Free Thought

I'm not anti-government. I'm pro civilization. But I'm also an anarchist, of a sort. I think institutions should be dissolved and reformed regularly. What really happens is that institutions add bits and pieces over time, in response to things that happen, as solutions to interim problems, until finally the bits and pieces take over and nobody can move. Do you know the The Gormenghast trilogy? In this amazing story by Mervyn Peake ... ... a doomed lord, a scheming underling, an ancient royal family plagued by madness and intrigue - these are the denizens of ancient, sprawling, tumbledown…
As the nation’s largest federal employer of scientists and engineers, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has always been at the forefront of innovative and groundbreaking science and technology. DoD scientists and engineers have played a leading role in some of the world’s most advanced and life-changing technological breakthroughs, including the Internet, the Global Positioning System (GPS), virtual reality, voice recognition technology, autonomous vehicles, texting, and cloud computing. Get ready as the DoD -- one of the Festival´s earliest Sponsors -- brings an unforgettable array of…
Reader Beware: Please note the date of publication of this post. It's been really gratifying over the last year to see how my DSCaM scholarly communications empire has grown. From it's small beginnings, Dupuis Science Computing & Medicine has craved out a small but important niche in the discount APC publishing community. And I really appreciate how the scholarly communications community has encouraged my career progression from publisher of a journal at Elsevier to Chief Advisor on Science Libraries for the Government of Canada to last year's huge launch of DSCaM. And the DSCaM empire…
Rall, Ted. Snowden. New York: Random House, 2015. 224pp. ISBN-13: 978-1609806354 For those that have watched Citizenfour or read Glenn Greenwald's No place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. surveillance state, there's not much new or shocking in Ted Rall's excellent graphic novel, Snowden. But for someone who hasn't had a chance to check out either or those works, this is a fantastic place to start a deeper exploration into the amazing story around Edward Snowden, one of the major figures in the current debate about the way governments try to control and monitor the Internet. It…
For about a year in graduate school, I was a serious Go player. I read a few books and even played in a tournament. It's a beautiful game, no question about it, but after wasting so much time just to become a mediocre chess player, I eventually decided not to repeat the process with Go. One thing I noticed, though, was that Go players were constantly comparing their game to chess. In particular, they were really keen on the idea that Go was more complex than chess. They liked to point out that computers were competitive with the top human chess players (and are now superior to them), but…
A worthy Kickstarter science related project is afoot. Face it. Most science is done on the command line. When it is not, we call it "science by spreadsheet" or name it by some other epithet. Much of that is done on Linux or Linux like computers, but that actually includes Macs, and if you must, it can be done on Windows. Bioinformatics, climate simulations, basic statistics using the r language, fancy math things using the appropriate python library, making graphs with gnuplot, and even producing nice looking results for dissimnation to our geeky peers using LaTex. Science-related…
Minecraft is a gaming world. Or, if you like, a "sandbox." This is a three dimensional world in which characters do things, all sorts of things. The context for the world of Minecraft is very open ended. The player builds things, moves things, gets things, does things, in a way that makes any one gamer's game potentially very different from any other gamer's game. You can buy Minecraft in various forms such as an XBox 360 version. It comes in Lego form (for example, this), and you can get a Minecraft cloud server version at Minecraft.net. If you install Minecraft from Minecraft.net (about…
Of all the slick woo peddlers out there, one of the most famous (and most annoying) is Deepak Chopra. Indeed, he first attracted a bit of not-so-Respectful Insolence a mere 10 months after this blog started, when Chopra produced the first of many rants against nasty "skeptics" like me that I've deconstructed over the years. Eventually, the nonsensical nature of his pseudo-profound blatherings inspired me to coin a term to describe it: Choprawoo. Unfortunately, far too many people find Deepak Chopra's combination of mystical sounding pseudo-profundity, his invocation of "cosmic consciousness"…
As much time and effort as I spend deconstructing, refuting, and otherwise demolishing the misinformation that is routinely promulgated about vaccines by the antivaccine movement, it's important never just to reflexly dismiss a claim or news story that gains traction among antivaccinationists. After all, it is always possible that the story is as the antivaccinationists represent it; possible, but not likely. Still, one must be careful not to be so close-minded that one leaps to dismiss a story just because of its source. That is skepticism, and it's a big difference—or at least should be—…
There's kind of two theories of the web. The first theory is that it's the best thing ever, the culmination of human civilization, incapable of being anything negative in anyone's lives. Proponents of this theory can't stand it when anyone says anything mean about the web (or usually any technology) in public or especially online. The other theory is the chicken little theory. According to this theory, the web (and usually any technology) is the reason the world is going to hell in a hand basket. All the bad things in the world are because the web is disrupting science and art and culture.…
“The simple fact of existence, of being aware that you are aware; this to me is the most astounding fact.” -William Hurt There was so much that happened this past week on Starts With A Bang, from eruptions to bad science reporting to black holes and more, that we couldn't help but share so much with you! Just in the last seven days, we've taken on the following: Why are all the planets in the same plane? (for Ask Ethan), An unforgettable time-lapse volcano, Reverse-pointillist art (for our Weekend Diversion), The largest star in the Universe (for Mostly Mute Monday), The LHC made simple, The…
I really appreciate how all my Internet friends have followed me from major career announcement to major career announcement over the last few years. From my job at Elsevier all the way to last year's temporary detour as Chief Advisor on Science Libraries for the Government of Canada! The last few years sure have been exciting but it's time for a new challenge. And yes, I'm taking a leap back into the scholarly publishing world. This time I'm starting up my own open access scholarly publishing company to publish in all the STEMM fields with a special focus on computer science, which is, of…
My main line of research is in algebraic graph theory. In particular I am interested in the eigenvalue spectra of Laplacians on graphs. Those don't often get mentioned over at HuffPo, so I raised an eyebrow when I saw this: A mathematician by the name of John Urschel recently published a complex paper in the Journal of Computational Mathematics entitled, “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fielder Vector of Graph Laplacians.” Mr. Urschel's paper is newsworthy because of this: A mathematician publishing a math paper wouldn't normally be news, except that John Urschel the…
We'll be accepting applications for The Schrödinger Sessions workshop at JQI through tomorrow. We already have 80-plus applicants for fewer than 20 planned spots, including a couple of authors I really, really like and some folks who have won awards, etc., so we're going to have our work cut out for us picking the attendees... We're also discussing the program for the workshop-- more details when we have something more final-- which has me thinking about good examples to use of storytelling involving quantum physics. I'd like to be able to give a few shout-outs to already-existing fiction…
Yesterday's quick rant had the slightly clickbait-y title "GPAs are Idiotic," because, well, I'm trying to get people to read the blog, y'know. It's a little hyperbolic, though, and wasn't founded in anything but a vague intuition that the crude digitization step involved in going from numerical course averages to letter grades then back to multi-digit GPA on a four-point scale is a silly addition to the grading process. But, you know, that's not really scientific, and I have access to sophisticated computing technology, so we can simulate the problematic process, and see just how much…
One of the joys of the holidays and the University turning off the heating and locking us out, is that it provides time to catch up on things: papers, refereeing, recommendation letters, grading, syllabi, proposals, all the stuff one can rarely get to during actual working semester hours. And, sometimes, there is time for real life: casual reading, family, catching up online... One of the ye olde blog things I like to look over occasionally is Scott Aaronson's shtetl-optimized, for the latest on P!=NP news, or polemic on quantum computing. This time, what caught my eye was his take on the…
“Where are you going now, my love? Where will you be tomorrow? Will you bring me happiness? Will you bring me sorrow?” -Stephen Stills / Crosby, Stills & Nash We've made it! It's the first Comments of the Week of the new year here at Starts With A Bang, and we're doing our best to start it off right, with some of the most interesting and compelling stories about life, the Universe and everything that there are. This past week has seen the following articles that you should catch up on if you missed anything: Choosing your (professional) life (for Ask Ethan), The simplest solution to…
Carlos Bueno's new book, Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things, is another example of how to create a fun and informative books for kids that is both entertaining and engaging. While not without some faults, it does a great job of using character and story to convey serious ideas about computer science in an accessible way. The premise of the story is that our plucky heroine, Lauren Ipsum, or Laurie, gets lost in the forest after an argument with her parents and somehow finds her way into the mysterious alternate reality Userland. In order to find her way…
I've been reading History of programming languages---II which is a book of a 1993 conference. There's lots of interesting stuff, if you like that kind of thing, but I'm particularly struck by the section on Ada. There's fun like the distinction between general-purpose and "embedded" computing, which is always somewhat hard to define: In the early seventies these were generally called "weapons system computers." A short time later they were called "embedded systems," to convey the message that they also included functions such as control, communications, and intelligence as part of an overall…
The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr. Tim Chartier As a mathematician and researcher par excellence specializing in numerical linear algebra, Tim Chartier, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College, is known for pushing the boundaries of…