra de la religión (el Nuevo Ateísmo estilo Dawkins) y se manifieste sobre cuestiones como racismo, sexismo y homofobia.

El contexto es todo el quilombo que hubo en la blogosfera atea en el último año donde ciertos elementos misóginos de la comunidad se hicieron muy visibles (googleá "Elevatorgate"). Naturalmente, los elementas más socialmente progresivos quieren que la comunidad sea más inclusiva. Como resultado, sale el Ateísmo+. Ateos que además se preocupan por otras cosas.

Vale aclarar: ateísmo sigue significando lo mismo. No creés en dios, sos ateo. Esta es la base de un enorme número de críticas al movimiento A+, que ateísmo no requiere ninguna preocupación por derechos iguales o lo que sea.

Y es cierto. Los misóginos son tan ateos como los feministas. Sin embargo, el asunto es que nadie dijo lo contrario. A+ no intenta redefinir el ateísmo sino que juntar a un grupo de personas que tienen preocupaciones comunes (y que les jode esa onda en el resto de la comunidad).

Por cierto, algo parecido ya pasaba con el Nuevo Ateísmo. La gracia de la parte de "nuevo" era la idea de pasar de simplemente no ser religioso a a combatir activamente la religión como una fuerza negativa, algo que tampoco es parte de la definición del término.

Así como el Nuevo Ateísmo reconoce que no creer en dioses nos lleva (a algunos) a querer combatir la religión, el A+ extiende esa idea a otros asuntos. Reconocer la influencia de la iglesia sobre los derechos LGBTQ lleva a muchos ateos a combatir a su favor. Reconocer la cultura patriarcal de las religiones más importantes nos lleva al feminismo. Y así sucesivamente.

Tengo un cierto optimismo sobre este movimiento. No puedo declarar demasiado, visto y considerando que existe hace dos semanas, nomás, pero me interesa ver como evoluciona, y si puede no solo agregarle conciencia social al ateísmo sino también un punto de vista escéptico a la lucha por las minorías. Veremos que onda.

(este poste me vino al la cabeza en respuesta a esto, donde el autor critica al A+ en base a que "el ateísmo es una posición filosófica, no idelógica". Completamente cierto, completamente irrelevante.

Para quienes les interese el tema, tiene un foro bastante activo donde ahora mismo se está discutiendo qué es y que debería ser el A+. Solo en inglés por ahora.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The power of the human soul

"Oh yes, the complex is entirely self-sufficient. Food, water treatment, electricity, we handle it all ourselves. Right here in this very building, as a matter of fact"

"Is that so? How exactly do you manage that?"

"Well, we harness the power of the human soul.This structure is the result of years of hard work, of research, of trial and error. I've lost track of how many designs I tried until I settled on this one, but it's paid off, let me tell you. It's the largest, most efficient soul distillery in the world!"

"Soul... distillery?"

"Of course, the process has little to do with distillation in the technical sense, but the name has stuck. That large tower in the middle houses an aether vortex of billions of souls, which are progressively run through a series of subsystems which ultimately provide all we need to subsist."

"What?! How?"

"The main product of the process is a sort of nutritious sludge, obtained from the deepest essence of the souls. The necessary steps are mostly a series of filters inscribed in runes of ancient power and a centrifuge and some, um, other steps, but anyway, in the end we get our main food source. It has some wonderful properties, it's healthy, and filling, and has some curious side-effects at the, uh, higher concentrations some of us take"

"I'm sorry, you're telling me you eat souls-"

"Not just eat, no, like I said earlier, the sludge's just one of the products of the system. The vortex functions as a turbine, too, that's how we power the complex, and there are other byproducts of the refining of the soul we take advantage of for various purposes. Fertilizers for what little farming we do, building materials, disinfectants, some other things..."

"But, I... you mentioned billions of souls, right? How does that even work, where do the souls come from?"

"Oh, that was my biggest problem in the early stages. My first soul processing system was designed for harvesting them one at a time, can you believe that? Sure, it worked as a proof-of-concept and for the early research, but if I wanted any significant volume? The logistics issues alone gave me nightmares. Fortunately I didn't give up, I had many other ideas. The aether vortex, for example! In the initial designs, it was supposed to suck in all the recently deceased souls floating around, which would in turn power up the vortex even more, so it would cover a wider area, and so on and so forth."

"In the initial designs."

"Right. Eventually it became apparent that there simply wasn't anywhere on the planet with enough population density to power the system like that, and the problems with even getting it running where just too many. Frankly, the sheer numbers involved would have doomed any scheme I or anyone else tried. A single soul produces at best a few millilitres of anything useful, and I simply didn't have a large enough source available. That is, until I thought of wanking"

"...come again?"

"Wanking. Turns out sperm have souls, too! Well, half-souls, really, the other half is in the ovum. Not terribly well developed, either, only a fraction as juicy as that of a developed human being, but at a couple hundred million per ejaculation, it doesn't really matter. I could power the entire thing myself if necessary!"


"I don't, if that's what you're wondering. No, most of the male elders do their part. We engage in certain practices that, uh, ensure we have the highest quality spiritual children, so to speak"

"So... the basis of the entire community... is the semen of the elders..."

"The condensed essence of the proto-souls contained in the semen of the elders, yes."

"You know, when I write about this, I'm gonna tell them 'the power of the human soul' is a metaphor for solidarity and working as a group"

"Seems like it would be wise."


Sometimes I just need to write things.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A word of warning

What I'm going to do today is leave a note so that if at any point anyone finds themselves in the situation I did one month ago, they might find this post and save themselves some panicked guesswork.

One of the CDs I shot lasers at
Let's rewind one month, then. I am shooting lasers at CDs. And I don't mean in the usual "use the laser to read the information encoded in the CD" sense. Nor the slightly less usual "use the laser to burn the information onto the CD" sense. I mean I grabbed a CD, stripped away part of the label and reflective layer, and aimed an He-Ne laser through the resulting transparent opening into a wall.

Spots of light caused by diffraction

Why would we do such a thing? The short answer is that CDs (and optic discs in general) work as diffraction gratings. The rough idea is that diffraction gratings allow you to divide a beam of light into a lot of beams of light, and since all those beams of light have the same source , they can interfere with each other in a way that is simple to calculate and visualise*. In particular, what you see when you shoot lasers through a CD is a number of bright spots on the wall behind. One of them is located exactly where it would be, if the CD was just an ordinary piece of transparent plastic. Just trace a straight line from the laser to the wall, and there you go. The other spots are located on either side, at places that can be found with something called the grating equation.

The grating equation relates the angle of the position where the bright spots are, the wavelength of the laser, and something called the "period" of the grating. In a CD, that amounts to the distance between two consecutive grooves, AKA the track pitch.

I already know the wavelength of the laser I'm shooting at the CD, and I can figure out the angle of the bright spots by measuring a couple of distances and using trigonometry. Which means that I can use all this data to measure the track pitch of a C. A distance, incidentally, that a bit of prior research on people who had done similar experiments had shown to be 1.6 micrometers  (a micrometre or micron is a unit of length equal to the millionth part of a metre. It has the symbol μm)

So, as I was saying, I am shooting lasers at the CD. I mark the location of the spots, measure all the relevant distances, do all the relevant math, and find a result: 1.49 μm. Well damn. That's not good.

But wait!, you're thinking. Aren't we talking about a difference of 0.1 microns? A tenth of a millionth of a metre? That's a minuscule difference!

It sure might seem that way, but the measurement I was doing was supposed to be much, much more precise. Specifically, with an error margin of 0.02 μm. A result of 1.49 ± 0.02 means that the biggest possible value for the track pitch, given all those measurements, is 1.51. 

So I recheck all my math, measure the distances again, etc, but nothing changes. and I start to get worried. All the other further things I was supposed to do with that CD would be completely pointless, with such a large error. I needed to know what was wrong! 

And so I turned to the internet, and explored the issue, and what do I come across? Well, that the ubiquitous figure of 1.6 μm that everyone keeps quoting is not, in fact, quite so. Certainly, there are CDs with that track pitch. Those are what we call 74 minute CDs. The much more common in modern times 80 minute/700 MB CD, why, that has a 1.5 μm track pitch.

The industry standards for CDs say that track pitch has to be 1.6 ± 0.1 μm, so of course, many assume that 1.6 is the most common. Certainly that was the case with every single previous experiment on the subject I'd checked previously. What happens is that nowadays, CD players are more reliable than they were when the CD was first created, so you can have a CD with grooves closer to each other and you won't have any trouble playing it. A tighter track pitch means more information can be stored in the same space, so naturally you want to take advantage of that and go to the lower end of the allowable range. Thus, 1.5 μm track pitch CDs.

You hear me, people of the future who might consider doing experiments with CD diffraction? The groove spacing or track pitch for a 700 MB / 80 minute CD is 1.5 μm! Don't let everyone else mislead you!

* In theory, there is no requirement that light be from the same source to interfere. In practice, however, what happens is that any observable effects of interference between different sources lasts for too short a time to be seen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In which Ashes is recorded for future use

This is apropos of nothing, but this idea has been worked into my mind and I feel like recording it here, because it might have some future use. Or not. It's here, either way. It's a simple system I call "Ashes", based on its two main symbols, the dash and the asterisk.

The rules are as follows:
  1. -- is a valid sequence
  2. ** is a valid sequence
  3. You can add - to the end of a valid sequence ending in --
  4. You can add * to the end of a valid sequence ending in **
  5. If you have a valid sequence composed entirely of asterisks, and a valid sequence composed entirely of dashes, you can insert a copy of the dashes sequence between every asterisk of the asterisk sequence
  6. If you have a valid sequence that contains the fragment -*-, you can add # to both ends and remove all the asterisks.
You'll notice you can have sequences of any length greater than 1, as long as they are composed entirely of dashes or entirely of asterisks, thanks to rules 1-4. For example:

Rule 5 allows you to combine them. For example, combining the first and the fourth would result in

You could use the second with the fifth and the third with the sixth, getting



And so on and so forth.

Rule 6 is the closer, where the # symbol appears. Using it with those above we would get



But we cannot use rule 6 on  *-------* to get #-------#, because at no point does -*- appear in *-------*.

There is a reason behind this bizarre set of rules, of course, some interesting property behind the chains that can and can't appear. It seems obvious to me, actually, but that's probably because I thought it up so it would fulfil that express purpose. I suspect it is not immediately clear to most other people. It might be a fun riddle, I don't know.

The answer is ROT13'd here:

Vs bar gnxrf frdhraprf bs qnfurf orgjrra unfurf naq pbhagf gur ahzore bs qnfurf, gur bayl (cbfvgvir vagrtre) erfhygf lbh pna'g rire trg ner gur cevzr ahzoref naq 1. Va bgure jbeqf, rirel unfu frdhrapr unf n pbzcbfvgr ahzore bs qnfurf.

This serves no purpose, so far, other than as an illustration of a pattern hidden in rules that don't refer to it directly.