It sure is nice to live in The Future.

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Before I delve into yet another post about how much I love technology, I’d like to begin by attempting to retell a fable of sorts that was told to me as a child by a math teacher. I am lost on the finer details of the story but I remember the gist.

Once upon there was a young boy and his father. When the father felt his son was old enough to do chores, he approached the boy and said he could have an allowance.

“I want to discuss the terms of your allowance,” the father said, seeing this as a great opportunity to each the boy a lesson in business negotiations. “Your allowance will increase along with your experience. What do you think is a fair starting wage?”

The boy thought about it. “I’d like you to start me at 1¢ per day.”

“One cent!?” The father was very surprised.

“And,” his son went on, “I’d like my pay to double each day.”

The father was disappointed. His son was asking for chump change. 1¢, 2¢, 4¢, 8¢… it was negligible! Confused, but wanting his young son to understand the concept of money, the father agreed to pay the boy 1¢ on the first day of chores, 2¢ on the second day, and continue doubling from there.

On the fifth day, the boy made 16¢.

On the sixth day, he made 32¢.

On the seventh day, he made 64¢.

On the tenth day, he made $5.12.

By the 20th day, the boy was making $5,242.88

Ok, story over, the characters don’t matter anymore because you see the point. The story illustrates the incredible multiplicative power of exponents. By the 30th day (2^29), the boy would be owed over five million dollars ($5,368,709.12).

So how does this relate to “The Future”? Consider Moore’s law, which is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This is a somewhat outdated description that basically means computers get twice as good every two years. You know what else got twice as good for every one unit of time passed? That kid’s allowance.

In a very over simplified form, Moore’s law looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 22.02.43

Exponential numbers. grow. FAST. This equation literally goes of the charts so fast that it is painfully obvious to behold in our everyday lives. Just think… mentally compare the first generation iPhone (2007) to the current iPhone. That 1st Gen had a 2 Megapixel camera, what we in 2015 would call “potato quality”. The iPhone 6S has 12 Megapixels.

That’s just one tiny example. It boggles my mind to compare the music-listening technology of my childhood (single disc portable CD player) with today’s devices. A CD player vs an iPhone is like a tricycle vs. a McLaren. This is why I like to say “it’s good to be in the future,” “this is the future,” and the like. Because, wow, isn’t it amazing how much technology has become obsolete in my short lifetime?

No matter how amazing that all is, it pales in comparison to what awaits us in the next 15 years. On the simplified Moore graph, I figure we’re about here:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 22.02.43
Disclaimer: umm that might be kind of generous idk I’m not a scientist.

You guys, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Human technology is going to go off the charts, and the millennials are going to live to see it.

So, while I’ve been calling the present “The Future” for years, with every year that passes that joke simultaneously becomes more true and more false. More true because our technology is truly more futuristic than ever before. More false because as the slope of our graph increases, it becomes easier and easier to see how in just a few short years, we will have new technology twice as unbelievable as what we’ve achieved in the past few years. And seriously, guys, the iPhone is pretty dang unbelievable.

Can’t wait to live in The Future five years from now when I’m sitting in my self-driving car looking back at this post on my Google Glass.

The future of radio, and why it will never die.

memory cards
Smaller size, greater capacity

With the shocking speed at which technology is advancing these days, many products have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Remember flash drives? Of course you do, you may even still own one. 10 years ago, early flash drives came in what would now be considered appallingly small sizes for absurdly high prices. I remember gritting my teeth upon shelling out the $40 it cost to buy just a few hundred megabytes of storage. Today, I sneeze at a flash drive that has any capacity smaller than 4 GB, and I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t pay anything for it at all, because in the last few years flash drives have been made all but obsolete by the rise of cloud storage. I have 15 GB FREE storage on Google Drive and I don’t need to worry about carrying it around in my pocket and potentially misplacing it. Flash drives were just a flash in the pan.

original ipod
The original iPod

This is just one example of a technology that has been introduced just to quickly be replaced by something new. In the music industry, even the successor of CD’s, the mp3 player, is on its last legs. The first iPod came out in 2001, and I couldn’t get enough. Now, I haven’t owned an iPod in 3 years thanks to how incredibly easy it is to stream music from services like YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify. If there are some mp3s I can’t live without and I need to have the actual files with me, I download them onto my smart phone.

But in the media industry, here is one form that stands the test of time: radio. Think about it, when you’re in the car, you still listen to the radio whether it be AM, FM, or “XM”. And I’m here to make the case that radio will never die.

vintage radio

First, let us define “radio”. If you define radio as content that is broadcast wirelessly via towers and radio waves, then stop reading right now, because you are right. The technology of broadcasting via radio waves is 100 years old and is being replaced by more modern methods, such as broadcast via satellite or the internet. I do not define radio based on its using radio waves, but radio as an industry. Here is my list of criteria for what I categorize under the word “radio”:

  1. The streaming of the content is controlled by someone other than the listener. A listener may tune in to hear what is currently playing, but cannot skip around to different songs/programs.
  2. The content is created or chosen by a person or persons, not a computer.
  3. The content is played on a “station” that takes programs from different sources
  4. A station has programming that all follows some sort of theme (ex “classic rock” “Christian” “talk” “news” “top 40”)
Spotify Radio
NOT “radio”

That’s about it. What fits this description? Well not “internet radio”, such as Spotify Radio or the new iTunes Radio, where the user chooses from a list of characteristics and a computer algorithm then pulls music from some giant distant cloud library. Marketers of these streaming services chose the word “radio” because it is a word that is familiar to the consumer, and because the service fits my criteria #4, all the music played follows a theme. This theme is chosen by the listener when they click on which genres they’d like the computer algorithm to play for them.

What does fit my description of radio is anything you tune to in your car, whether it be coming to you via radio waves or not. Radio is where you discover new things: new songs you may not have heard, news stories that are just breaking, interesting conversations and wonderful stories told by journalists. All of this unique entertainment is available to you without the use of your eyes, a special quality which makes radio quite different from any other form of media you might encounter.

Yes, there are also audiobooks and podcasts that can be enjoyed with ears only. But there are also loads of internet videos to enjoy, so why do we still have TV? TV and radio still exist (and will continue to exist) for the same reason: there is something enjoyable about giving up control about what you are about to hear or see, an excitement about not knowing what will come up next on your television or radio, and the knowledge that it will probably be something brand new that you’ve never heard before. You constantly have the opportunity to experience something new. When a person plays their own pre-loaded audiobooks or music, that chance is greatly reduced.

Radio as an industry will continue to thrive. As both a producer and listener of radio, I know that the human desire to both be entertained (sometimes without having to commit your eyes as well as your ears!) and informed will keep radio alive. That is, maybe, until they perfect those self-driving cars….

Has Pop Music Gotten Worse in the Last 50 Years?

The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

I have had this argument with my boyfriend a few times, and he just can’t come to accept it. It’s not fair, he said, to compare the music industry as we know it today to the music of the past, because we see all the bad music around us today whereas bad music of past decades has faded out of history and we don’t even know about it today.

This is a good point. However, if you take a cross section of the most popular songs of each decade, you can see from the top five hits of each year how the trend is really going. Take this list for example. It begins in 1946. We have jazz standards, some silly pop songs. Then we move to The Beatles, who, let’s be honest, were some of the finest pop music of the century. In the 1970s we see the charts get peppered with frivolous dance and pop music (come on, can “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” really be compared to Nat King Cole or “Hey Jude”?)

It only gets worse from there. The number 1 song of 1982 is Olivia Newton John’s “Physical”. While I am not saying this isn’t a terribly catchy song, the overall quality or intelligence of the piece surely cannot be compared to the jazz standards or classic rock of previous decades.

Of course there are still some great songs on the list, but as the years progress, the ratio of really great songs (“Every Breath You Take”, “Billie Jean”) to rather stupid songs (“Walk Like an Egyptian”, “Flashdance… What A Feeling”) makes a clear shift towards the stupid side. By the 2000s, we seem to have descended into complete idiocy (“In Da Club”, “Since U Been Gone”, “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”).

To make myself clear again: I am not saying these songs have no merit at all. These are songs I myself have sung along with, danced to, or performed in a private concert to my adoring fans in the bathroom mirror with a paddle brush as a microphone. But when you compare the general level of artistry involved in making these songs with songs earlier on the list, we see a clear divide.

But how could music just get worse? What driving force would possibly be behind that? Well, I didn’t know it until this past week when I read it in my music history book.

Over 100 years ago, the only way to enjoy music outside of a concert was to purchase the sheet music for it and play it yourself. Obviously in this society, only people with musical training and thus refined musical taste would be seeking out music and giving their consumerism to the music industry. Thus, the industry demand for music was only for the type of music these people would like: “classical” music, musical theater/opera, etc.

Then, recording technologies were invented. It started as the wax cylinder, and evolved into the vinyl record. Here’s a neat fact, the early incarnations of a record were not very efficient and could only hold 3-4 minutes of music on each side. This is what dictated the length of songs and is why typical pop songs are about 3 minutes in length today. With each new advancement in recording technology, music became more and more easy to purchase, own, and enjoy. Most importantly, you didn’t have to be able to read music to access it anymore. As more people gained access to music, the demand for music changed because it wasn’t only the classically trained musicians listening to it anymore.

In the past 50 years, music technology has improved at an exponential rate. Since the vinyl record, we’ve had radio, 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, mp3s, and finally, free and universal streaming services (YouTube, Pandora, Spotify). In 100 years the amount of effort it requires to listen to a piece of music has gone from studying for years to perfect an instrument in order to play the piece all the way down to simply typing in the name of a tune you want to hear. As non-musically educated people have saturated the market, so has the quality of the music gone down to meet their tastes.

Improved technology also means that it has become easier and easier to record music, and this fact has sped up the production of the “bad” music supply.

I am not saying there is no good music at all these days. I am a huge fan of Mumford and Sons, Avett Brothers, Seven Lions, and the like. However, can you really compare Justin Bieber to The Beatles? Besides the hair cut, they really haven’t got a damn thing in common.

Children for Same-Sex Couples

Recently, it was National Coming Out day, a day for raising awareness for the acceptance of LGBT people by our community. Today, my family and I were talking about what it could feel like to have a gay child.

My mom said it would be weird… you could not go visit that child and his/her spouse and their kids… because any kids they had would not be 100% their own! The most a gay couple can do is use one parents’ DNA and combine in with a donor’s. But really, with medical technology progressing the way it is, will this be true for much longer?

There are constantly being tests being done by scientist to learn more about how we can control life, whether with cloning, stem cells, or growing new organs for patients who need a transplant. It could definitely possible to have a same-sex couple have their own genetic children. It would be difficult and expensive, and it would require egg extraction, but it could be done. Perhaps not now, but I would bet within 20 years.

The ovum, or “egg”, from a female human is about 20 times the size of a human sperm. This is because the sperm is essentially just a swimming nucleus of DNA. The ovum, however, has cytoplasm, mitochondria, and all that other cell stuff. These other components of the cell are what are able to replicate to create every functioning cell in the human body.

Of course, the main difference between an ovum and any other human cell is that an ovum only has half of a full set of chromosomes; it needs to be met with a sperm which has the other half in order to form a full set of human DNA and begin to replicate. The nuclei of the ovum and of the sperm, I believe, are essentially the same. It is the rest of the cell that makes the difference.

So, what do you need to make a new baby? You need an ovum and half a nucleus from each parent.

Theoretically, for a gay male couple to have a biological child, you could take an egg from a donor, extract the nucleus from the ovum, and insert the nuclei from the two fathers. As long as at least one of the two nuclei contained an X chromosome, the egg could then be implanted into a surrogate mother, and grow into a baby!

For two women, you would take an egg from each, and transplant the nucleus from into the other. Then the two nuclei would combine inside the one ovum. Of course, by this method, a lesbian couple could only give birth to a daughter, since the mothers’ nuclei would only be X chromosomes sets.

How far fetched is this? I think some procedure like this may have successfully been done already. If I made a habit of reading up on scientific journals, perhaps I would know. I know that this procedure IS expensive and difficult and does not have a high success rate. However, as technology improves, it will definitely get easier!

Why we will never meet other intelligent life in the universe

There are countless sci-fi stories with premises that involve us humans meeting other intelligent alien races. Whether it involves the aliens coming to us (War of the Worlds, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or us going to the aliens (Star Trek, “Alien” franchise), there is always some incredible space travel completed by advanced space crafts that can move mind-bogglingly fast. Well, here is the part where these stories fall through: everything, and I’m talking EVERYTHING in the universe is just so far away that we could never reach it.

Think of this: on the edge of our solar system is Pluto, which is about six billion kilometers away. If we could send a craft at a speed of 61,000 km/hr (this is the approximate speed of the Voyager), It would still take over 11 years to reach Pluto. Now this is an unimaginably small distance in comparison to our entire universe. There is no other intelligent life in our solar system (there could be life, perhaps buried deep in Mars or Europa, but definitely no intelligent life). So, let’s go a step further.

The nearest star to us besides the sun is the aptly named Proxima Centauri. This star is 4.33 light years away from us. At top Voyager speed, it would take seventy-six thousand years to reach this star. Obviously this is an unreasonable amount of time, and we will not be attempting to reach such a distance any time soon. Even if we could travel at the speed of light, it would still take over four years!

So, Proxima Centauri is 76,000 years away from us. But remember, this is the CLOSEST THING to us outside of the solar system. This isn’t even our next door neighbor, this is like the person squished against us in a mosh pit. And it would still take us 76,000 years to reach. And of course, there isn’t any intelligent life anywhere near Proxima Centauri. We would have seen it.

If not near Proxima Centauri, where might life exist? The 89th closest star to our sun is Gliese. Gliese is about 22 light years away. It has a handful of planets orbiting it, one or two of which might be “habitable”. Let’s say one of Gliese’s planets is 20 light years away. How long would it take us to reach this planet (or for aliens from that planet to reach us) at Voyager speed? 353,000 years. That’s twice as long as human beings have even EXISTED. Additionally, Gliese is just the 89th star from the sun. There are something like 10^23 stars in the observable universe, so 353,000 years would be the closest option to reach a habitable Earth-like planet.

Ok. Obviously traveling at Voyager speed, the fastest speed attained by a human craft, is not going to cut it. What if we could travel the speed of light? Well, we would certainly get places much more quickly. We would get to Gliese in 22 years, a reasonable time frame (if your craft could handle light speeds that long). However, it is known that is impossible to travel at light speed. Light and other particles travel at light speed because they have no mass. Therefore, a thing with mass, such as a spacecraft, could never ever attain this speed. Hopefully we could get close, but the nearer you get to light speed the more the laws of physics go out the window, so I’m thinking that would be difficult as well.

What other options would we or aliens have for long distance travel? How about wormholes? Well, I don’t have exact numbers on this since wormholes are theoretical and only super space scientists know anything about them, but I have watched several science shows that say it would take the energy of about a million bajillion suns to make a wormhole with the diameter of like, a millimeter. I’m exaggerating a little, but NOT MUCH.

If an alien race could somehow harness the incredible amount of energy it takes to open a wormhole do you think they’d point it at silly little Earth? Not a chance! They’d go to the nearest big galaxy to harvest all the energy they just spent making the dang hole.

There is one more option for traveling across the universe: teleporting. There are basically two ways teleporting could happen.

  1. You could take all the atoms of the object you want to teleport and move them from point A to point B. This would require, essentially, a wormhole. Since I already explained how wormholes are entirely impractical, I think we could could rule this option out.
  2. You could disassemble the object to be teleported at point A, and recreated it from new atoms at point B. For example, us humans are made up of simple things like carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. If I wanted to teleport, you could disassemble my atoms here and at the destination, have a copy of me formed from carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen at the new place.

While option 2 sounds a lot more reasonable, it brings up a couple of issues. The first is that in order to teleport, you have to be blasted apart into individual atoms. You have to die! And then a clone of you is created in a new place. Would this new clone have your memories? I don’t know much about how brains work. If memories are physical things encoded in our brain that can be recreated with physical atoms and molecules, then the memories would survive. If memories are not physical, however, they would not survive the trip. Your teleport clone would basically be a newborn baby in terms of mental function. Not even a newborn baby, like a foetus just formed.

Also, how would this teleport clone compare to you in terms of ageing? Your original body would have cells that have aged for as long as you have been alive. Your clone would have brand new everything. Not sure what this would mean in terms of function or health, but it can’t be good. These side effects of teleport option 2 mean that no one would ever do it. I suppose we could teleport inanimate objects, but never living things. Also, this means you would have to have a teleport pod at both the departure and the arrival point. So, even if an intelligent race could manage this type of teleporting, they would have to get a teleport pod to the destination point the old fashioned way, traveling as fast as possible, which I already stated at the beginning of this post is not going to get us anywhere any time within the next 100,000 years.

After thinking about all these facts, it is easy to accept the conclusion that while we may not be alone in the universe, we might as well be. The universe is just too incredibly big to allow for travel to other places. So, as far as I can tell, the alien races of science fiction will always be just that: science fiction.

Laptop update

I called the computer shop and learned a couple of facts that were not surprising, but sad nonetheless.

One is that my Apple warranty wouldn’t cover screen cracks anyway. Warranties are not for breaks you make yourself. Also, if I wanted to fix it anyway, I would have to do so by replacing the ENTIRE TOP HALF of the computer. I guess that’s a side effect of them being so thin.

So now I am faced with a decision, should I live with this badly cracked screen, or spend money to better my situation? Honesty, for the price it would cost to restore my MacBook Air, I would rather just get a whole used MacBook Pro. One of which my roommate has and would be willing to sell to me…

But in reality I don’t have a few hundred dollars to spend on anything, so there’s that.