There Are No Bad People, Just Bad Code

Lately I have been puzzled by news reports about fellow scientists who are thinking not just out of the box, but out of the universe.

The first news  that had me struggling was the suggestion that a universe might be the projection of a hologram. Not our universe, necessarily, but some artificial, mathematically contrived universe. Of course, the news outlets added a more dramatic flare to that headline, which on further reading was wildly misleading. I don’t think any scientist was claiming that we are actually a hologram, a three-dimensional projection of a lower dimensional us.

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A holographic Princess Leia in the 1977 Star Wars film, A New Hope

Try to translate for the popular press arcane notions of mathematical physics, and you’re bound to come up with some misrepresentation. We are not, I argue, like the projected holograms of Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help in the Star Wars epics. However, it certainly would be interesting to think about. Who, we might ask, made the hologram, and who is projecting us and our galaxy into what we perceive to be a three-dimensional universe? Speculation could run wild.

Now there is another speculative and down-right mind-assaulting scientific proposition. As the press is representing it, it is proposed that we are “living” in a computer simulation. The actual human race may be long dead and vanished, but some technologically advanced civilization has coded a simulation of the defunct human race.

For what purpose, I have no idea. Unless of course we are not just a simulation, but a computer game wrought for educational purposes.

But perhaps that’s being too charitable. I would put odds on us being simulated for entertainment purposes.

If we be contrived entertainment, then perhaps that relieves us of some moral responsibility. We are not the ones bombing, beheading, and torturing our fellow man. The devil made us do it; with the devil being whoever made the sick part of the human simulation. Like Jessica Rabbit once famously said, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”

Or, perhaps the base part of the human simulation is not intentionally evil, but the result of bad coding. Coding “glitches” do occur, from the ObamaCare website to computer games, with sometimes unexpected results. Most computer gamers have experienced, or have heard of, bizarre things happening when the gaming software has a glitch. Game characters may unexpectedly launch into outer space, or disembowel themselves, when all they were supposed to do was take a step forward.

In spite of what this post title says, I’m not suggesting that the published scientific assertions are in fact true. However, as a species we should at least consider the implications if they were true. What if my love affair with a young woman were simulated, or a projected hologram? The way I felt was so palpable, so vibrant that it’s hard not to believe in its reality, and its uniqueness. What if the birth of our children, and their children, was simply part of a gaming script? What if our lives were simply an immersive simulation?

For me that would make life hollow and unsatisfying. However, in my simulated brain I would still have to wonder about the person or persons who created us, the coders of the simulation. They would be, for all practical purposes, our simulation Gods.

Now that is ironic. I do not actually believe the hologram or simulation hypotheses, but I do find it interesting that these brand new scientific propositions seem to force us into considering a creator, a God. And to think, mainstream science has been trying to force us away from the belief in God for most of the last century.

So, I have to wonder, is science changing its mind?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Powder Dry, Rebreather Divers

Compared to decompression computers, digital oxygen control, and fuel cell oxygen sensors, carbon dioxide absorbent is low tech and not at all sexy. Perhaps because it is low in diver interest, it is poorly understood. In rebreather diving, a lack of knowledge is dangerous.

The U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU) is intimately familiar with sodalime, the crystalline carbon dioxide absorbent used in a wide variety of self-contained breathing apparatus for both diving and land use. NEDU routinely tests sodalime during accident investigations, during CO2 scrubber canister duration determinations, or during various research and development tasks. They have developed computer models of scrubber canister kinetics, and patented and licensed technology for use in determining how long a scrubber will last in diving and land applications.

The types of sodalime in NEDU’s experimental inventory are:  Sodasorb_rotate

  1. Sofnolime 408 Mesh NI L Grade
  2. Sofnolime 812 Mesh NI D Grade
  3. HP Sodasorb (4/8 Reg HP)
  4. Dragersorb 400
  5. Limepak
  6. Micropore

Absorbent undergoes a battery of quality tests at NEDU, most of them in accordance with NATO standardized testing procedures (STANAG 1411). One test is of the distribution of sodalime granule sizes, and another tests the softness or friability of the granules. One test checks the moisture content of the sample, and another tests the CO2 absorption ability of a small sample of absorbent.

From time to time, absorbent lot samples fail one or more of these tests. One failure of granule size distribution was caused by changes in production procedures. “Worms” of absorbent rather than granules of absorbent started showing up in sodalime pails. In another case, absorbent was found to have substandard absorption activity, and in yet another, the material was too soft. Too soft or friable material  can allow granules to breakdown, turning into dust.

This would not be a major problem, except that a diver or miner has to breathe through his granular absorbent bed, and dust clogs that bed, making breathing difficult. In the extreme, labored breathing from unusually high dust loading can result in unconsciousness.

Bag of granules_rotate
Sample bags of sodalime removed from absorbent buckets, awaiting testing.

What does the above have to do with this post’s title?

Supposedly, the maxim “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry” was uttered by Oliver Cromwell, but  first appeared in 1834 in the poem “Oliver’s Advice” by William Blacker with the words “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!” If indeed Cromwell did say it, then it dates from the 1600’s.

A much more modern interpretation, appropriate for rebreather divers, is as follows: buckets of sodalime with a larger than usual layer of dust at the bottom (due to the mechanical breakdown of absorbent granules during shipment), should be kept dry. In other words, don’t dive it!

Picture12
Micropore rolled carbon dioxide absorbent on the right, granular absorbent on the left.

Presumably this is not an issue with Micropore ExtendAir CO2 absorbent since it’s basically sodalime powder suspended on a plastic medium. The diver breathes through fixed channels in the ExtendAir cartridge, not through the powder.

Considering the relatively high cost of granular sodalime, a diver might be very reluctant to discard an entire bucket of absorbent with a non-quantifiable amount of dusting. They certainly will not be performing sieve tests for granule size distributions like NEDU, however one simple solution to a suspected dusting problem might be to sieve the material before diving it. The only requirement would be that only the dust should be discarded, not whole granules. In other words, your sieve must have a  fine mesh.

In NEDU’s experience, quality control issues are not necessarily a problem with manufacturing. Where and how sodalime is stored can apparently have an appreciable effect on sodalime hardness.  The same lot of sodalime stored in two different but close proximity locations has been found to differ markedly in its friability. Exactly why that should be, is presently unknown.

Regardless of whether the subject is sexy or not, a wise rebreather diver will seek all the knowledge available for his “sorb”, as it’s sometime called. After all, the coolest decompression computer in the world will do you no good at all if you’re unconscious on the bottom because you tried to outlast your CO2 absorbent.