Reality Conditions

Monday, January 19, 2009

One Year Later, the Belated End

I think that when exactly one year passes without updating one's blog, it is a perfect moment to declare it officially dead. Of course, unoficially it has been dead for a long time, and probably none of my old readers is still checking this; but it is better anyway to have a proper closure, if not for anything else, at least to avoid random Google searchers thinking that the main focus of the blog was chess. So hereby I declare Reality Conditions officially defunct.

As a last bit of retrospective navel-gazing, and to ease the work of future searching and referencing, I am including here an index of my favourite posts.

Physics and Philosophy of Physics:

- Relational Quantum Mechanics (and the follow-up Taking back my words)

- Landscape chat

- On Price on the Arrow of Time (and the follow-up On Price (and Penrose) on Time Asymmetry in Quantum Mechanics)

- On not taking a stance

- Book Review: Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot

- Lagrangians, Hamiltonians, and Scientific Realism

- Report on the Quantum Gravity School: the discussion

- Quantum Mechanics in words of one syllable

- Loops 07: Conference report (part 3, including discussion session)

- Quantum Gravity Colloquium: the discussion. (QM vs. QG: the Grudge Match!)

Philosophy, Religion and Philosophy of Religion:

- Book Review: Thomas Nagel, The Last Word

- Are Evolution and Theism Compatible? (and the follow-up More on the compatibility of evolution and theism: Reply to Pruss)

- Chalmers, Dennett, and the Zombies

- Atheism, Religion, and Rationality; or, do you think that all those who believe in God are stupid?

- An examination of Dawkins’ “Ultimate 747” argument

Fun stuff:

- Weirdest Google Search leading someone to this blog (so far)

- What people search for here

- Mathematicians and computers

- Book review: Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle

- Upstuff

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

In Memoriam Bobby Fischer

It is sad that he has died unreconciled with the world and with sanity. But, hopefully, the future will remember him not for his madness but for his greatness. My favorite example of it is his famous "Brilliancy Prize" game against Robert Byrne in 1963. As a fitting homage, let us go over it:

Robert Byrne — Robert Fischer
1963 — 1964 US Championship

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c6 4. Bg2 d5 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. e3 O-O 8. Nge2 Nc6 9. O-O b6 10. b3 Ba6 11. Ba3 Re8 12. Qd2

The position looks almost symmetrical -who would have thought that White would be forced to resign after just ten moves and having made no obvious blunder?

12... e5! 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Rfd1 Nd3 15. Qc2 Nxf2!! 16. Kxf2 Ng4+ 17. Kg1 Nxe3 18. Qd2

Now everyone, Byrne included, was expecting 18... Nxd1, which leads to a favorable position for White. But Fischer pulled out of his hat the unexpected:

18... Nxg2!! 19. Kxg2 d4! 20. Nxd4 Bb7+ 21. Kf1 Qd7

And White resigned, to the surprise of most commentators and spectators who were still ranking his position as better. The white king is trapped in a mating net made of subtle, almost invisible threads, but from which there is no escape. For example: 22. Qf2 Qh3+ 23. Kg1 Re1+! 24.Rxe1 Bxd4 and mate in g2. As K. F. Kirby famously said, the progression from a seemingly equal position to this debacle seems "more witchcraft than chess".

You can play the whole game and read comments at Chess Games.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Finally Updating (Final Updating?)

You were probably wondering why I wasn't posting anything. Or more probably, you realized that I was busy with the business of getting the thesis finished. Or even more probably, you didn't wonder at all. Whatever. This post is the belated Update On My Life:
  • I not only finished the thesis (complete with quote and all) but also submitted it yesterday! Hooray! Now on to packing, because...
  • I am leaving in a couple of days for my usual Christmas/New Year Argentinian holiday, and returning to Nottingham on January 11th. But what will I do here if I finished my thesis already? Well, I will be busy enough...
  • Arranging the details for my moving away from Nottingham, which will happen on the 31st; those will be three stressful weeks for sure, until I finally leave for...
  • Marseille! I got an ESF grant for a 6-month research visit to Carlo Rovelli's group at Luminy. The idea is to collaborate with research done on the new spin foam models that have appeared this year, especially in studying their semiclassical limit. This will be my first foray into actual quantum gravity research (from my usual quantum field theory in curved space), and I'm expecting to learn a lot and also hopefully come outwith a better-formed judgement on the value of the "LQG approach". After this, in August, I will come back to Nottingham for my viva. And after that, nobody knows yet...

So those are the news on my life. Now the news on the blog. I will almost certainly not write anything during my holidays, as I barely have time for computer using between meeting everybody and stuff. Later in January I will probably be too busy and/or stressed with the moving to be in a mood for writing, and I also expect to be quite busy my first days in Marseille. So this blog is, quite likely, coming to a halt until mid-February or so. We'll see then if I feel like going on or not.

Don't be too surprised or upset. You have surely noticed that the frequency of posts has declined a lot in the last months, reflecting not merely being busy with the thesis but also being a bit tired of the whole blogging business. On the other hand, I am sure that several of my readers will want to know what's going on in Marseille, and it is possible my enthusiasm will return and they'll get the reports on seminars and discussions, along with the usual philosophical disquisitions, book reviews, and the other staples of this blog. In any case, if I take the decision of closing the blog for good, I will make one last post to let you know, I promise. So for now, au revoir!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Searching for a Thesis Quote

My PhD thesis is almost finished and hopefully I will submit it within a few weeks. The most important thing lacking, at the moment, is a suitable quote for the beginning. I hereby enlist the help of my readers for suggestions!

I guess I should say something about the topic of the thesis and what kind of quote I am looking for. The topic of the thesis is particle detectors in quantum field theory. I have given a nontechnical explanation in this old post, but if you don't care to go and read it, enough to say that it is about the possibility of defining the "particle content" of quantum fields operationally, by the energy transitions an interaction with the quantum field can produce on another quantum system such as an atom. If an atom interacting with a field gets excited, you can say that it has absorbed a field quanta or "particle". This is important because in a curved spacetime context there are usually no other "intrinsic" definitions of particles available. My work concerns more precisely the question of giving a rigorous definition of the transition rate of such a detector, which is not as simple as it sounds. You can read the details in my last paper.

For the beginning of the thesis, I do not want a prosaic quote from a physicist about these matters. My ideal would be a poetic, literary or philosophical quote that could, with an effort, be read as alluding to this topic (even though this was obviously not intended). As an example of the kind of thing I like, my undergraduate thesis concerned calculation of vacuum energy of quantum fields in a class of spacetimes. As the reality of quantum field vacuum energy means that there is no real vacuum in Nature, that anything that looks empty really has a "zero-point energy", I used a quotation from Parmenides, the Pre-Socratic philosopher that based his philosophy on denying the reality of Not-Being:

That things which are not are, shall never prevail, she said,
but do thou restrain thy mind from this course of investigation.
And let not long-practised habit compel thee along this path,
thine eye careless, thine ear and thy tongue overpowered by noise;
but do thou weigh the much contested refutation of their words,
which I have uttered.

The Spanish translation I used is much more poetical, for those that can read it:

Pues nunca dominará esto: que haya no ser. Aleja tú
el pensamiento de este camino de investigación,
y que la inveterada costumbre no te obligue, a lo largo
de este camino, a utilizar el ojo que no ve, el oído que
resuena, y la lengua; juzga con la razón la combativa
refutación que te he enunciado.

Besides the rejection of Not-Being, the quote was appropiate for talking about "investigación", which in Spanish means "research" besides "investigation", and is used everyday in scientific context. Also, the rejection of the senses in favour of reason can be seen (with a slant) as endorsing theoretical physics over experimental.

So this is the kind of thing I would like. At the moment, my best candidate is the following quote from Bertrand Russell's An Outline of Philosophy:

'Matter' is a convenient formula for describing what happens where it isn't. I am talking physics, not metaphysics; when we come to metaphysics, we may be able, tentatively, to add something to this statement, but science alone can hardly add to it.

Reasons why this quote is appropriate are that (although he was not exactly talking about the same thing) Russell seems to be endorsing the operational definition of particles my thesis is about; that the ending of the quote looks ironical as a preface to a hundred pages "adding to it" from a scientific point of view; and that An Outline of Philosophy is a very dear book to me, being the first real philosophy book I read. Rereading it recently I found it full of things I could not accept, either scientifically outdated or philosophically unsound; but its general spirit of approaching philosophy in a way closely related to and interwoven with science is one that I still admire. Reason counting against this quote is that it is a bit too prosaic; I would like something more dramatical and unexpected. Russell is so well-known in the scientific community that quoting him is only slightly less predictable than quoting Einstein or Feynman. But still for the moment this is the best I have found.

Any suggestions...?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Math Jokes

Via the a link in a Quantum Pontiff thread, I found an excellent collection of mathematical humour, which (amazingly) includes many jokes I had never seen or heard before, and many of them good ones! (For highly nerdy values of "good".) For example, the hyperbolas joke made me laugh out loud:

Two hyperbolas were sitting on a plane.

The first hyperbola says to the other "I sure wish I could oscillate."

The second one replies, "Holy crap! A talking hyperbola!"

Fooled you there, didn't I? I bet you were expecting some atrocious mathematical pun instead of a variation of the Great Muffin Joke. Me too, and that's why I laughed.

On a more conventional note, the site includes great lists of "...walks into a bar" jokes, of dubious proof methods (also here), and my favourite math joke ever:

The cocky exponential function e^x is strolling along the road insulting the functions he sees walking by. He scoffs at a wandering polynomial for the shortness of its Taylor series. He snickers at a passing smooth function of compact support and its glaring lack of a convergent power series about many of its points. He positively laughs as he passes x for being nondifferentiable at the origin. He smiles, thinking to himself, "Damn, it's great to be e^x. I'm real analytic everywhere. I'm my own derivative. I blow up faster than anybody and shrink faster too. All the other functions suck."

Lost in his own egomania, he collides with the constant function 3, who is running in terror in the opposite direction.

"What's wrong with you? Why don't you look where you're going?" demands e^x. He then sees the fear in 3's eyes and says "You look terrified!"

"I am!" says the panicky 3. "There's a differential operator just around the corner. If he differentiates me, I'll be reduced to nothing! I've got to get away!" With that, 3 continues to dash off.

"Stupid constant," thinks e^x. "I've got nothing to fear from a differential operator. He can keep differentiating me as long as he wants, and I'll still be there."

So he scouts off to find the operator and gloat in his smooth glory. He rounds the corner and defiantly introduces himself to the operator. "Hi. I'm e^x."

"Hi. I'm d / dy."

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Ruin of the Roman Republic: Recent Reading & Reviewing

This is a post on a subject close to my heart that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. Now, with my working hours full with agonizing over thesis rewritings, postdoc applications and spin foam studying, I have finally wrote it in a semi-cathartic way. I hope some of my loyal readers are at least half-interested in the subject; otherwise, pass over it as a narcissistic exercise on self-indulgence (which is after all the whole point of blogging, isn’t it?)

In the last few months I’ve read no less than three books, one nonfiction and two fiction, about my favourite historical period, the late Roman Republic: Tom Holland’s Rubicon, Colleen McCullough’s Antony and Cleopatra, and Robert Harris’s Imperium. I can find endless fascination in reading versions and perspectives on Roman history between years (say) 100 and 30 B.C. And I am not the only one: it is one of the time periods most visited by historical fiction and film (and television; I am still to finish watching the excellent recent Rome series). I think there are two intertwined reasons that explain this fascination:

1) It is a world very ancient and different from our own, but also surprisingly modern in many respect –and surely the closest thing to the modern world that existed before, say, the seventeenth century at least. There were large-scale democratic politics, a complex government system involving checks and balances between different kinds of magistrates, heated electoral campaigns, political opposition between conservatives and progressives, vast and complex financial enterprises that enriched a few and impoverished many, and an intricate legal system of justice that combined sensible and fair principles with an often corrupt practice. These very recognizable features combine with others that seem alien to us, such as the huge importance of a military career as a way to fame, riches and political power, the almost quotidian occurrence of massive warfare (civil or not), the horrors of the slave economy system, the normality of gladiator fights as entertainment, and the enshrining of superstitions like reading the future by augurs as part of the political constitution. Moreover, it is a period in which the contradictions and tensions within the system become greater and greater and ultimately unsustainable, leading to the collapse of the Republic and the emergence of the Empire, which looks rather less “modern” and more akin to other ancient-world civilizations. One could say that the Roman Republic was an early and clumsy attempt by the secret gods that write human history of creating a modern world, that failed because many of the crucial ingredients were misplaced or omitted altogether.

2) It is an extremely well-documented period, with lots of surviving primary sources, some of them written by the main protagonists themselves (Cicero, Caesar). The leaders of this historical drama are known with enough detail that they come out as fully-fleshed human beings with complex personalities; we know about them not only the battles they fought and the laws they passed but also lots of little juicy titbits and anecdotes. It is an era that produces an unusually large number of “Great Men”: Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Cicero, Caesar, Clodius, Cato the Younger, Brutus, Mark Antony, Octavian/Augustus … Each of them has a recognizable personality and a particular kind of achievement in which he reigns supreme; e.g. for Cicero rhetoric, for Crassus moneymaking, for Clodius demagoguery, for Octavian political craftiness (his portrayal as an trusting fool in I, Claudius notwithstanding) and for Cato either integrity and incorruptibility or stubborn, dogmatic close-mindedness, according to the leanings of the writer. There are also several “Great Women” in the background: Servilia, Clodia, Livia, and of course that quintessential femme fatal Cleopatra.

Before moving on to the reviews I can’t resist sharing my favourite anecdote about this period, to give you a taste of the treats you can find reading about this period. It comes from Plutarch’s Life of Cato and Life of Brutus. The date is December 5th, 63 B.C. The consul Cicero has discovered incriminating evidence against several important senators and noblemen who have been plotting with Catiline to take over the government; Catiline himself has left the city some time ago, hounded out by Cicero’s powerful rhetoric, and is now an enemy of the state. There is a meeting of the Senate to decide what to do with the captured conspirators. Cicero, the consul elect for next year Silanus, and most other senators speak in favour of the immediate death penalty. Gaius Julius Caesar (at this time only an up-and-coming politician, who has a long way to go before conquering the Gauls, defeating Pompey in a civil war, and becoming master of Rome) is the only one against it: he reminds everyone that it is against the law to put to death Roman citizens without a trial, and of how terrible a precedent it would be to violate this sacred principle, even with patently guilty men. Many are persuaded by his speech, but the arch-conservative Marcus Porcius Cato is unmoved. These are not times for constitutional scruples, he argues; Catiline is still in arms against the Republic and if we let his followers live, perhaps to escape and join him, we are risking the very existence of the state. Executing them immediately is an act of sheer self-defence, and if Caesar is not afraid of letting them live… well, perhaps he knows all too well that he has nothing to fear from the conspirators if they succeed! (This was a clear accusation of Caesar being involved in the plot, something for which there was no evidence but that plenty of historians both ancient and modern have suspected.) Caesar defends himself from the personal attacks, and an impassioned debate between the two men begins. At the most heated moment, a messenger enters the Senate with a note for Caesar. Cato interrupts his speech to cry out: Look, Caesar is shamelessly receiving treasonous letters from his fellow conspirators as we discuss in the Senate! I demand that he reads aloud that message exposing his guilt!

Caesar gives the letter to Cato without saying a word, and upon reading it with the eyes of the whole Senate fixed on him, Cato sees that it is no letter from the Catiline conspirators… but a love letter. A scandalously passionate letter (Plutarch calls it “wanton” and “unchaste”, but unfortunately does not transcribe its contents) from one Servilia Caepionis, who belongs to the crème of the Roman aristocracy, is the wife of the elect consul Silanus… and the half-sister of Cato himself.

Can you imagine a more deliciously ironic situation? (Compounded, of course, by Cato being an old-fashioned moralist for whom his sister’s behaviour must have been a huge embarrassment.) Cato crumpled the note and hurled back to Caesar with an insult, and resumed the debate as is nothing had happened. He even managed to win the argument, and the conspirators were executed; Catiline was defeated in battle and killed a few months later. (A few years down the road, the illegality of the decision would come back to haunt Cicero, who was exiled from the city for a couple of years by manipulations of his political and personal enemy Clodius on the charges of having put to death Roman citizens without a trial.)

Oh, and by the way: this Servilia, lover of Caesar, had a son from an earlier marriage, at this time about twenty years old, whose name was Marcus Junius Brutus and who was in the future to wield a knife against Caesar on a certain day by the middle of March. It seems unlikely for the affair between Servilia and Caesar to have lasted for two decades and more, and started when Caesar himself was a teenager, so most historians dismiss the rumours you are thinking of… but now you know what the apocryphal words “you too, my son” are supposed to mean.

I must repress the urge to go own telling you more stories about these people, in particular my second favourite one: how Clodius cross-dressed to sneak in unnoticed into a secret ritual to which only women were allowed. The consequences of this fascinating and twisted tale include both the Cicero-Clodius feud I mentioned above, and our use of the phrase “Caesar’s wife” for a woman who is or should be above suspicion. But I must go on to the reviews. You can read the full story of Clodius’s sacrilege, among with essentially everything else that you should know about this period, in Tom Holland’s book Rubicon. (The only exception is the story of Servilia’s letter, which Holland unaccountably leaves out. Servilia’s love affair with Caesar and the Cato-Caesar debate over the conspiracy are both mentioned, but separately and without bringing in the letter incident.)

Rubicon is one of the best books of popular history I have ever read. It tells the complete story I outlined at the beginning of the post –how the Republic became “out of control” and drifted inexorably into the Empire- with careful factual accuracy but the rhythm and pace of a thriller. The language and style are more journalistic than academic, making the book extremely accessible and easy to read at a quick pace, but at the same time Holland has a thorough knowledge and control of all the historical sources and never falls into anachronism. If you ever thought Roman history was boring, this is the book that will change your mind (unless my post has already done it). I have two only quibbles with the book: one is a slight bias present towards the “Republicanism” of Cicero and Cato, which I regard as more short-sighted and dogmatic than Holland presents it; although it must be said that it is difficult for writers on this period to avoid both the Republican bias and the opposite Caesar hero-worship bias, which pervades for example McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. The second one is that it focuses much more on the political and military story (the dealings of the cast of characters I listed at the beginning) than on the social and economic background, and is exclusively told from the perspective of the high class (the common people of Rome are ”the mob”, rarely positive actors with legitimate interests of their own). This makes the story more exciting to read and I don’t regret that the book is written like that, but it would be nice to contrast it with a more, let’s say, “Marxist” perspective.

Antony and Cleopatra is the Shakespearean title of the last book in Colleen McCullough Masters of Rome series. The very existence of this series is a godsend to those who like me are fascinated by this period: seven huge door-stopping novels telling the complete story of Rome between the years 110-27 B.C. McCullough’s scholarship rivals that of Holland or any other historian, and she brings to life the political and personal struggles of the era as no other writer has done. This last book covers the events between the battle of Philippi and the death of Brutus in 42 B.C and the final death of the Republic with Octavian, rechristened Augustus, becoming the first emperor in 27 B.C. The central characters are well-known: the weak-willed and pleasure-loving Mark Antony, the seductive and capricious Egyptian queen Cleopatra, and the master of politics and propagandistic spin Octavian, who uses the romance of the other two as launching board for justifying to the Senate and People his war against them -as Antony has ceased to be a “true Roman”- and hence his emergence as the sole leader of the world. The story does not fail to be thrilling and page-turning even if the ending, like in all tragedies, is known from the beginning. However, this book is lacking in comparison to previous entries in the series. There is a feeling of tiredness, of efficient “writing by the numbers” lacking inventiveness, that gives the suspicion that McCullough wanted to be finished with the series once and for all. None of the characters, except perhaps Octavian at some of his best moments, are as compelling and interesting to read about as Marius and Sulla in the first two books of the series (The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown), or Pompey in the third.(Fortune’s Favourites). One big disappointment was the portrayal of young Livia Drusilla, Octavian’s wife, who in older age is the unforgettable villainess of I, Claudius. I knew that Robert Graves had taken some liberties with history, and that the scrupulous McCullough was unlikely to make Livia a cold-blooded poisoner; but I was hoping that she would try to rise up to the antecedents and give us a compelling version of her. Sadly, she comes out as bland and mostly uninteresting. Overall, I recommend the novel only to those who have followed the series up to it (who are unlikely to need my advice to rush to buy it.) Others would do better starting from the beginning.

Robert Harris’s Imperium is a very different book from McCullough’s detailed and realistic chronicles. It tells the story of Cicero’s early years in politics, up to his election as consul. The novel is structured around three key episodes: the prosecution by Cicero of the corrupt governor Verres, the unexpected success of which makes him the leading advocate and orator in the city; the political manipulations to ensure Pompey receives a special commission to fight the pirate menace, with Caesar and Cicero main actors behind the stage; and the election itself in which Cicero faces Catiline for the first time. (An announced sequel will surely deal with the conspiracy and its aftermath.) The style is that of a political thriller, with conventional tropes used, and rather successfully, for generating suspense. Characters are painted with broad strokes and only Cicero himself attains some complexity. The political complexities are much simplified in comparison with McCullough or even Steven Saylor, who also writes thrillers situated in this period but with a much more careful display of research. There are a couple of rather jarring anachronisms, such as calling a consular candidate a “religious fundamentalist” (something utterly meaningless in the context of Roman religion) or Pompey’s reaction to the threat of the pirates as a caricature of George W. Bush’s war on terror, complete with the words “those who are not with us are against us” put in his mouth. Imperium is a quick and easy read which may appeal to readers generally put off by history or historical novels; I enjoyed it well enough despite its faults, and am likely to read the sequel when it comes… if only to see how the story of Servilia’s letter is played!

In summary: I recommend Rubicon to anyone who has a pre-existing interest in the period, or knows nothing about it and wishes to learn in an enjoyable but reliable way; Imperium to those who enjoy thrillers with historical touches, and the whole of McCullough’s series (not Antony and Cleopatra standing on its own) for those who want to really immerse themselves in Roman history.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yet more Shameless Self-Promotion

Transition rate of the Unruh-DeWitt detector in curved spacetime

Jorma Louko, Alejandro Satz

Abstract: We examine the Unruh-DeWitt particle detector coupled to a scalar field in an arbitrary Hadamard state in four-dimensional curved spacetime. Using smooth switching functions to turn on and off the interaction, we obtain a regulator-free integral formula for the total excitation probability, and we show that an instantaneous transition rate can be recovered in a suitable limit. Previous results in Minkowski space are recovered as a special case. As applications, we consider an inertial detector in the Rindler vacuum and a detector at rest in a static Newtonian gravitational field. Gravitational corrections to decay rates in atomic physics laboratory experiments on the surface of the Earth are estimated to be suppressed by 42 orders of magnitude.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

#1 in Google meme

Yet another meme that has been going around to replace what could have been a thoughtful post with some navel-gazing fun. This time the idea is to find five search keywords or phrases that retrive your blog as first result in Google. I found several of these after some playing around (trying to avoid obvious things like post-titling phrases unlikely to appear elsewhere). My 5 favourite examples:

1. reality conditions

Yes, an obvious one, but considering that it is a common phrase in mathematics and mathematical physics and also the title of a book, I am rather proud to be the first one (the first two, actually).

2. evolution and theism compatible

I get both results #1 and #2 for this one! If that doesn't make me a Neville Chamberlain evolutionist, I don't know what can make it ;).

3. review thomas nagel

4. review lee smolin

5. review cosmic jackpot

My book reviews seem to be rather popular with Google. I am also #2 (after Amazon) for the simple string "cosmic jackpot". Curiously enough, I am #1 for "review neal" but not for "review neal stephenson".

And as bonus, the result that indulges my vainity the most: I am the #10 google result for the search "alejandro", thus appearing in the first page displayed, just a few lines below Peru president Alejandro Toledo, filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, and Alexander the Great (who is Alejandro Magno in Spanish).


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book meme

This has been going around the Internets in the past weeks, and it is as good a way as any of making a post when I have nothing interesting to post about. The rules are:

1. Bold what you have read
2. Italicise what you started but couldn't finish

The second seems to be the main point –apparently this is a list of the books more often left unfinished or something like that. To make it slightly more interesting I will add a couple of comments here and there, on all the unfinished books and some of the others.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote

Well, almost –perhaps I should have italicized. When I had to read it for high school I did finish it, but cheated and skipped some of the chapters which are unrelated sub-stories told by characters within the novel. I have the firm intention of rereading it without cheating some day.

Moby Dick

This was the second novel I read in my life –the first being Robinson Crusoe- or so I thought for most of my childhood. Later I discovered that the version I had read was a heavily abridged edition, perhaps a fourth of the length of the original novel. (Robinson I had read unabridged, honestly!) I only caught up with the whole book some four or five years ago. Great stuff.

Madame Bovary

This one is high on my list of Great Books that Suck –okey, I exaggerate, but it had little or nothing that appealed to me. I like Stendhal much better than Flaubert.

The Odyssey

Tried it right after finishing The Iliad with no problems, but got distracted with other stuff and never picked it up again. Needless to say I fully intend to read it some day.

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad

The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha

See my review of the whole Baroque Cycle. I fully understand why this one is on the list; it took me about half a year to go through it. The other two volumes are quite more difficult to put down.

Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian: a novel

I’m starting to read this one just now! Looks promising, so it will soon become a bolded item.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum

This one and The Name on the Rose were very high on my list of Favourite Books Ever for several years (roughly the second half of my teens). I can’t understand what happened to Eco after this; The Island of the Day Before and Baudolino were miles below the previous novels in quality. I have not read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, but my hopes are not high.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Read it in a children’s edition which must have been about one twentieth of the size of the original book… so no, I don’t even count it as unfinished. Definitely want to read it some day.

A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels
Les Misérables

Yes, I read the complete edition of this one, including the description of the battle of Waterloo, the philosophy of convents and the disquisition on criminal jargons. And loved it, by the way.

The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Read this one on recommendation by my cynical friend, which reminds me that it's been a while since the last time we had one of our little blogfights -maybe he will come and make some sarcastic comments on my readings to enliven things a bit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

??? How can many people leave this book unfinished? It must be the easiest to read great novel ever written. Maybe they were put off by discussions of prime numbers and the Monty Hall problem?

The Prince

I assume it is Machiavelli. It was long ago that I tried, and I’m not sure why I didn’t finish it. Probably I just didn’t find it interesting.

The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes: a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States: 1492-present

Yes, I got this one and read it in the last months, after finishing The Baroque Cycle. It is better crafted as a novel and mostly more exciting to read, but the ending is more disappointing and it didn’t have as many little fascinating things as TBC. Also, I am somewhat less interested in twentieth-century geekery than in seventeenth-century geekery. Leibniz beats Turing all the way.

A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion

Notice that the first two parts of The Baroque Cycle are on the list, but not the third. Anyone who has invested the time of going through the first two will not leave the last one unfinished and make the whole previous effort pointless.

Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

I read most of this one standing at the WH Smith shop of the Heathrow bus terminal, once that I got stuck waiting there a couple of hours for a bus and had finished off my reading material on the plane.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid

Made a half-hearted attempt as a teenager. Didn’t get too far.

Watership Down
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit

I'm not surprised about The Silmarillion, but it's perplexing that The Hobbit is on the list and Lord of the Rings is not. I know many people who tried it and left it at the prologue or shortly after.

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island

Another surprise. How can you pick up this book and (assuming you like pirate stories, and if not why would you pick it up?) not read it complete? What’s wrong with you?

David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

See here for some intensely personal comments on Dumas.

Overall: 32 read and 5 unfinished, out of 106 in total. Or if you insist on counting the Quixote as unfinished, then I count The Historian as finished to balance –I am reading it now and liking it, so it is just a matter of days till it can be added to the list. How did you do?

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spinny Foamy talk

Last Tuesday, Johnathan Engle gave a talk for the International Loop Quantum Gravity Seminar. The talk was on the new spin foam models that have been proposed this year; namley, this one by Engle, Pereira and Rovelli and this one by Freidel and Krasnov. We have been having some discussions on both papers here at the Nottingham group as well. The two things that seem to me more important are the possibility of getting a better understanding of the role of the Immirizi parameter, which for first time is appearing in spin foam models, and the possibility of checking which is the correct dynamics via semiclassical calculations.

The audio and the slides of Engle's talk are available at the above link. If you are interested in getting an idea of the current state of research in the LQG/spin foam community, I encourage you to listen to the full audio. About the last half of it is an hour-long discussion between (mostly) Rovelli and Freidel. For me it gave me a strong feeling of how little really is known, and how basic are the disagreements that are still possible between people follwing essentially the same research program. It is something what does not see so directly in papers or even in most conference talks.