Cliff Stoll and the speed of light

12 10 2006

Cliff StollCliff Stoll is one heckuva bizarre guy. Judging from the pictures, he looks like the quintessential mad scientist, but you had to be there to hear and watch him perform live to realize how really mad he is.

It was nice, for once, to attend a keynote that wasn’t about computers at all—apart from the expected disparaging remark about the damages caused by the adoption of computers in education. I honestly have no idea what measuring the speed of light has to do with Open Source, but seeing oscilloscopes, wave generators, lasers and mirross brought back memories of simpler times.

Now, if someone knows what was the glaring error in his talk and whether anyone won the cool glass Klein bottle by finding it, I’d be glad to know.

Update: I just realized that my post could be interpreted as painting a negative picture of Cliff. Actually that’s not the case. He’s mad, but in a good way. If you haven’t, you should definitely read The Cuckoo’s Egg and Silicon Snake Oil. Food for thought.

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5 responses

12 10 2006
Sam Ruby

He said that the velocity at which the dart was expelled had no effect on where (and whether) the monkey would be hit.

The dart’s trajectory is a parabola.

12 10 2006

I missed the “where” part. Especially because right after he said exactly the opposite, talking about kids blowing harder or softer and therefore hitting the monkey at different heights.

13 10 2006
Jose Carlos Valle

I am curator of computer Museum Brazil, Cliff is a friend mine since 1999, he was been here in my country to get a old manual of friden.
by the way, I would like to talk with him soon.
That person is a good person.
Valle, the curator

14 10 2006

The dart thing wasn’t the error.

The error was as a result of his statement that in 1985, the speed of light was changed to be a primary standard (and eliminating the meter as a primary standard).

Meaning that you can’t measure the speed of light. The speed of light is used to measure other things. Its like measing how long a second is. A second is the unit by which other things are measured.

Noone won the Klein bottle based on that, but it was given away later in the conference for the best lightning talk.


14 10 2006

I don’t think that’s the correct answer either. The speed of light *in a vacuum* is a standard. The speed of light in air is not, on the other hand, due to refraction, so you can actually measure it, using a meter that has been tuned using the speed of light in a vacuum.

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