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Election Day, Obama, Canada, and Hope
November 3, 2008, 9:31 pm
Filed under: politics, society

“So the election is tomorrow.”

Let me share how I think that sentence should be emphasized. “So, THdsc00198E election is tomorrow”.

Lots of people are saying this is an important, even historic day. I agree. But really, the changing of the guard in arguably the most powerful position in the world, is by its nature important, and usually historic in some way or another.

However, tomorrow, in my view, is monumental.

Sure, big political events like the falling of the Berlin wall and 911 were impactive. But our world suffers from social inequities as well as political and ethnic battles, and the former are usually sidelined, even though they probably play a larger role in the latter than it seems. Racism is still rampant if less out in the open, and having a black person in the oval office (as President), is such a powerful image in the struggle for racial equality, and frankly in the American Dream, that even I, a Canadian, am in awe. The contrast provided by the trivial Canadian election last month has many of us Canadians looking at the US for hope.

And, “there is nothing false about hope”, even for us Canadians. That line (from Obama’s New Hampshire speech) is powerful. The… rendition of it has millions of hits on youtube. It’s effect here in Canada has passed into the streets. I recently bought an Obama “Yes We Can” teeshirt. I will wear it into pieces I am sure. There are hundreds around, in shops and on people. I have turned on the radio and twice in the last month heard different songs about Obama (my favourite were the reggae varieties!).  Near my house there is a market. While buying groceries one day I saw a sheet posted to a public phone (very clearly just some individual’s statement) with Obama’s face and the word ‘messiah’ written underneath.dsc001961

‘Messiah’ is a hefty title, but when in the recent history of the world have you ever had to defend why someone doesn’t merit that title. I think that individual actually has at least some ground to stand on: no one in any case I can think of has or had a projected future centered around them that has been anywhere near as optimistic the one the optimists project with Obama. I have heard that Bush actually thinks God put him in the white house (not sure how true that is). Let’s consider for a minute what Obama might think of himself in this projected future.

For effect, pretend you are Obama. Imagine waking up in the morning and thinking: “if everything goes accordingly my plan, I will change the world and am the most suited person in the world to do so, and(!) in fact many people think it is my responsibility to do so”. How unbelievable is it that someone wakes up with that thought and may be right?

Still pretending you’re Obama, now think of when you and your wife discussed the presidential bid, way back a year ago or more. You talked about the impact on your family, the prestige, all the good and bad stuff. If you get elected, there is a chance that because of what you represent, someone might try to kill you. You agreed (as the Obama’s must have) that the opportunity to take this role outweighs the value of your life, and ultimately your family. Imagine having that conversation with your spouse! That’s crazy!

Sure, the reality of his presidency will be much less utopian than the change he is projecting (he’s got his work cut out for him). Nevertheless, I think tomorrow by itself is a major shift in the social evolution of the world. The Mayans say we are entering a new cycle in 2012. Our world has been plagued by wars and injustices for millennia. Maybe this is the turning point.

And maybe not, but if it is, what a great story to be living through…and we can hope can’t we?



CG is simultaneously errie and pretty
September 16, 2008, 4:08 am
Filed under: art, Music, technology

I dig the digital revolution in the aesthetic of video media. Computer Graphics (CG) made eerie and beautiful. A case in point is Tetsoo (e.g. bloo). However, there are many more. For example, my old friend Jonathon and some gifted friends came out with this.

Kinda makes me want the matrix to exist, just so we can crash it.

LHC: A dawn or dusk for tens of thousands of physicists?
September 9, 2008, 12:24 am
Filed under: physics, technology

Physics is the study the physical world and what it is made of. So what is it made of? The ancient Greeks (in their togas and brilliance) came up with, among many other things, the idea of an indivisible piece from which all other matter was made. They called it the ‘Atom’. People like Einstein did research that helped this concept become a reality at the turn of the last century.

Then, people started finding smaller parts within the atom, the concept applied to even smaller scales: an electron around a nucleus that itself was made of protons and neutrons. But the Greek’s concept of the ‘true Atom’ kept physicists searching. To delve deeper, they had to resort to what at first glance seems ridiculously brutish: smash a known particle with another and watch the pieces that fly out. Nevertheless, a large proportion of physicists have devoted the last 60 years to doing just that. A ‘smash’, however, is only as good as the ‘umph’ that each particle brings to the collision, so physicists have been making larger and larger ‘accelerators’ in order to get more energetic collisions.

Enter the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This accelerator is able to smash particles together with up to 30 times more energy than anything ever built. In fact, it will be able to get down to scales for which we only have theories. For that reason, the tens of thousands of experimental physicists that that have devoted their careers to the LHC will be joined by the tens of thousands theorists that have for over the last 30 years developed theories that predict what everyone will see when it is up and running.

The LHC begins to turn on this Wednesday for the first time. Needless to say, it is a serious event for alot of people. Decade old theories will soon triumph or be tossed.

The human element is interesting here. Being the skeptics that they are, the community has prepared itself for failure. Research beyond the LHC abounds. However, what if the soon-to-be-tested theories are right? Plans for any new accelerators may be axed for lack of need. That’s a lot of people out of work.

That’s science.

Tune in this Wednesday at 9am to see the fate of those CERN scientists.

For more info on LHC’s ‘first beam’, click here.

For an interactive picture explanation on how the LHC works, click here.

Postscript: So the day has come and gone as a success. The first full on interactions will be in a couple weeks; give it a couple month for good data; and until the beginning of next year for publishing results.

For Nick: For the views of some popular theoretical physicists as to what the LHC will find, see the Daily Telegraph article (Thanks Willy)

Do you know George Bush, personally?
August 15, 2008, 8:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Probably not. But chances are a friend of a friend of a friend… does.

Have you ever wondered how long the “…” is?

Social networks are an upcoming field in complex systems research (there was a lot of talk about getting more funding for that area at this years European Conference on Complex Systems)

Mark Newman, who gave the big complex networks lecture at that conference, gave a reference to an article in the New Yorker, which is a wonderful mix of culture and science, investigating the nature of our own social network that is smaller than you think. Enjoy it here.

Some highlights from the article:

-Kevin Bacon is actually only the 688th most connected actor in hollywood (well, the IMDB at least).

-It is very likely that you have one friend through whom you met many more friends than you met through any other friend. Who is this friend? Make the network.

-Social networks tend to be small world networks. That is, there are a few individuals who just know vastly more people than the rest of us do. Why?

-Well, because these wonderful people ‘just love people’, and so aren’t constrained in their relationships by the cliquey barriers that trap the rest of us, of whom Lois Weisberg is the case in point.

La fuerza de hiphop Chileno
July 7, 2008, 7:56 pm
Filed under: dance, Music

En enero, yo tenia el placer de conocer a Claudio Flores. Fue por su cuenta que podia siguir bailando break y funky mientras que estuve en Santiago. Su dedicacion y presencia honesto me dejo impresionado. Aqui hay un video de un evento donde Claudio canto en su grupo Fuerza Hip Hop con MC Tanque, un otro tipo bien real y simpatico. Es por tipos como Claudio y Tanque que, encima de todo la mierda del ‘mainstream’, el hiphop sigue haciendo una experiencia real.

Vision for 2020: blow yo’ ass up with space lasers!
May 11, 2008, 11:40 pm
Filed under: society, technology

FIve years ago, I got into the anti-“ballistic missile defense” movement after flipping through two documents that I just refound on the net.

The first was a report by MIT and the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Counter Measures” (the document is hundreds of pages, but they have since made a short video :), you’ll need realplayer). It argued that the system is doomed to fail both technically and practically.

The second was “Vision for 2020“, a United States Space Command document from 1996 outlining their goals from missile defense up to the year 2020. This document showed BMD as only the first stage in a plan that leads the US into “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments. Integrating Space Forces in war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.” Also, it writes the “control of space is the ability to assure access to space…and an ability to deny others the use of space, if required.” The image on page 15 of a satellite laser weapon blasting what is very clearly Iraq supports this notion of preemptive attack through space.

At that time, Canada was being asked by the States to join the missile defence system. Working with other students and with the help of the group Science for Peace, we did a public lecture on the issue. I really got into it. That Halloween, I even dressed up as BMD:

So, five years later, I check in again. What’s happened since? Well…

In 2005, Canada, through the words of Paul Martin, officially ‘pulled out’ of missile defense shield. However, it seems this was more of a gesture to quell public dissent than to actually affect policy. Canadian companies, scientists, and military have continued to work towards manifesting a missile defense shield.

In 2006, Bush and the US government came out with a new “National Space Policy“. Unfortunately, it’s even more aggressive (encouraging a move to “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage.”).

Nevertheless, there have been some specific decisions by the Canadian government slowing the advancement towards the militarization of space. Most recently (just a couple days ago), Industry Canada blocked the sale of Canada’s space industry’s star company, MDA, to Alliant Techsystems, a big arms manufacturer involved in missile defense. MDA is the developer of the Canada Arm and Radarsat II (a superduper detection system). This move should not be taken lightly. It is the first time in the history of the country that Industry Canada has blocked any such sale (where both seller and buyer were in agreement). Though this move was not directly against missile defense, it shows that the Canadian government cares about the soviergnty of its space industry, and that soviergnty conflicts with the vision for 2020.

So in closing, the last five years seem to have strengthened the argument that missile defense is much more about industrial relations and growth, than about potential enemies and the capability to defend against them. There may be some people that think those political and economic benefits (to some) warrant taking steps towards the weaponized space envisioned in VIsion for 2020. I still don’t.

pattern formation in receding waves?
May 10, 2008, 11:26 pm
Filed under: physics

While on the western shores of the island of Chiloe in southern Chile, I came across some patterns in the receding waves. As an aspiring physicist, I immediately starting creating a toy model:

In general terms, the patten is a result of water flowing down a shallow and almost featureless incline made of granular matter. As water pulls back (gaining speed), the minuscule, yet inevitable deviations from the flat surface of the sand grow and organize into small humps (perhaps analogous to the washboard road effect, what do you think, Stephen?). The flow of water has to move over the humps in such a way that it makes them visible. Sometimes, a sort of smooth honeycomb cell structure emerges, at other times, the humps are long disconnected strands, more or less perpendicular to the flow. Then another waves comes in and the process starts all over again…