Helmet Heads Hijacked?

How did I miss this one from 2005? And how come no one told me to take off my tinfoil hat? Via @kmerritt, “On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study” by Ali Rahimi, Ben Recht, Jason Taylor, and Noah Vawter.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.


March Meeting GQI Invited Speakers

March is ages away, but it is time to start planning for the APS March meeting, to be held in the beautiful rose city, Portland, Oregon (Note to skiers that Mt. Hood is just a short distance away 🙂 ) Anyway an important part of the March meeting are invites sessions and the quantum computing/information/foundations topical group GQI is in charge of a few of these sessions. Want to nominate a session or invited speaker? Now’s your chance. Here’s the email that was sent out Friday:

Dear GQI members,
This is an email to solicit from you proposals for GQI sponsored invited sessions and invited speakers at the 2010 APS March Meeting (Portland, Oregon March 15-19, 2010.) Invited sessions and speakers are a great opportunity to highlight the most exciting results emerging from quantum information science and quantum foundations to the broader physics community.
The website for submitting proposals is now open at
and will remain open until September 15, 2009.
The GQI Program Committee has the opportunity to organize three invited sessions at the March Meeting. Proposals for these can only be submitted through the above web site. The deadline for submitting nominations is September 15, 2009.
In making proposals, please keep in mind the following APS rules: (i) no individual may receive an invitation two years in a row (unless he or she is a winner of a Prize in the second year); (ii) a single invited session is not permitted to have two speakers from the same institution (i.e., the same university or laboratory). A chair and a speaker from the same institution is acceptable.
Proposals for single invited presentations will also be considered for inclusion in the March Meeting Focus Sessions. This year, the planned focus sessions are
1. Superconducting qubits, 2. Semiconducting/solid state qubits, 3. Foundations of quantum theory, 4. Recent progress in quantum algorithms and quantum computational complexity, 5. Topological quantum computing,
and, jointly with DAMOP,
6. Hybrid AMO-condensed matter systems for quantum information science
To make a nomination, you will need to create an account at the web site and fill in the nomination form. You will need to provide reasonably detailed information about the proposed invited speakers. The more information you provide, the better the chance your proposal will be selected. If you proposal a single individual, you should give a justification for inclusion in one of the above Focus Sessions. If you propose a complete symposium, you should provide detailed information about the proposed topic of the session. Also, please indicate your preference for inclusion in the invited program of either the March Meeting or the DAMOP Meeting. Note that a full invited session at the March Meeting includes 5 speakers.
The GQI program committee will select March meeting sessions in the fall, while Focus session organizers will determine the single invited talks to be included in their sessions.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions (dabacon [nospam @] cs.washington.edu)

Unscientific in Seattle

Chris Mooney, former Scienceblogger and provocateur extraordinaire, will be in Seattle this Thursday talking about the book he co-authored with Sheril Kirshenbaum, “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.” Details:

Thursday, August 6 7:00 PM
University Bookstore
4326 University Way N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105

From all I’ve heard Chris is an excellent speaker so this should be a fun event.

Various and Sundry

Two notes from Caltech of interest:

  • Michael L. Roukes’ group at Caltech has produced a NEMS (nanoelectromechanical system) device which can (almost) measure the mass of a single molecule (as opposed to the many tens of thousands (is this the correct amount?) needed in mass spectrometry.) Build a 2 micrometer by 100 nanometer NEMS resonator. Drop a molecule on it. The frequency of vibration of the NEMS resonator changes. Detect this frequency change. Of course vibration frequency also depends on where the molecule lands. So run the experiment about 500 times to get good estimate of the mass. Future (all ready prototyped) work should alleviate the problem of where the molecule lands causing a need for repeated experiments. From the press release:

    Eventually, Roukes and colleagues hope to create arrays of perhaps hundreds of thousands of the NEMS mass spectrometers, working in parallel, which could determine the masses of hundreds of thousands of molecules “in an instant,” Naik says.
    As Roukes points out, “the next generation of instrumentation for the life sciences-especially those for systems biology, which allows us to reverse-engineer biological systems-must enable proteomic analysis with very high throughput. The potential power of our approach is that it is based on semiconductor microelectronics fabrication, which has allowed creation of perhaps mankind’s most complex technology.”

  • Hawaii beats Chile as site of new Thirty meter telescope.

For the past few months I’ve been getting back into shape by running my rear end off. On these jaunts, when I’m not in the mood for KEXP (they stream check them out!) I try to fill my head with something that isn’t mind numbingly dumb (read most radio stations.) Good podcasts include EconTalk where you get to hear about the dismal science. The interviewer, Russ Roberts, has a very strong libertarian (Austrian school) bent, but even when he disagrees he does ask the questions. I think we get to call it the dismal science because a recent interview was on “The Rational Market.” Apparently economists believe that the economy can pass the Turing test! Anyone else have good recommendations for non brain dead podcasts?
Speaking of finance, the Information Processor has two posts up that are worth looking at: Against Finance and Goldman apologia. The lesson of this financial crisis (and LTCM and…) is that when Goldman comes knocking at your door with a deal, run, don’t walk screaming for the door!
Nate Silver has gotten sick of climate skepticism and the daily weather report, and so lays down some money for those who want to bet against average weather statistics. Time to see if I can find a hometown where the weather instruments have been recently changed.

Detexify Squared

A friend sent me a link to Detextify2:

What is this?
Anyone who works with LaTeX knows how time-consuming it can be to find a symbol in symbols-a4.pdf that you just can’t memorize. Detexify is an attempt to simplify this search.
How does it work?
Just draw the symbol you are looking for into the square area above and look what happens!
My symbol isn’t found!
The symbol may not be trained enough or it is not yet in the list of supported symbols. In the first case you can do the training yourself. In the second case just drop me a line (danishkirel[[[at]]]gmail.com)!
I like this. How can I help?
You could spare some time training Detexify. You could also look at the source on GitHub and if you want to contribute you’re welcome.
Who created Detexify?
Philipp Kühl had the initial idea and Daniel Kirsch made it happen.

Pretty cool. One step closer to the day when I write an equation on a piece of paper and the LaTeX just automagically appears for this at equation.

Backwards Archive

Via @mattleiffer, viXra.org:

In part viXra.org is a parody of arXiv.org to highlight Cornell University’s unacceptable censorship policy. It is also an experiment to see what kind of scientific work is being excluded by the arXiv. But most of all it is a serious and permanent e-print archive for scientific work. Unlike arXiv.org tt [sic] is truly open to scientists from all walks of life.

Maybe I should submit one of my papers with all of the text reversed (yeah, yeah, it would still be incomprehensible.)

Feynman Lectures Online – Thanks Bill!

Microsoft Research’s Project Tuva website is up. Project Tuva is a collection of seven searchable Feynman lectures aimed at a popular audience (with extras coming online in the future.) The rights to these lectures were obtained by Bill Gates after he was entranced by them over twenty years ago. Well worth watching, especially if you’re about to give a popular science talk (I’ve always been fascinated by how Feynman uses his hands in describing physics.)
Even more interesting, in my egocentric universe, are the comments by Mr. Gates himself about Feynman:

Someone who can make science interesting is magical. And the person who did that better than anyone was Richard Feynman. He took the mystery of science, the importance of science, the strangeness of science and made it fun, and interesting, and approachable.

He makes physics fun. Some people will laugh at that phrase, but I’m not kidding when I say it.

Compare and contrast to a certain undergraduate at Caltech in a 1996 interview on CNN:

But for students of physics, Feynman is remembered most for his amazing lectures. Part actor, part storyteller, part physicist, Richard Feynman the lecturer first stood at a podium at Cal Tech [sic] in 1950. Until his death from cancer in 1988, he inspired legions of students.
Mention his name to physics students at Cal Tech [sic] today and watch their eyes light up: “One of the reasons it was easier to become a physicist was because he was so exciting and he wasn’t the typical, you know, nerd who doesn’t say anything,” said Cal Tech [sic] senior Dave Bacon.

One of the other students interviewed (and the smartest physicist in my class) attempted to get in a great double entendre involving Feynman’s “little red book” into his interview, but alas either CNN caught onto him, or they just didn’t like the quote.

Humor as a Guide to Research

Over at the optimizer’s blog, quantum computing’s younger clown discusses some pointers for giving funny talks. I can still vividly remember the joke I told in my very first scientific talk. I spent the summer of 1995 in Boston at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (photo of us interns) working on disproving a theory about the diffuse interstellar absorption bands by calculating various two photon cross sections in H2 and H2+ (which was rather challenging considering I’d only taken one quarter of intro to quantum mechanics at the time!) At the end of the summer all the interns gave talks about their work. I was last to go. In my talk, I drew (transparencies, you know) a cartoon of “photon man” (wavy line stick figure) who explained the difference between two photon absorption and absorbing two photons. No one reacted to these cartoons during the talk. But at the end of the talk, one of the other interns, trying to be cute asked me “So, what does photon man think about all of this?” I paused. Thought for a second. And replied “He was very enlightened by the whole thing!” The simultaneous groan emitted by the audience (who had sat through 8 straight talks) was, I must say, awesome. I have a vivid memory of my adviser in the back of the room giving a hearty actual laugh! And I have been hooked on trying to insert at least one bad joke in every talk I have given ever since.
Since I enjoy humor in talks, lately I’ve been wondering if there isn’t an easier way to make funnier talks. The optimizers list is a good start, but I’m lazy. Which led me to the idea: maybe I can make funnier talks by simply basing my research on things that are inherently funny? I mean, you try taking How a Clebsch-Gordan Transform Helps to Solve the Heisenberg Hidden Subgroup Problem and making a funny talk! On the other hand it is, without a question, nearly impossible to give a talk about Time Travel without (purposefully or not) uttering really awesome (and well timed) jokes.
Continue reading “Humor as a Guide to Research”

Can You Have Open Science in the Dark?

The arXiv is a game changer for how large portions of physics (and increasingly other fields) are done. Paul Ginsparg won a MacArthur award for his vision and stewardship of the arXiv (something other institutions might want to note when they decide that someone trying to change how science is done isn’t really doing work that will impact them.) So…Given: The arXiv is great. But there is something that’s always bothered me a bit about the arXiv: transparency.
(Note: those of you who wish to complain about the fact that you can’t get endorsed on the arXiv, this article is not for you. Here is a place where that discussion will probably flourish)
Continue reading “Can You Have Open Science in the Dark?”

arXiv.org Hacked?

Has the arXiv been hacked or is it offline? When I connect to arxiv.org it shoots me to mirror sites which haven’t been updated since Oct 08. Via @MartinQuantum. Also nanoscale views reports the arXiv down.
Since this is a blog we can easily spread rumors by including a link to an article today about cyberattacks going on right now possibly originating from North Korea.
Update 9:03 am PST: At lanl.arxiv.org you can now get papers greater than October 2008 by searching, but the “recents” and “new” isn’t working. Also the RSS feed seems to only have yesterdays posts. A comment on Secret Blogging Seminar got a response back on the problem: “technical difficulties”.
Update 8:31 pm PST: Full day of meetings, but before they started the arXiv got at least yesterday’s posts up (and I could run scirates scripts to download the day.) Anyone know if you can submit papers?