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Showing posts from August, 2007


I've been amazed at the small explosion over Tommaso Dorigo's post concerning Lisa Randall's talk at a recent conference at CERN. He described her physically as well as the feel of the room when she began to present, and then proceeded to give a detailed account of the physics. Asymptotia denounces him, Arcadian Functor defends him. Lots of debate about the objectification of women, the PC police, "sexophobia," and Italian culture in the comments on those three blogs lately. The angriest arguments have been concerned with what women face in this male-dominated field, most of them centered around women as eye-candy. I get the impression that Dorigo was surprised by the sudden storm, and his main defense has been (as a clever but unknown 18-year-old pointed it out), that the subtitle of his blog is "private thoughts of a physicist and chessplayer." that Lisa Randall is a public figure and, like other celebrities, is open to such comments. [edited

Physics Inspired Fiction: The Dark Net

Back in 2001, I was fascinated by a study that found that 5% of the Internet is completely unreachable. The researchers who conducted the study called the hidden regions of the net the "Darknet." They said that some of the hidden regions belong to private companies, others are governmental or military, and some are the domains of hackers and online criminals. In the years since the first study, lots of physicists have analyzed the structure of Darknet and written formal papers about their conclusions for APS journals. The research led me to wonder what sort of things go on in the Darknet, and inspired me to write a novel about it. Check out my book The Dark Net to see what I came up with.

Space Program Hits New Low

I realize that public support for NASA hinges in part on publicity, but this is just embarrassing. NASA is sending Luke Skywalker's original light saber prop into space. Check out the circus surrounding the announcement . Do we need a clearer sign that sending humans into space is a waste of time and money? I say ditch the manned space flight and stick with robotic missions that are cheaper, safer, and focus on real science, not hack publicity stunts. -Buzz

Making Neurons Remember

Recorded activity from the defendant’s brain is fed into a cybrid system. She has pleaded insanity, but the court requires hard evidence. Inside the cybrid, a living network of neurons communicates with a programmable chip and a computer. The system has been trained to recognized ordered and disordered brain activity. While a human psychiatrist might be fooled by an exceptional act, the difference between a calculated dissimilation and mental illness is obvious to the computer. Its assessment appears on the screen; she’s perfectly lucid. Eshel Ben-Jacob. This is just one of the applications that Eshel Ben-Jacob foresees for integrated systems. People often mentioned cyborgs on the world wide web, he said of the buzz that followed the first press releases of his work. “The vision that I have is to interface the neural network and the computer in a different way. And to do it with something which is called evolvable hardware.” Cyborgs are human beings with added technological comp


Buzz Skyline is embarrassed to be my boss. Lyrics: Eshel Ben-Jacob and Itay Baruchi Were working in a laboratory out in Tel Aviv They were trying to accomplish what no one else could do And that is teach a neural network something new. A neural network is some brain cells, attached to a plate The neurons all connect ‘cause that’s their natural state They fire in a pattern, electrically It’s almost like there’s neural choreography. The neurons have their first memory, a very simple one Could we record another? It had never been done Eshel and Itay thought the challenge might be fun And so this experiment begun. There are two kinds of neurons inside of every brain If they didn’t work together, well, you’d probably be insane The excitatory neurons, they always want to act The inhibitory neurons say, “hey man, stop that.” Two methods of training that work for sure Is to reward a good deed and punish bad behavior Experimenters had tried both methods and failed The common wisdom was

Yikes! It Must Be for Real

Now, I don't want to alarm anybody, but there's an energy crisis out there! Sure, I'd seen the Al Gore movie , I'd replaced my light bulbs with those CFL ones that don't turn on right away, and I'd eased up on the gas pedal a bit , but I figured since everyone's still driving those big, massive vehicles, how bad could it be, right? But, this latest development has me shaking in my boots (or ballet flats, whichever you prefer). Are you ready for it? The journal Nature is offering a collection of articles on this whole energy issue .... FREE OF CHARGE! For those of you who don't follow the cut-throat world of scientific journal pricing (what? You don't know any librarians?) Nature doesn't give away anything for free. In fact, just for typing the word " Nature " I'm sure they are sending us a bill right now (eh, I just went through the budget... we can afford another one... Nature ). Oh wait, the free access to the collecti

Bang! Queen's guitarist turns in his thesis

Sorry for the lack of posts recently! alpinekat, Buzz Skyline, and I have all been out of the office for extended amounts of time over the last couple of weeks. Call it what you will (a "star thesis", an "out of this world" thesis, or a "stellar thesis" from the Telegraph , ABC news , and Antara News respectively), Queen's guitarist Brian May just handed in his astrophysics doctoral thesis - 30 years in the making. Now let me point out that his thesis hasn't been approved yet - if he is like most of my friends it probably won't pass the margin lady's inspection the first time and he still has the oral exam (scheduled for August 23). But cool is cool. May's thesis, titled Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud , shows that dust clouds in the solar system are moving in the same direction as the planets. Did we know this? Beats me. But it's interesting to note that he was able to pick up where he left off 30 years ago when h

Shedding the lab coat

Whew, I'm exhausted. I spent Saturday through Tuesday at the American Association of Physics Teacher's Summer Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina. Besides trying some of the local BBQ (not such a big fan), I spent lots of time in the exhibit hall letting teachers know about Adopt-a-Physicist and the other resources APS has to offer them. Located not too far from the APS booth were our good friends, Educational Innovations . Not only do they produce our PhysicsQuest kits , they also have an endless supply of science toys. They like to use our booth as Rocket Balloon target practice. I attended an interesting session on using blogs, wikis, and forums in teaching physics and heard a great talk by a teacher who takes his junior and senior high school physics students to an indoor racing track each winter where they apply what they've been learning to driving. It's sort of like amusement park physics although, as the presenter pointed out, you can take students rac

US Physics Olympiad Team Returns Victorious!

Okay, so the US isn't quite the top country (4th in my estimation), but out of 76, I think it's safe to say that the American students made an excellent showing. And look how happy they are! US Physics Olympiad team with medals! From left, Kenan Diab (silver), Haofei Wei (gold), Jenny Kwan (silver), Jason LaRue (gold), Rui Hu (silver). The results, taken from coach Paul Stanley's reports, are: China: four gold, one silver (total score 226.7) Russia: Three gold, one silver, one honorable mention (216.1) Korea: Two gold, three silver (217.2) USA: Two gold, three silver (204.2) Japan: Two gold, two silver, one bronze (206.9) Iran: Two gold, two silver, one bronze (202.4) Some say that the performance of a country has a lot to do with its size, and I think it's rather telling that three of the largest nations landed in the top four slots. Anyway, congrats to all the students who competed. And to the all-medaling US team, Physics Buzz salutes you.