Archive for July, 2006

More blog news

If you had the good fortune to be reading my blog yesterday between about 2 and 4 in the afternoon, you may noticed that I was experimenting with lots of wacky blog themes (again). This time I decided to try a bunch of themes I had not previously looked very closely at (these would be the standard WordPress themes, about 20 or so to choose from). I’ve now settled on two that I like reasonably well and that may possess that most nearly unattainable of qualities, lasting power, the holy grail of graphical interfaces in my opinion. I may switch between this and the other one regularly, just to keep things interesting.

In other non-news, I’m still deciding on a new name for this blog. Something a bit more sensible but still original. It’s coming, eventually.

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Conference wrap-up

We just finished a theoretical astrophysics conference here at Queen’s (Kingston in Kingston). Three days of almost nonstop talks and a tribute to Dick Henriksen, who has been here for 40 years. Personally, I’d like to know who first thought to himself, “I know! Let’s organize an event where we’ll make people sit and listen to highly technical talks for eight hours a day! Everyone will love it!” Well, it was better than CASCA, which tends to be much more observational; I stayed awake for some of the talks this time. And presented a poster, which you can find at my astro page as soon as I’ve put up the link. Interestingly, there were only about 20 or so grad students at this conference and only five people who presented posters. Some other points of note:

  • Grad students named Colin inexplicably seem to use Fortran quite a lot (Gregg Wade’s Colin uses it extensively, and now I learn that McMaster’s Colin likes using Fortran as well). I was able to extract a slight concession from Larry, which is that he didn’t completely reject out of hand my suggestion that he might want to consider switching to Fortran 95 and start using IMPLICIT NONE. Progress.
  • Powerpoint is almost as bad as Fortran. The problem with Powerpoint is that it forces you to think about the form as well as the content, and astronomers haven’t got the slightest clue how to arrange a slide so that it looks good yet legible. Plenty of speakers had fonts which were too small, colours that made it difficult to read, etc, etc. I’m sticking to LaTeX slides, with which I do not need to think about the form… come to think of it my hatred of Powerpoint is becoming quite pathological.
  • At least two-thirds of the presenters had Macs. Draw what you will from this.
  • I pity the poor first year students who have to eat at the cafeteria we ate lunch at. The only decent thing I ate was the salad of spinach, tomatoes and olives I concocted myself at the salad bar. Oh, and the desserts were passable. The pasta was, of course, catastrophic (I’m fairly certain that in Italy you can be arrested for serving something like that).
  • Dick got a chainsaw as a gift.
  • I had dinner with Sergiy Khan and Shantanu Basu and some of the RMC kids who weren’t registered for the conference (Sergiy is one of James’ and Gregg’s collaborators).
  • I just realized i haven’t actually talked about the science discussed. Which says something about what sticks at these conferences. Vicki Kaspi from McGill gave a nice talk on pulsars, and Hugo Martel of Laval delivered a fascinating talk on artificial fragmentation and particle splitting algorithms in SPH. Peter Goldreich (IAS/Caltech) gave a good talk about something that momentarily escapes me (but had a good dose of physical reasoning involved), James Bullock’s (UC Irvine) talk on the small-scale problem of LambdaCDM was quite intersting, Pat McDonald (CITA) gave a renormalization group approach to dark matter clustering (!), a grad student named Jean-Rene Gauthier (U of T) gave an intersting talk on simulations of substrucure around M31 that’s not far off my own research, and Doug Johnstone (HIA/Victoria) gave one of his usual great talks.

The event ended with a pub crawl which attracted more faculty than grad students. I stuck around the Queen’s/McMaster kids (drinking my mineral water). We’ll probably see those guys again at CASCA next year, which is being held at RMC.

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EFF has put together a list of “Frequently Awkward Questions” for the entertainment industry, “tough questions for times when you hear entertainment industry representatives speaking and want to challenge their positions.”

Encapsulates many of the core issues surrounding copyright and the entertainment industry’s attitude towards new technologies. I wonder if any entertainment executives will respond.

read more | digg story

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Bernard Chazelle posted a fascinating article explaining the role of egalite in the French psyche and in France’s social problems. From January but eternally timely. A select quote:

French racism is widespread and a major cause of the current crisis. More xenophobic than chromophobic, however, it keeps a healthy distance from the kind of “white race” paranoia that would lead 16 states in the US to ban interracial marriage as recently as 1967. As Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont writes, “This [fieldwork] suggests a form of racism that is surprising to many Americans; it does not center on skin color per se” [11]. French racism is the fear of the Other who won’t be us; American racism is the fear of the Other who will. This singularity partly explains French skepticism toward multiculturalism. This mouthful of a word is widely construed in France as a segregationist device for turning a society of citizens into a menagerie of caged exotica. It stands accused of promoting a “theme park” approach to cosmopolitanism, whereby adding multi to cultural is the quickest way to transition from Homer’s Odyssey to Hoboken’s Annual Moussaka Parade.

I also like the part where he describes Mark Steyn as ‘reliably batty.’

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I see that yet another Canadian cow is now suspected of having BSE. This comes after a Manitoba cow was proven to have the disease last week. Allow me now to get on my soapbox an explain why I refuse to eat any beef at all.

After the BSE crisis in Britain, any country that was importing British beef, feed, or any beef or feed from any country that imported British beef or feed, or any beef or feed from any country that imported beef or feed from any country that imported British beef or feed, etc, should have immediately begun testing all cattle regardless of whether or not they were destined for human consumption for BSE (the point being that it needs to be treated as a worldwide problem, which means it can’t be solved simply by restricting some imports). This is because we know almost nothing about how likely it is to be transmitted to anyone who eats beef, how likely it is develop into full vCJD in anyone who becomes infected, or if anyone possesses any kind of resistance or susceptibility to it. Indeed, it has recently come out that the real toll from the human variant of the disease may not be known for many years, in spite of the fact that cases in Britain have somewhat petered out recently.

Knowing all this, there has never been a concerted effort made in either Canada or the US to systematically test all cows for the disease (in fact the USDA recently announced they were cutting the number of cows to be tested). We all know why, of course: the risk that such testing would reveal significant numbers of infected cows (say, 100) is too great, and that would kill public confidence in the beef industry. The same thing would happen to the industry here that happened in Britain. I would think that if they can find a half-dozen or so cows that have BSE without looking very hard, it’s likely there are at least few more that do have the disease that are never caught. How many of those will enter the human food chain? That’s another question we don’t know the answer to, but it’s one that should be easier to answer with more testing.
So why would anyone in their right continue eating beef knowing all this? While I do believe the risk is small, I am not inclined take on that risk unless researchers get a solid handle on the questions posed earlier. Of course, if I will become infected, it will likely be from beef I ate when I was much younger, so any avoidance of beef now will likely do me no good. That being said, I am sufficiently ticked off about the way the issue has been handled by the industry and by Health Canada that I refuse to eat beef any longer. The fact that the beef industry may suffer is of no consequence to me; my boycott is not so much for health reasons as it is because I’m unhappy with the way the problem has been addressed (to the extent that onecan consider the problem ‘addressed’). If they play games with my health like this, they no longer have me as a customer.

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New web page!

I’ve updated, elevated, and awesome-ified my university web page! New design from Open Source Templates (opensourcetemplates.org), updated info about my research and now a page with actual links. See it at http://www.astro.queensu.ca/~dpuglielli. (I’m posting from school and can’t use WordPress linking function with the early version of Mozilla I’m using, it seems. So you get a text url.)

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4 days before the U.S. presidential election, Osama bin-Laden released a videotape denouncing George W. Bush. CIA analysts concluded at the time that bin-Laden was trying to help Bush gain a second term.

read more | digg story

One would think this common knowledge, without knowing that the even the CIA thought so. The linked article indicates that

… the CIA analysts also felt that bin-Laden might have recognized how Bush’s policies – including the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the endless bloodshed in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“Certainly,” the CIA’s Miscik said, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years,” according to Suskind’s account of the meeting.

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts drifted into silence, troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin-Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,” Suskind wrote.

The article goes on to argue that prior to 9/11, Al-Qaeda was dispersed and relatively ineffective at gaining recruits and the respect it needed from some parts of the Islamic world. The war in Afghanistan was a perfect reply to 9/11, as it demonstrated the power of the U.S. to initiate a measured response that would further marginalize al-Qaeda. But the Bush administration blew it. Had Kerry been elected the U.S. would have been safer by virtue of the fact that Kerry is not Bush, regardless of whether or not Kerry would have been or would have been perceived to be a good leader in the ‘fight against terror.’


I would really like to know how anyone could coherently argue that bin Laden wanted Kerry to win, and why anyone, upon seeing the bin Laden tape four days before the election, would decide to vote for Bush on that basis without questioning bin Laden’s motives. Bin Laden may be evil but he is very intelligent and knew full well that his reappearance would boost Bush and probably give him a second term.

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