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Showing posts from January, 2014

Keystone, Again

The phase space for Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline has shrunk almost to zero.I expect he will approve it. Greens will be outraged, but they shouldn't be. Blocking the pipeline would only have created more environmental carnage as it was trucked, railroaded, and shipped to China. A carbon tax is probably the only rational approach to limiting greenhouse emissions. Not that it's especially likely to either be passed or successful if passed.

Due Diligence

It's well known that IQ correlates strongly with academic and other success. Unfortunately IQ doesn't seem to be especially malleable. Some intriguing results suggest that certain other traits, possibly with just as strong a correlation, might be more amenable to development. Such, at any rate, is the claim made in this article. Something else mattered just as much, and sometimes more, to kids’ life chances. This other dark matter had more to do with attitude than the ability to solve a calculus problem. In one study of U.S. eighth graders, for example, the best predictor of academic performance was not the children’s IQ scores—but their self-discipline.OK, the author has already managed to annoy the heck out of me by implying that solving calculus problems (a)was not a strong indicator of self-discipline and (b)highly correlated with academic success. But let me just guess that these errors were due either to her lacking (a) the IQ to appreciate her error or (b)the self-d…

Astrobiology

I'm taking the University of Edinburgh's Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life course from Coursera. It's a bit of a disappointment - just a guy talking and showing slides from his IPAD. The problem is that I haven't really heard anything new. One problem with Astrobiology is that it doesn't actually have any subjects yet - but that hasn't kept string theory from prospering. I was hoping to learn something about prospects for life in other galaxies - maybe later.

Monopoles

Is there an ungated copy of this paper? monopolesI can't figure out what these "synthetic monopoles" are from the abstract.

No Black Holes

I am gratified that Stephen Hawking has come around to my point of view on black holes: they may not actually exist. Lumo may be less enthusiastic.Of course the difference between "real" black holes and those things that look hella lot like black holes is probably unobservable.

New Grammy Category?

Bee has composed and performed a song about and dedicated to Supersymmetry: My invisible friend.Not sure if Grammys have a theoretical physics category yet. Look for the cover by Eminem featuring Rihanna.

Adventures in Climate Land

In recent weeks I've attended meetings of a local climate skeptics (denialists) group and of a pro climate action group. The AGW skeptic group was heavily populated by former colleagues of mine, and they were very polite and friendly despite my skepticism of their facts and reasoning. I've been invited back to talk about my point of view. I'm not under the illusion that they are likely to be persuaded by anything I say, but I figure its worth the effort just to find out what their reasoning is. What I would really like to know is how they wound up believing what they believe. Nearly all are technical people with a background in meteorology, but mostly not in atmospheric radiative transfer. I also attended a climate action group meeting. I'm pretty sure they are right on the facts, have a sound approach (a carbon tax with rebate), and a sensible action plan. I'm also pretty sure that they are wildly unrealistic about the prospects for action. They seem to b…

The Struggle for Global Domination

Standard Oil had won total domination of the US Oil industry and the world wide market for kerosene - its then most valuable product - by the 1870s, but the Nobel brothers brought modern technology to the oil fields of Baku and soon Russian production had become a significant factor, taking back the Russian market. After a railroad and pipeline reached the Black Sea, thanks to Rothschild investment, Europe was opened to Russian Oil, and by 1990 1890 a three cornered fight between Standard, the Nobels, and the Rothschild companies for global dominance was in full swing, with new technology for transport developing explosively - or actually the reverse, since a major point of the technology was avoiding the explosions that plagued some early transportation efforts.

PISA: At Least We Beat Argentina

It seems to be time to return to that old time theme: why does American education suck? The current items in evidence are the 2012 scores in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in particular, the mathematical literacy assessment. Tyler Cowen notes that even our rich kids are below average: The data was provided to The WorldPost by Pablo Zoido, an analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the group behind PISA. It shows that students’ wealth does not necessarily make them more competitive on an international scale. In the United States, for example, the poorest kids scored around a 433 out of 700 on the math portion of PISA, while the wealthiest ones netted about a 547. The lower score comes in just below the OECD average for the bottom decile (436), but the higher score also comes in below the OECD average for the top decile (554). “At the top of the distribution, our performance is surprisingly bad given our top decile is among th…

Grouchy Old Man's Guide to Grammys 2014

Most performers sound, and look, better on the radio. Exception: Pink and Nate Ruess who just sound great always. Who did Lorde's makeup? Why was it taking the sorting hat so long to decide on Pharrell Williams?

Invisible Hand Talk

I think I've read that the phrase "invisible hand" occurs only once in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but nothing else from economics is so sacred or sacralized. His insight was that the workings of a competitive market would produce a number of socially desirable outcomes. This insight was central to classical economics, and, dressed up in mathematical glad rags, central to neoclassical economics, and its offspring, like the Real Business Cycle theory. Now Adam Smith was a very clever fellow, and he knew that business men really hated free competition, and would work the levers of power to eliminate it, but he probably underestimated their skill at eliminating it. The story of the Standard Oil Trust, as told in Daniel Yergin's The Prize, is the classic example. Once drilling for oil and simple distillation (refining) techniques were developed in the 1860s, the oil market quickly became chaotic, as production of kerosene outpaced demand. Boom was followed by…

De-Colonialization: Pakistan

At the end of the Fifteenth Century, Europe began its colonization of the world. A few centuries later, nearly every part of the world had fallen under the sway of Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. These empires eventually crumbled, the last of them in the second half of the twentieth century, but the world had been transformed. North America, Australia, and New Zealand were irrevocably Anglicized. South and Central America were Latinized. Africa too, was utterly transformed. Only the Ancient civilizations of the Near and Far East retained much cultural integrity. I would argue that even that is largely illusory. Cultures, like any evolutionary product, resist destruction and replacement. After all, they would never have emerged or endured without some self-preserving traits. When the European empires fell, the newly independent nations rushed to reclaim their respective cultural heritages. For the nations where the indigenous cultures had been most thoroughly ext…

The Prize: Book Blogging

Daniel Yergin's book of that title is as good as the reviews promise - even better. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1992, 2008) won the Pulitzer, and it's easy to see why. Oil is probably the most pivotal commodity in the modern economy, and he tells its story with wit and style, including all sorts of telling details. Oil was known in ancient Mesopotamia at least 5000 years ago. Bitumen was used as mortar for the walls of Jericho and Babylon. It is one of the most global of commodities. Kerosene, its first commercially important product was refined in the 1850s, named by a Canadian. Its first good lamp was invented in Vienna, imported to the US and exported to the world. The drilling techniques first used to recover "rock oil" in Pennsylvania were invented for extracting salt 3000 years ago in China.

Childhood's End

//Some modest spoilers ahead, just in case you still want to read it and haven't taken advantage of the 61 years since it's publication. I had forgotten almost everything I knew about Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.I did remember hating the ending, doubtless for the same reasons that I still hate it. Parapsychological bullshit. That said, the theme is a fascinating one, the notion of transcending humanity. It's an age old dream, almost as old as human records. If such diverse characters as Kurzweil and Harari are right, that possibility lies right before us. Perhaps man can become superman, and not by magic or the supernatural. We are already in a sort of cyborg transition, as our ubiquitous electronic appliances become ever more integrated into our existence. It's hardly implausible that some kind of phase change in human nature is at hand, and that our descendents two or three (or four or five) generations hence may become unrecognizable to us. B…

Marc Andreessen on Bitcoin

Tyler Cowen sends us to Marc Andreessen on Why Bitcoin Matters. A venture capitalist may see further than a Nobel economist: That last part is enormously important. Bitcoin is the first Internetwide payment system where transactions either happen with no fees or very low fees (down to fractions of pennies). Existing payment systems charge fees of about 2 to 3 percent – and that’s in the developed world. In lots of other places, there either are no modern payment systems or the rates are significantly higher. We’ll come back to that. Bitcoin is a digital bearer instrument. It is a way to exchange money or assets between parties with no pre-existing trust: A string of numbers is sent over email or text message in the simplest case. The sender doesn’t need to know or trust the receiver or vice versa. Related, there are no chargebacks – this is the part that is literally like cash – if you have the money or the asset, you can pay with it; if you don’t, you can’t. This is brand new. This…

Smarter

How would I think if I were a lot smarter? That question is prompted by the confluence of a few things lately on my mind. The oddest was a little article I read on Christopher Langan, touted by some as "the smartest man in the world" and featured in one of Malcolm Gladwell's recent excursions into whatever it is that he does.Langan's brilliance is attested to by the usual mythology: He began talking at six months, taught himself to read before he was four, and was repeatedly skipped ahead in school... ... Langan says he spent the last years of high school mostly in independent study, teaching himself "advanced math, physics, philosophy, Latin and Greek, all that".[8] He earned a perfect score on the SAT despite taking a nap during the test.[6] Langan attended Reed College and later Montana State University [Disclaimer, alma mater of CIP], but faced with financial and transportation problems, and believing that he could teach his professors more than they…

Short

Lee, who thinks that it's crazy to infer that sickly arthritic slaves were worse off than their well-nourished, healthy, and relatively free hunter-gatherer ancestors, and Arun, who thinks enough malnutrition to shorten stature by a few inches is good for you, probably shouldn't Read Brad DeLong's reading assignment for his economic history class.

Deep Waters

Almost 300 years ago Leonard Euler, who has to be in the competition for greatest mathematician of them all, discovered a "proof" that the sum of all the natural numbers (1 + 2 + 3 ...) is "equal to" -1/12. This result is not exactly intuitive, and it seems that PZ Myers recently learned about it and objected, ostensibly in the name of skepticism. Lumo heard about Myers objection, and objected to it. In his inimitable, or at least better unimitated, fashion. The point is that Euler's mathematical curiosity turns out to be generalizable to whole classes of conventionally divergent series, and even more curiously, may well have some relevance to physics. In fact, Euler's series pops up in string theory, as Lumo explains - I also like the explanation in Zwiebach's A First Course in String Theory.Is it coincidence that certain areas of physics are plagued with divergent series and that mathematicians have found ways to make sense of generalized sums of …

Untitled Masterwork

It's humbling that one of my more popular recent posts has neither title nor content. I think I might finally be getting the postmodern thing.

Ordovician Chill

The end of the Ordovician geological period (444 million years ago) poses a nice puzzle for climatologists, and for related reasons has become a favorite of the more scientifically minded among the AGW denialist crowd. It was a mainly hot time for the planet, with temperature mostly around 40-50 C (104-122 F) with occasional excursions to 60 C (140 F). This was apparently due to the very high CO2 content of the atmosphere, roughly 14 to 18 times early modern values. The puzzle is that the period concluded with two sharp episodes of severe glaciation, and one of the most severe mass extinctions known. The glaciation was followed by more hot weather. It was a pretty different world - the day was only about 21.5 hours long, there were few plants and no vertebrates on land, and probably most significantly, the continents were arranged very differently. There were only four continents (Baltica, Siberia, Laurentia, and Gondwana, by far the biggest, incorporating modern Antarctica, Ind…

Resolved

I think one of my resolutions for this year had something to do with avoiding idiots. That was way too ambitious a goal. I really should have said avoid arguing with true believers. The core characteristic of the true believer is immunity to evidence. They live in a zone beyond fact and logic. I was reminded of that **again** - and yes I know that I'm a slow learner - when I continued an email correspondence with a former colleague who likes to paper our local newspaper with letters to the editor criticizing global warming. He made a claim about the last thirteen years of the climate record. I pointed out that his own data didn't really support his claim. He changed the subject to the Vostok ice cores. I pointed out that they didn't really support his argument there either, though they did strongly support the CO2 temperature link. He replied that the end Ordovician cooling (hundreds of millions of years ago) came at a time of high CO2, supporting his argument wit…

Kafka Lives!

A bizarre legal case reminds us that Austria is not thrilled about being reminded of its Nazi past. It's pretty hard to imagine any other explanation for the charges in this case - at least if the story William D. Cohan tells has it right. Stephan Templ, a longtime critic of Austria’s role in the confiscation of art and real estate from Viennese Jews during World War II, faces a three-year prison sentence in his native country under circumstances that can only be described as Kafkaesque. As nearly as I can tell, his crime was filing a claim on behalf of his mother for a share of the stolen estate of his mother's relatives. His purported crime was defrauding the Austrian State by failing to file claims on behalf of some other relative who in theory might have renounced her claim in favor of the State (but said she wouldn't). I'm curious as to whether there is anything more rational going on here.

Bubbles, Baubles, Bright Shiny Galaxies

Back in the early days, when the Universe and I were young, the Universe (and I) were a hot dense plasma, with most of the mass and energy tied up in dark matter. A slight amount of clumping existed so dark matter and ordinary matter would fall together. Ordinary matter, being a plasma, dragged the radiation along with it, but as it collapsed, pressure would resist and cause re-expansion of ordinary matter (and the radiation along for the ride), producing oscillations. These oscillations could grow, but no faster than the speed of sound, probably about 2/3 the speed of light in a vacuum - but lots faster than the speed of light or other EM waves in the plasma. These oscillations produced slightly underdense bubbles with slightly overdense bubble walls. The maximum size to which a bubble could grow was thus limited by the speed of sound and the age of the universe. When the plasma cooled to the point that neutral atoms could form, radiation was freed from its plasma shackles and …

Reticulated Universe 2

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Suppose that you take a few billion simulated dark matter particles (each one representing zillions of real dark matter particles) and start them off in the early universe, letting them interact under their mutual gravitation.  A few billion years later, they make funky patterns like this from the Millenium Simulation:


The lights along the filaments are galaxy clusters.  Major intersections are superclusters.  The distance scale indicator is 125 Mega parsecs or about 400 million light years - about 5000 times the diameter of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The guys at Max Planck Institut also did a fly through video, including a look around at a supercluster:



An imagined reality with empirical support.



Human Rights

The notion of universal human rights seems to be a relatively modern invention. Certainly many cultures were entirely comfortable with restricting the rights of others, even celebrating their murder, enslavement, and death by torture. When did this start to change, and what propelled it? The notion is central to the development of the modern world and played a key role in the breakup of all the empires of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
Harari traced some elements back to one of the early empires of the Middle East, whose ruler for the first time proclaimed his empire as something designed to benefit both ruled and ruler. Certainly the Roman Empire embodied many aspects of that. Though the Romans were utterly ruthless in their conquests, peoples once conquered were given considerable power to assimilate, and this assimilation made all of Europe, and ultimately, most of the rest of the World, Roman, at least in part.
Harari also noted the seminal role of the universalist…

Amateur Cosmologist: Two Puzzles

Most versions of the Lambda-CDM (cosmological constant plus cold dark matter) predict that dark matter concentration should peak strongly in the centers of galaxy clusters - forming a so-called cusp. Puzzle #1: Actual distributions seem to be cuspless and rounded. Why so? The hot intra-cluster gas that makes up most of their normal matter mass radiates due to ion collisions (mean free path - l light year). Densities are near the centers so collisions are more frequent, more energy is radiated, and the gas cools faster. This should result in so-called cooling flows as hotter outer gas moves in to take the place of the now cooler gas, some of which should form neutral atoms and ultimately, stars. Puzzle #2: Such flows appear absent. Why? Your amateur cosmologer has his crackpot idea of the year. Dark matter is presumed to be composed more or less equally of darkons and anti-darkons, which, on those odd occasions on which they interact, annihilate. If the annihilation cross sectio…

The Reticulated Universe

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When simulations of the early universe are done, matter (dark and normal) collects in very large scale [tens or hundreds of millions of light years] filaments of overdensity. Galaxies and stars develop in these filaments, the voids between them are largely empty of matter. Here and there - ok, mostly there - two filaments intersect. Such intersections are the breeding grounds of galaxy clusters and superclusters. The large concentrations of dark and normal matter in such clusters draws streams of gas from the filaments whose intersection marks the cluster, with the result that the cluster is bathed in a vast sphere of superheated (10^7 -10^8 K) but very low density (10^-7 to 10^-1 baryons/cm^3)gas. If two or more such clusters are close enough, their mutual gravitational attraction will propel them into high speed (10^7 km/hr) collision. These results can be spectacular, as in the case of the "Bullet Cluster" (Formal names: 1E 0657-56, 1E 0657-558) In the picture, th…

Still More Bridgery-Doo

Josh Marshall: This could get fun fast. Former Gov. and now State Sen. Richard Codey (D) says "Democratic power brokers" have and still are trying to shut down the BridgeGate investigation.So who all does have a vulnerable body part in this particular ringer? Kinda hard to imagine Big Dems working hard to save Christie's neck.

I am Not Usually a Fan

... of Ross Douthat. Mostly because he just annoys me. But I do read him occasionally. Anyway, I read this pre-Christmas Op-Ed of his:PAUSE for a moment, in the last leg of your holiday shopping, to glance at one of the manger scenes you pass along the way. Cast your eyes across the shepherds and animals, the infant and the kings. Then try to see the scene this way: not just as a pious set-piece, but as a complete world picture — intimate, miniature and comprehensive. Because that’s what the Christmas story really is — an entire worldview in a compact narrative, a depiction of how human beings relate to the universe and to one another. It’s about the vertical link between God and man — the angels, the star, the creator stooping to enter his creation. But it’s also about the horizontal relationships of society, because it locates transcendence in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low. It’s easy in our own democratic era to forget how revolutionary the latter idea was. But the bib…

Money Money Money...

Josh Marshall links to a story hinting that the real issue in Bridgegate might be big money - a billion dollar development project. This makes a heck of a lot more sense than the rather threadbare revenge story. It also hints that this could spread maybe even to Cuomo. A couple very interesting new threads on the Bridgegate story. As I've mentioned, as the scope of the Bridge closure effort and the attempt to cover it up grow, payback for a small town Mayor's Christie non-endorsement has seemed increasingly implausible as a motive. This morning Brian Murphy went on Steve Kornacki's show to discuss a major billion dollar development project which would have been gravely impacted (perhaps scuttled altogether) by any permanent move to create a traffic choke point in Fort Lee. (There's an important disclosure that both men have been very forthcoming about: both worked for Wildstein in former lives when Wildstein ran a NJ politics website called PolitickerNJ.com.) But bef…

Sharon

the world is busily reacting to the "death" of Ariel Sharon yesterday, but practically speaking, he died eight years ago when the massive stroke put him in a permanently vegetative state.

Bad Neighborhoods

Life on this planet has had its vicissitudes, but has - so far - survived for 3.5 billion years or so - roughly 14 Galactic years. It's not clear that this could have happened if we hadn't been located in a relatively ideal galactic neighborhood. Many parts of our galaxy might be too metal poor to produce Earth like planets. Others are so crowded with stars that we might have been bombarded with comets. In some parts of the galaxy there are just too many big, short lived stars going supernova with disastrous local consequences. What about other galaxies? Some are a lot like ours, but others, especially those in galaxy clusters, are loaded up with hot gas producing a lot of X-rays. My question is, what about one of those galaxy clusters that radiate 10^44 ergs/s in the X-ray? Could our planet survive there? We have some X-shielding capability, but is it enough? Anybody know how to do the arithmetic?

Toast

Extra Cristie... er, crispy.

Her

Spike Jonze is a genius and Amy Adams is adorable. And I really liked Her.A rom-com SF film with faint echoes of Childhood's End and Flowers for Algernon - only it's not at all like either of those. Love and your operating system. Scarlett Johansson is pretty hot even if all you get is her voice.

Bully Boy

Bullies can be popular. Especially popular with those who have a bunch of resentments that they feel too weak or helpless to act on themselves. That's one reason Chris Cristie is popular with his constituents. Ezra Klein points out that he has a full-time cameraman who follows him around photographing all his frequent confrontations with constituents or others who might have unpopular points of view. Good put downs get posted to YouTube. It has been a very successful strategy for him. Of course bullying some unpopular civilian is one thing, and bullying another politician by punishing tens of thousands of his constituents is another. That's why the Port Authority bridge scandal is a potential death sentence for Christie's political career. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were no other boys my age, so my entire pre-school experience was playing with girls. This put me at a pretty big disadvantage on the school playground, and I got bullied quite a bit in m…

Noted

The Indian consular official whose arrest ignited Indian outrage has been indicted. She invoked diplomatic immunity and has been ordered to leave the country. Khobragade, 39, was charged yesterday with making “multiple false representations” to U.S. authorities to obtain a visa for the caretaker, and the State Department later ordered her to leave the country after India denied waiving her diplomatic immunity. Her flight has already left the U.S., according to an Indian government official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly. ... The visa fraud charge against Khobragade carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, while the false statements charge has a maximum term of five years, according to prosecutors in Bharara’s office.

History of Humankind

I have written a lot about Prof Harari's lectures in his course A Brief History of Humankind, but having completed the course, I thought I would add a few thoughts on my takeaways. (1)There a lots of open questions about the relations between the various human variants that existed before H. sapiens replaced all the others, and about the biological basis of the developments that propelled our increasingly rapid technological progress. (2)Technological advance has not always been our friend. The central development of our history, the agriculture, allowed us to proliferate, but left us in many ways less healthy, more disease ridden, more subject to violence and oppression, and quite possibly, less happy. It also made us one of the most important players in the global ecology. Much of this was not new to me, but some was. (3)I had drastically underestimated the role of empires in creating the world of today. Almost everyone in the world today lives in a culture that was sh…

National Honor: Face Off

According to many accounts, World War I started by escalation of a global game of chicken in which each side let itself be sucked further into the vortex in response to escalating threats to their "national honor. In order to avoid loss of face each side managed to lose millions of lives, destroy its economy, and lose empires. Another good example of adaptations to paleolithic life that doesn't translate well into the modern world?

"Immoral"

A commenter recently opined that all taxes are immoral. It's a strange sentiment, mixing taxes and morality, but one that one hears a lot from the Randian right. Of course nobody enjoys paying taxes, but most of us figure that it's part of the deal of living in civilization - since nobody has figured out how to construct one without some form of taxation. Of course some utopian (or dystopian, depending on your point of view) theorists imagine they have, but unlike socialism, a similarly utopian theory, they have never been tried and thus received the salutary lessons of failure. The online Dictionary of Etymology has this on the word "moral": moral (adj.) Look up moral at Dictionary.com mid-14c., "pertaining to character or temperament" (good or bad), from Old French moral (14c.) and directly from Latin moralis "proper behavior of a person in society," literally "pertaining to manners," coined by Cicero ("De Fato," II.i) to …

Cristie Campaign Blimp Hits Headwinds

Has Chris Christie's petty vindictiveness caught up with him? Emails published by leading media today point directly to involvement of close aides in the lane closures and resulting traffic jams. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she emailed David Wildstein, Mr. Christie’s close friend from high school, and one of his appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge. Mr. Christie and some officials at Port Authority have said the closings were done as part of a traffic study, but they caused havoc for days, backing up traffic for hours.This sort of sabotage is almost certainly criminal. At the very least Christie was clueless about criminal activity of his closest aides, designed to punish his political opponents. It now seems more likely that he was the one pulling the trigger - a fact that even loyal aides might recall when faced with lengthy jail stays. Christie is hardly the biggest jerk in the Republican Party, but he is one of the most popular jerks…

Corporate Taxes

I'm not a student of the issue, but I won't let that discourage me from having an opinion. The US has very high nominal corporate tax rates (35%) but much lower effective rates. Apple paid only 8.2% last year, for example. High tax rates plus abundant loopholes means that big companies can spend big money figuring out how to exploit this sort of gimmick. One such tactic is moving jobs overseas. Laurence J. Kotlikoff has studied this, and proposes abolition of the corporate income tax in this NYT Op-Ed.In recent decades, American workers have suffered one body blow after another: the decline in manufacturing, foreign competition, outsourcing, the Great Recession and smart machines that replace people everywhere you look. Amazon and Google are in a horse race to see how many humans they can put out of work with self-guided delivery drones and driverless cars. You wonder who will be left with incomes to buy what these robots deliver. What can workers do to mitigate their pl…

New Year's Resolutions

(1)The ocean of stupidity is very large, and I have a very small spoon. Try to ignore idiots. (2)Don't trust any doctor until I have good reason. (3)Read more fiction. Preferably escape novels. Reality is too depressing. (4)Walk more. Driving is only for when you have somewhere to go. (5)Vote Democratic. No matter how bad they are, they are still probably better than a Republican.

Polar Vortex vs. Global Warming

Global warming skeptics are quick to claim any cold day anywhere as "proof" of the validity of their skepticism, so that the polar vortex currently gripping much of the US is a late Christmas for them. So it's only fair to point out that the opposite explanation is at least equally valid, namely that our current encounter with the polar vortex could actually be a consequence of global warming and such events might become more common as the planet warms. That word "global" often seems to be a problem for our skeptical friends, as does the fact that changes in one place might be anti-correlated with changes in others. Polar vortices are so-called because they form and tend to hang around the pole in Winter. One of the factors that tends to keep them polar is the temperature difference between the pole and the rest of the planet. One of the demonstrated features of our current global warming is that the far North is warming far faster than the rest of the plane…

Dog Gone

Dennis Rodman seems to be taking a 6-man B-Ball group to North Korea.Guess he knows what happened to the last six that took on KJU.

That River in Egypt

Denial seems to be less a river than an archipelago. Those who disbelieve in science exhibit various degrees and types of crackpottery, but a few generalizations seem justified: science denialists tend to be ignorant, usually about almost everything, but sometimes just about their own bête noire; they also tend to be dogmatic, and uninterested in evidence; they are highly ideological, more interested in defending their own world view than in facts. Evolution doubters are good examples of all three. A recent Pew survey looks at American vies of evolution and finds that about a third of Americans disbelieve in evolution. This disbelief is strongly correlated with religious affiliation and anti-correlated with education level. The level of stupidity/ignorance is a bit mind boggling to me. 33 % of the sample agreed with the statement: “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”I would be tempted to wonder that such people can fee…

Gravitational Lensing

The curvature of spacetime produces non-euclidean behavior in light rays, and consequently multipathing and lensing effects. Einstein worked this out early - actually before he had the correct final form for the equations of General Relativity - but didn't publish it until 1936, and only then because he was pestered to by Rudi Mandl, a pesky Czech engineer. Einstein didn't consider the effect interesting or important. Fritz Zwicky knew better and recognized the potential immediately (1937). Almost another half-century had to pass before experiment caught up with theory. These are a few of the tidbits I have picked up in Evalyn Gates popular book Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe. Viewed through a normal telescope, a quasar looks like a point of light, much like a star. (Hence the name quasi-stellar object, which is abbreviated to quasar.) However, if a massive galaxy lies directly between the quasar and Earth, what we observe…

Free Will y ...

Bee has post on Free Will and Lumo has a response. Bee thinks thinks that this ancient philosophical debate might be important for physics because she thinks that an unreasonable belief in free will might be impeding progress in quantum gravity. Sabine argues that since the known laws of physics are either deterministic or random the future is either determined by the past or God's dice game (if I may borrow from Einstein) so there is no room left for "free will". From my point of view, this essentially amounts to defining free will out of existence. She then goes on to list "ten misconceptions" about the implications of her conclusion, which I mostly consider meaningless or worse. Lumo's view is closer to my own, but of course a critical point is how one defines or fails to define "free will". One key point is whether one considers the future to be already defined or not. In ordinary thinking, the big difference between past and future is t…

Job Creators

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Perhaps the most tiresome message of the Republican Party is that we need to give more money to the rich, since they are the "job creators". How is that working out in practice? Via Wonkblog, this Saenz and Piketty graph of the income distribution in the US since 1917. The top 10% of earners now has the biggest share of the national income recorded. How is that Job Creation coming? Not so hot. The figures are even more skewed when the top 1% and top 0.1% are looked at. The only other time US inequality approached this level? 1929.