Monday, October 23, 2017

business vs science: an anecdote

many years ago, when the Web was young, I was talking to an acquaintance - a friend-of-a-friend - a SoCal business person.
They had heard about this new Web thing, and were asking me about what use it was.

Now, if you had asked me, I'd have guessed this was end of '94,  but I checked and it must have been the summer of '95.

I had just seen Kelson and Trager order pizza on the web, so clearly I was an expert, but my acquaintance wanted to know if this Web thing could be used to help sell cars - not directly, SSL 3.0 had not been implemented yet, but to show models continuously, update inventory, specs, pricing etc.

I opined, "sure, why not", seemed like it'd be a good fit, and I would explore how feasible this might be.  So I searched (this was before google so AltaVista probably...[sigh]) and discovered that Edmunds had already done this.

At this point there was a bifurcation:  my acquaintance was very excited, this was clearly a proven concept and much more interesting than they had appreciated, and would I be interested in working with them on this;  and I was totally not interested,  somebody had done it, it was not new, booooring.

This was a revelation for me.  The concept was only interesting to me when it was new and innovative and unproven. Soon as I discovered it had been done and worked, I become disinterested.
My acquaintance, the business man, really only became interested when they discovered it was a proven idea already done by a player.

So, they got some SoCal hack to put up a website and sold more cars, and got even more rich,
and I went off to think about black hole and shit.

Learned something.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"In the beginning..."

"In the beginning was the command line..."

a lot of people who ought to have read Neal Stephenson's essay on the UI as a metaphor, have not done so.

This is a public service.

Go get a copy, then carry it with you until you get stuck at O'Hare long enough to read it, or whatever works for you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

the best things in life are free

The The arXiv wants your $

arXiv  is an e-print service in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics

each day it receives several hundred e-prints, mostly preprints, categorizes them and distributes the list of papers, with full access to the pdf and, when available, the TeX source  - which is most of the time, TeX rocks

authors submit the e-prints, with license to distribute, and users receive the list of the day's papers, for the categories they express interest in, and access to content, free, originally by e-mail, now web

almost all papers in theoretical physics, mathematics and astrophysics now go on the arXiv, as does an increasing fraction from the newer fields
there are multiple other *Xivs  covering other subject areas with varying degree of success

the arXiv now holds over a million e-prints, going back to 1991, and a little bit beyond, as people have sent in old stuff to archive on the arXiv, e-prints are coming at about 10,000 per month and growing

the service is slim, by design, almost minimalistic, but oh so powerful

you all use it, obsessively, you couldn't do without it!

arXiv is not actually cost free, it as an IT staff, its own server and a management team and development team
a lot of the current cost is provided by member institutions, and Cornell University

but... we could use more, so the annual fundraising drive is under way, this week only
 - ok, you can give any time, but this is sorta special

Why, yes, it is all about me...

Dynamics of Cats is back.

This is the original, Ye Olde, blog, started back in March of 20065, it had a decent run through June 2006, at which point I was invited to join the Scienceblogs collective at what was then SEED magazine.

A fun decade ensued, as blogs boomed,  markets crashed, SEED realized Sb was keeping the rest of the group going, and then National Geographic ate Sb, which then started to shrivel.

I blog strictly to amuse myself, no promises.

I find blogging is good warmup for serious writing.  Actual output is very sensitive to Real Life,  I tend to be more prolific when busy doing stuff, and less prolific when subsumed by administrivia and other intrusions from The World.

I'm a physicist, educated in England, PhD from a small private university in California.
Postdocs in NoCal and back to UK, and now a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The Pennsylvania State University.
Which is Good In Parts.

I am a member of:

I have never taken a class in astronomy, for credit.

In my copious spare time I am a Science Editor for the AAS Journals,
I am also a member of the Aspen Center for Physics 
and most recently I became the Scientific Director of arXiv

Steinn Sigurdsson Appointed as arXiv Scientific Director

As noted above (you did read the disclaimer...),
I do not speak for any of these Institutions upon this here blog.

We also have a dog.
Named after the poet-warrior of the Sagas.
Don't ask, he had the name when he moved in with us.

We used to have cats, but they, sadly, died.

Monday, October 16, 2017


The list of all the preprints from the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration and the ElectroMagnetic counterpart followup collaboration, which were sent to the arXiv is now available at:

arXiv blog: GW170817

Ends with a Bang

as you know, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration discovered a splendid thing

at long last the source we all expected LIGO to actually detect, for sure like, was actually observed,
and a real wowser it was

not just a coalescing binary neutron star, but one right in our backyard, ridiculously bright, and with a gorgeous all band electro-magnetic counterpart

for once theorists were right, there were γ-rays, x-rays, jets, optical and infra-red glows, radio emission and, apparently, a significant chunk of high atomic number metals, including a lot
of r-process elements, ejected from outer layers of the neutron star debris as the bulk of the neutron star mass merged

it was a team effort, rather jolly, and I expect it may earn some people a trip or two to Stockholm, if The Academy is its usual sensible self, that is.

As part of the flap, Josh Bloom and I wrote a "perspective" piece on the discovery,
the link for which is appended, for your perusal

A cosmic multimessenger gold rush

Saturday, October 14, 2017


gotta get some kultúr in here to liven things up

Dynamics of Cats Lives Again is shutting down and the Sb Dynamics of Cats with it.

So, just in case I feel inspired in the near future, and have something to say,
Ye Olde Blog Dynamics of Cats on blogspot is done pining for the fjords, and springs back to life...