Loredana Valenzano's BLOG

Something about me, my daily life, science, music, news, curiosities and so on...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Is the proton on diet?

It seems that nothing stays the same: not even the 'constants' of physics. An experiment suggests that the mass ratio of two fundamental subatomic particles has decreased over the past 12 billion years, for no apparent reason.
The startling finding comes from a team of scientists who have calculated exactly how much heavier a proton is than an electron. For most purposes, it is about 1,836 times heavier. But dig down a few decimal places and the team claims that this value has changed over time.
The researchers admit that they are only about 99.7% sure of their result, which physicists reckon is a little better than 'evidence for' but not nearly an 'observation of' the effect. If confirmed, however, the discovery could rewrite our understanding of the forces that make our Universe tick.

This is not the first time physicists have suspected physical constants of inconstancy.
In 1937, the physicist Paul Dirac famously suggested that the strength of gravity could change over time. And arguments about the fine-structure constant have raged for years. The fine-structure constant measures the strength of the electromagnetic force that keeps electrons in place inside atoms and molecules.
Some physicists have argued that the equations describing our Universe allow for variance in the relative masses of a proton and electron. In fact, they have said, this value could theoretically vary more than does, and so might be easier to pin down.

To look for such variation, Wim Ubachs, a physicist from the Free University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and his colleagues studied how a cool gas of hydrogen molecules in their lab absorbed ultraviolet laser light. The exact frequencies of light that are absorbed by each hydrogen molecule (H2), which is made of two protons and two electrons, depend on the relative masses of these constituent particles.
Then they compared this result with observations of two clouds of hydrogen molecules about 12 billion light years away, which are illuminated from behind by distant quasars. Although the light changes frequency on its long journey through space, researchers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile were able to unpick what the original frequencies absorbed by the hydrogen were.
Ubachs' comparison suggests that over this vast timescale, which is most of the lifetime of the Universe, the proton-to-electron mass ratio has decreased by 0.002%. The scientists report their research in Physical Review Letters (Reinhold E. et al., Phys. Rev. Lett., 96, 151101, 2006).
Ubachs says that his team's laser measurements are hundreds of times more accurate than previous laboratory data. This improves their detection of the mass ratio effect by a factor of two to three.
"They've done the best job of anyone so far," agrees John Webb, a physicist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who has studied changes in both the proton-electron mass ratio and the fine-structure constant.

So what could be causing the ratio to change? Both Ubachs and Webb say that it is unlikely that protons are losing weight. Instead, some theories suggest that extra dimensions occupied by the particle might be changing shape.
Or perhaps it's a consequence of the speed of light slowing down, or general relativity behaving in odd ways. "We just don't know what the explanation is," Webb admits.

If Ubachs' finding is confirmed, it would be an "experimental foundation stone" for physics, says Webb.
Ubachs says that the observations could be improved or confirmed by looking at hydrogen clouds in the lab over a time period of, say, five years, but with a billion times greater precision. This would remove the difficulty of working out the precise wavelength of very dim light after it has passed through billions of light years of space.
But it could also remove the effect altogether. "It may be that it was only in an early epoch of the Universe that the value changed," suggests Ubachs.

Mark Peplow, Nature

New interesting CDs

From Italy
Novembre - Materia
(out from the 17th of April)
Official Website

From The Netherlands
The Gathering - Home
(out from the 18th of April)
Official Website

From Finland
Korpiklaani - Tale Along The Road
(out from the 21st of April)
Official Website

Website Updated

I have updated my website (www.loredanavalenzano.net). Have a look at it and tell what you think: suggestions and opinions are always welcome! Some pictures slideshow are not online yet: I will work on them as soon as possible.

Some news about Emanuele

Emanuele is growing fast now! His movements are stronger and stronger: a few days ago I got hypnotized in watching my belly going up and down while Emanuele was trying to arrange himself in a new position... to sleep better, I suppose :)
Since a few weeks, everytime I arrange myself in the bed, he moves as well. I got the impression he is complaining sometimes about the positions I get. In those cases it is enough to talk a bit to him and he seems to calm down. Maurizio's voice and hands are still very powerful.
The next Thursday Maurizio and I will go through the last ultrasound check: we are very excited about it and we can't wait for that moment to come! Then, the next time we will see our little treasure, he will lay in our arms! We are wondering about how it will be to have him with us and hug him live... soon we will be able to tell it... if words will be enough...

I'm back...

Dear readers, sorry for the long absence. I have been (busy)^n for a couple of weeks. Hopefully I will menage to stay a bit more stick to the daily blog's schedule... no promises, though! Hope you will visit my blog once in a while! Take care, LO :)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Steve Jobs' Quotes

On Fixing Apple

"The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!"

On Gil Amelio's lackluster reign, in BusinessWeek, July 1997

"If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth -- and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago."

Fortune, Feb. 19, 1996

"You know, I've got a plan that could rescue Apple. I can't say any more than that it's the perfect product and the perfect strategy for Apple. But nobody there will listen to me."

Fortune, Sept. 18, 1995

"The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade."

Wired magazine, February 1996

Greatest Sales Lines Ever

"We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them."

On Mac OS X's Aqua user interface, Fortune, Jan. 24, 2000

"There are sneakers that cost more than an iPod."

On the iPod's $300 price tag, Newsweek, Oct. 27, 2003

Bill Gates:"How I Work"

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - It's pretty incredible to look back 30 years to when Microsoft (Research) was starting and realize how work has been transformed. We're finally getting close to what I call the digital workstyle. If you look at this office, there isn't much paper in it. On my desk I have three screens, synchronized to form a single desktop. I can drag items from one screen to the next. Once you have that large display area, you'll never go back, because it has a direct impact on productivity.
The screen on the left has my list of e-mails. On the center screen is usually the specific e-mail I'm reading and responding to. And my browser is on the right-hand screen. This setup gives me the ability to glance and see what new has come in while I'm working on something, and to bring up a link that's related to an e-mail and look at it while the e-mail is still in front of me. At Microsoft, e-mail is the medium of choice, more than phone calls, documents, blogs, bulletin boards, or even meetings (voicemails and faxes are actually integrated into our e-mail in-boxes).
I get about 100 e-mails a day. We apply filtering to keep it to that level—e-mail comes straight to me from anyone I've ever corresponded with, anyone from Microsoft, Intel, HP, and all the other partner companies, and anyone I know. And I always see a write-up from my assistant of any other e-mail, from companies that aren't on my permission list or individuals I don't know. That way I know what people are praising us for, what they are complaining about, and what they are asking.
We're at the point now where the challenge isn't how to communicate effectively with e-mail, it's ensuring that you spend your time on the e-mail that matters most. I use tools like "in-box rules" and search folders to mark and group messages based on their content and importance.
I'm not big on to-do lists. Instead, I use e-mail and desktop folders and my online calendar. So when I walk up to my desk, I can focus on the e-mails I've flagged and check the folders that are monitoring particular projects and particular blogs.
Outlook also has a little notification box that comes up in the lower right whenever a new e-mail comes in. We call it the toast. I'm very disciplined about ignoring that unless I see that it's a high-priority topic. Staying focused is one issue; that's the problem of information overload. The other problem is information underload. Being flooded with information doesn't mean we have the right information or that we're in touch with the right people.
I deal with this by using SharePoint, a tool that creates websites for collaboration on specific projects. These sites contain plans, schedules, discussion boards, and other information, and they can be created by just about anyone in the company with a couple of clicks.
Right now, I'm getting ready for Think Week. In May, I'll go off for a week and read 100 or more papers from Microsoft employees that examine issues related to the company and the future of technology. I've been doing this for over 12 years. It used to be an all-paper process in which I was the only one doing the reading and commenting. Today the whole process is digital and open to the entire company.
I'm now far more efficient in picking the right papers to read, and I can add electronic comments that everyone sees in real time. Microsoft has more than 50,000 people, so when I'm thinking, "Hey, what's the future of the online payment system?" or "What's a great way to keep track of your memories of your kid?" or any neat new thing, I write it down. Then people can see it and say, "No, you're wrong" or "Did you know about this work being done at such-and-such a place?" SharePoint puts me in touch with lots of people deep in the organization. It's like having a super-website that lets many people edit and discuss—far more than the standard practice of sending e-mails with enclosures. And it notifies you if anything comes up in an area you're interested in.
Another digital tool that has had a big effect on my productivity is desktop search. It has transformed the way I access information on my PC, on servers, and on the Internet. With larger hard drives and increasing bandwidth, I now have gigabytes of information on my PC and servers in the form of e-mails, documents, media files, contact databases, and so on. Instead of having to navigate through folders to find that one document where I think a piece of information might be, I simply type search terms into a toolbar and all the e-mails and documents that contain that information are at my fingertips. The same goes for phone numbers and email addresses.
Paper is no longer a big part of my day. I get 90% of my news online, and when I go to a meeting and want to jot things down, I bring my Tablet PC. It's fully synchronized with my office machine so I have all the files I need. It also has a note-taking piece of software called OneNote, so all my notes are in digital form.
The one low-tech piece of equipment still in my office is my whiteboard. I always have nice color pens, and it's great for brainstorming when I'm with other people, and even sometimes by myself. The whiteboards in some Microsoft offices have the ability to capture an image and send it up to the computer, almost like a huge Tablet PC. I don't have that right now, but probably I'll get a digital whiteboard in the next year. Today, if there's something up there that's brilliant, I just get out my pen and my Tablet PC and recreate it.
Days are often filled with meetings. It's a nice luxury to get some time to go write up my thoughts or follow up on meetings during the day. But sometimes that doesn't happen. So then it's great after the kids go to bed to be able to just sit at home and go through whatever e-mail I didn't get to. If the entire week is very busy, it's the weekend when I'll send the long, thoughtful pieces of e-mail. When people come in Monday morning, they'll see that I've been quite busy— they'll have a lot of e-mail.

Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect, Microsoft, U.S.A. (April 7, 2006)
From CNN

The Kiss of Judas revisited

He is one of the most reviled men in history.
But was Judas only obeying his master's wishes when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss? That's what a newly revealed ancient Christian text says.
After being lost for nearly 1,700 years, the Gospel of Judas was recently restored, authenticated, and translated. The Coptic, or Egyptian Christian, manuscripts were unveiled today (6th April 2006) at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C..
Some biblical scholars are calling the Gospel of Judas the most significant archaeological discovery in 60 years. The only known surviving copy of the gospel was found in a codex, or ancient book, that dates back to the third or fourth century A.D. The newly revealed gospel document, written in Coptic script, is believed to be a translation of the original, a Greek text written by an early Christian sect sometime before A.D. 180.
The Bible's New Testament Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—depict Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, as a traitor. In biblical accounts Judas gives up Jesus Christ to his opponents, who later crucify the founder of Christianity. The Gospel of Judas, however, portrays him as acting at Jesus' request.
"This lost gospel, providing information on Judas Iscariot—considered for 20 centuries and by hundreds of millions of believers as an antichrist of the worst kind—bears witness to something completely different from what was said [about Judas] in the Bible," said Rodolphe Kasser, a clergyman and former professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
Kasser, who is regarded as one of the world's preeminent Coptic scholars, led the effort to piece together and translate the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery funded the project, and it will be profiled in the May 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Scholars say the text not only offers an alternative view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas but also illustrates the diversity of opinion in the early Christian church.
Biblical accounts suggest that Jesus foresaw and allowed Judas's betrayal.
As told in the New Testament Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus for "30 pieces of silver," identifying him with a kiss in front of Roman soldiers. Later the guilt-ridden Judas returns the bribe and commits suicide, according to the Bible.
The Gospel of Judas, however, gives a very different account. The text begins by announcing that it is the "secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover." It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus' closest friend, someone who understands Christ's true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus' disciples. In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'"
Kasser, the translation-project leader, offers an interpretation: "Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy. So he asks Judas, who is his friend, to sell him out, to betray him. It's treason to the general public, but between Jesus and Judas it's not treachery."
The newfound account challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition.
The author of the 26-page Gospel of Judas remains anonymous. But the text reflects themes that scholars regard as being consistent with Gnostic traditions.
Christian Gnostics believed that the way to salvation was through secret knowledge delivered by Jesus to his inner circle. This knowledge, they believed, revealed how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.
Contradicting the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, these texts were later denounced by orthodox Christian leaders and refused entry into the Bible. Scholars believe that followers of the texts hid copies of them for preservation. Scholars knew of the existence of the Gospel of Judas because of references to it in other ancient texts as early as A.D. 180. To today's biblical scholars, the Gospel of Judas illustrates the multitude of opinions and beliefs in the early Christian church.

Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News (April 6, 2006)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Galaxies Web

British and Spanish astronomers have obtained the first observational evidence that galaxies are oriented not randomly, but in a pattern that accords with the web of dark matter that surrounds them. Specifically, the researchers found a surplus of galaxies oriented perpendicularly to the filaments of dark matter making up this cosmic web--exactly what theory predicted.
A paper detailing the findings appears in the April 1 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

From Scientific American

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My comments on: "The Secret Passions of Scientists"

Science has to be first a passion and only in second istance a job. I have no doubt about that! You surely do not do it for money... Once passion is gone, you feel like all the efforts you are daily putting in doing science, are nothing more than routine... as a "normal job"... so, better to move to a "normal job"!
Usually you have to solve problems everyday (and this can be a pain in the neck if passion is gone!): from simply installing and testing new features for your "lab" (the computer, if you are a theoretician) to solve equations on paper and code them up in a source code to have a simulation running and giving you results. Hopefully the results will be innovative and new, so that you can publish them on international scientific journals and... have a short moment of "fame" ;) ... just kidding of course... obviously more than that, there is the personal satisfaction and the feeling that you are contributing with your research to solve a small mistery of the nature. Surely, in order to obtain "the right number" to solve that particular small mistery of the nature, you have to be constantly dedicated to your job and curious about what you are doing... from that the equation "Science=Passion".
It can surely be difficult to leave your science at the lab: in my experience, it needs some exercise to be able to do that. One of the practical secrets is probably to stay concentrate at work and impose yourself to go home after 10 hours of daily work... no matter what you are doing... just go home!!!
On the other hand, it can be difficult to do that, so it is probably safer to have a mental scheme with the things you have to do during the day and only once you have done all of them (really!?!??!), go home. Also this solution can be dangerous, of course, but it might work better than just stop working no matter what you are doing.
The second solution seems to work pretty well for me in the last years and I must say I am very proud of myself :) and people around me are also happy about this attitude of mine. The previous sentence can be read as follows: I work also from home WHEN IT IS NECESSARY, I think about work on the bus and doing shopping IF IT IS NECESSARY ... BUT I still menage to separate my working life from my private life.
And Mondays are not a problem... ever...

The Secret Passions of Scientists

Extract from Science (31 March 2006)
Face the bitter truth: Scientists have a reputation, undeserved of course, for being humorless, overly analytic, controlling, antisocial, competitive, arrogant, elitist, obsessive workaholics.
What’s that old adage? You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge scientists by their lab coats, or by their day jobs. When you spend quality time with scientists outside the laboratory, rich personalities emerge, and you may be startled by what you discover. They can be just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In some instances, an overabundance of passion outside the lab can be a smokescreen for something else. A senior faculty member may become bored and frustrated with work and increasingly spend more time moonlighting rather than working on research or mentoring students. Or a young scientist may question his or her career ambition and realize it isn’t turning out as expected. When the balance tips too far in the direction of avocation versus vocation, it may be a warning sign of burnout.
If a vacation away from it all doesn’t solve the issue, perhaps it is time to take a hard look at the situation. By speaking to your supervisor, you may find ways to realign your work so it is more satisfying and put your career development back on track. Some situations may be so serious, though, that you may need to change jobs or change careers. The Web site of Texas A&M University offers some excellent tips for recognizing and resolving job burnout.
In my nonsystematic, nonquantitative research for this article, a few trends emerged. First, only one woman came forth to describe her after-hours passion. (She teaches a Pilates class at the YMCA every Wednesday night to help pay for her family’s membership.) Are female scientists too busy balancing family and career to have leisure pursuits? Perhaps they feel they can't admit that they have other hobbies, lest their colleagues conclude that they aren't serious about their work?
Second, the majority of scientists who "came out of the closet" tended to be senior, already accomplished in their fields. Does that mean that trainees and more junior faculty are too busy building and competing, so that their true passions can only be expressed during their careers' twilight years? Or maybe younger scientists just haven't yet reached the point at which they need to turn away from their work to find satisfaction?

Irene S. Levine

Curiosity: the longest couch

The longest couch in the world will be shown until the 30th of April at Malpensa airport (Milano). The "Bombay Sapphire Stretch", 45 meters long, by the londoner designer Tom Dixon, will be in the departure lounge. Dixon won recently the prize as "Designer of the year" given from the London Design Museum.

New Lacuna Coil out now

From Italy
Lacuna Coil - Karmacode
Official Website

Saturday, April 01, 2006

New Blackmore's Night CD out now

From U.K.
Blackmore's Night - The Village Lanterne
Official Website

Megadeth DVD

From U.S.A.
Megadeth - The Arsenal of Megadeth (2DVDs)
Official Website