First arXiv Paper?

I was under the impression that the arXiv was started in August of 1991.  For example, navigating to the hep-th category and pulling up a listing by dates will list the first paper as hep-th/9108001 by Horne and Horowitz. Indeed wikipedia tells us that

The arXiv was originally developed by Paul Ginsparg and started in 1991 as a repository for preprints in physics and later expanded to include astronomy, mathematics, computer science, nonlinear science, quantitative biology and, most recently, statistics.

However…with the arXiv api one can perform searches for papers by the date they were last updated.  Here, for example, is how to search for arXiv articles prior to the one listed above[000012310900+TO+199108150000]&max_results=100&sortBy=lastUpdatedDate.  Whah?  Lots of hits, including many papers by Knuth 🙂  Note that these papers do not have arXiv numbers below the one listed above…but they have date stamps that are prior to the August 1991 date!  By this account the first updated paper is physics/9403001—a, uh, paper of some note—that was updated on Fri, 25 April 1986 at 15:39:49 GMT!
The moral?  Well there isn’t one, but those who play with the arXiv api may need to consider this date oddity.

Pr(Future Dave Bacons|Library Cuts) is Small

I grew up in the small town of Yreka, CA (“Yreka Bakery” backwards is…) that sits just minutes south of the Oregon-California border on Interstate 5. Yreka, population a little over 7000 brave souls, is the county seat of Siskiyou county. Siskiyou county is “god’s country” meaning, yes, (a) it votes strongly Republican 🙂 and (b) its scenery is awesome:
Siskiyou county is, however, not a wealthy part of the United States (yes, if you measure wealth in dollars :)) Unemployment in the county is currently 19 percent (not seasonally adjusted), the median income is $29,530, and about 18 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Most employment is in the services or retail trade, with government and agriculture/mining/timber being the next highest employers. The collapse of the timber industry during the 70s and 80s took a hard toll on the county and no industry has really arisen to take its place.
As you might imagine, given the above facts, the recent recession has cause some financial hardships for Siskiyou county. It comes as no surprise, then to read an article in the local newspaper, the Siskiyou Daily News, regarding drastic cuts in the funding of the Siskyou County library. The county is running a $3.7 million deficit, and many cuts are now on the county supervisor’s agenda. Among the cuts is one that hits dear to my heart, cutting the county library’s budget from $712,000 to $50,000, the later being enough to keep the utilities running at the library buildings. The county library in Siskiyou county is in danger of dying.
Read about this made me sad. Now I’m not a bystander without personal interest in this situation: my handicapped sister has worked or volunteered at the county library in Yreka for many many years. The “gainful” employment the library has given her has been a blessing for her and, I think, for those who get to spend time with someone who is much more wonderful than her oafish brother. It would be a shame if her job where to end, not because she costs the county much (she is a volunteer now) but because it brings great joy to her day, and I suspect, to many people who interact with her.
But I’m also sad for a different reason. I’m sad because of Spacetime Physics 1ST Edition. 1st edition, peoples, not the later editions! I picked up this book from the county library at who knows what age and learned all about special relativity (chapter 1 is available here: note the dog and spaceship.) Indeed learning about hyperbolic sine and hyperbolic cosine were of great use when I finally, years later, had to learn trigonometry (which I taught myself in order to calculate how the size of the moon’s shadow is changed by refraction in the earth’s atmosphere. NERD!)
I’m sad because of a county library Calculus book whose author I do not remember, but where I first learned about Newton’s (and friend’s) great discovery involving wacko ideas like limits and infinitesimals. It will come as no surprise to learn that I was led to this book by a book on quantum theory. The quantum theory book started out with a discussion of something called blackbody radiation, and it was very important that the big sigma (I new this stood for a sum) was used instead of a big flat “S.” A science teacher said “Ah that’s an integral sign from Calculus.” Ah the indignation of having to learn calculus before you could learn quantum theory (now we know better!)
I’m sad because of all of the back issues of Scientific American with their wonderful articles on the game of life, computer bugs that evolved, and tinkertoy machines for playing tic-tac-toe (and whose author, in later life, seems to have become rather sadly confused.)
I’m sad for all of the many popular science books on the “mysteries” of quantum theory that allowed me, when it came time to really learn quantum theory, to know exactly where the line to those mysteries lay and that crossing that line tonight at 2 a.m. was not going to help me solve my problem set by 10 a.m. I’m sad for A Brief History of Time, From the Big Bang to Black Holes where I learned that I disagreed with Hawking about many things, none of them involving physics.
Now I can’t say that I’ve been any great contribution to my country, given how big of a user of its library I once was. I live in Seattle and visit Yreka only occasionally now. But I do know with high certainty that a major factor in me ending up with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and performing research on quantum computing can be traced back to that county library. And I’m guessing that for many others the library has provided a path towards their own self-education: may it be on black holes, sewing, or learning about the history of the world. If I had a soapbox I’d probably also go on about studies showing businesses not moving to the county due to it’s low literacy rate. But enough of the political whining. Tonight, I’m just going to be sad for the future kids who don’t even know that they just lost one more opportunity to expand and better their future world.

Google Hella Cool

Fellow Yrekan Austin Sendek’s quest to get “Hella” the official prefix for 1027 has scored a Googol-sized success. Err I mean a Google-sized success:
Austin also writes to inform me that there is an official petition, which can be found here.
Also I’m amused to note that the google-monster also recognizes smoots.

Singularity University GSP

The Singularity University is crazy. I like crazy. If I were a grad student with copious time on my hands (trust me, in comparison, you have copious time, dear GradStudent) I’d apply to attend the Singularity University summer school:

SU’s Graduate Studies Program (GSP) is a 10-week summer program (June 19 through August 28) located at NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley. The program is for top graduate and postgraduate students worldwide to learn about the various exponentially growing cross-disciplinary technologies (biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, medicine, etc.). The inaugural 2009 class was limited to 40 students. The 2010 class will have a program size of approximately 80 students.

Note that unless next year’s class is 160 students, SU will be considered a failure (of the polynomial kind?)

Sonnet 59

In the New York Times today there is an interesting article about Helene Hegemann whose debut novel, “Axolotl Roadkill,” drew wide praise. You know this story: turns out that the book contains plagiarized passages (plagiarism: check, sales rising: check.) What I find fascinating about the story, however, is not this rehash of a tried and true marketing tactic, but Ms. Hegemann’s defense of herself, summarized in this quote:

“There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

Why do I love this quote? Well first of all I love her use of the word “authenticity,” by which she certainly means a definition of the word “authentic” along the lines of: “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In this view of the word, if what you do rings true with others, well then you are legit. But, amusingly, authentic also means “not false or imitation”—a definition the victims of her plagiarism might find a bit off. Even more amusingly the word “authentic” has an etymology from the Greek “authentƒìs” meaning perpetrator or master. Ah, the forms of language, how I love thee!
But beyond her garbled defense, I also find the quote fascinating because of Ms. Hegemann use of the Ecclesiastes defense:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun – Ecclesiastes 1:9-14

(Google this passage leads you to such fascinating acts of logic flagellation as “If there is nothing new under the sun, how is it possible for people to keep finding new interpretations of Scripture?”.) I’ve always found this passage, and this view of the world, to be a uniquely human bastardization of what we see going on around us in the universe. Now certainly what Ms. Hegemann means in this sentence is that all literature is—must be—derived from past works: that all the good ideas have already been written about. She might even believe that her version is better (cue Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote)!
But to me what this view of literature shows is a vast narrowness in thinking about originality in the world. It makes me wonder, for example if Ms. Hegemann has ever picked up a copy of the glossy journal “Science”? For example, in the copy of this rag sitting beside me in this coffee shop I find the article Faintest Thrum Heralds Quantum Machines. This New Focus article describes recent work on cooling quantum systems spatial degrees of freedom to their ground state (which apparently the group at UCSB has achieved…no paper yet!) Now I’m not going to argue that today we are faced with a glut of repetitious rehashing of the multitudes of ideas, acts, and creations of the past. But we are also surrounded by a glorious amount of new creation: today scientists have created a large mechanical device which is so cold that it has a single quanta of energy. Baring knowledge of a vast alien civilization among whom this achievement was a past record, this seems to me a singular original act.
Everywhere I look, I see original acts: homomorphic encryption, a field effect transistor in graphene, and the imprint of the Lie Group E8 on an experiment describing a perturbation of the transverse Ising model. Nothing original Ms. Hegemann? I beg to differ.
But Ms. Hegemann probably shouldn’t feel that bad. I mean, she’s got great company in her mistaken view of originality. Quote “Sonnet 59”:

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
The second burden of a former child.
O, that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done!
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or whe’er better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
O, sure I am, the wits of former days
To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

Yes, dear Shakespeare, you plagiarized, borrowed, rehashed, and “mixed” Greek tragedies. But you were dead wrong about your not being an original. And today those who can’t see the original in the world, well, perhaps they just need to change their job over from novelist over to today’s more creative work force: scientist.

arXiv Funding

Missed this over the break: a facebook note about the future of funding of the arXiv. The post points to two documents of interest, the first a statement about support:

…We intend to establish a collaborative business model that will engage the institutions that benefit most from arXiv — academic institutions, research centers and government labs — by asking them for voluntary contributions.

and also a handy dandy FAQ about the changes.

Everday Orthogonality

Another one from Michael, who spotted an article about one of my favorite mathematical words to use in everyday speech (much the chagrin of non-scientists) used in the Supereme Court of the United States:

Supreme Court justices deal in words, and they are always on the lookout for new ones.
University of Michigan law professor Richard D. Friedman discovered that Monday when he answered a question from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but added that it was “entirely orthogonal” to the argument he was making in Briscoe v. Virginia.
Friedman attempted to move on, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stopped him.
“I’m sorry,” Roberts said. “Entirely what?”
“Orthogonal,” Friedman repeated, and then defined the word: “Right angle. Unrelated. Irrelevant.”
“Oh,” Roberts replied.

“What was that adjective?” Scalia asked Monday. “I liked that.”
“Orthogonal,” Friedman said.
“Orthogonal,” Roberts said.
“Orthogonal,” Scalia said. “Ooh.”
Friedman seemed to start to regret the whole thing, saying the use of the word was “a bit of professorship creeping in, I suppose,” but Scalia was happy.
“I think we should use that in the opinion,” he said.
“Or the dissent,” added Roberts, who in this case was in rare disagreement with Scalia.

Of course last time I commented on using mathematical words outside of their natural habitat it spawned a comment thread with over 2000 comments.
Other favorites that I like to sneak into casual conversation are “canonical”, “dual”, and “asymptotic.” Other good scientific / math words that you like to use in everyday conversation?

Rowers, Funding, Metropolis, and Equilibria

Stuff to read while you wait around for finals and the Christmas holidays:

Science Fiction Prototyping

Last Friday I went to at talk by Brian David Johnson from Intel. That sentence sounds like any other that an academic could write–always with the going to seminars we acahacks are. That is until you hear that Brian David Johnson is a “consumer experience architect” in the Digital Home – User Experience Group at Intel. Okay that is a bit odd for a typical seminar speaker, but still lies in the “reasonable” range. And then you find out the title of his talks is “Brain Machines: Robots, Free Will and Fictional Prototyping as a Tool for AI Design” and you say, whah? Which is exactly what a group of about forty of us said upon hearing about this seminar, and is exactly why we showed up to hear the talk!
Continue reading “Science Fiction Prototyping”

Nobel in Chemistry

The Nobel in Chemistry for 2009 has been awarded to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath for “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.” And because I am (or was, or am, or..whatever) a physicist, I will note that Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has a Ph.D. in physics 🙂
And today is even more busy than yesterday!