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Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Wave" a first read.


I did not get around to go to Barnes&Noble or Border book stores. But yesterday when we were shopping at Target I was thrilled to find they carried this newly released book. So for the first time in my adult life, I purchased a brand new book in the first week of its release.

Being totally ignorant of the existence of this book and the author, I was eager to find out who were the expert scientists that the non-scientist, journalist author got her information and knowledge from. I did not start reading the book at the beginning. I jumped directly to the chapter that has the title "Schrodinger's Wave" which was indeed a document of how and where she encountered the scientists: the 10th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting and Coast Hazard Symposium in the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii in November, 2007.

I was not too impressed at first as the author somewhat overblown the event by comparing the Workshop with the Tahiti Teahupoo for world surfers and saying that the workshop attendants "temporarily tripling the north shore's per capita IQ." There are all kinds of conferences where wave aficionados gather yearly all around the world here and there, this wave hindcasting and forecasting workshop may or may not even on the list. The organizers had always cleverly select attractive places for their meeting. This one in the north shore in 2007 clearly attracted more people than usual, many of them might not have attended the previous workshops.

But as a professional journalist, she masterfully described the scenes of the conference: the registration, the posters, and the chitchats over beer at the ice breaker. Not being at the workshop myself (As it was during the same time period while I was going through my retirement, I submitted an abstract at Don Ratio's invitation and later withdrew because I was just not quite up to the travel at the time and I was also not too excited about the program.) She zoomed into the only session that I most liked to attend -- the Extreme Wave session on the fourth day. Reading her detailed descriptions of the session highlights gave me a sense that I would probably get just as much out of it if I were there. For that alone it's certainly worth the money buying the book!

I don't know if there's someone advised her, she seemed to know exactly the right experts to talk to. One, in particular, is Al Osborne, one of the premier nonlinear theoretical physicist from Texas originally but now resided in Italy. I don't know if Al was prepared to talk to this journalist, but clearly in trying to make her understand he had this down-to-earth metaphorical explanation of freaque waves:
"It's like this rogue wave is hiding," he said, using his hands to demonstrate. "He's got his arms out, covering a lot of other waves. And when he gets ready, he sweeps in all their energy, stealing from them and pulling it up under this one big single peak."
I think this could be destined to be the classical theoretical explanation of all times. of course that's not the whole answer. It all depends on "when he gets ready"! We don't know when? We don't know where? We don't know how? And we don't know why? Especially out in the open ocean. But Osborne's refreshing explanation certainly satisfies any non-specialist's curiosity!

At the end of this chapter the author noted that on the first day of this conference, on November 11, 2007, there was a bad storm near Russia's Black Sea that sunk four carriers and split an oil tanker into two. Those cases got nothing to do with freaque wave or the workshop. I did blogged about the storm here.


P.S.

While the November 2007 North Shore Workshop had a fair collection of Freaque wave scientists and aficionados there, they represent only a small subset at best. There are plenty of experts from Russia (other than Zakharov), Norway, France, Germany, and U.K. who were not there. So dealing with scientific theory of freaque waves, the author's speedy education is clearly far from complete.

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