Interesting Buddhist terminology – applicable to modern thought?

With my handy dandy Buddhist dictionary I’ve discovered a few interesting words that succinctly describe quite complex ideas. Here’s an example of one such word with a useful english description:

abhūtaparikalpa

Chinese : xuwang fenbie; Japanese: komō funbetsu; Korean: hŏmang punbyŏl, Sinograph: 妄分別

In Sanskrit, “false imagining” or “construction of what is unreal”; a pivotal Yogācāra term describing the tendency of the dependent (PARATANTRA) nature (SVABHĀVA) to project false constructions of a reality that is bifurcated between self and others. Sentient beings mistakenly assume that what has been constructed through consciousness has a static, unchanging reality. This process inserts into the perceptual process an imaginary bifurcation (VIKALPA) between perceiving subject (grāhaka) and perceived object (grāhya) (see GRĀHYAGRĀHAKAVIKALPA), which is the basis for a continued proliferation of such mental constructions. This subject–object dichotomy is then projected onto all sensory experience, resulting in the imagined (PARIKALPITA) nature (svabhāva). By relying on these false imaginings to construct our sense of what is real, we inevitably subject ourselves to continued suffering (DUḤKHA) within the cycle of birth-and-death (SAṂSĀRA). The term figures prominently in MAITREYNĀTHA’s MADHYĀNTAVIBHĀGA (“Separating the Middle from the Extremes”) and VASUBANDHU’s commentary on the treatise, the Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya.

Note that all the sanskrit terms have been transliterated.

It’s easily imaginable that there is great potential value for usage of these terms for discussing complex philosophical ideas. The sophistication of the core ideas of Buddhism is also noticeable when fully elaborated like this, in comparison to the simpler allegorical versions presented in popular culture for Buddhism and other religions.

Here’s the cleaned up description:

abhūtaparikalpa, 妄分別

In Sanskrit, “false imagining” or “construction of what is unreal”; a pivotal Yogācāra term describing the tendency of the dependent nature to project false constructions of a reality that is bifurcated between self and others. Sentient beings mistakenly assume that what has been constructed through consciousness has a static, unchanging reality. This process inserts into the perceptual process an imaginary bifurcation between perceiving subject and perceived object, which is the basis for a continued proliferation of such mental constructions. This subject–object dichotomy is then projected onto all sensory experience, resulting in the imagined nature. By relying on these false imaginings to construct our sense of what is real, we inevitably subject ourselves to continued suffering within the cycle of birth-and-death. The term figures prominently in“Separating the Middle from the Extremes” and VASUBANDHU’s commentary on the treatise, the Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya.

Mature scriptwriting of high intensity conversations from Star Trek TNG

Sometimes I come across scriptwriting that is so exemplary that I believe reviewing the scene can be highly instructive for those seeking education and moral instruction. The following are some of the best examples from Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of the most lavishly written dramatic shows even though it is now over 30 years old.

The science fiction setting of the show also provides unique opportunities for especially advanced and sophisticated topics to be discussed in a serious manner. Over a decade of reading and studying excellent writing and I’ve yet to find anything quite like this. Before each video is a short summary of the dramatic stage:

Discussion between two decision makers on the justifications, real and imagined, and possible consequences of an unauthorized preemptive strike on a potentially hostile adversary.

Reprimand to the second in command immediately after a high intensity situation in the context of a preexisting friendship – handled maturely!

Brief discussion on the appropriateness of beneficial trans-human modifications for legitimate purposes, with the ranking representative of the proposing organization and said trans-human, and balancing such advantages with the desire of sentient beings for self-determination

Negotiation between two emissaries of neutral polities for the immediate establishment of an alliance, one emissary stalling with ambiguous motives and the other requesting access to the leader while preserving their advantageous position – in a diplomatic manner!

It is noteworthy that when the fictional stakes are explained fully that the intensity of these situations are far beyond what is considered normal nowadays in any broadcast show. The science fictional guise and late 1980’s environment combined gave far greater freedom it seems for scriptwriters.

Since this show went on for many seasons there are several dozen more noteworthy scenes that may be of interest. Let me know which scenes are your favourite!

Capturing the Earth, satellite imagery storage requirements at planetary scale

Coming across the capacities of the very large data centres now being built, in the exabyte range, it’s interesting to consider how much space is needed to store an image of the entire earth captured at the highest possible resolutions, with current technology, from a realistic orbit.

There currently exists databases of partial imagery of the earth in near real time, through composite stitching of various satellite outputs, providers such as Zoom.Earth have already achieved quite a bit in this field.

What if one day something akin to that is available with the most advanced imagery? The current state of the art for the top secret satellites is likely under 10 cm, though of course the exact number is classified. I firmly believe in the near future 5 cm resolution will be routinely available with advancements in optics.

Rough numbers:

1 square km at 5 cm resolution = 20000 x 2000 pixel image = 400 megapixels

In 30 bit RGB (10 bit color) that is 1.5 GB losslessly compressed (2 to 1 compression) ideally.

Earth has a surface area of 510 000 000 square km

That’s a 204 quadrillion pixel image!

Some simple math gives 765 petabytes (PB) of storage is needed for one image. Where 1 PB = 1000 TB = 1 million GB = 1 billion MB

Of course in reality the earth is not perfectly spherical, additional overhead data has to be stored, 765 PB would require redundant storage or you would lose that to bit rot quite quickly, the water images could probably be compressed more, etc.

Given that roughly 71% of the surface area is water a few hundred PB could probably be cut through lossy compression without sacrificing any perceptible image quality.

Nonetheless let’s assume minimal data overhead and complete accuracy, so we’ll need triple redundancy, at least!, with some buffer as well.

A ballpark number could 2400 PB, or 2.4 exabytes, of actual disk space needed for one image.

If you could accept the odd bit flip or compression artifact this could easily be reduced to 240 PB given the advanced state of compression algorithms nowadays.

So what about video?

At 30 fps at lossless quality that gives 72 exabytes (EB) per second of video!

At a more realistic compressed standard, perhaps as little as 1.44 EB per second, assuming 100 to 1 lossy compression efficiency.

This calculation is a bit silly as the only we have currently of capturing whole earth shots is with satellites parked at geostationary orbit, that could not reach a 5cm resolution without some truly massive optics. I really don’t expect to see this sort of capability this century.

A more realistic way is to look at what the reasonable capabilities are of geostationary orbit (GEO) earth observation satellites within the foreseeable future, with say Hubble sized optics. Although the current state of the art is at 500 meters with Japan’s Himawari 8, I believe one day we can achieve 10 meter resolution imagery from GEO.

At the 10 meter per pixel scale, that gives 1.8 PB per second of video at 2:1 lossless quality, and just 36 TB per second at 100 to 1 lossy compression. Actually feasible with current storage technologies.

Although 10 meters per pixel will barely resolve buildings, this is still quite useful for at least studying cloud formations, weather patterns, ship movements, and perhaps large plane movements at a massively improved resolution from current weather satellites.

The trickiest part would be imaging the poles since from geostationary orbit the images will be highly skewed, one day something akin to a pole sitting satellite (see ESA) may be used to provide coverage.

An observation on Apple’s new Airpods Max vs. Bang and Olufsen’s Beoplay H95

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you are familiar with Apple’s supply chain capabilities) given the recent talk, the Airpods Max are in fact a value offering from Apple.

Consider the nearest equivalent offering in the headphone space, Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay H95, at $800 USD.

$549 versus $800. Yes, the folks from Cupertino put out a product at a price 2/3 of the nearest competitor (less some cables with an admittedly inferior case).

It is becoming clear that even at a discount the clever folks at Apple have effectively achieved equivalent or superior performance in most aspects that can be judged by the average user. i.e. sound quality, battery, connectivity, durability, features, etc.

On a material composition basis the former does lack the fancy leather and titanium accoutrements of the latter which justifies a portion of the price difference, and many more minor aspects where they qualitatively trade off.

A definitive judgement would require comparing the actual overall fit and finish, including hidden components, that would require tearing down both. However, as those aren’t available yet, it is reasonable to assume given the track record of both companies that the interiors are comparable to their exterior quality.

In other words the actual performance/quality per dollar for the Airpods Max is much greater.

Why is this noteworthy?

Although it is well understood by industry insiders that the bill of materials (BOM) cost for headphones, or any modern high-end consumer electronics product really, are a small fraction of the actual sale price, I would be willing to venture that the total BOM cost for Apple’s headphones are in fact significantly lower than for Bang & Olufsen since it would be unlikely for Apple to target an exceptionally low profit margin.

Here is where many would quibble that there have been cases with effectively vast increases in performance per dollar. e.g. a mid range product was updated to have almost equivalent performance with, or replaced, a higher end product with only a modest price bump.

Although this is also true, being due to component cost reductions, reduced profit margin, and so on, it’s nonetheless exceptional to put out an actually equivalent or superior product, not just a somewhat inferior substitute, at a lower price point, at similar profit margin level!, relying almost entirely on a more efficient supply chain. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Apple enjoys an unparalleled advantage.