March 2006

Stanisław Lem

Stanisław Lem, in memoriam (1921 – 2006)

Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally he nodded and said:

“Very well. Let’s have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.”

“Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?” Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:

Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert, or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I’ll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou’lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love’s lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not — for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a2 cos 2 phi

— from The Cyberiad, 1967

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Two quotes by Justice Antonin Scalia

Comments by Justice Antonin Scalia on whether Guantánamo Bay detainees have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, as quoted by Newsweek (March 8, 2006):

“If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I’m not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it’s crazy.”

Confirmation Testimony of Hon. Antonin Scalia, To Be U.S. Supreme Court Justice (August 5, 1986):

Senator Mathias: “…if a reasonable litigant actually believed that your judgment would be distorted because of some strong personal bias or belief, would that dissuade you from sitting on a case?”

Judge Scalia: I think the statute reads that way, Senator. I have the statute somewhere. I am quite sure that the way you put it is about the way the statute reads, requiring disqualification. If I may, title 28, United States Code, section 455: “Any justice, judge or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

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Wish-list: Google-Earth image search


Philipp Lenssen over at Google Blogoscoped has posted a link to a Google Maps image that looks like an iPod.

The story that this is an abandoned mine that was won by Steve Jobs in a poker game sounds too good to be true, but the image got me thinking: I wonder how good the results would be for a “find the closest match to this image in Google Earth” app — something that picks the best location and zoom level for a given query image from all the locations on Earth. The feature’s no doubt already in place in some GIS systems (for things like “here’s an unannotated fly-by image of a missile silo; find the likely origin”) but I’m really just thinking for arty things like “create a font of letters made up entirely of satellite and fly-by images.”

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Flash Surfing

Long before flash mobs became the phonebooth-stuffing of the naughts, science fiction author Larry Niven speculated how the invention of teleportation would cause sudden flash crowds of gawkers to appear wherever a newsworthy event is taking place. Over at Searchblog, John Battelle suggests we’re bound to see something similar happen in couch-potato-land once channel surfers can automatically see what show or media event everyone else is watching…

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European Space Agency measures gravitomagnetism

I don’t know enough physics to really grok how important or not this is, but man this sounds interesting:

Scientists funded by the European Space Agency have measured the gravitational equivalent of a magnetic field for the first time in a laboratory. Under certain special conditions the effect is much larger than expected from general relativity and could help physicists to make a significant step towards the long-sought-after quantum theory of gravity.

Small acceleration sensors placed at different locations close to the spinning superconductor, which has to be accelerated for the effect to be noticeable, recorded an acceleration field outside the superconductor that appears to be produced by gravitomagnetism. “This experiment is the gravitational analogue of Faraday’s electromagnetic induction experiment in 1831.

It demonstrates that a superconductive gyroscope is capable of generating a powerful gravitomagnetic field, and is therefore the gravitational counterpart of the magnetic coil. Depending on further confirmation, this effect could form the basis for a new technological domain, which would have numerous applications in space and other high-tech sectors” says de Matos. Although just 100 millionths of the acceleration due to the Earth’s gravitational field, the measured field is a surprising one hundred million trillion times larger than Einstein’s General Relativity predicts. Initially, the researchers were reluctant to believe their own results.

(Via /. via Kurt.)

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Finally, Bush has a plan for victory…

After three years of bloody war in Iraq, President Bush has finally announced his hitherto super-secret plan for victory. Step 1: elect a more competent U.S. president…

President Bush said yesterday that future administrations will have to grapple with how and when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, indicating that he doesn’t see an end to U.S. commitments until at least 2009.

“That’ll be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq,” Mr. Bush said at his second press conference of the year, during which he also said Iraq is not in the middle of a civil war and defended his continued commitment of U.S. troops.

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Build your own Eclipse Webcast Viewer

On March 29, 2006 there will be a total solar eclipse, which is when the moon moves directly between the sun and the Earth. It won’t be visible here in the U.S., but even if you don’t live in Brazil, North Africa, Turkey or East Asia you can join in the fun! The San Francisco Exploratorium is hosting a big eclipse party starting at 9pm Pacific time, and they’ll be hosting a webcast of the eclipse live from a Roman amphitheater in Turkey.

The most important thing to remember when viewing an eclipse is never view an eclipse with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope! That’s because the sun will fry your eyeballs like a grape in the microwave. So to enjoy next week’s eclipse webcast safely, just follow these simple instructions to build a pinhole eclipse webcast viewer.


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