Friday, August 17, 2007

Stately Orotund Blog

I recently read that Walt Disney’s last words were “Kurt Russell.” Wow, I thought. I have since found out that it’s not exactly true. His last two WRITTEN words were “Kurt Russell.” Russell was still a “child star” at the time, though already kind of long in the tooth for that sort of thing.

Law in the news
In its defense against Viacom’s lawsuit for copyright infringement, YouTube wants to depose Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I’m sure they’ll be friendly witnesses. Comedians love it when people broadcast what they do and not pay them for it. Don’t they?

The new America
Alleged surveillance victims can’t sue the federal government unless they can prove they’ve been spied upon. That information is classified, however, and cannot be used as evidence in court. Which catch is that again?

More creepy stuff that I would sooner live without….
Specially security personnel, Behavior Detection Officers, have been trained to observe the body language and facial expressions of airline passengers for bad intention indicators.

Internet harks back to ancient days?
New York Times, author unnamed: “…I have come to feel that there is something stately, almost orotund in the generic restraints of e-mail. Macaulay might have used it for his ‘Lays of Ancient Rome.’ It is a form that Madame de Sevigné might have relished.”

Don’t ask me. I haven’t the foggiest. Stately and orotund are pretty much antonyms, near as I can tell. Well, not exactly, but being orotund is definitely a failed attempt at being stately. I don’t think Macaulay would have written LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME in e-mail. On the contrary, the daily demands of e-mail would probably have prevented him from writing LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME in the first place. Madame de Sevigne was a 17th century aristocrat who was a witty conversationalist and wrote a lot of letters, none of them in lower case, or using upper case to indicate shouting. I doubt she would have approved of LOL. (LOL)

And the “generic restraints of e-mail?” Bondage and discipline restraints? The restraints of behavior suggested by etiquette? (In e-mail? I don’t think so.) If anybody has any idea what that could mean, please drop me a line.

More from the New York Times, via reporter John Tourney….
“Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.

“But now it seems quite possible. In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.”

“Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or ‘posthumans,’ could run ‘ancestor simulations’ of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.”

“… ‘My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,’ [Dr. Bostrum] says, ‘is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.’”

His gut feeling reveals a 20 percent chance that we’re living in a computer simulation! Wow! This is the kind of stuff I used to think about when I smoked a lot of pot! And now Dr. Bostrum says it’s true, or could be, 20 per cent! Schoolboy metaphysics (i.e. we were all created a second ago, the rest is a dream) is true, 20 per cent, thanks to computer simulations, and Dr. Bostrum’s orotund gut!

Worth reprinting in its entirety, I hope…. (from New Scientist)
It's a speed record that is supposed to be impossible to break. Yet two physicists are now claiming they have propelled photons faster than the speed of light. This would be in direct violation of a key tenet of Einstein's special theory of relativity that states that nothing, under any circumstance, can exceed the speed of light.

Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen of the University of Koblenz, Germany, have been exploring a phenomenon in quantum optics called photon tunnelling, which occurs when a particle slips across an apparently uncrossable barrier. The pair say they have now tunnelled photons "instantaneously" across a barrier of various sizes, from a few millimetres up to a metre. Their conclusion is that the photons traverse the barrier much faster than the speed of light.

To see how far they could make photons tunnel, Nimtz and Stahlhofen sandwiched two glass prisms together to make a cube 40 centimetres on its sides. Since photons tunnel most readily over distances comparable with their wavelength, the physicists used microwaves with a wavelength of 33 cm - long enough for large tunnelling distances yet still short enough that the photons' paths can be bent by the prism.

As expected, the microwaves shone straight through the cube, and when the prisms were separated, the first prism reflected the microwaves (see Diagram). However, in accordance with theory, a few microwave photons also tunnelled across the gap separating the two prisms, continuing as if the prisms were still sandwiched together.

Nimtz and Stahlhofen found that the reflected microwaves and the few microwaves that tunnelled through to the second prism both arrived at their respective photodetectors at the same time. This suggests an ultra-fast transit between the two prisms - so much faster than the speed of light that the experimenters couldn't measure it. Moreover, the pair found that the tunnelling time, if any, did not change as they pulled the prisms further apart. Because tunnelling efficiency also drops off with distance, however, Nimtz says that they could not observe the effect across distances greater than 1 metre (

"For the time being," he says, "this is the only violation [of special relativity] that I know of."

How can this be explained" The Heisenberg uncertainty principle dictates that a particle's energy and the time it spends in any one place cannot both be known with absolute precision. This means particles can sometimes sneak over a barrier if the time they spend traversing that barrier is short enough. Bizarre as it may seem, quantum tunnelling is not only a commonplace phenomenon in the quantum world, it also lies at the core of many processes we take for granted.

"In my opinion, tunnelling is the most important physical process, because we have it in radioactivity and we have it in nuclear fusion," Nimtz says. "The temperature of the sun is not high enough to organise regular fusion of protons into helium [without tunnelling]. Some people are saying that the big bang happened because of tunnelling. Recently, many people have argued that processes in biology and in our brain are based on tunnelling."

Aephraim Steinberg, a quantum optics expert at the University of Toronto, Canada, doesn't dispute Nimtz and Stahlhofen's results. However, Einstein can rest easy, he says. The photons don't violate relativity: it's just a question of interpretation.

Spoilsport alert! (from New Scientist, continued)
Steinberg explains Nimtz and Stahlhofen's observations by way of analogy with a 20-car bullet train departing Chicago for New York. The stopwatch starts when the centre of the train leaves the station, but the train leaves cars behind at each stop. So when the train arrives in New York, now comprising only two cars, its centre has moved ahead, although the train itself hasn't exceeded its reported speed.

"If you're standing at the two stations, looking at your watch, it seems to you these people have broken the speed limit," Steinberg says. "They've got there faster than they should have, but it just happens that the only ones you see arrive are in the front car. So they had that head start, but they were never travelling especially fast."

My daughter has a blog!
“The adventures of a T. Rex and his lady friend.” Check it out!

I’m so proud. Another generation on the road to creativity and no money.

Colorado’s calling me….
Off to do a project in Boulder. Might tell you about this later. Might not. I often want to tell you folks about what I’m up to, but I’m usually too pooped. It’s a lot easier to make fun of stuff that’s already out there. That’s what the blogosphere is all about! Of course, when newspapers and magazines and books are gone, because nobody wants to pay for information, there will be nothing left to make fun of. How could that happen, if this is all computer simulation anyway? Curse you, Dr. Bostrum!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

New York Times, author unnamed: “…I have come to feel that there is something stately, almost orotund in the generic restraints of e-mail. Macaulay might have used it for his ‘Lays of Ancient Rome.’ It is a form that Madame de Sevigné might have relished.”

VERLYN KLINKENBORG apparently wrote that.

Regarding "generic restraints", I think he was contrasting it's static-ness, which it has in common with the ancient traditions he cites, with the interaction of instant messaging, which he's recently discovered.

BTW, regarding "stately, almost orotund", I'm guessing that, for some reason, he's evoking Joyce's "Ulysses", "Plump, stately Buck Mulligan, etc."

but what of Stately Wayne Manor?

1:59 PM  
Blogger James Killus said...

Alleged surveillance victims can’t sue the federal government unless they can prove they’ve been spied upon. That information is classified, however, and cannot be used as evidence in court. Which catch is that again?

The one that you can fix with Patch 22.

In other news, my gut feeling tells me that there is a 100% chance that Nick Bostrom is a silly git.

In other, other news, I think that Stewart and Colbert get paid as much for their clips on YouTube as they get paid for their clips on Comedy Central's web site.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Merle Kessler said...

The difference being, re Stewart and Colbert, is that they probably signed off on the Comedy Central web site, or at least it was part of their contract. YouTube folks seem to take it for granted that they have access to this material, without permission, without payment, without whatever, and seem to think that they're doing a favor to those exposed. What favor is that?

7:40 PM  

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