“Singularity” Text Complete

The sequel to “Colony”, “Singularity” is set in a not so distant future. It follows the first human interstellar settlement and it’s development. “Singularity” is set almost three decades after the main events of “Colony”.

The first four chapters are available to read in the Work in Progress page of this blog. The bulk of the text is complete. Currently it’s being edited, and queries are being circulated for interest.

If you’ve helped with feedback, or just by sticking along, thank you!

Communications and Tectonic Package Sent to Mars

In case you missed it, Saturday NASA launched the InSight mission to Mars, scheduled to arrive November of this year. The science package contains a seismometer to determine if the fourth planet from the sun is still alive geologically. We know it was once by the volcanoes left behind, the largest being the 25 kilometer tall Olympus Mons. In addition to listening for a heartbeat, InSight will also drill fifteen feet into the soil and measure temperature and temperature gradient, providing a starting point for estimating temperatures much deeper inside the red planet. In addition, the science package will deploy two radio antennas with the purpose of determining how much the internal workings of the planet cause it to wobble.

But what is very cool is the pair of very small (14 inch x 9 inch x 4 inch), inexpensive – relatively speaking ($11 million) communications satellites that are transmitting along the way. CubeSats use commercial parts and are meant to improve accessibility to space by reducing the cost. If the satellites survive the trip, it will prove that lower cost alternatives for future trips to the planet are viable.

Atlantis – Yes, Really

It's amazing how much information we have at out fingertips. David Livingston spent five years of his life, and nearly died trying to find the source of the Nile. This morning I did the same thing in about an hour from the comfort of my couch using Google Maps. Unlike any generation before us, we can look up primary sources for ancient antiquities without not just getting to skip learning dead languages, but without even leaving the house for the library.

We're a family that watches a lot of history programming, so Atlantis comes up. I decided to look under the hood, and here is what I found:

Where Did the Atlantis Story Originate?

The only primary sources (first documented accounts)  for the story of Atlantis are two Dialogues of Plato - Critias and Timaeus. Some context is helpful here. Plato's dialogues are a student's (Plato) recollection of some of the very best conversations he overheard or participated in. It's a bit like a fan of someone famous writing down the very best memories of their journey with that famous someone. Hopefully, given the level of detail in the dialogues, Plato is working from notes as well as memory, but there's no indication of that. 

The context of Critias and Timaeus are these two individuals trying to entertain  Socrates with strange-but-true tales. Socrates is Plato's teacher and the person being recollected in the Dialogues. Critias and Timaeus both admit they partly consider the story a myth. Critias was looking at turning the story into a play. Either he never got around to it, or the play is lost.

Critias, now a very old man, received the story when he was ten from a popular poet named Solon. So bear in mind, this is a professional storyteller saying he got this story from another professional storyteller. Searching for Atlantis may be bit like overhearing Michael Bay and Stephen Spielberg discussing the next Transformers movie and using that as the basis to search for a historical Cybertron.

Solon claims to have encountered the story while visiting Egypt. He had intended to turn the story into a poem, but had not gotten around to it. Instead, Solon did translate the story from the original Egyptian, or so Critias claims, into Greek. Critias also claims to still have a copy of the original Egyptian manuscript.

The story Critias passes to Socrates from Solon is one of a great war between all of the nations inside the Mediterranean sea versus all of the nations in and around the Atlantic ocean. The battle, according to Critias took place at least nine thousand years prior to the present (the present being around 360 BC). Socrates' home town Athens was the leader of the Mediterranean forces in the world war, and Atlantis was the leader of the forces from the ocean. 

Characteristics of Atlantis in Original Sources

According to Plato's recollection of Critas and Solon Atlantis was:

  • Located past the Pillars of Hercules, outside the Mediterranean sea in the Atlantic Ocean
  • Close enough to the Pillars of Hercules that the disaster that overtook Atlantis made it impossible for the Greeks to reach the ocean for some time afterward.
  • An island chain (Critias uses the word "islands", not "island")
  • Had natural deposits of copper (red metal)
  • Had hot and cold springs
  • Had native elephants
  • Was destroyed by some natural disaster

The Pillars of Hercules

The Pillars of Hercules were an important landmark in identifying the location of Atlantis. These are two mountains identifying the expanse of water that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. These are very large and a noticeable feature, not easily mistaken for something else.

Finding Atlantis (Without a Wetsuit)

Although Critias gives us an easily identifiable landmark, you probably see that there is nothing to the west immediately past the Pillars of Hercules. The nothing continues west until you hit North America, causing some to consider places like Bimini in the Bahamas or other parts of North America as candidates for Critias and Solon's early civilization.

The Polynesians may have pointed their boats out into the unknown, but the Greeks didn't sail that way. They hugged the coast when travelling, even in the Mediterranean sea.

And, if you are hugging the African coastline outside the rock of Gibraltar (Pillars of Hercules) the first island chain you find is: the Canary Islands.

The Canary Islands

Close enough that a natural disaster would have prevented coast-hugging European sailors from going any further down the African coast line, the Canary islands were an early candidate for Atlantis.

Not only is the location right, but the islands fit the description in several other respects : having hot and cold springs, precious metals, and an being close enough to Africa that an indigenous population of elephants is possible, if unproven. It's even close enough that a hypothetical armed conflict between Mediterranean nations wanting access to coastal Africa and a hypothetical kingdom of Atlantis situated on the Canary islands seems plausible.

In fact, there was enough of a fit that people spent real money studying the geology of the region to find one significant problem: there is no evidence of any catastrophic natural event having happened there.

What Did Solon Get Wrong?

Did Solon get something wrong? It seems all theories of Atlantis assume something in his description must have been mistaken. Those favoring Thera as Atlantis assume he was mistaken about it being outside the Mediterranean Sea. Those favoring Bimini discard the elephants, hot and cold springs.

Since it was a story about a major war, written by one side, maybe Solon got nothing wrong. Maybe the original Egyptians, or Solon (being a poet), improvised to give the "bad guys" of the story a fitting ending - being struck down by natural disaster, when what might actually have happened is the country fading away, as so many nations do.

Yeti is a Bear?

A 2014 study of 57 alleged yeti samples by Oxford professor Bryan Sykes discovered them to be horse, human or bear. 

The idea of the yeti, and possibly another well-known reported but unverified species, the bigfoot as being some sort of animal is not new. Compare a still shot taken from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film in Northern California to contemporary videos of bears behaving surprisingly humanly.

What Does a Mudslide Look Like?

Mudslides happen. However, still shots do a poor job of demonstrating the speed and power of these natural disasters. If you are have not had the privilege of seeing one up close, here is video of a 2012 mudslide in  Johnson's Landing, British Columbia

Digital Colloids – Self Assembling Liquid Memory

Tiny drops of oil can be arranged to write information and read it back remotely, described in this 2014 paper. The oils suspended in water, literally colloids can be written to or read from using both optical and electronic mechanisms. When written to, the information is stored by rearranging the stable pattern of the droplets within a larger grouping. The applications of this technology include mixing the substance into batches of other goods as a marker, high density memory (estimated in the range of terabytes per gram), or memory for nano machines (still being much too large for than application, but showing promise).

Usefully, the structures assemble themselves under the right conditions lending themselves to industrial application. 

Knowledge Transfer Over the Internet

"I know kung fu"

The line from "The Matrix" summarizes the cool of being able to compress weeks, years, or decades of subject mastery into a data stream. Significant progress has been made since 2004 transferring knowledge between animals and people.

The technology, called Brain To Brain Interface (BTBI) achieved results of successfully transferring information 70%, compared to 50% of the time due to random chance. Not very impressive, but more recent work in people transfers more complex information with a 72% success rate, compared to 18% random chance of getting the same answers.

(Almost) Blackest Black Available For Sale to Public

You may have heard of the U.K. vertically aligned nanotube array (VANTA) super black coating, created in 2006 and advertised to absorb 99.965% of visible light directed at it. However, U.K. export restrictions prevent private individuals - with the notorious exception of artist Anish Kapoor in 2016. If you wanted to see Vantablack yourself, you would have to be satisfied with either a sample from Surrey NanoSystems or with the purchase of the $95,000 MCT luxury watch, which feature vantablack minute and second hands.

Now a U.S. firm, NanoLabs, has provided for sale its own nanotube based black pigment, called Singularity Black, which can be bought for $50 per 20 milliliters. The pigment has a much less impressive 98.5% absorption, but it's effectiveness is demonstrated in a collection of images made in concert with artist Jason Chase.

The material must be heated to 600 degrees Fahrenheit to boil off the binder material and, although water proof, the surface becomes no-touch in order to keep the best black effect. These requirements make finding the right place to use the paint challenging.

Artist Stuart Semple released his own "Black 2.0" blackest paint. While quantitative data for "Black 2.0" isn't available, the product was featured impressively in the YouTube video "Light vs. Dark". Semple has also released a "pinkest pink", "greenest green", and "glitteriest glitter".  Other user anecdotes have been that "Black 2.0" is not as dark as some other commercial grade paints. Semple's paint is available for the much more reasonable price of $18.90 for 150 milliliters at Amazon.  

Trends in High End Robotics

Robotics may seem like the stuff of far-away science fiction, but it's much closer than you think. Look at these products and prototypes in development.

What you see in the video above jumping and performing flips is Boston Dynamics' 'Atlas' robot. Boston Dynamics was purchased in 2013 by Google's Alphabet holding company and sold to SoftBank group in June of 2017. Atlas is only one in a long line of seemingly far futuristic robot products including the surprisingly agile Big Dog pack mule-like robot, the 28 mile per hour running Cheetah, and the tree climbing badger lookalike called RiSE.

While Boston Dynamics is exploring the limits of humanoid and animal inspired shapes, other companies are pushing the frontiers of robotics in other areas. Hanson Robotics (video below) has been working hard on developing machines with human like behavior, "feelings", and body language. Part of Hanson Robotics' work is open source in the OpenCog platform, that you can download and experiment with yourself (some Linux expertise required).

In the domain of artificial intelligence, IBM has expanded the famous Jeopardy-winning Watson into a suite of products including interactive assistance and research. If you would like to try out Watson for yourself, you can sign-up for a 30-day free trial. The tools provided are intended for use by non-programmers and a large body of tutorials is available on IBM's website, although you might spend the entire 30-day trial just walking through the tutorials.

Amazon has also released it's suite of publicly available AI tools as part of it's AWS package of on-demand services.

Microsoft famously released it's self-teaching chat AI, Tay, on the world. The experiment ended unfortunately as the robot learned from both the best and worst influences of the public.

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How Plausible is a Reality Show Means of Selecting a Space Crew?

How plausible is it that a one way trip to another world would be privately funded by a reality-show like recruitment and selection process, partnered with merchandising, licensing, and donations? That was not science fiction, but science fact.

Founded in 2011, Mars One has gotten off to a slow start and been the subject of a great deal of criticism, but they have kept the conversation going. With an estimated $400 million milestone unmanned mission scheduled for 2022 and no actual crews scheduled until 2031, it remains to be seen if they will succeed.

Their 2017 financial statement shows an organization that has well developed ideas about how it will raise the funds it needs, and how it must invest in it's fundraising.