Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Busy Weekend

So I went to the Pi Nu Convention over the weekend. It was held at Millersville, PA, which is a dying chapter, there is like one active member, so attendance was a bit slim. After the convention there was the banquet, complete with a DJ. DJs always make me nervous because I fear that they will only play music that I don't like, but this guy took requests, and one thing that happens when you fill a room with musicians is that good music gets chosen. After that I drove to Philly and visited friends and went to the Pi Nu bid acceptance dinner and then returned home.

To top all that off my car was towed sometime between 10:00 Sunday and 7:00 Monday and I had to spend a large part of the day getting it back.

Anyways interesting. I'll try to post something of substance at some point.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chaos Talk

Well tonight I went to a talk on chaos by James Yorke, one of the fathers of chaos theory. It was a fairly nontechnical talk, but was fairly interesting nonetheless. Dr. Yorke was a very engaging speaker, and had lots of examples of chaos.

When a scientist talks about chaos, they mean something very specific: sensitivity to initial conditions. The basic idea is that in a chaotic system a small change in the initial setup results in a large change in the results, the classic example being the butterfly flapping it's wings and causing a storm thing. So what can we do then, if all these systems are chaotic and will deviate widely depending on initial conditions (and just about everything is chaotic if you look at a long enough time scale)? Well chaos theory can help some (by providing estimates of how much accuracy you should need in the initial conditions), but mostly you just need to keep actively adjusting things as they go wrong. He made an amusing analogy about how planned economies such as in the Soviet Union don't deal with the chaos of economies as well as capitalism does, which my be one more factor explaining why communism has been less successful.

My own thoughts on this is that out of the chaos comes predictable patterns, so that while the short term or small scale properties of a system are chaotic, the long term or large scale properties are not, and can be predicted accurately. For example, take four mirrored balls, make a pyramid of them so that there are three balls on the bottom and one on top. There will be four holes in the pyramid. If you shoot a photon into a hole it will follow a chaotic pattern, it is effectively impossible to predict where it will be at any time, or where it will come out of. If however you shine red, green, and blue light (or any three colors, really) into three of the holes and look into the last one there will be a fractal pattern, which is very complicated (infinitely so if you want to get technical), but also very orderly and in principle predictable.

This has combined with the book I'm reading A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin, which deals with the idea of emergence. The basic idea of emergence is that the large scale properties of a system are different from the small scale properties of it, for example there is nothing in H2O molecules that is "liquid" individually, but when you put them together (at room temperature) they form a stable configuration we call water. My own 2 cents is that emergence is an effect of stable chaos on a large enough scale. Each water molecule follows a chaotic path, but you can predict what the whole liquid will do.

And I think the perfect example of all this is DC Beltway traffic ;)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Meeting tonight

So I've been invited by one of the guys at work (Marc Litz) to go to a dinner/talk hosted by Sigma Xi (a researchers society). The talk is on "chaos". Sounds interesting, and my way may have been paid. Free dinner is always appreciated :) I'll be sure to summerise the talk here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

When things get out of hand

So I found via Bitch, PhD. this article about pharmacists refusing to give antibiotics and vitamins to women because of "moral objections". This is bullshit. The whole moral objection to filling prescriptions idea is fundamentally flawed, because it allows pharmacists to force their moral/religious beliefs on others. Following the logic of these proposed laws doctors would not have to treat people whom they thought were immoral (such as a homophobic doctor refusing to treat a gay man), likewise with police or anybody else whose job it is to help people.

Besides, in what way is it immoral to give people medicine, even if you don't agree with what they are doing with it? If you think something is immoral then don't do it, you don't have to force other people to conform to your morality. This is just one symptom of the widespread viewpoint in this country that "whatever I don't personally agree with should be illegal". What ever happened to "I don't agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it" (with apologies to Voltaire for possible misquotes).

My triumphant return

So what happens whenever I try to write something regularly happened. I got lazy (and busy) so I didn't post anything for a while. I've got ideas, but I had finals, and then I had no internet for a while. Anyways, I've moved down to Maryland and and working for the Army Research Lab again.