Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. I (1964)
Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it.
This is not yet a scientific age.
What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)
Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Brian Cox said something similar (even directly referring to Sagan) during his acceptance speech on receiving the Institute of Physics President’s Medal last night.
The key message is: if you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you.
I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. [...] I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)
Big whorls have little whorls
That feed on their velocity,
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.
I recently found this description of the origin of a number of the pack format specifiers in Perl’s pack function (which takes a list of values and converts it into a string using a specified rule template). Larry Wall recalls that they were added for processing data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft (launched in 1989, also known as the Venus Radar Mapper):
+Larry recalls that the hex and bit string formats (H, h, B, b) were added to
+pack for processing data from NASA's Magellan probe. Magellan was in an
+elliptical orbit, using the antenna for the radar mapping when close to
+Venus and for communicating data back to Earth for the rest of the orbit.
+There were two transmission units, but one of these failed, and then the
+other developed a fault whereby it would randomly flip the sense of all the
+bits. It was easy to automatically detect complete records with the correct
+sense, and complete records with all the bits flipped. However, this didn't
+recover the records where the sense flipped midway. A colleague of Larry's
+was able to pretty much eyeball where the records flipped, so they wrote an
+editor named kybble (a pun on the dog food Kibbles 'n Bits) to enable him to
+manually correct the records and recover the data. For this purpose pack
+gained the hex and bit string format specifiers.
+git shows that they were added to perl 3.0 in patch #44 (Jan 1991, commit
+27e2fb84680b9cc1), but the patch description makes no mention of their
+addition, let alone the story behind them.
N.B. I’m a big fan of Perl — this kind of ad hockery perfectly encapsulates why!
I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket-protector nerdy engineer — born under the law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-flow dynamics, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow.
Neil Armstrong (speaking in 2000)
For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite.
Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.