Found It

Jul. 4th, 2012 08:38 am
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It's official: CERN is claiming a five sigma result in the search for the Higgs Boson - with both ATLAS and CMS reporting a signal in the same region, 126 GeV, consistent with the last missing piece of the Standard Model. This fills in the last major gap in our understanding of the universe at the particle level, which will of course be rewritten in a few years. But in the meantime, it's a big step forward, and a major advancement in science. So party while you can.

Happy Fourth everyone.
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In other news, the Kyoto Symposium came out with their findings last week, forcing an updated CERN press release. The final verdict is that all four Gran Sasso experiments, including OPERA, now measure the maximum velocities of neutrinos to be consistent with the theory of relativity. That means an end to the dreams of faster-than-light communication, and vindication for the vast majority of scientists who thought that the results were, at best, highly questionable.

As to the culprit? A fiber-optic cable not properly screwed into the case.

For a particularly thorough explanation of what went wrong, you can read this blog post from Matt Strassler from back in April.

Last Day

Sep. 30th, 2011 11:51 am
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We are gathered here today to witness the last hours of what was once the world's highest energy particle accelerator. A long-running pioneer in the field of hadron physics, and the discoverer of the top quark, the Tevatron has been America, and the world's, premiere source of particle collision data for most of its long and illustrious life, and will continue making valuable contributions to the sum of humanity's knowledge up until the hour today when they turn it off.

We are gathered in solidarity in a reminder that this should not be a time of mourning, but rather one of celebration. Were particle physics to be so static that a single accelerator, now verging on thirty years old, could still be sufficient to probe the limits of our knowledge, then we would indeed have reason to mourn. Instead our field has moved so fast that the Tevatron is now obsolete, and we are moving on to newer, greener, higher-energy pastures at the LHC. It was an important piece of history, but it is now in the past.

So we are here merely to pause in remembrance. And then get the hell back to work, because one accelerator shutting down doesn't mean they all are, and there's still data coming in, and we need to get that processed and looked at and see if we can find the Higgs for God's sake because there's a lot of work to do and we aren't paying you to sit around and talk about the good old days. I better see some movement here as we move you out of your crappy offices here to crappy offices elsewhere, because you've got systematics to crunch and if you don't get your sorry asses moving I'm going to make sure that you're stuck on b-tagging for the rest of your life. This is Science, people, and science keeps on marching, because no matter what you think there is always, always something new, and the future always gets here yesterday, so let's get a move on before we get left behind.

Thanks for all the memories folks. We'll see y'all at CERN.

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I'm a physicist by training, and physicists have never really like the shuttle program. It was a huge waste of money, a lot of expenditure of cash on sending people on the world's most expensive roller coaster ride in lieu of doing actual science (I think what really rubbed it in was the claims that the shuttle was up there to do scientific experiments). Their ability to do things like fix the Hubble Space Telescope was offset by the fact that each shuttle mission cost about $450 million - in other words we could probably build a new Hubble in exchange for three shuttle launches. The shuttle, and the ability to put a human being into space, needed to be upgraded years ago with newer, cheaper, and probably lower-flying technology. The money spent on NASA probably would have better benefited the human race by being spent on NASA's robotic exploration program then it did sending people into space to grow crystals.

That being said, there's still something monumentally nostalgic about the image of the shuttle landing for the last time. We've always cursed the shuttle, but we've done it with the obscure pride of knowing that human beings were still stepping into space. Now we have to wonder whether this is just a temporary break in the greater scheme of things, or if humanity has begun to turn its back on the stars for another generation. Let's all hope we figure out a better way to get up there soon.
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Recap of this week's headlines:

Japanese Reactors On Verge Of Meltdown!
Widespread Radiation Fears as Engineers Battle to Control Reactors!
Engineers Locked in Life Or Death Struggle to Control Nuclear Plant!
Foreigners Evacuate as Nuclear Plant Situation Continues to Escalate
Struggle at Nuclear Power Plant Exhausts All Exciting Metaphors
Japanese Nuclear Reactors Stubbornly Refuse to Explode
Oh Screw This, We're Going to Libya

I think you can add bonus points for any mention of a new "last-ditch effort" (there have been at least four), as well as any official statement to the effect of "the situation is grave, but under control". You could make a drinking game out of that, but you might not survive.

Not to say that the situation isn't grave, but it's been grave for several days, and has stubbornly refused to escalate to disastrous. Safety measures have so far been sufficient to contain the incident, and the fuel pools haven't cooked off. So Fukushima slips off the headlines not with a bang, but with a whimper. Let's hope it stays that way.
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So, this is what I've gleaned regarding Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi. Most of it is boring, but that's a good thing. When things about reactors become exciting, that's when you should start being worried.

I should say, that I'm not a nuclear engineer. I do, however, have the same qualifications it seems as a lot of people writing articles for the media, which is to say a Bachelor's degree and the ability to read Wikipedia. So I wrote this to make myself learn the material, and try to keep my head straight. There are probably factual errors. In fact, I guarantee there are factual errors. You should take the word of real nuclear engineers over me.

Furthermore, this is not in any way up to date. The best place to find updates is probably on Facebook, from the page for the International Atomic Energy Agency, or (if you trust them) from the English press release page for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) (both are slower then normal news, but more accurate).

Reactors Are (Fortunately) Boring )
I'm hoping things get better. So far the past two days seems to have been a long, painful exercise in hanging on by the fingernails. Now it looks like the wetwell on Unit Two was damaged during the explosion that destroyed their containment system. Also, it appears that part of the building for Unit Four is on fire (this is less of a concern, Unit Four was shut down for maintenance at the time of the earthquake, and so there's nothing to cool in the meantime). Unit Two was already having problems - it's hot enough that they have problems pumping the water in. Meanwhile, Kan has moved the evacuation zone now to twenty kilometers, and the stay-at-home to thirty.

I'm going to post this and hope that things get better, and that we keep hanging on. I think they have a fighting chance. I think that even if they do have a breach, that the effects will be mostly minimal when compared to the effects of the rest of the tsunami. But I'm not all that confident anymore. Hopefully optimism will prove to be correct here.
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Crazy, WTF, "Stand back, we're about to try science!" research result of the day:

Participants were asked to make eight choices; each was between receiving a small, but immediate, reward and a larger, but delayed, reward. For example, they could choose to receive either $16 tomorrow or $30 in 35 days.

The researchers found that the people with full bladders were better at holding out for the larger reward later. Other experiments reinforced this link; for example, in one, just thinking about words related to urination triggered the same effect.

From this press release for a paper slated to appear in the APS journal Psychological Science. Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.
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From this article:

Japanese macaques will completely flip out when presented with flying squirrels, a new study in monkey-antagonism has found. The research could pave the way for advanced methods of enraging monkeys.

If there was ever a scientific discipline that served as a gateway field to the pursuit of mad science, monkey-antagonism is probably it.

(h/t to Tyler Cowen and everyone else)
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In case you haven't seen it already, a company named Intellectual Ventures thinks that they may have a new way to combat malaria, an automatic, computer-controlled, anti-mosquito laser that can shoot down fifty to a hundred mosquitoes per second. That's the equivalent of over a hundred bodyguards armed with flyswatters. Laser flyswatters. Mosquito-vaporizing laser flyswatters. No word on whether maniacal laughter is involved; presumably that's optional with Service Pack 2.

If you don't mind watching insects die, there's some high speed video at the bottom of this post.

Science! Because sometimes you just need an automated death ray.
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From VOX, via Chris Blattman, a conclusion that will surprise nobody who has done much work in Academia (or probably anywhere else for that matter), but is interesting in quantifying what we all knew.

The prior research on corporate boards of directors suggests there is a critical mass of female directors on the board which is necessary before fundamental changes occur in board operations. Similarly, we test whether this was true in academia and find that a critical share of the board of trustees of an academic institution of 25% must be reached before the gender composition of the board influences the speed with which an institution diversifies its faculty across gender lines.

Some other interesting statistics in the cited papers, which have a fairly large sample size.
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Rolf Heuer has now stated that the LHC could have beam injection tonight. Beam run should be an injection probe at 450 GeV, magnets are ready, detectors are standing by. Hopefully they'll pass this test with flying colors and get to collisions within the month (I think the betting pool is centered on Thanksgiving).

ETA: Beam has passed Point 5.
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I am a firm believer in the right of individual self-determination. This includes your right to believe what you want, even to the point of self-delusion, and even to the point where it causes you to ignore more rational advice and threaten your health and your livelihood.

But there are limits )
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What's different about this picture?

Answer Hot Off The Press )

Photo courtesy of NASA and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. More images here.
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Have you ever had that feeling that, while your back was turned, someone was carefully, quietly, trying to take over the world?

Well, you were right.

If I were you, I would move to Antarctica and start stalking up on bug spray.

LBNL Study

Sep. 12th, 2008 10:12 am
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A study I've been waiting for came out from LBNL this week.

The essence of the study deals with the environmental effects of replacing all roofs and pavements in the world's major city areas with cooler substances, simply by making them whiter and more capable of reflecting, instead of absorbing, sunlight and heat. Several estimates are made throughout the course of the slides I have, which may or may not accurate, but their conclusion is that every 1000 square feet of roof that you paint white will offset the temperature increase caused by the production of 10 tons of Carbon Dioxide. If we upgrade all urban areas to have cooler roofs and cooler pavements, the estimate is that we will counteract 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide production - more then the world produces in a year.

I'm not sure how accurate those figures are, but given the billions of dollars we'll save alone from reduced air conditioning prices, I think it may be definitely worth it.

The presentation was made by Hashem Akbari, of the Heat Island Group, at this week's California Climate Change Conference.
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So, I've been catching up on what my old pals at the Discovery Institute, the last bastion of Creationism, are up to these days. Apparently there is not one, but three major imbroglios on the Creationism-Evolution front, and I've missed all of them. For those of you who don't follow this stuff (or don't care), here's the thirty second version:

* Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, of the Astronomy faculty of Iowa State University, and a supporter of Intelligent Design, was denied tenure during his review, causing the Discover Institute to blame bias against Intelligent Design. Not so, claims the Chronicle of Higher Education, a claim discussed more in depth by others. The long and short of it is that while Dr. Gonzalez has a good publication record, almost all of his publications were done before he entered his current position, and thus are not applicable toward a tenure hearing. Furthermore, he has seemed incapable of securing telescope time or funding, both necessary pieces of the tenure race. And the fact that ISU has since been bombarded by a letter-writing campaign makes it unlikely that anybody else will hire him in the future.

* To make matters worse, the Discovery Institute has discovered that another professor, an atheist, has recently been promoted to full professor at ISU. Clearly seeing that if an atheist can be promoted, and in the Religious Studies department no less, while an ID supporter is denied tenure in the Astronomy department, the entire University must be prejudiced, the DI swings to the attack. Professor Hector Avalos, who has no connection to Dr. Gonzalez's tenure qualifications decides that he doesn't want to be a punching bag, and comes out swinging. Fighting continues below in the comments, as William Dembski of the DI attempts to compare apples and oranges by assuming that the requirements for promotion of an already tenured professor in the Religious Studies department must be the same as those for obtaining tenure as a Professor of Astronomy. Things get further muddled as various people accuse Prof. Avalos of clairvoyance (deliberately publishing something that would prejudice professors against Dr. Gonzalez several years before Gonzalez was hired), and of starting a "witch-hunt" by circulating a petition against Intelligent Design in the University. Critics point out that a petition to declare Intelligent Design as not-Science is perfectly reasonable, true, and, most importantly, totally irrelevant to Dr. Gonzalez's inability to get any telescope time.

* The case against the University of California has finally gone to court. The Association of Christian Schools, International, is suing, claiming the the UCs are discriminating against their students at admission time. The UCs respond by pointing out that the textbooks involved in the disputed science classes do not fulfill the requirements necessary to count as science classes that would prepare you for a UC (specifically, they are filled with hooey). The ASCI claims they have a constitutional right to teach bad science, and that the UCs should accommodate that. After all, the students learned something. The Regents aren't buying it. You can read more about that kerfluffle, and Behe's brief appearance in it, here.

* And the new Creation Museum in Kentucky opened its doors, resulting a wash of criticism, and people laughing too hard to breathe. Complete blog coverage can be found here.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. We'll have to see how this pans out.
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So, I arrive at work at 7:30 this morning to sit in on an 8:00 meeting, only to find that the meeting has been canceled. For a graduate student, this is not a good way to start the day.

So, I could either get started on going nowhere (i.e., do work), or I could browse the internet.

As a result, I've spent the morning learning about Fan Death, death as a result of leaving an electric fan running all night while you sleep in an enclosed room. This phenomenon is very peculiar. For one thing, it happens only to Koreans. Despite numerous attempts at reproducing it by Japanese, Americans, Europeans, and yours truly, it appears that only Koreans can commit suicide by closing the window and turning on a fan.

In theory, fan death seems to work in one of two ways:
1) The electric fan lowers the temperature in the room enough that, while the victim is sleeping, their core temperature drops dramatically and they die of hypothermia.
2) The electric fan reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, or causes asphyxiation by exposing you to moving air.

I will give people who know science a minute to pick themselves off the floor.

Method one involves violating the laws of thermodynamics, which so far have been fairly reliable. And the effects would be quite noticeable. Being in cold air is unlikely to give you hypothermia. In fact, passing out drunk in a snowbank for a night is unlikely to give you a lethal case of hypothermia. Air, being a worse conductor of heat than snow, is very unlikely to kill you.

Method two involves either atomic processes - creating loose Oxygen radicals in the air, or extreme pressures. The first is unlikely, as the side effect would be a massive explosion whenever someone lit a cigarette near a fan. The second is also unlikely - people can breath just fine in wind speeds greater than those created by a fan, and when skydiving. It's also been rigorously tested, mostly by kids who enjoy speaking into fans to hear their voice vibrate.

So that leaves the possibility that Korean physiology is so different from the rest of the world that, at night, they become cold-blooded, meaning that it is easy to suck the heat out of them with convection currents. Another possibility is that the Korean media uses the term "fan death" whenever they don't want to discuss the actual causes of death, as in the case of a potentially embarrassing suicide, but that's just crazy talk. The level to which this belief is widespread has not yet been independently ascertained, but rumors on the internet claim that it is very common among Koreans (and virtually unknown elsewhere).

All in all, I wonder what it's like to live in a country that believes things like that. It must be as weird as living in a country where people sometimes rename the 13th floor to avoid bad luck.

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So, I was trying to answer [personal profile] eye_of_a_cat's question the other day when I suddenly realized that I shouldn't have to.  Someone else should answer it for me.  But they didn't.  Because physicists are dumb.  And physicists are dumb because all scientists are dumb.  We did it to ourselves.  So I have to rant about it in a semi-coherent fashion.
One day there will be something interesting in this LJ, but I sure don't know when that will happen.
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I noticed today that the revolt of some NHS doctors against Alternative and Complementary medicines made the front page at BBC.  I wondered if that debate would ever actually come to light, given the fighting that traditionally goes on backstage.

I've never particularly been fond of the Alternative Medicine establishment, so I have my own two cents to interject, even though I'm not even British.  Besides, nobody has flamed me recently, and maybe I'll get one or two out of this.

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I've been to a lot of conferences lately, in the past four months, and I'm not sure I like it.  So far, none of them have been Physics conferences.  My suspicion that I'm being turned into a computer specialist is pretty much confirmed.  Anyway, I've now come back from Indianapolis, and am not particularly happy with the outcome (as it seems a little vague) but I suppose it was as much as could be expected.

So I thought, just to torment you, I would actually bother to tell you what I'm doing.

Experience tells me that only about three people read that, but I'll live.  I don't promise anything entertaining in the future though.


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