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Posts Tagged ‘Nobel

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough”*…

 

“You’re a wizard, Harry,” Hagrid said. “And you’re coming to Hogwarts.”

“What’s Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

“It’s wizard school.”

“It’s not a public school, is it?”

“No, it’s privately run.”

“Good. Then I accept. Children are not the property of the state; everyone who wishes to do so has the right to offer educational goods or services at a fair market rate. Let us leave at once.”

An excerpt from the gloriously spot-on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Objectivism; more at “Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

– John Rogers

* Christopher Hitchens

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As we obviate Objectivism, we might spare a thought for José de Sousa Saramago; he died on this date in 2010.  A Portuguese author and Nobel Laureate, he was described (in 2003) by Harold Bloom as “the most gifted novelist alive in the world today.”

An atheist and proponent of libertarian communism, Saramago was criticized by institutions the likes of the Catholic Church, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, with whom he disagreed. In 1992, the Government of Portugal ordered the removal of his The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the Aristeion Prize‘s shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Disheartened by this political censorship of his work, Saramago went into exile on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, where he lived until his death.

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Written by LW

June 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Human relationships are not rocket science—they are far, far more complicated”*…

 

In the English language, the word “he” is used to refer to males and “she” to refer to females. But some people identify as neither gender, or both – which is why an increasing number of US universities are making it easier for people to choose to be referred to by other pronouns…

More at “Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns.”

* James W. Pennebaker, The Secret Life of Pronouns

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As we revel in reference, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Naguib Mahfouz; he was born on this date in 1911.  A prolific writer– he published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career– he was one of the first writers in Arabic to explore Existentialist themes (e.g., the Cairo Trilogy, Adrift on the Nile).  He was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Written by LW

December 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Photons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic”*…

 

On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014.

Isamu Akasaki, 85, left, Hiroshi Amano, 54, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, won “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”– an award that speaks to current concerns over energy efficiency, climate change, and improving living conditions in developing economies:

In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources…

As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources. Materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.

The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power…

[Read more in the Nobel press release]

The Committee’s choice was clearly a worthy one.  Still, as a reminder that the field is a very competitive one, it’s worth (re-)visiting the expert predictions that immediately preceded the award.  Thompson-Reuters’ annual Science Watch predictions named three potential winners (or groups– the award can go to up to three); while they’ve been right four of the last ten years, and all of their candidates did amazing– and amazingly-important– work, they missed this year.  Ditto, the expert panel whose prognostications were reported last Friday by Scientific American.

But maybe most fundamentally, it’s worth noting (quizzically, as SciAm does) that since the Prize was first awarded in 1901, only two women have won: Marie Curie (who was a double Laureate, also winning in Chemistry) and more recently, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who won in 1963.

* Woody Allen

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As we size up the sociology of science, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land.   Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s. And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.

Roger Williams statue, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

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Written by LW

October 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh, and nineteenth-century Paris”*…

 

Oil wells in a Baku suburb, circa 1900

In 1900, Baku, a small town on the western edge of the Caspian sea in what is now Azerbaijan, produced half the world’s oil.  Its inhabitants included the Nobel brothers, later of Nobel prize fame, and the Rothchilds. The town boasted garish displays of wealth never before seen, but it was so poisoned with oil that the life expectancy of its residents was only thirty…

Baku was a city of ‘debauchery, despotism and extravagance,’ and a twilight zone of ‘smoke and gloom.’ Its own governor called it ‘the most dangerous place in Russia’…

Baku was created by one dynasty. Swedish by origin, Russian by opportunity and international by instinct, the Nobels made their first fortune selling land mines to Tsar Nicholas I, but in 1879, the year of Baku’s first ‘fountain’ of oil, the brothers Ludwig and Robert Nobel founded the Nobel Brothers Oil Company in the town known mainly for the ancient Zoroastrian temple where Magi priests tended their holy oil-fuelled flames. The drilling had already started; entrepreneurs struck oil in spectacular gushers.

The Nobels started to buy up land particularly in what became the Black City. Another brother, Alfred, invented dynamite, but Ludwig’s invention of the oil tanker was almost as important. The French Rothschilds followed the Nobels into Baku. By the 1880s, Baron Alphonse de Rothschild’s Caspian Black Sea Oil Company was the second biggest producer — and its workers lived in the industrial township called the White City. By 1901, Baku produced half the world’s oil — and the Nobel Prize, established that year, was funded on its profits.

Its oil boom, like the Kimberley Diamond Fever or the California Gold Rush, turned peasants into millionaires overnight. A dusty, windy ex-Persian town, built on the edge of the Caspian around the walls and winding streets of a medieval fortress, was transformed into one of the most famous cities in the world.

Its ‘barbaric luxury’ filled the newspapers of Europe, scintillated by instant riches, remarkable philanthropy and preposterous vulgarity. Every oil baron had to have a palace, many as big as a city block. Even the Rothschilds built one. The Nobels’ palace was called Villa Petrolea, and was surrounded by a lush park. One oil baron insisted on building his palace out of gold but had to agree to cover it with goldplate because the gold would melt; another built his mansion like the body of a giant dragon with the entrance through its jaws; a third created his vast palace in the shape of a pack of cards emblazoned in golden letters: ‘Here live I, IsaBey of Gandji.’ A popular singer made his fortune when a performance was rewarded by some land on which oil was struck: his neo-classical palace is now the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s state oil company.

Baku was a melting-pot of pitiful poverty and incredible wealth, its streets, observes Anna Alliluyeva, full of ‘red-bearded Muslims … street porters called ambals bent under excessive loads … Tartar hawkers selling sweetmeats, strange figures in whispering silks whose fiery black eyes watched through slits, street barbers, everything seemed to take place in the streets,’ …

Burning oil reservoir in Baku, circa 1905

Yet the source of all this money, the derricks and the refineries, poisoned the city and corrupted the people. ‘The oil seeped everywhere,’ says Anna Alliluyeva. ‘Trees couldn’t grow in this poisonous atmosphere.’ Sometimes it bubbled out of the sea and ignited, creating extraordinary waves of fire.

The Black and White Cities and other oil townships were polluted slums. The 48,000 workers toiled in terrible conditions, living and fighting each other in grimy streets ‘littered with decaying rubbish, disembowelled dogs, rotten meat, faeces.’ Their homes resembled ‘prehistoric dwellings.’ Life expectancy was just thirty. The oilfields seethed with ‘lawlessness, organized crime and xenophobia. Physical violence, rapes and bloodfeuds dominated workers’ everyday lives.’ …

‘Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh and nineteenth-century Paris,’ Baku ‘was too Persian to be European but much too European to be Persian.’ Its police chiefs were notoriously venal; its Armenians and Azeris armed and vigilant; its plentiful gunmen, the kochis, either performed assassinations for three roubles a victim, guarded millionaires or became ‘Mauserists,’ gangsters always brandishing their Mausers. ‘Our city,’ writes Essad Bey, ‘not unlike the Wild West, was teeming with bandits and robbers.’

From Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore; via the indispensable DelanceyPlace.com.

* Essad Bey

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As we remind ourselves that There Will Be Blood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that the Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Prince William Sound, off Alaska, and spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the sea.  The largest oil spill ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, it happened in more remote waters and is considered one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.

The Exxon Valdez, surrounded by spilled oil

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Written by LW

March 24, 2014 at 1:01 am

Who you callin’ “Cupcake”?…

Cupcakes are, of course, all the vogue.  And as their popularity has exploded, they’ve begun to speciate…

There are Periodic Table Cupcakes…

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Elmo cupcakes…

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Watchmen Cupcakes…

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And oh so many others (for a nifty selection, starting with the ones above, poke around at Laughing Squid and at Friday Foodie)…

But cupcakes, in their mainstream “chocolate or vanilla” manifestations, or in these more elaborate guises, have remained…  well, dainty.

No longer!  Now the formidable folks at Butch Bakery (“Where butch meets buttercream”) offer cupcakes in 12 flavors and six “styles”:  Woodland Camo, Wood Grain, Houndstooth, Plaid, Checkerboard or Marble.

Got beer?

As we bench press a baker’s dozen, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that James D. Watson and Francis Crick announced to friends that they had determined the chemical structure of DNA; the formal announcement took place on April 25  following publication in the April issue of Nature (published April 2).  The not-yet-Nobel-laureates walked into the Eagle pub in Cambridge and announced, “We have found the secret of Life.”

The Double Helix

That Obscure Object of Definition…

Via friend P deV, the “obscure unit of the week: Bohr magnetons per angstrom”…

In explaining their (pretty remarkable) findings that magnetism can, in some circumstances, behave like electricity— “magnetricity” if one will– scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology invoked evidence denominated in what has to one of the rarer metrics around:  Bohr magnetons per angstrom.

But worth understanding, as the observation suggests that it may be possible to create units of digital storage one magnetic monopole large– that’s to say, about the size of an atom.  As lead investigator Steven Bramwell said (with typical British understatement), “monopoles could one day be used as a much more compact form of memory than anything available today.”

Individual magnetic ‘charges’ – equivalent to the north and south poles of a magnet – have been observed inside a crystalline material called spin ice (Image: STFC)

See the New Scientist report here; and more on the discovery at Next Big Future, here.

As we practice our scales, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to T.S. Eliot, who undermined the need for more storage when he observed that “the most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible.”

Eliot, by Wyndham Lewis

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