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four-Oscar actress Katherine Hepburn1,2 died
on June 29, 2003, at the age of 96. The memorial broadcasting of the 1955
film Summertime3 was made by NHK (Nippon
Hoso Kyokai; Japan Broadcasting Company) on
July 4. The Japanese title of this film is Ryojo (Traveler's sentiment). In
Japan this film seems to be one of the most popular works of
Hepburn. I had just wanted to see it for the third time. The reason is that it
was filmed in location in Venice, where I visited in May of this year. After
seeing the place with my own eyes and learning some Italian words, I
got a new vivid impression from the film. The love story of the film ending in
separation was moving even in the third visit.
- See for an obituary:
Hepburn dead at 96" (CNN.com, Jun. 30, 2003).
- See for photos and biography:
Katharine Houghton Hepburn
- A plot synopsis is given:
14 Jul 03
72. Accurate Painting
was a piece of news about one of Vincent Van Gogh's famous paintings at the
Nature web site.1 It can be summarized
Gogh made the work "Moonrise" in a village in France during the summer of 1889
while staying in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. From the position
of the full moon near a cliff shown in the painting, an astronomer Donald
Olson of Southwest Texas State University and his colleagues found by
calculation2 that the exact time of painting
was 21:08, July 13. On July 13 this year, which was the 150th anniversary of
Gogh's birth, the same scene was seen at the same position; it happens only once
every 19 years.
It was a surprise to me that Gogh's painting depicted the scene so accurately
to allow the astronomers to make this finding. I had been supposing that Gogh
had valued his own impression rather than accuracy in making his works and
that he had artistically modified real scenes.
- "Moon dates Van
Gogh," Nature Science Update, 13 June 2003.
- D. W. Olson, R. L. Doescher, and M. S. Olson, "Dating van Gogh's Moonrise"
Sky and Telescope, July, 54-55 (2003).
15 Aug 03
73. Rare Events
Mars and the moon, taken at 21:55, September 8, 2003, in Sakai, Osaka.
G. Wells wrote in his 1898 scientific fiction "The War of the World":
I went for a walk with my wife. It was starlight, and I explained the Signs of
the Zodiac to her, and pointed out Mars, a bright dot of light creeping
zenith-ward, towards which so many telescopes were pointed.
That was the eve of a Martian invasion to Earth in that fiction. In reality,
especially many telescopes and naked eyes were pointed toward Mars in the
evening of August 27, 2003. This was the occasion of the historical event that
Mars and Earth passed closer together than at any time in almost 60,000
The distance of the closest approach of the two planets was 56 million
kilometers. The last time the two planets were this close together was in the
period when Neanderthals roamed Earth, on September 12, 57,617 BC, to be
precise. There will not be another close approach for 284
Thus, the event of August 27, 2003, was quite a rare one. In a strict sense,
however, everyone's experience on every day is the first happening since the
birth of the universe billions of years ago. We must therefore value our daily
life and make efforts to live peacefully on this planet without destroying it
by wars or ecologically bad effects.
- "Mars makes close
approach to Earth," BBC News, Science/Nature, Aug. 27, 2003.
28 Aug 03
74. Repetition of the Same Error
a seven-month examination about the cause of the disaster of space
shuttle Columbia, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) released its final
report on August 26, 2003. The report concluded that a piece of Columbia's
foam insulation that had fallen off during launch was indeed to blame. The
report also said that NASA had done little to improve shuttle safety since it
had lost the shuttle Challenger in 1986, mentioning a space agency bureaucracy
compromised by lax safety standards, slipshod management and dwindling funds
as significant factors in the
In the report for the Challenger accident, the organizational problems within
NASA were also pointed out. In a sense, therefore, the loss of Columbia was
the repetition of the same error. Such a repetition can occur only for those
who do not carefully learn from experiences. At NASA they should
seriously learn from the two disasters and reports to continue the space
program. -- I am afraid that in a certain country there are many politicians
who do not learn from the history of the aggressive war started by that
Note added later
In the earlier essay of this column entitled
"Breaking Up of Columbia" I
wished that another Richard Feynman would soon clarify the cause of the
Columbia disaster reminding his famous demonstration of an O-ring in ice
water in the 1986 Challenger investigation. Actually there was another Feynman
in the Columbia investigation.1
The panelist Douglas Osheroff, a Nobel laureate and a physicist like Feynman,
demolished NASA's theory of how the foam broke off the fuel tank doing an
experiment with a fairly simple setup.
"Concerns raised that changes in NASA won't last," CNN.com, Science & Space,
Aug. 26, 2003.
- "'I think I added something'," Science Vol. 301, No.5638 p. 1300 (2003).
5 Sep 03; Note, 12 Sep 03
75. Better Intelligibility among Non-native Speakers
years ago, a professor from Beijing said to me, "The speed of your
English speaking is just good for me to understand. So we, non-native English
speakers, understand each other better in English than we understand native
speakers." I quite agreed with her. However, the reason for easier
communication in English among non-native English speakers seems to be not
only their speed of speaking but also their accent.
A study related to the above phenomenon was recently
reported.1 Tessa Bent and
Ann Bradlow from Northwestern University in Illinois made an experiment with
students at an American summer school for learning
English.2 Their subjects
included Chinese, Koreans, Bengalis, Hindi speakers, Japanese, Romanians,
Slovakians, Spaniards and Thais, as well as American English speakers.
Participants took turns speaking and listening. They were recorded saying
simple English phrases such as "The dog came back," and assessed for their
The results showed that non-natives found each other at least as intelligible
as native English speakers, regardless of whether they shared a first
language. Bent and Bradlow suggest that there may be features of the target
language that all non-natives omit.
"Accents have advantages: A foreign tongue can be easier to understand in the
mouth of a non-native," Nature science Update, Sep. 8, 2003.
- T. Bent and A. R. Bradlow,
"The interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit," Journal of the
Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 114, pp. 1600-1610 (2003).
6 Oct 03
76. I've Read Books Written by Two among Three of Them!
2003 Nobel Prize in Physics has been shared by three low-temperature
theorists for their pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors
and superfluids.1 The laureates are Alexei
A. Abrikosov of Argonne National Laboratory, USA, Vitaly L. Ginzburg of P. N.
Lebedev Physical Institute, Russia, and Anthony J. Leggett of the University of
Illinois at Urbana, USA.
I have not learned low-temperature physics, but have known all of those names.
Possibly I learned the name of Abrikosov from the titles of papers a friend of
mine, Professor Kazumi Maki at the University of South California, published
when he was young. Kazumi has also made a lot of contributions to the theory of
superconductors. So, browsing the titles of his many publications in an abstract
journal was a good stimulus to me in my young days.
I learned the names of Ginzburg and Leggett from their books I read more than
15 years ago. Both of them wrote about the important problems of physics yet
to be solved.2,3 They have wonderful
perception not only for the field of their own work but also for all the fields
of physics. Ginzburg's book even refers to the problems of astrophysics. I liked
their books very much, and learned a great deal from these.
Note added later
It is also a possibility that I learned the name of Abrikosov from a good book
on low-temperature physics written by Kurt Mendelssohn for lay
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2003 (Nobel e-Muesum, 7 Oct 2003).
V. L. Ginzburg, "Physics and Astrophysics: A Selection of Key Problems,"
Translator, O. Glebov; Translation Editor, G. R. ter Haar (Pergamon, Oxford,
A. J. Leggett, "The Problems of Physics" (Oxford University Press, New York,
K. Mendelsohn, "The Quest for Absolute Zero:The Meaning of Low Temperature
Physics," 2nd edition (Taylor & Francis, London, 1977)
8 Oct 03
77. Steven Weinberg's Golden Lessons to Students
the Concepts page of a recent issue of Nature, the Nobel-Prize
winning physicist Steven Weinberg gives an essay entitled "Four Golden
These lessons are important pieces of advice to students at the start of their
scientific careers. I would like to cite the four items here:
- No one knows everything, and you don't have to.
- Go for the messes -- that's where the action is.
- Get used to spending most of your time not being creative, to being becalmed
on the ocean of scientific knowledge.
- Learn something about the history of science, or at a minimum the history of
your own branch of science.
Weinberg explains these lessons understandably using his own experiences, a
historical fact and the role of science in cultural context. I strongly
recommend to every science student and young scientist to read this essay.
- S. Weinberg, Nature Vol. 426, p. 389 (2003).
9 Dec 03
78. Japanese People's Souls for Peace
December 9, 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his cabinet decided
to send Japan's self-defense forces (SDF) to Iraq. The decision is a
gross turning point to make the SDF pave its largest overseas mission
since the end of World War II. After the decision, Koizumi said, "We are not
going to war." Owing to the security situation in Iraq, however, the SDF may
be drawn into combat.
Article nine of the nation's constitution forbids the forces from waging war
overseas. Therefore, the dispatch of the SDF violates the pacifist article,
which is, so to say, the treasure of the world. Not only Koizumi and his
cabinet but also the Japanese public, which supported Liberal Democratic Party
for many years, are responsible for this bad decision.
Thomas Paine started the first of his "American Crisis" pamphlets, published in
1776, by the sentence: "These are the times that try men's souls." Now we
should say, "These are the times that try Japanese people's souls."
21 Dec 03
79. Passage of Time
feels the passage of time faster when one gets older. I learned that this
was due to the lowering of metabolism with increasing age.
In a year-end essay in a recent issue of the Asahi-Shimbun, the writer Nobuko
Takagi referred to her own supposition that the length of a year felt by a
person might be proportional to the ratio of the amount of the person's
experience in that year to the total amount of experience since the birth.
This ratio is approximately proportional to the reciprocal of the person's
Then at older ages, Takagi proposes, we should forget the past experience or
our age to replace it by the expected future experience or the expected residual
life to feel the passage of time longer. I don't know if her supposition is
physiologically correct or if the replacement proposed really works. However, it
is an interesting idea, and is a good suggestion for how to live at older ages.
Note added later
From Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara's essay in the Asahi dated January 10, 2004, I
learned that the French psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947) had proposed a
hypothesis about the psychological time similar to the one described above.
According to Janet's words, the psychological length, for a person, of a
definite time interval is proportional to the reciprocal of the length of his or
her life until then.
30 Dec 03
80. Sleep and Insight
his days of attacking the problem of the origin of nuclear force,
the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Hideki Yukawa wrote:
... when I lay down in bed at night, interesting ideas entered my head. They
seemed to grow, unhampered by the rows of equations. Then I became tired, and
eventually fell off to sleep. When I thought about those ideas the next morning,
I found that they were all worthless.1
Yukawa's finding of the worthlessness of the ideas he had the previous night
might have been due to the insight inspired by sleep.
Recently German psychologists, Wagner and his coworkers, published the results
of experiments to show a facilitating role of sleep in a process of
In their experiments subjects performed a Number Reduction Task originally
developed by Thurstone and
An example trial of Task is as follows:
1 1 4 4 9 4 9 4
1 9 1 4 4 1 9
A string, given to the subjects, of eight digits (the first line of the above
example) is always composed of the digits '1', '4' and '9'. The subjects have to
determine only a digit coming at the end of a reduced string ('9' at the end of
the second line in the above example). This can be achieved by sequentially
processing the digits pair-wise from left to right according to the two simple
rules: (1) The 'same rule' states that the result of two identical digits is
just this digit. (2) The 'different rule' states that the result of two
non-identical digits is the remaining third digit of this three-digit system.
The first pair is the first two digits, '1' and '1,' of the first string. This
yields the first number '1' of the reduced string according to the 'same
rule'. Hereafter the number just gotten and the number at its upper right make
a next pair. Thus the first digit '1' of the reduced string and the third
number '4' of the initial string yields '9' for the second digit of the
reduced string according to the 'different rule'. ... Finally the subjects get
the last digit '9' as the solution.
Not mentioning to the subjects, Wagner and his coworkers generated the strings
in such a way that the last three responses ('4', '1' and '9' of the reduced
string in the above example) mirrored the previous three responses (i.e., the
last three digits were the same digits as the previous three appearing in the
reverse order). This implies that the second digit of the reduced string
always gave the required final solution. The subjects who gain insight into
this hidden rule abruptly cut short sequential responding, and get the solution
immediately after the second response. In the experiments of Wagner and his
coworkers, more than twice as many subjects gained insight into the hidden rule
after sleep as after wakefulness.
An introductory article4 to the paper of
Wagner and his coworkers gives the following instances of scientific insights
and artistic creativity gained by sleep:
- Friedlich Kekule's ring-like structure of benzene.
- Otto Loewi's principle of chemical neurotransmission.
- Elias Howe's sewing machine.
- Herman Hilprecht's translation of cuneiform script on the 'stone of
- Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table.
- Robert Louis Stevenson's key scenes in the novel The strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem Kubla Khan.
- Giuseppe Tartini's violin sonata Il trillo del Diavolo (Devil's
- Arthur Benson's poem The Phoenix.
- Jules Massenet's several operatic compositions.
Let's have a good sleep!
"Hideki Yukawa 'Tabibito' (The Traveler)," Translated by L. Brown and R.
Yoshida (World Scientific, Singapore, 2004).
- U. Wagner, S. Gais, H. Haider, R. Verleger and J. Born, Nature Vol. 427,
p. 352 (2004).
- L. L. Thurstone and T. G. Thurstone, Psychometr. Monogr. Vol. 2, p. 94
- P. Maquet and P. Ruby, Nature Vol. 427, p. 304 (2004).
16 Feb 04