Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The lonely shopping cart

One scene that seems to appear in most post-apocalyptic movie or series is a scene where you see a single shopping cart standing in a parking lot. It seems to sum up the loneliness of the loss of much of civilization. It’s also a scene that preceded the zombie mob or other danger left in the world appearing.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, I’ve experience the scene in real life walking toward my job early morning Monday. It is peculiar to walk thought a shopping mall parking lot and see that lonely shopping cart alone, not a sound, no human to be seen. Suddenly, a soft moan rising from the distance. It was the highway, but still creepy and awesome in a way.


One of thing I realized recently annoys me in science fiction is the concept of post physicality. You know, the idea that a sufficiently advanced civilization reach a point in its “evolution”/ technological develloppement when it abandon the base needs of the physical to become something “better”. Usually, that means they become energy, or ascend to a higher plane of being. The first thing one would need to ask his how would becoming “energy” be removing yourself from the physical, energy is physical, yes not in the sense of “crude” matter but given e=mc2, one would argue there is no difference.

So that would leave the higher plane of being thing, sound like a religious concept, the “lucky” species is not in heaven like the god they have become. Leaving the universe behind apparently to greater things. With usually one of two results, they vanish from the universe never too be seen again or they withdraw from affair of mere mortal… except when they get involved for all the problem it can cause (see Stargate for an example of these alien). The first kind could be taught of as a mass suicide, no one ever sees them again and they never influence event.

Now what is annoying about it? Well it makes no real sense, there is no benefits for them as far as anyone can tell (even themselves if the Ancient from Stargate are an example) and it seems to exist only as homage to the belief of religions. It is an example of heaven that the good species can aspire to if they are nice and become one with the “spirit”. By itself it could make a good story, but it is so pervasive that it is becoming annoying, a sort of crutch or thing you have to include into your high civilization to make it “believable”. It is also a way to remove hyper advanced civilization from the scene and let humanity take a place in the stars. Sure it is “less” depressing than having them die off, or extinguish themselves to wars or plague or what have you. But it also remove the interesting story of having to deal with them, having to think, of how a specie that can accomplish everything. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The ever new universe

Today watching the Star Wars the clone war cartoon series I noticed something that really annoyed me. The ever new universe, what I mean is that the new enemies or species encountered never seem to be using Starship, weapon or architecture we have seen before in the universe.  While that might make sense in universe where the characters are always at the edge of their known space and encountering species we have never seen before, it really breaks down in Star Wars.

The galactic republic is supposed to have existed for some 20 000 years, it’s culture and law been respected all over the galaxies. While it is understandable that the variety of starship and architecture we could encounter in a galaxy is way beyond what we could see in a tvserie, it also stand to reason that better design would be more prevalent (or at least design with better marketing teams). And there will be probably some form of standardization over large market, particularly if some group try to join one of the major faction (in the clone war era we are talking Separatist and Republic) either there will have ship that are on part with both, or they will ask for ship to improve their fleet to be on part with both (so as to not get overwhelmed in battle) leading to a standardization of ship.

Now that not the only mater, according to the expended universe Star Wars, some ship are supposed to be very common like the YT-1300 (the base hull for the Millennium falcon) yet how many do we see in the movies and tv series?

Now do not think I’m saying that Star Trek is better, far from it. It had the opportunity with Enterprise of showing first contact with many iconic race of the Star Trek universe. Instead we got new species of the week that was never heard from before even if they brought incredible technology to the federation (holodeck anyone?). I guess what I’m trying to say is: writer innovation is great, but get a feel for the universe first and showing things we’ve seen before might actually be a great think to produce a sense of internal consistency in your universe.

So some news

If anyone reads this blog regularly they might have noticed that despite my promise to post regularly (like everyday) about a month ago post stopped all together. Well, they probably won’t be back to a daily affair, but I will try to post a little more often out here. So you probably want to hear why the situation changed, well quite dramatically. It is quite simple I got a new job (more like a job, since this is technically my first real one) in another city, with a very rapid turn over.

Since this is a very publish form and that I’m a relatively private person I will not give information about my employer here. I’ll say that my post is as a physicist and what I’m doing is R&D (research and devellopment). It is a very interesting job, with a lot of new challenges; I must say that what I’m doing is very different that a PhD in astrophysics, but the skill set is roughly the same.

As for the move well here is roughly the story of how I got the job and where I am now. After finally, resigning myself to needing money and getting an interview thanks to a friend for a minimum wage job, I went out to get something for dinner. When I came back home, I had not one but two messages on my machine. First message telling me that I was hired at the minimum wage place and that I started Monday, second message from a place I had applied to looking for a physicist and wanting to see me for an interview Tuesday. It was 16h55 on a Friday, with little hope I called back to see what it was actually about and if I could reschedule my interview a day I wouldn’t be working, not expecting an answer given the time. Well minutes later, I got a call back. Scheduling a small interview for the next day (Saturday), it went well and we planned for another interview with the company I would by working with owner. Fast-forward the following Friday, where during a trip to Montréal to see a friend I took a detour (thank you Isabelle for the lift) to Sherbrooke to meet with the owner and my interviewer.

So in a rather long interview (that felt really short) I was offer a relatively well paying job in Sherbrooke. Which I accepted and to reduce the financial burden I was, decided to start two week from the interview. So in these two weeks, I found an apartment in Sherbrooke, planned and executed a move and got ready to start a new job. Afterward well there was the settling in period in a new city and here we are now I can write again on this blog. Look forward to more of my thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The zombie problem

The walking dead TV series got me thinking about zombies and really how much of a threat they would be in a real situation. Logically zombies are only dangerous to unaware populations that do not know their weakness. They are slow moving, most asthma sufferer can outrun one, they are unable to use tool so a locked sturdy door can keep them at bay for a while, they seems to have human level senses so they need to see, hear or smell you to find you, they are stupid as shit, the average zombie can be tricked to fall from a building top by someone on another building and finally they are very fragile.

Now the last one might surprise a lot of you as zombies are often characterized as almost unstoppable with unending endurance. While it is true that zombies seems to be able to survive trauma that would disable or kill an average human being, they like the previously mentioned human being are very susceptible to head trauma. In fact, jugging by the mythos on the subject zombies seems to be destroyable by any damage to the brain. Now most authors require the trauma to be in the form of a bullet or force sufficient to pierce the skull, but one has to wonder why. If these impacts were sufficient to destroy the brainpower required for a zombie any similar head trauma would cause similar result.

Everybody's opinion

In a free society everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion. However, just because someone has the right to an opinion doesn’t mean this opinion is right or true. And I believe that the right to have an opinion is not a protection from having your opinion challenged. In fact, I believe that in a free society opinion should be challenged and that not every opinion as the same weight/worth.

The opinion of an astronomer on the probable influence of the passage of an asteroid close to Earth, is much more likely to be correct than the opinion of an astrologer or someone with no knowledge of physics or science. And even where this astronomer to be wrong about the asteroid influence, his opinion should still have more weight than the astrologer’s and profane. That might seem strange, but the opinion of this astronomer is based on years, if not decade of studying the universe and how asteroid or other celestial object behave, his opinion is based on repeatable fact and information. The opinion from the astrologer is based on demonstrably false concept and there is no telling what the profane opinion is based on. You might counter by saying, but what if the astrologer’s opinion was right? It still doesn’t matter (unless the principles of astrology could be shown to be true, or even just workable) arriving at the right answer when you make a guess (uneducated) is just a coincidance.

Finally, based on this opinion should not all be given the same weight in the media, it is not showing both side to give as much time to creationist as is given to scientist. It might seem fair and unbiased, but it is very unfair and biased toward creationist. Think about this, their opinion is demonstrably wrong, is based on the words in a book with lots of demonstrably wrong conclusion about the world and held by a very small minority of scientist (strangely almost none of which are actually studiying biology). It’s exactly like having a medical show talking about birth and pregnancy and giving half the time slot to proponent of the stork theory of birth.

Is money the only problem?

I’m talking about our system right now, no my own situation, is money really the only problem? I mean lets say the occupy wall street and the other anti capitalistic movement manage to do what they seem to want and “overthrow” capitalism in favor of a more equalitarian society, would the problem we now face be solved?

I do admit and believe that people and institution with money have an undue weight in our western society. It is far too easy for rich people to influence the decision of the elected (or unelected official for that matter) with gift, and reason that their welfare help the nation through jobs and investment. It is after all much easier to answer the needs and question of a single person than those of the population.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More annoyance with Windows 7

After more than one year of having nothing but good things to say about windows 7, once again tonight one of its behavior just make me go, WTF. I was playing an MMO (DDO, which is my MMO of choice at the moment) and suddenly the game quit, my software started to close themselves automatically and windows started to reboot by itself. After getting the don’t turn off your computer windows is updating itself and seeing the computer reboot and tell me the windows updating itself message, I figured that the cause was the windows update process…

Well of course, apparently the default behavior is install the updates right fucking now, including rebooting automatically for maximum annoyance to the user. How can anyone think that any user could want this kind of behavior? Force quitting everything and rebooting with minimal input (none in my case, it might have been a pop up with a timer, but it didn’t acquire focus from the game I was playing so I could not stop it) is not a good way to proceed with update. At worse, put up periodic message to remind the user to reboot or if no user process are currently running send a timed message asking for reboot that will automatically reboot if no user process is started in the next 2-3 minutes.  Hopefully that will be my last complain with windows 7, I actually like the OS right now and would hate to start feeling it is just another annoyingly bad iteration of windows.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The advice you receive when you are single.

I’ve been single a while now and I have received (and read online) quite a few advices on how to find a girlfriend.  Some of them are self-contradictionary, other strange and some more puzzling. Let’s looks at a few, and if you ever gave me one ore more of these advice don’t be insulted by my comment, it is only in the name of humor.

You’ll find someone when you stop looking.
All right, I can speak from experience to say that it doesn’t really work, without looking I have yet to find a girlfriend (well I’d say that looking hasn’t been that much more successful).

You have to put yourself out there if you want to find someone.
While not looking I suppose? What putting yourself out there means is not always clear.

To find the girl you’ll love you have to do what you love.
What else do you think I’m doing? You don’t think I go running around doing things I hate right?

It’s a number’s game, flirt with enough girls and one is bound to fall in love with you.
Now, wow that does sound like good advice annoy girl until you find one that pity you enough to be seduced. Ok, I’m behind cynical here, but flirting with girl I don’t find interesting just in case I find someone that might want to date me sound like a very bad base on which to build a relationship.

Well my cynicism is satisfied for a moment so I will skip the other advices for now. Ok, it’s not just my cynicism it’s also “humor” that can’t follow with more bad jokes.

Again with R2D2 and C3P0, please let them be background characters again…

I’ve been following the new Stars Wars: the Clone Wars tv series and it is generally much better than the prequel movies. But the last two episodes that concentrate on the adventure of R2D2 and C3P0, well the bumbling adventure would be more accurate. While I’m not opposed to a comic relief episode (except when the comic is Jar Jar) it is always problematic to have these kinds of episode in what is basically the worse war in Galactic history (if you follow the Star Wars mythos at least).

While it makes sense that these stories occurred within the confine of the war, while in hell would you tell them before other stories in the war? Particularly since they don’t even have background effect on the course of the war or developpement of important characters. I could understand if the bumbling adventure caused a new ally to join the Republic or if they somehow thwarted a side plot of Grievous or Dooku (considering the quality of planning we do see from these two, they must have millions of side plots that can be thwarted by five years old, and not the smart kind of five years old).  But that is another problem with the whole clone war stuff in Star Wars, we are supposed to find Grievous and Dooku to be dangerous shaker and mover of the galaxies that almost defeated the republic (under the direction of Palpatine), but well lets just say that Palatine did not pick the sharpest crayon in the box (probably for a reason, the republic command doesn’t seem to be made from much shaper crayon).

Lastly, there is the scale of things, I understand that in a movie you might or “live” TV show you do not want to have too many battle involving thousands of ships and droids on screen (or even more than a few dozen). But this is a animated show, you can easily put more than a few Venator or Banking Clan Frigate in a combat, make us feel like the resources of the republic and separatist fleets are galaxy sized not small poor country sized. Oh and one last complain, please let the separatist win on screen once in a while, with so many defeat it’s a wonder they do not simply give up and ask the jedi for forgiveness.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Well now I have something bad to say about windows 7

I’ve been largely satisfied with windows 7 since I’ve had it (which is close to the very beginning of windows 7’s run). It looks relatively good and it works well (I have yet to experience a major crash). But now I’ve found something annoying about the OS, it as a size creep that slowly fills my hard drive. Now, usually that probably wouldn’t be a problem since I would be working on a modern desktop with a few hundred gig of hard drive space. However that not the case, my window bootcamp partition on my Mac is only 30 Go and is used to play one MMO (DDO online if you must know), since windows 7 is supposed to take some 15 Go, and the game somewhere around 5-7 Go, I should have plenty of free space.

Well you can understand my surprise when I found that I had less than 1 Go free this Sunday. I had installed some other old games for distraction a few months back so I decided to delete them and fee some place. With a few Go free, I used the disk cleanup to free a few more Go, by removing some windows temporary files (2 Go worth of windows temporary files…) Now, before rebooting I looked at the free space on my hard drive and found it was at a small but comfortable 4 Go. One reboot later… less than 3 Go free, the missing Go taken up by one of windows system folder.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's storytelling time

By looking at the side bar some of you might have noticed that I have another blog, well a story blog according to the description. That second blog is an attempt by me to perfect my “mastery” (or lack thereof) of french by writing short (and no so short) story. This blog had been even more neglected that this one, but in the spirit of writing some more. I’m trying to post some more over there as well. I’ve also updated the layout and posted the beginning of the story I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. Editing it to correct some of the grammar and spelling mistake and straighten the story, I’ve come to realize there are many flaws in the story but hey you might enjoy it, or the others that have been/will be posted there.

The Borg

Yeah, weird title following the previous two posts but I feel like talking about something that relate to this “famous” Star Trek villain. Namely, I feel like talking about how they can be used in a game or in a way in a work of fiction.

One of the main problem with mostly unstoppable villain like the Borg is spikeification, the heroes can only defeat them so many time before they stop being an unstoppable villain and become just another minor threat your hero wipe the floor with. The easy solution to this problem is simply to rarely use them. This raise another problem however, you can’t really use them as the main “villain” or adversary of your work/game. Since you only use your Borgs a few times in your entire campaign they become more like guess stars than the real evil force at work. Another way would be to have then have servant like sub-villain, that the heroes encounter and they get some power and thematic quirks that make them borg-light in a way. I think however that this reduces to the previous problem; your heroes are fighting the Borg impersonators not the Borg themselves. So what to do?

Well, an idea I had (for the Borg themselves, it might not work with other villain or in other universe) is to have them win/ defeat the heroes. Imagine if you will a new Star Trek serie that will feature the Borg as the main villain for a season at least. The first episode of the season would star with the heroes encountering a Borg ship (the smaller the better) around an anomaly (which are so common in Star Trek, it might as well just be an average region of space), as the episode plays out your heroes are soundly and rapidly defeated/assimilated, however before the mid episode commercial break the heroes sent out a distress probe that inexplicably vanish through the previously mentioned anomaly.

A new layout...

So I’ve been working on the layout here, I think it looks much better, or at least less tacky. The next step should be to work on the name, getting a new banner to go with the name and to put some more colors around the title. I should also add a few link to friends and things I read online, mostly stuff I check often and find interesting, if you have suggestion dear readers please feel free to e-mail me or comment with your suggestion. So back to work on this template and name things. More post are coming… just like winter, to finish on a Game of Throne quote.

New beginnings of sort

It’s been more than a year since my last blog post. More then a year ago, after I had successfully defended my PhD thesis and looked hopefully toward the future, I asked where do I go from there?

More than a year in which my life seems to have stagnated, I spent this year first as a post-doc place holder to work on some papers (still to be published), then as a full time unemployed person looking for work (the hours are very flexible, but the pay sucks). I’m still at this step, now close to a year after the official end of my PhD, I still don't know where I will go from there.

It has been the darkest (so far) year of my life, economically and emotionally. First applying to jobs after jobs and receiving not even an hint of interest, then applying to still more jobs and getting a few interviews, but always falling into second, third or worse place. It all hit me hard, very hard and I think it is why I return to my blog, writing is a creative venture, a way to express the pent up anger and unreleased emotions.

I plan on returning to a more regular posting schedule, changing the name: the astronomer and the universe isn’t me anymore. Well, no it’s still me, but it’s a faint part of me, a part I am proud of, but far from what I am now and from where I am trying to go. I will try to change the design too; this blue lack luster theme is so passé. And I will probably change what I will post about, my life might look like it stagnated in the last year or so, but I am not the same person I was July 21st 2010. I’ve learned about myself, I’ve grown and changed, I still love science, debate, RPG, and of course I’m still one of the biggest geek I know but in a different way. New beginning it will be, new thoughts, new words, new rants, new questions, and hopefully new readers. My words will probably be but brief flickers of electrons in this small corner of the web, but I take pleasure in writing them, pleasure in expressing myself this way, pleasure in my geekyness and love of life. Hopefully, they will entertain you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where Do We Go from Here?

Well it is done, I have defended by phd thesis and the jury has found my research impressive enough to grant me the title of Doctor (well Philosophiae Doctor to be precise but still). But now I am let with the question: “Where do I go from here?” For the past two years or so I’ve looked at job offer and applied to a few job, with depressing result (only one interview) but I had problem being serious about it. Now I think I’ve finally (well not really recently still I’ve got to speak about that problem) come to understand why. I don’t know what I want to do.

You see I’m convinced that my studies and experience in research have given me a truck load of skill that would be usefull in a array of fields (from scientific research to statistical modeling of economics and many more). The biggest problem being convincing an employer that the skill I’ve devolleped can be usefull for his compagny. Now I’m pretty sure I’ve got the people skill to make a pretty good case for myself and convince quite a lot of people to at least try me out. But now I’m left with the question, whom do I want to convince?

Simply put I could send out resume and CV to just about every compagny that might, in a blue moon, hire a physics phd but do I want do? And more importantly, if I’m just fishing for a job how can I convince anyone of my worth? I’ve got to hurry tho I won’t be paid for writing articles forever (probably 1-2 months top) and it would be better to have a job to at least pay my bills by then.

So well, there is a good news for the few reader that are left, and that is that I will probably post more often. Posting things about my job search and it result (or lack of) and my thoughts about where I want to go with my lift. I hope you will enjoy the show and that I will find a job soon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Math part IV: Chaos Theory, Statistic and the Rest

In my last post I said that what I had presented about math could deal with known and unknown quantities, shape, position, size and mouvement of a thing in just about any dimension but that it could not yet deal with “undeterministic process”. That was slightly false, Calculus already hosted quite a lot of undeterministic equations. In fact, some equationi system have an infinite number of solution and as such are undeterministic. Does that means math can’t say anything about them? Of course not, it just mean that while math can give you the shape of the solutions it cannot give you a clear solution without more information. There are also equations that are very surprising and that gave rise to a field of math known as chaos theory.

You see we found that some system of equation in which 3 or more variable are dependant on each other where very (but I do mean very) sensible to initial condition. They are not stricly speaking undeterministic but small variation in initial condition can result in widely different answers. Throught the study of these equations and phenomenum we can study things we though purely random before, such as the weather and turbulance. In fact, Chaos theory explains easilly why we can’t pretty the weather accuratly over large period of time. As it happen the weather is a chaotic system where the influencing factor depend on each other and since we cannot known perfectly any of those factor at any point in time (there are always measurement error) the little errors make the solutive diverge more or less rapidly. Of course the less accurate your mesurement the faster it diverge and you find yourself away from your predictions.

Which will bring me to statistics; you know the lies, damn lies and statistics. Strangely people believe that statistics are falsehood and should not be trusted. The thing is that statistics are very easy to missuse with people that do not understand statistics. Take for exemple your usual pre-election polls. You have daily polls telling you who people want to vote for, with usually a 3-4% margin of error 19/20. How many of you understand what that means? The 3-4% margin of error most people guess means that each number might change from up to 3-4%, which is mostly correct. But what does that 19/20 actually means? Well, that what is called a 95% confidence level, a slightly low confidance level (for exemple, in science below a 99.9% we usually can’t say that we have measured a quantity, we only detect it’s presence), it means that depending on your sample size your pourcentage are spread out over a larger pourcentage that if you had a stronger measurement. If you couple this with the selection bias in phone surveys, relatively small number (you shouldn’t trust a survey with less then 1000 participant) and misleading questions you can explain strange discrepty between statistics and reality.

But enough explaining why statistic can be made wrong, lets talk about what statistics are. Well statistic is the study of probability and distribution, that means its studies the odd of something happening give some (or no) preexisting knowledge. It also give tools to understand how random (or semi random) event combine to provide a range of possibile result and the probability of theses result occuring. For exemple, lets say you threw 35 coins up in the air, what would be the odd of getting all of them showing face (~1/35 000 000 000) or any combinaison of the side you might want. You can also determine if two things might be related (a correlation) to each other and how strongly it is. You need statistics to understand quantum physics, thermodynamics and all that. For exemple, it’s impossible to follow the behavior of all particules in a gaz, however thanks to the distribution of velocity we can determine a lot (if not all) of the behavior of the gaz, all without ever knowning much about the details of the gaz particules.

Now, about the rest of math you get theory and system to deal with how groups are formed, how number and function are related to each other (group theory), theory to deal with order (order theory), how space behave (that topology), study of fractional dimension (fractal geometry), theory about how measurement are related to reality (measurement theory) and idea on how to analyse and represent system. What I presented in those four post barely scratch the surface of mathematics, I’ve failled to talk about vectors, complex analysist and trigonometry just to name those few concept but already you should see that math can be used to represent and characterize everything in reality and even much more. It use the rest of science to anchor itself in the universe but it allows us to explore even more complexe space and set up.

To finish by going back to the initial conversation with Yofed, what does blue+yellow give? Green, to a human, other creature would see other colors, or no color at all and the two photons (i.e remain blue and yellow) would remain independent until caught by a photodetector. Explaining love mathematically might sound amazingly dry and boring to some of you but here is the language equivalent of it (mostly because I do not have the neurochemicial knowledge to write the equation… not to mention that I’m pretty sure it’s way beyond our current understanding of the brain). So here I go, you have an initial release of neurochemical, from the stimulus of smelling, seeing, hearing basically relating to the other person, depending on the current chemestry of your brain (how the recent past was for you) this reaction might find itself amplyfied triggering neuron firing and identifying this person as someone interesting. You star forming attachement through short term memory, then depending on a billion factor from the environnement and within yourself the chemestry soup and electronic mess inside the labyrinth of neuron of your brain this attachement might grow stronger or weaker. As it grows you find yourself more and more attracted to this person, more in love, if a simillar process happen in the other brain you can say that you are both in love and if condition are right and the process remain or other process with simillar result replace them you can stay in love for a long time. The complexity of the process is amazing (well the complexity needed to make the human mind is just so beautiful) and anyone that would claim love is more then “just” chemical reaction and electrical response just doesn’t understand how much chemical reactionand electrical response are, and just how beautiful their complex interaction are. And this might lead to a future post about free will…

Friday, February 12, 2010

XKCD: scientific romantism.. or not.

Don't worry I don't do graph like that, beside it's not like I would belive that correlation would mean causation anyway... still it's funny, in a shark with a party hat kinda way.

Math part III: Algebra and Calculus

So after numbers, arithmetic and geometry I get to the last part of mathematic that is taught in high school science: algebra. It is also the point where most people that already dislike math move up to hate and what they hell will that ever be usefull for. So what happen at this point, well most people will tell you that it’s the addition of letter to the number that just sound illogical and learning all those new “rules” to work with these letter. Now, you can probably guess I don’t agree, first off because I always found (elementary) algebra easy and second because I know that it is found everywhere and that almost everyone (even those that have not been taught algebra) use it everyday.

First off because, I think, the problem is how algebra is taught in school. In my opinion algebra is taugh way too late in the curiculum, it should be taught right at the beginning when we are learning the rules of arithmetics and numbers. You see, algebra introduce in math the concept of variables, i.e. unknown quantities. The problem is when you are first taught about this concept you have already been using math with unknown quantities when solving problem. So you have to relearn how to incorporate unknown in your math and the “special” rules you need to use to apply arithmetic on unknown quantities. Lots of duplicated work and lots of confusion from student as you have to basically rewrire the brain. Also, what we are taught is just the surface of algebra. So in the spirit of these post about math what can we do with algebra that we could not do before?

Well, a lot. You see algebra is not just the study of what happen when you replace number with variable, it is also the study of what happen when you change the operation and rules relatated to them and (more importantly, I think) how to apply mathematical operation on thing other then numbers. This last thing gives us chemical equations that give us the opportunity to understand what happen in chemical reaction, such as combustion. In fact, most of not all of science need algebra to be represented in comprehensive mathematical form. So basically, algebra add to the ability to representing physical and imaginary, manipulating these quantities and representing their shape, position and size, the ability to work with unknown or variable quantities, the ability to see how other type and set of manipulation would work and most importantly how to apply mathematical logic beyond numbers.

So with all that power, math must surely being done for right? Wrong, we now get to calculus, a part of math some of you might only have heard through horrified mention of college student having their first taste. So what is this dreaded discipline? Well calculus is slightly akind to geometry, in the way that while geometry deals with the shape and size of thing calculus deal with the movement and change of things. It involve such concept as the limit (seeing how as you approch a quantity another varies), fonction (describing a quantity in relation to others), derivative (describing the change in a fonction as it’s input change), integral (the reverse of the derivative and also the area under a fonction) and infinite series (numbers with recursive proprieties between themselve).

Lost of component that have an unparallel power, just about everything in the univers can be represented by a fonction, a derivative of a fonction or it’s integral (depending on what the phenomum involve). Most of advanced physics, engeenering, economic, all science in general involve calculus to a great degree. To continu with the language analogy, if arithmetics, numbers, and algebra form the “letters” of the language in our models of relality, geometry and calculus (and some would argue calculus alone) is the gramar, words and text structures. Throught this we can for exemple show how blue and yellow light form green light (it involve the transmission fonction of our eyes photoreceptor coupled with the wavelenght of the light we are seeing and how our brain intepret the resulting electro-chemical signals). Maths can be used to model much more complex phenomenum, such as the nuclear fusion in stars, chemical process involving complexe molecules (such sugars) and would appear at this point to be limited to predictable, deterministic process. In the next post I will talk about how maths deal with undeterministic process when I talk about statistic, chaos theory and probably the more advanced maths that I am only slightly famillar with (such as group theory).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Maths part II: Arithmetic and geometry

So let get into another post about the beauty and power of math, this time I will talk about arithmetic and geometry. The first one because it is the next logical step after numbers, it’s the branch of mathematic everyone is the most famillar with and it is the oldest part of math, while the second countributed so much to our understanding of the universe early in our history that including it later would do it much disrespect.

Arithmetic in short the manipulation of number, allow us to work with many quantities and predict an outcome. For a simple example, what happen when someone has 4 stick and you remove 2 and 2/3 of one (your left with 1 and 1/3 of another). Arithmetic includes a lot of way to manipulate number, at the beginning we have addition and substraction (which are basically the same thing, one with positive integers and the another with negative). Next in the “simple” operation we have multiplication, division and exponentionation. These operations are mostly the same operation, exponentionation is repeted multiplicaiton of the same number, division is multiplication by a fraction. Now, multiplication are basically addition, so we could technically say that we have only one operation on number, the addition. However keep in mind that writing everything as addition is very time and space consumming. After the sample operation of addition we have more complex operation such as finding the roots of a number (square, cube or even higher power) the root of an equation is in short the exponentiation by a fractional number of another number, and also logarithm of number. The logrithmic operation is much more complex, it consist in finding the number that elevate another number to give the number we are taking the logarithm from. To be clearer, say we have log(10 000)=4, that means that 10 to the 4th power is 10 000 (the 10 is implied in the log without a base denominator). Now, this might seem to old very little power, but being able to predict relationship between quantities and answer question those relationship imply is a corner stone to our thinking.

Now to talk about another ancient field of math, geometry. Geometry is the study of shapes, sizes, positions and proprieties of space. At first, geometry was described for a plane following a set of axiom that forms a basic for logically dedicing a lot of theorems and from those theorems information about the nature of shapes, sizes, posititions and all. This form of geometry called Euclidian geometry (for the greek that formulated it as a set of axiom) is what most of you learned in high school and use most of the time to infere information about the spatial relation and distribution of things. If you combine this with cartesian coordinate you get a very powerful tool to move about and locate thing on the Earth (as long as they are not too far appart). But geometry doest not stop there, we have found through experiment and observation we have discovered that we can formulate other axiom that describ other type of space. Such as for exemple, if our universe was on a sphere, the proprieties of a sphere lead to some interesting phenomeon such as having square triangles with more then 1 90 degree angle, or that the shortest distance between two point is not found as a straight line but as the arc of a circle. Many other geometry are possible for space, in fact curved space is an observed thing in astrophysic notably around very dense and massive object. Oh, one last thing about the power of geometry, understanding shapes, size and position might seems like something that not really spectacular, however one should recall that the greek measured the size of the Moon, the diameter of the Earth, the distance between the Earth and the Moon and many other quantities with amazing precision using only Euclydian geometry principles!

Now, adding arithmetic to number gives humanity the power to predict relation between quantities and manipulate, trade and use number as a model of what is happening or will happen in simple terms. If you have knowledge of geometry too you get an in dept knowledge of the shape of the world you live in, the shape of the object around you, ways to relate to them and predict their positions. In short with just math that was availlable to the ancient greek you can understand and model quite a lot of the world. Your models are time consuming to use but still you have a phenomenal understanding. My next post will show you how math power can make those model faster to use, become more abstract to represent even unknown quantity and even study very small and very dynamic things while I talk about, algebra and calculus.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Math part 1: Numbers.

As I said in my last post this should be the first post about maths. Let me first give you a little history about why I’m doing these posts. Well it all started last time I met with Yofed on her visit to Quebec city. I made the claim that math could potentially explain and represent everything, so Yofed challenged me with the old explain love with math (quickly answered by simplistic 1+1=2 answer) and blue+yelow (answered with a not so simple answer of adding to wavelenght of blue and yellow to get green, which I quickly admited was wrong but that there was a way to add blue and yelow mathmatically to show that it would give green for our eyes). Now the conversation continued with a “you should make a post about the power of math.” So instead I choose to make many post about it!

So before I start I must say that I am not an historian of science, nor a mathematician. The ideas expressed below might not be completely acurate. Now that it’s out of the way, I’ll first start by writing about the numbers, the part of mathematics most people are arguably famillar with. Now the power of by themselve is only descriptive but we are deceived by their ubiquity into forgetting just how powerfull they are. Lets start at the beginning of number, the positive integers, you know the first number you know (1, 2, 3, …). Those number can represent almost all physical quantity, from the number of pencil, to the number of stars in the univers as long as it is something physical the positive integer can represent it.Now, you can not, with those nomber, easilly quantify lack of something. For that we extend to the integer set, adding the minus sign before a nombre give us a representation and quantification for the lack of something. Your missing 15$ so you have -15$, simple. Then we have the zero, strangely a relatively recent invention, that recent the absence of quantity, emptiness, it’s the very usefull quantification of nothing.

Not with the natural number set (integer +0) you can arguably represent any physical quantity, however you can’t easilly represent part of a whole. So we have another set (that include the natural numbers), that we call the rational set. The set includes the rational fraction, i.e fraction that can represent “physical” fraction of a thing. For exemple, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/10 would be these some of these fraction, they are constructed from any number that can be constructed from the ratio of two non-zero natural number. We now have a lot of descriptive power, however there are still quantity that cannot be represente, for exemple, the square root of 2. To represent these quantities we have another set greater then the rational that is call the irrational set. It includes the rational number as well as all those quantity that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two non-zero natural number. They describ slightly more esoteric quantity so as the lengh of the hypothenus of some triangle and some logarithm (more on those in a later post) they might also include very fondamental constant in natural such as pi and the euler number e (it’s still not clear if pi or e are member of the rational or irrational number).

Now with the irrational set we can pretty much describ every quantity you find in natural (in fact I’m pretty sure you can describ everything physical thing with them), however math descriptive power is not limited to nature, or our 4-dimentional univers. Lets imagine for exemple you want to find the square root of a negative number. Now, you know that two negative numbers squared give you a positive number while two positive numbers squared also give you a positive number. While it might seem unlikely to encounter such a thing in nature they are essential to solving many equation. So to represent those quantity that have no “real” manifestation we expend our knowledge toward another set of number called the complex (or imaginary) number. These numbers are very special because you need 2 real numbers to represent them, for exemple one such number is 3+2i. Now, what do we need them for? Well they are usefull in engineering, quantum physics, chaos theory, and I could not easilly (or shortly) explain how they are used and why. You’ll probably never have to use them if you’re not working in advanced scientific field, but you probably encounter device who work on principle needing such number to be understood.

So just from the number in math we can gather a lot of information about the world, quantitative information. In fact, number do not just give information about the world but they can give us information about world event imaginary or world without relation to our own. In a way if you try to consider math a language for describing models of reality and predicting reality from those model you could think of number as part of this language alphabet. It’s only a part of this alphabet because number are not the building block of the communication of mathematic, equation are. And while number are usefull to solve equation and to obtaint physical representaiton of that solution they are by themselve meaning less. In fact, I think you could say that numbers are what we would use to translate between the models and the “real world”. In the next post about math, I will talk about two of the oldest branch of mathematique, arithmetics and geometry.

State of the astrogeek

I haven’t posted on this blog for a while now, novembre 2009 if I believe the last edit notice from blogger or july if I believe my word document where I keep most of my recent post. So since Anyflower asked and because I’ve been hitching to post again, here is a short post on the state of the Astrogeek today, it should be followed by a long post (the first of a many) to asnwer yofed challenge about math from the last time we’ve met.

So where is the Astrogeek at now? Well I’ve finished the writing part of my thesis… I’ve had finished that in june 2009 anyway. At the moment I’ve sent my thesis for the first part of correction where one professor read the 431 pages of it and comment on what I should change to make it acceptable for the next step: the evaluation part. Hopefully very little will need to be changed and all the change will be cosmetics. On a more personal note, well I’m still single. I’ve meet a few girl but nothing came out of it. I’m looking for a job so if you’d know any one looking for a phd in physics send them my way. Well, so that’s mostly it, I’ll give more news as stuff happen I guess.

On an unrelated note: screw you word 2008 stop putting html/xml tags in my copy-paste!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu

Lil Cthulhu is your friend.. or at least you sanity destroying planet killing monstruosity.