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Friday, December 31, 2010

Optihumanist Principles 2010

I have uploaded my annual update to the Optihumanist Principles. I have inserted one sentence:

Progress promotes pattern perpetuation.

With this statement, I am attempting to summarize a couple of ideas:

  • Living things are a type of self-sustaining pattern.
  • Living things adapt over time to prevent extinction.

To stretch this, any self-sustaining pattern that does not evolve might not be considered alive. The self-sustaining fusion of the Sun is not alive. Similarly, a personality recorded in great detail within a computer simulation would be lacking if it could not learn and change; it would simply be a high fidelity ghost.

Any self-sustaining pattern that does evolve might be considered alive. Viruses mutate from one flu season to the next. Corporations adapt to changing market conditions. Laws are amended. Religions revise interpretations of holy texts.

Self-sustaining patterns comprise more complex self-sustaining patterns. Wedding ceremonies are perpetuated by humans which are perpetuated by genes. Animals breathe in what plants breathe out and vice versa. The Sun shines upon the Earth, birthplace of an intelligent species which might someday learn how to extend the life of a dying star.

Further reading:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

For a human physiology course that I am taking, I wrote a short paper on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO is a medical procedure used in cases of heart or lung failure in which the blood of a patient is pumped through an external device in order to add oxygen to the blood.

I was interested in this topic for multiple reasons:
  • A number of years ago I was sick in bed for a month with pneumonia. Many of the ways we die, from pneumonia to heart attack to stroke, are essentially variants of death from a lack of oxygenated blood to the brain.
  • I think you could combine this with other procedures such as hemodialysis. How long before we can get oxygenated nutrient-rich artificial blood piped to our homes as a utility like water or electricity?
  • Some of the same technology is used in cryonics after death to help preserve the structure of the brain.
In my ECMO paper, I describe each of the medical terms including the Latin and Greek word origins. I also describe and compare a number of related medical procedures. You can download the paper in Open Document Format (ODF).

Friday, October 08, 2010

Charley Horse

From time to time when I am lying in bed I will get a painful leg cramp. When my children were younger, they once witnessed me suddenly start writhing upon my bed yelling "Charley horse! Charley horse!" This caused them some distress and moved one of them to tears as they could not understand why I would call out the name of a puppet from Lamb Chop's Play Along.

I had noticed that many of these leg cramps were initiated by a morning stretch in which I would extend my toes. I now know that I can instantly relieve a cramp when I feel one initiating by pointing my toes up and extending my heel instead.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

BlackBerry Torch 9800

I recently decided to buy a BlackBerry mobile phone when a friend sent me a copy of his book Learn BlackBerry Games Development.  As a computer programmer, I was pleased to see that BlackBerry provides full support for the cross-platform Java programming language standard.

I became a little worried about my decision when I heard that BlackBerry was being asked by dictatorships to provide decrypted access to communications within their nations so that they could spy on their citizens.  Then I realized that this was not an issue with the other mobile phone manufacturers because they did not bother to encrypt.

I wanted to get a BlackBerry with both a touchscreen and a keyboard but my wireless carrier AT&T was pushing iPhone instead.  I was just about to switch to another carrier when AT&T came out with the BlackBerry Torch 9800.  I was able to get it for just $150.00 because I was due for an upgrade discount on my mobile plan.  That seems like a pretty good deal given that is selling this phone for $729.97, a $30 increase from the day before.

In the past I have had smartphones but I did not bother to use their features.  I let my kids figure out how to set the wallpaper and ringtones for me.  I rarely responded to text messages with text replies as it was just too tedious to use the condensed keypads.  I stopped paying the extra fee for Internet access after I found that I did not want to surf the Web or watch videos on the tiny screen.

Now I am reluctantly paying the extra $25.00 a month to AT&T for up to 2 gigabytes per month of mobile data usage.  Fortunately I figured out how to configure my application to only download my podcast subscriptions when a Wi-Fi connection is available which does not count against your 2 gigabytes monthly of mobile data usage. I am enjoying the NPR science podcasts.

Convergence has finally arrived for this late adopter.  With this mobile phone I decided to dive into it and learn how to use all of the features.  It just seems to have crossed that certain threshold for me personally with regard to the screen size, user interface, and the potential for becoming an important tool in my daily life beyond just serving as a phone.  I am now using my BlackBerry for the following:
  • Phone
  • Texting
  • Ripped CD MP3 music player
  • Jump drive
  • Still and video camera
  • Web
  • Facebook
  • Locating nearby restaurants
  • Audio and video podcasts
  • Streaming audio from Pandora over Wi-Fi
  • Personal e-mail
I was going to use it to connect to my work e-mail but the BlackBerry Enterprise data plan from AT&T would have cost me an extra $15.00 a month.  At that price, I decided I needed to maintain my work-home personal boundary.

I avoided earbuds in the past but I am getting used to them now.  I accidentally figured out that the BlackBerry earbuds have a built-in microphone and that I can initiate voice dialing just by squeezing the cord in the right spot.  I know I look like a schizophrenic talking to myself when I use them but the phone call sound quality and privacy is just so much better than holding the phone up to your head.

I definitely see the need for neuroprosthetic interfaces for devices like this.  A Bluetooth cochlear implant seems like something they should have now.  Retinal input would give you virtual screens of any size.  Peripheral nerve output would give you fine control of the cursor.  Given the future possibilities, I continue to entertain the idea of getting a degree in Biomedical Engineering.  I am currently enrolled in the introductory course Anatomy and Human Physiology and I am enjoying it.

Thus far I am pleased with my purchase and I can recommend it.  Check out the BlackBerry Torch website.

I am just waiting for a touchscreen iPhone user to admit their envy of my touchscreen plus slide out full-alphabet keyboard.  So far this has not happened yet.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Engineering and Science

As an independent final project for my Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering, I wrote a software implementation of an artificial neural network algorithm to distinguish different shapes in images.  To ensure that I was learning engineering and not just neural networks, the faculty required that I wire wrap a photodiode-based scanner including the analog-to-digital and serial communications circuitry to use as the image input device.

As an independent final project for my Masters degree in Electrical Engineering, I designed a hardware implementation of an artificial neural network learning rule that I invented.  I integrated the learning rule into my coursework on neuromorphic VLSI chip design even though an application-specific circuit model was probably not the most efficient means of studying its capabilities.

For my second graduate degree, my intent was to continue to study my learning rule, but this time within a school of science rather than engineering.  I would focus on Computational Neuroscience which models neuronal network circuits using software simulations.

I was distracted from my original plan, however, by an increasing interest in neuroprosthetics, specifically wireless neural interfaces for controlling robotic arms.  After I finished my Masters in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience, I submitted a related grant proposal as part of my doctoral studies toward a degree in Cognition and Neuroscience.  I was told by faculty that my proposal was rejected because the literature review section contained too many references to engineering papers and not enough to neuroscience.  Upon review, I noted that the disallowed citations were from journals of neural engineering and neural surgery.

Since then, I have continued my part-time doctoral studies by exploring Computational Neuroethology (CNE), the study of how simulated neuronal network circuits create behaviors when embodied in robotic or virtual reality environments.  My previous studies of biologically-plausible learning algorithms and body-to-machine neural interfaces fit neatly within CNE.  Furthermore, practitioners of CNE avow that it is a scientific discipline, not engineering, and therefore I assume it is valid subject matter for a thesis defended within a School of Behavioral and Brain Science.  There is some risk, however, that those who consider Computer Science not to be a true science might object to CNE on the same grounds.

Fortunately the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) Erik Johnnson School of Engineering and Computer Science has just started a new graduate degree program in Biomedical Engineering (BME).  Neural Engineering is classified as a subdiscipline of BME.  I am now taking the introductory course "Anatomy and Human Physiology for Engineers" and I am enjoying it.  I am considering pursuing a third Masters within an academic department that embraces both engineering and science.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dallas Summer

Our eldest three children are off to Camp Quest Texas 2010 this weekend. Last year I posted a blog entry with links to television news clips showing our children at Camp Quest Texas 2009.

The big ongoing event for the family this Summer has been moving into a new house and preparing the old one for sale. With five kids we really needed more space so we finally made the move after almost 10 years in our old home to a nearby neighborhood with great schools. Since we have moved from an adjacent suburb to Dallas city proper, I have stopped tuning out those news stories about the Dallas mayor and the city council that I never cared about before. To make our Dallas residency official, I ordered a subscription to D Magazine.

We look forward to hosting a event at our new place as soon we finish unpacking. We also need to install energy-efficient windows to help cool things down before we invite guests. Here is a list of Dallas area groups that I frequently attend:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
ThreatDown - Camp
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

Monday, June 28, 2010

Electric Car

My daughter Ada took this photo of the odometer of my 1999 Toyota Corolla. We reached the 130,000 mile mark just as we pulled into our driveway:

I am overdue to buy a new car but I keep waiting for the electric cars to hit the market that can be charged with a home garage plug-in connection. Speaking of which, here is the song "Electric Car" from the music video DVD Here Comes Science by "They Might Be Giants". Our family loves this DVD; it is definitely worth the $11 for this collection of catchy educational tunes:

I knew I wanted a plug-in but I was vacillating between getting a hybrid or an all-electric. I have decided to buy an all-electric Nissan Leaf when it becomes available later this year:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Rational Optimism

A new term that I have started tracking is "Rational Optimism".  I am currently reading The Case for Rational Optimism by Frank S. Robinson. Please see my review of his earlier book subtitled The Optimist Manifesto.

Robinson references the essay Dynamic Optimism by Dr. Max More in which More refers to the "rational optimist". I am a fan of Dr. More's Extropian Principles in which "extropian thinking places strong emphasis on rational thinking and practical optimism" [Wikipedia].

Another book that I have on my reading list is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley. You can listen to an NPR radio interview with the author. He also has a Rational Optimist website with links to videos, his other books, and his blog.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oral Arguments Audio

Yesterday I watched my attorney Dean Cook present oral arguments to a three judge panel in New Orleans. This is the second time he has argued a church-state separation case on our behalf before the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit. Previously it was for the Moment of Silence case. This time it was for the State Pledge case challenging the constitutionality of a new law adding "under God" to our Texas state pledge and mandating daily recitation by public school children. You can listen to the audio recording.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pledge Appeal Oral Argument

Recently the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against Dr. Newdow et al. in their case questioning the constitutionality of inserting "under God" into the national Pledge of Allegiance. Our attorney Dean Cook called my attention to this paragraph from the dissenting opinion of District Judge Reinhardt:
Today’s majority opinion will undoubtedly be celebrated by a large number of Americans as a repudiation of activist, liberal, Godless judging. That is its great appeal; it reaches the result favored by a substantial majority of our fellow countrymen and thereby avoids the political outcry that would follow were we to reach the constitutionally required result. Nevertheless, by reaching the result the majority does, we have failed in our constitutional duty as a court. Jan Roe and her child turned to the federal judiciary in the hope that we would vindicate their constitutional rights. There was a time when their faith in us might have been well placed. I can only hope that such a time will return someday.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has scheduled an oral argument hearing to take place in a month for our similar case regarding the constitutionality of the insertion of "under God" into the Texas state pledge. Recently our state Attorney General boasted at a Christian award ceremony of his defense of the mandatory Moment of Silence law against our First Amendment challenge in this same court.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Zombie Apocalypse

I am a big fan of the zombie apocalypse genre, probably because it usually features lone individuals finding each other and joining forces to survive in a hostile environment filled with mindless infected masses.  I love playing the computer game Left 4 Dead 2 and I enjoy watching zombedies such as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead.

I experienced something novel recently when a friend loaned me his autographed copy of World War Z by Max Brooks, the author of The Zombie Survival Guide.  Brooks presents an alternate history in which a zombie plague destroys most of civilization.  Presented as a series of interviews recounted by the survivors, each stand-alone story provides a snapshot of the epic struggle to survive, fight back, and rebuild.  Brooks presents each interview with the respect of a wartime journalist while weaving some contemporary social commentary into the context.

I recommend this book and I would love to see a television series based on this theme.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Optihumanist Movies

Previously I have posted a list of Optihumanist Books.  Today I posted a list of Optihumanist Movies.

Children of Men (Widescreen Edition)