Richard Feynman

October 14th: Clock

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Want to learn some physics? Go watch/read Richard Feynman’s Lectures.

Want to be inspired? Feynman’s Lectures.

Want to have some fun? Feynman’s Lectures.

Feynman is one of the most loved scientists of all times. And for good reasons. He was awarded the Nobel prize for Quantum Electrodynamics, he collaborated in the Manhattan project, he invented a new type of diagram to describe the behaviour of subatomic particles (one of which is called penguin diagram – I like penguins!). But at the same time, he would play the bongo, he would spend time pranking his colleagues by discovering their combination locks, he would deliver engaging lectures that have made the history of science communication.

There is a famous episode that in the most intimate and moving way can inform us about Feynman: the moment his wife died.

“Finally he heard a last small breath, and a nurse came and said that Arline was dead. He leaned over to kiss her and made a mental note of the surprising scent of her hair, surprising because it was the same as always.” Gleick, James writes in one of Feynman biography book.  “The nurse recorded the time of death, 9:21 P.M. He discovered, oddly, that the clock had halted at that moment—just the sort of mystical phenomenon that appealed to unscientific people.”

But he was a scientific mind. Shortly after he remembered that he had repaired that same clock several times, and it was pretty fragile because of that. The nurse must had stopped it when they picked it to check the time of death.

Even at the time of tragedy, he used reason and science to make sense of the world. Because science can make the world a more beautiful place!

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”


If you wondering what’s going on here, I explained it on this blog post: Inking Science

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Tim Berners-Lee

October 13th: Guarded

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You are reading this blog page. This means you have opened a browser (or an app, these days) and you typed newoldscience.com or you clicked on a link someone shared; this action triggered your computer to send a request to find “newoldscience.com” on the web; domain name servers (DNS) will redirect your request in the right direction until it finds the WordPress server where newoldscience.com is stored. The server will send back packages with the contents of the webpage you were looking for, the header, the footer, etc. Once the packages are in, the browser will make sense of it according to protocols and reconstruct the hypertext you are seeing on screen.

Now, imagine that there are no browsers, there is no concept of hypertext, there are no servers or nodes or the web. But you still really want to share information. If you are Tim Berner-Lee, this would not stop you.

Tim Berners-Lee is the engineer famous for the invention of the World-Wide-Web at Cern in the early 90s. This meant that he invented hypertext, hyperlinks, the first browser (that cool enough was also an editor), the first server and the first protocols to have the computers in the network at Cern being able to communicate the large amount of data it was generated in the science facility.  The first web page address was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html is a geeky history pearl.

His story teaches us so much. It highlights the importance of fundamental research: studying particles physics might not have a direct known application, but there is a sheer amount of innovation accompanying this field. It also emphasises that knowledge is made to be shared. Especially, it should be shared freely, moreover when it can change people’s life.

Sir Burner-Lee did not patent the WWW and only a few years after he published it, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C is a non-profit foundation with the aim to create standards for the Web. In other words, W3C, guided by Tim Berners-Lee, is guarding the WWW and its coherence against the pulling mechanism of the market.


If you wondering what’s going on here, I explained it on this blog post: Inking Science