Monday, January 19, 2015

The Price...

Topics: Civil Rights, Day of Service, Four Little Girls, Martin Luther King

President Obama has signed a bill that awards the Congressional Medal of Honor to the four little girls killed in the 1963 KKK bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.

The girls – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair – were killed on Sunday morning when members of the Klan planted dynamite in the Church’s basement.

Their deaths shocked the nation and the world, and stands as one of the most violent, horrific events of the Civil Rights Movement. Info and Image Source: Black Youth Project

By 1963, homemade bombs set off in Birmingham's black homes and churches were such common occurrences that the city had earned the nickname "Bombingham."

In the spirit of a "Day of Service," I served meals to the homeless at Beulah Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie, NY with my brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi this past Saturday. We fed over 200 persons (estimated) in assembly line fashion: chicken, rice, green beans, bread and a dessert. It was a multi-ethnic group, and included many families. For the most part, they went for the meals only. It was personally rewarding (though tiring), as I will be working through the morning and evening on the official holiday today.

This occurred September 16, 1963, a day after my mother's 38th birthday. I would have been a year and a month old; a month from the missiles of October's anniversary (we had teetered on the precipice of Armageddon - that was almost 10 months shy of my ONLY year); President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas the very next month. The times probably worried her, I'm sure.

We tend to forget the price paid by those who in an instance found themselves on the front lines of a battle for fairness over supremacy; freedom over de facto slavery via Jim Crow.

We tend to forget that soldiers aren't muscled, mighty men. Sometimes, they can be four beautiful little girls in the safest place they could possibly think to be - in their house of worship.

We also tend to forget that icons like Dr. Martin Luther King we admire now was vilified by some of his own - culture and clergy - and the extreme right of the time wore white sheets instead of (now) Armani, pin stripes and Prada.

We also forget in living rooms of complacency, flat screens, MMORPGs and comfortable backsides, only interrupted by the occasional level of violence that used to be so...commonplace, that sadly perhaps is becoming so again. It need not be someone you know to act on the behalf of others. Being human, compassionate and common decency should be more than enough.

May today be a Day of Service for you as you see fit to express it.

I will resume posting 1 Feb 2015.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


[Original] Image Source: Rain dance - famous actors who've never won Oscars

Topics: Apathy, Diversity, History, Oscars 2015, Selma, Voting Rights

I spent Friday watching "Selma" in tears from the haunting images, graphic displays of violence that was (is?) a part of our country on quite a regular basis in the 1960's. During the time of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), I was 2 and 3-years-old respectively, too young to be of any good to the movement and merely a worry for my activist big sister.

I think a lot about my big sister in movies like this. She would have been one of the young people that got on "freedom ride" buses and put her life on the line for equality, or as she says now, everyone's equality: women, immigrants; LGBT. I remember her arguments with our parents about her safety. I remember praying I'd see her again. I remember crying a lot.

As I said (without giving away spoilers), my wife and I spent most of the movie in tears. I doubt if either my sister, mother-in-law or a lot of seniors in my family will want to see this movie. For them, it brings back painful memories.

If "demographics is destiny" - the mantra for the year 2042 - then, at 6,028 voters of which 94% are so-called "white"; 76% male and the average age 63 years, it's a pretty forgone conclusion that our stories were not going to get a mention above "best picture" and song; our actors were not going to get an Oscar nod. Also of note in that demographic, their sentiments of the time would have been shaped by their environments. Since we don't know where they lived before residing in "liberal" Hollywood, their view of Selma's value in lieu of #BlackLivesMatter and the recent, gut-wrenching atrocities of Boko Haram is an interesting contrast compared to how they all jumped on the #JeSuisCharlie bandwagon so quickly...and easily. A group of 5,666 and male gender of 4,581 pushing into senior citizenry don't likely have heroic memories of the 1960's since there was clearly two sides of the debate - depending on their families' politics at the time - they could have found themselves on. That makes for an academy clearly lacking diversity, either ashamed or indifferent.

What exactly is an "Oscar," and why does it matter? This is a self-contrived public pat-on-the-back by the industry itself. Whether you look at it or not, it is a vast infomercial on the movies you could have seen and didn't. You'll pay the $11.50 per person (New York prices) and the equally outrageous price for popcorn; you'll order it on pay-per-view; download it on bootleg: win-win-win-kinda-sorta (not).

These are OUR stories, and all of humanity's stories: it is not for us to make some privileged, self-mythologized group of "others love us" - it is for us to love ourselves, they are validated in the telling of them; everyone else is along for the ride and welcome. Our campfires required no feedback from the tribe other than applause; they are now clearly in the electromagnetic spectrum. We can read; we can write; we can act and direct; we can upload videos and audio; we can distribute on DVD and via Netflix. If Selma is anything more than an ironic juxtaposition regarding Civil Rights and Voting Rights fought for by young people and fifty years later, their millennial grandchildren being too apathetic to decide their own hard-fought destinies in the voting booth (but, up front in line on Black Friday), they deserve whatever bizarre legislation that is likely to come of this 114th congress. Opinions are fine, but action is far better, and revolutions have never been won in living rooms on backsides, nor freedoms for "consent of the governed" maintained without constant vigilance and participation. Voting, as Selma did, and the midterms' aftermath will show: matters.

Offical Site: Selma Movie

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Star Stuff...

Image Source: Brain Pickings
Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Carl Sagan, Sociology, Urban Planning

"We are made by the atoms and the stars… our matter and our form are determined by the cosmos of which we are a part."

"We are made of star stuff." Carl Sagan

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: Urban sociologists have long known that a set of remarkable laws govern the large-scale interaction between individuals such as the probability that one person will befriend another and the size of the cities they live in.

The latter is an example of the Zipf’s law. If cities are listed according to size, then the rank of a city is inversely proportional to the number of people who live in it. For example, if the biggest city in the US has a population of 8 million people, the second-biggest city will have a population of 8 million divided by 2, the third biggest will have a population of 8 million divided by 3 and so on.

This simple relationship is known as a scaling law and turns out to fit the observed distribution of city sizes extremely well.

Another interesting example is the probability that one person will be friends with another. This turns out to be inversely proportional to the number of people who live closer to the first person than the second.

What’s curious about these laws is that although they are widely accepted, nobody knows why they are true. There is no deeper theoretical model from which these laws emerge. Instead, they come simply from the measured properties of cities and friendships.

Today, all that changes thanks to the work of Henry Lin and Abraham Loeb at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge. These guys have discovered a single unifying principle that explains the origin of these laws.

And here’s the thing: their approach is mathematically equivalent to the way that cosmologists describe the growth of galaxies in space. In other words, cities form out of variations in population density in exactly the same way that galaxies formed from variations in matter density in the early universe.

Physics arXiv: A Unifying Theory for Scaling Laws of Human Populations
Henry W. Lin, Abraham Loeb

Avoid Tidal Locking...

An artist's impression of Kepler-62f, a planet that is in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the Sun, located about 1200 light-years from Earth. (Courtesy: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration

Even a thin atmosphere can keep a planet spinning freely, giving it a day-and-night cycle like Earth's, say astronomers in Canada and France. The result implies that many of the planets lying within the habitable zones of "dim suns" – the most common type of star – could have terrestrial-type climates.

"It was a surprise," says Jérémy Leconte, an astronomer at the University of Toronto. "We didn't expect that there would be such a strong effect."

Astronomers have so far discovered more than 1000 exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than the Sun – and it is becoming clear that our tiny portion of the universe could contain vast numbers of such planets. What is not yet clear is how many of these planets could actually harbour life.

Most stars, known as orange and red dwarfs, are cooler, fainter and smaller than the Sun; so to stay warm, a habitable planet must huddle close to the star. But the closer a planet is to its sun, the stronger are the tidal forces that the star exerts on the planet. These tides can affect how fast the planet spins. In extreme cases, these tides are so strong that they produce "tidal locking", forcing the planet to spin as slowly as it revolves. This means that one side of the planet forever faces the star, while the other side forever faces away, creating a world with a permanent day side and a permanent night side. The night side may get so cold that air freezes there, robbing the planet of an atmosphere.

Physics World: Exoplanets could avoid 'tidal locking' if they have atmospheres
Ken Croswell

Friday, January 16, 2015

Quantum, BEC et Francais...

Image Source: PhD Comics TV

Topics: Collaboration, French, Humor, Quantum Mechanics

Also found in the first video:

The second video is subtitled in French, but the concept is discernible from the animation. It would be interesting to blend say, a high school French class with a Physics class: industry refers to this as cross-training or joint development; young minds are no different. Translating the video should take a little collaboration and work from both classrooms; post yours in the comments section below. Teachers: Award extra credit where applicable. Juste un petit quelque chose pour pimenter un vendredi... Bose-Einstein Condensates Quantum Mechanics
Quantum Made Simple: Tout Est Quantique en Francais
(French-English on-page text translation tool available at the site)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Annus Mirabilis...

Source of Quote: Brain Quotes
Topic: Einstein

History note: Today is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. More on that Monday.

Einstein's first paper on the photoelectric effect was received March 18 and published June 9. He proposed, inspired by Max Planck, the idea of light energy in packets, or "quanta."

The Latin phrase annus mirabilis is rightly translated "year of wonders" as well as "year of miracles." 1492 saw the discovery of the West Indies by Columbus and the birth of grammar construction for modern language. 1543: the scientific revolution with Andreas Vesalius, "De humani corporis fabrica" (On the Fabric of the Human Body), and Nicolaus Copernicus "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in Nuremberg, Germany. It was applied to a poem written in 1667 by John Dryden, commenting on the Battle of Lowestoft fought by English and Dutch ships in 1665; the Four Days Battle of June 1666, and finally the victory of the St. James's Day Battle a month later. The second part of the poem deals with the Great Fire of London that ran from September 2–7, 1666. He wrote this escaping the Great Plague of London at Charlton in Wiltshire. The poem contains 1216 lines of verse, arranged in 304 quatrains. The reference has had many iterations and uses up to and since Einstein. Source: Wikipedia

We are now 110 years from the event that birthed the modern age of physics and technology we now find commonplace enough to take for granted by a guy in a patent office that at the time, didn't feel he was too successful. He would thankfully be proven in this instance quite wrong in his self-assessment.

"Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics, I assure you that mine are greater."

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

Hyper Physics: The Photoelectic Effect
The Library of Congress: The Annus Mirabilis of Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Black Phosphorous...

Image Source: Technology Review
Topics: Field-Effect Transistors, Materials Science, Nanotechnology

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: In the last few years, two-dimensional crystals have emerged as some of the most exciting new materials to play with. Consequently, materials scientists have been falling over themselves to discover the extraordinary properties of graphene, boron nitride, molybdenum disulphide, and so on.

A late-comer to this group is black phosphorus, in which phosphorus atoms join together to form a two-dimensional puckered sheet. Last year, researchers built a field-effect transistor out of black phosphorus and showed that it performed remarkably well. This research suggested that black phosphorous could have a bright future in nanoelectronic devices.

But there is a problem. Black phosphorus is difficult to make in large quantities. Today, Damien Hanlon at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, and a number of pals, say they have solved this problem.

These guys have perfected a way of making large quantities of black phosphorus nanosheets with dimensions that they can control. And they have used this newfound ability to test black phosphorus in a number of new applications, such as a gas sensor, an optical switch, and even to reinforce composite materials to make them stronger.

In bulk form, black phosphorus is made of many layers, like graphite. So one way to separate single sheets is by exfoliation, simply peeling off layers using Scotch tape or other materials. That is a time-consuming task that severely limits potential applications.

So Hanlon and co have been toying with another approach. Their method is to place the black phosphorus lump in a liquid solvent and then bombard it with acoustic waves that shake the material apart.

The result is that the bulk mass separates into a large number of nanosheets that the team filters for size using a centrifuge. That leaves high-quality nanosheets consisting of only a few layers. “Liquid phase exfoliation is a powerful technique to produce nanosheets in very large quantities,” they say.

One potential problem with black phosphorus nanosheets is that they degrade rapidly when in contact with water or oxygen. So one of the advances the team has made is to predict that certain solvents should form a solvation shell around the sheet, which prevents oxygen or other oxidative species from reaching the phosphorus.

Physics arXiv:
Liquid exfoliation of solvent-stabilised black phosphorus: applications beyond electronics
Damien Hanlon, Claudia Backes, Evie Doherty, Clotilde S. Cucinotta, Nina C. Berner, Conor Boland, Kangho Lee, Peter Lynch, Zahra Gholamvand, Andrew Harvey, Saifeng Zhang, Kangpeng Wang, Glenn Moynihan, Anuj Pokle, Quentin M. Ramasse, Niall McEvoy, Werner J. Blau, Jun Wang, Stefano Sanvito, David D. ORegan, Georg S. Duesberg, Valeria Nicolosi, Jonathan N. Coleman