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Archive for July, 2009

Super giant

Effects in physics are super: superconductors, superfluidity, supersolids, supersymmetry or giant: giant magnetoresistance, giant resonances, giant Nernst effect. In string theory we have giant gravitons and giant magnons, as well as superstrings.

It all makes you wonder where we got our naming conventions from. Maybe we read too many superman comics as kids? There might be some better superlatives out there to name stuff.

Of course, we also have things like mini-superspace. This should give English majors apoplexy. Because, is it mini, or is it super after all? I mean, how about super-duper-micro-mini-conduction? Why not that?

To add diversity to the above, we have bubbles of nothing, dumb holes and red giants.

Here’s one use of such jargon for completely comedic effects:

- Have you had your mini-watts this morning?

Please leave you favorite words for physics effects and objects behind. You get extra points for comedy.

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Bebop for you.

Nothing much to say. I’ve been listening to The Seatbelts and Yoko Kanno today while I work. Pandora is just great.

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In case you ever wondered what the most prestigious mathematical competition for high school students looks like, you get to solve 6 problems, in two sets of three problems. For each set, you get 4.5 hours of uninterrupted work, with all the scratch paper you might need, you bring your standard geometry drawing tools (ruler and compass) and you go.

For the list of problems, the IMO organization has a list of the official problems. Some are quite entertaining to do. This year, after being piqued a bit, I worked problem one in about half an hour to 45 minutes (I still got it). I used to compete in these types of competitions when I was in high school.

In any case, the problems are elementary: they just use algebra, trigonometry, basic plane geometry and elementary number theory. Here is problem one:

Let n be a positive integer and let

a_1 , . . . , a_k (k \geq 2)

be distinct integers in the set {1, . . . , n} such that n divides  a_i(a_{i+1}-1) for i = 1, . . . , k − 1. Prove that n does not divide a_k(a_1-1).

If you ever have tried to design these problems, you will notice that the conditions are somewhat contrived. n appears in two places: both in the size of the original set, and in the division condition. Could one do without the first?

The answer is no. If all of the a_k are multiples of n, then the problem does not follow. But having all of them small must be important. The next thing one needs to do is understand the relation of divisibility better so that one can solve the problem. I’ll let you figure the rest out…

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Reading for today

While I’m busy typing my next super duper really important paper, I’ll give you a few things to read, do and make you think…. or most probably not.

  1. Opinion piece in the New York Times, Science is in the details.
  2. Be scared, be very scared. Computers might become intelligent and used for nefarious purposes. Hey, didn’t I read that in a book or see that at the movies already? I know I’ve seen that somewhere. Maybe someone can remind me.
  3. About the future: see the moon at the movies and tell me if it’s worth seeing.
  4. Witness the eternal wars between science and nature.
  5. If you are bored and need to spend some time doing something smart,  how about you try solving problem number 6 of the IMO without peeking. I found about it here, but I have not had time to even attempt to solve it. It sounds like fun.
  6. If you are bored and need to kill 5 minutes, try the following puzzle game. It will relieve some tension, plus you will get to laugh at the evil corporations.

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Movie updates

I saw various movies in the past few days. I’ll give you the two line opinion on each of them, in the order I saw it.

Up- it was a lot of fun. There’s a lot in here that kids won’t get, but adults will certainly relish. The beginning sequence is extremely powerful.

Harry Potter- Pretty good overall (if you’re into the series you know what to expect). Some of the special effects with ink and fire are very cool.

Public Enemies- What a lousy script (the screenwriter should’ve been fired). It’s not even saved by the acting abilities of Johny Depp. If it wasn’t for my wife explaining the history along the way (courtesy of a history channel special), I wouldn’t have known what was going on. Not worth spending money on it, or time for that matter.

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So far I have not blogged about something that has a lot of impact on my life. Especially on my bottom line. Turns out the University of California system has lost a lot of state financing (California is in quite a mess right now) and painful cuts are on their way. It is clear that the University will not come out unscathed from this incident. Although it will survive.

This finally made it to the main news media centers recently, as you can see from the New York Times article.  Bottom line is it seems I will be getting some furlough days: these are so to speak ‘unpaid vacation’. There is little point in complaining too much about it as the budget shortfalls will not evaporate by doing so. We are not allowed to take those furlough days when we teach, or when we grade, so I’m wondering what needs to be sacrificed in order not to work for free (or just plain less).

The simplest thing to do is to stop researching, but that is a bad idea: no research, no grants. No grants, no summer salary. I’m looking for creative ways to do what I do in less time so that I can make a point of taking those furlough days off somehow.

There is also the issue of what to do with the extra `free time’. I probably should take up consulting, but I’m not sure what or whom I would be consulting for. Or maybe I should take up writing a novel. I also thought of becoming entrepenurial and writting some apps for  iphones in the hope of winning the app lotery and getting rich quick. Additional days spent just surfing the internet and watching television is not that appealing to me. So if you have any ideas about what to do, please drop them in this post.

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Everybody loves typos. The ones that are especially fun are those that are not caught by spellcheckers and that can give rise to hilarious consequences. In order to have some fun at the expense of scientific language, I offer you the scientific biography of Avert Seaman, or A. Seaman for short.

A. Seaman was born in the early 1900’s. His origins have been a mystery to historians and biographers. It is known that he worked for his PhD thesis somewhere in Germany in the 1930′, after the invention of quantum mechanics. His thesis work was on the Better Ansatz, which was not all that good to solve the problem he was working on. He is famous for describing this work as ‘The Better Ansatz makes my head spin’.

He then went on to work on various projects where he analyzed various experiments with Furry Series and Hermit Polynomials. None of this was very successful. In the 1940’s he was finally successful and was credited with discovering the Seaman effect. Subsequently there were controversies over his calculations. The Seaman analysis of the data was considered to be inconclusive and it is believed that the expected counts of events were anomalously low in most experiments.

Later in life he worked hard on calculations of quantum electrodynamics. As an anecdote, he is the first person to have calculated the ass of the electron.

Later in life he worked on various projects in mathematical physics. Particularly in the study of Poison structures and Poison manifolds. He also tried to define a theory of Not invariants, that was Not successful. In his later days he has been studying Sting theory and is actively researching Tautological sigma models and the Moth-Incubator transition .

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I’m back. My holiday was wonderful, and I’m really glad I was without the Internet, e-mail and whatnot for about two weeks. Because of that, I have to catch up to what has happened over here. So far, nothing much to report, but I have a lot of work waiting to get done. In the meantime, I’ll send you to interesting stuff out there.

Bee discusses the dullness (or lack thereof) of modern scientists. In my opinion the statement “Most scientists are dull” is dead on. It is the same statistic of “Most people are dull”, but it does not really say scientists are more dull than other people. Of course, the interesting scientists are so interesting that they make it up for the rest. By the way, don’t take these comments seriously.  I’m not well rested enough to make a real point.

On this topic, over at Cosmic Variance, there is a discussion on whether learning philosophy makes you a better scientist. Sure, learning anything extra makes you a better scientist. That does not mean that we should all go back to the middle ages and read Thomas Aquinas and revel in  discussions about Kant, Hegel and all those guys with beards (and some without). I grew up in places where people really spent way too much time doing philosophy and science was dropped by the wayside because trying to sound deep was ‘cool’. I’m really not convinced that all this rhetoric is all that useful for science per se.

Clifford discusses fundamentals. Whether doing things that are `fundamental or not’ is that important. Lubos has a rebuttal. So what’s my opinion? Seems to me that this is a discussion about semantics and the proper usage of words. Using the ‘fundamental’ label seems to inspire religious feelings somewhere in my subconscious.

Also, here you have a new entry by Oswaldo Zapata. He discusses the topic of beauty (in science, and in particular in string theory).

In the meantime, Michael Jackson is dead, which seems to be more important than however many people have died in other places of the world in various riots, protests and wars (at least if you take into account how much press coverage there is of this event). Also, I found out that Billy Mays passed away very recently.  I had just read an article about him in an airline magazine. My cats were happy to see me again after my holiday and I got some really good peaches in the market. Now, there is this workshop at the KITP on the interface between Condensed Matter Physics and Gravitational Physics in higher dimensions. With two talks per day, I will be very busy.

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