Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is There Something Special about This? 1

I wrote a note with this name some time ago.

Is There Something Special about This..

Then I was wondering about an earthquake in Hawaii. As far as I know nobody connected that phenomenon with global warming which was my hunch.

Now my concerns are different. Now I am thinking about life. Life is special, as far as we know life only exists here. The question now is then, what can we conclude from the obvious fact that life is special?

My hunch is that when we understand life we will have advanced a lot. Professor Kauffman claims that complexity theory is a necessary addition to the study of life, I agree.

From my studies in complexity mathematics I can inform here that interesting behavior is possible for inanimate matter. If one studies simple recursive relations with a computer, one finds order when one did not expect it. The hexagon in Saturn is not as unexpected as non-scientists may think.

In a nutshell, the bing bang of life that happened several billions of years ago, did not have to start with a very boring Universe, it is possible that before life, matter was already interesting to look at. Obviously the adjective, interesting, implies an observer, what I mean then is, that if we look at conditions in the Universe before life started we could already find interesting research projects. Of course I am thinking of events that left a mark, a record, that we can look at.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stuart Kauffman

Stuart Kauffman, is a theoretical biologist, trying to use the results of Complexity Theory in Biology.

Saturn shows hexagonal patterns on its surface, now it is known that even inorganic matter shows complex behavior.

What Kauffman is telling us, is that there are sources of order that we should understand in order to understand life.

Free Will 1

I already wrote about this idea before.

http://relevantscience.blogspot.com/2007/01/free-will.html

Now I bring an idea of Gerard t' Hooft. You can read his article in:

http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0701097

For 't Hooft Free Will has to do with "the initial state". What I understood is that free will is constrained. I can choose to do only what is possible for me. I have to consider the constraints. What 't Hooft proposes is to impose a condition on our description of reality that acknowledges this fact. 't Hooft says:

"an observer has the free will to modify the setting of a measuring device, but has no control over the phase of its wave function".

What may not be acceptable is that the theory forces us to only have initial states less in number of the initial states we already know are possible.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Herbertsmithite

Herbertsmithite forms dark green crystals of rhombohedral habit, with vitreous lustre, = 1.817,

= 1.825, uniaxial negative, weakly pleochroic O > E, density: 3.95 g cm–3, Mohs hardness: 3–33; space group
R


m
with no superstructure observed, a = 6.834(1), c = 14.075(2) Å, Z = 3; six strongest XRD lines 5.466 (55), 4.702 (14), 2.764 (100), 2.266 (36), 1.820 (13), 1.709 (18).



KEYWORDS: herbertsmithite, paratacamite, anarakite, solid solution, site occupancy and selectivity, new mineral, IR spectroscopy, XRD, Cu chlorides, Anarak, Iran, Sierra Gorda, Chile



Taken from:

http://minmag.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/68/3/527

Who Pays for the Broken Cell-Phone?

Today I talked to the student with the broken cell-phone. The Dean, he told me, wants to see the receipt for the new cell-phone. I wonder who will pay for the phone when we come back from Spring Break.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Power

Today one student I like, disobeyed me. He was standing when I wanted him on his seat. I tried to stop him from using his cell-phone in class. I did not succeed, he kept the phone but the screen broke.

Now we want to get this unfortunate event to some kind of closure. We already talked to the Dean and he is thinking what to do. Tomorrow I may find out what to do.

We have broken several phones in my house. They do not seem to be well made. I am sure my student's father can arrange a new phone sent to him and the school authorities can arrange a policy to avoid cell-phones at the school.

What I want to write about here is power.

Do I have the power or he does?

The simple answer seems to be that I do. But I am not that sure. The student himself was very poised in presenting his case. I definitely will be paying attention and how it develops. I am not authoritarian, but I have to teach a class.

Also today another student that cannot stay put was very upset when other students hid his bag, and then threw it to him. I have to create a better atmosphere to teach these kids.

Finally, today I watched in Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, how two Democrat representatives could not agree on the best way to end the war in Iraq. Is it better to be authoritarian, like the republicans seem to be, and get it over with?

My short answer is no.

I rather see people disagreeing in a civilized manner, than imposing their will by the use of power. Even more now that we have so very powerful weapons to destroy each other.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring Equinox

Yesterday evening here in Illinois, and around midnight at Greenwich, England; we had the Spring Equinox. Equinox in latin means equal night. In Spanish it would be "igual noche", more grammatically correct noche igual. As one can read in Wikipedia:

"The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night)."

Today the night and the day are of the same length. Starting tomorrow, days will be longer than nights and we will be in our way to Summer, which is hot in the Northern hemisphere.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

White Men

Most House and Senate Representatives, CEOs, Sport Head Coaches, and on, and on, are White Men.

I am not. I feel left out. Of course I can fight for those positions, but somehow the spectacle given by General Sánchez, or Attorney General González does not make the back door seem very attractive.

I am not going to complain about this here, somehow it does not suit me. But I think most people will agree with me, that Hispanics have had less opportunities to lead US institutions. I just hope that since my children don't speak funny, and are not dark skinned, they will fare better than I have so far.

What I do want to write though, is that the blame for the sorry state of the US and the world right now falls directly on the laps of White Men. On their watch the Earth is warming, maybe with dire consequences. Maybe is time for other color humans to take over.

Can We Help Others?

In a very general way the answer is obviously yes, in fact the opposite is almost impossible, to go about life without being a positive influence for some is almost impossible. Nevertheless if one has to go, everybody, and I mean everybody, has to find a way to get by without our influence.

Today a student came to apologize; she said that yesterday when she told me I was not a good teacher she did not mean it.

Obviously I am not the best teacher she can have, in fact they already ask me to leave next year. I want to believe that I helped her, now she has to go her own way.

James Hansen

Today one can read in the New York Times:

"Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, proposed that Dr. Hansen, by complaining about efforts to present two sides on global warming research, had become an advocate for limiting the debate.

Dr. Hansen replied, “What I’m an advocate for is the scientific method.”

Well said.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Attention

I need to pay attention, my situation is changing, and the world situation is changing. The change seems to accelerate. Under extraordinary circumstances one nedds to pay extraordinary attention.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Heavy Water, Herbersmithite, and Other Treasures


In 1989 two American chemists, Fleischmann and Pons, announced the discovery of the Holy Grail of physics. Room temperature fusion reactions.

At the time I was in Mexico, and a famous and powerful Mexican physicist, Miguel José Yacamán, was rounding up all the heavy water he could lay his hands on. As it turned out, cold fusion never got off the ground and his efforts were for nothing.

This week's issue of the New Scientist publicized the work of Professor Joel Helton’s group at MIT, because of the Topological Quantum Computing Conference at UCLA that ended March 2nd. Now very likely various science moguls are rounding up all the herbertsmitite they can lay their hands on. Problem is, they are in Chile and Iran, not in the countries of these powerful men. Will they negotiate? Time will tell.

This green crystal is not kryptonite, but has the potential to be the raw material for a new state of matter with entangled electrons that could be our willing slaves to do quantum calculations.

What other treasures are waiting for us?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

New State of Matter?

I am used to hear current opinions in different areas of my interest. If you have read this Blog you may know what some of my interests are. The opinions I am more interested about are scientific opinions. What I write about in this post is consciousness.

To be alive is to be conscious. I feel that as time passes I am more aware, maybe after some point in the twilight of my life I will slowly loose consciousness, but so far I feel that I understand more.

Xiao-Gang Wen from MIT has worked for several years on the idea of Spin Networks. Related to this theoretical work recently MIT experimental physicists produced in the laboratory a material that may represent a new state of matter. This material has sets of three frustrated electrons that try to all point in the same direction to produce local order but they cannot. Instead they produce topological order. Quantum Mechanics tells us that electrons can entangle. As far as I know this coordination can be of very long range. I write here the ideas formed in my head after I read of a possible new state of matter.

Quantum Mechanics as we know it allows quantum coordination. This coherence is intrinsically quantum mechanical. Identical electrons are described by a wave function; when two of them are put in each others place the wave function changes sign. This has objective consequences we can see, entanglement is one of these. It is like if any two electrons are aware of each other even if they are at far away places. The whole universe has a source of coordination because of this identical electron phenomenon.

Professor Wen was one of the first to realize that quarks could be made out of other objects that are quantum coordinated. He chose the three frustrated electron case to study this idea. Now experimentally a herbertsmithite pure form has shown the very properties Wen discovered theoretically.

Condensed matter physics again is showing the way forward, as Robert Laughlin from Stanford and a Nobel Laureate has been saying all along.

If it is true that elementary particles are not elementary, we should look at the principles of coordination in the Universe. Entanglement is definitely one of those coordinations we have to look into.

Maybe coordination comes from the fact that the whole Universe as we know it came from a very small region of space. It is like all human beings share almost the same genome because all of us come a group of a few thousand individuals out of central Africa around a hundred thousand years ago.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Powerful Little Light: LED With 1,000 Lumens

Osram has developed a small light-emitting diode spotlight that achieves an output of more than 1,000 lumens for the first time. That's brighter than a 50-watt halogen lamp, thereby making the device suitable for a broad range of general lighting applications.



read more | digg story

Thursday, March 15, 2007

CNN Just Now - Leahy Says He's Going To Subpoena Rove & Gonzales ...

... and put them under oath over U.S. attorneys scandal. I just saw him say it on CNN so no story out yet. Linked to most recent story I could find.



read more | digg story

A new form of matter found?

Scientists may have discovered a new form of matter - they call it a "string-net liquid" and even have speculated that the vacuum of the whole universe may be made from it.



read more | digg story

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On the Probability of One Event

It is likely that from the several types of Homo sapiens living in Africa around a hundred thousand years ago, only one made it and that is us.

What is the probability of that event?

To my ignorant mind that question rings the same bells as the question of what is the probability that I was born? I believe both are very small, but then again here I am.

Probability theory is a hard subject for me since I was in college. I never know what to include and what to leave out. To my chagrin most of Physics is Statistical physics, be it by fundamental reasons like Quantum Mechanics, or because of obvious physical limitations we have as human beings, like in Statistical Mechanics.

To my mind these questions sound like asking for the probability that I will win a TV contest and work in movies. How can one plan a life like that?

Right now I will leave it there, the probabilities that I belong to the particular type of Homo sapiens that made it, and that I was born, as far as I can see are of zero measure.

And then again, here I am.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What Do the Students Think?

I told the students that the school did not make it, we are still in probation. They did not show emotion. I do know that they rather the school was recognized and they got scholarships. I guess they do not know how to do that, and my insistence that they study more, is not enough to make it happen.


I am sad that it got to this.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

The results are in. My school did not make it last year. I was not in the school yet, but I am afraid with my work this year my students are not going to make it again when the tests of this year come in; so I am not free of blame. Our school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

What is the problem?

I feel that my students are pampered. It will be enough to tell them that if they do not study and pass the tests they are not going to be given the opportunity to stay in school. Instead they should be put to work. As it is happening right now, I think they are already doing menial work in the local economy and they are not studying. It will be better to recognize that fact and pay scholarships to the good students and officialy declare that the rest are working. As it is right now it seems that they are studying when in reality they are not.

I know this seems drastic, but most of my students are from Mexico, and that is the way it is done there. Only recently, in some locations, like Mexico City, it is possible to study High School. In the rest of the country young people this age, are not studying.

I do not like to have young people not studying, but at the same time I don't like a collective lie. Some of these students are already working, they are not full time students and therefore their results are bellow the standards.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bush vs. Chávez - It's the Oil, Stupid

As George W. Bush visits Latin America this week the war of words between Chávez and Bush continues. For BBC Newsnight, Greg Palast investigated what is really behind all the rhetoric and headlines.



read more | digg story

Powerful speech by US Army Veteran

After all that has happened in Iraq over the past year and half, the sight of people from countries that are on opposites sides of an ongoing war sharing the same platform is remarkable and inspiring. All the speakers receive a warm response and there is a determination to continue the struggle to end this insane war.



read more | digg story

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Nosedive Into the Desert: Decline in Saudi Oil Production isn't Voluntary

In this post Stuart Staniford extends his analysis of Saudi Arabian production backwards four years earlier. He explains in detail how the evidence strongly suggests that since late 2004, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has entered rapid decline of their oil production, at least for the time being.



read more | digg story

KSA Oil Production Decline?


Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia oil production declining?

Stuart Staniford thinks so.

You can see his prediction in the graph.

Stuart Staniford ends his piece in A Noisedive into the Desert

thus:

Parting Thoughts


No-one has taken me up on my bet, but since I feel even more confident of my conclusions, I'm raising the offered stakes to $2000. I need to go find some cornucopians to take the other side of it.

Which reminds me. For those of you doomers keen to see this as the end of civilization as we know it, it's going to take more than this for me to join you. While it's certainly worrying, we need to keep some perspective: 8% of Saudi production is 1% of global production, and as long as global declines are less than a few percent a year they are well within society's proven capacity to adapt. Probably the biggest potential issue is the political stability of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia once this news becomes clear to everyone.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Relevant Science

At the beginning of this blog I wrote what is Relevant Science. Now I revisit the concept based on my experience as a bilingual math teacher in an Illinois high school.

Students have to feel attached to the subject matter. Yesterday I tried to let them invent an Algebra problem. One student told me that a street nearby turned on itself, and one could actually go around a loop and cross the street coming from the same street! I went to check on Google Maps and I did not see such intertesting intersection.

Nonetheless the problem turned out to be fun. Today I am planning to let them direct more the direction of the class. I myself do not find the textbook that interesting.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is it Relevant to Know How to Calculate a Bike Path?

For high school algebra students have to find the equation of a straight line perpendicular to a street to build a bike path to a park. Is this relevant for a high school student?

Today my students did not appear interested in this problem. I took teaching classes and I am afraid I did not follow the advice; first grab the students attention. What happened is that only those already interested in math, got into it. The rest did not seem involved.

The textbook authors also are to blame. Most students are not invited to the planning commission to build the next bike path in their town. I am not a teenager anymore, I really do not know what my students would rather do to learn math.

Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), as I see it, only tells me what the student knows, and how to work in that ZPD. It does not tell me what are the real questions he wants answered.

What do I want to know? The topic is parallel and perpendicular lines. The slope quotient of the first is 1, the slope product of the second is -1. I can argue my way to show those results, and it is a bit of an interesting challenge to do it. But do the students really see my motivation?

I guess I am the elephant in the room. My concerns are not close to those of my students, maybe I should run a more student centered class.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Emotion in Society of Mind

"Our earliest emotions are built-in processes in which inborn proto-specialists control what happens in our brains. Soon we learn to overrule those schemes, as our surroundings teach us what we ought to feel. Parents, teachers, friends, and finally our self-ideals impose upon us new rules for how to use the remnants of those early states: they teach us how and when to feel and show each kind of emotion sign. By the time we've passed through all those stages of development, our grown-up minds have been rebuilt too many times to remember or understand much of how it felt to be an infant."

Emotion

The above quote from Minsky's book, Society of Mind, shows that already twenty years ago when he wrote that book, he was considering seriously the role that these psychic states play in the mind. Emotional states seem older than rational states and processes. We see irrational animals getting angry under adequate circumstances, but we don't see them writing a philosophy book. It seems then that the first machines that show intelligence also must show emotions.

One problem I see with this approach, is that a theory of mind that takes into account emotions has to define emotions in an operational way, so we can implement them in a robot. Maybe Stanley Kubrick's AI, hit the right spot when the machine in the movie longed to find the mother that had abandoned him (it?).

I will read carefully what Prof. Minsky has to say about emotions in AI. Last night I saw Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg, and was brought to tears even though I had seen the movie many years ago already.

Love

One reason I have not considered emotions in my meditations on Information, is that even though I recognize the existence of Love, I think that this is a harder problem than the elucidation of the nature of Information. Since I do not have a theory to my satisfaction of what Information is, I have not considered seriously the question of , what is love? nevertheless I do have a definition of Love:

Love is communication through a noiseless channel.

Dr. Marvin Minsky

Prof. Minsky from MIT wrote the book "The Society of Mind". I particularly like the idea that a series of simple actions leads to complicated behavior. Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be within reach; it has taken more than thirty years to reach this point.

Now Prof. Minsky wrote the book, "The Emotion Machine", where he tells us that emotions may have a role in AI. By looking at apparently simple switches one may be able again, to build complex behaviors out of simple "emotion" steps.

We can expect more important work from Dr. Minsky.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Invention

For any of the four categories I have chosen to consider in this plan, I need an invention.

Inventions do not happen often.

I have some original ideas, but I am afraid that none of them looks like a winner.

My instincts tell me that the field of information, together with electronics is the most promising.

Marvin Minsky just wrote a book, very likely his last book, with the idea that machines need emotions to be useful in the Artificial Intelligence field that he created.

Right now I do not have an idea of how to create an emotional machine.

Information

I believe that this category contains more than meets the eye. Usually information would be collecting items together so somebody can use them. If you want to write a novel situated in the middle of last century, 1957 say, you may want to have together songs and books that came out that year. How did people dress back then?, and that kind of stuff.

A spy may want to know where is Bin Laden right now. In the future one may want to know if the iPhone announced by Apple recently will take 50% of the market by 2010. The future cannot be known, but a good information gathering process may give a reliable prediction.

I believe though, that information has a deeper role in the Universe. Was there information during the Big Bang? Was there less than now? This more quantitative question requires a mathematical definition of information, Claude Shannon from Bell Labs invented such definition, and to this day is still used by communication engineers. Recently physicists have applied this measure of information for Black Hole Physics, getting interesting results.

It could be that a Universe with more information weighs more than one with less. Energy and mass were considered independent properties of matter before Einstein. After his work we can know how much energy is in one gram of Uranium if we could convert that material to energy completely. In the same way it may be possible to convert one erg of energy into some bits of information. I do not know the conversion factor, but expect that it is more than c2, where c is the speed of light.

Consulting

This is a loose term. It could be almost the same as partially employed. There are no benefits no insurance, in other words one is alone. It is expected that the clients pay extra so there is enough to pay for medical expenses.

A client base is necessary to have a steady income. Most of all the services have to be appreciated. The client has to make money, otherwise one doesn't get paid.

Just for completeness I will consider here any intellectual work that does not get paid immediately. For instance if I write a book, and then I try to sell it, that could be filed in this category.

Electronics

Electrical engineering is the practical application of the Electromagnetic Theory developed by European scientists in the nineteenth century. In the middle of last century the new branch of this practical field called Electronics appeared. Society is aware of the products of Electronics with radio and television broadcasts. Nowadays wireless communication is present almost everywhere in the cities of the world.

Education

Can we make a living in Education?

Some earn higher salaries than others, but all in all, society recognizes the need to educate the younger generations, and there are consensuses on what an education means. In my case I teach hard science, meaning that some mathematics is involved.

Like any language, mathematics requires practice; as they say practice makes perfect. Students do well when motivation drives them to do the same thing over and over again. This is not much different from throwing a ball to a wall for our team to beat everybody in the baseball tournament. One important difference though, is that very young students don't see the relationship between writing equations over and over again, and competing with their peers for recognition and rewards.

One consequence of the abstract character of mathematics is that students do not know what, how, or why they do mathematics. It seems natural to place somebody with more experience in charge to guide them. That guide role is the one I try to perform. I have to confess that I have not been as successful as I wanted. At most I teach twenty percent of the students, the other eighty percent do not learn as well.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Seymour Hersh

Hersh was born into a Jewish family in Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago. I just saw him yesterday delivering the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture at Berkeley.

The concern in his face convinced me that I am equally worried about the future of my children as he is. This is serious. He has been trying to expose the abuses of power of the US military abroad. In the final analysis it seems to me, we should blame the US government, in particular the executive branch. One can only expect more death if the policies currently in place are continued.

How long can we act as if nuclear weapons don't exist?

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Stage in My Life

Next year I will not work at the same place. Last year I worked in a different school. I have worked in more than eight different institutions since 1970 when I got my first real job. Prior to that I worked in a school materials store in the same block where I used to live; but they did not pay, and I quit.

Some of those jobs were better than others, some were better paying than others, but I always have dreamed of inventing my own paying occupation.

Today I start a meditation, I will think aloud. I do not expect many people to be reading these musings, but at least I plan to revisit this site to order my ideas.

The way I see it, there are two basic ways of earning a living. One asks other people to give us something to do, or we tell other people what to do.

I will put forward some ideas to do the latter.

If there is a new method or product that nobody is using and promises to satisfy a need, then one is in business. The problem with this is that there is risk involved. If nobody knows or uses the business idea, it is hard to convince people to use it. This is a sales problem. Furthermore one has to invent the thing or method, or license a promising one. This first installment of my meditations has to do with possible business ideas.

Methodologically speaking it is good to consider prior knowledge, it actually is a must. I have experience teaching, doing research, both pure and applied, and very little experience organizing others or selling. I was in charge of academic activities in a school with close to two thousand students. During this time I was concerned with the possible gainful employment opportunities for physics and mathematics students. One effort started then, is still bearing fruits. A newspaper in the city where I was working is still on-line to this day. I read it frequently. That was good. Unfortunately I do not receive a penny for that accomplishement.

One difficulty that I have noticed in my life is that I think in different levels. One is concerned with the viability of intelligent life on Earth, the other with tomorrow's paycheck.

Real life is somewhere in between. The example of the newspaper can be used to clarify my idea. I knew it was good to have the paper on-line, but I did not know how the editor of the paper or myself could make money out of it. To tell you the truth, to this day I do not know how much money my friend is doing with his newspaper on-line. I do know though, that I am not making any money.

With this caveat, possible business ideas are:

  • Education

  • Electronics

  • Consulting

  • Information


  • Education

    I have worked in schools most of my life, it is possible to learn, human beings naturally thrive to know more. One problem is that sometimes the teachers and the students are not doing what they want to do at the time, and no learning takes place.

    Electronics

    Moore's Law states that the number of components in a microchip increases by a factor of two every year. This observation has been verified for more than thirty years. As a consequence electronic equipment can do more things faster. There is opportunity for innovation in this part of the economy.

    Consulting

    If one does not have money or does not want to risk; one can help others invest their money wisely. This in itself is a risky profession. One may not get any clients and then there is no profit.

    Information

    The Universe we inhabit has several sources of uncertainty. Some are well understood, and I am aware at least of another one that seems deeper than previous ones. A biological system depends for its time development on events that were not planed. These events produce an unknowable background where life evolves. Regular physics needs boundary conditions to predict the future, but in biology it seems that no boundary conditions can ever be given.

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