Recovering ancient voices from clay pots

by Eric Drexler on 2014/08/08

MIT reports recovering voices from high-frame-rate video of a potato-chip bag, extracting information from vibrational displacements as small as 1/100 of a pixel.

This reminds me of an idea floated decades ago by the fictional character Daedelus in a now-defunct column in Nature:

Recover ancient voices from pots by reading the tiny ripples left by vibration of the potters’ fingers.

The potter’s voice, in particular, should leave a substantial trace.

Putting some numbers to this:

  • Clay particles are typically in the micron to sub-micron range.
  • Clay speed w.r.t. a potter’s finger is ~1 m/s; this implies a ~100 µm ripple length at a 10 kHz audio frequency.
  • The widths of residual finger-tracks are commonly ~1 mm.
  • Therefore, measurements on up to hundreds of thousands of micron-scale patches (like pixels) can be combined to recover each sound-induced ripple.

I would be surprised if voice recovery from pots didn’t sometimes work. If it does, the information will be, to say the least, unique.


As a century-or-so update to To War for Trade? — 3 August 1914 (UK), I note more recent US defense policy:

Quadrennial Defense Review – May 1997
Section III: Defense Strategy

When the interests at stake are vital…we should do whatever it takes to defend them, including, when necessary, the unilateral use of military power. U.S. vital national interests include, but are not limited to:

  • protecting the sovereignty, territory, and population of the United States….
  • ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources….

In the foreseeable future, access to foreign markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources will become unimportant, while avoiding an unpredictable arms race will become critical. We need to be able to discuss scenarios in which potential military technologies and national interests will both be transformed.

That’s the main reason I had to write a book.


To War for Trade? — 3 August 1914

by Eric Drexler on 2014/08/04

Edward Grey, to Parliament re. the wisdom of joining in what later became known as World War I:

“…let us assume that consequences which are not yet foreseen and which, perfectly legitimately consulting her own interests — make Italy depart from her attitude of neutrality at a time when we are forced in defence of vital British interest ourselves to fight — what then will be the position in the Mediterranean? It might be that at some critical moment those consequences would be forced upon us because our trade routes in the Mediterranean might be vital to this country?”

The pending revolution in production will change vital national interests, and trade, in particular, will no longer be among them

See Radical Abundance for more reasons that we need to reconsider geostrategic concerns, and early.

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Gmail interface horror

by Eric Drexler on 2014/07/09

Accidentally sending an unfinished, unedited email can be a really big mistake, so one wouldn’t want to make this mistake really, really easy…

Here is the button-filled corner of the “Reply” edit window in Gmail. Note the a measurement added in red:

Is there any imaginable excuse for placing the Send button just 10 pixels away from the Formatting options button? A button that gets clicked while you’re still editing?

Is it because someone thought it looked pretty?

Calling Google… Hello?


Keynote at TVC 2014

by Eric Drexler on 2014/07/03

Sorry for the late mention, but last week I gave a talk at the Technology Ventures Conference at the University of Cambridge. The organizers promise to post a video.

The conference was a lot of fun. I don’t know where else I’d have an opportunity to discuss nanotechnology, additive manufacturing, Haskell, and medicine all in the same day.

The theme of the conference was “Moonshot Thinking”, which let me place nanotechnology in the context of space systems engineering and the modes of thought and problem formulation that I learned in the AeroAstro department at MIT. The great gap in nanotechnology today, of course, is the absence of a well-developed field of molecular systems engineering.

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Standard Model followup

by Eric Drexler on 2014/07/03

Here’s a reworked diagram of interactions in the Standard Model of particle physics, now in the Wikipedia article:

Interactions in the Standard Model

This supersedes and corrects the previous Wikipedia diagram.

Diagramming the Standard Model is a relatively good excuse to play with graphics.


Just in case you missed reading XKCD…

June 11, 2014

Failing to read XKCD is, of course, a mistake.

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Physics Quiz: Corrected Answers

April 25, 2014

With thanks to Kevin, the previous post has been updated with corrections re. neutrinos and the Higgs.

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Physics Quiz: Standard Model Answers

April 19, 2014

Last week’s Physics Quiz asked about errors in Wikipedia’s current diagram of the Standard Model. Here’s the diagram with [corrected] corrections; answers follow: What do the arcs represent? The Standard Model interactions between particles: the boson-mediated strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces. Which of the arcs is incorrect? [And a question that got lost: Where is […]

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Physics Quiz: The Standard Model

April 16, 2014

The Wikipedia page on the Standard Model currently includes the diagram below: What do the arcs represent? Which of the arcs is incorrect? Extra credit, Wikipedia history department:   How did one correction lead to both errors? Added: Where is a second arc missing? (This makes question 3 ambiguous.) 17 April update: added question 4 after […]

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The five kinds of nanotechnology

April 4, 2014

Why understanding seems stuck: I count five kinds of nanotechnology, of which only three are called by that name. Of the three, one is a revolutionary prospect, one is a fantasy, and the third is mostly materials science. As for the other two kinds, one is the heart of today’s greatest technological revolution, while the […]

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Rise of the robots (per the Economist)

April 1, 2014

In the Economist: “Rise of the robots: Prepare for a robot invasion. It will change the way people think about technology”. The robotics revolution is, of course, riding the exponential wave of today’s leading nanotechnology, digital nanoelectronics, and today’s robots give only a taste of what nanomechanical technologies will enable through radical improvements in the […]

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