University @ iTunes

May 30, 2007

Apple Inc. has expanded their collaboration with top US colleges and universities, such that course lectures, talks, music etc. by members of Stanford University, UC Berkeley, MIT, and other leading universities, are made available for free from the iTunes store.

This place is called iTunes U.

It would be interesting to hear, which lectures you’ll start downloading. For a philosophers take on quantum mechanics, you could start with
“The Strange World of Quantum Reality”, by Jenann Ismael (Stanford philosophy talk).


String Theory: Crash Course

April 21, 2007

A Tool for Living in the 21st Century:

The excellent Seed magazine offers a cribsheet [PDF] which includes a basic introduction to string theory.

Prof. Clifford Johnson over at Asymptotia.com was an adviser.

Other interesting cribsheets are one on stem cells, and one on climate change.


Virginia Tech: Shootings

April 16, 2007

Today, at least 31 people were killed by a gunman at Virginia Tech, and many others were wounded. Originally it was thought, that only one person was dead.

Virginia Tech has closed and classes are canceled; the area is said to be secure.

These school/university shootings are just horrible. Will new gun laws be enforced by a Democratic president — Obama or Clinton?

It might be the deadliest school shooting in US history, but the story is not new; just a few of the earlier shootings in history (wikipedia.com):

Platte Canyon High School shooting (2006) — 2 dead,

Amish school shooting (2006) — 5 dead,

Rocori High School shooting (2003) — 2 dead,

Columbine High School massacre (1999) — 15 dead.

Related news at news.google.com.

Update: Lubos Motl has some speculations as to who the Virginia Tech gunman was. (It turned out to be student Cho Seung-hui of Virginia Tech).


Global Temperature, Global Warming?

March 17, 2007

What is global warming? Most people would answer this seemingly simple question with something like the following (see the article at wikipedia.org):

Global warming is the observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation. […]

One would think that all scientist agree on this definition. However, actually they don’t.

Some scientist would say that it does not even make sense. The June 2007 issue of the Journal of Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics includes a paper of Christopher Essex (U. of Western Ontario), Ross McKitrick (U. of Guelph) and Bjarne Andresen (Niels Bohr Institute), with the interesting title:

Does a Global Temperature Exist? [PDF]

In this paper it is argued that the concept of a “global temperature” is thermodynamically as well as mathematically meaningless. First of all, you cannot just add local temperatures on the Earth and then take the average to define a single “global” temperature of the Earth. Secondly, the average is not canonically defined. For example, taking a box of air with temperature 0 degrees and an identical one with temperature 100 degrees would lead to an arithmetic average of 50 degrees (add the two numbers and divide by two). However, the geometric average in this case, obtained by multiplying the two numbers (in degree Kelvin) and taking the square root is 46 degrees. Thus claims of distaster – or not – maybe a consequence of the averaging method used.

So, what is Global Warming? Can it be defined in a sound way, both from a physics and mathematics viewpoint?

Eli Rabett over at Rabett Run thinks that this paper is “a bowl of steaming crap”; I guess Lubos Motl thinks otherwise.

Update: The climate-friends at RealClimate.org thinks that this paper is irrelevant.


Fogh, Lies and Videotapes?

January 26, 2007

Our Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen does not fancy a certain documentary film which was shown on Danish national television in December 2006.

And you can understand why. At least if you remember, that Denmark is at war in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.

“The secret war” (Danish: “Den Hemmelige Krig”) is about the fact that during the war in Afghanistan in 2002, Denmark handed over prisoners to the US soldiers (at least on one occation — the 18th of March, 2002) even though USA would no longer respect the Geneva-convention, and possibly that the Danish Government, led by Fogh Rasmussen, did not reveal this to the parliament.

A memo [PDF] by Donald Rumsfeld, 19th of january, 2002, states that

[…] Al Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defence are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

This was known publically soon thereafter. On the 28th of January, 2002 in the New York Times:

Vice Pres Dick Cheney and Defense Sec Donald H Rumsfeld say war captives in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will not be designated as prisoners of war, regardless of what decision administration makes on Sec of State Colin Powell’s request for review of how Geneva Convention on captives’ rights might apply; […] Cheney says convention does not apply to captives because they are not conventional soldiers, but terrorists operating outside internationally accepted norms;

In this way, the movie rightly questions the basis for Denmarks participation in the so-called “war against terror” in Afghanistan.

Fogh Rasmussen flatly rejects an independent investigation of the events in Afghanistan in early 2002, and as to whether the Geneva conventions has been violated. On the other hand he ask for an investigation as to whether the Danish national television, DR, made any factual mistakes in the movie.

Double standards, anyone?


State of the Union 2007

January 24, 2007

Last night, President Bush delivered his 2007 State Of The Union address.

After last years State of the Union Address, Lubos Motl thought that Bush was a genius (or rather, that he was “shining”); this year Lubos uprightly noted that “Bush had to drink some water”.

And this is basically how interesting President Bush’s talk was.

At any rate, I found the following statements worth emphasizing:

[…] Some in this chamber are new to the House and Senate — and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not. Each of us is guided by our own convictions — and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we are all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation’s prosperity … to spend the people’s money wisely … to solve problems, not leave them to future generations … to guard America against all evil, and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.

First, we must balance the federal budget. We can do so without raising taxes. What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 — and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. […]

A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled and poor children. […]

Tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. […]

[…] Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America’s economy running and America’s environment clean. For too long, our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments … raise the price of oil … and do great harm to our economy.

It is in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply, and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power by even greater use of clean coal technology … solar and wind energy … and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol — using everything from wood chips, to grasses to agricultural wastes.

[…] Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years — thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 — this is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks — and conserve up to 8 1/2 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

[…] America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment — and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

[…] In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people.

[…] In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we are deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq.

[…] My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq — because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching.

[…] Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field — and those on their way.

[…]American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required.

Not the worst speech by President Bush — I must admit — maybe even better than the one in 2006, which, to say the least, is not much. But again, a speech of a very lonely president who is trying to reach out to skeptical Democrats.

The full text of the Presidents speech can be found here; official transcript from the White House — including applauses — can be found here.

For further discussion, dig into the excellent Chicago Tribune blog, The Swamp.


Fermi’s Paradox and Galaxy Probes

January 21, 2007

The Fermi paradox (1950) can be formulated as follows

If there are extraterrestrial civilizations out there, then where are they?

In a recent paper, Rasmus Bjork of the Niels Bohr Institute argues that finding other life in the Galaxy by using space probes, and possibly solving the paradox, might take extremely long time. A time which is comparable to the age of the universe. More precisely, he estimates that with 8 probes each having 8 subprobes around 4% of the Galaxy can be explored in 9.6 billion years.

So, if we sometimes feel lonely in the Universe it is because Aliens still haven’t had the time to visit us…

See also the discussion at Mangan’s Miscellany.