1. An engineer is the closest thing to a magician that exists in the world.

    — Elon Musk, told to Peter Thiel (19:20)

  2. I could listen to Professor Witten all day long!

  3. Photo: Wikipedia

    It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers.

    That’s false, tragically false.

    Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.’ I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leó Szilárd, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act.

    We have to touch people.

    -Jacob Bronowski


  4. SOLVED: Windows 8.1 Upgrade, Blank/Black Screens, and Fast Startup

    TLDR: Upgrading to Windows 8.1 may lead to a blank/black screen with a mouse cursor on reboot/cold boot. Updated graphics drivers may solve the problem. But if the drivers don’t exist, then use a recovery drive to continue booting to Windows 8.1, then DISABLE the Fast startup option in the Control Panel.

    I spent the past weekend rebuilding my sister’s 9+ year old Windows 8 PC from a hard drive crash. It was a Dell Dimension XPS 400 with a 3.0Ghz 64-bit Pentium D dual-core CPU, 2GB RAM, and a Radeon X600 GPU that I gave her years ago. What’s cool is that it was one of Intel’s first x86-64 processors (they wouldn’t dare call it AMD64!), and so it can run 64-bit Windows just fine. Like other Dell systems, there’s nothing exotic with the system’s internals—most of the components can be driven with Microsoft’s standard drivers.

    After clean installing Windows 8 (from the $39.99 upgrade promotion in 2012), the display wasn’t running at native resolution because there was no native Radeon X600 driver available for Windows 8. So after some trial and error, I brute-force installed the 64-bit Vista driver, and it worked!

    Fast forward 2 years to now, the Windows 8.1 upgrade failed and couldn’t get the system back up and running. Some testing revealed hard disk problems, so the disk was replaced, and the reinstallation process began. Of course the product key I used to reactivate Windows didn’t work because it was already in use, so a phone call to Microsoft solved that problem, and they took remote control of the system and reset the product key on their end. Once Windows 8 was activated, it took 8+ hours to get the system fully updated. I tried loading the 64-bit Radeon X600 driver again, but didn’t work. Then I found the 64-bit Windows 7 driver on AMD’s site, and that did the trick. The Catalyst installer doesn’t work, so you’ll have to update the driver manually and have it look in C:\ATI to find the driver.

    Eventually, the system was fully updated to Windows 8.1, and I was happy that it was finally over. I also rebooted the machine around twenty times just to make sure that it started ok, and without error. Finally, I shut down the system, thinking that everything was ok.

    A little later, I turned the system back on to see if I missed installing any software my sister needed. Booting seemed fine, and I expected to see the login screen shortly.

    But there was no login screen. Just a blank screen screen with the mouse cursor at the center of the screen. What the heck’s going on here?!

    The power button was configured for shutdown, so I turned the system on and off several times to see if anything would change. Nope, I kept seeing the blank screen.

    Some research made me think that we’d have to get a new video card that fully supported Windows 8. After all, we were using Windows 7 drivers because there were no Windows 8 drivers. All the Windows forums online were on fire, as many users were experiencing the blank screen problem after upgrading to 8.1, with no definitive solution. The interim fix? Go to a previous restore point and don’t upgrade to 8.1. I didn’t want to do this, and tried some other things such as uninstalling and reinstalling the graphics card driver. No dice.

    Still not being used to Windows 8’s UI, I was fooling around the Control Panel and was trying to think about how I can work around the problem. The USB Recovery drive I created gives me an option to continue booting into Windows. It performs a warm boot, and then I can get back to the desktop. My idea was that upon getting the system up and running back at my sister’s place, I was going to tell her not to ever turn the computer off. Otherwise, it’s going to have a blank screen and she’d have to use the recovery drive to boot the system. But if there was ever a power loss, I’d have to walk her through the boot process.

    So long story short, my plan was to reconfigure the power button to sleep the machine when not in use, instead of powering it off. Then I saw the advanced setting to “Turn on fast startup (recommended)”, and thought that maybe it had something to do with the blank screen, and that perhaps Fast startup was performing some shortcuts to boot faster, but with a higher chance of instability. Might work perfectly fine for new computers, but this machine was almost 10 years old, running with a Windows 7 graphics driver.

    And so it worked. Disabling Fast startup, shutting down the machine, and doing a cold boot brought me to the login screen, exactly how it should be.

    It was nice to have an old machine running the latest version of Windows, but it came at the price of spending an entire weekend to get the system installed, activated, upgraded, and configured to work with unsupported hardware. We were also able to recover a majority of my sister’s personal files, and immediately picked up an external hard disk to backup the newly installed hard drive with Windows 8’s obscured “System Image Backup” option. We’re also working to use Google Drive and Dropbox for Cloud redundancy.

  5. Steven Weinberg on the “Final Theory”.

  6. Installing C++ Boost Libraries on the Mac

    If you have all the compiler tools installed and work with the Boost libraries, install Boost through macports:

    sudo port install boost

    then symlink the boost folder from /opt/local/include/boost to /usr/include/boost, where /usr/include contains the c++ STL libraries.

    sudo ln -s /opt/local/include/boost /usr/include/boost

    This will properly resolve boost dependencies without adding additional arguments to g++.

    Happy compiling.

  7. Could it be that the Genesis planet’s instability and eventual self-destruction in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, aside from using unstable protomatter in the Genesis torpedo, was that Khan’s fury was somehow integrated into the terraforming matrix?

  8. What a computer is to me is, it’s the the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. And it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. - Steve Jobs

  9. Calculus like slippery fish. Hard to grasp!

    — Calculus professor

  10. Raw Thoughts #5

    1. I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson at the APS Conference in April. He’s a rockstar in the Physics community and was constantly swarmed by students wanting their photos taken, along with their laptops and iPads autographed. The takeaways from his talk were:

      • Communicate science to the public as best you can, without sweating the details. When talking about science, it’s OK to call the Earth a sphere, even though it’s not a mathematically perfect one.

      • Learn about what’s going on in pop culture and build bridges between it and science. This is what he does on his Twitter feed, all while never advocating a certain position. Let the science speak for itself. Read more about it here.

    2. Jespyr Kyd, known for his music scores in the Assassin’s Creed game series, is quite good, even though I’ve never played any of the games.

    3. I ended spring semester with 3 B’s and a D+ in Ordinary Differential Equations. I had a lot of trouble balancing my time studying for all the exams. The ODE final was very fair, so it was due to inadequate preparation with the time I had left. Aside from that, it was a good semester. I’ll be taking ODE again in the fall, with the same professor. Should be a funny conversation. You win some, you lose some. But always a good thing to win more than losing.

    4. Work and classes are keeping me busy this summer, along with a decent-sized reading list. Hopefully I can do all this, while also staying active outdoors.

    5. I’m convinced that I’ll be leaving this area once I finish school here. Having been spoiled by California’s mild weather, winters are too harsh and depressing for my sensibilities. Yet at the same time, Germany also sounds exciting, but for different reasons, and certainly not for the weather!

    6. A recent conversation with international exchange students that studied here at MU found it interesting that some American students found them to be overdressed in class and parties, when in fact they just dressed nicely by default. I suppose someone wearing sweatpants to class would think they’re overdressed.

    7. According to Physicist David J. Griffiths, Brian Greene is “an outstanding Physicist and author”. I agree wholeheartedly!

    8. I’ve been enjoying reading Walter Isaacson’s biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe, and have grown to admire him beyond his great scientific achievements. He was a simple man, of simple pleasures, who since childhood, enjoyed contemplating deep fundamental questions. His mindset was grossly misinterpreted by his parents and teachers, and even by the family maid, who referred to him as “der Depperte” or “the dopey one”. He wasn’t interested in doing ordinary childhood things, often distancing himself at parties, and learned to speak later than others his age. But most importantly, he believed that authority in all forms had to be questioned and challenged, never taking anything at face value.

    9. For the past 8 months, I’ve been experimenting with a 4G Retina iPad mini and using it as a phone with Google Hangouts. The whole purpose of the experiment was to stay out of a contract and not pay ~$100/month on a smartphone plan, and paying for a voice plan component for which I hardly ever used. Financially, it’s a much better deal, paying only $40/month on a 4GB pre-paid data plan on Verizon. However, I’ve found it cumbersome to carry around, and as it won’t fit in any of my pockets, I must either carry it at all times, or keep it firmly tucked under my arms. Aside from size, there are other feature-related drawbacks to using an iPad as a phone, but I think these could be resolved in future models. Long story short, I’ll get an iPhone again with a $30 T-Mobile plan. And with iOS 8 coming in the fall, it will support Wifi calling for the first time, which should help with coverage issues.