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19 Apr 2005

Only YOU have the power to Save Toby!

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 11:17 am

Only in the Internet age can someone make over $24 000, just by promising NOT to eat his pet. Have a look at Savetoby.com | Only YOU have the power to Save Toby!

This money-making ploy is right up there with some of the classics of our time, like selling your soul on eBay. The moral of the story: one part bored people surfing the net, one part instant virtual payment courtesy of PayPal, makes hitting the jackpot possible without even going to Vegas. Now I just need my big idea…

Thanks to my brother Martin for sending me this link. He occasionally does something useful, in between hijacking my friends’ computers to send me insults from their ICQ (instant messenger) accounts, in order to create much strife. I’m not sure why he wants this, but luckily I’ve seen through his shallow plan! 1-0 to me!

15 Apr 2005

Lines, intersections and dimensions

Filed under: Physics — paulcook @ 11:00 pm

Building on the interest in my post on knots and different dimensions, I thought I’d say a few words on some interesting issues on lines in different dimensions, as raised by a recent seminar. It’s an interesting mind game!

We explicitly consider only generic situations from here on, which means that we ignore special cases as physically unlikely. So parallel lines need not be considered — all lines will have some random angle between them.

13 Apr 2005

JPL tour

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 6:47 pm

I went on a tour of JPL today, with some of the current foreign Fulbright students. Watching the movies of past landings, and interviews with the mission specialists, I sometimes wish I was involved in some of that stuff too. Theoretical physics is great, most of the time, but there’s something about the thrill of working with a team of really good people, to produce a craft that goes and does something that humanity has never done before. Of course, we aren’t seeing all the years of work that goes into each great moment, but still…

Next week’s class-skipping activity is a panel discussion at UCLA (for which I am one of three panelists) on the topic, “What Americans should know about Africa”. So if anyone has something in particular that they think Americans need to know about Africa, I’m taking comments!

11 Apr 2005

Fourier transforms and grad student life

Filed under: Studies — paulcook @ 3:25 pm

Graduate student life can contain some hidden contradictions. From the outside, it might seem stable, even boring, as one spends pretty much every day doing much the same thing (staring at papers for me, mixing chemicals for some, writing computer code for others).

So one might, if one were so inclined, plot the external appearance of grad student life as a flat line. Now the thing about flat lines, if I may appeal to your mathematics and/or quantum mechanics classes, is that Fourier transformed into momentum space, they look like delta functions — that is, infinitely steep-sided spikes of unit area.

Irrelevant, you say? Nonsense, I say. And anyway, don’t interrrupt me halfway through my post.

8 Apr 2005

Why “Peak Oil” isn’t what really worries me

Filed under: Economics — paulcook @ 7:13 pm

To flog a dead horse, here’s another post on oil depletion. This one is a few thoughts, mostly rebuttals to some points that have arisen about the validity of the argument around “Peak Oil” — that we’re a few years away from the greatest oil production we’ll ever see, and it’s downhill from there.

This post follows from my post on Price Elasticity of Oil, as well as this post on blogwaffe, and a whole collection of excellent, but scary, posts on Ted Brenner’s blog.

One of the more common replies to Peak Oil concerns is that oil production is not merely a function of how much oil there is in the ground, but rather a raft of other factors — such as the price of oil (determing what deposits are economical to drill), technology, investment in expanding existing fields, and political stability. I have two points here: the problems of keeping up with demand, and what higher prices mean.

4 Apr 2005

Good news and bad, in Africa

Filed under: Africa, Noteworthy news — paulcook @ 9:18 pm

Two events happened in the last few days in Africa, one promising and one bad, which will have further knock-on effects in Africa and abroad. The good (with reservations) was the referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation in Darfur, Sudan, for prosecution of individuals implicated in crimes against humanity. The bad was Mugabe’s successful stealing of yet another election in Zimbabwe. Oh, and apologies for yet another long post!

Fine arts in the SPA

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 12:47 am

Last night saw an epic (according to the neighbours) episode of Pictionary, ‘tween the genders. And, as one would expect, the guys won. Well, to be honest, we each won one match, but our margin of victory was larger. So there was one more of us, but really, that doesn’t change anything.

Pictionary was not exactly what I was expecting last night. In fact, I had settled down to dinner and a movie, when people started arriving. In a scene reminiscent of The Hobbit, I welcomed successive people to our apartment (Greg and Mike were away), trying not to appear too confused. Turns out that somewhere between the plans being made, and me finding out, a slight breakdown occurred. But hey, it all worked out in the end!

1 Apr 2005

Caltech’s “Mind and Body” program

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 12:57 pm

I just went to check my mail (physical mail, that is), and found details of Caltech’s new graduate health initiative, “Mind and Body”, that’s just been released. Man, it’s pretty insane.

Apparently there’s been increasing concern about the health of grad students on campus, so they’re introducing three new programs:

  1. We’re required to register for one of the physical fitness courses that the undergrads currently do. They include everything from swimming to archery, so that shouldn’t be too bad.
  2. Everyone will be signed up to a “discussion group”, of 15 students moderated by someone from the councelling centre. They’ll meet every second week, for an hour, to dsiscuss “work-related issues” — whatever that might be.
  3. Diet. Yes, Caltech now cares what we eat. The pamphlet comes with a “diet review” form, covering what we eat for two weeks. One ticks off things like whether we eat fruit on a given day, how much soda we drink, and so on. Apparently it’s been put together by a Norwegian nutrition expert they’ve hired, April Olof.

Man, and I thought the REGIS system was getting strict.

The problem with point particles

Filed under: Physics — paulcook @ 1:08 am

Quantum mechanics is often viewed as a “weird” theory, with all sorts of non-intuitive predictions. However, there are more serious conceptual problems with classical mechanics, at least in its simpler formulations. One of these is what happens near point particles — in fact, point particles in classical mechanics lead to all sorts of infinities. I’ll say a little about this below, as well as talk about what quantum mechanics and string theory have to say about these short-distance infinities.