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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stochastic Tinkering, Stochasting Resonance

I like to think my office is an organized mess. But there’s long-standing scientific evidence (despite my wife’s undying love for The Container Store) that some mess is good. Things tend towards entropy, disorder. Life and all willful use of energy attempts to subvert this. Some of my most original ideas come from the random juxtaposition of two unrelated pieces of paper sitting on my desk. If I were more organized, they’d be neatly segregated and never have the chance to mingle. Entropy is like the Rosa Parks of ideas.

Disorder is discomfort. Even in global politics, our leaders and the media are unsettled by the unsettled. We try to “achieve stability” in “unstable” places. Then the locals throw violent tantrums—not unlike a child forced to clean his room.

We make personal long-term plans. Companies have 5 year strategic plans. But the truth is this: there’s too many concatenated things that need to happen that don’t and too many random ones that aren’t expected that do as time unfolds.

Back to my point: there’s long-standing scientific evidence that some mess is good and it’s got a name: stochastic resonance. The gregariously generous George Gilder recently pointed me to this concept after I wrote a few weeks ago about how the noise of a hairdryer in a barbershop made the signal of a crackling, poorly-tuned radio station, sound clearer. Stochastic resonance is a complicated idea. Put simply: an extra dose of noise can help rather than hinder some devices.

Here’s what IEEE magazine wrote about it: “Stochastic resonance gets its name from the stochastic, or random, signals involved and the fact that, as in a resonance phenomenon, you can get a bigger than expected impact from small-amplitude signals.”

Sound like anything you know? The market perhaps. Or the brain. Or Per Bak’s sandpile. Or maybe any complex adaptive system where a small perturbation can have a disproportionate effect.

The idea is actually 25 years old, when two scientists used it to explain regular ice ages in our history. They believed that random climate changes, “atmospheric noise” coupled with the force of the Earth’s orbit, could kickstart or stop an ice age. (Of course, today they’d be burned at the stake—which would paradoxically release more CO2.) Scientists have since seen “stochastic resonance” in everything from lasers to medical devices and chemistry.

Well I’m building a rhythm here because earlier this week I met with a member of Congress who (like many other politicians appealing to a logical and popular idea) is championing energy independence. His proposal? A DARPA for energy. One might call it “EARPA” (though that sounds like the bug in the urban legend that crawls inside your ear and lays eggs—perhaps a nice visual metaphor for an infectious idea).

But here’s the thing. The history of government directed programs has fared poorly. Consider Richard Nixon’s declaration of war on cancer with the National Cancer Act in 1971. It set up the National Cancer Institute to make the "conquest of cancer a national crusade." What happened? They went out and empirically tested 144,000 compounds. None of them worked.

What did? A random insight into mustard gas. During WWII, people accidentally exposed to mustard gas were found to have really low white blood cell counts. It was then hypothesized that the same effect might impact cancer cells. Voila: chemotherapy.

Look for one thing, find another. Other accidents that have changed the world: Viagra (initially intended to treat hypertension, it was ineffective—with an “effective” side effect).

It’s easy to apply post facto logic to make a sequence of reasoning appear more linear than it really was. It’s harder to be intellectually honest that it wasn’t. I applaud the inventors and entrepreneurs that take the approach of stochastic tinkering towards stochastic resonance. Try lots of experiments. That’s the best way to solve our energy issues. Governments to fund undirected basic science research, venture investors to invest risk capital and society to applaud the many inevitable failures for they yield the unexpected winners that create vast wealth and change the world.
by Josh Wolfe



Thursday, July 19, 2007

E.U.-China Partnership on the Galileo Satellite System




Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kosovo: On the Best National Interest that Money Can Buy

Foreign press notes that the U.N. Secretary General has received a detailed report from the German Intelligence Service (BND). Ban Ki-moon had requested himself that a section of BND be posted to the U.N. Mission at Kosovo to unravel the web of complexities which envelop this province of Serbia. As is widely known the U.N.'s Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari has proposed to sever Kosovo from Serbia, act which would create a newly independent state on the grounds of Albanian demographic preponderance.

If implemented, it would not only violate the U.N.'s own resolution to the contrary. It well could give a green light to similar candidates in Spain and France, in Great Britain (independent Scotland) as well as lead to a Mexican-American movement (seconded by Mexico and supported by the Union of Latin American States) demanding that California be severed from the United States and given the status of an independent and internationally recognized state. Why not independent Texas, not to add more candidates around the planet Earth? But, these projections are not of immediate concern, especially when contrasted with a sensational and detailed revelation. The assigned BND team, led by Brigadier Luke Neiman. discovered without much effort that Mr. Ahtisaari had frequent contacts with Albanian separatist leaders and had received large sums of money with the equivalent value of about 53 million dollars. The details are listed with teutonic precision.

Among them are recorded conversations about money transfers, specific bank accounts and codes in Switzerland and Cyprus, substantial supplies of heroin, procurement of two female white slaves and a visit to Mr.Ahtisaari's residence (at 6.23 AM on 12 February 2007) of a Jeep with the plate of PR-443-22CD. It was a vehicle owned by the Albanian “provisional” government at Kosovo's capital of Pristina. In addition, it appears that Mr.Ahtisaari has some old pro-Nazi skeletons in his closet and has cultivated a pro-Muslim bias stemming probably from the Nazi/Fascist/Muslim alliannces during World War II.

Whithout knowing the BND discoveries, the present writer has urged the previous U.N. Secretary to dismiss Mr. Ahtisaari without delay and appoint someone who is not in any way imbedded either with the Albanians or the Serbs. No doubt because Mr. Ahtisaari is a former head of state and is “widely respected” internationally, the ex-Secretary did not act. With the detailed information from the BND, it should be impossible to allow him to keep his post or accept his plan a priori.

It is not a secret that Albanian sources have made donations to members of our Congress and that the recipients have argued in favor of taking Kosovo from Serbia and givig it to the Albanian majority.Even a former U.S. Secretry of State, an ardent supporter of independent Albanian Kosovo , has now a telecommunications company in Kosovo itself. There does not seem to be anything illegal in donating electoral funds to our Solons. The impact is not going to be at home and what happens overseas as a result of our pro-Albanian Legislators is of no concern since they are not accountable to anyone. The policy of the previous home Administration could be summed-up: “feed the Serbs to the Muslim desiderata” as this would buy good will in the Middle East. The result is the birth of Al-Q'uaida by way of Bosnia and the growing Wahabyya among the Albanian Muslims at Kosovo. If we can perhaps be excused because of knowing very little about Balkan history and the context in which it unravels, this is not true of Western Europe even as it marches with the repetitive U.S. Foreign policy. Western Europe knows well that the Serbs were “keepers of the gates “ through which the Ottomans tried to pass and attain the conquest of entire Western Europe. An older European generation also remembers that the Serbs had made considerable contributions to the Allied victories in World Wars I and II but our people do not even know that one of the smallest minorities in the U.S., Americans of Serb origin, produced seven men who earned Congressional Medals of Honor in both Wars. Our public does not know that the Serbs saved over 300 fallen American pilots in WW II and returned them to duty. But, it has been informed by our Government and mainstream media that “the Serbs” are the sole aggressirs in ex-Yugoslavia and all the other “tribes” in it are victims despite an obvious tripartite fratricide assisted very much from abroad. Virtual reality replaces reality itself. All in the name of some geopolitical ideology which has encapsulated the highest echelons into its web in the mirific belief that we can alter human nature and change the world permanently.

by Prof. R. K. Kent



Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"After the German Summit, Limits to E.U. Political Integration Appear Strong"