Sunday, March 20, 2011

Progammers Anonymous notes, 100

From Register Guard, "Physics Slam gives public inside look at science":
The country’s first-ever Physics Slam will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 150 of Columbia Hall on the University of Oregon campus.

It is free and open to the public.

Six physicists from throughout the country will compete in the event. Each will get 12 minutes to describe a topic in particle physics in a way that the audience can understand.
The Physics Slam winner will be chosen by popular acclaim, as determined by applause.
And because these are scientists, they’re not taking anyone’s word for who gets the most.
The judge will be a scientific instrument, a decibel meter, that will determine whose presentation is the biggest hit.

The event is being held in conjunction with the 2011 Linear Collider Workshop of the Americas, which is being hosted by UO physics professor Jim Brau and the UO’s Center for High Energy Physics. It will bring more than 200 scientists to Eugene to discuss the design and experiments for a future linear particle collider.
[Post mortem: Huge crowd, overflow room was overflowing. More than the usual problems plugging in video. I found the talks much less than inspiring. Pie charts? Stock stereotypes of scientists? Sexist metaphors along side old and tired metaphors? Really? There's some great stuff in modern physics, but I didn't see anyone show it off.]

We talked a bit about Fermat's principle and quantum electrodynamics (QED) related to the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Sec Narf mentioned a story in which dreams changed reality, "The Lathe of Heaven" (1971), by Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin, one of the most influential science fiction and fantasy authors, has lived in Portland OR since 1958, and The Lathe of Heaven takes place in Portland:
George Orr, a draftsman, has long been abusing drugs to prevent himself from having "effective" dreams, which retroactively change reality. After having one of these dreams, the new reality is the only reality for everyone else, but George retains memory of the previous reality. Under threat of being placed in an asylum, Orr is forced to undergo "voluntary" psychiatric care for his drug abuse.
George begins attending therapy sessions with an ambitious psychiatrist and sleep researcher named William Haber. Orr claims that he has the power to dream "effectively" and Haber, gradually coming to believe it, seeks to use George's power to change the world. His experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor, enhance Orr's abilities and produce a series of increasingly intolerable alternate worlds, based on an assortment of utopian (and dystopian) premises familiar from other science fiction works.

The notion of using EEG for biofeedback (neurofeedback), and even for direct control of physical objects (brain-computer interface), has recently seen a resurgence of interest.

Noam Chomsky will speak at the University of Oregon:
“Global Hegemony: The Facts, The Images.”, Wednesday, April 20, 7 p.m. in Columbia 150, free and open to the public.
Chomsky is an interesting speaker on a wide range of topics, from philosophy to the nitty-gritty of foreign policy. While recently his focus is usually on politics from a libertarian socialist viewpoint, his linguistic work has had a direct effect on psychology, computing, computer languages, and the notion of computability.
In the 1950s, Chomsky began developing his theory of generative grammar, which has undergone numerous revisions and has had a profound influence on linguistics. His approach to the study of language emphasizes "an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans" known as universal grammar, "the initial state of the language learner," and discovering an "account for linguistic variation via the most general possible mechanisms."[9]
For Chomsky, linguistics is a branch of cognitive psychology; and genuine insights in linguistics imply concomitant understandings of aspects of mental processing and human nature. His theory of a universal grammar was seen by many as a direct challenge to the established behaviorist theories of the time and had major consequences for understanding how children learn language and what, exactly, the ability to use language is.
Computer languages are now understood as parts of the Chomsky hierarchy, which partitions formal grammars into classes, or groups, with increasing expressive power, i.e., each successive class can generate a broader set of formal languages than the one before.
Computer scientist Donald Knuth admits to reading Syntactic Structures during his honeymoon and being greatly influenced by it. "…I must admit to taking a copy of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures along with me on my honeymoon in 1961 … Here was a marvelous thing: a mathematical theory of language in which I could use a computer programmer's intuition!".

Jacob's no sdfjklsdiocjiojc "these was them days" (comic).

"If I were again beginning my studies, I would follow the advice of Plato and start with mathematics." Galileo Galilei

Abstruse Goose, "The Frontier" (comic). Every one of Abstruse Goose is worth a read.

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