Less than five
years ago, the speed of light was considered one of the universe's great
constants. Albert Einstein theorized that light cannot travel faster
than 186,282 miles per second. No one has proved him wrong, but he never
said that it couldn't go slower.
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Being illiterate and innumerate shouldn't shame anyone Nick Green
Article from SMH (Heckler)
March 26, 2007
Language is evolving and our words and the
rules for their use differ from those of the past. It may be a bit sad
that lazy or uninformed usage creates the way of the future, but it
I wonder, though, why only with language?
What makes words so special? Maths and numbers get enough incorrect
interpretations, so why can't the innumerate, as well as the illiterate,
have control of the future?
Maths textbooks will take a while to catch
up; the same is true of dictionaries. Editorial teams have to argue at
length to decide that a definition or sum has really changed. In common
usage, though, we can do as we please. So it would seem, anyway.
When teams play now they "verse" each other.
"Who did you verse?" (Forget "whom". It's long dead.) "We're versing you
next." Pity the Latin scholar who might feel the loss of "versus" more
keenly than many. "Verse" in this context is close, but not quite right.
So why not try 2+2=5? It's close, and for many applications might
"The tanks waded in," was heard in a recent
news report. The battle might have been in a pond, but I doubt it.
Presumably, the tanks weighed in, but "waded" sounds OK, so maybe it
In the same way 4x4=44 might work. Say it
like this: "Four fours are forty-four." Rolls off the tongue, doesn't
it? Try it and work on variations.
Another way to transform maths could be to
use the right rule at the wrong time. Apostrophes suffer from this with
appalling frequency. I will almost tolerate DVDs and the 1960s these
days. However, a sign the other day declared "Cleanskin's wines".
There's nothing wrong with apostrophes in general; that was just not a
good place to use one.
In maths we could try that with cancelling
in fractions. Simplify 18/85? Easy, cancel the 8s to get 1/5. This
extended and improved use of cancelling is already gaining acceptance.
Email your old maths teacher and he or she
will simplify 16/64 to equal 1/4. Just cancel the 6s and your answer
cannot be faulted.
I hope everyone will give this some thought
and at least experiment a little. Go easy if you work in a bank or if
you are a maths teacher. Remember that language changes are evolutionary
and maths should follow the same pattern.
Don't go for too much too soon, and take
care. Perhaps it might be better to ignore the tricky ones, such as
"nonplussed" or d/dx (log x) = 1/x, until things get well under way. In
fact, who really knows what they mean anyway?
Any high-school student can tell you the prime
factors of 15 are 3 and 5.
But if that student could tell you the prime factors
of a number hundreds of digits long, they could crack the "RSA"
encryption that underpins privacy and security on the internet, from
online banking to confidential government emails.
A team of researchers at Queensland University has
recently set a world-first benchmark using a quantum computer to find
the prime factors of 15. It is a "baby step" on a path to smashing the
science of cryptography.
"There's a hell of a long way to go - we have created
the world's most boring, simplest quantum computer," says Professor
Andrew White of the university's physics department. "But if I was
encrypting things I still wanted to be secret in 20 years' time - now I
"We don't think we will threaten cryptography any
time soon. But we are very excited about this demonstration: there is a
path to scalability, to developing a computer that can solve problems
impossible on a classical computer."
Their experiment, now being peer-reviewed for
publication, uses the mysterious physical state known as "quantum
entanglement" to run a mathematical function known as Shor's algorithm,
a short cut to find prime factors that classical machines would take
centuries to compute.
But there are theoretical and practical problems
along the way to a full RSA-cracking machine, says PhD student Ben
Lanyon who also worked on the experiment.
"(We) only factored 15 and found the answer was 3 and
5 - and it was incredibly hard to do," he says. "But we have shown we
can do it on an optics-based system, in Australia. For the first time,
we've demonstrated all the processes required for a more useful
demonstration. However, such a demonstration is a long way off yet."
The technology could also be used to analyse the
structure of complex molecules, helping design future drugs.
Coincidentally, RSA Security's global president, Art
Coviello, was in Australia when the research was revealed.
"In my business, everything is a concern," he says.
"(Our) pure research organisation focuses on these very issues. All of
these things have to be dealt with not with conjecture but with
mathematics and I'm sure we will respond to it."
Burt Kaliski, the founding scientist at RSA
Laboratories, says the latest breakthroughs are "one more step on the
long road to practicality" for quantum computing. "We're continuing to
track the progress and keep an appropriate edge for our customers, just
as we do for any other potential (and in this case long-term and
theoretical) avenue of attack."
RSA Laboratories is working to develop new encryption
algorithms considered impervious to quantum computation.
There are many more immediate threats to security on
the internet, Mr Coviello says.
"I continue to worry about the sheer number of access
points," he says. "I worry about the connectivity between the
ever-increasing number of web applications and the connections to legacy
systems that weren't built for this level of openness. I continue to
worry about the exposure of personally identifiable information, which
has to be used to access commercial or government services, and how that
information can be protected from attack."