The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California on December 24, 1988 · 32
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The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California · 32

San Francisco, California
Issue Date:
Saturday, December 24, 1988
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t t i r t '' v I k . ! D-2 .Saturday, December 24, 1 988 SAN FRANCISCO EXA-MINER ? 1 i ? c LAWRENCE MAGID & RICHARD O'REILLY Making good use of information Ti HE INFORMATION age has a serious drawback. The information you receive of ten is not in the form you need to make good use of it. For inst ance, I see a lot of computer articles and press releases that I would like to be able to keep and retrieve later by subject. The traditional file folder in a drawer isn't a very handy solution. What if the document covers dozens of sub jects? Then there are tables of numbers to contend with. One week I may get an annual report on Apple Computer and the next week, one on Tandy Corp. If I want to save the numbers so that I can later compare them, the best way has leen to keyboard them into a spreadsheet. What I really need is to be able to convert the material into digital form for storage in a computer. Then I can use the data with the appropriate software, be it word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheet or text retrieval. Recently I found just the tool to make all of this happen, TrueScan from Calera Recognition Systems Inc. in Santa Clara. Stephen M. Dow, chairman of Calera, which recently changed its name from Palantir Corp., describes TrueScan as a "printer in reverse." It is an apt description. TrueScan is a expansion board for an IBM PCAT or compatible computer that processes information from page scanners. TrueScan converts the information from the scanners into a form that can be used by most of the leading word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheet, graphics and text retrieval software. (It is not available : for IBM's top-of-the-line PS2 computers with the Micro Channel architecture, the models 50, 60, 70 and 80.) The usual term for such a function is optical character recognition, but TrueScan goes well beyond that to what Calera calls complete document recognition, meaning it understands what text goes where as well as what the text is. That is a formidable task and to accomplish it, Calera's expansion board is really a little computer unto itself, complete with a Motorola 68020 microprocessor (the same chip that powers the Macintosh II) and either two or four megabytes of operating memory. Character recognition software for PCs has been around awhile. The trouble with most software-only solutions (as opposed to TrueScan, which is one of the first "board" systems) is that they can recognize a limited number of type styles and sizes. Some have to be taken through extensive "training" with each kind of type. Even the best of the software-only approaches lack many of the document recognition features of TrueScan such as the ability to automatically recognize both columns and tables in a single scan or to handle both graphics and text, also in a single scan. When you consider the extra memory and processing power you would need in a PC to properly run a comprehensive software-only product, TrueS-can's price isn't that expensive. The two-megabyte board, TrueScan model S, sells for $2,495. The more powerful model E, which goes for $3,495, can process pages about 25 percent faster and work with pages that are printed sideways on the paper. For instance, a one-page double-spaced letter took the model E board 46 seconds to process, while a full-page table of numbers of marginal typographical quality took nearly four minutes. The scanner is a separate piece of equipment, and it is the starting point for either character or document recognition. A desktop scanner takes a picture of the page loaded into it. The resulting picture is understood by the computer only as relative values of light or dark dots in a grid pattern. I used a Hewlett-Packard ScanJet ($1,495) in my test of the TrueScan with excellent results. By Richard O'Reilly 1988. Los Angeles Times. Distributed by the Arat TrniM Svrd'cat COMPUTER HIE ASTROPHYSICS S.F. State explorers are about to throw in the towel By Keay Davidson EXAMINER SCIENCE WWII Three quarks for Muster Mark' Sure he hasn't got much of a bark. And sure any he has it's all beside the mark. "Finnegans Wake" by James Joyce For a decade, Roger Bland and his colleagues have looked in the strangest places for example, old mines and dried-up lakes for the ultimate cosmic "stuff: quarks. Quarks are the building blocks of atoms, which are, in turn, the building blocks of all matter in cluding this newspaper. And the ink on the newspaper. And you. When the physicist Murray Gell-Mann proposed the existence of quarks in 1963, he named these inscrutable particles after a line in James Joyce's most inscrutable novel. According to theory, quarks were Dom in tne Dig Bang, ine super-explosion that spawned our universe more than 10 billion years ago. But also according to theory, the newborn quarks quickly combined into subatomic particles called protons and neutrons two of the three key components of atoms (the third is electrons). And within the atomic nuclei, theory holds, the quarks are forever trapped. But did any quarks manage to UNIVERSE from D-l The universe isn't dissolving ight. How would they spot a decaying proton? According to the theory of minimal SU(5), a decaying proton Rhould emit two or more tinier particles at high speed and waves of blue light. The photomultipliers would spot the ripples of blue light and feed information to computers which would, in tum, determine t he path of the particles. By analyzing the data, scientists can tell whether a proton has decayed or whether the particles are caused by some other kind of subatomic event e.g., the passage of u neutrino, a subatomic particle that can fly through the earth without stopping. Indeed, the tank is located deep underground because otherwise, cosmic rays high-speed particles from space might constantly interfere with the experiment. Most important, the tank contains so many protons (within the hydrogen and oxygen atoms that compromise water molecules) that the scientists should detect hundreds or thousands of proton decays each year if GUT predictions are correct. Observations began in 1982. Flurry of excitement There was a brief flurry of excitement in early 1987 when the device detected neutrinos from a supernova in a nearby galaxy. The WHILE three-year-old Isaac was busy programming the home robot, I thought I'd catch up on my mail. The first letter was from Tokyo. "Dear Dr. Ciypton: "Times sure have changed. Think back to 1965 and recall your reaction to the phrase 'made in Japan.' Does it bring to mind words like shoddy, cheap and imitation? Now think what that same phrase means today: dependable, superior and high-tech. Yet you Americans have this idea that we aren't creative, that we take your designs for cars, microchips, VCRs and do them one better. "But take it from me: We Japanese are very creative. Why just this month at the Kokyo Idea Olympics a team of inventors exhibited the Next Wheel, an improvement on the motor car. It runs not on wheels but on four Chinese woks mounted horizontally on the ends of vertical axles. When the woks are spinning, the car remains stationary as long as' the axles are perfectly vertical. Tilt the axles ever so slightly and the g m te Deo Roger Bland, left, and Dave Calloway escape enslavement to an atom? Are any "free" quarks still floating around the cosmos, waiting to be detected by some intrepid physicist? If so, they'd be the ultimate relics of the Big Bang - of the dawn of all creation. Over the years, Bland, 48, and his associates - especially Jeffrey Royer (who has since left SFSU) and Christopher Lee Hodges - have looked all over for "free" quarks. They've searched in the Pacific Ocean, in Mono Lake's dissipated waters, in volcanic hot springs, in mercury from a Calisto- device hadn't been planned for supernova observation, so its detection of these particles from an exploding star "was just utterly fantastic, marvelous, serendipidity in the extreme," as UC-Irvine collaborator Frederick Reines said. Yet not a single proton in the tank has decayed. "It doesn't mean (proton decay) doenn't happen at some level," sighed Dan Sinclair, a physicist at the University of Michigan. "But there's no evidence of it at the level predicted by the (GUT) theory, minimal SU(5)." Discouraged, Sinclair and his three Michigan colleagues will no longer be directly involved in the 1MB experiment after Jan. 1. Although they will continue to analyze data provided by 1MB experimenters, "we are no longer going to be responsible for running the experiment after the first of the year," he said. Why? "Probably the most important factor was that we were involved very heavily in another experiment and we felt we really couldn't do justice to both experiments, both from the point of view of our (available) time and from the point of view of the resources from the federal government," Sinclair said. "The amount of (federal) money is such that you can't go on adding projects." According to the Philadelphia-based j mrnal The Scientist, in January 1988 the DOE sent 1MB a letter stating that although the experiment's detection of the supernova was "historic," the "usefulness of the 1MB detector for proton vehicle moves. Now that's creative. "But there's more. We have umbrellas that fold up with the wet side in, so that they don't drip. ANd umbrellas whose hollow shafts are filled with sand; at the push of a button the sand is ejected so that you don't slip on icy melons, special sneaker-only washing machines, double-headed pay phones so that two people can get on the line, and toilets in which the tank doubles as a sink. Now that's innovation. "Sincerely, Yoichi Toyota." Well, Mr. Toyota has strayed from the straight and narrow. One of the products he touted doesn't exist in the land of the rising sun. Which one? See next page. Until next Saturday this is Dr. Crypton. Yours in pursuit of truth. Win a Dr. Crypton T-shirt if you 're the first to name a two-word anagram of "real sap gun." Write to Dr. Crypton in care of this paper. A T-shirt goes to Anna Narbu-toyskin of Tiburon, for seeing "compensations" in "pass coin to men. " 1988, Unhd Feature Syndicate I 1 .-X . - EXAMNEflOOROON STONE use a laser in their pursuit of quarks ga mine and in hot electron beams , careening beneath Swiss farmland. . ' Despite a decade of searching, they haven't found a single free quark. So next year, Bland and his colleagues at San Francisco State University may throw in the towel and turn their talents elsewhere, They've got better things to do than continue a fruitless quest for something that probably isn't there something that may be the physics equivalent of the Lost City of Atlantis. decay will have passed the point of diminishing returns by 1989." In short, DOE wanted out of the experiment. The show must go on But other 1MB scientists protested. So on Oct. 28, DOE's High Energy Physics Division agreed to fund the project for at least another year, division physicist Jeffrey Mandula told The Examiner. One year's funding is about $400,000 to $500,000, UC-Irvine collaborator Reines said. Reines said 15 to 20 researchers will continue working on the project despite the University of Michigan's withdrawal from direct participation. "The detector was designed and built and operated primarily to test a theory called minimal SU(5)," Reines said. "We designed it for that purpose explicitly, and we ran it." But the key to SU(5) theory proton decay has never been observed. As Reines expresses it: "It became clear, rather early on, that minimal SU(5) was not a good descripti6n of what nature was telling us." ' Yet Reines thinks it's worth continuing the project at least a few more years. The detector's sensitivity has been upgraded so that it's "even more sensitive to proton decay." That way, at the least, the physicists will be able to determine the proton's minimal life span assuming its life span isn't eternal to begin with. "For one thing, the minimal SU(5) theory is important to check because it's saying something about the forces of the universe . . . The fact something doesn't agree with the theory can be a very important, positive fact." Disproving a theory important, too He cited as an example the Michelson-Morley experiment, which helped lay the path to Einstein's theory of relativity. (See below.) On the one hand, "the rise and possible fall of the Cleveland proton decay experiment is a sobering story of the risks of Big Science," the science writer Robert P. Crease wrote in The Scientist. "It is a tale of competing personnel, of expensive and rapidly aging equipment and of rapid theoretical advances that can turn state-of-the-art instruments into expensive dinosaurs." On the other hand, such "negative" results are often of historic importance. They tell scientists which alleyways are no longer worth exploring and which grand theories should be discarded, no matter how compelling they might have once seemed. Indeed, history is strewn with so-called "negative" physics experiments that yielded unexpected results, and thereby changed the history of science or, at least, caused some brouhaha in the halls m (para Inspired by Stanford scientist The SFSU project was inspired by a btanford scientist report, in the late 1970s, that he had detected evidence of a free quark. idence of a free quark. According to theory, a quark has a iiakfriviHU UCVUK.U Mimgci isaiy is, whereas an electron (the particle WWfr Vt UIM uwwn MUVWUR iuu an electrical charge of negative 1 (-1), and whereas the proton (part of the nucleus) has a charge of posi tive 1 (1), the quark's charge is fractional' that is, -13 or 13 or -23 or 23. In 1977, William Fairbank of Stanford reported that a sensitive apparatus had detected a fractional charge that, he said, might indicate the presence of a free quark. Intrigued, SFSU scientists leaped into the search for free quarks. They sought free quarks in two ways: by looking for them in chemical "junk" and, later, in 1983, by trying to create free quarks within "atom smashers. To be specific, they reasoned that free quarks were likelier to be found in raw or ancient substances that hadn't been "refined'' or puri Tied by civilization. For example, tap water's no place to look for free quarks because it has been chemically purified; the purification would probably eliminate any free quarks. "You dont want anything pure, because anything pure doesn't have quarks in it!" Bland declares. So instead, he and his colleagues have looked for free quarks in sub stances that 1. havent been puri tied such as ocean water, or l. are ancient, such as water from Mono Lake, mercury from a Calistoga See QUARKS, D-3 of academe. Examples include: The Michelson-Morley experiment of the 1880s, Two American physicists tried to demonstrate that a beam of light travelled at slightly different speeds according to the direction in which it was aimed. Success would have strengthened the then-common be lief that space was pervaded by an invisible ''ether," a fine substance that made possible the transmis sion of light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. But they failed to detect a difference in light's velocity; the light beam ap peared to travel at 186,000 miles per second regardless of direction, Two decades later, their startling failure was explained away by a revolutionary new view of the cosmos Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity. ine solar neutrino experiment. The scientist Ray Davis has spent two decades measuring the amount of neutrinos emitted by the sun. To everyone's amazement, his data indicates the sun emits only one-third as many neutrinos as predicted. Immense effort has been expended to explain away his find ing. Among the possible explanations: our theories about the sun's interior are incorrect; or our under standing of the sun's power source nuclear fusion needs to be modified; or neutrinos may behave differently in the sun than we thought; or hypothetical particles called WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles) may have screwed up the theorists' equations. The magnetic monopole. Bias (cq) Cabrera of Stanford reported in 1982 that his detector had spot ted something unusual, something that might have been a long-sought subatomic particle called the magnetic monopole. The hypothetical particle is like a magnet with only t one pole (north or south). If true, Cabrera might have won the Nobel Prize. But subsequent evidence suggests the observation was probably a fluke, perhaps caused by an equipment malfunction. One San Francisco scientist who has worked a decade on a negative experiment says ruefully: "This is a search for something new and finding it is a lot more fun than not finding it." (See sidebar.) Despite the 1MB experiment's failure to detect proton decay, Sin clair feels "no disappointment. It has been the chance of a lifetime it's a marvelous experiment. It would have been successful even without the supernova." How can a "negative" experiment be considered a success? "L(K)k at it this way: you're asking an important, fundamental question (i.e., do protons decay?), and a 'yes' answer and a 'no' answer are in some way equally important," Sinclair responded. "True, the consequences of those two answers are completely different But their importance is the same." DANIEL GREENBERG SCIENCE Mil PI 1 x CQGIcll DdV i m nilfP 1Q A delicate issue T: HE FIRST POINT to be recognized about the pro posed federal pay increase is that the subject is ineligible for dispassionate discourse because it grates on deep sensitivities in American culture. Such as the relationship between merit and wealth and the value of public service. And then there's the unpleasant question of how much, after all, is enough? These are difficult matters in a society that calibrates monthly re tail figures as an index of national well being and that pays experienced nurses $30,000 a year and brand new law school graduates $76,000. The current ceiling of $89,500 for most Congressmen and federal employes is beyond the hopes pf ' the great bulk of American workers. : '"- ' Which means that any proposal to increase it arouses skeptical notice. -' , But those receiving that sum many of them lawyers, scientists, and engineers can expect to earn a great deal more outside of government, and almost invariably do " when they make the jump, as many are increasingly doing. To recruit and keep them in government service, a bipartisan . commission has recommended a raise to $135,000. It would be accompanied by elimination of the notorious honoraria racket through which Wash- ; ington lobbies court influential Congressmen by paying tbem to address a meeting often with the speech text provided by the spon sors. Ralph Nader, a bachelor who follows an ascetic life style, has denounced the proposed raise as a , ' scandalous ripoff. : He notes that the incoming Bush administration is besieged by highly qualified job applicants, de spite the wage ceiling. Nader adds that the replacement of honoraria with higher pay simply rewards Congressmen for what they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. The issue of pay for federal offi cials is thus bound up in populist denunciations, hypocrisy, and the sowing of confusion. . But that doesn t mean that it can be put aside as it has in the past without serious costs that go far beyond the $1.5 billion or so in additional funds that would be involved in raising pay to the recommended new ceiling for some 2,500 senior federal officials and the 535 members of Congress. Nader correctly argues that ex perience in the federal service, even at below-market wages, is highly valued by many professionals be cause it brings higher pay when they take jobs outside of govern ment The difficulty, however, is that major pay inequities undermine the development of a core of expe rienced professionals in the federal service. A disturbing case in point is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for many decades recog- ' nized around the world as the pinnacle of medical research. In recent years, NIH has found itself priced out of the manpower market by medical schools, phar maceutical firms, and the biotechnology industry. NIH officials say they are un able to recruit experienced scientists, while many stars of research at NIH have been lured away by offers of at least double their federal salaries. Fortunately, many scientists and other professionals believe that the importance of public service compensates for the greater pay available elsewhere. Their spirit however, is under assault by skyrocketing housing costs in the Washington, D.C. area, and rising college costs. Daniel S. Greenberg is a long time commentator on science and health issues and is editor and publisher of Science & Govern ment Report, a Washington newsletter. r 1988, Daniel S. Greenberg 1 0

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