Monday, July 31, 2017

MIT Quantum Computing Research

Ultracold Molecules Hold Promise
for Quantum Computing
New approach yields long-lasting configurations that could provide long-sought “qubit” material.
David L. Chandler | MIT News Office

July 27, 2017 -- Researchers have taken an important step toward the long-sought goal of a quantum computer, which in theory should be capable of vastly faster computations than conventional computers, for certain kinds of problems. The new work shows that collections of ultracold molecules can retain the information stored in them, for hundreds of times longer than researchers have previously achieved in these materials.

These two-atom molecules are made of sodium and potassium and were cooled to temperatures just a few ten-millionths of a degree above absolute zero (measured in hundreds of nanokelvins, or nK). The results are described in a report this week in Science, by Martin Zwierlein, an MIT professor of physics and a principal investigator in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics; Jee Woo Park, a former MIT graduate student; Sebastian Will, a former research scientist at MIT and now an assistant professor at Columbia University, and two others, all at the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms.

Many different approaches are being studied as possible ways of creating qubits, the basic building blocks of long-theorized but not yet fully realized quantum computers. Researchers have tried using superconducting materials, ions held in ion traps, or individual neutral atoms, as well as molecules of varying complexity. The new approach uses a cluster of very simple molecules made of just two atoms.

“Molecules have more ‘handles’ than atoms,” Zwierlein says, meaning more ways to interact with each other and with outside influences. “They can vibrate, they can rotate, and in fact they can strongly interact with each other, which atoms have a hard time doing. Typically, atoms have to really meet each other, be on top of each other almost, before they see that there's another atom there to interact with, whereas molecules can see each other” over relatively long ranges. “In order to make these qubits talk to each other and perform calculations, using molecules is a much better idea than using atoms,” he says.

Using this kind of two-atom molecules for quantum information processing “had been suggested some time ago,” says Park, “and this work demonstrates the first experimental step toward realizing this new platform, which is that quantum information can be stored in dipolar molecules for extended times.”

“The most amazing thing is that [these] molecules are a system which may allow realizing both storage and processing of quantum information, using the very same physical system,” Will says. “That is actually a pretty rare feature that is not typical at all among the qubit systems that are mostly considered today.”

In the team’s initial proof-of-principle lab tests, a few thousand of the simple molecules were contained in a microscopic puff of gas, trapped at the intersection of two laser beams and cooled to ultracold temperatures of about 300 nanokelvins. “The more atoms you have in a molecule the harder it gets to cool them,” Zwierlein says, so they chose this simple two-atom structure.  

The molecules have three key characteristics: rotation, vibration, and the spin direction of the nuclei of the two individual atoms. For these experiments, the researchers got the molecules under perfect control in terms of all three characteristics — that is, into the lowest state of vibration, rotation, and nuclear spin alignment.

“We have been able to trap molecules for a long time, and also demonstrate that they can carry quantum information and hold onto it for a long time,” Zwierlein says. And that, he says, is “one of the key breakthroughs or milestones one has to have before hoping to build a quantum computer, which is a much more complicated endeavor.”

The use of sodium-potassium molecules provides a number of advantages, Zwierlein says. For one thing, “the molecule is chemically stable, so if one of these molecules meets another one they don't break apart.”

In the context of quantum computing, the “long time” Zwierlein refers to is one second — which is “in fact on the order of a thousand times longer than a comparable experiment that has been done” using rotation to encode the qubit, he says. “Without additional measures, that experiment gave a millisecond, but this was great already.” With this team’s method, the system’s inherent stability means “you get a full second for free.”

That suggests, though it remains to be proven, that such a system would be able to carry out thousands of quantum computations, known as gates, in sequence within that second of coherence. The final results could then be “read” optically through a microscope, revealing the final state of the molecules.

“We have strong hopes that we can do one so-called gate — that's an operation between two of these qubits, like addition, subtraction, or that sort of equivalent — in a fraction of a millisecond,” Zwierlein says. “If you look at the ratio, you could hope to do 10,000 to 100,000 gate operations in the time that we have the coherence in the sample. That has been stated as one of the requirements for a quantum computer, to have that sort of ratio of gate operations to coherence times.”

“The next great goal will be to ‘talk’ to individual molecules. Then we are really talking quantum information,” Will says. “If we can trap one molecule, we can trap two. And then we can think about implementing a ‘quantum gate operation’ — an elementary calculation — between two molecular qubits that sit next to each other,” he says.

Using an array of perhaps 1,000 such molecules, Zwierlein says, would make it possible to carry out calculations so complex that no existing computer could even begin to check the possibilities. Though he stresses that this is still an early step and that such computers could be a decade or more away, in principle such a device could quickly solve currently intractable problems such as factoring very large numbers — a process whose difficulty forms the basis of today’s best encryption systems for financial transactions.

Besides quantum computing, the new system also offers the potential for a new way of carrying out precision measurements and quantum chemistry, Zwierlein says.

“These results are truly state of the art,” says Simon Cornish, a professor of physics at Durham University in the U.K., who was not involved in this work. The findings “beautifully reveal the potential of exploiting nuclear spin states in ultracold molecules for applications in quantum information processing, as quantum memories and as a means to probe dipolar interactions and ultracold collisions in polar molecules,” he says. “I think the results constitute a major step forward in the field of ultracold molecules and will be of broad interest to the large community of researchers exploring related aspects of quantum science, coherence, quantum information, and quantum simulation.”

The team also included MIT graduate student Zoe Yan and postdoc Huanqian Loh. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Army Research Office, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Primer on Mites

Mites are small arthropods belonging to the subclass Acari (also known as Acarina) and the class Arachnida. The scientific discipline devoted to the study of ticks and mites is called acarology.

Many species live in soil as decomposers; others are predatory or parasitic, these last including the commercially important Varroa mites of honeybees, and the scabies mite of humans

Diversity and Ecology

Mites are among the most diverse and successful of all the invertebrate groups. They have exploited a wide array of habitats, and because of their small size (most are micro-animals), go largely unnoticed. Some live freely in the soil or water, but many others live as parasites on plants, animals, and some that feed on mold. Some 48,200 species of mites have been described.

Mites occupy a wide range of ecological niches. For example, Oribatida mites are important decomposers in many habitats. They eat a wide variety of material including living and dead plant and fungal material, lichens and carrion; some are predatory, though no oribatid mites are parasitic.

Many mites are parasitic on plants and animals. One family of mites Pyroglyphidae, or nest mites, live primarily in the nests of birds and animals. These mites are largely parasitic and consume blood, skin and keratin. Dust mites, which feed mostly on dead skin and hair shed from humans instead of consuming them from the organism directly, evolved from these parasitic ancestors.

Insects are sometimes infested by parasitic mites. Examples are Varroa destructor, which attaches to the body of the honey bee, and Acarapis woodi (family Tarsonemidae), which lives in the tracheae of honey bees. Hundreds of species are associated with other bees, mostly poorly described. They attach to bees in a variety of ways. For example, Trigona corvina workers have been found with mites attached to the outer face of their hind tibiae. Some are thought to be parasites, while others are beneficial symbionts. Mites also parasitize some ant species, such as Eciton burchellii.

Plant pests include the so-called spider mites (family Tetranychidae), thread-footed mites (family Tarsonemidae), and the gall mites (family Eriophyidae). Among the species that attack animals are members of the sarcoptic mange mites (family Sarcoptidae), which burrow under the skin. Demodex mites (family Demodicidae) are parasites that live in or near the hair follicles of mammals, including humans. Acari are mites, except for the three families of ticks.

The tropical species Archegozetes longisetosus is one of the strongest animals in the world, relative to its mass (100 μg): It lifts up to 1,182 times its own weight, over five times more than would be expected of such a minute animal. Mites also hold the record speed; for its length, Paratarsotomus macropalpis is the fastest animal on Earth.

Medical Significance

The majority of mite species are harmless to humans, but a few species of mites can colonize humans directly, act as vectors for disease transmission, or cause or contribute to allergenic diseases.

Mites which colonize human skin are the cause of several types of itchy skin rashes, such as grain itch, grocer's itch, and scabies. Sarcoptes scabiei is a parasitic mite responsible for scabies which is one of the three most common skin disorders in children. Demodex mites, which are common cause of mange in dogs and other domesticated animals, have also been implicated in the human skin disease rosacea, although the mechanism by which demodex contributes to the disease is unclear.

Chiggers are known primarily for their itchy bite, but they can also spread disease in some limited circumstances, such as scrub typhus. The house-mouse mite is the only known vector of the disease rickettsialpox.

House dust mites, found in warm and humid places such as beds, cause several forms of allergic diseases, including hay fever, asthma and eczema, and are known to aggravate atopic dermatitis.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

3D Images of DNA

Salk Scientists Solve Longstanding Biological Mystery of DNA Organization
Researchers image 3D genome in nucleus of living human cell for the first time

LA JOLLA—July 27, 2017 -- Stretched out, the DNA from all the cells in our body would reach Pluto. So how does each tiny cell pack a two-meter length of DNA into its nucleus, which is just one-thousandth of a millimeter across?

The answer to this daunting biological riddle is central to understanding how the three-dimensional organization of DNA in the nucleus influences our biology, from how our genome orchestrates our cellular activity to how genes are passed from parents to children.

Now, scientists at the Salk Institute and the University of California, San Diego, have for the first time provided an unprecedented view of the 3D structure of human chromatin—the combination of DNA and proteins—in the nucleus of living human cells.

In the tour de force study, described in Science on July 27, 2017, the Salk researchers identified a novel DNA dye that, when paired with advanced microscopy in a combined technology called ChromEMT, allows highly detailed visualization of chromatin structure in cells in the resting and mitotic (dividing) stages. By revealing nuclear chromatin structure in living cells, the work may help rewrite the textbook model of DNA organization and even change how we approach treatments for disease.

“One of the most intractable challenges in biology is to discover the higher-order structure of DNA in the nucleus and how is this linked to its functions in the genome,” says Salk Associate Professor Clodagh O’Shea, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar and senior author of the paper. “It is of eminent importance, for this is the biologically relevant structure of DNA that determines both gene function and activity.”

Ever since Francis Crick and James Watson determined the primary structure of DNA to be a double helix, scientists have wondered how DNA is further organized to allow its entire length to pack into the nucleus such that the cell’s copying machinery can access it at different points in the cell’s cycle of activity. X-rays and microscopy showed that the primary level of chromatin organization involves 147 bases of DNA spooling around proteins to form particles approximately 11 nanometers (nm) in diameter called nucleosomes. These nucleosome “beads on a string” are then thought to fold into discrete fibers of increasing diameter (30, 120, 320 nm etc.), until they form chromosomes. The problem is, no one has seen chromatin in these discrete intermediate sizes in cells that have not been broken apart and had their DNA harshly processed, so the textbook model of chromatin’s hierarchical higher-order organization in intact cells has remained unverified.

To overcome the problem of visualizing chromatin in an intact nucleus, O’Shea’s team screened a number of candidate dyes, eventually finding one that could be precisely manipulated with light to undergo a complex series of chemical reactions that would essentially “paint” the surface of DNA with a metal so that its local structure and 3D polymer organization could be imaged in a living cell. The team partnered with UC San Diego professor and microscopy expert Mark Ellisman, one of the paper’s coauthors, to exploit an advanced form of electron microscopy that tilts samples in an electron beam enabling their 3D structure to be reconstructed. By combining their chromatin dye with electron-microscope tomography, they created ChromEMT.

The team used ChromEMT to image and measure chromatin in resting human cells and during cell division when DNA is compacted into its most dense form—the 23 pairs of mitotic chromosomes that are the iconic image of the human genome. Surprisingly, they did not see any of the higher-order structures of the textbook model anywhere.

“The textbook model is a cartoon illustration for a reason,” says Horng Ou, a Salk research associate and the paper’s first author. “Chromatin that has been extracted from the nucleus and subjected to processing in vitro—in test tubes—may not look like chromatin in an intact cell, so it is tremendously important to be able to see it in vivo.”

What O’Shea’s team saw, in both resting and dividing cells, was chromatin whose “beads on a string” did not form any higher-order structure like the theorized 30 or 120 or 320 nanometers. Instead, it formed a semi-flexible chain, which they painstakingly measured as varying continuously along its length between just 5 and 24 nanometers, bending and flexing to achieve different levels of compaction. This suggests that it is chromatin’s packing density, and not some higher-order structure, that determines which areas of the genome are active and which are suppressed.

With their 3D microscopy reconstructions, the team was able to move through a 250 nm x 1000 nm x 1000 nm volume of chromatin’s twists and turns, and envision how a large molecule like RNA polymerase, which transcribes (copies) DNA, might be directed by chromatin’s variable packing density, like a video game aircraft flying through a series of canyons, to a particular spot in the genome. Besides potentially upending the textbook model of DNA organization, the team’s results suggest that controlling access to chromatin could be a useful approach to preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases such as cancer.

“We show that chromatin does not need to form discrete higher-order structures to fit in the nucleus,” adds O’Shea. “It’s the packing density that could change and limit the accessibility of chromatin, providing a local and global structural basis through which different combinations of DNA sequences, nucleosome variations and modifications could be integrated in the nucleus to exquisitely fine-tune the functional activity and accessibility of our genomes.”

Future work will examine whether chromatin’s structure is universal among cell types or even among organisms.

Other authors included Sébastien Phan, Thomas Deerinck and Andrea Thor of the UC San Diego.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Basics of Actuators

An actuator is a component of a machine that is responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism or system, for example by actuating (opening or closing) a valve; in simple terms, it is a "mover".

An actuator requires a control signal and a source of energy. The control signal is relatively low energy and may be electric voltage or current, pneumatic or hydraulic pressure, or even human power. The supplied main energy source may be electric current, hydraulic fluid pressure, or pneumatic pressure. When the control signal is received, the actuator responds by converting the energy into mechanical motion.

An actuator is the mechanism by which a control system acts upon an environment. The control system can be simple (a fixed mechanical or electronic system), software-based (e.g. a printer driver, robot control system), a human, or any other input.


The history of the pneumatic actuation system and the hydraulic actuation system dates to around the time of World War II (1938). It was first created by Xhiter Anckeleman (pronounced 'Ziter') who used his knowledge of engines and brake systems to come up with a new solution to ensure that the brakes on a car exert the maximum force, with the least possible wear and tear.

There are hydraulic, pneumatic, electric, thermal or magnetic, and mechanical actuators.  There now exist 3-D printed soft actuators as well.

Examples of Actuators

  • Comb drive
  • Digital micromirror device
  • Electric motor
  • Electroactive polymer
  • Hydraulic cylinder
  • Piezoelectric actuator
  • Pneumatic actuator
  • Screw jack
  • Servomechanism
  • Solenoid
  • Stepper motor
  • Shape-memory alloy
  • Thermal bimorph

Performance Metrics

Performance metrics for actuators include speed, acceleration, and force (alternatively, angular speed, angular acceleration, and torque), as well as energy efficiency and considerations such as mass, volume, operating conditions, and durability, among others.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Terbinafine (antifungal)

Terbinafine, sold under the brand name Lamisil among others, is an antifungal medication used to treat ringworm, pityriasis versicolor, and fungal nail infections. It is either taken by mouth or applied to the skin as a cream or ointment. The cream and ointment are not effective for nail infections.

Common side effects when taken by mouth include nausea, diarrhea, headache, cough, rash, and elevated liver enzymes. Severe side effects include liver problems and allergic reactions. Use during pregnancy is not typically recommended. The cream and ointment may result in itchiness but are generally well tolerated. Terbinafine is in the allylamines family of medications. It works by decreasing the ability of fungi to make sterols.

Terbinafine was discovered in 1991. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. The wholesale cost in the developing world is about 2.20 USD for a 20 gm tube. In the United States a course of treatment costs less than 25 USD and is available over the counter.


Medical Uses

Terbinafine is mainly effective on the dermatophyte group of fungi.

As a cream or powder, it is used topically for superficial skin infections such as jock itch (tinea cruris), athlete's foot (tinea pedis), and other types of ringworm (tinea corporis). Terbinafine cream works in about half the time required by other antifungals.

Tablets by mouth are often prescribed for the treatment of onychomycosis, a fungal nail infection, typically by a dermatophyte or Candida species. Fungal nail infections are located deep under the nail in the cuticle to which topically applied treatments are unable to penetrate in sufficient amounts. The tablets may, rarely, cause hepatotoxicity, so patients are warned of this and may be monitored with liver function tests. Alternatives to by mouth administration have been studied.

Terbinafine hydrochloride may induce or exacerbate subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus. Persons with lupus erythematosus should first discuss possible risks with their doctor before initiation of therapy.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Primer on Contentment

Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction maybe drawn from being at ease in one's situation, body and mind. Colloquially speaking, contentment could be a state of having accepted one's situation and is a milder and more tentative form of happiness.

Peace and Contentment
By Eduard von Grutzner, 1897

Contentment and the pursuit of contentment are possibly a central thread through many philosophical or religious schools across diverse cultures, times and geographies. Siddharta might have said "Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth". John Stuart Mill, centuries later, would write "I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." Marcus Aurelius wrote "Live with the gods. And he who does so constantly shows them that his soul is satisfied with what is assigned to them." Hebrews 13:5 reads "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou once wrote in the 3rd century BCE (hypothetically) "A gentleman who profoundly penetrates all things and is in harmony with their transformations will be contented with whatever time may bring. He follows the course of nature in whatever situation he may be."

The literature seems to generally agree that contentment is maybe a state ideally reached through being happy with what a person has, as opposed to achieving one's larger ambitions, as Socrates described by probably saying "He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." That said, there may be a number of elements of achievement that may make finding a state of personal contentment easier: a strong family unit, a strong local community, and satisfaction of life's basic needs as perhaps expressed in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In general, the more needs in Maslow's hierarchy are achieved, the more easily one might achieve contentment.


Through factor analysis, personality can be narrowed down according to the five factor model, which holds that there are five aspects of heritable personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Research has shown that personality is 50% heritable, but not always. There are two aspects of personality which are related to happiness. There is a strong relationship between extraversion and happiness, in that the more extraverted a person is (or behaves) the more happy he/she will be. The other aspect of personality which has a strong relationship to happiness is the genetic predisposition to neuroticism. The more neurotic (emotionally unstable) a person is, the more likely he/she is to be unhappy.


Laughter is synonymous with happiness. A proposal is made here that when a line of thought (e.g. joke) or sensation (e.g. tickling) is not expected by one's psychological or physiological order respectively, it triggers a certain chaos and temporary breakdown of that order. The innate Contentment intrinsic to the person then breaks through this temporal breach to express itself in happy laughter.

Laughter has been used as a health therapy for many years such as in some hospitals through the showing of TV comedies for patients. Laughter clubs have also been formed in India and some Asian countries to promote laughter as a form of health-enhancement through regular meet-ups.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

World's Most Dangerous Snakes


The most dangerous snakes in the world tend to be sea snakes around Australia, the Coral Sea, Indonesia and adjacent land areas.  These are even worse than mambas, cobras and rattlesnakes.

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Sea snake
Inland Taipan
Coral Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea and Indian Ocean
Eastern brown snake
Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia
Tropical oceanic waters
Gulf of Siam, Strait of Taiwan, Coral sea islands, and other places
Mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma
eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula and Brunei, and in Halmahera, Indonesia
Western Australian Tiger snake
Tropical Indo-Pacific

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble, and is one of NASA's Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

With a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) mirror, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared spectra. Hubble's orbit outside the distortion of Earth's atmosphere allows it to take extremely high-resolution images, with substantially lower background light than ground-based telescopes. Hubble has recorded some of the most detailed visible light images ever, allowing a deep view into space and time. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

The HST was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) selects Hubble's targets and processes the resulting data, while the Goddard Space Flight Center controls the spacecraft.

Space telescopes were proposed as early as 1923. Hubble was funded in the 1970s, with a proposed launch in 1983, but the project was beset by technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster (1986). When finally launched in 1990, Hubble's main mirror was found to have been ground incorrectly, compromising the telescope's capabilities. The optics were corrected to their intended quality by a servicing mission in 1993.

Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. After launch by Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, five subsequent Space Shuttle missions repaired, upgraded, and replaced systems on the telescope, including all five of the main instruments. The fifth mission was initially canceled on safety grounds following the Columbia disaster (2003). However, after spirited public discussion, NASA administrator Mike Griffin approved the fifth servicing mission, completed in 2009. The telescope is operating as of 2017, and could last until 2030–2040. Its scientific successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is scheduled for launch in 2018.

List of Hubble Instruments

Hubble accommodates five science instruments at a given time, plus the Fine Guidance Sensors, which are mainly used for aiming the telescope but are occasionally used for science (astrometry). Early instruments were replaced with more advanced ones during the Shuttle servicing missions. COSTAR was strictly a corrective optics device rather than a true science instrument, but occupied one of the five instrument bays.

Since the final servicing mission in 2009, the four active instruments have been ACS, COS, STIS and WFC3. NICMOS is kept in hibernation, but may be revived if WFC3 were to fail in the future.

  • Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS; 2002-present)
  • Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS; 2009-present)
  • Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR; 1993-2009)
  • Faint Object Camera (FOC; 1990-2002)
  • Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS; 1990-1997)
  • Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS; 1990-present)
  • Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS/HRS; 1990-1997)
  • High Speed Photometer (HSP; 1990-1993)
  • Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS; 1997-present, hibernating since 2008)
  • Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS; 1997-present (non-operative 2004-2009)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC; 1990-1993)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2; 1993-2009)
  • Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3; 2009-present)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Girard Defines "Mimetic Desire"

Mimetic Desire

After almost a decade of teaching French literature in the United States, Rene Girard began to develop a new way of speaking about literary texts. Beyond the "uniqueness" of individual works, he looked for their common structural properties, having observed that characters in great fiction evolved in a system of relationships otherwise common to the wider generality of novels. But there was a distinction to be made:

Only the great writers succeed in painting these mechanisms faithfully, without falsifying them: we have here a system of relationships that paradoxically, or rather not paradoxically at all, has less variability the greater a writer is.

So there did indeed exist "psychological laws" as Proust calls them. These laws and this system are the consequences of a fundamental reality grasped by the novelists, which Girard called "the mimetic character of desire." This is the content of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961). We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person—the model—for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be", it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

Mediation is external when the mediator of the desire is socially beyond the reach of the subject or, for example, a fictional character, as in the case of Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote. The hero lives a kind of folly that nonetheless remains optimistic. Mediation is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject. The mediator then transforms into a rival and an obstacle to the acquisition of the object, whose value increases as the rivalry grows. This is the universe of the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky, which are particularly studied in this book.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them. Some, pursuing this logic, come to seek the failures that are the signs of the proximity of the ideal to which they aspire. This can manifest as a heightened experience of the universal pseudo-masochism inherent in seeking the unattainable, which can, of course, turn into sadism should the actor play this part in reverse.

This fundamental focus on mimetic desire would be pursued by Girard throughout the rest of his career. The stress on imitation in humans was not a popular subject when Girard developed his theories, but today there is independent support for his claims coming from empirical research in psychology and neuroscience (see the link below). Farneti (2013) also discusses the role of mimetic desire in intractable conflicts, using the case study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and referencing Girard's theory. He posits that intensified conflict is a product of the imitative behaviors of Israelis and Palestinians, entitling them ‘Siamese twins'.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dogs' Social Behavior

Researchers Identify a Common underlying Genetic Basis for Social Behavior in Dogs and Humans

Pooja Makhijani, Princeton University Office of Communications

July 19, 2017 -- Dogs’ ability to communicate and interact with humans is one the most astonishing differences between them and their wild cousins, wolves. A new study published today in the journal Science Advances identifies genetic changes that are linked to dogs’ human-directed social behaviors and suggests there is a common underlying genetic basis for hyper-social behavior in both dogs and humans.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, including those from Princeton University, sequenced a region of chromosome 6 in dogs and found multiple sections of canine DNA that were associated with differences in social behavior. In many cases, unique genetic insertions called transposons on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) were strongly associated with the tendency to seek out humans for physical contact, assistance and information.

In contrast, in humans, it is the deletion of genes from the counterpart of this region on the human genome, rather than insertions, that causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by hyper-social traits such as exceptional gregariousness.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author.

VonHoldt had identified the canine analog of the WBSCR in her publication in Nature in 2010. But it was Emily Shuldiner, a 2016 Princeton alumna and the study’s other lead co-author, who, as part of her senior thesis, pinpointed the commonalities in the genetic architecture of Williams-Beuren syndrome and canine tameness.

By analyzing behavioral and genetic data from dogs and gray wolves, vonHoldt, Shuldiner and their colleagues reported a strong genetic aspect to human-directed social behavior by dogs. Monique Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University and the paper’s senior author, collected and analyzed the behavioral data for 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive human-socialized wolves, as well as the biological samples used to sequence their genomes.

First, Udell quantified human-directed sociability traits in canines, such as to what extent they turned to a human in the room to seek assistance in trying to lift a puzzle box lid in order to get a sausage treat below or the degree to which they sought out social interactions with familiar and unfamiliar humans. Then, vonHoldt and Shuldiner sequenced the genome in vonHoldt’s lab and correlated their findings.

Consistent with their hypothesis, the researchers confirmed that the domesticated dogs displayed more human-directed behavior and spent more time in proximity to humans than the wolves. The also discovered that some of these transposons on the WBSCR were only found in domestic dogs, and not in wolves at all.

VonHoldt’s findings suggest that only a few transposons on this region likely govern a complex set of social behaviors. “We haven’t found a ‘social gene,’ but rather an important [genetic] component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog,” she said.

Anna Kukekova, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is familiar with the research but had no role in it, said that the paper points to these genes as being evolutionarily conserved, or essentially unchanged throughout evolution. “The research provides evidence that there exist certain evolutionary conservative mechanisms that contribute to sociability across species,” she said. “That they have found that this region contributes to sociability in dogs is exciting.”

Survival of the friendliest

The researchers’ evidence also calls into question the role of domestication in the evolution of canine behavior. Most experts agree that the first domesticated dogs were wolves that ventured into early human settlements. These proto-dogs evolved not only in their looks, but also their behavior, a process likely influenced by the species’ cohabitation, according to vonHoldt.

However, unlike previous research which suggests that, during the process of domestication, dogs were selected for a set of cognitive abilities, particularly an ability to discern gesture and voice, vonHoldt and Shuldiner’s research posits that dogs were instead selected for their tendency to seek human companionship.

“If early humans came into contact with a wolf that had a personality of being interested in them, and only lived with and bred those ‘primitive dogs,’ they would have exaggerated the trait of being social,” vonHoldt said.

Other authors on the paper were Ilana Janowitz Koch and Rebecca Kartzinel of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton; Andrew Hogan and Elaine Ostrander of the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute the National Institutes of Health; Lauren Brubaker and Shelby Wanser of the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University; Daniel Stahler of Yellowstone Center for Resources, National Park Service at Yellowstone National Park; Clive Wynne of the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health; and Janet Sinsheimer of the Departments of Human Genetics and Biomathematics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.

The study, “Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren Syndrome underlie stereotypical hyper-sociability in domestic dogs,” was published July 19 by Science Advances.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, as published in his first paper, "Cours d'économie politique". Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients." Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.

The Pareto principle is only tangentially related to Pareto efficiency. Pareto developed both concepts in the context of the distribution of income and wealth among the population.

In Economics

The original observation was in connection with population and wealth. Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the population. He then carried out surveys on a variety of other countries and found to his surprise that a similar distribution applied.

A chart that gave the inequality a very visible and comprehensible form, the so-called 'champagne glass' effect, was contained in the 1992 United Nations Development Program Report, which showed that distribution of global income is very uneven, with the richest 20% of the world's population controlling 82.7% of the world's income.

In Science

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Software

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Sports

It is said that about 20% of sportsmen participate in 80% of big competitions and out of them, 20% win 80% of the awards. This could also be applied to teams in many popular games.

The Pareto principle has also been applied to training, where roughly 20% of the exercises and habits have 80% of the impact and the trainee should not focus so much on a varied training. This does not necessarily mean eating heartily or going to the gym are not important, just that they are not as significant as the key activities.

The law of the few can be also seen in betting, where it is said that with 20% effort you can match the accuracy of 80% of the bettors.

Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational health and safety professionals use the Pareto principle to underline the importance of hazard prioritization. Assuming 20% of the hazards account for 80% of the injuries, and by categorizing hazards, safety professionals can target those 20% of the hazards that cause 80% of the injuries or accidents. Alternatively, if hazards are addressed in random order, a safety professional is more likely to fix one of the 80% of hazards that account only for some fraction of the remaining 20% of injuries.

Aside from ensuring efficient accident prevention practices, the Pareto principle also ensures hazards are addressed in an economical order as the technique ensures the resources used are best used to prevent the most accidents.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

World Record for Coup Attempts

The nation with the most coup attempts in history is Spain (even more than the attempts in Greece).  Here they are:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

  1. 603 by General Witerico against king Liuva II
  2. 631 by Duke Sisenando against king Suintila
  3. 642 : Tulga was overthrown by Chindasvinto
  4. 692 : Égica was briefly overthrown by Suniefredo
  5. 1814 : Absolutist pronunciamiento of Fernando VII and Francisco Javier de Elío
  6. 1815 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Juan Díaz Porlier at A Coruña
  7. 1820 : successful liberal pronunciamiento of Rafael del Riego, start of the Trienio Liberal
  8. 1822 : failed absolutist coup by the Royal Guard of Fernando VII
  9. 1831 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Manuel de Torrijos
  10. 1835 : liberal pronunciamiento of Cordero y de Quesada
  11. 1836 : successful liberal mutiny of La Granja de San Ildefonso
  12. 1841 : failed Moderate pronunciamiento
  13. 1843 : successful Moderate pronunciamiento of Narváez and Francisco Serrano y Domínguez, end of the Baldomero Espartero regency
  14. 1844 : failed liberal and Esparterist coup, led by Martín Zurbano
  15. 1846 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Galicia, led by Miguel Solís Cuetos
  16. 1848 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Madrid, led by colonel Manuel Buceta
  17. 1854 : successful revolutionary coup in Madrid, led by general Leopoldo O'Donnell
  18. 1860 : failed carlist military uprising at Sant Carles de la Ràpita, led by general Jaime Ortega y Olleta
  19. 1866 : failed Progressive and Democrat coup in Madrid
  20. 1866 : failed pronunciamiento of Villarejo de Salvanés, led by general Juan Prim
  21. 1868 : successful Glorious Revolution, started by the pronunciamiento of Juan Bautista Topete in Cádiz
  22. 1874 : successful coup of Manuel Pavía y Rodríguez de Alburquerque
  23. 1874 : successful "Pronunciamiento de Sagunto", that ends the Spanish First Republic and restores monarchy and the Borbón family at the throne
  24. 1883 : failed 5 August republican pronunciamiento in Badajoz
  25. 1886 : failed republican coup in Madrid, led by Manuel Villacampa del Castillo and Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla
  26. 1923 by Miguel Primo de Rivera against Manuel García Prieto
  27. 1926 : failed "Sanjuanada", a coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera
  28. 1929 : failed coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, led by José Sánchez-Guerra y Martínez
  29. 1930 : failed republican pronunciamiento in Jaca
  30. 1932 by José Sanjurjo failed to overthrow Manuel Azaña
  31. 1936 by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña and the Second Spanish Republic, starting the Spanish Civil War
  32. 1939 by Segismundo Casado against the republican government of Juan Negrín
  33. November 17, 1978: An aborted coup led by Antonio Tejero to stop the Spanish transition to democracy.
  34. February 23, 1981: A group led by Tejero broke into the Congress of Deputies while they were preparing to elect Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as the new prime minister. King Juan Carlos denounced the coup in a nationally televised address, and the coup collapsed the next day with no casualties.
  35. October 27, 1982: A group of far-right colonels failed to overthrow Calvo Sotelo.
  36. June 2, 1985: a group of far-right soldiers and officers (along with some civilians) planned to take power thanks to a false flag attack, but the conspiracy was later aborted

The Disney Railroads

“Yes, in one way or another I have always loved trains.”
          —Walt Disney

Rail transport can be found in every theme park resort property owned or licensed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the theme park and vacation resort segment of the larger Walt Disney Company. The origins of Disney theme park rail transport can be traced back to Walt Disney himself and his personal fondness for railroads, who insisted that they be included in the first Disney park, the original Disneyland (a key component of the Disneyland Resort) in California in the United States, which opened on July 17, 1955. The Disney tradition of including transport by rail in its parks has since been extended to other Disney properties with the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida in the United States, Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan, Disneyland Paris in France, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in China, and Shanghai Disney Resort in China.

Each Disney theme park resort has a rail transport system serving its general resort area, whether it's a monorail system located inside the Disney resort properties in the United States and Japan, or a conventional rail system connecting external rail networks to the Disney resorts in France and China. The Disneyland Monorail System in California is notable for being the first monorail system to operate in the United States, while the Walt Disney World Monorail System in Florida, with an estimated 150,000 passengers each day, is one of the busiest monorail systems in the world. Both Disney park resort properties in the United States, as well as those in Japan and France, contain theme parks that feature genuine steam-powered railroads. The Disney park chain has one of the world's largest private collections of operational steam locomotives, with seventeen in total spread across the globe. Additional rail systems within the theme parks in both United States resorts and the Hong Kong resort resemble steam-powered railroads, but their locomotives are powered by internal combustion engines. Other rail transport modes found in Disney parks include horse-drawn streetcar rail lines in the parks within both resorts in the United States and the resort in France, as well as replica vintage electric rail lines in the parks in California and Japan.

The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chain of theme parks is the largest on the planet by annual attendance with over 140.4 million visitors in 2016, and the rail systems located inside its properties play key roles as modes of transportation and as attractions for its visitors.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Untimely Death: Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani (May 3, 1977 to July 15, 2017) was an Iranian mathematician and a professor of mathematics at Stanford University. Her research topics include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.

On August 13, 2014, Mirzakhani became both the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. The award committee cited her work in "the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces."

Early Life and Education

Mirzakhani was born on 3 May 1977 in Tehran, Iran. She attended Farzanegan School there, part of the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents.

In 1994, Mirzakhani won a gold medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad, the first female Iranian student to do so. In the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad, she became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score and to win two gold medals.

She obtained her BSc in mathematics (1999) from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. She went to the United States for graduate work, earning a PhD from Harvard University in 2004, where she worked under the supervision of the Fields Medalist Curtis McMullen.


Mirzakhani was a 2004 research fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professor at Princeton University. In 2008 she became a professor at Stanford University.

Research Work

Mirzakhani made several contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. In her early work, Mirzakhani discovered a formula expressing the volume of a moduli space with a given genus as a polynomial in the number of boundary components. This led her to obtain a new proof for the formula discovered by Edward Witten and Maxim Kontsevich on the intersection numbers of tautological classes on moduli space, as well as an asymptotic formula for the growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on a compact hyperbolic surface, generalizing the theorem of the three geodesics for spherical surfaces. Her subsequent work focused on Teichmüller dynamics of moduli space. In particular, she was able to prove the long-standing conjecture that William Thurston's earthquake flow on Teichmüller space is ergodic.

Most recently as of 2014, with Alex Eskin and with input from Amir Mohammadi, Mirzakhani proved that complex geodesics and their closures in moduli space are surprisingly regular, rather than irregular or fractal. The closures of complex geodesics are algebraic objects defined in terms of polynomials and therefore they have certain rigidity properties, which is analogous to a celebrated result that Marina Ratner arrived at during the 1990s. The International Mathematical Union said in its press release that, "It is astounding to find that the rigidity in homogeneous spaces has an echo in the inhomogeneous world of moduli space."

Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces". The award was made in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians on 13 August.

At the time of the award, Jordan Ellenberg explained her research to a popular audience:

... [Her] work expertly blends dynamics with geometry. Among other things, she studies billiards. But now, in a move very characteristic of modern mathematics, it gets kind of meta: She considers not just one billiard table, but the universe of all possible billiard tables. And the kind of dynamics she studies doesn't directly concern the motion of the billiards on the table, but instead a transformation of the billiard table itself, which is changing its shape in a rule-governed way; if you like, the table itself moves like a strange planet around the universe of all possible tables ... This isn't the kind of thing you do to win at pool, but it's the kind of thing you do to win a Fields Medal. And it's what you need to do in order to expose the dynamics at the heart of geometry; for there's no question that they're there.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran congratulated her.

Personal Life

Mirzakhani was married to Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist and applied mathematician who is an associate professor at Stanford University; they had a daughter named Anahita. Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. After four years, it spread to her bone marrow. She died on 15 July 2017.

Major Awards and Honors

  • AMS Blumenthal Award 2009
  • The 2013 AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics. "Presented every two years by the American Mathematical Society, the Satter Prize recognizes an outstanding contribution to mathematics research by a woman in the preceding six years. The prize was awarded on Thursday, 10 January 2013, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego
  • Clay Research Award 2014
  • Fields Medal 2014