Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Skateboarding is hard.

Really hard.

It is one of those pursuits that allows humans to demonstrate insane skills.

Untethered high-lining (Dean Potter)

Proximity wingsuit flying (Halvor Angvik)

Triple corks on skis (Bobby Brown)

Quad corks on snowboards (Billy Morgan)

Big wave surfing (Garret McNamara)

Jumping into water (Laso Schaller, Dana Kunze)

Free soloing (Alex Honnold)

Skateboarding is very technical. The simplest trick is an Ollie. You basically just pop the board into the air using your feet. This is the basis for all street tricks. Unfortunately, mastering an Ollie takes a long time.

First you need to be comfortable riding your board. If you find balancing hard, try riding tight trucks. Once you get the hang of it, loosen them and enjoy the added sense of maneuverability. Now you can start to practice Ollies while stationary. Then while riding. Yes, you need to be patient.

Now, I thought that decades of snowboarding would help. Well, they do a little bit. Still took me some time to feel safe cruising. As a snowboarder, the unfamiliar freedom of being able to place your feet anywhere on the skateboard needed some time to understand (but this then turned out to really help my surfing!).

On a snowboard, I can pretty much do everything switch, also at high speeds. However, riding switch or fakie on a skateboard feels super uncomfortable. Yes, patience.

So, just to get the basics down takes ages. You can be skateboarding for quite some time and everything you do looks easy and unspectacular to bystanders.

Now imagine the level of skill you need to be able to do this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Skateboarding is also hard because it is done on concrete or asphalt, with edges and corners looming everywhere. It is really intimidating to know that if you have to bail, you won't be landing in water or on snow.

For some insane reason there is an unwritten law, that dictates that street-style skateboarding is best executed without any kind of protection:

And don't search for "skateboard slam sessions" on YouTube.

So, why bother? Simple, it is just so much fun! Even the beginner parts;)

It is about a philosophy, an outlook on life.  A simple feeling, a state of being. Watch skate legend Rodney Mullen's TED talk. Or watch him perform at the age of 50:

Or listen to this geezer:

Or watch Tony Hawk reenacting his 900 at the age of 48:

And then there is vert and big-air skateboarding next to street...

For me, at 44, I just want to be able to cruise around town (meaning I need to be able to Ollie up a curb at some point) and learn to ride a bowl/mini ramp (i.e., frozen wave). All this while not getting hurt. The idea is to bridge snowboarding and surfing with skateboarding. It's about developing a new kind of intelligence in my feet and legs.

Still a long way to go:

My board has a wide deck, wide trucks, and soft wheels...

Monday, December 19, 2016

the center of the universe

information is physical
Just a random thought:

Earth is literally the center of the universe in terms of information processing.

Or at least, as far as we are aware of.


In the beginning, information processing manifested itself on molecular basis utilizing self-replicators a few billion years ago, as the emergent process called life unleashed itself.

Then, not too long ago, the neural networks assembled by the process of life became conscious and self-aware.

And currently, as these sentient beings bring information processing to a non-organic platform: binary computation.

Finally, as the cognizant beings push the limits of information processing into the quantum realm, employing the technology that emerged from their own information processing capabilities. This unlocks unprecedented new levels of computation.


Edit: made a meme out of this:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What is Real?

am I even real?
Met the wonderful Lucy Hawking at TEDxSalford by chance (Science and Storytelling, The Consciousness of Reality). This led to an amazing opportunity allowing me to contribute a science essay to her newest children's book:

George and the Blue Moon
Lucy and Stephen Hawking
Penguin, 2016

Staying true to my little hobby, it was called:

What is Reality?

And it started like this:
Every day you wake up. Returning from the wonderful adventures you may have been having in your dreams, you become you again. The memories of who you are and what you have been up to in your life come back. And you also realize that there is a world that lies outside of yourself, simply called reality. Then you get up.

This all seems very ordinary and not very exciting. However, all of this is linked to the hardest question that humans have ever asked themselves: What exactly is reality? What is this thing, made up of space, time and objects, we live in?

And ended like this:
But for the moment we can comfort ourselves with two answers to the question, ‘What is reality?’

One is that reality is a much bigger, richer and more complex thing than we ever dared to dream.

Or a short answer could be, ‘I create my reality!’

Thursday, November 24, 2016


reggie watts is a genius
Some people are just insanely creative. We already met Beardyman. Reggie Watts is equipped with a similar set of skills. His web-page labels him as vocal artist, beatboxer, musician, and comedian. His performances are random and often improvised sequences of live looping and colorful vocal outbursts, comprised of sounds and noises and narrating in various accents and (mock) languages.

To appreciate how his talent affects people, one can read the remarkable compliments in the comment section of the YouTube videos of his performances. In a refreshing, albeit rare, contrast to the hatred and animosity mostly encountered there:
  • "Reggie Watts is my favorite human."
  • "He really is light years ahead of the rest of us humans. I love him. He is a genius."
  • "What planet did he come from? We don't deserve this kind of being. We're not worthy."
  • "This man is light-years ahead of his time."
  • "Absolutely no clue what was happening but brilliant"
  • "What a fucking genius..."
  • "I hereby nominate Reggie Watts to be Ambassador of Earth, and be first to make contact with aliens should they visit."
  • "Reggie is at the end of my rainbow!"
  • "I don't even laugh when watching Reggie anymore. I just admire him."

One reoccurring theme is Watts speaking with a British accent reminiscent of a university professor, talking abstract nonsense. Or is it?
"And the important thing to remember is that this simulation is a good one. It's believable, it's tactile. You can reach out -- things are solid. You can move objects from one area to another. You can feel your body. You can say, 'I'd like to go over to this location,' and you can move this mass of molecules through the air over to another location, at will."

"Now, we know that everything here is an illusion and that we are somewhere else. But the cool thing about that is, it feels pretty real. I mean -- you know what I mean? Like, it's pretty convincing. So, big credit to those people working hard there."

Why should you consider reality to be a simulation/illusion? Well...

some stuff

on being idiosyncratic
next to my love of science (see all the boring stuff;)

I really enjoy

  • snowboarding (nearly 30 years), climbing (23 years), surfing (20 years plus), and skateboarding (1/2 year)

  • traveling

  • electronic music and related parties/festivals

and then (in random order)

I constantly have to wonder about the existence of my own mind, the conscious experience it gives me of an external reality, and what this all could possibly mean (yeah, book project). 

I also like to be highly critical of the socio-cultural environment I was born into and from there move on to being critical of other ones (rant and rant). I am highly skeptical of our financial systems (faults and greed).

I like to question myself and my ideas/beliefs.

I try to put myself into other people's shoes, as I believe I would be that same person, given the same biography and brain chemistry/hard-wiring.

I am an irrational optimist. although I see, in my opinion, so many things that are so terribly and depressingly wrong all over the world, I try to keep my faith (this here).

I get inspired by a spiritual outlook on life that seeks happiness and wisdom within oneself and allows for the existence of other realms of "reality" outside space and time (e.g., Buddhism and certain esoteric ideas). I totally and fundamentally reject institutionalized theologies. does the term "spiritual atheism" make any sense?

I had been vegetarian for 12 years before turning vegan (as best as I can) 4 yeas ago. why? environmental, ethical, and health considerations (once I get around to it, this will be a long and heavily referenced piece).

I aim at remaining grateful for experiencing this stream of consciousness, regardless of its contents.

I try to resist the urge to be cynical as fuck as much as I can (e.g., while interacting with crackpots in news groups or discussing climate change).

I am deeply thankful to all the loved ones in my life, especially my wife, who make this journey so much more fun <3

Monday, May 30, 2016

swimming in the sea of knowledge

we live in truly interesting times
We take one of the most amazing and far-reaching achievements in recent times for granted: free access to knowledge.

The advent of user-generated content, the so-called Web 2.0, has enabled initiatives like Wikipedia to assemble an unfathomable amount of human knowledge --- at your fingertips. The Google Books Project has scanned and digitalized millions of books making them searchable on-line.

Google Scholar is a search engine accessing countless published scholarly articles. Many publications nowadays are open access and often working papers or preprints are available (like arxiv.org, biorxiv.org, ssrn.com). If this isn't enough, "Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it" (src). Obviously, this results in a cat-and-mouse game:
  • http://sci-hub.io/
  • http://sci-hub.bz/
  • ...
  • TOR scihub22266oqcxt.onion
But access alone is not enough. The sheer amount of information is mind-blowing. So, how can one navigate this see of knowledge without drowning?

Enter YouTube, respectively its content providers. There exist a multitude of channels featuring videos aimed at explaining countless topics from science to philosophy. But crucially, this is done in an entertaining and/or visually appealing manner. Some of my favorites are: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshel, CrashCourse, Vsauce, Veritassium, MinutePhysics or one of the channels of Brady Haran (list).

And, last but not least, TED and TEDx talks entertain "ideas worth spreading". In other words, personal insights from people working at the cutting edge of current knowledge or simply talks packed with inspiration.

This all means that you have a nearly inexhaustible treasure trove of knowledge at your free disposal, broken down into piecemeal units, ready for instant education.


Edit: Some of my Youtube playlists:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

more random quotes: scott aaronson

new perspectives
So, John Horgan, the End of Science guy, interviewed Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist interested in quantum computing and computational complexity theory.

In the following, some random quotes.

On Quantum Mechanics

    [Q]uantum mechanics is astonishingly simple—once you take the physics out of it!  In fact, QM isn’t even “physics” in the usual sense: it’s more like an operating system that the rest of physics runs on as application software.

    [A]ccepting quantum mechanics didn’t mean giving up on the computational worldview: it meant upgrading it, making it richer than before.  There was a programming language fundamentally stronger than BASIC, or Pascal, or C—at least with regard to what it let you compute in reasonable amounts of time.  And yet this quantum language had clear rules of its own; there were things that not even it let you do (and one could prove that); it still wasn’t anything-goes. 

The Computational Universe

    If it’s worthwhile to build the LHC or LIGO—wonderful machines that so far, have mostly triumphantly confirmed our existing theories—then it seems at least as worthwhile to build a scalable quantum computer, and thereby prove that our universe really does have this immense computational power beneath the surface. 

    Firstly, quantum computing has supplied probably the clearest language ever invented—namely, the language of qubits, quantum circuits, and so on—for talking about quantum mechanics itself.
Secondly, one of the most important things we’ve learned about quantum gravity—which emerged from the work of Stephen Hawking and the late Jacob Bekenstein in the 1970s—is that in quantum gravity, unlike in any previous physical theory, the total number of bits (or actually qubits) that can be stored in a bounded region of space is finite rather than infinite.  In fact, a black hole is the densest hard disk allowed by the laws of physics, and it stores a “mere” 1069 qubits per square meter of its event horizon!  And because of the dark energy (the thing, discovered in 1998, that’s pushing the galaxies apart at an exponential rate), the number of qubits that can be stored in our entire observable universe appears to be at most about 10122.
So, that immediately suggests a picture of the universe, at the Planck scale of 10^-33 meters or 10^-43 seconds, as this huge but finite collection of qubits being acted upon by quantum logic gates—in other words, as a giant quantum computation. 

The Big Picture

    Ideas from quantum computing and quantum information have recently entered the study of the black hole information problem—i.e., the question of how information can come out of a black hole, as it needs to for the ultimate laws of physics to be time-reversible.  Related to that, quantum computing ideas have been showing up in the study of the so-called AdS/CFT (anti de Sitter / conformal field theory) correspondence, which relates completely different-looking theories in different numbers of dimensions, and which some people consider the most important thing to have come out of string theory. 

    [S]ome of the conceptual problems of quantum gravity turn out to involve my own field of computational complexity in a surprisingly nontrivial way.  The connection was first made in 2013, in a remarkable paper by Daniel Harlow and Patrick Hayden.  Harlow and Hayden were addressing the so-called “firewall paradox,” which had lit the theoretical physics world on fire (har, har) over the previous year.

    In summary, I predict that ideas from quantum information and computation will be helpful—and possibly even essential—for continued progress on the conceptual puzzles of quantum gravity. 

    If civilization lasts long enough, then there’s absolutely no reason why there couldn’t be further discoveries about the natural world as fundamental as relativity or evolution. One possible example would be an experimentally-confirmed theory of a discrete structure underlying space and time, which the black-hole entropy gives us some reason to suspect is there. 


    [T]he ocean of mathematical understanding just keeps monotonically rising, and we’ve seen it reach peaks like Fermat’s Last Theorem that had once been synonyms for hopelessness.  I see absolutely no reason why the same ocean can’t someday swallow P vs. NP, provided our civilization lasts long enough.  In fact, whether our civilization will last long enough is by far my biggest uncertainty. 

    More seriously, it was realized in the 1970s that techniques borrowed from mathematical logic—the ones that Gödel and Turing wielded to such great effect in the 1930s—can’t possibly work, by themselves, to resolve P vs. NP.  Then, in the 1980s, there were some spectacular successes, using techniques from combinatorics, to prove limitations on restricted types of algorithms.  Some experts felt that a proof of P≠NP was right around the corner.  But in the 1990s, Alexander Razborov and Steven Rudich discovered something mind-blowing: that the combinatorial techniques from the 1980s, if pushed just slightly further, would start “biting themselves in the rear end,” and would prove NP problems to be easier at the same time they were proving them to be harder!  Since it’s no good to have a proof that also proves the opposite of what it set out to prove, new ideas were again needed to break the impasse. 


    This characteristic of quantum mechanics—the way it stakes out an “intermediate zone,” where (for example) n qubits are stronger than n classical bits, but weaker than 2n classical bits, and where entanglement is stronger than classical correlation, but weaker than classical communication—is so weird and subtle that no science-fiction writer would have had the imagination to invent it.  But to me, that’s what makes quantum information interesting: that this isn’t a resource that fits our pre-existing categories, that we need to approach it as a genuinely new thing. 

    [I]f scanning my brain state, duplicating it like computer software, etc. were somehow shown to be fundamentally impossible, then I don’t know what more science could possibly say in favor of “free will being real”!

    I hate when the people in power are ones who just go with their gut, or their faith, or their tribe, or their dialectical materialism, and who don’t even feel self-conscious about the lack of error-correcting machinery in their methods for learning about the world.

    Just in the fields that I know something about, NP-completeness, public-key cryptography, Shor’s algorithm, the dark energy, the Hawking-Bekenstein entropy of black holes, and holographic dualities are six examples of fundamental discoveries from the 1970s to the 1990s that seem able to hold their heads high against almost anything discovered earlier (if not quite relativity or evolution).