Mirrors Don’t Swap Left and Right, You Do

What a mirror does is reflect light with respect to the surface normal at the point the photon hit it. The surface normal is basically the direction sticking straight out of the mirror (technically, it’s the normal of the cross product of the two vectors that describe the plane of the mirror). Since we have depth perception we will see the reflected light as coming from beyond the mirror, even though it is coming from behind us. The mirror really does just invert the viewing frustum. Nothing is different. Nothing is on a different side.

So if it doesn’t actually reverse left and right, why does our brain think it does? We look at ourselves in the mirror and our brain assumes it’s another person looking at us. That’s when one’s mind’s sense of depth perception plays tricks on one’s sense of direction. Since our brain is saying that person is looking at us, we think that left and right directions are different when they’re not. In other words, we just confuse ourselves because we’re not used to mirrors! Our visual system never evolved to take a mirror into account. So we have to learn it. That’s why when we’re driving and someone puts on a turn signal and we see it in the mirror, we know that they are still turning in the same direction as the side of the car their turn signal was blinking. It’s the same psychology that makes driving a car backwards awkward at first.

Then why do images and letterings appear backwards? I’m glad you asked. When one looks at the writing in a mirror one expects its orientation to change just like one thinks a person (who is mostly symmetric, while text is not) is facing the other direction. Automatically, one reads it backwards. Normally, the text’s right is on one’s left. If one is holding the text so they are facing the same way, it will appear backwards to them.

It’s the same reason everything on a storefront window display looks backwards once one is inside the store. If you were out side the store and looking in and there was a mirror inside reflecting the writing in the window, it would be perfectly readable to you in the mirror as well as in the window. If you were between the window and the mirror, you could read the writing in the mirror, but the writing in the window would be backwards to you. Since mirror takes what behind you and puts it in front of you, you can read what is behind you through the mirror as though it was in front of you, just as though you were outside looking in. Another off the wall thought is that “Ambulance” is written out backwards — not just so that one can read it in you rear view mirror — but so that if the ambulance were transparent you could read the “backwards” writing in its front from behind the vehicle with the text oriented the right way.

Basically, a mirror universe operates exactly the same way ours does, but exactly opposite of how our brain wants to think it works.

Aren’t mirror’s wonderful!?

This is a response to Why do mirrors reverse right and left but not up and down? I wanted to clarify and expound on the argument there.  In general, I think that people need some clarification about mirror misconceptions.

Give Your Coffee or Chocolate a Boost with Grapefruit

Why on earth am I posting on this? My blog is titled Randomness, what do you expect? Really, it’s because @brampitoyo, @rachelrigg, & @donpdonp were talking about it on twitter and I caught wind of it. I had done some research into this in the past so I knew a little bit about what grapefruit does to your metabolism. I decided I should write it out somewhere. What follows may get a little bit technical, but don’t get scared away. Anyone should be able to get the gist of this even without fully understanding the chemistry. Please heed the warning at the bottom.

Grapefruit has a few compounds in it that alter the way you digest other foods. Namely, these are bergamottin and naringenin. These compounds temporarily stop certain enzymes in your digestive pathway and in your liver (in larger doses) from breaking down certain type of compounds. These compounds include estrogens, caffeine, certain anti-depressants, and many more found here, here, and at this list of drugs affected by grapefruit Note the first two list are technical, the column heading substrate is what you need to look at. Simply because and enzyme substrate is the molecule it breaks down or builds up.

So what happens when I eat a grapefruit?

When you eat a grapefruit everything in it goes into your stomach and then to you duodenum (the small intestine) and affects the rest of what is going on there. If not much is going on there it will get into your blood stream and circulate to your liver, where it can modify what’s going on there. If you have consumed some items from the above mentioned list, eating a grapefruit will keep it being broken down into its metabolites (literally, “things thrown away”, from Greek). Meaning it will stay active longer in your body.

So then if I Drink Caffeine or Eat Chocolate…

Yes, it should have a more lasting effect. Here’s why and where it can get technical.
Look at these pictures:
A picture of Xanthine, notice the benzene ring and a pyrrole ringA caffeine molecule, notice the benzene ring and pyrrole ringTheobromine, notice the benzene ring and pyrrole ring
Xanthine,Caffeine, & Theobromine
Here’s how Caffeine breaks down:

Caffeine breaks is metabolized by enzymes into paraxanthanine, theobromine, and theophylline.
Caffeine Metabolites

All of these are in the same family of compounds. Since they’re in the same family of compounds, they should all be affected by the same enzymes. So we lookup those enzymes, CYP3A4 & CYP1A2 and it looks like they do work on a lot of things with the same structure and same R-groups.


So there you have it. Just mix fresh squeezed grapefruit (or anything that has the bitter skin part) into a mocha and enjoy flying around the room and the added ability to create memories and remember things. Just beware of a minor caveat — theobromine poisoning. If you have too have too much of a good thing it’ll kill you. Another thing to keep in mind is that grapefruit juice has the potential to get you more drunk and keep you there longer if you drink enough of it. So don’t go drinking coffee, grapefruit juice and alcohol — it may or may not be pleasant depending on how you roll.

A Low Tech Solution To Global Warming

I was just wondering what the world would be like if we all just stepped back from this breakneck pace of life and just let things come at the natural rate that we evolved to take it at. What would it be like if everyone walked places, rode their bike, took waterways, or swam to their destination? I think we would be more relaxed. I suggest that we travel and enjoy our journey (not using fossil fuels, of course).

Sure, sales would fall. Economies would have to become more locale oriented. Instead of buying food that was grown in a different country, shipped overseas, and transported overland via highways, grow your own or buy it from your neighbor. Use electricity when it makes sense. Don’t start a fire for light if a light bulb is much more efficient. Use solar energy, including solar ovens, as much as possible. If we listen to music, listen to it live. Inspire local musicians to perform as often as they could. Perhaps musicians could earn a enough income to make it an actual livelihood.

In a lighter vein,

Two scientists have fought in court,
This experiment, they contend,
and to all of us they exhort,
will bring upon all the world’s end.

But in spite of this odd cohort,
we will just have to wait and see
if reality will support
what happens at the LHC!

Check out these links for more info (and make sure to read the last quote from NY Times):

If this happens, then we won’t have to worry about anything any more. Global warming will be a non-issue. As will global hunger or anything else. This would be the very high-tech solution to global warming. However, It is extremely unlikely that anything besides lots of useful — non-destructive — new data and knowledge will be created by this newfangled contraption.

TED | Talks | Clifford Stoll: 18 minutes with an agile mind (video)

I was browsing through the TED website and I found these videos that I would like to share. These are talks by some interesting people. Clifford Stoll has written several books. One of which is his personal account of tracking down a hacker who was hired by the KGB to gather any information the US was gathering on the Soviets. He also worked with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer (think Wendy Carlos and the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack along with many other musicians and musics). His second book explores the effects of computers and technology on society. I actually have mused upon this same topic and wrote down some thoughts that are based on neuroscience research and just all the nuances of physics in human interaction. I’ll have have to write up a blog about it someday.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

Nature Inspired Technology

My post on the nanotube radio reminded me of a thought I had a few days before I saw that radio. That thought was: RFID, especially the passive variety, is a cool step forward to creating highly energy efficient technology. In that case the RFID tags are small, compact, and are powered by their antenna. They pick up the signal from the reader and that signal creates a current across the antenna and the circuits ground. This can be used to both power an IC and as the communications channel. This was awesome news to me when I first heard it because that means that the only power footprint for the system is the main transceiver that reads the RFID tags. This can also be applied to other electronic devices that don’t need to communicate via radio waves. Anything that doesn’t need much power can be powered by the radio waves in the air. All that is needed is an appropriate antenna, a rectifier, and a smoothing capacitor. This would create a fairly small amount of current that might be able to power some very energy efficient electronics.

If we look at biology, we can see that biological systems are very sensitive and receptive to electromagnetic fields that can take some real work, on our part, to detect. The brain actually harnesses its own EEG to coordinate the firing of fairly distant brain regions, as researchers at MIT have shown. It would be awesome if we could build technology that operated using EMF levels similar to those found in biological systems, mostly because they would use very little energy. The possible side-effect is that we could discover that low energy devices open new possibilities for design, like opening up the possibility of creating designs that synchronize different parts like the brain does.

There will be definite design challenges that will be inherent in very low energy devices because of the sensitivity. The major benefit of electronics as we now know it is the robustness and well defined behavior they exhibit. This could all vanish in low energy devices. The electronics might get down to the point where we might be working with single electrons that exhibit quantum behavior. Of course, nature got around this by using an incredible synthesis of electro-mechano-chemistry. Perhaps we might do the same thing. Except we would need to figure out how to make it work faster than chemistry normally works. I suppose we could go the massively parallel route to achieve the likeness of lots of speed with relatively slow parts.

Besides all of this, wouldn’t it be great if instead of charging your electronic devices, you had to feed them?

“Excuse me while I go feed my computer.”

“Okay, I’m back”

In other news (okay, this is from my birthday two years ago), researchers at MIT have developed a way to power devices with non-radiating waves. Go here to find out more. It is really cool because this would not create any interference with any device unless it happens to have a specific resonance that tunes in the wireless energy source. Pretty cool.

Breakfast and Nanotubes

Ah! There’s nothing quite like cooking stir fry for breakfast at 3:20 am. Then eating it. Then biking to get to work by 5:00 am. This happens to be a semi-delectable sweet and sour variety concocted in semi-awake-ness. As I scarf it down remember this article that my friend emailed to me. It is from MIT Technology Review

Nanotube Radio
It is an all-in-one nanotube radio. And the original paper on it can be found here. How it works is really incredible. The nanotube acts like a tuning fork and a piano string at the same time. It is like a tuning fork because it has an intrinsic frequency the it vibrates at. It is like a piano string because the amount of voltage applied to it acts to tune it like tightening a piano or guitar string. Increase the voltage and you increase the frequency that it vibrates at. Now the strange yet cool thing about this is that the tube does not act like an antenna. It is the electrons that collect at the free end of the tube that act as the antenna. They will start to induce motion in the tube in response to any electromagnetic fields. The tube naturally filters out any other frequencies since it naturally damps any motion induced by the electrons at any frequency besides what it is tuned to. There is a cathode a little over a micron away from the end of the 500 nm tube which picks up the electrons ejected during the tube’s movement. This is actually the demodulated signal — meaning that it is an audio signal and not a radio signal.

Aside from the technology involved in making this radio, it is the simplest radio ever. Right now it is really sensitive to temperatures, and the reception could be improved by operating it at lower temperatures or operating several tubes together. I also think that there are other distortions to the signal besides just the temperature interference. I think that other radio signals that operate at frequencies that are partials of the main resonant frequency of the tube and tuning would still induce enough motion to distort the signal. So it has it’s imperfections, but it will get better — just like my cooking gets better when I’m fully awake.

Out of Chaos: Order

Many creation myths contain an element that chaos reigned before order emerged. There’s the Enuma Elish, Genesis, and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. They all imply that there was some sort of chaos until a god (ruler) commands or acts to create order by establishing laws. In Genesis the words used are tohu (toe-who) and bohu (bough-who), which mean unformed and unfilled more or less. They imply a certain amount of disorder. God is introduced using the word elohim, which is normally translated as God. However, this word is definitely broader than that. In few places, and there might only be two, it is used to designate the word rulers or kings.

If you dig deeper in your Biblia Hebraica Stutgarttensia (that’s the gold standard used for researching the old testament; it contains all the known variant readings in their original language), you will find more textual evidence pointing towards the meaning of elohim being rulers. Genesis 6 talks about the sons of God (benai ha’elohim) and the daughters of man (benot ha’adam). This passage has been misunderstood to say that angels were having sexual relations with human women. However taking the meaning of elohim to be rulers, we can safely say that this passage means the rulers were hogging all the women (just in a very different tone). This makes much more sense. It also means that Genesis 1 describes the rulers establishing boundaries, creating names, and decreeing order upon the chaos.

I think the fact that well developed societies had this type of creation myth tells us something about ourselves. Once a society has built a hedge against the randomness of life, they feel as though they have established order. As the generations progress, they begin to feel as though everything is orderly and that order should be demanded of everything. However, there is now a glaring crack growing, bifurcating the facade of that security. In quantum mechanics everything is a probability, nothing is certain until it is measured. Einstein spoke against this negative feature of the quantum by saying, “God is not a pair of dice.” normally translated, “God does not play dice.” Everything is based on randomness. This is a stochastic universe.

Mathematics is begining to tell us the same thing: Everything is based on randomness. The sequence of the prime numbers is random. Algorithmic information theory tells us that the closer to random something is the more dense the information content. A truly random number sequence cannot be compressed. This means that randomness is pure information.

It is the nature of order to emerge from chaos, because chaos represents dense information. Nature’s order comes from a careful balancing act of the creation of information, increasing entropy, and nature’s self organization. Nature, being a complex adaptive system, must let information occupy the most stable state it can form. Randomness is the engine that drives creation (in the present tense). It is probably even the explanation for the arrow of time. All this leads me to believe that order is an emergent property of randomness.