Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Name in Exam of English Language Course

On May 5, 2015, a friend of mine, Chiara Maieron, updated her status on Facebook, writing, "Feeling spooky. Barbara of urso [note by the author: an Italian television host and actress] has started to follow me on twitter ..."

I read this update and found a comment on it by a friend of Chiara. His name was Sabino Civita. I wrote the following comment irrelevant to Chiara's topic. "Hi Sabino Civita, I know the name Tullio Levi-Civita, an Italian mathematician, famous for his work on absolute differential calculus (tensor calculus) and its applications to the theory of relativity."

Chiara replied to this comment: "Hi Tatsu, I am afraid Sabino is not such a fine mathematician." Then, Sabino wrote, "Chiara is right, Tatsuo. I'm only an old philosopher. And not a fine one ..."

In reply to the above, I wrote my memory about Levi-Civita as follows: "Thanks, Sabino, for your reply. I'm a not-fine, old physicist. I first learned the name of Levi-Civita from a problem in an exam of English language course in our second-year class (Class 1) of Science Faculty at Kyoto University. Our teacher of English language quoted an English passage about Einstein's work, including the names of Levi-Civita and the German mathematician Cristoffel, to make us translate it into Japanese. At that time, I didn't know how to pronounce Civita. So, I wrote his name in my answer sheet in Japanese phonetic characters like the pronunciation of "Sivita." However, a good friend of mine in that class told me that he had been able to guess the correct Italian pronunciation of Civita." [Partly modified from the original message.]

The good friend of mine later became quite a fine physicist. His name was Kazumi Maki, who mostly worked at the University of Southern California in USA as a theorist on superconductivity. (I wrote an obituary for him here.)

Our teacher of English language thought that we, the students of Science Faculty, would like the story about Einstein and write good answers. However, the passage was rather difficult for the second-year students. I was rather good at English but did not know yet that "mechanics" meant the physics about the effects of forces on objects. So, I translated this word into a Japanese word of meaning "mechanical engineering." (What did I suppose about engineering based on relativity? It was years before the appearance of high energy accelerators and GPS.) Kazumi made a correct translation also for this word.

Months later, some members of the second-year classes (Class 1 and Class 2) were reading together a text of special relativity written in Japanese. Once we had the occasion to have a reading time in the office of Professor Shohei Tamura, who was senior to Professor Hideki Yukawa. Looking at the bookshelf in the office, Yoshio Sumi, who belonged to Class 2 and possibly attended an English language course given by a teacher different from ours, found there a book written by Levi-Civita and said, "Levi-Civita, a strange name!"

After a while, Professor Tamura said, "Sumi, you would have difficulty in marriage in the future." Yoshio was surprised to say, "Why?" Professor Tamura said, "Professor Yukawa's wife has the first name of Sumi. So, if you would marry to the girl of the same name as Professor Yukawa's wife, her name would become quite strange one, Sumi Sumi." Later, Yoshio became a theorist on high-energy physics at Hiroshima University. I don't know his wife's name.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wrong Attribution of Nationality


The postage stamp of Dirac, issued in Guyana, 1995; taken from Joachim Reinhardt's Web site, "Physics-Related Stamps."

On page 12 of Dave Goldberg's The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality (Penguin, 2013), I have found the words, "the French physicist P. A. M. Dirac." Dirac was an English. However, there is the following story related to French language: In his childhood, Dirac was forced to speak in French by his father, who was a French teacher, and it became one of the causes that made him a man of few words.

There was a similar error, "Yukawa H., Japanese–French" on page 494 (Biographical Index) of MacMillan Dictionary of the History of Science, edited by W. E. Bynum, E. J. Browne and Roy Porter (MacMillan, 1983).

In 1987, I wrote John Gribbin about minor errors in his book, In Search of the Big Bang (1986, Bantam). On of the errors I pointed out was as follows:
In line 10 from bottom on page 313, the two theorists Yoichiro Nambu and M. Y. Han are referred to as Japanese. However, Han is not Japanese but Korean. I think that this error was overtaken from A. Pickering's Constructing Quarks. L. M. Brown pointed out the same error in his review of that book [Science Vol. 228, p. 857 (1985)]. — Taken from my Web site essay "In Search of Errors," which is just the quotation of the letter addressed to Gribbin.

Why is the nationality of theoretical physicists sometimes wrongly attributed? The probable reason I think is as follows: Nationality is less important in the history of physics or science than in the history of other human activities, so that authors writing about historical events of physics or science are not so careful about it.

(Modified and extended from the Facebook post "Gross Errors" written on December 14, 2014.)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Book Weeks

Late last September, I found the following note on the Facebook page of one of my overseas friends: "It's International Book Week. So, take the book nearest to you, go to page 54, and write the fifth sentence as your status on Facebook. Don't indicate the title. Write the rules together with the sentence. Happy reading!" (Modification of the translation by Bing from Italian.)

Following this note, the friend wrote a sentence that seemed to have been taken from an astronomy book for laypersons. The book I was reading that day happened to be of a similar kind. So, I wrote the fifth sentence on page 54 of that book in the comment column of her status message. I also wrote (in English) the above rules and the same fifth sentence, as my Facebook status. I thought that this was like a chain letter. However, I did the same as the friend, because doing so seemed to cause no adverse effect.

Later, I made a Web search of "International Book Week" and found just the explanation that it is a meme (Ref. 1). I also found a blog post (Ref. 2) which, after describing it a meme, writes the rules and the word "Let's celebrate!" In the well circulated version of the rules, the passage you should share seems to be, not fifth sentence on page 54, but page 52, line 5.

At that time, I also consulted about Reading Weeks in Japan on the Internet and found the following explanation on the Wikipedia (Japanese edition) page: "Reading Weeks are the days of two weeks from October 27 to November 9 for intensively carrying out activities to promote reading." Today, it is the day at the center of Reading Weeks in Japan. Please share page 52, line 5 of the book you are reading.

I am now reading two books in parallel, and page 52, line 5 of each of these books is as follows (you can see the titles of the books in the photo below):
"advanced stage of evolution; already several planets have been thrown"
"concern of numerology, people are the object of interest. After more"

By the way, the four Chinese characters to express "Book Weeks" in Japanese remind me of a comic strip of Sazae-san by Machiko Hasegawa. I wrote about the related story in the blog post "Comics" (Ref. 3) years ago. Please read about it there.

References
  1. Wikipedia: Articles for deletion / International Book Week (27 September 2012 at 16:16).
  2. Megan Frampton, Celebrate International Book Week: Share Page 52, Line 5. Heros and Heartbreakers (September 21, 2012).
  3. Comics, IDEA & ISAAC: Surely I'm Joking (October 17, 2004).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Successfully Landed, and My Name Too


The Mars rover Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, was launched on November 26, 2011, and successfully landed on Gale Crater of the Red Planet on August 6, 2012. I was almost forgetting but participated in NASA's program of "Send Your Name to Mars." The image above shows the certificate of this participation issued on June 4, 2010 by NASA. On NASA's page of this program, it is written that our names were being prepared for etching on a microchip for the Curiosity rover to carry it on its "back" (its "deck"). So, my name must also have landed on Mars on August 6, 2012.

The Web site of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, includes the "World Participation Map" page of the above program. On this page, we find that the number of worldwide names sent is 1246445. Countries that have the largest number of participants are as follows: United States 529386 (42.5%), United Kingdom 77329 (6.2%) and India 59041 (4.7%). Japan comes at the 46th with the number 2865 (0.002%).