Computers in Victorian England
Computer disc drives were the answer to a world dream a century and a half old, for fast storage and retrieval of computer programs and their data, a dream that began with the work of Ada, Countess of Lovelace in Victorian England. She developed the first computer programming concepts for Charles Babbages 1820 Difference Engine, a mechanical computer.
A century and a half after Babbage, early personal computers like the 1978 Apple I were toys because they had no disc drive, and only a few hundred were sold.
The 1979 Apple II had the first PC floppy disc drive and millions were sold. One of Al's companies had invented and made Apples floppy drives.
At the time Gordon joined Seagate, disc drive technology was about to explode in performance, sophistication, nanotechnology, and sales. Disc drive internal hardware and software technology were becoming as sophisticated as the computers they were installed in. Uses would explode for low cost, high capacity, high speed disc drives.
From Hard Drive! Chapter 2
Do You Hate Computer Passwords Like I do?
Computers are the most advanced thinking machines on earth.
Why can't they do the work of identifying people, instead of forcing people to use passwords? If we must have passwords, why can't we only have one or a few, at our choosing?
I have 165 passwords and I have to use a computer program to remember them all (and it doesn't always work). Why so many? Because there are no standards for secure but friendly passwords.
Some sites have few password restrictions and I can use my favorite six-character password - Yahoo is one example. But many have extremely complex rules, like the Chase bank site, Chase.com. They requite a minimum of 7-32 characters, letters and at least one number with no special characters or punctuation marks, and worse: "Your Password cannot be the same as your User ID or your previous 5 Passwords."
Let's set open source standards for password rules!
There are many open source software orgs that can do this, like SourceForge.net.
I've submitted this idea to them. Vote for it there!
Posted August 8, 2009
Gordon flew his plane to Las Vegas to meet Al, Seagate's President. He wanted to be sure a researcher like him would be welcome at a manufacturing company like Seagate. After landing, he was led by a golf cart to a parking spot at Butler Aviation, on the private aircraft side of the airport. Butler's business was instant first-class service for business jet flyers. It was crowded with jets whose passengers received red carpet treatment because the jet owners bought thousands of dollars of jet fuel. Gordons plane took only fifty dollars of aviation gas but he received similar first class treatment by parking with the rich peoples jets, a little known secret of private airplane flying.
Gordon shut down his engine and got out to put his cockpit canvas cover on. Standing on his wing he looked over the airport fence at the Las Vegas Strip, seeing gaudy wedding chapels and cheap motels. The only visible evidence of the gambling Mecca was the modest sign of the Flamingo Hotel, said to have been built by the mobster Bugsy Siegel.
The "Follow Me" cart drove him to the Butler terminal and they offered their van to take him downtown. He was dropped off at the Golden Nugget Hotel just two hours after parking his car next to his airplane at Santa Monica Airport. Private airplane flying has fewer delays than airline flying and offers higher personal security with far less hassle. There were 8,000 airports in small towns and large cities in the U.S. and one was usually much closer to a flyer's destination than airline airports. There were only fifty airline airports in major cities that had usably convenient schedules.
Al was in Las Vegas for the COMDEX personal computer trade show. This annual show was already overflowing the Las Vegas Convention Center space and was the second largest annual convention in Las Vegas, attracting over 100,000 PC engineers, salesmen, and customers. Its growing size had required COMDEX to build additional Convention Center exhibit buildings using its own money.
The COMDEX visitors were universally detested by the Vegas casinos and cab drivers because computer people didnt gamble much and were cheap tippers. The city was stuck with geeks for a week.
Gordon found Doug in the gambling casino of the Golden Nugget Hotel and the two walked over to introduce Gordon to Al. Al was at a crap table, down by $70,000 but looking unruffled. Al shook hands and said, I hear youre a technology genius, Gordon. What can I do to help you join us?
Gordon knew he wasnt a genius, but he had one good instinct: to want to swim in the pool with the smarter fish. He didnt mind being a dumber fish in that pool. Curiosity and learning were Gordon's passions. He loved learning from people smarter than him and Seagate seemed like such a place. To him, smarter referred to pure intelligence; labels like race or sex were irrelevant. He was known at technical conferences for asking direct questions of speakers with faulty points of view, saying I have a dumb question, because I dont understand why The more polite masses didn't directly confront such speakers.
Gordon was still dazed by the Seagate opportunity and could only think to ask Al for two things. "Could Seagate help me with selling my L.A. house and buying a new one and also allow me to fly my airplane on company business?"
"Of course," Al answered smiling.
Al turned. "Doug, set up a Seagate loan for Gordons new house with the principal and interest forgiven after eight years." Gordon learned this was called a Silicon Valley golden handcuff. It was nice to get the house loan, and he naively imagined working for Seagate forever.
In a final moment of panic, Gordon blurted out his real concern. "Sir, will a technology researcher like me really be welcome at a manufacturing company like Seagate?"
"Call me Al; please take this complementary ticket and go see our COMDEX exhibit and our customers exhibits; and when can you begin working for us?"
Gordon decided that all Seagate people must know this trick of jumping over the middle of conversations to get to the conclusions faster, like Doug and Al. He resolved to learn how himself.
Leaving Al and Doug, he spent several hours walking through miles of aisles displaying COMDEX exhibits of computers, printers, disc drives, and software. He stopped at a booth labeled Cow Ware.
"Whats Cow Ware?" he asked the man in the booth.
"Its our PC program to help dairy farmers manage their herds of milk cows. The farmers input the breeding line and milk output of each cow, and the program computes which cows to breed and which to send to the glue factory."
"Thanks," Gordon said and walked on, thinkingTherell be no end to the market for computers and disc drives if they get into every specialized occupation on Earth.
Gordon started back to the airport, passing by Al again. Al was back at the crap table, now up by $100,000 but not looking any more excited than when he was down by $70,000. Smiling and shaking his head, Gordon joined the cab line outside the hotel.
The cab took an hour to get him back to Butler Aviation and the taxi driver chatted with Gordon about the big crowds. Gordon thought he looked like a recent U.S. foreign arrival who had picked up an American street look. His long braided ponytail partly obscured his massive gold earrings and the tattoos on his arms and neck. Gordon looked at the drivers Las Vegas license on the front seat back and saw a mug shot of the man in Asian clothes before the hippie additions.
"COMDEX is the second biggest event we get in Las Vegas. Want to guess whats biggest?" the driver asked. Gordon had no idea.
"Every year in early December the Rodeo Grand Championships are held here. The crowds are so huge I just drive to the airport and shout at the taxi line, Anyone for the Golden Nugget, come get in. My cab fills up in a wink. And I can get back to the airport fast to pick up for another hotel.
"A couple flew in to get married a few months after the last rodeo and they called my taxi phone to personally ask me to take them to a wedding chapel and be their best man. They had met as strangers in my cab at the rodeo the December before!
"Thats great!" Gordon laughed.
Back in his airplane at McCarran Airport, Gordon radioed for his departure clearance and ground control instructed him to take taxiways Whiskey and Echo to runway 19 Left. After pulling into the run-up area he heard a call over the radio. "Mooney at 19 Left, may our Gulfstream taxi by to take off before you, sir?"
Gordon saw a large business jet approaching down the taxiway. He knew the Gulfstream pilots radio request was unnecessary because he had heard ground control clear the jet to taxi to the runway for immediate takeoff. It needed to take off first because it was the faster plane. The radio request was partly professional courtesy common in airplane radio communications to emphasize flight safety, and partly the Gulfstream pilot wanting to not surprise Gordon.
"Sir, it would be my pleasure if you taxied by without delay," Gordon radioed back, hinting to the Gulfstream pilot that he knew jets hated to wait on the ground burning fuel. Sitting with jet engines idling was also expensive, like keeping a fire burning by feeding it hundred dollar bills. Such undertones were common because every radio transmission was tape recorded and might be reviewed by FAA regulators.
The Gulfstream looked almost as large as a Boeing jet as it taxied past Gordons small plane and took off. Gordon was cleared for takeoff a few minutes later and he departed Las Vegas for the 75-minute flight back to Santa Monica Airport, flying an air route above the Las Vegas to L.A. highway.
Climbing to his cruise altitude, Gordon heard the radar controller talking to another plane. Top Gun 21, contact Nellis Air Force Base, and I thank you for your service to our country. This wasn't standard aviation terminology and the words brought a lump to Gordons throat. She repeated them to each military plane in turn as Gordon flew on.
A dark veil of night fell as he flew south over Nevada and California desert. Thousands of stars began to fill the desert sky, far more than he ever saw in lighted cities. Passing Palmdale, Gordon saw a lambent glow beyond the mountains ahead. It permeated the sky far ahead of him although the terrain below remained pitch black.
Must be the lights of L.A, but I dont remember seeing them this far north before.
As Los Angeles came into view 15 minutes later, Gordon's eyes opened wide. L.A. was a dazzling sea of floating light that seemed to stretch forever He was soon flying over the San Fernando Valley and could see from Burbank to his east to the Ventura coastline far to his west, and far beyond Orange County to the south. Passing beyond the Santa Monica Mountains he saw an arc of light snaking 100 miles east. It ended in a softly glowing island: Palm Springs. To the south, another arm of light curved along the seacoast beside the dark Pacific Ocean, to the glowing island of San Diego. Gordon was seeing over two hundred miles in every direction. There was no sensation of speed in the still night air and not the slightest bump to hint he was even moving. Gordon looked at his ground speed and saw the plane was ticking off 250 mph over the ground. I could never explain this experience to anyone except a pilot.
Pilots were sometimes asked why they fly by polite people who omit the rest of the question in their minds: since there can be danger. Few pilots were able to describe their experiences above the ordinary flat world humans live their lives on. Occasionally, pilots try by writing spiritual or allegorical books, like Richard Bach's Jonathon Livingston Seagull or Saint-Exupery's Little Prince.
From Hard Drive! Chapter 8, first posted July 10, 2009
Gordon was visiting Kermit in his Santa Cruz apartment, which was clean and neat, and without the slightest trace of female presence. In the background, Kermits Hi Fi was softly playing Erik Saties piano work Barefoot Dances. Brewing herbal tea on his stove, Kermit said, "I think Buddhist meditation gives an illuminating insight into God, from a scientific point of view. Dont you agree?"
"Sort of like becoming One with your inner geek? Gordon wryly replied. I personally appreciate God when I see our universe as Gods movie that humanity shares through the Common Sense, the unconscious communication we all silently share, to decide on how the universe behaves. Some call it the collective unconscious."
Kermit took a sip of tea and raised a single eyebrow, "That's an awful strange concept to swallow in one gulp. Is the universe is just a movie your own idea, Gordon?"
"Nope. More than two thousand years ago in ancient Greece, Plato's book The Republic called our human condition The Cave. He described our reality as hypnotic projections of images on the wall of a dark cave, wherein all humanity was confined to prevent them from seeking to experience the sun outside the cave. Plato said anyone breaking the hypnosis and finding their way outside into the sunlight would become terrified and desperately seek to return to the dark, fearful of ever speaking of his experience. Over the ages, many humans have sought and found that same Central Truth, from Plato's Greece to our modern world, but anyone who speaks of it has failed to follow the rules of the Cave and is considered strange and perhaps insane."
"Gordon, are you claiming that all humanity is just a mesmerized audience in Gods theater, watching a totally engrossing movie that God creates and directs? Sort of like the Force in the Star Wars movie?"
"The Truth is frequently spoken but widely ignored.
"Maybe I can describe it better as a computer game. Were video game players, totally fixated by the action on the screen, irritated if anyone distracts us. We dont want to think or talk about anything but the game. To believe in the game we ignore the many unlikely coincidences necessary for our space-time universe to exist and support life, the impossibly many curious constructs in the movie.
"Scientists can see our universe is artificial, but all their attempts to study why fail to be reproducible by other scientists. Humanity senses any attempt by science to directly reveal the objective Truth of God, through their collective but unconscious Common Sense, and they unconsciously shift reality a bit to make any such science irreproducible."
Kermit squirmed uncomfortably. "It's true that the universe seems artificially constructed. Quantum mechanics has twenty arbitrary parameters that scientists cant predict from any theory; they have to be measured by experiment. If some were larger or smaller by just a few percent, no life would exist."
Then his face brightened. "Listen, Gordon! Science has come a long way since Platos day. Todays string theory physics could be a scientific version of Platos Cave. It says our four-dimensional space-time universe is projected from a hidden universe of ten dimensions or more. We see only a 3D space-time projection, just as Plato said."
"Kermit, the string universe could be the projector of Platos Cave all right. But ten dimensions would be just a bigger but still finite universe. It might be a step closer to the Central Truth, but adding any fixed number of additional dimensions just takes you to another more complex illusion. Limiting God to ten dimensions or any other fixed number is a foolish attempt by us petty humans to restrict illimitable God.
"Quantum field theory scientists have a much better picture of our universe, with well-established physics and a long history of experimental confirmation. They study the Metaverse, the collection of all possible universes, including ours. Their Metaverse has an unrestricted number of dimensions, and allows our past and future time dimensions. It doesnt try to restrict or limit God."
A soft breeze stirred Kermits window curtains, carrying a hint of the nearby sea. Gordon saw a box of audio cassette tapes sitting on Kermit's coffee table, labeled Alan Watts Radio Talks. Looks like Kermit recorded all of them.
"I recently read an article about your enlightenment guru, Alan Watts. It said he died an alcoholic."
"Dont judge Watts work by his alcoholism, Gordon. He often gave his best enlightenment lectures while drunk. Many religions use drugs to see God."
Gordon looked skeptical.
...From Hard Drive! Chapter 9, first posted June 19, 2009
A Common Sense Radio
Kermit scowled. "Your concept of a shared common sense or collective unconscious seems fuzzy to me. Can you turn your idea into a concrete, testable hypothesis that the scientific method could be applied to, with mathematics to test its validity?"
"You dont ask much, do you Kermit? OK, here goes. My description of the Common Sense seems rather like radio transmission, doesnt it? Communications at a distance by invisible waves. You know, science doesn't explain exactly what radio is. Its content with mathematics that only predicts how radio waves behave. Suppose science made the Common Sense similarly commonplace and reliably usable, using special radio transmitters and receivers."
"Was that pun intended, Gordon? Surely humanity wouldn't permit directly exposing this Common Sense of yours, if it exists. Why would this quantum radio work any better than the quantum telepathy method people call 'intuition'?"
"Because intuition can't be scientifically investigated without treading into the forbidden territory underlying our space-time universe. People accept technology solutions like radio transmission because theyre limited and not threatening.
My idea would be to create a new radio technology to allow practical use of the Common Sense. Instead of directly revealing it, the new radio would make it dependably useful, and somehow without the threat of making peoples secret thoughts readable by others. The objective would be to discover or invent a new radio that accesses the Common Sense. You would turn its on knob, tune it to a channel, and receive or transmit by thought alone.
Imagine using such a radio to mentally control artificial arms or legs, enable sight for the blind, hearing for the deaf, to run your computer without having to type on a stupid keyboard, to signal for emergency help anywhere in the world, or for an infinitely fast and free Internet, available anywhere."
Kermit saw Gordon was panting a bit from his effort to convince. "You're serious, arent you?"
"Im only asking you to accept it as a scientific hypothesis, to be verified or rejected by the usual experimental methods. If someone proves the hypothesis correct they might win a Nobel Prize and get rich."
Kermit rubbed his head. "I admit its rather intriguing to try analyzing God using the scientific method. So how would someone go about inventing such a radio?"
"I think the way to begin is to adopt a fundamental logical rule that if God exists, God can have no limits. Any restriction on God is false. We cant say that God only exists in some other place called heaven, some place other than here and now. Our universe must be a true aspect of God even if its a limited one. Ask yourself how space and time must appear to God under that no limits rule. Gods Space and Time has to be a single Unity that somehow allows the apparently separated space objects we see moving through time in our universe. And you and I have to be limited aspects of God, actually within Gods single Unity of space and time. Were made in Gods image, as it were. Our relentlessly flowing river of time would be just a restricted view of God's eternal Now. Our universe and all its history since the Big Bang would really be just one of infinitely many ways of viewing the Unity."
"And where does that lead to?" Kermit asked skeptically.
"Please be patient and keep an open mind! Im getting there. Quantum mechanics shows that time and space are digital, not continuous. Science long ago established that theres a minimum quantum size of space, and a minimum quantum step of time.
Here's the hypothesis: our entire space-time universe is recreated between each quantum time step, and its new space cant change from its old by more than the minimum possible quantum space size. Humanity mutually agrees on the changes that will occur in each new moment, through the Common Sense."
Kermit looked dubious.
"I know this seems crazy. Quantum mechanics always seems crazy. But its been repeatedly proven correct for a century now. It requires every quantum event to have an observer, and that an observation collapses the probability choices of how any event could occur, into its single actual occurrence. Like whether an atom moves one way and not another. Doesnt it seem crazy that quantum mechanics says observers are necessary for our universe to exist? And physicists can't explain exactly what the observers do. This new hypothesis explains the quantum observer craziness by proposing that all humanity makes the event choices for each time step. Were all observers, agreeing on the universes jump events using the Common Sense."
"So who were the observers before any humans existed, during the fourteen billion years after the Big Bang began our universe?"
"Remember our hypothesis, Kermit! Only the Now moment really exists in time. The past we imagine isnt our direct immediate experience. It only has to be consistent with our Now. The same goes for the future. Only the Now moment really exists. Physical experiments are only possible in the present moment, though the apparent past and future can help test scientific theories.
Getting back to the main idea, we dont see the infinitesimal jumps because theyre so small, and because we humans focus on the space and time moments themselves, not on the jumps between moments. Its sort of like music. Musicians know that the intervals between notes are critical but they go unnoticed by the audience unless played wrong."
Thats all quite an extraordinary leap beyond proven physics, Gordon.
"You're right." Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." "So lets take a baby step first, a step that physicists could agree with. Here it is. Take the minimum space quantum that science experimentally measures; thats the Planck length in meters. Divide it by the minimum time quantum in seconds. Thatll give you a speed in meters per second. The baby step hypothesis is that speed will turn out to be the speed of light, and thatll explain why nothing can move faster than the speed of light, the basis of Einsteins theory of relativity. When the baby step is studied in mathematical detail, other fundamental physics laws may also naturally emerge, along with the light speed limit.
After this baby step is verified, the rest of the hypothesis will seem less extraordinary. The Common Sense will be seen to have no speed-of-light limit because all humanity shares in the mutual recreation of the new space by knowing every detail of the past moment. It operates in the jumps between moments, or maybe it is the jumps.
I've simplified the picture a bit by skipping some quantum probability math, to make the point that once physicists see the relationship between time and space quanta and light speed theyll naturally be eager to explore the physics of the jumps. Once scientists accept how the Einstein light speed limit arises naturally from the quantum nature of our changing universe, theyll start developing math to describe the Common Sense; then use that math to set up laboratory experiments to characterize the jumps; and finally extend the math to look for quantum radio technology that can instantly transmit and receive information."
"That's crazy enough all right, Gordon. But you said experiments to characterize the jumps. Dont you first need experiments to prove there are jumps?"
"No, thats another accepted fact of quantum mechanics. Every physicist can calculate how an observer knowing the outcome probabilities of an individual potential event sees them collapse into a single concrete existence in the next time jump. They only need to go a step further to consider that all events and objects in our universe recur simultaneously in each successive time step.
And quantum mechanics already indicates that the Common Sense is faster than light speed. Two nearby quantum particles can become entangled by quantum events, and both particles can later instantaneously and simultaneously change even when theyre far apart. Likewise, when people interact intimately as they do in a family, their quantum states can become entangled. That can allow instant knowledge of whats happening, even when theyre far apart."
"Come on, Gordon. Quantum entanglement is proven physics only for small groups of subatomic particles."
"Aren't we humans just larger bunches of those particles? A group of particles makes up the collective events each of us calls our life; our bodies moving through space, lungs breathing, brain thinking, and so on. Mothers can become entangled with their children and husbands as they live together, and later sense their condition even when theyre far apart. Thats how woman's intuition works, according to our hypothesis."
Kermit thought for a moment and then raised another objection."OK, I see where you're going with this, but the quantum math describing how the entire universe jumps to its next new moment would be indescribably complex. Theres too many billions of billions of equations to solve. Is there any concrete hope that your hypothesis could lead to solvable mathematics?"
"You're right, quantum probability math describing how our entire universe collapses into its next space existence would be far more complex than the math describing individual quantum events.
But the baby step discoveries will encourage scientists to attack the math difficulties, perhaps by computing the effects from far-away objects using statistical math to average them in groups. Most of the objects in the universe dont change at all between jumps, so their math is simple, and its almost as simple for the many events that keep changing in the same way, like Earth rotating and stars shining. Their probability of different event outcomes is small enough that simple perturbation math may work."
"And because the laws of physics must be followed, they make the math simpler by decreasing the number of quantum possibilities?"
"Right. Theyre Common Sense consensus rules for jump behavior in the Now moment of our universe. Sort of a mutually agreed upon norm for our universe.
Anyway, for a Common Sense radio we only need detailed math describing two of the billions of billions of events. The first is to add an information transmission event to the group of quantum events that constitute the senders next time jump. The second is to add a reception event to the receivers.
I'm saying that the Common Sense quantum radio is so specific an idea that its quantum math should be simple enough to solve. Even if that simplified math requires supercomputers to solve, they're readily available. Or maybe you could simplify the math by beginning at the subatomic level with two small groups of particles. Their quantum collapse into the next moment could involve the observers the groups sharing information."
"Why not just directly invent such a radio and avoid the difficult math entirely. Edison didnt need math to invent electric lights and movie projectors. The universe makes the jumps all by itself, all the time. Just look for a technology invention for a radio."
"Well, OK, but youd need to be an inventor ingenious enough to come up with the right experimental idea to test and develop."
They shared a comfortable silence for a time, both thinking over the hypothesis.
Finally Gordon said, "Look Kermit, Im not intending any attack by science on religion here. Science and engineering aim to improve human existence by creating and uncovering practical principles of our space-time universe. Science focuses on advances in our physical world; in health, energy, medicine, agriculture, and quality of life. It researches the how of scientific law; more directly usable than religions metaphysics of why. Science cant study ideas unless they can be tested in our universe. But scientists like me live with an appreciation of God. We leave the elusive why to religion. There isn't any real conflict between science and religion except when spiritual believers claim supremacy over science, like in Creationism or Intelligent Design."
Kermit snorted, "People like Creationists can believe anything they want because they never demand real world proof. Creationism is no less fanciful than any other imaginable theory. Claiming the Earth has a Biblical age of twelve thousand years instead of sciences 4.5 billion has no more claim to truth than believing the Earth is one minute old and that all memories earlier than a minute ago are illusions. All claims like that are just mind games if theres no way to prove or disprove them.
"There's a crucially important problem in teaching Creationism in schools in place of science, Gordon. People who deeply care about the education of children must insist that kids be first taught the scientific method. Its judgment skills will serve them throughout their lives. After they learn it, they can be taught Darwinism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism, for practice in applying the scientific method.
"If America stops teaching its children science and technology, the U.S. will be doomed to a third world future. Asian countries wont stop teaching their children to become scientists and engineers, and Asia may come to dominate the worlds economy, as technology innovation and manufacturing move there from America."
...From Hard Drive! Chapter 9, first posted June 19, 2009
Gordon studied at Caltech at a unique time, when Richard Feynman and Linus Pauling were teaching. Feynman had not yet won his Nobel Prize in Physics for quantum electrodynamics. Pauling had his first Nobel for discovering the nature of the chemical bond that holds atoms together. His second Nobel would be the Peace Prize for his successful public campaign to end nuclear bomb testing in the Earths atmosphere.
Pauling almost earned a third Nobel, by nearly beating Watson and Crick to the discovery of the DNA double helix. Pauling was a pioneer in early DNA molecular structure research beginning in 1951, but the British had better X-ray microphotographs of DNA molecular crystallography. Pauling was unfortunately barred from traveling to England due to unfounded accusations during the U.S. anticommunist panic. He missed seeing the British DNA photos and thereby missed sharing in the Nobel. Watson and Crick published first.
Caltech had only male undergraduate students in 1955 and I was among equals in the freshman class. They were mostly white and Asian, with a handful of blacks. It was an ego blow to be among students smarter than me, but I had expected that. I had read a Time magazine article extolling the brilliance of Caltech students, so I spent the summer before studying the freshman textbooks. Some students drowned in Caltechs pressure cooker competition. Others pondered Mad magazines motto Potrezebe, it bounces. We all discussed mathematical questions like Can you integrate that over all space?
Pauling and Feynman were outstanding teachers who understood the nature of youngsters studying to become scientists. Feynman played bongo drums at student gatherings and talked of his lock picking days at Los Alamos during the World War II atomic bomb development. Like many other boys, I immediately bought lengths of piano wire and became an expert lock picker. During Pasadena rains we walked to class through the campus underground steam tunnels, picking door locks to get in and out of class buildings.
Feynmans physics lectures awed all of us. He would say, I wonder how lightning works and how powerful it is. Turning to the blackboard, he would think aloud on how clouds became electrically charged by winds, and write physics math equations on the board to calculate how many volts and amps were produced in a lightning strike.
We boys thought he was coming up with the ideas as he spoke, not realizing that the best teachers all share a talent for showmanship.
I often attended Caltechs Wednesday night demonstration lectures. These were held weekly by the Physics Department on topics of general interest, and were open to the Pasadena public. One evening Feynman gave a public lecture on quantum mechanics, fascinating and captivating as always.
After the lecture ended, I walked out of the lecture hall behind two white-haired elderly Pasadena ladies. One was talking animatedly to the other. I never realized how simple quantum mechanics was until Professor Feynman explained the subject.
Thats wonderful, I thought in admiration.
...From Hard Drive!, Chapter 4, first posted May 21st, 2009
Like Richard Feynman, Linus Pauling also used showmanship in his weekly freshman chemistry lectures, although I didnt realize it until years later. Pauling would peer tolerantly over the top of his bifocal glasses at his audience of a hundred geeky boys.They called themselves trolls on campus because they spent so much time indoors studying, most wearing glasses on their noses and slide rule holsters on their belts.
Holding up a colorful crystal, Pauling had once said, What is the size of the molecule that makes this beautiful lapis lazuli crystal, also called sapphire? Taking a six-inch slide rule from his coat pocket, he had moved its slide back and forth and announced 12.1613 Angstroms.
Everyone used slide rules in those days and the boys knew they were only accurate to three digits: 12.1 could be read off but Paulings six digits could not. They speculated among themselves on how Pauling did it, some guessing he could remember the entire number if the slide rule gave him the first three correct digits.
I came a little closer to the truth; lattice constants are only measured to three digits. I looked up sapphire in the physics library and it was listed as 12.1 Angstroms.
We never quite realized that Linus actually calculated the correct 12.1 Angstroms, but then added extra random digits to mystify his young audience, a bit of innocent but attention-holding showmanship similar to Feynmans.
...From Hard Drive! Chapter 4, first posted June 10th, 2009
After Gordon earned his Caltech PhD in 1963 he took a job as a system analyst at Autonetics, the aerospace division of North American Aviation. He worked on the Minuteman missile program, the U.S. land-based intercontinental ballistic missile fleet.
Minuteman made earlier missiles obsolete, better-known cryogenic liquid fueled ICBMs like Atlas and Thor, because of Minutemans advanced integrated circuit computer, disc drive, inertial guidance gyros, and low-maintenance solid fuel rocket.
Gordon felt the work was his contribution to national defense during the Cold War, because he hadnt served in the military. He was in high school during the Korean War and attending Caltech got him a draft deferment during the Vietnam War.
Minuteman missiles could reach Cold War targets up to 3000 miles away, with trajectories passing over the North Pole. For that reason, their underground silo launch pads were built at Air Force bases in northern U.S. states. Each underground silo also housed its operational officers, in underground accommodations with prefab kitchen units originally designed and installed in 1950s motels.
One Minuteman missile nose cone carried three reentry vehicles, each able to deliver a 1.2-megaton hydrogen bomb to an individual target. With a thousand of these missiles ready to launch in minutes and obliterate Earth many times over with hydrogen bombs having the explosive force of 3,600,000,000 tons of TNT, World War III was being deterred during the Cold War and indefinitely afterward.
Albert Einstein, who wrote the letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that started the World War II atomic bomb Manhattan Project, was once asked about World War III. He said, I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
This U.S. Minuteman ICBM fleet has remained operational in its underground missile launch silos for four decades now, at Air Force bases in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. Their inertial platform gyros still spin ceaselessly in the underground darkness, and their nose cone computers endlessly perform operational readiness checks.
This ICBM fleet remains perpetually ready for any nation to start World War III. Twenty minutes after the missiles launch, many of the worlds major cities will burn and turn into radioactive dust clouds. The clouds will spread throughout Earths atmosphere and bring global nuclear winter. Few people will survive.
ICBM arms reduction treaties have resulted in the deactivation of 500 missiles of the original 1000. The oldest obsolete Minuteman I and II maintenance-hog missiles were scrapped, Gordons hydraulic leakers among them. Todays remaining warheads are still an immense overkill, having the explosive force of nearly two billion tons of TNT.
Many Americans think the worlds intercontinental ballistic missiles vanished after the end of the cold war, and are oblivious to the continued existence of this ICBM fleet. Some think the name refers to an anti-illegal immigration group.
The world must remember this Cold War ICBM fleet still exists and that it remains the most powerful weapon of mass destruction on Earth.
...From Hard Drive!, Chapter 5, first posted April 27, 2009
Quantum mechanics shows that time and space are digital, not continuous. Science long ago established that theres a minimum quantum size of space, and a minimum quantum step of time.
Heres a hypothesis: our entire space-time universe is recreated between each quantum time step, and its new space cant change from its old by more than the minimum possible quantum space size. This may seem crazy; quantum mechanics always seems crazy. But its been repeatedly proven correct for a century now.
It requires every quantum event to have an observer, and that an observation collapses the probability choices of how any event could occur, into its single actual occurrence. Like whether an atom moves one way and not another. Doesnt it seem crazy that quantum mechanics says observers are necessary for our universe to exist? And physicists can't explain exactly what the observers do. This new hypothesis explains the quantum observer craziness by proposing that all humanity makes the event choices for each time step. You may ask who the observers were before any humans existed, during the fourteen billion years after the Big Bang began the universe.
The hypothesis is that only the Now moment really exists in time. The past we imagine isnt our direct immediate experience. It only has to be consistent with our Now. The same goes for the future. Only the Now moment really exists.
Getting back to the main idea, we dont see the infinitesimal quantum jumps because theyre so small, and because we humans focus on the space and time moments themselves, not on the jumps between moments. Its sort of like music. Musicians know that the intervals between notes are critical but they go unnoticed by the audience unless misplayed.
Thats all quite an extraordinary leap beyond proven physics, and as Carl Sagan said, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. So lets take a baby step first, a step that physicists could agree with.
Take the minimum space quantum that science experimentally measures; thats the Planck length in meters. Divide it by the minimum time quantum in seconds. Thatll give you a speed in meters per second. The baby step hypothesis is that speed will turn out to be the speed of light, and thatll explain why nothing can move faster than the speed of light, the basis of Einsteins theory of relativity. When the baby step is studied in mathematical detail, other fundamental physics laws may also naturally emerge, along with the light speed limit.
From Hard Drive! Chapter 11, first posted April 17th, 2009
Are you or a child you know interested in an engineering career, designing new products that people want to buy?
Read these examples of engineering jobs in Hard Drive!
Chapter 1: Excitement of a Silicon Valley engineering career
Chapter 6: Designing an electronic control for a 600 ton printed circuit hydraulic press
Chapter 15: Developing an advanced magnetic disk with cobalt disc alloy
Chapter 17: Virtues of open technology designs and markets
Chapter 20: The importance of honest engineering technology in business
Chapter 21: Learning from other engineers at technical conferences
Chapter 22: Hard work can lead to enormous profits and rewards
Chapter 32: A genetic DNA recording disc
From Hard Drive!, first posted April 7, 2009
Seagate Technology was an instant success in 1980 with its invention of the hard drive for Apple and IBM personal computers, manufacturing them near Silicon Valley. But only a few years later it had moved its manufacturing to Singapore, and the other drive manufacturers followed suit. The reason for this move is surprising, and is kept secret by the U.S. government, which carries much responsibility for these U.S. jobs moving offshore.
Technology companies must continuously progress to make better products at lower prices, or else they begin to stagnate. Their customers are the winners. Technology business competition has been led by the U.S. for two centuries, and has raised peoples living standards around the world. Recently, the U.S. technology lead has begun to be shared; first with Japan, then Singapore, Korea, Thailand, and now China.
This has caused many U.S. jobs to go overseas to these countries, resulting in cries for the U.S. congress to pass laws penalizing American companies with offshore jobs. But its is U.S. government tax policy that has caused many American jobs to move offshore to foreign workers.
Ive wondered what U.S. citizens would say if they realized that the tax policies of their own government was forcing their U.S. auto, steel, and computer manufacturing jobs to go offshore to Asia.
The computer disk drive industry is an example. Virtually all hard disk drives are built in Asia today, but not because Asian wages are lower. The Singapore government thought that would be the reason when they set out to court U.S. drive manufacturers. They came to Seagate first because its the largest drive maker in the world. When their government agency A*Star proposed lowering drive costs by lower assembly wages, they were told theres only 45 minutes of assembly labor cost in a disc drive. So lower Asian labor rates would only save a couple of dollars per drive over U.S. wages. Thats wasnt enough leverage to overcome Asian logistics problems. For example, technology and maintenance for the manufacturing machines would have to be flown in from the U.S.
The Singaporeans returned home to rethink the situation. They knew that commodity electronics industries are under heavy profitability pressures, and they came back to talk with Seagate again after they figured out that U.S taxes are a much more significant financial burden than U.S. labor rates. Singapore convinced Seagate to move its factory there by giving it a tax haven that eliminated all Singapore taxes and thereby eliminated almost all U.S taxes.
Why? U.S. companies that make products offshore and import them to the U.S. pay U.S. corporate taxes only on value they add in the U.S., like markups on U.S. distribution and sales costs. Thats international tax law. But domestic companies manufacturing products inside the U.S. are taxed on their total profits. Commodity electronics companies are doing well if they make 20% net profit, and U.S. federal and state corporate income taxes of almost 40% on goods manufactured here, cuts their profits significantly enough to make them noncompetitive against a foreign competitor with a tax haven.
So, Seagate became the first disc drive company to move its manufacturing to Asia, giving it significantly higher after-tax profits than its competitors. A*Star correctly figured this would force all the other drive companies offshore as well, to survive. As soon as Seagate began fabricating recording heads and assembling drives in Singapore, its government toured the other U.S. disc drive manufacturers, enticing them to also come to Singapore, based on Seagates example of successful high-tech manufacturing at tax-free costs they couldnt match in the U.S.
Every American disc drive company had to move to Asia, followed by Japanese companies, and high-tech manufacturing companies continue to move there. The Asian tax havens were supposed to be temporary, but they still exist, although now hidden. Alan Greenspan, the former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, has noted this U.S. tax pressure moving U.S. jobs to Asia in a few remarks. But most federal officials and economists keep silent.
Some U.S. politicians call for full taxation of all global profits made by U.S. headquartered firms. They say that would prevent more American jobs from going offshore. But foreign companies cant be taxed that way by the U.S. Again, thats international tax law. If firms like Seagate were taxed more than they are now, lower foreign manufacturer taxes would drive everyones prices so low that U.S. firms would be forced to move completely offshore or go out of business. An American capital flight would ensue and many more American jobs would leave the U.S., far more than the 15% experts estimate today.
From Hard Drive! Chapter 27, first posted May 5th, 2009
INCREMENTAL U.S. Healthcare NOW, $Trillions LATER
I'm all for carefully crafted health care improvement. President Obama's proposal to try individual aspects of the overall health care solution is the right incremental way, not congress' current attempt to solve the entire gigantic problem this year. His "Let's control costs" won't allow spending $Trillions more immediately, to cover only a fraction of the uninsured.
This year's health care bills can improve service and lower costs by:
(1) Paying providers for medical outcomes, rather than today's pay for service;
(2) Placing stricter limitations on medical device approval so expensive machines don't become routinely prescribed like today, when lower cost alternatives exist;
(3) Higher payments for primary care physicians; they provide most public health care;
(4) Price controls on pharmaceuticals, like retirees now benefit from through Medicare, and eliminate tax write offs for TV drug advertising;
(5) Open-source development of standards for country wide computerized medical records;
(6) The final health care program covering everyone should also cover U.S. congress people as well;
(7) When issues inevitably arise in any of these health changes, correct them in next year's health care bills.
These steps will improve care and SAVE money; instead of the proposed "everything at once" which will cost additional $TRILLIONS according to the Congressional Budget Office, and still only cover a fraction of the uninsured.
Next year, Congress can increase coverage of the uninsured based on these savings, and fix the problems that will inevitably arise in the first year.
I've sent this to my state senators. If you agree, send an email to your congress people. Find their e-dresses
Posted July 26, 2009; edited August10