Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hard Problems at MSRI

I am here at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute for the northern California premier of Hard Problems, a documentary about the Math Olympiad.

Quotes from the movie I thought were particularly good

  1.  The subject of math rather than just the random facts I was taught in school
  2.  Math is more of exploration than knowledge
  3.  You cant really do math emotionally, that doesn't make sense.
  4.  Math doesn't have to be straight out of the book,
  5. For a really cool problem you can explain how its really cool without having to get in the gritty details, I think math is like that it speaks for itself its very beautiful.
  6. I have a little bit of a distaste for schools.
  7. I have this theory that the smarter a mathematician is the better a mathematician is, the less they like to work.... I don't know if its true, I haven't asked enough mathematicians
  8. I don't do mathematics because its mathematics. I do it because of the astounding connections and creativity it allows (ending line, one I think that is very incisive about the nature of mathematics
And now, onto the Q&A panel.
7:05  Two interesting threads, the moderator brings up, the one about what the IMO is and questions about the IMO and then also about how to bring more people into the IMO and increase higher mathematics training, however, the question i find interesting, and want to hear about, is instead how we can take the lessons gained from the higher level math education to get better math education around the board not just for those kids gifted with math talent, but to increase math education overall.

7:15 Zvezdelina Sankova puts on an interesting presentation about the Berkeley math circle, it seems like a great way to teach math, why don't we adapt a math circle setup to teach math to all children?

7: 20 Melanie makes a great point on how most of the students who do the IMO have seen some exciting math whereas moth high school students have not seen any interesting math.

7:25 Competition aspect is an important hook. "competitions were the venue in which I learned that there was interesting math"

7:40 Guy behind me comments on how the math circles helped him teach and make better, Zvezdelina makes a point about how the BMC was supposed to me a trail program, and that the allocation of resources is making it happen at colleges and universities, not schools.

7:50 some douchebag in the back asks 4 annoying questions, I hope he dies in a fire.

7:50 Ryan makes a good point about how people are not exposed to interesting math problems.

7:55 I get a question in on the first quote in the list, Zevezdelina talks about how the math circle gives the problem first then develops the tools to solve it rather than just give students the tools of mathematics with no context rhyme or reason.

ill distill this into some final thoughts when I get home.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mars City Planning Commision, Beginning of a Series

Well I have recently been thinking a lot about what it would take to colonize mars. (Yes yes, I know, it’s not very surprising that my thoughts have gone this way is it, oh mythical regular reader?)

So, to this end, I am announcing a new recurring feature for this blog 'Mars City Planning Commission" where I will attempt to list the problems and possible solutions for setting up a colony on mars. To this end, if you have any ideas, any problems, any comments, I certainly could use them. Every bit of information helps. Hopefully, I can get my ass in gear enough to make this a weekly posting, either on Mondays or Tuesdays.

So step 1, brainstorming a whole load of problems.

  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Heat
  4. Food
  5. Shelter
  6. Transportation to Mars
  7. Landing on Mars
  8. Solar Radiation
  9. Where to Land
  10. Dust storms and other Martian Weather
  11. Illness of Colonists
  12. Sanity of Colonists
  13. Building Materials (Thanks to Orodromeus for bringing this one up)

Also it looks like I am forced to re-read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy again...

Anyway, I'm going to continue looking at this list and next week, ill have a longer and more exhaustive list of problems with a little run down of exactly what the problem is.

And Tomorrow, if all goes as planned, I will be Bogging (perhaps, live, I mean, I will have my laptop with me) on the Premiere of Hard Problems at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cosmic Friday: Saturnal Equinox

I had a bit of trouble deciding on which image to use for this weeks Cosmic Friday, I saw many beautiful pictures of nebula's and galaxies, but, well, we have had a bunch  images in those scales recently, and bodies of  the smaller solar scale have been missing from our sojourns into the greater cosmos, and then I saw a beautiful image of Saturn at Equinox, and well, I think it speaks for itself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

My desire for extra-planetary emigration is well documented, so, when I saw two interesting articles about water on both Luna and Mars, I had to talk about them and their effect on bringing about the belated retrofuture.

Before I talk about the moon, I want to mention a finding that has been overshadowed by the moon finding (which, admittedly, is very very exciting.) However, Here on Between Worlds I'm going to give Mars the first billing. a few meteorites that smashed into mars last year have uncovered martian ice at latitudes much closer to the equator than we have expected to find ice. This means that ice is much more plentiful on mars than we previously thought.

What I find most fascinating about this is a coincidence that only proves that nature has a twisted sense of humor. One of the meteorites revealed ice no more than 4 inches from where the 1970's Viking 2 lander dug a trench into mars. If the viking lander had dug its trench only 3.5 inches deeper, it would have likely revealed the ice, and certainly would have changed how we view mars and martian exploration in the past 4 decades.

But onto the big story of the day, The Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission, using NASA's Moon Meteorology Mapper, has discovered that the moon is damp. Water, while not abundant, is definitively present on the moon. One of the major problems that has been facing a Lunar Colony has been the assumed dryness of the lunar surface. If we were unable to find water on the moon, we would have to ship it all up from earth, and that puts a major major crimp in any plans. the energy cost of shipping it all up is extensive to say the least (if you don't believe me, ask anyone who has gone to burning man)
 Furthermore, we gain more than just drinking water when we find water on the planetary bodies and moons we wish to colonize, Rocket-fuel and Breathable Oxygen all can be made once we have that good ol' Hydrogen Hydroxide (don't listen to the fools who call it 'dihydrogen monoxide' they don't know what they are talking about).

These findings force us to radically change our previous conceptions about the rarity of water in the solar system. The increased water we find throughout the system can and will be used to sustain human colonies on other planets.  Overpopulation has become a major problem for humanity, we can fix this in two ways, decreasing population, and increasing resources/area. However, our home planet is fast becoming tapped out of resources, so, where do we go? To the stars, where else? This is one of the major callings of our generation. We must break free from the gravity well that keeps us on this planet. The water findings just give us the confidence that allows us to take bold action in taking the next step to become the first species (so far as we know) to spread itself out to the stars.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mathematics of Steallar Death

Applied Mathematicians and Astrophysicists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have recently created a simulation of the last few hours of a white dwarf star leading up to a type 1a supernova. regular readers (ha, check it out, I made a funny) may remember me blogging about type 1a supernova earlier in the month. So I felt some obligation to post this awesome new finding about them.

For years type 1a supernova have been a standard candle for astrophysicists because it is theorized that they all blow up the same way, however, we have until now, a good computational simulation of the creation of type 1a supernovas has seemed intractable, which begged the question, "do they really all blow up the same way? if we cant simulate it, perhaps they don't..."

But, Mathematics once again came to the rescue as applied mathematicians Ann Almgren, John Bell and Andy Nonaka of Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division,  developed MAESTRO, a simulation code of the problem. The real genius behind MAESTRO was to strip out the sound waves making the problem much more efficient and able to run on modern day supercomputers like the Jaguar, the Cray XT4, one of the worlds most powerful supercomputers.

read the full article Here at Science Daily.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kanye Meme

Found this on the interwebs, pretty brilliant

I sort of want to see one with kanye and PZ on the dino with Kanye Saying "YO PZ, IMMA LET YOU FINISH RIDING THE DINO, BUT BERTRAND RUSSELL IS THE GREATEST ATHEIST OF ALL TIME!!!!

Edit: so i figured, what the hell, I can make it, and while doing so I got I think, a slightly better idea

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cosmic Friday: Andromeda in Ultraviolet

there has been a lot of interesting astronomy news this week, the first rocky exoplanet was found, Saturn had a lightning storm that broke solar system records (at least, as far as we humans know), and the first geological survey of my favorite Jovian moon, Ganymede was completed, but really when it comes to stunning images for this weeks 'Cosmic Friday' nothing jumped out at me so much as NASA's SWIFT satellite's image of the Andromeda Galaxy that was released this week.

Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)

 Yet another reason why we arent funding nasa nearly enough. This is, I think, The most beautiful image of any galaxy ever captured. Images like this really do call us out to reach for the stars.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Criminally Boring, A Rant About Math Education.

For years I assumed that, over time, I would get less and less angry with my high school math teachers. I was wrong. Instead, as it turns out, the massive failure of high school mathematics education serves as a constant pit of fury that I can call on anytime I need (especially when people say they hate/are bad at math, I'm convinced it stems from terrible education into what the subject is...).

Why do I harbor such rage? because it would be inconceivable to not be furious at the grand scale of the failure. When I ask people why they hate math, the most frequent response is that it is 'boring'. And, while I disagree to the utmost, I understand where they are coming from. The fact is mathematics is perhaps the most poorly understood subject by its teachers and the population at large. I was lucky to have a father who cultivated my interest in mathematics at a young age, but even so, as I left high-school I had become convinced that math is boring, a dull subject populated by endless formulae that are applied in an arcane seemingly random manner.

But mathematics is far far greater than I was led to believe from how terrible my teachers were. Mathematics, the study of relationships between objects truly is the queen of the sciences.  As I started college and realized that Electrical Engineering, my chosen major, would give me no chances to take any non engineering classes, distraught over this prospect, I decided I needed to change majors, but I had no clue what to change to, then my father gave me two books to read, The Man who Knew Infinity and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Reading these, my eyes were opened to the true beauty of mathematics, I saw what my high-school teachers so failed at imparting, what mathematics is. It is the study of how objects relate to one another, regardless of what the object is. It is indeed the language of the universe, the noblest science.

And this, this is what they were able to make boring. I was dumbfounded, how could people in good conscience make such a beautiful and interesting subject boring. I could not understand, perhaps it was from laziness, or misunderstanding, or tiredness, but still, to take such a subject and make it boring should be a crime. The mathematical training of American high schools is downright criminal. Not only does it not grant the students even a shred of mathematical literacy and maturity, it makes them distrust and hate the subject. A subject full of beauty and wonder, a subject where even the most simple rules will lead you into bizarre worlds full of things to explore, and they, these villains that teach the subject have turned it into a cesspit of boredom for most of their students. How is this not a crime? If anything should be a crime should not turning something interesting and beautiful into something ugly and boring be a crime?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Best use of Lego's in the History of Mankind.

yes, its a Lego Turing machine, how sweet is that? and yet, more proof that lego are the most awesome toys.

I really don't have anything else to say, if you don't think this is totally awesome and sweet, well, I'm not sure if you are in the right place then.

Fuck You Evangelicals, You Cant Take My Country.

Bruce Wilson at the Huffington Post  Reports on one of Former Alsaka Governor and Vice Presidental Candidate and total fucking lunatic Sarah Palin's Religous adviser, Rick Joyner is actively trying to undermine the principles that the uninted states was founded on and setting up a goddamn religous totalitarian state.

Im not even fucking kidding. this is the movement of the so called "third wave" christians who  believe the end times are apporaching and that they need to take back the world for "their Dread Champion, Jesus Christ"  This is just fucking proof of what i have been saying all along. the idea of subordinating reason to faith, to deny science, and reality, and the crazy hatred spread among these people has caused  the Evangelical movement to threaten the very fibers of our modern way of life. We cannot sit idely by whiole these lunatics prepare to recalim the world,

They are preparing to send us to displacement camps. And thats it, the battle lines are drawn. I do not understand how people can see this and not immideatly turn to athiesm, This is the endpoint of blind faith. this is why i am an radical athiest, because the true threat to my way of life comes from the people who are convinced that god has sent them on a misson to destroy the Uninted States of America.

Hienlien wrote a short story, Revolt in 2100, that is about a counter revolution to a religous fundamentalist state that had cropped up in the USA, much later, when collecting his short stoies in his timeline (the day after tomorrow) he mentioned two stories that he never wrote, one of them, was about the rise of the religous fundamentalism and he said he was never able to write it as it was too depressing, but that in the rise of TV preachers he saw it coming. and it seems, he may have been right all along,

But now, we are aware, and we see it coming, it is our mission as americans to stop these religious nutjobs from seizing the country that came up with the declaration of independence and the bill of rights.

Im tired of the right wing always taking the mantle of patriotism, it is clear now that they have been pandering to treasonous liars who are out to destroy the secular way of life. I wont have it. This is the country of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Washington,  would they have sat idly by while a group of religious fanatics attempt to tear down all they had worked so hard to make free? I think not.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Panoramic Galaxy

I found over at Wired Science an awesome panorama of the the milky way galaxy. what is exceptionally cool about this is that it was made with nothing more than a digital camera, each of the over 1,200 image was taking with a 6 minute exposure and the entire panorama took months to create.

The artist, Serge Brunier deserves much applause as does Frédéric Tapissier, who solved many of the technical problems of combining all of these images into the amazing whole

This is just a beautiful image that gives one perspective into the world we live in, and the vast scope of the beyond. Also it is as good a case against light pollution that I can conceive.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cosmic Friday: HST Edition

This week, the Hubble Space Telescope unveiled its new imaging camera to give us even better access to the beautiful vistas that the universe has in store. I was about to post about it on Wednesday when I first heard about it, but I figured, this would make a perfect edition of Cosmic Friday. NASA press release

In the upper left shows a butterfly emerging from stellar demise in a nebula, the upper right displays a clash of galaxies known as "Stephens Quintet", The bottom left is an image taken of the center of the great globular cluster Omega Centauri, and finally, our old friend from last weeks Cosmic Friday, the last image is a pillar of star birth in the Carina Nebula.

Images like these are why I can never understand when people are against space flight and space exploration. how can you see images as beautiful as these and of such cosmic significance and not want to be there to see it with your own eyes? I understand all the problems, the Light Speed barrier, but still, we cannot help but yearn to break free of this gravity well.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Britain apologizes for its treatment of Alan Turing after the war.

In what must be a gratifying feeling for the LGBT community but should definitely be celebrated the world over the British Government formally apologized for their treatment of Alan Turing after the war. For those of you who don't know, Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, the solver of the decision problem. and the man who cracked Enigma and very likely won WWII for the allies, was homosexual. and after the war, turing was convicted of Gross Indecency for his sexual preference. he was given the choice of chemical castration and hormone therapy or jail-time, lost all of his access to his classified work, and, after a year committed suicide. One of the greatest mathematicians of this century and the man who did more than any other man to defeat the Axis powers died after being persecuted for something so silly as his sexual orientation. It is I think, one of the more shameful occurrences in modern history and it is quite refreshing to have the government that caused it to formally apologize, even if it is years later.

2009 has been a year of deep reflection - a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate - by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices - that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

Gordon Brown

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giant Rats and Severed Tails

Two awesome findings in the world of biology today. Firstly biologists in the crater of a volcano found a new species of Rat that is almost a meter long.. Meanwhile, a study shows that severed gecko tails perform complex movements.

The giant rats, having never encountered mankind until now, are completely tame and unafraid of man. knowing how good pets rats make, I have to admit wanting one of these as a pet just so I could have a pet that is as awesome as a pet rat but the size of a cat or small dog...

The gecko tail thing, however is just amazingly cool and yet another example of evolution coming up with great and weird solutions to problems. if the gecko's tail just falls off, the predator is likely to still go after the rest of the gecko, if it moves rhythmically, the predator is likely to ignore it after a few seconds once it sees it is a pattern, by having complex non-deterministic movements, the tail can lure the predator away from the gecko, and given how fast it is, can perhaps even evade the predator itself.

Like I said, totally awesome!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Being Smart About Extinctions

People worried about animal extinctions always slightly troubled me, not that I don't agree, I don't like the thought of animal X going extinct, but its also inescapable. on a long enough time line, all species go extinct, extinctions happen all the time. evolution keeps marching on. How do we couple the problems of ecological disaster due to key species going extinct and yet always be aware of the process of evolution and how to manage the ecology Well, like all good things, Google has the answer! According to Wired, scientists have used a modified version of the Google search algorithm to determine which species are key to the survival of an ecosystem. Now we can look more closely at where to tailor our conservation efforts not in a vain attempt to save every species but instead to save ecological diversity.

now that you are helping us save the planet, I have one question, Google, is there anything you cant do?

Biotech on the Rise.

Articles like this make me glad to be alive in our times

ScienceDaily (2009-09-07) -- If artificial devices could be combined with biological machines, laptops and other electronic devices could get a boost in operating efficiency. Researchers have now devised a versatile hybrid platform that uses lipid-coated nanowires to build prototype bionanoelectronic devices.

I've been dreaming of the day when biotech gets started ever since a fairly obscure white wolf role-playing game Trinity (or, if you really played it, Aeon) The coolest bit of trinity, in my opinion, wasn't the weird psionic powers, or the futuristic setting (although I liked both of those) but it was the cool biotech toys you got to play with. all the other kids can enjoy their vorpal swords, I'll take a crazy slug that attaches to my arm and fires mini-nukes. I just cant wait.
full article

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Early computer to be brought back online.

The Harwell computer, the UK's third oldest computer is about to head down to bletchley park to be rebooted after 36 years idle.

Mr Barnes said the prospect of seeing the Harwell computer up and running after more than 36 years was "very exciting

indeed it is, computers have become so ubiquitous to modern life, tha it is easy for us to forget how modern they are, and we often forget those early pioneers into computing technology that has created the modern era. its nice to see these great early computers starting up again to remind us how far we have come, now that we seem to be sitting on the cusp of the quantum computing revolution.

read more here

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stand Aside, its time for SCIENCE

Its a great time to love science. We now have the first evidence of a binary star system where one is a massive white dwarf star. Such stars are the precursor to type 1a supernovae. A white dwarf star is usually about half as massive as the earth and about as large, however, the star the ESA has found is half the size of the earth and half again as massive, hence much much denser than the average white dwarf. The theory is that when the star hits 1.60 earth masses, it will cause a supernova, one that is close enough to us that will light up the sky day and night. The inhabitants of this planet are going to be so damn lucky in a few million years....

ScienceDaily (2009-09-04) -- The European Space Agency's XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescope has uncovered a celestial Rosetta stone: the first close-up of a white dwarf star, circling a companion star, that could explode into a particular kind of supernova in a few million years. These supernovae are used as beacons to measure cosmic distances and ultimately understand the expansion of our Universe.

White dwarfs

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cosmic Fridays

Planetary features were cool and all, but we need a larger scope so I can use images like Carina Nebula Details: The Caterpillar

The Carina Nebula as caught by the HST. although it should be called the cephalopod nebula amirite

Big version