Two Jokes

A crook decided to break into the counterfeiting business. To ensure success, he decided that he would only try to pass his phony currency in the most back water towns deep in the heart of hillbilly country, figuring that most of the poor and simple folk who lived there had never seen denominations of even modest size.

He then strikes upon the idea of printing \$18 bills. After all, if the Treasury Department caught him, then he could claim that he was just goofing around: nobody would ever cash an 18 dollar bill.

He loads his wallet full of his contraband currency, and heads to swampy country. He saunters into a general store, picks out a soda, walks to the counter where he is met by the clerk. The clerk says “that will be 50 cents”. The crook whips out his \$18 bill and says “Can you break this for me?”

The clerk responds, “Sure, do you want 2 \$9’s or 3 \$6’s?”

Think that’s funny? Check out an even funnier joke..

Soren Ragsdale added some interesting Google satellite images to the wikipedia, including an overall view of the Kennedy Space Center. Here is a much tighter view of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is the building where Saturn V rockets were assembled, and now houses space shuttles as they are being fitted for launch.

Totally blows away my previous experimentation with the Terraserver.

Big Thoughts for a Friday

On a mailing list I subscribe to, Tom Duff pointed me at Conway’s Proof of the Free Will Theorem.

From the background:

In mid-2004, John Conway and Simon Kochen of Princeton University proved the Free-will Theorem. This theorem states “If there exist experimenters with (some) free will, then elementary particles also have (some) free will.” In other words, if some experimenters are able to behave in a way that is not completely predetermined, then the behavior of elementary particles is also not a function of their prior history. This is a very strong “no hidden variable” theorem.

I’m not sure I can wrap my head around this, being a Friday, but it is very, very strange. The idea of free will is something which I had decided was more or less unassailable by the methods of science (it wasn’t even clear to me that the phenomena had any real meaning whatsoever) but apparently someone with the intellect of Conway thought that it was worthy of study, so perhaps I was mistaken.

One of my personal regrets is that I didn’t drop in on John Conway while I was working in the Applied Math department at Princeton. I have little doubt that if I had, I’d have met the smartest person I’ve ever encountered so far.

Need a fun book by Conway? Try ::amazon(“038797993X”, “The Book of Numbers“):: that he coauthored with Richard Guy. Very entertaining, and quite accessable.

Note: “entertaining” here is used in the usual brainwagon sense of the word.

Addendum: Here is Tom’s take on it:

The proof, of course, depends on the underlying physics. What is remarkable is that they only require three physical axioms, which, in typical Conway style, they call SPIN, FIN and TWIN.

SPIN:
spins have the 101 property, i.e. the measured (squared) spins of a spin-1 particle in 3 perpendicular directions will be two 1’s and a zero in some order.
FIN:
there is a finite upper bound on the speed at which information travels.
TWIN:
if a pair of particles has total angular momentum 0 then one has
angular momentum s and the other -s.

SPIN and TWIN are fairly well-confirmed experimentally, and while most physicists believe FIN, it’s not the sort of statement that experiments can confirm. (Conway says: “We do not know if some unknown method allows for instantaneous transfer of information, almost by definition.”)

It’s interesting to me that SPIN and TWIN are quantum-mechanical statements and FIN is true in General Relativity. It’s fairly widely held that QM and GR are inconsistent, which might lead you to believe that Conway and Kochen are skating on thin ice. But there may be other SPIN/FIN/TWIN models that aren’t as problematic.

Another neat Chinese Calligraphy Book..

During our (alas, last) class today, they were passing around Martha Dahlen’s book, Brush with Life. A very nice, spiral bound book. I’ll have to pick up a copy, and this post will remind me to do so. 🙂

United States Patent: 5,533,051

Apparently you really can patent nonsense. In United States Patent 5,533,051, we get the following intriguing claim:

A second aspect of the present invention which further enhances its ability to achieve high compression percentages, is its ability to be applied to data recursively. Specifically, the methods of the present invention are able to make multiple passes over a file, each time further compressing the file. Thus, a series of recursions are repeated until the desired compression level is achieved.

Any first year computer science student taking any kind of discrete math should be able to tell you what is wrong with this claim.

From a comment on Slashdot.

EFF on Blogging Anonymously

The EFF has an interesting article on Howto Blog Anonymously.

What’s a more interesting question is why would you want to?

It’s not that I can’t think of a reason, I’m just curious as to why people feel that they need to talk about something, and then choose to disassociate themselves from their words.

Sure, there is the personal security aspect. When you open the door to the world and allow them to peek in, there is always the risk that something you’d rather not let get out gets out, and somebody you’d rather not know about it will learn about it.

A small variation on this theme is the “my work doesn’t approve of my opinions” aspect, in other words, your job security.

Are there other reasons to try to communicate with others while remaining anonymous? Shouldn’t we all strive to make statements which we will stand by with the integrity of our own names? If we aren’t going to stand by our statements, then why bother making them in a public forum at all?