Archive for January, 2008

Owen Gingerich & the Age of Deniability

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2008 by quantummoxie

Last night we hosted Owen Gingerich on campus for a seminar, dinner, and talk.  Gingerich is the author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (among others).  The seminar was about his research that led to the publication of the aforementioned book.  That was a fascinating discussion that included photographs of a number of interesting sites.  Gingerich was in fact the catalyst for several first or second edition copies of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus being reappropriated by their former owners after having been stolen (in a variety of ways).  I look forward to reading the book eventually.

As it turns out, Gingerich and I both authored entries in the recently released Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers which is a terrific two-volume set that is outrageously overpriced (particularly considering it printed in greyscale and not color).  Nonetheless, if money is no object, it is worth obtaining.  I was lucky enough to get a gratis copy since I contributed 23 of the biographies.  Otherwise I couldn’t afford it.

In any case, after a dinner with faculty and students from Physics, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, and the Humanities program (at the President’s private dining room – we actually have excellent food even outside of this private dining room) he gave a well-attended public lecture on another book of his called God’s Universe.  In this lecture he discussed the evolution/intelligent design debate.  Ostensibly it was supposed to give insight into how one can be a scientist and a Christian (which Gingerich is).  In all honesty, I was slightly disappointed by this talk simply because I’m not sure I learned anything new and I doubt his arguments would sway a creationist or intelligent design proponent.  In fact, it prompted a colleague of mine and I to wonder if there was anything that would change people’s minds if they were deeply entrenched in a certain belief (and this includes scientists).  We seem to be living in an age of deniability.  It reminds me of an Opus comic that I can’t find now (but that my parents still have on their refrigerator) in which Dick Cheney denies the fact that there’s an animal on his head (which there is) claiming it is only Opus’ opinion that there is an animal on his head (and similarly denies that he’s not wearing pants).  Beyond the absurdity, it’s scary that we seem to live in an age when we can simply deny the existence of anything if we want to, evidence be damned.


How to win the war and bring home the bacon (not Dave Bacon)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2008 by quantummoxie

A colleague of mine who wishes to remain anonymous had the following suggestion for ending the war in Iraq.  The saddest part about it is that, as absurd as it sounds, it would almost certainly cost less than the current war and would probably work in the end.  His suggestion?  In every town in Iraq, develop a strip mall with your standards – ‘bucks, McD’s, BK, KFC, W/K-mart, etc. – and begin by making some local a franchise owner of each establishment.  Then, start by giving stuff away for free – food, flat-screen TVs, whatever, all paid for by the US government (think how many Big Macs you could buy with the money you might have spent on, say, a single Humvee).  Once everyone’s happy with their XBox’s, plasma-screens, and daily donuts, start slowly ramping up the prices on everything.  In a few years Iraq will be the new Arizona, it will have cost the American taxpayers less money, and corporate America will be lining its pockets with additional revenue.  As an added bonus, we can threaten Iran by telling them something like, “Hey, see how we made Iraq look just like Arizona?  You guys wanna become Nevada?  Or, if we’re really pissed, Louisiana?”

In an alien kind of mood…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2008 by quantummoxie

Name That Alien

Name That Alien

I’m in one of those quirky moods this afternoon and this screenshot gives you the general flavor…

Quantum of Solace

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2008 by quantummoxie

Details on the new Bond film…  This is partly why I am so intrigued by quantum cryptography.  It satisfies my “inner spy.”  In fact, I seriously would have considered it as a career, but MI6 (SIS) and GCHQ seem more glamorous than the CIA and NSA but I’m American (I mean, just check out that sleek new building MI6 occupies!).  On the other hand, the CIA just went “green” and they have Kryptos

Speaking of Bond, on Mythbusters the other night they tested the Walther P99. I had thought they’d gone back to the PPK in Casino Royale, but apparently, even though the publicity shots were done with a PPK, he used a P99 in the movie (the P99 holds more than twice the number of bullets).

Finally, note that Bond creator Ian Fleming was an actual spy and some of his work during WWII helped the US establish the OSS which was the precursor to the CIA.

And, while you’re here, note the Quantum Cryptography button on the right. I’m teaching a class in it this semester and am partially using this blog as a method of providing interesting links and, perhaps, interesting discussion.

Repeating ourselves…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2008 by quantummoxie

So, this gentleman seems to think that no one has ever “derived” the Schrödinger equation before and he claims to have done so directly from Hamilton-Jacobi methods.  Um, huh?  He needs to read pp. 236-280 in The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics by Max Jammer.


He sent me an e-mail today (in reply to one I sent to him) and still maintains his position. As I see it, there are actually two different claims that he makes. The first is that no one has ever derived the Schrödinger equation before (in any manner). I still maintain this is incorrect since I do not see how his derivation is any more a derivation than, for instance, Tom Moore’s in Unit Q of his textbook, Six Ideas That Shaped Physics. As to whether or not de Broglie’s and Schrödinger’s use of Hamilton-Jacobi methods counts in the same manner as his does, will remain an open question until I get back to my office and double-check some things (including Schrödinger’s biography and some other papers I have lying around).

Despite the fact that Schrödinger apparently admitted he “guessed” and didn’t derive his result, given Moore’s “derivation,” here is where I think the problem lies:

The Schrödinger equation essentially expresses the conservation of energy. The way Moore derives it is basically to simply attach the de Broglie relations to the standard classical wave equations. Therefore, to qualify as a true derivation it seems to me that the question revolves around whether one needs to derive the de Broglie relations as well or whether simply gluing them onto the classical wave equation can be considered a derivation of the Schrödinger equation. Either way, I’m still not entirely convinced this guy’s done what he claims he’s done. He may have found an alternative and potentially pedagogically useful way to arrive at the Schrödinger equation, but I’m not convinced it is conceptually ground-breaking.

Back to probabilities…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2008 by quantummoxie

The following is taken from a textbook I have called The History of Mathematics: A Brief Course by Roger Cooke.  Note that I could not find an online reference to the actual mathematicians referred to in the problem so I have no idea what he’s referring to there.  It is nonetheless immaterial for the problem.

A famous example of mathematical blunders committed by mathematicians (not statisticians, however) occurred some two decades ago. At the time, a very popular television show in the United States was called Let’s Make a Deal. On that show, the contestant was often offered the chance to keep his or her current winnings, or to trade them for a chance to win some unknown prize. In the case in question the contestant had chosen one of three boxes, knowing that only one of them contained a prize of any value, but not the contents of any of them. For ease of exposition, let us call the boxes, A, B, and C, and assume that the contestant chose box A.

The emcee of the program was about to offer the contestant a chance to trade for another prize, but in order to make the show more interesting, he had box B opened, in order to show that it was empty. Keep in mind that the emcee knew where the prize was and would not have opened box B if the prize had been there. Just as the emcee was about to offer a new deal, the contestant asked to exchange the chosen box (A) for the unopened box (C) on stage. The problem posed to the reader is: Was this a good strategy? To decide, analyze 300 hypothetical games, in which the prize is in box A in 100 cases, in box B in 100 cases (in these cases, the emcee will open box C instead to show it is empty), and box C in 100 cases. First, assume that in all 300 games the contestant retains box A. Then assume that in all 300 games the contestant exchanges box A for the unopened box onstage (either B or C). By which strategy does the contestant win more games?

This problem provides an interesting way to continue the discussion started over on The Pontiff’s blog.

The infinite illusion

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2008 by quantummoxie

Here is a fascinating article at the NY Times.  I have to admit that I ripped this from my fellow blogger, The Observer Effect, but it’s just too interesting to pass up posting here.  As with most physicists, I have a healthy skepticism for the actuality of the idea, but a great deal of respect for the process of investigating it.  Scientists frequently analyze seemingly absurd problems since the methods may lead to solutions to more practical ones.  I liken it to the auto industry’s penchant for developing concept cars.  For instance, I’ve been working on an idea (which hasn’t seen the light of the arXiv yet because some folks are looking through my work) that builds on Bacon’s analysis of qubits on closed time-like curves (i.e. wormholes).  While not necessarily practical (or realizable), it offers an interesting theoretical laboratory by which we can study the causal nature of entangled qubits.