Saturday, March 17, 2007

The best of a good lot

The Couchsurfing website was down for a good part of today and I haven't managed to get a place for tonight. It now being tonight means that I'm in the office again after a day which has not bought many surprises having had less than two hours sleep last night. I expect similar tonight but tomorrow evening I'll be flying back to Beijing where, unless my last guest has booby-trapped the flat (something which I'm not ruling out) I should have a good night's sleep waiting for me. 4 hours in 3 days isn't ideal but I can catch up soon.

Anyway, because I'm not going to write anything remotely original in this state I'll try and catch up with some links from the last week or so.

  • One of the problems with the debate between string proponents and opponents is that there is usually little in the way of actual scientific debate. On the internet such debates usually end up in a comment section of name-calling and little physics is actually discussed. It looked like Joe Polchinski had really got the ball rolling when he wrote a reply to Lee Smolin's book, answering many of the accusations which had been leveled against the subject and the community. This was the perfect opportunity to have a level-headed debate but, as far as I'm aware, Lee Smolin never replied. In a comment on Asymptotia Lee states that he doesn't feel it necessary to respond to Joe's points because they are already answered in the book. Having read the book and Joe's article thoroughly disagree with this statement.
  • However, there has now been a public debate on the subject (which can be downloaded from here) (now another debate at Oxford as well) with contributions from Lee Smolin, Michael Duff and from Nancy Cartwright. Clifford's thoughts on the debate can be found on his blog, together with a very long comments thread involving all relevant parties and achieving nothing, yet, as far as I can tell. (NB. I haven't listened to the debate yet but plan to as soon as I'm awake enough to concentrate on it).
  • The last couple of posts from Backreaction have involved the interface between science and art. Justin Mullins is a British artist, also interested in science and has some pictures of some of the most important equations in physics and mathematics. I've been in contact with him since finding his site, about a couple of points of explanation. He seems like a friendly chap and I'd be interested to see the work and chat with him when I'm back in the UK.
  • A nice article from the BBC about how technology can promise so much, but occasionally take much longer than expected to deliver, deals with high temperature superconductors and what they may/will be able to do for us in the near future.
  • I was also interested in this article from the BBC about the robot which is teaching itself to walk. The linked sites from the article are worth looking through for more information, too.
  • Another great photo from Bad Astronomy Blog shows over 1000 black holes lighting up the sky. This may seem a little counterintuitive but of course black holes are not even slightly black if they are busy eating.
and a few videos:
  • From Pharyngula comes the History of Creationist Thought, by Robin Ince, which has some lovely observations and superb timing.
  • Toomanytribbles has a good range of interesting short movies on a range of both inspiring and depressing subjects, but I particularly enjoyed the short animation Das Rad.
  • I had planned to post two videos a while ago but Retrospectacle beat me to both of them. The first is a demonstration of one of my favourite hands-on physics demonstrations from school - the phenomenon of non-Newtonian fluid dynamics. This can be found displayed within the scientific context here (though not very enthusiastically discussed), and the not so scientific context here, both are fun, but if you haven't tried it before I suggest getting a few tablespoons of cornstarch (cornflower) and mixing it with just enough water to form a liquid paste. Then try and pick it up and see what happens.
  • The second video was from a documentary I saw on octopuses several years ago and is remarkable footage of what happens if you put a giant octopus up against a shark!
  • From Laowai Chinese comes a table of all 409 Chinese words you can possibly say - with the odd variation allowed ;-)
OK, I've run out of steam. It's getting late and I have a desk to lay my head on so I'll see if I can get some shuteye.

Update: Just remembered this news today that caves which may have necessary conditions to harbour life on Mars have been spotted. This is all highly speculative, but exciting nonetheless.

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