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Mar 20 / Aaron

Skiing in 2015

I recently went skiing for a week in Austria with a group of friends (blogged nicely by Morgan & Diane). One cool feature of the resort we were at is that the lift pass is just an RFID card you keep anywhere in a pocket on the left side of your body. When you walk through the lift gate, it opens if you have a valid pass. The scans are linked to their servers and you can enter the ID number on your card to pull down data on every lift you took. The end result is an on-demand chart of your elevation over time through each day.

Ski line chart

Data from all my ski lifts for one day

Another cool technology we’ve been playing with is google latitude, which lets you share your phone’s location data with friends. (GPS + cell tower triangulation). It’s a great way to see where your friends are on the hill.

Google Latitude

This really got me thinking about what advances in augmented reality technology will bring to the skiing experience.

In 2020 your ski goggles will have a high resolution heads-up display (HUD). The goggles will have a wireless connection to your smart-phone (iPhone 9G?) running your iSki-AgR 2.1 app. The phone’s GPS, compass, accelerometer, and data-link will provide realtime telemetry to your goggle-HUD to display stats such as your altitude, speed and current weather conditions.

The goggles have a small camera in the rim filming everything you look at, and the phone will be processing the images doing basic image recognition correlated with your location. It will know what you are looking at and can overlay the name of the ski run you’re on and help you find the chair lift you’re looking for. It can suggest a run down to the lift with the shortest queue. Locations on the hill can be tagged by other skiiers and will show up on the HUD to warn you of rocks and other dangers.

Since the app has access to your open social network graph, it automatically discovers all of your friends that are skiing with you and also have iSki-AGR running. It will overlay arrows over the terrain to give directions to meet up with your friends at the lodge. It renders little icons over the heads of your companions so you can spot them easily on a busy slope.

Recon Instruments Goggles

When you ski a run the app tracks and remembers your trail and speed. When you ski the same run again you see a red trail of your previous line superimposed over the terrain. The app will keep track of your lines and best run times, and you can even race your own ghost. Later, one of your friends will beat your best time and your group will all get a little audio announcement of the event. When you ski the run again, you’ll be able to see all of your friends best ski lines (each in their own distinctive color), and try and beat their times.

The better ski resorts will have cameras set up on the hill in key locations filming high quality footage. Later, you’ll be able to call up footage of your best jumps (with stats on air time!) fastest runs, and most spectacular wipe outs. You’ll even be able to give a voice command to instantly blog footage of that sweet 360°-iron-cross you just did.

All of the basic technology for this exists today. It’s just a matter of integration and design for many of the components. By 2015 I expect a few more iterations of moore’s law will provide enough power to do the realtime image processing in your smart-phone. Assuming there’s still snow on the slopes, I think skiing in 2015 will be a remarkably different experience than it is today.

And guess what. I googled a bit just as I finished writing all of this and we’re already almost there.

Nov 14 / Aaron


Christine has penned the antidote to my lack of a proper Singularity Summit Trip report with her latest blog post.

Oct 8 / Aaron


Trip report lag. As you may have guessed, I couldn’t be arsed. The conference was fantastic, but boy was it mentally draining! We arrived back in Dublin this morning. Once I recover from the jet lag, I’ll try and catch up on the conference highlights.

Oct 2 / Aaron

New York, Day 2

Well it’s evening and the Jet lag is kicking in big time. I’ll be lucky to finish writing this post without dosing off. We sproinged awake this morning at 7am and hit the hotel gym and then had a leisurely morning with some porridge and fruit for breakfast. We walked the 20 minutes to the Guggenheim and spent a while there taking in the exhibit and the buildings structure. Next we hopped in a taxi to see Times Square. Talk about sensory overload. We were very hungry by that point so we stopped for lunch in the Planet Hollywood. While we were eating a press conference materialized right next to us. Lou Diamond Phillips and two of his co-stars were premiering their new Star Gate TV show. So I quietly ate my spinach salad while Lou made some hand prints and a gaggle of papparazi snapped photos a few feet from my table. We explored times square for a bit and then moved on to Rockefeller Plaza (we love 30 Rock). Then we wandered 5th ave and looked at all the fancy shops where you can buy handbags that cost more than used cars, and I made the obligatory geek pilgramage to the Apple Store. We popped into a non-ridiculous shoe store and I go some new shoes since my ratty old scetchers were really hurting my feet from all the day’s walking. Finally we wandered off to an English Pub and had a few pints with Aubrey De Grey, and chatted about his latest efforts to fundraise for SENS, which is a charity that directly funds scientific research into therapies that will clean up after metabolic processes that lead to aging and age related diseases.

Fun day, nuff said.

Oct 1 / Aaron

Singularity Summit Time!

Christine & I arrived in New York this afternoon. We’re staying in the upper east-side of manhattan. Besides being NYC tourists, we’re here primarily to attend the Singularity Summit this weekend. I’m ridiculously excited to be attending. There is a roster of fascinating speakers (Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey De Grey, Anders Sandberg, Stephen Wolfram, David Chalmers, Eliezer Yudkowsky, & Ben Goertzel, and so on…).

I have not been to a conference of this type since 1999, when I attended the Extropy-4 Conference in Berekely. I had such an amazing experience at Extro-4. It will be very interesting to see what has changed in a decade. Certainly a lot of the big topics that were being discussed 10 years ago (like radical longevity, technological singularities, uploading (whole brain emualtion), seed AI, nanotechnology, and gene therapy) were very fringe and shocking ideas at the time. In the last 10 years, a lot of these ideas have moved much more into mainstream awareness.

For me it’s all about the big crazy ideas. Why the rest of the world spends so much time worrying about what to wear and which celebrities are dating each other is beyond me. This stuff is just way more interesting. Even if it all turns out to be nonsense (and surely some of it is, but I’m convinced most of it is solid), it is infinitely more interesting and rewarding to contemplate. I look forward to a solid weekend of mind-bending talks followed by schmoozing and discussing the rapture of the nerds over beers.

If I can be arsed, I will attempt to post notes on the best talks in the coming days.

Jul 25 / Aaron

Fifty freaking thousand!

Last Sunday, Full Tilt Poker pulled off quite an impressive feat in the online poker world, running a tournament with 50,000 players. The previous world record had been set last year by Poker Stars with a field of 35,000 players.

A tournament this large is no trivial task. One must coordinate that many players with real-time information about the status of all the other players in the tournament. So as the number of players in the tournament grows, the effort and bandwidth needed grows as the square of the number of players. This is particularly nasty for bandwidth. The techniques you might use to keep players in a 500 player tournament updated don’t work so well when you add a few more zeroes.

We were aiming to shatter the world record with this attempt. Unfortunately, it was announced 4 or 5 days in advance, and Poker Stars used this time to scramble and put together an even larger tournament of 65,000 players. They scheduled it to start just an hour before our would-be record breaker. D’oh! No Guinness for me, unless you count the Dublin variety. Still, not a bad result considering that last year we couldn’t even run a decent 5000 player tournament. And as a colleague of mine commented, “there has never been so many people in the world player poker as much as there are right now”.

Jul 4 / Aaron

CRON-o-Meter 0.9.6

Another update is ready for CRON-o-Meter today. This should fix the weird error dialog people were reporting when trying to go to the user settings dialog. It took me a long time to get around to diagnosing this one, as I’ve been very busy at work and in my social life, leaving little time for extracurricular debugging. To further complicate things, I wasn’t able to witness the error first-hand.

It turned out to be happening only when running with the very latest versions of the java runtime. Apple is way behind in keeping it’s java support current, so I wasn’t seeing this problem on my mac. And on my windows machine, I had an older JDK installed, and when debugging out of eclipse, it launches in the JDK instead of the current JRE — and again, I couldn’t reproduce the issue. It wasn’t until I finally stumbled upon the right combination that I was able to see the problem and get to the bottom of it in my debugger.

Jan 11 / Aaron

The Energy Standard

In my last post I mentioned the idea of a energy backed currency. This in an interesting meme that I think deserves more attention, especially given the current global financial climate.

I saw a news article today on Zimbabwe’s introduction of a $50-billion note, which is currently enough to buy about two loaves of bread. This hyper-inflation is the inevitable end result of any fiat currency. With the US pumping trillions of new dollars into existence, we can be sure that the long term result will be high inflation.

For a time, the dollar was backed by the gold standard. The dollar had an intrinsic value because it was guaranteed to be exchangeable at any time for a fixed amount of gold. This was abolished in 1971 as they had far too little gold to back the money in circulation. With nothing to constrain growth to match physical reality, things have since spiraled out of control.

Eventually, we will need to return to a more sane system of currency, I don’t think the gold standard is the best choice. Gold is valuable because it is scarce, shiny, and durable. But it is a fairly arbitrary choice with which to back a currency.

Energy strikes me as something far more fundamental. Energy literally powers our economy and life itself. The immense amounts of energy that have been released from fossil fuels have driven our population, productivity, technology, and luxuries. Energy grows our food, transports goods, powers our cars, our computations, communications. Everything we do, need, and love can be reduced to energy. It has an essential value. Equating money directly to energy seems natural.

Money, after all, is but a symbolic token to exchange work of one type for another. When you buy an apple, you are not paying for the apple itself. You are paying for all the energy that went into growing, picking, and transporting that apple to you, so that you didn’t have to do it yourself.

Money would be directly exchangeable with the reserve for a specific amount of energy in some standard form — for example kilowatt-hours or mega-joules. Thus the amount of money in circulation would directly equate to the energy production available. The growth of the economy would be constrained by the growth of energy production. Since energy is so fundamental to the economy, this ensures the economy stays aligned with reality. If a wind farm or coal plant is constructed, this energy can now be exchanged with the reserve, enabling the circulation of more currency.

The government would set official conversion rates for different forms of energy — the energy from a coal-fired plant would convert at a rate first calibrated to the physical output, then adjusted for the depletion rate of the non-renewable resource, as well as any added pollution taxes on the conversion.

An energy backed currency could have unintended side-effects difficult to anticipate. This might help stabilize prices of things like oil, as the price would better reflect the EROEI. It could positively influence the generation of renewable energy, or it could trigger a gold-rush mentality to produce as much dirty energy as possible. It could force us all to live within our means.

Jan 3 / Aaron

The coming clash of exponential growth curves

There is a great battle afoot, both fueled by the same exponential expansion and growth of human population and development. The expansion and consumption is unsustainable. We’ve already mined the best ores, drained the easiest oil reserves, burned the best coal, farmed the richest soils, and fished the most fecund stocks to the brink of extinction. To continue extracting resources requires continually greater energy expenditure.

It is estimated that the human population currently grows by more than 70 million people each year. That’s like adding more than the population of the United Kingdom to the planet each year. All those extra mouths to feed, all those extra cars and homes and consumer goods to produce. Burn, baby, burn.

At the same time technology marches forth at a blistering pace, largely because of population growth. With 70 million plus people each year there are correspondingly more universities and research labs and engineers and scientists. There is more demand for high technology, greater societal complexity, and better scales of economy.

Technology is a positive feedback loop and the writing is on the wall — if these trends continue we are heading for a technological singularity. The rapture of the nerds.

The question is, will this great experiment collapse before some form of techno-magic can save the day?

This world is a very complex system. Too complex for our puny little monkey-brains to understand. We just don’t know how it is going to play out, but we can project many plausible scenarios. As a lurking member of the lifeboat foundation, I’ve been exposed to a lot of ideas — both scenarios for doom and potential solutions.

Scenario 1: The fast-crash / die-off

This is the classic doomer scenario. Our civilization is far more specialized and fragile than we think. Most of us in the modern world have no useful skills outside the context of modern civilization. We are far overextended in population and sustaining that population requires massive amounts of energy. We are nearing peak-everything, but notably peak-oil, and when demand outstrips supply, food production and distribution will plummet. Economies driven by constant growth and energy will collapse. When the power goes out and the grocery store shelves are empty, the urban centers will plunge into chaos. Billions will die of starvation and fighting over table scraps. There are many that suspect that oil production has already peaked and that production will decline from here on out. A fast-crash will be most likely if development of alternative energy infrastructure comes late to do any good, or a combination of financial collapse, numerous wars, a pandemic, and peak oil clobber us all at once.

Scenario 2: The long emergency

In a nutshell, we avoid much of the chaos of a fast and sudden collapse, but instead enter a massive global depression that never ends (at least in our lifetimes). Globalization will end as nations will adopt protectionist stances, and wars over dwindling resource stocks will become commonplace. Population growth stalls and starts to contract. Civilization winds down and scales far back from where it is today. We live much simpler, local lives. We still have a lot of slack in the system to avoid collapse. I think that the average first world citizen can slash their resource consumption in half without any threat to their survival. Just eating less meat would have a major effect on energy consumption (meat production uses far more energy than crop production). A great deal of energy is used in luxury, and we can do just fine without.

Scenario 3: The Turn-around

After a lengthy decade-long depression, we manage to turn things around with creative solutions in social, political, and technology systems. We manage to become far more efficient and less resource intensive as a species, but maintain a high living standard and high social complexity. We will shift from a fiat money system to currencies backed by energy production. Money will directly equate to Kilo-joules, instead of promises.

Scenario 4: The Status Quo

Bah, peak-oil is a myth. Resources will last us hundreds or thousands of years. We can easily support a 12 billion population, everything is going to be fine! Don’t be so paranoid.

What to do?

How one acts today depends greatly on what you believe is the most likely scenario. If you’re into the status quo, then meh, whatever man.

If you are certain we are in for the fast-crash, then you need to either (a) live it up wild now, while you still can. Go for broke — jet set around the world, take on a huge debt and party, because soon the party will be over! or (b) Move to the country and start off-grid subsistence farming or join a survivalist commune. Stock up on guns and ammo and toilet paper, and hunker down.

If you think the long emergency is inevitable, then you need to scale down your lifestyle, get out of debt, and make sure you’ll have secure employment and useful skills, and buy a bicycle.

Unlike most doomers, I still have some hope in the markets and technology to deliver some clever solutions to our energy problems. The markets and technology can move very quickly when given the right motivation.  The best way to generate that motivation now is to raise awareness of these problems and to adjust our lifestyles, which will shift market pressures.

A lot of the discussion in the lifeboat foundation is about what we can do to turn a fast-crash into a long emergency, or a long emergency into a turn-around. So what proactive steps can realistically be taken to turn things around? Well, if you are an average citizen, there isn’t much you can do besides lifestyle changes, education, and political pressure. But there is power in numbers, so spread the word and act. If you are wealthy, you can invest in solutions to the world’s problems — always a good investment. If you are a clever engineer, you can invest your brainpower directly into working on solutions.

Should I harvest clock-cycles or grain? Should I help to engineer a turn-around, or abandon hope and flee into the country to build my doomstead? For now, I think I shall stay the optimist, because frankly, life is more pleasant when optimistic.

Further Reading

Chris Martenson: The Crash Course

James Howard Kunstler: Forecast for 2009

Three Types of Doomers and Fantasy Collapse

Sep 6 / Aaron

A brief pause in the chirping of crickets

This was an entertaining week.

On Wednesday we went and saw Keith Barry (mentalist/hypnotist/magician) at the Bulmers Comedy Festival. A few months ago, I watched this TED talk and quite enjoyed it. Noticing the Dublin accent, I had a quick look online and found the tickets for the upcoming show.

Last night we went to an opener for the Dublin Fringe Festival. We saw an amazing show by La Clique that was a fantastic burlesque cabaret circus act. Super fun. Catch their act if you can.

At work, It’s been attack of the Canadians, as two more canucks, (Morgan and Bryce) have made the leap across the pond to join my team.

On the home front, my XBox got the infamous red ring of death and is out for repairs. Booo. I’m reading a book of short stories by Cory Doctorow. I particularly enjoyed When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. I am eagerly awaiting an Amazon delivery of two new novels by two of my favorite authors; Neil Stephenson’s Anathem and Greg Egan’s latest novel Incandescence.

Darse pointed me to Chris Martensen’s Crash Course. It’s an amazingly lucid short web-based course on the flustercluck that is the global economic system. I highly recommend getting educated. It predicts a very bumpy ride in the near future. Interestingly, it draws a lot from exponential-growth curves that are hitting us in may areas. The same reasoning is applied by Ray Kurzweil’s predictions for technological singularity. It will be interesting to see how these exponential positive and negative forces will play out. Will exponential technological gains be able to overcome exponential inflation and resource consumption? We live in interesting times.

Oh, and CRON-o-Meter 0.9.4 is out. It is just another maintenance release with some bug fixes.