A Dutch art student by the name of Arjan Groot (if I'm inferring correctly
from this Dutch news
article) has systematized the business of generating national flags.
Groot has abstracted out common designs, devices, and colors, and developed
a system and nomenclature for specifying millions of potential patriotic
It's unclear how serious this work is. But an organization called the
Universal Authority for National Flag
Registration (which may be, simply, Groot)
has published a catalog illustrating 177,489 flags in Groot's
system. Here are the first 3,419
flag designs: 135K. And UNFR has participated in an
exhibition of flags
titled United Notions.
UNFR's Web site implies that an expected
crowd of newly hatched nations is welcome to register flag designs from
Groot's system. Any day Real Soon Now it will be possible to do so on the
Many thanks to TBTF Irregular Ian Grigg for word on this odd and peculiar
At the beginning of the 20th century, the German mathematician
the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, laying out
23 of the great unsolved
of the day. They set the agenda for the 20th century's
mathematical research. Of the fifteen problems not of strictly an
investigative nature, to date twelve have been completely resolved.
Only one problem, the so-called Riemann Hypothesis, remains as
mysterious and challenging as ever.
Perhaps we feel less godlike -- but more affluent -- as the 21st
century dawns. Last May the Clay Mathematics Institute set down
problems in mathematics-- and put a prize of $1 million
against each of them.
In a less serious vein, a group of physics researchers has pulled
together a list of the
of the most perplexing problems in the field of superstring
theory. Their methodology was to make the selection "in the middle
and after this party in which we were sufficiently drunk."
Tht title of this piece refers to the dimensionless quantity known as
alpha, which arises in the context of the first question below.
The Times piece explains alpha this way:
If you square the charge of the electron and then divide it by the
speed of light times Planck's constant, all the dimensions (mass,
time and distance) cancel out, yielding a so-called "pure number" --
alpha, which is just slightly over 1/137. But why is it not
precisely 1/137 or some other value entirely? Physicists and even
mystics have tried in vain to explain why.
Here then are the ten questions a superstring theorist would ask if
she found herself awakened from a coma in the 22nd century.
- Are all the (measurable) dimensionless parameters that characterize
the physical universe calculable in principle or are some merely
determined by historical or quantum mechanical accident and
- How can quantum gravity help explain the origin of the universe?
- What is the lifetime of the proton and how do we understand it?
- Is nature supersymmetric, and if so, how is supersymmetry broken?
- Why does the universe appear to have one time and three space
- Why does the cosmological constant have the value that it has? Is
it zero and is it really constant?
- What are the fundamental degrees of freedom of M-theory (the theory
whose low-energy limit is eleven-dimensional supergravity and that
subsumes the five consistent superstring theories) and does the
theory describe nature?
- What is the resolution of the black hole information paradox?
- What physics explains the enormous disparity between the
gravitational scale and the typical mass scale of the elementary particles?
- Can we quantitatively understand quark and gluon confinement in
quantum chromodynamics and the existence of a mass gap?
Catching gravity waves by quantum encryption.
in New Scientist sketches research at Portsmouth University (UK) that suggests
a new way to detect gravity waves. Seems that a passing gravity wave might act
on a pair of entangled photons the same way an eavesdropper would. Such an
apparatus couldn't help but be cheaper to build than a kilometers-long
interferometer, several of which are now under construction in the US and
ICANN's membership drive is over; the organization closed it early
after 158,000 Netizens registered. (10,000 had been expected.)
ICANN's registration servers were nowhere near up to the job. There
are scattered reports of people who tried to register and gave up
after innumerable failures to connect.
Two separate groups are now
names of the disenfranchisees with the aim of protesting to ICANN
and getting the membership rolls re-opened. One list, called ICANNT,
is sponsored by the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
and hosted here at eGroups.
It has 19 names at present
The other list, run out of Germany, has signed up 115 members, according
to ZDNet Australia.
Germany is where, beginning last May, the local media began
encouraging citizens to register. The German stampede onto the ICANN
rolls prompted similar drives in China, Korea, Japan, and Brazil,
though never in this country. The result is the highly skewed,
nationalistically flavored membership list portrayed recently by the
Thanks to Eric Scheid and Hugh Hyatt for background on this story.
A geek's guide to the presidential candidates.
Political junkies watch a candidate's vice-presidential choice as a guide
to his decision-making. In the same spirit, the geeks among us might examine
the candidates' technology choices for guidance on their thinking on matters
Netcraft's What's that site
shows that George W. Bush
Web site is powered by Microsoft IIS 5.0.
The platform behind Dubya's site is a bit of a poser. Netcraft is
able to detect Windows 2000 (e.g.,
and NT4 / Windows 98 (e.g., the
but for the Shrub the platform comes up blank. My guess is that the
site is fronted by a TCP connection-level proxy firewall.
Al Gore uses Apache 1.3.9 on Linux.
Ralph Nader (Green Party)
runs Apache 1.3.12 on BSD.
Patrick Buchanan (Reform Party)
uses Apache 1.3.4 on Linux, but with FrontPage extensions.
Harry Browne (Libertarian Party)
is running Apache 1.3.12 on FreeBSD.
Make of it what you will.
Thanks to TBTF Irregulars Glen McCready and David Mankins for
inspiring this exercise.
Military censorware blocks science experiment.
The US Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in
Colorado has a cybercensor in its firewall to keep objectionable
material out of the hands of servicemen. Yahoo! Internet Life
that the Air Force filter blocks access to Y-Life because, in a
months-old article, the magazine linked to the Exploratorium. This
highly respected educational museum in San Francisco offers
directions for constructing a
out of baking soda and vinegar in a Ziploc bag. (Oops, now they'll
block TBTF too.) The family science experiment was apparently too
much for the Space Command.