Changing the Speed of Light

Kurzweil is an interesting thinker. His stuff gives me the willies. Don’t ask me why. He seems perhaps a little too far out there.
NPR : Thinkers Lay Out the Beliefs They Can’t Prove

At this point, we run up against a seemingly intractable limit: the speed of light. Although a billion feet per second may seem fast, the universe extends over such vast distances that this appears to represent a fundamental limit on how quickly an advanced civilization (such as we hope to become) can spread its influence.

There are suggestions, however, that this limit is not as immutable as it may appear. Physicists Steve Lamoreaux and Justin Torgerson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have analyzed data from an old natural nuclear reactor that 2 billion years ago produced a fission reaction lasting several hundred thousand years in what is now West Africa. Analyzing radioactive isotopes left over from the reactor and comparing them with isotopes from similar nuclear reactions today, they determined that the physics constant a (alpha, also called the fine structure constant), which determines the strength of the electromagnetic force, apparently has changed since 2 billion years ago. The speed of light is inversely proportional to a, and both have been considered unchangeable constants. Alpha appears to have decreased by 4.5 parts out of 108. If confirmed, this would imply that the speed of light has increased. There are other studies with similar suggestions, and there is a tabletop experiment now under way at Cambridge University to test our ability to engineer a small change in the speed of light.

Percentages

This is an interesting opinion piece. I kind of think of the Bank of America commercial where the CTO or CIO says their goal is not to get right almost every time but to get it right once and replicate it every time.

Wired News: Why Data Mining Won’t Stop Terror

Let’s look at some numbers. We’ll be optimistic — we’ll assume the system has a one in 100 false-positive rate (99 percent accurate), and a one in 1,000 false-negative rate (99.9 percent accurate). Assume 1 trillion possible indicators to sift through: that’s about 10 events — e-mails, phone calls, purchases, web destinations, whatever — per person in the United States per day. Also assume that 10 of them are actually terrorists plotting.

This unrealistically accurate system will generate 1 billion false alarms for every real terrorist plot it uncovers. Every day of every year, the police will have to investigate 27 million potential plots in order to find the one real terrorist plot per month. Raise that false-positive accuracy to an absurd 99.9999 percent and you’re still chasing 2,750 false alarms per day — but that will inevitably raise your false negatives, and you’re going to miss some of those 10 real plots.

This is exactly the sort of thing we saw with the NSA’s eavesdropping program: the New York Times reported that the computers spat out thousands of tips per month. Every one of them turned out to be a false alarm.

Finding terrorism plots is not a problem that lends itself to data mining. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack problem, and throwing more hay on the pile doesn’t make that problem any easier. We’d be far better off putting people in charge of investigating potential plots and letting them direct the computers, instead of putting the computers in charge and letting them decide who should be investigated.

Go MD!

About time… Now FL, its your turn!

Maryland House votes to oust Diebold machines – Computerworld

The state of Maryland stands poised to put its entire $90 million investment in Diebold Election Systems Inc. touch-screen e-voting systems on ice because they can’t produce paper receipts.

The state House of Delegates this week voted 137-0 to approve a bill prohibiting election officials from using AccuVote-TSx touch-screen systems in 2006 primary and general elections.

The legislation calls for the state to lease paper-based optical-scan systems for this year’s votes. State Delegate Anne Healey estimated the leasing cost at $12.5 million to $16 million for the two elections.