Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Especially for Cusp, I note the following (proof left for undergraduates):

(Convex h-index conjecture) For n chronologically distinct papers, each of which cites all previous papers, the corresponding h-index is the number of non-congruent diagonals in a regular polygon with number of sides 2 greater than n.

As a corollary, academics engaging in such cheeky behaviour may be indexed with the dimension of their corresponding polygon.

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This is a relatively free-form reflection on the comment left at a previous post.


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Listen To This has just been released, and, in what the author should take as a mark of the esteem in which I hold him, I have changed my Amazon ‘address’ from Europe to the U.S. specifically so that I can download the Kindle version of his book, which (of course) is not available in the E.U. ‘for copyright reasons’. The first chapter was published online as an essay a few years back, and is worth reading (again, Readability is suggested):

For at least a century, the music has been captive to a cult of mediocre élitism that tries to manufacture self-esteem by clutching at empty formulas of intellectual superiority. Consider some of the rival names in circulation: “art” music, “serious” music, “great” music, “good” music. Yes, the music can be great and serious; but greatness and seriousness are not its defining characteristics. It can also be stupid, vulgar, and insane. Music is too personal a medium to support an absolute hierarchy of values. The best music is music that persuades us that there is no other music in the world. This morning, for me, it was Sibelius’s Fifth; late last night, Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”; tomorrow, it may be something entirely new. I can’t rank my favorite music any more than I can rank my memories. Yet some discerning souls believe that the music should be marketed as a luxury good, one that supplants an inferior popular product. They say, in effect, “The music you love is trash. Listen instead to our great, arty music.” They gesture toward the heavens, but they speak the language of high-end real estate. They are making little headway with the unconverted because they have forgotten to define the music as something worth loving. If it is worth loving, it must be great; no more need be said.

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Mark at Cosmic Variance has just reminded me that I was expecting the end of WMAP. Read what he says first.


The incipient James Webb Space Telescope


Welcome back. The immediately prior post featured Simon White’s Fundamentalist Physics essay in a cameo rôle. One of the points (I claim) he made in that work is that astrophysics and cosmology should be extremely wary of wandering down the path of funding big missions that chase specific science goals, rather than that facilitate open-ended science exploration. In the context of astrophysics, examples of the latter would be Hubble, Spitzer, SDSS, JWST. Examples of the former would include WMAP.

When one looks from the outside at the shape of research in White’s bête noire, experimental high-energy physics, there has been—in the form of the LHC and the Tevatron (and the SSC before that)—an overwhelming tilt toward the former. If the same situation arises in cosmology, it will be because we look at the success of WMAP and draw certain lessons (that targetted mission yields big scientific outcomes, which is false) rather than others (that getting a fairly small bunch of great people together with the resources they need to do great science and then getting out the way yields big scientific outcomes, which is truer than the other option, and much more true per dollar of investment).

But, that is just from the outside. I suspect that for those inside the field, the LHC is a giant underground Hubble rather than a giant underground WMAP. Like Hubble, it has its initial science goals; and despite the excitement associated with them, I am of the opinion that the later LHC results, the ones addressing science ideas we haven’t really thought of in full yet, will be the ones that prove the facility’s greatness. (Similarly, once they finish reconstructing the Edinburgh Tram Network, in 2030, folks will stop complaining about the length of the process and wonder how we did without them for eighty odd years.)

What’s that? You can’t discern a single argument threading its way through this post? That’s because, for White’s many excellent points, the essay itself doesn’t add up to anything more than the sum of its parts. Targetted missions can do great science—WMAP just has. Observatories are awesome too. The underlying invariant is talented folks with buckets of creativity, freedom and, yes, money.

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PRL report the theoretical discovery of a time-reversed laser, i.e., one that absorbs light monochromatically. Both the report and the paper itself are worth reading. Given the astounding breadth of laser applications in modern technology and industry, I find it very hard to believe that this is not a major advance.

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By now, ChatRoulette has reached even the most corneriest corners of the Internet, garnering mentions in academic blogs, friends’ Twitter feeds and blandly expository New York Times articles. I’m sure I’m not alone in being disappointed at the ease with which the open-ended potential of real-time video connections to random strangers has been channelled  into mundane middlebrow expression; also, gratuitous display of genitalia. (On the other hand, those folks are probably having a blast, and that’s not without merit.)

However, here is an inkling of a better world (some viewer discretion advised):

Update: Hello! Ben Folds follows up by Chat Rouletting Merton-style during a gig in Charlotte. The next time someone is all ‘Hmm… what is art  these days?’ in your vicinity, do the right thing and point them at this.

Amusingly, I think Merton’s lyrics are funnier, though having the crowd in the background really blows it away. I mean, imagine if this catches on. Imagine if every time you log in to Chat Roulette you have to prepare yourself for appearing in the middle of a concert.

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The 2009/10 Konditori van Gogh award for excellence in Impressionist Scripting


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