Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Clarke Orbit: When I'm 64

This month is the 64th anniversary exactly of the paper by Arthur C. Clarke that set out the principles of geostationary orbits and geostationary satellites. Extra-Terrestrial Relays was published in the October 1945 issue of Wireless World.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dr Mo says No

Today we learnt of the not-too-surprising decision that the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will not be awarded this year. Apparently, this is due to a lack of worthy candidates for the prize.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A fine series by a Feynman

Fresh from the philanthropic bounty of Bill Gates comes a very fine series of seven lectures (the 1964 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University) on physics by Richard P. Feynman, that rarest of rare combinations, a great researcher who is also a great communicator. Mr. Gates bought the rights to this great series of lectures from the BBC in order to make them freely available to everyone online.

The whole scheme is called Project Tuva. Why Tuva? Well, that's another story altogether.

Enjoy and Be enlightened.

Aside: A thought, a palpable thought: you'll notice Feynman's distinctive New York accent (and, it has to be said, New York manner). The key to understanding Feynman is that he was a quintessential New Yorker.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Most Wanted Man

Just finished reading:

A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre.

Review to follow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Introducing Okonkwo

Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond.
--The very simple, very memorable, first line of Chinua Achebe's 1958 literary masterpiece Things Fall Apart.

The problem of attribution or the problem of appropriation?

How India missed another Nobel Prize

(See The Dilemma of Attribution)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009 Nobels

We now have the complete list of this year's Nobel laureates.

The biggest surprise by far was the award of the peace prize to Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". The nomination process for the Nobel peace prize is described here, but here's the relevant excerpt about the deadline for submission of nominations:

The Committee bases its assessment on nominations that must be postmarked no later than 1 February each year. Nominations postmarked and received after this date are included in the following year's discussions. In recent years, the Committee has received close to 200 different nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. The number of nominating letters is much higher, as many are for the same candidates. [Emphasis added]

Barack Obama took the oath of office on 20 January 2009, 12 days before the submission deadline. The citation could not have possibly have been referring to these 12 days, which raised the question of what exactly Mr. Obama's nominators nominated him for.

The literature prize, again, went to an obscure writer nobody had heard of before last week.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Is have it again

Institutional economists this time.

It: The 2009 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, popularly but inaccurately, known as the Nobel Prize in Economics.

All I can say is: the pendulum swings. The work being recognised is firmly rooted in the real world. Which is more than can be said for a lot of contemporary economics.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Diego Armando Maradona

The question of who is the greatest footballer of all time is one that has occupied, and will continue to occupy, the minds of football fans for many decades. Two players, from two different eras of the game, usually end up at the top of most people's lists as arguably the best in the history of football with apparently very little to choose between them: Pele and Maradona. And, indeed, a good case can be made for either man.

But for me personally (and the tautology is quite deliberate) Maradona, and not Pele, is the greatest player ever to have played the game of football. Why? Well, before I discuss what puts Maradona at the head of this two-man class, let me deal with the similarities between the two players. Both wore the number 10 jersey, which traditionally denotes the role of playmaker, and both were the finest exponents of the playmaker's art and science. Both were iconic talismen for club and country, frequently looked to produce moments of divinity--and neither man disappointed in that respect. Both had an unmistakable presence on the field and both were supremely gifted and accomplished footballing athletes. Both won major championships with (or in Maradona's for) their club and national teams. And both were universally acknowledged to be the greatest players of their respective generations.

So much for the similarities. Why do I unequivocally--and not arguably--put Maradona above Pele? In a word: passion. I do not know of any great (or good) footballer who has played the game with more passion, more heart, more drive, more determination, or more sheer will to win than Diego Armando Maradona. And in this department, Maradona is streets ahead of Pele.

That passion was on display again yesterday when Argentina (now managed by Maradona) sensationally won a crucial World Cup qualifier against Peru with a stoppage time goal from Martin Palermo, a 35-year-old player brought back (resurrected?) by Maradona after a 10 year absence from the national team. Enough said. Watch:

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Is have it

The "Is" are Inventors. And "it" is the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The inventions? Optical communication fibre and the charge-coupled device (CCD).

Here's the lowdown and the breakdown.

Update: There's an interesting little interview with one of the laureates, George E. Smith, on the Nobel Foundation website. It turns out that Dr. Smith and Dr. Willard S. Boyle, co-inventors of the CCD, and both of Bell Labs, worked out all the basic principles of CCDs in a single afternoon 40 years ago! Dr. Smith, it appears, has long believed in the virtues of going straight for the scientific jugular: his 1959 PhD thesis (University of Chicago) is just eight (yes, 8) pages long. It was subsequently published in the journal Physical Review in the same year. Einstein's 1905 doctoral thesis is just 24 pages long. It's here, see for yourself. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

And the Ig Nobel Prize goes to...

The 2009 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last week in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Mathematics prize went to Gideon Gono, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) since 1 December 2003 and author of a recent book entitled Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy: Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges. (No, I didn't make that last bit up.)

The citation reads:

for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).
But leaving the surreal world for the real world for a moment, the 2009 Nobel Prizes will be announced this week.

Thursday, October 01, 2009