Tag Archive | "technology"

FF Podcast 68 (Audio): Is the Internet Killing Religion?


FF Podcast 68: Is the Internet Killing Religion?

This week we talk about a study that observes declining religiosity coinciding with increased Internet use.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast 68: Is the Internet Killing Religion?


This week we talk about a study that observes declining religiosity coinciding with increased Internet use.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio) 31: Cybercrime!


FF Podcast 31: Cybercrime!

This week, we talk with Marnie Tonson, one of the petitioners against the Cybercrime Law that was recently upheld in parts by the Supreme Court. We talk about some of the common misconceptions about the law.

You may also download the podcast file here.




Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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Why Our Leaders Should Be Technologists


Digital Art by Richard C. Base

Digital Art by Richard K. Base

If I may venture why our country is in such a dire state, it is because we have a huge lack of leaders who are technologists. Just look at our current crop of leaders: we have mostly lawyers, actors, celebrities and even ex-convicts (as well as convicts-to-be). How our government is run reflects this quite accurately. Go to almost any government office and see.

You will see “lawyers” who make you go around in circles and who burden you with a lot of procedures and requirements to follow. You will see “actors” pretending to work but are actually playing Candy Crush or chatting with their officemates — and yes, this happens even in relief operations in Tacloban as related by a volunteer through her facebook account where she says, “It breaks my heart seeing bottled waters outside the warehouse spread like garbage, rice grains scattered like no one cares, relief boxes literally being dumped by trucks without thinking that whatever inside maybe damage, reliefs outside the warehouse soaked in the rains, and you DSWD staff at the warehouse spending your day talking/chatting/seating while there are a lot of things need to be done ASAP”).

You will see “celebrities” who want to take credit for work done by others, who want their faces and names stamped on projects funded by people’s money. And of course, there are always the ex-convicts and convicts-to-be who are very good at finding ways to line their own pockets.

For the past few years, and particularly in the last decade alone, technologists have been at the forefront of changing how people act, interact and live — and their impact is felt not just in their locality but all over the world. How many people are now dependent on Google, Facebook and Twitter? How many billions and trillions of transactions take place using the internet, cellphones and tablets?

It is clear that the leader of the future, who will have the most influence and impact, should be a technologist. The leader himself may not be a scientist or an engineer per se, but he must have the heart of one. He must be keenly interested in technology and what it can do. Because above all else, a technologist wants only one thing: to solve problems.

And boy, do we have a ton of problems in our country.

How can technology solve our problems? Let me give 3 examples.

  1. Garbage. Do you know that there are some European countries who have solved their garbage problems to the point that they have to import garbage from other countries because they have none left to burn for their own use? On April 30, 2013, The New York Times reported that the City of Oslo in Norway has developed a way to convert “household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests” to heat and electricity. Other cities in Sweden, Austria and Germany are also building such plants.Can you imagine what this one technology alone can do for our country? Where is the Philippine delegation to Oslo to study this? At the very least, even if we find the technology too expensive or impractical, we can work out some sort of deal to export our garbage to them. That would be a win-win situation.
  2. Prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. People who lose a hand, foot, nose or any other body part may find it economically impossible to replace these. A prosthetic hand that can grab things, for example, would cost somewhere between US$20,000 to US$30,000 (around PHP1M or more).However, we have an already existing technology called a 3D Printer which is changing the game in prosthetics. The Huffington Post recently ran a story about a dad who used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic hand for his son who was born without a left hand. His estimated cost was around US$2,000 for the printer and around US$10 for the materials (total cost of around PHP100,000). The plans and schematics for the hand were downloaded free. The Guardian UK also published an article about affordable prosthetic facial parts that can be generated by 3D printing instead of the more traditional and expensive method of making a cast and mold. A traditional prosthetic nose, for example, might cost P200,000 but a 3D printed one would only cost P20,000. That costs even less than an iPhone. Now, what if we had 3D Printers in every public hospital? How many more of our poor, disabled countrymen would now be able to afford prosthetics? How many lives would benefit? They might even be fit for some jobs now instead of being reduced to begging in the streets. Hello, Mayors and Congressmen. Are you paying attention?
  3. Water. The recent devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda showed how precious and important water is in the affected areas. However, water is also heavy, bulky and difficult to transport. Since around 2009, a British company call Lifesaver Systems (which is currently actively involved in disaster relief for the Philippines) has developed portable water containers with built-in filters that are so fine that you can literally fill the container with filthy, muddy water and it will produce clean, drinkable water.Those in calamity-stricken areas no longer need to wait for bottled water to arrive. They can simply use the container and get water from the nearest river (or any water source, no matter how dirty). A video demo shows the company’s CEO mixing a tank of river water with mud, sewage and garbage. He then takes a pitcher of the foul mixture and puts it in a Lifesaver Bottle. He pumps the bottle a few times, opens the top and pours clean water in a glass that he then drinks himself. Perhaps, instead of spending millions on election paraphernalia, our leaders could instead invest in these life-saving technologies. After all, nobody (except you and your relatives — and not all of them, mind you) really wants to see your smug faces splattered all over our walls, streets and lampposts, and the best preparation for disaster is innovative planning and willful action not some pretty speech on national television.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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Lab Letters Issue #12: Soft Robots, Super Rice, and a Wet Towel in Space


It’s that time again – the time for your weekly science updates. This is Lab Letters. Let’s go!

 

Hello doggie! An example of an evolved soft robot, showing natural-looking body structure and gait. The red and green blocks represent muscle-like materials. (Not shown: dark blue blocks represent bone, light blue blocks represent soft support/tissue) (source: Cheney, MacCurdy, Clune, & Lipson, Cornell/University of Wyoming)

Robot Evolution

Studying the evolution of a species can get tricky. There’s a lot of observing, measuring, cataloguing, sample collecting, testing, and waiting – especially for organisms that take a long time to mature. So a team of engineers at Cornell University in New York presumably just said, “Y’know what, evolutionary biology? We’ll just build our own organisms! With cubes and stuff!” That’s exactly what they did. Using a compositional pattern-producing network (CPPN), they built up block shaped robots consisting of 4 types of materials: bone, tissue, and two types of muscles. Then they laid down one rule: faster robots have more offspring. Then they let the simulation run. Here’s what happened:

So far, I’ve been able to make out a galloping sofa and a drunk goat. What do you see?

 

 

It’s alive! (1) Orysza sativa variety IR56 grown on normal soil (2) IR56 grown on salty soil (3) Oryza coarctata grown on salty soil (4) IR56 and O. coarctata’s first and second generation offspring, grown on salty soil. IRRI scientists hope to make this supercrop available to farmers in 4 to 5 years. (source: Jena/irri.org)

IRRI breeds super crop

Don’t you just hate it when the Assyrian army marches into your city, burns your houses, kills your babies, enslaves you and your buddies, and then, just to make sure you’re completely screwed over, salts your land so that nothing can ever grow again? Well! Those Assyrians shouldn’t be so smug! The International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños has announced the successful production of a rice strain that can tolerate high amounts of salt in the soil. This new strain capable of tolerating twice as much salt as its predecessor was made by crossing two very genetically different rice species. The exotic wild rice O. coarctata can tolerate salt levels comparable to seawater, but isn’t edible. Meanwhile, O. sativa variety IR56 is a cultivated and edible species. Sounds easy? Out of 34,000 crosses, only three embryos were rescued, and only one embryo actually started growing.

 

The most massively useful thing an astronaut can have

Commander Chris Hadfield of the International Space Station has been busy showing us Earth-bound humans how astronauts live (eat, exercise, sleep, cry, pee) in space. In this video, he performs a simple experiment: what happens when you wring a wet towel in space?

Magic happens.

The experiment was actually conceptualized by two grade 10 students in Nova Scotia, Canada, using items that are readily available in the ship.

 

And finally…

Happy Earth Day! Here’s a picture showing the Earth, as seen from outer space. That there is the reusable Dragon spacecraft docked to the International Space Station.

 

Tweeted by SpaceX

 

That’s it for today, see you next time here on FF Lab Letters!

 

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What In The World is Laser? (Part 2 of 3)


PART 2

 

What do we mean by “highly coherent, usually monochromatic beam of electromagnetic waves”?

 

For the sake of brevity, from now on we will use the word ‘light’ to denote not only visible light (electromagnetic waves our eyes can see) but electromagnetic waves in general. That is, when we say ‘light’ we mean electromagnetic waves, including radio waves, gamma rays and ultraviolet.

Now, a monochromatic ray of light is one in which the waves have the same wavelength or frequency. (The word ‘monochromatic’ came from the Greek words mono, meaning one, and chromos, meaning color.) A ray of white light is not monochromatic since it consists of waves of different wavelengths. In other words, white light is made up of light of different colors. On the other hand, the light emitted by a colored light emitting diode (LED) is usually monochromatic. A blue LED emits only blue light.

The fact that laser beams are highly monochromatic finds use in many scientific and engineering applications, such as spectroscopy. In spectroscopy, laser beams with a very specific wavelength are sent through a sample to be analyzed.

The next important property of laser beams is their high coherence. (What is certain is that they more coherent than the CBCP or the Vatican.) In the language of wave physics, coherence is the property of having waves that oscillate in phase of each other. Coherence comes in two kinds, temporal coherence (coherence in time) and spatial coherence (coherence in space).

Temporal coherence (coherence in time) would be best explained by an analogy in dance: for two dancers to be able dance the tango well, their stepping must have the same tempo. In other words, dancers performing a ballroom dance must have temporally coherent foot movements.

Temporal coherence is very closely related to monochromaticity. In fact, temporal coherence is used to measure monochromaticity. Another important aspect of temporal coherence is uniform polarization. This gives laser beams their characteristic ‘glare’, which makes them dangerous to the eyes. Sometimes, the glare of laser beams is used by the police or the military to disorient a pursued individual or an enemy.

Spatial coherence, on the other hand, means that a ray of laser light can be focused to a very narrow beam, often called a “pencil beam”. In other words, laser light can be focused to a very small spot. This makes laser beams ideal for applications that require great precision, like reading digital information encoded in a CD, cutting intricate patterns into metal or wood, burning away tumors without destroying neighboring healthy cells, or correcting vision problems without further damaging the patient’s eyesight. In microscopy, lasers are used to obtain blur-free images of very small objects at various depths, and this is possible because laser beams can be very narrow. And do not forget the use of lasers in increasing the chance of a headshot.

 

 

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Spatial coherence is also the reason why lasers have high intensity. To understand why, it is important to know what intensity is in physics. Intensity is defined as the power distributed over a given area. In equation form,

Here, power is the energy delivered by a source of light per second. The more energy a source is releasing in a second, the more power it delivers. Power is measured in watts (W). We are all familiar with the fact that different household appliances have different “power ratings”. The higher the power rating of an appliance, the more energy it delivers per second. In the case of light bulbs, a light bulb with greater power rating delivers more light energy per second than another light bulb with a lower power rating. For example, the light energy released per second by 20-W light bulb is two times more than the light energy released by a 10-W light bulb.

But notice that intensity is power over area. If power is distributed over a large area, then the intensity will be low. For this reason, the intensity of light from a normal light bulb dies down quickly as one go away from the source. In a normal light source, light energy is distributed over an area that becomes larger as one goes farther from the source. On the other hand, because of the spatial coherence of light emitted by lasers, the light energy they emit is concentrated in a very small area. This results in a very high intensity beam. The difference between a normal light bulb and a laser is illustrated by Figure 2 below. Figure 2a depicts the light emitted by a normal light source (like the light bulbs used at home). Figure 2b depicts the light emitted by a laser.

 

 

Because laser beams are composed of light rays that are concentrated in a very tiny area, they have very great intensity. Any Star Wars fan knows this; in the hands of an evil Empire, the high intensity of lasers can be used to wipe out whole races and destroy entire planets in a single colorful display of lights (all while orchestra music plays in the background, of course).

Back to the real world, the great intensity of laser beams finds countless industrial applications such as in laser cutting, laser wielding, laser brazing, laser melting and laser bending.

As with almost all technologies, the limits of laser technology depend only in the imagination of the engineer. In the hands of a very creating engineer (hopefully not an engineer of the Empire), the applications of lasers is limitless. Other current laser applications are laser ranging (using lasers to measure great distances), pollution monitoring, therapeutic skin treatments, holography, and nuclear fusion (where lasers are used to compress a nuclear fuel tight enough to cause a fusion).

And can you still imagine using a ball mouse? I can’t. So in summary: lasers rule!

We are now ready to address the last question: how are such beams of electromagnetic radiation produced in the first place? In the last part of this series we will see how.

 

 

Figure 3. A test sample bursts into flames as a laser beam (here invisible to the naked eye) hits it.

 

PART 3: How are laser beams produced?

 

 

 

References:

[1] Hitz, Ewing and Hecht, Introduction to Laser Technology, 3rd ed. IEEE Press, 1998.

[2] Griffiths, Introduction to Electrodynamics. Prentice-Hall, 1999.

[3] Harris, Nonclassical Physics. Addison-Wesley, 1999.

[4] www.knowledgerush.com

 

 

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What In The World is Laser? (Part 1 of 3)


What in the world is laser?


PART 1

 

[Disclaimer: The author does not own Figures 1-4, nor does he own Yoda, although he certainly wishes that he does.]

 

We use them to point at things in a slide presentation; snipers use them to point at heads ready to be shot. They make cool technologies possible, from CDs and grocery store barcode scanners to metal cutters. We often hear that they can cause blindness, but we also know that they are used in surgical methods to correct many vision problems. In science fiction movies they shoot out of space ships, one can engage in duels using swords made of them, and there are ships which can destroy entire planets using them. Laser beams — they are both boon and bane. But what in the world are they?

 

Laser, what in the world is, hmmm?

 

What in the world is laser?

 

The word laser stands for Light Amplification through the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Originally, ‘laser’ is a term for the light emission mechanism that produces a beam of laser light (a laser beam).  Today, however, ‘laser’ is used to denote devices that use the said mechanism to amplify light via stimulated emission of radiation.

Now, a laser beam is a beam of highly coherent, often monochromatic electromagnetic waves. Laser beams are produced when stimulation emission of electromagnetic waves amplifies light. If you think that these are quite a mouthful, then grieve not, for in this series we will explain what they mean.

 

But what is an electromagnetic wave?

 

An electromagnetic wave is an oscillation or vibration in the electromagnetic field in a certain region of space. All the colors of the rainbow our eyes can see are electromagnetic waves of different wavelengths. Among the colors of the rainbow, red has the longest wavelength while violet has the shortest. All the other colors have wavelengths between that of red and violet. The closer to red a color is the longer its wavelength, while the closer a color is to violet the shorter its wavelength. White light is the result of the combination of all the colors of the rainbow.

But the colors of the rainbow (or of the LGTB flag) comprise only a sliver of a segment in the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is the continuum of all possible wavelengths (or frequencies) of electromagnetic waves, and the segment of the electromagnetic spectrum comprising the wavelengths visible to our eyes is called the visible light region. Other kinds of electromagnetic waves are invisible to our eyes, such as infrared rays, which have wavelengths longer than those of red light, and ultraviolet rays, which have wavelengths shorter than those of violet light. Radio waves, the kinds of electromagnetic waves we use to transmit radio signals, have wavelengths even longer than those of infrared light. X-rays and gamma rays, on the other hand, have wavelengths shorter than those of ultraviolet rays. (We can also describe electromagnetic waves using their frequency. Frequency is the inverse of wavelength, so that as wavelength becomes longer frequency decreases, and as frequency increases wavelength becomes shorter.)

 

Figure 1. The electromagnetic spectrum.

But what is an electromagnetic field?

Let us start with electric fields and magnetic fields. An electric field is a force field created by a charged particle (such as an electron or an ion) or by an object with an excess of charged particles. A magnetic field, on the other hand, is a force field created by a piece of magnetic material (such as a bar magnet) or by a steady electric current. The electric field is a vector field specifying the electric force that will be experienced by a particle of unit charge if it were located at a specified point in space, while the magnetic field is a vector field specifying the magnetic force that will be experienced by a unit current if it were located at a specified point in space.

In the early 19th century, Michel Faraday (an English chap who had nothing better to do but study current-carrying wires and magnets) discovered that a changing magnetic field also creates an electric field. Then in the latter part of the same century, James Clerk Maxwell (another English chap who had nothing better to do than to make mathematical models out of other scientists’ observations) discovered that if the law of the conservation of charges is to be valid, then a changing electric field must also create a magnetic field. This latter discovery by Maxwell led to the famous Maxwell’s equations. It is hard to overstate the importance of Maxwell’s equations. The four equations of Maxwell are among the most important, if not the most important equations of physics.

One profound implication of Maxwell’s equations is that electricity and magnetism turn out to be two facets of the same phenomenon; this phenomenon is known electromagnetism. Because of Maxwell’s discovery, we know that an electric field and a magnetic field are just different manifestations of the same field, the electromagnetic field.

Another equally profound implication of Maxwell’s equations is that visible light is an electromagnetic wave. In short, light is just a vibration in the electromagnetic field in a certain region in space! This realization led to the discovery that there are a host of other electromagnetic waves, all of them invisible to the human eyes. As mentioned, the radio waves we use to transmit radio signals and the X-rays we use in medicine are, like the LGTB flag, just dancing electromagnetic fields.

 

Figure 2. The electromagnetic field lines (blue) near a pair of charged particles. The red lines represent points with the same electric potential.

 

Figure 3. Iron filings lining up near a bar magnet. The pattern of the iron filings reveals the pattern of the invisible magnetic field lines.

 

Figure 4. Light waves as electromagnetic waves. The oscillations in the magnetic field and in the electric field are shown.

To be continued.

 

Part 2: What do we mean by “highly coherent, usually monochromatic beam of electromagnetic waves”?

 

Part 3: How are laser beams produced?

 

[1] Hitz, Ewing and Hecht, Introduction to Laser Technology, 3rd ed. IEEE Press, 1998.

[2] Griffiths, Introduction to Electrodynamics. Prentice-Hall, 1999.

[3] Harris, Nonclassical Physics. Addison-Wesley, 1999.

[4] Ask a Mathematician/Ask a Physicist, http://www.askamathematician.com

[5] Coherence, http://electron9.phys.utk.edu/optics421/modules/m5/Coherence.htm

 

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