Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quote of the Day

"When Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods decides to shed her party-girl demeanor to become a serious Harvard Law School student, her first purchase is a tangerine Apple iBook." —Harvard Crimson staff writer

There have been many, many inane fluff articles written about Apple, but this one has got to top the list.

[Perhaps I can embarrass James into posting again to the blog.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

–Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, speaking at a Sunday afternoon campaign rally in Sarasota.

Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart claims the Minnesota congresswoman made the above statement “in jest.”

via thedailywhat

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Pitfalls of Analogy

I read an article not too long ago which, though otherwise lackluster, made this interesting point: analogy is a bad tool for making policy decisions. And the reason is fairly obvious. Every historical situation involves an endless number of variables, and those variables never line up sufficiently in order to draw an analogy that is of any use to anyone. I've already blogged about what Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. thought of the Munich analogy: "I trust that a graduate student some day will write a doctoral essay on the influence of the Munich analogy on the subsequent history of the twentieth century. Perhaps in the end he will conclude that the multitude of errors committed in the name of Munich may exceed the original error of 1938." Now economist Bill Craighead writes on the folly of the "household budget" analogy: The wrong budget analogy.

The Dasein Methods of Ordering Game

This was threatened awhile back, and with Bob and Patty and Joe and Peter's visit, I learned that there are now picture searches available for the Web. Therefore, Pictures at an Exposition seems to have been outdated through technology. I was also re-inspired by Joe and Peter's love of games that I felt it was time to start The Niels Bohr And Martin Heidegger Methods of Ordering and Surveying Human Experience Game, or The Dasein Methods of Ordering Game for short.

I had planned on making a video with sound track for each game, but let's just put this first one on the train to Poughkeepsie and see who salutes it.

Please hum, whistle, or sing the theme song and give any answers you come up with in the comments.

Three of these things belong together
Three of these things are kind of the same
Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here?
Now it's time to play our game (time to play our game).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Great American Comment

There's an old joke inspired by half the population's life-long dream to write the great American novel™ and America's love affair with business. It simply is some variation on "I plan to write the great American memo." I think it's time in this era of the internet to add a codicil which is "the great American comment."

I've long been addicted to comment reading. Comment quality varies widely. The best I have found are, not surprisingly, from the better written sites. They attract the cleverest readers. It also depends greatly on the subject. The best columnists from the New York Times get occasional great comments. Ars-Technica can get an occasional clever geeky comment. The worst comments are from gaming or low brow sites where most comments are just variations of "You're an idiot."

Today I read an article in the NYT titled "When the Point Isn't Just to Stay Dry." It was an article about a store that sold umbrellas from $40 to $995. The article was only interesting as far as the curious subject, but the comments had a few gems:

They're all equally good for poking non-umbrella carriers in the face on crowded streets.

Great -- until you leave your $995 umbrella in the cab. I'll stick with the $4 ones, thanks.

…which reminded me of a story from a friend in Boston when I was working there. After carrying around and losing numerous umbrellas, he solved the raining problem differently. Whenever it rained, he would go to Filene's basement and tell a clerk that he had left his umbrella in the store. The clerk would then ask, "What color was it?" to which he would reply, "Black." He would then be led to the Lost & Found and shown a box full of black umbrellas, one of which he would select to keep him dry for the day. He actually felt good about his actions since he would be getting umbrellas back in circulation, especially since he would undoubtedly leave his new umbrella on the train.

My dream is to someday find "the great American comment" on In Progress.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 14

This one may call out more for a caption than a description, but you are always free to do whatever you wish. The prize is all the stars you can reach.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Google's Search Engine for the Day

Leave it google to not include an important part of Fermat's Last Theorem:

It appears they left off the part where X,Y,Z are non zero positive integers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Driving and Other Stories

My father bought a car when they were still a novelty, before I was born. The first thing he did was take his parents to Coney Island. He broke down once crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, much to the ire of all the horse and buggy drivers. They threatened to throw the horseless carriage off the bridge.

Women didn't drive when I was growing up. My mother didn't know how to drive. John's mother didn't drive. The only woman I knew who drove was Mrs. Stanley, Judy's mom. We had a Jordan. The Stanley's had a Pierced Arrow.

Aunt 'Beana'—I don't know what her real name was—lived in Bridgeport CT. She ran an oyster business. She had a chauffeur. Judy's mom would take us to kindergarden at Fielding School. Then we got a chauffeur, Fred, who taught me to drive. He would take us to South Mountain School. It was up the 'mountain', really just a hill. Chauffeurs would drop off the kids.

I used to borrow John's father's car to go shopping every Thursday or Friday. There was a traffic light on South Orange Ave. about a third of the way up the 'mountain'. People would always stall at the light. You would have to use the hand break on the hill to get started. Automatic transmission was a wonderful invention.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 13

Win a torn tassel of a pardoner's purse by offering some exposition for this picture:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quantum Week - Day 6

I plan to rest on the seventh day, so this will be the last post for Quantum Week. My purpose was similar to a professor who begins his lecture, "Here is my goal. Right now, I'm the only one who doesn't understand quantum mechanics. By the end of the term, you also will not understand." But I'm so far from being a physicist, which has been painfully obvious this past week, that I could only try to let others explain. Hopefully, we widened our island of knowledge and our coastline of ignorance.

In the history of mankind there have been three complete shifts in how we view the underpinnings of the universe. First, the universe was supernatural, then it was mechanical, now it is quantum. I'd like to pay homage to those who discovered and orchestrated this change, …and allowed you to watch this video on a computer smaller than your room.

Of course we also get to curse them for discovering all this weirdness in nature and creating all this messiness in science.

We've spent a week looking at some of this weirdness and messiness. I'll throw a little more at you now for you to ponder:
  • The measurement problem is still perplexing. What does measurement mean? You don't need a human. An electronic device will serve—even if it is never looked at.
  • By putting a measuring device on one slit, how does a particle traveling through the other slit know?
  • It is properly claimed that observing a particle means hitting it, no matter how gently, with light, a photon, which disturbs the particle you are attempting to detect. That is why the system is disturbed. However, there have been other experiments which claim non-demolition measurements. They don't measure using light or photons.
  • Measurement needn't be introduced before the particle begins its journey. A measuring device can be introduced later in mid journey and it has the same effect of destroying the interference pattern of probability. (Wheeler's delayed choice experiment)
  • Some experiments show that possible measurement will destroy the interference but it can by restored when that possibility is removed. (quantum eraser experiment)
  • The interference in the double slit experiment works even for very large molecules.
  • Some have said that according to the equations, we should be entering a superimposed state when we measure a superimposed particle.
  • There are even triple slit experiments, but they don't add anything new.
  • As Professor Balakrishnan said yesterday, even our logic system in regards to the meaning of boolean "and" and "or" must be modified.
So how can nature be so contrary to everything we know?

I'd like to address this question as consolation for not addressing how to interpret the meaning of quantum physics. I'll use a Darwinian approach since that seems to be the current rage to explain anything.

For almost 4 billion years life on earth has reacted to its environment. For a billion years multicellular life used whatever sensing mechanism it had to react to its environment. For 2.5 million years human-like creatures used their senses to learn about their environment. During this time our perception for measuring length, time, and velocity was on a scale of, say, 10 -4 to 10 +4. All that time we were adapting to a relatively minuscule range of nature.

Now, in the last hundred years, we have been experiencing nature on scales of 15 to 30 orders of magnitude smaller or larger. Our whole sensory and logic systems have been developed for millions, if not billions, of years using such a narrow part of nature. No wonder our sense of mystification is great when we come into contact with nature that, to us, is unnatural.

Instead of trying to explain quantum mechanics in classical terms, we should be doing it the other way around, understanding the classical model as an approximation of the underlying quantum world. There's no problem for us to look at the sun's motion and believe that the earth goes around the sun. How else would it look?!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Quantum Week - Day 5

Today is the climax of the week…or so I hope. Of the many videos and lectures I've watched, including ones from Stanford, Yale, Oxford, and MIT, this, in my humble opinion, is the best. But, as I watch it for the third or fourth time, I wonder if I extrapolated parts of other videos to what I thought was in this one.

It is an introductory class of an undergraduate course on quantum physics. The professor is an amazing teacher. Unfortunately it is long, about an hour. Also, there are formulas. I urge you, however, to be patient. If you don't have the time, pause it, sleep your computer and come back to it. If you are confused by the formulas or some of the terminology, don't worry. The lecture will return to more understandable matters. Plus, if you watch it more than once, you will soon understand the math. The video also gives you a good idea of how schools are approaching quantum physics today.

There are a few terms used which we haven't covered.
Pauli exclusion principle: Certain particles, like electrons, can not be at the same place at the same time, with the same 'quantum state' (or spin). This is why only 2 electrons can occupy the lowest shell (there are two different 'spins') and the third electron must be at a higher energy level shell.
canonically conjugate pairs (my favorite): In Newtonian physics this refers to mathematical variables where one is the derivative of the other. For example linear momentum is the derivative of its action with respect to its position.
Hamiltonian mechanics: This is a method of calculation in classical physics using coordinates and momentum.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Movie For Quantum Week

This movie reality is best explained by the Many-worlds interpretation, a realist, deterministic, local explanation of quantum mechanics.  Personally my favorite because a reality with an infinite number of Peters would be bitchin.

Quantum Week - Day 4

Just as there are respected scientists who hold out for a classical, deterministic explanation of quantum physics, so too are there respected scientists on the opposite end of the spectrum, who believe that quantum behavior lends evidence to a participatory universe. Their ideas flow from a number of features of quantum physics which we have seen, namely entanglement and the observer effect.

Quantum entanglement, shown by the EPR/Bell's Theorem/Alain Aspect and others' experiments viewed yesterday, indicates that matter is related in fundamental ways. And we believe all matter was related at the time of the 'Big Bang.'

The observer effect, which we saw in the double slit and the EPR experiments, suggests that consciousness or at least observation and measurement play a part in reality.

Again, I'm not going to investigate either the participatory interpretations or ones that suggest a more spiritual interpretation. There have been some popular books, such as The Tau of Physics by Fritjof Capra and The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav about these ideas. Plus, there exist many web sites and videos about them. However, I could not find one that met the rigors of my standards, or that did not have a lot of hallucinatory graphics or new age music.

Instead, I'm going to show three videos which offer warnings about spiritual interpretations of quantum physics. The speaker, David Albert, refers to a film, which is, I believe, What the Bleep Do We Know!? Albert appeared in the film, but felt he was misrepresented by selected editing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Enegren Brewing Company

Egegren Brewing Company is open for business as of 10 days ago, the Grand Opening post.

Response to Why Your Political Opponents Are Crazy

Because videos can't be placed in comments I had to make a new post.
Richard Feynman collaborates and extends Gary Gutting's thoughts about people having predisposed pictures. The coincidence was too great not to share. The relevant part is about 1/3 into the video.

Quantum Week - Day 3

The equation for the Uncertainty Principle rivals Einstein's E = mc2 in both importance and simplicity.

∆x is the change (the standard deviation of the probability distribution) in position
∆p is the change in momentum
h is Planck's constant, which is (about) 6.626 * 10 -34 joule/sec
h-bar (h/2∏) is reduced Planck's constant, which is (about) 1.054 * 10 -34 joule/sec

So, in general, the combination of (the error in position) * (the error in momentum) must be greater or equal to planck's constant. Since Planck's constant is so small, the principle can be ignored for all but the smallest and fastest particles. Given a million years (or some decent amount of time), a cue ball at rest, i.e. we know its exact momentum (∆p = 0), will change its position by the width of an electron. It's a poor excuse for missing a pool shot. Likewise, a baseball will never go fast enough for an outfielder to blame missing the ball's position on the Uncertainty Principle.

If you are having a hard time reconciling this newly discovered behavior of nature with classical physics, you can imagine how the top classical physicists felt. And Einstein, along with Newton, was the greatest classical physicist of all time. Einstein helped develop quantum physics with his work on the photoelectric effect. He won a Nobel prize in 1921 for his work on quantum physics, not relativity. He understood it as well as any physicist at the time, but he was strongly opposed to the quantum mechanics developed by Heisenberg and Schroedinger and the Copenhagen interpretation. His famous quote is "God doesn't throw dice." To which Niels Bohr, his good friend, apocryphally responded, "Don't tell God what to do."

Einstein, along with Podolsky and Rosen, developed the EPR thought experiment to disprove the Uncertainty Principle.

You may also be interested in another feature of quantum physics and the Uncertainty Principle called quantum tunneling. The video was made by a science teacher.

We know through a hundred years of experience that quantum physics is how nature behaves. It is experimental fact. There is no controversy. Like evolution, all scientists believe it. The controversy stems from scientists' interpretation of what quantum physics means.

I'm not going to directly comment on the various interpretations although some of these videos may have assumed the Copenhagen interpretation which is the most popular one. It's not that the interpretations aren't interesting or important, but it would take at least another week to address that subject.

Wikipedia may not be the best place to learn about this, but to get a feel for some of the interpretations you can look here.
Here's another listing that is a bit more humorous and readable.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Old Hymns and the Arab Spring

I find that there are still a few rewards in store for the regular church-goer. The other Sunday, we sang the old nineteenth century hymn, "How Can I Keep from Singing." This hymn begins with sort of a mystical theme -- focused on the experience of a reality beyond the daily adversity and hardship of this world:

Above the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing;

It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

These are pretty striking and evocative lyrics, and suggest the notions of unspeakable joy and a peace that passes understanding -- that not even your beliefs can account for.

But, you know, when you sing from a hymnal, you don't really have a chance to read ahead. So, I was completely unprepared for the last verse:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear, And hear their death-knell ringing,

And then the response: How can I keep from singing?

Here, we suddenly move from the sublime to the very worldly and concrete. I must admit that even in my most militant moods, I don't like the idea of celebrating even the worst persons death. So, that gave me pause as soon as I saw it. But, perhaps, all we're meant to sing about is tyrants trembling, and not their actual death. In any event, it didn't take me long to make the connection between the lyrics and the Arab revolt, and how at that very moment as we sang the tyrants of Libya and Syria were trembling, probably sick with fear.

The slaughter of civilians is of course horrifying and contemptible. But at the same time think of the thrill and hope we've felt at the courage, resourcefulness and dedication to democracy of people throughout the Middle East. I decided that the hymn was correct: how can I keep from singing?

Why Your Political Opponents Are Crazy

The longer I live, the more puzzled I am by the following poser. It seems axiomatic that people’s judgments about the world are based on observation and reason and that, as the abilities of human beings to observe and reason increase, there should be greater agreement in their judgments. In other words, people who are well-informed and highly intelligent should pretty much agree on everything.

Only, that’s not the case. We need go no further than the famous Simpsons episode, "They Saved Lisa's Brain." Here, by a twist of fate, Springfield’s MENSA members and the smartest people in town – Lisa Simpson, Comic Book Guy, Dr. Hibbert, Principal Skinner, Professor Frink, and Lindsay Naegle – become the leaders of Springfield. They see that they now have the opportunity to create an ideal society. But the entire project fizzles because they end up disagreeing about everything (and they also have bad ideas). An angry mob puts an end to their rule and they escape with their lives only through the last minute intervention of Stephen Hawking.

Of course, I see the same sort of thing. I know any number of people who, at least as these things can be measured, are most likely better informed than I am and probably a lot smarter, but their ideas are completely lunatic.

Anyway, here Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, takes a stab at the issue: Are Your Political Opponents Crazy?

Quantum Week - Day 2

At this point I think it would be nice to get a little more background on all this apparent weirdness. Here are some videos which will give us some perspective. This first one is just a short reminder of the atom's physique.

This next video gives some historical, as well as systematic, perspective. Notice J. J. Thomson's plum pudding model of the atom at the very beginning. I was amused by one undergraduate course video I watched, where an MIT chemistry professor admitted she had never seen plum pudding.

This last video is a link. (I couldn't get the video. Just click on View) It shows a simple experiment which illustrates Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. This is pretty important. Briefly, (for a particle of matter) it says that a particle's position and momentum can not be simultaneously and accurately measured. It is not the fault of the measuring device. It is an intrinsic property of nature. Position and momentum can not even be defined simultaneously to a precise value.

By the way, this week promises to be profusely pleasurable and provocative. If you have a particular friend or relative who enjoys such pleasures, please tell (or email or tweet or whatever) them to look up the site. (For example, I don't have Martin's or Kevin's or John's email address.) I think anyone can become a follower just by having a google account and clicking 'follow this blog.'

Heisenberg probably went for a drive outside of Munich and was stopped by a traffic cop. "Do you know how fast you were going?" asked the policeman. Heisenberg replied, "No, but I know where I am."

Quantum physicists are notoriously poor at sex. When they find the position, they can't find the momentum, and when they find the momentum, they can't find the position.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Caddie wins golf tournament

Steve Williams, caddie for Adam Scott, won the Bridgestone Invitational this weekend.
"I've caddied for 33 years—145 wins now—and that's the best win I've ever had," said Williams.

Luke Donald's caddie, John McClaren, who tied with Rickie Fowler's caddie, Joe Skovron, for runner up, disagreed.

"Huh?" said McClaren, "I didn't drop Donald's bag once during the whole tournament. I think I earned the victory."

"Right!" shouted back Williams, "And what was that slip into the water hazard on 14? Check the rule book. That counts as a dropped bag plus Luke Donald had to play with wet clubs the rest of the round."

"Well, at least I didn't loose a putter!" retorted McClaren. "That was disgraceful. You're just lucky Adam Scott can putt with a driver."

"Ah, he's used to it," said Williams. "I'm always doing that. I'm forgetful…so shoot me."

"And what about bringing Scott to the tee at 12 after you completed 9?" asked Skovron.

"I got lost. I'm supposed to remember the exact location of 18 tees? Give me a break!" Williams added, "Plus, avoiding holes 10 and 11 helped bring down Scott's score considerably. I think I have every right to claim this victory."

It's Quantum Week on In Progress!

Why this week? Well, that's uncertain, but I guess the probability amplitude for the event was high. Each day there will be a new video describing the features and/or bugs of quantum physics.

Quantum physics is pretty old science, almost 100 years old, and our civilization greatly depends on the workings of quantum mechanics.* Fortunately, it has proven to be the most accurate description of the world to date—not one exception to quantum physics has been found. Furthermore, all objects obey the laws of quantum mechanics, not just microscopic ones.

However, despite its obvious importance, it is typically not taught in high school and few learn about it in college. Like sex, we pick it up from the street. So, this week, for a change, we will learn what physicists have to say about it.

This first video, despite the cartoon physicist, is the best introduction I could find. Like practically all introductions to quantum physics, it describes the double slit experiment. Most of you are familiar with this stuff, but I'm hoping that with the thousands who visit the site (cough), some will be students unfamiliar with the experiment.

['Dr. Quantum' is actually theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf. He has some pretty…um…unique ideas about quantum physics, consciousness and eastern religion, but for our purposes this video is pretty decent. We may touch on some of the philosophical repercussions of quantum physics later.]

* "…today an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. gross national product is based on inventions made possible by quantum mechanics, from semi-conductors in computer chips to lasers in compact disc players, magnetic resonance imaging in hospitals, and much more." —Max Tegmark and John Archibald Wheeler in Scientific American, Feb. 2001
"There is no part of chemistry that does not depend, in its fundamental theory, upon quantum principles." —Nobel prize winning chemist Linus Pauling
"And if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical…." —Richard Feynman

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pictures at an Exposition - 12

Everyone knows the procedure. As a prize, the winner will have his or her name submitted as consideration for the Order of St. Sylvester. However, if the winner has his or her heart set on the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, I will see what I can do. No promises, however.

Friday, August 5, 2011

God in the News

People say God has become irrelevant -- but just recently He gets billing in both the New Yorker and the Washington Post. First, we have one of God's earliest blogs, along with comments. GOD’S BLOG .

Next, we have Gods' position on raising the debt ceiling. Two parties pray to the same God, but different economists. Aside from the initial reference to there being no atheists in a foxhole (Bob's observation was that God was totally absent from Vietnam), this is a rather thoughtful article about religion and public policy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Quote for the Day

I'm a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.

J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mother and Father and Other Stories

My mother was very close to her mother. I remember when her mother died, and we went to the funeral and the cemetery afterward. We were leaving the cemetery and my mother was quite upset. As we were driving back my father asked the driver of the limousine to stop. He had a flask of whiskey in his coat and he wanted to give my mother a drink. We must have been on a highway for the driver said "I can't stop here." My father said, "You do what I tell you to do." We stopped.

Once a month my father had a meeting at the Savings and Loan. My father always stopped at Gunnings on the way back to get my mother a chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream. That was her favorite.

I never remember my father and mother arguing. They never argued. My mother would just never argue. I only remember one time when she got mad. My father went out on the boat alone and ran out of gas or had engine trouble and didn't come back until the next day. That's the only time I remember my mother getting mad at him.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Economy is virtual economy

This has been dabbled with (notably, Eve Online, which has seen economic revolt and has been studied by university professors), but I'm not sure any game has explicitly gone this far. I'm not sure what to expect, but it does dramatically illustrates that money is most emphatically a medium of exchange. The value of money (and goods and services) is, to a large part, the value others place upon it.

Pictures at an Exposition - 11

For the more action oriented, any sort of exposition will do. We add the last contest's prize with this week's which is complete satisfaction.