Monday, February 7, 2011

Ultimate bit

How many bits of digital storage capacity humanity has right now in hard disks?

"How many computers?" I asked Wolfram Alpha search engine.

The answer came back as:

Estimated number of personal computers worldwide:

over 1 billion

Then I had to make a bold part guess of average storage per computer. Big fat machines that belong to governments and fortune 100 companies will have substantial capacity per computer. But there must still be many old machines around with small capacity as well. I estimated that 64 GB per machine would be too conservative as it was the benchmark 4-5 years ago. I thought 100GB would be a good figure.

So the number of bits came out as:

1 billion X 100 GB = 100 EB (exabytes) = 8 X 1020 bits

That is

800,000,000,000,000,000,000 bits

This number would be equal to eight times estimated information content of all human knowledge (10EB).

This means we have a growing memory surplus that we could meaningfully fill, also we still have no operational or economical capacity to store everything we know on hard disks.

I am not ignoring the fact that gene technology trends will require huge amount of storage to keep gigantic databases of gene sequences required by genetically modified food, bio-fuel research and so forth. But I still think it will lag behind available storage capacity as the global consumer market will always put huge pressure on reducing storage cost. Also the main problems in gene research seems to be indexing and CPU cycles rather than storage capacity.

So I estimate available storage will always be 10 times of human knowledge and at least 100 times of used storage.

Where is the most vulnerable of those useable bits that when flipped would cause the maximum catastrophic impact on humanity I wonder?

One nasty bit that its redundancy is incidentally non-existent.

Like all physical systems hard disks do fail. When hard disk fails software almost always fails.

On ageing nuclear missile sites?

On ageing GPS satellites?

One freak magnetic storm in space?


It would take just one bit to flip forever from 1 to 0 or from 0 to 1 out of 8,00,000,000,000,000,000,000.

I would like to buy a new notebook computer nowadays. I think I am going to pick a machine with a solid state drive (SSD).

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Human body is full of evidence indicating it is not an elaborate form of design by a supernatural force but more of a jumbled patchwork shaped by evolution.

Vestiges are structures, anatomical configurations that has lost or nearly lost its primary function. If it has any current function, it is either a persisting secondary function, or a function gained sometime after the loss of primary one. This process is called exaptation or co-opting.

Examples of vestiges are plenty.

The middle ear bones of mammals are derived from former jaw-bones (Shubin 2007).

Early tetrapod limbs were modified from lobe-fins and probably functioned in pushing through aquatic vegetation; at some point, they became sufficiently modified to allow movement on to land (Shubin et al. 2006).

The vestigial hind limbs of boid snakes are now used in mating (Hall 2003).

But the most impressive of all, my personal favourite, is evolution of gonads –a gonad is an organ that produces gametes; a testis or ovary-.

The gonads of sharks, other fish, and even humans develop in same place, the chest. This works well for sharks, since they stay there, but in human males, as the embryo grows the gonads need to travel all the way down into the scrotum to keep cool. This causes an unnecessary looping of the spermatic cord, which causes a weakness in the body wall, leaving them prone to developing a hernia (Shubin, 2009). This is consistent with descend with modification from an ancestor we share with modern fish.

Click to enlarge
Evolution presents countless examples of co-opting. Whether you like it or not the theory of evolution is strongly supported by empirical evidence and scientific studies including DNA analysis that weren’t known in Darwin’s time.

There is mountain of strong evidence for evolution, and each day research laboratories around the world conduce more. At the same time the case for designer god is weakening.

The next question to ask is if it wasn’t design what is god for?


Original Scientific American article by Neil H. Shubin (PDF):

Vestigial evidence:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arab uprise

What does democracy mean to ordinary Egyptians?

As mobs fall into each other’s throat, looters ransack shops and houses; democracy and freedom resonate in the air. Sure, get rid of Mubarak the dictator yes, but then what?

Neither Egypt nor any other Arab state has democratic traditions. Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party movement has governed most, a degenerated socialist club established in the Soviet era that quickly turned into ugly and corrupt dictatorships, anything but socialist. Of course they had to start one way another you would think, a democratic process just like French did in 1789.

Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party emblem
But there is one crucial difference between French revolution and the Arab uprise. Powerful secular elite designed political process and drove the French Revolution by enormous intellectual vigour despite turmoil and violence. Evolving towards democracy wasn’t easy as they suffered the eras of Terror and Napoleonic Dictatorship but in the end intellectual throttle paid off.

Whereas today’s Arab uprise in the Middle East lacks genuinely pluralistic and sufficiently organised democratic ideas backed by a powerful yet non-existent middle class. They simply don’t have it. The only organised political power watching and waiting on its prey seems to be radical Islam, and therefore radical Islam will have the greatest chance to seize power subject to US intervention.

US, the architect state of ‘moderate Islam’ policy against radicalism is now caught aghast in premature timing of events and unprecedented ripple effect of Arab uprising. The chaos opens a large window of opportunity for radical Islam to exploit. After Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, why not Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? It is no longer a distant prospect. An enormous power vacuum is rapidly sweeping the region that surely enough traditionally sound, legitimate yet feeble democratic institutions will not be able to fill.

Economic downturn, endless war in Afghanistan, endless violence in Iraq, rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, nuclear-ambitious Iran, and now the Arab uprise. The West and US in particular is in real trouble in terms of their crippled capacity to intervene not to mention even if they do given their track record it would unlikely produce results. Yet now that oil reserves are at greater risk and Israeli-Arab peace deal in jeopardy they simply can’t ignore the turmoil. The West needs to get on top of the situation despite their limited ability to engage.


This is a warning for secular friends who still think there is such a thing called 'moderate Islam' and therefore Islamic lifestyle can be tolerated in a modern democratic society.

Saturday night.

We watched “Black Swan” in the Dendy cinema theatre near Opera House. Then we walked up to harbour banks where Opera Bar stands.

This is probably one of the best places on Earth to have a drink in late afternoon or at night. Lean your back casually on inclined stone chairs, facing the Sydney City skyline, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House in opposite direction.

Beautiful women and men at almost any age, tourists, hundreds of people enjoying their drinks, gently rocking, dancing, laughing, chatting. Nobody is disturbing anyone, no one feels intimidated, a pleasant, peaceful atmosphere.

My eyes caught a couple, a semi bearded man and a woman wearing a headscarf watching the bubbly crowd below from a terrace with expressionless dim eyes.

What were they thinking? 

Islam bans drinking alcohol and restricts women to express their sexual identity. To them the crowd must be committing a mortal sin punishable by burning in Hell. 

During the last decade or so Turkey, the country I was born has been under the rule of pro-Islamic governments formed by AKP (The Justice and Development Party). Since they came to power in 2002 AKP partizans have been busy gradually transforming country’s secular traditions towards an Islamic lifestyle.

AKP and followers call themselves ‘moderate Islamist’. 

Recently the AKP government declared that they are going to ban alcoholic beverages served in restaurants or in social gatherings such as art exhibitions, wedding ceremonies and so forth. A person until the age of 24 will not be entitled to buy or drink alcohol, and if such a person is present in a social occasion, for instance in a wedding ceremony no one in that gathering will be able to drink regardless of their age. Yes you heard that right, no one.

And they call this ‘moderate Islam’, leaving a tiny window of freedom and tolerance for secular lifestyle (ie. you can still buy or drink alcohol on your own if you are older than 24, at least for now), whereas religious lifestyle is promoted and allowed in its full right.

For the record Islam by definition cannot be moderate (ironically this is the only point I agree with Islamic fundamentalists). Islam is a collection of static unchangeable decrees descendent from God. You are not allowed to alter them or apply them conditionally. 

So in a secular democracy Islam either needs to be kept in people’s personal spheres strictly outside of politics, or else it may gradually evolve towards forming medieval-style theocratic governances like in Iran, Afghanistan.

Anything in between is sheer hypocrisy, a painful, discriminatory and blunt lie. But evidence suggests that AKP has an agenda. Instead of an abrupt Islamic revolution like Iranians did, they would gradually transform the country towards a totalitarian religious regime. 

To a great majority of people living in Australia or In the West where Islamists are a tiny minority 'moderate Islam' myth might seem like a plausible argument. 

The presumption of 'we shall respect them' and in return 'they shall respect us'. 

Well it all depends on numbers.