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Showing posts from July, 2006

Trusting trust the Ebay way

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Advertisement used to do exactly this: informing you that a lot of other costumers were trusting X, so you could as well. Then it became something else, but that is another story. There is a form of bottom-up advertisement, a sort of electronic word-of-keyboard, that the digital era has made possible again: customers' comments and feedback. Everyone has more or less learnt the lesson, from Amazon to Saynsbury's, but the master is Ebay. On Ebay, sellers and buyers need to build their reputation the hard way: by being good sellers and buyers. It is a reinforcing process: you are judged by the people you do business with; the better your reputation the more business you may have, the more likely it is that you will wish to do your best to make sure that your reputation, gained with so much effort, remains untarnished and may even improved, which means that buyers are more likely to do business with you, but the more business you are likely to enjoy... and so on. Some time ago,

The biggest quantum simulation ever? 1000 atoms

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Qbox, the most computationally intensive computer program developed so far, has started crunching numbers to simulate the quantum behaviour of atoms. Qbox runs on Blue Gene/L , the world's most powerful supercomputer, built by IBM and installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, US. Gene/L consists of 131,072 individual processors wired together, capable of a peak performance of 360 trillion calculations per second (teraflops). Qbox simulates the quantum-mechanical interactions between 1000 molybdenum atoms under high pressure. This is the difference. Other simulations of interactions between billions of atoms rely on classical molecular dynamics. So far quantum simulations had involved about 50 atoms at a time. All this power at the service of knowledge and understanding? Yes, but also of military safety. The simulations should help scientists to establish the reliability and stability of warheads in the US stockpile, some of which have well passe

Eureka at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory

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As of today (26th of July) scientists are trying to read the final pages of the oldest known manuscript of Archimedes's work, the Archimedes palimpsest (click on the image). Archimedes lived in the third century BC. In the tenth century AD, his works were copied by a scribe. This book of 90 pages was then reused in the twelfth century to produce a volume of 174 pages on which Christian prayers were inscribed. Forgers added religious images sometime after 1930. Today, much of the text has already been read, but ca. 15% of it remains indeciphered. X-ray fluorescence imaging may help scientists to read this missing part. The ink contains iron, and traces of iron can be highlighted when bombarded with X-rays. The Stanford synchrotron has been used for this kind of work since 2005. With some luck, we should be able to know what Archimedes wrote in those hidden pages of "The Method of Mechanical Theorems". Eureka indeed.

Learning while multitasking not a good idea

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How many programs are open at this moment on your desktop? Exactly! We all multitask, often out of necessity, sometime under pressure, regularly, if we are bored (better multitasking than having one more cigarette or bar of Mars), occasionally, because it might be fun. It is, of course, a bad idea that may grow into a bad habit, especially if you're trying to learn something new or difficult. Concentration rhymes with attention. It is, by definition, single-minded. All this is rather trivial, but if anyone needs scientific evidence to support what common sense already knows too well, you may wish to check this recent summary . Here are some pearls: "The best thing you can do to improve your memory is to pay attention to the things you want to remember". "Our results suggest that learning facts and concepts will be worse if you learn them while you're distracted". "Our study indicates that multi-tasking changes the way people learn". "Concen

Mirror, mirror upon the wall, which is the oldest universe of all?

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In Brazil, they say the hart has no wrinkles. But human faces do, and this is a simple way of telling the age of a person. It's a bit like counting the rings in the trunk of a tree. Now it seems that the Universe might be able to do something similar. We only need to hold the mirror (actually, mirrors, see below) in front of it and let (laser) light shine on its wrinkles. It's called laser interferometry, and the wrinkles are gravitational waves. The Theory of General Relativity predicts (and requires) the existence of gravitational waves. These are the effect of distortions in gravity force made by matter in the fabric of space-time ( see here for a dynamic presentation). Imagine a sufficiently heavy ball laying on a flexible net, roll the ball and the net would curve differently and accordingly. Likewise, any moving mass in space-time will produce gravitational waves. The modification in the net/space-time is almost instantaneous, which means that gravitational waves propag

Synchronize your two lives

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Many of us use electronic calendars of all sorts, in the not entirely futile attempt to manage our commitments and agendas less inefficiently. Palm Pilots, BlackBerries, MS-Outlook, Mobiles, PDAs of a variety of kinds... they are all supposed to give us a hand in this era of externalised memories. Google Calendar , of course, is becoming a major tool. But, until recently, there was a problem. Your life online (Google Calendar) was not in synchrony with your life offline. Nothing worst than having to keep two diaries. "Don't forget to update the other diary" sent as a reminder at the beginning of each day? No thank you, or so the people of the internet complained, just google "Google Calendar Synchronization". The good news? Well, complaining on the web does have some consequences. For where there is demand, there can be offer, at a little premium or even free. The following two programs have recently appeared to make sure that your life offline (the electroni

Innate syntax in monkeys

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The previous post was about ants and their innate capacity to count their steps to be able to navigate. This is about monkeys and their innate capacity to compose messages using the same sounds (one may say words) but different structure (syntax) and thus convey different kinds of information. How much else do we not know about the ways in which the animal world deal with information? From the BBC | From the New Scientist

Counting steps, innately

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How far may one go in postulating/discovering innate, hardwired information processing capacities in biological agents? Some recent studies show "quite far". Apparently, ants do have some kind of internal "pedometer" to measure distances. BBC Science | New Scientist | The original paper in Science

Fast information, but how fast?

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Here are two popular ways of checking how fast your internet connection is: easier and fancier: http://www.ookla.com/speedtest/ more technical and accurate: http://testmy.net/

How to blog - and keep your job

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Just in case you might be concerned about how far you can blog, here is some information and advice from the BBC.

Whose information?

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It was an accident, an evening in NY free from commitments and OUP meetings, without friends around. Kia and I thought we could go to the theatre. They were showing "Faith Healer", Brian Friel's recitative. We got lucky and bought two excellent tickets. The play is simple. Three characters speak four monologues in four parts, with a ten minutes break. The first and last monologue belong to Frank Hardy (Ralph Fiennes), an Irish traveling healer who, after some mixed experiences in Wales and Scotland, returns to Ireland in the hope of restoring his ailing powers. The second monologue comes from Grace (Cherry Jones), his long-time mistress, who has forsaken her bourgeois, legal background to join Frank, whom she considers a genius and charlatan. The third is delivered by Teddy (Ian McDiarmid), a seedy showbiz agent who has stayed with the litigious couple partly out of a devotion partly for reasons he himself cannot fully understand. For two hours, the four monologues re

1934 - 1938 - 1982 - 2006 ... and now back to work.

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1934 * 1938 ** 1982 *** 2006 *** The real final, when "they" became "we". 2006 **** The final final. How we got there. How we stayed there. Pity. and, according to some, why we could not lose.

The Match

When good news arrive late, but not too late.

Re-ontologizing life: from the Da Vince Code to the Genetic Code

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Cloning is not a new dream or nightmare, witness the fiction thriller novel by Ira Levin (1976) turned into a famous film with the same title, " The Boys from Brazil ", directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (1978). But it is no longer a sci-fi speculation either. Dolly was born 10 years ago (5th of July, 1996), and the world has never been the same since. Despite some wacky claims, there are no cloned humans around, apparently, but this possibility will never be locked inside Pandora's box again. Will there be human cloning in the future (e.g. in a thousand years)? The answer can only be yes. The question is whether it will be legal. Compare what has happen to nuclear weapons. Legislation and international pressure has had only some limited success, in terms of control of their proliferation. Likewise, it would be unrealistic to think that humanity will stop at either technical difficulties or moral boundaries. Our best hopes is that we might be able to limit the damage. P