Monday, November 25, 2013


Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cosmic Landscape

I'm just finishing reading "The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design" by Leonard Susskind. Susskind was one of the pioneers of String Theory and has a unique perspective of the current state of the movement. The book's major premise is that the universe is actually a large megaverse, a universe populated with numerouse "pocket universes" with its own physical laws, constants of nature, and cosmological behavior; we exist in one of these pocket universes.

He also examines the claims of the anthropic principle, namely that the universe is suited for the existence of intelligent life. While not arguing for its adoption, he claims that the universe is fine-tuned for such existence, and that the anthropic principle has some merit in explaining the creation of the universe.

This is a fascinating book by a great mind. The Cosmic Landscape he proposes has many different peaks and valleys, explaning such notions as matter, energy, space, and universes in transition and their ground states. Vacuum states and "bubbling" principles explain the creation of new space, "space breeders" as I would call them. He also discusses the notion of a "populated landscape" and how it fits in with the cosmic landscape. Of course M-Theory (the current incarnation of superstring theory which unifies the 5 basic superstring theories, and is actually a "brane" universe existing in 11 dimensions) and it's relationship to the Landscape is discussed.

When I have time, I'd like to discuss this book further. These are the impressions I have for now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

I'm almost done reading this book called "Three Roads to Quantum Gravity" by Lee Smolin. It's a fascinating subject matter. Quantum gravity (QG) is the theory that unifies the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

So how are these 2 seemingly disparate areas unified? After all, general relativity describes the world of large objects like galaxies, stars, and planets, while quantum mechanics describes the world of small objects like atoms, electrons, and quarks. Smolin argues that it requires a radically different view of space and time.

The three roads to QG are respectively derived from quantum mechanics (string theory), relativity (loop quantum gravity), and independent mathematical approaches that have unexpectedly appeared in the other approaches (e.g. spin networks described below).

I've written about string and superstring theory before, but this is the first time I've read about loop quantum gravity (LQG). LQG derives from relativity theory. Some physicists have reformulated the general theory of relativity including Einstein's gravitational equations. Applying quantum theory to these equations led to already known equations describing quantum gravity (the Wheeler-Dewitt equations), but the simpler form of relativity enabled exact solutions to be found (Smolin was among the group to discover them). These solutions describe the quantum states of the geometry of space and time. It was found that these states were loops. As long as the loops didn't intersect, link or knot with each other, they solved the QG equations. Smolin explains that other conditions need to be satisfied in order to handle the intersections, links and knots. Also, the loops can be grouped together to form spin networks invented by Roger Penrose. These spin networks describe the quantum geometry of space!

There are several ideas advocated by the LQG approach. The first is that space and time are discrete, not continuous. This isn't apparent in everyday reality, but is at the miniscule Plank scale. The second is that they are relational, and not absolute stationary entities. LQG thus advances a background-independent view of space & time. All the World is not a stage, but rather a network of interrelated processes.

In later chapters, Smolin shows how the three pathways could be converging into one theory. He is an advocate of M-Theory which unifies (supercedes?) all the previous string theories. I don't know how his thinking has changed since the book was published in 2002; but I've enjoyed reading this book as it is!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Kelev Lavan - RIP

Our beloved family dog, Kelev Lavan, passed away earlier on 7/3/o9. He was a lovable, active dog (a Westie) filled with great life. Born in March, 1993, he lived through both uplifting and trying family years, including my father and mother's later years, birthdays, weddings, birth of children. Kelev could run and leap with the best of them. He would stand on his hind legs when "begging" for food. Best of all, he would cuddle up to us and had his own way of displaying affection. We remember him and cherish the years he was part of the Epstein household.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What is the justification for morality?

What is the justification for morality? Is it reciprocity? Is it self interest? Should we only consider behaving morally with respect to those who can reciprocate appropriately, ignoring the poor and the weak who cannot reciprocate in an adequate way? Or, does being moral require that we protect and provide for the weak and the poor? Why or why not?

Here's why I ask this question: if morality obligates us to care for weak and the poor, then why does this obligation not extend to all living things rather than just to people? Nietzsche said something like 'one negotiates with equals; one does not negotiate with inferiors, one simply takes what one wants from them'. This would be a description of motivation from self-interest, I think. If our sense of obligation extends only as far as people, then how can we criticize a rich and powerful person who restricts their range of obligation to only those who are nearly as rich and powerful as they are?

Thinking about this right now, it dawns on me that the poor are powerful in large numbers, as the reign of terror during the period of the French revolution shows. Is that it? Is the principle that morality should be based on the idea that we are only obligated to those who can affect us significantly? Or, is morality a "custom": patterns of habitual behavior which form our personality? In this case, few effect the individual as much as the individual affects him or her self. By our behavior we set the de-facto "rules" of the game called "Existence" or "Life" or "Civil Society" because others see our behaviors, or the effects of our behaviours, and follow suit to compete for survival. Here morality might be providing us with rules for cooperation so that we are not distracted from work, sleep, education and the other endeavors that we would not be able to undertake if we had to spend all our time protecting our interests from others who are not constrained by the rules of morality. Again, this is self-interest. It is mutually beneficial, but still motivated by self-interest. But if self-interest is the principle in play, why don't the superior individuals gang together with only other superior individuals and play as a team against the poor and weak?

Again, the reason I am asking this is because I think we have moral obligations to all living things, and not just to our equals or just to people. The problem I am having is determining whether this is grounded on good principles which can be logically determined or is this just a sentimental impulse, perhaps some vestigial instinct left over from our evolutionary heritage, as per Steven Pinker's "The Moral Instinct", a very interesting article from the New York Times online.

Please note, I am not looking for mere agreement that others feel obligated to care for the weak, poor, inferior or other species; I am looking for *reasons* why this is so, reasons that even a machine could understand; i.e. logically explicable.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shadows of the Mind

Every year, I try reading at least one "epic" work that challenges my thinking processes. Last year, it was "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins. That was a great work emphasizing a new approach to understanding and perhaps simulating intelligence: rather than being the result of computational procedures, intelligence is actually based upon the retrieval of stored memories that are utilized to make forward-looking predictions.

This year, I've been working through "Shadows of the Mind" by Roger Penrose. Like Hawkins, Penrose has little faith in computation (either human or computer) in order to understand such attributes as human awareness, consciousness, and intelligence. The difference is that while Hawkins lends some hope for a computer simulation of intelligence, Penrose explicitly rules it out. In fact, he mathematically proves that there are cases where an algorithm can't be proven, but the human mind can comprehend its inner workings and end results (see pp 74-75). He demonstrates this with a procedure that points to an algorithm that allegedly never halts, and thus continues forever. What he shows is that there are cases where the procedure simultaneously indicates the algorithm will halt and will not halt, hence inducing a contradiction that can only be resolved by admitting it continues forever.

Penrose discusses the famed Gödel Incompleteness Theorem and it's implications for formal systems established for proving mathematical propositions. He states that Gödel showed that the consistency of the formal system can't be proven by the rules or axioms of the formal system itself; that in effect, the proof of this consistency is external to the formal system. This is different than other interpretations I've read about his Theorem, namely that there will be at least one general theorem, based upon those rules, that will be true but can't be proven. In any case, he discusses these implications for computer intelligence and robotics and concludes that they can only be programmed with human directives and can't "think for themselves".

Step by step, Penrose dismisses any linkage between algorithmic computation and human awareness. Regardless of whether the system is sound or unsound, or is known or unknown, he is steadfast in his conviction that it can't be simulated. I have to say that I have some reservations about his claims. I'm not convinced with the complete soundness of some of his arguments here (have I myself fallen prey to Gödel's Theorem?!) and feel that he might be missing some logical cases that would weaken those arguments; but I myself wouldn't be able to construct a counterargument to them. Nevertheless, I'm impressed with his general line of reasoning -- he's a brilliant thinker and theoretical mathematician.

Penrose classifies 4 types of views of human awareness, consciousness, and intelligence:
1) These attributes are the results of computational processes. This is the strong view of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
2) These attributes can be simulated by computational processes. This is the weak view of AI.
3) Science can describe these attributes, but they are neither the result of nor can be simulated by computational processes. This is Penrose's position.
4) Science can't even describe these attributes. This is the "mystical" position, and Penrose claims that Gödel himself falls in this camp. He argued that Gödel's Theorem might point to the existence of a "mind" distinct from the brain, outside of the formal system!

The second part of the book, which I haven't read yet, starts with the assumption that consciousness can't be described in classical terms. Rather, it's based upon the indeterminism of quantum mechanics. Consciousness is the result of the collapse of quantum wave functions and the superposition of these events! He argues that these events occur in cellular structures called microtubules.

Well, I'll have more to say when I'm finished with the book. But for now, I recommend you read this book. It's more difficult reading than "On Intelligence" because of the formal arguments and mathematical reasoning presented here. Feel free to comment on the subject matter.

Fred Rogers - RIP

After an eventful trip to New England, we returned home on Thursday evening. It was a long day, too long of a day. I was ready to pack it in when I received an email entitled "Sad News". I didn't recognize the recipient, but "cautiously" opened it. It was from the uncle of an old acquaintance/friend, Fred Rogers. To my dismay, the email mentioned that Fred passed away on Wednesday. I'm very saddened by this news.

We grew up together at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. I remember him in Hebrew School class, volunteering to answer questions in Hebrew. What a brave soul! I'll never forget the visit I made to the kibbutz he was staying on in Israel: Mishmar Ha'Emek, a kibbutz like no other for a soul like no other. I feel his kibbutz experience really opened him up. After that, when he returned home, Fred spoke about raising chickens and bees.

We went to College of San Mateo (CSM) together. At CSM, we attended a "History of Jazz" class. We went to the UC Berkeley jazz festival and other jazz concerts. He opened the door to a better appreciation of music in general. There were many times we went out, sometimes with Raya and their friends. I remember when we drove up from UCSB, in his jeep. We had some fun times.

Fred was a novel thinker. He was often thinking about new products and technology usage. He had great knowledge about the inner workings of businesses, financial markets and trends.

Most distinctive about Fred was his friendliness. He was one of the friendliest, good-natured people around. He was uplifting, and I always enjoyed seeing or running into him.

The last 1 1/2 years of his life, he was living with and was the caretaker of his elderly father, Maurice. There can be no higher mitzvah (good deed) than to take care of one's parent who's in need. That is a testimony to Fred and serves as a reminder of his worth, character, and goodness.

I will miss him. May his life be for a blessing.

New England trip - Portland, and final days

Tuesday, August 21st. We left Hallowell late morning and headed to Freeport. Shopping had to be done!

We made it to Portland and spent a few hours in the Old Port area. The buildings are well preserved, sporting some classic New England architecture. It was nice to walk up and down the streets. We ate near the harbor -- had tasty soft-shell lobster.

After Portland, we headed to Lake Sebago where Nancy grew up. This is a gorgeous lake. What a beautiful setting.

Then, we went to Lovell where Nancy's parents live. This house is in the wilderness. Say no more! Beautiful country area. We spent the night there, though her parents were away at the time.

Wednesday, August 22nd. We left Lovell pretty late (1 pm). We spent time in Conway, New Hampshire. We were going to take a scenic train ride, but it turned out to be an almost 2 hour ride which was too long, since we needed to return to Burlington before dark. From Conway, one can see the beautiful White Mountains.

The ride back was pretty, of course. We stopped at Willey Pond, right smack in the middle of the White Mountains. Great spot.

Next, we drove by Mount Washington. There's the Mount Washington Hotel there, which resembles the Coronado in San Diego.

We stopped in Littleton, New Hampshire, and Lisbon, New Hampshire, where we heard a Dixieland jazz band perform.

Stopped for a few minutes in Barre, Vermont. Nice buildings there.

Finally, we picked up Thai food in Montpellier, the capital of Vermont. Too bad we arrived there in the dark. It would have been a great spot to take photos.

We arrived back in Burlington after 9:00 pm. A fitting end to our travels.

Pemaquid Point and Camden, Maine

Monday, August 20th. Travelled with Nancy's friend Dave, and his daughter Gabby, and also Benjamin (Glenn and Sarah's son). We continued to explore the Maine coastline. On this day, we drove out to Pemaquid Point, named after the Pemaquid Indians who inhabited the Maine coastal region. The "Point" features a famed lighthouse, a great lookout point of the Atlantic Ocean, and some interesting rock formations. We stayed there for about 1 hour.

Next, we went to Pemaquid Beach. This crescent-shaped beach is quite beautiful. The sand is nearly pristine white, the shape almost the Platonic Ideal of a perfect curve. The bay that it confines features some small islands and houses situated along the rim. I dipped my feet in the water and it was almost warm. It was a short stay; we would have gone swimming if we arrived there earlier and the weather wasn't getting bad.

At this point, Dave, Gabby and Ben returned to Hallowell. Diana, Rachel, Nancy and I headed towards Camden. We stopped in Rockport for a brief stay, just enough time to take some shots of the harbor and look around town (there's an old-style Opera house on the main street). Next up was Camden. It was getting dark, so the photos and DVD footage didn't come out as well. But there's enough there to get a taste of a classic New England town. The churches, shops, colonial houses, the harbor -- all paint a pleasing picture for the flock of visitors (yes, many tourists were there even though it was getting late and many places were closed). We ate at the Village restaurant.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Five Islands, Bath, & Freeport, Maine

The Maine coast could take weeks or months to explore, since there are so many peninsulas (and fiords) that aren't connected by bridges or tunnels. This makes it a more environmental friendly place for the local inhabitants; but not for the tourists. So we had to pick and choose our places, primarily close to Augusta/Hallowell.

On Sunday, August 19th, we ventured out along highway 27 & 127 towards Five Islands. It's a nice, scenic drive out to the coast. We passed Reid State Park and drove the final mile to Five Islands. Five Islands is a quaint fishing village that, indeed, features five small islands forming a natural harbor. It also is the spot to get some tasty lobster. Needless to say, we all had lobster for lunch.

Afterwards, we were thinking of going to Reid Beach at the state park; but due to the fact we missed the turnoff (there was no sign on the way back), time constraints, a sleeping toddler, and high admission price per person, we decided to forgo the experience. Instead, we headed to Bath. Bath is a nice town with old buildings and a nice waterfront. Unfortunately, most of the town was closed. We stayed there for about a couple of hours, mostly at the local market and walking around.

By late afternoon, we arrived in Freeport and found Gritty McDuff's, a brewery pub / bar & grill that has a great play area for the kids. We met cousins Donna and Savannah, who drove up from Haverhill, MA (thanks for coming up cuz!). We had a nice time together and Savannah (who just turned 6) had fun playing with Rachel. It was a good experience for the young cousins to meet each other. After lunch, we headed a short distance down Highway 1 to L.L.Beans, one of the largest clothing outlet stores on the East coast and based in Maine. We spent a few hours walking around Freeport which, surprisingly, was a nice old town with colonial-styled buildings housing outlet stores!

Drive out to Maine

We left Burlington late morning on Saturday, August 18th. It's a beautiful ride, first along highway 89 and then highway 2. Very green, idyllic, sometimes pastoral route. We briefly stopped in Saint Johnsbury, a nice small town. A few miles further up the road is Joe's Pond. I had to get out and take some pictures of the pond, which I thought was a lake because I didn't know at that time it was a Joe's Pond. In any case, it's a beautiful, scenic, peaceful spot.

Right after crossing the New Hampshire border is Lancaster. This too is a nice, small town. Churches, colonial buildings, and so forth. There was an outdoor wedding reception at one of the churches. The remainder of the ride through New Hampshire winds through Santa's Village and features the "backside view" of the White Mountains (part of the northern Appalachians).

Once we passed into Maine, we stopped at a gas station to stretch out and enjoy the view. It's very green there. We passed through Wayne, Maine, and then along some lakes and plenty of pine and maple trees.

Finally, early evening, we arrived at our destination of Hallowell, Maine, which is very close to the capitol Augusta. We stayed at Glenn (Nancy's brother) and Sarah's place. It's a remodeled house that was originally built in 1820!

Trip to New England & Montreal - the first few days

We just returned from a nice trip to New England (8/14/07 - 8/23/07). We stayed with our dear friend Nancy in Burlington, Vermont. Burlington is situated right on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the more picturesque places I've ever seen. The first day, we walked through the downtown mall, ate at a Thai restaurant and of course indulged in the delights of the town's landmark Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor. A couple days later, we spent some time along the waterfront and took Rachel to the Echo museum, which has all types of water exhibits and an aquarium for the kids. Late in the day, we attended services at Temple Sinai (a reform synagogue in Burlington, near where we were staying). The Rabbi wasn't there, but services were led by the Temple educator and the sermon (about the period leading up to Rosh Hashana) was given by her husband.

Between these two days, we took a day trip to Montréal. It's a nice drive up there, highlighted with the pastoral settings of Northern Vermont and the rural environment of southern Quebec. Arriving into Montréal is a treat. The visitor is greeted by the Saint Lawrence river and the site of the biosphere, a giant geodesic dome housing an artificially controlled ecosystem. Also, there's the La Ronde amusement park on Sainte-Hélène Island.

The weather wasn't too great. We dodged thunderstorms throughout the afternoon; but there were enough breaks for us to explore the area. We ate lunch near the waterfront and preceded to walk around the old city. There are many nice streets with restaurants, shops, and old dwellings. With all of the outdoor cafes and signs in French, one can easily get the impression of being in Paris. The buildings that are most visually noteworthy are the Hotel dé Ville, the Chapelle Notre Dame de Bons Secour, and the silver domed Marche Bonsecours (Bonsecours Market).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"I didn't say nothing to nobody"

I've seen this phrase a few times over the years. "I didn't say nothing to nobody".

But what does it mean? It's a triple negative.

It depends upon how we group the words together. Here are the possible interpretations as I see them:

1) "I didn't say nothing to nobody" = "I didn't say (nothing to nobody)".
Since "nothing to nobody" = "something to at least someone", then
"I didn't say nothing to nobody" = "I didn't say (nothing to nobody)" =
"I didn't say (something to at least someone)" = "I didn't speak to anyone". Fair enough!

2) "I didn't say nothing to nobody" = "I (didn't say nothing) to nobody".
Since "didnt say nothing" = "said something", then
"I didn't say nothing to nobody" = "I (didn't say nothing) to nobody" =
"I said something to nobody".

Here, we have an existential dillema. Common sense dictates that you can't speak to "nobody". The reality is that if someone speaks, it has to be directed towards someone. Even when someone speaks to himself or herself, they are at least speaking with someone.

But what about a world where a nobody is really a someone? If "nobody" is a phantom being, then those speech patterns that apparently aren't directed towards anyone are really being heard by "nobody". In which case, we better hope that nobody is a good listener. ; )

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown, RIP

One of the great entertainers passed away yesterday.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hula on Kalapaki Beach, Lihue Posted by Picasa

The Epsteins at Waimea Canyon Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 24, 2006

On Intelligence

I've been reading this book called "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins. He was the founder of Palm and has been a software & hardware designer for many years, but has also been interested in human and machine intelligence. He took a number of classes in bioscience and was most interested in how the brain actually works. The mistake that Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts made, he argues, is they paid no attention to the inner workings of the brain, or developed a reasonable theory of what intelligence actually is, and instead focused upon emulating human behavior.

Hawkins believes that the brain doesn't work like a computer. Computers are designed to be much faster and possess greater computational power. The AI'ers believe that if we create faster and more powerful computers, we will eventually create a real intelligent computer. Hawkins believes that's the wrong approach. He encourages the reader to look at how the brain works: first, it stores memories, then it retrieves them, and finally makes predictions based upon those memories. This is the crux of intelligence. Pattern recognition doesn't derive from computing pathways, but from reconciling what our senses are capturing with these retrieved memories.

The core component of the human brain is the neo-cortex. That's where most of the action is! It has 6 layers, from L1 to L6. Hawkins demonstrates how different regions of the cortex are hierarchically related. He further illustrates how information is hierarchically stored to mirror the hierarchy of reality! The examples he gives are great, from musical compositions to roadways. What it boils down to is that objects have subobjects which themselves have subcomponents, or a process has subprocesses and so forth. Data merges into higher levels of the hierarchy, percolating all the way to the top. With the example of music, he says "Notes are combined to form intervals. Intervals are combined to form melodic phrases. Phrases are combined to form melodies or songs. Songs are combined into albums."

The organization of information and how it's mentally stored reflects the organization of reality. We don't hear a song in one instant, nor capture all the complexity of an event in one screen shot. Internally in the brain, a song is stored hierarchically to capture the nested structure of reality; the highest part is a pointer to the entire song, the next highest part might store the memories of the phrases, then a lower part will store the intervals, and the lowest man on the totem pole remembers the notes. With an image, complete snapshots are not stored one place in memory. Instead, line segments are stored in lower hierarchical parts of the visial cortex, then shapes composed of these line segments are stored in a higher region, shapes blend into recognizable objects in yet a higher region, and finally what Hawkins calls "large scale relationships" reflecting the entire picture occur on top. Based upon what I've been reading, I interpret the storage of memories as an artistic process, not as a storage of data in a computer.

And how do we recognize patterns in reality? Well, memories reflect the relationships of the compositional components. We remember the sequence of notes in a song. So when we hear a few notes, even if they are in a different key, we remember the relationship of the notes. It's the same with a picture of a face. The face might have a different color, or perhaps part of the face is hidden, but the brain remembers the relationships of the facial components and can make auto-associations based upon what it can view (i.e. it doesn't have to see the entire picture to recognize its contents).

One of the most powerful points in the book is his use of Vernon Mountcastle's idea of a unified cortex algorithm. Mountcastle argued that different parts of the cortex (visual, aural, etc.) essentially have the same operating principles. It's the same signal processing and pattern recognition in all cortical regions. We process what we see, hear, and feel (also smell?!) using the same algorithm. What distinguishes each region are the connections to other parts of the brain and body, relationships to motor activities and responses, and so forth.

I've read about 2/3rds of the book and look forward to the end, which I'm sure will include some discussion about how real machine intelligence could occur with a proper implementation of the "memory/prediction" cortical model. Based upon what I've read, I would highly recommend this book.

Anyone read this or books touching on similar subject matter? Thoughts?

Northwestern Oahu mountains Posted by Picasa

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu Posted by Picasa

Diamond Head, Honolulu Posted by Picasa

Waterfall in Waimea Canyon, Kauai. Posted by Picasa

Palm trees near Kalapaki Beach Posted by Picasa

Hawaiian musicians and Hula dancer, Marriott Beach Club, Lihue Kauai Posted by Picasa

Rachel Posted by Picasa

View of Marriott Beach Club pool (the largest in Hawaii) and Kalapaki Beach. Posted by Picasa

Tarot fields, Hanalei Nature Wildlife Refuge, Northern shore of Kauai Posted by Picasa

Hanalei, Kauai Posted by Picasa

Diana and Rachel at the Marriott Beach Club, Lihue, Kauai Posted by Picasa

Posing in front of Kalapaki Beach, Lihue Kauai Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 18, 2006

North Shore of Oahu

On June 13th, Tues, we took a ride around the island. We rode up H2 (nothing too exciting except some real nice views of the Northwestern Oahu mountains). Then we hooked up on 99 and stopped at the Dole Plantation. Lots of tourists there. We didn't take a tour of the grounds, but walked around and took some pictures. There is supposed to be this giant maze, one of the largest in the world, comprised of over 11,000 Hawaiian plants. It just was too hot to take any tours especially with a somewhat restless one year old.

We continued up 99 and detoured to see the historic town of Waialua, but I ended up driving out to Kaena Point, the most western point on Oahu. This is where the mountains meet the ocean/beach. It's beautiful there. Some of the beaches are near-pristine white. One beach is a great place to watch the para-sailers.

We didn't see historic Waialua, but did see historic Haleiwa. This town has a lot of historic buildings, quaint shops and restaurants. It's also where the surfers hang out (there's even this Surfer museum for G-d's sake!). We ate at a Mexican restaurant, Cholos. The food was OK, but the best part of it was all of the wall hangings incl Mexican art, crosses, other paraphenalia.

After lunch, we took 83 along the northern coast. First, we stopped at Waimea Bay, but it was too crowded. Then we drove past Sunset Beach, stopped at some beach with a scenic coastal view. Drove by Turtle Bay, etc.

Some nice views of the Northern mountains from Kahuku. We briefly stopped to see the Mormon Temple in Laie, and then enjoyed the scenic views from Laie Beach. Stopped in a couple of quaint, small towns like Hauula and Punaluu. It's all very nice. But the most scenic and romantic point has to be Kahana Bay. We actually were able to stop there, and take some great photos and DVD footage. This green giant, jagged-edged mountain overlooks the bay. What a great place to be!

But no sooner than the blink of an eye, and yet another scenic view emerges in Kaaawa. The "triple a" town gives us a peek at yet another jagged-edged peak. Then onto Kualoa where one is greeted by the picturesque Chinaman's Hat! (in Kaneohe Bay).

But that's not all! Stopped in Kahaluu to view the rest of the majestic mountains of Oahu.

Drove back on H3, right through the thick of the northern mountains! What else is there to say.

When we returned to Honolulu, Diana wanted to see Temple Emanuel, the Jewish Reform temple. It's up on the Pali Highway (91). It was late at night, so we didn't get to go inside. But it's a very nice building in a scenic location.

Once we returned to the Outrigger Reef, we had dinner at the Ocean House restaurant. A fitting ending to our trip with a scrumptious meal overlooking the ocean waters, with a nice tropical breeze passing by.

Diana, Rachel, and myself, bid you Aloha from Hawaii. We had a very nice time together on our first family trip.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ride around Oahu

We rented a car and had a nice ride around Oahu. I'll give a more detailed description of our trip when we return (it's getting late and I have to pack for the return flight tomorrow). Suffice it to say that the coastal and mountainous scenery was incredible. I just love their northern shore.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Last couple days in Kauai

Well I finally was able to go kayaking for a couple hours, the next to the last day in Kauai! It was in the bay area where we were staying.

Our last day on the island was Fri 6/10/06. We relaxed at the Marriott Beach Club in Lihue where we were staying. It's situated in this secluded bay that reminded us of the resort we stayed at in St. Lucia on our honeymoon. We hung out at the beach which was nice, but it was very hot. Then we swam in the pool which is the largest area pool in Hawaii. It's tremendous; there are 5 large gazebos covering the 5 jacuzzis!

We then walked around the grounds for a bit. They have beautiful gardens in the open air interior area, interspersed with pavillions covering large Japanese art work and statues. There are some posh shopping stores as well. In the morning, they feed the Koi located in the interior Japanese ponds. There are Ne-Ne and other geese and ducks lounging nearby!

At night, we attended the Luau at the Smith Tropical Paradise in Wailua. We didn't attend the dinner part of it, but saw the performance in the ampitheatre. It was a nice show, with dancers representing Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand (Maori), Philippines, Japan and China. There was also a Samoan fire dancer.

All in all a nice stay on the Garden Isle. We hope to return soon.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Waimea Canyon et al

We finally made it to Waimea Canyon on Wednesday. Took the nice drive along the southern coast. Stopped at the historic town of Hanapepe. It has some nice art galleries, an old theatre, and this "shaking bridge" that goes across the river. We walked on this narrow suspension bridge which rocks back and forth as you walk across it. I noticed that the town, while it retains some of its charm, looks pretty desolate. Someone later said this was due to hurricane Iniki in 1993.

Then we stopped in Waimea for lunch. It too is a historic town, known for its sugar and rice plantations, and the spot where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii.

Then, we took 552 up to the Waimea Canyon. We stopped at a couple of spots along the way. Rachel has generally been very well behaved on this trip, but this long windy drive was a little too much for her; she let us know about her discomfort! Well, be that as it may, we stopped at the scenic lookout point for the incredible views of the canyon. The green vegetation (a type of fern) intermingled with the red soil and rock paints an amazing picture that is the envy of every good artist!

We drove the next few miles to Kokee State Park, but unfortunately, it was getting foggy and even started raining. Needless to say, we didn't make it out to the Kalalau Lookout, with its majestic peak at a section of the Napali Coast.

Well, we made it back to Wailua in time for a children's Hula show.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Greetings from Kauai

Hello from Kauai. Diana, Rachel, and myself are here in the beautiful Garden Isle. The weather has been great, and it's been very relaxing.

We took a nice ride along the northern shore a couple days ago. We stopped at Kilauea Point to see the Lighthouse, but it was closed. Also went to Princeville and on to Hanalei. Some nice picturesque shots along the coast.

Still trying to marshal the troops out to Waimea Canyon. Maybe tomorrow.

Activities galore here at the Marriott (Lei making for Rachel earlier today).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Oh my gosh!! 8/05 Posted by Picasa

Rachel at almost 3 months Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The proud parents with their young daughter (5/22/05) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

5/23/05 Posted by Hello

Rachel Rebecca at almost 2 days old. 5/22/05 Posted by Hello

Here she is. Rachel Rebecca Epstein. 5/21/05. Almost 1 day old. Posted by Hello

Rachel Rebecca Epstein

Introducing Rachel Rebecca Epstein, who came into
terrestrial existence on Friday, May 20, 2005, at 9:08
pm. She was born weighing 8 lbs 6 ounces, and 20

Through it all these last few days, she has been an
absolute joy, more than we could have realized.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rucker and superstring theory

I just finished Brian Greene's the Elegant Universe, in which he discusses superstring theory with all the troublesome equations removed. I find it difficult to believe that this is a best seller, since the concepts discussed are so abstract and nonintuitive. It is so complex, in fact, that I found myself wishing he would put a few mathematical equations in, just to simplify it.

From that perspective, then, I can add a few comments to Rucker's book.

Rucker discusses the possibility of space travel using strings that can be expanded to cosmic size and then contracted. The paradox is that the string itself has not moved, but its location is now on the other side of the galaxy. Fun to think about, but in no way practical. The energy required to expand a string that far has not been seen in the universe since the big bang. Even if it were possible, mere location on an object does not nullify the theory of relativity's prohibition against an object traveling faster than the speed of light.

Another part of the book takes place in a "brane" dimension. This is a curious place inhabited by virtual people. It's salient characteristic is that it curves back on itself within a short distance. Inside the brane dimension, quantum rules apply. For example, if the trolly doesn't stop where you want to get off, you just walk through the side of the car.

Rucker uses elements of string theory, relativity, et al, as subjects of fantasy. In the same book, he inserts several descriptions of paintings by Hieronymous Bosch, another of his scholarly interests.

His use of these elements creates a startling landscape of ideas, language, and images. He continually answers the questions, what would it look like? and, what kind of intelligent life form would it be?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Ivanhoe, Rucker, and all that

I'll paste in the discussion we had so far:

David Epstein wrote:

Allan, I finished reading Ivanhoe. I was curious about Robin Hood and where his legendary existence originated. Obviously in medieval England, but who was
the fistauthor to write about him? When did he appear in English literature? I noticed that Richard and John also appear in the Robin Hood fables. So it's a justifiable symmetry that RH and Friar Tuck appear in Ivanhoe.

Allan Masri wrote:

I didn't know the answers to your questions, so Ilooked up this article:

As an interesting sidelight, there is a Chinese Robin
Hood saga, called "By the Water Margin". It was
written around 1400AD. Notice, this is a case where
two events took place on different sidesof the world
that are very similar in nature but could not possibly
be related. I believe the term for this is
"synchronicity". The Chinese Robin Hood is a bit more
formal and longwinded than the English. His men were
organized into armies and his "Friar Tuck" was a
Taoist magician. I've only read a few passages from the
book which, strange to say, seems banal to western
tastes. It was translated as "All Men Are Brothers" by
Pearl Buck in 1933. I understand her book is much
shorter than the original. My son Channing went to
school at the University of Leeds in Nottinghamshire,
England. There is a "Robin Hood Oak" there, as well as
other tourist spots. Contratulations on completing
Ivanhoe. You must have the feeling of satisfaction you
can only get from reading a long and well-written book.
Keep me posted on your future progress.If you're
interested in a very different experience,I have just
started reading a book by Rudy Rucker called Frek and
the Elixir. Rucker teaches Mathematics and Computer
Science at San Jose Stateand writes science fiction /
fantasy books on the side. He puts the concepts of
mathematics and advanced physics into his works and
creates a large vocabulary of special terms appropriate
to his futuristic plots. He writes "classic" science
fiction, which attempts to predict possible futures
based on current trends and recent inventions. Also,
I'm still looking for work, so if you have
any suggestions, now is the time to make them!==a

David Epstein wrote:

Thanks for the link. IT appears he was a
legendary figure, but they can't trace his historical
roots. I wonder when he, Friar Tuck, Little John, and
the Sheriff of Nottingham first appeared in a
literary work.Yes I've heard of Rudy Rucker. I read one
of his "Ware" books some time ago (Realware).
Pretty interesting, interweaving sci-fi with
clairvoyance andoracles. A friend of mine was really
into his "4th Dimension" book. I've written some Math-Fi
which I post up on
my website: Two
of the stories ("Microspace" and "Hilbert Space")are
from an unpublished novel I wrote. I really milked it
with Hilbert, and had a lot of fun with
"Quantum Minyan" and "Small Radicals". If you have any
ideas about how I can publish my novel or know of
anyone in the publishing industry, let me know. Even
though I wrote it 1996-2000, I just gave it a title:
"Manifold Destiny". It's a thriller about an adventure
into Microspace, the world of superstrings and such. I'm
keeping an eye out for you for work. I sent you the
name of a headhunter a few days ago. Wha particular
areas are you looking for?- David---

Allan Masri

--- Allan Masri wrote:

I was reading some more Rucker and recalled a
couple of items tha tmight be of interest to you.

Science Fiction is one genre where you can publish
short stories. This is very important. Most areas of
fiction you can't do this and so it is very hard to get
started. So try submitting your short stories
to magazines. Once you figure out what they publish,
you should be able tofind a publisher for your book.

All publishers are very particular about what
submissions they accept and how. So check out the
publishers (or agents) before you mailanything to

Science Fiction readers are typically 12-year old
boys. That is why Rucker's protagonist is a 12-year-old
and his writing style is simplified. Since young boys
enjoy action, Rudy also inserts extra action sequences.
One of the main subjects in this book is video
games. In his future, video games and cartoon
characters are everywhere. Although Rucker is a brainy
guy, it is clear from his appendix that he has read
Sci-Fi fiction series like Bill the Galactic Hero,
which is written in a simple style and has comic-book
plots. Why did I know about Bill? Because my son was
once 12 years old!

It is possible that you don't care to focus your
writing on a potential audience. You see the paradox
here. You can get published if you write exactly what
publishers are looking for, but you only want
to communicate your own ideas -- which are the very
things that publishers don't want to see, except in
very small doses.

The market for fiction is very small and financial
rewards commensurate. First novels sell around 1,000
copies. Your royalty on that will be less than $3,000.
My publisher once told me that the publishing business
is good for publishers but not for writers. So maybe
the answer is to publish your own books, market them
locally, and build up a following that way. Publishing
on the web is cool, but it may be more expensive to
market books that way than through
traditional channels.

Incidentally, Charles Rosendahl ( who works for Mike
Dunn at AOL )wrote a program that helps people
self-publish. You wouldn't need it,of course.

Thanks again for your assistance!

David Epstein wrote:

Yeah I think a dose of reality about the publishing
industry was in order! I just see it as a publishing
dominated industry, rather than artist/writer
directed. I have no illusions about publishing,
certainly not without an agent or publisher that would
insist on altering my work so that even I wouldn't
recognize it! I think you're right: self-publishing
might be the way to go.

I read Rudy Rucker's "writer's toolkit" on his web
site. I really liked what he had to suggest to
would-be writers: treat your book like a fractal. It
IS, in fact, a fractal. You must concurrently write on
different levels, from thinking about the entire book,
to the chapters, sections of chapters, sentences,
phrases in sentences, words in phrases. Each of these
should receive the same care and attention in crafting
your work.

I also was reading some of his interviews. Though it
was a few years ago and he might have changed his
thinking someone, he is decidely a determinist in his
CS, Physics, and Math. Sounds like he was a Set
Theorist by training, and they like exactitude in
their formulas, equations, theorems. So it's no
surprise that he's interested in deterministic
processes such as cellular autonoma, chaos, relativy.
He says he hates quantum mechanics (QM).

Unlike relativity where the equations are simple and
elegant (look at Einstein's General Theory of Relativy
equations: simple, yet powerful; they are loaded with
so much information), indeed, QM is messy.
Determinists like Einstein hated QM's uncertainty,
indeterminism, and most importantly, what he deemed to
be its incompleteness. But QM has been demonstrated to
be correct time and time again in laboratory
conditions. Einstein's completeness idea (exemplified
by the noted Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Effect) lost out
to the quantum interpretation of Bell's Theorem.

Yep, it's true that QM equations are messy. There are
so many displacements, uncertainties, probabilities,
dualities, complimentarities, even fudge factors to
keep the whole system together. And many
mathematicians can't stand that not only is it
unexact, but highly linear as well (that's another
story). But nobody has been able to refute it. It
appears that reality is a very sloppy business.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applies to an
isolated particle. There is a tradeoff between knowing
a particle's position and momentum with precision.
This is built into nature and is not a result of
defective detection. This bugged Einstein more than
anything else. He felt this "tradeoff" led to
incomplete knowledge about the system. But Feynman
showed that the system IS complete with his Feynman
Diagrams (a group of particle position/momentum
"snapshots"). It's only incomplete if you look at one
snapshot; that's where the Uncertainty Principle takes
effect. But the displacement in position or momentum
in one particle can be transfered to a nearby
particle, which in turn passes it's displacement to
another particle, and so forth. The net displacement
in the entire (closed) system is zero!

Another problem with QM is to show convergence. If
there isn't convergence, you get infinite energy,
mass, momentum, and time interval values. That's not
good in physics. It's very difficult to show
convergence. That's where perturbation theory and
renormalization theory come into the picture. If you
look at Feynman's Diagrams (which are pictoral
representations of equations describing particle
interactions), a series of such diagrams might sum to
an infinite value (divergence). Only the "tricks" of
renormalization, moving the diagrams (or terms) around
and regrouping, will allow convergence. One has to be
pretty clever about this for it to succeed. It's
certainly unelegant.

Superstring Theory is the exception to this. It is a
quantum theory that is very mathematical and elegant.
The equations are beautiful, particular string field
theory, and they converge! It's a brilliant theory,
but complicated. One has to have knowledge of such
areas as algebraic topology and advanced number theory
to truly understand it. Unfortunately, it has no
physical principle to speak of. It hasn't been shown
to apply to physical reality in any shape or form, not
yet anyway. The main reason is we don't have nearly
the energy levels available on Earth to probe to such
miniscule levels (10^-33 of a cm to be exact). Here's
an example of limitations in our technology that makes
it impossible to corroborate or disprove the theory:
there aren't large enough particle accelerators to
create the massive energy levels needed to probe a
possible 10 dimensional superstring (actually 11
dimensions due to renormalization theory).

Rucker speaks about "those crappy little string
dimensions". Rucker's very interested in higher
dimensional spaces. He should be fascinated with 10
and 26 dimensional string spaces. But he's perturbed
with the rolled-up spatial manifold. In superstring
theory cosmology, the original 10 dimension universe
was split into the 4D universe we know and love, the
expanding space-time continuum; and the 6D contraction
we don't know and probably would hate! That 6D
universe is known as the Calabi-Yao manifold. And each
dimension is precisely the same length of a
superstring (10^-33 cm). Rucker also spoke about that
maybe someday, someone will discover a transform that
would allow us to enter the superstring world. Well,
that's what my novel deals with. My short story
"Microspace" is essential a user's guide to do that!

I like Rucker's science fiction ideas like aliens
travelling in cosmic rays, and earthly beings
decrypting them to "decompress" them into reality.
Very clever. But I don't like how he poo-poos QM. Oh
well. I could get into areas like quantum relativity
(invented by Paul Dirac) or the quantum theory of
gravity. And even how quantum constructs like
Schrodinger's Equation (which describes the
probabilistic nature of a group of particles) is
applied to the entire universe (see Hawking's theory
about this). But this is a lot to discuss. The point
here is that these areas show that determinism and
indeterminism are weak descriptors in describing these
realities. Something more intriguing is going on here!

Sorry for the long dissertation. I really got into
this! Maybe we can transfer this discussion to my
blog. What do you think?

- David

Allan Masri continues the discussion:

Whew. That's way over my head.

I read quite a bit of Rucker's "Frek and the Elixir". It's hard for me to tell whether he's deterministic or not. The space travel in this book is handled by expanding and contracting superstrings ( yunching ), and the whole text is filled with references to quantum theory. In the last chapter, one of the characters died by springing a "quantum leak". One of the locales is "Planck brane" which is inhabited by "branecasters". But I think he is just playing with these concepts, not making any comments about them. I should mention that this book, I believe, is his longest work of fiction to date and is crammed with unusual images, newly minted words, and oblique references to sci-fi/fantasy literature as well as math and physics.

On the subject of self-publication, the important part is marketing. Since your books would appeal to a small scientifically savvy readership, you should be able to target your audience by making appearances at Universities and/or Sci-Fi conventions. Eli Goldberg was successful in placing his CD of songs about space into gift shops associated with space-related attractions, like the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Smithsonian in DC ( not sure about the details there ). I also made some sales, some years ago, through the Oakland History museum gift shop.

About treating chapters as fractals: Well, that's an interesting way of thinking about it. I prefer to think of writing as an activity whose function is communication of ideas between the writer and his audience, which may be as small as one person. The larger audience you want, the more general the ideas must be and the more abstract the means of communication -- this last because your audience will not understand mathematical concepts, let alone formulae. I just purchased Brian Greene's discussion of superstring theory, The Elegant Universe. In the preface, Greene notes that he wrote the book,

"to make the remarkable insights emerging from the forefront of physics research accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, especially those with no training in mathematics or physics."

Greene's book is currently #296 on Amazon's sales list; Frek and the Elixir is #394,006. In general, non-fiction sells much better than fiction. I attribute this to a human survival mechanism where humans are fascinated with things they consider may help them survive, even if they have no hope of understanding them.

I've gone on too long already.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

C# and Paired Programming

Over the weekend, my friend Ravi and I worked on an XML-based customer generation tool for this company we're contracting at (Sentinel Vision). We're doing it in C#, and I'm glad to be getting my feet wet in C# and .NET. I worked hard to break into the Java world (it's a great language), but had no breaks being hired by a company where I could write applets or distributed applications in a QA development environment. So while I'm no fan of MS, I like what I see with .NET/C# and hope to get more exposure.

Well, I don't want to get too sidetracked with discussing this programming environment. What I really wanted to talk about is an unplanned experience with paired programming. In the previous "Extreme Programming" blog posting, I mentioned that I didn't think this approach would work. Well, perhaps I was wrong. You see, Ravi and I were working at his computer. He programmed a bit, while I watched at his side, then I had a burst of energy and a few ideas, and said "let me get in there and drive for a while". So we switched seats and I programmed a bit. Ravi, being by far the more experienced programmer and possessing great alacrity, watched me code and gave some useful suggestions how to do it better. So I made the changes.

Then, he took over and coded away. I didn't correct any of his coding - there was nothing to correct! But I was able to spot other places in the program where the code segments, or similar coding, needed to be applied. So I got in there, and coded a bit more. Then I thought about some of the semantics of customer records, restrictions on what could be enabled and such. That gave me some inpetus to add those code segments. Then, Ravi thought about how we could do it better. And so we did.

Admittedly, one time, I was thinking how to solve a problem, and I told Ravi: "Don't tell me the answer". This was something we did in the Epstein household. I remember mom saying that a number of times: she wanted to remember something on her own. I've always liked to figure out solutions. In this case, I figured out half-of-it, then Ravi just jumped in and finished the job. So I only had 1/2 of the satisfaction I would have normally derived from getting the answer; but we saved some time. Of course, in this case, if the Ravster was programming by himself, he would have done it even faster.

Overall, this paired programming worked well for us. We didn't plan to engage in a "paired" exercise. It just happened, and it worked out for the best (on this occasion anyway).

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Eva (Evita) Peron's tomb Posted by Hello

Inside Cafe Tortoni Posted by Hello

Tango show at El Viejo Almacen club, San Telmo district
 Posted by Hello

Elephant talk at the Buenos Aires zoo, Palermo district Posted by Hello

Waterfall from Mt. Tronador Posted by Hello