Thursday, March 27, 2008

More books ..........

I like buying books too much some time. Two recent orders are: Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century: World Nuclear University Press Fun with Hypnosis: The Complete How-To Guide by Svengali

Monday, March 24, 2008

A balloon murder mystery.

On Sunday I saw a woman, wearing a black suit, leave the card shop on Maryhill Rd. She was carrying a large number of red balloons of various sizes and shapes. She walked to her small car that was 30 yards from the shop. One of the little red balloons broke free and started to follow the wind down the road. The balloon was close enough to me that I thought perhaps I should go running after it, to give it back her, and perhaps get a reward. However, frankly I couldn't be bothered. I didn't feel guilty, even if the balloons were for a shattered shaven headed little girl, sick in a white sterile bed. Losing one balloon out of ten could not make a difference to her life Run free little balloon, I thought, you too need to be happy. And the balloon followed the the eddies of the wind to a land free of grasping little hands. I suddenly thought that this was the mechanism that produced the white balloon rolling down the road that greeted me on Saturday morning. Run free little balloon, I thought as I headed to my flat to sip tea and forget the fate of balloons. I then heard a short bang. I turned to see the exploded little balloon "asleep" on the road. The car didn't even stop to check its tires.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

introduction to the personal software process

I have just finished reading "introduction to the personal software process" by Watts Humphrey. I have owned this book for a long time, but since I have not read a book on software development for a while, so this weekend was a good time to read it. My understanding is that Humphrey was a manager at IBM when they first produced mainframes. When he started his job, many of the projects he inherited were not completing on time, so he introduced processes to improve that. In the book he is very big on timing the amount of time people spend doing things during the week. This provides data that can be used to estimate the amount of time it would take to complete a task in the future. He also likes programmers to review their code before they even try to compile it. There was a lot of discussion about "defect" (known as bugs) removal. This is an old fashioned book. It used software metrics such as LOC (lines of code), but he talked about the c++ language. Also his discussion of diagrams involved flow charts, with no mention of UML. However, I think the book was clearer for not introducing more modern terms. Some of the basic ideas, such as using measurements to estimate time to do things are basically sound.

Arthur C Clarke

Although I was sad to hear about the death of Arthur C Clarke, I have not read much of his work for over twenty years. If you have been following closely, I have been reading a lot of science fiction recently, but I have no interest in (re)reading the work of the old masters. I did used to read a lot of science fiction when I was in late teens. Then I used to read Clarke and Asimov, and Michael Moorcock. I moved away from science fiction, to try more literary fare. Also at that time I didn't know how to get hold of the stuff of more modern writers. I might have been a bit ashamed of my nerdy past. When I started living in Liverpool I got into Philip H. Dick, and the weirder outlaw side of science fiction. I am still fond of the work of Michael Moorcock, but I saw him on TV a couple of weeks ago. He was wearing a bow tie. I know he is old, but in my experience, only wa*kers wear bow ties. Look Michael, you used to play with Hawkwind! I remember a radio interview with Arthur C Clarke, where he said something like: "some day in the future everyone will have a portable power supply as powerful as a nuclear reactor". Frank Close was also in the same interview and he said "there has to be some evidence for that type of claim." Those black obelisks!

Eels and the multiverse

Before I got went away and got sick, I watched a documentary called "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives" via the BBC Iplayer. This was a strange documentary about Hugh Everett III who invented the many world interpretation of quantum mechanics. The documentary was narrated by Hugh's son Mark Everett (known by some as E). The documentary was weird in some sense, because it was both a celebration of his father's life, as well as a settling of scores. There was not a lot of love in Mark's life. The only time he held his father was when he picked up his father when he died. There was a lot of sarcasm in the way the family talked. Mark hadn't done well (as in flunked) in maths or science. So part of the trip was him traveling to famous physics places such as Princeton to ask about quantum mechanics and his father's work. Everett did the work on the many Universe theory iof quantum mechanics when he was a graduate student. This interpratation of quantum mechanics was not popular, so he left academia to join industry. As time passed the many universes theory of quantum mechanics gained in popularity (not with me though of course), so before he died Hugh started to get invited to conferences. Reading between the lines, it was clear that Hugh was a bit bitter that his revolutionary theory had not taken off. However, he also seemed the classic Prof. type who was not very talkative. Some part of the documentary was sad. One of Hugh's daughters committed sucide. In her sucide note she said that "she would meet her father in a parallel Universe." Mark Everett is a singer and musician in the band called the Eels. The Eels are an alternative country band, who are famous enough to make the soundtrack for one of the Shrek movies. They are famous enough to have their CDs in the discount section of fopp. As part of my research I bourght a copy of the eels CD "beautiful freak". I didn't like it as much as some of the live tracks I saw on the documentary. The one problem I did see with the documentary was that it didn't mention that many physicists still feel that the multi universe interpratation of quantum mechanics is bollocks (and that includes the multiverse that the stringers like).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Isaac Newton

I have just read a biography of Isaac Newton by Peter Ackroyd. I had read "Hawksmoor" by Ackroyd, that led me to expect that the book would focus on Newton's interest in alchemy and his nonstandard view on Jesus. However, the book gave a good overview of all aspect of Newton's life, from his development of mechanics and calculus, to him leaving Cambridge to become Master of the Mint. I didn't pick up on connection of Newton's story about thinking about gravity after watching an apple fall, to "the fall" due to an apple in the Garden of Eden, until I read this book.

I lose my telekinetic powers

When I got up today I looked out of the front window to the road below. I saw a piece of paper blown by the wind straight along the dead center of the road. When I put my full attention to it, the paper stopped moving. I very naturally assumed that I was telekinetic. Before lunch I looked at the road again. This time there was a white balloon blown by wind. I stared at the balloon with all my might, but it kept on moving. So I am just normal, the paper in the morning stopped by chance. Similar to the same random coincidence that I thought about telekinetic powers after watching the "The Medusa Touch" DVD (with Richard Burton in) last night.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Normally, like many people I look at DVDs that cost 15 pounds and say what kind of loser spends that much money for a new DVD. Normally I don't pay over 5 pounds for a DVD. However, last Tuesday I was in fopp on Byers Rd and I saw looking to give myself a birthday treat. Also I was sick with some kind of plague, so watching a DVD from my warm front room was going to be the height of excitement for me. What I decided to buy was "Cronus" directed by Guillermo Del Toro (This cost me 8 pounds, so I am almost half a DVD loser). Del Torro directed the fantastic "Pans Labyrinth", and also did blade II and Hellboy. The film "Cronus" is a vampire movie with a new family twist. An antique seller finds a mechanical beatle built by an alchemist. His life goes down hill from there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The birth of consumer quantum mechanics

I am starting to think that my greatest contribution to science will be the flu-flight connection. If I take a quick trip to the US, I spend a week and half in brain dead flue mode, while I try to recover. It was my birthday on Tuesday and I wanted to go out and party. However, I was so sensitive to cold that I couldn't travel far. I went to Oddbins to buy a bottle of sake. The staff at the Byers Rd store told me they didn't have any in, but phoned a close by store to reserve me a bottle. I got the time and space thing mixed up, partly because I can't remember exactly the name of every off license in a 3 mile radius. The store with the bottle of sake with my name on it turned out to be a lot further down Great Western Rd than I thought. But I dragged my shivering flu wrecked body in search of rice wine. In the Oddbins store on Great Western Rd, the staff were very friendly. When they gave me my bottle, I clutched it to my chest. They told me that they usually don't sell any sake for months. But today as soon as my bottle was reserved, two other people came in to buy sake. "Did I know why that was?". I started to mumble something about wave function collapse, and that there was an amplitude for various people to buy bottles of sake. One person decides he needs sake, so the wave function collapses, and two more have to buy sake. But then I thought I haven't told them I am a physicist, so I can get away with saying "f*ck knows why. It is weird though". Of course the sake buying choices of the people of Glasgow may be further evidence that I am being followed and studied. As I walked back up the great western Road I saw a Chinese restaurant appear before by cough racked body. Its my birthday I thought, must have fun. I ordered chicken in a pot, because someone had told me this was authentic in someway. The food was nice, but the chicken just came in a saucepan. At the end of the meal I was given a fortune cookie. This is my fortune: "Eat something you have never tried before". Anyway not love and wealth again. The fortune cookie knows how to humble one. If I hadn't been sick, I might have wanted to try here. A nice bit of caviar and a cocktail of some kind. (If I had been well I would have gone to the barfly to watch a female Japanese drone metal band). Still I think this shows that you don't need a party (or your health) to have a good time on your birthday.

Potted plants at dawn.

I always thought it was rude to stare. As I walked into work this morning, I saw a man in a battered denim jacket carrying a large pink stuffed dinosaur with garish green eyes. In his other hand he carried a large potted plant about a meter high. He walked unsteadily with a degree of quiet despair. He looked to be over 40 with a face that had seen many pint pots of beer. As he walked out of door of the shop all eyes followed him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Market Forces

While travelling somewhere I read Market Forces by Richard Morgan. This novel was set in the not too distant future. Wars and rebellions are traded as we trade stocks and shares. When executives have big arguments they fight duels in their cars on the highway. The story was based on a new junior executive joining a company. He became more aggressive and wild as the corporate culture sucked him in. There was a bit too much action for a good novel with a strong philosophical core, if I may make such a pompous statement. On a similar theme. I watched a documentary over the weekend about corporations. Everything went crooked, when corporations got the same rights as human beings under antislavery laws. The documentary had commentary by left figures such as Noam Chomsky. I liked the part where some anarchist had a demo at the house of the CEO of shell. His wife told them off, and later served them tea and biscuits.

tales From Earthsea

Many weeks ago I rented the DVD "tales From Earthsea" from blockbuster. I had another incoherent conversation with the clerk at the Blockbuster about anime, mostly because I was full of after work Friday night beer. The same people who were involved in the wonderful (my parents are greedy pigs) "spirited away" did this film as well. I had read The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin and this is what attracted me to the film. I read the book some time ago, so I couldn't remember exactly what happened. However, this film seemed very different to that book. Looks like it was based on a book she wrote much later. Some of the film was about the "balance", which is some hippy sh*t for loving nature. The boy hero of the book murders his father for some unspecified reason, perhaps he was possessed, or perhaps his father was evil as many are. The history of these earthsea novels looks interesting, at least from the amazon reviews. Le Guin seemed to have a problem with the world she created. Ummm.