February 2010

I found this idea fascinating. 

I was thinking recently, one day we might run out of new images. Let’s take the current standard for high quality images, 1080p hi def video. It’s surprising to realize that that frame contains a finite number of possible images. I thought it would be interesting to figure out just how many, so I wrote a little Python expression to do the math. The total number of pixels is 1920 horizontally x 1080 vertically = 2,073,600 pixels. There are 256 possible intensities of red, green and blue for each pixel, so that’s 2563 = 16,777,216 possible colors. To figure out how many possible images there are, we need to raise the second number to the power of the first, so 16,777,2162,073,600 = 1.5 * 1014,981,180 possible images. That’s a pretty big number – it’s almost fifteen million digits long. Printing it in 10 point Monaco would take over 2,700 pages of paper. Scientists estimate that there are 1080 atoms in the observable universe – a tiny number in comparison.

However big it may be, the fact that the number is finite is a surprising thing to realize. It means that every possible image has a unique ID number.

Given enough time this machine will display every possible picture within this array of 64 x 64 black & white pixels.

What makes this interesting is that among those pictures will be those of all your ancestors and descendents, the first words of every book that will ever be written. The true digital face of God.

It brought to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant short story The Nine Billion Names of God.

“This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries — since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it.”


“It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“We have reason to believe,” continued the lama imperturbably, “that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised.”

“And you have been doing this for three centuries?”

“Yes. We expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task.”

It’s all in there, every possible image.  There’s an image of me sitting in front of my computer just as I am right now.  And there’s an image of my Great, Great, . . ., Great Grandfather hefting up the megaliths at Stone Henge.  And there’s an image of my Great, Great, . . ., Great Grandson basking on the beach under the alien sun of Fhloston Paradise.  Even if it didn’t, or doesn’t, happen.

Don’t worry too much though.  At a TV frame rate of 30 images per second, even the super low resolution 64 x 64 black and white version would take 359,676,102,360,200,472,965,684,305,166 years to watch from beginning to end.

Scientists now think that King Tut may have died of Malaria.  As the fellow who sent me the link dryly noted, King Tut did not have good comprehensive health insurance.

All kidding aside, this is a good excuse to meditate on just how rich we are.  King Tut was probably the wealthiest man in the world during his time.  He died of something that wouldn’t kill the most abjectly immiserated welfare mother in the United States today, because of a combination of public health efforts, and cheap antimalarial drugs.

You always need to factor in things like this when you talk about changes in living standards over time.  All the positive changes in society mean that the absolute difference between the income of Bill Gates and the man who valets his car is larger than it has ever been in history.  But the actual difference in comfort between the two of them is probably much smaller than the difference between JP Morgan and his stableboy.  And both Gates and the valet are almost immeasurably better off than their predecessors.

I noted earlier that free trade and technology disparately benefit the poor.

The The good kind:

A new technique being used to drill through a type of rock known as shale has led to a surge in domestic natural gas production over the last three years and enabled the United States to overtake Russia recently as the world’s No. 1 producer of natural gas.

. . .

Thanks to a breakthrough in drilling technology, involving the use of three-dimensional seismic imaging and hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, huge amounts of natural gas are being produced in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and other states. Instead of declining, domestic natural gas production is booming to record-high levels (see chart).

If estimates hold up, energy experts say the shale gas that underlies large parts of the United States will be able meet our country’s needs for the next 100 years. The Department of Energy expects shale gas to account for 50% of natural gas production by 2020 if not sooner.

What’s more, the same drilling techniques for shale gas are now being used in several European countries, including France and Poland, to extract their own supplies. Both China and India have huge shale-gas resources. Geologists say shale gas is so plentiful in some parts of the world that it could meet global needs for several centuries.

And, the bad kind (of which Joe Biden appears to be the No. 1 producer):

But these exciting energy developments may not last if natural gas companies are burdened by excessive regulation and heavy taxes. Environmental groups are lobbying Congress to shift regulation of hydraulic fracturing from state governments to the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the process poses a risk to groundwater supplies.

But the fact is, hydraulic fracturing is done about 1,000 feet below underground aquifers and separated from the water supply by thick rock.

The White House also wants to add $37 billion in taxes on U.S. oil and natural gas companies, rehashing a proposal to Congress that failed the first time around. History shows that once drilling costs jump due to higher taxes, investment starts to dry up.

(Via Carpe Diem)

There has been a lot of noise about what Audi’s “Green Police” Super Bowl is supposed to mean.

Given Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen’s recent comments on the Chevy Volt, I think it was firmly tongue-in-cheek.

This time, in Marja, the largest Taliban stronghold, American and Afghan commanders say they will do something they have never done before: bring in an Afghan government and police force behind them. American and British troops will stay on to support them. “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander here.

Well, I’m convinced.  What could possibly go wrong?

hubris : noun : Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance

— The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

(via Reason)

It is not often that I am impressed with a politician.  On both sides of the aisle at all levels of government, they strive to convince us that we can indeed get something for nothing if we just give them all the power.  So New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent budget speech filled me with warm-fuzzies.

It has lots of shrink government, anti-tax rhetoric to make me happy.  And one has to love a politician willing to call out the public empoyees unions.

[M]ake no mistake about it, pensions and benefits are the major driver of our spending increases at all levels of government—state, county, municipal and school board. Also, don’t believe our citizens don’t know it and demand, finally, from their government real action and meaningful reform. The special interests have already begun to scream their favorite word, which, coincidentally, is my nine year old son’s favorite word when we are making him do something he knows is right but does not want to do—“unfair.”

Let’s tell our citizens the truth—today—right now—about what failing to do strong reforms costs them.

One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him?  $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits — a total of $3.8m on a $120,000 investment.   Is that fair?

A retired teacher paid $62,000 towards her pension and nothing, yes nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her entire career. What will we pay her?  $1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime. Is it “fair” for all of us and our children to have to pay for this excess?

But Christie impressed me most with the specific details and lack of double-speak.  He didn’t point to nebluous efficiency savings that will somehow emerge from who knows where, and he didn’t make vague promises about reducing the budget that actually mean not growing the budget by quite as much.  Instead, he set out a specific plan for actual spending cuts.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.  I hope he actually gets it done.

People increasingly need to prove themselves victims in order to achieve any kind of equity.  This demeaning demonstration creates nothing less than a nation of powerless petitioners and petty litigants appealing to an unresponsive paternalism.  It creates the very class which voted for brute fascism, permitted the Holocaust and a World War, because it believed that social stability was something easily achieved by a few simple, mindless actions, by violence, by “strong leaders”, by “discipline”.

— Michael Moorcock, Introduction to Von Bek

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