Friday, 30 June 2006

Holy Friday

A very brief post today, only to celebrate the date. Today is a sacred day for physics: 101 years ago, in 1905, Einstein published his paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" (the original work is "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter K├Ârper", Annalen der Physik. 17:891-921, June 30, 1905).

It was the starting of Special Relativity and the beginning of a revolution in physics. You can find more about it in Wikipedia's "Annus Mirabilis Papers".

Have a nice day! :)

Thursday, 22 June 2006

If I were a rat...

Douglas Adams in his enlightening series Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tought us that humans are only the third most intelligence lifeforms on Earth, dolphins are the second and in the top of the rank stand... the rats. He also tought us that these tiny little animals are just tridimensional protrusions of pandimensional superintelligent creatures from which our dear Earth is just a complex experiment. In summary, we don't experiment with rats, they experiment with us.

Don't you believe? Take a look on these news

Cancer destroyed by antibody 'triple whammy'
Clearing protein 'smokescreen' helps battle cancer
Diabetes gene therapy carried by 'bubbles' in the blood
Stem Cells Help Repair Rats' Paralysis
Alzheimer's vaccine shows success in mice
Engineered virus thwarts ovarian cancer in mice

As you may see, without making any efforts, just relying on our "voluntary" work, rats are immune to cancer, can be cured of diabetes, Alzheimer and even paralysis! Okay, sometimes there are very bizarre experiences like the one they made with the poor rodent in the above picture, but the payoffs are high. In the course of getting from us the question for the Answer to The Ultimate Question Of Life, the Universe and Everything (which, by the way, is 42), they're getting smarter, longlived and healthier (much more than us). And of course here are a lot of and making movements to forbid cruel experiments with mice. How they manipulate us!

And I couldn't even find most of the headlines I have already read about them! Although human medicine does not have the cure for a lot of conditions, rat medicine can cure almost everything! And even when these cures filter to our humble human community, rats got them years ahead of us.

Now, serious. Although sometimes there are options to experiments with animals, specially with mice, sometimes there aren't. We humans don't know biology enough to simply run computer simulations to test treatments to diseases, reactions to drugs and new kinds of surgeries. If experiments with animals can lead to the cure of cancers or Parkinson, the only thing we can do is to minimize suffering of the animals, but these are matters of life and death and, unfortunately, if I had to choose between my mother and 100 rats, I'd rather be with her. Sorry but it is the truth.

Picture: er... do not remember... if someone knows where this comes from I would be grateful.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Jerusalem 2006

I came back from the Evergrow Workshop in Jerusalem this Saturday at about 13:00. It was a very instructive workshop where we learned how to use the resources of Everlab, a cluster of computers scattered along universities mostly in Europe and with the central administration in the School of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of Jerusalem (HUJI).

The notorious participants were physicists Nicolas Sourlas, the first one to point out the link between Statistical Physics and Error-correcting codes (see cond-mat/9811406 for a short overview), and Scott Kirkpatrick, the pioneer of replicas and spin-glasses (you can find a good introduction with all the relevant papers, include the one from Kirkpatrick, within the book Spin Glass Theory and Beyond), by Mezard, Parisi and Virasoro). Kirkpatrick is the project manager working at HUJI. The organization of the workshop was due to Danny Bickson and Elliot Jaffe, two local researchers responsible for the Everlab and the Condor implementation at it, another resource that can be used by the Evergrow project to run programs in different computers. The importatnt feature of Everlab and Condor is that anyone in a computer inside a member institution of the project can use the resources of comuters in any member cluster, such that me, here in Aston, can use the computers at Rome (which is not a good example as they are always running at their limit) to run my programs if they are free.

Apart from this, we also have presentations of the members describing how they use or plan to use these resources. An also interesting presentation was of the people from the DIMES project. This project aims to create a map of the internet and relies on distributed computation in the same sense as in the SETI@home project, to do so. If you are interested in helping these guys, what I recommend a lot, you can download the freeware that will consume very little resource from your computer and you will have access to some of their data.

About the city, Jerusalem is a very sunny city, without a single cloud in the sky in all the five days I stayed there. It seems a very secure place with respect to crime, I didn't see any trouble and really felt safe even at night. The strange thing although is that wherever you go in the city you will find young people of about 18 years with rifles and machine guns. They told me later that it's because every young in Israel needs to serve the army and they are responsible for their guns even when they are not at the base, so they have to carry then everywhere in order to avoid that they end up in the wrong hands.

I visited the old city, the impressive walled old Jerusalem where there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, the alledged place where Jesus is buried, and where is the famous Wailing Wall. The markets inside the city makes you feel like you're in an arab movie. I took photos, but I cannot put them here because I didn't manage to put them on my computer yet.. :o

I also visited the Museum of Israel, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They're well accomodated in a building named the Shrine of the Book. The Museum also has a beautiful collection of old artifacts that date back thousands of years. I just had one day to see everything, but it would take more than it to fully aprecciate all the collection.

The campus of the University of Israel has a curious name for me. It's called Edmond Safra and it brought memories of the time when I worked in Brazil for Edmond's brother Joseph Safra in the Safra Bank. A rich family as you can imagine.

In the end, the only bad part of the travel is when you leave the country. In the Ben-Gurion Airport, the only international airport of Israel, you have to pass a very strict security check where the guy asked me to show him the photos I took, to explain him how was the workshop, to describe all the places I visited and even to explain to him what physics has to do with Internet. Well I thought in sayint to him to look at my blog to see the answer to this last question, but it would be a long journey back to UK and I didn't want to spend a lot more time answering security questions.

Picture: sight of the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, by Danny Bickson

Edited: 21-June-2006