Thursday, December 17, 2009

Told You So

Several years ago, I owned what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as a "high technology" firm. We engaged in research related to network security, data clouds, data oceans, data mining, prediction algorithms, making supercomputers out of lashed up pc's (Beowulf), and fun things like that.

Well, somebody had to go out and get the prayer flag money, and getting paid to study interdependence seemed like a natural fit.

Our most interesting project had to do with light to matter communications and networking. We were examining a concept we called the "temperature of knowledge," turning color into a data storage device. I wrote up a few research papers on the subject, and spent many hours playing with data over lasers, until one fine day, some people who shall here go nameless walked into my office with an offer I couldn't refuse.

Those of you who are observant will notice the
Cabletron in the upper right hand corner of
the right rack: Grrrrr! Can you "Spel" interrogation?

After that, it was a fun time. I got to spend all day,  every single day, with my youngest daughter for the first three years of her life, and then I got to go be infamous.

Anyway -- please try to imagine how I felt when I saw this item today:
"Lene Hau has already shaken scientists' beliefs about the nature of things... in 1998, Hau, for the first time in history, slowed light to 38 miles an hour, about the speed of rush-hour traffic... Two years later, she brought light to a complete halt in a cloud of ultracold atoms... In the experiment, a light pulse was slowed to bicycle speed by beaming it into a cold cloud of atoms. The light made a "fingerprint" of itself in the atoms before the experimenters turned it off. Then Hau and her assistants guided that fingerprint into a second clump of cold atoms. And get this - the clumps were not touching and no light passed between them. "The two atom clouds were separated and had never seen each other before," Hau notes. They were eight-thousandths of an inch apart, a relatively huge distance on the scale of atoms. The experimenters then nudged the second cloud of atoms with a laser beam, and the atomic imprint was revived as a light pulse. The revived light had all the characteristics present when it entered the first cloud of atomic matter, the same shape and wavelength. The restored light exited the cloud slowly then quickly sped up to its normal 186,000 miles a second...She is coolly confident that light-to-matter communication networks, codes, clocks, and guidance systems can be made part of daily life. If you doubt her, remember she is the person who stopped light, converted it to matter, carried it around, and transformed it back to light."
So it seems they were able to prove our theory, about three years down the road, and here some fifteen years down the road they are finally getting around to understanding light-to-matter networks. They also did some things at Stanford that we would have liked, using nine lasers to create matter -- such as it was.

Never heard of this Lene Hau until today -- she was after my time. But, I sure do like her work.

Remember that scene in Star Wars, where somebody plays chess with holograms? It is like that, but on a much grander scale. Color, although finite, can be made close to infinite, and the means for "calling" color, while finite, is still very, very large as well. Each element of color can hold an element of information. These iconic color/information elements can then be projected and selected. Because of the nature of color, they can also be organized in various ways.

The eye is an ocean.

The kicker was always the issue of signal acquisition, i.e. slowing things down long enough to handle them. We knew it was theoretically possible, but the physics hadn't caught up with us yet. I mean to say, if you read Time, Space, and Knowledge, there is no longer any "impossible," but just try to tell that to scientists. Anyway, looks like this Dr. Hau has brought the physics up (or down) to speed. In 2001, they gave her one of those MacArther "genius" grants.

I celebrate this.

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5 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Great news item. And what an interesting former career to have had. Now the question is, how long until light can be slowed down at micro or nanoscale level, with massive parallelism, at economies of scale? Adding to that the (likely, but here not explicitly) stated requirement of supercooling, this might be only one of many large but inconsequential blips that happen every few weeks on the newscreen of future technologies.

One thing I do know though. This won't speed up the process of digital preservation of Tibetan texts. The most cost-efficient way to do that is outsourcing to Asia, and that's not cheap to do. Moreover many of the best resources for research -- like Lokesh-Chandra's Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary -- are not due to enter the public domain for decades.

The same goes for many important publications of recent Tibetan scholarship, as well as new editions of old public domain-texts (like Jigme Lingpa's Namtar for example) from the PRC that have been copyright-encumbered by the use of critical annotations, creations of new editions and so forth. There are thousands of those in print now, but without free access to digital text versions, access to those is effectively limited.

If Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche were to throw his weight of personality and largesse behind making all the relevant materials for Dharma study of Tibetan traditions -- without encumbering them as purchase items like does, or getting tied up by fruitless side-projects like, without charging print-like prices for material or keeping the best (copyright-resrticted) stuff secretly available only to insiders, (as,,, and all do) -- with the same passion as he has done for the free distribution of print editions in the Tibetan community, then the whole world could rejoice.

At this point, for whatever advanced technology is worth, precisely this would be the best way to preserve Dharma texts and encourage their widespread distribution.

Input everything. Not just pdf's from scans. All text input manually, if necessary. Paying no attention to copyright restrictions. Hosted on a 10 Gbs server farm in some outlaw republic in Africa or the former Soviet Union that does not care what American copyright legislation says. Or better yet, encrypted and distributively like Wikileaks. No one's been able to take them down yet!

This would benefit Dharma preservation the best. Why hasn't some rich person come up with the clarity of vision to make it happen. I realize that Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche could not do what I suggest in addition everything else he has done and is still doing. My point is, we need someone with the same force of vision, personality, and outlaw Khampa spirit as Tarthang Tulku to do it.

By comparison, the implementers of the aforementioned preservation projects are just a bunch of ass-kissing, grant-writing dweebs.

Let there be Tarthang II, able to fleece the biggest jindaks at light speed, no strings attached and without sycophantically promising to put their names lights, without a tax break, with a simple compliment, a smile and a handshake!

TENPA said...

"[A]ble to fleece the biggest jindaks at light speed..."

I like that.

Actually, most people don't realize that sponsors per se represent only a fraction of the overall drop. The bulk of the money is made by micro trading in world currencies, precious metals, and strategic materials. Who put the copper in Copper Mountain, do you know?

Please send me a list of the top ten specific things you want to see, and we'll see what the ninjas can come up with. There are still places in this world where the warez can be got (as the kids say).

Anonymous said...

"The bulk of the money is made by micro trading in world currencies, precious metals, and strategic materials."

Hmmm. Reminds me of a story of a friend of a friend of mine, who was once personally introduced to Tarthang Tulku's favorite velvet-lined collector's box full of gold and platinum bars. The box was brought on to the patio and displayed with the same connossieur's pride and delight with which the friend of a friend was offered a Cuban cigar.

OK, now for the top 10:

1) A digitized Tibetan-text collection representing the best Tibetan-language reference works: Alak Zenkar's _rGya-bod tshig-mdzod chen-mo_ (Chinese-Tibetan dictionary, already available on the sly in extended Wylie, have already); the Blue Annals and other important histories; compilations of enumerative lists (chos kyi rnam-grangs); rare and old-word lexicons (including everything and everything related to Zhang-zhung language); the aforementioned Tibetan-Sanskrit lexicon of Dr. Lokesh Chandra; some choice chronicles containing historical not aggregated elsewhere. That's just for starters.

(2) The complete bKa'-thang sde-lnga. These Termas are of immense importance as historical documents and also as sources of esoteric information and prophecy. Anyone who cannot stop wondering why the wild, wierd and sometimes downright scary world of Tibetan Buddhism is as it is, needs to know what these texts contain. Currently their availability is restricted by tbrc; you have to go NYC in person even to entertain the possibility of getting then en_masse. I think it's ridiculous, but maybe that's my problem.

(3) On a more ambitious note, a digitized text version of the Bon-po bka'-'gyur and bstan-'gyur. Like the Buddhist Kangyur and Tengyur, the Bonpo canon probably contains both chaff and wheat. What better way to separate the two than providing the Bonpo canons in their entirety as digitized text, so that any seeker or scholar can freely winnow the material by full-text search, and finding whatever best matches their interest. This project in particular would greatly accelerate and stimulate Bon studies, historical scholarship, and also provide meaningful accessories for individuals pursuing scholarship or practice in the Nyingma tradition.

(4)-(10): mix and match from (1) and (2)

There is little or nothing here that someone else has not thought or partially accomplished already. has done text input of a great deal of important texts, though since their emphasis is on Gelugpa scholarship, there is not all that much useful material there for other lineages.

Ditto for thdl, except what they've done is most useful for Nyingma scholars, less so for others. They've got the Nyingma rGyud 'bum more or less complete, as textual input, though the last time I checked I couldn't find it on their website.

TENPA said...

Might be able to help with the bKa'-thang sde-lnga, but it would have to be after Losar. Got a major shipment coming then, and seems like it might be in there.

Will look into the other stuff. Had some Lokesh Chandra stolen in 2008, haven't looked into replacing it yet, so don't know what is out there.

Ever just sit down and plead your case to Gene? He isn't hard to work with, and according to the blurb they sent around the other day, he has a bit more time on his hands these days.

TENPA said...

Just remembered:
Five Chronicles available at for around USD $58

Let me know where you want it delivered.