Today, July 21, 2012, is the 43 Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. I was two years old at the time, but I remember the news, with black and white (that’s what we could afford that time) live broadcast images of two people in bulky white suits jumping slowly around like on trampolines. Their helmets looked enormous and they were quite clumsy in their suits. MSNBC posted a recollection of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, with links to some online interactive sites that include looking at the original landing site during different times of the lunar day. The MSNBC article also points out after the tragedy of the Colorado shootings last July 20, this is a gentle, but positive, reminder that people are capable of great things too.
This is old news, it happened two years ago, except this March, 28 year old astrophysicist Reinabelle Reyes visited the Philippines, rekindling interest in her two-year old achievement at the tender age of 26. She, and a group of fellow scientists, managed to prove how galaxies up to 3.5 billion light years away cluster together just the way General Relativity predicted, proving the theory in a pan-galactic scale when it has only been previously proven within the solar system.
In her interview, she comes off as a sensible, humble person; her achievement is certainly refreshing considering women in the news nowadays range from ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s fight against corruption charges to Kim Kardashian, about which the less said, the better. If young girls want a role model, they would be wise to choose Ms. Reyes.
I find it also interesting that Ms. Reyes is an atheist (from reading the article, I suppose she is, though there are so many subtle shades of position in the matter of one’s faith that I could be wrong). Yes, it is common for astrophysicists and mathematicians to be atheists (the most popular example is Stephen Hawking), but there are also many Jesuits who are astrophysicist and mathematicians, the most notable is Christopher Clavius. The previous president of Ateneo de Manila, Fr. Nebres, is a mathematician. The present president, Fr. Villarin, is a physicist. It would be interesting to ask these two people how their faith survived the scientific method.
I have been woefully remiss. Turing’s 100th Birthday came and passed last June 23 and I didn’t post a single thing in this blog named after his famous (well, I changed it a little) test for Artificial Intelligence. Exactly what did Alan Turing do?
He’s the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. In layman’s terms, he thought a computer can solve any sort of problem as long as you can break down the problem into simple step-by-step calculations called an algorithm.
He also thought of a Universal Machine (nowadays called a Universal Turing Machine) to demonstrate his idea. It was never meant to be built, but it was a ‘thought experiment’ (Albert Einstein popularized the idea of using a thought experiment if a real experiment can’t be performed), of how a computer works.
The Turing machine can be described as a simple box that can read symbols. The box is attached to an infinitely long tape with symbols. Depending on what symbols it reads, the box will move forward or backward along the tape, reading, memorizing, copying or writing on the tape.
And that’s it. From that simple idea, the whole field of computer science emerged.
His Universal Machine was the theoretical breakthrough that led to the Stored Program Computer. A Stored Program Computer is a very simple idea. Before the Stored Program Computer, computers were thought of as specialist machines. A calculator is used for calculating, right? You don’t use a calculator to take pictures. But the Stored Program Computer can change its purpose depending on the application you open. If you open your Photoshop application, you can fix photos. If you open iTunes, you listen to music. If you open Windows Media Player, you play videos. If you open Plants vs. Zombies, you play games. You don’t need to open up a computer and add parts or change the wiring . Suddenly, the computer becomes some kind of Swiss Army Knife among machines, able to do almost everything you want as long as you switch the application program to use.
All computers nowadays are Stored Program Computers, from your smart cellphones, to massively parallel supercomputers, to automated teller machines, to iPads and ebook readers. And all owe their theoretical origin from Turing’s Universal Machine.
What else did Turing do? He was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, among the mathematicians who broke the Enigma code for Hitler’s top secret radio transmissions. Their work help win World War 2.
Turing also invented the Turing Test (which, slightly modified, is the name of this blog). It’s a test to see if a computer is self-aware and sentient, in short, an artificial intelligence. Like his Universal Machine, the test is easy. Put a computer in one room, a man in another room, and an interviewer in a third room. The interviewer can read text messages from the man and the computer. If the interviewer, after a long conversation, can’t tell the difference between the two, the computer has intelligence.
Turing was gay, which was illegal in the United Kingdom at the time. To avoid jail, he accepted chemical castration (taking female hormones to reduce libido), and committed suicide two years later at 41 (though his family disputes this).
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a few years short of the centenary of Turing’s birth, made an official apology on behalf of the government about “the appalling way he was treated”.
Some good Turing links if you want to know more about this man:
A website by Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing: http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/
The wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing
An interesting essay on artificial intelligence and how far we need to go before achieving it: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/what-happened-to-turings-thinking-machines/80639?tag=mantle_skin;content
Forget about HBO, or Hollywood, or Disney. I can live on a diet of TED videos 24/7 (and anime, let’s not forget anime).
What makes TED unique isn’t just the diversity of what it cover; it celebrates ideas, and all the ideas behind all human activities. TED celebrates the why. It’s standup for the intellectuals. And the intellectuals who have stood up for TED are deities, in my book. According to TED blogs, they have a new HD player. Now, you have material worthy of the retina screens in your new iPad and those new Macbooks, and the new Samsung and LG OLED screens when they become available.
I need these!
I love it when art mixes it up with science. There are scientists, intelligent, creative people, who often take up the brush or play the piano. They like to do something CREATIVE and lo and behold, they’re good at it! Too bad, I don’t often hear an artist doing something scientific like make a discovery or something. There should be more of that, too.
Artist thinks ‘science’ and ‘tech’ with varied works
And YES, here are some more links of Artists popularizing science. Not quite DOING science yet, but it’s a step!
http://www.asci.org/ An organization mixing up science and art to find new forms of expression.
http://www.odranoel.eu/index.htm Biologist who takes up painting
http://www.inasakvareller.se/eng/index.html another scientist with a taste for watercolor
http://mgl.scripps.edu/people/goodsell David Goodsell is another scientist/painter
Did Avengers get the science right? Copernicus (aka Andy Howell, astrophysicist at UC Sta. Barbara) brings in a review of the Avengers from a scientist’s point of view. Avengers fares pretty good, actually, compared to other films (unlike his review of Star Trek, in which he points out several major mistakes no self-respecting science fiction movie with time travel and starships should make).
You can tell he’s a physicist, because he hardly covers the possibility of the Hulk (he just accepts it, on faith, like a priest) or of Captain America (He says it’s not interesting. Enhancing a human being is not as interesting as stars and black holes?).
He also doesn’t cover the SHIELD Helicarrier’s cloaking device. In James Bond’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” (who stole the idea from Masamune Shirow’s “Ghost in a Shell”, they use video cameras to project on an object what is behind it, theoretically rendering it invisible, but that doesn’t work well on moving objects or objects as large as an aircraft carrier. There are other possibilities I found in Wikipedia.
That still leaves a lot to Geek Out on, like the Cosmic Cube, Thor’s lightning striking Iron Man (Why should Stark be surprised? It’s a Faraday Cage!) and how much energy would it take to lift the Helicarrier?
Here are Copernicus’s reviews on the science of the Avengers:
and as a bonus, Copernicus also links to io9’s video on the possibilities of creating superheroes (the portion regarding genetics starts at 5:43 in the video):
I have seen many things in Lego. Batman, the entire Star Wars Saga, an inkjet printer (made by Google founder Larry Page). Well, if pop culture can be rendered in Lego, they might as well do something educational, hence the Large Hadron Collider!
Created by a physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, Sascha Mehlhase spent $2,600 of customized bricks and 33 hours to assemble 9,500 bricks into a model of the ATLAS detector, one of the seven particle detectors in the LHC. The ATLAS detector is 25 meters in diameter. Its Lego counterpart is .6 meters tall. The scale is 1:50, or perfectly life-sized for a Lego figure.
Now, if only someone can render the entire 27 km length of the LHC in Lego.
The article is here http://www.tecca.com/news/2011/12/23/lego-large-hadron-collider/ and they apparently have more pictures here http://universitypost.dk/gallery/gallery-lego-model-hadron-colliders-atlas-detector.
While we are on the subject of Lego (can you sense that I have a lifelong love for this toy?) here are 6 inventions made of Lego that actually work! http://www.tecca.com/pictures/lego-inventions/1/#TeccaPhotoID=6. I see a twin-lens camera, a robot arm and a 3D milling machine. Go Lego!