Monday, December 14, 2009

Vidiocy OR::: 24fps (for pete's sake)

Watching one of my favorite films on a newfangled HD TV/ DVD setup the other week, I was (semi) mortified to notice that the "high-end" player was compensating for the Film-ness of the film, and was therefore doing some wonky things with the frame rate. I protested to my viewing companion that "the film doesn't actually look like this!" and, "This is weird, it looks like a British TV show." The film still worked, of course, and we had a decent enough time, but I remain(ed) bothered by the pomposity of this system changing the frame rate of something I knew very well should look another way. I started to gripe about frame rates: film vs. video, and the weirdness that occurs when trying to jump between the two, I had to stop short, however, of an explanation of how video actually worked, and/or why it was different.

Film makes sense. Film is alluringly and obviously physical. It is bound by all sorts of physical restrictions having to do with how much you can cram onto the strip, how fast you can pull the film through the projector or camera, and so on. It is one of those bewildering and elegant examples of arbitrary decisions in a design process like "QWERTY" or the width of train tracks, they're arbitrary decisions grounded in physical considerations.

Video was not as obvious to me. Again it is a physical system. Another analog format, but very different from Film. It converts and reads information as opposed to a direct transmission or capturing of a physical image (a cake vs a recipe). Film records and displays at a tight 24 frames per second. 24 images are displayed and shown in succession per second. Video (NTSC for us Americans) is either 30FPS (non-interlaced) or 60i (interlaced). Film is a non-interlaced format. Images are displayed one after the other in sequence. Interlaced video means that only half of the information of a "frame" (half of the scan lines) is rendered at a time. Alternate "fields" of scan lines are rendered in succession using half the bandwidth to display video image with much more fluid motion than Film. This type of motion we associate with TV and News Broadcasts (it is, after all, the standard for these formats, although the News is generally recorded at 50i).

As for video tapes, they are an analog format, same principles as audio tapes, pulled through and scanned diagonally by a play head reading an audio strip at the top of the tape, the interlace video information in the middle, and all sorts of stuff about tape speed and tracking along the bottom. The storage format is magnetic in principle, and information is encoded with electromagnets onto a layer of magnetic reactive coating on the tape (generally iron rust) that "remembers" its state.

There is all sorts of more information out there about display, encoding, interlacing, non-interlacing, converting, and whatnot, but this should suffice for now as a general run-down. In the case of this story, it sounds like the player was probably trying to pump it out at 60p (for progressive scan) but I'm still sore about it, so I'm not going to go into detail about that format. 24 Till Death!

DigiConform 24 vs 30

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How many computations could the Universe compute if the Universe was a computer

...Which it could be. So if each atom in the available universe could register ONE BIT of information, which they all can as determined by its being "here" or "there", basically its position within the Universe, within the physical system. To compute, bits are flipped. Bits are flipped any time anything within the physical system changes. Any time anything within a system changes, it changes what the information about that system is. For a system to change, for a bit to flip, energy is required. The more energy, the faster a bit can flip. Seth Lloyd in his paper Ultimate Physical Limits to Computation shows that the maximum computational capacity of any system can be figured by running a function of the amount of energy available to the system and the system's size.

To calculate our Cosmic Computational power we have to take the Margolus-Levitin theorem that says that the maximum rate a bit can flip is proportional to the system's energy. So to calculate the maximum bit-flip rate we take the amount of energy available, multiply by 4, and divide by Planck's constant. This will yeild the number of possible bit-flips per second. We then need to find the total amount of energy in our system (E = mc2) E is energy, M is the mass of the system, and c is the speed of light (300 million meters per second). Taking the reasonable estimate of 14 billion years for the age of the Universe from expansion, and light being a finite speed, there is only a finite area of the Universe within it's "horizon" that we can have information about. The horizon grows with time, but will always be of a finite size, even within an infinite universe. To accurate calculations, the horizon of the universe is 42 billion light-years away. On average there is a mass of about one hydrogen atom per cubic meter throughout the Universe. Totaling the energy within the horizon we find that there is approximately 100 million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion (10**71) joules of energy in our Universe. Plugging this into our formula (E * 4 / Planck's Constant) we find that every second the Universe could perform 100,000 googol (10**105) operations. In the 14 billion years of the Universe's history it could have performed about 10,000 billion billion googol ops (10**112).

Compared to our efforts (and estimates) in the whole history of modern computing all the computers on Earth have only performed (according to Seth Lloyd) some fewer than 10 billion billion billion ops (10**30). To quote Terry Jones dressed as a woman whose husband is having his organs removed from him while still alive in The Meaning of Life "makes you feel sort of insignificant doesn't it?"

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What a large Arthropod you have

I just stumbled upon an insane image of a coconut crab raiding someone's trash. I immediately thought it was some internet hoax since rudimentary searches yielded only that single photo. However increased searches turned up that it is in fact a real beast. The largest of land arthropods, so named because they live in the tropics (mostly the Philippines) and roam around cracking open coconuts and small dogs and feasting on their insides. Not really small dogs. They can get to be 19inches in diameter, but knowing nature, probably have pushed past that in a few specimens over the years. They are much less afraid of humans than they generally are of them, and, apparently, have been known to raid people's garbage. Basically just giant bugs filling the open niche left by raccoons in the tropics.

Think that's gnarly however, and I'll turn your attention towards one of the biggest arthropods ever to have lived. Slimonia of the family Hibbertoperus. It was a species of water scorpion 5 feet in length. It lay in wait motionless in prehistoric UK bogs some 330 million years ago. It is believe that this is about the absolute physical limits of what an arthropod can grow to. Horrors yesterday and today. What a world.

National Geographic

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Unbearable Lightness of Peeing

Since I am traveling to Africa in June (Malawi specifically), and I made the mistake of informing my mother of these plans before I was already in the country, I have been the recipient of a steady stream of things that will undoubtedly try to kill me on my travels. The most disturbing was her insistence that I not pee into any rivers or bodies of fresh water, citing a parasite that will swim up you urine stream and root itself in your urethra. I immediately agreed that this was not something that I have any desire to mess around with, and it is a small sacrifice to give up peeing into water.

Something of this description begs investigation however, so here it is. The parasite is a fish called the candiru which (phew) lives in the Amazon. It is a type of catfish that feasts principally on the blood of other animals. It is nearly translucent in water, and lays in wait at the bottom of the river for prey to happen by. The disturbing aspect of its parasitism is that it makes straight for the exposed orifices of the unsuspecting host. It swims in, hooks in its barbs, and gorges itself on blood until it becomes so swollen that its own exit becomes difficult.

The candiru's legendary ability to swim up pee streams is a myth, but they are aggressive, and will leap for it if at close enough range. Because of their barbs, they are nearly impossible to remove without surgery. They are on average about 3 inches long but can get up to 7.

So it looks like I'm off the hook with those buggers for now, but I've still got bilharzia parasites to worry about. Or, more accurately, for my mother to worry about. Sorry Mom. I'll bring you back somethin nice.

Associated Content
Damn Interesting

Learning V2.0

I've decided to revitalize this project and begin to learn things again. It has been almost an entire year with absolutely no new information contacting my brain. I would like to formally put a stop to that again. ...Starting tomorrow.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Horse Diving School

I first came across the concept of horse diving last evening when some friends brought up the movie "Wild Hearts Can't be Broken" about a horse diver who lost her sight in a dive, but continued to dive without it. It was initially described to me as somewhat of a sport where a rider rode a horse off a high dive, and into a small pool of water. Wild vision of uptight crowds, and harsh judges flooded my mind, evaluating the panicked fall of the graceful animals, that I don't imagine take to freefall too well. I was eventually calmed down, and came to understand that it was more of a sideshow attraction. Specifically on Atlantic City's Steel Pier.

The concept was allegedly invented by William "Doc" Carver in 1881 when his horse fell off a bridge in Nebraska into the water below. I guess he enjoyed it, so he developed it into an act. His son Al Carver built a large ramp for the trained horses to "dive" off of. His daughter Lorena Carver was the first rider, but was joined by her sister in law, Sonora Webster Carver in 1924. Sonora is the famed blind horse diver, who lost her sight when she hit the water with her eyes open in 1931 and detached both of her retinas. Sonora continued diving until 1942, when the spectacle fell largely out of favor with the public and various animal rights groups for various, but obvious reasons.

Friday, August 24, 2007

please take that rash to the doctor

in honor of the us' recent display of its complete inability to deal with infectious disease, among other natural disasters, i thought it might be nice to take a look at how we're doing on a global scale to keep ourselves alive. i am referring here to mr. andrew speaker, the gentleman infected with tuberculosis, who, due to his antibiotic-resistant form of tb, was listed as an international health-risk, and then subsequently was allowed to board a series of international flights from the united states, to canada, to the czech republic. if avian flu becomes transmittable from human to human, we're essentially fucked, but we can't keep one guy with tb from getting on a plane. somehow, this doesn't sound promising.

in any event, according to the World Health Organization,
"With about 2.1 billion airline passengers flying each year, there is a high risk of another major epidemic such as Aids, Sars or Ebola fever." familiar as we are with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome, and perhaps even the ebola virus, we also seem to be simultaneously immune to awareness and/or logic on the subject, due to a constant saturation of fear-style propaganda from the media. this announcement, however, comes not from the media, but from the WHO, a slightly more reputable source.

what is more frightening, though, is not the fact that we are completely unprepared, but the increasing rate with which we are rapidly being confronted with new diseases; "
In the report, A Safer Future, the WHO says new diseases are emerging at the 'historically unprecedented' rate of one per year." the WHO unfortunately seems to give us no solid explanation as to why this is the case. misuse of antibiotics is one factor, but that, of course, would not account for the viral epidemics. inadequate medical care in much of the world (to make no mention of the continual blockages to complete access even here in the united states) may also share in the responsibility.

keep in mind also that these are
new diseases, and we are currently as a global nation unable to deal with the simplest and most curable infections on an international level. "More than 90 percent of the deaths from infectious diseases worldwide are caused by only a handful of diseases. These diseases - lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, malaria and measles - are also the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa". ( with the exception of malaria and aids, these are curable.


if this is not a problem of poverty, i don't know what is.

now, let's take a look at the numbers. in the us alone, defense spending for 2006 was 556,505 million dollars. that looks like a typo, doesn't it? it's not. spending on health, you ask? 56,489 million dollars. how about education? 39,688 million. the basic message that should be gained here is that the nation seems far more concerned with death than with the health or education of its citizens. at least 10 times more concerned. these figures can all be found here:

anyone else a little scared about that cough?

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