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Happy new year!

Well, I guess it is 2012. 2011 just went by in a blink.

I expect 2012 should be the year for the discovery of the Hicks Bison. That was how it was pronounced by someone at a New Years eve party that I attended.

On another note, the weather is good where I’m at, the world hasn’t ended and quantum mechanics has not been disproved over the holidays.

I also made a resolution to write a few more posts here this year than last year. We’ll see how long I keep that resolution.

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Oddities

So another week of Nobel prize recipients passed. The one in physics was given for finding a really good use for sticky tape (this is the ultra-fancy way of getting graphene from graphite). More precisely, Greim and Novoselov were able not only to obtain graphene, but to also show that it was an amazing material. There are a lot of promises of how graphene should be the next technology and how it will be in everything really soon. I’ve been asked a couple of times already what’s all the hoopla about graphene, but apart from cool science and lots of activity in terms of conferences and papers written about it, it’s all in projections for  future devices that might or might not materialize.

 

Well, that reminds me of how hot superconductivity was going to be used in everything, but the superconductors never got quite hot enough, and they couldn’t hold magnetic fields as strong as they were required for some of the potential big applications.

 

This was also the first year in quite a long time where I had already read some of the literature of the Noel prize winner in literature before the prize was announced. Mario Vargas Llosa is a great writer, but most importantly, he is also quite popular in Latin America. He has a rather humorous style and has treated some really difficult topics in his writings. Go and read some of them.

Also, currently the Chilean miners who have been stuck in a mine for about two months are being rescued. This goes to show that when there is a will there is a way: I am very happy that their government has put so many resources into getting them out.

 

I’ll tell  a bit more about what’s going on in physics in the near future. This ends this weeks transmission of (dis)information.

 

 

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Random photos of the day

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Here you see some random pictures of the day. They were take on Saturday Oct 2nd with my very handy ipod nano that was gifted to me a while ago. Except that it does not take pictures, but video. Don’t expect good photos from something so spontaneous, it was just handy at the moment. The audio was not good at all.

To convert the video to pictures I had to use the image capture of my computer screen (it produces rather large files), only after I figured how to get the movies transfered to my computer.  Then I went through a process of reducing the file size by trying random programs until I was able to find the one that would do the job. Turns out there’s more than one, but it took me a while to figure it out.

Of course, part of the fun of blogging is sharing truly random stuff. Like a weird vantage point to take a picture of Times square, or a mushroom formation that looks like a real crown.

I have been too busy finishing various stuff with deadlines in the past few weeks to make a long post about anything serious, so instead this stuff that I just happened on will do in the meantime.

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Fortune cookies

Let us say that I have been getting weird fortune cookies lately. It is my belief that whoever makes them is getting more inventive with what they dare put into such messages. Apart from fortunes of the type

You will travel far in the near future

I’ve been getting professional help from these cookies. For example, a couple of weeks ago I got one that went like this:

It is better to be approximately right than certainly wrong

Which is some of the best advice for physics I have ever heard. I’ve had other such that seem to resonate with my profession. Today’s was particularly funny:

You could prosper in the field of wacky inventions

If a colleague would tell me that I would be willing to bet that he thinks I am a crackpot. Oh well. Share your own.

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Opt in vs opt out.

I’m not a fan of Junk mail and much less so for e-mail Junk mail. I also prefer to have control over my personal information. This is why I get annoyed when I receive letters with an ultimatum: answer this or we will share of all our information on you with our partners.I’m also annoyed when I’m registering for a service and I have to scour the webpages to see where I have to opt out of junk e-mail. Both of these happened to me last week, so here is my rant on the subject.

I would be much better served if the law erred on the side of caution and forced the companies to have to work on the opt in model, rather than the opt out model. For those of you who don’t know, the opt out model is where you are offered a service automatically and you have to go out of your way to opt out. The opt in model,  you have to go out of your way to receive the service. I’m calling it a service, although I’ve never felt that I benefit from said services.

For example, you need to register for your phone service. When you do so, you are automatically `opted in’ to being able to spend money easily on your phone unless you restrict it. The case in point is calling numbers that charge for phone calls. There are various scams that exploit this standard setting. Sometimes they kind of register you through a promotion so that you end up spending money even if you didn’t want to do so. The phone company will just charge you for it and wash their hands since it is not their fault. So you have to opt out of the service by going out of your way and doing so. This is especially important if you consider the most recent virus on android enabled phones.

Of course, this does not protect against stupidity. But if you have to opt in for paying for such services by speaking to a representative, the cost to your wallet would go down in such an event because most people find bothersome to have to do anything.

It is clear why marketers like the opt out model: they have a direct line to serve you stuff (as much as they can try to funnel towards you without completely annoying you) as soon as you sign up unless you go out of your way to stop them. In the opt in model, you have to ask for your information to be shared.

The thing is that it is very hard to keep track of who has your information when you’re dealing with individual companies. However, if your information is shared a lot by default, you lose all control on that almost from the start.

Of course, you could always read economic papers on the subject that suggest that the opt out model is the most efficient for market economics. I’m not inspired by these studies into buying the opt out model: the studies do not seem to take into account the misuses of all that information.

I’m also not inspired by the recent developments where various governments around the world get an automatic pass on surveilance without court warrants. Current technological farming of information can be done on industrial scales at very low cost. This is very worrisome for freedoms that I hold dear: like talking nonsense on my phone without me having to worry on who’s listening.

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Catching the next wave

The year has started well.  I had a long vacation on the Sandwich Islands (also known as Hawaii) that ended right before the beginning of the new year. The first week of classes is passed and I am getting into the rhythm of things, so I can afford five to ten minutes to write about it. The best thing is that my level of crankiness went down to almost zero.

Interestingly, I had to go all the way to Waikiki to learn to surf, even though the place I live in boasts a large number of surfers. The main issue is water temperature. In Hawaii falling into the water does not produce thermal shock, so  it possible to  surf without a wetsuit.  Here in Santa Barbara the experience seems more traumatic for a beginner. I also saw some of the `crazy’ people who surf on 20′ surf performing their acrobatics and being beaten by the waves regularly.

Of course, those are not the only waves that I have to learn to catch. I’m still waiting to start surfing the smart phone wave. My current phone is semi-smart, but not enough. I’m also waiting to see if the rumors about a mac tablet are true. I would use it because I like to draw, and having the tablet screen sensitivity would help me with that. I’m also considering buying a netbook. I want something portable and essentially disposable (from the point of view of cost) to take around where no sensitive information is stored.

On a different note, people nowadays are also using GPU’s for computations, and the CPU’s to control them.  The GPU’s are the graphics cards. They are optimized to do a lot of arithmetic in parallel for rendering images quickly. A single CPU can then guide a GPU with 256 or 512 arithmetic units. For certain processes you can just use that numerical capability in highly parallelizable arithmetic operations. Hence one can use it for physics simulations (so ong as one programs them correctly). I’m waiting eagerly for some funds to get my hands on these and start doing some of the simulations I want to do. This is another wave that I have yet to catch.

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Turning of the seasons

Time keeps on passing by. Right now, apples, pumpkins, squashes and persimmons are in season, amongst other vegetables and fruits. The fall weather has settled in nicely, and the usual seasonal events are happening. For example, this is the season when postdoctoral applications are made, and I find myself writing a lot of letters of recommendation. In over a month, I will be reading these applications with the rest of the folks here, to make decisions on who we are going to hire.

Imagine my surprise this week when going to a grocery store, they are already setting up their Christmas decorations. Isn’t it a bit early for that? I was hoping that they wold be setting up the `Turkey day’ decorations after Hallowe’en. This is not the only place. To me, it’s too early for the end of year Holiday decorations. Seems to me they want to rush the end of the year. Or maybe they have nothing to be thankful for.

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