Wednesday, April 30, 2008 ... /////

HP: memristor memory chips

While Hewlett-Packard is not among the top chipmakers, it is doing pretty interesting physics in its labs. We have already mentioned the crossbar latch technology a few years ago.

Now, the team of Stan Williams has experimentally realized an old theoretical idea. They have described their breakthrough in Wednesday's issue of Nature, in the article called

The Missing Memristor Found (podcast, go to the last 1/3; Nature's summary).
It seems like the beginning of the birth of
memory chips based on memristors.
What is a memristor? Well, verbally speaking, it is a (non-linear) resistor with memory. Visually speaking, it is the gadget on the picture above. Two titanium layers connected into a 150-atoms-thick wire: there are 17 of them on the picture. The resistance of one layer can be modified by a certain amount of current that has flown through the other layer.

This trick could lead to more efficient memories - denser, more energy efficient, and persistent after you turn off your PC! - and HP claims that the physical issues have been solved and now it is all about engineering. Engineers should draw and produce better circuits.

A theorist who was 37 years ahead of experiments

The existence of microgadgets that should behave like that was theoretically proposed by Leon Chua (UC Berkeley) in a paper from 1971. He decided that resistors, capacitors, and inductors should be supplemented by the fourth passive circuit element, the memristors, that are able to integrate the total current passed through them. It's the fourth mathematically natural possibility.

For memristors, the total charge - the integral of the current - is proportional to (or a fixed function of) the total magnetic flux (more precisely, flux linkeage, also including the factor of the number of turns) - which is essentially the integrated voltage.

If you omitted the integrals above, a memristor would be just like a resistor. For a linear relationship between the charge and the flux linkeage, the coefficient would therefore be nothing else than the ratio of the voltage and the current i.e. the resistance (the "∫dt" factor cancels). But the integrals add a new twist to the whole game, namely the constants of integration i.e. the memory. Moreover, the relation between the charge and the flux linkeage is nonlinear.

U.S. Q1 GDP growth: +0.9%

I just want to say that the annualized GDP growth rate in the first quarter of 2008 was just announced to be 0.9%. The advanced reading was 0.6%, just like in the previous quarter.

That happens after all those big words (and 14,700 pages) about the very great depression in the U.S. Some people simply need big, sensational, and preferably negative events to fill the vacuum in their skulls and if they cannot create anything interesting in the real world, they are creating big stories in the virtual reality.

U.S. GDP growth since late 1993

I guess that the GDP growth in the U.S. and other key countries will continue to be positive in the following quarters, too. Even if it slightly drops once per several years, I don't think it is exactly a reason for hysteria. Moreover, the private sector added jobs in April again, the Chicago PMI index increases, and so on.

Rolling Stone Magazine: made out of music

A playful commercial...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 ... /////

NASA: cool PDO regime begins

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean that spends roughly 20-30 years in the cool phase or the warm phase.

In 1905, PDO switched to a warm phase.
In 1946, PDO switched to a cool phase.
In 1977, PDO switched to a warm phase.
In 1998, PDO showed a few cool years.

In 2008, PDO seems to be switching to a cool phase. (NASA).
Note that the cool phases seem to coincide with the periods of cooling (1946-1977) and the warm phases seem to coincide with periods of warming (1905-1946, 1977-1998). It's probably no coincidence. Warm (cool) PDO regimes tend to encourage El Ninos (La Ninas) that help to warm up (cool down) the Earth, respectively.

Peter Grünberg received the Pilsner signet of 1307

I completely missed this story one month ago! But Peter Grünberg, the 2007 Nobel prize winner in physics and a co-discoverer of the Giant Magnetoresonance, finally received the historical Pilsner signet.

In 1307 when the signet was used for the first time, our American friends were still scalping each other while Pilsen was already getting ready to award those people who would make gigabyte hard disks possible almost 700 years later.

Prof Grünberg is a person who knows how to appreciate awards. He said he would place it in his show glass, next to the Nobel prize. Your humble correspondent has received the Pilsner signet of 1307 as well and it is somewhere in my father's basement. ;-) (Update September 2010: we found it!)

The recipients receive a metalic version of the signet but it can only be "printed" by the mayor into red wax.

Grünberg was born in Pilsen, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, in 1939. As a kid, he could speak Czech perfectly. His Jewish origin didn't play any role because the family was a proper Catholic family. They moved to Dýšina, a nearby village 2 miles from my home. He remembers swimming in the Klabava river and eating cherries. Because the history was tough, the family had to be expelled after the war. But some of his relatives still live in Czechia.

Slovak tiger will join the eurozone

The European institutions have decided that Slovakia has everything it needs to join the eurozone since January 1st, 2009. Most importantly, most of our Slovak brothers (and, for the U.S. readers, I also mean sisters) want to.

The nation will become the second post-socialist (and second Slavic) member of the eurozone after Slovenia. The rate around 30.126 SKK per EUR (this is the value decided at the end of May) should be fixed during the summer.

I am a kind of Euroskeptic and maybe even a Euro-skeptic. But it is sort of exciting to imagine that when we will visit our Eastern neighbors, we will pay with the Western European currency. ;-)

These banknotes will go extinct, including the SKK 1,000 bill with the "semi-fascist Catholic" politician Andrej Hlinka, using the words of a U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. ;-)
After the Velvet Divorce, the Czechoslovak crown was smoothly split into the Czech crown (CZK) and the Slovak crown (SKK) at the beginning of 1993. The original rate was 1:1:1 but 1 CZK has been around 1.25 SKK (plus minus 5 percent) for many years (and today).

Monday, April 28, 2008 ... /////

Tropical troposphere: not warming

This is the graph of the day, discussed at Climate Audit.

The three complicated colorful lines are the temperature data for the tropical troposphere - where the warming should be most rapid - according to RSS MSU, UAH MSU, and CRU: they seem to almost fully agree with each other. In terms of words, there has been no warming over there since 1980.

The thick, light blue line is the approximate average theoretical prediction by the garden-variety greenhouse models. Note that the IPCC predicts a warming of nearly 3 °C per century on the surface which should mean almost 5 °C for the hot spot in the tropical troposphere.

Brian Greene, TED 2005: Strings

Via Thought Office & Ted.COM (freshly posted).

Bonus

Brian Greene will organize The World Science Festival, especially for the U.S. troops in Iraq who often write letters to Brian Greene, demanding a higher exposure to string theory and other topics that add a new dimension to their sometimes difficult life.

Alain Connes and the Soviet science

In the Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society,

Alain Connes (PDF: page 31/64)
gives interesting although weird - as we will see - answers to some questions about the relationships between science and politics and about the differences between mathematics and physics. Connes is quite a character so I will help him to be heard. ;-)

He says a few words about his version of the Standard Model that has also been claimed to predict particle masses and to be unique. We have already spent a lot of time with that - perhaps too much time. So we will focus on different topics from his article.

Later in the interview, Connes compares mathematics with physics. He correctly says that physicists tend to spend less time with a given problem than mathematicians. Although there is clearly no general rule, I think he is right. Physicists are "faster" in this sense. When you look at the years of publication of papers cited in a particular new paper, you will see that they are much newer in the case of physics than they are in the case of mathematics. Physics tends to be much closer to an "industry".

You might think that it may be just due to the accidental traditions of the fields but I actually think that there are good reasons behind this difference. Physicists are still the people who are sometimes expected to solve real-world problems. And the speed is often important in this business, especially if your government needs to beat the Japanese. Because of similar reasons, physicists are also more likely to work in teams than mathematicians.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 ... /////

Recall that the "Discover Magazine" was the first source where I learned some details about superstring theory around 1987 (the article was translated by Ms Markéta Synovcová to Czech in my favorite VTM magazine, issue 14/1987).

I am convinced that it was the kind of the articles that the experts would endorse at that time which is why I liked it. It talked about the thrilling calculations of the anomaly cancellation in type I string theory and many other things.

Despite their video contest, string theory in two minutes, the magazine is very different these days, especially when it comes to the qualification of the writers. In 2006, I wrote about Susan Kruglinski's weird interview with a grumpy critic of physics.

In February 2007, the magazine constructed a hitparade in which only 2 or so serious physicists have made it to the "top seven". And two weeks ago, we discussed the opinion of the magazine that the Einstein revolution has gone too far (wow!).

But if you still have any doubts that the magazine is overrun by ignorants or worse, you should read a new article found by Sabine Hossenfelder:

The incompatibility of magnets with physics: a new revolution is imminent.
The writer is Bruno Maddox, the author of a novel about his little blue dress and many satirical essays.

What does he say? Well, he says that the magnets are a complete mystery, the Standard Model has no explanation why the hell the magnets work, and even more seriously, physicists hide this dirty little secret. The situation is so bad, in fact, that even Steven Weinberg - who should be almost as smart as Maddox because he has won a Nobel prize :-) - denies that there is a mystery.

Saturday, April 26, 2008 ... /////

Windows Live Writer

I am going to recommend the blogging readers a nice WYSIWYG product, Windows Live Writer, that can co-operate with all known blogging platforms including blogspot.com. The best possible choice for you is to download all four

namely Windows Live Mail that replaces all previous Microsoft mailing programs, Windows Live Messenger that replaces all the previous Windows/MSN messengers, Windows Live Photo Gallery that replaces Vista's Windows Photo Gallery (or Picasa2 by Google), and Windows Live writer that I have already mentioned.

It allows you to view the documents either as the HTML source, or WYSIWYG without any CSS styles, or WYSIWYG with automatically imported CSS styles from your blog, or WYSIWYG including the sidebar and other subtleties on your blog. Hopefully, you can also insert pictures like Sacré-Coeur on the left including automatic shadows.

See a screenshot.

Tables are among the objects that you can include. If I have had the program when I was writing about some physics news, especially those about Mike Duff's new paper, I could have easily included the following table that would otherwise take a lot of time:

 d=2 d=3 d=4 d=5 d=6 11 OSp(8|4) 10 OSp(8|2)² OSp(6,2|2) 9 F(4) 8 SU(2,2|2) 7 OSp(4|4) 6 OSp(4|2)² SU(2,2|1) 5 OSp(2|4) 4 OSp(2|2)² OSp(1|4) 3 OSp(1|2)²

This table from Duff's recent paper summarizes the superconformal groups of d-dimensional worldvolumes in D-dimensional spacetimes.

Friday, April 25, 2008 ... /////

A Sound of Thunder

I just watched A Sound of Thunder, a USD 52 million movie shot in Prague in 2005. The movie, originally scheduled for 2002 but delayed because of the floods, has received horrible ratings (2.8 of 10 stars in average) and lost a lot of money but I found it pretty inspiring.

Of course, time travel cannot be logically self-consistent because there are lots of logical problems with the history that is not a single-valued function of time. But as an inspiration and arts, I still found it pretty cool.

A neurotic woman invents a time machine. Of course, such things have to be invented by a woman. A greedy guy creates a company organizing safari trips where they kill a dinosaur (by a freezing gun) right before the moment in which the dinosaur would die naturally. But they are not allowed to change the history in any way because such a change would also modify the future through the so-called time waves - pretty impressive visual scenes in which a soliton screws a lot of things in the city are included.

Mike Lazaridis: Leaps of faith

Click the picture for a pretty nice article about Mike Lazaridis and his Perimeter Institute.

The article describes some of Lazaridis' visions about the business, science, their interrelationships and differences, his values, priorities, and guesses about the future by this exceptionally generous sponsor of physics.

Petroleus mostensis 2007: Jiří Hodač

Children of the Earth ("Děti země"), a well-known Czech environmentalist organization with headquarters in my hometown of Pilsen, announced the winners of its anti-contest,

Petroleus Mostensis 2007.
The award is named after a new kind of a sea lion - the oil seal ("ropák"), more precisely "muddophilic oil seal" ("ropák bahnomilný") - that has evolved either from bunnies or from otters in polluted areas of Northern Bohemia and that loves to eat coal and drink gasoline, as explained in Mr Jan Svěrák's 1988 fake documentary often translated as "The Oil Gobblers" ("Ropáci").

Incidentally, it would be impossible to shoot these dirty scenes in Czechia of 2008. The difference between communism and capitalism is striking.

So who has won the oil seal?

Their choice of the winner proves that global warming is not a terribly important topic of the Czech environmentalists. Even though Czech President Václav Klaus was nominated for his crusade against the global warming religion (and his book about the blue planet in green chains in particular) - and also Ms Kateřina Neumannová, a ski champion who transferred tons of snow from mountains to the Prague Castle for her rare ski competition was a hot candidate -, the winner is Mr Jiří Hodač, a deputy minister of transportation who has threatened to sue NGOs for the losses caused by the NGOs' participation in proceedings about new roads and buildings.

No person outside Czechia knows anything about this problem. In fact, almost no one in the Czech Republic knows about these activities of Hodač either. Or about himself. At any rate, congratulations to Mr Jiří Hodač, to Ms Kateřina Neumannová who won the silver medal, and Mr Václav Klaus with the bronze medal.

The Green Pearl 2007

However, Václav Klaus also won, at least another price called "The Green Pearl" for the most brilliant anti-green sentence of the year. He won it for the sentence that became globally famous because of a translation on this blog, namely
"I don't see any destruction of the planet, I have never seen it, and I don't think that a sensible and serious person might say that he has."
Note that while this sentence played an important role in that well-known and precious interview, it is not specifically linked to global warming either. Children of the Earth simply don't seem to be too certain about global warming.

Congratulations to Prof Klaus, too!

Thursday, April 24, 2008 ... /////

Jeb Bush, an AGW skeptic

Houston Chronicle
reports that Jeb Bush has finally explained that he is a global warming skeptic. He apparently couldn't do such a thing while he was the governor of Florida because he wanted to enjoy every minute of being a governor. :-)

His successor, Charlie Crist, wants Florida to become a leader in the fight against climate change because otherwise it will sink, as soon as Antarctica and Greenland melt, as dictated by "An Inconvenient Truth." He has already promised that Florida will reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent before 2050. He will personally lose over 80 percent of his weight by 2050, too, so it shouldn't be a problem for Florida either.

Moreover, Crist is thinking about becoming McCain's running mate. God bless America. ;-) But with these people, you are never quite sure what they will do. Both Crist and McCain want to fight against global warming by rolling back the gas tax for the summer because the Americans feel the heat and with cheaper gas, there will be less heat. By paying a smaller gas tax, Americans can fight against global warming - unless the Canadian beetles (or other friends of the denialist bi*ch Mother Nature who puts Her nose where She has no business - for example into man-made global warming) undo the Americans' heroic acts, as Alexander Ač worries now. ;-)

Some physics news

Because of the limited target audience, I am not going to spend too much time with refining formal aspects of this posting.

Dark matter causes global warming

I needed a catchy title :-) that will be explained soon. As Dmitry writes and other people in the media and blogs have mentioned, the DAMA/LIBRA collaboration (Dama stands for Dark Matter much like Lumo stands for Luboš Motl haha) claims nothing less than an eight-sigma ("extremely certain") discovery of the particles of dark matter.

These experimenters use scintillators with a lot of pure NaI(Tl); future projects should be based on Xenon, with added amounts of Xe 129 and Xe 136. And they study how much these gadgets scintillate ;-) during the year. It turns out that there is a modulation of the signal, i.e. a dependence on seasons, that was measured and confirmed during 7 years of work. Now, the key statement is that they can't imagine any other explanation than the interaction with the dark matter particles - a halo in our Galaxy. It follows, they say, that what they see is dark matter interacting with their scintillator.

Well, pretty convincing but not quite. What they see are some ill-understood and therefore - almost by definition - dark matters. ;-) But whether these are the same dark matters as the dominant particle of dark matter in cosmology remains to be seen. I chose the title involving global warming because their argument seems somewhat similar to the argument that we can't fully explain the 20th century global warming by the first natural model we write down so it must be caused by the first "unnatural" but convenient effect we think about, namely the greenhouse effect.

But there could exist other justifications of my title, too. If the "dark matter wind" can modulate their scintillations, why couldn't it modulate the Earth's climate? You know, there are places with a lot of dark matter and places with less dark matter and these particles could do something dark to the climate system. OK, let me emphasize that I am mostly kidding.

Because their interpretation is consistent with various constraints, I would estimate the probability that their experiment is evidence of dark matter to be 25%. It's a lot but it's not enough to establish the interpretation without an experiment with a more characteristic, dark-matter-like signal. But you shouldn't be shocked by my high number. The existence of dark matter is less mysterious and uncertain than the adjective indicates.

NSR superstring amplitudes

Another NeqNET posting talks about Morozov's article we saw a few days ago.

It reviews the current progress in multiloop Neveu-Schwarz-Ramond amplitudes - progress that we discussed in the context of four-loop amplitudes. Morozov puts the progress into the historical perspective - he tries to explain what are the real technical reasons why these pretty "straightforward" procedures and possibilities were overlooked 20 years ago ("straightforward" for the ultra-experts who follow the details only).

Well, these are truly delicate subtleties - but even more important could have been the wrong idea that it is "unlikely" that a special solution to a mathematical problem exists. Sometimes, special and unexpected solutions do exist and are important. The whole structure of string theory is an example.

I could also recommend you some of Dmitry's lectures on de Sitter space and inflation from a hydrodynamical viewpoint. But let us look elsewhere.

A well-known notorious critic of theoretical physics wrote his 680th hostile rant against theoretical physics in general and string theory in particular. What an anniversary. ;-)

As a reader has pointed out, Peter Woit used an idiosyncratic interpretation of a Hollywood scene and a bitter blogging economist as the main sources of information about the validity of string theory. ;-/ Those who have known Woit for quite some time will fail to be surprised. I am amazed by the people who deliberately keep on opening the pile of manure called Not Even Wrong - it must be due to a really nasty deviation of theirs that dwarves pedophilia. Fortunately, the number of pageviews of Not Even Wrong is now well below the numbers of TRF.

The owner must be disappointed that some physicists have used the space for a meaningful discussion about the black hole information puzzle. They even managed to explain the correct key answer: while we might be dissatisfied with our "local" understanding "how" the information gets out of the black hole, we know that it does. The unitary AdS/CFT correspondence and Matrix theory are enough to give us the correct answer.

The research in these frameworks has shown us that the process is as messy as burning books and the information gets scrambled. The idea that the process is easy and transparent is the very wrong assumption that underlies a wrong alternative answer - the answer that the information is lost because there doesn't seem to be any "easy" information in the black hole, right? Wrong. Black holes have a lot of information inside - the maximum amount of information you can squeeze into the same volume.

And because the basic properties of black holes are local in nature, this qualitative conclusion is almost certainly universal. The information is always preserved. For example, black holes in a flat space almost certainly behave similarly to black holes in a nearly flat anti de Sitter space. Moshe R, David B, and to some extent Aaron B have explained these things to Peter Shor which doesn't prove that the latter has understood it. Moshe has even politely expected Peter Shor as a quantum information expert to tell us something relevant about the black holes but he has probably confused Peter Shor with John Preskill who has something to say. Peter Shor is just a Peter Woit lite, a producer of mentally retarded, un-thoughtful attacks that can only be helpful to those who like to eat dinosaur manure.

But the defeat of the aggressive people by sane people at Not Even Wrong is a good news. Even if you're a cute innocent bunny facing a venomous snake such as Peter Woit, you may deal with it if you grab it from the proper end:

"Proving" typicality

Today, the arXiv contains a paper by Don Page who thinks that he has "derived" typicality, i.e. essentially proved the anthropic principle. Of course that the paper is complete nonsense. He essentially assumes that all possible answers to a question always form a complete set, much like microstates in a thermal equilibrium, and are thus equally likely. With these assumptions, after a few pages, he is able to prove that all possible answers to a question are equally likely.

Prof Page, well, your assumptions are wrong. Different values of quantities are not equally likely and things that are not microstates in thermal equilibrium usually don't behave as microstates in thermal equilibrium. That's why most alternatives in Nature have different probabilities - sometimes very different. And that's why sets of macroscopic observables never form a complete set of quantum observables to describe a system. Whoever has used Page's wrong assumption is nearly guaranteed to have ended up with wrong answers. Proper science never depends on the wrong assumption.

Page also uses the unusually mad "result" by Bousso, Freivogel, and Yang that we discussed in a text about Bayesian inference. Recall that these three otherwise smart guys argued that the anthropic principle is a key pillar of all of science. Their statement was based on their inability - or perhaps a lack of will - to distinguish the sentence "a particular detector or planet leads to a particular outcome" from the sentence "at least one detector or one planet in the Universe leads to a particular outcome".

Well, with these assumptions and (deliberate?) mistakes, one can't be surprised that Page's paper is just another example of the GIGO rule: garbage in, garbage out.

On the origin of time and the Universe

The second paper in the hep-th list seems obscure, too. It is about the arrow of time and is based on similar absurd assumptions as the previous paper by Page. Jejjala and 3 otherwise sane collaborators propose a "novel solution to the low [initial] entropy puzzle". Well, the low entropy of the Universe is not a puzzle, it is an experimental fact and a simple theoretical consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. What does it mean to "solve" a fact is not quite clear to me. It is like the "fight against climate change" or the fight against other laws of Nature and other facts.

Clichés about solutions sound mysterious but their paper doesn't. It is one incorrect sentence followed by another. For example, they implicitly use Page's wrong "microstate" assumptions and argue that the probability of the Big Bang is 1/10^{10^{123}}. A pretty small number, indeed. Write 0.0000 ... now add 10^{123} zeroes (this is 1,000,000 ... 000 zeroes) ... and finally you can write "1" or anything you like. Well, because I estimated the probability of the Big Bang to be 99.9%, you shouldn't be surprised that I don't consider their paper to be compatible with my knowledge of the Universe, especially if their error is more than obvious.

It is simply not true that all possible initial microstates of the Universe are equally (or comparably) likely. The people who claim that they are equally likely not only have zero bits of evidence but they also face a virtually infinite amount of counter-evidence.

These particular authors eventually "solve" their "problem" by combining Matrix theory with freezing by (global) warming, dissipative dynamical systems, and the Fubini-Study metric from a mathematical paper by Mumford and Franziska Michor's father. Great, the entropy is low and the temperature was high and one can see similar bizarre systems in math. And what? How could one possibly say anything more substantial about it without having an explicit formula for the initial state?

OK, I don't believe that anything valuable can arise from this colorful combination of ideas, especially if the very "problem" that they try to "solve" is just their idiosyncratic, psychological problem. So despite my admiration for Djordje Minic, I would put the paper to the Lee Smolin category.

M5 from M2

The paper by Ho and Matsuo is more material. It is a part of the membrane minirevolution. They study the "classical limit" of the large 3-algebras that involves the Nambu-Poisson bracket. What is it? Well, recall how the membrane Hamiltonian is derived from the D0-brane Hamiltonian in Matrix theory. The commutator becomes a Poisson bracket and you get two new dimensions.

Because the Bagger-Lambert-Gustavsson Lagrangian has 3-brackets, you will analogously get three new dimensions and many M2-branes (with a large 3-algebra) become an M5-brane. Ho and Matsuo can even derive the self-dual 3-form field strength in the M5-brane worldvolume as various objects in the 2+1-dimensional theory or their Hodge duals. They explain why M5-brane is the only new object one can get in this way: it boils down to the highly constraining mutated Jacobi ("fundamental") identity.

Inflation

Yang and Ma construct something that could be called a highly realistic, garden-variety model of inflation in string theory. It gives a GUT-like inflation scale, scale-invariant spectrum with n=0.96 or so, and other good things, starting with a manifold with moderate values of the Hodge numbers.

Enhanced near-horizon symmetry

Mike Duff argues that the symmetry of the near-horizon geometry of the heterotic string gets interestingly enhanced to OSp(2|8) - and he might really mean OSp(8|2) which is not the same thing - and how this enhanced symmetry can solve a 21-year-old paradox in SUGRA solutions, one whose full importance is probably fully comprehensible only to those who worked on it 21 years ago. ;-)

See a table of the symmetries for various d,D
There are also other papers about the integrability of N=4 SYM, integrability of some spin chains, integrability of noncommutative chiral non-linear sigma models, SUSY breaking in SUGRA, actions with non-polynomial functions of curvature f(R), Coulomb scattering in de Sitter space, scale-invariant Liouville-like theories that are not conformally invariant, Casimir energy from inhomogeneities, and some kinematics and geometry of the Rindler space.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 ... /////

Max Planck: 150th birthday

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born in Kiel (near Hamburg) on April 23rd, 1858, to a family of theologians and lawyers with many children. He spent some early years in Munich.

A devoted yet moderate Christian, he is the father of quantum theory. How did it happen? Well, in 1894, he was hired by electric companies to create energy-efficient light bulbs. ;-) So he had to study their spectrum.

Looking at the black body

In 1900, he was able to interpolate in between two formulae (the low frequency classical Rayleigh-Jeans law and the high frequency Wien's law) describing the radiation of a black body. A few months later, he was even able to derive the resulting formula from a funny assumption that the energy of an electromagnetic wave is not quantized but rather a multiple of E=hf.

(The factors of 2.pi are arranged in the old way because it is much easier to type it, even including this explanatory sentence.)

Textbooks often say that Planck wanted to solve the ultraviolet catastrophe, i.e. the high-energy divergences of the Rayleigh-Jeans law. While it is a theoretically natural story, it is historically misleading because Planck's goals were different. Planck has been looking for heuristic ways to justify the novel, quantum, exponential Wien's law since 1899. Finally and happily, Planck came to "an act of despair ... [he] was ready to sacrifice any of [his] previous convictions about physics." And he introduced the quanta ("a purely formal assumption"...) at the end of 1900.

Einstein gave Planck's assumption about quanta a more real meaning when he explained the photoelectric effect in 1905. Only in the 1920s, Arthur Compton convinced the people that photons were real when he observed his photon-electron scattering.

Relativity and playing dice

ABC: An Inconvenient Truth = The Day After Tomorrow

An article about amazon.com bestsellers is here...

I am a kind of a skeptic but let me admit that I thought that the ice shelves in "An Inconvenient Truth" were real. It turns out that they were computer-generated and directly taken from "The Day After Tomorrow", making the producers of TDAT really proud!

Some NB readers have suggested that Al Gore in AIT wasn't real, either. It may have been the robot from "Short Circuit" (1986). :-)

Hat tip: NewsBusters

Update: Pelosi confuses the Bible and AIT

On the Earth Day, Nancy Pelosi argued:

"The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children's children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature."
You have heard the holy word. Or have you? :-) The actual message of Genesis 1:26 is the following:
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."
I have included a link to 12 additional translations for you not to think that it is a mistranslation. Isn't it a bit different from Pelosi's worshipping to the Earth? Perhaps, Nancy Pelosi has confused the Bible with "An Inconvenient Truth." Or with "The Day After Tomorrow." ;-)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 ... /////

Robert Oppenheimer: 104th birthday

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was born on April 22nd, 1904 to the family of Julius S. Oppenheimer, a Jewish German American textile importer, and Ella Friedman, a painter.

His team's precious invention gave the mankind the ability to convince even the suicidal Japanese warriors that further sacrifices didn't make any sense. Later, the divine power of the weapon helped to preserve the global peace for at least 63 years.

And sometime in the future, the result of the Manhattan Project could be necessary to protect the civilization from another suicidal cult similar to the Japanese one, most likely from the cult of environmentalism. These are good enough reasons to celebrate

The Earth Day
on Oppenheimer's birthday. It would otherwise be a holiday for liars. Happy birthday, happy Earth Day, Dr Oppenheimer. What a perfect rhyme. :-)

Oppenheimer is not just the bomb

But Robert Oppenheimer's life was not just about the bomb. At the IAS, Princeton, he held Einstein's old position of Senior Professor of Theoretical Physics. He was also the main father of the American School of Theoretical Physics at Berkeley, California.

Sunday, April 20, 2008 ... /////

Climatology: top eleven at amazon.com

Nigel Lawson's book is the 23rd bestselling book in the U.K. Congratulations! Now, let's look at the top ten climatology bestsellers at amazon.com:

1. Roy Spencer, realist (#116)
2. Bjorn Lomborg, realist (#959)
3. Fred Singer, realist (#1324)
4. Brian Fagan, neutral (#6156), a book about the little ice age
5. James Lovelock, Gaia priest (#8706)
6. Wallace Broeckner, alarmist (#9202)
7. Mark Lynas, alarmist loon (#10308)
8. Patrick Michaels, realist (#12027)
9. Tim Flannery, alarmist loon (#16135)
10. Henrik Svensmark, realist (#16309)
11. Dennis Avery and Fred Singer, realists (#19266)
Not bad. Recall that the number of books sold per day scales like average_rank^{-1/2} which means that Roy Spencer's book is sold roughly 9 times more than the first alarmist books by Lovelock or Broeckner.

Via Michael Tobis.

LHC: years of expected discoveries

Strings 2008, August 18-23, CERN

From Abe Seiden (Santa Cruz) & the Symmetry magazine:

Saturday, April 19, 2008 ... /////

Lorentz violation makes perpetuum mobile possible

A reader has pointed out the following new essay by Ted Jacobson and Aron Wall:

Black hole thermodynamics and Lorentz symmetry (PDF)
They review and promote the 2007 paper by Sergei Dubovsky and Sergei Sibiryakov,
Spontaneous breaking of Lorentz invariance, black holes and perpetuum mobile of the 2nd kind (PDF)
and its followups that can be interpreted as serious blows to theories with the Lorentz symmetry violation. Serious enough for Ted Jacobson who has been writing papers about "Einstein-aether theory" for years to suggest that such theories may have been ruled out.

What is the argument? Take your favorite theory that violates the Lorentz symmetry. In this theory, it is virtually inevitable that some particle species have higher speed limit than others; the speed of light is no longer universal.

If you consider a black hole of a given mass, you will find out that the Hawking temperature will depend on the particle species, too. Let me take too species for which the Hawking temperature is cooler and warmer, respectively. Let us call them the warmer species and the cooler species (or particles).

It is possible to surround a black hole by two shells constructed out of the cooler particles and the warmer particles, respectively, in such a way that the energy will flow from the cooler particulate shell to the cooler event horizon (because the shell is still a bit warmer than the cool horizon) while the energy will flow back from the warmer horizon of the black hole to the warmer particulate shell.

Friday, April 18, 2008 ... /////

Kristen and Nico: a comparison

Several people have asked me why my comments about Kristen Byrnes' website, "Ponder the Maunder", are more favorable than those about Nico Marquardt's calculation of the path of the asteroid.

That's a sufficiently complex and interesting question for a whole posting, the 2,222nd posting on this blog, officially posted at 22:22:22. :-) Let me start by saying that I am almost absolutely convinced that both of these young people or children are well above the average in their abilities, to say the least, and both of them indisputably represent the sort of children that the institutionalized science should try to get and keep. They have many of the features that are expected from a good scientist. It doesn't follow that they will be the next Einsteins or Zweisteins but it is more likely for them than for others.

At the same moment, both of them are still kind of children, to one extent or another, and even a priori, it is unlikely that they have everything they need to revolutionize their favorite disciplines and outsmart the conventional scientists and engineers. I have already said that even in the absence of known details, I wouldn't believe that Nico has made a better calculation than NASA. So let me also say that I doubt that Kristen is, at this moment, a better climatologist than Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, Michaels, Singer, or McIntyre. Sorry for that, Kristen. ;-)

But the main question was whether it was reasonable to expect that the kids' results contradicting the results of a majority of officially paid professionals are more correct than the experts' results. In this question, there exist substantial differences between the cases of Nico and Kristen. Virtually all of them make Kristen's chances higher than Nico's chances. Let me start from the simplest and most obvious ones:

1. Kristen is 3 years older than Nico. It is a significant difference in maturity for such kids, more important than e.g. the gender differences.
2. Kristen's work and arguments were available to all of us, Nico's work and arguments were not. We know that Kristen's work is not trivial but we don't know the same thing about Nico.
3. To be relevant, Nico's results had to be an outcome of original research that had never been done by anyone else in the world. Kristen's website may be characterized as a review of well-known but, for certain reasons, not widely taught or published facts and data. It means that Nico really has to be more or less the smartest boy in his discipline if he wants to be right. Kristen doesn't have to have this status because she is just organizing the knowledge that already exists.
4. Nico not only had to claim that the professionals are wrong but he also claimed that a very unlikely event involving asteroids and satellites will occur and he was moreover able to calculate it. Kristen doesn't really predict any extraordinarily surprising or unlikely event in the future, quite on the contrary.
5. Kristen talks about a relatively new scientific discipline whose dynamics is very complex, whose theories are not too reliable, whose predictions are not too accurate, and whose top experts are not particularly ingenious and impartial. Nico talks about an old scientific discipline whose dynamical laws are almost completely understood and have been tested very accurately (often ten significant figures) in millions of situations. The discipline requires several layers of scientific and technological expertise. And the experts contradicting Nico are, well, rocket scientists whose IQ could be 15 points above the catastrophic climate scientists in average.
I could continue with several additional differences. Each point is pretty much independent of others and increases the ratio of the probability that Kristen is more right than the consensus climate scientists and the probability that Nico was able to make a calculation much more accurately than NASA, obtaining a much higher impact risk, by a few orders of magnitude.

When I combine all these orders of magnitude, I think that
• the probability that at least one teenager similar to Kristen somewhere in the world is able to analyze the key questions of the climate debate better than the consensus scientists, journalists, and activists is comparable to 10%
while
• the probability that there exists a 13-year-old kid such as Nico who can make a better and much more dramatic asteroid calculation than NASA is comparable to 10^{-6}.
I just don't think that the two situations have the same odds and anyone who thinks that the numerical results must be identical is overlooking all the points listed above and many others. He or she is simply making an unqualified guess.

Incidentally, the far left blogosphere has aggressively attacked both NPR - comparing them to FoxNews (that is a real insult haha!) - and Kristen Byrnes. They literally plan how to destroy her, sue her, intimidate her, humiliate her, eliminate her from science and technology. It is just very inconvenient for them that the most intelligent and independent kid who is known to the public as a self-taught researcher in climate science happens to be a skeptic.

Kristen's writing may have flaws but try to compare her with the stupid kids who are repeating 2-sentence stories about the judgement day and the need to change light bulbs. In comparison with them, Kristen is a genius and a full-fledged scientist. This inconvenient truth drives some people up the wall.

I find it breathtaking that they are ready to go this far. In my opinion, many of them - such as David Appell and several others who have been harrassing Kristen for many months, as they proudly boast - deserve an electric chair. The degree of my exaggeration is nonzero but it is not too high either. Let me say this: I've met quite a lot of children and very young people who were clearly excited by science - e.g. theoretical physics - but they were holding some opinions (about time travel, classical origin of quantum mechanics, and so on) that one can easily obtain by reading newspapers or popular books.

It has always been a very difficult dilemma to decide what to tell them because if I tell them the truth, it is very clear that their enthusiasm for science will drop. If I don't tell them the truth, it is more likely that their excessive independence will rapidly bring them on a wrong track which could be fatal. There were actually cases in which I didn't try to debunk their naive opinions. But whenever I was expected to be a kind of educator, telling them what I believe is the established answer and its explanation was more important than their enthusiasm.

But at any rate, it is a subtle question and it was never quite trivial to decide. Even if Kristen were wrong about some essential points, I just can't comprehend how someone may want to prepare plans to hurt her (and her family). As far as I know, the German Nazis were behaving more respectfully with respect to German children (and not only German children). The amount of religious zeal and aggressivity of the believers in global warming is comparable to the excitement during the witch hunts a few centuries ago.

She is smart but she is just a girl! I think that every sane person knows that even if the smartest climate kid in the world were a skeptic, it doesn't prove that climate skeptics are right. Such an observation might marginally increase the qualified estimated probability that the truth agrees with the skeptical ideas while the alarmist ideas only thrive because most people are lazy to check the data. But does someone really find such a marginal change of people's opinions and expectations so threatening or devastating that they would prefer to hurt a 16-year-old girl? It's just unbelievable.

And that's the memo.

Thursday, April 17, 2008 ... /////

Oceans love CO2, coccolithophores say

Via Andrew Revkin. Thanks to Marc Morano.

Some time ago, we discussed topics related to the ocean chemistry, including its pH. Recall that the oceans' pH was around 8.17 in 1800, now it is around 8.10. The figure is decreasing as we are adding carbon dioxide (or carbonic acid, if you allow me to combine it with water) to the system. It will stay above 7.8 at least until 2100.

Related commercial break: Prof Roy Spencer: More CO2, please
The neutral value of pH is 7.0 and it is the average optimal pH for living creatures. While Coke has around 2.5 :-), fish tend to tolerate pH between 5.0 and 9.0. The readers with an aquarium know much more. Some of the fish prefer the lower values and some of them prefer the higher values. You should not be surprised that I think that 7.0 might be the optimal "democratic" value of pH. We are helping the oceans to get closer to the optimal value but we are still extremely far from it.

Nico Marquardt & asteroid: not really

This 13-year-old German kid, Nico Marquardt, made his own calculations of the probability that the asteroid 99942 Apophis - the same asteroid that we have already discussed under the name 2004 MN4 in 2004 - will hit the Earth. What a smart boy. The courage, enthusiasm, and talent of this young scientist must be appreciated.

The original collision was scheduled for Friday, April 13th (!), 2029. However, the probability of a judgement day on this particular black Friday has plummeted and now we talk about a much more uncertain possible encounter later in 2036 - one influenced by the asteroid's hitting a 600-meter "keyhole" in 2029. Instead of NASA's estimate 1:45,000, Nico obtained 1:450.

See the current Impact risk table: Apophis is back to Torino scale 0
Yesterday, a rumor began to propagate that NASA admitted that they were wrong and the boy was right. Recall what things you have to know, what data & software you need to have and master, and what errors you have to avoid in order to do such calculations properly and try to answer the following question: What is your estimate of the probability that such an incident in which the top world's space organization is humiliated could occur? It is insanely unlikely. My estimate is 10^{-12} per the whole childhood of a schoolkid below 14 years of age which means that such a story could actually occur once per 10,000 years.

Edward Lorenz, 1917-2008

Edward Norton Lorenz was born in 1917, forecast the weather for the U.S. army during the war, and then he decided to construct accurate computer models to predict weather.

Instead, in 1960 or so, he tried to repeat a calculation and entered the same data as before. However, he got a completely different result. What was the reason? Was the computer broken? Not really. He found that the reason were tiny changes of the initial conditions that he didn't enter quite accurately.

A small change in the initial conditions may cause huge changes in the final results. I am actually unable to buy this story about the birth of chaos theory because it seems likely to me that people had to understand the instability and certainly non-integrability of most differential equations for quite some time. Euler presented his numerical method to solve differential equations back in 1768 and many numerical problems of this method were found soon.

Moreover, Henri Poincaré who was not completely unknown has dedicated a large portion of his career to something that could be called chaos theory, too. It is probably fair to say that Lorenz only rediscovered something that wasn't terribly popular at the time.

At any rate, Lorenz was able to generalize the lesson from his computer experiment and determined the cause of changing weather. No, it was not man. Instead, it was butterfly wings! :-) Here, I am talking about changing weather and not changing climate because the latter is effectively inconsequential. As Lorenz said in 1982,

"Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get".
From this point of view, climatology is a part of psychology because it studies people's expectations. For the same reason, catastrophic climate change science is a part of psychiatry. What you see is also weather because what you see is what you get. :-)

The history of the popular science of chaos is more mysterious than you might think. The discovery of the sensitivity of some systems of differential equations on tiny modifications of the initial conditions is called the butterfly effect. Why is it mysterious? One of the more technical things that Lorenz is famous for is the Lorenz attractor that you see on the picture. Recall that an attractor is a point or set of points into which a dynamical system evolves after a very long time.

Václav Klaus: Blauwe planeet in groene kluisters

Wat wordt bedreigd? Het klimaat of de vrijheid?

For all of our Dutch friends: the Dutch language has joined Czech and German.

Buy for EUR 19.95 from Quantes.NL
Czech president's book, The Blue Planet in Green Chains (or The Blue, Not Green Planet), has been published in Dutch, too. Václav Klaus will sign copies of the book on Monday 4/21, at 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm in the building of Selexyz the bookstore, de Passage 39, 2511 AD, The Hague (map).

The English version of the book will be launched in Washington D.C., at the end of May. Somewhat less importantly ;-), the Polish language is on the way, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 ... /////

Disorder on the landscape

Dmitry I. Podolsky, Jaydeep Majumder, Niko Jokela (PDF) propose a new, possibly crucial mechanism of the vacuum selection.

Dmitry also has a highly serious blog, Neqnet.
Their paper is somewhat similar to the papers about resonance tunneling and landscape percolation even though Podolsky et al. do not even cite the percolation papers despite the name of Henry Tye in the acknowledgements.

They also try to find preferred regions or points on the landscape. And they end up with the vacua with a small number of neighbors that could also be the Bouchard-Donagi heterotic model discussed yesterday (and a year ago). I intuitively feel that the right answer must be of this kind because these "individualist" vacua are special in a certain invariant sense. How are they led to similar conclusions?

A disorder on the landscape

They investigate the evolution of the probability distribution on the landscape (including the information about the probability to measure a certain value of the vacuum energy). Assuming some built-in disorders on the landscape, their task turns out to be similar to problems known to condensed matter physicists, especially those who like random media.

Now, Philip Andersson, a physics Nobel prize winner, is a passionate enemy of string theory. But one of the rules of science is that Nature doesn't and can't prevent your enemies who also study Her to find your results relevant for their enterprise. ;-) And the enemies are not guaranteed to fully avoid the results of their field's enemy either!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 ... /////

Berlusconi, Kosovo, organ smuggling

Silvio Berlusconi is back! And the watermelon coalition of the Greens and Communists was defeated so perfectly that they won't even appear in the Parliament, for the first time after the war. During communism, we were taught how strong communist parties France and Italy used to have. In the case of Italy, it is no longer the case.

The High Country in the landscape

Bouchard and Donagi have a new and interesting paper about the heterotic string phenomenology. They explain that it is important to impose all major constraints on heterotic models.

In other words, they define the High Country region of the landscape ;-) where the vacua have the MSSM spectrum and satisfy some additional constraints. It seems that they insist that they still know exactly one compactification from 2005 only that obeys all the requirements. Note that more than two years ago, they wrote on page 1 that they didn't claim that it was the model of the Universe but it was the best model they had; this sentence was followed by a smiling, a rather rare creature in Phys Lett B papers. :-)

If it is the best model we can possibly have, the sentence and the smiling may become legendary. ;-)

The Great Global Warming Swindle on Czech TV

The Czech public television has aired The Great Global Warming Swindle on its ČT2 channel, a "minor" channel attempting to be a counterpart of PBS and targetting intellectual audiences. They called it "Who Is to Blame for Global Warming?" (Kdo může za globální oteplování?). The program wasn't really promoted and I don't think that too many people watched it.

Among 180+ viewers who voted on the page behind the most recent link, 95% thought that the program was "excellent", 1% thought it was "very good", 0% thought it was just "OK", 1% thought that it was "nothing special", and a 4% minority thought that it was a "waste of time". Well, those f*gs... ;-) As you can see, there seems to be a consensus in Czechia, too - just a different one. :-)

The station has broadcast it again at 12:35 am, on Wednesday 4/16 (after midnight). An interesting feature of the dubbing was their choice of the narrator: it was the same woman with a concerned voice who routinely reads passionate environmentalist texts on TV and it even looks like she must have been reading some of the pro-Soviet texts before 1989. ;-) They probably don't have enough people. ;-)

More generally, the people who spoke in Czech were somewhat less emotional than the people in the original and some of the formulations were slightly more diplomatic (no professionally synchronized dubbing with actors who preserve the style of the original movie - even though Czechs are extremely good in it). It might have made the movie more "serious", in a sense. In the translation, some of the statements were simplified, redundancies were removed. But the essence was kept (I know the documentary by heart, including my own translation of it). In this edition, the movie only had 51 minutes but it doesn't seem that an essential scene has disappeared.

Monday, April 14, 2008 ... /////

John Wheeler: 1911-2008

This information is particularly sad for a conservative physics blog even though, let us admit, he was already old. Pneumonia ended John Wheeler's life on Sunday, at the age of 96.

See Dennis Overbye's obituary...
John Archibald Wheeler was born to a family of librarians in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1911. (Only my mother has been a librarian.) At the age of 21+, he received a PhD from John Hopkins University. His thesis was about helium.

Except for an interruption at University of Texas in Austin, he spent most of his career at Princeton University. The list of his famous PhD students is impressive. It includes Richard Feynman who needs no additional comments, Jacob Bekenstein of the black hole entropy fame, Charles Misner of their GR textbook fame, another co-author, cosmologist Kip Thorne, axiomatic field theorist Arthur Wightman, forefather of decoherence Hugh Everett (the term "many worlds" is due to Wheeler, of course), Bill Unruh, the father of the particle production in accelerating frames, and top skeptical climatologist Fred Singer. Wheeler was a great and caring teacher.

And he has changed the life of Daniel Holz of Cosmic Variance, too. Dan was apparently lucky to spend quite some time with Wheeler.

Wheeler's and Feynman's infantile but immensely playful attempts to regulate the divergent electromagnetic energy of a point-like electron have led Feynman to his correct (Feynman) propagator for the electromagnetic field. John Wheeler was the first person who defined the term S-matrix back in 1937. Nowadays, we think of the S-matrix as the conglomerate of nearly all physically meaningful information about a theory in particle physics, especially in the context of quantum gravity that doesn't admit local Green's functions.

Together with Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi, John Wheeler is the father of nuclear fission. Even though Wheeler's original plan at Princeton was to talk to Einstein and debunk his opinions about quantum theory, Wheeler eventually talked to Bohr (in Copenhagen where he sailed) much more intensely: according to Wheeler, Bohr was on par with Jesus Christ et al. His and Bohr's liquid drop model of nuclear fission was born in 1939. His work on the Manhattan project was important and visionary. He was able to predict that by-products such as Xenon 135 would stop the reaction. After the Manhattan project, he continued with the Matterhorn B (fusion) project, leading to the H-bomb after some twists and turns.

Wheeler supported not only these bombs but also the Vietnam War and the missile defense system.

Once he was satisfied with his results in applied physics, he focused on general relativity. Between the 1950s and 1970s, he was attempting to realize Einstein's dreams and to find a unified field theory (of gravity and electromagnetism and maybe more) under Wheeler's own trademark, geometrodynamics. Much like Einstein's Ansätze, Wheeler's attempts didn't have much chance. For example, his framework couldn't account for fermions.

His inventions (or discoveries) in pure general relativity were more successful. In the early 1950s, general relativity was not even an acceptable field to teach at universities. Wheeler helped to change the situation profoundly. In 1957, he introduced and gave a name to wormholes. Even more importantly, ten years later, he coined the term black hole. At that time it became clear to him - partly because of Oppenheimer's precious comments from 1939 - that the gravitational collapse of a heavy enough star simply couldn't be stopped by any conceivable process and the resulting object whose geometry was known from the 1916 paper by Schwarzschild was bound to be important and needed a catchy name.

British Antarctic Survey: evidence against AGW

Joseph D'Aleo has informed me about this rather fascinating page written by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and describing the impact of the Antarctic data on the climate change debate:

Climate change: our view (BAS)
The page was created in December 2007, the month when William Connolley, an official of the Green Party who contributes to RealClimate.ORG, left the BAS.

It seems likely that the page was written by several people. It begins with some well-known as well as less well-known facts about the Antarctic climate. It continues with the shocker to be discussed below and finally it ends up with some generic IPCC newspeak saying that we are pretty sure that climate change is man-made.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 ... /////

A fair feminist conference at Harvard

On Friday, Prof Harvey Mansfield hosted "The Conference the Radcliffe Institute Didn't Want to Host". The event was free but ladies received an additional 50% off.

The Crimson I, II
The Crimson: by talks
The Boston Globe
The goal of the conference was a respectful debate over the legacy and future of feminism - in other words, to prick Harvard’s political correctness. Camille Paglia, the Amazon feminist, was one of the star speakers.

Saturday, April 12, 2008 ... /////

Einstein and the physics of principles

A week ago, I wrote an essay beginning with the question

Is theoretical physics possible?
I argued that it was very hard for the laypersons to understand that the brain, abstract reasoning, and careful calculations are not only useful but sometimes essential for the deepening of our knowledge about the physical world.

One more recent article in the Discover Magazine shows this misunderstanding very clearly:
Has the Einstein revolution gone too far?
Its author, Richard Panek, is a "faculty advisor" at an institution with a rather scary name, namely "Goddard (!) College, Progressive (!) education for creative (!) minds". Wow. Well, he doesn't seem too creative, as we will discuss in detail. Also, I am not sure about his being progressive when he argues that the progress has gone too far. ;-)

It is good that Panek has at least realized that the fashionable contemporary criticism of theoretical physics can be equally well applied to Albert Einstein and that the math-driven techniques in physics have been extremely important if not critical for more than 100 years - and maybe much more. Some vitriolic haters of science try to pretend that the importance of theory in physics is a recent phenomenon.

But Panek is still completely wrong about every other idea he advocates.

Limits that scientists mustn't cross?

First of all, the very question whether "science has gone too far" in one respect or another is a symptom of entirely unscientific preconceptions.

Friday, April 11, 2008 ... /////

Three weeks ago, we mentioned three recent preprints about cosmoclimatology, a theory in which galactic cosmic rays create clouds just like in a bubble chamber (and cool down the Earth unless they are filtered away).

Two of them supported the theory but the third, a paper written by
Sloan and Wolfendale (paper, PDF),
didn't. Even without looking at the papers, you may guess which of these three preprints was reported by the media, for example by the Telegraph, UPI, and the BBC:
'No Sun link' to climage change
Recall that the paper argued that the cosmic influence on the climate is probably insignificant because the effect seems to have a wrong "fingerprint" - i.e. the dependence on the latitude.

Second, the British critics argued that the cloud cover leads the cosmic ray flux variations by three months or so. As a bonus, the critics also question the correct behavior of the theory during the so-called Forbush events. We will mention this additional subtle "fingerprint", too.

Victoria Lindsay, Lakeland, Florida vs 6+2: why

For several Czech media outlets, the shocking story from Florida is the #1 news right now. Some of them, such as iDNES, use Bill O'Reilly's show as the ultimate source of information which I find sensible. ;-)

If you haven't heard about it, six girls didn't like what their friend, another cheerleader, wrote on MySpace. So together with two male lookouts, they "detained" her, beat her up so that she was sometimes unconscious (and couldn't hear and see properly), and posted the resulting video on YouTube. They will be treated as adults and some of them may hypothetically get a life in prison (which is not too likely but possible).

I can't imagine what she could have written so bad about them because anything bad that you can say about these "people" is almost certainly accurate. :-) Their behavior is animalistic, it is an example of pack mentality of the worst edition.

Thursday, April 10, 2008 ... /////

Some issues and news that can be discussed:

Let me stop here. Of course, I oppose subsidies for biofuels and their justification by climate change - especially if the carbon dioxide counting is far from obvious. And I agree with Sean Carroll that biofuels should be viewed as a type of battery - a technology of energy storage. But the statement that it is inevitably a worse method of energy storage than others doesn't look obvious to me.

Of course that higher food prices would be extremely bad and we are already starting to see them. On the other hand, if you could make much lower oil prices, such as USD 1 per gallon as promised in various articles, the positive effects could hypothetically beat the negative effects. I don't think we're there yet. But a properly optimized and genetically modified plant could eventually become a better and cheaper method to capture, store, and use (a part of) solar energy than e.g. solar panels because fuel in your fuel tank could still be more acceptable than recharging of batteries.

So if the market price of the biofuels is lower than the market price of the food you could grow, it is obvious that no responsible farmer or government should support such a silliness. On the other hand, if these inequalities change their direction in the future, the appropriate reasoning could change, too.

But one must be careful that plants grown as food are pretty much the only source of food we (and animals) have while biofuels are not the only fuels. It follows that the price of food may be much more volatile - it may depend on the supply of corn etc. much more sensitively than the price of fuels may depend on the supply. The more types of fuel you will have, the less volatile this commodity will become. So even if you find a good biotechnology giving you an economically viable biofuel assuming the current prices, you should be careful about the extrapolation of your calculations into the future because the ultimate food price relevant for the correct calculations could be much higher than the present one.

If you try to make any long-term plans, you should simply think about the year 2020 or so, a realistic idea about the world's total population, efficiency of agriculture (and artificial food production), the required amount of plants for food, and the estimated required amount of fuels (proportional to their increased GDP per capita).

If you find out that the improvements in agriculture won't be enough to catch up with the increasing population, it is clear that you can't afford biofuels in the long run because the food will be more important and more expensive. If you find out that the improvements in agriculture can feed those 7 or 9 billion people, there is some potential room for an alternative usage of plants.

But there are many other assumptions that should be discussed. For example, agriculture is less than 1% of the U.S. GDP. That's a very tiny fraction. It is so tiny because the food is still relatively cheap. Shouldn't it be more expensive, after all? There is clearly no God-given answer here but one can try to imagine how the world would look like if the farmers were much wealthier because we would have to pay them much more.

Miluše Netolická: first Czech woman on the North Pole

Today, Ms Miluše Netolická (34), a developer corporation's CEO for trade, became the first Czech woman to conquer the North Pole in the athletic way, together with two Czech men.

"The cool temperature here is really cruel, about -40 °C [-40 °F, a fixed point haha], and it was the worst problem on our journey (together with the bears). I couldn't even imagine it was that cold. Thanks God that at least the wind has stopped. Now I am dreaming about a warm bathtub."
Obviously, she doesn't care much about the vintage airplane than needed almost an hour to refuel and that they have to wait for another - Russian - aircraft that will come late if it will come at all. Their group - uniformly connected with the Central Group corporation - was going with dogs and shooting a documentary.

We will still have to wait for the first Czech female who will reach the pole and think that it is too warm because of global warming. ;-) If you remember, a stupid Norwegian woman and a stupid American woman didn't quite reach the North Pole because of frostbite but they are still ready to pray a global warming prayer.

The first Czech man to reach the North Pole, Miroslav Jakeš, saw it for the first time in 1993 and he is returning there right now, for the sixth time (in another group; there is also a third Czech group over there).

Meanwhile, South Korea sent its first astronaut to space. The male candidate was stealing books from the Russians so they sent a woman, Yi So-yeon, instead. ;-)