Blake Says

One night, at a party deep into a Boston winter, a young woman heard my name and asked me if I was the one “that Dresden Dolls song” was about. She was beautiful, so I said yes.

The song, so it happens, has been rather hard to come by.

Off for the Weekend

Today and tomorrow, I’m going to be busy in a part of the world with spotty Internet access, and on Monday, I’m going to be traveling. Expect any responses I make to be slow in coming.

I have some substantial stuff in the drafts pile, though, which I hope to get out on the Network early next week.

Paid to Lack a Sense of Humor

The Associated Press has an article on the wire about “leading religious scholars” discussing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And in other news, the American Physical Society has decided to pay me to write about YouTube videos!

No, not really, but that’s about how silly this looks. I mean, you can get money for standing in front of a room o’ greybeards and showing them this picture?

The story itself is surprisingly sympathetic to the rationalist cause:
Continue reading Paid to Lack a Sense of Humor

Pay No Attention to the Man

Dave Bacon mentions a possible instance of NSA chicanery, which reminds me of a story. First, I should relate a little background:

At MIT, each undergraduate has a few different “advisers” during their stay. You have a “freshman adviser” during your first year; after you declare a major, you get an adviser within your department who basically signs paperwork for you once or twice a term. If you survive a few years at the Institute, you’ll also work with a “thesis adviser,” who probably won’t be the same person as your departmental adviser. This story concerns my paperwork-signing adviser, Edward Farhi. Since Krishna Rajagopal told our entire quantum class about this incident, I figure it’s OK to repeat the tale here.

Prof. Farhi works in quantum computation, it so happens, and in the course of this work, he had cause to use some pretty hefty computer power. The details don’t matter so much, but doing the simulations he had to do required so many computrons that eventually his research hit a bottleneck.

This was the situation when he gave a presentation to a roomful of funding-agency representatives, describing his research. After his talk, a man from the NSA approached him and said, “That is very interesting work you do.”

Farhi replied, “Thank you. Of course, as I mentioned, we’re stalled at the moment, since we’ve gone as far as we can go with the computers we have. If we could use your computers. . .”

[This is where Rajagopal interpolated, “Eddie is pretty gutsy.”]

The man from the NSA stared blankly at him. “I can neither confirm nor deny,” he said, “that the National Security Agency has computers.”

Currently Reading

Oliver Johnson, Christophe Vignat (2006). Some results concerning maximum Renyi entropy distributions.

We consider the Student-t and Student-r distributions, which maximise Renyi entropy under a covariance condition. We show that they have information-theoretic properties which mirror those of the Gaussian distributions, which maximise Shannon entropy under the same condition. We introduce a convolution which preserves the Renyi maximising family, and show that the Renyi maximisers are the case of equality in a version of the Entropy Power Inequality. Further, we show that the Renyi maximisers satisfy a version of the heat equation, motivating the definition of a generalized Fisher information.

Luciano da F. Costa, Francisco A. Rodrigues, Gonzalo Travieso, P. R. Villas Boas (2006). Characterization of complex networks: A survey of measurements.
Continue reading Currently Reading

Who’s Talking about Judgment Day?

I don’t have a television set — just a projector connected to a computer, which is plenty good for movies but not so great for tapping the airwaves — so my impression of NOVA’s new program, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, has been mostly textual. I say “mostly,” because I did see the trailer:

PBS promises us that the whole thing will be available ontube this Friday.

The National Center for Science Education is pleased with Judgment Day, and that’s a recommendation which carries a lot of weight. Still, they’re an awfully Web 1.0 lot over there, so what do we suave cyber-philosophes have to say?

PZ Myers and the Pharynguloids watched the show last night, live-blagging as they went along. Then, this morning, PZ observed that the Discovery Institute’s response was a regurgitation of old whines which managed to miss the point of the program entirely. (EDIT: Tyler DiPietro has some details.)

Greg Laden, who also live-blagged the broadcast (1, 2, 3, 4) has an overview and a couple complaints — nothing fatal; he enjoyed the show, but in a few respects, the producers could have made a good thing even better.

Meanwhile, Dave Bacon is complaining that the biologists are having all the fun. Where are the epic court battles over quantum physics? Come on, you pansy Vedic Shiva-botherers, bring it on!
Continue reading Who’s Talking about Judgment Day?

Permanent Links on Wikipedia

It’s time to vent a grievance. Hopefully, my gripe is just an artifact of sampling bias: the people who know the truth aren’t saying anything, and the people who are uninformed keep speaking up, leaving me with the impression that nobody knows what’s going on.

Consequently, as a public service, I’m going to demonstrate the permanent link feature of the MediaWiki software, the platform which underlies Wikipedia. Pop open a Wikipedia article, say James Burke (science historian). Unless you’ve modified your skin CSS, you’ll see a sidebar on the left edge, headed by some “navigation” links (“Main page,” “Contents” and so forth). Down below the search box, in the “toolbox” section, is an item labeled “Permanent link.” This is a hyperlink to the current version of the article you are at the moment reading. The URL for this hyperlink gives both the article title and the revision ID, thus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=James_Burke_
%28science_historian%29&oldid=171016319

Upon clicking the link, you’ll be directed to that specific version of the article. Furthermore, this link will remain valid, unless extreme measures are taken, until Wikipedia itself goes foom.
Continue reading Permanent Links on Wikipedia

I Get E-Mail

BPSDBBelow the fold is an e-mail I received this morning from Victor Senchenko, human space navigator, and his “Media Team.” According to his website, Senchenko can explain why homosexual humans exist (OK), why God doesn’t exist (not clear whether this is the Abrahamic tantrum-tosser or something more sophisticated) and why time also does not exist (and right there, we hear the fuses blow).

Greetings Blake,

Considering your involvement with science, the following Press Release may be of interest to you.

As an astute person, you probably would agree that for a long while humans – especially the scientists – had been claiming that they wanted to solve all the mysteries of physical existence. They have also repeatedly indicated that they wanted to understand the causes of human behavior.

I don’t know many scientists who’ve claimed they want to solve all the “mysteries of physical existence.” We’ll settle for solving one mystery big enough to get us tenure; the others are left as an exercise to the interested reader.
Continue reading I Get E-Mail

Open Laboratory Needs Poetry!

Coturnix says that the second annual anthology of science blogging needs “more poems and more original cartoons.” Well, sez I, if it’s poetry you want, then you must needs talk to the Cuttlefish!

To wit:

Similarity shows that a common designer
With similar blueprints and parts
Constructed the human and cuttlefish forms—
I swear by all three of your hearts.

The God who created the heavens and earth
And killed dinosaurs off in The Flood
Used the same old ideas again and again
You can tell by your copper-green blood.

Read the rest of Cuttlefish in Genesis, and stay for Noah’s Flood.
Continue reading Open Laboratory Needs Poetry!

Words You Can’t Say in an Obituary

This is from the Washington Post obit of Norman Mailer:

After the war ended, he served with occupation forces in Japan, then returned to the United States in May 1946. He spent the rest of the year in a bungalow near Provincetown, Mass., transmuting his military experiences into “The Naked and the Dead.”

His publisher, Stanley Rinehart, insisted that he clean up the language in the book. Mailer complied by inventing the word “fug” as a substitute for an expletive that the publisher found offensive.

Now. . . .
Continue reading Words You Can’t Say in an Obituary