Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ghosts

From George Gamow, My World Line: An Informal Autobiography (1970):
During my stay in Göttingen I made friends with a jolly Austrian-born physicist, Fritz Houtermans. He had recently completed his Ph.D. in experimental physics but was always quite enthusiastic about theoretical problems. When I told him about my work on the theory of alpha decay, he insisted that it must be done with higher precision and in more detail. Being a native Viennese, he could work only in a cafĂ©, and I will always remember him sitting with a slide rule at a table covered with papers and a dozen or so empty coffee cups. (During that period, when one asked for more coffee in Germany, the waiter always brought a new cup, leaving the empty ones on th table to be counted in making up the bill.) We also tried to use the old electric (not electronic, of course) computer in the university’s Mathematical Institute, but it always went haywire after midnight. We ascribed this interference to the ghost of Karl Friedrich Gauss arriving to inspect his old place.

4 comments:

  1. The ghost in the machine!

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  2. Maybe I am a native Viennese, except I never have a slide rule...as

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  3. uh, that "as" means nothing--it was the first two letters of the word verification, and somehow the cursor was in the wrong place. In case you were wondering. (And now I will go type diynubf in the correct slot.)

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  4. Word Verification as spiritualist technology... perhaps becca is being encouraged to be self-sufficient as in a simpler time ("do it yourself, not unlike before factories").

    Nice clipping - explosionistesque!

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