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Why Hieroglyph Is a Verb

The 3rd grade with microscopes

The Westport 3rd grade got some microscope time today. First, my son Peter told them about his microscope adventures. Then they looked at commercially prepared slides. And then the looked at samples of pond water from Black Kettle, where they had gone on a field trip, and from Ted Cornell's art farm, both of which are in Wadhams, NY. (See yesterday's post.)

I had hoped to get some shots of what the kids were seeing, but both the kids and the wiggly creatures on slides were moving too fast for us to photograph the microscope views. But here are the kids.



Dad in New Scientist

My dad, John Cramer, was quoted in New Scientist this week in Lisa Grossman's article Expert panel urges NASA to revive futuristic think tank concerning NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts.

Despite the current uncertainty in NASA's future plans and budget, the committee says that NIAC is still a worthwhile investment. "NIAC was efficiently run, there was no waste of money," says John Cramer, a physicist at the University of Washington and a former member of a council that reviewed NIAC projects. "NASA got an amazing amount of bang for the buck," Cramer told New Scientist.

manufactroversy: a word I've been needing

From Leah Ceccarelli at Science Progress:
Manufactroversy (măn’yə-făk’-trə-vûr’sē) 
N., pl. -sies. 
1. A manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute. 
2. Effort is often accompanied by imagined conspiracy theory and major marketing dollars involving fraud, deception and polemic rhetoric.

I first encountered this in the Wikipedia entry for Artificial controversy:

An artificial controversy, or variously a contrived controversyengineered controversyfabricated controversymanufactured controversy, or manufactroversy is a controversy that does not stem from genuine difference of opinion. The controversy is typically developed by an interest group, such as a political party[1] or a marketing company, to attract media attention,[2] or to facilitate framing of a particular issue. Creating controversy is also a controversial legal tactic used to gain advantage in a negotiation or trial.[3] The controversy may stem from a minor incident blown out of proportion,[4] from a false claim of controversy where no serious dispute existed,[5] or no reasonable doubt remains,[6] or unintentionally from misinterpreting data.[7]

Writing on the politics of cancer and the influence of special interest groups on the public policy debate, Dr. Robert N. Proctorhistory of science professor at Stanford University specializing in scientific controversy and the cultural production of ignorance,[8] which he calls agnotology,[9] described the use of artificial controversy: "The relation between knowledge and ignorance in these matters is complex....The problem is partly that ignorance can be manufactured, controversy can be engineered."[10] In a 2006 interview regarding public perceptions of the press in the United States, journalist Carl Bernstein lamented, "Well, let's take a look at what we're talking about: misinformation, disinformation, celebrity stuff—gossip, sensationalism and especially manufactured controversy.... Increasingly, sensationalism, gossip, manufactured controversy have become our agenda instead of the best obtainable version of the truth. We've become frivolous."[11]  . . .

Writer Valerie Tarico, referred to Prof. Leah Ceccarelli's writings on "teach the controversy" as a manufactroversy.[35]

The Tarico reference is her article from The Huffington Post, Ben Stein: Front Man for Creationism's Manufactroversy, concerning the movie Expelled.

University of Washington professor, Leah Ceccarelli has pointed out that their "teach the controversy" strategy depends on a very specific sleight of hand: blurring the difference between scientific controversy and manufactured controversy or Manufactroversy.

You can say you first heard it here, well, if you haven't heard it already on MySpace or Facebook: Manufactroversy -- a made up word for a made up controversy. 

"alternate universes have to be good for something"

Network Stephen Wolfram has written a few thousand words on the structure of universes which is, as might be expected, quite interesting. My favorite passage is this one:

A good friend of mine has kept on encouraging me not to throw away any even vaguely plausible universes--even if we can show that they're not our universe. He thinks that alternate universes have to be good for something.

I certainly think it'll be an interesting--almost metaphysical--moment if we finally have a simple rule which we can tell is our universe. And we'll be able to know that our particular universe is number such-and-such in the enumeration of all possible universes.

As a science fiction editor, I know what alternate universes are good for!

Background to the Stuart Pivar Lawsuit: Money as "a Form of Behavior"

I've been following with some puzzlement the strange tale of millionaire businessman and art collector Stuart Pivar's lawsuit against science blogger PZ Myers claiming "Assault, Libel, and Slander" over Myers' negative review of Pivar's foray into evolutionary theory, a book entitled Lifecode:The Theory of Biological Self Organization, the only book published by one "Ryland Press, Inc."

I first read about the lawsuit on Making Light, but it has also been written up on Scientific American's blog, where Myers comments,

Huh. I'd heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I've heard of any formal action being taken. Since I'm a defendant (one who hasn't been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.

Since I'm a blogger, though, I can't completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar's attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution ... but I'm afraid my honest assessment of Pivar's work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.

One of the very first things I was ever told when my first book came out was never to respond to negative reviews. I have not entirely resisted the temptation, but have (I think) managed to limit myself to polite notes making what I felt were factual corrections. My first reaction, when reading about this lawsuit on Making Light was how much it reminded my of the Monty Python skit containing the line, He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.

Of course, life is stranger than fiction; stranger, even, than Monty Python. I've spent most of the day reading for our Year's Best volumes, but spent a few minutes looking further into the discussion of the lawsuit, and found some really odd stuff.

Pivar, it seems, is used to being noticed and making waves, though in very different circles than biology or blogging. According to The New York Times (2004) he has a "long-running feud" with the New York Academy of Art which he helped found and where he alledges  that "organized crime" has taken over.

In 2006, he alleged that Sotheby's showed negligence to its stockholders in relation a refund given a Japanese collector for a statue for which Pivar had obtained a 1 million dollar appraisal.

But  the most interesting material relates to his friendship with Andy Warhol, which he wrote about for the Sotheby's Andy Warhol Collection 1988 auction catalog. The Warhol-Pivar relationship merited a really startling passage in an essay published by Artnet entitled "What Art Says about Money" by Charlie Finch:

That is the call of money, the fear of art as exchange value. Conversely, Claude Monet, the original Andy, would crank out his haystacks, take a small number to Marseilles, telling his buyers, "There are only a few, buy them while you can." Then he'd float another dozen stacks back in Paris.

This is more than making a living, or refusing to: It is the love call of currency at its most fetishistic. Steve Rubell famously showered Andy Warhol with buckets of bills at Andy's birthday bash. No artist was more the victim, and yet exploiter, of money lust than Warhol, wandering the souks of Soho with Stuart Pivar buying up everything in sight then dumping the unopened packages in his closets at night, full of unsatisfied shame. The pull of mammon was murderous even on someone so intelligent. For money is a form of behavior, abstract, hidden and irrational.

Here's more on the Andy and Stuart social scene from accounts by Heli Vaaranen, a Finnish model:

What united Stuart and Andy was that they appreciated success, and only it. If someone tried to get started with his or her career, Stuart and Andy were certainly the wrong persons to try to use. Stuart Pivar had a very exclusive taste in his social life. For instance, he used to arrange classical concerts once a week in his home, in which artists like members of the New York Philharmonic performed. Only the best was good enough for Stuart.

Both Andy and Stuart selected the company they associated with. Very carefully. Andy used to say that 'It's great to buy friends'. Vaaranen agrees that Andy's famous friends were bought with his fame.

In the past few days, there are any number of people who have called Pivar an idiot for filing this lawsuit. That seems to me too easy an assessment.

The truth seems to be much more novelistic in a Jamesian sort of way: Pivar strikes me as a feisty, confident man, a fighter, who has honed his tactics in intellectually and aesthetically complex circles, who is unable to understand why his visual sophistication is not taking him where he wants to go, and why money can't take him the rest of the way if visual sophistication isn't enough. (I hope for the sake of everyone involved that he is a quick learner.)

"Bear with me as I unpack my indignation": Scientific American publishes an impassioned defense of science fiction

Cory Doctorow at the Nebulas

From the Scientific American blog: Science fiction is not obsolete--do you read me Bruno Maddox? by J.R.Mikel:

I strongly suspect that many of you who scan this web site regularly are fans of science fiction. Personally, I was a Heinlein kind of guy, though I made extensive forays into the worlds of Herbert, Niven and Bear, and sampled the ABCs: Asimov, Bester, Clarke. (Yes, I'm aware of Bradbury's work.)

I don't read the genre much anymore. Still, if you're anything like me, you screamed and stomped and pleaded with your girlfriend to understand the error of the August installment of Blinded by Science, an otherwise fine column in Discover magazine. The author, Bruno Maddox, was nominated for a national magazine award this year, and I have well enjoyed some of his writings. His riff on twins was singular. (Individuality is a construction--it's funny because it's true!)

Unfortunately for me . . . I must now heap punditocratic brickbats upon Maddox. For he has either let the zeitgeist slip through his fingers, or he has gone quite mad with power. Bear with me as I unpack my indignation.

Bruno Maddox attended the Nebula Awards weekend and was not impressed. Minkel gives a few examples of current sf writers whose work is highly responsive to and influential on science and technology. And I could do it to, in much more detail. I refer Mr. Maddox to our anthology The Hard SF Renaissance or to my chapter on hard sf in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction.

Maddox spends a lot of wordage demolishing the importance of Michael Crichton as a writer. (Please see Nature editor Oliver Morton's essay on Michael Crichton published in The New Yorker in which Morton carefully and clearly points out how Crichton is distinctly and essentially not science fiction.)

But Maddox's piece, despite its stated thesis, isn't really about the relationship between science and science fiction. It's about a man finding himself at the wrong party and feeling uncomfortable. Apparently, he was bored. Maddox says.

Then again, it could also be the other thing--the thing that nobody's quite bringing up over the plastic cups of Yellowtail Merlot. Which is that science fiction, the genre that lit the way for a nervous mankind as it crept through the shadows of the 20th century, has suddenly and entirely ceased to matter.

Maddox did notice Charlie Brown's shirt, but if failed to convince him that we sf folk are prophets:

Other than this, however—the design on the back of the Hawaiian-cut shirt of a very old man investigating the bean dip over at the buffet table—this gathering of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is palpably low on excitement. We’re on the 38th floor of a Marriott hotel in Lower Manhattan, in a poky beige suite filled with the same cheap, gestural furniture you find in those fake rooms that get set fire to in fire-safety videos. And with the exception, obviously, of this correspondent, we’re a fairly drab and subdued sort of bunch. The demographic is middle-aged to old. The median shirt type is sweat-. And there are several grown men apparently untroubled by the fact that they’re wearing backpacks to a social event, yet troubled to the point of madness and eczema by pretty much everything else.

(If Maddox had attended the LOCUS Awards instead, he would have seen a whole lot more Hawiian shirts.)

Maddox seemed to desire a confession of our own obsolescence in the form of arguments about whether sf was old and boring. If that's Maddox was after, he went to the wrong place. Never mind that there have been innumerable sf convention panels since at least the 1960s on the possible death of sf. The right place to have found this discussion would have been the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts held in March.

John Clute finishes Pam Zoline's dinner; people kissing in the background at Readercon
John Clute at Readercon

SF critic John Clute has been arguing for a few years that it  is basically over. My husband David Hartwell and others argue that it's not (though David edited an anthology, The Science Fiction Century, devoted to the proposition that science fiction was the characteristic literature of the 20th century). There is a certain amount of muttering that the reason Clute made this claim is that he finished the Science Fiction Encyclopedia in the mid-1990s and it would have to be revised and done again if sf wasn't dead, or become old and obsolete.

T'ffany: Valley Girl Klingon
Pink Klingon at Marcon

But I suspect a chat with Clute -- who despises SFWA and the Nebulas as much as Maddox apparently does -- wasn't  really what Maddox was after. Maddox was hoping for people dresses as Klingons. Again, he was in the wrong place. He should attend Marcon  in Columbus, Ohio where -- if you go to the right party -- you can even find people undressed as Klingons.

John Cramer at Apollocon

I didn't go to the Nebulas this year. We stayed home and frantically cleaned house. If I want vigorous, intelligent conversation  about sf and its relationship  to science, I go to, say, Readercon, or the ICFA, or Boskone, or smaller conventions like Confluence in Pittsburgh or Apollocon in Houston.

Maddox asks, "Why are they not holding their annual meetings in some sort of gilded purpose-built pyramid while humanity waits breathlessly outside to receive their inklings into our future?" That's Hollywood, dear. We're book people, and not rich book people like the techno-thriller writers.

Kathryn, Greg and Elizabeth Brown Benford

In the Sky Church

But if you want that sort of venue, try the Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductions held in the Sky Church of the Experience Music Project, which was built with Paul Allen's money. I'm not sure this would satisfy, though: Charlie Brown, a former nuclear engineer, would still be around in a Hawaiian shirt picking over the hors d’œuvres.

Minkel concludes that Maddox, not the sf folk he encountered, is the one stuck in the past:

I expect better from my lauded commentators. You see, the world has not outpaced science fiction. Rather, science fiction has outpaced Bruno Maddox. In the spirit of grand prognostications, I hope at least it was a planned obsolescence.

Nonetheless, despite Maddox's unwarranted conclusions about the health of the genre, his description of a SFWA party is wickedly accurate. SFWA is a trade organization. The event is a business cocktail party. For the most part, people attend the Nebula weekend because they think it's a good business decision, not for the intellectual challenge and inspiration. I usually skip it.

Vernor Vinge in a Hawaiin shirt
SF writer and techno-prophet Vernor Vinge

An animation of how the I-35 Bridge could have collpased with the failure of only 3 pieces


Yifan Hu at Wolfram Research has come up with a computer model of the I-35 bridge that shows how the bridge could have collapsed with the failure of only 3 pieces. He explains:

The picture below shows the computed stresses in a simple 2D model of the I-35W bridge, with red meaning more stress. (I got the geometry from news pictures.) There are definitely aspects of the model that are not realistic. For example, the weight of the trusses themselves isn't included. And, of course, it's in 2D.

So what happens if one of the trusses weakens?

It's easy to include this in the computation by adding an upper bound on the stress in that truss. That just adds another inequality--which FindMinimum has no problem with.

One can actually compute all this in real time inside Manipulate. Here's an animation of the result:

One sees that when the truss with maximal stress weakens (shown in yellow), the stress spreads out to other parts of the bridge. If one weakens the next truss, then the stress propagates further. And when one weakens yet another truss, then the constraints can't be satisfied at all any more--so there is no static equilibrium for the bridge, and the bridge cannot stay standing.

See it HERE.

Conservapedia vs. Wikipedia

Did you know that there exists a "Conservapedia," a conservative reaction to Wikipedia? I discovered this fascinating fact via the Liberal Avenger, which was making fun of their entry on the Moon. My favorite page on Conservapedia is their entry entitled Examples of Bias in Wikipedia. Here are a few choice bits:

  • Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception. . . .
  • Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users. Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour," then insists on the British spelling for "specialization" also. Enter "Hapsburg" (the European ruling family) and Wikipedia automatically changes the spelling to Habsburg, even though the American spelling has always been "Hapsburg". Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words. . . .
  • Wikipedia has many entries on mathematical concepts, but lacks any entry on the basic concept of an elementary proof. Elementary proofs require a rigor lacking in many mathematical claims promoted on Wikipedia. . . .
  • The Wikipedia entry for the Piltdown Man omits many key facts, such as how it was taught in schools for an entire generation and how the dating methodology used by evolutionists is fraudulent. . . .

Oh, goodness. I wonder which mathematical claims were felt to be unchristian or subject to liberal bias.

Conservapedia is aparently a project of Andy Schafly, son of Phyllis.

(Notably absent from the Conservapedia entry on algebra is a discussion of the Arabic origin of the word.)

A Holiday Gift Guide from Action Potential, Nature's Neuroscience Blog

Seretonin_holiday_ornament From Action Potential:


The Unemployed Philosophers Guild has a whole page dedicated to Freudiana for that very special psychologist in your life. Among my favorites are Freudian Slippers, the Tickle Me Freud doll and the Freudian Sips mug. You can also get Freud and Jung finger puppets, but unfortunately no Ramon y Cajal. Made with Molecules features necklace pendants and earrings with the molecular structures of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, including dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and caffeine. However, I am partial to the oxytocin baby onesie that says 'Cuddle' next to the molecular structure of oxytocin. MWM also carries a holiday greeting card with the mythical peptide P-E-A-C-E (proline-glutamic acid-alanine-cysteine-glutamic acid) gracing its cover. Finally, for the purist, the Anatomical Chart Company has a good old brain gelatin mold and a baseball cap covered with an anatomically correct illustration of the brain and the words 'Think, think, think' under the brim.

And I have just begun to shop!

MEANWHILE, the Onion is getting into the holiday spirit: Christmas Brought To Iraq By Force:

"Why am I supposed to feel joy for the world?" said 34-year-old Baghdad mechanic Hassan al-Ajili as he stood in line for his mandatory visit with Santa. "My country is still at war. I need an American identification card to get anywhere in my own city. Now, for some reason, men with machine guns have placed two rows of jingling antlered pigs on the roof of our house. This is insane."

"The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.": An Opportunity for the Republican Machine

Bedlam_t_1 Oh, goodness. A study of political preferences of psychiatric patients (conducted by a Reagan-Republican working on his masters thesis), apparently broken down by diagnostic category, reported on by the New Haven Advocate.

The blogosphere goes wild!

From the article, given the inflamatory title Bush Nuts: Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?

[Christopher] Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

(Via Lot 49.)

The Neurontic grumbles about the popularity of this news story, especially with science bloggers:

Considering how much ink has been spilled in scientific circles over the Bush Adminstration’s willingness to skew science to further its political agenda, I find it appalling that normally levelheaded bloggers got swept away in this quasi-scientific brand of conservative bashing.

I understand Neurontic's irritation, but the Bush administration's industrial-scale denial of the scientific method is not comparable to leftish bloggers chuckling publicly over their morning coffee over a hilarious result from a seriously intended scientific study. A really good skeptical discussion of the issues involved in the design of the study can be found at Respectful Insolence.

Not nearly enough research is done about the political ideologies and theories of the mentally ill and how they play themselves out in the public arena. I'm tempted to say more research should be done, except for the dystopian scenarios that arise: the Far Right Hate Machine secretly obtaining lists of those prescribed Zyprexa and making sure they are all registered to vote and turn out at the polls. (This has the makings of some really dark political satire!)

Naked Science note's Tom Tomorrow's thought on all this:

Via Tom Tomorrow, who dryly notes: "Anyone who's spent any time reading right wing blogs already understood this to be true." Indeed.

Despite the fun and games to be had with this study, though, it does not make a statement about the mental health of Republicans, it does not say that Democrats cannot be psychotic, or anything of the kind, though the far-right blog Barking Moonbat Early Warning System is most amusing on this subject:

You’re mad ... all of you. Totally insane. Around the bend. Fruit loops, even! Or so says a new study out of Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I’m talking to you - you certifiably insane Bush-lover. All of you need to have your heads examined. Maybe then you’ll wise up and vote for Kerry ... in which case you’ll not only be barking mad but certifiably stoopid ....

It simply observes that among a relatively small sample of the mentally ill, the more psychotic the patient, the more likely the patient-voter to support Bush.

I don't see this study as an attack on conservatives, so much as an unexpected result from a study focused on something else, resulting in a political opportunity for the Karl Rove wannabee sick enough to pursue it: Trust me! I know what I'm doing!

So how will the Republican Machine react to Christpher Lohse? Swiftboat him? Or offer to fund his next study? Or ignore him and make much deeper cuts in the treatment of mental illness?

The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.  —Michel Foucault

The American political landscape is a very strange place.

Hacking the Universe?

Sethlloyd An interesting paragraph. (I think Hector's first language is not English, so bear with him. The discussion is a followup on a presentation that took place at a conference in Berlin.)

Dr. Seth Lloyd’s work is very inspirational, and I am in the process of engage myself on a project inspired by related ideas mining the computational universe for uncovering Lloyd’s and others claimings. But I find that his theory about the universe, which by the way I agree with him (even when it seems the contrary) among many others that also think that the universe is Turing computable, assumes no less than any other conception of the universe, which leaves space for continue thinking on evocative hypothesis, including Church’s one while at the same time we achieve to hack the universe.

What You've Always Wanted to Know About Polonium

Theodore Gray's collection of elements.

In case you're wondering about that rare radioactive element Polonium, which was apparently used to poison ex-KGB agent turned author Alexander Litvinenko, I have just the web site for you.

Poster10x20jpg Theodore Gray, one of the founders of Wolfram Research, is a collector of chemical elements, and just this year did a really lovely poster of the periodic table.

He also has a terrific collection of the chemical elements, portions of which are in his office at Wolfram in Champaign, IL. (I spent quite a while admiring the collection last year, and when I went to take a plane home, my luggage set off the TSA's chemical alarm.)

Theodore Gray with his element collection

In his introduction to Polonium, Gray explains:

Polonium is a dangerous radioactive element that occurs only in minute quantities in nature. Before the invention of the audio CD quite a few people had a little bit of it in their homes in the anti-static brushes that were used to make LP records sound a bit less terrible.

Ah, the good old days!

Gray's site describes samples from his element collection:

Radioactive Sparkplugs.
For some crazy reason, in the 1950's Firestone made automotive sparkplugs containing radioactive polonium. Presumably the idea was that the ionizing radiation would allow the spark to travel more easily, making for better ignition. I think it's a fairly far-fetched idea.

. . . and  Antistatic brushes. See also Jeremy Wagstaff, who explains why you don't want to eat your anti-static brush. But this is Theo Gray again. . .

Antistatic brush.
These brushes, which you can still buy today (2002) are made for brushing static charge off of photographic negatives. The radiation from the polonium element (which must be replaced every year or so because the half life is only 138 days) ionizes the air around the brush, making it conductive and carrying away the static charge. . . .

Continue reading "What You've Always Wanted to Know About Polonium" »

Nigerian Spam about Quantum Mechanics

Someone in Nigera apparently read my most recent post, because I got a hillarious piece of Nigerian spam on the subject of quantum mechanics:

I am Civ Opopekim, the only son of the late Professor Lawrence Opopekim, of a much respected university in my country of NIGERIA, who was dedicated to the study of RETROCAUSALITY. Upon examining my father's scientific journals, I have discovered a matter of the most URGENT importance to your future (and past) well-being. As most of my father's work has not yet been published, I am counting on your discretion in this sensitive matter.

In the course of research, my father discovered the photons created in his experiments were entangled through QUANTUM MECHANICS with photons found in your locale. Further study revealed the break-through discovery of photon tilt patterns in the photons of your area based on experiments planned but yet to be performed by my father.

Alas since my father was poisoned to death with tainted YAK MILK by scientists from rival laboratories who lured him to GENEVA under the false pretense of a scientific conference, a financial situation has arisen where I can no longer assure the continuation of his research or the operation of his laboratory (it embarrasses me to admit this sad truth).

As a person of science, you are aware that even changes at the quantum level cause universes to take separate but parallel infinite paths. I fear that if I am unable to continue my father's schedule of experiments and therefore cause the photons in your immediate area to not have tilted in the way they already have, the life you have come to know and enjoy will cease to be and you will find yourself in a parallel existence unfavorable to you.

To this end, and for the sake of your past and current self as well as my father's research, I humbly ask you for the sum of US$10,000, which will allow me to keep for father's laboratory open for a time to carry out the scheduled experiments.

As an indication of your willingness, please forward to me your: full name, company, full contact address, phone, cell, fax, city, sate, zip code, occupation, SSN and all the necessary information will be sent to you on the acceptance of this arrangement.

His dad must have been a very important guy! It's not everyone who gets fed poisoned yak milk in Switzerland!

My father, John Cramer, remarks that he will know to avoid the yak milk at future physics conferences.

My Dad Is Cooler than Your Dad: "If the experiment works, a signal could be received before it's sent"

My Dad is Cooler than Your Dad

From yesterday's Seattle PI: Going for a blast into the real past: If the experiment works, a signal could be received before it's sent

If his experiment with splitting photons actually works, says University of Washington physicist John Cramer, the next step will be to test for quantum "retrocausality."

That's science talk for saying he hopes to find evidence of a photon going backward in time.

"It doesn't seem like it should work, but on the other hand, I can't see what would prevent it from working," Cramer said. "If it does work, you could receive the signal 50 microseconds before you send it."

Uh, huh ... what? Wait a minute. What is that supposed to mean?

Roughly put, Cramer is talking about the subatomic equivalent of arriving at the train station before you've left home, of winning the lottery before you've bought the ticket, of graduating from high school before you've been born -- or something like that.

Yaaay for the home team!!! (See also my previous post: Retrocausality.)

SEE ALSO Slashdot. (Daddy's been Slashdotted!)

My favorite blog post on this subject is from Correntewire: Science for Republicans! which first quotes from the article on my dad and then quotes John McCain' electoral regrets:

“We departed rather tragically from our conservative principles,” McCain lamented recently, offering his take on why the GOP fell from power in Congress. He urged a return to what he called the foundation of the Republican Party — restrained spending, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense and family values.

Sorry guys, not this time out. This is just a physics experiment.

My dad, also a publshed novelist,  explains the excitement of experimental phsyics:

Even if this does fail miserably, providing no insights, Cramer said the experience could still be valuable. As the author of two science-fiction novels, "Twistor" and "Einstein's Bridge," and as a columnist for the sci-fi magazine Analog, the UW physicist enjoys sharing his speculations about the nature of reality with the public.

"I want people to know what it's like to do science, what makes it so exciting," he said. "If this experiment fails in reality, maybe I'll write a book in which it works."

Physicists John Cramer, left, and Warren Nagourney work in the lab. Nagourney says he has

(Also, I've added a Restrocausality photoset to my Flickr account!)

Superconducting Magnet Quench

These are pictures from the STAR detector at the RHIC facility at Brookhaven that my father, John G. Cramer, brought to lunch today.  He was running on the machine at Brookhaven as part of the STAR Collaboration.  The first two are from a "normal" collision of two gold nuclei, producing several thousand particles in the center of the detector.  The next four show the results of a superconducting magnet quench that happened at noon on March 25, 2006.

The quench dumped all the protons they were planning to use for the next four hours of collisions, which hit the accelerator walls and produced a flash of radiation picked up the the STAR detector. I'm told the accelerator recovered after a couple of days.

Here is the sequence of pix with his captions. Click on them to see bigger images:


1.  Central collision of two gold nuclei with collision energy 25,610 GeV as recorded by the STAR detector at RHIC in August, 2000. (End View)

And the second one . . .


2.  Central collision of two gold nuclei with collision energy 25,610 GeV as recorded by the STAR detector at RHIC in August, 2000. (Side View)


3.  Catastrophic superconducting magnet quench;  all stored proton beam dumped abruptly when magnetic field went to zero, as recorded in STAR detector (End View)


4.  Catastrophic superconducting magnet quench;  all stored proton beam dumped abruptly when magnetic field went to zero, as recorded in STAR detector (Side View)


5.  Next view of catastrophic superconducting magnet quench;  all stored proton beam dumped abruptly when magnetic field went to zero, as recorded in STAR detector (Side View)


6.  Next view of catastrophic superconducting magnet quench;  all stored proton beam dumped abruptly when magnetic field went to zero, as recorded in STAR detector (End View)

And here we are right after we came back from lunch.

Kathryn Cramer & John G. Cramer

See also these sites: MRI Scanner Superconducting Magnet Quench, a diagram with a video, & Superconducting Magnet Issues (CERN).

The Emergence of Science Blogging

Declan ButlerDeclan Butler has written a fine article in Nature about blogs by scientists: Science in the web age: Joint efforts

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, he saw it as a collaborative workspace for his fellow scientists at CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva, and beyond. His creation went on to surpass his prediction that "the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use". But in the rush to develop the web as a flexible way to find information, the original concept of users interacting in real time was largely forgotten. Fifteen years later, the web seems to be returning to its roots.  . . .

Outside academia, blogs are taking off in a big way. A study published in October by the Guidewire Group, a research firm in new media, says that 90% of marketing communication companies have either launched, or intend to launch, internal blogs. There are now some 20 million blogs, permeating almost every sector of society. But science is a glaring exception, and today there are still only a few dozen scientific bloggers.

Scientists who blog see their activities as a useful adjunct to formal journals, not a replacement. "The standard scientific paper is irreplaceable as a fixed, archivable document that defines a checkpoint in a body of work, but it's static, it's very limited," says Paul Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, who blogs at Pharyngula.

"Put a description of your paper on a weblog, though, and something very different happens," says Myers. "People who are very far afield from your usual circle start thinking about the subject. They bring up interesting perspectives." By sharing ideas online, you get feedback and new research ideas, he says.

A senior US epidemiologist who blogs once or twice a day under the pseudonym 'Revere' on his public-health blog Effect Measure, has attracted a diverse readership. "About 1,500 people visit each day," he says. "If someone told me that I could show up at a lecture hall every day and deliver a short opinion, and that 1,500 people would show up to hear me, I'd be pretty satisfied — 1,500 is twice the subscription of many specialty journals."

But for most scientists and academics, blogs and wikis remain unattractive distractions from their real work. Many consider them an online version of coffee-room chatter, background noise that goes against the very ethos of heavily filtered scholarly information.

This post has been appreciated on a number of science blogs: Pharangula, Scitech Library Question, Nodalpoint, Aetiology, and Effect Measure.

On the subject of science blogging, here's what I want for Christmas: I want Wolfram Research to arrive at an arrangement with SixApart to have some version of WebMathematica run inside blogging software. I've told both companies. I have no idea if anything will come of this Christmas wish. But I think the possibility of having the math out there in a hands-on kind of way would give a big boost to scientific blogging.

As "merciless" explains in the comment section of Effect Measure,

One reason the scientific, mathematical, and engineering community has yet to embrace the internet is because it is still very difficult to type and disseminate math and scientific notation. Most people just have a querty keyboard and one or two scientific typesetting programs, which may nor may not translate well onto another person's computer.

The best solution right now is to convert everything into a pdf file, which is fine for reading, but cannot be manipulated (so it's like reading a book anyway).

New technologies are being created right now that will allow for real-time, editable mathematical and scientific dialogue. Once that gets out (that is, once publishers or somebody decides it's worthwhile to buy it and distribute it), then the internet can be a new and powerful force for worldwide scientific communication.

Come on Stephen WolframMena; come on Stephen: You can make this happen.

UPDATE: Last night I happened across an ISP,, that specializes in hosting webMathematica sites. I am trying to work out the details of how their services can be integrated with my Typepad account.

Viewpoint for the Burgess Shale at Emerald Lake

Here is an attempt to recreate the view of the Burgess Shale near Field, BC as seen from Emerald lake, BC. (Click here for overlay.)

Google Earth could really do with some better satellite photos of the Canadian Rockies. Also, I'm not sore how good their data for generating the terrain is, in that the mountains still didn't look quite right, even if you took the fuzzy satellite imagery into account.

However, the most significant problem was that the tools for adjusting viewpoint didn't work the way I expected. I couldn't get Google Earth to let me raise my gaze enough to see the mountain ridge when I seemed to be in the right spot to see the Burgess Shale from the lake side.

And here is what the view actually looks like. The Burgess Shale is located where the ribbons of snow are on the upper right of the ridge.

  The actual view of the Burgess Shale from the shores of Emerald Lake 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

(By the way, I have more photos of the Canadian Rockies than you could possibly want to see in a Typepad photo album. And further to the subject of the Burgess Shale, the Royal Ontario Museum sells marvellous plastic Burgess Shale creatures. We collected the whole set.)

Young Jonathan Post on Whether to Duck and Cover

Bert2In the comments section, in the context of whether one is more likely to survive the collapse of a building using the duck-and-cover technique or the triangle of life technique (taking refuge next to furniture, not under it), Jonathan Post tells the following story:

When we had "duck & cover" nuclear drills at my Robert Fulton elementary school (P.S. #8), in the late 1950s, I refused to get under my desk, and got sent to the principal's office. I explained to him that we were directly across the East River from downtown Manhattan, and that Wall Street could be ground zero. I explained that the radius of the fireball varied with the 2/3 power of megatonnage, and that the desk would not give even a microsecond of protection. He agreed, and told me not to tell all this to the other students, as it might frighten them. For that matter, he advised me not to scare the teachers. I did not leave my baby teeth for a "tooth fairy." Rather, I had my Mom snailmail them to someone who was researching Strontium-90 levels in teeth, for fallout research.


Avian Flu Outbreak Maps

UnknownDeclan Butler, my current favorite science journalist, has updated his avian flu outbreak maps and added a network link. He says:

I'm getting the entire outbreak database soon, which is much richer in detail as to sizes of outbreaks etc, which I can extrude [from] the maps, so the who thing should be substantially better soon.

Declan Butler's Avian Flu Outbreak Map

And avian flu is a story that really needs good science journalism. Systemic health risks are very hard to understand for people without a good command of statistics.

Examples of health scare stories that were widely mispereived: When West Nile reached the New York area, Westchester moms panicked and for several weeks of glorious Indian Summer, wouldn't allow their kids to play outside. The real health risk in yards like mine was not West Nile, but Lyme Disease. Also, I had a severe lung infection requiring hospitalization just as the anthrax scare was peaking. I knew I didn't have anthrax, but very carefully went to my regular doctor an not to the ER because I was concerned I might be turned away as an anthrax hysteric. (At the time, NYC ERs were alleged to be turning away peole who said they had difficulty breathing.)

Butler has been tracking down the facts of the matter and putting a lot of them into his overlay.

UPDATE:  Here is his Connotea Avian Flu links page.

Yes, I could do with a change of climate, too, but I don't think that's what we're talking about.

The following passage nearly made me snort my coffee out my nose, except it seems the poor fellow is serious. The best way to prepare yourself for this is to get out your old Monty Python soundtrack albums (there must have been soundtrack albums?) and put on the little number from The Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." (OK, I don't have the record either, but imagine you do and you've just put it on.) Now we're ready:

Greens need to be more positive: Blair adviser

Porritt, who is now an adviser on sustainable development to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, makes the comments in his new book, "Capitalism: As if the World Matters", seen by The Observer and to be published this week.

The book argues that all sides should embrace capitalism as "the only economic game in town" and thus search for ways in making free markets work for a more sustainable future, the newspaper said.

Without change by environmentalists, "a continuing decline in (their) influence seems the most likely outcome", Porritt says in his book.

In an interview with The Observer, Porritt added: "Environmental organisations for many years (were) saying 'no' and protecting and stopping because in a way that became part of the culture of the movement.

"There's still a lot of criticising and blame-laying and not enough saying what solutions are available."

Instead, he argued, the movement must emphasise the positive, worldwide benefits of issues such as using clean energy to help tackle climate change.

"If you consider the way the environmental movement portrays climate change, it's the end of the world as we know it," Porritt told the paper.

"In reality, climate change could provide a stimulus to an extraordinary shift in the economy (and) it could improve people's quality of life. You never hear of all that," Porritt told the paper.

Regardless of one's opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism, Porritt's punchline is, um, really strange. He's trying to tell us to look at the upside to Global Warming, isn't he? My personal quality of would be improved by migrating to the garden spots of the world at planned intervals over the course of the year. (I really could do without experiencing a harsh Northeast winter ever again.) But that isn't what's under discussion.

But if we are to take him at least a little seriously, I suppose we should imagine all the marvelous species that might evolve in time to replace us. I hear some species of squid are pretty smart.

(And yes, it is possible that he's been comically misquoted. Porritt sounds a lot more sensible here.)

Google Earth Dynamic Overlay for Pakistan Now Available! (Plus "Home of the Piffers" and a Dragon Hunt)

Global ConnectionAnne Wright and Randy Sargent of the Global Connections Project have been working hard to get out dynamic overlays of the Pakistan earquake area.  (A dynamic overlay is one that automatically sunstitutes higher resolution imagery as you zoom in and so is much easier to work with.) Randy wrote a few minutes ago to say that the new dynamic overlays are ready:

A Pakistan dynamic overlay containing 1-meter imagery and maps for

  • Muzaffarabad
  • Abbottabad
  • Mansehra
  • Murree

is available at Contents: 10 maps from DLR / Space Imaging, available from

Here are a couple of screen shots:


Home of the Piffers? (KML file) Anne and Randy came across this while processing the satellite images. Anne wondered,

Do you supposed all cultures have analogs of high school glee clubs, or is this something else?

We asked around and are informed of this fascinating fact: Army units in that part of the world "have a fondness for writing on hill-sides"! ("Piffers" is short for the Punjab Irregular Force, regularized in 1865. What it signifies in 2005, I can't tell you.)

Wow. So, as you look at the overlays, watch for secret hillside writing. Another correspondent tells of a hillside drawing:

There is a large engraving of Sir Lord somebody slaying a dragon "hidden" off the road to Muzaffrabad.  I think I still remember how to get to it.  Every local ten year old thinks that he is the only one who knows about it.

At a certain point in mapbased disaster relief, I suddenly feel like I want to move to the place that I've been scrutizing from above. People's enthusiasm for the places they love is contagious. The annecdote of the hillside dragon pushed me over that line.

(I've asked my correspondent if he can find me the dragon, but perhaps you can? [I do not guarantee that these overlays cover the precise spot where the dragon might be found. But who knows what you might find.] AND when you're done with your dragon hunt, go make a donation to the relief effort. Those dreamy ten-year-olds need your help right away! How's 'bout $25? $35? $100?)

But OK, here are a few move screen shots: Manshera Helipad (KML file)


Ayub Teaching Hospital (KML file):


On a more somber note, here is a legend from a damage map of Balakot from the Eurpopean Commission's Joint Research Centre (do not follow this link unless your computer will handle an image 9000 pixels by 7000 pixels!) that you may find useful in estimating damage via these  overlays [the link from the image leads to a bigger version, though not huge, so it's OK to click on]:
11/6 UPDATE: See my new post The Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake Zone: Getting the Picture concerning a Google Earth overlay of newly purchased Digital Globe images!

NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photographs are now available as Google Earth Overlays

Global ConnectionFrom Randy Sargent and Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project:

Google Earth static overlays of NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photography are now available from: Images courtesy of NOAA

This first release includes approximately 760 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 10/25. Included with these overlays are sub-sampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays. Dynamic overlays (VBR) will be available for government use later today.  We're working on a more efficient VBR server which we will experiment making available to the public in the next few days.

Please let us know if you have any problems or comments.

- Randy and Anne

New Pakistan earthquake overlays for Google Earth!

Global ConnectionI am delighted to pass on the following message from Randy Sargent of the Global Connection Project:

We've put online some new Pakistan earthquake overlays for Google Earth at

Version 1 features: Includes 10 images from Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information; Images broken into 2K x 2K chunks for high-resolution display in Google Earth

We're hoping to put up additional images from today, followed by a dynamic overlay tomorrow.

Here are a few of screen shots:




Have at it!

Clark Boyd's World Tech Podcast #55: A Must-Listen for Google Earth Enthusiasts

Worldpostcast55smClark Boyd's Tech report for The World (BBC/WGBH) has a podcast of the show from the other day, and the podcast (Tech Podcast #55) is much longer than the original show. Let me start by saying that this podcast is a Must-Listen for Google Earth enthusiasts. Yes, it has clips of me sounding really intelligent at the beginning, but that's not the part I'm talking about.

The part you need to hear is the interview from Anne Wright, of  Global Connection -- a collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, and National Geographic -- which was too long and info-dense for the original BBC/WGBH broadcast, but which outlines the vision behind some of the perks Google Earth users are currently enjoying, and what can be done with this technology and others out there on the market.

She talks about the origins of the Global Connection project, the National Geographic project, how Global Connection came to process thousands of images NOAA from Katrina and Rita for Google Earth overlays, how she and I came to work together on the earthquake project, and her vision of how things could work in the future. It's packed with really great stuff!

Thoughts on the Use of SMS Phones with Disaster Relief Maps

I drafted the following material about a week ago as part of a much longer essay on the possibilities of using maps over the internet for disaster rellief. Some of it drawns upon material from previous blog entries of mine. It was written before I thought there was a realistic possibility of integrating SMS phone information into maps I helped create. Now, if we can get the world out to those who need to know about the SMS Quake blog, we are much closer to the reality of that.

The context of the following passage is that when the earthquake hit, I was at the Wolfram Technology Conference in Champaign, Illinois. So I kept buttonholing smart techies to ask for advice on how what I was doing mightbe done better.

Some of the most interesting suggestions came from Luc Barthelet of Electronic Arts who had come to do a presentation on prototyping the game SimCity in Mathematica. We talked about the utility of having layers of data on the existence or non-existence of building codes, on the relative heights and ages of the buildings. And then he made what I thought was the best suggestion of all, though it probably can’t be implemented this time out: set up a phone number such that people can phone in pictures and information associated with specific coordinates; do this in such a way that it automatically annotates the map. I thought this was a truly visionary suggestion for several reasons.

First of all, some of the best personal reportage from the tsunami had been sent in by people writing on their cell phones and cell phones are a much more ubiquitous technology in the 3rd World than desktop computers with Internet connections. But more important, it seemed to me, was the beautifully humanizing aspect of such a technological innovation. He was proposing that we given disaster victims and relief workers voices, faces, proposing that we be able to see through their eyes.

Traditionally, the view from above—the narrative point of view of satellite or aerial photo—is military, that of the bomber pilot: You look at people that way when you think it might be okay to kill them en mass. One of the effects of having spent weeks scrutinizing aerial and satellite photos for people wanting information about their homes, their families, their pets, is that I am now longer able to look at aerial photos of damage in the same way. It has become much more personalized. I experience it as a stripping away of a twentieth century attitude of abstract detachment, an attitude that the legacy of World War II and the Cold War encouraged.

A few weeks ago, a Japanese fellow who is my age and goes by the handle of Earthhopper was testing out Google Earth's newly added images of Hiroshima and discovered an odd lack of clarity in the area of the Hiroshima memorial, the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome.

To correct this oversight, Earthhopper has used the same techniques that Shawn MacBride and the Google Earth Current Events community used to superimpose images of the New Orleans levee breaks upon satellite images, but this time on Hiroshima, superimposing photos of the devastated land on the overly-fuzzy Google Earth view of modernday Hiroshima. His photo caption read,

Image overlay of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, taken in 1945. The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

Earthhopper and I were both born in 1962. He is the son of a physician. I am the daughter of a nuclear physicist, though of the generation after the Manhattan project and who has never worked on weapons research. This lead to some interesting correspondence. Upon seeing his Hiroshima overlays, I wrote,

Each and every one of those several hundred thousand people had a name and a face and a life story. We have been encouraged to distance ourselves from this kind of information, encouraged to be overwhelmed by it. But is that just the way we are, or is it a political construct of the twentieth century? Can we get beyond it? It seems to me that this technique has broad applications in historical photography and in helping us forge a new psychological relationship with history.

What Luc Barthelet was proposing was even more radical and more humanizing: to give voice to those in distress that the 20th century view of the world gives up for dead while they are still alive.

ShareMeanwhile, my CommunityWalk Earthquake Map information can now be exported to a Google Earth overlay. Go to the map, click on the brown "Share" button at the lower right of the map, then click on the brown "Google Earth" button that appears in same corner.

Nature Reports on the Lifting of the UN Ban on Pakistan Satellite Imagery

Declan Butler's latest article in Nature about Pakistan disaster relief and the availability of satellite photography is up:

UN opens access to earthquake shots: Relief workers applaud release of satellite imagery.

High-resolution satellite images of Kashmir, which was hit hard by a magnitude-7.6 earthquake on 8 October, have begun to reappear on public websites, much to the relief of aid workers.

The pictures were removed last week from all public-access websites belonging to the United Nations (UN) and its relief partners, including the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters (see 'Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots').

A senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, told Nature that the UN decided to ban public dissemination of photos of the area after a meeting on 10 October. The official told Nature that the meeting discussed an official reminder from Pakistan about the political sensitivity of the area, which was issued after the earthquake. Pakistan and India have long fought over Kashmir, and there were concerns that pictures could compromise security in the region.

Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, told Associated Press in Islamabad yesterday that "No one in the Pakistan government has made a request that such maps be removed." Nature's sources emphasize that the UN decision was a precaution against a deterioration in relations with Pakistan.

After pressure from relief groups seeking wider access to the images, the UN met again on 17 October, and reversed its decision. It sent a memo to all involved parties on the morning of Tuesday 18 October advising them that the ban on photos had been lifted.  . . .

The lifting of the ban is "wonderful news", says Anne Wright, a computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Wright was involved in mapping the damage done by Hurricane Katrina and knows how useful such images can be.

She is part of the Global Connection, a consortium made up of Google and scientists at Ames and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, which is now scrambling to access the public images. The group hopes to produce maps of the Pakistan earthquake zone that are more detailed than those currently available.

Such Internet responses to disasters by diverse groups will "make responses to similar events in the future easier and more efficient", says Wright.

Now the big job is to go through all the stuff that just went up to find the images that are both good enough and relevant. Some are going to be good: no clouds, good atmospheric conditions; some are going to relevant, i.e. pictures of the places that need to be seen. We hope for  images that are both.

MEANWHILE, Nathan Newman reports on how Senator Diane Feinstein has "just introduced legislation to undermine what is known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, an old law dating back to the first years of the Republic that has been revived in recent years by human rights activists to hold corporations responsible for their actions in developing nations."

Fast Forward: Earthquake disaster relief and a little socializing

I'm taking in more information than I can blog right now. Each of these deserves its own several paragraph writeup. So, in no particular order:

The one weak thread through all of this (earthquake relief) has been project management or the lack of it, simply due to the enormity of the task at hand. As a community that specializes in automating and improving the processes involved in running businesses and government, it would be a shame if we could not help streamline the relief activities and make them more effective.

P@SHA has therefore offered its assistance to the PM’s Secretariat and Relief Cell. We are putting together a team of experts who will analyze the needs of the relief organizations
including the government, the army and the NGOs etc and will link it all up to provide some sort of cohesive approach to the activities thus saving a lot of time and increasing the pace of relief activities.

In the process we will need expertise of varying types:

Hardware Installation & Maintenance
Wireless Communication Installation, Deployment &
System Analysts
Project Managers
ASP.NET/HTML developers
PHP developers
Java developers
SQL servers developers
mySQL developers
Graphic/Interface designers
Data Entry people
People for Information Gathering
Content creation/development/management specialists
Communication specialists able to deal with
telecom/satellite equipment

Some of the volunteers may be required to work in their respective cities, others may be asked to work in Islamabad or at the relief sites in the northern areas. Please do therefore
specify where you are stationed and whether you will be available or able to relocate to any of the sites if necessary and for what period of time.

P@SHA will be working with various IT and telecom organizations. Some of them including Intel have already volunteered equipment and connectivity. We are also working with Shahida Saleem and Azhar Rizvi on implementing telemedicine in the affected areas.

Please indicate your interest or those of your employees by sending an email to I would appreciate it if you would circulate this email to your team.

Please circulate this email to anyone that you feel would be able to assist.
Jehan Ara

  • Declan Butler, a reporter at Nature who seems to be a bottomless well of helpful links, has sent me his excellent Connotea list with many, many good disaster links.
  • I've posted lots and lots of photos from Capclave last weekend, held in Silver Spring, Maryland. Here is the link to the Capclave photos. Guests of honor Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden pulled in a hefty portion of interesting bloggers. Here are the photos of bloggers. Dramatis personnae: Patrick & Teresa, Avedon Carol, Jeri Smith-Ready, Rivka, Jim Henley, & Henry Farrell. (Links to their sites are on the photo pages.)

Hi-rez Earthquake Zone Map: One of the Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen


This is a photograph, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, is a photo of a high-resolution printed map that emerged from a collective Internet-based attempt to get rescue workers in Pakistan the detailed maps they need in which I played a minor role: we did it. This map was sent to Pakistan early this morning. It will save lives. (This is not a press photo.)

Another thing I find very moving is that this morning, when I checked on my CommunityWalk Pakistan Earthquake site, I saw that someone had created a CommunityWalk map entitled "Lahore,"  (31.56, 74.35, i.e. in the earthquake zone) which has the subtitle "beautiful Lahore." It consists only of a satellite view of the city of Lahore, Pakistan, in the quake zone about 120 miles south of the epicenter, population  5,997,200.

MEANWHILE, Thierry Rousselin, in Paris, writes:

If you read french, here is a link to our blog where you will find examples of Formosat 2 images over Abbotabad (main hospital 45 km away from the epicenter).

About your comment on the lack of answer from the RS companies in a timely manner, I can understand NGO people's frustration after the incredible amount of quality data received after Katrina and Rita.

But to get good images over northern Pakistan is not easy. On sunday at 9:30 local time, there is a big cloud over Muzaffarabad. Fortunately, two hours later, when Ikonos comes, the cloud has moved a few miles and they get a good image. On monday, the sky is almost clear and the area coverage is good with Spot and Formosat 2. But during the week, meteo conditions worsen and it's pretty difficult to get a nice image.

So good timing in the distribution is also based on the number of good available images.

And Declan Butler, also in Paris, sent me a useful link to a different page in the USGS site than the one I've been frequenting: USGS Earthquakes: Earthquake Catalogs

In addition to web-based maps and html pages, USGS provides several alternative ways to obtain real-time, worldwide earthquake lists. Earthquake information is extracted from a merged catalog of earthquakes located by the USGS and contributing networks.

This page his links to things like earthquake RSS feeds, and KML files.

Global Alert Disaster System: Red Earthquake Alert Pakistan

The Global Disaster Alert System has put up a page of great information on the impact of the Pakistan Earthquake.

Especially interesting, for those doing Google mashup maps is this page which allow you to superimpose tectonic, population density, and other information on the map of Pakistan.

(Via Declan Butler.)

Earthquake Story Problem

Cnn101105Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land.

Q: What portion of the world's population lives in areas affected by the earthquake? How can you tell? How many of those are under age 18?

Show your work.

Extra credit: What is the population density in the most severely affected areas?

ALSO, there is a fascinating piece by an Indian seismologist, Arun Bapat, about what is to be learned from this earthquake tragedy, including some risk factors to that population your trying to do math about that might not have occurred to you:

. . . let us examine the fate of conventional structures. Press reports and television coverage indicate that there has been extensive damage in the mountainous areas of this region. The area in the vicinity of earthquake epicentre is situated at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 meters. Seismic vibrations have more amplitude at higher elevations. For example, take a 30-storeyed building. It will have the least vibrations at the level of the ground floor but, as you go higher, the amplitude of the vibrations increase. The earthquake damage in Baramulla, Uri, Poonch, and so on, which are located at heights of about 1,500 to 2000 metres, and at a distance of about 60 to 90 km from the epicentre, was therefore more severe, as compared to the damage at Islamabad or Haripur, which are at a distance of about 60 to 90 km, but situated at an elevation of about 500 metres or so.

Follow the link to the Indian Express news story, "Is there anybody out there?" It is the first one I've seen to give any account of what I've suspected was going on in the quake-ravaged hills.

Even in the fuzzy Digital Globe satellite images from 1999 -- the best I could get of the region over the internet -- it is apparent on my nice large monitor that the mountainsides are terraced with farmlands, and their creases are dotted with small white rectangles suggestive of roofs. There were people down there.

My Kids Meet Wolfram Tones

WolframTonesGiven confidence at my own skills as a cinematographer by a look through the GoogleVideo, I opened my own account and I uploaded this bad little clip I shot on the 28th of September of my kids in their first encounter with Peter Overmann's Wolfram Tones. It took a while for the busy folks at Google Video to approve my clip, but now it has finally been unleashed upon the public.

Back on the 28th,when I first uploaded it, I wrote:

After dinner this evening, I sat my son Peter, who has just started 3rd grade, down at my computer and let him play with Wolfram Tones for the first time. The first interesting thing that happened was that my daughter Elizabeth, who turns 3 in October, started jamming to the Wolfram Tomes soundtrack on the toy piano in the living room. (I had gotten the video camera out to film Peter, and she started while I was getting set up.) After about 10 minutes of fiddling, Peter came up with something he really liked.

I got out the video camera for a kind of personal note-taking to watch how Peter used the program. What happened while I was getting the camera out and turned on, I find quite remarkable: Elizabeth's jamming along with the music coming from the computer is something she usually only does with live music, implying that somehow the music coming from WolframTones passed the Turning test for her.


In this household, we are big giant squid  fans. I recall walking through the Smithsonian with my small son, looking for the giant squid, chanting GI ANT SQUID! GI ANT SQUID!

I was going to blog the amazing live giant squid pix this morning, but it took me while to get over the fact that the First Contact resulted in them accidentally pulling one of its legs off. In science fiction at least, pulling off a leg during first contact is very Bad Form.

Be that as it may, here's a nice batch of squid photos:


I hope that deep down in Squidland, they aren't plotting retribution for out diplomatic error. Meanwhile, can we dispatch these guys to look for the thylacine?

A Few Shiny Pebbles on the Infobeach

I wrote to Alice Flaherty, expert on the neurology of writing, for help with references on the neurology of math. She suggested some places to look and some search terms, so I've been playing with PubMed and discovering interesting things such as that a lot more seems to be known about the neurology of metaphor than about the neurology of math. I came across a couple of articles with interesting descriptions which I though I'd share:

Research into the origins and characteristics of unicorns: mental illness as the unicorn. Abstract:

Ethical Hum Sci Serv. 2000 Fall-Winter;2(3):181-92.
Research into the origins and characteristics of unicorns: mental illness as the unicorn.
Simon L.
Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, USA.

    Basic research, particularly into the psychological and neurological underpinnings of schizophrenia and other "mental illnesses," is flawed because of its adherence to the ideology that unwanted, hard-to-understand behavior constitutes true medical illness. It is argued here that psychiatric diagnostic terms represent moral judgments rather than medical entities. By reducing experimental subjects to a moral label, and assuming that neurological differences associated with unwanted behavior are brain diseases, researchers fail to take into account the conscious experience, organization of self and self-image, patterns of motivation, history and social contexts of their patients. The failure to consider the psychology of their subjects renders the results of these studies ambiguous and irrelevant for any uses except bolstering the biomedical model of psychiatry.

    PMID: 15278984 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

(I had recently noticed that the literature associated with various conditions affecting the social skills is often contaminated by the researchers' dislike of the research subjects.)

And Neural activity associated with metaphor comprehension: spatial analysis.

Neurosci Lett. 2005 Jan 3;373(1):5-9.
Neural activity associated with metaphor comprehension: spatial analysis.
Sotillo M, Carretie L, Hinojosa JA, Tapia M, Mercado F, Lopez-Martin S, Albert J.
Departamento de Psicologia Basica, Facultad de Psicologia, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain.

    Though neuropsychological data indicate that the right hemisphere (RH) plays a major role in metaphor processing, other studies suggest that, at least during some phases of this processing, a RH advantage may not exist. The present study explores, through a temporally agile neural signal--the event-related potentials (ERPs)--, and through source-localization algorithms applied to ERP recordings, whether the crucial phase of metaphor comprehension presents or not a RH advantage. Participants (n=24) were submitted to a S1-S2 experimental paradigm. S1 consisted of visually presented metaphoric sentences (e.g., "Green lung of the city"), followed by S2, which consisted of words that could (i.e., "Park") or could not (i.e., "Semaphore") be defined by S1. ERPs elicited by S2 were analyzed using temporal principal component analysis (tPCA) and source-localization algorithms. These analyses revealed that metaphorically related S2 words showed significantly higher N400 amplitudes than non-related S2 words. Source-localization algorithms showed differential activity between the two S2 conditions in the right middle/superior temporal areas. These results support the existence of an important RH contribution to (at least) one phase of metaphor processing and, furthermore, implicate the temporal cortex with respect to that contribution.

    PMID: 15555767 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

and Neural correlates of metaphor processing.

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2004 Aug;20(3):395-402.
Neural correlates of metaphor processing.
Rapp AM, Leube DT, Erb M, Grodd W, Kircher TT.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Tuebingen, Osianderstrasse 24, D-72076 Tuebingen, Germany.

    Metaphoric language is used to express meaning that is otherwise difficult to conceptualize elegantly. Beyond semantic analysis, understanding the figurative meaning of a metaphor requires mental linkage of different category domains normally not related to each other. We investigated processing of metaphoric sentences using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Stimuli consisted of 60 novel short German sentence pairs with either metaphoric or literal meaning. The pairs differed only in their last one to three words and were matched for syntax structure, word frequency, connotation and tense. Fifteen healthy subjects (six female, nine male, 19-51 years) read these sentences silently and judged by pressing one of two buttons whether they had a positive or negative connotation. Reading metaphors in contrast to literal sentences revealed signal changes in the left lateral inferior frontal (BA 45/47), inferior temporal (BA 20) and posterior middle/inferior temporal (BA 37) gyri. The activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus may reflect semantic inferencing processes during the understanding of a metaphor. This is in line with the results from other functional imaging studies showing an involvement of the left inferior frontal gyrus in integrating word and sentence meanings. Previous results of a right hemispheric involvement in metaphor processing might reflect understanding of complex sentences.

    PMID: 15268917 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Pokémon Cards & Folk-Mathematics

Through most of my career as a mother, I have made it a point of aligning my interests with my children's interests. This has taken me to many interesting places, taught me many interesting things, and even gotten me published in the science magazine Nature (reprint on Fantastic Metropolis).

I have made an exception for annoying fads, especially the Pokémon thing. (See my May 18th, 2003 post, "Pokémon Infestations and Other Matters.")

I realized in the middle of the night, night before last, that there was something big I had been missing about the whole phenomenon. Here is an out-take from what I wrote about it:

One puzzling phenomenon I've observed watching 2nd graders is how kids, who are only just getting basic addition and subtraction of multidigit numbers by the tail, can spend literally hours trading Pokemon cards (by which I mean 2 or 3 hours at a time). The decisions of whether or not to trade are based on multiple factors, some of which are linear functions like how many hit points does a given card have (or is the sum of the hit points of the two cards you are offering me equal to or greater than the hit points of the card of mine you want), and some of which are binary (is it a "shiny", i.e. a holographic card).
. . .
I spot-checked Peter's sense of the relative value of cards back in February. I had him show me what he thought of as his three best cards. I priced them on The cheapest of them came in at $47.00. I then had him show me three of his cards that he thought of as "not-so-good." priced those between 75 cents and $3.00.

Given what I know of the scholastically measurable of the math skills of the kids in question, there has to be some kind of pre-verbal calculation going on. They seem to me to be carrying out complex calculations involving multiple variables of different types, and arriving at basically correct conclusions via some kind of folk-math.
. . .
One other implication of this phenomenon, it seems to me, is that the equals sign, as a piece of mathematical notation, is highly socially embedded. I remember something about a second grade playground bead market at Ravenna during recess that spontaneously emerged and then spread until teachers banned it after a few weeks. It may be that there is a developmental phase around 7 or 8 in which the social embedding of trade is explored.

I would be interested in your anecdotes about young kids and card trading. I've decided to investigate further.

I should also say that this realization was inspired partly by Munir Fasheh's essay "Can We Eradicate Illiteracy Without Eradicating Illiterates?", an expansion on a paper given at a UNESCO meeting in Paris, on 9-10 September, 2002, to celebrate the International Literacy Day. The meeting was entitled "Literacy as Freedom."

In it, he dscribes his realization of his illiterate mother's mathematical sophistication:

My 'discovery' of my illiterate mother's mathematics, and how my mathematics and knowledge could neither detect nor comprehend her mathematics and knowledge, mark the biggest turning point in my life, and have had the greatest impact on my perception of knowledge, language, and their relationship to reality. Later, I realized that the invisibility of my mother's mathematics was not an isolated matter but a reflection of a wide phenomenon related to the dominant Western worldview. In this sense, the challenge facing communities everywhere, is to reclaim and revalue the diverse ways of learning, teaching, knowing, relating, doing, and expressing. This reclaiming has been the pivotal theme of my thinking and work for the last two decades.

My concern is not about statistical measures - for example, how many learn the alphabet - but about our perception of the learner and what happens to her/him in the process of learning the alphabet. My concern is to make sure that the learner does not lose what s/he already has; that literacy does not replace other forms of learning, knowing, and expressing; that literacy is not considered superior to other forms; and that the learner uses the alphabet rather than be used by it. My concern is to make sure that in the process of eradicating illiteracy, we do not crush illiterates.

In the 1970s, while I was working in schools and universities in the West Bank region in Palestine and trying to make sense out of mathematics, science and knowledge, I discovered that what I was looking for has been next to me, in my own home: my mother's mathematics and knowledge. She was a seamstress. Women would bring to her rectangular pieces of cloth in the morning; she would take few measures with colored chalk; by noon each rectangular piece is cut into 30 small pieces; and by the evening these scattered pieces are connected to form a new and beautiful whole. If this is not mathematics, I do not know what mathematics is. The fact that I could not see it for 35 years made me realize the power of language in what we see and what we do not see.

Her knowledge was embedded in life, like salt in food, in a way that made it invisible to me as an educated and literate person. I was trained to see things through official language and professional categories. In a very true sense, I discovered that my mother was illiterate in relation to my type of knowledge, but I was illiterate in terms of her type of understanding and knowledge. Thus, to describe her as illiterate and me as literate, in some absolute sense, reflects a narrow and distorted view of the real world and of reality. A division, which I find more significant than literate and illiterate, would be between people whose words are rooted in the cultural-social soil in which they live - like real flowers - and people who use words that may look bright and shiny but without roots - just like plastic flowers.

(It's a neat essay. Read the whole thing.)

What I really need is a second head

I was reading through the May 28th New Scientist article 11 steps to a better brain nodding along with stuff I mostly already knew, when I hit this passage:

The second step is to cut down on distractions. Workplace studies have found that it takes up to 15 minutes to regain a deep state of concentration after a distraction such as a phone call. Just a few such interruptions and half the day is wasted.

I looked at  that and wondered how I can think at all. How often do I get interrupted when trying to think during a normal day?  It is not possible to count. Night before last, I had a really good idea that was absorbing my RAM and managed to focus on it most of the day anyway. This resulted in things like me arriving at the grocery store only to realize that I had not delivered Elizabeth to nursery school and she was still with me. I knew she was there. We had been arguing for five minutes about whether I was going to pull over to the side of the road and retrieve the toy she'd hurled over the side of her car seat. I had just been driving on autopilot and had skipped a stop in our itinerary. And this followed in interesting conversation with Peter while I was in the bath; interesting enough that I discovered later that I had neglected to rinse the cream rinse from my hair. (These are mistakes I rarely, if ever make.)

Reading the New Scientist's accounts of medications that can increase focus is tempting, but for a mommy, focus is a double-edged sword.  What I really need is a  second head: one head could focus while the other maintained the diffuse awareness necessary for keeping everything on track.

Multi-tasking, so prized by industry, is a really poor substitute for a second head.

Lacking a second head, here is Kathryn's Big Tip: Address the cognitive impairments of motherhood by trying to work on things closely tied to what your biology will code as important, i. e. try to chose intellectual projects closely aligned to the interests and the best interests of your children. I find that I have much clearer recollections of what I was working on and what I was trying to do when I chose this strategy.

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?

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.

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.



Return of the Mathematical Kathryn

Some of you have probably been wondering what has become of me, since I haven't posted much lately.

After more than 15 years, I seem to be heading back in the direction of mathematics.  This is partly Rudy Rucker's fault. If anything really comes of this I'll explain in more detail later, so he can take full credit. But the short version is that hearing him talk at the ICFA in March got me thinking in that direction.

I've got a new project that involves the program Mathematica, and am busily reading. The books I've been reading in the past few days are The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene and Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez.  (I also dug out all the math books I boxed and put into storage two months before Peter was born.)

So who knows: this might evolve into a math blog; I might fall silent (at least on my blog); or I might return to blogging as usual.  I've also been writing fiction. We'll see where it goes.

Catching Up

I've started a new blog style journal of notes for my own use, so that has siphoned off some of my energy for blogging. (I'm trying to make use of the good habits developed over two years of blogging, but without the problem for having an audience. How, for example, would Bruce Sterling have written Heavy Weather if he told you about the ideas he'd been kicking around every day? (Conspiracies to make giant killer tornadoes? Get the man a tin foil hat!)

Also, we all caught the flu (and everyone next door, too).

Some of my regular correspondents may have noticed that I was not responding much to email. I've spent the past few mornings plowing out my in box.

Here are a few things kicking around in my email that I had planned to mention in this space:

For those who were following the fireworks over Michelle Dawson's stand on the treatment of autism, she has some new material up on her site:

Also, my dad was in the April 1st edition of the Wall Street Journal in an article entitled "New Theory Suggests Bid to Produce 'Mother Of All Matter' Worked." He says:

It looks like our recent calculations made the April Fool's Day edition of the Wall Street Journal.  I wonder if that's significant.

I no longer have an online subscription to the WSJ and he didn't have the link.  The article begins:

H .L. MENCKEN isn't known for his prowess in physics, but he was eerily prescient about the angst experienced by today's intrepid voyagers into the heart of matter. "Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable," Mencken wrote. "But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops."

For almost five years, just such an "it" has been tormenting about 1,000 physicists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced "rick"), a powerful particle accelerator at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York's Long Island. Scientists, following Mencken's script, had penetrated secrets such as the fundamental building blocks of matter and how they burst into being with the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. And although physicists didn't think there was nothing "unknowable" left, they were confident enough to embark on an experiment of Promethean hubris: They would create the kind of matter that last existed moments after the big bang.

Now the years-long debate over whether they succeeded in creating the mother of all matter, called a quark-gluon plasma, may be on the verge of resolution.

"A lot of evidence had indicated that RHIC had created a quark-gluon plasma, but one observation was out of line," says theoretical physicist Gerald Miller of the University of Washington, Seattle. A twist he and colleague John Cramer discovered "makes it much more likely that RHIC produced the quark-gluon plasma."

(The vintage of this article indicates how far behind I'd gotten.)

Meanwhile, David and I note with amusement that, judging from the Thursday Style section of the New York Times, David's manner of dressing has once again come into fashion.


Sudden Temporary Architecture of Chaotic Light

I had lots of lovely blogging planned for late last night when the kids were asleep, but our hotel's Wayport internet connection was a bit spotty overnight, so I'm going to rush through a bunch of material that I had planned to address in a more lesiurely fashion.

One fringe benefit of the net connection being down is that since I couldn't keep a good connection, I followed Rudy Rucker's excellent example and went out and did early morning yoga by the pool. I picked my spot next to the whirlpool, since it was a little chilly out. Just as I finished up, the first rays of the rising sun came in through the palm fronds illuminating the rising steam, creating a sudden temporary architecture of chaotic light: vectors of golden light textured by the steam's vortecies. (I couldn't resist using that as a title.) For those at ICFA who would like to try seeing this tomorrow, it happened at about 6:45-6:50 AM.

OK. Quick run through of what I want to cover:

First of all, my dad, John Cramer, has some new physics stuff in the news. I was waiting for a few free moments to carefully write this up so you would think I knew what I was talking about, but this is not to be in the immediate Floridian future, so here is the link:

American Institute of Physics: A Puzzling Signal in RHIC Experiments:

A puzzling signal in RHIC experiments has now been explained by two researchers as evidence for a primordial state of nuclear matter believed to have accompanied a quark-gluon plasma or similarly exotic matter in the early universe. Colliding two beams of gold nuclei at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, physicists have been striving to make the quark-gluon plasma, a primordial soup of matter in which quarks and gluons circulate freely.

However, the collision fireball has been smaller and shorter-lived than expected, according to two RHIC collaborations (STAR and PHENIX) of pions (the lightest form of quark-antiquark pairs) coming out of the fireball. The collaborations employ the Hanbury-Brown-Twiss method, originally used in astronomy to measure the size of stars. In the subatomic equivalent, spatially separated detectors record pairs of pions emerging from the collision to estimate the size of the fireball.

Now an experimentalist and a theorist, both from the University of Washington, John G. Cramer (206-543-9194, and Gerald A. Miller (206-543-2995,, have teamed up for the first time to propose a solution to this puzzle. Reporting independently of the RHIC collaborations, they take into account the fact that the low-energy pions produced inside the fireball act more like waves than classical, billiard-ball-like particles; the pions' relatively long wavelengths tend to overlap with other particles in the crowded fireball environment.

This new quantum-mechanical analysis leads the researchers to conclude that a primordial phenomenon has taken place inside the hot, dense RHIC fireballs. According to Miller and Cramer, the strong force is so powerful that the pions are overcome by the attractive forces exerted by neighboring quarks and anti-quarks. As a result, the pions act as nearly massless particles inside the medium.

Secondly, ICFA Guest of Honor Rudy Rucker has much of the material he's been presenting here up on his web site: His speech from lunch, "Seek the Gnarl" and the PowerPoint slides from his his science talk.

I didn't get to see the luncheon speech, but really enjoyed the science talk. The PowerPoint slides don't give you the full sense of the experience, since they don't include such things as Rudy projecting fractal patterns onto his skin or using a gnarly stick as a pointer. A good time was had by all.

Also, Rudy's blog has great stuff about his recent trip trip to Palau including an interesting discussion of his experiences swimming with jelly fish.

Finally, we have more pictures to put up in my ICFA photo album, but they'll have to wait until later today.

John Cramer Writes to New Scientist

[NOTE, 12/13: I have included the comment section of this post when resrrecting it in Typepad.]
John Cramer (my dad, for those who came in late) responds to issues raised in the the New Scientist Letter Column regarding the Afshar experiment. This just in via email:

Dear Kathryn,

        I sent the following letter-to-the-editor to New Scientist:


A number of your readers have pointed out that Afshar's grid wires are
placed in just the positions that would form a diffraction grating creating
an image of pinhole 1 at the position of the pinhole 2 image.  Does this
destroy the purity of Afshar's "which-way" measurement?

I raised the same question with Afshar earlier this year, and the answer is
no.   Reason: the wires intercept no light and so cannot diffract.  He has
done a variation of his experiment using ONLY A SINGLE WIRE and recorded all
the light in the focal plane of the pinholes under three conditions: (1)
wire in, one pinhole; (2) wire in, two pinholes; and (3) wire out, two
pinholes.  Measurement (1) shows lots of scattering from the wire away from
the image points, indicating that with only one pinhole open the wire is
intercepting and scattering light  Measurements (2) and (3) show clear
images of the pinholes with nothing in between and are indistinguishable.

Conclusion: no light is scattered or intercepted by the wire in measurement
(2) because the interference pattern is present, and the wire is at an
intensity-zero position of the pattern.  A single wire cannot function as a
diffraction grating.   Bohr is still wrong.

John G. Cramer
Professor of Physics
University of Washington

Kathryn Cramer at August  6, 2004 01:13 PM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


Cramer says ( see his power point ): Copenhagen-influenced expectation: The measurement-type forces particle-like behavior, so there should be no interference, and no minima. Therefore, 6% of the particles should be intercepted.

This means (following Cramer) that Bohr will predict that there is no interference in front of the lens. But I have a reply evident to Cramer : Are you sure that you have a which path experiment ???? If you have such proof (I have the proof of the opposite) I think that Afshar could give you his 1000 $ (that he proposed to me and to others ) because you will prove in the same time that Schrodinger equation is wrong or that 1+1 =3.

My conclusion (or my introduction):
A quantum system can not carry enough information to provide definite answers to all questions that can be questionned experimentally ....

my former boss who wrote this sentence and knows quite well quantum mechanics is certainly right...

Think a little to it: the most important word is experimentally but the rest is nice too...
Aurel.: a advocate of Bohr and Einstein (and of beer)

NB: even If dont like the point of view of Bohr it seems that Bohr will win again and again ( always?) . It is sad but Ok we can continue to drink beer ....nevertheless.... perhaps

NB(2): If you can give me a preprint of the  Afshar paper I can write you a comment for FREE  to incredible physics letters  a new journal about donald duck in the quantum word   


Posted by: le grand schtroumph at August 10, 2004 02:01 PM

Raymond Archer was an employee of the Steele Foundation he had been hired sometime around March or April of 2003.

He is not a coup specialist...he was hired as part of the dignitary protection team assigned to protect aristide.

His employment ended when aristide was ousted as did they employment of other Steele members who were not reassigned to contracts in the middle east

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 24, 2004 04:06 PM

For further clarification:

The protection detail assigned to Aristide was a US State Dept approved contract awarded to The Steele Foundation

The protection team was an international team consisting former US military, former British military, and a few former South African Special Forces.

The protection detail was forced to leave by the U.S. with Aristide. For more info concerning this go to Interview with Kenneth Kurtz, Steele Foundation conducted by Amy Goodman on Tuesday March 2nd 2004 in the Democracy Now ( 
There are major flaws in the answers provided in this interview

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 25, 2004 09:03 AM

I am surpised by the presence of th South Africans, since the news reports I had read of the Steele Aristide group portrayed them as exclusively US special forces.

When you say "The protection detail was forced to leave by the U.S. with Aristide," I presume that what you mean by "with" is simultaneous with, as opposed to accompanying; which is to say that you are not telling me they were forced onto the plane with him?

(That interview on Democracy Now is pretty evasive, isn't it?)

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 25, 2004 09:59 AM

The protection detail left Haiti on the same  aircraft as Aristide. There was a meeting late in the evening the night before we departed the country with protection team members and reps from the U.S. Some of us (protection team) inquired about staying behind and not leaving with Arisitde. We were told we had no choice in the matter and refusal could put in jeopardy our military retirement (US personnel only). This information never was reported or printed anywhere to my knowledge and was certainly not covered by Mr. Kurtz in his interview. The entire detail left with Aristide. Mr. Kurtz denies in the article they (protection team) were forced to leave. This is simply not true. For a more detailed account of the departure and ruse employed by the US Government go to interview with Aristide and his bodyguards conducted by Amy Goodman March 16, 2004 in Democracy Now ( or ( 

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 26, 2004 07:40 AM

Thanks. This is fascinating.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 26, 2004 07:43 AM

Vision in Perspective

When I sit down to blog, it is to easy to get sucked into quick reactions to news stories. I had a really fascinating experience the other day which I've been meaning to blog, but other things kept getting in the way. So here we go.

About a week ago, I read Oliver Sacks's book An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. One of the seven tales, "To See and Not See" [this link will work only if you have a credit card on file with Amazon],  concerned a blind man named Virgil who had his sight restored in middle age. The surgery worked, but the consequences of restoring his sight were disastrous. It's very Flowers for Algernon; in fact the similarity is so strong that I wonder if Daniel Keyes may have taken his plot from early case histories like this.

Virgil begins as an economically independent massage therapist with a devoted fiancee, and ends as an angry disabled man, unable to work, even blinder than he started out. The case is medically complex, so Sacks doesn't come out and say this, but there is the sinister implication that the demands of sight borrow processing power from the parts of Virgil's brain that control his heart and lungs. (In an earlier case history,  a man whose sight was restored died within two years.)

Nor was Virgil's restoration to sight much like the Biblical scales falling from the eyes of the blind. He had to be taught to see, and it only partly worked.

A few days after reading this, I got a phone call: my friend Deena was in Boston, staying with Sarah Smith. She had picked up a car and was driving it back to Colorado. I immediately invited her to say with me on the return trip. Our house is extremely difficult to find under the best of circumstances. I hadn't seen Deena in about seven years, but I had some faint recollection that she didn't see very well. So I was a bit surprised that she was driving. Despite our best efforts, it took over an hour for us to get her from the center of Pleasantville to my house. When she arrived, she explained that she'd only been driving for a few years, following surgery to correct her vision.

It was only then that I remembered that when I had last seen her, she walked with a blind person's cane. While not entirely blind -- with really thick glasses she had been able to see things that were close -- she had been "legally blind." I remember her making some remark about her vision being "80% imagination."

The story goes that her vision had deteriorated further, and that she had fallen on her head repeatedly. After five or six concussions and some unsuccessful vision therapy, it was decided that she needed surgery to correct her vision. The surgery was successful, but like Virgil, she lacked a lot of the basic skills for seeing.

Most fundamentally, she lacks skills for visual prioritizing. She said that initially she was unable to have a conversation with someone wearing patterned clothing because the patterns were too distracting. Even now, four years after surgery, she finds it difficult to converse in our kitchen because of the intrusive pattern of our 70s wallpaper. (We moved our conversation to the living room).

Perspective remains difficult, though she was able to teach herself how to see it. She bought a digital camera and took pictures of scenes she didn't understand -- a street, sidewalk, and house. She asked people to explain the scenes: How do you tell where the street is? How do you tell the house from the sidewalk? At this she was successful, though she says she still has problems with uphill and downhill.

On the other hand, faces have defeated her. Though she can recognize a generic face, efforts to learn to recognize people by their faces and to tell how people feel by their faces have defeated her, despite some very hard work. She says she used to be able to tell with some precision how people felt by their voices, but she is losing that ability: the demands of trying unsuccessfully to understand by facial expression erodes older coping skills. Also, her inability to recognize faces really upsets people and causes frequent social difficulties.

I have a book of optical illusions around, so I got it out and tried them on her. I would have expected that she could not recognize all the different ways to see the pictures. Instead, she saw what I saw, plus additional botanical images that I didn't see -- seemingly on the basis of small parts of the images that looked a bit like petals or branches.

What she feels she has gained from the surgery is mobility: she can drive, so she can go many more places. But in general she would rather go back to the way she was. Vision does not work for her as well as her older ways of gaining information, but the demands of vision erode these older skills. It reminds me of upgrading a computer operating system to find that one doesn't like it as well as the older system.

I told her she really must write about her experiences trying to learn to see, which I found quite fascinating. This was all especially startling, since I had not really thought of Deena as blind in the first place.

(I do wonder, now that I've written all this down, whether my wandering off into cyberspace from what I intended to blog, as recounted in the very first paragraph, is neurologically similar to Deena becoming distracted by the wallpaper. Perhaps later generations will have better prioritizing skills for this kind of information feed.)

UPDATE: Read Deena's comments on my observations in the comments.

Kathryn Cramer at November  3, 2003 07:35 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


As I understand it, there is a part of the brain that is specifically devoted to recognizing people's faces. People who have this part of the brain damaged in  an accident, say, may have otherwise excellent vision but have great difficulty recognizing even close friends and relatives. It sounds like your friend may not have been able to develop this portion of her brain, if she was visually impaired for so long, or has let it lapse.
  I tend to think that my own ability to recognize faces isn't that great. I find that I often recognize someone not only from their face--for example, I might recognize you because you're slender + have pale blond hair + happen to be carrying a baby, rather than only by your face Actually, my ability in this regard isn't totally lacking, so I probably would recognize your face, but in general I feel my facial recognition software is not as well developed as I would like. If your friend has trouble with this, she might be able to develop a lot of workarounds: if she's losing her ability to recognize voices, there are still height, body shape, gait, distinctive items of clothing or shoes or jewelry, hair color...tattoos can be especially helpful, since they tend to be distinctive.
  I find it slightly odd that your friend is driving, though I can see how it might be relatively easy to just look ahead at taillights. But navigation is part of driving...

Posted by: Robert L at November  3, 2003 07:58 AM

Thanks Kathryn, you've summed this up much better than I ever have.   I have sent you a rough draft of a writeup, please let me know if I have the right email.

There is a website for face blindness--it is a great explanation and you can't imagine how wonderful I felt when I first read it:

Of course, a lot of this was actually realizing that people use faces to recognize other people.  This hadn't dawned on me until 2 years after I had my sight.  I asked Stephanie Strickland, another hypertext poet, how people seemed to be recognizing each other at the hypertext conference we were attending.  The conference did not have name tags, and people hadn't seen each other for a few years. Yet they could call out to each other across the room.  I had had a feeling there was some visual clue, but  I didn't know what.

It is these bases of assumptions that get to me. You never say oh a tree stays where it is all night and doesn't move--that is assumed. You don't say oh, people have different features and you look at the face and can tell who it is, that is assumed. (By the way, no one has yet given me a good explanation of WHAT they look for in a face.  Eyes change, expressions in mouths change.) I would love a detailed explanation of how you use faces to recognize people. 

I have researched the computer IT folks progress in facial recognition, but this is also based on a static picture for the most part, with some complicated algorithms that would take me more than the moment usually alloted for facial recognition.  Ahh...thanks for letting me vent.

Before I could see clearly, I could hear very well. I still can.  I could tell who someone was within a word or two of them speaking. I still can, usually, but the ability has dimmed. I can still listen in a crowded room and pick out voices I know and follow up to about 6 conversations.  I can no longer do this and carry on a conversation at the same time--but I used to be able to.   So my abilities to recognize by hearing have diminished.

Also, I no longer carry a cane and people expect me to recognize them as I can now see.  At first, I tried and faked it, with horrible results.  When I realized it was a problem, I tried very hard to memorize faces and learn people.  Now I am becoming more resigned to not being able to do this.  I do memorize what a person wears for that day and once I meet a person I can tell who they are, as long as they don't put on a sweater or a jacket.

I also look for height, shape, style of walking, hair --hair is very misleading.  I also use contextual conversations--we are in a grocery store but you are talking about work, so I know you from work... But most of these take a few minutes and people often will not take the time I need to recognize them.  I am finally becoming up front about the issue and warning people ahead of time that I will not recognize them. This has lead to a few practical jokes, but for the most part, people are good about it. Most of my friends now come up to me and say "Hi Deena it's so and so."    You could say this is my anti-spam method in person ;)

Posted by: Deena at November  8, 2003 01:35 AM

While I am intrigued and heartened by the track of Deena's abilities, I am skeptical that she belongs behind a wheel. I can imagine too many driving scenarios where her gaps and additional processing time could be lethal to others.

Posted by: David Lubkin at September 13, 2004 12:39 PM

The Bed with a Mind of Its Own

Here is another essay from those tense times in late 2001. --KC

I was sick, becoming very sick, in October.

"A cold," I’d said to my husband, David, "With added features." It felt like a bad cold with allergy symptoms sitting on top.

On October 17th, my son Peter’s fourth birthday, I went to the doctor: "A virus," he said. "Come back in a week if you don’t feel better."

My one A+ at Columbia University was in statistics. This month, when I was getting sick, the "A" word  was everywhere: anthrax. The odds, I calculated, were millions to one. The only risk factors I could think of were ridiculous: stuff like husband is editor for major publishing company that has a mailroom; or stayed at house of White House electrician in September. But the limits of my suggestibility were tested: skin, ear, and eye problems, runny nose, chest pain, sore throat. So many symptoms.

Wednesday, October 24th, a week later, I didn’t feel better: in the morning a searingly sore throat. I called David and called the doctor. By lunch time, lightheadedness, tingling lips, prickling finger tips, and chest pain like a clenched fist just beneath my right shoulder blade. But no wheezing. (I’d had pneumonia before, and even a lung collapse, once.) I knew that they would hear no wheezing. Part of my lung seemed locked. I had been driving around trying to buy the right toner cartridge for our printer, to Hartsdale and then to White Plains, feeling more and more lightheaded as I drove.

Arriving home, no message on the machine: the doctor’s office had not yet called me back. I called them: The nurse and I discussed whether I should go to the emergency room. I said I wanted to see the doctor. (I didn’t tell her that I wanted to avoid to the ER, for fear that they’d think I was a hypochondriac faking anthrax in order to get Cipro.) I changed the toner cartridge, printed out the issue of our small press magazine and called the doctor’s office again. I finished my work at noon, then crawled into bed feeling too sick to go to the doctor.

I called my sister to find out if her husband, Tom–an electrician who had been helping move the White House mail-processing center off site–was being put on Cipro yet. They guys from the other shift had been nasal-swabbed the night before. When I talked to her the previous night we’d had five minutes of hysterical giggles on the subject of household decontamination tips–greeting her husband at the door with a can of Lysol and such.

In this conversation, I suggested that she insist that he wear a condom. To work. A really big one that could cover his whole body. She said, "If you feel too sick to go to the doctor, call an ambulance."

The doctor’s office called, asking me to come in. I went, driving carefully, afraid I would be pulled over. After a bit of a wait–during which the waiting room carpet sparkled in ways it shouldn’t have and I remained determinedly vertical, though I really wanted to lie on that carpet–the doctor offered hospital admission. I made a few calls on my cell phone to arrange for Peter to be picked up at preschool. I felt too sick to be bothered with going into the hospital, so I said yes, admit me. The doctor offered an ambulance, but I drove myself.

Five hours in the Admit unit did not bother me. Sitting and standing were no longer demanded. People were close by. I thought, Whatever I have is no longer my problem.

As the nurse helped me into my gown, she said "What can you tell me about this rash on your chest?"

"What rash? I don’t know about any rash," I said. But on my chest there was a rash like a faint sunburn.

They put in my IV and they wheeled me down the hall for a chest X-ray. I needed help to stand up for the X-ray, and remained standing by leaning against the equipment. While I waited to be returned to the Admit Unit, a woman wearing a face mask was brought in on a gurney by hospital masked hospital staff. I wasn’t sure whether to look at her and smile or to look away. I did an awkward combination of the two. Obviously, she had something contagious, but what?

Once back in the Admit Unit, eavesdropping was my entertainment: The infectious disease doctor across the hall asked the young female patient, "Have you been out of the country recently?" and made a phone call to determine if current protocol demanded a nasal swab for anthrax. (It didn’t.) They sampled her spinal fluid; for what purpose, I knew not. But I was curious.

Although I hadn’t been given any medication, I felt like I was on heavy drugs. In the room next door, an old man sent in from a nursing home was told they will give him Cipro in trade for a urine specimen. He was so thrilled to be taking the drug du jour, though only for an apparent urinary tract infection.

My nurse called upstairs every half hour to see if my bed was ready yet. The nurses chatted with their children on the phone: one about school books crucial to the homework assignment left at school; another explained she wouldn’t be home until bedtime. I missed my son.

Gradually, a headache came on, a headache like slamming my head into a wall.

"Oxygen," said the chipper nurse. "Maybe your oxygen would help." Once she turned it on, the headache, or at least its intensity, was gone in seconds. When my head cleared, I remembered that the Admit instructions had authorized oxygen. But I had been too sick and confused to ask.

A room, I needed a room. From 3 to 8 PM my room upstairs remained uncleaned. When I finally arrived there via gurney, at about 8:30, the room smelled funny, vaguely like a diaper pail. I saw a dampness through the sheet and patted the bed to be sure that it was disinfectant and not what it smelled like. I had never spent a night away from my little boy before.

I got into the bed. It made a quiet mechanical noise, though I had pushed no buttons. Click. Whir. Click. I had a bed at last. I complained about nothing.

Nothing to read. A pen, but no paper. Only TV. And though sick, I was so bored! I turned on the TV: all anthrax all the time. What I have is no longer my problem. The bed clicked and then shifted subtly of its own accord, and clicked again.

I had thought that I still knew how to watch TV, but I had partly lost the skill of extracting actual information from a television. Initially, for example, I could not simultaneously read the scrolling headlines and follow what the news anchors were saying. After a while though, I got the hang of it.

History Channel: Visual: Tracking shot of lower Manhattan, focus on the Twin Towers. My first thought: The towers were so big! My God, they were big! Then I hear the voiceover. Voice: "... and as water levels continue to rise, the next ice age will pose serious problems for the future." This shot is a cheat of course, because they are using the sheer size of the WTC to imply that water will engulf the smaller skyscrapers. Nonetheless, it was touchingly naive for them to suggest that the biggest threat to the WTC was an incoming ice age.

After I turned off the TV and tried to sleep, I worried that the self-propelled bed would keep me awake. Instead it was a comfort, a mechanical echo of the small movements of my husband and son asleep at home.

Thursday, despite antibiotics and oxygen, I did not feel better. My ears hurt. My chest X-ray, taken on admission, was OK. The doctor ordered a CATSCAN.

When I felt my suggestibility tested yet again, I tried a thought experiment: What would it mean about the anthrax outbreak if I, Kathryn Cramer, who does not work for the government or the news media, were to be a documented case of inhalation anthrax? I would be a mysterious outlier. It would change everything. It would be big news. That wasn’t going to happen. It was all going to unfold predictably with neat little chains of evidence. Therefore my TV-induced fears were absurd.

David and Peter came to visit, bringing pajama bottoms and a couple of small press fiction magazines. Peter climbed on my bed and watched kids shows on my TV. While he was watching, I realized why I had not been watching them: I’d seen all these shows before: Blues Clues, Dragon Tales, Pokemon. I’d seen them with Peter. So not only could they provide me with no entertainment; they made me miss him. The bed moved and Peter and I talked about how it had a mind of its own.

Peter was very worried by my oxygen tube and my IV. I told him that both were to help mommy feel better. I turned the oxygen tube so it blew on him for a moment to demonstrate what it did, and I let him touch the IV. When he was just short of two, Peter had been hospitalized for an afternoon to be rehydrated when he had pneumonia. He had had an IV, which had to be taped on because he was a little kid.  The hand swelled and the IV became extremely painful. Because of his concern, I asked if he remembered having an IV before. He said, "Yes.  It really hurt, mommy." I assured him that mommy’s didn’t hurt and was helping make her feel better.

After they left, I tried keeping the TV off. But the old man across the hall was very hard of hearing and so spoke very loudly; he had many visitors whom he entertained by telling them his opinions of the developing anthrax story he was watching on TV; they had to talk loudly for him to hear them. I tried reading the magazines, but the stories in them weren’t making very much sense, even though I tried reading them two or three times. Actual TV was preferable to the verbal instant replay of the anthrax stories, so I turned the TV back on, trying to find more innocuous channels.

I wanted music. From my lung collapse and from my hospitalization for Peter’s birth, I remember that the hospital cable used to have MTV, so you could just have music on in your room. MTV was gone. There were a couple of channels that had music shows, but they would play only about fifteen seconds of a song and then blather about the band to a constantly moving and cutting camera. Even I, in my current state, had more attention span than they were demanding of their viewers!

Friday, the doctor said the CATSCAN showed inflamed nodules in my lungs. At last a name: inflammatory lung disease. The bed shifted on its own: click, whir, click. My immune system turning against me? What I have becomes my problem again. 

I finally used the A word: I said to the doctor, "You know the question everyone has been asking? They all want to know if I have inhalation anthrax." The doctor told me that if that’s what I had, I was still covered: the antibiotic Levaquin is a relative of Cipro. He also said that prior to the current outbreak, the last case of inhalation anthrax had been seven years before he went to medical school. "Gotta feel bad for the doctors who missed the diagnosis on those two postal workers who died," he said.

On all the news channels, the postal situation was heating up, with new detections of anthrax spores in sorting machines every few hours. My favorite moment of that coverage was when William Smith of the New York Postal Workers Union said on CNN, "The postal workers value their lives just as much as members of congress value theirs." I saw him say it only once, though some of his lesser sound bites the various stations repeated for days. He was making an excellent point, and this is the sound bite that should have received the endless repetitions.

Channel 13 had some good stuff during the day, after the kids’ shows. And on weekends CSPAN 2 becomes BookTV, which was great: readings, scholarly lectures, book events that I would like to have gone to, some in book stores I think I’d been in.

The hospital’s interfaith chaplain paid me a visit. I told him the story of my admission, my symptoms, and about how careful I had been to avoid having to go through the ER to get treatment. He said he’d heard that in some Manhattan ERs, you had to say that you did not think you had anthrax and did not want Cipro in order to be allowed to see a doctor. We shook our heads and chuckled. He said a prayer of healing over me and continued on his route.

Saturday, I felt worse, not better. The prednizone helped, but not enough. I was supposed to be released, but I didn’t feel good. David, Peter, and I were supposed to depart for Toronto on Sunday, but we weren’t going to be able to because I was in the hospital. The doctor came in with lab results: two secondary infections detected. More steroids. An additional antibiotic: doxycycline to cover the possibility that this was caused by Lyme Disease, to which I have a vast possible exposure in our wooded, suburban yard which is on a main deer trail: I get five tick bites a week during some parts of the summer.

Too many drugs, said David, but I suspected not enough. David said Karen said Tom is on Cipro. My eyes stung and the eyeballs looked sunburned. I could not read. Not only did my eyes hurt, but turning pages was too much effort.

One of the first things I found to watch that I really enjoyed was Joan Didion reading from her book Political Fictions, followed by a discussion of her reading, on Channel 13. I loved her final sentence from the discussion period, which I wrote down: "Some things are unknowable, but most things are more knowable than we think." I immediately called David and asked him to stop by Borders on his way up to see me and bring me a copy of her book. He didn’t. Instead he brought me two books he’d bought at a yard sale on the way.

Later, author Steven E. Ambrose, appearing with Peter Mayle and Dan Rather on Book TV on CSPAN 2, read from his book, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany, on the bomber that George McGovern flew in WW2. He read an anecdote about McGovern's plane accidentally destroying a civilian farmhouse while trying to get a stuck bomb out of the plane's bay doors. McGovern lands the plane, feeling just terrible and is informed of the birth of his first child. During the program, the phone kept ringing, my parents called, David called, maybe my sister too. But I couldn’t seem to hold up my end of the conversation, and finally I had good TV, I wanted to watch TV now. I didn’t want to talk because it was too hard to figure out what to say. In my dresser at home, I have my mother’s old McGovern in ’72 campaign T-shirt. There was some vast object of tragic contemplation to be had from the WW2 anecdote about McGovern, my mother’s Viet Nam era T-shirt, and the news reports of casualties here and Afghanistan.

I was having respiratory therapy every six hours, including during the night. At about 2:45 am, the therapist would come in and put me on a nebulizer for twenty minutes, and then, at my insistence, I would drink a nice cup of tea, watching whatever good stuff I could find. I saw part of a documentary on Isaac Stern. The most striking (and relevant) image was Stern playing a concert in Israel during the Gulf War. The air raid sirens go off. His audience puts on their gas masks but does not leave. Stern continues to play. I thought about how I felt taking Peter to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, in late September, about how embarrassed I’d felt when a pair of Arab men noticed my careful scrutiny. But you have to go on, just go on.

Sunday, once I felt a little better, I started trying to get off the oxygen. I asked to take a shower, but was told I needed my doctor’s permission for that. I was still unsteady on my feet, so the nurse and I compromised on my washing my hair in the sink, which was fine. I had not even combed my hair since admission, somehow thinking I would be released soon and would do it at home. With washed and combed hair, I began to try to patch my poor damaged skin back together with A & D ointment; David said the ointment gave me a "greased" look, but it sure felt good. He brought me a rhinestone American Flag pin, which I pinned to my hospital gown and wore feeling as though it were an amulet.

Kicking oxygen didn’t work, though I figured out what was wrong with my eyes: They were oxidizing. Going off the oxygen made me very confused: I began to wonder if anthrax is communicable through the television.

I turned the oxygen back up to half strength. The woman in the next room screamed for more pain medication and accused someone of torturing her. Her husband or son, unable to stand this, screamed at a nurse on her behalf. There were raised voices. As near as I could tell, the nurse was obeying instructions in order to avoid giving the woman an accidental lethal OD, and her family was trying to browbeat him into doing it over his better judgement. I wanted to empathize, but that woman had a high-pitched, sing-song, wheedling voice that made it impossible for me to identify with her. I was too dopey to care about them, but they were keeping me awake. The bed shifted beneath me and I turned on CNN quietly in the background so I could sleep.

All Monday, I tried to get off the oxygen, but failed miserably. I wanted to read, but couldn’t comprehend single written sentences. Writing came easier than reading. In the evening, the doctor visited. I asked him to explain how I got sick. He said he thought it started out viral, then went bacterial.

A juxtaposition: 1) Dr. Nancy Snyderman, ABC Medical Correspondent, documenting the nature of the injuries of Afghan refugees streaming into hospitals in Pakistan. (No one at the hospital asks the political affiliation of the 3 year-old with shrapnel in his brain.) Many are injured by houses that have fallen in on them. 2) CNN correspondent in Kandahar talking about the heavy, mud construction of the buildings and their vulnerability to being shaken by the bombs. Discusses the people's concern's that their houses will fall down. Conclusion: These Afghan cities and towns have no meaningful building codes. Even if civilian homes are not bombed directly, it looks to me like many people will be (and perhaps are being) killed because the houses are unable to stand up to the impact of bombs dropped 1/4 and 1/2 mile away. That, it seemed to me, is what it really means when one hears reports of these cities being "shaken" by the bombing.

Oxygen back up to 2. My dose of prednizone increased again. I colored obsessively with crayons for five hours: first a stylized picture of brightly colored-candy corn for Peter in compensation for all the Halloween preparations that I was not doing this year; then a stylized American flag with five stars rather than the usual number. I’m sure the last time I drew a flag can’t be more recent than high school. My mood when drawing the flag was like that of someone making a cross to hang on the door to keep out vampires. My coloring was much admired by the hospital support staff who seemed previously not to have noticed me much. John Ashcroft warned of unspecified new terrorist threats. The bed fidgeted. As the chemicals began to fuck with my brain chemistry, I ran water over my hands in the sink for five or ten minutes for the sheer joy of the sensation.

Late Monday night, Rudy Guiliani had a press conference to tell me that the odds are not what I thought: People who don’t work for the post office or the media are coming down with anthrax, one a New York City hospital worker. I thought, I must get out of here. I still have the chance to get out of the country. It’s not gone yet. David and Peter and I are still scheduled to go to Montreal. But I can’t leave unless I can wean myself. The bed shifted and squirmed, echoing movements of CDC anthrax protocols squirming into new shapes somewhere in the distance. I tried not to think at all, tried to let the bed do all my thinking for me.

This was the Ashcroft cure: That man and his warnings had terrified me, flooded me with adrenaline. And Guiliani had undermined my article of faith that made the infostream bearable. That, and the additional 10 mg of prednizone I’d had with dinner got me pumped up enough to try again: I cut the oxygen down and later cut it more. I was much more brutal with myself than I had been willing to be previously. This was my chance to get out.

I turned off the oxygen and moved the legs of the bed up and the head of the bed down low to help my poor addled brain cope. Intellectually,  I understood what CNN was saying. Emotionally, I believed we’re getting anthrax from TV.

By Tuesday morning, I was off the oxygen tube. The night nurse, just going off shift, asked what my symptoms were on admission. I told him. He looked alarmed and asked what I do for a living. "Editor," I told him, and he looked scared. I explained that I edit anthologies and a small press review magazine (but he wasn’t listening anymore). I asked him to refill my water pitcher, but he left quickly, claiming his shift was over and that the nurse coming on duty would do it. She didn’t, not for several hours. I coped and even read The New York Times, psyching myself up for survival without my oxygen tube.

At quarter after eight, when the new nurse finally came and brought me water and my morning medication, I saw International Space Station U.S. commander Frank Culbertson on ABC. The news anchorman read from a letter Culbertson had written about his reaction to 9/11 and the loss of a friend, the pilot of flight 77 that hit the Pentagon. The quote I wrote down, because it was such a stunning image was, "Tears don't flow the same in space." The anchorman asked how they did flow in space. Culbertson replied, that they go any way they want to.

Saw Joan Didion again; saw Stephen Ambrose again: the life of the mind in reruns. My eyes felt better. But my chest hurt. They did a few more tests–blood tests plus one in the radiology department–then released me at 4PM. I turned off the TV and David took me home.

Tonight I will sleep in my own bed, a bed with no mind at all and no TV. Tomorrow, we head for the border.

October 30th, 2001, Pleasantville, New York