Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Story About Matsuo Basho

Welcome, traveler, to a long ago time in a far away place. The time is the 1600s, before America became a nation; and the place is Japan. Our story is about Basho, a gentle poet who was a master of a style of poetry called "haiku". Today he is much revered in Japan, and around the world.

The Gentlest and Greatest Friend of Moon and Winds
Basho (1644 - 1694)

Many years ago there went wandering through Japan, sometimes on the back of a horse,sometimes afoot, in poor pilgrim's clothes, the kindest, most simple hearted of men...Basho, friend of moon and winds. Though Basho was born of one of the noblest classes in Japan, and might have been welcome in palaces, he chose to wander, and to be comrade and teacher of men and women, boys and girls in all different stations of life,from the lowest to the highest. Basho bathed in the running brooks, rested in shady valleys, sought shelter from sudden rains under some tree on the moor, and sighed with the country folk as he watched the cherry blossoms in their last pink shower, fluttering down from the trees. Now he slept at some country inn, stumbling in at its door at nightfall, wearied from long hours of travelling, yet never too tired to note the lovely wisteria vine, drooping its delicate lavender blossoms over the veranda. Sometimes he slept in the poor hut of a peasant, but most often his bed was out-of-doors, and his pillow a stone. When Basho came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a mountain pathway, it whispered its secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness, and simplicity!" it said. "These are the truly beautiful things." Glistening drops of dew on the petal of a flower had voice and a song for him likewise. "Purity," they sang, "is the loveliest thing in life. The pine tree, fresh and ever green amid winter's harshest storms, spoke staunchly of hardy manhood; the mountains had their message of patience, the moon its song of glory! Rivers, forests, waterfalls, all told their secrets to Basho, and these secrets that Nature revealed to him, he loved to show to others, for the whole of living of life was to him one great poem, as of some holy service in the shadow of a temple. "Real poetry," said Basho, "is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it." And whenever he saw one of his young students being rude, in a fit of anger, or otherwise acting unworthily, he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and say; "But this is not poetry! This is not poetry."

Note: This story is from a children's book titled Little Pictures of Japan, edited by author Olive Beaupré Miller and beautifully illustrated by Katharine Sturges. It was originally published in 1925.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Spam King

Mon Jun 16, 9:20 PM ET

A Colorado man has been ordered to pay US$6 million in damages and legal fees for spamming thousands of users.

Scott Richter of Westminster, Colorado, must pay MySpace $4.8 million in damages and $1.2 million in legal fees, a court-appointed arbitrator ruled on Thursday.

Richter, who was once accused of pumping out more than 100 million spam messages per day, had been sued by MySpace in January 2007 in connection with an August 2006 campaign in which MySpace members were hit with unsolicited messages promoting a Web site called The messages were sent from phished MySpace accounts, according to the findings of Philip Boesch, the court-appointed arbitrator in the case.

The messages were sent to a MySpace community that was ill-equipped to deal with any security problems. At the time, "MySpace only employed two relatively junior staff employees to deal with these issues," Boesch wrote. The company's security staff has now grown to about 40, he added.

MySpace had been seeking a court ruling in the case, but in August 2007, U.S. District Judge George King of the Central District of California granted Richter's request to assign the matter to arbitration. Terms of the award were made public on Monday.

In a statement, Richter said that he and his company, Media Breakaway, were happy to have this matter behind them, noting that the arbitrator's award was 95 percent less than the amount sought by MySpace.

"We respect the decision of the arbitrator and we're not going to appeal it," said Steven Richter, the president and general counsel of Media Breakaway and father of Scott Richter. "We're going to pay the money he awarded."

This is not the first time a Scott Richter company has had to cough up millions of dollars to fight spam charges. In 2005, his previous company,, paid $7 million to settle similar charges brought by Microsoft.

Scott Richter was removed from anti-spam organization Spamhaus' list of known spammers that same year.

Media Breakaway, which has no other spam cases pending, is doing everything it can to build a compliance team and make sure it is acting within the law, Steven Richter said.

MySpace said the Richter award was the latest in a series of steps it has taken to combat abuse on its Web site. In May, the company was awarded a $230 million antispam judgment against Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines.

"This award reflects MySpace's continued momentum and holistic approach to ridding the site of spammers and phishers," MySpace said in a statement. "We will continue to do our part in cleansing the Internet of this invasive onslaught of spam."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How to move the earth


You never know when you might want to significantly alter the orbital path of the Earth. Maybe the Sun is going Red Giant and you miss the days when lead didn't melt in direct sunlight. Maybe Earth is about to hit an asteroid. Maybe it isn't, but you want it to. Maybe you want to destroy it: a significant number of methods for destroying the Earth involve moving it by some substantial amount.

Well, it isn't easy. In fact, it's very very difficult. The Earth is very big, moving very fast, and therefore very difficult to stop or even slow down.
Ways of moving the Earth

Ordered approximately by plausibility.

Electromagnetic influence. Traditionally the Earth is thought of as "ground", "neutral". This is because overall it carries almost exactly zero overall charge. But what if it didn't? If there was some way to electrically charge the Earth, by dumping lots of identically charged particles onto the Earth or just ionizing particles already on Earth - a large amber rod might perhaps be in order - then we could use magnetic fields to drive the planet in the direction we wanted it to go. Maybe. Or better yet: the Earth already has a standing magnetic field; perhaps we could construct a cylinder of cable around it, and pass current to move it using Lorentz forces.

I know what you're thinking. Yeah, this is ridiculously implausible. Moving on.

Direct rocket propulsion. Build gigantic, possibly nuclear upward-pointing rocket furnaces, maybe one, maybe four, maybe a million, whatever you can budget for. "Gigantic" as in the size of, say, Belgium. Design them carefully so that when used the rocket engines do not actually just propel themselves through the ground and into Earth where they become useless - you may need to periodically dig them out again after several thousand years' continued thrusting, or else just build new ones over the top.

The most obvious major drawback with this method is that right now there aren't even theories as to how you could possibly build rocket engines of the sort proposed here.

Another, more sophisticated, problem is that the Earth is constantly spinning. You could build an engine at either pole and this wouldn't have any effect, but anywhere else and the constantly changing angle of thrust will cause the Earth to behave somewhat like a loose Catherine Wheel-type firework. Plotting acceleration vectors towards whatever your target is in this case may prove to be a nontrivial problem, solvable only with high-tech computer simulations. Alternatively, as the Earth's angular kinetic energy is negligible compared to its orbital kinetic energy, you might consider diverting a relatively small amount of resources to simply stopping the Earth from spinning at all, before beginning the main project.

Atmospheric considerations are ignored here since it is far more energy-efficient to manually remove the Earth's atmosphere, move the planet, and reinstall it.

Direct matter propulsion. Same method as above, just using gigantic mass drivers/railguns to fire huge quantities of matter away from Earth, instead of a rocket exhaust. The principle here is much the same, with the railguns behaving somewhat like discretized versions of thrusters, providing instantaneous changes in velocity as opposed to sustained steady change. Drawbacks: as above, the momentum change you get is minuscule because you have to subtract off the 11km/s needed to launch the material upwards forever at all. Highly inefficient.

Disassemble, move the bits and pieces, reassemble. The major problem here is figuring out how to pick up big pieces of continental plate without breaking them. It all depends how fussy you are about how the Earth looks afterwards, of course.

Solar sail method. I can't honestly add much to that article except to say that to move the Earth substantially, the sail used is going to have to be pretty big. Like, suspended-from-space-elevators big. Difficult... Colin McInnes, however, suggests an alternative. Construct a huge solar sail with a significant mass. Plan it right, and you can couple it together with the Earth with gravity alone, using the solar wind to balance out the Earth's gravitational attraction. Wait long enough, and the solar wind blowing the sail outwards will take the Earth outward too, since the two are gravitationally bound together!

It is possible to use a solar sail to steer the Earth into the Sun. Just use it to tack against the direction in which the Earth is travelling, gradually slowing its orbital velocity and increasing the orbit's eccentricity, until the orbit passes within the Roche limit where the Earth is torn apart by tidal forces.

Billiards method. Clonk the Earth with something big and heavy, causing it to alter course. Let me emphasize the words "big", "heavy" and "clonk". Ceres, the solar system's largest asteroid, has less than 1/40,000th the mass of Earth; the Moon, a mere 1/80th. These objects are the heaviest you're likely to find - there are heavier moons and entire planets you could consider using, but to be honest from this point of view it looks more like using a succession of hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of smaller asteroid impacts would be a better bet. Certainly, no single impact is going to do all the course changing you'll be wanting to pull off.

Note that the Earth does not and will not behave like a solid, rigid billiard ball under such huge impacts as these. For example, an object the size of Mars hit Earth once in the dim and distant past. Rather than simply bouncing off, the object destroyed much of both itself and Earth, causing a VAST spray of matter to be hurled off from the impact point; this matter coagulated into what is now the Moon. Basically, the point here is that modelling impacts like these is a tricky business. Do your numbers carefully.

Gravity assistance. This is a method originally proposed as a means of moving Earth to a higher orbit around the Sun in order to save it from the Sun's inevitable Red Giant expansion. It involves asteroids, like the above method, only instead of direct impacts, this time we just steer them past the Earth, allowing rock and planet to exchange a little momentum, with the result of an Earth moving on a slightly different track and an asteroid moving on a significantly different one. You could reuse the same asteroid again and again, looping it around a few gas giants and back to gain lots more kinetic energy from those gas giants in the same way that Earth just gained velocity from the rock. You could repeat this thousands of times over the course of millions of years. Better, you could use many, many asteroids one after the other in a steady stream, and cut down the total time significantly. You could of course use this method to steer the Earth in any direction you wanted, not just away from the Sun... heh heh heh...

Physicists Hoping To Create Tiny Black Holes At CERN

Black holes are known as the omnivorous destroyers of stars, but in reality, black holes not only take but give.

Near their event horizons, where space is so drastically warped, black holes spawn particle-antiparticle pairs out of sheer vacuum. In some cases, one of the pair escapes beyond the horizon while its counterpart is pulled back into the hole.

Thus black holes can shed energy in the form of this "Hawking radiation."

Physicists hope to bring this whole process down to earth by manufacturing tiny black holes amid the stupendous smashups of protons at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being built at CERN.

Until recently, theorists thought gravity was so weak compared to the other forces that it, and gravitationally bound objects such as black holes, could be studied on an equal footing with the other forces (e.g., the strong nuclear force) only at energies of 10^19 GeV.

In the past few years, though, some models featuring extra spatial dimensions hint that the unification of the forces, including gravity, might set in at much more modest energies, even in the TeV realm of the LHC.

Thus one can contemplate forming a TeV-mass black hole even as one can imagine creating new particles in that mass range. But what would a black hole look like?

Savas Dimopoulous of Stanford and Greg Landsberg of Brown University have drawn a picture in which proton-proton collisions could create black holes with a cross section (likelihood of creation) only about a factor of ten less than for producing top quarks and at a rate of up to one per second (see figure at this URL).

A black hole produced in this way would quickly decay, not in the usual particle way but in a furious burst of Hawking radiation.

A particularly striking signature of the black hole would involve an electron, muon and photon in the final state of debris particles. Properties of Hawking radiation could tell physicists about the shape of extra spatial dimensions. A possibility of recreating the early moments of the universe in the lab would further unite particle physics and cosmology (Physical Review Letters, 15 October 2001; text at this URL).

(Editor's Note: This story is based on PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News, Number 558, September 26, 2001, by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon.)

[Contact: Greg Landsberg]


Black Hole Search at LHC

Computer display of a hypothetical decay of a mini black hole in a collider detector. Collimated "jets" of particles correspond to quark and gluons produced from "Hawking radiation" emitted by the black hole. Detector simulation courtesy Albert De Roeck.

Reported by: Dimopoulos and Landsberg, Physical Review Letters, 15 October 2001.

Associated Physics News Update

An Inspirational Story from Pamela Elliott:

An Inspirational Story from Pamela Elliott:

This past school year I was pleased when a student I had in third grade came back to personally invite me to his wedding. He said I was the only teacher that had believed in him. It made me feel so wonderful that he would remember me and think enough of me to share the most important day of his life. I can t tell you how great that made me feel. It made not only my day but also the rest of my school year.

Then the day of the wedding arrived. I sat on the aisle seat so I could at least see the groom. When he came down the aisle with his new bride, we exchanged smiles and it made me feel special. I went through the receiving line and got big hugs from his sister, then from him and next his father and his mother. His mother was crying, don't all mothers cry at weddings?! I told her how pleased I was to share this special day and she said, "You've done so much for our son." I answered by saying that I was glad if I had, even though I wasn't sure what. His mother then said that she'd like to tell me what sometime and I responded that I'd like that and sat back down. Soon after the head table was seated I felt a tug on my arm and it was the groom s father. He said, "You're wanted down front." I couldn't imagine why. As we approached his table he told me the groom wanted me to sit with his parents. I couldn't believe that on "his" special day he would even be thinking about me, let alone want me to sit with his parents. Then the groom got up and came down to my table and presented me with roses. I was in such disbelief! I think I said something like, "This is your day, what are you doing?" He just grinned and went back to sit with his bride.

Then his parents said they wanted me to know "what" I had done for their son. They said that after he was in my class he had a really bad year where a teacher constantly put him down. He began writing that he was stupid, he was dumb and that he hated himself. Then one day he went out into their barn with the intention of hanging himself. He thought of me and my faith in him and couldn't do it. His parents then thanked me for their son.

Needless to say I was overwhelmed with emotions. After I left the wedding reception, I cried all the way home. I have always promised myself that I would retire when I no longer enjoyed getting out of bed and heading for school. On that trip home I made a silent promise to this young man that as soon as I couldn't support my students I would quit.

That didn't seem enough somehow and a friend suggested I write this down and share it somewhere in order to affect a lot of teachers. Letting teachers know that they DO make a difference was a way for both the groom and me to really use this to help make a difference in someone else's life.

Someone suggested using the word "inspire" and I initially thought that was a good idea. But, after thinking awhile, the word inspire means to me to move toward something and I think this whole incident SHOUTS that we ALREADY make a difference whether we ever know it or not. So keep up the good work and have a great year. This message comes from the groom and myself.

E-Mail Pamela Elliott!