Wednesday, July 14, 2010
On my way to meet photographer Nathan Morgan, I walked through the windy streets of Dunsmuir, CA to the restaurant where we had planned to meet. As I walked, the wind did something unexpected, yet completely appropriate: it whipped my normally Jim Halpert-esque hair into an Einstein-esque quasi-afro (a physifro, if you will). Furthermore, my financial restraints have kept me from hiring a full-time cosmetologist, so I walked into the photo shoot completely oblivious. The first thing my friend Ryan said when he saw the article was, "Dude, what's up with your hair in that picture? It looks like you combed it with a blowtorch."
Anyway, enough about me; the important thing here is that hecka (sorry, my childhood continues to occasionally impact me) Southern Californians have been reading about the impending quantification and legitimization of "hella". Most of the readers of the LA Times probably have never used the word, so Mr. Chawkins' article is an accomplishment in itself. Since most of the opposition to the hella petition comes from boring people and Southern Californians, at least we're making headway in one tough, yet critical demographic. At that's carries, um, a grip of importance.
Until next time,
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Well, the time has come for me to retract part of my last (May 6) post. Fortunately, I've never been happier to retract a post than I am today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the "hella" prefix has been officially integrated into the Google calculator! To see it for yourself, simply go to google, and type in a conversion, e.g. 4,249,234 kilograms to hellagrams, or 931 lightyears to hellameters.
I'm extremely grateful to my friend Greg and the engineers at Google, who are responsible for the latest addition to the Google calculator. Greg, a fellow UCD physics student, used his connections from previous employment at Google to reach a number of engineers, and then proposed the idea of integrating the hella prefix into the Google calculator. The team, consisting of my new best friend Eric "Iceman" and his coworkers, worked hard to see it through. A big thanks to all those who worked to see this happen... you're hella awesome!
It's been said that "as goes Google, so goes the nation." Hopefully, the google-ization of the hella prefix will give the prefix the sense of familiarity and legitimacy that it needs to become nationally (and internationally) accepted.
So, next time you're required to give some sort of measurement, our friends at Google can easily convert that to hella-units for you. And if your professor/boss tells you you've used made-up units, just remind him that if it's on Google, it's official.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
My apologies for the long delay since the last update. Here's what's new:
The next meeting of the Consultative Committee for Units (CCU) is in September. It is at this meeting that Dr. I. M. Mills, Chairman, has promised to propose the "hella-" prefix to the committee. The CCU is the first stop on the long road to approval for the prefix, so it's critical to the movement that the CCU approve the idea. If they give "hella-" the nod, it will move on to another committee for debate. It's time to start building the momentum we need to push "hella-" through the CCU now!
Though I have not discussed the idea with Professor Mills yet, I'm looking forward to speaking with him about the possibility of speaking at this meeting and personally addressing the committee with my best arguments. I'll keep you in the loop for when I speak to the professor and get his reaction on this idea.
In other news, IDG News reporter Joab Jackson just put together this great article on the prefix for computerworld.com. It's the first bit of new press in awhile, so that's always good.
And now for some bad news: I recently spoke with an engineer from Google, who said his colleagues were so entertained by the "hella" proposal that they decided to integrate it into the Google unit conversion calculator. After writing the code to do this, they ran it by management, only to have the idea shut down. Unfortunately, this means that hella units won't be appearing on the Google calculator any time soon - unless you join me in writing to Google and telling them to include the prefix (they're based in the Bay Area; they, of all people, should appreciate it!). You can contact Google here.
On a more personal note, one of my former physics professors has taken to simply calling me "Hella" for short. An unorthodox nickname to be sure, but I'm just happy he knows who I am.
-Austin "Hella" Sendek
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
UC Davis student pushes new math unit: 'Hella'
Austin Sendek, a UC Davis physics student, has started a petition to establish a new, scientifically accepted prefix, "hella," to be used in front of units of weight, distance or computer storage, much as "milli," "kilo," "mega" and "giga" are now used.
His petition already has hella signatures.
"Hella" is a Northern California term that is a slangy synonym for "really" or "a lot of."
Under Sendek's proposal, the International System of Units would adopt "hella" to follow "zetta," which indicates 1021, and "yotta," 1024.
"Hella" would indicate 1027, or 1 followed by 27 zeros.
His petition has nearly 19,000 fans on Facebook, and seems to be growing by about 1,000 per day.
The idea was generated in class when he and his fellow students were discussing electricity.
"I started joking about hellavolts," said Sendek, who remembers using "hella" as a kid in Yreka.
Then, still as a joke, he started his petition on Facebook and was surprised to see how it took off.
"It is a diagnostic for regional dialect," said linguist Rachelle Waksler, explaining how the word's use implies the speaker is from Northern California.
Waksler is a professor at San Francisco State University who has studied "hella" and written a paper on it, as used in slang.
To get grammatically technical: " 'Hella' is an intensifier, which is a kind of adverb that is used to place targets on a continuum for some salient property," Waksler said.
But does "hella" have a snowball's chance of being applied to science?
Scientific prefixes like "deca," "kilo" and "nano" are established by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, based in France and known by the French acronym BPIM.
Among them: Is the standard needed? Is it widely applicable? Does it follow previously established patterns?
For the first question, it would require that "hella" be useful for scientific descriptions.
Sendek has already worked out some examples to suggest it would.
"The power of the sun," he said, "is .3 hellawatts."
The distance across the observable universe, he added, is 1.4 hellameters.
It may not follow existing patterns, though.
The last prefixes approved, zetta and yotta, are based on words for "seven" and "eight." They apply to 10 to the 21st power (21=7x3) and 10 to the 24th power (24=8x3).
By that logic, the next prefix would relate to a word for "nine," not to California slang.
After Sendek made his suggestion, UC Davis linguistics professor Patrick Farrell put the question on a list of possible topics for his students to analyze in term papers.
"It's something that's most common in the speech of Northern California," Farrell said.
Stein of the NIST admitted having a "warm feeling" for the petition, having once been a physics undergraduate.
A bit of whimsy, he said, is common in physics.
This can be seen in the naming of elementary particles and their properties, such as quarks, which come in "flavors" that include "up," "down" and "strange."
Stein also said Sendek may have stumbled on a field of increasing importance in science – that of establishing definitions for scientific concepts.
Some scientists are working on new and more precise definitions of things – like the kilogram – that may seem obvious to the lay person.
Mills also heads the Consultative Committee for Units, CCU, the international BPIM committee that would be the first stop for the proposal if it were to be adopted for the International System of Units.
Mills responded – in an e-mail to Sendek and The Bee – that the CCU has talked about extending the range of prefixes in the past, but felt "it would not be sensible to recommend extensions to the prefixes that would be rarely used."
Mills was not entirely negative, though.
"I like the humorous touch of your suggestion of the prefix "hella" for 10^27!" Mills wrote. "I will mention this exchange at our next CCU meeting, and I'm sure it will be received with smiles – but I doubt that it will go further!"
Hella too bad.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Till next time,
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Linguistics 1 Essay Assignment, Due March 13
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
For all intents and purposes, the SI prefix system has served the scientific community extremely well since its inception. However, we believe there is one significant flaw in the system which demands immediate attention.
As you know, the largest number with a designated SI prefix is 10^24, which carries the name "yotta-". However, in our world of increasing physical awareness and experimental precision, this number is no longer a satisfactory "upper bound" in scientific nomenclature. The analysis of many physical phenomena reveals natural quantities in excess of 27 orders of magnitude, a number which is currently ignored by the SI system.
Designating a prefix for 10^27 is of critical importance for scientists in all fields. This number is significant in many crucial calculations, including the wattage of the sun, distances between galaxies, or the number of atoms in a large sample.
Addressing this issue presents an exciting opportunity. Since the SI system has traditionally adopted the last names of accomplished scientists for unit nomenclature, it follows that prefix designation should do the same. From this tradition comes the chance for the SI system to use nomenclature to honor a constantly overlooked scientific contributor: Northern California.
Northern California is home to many influential research institutions, including the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and the Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. Countless contributions to science have been made by these and other local schools; in fact, elements 93-103 were all discovered at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a span of 21 years.
However, science isn't all that sets Northern California apart from the rest of the world. The area is also the only region in the world currently practicing widespread usage of the English slang "hella," which typically means "very," or can refer to a large quantity (e.g. "there are hella stars out tonight").
Thus, we believe that the SI system can not only rectify their failing prefix system but also honor the scientific progress of Northern California by formally establishing "hella-" as the prefix for 10^27.
Under this designation, the complexity of high-magnitude nomenclature would be greatly reduced. For example, the number of atoms in 120 kg of carbon-12 would be simplified from 6,000 yottaatoms to 6 hellaatoms. Similarly, the sun (mass of 2.2 hellatons) would release energy at 0.3 hellawatts, rather than 300 yottawatts.
We believe the designation of the "hella-" prefix would have a positive impact on all parties involved, and thus warrants serious consideration. We thank you for your time.
UC Davis Physics
(List of signatories)