Archive for October, 2009

A rare gem

Rather than complain about my lack of time for doing anything, I thought I would share something that I stumbled upon and I just had to stop for a few minutes to listen.

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Take out the popcorn and watch this. If you’re a cat owner, like me, you might have seen situations like this in the past. It’s nice to finally understand what the arguments between cats are about.

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Babelfish fun.

Here I am, completely overwhelmed by my academic endeavors (hence the low amount of recent blog posts). Over the past few months I have collected spam in Russian directed to this site, and turned it via Babelfish into English. These are the spam messages that say, in some form or another: your blog is good, with a link to a dubious website. This is unlike the random letters with nasty links sort of spam. The whole point of this exercise is that the simple message above gets garbled. I’m sure that having a lot of slang helps in this. Plus it also shows some interesting cultural differences between here and there, wherever there might be.

  1. Sufficiently interesting and cognitive theme
  2. Outstanding [statya].[Respekt] to the author.
  3. It is excellently written! I will much think…
  4. [Mlin], [spamery] simply reached already by this their primitive!
  5. This here from what you did take that so especially and one-sided? I think that it is possible to make in order to open this hypothesis.
  6. But why it is here exclusive thus? I search for, why not to enlarge this theme.
  7. Well why you did solve only thus? I reflect, how it is possible to enlarge this theme.
  8. [Blog] is very qualitative. To you reward for it or order of honor. =)

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A murder of crows

Lunch here can be very entertaining at times. Especially on days like today where we didn’t speak about physics at all. Today I learned that the proper plural for a (relatively large) set of crows is a murder of crows. Unexpected, perhaps, but I’m sure there is an illustrious reason for the name of such a collection of birds to be named such. That is not too different from a school of fish or a herd of antelope. Except for the fact that the plural collective sounds more gruesome in the case of  crows. Here is a link where you can find a few of these fun plurals. Now, in the spirit of this idea, here are a few suggestions on plurals for professionals:

  • A confusion of economists.
  • An arrogance of physicists.
  • A rabble of politicians.
  • A conspiracy of lawyers.

Some suggested a co-set of mathematicians. It doesn’t ring right.  I’m still considering what would be the correct way to describe large numbers of accountants ( a book of accountants, perhaps?). Perhaps I could play to stereotypes that accountants are boring, but I couldn’t find something that sounded quite right either. Bring in your witty suggestions. It is especially important to play to stereotypes of professions. Looking especially for fun ways to describe academics of various branches.

Update: it’s a congress of baboons as well. No surprise there.

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Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith share this years Nobel prize in Physics for their contributions to the transmission and detection of light. Congratulations to the three of them.

Charles K. Kao did research in material science of glass, and argued that the losses in glass fibers available in the 1960’s where mostly due to impurities in the material. A few years later glass of sufficient purity was made by Corning, and modern fiber optics telecommunications where born. Nowadays, this technology impacts us directly by making the infrastructure that handles the information traffic of the internet possible.

Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith created the CCD. This is one of the main technologies in modern photography. It make the capture and reading of light fast and efficient and it essentially made photographic film obsolete: the cost of capturing an image went down to essentially zero. It is also one of the standard technologies for astrophysics and most importantly, it is not restricted to the visible spectrum. It can be used to read light from distant sources very fast, data that can be transmitted to researchers all over the world very quickly (we don’t have to wait to develop the film), and being in electronic format, it is easy to manipulate, send and store. This is anther technology that has wide applications on the Internet, capturing live images that end up in U-Tube and Flicker.

Lubos laments the fact that the Nobel prize went just for technology. Although I sympathize, I think that this is not a bad choice at all. Although one can call this applied physics rather than fundamental physics, the technological breakthroughs enabled by these inventions is truly remarkable. Nowadays, we take it for granted. But it is truly a marvelous thing. Today,  I can have a video-phone conversation on the Internet with someone on the other side of the planet, for a costs that is essentially zero. This is a science fiction idea that did come through, but not necessarily the way they were originally envisioned.

You should also consider that modern telecommunications account for a big chunk of the worlds GDP, and it will surely grow in the future. The technologies that make this possible come from Physics research, and it might take many years before the engineering issues and the costs can be lowered enough so that we all benefit from them. Besides, the whole architecture of the modern Internet came out from CERN. A lot of people needed to look at large chunks of data with completely independent computer systems ans operating systems. A common message protocol for communications and standards for addressing data was born from these necessities. It would be hard to give a Nobel prize for that.

I would wish that the public at large was more aware that the technologies of today are the product of years of development, starting from physics discoveries and inventions and refined by engineers so that they can be mass produced with quality that can be controlled. Without the first invention, the rest of the process doesn’t work.

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