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Blog » 2005 » May

30 May 2005

Relaxation = information?

Filed under: Digital revolution, Politics and philosophy — paulcook @ 2:12 pm

I’m addicted to high-information entertainment. Hey, so are most of you reading this. But it’s such a throw-away line that is ceases to mean much to us anymore. But I think I might really mean it.

I sometimes play the mental game, when I’m bored, of imagining what I would do if suddenly transplanted to times long ago. The immediate realisation is that while I have lots of good technological concepts, I don’t really know how to go about, say, finding iron ore or making those cotton spinning machines that were a part of the start of the industrial revolution. And even if I could take my reference material (ie. my laptop) along with me, I could spend my life trying to remember exactly how 1 volt was defined, so as to make a generator to power it.

29 May 2005

Biking to Long Beach

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 10:43 pm

Yesterday Ariele, Suvir and I took a trip to Long Beach. By bike. Oh, and Jeff came too, by car. Though the bike part is probably more notable.

Our route started with about 10 miles on the road, heading east from Pasadena. Thereafter we followed a bike trail along a river (well, concrete canal, with water in some places), ending up in Seal Beach, just east of Long Beach. The total distance was 41.9 miles (67km in real units), which took us a little under three hours. As as our time will tell you, we weren’t dawdling along — though a strongish headwind toward the end was a real nuisance.

The trail itself is pretty good — there is just one place were it temporarily vanishes, and there are a few dark tunnels under bridges (one with a huge rock in the path), but other than it’s smooth and of course traffic-free. While not exactly scenic, it’s certainly doesn’t feel like you’re in the heart of Los Angeles. There are, for example, a huge number of rather run down horse stables along part of the way. I have no idea what the horses do…

While they quite charitably point out that I had the heaviest bike, I think I can safely say I was the least fit of the three of us. But I was still pleased that I managed to keep up the whole way, and still walk around afterwards, and today as well.

Lastly, a huge thank you to Jeff, who drove out to join us for a (most welcome) lunch, and then drove us back!

Exercise for the reader: For once, some real exercise for the reader! Try the trail yourself. In three hours. Then acknowledge our 1337 phitness skillz. Alternatively, if you manage it fine, don’t tell me — I don’t want to know.

26 May 2005

Asymmetries in scientific fields

Filed under: Physics, Studies — paulcook @ 8:40 pm

I’ve just finished reading Michelle’s candidacy report, on some of the research she’s been doing into catalysts for certain reactions in organic chemistry. It’s highlighted for me some of the differences between different fields of research — and in particular, between theoretical physics, and the more experimental work that most other people at Caltech do.

Michelle’s report was very easy to read. That’s partially because it’s well written, but I’d say it’s also because the difficulty is in a different place to that of papers that I’m used to reading. “Reading” a longish string theory paper can take literally months — and even then, I can’t claim to understand everything that is being said. Reading Michelle’s report took a few hours, and while I didn’t understand all the jargon, I think I got the gist of the issues and approach that her research took.

On the other hand, having read Michelle’s report has brought me no nearer to actually being able to synthesise anything more interesting than a bowl of pasta and sauce. “Reading” the string theory paper, however, has involved working through the mathematics behind each step, at great length — sometimes hours for a single line. So once I’m finished, I’ve done a substantial portion of the work that was required to write the paper in the first place. The analogy would be me reading Michelle’s paper, and then making some of the reagents too — and that would take months too.

11 May 2005

And then there were ten (blogs)

Filed under: Blogosphere gems, Personal — paulcook @ 9:09 pm

It’s actually been around for a little while, but I’ve finally remembered to link to it: Suvir’s The Every Now and Then Blog.

That brings the total for the number of blogs belonging to friends of mine, in the Pasadena area, to ten. Not too shabby, considering that the total ran to just two at the start of this year. Which makes it time to provide my opinions on the spread of blogging.

It seems to me that two or probably three is a typical “critical number” amongst any reasonably-connected group of friends. One or two people blogging is a curiosity; three starts to make it interesting, in that everyone else can usually find a new post frequently enough to make it worth hitting the blogs fairly regularly. Thereafter, if our experience is anything to go by, within a few months about half the afore-mentioned reasonably-connected group of friends will have blogs.

9 May 2005

Barclays and foreign investment in Africa

Filed under: Africa, Economics — paulcook @ 10:30 pm

If you’ve looked at Google News at any stage in the last day or two, you’ll have seen headlines about the 60% purchase by UK-based Barclays Bank of South Africa-based ABSA. Valued at R33 billion (US$5.5 billion), this is the single biggest foreign investment into South Africa ever. In the aftermath, I thought I’d say a few things about foreign investment in Africa generally.

The ABSA deal is actually a return by Barclays to South Africa. Barclays was forced to sell (at a loss) its South African holdings in 1986, in response to huge protests in Britain against apartheid. Today those holdings are First Rand Bank, another of South Africa’s big four commercial banks. Ironically, Barclays has bought one of its original competitors.

Both Barclays and ABSA have operations in a number of other African countries, around 13 together — making the combined entity Africa’s largest commercial bank. Barclays has said that it wants to invest lots more in Africa, which is growing far more rapidly than the British market. It has also agreed that ABSA will remain listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and be run by a South African board, so the deal should avoid getting labelled as economic imperialism.

6 May 2005

Adobe Acrobat and a thousand words

Filed under: Digital revolution — paulcook @ 3:53 pm

Sometimes a picture really can mean a thousand words — especially if it’s a PDF file that was scanned from a paper document. Like, say, a paper written before the advent of online journals. The problem with these, pretty though they may be, is that you can’t do textual searches on words in the document, or copy text without rewriting. Right?

Nope. I discovered yesterday that Adobe Acrobat (full version, not the Reader), as available on campus site-license for Caltech students, includes optical character recognition. Just go to the “Document” menu, and there is an item to read the document.

The beauty of the system is that it doesn’t replace the scanned images with badly formatted text, but rather it associates the recognised text with the image. This allows you to search or select using the text selection tool, even though it’s still the scanned image you’re viewing. It’s quite a surreal experience.

I tested it on one paper, and it works really well. Not only is the accuracy very good, it even recognised that the scanned images were rotated 90 degrees, and in two columns. So when I copied the text from a page, the lines flowed correctly through the first and then the second column.

Since Acrobat can create PDF’s from virtually any image format (possibly via printing to the include PDFWriter “virtual printer” that it installs), you can use this for all your character-reading needs — as long as you don’t need detailed formatting to be preserved. Also, though I haven’t tested this, I think resaving the PDF will embed the textual information in the file, and will make it available even to people using the free Acrobat Reader.

4 May 2005

My Caltech walk of fame prank got ganked

Filed under: Personal, Stuff — paulcook @ 7:59 pm

This just in: a group of Caltech students, fresh from their recent pranking exploits, has redone Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Redesigned Walk of Fame

Upgrading my memory

Filed under: Digital revolution — paulcook @ 7:03 pm

I’m proud to present the Official Langabi.name guide to Adding 256MB of RAM (memory) to your laptop:

  1. Turn off your computer. Open the relevant part of your laptop to expose the memory slots. Check that you have a spare (unused) memory slot.
  2. Remember (correctly) the result of the above check.
  3. Assuming the success of the above steps, order a 256MB RAM chip for your laptop. Sites like Crucial allow you to order the correct RAM for the exact model of laptop that you have.
  4. Wait for the RAM chip to arrive (allow approximately 3 days for shipping and damage. Though hopefully not much of the latter).
  5. Turn off your computer. Touch a metal part of it to remove any static charge you might have. Open the appropriate part to expose the memory slots, and insert the RAM chip. Close the computer again, and turn it back on.
  6. Live in eternal bliss. Or at least until software becomes yet more bloated.

All this can be had for the low, low price of 102.988 Del Taco “Taco Tuesday” tacos*. Or, if you must know, $36.79.

But wait, you say — there are surely lots of far more complete guides (with pictures!) on buying memory, all over the internet? True, but they all leave off the vital step 2.

2 May 2005

Damn those tourists!

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 6:39 pm

I finally managed to get the date booked for my ticket from JFK to Johannesburg in August. It turned out to be a lot harder than expected.

The cheapest tickets to Johannesburg that I can find are student fares from STA Travel, booked from Johannesburg, so I was changing the date of the return portion of last September’s ticket. Problem was, I have fairly specific dates I want to fly, since the family is planning a trip to the Okavango delta in Botswana in early August. No problem, right, since it’s currently April? But no, I go to STA on Friday, and EVERYTHING is fully booked for a week either side. Seems the South African tourist industry is doing VERY well for itself.