Archive for: September, 2008

The Republican war on intelligence

Sep 16 2008 Published by under ... the Hell?, [Politics], General science

Back in 2004, I had the pleasure of hearing Hillary Clinton speak at the Optical Society of America Annual Meeting in Rochester, NY.  After her prepared remarks, she took questions from the audience.  One questioner asked about some Bush administration policy -- I can't remember which one -- and Hillary demurred from giving too much criticism, saying something to the effect of, "I know this is a non-partisan audience."

The response?  Uproarious laughter, including from me.  Hillary didn't quite understand the humor of her statement, but the reality is that only a handful of people in that room at that time could probably think of anything good to say about President Bush or the Republican party.  (I personally know only two scientists who have supported Bush over the past eight years -- and one of them now vocally condemns the man.)

That isn't to say that there weren't conservatives in the audience, or among scientists in general.  Any scientist who is paying the least amount of attention to the actions of the Republicans over the last decade, however, cannot in good faith support them.  The Republicans have turned their party into the party of ignorance, and I fear that, regardless of the outcome of the current Presidential election, their shameless anti-education -- and anti-knowledge -- demagoguery will continue to hurt the United States for years to come.

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The Giant's Shoulders #3 is up!

Sep 16 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

The  third edition of The Giant’s Shoulders is up at Entertaining Research! It’s a smaller edition than the previous ones, but still has some very nice entries (mine included!).  Thanks to Guru for putting it together!

The next edition will be held on October 15th at Second Order Approximation.  Let’s get those entries in!  I myself am working my way translating about 60 pages worth of old French research.

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Richard Wright of Pink Floyd dies

Sep 16 2008 Published by under Entertainment

The music world has lost one of its greats: Rick Wright, keyboardist and founding member of Pink Floyd, died at 65 after a long battle with cancer.

His contributions to the band were often dismissed, especially, it seems, by fellow band member Roger Waters.  My impression, though, is that Pink Floyd is one of those bands that worked its magic best when all its members were contributing to the creative process.

There's probably one video that captures the mood amongst Pink Floyd fans right now, and seems a fitting tribute:

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Richard Marsh's A Metamorphosis

Sep 15 2008 Published by under Mystery/thriller

I continue with some reviews of the works of Richard Marsh, in celebration of the release of Valancourt’s edition of The Beetle. This time I discuss a book that is, as yet, only available through Google books, Richard Marsh's A Metamorphosis (1903).

This story is a marked departure from other Marsh works I've read, in that it combines the elements of a thriller with what can only be called a rollicking adventure story.  I discuss it and give some observations below the fold...

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The LHC shakes things up -- the nuts, that is

Sep 13 2008 Published by under ... the Hell?

Since writing about the first official test of the LHC on September 10th, I've noticed I'm getting a significant amount of hits.  This is a bit strange, since my post was pretty much the least informative post about the LHC, among many good ones.  Then I noticed the nature of some of the searches that led people here:

earthquake sept 10 related to lhc

lhc earthquake

earthquake lhc

lhc caused earthquakes sept. 10

lhc +earthquake

Ah; my post had been primarily critical of CNN's lede concerning the LHC, and I mocked it by modifying other ledes of that day, including the story about the Iranian earthquake.  But why were people searching for the words "LHC" and "earthquake" together.  A quick Google search found the following:

This is not a joke. This is not a ploy. This is real. 4 major earthquakes in a single day, and it just so happened to be the day the LHC was powered on. I’m not saying one caused the other because I have no definite proof, but I’m also not saying that it isn’t possible. If you dismissed the fear of what the LHC could possibly bring to the earth, I asked that you take another hard look and consider the possibility that you could be wrong. Consider the possibility that you don’t know everything and also consider the possibility that there are forces out there which are much greater than our understanding, some of which are not meant to be tampered with.

*Sigh*  Other articles and comments can be found making similar claims (and one spoof).

Let me, as a physicist, be completely, unambiguously clear about this: the LHC had absolutely nothing to do with any earthquake anywhere on the Earth, and it never will.

If you need more reassurance, go below the fold.

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Happy Birthday to Richard Kiel!

Sep 13 2008 Published by under Entertainment

It would be horrible of me to let September 13th pass by and not note the birthday of the most excellent actor Richard Kiel!  Kiel turns 69 today.

Kiel, standing a daunting 7'2'' tall, has made a career out of playing intimidating bruisers and sinister villains.  Horror fans might know him for his two turns as monsters in the original Night Stalker series: once as a Native American shaman, once (unrecognizable) as a moss monster.  Western fans might remember him as the hired goon Club in Pale Rider.  Science fiction fans might recognize him as the towering (and hungry) alien Kanamit in the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man.   MST3K fans will of course immediately recognize him as the lovelorn caveman Eegah!

Most people, though, will think of Richard Kiel as the sinister, steel-teethed assassin Jaws in two james Bond films, Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me!

Kiel has also had a hand at writing and producing, penning the family movie The Giant of Thunder Mountain.  In 2004, he penned his autobiography, Making It BIG in the Movies.

Happy Birthday to Richard Kiel, and thanks for giving us some villains and monsters (and heroes) worth remembering!


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"Interference between different photons never occurs:" Not! (1963)

Sep 12 2008 Published by under History of science, Optics, Physics

Note: This post is my contribution to the third edition of The Giant's Shoulders, a carnival of blog posts on classic science papers.

One of the most famous statements concerning quantum mechanics, as it relates to the light particles known as photons, was made by the brilliant scientist Paul Dirac in his Quantum Mechanics book1:

"each photon then interferes only with itself.  Interference between different photons never occurs."

This statement is bold and unambiguous: in Dirac's view, a photon only creates interference patterns by virtue of its own wave function, and wave functions of different photons do not interact.

The statement is bold, unambiguous, often quoted -- and wrong!  In 1963, Leonard Mandel and G. Magyar of Imperial College disproved this statement2 with a clever and simple experiment and a two-page paper in Nature.  I was reminded of this work by a question on my recent post on coherence, and it seemed worth reexploring.  Follow me below...

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4 days until The Giant's Shoulders #3!

Sep 11 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

This is a reminder that there’s 4 days until The Giant’s Shoulders #3, to be held at Entertaining Research.  Entries can be submitted, as always, through

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LHC fires up!

Sep 10 2008 Published by under Science news

From various sources in the science blogotopia, we learn that the LHC has been started for the first time!   For those unfamiliar, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is designed to be the world's largest particle accelerator, which will probe the frontiers of known physics in search of a greater understanding of the fundamental forces of nature.

I don't have a lot to say on the start up of the LHC itself, other than the fact that it's very exciting (I did undergraduate and graduate work in high-energy physics, so I have a bias).  I can't resist, however, pointing out CNN's initial lede on the subject:

Scientists applauded as one of the most ambitious experiments ever conceived began today. The Large Hadron Collider -- designed to simulate conditions of the Big Bang -- was switched on this morning. Skeptics claim the experiment could create a black hole capable of swallowing the Earth.

Emphasis mine.  This is highly misleading, as the 'skeptics' in question to the best of my knowledge have no scientific experience and are contradicted by every reputable scientist on the planet.  The structure of the story has changed since I first read it, but it still highlights the concerns of the 'skeptics'.  Just for fun, let's look at what some other CNN ledes might look like if given similar skeptical counterbalance:

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Busy with my book...

Sep 09 2008 Published by under Animals, Personal

If anyone's noticed a slowdown in my blog output recently, the reasons are twofold: 1.  The beginning of the academic semester, and 2.  I'm finally trying to make progress on my textbook.  I will probably continue to post at a slower pace for a few weeks, but definitely won't stop completely.

As a consolation, here's a cute video I took the other day of two of our cats, Simon and Sabrina, getting acquainted with a new motorized water dish:

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