Archive for February, 2006

Quote of the Day

Posted in Books on February 26, 2006 by Mike Procario

I came across this quote in the book that I am currently reading. The character who gives the quote claims that is from Dr. Arendt. I have googled for it, but I have not found it. I am not sure if this is really from Hannah Arendt, or the author is putting words in her mouth.

The God of the scientist, one is tempted to suggest, created man in his own image and put him into the world with only one commandment: Now try to figure out by yourself how all of this was done and how it works.

Time to get back to reading 23 of 637 pages done.

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Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?

Posted in physics, Science on February 25, 2006 by Mike Procario

Robert Samuelson has an article disputing the notion that there is a shortage of scientists and engineers in the US, which prompted the American Competitiveness Initiative. He makes the point that some of the statistics about the number of engineers that are trained in China and India have been inflated. Many have the equivalent of a two year associate degree. But the article does make the point that scientists and engineers are not as well paid as lawyers.

On average, American lawyers make 42 percent more than chemical engineers. At elite levels, huge pay gaps also exist. In 2005 the median starting salary for a new Harvard University MBA was $100,000. An MBA is a two-year degree. By contrast, a science or engineering PhD can take five to 10 years, with a few years of “post-doc” lab work. At a Business Roundtable press briefing, one CEO said his company might start this sort of scientist at $90,000. Does anyone wonder why some budding physicists switch to Wall Street?

Most scientists that I know did not go into science to get rich. They would like a comfortable middle class life, and I think that they are less interested in than a lawyer’s salary, than good career prospects. Spending six or seven years to get a Ph.D. and then not being able to find a job in your field does not appeal to many people.

But the main solution is obvious. “If we want more [scientists and engineers], we have to pay them better and give them better careers,” argues Harvard economist Richard Freeman. The high-tech executives who wail about scarcities are part of the problem. They “would love to have more S&E workers at lower wages,” he says.

Visa Problems for Scientists Get Worse

Posted in Science on February 23, 2006 by Mike Procario

Since 9/11 the difficultly that foreign scientists have experienced in getting visas to come to the US have gone from annoying to not worth the trouble. Today’s Washington Post has a story on the science adviser to the Prime Minister of India being denied a visa due to his expertise in chemistry.

The incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest reaches of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Goverdhan Mehta, who said the U.S. consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.

Physicists in the US would like to host the next major international particle accelerator, the International Linear Collider, in the US. This very large project would be the only one of its kind in the world and would be built jointly by nations from all over the world, but no nation is going to contribute to a major facility in the US, unless it is sure that its researchers will have straightforward access to the facility.

The officials at the consulates around the world who issue visa do not seem to the have expertise needed to tell a respected scientist from a terrorist.

“Making the wrong decision would be career-ending, so they play it safe, not really understanding the macroscopic implications of their decision,” Wulf said. “Denying a visa to the president of ICSU is probably as dumb as you can get. This is not the way we can make friends.”

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So That’s Where Ping Comes From

Posted in Technology and Software on February 23, 2006 by Mike Procario

I have been using the internet since the 80’s and I cannot remember when I first pinged a computer, but I never knew where the name of the command ping came from. I knew the etymology of cat, grep, sed, ftp, irc, man, cpp, and many more, but I never knew where the name ping came from. Well, I learned it from the last person I would have expected, William Safire.

A ping is not just the word for a sound anymore. It is also an acronym for “packet Internet gopher,” a program that tests whether a destination is online and can also be the gently noisy notification sent when a blog needs updating or has been updated.

Seems to me that it should have been pig.

Update: Apparently Safire was wrong. From the author of ping .

Yes, it’s true! I’m the author of ping for UNIX. Ping is a little thousand-line hack that I wrote in an evening which practically everyone seems to know about. 🙂

I named it after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location. In college I’d done a lot of modeling of sonar and radar systems, so the “Cyberspace” analogy seemed very apt. It’s exactly the same paradigm applied to a new problem domain: ping uses timed IP/ICMP ECHO_REQUEST and ECHO_REPLY packets to probe the “distance” to the target machine.

Before posting the original entry, I googled “packet internet gopher”, since it sounded odd to me. Gopher is a pre-http protocol for serving files. I did find it as a definition for PING, so I went ahead and posted.

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Using Writely for Blogging

Posted in Blogging, Technology and Software on February 22, 2006 by Mike Procario

In my search for a powerful and flexible way to create blog entries, I have stumbled onto Writely which was recommended in Squash. It is actually an online word processor. It’s native format is html, so it seems like it could be a natural tool for creating blog entries. It supports hyperlinks which is critical for blogging. It has a spellchecker which is something that I miss from both Performancing for Firefox and the WordPress online editor. The spellchecker works fairly well. This entry is actually my first use of Writely. The one problem that I have seen is that you can type too fast for it.

Update from WordPress editor: The timestamp was screwy, so this post was not on the top after I made it. I assume it was a differnt time zone. I have fixed it so that it appears in the right place.

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Book: Misquoting Jesus

Posted in Books, Religion on February 22, 2006 by Mike Procario

A friend lent me Richard Rubenstein's When Jesus Became God a few months ago, and I found it fascinating. It that explained many different concepts were circulating in the early church about the divinity of Jesus, and showed how the orthodox view prevailed. I was raised Catholic and the perception that I always had was that the church exists today in very much same form as when Paul started converting the gentiles. In fact the structure of the church today did not even begin to develop until Constantine converted to Christianity and lent the power of the Roman Empire to the early church.

Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus covers similar but not identical territory. He approaches it through textual studies of the New Testament. The earliest existing manuscripts of the New Testament date from the second century, although the original texts were older they have been lost. What I took from the book is that the Bible shows a significant amount of variation, but that with some hard work and careful thought, a very reasonable approximation of the original can be reconstructed.

I read through many reviews of Misquoting Jesus on Amazon.com, and it is clear that this book provokes many reactions with opposite absolute reactions being common. One is comdemnation from people who believe that the Bible is the 100% accurate word of God. The other is from people who use the variation as evidence that the whole thing must be false. Certainly, neither is Ehrman's view.

I liked the book. It is clear that Ehrman has thought long and hard about his subject. This book is clearly simplified for a general audience, so one cannot evaluate whether he has gotten everything correct, but I believe that he has done a good job at explaining his method and giving an overview of the material.

I am of the opinion that simple answers and absolute certainities are rare, but careful thought and hard work can yield insights and useful knowledge that can improve our lives. It is one of the reasons that I am a scientist, and it appears that Bart Ehrman shares this view.

The Ghost Particle

Posted in physics on February 21, 2006 by Mike Procario

I was flipping channels tonight, and I heard the phrase ghost particle. I stopped on the local PBS channel and discovered that NOVA was having a show on neutrinos. It was about half over, but I watched the rest. I did not learn anything new, but I get a kick out of seeing people that I know on television, even if it is PBS. I recognized three people on the part of the show that I saw. It will be on again at 11:00 PM on WETA, Washington, so I will record it and watch rest tomorrow.

I had one quibble. They harped on the discovery of neutrino mass as the first major failure of the Standard Model. The Standard Model has assumed that neutrinos have no mass, but none of the fermions have their mass predicted by the Standard Model. If neutrinos turn out to be their antiparticles it is not very hard to accommadate neutrinos with mass in the Standard Model. If they are not their own antiparticles, it gets harder.

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