Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Joy of Ping

I have been learning about trackbacking, and as the observant reader will note there is now a new trackback link beneath each post. So for those as uninformed as I was "trackbacking" is the name given to creating links to blog entries containing content relevant (hopefully) to the post you have just read. The purpose is really to keep a record of links that didn't make it into the post, principally because the links were created after the post. If you find that last sentence confusing, then don't think twice about going to see the movie Primer (incidentally, I watched it yesterday and found it very confusing, but I'm enjoying thinking thorugh its time-travel paradoxes, so forget my comments and go and see it and then tell me what happened). In short it is a blogger's duty to trackback to articles that have inspired comment.

How does one do this? Well, first you can only trackback to an article if you include a link to that article in your main post. And second you can only do this on blogs that support trackbacking - so standalone blogger blogs which do not support trackbacking have to use an external program, I am using haloscan. If trackback is supported then beneath a post will be a trackback link that gives a URL to ping. In essence, pinging means sending some information to another server to let it know you are there. One pings and is pinged, but one is never punged nor panged, one briefly can be pinging and one can certainly pong. If you keep a trackback-supported blog, then you can use your trackback software to ping other blog articles to let the world know you have something to say about that post. Some blogs have automated trackbacking (e.g. WordPress) where the software automatically pings every link in a post. This is almost enough to motivate a change of blog software...

Why all the sudden fuss about trackbacks and pings I hear you cry/sob? Well as you may have read here, here, here, here, here and here the arxiv is trying out trackbacking. On each abstract page there is now a trackback link, if any exist, so that it would seem that anyone in the blogosphere can comment on any paper. There is some manual checking of trackbacks so that supposedly only bloggers with legitimate comments about papers can add a trackback. It remains unclear how a comment may be judged legitimate, but probably a commen-sense test will suffice. Apart from this it would seem there are few safeguards and I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. For example, in the past I have attended seminars and attempted to understand a particular paper from the arxiv. Often I have understood a little of the beginning of a paper and have posted comments about that on this page. Now it seems I, along with others, will face the dilemma of whether sparse comments on a paper warrant a trackback to the abstract page of the paper. My feeling is that all legitimate discussion is positive and merits a trackback to the arxiv. I imagine that, if it takes off, trackbacking on the arxiv will offer a connection to debates about the papers content as well as earnest readers' descriptions of their attempts to understand (parts of) papers. To me it sounds utopian, but we'll have to see how it works out. Furthermore it may make the physics blogosphere lose its orbit, so to speak, after all will anyone who wants to make a comment about a paper and have it recorded on the archive also have to keep a blog? Recently there have been several bloggers sending posts from the midst of a conference, and at least one case of specific conference blog. Inclusion of comments from such blogs on the archive would seem to be a very exciting development since these are usually fairly technical, and hopefully useful. Perhaps this will motivate conferences to keep such blogs, and give an indirect link from the archive, via a blog entry, to footage or slides from relevent talks at a conference. Well let's hope so.

Elsewhere, the debate about the greatest physics paper ever trundles on, and still no-one has argued on grounds of simple beauty in favour of Kaluza's 1921 paper about the fifth dimension! Well except yours truly that is. Nevertheless similar to the BBC's series of greatest ever lists, cosmicvariance's lists have begun to hyperbole. Now the debates for the greatest ever physics textbook as well as the greatest popular science book are in full swing. Also Lubos has posted an updated link to the video footage of the talks from Sydneyfest. Also as reported here, here and here a second physics blog has become a book(let's not forget this trend was started by Lieven Le Bruyn)! Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong will be available in UK bookshops from 16th March, 2006. It promises to be an honest review of the toughest problems faced by string theory, and probably a critique of studying string theory with blinkers on. There has been some discussion about the merits of a non-string theorist writing a popular science book about string theory, but you can read them on Not Even Wrong the blog and, probably, the book in due course. Have no fear, I foresee no situation where this blog will become a book, although Tangent Space wouldn't be an awful title for a sci-fi novel (all suggestions for plot are welcome, in return for an earnest acknowledgement in the foreward)...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The 80th Best University in the Whole World!

King's College London is the official 80th best university in the world at least according to the recent top 500 list. Peruse the top 100 here, this link has been gleefully hijacked from Goosania.

Also in blogland is Clifford Johnson's attempt to follow where the BBC lead by finding the top 5 greatest physics papers ever written as decided by the readers of Cosmic Variance. I've taken up the challenge and nominated my favourite(s), I'm really hoping I can get fifth place on the list for Kaluza's 1921 paper where he discovered the fifth dimension :) But I suspect a campaign for Kaluza enacted solely by me may not cut the mustard but we'll see... also there have been no string/supergravity papers so far, which ought to be rectified.

There are other lists on the web, but one of the most curiously titled is Forbes list of the best places to die. Perhaps also of interest are the top 200 sci-fi novels (there are plenty of lists like this though, such as this one), Physicsweb's readers' top 20 equations, and there's "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord".

Sunday, August 14, 2005

It's Oh So Quiet...

Things are quiet around here right now, no seminars, students and lecturers are away (avoiding the liquid sunshine) and nothing is stirring not even a I have no notes to put up here.

However, the football season has commenced again, so it is a very exciting time, especially if, like me, you are a Queen's Park Ranger's fan as QPR have hit the headlines two weekends on the trot for non-football reasons. Last weekend, QPR fans were taunted by Hull fans about the London bombings and yesterday Gianni Paladini, a director at QPR, was forced at gunpoint to sign a piece of paper detailing his resignation from the board. Well this is sensational stuff and one really has to wonder who would do this and why, after all Paladini as a major stakeholder in the club has invested considerable amounts of money and also been pivotal in recently helping QPR to sign the defender Milanese. In short one would think that fans would appreciate Paladini's work, but also one would think that only very committed/insane fans would be driven to such rash actions. So something is amiss. Nevertheless, on the pitch, QPR have made a good start to the season, joint top in the Championship, and our legendary manager Ian Holloway is continuing to make football more fun, this week he summarised his pre-match team advice as "I told them to be awful." Let's hope he reaches the heady heights of this post-match interview again this season.

But even in the wilderness of summer in London there are plenty of physics links still that can be posted. First and most importantly the videos from LMS symposium Geometry, Conformal Field Theory and String Theory have started to appear online here. The organisers Patrick Dorey, Peter Bowcock and Katrin Wendland have done a fantastic job in collating all the videos so far and have even provided us with some photos of the symposium. In fact, for the curious, there's even a photo of me (I'm on the right) stuck in a castle window; at this point I am halfway through a tour of Bamburgh castle and am looking out the window and seeing the leader of our group (the one with the camera and the watch) a long way away and I'm wondering whether I'm being left behind... but it turns out, from the photos, that they were heading down to the beach and skipping the tour. There are also a number of other conferences that have provided media from their talks online (many of these come via Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong), so you can sit at home (un-jetlagged) and feel like you went to a lot of conferences, these include:

  • Strings 2005 - sound and slides.
  • Advanced Summer School on Modern Mathematical Physics in Dubna - A very impressive collection of introductory talks.
  • Mathematical Structures in String Theory at KITP - this runs from 1st August until 16th December and already there are videos available, and there is even a devoted (and secure!) weblog.
  • The SLAC Summer School: Gravity in the Quantum World and the Cosmos - videos are available under the titles for each talk.
  • Simons Workshop in Mathematics and Physics 2005 at Stonybrook - Vafa, Berkovits, Witten, Maldacena et al can all be listened to (slides are not generally available so you might have to listen very carefully...although some talks are close to those at Strings 2005, so some comparison is worthwhile)
  • A talk by Lee Smolin on Loop Quantum Gravity (from May 2005 with an astrophysics leaning - for the interested there are a host of astrophysics talks in the same directory)

    The perfect quiet of this summer is well suited for the Ashes, however in case one thought that the genteel nature of a cricket test match might not be condusive to competition please see this violent yet thoroughly amusing game involving much Ozzie bashing on the Channel 4 website.

    P.S. Please don't miss Lubos Motl's $3 challenge to disprove that Amazon, one of my favourite companies, are run by "crackpots" who are only allowing positive reviews of pseudo-science books which masquerade as science.