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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Square of the Hippopotamus

I'm taking another run at trying to understand quantum computing. To that end I've been watching some Leonard Susskind video lectures. (Leonard is the father of string theory.) They are kind of long, and he wanders a bit, but he does a pretty good job of explaining stuff. Unfortunately, like most other explanations I've come across, he starts talking about the physics, but then he starts talking about the math used to describe what is going on and he never comes back to the physics. Oh, I imagine he might, eventually, I've only watched a couple of them, but so far it's ten minutes of physics and then ten hours of talking about the math used to describe the physics. I think these guys like the math more than the physics, and I guess I can sympathize, after all, the math follows rules, and the physics by itself doesn't really make any sense at all. Still hoping I can break on through to the other side.

Meanwhile, I got a little ticked off in lecture two where he starts talking about the "complex conjugate" of a vector, and how if you multiple a vector by its' complex conjugate, you get it's magnitude. If you are talking about a two dimensional vector, like an arrow drawn on a sheet of graph paper, then the product you get from multiplying these two vectors is the square of the hypotenuse. Shades of Pythagoras!

Then I thought a little more, and began to wonder if maybe I was being unfair. I am partial to terms like "Pythagorean theorem", "hypotenuse" and "Cartesian coordinate system" because those are the terms I learned as a lad. I don't like "complex", "conjugate" and "vector", because, well, because they are new. Are they really any worse than the old terms? Well, maybe. "Complex" implies complicated, and complex numbers are not really complicated, so it's a bad term. "Conjugate" is something you do with words, not numbers, so it's a stupid word, and "vector" can mean either of two things (a list of numbers or an arrow) and you have to figure it out from context. So all you people who say "math is stupid" have some grounds for your complaint.

All this so far has just been an excuse to post this erudite bit of wisdom I found on Look! A Baby Wolf!:
There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant. The first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys.This just goes to prove that…. the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.


Ole Phat Stu said...

And here's the generalisation for you : Pythagoros on a sphere :-

because Pythagoras on a plane is just a special cae (where R is infinite).

CA Bob said...

The solution to that hippo problem is radius x diameter x radius squared,





(Har de har har!)