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Gordy's Discourse

External link icon. Galactic currency proposed

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268 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Dev Kundaliya on Computing.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have proposed a theoretical form of virtual money that, they claim, would be highly secure, fast to transfer, and could also enable financial transactions on galactic scale.

The article I link to is somewhat opaque but make of it what you will.

It’s proposing a new concept of money that …

… may also be thought of as something needed to get to a specific point in space-time, in response to data coming from multiple points (in space-time).

Altarian dollar symbol.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The interesting bit for me is that it uses a quantum encryption protocol (called BB84) to secure the transactions. What this basically means is that whilst it’s still possible to eavesdrop on the transaction, it’s impossible to do so and remain undetected. This is due to a property of quantum states called no-cloning and this cannot be cracked — ever — because it’s a physical law rather than an algorithm.

So if I want to transmit a secure key to you, we’d use BB84 and we’d know for definite if someone had eavesdropped on the transaction. If that happened we’d discard the keys, invalidate the transaction and try again.

But what I’d like to know is the exchange rate this currency is going to have with the Altairian Dollar. I’m led to believe a competent hitchhiker should be able to see the galaxy on less than thirty Altairian dollars a day.

External link icon. Why would anyone post a good blog on Facebook?

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248 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Dave Winer on Scripting News.

Or at least if they do, they should give it Public visibility so it can be linked to from outside of Facebook.

What rattled my cage was a post by Dave Winer on his Scripting News site, which always worth a read, incidentally.

Dave Winer says:

You know what pisses me off. A guy writing the best political blog out there, on Facebook. So after I read his piece and think “everyone should see this” I can't send the link outside of Facebook.

We have this incredible thing called the web and we don't use it.

Quite so.

Yes, I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg and his privacy-busting, pseudo-narcotic corporate silo, but I don’t understand why anyone with anything interesting to say would run their blog on Facebook.

Newspapers don’t just post on Facebook. The BBC doesn’t. Shops don’t. Even Facebook doesn’t (see their Newsroom and Media Blog). Why then should an individual do themselves such a disservice?

Facebook is meant for people who don’t have anything interesting to say to the rest of the world. That’s why it’s shielded behind a virtual barbed-wire fence away from the real web, so that we can keep all those photographs of people’s lunches out of sight.

I could rant on for some considerable time about this subject, but I won’t, just this once.

External link icon. Have the fundamental physical constants changed?

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192 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Chris Lee on ArsTechnica.

There exist a bunch of fundamental physical constants that define (or at least describe) important characteristics of our universe. Traditionally these are dimensionless numbers, which means they have no units like kph or grams, although they often describe relationships between dimensioned constants.

Alpha (also know as the fine structure constant), for example, describes the strength of the attraction between the electron and proton. It combines the speed of light, the elementary charge, Planck’s constant and something called the ‘permittivity of free space’ to arrive at its value. The value itself is approximately 1/137.

I think these constants are extremely sexy.

If these constants were different, the universe could be a very different place. Your trousers might fall apart or maybe the universe would have blinked out of existence shortly after (or even before) the big bang.

Scientists have often wondered if these constants are, in fact, constant. Maybe they were different in the past. It has however been difficult to measure what these constants were in the distant past.

The article I link to on ArsTechnica describes a new approach to measuring what a couple of these constants were in the past.

External link icon. Cats know their own names, study reports

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161 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by George Dvorsky on Gizmodo.

Via the article I link to on Gizmodo:

For the most part, the experiments showed that the cats were able to distinguish their own name, even when the name was said by a complete stranger. All cats were equally good at distinguishing their names from general nouns.

However, if you read the article you’ll see the study does come in for some criticism and it may not be as clear cut as the scientists who organised this study claim.

I can see some difficulties in interpreting a cat’s responses. Cats do not see themselves as in any way inferior to humans. Quite the opposite in fact — they rule most households they live in.

It’s perfectly feasible that a cat would recognise it’s name just fine but simply cannot be bothered to grace the idiot human with any sort of response. It's a case of "Hey, you’re wasting your breath. I'll call you if I want something."

Brexit demystified

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652 words, 3 minute read time.

Brexit seems to have been a monumental mess from the start and parliament has been singularly useless in finding a way forward. Anyway, these are my views on the situation.

Read more ...

External link icon. Cloth nappy influencers — the world has gone bonkers

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218 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Jenna Hawkey on the BBC.

I think the world went mad in 1989 but sometimes I read something that makes me wonder if it has breached the ‘crazy’ barrier and now resides in some category of lunacy that’s so extreme it doesn’t even have a word to describe it yet.

This particular section of the article I link to was what did it:

Mother-of-four Cecilia Leslie has built up a stash of about 500 nappies.

The full-time midwife is now a cloth nappy "influencer" with more than 22,000 Instagram followers.

A cloth nappy influencer? Really? I had to check to make sure it wasn’t April 1st.

Now I’ll forgive anyone who has a strange hobby and when she says:

"I paid £60 for a limited edition print that TotsBots brought out when Prince George was born. And I once paid £160 for a pair of limited edition Bumgenius nappies - there were only 100 made."

It makes me cringe but, well, each to their own.

It’s the fact that we have ‘influencers’ that astonishes me; that 22,000 people are ‘influenced’ to purchase something ludicrously expensive just for a baby to crap into.

When she says:

… she's chatted to her husband about how he feels about her nappy habit. "He agreed the money could be better spent … “

I can’t help but sympathise with the guy.

External link icon. Proof that measurements are relative

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109 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Chris Lee on ArsTechnica.

If you measure something and then I measure what you measured, we could disagree about the measurement yet both be correct.

Eugene Wigner proposed this in 1961 as part of a thought experiment called Wigner’s Friend and it has now been proven to be true.

So does this mean you could be eating a bag of cheese and onion crisps yet I could 'measure' that you're eating a bag of smokey bacon crisps and we'd both be correct? Well, not really. This all takes place at the quantum level and your choice of crisp flavours remains safely agreeable.

Mind-bending stuff though.

External link icon. AI tricks reCAPTCHA, but why do we have these things anyway?

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178 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Nicole Kobie on Wired.

Wired reports on how reCAPTCHA tests — which aim to determine whether a website visitor is human or a bot — can be fooled by AI.

But the question I ask is why do we have to see these things in the first place?

I hate having to decipher some barely legible text to prove I’m human, and I positively despise those tests that ask me to highlight any buses or crosswalks in a set of small, unclear images, often numerous times.

In all likelihood I’ll just give up with the website. Few websites are worth the bother.

I know I’m human and if a computer doesn’t believe me then that’s its problem. If it needs to do any checks, they should be invisible to me and not involve me fighting with crappy text or images.

Don’t bother me with “there’s no other way”, find one. The visitor’s experience should be untarnished. I don’t care if bots are visiting your site, that’s your problem. Please don’t make it mine.

External link icon. Today is Pi Day

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181 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Mia Neagle on Google Blogs.
Icon for the `“A recipe for beating the record of most-calculated digits of pi”` by Mia Neagle on Google Blogs article.

‘Pi day’ is when we celebrate the number pi. Streamers are hung from ceilings and we wear party hats to honour the most famous of irrational numbers. It’s on the 14th of March because of the odd way Americans write dates: 3.14.

As part of their celebrations, Google announced that one of its employees with rather too much time on her hands has set a record for calculating pi digits. She calculated it to 31,415,926,535,897 digits, which is a lot.

It would be easy to mock and ask why she bothered but I have a grudging respect for things that are done purely for the sake of interest or challenge, but are otherwise pointless. So well done to Emma Haruka Iwao.

If you’re interested — and really you should be — NASA has previously posted 18 ways in which it uses pi.

And if your geekdom knows no bounds you might want to read about how ancient geometers went about squaring the circle.

All hail pi.