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June 2005

May 2005

Orange Juice Shampoo

Elizabeth arrived in the kitchen at dinnertime last night with damp bangs. With a twinkle in her eye, she explained "I was washing my hair."

I asked, "What were you washing your hair with?"

She replied, "Orange juice."

"Where were you washing your hair, Elizabeth?"

"Peter's room."

And sure enough, there was a small puddle of orange juice on the rug in Peter's room.

The Pro-Extinction Right in Action

There is a jaw-droppingly stupid bit in this morning's NYT story, "New Rule on Endangered Species in the Southwest." I would ask what this Bush administration official was thinking, except that  I already know that the administration would like to see the endangered species act dismantled entirely. So this really isn't about thinking:

Dale Hall, the director of the southwestern region, in a memorandum dated Jan. 27, said that all decisions about how to return a species to robust viability must use only the genetic science in place at the time it was put on the endangered species list - in some cases the 1970's or earlier - even if there have been scientific advances in understanding the genetic makeup of a species and its subgroups in the ensuing years.

There is a notable passage earlier on:

Mr. Hall's ruling fits squarely into the theory advanced by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group in California, that endangered species be considered as one genetic unit for purposes of being put on the endangered species list and in subsequent management plans.

Remember the Pacific Legal Foundation? I ask again, what is wrong with these people?


Remember that computer I wanted to throw in the snow? It's David's now. I broke into my piggy-bank and bought myself a brand new machine, a high-end Mac. It arrived Thursday. (The NYRSF staff will be oh so happy that we now have a computer that will run InDesign in realtime and will talk to a printer too!)

I spent some time puzzling out the intriguing possibilities of the ports on the back other the machine. What is "optical audio" anyway? Some kind of synethetic oxymoron, clearly. (I gather it may have something to do with iPods.) And then there are the DVI monitor ports. I got it talking to my LCD monitor easily enough. The big TV we bought a couple of years ago (after I <a href="">burned a quarter inch gap in my wedding ring</a> trying to fix the old one) has one of those. I've been having fantasies about doing cool Mathematica animations on the big TV in full HDTV rez. But I don't want to set up my work station right next to the television, and it  looks like cheap wireless DVI in your house is either really expensive or in the world of the future. (A long DVI cable seems to be about the same price as the line-or-sight wireless thing that works with lasers: $1,300. Apparently, the longer the cable, the higher quality of cable you need. I don't think I'm up for a $1,300 extension cord.)

With my new computer on it, my old computer desk (which was actually purchased for use with my sewing machine) had a disturbing sag in  the middle. The modernist furniture dealer in Armonk was having a sale, so I bought myself an Italian high-design children's desk to use with the computer. It just happens to match my Aeron chair. Much better.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, it was raining cheap older equipment. So we bought another G3 for $25 plus a 21" monitor for another $30. I think some of our dining room furniture is going to have to leave to make room for all this.

I've come down with a bad cold Friday night, so have not been enjoying all this as much as I should. While lying in bed yesterday, I was trying to figure out what do about this abundance and came across an amusing discussion on Slashdot: On Decorating Your Computer Room? Reading down the accounts of people's spaces, I got the impression of people trying to simulate what it would be like to be a brain in a bottle, minimizing all input sensory except from the computer. My workspace is situated to allow for maximum tracking of children year-round, indoors and out. I was pretty boggled by these Slashdot guys talking about wanting to work in rooms with no windows. I'm up against a sliding glass door. I have to be able to see what's going on. My workspace has a lot more in common with an Air Traffic Control tower than with the nerd cocoon.

Years ago, I told David that it was essential that we have a dining room table. I may have to rethink that.

PS: Typepad had an outage Saturday and cooments were being rejected. If you tried to comment then and it didn't work , try again.

Rudy Rucker, Live, in Santa Cruz

Rudy Rucker announces an interesting event that I'd love to attend, except that I'm on the wrong coast. But if you live near Santa Cruz, go and then tell me about it. He says:

I’ll be performing with Phil Curtis at a small-scale event called ELSA, that is, ELectron SAlon #11, on Friday, June 3rd , starting at 8 PM .

I’ll read my story “Ain’t Paint” which appears in my forthcoming The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.  Phil will create some appropriate heuristic electronic music on the spot, and for video, we’ll use live demos of nine of my CAPOW software Zhabotinsky scrolls; the guys shown below. . . .

Phil and I will go first, so if you want to see us, you actually have to be there at 8. Usually at ELSA events there’s some free wine and food. It’s almost like a party.

Set 1: Rudy Rucker and Phil Curtis
Set 2: Run Return, an electronica duo with Kevin Dineen and Tommy Fugelsang
Set 3: The inimitable DJess and mixmaster, Ms Pinky, a. k. a. P. Minsky, with friends.

The venue is Next Door, 1207 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, 831-429-1596. Next Door is next to the Rio Theater, see map.

Real Names

Those who've spent much time here probably know that I am a strong advocate of people using their real names online. So I was pleased to note, while doing research for anthology story notes this afternoon, that Amazon now has a way of indicating that a reader reviewer is posting under his or her own name. (They verify that the name you're using is the one on your credit card, or some such.) The label itself is pretty funny: (REAL NAME)  I am really surprised that they were able to trademark that phrase. I wonder how they'll enforce their trademark.

Meanwhile, while Amazon is busy trademarking this novel concept, others doubt the existence of real names. Willfully obtuse was the label that came to mind when I encountered this passage from the conclusion of a Meatball Wiki entry on Real Names:

From all this it may seem very hard to claim there is such a thing as a RealName . . .

Or should that be Willfully Obtuse™?

Symmetry & Emptiness

In the May 12th issuse of Nature, Nobel prize winner Frank Wilczek has a nice writeup of my father's recent paper in the March 18th Physical Review Letters, "Quantum Opacity, the RHIC HBT Puzzle, and the Chiral Phase Transition"  by John G. Cramer, Gerald A. Miller, Jackson M. S. Wu, Jin-Hee Yoon.

Wilczek begins:

The concept that what we ordinarily perceive as empty space is in fact a complicated medium is a profound and pervasive theme in modern physics. This invisible, inescapable medium allows us to select a unique direction as up, and thereby locally reduces the symmetry of the underlying equations of physics, so cosmic fields in ‘empty’ space lower the symmetry of these fundamental equations everywhere. Or so theory has it. For although this concept of a symmetry-breaking aether has been extremely fruitful (and has been demonstrated indirectly in many ways), the ultimate demonstration of its validity—cleaning out the medium and restoring the pristine symmetry of the equations—has never been achieved: this is, perhaps, until now.

Then he goes on to explain why my dad (& co.)'s paper is so important. (Unfortunately, you need a subscription to Nature to read the rest. I was working from a pdf, retyping. So any typos are mine.)

Real Life Hard SF

Yesterday, I came across a really charming anecdote that reads like hard SF, but is in fact non-fiction. It is from the question and answer session following astronaut Michael Foale's keynote address at the 10th Anniversary Mathematica Conference, Friday, June 19, 1998, published in The Mathematica Journal in 1999. Foale took has own laptop with Mathematica on it with him to the Mir:

I had Mathematica with me; I owned it personally. It wasn't even a copy that NASA had bought for me. And I had intended to work on tensor calculus in all that free time that I was going to have. And I had it along with my music CDs in my CD pack that NASA nicely made for me, in the Spektr module. I also had it on the hard drive, installed on a laptop in the Spektr module.

But there was an accident. An experiment in which the crew was to try to dock a Progress convoy vehicle to the station didn't work out and caused severe damage to the Mir.

A simple TV image was used to measure the rate at which we were closing in. That's "black ground rush" to a parachutist. As you come in closer, the image gets bigger, and you can try to use that to calculate what the speed is while at the same time deriving a closing rate. Then you figure out the docking, using a little joystick to fire the thrusters.

As you know from the media, this was a terrible mistake. It left the station not mortally, but severely, wounded. The Progress basically impacted, we think now, on this part of the solar array on the Spektr module, and then it bounced and slowly floated away along the base block.

The Progress weighs seven tons. We think it collided at about three meters a second. I was in the base block; I didn't see it at all. Sasha Lazutkin saw it; he told me, in all haste, to go straight to the Soyuz escape craft, and as I was passing into the node region of the Mir, I heard a big thump. . . .

It had hit the Spektr module. If we'd been strapped in, we'd have all been shaken around. This is just the opposite of being on Earth, where you're in a car and you're always supposed to strap in. Bash the space station, and nothing happens to you because you're not in contact with the station -- an interesting backwards twist.

Like any good hard SF protagonist, Foale set out to do a bunch of calculations aimed at solving the problems encountered by the crew of the crippled space station. (For those who want to know all about the calculations, the keynote speech discusses them in detail.) He whipped out his trusty slide rule. Well, no, it was a little more complicated than that.

First, the problem he was trying to solve:

The task was this: when you lose attitude control on the station, what happens? The station, low-powered, starts to tumble; then the solar arrays are no longer pointed toward the sun; and then slowly the batteries of the station start to deplete, because the solar arrays aren't charging the batteries. And then in about two or three hours you have no power on the station.

Gyrodynes, the momentum wheels, are always acting, spinning at different rates to change the orientation of the station very slightly. Once the station's lost all its power, or the guidance and control system has failed, the gyrodynes start to spin down, and that momentum gets transferred back into the station. It spins in the opposite direction to the gyrodynes.

Lo and behold, because you have twelve gyrodynes all spinning and working really well to do a nice job at holding the station in attitude, as the space station loses control of those gyrodynes and the gyrodynes spin down, then the space station picks up all of the angular momentum that was in the gyrodynes and starts to spin in the opposite way -- and in an unpredictable way.

So my whole task was to basically try to figure out what the rotation was, null it, establish an orientation, and then spin. But the problem with the station is that it has unequal moments of inertia.

So, hard SF readers. You're in a damaged space station and you need to do some calculations on your computer. But the power keeps going out. Your install disks for the crucial program flew out will the escaping air when the station was damaged. People on the ground are trying their darnedest  to help. What else can possibly go wrong. Read it and find out! Actually solving the equtions seems to have been the least of the problems.

(Did you know that the IBM Thinkpad warranty does not cover exposing your laptop to hard vacuum?)

PS: Further to the subject of math, check out the amusing flame war in the reader review section of the Amazon page on Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science; the book, published 3 years ago, has 318 reader reviews so far.




I blog hardly at all for a while while traveling and upgrading computer equipment, and so you would think my total traffic would be way down. I discover this morning that according to Typepad, they project that I will use 82% of my allotted bandwidth for the month. Google loves me. (This last can be sung to the tune of Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.) I wonder what Typepad does when I start to go over.

After 8 or 10 months of a bad computer situation, we have begun some serious upgrading. We have just done a lot of upgrading on our Pismo Powerbook which -- until my new machine arrives next week -- is currently our fastest machine. When we were in Seattle, we had an Airport card put in. So right now I'm blogging from my bed while sipping coffee, something I've never done before.


NCCTV's Talent Rock Concert 2005

For local readers, I am asked to pass along the following bit of html email:

Rock Talent Concert 2005. Tickets are on sale. Call 238-2044 for more information. This is a fundraising event for NCCTV. Support your local community media.




New Castle Community Television, the town's access TV station, is hosting NCCTV's Talent Rock Concert  2005, a  musical fundraiser featuring local and New York City performers, to be held 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Horace Greeley High School, 70 Roaring Brook Road, Chappaqua.

The list of local entertainers at this rocking and dancing event to raise money for NCCTV will include: Millwood's singer Lisa Jane Lipkin; Chappaqua's Anthony Loiacono; and Greeley's Gary Lanza, Lori Christie, SaE (Sarah Weiss and Elon Rubin), and the Quaker Notes. Mike Byrnes host of 'The Guitar Show,' also will take the stage, along with The Bell Middle School Blues Band.

Local talent will be joined in the lineup by Larry T. Ellis, a Pittsburg based R&B singer, The Dusted Dons, a Hip Hop group from New York City, Chasing Sunday, a Gaelic folk band, and other Metro Area entertainers.

NCCTV is a nonprofit organization that promotes and facilitates community use of public access television to share information, foster dialogue, publicize town, government and school events, and create awareness of local interests. Through NCCTV, town residents get to produce their own TV shows.This should be a fun night,  said Daphney Mickle, NCCTV education access coordinator.   We hope people will come out to hear great music and support an important cause.   Admission is $10. For tickets or more information, call 238-2044.

New Castle Community Television serves the community of New Castle, Westchester County, NY, operating 3 community channels in the Northern Westchester Cablevision system:

 Public Access
Educational Access

Government Access