Discontinuities in Life

Strange things occur when things are suddenly switched on or off. It happens in signal processing all the time. The sudden application or removal of a signal sends shockwaves of infinite frequency through the system. Similarly, abrupt behavioral transitions during winter months can generate reverberations in our lives. More »

The Toe of God

Scientists from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, for short, have submitted a paper to the Physical Review of some very interesting findings. The team of scientists, called the D0 Collaboration, measured a charge asymmetry 3.2 standard deviations away from that predicted from the Standard Model in the mixing of neutral B mesons — providing evidence towards CP-violation. CP-symmetry, in a nutshell, theorizes that a particle should follow the same laws of physics if its charge were interchanged and its parity were swapped. This leads back to the question of why the universe is composed of mostly matter and not anti-matter.

Now, I’m an engineer, not a physicist. I can read papers from IEEE all day. But stick a paper in front of me from Fermilab and I’ll just stare at it all googly-eyed. I just don’t have the background to understand this stuff. Regardless of my shortcomings, what’s really cool though is that the paper, posted on the Internet and downloadable at this link, has an authors list that’s over a page long and includes researchers from 81 universities worldwide from the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Korea, The Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, UK, and USA. It’s an astounding list and I wish I could understand all the terminology in the paper. Unfortunately, I can barely understand the abstract.

So why post this when I can’t really even understand the paper? Well, for one, I wanted to post this awesome quote from the NYTimes article on it:

Joe Lykken, a theorist at Fermilab, said, “So I would not say that this announcement is the equivalent of seeing the face of God, but it might turn out to be the toe of God.”

Also, for two summers, I worked at Fermilab learning how to solder. So whenever I hear any news coming from there, I get giddy because (even though my contribution was pretty small in the grand scheme of things) I helped to implement “slip stacking” for Fermilab’s Main Injector. Slip stacking is a method to increase the density of the proton beams used in the collisions through RF control. Fermilab is the place where my journey as an engineer really began.

Packs of Pekingese

I meant to post about this sooner, but you know how things go.

Science Daily had an article about the evolution of dogs. This sentence pretty much sums it up:

Domestic dogs don’t live in the wild so they don’t have to run after things and kill them — their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they’ll ever have to chew is their owner’s slippers.

Could you imagine a pack of Ellies hunting for food?


Went and saw this last night. During the car ride home, one of the first things that we commented on was that the bad guys in this movie are Republican. As I was falling asleep, I was trying to figure out what made Avatar such a great movie amidst the little things that bothered me.

Reader beware! Spoilers ahead!

The story was predictable. I don’t think there was a moment in the movie where the next step wasn’t obvious — I think the only part where I couldn’t see where the movie was going was when the military leader decided to “fight terror with terror” (Oh, hi, Republicans!). The big plot points get foreshadowed, like taming the Toruk or the final transfer between Jake and his avatar.

The CGI was extremely well done, but still looked like CGI. It’s funny, when I saw the first trailer of this movie, I shrugged it off because I thought that it looked too CGI and not real enough. And after seeing the movie, I feel like I wasn’t wrong — the movie had this disconnect between the human and the CGI. Take the moment when Jake (as a human) and Neytiri are united; it’s a well done blend of live action and CGI, but the disconnect was still prominent. The Na’vi were very well done, they were very expressive and well animated — but they just did not feel real. I’m not really sure what it would take to make it more real, but now I feel like I’m being overly critical. On a more positive note, all of the environments were gorgeous and lush and the animation was extremely smooth. All of the action was very easy to follow, too.

I skimmed the Wikipedia article on the movie, and saw that Cameron had used some of the designs from the Avatar video game for the movie itself, which is really cool, in my opinion. But at the same time, Linda made the comment that a lot of it looked like a video game, and I have to agree. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for both video games or movies, but there were a few “hm…” moments were I could totally see the scene as being in a video game. For example, the final battle against Jake and the military leader would totally be riddled with quick time events.

I really enjoyed the 3D in this movie too. At first, the effect is a little jarring; but once you figure out where to focus, everything just takes on this additional depth that makes all the environments seem that much more elaborate. My favorite scene was probably the opening scene in the VA where all of the patients are coming out of cryo-sleep in zero-gravity. My only complaint, however, is that by watching it in 3D you’re forced to focus where the director wants you to focus. There were many times throughout the movie where I wanted to look at something else, but couldn’t because of the 3D.

Writing this post, I realize that all of my complaints are very minor — I wouldn’t hesitate to give Avatar a 5/5. It’s a spectacular movie with a gripping (though predictable) story and amazing visuals.