Archive for July, 2007

Trout Thermodynamics

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 29, 2007 by quantummoxie

Now that the summer heat is peaking I have begun thinking about where to go for fish. I’m an old bass fisherman who recently converted to a trout fly fisherman. Bass, of course, are warm water fish. They’re not skittish and will eat almost anything thrown at them (got a dead gerbil in your kids room?). Trout on the other hand are picky eaters, are very skittish, and are cold-water fish, especially brook trout. While brown trout and even some rainbows will live in water that gets into the high-70s or even low-80s in some instances (though they feed less as their metabolism slows), brook trout like it cold. So conventional wisdom is that, as the water warms up, the brookies move toward the headwaters where it is likely cooler.

Aha! But I live on the coast of Maine and we have several streams that support ocean-run brook (and some brown) trout populations. These fish are known as “anadromous” meaning they spend part of their lives in salt water but breed in fresh water (in fact the State of Maine is doing an interesting study of these fish using input from local anglers, since they don’t seem to fully understand yet why some trout in the same stream aren’t anadromous).

In any case, in Maine in the summer the absolute coldest water (not counting the deepest part of lakes and the high mountain streams) is the ocean. The Gulf of Maine (defined by Cape Cod on the south and the southern end of Nova Scotia to the north) is c-c-c-cold since the warm gulf stream passes it by. As an example, the latest northeast coastal water temperatures show a ten degree difference between Portland, ME and Woods Hole, MA. Nonetheless, look at the difference on that same chart between Woods Hole or New London averages versus Boston’s average (despite the closeness of the cities). The five degree difference over such a short distance is because Boston is on the Gulf of Maine.

So, to get to the point, I wonder if the trout in local coastal streams here in Maine don’t actually migrate downstream as the water warms. Of course, that would mean these coastal streams, which are partially tidal near their mouths, have a sort of “reverse” temperature structure, being colder toward the mouth. My plan (if I get around to it) is to map the temperatures some afternoon from the mouth of one up to near the headwaters (they’re fairly short streams – 10 miles at the most). One might ask: why bother? Well, I got a late start this year and am desparate to catch some trout around here before my schedule gets more structured with the start of classes in the fall. Plus the data might actually be useful to someone. I’ll have to check with some colleagues in the Biology department at work. Perhaps they already know the answer to this. Perhaps you already know the answer to this. If you do, then post it!

Would a quantum computer have done it faster?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 19, 2007 by quantummoxie

Apparently, a computer has “solved” the game of checkers (I didn’t realize it was “solvable”). Apparently, a perfect game by both sides results in a draw. Could a quantum computer have figured this out faster? OK, that was a rhetorical question. It all depends upon the type of algorithm use to solve it. Quantum computers are supposed to be faster at some tasks, but not all. In particular they are supposed to improve upon such things as the ability to factor large numbers and perhaps primes, etc., etc. Anyway, the “checkers problem” seems to be one of symmetry at first glance, though after a second’s thought, after a certain number of moves I wonder if a perfect game wouldn’t start to resemble Conway’s Game of Life. The rules appear to be somewhat similar, particularly if you rule out jumping (which, if I recall, is not in the original rules for checkers). It seems to me that the extreme unliklihood of a perfect game being played by two human players says quite a bit about human thought processes.

One question, one historical point, and … future history of history?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2007 by quantummoxie

I have a strong belief in the fact that understanding the limits of the Markovian process is required to fully elucidate the quantum-classical transition. This paper takes an interesting approach, but what’s a “spin star” model? They give what appears to be a mathematical description but never seem to say why the word “star” is used. First rule of writing papers (and of course one I regularly violate): define or explain as much as possible to increase the audience for your paper.

In this paper they didn’t give any background on the development of a tensor form of the Dirac equation. While not absolutely necessary, I am a firm believer in understanding the basic history of a problem and making sure papers on the problem include a paragraph or two of background. In this particular case, the Dirac equation was not originally written in tensor form and it was C.G. Darwin (Charles’ grandson) who first pointed this out. Eddington, inspired by Darwin’s observation, was the first to write the Dirac equation in tensor form and this work grew into his Fundamental Theory.

Finally, I’m working with a friend and colleague on a paper (possible two) on some forgotten aspects to the history of the laser. One that surprised me quite a bit was that improvement of astronomical instruments, namely detection of certain emission lines (e.g. the 21-cm line of hydrogen), was a factor driving the development of both masers and lasers. In fact one of the early papers was the undergraduate senior thesis of Bob Griffiths working under Bob Dicke. Dicke’s name, of course, will forever be associated with the cosmic microwave background, but it was in fact Dicke who first recognized that an optical cavity only required two mirrors and none of the “coffee can” ideas used in microwave cavities. A general recap of the other things we noticed will appear in the next Quantum Times.

A few papers of potential interest…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 5, 2007 by quantummoxie

I’m giving Dave Bacon’s SciRate a concerted try. As such I’ve voted on a couple of recent papers that I’ve browsed through. Mind you, I haven’t read them in depth, but they piqued my interest for various reasons.

First: “A generalized no-broadcasting theorem” by Barnum, Barrett, Leifer, and Wilce. The short summary is that no-broadcasting is a weaker form of no-cloning.

Second: J.S. Bell’s concept of local causality by Norsen. I honestly hadn’t thought much about the subject, but apparently Norsen thinks this is true of most people. Clarifications such as this are often quite useful.

Finally, is anyone out there a set theory afficionado? A few years ago I wrote this paper. Of all my papers on the arXiv, it’s about the only one that has maintained some consistent amount of interest over the years. I came back to it recently in my quest to prove to Rob Spekkens that there is a link between Bell inequalities and the uncertainty relations (it seemed almost obvious to me, but…). I want to thoroughly revise this and make it more rigorous but, after a point my knowledge of set theory gets thin. E-mail me if you are a set theory guru and want the satisfaction of working with a physicist doomed to everlasting obscurity…

A Theorist on Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 1, 2007 by quantummoxie

If you ever wanted to profile the stereotypical theoretical physicist/applied mathematician – absent-minded, a bit cluttered, and perhaps a bit accident-prone – I’m your man. Add to that the fact that, though being a native of Buffalo I embody many aspects of a stereotypical Mainer, and you have the following story of how I spent last Monday afternoon.

11:00-1:00 Assist with solar observing session sponsored by my local astronomy club. Mentally unstable girl spent entire time attempting to kiss me. Apparently mentally unstable people find me attractive.

1:00 Return home to find out our four-year-old, not-so-cheap Amana washing machine flooded the basement, nearly bursting into flames in the process. Indian tech-support insists we should have hired separate electricians to install the washer and dryer – yes, Mr. Washer Electrician and Mr. Dryer Electrician who shall in no way be acquainted. I guess Ed Whats-his-name wasn’t good enough for them. Perhaps if he had multiple personalities.

3:00-4:00 Relaxing hour spent fly fishing in which I lose four flies, tangle my line badly enough that I need to respool my reel, and watch fish eat bubbles two inches from flies I have left. Note: I am not new to fishing.

4:00 While attaching the fifth fly of the afternoon to my line – a rather nice looking mosquito – I manage to get the hook firmly embedded in my finger. Subsequent attempts to remove said hook are unsuccessful. Hook is in all the way up to the fake mosquito’s ass-end.

4:10ish Hike the half mile back to my car through tick-infested woods as painlessly as possible while still carrying my gear. Realize to my chagrine that I own a stick-shift. Am forced to drive with my finger – my middle finger – pointed skyward most of the time. Too bad I’m not in Boston.

4:15ish Despite only being about a mile from an urgent care facility, decide I might try to save a little money and get my wife to help me remove it. I hatch a plan in my head.

4:20ish Arrive home and have my kids fetch my wife along with a pair of wire cutters. Plan is too graphic to describe here. Wife nearly passes out at sight of finger. Plan goes unrealized, solidifying my role as a theorist.

4:25ish Wife runs next door to see if neighbors – an EMT and a firefighter – are home. They are not. Fire station is two miles up the street, so I grab the minivan since it’s an automatic and go hunting for my neighbors – or any moderately trained person, for that matter. I insist on driving myself, leaving my wife and kids at home with my car that my wife doesn’t know how to drive. I’m a freakin’ genius.

4:30ish Central fire station – the main station in a town of 10,000 people – is empty and the door is locked. Hope cops across the street don’t think I’m trying to break in as I yank violently at the door. Decide cops probably can’t help – with door or wound. Genius.

4:35ish Decide to try urgent care again but am now more like 6-7 miles from it. Am about equidistant from a real hospital, but wishing to observe tourists making idiots of themselves, I choose the urgent care facility and the more heavily trafficked road.

4:40ish Main Street is backed up due to tourist traffic. Hatch a plan to take side streets around the worst part of the traffic. Plan once again demonstrates why I am not allowed in laboratories to test my theories.

4:50ish Come to a dead (is that a prudent metaphor?) standstill half a mile from the urgent care facility. Apparently driving in Maine is different than driving elsewhere as demonstrated by the tourists that have collided in the center of the road. As I finally inch past I notice that the license plate of one of the cars is from Maine’s former occupying power. Am not surprised.

5:00 Vacuous-looking admit nurse at urgent care facility “like so totally mispells my name, fer sher.” She is obviously not from Maine. Interior design looks like a convalescent home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

5:20 No one else in waiting room looks terribly ill or infirmed. I seem to clearly be the worst case. Upon inquiring how much longer I will have to wait, am told it will be another hour. Insist the only reason I am not spurting blood all over the waiting room is because I have wrapped fishing line so tightly around the end of my finger it is almost numb – almost. Nurse gives me a vacuous stare.

5:25ish Despite scripted apology, I storm out not really sure where I’m going. Attempt to exit parking lot while talking to wife on cell phone at same time. Thus discover finger is not entirely numb. Genius has its price.

5:25ish-5:45 Speed 14 miles up Turnpike to another facility – the real hospital that was as far from my house as the urgent care facility in the first place.

5:45 Am greeted in ER by the sound of woman in wheelchair vomiting. At a minimum, three other patients appear on the verge of collapse. I feel better. Admit nurse is utterly grossed out by my finger but not the vomit.

6:00 Triage nurse is utterly grossed out by my finger but not the vomit. Says my finger speaks for itself. Convinces me the fishing line biting into my skin for the past two hours is only doing more harm. I think to myself: “I’m a theorist. It made sense at the time.”

6:05ish See doctor for first time and realize I would still be rocking in a chair, albeit a stylish one, my finger happily turning blue, back at urgent care facility had I simply been more patient. Doctor asks if I wish finger to be numbed. Sure, why not. Doctor and nurses request I lie down for the procedure with my feet raised in case I pass out. I pull hat over my face and suggest they place a sign that says “Gone fishing” on my chest. Apparently genius doesn’t necessarily come with the ability to tell a joke.

6:20ish 15 minutes after first two shots of Novacaine, finger is not numb.

6:35ish 15 minutes after second two shots of Novacaine, finger is still not numb. Overhear nurse tell doctor this and doctor nearly chokes. Says she’s never seen anyone take that much Novacaine before without going completely numb. Not only am I a genius, I am a freak.

6:36ish I insist she start working on my finger anyway since part of it is getting numb (not the part with the hook in it, though). I ask politely that she do all she can to save the fly since I already lost four that afternoon. Looks at me like I’m nuts. One man’s nut is another man’s genius.

7:00ish After working on finger for awhile, doctor announces a change in plan (her exact words). I wonder if she is a theorist. New plan involves a scalpal which I know, since I am a genius, is a very sharp knife. I relay the plan I originally hatched (more than two hours ago) that nearly caused my wife to faint but that does not include sharp instruments. Doctor agrees to give it a try. Wow! Someone is actually testing one of my theories! Apparently test involves wire clippers and needle-nose pliers, though I don’t realize this at the time.

7:00ish-7:20ish Since hook is embedded to ass-end of fly, fly is cut from hook. Oh the humanity. Hook must be clipped to be removed. With that (the fifth lost fly of the afternoon) I bid a fond farewell to $12. Procedure not done yet: fibers from fly are removed from wound, requiring use of microscope. No stitches are required thanks to my genius of a plan, but nurses pour entire bottle of antiseptic on finger. Not sure if this was because of slime-covered hook or rusty-looking instruments used to remove it (and my daughter was born in this hospital?).

7:25ish Finger finally completely numb. Am assured numbness will wear off in four hours or so. Wears off in about two days.

7:35ish Am bandaged in unfortunate position (see picture below). Prescribed antibiotic cephalexin at 500 mg 4 times a day – that’s 2 grams a day. Drug and dosage potent enough to kill almost anything. When ask about Lyme disease from possible tick bites incurred during mad dash through tick-infested woods to my car, am told it is useless for treating Lyme disease.

8:00ish Arrive home after stop at pharmacy. Enjoy late dinner and first dose of antibiotic. The latter smells like rotten eggs. Do not experience major side effects, but do begin to emanate the smell of rotten eggs. Perhaps a new line of cologne is in my future.

Next day: Recall that I am on duty for morning tours of my church. First customer: a journalist with a local newspaper who has brought along a photographer. Valiantly attempt not to give the wrong impression of our church in any photograph. Perhaps they’ll do a profile on the life of a theorist…