Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Best Thought Experiments: Schrödinger's Cat, Borel's Monkeys

1. Galileo's balls
Contrary to what your teachers told you, Galileo Galilei likely did not drop balls from the Tower of Pisa; he conducted the gravity experiment in the laboratory of his mind. His 16th-century peers believed heavier objects fell faster than light ones. So Galileo imagined a heavy ball attached by a string to a light ball. Would the light ball create drag and slow the heavy one down? Nope, he concluded, they would hit the ground simultaneously.

2. Schrödinger's cat
A cat is trapped in a box with radioactive material, a Geiger counter, and a mechanism rigged to release poison if particle decay is detected. According to Erwin Schrödinger, the cat exists in two probable states. But that doesn't track with reality (cats are not both alive and dead). Proposed in 1935, the postulate illustrates that some quantum concepts just don't work at nonquantum scales. Also that Schrödinger was a dog person.

3. Searle's room
A man sits alone in a room. Someone slips paper with Chinese writing on it under the door. The man doesn't read Chinese, but with a set of instructions he's able to manipulate the symbols and respond. To an observer, the man appears to understand the language. Philosopher John Searle devised the scenario in 1980 to make a point about computers. CPUs, like his man, lack comprehension and thus can't have humanlike intelligence.

4. Hawking's turtles
The 1988 book A Brief History of Time begins with the story of a scientist giving a lecture on astronomy. At the conclusion of his talk, a woman insists he's wrong: Earth is a flat plate carried on the back of a giant turtle. The scientist asks what the turtle is standing on, and the woman says, "It's turtles all the way down!" Stephen Hawking used the story to caution fellow cosmologists against piling one unproven theory upon another.

5. Einstein's light beam
When he was 16, Albert Einstein daydreamed about chasing after a beam of light until he caught up to it. At that point, young Einstein reasoned, the light wave would appear frozen. The problem: This was impossible according to the thinking back in 1895. Somehow, this little glitch led Einstein right to the theory of special relativity. Lost? Don't worry. Physicists still debate exactly how this mental exercise got him there.

6. Borel's monkeys
Variations go back to Aristotle, but the modern version of the infinite-monkey theorem was introduced in 1913 by French mathematician Émile Borel. You know the deal: An infinite number of monkeys pecking at typewriters for an infinite length of time will "almost surely" produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Seems unlikely, because our minds have a hard time grasping the infinite. Mathematically, it's true.

7. Maxwell's demon
In 1867, James Clerk Maxwell pictured two chambers, A and B, each filled with gas at the same temperature and with a door between them. Theorists later had a demon open the door (without doing any work) to let the fastest-moving molecules pass from A into B, and the slowest from B to A. Over time, the speed of the atoms (and therefore the temperature) increases in B — a violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

8. Parfit's teleporter
Philosopher Derek Parfit is famous for basing thought experiments on sci-fi. In 1984, he envisioned a teleporter malfunction, like the one that made two James T. Kirks in an episode of Star Trek. Teleporters annihilate every particle in you, then rebuild them from scratch. What happens if the original isn't destroyed? Which is the real you? Parfit says both. Evil Kirk would disagree.

Special Thank to Wired

Pre-Jesus Messiahs with Startling Similarities

Other pre-Jesus messiahs:

Osiris, the Egyptian god was born out of a virgin in a cave or cowshed. His birth was prophesied by a star. During marriage ceremonies, he could perform miracles turning water into wine. His followers were baptized. He was described like a quiet man with long hair and a beard, precisely like Jesus. He had twelve disciples and was unjustly accused of heresy. He was hung on a tree or crucified, and he died for the sins of the world. After death, he descended into hell and resurrected on the third day. He appeared to his disciples and thereafter ascended into heaven. Osiris died and resurrected on the same dates as Jesus. During the end-times, Osiris shall return to earth and judge the human race. The pyramid texts, which describe the life, death, and resurrection of Osiris were written before 2,500 B.C.

Mithra, the Persian god, called the son of God and the Light of the World whose birthday is on 25 December, was also born in a cave out of virgin. He traveled a lot and acted as a teacher of mankind. Naturally, he too had twelve disciplines. Mihra was called the savior and sometimes he figured as a lamb. He was buried in a tomb from which he rose again. His resurrection was celebrated each year.

Krishna, the Indian god was born in a cave. His mother was a virgin and a star announced his birth. He was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A massacre of infants took place because Krishna as baby was ordered to be killed. He performed miracles wherever he went. He could heal sick people, deaf and blind and raise the dead. He taught spirituality and devoted his time to the poor and oppressed. According to some ancient texts, Krishna was killed by an arrow, other sources tell he was crucified. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead, ascending into heaven in the sight of the people. Krishna is believed to come during the final days and judge. Krishna lived and died at least 14 centuries before Jesus Christ.

December 25 is also the birthday of Dionysus, Adonis and Osiris.

Hannibal: Rising

The Song From Hannibal: Rising that Hannibal sings to Mischa is a German song called Ein Männlein steht im Walde by an artist named Nena. Here are the lyrics in their original German and their translation into English

Ein Männlein steht im Walde ganz still und stumm,
Es hat von lauter Purpur ein Mäntlein um.
Sagt, wer mag das Männlein sein,
Das da steht im Wald allein
Mit dem purpurroten Mäntelein.

Das Männlein steht im Walde auf einem Bein
Und hat auf seinem Haupte schwarz Käpplein klein,
Sagt, wer mag das Männlein sein,
Das da steht im Wald allein
Mit dem kleinen schwarzen Käppelein?

A little man stands in the woods, quiet and mute
He wears a purple little coat,
Tell me, who may be the little man,
Who stands in the woods all alone,
With his purple little coat.

The little man stands on only one leg,
And has a little black cap on his head,
Tell me, who may be the little man,
Who stands in the woods all alone
With his little black cap.

MMMMMMMMMM Pink Doughnut

Oh Homer Simpson you'll never get old. We love your close mindedness, you drunkenness and your occasional homophobia, after all homosexuals who watch take it in stride. They know It's a joke. However when Bill O'Reilly blames J.K.Rowling for making homosexuals appear normal I had an inkling he wasn't joking. My fellow bloggers and blog readers I come to you humbled asking you to help me sink Bill O'Reilly and The Factor by starting a Web-wide boycott. After all Bill O'Reily still believes in creationism (even though science has proven it wrong), claims to be an independent even though all of his opinions are very right wing, and criticizes Ludacris for having lyrics that have murders and drugs and sex, etc. in them even though he wrote a book with several graphic murder scenes and some underage crack whore sex sprinkled in there too.

Mother's Tug-of-War with Child-Eating Crocodile

A woman in Papua New Guinea fought desperately in a tug-of-war with a 10ft crocodile as she tried in vain to save her daughter from its jaws.

The girl was cleaning vegetables with her mother at the edge of a river when the saltwater crocodile lunged at her, clamping its mouth around her body.

Helpless villagers watched as the mother grabbed her daughter's hand and attempted to pull her free of the predator's powerful jaws.

But she lost her grip and the crocodile dived beneath the water, dragging the girl down with it.

"Villagers reported that the crocodile disappeared into the waters, then surfaced again with the girl still trapped in its jaws. It then dived and disappeared," a police spokesman told The National newspaper.

The attack happened on Friday in a village in Gulf Province, a region of mangrove swamps and crocodile-infested rivers on the country's south coast.

Villagers later searched the river and retrieved parts of the girl's body and scraps of her clothing, police said.

Papua New Guinea, like neighbouring Australia, has a plentiful population of saltwater crocodiles, which can reach 20ft in length and weigh more than a tonne.

Their prey includes fish, turtles, wild pigs, other crocodiles and, occasionally, humans.

Tribes in some parts of Papua New Guinea revere crocodiles as gods, and the reptiles often feature prominently in the design of masks and other traditional artifacts.
Special Thanks to the

Kill Bill Bunnies

Caffeine and Miscarriages

An interesting paper was just published talking about caffeine consumption and the occurrence of miscarriages during the first three months of pregnancy. I'd like to share this information with you. Watch my TODAY show segment for more information and scroll down for the video clip if you missed it live.

There have been reports of caffeine and miscarriage rates for several decades, but the scientific evidence collected was really not sufficient to connect caffeine intake and miscarriages rate. This study, from the Kaiser Permanente Research Institute in California, looked at a group of about 1000 women in the San Francisco area. Importantly, they controlled for a lot of factors thought to be related to miscarriage—including maternal age, alcohol consumption, nausea/vomiting, and others.

One major finding popped out: Those women with the highest caffeine intake (more than 200mg per day, daily) had double the number of miscarriages as those women who did not consume caffeine at all. 25 women out of 100 miscarried in the high caffeine group, compared with 12 in the 0mg caffeine ingestion group. Those women who ingested "some caffeine" (more than 0, but less than 200) showed a slight increase of 15 women per 100 (compared to 12 in the caffeine-free group).

So, what does this mean for newly pregnant women? Many obstetricians already advise their patients to eliminate, or greatly reduce, their daily caffeine intake when pregnant. This study helps support this recommendation.

Now, cutting out caffeine is not going to guarantee a miscarriage will not occur, but it appears that high consumption increases risk significantly.

What does 200mg of caffeine look like? it's two small cups of coffee, four cups of tea, or five cans of soda. The study pointed out that it was the caffeine, not the product containing it, since women consumed all kinds of caffeinated beverages.

Are you newly pregnant? Know someone who is? What advice are they getting about caffeine intake? With this new observation, it seems wise to reduce daily caffeine intake, if not eliminate it totally.

For those that need a substitute, try decaffeinated coffee and tea, or herbal tea to dramatically lower your caffeine intake, yet provide a warm beverage.

Looking for a "jolt?" Try a quick shower, take brisk walk, go out and get some sunshine, eat a fruit, have some juice, or drink a cold glass of water.

Special Thanks to iVillage and Helath Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Ray Leaps onto Boat, Stabs and Kills Woman

An eagle ray has leapt onto a boat off the Florida Keys and stabbed a woman with its barb, knocking her to the deck and killing her.

"It's a bizarre accident," said Jorge Pino, an agent with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The woman and her family were aboard a boat today in the Atlantic Ocean, off the city of Marathon in the Florida Keys, he said.

"A large ray jumped out of the water and collided with the victim and somehow the barb penetrated some part of her body, which caused her to fall back and hit her head on some portion of the vessel," Pino said.

"We don't know exactly which one of those things caused her death."

Local media said the animal's barb had impaled the woman through the neck.

Eagle rays are common in warm or tropical waters and are often seen near coral reefs.

The spotted creatures can grow to more than 2.5 metres across and have two to six short, venomous barbs near the base of their whip-like tails, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History's website.

The rays often swim near the water's surface and can leap out, especially when pursued, but are generally shy of humans.

"All rays leap out of the water from time to time, but certainly to see one collide with a vessel is extremely unusual," Pino said.

Special Thanks to Sydney Morning Herald

Great White Surprise

The nearly 1,600-kilogram great white shark caught near Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island on Wednesday had a whole bull seal in her stomach.

Conservation Department marine scientist Clinton Duffy said the seal weighed 80-90 kilograms and was found in the 4.6-metre juvenile female shark, accidentally caught in a fishing net. The seal had been eaten in two pieces.

The shark, which weighed in at 1,584 kilograms, was buried at a farm near Te Mata, 10km south of Raglan. A section of spine was taken to determine its age and samples and organs collected for research.

Great whites are commonly found between Taranaki and North Cape from October to March, but Mr Duffy said the risk to swimmers was low.

"They certainly seem to be able to distinguish scuba divers from normal prey ... and generally leave them alone."

Mr Duffy, who has studied great whites since 1991 and dissected 12, said Wednesday's catch was the biggest by far.

"We are very grateful for getting the chance to examine her.

"It's very significant. There aren't many sharks this size caught because they are basically accidental catches."

Once dead, the sharks were so heavy fishermen usually removed their heads and discarded the carcass. The closest similar-sized specimen was a 4.4-metre mature male, weighing 853 kilograms, caught near the Chatham Islands a fortnight ago.

"It's always a shame an animal like this is killed, but it was an accident ... I don't expect to get the chance to dissect a great white shark this size again," Mr Duffy said.

The shark could have grown to more than seven metres at maturity.

Commercial fishermen are not permitted to hunt great whites, classed as globally vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.

Special Thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald

MIT aims to search for Earth-like planets with Google's help

MIT scientists are designing a satellite-based observatory that they say could for the first time provide a sensitive survey of the entire sky to search for planets outside the solar system that appear to cross in front of bright stars. The system could rapidly discover hundreds of planets similar to the Earth.

Google, the Internet search powerhouse that in recent years has expanded to include mapping of the stars as well as the surfaces of the moon and Mars and which has an ongoing collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center, provided a small seed grant to fund development of the wide-field digital cameras needed for the satellite. Because of the huge amount of data that will be generated by the satellite, Google has an interest in working on the development of ways of sifting through that data to find useful information.

Dubbed the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the satellite could potentially be launched in 2012. "Decades, or even centuries after the TESS survey is completed, the new planetary systems it discovers will continue to be studied because they are both nearby and bright," says George R. Ricker, senior research scientist at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT and leader of the project. "In fact, when starships transporting colonists first depart the solar system, they may well be headed toward a TESS-discovered planet as their new home."

Most of the more than 200 extrasolar planets discovered so far have been much larger than Earth, similar in size to the solar system's giant planets (ranging from Jupiter to Neptune), or even larger. But to search for planets where there's a possibility of finding signs of living organisms, astronomers are much more interested in those that are similar to our own world.

Most searches so far depend on the gravitational attraction that planets exert on their stars in order to detect them, and therefore are best at finding large planets that orbit close to their stars. TESS, however, would search for stars whose orbits as seen from Earth carry them directly in front of the star, obscuring a tiny amount of starlight. Some ground-based searches have used this method and found about 20 planets so far, but a space-based search could detect much smaller, Earth-sized planets, as well as those with larger orbits.

This transit-detection method, by measuring the exact amount of light obscured by the planet, can pinpoint the planet's size. When combined with spectroscopic follow-up observations, it can determine the planet's temperature, probe the chemistry of its atmosphere, and perhaps even find signs of life, such as the presence of oxygen in the air.

The satellite will be equipped with six high-resolution, wide-field digital cameras, which are now under development. Two years after launch, the cameras--which have a total resolution of 192 megapixels--will cover the whole sky, getting precise brightness measurements of about two million stars in total.

Statistically, since the orientation of orbits is random, about one star out of a thousand will have its planets' orbits oriented perpendicular to Earth so that the planets will regularly cross in front of it, which is called a planetary transit. So, out of the two million stars observed, the new observatory should be able to find more than a thousand planetary systems within two years.

In fact, if a new estimate based on recent observations of dusty disks is confirmed, there might even be up to 10 times as many such planets.

Because the satellite will be repeatedly taking detailed pictures of the entire sky, the amount of data collected will be enormous. As a result, only selected portions will actually be transmitted back to Earth. But the remaining data will be stored on the satellite for about three months, so if astronomers want to check images in response to an unexpected event, such as a gamma-ray burst or supernova explosion, "they can send us the coordinates [of that event] and we could send them the information," Ricker says.

The team is still trying to secure the full funding to build, launch and operate the satellite, once the design work is completed this year. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Origins of Life Initiative, as well as the privately funded Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, are already scientific partners with MIT on the TESS program.

Regardless of the funding for the satellite, the same wide-field cameras being developed for TESS could also be used for a planned ground-based search for dark matter in the universe--the invisible, unknown material that astronomers believe is more prevalent in space than the ordinary matter that we can see. Some of the unknown dark-matter particles must constantly be striking the Earth, and the plan is to train a bank of cameras inside tanks of fluid deep underground, to detect flashes of light produced by the impacts of these dark particles. Ricker's Kavli group is participating with MIT physics professor Peter Fisher's team in this new physics research initiative.

The electronic detectors for the new cameras are being developed in collaboration with MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. The lab's expertise in building large, highly sensitive detectors is a significant factor in making possible these unique cameras, which have no moving parts at all. If all goes well and funding is secured, the satellite could be launched in 2012 with NASA support, or even earlier with a private sponsor.

Ricker's MIT colleagues on the TESS project include Kavli Institute research scientist Roland Vanderspek, professors Sara Seager, Josh Winn, Adam Burgasser, Jim Elliot, Jacqueline Hewitt and several others.

Special Thanks to MIT


• Start your own unforgettable “lemonade experience”.
• Just shut up and eat your damn lemons.
• Do some research on them. (Sources all agree that lemons originated from somewhere in Asia; today, America claims to grow a quarter of the world’s supply, and California is said to be the biggest producer …no wonder they call it the “The Land of Posh n’ Pits”!)
• The Ethical Werewolf recommends that you throw them at Republicans!
• Stop snivelling and sell’em on eBay!
• Make something called “Visualade”.
• Donate them to a school food-drive, (someone's bound to pick them up).
• Make a battery out of them and harness electricity for pity’s sake!
• Go to a “limoncello factory” in Amalfi, Italy where they whip up lemon salads.
• Turn around and squirt it in the eye of your nemesis.
• Throw them through life’s windows (for those who have nothing else to do).
• Ask for a diet drink to put them in.
• Turn them into a profit just like Martha Stewart did!
• Become a lemonologist, (that way you can polish furniture with the oil).
• Remember that God loves the yellow ones as much as the little green ones, (but it might have helped if he’d also supplied the water, sugar, a few spare ice-cubes, a pitcher to mix it in, a spoon to stir it and of course a glass from which to sip it!)
• Jump on the optimist’s bandwagon by building resilience and forging your way to success in whatever you’re pursuing, (even if it doesn’t make you King of the Castle forever and ever or produce mounds of money like Rumplestiltskin!)
• Pick up a get-well or care package, (provided they still have them in stock).
• Make lemonade and be sure to share it with others, (just to let them know how much you care about the bitter things in life that seem to come with an unexpected cost attached).
• Call your husband to come home right away and then make lemon-colored frosting, (to decorate whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge)!
• SMILE, return the lemons to the person who presented them to you, and then ask for the oranges that you requested in the first place!
• Switch to limes and try a mean margarita, chips and salsa! (Oh, and do bring along a pair of dancing shoes…no not your big brogues or steel-toed stilettos!)
• Get tipsy, (and just say no when the bartender inquires whether you want “bitters” with your brew or bubbly).
• Buy all your lemons at Sobey’s! (If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, contact them and find out when they plan on opening up a shop with lemons in your neck of the woods!)
• Have another root beer, (and maybe lemons will make you burp less!)
• Pucker up! (Or at least show them who has Pucker Power in your family!)
• Use a gadget called a “zester”, (to remove lemon peels what else?)
• Of course, if you fancy yourself a bit of a wizard…you can always use your abracadabra skills to make orange juice!
• Smash them with a heavy KB and hope for the best, (according to a dedicated dragon door strength conditioning martial arts expert).
• Say “****-off” and go to bed! (For those with short attention spans and few alternative-dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with difficult dilemmas or dorks of course).
• When life gives you lemons, throw them back at life shouting, "I DON'T WANT YOUR DAMN LEMONS!"
• Go shopping with a valid credit card! (And avoid's not your color!)
• Sue - it makes lawyers rich and leave schmucks like you with a sour taste in your mouth! (So quit complaining and invest your money in sugar; even if your all teeth fall out, your taste buds will be happy.)
• Find a politician and a lawyer who want to perform a “public service”; then ask them to draft and enact a “computer lemon law” entitling consumers to timely replacement of their personal computers if manufacturers can’t fix them and requires manufacturers to pay claimants’ legal fees as well as any expenses incurred in resolving their claims. (Isn't this is a great opportunity to turn the tables on flashy floggers of faulty fruit?)
• When all else fails suck them, (recommended by someone calling himself “A Digital Dude who loves lemons").
• Never forget to get your daily dose of cold, refreshing lemon juice, (it's full of vitamin C according to a healthy food fare lady).
• Be quiet and eat your lemons, (just like grown-ups do who have no other way of proving their courage, fortitude and mastery of the basic food groups.)
• Make “Snickers” because they taste a whole lot better than lemonade, (a recommendation from a grade two student in Miss Plum’s class).
• Eat more gelato, (from a contributor named “Quark” in the Wordlab Forum).
• Say thank you and run, (from an anonymous online bulletin board contributor).
• Just add some vodka and have a party, (definitely not submitted by a party-pooper!)
• Watch a Frogcatcher Film titled, "When Life Gives You Lemons", that parodies the world of unemployed white-collar workers (...who better than a few loafers to tell a lemon-aid story!)
• Ask yourself what Eeyore would have done to resolve this muss of a mess ...after all didn't he say, "They're funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you're having them".
• And if all else fails, try reading the twelfth volume in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket, a hermit and a nomad who wishes everyone nothing but the best, (after spending an inordinate amount of time investigating and reporting upon woeful things that most people are better off without).
• Throw ‘em back and say you want limes.
• When life gives you lemons, buy tequila and salt and give me a call!